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Archive for September, 2011

What Is Needed

He’s in heaven now, but the wisdom of Blessed John Paul the Great continues to attract and challenge. Consider, for example, these words,  penned by JPII for the 1995 World Day of Prayer for Vocations:

“This is what is needed: a Church for young people, which will know how to speak to their heart and enkindle, comfort and inspire enthusiasm in it with the joy of the Gospel and the strength of the Eucharist; a Church which will know how to invite and welcome the person who seeks a purpose for which to commit his whole existence; a Church which is not afraid to require much, after having given much; which does not fear asking from young people the effort of a noble and authentic adventure, such as that of the following of the Gospel.”

To you who are adults, may we use these words as an examination of conscience. To you who enjoy the blessing of youth, may these words point you to Christ with a clearer vision and a zeal for the future.

John Paul II has been gone for some six years now . . . but oh do I miss him still.

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

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Last week the Church celebrated the feast day of St. Cyprian, bishop and martyr. Condemned for being a Christian during the reign of the emperor, Valerian, the account of Cyprian’s trial has survived the ravages of history. The account makes for interesting reading:

Galerius Maximus: “Are you Thascius Cyprian?”
St. Cyprian: “Yes, I am.”
Galerius Maximus: Have you posed as the pontiff of a sacrilegious group?”
St. Cyprian: “I have.”
Galerius Maximus: “Our most venerable emperors have commanded you to perform the religious rites.”
St. Cyprian: “I will not do so.”

Because he refused to deny Christ by offering incense to the pagan gods of Rome, Cyprian was summarily sentenced to death and executed by the sword that day, the 14th of September, in the year 258. Faithful Christians retrieved his body that night, and with a candlelight procession, led him to a cemetery along the Mappalian Way where he was buried. His prayers, like those of all the martyrs, continue to support us today.

But consider again the directness of his answers in court: “Yes, I am . . . I have . . . I will not.” When accused of being a follower of Christ, St. Cyprian neither equivocated nor hesitated. He did not compromise nor rationalize. He refused to explain himself or offer excuses. St. Cyprian was a Christian, period. And if his loyalty to Christ meant suffering and death, so be it.

You and I are Christians, too. Are we as direct in our testimony as St. Cyprian was? Living in a culture where the following of Christ is often viewed as foolish or irrational, the temptation to hedge our bets is strong. It can be very easy, when faced with the accusations of our friends and the pressure of our culture, to compromise or equivocate our faith. Maybe we hide the fact of our Christianity. Maybe we do and say things that increase our popularity and acceptance, but deny and injure Christ. Maybe we accept the benefits that Jesus offers while refusing to accept his cross. I admit that way too many times, my own courage has failed.

In his recent installation homily as the new archbishop of Philadelphia, Archbishop Charles Chaput said: “It’s crucial for those of us who are bishops not simply to look like bishops but to truly be bishops.” The same can be said of me and my brother priests: We need to not just look like priests but to truly be priests. And the same can be said of you, no matter your vocation or state in life: It’s crucial to not simply look like a Christian but to truly be a Christian.

Living for Christ is not easy. It never has been nor will it be. But our world, burdened by war, moral confusion and hopelessness, needs the presence and healing power of God’s Son. You and I are his hands and feet and presence. But we cannot play games or pretend. Either we are a Christian or we are not. When the world asks, “Are you also one of his followers?” let us answer directly, “I am!” St. Cyprian, bishop and martyr, pray for us.

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

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Disappointment and Hope

This world is going to disappoint us. Sure, we’ll have triumphs. Yes, there will be joys. But sooner or later, despite our best efforts, this world is going to disappoint us. The seeds of that disappointment are many. Our football team will lose, our boyfriend or girlfriend will dump us, our foolproof plan will fail or our most trusted ally will turn out to be a betrayer. It’s going to happen. To paraphrase that classic Humphrey Bogart dialogue at the end of Casablanca: “Maybe not today or tomorrow but soon and for the rest of our lives . . . this world is going to disappoint us.”

Hopefully, we’re not surprised. Christ himself warned us, “In the world you will have trouble (John 16:33).” And sometimes that trouble is brutally hard to accept: injustice, illness, natural disaster or death. We struggle not to be disappointed when others let us down. We struggle not to be disappointed when events seem to conspire against us. We struggle not to be disappointed when our suffering appears fruitless. And we struggle mightily not to be disappointed – or despondent – when the one we love is taken from us by death. Maybe even today, this world is going to disappoint us.

But this world should disappoint us! This world must disappoint us! Why? We are not made for this world! Of course, we live out our mortal lives here and we are obliged to make this world better, but ultimately our home is in heaven with God. Lest we forget, we’re all just passing through. Our final destination is a supernatural existence with God in the timeless bliss of eternity.

Consider this: at the heart of our disappointment lies an insidious falsity, we truly believe we are smart enough, tough enough and powerful enough to defeat every adversary – even death. We think we are God. But we are not. And thank the real God that we are not! Like an infant in the crib, we are absolutely and totally dependent on the God of the universe for everything. But for most of us, our pride tries to convince us otherwise. We begin to think we can do the impossible. And when we cannot . . . we grow disappointed. Yet as many times as this occurs, God is there, always at our side, picking us up and dusting us off, and whispering in our ear: “You don’t have to be God. Let me handle that. You just accept my love, and all your deepest desires and dreams will be fulfilled. Really. I give you everything. It’s yours.”

If we live with our hope set upon this world, disappointment is our destiny. If live as if we are God, the disappointment will be great. But if we live in the reality that we are loved and cherished and cared for by God, if we live in the reality that more awaits us beyond these earthly shores, if we live in the reality that disappointment will give way to joy beyond compare, then even here, even during this mortal life, we will know the hope God gives us. And filled with that hope, even the deepest disappointments will not be too deep. “In the world you will have trouble,” sayeth the Lord, “but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world (John 16:33).”
Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

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Last month, during his homily for the seminarians attending World Youth Day, Pope Benedict preached the following:

“The holiness of the Church is above all the objective holiness of the very person of Christ, of his Gospel and his sacraments, the holiness of that power from on high which enlivens and impels it. We have to be saints so as not to create a contradiction between the sign that we are and the reality that we wish to signify. Meditate well upon this mystery of the Church, living the years of your formation in deep joy, humbly, clear-mindedly and with radical fidelity to the Gospel, in an affectionate relation to the time spent and the people among who you live.”

Clearly, the pope’s words have significance for those who are preparing to offer their lives in service as priests. But they are also of significance to every Christian. Whether we are always conscious of the fact or not, whether we like it or not, you and I, simply because we are Christians, represent Christ to the world. How are we doing with that?

If we are authentically living out the radical fidelity to the Gospel of which Pope Benedict speaks, people will be attracted to Christ as he shines through us. If we are living in a way which denies the Gospel’s precepts, we will be a force for evil, driving people away from Christ. As Benedict indicates, we do well to meditate deeply on this mystery.

Though we are weak and sinful, though we can be unsteady and unfaithful, the Lord continues to entrust you and I with the spread of his Gospel and the growth of his Church. What an amazing responsibility! But he does not leave us alone in our efforts to proclaim his salvation. Christ gives us his Word, he gives us his mercy, he gives us his mother, he gives us his Spirit, and he gives us himself in the Eucharist. If we humbly accept these gifts, surrendering our self-interest and fear, the Lord will make us the saints we were created to be. And understand this, it’s not the politicians and the powerful who most often change the world for the better, it’s the saints. We can indeed, as the old saying indicates, be the change we wish to see. But we do it best by being a saint.

As Pope Benedict implores of seminarians and of us all . . . let’s meditate well upon this mystery.

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

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