At the start of every New Year, many of us are faced with the same basic age-old dilemma of what to do during the coming year that will hopefully correct our mistakes and blunders of the past.
Those who heard some 2,000 years ago, Peter's bold public proclamation during that first Pentecost Sunday, about Christ's supreme sovereignty over mankind, blurted out the same age-old question. (Acts 2:37)
And this was St. Peter's reply according to St. Luke:
“Each of you must repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, so that your sins may be forgiven. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise of God was made to you and to your children, and to all those from afar whom our God may call....Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” (Acts 2:38-40)
Peter's 263th successor Pope John Paul II re-emphasized that quintessential Christian solution to our secular world's dilemma, in his last major Apostolic Letter Novo Milennio Ineunte, as follows:
We are certainly not seduced by the naive expectations that, faced with the great challenges of our time, we shall find some magic formula. No, we shall not be saved by a formula but by a Person, and the assurance which He gives us: “I am with you!”
It is not therefore a matter of inventing a “new programme”. The programme already exists: it is the plan found in the Gospel and in the living Tradition – it is the same as ever. Ultimately, it has its centre in Christ Himself, who is to be known, loved and imitated, so that in Him we may live the life of the Trinity, and with Him transform history until its fulfillment in the Heavenly Jerusalem.
This is a programme which does not change with shifts of times and cultures, even though it takes account of time and culture for the sake of true dialogue and effective communication. This programme for all times is our programme for the Third Millenium. (End of quote)
Returning once more to that underlying principle of the primacy of Divine Providence, which guided both his personal life and philosophy of pontifical governance, John Paul II added the following elucidation:
If in the planning that awaits us we commit ourselves more confidently to a pastoral activity that gives personal and communal prayer its proper place, we shall be observing an essential principle of the Christian view of life: the primary of grace.
There is a temptation which perennially besets every spiritual journey and pastoral work: that of thinking that the results depend on our ability to act and to plan. God of course asks us really to cooperate with His grace, and therefore invites us to invest all our resources of intelligence and energy in serving the cause of the Kingdom. But it is fatal to forget that “without Christ we can do nothing”! (John 15:5)
It is prayer which roots us in this truth... (NMI)
Stanislaw Cardinal Dziwisz, John Paul II's personal secretary for 39 years has often given public testimony of his patron's personal observance of total dependence on Christ through a strict personal regimen of private prayerfullness. Thus we know that Karol Wojtyla often prayed while prostrate on the floor with his arms in the form of a cross, and that the “Pontiff lived, like a saint”!
And in his successor's first encyclical Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI reminds the Catholic lay faithful that they too must similarly be “illuminated by faith, by the Church Magisterium and animated by the Charity of Christ” as a sine qua non requirement while performing our duties in “working for a just order in society”, particularly in the world of politics.
His second encyclical tied Hope and Charity together with the same thread: “Anyone who does not know God, even though he may entertain all kinds of hopes, is ultimately without hope, without the great hope that sustains the whole of life. Man's great, true hope which holds firm in spite of all disappointments can only be God--God who has loved us and who continues to love us 'to the end', until all is accomplished”. (Spe salvi, 27)
In fact in almost every public occasion our Papa Bene repeats the same basic theme just like Peter and John Paul II had done.
Thus, to the Bishops of Poland he used the same primacy of Christ-centeredness and prayer as the “secret” behind the New Evagelization, so as to achieve “collaboration” among bishops, priests, religious and the laity. More specifically he called on the bishops to observe “chastity, the practice of poverty, the spirit of prayer, simplicity, delicacy of conscience” so that the diocese will reflect its “bishop's way of being” because the “model of Christ” will never be surpassed nor become obsolete.
Again, on the solemnity of the birth of St. John the Baptist last June 24, Papa Bene called on the Church “to bear witness to the truth without compromise, and not to be afraid to “denounce transgressions of God's commandments” even if it will offend people in power.
On the last Sunday of October at the evening prayer of the Angelus, he exhorted the mostly lay faithful in the audience at St.Peter's Square, to strive for “this martyrdom of ordinary life” as witness against prevailing secular distortions of truth even to the extent of “heroic testimony and bold participation”.
A few days later during the mid-day Angelus the Pope used Zacchaeus' heroic conversion to exemplify God's love “flowing from the Heart of Jesus and working through the heart of man” as the force that renews the world. And from Zacchaeus as a model for us lay people of this “crooked generation”, he also offered St. Charles Borromeo the famous Archbishop of Milan, as a model for our bishops today. For “exemplarity in charity, doctrine, apostolic zeal and above all prayer! And, Papa Bene then summarized it all: “We conquer souls on our knees!”
Three weeks later, Pope Benedict XVI pleaded for heroic sanctity from the 23 new cardinals during the homily of their public consistory, no less emphatically. He asked them to “share in Christ's passion without claiming recompense .... as servants... even to the shedding of blood!”
I have gone to all the details of recalling those words of wisdom from Peter and his last two 21st century successors, in order to demonstrate the stark contrast between their spirit-inspired exhortations as against the namby-pamby public rhetoric of some of our national leaders whether lay, clerical, religious or Church hierarchy, who seem to have placed their faith in our politicians' hypocritical appeals for national moral reform, and/or in their own beating-around-the-bush type of homilies.
And so to drive home the point, I shall re-quote the last two paragraphs from the 12 November 2007 valedictory address of His Excellency Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane, Washington as the outgoing president of the U.S. Episcopal conference. It fits in perfectly with all the previous quotations! Hopefully therefore, ALL our local bishops and priests and nuns and faithful laity, may be similarly inspired and thus united under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
«The example of Mother Teresa should cause us to reflect as Bishops. What is the state of our souls? Our leadership must be rooted in the humility of a life of prayer, every day and before the Eucharist. It must embrace Christ in the humbleness of the Sacrament of Penance. Our leadership as shepherds will never be authentic if our souls are not one with Christ the shepherd. The words of Mother Teresa herself are fit for our own meditation as Bishops in service to God's people: "It is in being humble that our love becomes real, devoted and ardent. If you are humble nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are. If you are blamed you will not be discouraged. If they call you a saint you will not put yourself on a pedestal."
As we enter into this new style of collaboration, we may have yet more opportunities to practice charity and humility! Of course, we will not always agree on everything. A good leader, however, recognizes that he does not have all of the insights, all of the answers. As leaders, we are called to recognize the value that each person brings to the conversation, and to recognize that our primary role is to bring about unity in truth. That unity often comes at a price: it costs us our egos; it costs us our individualism. It is a pearl purchased at a great price, but it is a pearl that is priceless.»