the Church in the Sudan and Saint Bakhita

Saint Josephine BakhitaIn January of 2001, I had the privilege of interviewing William Saunders for an article about the persecuted Church in the Sudan. Just three months earlier, Pope John Paul II had canonized the first Sudanese saint, Saint Josephine Margaret Bakhita, and so Saunders told me a bit about her in the context of helping me understand the situation of the Church in the Sudan. The Church now remembers her in its liturgical celebrations on February 8th of each year.

Pope Benedict XVI references Saint Bakhita at the beginning of his encyclical, Spe Salvi, as a model of Christian hope:

To come to know God—the true God—means to receive hope. We who have always lived with the Christian concept of God, and have grown accustomed to it, have almost ceased to notice that we possess the hope that ensues from a real encounter with this God. The example of a saint of our time can to some degree help us understand what it means to have a real encounter with this God for the first time. I am thinking of the African Josephine Bakhita, canonized by Pope John Paul II. She was born around 1869—she herself did not know the precise date—in Darfur in Sudan. At the age of nine, she was kidnapped by slave-traders, beaten till she bled, and sold five times in the slave-markets of Sudan. Eventually she found herself working as a slave for the mother and the wife of a general, and there she was flogged every day till she bled; as a result of this she bore 144 scars throughout her life. Finally, in 1882, she was bought by an Italian merchant for the Italian consul Callisto Legnani, who returned to Italy as the Mahdists advanced. Here, after the terrifying “masters” who had owned her up to that point, Bakhita came to know a totally different kind of “master”—in Venetian dialect, which she was now learning, she used the name “paron” for the living God, the God of Jesus Christ. Up to that time she had known only masters who despised and maltreated her, or at best considered her a useful slave. Now, however, she heard that there is a “paron” above all masters, the Lord of all lords, and that this Lord is good, goodness in person. She came to know that this Lord even knew her, that he had created her—that he actually loved her. She too was loved, and by none other than the supreme “Paron”, before whom all other masters are themselves no more than lowly servants. She was known and loved and she was awaited. What is more, this master had himself accepted the destiny of being flogged and now he was waiting for her “at the Father’s right hand”. Now she had “hope” —no longer simply the modest hope of finding masters who would be less cruel, but the great hope: “I am definitively loved and whatever happens to me—I am awaited by this Love. And so my life is good.” Through the knowledge of this hope she was “redeemed”, no longer a slave, but a free child of God. She understood what Paul meant when he reminded the Ephesians that previously they were without hope and without God in the world—without hope because without God. Hence, when she was about to be taken back to Sudan, Bakhita refused; she did not wish to be separated again from her “Paron”. On 9 January 1890, she was baptized and confirmed and received her first Holy Communion from the hands of the Patriarch of Venice. On 8 December 1896, in Verona, she took her vows in the Congregation of the Canossian Sisters and from that time onwards, besides her work in the sacristy and in the porter’s lodge at the convent, she made several journeys round Italy in order to promote the missions: the liberation that she had received through her encounter with the God of Jesus Christ, she felt she had to extend, it had to be handed on to others, to the greatest possible number of people. The hope born in her which had “redeemed” her she could not keep to herself; this hope had to reach many, to reach everybody.

Below, I’ve reprinted my article about the Church in the Sudan.

The Church in the Sudan Gives Witness to Christ During Persecution

This article originally appeared in the April 2001 edition of The Catholic Servant.

“In the holy days of Lent the ‘offering’ assumes a deeper meaning, because it is not just giving something from the surplus to relieve one’s conscience, but to truly take upon one’s self the misery present in the world. To look at the suffering face and the conditions of misery of many brothers and sisters forces us to share at least part of our own goods with those in difficulty…. The world expects from Christians a consistent witness of communion and solidarity.”

These words, taken from Pope John Paul II’s message for Lent 2001, invite all the faithful to examine the suffering face of Christ present in today’s world. The image of the suffering Christ manifests itself vividly today in the trials borne by the people of the Sudan. William Saunders, an attorney from Washington, DC, who is the founder and director of Sudan Relief and Rescue, Inc., spoke about the sufferings of the Sudanese people at a conference on evangelization held this past January at the University of Saint Thomas.

The Sudan, Africa’s largest country, is situated just south of Egypt and has a population of nearly 30 million people. A third of the population lives in the southern part of the country, where about half of the Sudanese people are Christian, and half are animists. Since 1983, when civil war broke out in the Sudan under increasing pressure from Islamic fundamentalists to impose sharia (Islamic law) on the country, more than 1.9 million people have died from war-related causes: starvation, bombings and other atrocities. This death toll—which is larger than the number of deaths due to the wars in Bosnia, Kosovo and Rwanda combined—averages out to about 14 deaths every hour since the outbreak of the war. Another 4 million people have been displaced from their homes. This is an Islamic holy war, or jihad, carried out presently by the ruling government, the radical fundamentalist group known as the National Islamic Front (NIF). The NIF, representing only about seven percent of the Sudanese population, overthrew the elected government in 1989 and immediately intensified persecution of all non-Muslims in the Sudan. William Saunders notes that the Christian population—in particular the Catholic Church—has been a special target for persecution, since it is seen as an obstacle to the NIF’s goal to make Islam the sole religion of the country. Catholic churches, hospitals, and schools are a regular target of bombings and other forms of oppression. However, moderate Muslims, who are tolerant of Christians and other religious traditions within the population, are also persecuted by the government.

The jihad—which seeks to eliminate all non-Muslim elements of the population through tactics such as torture, bombing, and the withholding of food and water from non-Muslim populations—operates on the premise that Islam is the rightful religion of the Sudan. However, Christianity was the religion of the land for hundreds of years before the rise of Islam in the seventh century. In fact, as Saunders notes, the Church in the Sudan has apostolic roots. According to the book of Acts, one of the first non-Jewish converts to the faith was an Ethiopian from the court of Candace, who received the gospel from the deacon Philip. Scripture scholars say that Candace is a reference to modern-day Sudan. Christianity was eventually suppressed by the rise of Islam, but made a revival in the nineteenth century through missionary efforts. Then, in the mid-twentieth century, when the Sudan achieved independence from Britain, Christians again began to experience intensified religious persecution.

Since the southern part of Sudan is almost entirely non-Muslim and non-Arab, persecution is currently most intense in this area. Bombing raids are carried out regularly from high altitudes; according to Saunders, the precision of the bombing is not as important to the government as the creation of an atmosphere of terror. Many people have been forced to seek shelter in remote areas, such as the higher elevations of the Nuba Mountains in the south. Interestingly, the Christian population has been growing in the Sudan, flourishing amidst the persecution.

The Sudan also has a long history of support for the slave trade, and the present government has legitimized the practice of slavery; in a holy war, it is not considered a sin to take slaves. In a gesture that rankled the conscience of the present government, the Catholic Church canonized its first Sudanese saint in October of 2000, Saint Josephine Margaret Bakhita, a woman kidnapped and sold as a slave late in the nineteenth century. Saint Bakhita eventually arrived in Italy, was emancipated, and became a member of the Canossian Daughters of Charity. Her writings, which document the torture she endured as a slave over a number of years, are also a beautiful testament to her virtue, willingness to forgive, and the natural goodness that contributed to a holy Christian life when she was later catechized and received into the Catholic Church.

Saunders says that although there are regional efforts to put pressure on the Sudanese government, complicating factors have given the NIF some leverage. A border war between Sudan’s neighbors to the east—Eritrea and Ethiopia—has prevented these countries from uniting their efforts against the oppressive Sudanese regime. Also, the government is now profiting from the Sudan’s newly-discovered oil resources; by selling oil to other countries—most notably, to China—the Sudanese government has obtained a lucrative source of income to fund the jihad.

The greatest sign of hope for the persecuted Church in the Sudan has been the prophetic presence of a courageous, native-born Catholic bishop, Reverend Macram Max Gassis. He is bishop of the diocese of El Obeid, an area of Sudan that is twice the size of Italy. Named a bishop in 1988, he began speaking to international organizations such as the US Congress and the United Nations about the Sudanese atrocities. The NIF declared him a criminal for exposing the government’s human rights abuses, and he now lives in exile in neighboring Kenya. Saunders says that Bishop Gassis regularly carries out clandestine operations into Sudan to bring in supplies of food, water, seeds, and building supplies for wells, schools, churches and hospitals. The bishop also helps educate and house 1,200 orphaned children. In one region he visits, northern Bahr-el-Ghazal, there have been no resident priests for over twenty years. The faith is spread by courageous catechists, many of whom are women trained as part of Bishop Gassis’ efforts to advance the education of women in a country where women are considered to be second-class citizens. Gassis calls the catechists “heroes of love,” who live under the threat of torture and even murder. The bishop makes great efforts to be present to his people, holding clandestine Masses in the thick of sycamore trees for hundreds of Sudanese Catholics at Christmas and Easter. Sudanese Catholics travel many miles to receive with joy their faithful shepherd. During the holy days, the government will often launch bombing raids because they know the Catholic population will be gathered in larger numbers at these times.

William Saunders met Bishop Gassis in 1997, when Gassis was in Washington, DC, speaking about slavery and genocide in the Sudan. At the request of Bishop Gassis, Saunders founded Sudan Relief and Rescue, Inc., an non-profit 501(c)(3) organization designed to fund and support the work Gassis is doing in his native land. This is volunteer work for Saunders, whose livelihood is his pro-life and human rights work as an attorney.

Saunders has traveled with Bishop Gassis to the Sudan, notably during the Christmas season in 1998, and has moving stories to tell about visiting with orphaned children, viewing damage from government bombings, and participating in clandestine liturgies in the Nuba Mountains. Saunders is not simply a human rights activist; he is also, like Bishop Gassis, a man of deep faith who can penetrate the meaning of the suffering of the Sudanese people. “The persecuted Catholics in the Sudan are offering their sufferings for the whole Church! As Bishop Gassis says, the Church of the Sudan is a donor Church, offering up its sufferings on behalf of all the faithful,” says Saunders. They are expressing their communion with us; how will we express the same to them?

Acutely aware of the gift of the Sudanese people, Saunders notes the great witness they offer to the Church in this country, and notes that the current situation gives us the chance to serve our persecuted brothers and sisters across the globe. “If you say, ‘I am a Catholic’ in the Sudan, you are going to suffer. So if you don’t mean it, you don’t say it! In the materialism of America today, our enemies are more subtle and we don’t realize the compromises we’re making. It’s a great blessing for Christians here to realize what it costs to be Christians in other places; it wakes us up here in the United States so that we can help to alleviate the suffering of others and build up the Church.”

What, practically, can we do to reach out to our Sudanese brothers and sisters? First, Saunders says, we can offer our prayers. Second, we can make financial contributions to Sudan Relief and Rescue (SRR) to assist Bishop Gassis in his work of building hospitals and schools, training catechists and seminarians, caring for orphans, and providing food, water and medical treatment. While there are other relief organizations, SRR reaches territory that no other organization can reach: “The UN’s Operation Lifeline Sudan, a kind of a consortium of relief groups, had to negotiate an agreement with the government in order to be able to deliver food. The government won’t let them go into these areas where we are going. They do a lot of good in other parts of the country; I’m just saying that if you want to help in the areas served by Bishop Gassis, just about the only way to do it is through our organization.” Third, we can ask our elected representatives to push for a UN-backed no-fly zone over central and southern Sudan in order to end the bombing raids.

As Pope John Paul II noted last October during the canonization of Saint Bakhita, the plight of the Sudanese people is the responsibility not only of world governments, but of every Christian: “I plead with the international community: do not continue to ignore this immense human tragedy. I invite the whole Church to invoke the intercession of St. Bakhita upon all our persecuted and enslaved brothers and sisters, especially in Africa and in her native Sudan, that they may know reconciliation and peace.” May this Lent be a privileged time for Christians worldwide to express their communion with the persecuted Church of the Sudan.

To contact the Sudan Relief Fund, write to: PO Box 7084, Merriffield, VA 22116-9798 or call toll-free: 1-888-488-0348. You may also visit the organization’s website at: sdnrlf.com. All donations are tax-deductible.

my brother’s keeper

Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life)Brother kills brother. Like the first fratricide, every murder is a violation of the “spiritual” kinship uniting mankind in one great family, in which all share the same fundamental good: equal personal dignity. Not infrequently the kinship “of flesh and blood” is also violated; for example when threats to life arise within the relationship between parents and children, such as happens in abortion or when, in the wider context of family or kinship, euthanasia is encouraged or practised.

At the root of every act of violence against one’s neighbour there is a concession to the “thinking” of the evil one, the one who “was a murderer from the beginning” (Jn 8:44). As the Apostle John reminds us: “For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another, and not be like Cain who was of the evil one and murdered his brother” (1 Jn 3:11-12). Cain’s killing of his brother at the very dawn of history is thus a sad witness of how evil spreads with amazing speed: man’s revolt against God in the earthly paradise is followed by the deadly combat of man against man.

After the crime, God intervenes to avenge the one killed. Before God, who asks him about the fate of Abel, Cain, instead of showing remorse and apologizing, arrogantly eludes the question: “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen 4:9). “I do not know”: Cain tries to cover up his crime with a lie. This was and still is the case, when all kinds of ideologies try to justify and disguise the most atrocious crimes against human beings. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”: Cain does not wish to think about his brother and refuses to accept the responsibility which every person has towards others. We cannot but think of today’s tendency for people to refuse to accept responsibility for their brothers and sisters. Symptoms of this trend include the lack of solidarity towards society’s weakest members – such as the elderly, the infirm, immigrants, children – and the indifference frequently found in relations between the world’s peoples even when basic values such as survival, freedom and peace are involved.

Pope Saint John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), paragraph 8

 

family-based faith formation

Holy Family iconOn this Feast of the Holy Family, I thought I’d publish something I wrote years ago about family-based faith formation.

***

Final Project:
Family-Based Faith Formation

Clayton Emmer
Pastoral Ministry in American Culture
PT 509 01
Sr. Katarina Schuth, O.S.F.
Tuesday, May 16, 1995

Outline

I. Introduction

II. Family-Based Faith Formation

III. Current State of Family-Based Formation

IV. Local Family-Based Formation Programs

A. Obstacles

  1. Lack of vision
  2. Lack of trained professional leadership
  3. Lack of ownership by parents
  4. Diversity of families

B. Responses to concerns

  1. Vision
  2. Parent involvement
  3. Diversity

V. Moving Forward with Family-Based Formation

  1. Communicating the vision
  2. Establishing a Catechetical Director
  3. Offering alternatives and support

VI. Conclusion

 

INTRODUCTION

The inspiration for this project on family-based faith formation began with a personal experience of volunteering as a teacher of eighth-grade religious education a year ago. The class, which met for an hour and a half each Wednesday evening of the school year, was to be taught using a textbook that will remain unnamed. The text on morality — in both its learner and teacher editions — employed a condescendingly “cool” approach that mistook a patronizing attitude for relevance. On the first night of class, I discovered how difficult it was to convey the material in a way that seemed appropriate to my audience of twenty-one eighth graders. By observing the acerbic reactions of students to the jargon and the illustrations in the text, I was reminded of my own experience of religious education, an experience that planted in my mind the notion that religion was a trivial subject hopelessly unrelated to my life. I remembered the torturous Wednesday night sessions in which, after I was asked to describe my feelings to a small group of individuals I hardly knew, the class would conclude with some sort of truism about the fact that God is love.

I wanted more for my students, so in subsequent class periods I moved away from the text, tried to develop a good relationship with the students, and planned out some sessions that were more engaging, more interactive and more substantive. I hoped that this would help them make a connection between catechesis and daily life.

Although I felt that I achieved some degree of success, I was frustrated by four further obstacles: a lack of student understanding of the most basic content of Christian faith; a lack of student concern about assimilating the material (unless, of course, they were being graded); a lack of student discipline; and the absence of support from parents. At this point, I began to think that the religious education program was in need of serious rethinking. In my estimation, the program in which I was participating had an impoverished vision of faith formation.

Then I happened to pick up a copy of Pope John Paul II’s recent Letter to Families. In the document, I was introduced to the notion that parents are the primary educators of their children: “Parents are the first and most important educators of their own children, and they also possess a fundamental competence in this area: they are educators because they are parents.”1 Moreover, I learned that the Pope specifically addressed the relation of the family to religious education:

One area in which the family has an irreplaceable role is that of religious education, which enables the family to grow as a “domestic church.” Religious education and the catechesis of children make the family a true subject of evangelization and the apostolate within the Church…. Families, and more specifically parents, are free to choose for their children a particular kind of religious and moral education consonant with their own convictions. Even when they entrust these responsibilities to ecclesiastical institutions or to schools administered by religious personnel, their educational presence ought to continue to be constant and active.2

I was fascinated by the discovery of this rich understanding of the family’s role in the faith development of children. Certainly my own experience as a home-schooled student resonated with the Pope’s words: Most of my formative experiences in faith had taken place in the context of family prayer, discussion and daily interaction. I concluded that a vision of religious education with more family involvement would make the faith formation process more organic, integral and effective.

FAMILY-BASED FAITH FORMATION

What, then, is family-based faith formation? In the absence of any formal definition, family-based formation may generally be described as one mode of catechesis that recognizes the primacy of the family unit as a subject and vehicle for the inter-generational transmission of faith.3 This sort of formation presupposes the concept of catechesis which was present in the early Church — that is, catechesis understood as “the totality of the Church’s efforts to make disciples, to help men believe that Jesus is the Son of God so that believing they might have life in his name, and to educate and instruct them in this life, thus building up the body of Christ.”4 Family-based formation, as one means of catechesis, is based on three principles: first, the idea that parents are the primary educators of children;5 second, the understanding that development in faith is a process of mutual inter-generational growth and learning;6 and, third, the awareness that families and parishes are collaborators in the transmission of faith.7

A more particular definition of family-based formation might exclude many developing and existing models, thus failing to be a comprehensive definition. The family-based programs already in place are rather diverse in terms of structure. A brief examination of a particular local family­ based program may help establish some sense of how a family-based model might operate. In Eagan, Minnesota, the parish of Saint Thomas Becket provides a family formation program which includes: family retreat experiences; bi-annual peer-based and inter-generational formation sessions with catechists; and weekly in-home activities for the entire family. In this lectionary-based model, which utilizes Brown Roa’s Seasons of Faith curriculum, the weekly scripture readings and home activities correspond to the three-year cycle of readings for Sunday Mass. According to the publisher of the curriculum, the teachings in the text are correlated with the lectionary readings in such a way that during each three-year cycle of readings, all of the essentials of Catholic doctrine are covered.8 The curriculum is age-appropriate and includes adult workbooks to provide background material on the lectionary readings. The parish offers sacramental preparation courses that operate in cooperation with — but independently from — the Seasons of Faith program. This is simply one model, mentioned here for the sake of illustrating an incarnation of the family­ based formation model.9

The vision for family-based faith formation, which is rooted in contemporary Church documents, derives primarily from the Second Vatican Council’s discussion of the family as “domestic church.”10 A brief examination of these documents and, in particular, the Church’s teaching on marriage, illuminate the essential role which the family has in the transmission of faith. John Paul II has addressed the topic in several documents. In addition to his Letter to Families, which was an adaptation of Familiaris Consortio, he has written an encyclical on catechesis which stresses the important catechetical role of the family: “Family catechesis… precedes, accompanies and enriches all other forms of catechesis.”11 He describes an organic vision of family catechesis that recognizes the importance not only of a methodical catechesis, but of a sort of “inculturation” of catechesis in family life.12 Similarly, the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes parents as the “first heralds” of the gospel for their children.13

The sacrament of marriage is the source of the catechetical role of parents. As Pius XI wrote in his encyclical Casti Connubi, the sacrament of marriage, by virtue of its indissoluble bond, provides in the best way possible for the education of children because “the care and mutual help of each [parent] are always at hand.”14 According to Church teaching, the education of children is inseparably tied to the procreative activity of marriage.15 In other words, the educational role of parents is an extension of the generativity that results from the communion of persons.

Sacred Scripture also suggests the importance of family in faith formation. For example, the Holy Family provides a model of parental initiative in the religious upbringing of the young. In the gospel of Luke, Mary and Joseph take the initiative to present Jesus in the temple in Jerusalem.16 In this passage, the Holy Family is, in a very concrete way, collaborating with the wider community in serving the spiritual welfare of the child Jesus. As another example, one may recognize in the parable of the Prodigal Son a story about the family as a privileged place for learning about God’s love through the witness of parental love.17

CURRENT STATE OF FAMILY-BASED FORMATION

An interest in family-based faith formation has been expressed recently by the Church on international, national and diocesan levels. Internationally, one can turn to the writings of John Paul II. The Pope has noted that family catechesis, an essential part of all catechesis, has a special role in places where religious faith is undermined by unfavorable cultural climates: “In places where anti-religious legislation endeavors even to prevent education in the faith, and in places where widespread unbelief or invasive secularism makes real religious growth practically impossible, ‘the church of the home’ remains the one place where children and young people can receive an authentic catechesis.”18 The Pope seems to be suggesting that family-based formation has a special significance in the contemporary cultural context.

On the national level, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops has pledged to be an advocate for resources that will help parents in the moral and religious formation of their children.19 Moreover, the bishops encourage many activities that the family-based model uses as tools for faith formation, including family meals, rituals, education programs, and communal worship in the home.20 As far as the implementation of family-based models is concerned, however, there is relatively little being done at the national level. At a recent national conference on catechesis, only about ten percent of the participants were working on a family-based approach to faith formation.21 Particularly noteworthy is a 1992 study of Catholic religious education carried out by the Educational Testing Service in cooperation with the United States Catholic Conference Department of Education. An article by Catholic News Services billed the study as an indicator of the success of existing religious education programs,yet quoted a USCC representative who said that many of the 450,000 volunteers involved in these programs experienced a lack of adequate resources and institutional support. While Catholic schools and parishes were cited as partners in religious education, no mention was made of the role of the family in religious education.22

Within the Archdiocese, the interest in family faith development has been expressed primarily through the establishment of a number of “family-centered” programs. Although a list of “family-centered” programs has been compiled, the exact number and nature of these programs in the Archdiocese is unknown at present. However, a survey is currently being conducted by the Office of Catechesis to determine exactly what sort of family-based programs are being offered.23

LOCAL FAMILY-BASED FORMATION PROGRAMS

In order to get a sense of the state of family-based faith formation in the Archdiocese, I interviewed five parishes with family-based models, as well as Sister Josetta Marie Spencer, coordinator of catechesis, resources and services for the Archdiocesan Office of Catechesis.24  My examination of the Archdiocese revealed three challenges in regard to existing family-based programs — namely, the need to articulate the vision of family-based formation, the need to create a sense of parental ownership of the faith formation process, and the need to respond to diverse family situations.

OBSTACLES

Lack of Vision

One major obstacle to family-based programs is a lack of comprehensive vision of faith formation as a holistic, inter-generational, all-encompassing process of faith development. A narrow and uniform model of faith formation — that is, a model which is based almost entirely on an academic approach to faith development — still prevails in many places. This model is seen as tried and true, which makes people hesitant to look at alternatives. The standard model of religious education (i.e. the “CCD” model) is perceived by some to be adequate and universally applicable.25 This leads to a sort of inertia that disinclines people to look seriously at family-based models.

Lack of Trained Professional Leadership

In local parishes that do incorporate a family perspective on faith formation, a lack of catechetical leadership often prevents the parish from implementing the vision in a coherent, integral way. In all of the parishes interviewed for this project, the head of the family-based program is either a volunteer or an individual responsible for a number of different areas of parish life. Professional, paid catechetical leaders are often viewed as non-essential members of parish staffs when a family-based program is established; Directors of Religious Education are sometimes laid off in such situations.26 This is a serious problem, for although volunteers often give generously of their time and skills, they seldom can provide the time, effort and qualifications needed to establish a comprehensive vision for faith formation and to offer adequate catechetical training to catechists and parents. The Church on the local level seems unaware of the important role of professional catechists in the parish, a role which is explicit in the Guide for Catechists which was released by the Vatican in 1994.27

Lack of Ownership by Parents

Another obstacle to family-based programs is a lack of a sense of ownership on the part of parents. Some parents are reluctant to devote the time and energy needed to a family-based program, in part because they may not see the benefits of the family-based model. Moreover, trying a new model of religious education involves the risks of change — risks that many may not be willing to take. The classroom model is more familiar and feels “safer” to parents. Many want to stay with the type of education that is based primarily on an academic curriculum.28

Oftentimes, parents are hesitant to embrace the family-based model because they  are concerned that the quality of the religious education will suffer in this model. In my interviews, those promoting family-based faith formation consistently observed that parents worry about their own competence as educators and fear that an inter-generational, holistic approach will not provide a comprehensive presentation of foundational Catholic doctrines and beliefs. Parents often feel that they do not have enough knowledge or skills to pass on the faith to their children.29 Perhaps in these situations the parish has not sufficiently communicated and demonstrated that it truly collaborates with the parents in the formation of children; without this understanding, the task of family-based formation can become very intimidating for parents, especially for those who do not have the training to carry out effective catechesis on their own. Without the support of the parish, parents can end up feeling just as isolated as the volunteers mentioned in the article about the 1992 study on Catholic religious education (see above). The tension that exists between highlighting parents as primary educators of the young and maintaining a vital parish role in catechesis30 deserves some attention within the diocese.

Diversity of Families

One additional obstacle to the implementation of the family-based model is the reality of a wide diversity of family situations within the Archdiocese. One cannot assume that every household will fit into a traditional mold: There are blended families with stepchildren; single­ parent families; interfaith marriages; dysfunctional families; and families in which one or more parent does not participate in parish life. No one model of faith formation will address all of the needs of this diverse population.31 When a parish offers only a single family-based model of religious education, problems may arise. In households which experience the trauma of domestic violence, the home may not be a feasible place for faith formation. Single parents may not have the adult support they need in the home. Differences in religious belief may create tension within an interfaith household trying to adopt the family-based model of formation. Parents who are not churchgoing may not take the initiative needed for the family-based model to work; moreover, when no connection exists with the larger community of faith, the collaboration between family and parish, which the Church holds up as an ideal,32 does not take place.

RESPONSES TO CONCERNS

Vision

In ordered to foster the development of family-based programs, the Archdiocesan Office of Catechesis is providing resources and information about the theology of “domestic church,” the importance of parent involvement in religious education, and the need for catechetical leadership in the parish. On the local level, some parishes are providing orientation sessions to introduce interested parents to the family-based approach to faith formation. The Church of Saint Paul requires new members of the parish to attend two informational sessions about life in the parish as part of the registration process; at that time, they are introduced to the family-based formation program.33 At Saint Thomas Becket, orientation sessions are held on a regular basis during the year for interested parents.

Parent Involvement

In order to get parents involved in a family-based style of formation, some parishes organize parish-based family events as a springboard for family activity. At Risen Savior and Thomas Becket, special parish-wide programs take place during Lent and Advent in which the whole family participates. During these events, a mixture of peer-based and inter-generational activities take place. At Our Lady of Guadalupe, these programs happen on a monthly basis. At the Church of Saint Paul and at Our Lady of Guadalupe, the formation program involves one session a month at the parish to supplement the three sessions in the home. Similarly, at the Church of Saint Paul, monthly parish-based sessions involve both parents and children. Moreover, catechesis for parents is offered at the parish regularly in order to give parents the tools and encouragement they need to teach their children.34 These are a few examples of parishes that, through collaboration with the family, support the parents in their role as primary educators.

Diversity

Offering options in faith formation is essential;35 not only does this help to give parents a sense of ownership in the faith formation process, but it also respects the diverse needs of families. Guardian Angels in Lake Elmo offers three different programs: a home-based program; a program that involves neighborhood peer groups meeting in homes with parents as facilitators; and a program that involves two parish and two home sessions each month.36 This variety of offerings helps the parish to cater to a wide variety of family schedules and needs. Diverse family structures have unique formational needs; the parish of Saint Thomas Becket has recognized this and thus facilitates the development of “clusters.” Small clusters of parents who want to be involved in the faith formation of their children but who, for whatever reason, do not have the resources or support needed to carry on the formation in their homes, gather together with their children to take part in the family-based program.37 As an example, a particular “cluster” might consist of single parents and their children. The programs mentioned above are helping a wide variety of individuals to engage in the family-based approach to faith formation in ways that respect their diverse situations and needs.

MOVING FORWARD WITH FAMILY-BASED FORMATION

The following initiatives may be helpful in developing constructive family-based faith formation programs in a particular parish: first, communicating the vision of family-based catechesis; second, hiring a catechetical director to analyze the parish and develop appropriate programs; third, offering alternatives and support.

COMMUNICATING THE VISION

The first stage in developing family-based formation is to share the rich vision of the family as a privileged place for faith formation. This could be done by bringing in speakers from parishes that already offer a family-based program. In particular, parents who have been engaged in the family-based model should be invited to speak at the parish about their experiences with the family­ centered approach. The parents I listened to in preparing this project were very enthusiastic about taking an integral role in the faith formation of their children; they appreciate the opportunity to spend time with their children, to pray and learn about the faith alongside their children, to make connections between the faith of the Church and personal experience, to grow closer together as families, and to experience in a richer way the life and worship of the parish community. Letting parents share their enthusiasm about family-based formation is perhaps the best way to generate interest in the family-centered approach.

The witness of those already engaged in family-based formation should be coupled with a lecture or presentation on the “domestic church” vision as articulated in the writings of the Second Vatican Council and in a variety of subsequent Church documents. This theoretical groundwork will help parents realize that the family-based approach is not just a nice new idea, but actually is rooted in the Christian tradition and represents an important source and means of evangelization.

In addition, the pastor should capitalize on opportunities to share the “domestic church” vision with parents who come to the parish to prepare for the sacraments of baptism and marriage. At these key moments in the life of a family, the obligations of parents to children in terms of faith formation should be highlighted as an integral part of the commitment made in these sacraments. When preparing to have their child baptized, parents should be informed that they are committing themselves to raising their children in the practice of the faith; when a couple comes for marriage preparation, they should be catechized about the commitment they are making of openness to the gift of new life and the consequent responsibilities of the procreative good — responsibilities that include the education of children.

ESTABLISHING A CATECHETICAL DIRECTOR

After articulating the family-centered vision, the parish should establish the position of a professional catechetical director to develop a consistent catechetical thrust in all of the parish programs and to start to train parishioners who wish to help in developing family-based activities. If the parish already has a director of religious education, perhaps the job description could be modified as necessary in order to reflect the new holistic approach to parish catechesis.

The financial resources for establishing this paid position would hopefully be developed by parishioners who have been inspired by the family-based vision communicated by the leadership of the parish; ideally, the family-based vision would help create resources and, in turn, the resources would fortify the vision.

The first task of the catechetical director should be to analyze the parish structures, the demographics of the parish, and the needs of parishioners. After completing this analysis, the director would then articulate a way of inculturating the family-based vision in a way appropriate to the parish. As the family-based approach is fostered, the catechetical director should begin to find ways to improve the family dimension of existing programs instead of eliminating programs altogether; the main objective of the director should not be to develop new programs, but to highlight and foster the family perspective within the parish community as it exists.38 Plans and proposals for changes would need to be communicated clearly and publicly in order to generate a genuine partnership between the leadership and the parish as a whole.

OFFERING ALTERNATIVES AND SUPPORT

The final phase of the development of family-based formation in the parish would involve sustaining the vision. This should be done in two ways. First, the leadership of the parish should make sure that alternative means of religious education remain available so that parents are free to choose the form of faith formation they consider most appropriate for their families.  A failure to offer alternatives would be a violation of the family-centered vision, for the vision is not encompassed by any one program, but instead is characterized by a respect for the choices parents make in regard to the religious and moral education of their children. Second, parents who want to choose the family-based model should be encouraged and supported in their choice through the establishment of a “mentor” system. Basically, the “mentor” system would connect parents already involved in the family-based model with parents who are just becoming involved in this method of faith formation. A mentor family would pay attention to resources the new family might need in order to carry out its role as a “domestic church” and would then communicate the needed resources to the parish leadership. This partnership between families would help facilitate “like-to-like ministry” within the Church and would be an ideal way of supporting the diverse needs of the families within the community.

CONCLUSION

The family-based model of faith formation is one approach to catechesis that seems well-suited to the parish of today; the model helps establish a continuity between catechesis and daily life, as well as between parish and family. Moreover, the model holds up the dignity of the family as an irreplaceable source and means of evangelization. This relatively new approach to faith formation deserves serious consideration in the years ahead. Along with other models of catechesis, family-based faith formation will most likely play an important role in the spiritual development of individuals, families and parish communities in the years to come.

End Notes

1 Pope John Paul II, Letter to Families, (Boston: Saint Paul Books and Media: 1994), 16.

2 Pope John Paul II, Letter to Families, par. 16.

3 Pope John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio: The Role of the Christian Family in the Modem World, (Boston: Saint Paul Books and Media: 1981), par. 16.

4 Catechism of the Catholic Church, U.S. Catholic Conference, tr. (St Paul: Wanderer Press, 1994) par. 4.

5 Pope John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, par. 16; Catechesi Tradendae, par. 68; Catechism, par. 2225.

6 Pope John Paul II, Catechesi Tradendae, pars. 45, 68; Familiaris Consortio, par. 52; National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Follow the Way of Love: A Pastoral Message of the U.S. Catholic Bishops to Families, (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 1993) 9.

7 Pope John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, par. 53; Catechism, par. 2226.

8 Eleanor Suther and Jeanita F. Strathman Lapa, eds., Seasons of Faith: Home Resource Book (Dubuque, IA: Brown Roa Publishing Media, 1991) 2.

9 Orientation session at Saint Thomas Becket with Judith Batten, Pastoral Associate, March 23, 1995.

10 Austin Flannery, ed., “Lumen Gentium: Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,” Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post-Conciliar Documents (Northport, NY: Costello Publishing Company. 1992) par. 11.

11 Pope John Paul II, Catechesi Tradendae, par. 68.

12 Pope John Paul II, Catechesi Tradendae, par. 68.

13 Catechism, par. 2225.

14 Pope Pius XI, Casti Connubi: On Christian Marriage, (New York: Barry Vail Corporation, 1931) 9.

15 Austin Flannery, ed., “Gaudium et Spes: Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modem World,” Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post-Conciliar Documents (Northport, NY: Costello Publishing Company, 1992) par. 48; Catechism, par. 2205.

16 Luke 2:22-24

17 Luke 15:11-32

18 Pope John Paul II, Catechesi Tradendae, par. 68.

19 National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Follow the Way, 25.

20 National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Follow the Way, 22.

21 Interview with Sister Josetta Marie Spencer, Coordinator of Catechesis, Resources and Services for the Archdiocesan Office of Catechesis, April 28, 1995.

22 Catholic News Services, “Test Results Say Religious Education is Doing the Job,” Catholic Bulletin, July 28, 1994, 1-2.

23 Sister Josetta Marie Spencer, April 28, 1995.

24 The five parishes were: Church of Saint Paul, Ham Lake; Risen Savior, Burnsville; Guardian Angels, Lake Elmo; Saint Thomas Becket, Eagan; and Our Lady of Guadalupe, Saint Paul.

25 Catholic News Services, “Test Results,” 1-2.

26 Sister Josetta Marie Spencer, April 28, 1995.

27 Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Guide for Catechists (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 1993) par. 14.

28 Phone interview with Paul Deziel, Youth Minister, Our Lady of Guadalupe, April, 1995.

29 Phone interview with Gordon Dozier, Director of Youth Ministry, Church of Saint Paul, Ham Lake, April 23, 1995.

30 Pope John Paul II, Catechesis Tradendae, par. 67.

31 Sister Josetta Marie Spencer, April 28, 1995.

32 Pope John Paul II, Catechesis Tradendae, 67.

33 Phone conversation with Judy Busch, Church of Saint Paul, Ham Lake, May 11, 1995.

34 Gordon Dozier, April 23, 1995.

35 Sister Josetta Marie Spencer, April 28, 1995.

36 Phone interview with Katie Smith-Myott, Guardian Angels, Lake Elmo, April 20, 1995.

37 Judith Batten, March 23, 1995.

38 Sister Josetta Marie Spencer, April 28, 1995.

 

Bibliography

Batten, Judith, Pastoral Associate, Saint Thomas Becket; Peggie Schummer (parent); Mary Vatterott (parent).  Orientation session.  March 23, 1995.

Busch, Judy , Church of Saint Paul, Ham Lake. Phone conversation. May 11, 1995.

Catechism of the Catholic Church. U.S. Catholic Conference, tr. St. Paul: Wanderer Press, 1994.

Catholic News Services. “Test Results Say Religious Education is Doing the Job.” Catholic Bulletin. July 28, 1994.

Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. Guide for Catechists. Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 1993.

Coriden, James A, ed., et al. The Code of Canon Law: A Text and Commentary. New York: Paulist Press, 1985.

Deziel, Paul, Youth Minister, Our Lady of Guadalupe. Phone interview. April, 1995.

Dozier, Gordon, Director of Youth Ministry, Church of Saint Paul, Ham Lake. Phone interview. April 23, 1995.

Flannery, Austin, ed. Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post-Conciliar Documents. Northport, NY: Costello Publishing Company, 1992.

Humphrey, Robert L. “Parish Catechesis: An Expanding Vision.” Momentum. February/March 1993. 31-35.

John Paul II, Pope. Catechesi Tradendae: Catechesis in Our Time. Boston: Saint Paul Books and Media, 1979.

John Paul II, Pope. Familiaris Consortio: The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World. Boston: Saint Paul Books and Media: 1981.

John Paul II, Pope. Letter to Families. Boston: Saint Paul Books and Media: 1994.

Markey, Barbara, Director of Family Life, Archdiocese of Omaha. Class presentation. April 3, 1995.

National Conference of Catholic Bishops. Families at the Center: A Handbook for Parish Ministry with a Family Perspective. Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 1990.

National Conference of Catholic Bishops. Follow the Way of Love: A Pastoral Message of the U.S. Catholic Bishops to Families. Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 1993.

Pius XI, Pope. Casti Connubi: On Christian Marriage. New York: Barry Vail Corporation, 1931.

Skierecki, Barbara, Coordinator for Preschool through Eighth Grade and Family Program, Risen Savior, Burnsville. Phone interview. April 18, 1995.

Smith-Myott, Katie, Guardian Angels, Lake Elmo. Phone interview. April 20, 1995.

Spencer, Sister Josetta Marie, Coordinator of Catechesis, Resources and Services for the Archdiocesan Office of Catechesis. Interview. April 28, 1995.

Strathman Lapa, Jeanita F., and Eleanor Suther, eds. Seasons of Faith: Home Resource Book. Dubuque, IA: Brown Roa Publishing Media, 1991.

Swanson, Trudy, Coordinator for Family Formation Program, Church of Saint Paul, Ham Lake. Interview. April 23, 1995.

Homily at the Mass of Christian Burial for Bishop Paul Sirba

Father Joseph Sirba, brother to Bishop Paul Sirba and a priest of the diocese of Duluth, delivered this homily at the Mass of Christian Burial for Bishop Paul on Friday, December 6, 2019, in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary.

Audio version:

 

Transcript:

Before I say a few words, I just wanted to mention one thing: there’s going to be a memorial Mass for Bishop Paul Sirba at Maternity of Mary Parish in Saint Paul where he served as a pastor. That will be this coming Monday at 6:30. So please pass the word to people in the Cities who may be interested in attending.

Archbishop Hebda, most reverend bishops, my brother priests, deacons, religious sisters, members of the various ecclesial communities present, and my brothers and sisters in Christ:

On behalf of my brother John, my sister Cathy and my mother Helen, we want to thank all of you for your outpouring of love and support to us at this time of loss, and also for the honor that you have paid to our brother by your presence here today. It means a great deal to us all.

I know that all of us here were stunned to learn that Bishop Paul had died this past Sunday. And, in fact, many of you have told me that when you learned of his death, you said, “There must be some mistake. It must be someone else who had died.” And others have told me that they heard what was said, but that the words didn’t register. My brother was on his way to celebrate the 8:00 a.m. Mass at St. Rose in Proctor when he died. He had just left the rectory and was about to cross the parking lot when he collapsed, and the guys who were plowing saw him and rushed over to do CPR, and an ambulance was on the scene in less than 10 minutes. Bishop Paul was rushed to the hospital and the medical staff did all they could, but they were never able to get his heart beating again.

It’s very likely that he was dead the moment he collapsed. In the midst of the snowstorm, Father John Patrick was able to get to the hospital via a police cruiser and to administer the sacraments. And I want to thank both Father John and our wonderful police officers for that. They really do protect and serve.

Most of you don’t know that our bishop did have a heart problem. My sister, who has been a nurse for many years, told me that what it was called is a third degree heart block. If you want to find out more about that, you can ask her. Five or six years ago the bishop had a pacemaker installed to help correct this, but, obviously, you could only do so much.

My brother loved the Lord very much. Jesus Christ was the center of his life. In his private chapel – which I spent a little bit of time in a couple of days ago – he had three books currently that he was reading. One was the Holy Bible. Another was called In Sine Jesu, a book by a Benedictine monk subtitled The Journal of a Priest at Prayer. And also, he had Volume 2 of The Letters of Saint Teresa of Jesus. I presume he probably had already finished Volume 1.

And along with his books, I found his personal journal. And it contained some notes about what he had read as well as some of his own personal meditations. Here are just a few of his entries:

“Jesus said, ‘Tend the flock. Feed my sheep.’”

“Father, all things are possible in you.”

“We are called to be another Paraclete, like another Christ, so that we can console.”

Bishop Paul was a humble man. He never had any desire for accolades. He was not ambitious in the bad sense of the word, and he certainly never aspired to be a bishop. In fact, some of you may recall that when the papal nuncio, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, called him and said that Pope Benedict had chosen him to be the new Bishop of Duluth, he first replied, “You don’t mean my brother, do you?” To which Archbishop Sambi replied, “We are aware that he is there.” And I’m still wondering what the archbishop meant by that.

Bishop Paul, above all else, had a desire to share Christ’s love. He was a Catholic through and through. He was raised in a home by loving parents who shared with him their love for God through their example, encouragement, prayers, guidance and sacrifice. There were no compromises either in belief or practice. There were no deviations from what Christ taught through His church. And Bishop Paul embraced that faith; however, that is not to say that he did so blindly.

Quite the contrary: He had a very good mind. He was second in his class at Holy Angels Academy in Richfield where he went to high school. And he was trained by the best at Saint Thomas College: Monsignor Henri DuLac, Father James Stromberg, Dr. Richard Connell, Father George Welzbacher, Father James Reidy, and Dr. Thomas Sullivan taught him how to think correctly and to analyze arguments on his own.

Those of us who are graduates of Saint Thomas – or were graduates in those days – received a great gift from these great teachers, and I know it pains us all so much to see how far Saint Thomas has fallen these days.

Another great priest from Saint Thomas who was instrumental in Bishop Paul’s formation was and is Father Roy Lepak, who has been a spiritual director to many priests here in Minnesota and has guided many of us who are here today as we’ve sought to grow in our union with God. This Aristotelian-Thomistic foundation Bishop Paul received built on his Catholic upbringing and, coupled with his desire to serve God and grow in God’s love, allowed him to be an excellent spiritual director at both Saint John Vianney Seminary and Saint Paul Seminary, as well as a much beloved pastor at Maternity of Mary parish in Saint Paul.

I know that all the priests of our diocese were overjoyed to learn that Father Paul had been appointed pastor and shepherd of our diocese. As a former pastor of a parish, we knew that with his pastoral experience, he was never going to send us new directives to read or forms to fill out during Holy Week. We also knew that he would understand both the joys and the sorrows that come from being a parish priest and, for that, I know that we are all grateful.

I had a unique relationship with my brother the bishop, because my bishop was my brother. We had our own little joke when we talked on the phone. Often, instead of using our first names as we had done all of our lives, if I called him, I would say, “Hello, Bishop Sirba. This is Father Sirba.” Or he would call me and say, “Father Sirba, how are you?” I know that there are more than a few priests who have brothers who are bishops, but as far as we knew, we were the only two who served in the same diocese. Of course, I always reminded him that I was here first.

My vantage point as his brother did allow me to understand, in some ways, the life of the bishop. At least I got a glimpse of it. I deliberately stayed away from discussing diocesan business with him, and he also with me. Instead, we talked about our family, history, politics and other subjects of mutual interest. However, his role was different than mine. He was a successor of the apostles: He was a visible sign we Catholics have of that apostolic succession which goes back to Saint Peter himself. He was what made our one, holy, Catholic and apostolic church here in our diocese apostolic. And that in fact is what every Catholic bishop is. That is a beautiful gift of God to us. Another thing is this: every bishop has the fullness of the priesthood. I used to joke when others were around that once he had been ordained a bishop, I was the only one who had persevered in my vocation. However, the reality was that it was he, through the grace of holy orders, that had received the fullness of the priesthood.

As bishop, he was a complete priest. Father Jean Galot, in his book Theology of the Priesthood, speaks about how the priest shares in the threefold ministry of Christ as priest, prophet and king. But he also goes on to say that, above all else, the priest is alter Christus in the sense that he is a pastor and that, of course, is a Latin word for shepherd. And Bishop Paul was that. In fact, all bishops are shepherds. They are the chief shepherds of their flocks. As Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” And Bishop Paul knew his sheep.

To be a bishop is a difficult thing that I saw. Do you ever stop to think that the task of a bishop is to do the very best he can to see that everyone in his diocese gets to heaven? And I mean everyone: Catholics and non-Catholics alike. To any bishop who takes his vocation seriously, that in fact is a daunting task and one that they could only succeed at with the help of God, and that is why all of us need to pray and sacrifice for our bishops every day.

Bishop Paul was a shepherd. He was a good shepherd, and there were a number of ways that that was apparent.

First, he was a father to his priests, and sometimes that requires a great deal of love and patience. If you think being a father to your children is hard, that’s nothing compared to being a father to your priests. There’s a Latin saying sui generis: It means “of his own kind.” Sui generis is really just a fancy way of saying we’re all unique. That’s certainly true for us priests. Our presbyterate knows me well. And they’ll appreciate this comment made by our bishop: Occasionally when someone would tell him something about me, he would pause for a moment, and he would say, “Yep, that’s my brother.”

But, in fact, we priests all want and need a spiritual father. Just like any son, we desire our father’s approval and we want to know that what we are doing is pleasing to him. We want his guidance, and we seek his support, and we want to be one with him in building up the church. I would even say this: We want to be corrected when necessary. This special relationship only breaks down when a bishop himself falters or speaks with a discordant voice or is unkind. As the scriptures say, if the trumpet sounds and the call is not clear, who will get ready for battle?

Bishop Paul was also a pastor and a shepherd to his flock. Many people have commented on his kindness and gentleness. Sometimes, when you are too close to another person, you don’t see the things others do until they’re pointed out to you. When he met people, they could tell that he cared about them. They were attracted to him because they could see in him the love of Christ. He was a channel of God’s grace. Those who were hurting were consoled because they knew he hurt with them. And those who were rejoicing knew that he was rejoicing with them. When people met him, they felt accepted. To them, he wasn’t just Bishop Paul; he was my friend, Bishop Paul. And if they were not necessarily living rightly, after they met him, they were inspired to strive to live like him.

Bishop Paul was also a leader. He knew it was his job to hand on the faith, to hand on what he had received. He was not going to wrap his talent up and bury it in the ground. Rather, he was resolved to make five and ten more with it. And, to that end, he never compromised with the faith, and he taught what the Church teaches – not only because he was a bishop – but also because he believed it. As Father Mike Schmitz said, “He was so much like Jesus: gentle with people and uncompromising with the truth.” A true shepherd and father.

One thing that we discussed often was the decline of Christianity in the western world. Bishop Paul foresaw – and I believe he was right, and time will tell… we shall see – that a harsh persecution is coming soon. There are many signs this may be upon us. That is why we need to pray even more for our bishops. They’re often under great pressure to give in to the demands of the world. And history has shown that, time and again, in times of great turmoil, many have done just that. So let us pray hard for our bishops and we must let our bishops know how much we need them, and how much we appreciate their care and concern for us, and the fact that they love us enough to speak the truth to us even when we don’t want to hear it. Bishops are human as are we all. They have hearts that break, they have trials they endure, and temptations they must fight. In the times to come, we must pray that they be great leaders and they do not conform to the demands of the world. No one remembers the bishops of England who, during the reign of Henry VIII, swore the oath of supremacy, which effectively meant they were renouncing and rejecting the spiritual authority of the pope as head of the church and successor of Saint Peter. But we all remember Saint John Fisher – the bishop of Rochester and chaplain to the King’s own mother – who refused the oath and was ordered beheaded by a vindictive king. But it is bishops like Saint John Fisher and Saint Charles Borromeo – and more recently, Cardinal József Mindszenty and blessed Cardinal Clemens August von Galen, who defied the Nazis –who are remembered and who are loved by their people for being fearless shepherds who were willing to protect their flocks even with their very lives.

It’s going to be hard to say goodbye for now. Yet our readings today… in them, I found inspiration and comfort.

Saint Paul says to us, “Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all fall asleep, but we shall all be changed, in an instant, in the blink of an eye, at the last trumpet, for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” He goes on to say, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? Thanks be to God who gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!”

The Book of Wisdom also reminds us that “the souls of the just are in the hand of God and no torment will touch them. Chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed because God tried them and found them worthy of himself.”

And finally, Jesus reminds us that unless the grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies, it produces much fruit. Our Lord goes on to say: “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be.”

I recently read Saint John Paul’s book, Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way. He wrote the book on the forty-fifth anniversary of his ordination as bishop in 2003 and he wrote it to and for bishops. In it, he tells us of his experience as a bishop, and how he found joy in his vocation. Bishop Paul had an inner joy that you could feel, and his love of God was attractive. I think he was inspired in his ministry by these great bishops I’ve just mentioned, and especially by Pope John Paul, who was so much an inspiration for his priesthood and for many priests of my generation. Pope John Paul began his pontificate by telling us and the whole world: “Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid to follow Christ wherever he might lead you.” Near the end of his pontificate, he again quoted Jesus: “Arise, let us be on our way.” Bishop Paul was about that very thing. He was on his way. These last few years were very difficult ones for him, and yet there was a serenity about him. He trusted in God. He placed all that he did in God’s hand, but first, by giving what he did to Our Blessed Lady, whom he loved very much.

He was on his way.

burialIn our Lord’s providence, once this task of the last few years was completed, God saw fit to call Bishop Paul from this life to his eternal home. Bishop Peter Christensen, his very dear friend, said to me: “I am jealous.” And he meant jealous because Bishop Paul’s work here on earth was done and his was not. And in that sense, we should all be jealous too, because we are still at work. We are on the way. So then, let us continue on the way. Let us rise and all be on our way, each one of us following Christ, the good shepherd until he sees fit to call us home as well.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord.

And let perpetual light shine upon him.

May he rest in peace.

Amen.

And may his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace

Amen.

Nine days of prayer to Saint John Paul II begin October 14

jp2_and_maryThe details are over at the news site for The Christopher Inn International.

From October 21-25, 2019, the Christopher Inn International (CII) will host its next program of priestly renewal.

Therefore, the CII team will begin a 9-day novena of prayer on Monday, October 14th, asking for Saint John Paul II’s intercession on behalf of this developing apostolate at the service of bishops and priests. The novena will conclude on October 22nd, the feast day of Saint John Paul II.

It was from Saint Louis de Montfort that Saint John Paul II adopted the phrase “Totus Tuus” (“totally yours”) in reference to Mary. In fact, according to John Paul II’s personal secretary, these two words were likely the last ones that the Pope wrote… during Easter week of 2005.

For the next nine days, we will post excerpts from a book on Marian devotion called “33 Days to Morning Glory,” along with a prayer to Saint John Paul II.

We invite you to join in this time of prayer and deepening devotion to the Mother of God as we call out to her with confidence and love: “Totus Tuus.”

To learn more about the programs of priestly renewal that CI International hosts, you can watch this short documentary:

Birth of a Mission from christopherinn on Vimeo.

The pilot programs that CI International hosted in 2012 were very well-received by the Irish priests who participated. You can learn about their experiences here.

If you feel inspired to support this mission, please visit the How to Help page.