The power of prayer and penance for the New Evangelization

What lies beneath the words of Saint Paul addressed to the Christian in Ephesus, words proclaimed in our hearing moments ago from the first reading? Saint Paul is obviously praying: "I kneel before the Father …," asking "that he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit. …" Then, continuing, he prays: "that Christ my dwell in your hearts through faith;" and "that you, rooted and ground in love" - whose love? Christ's! - "may have the strength … to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God."

Do we not sense the ardent zeal in Saint Paul's heart that everyone would come to know Jesus Christ, not only with the mind, intellectual knowledge, but also in the heart, deeply personal knowledge that means authentic love! Beneath the words of this prayer is a heart on fire, ardently desiring that everyone would encounter the Only One Who satisfies the deepest yearnings of the human heart: the Lord Jesus Christ!

Saint Paul's ardent desire and his overwhelming zeal, the New Evangelization, to which our recent popes, beginning with now Blessed Pope Paul VI, are consistently and repeatedly calling us to embrace and to proclaim. But what fueled Saint Paul's ardent desire and overwhelming zeal? His encounter with Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus. What fuels the ardent desire and overwhelming zeal in the New Evangelization? A similar encounter with the Lord Jesus, not as dramatic as Saint Paul's but no less real and life-changing!

Pope Francis continually lifts up this core truth and reality. Reminding us that the encounter with the Lord Jesus results in an enduring and authentic inner joy, Our Holy Father began his Apostolic Exhortation: "Evangelii Gaudium" with: "The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus" (No.1). Yes, this encounter with Jesus results and makes real within us inner joy, enduring hope and preserving strength. As the Holy Father puts it: "The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms" (Ibid, No.3). Moreover, once we truly encounter Jesus Christ, we cannot help but eagerly desire to have everyone experience a similar encounter. "Thanks solely to this encounter - or renewed encounter - with God's love, which blossoms into an enriching friendship, we are liberated from our narrowness and self-absorption. … Here we find the source and inspiration of all our efforts at evangelization. For if we have received the love which restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others?" (Ibid, No.8)

At the end of "Evangeli Gaudium," Pope Francis turns to Mary, the Mother of God, reminding us that without her, we cannot become "missionary disciples," with hearts on fire! "She is the Mother of the Church which evangelizes, and without her, we could never truly understand the spirit of the new evangelization" (Ibid. No. 284).

On the Cross, as He approached the end of His life, Jesus entrusted His Mother to Saint John and, therefore, to us, and, in turn, He entrusted Saint John and us to His Mother. This double entrustment, about which we heard in today's gospel account, was not primarily the expression of his devotion and concern for His Mother, Pope Francis comments. Rather, he says, "(Jesus' words) are a revelatory formula which manifests the mystery of a special saving mission." (Ibid. No. 285). Our Holy Father points out that "Jesus left us his mother to be our mother. … Mary, who brought him into the world with great faith, also accompanies 'the rest of her offspring, those who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus', (Rev 12:17)" (Ibid.). Mary accompanies us as we fulfill the special saving mission of the New Evangelization.

So, Pope Francis tells us: "We ask the Mother of the living Gospel to intercede that this invitation to a new phase of evangelization will be accepted by the entire ecclesial community" (Ibid. No1 `. 287). The entire ecclesial community is called to evangelize. Today, we rejoice with you as you celebrate this feast honoring the Patronage of the Blessed Virgin Mary over the Dominican Order. The charism of the Order is "Contemplata Tradere" - to hand on to others, to share, the fruits of your contemplation. This charism is lived out differently by Dominican Friars, Dominican Cloistered Nuns, such as yourselves, and active Dominican Communities. Whatever the specific modality of living out this Dominican charism, you all look to Mary to intercede for you, so that you be filled with the profound richness of God's Word, Who reveals in His Word His faithful love and unfailing mercy. You all look to Mary to watch over you, to guard you from the wiles of the evil one who seeks to seduce you away from the Lord and the Charism you are living, you all look to Mary to enfold you in her maternal embrace, thereby truly being your patroness and protector and mother.

Dear Sisters, yours is the more specific living out of your charism by praying and doing penance so that your brothers and sisters engaged in a more active ministry may be strengthened to persevere in their calling and to be faithful to the Lord Jesus, remaining in Him so that they may truly bear much fruit: fruit grounded in an ever deepening love for Jesus Christ and His Church, fruit resulting in ardent zeal, with hearts on fire!

But, you not only intercede by prayer and penance for your Dominican brothers and sisters, but also for us who, with you, form this diocesan Church of Arlington. Every baptized person is called to evangelize, to be a missionary disciple, with a heart on fire! Pray that our families will evangelize their own individual domestic church; pray that those within arenas of influence, like the legislators and those involved with the rule of law, may resist the onslaught of the evil one and cling to the Truth! Yes, dear Sisters, pray that each one of us like Saint Paul, may have a heart on fire for Jesus!

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015