March 13, 2009

Seeking the Face of the Lord

St. Theodora and Bishop Bruté inspire us to be courageous in faith

When I think about the challenges we face in carrying on the mission of Christ in our local Church during this 175th anniversary of our archdiocese, I think a lot about our holy founders, St. Theodora Guérin and the Servant of God Bishop Simon Bruté.

As I reflect on the healing ministry of Jesus as described over and over in the Gospel, and as it is expressed so powerfully in his suffering and death, I think of these holy founders. Their witness gives us substance for a fruitful Lenten reflection.

One of many striking features about the life of St. Theodora is the example she gives us: the courage of her faith.

She put her life on the line for what she believed. She didn’t have to risk her life crossing the stormy Atlantic Ocean several times on ships that were minimally seaworthy. She admitted that she was petrified all the while on a ship.

Nor, at the time, did she have to establish her community in the woods of primitive western Indiana. She did not have the money and teachers to establish schools for the poor, but she started them with conviction and prayer.

Mother Theodore risked much. She compensated with hard work and prayer even while she was in very poor health. We and countless others are the beneficiaries of her courageous faith and action. And they are a challenge for us.

Simon Bruté had been offered the position of physician of the French imperial court by Napoleon. He turned it down. Later, as a new priest, he was offered the position of court chaplain by Napoleon.

Instead, Father Bruté chose to become a missionary in the new world. He could have lived a life of material comfort and prestige, but he chose rigorous missionary life in the most difficult circumstances.

He also did so in poor health. It is likely that he already suffered from tuberculosis when he sailed down the Ohio River to take up his mission as bishop of the new Diocese of Vincennes.

Under his leadership, the Catholic Church in Indiana took root. He had not wanted to become a bishop. Yet, we and countless others are the beneficiaries of his courageous faith and humble obedience. His example is also a challenge to us.

It is important for our faith communities to reflect on the fact that the vast majority of us Catholics enjoy worship and the availability of the sacraments, religious education and other aspects of parish life in facilities we did not build or pay for.

Even if at present we happen to be members of a new or expanding parish and have contributed to the Legacy for Our Mission campaign, we were probably reared in a parish where the facilities and services were handed down from past generations.

We enjoy the fruit of the blood, sweat, tears and money of past generations; we have a responsibility to hand on to future generations the fruit of our generosity. In doing so, we acknowledge that everything comes from the hand of God and belongs to him.

St. Theodora and Bishop Bruté risked their lives so that the healing mission of Christ’s Church could take root and eventually flourish in our archdiocese. Our courageous pioneers of faith knew very well that the Church and her mission live in the real world. We can do no less.

As we observe the 175th anniversary of our archdiocese, we thank God for the blessings we have received through our founding ancestors. And I extend a special invitation to our youth and young adults to take up the challenge of carrying the ministry of Jesus into the future, especially as priests and consecrated religious.

The circumstances of our times make our healing ministries difficult to maintain, to foster and to develop with the faith and vision of our holy founders.

We have many advantages and blessings, which they never had or could even envision. But these advances have come with contemporary forms of spiritual, moral and physical poverty.

We do well to pray to our founding patrons—asking them to help us be as courageous in faith as they were—and to work hard for the benefit of our children and generations to come.

I pray that the example of St. Theodora and Bishop Bruté move us also to seek and find the healing we desire from the ills of spiritual and moral poverty.

Personal prayer in our hallowed parish churches and chapels provides a special opportunity to know the healing touch of Jesus.

Going to confession to a priest who is there for us in the person of Christ is a truly powerful experience of the healing of Jesus in difficult times. †

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