How can we implement the Gospel? Although this is a difficult question, it is a very important one to answer. For us Christians, it is not enough to hear the Gospel. We are called to put it to action in our own life. Sometimes it is difficult to take action. How should one do it? The good news is that we are not alone in answering this question. We have examples of many who have asked it themselves and used their lives to answer it. Every time the Catholic Church declares a person blessed or a saint, she gives us an example of how the Gospel can be lived. Blesseds and saints are role models for our faith journey. Even if every one of us has to find out individually what God is calling us to and how to live the Gospel, the blesseds and saints can help us learn how to answer this call. How can the soon-beatified Pallottine Father Richard Henkes, S.A.C. be an example for our life and for our quest for God? When I read Fr. Henkes’ biography, I learned that he tried to live out the Gospel even when it seemed inconspicuous and less effective. Three situations in his life illustrate this.
The first event took place when Father Henkes was a teacher at a Pallottine school. At this time, Nazi idealism had become stronger in Germany and ultimately reigned the country. Father Henkes saw the faith as a guide for young people who were confronted with the race theory that claimed the superiority of one people over others. Father Henkes knew that even small actions could have a big impact, for better or for worse. As a teacher, he gave the whole class a punishment for laughing at a child who used a Czech word; at this time, the Czech language and the Czech people in general were looked down upon. This might be a small incident, but Father Henkes saw it as his responsibility to intervene for the rights of the child and for the equality of human beings: he used his position as a teacher to go against inhumanity and injustice and brought the Gospel to life.
Furthermore, Father Henkes used his work as a pastor to combat injustice. In his homilies, he spoke clearly against the Nazi ideology and their contemptuous acts, and he even got several warnings from the authorities about his preaching. In 1935, Father Henkes had confrontations with the Gestapo (secret state police) because he said in his sermon that the Nazi image of humanity was wrong. He knew that, if he continued, the government would prosecute and punish him. Though he may have been afraid, he did not stop because he was sure that he had to say and do whatever was possible against the Nazi regime. In his eyes, it was not right to stay indifferent to inhumanity, injustice, and murder, and to believe at the same time in God and God's infinite love for all people. Therefore, he continued to criticize the Nazis in his homilies, to speak publicly, and to encourage the people who agreed that the Nazis were wrong. Because of this, Father Henkes got arrested and deported to the concentration camp in Dachau.
Finally, once in the concentration camp, Father Henkes also cared for the sick. When the war was almost over and the concentration camp was close to being freed, a typhoid epidemic broke out. Father Henkes volunteered to care for the infected people, most of them Czech. He did not have to. He was not forced to do it and he willingly experienced the inhumane conditions because he saw the care of the sick as his duty. It is clear that he lived the Gospel in the concentration camp: he brought a little bit of humanity and compassion into that hellish place.
Father Richard Henkes is a role model for me because he was moved by God in such a way that the Gospel poured out into his daily life. He did not wait for a big opportunity to preach the Gospel; he did what he could in particular moments of his life. He did not stop hate after he punished the class in the school where he taught. He did not prevent or stop the war by preaching against the Nazis. He did not free those in the concentration camp by caring for the sick. But I really believe that he brought the Gospel and the Kingdom of God to people around him in every one of these incidents. He cut the circle of cruelty for the one pupil in the school, his parishioners, and the sick in the concentration camp. Not all of us are a teacher, priest, or nurse. But all of us are called to do what is needed in the situations we are given, according to our capabilities. In doing so, the Gospel will become reality.
To learn more about the beatification of Father Richard Henkes, S.A.C. please click here.
“For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!”
–1 Corinthians 9:16
In a changing world, the Gospel does not change. The Good News always remains the same. Our vocation to be its bearers and our responsibility are always current. “The core of the proclamation always remains the same: the Kerygma of Christ who died and rose for the world’s salvation, the Kerygma of God's absolute and total love for every man and every woman” (Benedict XVI, Message for World Mission Day 2012).
I ask myself, what do we, sons and daughters of St. Vincent Pallotti, need in this era of the New Evangelisation?
Like everyone in the Church today, I need to re-examine, with courage and humility, my way of being an apostle, sent to evangelise, I need to understand the profound sense of insufficiency of my proclamation and my witness; otherwise, how can I explain the fact that so many people around me do not know God and live as if God did not exist?
“God created human beings in time only in order to lead them happily to eternity. His desire is to see all of them saved, enlightened by his graces and by the exercise of his Providence. For this reason, St. Dionysiusthe Areopagite says that the most holy, most noble, most august, most divine work of all of the Divine, august, noble and holy works is to cooperate with the merciful plans, wishes and desires of God for the salvation of human beings” (OOCC IV, 124).
At some point in the past, each one of us met Jesus, each one replied with love and courage, ‘Yes, send me’, to his invitation, ‘Follow me’. Each person lives out in their own state of life as mother, father, sister, brother, priest, young, sick etc., day after day, their being an apostle, sent by Jesus. All of us have the same desire, implanted in our hearts by our Creator, to be happy. As good Christians, we must desire the same happiness also for our brothers and sisters. We find the fullness of our happiness in Jesus Christ who is our Way, our Truth and our Life.
Without the renewing breath of the Holy Spirit there can be no New Evangelisation. Without a deep desire for the Holy Spirit on my part, “the new man, the new woman”, true witness of God, cannot be born in me. I already realize from my life experience how risky and unpredictable it is to invoke the power of the Holy Spirit and his action within us
But if we open our hearts and minds to the fire of the Holy Spirit who acted in the life and missionary activity of the first apostles, of St. Paul, of the saints of all times, including our holy Founder, we can experience unexpected change. Like the disciples of Emmaus, like the disciples who left the Cenacle after Pentecost transformed from simple chroniclers into passionate witnesses of the Risen One, from frightened apostles into courageous bearers of the Gospel to the very ends of the earth. It is the Holy Spirit who impels us to proclaim the great works of God.
I really find the need to be changed into an ardent witness of the Risen Jesus from whom life springs for me and for the whole world. Not to be simply a chronicler of facts, of events immortalised in the pages of the Gospel, but to believe strongly in the extraordinary power, and feel the life, which the Gospel possesses. The most difficult thing today for each of us, for every Christian, I think, is to take seriously the Gospel which we have in our hands, to try to translate into practise what Jesus says to us about simplicity of spirit. But this is precisely what is being asked of us with great insistence in today. The Good News of the Gospel is always the love of God for each human person; we are expected to give concrete form to this message and it is only then that those close to us will be able to understand the message of love and hope. A “theology of the face”, meaning meeting and welcoming the other in a personalised way, seems more relevant and necessary. It is very much needed today in human relationships. The most effective way to share the Good News with others is to communicate it heart to heart. Every person wants to feel themselves to be worthy of our attention, our interest, our love, and many want to see in us people of God.
This is a selection from an article titled, "The Year of Faith, The Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelisation, and the 50th Anniversary of the Canonisation of St. Vincent Pallotti" by Sr. M. Bozena Olszewska, S.A.C., who is a member of the General Council of the Pallottine Missionary Sisters