Striving to Enter Ever Deeper: Catholicism, Exertion, and Endurance
The saints can get away with saying things that those of us who are not saints cannot; they call it like it is with often uncomfortable directness. Their words prick us, they burn, but we know they are spoken in love and they uniquely have the power to cause our hearts to burn with spiritual longings. St. Philip Neri would often say to those who cared to listen, “Paradise is not made for sluggards.” The most honest among us can admit he is right, but what are we prepared to do about it?
St. Philip’s saying is in the same vein as Christ’s exhortation in today’s Gospel that we must “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” This also corresponds with the injunction from the Letter to the Hebrews to dig deep and keep on moving forward in faith: “So strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees. Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be disjointed but healed.” A quote attributed to St. Thomas More, the great statesman of sixteenth century England who died a martyr’s death concurs that “we cannot get to heaven on a featherbed”. Conversion, keeping the commandments and the acquisition of the virtues is hard work requiring a real effort, spiritual discipline and humble (and frequent) confession. I sometimes give all of this my own spin by saying, “Catholicism is not an ‘armchair religion’”.
One of the glaring reasons that a younger generation has not taken up Christ on His invitation to become His disciples is the perceived flabbiness of what is asked or required. This minimalist ethic does not have the power to stir hearts. On the other hand, the price paid by the martyrs of the Faith is compelling even if frightening. Far from being sedentary and comfortable, Catholicism is a bracing call to step forward and carry on. It is about exerting, enduring, venturing and ever deepening our initial commitment to Christ. It is not for the faint of heart, even though the Lord’s patience and gentleness towards us are unfathomable.
To speak of our active and energetic engagement with the pursuit of Christ is not to negate or miss the obvious point that it is only the Lord who can save us—but it is simultaneously to admit that He will not save us in spite of ourselves, without our willing and wholehearted striving. As we hear the readings this weekend, let’s ask ourselves a simple but probing question that St. Philip Neri loved to ask his friends: “When shall we begin to love God?” I hope you might consider digging deep to conjure up a simple answer that begins with the letter ‘t’ and ends with ‘day’.
Let’s strive together, today!
A miscellany of notes:
+ I am deeply appreciative for your outpouring of encouragement and prayers for me last weekend as I was formally installed as pastor. The Holy Mass offered by Archbishop Hebda, an opportunity to greet so many of you afterwards and our reception in Kolbe Hall were true and heartening expressions of our coming together as a parish. Thanks to all who worked in so many ways behind the scenes to make it such a splendid celebration.
+ The St. Hedwig Ice Cream Social hit the spot as well! Thanks to the workers and to all who came simply to enjoy a casual time together. I know it doesn’t require any extra encouragement in Minnesota to savor every last drop of summer, but make sure to spend extra time outside in the coming weeks!
+ With the State Fair in session, the end of summer is in sight and the school year close and hand. I am excited to note that school Masses for St. John Paul II are being shifted this year, with the adjustment of the daily school schedule, to 8 am on Thursday mornings at Holy Cross. These Masses are a great way to come and pray with the school community. All are invited starting September 12.
+ SeptemberFest is less than three weeks away. Don’t forget to get your Raffle Tickets and to sign up to volunteer. Invite all your friends and neighbors as well! It is great to see yard signs proudly displayed all over the neighborhood.
+ Our liturgical life is one of the great hallmarks of our life together. Our robust weekend and daily Mass schedule gives a versatility and reach to our parish and provides stable opportunities to worship God in spirit and truth. One thing that we continue to seek is more commitment to various ministries which support our Masses in more hidden ways. I would especially mention our need to identify additional sacristans, openers, ushers and hospitality volunteers for our three churches. These roles are critical needs at St. Hedwig 10 am and St. Clement 4 pm on Sundays. If interested, please contact Fr. Hagan, Sam Backman or myself for more information on what is entailed and training opportunities.
+ Monday, August 26th is the feast of Our Lady of Czestochowa. During my pilgrimage in July I was able to celebrate a very memorable Mass before the ancient icon at the spiritual heart of Poland. I leave you with a prayer that might encourage us to follow in Mary’s footsteps in her generous response to God’s call to put her entire being—body and soul—at the service of the Lord:
Holy Mother of Czestochowa, Thou art full of grace, goodness and mercy. I consecrate to Thee all my thoughts, words and actions–my soul and body. I beseech Thy blessings and especially prayers for my salvation. Today, I consecrate myself to Thee, Good Mother, totally–with body and soul amid joy and sufferings to obtain for myself and others Thy blessings on this earth and eternal life in Heaven. Amen.