Sunday, August 26, 2007

Start up the Hill!

The Patronal Feast
of the Parish of Santa Rosa
Arima, Republic of Trinidad and Tobago,
Sunday, 26 August 2007
St. Rose of Lima
Readings from the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

“The Lord says this: I am coming to gather the nations of every language. They shall come to witness my glory.”
“And men from east and west, from north and south, will come to take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. Yes, there are those now last who will be first, and those now first who will be last.”
“Try your best to enter by the narrow door, because, I tell you, many will try to enter and will not succeed.”

The primary duty of a Nuncio, my job if you will, representing our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI to the peoples and countries of the Antilles Episcopal Conference (AEC), is to do what the Successor of St. Peter would do at Jesus’ command if he were here: “strengthen the brethren”. I’m supposed to be a source of encouragement and help first and foremost to Catholics in this part of the world, starting with the bishops. To be able to encourage someone you have to know and love that person. That means I need to spend more time observing and listening than I do speaking. Every once in a while I need not only to share the lessons I’ve learned, I need to build people up by saying or doing something. How’s that for a great job description? And how about a few words of challenge and encouragement for all of you on this your parish’s patronal feast, your day to celebrate St. Rose of Lima?

Truth to be told, if all of us concentrated on promoting others we’d have a much better world. Constructive criticism has its place, I suppose, but it shouldn’t be any more than that occasional course correction on a voyage propelled by words and actions giving others encouragement. I knew a priest once, when I was still a high school boy, who went around telling everyone they were great. “Tom, Bill, Martha, Cathy, you’re great?” he’d say. People liked him until they figured out that often he really didn’t even know their names, let alone who they were… (How does he know I’m great?) The old catechism’s first question, “Why did God make me?”, “He made me to know, love and serve Him in this life, and to be happy with Him in the next” really says it all. If I don’t speak or act from knowledge and through knowledge from love, I’m not serving God or my neighbor. I’ll tell you you’re great, or in the case of singing God’s praises (How Great Thou Art), once I know better what I’m talking about.

What about the hidden and brief life (31 years) of the first daughter of the Americas to be proclaimed a saint? St. Rose lived simply, she did penance constantly, she prayed intensely, and she loved the Blessed Virgin Mary very much. Almost 400 years have passed since her death and she’s still a light and an example for others. Her people especially, if they are people of the Gospel, are still proud of her and can still win lessons from her, as you and I can today, too. (…)

This coming December, it’ll be three years since I first landed at Piarco. I continue to learn and be surprised by the people of this region and of Trinidad in particular, whom the Holy Father has entrusted to my special care. Lots can be said, but let’s concentrate on Jesus’ words, words which St. Rose of Lima took seriously already at the tender age of 5, words from the Gospel of St. Luke today, words which I believe hold special meaning for all of us present here:
“Try your best to enter by the narrow door, because, I tell you, many will try to enter and will not succeed.”

One of the lessons my Mother learned as a girl growing up on the farm, she and her older brother being the 2 youngest of 8 children from the only Catholic family in their one room school house, was that when you’re outnumbered like that you shouldn’t talk either religion or politics. Some people still get heated up about politics today, but more folks than not seem to be indifferent about matters of religion – even here in Trinidad. I read in the Catholic News that only 17% of those who declare themselves Catholic go to Mass regularly on Sundays. People are not exactly hustling to “enter by the narrow door” or so it would seem. Jesus would tell us in the Gospel that needs to change. The question is: what can you and I do if our life is in order to convince other people not to put off until tomorrow entering into the sheepfold? St. Rose of Lima did her share by giving good example and that’s what I’d like to encourage you to do as well.

You see, Catholics have never been fans of standing on street corners and preaching from on top of soapboxes, and for that matter neither am I. How do you communicate to your family, to your friends and neighbors, that knowing, loving and serving God is serious business which cannot be put off until tomorrow? Remember, St. Rose got serious at age 5 and never let up until her death at age 31. Don’t underestimate the power for good in the world of your good example at home. Child, youth, aged – it makes no difference – as you eagerly seek to know, love and serve God and all those who cross your path starting right at home like she did, you’ll light lights just like St. Rose.

How does it work? You just need to try and try hard. (Isn’t there some kind of tennis or sport shoes with the slogan “Just do it”? Well just do it!) Start with the basics: never a day without prayer – morning offering, meal prayers, and examination of conscience and bed time prayers; never a Sunday without Mass; regular confession with a firm purpose to change your ways and seek to live by all of God’s commands; learn about your faith; love your neighbor – do so especially for the sake of the poor and helpless.

St. Rose was a penitential soul: imitating her example of penance, personal sacrifice, is probably the hardest one for us in our day and time. Apart from supporting evils done to us by others, not barking or snapping when things don’t go our way or when we’re crowded a bit, nudged too hard or our toes are stepped upon, I’m talking about seeking to share the Cross of Christ as St. Rose did according to her state in life and the culture of her times. You see, it’s not so much that we have life too good, but our problem is that we want to have it too good. Embrace the Cross!

As I say, just do it! There’s a children’s book entitled “The Little Engine That Could”. It’s about a tiny train with a load to haul; the little train is frightened by a hill, but he makes it up over the top, he succeeds by starting, just by starting up that hill, while repeating over and over again to himself: “I think I can, I think I can”. The lesson is clear. Just like St. Peter, stepping out of the boat to walk on the waters to Jesus, we need to just do it, that is live the faith to the full, with our eyes fixed on Jesus. We cannot let ourselves be impressed by the wind and the waves.

The longer I watch, the longer I listen, the more convinced I become that many young mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, fail today for failing to try. They fail to try to learn, to try to love and to try to understand both each other in marriage and the children given to them by God in sacred trust.

Look at today’s man! Between airports and TV, you’d be surprised at the number of grown men one sees these days who are dressed like boys. They’re not doing anything wrong but they certainly confirm the old saying that mamma’s biggest boy is her husband. Is he trying?

Watch a woman who moves through life with a measure of grace and modesty, a woman who is at once self-confident and politely attentive to those around her. I wish there were more such women around: they radiate all kinds of things you can’t bottle and which steady our world. They know what they are about. They are trying for sure, trying to enter by the narrow door.

When there is more than one teacher for a grade level of primary school parents are and always have been anxious that their son or daughter get the better of those two teachers. It went without saying (years ago anyway) that which boys and girls were in the class wasn’t so important: if they misbehaved they’d be disciplined in school and punished again at home so that they would learn that comportment is part of trying, of growing and learning. We can say what we want about the quality of schools, but how many boys and girls out there today not only fail to try in school but make life miserable for their classmates? Even children have responsibilities, even children (don’t forget that 5 year old Santa Rosa) need to do their part, need to start up that hill.

I must admit that I am shocked by how pessimistic many people are about the future of society. I know older people even who’ll say, “Father, I’m glad I won’t be around in another few years!” Personally, I don’t agree when it comes to hope for the world. Moreover, I think that the man or woman of faith who is seeking the Lord, who is trying, shares my conviction that things don’t necessarily have to go bad at home, at school, in the neighborhood or in our world.

The lesson of the saints, our faith in the power of God to save if we but cooperate with His grace, should tell us that everything is possible for those who love God. We just need to be ready to embrace the Cross of Christ if Its shadow falls on us. I know of a man who was probably the most fortunate of a less than fortunate family. He wasn’t a lottery winner or some kind of a star. His life was nothing spectacular, but he did have the basics: he had a decent wife and healthy children, he had a good job and then threw it all away because things at home and at work got tough at a certain moment. Today he blames everyone else for his misfortune including God, the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ. He blames everyone except himself. He’s turned his back on the world, claiming the world has abandoned him and so practices transcendental meditation… He was among the first in a sense and now he’s last. He needs to try again. Maybe you do too? Try to enter in by the narrow door!

St. Rose of Lima entered by the narrow door and nations of every language, from east and west, from north and south, have recognized this and followed her. Rose lived a hidden life on earth, but from heaven she shines from end to end. She belongs to Lima, she belongs to Peru and Latin America, she belongs in a special way to the native peoples of the Americas, and she belongs to you, people of Santa Rosa R.C. Church, Arima! Don’t stay behind at the bottom of the hill! Start the climb! Just do it! Be lights for the world in our day and time! Follow her example and try to enter by the narrow door!

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