A JOYFUL SPIRIT
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
May the blessings of our Lord Jesus Christ fill your hearts with peace and grace!
As we begin again another school year, with all the learning and activities that this means in our homes, schools, and parishes, let us turn with hope to the infinite, gentle love of our Lord. As we celebrate the holy sacraments of the church, Christ has given us the primary means of receiving his mercy and love, of growing in faith, and of becoming his helpers in spreading the gospel throughout the world.
Always remember that everything we do in our worship of God, and in the education and evangelization of both youth and adults, is aimed at bringing people into a rich, saving personal relationship with Jesus himself, who gives us mercy and an abundance of love.
Please pray for those who do this holy work every day, especially parents, the first educators and evangelizers of their children, and for all our clergy, teachers and catechists, who help parents hand on the faith.
Next week, on Aug. 27, we celebrate the feast of St. Monica, who gives us a profound example of this hopeful, patient, persistent love for her children. She raised her son, Augustine, as a Catholic, only to see him wander away from the church when he went away to school.
How many of our own children do the same, in high school or college? For the better part of two decades, Augustine remained outside the church, while St. Monica prayed every day for his conversion.
Finally, attracted by the sacred liturgy and excellent preaching of St. Ambrose of Milan, Augustine allowed himself to listen to God’s voice, and his mother’s. Spurred by such examples of holy living, he finally consented to examine his life and let the Holy Spirit change his heart. He became a monk, and eventually a priest and bishop, and we know him now as St. Augustine, one of our greatest saints.
This example teaches us two things. First, as the old saying goes, we catch more flies with honey. We, who have the task from our baptism and confirmation of handing on the Catholic faith to others, must cultivate a joyful, inviting, meaningful faith.
If we are grumpy and mean-spirited, who will want to share our faith? If we are selfish with our ministries and don’t invite others to minister with us, who will be attracted to our church? If our faith is just routine, or just for Sunday and not for every day, what point will people see in converting?
In order to cultivate a joyful, inviting, and meaningful faith, certain things are essential. We must stay close to the prayer and liturgy of the church, especially those aspects that tradition teaches us make the liturgy holy and attractive.
This means, for example, hymns whose music is not banal or worldly, and whose words aren’t heretical or trite. This means reverence for the Eucharist, by keeping the Blessed Sacrament in the center of our church (so it can really be the center of our lives), and by how we act and dress when we’re in its true presence, and how reverently we receive It. This means periods of silence in the liturgy, and before and after Mass. This means praying every day in our homes, and even when we’re in public.
For our priests and deacons, it means good preaching, with plenty of time devoted to preparing homilies that have the power of the Holy Spirit in them. Good preaching catches fire in people’s hearts, and helps them understand and live the faith more intentionally.
We must also stay close to the saints, especially Blessed Mary, whose glorious Assumption – a promise to each of us of our eternal destiny, unless we reject it by sinful living – we celebrated last week.
Finally, it means that we must actually make the effort to live the faith, especially in its moral teachings, every day. This is not always easy, certainly, but the struggle to follow everything the church teaches will be seen by others, and admired by those open to the voice of God in their hearts.
Second, St. Monica teaches us never to give up. Not only for the conversion of our children, but also for the conversion of our culture, we must be persistent in prayer, and confident in the power of God’s mercy and grace – in spite of how difficult of hopeless it may sometimes seem! And the conversion of our culture is not some abstract thing that happens behind the scenes, regardless of what we do. Rather, it is simply the sum of our impact as Catholics in the world.
When we live our faith devoutly in public, especially in our work places and in the marketplace, we shape a culture of life and mercy. Conversely, we contribute to a culture of sin, even of death, whenever we hide our faith out of fear or laxity or laziness, or because bad laws tell us we’re supposed to leave our faith at the door, or for any reason.
We’ve often heard the rhetorical question, “If you were on trial for being a follower of Christ, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”
We should all be striving to live our lives in such a way that there is no doubt in our neighbor’s mind that we follow Jesus Christ, and that doing so is what makes us joyful and inviting, loving and compassionate.
Every day is an opportunity for our own conversion, for turning more fully to Jesus Christ and beginning again to follow him with our whole heart. St. Paul says that we console others only by the consolation we have received from Christ. May his love and faith increase in us, so that we may offer it by how we live to all those around us!
St. Monica and St. Augustine, pray for us!
Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
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