Fighting the darkness: Notre Dame and acts of faith

Archbishop Aquila

When the famous cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris went up in flames April 15, you could see and hear the pain in the faces and voices of the onlookers. People spontaneously gathered along the banks of the Seine River to sing the Hail Mary, paying tribute to the importance of Our Lady and the gift of faith.

I, too, remembered the times I prayed in the Cathedral and celebrated Mass there, and especially the adoration chapel. The sheer beauty of Notre Dame and the feats of skill involved in its construction over 800 years ago always filled me with wonder.

Paris fire brigade chaplain Father Jean-Marc Fournier also gave witness to the gift of faith when he rescued the relics of the Crown of Thorns, the Blessed Sacrament and numerous other sacred objects. He told the French magazine Famille Chrétienne that when he rescued the Blessed Sacrament it was “an act of faith. … I asked Jesus — and I really believe he is present in these hosts — to fight the flames and preserve the building dedicated to his mother.” The tragedy of the Notre Dame fire has brought forth these acts of witness to the faith.

It was also inspiring to see the outpouring of pledges for rebuilding Notre Dame that followed the blaze. Taken together, this spiritual and monetary support shows that even if people are far from the faith or not even Christian, we are all made for beauty and therefore the ultimate source of all that is true, good and beautiful, God himself.

Next weekend, May 4-5, we will launch the annual Archbishop’s Catholic Appeal in all the parishes of the Archdiocese of Denver. This appeal provides the people of northern Colorado with their chance to testify to the gift of faith and be a light to the world.

The charity of thousands of people in our archdiocese is already apparent. Through our homeless shelters, a safe place to sleep was provided for more than 200,000 nights in 2018. Our affordable housing system helped restore dignity by supplying housing for almost 1 million nights. We also fed the hungry, offering 612,158 meals to those in need. Our St. Raphael’s Counseling ministry was able to begin the healing process by counseling 667 clients, totaling thousands of hours of care.

These efforts demonstrate our love for Christ in the needy. But the Archbishop’s Catholic Appeal also brings the gift of faith to countless people in our parishes and local communities. The Office of Evangelization and Family Life Ministries trains catechists, youth ministers and parish staff in effective evangelization, provides retreats and helps engaged couples prepare for a happy, lifelong marriage. The Leadership Institute and other efforts of this office make valuable contributions to help create a culture of missionary discipleship in our archdiocese.

Perhaps the two ministries that have the most direct impact on parishes and are funded through the appeal are St. John Vianney and Redemptoris Mater Seminaries. I frequently hear from people about how impressed they are with our seminarians and their witness to the faith. This is a tribute to the dedicated efforts of the formators and professors at our two seminaries.

There are nearly 40 ministries that benefit from the appeal, so the impact of their witness is much more extensive than my brief description. Just as the unfolding of the fire at Notre Dame cathedral demonstrated the impact of faith and beauty on so many people, so too does the fruit of the annual appeal shine forth. The fruit we bear constantly reminds us that Jesus is truly risen and that he lives among us. We are able, through your generosity, to bring the love of Jesus Christ to hundreds of thousands of people in a world that desperately is searching for it. I invite you to prayerfully consider how God is calling you to join this effort.

Thank you for your generous and sacrificial support of the Archbishop’s Catholic Appeal. May God bless you this Easter season and help you be a light to the world!

COMING UP: How Juan Carlos Reyes lived the Resurrection

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

“Do not be afraid!” the angel told Mary Magdalene, “I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said” (Mt. 28:5-6). In just over a week, we will celebrate the most important truth of our faith – that by his death and resurrection, Jesus loved us and freed us from sin and death for eternal life with the Father.

With the pace and daily concerns of life, it’s easy to get distracted from the reality of the resurrection, from what ultimately matters in life. Even though all of us know that one day we will die, we often keep our eyes focused on the present rather than the goal of heaven, eternity with the Father who loves us. It’s possible to treat Jesus’ resurrection and his promises to us as events and nice words from the distant past, rather than living words spoken by the author of life, the Son of God, Truth himself for our times.

On March 20th, the Church, his family, and the world lost the strong and virtuous example of a 33-year-old man of profound faith, Juan Carlos Reyes, the director of Centro San Juan Diego and a husband and father. For those without faith, the story would have ended when he passed away, but for Juan Carlos and for all who believe in the resurrection from the dead, it was only the beginning.

Throughout his very brief struggle with an extremely rare form of rapidly growing cancer, I was deeply moved by Juan Carlos’ faith. Because he knew and believed in Christ, he told people, “I’m not afraid to die. I’m ready.” He shared with me in a conversation, “I know God can heal me, but if my death will give greater glory to the Father and is his will for me, then so be it.” As the cancer progressed, he saw the suffering he was enduring as a gift he could offer to God out of love for Christ and for his wife and three young sons.

This was not something unusual for Juan Carlos. He was a father who sacrificed for his children and wanted to lead a holy life and set an example for them and all he met. As his brother Jorge mentioned at his funeral, Juan Carlos and his wife would get up at 3:00 a.m. to pray the Rosary each night, and then taught all three of their young sons how to pray the rosary.

We know that Jesus commissioned the apostles to make “disciples of all nations” in his last words before he ascended into Heaven (Mt. 28:19). And so, it was fitting that Juan Carlos followed in his master’s footsteps with his last words. He told his wife that he could feel the end was near and then said, “it’s your turn to spread the Gospel now.”

The resurrection and what it means for how we live our lives is what truly matters. Juan Carlos was convinced that every decision he made, every action he took, and word he said participated in God’s plan for him and the world. This Easter season let us all open our hearts to the graces of the Jesus’ resurrection and the unfolding of his plan in our life. Let each of us pray for a deeper faith and intimacy with Jesus, so that we may invite others to encounter him. May we live without fear, trusting in the Father’s love and plan for us, for Jesus “…has been raised just as he said.”