Last fall I had the pleasure of attending a morning breakfast and talk hosted by Cardinal Stritch College with Bishop Donald Hying, the bishop of Gary, Indiana, as the speaker. I took notes on his excellent talk and only now re-discovered them. What follows are the main points of his talk.
What does it mean to really live the Gospel and Catholic faith with authenticity? The ideal seems so high. How do I put that practice into my life?
The mission of the Church is found at the end of the Gospel when the disciples are told to make disciples of all nations. There is no detailed plan, just a general instruction that we are called and sent. In the words of Cardinal Dolan, Jesus says, "Come here" and then says "Go forth." Jesus is calling us to him and then sending us out. The Church is always on the move. The Catechism tells us that the laity are called to sanctify the world, to make the world holy and to remind it of its fundamental purpose.
What does it mean for us to make the world holy? This begs the question, what does holiness mean? The original Hebrew word for holy is "different'. When we say "holy, holy, holy" at Mass we're really saying "different, different, different." We are called to make and be that difference in the world.
Our whole identity is summed up in the great commandment, "Hear O Israel, you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself." We exist to fall head over heels in love with God because He is head over heels in love with us.
When two people are in love with each other it completely changes how they spend their time. Think about the anointing at Bethany. Mary spends three-hundred days wages to buy aromatic nard and she wastes it, breaks it open. That's the extravagance of a soul that is head over heels in love with God. Contrast that with Judas who was asking why that money was wasted. Mary is a maximalist. When we're in love we don't count the cost. Judas is a minimalist. If we practice of our faith as a romance between God and us then we are well on the way to living our faith in the world.
When I was first ordained a bishop I went to Rome for Baby Bishop School where the basic message was that as a bishop you're responsible for everything. I met a new bishop from Europe who described a bleak situation in his country with a steep decline in Catholics, very few priests and no seminarians. When I asked him what he was going to do about it he said that he was going to go back to Pentecost and drink deeply of the Holy Spirit and introduce people to Jesus as if they never met Him before.
I'm obsessed with Pentecost, the birth of the Church. I'd love to be a fly on the wall in the upper room when the Holy Spirit descended. What happened? Did the apostles hair catch on fire? Did they get thrown against the wall? All we know is that the experience completely changed them. Before they were frightened and now they are courageous. Three-thousand people
were baptized in a day! When I think of that moment and compare it to this moment I know that we are called to reclaim the Church.
During the Protestant Reformation the Church built walls, retreated from the world, entrenched itself. In doing so we lost some of the urgency of the mission. The Church is not a gas station where we service the people who show up. There are one hundred people in Gary who are convinced that I'm going to be murdered at the Cathedral because it's in such a rough neighborhood. But where else should I be? Where else should the Church be?
We're all baptized into the priesthood of Jesus Christ. How many realize that you are priests? The ordained priesthood only exists to serve the laity who at baptism entered into the priesthood. The ordained priest connects us to God and leads us to the love of the Lord. The laity may be the only Christ that someone ever meets.
The spirituality of St. Francis de Sales tells us that by the virtue of our baptism every single person is called to holiness. It's absurd to think that the mother of five living in the world will practice the same spirituality as a cloistered nun. There are unique distinctions between vocations. Because we are who we are we will have a unique experience of God. Our obligation is to share that unique facet, to add our piece of the mosaic to the picture of life.
There's nothing wrong with teaching people a method of prayer. Prayer should be consistent and daily. If we begin the day in silence with prayer and meditate deeply into the heart of the Lord, the rest of the day will unfold perfectly. When we pray every day in silence we are so connected to the Lord that nothing can shake us. Yet there are still days that I don't pray as I should. We all struggle with prayer. The point is to never give up, to ask ourselves how can I improve?
We're called to a radical generosity. Everything we've been given is a gift from God. During my time in the Dominican Republic I befriended a very poor family. They had a small house with one chair and one chicken. One night after visiting with them and watching the stars together they gave me their only chicken to take home with me. I tried to refuse several times but then realized that if I didn't accept their gift of their only chicken I would be insulting them. So there I was driving down a bumpy road with a chicken bouncing along next to me. The Sacramental event is Christ giving us the chicken. He gives Himself away in love, kenosis and self-giving. God is more humble than we are.
There is an urgency to evangelization for us today. Every active Catholic should be busy cultivating one or two people. We can do this by turning ourselves inside out, letting people see our soul, not to say "look at me" but "look at Jesus." We need disciples who realize that they are called as claiming their vocation in the Church, as being formed, realize that we are being sent. Translate talk into action. What we are doing is meaningful!
It all comes down to falling in love with God and to realizing that God is in love with us. When we make ourselves available, God is going to use us. Realize the shortness and brevity of our lives. Death becomes a frame around our lives. Compared to eternity life is a twinkling of the eye. We're going to be alive forever in eternity with or without God. The drama of our lives is in the short amount of time that we have to do what we are called to do. In twelve minutes we will be standing at the judgement seat and God will ask us "What did you do with your life?"