Fr. Roger J. Landry
Retreat given at Sacred Heart Retreat House
November 15-17, 2002
• The Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, has been losing his voice trying to get the Church to confront what he calls the greatest crisis facing the Church and the world.
• The greatest crisis facing the Church and the world is not the threat of terrorism.
• It’s not the threat of nuclear war.
• It’s not the threat of so-called global warming.
• It’s not the crisis of the family.
• It’s not even the lack of vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
• All of these are real and they’re important, and the Pope isn’t downplaying any of them in saying that none of them is the greatest crisis facing the Church and the world.
• But the Pope, who himself is as astute about world history, politics and events as anyone is, and is as wise about things in the world as he is about the things of God, says that there’s a greater crisis facing the Church and the world, something that demands our immediate attention and the attention of all those who care for the human race. He says the greatest crisis all of us face is the crisis of holiness. And the response has to be a rebirth of holiness.
• That’s what this final conference will be about.
• In the third chapter of NMI, the Pope talks about what we need to do in response to the great challenges of our time, and he takes us to the theme of holiness, that Christ wants to make us holy. This is the pastoral plan that the Church must implement for the 21st century:
NMI 29: … Faced with the great challenges of our time, we shall find some magic formula. No, we shall not be saved by a formula but by a Person, and the assurance which he gives us: I am with you! It is not therefore a matter of inventing a “new programme”. The programme already exists: it is the plan found in the Gospel and in the living Tradition, it is the same as ever. Ultimately, it has its centre in Christ himself, who is to be known, loved and imitated, so that in him we may live the life of the Trinity, and with him transform history until its fulfilment in the heavenly Jerusalem. This is a programme which does not change with shifts of times and cultures, even though it takes account of time and culture for the sake of true dialogue and effective communication. This programme for all times is our programme for the Third Millennium.
• “Stressing holiness remains more than ever an urgent pastoral task,” the pope says in NMI 31.
• Holiness is the response of God to the crises of the world.
• The most recently canonized saint, St. Josemaria Escriva, a Spanish priest who founded Opus Dei, used to teach, “The great crises of the world are crises of saints.” He promoted at a time the universal call to holiness 40 years before it was trumpeted by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council. Holiness was the vocation of everyone, not just priests, not just religious, but of all the baptized. By the very fact that we’re baptized, we’re called to this holiness.
• The pope says in NMI 30:
To ask catechumens: “Do you wish to receive Baptism?” means at the same time to ask them: “Do you wish to become holy?” It means to set before them the radical nature of the Sermon on the Mount: “Be perfect[ed] as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48)
• St. John of the Cross, upon whose writings Karol Wojtyla wrote his first doctoral dissertation, wrote, “Remember always that you came here for no other reason than to be a saint; thus let nothing reign in your soul which does not lead you to sanctity.”
• “Stressing holiness remains more than ever an urgent pastoral task,” the pope says in NMI 31.
It is necessary therefore to rediscover the full practical significance of Chapter 5 of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, dedicated to the “universal call to holiness”. The Council Fathers laid such stress on this point, not just to embellish ecclesiology with a kind of spiritual veneer, but to make the call to holiness an intrinsic and essential aspect of their teaching on the Church. … To profess the Church as holy means to point to her as the Bride of Christ, for whom he gave himself precisely in order to make her holy (cf. Eph 5:25-26). This as it were objective gift of holiness is offered to all the baptized. But the gift in turn becomes a task, which must shape the whole of Christian life: “This is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Th 4:3). This is a task that concerns all Christians, not just priests and religious: “All the Christian faithful, of whatever state or rank, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity”.
• Therefore, Jesus is calling each one of us to holiness, to a life that is set apart and consecrated to God (Hebrew: qadosh)
• Holiness is something that doesn’t seek to do just enough, to just avoid mortal sins, to do the minimum.
NMI 31: Since Baptism is a true entry into the holiness of God through incorporation into Christ and the indwelling of his Spirit, it would be a contradiction to settle for a life of mediocrity, marked by a minimalist ethic and a shallow religiosity.
• Holiness, rather, seeks to love God with everything we’ve got, to love others with the love with which He loves them, to say yes to God with a pure heart, and to allow ourselves to be made holy by the Lord.
• Holiness is what being the salt of the earth and the light of the world are all about.
• The Pope says it’s also not to be confused with some type of extraordinary existence as if it were possible for only a few “uncommon heroes” of holiness, but rather says that “the ways of holiness are many, according to the vocation of each individual. He cites the many beatifications and canonizations he’s performed on ordinary people from all walks of life, ordinary people just like you and me.
• But while holiness is the call of everyone, and while it is not in and of itself extraordinary, it’s not easy either. He says that there must be a genuine “training in holiness,” a school of holiness, adapted to people’s needs.
• There are certain activities that make holiness more possible.
• He goes on to discuss several of the more important ones.
• But we first have to start with desire:
• Do you want to be holy?
• Do you want to fulfill the plan for which God created you out of nothing but his love and your parents’ love?
• Do you want to say yes to his tremendous action of love, valuing your life even more than his own?
• The pope charts five essential elements of the training in holiness, showing us clearly the path, perhaps more explicitly stated than in any magisterial document in history. Many of the things he says seem obvious, because they’re so fundamental. But we have to focus on putting them into action.
• Prayer — The first thing he calls for is prayer (NMI 32).
• This training in holiness calls for a Christian life distinguished above all in the art of prayer.
• CVT: “Why are there crises in the Church? It is because people do not take prayer seriously.”
• Prayer cannot be taken for granted.
• We have to learn to pray: as it were learning this art ever anew from the lips of the Divine Master himself, like the first disciples: “Lord, teach us to pray!” (Lk 11:1). The Lord wants to teach us how to pray, but we have to show up for class!
• Prayer develops that conversation with Christ which makes us his intimate friends: “Abide in me and I in you” (Jn 15:4).
• This reciprocity is the very substance and soul of the Christian life, and the condition of all true pastoral life.
• Wrought in us by the Holy Spirit, this reciprocity opens us, through Christ and in Christ, to contemplation of the Father’s face.
• Learning this Trinitarian shape of Christian prayer and living it fully, above all in the liturgy, the summit and source of the Church’s life, but also in personal experience, is the secret of a truly vital Christianity, which has no reason to fear the future, because it returns continually to the sources and finds in them new life.
• RJL: As we talked about last night, if I were to offer you the chance to have an appointment with the Pope for an hour each day, would you not jump at the chance? Or with the Blessed Mother, or with your favorite saints? But you have that chance every day with the Lord. What an amazing privilege? Sometimes we can look at prayer as a burden, and sometimes praying is hard. But it is such an awesome privilege, to be able to converse with the Lord, to be nourished by him. I renew the call here during this last conference for you to make a firm resolution to make a holy hour with our Lord a staple of your life.
• The great mystical tradition of the Church … shows [that prayer is] a genuine dialogue of love.
• It is a journey totally sustained by grace, which nonetheless demands an intense spiritual commitment and is no stranger to painful purifications (the “dark night”). But it leads, in various possible ways, to the ineffable joy experienced by the mystics as “nuptial union”. How can we forget here, among the many shining examples, the teachings of Saint John of the Cross and Saint Teresa of Avila?
• Listen to St. John of the Cross:
• More is gained in one hour from God’s good things than in a whole lifetime from our own.
• Since, when the hour of reckoning comes, you will be sorry for not having used your time in the service of God, why do you not arrange and use it now as you would wish to have done were you dying?
• Remember always that you came here for no other reason than to be a saint; thus let nothing reign in your soul which does not lead you to sanctity.
• Our Christian communities must become genuine “schools” of prayer, where the meeting with Christ is expressed not just in imploring help but also in
• listening and ardent devotion
• until the heart truly “falls in love”. Love is the point of it all.
• The pope says that the consecrated are called to pray in a particular way, but notes that “ it would be wrong to think that ordinary Christians can be content with a shallow prayer that is unable to fill their whole life. Especially in the face of the many trials to which today’s world subjects faith, they would be not only mediocre Christians but “Christians at risk”.
• They would run the insidious risk of seeing their faith progressively undermined, and would perhaps end up succumbing to the allure of “substitutes”, accepting alternative religious proposals and even indulging in far-fetched superstitions.
• There are no plateaus in the spiritual life. If we’re not going uphill, we’re going down-hill.
• It is therefore essential that education in prayer should become in some way a key-point of all pastoral planning.
• You’re called not only to pray —
• But you’re called to teach others how to pray.
• The Pope also says that prayer roots us in the primacy of grace (NMI 38).
• It is fatal to forget that “without Christ we can do nothing” (cf. Jn 15:5). It is prayer which roots us in this truth.
• It constantly reminds us of the primacy of Christ and, in union with him, the primacy of the interior life and of holiness.
• When this principle is not respected, is it any wonder that pastoral plans come to nothing and leave us with a disheartening sense of frustration? …
• This is the moment of faith, of prayer, of conversation with God, in order to open our hearts to the tide of grace and allow the word of Christ to pass through us in all its power: Duc in altum! As this millennium begins, allow the Successor of Peter to invite the whole Church to make this act of faith, which expresses itself in a renewed commitment to prayer.
• The Sunday Eucharist — The second thing the Pope singles out is Sunday Mass, but all the principles he applies to Sunday Mass could be applied as well to daily Mass. The Mass is the greatest prayer of all, Christ’s own from the Upper Room and the Cross which saved us. (NMI 35 ff).
• It is therefore obvious that our principal attention must be given to the liturgy, “the summit towards which the Church’s action tends and at the same time the source from which comes all her strength”.
• It is necessary to … stress particularly the Sunday Eucharist and Sunday itself experienced as a special day of faith, the day of the Risen Lord and of the gift of the Spirit, the true weekly Easter. (Which we can make a daily Easter). …
• The truth of Christ’s Resurrection is the original fact upon which Christian faith is based (cf. 1 Cor 15:14), an event set at the centre of the mystery of time, prefiguring the last day when Christ will return in glory.
• We do not know what the new millennium has in store for us, but we are certain that it is safe in the hands of Christ, the “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Rev 19:16); and precisely by celebrating his Passover not just once a year but every Sunday, the Church will continue to show to every generation “the true fulcrum of history, to which the mystery of the world’s origin and its final destiny leads”. (Again, all the more with daily Mass).
• [Sunday Mass] is a fundamental duty, to be fulfilled not just in order to observe a precept but as something felt as essential to a truly informed and consistent Christian life. Christians who don’t celebrate little Easter are not really Christians.
• The Sunday Eucharist is a challenge to Christians to … bear stronger witness to the distinguishing elements of their own identity.
• Precisely through sharing in the Eucharist, the Lord’s Day also becomes the Day of the Church, when she can effectively exercise her role as the sacrament of unity.
• The Sacrament of Reconciliation (NMI 37) — The Pope turns next to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
• The Sacrament of Reconciliation is that central to holiness and that central to the Third Christian Millennium.
• Practically speaking, one of the last acts Christ did before he was betrayed was to give us the sacrament of his body and blood.
• And practically the first act he did after he rose from the dead was to enter into the same Upper Room, breathe on the Apostles and say, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Those whose sins you forgive are forgiven; those whose sins you retain are retained.”
• The pope notes that in Reconciliation and Penance, his “invitation then was to make every effort to face the crisis of “the sense of sin” apparent in today’s culture.
• “But I was even more insistent in calling for a rediscovery of Christ as mysterium pietatis, the one in whom God shows us his compassionate heart and reconciles us fully with himself.”
• It is this face of Christ that must be rediscovered through the Sacrament of Penance, which for the faithful is “the ordinary way of obtaining forgiveness and the remission of serious sins committed after Baptism”.
• We can confess our sins to anybody, our mothers, our friends, to God himself, but the sacrament of Confession is the only ordinary way on earth we can know here on earth that our sins have been forgiven.
• He calls on Pastors to “arm themselves with more confidence, creativity and perseverance in presenting it and leading people to appreciate it” and “not to give in to passing crises.”
• Without appreciating the fact that we’re sinners, we can never appreciate Jesus as Savior. He came to save us from our sins. When we are forgiven, we can exult as the whole Church does in the Exsultet: O Happy Fault of Adam, that brought us such a great Redeemer!” and we can substitute our own name.
• Listening to the Word — There needs to be a return to Sacred Scripture, and the Pope calls us to it (NMI 39):
• There is no doubt that this primacy of holiness and prayer is inconceivable without a renewed listening to the word of God.
• Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ (St. Jerome).
• How many of you have read the whole Bible? The whole NT? All four Gospels? One?
• It is especially necessary that listening to the word of God should become a life-giving encounter, in the ancient and ever valid tradition of lectio divina, which draws from the biblical text the living word which questions, directs and shapes our lives.
• Lectio divina is not just reading, the way we read text books to learn.
• This type of reading of Sacred Scripture is to nourish and change our lives.
• God speaks to us, live!
• Tolle et legge! (St. Augustine)
• Proclaiming the Word — Listening to the Word is not enough. It must become part of us, take flesh within us, and inspire us to share this greatest treasure with others (NMI 40). We have to put it into practice and share it with others.
• To nourish ourselves with the word in order to be “servants of the word” in the work of evangelization: this is surely a priority for the Church at the dawn of the new millennium.
• Even in countries evangelized many centuries ago, the reality of a “Christian society” which, amid all the frailties which have always marked human life, measured itself explicitly on Gospel values, is now gone.
• Over the years, I have often repeated the summons to the new evangelization. I do so again now, especially in order to insist that we must rekindle in ourselves the impetus of the beginnings and allow ourselves to be filled with the ardour of the apostolic preaching which followed Pentecost.
• We must revive in ourselves the burning conviction of Paul, who cried out: “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel” (1 Cor 9:16).
• This passion will not fail to stir in the Church a new sense of mission, which cannot be left to a group of “specialists” but must involve the responsibility of all the members of the People of God.
• Those who have come into genuine contact with Christ cannot keep him for themselves, they must proclaim him. A new apostolic outreach is needed, which will be lived as the everyday commitment of Christian communities and groups.
• Christ must be presented to all people with confidence.
• We shall address adults, families, young people, children, without ever hiding the most radical demands of the Gospel message, but taking into account each person’s needs in regard to their sensitivity and language, after the example of Paul who declared: “I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Cor 9:22).
• In making these recommendations, I am thinking especially of the pastoral care of young people.
• Precisely in regard to young people, … the Jubilee has given us an encouraging testimony of their generous availability.
• We must learn to interpret that heartening response, by investing that enthusiasm like a new talent (cf. Mt 25:15) which the Lord has put into our hands so that we can make it yield a rich return.
• The young are often the greatest evangelizers of their peers, not just by words but particularly by example.
• Summary — The Pope summarizes these points in his message for WYD 2002:
• Yes, now is the time for mission! In your Dioceses and parishes, in your movements, associations and communities, Christ is calling you.
• The Church welcomes you and wishes to be your home and your school of communion and prayer.
• Study the Word of God and let it enlighten your minds and hearts.
• Draw strength from the sacramental grace of Reconciliation and the Eucharist.
• Visit the Lord in that “heart to heart” contact that is Eucharistic Adoration.
• Day after day, you will receive new energy to help you to bring comfort to the suffering and peace to the world.
• Many people are wounded by life: they are excluded from economic progress, and are without a home, a family, a job; there are people who are lost in a world of false illusions, or have abandoned all hope.
• By contemplating the light radiant on the face of the Risen Christ, you will learn to live as “children of the light and children of the day” (1 Th 5:5), and in this way you will show that “the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true” (Eph 5:9)
• The pope calls us (NMI 41) to take inspiration from the example of saints.
• May the shining example of the many witnesses to the faith whom we have remembered during the Jubilee sustain and guide us in this confident, enterprising and creative sense of mission.
• For the Church, the martyrs have always been a seed of life. Sanguis martyrum semen christianorum: this famous “law” formulated by Tertullian has proved true in all the trials of history. Will this not also be the case of the century and millennium now beginning?
• The Pope calls us to consider the martyrs as a present phenomenon. We’re all called to be these witnesses:
• Perhaps we were too used to thinking of the martyrs in rather distant terms, as though they were a category of the past, associated especially with the first centuries of the Christian era.
• The Jubilee remembrance has presented us with a surprising vista, showing us that our own time is particularly prolific in witnesses, who in different ways were able to live the Gospel in the midst of hostility and persecution, often to the point of the supreme test of shedding their blood.
• In [the martyrs] the word of God, sown in good soil, yielded a hundred fold (cf. Mt 13:8, 23).
• By their example they have shown us, and made smooth for us, so to speak, the path to the future.
• All that remains for us is, with God’s grace, to follow in their footsteps.
• Pier Giorgio Frassati was called the man of the Beatitudes and the Beatitudes are the particular way of pursuing holiness.
• Jesus says we will be blessed and inherit the kingdom if we do certain types of things, which are not the way the world does certain things.
• There are two different types of values, and, if we want to be saints, we need to trust in Jesus and in the values of the Beatitudes.
Whereas the world say you have to be rich to be happy, Jesus says “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they will inherit the kingdom of heaven.”
Whereas the world says, you’re happy when you know how to have fun and don’t have a concern in the world, Jesus says “Blessed are those” who are so concerned with others that “they mourn” over the others’ miseries, “for they will be comforted” by him eternally.
Whereas the world says, “You have to be strong and powerful to be happy,” Jesus says blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”
Whereas the world says, “To be happy, you’ve got to have a great sex life, you’ve got to be sexy and attractive,’” “ Happy are men like Hugh Hefner or Hollywood vixens,” Jesus says “Happy are the pure of heart for they shall see God.”
Whereas the world says, “You’re happy when you eat and drink well and live it up,” Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for holiness, for his grace and justification, for they will be filled.”
Whereas the world says, “You’re happy when you don’t start a fight, but finish it” and people from professional wrestlers, to boxers, to generals, to armchair presidents shout “No mercy,” Jesus says “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy” and “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
Whereas the world says, “You’re happy when everyone considers you nice,” and “Blessed are you when you have a good lawyer,” Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” and “blessed are you when people revile you, persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account,” “for their reward will be the kingdom of heaven.
• The beatitudes are a recipe for holiness. Do we trust Jesus enough to put them into practice?
• Jesus was himself poor in spirit, mourned, meek, humble and pure of heart, thirsted for holiness, justice and righteousness, merciful, the greatest peacemaker of all and was persecuted until his death for the sake of righteousness.
• Can these things be said about you? Are you poor in spirit? Do you weep over what sin does to you, to others, to the world? Are you meek and humble of heart? Are you pure of heart? Do you thirst for holiness, justice and righteousness? Are you merciful? Do you try to make peace or do you make enemies? And are you willing to suffer for the sake of righteousness, for the name of the Lord?
• Holiness is the greatest crisis facing the Church. You are called to holiness. “This is God’s will for you: your sanctification.” God would not be calling you to that state unless he knew that you could become holy.
• As we end this retreat, and thank the Lord for all his blessings over this November triduum:
• We ask him to fill us with a great desire for holiness, which is the great need of the 3rd Christian millennium. The Holy Spirit wants to write a new Acts of the Apostles, with each of us — and that includes you — playing a starring role.
• We ask him to send again upon us the gifts of His Holy Spirit, so that he might keep ever kindled in us the fire of his love.
• We ask him to fill with us with such a love for Christ in the Eucharist that we will always hunger to receive the Lord in Holy Communion and to come spend time with him in prayer, adoring, praising, thanking, loving and petitioning Him.
• We ask him to give us a great confidence in his Divine Mercy, so that we might always come back to His Merciful arms when we sin, so that he can forgive us and send us out, just like he did to Peter, Mary Magdalene, Augustine and so many of those before us.
• We ask him to fill us with a great hunger for the coming to meet Him in Sacred Scripture, that we might burn with a desire to hear his voice there, and have the courage and grace to put those words into practice.
• We ask him to give us what he knows we need to be able to share that word boldly with others in the new Evangelization, by our words actions.
• And we ask him to help us fulfill our vocation, that he himself has given us, to be the saints of the 21st century and the sharers with all our holy heroes in the joys of heaven.
God love you!