There is an ancient pious expression that the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians. Usually when we hear that, we think of those first three hundred years when the Church was oppressed so cruelly or we may think about places such as Egypt, the Sudan, Indonesia and other modern countries that have laws that make living a Christian life difficult and frequently dangerous. Several such countries made becoming a Christian a crime subject to the death penalty. Well, here is something in-between.
Next Sunday is Mission Sunday and the Church across the world has to examine itself in terms of whether or not it is doing all that it can to fulfill the mission that Jesus has given to it to go out into the whole world and preach the Gospel to everyone. My friends, that is really a directive from our Lord and places responsibility on each one of us. Regretfully, most of us do not take it too seriously. We think that putting $10 in the collection plate, when it is passed on World Mission Sunday when a visiting missioner speaks at our parish, more or less covers our obligation for a missionary response. Many do considerably more by getting involved in special programs to help specific poor and distant missions, but most of us are somewhat indifferent to our mission responsibility. On Mission Sunday we must remember that having received the faith ourselves we share a responsibility to bring it to the whole world.
Today is the Feast of Saints John Brébeuf and Isaac Jogues, two wonderful French Jesuit missionaries who came to the New World, not to work among the European settlers but for and with the Indians of today’s New York State. They made great progress but the Hurons were overrun by the Iroquois Mohawks. Isaac Jogues was captured, tortured and nearly killed, but he survived and returned to France. However, within a few months of rest he was heading back to his mission. On October 18th, he was tomahawked in the neck. His companions were killed with him. St. John Brébeuf and other Jesuits were killed at about the same time in Canada.
Want to help the Church to grow? Imagine leaving your family, your home and going to the other side of the world to tell the world about God’s love for the human family and the risks that are involved. Maybe we should be putting a larger check into that collection plate.
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A few years ago, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reported that its research documented that one in ten Americans have left the Catholic Church. A number of people have noted that if ex-Catholics were a denomination themselves, it would constitute the second largest church behind only the Catholic Church itself. Just imagine – 10% of the Church’s members have simply walked away from it. If they had just left, that would be sad but what is sadder still is the fact that so many have left because they have been angered or hurt by crude and improper pastoral practices, by insensitivity on the part of various pastoral workers. There are complaints about parents denied the right to baptize their children when they are not regular church goers, couples who are put through extraordinary hoops in order to prepare for marriage and, of course, there is always the well-established fact that preaching in the Catholic Church, in so many instances, is a disaster area.
I want to congratulate Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, New York who has just written a detailed article for his diocesan paper going through these problems. While that 10% is a disastrous figure, we must also be conscious of the fact that there is an enormous group who are disaffected but, because of the strength of their faith and tradition, do not actually leave the Church. Bishop Hubbard points out the fact that, “There are many more disaffected Catholics who feel that the Church has abandoned the path marked out by the Second Vatican Council.” I could not agree more. Vatican officials have been working for the last twenty years to hem in many aspects of that wonderful Council. The effects are disastrous. This is the time to renew our prayers to the Holy Spirit.
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Every human family has its share of misunderstandings and conflicts. Although painful at the time they occur, they can frequently lead to a much better situation within the entire family. The same is true of the Church.
A few months back, there were some sharp differences between the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Catholic Biblical Association. That one was easily resolved because it was just a question of different views on money. Recently, a new tense situation has arisen, this time between the bishops (it almost always involves the bishops) and the Catholic Hospital Association. First, there was their public differences over President Obama’s Healthcare Reform bill with the sisters endorsing it (The sisters with the Catholic Hospital Association and one Texas bishop supporting it) and the Bishops Conference opposed. Their differences are very real but in the Catholic family openness and dialogue must continue.
The two chief communicators involved currently are Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, who is President of the Bishops Conference, and Daughters of Charity, Sister Carol Keehan, President of the Catholic Hospital Association. These two leaders are, happily, sensitive to the concerns of the other side and dialogue and discussion is proceeding apace. Neither Dolan nor Keehan are in any way extremists and both insist that what unites them is more fundamental than their differences. For that, we can thank God.
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