"I'm Proud of My Faith"
from the WFF Archives
by Cardinal James Hickey
Cardinal James Hickey presented this homily on October 8, 1989, to the combined conferences of Women for Faith & Family and the Consortium Perfectae Caritatis. The conference, attended by 400 lay and religious women, was held in St. Louis. The Mass was celebrated at the Basilica of St. Louis the King. Cardinal Hickey was Archbishop of Washington, DC, from 1980 to 2000. He died October 24, 2004.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Let me start with the story about an American army chaplain. He had just given a homily at a Mass for some American sailors in a cathedral in Europe. The theme of the homily was, “Be proud of your Catholic faith don’t be ashamed to practice it in public.”
After the Mass, a sailor, obviously moved by the homily, stopped the chaplain in front of the cathedral. “Would you hear my confession, Father?” he asked.
“I’d be happy to hear it”, replied the chaplain. With that the sailor knelt down right on the sidewalk in front of the cathedral. “Never mind kneeling”, said the chaplain. “People will stare.”
“The heck with them, Father!” said the sailor. “Let ’em stare. I’m proud of my faith!”
Dear friends, today’s scripture readings speak to us of the importance of a living faith. The prophet Habakkuk speaks about faith that endures in the midst of suffering. Saint Paul urges Timothy to have a living and active faith, based on sound teaching. In the Gospel according to Saint Luke, Jesus proclaims the tremendous power of faith: “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed you could say to this sycamore, ‘Be uprooted and transplanted into the sea’, and it would obey you.” Each in its own way, the readings teach us all not to be ashamed of our faith, but to embrace it in its fullness, to live it with dedication and love, and to bear witness to it in our daily lives.
Every one of us is called to bear witness to the faith. The members of Women for Faith & Family know that your organization came into being because you recognize how challenging it is to live as faithful members of the Church and to bear witness to the faith of the Church. Those who are raising families need to have a strong faith in accordance with the teaching of the Church and to impart that faith to their children.
In the workplace, whether in office or factory, the lay-person is called to be “the salt of the earth”, and “the light of the world”. By word and example lay-persons are charged with the responsibility of bearing witness to the faith that can transform the world.
In today’s society there is a special need for us all to bear witness to the dignity of the human person revealed in Christ. Our faith helps us to see more clearly the God-given dignity of the unborn, the aged, the terminally ill. In a world where profit is paramount, we need to manifest the moral values which come from our faith. There is need to bring the Gospel to the unchurched, and to bring home our alienated Catholics. We need to take Jesus at His word when He talks about the power of faith to transform the world.
The pace of daily life has accelerated dramatically in our lifetime. It is also true that a secular spirit, which leaves little or no room for faith, has accelerated even more dramatically. There is need for all of us to stand up and say, “I’m proud of my faith!” We show we are proud of our faith not simply by “waving the flag” or by repeating slogans, but by embracing in our personal lives the sound doctrine of the Church; by understanding its depth, beauty and richness, and by encouraging others especially our families to follow along the path Jesus pointed out to us.
Whatever our state in life, we need encouragement in order to remain true to our faith. For that reason, authentic religious life is more necessary than ever. In a special and radical way, you, as religious women and men, bear witness to the truth of the Gospel. You are a sign to us all to clergy and laity alike of the glory that the Lord has in store for all who believe.
We should not allow dire predictions about the future of religious life to cast a pall over your own consecrated lives; the world needs that full vigor of your testimony, which your lives of poverty, chastity and obedience can provide. By your special way of life you say to your fellow-Catholics and to the world, “I am proud of my faith!”
Listen to the encouraging words of Pope John Paul II to priests and religious: “Do not disappoint the people who are waiting for you to bring Christ to them. Do not fail your generation of young men and women. To all of you I say this is a wonderful time to be a priest, a religious, a missionary for Christ!”
Emboldened by the words of the Holy Father, you must hold fast to your special way of life. Never let anyone tell you that your special identity as religious is a hindrance in preaching the Gospel and in spreading the faith. On the contrary, it is a necessary ingredient in the apostolic mission of the Church. Again, listen to the encouraging words of our Holy Father:
“Rejoice to be witnesses to Christ in the modern world. Do not hesitate to be recognizable, identifiable, in the streets as men and women who have consecrated their lives to God and who have given up everything worldly to follow Christ. Believe that contemporary men and women set value on the visible signs of the consecration of your lives. People need signs reminders of God in the secular city which has few reminders of God left.”
When the young sailor knelt down before the priest in the street, he was visible to many passersby. It is true that some may have thought that the young man took leave of his senses. Others probably didn’t know what to make of the scene, so they simply stopped and stared. The same thing is true of your own special witness. It will often be misunderstood. There will be some who say that your religious life is unhealthy or stifling. There will be others who say that religious life is a curiosity from the past.
In those moments, you must heed the advice of Saint Paul to Timothy: “Never be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord.” Our world needs the “authentic contradiction” provided by religious consecration. Your vowed life helps all of us to understand the values and truths which are at the heart of the Gospel. Your way of life is a constant call to all of us to reform our lives and to believe in the Gospel.
Dear friends, during these past few days, we have been listening to reflections on religious life and on family life. We have come here together not to wage a war of polemics, but to be strengthened by an ever-deepened knowledge of our Lord Jesus through the teaching of the Church and by the example of those who try to live out the Gospel.
My prayer is that we will go forth from here, returning to our homes and apostolates with renewed courage and strength. Without the slightest hint of smugness, but rather with grateful hearts, in all humility, let us stand before our world and say, “I am proud of my faith!”
Mary, Mother of our families, pray for us!
Mary, Model of all religious, pray for us!
Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for us!
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