Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Everyday Witness

This morning as I was praying my breviary I came across the second reading for the Office of Readings and I  saw a connection with something Pope Francis said in his Sunday homily yesterday. Today St. Augustine tells us in one of his sermons that we should "make sure that your life does not contradict your words." He goes on to talk about making sure that our words and actions are consistent, that our faith is evident by the way we live: "If you desire to praise him, then live what you express. Live good lives, and you yourselves will be his praise."

In his homily yesterday, Pope Francis said that the "inconsistency on the part of pastors and the faithful between what they say and what they do, between word and manner of life, is undermining the Church's credibility."  Evangelization, in other words, depends upon the consistency between word and action.

We often think of evangelization as going door to door and engaging people in conversation about the faith. I like to say that Jesus called fishermen to be fishers of men, fishers of people, and the bait that they used was the witness of lives that attracted people to Jesus.  Every moment of life is precious.  Our lives may seem mundane and unimportant, but they aren't.  Every moment is an opportunity to grow in holiness and to witness to that holiness by the way we live.  Pope Francis spoke about this, calling it the "middle class of holiness" and offering the example of his namesake who called his followers to preach the Gospel and, if necessary, to use words.  Here's the exact quote:

"We should all ask ourselves: How do I bear witness to Christ through my faith? Do I have the courage of Peter and the other Apostles, to think, to choose and to live as a Christian, obedient to God? To be sure, the testimony of faith comes in very many forms, just as in a great fresco, there is a variety of colours and shades; yet they are all important, even those which do not stand out. In God’s great plan, every detail is important, even yours, even my humble little witness, even the hidden witness of those who live their faith with simplicity in everyday family relationships, work relationships, friendships. There are the saints of every day, the “hidden” saints, a sort of “middle class of holiness”, as a French author said, that “middle class of holiness” to which we can all belong. ... Let us all remember this: one cannot proclaim the Gospel of Jesus without the tangible witness of one’s life. Those who listen to us and observe us must be able to see in our actions what they hear from our lips, and so give glory to God! I am thinking now of some advice that Saint Francis of Assisi gave his brothers: preach the Gospel and, if necessary, use words. Preaching with your life, with your witness."

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Religious Freedom and St. Stanislaus

Today is the Stanislaus, Bishop and Martyr and Patron of Poland. He was born in 1030 and became the Bishop of Krakow in 1072.  The king at the time was Boleslaus who was morally corrupt, unjust, and cruel. St. Stanislaus confronted him and, when he would not listen, excommunicated him. King Boleslaus ordered his soldiers to kill the Bishop but they balked and finally the King killed Stanislaus himself on this day in 1079. Nine centuries later, Pope John Paul II returned to his homeland and Krakow where he had been the Archbishop at the time of his election to the papacy. Poland was still under Communist control and the Pope's visit there inspired the people to be courageous as they lived faithful to the Gospel and struggled for religious freedom.

It just so happens that the first reading at Mass today (Acts of the Apostles 5:27-33) includes this declaration of St. Peter and the other Apostles who were being persecuted: "We must obey God rather than men."  These are timely words on a timely feast as our own nation struggles with questions of religious liberty.

When he visited Poland in 1979, Blessed John Paul II said the following:

"History tells how the relationship between Bishop Stanislaus and King Boleslaus II, serene at first, later deteriorated because of the injustices and cruelty visited by the King upon his subjects. The Bishop of Krakow, an authentic "good shepherd" (cf. John 10:10-14), defended his flock. The King replied with violence. Bishop Stanislaus was killed while celebrating Mass. On the venerated skull of the Martyr, now preciously preserved in an artistic reliquary, one can still see the signs of the heavy mortal blows.

"From that time on, Saint Stanislaus became the Patron of Poland. He became especially the benefactor and protector of poor people; he became, above all, an example to Bishops as to how to communicate and defend the sacred deposit of faith with undaunted strength and unbending spirit. For centuries he has been considered an illustrious witness to genuine freedom and to the fruitful synthesis which is brought about in a believer between loyalty to an earthly fatherland and fidelity to the Church which lives in the expectation of a definitive and future city (cf. Heb 13:14).

"After nine centuries the personality and the message of Saint Stanislaus preserve an extraordinary relevance. This regards both his life as a pastor of a portion of God's People and the witness of blood given by his martyrdom.

"But Saint Stanislaus is certainly and especially "the man" of his times: his pastoral ministry is fulfilled under the pontificate of Saint Gregory VII, in a period, that is, in which the Church claims her own freedom and her own original spiritual mission in the face of the powerful men of the world."

He also said the following in a homily at a Mass in honor of St. Stanislaus:

"All of life ... assumes the aspect of a great and fundamental test: a test of faith and of character. Saint Stanislaus has become, in the spiritual history of the Polish people, the patron of this great and fundamental test of faith and of character. In this sense we honour him also as the patron of the Christian moral order. In the final analysis the moral order is built up by means of human beings. This order consists of a large number of tests, each one a test of faith and of character. From every victorious test the moral order is built up. From every failed test moral disorder grows.

"We know very well from our entire history that we must not permit, absolutely and at whatever cost, this disorder. For this we have already paid a bitter price many times.

"This is therefore our meditation on the seven years of St Stanislaus, on his pastoral ministry in the See of Krakow, on the new examination of his relics, that is to say his skull, which still shows the marks of his mortal wounds—all of this leads us today to a great and ardent prayer for the victory of the moral order in this difficult epoch of our history."

May each of us join our prayers to this prayer of Blessed John Paul II and the Polish people who struggled for religious liberty and won the victory over a government that sought to deny it.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Divine Mercy and the Apostleship of Prayer

I spoke at the Mercy Sunday Prayer Service which the West Allis, WI parish, Mary Queen of Heaven, held this afternoon.  I basically recycled the talk that I gave last year at Marytown, but in giving it this year I was struck by the close connection between Divine Mercy devotion and the spirituality of the Apostleship of Prayer.  Both are Eucharistic.

When we participate in the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we share in the priesthood of Jesus Christ by offering him to the Father. As members of the Body of Christ, we are united to this offering and so we offer ourselves with Jesus to the Father.  Then, as we leave Mass and go out into the world, we live the offering we have made.  This is what St. Paul means in Romans 12:1 when he writes: "I urge you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship."  In the Eucharistic spirituality of the Apostleship of Prayer we renew that offering every morning as we begin the day, try to consciously live that offering throughout the day, and then, in the evening, examine the day which we have just offered to God.

The prayers of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy are also a way that we live a Eucharistic life by making an offering of ourselves with Jesus.  At the beginning of each decade of the Chaplet we pray: "Eternal Father, I offer you the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your Dearly Beloved Son, Our Lord, Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world."  With these words our hearts are united with the Mass which is being celebrated somewhere in the world at any given moment. We are renewing the offering of ourselves with Jesus that we make at every Mass.  And with the prayer that follows, we remember, as we do at Mass, the suffering and death of Jesus by which the world is saved: "For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world." 

This is far from an individualistic devotion or spirituality.  Eucharistic spirituality, by joining us in a deeper way to Christ, focuses our attention outside ourselves to a world desperately in need of mercy.  We pray for ourselves because we are sinners in need of mercy, but we pray as well for the entire world for which Jesus suffered, died, and rose.  Divine Mercy devotions are not in competition with the Eucharist or with Sacred Heart devotions.  They are another and very beautiful way in which we can make an offering of ourselves with Jesus for this intention: that every person may come to know the love of God revealed in Jesus, accept his mercy, and be saved. 

Monday, April 1, 2013

God's "I Do"

Like most citizens, I've been called upon for jury duty but I've never been selected to serve, so I've never been at a trial. But I've seen enough TV and watched enough movies to know the answer to the question, "Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?" It's "I do."

We hear that same response weddings where the couple has chosen to answer the question, "Do you take (Name) for your lawful wife/husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do you part?"

And we hear this response six times at the Easter Vigil when we solemnly renew our baptismal promises. When asked if we reject sin and Satan we respond with a resounding "I do!" When asked to affirm the statements of our creed we respond as well with "I do." 

This "I do" reject sin and "I do" believe in the Christian faith is really a response to God's prior "I do."

We could ask God, "Do you love me?"  The response would be, "I do." The Most Holy Trinity shared love by creating the world, human beings, and me.  Each of us is, in the words of Blessed John Paul II, "unique, precious, and unrepeatable." It is as though each of us gives God a pleasure and joy that no other person can give God.

We could also ask God, "Do you love me enough to die for me?" And the response would again be, "I do." When humanity sinned, rejecting God's love and plan, God did not abandon us but the Second Person of the Trinity became human, shared our life, our suffering, and our death. And he rose from the dead to blaze a trail to heaven, the fulfillment of God's plan for humanity.  In the words of a contemporary Christian song, "You would rather die than to ever live without me."

And we could ask God, "Do you love me so much that you want to marry me?" That may seem like an odd question, but the truth is we are made for union with God. In Pope John Paul's words, we are made for a "spousal union" with God and human marriages are sacred because they are a sign of that union which God desires with each human person. So, to this question also, God responds, "I do."

The Exultet from the Easter Vigil speaks of this marriage: "O truly blessed night, when things of heaven are wed to those of earth, and divine to human." God became one with us so that we might become one with him.  Easter is the feast which anticipates the wedding feast of the Lamb of God when, as St. Paul declares in his chapter on Christ's resurrection and ours, "God will be all in all" (1 Corinthians 15:28). Jesus rose from the dead so that we too could rise from the dead to be one with him forever.  He gives us a taste of his risen life in the Eucharist where he unites his flesh with ours. 

Another way of putting the six questions from the renewal of our baptismal promises is: Do you reject everything that gets in the way of your union with God? Do you want union with God more than anything else? May we also answer "I do" to God's "I do."