“And all who believed were together and had all things in common …”
I recently attended the annual convention of the National Council of Catholic Women (NCCW), in Chicago, on Nov. 9-12. I serve as the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) liaison to the NCCW, and this was the first convention that I have attended since my appointment.
At one of the Masses, Card. Francis George, OMI, the archbishop of Chicago, remarked in a homily that one of the characteristics of younger people today is that they are not “joiners.” This tendency cuts across the full range of organizations and groups that have been a part of our nation’s social fabric. Whether religious or civic, political or philanthropic, younger people do not “join” as much as did older generations.
Card. George mentioned this because the Catholic women are striving to renew and add members to the ranks of their local councils; and they are not alone. Virtually every organization of any sort is seeking to bolster its roster. The reasons for this trend are likely to be the subject of many studies. The implications for our nation are significant.
The Founding Fathers presumed a strong presence of local organizations made up of citizens who came together to manage day-to-day life and the well-being of their own communities. These institutions include churches, but also other civic organizations centered upon the life and work of people. For the most part, these local groups and organizations assist in the majority of matters that affect peoples’ lives. They are an example of subsidiarity, the principle that those in authority recognize the rights of the members of society to have a say in the matters which affect them. These organizations serve as mediating institutions between individuals and the larger, often impersonal, civic government. Without them, the government takes on more and more of a role in the individual’s life.
In addition, the groups and organizations to which people belong help to pass on culture and identity. Think only of the role that the Church has in our own lives. Our identity as Catholic Americans is handed down not only by our own individual family, but also by the family of God, that is the Church, in our local parish and diocese. We have an identity not simply as individuals, but as members of a people who belong to God. From our Hebrew roots, Catholics inherit this sense of belonging to God as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people” (1 Pt 2:9). To not belong to this people is to lose one’s identity, something akin to dying.
Within the Church, we have groups that help individuals to flourish. They focus on prayer, doing good works, education, supporting the various Christian vocations, etc. They are needed because no one can successfully go through this world alone, nor can we live our faith in isolation. The early Church manifests this essential communion in the description in the Acts of the Apostles of the earliest believers, who regularly came together for prayer, sacraments, and common life within community. As the hour of his Passion approached, Jesus prayed for those who belonged to him, “that they may all be one” (Jn 17:21).
The urgency that we have to belong affects not only our religious life, but also our civic life. It is said that no man is an island. In the midst of a busy life, let us not allow ourselves to be isolated or separated from others, who need us as much as we need them.
“Love of neighbor, grounded in the love of God, is first and foremost a responsibility of each individual member of the faithful, but it is also a responsibility for the entire ecclesial community at every level … As a community, the Church must practice love. Love thus needs to be organized if it is to be an ordered service to the community.”
This month, Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri (CCSM)will be two years old. CCSM was born out of a desire to organize the love of the people of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau in order to respond to the needs of people across southern Missouri. To be Catholic is to respond to the command of Jesus to love one another, and to care for the poor in the various ways they come to us. Jesus reassures us that when we respond to the needs of the poor out of love for Him, we actually do serve Him (cf. Mt 25:31-46). Therefore, charity is essential to the Christian life.
Over the course of our diocesan Catholic history, there have been, and continue to be, a variety of ways that love has been manifested in service to those in need. Our St. Vincent de Paul Society groups are among the most active in the nation. Many of our parishes have or support food banks for those who need help. Our parishes, Knights of Columbus, and Councils of Catholic Women also provide forms of material assistance. The largest organization in Springfield which assists the poor, The Kitchen, Inc., was begun at St. Agnes Cathedral Parish, and continues to receive a large portion of its resources from the Catholic community. In the central part of our diocese, Whole Health Outreach and Whole Kids Outreach, also founded by Catholics, provide much-needed assistance to families. These are but a few examples, the point being that our Catholic family of faith has responded to those in need in many and varied ways.
As Pope Benedict noted in his encyclical letter, “Deus Caritas Est” (“God is Love”), Christian charity must be organized if it is to be a service to the community. To this end, Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri was established to organize Catholic charity at the diocesan level. This organization is necessary to meet needs that would be difficult to address by individuals or parishes. The natural disasters of this past year made that even more apparent.
Responding to flood and tornado victims
This past year’s events were unprecedented. Thousands of people were affected by the spring floods in the central and eastern part of the diocese, and by the devastating Joplin tornado on May 22, 2011. Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri has responded to thousands of these victims in a way that would have been unthinkable only two years ago. To give just one example, CCSM is the largest provider of case management services in Joplin today; larger than the Red Cross and the Salvation Army. Currently, it has assisted over 8,000 individuals and provided case management for more than 2,000 households. We were able to be effective in this way because of our organization, which allowed us to access the expertise and resources of other Catholic Charities agencies in our state as well as the national Catholic Charities USA.
We continue to serve the needy out of the Catholic Charities eastern office in Cape Girardeau, and this past September, CCSM opened a central Ozarks office in Van Buren, MO. While the response to the disaster victims has drawn our immediate focus, we continue to execute a plan to address the needs of the poor across Southern Missouri as we are able.
‘Caritas Christi Urget Nos’
“Cartias Christi Urget Nos” (“The Love of Christ Urges Us On”), my episcopal motto, speaks to love in action. In a significant sense, that is why both you and I are here. Our acquaintance with God changes who we are and what we must do.
Open to all, it is precisely because Christ loves us that we are able to share Christ’s love: a love we have received from above, a love beyond any human love. In fact, that is what it means to be a Catholic Christian: one who knows Christ’s love and returns that love to Christ by loving one’s neighbor with that same love of Christ.
This sharing, this action, is not simply humanitarianism nor human sentimentality, it is the subsequent urgency of being touched by the fire of Christ’s love. In love and with love, we are impelled to love others by meeting their human needs. Unlike humanitarianism, the love of Christ compels us to respond with a literal and a personal sacrifice of our own wants and desires. Unlike sentimentality, our focus is not on how helping others makes us personally feel, but more importantly we satisfy the obligation we each have to be in solidarity with those in need—we share in their suffering.
Catholic Charities collection, Nov. 19-20
Because Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri is our organized effort to put our love into action, I ask all of you to be generous in supporting the good works that it does in our name. Many of us may not be able to directly feed the poor, clothe the naked, or shelter the homeless, but because of Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri, we do so together when we support its mission. A central portion of that support comes from the annual collection which occurs the weekend before Thanksgiving. What better way to return thanks to God than by offering a gift to the work of organized love that is our own Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri. Thank you for your generosity.
Susan G. Komen Foundation
Questions have arisen over the relationship between the Susan G. Komen Foundation and Planned Parenthood. As you may know, Komen sponsors the “Race for the Cure,” which has the noble goal of funding breast cancer research. Unfortunately, they also make donations to Planned Parenthood. Consequently, the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau discourages participation of individual Catholics and prohibits parish and other Catholic organizations from participating in these events. We wholeheartedly support efforts to defeat breast cancer, but cannot participate in fundraising events in which part of the proceeds go to Planned Parenthood and that organization’s direct attacks on human life. Here is a link to the Archdiocese of St. Louis Web site which gives more information on Komen and the position of the Catholic dioceses in Missouri, as well as other organizations which work to defeat breast cancer and are worthy of support: http://archstl.org/respectlife/page/position-statement-susan-g-komen-cure.
“PURGATORY: A state of final purification after death and before entrance into heaven for those who died in God’s friendship, but were only imperfectly purified; a final cleansing of human imperfection before one is able to enter the joy of heaven.”
—Catechism of the Catholic Church 1031; cf. 1472
Among the most misunderstood dogmas of the faith is that of purgatory. As November is the month in which we customarily have special remembrance of the dead in our prayers, it is fitting that we again consider the topic.
If the Bible and the Church’s ancient and constant tradition did not affirm purgatory, I suspect we would notice its glaring absence. Many other revealed truths are illuminated because of purgatory, and presume an awareness of it. Certainly, the term itself is not biblical, but merely a description of this truth found in Scripture and believed by the faithful. In many instances, Scripture alludes to the reality that in order to see God “face to face” in the vision of heaven, we must be pure (see, for example Mt 5:48; Heb 12:14; Jas 3:2; Rv 21:27). This beatific vision of seeing God is what the saints in heaven enjoy, and this is our goal too: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Mt 5:8). What God’s grace and our cooperation do not finish in this life must be completed after we die. God finishes his work; this is what purgatory refers to.
Along with the need for total purification to see God, there is the reality of the communion of saints. More specifically, the reality that all those in the communion of the body of Christ—the living and the dead—are united to one another by the life and love of Christ. Those who make up this communion of saints are those alive now on earth, those souls being purified through purgatory, and those souls in heaven. All of these make up the Church, the mystical body of Christ, and traditionally have been referred to as the Church Militant, the Church Suffering, and the Church Triumphant respectively.
Because all are part of this communion, united to one another even after death, we can assist one another through our prayer and sacrifice after death, even as we assist those among us who are still alive. Death does not destroy the communion of love and grace which Christ brings about in his Church. St. Paul certainly appeared to be praying for his dead friend, Onesiphorus, in 2 Tm 1:16-18. We also have the account in 2 Machabees (2 Mac 12:38-46) in which prayer for the dead is lauded. There is evidence in the catacombs that Christians of the first centuries continued this, something carried on in an unbroken way down to the present.
Jesus himself apparently alluded to purgatory when he spoke about those who commit the “unforgivable sin” against the Holy Spirit, noting they “will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Mt 12:32). St. Peter attested that Jesus “went and preached to the spirits in prison” (1 Pt 3:18-20; 4:6).
There are many other biblical allusions to purgatory. This should not surprise us. Unbroken Christian belief and the Church’s authoritative affirmation confirm what we know by a kind of spiritual intuition: the fire of God’s love will perfect, purify, and prepare those who need it, in some mysterious way after death, as long as we die in God’s friendship (without unrepentant mortal sin and in a state of grace).
Our prayers and the penances that we offer for others are to atone for sins committed and already forgiven. We must remember that even after we have been forgiven of the guilt of our sins, there are repercussions that occurred because of them for which we must atone. God treats us with mercy and justice. It is very similar to a good parent who forgives a child, but then takes away a privilege to restore right order—again, mercy and justice!
Understood rightly, the belief in purgatory is a belief in love, the love of God which conquers all things, the love in which we participate as members of Christ’s body, the Church. With this in mind, let us assist our beloved dead—those whom we know and those whom we do not—with our prayer and penance.
“Today there is a very large number of baptized people who, for the most part, have not formally renounced their baptism, but who are entirely indifferent to it and not living in accordance with it.”
—Pope Paul VI, “On Evangelization in the Modern World”
This past Tueday (Oct. 25, 2011), USA Today ran a story reporting on a recent survey by sociologists, led by Catholic University’s William D’Antonio, on US Catholic identity. The first paragraph read as follows: “One in four Americans call themselves Catholic, but a survey released Monday finds this is more of a cultural label for many than a religious identity.”
The survey’s findings tend to confirm this. For example, of the 1,442 questioned in the survey, only 31 percent report attending Mass at least once a week, down from 44 percent in 1987. The article noted, “When asked why they don’t go to Mass more often, 40 percent say they are simply not very religious.” The survey listed various other aspects of Catholic belief and the corresponding responses.
This trend is not new, as the 1975 quote from Pope Paul VI at the beginning of this column confirms. Nevertheless, the trend is deeper and more pronounced now, 36 years later. It should also be noted that surveys don’t always convey the entire story; even the way a question is asked can skew the response.
The task ahead: evangelization
While this is not good news, it casts in sharp relief the task ahead for the Catholic Church: evangelization. In fact, the first task of the Church is to evangelize her own baptized members. This is a key to understanding the initiatives taken by both Blessed Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. Often you might hear this referred to as the “new evangelization.” The bottom line is that there are many baptized Catholics who are not converted.
Again, this is nothing new. Here is what Card. (then-Abp.) Joseph Bernardin said in his final speech as president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) at the end of 1977: “Realistically, we cannot envisage a successful effort to evangelize others on a large scale—for example, the 80 million unchurched in the US—when so many Catholics themselves have yet to experience conversion.”
Clearly, in order to bring salvation in Christ to the world, we must first bring it to our own baptized brothers and sisters.
He’s much better in person!
Part of the reason for this dilemma is that people have received the sacraments, such as baptism, but never encountered Jesus Christ. Many do not have a personal relationship with him as Lord. Nor subsequently, the life that comes of that act of faith and surrender: one of prayer; one lived according to Christian moral norms; an experience of living in the power of the Holy Spirit; a life of love lived in service to others, especially the poor.
In many cases, people have been told about Jesus (sometimes ineptly) but have not been led to meet Jesus. He’s much better in person! The Catholic Church is uniquely blessed to offer the whole Jesus to the world—in her teachings, the Scriptures, the sacraments, and most intimnately in the Eucharist, his substantial presence.
The start of a turn in the trend is a turn to God. The Church must commit to being a prayer-filled community. We must love others enough to want to lead them to Jesus, so that he can do the rest. We begin also by living vital, joy-filled lives devoted to Jesus, and lose our fear of sharing the Gospel. We do this by inviting others to pray, by speaking about faith, by serving the poor, and talking about the Lord’s action in our own life. We must be better witnesses, and to do that we must be even more converted ourselves.
Bp. Johnston’s prayer intentions for November are:
The unemployed: For those seeking employment, that they may be able to provide for themselves and their families. Gifts of the Spirit: For a new openness to the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the lives of all the baptized.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net which was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind …
” —Mt 13:47
The Bible gives us many images and metaphors with which to understand the kingdom of God and the mystery of the Church. These are helpful because we are often tempted to think of the Church as merely another association among many—like a sports club, a civic organization, or a political party—in which we have interests, and can leave if those interests are not satisfied. Being a member in the Church is different. It means something deeper and more profound.
This is important to remember, especially on those occasions in which the faults, weaknesses, and sins of those in the Church come to light. Scandals are never good, precisely because they undermine the faith of believers, and obscure the goodness and beauty of Christ’s presence in the Church.
In a recent press conference during his pastoral visit to his native Germany, Pope Benedict responded to the question of those who are tempted to leave the Church because of scandals. In part, he said, “I would say it is important to know that being in the Church is not like being in some association, but it is being in the net of the Lord, with which he draws good fish and bad fish from the waters of death to the land of life. It is possible that I might be alongside bad fish in this net and I sense this, but it remains true that I am in it neither for the former nor for the latter but because it is the Lord’s net; it is something different from all human associations, a reality that touches the heart of my being.”
In essence, the Holy Father is simply elaborating on Jesus’ teaching. The People of God is made up of all peoples, wounded in varying degrees by sin, but redeemed and born again by water and the Spirit. Grace is at work in the Church such that sinners and saints and saints-in-the-making are gathered together. The Church is the creation of God and in fact, identified with Him. Jesus would, for example, speak to St. Paul at his conversion on the road to Damascus in terms that confirm this: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4) (Emphasis added).
This is not to say that scandals and sins should be dismissed or ignored. They should cause us grief, as they no doubt cause God grief. Nevertheless, they should first motivate us to live up to our own identity as members of Christ: “You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor 6:19-20). Second, as Pope Benedict notes, we must “work against these scandals from within, precisely by being present within the Lord’s great net.”
If we think of it, the Church of God is not only like a family, it is a family, the Family of God. The relationships we have within this family are profoundly more than simply voluntary membership. The sacraments draw us into the very inner life of God, and in that, bind us to one another as members of the same reality. This is why we speak of a changed identity when we enter the Church through the sacraments of initiation. We are different, a new creation; we belong to God and one another. This love and life in which we participate move us to live differently and to understand our own lives differently. I am part of something great and good and holy, because it is the creation of God and animated by the Holy Spirit. In this light, the failures of others “in the net,” or our own for that matter, will not destroy our faith in God or his Church, but rather move us to greater conversion and service.
“I shall sum it up like this: by withdrawing into silence and solitude, human beings, so to speak, ‘expose’ themselves to reality in their nakedness, to that apparent ‘void’ … in order to experience instead fullness, the presence of God, of the most royal reality that exists and that lies beyond the tangible dimension. He is a perceptible presence in every created thing: in the air that we breathe, in the light that we see and that warms us, in the grass, in stones. … God, Creator omnium, [the Creator of all], passes through all things but is beyond them and for this very reason is the foundation of them all.”
—Pope Benedict XVI, Homily at Carthusian monastery, Oct. 10, 2011.
Among the various impoverishments that modern human beings face is that of silence. We don’t consider silence a necessity as we would food, clothing, and shelter. After all, silence is, by its very nature, a lack of something: noise. Yet, this lack of noise is not only healthy, but necessary for thinking and praying, or, to use another word, contemplation.
Without contemplation, we end up being driven by the tides of activity and noise in our external world. The commands and suggestions of the many voices and sounds that constantly hit us preoccupy our brains and souls so that there is no space left in order to reflect and become aware of God and his “still, small voice”(1 Kgs 19:12) speaking to us, or to think deeply about important things. This lack of silence and the concurrent lack of prayerful contemplation leads to a disjointed life, particularly for Christians. Without silence, we often miss God in the day-to-day events of our lives, in the beauty and wonder of the created world, and in the word of God we read and hear.
Lack of silence is an enemy of Christian vocations among the young. It is no accident that a large number of young men studying for the priesthood, and women and men entering religious life, identify adoration before the Blessed Sacrament as a key to discovering their call. While they were present in silence before Jesus, something happened—they became aware of what Jesus wanted of them. Without that window of silence—in prayer, on a retreat, anywhere—the Lord gets drowned out. There is too much competition these days for our attention.
Culturally, we have become so accustomed to noise in both urban and suburban living that many are afraid to be without it. In the same homily quoted above, Pope Benedict noted, “The youngest … seem to want to fill every empty moment with music and images, as for fear of feeling this very emptiness. This is a trend that has always existed, especially among the young and in the more developed urban contexts, but today it has reached a level such as to give rise to talk about anthropological mutation. Some people are no longer capable of remaining for long periods in silence and solitude.”
In other words, immersion in the virtual world of sound and images, from the earliest point in one’s life, tends to warp one’s human capacity for experiencing the deeper realities that can only be grasped through silent prayer and contemplation.
The needs we have for healthy silence can be addressed in several ways. First, we must find it at appropriate times in our churches. I highlighted this in my most recent pastoral letter on the Sacred Liturgy and Norms for our diocese. By its very nature, the liturgy has designated times for silence in order that we may reflect with wonder and awe on the mysteries of God and his love for us. Our churches must be sanctuaries of prayer, refuges where we can escape from the noise for moments with God so that we may have a “heart-to-heart” talk.
We can also seek escapes into the “wilderness,” as Jesus often did, to pray. That wilderness can be a fishing trip, a hike, or raking leaves in the backyard. It takes effort and often creativity, but in southern Missouri we are blessed there are still some places where one can get away from noise for a while. It is my hope that Trinity Hills, the diocese’s new 114-acre property for service, formation, and evangelization, east of Springfield, will serve as one of those places for many in the diocese.
Finally, we are blessed to have within the diocese a community of men in Ava, the Cistercian monks of Assumption Abbey, whose vocation is to seek God in silence and love. They, along with the nearby hermit community of Nazareth, live a dedicated life of prayer and contemplation, lifting up our needs, and those of the world, to God. They are, in the words of Pope Benedict, “in the heart of the Church,” and are crucial to her life and health. The monks have a guesthouse and often host those who wish to get away for some days of silence and prayer.
Whatever our vocation in the Church might be, each of us needs the sound of silence for both our spiritual and human health.
“Behold the man of the eight Beatitudes who bears in himself the grace of the Gospel, the Good News, the joy of salvation offered to us by Christ.”
—Blessed Pope John Paul II
A relatively recent addition to the list of young saints and blesseds is Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. He was born in 1901 and died in 1925. When he was beatified in 1990, Blessed Pope John Paul II declared him the saint of “ordinariness.” He was someone with a sense of humor who enjoyed sports and an occasional drink with his friends. He was known for his practical jokes, including short sheeting the beds of priests, as well as his daring hiking adventures, leading those who accompanied him in the rosary. Yet, as you can imagine, there was also something quite extraordinary about him.
Blessed Pier Giorgio’s story is remarkable in that his goodness emerged from a family situation with which many young people might identify. His family was materially well-off, but far from perfect.
His parents had marital problems, frequently fought, and were close to separation. He was criticized for not pursuing more vigorously a life of power and money. Instead, he secretly pursued a more lasting treasure. He dedicated himself to the poor and used his money to get medicine and other things that the needy and sick lacked. He made regular visits to them and this was largely unknown until after he died, when the multitudes he had helped showed up at his funeral. He lived by Jesus’ words, “When you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret” (Mt 6:3).
As one biographer, Domenico Bettinelli, Jr., writes: “When [Pier] was a child, a poor mother with a boy in tow came begging to the Frassati home. Pier Giorgio answered the door, and seeing the boy´s shoeless feet, gave him his own shoes. At graduation, given the choice of money or a car, [Pier] chose the money and gave it to the poor. He obtained a room for an old woman evicted from her tenement, provided a bed for a consumptive invalid, and supported the three children of a sick and grieving widow. … Only God knew of these charities. He never mentioned them to others.”
The Eucharist, devotion to the Blessed Mother, and a regular life of prayer were at the center of Pier Giorgio’s life. He would often get up early and walk a great distance to attend Mass every day, prior to beginning the rest of his day’s duties. He was a good athlete (in today’s language, a “jock”), very handsome and funny—quite popular, but was known for being humble and modest. He loved Christ and this was what inspired him and transformed his life. Writing to one of his friends, he explained the religious foundation of his charitable activity: “Jesus comes every day to visit me in the Eucharist: I return the visit by going to find him among the poor.”
He contracted polio from one of the sick people whom he had helped. His last spoken words were a request that a friend pick up medicine and deliver it to one of the infirmed he was tending.
Pope John Paul II was inspired by Frassati when he was a young Polish student, and named him the patron saint of World Youth Day in 2000. To this day, like many of the Church’s saints, Frassati’s body is incorrupt. His life is becoming more well-known among today’s youth. This can be explained in part by the fact that his background and circumstances are so similar to many contemporary young people.
Frassati’s extraordinary life of holiness emerged in large part after his death. Many in his own family were unaware of what he was doing until all the people he had served emerged at his funeral and in the days that followed. He lived the Christian life in such a natural and unassuming way, that they were shocked at the impact he had made on so many people. He stands as a beacon, especially for young adults in the Church. He is a shining example of intentional Christianity, lived with joy, freedom, and ordinariness. For this reason, his popularity is rapidly growing, especially on college campuses around the world.
For more information on Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati and Frassati societies in the US, go to: www.frassatiusa.org. See also the article, “The Wild One: Blessed Pier Giorgio” at www.Catholic.net.
“I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have reveled them to infants.”
As the oldest of four children, one thing I never experienced in my own family was having a big brother or sister. I am the big brother. Nevertheless, over time I have discovered what many others have: that the saints are our big brothers and sisters in the family of God, the Church. I continue to be inspired and encouraged by their lives. I realize that the saints are not saints because they never sinned. They are saints because they persevered in striving, with God’s grace, to turn from sin and come to be like Christ in their own time and place.
Among the saints that fascinate the most are those young saints and blesseds. Their example and the lessons of their lives continue to have great relevance for us, their little brothers and sisters in the faith.
Last year someone gave me a calendar highlighting some of these saints. Many young saints show us that God can bring forth great sanctity in children—and in a certain sense, they are most suited for this. Recall Jesus words: “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:3).
Among their number are some of our favorites. These include St. Agnes, the patroness of our cathedral in Springfield. As an adolescent girl, Agnes vowed her virginity to Christ. She courageously held fast to her commitment and her faith, even when threatened with torture and death by those who desired her as suitors. Like the root word that forms her name, agnus or “lamb,” she modeled her life on the Lamb of God, and gave her life as a martyr rather than renounce her gift to Him. She is a model of courage and purity, and she is mentioned in that list of early Roman martyrs that we hear when we use Eucharistic Prayer I at Mass.
Another young saint that continues to inspire countless lives is St. Thérèse of Lisieux, also fondly known as “the Little Flower.” Thérèse was only 24 when she died of tuberculosis. Nevertheless, her “Little Way” has spiritually influenced thousands of lives. This influence might be summed up in the response that she made to a nurse who asked the young saint what she said to God during the many long nights when she could not sleep because of her illness. St. Thérèse replied, “I do not say anything, Sister, I just love Him.” She teaches us that each one of us can become holy if we will use all of the events and circumstances of our lives as an opportunity to love Him who has first loved us. Doing small things, the daily stuff of life, with great devotion, generosity and love, is the path to sanctity.
The disciples thought of this verse from Psalm 69 in relation to Jesus when they witnessed his cleansing of the Temple. Zeal is one of those attributes that does not get mentioned much these days. My bet is that many young people have never heard the word ‘zeal’ used. When it is used, it is usually in a negative way, as when someone is described as a “zealot,” bringing to mind some sort of fanatical nut of whom you want to steer clear.
Yet, religious zeal is something that is not only positive, but one could argue that it is essential to fully living a Christian life. Zeal is not merely enthusiasm. True zeal springs from authentic love. One might say that zeal is a manifestation of strong love in action for the beloved. If one truly loves Jesus Christ, one will look for ways to serve him wholeheartedly. Christ’s own zeal was born from His love of the Father.
Zeal in priests
Priests should have zeal—for Christ and for the salvation of others. This is manifested in their preaching, their seeking out the lost, and any way they spend themselves in the work to save souls. A friend sent me a reflection by Fr. Richard Tomasek, SJ, who recently died. In the reflection, this dedicated priest spoke about his own priestly zeal, and how it was inspired in him by other priests he had known, and from reading the lives of the saints. As he lay dying of cancer, preparing for his own death, Fr. Tomasek wrote: “No matter where I am … my prayer and passion is for the salvation of souls and the building up of the Church. The recent beatification of Pope John Paul II underlines for the Church and for me the primacy of zealous evangelization. Though I now ‘pray for the Church and the Society’ as I deal with cancer, my zeal only grows as I strive to ‘fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of His Body the Church’ [Col 1:24].”
“For I know that the Lord is great, and that our Lord is above all gods. Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.”
These days there is a lot of talk about the economy. Many do not realize that the word economy has been used throughout Christian history in another sense. It comes from the Greek word oikonomia, which means “management of a household” or “stewardship.” Early Christians used the word to refer to God’s creating and governing the world and, in particular, to his plan for the salvation of the world in the person and work of Jesus Christ. This was, and is, referred to as the “economy of salvation.” This plan of God continues to be accomplished through the Body of Christ, the Church; in its life and sacraments. Hence, we can also speak of the “sacramental economy.”
We might sometimes be tempted to think that our lives and the world are moving forward in some random fashion, subject to forces beyond our control. Instead, we are encouraged by the realization that just as the world came to be at the loving will of God the Father, and was redeemed by the will of the Father through the love of the Son’s sacrificial death on the cross, so it will be seen to its final fulfillment by the will of the same Father. The words of the song, “He’s got the whole world in his hands,” say it well.
This part of our faith should lessen our fears and give us confidence, even when things look bleak in the world or in our own lives. As God loves the world, so does the Church. The Church’s mission is to carry forward the mission of Jesus to save the world. The Second Vatican Council put it this way, “While helping the world and receiving many benefits from it, the Church has a single intention: that God’s kingdom may come, and that the salvation of the whole human race may come to pass” (“Gaudium et Spes” [“Joy and Hope”], 45).
As members of the Church, each of us must find our God-given role to be a part of this mission. This is what we mean in part by “vocation.” It is how we take part in the economy of salvation. It fills our lives with meaning and purpose. So, while the US’ economy may not be doing very well right now, we all should be mindful of the greater economy of which we are a part through our baptism and communion in the Church. Let us do our part to further the GDP: God’s Divine Plan.
Upcoming series: ‘Catholicism’
I want to call your attention to an upcoming series which will be broadcast nationally on most PBS affiliates. The series, “Catholicism,” is a high-definition documentary illustrating the story and beauty of the global Church. It is a product of Fr. Robert Barron, whose articles occasionally appear in The Mirror. I highly encourage viewing the series which will begin airing in various television markets this October. Check your local PBS schedule and The Mirror for schedules.