Brooklyn-born Bridgeport Bishop Frank Caggiano can say some very profound things in a very simple way. When he told the Diaconate Convocation in Douglaston last weekend that our permanent deacons were on the front line of the New Evangelization, his words sounded nice but they should have made every deacon in the chapel stop and think.
He was saying that whether the world sees the Catholic Church as a vital organization depends on how deacons perform their ministry.
While he pointed out that the Church will always need organization and structure and there will always been a need for standing up and preaching the Gospel, the real work of the Church takes place in how its members carry out the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
The real work of the Church happens every day in how we interact with each other in our homes, in the workplace, in the supermarket, etc.
In a dramatic gesture, Bishop Caggiano told about how, when he worked in Manhattan prior to entering the seminary, he would encounter poor street people. He would give them some money because he felt it was the Christian thing to do.
Now, he says, he would offer a different solution. Handouts are nice, but they don’t get at the core of human relationships. He told the deacons that a better example would be getting down on one’s knees and physically lifting up that poor person and asking how he or she can be helped.
That’s the essence of being a Christian and a gesture that will be recognized by others around us as the Christian thing to do. If you want to shake young people out of their apathy or get the disaffiliated to once again recognize Jesus in the Church, he said such seemingly small acts of mercy will do it.
The bishop’s advice were hard words to hear. These aren’t easy things to do, yet they are the simplest. They sound like what Jesus said when He told us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and shelter the homeless.
Sounds a lot like what Pope Francis was telling us in his recent papal exhortation, “Gaudete et Exsultate.” The Holy Father said that holiness is achieved through doing the simple acts of kindness that cross our paths every day. Listen to the person speaking to you. Smile at the passerby. Find time to talk to your neighbor. Ask if you can pick something up at the store for a homebound person.
What has been most impressive about Pope Francis in his first five years of ministry are the simple little gestures he makes. He’s a master at communicating the Gospel without saying a word. Read the story on Page 15 about how he handled a question from a young boy about whether his father is in Heaven. He didn’t bother expounding on a doctrinal theme. He hugged the lad and told him to pray to his father.
There are many reasons why the Church will survive and continue to save people. But the key reason will be – as Pope Francis pointed out and Bishop Caggiano explained – that the holiness of the Church will be seen in the simple acts of kindness we all perform each and every day.