My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
On Oct. 12, when I was reviewing the Columbus Day Parade in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, I had an opportunity to take a good look at the restored bronze doors, which, by the way, were restored in our Diocese in Long Island City. The doors are now polished so that the images of those highlighted are now clearly visible. Of course, there is St. Patrick, but there is also St. Frances Cabrini, St. Isaac Jogues and St. Kateri Tekakwitha. What do they have in common? They were all missionaries. Missionaries in different ages with the common thread that they brought the faith to those in need.
Isaac Jogues was a Jesuit missionary in Northern New York State and Canada who brought the faith to the Indian tribes in that area. The fruit of that evangelization was St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the first American Indian Saint in the history of the Church. She was a young Indian girl who embraced virginity, and was eventually martyred by her own people who did not understand her commitment to her newfound faith.
St. Frances Xavier Cabrini came to the United States to try to preserve the faith of the Italian immigrants who had come here at the beginning of the 20th Century. She was unstoppable in her teaching of the faith amid much misunderstanding. Mother Cabrini was indefatigable in making sure that immigrants were catechized and received the support they needed, whether it be hospitals or schools.
St. Patrick was the missionary to the Irish, born free and enslaved by a Celtic tribe. He returned to Ireland first as priest and then as Bishop and made a deep impression on the pagan peoples.
And so, what about ourselves? Perhaps we will never be enshrined on bronzed doors, or adorned in a cathedral, however, each of our names is surely written in the Book of Life if we take our faith as true missionaries of the New Evangelization. The saints mentioned above were part of the first evangelization in the Church. The New Evangelization announced to us by Pope John Paul II reminds us that the new evangelizers are not just the priests, deacons and religious. Rather, they are the laity of the Church. Everyone of us has a responsibility to reach out to others and share our faith with them. This is done in many ways on a daily basis. It begins in our families, in our work places, our neighborhoods and wherever we are that we live true Christian lives that attract others to Christ.
As we continue to reflect on the visit of Pope Francis to the United States, most especially to New York, we meditate on his preaching and now try to put it into practice. The Holy Father asked us to first of all be good family members, to strengthen not only the lives of our own families, but to also reach out to other families in need. He came to support families and to remind us that the family is the basic unit, not only in society, but also in the Church.
How important it is that we take our family life seriously, that we make time to pray with our family, to be with them at meals and recreation, and at the most important events in the life of our children.
Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, reminded us of the role of grandparents in the transmission of faith to children.
The newly formed Catholic grandparents ministry – Catholic Grandparents Association (www.catholicgrandparentsassociation.org) – in our diocese under the spiritual direction of Deacon Armand D’Accordo, assists grandparents in communicating to their grandchildren the faith.
We can never underestimate the power of words and witness on the lives of young people. Recently, I was surprised to receive a book in the mail entitled, “Wisdom Learned at the Feet of the Lord,” by John Adams Rizzo, Esq. Now a lawyer, Mr. Rizzo was a member of my first parish and listened to one of my sermons when he was 11 years old. I was totally shocked that he could remember what I said so long ago, as I do not remember it myself. However, in that homily I used the example of the popular song of those days whose lyrics contained the words, “I never promised you a rose garden.” Mr. Rizzo used that fact in one of his meditations on Biblical themes. This reminded me that around the age of ten I heard a sermon by a visiting priest that I never forgot. It was about the Church and the Church doors that were truly the entrance doors to paradise, reminding us that when we came into the Church we should leave all behind and enter God’s presence for prayer.
Earlier this month, as I preached to the almost 1,000 children gathered for the annual Rosary Rally for Children, I remembered those words from long ago preached to me, hoping that some of them would remember what I said and it would be a help in their spiritual life sometime in the future. Words and witness are so important.
As we continue to put out into the deep, not knowing where the currents will take us, nor when or to whom we can make an impression, never underestimate the power of good example and words.