by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Father Gary Pennings and Father Brian Schemer, the vicars general for the archdiocese, accompanied me for my “ad limina apostoloru” (to the thresholds of the apostles) pilgrimage this past March. In a previous column, I wrote about a key aspect of the visit is to pray at the threshold of the tombs of the great apostles, Peter and Paul, and to visit with the Successor of Peter.
I was able to present both Father Pennings and Father Schieber to Pope Benedict XVI. When I presented Father Pennings to the Holy Father, I told him that, among other things, Father Pennings was leading the planning in our archdiocese for the celebration for the Year of Faith. Pope Benedict’s eyes lit up with mention of the Year of Faith. Later, during the meeting of the bishops from Kansas and Nebraska with the pope, the Holy Father expressed his hope that the Year of Faith would be a moment of spiritual renewal for the church and individual Catholics.
In his 2011 apostolic letter announcing of the Year of Faith, the Holy Father expressed why he believes this year is so important and timely for Catholics: “Reflection on the faith will have to be intensified to help all believers in Christ to acquire a more conscious and vigorous adherence to the Gospel, especially at a time of profound change such as humanity is currently experiencing” (“The Door of Faith,” No. 8).
Pope Benedict is keenly aware of some of the challenges facing the church and individual Catholics in the United States. The Holy Father appreciates the seriousness of the threat in our nation to religious liberty and freedom of conscience. The pope also appreciates how the life of faith and virtue is being challenged in an unprecedented way by the harmful messages and images by which we are bombarded through social and mass media.
In the archdiocese, for our local observance of the Year of Faith, we will launch, in September, a yearlong faith initiative that we have entitled “Faith: Love it, Learn it, Live it.” My desire is to challenge every Catholic in northeast Kansas to do something significant during the year to strengthen our relationship with Jesus and to deepen our knowledge of and appreciation for his bride — the church.
I hope that the faith initiative will be a catalyst to invigorate the faith life of our parishes and, more importantly, of every parishioner. Our parishes already offer many opportunities for strengthening one’s prayer life and/or one’s knowledge of the richness of our Catholic faith. It is my desire that the faith initiative will inspire many more people to take advantage of retreat programs, such as Christ Renews His Parish, the Light of the World and Cursillo. I hope that the Year of Faith may motivate many to begin a weekly hour of eucharistic adoration or attending daily Mass or the more frequent use of the sacrament of reconciliation/penance.
In a similar way, the faith initiative will encourage participation in the many adult education and formation programs that are offered in our parishes. The Year of Faith, I hope, will be the occasion for many to decide to participate in a School of Faith class on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, or to join a local Catholic Bible study or to attend classes on the theology of the body. The faith initiative will challenge us to live our Catholic faith more boldly and completely. A good way to observe the Year of Faith, for some couples, might be to make a Marriage Encounter weekend or participate in some other marriage enrichment program. It could be the moment for some couples to attend natural family planning training sessions. Couples might also consider applying to become foster parents or helping with marriage preparation programs. Families might make a yearlong commitment to pray the rosary together or to pray over and discuss the Sunday readings. Individuals might decide to begin to volunteer with Catholic Charities or to become involved with your parish efforts to provide assistance to the poor or to visit the sick. The possibilities are limitless.
More than anything else — more than attendance at any program or participation in any activity — I am hoping this Year of Faith will lead each of us into a deeper and richer friendship with Jesus Christ.
For my own meditation recently, I was reading a portion of a letter that Mother Teresa wrote to her Sisters, the Missionaries of Charity, in 1993. In every convent chapel for the Missionaries of Charity, you will find the words, “I thirst,” near the image of the crucified Jesus. Mother Teresa saw her ministry to the poorest of the poor and to the sick and dying as a response to Our Lord’s thirst for souls — his thirst for each person to know the depth of his love.
Mother Teresa was keenly aware that her Sisters could not bring this love of Jesus to others unless they had a profound experience of it themselves. She wrote the Sisters:
“Jesus wants me to tell you again. . . how much love He has for each of you — beyond all you can imagine. I worry some of you still have not really met Jesus — one to one — you and Jesus alone. We may spend time in chapel — but have you seen with the eyes of your soul how He looks at you with love? Do you really know the liv- ing Jesus — not from books but from being with Him in your heart? Have you heard the loving words He speaks to you? Ask for the grace, He is longing to give it. Until you can hear Jesus in the silence of your own heart, you will not be able to hear Him saying “I thirst” in the hearts of the poor. Never give up this daily intimate contact with Jesus as the real living person — not just the idea. How can we last even one day without hearing Jesus say “I love you” — impossible? Our soul needs that as much as the body needs to breathe the air. If not, prayer is dead — meditation only thinking. Jesus wants each of you to hear Him — speaking in the silence of your heart.”
More than anything else, I pray this Year of Faith will be a time when every member of the archdiocese will experience in a new and more powerful way the love of Jesus. I ask that you join me in praying daily for Our Lord to bless and anoint the faith initiative. May it be fruitful in the ways that Jesus desires!
P.S. You do not have to wait until September. You can start early on striving to deepen your friendship with Jesus and your love for his bride — the church!