St. Paul enjoins us: “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8)
An idea of excellence has been on my heart since Charlie came down with the latest nasty virus which roundly smacked him during his travels. Too, additional trials and challenges, not surprisingly, popped up along the way. Serving the Lord as Charlie does costs. (I’d wager that each of us has experienced such episodes in some fashion as we have taken our own next right steps in response to God’s call.) Now, as Charlie makes his way back home to Denver, this is an opportune moment to ask: Would you join me, then, in some concerted praying for Charlie, his mission, his work and all his needs? I’m particularly asking each of us, who can do so, to request a Mass – or Masses – for Charlie. Oh, the value of the Mass!
“The celebration of Holy Mass is as valuable as the death of Jesus on the cross.” ~ Saint Thomas Aquinas
“It would be easier for the world to survive without the sun than to do without Holy Mass.” ~ St. Pio of Pietrelcina
“There is nothing so great as the Eucharist. If God had something more precious, He would have given it to us.” ~ Saint Jean Vianney
I know many, likely most of us, remember Charlie in constant, if not daily, prayer and there are certainly numerous, beautiful and worthy ways of praying to intercede for him. Still, as Pope St. Paul VI said: “The Mass is the most perfect form of prayer.” And his successor, Pope St. John Paul II, a patron of this site, affirmed this Church teaching:“The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life.” If it’s not possible to have a Mass – or Masses – requested for Charlie, then offering your prayers and reception of Holy Communion at Mass is a sublime, precious gift.
The honorable, pure, and brave heart of one of Pope St. John Paul II’s countrymen, Blessed Jerzy Popieluszko, has once again been brought to our attention via the writings of many as it has been announced that he will soon be canonized. Rod Dreher, who posts nearly daily at the American Conservative, has been visiting several eastern European countries this summer to do research for his upcoming book on the lessons that we in the US and Europe can learn from the experiences of those who resisted Communism. Early this month, Rod was in Poland conducting interviews. He spent his last morning in Warsaw visiting the grave of Blessed Fr. Jerzy and the small museum next to it celebrating his life and death.
As Rod writes: “The museum is connected to the Warsaw parish, St. Stanislaus Kostka, where Father Jerzy was serving at the time of his 1984 murder by the Communist secret police… Father Jerzy – soon to be St. Jerzy Popieluszko… is one of the keys to this book I’m working on…” It is the interview with Pawel Keska, the manager for the development of the museum and of documentation of the life of Father Jerzy, which enfleshes how Fr. Jerzy is key to Rod’s book.
From Rod piece, again: “‘I’ve been working here for two years. I’m a journalist and a theologian. And I have been thinking for two years why this person is important,’ Pawel said. ‘And I see how important he is. Since Father Popieluszko’s death, his grave has been visited by 23 million people. Why? It’s still a mystery to me that I try to solve…’
The first witness to the priest’s life that he met told Pawel that a million Poles turned out for the murdered cleric’s funeral there at St. Stanislaus Kostka parish. (Official estimates are 250,000, but many Poles say that’s an official number released by the Communist regime, which vastly underestimated the number for political reasons; the museum maintains that the number is between 250,000 and one million.) The Communist regime sent soldiers to Warsaw to ensure that the funeral wouldn’t turn into a revolutionary insurrection. Cardinal Jozef Glemp, the nation’s primate, said the funeral mass and Solidarity trade union leader Lech Walesa was one of the eulogists.
‘The witness told me in that massive crowd he saw a police car,’ said Pawel. ‘People were slamming their hands down on the car, shouting, ‘We forgive! We forgive!’ In that is an answer for the situation that our world is in now.’”
Pawel then had a second story for me [said Rod]: In a big city like Warsaw, a big city of big crowds and big historical events, it’s easy to forget the potential significance of tiny places, far off the beaten track. Two weeks ago, he accompanied a group of young pilgrims to the small rural village in eastern Poland where Father Jerzy was born. The district is so poor that when the priest, who was born just after the Second World War, had to study by candlelight, because there was no electricity … ‘The village is very ordinary – there’s nothing spiritual there,’ said Pawel. ‘In the home where Father Jerzy lived, there’s one room that has been set apart as a kind of museum, but all the items there are under a thick veil of dust. By the wall is a small table, covered with a kind of plastic sheet. There was a small piece of paper with handwriting on it, written by Father Jerzy’s brother. It said: ‘Every day near the table we were praying with our mother.’ There was a photo of that mother as an old, tired woman. On the other side of that piece of paper was a reliquary with Father Jerzy’s relics.’
‘And that’s the answer,’ Pawel concluded, speaking of both stories. ‘The whole strength of that man, and what we need today for our identity.’”
[Rod]: What he meant was that Father Jerzy became a figure of enormous historical significance for the Polish nation and the Catholic Church – and indeed will soon be canonized – but it all started there in a dull village in the middle of nowhere, with a faithful family that prayed every day together…
[Rod continues and I have emboldened text, highlighting lessons for us to contemplate]:Father Jerzy was often weak and suffering from ill health. Near the end of his life, he was particularly exhausted. Cardinal Glemp asked him if he would like to go to Rome to study – this as a way of getting him to a place of rest and safety. Even though he believed that his murder was fast approaching, Father Jerzy declined the offer of exit.
‘He was suffering terribly, but said that he simply could not abandon the people who trusted him,’ said Pawel. ‘He was not loyal to abstract ideals. He was loyal to the people in his life. Pain is not a value, but fidelity itself sometimes causes pain.’
Once when laborers at the Warsaw iron works went on strike, they invited Father Jerzy to say mass for them. Said Pawel: ‘He was a simple man, they were simple men, so they understand each other well. It wasn’t long after that that martial law was imposed, and a lot of the men who participated in that strike were sent to prison. Father Popieluszko supported them. He sent them packages in prison. He defended them in his sermons. He went to their court hearings, so he could look the judges right in the eye. These weren’t political activities; this was just human relations…’
There was one man who came to bring [Father Jerzy] a package. After that meeting, he stayed with Father Jerzy for three years, until his death. He was an atheist, but he started to be interested in church affairs, and he asked Father Jerzy something about the Bible. Father Jerzy told him to buy the Bible, but now, in this moment, to tell him how things are going in his family. When it comes to survival, maybe what’s most important is simple fidelity: not by evangelizing people directly, but by developing honest relations with one another – not looking for whether one is good or bad, or judging them by their ideology. Father Jerzy was constantly monitored by the secret police, who parked right in front of his home. During the severely cold winters, he would bring them hot tea to warm them up. Because they were people. That’s how he was.’”
My heart soared when reading the whole piece, Fr. Jerzy Popieliszko’s Long Road. As fellow TNSRers, I think you’ll love the article too. Soon to be Fr. St. Jerzy is one of us. He is ready to intercede for us. He intimately knows what we’re up against and what we’re living. Oh Fr. Blessed Jerzy, pray for us to forgive, forgive and forgive, as we harness our anger for good and as the bad actors are held to account.
Finally, have those of you who attend, view or read the daily Mass Readings noticed the focus on Exodus in these last few weeks? As daily lector, I have been prompted by these readings to reread the entire Book of Exodus which is inspirational, true and lovely material upon which to meditate, for we are modern day Israelites who, like our ancestors before us, are making our passage, the transition to a new land of milk and honey. How I encourage you to revisit Exodus! You might pay particular attention to the ways Abba tends to His people in all their trials as they make the very difficult journey.
Oh how I hope and pray we can learn from the original Israelites that it is plain old stupidity to complicate our journey, unnecessarily adding difficulty via our incessant whines and complaints. Venting is often good and therapeutic, yet, after a certain point, I wonder if God sometimes has His Own lamentation verse: “How long My people? How long will you moan and groan instead of leaning on My abundance of promises given you through My Son, such as, ‘If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!’”? Too often, we hyper focus on the problems which keep us from fulfilling the Gospel dictum that our existence be a Life of Thanksgiving to God. Our stubbornness in feet dragging or running ahead of Him or freezing rather than acting only prolongs our suffering. Our meddling in His Plan by trying to improve it with our own foolish designs reflects how control freakish we can be.
In Chapter 10 of Exodus we read about the plague of darkness (highlight mine): “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand toward heaven that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt.’ So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days; they did not see one another, nor did any rise from his place for three days; but all the people of Israel had light where they dwelt.” WOW! Can you imagine not even being able to see each other?! But the people who followed God had light where they dwelt! Suffering as we now are – and I believe we have much yet to suffer – I am not afraid, for with ironclad surety I know Christ’s Light, One with the Father and burning with the Holy Spirit, will glow for us. The Flame of Love will.
Those of you who read comments know I have often mentioned Sonja Corbitt – the Bible Study Evangelista as she has dubbed herself. She presents Bible study online (I cycle in the gym with her weekly podcasts.) and she usually prepares a series around a theme. Currently she’s presenting the “I AM Series.” The segments include: I AM the Bread of Life, I AM the Light of the World, I AM the Gate for the Sheep, I AM the Good Shepherd, I AM the Resurrection and the Life, I AM the Way the Truth and the Life, and I AM the True Vine. The segment, I Am the Light of the World, weaves beautifully into the ideas in this post. If you prefer reading a transcript, it’s usually posted later than the podcast release.