Three hundred sixty years ago this Sunday, September 27, St. Vincent de Paul died. They keep his heart in a chapel on Rue du Bac in Paris. I had the chance to visit years ago; it is a luminous place to pray. [Spanish]
We would not normally commemorate the anniversary of St. Vincent’s death on a Sunday, since we dedicate every Sunday to remembering the resurrection of our Savior. But through AD 2020, we Catholics in Virginia keep the bicentennial of our diocese. The second bishop of Richmond made St. Vincent de Paul the diocesan patron. So we keep our patron’s feast, even though it falls on a Sunday this year.
At Mass, we will read a special gospel passage, in St. Vincent’s honor. The passage includes these words: “Jesus went around to all the towns and villages, proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom.’”
Our diocesan patron, St. Vincent, founded a group of priests called the Congregation of the Mission. The mission. What mission?
Well, the very same. The mission to proclaim the Kingdom of God. The good news that God is with us. Our brother, Jesus of Nazareth, Who died for us, and rose again for us. He reigns over a kingdom in which death and evil have no power at all. The Apostles of Christ undertook the mission, the proclamation of this wonderful news about God and our destiny as human beings.
Now, what’s the news these days? On the 360th anniversary of St. Vincent’s death, and during the 200th anniversary year of the Catholic Diocese of Richmond? Pandemic. Presidential election. Empty Supreme Court seat. Football with empty stadiums and fake crowd noise.
Ok. But the truly new news is the news that every Sunday brings. Jesus is risen. The Son of Mary, the Son of God, Who rose from the dead, so that we could share His undying life.
“Congregation of the Mission.” Our patron’s society has a name so simple and basic that it brings us back to the basics. St. Vincent de Paul had gone into the French countryside, and he found villages full of poor Catholics who knew next to nothing about Christ and their religion. So St. Vincent and some companions decided to do something about that—to preach to, to teach, and to love the people.
The Mission continues. It does not get old. We have a two-hundred-year-old diocese, but we are really just getting started here. The pandemic has interfered with the life of our Church and our diocese, damaging normal Catholic practice. The bishop’s dealings with me have totally changed my role in the mission, and I think what he has done has compromised his ministry as well. A diocese where priests have to live in fear of severe and long-term reprisals for speaking our minds—not a healthy environment. But the mission continues, because it does not come from us messed-up human beings. It comes from Jesus Himself.
Speaking of saints with whom we have close connections… Many of you know that my brother and his wife began raising their sons on the northern part of Manhattan island in New York City. They lived in an apartment two blocks from the shrine of the great Italian-American saint, Francis Xavier Cabrini. We took a parish pilgrimage to New York in 2014, and we had Mass at Mother Cabrini’s tomb, after my brother got on the bus and gave us a little tour of his old neighborhood.
Last week I visited an old friend who lives in the Pacific Northwest. I stopped to make a visit in the cathedral in Seattle. Turns out there’s a relic of Mother Cabrini in the altar there, too–on the other end of the continent. She herself prayed in that cathedral, in Seattle, many times.
The saint had come to Seattle from New York, by way of Nicaragua and Brazil, to help the Italian immigrants. Mother Cabrini loved atlases from her earliest youth; she considered Seattle to be ‘near the north pole.’ Some of the Italian immigrants there had not seen a church since they left the old country, so Mother Cabrini got a mission parish started for them.
When I first laid eyes on the Seattle skyline, I thought, ‘This looks like mid-town Manhattan.’ Turns out I was not the first to think the cities look alike. Mother Cabrini thought that, too.
My point is: The mission of Jesus’ Church extends everywhere and always. None of us were born Christians. We have our Christian faith, and the heavenly grace that comes with it, because those who went before us handed it on to us. We venerate our spiritual ancestors. We recognize the sacrifices that they made, so that we could know Who Jesus Christ is, and have a relationship with Him.
That relationship is the most-important thing in life. So let’s dedicate ourselves to the mission, too.