In the face of discouragement, reasons for hope abound

by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann

One certain sign that summer is over is the reappearance of my columns in The Leaven.

One of the sure marks of the devil’s presence is discouragement. The Evil One wants the disciples of Jesus to despair and feel overwhelmed by the challenges of living the Gospel in a cynical and unbelieving culture. 

However, it is my conviction and experience that if I am attentive, the Holy Spirit is constantly providing me with reasons for hope.

With all the problems in our society and all of the significant challenges the church is facing in the present moment, I want to share with you five reasons that give me great hope.

Since I wrote my last column this past May, I ordained six men to the priesthood.

It has been many decades since our archdiocese had such a large number of priestly ordinations. The number of ordinations is not nearly as important as the quality of those being ordained.

I believe that, in 2019, the archdiocese has been blessed with both quantity and quality. As I move around the archdiocese, parishioners are eager to tell me how impressed they are with the preaching and ministry of our newest priests.

My second reason for hope was occasioned by my pilgrimage with our seminarians to Mexico City (see pages 8-9 of this issue).

It was thrilling to be able to celebrate Mass with our seminarians in the basilica where the image of Mary is emblazoned on the tilma of St. Juan Diego. One cannot overestimate the impact of this Marian apparition upon not only Mexico, but all of America.

The principal reason I make these annual pilgrimages is not so much the religious significance of our destinations, but to give me the opportunity to get to know our seminarians better, as well as to take a more personal role in their formation.

In addition to the opportunity to deepen our devotion to Mary, the pilgrimage was also designed to provide us with the opportunity to encounter Jesus uniquely present in the poor.

We partnered with a ministry, Hope for the Poor, founded by a former evangelical Protestant (Craig Johring). Craig came to Mexico more than 20 years ago to convert Mexican Catholics into evangelical Protestants. Six years ago, Craig became Catholic.

Craig gave us several opportunities to recognize Jesus in the poor. We spent a day at a trash dump on the outskirts of Mexico City, where many people live and many more work.

Our seminarians set up a taco stand at a crossroads in the dump and went to every corner of the dump to invite the residents and workers to enjoy some delicious tacos.

I was able to celebrate Mass at a chapel in the dump that was constructed by the local residents from materials and artifacts that they had recovered from the trash.    

As you can imagine, the odor from the garbage was unpleasant and the conditions in which the people live and work are distressing.

However, I found the faith and joy of the people to be inspiringly beautiful. I was also edified by how our seminarians threw themselves into the experience and engaged the dump workers and residents with great respect and kindness.

I came back from the pilgrimage excited about the future of the priesthood in the archdiocese.

This past Saturday evening, I was able to celebrate a Mass at my residence and share dinner with about 20 Catholic University of Kansas medical students and their faculty advisers.

Medical school is one of the most intense, rigorous and demanding academic programs. Also, with some of the complex medical moral issues of our time and our culture losing its ethical bearings, it takes courage and a special strength to remain faithful to Catholic moral principles.  

My third reason for hope was the desire of these future doctors to serve the sick and the suffering. I was edified by the depth of their faith and their desire to become human instruments God can use to heal those with intense physical suffering.

My fourth reason for hope was the more than 1,200 people who participated in an Evening for Life supporting the Wyandotte and Olathe Pregnancy Clinics.

Ashley Bratcher, the actress who portrayed Abby Johnson in the movie “Unplanned,” gave an inspiring address that touched the hearts of everyone in attendance.

Ashley shared discovering that she was almost a victim of abortion, the circumstances as a young adult of her own crisis pregnancy, the examples and prayers of her grandmothers that played key roles in her own faith journey and the graces that flowed from accepting the starring role in “Unplanned,” even after being warned it could significantly limit her career opportunities.

I was encouraged by the enthusiasm of the audience to help parents choose life for their children and their eagerness to help this life-saving ministry.

Earlier in the week, I had the opportunity to have lunch with the leaders of other crisis pregnancy centers in Johnson County, Lawrence, Topeka, Emporia and Leavenworth. I am inspired by the many individuals who are willing to accompany those experiencing difficult or untimely pregnancies.

Finally, my fifth reason for hope came from visiting several parishes during the summer months and meeting some of the parishioners who will be attending the Enflame Our Hearts convocation of Catholic leaders at the beginning of October.

These individuals accepted the invitation of their pastors to be part of their parish delegation to the convocation. They are enthused and committed to helping their pastor develop and implement an evangelization plan for their parish.

I ask everyone in the archdiocese to pray for the Holy Spirit to pour out his gifts on the convocation. Ask Our Lord to anoint this event so that we may realize God’s dreams and desires for the Catholic Church in northeast Kansas.

A few reasons for hope that did not make the top five: 1) The Chiefs won their first game in a convincing manner; 2) KU and Kansas State both began the football season with victories; 3) At least at the time of this writing, the St. Louis baseball Cardinals are leading the Central Division in the National League; and 4) The Kansas priests were victorious over Missouri in the Pitching for Priests softball game.Miracles never cease and reasons for hope abound!

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