Have you had the experience where you’ve gotten chills of wonder and gratitude at the depth of God’s love for you? Have you been stirred to let God take the lead and unite His will with yours by the substance and force of a celebrant’s homily? If the answer to either question is “no,” then you didn’t participate in the Sister Servants of the Eternal Word’s season-opening retreat this summer, “Enrolling in the School of the Saints.”
As Pope Benedict prayed for “a new Pentecost” with some half-million young people at World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia, a Catholic priest from Massachusetts became an instrument of the Holy Spirit in just that project, working to save souls in a sold-out crowd of Catholics wanting to answer the Lord’s universal call.
#ad#For far too long, he said, many of those priests most on fire for Christ have focused on the fringes – trying to bring new people into the Church. That is important work. But it can’t be done if the churchgoing faithful are lost. The Church itself needs evangelization. Far too few Catholics read the Bible — we all know it and surveys bear out that impression. “It’s shocking,” he stressed, that we’re not reading what Jesus gave us.
“The re-evangelization of the Church requires feeding the hungry faithful,” he said. If he were to borrow a phrase from the political season, he might have subtitled the weekend “The Fierce Urgency of Now.”
Our retreat leader used Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte as the text for the Saint School curriculum, using it to create a “mountain of transfiguration” in a valley in Birmingham. The Jubilee-year document provides pillars of holiness that serve as training for all those seeking schooling in sainthood.
The crash course was aided by a group of delightful Dominican-Franciscan sisters dedicated to “prayer, catechesis, and retreats,” who operate out of the Casa Maria Convent and Retreat Center.
“He’s a saint maker,” Sister Louise Marie, now in her 18th year of religious life, said in a spirit of gratitude for God’s gift of this priest, who exudes a love of Christ and for his vocation. A living, breathing, modern-day example of the doability of holiness — yet another personification of the real fruits of trustful receptivity. At 38, this priest embodies the New Pentecost – a spiritual renewal set in motion by the charismatic John Paul the Great and given a deeper, accessible elucidation by his successor, Pope Benedict — and serves as the pastor and editor of his diocesan paper. (I’m keeping his name out of this piece, per his request, to keep the focus on Christ and his message, rather than his priestly servant. But the journalist in me can’t help but recommend his faithfully bold and instructive editorials and columns, which you can read here.) He brings a vigorous, youthful, passionate devotion to his ministry as a living model of masculine and heroic virtue.
And what about graduation from the School of the Saints? Graduation, of course, doesn’t come at retreat’s end (at least not for anyone at this July retreat — no ambulances!). Your “only important graduation” day, as the retreat leader put it, is the day you meet your Maker. And if a full house in the Blessed Sacrament chapel at Casa Maria at midnight on Saturday of the retreat weekend was any indication, those who attended do believe that they, too, can be holy.
Using the Biblical parable of the sower, the priest urged retreatants to “get rid of the thorns,” that is, “the cares of this world.” If you let God “take the lead,” He “is going to change your life, he said, and urged, “Do not be afraid of the fullness of human life.”
The priest recommended retreatants walk away from the retreat with workable resolutions to get them and keep them firmly on the road to the promise of an eternal reward Christ made possible for us. He left the Sisters renewed in their focus of being a tool in that New Pentecost, running a School of Holiness throughout the year. Their next retreats include weekends on the Eucharist, “Growing in Grace,” and “A Deeper Abandonment to Divine Providence. (See www.sisterservants.org.)
If you weren’t with me in Birmingham and your Sunday homilists often leave something to be desired, don’t keep an inability to get to Alabama to keep you from enrolling in the school. As the retreat leader implored: “Seek Him. Find Him. Love Him. Try to become more like Him.” Make use of the Sacraments: Seek forgiveness; go to Mass. Pray. Listen and proclaim the Word of God. (“If we don’t renew the way we hear God’s Word, we have no chance at sanctity,” our retreat leader warned.) Call up Novo Millennio Ineunte on your computer. Read the lives of the saints. Actively and enthusiastically participate in the Pauline year. Get yourself in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.
Don’t put it off. Time is not on our side. But He is. As Catholics celebrate All Saints Day this weekend, enroll now in the School of the Saints. Seats are still available . . . but the gates are narrow.
– Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor of National Review Online.