During the early days of May, we are continuing to read about the first days of the Church. In my studies, I’ve come to enjoy the Acts of the Apostles and the stories of building up the Body of Christ which is His Church. In a recent Mass, there is the Scripture story about addressing conflict or issues in the early Church. There was the issue of circumcision. When they arrived in Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabus were welcomed by the Church, as well as by the Apostles and the presbyters, and they reported what God had done with them.
The Council of Jerusalem (or Apostolic Conference) is a name applied by historians and theologians to this early Christian council dated around the year 50. It is considered by Catholics and Orthodox to be a prototype and forerunner of the later Councils. This council in the year 50 decided that Gentile converts to Christianity were not obligated to keep most of the Mosaic law, especially concerning circumcision of males.
This idea of going back to the seat of the Catholic Church has been continued from those earliest days till now. Our Tucson Bishop Kicanas recently was in Rome, sometime after submitting a report on the conditions, the accomplishments and the challenges in this Tucson Diocese. I also read of the Ad Limina visit by the bishops from my old territory back in Colorado. I want to share some words from that meeting because of how much time many of us spend shaking our heads about all the problems and about what’s wrong with the Church.
Denver Bishop Conley said that the numbers of vocations were going up in the United States. He shared with the Pope that there is now a year-on-year increase in the numbers of young men opting for the priesthood across many US dioceses. Conley reported “I told Pope Benedict that in the Archdiocese of Denver both of our seminaries, St John Vianney Theological Seminary and Redemptoris Mater Neo-catechumenal seminary, are full. In fact we have more applicants than we have space so for the first time in many years we have to create a waiting list which is a good problem to have.” Holy Father Benedict was delighted to receive this information and had a great smile on his face. A recent study by the CARA Apostolate at Georgetown University estimated that U. S. seminary intake was up 4 percent over the previous year, and that it had reached its highest figure in 20 years.
About Denver — this success story reminds me to dig into my homily notes files and pull up some material to preach on graces. We may have little or no notion of what graces really are. Our knowledge may be wispy puffs of something which is here for an instant and then gone. Listen to these words of Archbishop Chaput, as he commented in one of his diocesan columns.
One of the staffers at the diocese had just moved to Colorado from a much larger and higher crime city on the West Coast. The man was driving his family home late one evening, when the street— four lanes wide—was suddenly blocked by a huge mob of teens swarming out of the dark. As urban panic kicked in, and he threw the car in reverse, his wife helpfully pointed out that the kids were singing a Marian hymn. The “mob” turned out to be hundreds of French World Youth Day pilgrims walking back to their parish sleeping quarters. It was a moment of grace—unexpected, implausible and beautiful—and similar moments of grace happened again and again all over the city during those extraordinary days. Chaput said, “I was the bishop of Rapid City during Denver’s World Youth Day. I remember it not just for its scope—more than 500,000 people from all over the world crowded into Cherry Creek State Park for the final Mass with John Paul II; nor for its almost total lack of crime and strife; nor for its astonishing success in the face of so much skepticism—nobody really thought Denver could manage an event this big.” The graces — the powerful results of that one significant event in Colorado have been a part of setting that diocese on fire.
Are we to worry and pray about the worldwide Church? Of course, because the forces of evil have not yet been permanently vanquished. But can we have hope and optimism and internal joy? You bet your Miraculous Medal we can.
Please God, give us the grace of fruitful optimism fueled by a necessary dose of reality. Help us to see the picture of your Church. Ever beautiful. Always, your gift to mankind until you come again. Amen.