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I'm a Capuchin Franciscan, so I have a great love for simplicity. We need more of it in the world, and we also need more of it in the Church. Jesus was simple. Not simple as in ignorant; but simple as in focused. He spoke clearly and directly. He anchored Himself in the essentials of His Father's will. We need to do the same. This is the reason why the Mile Hi is so important. Whatever skills and tools and professional methods we learn here are valuable. But they're not finally the reason for this congress. This congress exists to renew our zeal as missionaries. In Catholic education, every teacher is a missionary. It follows that we can't be good teachers if we're not on fire for the truth we teach.
Back in December, I wrote a pastoral letter called "Good News of Great Joy." Those of you who read it know that this theme of mission and evangelization is really the heart of my concern as a bishop. Those of you who didn't read it, don't feel too bad. If you have trouble reading pastoral letters, I don't really enjoy writing them. In fact, I think most of the time, a good homily delivered from the heart is the best way to reach anyone with any message. But some things are important enough to spend more time thinking about and developing. Some issues really do need the breathing room of a pastoral letter -- and recovering our missionary energy, and our missionary realism, as a Church is one of them.
What do I mean by missionary realism? That's an odd term. Let me explain it this way. When I issue a pastoral letter about evangelization on Christmas Eve, it connects very comfortably with all the warm feelings of the Christmas season. And that's appropriate: Every birth is "good news of great joy." But the deeper joy of the Christian Gospel doesn't happen at Christmas. It happens on the other side of Golgotha. There's no resurrection without the crucifixion.
All of us love Christmas. That's the easy part of the message. There's much less consumer-demand for Good Friday. Yet the cross is the manner by which Christ accomplishes our redemption. And only in being nailed to the cross with Him, can we rise with Him on Easter. That part of the Gospel is harder to preach. It's also harder for each of us to accept personally. We Christians all talk a good line about suffering... but very few of us want to experience too much of it.
I mention this because, in developed countries like our own, when we talk about Jesus Christ-- and our own lives as Christians-- we tend to soften the rough edges. We leave out the part about the bloody nails. But the message makes no sense without the nails. Jesus Himself was very blunt about the cost, as well as the rewards, of discipleship: "Take up your cross and follow me." Expect to be reviled. Expect to be persecuted. Expect to be humiliated. The good news is not a message of niceness. It is a revolutionary message of new life in Christ through death to the self... and the world usually doesn't want to hear it, and will often resist it with violence.
TOMORROW: Part two of this four parter from Archbishop Charles Chaput, OFM Cap.
Having tested the Voice I proceed as directed. Again, I understand that our Blessed Mother wants these lessons/meditations printed so that all of her little ones might be strengthened in the time of great darkness—the apostasy, schism, heresy and blasphemy which already cover the face of the earth.
But not all, for I see that a small side gate leading into the enclosure of the flower garden opens. It is Jesus who proceeds slowly, calmly into the place of peace and beauty. He has on a white tunic and the faint moonlight highlights the sorrow upon His holy face which appears to me to grow deeper, so as to be etched upon His face. His eyes, however, are clear, calm. A veritable ocean of heavenly peace.
Scarcely has he passed into the garden then another figure appears and follows our Lord’s own footsteps. It is Lazarus. He is of medium build, and not as tall as Jesus. He has placed about his shoulders a lightweight mantle of dark color, as if he desired to be seen by no one other than Jesus.
They meet, the Master and His faithful servant. Lazarus’ face is filled with loving respect for Jesus.
"The household rests," Lazarus informs Jesus. "All are asleep except..."
"Do not say the name, Lazarus. I know he is not here." Jesus’ sigh would melt the most hardened heart and Lazarus also bows his head, so as not to speak. I understand it is Judas Iscariot of whom they speak, though they utter few worlds.
"I have asked you to come now, my beloved disciple, that I might speak to you more freely."
"Whatever I can do, Master. You now that."
"I know, Lazarus. Your heart is pure and gives me solace."
"Then remain here."
"I cannot. You know I must fulfill the Father’s will."
"I - O! Master, I feel so helpless."
"No, Lazarus, you have a very important mission at this appointed time. I desire you to make your home a safe haven, a refuge for my apostles, even my disciples who, in the first hours and days of the sufferings I must endure will scatter like frightened birds pursued as wild prey."
"Master, they may come here, always. All I possess is Yours."
"Truly, you have well understood My words concerning poverty and have always acted justly in the use of God’s providence. Ah, Lazarus, in future generations you shall be the example for all upon whom the Father grants earthly riches. Your life shall be for them a beacon to lead them in the way of abandonment and detachment. Now as never before your very riches will serve as a shield against My enemies, and by your just life not even the High Priest and his cohorts shall touch you. Therefore, yours is a place of safe refuge, holy and chaste. Here I ask you to keep watch in the fateful hour and, through your faithful servants and your holy sisters, to gather those whom fear puts to flight.
"To you Jerusalem is open and the doors of many are not barred to you. To your chaste ears good hearts will whisper where by flock has scattered, and you, my beloved servant, will gather them here until they can once more find unity through faith and prayer."
"I will do it, Master. You know that. But,--"
"Speak freely, Lazarus. Your heart is open to Me."
"May I not also be with You at that dreadful hour? May I not stand and give witness in your favor?"
"Lazarus, at that hour only the voices of hell shall have speech. The whole of Heaven shall remain mute, and the just shall cry out from their hearts, not with their voices. My Father shall hear, and gather such faith unto Himself, that in all ages to come the voices of the demons shall be drowned out by the pure voice of faithful love."
Lazarus accepts his role in perfect obedience and presses Jesus’ hands against his own.
"My Lord, I do not know all that will follow. But I a not afraid. I died once and You, in Your merciful love, brought me back to life. If, now, by my obedience, I can help to preserve the light among the people you have called, then I am willing to die again and again to assist You, Who are my Lord and God."
"Your loving faith deserved the miracle, Lazarus. And because those of the Temple witnessed My power over death, and can not dispute it, they shall kill Me in a futile attempt to remove Me from their lives and their hideous, evil power. Speak to my disciples often of the miracle granted you, that all may believe that by My death, life itself triumphs. All who believe in Me, who follow after My footsteps shall also rise as you did—but in Heaven in eternal glory."
"And Your Mother? I should wish Her to remain here also."
"My Mother, along with certain of the holy women, will be with Me, that in all future generations mankind will recognize and respond to that role designed for woman from all eternity. For women, strength lies in their open, loving hearts. They are models of pure, chaste love. And this the world will learn as I die in agony upon the cross and the women, with My Mother, are present. No, I need you to be here. Here is where you serve Me. I am always with you, Lazarus. You are my treasure. I bless you. Let us go now to our rest. The apostles, along with the women, will leave with Me for Jerusalem tomorrow."
Lazarus kneels and Jesus blesses him and then, together, they leave the garden and return to the house, where the silence of the night covers all.
NEXT INSTALLMENT: Part Two of Lesson 4: Our Lady's meditation on THE TIMELESS ROLES OF LAZARUS AND THE HOLY WOMEN
This involved the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, the same Religious Order whose founder was canonized two years ago - Saint Eugene de Mazenod, bishop and religious founder. The word "Oblate" means to offer up, devote, dedicate. This is what Fr. Tom did, offering up his time, devoting his talents and dedicating his prayers and efforts to reuniting Fr. Tissa with Rome. It was an accomplishment worthy of comparisons with many great Church fathers throughout history. The reason Fr. Tom was called in dates back to the early nineties. Fr. Balasuriya first got in "foul trouble" when the Center for Society and Religion, to which he was affiliated in Sri Lanka, printed well over 500 copies of a book he had authored entitled "Mary and Human Liberation." The first to blow the whistle were the bishops of Sri Lanka who officially condemned the book in 1994. They based their conclusion on the fact it diluted Catholic doctrine, specifically on Original Sin and the Divinity of Jesus. Fr. Tissa, rather than complying at the time, remained obstinate and that caused the prelates to call a technical by turning it over to Rome. Once Cardinal Ratzinger's office had studied Fr. Balasuriya's work, they concurred that he should be "placed on the bench" so to speak. When they approached Fr. Tissa through the bishops, he was upset and confused. He bolted the playing floor and Rome followed in early 1997 with total ejection from the "game" telling him to hand in his "uniform." During all of this Fr. Zago had been thrown into the middle which was only natural since he was Fr. Tissa's highest superior. The Oblate Superior General tried to warn Fr. Tissa of the consequences but feelings had been hurt and Fr. Tissa was in no mood to compromise. He took the punishment bitterly and many thought he was washed up as a priest, let alone a theologian. As things seemingly died down after the storm, and just months after the Vatican released the Instructions on dealing with theologians and possible heresies, Fr. Zago sought to bring in a new "coach" who could not only reach Fr. Tissa, but neutralize the hard feelings within the Holy See. Enter "scout" Fr. Caringnan who recommended "coach" Fr. Tom. The General House called Fr. Tom in early January at the Central Provincial Headquarters in St. Paul, Minnesota where he is Vicar Provincial. It just so happened that Fr. Tom had blocked out two weeks in January to spend with his family but it fell through. Within days the call came from Rome. "I told them I'd get back to them in twenty four hours, but after hanging up I knew within a few hours I would do it. I mean I already had the two week hole, I couldn't say no," quipped Fr. Tom on the phone yesterday. Yes, God works in strange and mysterious ways and though He closed a door for Fr. Tom to be with family, He opened a wider door for a family member in greater need - Fr. Tissa. By the second week Fr. Tom had left the frozen tundra of the Twin Cities for the warm climes of Sri Lanka, a former British stronghold where English customs die hard. One of those customs is "tea time" and Fr. Tom likened it to a "cooling off period" - like taking a time-out on the hardwood to regroup, to plan new plays and strategy and to encourage the team. With his basketball acumen he deftly scouted Fr. Tissa the first few days and finally made a breakthrough when the latter realized Fr. Tom was on his side. Once this was established Fr. Tissa was a pushover on most fronts for re-establishing communication with Rome and the application for reinstatement. As the days extended to nearly a week, it was nip and tuck for a while as Fr. Balasuriya, still gunshy, balked at times. After all, hurt feelings take a while to heal. But Fr. Tom, who may have used his cage instincts to coach the lost Oblate sheep, had to have some healing power in his repertoire as well. But he'll attribute it to prayer for that is the only true way to healing. Through his gentle, but firm manner he was able to break down the walls between Rome and this Sri Lankan outcast. A curia, thought by Fr. Tissa to be merciless and cruel, extended mercy and love. It was reciprocated. Pouring over terms and his work for hours and hours, it was tiring but in the end very, very rewarding. Fr. Zago was delightfully surprised, exclaiming "What seemed impossible actually happened!" But Fr. Tom credits prayer and common sense in letting cooler heads prevail. With all respect to Rome and the offices within the Holy See, Fr. Tom did not take the superior attitude with Fr. Tissa but rather the "I'm here to help you" and "there's gotta be a way to resolve this" approach. Conversely, he didn't compromise over the fact that Fr. Tissa had to compromise if he had any hope for being reinstated and this blight of anathema taken away. But through it all, beginning with the plane trip to Sri Lanka Fr. Tom was aware that the whole matter had been handled wrongly, whether because of personalities or because of something else, Fr. Tissa had not had the opportunity to address the Vatican directly. This had caused the Sri Lankan to lash out in self-defense that just deteriorated the situation. But Fr. Tom sought a new approach and through his "you-catch-more-flies-with-honey-than-vinegar" policy he was able to soften the forces on both sides where, after six grueling days both parties came to an amiable solution that allowed Fr. Tissa back into the full graces of Holy Mother Church and his Order. Fr. Tom doesn't want to take the credit for he is quick to point out there were numerous other Oblates involved and in attendance, but those close to the scene credit Fr. Tom Singer with effecting this turnaround.
On the Ides of January Fr. Tom accompanied Fr. Balasuriya to the Colombo, Sri Lanka residence of Archbishop Nicholas Fernando where a "decree of reconciliation" had been prepared. Fr. Tom presented the final draft of Fr. Balasuriya's statement, the ninth one they had hashed out in fine-tuning everything. With his statement were two from the Vatican in which all parties signed. In addition Fr. Tissa read the profession of faith - the one authored by Pope Paul VI which the Vatican had refused last year, but consented to this year. When it was all said and done, looking back, Fr. Tom could see the merits of the "give and go" for as Fr. Tissa drove for the goal of reconciliation Oblate Father Tom Singer realized it only took a little give and take...to give!