Make room for God.
PENTECOST IS CONSIDERED TO BE THE BIRTH OF THE CHURCH
The tongues of fire of the Holy Spirit invite us to rediscover the depth, beauty and vastness of the Church's mission. This is not a time for hesitation or retreat. We need to keep the arena large. We must shape our vision on the firm conviction in the victory of the Cross and in Jesus Christ's triumph over sin and death. How could I stand here in downtown Chicago tonight without evoking the famous advice of architect Daniel Burnham to the city planners of this great metropolis over a century ago: "Make no small plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood." Small plans do not attract young people today. They don't attract anyone for that matter!
If we profess to be truly Catholic, we must ponder anew the whole reality of the Church, from the wide-angle view of its vastness and beauty, to the sometimes turbulent and complex surface, zooming in finally on hope, one of the deepest manifestations of the Spirit alive in the Church. In doing so, we can marvel once again at the mercy and generosity of God. Despite everything, we are still here 2000 years later!
THREE PEOPLE WHO FOUND TIME FOR GOD
Several years ago Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger told an interviewer, "The only really effective case for Christianity comes down to two arguments, namely, the saints the church has produced, and the art which has grown in her womb." Catholics have the blessed privilege of seeking the beauty of holiness and the holiness of beauty. I have always found the lives of the saints and blesseds to be a great consolation and source of hope, no matter how difficult are the times in which we are living. These saints and blesseds offer us a recipe for holiness and model for our lives patterned on the Beatitudes [Matt. 5:1-12]. Each of us is called to become God's friend. We grow in friendship with God as we do with others: by being present to God, talking with God, and being generous with God.
Many think that sainthood is a privilege reserved only for the chosen few. Actually, to become a saint is the task of every Christian, and what's more, we could even say it's the task of everyone! How many times have we thought that the Saints are merely "eccentrics" that the Church exalts for our imitation, people who were so unrepresentative of and out of touch with the human scene? It is certainly true of all those men and women who were "eccentric" in its literal sense: they deviated from the centre, from usual practice, the ordinary ways of doing things, the established methods. Another way of looking at the saints is that they stood at the "radical centre."
We need the example of these holy women and men who had no moderation but only exuberance! They were people with ordinary affections, who took God seriously and were therefore free to act with exuberance. Not measured or moderate, the Saint's response to God's extravagant love is equally immoderate, marked by fidelity and total commitment. G. K. Chesterton said: "[Such] people have exaggerated what the world and the Church have forgotten."
Let me share with you the lives of three people who made a big place for God in their lives. Two of them speak especially to our cultures in North America: Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha and Blessed Mother Marianne Cope. They are striking examples of sanctity and heroic charity, and represent the historic role played by women in the building up of the Church on our continent. The third individual, Blessed Pedro Calungsod of the Philippines, is a stirring example of how young people can give eloquent, unambiguous witness to Christ and the Gospel with their very lives. Blesseds Kateri and Pedro were two of the patrons given to us by Pope John Paul II for our World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto. This October 21, on World Mission Sunday, the three will be canonized by Pope Benedict XVI.
BLESSED MARIANNE COPE, MOTHER OF THE OUTCASTS
Blessed Sister Marianne Cope (1838-1918), was a mother to Molokai lepers. She made room for God in her life in an extraordinary way. Sister Marianne, formerly Barbara Koob (now officially Cope) was born January 23, 1838 and baptized the following day in what is now Hessen, West Germany. Sister Marianne worked as a teacher and hospital administrator in New York. In the 1880s, as superior of her congregation of the Sisters of St. Francis in Syracuse, NY, Mother Marianne responded to the invitation to assist with the care of lepers on the island of Molokai, Hawaii. In the late 19th and early 20tb century, about 10% of the Hansenites (people with leprosy) on Molokai and the Peninsula of Kalaupapa were Buddhists. Many practised the native, indigenous religions of the Polynesian Islands. Some were Protestant and some were Catholic. She loved all whom she served and showed her selfless compassion to those suffering from Hansen's disease.
Mother Marianne spent the last 30 years of her life ministering on the Hawaiian island of Molokai, working closely with Father Damien and with the outcasts of society as they were abandoned on the shores of the island, never to return to their families. When Mother Marianne died at the age of 80 in 1918, a Honolulu newspaper wrote: "Seldom has the opportunity come to a woman to devote every hour of 30 years to the mothering of people isolated by law from the rest of the world. She risked her own life all that time, faced everything with unflinching courage, and was known for her gentle smile." People of all religions of the islands still honour and revere Father Damien, now St. Damien, and Mother Marianne who brought healing to body and soul. She was beatified at the Vatican on May 14, 2005, one month after the death of Pope John Paul II. With her coming canonization by Pope Benedict on October 21, her life is held up before the world as a true model of holiness and friend of God, one who listened to God, made room for him in her life, and thus welcomed the world into her heart.
BLESSED KATERI TEKAKWITHA: ENDURING MODEL OF THE NEW EVANGELIZATION
A second person who carved out precious time for God in the midst of much physical suffering, hostility and persecution is Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, known as the "Lily of the Mohawks" She was born to a Christian Algonquin mother and a Mohawk father in 1656 in upstate New York, along the Mohawk River. When she was four, smallpox attacked Kateri's village, taking the lives of her parents and baby brother, and leaving her an orphan. Smallpox had marked her face and seriously impaired her eyesight. Although terribly weakened, scarred, and partially blind, Kateri survived. She was adopted by her two aunts and her uncle, also a Mohawk chief. The family abandoned their village and built a new settlement, called Caughnawaga, some five miles away on the north bank of the Mohawk River, which today is in Fonda, New York. Kateri was baptized by a Jesuit missionary in 1676 when she was 20, and she died in Canada four years later. The newly-baptized young woman became intensely devout, and would deliberately expose herself to the pain of cold and the burn of hot coals, and pierce her skin with thorns to imitate the suffering of Jesus.
Kateri's family did not accept her choice to embrace Christ. While the story of her sincere and devout faith is beautiful, the history and environment surrounding her was anything but an idyllic environment. It was a time of colonialism, of war raging between the Algonquin and Iroquois nations, and of the Native Americans' hostile regard of the missionaries accompanying the European fur traders. After her baptism, Kateri became the village outcast. Her family refused her food on Sundays because she wouldn't work. Children would taunt her and throw stones. She was threatened with torture or death if she did not renounce her religion. Because of increasing hostility from her people and because she wanted to devote her life to working for God, in July of 1677, Kateri left her village and fled more than 200 miles through woods, rivers, and swamps to the Catholic mission of St. Francis Xavier at Sault Saint-Louis, near Montreal.
Kateri's mortifications were extreme, and many say that she attained the most perfect union with God in prayer. On March 25, 1679, Kateri made a vow of perpetual virginity, meaning that she would remain unmarried and totally devoted to Christ for the rest of her life. This was totally unheard of in her culture. Her example of purity and chastity teaches us that the body is our doorway to salvation, and so how we treat it matters. If we cannot say "no," then our "yes" will mean nothing. When we live our sexuality in the proper way, according to our state in life, others will be able to find God through us.
On April 17, 1680, Wednesday of Holy Week, she died at three o'clock in the afternoon at the age of twenty-four. Her last words were: "Jesos Konoronkwa", "Jesus I Love You". Fifteen minutes after her death before the eyes of two Jesuits and all the Native people that could fit into the room, the ugly scars on her face suddenly disappeared.
In June 1980, Kateri became the first Native American to be beatified. Kateri will be canonized as the first native North American saint on October 21, 2012. Her earthly life was hidden in the seventeenth century, yet her message continues to resound through time, reminding us of all that is good, beautiful, holy and enduring about the Christian life and message. Kateri is a true symbol of the enduring links between Catholicism and our native brothers and sisters, the indigenous people of our lands. As patron of ecology and the environment, she teaches us how to love and respect the created world and care for it. An instrument in her own lifetime of the First Evangelization, through her death and membership in the Communion of Saints, Kateri Tekakwitha is an enduring model of the New Evangelization for the Church.
BLESSED PEDRO CALUNGSOD: THE GOOD SOLDIER OF CHRIST
The third friend of God who models for us passion and single-minded devotion is the young Filipino migrant, catechist, sacristan and missionary catechist Blessed Pedro Calungsod from the Cebu province. He was born in 1655 in what was then the Diocese of Cebu, made up of Panay Island in central Philippines and Mindanao in the south as well as the Ladrones Islands in the Pacific, known today as Guam.
Few details of his early life prior to his missionary work and death are known. Pedro was a young lay missionary and evangelizer of his time, traveling out of the country to reach out to other people to proclaim Christ. The 17-year old Pedro suffered a martyr's death in modern-day Guam on April 2, 1672, while trying to defend a Jesuit priest, now Blessed Diego Luis de San Vitores, from those who hated Christianity. The attacker hit Calungsod with a spear and split his skull with a machete. The bodies of the Jesuit and the young Pedro were then tied together and thrown into the sea, never to be found again.
On March 5, 2000 Pedro Calungsod was declared "Blessed" by Blessed Pope John Paul II at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. The Holy Father praised Blessed Pedro Calungsod, saying:
"From his childhood, Pedro Calungsod declared himself unwaveringly for Christ and responded generously to his call. Young people today can draw encouragement and strength from the example of Pedro, whose love of Jesus inspired him to devote his teenage years to teaching the faith as a lay catechist. Leaving family and friends behind, Pedro willingly accepted the challenge put to him by Fr. Diego de San Vitores to join him on the Mission to the Chamorros.
In a spirit of faith, marked by strong Eucharistic and Marian devotion, Pedro undertook the demanding work asked of him and bravely faced the many obstacles and difficulties he met. In the face of imminent danger, Pedro would not forsake Fr. Diego, but as a "good soldier of Christ" preferred to die at the missionary's side."
The faith that was planted in the Marianas in 1668 did not die with Padre Diego, Pedro Calungsod and the first missionaries. On World Mission Sunday in October, 2012, during the Synod on the New Evangelization, how fitting it is that this young, heroic witness, Pedro Calungsod will become the second Filipino saint after St. Lorenzo Ruiz, who himself was an altar server martyred in Japan while serving in a mission there in 1637. It is about them that Tertullian wrote: "Our numbers increase every time we are cut down by you: the blood of martyrs is the seed of [new] Christians" (Apol. 50, 13; CCC, PL 1,603).
CONCLUSION: THE FACEBOOK OF THE CHURCH
What attracts us to Christ and the Church? What keeps us alive and hopeful in the Church? People like Mother Marianne, Kateri and Pedro, and "a cloud of witnesses" show us the way. How can we understand the Church today with all of her ambiguities and struggles? Look to the lives of the saints and blesseds who made room for God, who loved Christ and imitated him, and who allowed us to glimpse moments of heaven on earth. The saints and blesseds are the Facebook of the Church. They are the antidotes to a culture that tells us that another person's presence is not necessary. There is nothing virtual about the lives of the saints and blesseds. In the midst of conflict, hostility, suffering and martyrdom, they remained present to the people around them. During times and crises of immense fragmentation and division, they kept their feet firmly planted on earth and their eyes fixed on their heavenly homeland. They model for us authentically human relationships that begin on earth and lead us into heaven. They teach us how to make room for God in our lives.
Allow me to conclude with these words of the Lutheran Pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
0 God, early in the morning I cry to You, Help me to pray and concentrate my thoughts on You; I cannot do this alone. In me there is darkness. But with You there is light; I am lonely but You do not leave me; I am feeble in heart, but with You there is help; I am restless, but with You there is peace. In me there is bitterness, but with You there is patience; I do not understand Your ways, but You know the way for me ... Restore me to liberty, and enable me so to live now that I may answer before You and before me. Lord, whatever this day may bring, Your name be praised. Amen.
Ft. Thomas Rosica has been a priest in the Congregation of St. Basil (Basilian Fathers) since 1986. A scripture scholar and lecturer in New Testament, he was chaplain of the University of Toronto before becoming National Director and CEO of World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto. Following World Youth Day, he became the founding CEO of Salt and Light Catholic Television, Canada's national Catholic Television network. In February 2009 Fr. Rosica was appointed by Pope Benedict as Consultor to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.
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|Article Type:||Cover story|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2012|
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