Reflections on evangelizing and winning the victory of faith

As I write you this week, I am in Rome for a meeting of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America. It is a beautiful time to be in the Eternal City, as we are entering these final weeks of Lent. The Church and the city are alive with activity. Everyone seems to be getting ready for the beatification of our beloved Pope John Paul II, which is set for Mercy Sunday, the Sunday after Easter. Before I left for Rome, I had the enjoyable privilege of visiting a Lakers practice. As you know, I am a big basketball fan. So this was a real treat for me. I enjoyed a great morning - watching the team scrimmage, and afterwards talking with players, coaches and people in the Lakers' organization. I'm grateful for the warm welcome they all gave me. St. Paul sometimes compared our spiritual lives to the way athletes train for competition. It is a good comparison. We play sports and we watch sports for fun. But athletics is also a great school of the virtues. Sports can teach us to love life as God's gift, to value discipline and self-sacrifice, and to know the need for teamwork and mutual respect. These are all virtues that we need in order to grow in our spiritual lives and in our lives as disciples. Like athletes in training, we want to make strides in our spiritual life every day. We want to be always getting stronger in our love for God, and in our desire to serve Christ with all our heart and all our might. That's what St. Paul meant when he talked about "running the race" and "fighting the good fight." We are talking about many of these same things here in Rome this week. The issue is the new evangelization: How do we proclaim the Gospel in our culture? How do we help people keep their faith in a secular age and a materialistic society? I see a great opportunity in the rich varieties of popular piety that we have in the Church. The seeds of the Gospel have been sown in every culture. And from every cultural soil these seeds have borne rich fruit. Every culture has yielded its own distinctive brand of popular Catholic literature and art, songs and customs, patron saints, pious devotions and feast days. Here in Los Angeles, we have dozens of different ethnic Catholic celebrations. Native Americans honor Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha. Our Peruvian brothers and sisters celebrate El Se√±or de los Milagros, "Our Lord of the Miracles." Filipino Catholics pray Simbang Gabi, a nine-day devotion to Mary. All of these devotions and popular expressions of faith make up our common family heritage as Catholics. Our Lady of Guadalupe does not "belong" only to Mexican Catholics. She speaks to men and women of every culture and ethnic background. The same is true for the Marian devotions and great saints and martyrs of Korea, Japan and Vietnam. St. Patrick, the great missionary of Ireland, is not the "property" of the Irish. He belongs to all of us. He should be an inspiration to everyone concerned for the new evangelization. This is what it means to be Catholic. We are part of the one family of God drawn from peoples of all nations and cultures. We are heirs to the authentic Catholic traditions of every culture. And all true popular religiosity is rooted in the Eucharist, which is the source of our unity as one family, joined in the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. We live in exciting times in the Church. The fields of our world are ripe for the harvest of faith. People are hungry for God. They long to make contact with him. They long to know his love and his power in their lives. And we have a beautiful treasury of devotions and spiritualities to offer to the people of our time. The challenge for us is to learn from all of our Catholic traditions. The challenge is to be open to take advantage of this rich variety, and to celebrate and share our traditions among ourselves and with our society. Our traditions of popular piety are not only cultural or personal devotions. They are a part of the good news that the Church is called to bring to the men and women of our world today. I will be praying for you this week in Rome. And I ask your prayers for me. Let us all ask Our Lady of Guadalupe to help us make strides in these final weeks of Lent. Let us keep pressing on to win the victory over selfishness and sin, so that one day we will win the crown of eternal life.