Overlooked commandments ? Part III

Neh. 8, 10: “Rejoicing in the Lord shall be your strength”

As we pray the Creed, we reaffirm what have been traditionally called the “notes” of the Church -- qualities and characteristics by which she is to be known. Our formula highlights the truth that the Church is one, holy, catholic and apostolic.

Immediately following this affirmation we turn our attention to another aspect of the Church. It is also the “communion of saints.” It is a different emphasis, focusing more on the Church as the People of God. And upon reflection, it would seem that we as a people should project “notes” by which we will be recognized.

Such a listing in a reflection such as this could not be comprehensive. But I believe that it is worthwhile to make an attempt.

I would begin by highlighting “integrity” -- that most admirable and attractive of virtues. The world and society desperately need more men and women of honesty and integrity. During the priestly scandal, one of the criticisms of the Church was that it lacked integrity. It was (and is) a devastating accusation. But I believe that it is equally devastating when our critics point to our lack of integrity in, for example, the social arena when we fail to live up to our teachings. And finally, when we turn to individuals, so often others see a gap between our belief and activity -- a lack of integrity.

The personalized notes of the Church must include compassion--the desire to reach out and touch the hurting and suffering in our world. His Holiness Pope John Paul II emphasized:

“Charity ... never enough.” As long as there are hurting people in our world, we can never be indifferent. The same Pope urged us during Lent a few years ago to pray for the grace to hear the inarticulate and silent cries of the world’s hurting. And we must continue to pray for this grace.

Among other virtues I believe we must enflesh, we must include hope and forgiveness. In our day and age, there is a pressing need that despite the difficulties of life we must project a spirit of joy and peace. Christ Himself, during His last will and testament, prayed that we become depositories of joy (Jn. 15).

I never tire of pointing out that anger is not a fruit of the Spirit.

Sometimes when we read the newspapers or listen to the TV commentators, it seems that there is an atmosphere of anger directed against the Church. And unconsciously, we can be affected by such.

The verse from the prophet Nehemiah which began this reflection has many lessons to teach us. In constructing our spirituality of joy, I would highlight the operative word “in” from the quote. The word is expansive and has explosive connotations. We begin by noting that we are very much in the divine consciousness of the divine heart. In our artistic tradition, there are generally two different approaches that try to depict the Crucifixion of Christ. The one we see less frequently has the Lord on the Cross before His heart is pierced with the lance. The more popular presentation shows His side after being pierced by the soldier’s spear. The latter reminds us of the Lord’s infinite openness -- His love reaching out to men and women of every age. The former reminds us of the often overlooked truth that the Lord held each one of us individually in His heart as He offered Himself (as well as ourselves) to the Father.

As one grows in intimacy with the Lord, appreciating that we are in His heart but also the truth that He has attached Himself to us through Baptism (there is a deeply personal meaning to the words “I will be with you all days”) we begin to grasp where true inner peace, contentment and joy is to be found.

As one grows to appreciate the Father’s personalized and affectionate love toward the individual, one not only finds in this truth the roots of contentment -- recognizing that He loves me even in and through my weakness -- but also one grows into a deeper appreciation of the gifts that He has lavished upon us. And we become thankful.

In my own ministry, I have always found that helping other is a source of joy. Better, this should be qualified. In helping others, I have found myself enriched by them, realizing that they offer me the opportunity to encounter Christ in them -- realizing that Christ has identified Himself mystically with all who belong to Him, especially the poor and hurting.

Msgr. McDonnell is a senior priest of the archdiocese and is in residence at St. Mary, Dedham.