Was this mass for real or was I just making it up in my imagination? The setting was unbelievingly beautiful, a huge chapel resembling a spacecraft with huge concrete rings as the ceiling and an enormous icon at the back. The table-altar was big, in the middle, decorated with exquisite flowers. The singing was strong and powerful. Communion was seated, under both species, for everyone.
Over two hundred priests were concelebrating, including eight Bishops. Then, there were over one thousand (yes, 1000) seminarians already in different Redemptoris Mater seminaries in Europe and, besides these, two hundred and sixteen youth (yes, 216) eager to join a seminary.
And during this Eucharist, three more RM seminaries (Pakistan, Tanzania, and Murcia Spain) were erected to the already sixty one (61) existing.
I kept pinching myself to make sure I was not dreaming. But no, this was all for real. “Your presence here contests strongly the prevalent belief that there are no more vocations in our contemporary world”, greeted the assembly Mgr. Rylko, President of the Pontifical Council for Laity, who came straight from the Vatican for this mass. Mgr Rylko was one of the most intimate friends of Pope John Paul II and was one of the very few who was present when he died. He is highly respected by Pope Benedict XVI
It was all happening, just over a month ago, in a beautiful sea town called Porto San Giorgio on the Adriatic Sea in Italy. Very near of Loreto, the place where the house of Nazareth lies.
The question that obviously pops in mind is simple. How is it that while in many places the Church is languishing and many are finding the Church old fashioned and dried out, there in Porto San Giorgio there was so much enthusiasm? What is the basic input that these new ecclesial realities, like the Neocatechumenal Way, are giving to the Church? How is it that while the great majority of youth shy away and even laugh scornfully at the mere idea of becoming priests, here there were so many who want to serve the Church as priests?
It may be true that the Church is in crisis, but it is very important to remember that the word ‘crisis’ has two meanings. The first is the familiar sense of the word: a ‘crisis’ is a shattering upheaval, a breaking-up of what had seemed unchanging and sure. But the Bible also speaks of ‘crisis’ as opportunity: a moment ripe with the potential for deeper conversion.
George Weigel states bluntly that “every crisis in Catholic history is a crisis caused by an insufficiency of saints, by a deficit in sanctity”. This is where all of us, priests and laypeople, need to invest our energies.
What the fox tells the Little Prince in the famous novel of Antoine de Saint Exupéry is so relevant. “It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.”
“It is the time I have wasted for my rose…” said the little prince, so that he would be sure to remember.
“Men have forgotten this truth,” said the fox. “But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. You are responsible for your rose . . .”
“I am responsible for my rose,” the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.
Faith is a gift that needs to be ‘tamed’ and nurtured. One needs to be taught to ‘waste’ time on it. Christians are made not born!
We cannot take faith for granted any longer. “Today we need to teach our parishioners, Chamorros and Carolinians, how to become Christians”, Bishop Tomas Camacho said perceivingly a few years ago at San Vicente.
All of us have a responsibility for helping turn this crisis-as-cataclysm into crisis-as-opportunity. Pastors need to create spaces in the parish where people can be initiated into faith and … vocations will come. “I am too busy” many a priest says. Well, in life we always have time for what we place first. Parents need to invest more energy in transmitting faith to their children and …vocations will come. Part time faith, as a part time job, will not fully support you and your family. Let those who claim to believe, manifest in their mind-set that life is both exquisite and mysterious and … vocations will come.
“The greatest honor you can give to Almighty God is to live gladly, joyfully because of the knowledge of His love,” once uttered an English mystic, Julian of Norwich. This needs to be visibilized.
Before converting, Gerard Manley Hopkins, the English Jesuit poet, wrote to his father, “The Catholic system … only wants to be known in order to be loved – its consolations, its marvelous ideal of holiness, the faith and devotion of its children, its multiplicity, its array of saints and martyrs, its consistency and unity, its glowing prayers, the daring majesty of its claims.” A rhapsodic catalog!
In the mid 30s, as totalitarian shadows lengthened across Europe, Pope Pius XI remarkably said, “Let us thank God that he makes us live among the present problems. It is no longer permitted to anyone to be mediocre.”
The rose can be ours to enjoy and let others benefit from.
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.