Pastoral Staff Day
October 1, 2020
The Way of Love
I truly wish that, as usual, we could share this important day in person. Of course, Zoom brings us together electronically – and that is a good thing – but in the end, what really counts is that we are brought together spiritually, in a spirit of loving communion that flows from our encounter with Christ.
During this pastoral staff day, we will in fact be reflecting on the profound truth that all evangelization and catechesis stems from our encounter with Christ. And who better to open the way to this all-important encounter than St. Thérèse of Lisieux, St. Theresa of the Child Jesus, the Little Flower.
Among many other things, St. Thérèse teaches us that a profound and life-giving encounter with the Lord is not out of reach. She described her life as a “little way of spiritual childhood”. With childlike simplicity, though days of suffering and dark nights of the soul, Thérèse continued to grow in her trust and confidence in God’s love. “What matters in life,” she wrote, “is not great deeds but great love.” In loving, she found Love, Love Incarnate. In finding that Love that excels all others, she loved the more. This same thing should also be happening in our lives.
The Vocation to Love
In her spiritual autobiography, Story of a Soul, St. Thérèse speaks of this Love as the beating, burning heart of the Church: Describing how she discovered her own call to holiness, she wrote: “I understood that the Church has a heart and that this heart burns with Love. I understood that Love alone makes its members act, that if this Love were to be extinguished, the Apostles would no longer preach the Gospel, the Martyrs would refuse to shed their blood … I understood that Love embraces all vocations …” – yes, even ours!
When we fall deeply and irrevocably in love with the Lord, somehow our eyes are opened to the truth, goodness, and beauty of the Gospel. The words of the Gospel become “words of spirit and life” as the Bridegroom of our souls amazes us with the depth and beauty of his love. The teaching of the Church becomes, not a dead letter, but the map of discipleship, leading us to learn how to love Jesus has first loved us, equipping us bear witness to the power of his love proclaimed in Scripture, actualized in the Church’s sacramental life, lived out in a daily life of charity, and consummated in a life of daily prayer. Thus, with Isaiah, we can proclaim, “God indeed is my Savior; I am confident and unafraid. My strength and my courage is the Lord, and he has been my Savior.”
Once we are overtaken by the Lord’s love for us, then we are enabled, in spite of human weakness and limitations, to bear convincing witness to the Lord Jesus, ‘who loved us, and who gave his life for us.’ Then it is that, in spite of every obstacle, our ministry bears the good, lasting, and abundant fruit of the Gospel.
A Necessary Witness to Love
How greatly this witness to Love is needed! I scarcely need to describe in detail the difficulties and trials we are facing. Even though we have become more adept in the use of technology, it may feel as if the pandemic has scattered our communities. In an era of live-streaming, we may wonder if our people will come to regard their parish churches as they have come to regard “big box” stores in the era of Amazon! Even before COVID struck, evangelization and catechesis was a heavy lift as too many of our fellow Catholics, especially the young, no longer see the value of the Mass or the Sacraments or religious formation. We need to reclaim the flame of God’s love!
How greatly this witness of love is needed in an era of bitter division. The divisions that are rampant in our culture also affect our Church. If you don’t believe this to be true, then I would invite you to read my mail! Sometimes I wonder if the Church has become a boiling cauldron rather than a purifying crucible that helps our culture to embrace the good, the true, and the beautiful, and may I add, the coherent.
St. Thérèse teaches us that it is in the midst of sufferings and challenges that we discover our vocation to love and that love shines forth most brightly. So too, Isaiah reminds us that God’s love for us is deeply personal and the Song of Songs exults that this all-excelling love is so strong that no one and nothing can quench it. Let us, therefore, take heart: We are simply the latest generation of Christians to bear the Cross and we are called to bear it with great confidence in the Lord’s love.
Moving Ahead in Hope
Following St. Thérèse’ lead and with her intercession, let us, in the year ahead, take stock but then look ahead to the future. Not for nothing was this cloistered Carmelite nun named the patron of missions, because the fire of her love shone brightly on the whole world. So too, the fire of Christ’s love must shine brightly, through us and our ministries, throughout the entire Archdiocese of Baltimore. It has been five years since I issued my pastoral letter, “Light Brightly Visible” – and in the year ahead, it is time for us to “reclaim the fire” – the fire of God’s love and strength, the fire of the Holy Spirit whom the crucified and risen Lord has bequeathed to us in the glory of the Father.
But first things first! Our own encounter with Jesus Christ! In Scripture, in the Sacraments, in those we serve, and in daily quiet prayer, perhaps in moments of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. Thus is the spark of divine Love kindled in our hearts. May that Eternal Love continue to spark and animate our lives and ministries, and may God bless us and keep us always in his love!