When I processed into St. Mary Magdalene church, I was filled with gratitude for the six Sisters of Life who sat in two pews toward the front and who were surrounded by the faithful.
“You probably have realized,” I told the sisters, “that people around here aren’t used to seeing sisters in habits, not to mention young sisters.” In this Year of Consecrated Life, the arrival of the Sisters of Life and the St. Charles Borromeo Sisters is a gift and a sign of hope for us, just as are the other orders present in the archdiocese for so many decades. They visibly show us that the truths of the faith are life-giving, even though society calls them the opposite.
In 1975 Blessed Pope Paul VI astutely observed, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses,” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 41). What was true in 1975 is even truer today, as can be seen by the reactions to so many of Pope Francis’ gestures.
When we truly fall in love with Jesus Christ, give our entire lives to him, experience him in the sacraments, and know the joy of living in communion with others who love him, then we can’t help but become like him and become witnesses to him. And people are hungry for authentic disciples.
In St. Luke’s Gospel, Jesus used the example of a child’s game similar to “Follow the Leader” to describe the generation of his time, and that example applies to today as well. “They are like children who sit in the marketplace and call to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, but you did not dance. We sang a dirge, but you did not weep’” (Luke 7:32). Why is authenticity in such demand today? It is because people reject the truth and the created order of the world, just as the children refused to play the game. Day to day we experience the consequences of living as if objective truth does not exist, and that is making people long for coherency amidst the chaos of “anything goes.”
In my homily for the Mass welcoming the Sisters of Life, I reminded them that they have a responsibility to bear witness to the truth with joy and to serve as beacons of light in the stormy seas created by relativism. This duty isn’t just for the sisters, though, it applies to every Catholic. Many people have never heard the truth and they are longing for it; they need to see you live it and proclaim it.
But even if we are joyful witnesses, we should not expect to escape hatred or persecution. In fact, as Pope Saint John Paul II and Pope Francis have pointed out there are more martyrs for the faith now than there were in the early Church. What we should expect is that the power of Christ’s love will be stronger than the death caused by sin; that his mercy can transform the hardest heart and convert our persecutors.
Despite people rejecting the truths he preached, Jesus pointed out, “wisdom is vindicated by all her children” (Luke 7:35). I told the Sisters of Life, and now I tell you, you must be witnesses to the truths that all life is sacred, that marriage requires the complementarity of a man and a woman, that God desires to give us his mercy, and that new life is possible in Jesus Christ. All Catholics are called by their baptism to share that message of hope. We are called to help people truly encounter the Father of Mercies, who will free them as he has us, to receive his love and keep his commandments. The encounter with Mercy leads to love, which leads to a dying to oneself and to embracing the truth of Jesus Christ and all that he calls us to. Only in him does the human heart find peace and joy! Do not be afraid, for with God all things are possible!