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What Comes Next?

by Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila, D.D.

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Keynote Address to Catholic Radio Conference 2013


Keynote Address of Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila to the 2013 Catholic Radio Conference held on October 11, 2013, in Birmingham, Alabama.

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Archdiocese of Denver, October 11, 2013

Dear Bishop Baker, brothers and sisters in Christ,

The Year of Faith will be coming to a close in just over a month. This time of grace, of growing deeper in the faith and drawing closer to Christ will conclude with a ceremony in St. Peter’s Square, and I am sure many of us will ask, “What comes next?”

I believe that how we answer this important question will have a great impact on Catholic radio and those who listen to it. For that reason, I will spend our time together reflecting on the Year of Faith’s effects on us and what this means for you who are committed to the radio apostolate and the new evangelization.

When Pope Benedict XVI announced the Year of Faith in October 2011 with the Apostolic Letter Porta Fidei, he said that he decided to launch the Year because “large swathes of society” no longer share or recognize Christian values, a fact he attributed to “a profound crisis of faith” (#2).

He hoped that the Year of Faith would result in Catholics encountering Christ, who would fill them with joy and renewed enthusiasm for living their faith and bringing it to the world.

“Only through believing,” Benedict explained, “does faith grow and become stronger; there is no other possibility for possessing certitude with regard to one’s life apart from self-abandonment” (#7).

He beautifully described this surrender to God as leading to a life that becomes “a continuous crescendo, into the hands of a love that seems to grow constantly because it has its origin in God” (# 7).

Who among us does not want to live a life of ever-expanding love? All of us who have experienced love know that as we experience it we desire more – as intimacy grows, love deepens. The love of God is eternal and will only reach its fulfillment when we enter heaven, where we will live in the heart of the Trinity.

And yet, I am sure that at least some of us here have not taken full advantage of this time of grace. The Year of Faith does not end until November 24, so there is still time to begin the journey of belief and approach Jesus and ask him to help you grow in faith, to encounter him and fall in love with him. Then, he will lead you to the Father and they will pour out the Holy Spirit and his gifts upon you.

On Monday evening of this week I finished an 8-day silent directed retreat. One of the prayers coming out of the retreat was to cry out with the Apostles, “Increase our faith! (Lk 17: 5). Faith, that deep confidence and trust in the Lord is a gift bestowed by God, and is one that we can continue to pray for each day expressing our desire for faith with the simple prayer, “Lord, increase my faith in you!”

The question still remains, though, ‘What do we do when the Year is over?’

Popes Benedict and Francis both answered that question by calling Catholics to share their faith in a joyful and courageous way.

“In rediscovering his (God’s) love day by day,” Benedict XVI wrote in Porta Fidei (#7), “the missionary commitment of believers attains force and vigor that can never fade away.”

“Faith grows when it is lived as an experience of love received and when it is communicated as an experience of grace and joy. It makes us fruitful, because it expands our hearts in hope and enables us to bear life-giving witness …” (#7).

Not long after he began his ministry, Pope Francis picked up where his predecessor left off, declaring that the response to the Year of Faith is to carry Christ to “the outskirts of society.”

So what does this look like for Catholic radio?

This morning I will draw on the lives and examples of three historic Catholic radio personalities to help describe what a joyful, courageous witness to Christ looks like in those who put their faith in Jesus Christ. After reflecting on these saintly people, I will offer some thoughts on how the new evangelization can be effective in our current culture.

I will begin in the year 1937, just before the outbreak of World War II.

Saint Maximilian Kolbe, who is the patron of some of your stations, made his first radio address on Dec. 8, 1937. He did so on Polish National Radio, speaking about the founding of a small city of friars 10 years before. It was called Niepokalanow (pronounced Nee-poke-al?nov), which means “Immaculate” in Polish and thus honored the Blessed Mother.

The broadcast was so successful that it was re-aired on Niepokalanow’s local station on Christmas Eve of that same year. Father Kolbe was given another opportunity to go on-air in February 1938. His second broadcast, which would be his last, was a recounting of the various accomplishments of the apostolates carried out in the Immaculate city in1937.

In his first address, St. Maximilian did not speak about any of the things our society is occupied with. Instead, with joy and devotion he explained how the Militia Immaculata was created in Rome in response to a demonstration by Freemasons.

The occasion which led to its establishment was the increasingly outrageous demonstrations organized by the Italian Freemasons against the Church in the city of Rome itself. For instance, they paraded their own banners before the windows of the Vatican and flaunted a larger poster on which the Archangel Michael was being trampled upon by Lucifer, and things of that sort.

Mindful of the slogan of the Freemasons, “We shall succeed in conquering the Catholic religion not by arguments but by perverting morals,” a group of young students in the international college of the Conventual Franciscans in Rome resolved to counter these attacks on the Church and to help souls find the path leading to God, to bring about their conversion and personal sanctification through a renewal of moral life.[1]

The first meeting of this group took place in 1917 and in 1922 a newsletter was launched that had reached a circulation of 750,000 a mere 16 years later. Here we see his courage and love in defending the truth, Mary and the Church.

Most of us know that St. Maximilian died Aug. 14, 1941 at the Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz after he offered his life to save Francis Gajowniczek (pronounced Gah-jown-ih-check). And yet, the Polish Franciscan did not begin his life of sacrifice, his life of joyful witness to Christ in that camp.

In his first radio broadcast, St. Maximilian recalled a moment of testing that resulted in an outpouring of God’s generosity. His story involved begging in the streets to fund the first edition of the newsletter for the Militia Immaculata, an experience that I am sure some of you can relate to in your apostolates.

I remember the day I went out into the streets of Krakow to beg a little money to print the first issue. It was drizzling, and even after I had walked up and down several streets of the city, I still felt too embarrassed to go in anywhere and ask for alms. But the next day I thought to myself, “You are not doing it for yourself, but for the cause of the Immaculate in souls.” So I got up my courage and went to a priest whom I knew … He greeted me very cordially, made a donation for the new review, accompanied me to his vicar, who imitated his generosity and gave me several addresses. …

We still needed 500 marks to finish paying for the printing; but nobody knew this. As I was on my way to the printer, I crossed through our basilica and noticed on the altar of the Immaculate Conception an envelope on which was written, “For you, Immaculate Mother.” In it were 500 marks – exactly the amount I needed.[2]

This is the type of faith and courage that more important heroic acts are built upon, and these are the type of every-day challenges that you should ask the Holy Spirit for the grace to respond to so that your life can become an outpouring of love that spills over into your ministry.

St. Maximilian’s joy was also frequently noted by his Franciscan brothers and everyone he came in contact with. One story that stands out happened when the Franciscans met for their General Chapter in 1936 in Poland. The main topic of the meeting was who should be the superior of Niepokalanow, even though the brothers spoke highly of the current superior.

Father Anselm Kubit told the assembly that “although the other superiors of Niepokalanow had been excellent religious, well prepared for the new form of apostolate, nevertheless the Brothers said of each of them: ‘He is not Father Maximilian.”’

“Brother Thaddeus Maj stated: ‘His return from Japan was anxiously awaited. Everywhere he passed he sowed peace, harmony, reciprocal love; he dispelled doubts, infused courage.’”[3]

Much like modern society, the time during which St. Maximilian carried out his ministry was filled with unrest. At the height of his efforts to spread devotion to Our Lady and the Catholic faith, Poland was invaded by the Nazis. The Nazi occupiers harassed him continually and on Feb. 17, 1941 St. Maximilian and a number of other friars were arrested and sent to concentration camps.

In our own day, the persecution is better dressed; it puts on the appearance of being tolerant, not oppressive. But the persecution and sidelining of the faith are just as real and serious today as they were at that time. I look forward to reading John Allen’s new book, The Global War on Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution, which just came out this week and addresses the matter fully. It is a wakeup call for all Christians.

The Catholic response is the one St. Maximilian offered when he was first imprisoned by the Nazis, which was related by one of his Franciscan brothers.

“When we suffered starvation and cold; when we slept on straw in tents and it was already November, with snow and frost; when we had no water to drink and had not changed our clothes for three months while the insects gave us no rest – the Servant of God endured everything with serenity and joy, because in this way he could show his love for God.”[4]

Only one with a deep faith in Jesus Christ could, in the “outskirts” of a concentration camp, experience peace and joy.

Another Catholic radio personality many of you are familiar with and who I think should be imitated is Archbishop Fulton Sheen. I can still remember as a young boy my parents watching his television program.

He first began his ministry as a teacher; and during that time, then-Father Sheen travelled to New York City, Boston and other places on the weekend to preach and instruct people in the faith. One summer, Archbishop Sheen traveled through Alabama in a trailer with a fellow priest. The two of them preached to anyone who would listen, and they did so anywhere – on street corners and even in cornfields.

It goes without saying that the Alabama tour took courage, the same kind of courage that is required of you when you sit in front of a microphone and explain the faith on the air. The world needs to hear how Jesus has changed your life, how he has reconciled you with the Father and poured out his Holy Spirit on you, and that takes courage.

Archbishop Sheen also offered a courageous witness when it came to telling people true things that might not be well received.

In his 1931 essay “A Plea for Intolerance,” Archbishop Sheen exemplified this quality as he described the confusion and the double standard that surrounds the promotion of tolerance in modern society.

America, it is said, is suffering from intolerance—it is not. It is suffering from tolerance. Tolerance of right and wrong, truth and error, virtue and evil, Christ and chaos. Our country is not nearly so overrun with the bigoted as it is overrun with the broadminded. . . . Tolerance is an attitude of reasoned patience toward evil, a forbearance that restrains us from showing anger or inflicting punishment. Tolerance applies only to persons, never to truth. Tolerance applies to the erring, intolerance to the error. . . . Architects are as intolerant about sand as foundations for skyscrapers as doctors are intolerant about germs in the laboratory. Tolerance does not apply to truth or principles. About these things we must be intolerant, and for this kind of intolerance, so much needed to rouse us from sentimental gush, I make a plea. Intolerance of this kind is the foundation of all stability.[5]

In Archbishop Sheen, one can also see how God’s love moved him to dedicate all of his energy to giving witness to Jesus through every means possible. He began with radio, then launched into television, and finally took up the pen.

What stands out to me is how he thoroughly dedicated himself to delivering the Gospel in a way that was attractive and compelling. For example, for every 30-minute television episode he filmed, Archbishop Sheen prepared 30 hours, which meant he had enough material to talk for an hour or more.[6]

“As in breathing,” he explained, “there is always more oxygen outside the body than that which is taken in by the lungs, so the knowledge that one has on a certain subject must be far greater than that which is imparted.”[7]

When you prepare for your radio shows, I encourage you to apply this same enthusiasm to your work, especially since there is no more important cause than the salvation of souls.

The final person I want to hold up as a model for your ministry is a bit of a local celebrity – Mother Mary Angelica.

Mother Angelica, who was born Rita Rizzo in the steel town of Canton, Ohio, is a woman whose faith in God has been continually forged in the crucible of suffering from her childhood until today.

Behind the many stories of Mother Angelica’s trust in God is a principle that she called her “theology of risk.” She described it like this:

“You want to do something for the Lord … do it. Whatever you feel needs to be done, even though you’re shaking in your boots, you’re scared to death – take the first step forward. The grace comes with that one step and you get the grace as you step.”

“Being afraid is not a problem; it’s doing nothing when you’re afraid.”[8]

Another way she put it was: “My attitude is, if the Lord inspires me to do something, I attempt to do it. … I have to start; if it’s not His will, it will either fall apart or something will happen to really hinder it.”[9]

This is the kind of faith that only comes from personally encountering Christ. For Mother Angelica, it began with a period of suffering caused by a problem with her stomach in her 20s. After praying a novena to Saint Therese, Mother was miraculously healed of the dropped stomach that had plagued her for years.

If you are courageous in trusting God, he will continue to deepen your faith and expand your joy, drawing you into the intimacy of the Trinity. And from this will flow a life that draws others to him.

Since all of you are involved in radio, there is one story about Mother Angelica that bears repeating.

In January 1989, Mother Angelica received one of her inspirations in prayer. This time it was a call to take the Gospel to the whole world via shortwave radio.

At first, she went to Rome, thinking that she could harness the language abilities of seminarians from around the globe who were studying there. But the Italian bureaucracy bogged things down and she eventually discovered that Alabama was an ideal location for a shortwave antenna.

A list of sites in Alabama was prepared, but upon inspection none of them proved suitable. However, Mother Angelica insisted on surveying one of the properties – a 180-acre mountaintop location – in person.

When she arrived at the site, Mother Angelica asked one of the people accompanying her, “Do you see Saint Michael up there?” as she pointed in the distance.

“I don’t see anything,” he replied. But Mother responded, “Well I do, and we’re buying it.”[10]

Further research later revealed that the property stretched across Shelby and Saint Clair counties, a significance that was not lost on Mother because Saint Clare is the patron saint of television and of the order of Poor Clares she founded.

Even more amazing was the fact that the mountain was filled with iron, causing the signal to reach as far as England, Russia, Japan and India.

I have already mentioned the joy of St. Maximilian Kolbe and Archbishop Fulton Sheen, and with each of them joy found its own expression in their personalities. For Mother Angelica, I believe that her joy manifested itself in her spunk and humor.

The reaction Mother Angelica had the first time she saw a television studio encapsulates her sense of humor well.

Nestled in the upper reaches of the Chicago skyscraper were a few cameras, a grid of lights, and a small set.

“Lord, I gotta have one of those,” Angelica whispered in a private prayer. … Angelica turned to her guide, Tom Kennedy. “Tom, how much does something like this cost?” Kennedy quizzed one of the technicians and reported back to Mother. “Nine hundred and fifty thousand dollars,” he told her.

“Is that all?” Mother said, her doubts fading. “I want one of these,” she declared.[11]

There are many ways that we can joyfully witness to how meeting Jesus in this Year of Faith has changed our lives, and I encourage all of you to use your own gifts in seeking out how God is calling you to respond.

At this point I will turn to some observations Pope Francis made about three weeks ago (Sept. 21) in an address to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications on the Church’s efforts to transmit the Gospel.

I believe these insights are important for communicators and evangelists because you are called to witness to the faith in your personal and professional lives.

“In every situation, beyond technological considerations,” Pope Francis said, “I believe that the goal is to understand how to enter into dialogue with the men and women of today, in order to appreciate their desires, their doubts, and their hopes.”[12]

“We do in fact witness today, in the age of globalization, a growing sense of disorientation and isolation; we see, increasingly, a loss of meaning to life, an inability to connect with a ‘home,’ and a struggle to build meaningful relationships.”

Pope Francis went on to say the Church must respond to these circumstances by learning “how to dialogue, and how to enter, with discernment, into the environments created by new technologies, into social networks, in such a way as to reveal a presence that listens, converses, and encourages.”

I believe that the Holy Father’s call for a culture of encounter must be a part of how we approach our mission to joyfully and courageously proclaim the Gospel to the world. His call is intertwined with the Year of Faith and with the theme of this conference, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel.”

Pope Francis described this challenge as one of leading people to rediscover “through means of social communication as well as by personal contact … the beauty which is at the heart of our existence and our journey, the beauty of faith, the beauty of the encounter with Christ.

“Even in the context of social communications,” he insisted, “the Church is required to bring warmth, to warm hearts” and to present the Church as a “home for everyone.” This is an important task that falls to you, my dear brothers and sisters.

I want to conclude my remarks this morning by emphasizing that our efforts to share the faith must begin with each of us personally, because it is our personal witness that matters more than anything else.

Pope Francis notes in his message that helping others encounter Christ must be done “in the full knowledge … that we ourselves are means of communication, and that the fundamental problem is not the acquisition of the latest technologies, although these are necessary to a valid, contemporary presence.”[13]

“It is necessary to be absolutely clear that the God in whom we believe, who loves all men and women intensely, wants to reveal himself through the means at our disposal, however poor they are, because it is he who is at work, he who transforms, and he who saves us.”

My deepest prayer for you my brothers and sisters is that you will be those who in your encounter with Jesus Christ and in the beauty of our Catholic faith and sacramental life will through your apostolate propose to others the truth of Jesus Christ. By your joy, your serenity and peace may the new evangelization continue to take hold as you proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ and his Church to all those you meet on the radio waves and in your personal lives.

Thank you very much for your attention and may God bless you all.

[1] The Kolbe Reader, by Fr. Anselm W. Romb, OFM Conv., page 162.

[2] The Kolbe Reader, by Fr. Anselm W. Romb, OFM Conv., page 163.

[3] St. Maximilan Kolbe: Apostle of Our Difficult Age, pages 203-20. Daughters of St. Paul, Boston, 1982.

[4] St. Maximilan Kolbe: Apostle of Our Difficult Age, page 243. Daughters of St. Paul, Boston, 1982.

[5] “A Plea for Intolerance,” by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, 1931.

[6] Treasure in Clay: The Autobiography of Fulton Sheen, page 70. Image Books, Garden City, N.Y., 1982.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Mother Angelica: The Remarkable Story of a Nun, Her Nerve, and a Network of Miracles, page 151, by Raymond Arroyo, Doubleday, New York, 2005.

[9] Ibid, page 137.

[10] Ibid, page 226.

[11] Ibid, page 136.

[12] Address by Pope Francis to Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Vatican City, Sept. 21, 2013.

[13] Ibid.

© Archdiocese of Denver

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