Posts Tagged ‘To Whom Shall We Go?’

To Whom Shall We Go?

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

Written 17 years ago by one of my predecessors, John Cardinal O’Connor, this column reminded us then what we must remember now — Haiti needs our help and prayers.  As the Cardinal said, Pierre Toussaint (now declared “Venerable” — another step on the road to possible beatification and canonization) is the “perfect mediator” for “those looking for peace in Haiti.”

In the Cathedral Crypt, A Prayer for Haiti

John Cardinal O’Connor, Catholic New York

October 21, 1993

It’s time to take Pierre Toussaint seriously. The situation in Haiti is a mess. The relationship between Haiti and the United States is a mess. The potential for massive violence is horrifying.

Meanwhile, the skeleton of a man of peace lies beneath the high altar of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I pass his crypt each morning as I enter the sanctuary to offer the 7:30 Mass. These days I pray for his intercession for the land where he was born into slavery, the land that has known little but oppression, starvation, occupation, terrorism, war, for generation after generation. The dominant, often the only hope, for the poor has been by way of their parish churches, their Masses, the efforts of their priests and bishops and, religious sisters and brothers and others who care enough about them to teach them to read and write, to know and to love God, to try to be happy in a way the world knows little about…

…Becoming wealthy by the standards of the day, even when technically in bondage, he tramped the streets constantly to feed the hungry, spent himself night after night to visit the sick. Every day for 60 years he trudged to Mass in Old St. Patrick’s Church, passed by wealthy Catholics in their carriages who refused to pick him up because he was black, however bitter the weather. Time after time he was insulted, was refused a seat in the church he had rebuilt after a fire. Yet he went on, doing good, doing endless good.

Yellow fever was common to New Yorkers of the day. Whenever it struck, those who could leave left in panic. Not Pierre. He would search fearlessly through the quarantined areas, seeking in house after house for the abandoned, taking the sick into his own home to nurse them.

Legions of slaves purchased their freedom from this man who felt so free interiorly that he seemed indifferent to his own state of technical bondage. Children black and white received an education they could not have dreamed of except for the generosity of Toussaint. Those orphaned by successive plagues found a home built for them by Pierre.

Was this an Uncle Tom, to be scorned by those who believe he should have been a militant against slavery? What nonsense. If ever a man was truly free, it was Pierre Toussaint. He respected activists. He did not believe their way should be his way, and if ever a man did things his way, it was Pierre Toussaint. If ever a man was a saint, in my judgment, it was Pierre Toussaint.

It is not Pierre Toussaint the slave or the freedman whose help I ask for Haiti as I pass his remains each morning, but the Pierre Toussaint who seems to me to have been as saintly a saint as the Church has ever canonized, albeit he still awaits the formal title that I cannot convey on him. Validation of a miracle is still being sought, and conditions in Haiti have not made the search easy. But no one can read this man’s life—and the records are thoroughly authentic—without being awed by his holiness.

What has really worked in Haiti? Who really knows what will work now? With hundreds of thousands of lives at stake the great powers of the world seem paralyzed. I watch the debates on television. I listen to equally sincere members of the Congress share mutually exclusive ideas about what action should be taken. I respect both their intentions and the complexity of their task. But meanwhile, the remains of a man of peace lie serenely in a crypt beneath the altar of sacrifice in the Cathedral of St. Patrick. If his soul is where I believe it must be, he’s a “natural” for those sincerely looking for peace in Haiti, the perfect mediator.

To Whom Shall We Go?

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

Last week I celebrated an anniversary I cherish.  It’s not the kind of day you light candles on a cake or pop champagne corks — I couldn’t do that anyway since I gave up desserts and drinking for Lent.  It’s not even the kind of celebration anybody else knows about – although a few of you thoughtful people did send me greetings.  But, it’s still the anniversary of the most important event in my life.

It was the sixtieth anniversary of my baptism.

I was baptized at Immaculate Conception Church, Maplewood, Missouri, on February 26, 1950, by the pastor, Father John Ryan, with my Aunt Lois and Robert Nathe as Godparents.

Obviously, since I was not yet three-weeks old, I recall nothing of that sacred event.  So what?  What happened to me that winter day in that suburb of St. Louis was pure gift from a lavishly loving God. Just as I had nothing to do with the miraculous gift of human life on the day of my natural birth twenty-days prior, so I hadn’t a say in the overwhelmingly gracious gift of supernatural life given me by our Father at my baptism.

What happened that cold day in the corner of that parish church where Bob and Shirley Dolan, my folks, had been themselves baptized, raised Catholics, and married only ten months before?

Everything happened:

—   I became an adopted child of God!

—   The lack of God’s life with which we all enter this world — we call it original sin — was washed away by the waters of the sacrament, and my soul was flooded with the radiance of God’s very own life – grace!

—   Jesus Christ claimed me as His own, a beneficiary of the salvation He won for me by His cross and resurrection!  (That’s why we call it a christening, as we become Christ!);

—   I became a member of a supernatural family, the Church;

—   God, my new Father, invited me to spend eternity with Him in heaven!

—   Jesus told Satan — who wanted me badly — to get lost, since I now belonged to Christ!  (Satan still won’t give up!)

—   The gifts of faith, hope, and charity were instilled in my heart!

Not bad for a wintry day in Maplewood!  Every other blessing in life flows from that glorious event.

When I stand before God at the end of my life, He won’t ask to see my passport, my stock portfolio, my résumé, my academic degrees, my certificate of priestly ordination or consecration as a bishop.  But a baptismal certificate will be of immense interest!

I rejoice in all of this because it’s Lent. Classically, Lent is the season of the Church year that we ask the Lord to restore our baptismal radiance.  God, our Father, always wants to see us as He did on the day of our baptism.  Tragically, we do our best through life to tarnish the lustre of that day.

During Lent, as we prepare to actually renew our baptismal promises at Easter, we ask Jesus to renew in us the grace of our christening.

We’ve got two big helps:

—   the sacrament of penance.  Through a good confession, our souls are restored to the innocence, beauty, order, and radiance of the day of our baptism;

—   the example of our wonderful catechumens, those women and men who as adults have accepted the invitation of God our Father, issued through His Son, Jesus, to become intimately united to Him through baptism (and the eucharist and confirmation) at the Easter Vigil, and have been preparing in our parishes through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).

We’re in God’s hands!  He’s known us from our mother’s womb; we’ve been the “apple of His eye” since then; He washed us clean and claimed us as His own on the day of our baptism; and He wants us on His lap for all eternity.  When He looks at us, He sees us as we were on the day of our baptism.  Lent’s the time we reclaim that identity.

To Whom Shall We Go?

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

His Christmas card from 2008 had brought good news: he had landed a very prestigious and high-paying job as a geologist — the profession he cherished — at a mining exploration company in Montana.  I was so happy for him, a friend since high school.  He had explained in his card that the job was three weeks at a time, in a very isolated area of the mountains, then a week back home in Illinois with his wife and three children.  He regretted being away, but he and his wife had agreed this career opportunity was well worth it.

Then came this year’s Christmas card with the news he had quit that job!  Was it the money? Hardly, the card explained, since the salary was exceptional.  Lack of challenge? Just the opposite, the news went on, as he really enjoyed the work.  Why, then, had he quit?

Listen to this:  “I missed my wife and kids, and I missed Sunday Mass.  Up in the mountains, at the site, we were over a hundred miles from the nearest Catholic Church, so I could only go the Mass one Sunday a month, when I was home.  The job — as much as I loved it — was ruining my marriage, my family, and my faith.  It had to go!”

Talk about an inspirational Christmas card!

The power, the meaning, the beauty, the necessity of Sunday Mass. . . Just ask my friend.

Anybody fifty or older can remember when faithful attendance at Sunday Mass was the norm for all Catholics.  To miss Sunday Eucharist, unless you were sick, was unheard of.  To be a “practicing Catholic” meant you were at Mass every Sunday.  Over 75% of Catholics went to Mass every Sunday.

That should still be the case. . . but, sadly, it is not.  Now, the studies tell us, only one-third of us go weekly.

If you want your faith to wither up and die, quit going to Sunday Mass.  As the body will die without food, the soul will expire without nourishment.  That sustenance comes at the Sunday Eucharist.

How’s this for a New Year’s Resolution?  Get back to Sunday Mass!

You reading this probably already do it.  Keep it up.

How about giving this article to someone who no longer goes?  Get ready for the excuses:

— “Sunday is our only free time together.” (Great, what better way to spend that time than by praying together at Mass).

— “I pray my own way.” (Nice idea.  But, odds are, you don’t).

— “The sermon is boring.” (You may have a point).

— “I hate all the changes at Mass.” (see below)

— “I want more changes at Mass.” (see above)

— “Until the church makes some changes in its teaching, I’m staying away.” (But, don’t we go to Mass to ask God to change us, not to tell God how we want Him and His Church to change to suit us?)

— “everybody there is a hypocrite and always judging me.” (Who’s judging whom here?)

. . . and the list goes on.  And the simple fact remains: the Eucharist is the most beautiful, powerful prayer that we have.  To miss it is to miss Jesus — His Word, His people, His presence, His Body and Blood.

I read a story once of a beautiful mother of five children, whose devoted husband died of TB while the two of them were on a business trip to Italy.  Until the next ship left to take her back to her home here in New York, she stayed with an Italian family, the Filicchi’s.  Even though she was not a Catholic, she went with them every day to Mass, and there experienced a closeness to the Lord.  She longed to receive Holy Communion as a Catholic.  When she finally returned home, she took instructions in the faith and entered the Church.  She described her first holy communion as the happiest day of her life, and never missed the Eucharist any day the rest of her years.

Her name is Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first native born American saint, and last Monday was her feast day.

There it is again: the mystery, awe, magnetism, beauty and power of the Eucharist.

A blessed New Year!  See you at Sunday Mass!