BLESSED Frederic Ozanam founded the St Vincent de Paul Society 179 years ago on the values of believing the Word, Gospel values, loving and trusting God, having integrity, living for others, and becoming the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
These wonderful values gave members of the society’s Vincentian family deep roots and an anchor on the stormy seas of life.
Like Blessed Frederic, if we as Christians are to live out our calling in life we must return to our roots and renew our faith and focus on personal holiness by walking in companionship with Jesus Christ.
Striving to be partakers of Christ’s divine will causes us all to grow in spirituality.
As we do, holiness will be a natural outcome of our relationship with God.
Remember that one cannot be holy in a hurry, but we can take another step in that direction each day.
Holiness is a life-long process of growth to know and serve our Blessed Lord, Jesus Christ.
This gives us all a wonderful opportunity to commit ourselves to pray daily, seeking the mind and heart of Jesus Christ and to actively seek God’s guidance in prayer upon every matter in relation to our lives.
In Recife, Brazil, where great numbers of poor people were illiterate, Bishop Helder Camara used to instruct his catechists: “Sisters and brothers, watch how you live. Your lives may be the only gospel your neighbours will ever read. We are all witnesses, at every moment of the day. That does not mean shouting the Creed from the rooftops. It means living in such a way that our lives would not make sense if God did not exist.”
It saddens me to note that we are living in very troubled times and in an increasingly secular society.
Recently when perusing the Scriptures I observed closely the contents of Deuteronomy 6:1-25 and Deuteronomy 8:1-20.
I could not fail to note, that in times of plenty, many of us forget that we lack nothing because of the goodness of God – we tend to become proud and forget the Lord our God.
There have been times during the past 30-odd years where I have observed with concern a watering down of the Gospel message to a thin gruel of “Be nice to people”.
If the Gospel message is to be heard, it has to be proclaimed fearlessly in all its radical nature.
I read recently in a well known Christian devotional that: “So often we are tempted to accept a watered-down gospel with no teeth in it, a gospel that offers God’s forgiveness without any mention of repentance. What about repentance and obedience? We have to take the time to look at the bad news … sin and sure judgement … before the Good News has any meaning”.
Need to start afresh
In 1 Timothy 4:16 Paul said, “Pay close attention to yourself and your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers”.
As a former leader of a lay Catholic association of the faithful, being the St Vincent de Paul Society in Queensland, I have learnt over many years that we must know what we believe, and know what the Bible teaches, especially on the topic of the Gospel.
Without a doubt, there are counterfeit gospels in the world today.
The devil is a master manipulator and imitator.
One of the greatest tactics that he has used successfully over the centuries is to imitate the “Good News” and offer a counterfeit version that is close enough to be believable.
It is also said that there is a growing number of people in the world today who believe that real goodness is about “being nice to people” and that you don’t need to go to church or pray to God in order to “be nice”.
It is here that they miss the point – Christians know that they have to love the Lord their God with all their heart, with all their mind, and with all their strength.
And they know also that they must love their neighbour as themselves (Mark 12:28-32).
These commandments are much more demanding than merely “being nice” and we can only be faithful to them with God’s grace; grace which is readily available to us through prayer, attendance at Mass and reception of the Eucharist.
It is in the sacrament of Reconciliation especially that we are reminded of God’s willingness to forgive, provided we repent and try to do better.
Jesus, through this sacrament, guides us towards a right relationship with both God and our neighbour.
I strongly believe that we all really need to start afresh and walk with Jesus every day of our lives.
We certainly need to hear and know a lot more about God, and how much He has to offer us.
To reclaim the centrality of Jesus Christ depends entirely on a new spirit and a new heart.
The renewal that Pope Francis shows us is the conversion of heart that happens by walking with Jesus, by being in close contact with him.
This is why he constantly insists that we read a passage of the Gospels day-by-day and reflect and pray on it, whether we are on public transport or at home.
That is walking with Jesus.