Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
“Non recuso laborem — I do not refuse the task.”
We celebrate the feast of St. Martin of Tours this week (Nov. 11). In terms of his image, he’s best known as the Roman solider who cut his cloak in half to share it with a beggar. But in the tradition of the Church, he’s just as well known for these words: Non recuso laborem.
Martin had turned from the life of a soldier to become a monk and then a bishop. Sensing that the end of his life was near, he began to prepare for death. His people begged him to steel his will to live longer and remain with them. Like St. Paul, he was ready to depart and be with the Lord. But he prayed: “Lord, if your people still need me, non recuso laborem — I do not refuse the task.” Even near death, Martin didn’t shy away from hard work.
These words have become the motto of many bishops and schools. I think we might fruitfully make them our own for the next phase of All Things New, as we draw near to the end of our listening sessions and start to make concrete plans for reconfiguring schools and parishes. I’ve had to find the courage and determination of St. Martin again and again within myself; I think each of us needs to do so in the coming months.
Another feast day this week can help us with an even more precise sense of what the task is that we must not refuse. When all is said and done, the deepest task of All Things New isn’t the outward reconfiguration of schools and parishes — though that is a great task itself! The greater task is a new sense of what it means to be the Church. And that’s precisely the focus of the feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica, the pope’s Cathedral (Nov. 9).
It may seem odd to celebrate the feast of the dedication of a building. But the reading from 1 Corinthians for the day makes the crucial point very clear: “You are God’s building.” And the Office of Readings for the day expands on the point: “We, however, ought to be the true and living temple of God … Whenever we come to church, we must prepare our hearts to be as beautiful as we expect this church to be.” The same point is reflected in St. Paul’s advice to Titus about setting up the Church in Crete: All of his concern for building up the Church is focused on the interior characteristics of the people.
We expect our Church buildings to proclaim Christ to the world — and they should! It’s time to make an interior shift, and expect ourselves to proclaim Christ to the world, too.
Consider how long it took to build some of the great church buildings of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Our ancestors faced that daunting task, and their answer was: Non recuso laborem — I do not refuse the task.
Now we face a monumental task, too: both the external reconfiguring of schools and parishes, and the internal reconfiguring of how we bring the Good News out to the world. I hope we can find the courage and determination of St. Martin as we face our task. I hope that each of us will find it in our hearts to say, over and over in these coming months: Non recuso laborem — I do not refuse the task.