"Through all nights, all voids, all helplessness, I want to gaze on You always and remain in Your great light. O my beloved Star, so fascinate me that I may not withdraw from your radiance." Elizabeth of the Trinity
I am fortunate to have the friendship of good and holy priests; bright lights who flicker and shine and glisten with the spark of divine wisdom, and who lead me to the only Light who can sustain me.
What follows is a reflection from my very dear friend, Fr. Don Hying, the Rector of St. Francis de Sales Seminary in Milwaukee, who is a holy beacon of brilliance for many up and coming future priests. Because of the efforts of Fr. Don and the Seminary staff, the lives of these priests-to-be will shine brightly like so many glimmering stars, leading many souls to holiness; to heaven. Fr. Don's reflection is based on the Gospel of Matthew 7:21-27 for Sunday, March 6th and is followed by my own response of prayer to his meaningful words.
To say that we live in anxious times would be an understatement. Whether we look at the global, national or local situation, the institutions, structures or certainties that people have relied on for security seem to be crumbling. Politics, religion, economics, education, technology and society are in the midst of a difficult ferment. Something new is emerging, but we cannot say yet what that might be. So much uncertainty creates stress and fear.
In the middle of this existential crisis comes this Sunday's Gospel, the conclusion to Jesus' great Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, the parable of the house built on rock versus the one built on sand. So after proclaiming the highest ideals concerning fasting, almsgiving, forgiveness, prayer, dependence on God, refraining from judgment, Jesus sums it all up by calling his listeners to put into practice everything they have heard.
I love to study church history, especially the times of persecution, trial and upheaval. The early era of martyrdom, the collapse of the Roman Empire, the Reformation, the French Revolution, the rise of Nazism and communism were all moments when the church faced profound crises that seemed to threaten its very existence. Yet, in the midst of violence, betrayal, institutional breakdown, loss of faith, and even death itself, saints emerged, courageous people who had built their houses on the rock of Christ and his church, and thus served as pillars of strength, hope, renewal and reform in times of great darkness and confusion.
Perpetua and Felicity suffered martyrdom in the persecution of Septimus Severus at Carthage in 203. They embraced an unspeakable series of tortures, culminating in a terrible death by being thrown to wild beasts. These remarkable women not only endured such horror, but actively rejoiced in it.
John Fisher was the only English bishop who would not submit to Henry VIII when the king rejected the pope as the head of the church. He paid for his integrity with a long prison stay in the Tower, followed by a beheading. After the Reformation, a dynamic group of leaders emerged in different places, working for renewal within the church. Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Avila, Charles Borromeo, Francis de Sales and Jane Frances de Chantal come to mind.
During the French Revolution, a convent of cloistered nuns at Compiegne went to the guillotine singing, rejecting the rabid secularity of the new government. Interned at Auschwitz, Maximilian Kolbe was a bright light of faith, hope and love for countless prisoners in one of the most hellish places in history.
This Gospel and these saints remind us that Christ is literally the only security we have in this world. Wealth, success, health, a long life, a happy marriage, employment-none of these things are guaranteed or promised to us, and therefore, we cannot put our ultimate trust in them. Jesus' love for us, his promise of salvation, the consolation of the Eucharist, the enduring power of the Word of God, the truths of our Catholic faith-these mysterious gifts constitute our North Star, that one, sacred, fixed point which will guide us securely to the Kingdom of Heaven. (emphasis mine)
How do we build our house on the rock of Christ? Regular, active participation in the Eucharist, a steady recognition of our sins in the sacrament of reconciliation, daily prayer, service to the poor and sick, spiritual reading, the faithful practice of virtue, living our faith in the world as we find it-all of these activities set the house of our fragile human existence on the unshakable foundation of Jesus Christ. When the storms come, we will not collapse, because we are grounded and centered in the Lord of life.
When everything we have clung to for security crumples up and blows away, and we are left bereft and broken, we can only cling to Jesus and his promise that he will be with us always until the end of time. That assurance is the only thing that will get us through everything and let us even find some joy along the way!
O love of Jesus, warm my path in the cold dark night, draw me into your embrace.
O promise of Salvation, brighten my days,assure me of the hope of heaven.
O consolation of the Eucharist, comfort me with your luminous balm.
O enduring power of the Word of God, linger in my heart; strengthen my fortitude.
O truths of my Catholic faith, enlighten my mind to the depths of your wisdom.
O mysterious gifts of the North Star, illuminate my entire being, make me shine for You.
"Look to Him that you may be radiant with joy and your face may not blush with shame." Psalm 34:5
(Fr. Don's reflection originally appeared in the March 3rd edition of the Milwaukee Catholic Herald)