Friday, September 18, 2015

When I Pray, Jesus Has a Polish Accent

Recently, a friend posted an article online concerning a group of friends who attended the University of Steubenville during the 1990's and how their experience there together has shaped the life of the Church in the United States in extraordinary ways. Although the article did not mention him, I could not help but think, "Thank you Pope John Paul II."

So often, when I read the Gospels, it is John Paul II's voice that I hear. In my prayer life, Jesus speaks English with a Polish accent! When John Paul II preached, I always felt as though he was speaking directly to me. There was a challenge contained in every word! He pleaded with me not to waste my youth but rather to set out into the adventure of following Christ. 

When St. John Paul II preached, I knew something was on the line. There was an urgency to accepting the call of Christ and I knew Christ was standing right before me offering to me the new life of grace. Truth to be told, sometimes as I drive along in my car, I find myself imitating that great accent and repeating lines from one of St. John Paul II's homilies: "To each one of you I say therefore: heed the call of Christ when you hear him saying to you: 'Follow me! Walk in my path! Stand by my side! Remain in my love!' There is a choice to be made: A choice for Christ and his way of life, and his commandment of love . . . . To all of you I extend--in the name of Christ--the call, the invitation, the plea: 'Come and follow me.' This is why I have come to America and why I have come to Boston tonight: to call you to Christ--to call all of you and each of you to live in his love, today and forever. Amen!"

St. John Paul II made me and many others realize that what happened to the apostles and the early Church was not an event relegated to the distant past and disconnected from our present experience. Through the ministry of John Paul II, our eyes were opened to the fact that Jesus was standing in front of us now, offering to us the invitation to "Follow me." And this invitation touched the hearts of so many. It still touches and moves these hearts.

John Paul II--by his words and by his example--implored us to be faithful to the Gospel. Wherever this fidelity existed in the Church is where the Church would grow, be fruitful, and draw others. John Paul II was able--with great love and conviction--to call us to holiness and to greatness. In large part, wherever we have seen vocations to the priesthood and the religious life flourish, it is because of fidelity. Fidelity to the Gospel and to the Christ produces fruit that lasts. Conversely, wherever there has been an attempt to secularize the Church, make her synonymous with the world, and adopt a relativistic morality, things have continued to wither.

The New Evangelization is not about increasing the parish database. When this is our goal, oftentimes the Gospel gets set aside. The New Evangelization is about bringing people to Christ and bringing them to where they are willing to lay down their life for the Gospel. This is the only thing that works. Everything else is a waste of time. The type of Christianity that sees everything as "grey" and that allows the person to remain completely unchanged is a recipe for disaster because it moves nobody closer to Christ.

Christianity is not a philosophy of life or even a moral program. It is a person. Jesus Christ, as St. John Paul II reminded us repeatedly, is standing in front of us pleading with us to follow him! This invitation is a great challenge. It means dying to self and living for Christ. It means a willingness to stand firm in the Truth of the Gospel despite the awareness of my own weakness. It means standing firm even in the face of tremendous opposition that may come our way. It means giving our life away to Christ, trusting that by giving it away, we will save it.

A month from now, we will celebrate the liturgical feast of St. John Paul II. I feel moved to turn towards him with renewed filial love and beg for his intercession for the Church. Our parishes and dioceses want to grow and be renewed. This renewal and growth begins with fidelity to Christ. I need to be more faithful to Christ and his way of life. I need to hear his voice strengthening me to stand firm in the battle. I need to be daily convinced that I am being called by Christ to a new way of life. We all need this. We all need, once again, to go out into the deep! Today, let's remember that we are being called by Christ! Let's give ourselves entirely to him and take up our Cross! And, if we feel somewhat small in front of the great challenge before us, if we feel the wind against us, feel the weight of the cost, see the army encamped against us, or think the the task is too great, let us hear the voice of Jesus--in his Polish accent--telling us, "Do not be afraid."

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