NORTHWEST CATHOLIC MEN’S CONFERENCE PENDLETON, OREGON FEBRUARY 25, 2011
First Reading: Acts 11:19-26 Responsorial Psalm: Ps 98 Gospel: Jn 17:11, 17-23
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and for ever. Amen. As we begin our privileged time together, we rightly unite ourselves to our Lord Jesus Christ in His Eucharistic Sacrifice. Today and tomorrow, which will be strong in grace for our daily Christian living, are dedicated to a deeper knowledge of our Lord, a more fervent love of our Lord and a more faithful and total service of our Lord. The theme, Go West Catholic Men, evokes those who braved many hardships and worked hard, over the long haul, to reach this treasured portion of God’s vineyard and to make here a good place in which to live and work. But it also evokes the many challenges which were theirs in living their faith with integrity and thus making this naturally beautiful territory supernaturally beautiful, that is, holy, a land whose inhabitants are devoted to knowing, loving and serving our Lord. The reading from the Acts of the Apostles reminds us that in every age, we are called to imitate the first disciples who, under persecution and all forms of hardship, responded to the promptings of the Holy Spirit dwelling within their souls by giving faithful and courageous witness to Christ alive for us in the Church. When the first disciples were persecuted and driven from Jerusalem, they understood that they were to teach the faith and its practice to the peoples of the many lands to which they were scattered. They recalled the prayer of Our Lord to His Father, before His Passion, Death and Resurrection, asking that they, whom He was sending into the world even as the Father had sent Him, would be “consecrated in truth.” At first, they understood that they were to give witness only to fellow Jews, but then they came to understand that the love of God for men knows no boundary. They, therefore, began to teach the truths of the faith to the Gentiles and to introduce them into the mysteries of the faith lived in the Church. Our Lord, faithful to His promise, accompanied them all along the way and, as the Acts of the Apostles attests, “a great number who believed turned to the Lord.” They saw before their eyes the faithful response of the Father to His only-begotten Son Who prayed “for those who [would] believe in [Him] through their word.” Their word, in fact, was not theirs but the word of God the Son Incarnate and, therefore, the word of God the Father, leading those who believed into the communion of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They saw the power of their communion with God in truth and love to foster faith in their brothers and sisters, even as Our Lord Jesus Christ prayed for them before His Passion and Death, “that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me.” As we pray to receive the gifts of the engagement and energy of the first disciples in witnessing to Christ alive within us, in His Church, in our day, we think also of the example of Father Peter John De Smet, of the Society of Jesus, who left his native Belgium in 1823 as a young man of 22 years of age to bring Christ to our nation and, in particular, to the Native Americans in the West. Because of serious health difficulties, ten years later, he was sent back to Belgium for five years, but in 1838, he returned to preach to the Potawátomi Indians in Iowa, and in 1840 he accepted to call to bring Christ to the Rocky Mountains, where he evangelized numerous tribes, including those of the Northwest. He brought Christ to many nations and tribes of Native Americans, for example, the Sioux, the Flatheads, the Blackfeet, the Kalispels or the Pend D’Oreilles, the Cœur d’Alènes, the Yakimas, the Spokanes and the Kootenais. He heard the call of our Lord to go West for the spread of the Gospel, and he responded with all his heart. In a letter which he wrote on May 1, 1849, after his first journey to the Sioux, he gives expression to the work of the Holy Spirit within him, inspiring and strengthening him in a most arduous mission. He wrote:
To those who have passed their days amid the joys of family life, and been blessed with prosperity, a journey across the desert appears a forbidding experience of human suffering and misery. But he who lifts his thoughts above the passing things of the world to consider truth, which all nature speaks, and desires the salvation of the many souls who would love and serve their Creator if they but knew Him – he sees in the privations of the desert and in the dangers and perils one encounters there, but slight inconveniences, far preferable to the sweets of indolence and the dangers of riches. Such a man meditates on the words of the Saviour: “The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent carry it away.” He recalls the sufferings and trials of God, made man, “who being without sin, yet bore all sufferings.” Through tribulation and dangers, through cold and heat, through blood and death, did Christ enter into the kingdom of His Father; along this path must he travel who wishes to live and die under His noble standard.
When he was already elderly and in poor health, Father DeSmet made a final visit to Belgium to recruit young Jesuits to assist him in the missions to the Native Americans in the West. He suffered a serious illness and was urged to remain in Belgium, but he insisted on returning to the United States, in order to give, in imitation of His Master, our Lord Jesus Christ, his final energies in service of the apostolate. Regarding Father De Smet’s return to the United States, at an advanced age and in seriously compromised health, one biographer comments:
After a sojourn of nine months in Europe, the missionary longed to return to the neophytes, but his friends tried to dissuade him from taking the long journey, telling him that even if he survived the voyage he would languish in a state of invalidism, for the malady from which he suffered was incurable. All that was human in him said: Stay! But a voice stronger than that of nature, the voice of zeal and charity, cried out: Go! You may still, in that far-off country, accomplish much good. Go to your beloved Indians; take them once more the fruit of your labors, your last words, and if need be, your last sigh.
Father De Smet returned to Saint Louis, but the Apostle of the Rockies never gained sufficient health to return to the missions of the West. Nevertheless, through his daily offering of the Mass, his devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament and the Blessed Virgin Mary, especially the daily praying of the Holy Rosary, and the many other prayers and sacrifices which he offered, he remained intimately united to his beloved Native Americans and won for them many graces, to the day of his death on May 23, 1873. Like His Lord, he loved those who were his own “to the end.” Each of us, according to our vocation in life and the particular gifts which God gives to us, finds in the first disciples and in Father De Smet and other heroes of the faith, who first brought the Gospel to the West, the example of how we are to spend ourselves in total love of God and selfless and pure love of our neighbor in this treasured portion of our Lord’s vineyard. As Catholic men, our call and mission is “to live and die under [Christ’s] noble standard,” the Cross by which we die to ourselves in order to live fully and freely for God and our neighbor. We gather, today and tomorrow, to set out anew, with new engagement and new energy, under “[Christ’s] noble standard,” on the way of our ordinary life, as married men, single men, consecrated men or priests. Today and tomorrow, we will discover anew that our ordinary life is truly extraordinary, because we have been called to life in Christ and have been given the mission of bringing His saving grace to the world. Let us pray, especially through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, under her title of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother of America and Star of the New Evangelization, that our time together will deepen our knowledge and love of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of His living presence with us in the Church, especially in the Sacraments of the Holy Eucharist and Penance. Let us pray that, deepened in knowledge and love of our Lord, we may carry out our mission of witness to him in the world with new engagement and new energy. Let us now lift up our hearts, so often doubtful and fearful and sinful, to the glorious pierced Heart of Jesus, always open to receive us and to purify and strengthen us with the gift of His immeasurable and unceasing love. In the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus we find the unfailing truth and love to dispel doubt and fear, and to overcome sin in our lives. One in heart with the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, the immeasurable “rivers of living water,” which never cease to flow from His Eucharistic Heart, will flow from our hearts for the sake of our brothers and sisters, especially those in most need. May the first disciples of Our Lord and His faithful priest, Father Peter John De Smet and so many other heroes of the faith, who are all one with us in the Church – Militant, Suffering and Glorious – , intercede for us, in a special way, during our privileged time together, that we may bring to the Northwest the holiness of life in Christ, which is our salvation. May these days transform our lives and, through us, transform the Northwest as a privileged portion of the vineyard of our Lord. Heart of Jesus, salvation of those who trust in You, have mercy on us! Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother of America and Star of the New Evangelization, pray for us! Saint Joseph, Husband of Mary and Guardian of the Redeemer, pray for us! Saints Peter and Paul, pray for us! Servant of God, Father Peter De Smet, pray for us! Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke Archbishop Emeritus of Saint Louis Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura
 Jn 17:20.
 Acts 11:21.
 Jn 17:20.
 Cf. Jn 17:23.
 Cf. Margaret & Stephen Bunson, The Story of the Catholic Indian Missions: Faith in the Wilderness, Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, 2000, pp. 221-222.
 Cf. E. Laveille, S.J., The Life of Father De Smet, S.J. (1801-1873), tr. Marian Lindsay, New York: P. J. Kenedy & Sons, 1915, pp. 375 and 388-389.
 Ibid., pp. 378-379.
 Ibid., p. 374.
 Jn 13:1.