by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Many years ago when I was still in St. Louis, I met a very successful businessman who at that time was in his mid-80s. I was seated with him at a banquet at which he and one of his sons were being given an award for all that their family-owned business had done for youth in the community.
During our dinner conversation, he told me about a life-changing experience that he had as a young man nearly fifty years ago. At that point, he and his wife had five children; eventually they would have eight. He was completely overwhelmed with his responsibilities.
He was concerned about his ability to be a good husband and father for his young and growing family. He experienced tremendous psychological pressure with the realization of his responsibility to provide adequately for the material needs of his children. He questioned his own adequacy to be the good and loving father they deserved.
He was also concerned about his business. He knew that not only his family, but the families of all of his employees were depending upon his leadership of the company. He felt the full burden of so many lives depending on the wisdom of his decisions.
In retrospect, he diagnosed himself as on the verge of a nervous breakdown. In his desperation, he found himself kneeling in church before the Blessed Sacrament. At that moment, he felt the Holy Spirit inviting him to surrender his life to Jesus.
His wife interrupted at this moment, saying she felt that her husband had what a charismatic today might call a “born again” experience. Nothing about the externals of his life had changed. Yet, he had changed. His anxiety was lifted and he experienced a tremendous peace.
He understood he was not alone. He entrusted his life, his marriage, his family and his business to the Lord. He experienced a confidence that everything was going to be all right. He did not necessarily have any new answers to some of the pressing business decisions that previously had burdened him so profoundly. Yet, he was no longer paralyzed by worry and anxiety.
This year, I am visiting all of our Catholic high schools an additional time to lead the whole school in an hour of adoration and prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. I am also offering a similar opportunity in the evening for high school students attending public schools.
The primary goal of our Catholic schools, our Schools of Religion, and our parish youth programs is not just to impart all of the doctrine of our Catholic faith. Please do not misunderstand. Teaching the fullness of our Catholic faith is a very important goal and responsibility of our schools and religious education programs.
Yet, we can succeed in giving them the knowledge of the faith, but if we do not help them develop a relationship with Jesus through their own personal prayer and their experience of the sacramental life of the church, then, quite frankly, we have failed.
It does not matter how many of our Catholic school graduates win scholarships to prestigious universities. It does not matter how many athletic championships our teams win. It does not matter how many of our graduates become exceptional artists or renowned scientists or successful business executives or political leaders. If our schools are not producing young men and women in love with Jesus Christ, we have failed.
Occasionally, when I have spoken about this primary mission of our Catholic schools and religious education programs, I have received feedback that this sounds “Protestant.” This response reveals a terrible misunderstanding of our Catholic faith.
Read the lives our Catholic saints — Augustine, Teresa of Avila, Thomas Aquinas, Thérèse of Lisieux, Thomas More, Catherine of Siena, Francis of Assisi, or Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, to name a few. They all had close personal relationships with Jesus. Nor is this close personal relationship with Jesus reserved to canonized saints, but it is available and necessary for every disciple of Jesus.
It is beautiful that many Protestant Christians have developed a close, personal relationship with Jesus through their prayerful reading of the Bible. As Catholics, we have this same opportunity, plus the incredible gift of the Eucharist.
It is certainly true that we can pray anywhere. The Lord is available to us 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days of the year. Each one of us needs to cultivate a daily prayer life that fits the circumstances of our life. We need to pray in our homes, in the car, and in our work place. However, our prayer life is strengthened and enriched greatly by our participation, as frequently as possible, in the Eucharist and regular prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.
If you are currently feeling overwhelmed by the responsibilities and challenges of your life, I encourage you to visit one of our churches or one of our parish eucharistic chapels. Entrust your life to Jesus and invite our Lord into your heart. Jesus wants to give you the peace that he alone can provide. If you are already blessed with this peace in your life, then make sure this week that you visit the Lord uniquely present in the Eucharist to thank him.