Column by Jonathan Nagy
During his rise to power, Napoleon Bonaparte declared the Catholic Church an enemy of the state in France. He destroyed churches, executed priests, and even kidnapped and held Pope Pius VI captive. After 18 months, the Pope died in captivity. The Cardinals then elected Pius VII as the new Pope. Pope Pius VII’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Ercole Consalvi, was sent to meet with the Emperor. When Napoleon declared that he would destroy the Church, the Cardinal quickly responded, “Oh my little man, you think you’re going to succeed in accomplishing what centuries of priests and bishops have tried and failed to do?”
Napoleon Bonaparte and so many individuals have attempted over the centuries to destroy the Church, and yet here we stand. Many times, that destruction has come from the inside, as Cardinal Consalvi exclaimed to the Emperor. Fast forward to the year 2000, when in a historic move, Saint Pope John Paul II apologized to the world for the various atrocities committed by the Catholic Church over the centuries. While acknowledging that the Church is, “A wonderful wealth of holiness, of missionary ardor, of total dedication to Christ and to our neighbor,” he also admitted that “Some of our brothers have been unfaithful to the Gospel.” He spoke about the Crusades, the Inquisition, the forced conversion of Native Americans, and the actions of deceit performed on the faithful. He asked forgiveness from the world and promised the hope that we will strive to do better to promote the faith in the Name of Jesus Christ.
The priests of our diocese are some of the hardest working men that I know and are worth our admiration. They are confessors, confidants, advisors, and friends. They all deserve our prayers and support for the difficult jobs that they have in today’s world. Just like during the time of Napoleon’s persecution of the Church, they are facing enormous trials and tribulations. To reemphasize the remark of Cardinal Consalvi, there have been those who have come before them that make the jobs of our current priests more difficult. Our priests, by following the precedent set by our first priest, Father Demetrius Gallitzin, are doing an outstanding job in spreading the faith.
Father Gallitzin was a strict adherent to Church teachings and customs. He was very stern in instilling respect for the Sacraments in his parishioners, which often put him at odds with individuals who challenged his teachings. Several times these detractors threatened his life. Once, a group of individuals armed with clubs attempted to ambush Father Gallitzin as he prepared for Mass, demanding that he stop Mass and leave. He boldly walked to the altar and proclaimed, “I now proceed to offer up the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Let no man dare to profane this church or insult the Christ here present by word or movement. I tell you this – if any man raises hand or foot to take me from this altar, or interrupt my words this day, another day shall come when he will call for me, and I shall not be there.” The detractors walked away, similar to the way the mob left the woman alone after Jesus said, “He without sin should cast the first stone.” Father Gallitzin stood strong in the faith, as do our priests, and so should we.
While Father Gallitzin stands out to us as a model for our local church, the truth is that Catholics have been and continue to be persecuted for our beliefs. These attacks are straight from Satan himself, as they have no solid ground on which to stand. The evil one is taking advantage of those who have not developed a strong spiritual fortitude. A phrase I have seen many times recently is “We live in a time where Satan doesn’t even try to hide anymore, and we still can’t see him.” It is clear and evident that his intent is to cause harm to people, corrupting their hearts, minds, and souls, and turning them away from the one true God. We have many forms of defense against this evil, including the Rosary, the prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel, and the greatest gift that Jesus left us – the Holy Eucharist.
As many are aware, the Church entered a three year period of a Eucharistic Revival in the United States. Many have questioned exactly what this means and what the intent is for the health of the Church. One of the best, succinct explanations I found came from FORMED. As stated on their website, “The Eucharistic Revival is a national movement to renew the Church by enkindling a living relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist.” There it is, plain and simple. I love the idea of ‘enkindling the living relationship with Jesus,’ for only through forming a relationship with Him do we become active members of His Church.
Everyone has friends or family that they enjoy spending time with, conversing with, and sharing the good and bad times that life hands each of us. We get there by getting to know the other people and developing a friendship with them. I always joke that when looking at it from the outside, making friends is awkward. We look at someone and in essence say, “You seem like someone I would enjoy being around, would you like to be my friend?” As corny as that may sound, that is a phrase that Jesus is saying to each and every one of us. He enjoys all of us and wants all of us close to Him. The best way that exists for this is through the Holy Eucharist. With others, gathered together in His Name, we enkindle a relationship with Him on a personal level. Sharing a meal with someone is one of the most human, intimate actions that we can do. The meal we share with others at Mass always has the presence of Christ Jesus. I can think of no better dinner guest than Him!
We cannot have this meal without our priests, nor can we take for granted their importance in our spiritual development and eternal salvation. The priest becomes in persona Christi, or in the person of Christ, at Mass. We believe, with his outstretched arms, that the priest, at that moment, performs transubstantiation, and the simple gifts of bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. No one except a priest can perform this awesome transformation. We need to appreciate their actions and commitment to the well-being of our souls.
Of course, there are detractors who do not believe what we believe and even attack the very essence of the Catholic Church. Last summer, I had the privilege of attending the Eucharistic Miracles display at Saint Aloysius parish in Cresson. I was extremely overwhelmed with the vast number of Eucharistic miracles that were on display on the various posters. I spent a great deal of time and still could not possibly read each one. Jesus is speaking to us through the Eucharist and continues to do so! What a miracle it is every time the priest performs the consecration, right before our very eyes! I would find it difficult to believe that any detractor who seriously considered each miracle would continue to attack the faith.
While our own spiritual wholeness with Jesus Christ through our beliefs can be fruitful for us, we have to be honest in admitting that we are only acting partly as Catholics. We must be willing to evangelize and bring others closer to Him. As Pope Benedict XVI once said, “Anyone who has discovered Christ must lead others to Him. A great joy cannot be kept to oneself. It has to be passed on.” We have great work to do! Invite others to join you at Mass. Feel free and open to discuss the faith and what it means to be a Catholic. Promote the regular participation in the Sacraments, especially Holy Eucharist, as a healthy and fruitful way of life.
I can think of no better way to end this article than with Demetrius Gallitzin’s own words. In his brilliant writing, A Defence of Catholic Principles, Father Gallitzin lays out in simple terms the beliefs of Catholics and WHY we believe them. He quotes scripture and the saints. His concluding paragraph sums up my point better than I can. He wrote, “Hush into silence your prejudice; listen and adore; humble yourself with Saint Paul into the very dust, pray for light, and you shall see it brighter than the dazzling rays of the mid-day sun. Ask for grace to overcome human respect and all carnal considerations, those obstacles which Satan raises to prevent the conversion of millions, and that grace will be imparted to you. Seek the kingdom of heaven by which in scripture language is often meant the church of Christ, the Catholic church, as yet in a state of suffering, persecuted, ridiculed, tried like gold in the furnace, as yet wandering through the dreary and frightful desert, but on its way to the land of promise; you will find it, and with it you will enter the mansions of eternal peace.”
Become the faithful followers of the teachings of Jesus and the Church, as Father Gallitzin directed. Be on fire for the faith. Evangelize with fervor. Bring others to see Christ as we see Him. Do not be a detractor but rather be a promoter. Allow the words of Father Demetrius Gallitzin to further enhance your experience with the Eucharistic Revival, becoming true ambassadors of Christ!
Jonathan Nagy, M.Ed., is the Dean of Students and Social Studies teacher at Bishop Carroll Catholic High School in Ebensburg. He is also the Music Director at the Basilica of Saint Michael the Archangel in Loretto.