Father John Eckert: We find joy in our faith, whether in Rome or here at home
"Today's presentation is all about joy." These were the words of our guide as we pilgrims began our tour through Christian Rome. Although this was the verbal introduction to one part of our trip, joy was the underlying theme of the days leading up to the pilgrimage, our experience in the holy sites of Assisi, Siena, Orvieto and Rome, and my experience since returning.
I am not talking about the passing joy that comes with encountering the beautiful scenery of the Italian countryside, eating gelato or enjoying Italian dining, though these are pretty great. I am speaking of the joy that overcomes all things, the joy that is so definitively universal, the joy of our Risen Lord, Jesus Christ!
On this pilgrimage we came into contact with some of the monumental treasures of our faith: the bones of St. Peter, the corporal of the Eucharistic Miracle housed in the beautiful Cathedral of Orvieto, the chains that held St. Peter, the original small altar that moved with the early Christians before finding its permanent home in the altar of the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the clothes of St. Francis of Assisi, the head and thumb of St. Catherine of Siena, and the many architectural monuments throughout Rome that would have been seen by the saints of old, even as they were handing over their very lives as martyrs for the faith.
The joy that arises as we look upon and encounter these beautiful artifacts of the faith is that they are not confined to some place of the distant past. Though some of these treasures have been around for nearly 2,000 years, the faith they inspire does not find itself living only in antiquity, but is very much alive today!
As we looked on the architectural monuments of ancient Rome such as the triumphant arches that marked great military victories, the Forum, and that distinctive Roman icon, the Colosseum, the question that came to mind was, "Where is the strength of the Roman Empire today?" Under the direction of such infamous characters as Emperors Nero or Diocletian, that powerful empire threw all it had at the Christians in an attempt to wipe them out, an ultimate David-and-Goliath fight, so to speak. In that Roman war against Christianity, the only side with any casualties was the Christian side, and yet, that is the very side that proved victorious. To look at Rome today, it is absolutely apparent which side has won, and the victory does not end at the city limits of Rome.
Returning home to the Diocese of Charlotte, we pilgrims encountered again a local Church vibrant with the same joy that is present in the very stones that make up the churches of Rome. We live in a part of the world in which the Catholic population has grown by 21 percent since Bishop Peter Jugis' last ad limina visit. Our local presbyterate will grow by three on June 2 as Bishop Jugis ordains Deacons Matthew Codd, Jason Barone and Peter Shaw to the priesthood. And our public witness of the faith grows each year as the annual Eucharistic Congress continues to attract more and more participants. Indications of the joy of the faith here at home continue on.
With all this talk of joy, it may sound like maybe I had a little too much limoncello along the pilgrimage, or picked up some rose-colored glasses along the way. This joy, however, runs deep. Yes, there are many crosses to be borne by us all. There are challenges that threaten the Church from all angles, from inside and out. We all have our struggles, and temptations abound that attempt to pull us away from the saving hope that continues to succeed against all odds. But we must all constantly be reminded, as Blessed John Paul II told us time and again, "Do not be afraid."
Ultimately, this pilgrimage, which was well documented and is available for all the readers of the Catholic News Herald to see online, emphasized that we are on the winning team. Our faith has withstood epic challenges throughout its history, and there is no indication that those challenges will soon end. But more than that, it is evident that the faith will always triumph. We may ask, "Where are the forces of the Roman Empire today?" We may ask, "Where are other forces that have attempted to eliminate the faith?" One day we will ask, "Where are sin and death?"
Ultimately, the answer that rings throughout the ages, throughout the world, is: Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and remains with us always!
Father John Eckert serves as parochial vicar at Our Lady of Grace Church in Greensboro. He was one of three priests who accompanied about 40 pilgrims from the Charlotte diocese and Atlanta archdiocese to Rome during Bishop Jugis' ad limina visit. Read more charlotteadlimina.tumblr.com.
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FROM THE PASTORS
Read and listen to homilies posted regularly by pastors at parishes within the Diocese of Charlotte:
- Fr. Roger Arnsparger at St. John the Baptist in Tryon
- Fr. Frank Cancro at Queen of the Apostles
- Fr. Jason Christian at St. Thomas Aquinas in Charlotte
- Fr. Patrick Earl at St. Peter in Charlotte
- Fr. Matthew Kauth at St. Thomas Aquinas in Charlotte
- Fr. Timothy Reid at St. Ann in Charlotte
- Fr. Christopher Riehl's archive from St. Thomas Aquinas in Charlotte
- Fr. Benjamin Roberts at Our Lady of Lourdes in Monroe
- Fr. Joshua Voitus at St. Mary, Mother of God Parish in Sylva, including homilies in Spanish
- Fr. Patrick Winslow at St. Thomas Aquinas in Charlotte
- Watch full Masses live and on demand, listen to homilies and reflections from Sacred Heart Church in Salisbury
- Listen and watch homilies from St. Thomas Aquinas in Charlotte
- Listen to homilies from St. William Catholic Church in Murphy