Card. Ratzinger on New-Evangelization Method

Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves…do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say. For it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. (Matthew 10:16,19-20)

The New Evangelization. Our mission. St. Kateri beheld her mission and gave herself over to it, here in this land, almost four centuries ago. Now it’s our turn.

But how? How do we participate in the New Evangelization? Here’s how Cardinal Ratzinger put it, back in the Jubilee Year 2000, before he was chosen Pope Benedict XVI.

New evangelization must surrender to the mystery of the grain of mustard seed and not be pretentious… Instead we must accept the mystery that the Church is at the same time a large tree and a very small grain…..

Card. Frings and Joseph RatzingerOf course we must use the modern methods of making ourselves heard in a reasonable way—or better yet: of making the voice of the Lord accessible and comprehensible… We are not looking for listening for ourselves—we do not want to increase the power and the spreading of our institutions, but we wish to serve for the good of humanity, giving room to He who is Life.

This expropriation of one’s person, offering it to Christ for the salvation of men, is the fundamental condition of the true commitment for the Gospel. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive, says the Lord (John 5:43). The mark of the Antichrist is the fact that he speaks in his own name.

The sign of the Son is his communion with the Father. The Son introduces us into the Trinitarian communion, into the circle of eternal love, whose persons are  pure acts of giving oneself and of welcome. The Trinitarian plan—visible in the Son, who does not speak in his name—shows the form of life of the true evangelizer—rather, evangelizing is not merely a way of speaking, but a form of living: living in the listening and giving voice to the Father. He will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, says the Lord about the Holy Spirit (John 16:13).

Worldview Trajectory Reversal

El Greco Christ in Prayer

“If by the finger of God I cast out demons, then then Kingdom of God has come upon you.” (Luke 11:20)

After our First Parents disobeyed and fell from God’s grace, the “trajectory” of human life sloped inevitably towards death.

But Christ came, and He revealed that the heavenly Father’s love extends even beyond our disobedience.  Death looks to unredeemed man like a crashing end and a disaster.  But Christ has revealed that death, in fact, opens like a door to eternal happiness.

In other words, the Incarnation of the Divine Word has reversed the trajectory of our human pilgrimage.  Reversed it from deathbound to lifebound.  From fundamentally despairing to invincibly hopeful.  From collapsing inward to expanding ever-outward in love.

“Health,” “life,” “virtue,” “fulfillment”–these words, and words like them, find their true meaning only in Christ–in what He has done and continues to do.  He offers life, health, virtue, and fulfillment to a race that, without Him, lives on borrowed time, facing fearful prospects.

So I guess we could say that our believing in the Trinity and Incarnation gives us a “worldview”–a wordview of hope and of genuine communion with the heavenly Father and with each other.

But calling it a “worldview” misses the fundamental fact:  In Christ, the one true God has revealed Himself.  Our hope for eternal life rests on the absolute truth that Christ speaks the words of God and does the works of God.

When we have the courage to stand firm with the only immortal friend we have, with the real hope of the human race, Jesus Christ–when we stand firm with courage, we evangelize.  We have more than just a personal “worldview.”  We have what the martyrs have had:  love stronger than death.  Love which can conquer whole nations for truth, peace, and love.

St. Joseph and “Catholic Identity”

On the Solemnity of our heavenly patron, we Catholics of Martinsville, Virginia, bless and dedicate the new addition to our church!

St Joseph shrine immaculate conception

I. St. Joseph grew up holding fast to the faith of his ancestor Joseph: Almighty God loves His people, and He has grand plans for them. St. Joseph drank in this ancient faith with his mother’s milk, and he lived in the fear and love of the God of Israel, from his youngest days.

But, during the course of his earthly pilgrimage, Joseph learned more. When his foster son was born, Joseph heard from angels and other witnesses that something absolutely new and wonderful had come to pass. And, as he watched the Lord Jesus grow up and come into His own as a man, St. Joseph learned the most decisive fact of life:

Being in communion with this Person, with Jesus Christ: it’s the most important thing there is.

I guess we can’t know for sure that today is the day St. Joseph died. But we do know this: The foster-father of Christ had the happiest death possible. Because he had the Son of God, in the flesh, by his side. He died in communion with Jesus.

We share this with St. Joseph: we know that facing death without Christ would be unimaginably bleak and terrifying. Which means that facing life without Christ—if we want to live anywhere deeper than on the shallowest surface of existence—facing life without Christ would be unimaginably bleak and terrifying, too. Communion with Jesus Christ is the foundation of a truly livable life.

II. For the past couple of decades, the Catholic world has faced the question of the “Catholic identity” of the Church’s institutions. I find myself at a point in life where I myself have to think about such things and take appropriate action. What we have learned, I think, over the past 20 years is: the humblest of all the Church’s institutions, namely the parish, teaches us most clearly what ‘Catholic identity’ is.

Solemn Vespers and Dedication of the new confessional and church addition at 6:30pm today!
Solemn Vespers and Dedication of the new confessional and church addition at 6:30pm today!
A parish exists for one reason, and the reason is pretty obvious. A Catholic would have to get pretty tied-up in nonsense to lose sight of the clear reason why a parish church exists.

These buildings stand so that everyone in the area can have a living relationship with Jesus Christ. The parish church offers everyone in the town—or neighborhood, or county—communion with the foster-son of St. Joseph.

Communion with Christ: The most important thing at the moment of St. Joseph’s death. The most important thing through the course of his life. The most important thing in any life that proposes to have genuine depth and vitality.

The desperate need that we have for Christ is what makes us ‘militant.’ To say exactly what keeps a Catholic institution from becoming aimless and ‘identity’-less—that’s a hard thing to formulate. Church leaders have been trying to formulate the definition of ‘Catholic identity’ for some time now.

But the militance, the urgency, the genuine identity of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, alive in the world: it springs from our awareness of the same fact that St. Joseph learned during his days on earth. Jesus Christ makes life worth living.

So: We thank you, holy father Joseph, for learning that fact. And for helping us, by your heavenly intercession for us, to learn it, too. Thank you, St. Joseph, for sharing with us your gentle strength, so that we can march forward toward heaven, clear as a bell about who we are as Catholics. We are the people who know that communion with Jesus Christ is the most important thing in life.

Reluctant Samuels

Samuel and Eli John Singleton Copley
“Samuel and Eli” by John Singleton Copley


Our first reading at Holy Mass Sunday comes from the first book of Samuel the prophet. We hear about the young Samuel. While he was still a boy, he lived in the temple.

The Lord spoke to little Samuel. But the prophet hesitated to think that a revelation had come to him. Instead, he thought that the old priest sleeping nearby must be speaking.

When it comes to making bold pronouncements about ‘the will of God,’ we Catholics tend to operate like the young Samuel. We will not be the first to insist that we know God’s mind, that we have the answers, that we get to speak for Jesus.

In other words, holy rolling is not our way. We take a humbler tack. A Catholic thinks to him- or herself: “I have to worry about getting myself to heaven. That’s more than enough work for me. I don’t need to worry about conveying divine communiques, telling other people their business. Let them follow their consciences, as I strive to follow mine.”

Continue reading “Reluctant Samuels”

Peter, Paul, Rome, and Us

peterpaulEvery year we keep a solemnity in honor of the founders of the church in Rome. Every five or six years, this feast day falls on a Sunday. This year, the Solemnity of Ss. Peter and Paul not only falls on Sunday, it falls on a Sunday during… Well, during two things.

1. Each summer now for three summers, we have prayed and fasted for two weeks, a fortnight. For freedom of religion in America.

The ancient Romans believed supernatural powers upheld their vast empire. The emperor encouraged everyone to believe that he was divine as well as human. And it annoyed him immensely when events occurred that made him look weak in the supernatural department. Things like military defeats. Or like the city of Rome burning down in a massive fire. How to explain such cruel luck when a divine emperor ruled? Well, it must have happened because the Christians refused to offer the customary pagan sacrifices.

Continue reading “Peter, Paul, Rome, and Us”

Popes from the Same Cloth

divine-mercyThree years ago, we heard the same readings, and celebrated the same Feast of Divine Mercy, after a late-April Easter.

Three years ago, my mind turned to St. Peter’s Square in Rome, because my hero was being beatified. And my mind turns to Rome again, of course, because he is being canonized.

Actually, can we go back to the year 2000? Continue reading “Popes from the Same Cloth”

Holy Apostles’ Moment

Georgetown Hoyas season kinda in a shambles. Big man academically disqualified for the season. On the road tonight in Omaha (the real place, which is wonderful–as opposed to the barking of that annoying quarterback). The Creighton Bluejays enjoy double-digit favor. Never thought I would live to see the day when the Hoyas would tip-off against Creighton–much less as 10-point underdogs. Pray for me.

Edward Armitage Call of Apostles fishermen

Peter, Andrew, James, and John. “Come, follow me.”

He came to them, and invited them to put Him first. They had made their living on the water, pulling up redbelly tilapia by the dozens, in big nets. We know from reading later portions of the gospels that this particular day did not mark their absolutely last fishing trip. They would fish again. But Jesus beckoned in that moment: Let it all go for now, and put Me first.

Continue reading “Holy Apostles’ Moment”

No Control Freaks

So yesterday we started our diocesan Five-Year Plan for evangelizing Virginia. We have the privilege of taking part in the New Evangelization and sharing in the glory of the Holy Apostles. Wonderful and exciting.

But today at Holy Mass we read about: 1) the army of the Lord suffering a ruinous defeat and losing the Ark of the Covenant, and 2) the Lord Jesus Himself telling a zealous believer: “See that you tell no one anything.”

encounter-joy richmondTo my humble and inadequate mind, one myth stands as the greatest enemy of the New Evangelization. Namely: the idea that God wills me to control what another adult does.

One thing that the true apostle of Christ has never done: try to control what anybody else does. We can study the New Testament and the history of evangelical saints through the millennia. We will find not a single instance of any holy apostle of Christ trying to control what anybody else does.

Our mission is to bear witness to the truth. The truth has power. The truth invites. The truth attracts and moves people towards what is right. We do not control. We are profitless servants who merely do our duty.

I’ll speak for myself: I have more than enough trouble trying to do the right thing myself. Doing the right thing, with another person as the instrument of my well-doing–like for me to try to fulfill the third commandment by someone else going to Mass on Sunday–that’s not something I could pull off, even if I wanted to. I have to go to Mass myself, sure enough. (In fact, I have to celebrate the Masses, since I am the only priest living within the confines of these here two counties.)

But I can’t control what anybody else does. That said, maybe, if I try to control myself well enough that I serve as a halfway decent witness to at least a few of the glorious truths of Catholic Christianity, maybe then someone else might just get interested enough to want to join in.

I can’t control what anyone else does, and certainly the Lord is not asking me to try. But I can try to swim in the great stream of the New Evangelization by controlling myself as best I can, according to the Ten Commandments.

Immoderate Evangelical Zeal

Speak, Lord. Your servant is listening. (I Samuel 3:10)

Today we pray and fast for the success of the New Evangelization in our diocese, the venerable diocese of Richmond, Virginia.

The New Evangelization. Similar to the evangelization we have always had. Jesus lives.

pentecost_with_maryCan’t we well imagine that plenty of well-meaning individuals encouraged the Apostles to tone down their emphasis on this one particular person?

‘Okay. Sure he was a great guy. Worth remembering. Worth celebrating. Like Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr. No doubt. But don’t go too far with this one individual. Makes you look immoderate. After all, you are just simple fishermen. You don’t want to look like kooks. In Rome they have a beautiful temple for all the gods, and everybody accepts that we really don’t know anything for sure. Back off all this zealotry about Jesus of Nazareth.’

The Apostles, we can imagine, thought to themselves, while listening to all this well-meant advice: ‘But we saw Him after He had risen from the dead! We received from Him the divine Spirit of love. He cleared away every ounce of worldly nonsense from our souls and showed us the blessed face of God. He lives! He pours out His grace from heaven. Life isn’t worth living without Him. He demands nothing less than total submission, religious submission, and in return He gives us the freedom of the children of God. Why would we not surrender ourselves to Him? Everything else seems like so much straw and folderol by comparison.’

And the well-meaning calm-downers reply: ‘You know, you Apostles appear drunk. You carry on like inebriates. There’s no other reasonable explanation for your quirky vivacity and mysterious joie de vivre. You have nothing. You live hand-to-mouth with no creature comforts. You stare down death with a mocking smile. You must be a bunch of drunks. You’re quite out of control.’

PantheonRomanExteriorThe Apostles think to themselves:

‘The joy of Jesus! He had nothing. He slept in the cold, on the hard ground. He made His pilgrimage with no comforts but prayer and friendship. With fearless generosity, He stepped toward death. People called Him a drunkard—because He loved and sat with people, no matter who they were. The soul of Jesus is the happiest and most blessed soul the world has ever seen. Our joy is His!’

The old evangelization, the evangelization that made it as far as us: Jesus is Lord. Jesus gives life. God is real, and Jesus is His Son, and eternity beckons, the eternity of love. Real love, crucified love.

The New Evangelization means all this, too. All this, in this very day and age, knowing full well that the world would crucify the Christ in AD 2014 just as surely and cruelly as we crucified Him in AD 33. And knowing that He would gladly die here and now, today, for all the lost souls, all the souls who have no horizon higher than what Google can reach. He died for every soul living on earth in 2014, when He died on Golgatha.

Jesus is Lord. Well-meaning calm-downers might get in our faces and whisper at us to moderate the zealous desire for all to be saved in Christ. But we can’t moderate that.

Hopefully we can moderate our own personal defects, which get in the way of the Gospel—with God’s help, let us try to moderate those.

But we cannot moderate our zealous desire that everyone know and love Jesus Christ the Lord. Because that zeal in our hearts comes from the Heart of Christ. And the Heart of Christ is on fire.

Beautiful Aloysius + St. Ignatius

St. Aloysius Gonzaga
Most Beautiful Painting of St. Aloysisus in the world?

Let’s listen for a moment to how St. Ignatius formulated his understanding of the treasure buried in the field, the pearl of great price:

Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul. The other things on the face of the earth are created for man, that they may help him in prosecuting the end for which he is created. From this it follows that man is to use them as much as they help him on to his end, and ought to rid himself of them so far as they hinder him. For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things in all that is allowed to the choice of our free will and is not prohibited to it; so that, on our part, we want not health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, long rather than short life, and so in all the rest; desiring and choosing only what is most conducive for us to the end for which we are created.

St. Ignatius wrote that paragraph as the “First Principle and Foundation” for the spiritual life. Then he taught his followers how to initiate a spiritual life, with the first principle and foundation in mind. Meditate as follows:

Imagining Christ our Lord present and placed on the Cross, let me speak with him freely, focusing on how from Creator He is come to making Himself man, and from life eternal is come to temporal death, and so to die for my sins. Likewise, looking at myself: What have I done for Christ? What I am doing for Christ? What ought I to do for Christ? And so, seeing Him such, and so nailed on the Cross, to go over that which will present itself to my mind.

My colloquy with Christ is made, properly speaking, as one friend speaks to another, or as a servant to his master; now asking some grace, now blaming oneself for some misdeed, now communicating one’s affairs, and asking advice. Then let me say an Our Father.

With these meditations, St. Ignatius founded the Society of Jesus. This Society has conquered enormous lands. No other organization has conquered the world like the Jesuits have. Google has nothing on the Jesuits. Facebook has nothing on the followers of St. Ignatius. Google and Facebook will both vanish from the earth, and the churches erected by Jesuits in the far corners of the globe will still stand.

The followers of St. Ignatius carry one weapon only: Personal devotion to Jesus Christ, the Savior and High Priest of the world. The followers of St. Ignatius win battles by: a) thinking clearly, b) communicating skillfully, c) educating others with patience and love, d) wanting nothing but the advancement of the kingdom of Christ, e) acting only in union with the Pope, and f) being willing to suffer and die for Christ.

May the good Lord bless our Jesuit Pope and all the Jesuits. May He bless all the followers of St. Ignatius. May He bless everyone who consecrates him- or herself to the cause of the New Evangelization.

When we stand on the spiritual foundation of living to praise God and to serve the Crucified, then the angels, the saints, the heavenly powers, the history of the Church, the patrimony of the western world, the storehouse of Catholic thought, and every good and beautiful thing, all line up on our side.
Ignatius prayed that he would be poor, that he would be mocked and derided, that he would be reviled and despised—all so that He could be united with Christ, poor, mocked, derided, reviled, and despised. Ignatius gave all his efforts to God and His Church. If his Society was suppressed, he said, he would spend ten minutes in the chapel, and then he would be fine.

Ignatian “indifference” is only indifference to everything that doesn’t really matter. Ignatius was indifferent to everything passing, because he was utterly consumed with zealous interest in God and the salvation of souls.