Indianapolis — As the Fellowship of Catholic University Students SEEK 2019 event began with 17,000 mostly young people at the Indianapolis Convention Center Thursday night, the absence of a usual presence at these things — U.S. Catholic bishops — spoke loudly in their absence. The bishops are 229 miles away at Mundelein Seminary on retreat, with Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, a preacher on loan from the pope (a Franciscan Capuchin who preached to Pope Benedict XVI and John Paul II as well).
On Thursday, as most of us were on our way here, an eight-page letter from Pope Francis to the U.S. bishops was released. In read, in part:
The path to be taken is rather one of openness to the efficacy and transformative power of God’s Kingdom, which, like a mustard seed, the smallest and most insignificant of seeds, becomes a tree in which the birds of the air make their nests (cf. Mt 13:32-33). Amid the tempest, we must never lose faith in the quiet, daily and effective power of the Holy Spirit at work in human hearts and in all of history.
Credibility is born of trust, and trust is born of sincere, daily, humble and generous service to all, but especially to those dearest to the Lord’s heart (cf. Mt 25:31-46). It will be a service offered not out of concern with marketing or strategizing to reclaim lost prestige or to seek accolades, but rather – as I insisted in the recent Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate – because it belongs to “the beating heart of the Gospel.”
The call to holiness keeps us from falling into false dichotomies and reductive ways of thinking, and from remaining silent in the face of a climate prone to hatred and rejection, disunity and violence between brothers and sisters. The Church, as the “sign and instrument of communion with God and of the unity of the entire human race” (Lumen Gentium, 1), bears in her heart and soul the sacred mission of being a place of encounter and welcome not only for her members but for all humanity. It is part of her identity and mission to work tirelessly for all that can contribute to unity between individuals and peoples as a symbol and sacrament of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for all men and women, without distinction. For “there does not exist among you Jew or Greek, slave or freeman, male or female. All are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). This is the greatest service she offers, all the more so today, when we are witnessing a resurgence of inflammatory rhetoric and prejudices old and new. Our communities today must testify in a concrete and creative way that God is the Father of all, and that in his eyes we are all his sons and daughters. Our credibility also depends on the extent to which, side by side with others, we help to strengthen a social and cultural fabric that is not only in danger of unravelling, but also of harboring and facilitating new forms of hatred. As a Church, we cannot be held hostage by this side or that, but must be attentive always to start from those who are most vulnerable. With the words of the Eucharistic Prayer, let us ask the Lord that, “in a world torn by strife, your people may shine forth as a prophetic sign of unity and concord” (Masses for Various Needs, I).
How sublime is the task at hand, brothers; we cannot keep silent about it or downplay it because of our own limitations and faults! I recall the wise words of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, that we can repeat, both as individuals and together: “Yes, I have many human faults and failures… But God bends down and uses us, you and me, to be his love and his compassion in the world; he bears our sins, our troubles and our faults. He depends on us to love the world and to show how much he loves it. If we are too concerned with ourselves, we will have no time left for others.”
Francis talked about this being a time to conform our lives to Christ and the life He lived and died — on the Cross. That’s not just for bishops. And the young people gathered here in Indianapolis seem to get that. They get the power in what the late Fr. Benedict Groeschel called The Virtue Given Life. In the book by that name, a Franciscan and psychiatrist, wrote:
Virtue, therefore, is more than a series of good deeds. It exists in a person’s depths. Presumably, there must be some neurological component because we are made up of body, soul, and spirit. However, I think there is something beyond the physical, not perceptible to scientific comprehension -an aspect of virtue that rises from the depth of the soul.
What is at the depth of your soul? The young people here want it to be the stuff of goodness and purity and boldness. They want to have courage. They want people to see their credibility in the way they live their lives and treat others.
I pray that’s where the renewal of the hearts of the bishops is, too. At the opening mass here, the 17,000 prayed for this.
The renewal of the Church will come when everyone steps up to the plate of faith and trusts God completely, and seeks to follow His will. That’s a plan for 2019, one we need all Christians to take up.