Dear Good People of Saint Mary,
It seems like God has been trying to hit me over the head lately with a message. After considering the themes of peace and justice at our annual diocesan interreligious gathering on the 29th “In the Spirit of Assisi,” and celebrating the feast of St. Francis of Assisi on the 4th, reflecting on the theme of the Culture of Encounter that our Holy Father Francis continues to speak about—then at conferences last week with Evangelicals as well as Buddhists, the question of Christian mission and values kept surfacing.
We have a clear mandate from God that, in order to be faithful to living in his image, we identify ourselves with the poor and the most lowly and forgotten in the world in order to follow him. Two weeks ago we heard, “He became poor that we might become rich.” When all are assembled before the throne of God on that last day what is the final test determining our entry/nonentry into the Kingdom? It is all determined by how we responded to the needs of “the least” of our brothers and sisters (Mt. 25), whom Jesus claims also as his brothers and sisters, and with whom he completely identifies himself: “what you did not do for the least of these, you did not do for me.” Jesus is saying: I am the poor. I am the lost.
Our Sisters and all those who have embraced the vocation of the religious life aren’t living a radical extreme response to the example of Jesus: they are normal. We are the ones who aren’t paying attention. We must pray for many vocations for our Sisters because our blindness is so great where the world and our attachments to it are concerned.
St. Francis embraced the poor, and willingly embraced poverty itself as his “sister.” Pope Francis has taken some amazing steps to realign the office of the Vicar of Christ to be more Christ-like. When we encounter another, he says, we must first see the person, not the situation, the sin, the confusion, the illness. The person. Not what a person has or doesn’t have.
Jesus told us we already know the commandment of loving God above all things. But I give you a new one, he says. Love your neighbor as yourself. Well, I always thought this was a strange thing, because we were always taught that self-love wasn’t the best passtime. In Christ we have a new understanding: we must love our neighbor as we love ourself—not because we are so loveable, or even deserve to be loved—but because our neighbor and our self is the same thing. Loving kindness and compassion is a sharing, not a service we give to somebody. It is a sharing in the experience of life, a celebrating of joy, a suffering-with to help carry mutual burdens and difficulties.
We call them corporal and spiritual works of mercy, and we teach them to our kids. But not because they are good things to do in our spare time. They are who we are. And this identity needs to flow out of our hearts into the world.
Change our hearts, Lord. Make us like you.
I wanted to briefly mention, too, that we had some fruitful meetings last week with parents at Holy Cross about the continued attention we are giving to security and safety in our school, in response to this crazy world we are living in. Emergency plans, security measures and personnel training are well in place, as well as video technology and heightened awareness of what is going on around us. We don’t want to create an environment of fear, but rather a place where confidence and a sense of trust is established in knowing that needed measures are taken to keep everyone safe. Our parents were very pleased with our presentations.
You may notice in the next few weeks some additional cameras in our buildings. They are not because we sense any threat; they are just common sense. We have begun working on plans and procedures for the safety of the church, as well, and will get back to you soon. Thank God we have so many professionals in health care and security in the parish, and they are so willing to help us do it.
God bless you.