Dear Parish Family,
Greetings from Detroit! As you may remember, part of my continuing education that I began on my academic sabbatical last year requires that I attend summer intensive courses in theology to complete the degree. This summer I am spending four weeks at Sacred Heart Seminary here in lovely Detroit, Michigan. It has been three days since I left, but I miss you already!
During these summer intensive classes, I am joining 12 other priests from around the country and from Africa and India. It is fascinating and fun to hear the experiences, trials and joys of the priesthood in all these places. We all have in common our desire to engage the New Evangelization. It was St. John Paul II who really articulated, almost thirty years ago, what is the new evangelization: "…it is not a new gospel, but rather the eternal gospel message made available to men and women today." He exhorts that it should be "new in ardor, method and expression."
Currently, I am taking a course on the stages of Spiritual Development. This may sound odd, however, it is very helpful and relevant. Just as every person develops physically, mentally and emotionally, so too, there are stages of spiritual development to pass through in order to become spiritually mature. Many people do not know the practical ways to grow spiritually, but we all have some innate hunger and desire for it. We may easily misname it as something more to acquire in a worldly sort of way. However, God made us to know Him, love Him and ultimately to be in union with Him. We are as they say "hard wired" for God. As part of this course, we are looking intensely at what the wisdom of the great spiritual masters of our Church have to say on this topic. These spiritual masters are called "Doctors" of the Church, meaning that their teachings have such wisdom as to be judged beneficial for the whole Church (officially there are 33 Doctors of the Church). Some of these great masters include, Sts. Theresa of Avila, Therese of Lisieux, John of the Cross, Bernard of Clarivaux, Catherine of Sienna and Francis de Sales. While they are all unique in their life and times, they share decided commonalities in what the spiritual pathway to God looks like in our human state.
One of the things that I have recently come to re-appreciate is that there are many "would be saints." We are all called to holiness! After all, we are made for heaven, but only saints enter heaven; which means that while we all have the capacity and calling for sanctity, many of us put it off. We need not! The great spiritual masters' first warning is not to doubt our spiritual capacity for greatness. They all counsel us to be prompt: "If today you hear His voice, harden not your heart!" (Psalm 95) Yet, we can easily rationalize that "holiness" is only for those publically dedicated to the Church, such as priests and religious sisters. Others rationalize that it is not the right time, that "I will get holy later, when I have more time" or when there is "less stress at work." These rationalizations are often based on a misperception of what holiness is all about.
One common misperception for many folks is that "holiness" consists in doing spiritual things such as saying rosaries, meditating on scripture, going to Mass, thinking pious thoughts, kneeling thoughtfully in prayer. All of these practices are good and encouraged by all the saints, but these practices will not make us holy. Rather, holiness is essentially a transformation of the heart – it is a matter of love. A holy person is one who takes seriously that God made each one of us to be in an intimate relationship with Him. In fact, this is the reason He made us. Sin becomes not so much breaking a rule, but rather breaking a relationship. As my life gets more and more attuned to God, the more I can love God, myself, and others. Transformation is about love. How do I love?
One practical way to begin working on a personal relationship with God, without adding one more "spiritual practice", is simply to call to mind that when I say any prayer, He is present. I am speaking to Some one. When I walk into Church I can call to mind that I am really coming into God's presence, my beloved. When I pray, the words that I say really do matter and mean something to Him. God is intensely personal! It is simple, but profound. Try it.
I look forward to sharing more with you in the bulletin and especially when I return. My heart is filling up with so much I want to bring to our parish life. I was moved to learn that St. John Paul II in writing his Apostolic Letter to the Church at the beginning of the new millennium said that the local parish should be a "school of prayer." He also said that every Catholic should be made well aware of their capacity for sanctity and be given all the practical means that the Church has to offer to assist them on their transformative way. This is my great desire for our parish; that we be a community dedicated to growing in holiness and that everything we do will be prayer in action. Let our sainthood begin now!
Please keep me in your daily prayers. I appreciate if you please pray one Hail Mary for me each day and ask our Blessed Mother to change my heart more and more to be like her Son's heart.
Peace and Prayers,