Thursday, August 5, 2010

Basilica of St Mary Major

At the Council of Ephesus, in 431 A.D. Mary is declared the Mother of God. In honor of this pronouncement Pope Sixtus built a Church, which stands today, honoring Mary as the Theotokos, or God-Bearer. For many centuries this church has stood dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, recalling her Fiat, or unconditional 'Yes' to God. It remains also as a challenge to the Church to remain faithful to God, and to continue to seek what is true and good.

In his Caritas in Veritate, Benedict XVI calls to mind for us that the Church has in effect, "A mission of truth to accomplish in every time and circumstance, for a society that is attuned to man, to his dignity, to his vocation. ..." (#9) Benedict will go on to state that in it's mission and ministry the Church has this ongoing search for the Truth, and when it finds it, must proclaim and pronounce it. The Holy Father declares that Truth is divine. The Word of God establishes all of creation, and continues the salvation of the world, through the mercy of God, and the Paschal Mystery. Jesus Christ states in John's Gospel, 'I am the Truth.' To be sure our search for Truth begins and ends in the teaching and preaching of Jesus.

In our post-modern world it seems that everyone has found the 'truth.' Whatever answer we come up with is always the right answer. I remember a young girl in my freshman high school class wondered why we needed rules or teachings. She made the point everyone should be able to do what they wanted; whatever lifestyle was comfortable to them. But after several minutes of questions and discussion, she had to admit that there were some standard 'rights' and 'wrongs' in life. Today many are hostile to the foundational virtues and values we find in our faith tradition.

Twentieth century Yves Congar would often write about the power and the working of the Holy Spirit in our Church today. While Congar could be thought of as a bit of a theological radical, his understanding of the guidance of the Spirit gives us pause. In seeking this Truth, we have to listen to the voice of God, especially in our daily ministry. Doing Church, or doing church work, opens us to receive the direction of God. Perhaps this is why monastics have this wonderful balance of prayer, work, and study. In all of this they are to cease from unnecessary talking.

Remember Paul's letter to the Colossians (3:1-5,9-11) last week? Paul argues that we need to set ourselves on 'higher goods.' He alludes to some of the virtues which draw us closer to God's holiness. A church in Rome reminds us that we are called to be Church in every time and place. Like Mary we need to have the courage and strength to "Proclaim the greatness of the Lord." Our journey of faith desires to be fed and nourished on the word of God and the love of the Father in the context of the Church community.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

St John Vianney

Today we celebrate the patron of the priesthood as we honor the memory of Saint John Mary Vianney. John Vianney was a very holy, and to be sure, a very patient man. He was born shortly after the French revolution, during a peiod of extreme secularist thought. Faith and religion certainly had been shoved into the background during this time. Ordained in 1815, it is safe to say that John Vianney had an almost child-like faith as he assumed the pastorate the parish at Ars in 1818.

Ars was a back-woods sort of place that was openly hostile to religion and the Church. It was John Vianney's care and love for these people that drew men and women back into the church. He is best known for the many hours he spent in the confessional. In a very real way what he did went beyond simply celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation, but offered spiritual direction and guidance to people's lives.

We often forget to mention that John Vianney was a man of immense compassion and engaged in many acts of charity and pastoral care. In these very simple but profound ways John Vianney revealed the mystery of the Church to many men and women, and articulated for them the 'Good News' of the Gospel. Through this holy saint, people began to associate the Church with God's love and care.

"Accept from the holy people of God the gifts to be offered to him. Know what you are doing, and imitate the mystery you celebrate: model your life on the mystery of the Lord's cross." These are the words spoken to the priest, by the bishop, at ordination, as the new Priest is given the bread and the wine. Like everything else in our Church we center ourselves on the Eucharist. The Priest is to be that living sign of the presence of Christ in the community he serves. He is the 'Father' and 'Pastor' to the people of God.

Since the time Christ sent his disciples out on mission, the ministry of Priesthood has remained to preach, teach, and to sanctify. There is a prophetic role here in which the Priest calls people to experience Christ through the celebration of the sacraments, and hearing the Gospel proclaimed. When I taught high school, and had to be a disciplinarian, the children would whimper, "I thought priests were supposed to be nice." Being "nice" includes challenging the lives and institutions that do not always include the love of God.

John Vianney certainly helps us understand the fullness of Christ Jesus in our priestly ministry. We pray that God continues to raise up holy men and women to be a living example of the paschal mystery.