Jesus said to St. Faustina, as documented in her Diary of St. Faustina, 1767, “You will save more souls through prayer and suffering than will a missionary through his teachings and sermons alone.”
That is how I have come to see my life. It isn’t always easy; it wasn’t meant to be, it is a life of service and sacrifice. Folks don’t like sacrifice much anymore. And, as much as life has changed and become more modern with so many gadgets to make us more productive and to manage our time better, we have become more aloof and distant from one another and lack the innate ability to truly sit with someone, know them, communicate, and feel their need. A smart phone isn’t so smart when it comes to identifying the needs of others. So, as much as some things change, some things never change; like the need for self-sacrifice and service of others.
I recently watched an episode of The Big Bang Theory the other evening, and Sheldon was testing a prototype machine that once pointed at someone near you, could readily identify what they were feeling. Obviously, it didn’t work. It couldn’t; after all, we are humans with complex emotions and needs, and it takes more than a machine, it takes another empathetic being to help us on our journey.
Yesterday, Father John and I were rejected by those who lost their empathy. The pastor at St. John Neumann of Bryn Mawr, who last week had given us permission to celebrate the Funeral Mass for BJ Johnson, withdrew that permission at the proverbial 11th hour. The family is suffering; so are we. Both John and I are feeling the sting of rejection once again, and the pain of knowing that those who cared for BJ all her illness – and knew her best – will not be at the helm of her life celebration. But we take great solace in knowing that we are not alone in that rejection for Christ, too, suffered it and taught us lessons about it. In fact, the most important part of Peter standing before the Sanhedrin, the religious leaders of God’s people, is when he declares to them that the stone they rejected has now become the cornerstone. He’s telling them in effect, “You have rejected the very one on whom God’s whole temple, the living temple of God’s people, is built. You have rejected the cornerstone of this building of God’s people.” So, now when we hear harsh judgment, or are victims of rejection, we offer empathy instead of retaliation. We give a fish, rather than a scorpion. After all, I say to myself, ‘How could the Sanhedrin have known who Jesus was?’ But more so, too, ‘How could they not have wanted to accept Jesus as the foundation stone?’ So, I willingly give of myself, and I think many of us do. We certainly haven’t rejected Jesus, and yet I wonder, do we do enough to help build the kingdom?
I have come to realize that to live a life worthy of being a Catholic Christian, there must be a sense of love for others, even total strangers, where one is willing to sacrifice themselves completely. Some of those sacrifices will be small, like giving some of your income to help the church, offering prayer when needed, or supporting a project like our current Friary Rectory Fund, but some will require self-sacrifice of time, effort, and yes, some will be called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice and give away their own life for another.
A vocation, especially one to God, can be seen in a very similar way. As priests, we don’t have to find a way to get ourselves killed, but we can find a multitude of small things to do for others, by not focusing always on ourselves. We can take the example from our Christ and His most Holy sacrifice. In our daily sacrifices, we can find God, His love for us, and our own conversion to a deeper sense of holiness and commitment. As a Friar, I follow St. Francis who literally walked away from everything to hear God better and to serve God with all that he was. You will notice that I didn’t say ‘with all that he had’ because he had absolutely nothing to the point of wearing literal rags! And yet, God used Francis to build something that has lasted now for hundreds of years and still speaks to many of us willing to take that walk, too. Francis lived a rather carefree and rich existence, until one day, while praying, at the Church of San Damiano, he heard Christ speak to him saying, “Francis, repair my church.” In order to fulfill this request, he sold some of his father’s goods. So shall we all…if we truly wish to serve God. Sacrifice.
In the end, no matter what one might set out to build – whether a small house, a winter retreat, a place of reflection in the middle of the woods, a stately mansion, a family that loves one another unconditionally, or even a parish like Saint Miriam – it all takes sacrifice.
As I pen this blog today, we are rapidly approaching the ‘birthday of God’s holy church’; Pentecost. The Holy Spirit descended on those first who gave their all to become followers of Jesus and has never left us as our Advocate, our Paraclete, our Friend. This coming Sunday, we will honor that gift of God as we also honor our PREP/CCD students who will ‘move up’ with our annual pinning ceremony. Each will be recognized for their achievements and their dedicated attendance. However, not all will receive an award. Our parish recognizes sacrifice, but it does not honor everyone simply because they call themselves members. Being a parishioner, a student, a builder, a priest, a Friar, etc., takes sacrifice and dedication. Those who did not attend will not ‘move up’ and those who did excel will be honored for their dedication and exemplary life as a Catholic who loves with wild abandon and wants to learn and to do more to make this world a better place.
Our lives are to be built on the two great commandments given by Jesus – to love God with our whole being and to love our neighbor. This is true for all of us. Jesus gave a teaching on building on a strong foundation. He said, “Everyone then who hears these words of Mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock; and the rain fell and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon the house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew against that house and it fell; and great was the fall of it.” (Mt 7:24-27)
Soon, we will live that sacrificial example one more time, as a parish of faith. We will build, starting on June 5th, a rectory for our Friary. When young men are discerning the vocation of priesthood, it is important that they have a quiet place for prayer and reflection while learning about the life that would come with being a priest. Through the work and support of many individuals, Saint Miriam is creating such a setting that will include those seeking to decipher God’s call, and those who already serve God’s House.
The ambiance in the house will be very peaceful, very quiet. We will have time to pray and reflect and to seek God’s guidance to serve you better. Each bedroom is private and all residents will have their own personal space for reflection, as well as a communal gathering space to be in fraternity. The presence of the Blessed Sacrament will be with us, too, to offer a place of prayer always, while being connected to an active parish and having priests in residence to provide living examples of what the life of a priest entails.
So, for our graduates, and for all of us, let us make sure that we are living our lives on a strong foundation. If our early teachings are not in harmony with the teachings of Jesus such as to cheat your way to success, accumulate as much gold and silver as you can, do all you need to do, even if not right, to climb the ladder of success, our foundation will be weak. Rather, let us build our lives on the foundation of the Word of God. We can delete past teachings that are harmful and build our lives on the truths taught by Jesus.
Our foundation will only be firm if we are willing to let go of what we think is already in place.