10 touchpoints for Bishop Loverde's jubilee

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With a jubilee comes a celebration. Bishop Paul S. Loverde's five decades of faithful service to spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ and His church call us to pause and reflect on the great example of this man of God.

In 50 years of teaching on the life of Jesus, a priest gravitates to certain images, stories, inflection points. And what are these, if not the fruit of his interior life? They reflect his well-worn paths in prayer - the way he orders his loves, experiences the reality of God, and yes, invites others to Christ.

Consider these deep wells from which Bishop Loverde draws - or signposts to which he looks in his journey of faith - as he calls each of us to "go forth," bringing the ever-fresh, ever-new life of Jesus and His church to a world in such dire need:

1. Wonder

Bishop Loverde's evangelical witness begins, quite simply, with wonder: at the miracle of life, and the mysterious calling of the Lord. Born prematurely at 3 pounds, he was baptized the same day by a priest in anticipation that he would not survive. At the age of 8, young Paul glimpsed a remarkable priest in his cousin, Father Michael Giovino. "When I grow up," he announced to his parents, "I want to be like Father Mike." "Why did the Lord call me?" the bishop wonders. This recurring question takes him from wonder to gratitude, to a continual renewal of his witness.

2. The hearth

With tender love for the witness of his own parents, Bishop Loverde constantly trains his evangelical witness on the role of parents as the first evangelists in the lives of their children. "You can't give what you don't have," the bishop frequently quips. Since his parents passed on the gift, he is now able to spread the Good News as a priest and bishop. The bishop's parents gave him the inestimable legacy of faith modeled in word, example, hard work, prayer and devotion to the Blessed Mother.

3. "Encourage and teach with patience"

Soon after he picked up the phone to hear the voice of the apostolic nuncio informing him of his appointment as a bishop by Pope John Paul II, Bishop Loverde began combing the Scriptures to prayerfully select an episcopal motto. The Holy Spirit led him to "encourage and teach with patience" in 2 Timothy 4:2. This simple phrase, in the bishop's words, would call him to "give new heart to people, to enliven them so they can see that in living the faith there is great joy … and with the gentle patience that each of God's children may need."

4. Heart of Christ

If a "word cloud" could be generated from the collected homilies of Bishop Loverde, "heart" would rise to the top as a dominant image. "Give me your heart," the bishop is fond of citing, "note carefully the way I point out to you" (Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, Morning Prayer, Antiphon 3). His consecration of the Diocese of Arlington to the Heart of Christ in 2011 carries an implicit invitation to each of us: to draw near to Christ and hear His beating heart, and to allow our hearts to beat in rhythm with the heart of Our Lord.

5. Relationship

If, as the bishop is fond of quoting Blessed Cardinal John Newman, "Cor ad cor loquitor" ('heart speaks unto heart')," then evangelization hinges on relationship. One's relationship with Christ and His church is rooted in an ever-deepening relationship with a person. "We don't fall in love with a set of rules," he frequently says, "but with a person." Any relationship comes with times of intimacy and dryness, and here the bishop identifies the constant need for fidelity. Mary's words to the disciples, "Do whatever He tells you," epitomize this stance of fidelity.

6. Go forth

In the lead-up to the Nov. 25, 2013, release of his pastoral letter on evangelization, Bishop Loverde settled resolutely on the title "Go Forth with Hearts on Fire." What he didn't know was that on the same day, Pope Francis' "The Joy of the Gospel" would be released, replete with numerous references to the disciple's need to "go forth" (adelante). Our bishop sees this dynamic movement of the disciple - rushing forth, as the father runs to meet his long-lost, prodigal son and embraces him - is central to Bishop Loverde's understanding of Jesus' call to "go and make disciples" (Mt 28:19) .

7. The glass wall

The bishop describes that somehow in his walk of faith, for many years, a kind of "glass wall" seemed to keep him from experiencing the Lord's love to the depth that he desired. Then, about five years ago, during a silent eight-day retreat, the bishop was meditating on the words of Isaiah, "Because you are precious in my eyes and honored, and I love you. Fear not, I am with you … I have called you by name. You are mine." "It was during prayer with these texts," writes the bishop, "that the Lord allowed this glass wall to suddenly and unexpectedly shatter!"

8. Hard work

Paul and Ann Marie Loverde both worked full-time in factories and textile mills, and their son has never stood still. The dynamic run of an evangelist-on-the-move is apparent in his daily schedule. A man who loves to be with his sheep, Bishop Loverde's priestly life resonates with the words of his patron, St. Paul: "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us."

9. The saints and the Mass

Bishop Loverde possesses a near-encyclopedic knowledge of the church calendar and the lives of the saints. His daily life and conversations with this "cloud of witnesses" links his evangelical witness to the communion of saints, the readings of the Mass and the rubrics of the liturgy. His witness is nothing if not tied to the Eucharist, the "source and summit of the Christian life"("Lumen Gentium," No. 11).

10. The Blessed Virgin

"To become authentic evangelists," writes Bishop Loverde in "Go Forth," "we must follow Mary's perfect example. … Mary's life shows us the path of the evangelist." "My parents," he writes, "gave me a priceless gift in their devotion to our Blessed Mother." Bishop Loverde encourages all he meets to accept the gift of Our Lady's maternal care.

Each of us can reflect on our life with Christ and His church and see signposts. Bishop Loverde's may seem uniquely personal, but he would be the first to say that they can belong to each and every one of us in our calling as evangelists. In his words, "All I've ever wanted to do is lead people to Jesus." Would that each of us could someday say the same.

Johnson, a husband and father of five, is Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde's special assistant for evangelization and media.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015