Happy Pentecost to you all! Pope Benedict XVI shared these words in the second year of his pontificate: “But what does it mean to love Christ? It means trusting him even in times of trial, following him faithfully even on the Via Crucis, in the hope that soon the morning of resurrection will come. Entrusting ourselves to Christ, we lose everything, we gain everything.”
As we look at today’s challenges, you and I are called to continue to entrust ourselves to Christ, so that we might “gain everything,” even though the cross may feel very heavy at times. As the move to remove God, Jesus, Christianity, and faith from our society continues to become more pervasive and insidious, the cross may seem to be heavier than it has ever been. We must continue to respond with courage, with great fervor, and with an even greater trust in God. “I am with you always, until the end of the age,” Jesus tells us.
We, the Church are facing very challenging times right now. There is a great battle happening in our country. Some might think that it is a political battle — the left against the right; the conservatives against the liberals; the conservative media against the liberal media; the pro-lifers against the pro-choicers; the traditional marriage people against the gay marriage people; those who care about religious liberty against those who want God or any notion of faith out of the public sphere.
While all of this is true — there is a political battle going on and we must continue to do all that we can to fight it — this is not the greater battle. From my perspective, this political and cultural battle is only a by-product of a greater battle, and perhaps we should call it a war. It is a spiritual war that the Evil One has waged upon this country. These political issues, while very important for the wholeness and health of our society, are merely battles within this great war. The real or greater battle is spiritual.
Pope Francis alluded to this as well when speaking about a bill in Argentina to approve same-sex “marriage.” He wrote: “Let’s not be naïve. We are not talking about a simple political battle; this is a destructive pretension against the plan of God.”
This spiritual battle has resulted in a collapse of Christian society today and is being experienced even more so in the Catholic Church. Jesus is under attack and has been taken off the cross so that Christianity can fit into the relativistic, secularized mindset that dominates our culture. For many, Jesus has been recreated into their own image and likeness, where everything feels safe, comfortable, and non-sacrificial. Truth has been reduced to subjectivity and relativity, in other words, “What I think it is.” Faith is being pushed more and more into a merely private and personal realm. Many want “freedom from religion.” This is why we are currently in the battle for religious freedom and for the defense of marriage. This is why this Year of Faith and the New Evangelization are so important for the Church and for our world.
A recent extensive survey taken by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life studied the shifts in the U.S. religious landscape by interviewing more than 35,000 Americans age 18 and older. Among other things, the survey revealed that one-in-four Americans ages 18-29 say they are not currently affiliated with any particular religion. It also showed that Catholicism has experienced the greatest net losses as a result of changes in affiliation. While nearly one-in-three Americans were raised in the Catholic faith, today fewer than one-in-four describe themselves as Catholic. These losses would have been more pronounced were it not for the offsetting impact of immigration.
As long as Catholics are leaving the Church or are no longer describing themselves as Catholics, it speaks clearly that the secularism in our culture has severely influenced the way people think regarding the Church and how they see the place of religion in the public and political sphere. This trend could perhaps lead to discouragement, apathy and indifference. This study speaks volumes of the great need for evangelization, a need for intensified prayer and fasting for our country and her leaders, and a need to make use of the ways to make our Catholic voice heard. We cannot and will not give up the fight!
Again, this is why all of us must take seriously this Year of Faith and the New Evangelization. Its importance for the life of the Church and for our world cannot be understated. We each must look seriously at our own call to discipleship. Jesus continues to invite us into a deeper relationship through our own personal daily encounter with him in prayer, in the sacramental life of the Church, and reaching out to others. It is the Holy Spirit who leads us to drink “living water” (John 4:10).
No matter how much knowledge we have about the Catholic faith, no matter how old we are, not matter if we are a bishop, a priest, deacon, religious, or a layperson, Jesus’ invitation to drink this “living water” is never ending. It helps us to become who we have been created to be. St. Catherine of Siena stated, “If you are what you are meant to be, you would set the world on fire.”
We live in a narcissistic world where many people of all ages are seeking power and happiness on their own, thus leaving their hearts empty, and those moments of happiness are fleeting leaving no experience of lasting, unshakable joy. What is needed more than anything else is for people to experience the joy of being definitively loved by God. And those who have experienced this love need to communicate it.
In the words of Pope Benedict, “That’s what evangelization is — the communication in words and in life, in prayer and in silence, and action and in suffering, of a love that both embraces man and infinitely surpasses him, and therefore of joy. This joy can sometimes be demanding and difficult. It is, after all, a joy ‘bigger’ than man because it comes from God. But precisely for that reason, it is the only joy that can satisfy the insatiable hunger of the human heart.”
Pope Francis recently wrote, “This joy helps us to be each day more fruitful, spending ourselves and unraveling ourselves in the service of the holy faithful people of God. This joy will grow increasingly to the degree that we take seriously the pastoral conversion that the Church asks of us.”
This love, this joy, is at the heart of the Gospel. It is at the heart of the Catholic faith. Catholicism is a love story. I believe many Catholics are in a loveless relationship with God, meaning they are not serious about it. The Catholic faith makes sense for those who are in this love relationship. Once we have encountered Christ in a personal, intimate way, we are compelled to share this good news. St. Paul said, “The love of Christ compels us” (2 Cor 5:14).
Each of us must encounter Jesus in our own intimate and personal way, letting his love, his mercy, his presence “burn” inside of us so much that it transforms us totally. Only then can this love radiate
through everything we do and say — in both our silences and suffering, as well as in our happiness and joy.
In a recent homily by our Holy Father, Pope Francis, in speaking about evangelization, he offered an image of the Church as a babysitter. He said, “The Church cannot be merely a babysitter who takes care of the child just to get him to sleep. That would make her a “slumbering” Church. Instead, the members of the Church, the baptized, must evangelize. When we do this, the Church becomes a mother who generates children, capable of bringing Christ to the world.”
He further said, “Let us ask the Lord for the grace to become baptized persons who are brave and sure that the Holy Spirit who is in us, received at baptism, always moves us to proclaim Jesus Christ with our life, our testimony and even with our words.”
All baptized and confirmed Catholics have been commissioned for this work. The Holy Spirit always propels us to take a more evangelical path but we resist it. As Catholics who love the Lord, you and I must submit to the Holy Spirit and go forward to where God leads each of us along the path of holiness, to share this love, this joy that is at the heart of the Gospel.
Evangelization is intentional. It is not only intentional, but it comes from living life at the cross of Jesus Christ. This is the place where divine life and holiness for us emanates. I believe that the cross of Jesus Christ is at the heart of this spiritual battle in which we find ourselves.
The Lord has so much more for us, beyond what we can imagine, but we have not been open to it. As long as we seek the things of this world, and turn away from the Lord and the teachings of his Church, we will not receive what he desires for us.
The depth of Christ’s love is found on the Cross. But as people go through daily life, this seems to be forgotten, or perhaps rejected. But is it at the heart of the Christian life. Many have chosen to follow Jesus in a safe, comfortable, and non-sacrificial. This is not the definition of discipleship.
The hot button issues today in our culture which reject the teachings of our Catholic faith are the result of people rejecting the place of suffering in their lives. A narcissistic society like ours seeks to live out of its passions. For the narcissist, a life of fulfillment comes through their passions and desires, despite the consequences and regardless of what might be better for the sake of society or the greater good. Narcissism keeps people from seeing beyond their own desires and passions. It rejects all suffering. Therefore the cross of Jesus makes no sense and is ultimately rejected, either knowingly or unknowingly. This is at the heart of this spiritual battle in our culture today.
In this New Evangelization, it is up to us to proclaim Christ crucified. As Pope Francis shares, “When we walk without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, and when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord. We are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, Popes, (lay people), but not disciples of the Lord. I would like that all of us might have the courage – the courage – to walk in the presence of the Lord, with the Cross of the Lord: to build the Church on the Blood of the Lord, which is shed on the Cross, and to profess the one glory, Christ Crucified. In this way, the Church will go forward.”
The Church’s celebration of the feast of Pentecost has just passed. As a diocese we have completed the Novena to the Holy Spirit. But we must continue to pray for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon us, our Church, our country, and our world. The thrust of the beginnings of the Church must be rekindled and we must ask the Holy Spirit to fill us with the ardor of the apostolic preaching which followed Pentecost.
“The Father always hears the prayer of his Son’s Church which … expresses her faith in the power of the Spirit. As fire transforms into itself everything it touches, so the Holy Spirit transforms into the divine life whatever is subjected to his power” (CCC #1127).
Let us ask Our Lady of Perpetual Help to obtain for the Church today a renewed Pentecost, one that will increase in everyone the joy of living and witnessing the Gospel.