Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
Third Sunday of Ordinary Time: Faith Has Consequences
A while back I came upon a book that seems to be intended for young people, but in reality contains wonderful meditations for all of us. Actually, we are all still new to our faith, even if we are in our 80's. Just as the Church is ever ancient ever new, so for me and for all of us, our faith is ever ancient and ever new. The book I’m referring to is George Weigel’s Letters to a Young Catholic.
Jesus Christ is forever new.
George Weigel, by the way, is the author of Witness to Hope, the extensive biography of St. Pope John Paul II. Letters to a Young Catholic is far less extensive, easier to read, but far more challenging.
Each chapter of this book presents a particular place in Catholicism, such as the tomb of St. Peter, Baltimore, the first Diocese in the United States, etc, and then develops a particular topic that is fundamental to Catholicism, like Eucharistic devotion, Marian devotion, the meaning of suffering and death, etc.
In the light of today’s readings from scripture, I would like to present one of these topics as George Weigel presented it.
First of all this Sunday’s readings. All three of this Sunday’s readings present an urgent call. Jonah tells the people of Ninevah that their sins have resulted in their suffering God’s wrath. They would listen and repent. St. Paul tells the Corinthians that time is running out. They need to embrace the Gospel before they have no more time. Jesus begins his preaching by proclaiming, “The time of fulfillment is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel.” He then calls his first disciples, Simon and Andrew, James and John.
There is an urgency in God’s call that has a profound effect not just upon the person called, but upon others.
This brings us to George Weigel. Weigel’s tenth letter speaks about how vocations change lives. He speaks about Fr. Jerzy Popieluszko. Two sentences caught my attention. The first is Faith demands consequences. The second is: a career is a job, an occupation you current have, but a vocation is something that you are.
First, faith demands consequences. Fr. Jerzy Popieluszko was a simple young priest of the Archdiocese of Warsaw with a frail voice and weak physical makeup. He had not been a brilliant seminarian. He was assigned to be an assistant priest at St. Stanislos Kosta Parish in Warsaw. In 1980 the 34 your old priest was also asked to minister to the steel workers at a Warsaw steel mill. This was at the time of the Solidarity protests against communism throughout Poland, but particularly in Gdansk. In 1981 the Polish Communist government declared martial law against its own citizens. Shortly after this Fr. Popieluszko began saying a monthly Mass for the fatherland. At first hundreds, then thousands and then tens of thousands attended the Mass or packed the streets around the Church. Fr. Popieluszko relentlessly repeated the theme given by Pope John Paul II on his first visit to Poland: banish evil with good. He preached non violence. But he also preached the moral duty of resistence. He told the people that they had to take sides: good or evil, truth or falsehood, love or hatred. Michael Kaufmann of the New York Times wrote that here there was a man who was teaching that defiance of authority was an obligation of the heart, of religion, of humanity and of nationhood.
The people heard, but so did their communist leaders. On October 19, 1984, Fr. Jerzy was kidnaped and murdered. He embodied the truth. He embodied the faith. And he died for the truth and for the faith. Within five years, the communist government fell at the hands of the overwhelming desire of the Polish people to worship when and how they saw fit. Fr. Popieluszko won. As you know, soon after the fall of communism in Poland, communist fell throughout Eastern Europe including what was then the Soviet Union.
Faith demands consequences. We cannot be people of faith if we do not speak out against immorality. We cannot be people of faith, if we allow our government to continue any immoral practice. Tomorrow is the grim anniversary of Roe vs Wade, the decision of the Supreme Court to allow abortion. Some have raised this decision to the level of one of the articles found in the Bill of Rights. People of faith have gathered in Washington DC and throughout the country to protest this. Of course the liberal elements of the media will show pictures of the few hundreds of abortion supporters and equate them with the tens of thousands who will march in protest. They will also present the Pro Lifers as fringe radicals, and they will ignore the fact that the majority of Americans are against abortion. What is missing in all this is that those who are marching and protesting throughout the country are doing so because they are people of faith and people who deeply love our country. They cannot sit back and allow lies, and evil, and death to continue.
It is the same for every issue. As Catholics we cannot allow our country to take advantage of the poor and the sick, to shore up its economy on the backs of poorer nations, or to promote our national interests with blood. We cannot sit back and be non committal to evil around us. Where and when we see evil, we have to react against it. Faith demands consequences, demands action.
Weigel’s second statement follows this: a vocation is something that you are. In the course of a lifetime, modern people have many careers, many jobs. A young girl may begin as an aide in a day care. Then she may become an Early Childhood teacher. After a while, she may change professions and become a realtor. Maybe, she may go into investing and become a financial consultant. People have many jobs, many careers. But this is not who they are, it is just something they are currently doing.
A vocation is something that you are. That same girl may become a wife and then a mother. Wife and mother are not jobs, they are who she is. They are vocations. Even when her children move out to begin independent lives, she is still a mother, their mother. Even if she and her husband break up, she is still a wife, his wife. The only exception to this would be if it can be shown that she never was a wife in a sacramental sense. Same thing for a man.
Same thing for a priest. Priesthood is not a career that can be changed as some other man might change jobs. A person who is called to the priesthood is a priest forever, even if he no longer is in ministry.
When Jesus called Simon and Andrew, James and John, you and me, he did not call us to do something. He called us to be something. He called us to be disciples. Why do you train your children in the faith? Why do you guard against immorality in your home? Why do you worship God daily in your homes and weekly here in Church? We do what we do because this is who we are.
That is why we feel so disjointed when our human limitations take over and we give in to evil. We lose our sincerity, our integrity, when what we do is opposed to
whom we are. But when we respond to that call of Christ within us to be Christian in all our actions, then our actions reflect our inner life, the life of Jesus Christ we have been called to embrace. Then we become who we are.
Weigel concludes that people who are determined to live the truth of whom they are, people who are determined to live vocationally, are the most dynamic force in history. Their lives don’t just become history, they become His Story, the story of God at work in the world. And that is what Catholicism is about. We want to change the world into God’s world. We are willing to do what we need to do to be whom we have been called to be.
The call of Faith, our vocation as Christians is urgent, just as the call to faith was urgent for the first disciples, for the people of Corinith, and for the people of Ninevah. Faith has consequences. Faith is dynamic. Faith is counter cultural. Faith changes the world. Faith is manifested in the integrity of men and women who live who they are.
May we have the courage to be Catholic.