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May 2024
 

Dear Friends,

 

We have so much to celebrate at this time of year!  We are still in Eastertide, rejoicing in the memory – more accurately yet, the reality – of Christ’s Resurrection from the dead.  We celebrate Christ’s Ascension into Heaven on May 9, as we remember His promise to us: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” (Acts 1:8).  That promise is fulfilled on Pentecost Sunday, May 19.  The very next day, we rejoice yet again with a new memorial added to the General Roman calendar by Pope Francis six years ago: “The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church.”

 

The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Mary, the apostles, Peter and John, the disciples, the early Christian Church.  The very terms that we use and the people whom we invoke – not only in May, but in every month – remind us that religion is a relationship.  Some of you might recall from your religion classes at Chaminade or Kellenberg that the English word religion derives from the Latin verb religare, meaning “to tie” or “to bind.”  Religion ties us – binds us – to God, and not only to God, but to one another as well.

 

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Mary, our Mother.  Jesus, our Brother.  “The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common.” (Acts 4:32)   All of this denotes relationship, unanimity, tenderness, fraternity and sorority.  And it’s all concrete; none of it is theoretical.  We can talk about love, we can romanticize love, we can listen to wistful songs about love.  But once we enter into a relationship, once we form a family, we know firsthand not only the joys of love, but its cost – its challenges – as well.  

 

Religion is a relationship!  It’s no accident that the Church gives such prominence to Mary, our Mother. Especially in this month of May.  She nurtures the Church, and, in so doing, she teaches us to nurture one another.  It’s no coincidence that Christ became a man; in so doing, He transforms the way we relate to our fellow men and women.  And it’s no mere theological nicety that the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles on Pentecost Sunday.   In so doing, the Spirit empowers us to inspire one another to live the Christlife.

 

Religion is a relationship, but our world is fractured.  The headlines are filled with news of division and destruction: the war in Ukraine, the terror attacks and counterattacks in the Middle East, unspeakable violence in Haiti.  The divisions in our own country run deep, perhaps deeper than they ever have since the Civil War.  Polarization and factions even tear at the unity of our own Church.  One of contemporary Catholicism's preeminent apologists, Bishop Robert Barron, reminds us that the name the devil, and the adjectives diabolic, and demonic all derive from Greek words that mean “to cast apart,” “to throw apart.” and “to scatter.”  

 

“The great sign of the demonic is scattering,” Bishop Barron writes.  “God is a great gathering force. Whenever things come together, when a community forms, that is a sign of the Holy Spirit.”

 

Reading the signs of the times and recalling the relational nature of our faith, I think one of the most important prayers we can pray today is a prayer for unity.  In our Community, during the Prayer of the Faithful, we pray regularly for “a healing of the divisions in our Church, in the world, in our country, among ourselves, and in our hearts.”   Our world desperately needs to be healed of the divisions that tear it apart.  This does not mean that we turn a blind eye towards differences, or that we compromise on matters of bedrock truth.  It certainly does mean, however, that we can make at least some compromises for the common good, that we can find some common ground.  And it does mean, as Jesus enjoined upon us, that we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.  God is a gathering force.  Religion is a relationship, a family, a fraternity.  The Church, as Pope Francis has reminded us, is a field hospital.

 

What does all this mean for us?  Might I make one suggestion?  (I was going to write “one simple suggestion,” but maybe it’s not so simple.)  Befriend an “enemy.”  Start small.  Just one “enemy.”  This might entail reconciling with a former friend with whom we have had a serious – even tumultuous – fallout.  For some, if the effort at reconciliation is not reciprocated, it might mean forgiving that person in our hearts, even if he or she has deeply hurt us.  Or, here’s another way we could befriend an “enemy”: Stop trash-talking the people with whom you disagree.  If it’s someone you don’t particularly like, go out of your way to treat him or her respectfully.   And, if I may, let me offer one more possibility: Reach out to someone you find absolutely off-putting.  Build bridges, not walls.  Invite people into your own heart, and into the family of God, and keep on inviting them, instead of giving up on them.

 

Just yesterday, I was presiding at one of the pre-lunch Eucahritic Adoration services in our school.  As I was placing the Host in the Monstrance, I spied out of the corner of my eye a young man – a senior – whom I had never seen before at Adoration.  I know him well; he’s a student in my second-period Christian Existence class, and to be candid, I find him to be a royal pain in the derriere.  “What’s he doing here?” was my first thought.

 

Wrong thought!  Absolutely wrong thought!  Could I rejoice in this sign of contradiction, in this not-so-gentle rebuke of the harsh judgements I have harbored about this young man?  I certainly didn’t want to.  And I know I have to.

 

“Receive the power of the Holy Spirit.”  It isn’t always easy.  Frequently, the Holy Spirit is leading us to places where we would rather not go.  But that’s what He’s telling us:  In a day and age when divisiveness seems to be the coin of the realm, He’s whispering: “Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you.”  God our Father, Jesus our Brother, and Mary our Mother are all echoing that same injunction:  “Love you enemies.  Pray for those who persecute you.  Remember that you are a family of God’s beloved children.”

 

On behalf of all my Marianist Brothers,
 

Bro. Stephen Balletta, S.M.

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