Feast Day greetings from Rome! From the window of my hotel room, I can see the dome of St. Peter’s. The Vatican is within walking distance. It is so close and yet for many still so far away. Until Pope Francis stepped out on that balcony on that March evening in 2013 and gave the world a new face for the church. It is a face that reflects God’s mercy and compassion, and offers an invitation to the church to become the face of God’s forgiving love for the world.
The body of Christ needed a facelift. We had grown old and weary, sad and sagging under the weight of guilt and shame. The face of the church was depressed. But Pope Francis smiled and humbly asked the people gathered that night in St. Peter’s Square and around the world to pray for him. One could sense the face of the earth smiling just a bit that night. Pope Francis, a spiritual surgeon, was going to give the church and the world a facelift. And the surgery begins in earnest this year as he calls for a year of mercy to renew the face of the earth.
This has been our challenge all along. As people of faith, our call has been to live in such a way that God’s mercy and compassion order our days and shelter our nights. St. Gaspar believed the blood of Christ was the “basis, the sustenance, the essence of all devotions (1215).” He famously prayed for the gift of “a thousand tongues to draw every heart tenderly” to the precious blood and “wished that my own soul would be totally penetrated with it (3785).” Our founder understood that without this precious blood flowing through its veins, the body of Christ, the church, would die. So, he wrote, “In promoting this devotion, we are contributing to the good of the longed-for reform (2639).”
The reform of the church under the skilled scalpel of a surgeon like Pope Francis has begun. As people of the blood, we must embrace our call to be energy and life for the body of Christ. As the blood of Christ draws us closer to one another than we ever thought possible, it renews our strength and vigor to be about the work of renewal. Yesterday on the first full day of our bicentennial pilgrimage as we walked in the footsteps of our founder, I was reminded once again of St. Gaspar’s words, “For this I am a priest, to preach the merits of the precious blood.” For this I am a brother, a priest, a companion, a friend: to be a living sign of the precious blood of Jesus Christ. We may grow old but the call of the blood is to become new-to never to lose our thirst for life. The blood of Christ is the original energy drink-it gives us the energy we need to be about the work of the kingdom of God.
One of the ways Gaspar believed we could reform the church was to establish “more mission and retreat houses for the diocesan clergy, to revive in them a sense of dignity, of good example, as well as an eagerness for study and holiness (1214).” It is arrogant and condescending of us to offer diocesan clergy-or for that matter anyone else on the spiritual journey—a safe and sacred space for renewal, reform, and reconciliation unless we are also paying attention to and working at our own personal, communal, and spiritual renewal. If we are lethargic, lifeless, and lazy in our commitment, we cannot offer energy for reform and renewal to others. As people of the blood, we must live in such a way that renewal becomes second nature to us; it is who we are not something we do.
In his call for a holy year of mercy, Pope Francis offers perfect timing for people of the blood who celebrate 200 years of seeking to live Gaspar’s dream. As our founder wrote, “Ministers of the sanctuary must make known the depths of God’s mercy. In the precious blood, we have the treasure of wisdom and holiness; in it we find comfort, peace, and salvation (1214).”
I pray the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, our companions, volunteers, and friends may be the face of mercy and reconciliation for the church and for the world. Let our faces not reflect lethargy but rather energy for the work of renewal. Let our faces reflect the joy in living the gospel and not the sadness of disappointment and despair. Let our faces reveal God’s forgiving love and not judgment and condemnation.
Let the face of the Precious Blood community be for the world a lift-yes, let’s offer the world, our church, and our faith communities a facelift as we seek to renew through God’s grace the face of the earth!
With peace in the blood of Christ,
Joe Nassal, C.PP.S.
For the Leadership Team