November 8, 2015
The opening words of Pope Francis’ homily at the canonization mass for St. Junípero Serra on Sept. 23 in Washington, D.C. caught my eye – Rejoice in the Lord always! I say it again, rejoice!
As these words from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (4:4) grace the inner courtyard of our Chancery, the Holy Father’s words drew me closer. We chose this text to express our joy when, having been nurtured in the Anglican tradition, the Catholic Church made it possible for us to come into full communion. That this is a work of the Holy Spirit is evidenced by the sure sign of the Spirit’s presence amongst the people of God — joy.
Pope Francis warned of the obstacles that stand in the way of this invitation to rejoice, a glumness that becomes habitual and causes the heart to grow numb. So how can we allow the joy of the Gospel to come alive in our hearts?
“Jesus gives the answer. He said to his disciples then and he says it to us now: Go forth! Proclaim!” We experience this joy when we answer the call by reaching out in mission. “Mission is never the fruit of a perfectly planned program or a well-organized manual. Mission is always the fruit of a life which knows what it is to be found and healed, encountered and forgiven.”
Pope Francis’ words are often very challenging for those who find their Christian identity primarily in a particular culture or institution. We should know! The dislocation that converts experience is not unlike that of refugees. The Holy Father reminded us that we were all people who needed to be evangelized. “Once you were no people, but now you are God’s people” (I Peter 2:10). So we must never lose this sense that we are have come to the Rock by grace and grace keeps us anchored to it.
Some years ago I spent a very peaceful morning praying in Mission San Juan Capistrano, one of St. Junípero’s missions. A gentle breeze was blowing through the open windows (perhaps the swallows were even singing!), and I remember praying for the courage and the opportunity to become Catholic, to do nothing that would impair that journey that must be taken. I asked for Fr. Serra’s prayers, and I am so happy that finally he has been raised to the altars. His life’s work is an inspiration for us.
Pope Francis spoke of St. Junípero as the embodiment of “a Church which goes forth.” His motto was siempre adelante! Keep moving forward! “For him, this was the way to experience the joy of the Gospel, to keep his heart from growing numb … he kept moving forward, because the Lord was waiting.”
And here I think we find the Ordinariate’s mission. To grow our congregations, to plant new congregations, and to invite our separated brothers and sisters to come home to the Catholic Church. We invite them, but we do not judge them; we encourage them, but we do not hound them; we love them, for they are our family. This moving forward, this reaching out, this work of reconciliation is the way to keep our faith joyful and fruitful.
– Msgr. Jeffrey Steenson