Beautiful collision: St. Valentine’s Day & LentBy: Bishop Edward M. Rice
I received a letter dated Jan. 5, 2018 from the National Religious Retirement Office thanking the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau for its contribution to the 2017 collection, amounting to $73,424.13. The letter, from the Executive Director, Sr. Stephanie Still, PBVM, stated “Since the collection was launched, contributions from your diocese have totaled $2,218,936.01.” Sr. Stephanie also wrote a note saying “We are very grateful to you and your parishioners for this generous support.”
I think of the many religious sisters, brothers, and priests who helped form me into the person I am today. I am sure that many of you have similar experiences. Can we ever thank them enough for their service to the Church? Our financial support for them in their retirement years is a small way to say, “thank you.”
Of course, so many of our religious sisters, brothers, and priests worked in the apostolate of Catholic education. In my own life, I have been taught by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, School Sisters of Notre Dame, Marianist Priest and Brothers, Vincentian Fathers and Brothers, and the Daughters of Charity. As a seminarian and priest, I was then privileged to work alongside so many of those I mentioned, as well as the Precious Blood Sisters of O’Fallon, MO, and the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Help. In our own diocese, we have members of some of these congregations and more!
Where would we be without their dedicated service to the Church?
The gift of Catholic education
In addition to working with our religious, we now have dedicated laity who serve in Catholic Education. My thanks to Leon Witt, Superintendent of Catholic Schools along with Debra Owensby, Administrative Assistant, for their contributions to Catholic education! As we anticipate Catholic Schools Week, Jan. 28-Feb. 3, I thank the pastors, principals, staff, faculty, Parish School of Religion (PSR) directors and volunteers who are part of the mission of Catholic education. Of course, whether in a day school or a parish school of religion, the purpose of Catholic education is more than education—it is about forming intentional disciples! All of our schools and PSR programs collaborate with and support our parents in their efforts to make the home a place where the faith is lived and celebrated. The Rite of Baptism states, “Parents are the first teachers of their children in the ways of faith. May they be also the best of teachers.” Our homes should be places where Christ is encountered. From there, the parish, the school, and the PSR programs enhance and strengthen that encounter with Christ. We are all in this together. As I have often quoted, “Give us your child and we will shall return an Apostle.” Thanks to everyone for supporting Catholic education!
Is it ironic that this year St. Valentine’s Day falls on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent? Actually, I think there is a beautiful lesson to be learned by this coincidence. There are many concepts of what love is all about, many of them less than edifying. I pose the questions—what is the highest, most noble definition of love? What is the greatest symbol of love? For us, as Catholics, it is the Cross! The Cross of Christ takes the human understanding (or should I say “misunderstanding”) of love and raises it to a higher level, making it divine! Christ on the Cross exemplifies total, unconditional, sacrificial love. And it is within that definition of love that a Christian can find his or her model of love by which to live their life. Total, unconditional, sacrificial love is the essence of the Sacrament of Marriage. That same definition of love is the essence of the priesthood and religious life. That same definition of love is the inspiration for living a generous single life. All vocations in the Church are based on the basic call to love one another with the very heart of Christ! So the world will settle for the gifts of heart-shaped boxes of chocolate, or flowers, or jewelry. Catholics can never settle just for that. To do so would be to settle for less. Our understanding of love—Divine Love, total, unconditional, sacrificial love—has its highest expression in the Cross of Christ! That is how to approach love: totally, unconditionally, and in sacrifice. Frankly, it’s also how to approach Lent: in utter abandonment. ©TM