Some of you may know that over the summer, the President of the United States made public his nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh for a seat on the Supreme Court. Judge Kavanaugh would be filling the vacancy left by the retirement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. In his speech accepting the nomination, Kavanaugh, a graduate of Georgetown Prep Jesuit high school, told millions of viewers that he has spent his whole life trying to live the motto of his school: to be a “man for others.” Then, as if that was not enough, he went on to tell the world that he was a committed Catholic and was very active in his parish.
I was impressed that a guy who stands at the brink of possibly being one of the most important and influential people in the country, would have the courage to publicly state for all to hear that he was a “man for others,” and a committed Catholic. The fact is, being Catholic in the world of politics, or the world of entertainment, or the world of science, or just the world in general, is not an easy thing. Way too often if you wear your Catholicism on your sleeve and truly strive to live the gospel values, you are quickly met with suspicion, mockery, and jeers. You are thought to be a bore, out of date, and out of touch.
Yet, there was Kavanaugh, a graduate of Yale Law School, cool as a cucumber, confident, and determined, leading off his speech to the American people with a testimony to the fact that he is a man of faith and has raised his family to be a family of faith. He was not afraid to show the world that God and His Church played a significant part in his life as a man, a husband, a father, and a judge and that it has been one of the keys to his success.
That fact is that the history books are filled with men with this kind of valor and determination. Just the other day, at the dedication of the new chapel of the Holy Cross at Jesuit High School in Tampa, I stood in front of an image of the martyr Blessed Miguel Pro. This is a man who became a Jesuit priest during one of the most difficult times for the faith in modern history. Born in Mexico in 1891, he entered the Society of Jesus shortly after the Mexican government adopted a new constitution that made being Catholic illegal. Churches were burnt to the ground, priests and nuns were murdered, and all religious activity was suspended. Yet in the midst of all of that, Miguel Pro decided to walk right into the mouth of the lion and minister to the people of God.
He spent most of his time trying to evade the authorities. He would wear costumes to disguise himself so he wouldn’t be arrested. He gathered people together at night and in secret to celebrate the mass and baptize babies. He would inconspicuously ride on buses or sit on park benches with a newspaper and hear confessions, giving absolution by doing the sign of the cross as if he were swatting a fly. It was dangerous, but he was not afraid to be a priest and not afraid to practice his Catholic faith. Eventually, he was betrayed and captured, and on November 23, 1927, he was killed by a firing squad with outstretched arms while screaming in a loud voice, “Viva Cristo Rey!”
What could possibly possess a man to willingly live such a dangerous and persecuted life? What could possibly possess a man to willingly die such a violent death? The answer is Jesus Christ. It is only in Jesus that one can find the courage to stand strong for what one believes and surrender life and limb. It is only in Jesus that one can discover the truth and the meaning of life and be willing to go to the grave for it. Jesus said in the gospel that if there is any man, woman, or child who would come after him, he must pick up his cross and follow him (Matthew 16:24). That is what Miguel Pro did. He also warned us that if we choose to be his disciples, “they will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of [his] name” (Luke 21:12). That is what happened to Miguel Pro.
And we are all called to do the same.
I know this sounds like a scary endeavor and an impossible challenge, but do not be afraid.
In his homily for the inauguration of his papacy in 1978, St. Pope John Paul II spoke in St. Peter’s Square in front of millions of people and clamored in a loud voice, “Brothers and sisters, do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power… Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ. To his saving power open the boundaries of States, economic, and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization, and development. Do not be afraid. Christ knows ‘what is in man.’ He alone knows it.”
These words have always struck a chord with me. I was only 10 years old when I heard them and remember clearly feeling the strength of the Holy Spirit already inside of me as it moved me to live my life as a young Catholic. I read these words all the time as I made my way through high school, entered the seminary, and was ordained a priest. And in today’s world filled with such violence, confusion, and abuse, I read them again so that the same Holy Spirit will continue to spur me on to live my life for Jesus Christ.
And now, I read them to you and I ask that you make them your own. Do not be afraid my brothers to surrender your life to Christ. Do not be afraid to search always for the truth, even when it hurts. Do not be afraid to stand up for the poor and the neglected, to confront the bully, admonish the evildoer, and silence the cynic. Do not be afraid to be a man of faith, a man of the Catholic Church, to pray in public, and sing God’s praise. Do not be afraid to follow Jesus Christ and be his disciple. Do not be afraid to take Christ with you into the classroom, onto the field, into the dining hall, and into your home. Do not be afraid to share Christ with your friends, your parents, your teachers, and even your enemies.
Sons of Belen Jesuit, if there is ever a time that the world needs good men, it is now. If there is ever a time the Church needs good men, it is now. Remember our Jesuit word, magis. It means to do the more, to excel. It means to not be satisfied with the status quo and to not simply meet expectations, but exceed them. Again, the words of St. Pope John Paul II, “Do not be afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity. Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”
My Belen brothers, focus your eyes on the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus that towers over me. Know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he loves you. Know that there is no lava that spews from a volcano in Hawaii, no blaze that ravages the forests of California, no global warming that raises the temperature of the earth every year, that is more powerful than the love that Jesus has for you. It is that fire of the love of Jesus for you, it is the passion in the heart of Jesus for you, that will help you manage your fear and doubt so you can do what a disciple of Jesus needs to do.
This will be an extraordinary year at Belen and I am excited for what is yet to come. As your classes begin, as you take on more responsibility in the school, as your activities and sports get going, look often to the banner over to my left and repeat continuously those four simple words: do not be afraid.
Let us together with one voice ask our Blessed Mother in song to watch over us…
Our Lady of Belen… pray for us.