Msgr. J. Patrick Keleher - "Fr. Pat" to those of us at the University of Buffalo had a great line in his homily referring to those of us who are Catholic on "secular campuses. He stated that on a Catholic campus there are crosses in each classroom (well, most campuses anyway). I would add to his comments that while outward signs of catholicity are important, sometimes they serve to be the only sign of Jesus on the campus at all.
But Fr Pat provided the "wake up call" for me this week when he said, "On this Campus, WE are the cross in the classroom."
Whoa. An awesome image. And never a truer statement was said.
Because if other people don't see us as the cross then we have truly lost what it means to be Catholic and not one outward symbol can help us spread the word of the gospel.
St Francis has been attributed to the phrase: "Preach the gospel at all times, if necessary, use words." Actions indeed speak louder than words. In the past few years actions indeed have spoken quite loudly when it comes to Catholics. The clergy sexual abuse crisis placed our priests in a precarious position. Several of my good friends who are priests reported not wanting to wear their collars in public. One even said that a mother pushed her child to the other side of the sidewalk when she saw him coming the other way. Economic scandals in parishes and dioceses have often hit the headlines and recently the story of a priest who fathered a child out of wedlock was one of the top NY Times stories.
Actions indeed speak louder to those around us than words do.
So what's a Catholic to do? It seems to me that the time has come for all of us to reclaim what it means to be Catholic. At one point being Catholic was far more associated with people who did good works than it is today. Today in fact, being Catholic seems to be associated with being backwards, or some kind of sexual misfit or some kind of right wing religious zealot.
I don't want to be associated with those things, in fact, I don't think any of that is what our faith is about. And yet, a lot of people will say it is so. Image is indeed everything.
However, I DO want people to know that I'm Catholic despite all this. And I sense that perhaps you do too. Because we indeed have much to offer the world. We have a God who gives others second chances no matter what they do. We have a God who dares to become less than He is, so that we all might become what He is. We have a God who has a boundless love that death can no longer hold. We have a tradition of 2 millennia that for better or for worse has produced far more good than evil in the world.
But we cannot afford to be silent about this. This advent, I'd like to invite you to simply identify your Catholicism in the following way:
I'd like you to think about doing something for someone else each day. It need not be grand or sweeping, just simple. Whether it's serving the poor at a shelter or doing grocery shopping for the little old lady next door or even simply offering a service to the community at no charge...whatever you choose. When you have your task completed you then have one final thing to add.
Tell those you serve that you are Catholic. Moreover, tell them that you pray for them or that your faith influences your decisions. Now this can't be a note of condescension to others, but rather one of humbleness and service to others and to your faith.
Because grandness is not our moniker. The cross is. And the bottom line is that if we become the cross in the classroom and everywhere else we go in the world, then that means we are called into suffering with the world. Indeed we are brave enough to face suffering for another because we know that our God can indeed defeat that suffering with the cross that we become.
And in the end we become so much more--we transcend that suffering so that the cross becomes not an implement of destruction but one of power--the power that defeats death.
And the power that can reclaim Catholicism as a religion that is immersed in the world's suffering and works to defeat it with our love. Sure we'll break a sweat for justice and we'll make sure we leave a mark on the world in a positive way,
What will you do this Advent? Share it with us here.
Your humble blogger is Mike Hayes, a well-known expert in the world of young adult ministry (20s and 30s) in the Catholic Church. Mike is the author of Googling God (Paulist, 2007) where he explores both the chaotic world that young people live in and their religious reactions to that world. He also explores the age of instant gratification and how churches can respond to the needs of the young adult age by using technology alongside more traditional ministry methods.
Mike founded the award winning BustedHalo.com® in 2001 and continues to contribute to it as the editor of their catechetical section appropriately named Googling God.
Recently, he left BustedHalo® to focus on more direct ministry with young people at St Joseph University Parish as a Campus Minister for the South Campus at the University at Buffalo.
He has only two loves: his adorable wife, Marion and a nine pound chihuahua named Haze, who still find him amusing enough to let them live in their home.