We can look to the heavens, or the mountains, or the vast ocean and marvel at the work of our creator. The Lord reveals himself to us through his creation, and when we take a moment to stop and behold his majesty, we are in awe. But what about the pinnacle of God’s creation? What about the human person?
Today, the Church honors St. Maximilian Kolbe, a Franciscan priest who volunteered to die in place of a fellow prisoner at Auschwitz, thus embodying the teaching of Jesus, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). Yet this last and greatest act of St. Maximilian did not emerge from a vacuum; it was the result of a lifetime of being conformed to Christ through prayer and sacrifice. Only by consistently practicing self-denial, by dying to himself and taking up his cross daily, could St. Maximilian have been conformed to Christ to such a degree that he was in that pivotal moment able to imitate Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross, laying down his life so that another might live.
It seems trivial to say that we are living in strange times. Yet, the triviality does not change the reality. Structures, institutions, and patterns of life once thought permanent and stable have been radically altered by the pandemic; moreover, we have been made aware that the “normal” life so many of us desire to return to is one of pervasive discrimination and tragic injustice for many, especially our Black brothers and sisters. The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and others cry out for justice and call us to action.
Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, C.S.C. (1917–2015), known affectionately by the Notre Dame community as Fr. Ted, served as President of the University of Notre Dame from 1952 until 1987. A highly respected servant leader, Hesburgh served as a member of the United States Civil Rights Commission, beginning in 1957. Throughout the 1960s, he continued to advocate strongly for civil rights, speaking at a rally in Chicago in 1964 organized by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., an event that has been immortalized in an iconic photo of Hesburgh and King standing side by side, amid other activists, hands joined, singing “We Shall Overcome.”
For nearly a decade I’ve coordinated a dedicated and deeply faithful group of parishioners who visit the sick and homebound of our faith community. Whenever a new volunteer worries that she or he lacks the knowledge to be a minister to the homebound, I advise them to trust in the importance of their presence. When visitation ministers fear they don’t know how to console, I assure them that their mere presence conveys caring and love—words are secondary to presence.