After today’s Mass, you will be treated to a talk by Sister Carol Jean Willie on “Catholic Social Teaching, the Church’s Best Kept Secret.” She has worked in a variety of cultures, and our Catholic – universal -- Church is quite diverse. Not only does it involve people with the many spiritual gifts celebrated by St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians; not only does it speak virtually every language of the world; the Catholic Church is one Church that speaks with one voice. Whether we are talking about living justly here in Hawaii or in the world community, Catholic Social Teaching is a rich treasure trove that can guide us in our engagement with a culture that often devalues the human person and even more the notion of the common good.
But I recall some great wisdom I heard recently from Monsignor Eugene Boyle, a priest of the Diocese of San Jose, California. Monsignor Boyle is well known in the Bay Area as a priest who has been committed to social justice for all of the fifty or so years he has been a priest. Mayors and state legislators would consult him when they wanted to get the pulse of the community on a particular issue. When there were racial tensions in the City and the possibility of race riots, he was called to be the negotiator and the peace maker. But what he said was most interesting. He said that he had had the privilege of working with many people throughout his career who were very committed to causes of social justice, but the ones he feared the most were the ones who did not pray. His experience was that those who were not grounded in very serious prayer were often focused on their own causes, without reference to the common good. He found that their means of achieving their goals were often more oppressive that the problem they were trying to address, and that their actions were not physical violence but a real form of violence nonetheless.
That is why it is so important for us to be here today, praying together to invoke the Holy Spirit upon all our efforts throughout this year. It is the Spirit who gives the diversity of gifts that are so needed. But it is not diversity in itself that St. Paul celebrates, but rather taking those diverse gifts to serve the unity of the one body, the Body of Christ. At that is yet another reason it is so important for us to be here today. We gather to encounter the risen Christ in this Eucharist, so that he himself can nourish us with himself and make us one body in him.
But while it is important for us to be here to encounter the one who loved us so much that he took up the cross for us, it is also important to remember that he expects us to take up our crosses, too. Since Jesus’ resurrection, we have very good reason to glorify the cross. But glorifying the cross should never lead us to romanticize it. It is a burden. Taking it up is a sacrifice that involves suffering, losing one’s life. If we have any of our wits about us, the cross should really frighten us. So taking it up bravely is only possible when the risen one, who overcame the cross, is at our side to strengthen us. So it is that each teacher, each administrator, and each faculty as a body, needs to commit itself to very serious prayer. Any school needs a collaborative team of co-workers who offer their diverse gifts for the service of the students and their parents, but a Catholic school needs more than that. It needs a faculty that knows its mission and that knows it can only fulfill that mission by staying close to Jesus in prayer, in the sacraments, and in sharing not personal talents but gifts of the Spirit. To commit oneself to such a regimen of regular prayer is itself to take up a cross, because prayer is not something that always yields immediate tangible results. Sometimes it does, but more often it is strength for the long run. There are a thousand very important things we must do beside pray, and to pray to someone we cannot see may be seen as a burden, a cross. But it is in taking up that cross that we will find life.
The cross also means hope. Jesus did not take up his cross to put an end to his mission, but to give it its greatest impetus by overcoming death, the killer of all hope. As you face the child who is so difficult, or the parent who is so demanding, or the economic realities that worry any administrator who runs a school these days, what is needed is hope. It is in clinging to the cross in prayer, alone and with our colleagues, that we nurture this hope.
We have a unique blessing here in Hawaii, because we are preparing for the canonization of Father Damien. It is important to remember why the Church canonizes saints. It is not just to have some kind of “Catholic Hall of Fame.” It purpose is to inspire us to imitate the person’s example. Father Damien is a great example of someone who took up his cross and devoted himself wholeheartedly to issues of social justice. He insisted on the dignity of every human person, even when others could not see beyond their disfigurement and their sores. He provided housing for many people. He made sure that children were protected and educated. He did many other things to affirm the dignity of the human person. But he is not being declared a saint simply for these good works, but because he always knew that the source of whatever good he might do was God himself and his wonderful grace. He called people to pray and to worship God along with him.
Whether you are helping students analyze the root causes of poverty in our islands, or simply teaching them the alphabet so that someday they will be able to do such analysis, what you do is very important for the life of our community. But it is even more important that it not simply be an analysis from a narrow view, but from the widest view possible, the view that God himself gives us in his Word and in the Tradition handed down to us in the Church. It will be our challenge every day to invoke the Holy Spirit just as we do today; to remember that we who are many are one body, even when we are not physically gathered in the same room; and to take up our crosses with joy and with hope because we stay close to the One who changed the cross from an instrument that snuffs out life to one that propels life to its fullness.
Printed with permission from the Hawaii Catholic Herald.