Christianity in Eastern Europe

In 05 Homilies by Fr. Reid on 2016/08/26 at 12:00 AM
  • This past week several of your fellow parishioners and I had the great joy of visiting St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague, which is one of the world’s greatest gothic churches.
  • Whenever I travel – especially out of the country – I like to visit important churches not simply because they are churches, but because the art and architecture of a church provides great insight into the faith life of a people.
  • The culture of a particular place is always an expression of a people’s most deeply held beliefs. Churches, which are (at least in part) an expression of culture, are thus a sign of a people’s love for God and their faith in Him.
  • At the time that St. Vitus was begun in the 14th c., Prague was in the midst of its “golden age.” It was one of the wealthiest and most culturally sophisticated cities in Europe, and Prague was a stronghold of the Catholic faith. But times have changed.
  • Though a great monument to faith, sadly there are very few worshipers at St. Vitus today. Most people who visit today simply tramp through the place as if it’s only a museum, whose artifacts, beautiful as they are, hearken back to a distant past with no real relevance for today.
  • Yet this was not the case in the beautiful churches and pilgrimage places of Poland, which were filled with pious Poles praying and doing devotions in every nook and cranny.
  • So while both Poland and the Czech Republic are filled with magnificent churches and beautiful monuments that testify to the glories of Christendom, on the whole we found the Polish people to be far more faithful than the Czechs.
  • Certainly there are historical and political reasons for this difference. While Poland and the Czech Republic were both Communist bloc countries following World War II, the Czech Republic experienced a harsher form of Communism than did Poland. How Catholicism was linked or not linked to nationalism in each country has also played a role.
  • But while culture, history, and politics have all played a role in shaping how the Catholic faith is practiced in each country, I don’t think that’s the full story as to why there are such differences in the practice of the faith between Poland and the Czech Republic.
  • In the same way, I don’t think we can look only at familial and cultural circumstances to understand why a single person practices the Faith or not. While familial and cultural circumstances play a role in a person’s faith and practice thereof, there’s more to it than that.
  • In fact, the person who made the greatest impression on me on this pilgrimage wasn’t a pious Pole, but an elderly Czech sacristan at a church in Prague. This man didn’t speak any English, but the tender affection in his eyes and the filial devotion he showed in kissing my hands when I came to offer Mass in his church spoke volumes about his faith.
  • Despite the general loss of faith and overwhelming secularism of his country, this man has obviously chosen to continue loving God and the Church. I have every confidence that his is a faith that is tried and true because He has made a fundamental choice to love and trust God.
  • You see, t the very heart of faith is an act of the will. While faith is a gift that is not necessarily given in equal measures by our Lord, it is a gift that we must choose to open and to use.
  • In other words, belief in God and closeness to Him is not dependent on God alone. While some souls are chosen by our Lord for special tasks and higher degrees of holiness – and are therefore closer to Him – all of us can be close to our Lord. All of us can be faithful!
  • We just have to choose to practice our faith. And choosing to practice our faith as our Lord would have us practice it is really a matter of simply choosing to love God.
  • A person can certainly practice the tenets of our Faith for reasons other than the love of God, but no one can practice the Faith with integrity without truly loving God.
  • As St. Peter says today, we must “sanctify Christ as Lord in [our] hearts,” which is another way of saying that Jesus must reign as the king of our heart. It’s a way of saying that we must love and trust Jesus because He is Lord.
  • And our Gospel today teaches us that we love our Lord by being faithful to Him and to His commandments. Jesus says to us: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. . . . Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me.”
  • But He goes on to say, “And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.”
  • So what we learn from the Gospel today is that love has a price. Truly loving God requires that we submit to Him, that we obey Him – which means being obedient to the teachings and tenets of His one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church, which safeguards Christ’s teachings.
  • We cannot say that we truly love God if we are disobedient to the Church’s teachings. True love is not rebellious; it is submissive – even when it doesn’t fully understand.
  • Thus, there has never been a saint who wasn’t obedient to Christ and to the authentic teachings of His Church. Indeed, saints are people who are willing to die rather than be disobedient to Christ and His Church – and so should we be!
  • Of course being obedient to Church teaching isn’t always easy, is it? Inundated as we are by rampant secularism, sensuality, and materialism in our culture, being obedient to Christ and His Church is often counter-cultural and requires a true death to self and to worldly ways.
  • But the Gospel today also teaches us that God more than repays us if we choose to be obedient to Him out of love. Not only will our Lord love us in return, but He will reveal Himself to us! He tells us that He will not leave us orphans, but that He will come to us.
  • So by choosing to love God by being obedient, we dispose our Lord to uniting Himself to us – even in this life – which prepares us for eternal union with Him in the next life! By obediently loving God and faithfully trusting in Him, we open ourselves up to God’s mercy!
  • One of the great consolations of this pilgrimage was our visit to the Shrine of Divine Mercy in Krakow, Poland, which is where St. Faustina received so many of her revelations from our Lord about His divine mercy.
  • It seemed that in every church we visited (in both countries) we found an image of the Divine Mercy, just like we have in our narthex. To me, seeing the Divine Mercy image so often was a reminder that God’s mercy is always available to us.
  • Seeing the Divine Mercy image in so many, many places was a reminder that, even when we turn away from our Lord and immerse ourselves in worldly pursuits and values, His love is still there for us, His heart is still open to us. All we need to do is turn back to Him.
  • It was a reminder that God deserves our love, our trust, and our obedience.
  • Practicing our faith and being obedient to God and His commands is not always easy, mybrothers and sisters, but I assure you, loving God in this way is worth the effort, for itprocures for us that mercy without which we cannot be saved.
  • Through our Lord’s divine mercy, may each of us be given the gift of a deep and lively faith.May we choose to exercise this faith and love our Lord through our obedience to His teachings. And may His mercy be upon us as we place our trust in Him.

© Reverend Timothy Reid

Fr. Reid is the pastor of St. Ann Catholic Church, Charlotte, NC

Homilies from June 17, 2012 onward have audio.
To enable the audio, lease go directly to Fr. Reid’s homily homilies and select the matching date.

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