Last Sunday we celebrated the commissioning of our new catechists and a variety of other ministry leaders. Nearly 2,000 new catechists, teachers, Bible facilitators and leaders in the areas of adult, young adult and youth ministries came forward to be recognized by Archbishop Gomez and given the commission to go forth and hand on the faith to all they will encounter in their ministry.
Archbishop Gomez reminded all present of Pope Francis’ impending visit to the United States and the canonization of Fray Junípero Serra. Like Blessed Junípero, we must proclaim the Gospel with courage. This courage of the Gospel echoes the words of Pope Francis in his exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel,” as he calls for Spirit-filled evangelizers whom “the Holy Spirit … grants the courage to proclaim the newness of the Gospel with boldness in every time and place, even when it meets with opposition” (EG, 259).
The theme for Catechetical Sunday for this year is “Safeguarding the Dignity of Every Human Person.” The bishops of the United States are calling upon all the faithful, and catechists in a special way, to perform their ministries with attention given to how we can protect the dignity of all people.
There are many ideologies at work in our world today that would put material goods and financial success, power and social status above the needs and rights of human beings. Some examples of this can be seen in our news these days as governments try to calculate how many refugees to admit into their countries or in local legislatures seeking to allow physicians to prescribe substances by which their patients can end their lives.
Our work, however, is not merely to remind people of the Church’s teachings about certain ethical issues and practices. Our role as disciples is to imbue in each person the same love and respect for human beings that God has.
The English mystic, Julian of Norwich, pointed out that “God loved us before he made us; and his love has never diminished and never shall.” God pours out his love to us through his son, Jesus, who came to bring salvation to all people. We know that sometimes we find it difficult to see the dignity of others.
The readings for this Sunday offer a great insight into what obscures our ability to honor the dignity of each person. From the book of Wisdom, we learn how the wicked plot to tear down the just person.
In their maliciousness, they not only try to break down a person’s faith in God’s presence in the midst of trial but they also test God to prove he will come to their aid.
The effects of this wickedness is explored in the second reading from the letter of St. James as he speaks of the disorder and foul practices that flow from jealousy and selfish ambition.
In the Gospel, Jesus confronts his disciples for arguing over who is the greatest. He teaches them that they must seek to be “the last of all and the servant of all.” Taking a child, he instructs them that in receiving someone such as this, they receive Jesus and not only Jesus but “the one who sent me.”
In receiving the smallest, the least among us, we open our lives to the presence of Jesus and, ultimately, the divine life of God. We safeguard the dignity of every person not only by speaking up for the rights of others and to stop injustice, but also when we look for the smallest and the least in our midst and open our arms to receive them. The most vulnerable, the weak and the voiceless — the mystery of God’s presence is hidden in the ones who are most overlooked.
The work of the catechist — indeed all the faithful — is to help open our eyes to see them and to see in them the love of God inviting us to respond. Our response is to put ourselves at their service, to make ourselves last so that they may experience the love of God.
This can only happen through faith, by a heart that is centered on God and illuminated by the Gospel. St. John Vianney says this beautifully when he writes, “The eyes of the world see no further than this life. … The eyes of the Christian see deep into eternity.”
As we prepare ourselves for the Apostolic visit of the Holy Father and the beginning of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, let us rededicate ourselves to service of the smallest and the least with eyes and heart wide open.
To all the catechists receiving a blessing and being commissioned in their parishes this weekend: Thank you so much for your hard work, your dedication, your faith and the joy you bring to your ministry. A thousand blessings to you all and godspeed in all that you do for the coming year.