Sunday, February 15, 2009

Quo vadis, Domine?

A layman’s commentary on the Holy Father’s instruction to the bishops of Nigeria at the completion of their ad Limina visits the other day really caught my attention. Although everything Pope Benedict XVI said to the assembled bishops had its weight and certain importance, my man couldn’t have been more incisive in his choice of extracts from the Pope’s message. This is the section he quoted:

“From your reports I see that you are well aware of the basic steps involved (…in order to facilitate the necessary deepening of the faith of your people): teaching the art of prayer, encouraging participation in the liturgy and the sacraments, wise and relevant preaching, catechetical instruction, and spiritual and moral guidance. From this foundation faith flourishes in Christian virtue, and gives rise to vibrant parishes and generous service to the wider community. You yourselves, together with your priests must lead by humility, detachment from worldly ambitions, prayer, obedience to the will of God, and transparency in governance. In this way you become a sign of Christ the Good Shepherd.”

What the Holy Father says is basic and it’s all out there (this information); you know this (it’s not something you do not already know). To say, well there it is again, however, is to say much too little. If it were all that obvious and automatic, the faith would be flourishing everywhere wouldn’t it? Maybe each of us, in a manner proper to our station in life, especially those of us whose lives are intimately bound up with youth (bishops, priests, and parents), need to do an examination of conscience:

1. Have I, do I know how to teach my children the art of prayer? What have I done especially to help young parents, who may not be all that great yet at praying themselves, to teach their children the art of prayer?

2. Have I, by my good example, given my children all the evidence they need of the centrality of Sunday Mass in my life and my profound wish that they too discover the “pearl of great price”? Regular celebration of the Sacrament of Penance is more than Christmas and Easter: is my witness clear to my children? As a priest, do I celebrate Holy Mass and the Sacraments with true devotion such that they can recognize Christ in me? Is our parish church sacred space? When was the last time and with what regularity do I invite my people to come and confess their sins? Do I make myself conveniently available for confession in church?

3. “Wise and relevant preaching” involves my person, my pondering, and my reflection on the Word for me and for them: do I speak from the heart and with wisdom (Deo volente ex animo)?

4. How many older people today are still living and living well from what they absorbed like little sponges from the catechism of their childhood and youth? Can we offer our children anything less than the same true nourishment for their path through life?

5. Scripture and the Fathers of the Church are filled with scathing condemnations for the watch dogs who do not bark: have I done all I can like St. John Maria Vianney to keep my people on the straight and narrow? Without harping and ranting do I tell my children what is right and wrong?

Granted, the “good old days” were spared many of the electronic stimuli which actually serve more to dumb us down and deprive us of interpersonal relationships and the clarity of silence unpolluted by background noise, but even when confronted by another’s ear buds virtue and ideals still have their attraction. If you have something other than chatter to offer, you might see first one ear free and then the other. The challenge of leading others to Christ to day, just as in the past, depends upon my embracing Christ. If I live the faith to the full, the word will get out and others will benefit.

What is the hope? “Vibrant parishes” would certainly be a great start, but praying people, like Juan Diego, Bernadette, and the three little children of Fatima, like Pier Giorgio Frassati and countless others have done more. They have confounded our world and opened windows to God for people who have only heard tell of their prayer, their love for Jesus in the Eucharist, their hunger for His Word, the personal sacrifices they took on out of love for Our Lord and in intimacy with His Blessed Mother. Praying people, attentive to God’s presence in our midst, are what we hope for: they can offer something of lasting value to their neighbor. They pass too like the flower of the field you might retort. No matter! Let me choose that sort of flower for my joy and edification rather than those born of false pride. Vanity’s beauty is flawed at best; it is no beauty at all when compared with that of the children of God’s Reign. Give me thought; give me informed faith; give me the fullness of the Creed as lived out within the community of the Catholic Church.

The hectic must give place to the true, the good and the beautiful. There’s nothing here today and gone tomorrow about plumbing the depths of the love which is ours in Christ. Our children deserve only the best, you say? That they do!