“The time has come to re-propose wholeheartedly to everyone [a] high standard of ordinary Christian living: The whole life of the Christian community and of Christian families must lead in this direction.”
So wrote Pope John Paul II at the close of the millennial Jubilee Year, in his apostolic letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, a guide to the universal call to holiness. It is a blueprint for the Church — and each one of her members — “in order to take up her evangelizing mission with fresh enthusiasm.”
“Holiness, a message that convinces without the need for words, is the living reflection of Christ,” he said. And not just for John Paul the Great and others called to the priesthood or consecrated life — all are called to be holy.
What does holiness look like?
On the feast of St. Polycarp, just two days before the start of Lent, New Yorkers saw one answer to the question.
With his monumental smile, infectious laugh, and New York-sized personality, Archbishop Timothy Michael Dolan is Novo Millennio Ineunte in the flesh. Dolan, the current archbishop of Milwaukee, will succeed the retiring Cardinal Edward Egan. On the front page, above the fold of The New York Times, in full color, New Yorkers saw an archbishop with an appealing joy on his face, looking as if he had seen a glimpse of heaven the day the picture was taken.
He, of course, had.
When the inaugural tour day was about through, he found himself at Saint Joseph’s Seminary. He was asked to name the highlight of the day. His answer: Mass. He explained that the Mass is “the most important thing that I ever do.” He seemed to exude that during that first Mass that morning.
His message echoed what Catholics know — or should know — to be true. That the Eucharist is the source and summit of our Christian life. That there is no greater prayer. In his book, written for seminarians, Priests for the Third Millennium (Our Sunday Visitor, 2000), Archbishop Dolan writes: “Simply put, a passionate love for the mysterious presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is the driving force in the life of a priest.”
New York has been blessed.
There have been scandals and hardships. School, church and hospital closings. Most recently, we’ve said final farewells to eminent and loved teachers, including Cardinal Avery Dulles, Father Richard John Neuhaus and Msgr. William Smith.
There is the heartache and anger of scandal, which hits close to home here now.
But we’ve also had a papal visit. We have the great gift of the joyful, loving, most generous Sisters of Life — thank you, Cardinal John O’Connor — who are mothers to the Capital of the World. We have young, articulate priests and enthusiastic lay people.
But the fact remains that we’re all a bit of a mess. We’re frequently just like the disciples, who, as Mark reminded us on the eve of Ash Wednesday, “did not understand” and “were afraid to question” Christ, their friend and savior.
But like the Greeks who asked Philip, “We seek to see Jesus,” we do too, perhaps expecting to catch on quicker than our forebears.
In Novo Millennio Ineunte, Pope John Paul II writes, “The men and women of our day — often perhaps unconsciously — ask believers not only to ‘speak’ of Christ but, in a certain sense, to ‘show’ him to them.”
Which is why we’re so looking forward to having Archbishop Dolan in the Big Apple.
“We need priests who are zealous but not zealots,” he wrote in his book. “By zealous I mean a priest whose heart burns with love for Jesus and his people and who is eager and effective in generously bringing that flame to others: By a zealot I mean a single-minded, obsessed priest who thinks that the answer to everything is by excessive attention to one cause. Our cause is Christ and his Church — every other cause is secondary.”
Perhaps that advice was as good for seminarians as it is to a bishop walking into a media circus in a city receptive to single-issue obsessives.
We saw a zealous bishop introduced to New York at the end of February — not a zealot. At a time when politicians on both sides of the aisle all too often openly reject the teachings of the Church, Christ is this public figure’s obsession.
Most importantly, he knows he can’t serve alone. Which is why he has already implored, “I love you; I need so much your prayers and support; I am so honored, humbled and happy to serve as your pastor.”
Welcome to the New Millennium.
From Ineunte again: “Let us go forward in hope!” We’re all called to “remember the past with gratitude, to live the present with enthusiasm, and to look forward to the future with confidence.”
That work is ours. But the Vatican tapped one of the leaders among us to remind us, with wise words and a great smile, to make the prospect of eternal bliss all the more inviting.
Kathryn Jean Lopez
is the editor of National Review Online and a nationally syndicated columnist.