April 4, 2008

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Courage is a grace from God

I have received many homemade get-well cards from students in our schools and parish religious education programs.

I shared some of their messages in an earlier column. Because he had been absent when his classmates made their cards, a young fellow named Bryan sent his later.

After his greeting (“Dear Archbishop”) and his concern for my health, he wrote: “My name is Bryan. I go to St. Roch Catholic School. I am 12 years old and in the sixth grade. I play football and basketball there. My favorite sport is basketball. My favorite subject is Social Studies. My favorite extracurricular activity is Spell Bowl. My favorite football team is the Giants.”

Then, as you turn to the back page, there is this extraordinary entry under the title “Courage.”

He wrote: “The definition of courage is hard to memorize. But luckily for everyone, it’s easy to describe. It’s the ability to move forward when times are dark. The times you give it all you got, even though you’re weary. So remember dear Archbishop, that even though times are bad, you’ve still got the grace of God, so always stay glad. Sincerely, Bryan Rush.”

I was touched and impressed by Bryan’s profound and appropriate message.

In many ways, I have come to realize that my cancer is God’s gift in the sense that it gave me the opportunity to pause, to evaluate my ministry as an archbishop and to appreciate anew the goodness of God’s loving grace.

It was and is easier to contemplate that Easter comes by way of the Cross. There is no other way. Sometimes when I was awake in the early morning hours, I made the Way of the Cross; surely, some of the more meaningful experiences I have had with that devotion.

Bryan’s call to courage underscored what I knew I needed to do. His insight provided a fine stimulus.

In the Scripture readings after Easter, we read of the courage of the Apostles and disciples after Christ’s Resurrection and Ascension.

St. John Chrysostom wrote: “They ignored the danger of death … they forgot how few they were; they never noticed how many were against them or the power or strength or wisdom of their enemies. Their power was greater than all that: theirs was the power of him who had died on the Cross and risen again” (Homilies on St. Matthew, 4).

Here is a more recent example borrowed from a homily by Father Pat Beidelman, rector of SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis, who is currently on a leave of absence in Rome to complete a graduate degree in liturgical theology.

During the first part of World War I, The New York Times ran a letter to the editor dated April 18, 1915, about the death of a young French priest, Abbé Thinot, who was a curate at the great Cathedral in Rheims in northeastern France.

The curate died miles from Rheims, shot by the German forces while he was taking care of wounded French soldiers. At the time of his death, he was well-known in France and the United States for his actions six months earlier at the cathedral in Rheims.

On Sept. 4, 1914, the Germans entered the town of Rheims, occupied it for a few days and then retreated when the French forces retook the city.

During their retreat, several German soldiers were wounded, left behind, and under the direction of Father Thinot were taken into the cathedral to be cared for by the French Red Cross.

On Sept. 18, the Germans bombarded the city and the cathedral. Bombs ignited scaffolding outside the church, the roof caught fire and later the floor which was covered with straw for the wounded German soldiers to lie on. An American war correspondent described what happened next:

“The Abbé Thinot, a young, athletic, manly priest, and the venerable Archbishop Landreux [of Rheims] called for volunteers, and aided by the Red Cross nurses and doctors, dragged the unhappy wounded out of the building and through the north door. But after bearing them to safety, their charges were confronted with a new danger. Inflamed by the sight of their own dead, four hundred citizens having been killed by the bombardment, and by the loss of their cathedral, the people of Rheims who were gathered about the burning called for the lives of the German prisoners. ‘They are barbarians,’ they cried. ‘Kill them!’

“What followed cannot be too often told. The aged Archbishop and the young Abbé Thinot placed themselves between the mob and the wounded. With splendid indignation, with perfect courage, they faced the raised rifles.

“ ‘If you kill them,’ they cried, ‘you must first kill all of us.’

“… The story about the young priest and the Archbishop, with the cathedral burning behind them …, will always live in the records of this war and the Church.”

Courage is a grace—“so always stay glad.” †

Local site Links: