June 27, 2014

Rejoice in the Lord

Saints Peter and Paul were spirit-filled evangelizers

Archbishop Joseph W. TobinA year ago at this time, I traveled to Rome with family members, friends and a diverse group of pilgrims from our archdiocese to receive a pallium from Pope Francis.

A pallium is only worn by the pope and by metropolitan archbishops who have responsibilities beyond their diocesan boundaries. The Archbishop of Indianapolis serves as metropolitan for the Province of Indianapolis (the five dioceses in Indiana), and the pallium that I am privileged to wear—only here in Indiana—is a sign of the unity and communion that exist among the local churches within our state and with the Apostolic See of Rome.

Needless to say, it was a great honor to receive this ancient symbol of episcopal ministry from our Holy Father. And I would say that it is especially appropriate that this ceremony, which involves newly appointed archbishops from every region of the world, is always held on June 29, the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul.

We are very familiar with these two saints. Peter is “the rock” whom Christ chose to be the foundation on which his Church is built. Paul is the great missionary who proclaimed the Gospel in his words and actions, and who helped St. Peter and the other Apostles move beyond their comfort zones in the Church’s earliest days.

If we look closely at these two giants of our faith, we see that they were ordinary people—like you and me—who were asked by Christ to do extraordinary things. Peter was a fisherman. The Gospels show him to be passionate, impulsive and weak (in spite of his bravado). He protests loudly, “Lord I will never betray you!” but when put to the test, he falls far short of his well-intentioned promise.

Paul was a zealous Pharisee who persecuted the early Christians. He was present when the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen, was murdered. Paul’s conversion was dramatic, and the assignment the Risen Lord gave him—to be the Apostle to the Gentiles—was incredibly difficult and important. Through the letters and missionary example of St. Paul, Christ continues to be made known to people of many different cultures, languages and religious backgrounds in every corner of the world.

Using the term Pope Francis coined in his apostolic exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel,” I think we can say that Saints Peter and Paul were truly “spirit-filled evangelizers.”

They were men who allowed the Holy Spirit to enter into their minds and hearts. Empowered by the Spirit, they overcame their weaknesses, their prejudices and their fears. On fire with Gospel joy, both men worked miracles of faith and healing. They both built up the Body of Christ in the Church’s earliest days, when proclaiming the Gospel was a dangerous and extremely difficult thing to do!

Pope Francis says (with characteristic bluntness) that we Christians should not be sourpusses (“vinegar faces” in the original Spanish), even when confronted with obstacles, doubts or fears. We shouldn’t act like our faith is a burden, or that Christian life is made up of an endless series of oppressive rules and regulations. We should be joyful—rejoicing in our freedom and in our abiding sense of confidence in God’s love for us.

Certainly Saints Peter and Paul would agree with Pope Francis. They were men who suffered intense agony and death for the sake of the Gospel. But they were also men who discovered the true meaning of freedom, and the experience of authentic joy, that can only come from a personal encounter with our Lord Jesus Christ.

In the year that has passed since I received my pallium from Pope Francis, I have come to know and love you, the people of this great archdiocese, more intimately. Inspired by the example of these two great saints, I want to be open to the Holy Spirit and to discover what he is calling us to be and do right here and right now. To be successful in my ministry, I have to acknowledge my weaknesses, prejudices and fears so that I can let go of them and allow the Holy Spirit to work in and through me.

One thing is absolutely clear: My personal mission as a metropolitan archbishop is a shared responsibility. Without the grace of God, without the prayerful support and help I receive from you, I can do nothing.

May these two great saints, Peter and Paul, the patrons of our cathedral church, be examples for all of us as we accept the pope’s challenge to be spirit-filled evangelizers and missionaries for Christ! †

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