Extreme cases sometimes highlight the less drastic daily challenges we all face.
A newly married former student of mine at the Emmanuel School of Mission in Rome recently informed me that her husband, a medical doctor, was witness to a scandalous situation at a Catholic hospital in the USA. Catholic Healthcare West and St. Joseph’s Hospital in the Diocese of Phoenix continued over a period of seven years to refuse directives from the local Bishop to comply with the Church’s Ethical and Religious Directives, by continually distributing contraceptives, as well as performing sterilizations and abortions, among other abuses. In the end the Bishop, exercising his responsibility as Shepherd, removed the name “Catholic” from the hospital, stating “I cannot guarantee that the care provided will be in full accord with the teachings of the Church.” My former student’s husband, a good young doctor and an upright man, was working in the midst of that very challenging context, constantly feeling torn between loyalty to his employer and being faithful to the Church.
Having worked now in a broad range of Church-based organisations for the past eighteen years – in schools, universities, youth ministry, World Youth Days, parishes, new ecclesial communities, mission organisations – it appears to me that we are now in a crucial period for Catholic institutions to genuinely “authenticate” and to live according to their vocation. This has implications for individuals, because institutions are made up of people. Blessed Pope John Paul II’s exhortation to young people can be applied to any organisation that bears the name Catholic: “Be what you are!”
You may wish to ask: Why am I working in a Catholic institution? What has drawn me to it? What makes me Catholic? How can I be more effective or fruitful? Of what does authenticity consist? Being as insignificant as I am, how can I make any difference? What can be done to help my organisation be true to itself?
In his speech at the Catholic University of America in April 2007 the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI addressed similar crucial questions that go to the heart of the vocation of a Catholic institution:
“A University or school’s Catholic identity is not simply a question of the number of Catholic students. It is a question of conviction – do we really believe that only in the mystery of the Word made flesh does the mystery of man truly become clear (cf. Gaudium et spes, 22)? Are we ready to commit our entire self – intellect and will, mind and heart – to God? Do we accept the truth that Christ reveals? Is the faith tangible in our Universities and schools? Is it given fervent expression liturgically, sacramentally, through prayer, acts of charity, a concern for justice, and respect for God’s creation? Only in this way do we really bear witness to the meaning of who we are and what we uphold.”
Effectiveness for educators comes with the authentic witness of life lived in Christ. This is what attracts and inspires students to desire greatness and to take steps to make a difference. We recall the famous words of Pope Paul VI, “If the world listens to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” This is easy to say, but how can it be achieved, we might ask? Keeping in mind the insight of St. Therese of Lisieux, that “[t]here is a unique path of holiness for each person,” the following advice of Blessed Mother Teresa offers each of us – in the midst of our daily interactions and work – a good way to begin:
“People are often unreasonable and self-centred,
forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives,
be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and true enemies,
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you,
be honest and frank anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous,
be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow,
do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough,
give you best anyway.
For you see, in the end, it is between you and God,
It was never between you and them anyway.”
As G. K. Chesterton once wrote, “The Church is always leaping out of the tomb, just when the world pronounces her dead.” The evidence of the life of God in the world is boundless, if we have the eyes to see. The vibrant joy of the youth of the world in Sydney gathered around the Successor of Saint Peter in 2008 was one striking sign of this. And there are many more ordinary but no less beautiful pieces of evidence of the presence of God in the world that cross our path every day: laughter among friends, an autumn tree leaf, a word of encouragement in times of doubt, an inspiring novel, a momentary revelation, the truth spoken in the face of compromising pressure, an act of mercy…
Let us pray for the capacity and the will to recognise that “THE REDEEMER OF MAN, Jesus Christ, is the centre of the universe and of history” – as proclaimed by Blessed John Paul II – and to allow ourselves to be fully formed and actively led by the Holy Spirit in and through His Body, the Catholic Church. Let us also pray for the eyes to see beauty, for a mind to know freeing truth, and for a purified heart that always, and in all things, seeks to love.
Stephen Lawrence is Director of Identity and Mission at the Australian Catholic University, and is the author of Five Smooth Stones A 40 Day WYD Journal Personal Anecdotes and Reflections which can be purchased by clicking here
What could you do today, what small step can you take, to “be what you are?”