When I first arrived in La Crosse, nearly 10 years ago, one of the first thoughts I had centered on was the mandate of the Second Vatican Council and the pivotal teaching of our beloved Pope St. John Paul the Great: “The universal call to holiness.” The teaching of Jesus, in this regard, is clearly outlined by Our Blessed Lord Himself in the fifth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, as Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount. Our Lenten preoccupation with prayer, fasting and almsgiving is the fullness of those teachings, further exemplified in the sixth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel containing the profound and penetrating address of God as “Our Father.” Here we find an irrefutable, unmistakable call to holiness. The mission of Jesus, the mission of the Church, the fullness of who and what the Church is called to be is given to us as brothers and sisters of the Incarnate God and faithful sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father.
The first and foremost Gospel mandate upon which I have structured my ministry in our diocese is found in this sixth chapter of Matthew:
“(D)o not worry about your life, is not life more than food and the body more than clothing…all these things, the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows you need them all. Seek first the kingdom (of God) and His righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself—sufficient unto the day are the problems thereof …”
These teachings of Jesus, found so comprehensively and clearly stated in Matthew’s Gospel (and, of course, throughout all of the Gospels), open the treasures of Jesus’ full identity to us in a magnificent way and teach us through the total gift of the Paschal Mystery (the Passion, Death, Resurrection, Ascension and Sending Forth of the Holy Spirit) our participation in the refulgence and majesty of Jesus, who is the Resurrection and the Life. The more deeply we ponder this fact in the perfect light of the Resurrection of our Blessed Lord from the dead, the more closely united we become with Jesus, Himself. Closeness to the living Jesus, of course, increases our love for the Savior; our holiness and willingness to be more closely associated with Him in this world, intensifies our greater awareness of our desire for Him in eternity.
Hence, the Church—our sacramental and spiritual unity with the Person of Jesus Christ! The Gospels open us, every step of the way, to a greater union with Jesus. Jesus is the Gift of the Father, the communication of His Love and the pattern for our participation in Divine (Trinitarian) Life. This is not a simple acceptance of a “philosophy” or the adaptation of a “social theory” and certainly not the acceptance of “folklore” and legend. Jesus calls us to move beyond the “grandstanding” of the hypocrites and the “babbling” of the pagans. He invites us to unity with God as our Father and the power of love that is beyond anything about which we have ever dreamed!
Our contemplation and celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead call us back to His teachings in Matthew’s sixth chapter, especially the introduction of the Dominical Prayer—the Our Father. (I further encourage you, during this Easter season, to study and pray over Matthew’s fifth and sixth chapters as part of your daily prayer.)
In the Lord’s Prayer, our Blessed Lord encourages us to pray for the coming of the Kingdom—the Kingdom of God—on earth as it is in heaven. When we pray that prayer, either at Mass or in other public venues, we tend to pray in a traditional cadence that places a pause after “Thy Kingdom come … Thy will be done … on earth as it is in heaven.” While this may seem to help the vocalized prayer, it does nothing for the proper declarative nature of Jesus’ mandate for the urgency of the Kingdom and the proper disposition of the disciples of Jesus—“seek first the Kingdom of God!”
In the holy season of Easter, dear brothers and sisters, do not lose sense of the priority of believing the fact of the Resurrection: JESUS CHRIST IS RISEN! HE IS RISEN INDEED! The Kingdom of God is a reality that begins here on earth because of our Faith and because of our call to holiness. It is this Kingdom to which, we pray, God will lead us all! Blessed Easter to one and all!
Most Reverend William Patrick Callahan is the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of La Crosse.
Published in the April issue of Catholic Life