Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The readings from Scripture this weekend present some powerful ideas. The prophet Jeremiah is called from the womb to be a witness to the nations and to preach without fear, even when powers stand against him. St. Paul speaks of the fundamental need for the virtue of charity in all things – we can have any number of gifts or talents, but without love, we are nothing. Jesus passes through the midst of the mob and goes away when they want to kill him for speaking truthfully about their history.
We live in an era that desperately needs courage and truth. As Jeremiah was called from the womb to be a witness to the truth and to courageously bring God’s presence to his people, so the Church is called to witness the truth of the Gospel in every time and place. In a world that so often rejects the truth of the Gospel – or selects the parts of the Gospel that are most palatable and least challenging – it can be difficult to share the Gospel in a meaningful, integrated way. This is made harder when leaders in the Church struggle with courage themselves. Too often we see bishops trying to pacify everyone…and in the end saying (or doing) nothing. Too often the Church has remained silent, or insisted on silence, when what we need is the thundering voice of Jeremiah to speak the truth and bring the nation to conversion.
This is not just about the Church at the macro level. This is not an accusative finger pointed just at bishops. This is not a limited critique of a few priests. To write any of this, I must hold a mirror up to myself. How often I lack courage to say challenging things because I do not relish the negative feedback it might generate. How often I avoid certain situations because they are uncomfortable. How often I run from speaking frankly with brother priests or Diocesan offices because I am worried about my reputation or making waves. Jeremiah, known by God even before the womb, sent as a prophet to the nations, called to courageous speech no matter the opposition, must be part of the inspiration for every priest.
St. Paul’s law of charity is the complement to courage. Charity, love given and poured out unconditionally, must speak to courage. For a bishop to privately (or, if necessary, publicly) correct a Catholic politician who has supported legislation contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church (as ought to happen with Gov. Cuomo and the bishops of New York) is not only an act of courage, but an act of charity. To truly love someone is to will the absolute best for them, the ultimate good. The ultimate good is eternal salvation and our words and actions in this life can impede our progress toward heaven. It is the role of bishops to courageously and charitably guide us to our ultimate good. It is a spiritual work of mercy to correct the sinner. It is a demand of justice to protect the innocent, to help victims heal. Do our bishops have the courage and charity to correct, protect, and heal? Do I? Do you?
In a world that needs courage, charity, and truth, we are all called – every baptized person – to proclaim the truth, to be fearless in the face of opposition, to do all things with the love of Christ as our measure, and to trust that God will deliver us from every evil. Let us pray this week that as a Church, locally and universally, we would have the courage of Jeremiah and the charity of Paul so that we can bring the name, grace, and salvation of Jesus Christ into our world.