In the continuing glow of the canonization ceremony of St. John Paul II on April 27th, it would be helpful to explore some of his written words and see where they can be used in our daily lessons with our children and students.
During his long pontificate, John Paul wrote fourteen encyclical letters. Though at times the writing is very dense, this should not intimidate us from using his material as we teach our young people about the beauty and truths of our Catholic faith.
My goal is to write a short article on each of the fourteen encyclical letters and try to offer three or four main lessons that we can use in our teaching and our own prayerful reflection. I plan to discuss these lessons with our Confirmation candidates in our home parish. I would like to continue this reflection with John Paul II’s fourth encyclical letter Slavorum Apostoli (The Apostles of the Slavs) which was promulgated in June 1985.
1. Spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ is often accompanied by suffering.
John Paul states that both Saints Cyril and Methodius spread the Good News of Jesus Christ amidst privations, sufferings, hostility, persecution and imprisonment. They bore all of this with strong faith and indomitable hope in God (#5). Later in the encyclical John Paul writes that all of this suffering was accepted for the love of Christ. This was the price they had to pay for the spreading of the Gospel.
What a powerful and profound lesson to teach our children and young adults.
The world we live in is not very different in many ways from the world of Cyril and Methodius. In standing up for the Gospel of Jesus Christ in its entirety we will be ridiculed, laughed at and persecuted. Some of us may even lose friends, family, jobs, and social status to stand up for the Gospel of Jesus Christ in all its wonder and beauty.
How profoundly sad to see recently that the Presbyterian Church, one of the oldest Protestant denominations in the United States, voted to change the definition of marriage to allow for same-sex marriage. It is almost unimaginable to think that the truths of the moral order can be put up for a vote and changed with a majority decision.
We are truly blessed as Catholics to have the gift of the Magisterium to boldly and fearlessly proclaim the moral truths of the Gospel. Yet we also must do our part in defending the sanctity of unborn life, the barrenness of artificial contraceptives, the truth about marriage and the dignity and worth of the poor, the disabled and the abandoned.
This is not an option but a mandate given by Jesus Christ as he ascended into heaven.
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).
In all our teaching we must constantly remind our young people that the call to discipleship throughout the ages has been filled with persecution and suffering and that even in our own very modern age this suffering will await us as we fulfill the command of Jesus Christ.
2. The truth and power of our missionary mandate comes from the mystery of the Redemption.
When I stop and think about my own teaching, especially to our Confirmation students in our home parish, I need to ask myself some questions and I think these are questions we can all ask ourselves in regards our own teaching of the faith: How many times do I engage my students in a discussion about the mysteries of our own redemption?
Do I discuss: Jesus giving us his body and blood the night before he died? His trial before Pilate and his saving death upon the wood of the cross? His gift of his holy mother given to us from the cross? The salvation he offered the repentant thief? His resurrection and glorious ascension into heaven? The answer ‘not enough’ keeps coming back .
John Paul reminds us that the truth and power of the missionary mandate of saints Cyril and Methodius came from the depths of the mystery of the Redemption and that their evangelizing work among the Slav peoples was to constitute an important link in the mission entrusted by the Savior to the Church until the end of time (#9).
We must remind our young people that it is in the power of the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ that we gain the strength to proclaim his good news. The strength does not come from our own willing it but is first given as a grace from Jesus Christ. The choices that we make throughout our lives indicate our willingness to cooperate in the grace Christ has poured out for us on the Cross and made present in the reality of the Sacraments and the creation of man in the divine image.
3. Nothing is outside the God’s plan of salvation.
The faith we profess is not some static thing that can be rolled out when we feel like it or when we believe the time is right. Each and every day of our lives is a call to live out this faith in charity and communion with all those who the Lord has placed before us that day. John Paul states that the catholicity of the Church is manifested in the active joint responsibility and generous cooperation of all for the sake of the common good (#19).
Going to church and actively participating in the Sacraments is not something we just do but it truly constitutes who we are. It was the Sacraments of baptism, penance and the Holy Eucharist that sustained Cyril and Methodius as they went and preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We must challenge our young people that apart from the grace of Christ we can do nothing. In the Sacraments we have a true encounter with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. From this encounter flows the missionary zeal that seeks to make all things new in Christ and desires the salvation of all God’s creation.
John Paul states that the Church everywhere effects her universality by accepting, uniting and exalting in the ways that are properly hers, with motherly care, every real human value. She strives throughout history to win for God each and every human person to unite them with one another and with him in his truth and his love (#19).
The true love that we teach our young people to shine forth in our very troubled world must also strive to win for God each and every human person. In doing so we are called to unite them with others and with God in truth and in love.
The world will try to indoctrinate our youth that religion is something you practice on your own in secret and in your own way but should not affect your worldview and how you engage our communities and society.
This is an unquestionably false choice. The Catholic Christian’s engagement with our communities and society is grounded in our faith and love in Christ crucified and his mandate to spread this Good News to the entire world. This engagement and evangelization is who we are.
Saints Cyril and Methodius make us strong and steadfast in our teaching of the Catholic faith especially to our youth! Amen.