Don’t just do something – be.

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I just returned from the Catholic Leadership Conference — or, as I like to call it, “the best three days of the year.”

In the midst of the current crisis in the Church, it was truly inspiring to spend several days with holy, committed lay leaders who are ready to do whatever we can to heal the broken body of Christ.

And boy, did it inspire me.  We talked about what we’re going to do, together and separately.  We talked about “swinging for the fences,” about winning souls for Christ.  I left all fired up and raring to go do something.

I suspect that I am not alone in this.  Those of us who love God, or at least profess to, are always thinking about the great things we’re going to do for him.  We’ll bring a scorecard to show him on Judgment Day.  We preached.  We served.  We converted.  By golly, we did a whole lot of stuff!!

But then, a little voice inside asks me, “But what are you going to be?”

It has become increasingly apparent to me that this crisis was brought on in no small part by men on many levels who may have, at some point, had good intentions.  Maybe there was a time when some of them actually wanted to do good for the Church or for the world.  Maybe not.  But either way, it’s clear that they were, in the end, not holy men.  Some of them did unspeakably horrible things.  Others made very poor decisions in the wake of those unspeakable things.  Many, in myriad ways, placed power and prestige over the good of the faithful.

Not the actions of a truly holy man.

So, if the lack of holiness led to the problem, what do you suppose the solution would be?

I think that, above and before all, the solution is for all of us to become holier.

Remember why Christ came.  It wasn’t to tell us to do stuff.  Of course, He did tell us to do stuff.  And to avoid doing other stuff.  But all of that was to flow out of what were to become. In him, we become new creations.  New men.  New wine that won’t fit in old wineskins.  We are to be changed, converted.  We are to decrease while he increases in us.

It’s those “New Creations” he wants out there doing things.  Holy, converted men and women who hear his voice, answer his call, and bring his love into the world.

I don’t know about you, but on my own, I am capable of achieving very little.  And even less am I capable of discerning what I should be doing.  What will be most effective.  Where my talents can do the most good.

When it comes to this realm, he knows what is best, far better than I do.

He can’t operate in us if our agendas and our egos keep getting in the way.  He needs us to be committed to him, profoundly changed, ready to be led by the One who is the source of all true healing.

Fortunately, for me and for the world, the Catholic leaders I was with last week are those people.  They are humble.  They are holy.  They are completely “sold out” for Christ.  These are the men and women we want swinging for the fences, acting on his prompting, doing their part to restore his Church.

As for me, I’m doing my best to keep up.  Trying to grow in holiness, trying to listen to his voice.

How do we do that?  How do we grow closer to Christ?  How to we let him convert us?  Through prayer.  Through the sacraments — especially confession and the Eucharist.  Through the Mass.  Through reading about the lives of other men and women who were on fire for him — namely, the saints.  Through studying the Word and getting to know the One who loves us most, whose Spirit brings us to new life. And through surrendering to him.

So, if you’ve been sitting around wondering what you can do for the Church in the midst of this crisis — or even if you haven’t — how about starting there?  Work on growing in holiness, on really submitting your life to him and letting him convert you on a deeper level.

And then hold on tight, because he will undoubtedly take you on the ride of your life.

COMING UP: Thomas Fitzsimons: The unsung Catholic Founding Father 

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As our nation celebrates the day of its independence and subsequent founding as a country on July 4, a look back some lesser-knowCatholic history of this historic event seems warranted.  

George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin: these are names every American knows. Pull out your wallet and you’ll likely see at least one of their faces on the money you carry aroundAnd while this nation was founded on principles rooted in Christianity, none of these men were Catholic. In fact, of the men history calls the Founding Fathers of America, only two were. 

Many may already be familiar with Founding Father Charles Carroll, a Catholic and signer of the Declaration of Independence, and whose brother John was the first Catholic bishop assigned to what would become the United States. However, Carroll was not the only Catholic who played a role in the founding of our country. The other was Thomas Fitzsimons, a name that is not mentioned much (if at all) in U.S. history classes but deserves to be recognized nonetheless.  

The unwieldy named Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia, published in 1887, paints a vivid picture of Fitzsimons and the way his faith informed his character. While the other Founding Fathers were meeting and deliberating about the Declaration of Independence, Fitzsimons joined the Continental Army anfought on the frontlines against the British army. 

Captain Fitzsimons commanded his company of militia until 1778, when France entered the war. British troops withdrew from Pennsylvania and began to focus on the southern states. It was at this time that Fitzsimons became more involved in politics at the state level. In 1782, he became a delegate at the Continental Congress. In 1786, he was elected as a Pennsylvania state legislator and served for three terms until 1789. In 1787, he was selected to represent Pennsylvania at the Constitutional Congress, where the United States Constitution was written and ratified. He, along with Daniel Carroll, were the only two Catholics to sign to Constitution. 

Born in Belfast, Ireland in 1741, not much else is known about Fitzsimons’ family. He had three brothers – Nicholas, Andrew and John – and one sister, Ann. He and his family immigrated to America as early as 1760, where they became residents of Philadelphia. It was here that Fitzsimons would stake his claim as a businessman and politician. 

In 1763, Fitzsimons married Catharine Meade, whose brother, George Meade, would later go into business with Fitzsimons and build one of the most successful commercial trade houses in Philadelphia. Throughout his life, Fitzsimons was in close correspondence with Bishop John Carrollthese letters revealed insights into the Catholic Founding Father’s personal life. In a letter to Bishop Carroll in 1808, Fitzsimons wrote of being married to Catharine for 45 years. Additionally, local baptismal records show that he and Catharine stood as sponsors at the baptisms of three of Meade’s children. 

In 1774, Fitzsimons began his first foray into politics when he was elected as one of 13 Provincial Deputies who were given authority to call a general meeting of the citizens. It is believed he was the first Catholic to have ever held public office in the budding United States. Even so, anti-Catholic bigotry was common at the time and did exist within some of his fellow statesmen, such as John Adams, who once said in an address to the people of Great Britain that the Catholic faith was “a religion that has deluged your island in blood and dispersed impiety, bigotry, persecution, murder and rebellion through every part of the world.” 

Fitzsimons’ first stint in public office was brief, only lasting from May to July, but it was a foreshadowing his future involvement in state affairs. As the Revolutionary War broke out in 1775, Fitzsimons formed a company of soldiers to fight against the British army. He was assigned to the Third Battalion under Col. Cadwalader and Lieut. Col. John Nixon, who was the grandson of a Catholic. Behind the scenes, as George Washington and the like organized committees and framed what would become the Declaration of Independence, Fitzsimons ascended to the rank of Captain and continued to serve his country as a soldier and patriot.

In addition to his tenure as a commanding officer and politician, Fitzsimons also found success in other ventures. In 1781, he helped found the Bank of North America, the United States’ first de facto central bank, and served as its director until 1803. The latter years of his life were spent primarily in private business, but he maintained a consistent interest in public affairs; even Fitzsimons wasn’t exempt from the old adage, “once a politician, always a politician.” 

Through all of these endeavors, and even after befalling troubled financial times in the early 1800s, Fitzsimons remained a diligent philanthropist. He gave immense support to St. Augustine’s Catholic Church in Philadelphia and was invested in the improvement of public education in the commonwealth. As one of his contemporaries wrote after his death in 1811, “he died in the esteem, affection and gratitude of all classes of his fellow citizens.” 

Fitzsimons was buried in the graveyard of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Philadelphia, which is now part of Independence National Historical Park. His name may not be a household one like Washington or Jefferson, but Fitzsimons can be remembered as something of an unsung Founding Father of the United Statesa man whose life of quiet faith, humble service and admirable patriotism exemplifies the values that this country was founded upon in a simple yet profound way.