VATICAN CITY -- Despite recent studies that indicate a rise in secularism, bishops must continue to give witness to God's love by laying down their lives for their flocks, said Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas.
Referring to a Pew Research Center study released in December, Archbishop Naumann encouraged bishops to "not concede without a fight a single soul to the darkness of unbelief, of life without the friendship and love of Jesus."
"Despite the findings of Pew studies, let us commit ourselves to laying down our lives with love in our efforts to restore and, in some way, instill eucharistic amazement in the hearts of our people," the archbishop said in his homily Jan. 14 during Mass at the Rome Basilica of St. Mary Major.
Archbishop Naumann was the principal celebrant and homilist at the Mass with the bishops of Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska. The bishops were making their visits "ad limina apostolorum" -- to the threshold of the apostles -- to report on the status of their dioceses. Archbishop Robert J. Carlson and Auxiliary Bishop Mark S. Rivituso represented the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
The Good News proclaimed 2,000 years ago in Rome by Sts. Peter and Paul, the archbishop said, "is the same Good News our people need to hear proclaimed with enthusiasm and authority today."
"In a secular culture where so many are dying spiritually and even physically from loneliness, in a society infected by a defective anthropology that claims that 'I can be anything that I could ever want to be,' which means that 'I am nothing more than I can imagine,' let us witness boldly to our people -- as the apostles Peter and Paul did to a deeply secular culture -- that God loves them, that Jesus came to liberate them from all that enslaves us," he said.
An important aspect of the bishops' visit, he said, "is prayer, our Masses in these four major basilicas and praying at the tomb of the great apostles Peter and Paul, that we might have the same apostolic zeal in proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus to the world today as they did in their time."
After the Mass at St. Mary's, the bishops walked down the stairs under the basilica's main altar to pray before the silver reliquary that houses what tradition holds is a relic of the manger where Christ was born.
In his homily, Archbishop Naumann had reflected on the day's reading from the First Book of Samuel, which recounts Hannah's intense prayer for a child and God giving her that gift.
Like Hannah, who prayed fervently to become a mother, the archbishop said, bishops must pray to be "true spiritual fathers for our people, striving to lay down our lives and love that they might embrace the gift of their true identity as beloved sons and daughters of God."
Citing the example of St. John Marie Vianney, who often would spend hours praying for the conversion of his parishioners, Archbishop Naumann said bishops also must pray "purposefully, then calmly place our intentions in the Lord's hands."
"We must ask the Lord to give us the grace to work tirelessly and perseveringly for the physical, but more importantly, the spiritual wealth of those entrusted to our pastoral care," he said. "And then, to be at peace, confident not in our own abilities, but that the Lord has heard our pleas and cries."