Last Sunday in St. Peter’s Square with tens of thousands of people gathered, Pope Francis canonized seven new saints for the Catho
lic Church. If you were to take a quick look at the lives of these seven extraordinary people, you would notice that they were men and women from different eras, different countries, different socioeconomic backgrounds, who shared the same passion. In their own way and in their particular context, they heroically lived their faith in the midst of extreme adversity. In this way, they not only helped transform the lives of others, but the world.
These newly canonized saints are a beautiful and powerful reflection of the great diversity and potential of the Church.
In his homily for the occasion, Pope Francis said that, “All these saints, in different contexts, put [the Gospel] into practice in their lives, without lukewarmness, without calculation, with the passion to risk everything and to leave it all behind.” The pope went on to say that these saints lived their lives “radically.” But then again, so did Jesus.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, because traditionally I have always been a pretty conservative, traditional guy, but I have to confess that Jesus was a radical. Understand, not radical in the obsessive sense we oftentimes hear in the news or read in the paper. Not the kind of radical that is blind to reason and logical thought, downplaying compassion and understanding because they are inconveniences that get in the way of a cause. No, Jesus was radical in his unconditional, all-powerful, unquestionable love for men and women. He was radical in his obedience to the Father. He was radical in his desire to surrender himself for all of mankind.
Don’t believe me? Read the gospels. It is one of the most radical manifestos ever written. All four of the evangelists depict a Jesus who radically lived the love he preached. “Turn the other cheek,” radical! “Love your enemies,” radical! “Man was made for the sabbath, not the sabbath for man,” radical! “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last and the servant of all,” “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross,” “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven,” radical, radical, radical!
And Jesus got resistance from all sides. He was condemned to death because of it. For example, the leaders of the Temple were challenged by his radical preaching that ritual and the law were subject to love of God and neighbor; the Roman authorities were challenged by his radical proclamation of being a King and having a Kingdom; and even his own disciples were challenged by his radical idea of what it meant to be the “anointed one” and having to suffer and be crucified. Ultimately, Jesus died for being exactly that, a radical.
That is what the seven newly canonized saints had in common. With all of their unique attributes and realities, they shared a radical love for Jesus Christ and their fellowmen. Let’s just take a look at two of them.
First, Giovanni Battista Enrico Antonio Maria Montini. I know the name doesn’t sound too familiar, but that’s because he is better known as Pope Paul VI (easier to say also). He was elected Bishop of Rome in 1963. The 60s were a tumultuous time for the world and the Church was no exception; the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the cultural revolution in China, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Civil Rights Movement, assassinations, earthquakes… the list goes on and on. Paul VI stepped into his role as pope and, in doing so, the world scene at a time where it was apparent that the world was shifting and things were extremely tense.
From the very beginning of his papacy, he was plunged into the Second Vatican Council which had been convened by his predecessor Pope John XXIII. In other words, he walked into a fight he hadn’t picked. It was a situation that was ripe with challenges and controversy. But without fear, confident in the Holy Spirit that had appointed him, he rolled up his sleeves and got to work.
One thing is abundantly clear in the life of Pope Paul VI, he was not afraid of the haters and he had a lot of them. Resistance came from those on the extreme right who were challenged by the threat of change in the Church. John XXIII had initiated the council with a cry to, “Throw open the windows of the church and let the fresh air of the spirit blow through.” Many were frightened by this challenge feeling that opening the windows meant letting in a draft, catching a cold, ultimately, leaving the Church vulnerable and exposed. What do you mean celebrate the mass in a language other than Latin? What do you mean dialogue with people of other religious beliefs?
He also received resistance from those on the extreme left who criticized the Church for not changing more radically or with greater speed. Pope Paul VI was not afraid of those who wanted to undermine the Church by introducing irresponsibly an unabated modernity that turned it on its ear. He stuck valiantly to his guns and made sure that the universal truths that form the core of the Church’s beliefs remained intact, and that for as much as the world may have loosened its moral perspective as a response to the sexual revolution, for as unpopular as it may have been, the Church would not conform. What do you mean the Church will continue to oppose abortion? What do you mean the Church will continue to defend the sanctity of marriage? What do you mean the Church will uphold celibacy for its priests and religious?
Let’s now take a look at another, Bishop Oscar Romero.
Born on the feast day of Our Lady of the Assumption, it seemed from the beginning that he was destined for spiritual and religious greatness. Appointed archbishop of San Salvador in 1977 by none other than Pope Paul VI, Romero was taking the reins of the Church in a country that was on the brink of a bloody civil war. Things were chaotic to say the least. Violence and corruption were the order of the day. Some statistics put the number of casualties at over 75,000, not to mention the unknown number of people who simply disappeared.
In the midst of all of this turmoil, Romero became a vocal champion of peace and human rights. He worked tirelessly to protect, not simply the Church that he was responsible for, but all men, women, and children that looked to him for leadership and guidance. He was not afraid to confront the ruling party, its ministers, generals, as well as leftist guerillas and hired mercenaries. He was also not afraid to stand up to foreign countries like the United States and Canada that supplied El Salvador’s death squads with weapons.
Like Pope Paul VI, one thing is abundantly clear in the life of Oscar Romero, he was not afraid of the haters and he had a lot of them. Resistance came from those on the extreme right who were challenged by his call for justice and an end to the violation of human rights. When a paramilitary right-wing government seized power in El Salvador and began a reign of terror, he stood up and spoke publicly against their abuses. He took to the radio, the pulpit, and the streets to denounce the violence, especially against the most vulnerable, the poor.
There was also resistance from those on the extreme left who criticized him for not supporting violent rebellions as a way of fighting the abuses in his country. When certain members of the Church, including the clergy, decided to fight fire with fire and take up arms in their struggle against the government, Romero strongly chastised them and accused them of being no different than the soldiers and generals they were fighting against.
He refused to bend to any division in the Church that was brought about by Marxist ideology in liberation theology. A journalist once asked him if he agreed with liberation theology. Romero answered: "Yes, of course. However, there are two theologies of liberation. One that sees liberation only as material liberation; the other is that of Pope Paul VI. I am with Paul VI.” He then went on to add, “There is only one Church, the Church that Christ preached, the Church to which we should give our whole hearts. There is only one Church, a Church that adores the living God and knows how to give relative value to the goods of this earth.”
These two men that the Church so fervently now claims to be saints worthy of our veneration, were radical in their love for Christ and his people. Like Jesus, they refused to bend to the opposition, to anyone who threatened them with intimidation, violence, and lies. They took the high road and did not allow the right or the left, the obsessed or the apathetic, the strong or the weak to get in the way of proclaiming the truth.
My brothers of the class of 2019, this is your calling. Not to be radically left or radically right, but to be radically Christ. Our aim should not be to stand on one side or another, but to stand with the truth, to stand with Christ. We live in a world plagued with division. Our nation seems to be riddled with opposition. What do we do? Where do we stand? Stand with Christ. Do not be afraid to proclaim on the radio, from the pulpit, or in the streets the radicalness of Christ.
On the occasion of this senior ring ceremony mass we celebrate the liturgy of the solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The prayers, the readings, the whole liturgy is focused on celebrating the radical love of Jesus Christ for all mankind. Like the statue of the Sacred Heart that looms large in our central patio shows us, the heart of Christ, pierced by violence and hate, bleeds for you because it loves you. With one hand Jesus points to his heart, with the other he points at you, the object of his love. No matter who you are, no matter what your faith, the color of your skin, the clothes on your back. He loves you!
These rings you will soon wear on your fingers should be a symbol of that commitment to stand for and with Christ. They cannot simply be a reminder of the good times you had at Belen, the friendships you developed, the classes that you took, or the games that you played. That’s not good enough, it’s not radical enough. These rings should be about Christ and the love he has for us. They should be a constant challenge to you to live good, holy, and loving lives. They should encourage you to be the fresh air our Church desperately needs, to live the moral values our Church needs to constantly promote, to courageously denounce the violence and injustices of our world, and to defend the oneness of our Church and its commitment to Christ.
My brothers, do not be afraid to live that life: lovingly, courageously, radically.