The Holy Father’s visit to North America showed the beauty of Christ’s Church. To see 800,000 people gather in Toronto for the concluding Mass of World Youth Day was inspiring. I had the opportunity to talk to a high school student who attended the event. He told me about the accommodations, the food, how various bishops gave them catechetical talks, the opportunity for confession and daily Mass. At the concluding Mass, he climbed on the shoulders of a friend and took a picture of the pope from fifteen feet.
After World Youth Day, the pope went to Guatemala City for the canonization of Peter of Betancur, the first Central American saint. On Wednesday he canonized the man who received the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe: Saint Juan Diego.
Next to such events, it would be easy to overlook the final act of the pope’s visit. It was not a Mass, but a Liturgy of the Word. In a ceremony marked by indigenous prayers, rituals and symbols, the Holy Father beatified two married men: Juan Bautista and Jacinto de los Ángeles. They were Zapotec Indians who suffered cruel deaths for their faith. On September 14, 1700 a mob - enraged by their opposition to certain idolatrous practices - dragged Juan and Jacinto from a Dominican convent, beat them with clubs and cut up their bodies with knives, tearing open their chests and feeding their hearts to dogs. Then they threw the mutilated bodies into an open pit. Faithful Indians gathered the remains and brought them to the Cathedral of Oaxaca, where they are venerated to this day.
In his homily at the beatification ceremony, the pope addressed the crucial issue of culture. He described how their Christian faith enabled the two Blesseds to embrace the good in their indigenous culture - and to also recognize and resist the evil. Because they listened to Jesus' words, they were able to discern what aspects of their culture belonged to God and which are contrary to his will.* As the pope stated:
"The two "Blesseds" are an example of how, without regarding ones ancestral customs as myths, one can reach God without renouncing ones own culture but letting oneself be enlightened by the light of Christ, which renews the religious spirit of the best popular traditions." (see: Beatification Homily #4)
Like seventeenth century Oaxaca, the U.S. culture has much good - but also parts which are bad, even demonic. Blessed Juan and Jacinto can help us, not only embrace the good, but also discern what is evil - and take a stand against it. The holy martyrs heard Jesus’ words: "Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid." Although they had wives and young children, they bravely faced their deaths. Blessed Juan said to mob: "Here I am. If you have to kill me tomorrow, do it now instead." Jacinto asked the Dominican priest for Confession and Holy Communion, because he wanted to "die for love of God and without using weapons."
The example of Blessed Juan and Jacinto should inspire us. We live on a sea of troubles and temptations. We might feel like Peter, sinking into turbulent waters. To us Jesus says "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?"
But, also like Peter, we climb into the boat, which is the Church. And we offer Jesus homage, saying, "Truly, you are the Son of God."
*Notwithstanding what Jean Jacques Rousseau imagined, there are no innocent people nor any innocent culture. During my years as a missionary, I heard many parrot Rousseau's romantic view - in spite abundant contrary evidence.
From Archives (for Nineteenth Ordinary Sunday, Year A):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Bulletin (Clergy Sex Abuse & Media Bias)
The Catholic Difference by George Weigel
Pictures from Vacation Bible School (June 24-28, 2002)
my bulletin column
Parish Picture Album
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