Allowing our interior conversion to take place

In a couple of weeks, Pope Francis will celebrate a Mass that will include the canonization of seven new saints for the Church. One of them, José Sanchez del Rio, was martyred by the Mexican government for refusing to renounce his Catholic faith. Two things really strike me about Blessed José, first his martyrdom was only 89 years ago and second, he was only 14 years old. During the turmoil in Mexico at the time many bishops, priests and lay people were tortured and killed for the faith that we celebrate often without second thought. 

When we think of violence by the state we think of the Holocaust and the Stalin era of the Soviet Union as the times of great injustice and slaughter of human beings. Yet, the 20th century is filled with examples. Thousands of Catholics, again bishops, priests, seminarians and laity, were executed for their faith in Spain. If you are ever in the sacristy at the Sacred Hearts Retreat Center there is a poster on the wall of some of the young Sacred Hearts Fathers who were martyred during that time.

There were the Jesuits and their staff in El Salvador in the 1980s, the Trappists in Algeria in 1996, Father Jerzy Popiełuszko in Poland in 1984 (if you go to formed.org you can find a movie on the life and ministry of Father Jerzy). The list goes on. In fact, if you look at each of the centuries you will find brothers and sisters who have lost their lives because they were Catholic. All of these, by the way, are only the ones we know about. Lost are the countless individuals who may have lost their lives for the same reason throughout the world, including our own United States of America.

Why do I bring all of this up? First, we need to be reminded of what has been the case when we have conversations about ISIS, terrorism and religious persecution. Certainly we should work and pray for a world where none of this exists. Yet, we keep thinking we (humanity) can solve the problems and related issues. On our own, human beings can turn to violence at great extremes and sometimes find justification for it. Each Sunday we profess the solution: Jesus Christ and the building up of the Kingdom of God. But do we do anything about that profession during the week?

Be assured that as I am writing these words I am squirming a bit. They are making me very uncomfortable because I am conscious that I have failed often to live what I profess with you on Sunday. Jesus isn’t meant to be a part of my life and yours, He is meant to be my all and your all. Pope Benedict XVI called it a “total commitment of self to Christ.”

The Gospel challenges us to give up ourselves as the center and allow the love that is God to replace it. Anxiety, frustration, anger, indignation are not from God and are signs when we have placed ourselves in the center. Without correcting that, we head down a path that leads us away from God (and truth and love and peace) towards the chaos and extremes that can be created by the limits of human thinking. We need to live as St. Paul was called to in last week’s second reading: “But you, man of God, avoid all this. Instead, pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness” (1 Tim 6:11).

The Good News is that Jesus is always calling us back. That is what Pope Francis has been so effective in proclaiming to the world these last three years. It is why the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” tells us that the Christian life involves the lifetime process of conversion. The more we are drawn into the mystery of God and His love, the more we become aware of our need to change.

This work of interior conversion and living the Gospel is not just something for the clergy or religious, but for us all. Blessed José also reminds us that age isn’t a factor as well, and that our youth have much to offer our Church and world. As a pastor I understand that one of my tasks is to help all parishioners of all ages to recognize their gifts and talents and find ways to put those talents to use in the mission of the parish and of the Church. 

Let us ask for the intercession of all the martyrs and saints, that we may have the courage and strength to allow interior conversion to happen, to recognize how we can share the Gospel in our neighborhoods and communities and how we can help others in this growth and action.

Anchor columnist Father Frederici is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Pocasset and diocesan director of Campus Ministry and Chaplain at UMass Dartmouth and Bristol Community College.


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