New Haven, Connecticut -- 7 June 2012
Fr. Gregory Gresko, Chaplain, Blessed John Paul II Shrine, Washington, D.C.
We have come together this week to examine in detail how we might best serve as leaders within the Church, learning more of what it means to be a leader in this great fraternal Order that is, in the immortal words of Blessed Pope John Paul II, the “strong right arm of the Church”.
In this morning’s reading from the Second Letter to Saint Timothy, Saint Paul proclaims, “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead …Such is my Gospel, for which I am suffering … I bear with everything for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus”. In these words, we hear the resonating call of the Gospel on what it means to be a Christian leader. A leader first remembers Jesus Christ raised from the dead, in his own life embracing the Gospel as an authentically Good News, for it is a Gospel where Jesus encounters us personally with His Love, unfolding it perfectly through His word and action. It is a Gospel so important that many a saint has been martyred in testifying to its Truth, so valuable a treasure that it even merits our own endurance of suffering, in order that others might witness an opportunity to hear and believe the news as good for their lives, for their salvation. The Christian leader is one who listens to the Word of God, believes in hope-filled faith what he has heard, and lives the vocation of God’s Love by making God’s Love present wherever he may be.
How can we, as leaders in the Church, fulfill the challenge we have heard in today’s Gospel, to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves? The challenge is certainly a lofty one, impossible for us men but possible always for God and for the one who cooperates – literally, works together – with God. Indeed, the challenge we hear is God’s voice calling us to be holy, to become saints!
Last Saturday in Milan, Pope Benedict XVI spoke to over 80,000 teenagers who had recently received the Sacrament of Confirmation (or were about to). The Holy Father challenged these young people to grow in holiness and to be saints, providing direction for us to do the same. He exhorted them with these words: "Have high ideals: Everyone can reach the heights, not just a few! Be saints! [...] Sanctity is the normal path for Christians: It is not only for a few chosen ones, but is open to all. Naturally, [this can be done only] with the light and the power of the Holy Spirit – which we will not lack if we raise up our hands and open our heart! – and with the help of Our Mother”. But how can we grow in holiness at a practical level? The Holy Father shares his wisdom on this vital point: “Be available and generous to others, overcoming temptations to put yourselves at the center because egoism is the enemy of true joy”.
Pope Benedict here provides the key to Christian leadership: Love God and neighbor selflessly, making a complete gift of self to others. As leaders, we must be the first example of a person who lives as a faithful believer reflecting God’s heart, through our lives of prayer, as husband and father of a family, in maintaining the highest ethical standards and gentle kindness toward neighbor in the workplace, in compassion shown even to strangers. We know from God’s Word that there are no strangers with God; every person is near and dear to God’s heart, and He desires them to grow in holiness and to become saints as well! Indeed, the Lord knows each one of us most intimately, even more than we know ourselves, and how superabundantly He loves us! In this month of June, always the month of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Church, we remember that God’s perfect love flows from the greatest depths of the Heart of Jesus -- a Heart pierced by your sins and mine -- into our hearts, that is, if we have accepted God’s invitation to open our hearts fully to Him. But will we choose to open our hearts to the Lord, responding to Love with like love, serving Him and our neighbor in the fullness of love? Am I personally willing to spend my life, to give the gift of my time and energy to my fullest, relying first in prayer on the gift of God’s grace so that I can become the holy saint He desires me to be? Do I genuinely live the sacramental life of the Church, especially in regular and faithful practice of the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Eucharist, so that I might be the purest and most ready vessel to receive the graces that God desires to pour to overflowing in my heart? The most effective Christian leaders do so.
The calling, if you will, of a State Deputy is to be the first among brothers in serving others, giving a perfect, complete gift of self to God through service to neighbor in the Order. Any glory we encounter as we engage in God’s service is best rendered first to God, the Source of all Good, for no faithful disciple ever places himself above his master. However, in His great Goodness, God desires us to share in His joy so that our lives may be complete! Through a demonstration of humble love in word and action, directed to the One Who humbled Himself even to death on the Cross, true leaders allow themselves to become vessels of God’s joy who embody His Love wherever they may be. If we are to be leaders, we must permit God to work through us, bringing all whom we encounter into deeper communion with Himself and neighbor, cooperating with the Lord as He builds, one by one, the homes of His Kingdom into His great Civilization of Love. Our joy-filled gift of self is the root of the New Evangelization, and it is the noble and particular task of each one of you as Church leaders to be apostles of the New Evangelization in your service as State Deputies, first in your own family home and then in the family of God spanning the Knights of Columbus.
Today’s passage from Second Timothy concludes, “Be eager to present yourself as acceptable to God,
a workman who causes no disgrace, imparting the word of truth without deviation”. How do we live as men of God who then spur our brothers fraternally to an even more ardent, hope-filled and authentic faith? How do we as fathers and husbands nourish the first school of God’s love that is the family home, modeling for our families what it means to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ? How do we show ourselves to be men forged out of God’s loving Heart, within the sanctuary of the family home whose vocation is to serve both as the primary building block of the Civilization of Love and as the spearhead of the New Evangelization? The Psalmist provides us the answer to these questions, as our ability to love and serve God and neighbor is strengthened first and foremost on our knees, petitioning our heavenly Father in prayer to teach us His ways. We cannot guide those people who are in our care to God without allowing God first to guide us to deeper communion with Himself through a life of prayer and the Sacraments. The examples of many a saint’s life are also here to encourage and lead us, and we would do well to grow in friendship with the Communion of Saints, studying their lives. And the Mother of All Saints, the Blessed Virgin Mary, is always ready to provide us heavenly aid, giving us the gift of the Rosary so that we might enter into deeper communion with the Sacred Heart of her Son through the intercession of her Immaculate Heart.
The challenges confronting the Church during the upcoming year ahead are not small. The threats facing the sacred institutions of marriage and family have never been greater in our lifetime, but we must not shrink in fear, as we now are witnessing what Pope Benedict has called an epiphany of the family. In the New Evangelization, especially during the upcoming Year of Faith, may we be Knights who as leaders serve valiantly as the strong right arm of Holy Mother Church, with feet planted firmly on earth and minds resolutely focused on heaven at every moment.
We are to stand strong in proclaiming, in word and action, the perennial and hope-filled truths of God’s loving design for marriage and family, as shared by our Holy Father last week at the World Meeting of Families: Family is “a communion of love founded upon marriage and called to be a shrine of life, a small Church, a cell of society … It is possible and joyful, though demanding, to experience a faithful love 'forever', open to life; it is possible to participate as families in the mission of the Church and in the construction of society ... Family [is] the cause of man and of civilization … It is fruitful for society, because family life is the first and irreplaceable school of social virtues, such as respect for persons, gratuitousness, trust, responsibility, solidarity, cooperation.”
To conclude, at the Feast of Testimonies last Saturday evening in Milan, Pope Benedict gave beautiful testimony to his own family life as a young boy: "In a word, we were one heart and one soul, with many shared experiences, even in very hard times, because it was wartime – first there was the dictatorship, then poverty," he recalled. "But this love that we had for each other, this joy even in simple things was strong and so we were able to overcome and endure even these things." God’s love expressed genuinely through individual families, in the family of this great Order, and across the family of God’s entire Church likewise will enable us to overcome and endure the dictatorships of moral relativism and radical secularism, as well as the moral poverty of our times. Indeed, we already are victorious, as Jesus’ Sacred Heart reigns supreme from the Cross and has conquered evil. We simply need to persevere, standing firm in God’s faith, in hope, in love, so that we might co-labor with our Lord in His great saving act of love.
Both now and during the upcoming Year of Faith, it is vital that Christian leaders strengthen the brethren in the truths of our Faith, through prayerful sacrifice of time and effort in service to God and neighbor, while embracing a joyful, hope-filled spirit of faithful love. To be strong leaders such as these, we must be men who know our Faith well and encourage our brothers to grow catechetically in continued formation in that Faith, to demonstrate our ever increasing love for God and the Church. If we respond with fully open hearts to the Lord’s calling us to be holy, we will become authentic Christian leaders who, grounded first in ever deepening communion with God, will become new members of the great Communion of Saints by the end of the race that is life, having brought the presence of God to each person we encounter in spirit and in Truth. Amen.