“The Man of God in the Year of Faith”

That the title of a keynote address given by Fr. Gregory Gresko, who is Chaplain at the Blessed John Paul II Shrine in Washington, DC, at the Knights of Columbus College Councils conference in late September. Here are the opening paragraphs:

Blessed John Paul II provides us with important help in what it means to be a “man of God”.   To the beloved Pope, the man of God — through and through — is a man of freedom.  He is free because he stands in front of God and, when he is living a life of holiness, he is never afraid to stand in front of God.  The man of God is free from himself, and thus he is able to respond to the call of God to follow Jesus Christ as a faithful disciple, pure in heart and focused on God’s true Way.  He is free from the material world and from all worldly power, which enables him to realize his full dignity as a human person.  In choosing Christ, the man of God as a free man then can make a complete and free gift of himself to God and to neighbor.   Free from himself, the man of God accepts suffering in obedience to Christ so that through the discipline of this suffering, God may conform him more perfectly into the image and likeness of His Son.

It is remarkable that, throughout his life as Supreme Pontiff of the Holy Catholic Church, Blessed John Paul II would approach other people not in order to get something from them, but instead so that he could make a gift of himself to them.  Certainly, he always received much in being with other people, constantly learning God’s movement in the human person through his ministry to others.  We gain much from viewing Blessed John Paul’s life as an alternate page to the Gospel of the young man, whom Jesus calls to abandon everything to follow him in pursuit of perfect righteousness and holiness of life.   The man of God feels himself loved by God and responds in like love, through his discipleship in following Christ.

In the spirit of Saint Bartholomew who was a “true son of Israel”, a true leader first commits to become a man of God.  Otherwise, where would such a leader lead those around him?  A true leader in the Kingdom of God is one who follows Christ, on his knees in fervent prayer seeking the will of God … on his knees in humble, loving service to his neighbor as Jesus washes the feet of His disciples in the Upper Room as one of the last actions before His Crucifixion.  We know that a true leader will be one who has no guile, no duplicity of heart … The man of God refuses to embrace a double standard by which he would proclaim to believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and in that Faith passed on through God’s Holy Church, but then behave otherwise.  A true leader is one without falsehood, who refuses to take part in the lie that sin always is, in its very substance.  A true leader wants sin to have no part of him, so that every part of him may belong to God.  If I am going to be a good leader, I cannot lead people to God if I am not following Him first myself.  I cannot follow Him if I neglect looking deeply, diligently, and consistently for the path He is walking and along which He desires to lead me.  If I am merely looking at myself for direction, I will fail to see what Christ is showing me, and I won’t be able to show Him or the fullness of His Love to others.

In his Sermon on Pastors (46), Saint Augustine gives us a realistic portrait of the man who struggles to be a man of God but who has to fight in daily battle against the reality of sin and temptation:

There are men who want to live a good life and have already decided to do so, but are not capable of bearing sufferings even though they are ready to do good.  Now it is a part of the Christian’s strength not only to do good works but also to endure evil.  Weak men are those who appear to be zealous in doing good works but are unwilling or unable to endure the sufferings that threaten.  Lovers of the world … are kept from good works by some evil desire, lie sick and listless, and it is this sickness that deprives them of any strength to accomplish good works.

How what Saint Augustine described over sixteen centuries ago rings all too true today!  How do we respond to the challenge to the human soul that is sin, to evil that threatens the soul’s life now and its eventual salvation?  Blessed John Paul II, in his great Apostolic Exhortation on the vocation and the mission of lay faithful in the Church and in the world, Christifideles laici, provides us with a vital answer, that man is called to respond fundamentally by fulfilling his authentic vocation as a disciple of Christ:  We come to a full sense of the dignity of the lay faithful if we consider the prime and fundamental vocation that the Father assigns to each of them in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit: the vocation to holiness, that is, the perfection of charity.  Holiness is the greatest testimony of the dignity conferred on a disciple of Christ … The call to holiness is rooted in Baptism and proposed anew in the other Sacraments, principally in the Eucharist.  Since Christians are reclothed in Christ Jesus and refreshed by his Spirit, they are “holy”. They therefore have the ability to manifest this holiness and the responsibility to bear witness to it in all that they do (16). God entrusts this vocation to holiness to the laity, that they will live in the pursuit of holiness in whatever their state in life might be.  As the Church’s baptized laymen, your responsibility is to contribute to the world’s sanctification, living your lives rooted in faith in the Holy Gospel and demonstrating Christian hope in ways that unfold the love of Christ to every person whom you encounter.  Through your particular circumstances in life, God unfolds His Divine plan and communicates a particular vocation to you, to seek “the Kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God” (CL 38). At this year’s Ecclesial Convention of the Diocese of Rome (11 June 2012), Pope Benedict XVI elaborated further on what it means to be baptized and shares insight into how Christians may live life in a manner faithful to our baptismal vows:  “To be baptized means, in fact, essentially a being emancipated, a being liberated from this culture. We know also today a type of culture in which truth does not count; even if they wish to have the whole truth appear, only the sensation counts, and the spirit of calumny and of destruction.  A culture that does not seek the good, whose moralism is in reality a mask to confuse, to create confusion and destruction.  Against this culture, in which the lie is presented in the guise of truth and of information, against this culture which seeks only well-being and denies God, we say no.  We must say no to what we know is false, and we must say yes with fervent assent to the Truth we hold so dear for we belong to it … Indeed, we have been baptized into God Who is Truth!  This Truth articulates everything in love, which transpires through the perfect gift of self, not through self-centered lusts in sin that seek to place myself on the throne that belongs rightly only to God, to whom I am consecrated.”

When we hear challenging words such as these from our Holy Father, they prompt us to take our lives of faith seriously as Christians.  The holiness of our lives should be our first priority as Christians, and it requires firm resolution on our part to reject what God considers to be profane – in thought, word, and action.  We never should put ourselves in a position where we would compromise our morality or lead others to do the same.  Just as we would never want to settle for second best in other areas of our lives, why should we expect to find happiness if we settle for mediocrity in our faith practice?  Does the pattern of my decision-making lead others to believe that I am Christian?  Does the message I communicate to people who may not even know me reveal my words and actions as genuine reflections of Christ?

Read the entire address on the Knights of Columbus website.

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About Carl E. Olson 1207 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.