Praying Heroes

Garofalo Ascension of Christ

Lord Jesus prepared to ascend to the Father. He gave a final benediction to His disciples, with two components.

First: I am sending you. He says that to us, also.

The Kingdom of God has one center, one “capital city,” so to speak: the human Heart of Christ. His Heart beats with love for every human being, because every human being exists by virtue of God’s divine love.

So the Lord says to us: I send you on a mission. To extend My Kingdom by extending My love. Live in My love, so that, living in love, you can love. You can love your neighbor in mercy and in truth. With that love, the divine love, you will conquer the kingdom of evil.

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, wrote us a letter in March, to help us understand how we must base our lives completely on the mission that Jesus has given us. The same mission that the Lord gave to the original Apostles, as He prepared to ascend to heaven—He has given that same mission to us.

The key to our spiritual lives, the key to Christian holiness, the key to a vigorous and meaningful life in this world is: Our apostolate. Christ has consecrated us His apostles; we have a mission. And that mission involves loving our neighbors with the love of the Heart of Christ. It involves pursuing souls, to help them come home to holy Mother Church.

We have no doubt: what we receive at Mass offers the sustenance that every human soul desperately needs. So we extend the offer to our neighbors, ‘Come, share this feast with us!’ We risk contempt, rejection, all kinds of suffering. Christ went to the cross for us, out of love, and He sends us out into the world as ambassadors of His crucified love.

peter-crucifixionWhen we grasp all this, we grasp the true meaning of our lives. We grasp the true meaning of every human interaction we have–with anyone, anywhere, anytime. When we realize that we exist for the sake of our apostolate, we grasp the vital principle of reality. Because the world turns on Divine Love.

Which heroes do we admire as the most truly manly? How about St. Peter? He repented of his betrayal, and he admitted it. Jesus forgave him, and gave the first pope his mission. Then St. Peter went out and found a way to befriend recalcitrant Jews. He found a way to befriend Greeks, Roman soldiers, everyone—so that they could know Christ. St. Peter shepherded the whole flock, spread across the Mediterranean. Then he unflinchingly offered his own life, hanging upside down on a cross, on Vatican Hill in Rome.

Or how about St. Paul? What more manly hero could anyone ever imagine? Like St. Peter, a humble repentant sinner. And a tireless traveler and adventurer. St. Paul’s adventures make Indiana Jones look like Papa Smurf by comparison. St. Paul, like St. Peter, communicated with every kind of person, in all kinds of languages, so that everyone could know Christ. And St. Paul, too, offered his mortal body as a sacrifice to God on the outskirts of the city of Rome, where they beheaded the human author of half of the New Testament.

Jesus summons us today to this kind of humble, adventurous heroism. But there was a second component to Christ’s parting benediction. He didn’t just say, Go, evangelize. He said: Pray first. Pray that the Holy Spirit will come. Pray that heaven may clothe you with the power of divine love. Because you can’t do it without My Holy Spirit.

None of the heroic exploits of selfless love, undertaken by the original apostles, or by any of the martyrs and saints who have followed in their footsteps—none of these manly deeds could ever have happened, if it hadn’t been for the original Novena.

pentecost_with_maryThe original Novena involved the future heroes of Christ’s Church keeping quiet and still for nine days, trembling with fear and uncertainty about the future. Meanwhile, one person stood at the center and showed them what to do.

The Greatest Hero showed the other heroes what to do. They would all freely admit: they followed the lead of the one who quietly, unobtrusively, unpretentiously, steadily, gently prayed.

The Blessed Virgin. The Mother of the Apostolate.

Who won the Holy Spirit for us? Who moved God to pour out His fearless divine love into our unworthy hearts?

Jesus, of course. Also His Mother. For those nine days between Ascension and Pentecost, she prayed. Could the Apostles have prayed like they should have, without her? Are you kidding? They would have gone crazy with confusion and fear; they would have bickered endlessly—if the Blessed Mother had not been there to steady them and focus them on the task at hand. Prayer.

Hopefully everyone takes my point. We find meaning in life by grasping that God has consecrated us to do heroic deeds of selfless love to build His kingdom. And the greatest heroes of them all? Our mothers, who quietly taught us how to pray.

Advertisements

More Questions

Last year, when we heard the reading from St. John’s gospel about the “woman in anguish because her hour has arrived” (16:21), we discussed the agony and ecstasy of childbirth.

Benedict Jesus of Nazareth InfancyWe talked about how each of us gave one poor woman a great deal of strife when we started our life on earth. And we discussed how we try to make it up every year, by sending flowers on the second Sunday of May.

In the end, when the birth pangs of this pilgrim life give way to the repose of our true life with God, we will see the unveiled face of Christ. And, as He tells us, we will have no more questions.

But this very statement of the Lord’s—that in heaven we won’t have any more questions—this very statement teaches us something crucially important. Until we get to heaven, we have to keep asking questions.

Here’s one example. In his book Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Emeritus Benedict tries to explain the Beatitude, “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” Benedict considers the prevailing contemporary view regarding salvation, namely, as he puts it:

Everyone should live by the religion—or perhaps the atheism—in which he happens to find himself already. This, it is said, is the path of salvation for him.

We have all heard this, more or less, I think.

But Benedict responds to this prevailing view with this question: “Does someone achieve blessedness and justification in God’s eyes because he has declared his own opinions and wishes to be the rules of his conscience?”

In other words, did Jesus say, “Blessed are they who decide for themselves what rules they ought to follow?”

No, He did not say this. The Pope Emeritus points out in his book that the only way to find blessedness is to arouse one’s conscience by seeking God, by striving to learn God’s rules.

Learning the Catholic faith in its entirety may very well demand even more struggle and effort than giving birth. Not to take anything away from the ladies. But I think giving birth is a cakewalk compared to learning the Catholic faith in full.

If we have stopped asking questions about what God wants from us, if we have stopped seeking to learn more—if our minds are standing still while we are still here on earth, then we have not learned the Catholic faith in its entirety.