Holy See Mission Seminar Day 6- Caritas Christi Urget Nos

18 Aug
My joy is God
the Threefold
Holy One.
My joy
is His truth
that inspires me.
My joy
is His will
calling me.
My joy
is His word
leading me on.
My joy
is His peace
that gives me rest.
-Mother Julia Verhaeghe, foundress of the Spiritual Family The Work (from
This poem highlights another important focus of the Path to Peace- Holy See Mission Seminar that I attended between May 20 and 25, 2007. Joy is a simple word whose meaning, I believe, is often lost amid our worldly cares, desires, and ambitions. This year’s Holy See Mission Seminar was all about joy, inasmuch as it was about God’s call to us to love each other and therefore to uphold the common good and to strive for social justice and for peace in the world.
In the last five articles on the seminar, I have mentioned many of the people and groups that conveyed a sense of joy throughout the event. However, I have yet to express my thanks to so many others, from the other fifty-two retreatants from the U.S., Canada, and Germany, who were so wonderful to be around and to converse with, to those who cooked breakfast every morning at the Cardinal Spellman Retreat Center, to Brother James, a Passionist who welcomed us with kindness to his order’s retreat center in Riverdale. Chris Valka, a Basilian seminarian, helped to organize the week’s activities, while Fr. Vittorio Guerrera, a diocesan priest from Hartford and the personal Secretary to Archbishop Celestino Migliore at the Path to Peace Foundation, presided over Mass on the fifth day and was a friendly presence over all six days. I could then include the Holy See Mission intern Theresa Klein, and last but not least, Sisters Monika Mader of the Netherlands and Mirjam Hugens of Austria, who belong to the Order started in Belgium in 1938 called the Spiritual Family the Work (in Latin, Familia Spiritualis Opus, hence the Order’s abbreviation, FSO), whose foundress’ poem I found especially suitable to begin this post.

This list of people to whom I owe much gratitude is not exhaustive, and there are likely several names that I have not included here. Nonetheless, those whom I met during that week in May were all united in a singular cause under Christ, who, as I reflected on the formal reception on the evening of May 24, entreats us to love one another as He loves us.

This love of Christ impels us. At one point during the reception, we were asked to share our thoughts about the Holy See Mission Seminar. Prior to taking my turn, I had been listening to Msgr. Leo Cushley, Second Councillor of the Holy See Mission. During the discussion, Msgr. Cushley poignantly quoted from St. Paul’s second epistle to the Corinthians: “Caritas (enim) Christi urget nos…” (“The love of Christ urges us on…”)”…æstimantes hoc, quoniam si unus pro omnibus mortuus est, ergo omnes mortui sunt: et pro omnibus mortuus est Christus: ut, et qui vivunt, jam non sibi vivant, sed ei qui pro ipsis mortuus est et resurrexit.” (“…for we are convinced that One has died for all; therefore all have died. And He died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died and was raised for them.”) (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)

By His death and resurrection, Christ draws us beyond ourselves and therefore ever closer to Himself. In serving other people, we necessarily overlook ourselves, yet we become more human than if we were to remain merely self-interested. To that effect, Jean Vanier, son of former Governor General of Canada Georges Vanier and founder of l’Arche, an international association of homes for the intellectually disabled that is named after Noah’s ark (cf. Genesis 6:14), wrote:
“Is this not the life undertaking of us all…to become human? It can be a long and painful process. It involves a growth to freedom, an opening up of our hearts to others, no longer hiding behind masks or behind walls of fear and prejudice. It means discovering our common humanity…(This) discovery is a journey from loneliness to a love that transforms, a love that grows in and through belonging, a belonging that can include as well as exclude. The discovery of our common humanity liberates us from self-centered compulsions and inner hurts; it is the discovery that ultimately finds its fulfillment in forgiveness and in loving those who are our enemies. It is the process of truly becoming human.” (Vanier, “Becoming Human”, Toronto: Anansi Press, 1998, pp. 1, 5.)
In just six days at the Holy See Mission, the Christ-centered humanism of which Jean Vanier wrote was abundant. In becoming one like us in all but sin, Our Lord showed us how to become fully human like Him. Complete humanization entails self-sacrifice. To give of ourselves, we must occasionally strive to work beyond what is comfortable and routine. Our labours should be accompanied with joy and our hardships borne with patience. The Mass readings for Friday, May 25 revealed that our belonging to and unity with God in Heaven will far exceed any difficulties that are encountered in our life of temporary exile on earth.
Mass on the final day of the seminar was celebrated by Archbishop Celestino Migliore at the Cardinal Spellman Retreat Center. The first reading, from Acts 25:13-21, centered on Paul, who had been arrested in the Temple and had faced several tribunals and judges, including “the chief priests and elders of the Jews”, before being imprisoned by the Roman Governor Felix. (Acts 25:15, cf. Acts 24:24-27 and 25:14) This passage from Acts and the chapters preceding it highlight many important details about St. Paul and about the time in which he lived and preached. Paul, a Jew from Tarsus, had been handed over to Felix after several failed attempts by Jewish authorities to have him condemned to death for teaching according to the Way of Jesus. (cf. Acts 24:14) Felix, who himself was married to a Jew, Drusilla, had detained Paul for two years before being succeeded by Porcius Festus. Although the Romans were reputably brutal, Paul was treated reasonably well during his imprisonment in Caesarea, having been granted access to friends who would take “care of his needs”. (Acts 24:23-24, cf. v. 27)
Chapter 25 of the Book of Acts states that Festus was only three days into his reign as Governor when he was almost immediately thrust into the controversy surrounding Paul. (cf. Acts 25:1) Porcius Festus traveled to Jerusalem to discuss the charges that the religious leaders wished to levy against Paul, but although the chief priests and elders were planning to have Paul sent to Jerusalem where he could be ambushed and killed (cf. Acts 25:3), they could not produce enough evidence against him to convince the new Governor. Festus was likely exasperated with the Jewish elites who were unable to charge Paul with any crime, but could only argue that he had disagreed with them on some points of Jewish teaching, and that Paul had taught that Jesus, who had been declared to be dead, was alive. (cf. Acts 25:19)


The Roman Governor had little knowledge and even less jurisdiction over matters of the Jewish faith, so Festus reported Paul’s case to King Agrippa, son of Herod Agrippa I. The king, who was a minor political voice in first-century Palestine along with his sister Bernice, requested to have Paul brought before him anyway. Paul, though, was also a master of both religious and of secular law. He had competently defended himself through a series of trials before both Jewish and Roman judges. Notably, he endured his ordeal “cheerfully”. (Acts 24:10)


To add a further complication, Paul was entitled to rights both as a Jew and as a Roman citizen. Thus he appealed to be tried by Caesar as a Roman. In the first century as well as now, citizenship is important. In reference to my earlier quotation of Jean Vanier, human beings essentially feel a sense of belonging. Each person is acquainted with groups of other people; for example we assemble along cultural (including linguistic or religious) lines, we identify with particular groups of friends, and we belong to a specific country.


This last instance can be called citizenship in the strict sense. Large differences exist among the world’s nations and their inhabitants, but as we are all united in our humanity we have much in common. Both the diversity and the similarities of the world’s people are widely demonstrated at the UN, where nations and persons with varied interests come to work together. The Holy See, of course, contributes to this spirit of interdependence and peace as a greatly respected diplomatic force. As she preaches through her social doctrine and shows through the actions of the Holy See Mission to the UN, the Church must mirror the unity to which all are called under God. The Lord wishes for all people to be citizens of His Kingdom. As much as humankind is diverse, we will be fit for Heaven when we work as one, having “fought the good fight, finished the race, (and) kept the faith” as St. Paul did. (2 Timothy 4:7)


The theme of citizenship was also captured in the Psalm reading for May 25. All people are under God’s power. (cf. Psalm 103:19) We “do not forget the gifts of God” (Psalm 103:2), and we bless the Lord in unison, as we remember His love and forgiveness that extends universally. (cf. Psalm 103:11-12) The angels and saints in Heaven join us in praise of God. The faithful who have gone before us to be part of the Communion of Saints share directly in God’s strength because they are attentive and obedient to the Almighty. (cf. Psalm 103:20) We pray, therefore, for their intercession so that we may also follow the way to citizenship in Heaven.


Along the path to life everlasting, struggle surely awaits us. St. Peter, whom Jesus hand-picked from among the Apostles to be the first leader of the Church, eventually learned to accept the Cross which comes along with loving service in Christ. Throughout the seminar, with the exception of the last day, the Gospel readings heard during Mass were taken sequentially from John 17, Jesus’ high-priestly prayer for His followers. However, the Gospel reading for the last day in New York was of St. John’s portrayal of the final conversation between Jesus and Peter.


John’s Gospel says that this dialogue happened following breakfast. Since I am not a morning person, I empathize somewhat with St. Peter who may well have been only half awake when Jesus asked him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” Even though he was unprepared for the question, Peter answered astutely, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you”, to which Jesus responded, “Feed my lambs.” (John 21:15) Jesus asked Peter a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”, and, after Peter again affirmed his love for Our Lord, Jesus commanded him, “Tend my sheep.”


Despite Peter’s repeated profession of his love for the Son of God, Jesus knew that his journey toward complete and selfless love was far from complete. In the first two instances where Jesus asked Peter whether he loved Him, the Greek translation of the verb “to love” is given as “αγαπας” (“agapas”, the present tense of “agape”, suggesting unconditional love). Subsequently, Jesus asked Peter a third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter, upset because he had been questioned yet again, replied, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” (John 21:17) The third time Jesus questions Peter, the Greek word changes from “αγαπας” to “φιλεις” (“phileis”, meaning love as between friends).


Thus, Jesus knows that we, like Peter, are usually willing to accept Him as a friend. But Jesus expects us to grow in love to where we love without condition. We must therefore love each other as God loves us. Jesus asks us to work for and with each other. In doing so, we give ourselves to Him as He gave Himself for us on the Cross. We are reminded in the exchange between Jesus and Peter to patiently endure the trials that accompany our Christian journey:


“Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (John 21:18 )


Lord, you are with us in our joys and in our sorrows. Help us to be stewards of Your wonderful creation. Help us also to love each other. You sustain the work of the Holy See Mission to the UN. May we, Your Church, follow its example of service and of justice. We lift up our hearts to You. Take them, and unite us to Yourself, so that when You come again we may see Your glory face to face. We pray in song:


Lord, You have my heart,
And I will search for Yours;
Jesus take my life and lead me on.

Lord, You have my heart,
And I will search for Yours;
Let me be to You a sacrifice.

And I will praise You, Lord.
And I will sing of love come down.
And as You show Your face,
We’ll see Your glory here.

-Martin Smith

Jesus take my life and lead me on. You are my joy, my all in all. Caritas Christi urget nos. Amen.








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