Please forgive me for using the beginning of this post as a means to introduce you once again to myself. Some of you might remember that I wrote a post back in January on the “The Triple Meaning of the Epiphany,” and I’ll be sharing my thoughts with you in the days, weeks, and months ahead on the Year of Faith, and on the forthcoming 25th Anniversary of the Diocese of Knoxville. I don’t mind sharing with you that I am currently an Aspirant for the Permanent Diaconate in our diocese, and I mention that primarily to ask that you keep all of the men presently in clerical formation for our diocese, whether for the priesthood or the permanent deaconate, in your prayers.
A great deal has happened in the Church since I last posted here at Life at 25 back in January. Pope Benedict XVI announced on February 11th that he would abdicate the Chair of Peter on February 28th. When he did, the College of Cardinals convened and entered into a conclave, and elected the Church’s first pope from the New World, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio from Argentina, who took the name Francis, after St. Francis of Assisi.
The Year of Faith that we are celebrating was first declared by Pope Emeritus Benedict, and many were waiting for an encyclical from him on the subject of faith, perhaps how best to live faith in a modern world that is increasingly skeptical of faith. However, Pope Francis has said that he is going to finish that promised encyclical, and if his daily homilies are any indication, we could be in for a document that gives us real practical advice on how to live lives of charity for the sake of the Gospel every day.
We don’t have to wait on Pope Francis to give his public teaching, however, to begin to live out our faith in a way that conveys a life of charity, what some people might appropriately call a Gospel way of life. A good friend of mine who has a genuine skepticism of religion (i.e. they don’t have a personal problem with those of us who have faith, but they have not accepted the gift of faith for themselves) often finds that many people who are well-meaning in their desire to “win souls for Christ” drive away the honest skeptic because some people can appear very judgmental in their witness whether that is their intention or not. It is important to remember that in Jesus’ own description of the Last Judgment, people are judged on their response to the needs of others (cf. Matt. 25:31-46). When we respond to our brothers and sisters in need, it speaks volumes about the faith that we believe in.
Pope Francis has repeated the calls of his predecessors Blessed John Paul II and Benedict XVI for greater evangelization (he wants us to share our faith) as part of the New Evangelization. Of course, the Holy Father’s namesake saint once famously said “preach the Gospel always, when necessary use words.” Words are extremely powerful things that that encourage and lift up or that can do great harm. In the words of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, however:
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
The reason that we should want to evangelize our neighbors is because we love them, and we know that in our faith we have a gift worth sharing. Love can be stated, but it is often in the way that we conduct ourselves that our true notions, ideas, and feelings come out, and it is often in what we do and how we treat others that our love is shown.
We’ve seen God’s love evident this year in the Diocese of Knoxville, and our latest addition, the Handmaids of the Precious Blood, will be an expression in prayer of God’s love to us in their prayers for our priests and our diocese. Their presence here fulfills a special desire of Bishop Stika to bring a contemplative religious order to East Tennessee. Meanwhile, we have 19 men in priestly formation and a class of Aspirants forming for the deaconate, and our parishes are filled with people who are sharing the love of God with others, but why would we want to keep that just among ourselves.
Each year in my parish, St. Patrick in Morristown, I assist the RCIA team in the process to bring new catechumens and candidates to the Church. They come from a variety of faith backgrounds, and sometimes they come because of the faith of someone close to them, but however they find their way to the Church, it is often because of the living example of Christ provided by someone they know. We are called to be that living example of Christ, whose love was so perfect that for our sake, he laid down his own life.