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Your Excellencies, Archbishops Miller and Prendergast,
Brother Priests and Sisters,
Dear Friends of Catholic Christian Outreach,
In our first session today Professor Reginald Bibby addressed the state of religion and the practice of faith in our country with sociological statistics that may be surprising for some and consoling for others. Faith, religion and spirituality are still hot topics in Canada! The year that is now coming to an end has raised a serious question across the globe and especially in our vast “home and native land” Is there room for God in our world today? The reasonable-accommodation debate in Quebec is about ancestral roots and immigration, history and culture, but it is also very much about the place of religion and faith in Quebec and in Canada. Thank God that Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Quebec City has put religion and faith back on the front burner over the past few months, not only in Quebec, but also in Canada.
Is there room for God and room for holiness in Canada today? What kind of revolution is required to bring God back into our society and how can we rediscover those extreme revolutionaries of holiness of Canada’s early history and our own Church history? Is there room for new revolutionaries of holiness in Canada and in the world today? Every crisis that the Church faces, every crisis that the world faces, is a crisis of holiness and a crisis of saints. Holiness is crucial because it is the real face of the Church.
Long ago in his letter to the community at Ephesus, St. Paul wrote: "So then you are no longer sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you are also built in for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit" [Ephesians 2:19-22.]
What is the "holy temple" that we are called to build? What is this new revolution? How are we to become citizens with the saints? In my presentation, I would like to consider this extreme revolution of holiness and give you an insider’s look at this second citizenship that we all hold!
Life in Christ is holy living
The founding story of Christianity is the life of Christ. The Christian religion continues to consist of people's response to Christ's coming as the revelation of God's love: attention to his words; contemplation of his life, his death, and his Resurrection; and obedience to his desire that love of him should be expressed in love for all human beings: no one is to be left out of the circle of that love.
The liturgy of the Catholic Church includes a year-long "reliving" of the events of the life of Christ, one after the other, and a constant reminder of the stories of people who have paid attention to it, heroically. The liturgical cycle we are experiencing this week is a perfect example of this “reliving” of the events of Christ’s life: Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem is immediately followed by the feast of Stephen’s martyrdom, the feast of the mystical Evangelist John, the martyrdom of the Holy Innocents, the feast of another great martyr- St. Thomas à Becket, and today’s feast of the Holy Family. The Church teaches us that we cannot tarry at the stable in Bethlehem but hasten to Galilee and then to the hill of Calvary in Jerusalem where the whole story reaches its extreme moment and summit. As we pass from feast to feast, we move from being admirers to imitators of Jesus, we grow in our discipleship and holiness.
The Beatitudes: Blueprint for Holiness
The beatitudes in Christ's Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5:1-12] are a recipe for this extreme holiness. Holiness is a way of life that involves commitment and activity. It is not a passive endeavor but rather a continuous choice to deepen one's relationship with God and to then allow this relationship to guide all of one's actions in the world. Holiness requires a radical change in mindset and attitude. The acceptance of the call to holiness places God as our final goal in every aspect of our lives. This fundamental orientation towards God even envelops and sustains our relationship with other human beings. Sustained by a life of virtue and fortified by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, God draws us ever closer to Himself and to that day when we shall see Him face to face in Heaven and achieve full union with Him.
A saint is a friend of God who takes the beatitudes seriously in his or her life. 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. Here and now, we can find holiness in our personal experience of putting forth our best efforts in the work place, patiently raising our children, and building good relationships at home, at school and at work. If we make all of these things a part of our loving response to God, we are on the path of holiness. This need for good examples is also important in the area of Christian living. For this purpose, the Church encourages devotion to the saints. A saint is one who "has lived [or is living] in the practice of the virtues of his or her state after a manner...that is faithful, constant, ready to the point of heroism."
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".
"Saints," as the word is used among Catholic Christians today, are those who, in the opinion of other people, have succeeded in this enterprise. The Roman Catholic Church "canonizes" certain saints, placing them on a list (canon) of those given the seal of its approval, after long study and a process of discernment. There are far more saints not in the canon than there are in it; and many a saint in the canon receives little or no veneration from people today: it is always the people who finally decide that someone is, for them, a hero. And if there was ever an age when young men and women needed authentic heroes, it is our age. The Church understands that saints, their prayers, their lives, are for people on earth, that sainthood, as an earthly honor, is not coveted by the saints themselves. A saint's life is always new and surprising on one hand, but always "the same" on the other hand. The lives of the saints are told and retold on behalf of the listeners, in order to clarify the issues for them, to inspire them, and to confront them with choices that only they can make, for themselves.
Pope John Paul II: the Pope of Holiness
The beauty of Christianity is that one can achieve greatness without fame or far-flung adventure. The Church recognizes the valiant endurance of men and women who bear witness to the Gospel in a world growing more overtly hostile to Christians every day. In the nearly 27 years of his pontificate, Pope John Paul II gave the Church 1338 Blesseds and 482 Saints. There are some within the Church, who criticize John Paul II for creating an "inflation" of saints and blessed. I disagree with those voices, especially after many years of working with young people like you in this room. You have a desperate need for real heroes and heroines, models and witnesses of faith and virtue that the world of sports, cinema, science and music cannot provide.
John Paul II reminded us that the heroes and heroines the world offers to young people today are terribly flawed. They leave us so empty. The real "stars" of the Pontificate of Pope John Paul II are the Saints and Blesseds who did not try to be regarded as heroes, or to shock or provoke. To believe greatness is attainable, we need successful role models to emulate.
Karol Wojtyla himself was an extraordinary witness who, through his devotion, heroic efforts, long suffering and death, communicated the powerful message of the Gospel to the men and women of our day. A great part of the success of his message is due to the fact that he has been surrounded by a tremendous cloud of witnesses who stood by him and strengthened him throughout his life. For John Paul II, the call to holiness excludes no one; it is not the privilege of a spiritual elite.
The Servant of God John Paul II spoke much to young people about the call to holiness and the vocation to be saints. Remember his message for World Youth Day 2000 in Rome. He wrote to his dear young friends throughout the world unforgettable words that became the rallying cry for the Jubilee’s greatest celebration:
“Young people of every continent, do not be afraid to be the saints of the new millennium! Be contemplative, love prayer; be coherent with your faith and generous in the service of your brothers and sisters, be active members of the Church and builders of peace. To succeed in this demanding project of life, continue to listen to His Word, draw strength from the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Penance. The Lord wants you to be intrepid apostles of his Gospel and builders of a new humanity.”
Two years later for our World Youth Day in Canada, John Paul II took up once again the theme of holiness and saints in his message to us:
“Just as salt gives flavor to food and light illumines the darkness, so too holiness gives full meaning to life and makes it reflect God’s glory. How many saints, especially young saints, can we count in the Church’s history! In their love for God their heroic virtues shone before the world, and so they became models of life which the Church has held up for imitation by all. Let us remember only a few of them: Agnes of Rome, Andrew of Phú Yên, Pedro Calungsod, Josephine Bakhita, Thérèse of Lisieux, Pier Giorgio Frassati, Marcel Callo, Francisco Castelló Aleu or again Kateri Tekakwitha, the young Iroquois called "the Lily of the Mohawks". Through the intercession of this great host of witnesses, may God make you too, dear young people, the saints of the third millennium!”
At the concluding Mass at Downsview Park on Sunday, July 28, 2002, Pope John Paul issued that stirring challenge:
“And if, in the depths of your hearts, you feel the same call to the priesthood or consecrated life, do not be afraid to follow Christ on the royal road of the Cross! At difficult moments in the Church's life, the pursuit of holiness becomes even more urgent. And holiness is not a question of age; it is a matter of living in the Holy Spirit, just as Kateri Tekakwitha did here in America and so many other young people have done.”
Pope Benedict XVI continued the momentum of John Paul’s invitations and exhortations to holiness at World Youth Day 2005 in Cologne, Germany. At the opening ceremony on August 18, 2005, Benedict addressed the throng of young people from the entire world:
“Dear young people, the Church needs genuine witnesses for the new evangelization: men and women whose lives have been transformed by meeting with Jesus, men and women who are capable of communicating this experience to others. The Church needs saints. All are called to holiness, and holy people alone can renew humanity. Many have gone before us along this path of Gospel heroism, and I urge you to turn often to them to pray for their intercession.”
The Holy Father continued this theme at the great vigil on Saturday evening August 20, 2005 at Marienfeld:
“It is the great multitude of the saints - both known and unknown - in whose lives the Lord has opened up the Gospel before us and turned over the pages; he has done this throughout history and he still does so today. In their lives, as if in a great picture-book, the riches of the Gospel are revealed. They are the shining path which God himself has traced throughout history and is still tracing today.
Then Pope Benedict XVI cried out in that apocalyptic assembly of over one million young people gathered in prayer at Marienfeld: “The saints…are the true reformers. Now I want to express this in an even more radical way: only from the saints, only from God does true revolution come, the definitive way to change the world.”
Shortly before Christmas this year, Pope Benedict addressed the Italian Catholic Action Movement in Italy. He mentioned the Italian child Antonia Meo, whose heroic virtues has just been promulgated by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Antonia, known as Nennolina, died of bone cancer in 1937 shortly before her seventh birthday. The Holy Father recalled how during her brief life she "showed special faith, hope and charity" and, presenting her as a model for the young people and he affirmed that "her existence, so simple and yet so important, shows that sanctity is for all ages: for babies and for young people, for adults and for the elderly."
Benedict said: "She traveled quickly down the 'highway' that leads to Jesus ... Who is, in fact, the true 'path' that leads to the Father, and to His and our definitive home which is heaven." "Jesus is the way that leads to the true life, the life that never ends. It is often a steep and narrow way but, if one allows oneself to be attracted by Him, it is always stupendous, like a mountain path: the higher one climbs the easier it becomes to gaze down upon new panoramas, ever more beautiful and vast. The journey is tiring but we are not alone. ... What is important is not to lose our way, not to miss the path, otherwise we risk falling into an abyss or getting lost in the woods.”
The Pope’s words to describe holiness and sanctity are clear, simple and unmistakable: traveling quickly "down the 'highway' that leads to Jesus… a road that is always stupendous, like a mountain path: the higher one climbs the easier it becomes to gaze down upon new panoramas, ever more beautiful and vast. The journey is tiring but we are not alone.”
CCO and the new revolution
Young men and women of CCO, you are friends of the saints! I joined many of you for our great, historic pilgrimage in the footsteps of the saints and blessed in August 2005. Who can forget our encounter with the cloistered Carmelite community in Cologne that was home to Jewish-born Edith Stein, of the great saints of the last century began a journey, which finally led to the death camp at Auschwitz. St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross teaches us about seeking the truth in everything, and loving Jesus, the man of the Cross. She shared in the fate of her Jewish brothers and sisters in Auschwitz, rather than using her baptism to escape the reality of the Holocaust.
Journeying on to Munich, we reflected on the Saints and Blesseds of the World War II and the Nazi period. Blessed Rupert Mayer, S.J., was a German Jesuit priest best known for his preaching and apostolic endeavors in Munich between the First and Second World Wars. Fr. Mayer lit the city of Munich on fire with God's love.
When we visited the renown University of Munich, we went as pilgrims and seekers, desiring to profess our Christian faith in the manner of the “White Rose Martyrs”- Kurt Huber, Hans and Sophie Scholl and their peers. They were youths rich in faith, with a profound ecumenical vision. Although they lived at a different time, they are of enormous importance. Many of their young friends associated with the group and also lost their lives for resisting the Nazi war machine and ideology. The “White Rose” students serve as an example that not all Germans blindly went along with Hitler.
When we crossed the border into northern Italy, we were guests of the family of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, the athletic young man who died at the age of 24 in Turin in 1925. In his day the young Frassati embodied political activism, solidarity, work for social justice and the poor, authentic piety and devotion, humanity and goodness, holiness, ordinariness, faith and charity. No wonder that at his Beatification in 1990, Pope John Paul II called him: "Man of the Eight Beatitudes."
In the Lombardy town of Mesero near Milan we reflected for two days on the life and witness of St. Gianna Beretta Molla. The young mother's final decision for the life of her daughter Gianna Emmaunela was the natural flowering and culmination of an extraordinary life of virtue and holiness, selflessness and quiet joy. Who can ever forget the veritable communion of saints spread for us by St. Gianna's husband, Pietro Molla, and his children!
Continuing on to Assisi we reflected on the lives of two beloved Umbrian saints Francis and Clare. For Francis, the standard was always Christ and Christ alone. In the little church of San Damiano which was then dilapidated, Francesco heard these words spoken to him from the cross: "Go, repair my house, as you can see it is in ruins." Benedict XVI summed up Francis' mission: "That "house" was above all his own life, which had to be "repaired" through an authentic conversion; it was the Church, not the one made of bricks, but of living people, which always needs purification."
As we heard the story of Clare, Francis' beloved friend, we realized that wherever the Franciscans established themselves throughout Europe, there also went the Poor Clares, depending solely on alms, forced to have complete faith on God to provide through people. Clare and Francis teach us about the meaning of holy friendship, purity and devotion.
Arriving in the Eternal City of Rome for the final leg of the journey, we spent four days at the Vatican. There the generation of Vatican II discovered the life of the architect and dreamer of the Second Vatican Council, Angelo Roncalli - Blessed John XXIII. From the very beginning "Papa Giovanni" endeared himself to millions of people throughout through his infectious warmth and vision. He stressed the relevance of the church in a rapidly changing society and made the church's deepest truths stand out in the modern world.
Four More Co-nationals in God’s Kingdom
Today I would like to offer you four more holy women and men for your CCO face book who blaze a path for us along the highway to heaven. We need their life, vision and example to sustain us, encourage us, and help us to become revolutionaries of holiness in our own day.
Mary: Our Lady of Lourdes and the Immaculate Conception
It is said about the Blessed Mother that love has given her a thousand names and titles. One of the important titles and dogmas by which we know Mary, is the “Immaculate Conception.” On February 11, 1858, a 14-year-old local girl, Bernadette Soubirous claimed a beautiful lady appeared to her in the remote grotto of Massabielle outside of the town of Lourdes in the southwestern part of France. The lady later identified herself as “the Immaculate Conception” and appeared to Bernadette 18 times.
Even the initial skepticism of the local church authorities served as a time of purification of the great message of Lourdes that continues to resound throughout the world. There are very few pilgrimage places on earth where one can experience the mystery of the Cross and the meaning of redemptive suffering that are at the heart of the Christian life.
Many people still wrongly assume that the Immaculate Conception refers to the conception of Christ. In fact, it refers to the belief that Mary, by special divine favor, was without sin from the moment she was conceived. Without the awareness of original sin, the Immaculate Conception makes no sense. Through the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, God was present and moving in Mary’s life from the earliest moments. God’s grace is greater than sin; it overpowers sin and death.
When we honor the Mother of God under the title “Immaculate Conception”, we recognize in her a model of purity, innocence, trust, childlike curiosity, reverence, and respect, living peacefully alongside a mature awareness that life isn’t simple. It’s rare to find reverence and sophistication, idealism and realism, purity, innocence and passion, inside the same person as we find in Mary. Something inside us yearns always for innocence, purity, freshness and trust. If we lose these we find ourselves cynical and disillusioned with an unhappiness that comes precisely from having “been around,” from having had our eyes opened, from having knowledge without innocence. We need to hold that innocence and experience in a proper tension. Through the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Lourdes, we have an image of humanity and divinity at home. God is indeed comfortable in our presence and we in God’s.
Recently Pope Benedict XVI authorized special indulgences to mark the 150th anniversary celebrations of Our Lady of Lourdes that are now underway. Today I ask Our Lady of Lourdes to continue to shower down upon CCO simplicity and reverence, idealism and realism, purity and innocence, passion and conviction… those very gifts which were once poured out on a young peasant girl of Lourdes who had an incredible vision and dialogue with the Lord’s own mother. That vision and dialogue continue to bring the suffering world such healing and hope.
St. Joseph: Patron of the Universal Church and of Canada; Model of Masculinity and Fatherhood
The second great example and role model for us is one whom we often take for granted at this time of year. St. Joseph is often overshadowed by the glory of Christ and the purity of Mary. But he, too, waited for God to speak to him and then responded with obedience. We are told that Joseph was a carpenter, (more likely a builder), a man who worked to provide for his family. St. Joseph revealed in his humanity the unique role of fathers to proclaim God's truth by word and deed. The present challenges to fatherhood and masculinity cannot be understood in isolation from the culture in which we live. The effect of fatherlessness on children is deeply alarming. How many of you in this room have been affected by crisis of fatherhood and paternity in our day? How many have been deprived of a father or grandfather in your life?
St. Joseph is a great example of manhood, masculinity and fatherhood. His paradoxical situation of "foster father to Jesus" draws attention to the truth about fatherhood. First, because he stood as father to a boy who was his son only in the legal sense, he was keenly aware, as every father should be, that he served as the representative of God the Father. Second, St. Joseph understood that he, a mere man conceived and born in sin, had been entrusted with the headship of that family of Nazareth. He neither neglected this authority, nor used it for selfish gain. Rather, he exercised his headship in perfect humility, in the service of his family. Third, Joseph protected and provided for Jesus and Mary. He named Jesus, taught him how to pray, how to work, how to be a man. While no words or texts are attributed to him, we can be sure that Joseph pronounced two of the most important words that could ever be spoken when he named his son "Jesus" and called him "Emmanuel."
Joseph, the "foster-father" of the Lord reveals that fatherhood is more than a mere fact of biological generation. A man is a father most when he invests himself in the spiritual and moral formation of his children. Real fathers and real men are those who communicate paternal strength and compassion. They are men of reason in the midst of conflicting passions; men of conviction who always remain open to genuine dialogue about differences; men who ask nothing of others that they wouldn't risk or suffer themselves. Joseph is a chaste, faithful, hardworking, simple and just man. He reminds us that a home, a community or a university chaplaincy are not built on power and possessions but goodness; not on riches and wealth, but on faith, fidelity, purity and mutual love.
Blessed Franz Jägerstätter: Martyr for the Truth
A third striking role model and fellow citizen for us is the Austrian farmer and layman Franz Jägerstätter. Born in 1907 in Austria, Franz was a fun-loving youth who chased after girls, rode a motorcycle, and once fathered a child out of wedlock. After marrying, however, his religious faith deepened. Jägerstätter became one of the outstanding figures of Christian resistance to National Socialism and the Anschluss (annexation of Austria by Germany in March 1938). Franz married and settled down to a typical peasant life. In addition to his farm and household duties, Jägerstätter became sacristan of the parish church of St. Radegund, and was known for his diligent and devout service.
In 1940, at the age of 33, he was conscripted into the German armed forces and underwent basic training. After returning home in 1941 on an exemption as a farmer, he began examining closely the religious reasons for refusing to carry out military service. In 1943 he reported to his army base and stated his refusal to serve. A military court rejected his assertion that he could not be both a Nazi and a Catholic, and condemned him to death for undermining military morale. His offer to serve as a military paramedic was ignored. His refusal to serve in the Nazi army was not supported by his parish priest, his bishop or most of his Catholic friends. Particularly because he had a wife and three daughters, many advised him to think of his family and put aside his conscientious objection to the Nazi war machine.
Early on August 9, 1943, Franz Jägerstätter was taken from Berlin to the concentration camp at Brandenburg/Havel. At midday he was told his death sentence had been confirmed and it would be carried out at 4 p.m. Just before his brutal execution he wrote: "I am convinced that it is best that I speak the truth, even if it costs me my life." That afternoon at 4 p.m., Franz was beheaded, the first of 16 victims, for his refusal to serve in the armies of the Third Reich. He was martyred on the one-year anniversary of St. Edith Stein's execution at Auschwitz. Three years later his remains were brought back to his homeland and buried near his beloved parish church in St. Radegund.
His life is a remarkable story, especially in this time when war and violence are raging in many parts of the world. Franz, the humble sacristan of St. Radegund, offered an example of how to live the Christian faith fully and radically, even when there are extreme consequences. "He is a shining example in his fidelity to the claims of his conscience an advocate of nonviolence and peace," the Austrian bishops said, praising Jägerstätter for standing up to "the inhuman and godless system of Nazism." On October 26, 2007, in the presence of his 94 year-old wife Franziska, his three daughters and 5000 others in the Cathedral of Linz, Austria, Franz Jägerstätter was beatified as a martyr, which means he was killed out of hatred for the faith. May he give us courage and honesty as we seek to live extreme holiness in our day.
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta: one of us after all
The final example I hold up for you is the life Albanian born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, known to the world as Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Mother Teresa's life was not a sound byte. Her life was a metaphor for selfless devotion and holiness. That is why so many young women and men from nearly every corner of the world continue to enter the Missionaries of Charity. Mother Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity Order that now numbers more than 4500 women ministering in more than 100 countries. They run over 500 homes, hospices and shelters for thousands of dying and destitute people, plus hundreds more schools, mobile clinics, leprosy homes and AIDS hospices.
There are the critics in the Church who say that Mother Teresa personified a pre-Vatican Council view of faith and did not address systemic evils such as defense spending. They criticize her and her followers for their relentless condemnation of abortion. I know religious women and men in our own country and elsewhere who say that there was absolutely no element of prophetic criticism to be found in Mother Teresa’s teachings and her lifestyle. Some say that she was a "safe" model- going so far as to say that every priest and bishop could put her on a pedestal and say to women: 'Be docile, do your womanly thing, but don't go out and criticize anything else.'
When Mother Teresa speaks of 'sharing poverty,' she defies the logic of institutions that prefer agendas for the poor, not communion with individual poor people. Communion disregards conventional approaches. It may never find a job for someone, much less ever get that person shaped up. Thus the agents of communion are called irrelevant. Or they may end up, like Mother Teresa, in being labeled “saint.” Once when this frail, little nun was asked point-blank by journalist how she felt being called holy around the world, she answered bluntly: "Holiness is not a luxury; it is a necessity."
Though she left this world scene ten years ago this past August, this tiny nun made the news big time this past fall with the publication of her letters. Many journalists, magazine editors, television newscasters got the story all wrong with their sensational headlines: “Mother Teresa’s secret life: crisis and darkness,” or “Calcutta’s Saint was an atheist,” or even “Mother and the Absent One.” Some commentators wrote: “She lost her faith and the Church rewards her for it.” These people seem unaware that those who prepared Mother’s Beatification in 2003 cited the letters as proof of her exceptional faith and not the absence of it.
What the church looks for in saints is not just good works for that there are Nobel Peace Prizes but solid evidence that the candidate for canonization or beatification was transformed, inwardly and outwardly, by God’s grace. From her now-published letters we can say that Mother Teresa was a special breed of saint: a genuine mystic. Mother Teresa tells us in those deeply moving messages that she once felt God’s powerful presence and heard Jesus speak to her. Then God withdrew and Jesus was silent. What Mother Teresa experienced thereafter was faith devoid of any emotional consolation. In the end Mother Teresa had to rely on raw faith, hope and charity. These are the virtues of all Christians, not just the spiritual elite. She was one of us after all!
Years ago when I first met Mother Teresa of Calcutta after a celebration in Rome, she placed firmly into my hands one of her famous business cards unlike any calling card I had ever seen. On the front of the card were printed these words: "The fruit of silence is PRAYER. The fruit of prayer is FAITH. The fruit of faith is LOVE. The fruit of love is SERVICE. The fruit of service is PEACE. God bless you. Mother Teresa" I still carry that card with me. There was no address, phone number of FAX on the card then. Today, in fact, we don't need any of her contact information. She is available to all of us in the communion of saints.
Let me go back to my original question: Is there room for God in our world today? Is there room for God in Canada today? Is there room for more extreme revolutionaries of holiness in our culture today? The answer is a resounding “yes.” Young people of Catholic Christian Outreach, le me ask you: “Why should Christians and Catholics in this country be reticent about declaring themselves Christian, Catholic, or an extreme revolutionary for holiness? Why should we behave as though our message could be harmful or that we have a word and story but don’t know how to announce it? Do we fear indifference, hostility, being ridiculed or sidelined? If that is the case, let me remind you of the response of the young Bernadette of Lourdes to the chief of police who said that she did not convince him of the events that had taken place at a grotto near the river. Bernadette said: “The Lady did not instruct me to convince you, but to tell you.”
The core of the proclamation of the Saints and Blesseds was always hope, even in the midst of the darkest moments of history. And the core of our own proclamation and announcement must be hope. “Spe salvi” in hope we were saved, says Saint Paul to the Romans, and likewise to us (Rom 8:24). At the times when the Church hits its low points God raises up tremendous saints to bring the Church back to its real mission. It's almost as if in those times of darkness the light of Christ shines ever more brightly. We are living through one of those times, and the Lord is still taking applications for his extreme form of holiness and sanctity. And I have a strong feeling that the Lord has been beaming for the past 28 years as he looked out over the throngs of young people gathered in Rome, Buenos Aires, Santiago de Compostela, Częstochowa, Denver, Manila, Paris, again in Rome, then Toronto, Cologne and soon in Sydney. “Ha ha…” the Lord says: “World Youth Days are the employment office for extreme holiness. There are some candidates down there for my work force.”
And the Lord has been delighting big time in Canada as he has been part of these great Rise Up Conferences for the past 8 years, and part of CCO for the past 19 years. “Ha ha… I will find among those Canadian young people successors of Sts. Jean de Brébeuf, Noël Chabanel, Anthony Daniel, Charles Garnier, Isaac Jogues, Gabriel Lalemant, René Goupil and Jean de Lalande. I see new agents who will take up the vision and work of Sts. Marguerite d'Youville and Marguerite Bourgeoys, and their winning team of Blesseds: André Grasset, Kateri Tekakwitha, Marie de l'Incarnation, François de Laval, Marie-Rose Durocher, André Bessette, Marie-Léonie Paradis, Louis-Zéphirin Moreau, Frédéric Janssoone, Catherine de Saint-Augustin, Dina Bélanger, Marie-Anne Blondin, Émilie Tavernier Gamelin, Nykyta Budka, Basil Velychkovsky.” To that the Lord would likely add: “There are lots of Francophones and others on this list. I want some young people from English-speaking Canada to apply for the job!”
Today we must thank God for giving the Church in Canada such impressive founders and models. They challenge us to undertake a new evangelization. They encourage us by their devotion to Christ, as well as by their courageous zeal and spirit of prayer along the highway to heaven. These Martyrs, Saints and Blesseds remind us that on this highway to heaven, we are never finished; we are only and always on the way. When we think of holiness in these terms as a kind of direction, rather than a destination we have a sense that what unites us with the saints, our fellow travelers, is much deeper than all that sets us apart.
Last week during the Christmas Midnight Mass at the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI offered the world this wonderful insight:
“Heaven does not belong to the geography of space, but to the geography of the heart. And the heart of God, during the Holy Night, stooped down to the stable: the humility of God is Heaven. And if we approach this humility, then we touch Heaven. Then the Earth too is made new. With the humility of the shepherds, let us set out, during this Holy Night, towards the Child in the stable! Let us touch God's humility, God's heart! Then his joy will touch us and will make the world more radiant.”
There could be no better words to sum up the mission of extreme revolutionaries of holiness than these words of the Pope. The primary mission of each of us is a matter of the geography of the heart. To be a fellow citizen of the saints guarantees us benefits truly out of this world, but also the assurance that we will taste heaven here below! God has stooped down to embrace us in this lowly child in a stable. Let us accept God’s invitation and embrace this magnificent humility. Let us undertake our mission peacefully, joyfully and courageously. Then the world will glimpse and taste heaven through us. That is the mission and vocation of the Saints, the Blesseds, and of the nearly 500 extreme revolutionaries of holiness who are gathered here in Calgary for Rise Up 2007.
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