I was happy to bring the greetings, love, and prayers of all the good people of the Diocese of Charleston and the state of South Carolina to our Holy Father on the “ad limina” visit of myself and Bishop [David B.] Thompson to the Holy See this past week. We thanked Pope John Paul II for his great witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, without compromise for the past 25 years in matters of faith, morality, and spirituality. He, in turn, conversed with us about our own labors for the Gospel in our diocese.
I was able to tell him of good things that are happening here because of the labors of people like yourselves.
And in his message to the bishops of Region XIV and the military ordinariate, the pope referred to the pain that has been suffered the past two years because of the sexual abuse scandal and the urgent need for rebuilding confidence and promoting healing between bishops, priests, and the laity in our country. He said he was confident that “the willingness which we have shown in acknowledging and addressing past mistakes and failures, while at the same time seeking to learn from them, will contribute greatly to” the “work of reconciliation and renewal.
This time of purification, he said, “will, by God’s grace, lead to ‘a holier priesthood, a holier episcopate and a holier church,’ a church ever more convinced of the truth of the Christian message, the redemptive power of the cross of Christ, and the need for unity, fidelity and conviction in bearing witness to the gospel before the world.”
The pope pointed out that “the history of the church demonstrates that there can be no effective reform without interior renewal.”
The Holy Father in his own pastoral and prophetic life and lifestyle has given us an example of how our own Christian lives will flourish. All of us, priests, deacons, seminarians, religious men and women, and laity are called, like our pope, to conform our lives to Christ and to live our Christian lives without compromise in matters of faith, morality, and spirituality. If we follow our Holy Father’s lead in living Gospel values without compromise, we will well be on our way toward that interior renewal the pope has called for. We will then have a “holier priesthood, a holier episcopate and a holier church.”
Some of you may have heard of the lay woman Catherine Doherty, whose cause for canonization is underway. She began, 60 years ago, the foundation of friendship houses of hospitality in our country for people on the street and eventually founded Madonna House in Combermere, Ontario. She was the author of several best-selling books on spirituality. I was fortunate to be able to correspond with her on occasion, during my days in campus ministry, before her death in 1985. One of Catherine Doherty’s classic works was “The Gospel Without Compromise.” It was a commentary on the troubled times of the 1960s and 1970s, but is a good commentary on the world we live in today.
Catherine’s solution is a solution that every saint throughout history has come up with. It is simply a matter of living the Gospel of Jesus Christ without compromise, no strings attached.
She suggests that “God’s security begins when we start loving him with our whole heart, our whole mind, our whole soul — and our neighbor as ourselves. We must,” she says, “clothe the skeletons of our lives with the flesh of his love, or we shall perish…
“When we don’t live the Gospel without compromise (or do not try to) we are skeletons,” that is, people without life, and other “people do not care to deal with skeletons…
“We can,” she says, “find umpteen quotations in the Gospel that will vividly bring to our minds and hearts how simply and insistently he calls us to be like him and to accept his law of love without compromise.”
May I suggest that one of those quotations might be from the passage in the Gospel of Luke of today’s Gospel, where Jesus applies the Isaiah’s proclamation to himself. Jesus tells the people in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth that he was the anointed one, the messiah, who was to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord. That message was just a little too much for them. It’s interesting that as we read on in Luke’s Gospel we find Jesus being tossed out of that synagogue, led to a precipice outside the town, and facing the prospect of execution by the mob precisely because he preached and lived the Gospel without compromise. He would not back away from the truth of the Gospel.
I presume none of us has faced that hostile a mob in our days of preaching and living the Gospel.
But the choice we have to make sooner or later is between living the life of a skeleton or living the life of the Gospel without compromise and facing the consequences. That is never an easy choice. But we are helped in that choice daily by the example of Jesus. He made that choice for us in the desert, in the synagogue, in the garden of Gethsemane, and in so many other places.
The Holy Spirit, in anointing us to bring glad tidings to the poor, healing to the brokenhearted, liberty to captives, to announce a year of favor from the Lord, the Holy Spirit is helping us daily to live the Gospel without strings attached, fully, wholly, completely.
The Christ of Holy Week and Easter is helping us to do so as we enter this week more fully into the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ. Ultimately it is the paschal mystery of Jesus meditated upon, lived out daily, and incarnated into our lives that brings us to that interior renewal the Holy Father talked about that is often missing from our world and sometimes missing from our priestly lives.
May the Lord give us the ability by his passion, death, and resurrection to try our best to live our lives without compromise, totally abandoning ourselves to his great love for us on the cross.
We commend all of our priests who will shortly be renewing their commitment to service of the people of God in a selfless way, and we thank them for all they have done and continue to do to make the Gospel a lived reality in our midst. Thank you, my brother priests. We love you!
I want to add a word of thanks to our deacons, religious brothers and sisters, seminarians, and dedicated laypeople, the staffs of our parishes, and the staff of our diocese who labor lovingly for all of us. We include all of you wonderful people in the intention of today’s holy Mass.
May Christ be more evident in our midst because of his blessing on all of us through the prayers of this holy Mass and the oils that are blessed here today for use in the celebrations of the sacraments in our cathedral and our many parishes and missions of our diocese. Please continue to pray for all the priests of our diocese, and let us all, priests, deacons, seminarians, religious men and women, and laity of the Diocese of Charleston, rejoice in the hope won for us by the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus!
The full text may be found online at www.catholic-doc.org.