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St. Francis of Assisi is depicted in a stained-glass display at St. Francis of Assisi Church in New York City.
St. Francis of Assisi is depicted in a stained-glass display at St. Francis of Assisi Church in New York City.
Photo Credit: Gregory A. Shemitz | Catholic News Service

EDITORIAL | Called to renewal

Most people will never have the jarring experience of divine intervention that Francis of Assisi had when the figure of Jesus on the San Damiano cross called out to him, “Francis, rebuild my Church, which has fallen into ruin.” Likewise, most people won’t set about founding an order of friars with a charism of radical Gospel poverty that becomes one of the most prominent religious orders of the universal Church.

But the extraordinary nature of the witness of Sts. Francis and Clare, which continues to bear fruit today, shouldn’t obscure for the rest of us that God calls all Christians to be part of the renewal and rebuilding of the Church. Men and women religious, for example, are at work in ministries of renewal — whether responding to violence and other tragedies or to the scourge of addiction. We also see religious, priests and laypeople responding to God’s call in ways that promote even wider renewal in their communities and societies.

This can be our story as well.

For months, Catholics in the United States and elsewhere have felt the blow of revelations of clergy sexual abuse and cover-up. In the midst of such horror, the temptation to become disillusioned with the Church is strong. But as members of the body of Christ, all Catholics would do well to remember that God calls and raises up great saints during times of turmoil for the Church.

It’s reassuring to think that we could experience the witness of another St. Francis or St. Clare, or Sts. Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, reforming the Carmelites; or St. Catherine of Siena, in complete obedience to the pope, nonetheless calling on him to reform the clergy; or St. Ignatius Loyola, founding the Jesuits; or St. Charles Borromeo, implementing the reforms of the Council of Trent; or St. Thomas More, calling those in his life to greater accountability to themselves and the Gospel. In each of these cases, we can only marvel at how far-reaching the reforms of these saints were for the Church.

While being open to God’s will and using their gifts and talents to serve the Church, the Church’s saintly reformers weren’t satisfied with maintaining the status quo or what was comfortable. They abandoned those things that prevented the Church from effectively preaching the Gospel. They were unconcerned with power, prestige or honor and lived only for Jesus Christ Himself. They took great risks, often at great costs.

And, as Joseph Pearce reminds us in “Heroes of the Catholic Reformation: Saints Who Renewed the Church,” being a holy witness is a difficult and ultimately self-emptying task.

“To love as God loves is, therefore, to die. To love is to lay down our lives for our friends,” he writes. “Since we are commanded to love all our neighbors, including those of our neighbors who are our enemies, we are called to lay down our lives even for those whom we don’t like. To do this, to die to ourselves that others might live, is loving as God loves; and, paradoxically, it is also living as God lives. This is holiness.”

As difficult as this past summer has been, it has also served as our wake-up call. The Church is in need of a new generation of saintly reformers. We need men and women, religious and lay, who know who the Lord is and are willing to risk everything not only to follow him, but to bring others to him as well. This is the opportunity open to each one of us as we seek, together, to renew our wounded Church.

This editorial originally appeared in the Sept. 26 issue of Our Sunday Visitor.

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