May the Lord give you peace!
In chapter 9 of Gaudete et Exaltate, Pope Francis highlights the face of the Catholic Church. This is a challenging paragraph. Pope Francis states that “the most attractive face of the Church” is holiness. Well, holiness is in crisis! The face of the Catholic Church has not appeared very beautiful for the last year or so. In 2002, we had the Priest Abuse Crisis. In 2018 and continuing to this day, we have another abuse crisis, namely, the cover-up of abuse within the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. The perception of the Catholic Church right now is not very positive. In fact, the face of the Catholic Church is very disfigured. The faithful are angered, sorrowful and grieving over the loss of the beauty of the Church’s face. Bishop Kemme referred to this tragedy several weeks ago at the Rite of Election at the Cathedral.
How do we go forward? Without denying the crisis but also confronting it, we can hold fast to the witness of those saints who have gone before us. Pope Francis reminds us of St. John Paul II’s reference to “a heritage which speaks more powerfully than all the causes of division.” The heritage referenced to is the “witness to Christ borne even to the shedding of blood that has become a common inheritance of Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans and Protestants.” Personally, I have found the witness of the saints as a powerful motivation to continue striving for the “next level” – you may have heard me use that term once or twice.
In regards to those who have given up their lives for Christ, we have no need to go any further than Pilsen, Kansas. You know where I am going with this... Fr. Emil Kapaun. Day in and day out he sacrificed himself and his comforts for the sake of the soldiers, even until his dying breath.
I have seen Fr. Kapaun’s witness do powerful things in the lives of some of our parishioners. About a month ago, Fr. Matt and I attended a dinner for Kapaun’s Men and their wives. I am so moved at how these parishioners are striving to take it to the “next level.” Their striving is inspired by the life and example of Fr. Kapaun. In other words, the “heritage” of Fr. Kapaun’s life offers a beautiful picture of the Church’s face, namely, the face of holiness. Moreover, this picture of holiness can be inspiring, as with Kapaun’s Men and their wives, even in the midst of these dark times within the Catholic Church.
Ad majorem Dei gloriam,
Fr. John F. Jirak
In paragraph 7 of Rejoice and Be Glad, Pope Francis writes that he likes to “contemplate the holiness in the patience of God’s people.” When the Pope uses the word contemplate he is not referring to the deep mystical prayer expounded on in the writings of St. John of the Cross or Teresa of Avila. Neither is he using the word contemplation in the sense that St. Ignatius writes about in his Spiritual Exercises, i.e., imaginative prayer. When the Pope uses the word contemplate in this context, he merely means “to think about.” In other words, he likes to think about the holiness that is manifest in God’s people through their patience.
I want to highlight an implied point of this paragraph, namely, Pope Francis is affirming the value of a more leisurely pace to life. When someone thinks about the patience of others, they are taking a reflective approach to life. Maybe we could say that the Pope likes to “people watch.” People watching is contemplating people. It is seeing the outside of the person, the skin, but much more importantly, people watching is seeing beneath the skin and into the soul of the other. To contemplate “the elderly religious who never lose their smile” is to notice something spiritual in the other. This contemplating and looking into the soul of another to see “patience” is beyond the power of an animal. The parish dog, Daisy, loves to sit and stare at me when I’m hanging out at the rectory. She sees my body, she may even know a few things about me instinctively; however, she could never contemplate my patience (and that’s not because there is never any patience to contemplate).
In Bishop Kemme’s pastoral plan for the Diocese of Wichita, he includes one of his three priorities as “Reclaiming Sunday.” The purpose of reclaiming Sunday is not merely to get everyone to Mass. A major part of reclaiming Sunday is slowing down enough to “contemplate.” It includes slowing down to see the soul of another, to see another’s patience, another’s kindness, another’s long-suffering, another’s generosity.
When we contemplate the soul of another, we are inspired, we are drawn and attracted to a fuller life. This ultimately leads to Bishop Kemme’s overall vision for the Diocese, to be Fully Alive as disciples of Jesus.
Ad majorem Dei gloriam,
Fr. John F. Jirak, Pastor
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