50th ANNUAL NATIONAL CONVOCATION OF PRIESTS
Presentation of the Touchstone Award
Loyola University – Chicago, Illinois
April 24, 2018
Recipient: Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, Chief Executive Officer
Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation
The National Federation of Priests’ Councils [USA] serves the communion, brotherhood and solidarity of bishops, presbyterates and priests. Over the years, NFPC has been instrumental in assisting and motivating priests to face the challenges of priestly ministry in today’s church in a creative and effective way. The Touchstone award is presented to a priest who in the view of the President and the Board of Directors of the National Federation of Priests’ Councils is one whose service in the Gospel of Jesus Christ exemplifies the purpose and goals of the Federation: to build bridges; to provide models for communion, brotherhood and solidarity; to affirm each other in the shared priesthood of Jesus Christ. In particular, his leadership enhances the ministry of others and his words and deeds support the life and ministry of priests; thus he is, as it were, a touchstone for genuine, quality priesthood.
Acceptance Address – Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
Dear Brothers and Friends,
Thank you for inviting me to be with you this evening for your 50th Anniversary Convocation of the National Federation of Priests’ Councils in Chicago. I am deeply grateful to you for the prestigious Touchstone award. When I discovered the list of men you have previously honored with this award over the past years, I realized that I am following in the footsteps of giants – outstanding role models and great bishops and priests of Jesus Christ who have made a significant difference in the lives of millions of people. While this award recognizes my work as a Catholic priest who has worked closely with so many priests and bishops in North America and around the world over the past years, you also honor my Religious Congregation that has had from its beginnings nearly 200 years ago the mission and charism of close collaboration with diocesan clergy and local bishops. The history of the Congregation of St. Basil – the Basilian Fathers – begins in a terrifying period in French history as the French Revolution was ending. There were still real dangers of being guillotined, because one was either for the Republic, or a priest and therefore part of the opposition. Our ten founders – diocesan priests – really didn’t intend to found a religious community at all! Fathers Jacques Duret, André Fayolle, Joseph Lapierre, Henri Martinesche, Jean François Pagès, Augustin Payan, Jean-Baptiste Polly, Pierre Tourvielle, Julien Tracol and Jean Antoine Vallon thought they could do their work better if they lived together in the common life.
From our roots in the French Revolution, Basilians grew in modest numbers and answered the urgent pleas of Bishops in France, Algeria, England, and in far-away places like Toronto, Canada, from where we spread to the United States and eventually to Mexico and South America. My confrères have been dedicated educators in high schools, colleges, universities and pastors, associates and chaplains in parishes and various institutions. Wherever we have been over the past two centuries, we have had very close, fraternal bonds with the local clergy and diocesan bishops.
The roots of the Basilian Fathers are found in the French Revolution and its aftermath. Allow me to share with you this evening another revolution into which we have all been conscripted these past years. We have just commemorated the fifth anniversary of the election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Bishop of Rome. On the late afternoon of March 13, 2013, this elderly, Jesuit Archbishop from Argentina received the call to go, rebuild, repair, renew and heal the church. What we have witnessed over the past five years is a disciple of Jesus, a faithful son of Ignatius of Loyola and a lover of Francis of Assisi – repairing, renewing, restoring, reconciling and healing the Church. There are those who delight in describing the current Pope as a bold, brazen revolutionary sent to rock the boat. Others think he has already caused a massive shipwreck, depending on which magazine, newspaper columnist or blog you have just read. But the only revolution that Pope Francis has ever spoken of is found in his Apostolic Exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel.” (Evangelii Gaudium #88):
“Meanwhile, the Gospel tells us constantly to run the risk of a face-to-face encounter with others, with their physical presence which challenges us, with their pain and their pleas, with their joy which infects us in our close and continuous interaction. True faith in the incarnate Son of God is inseparable from self-giving, from membership in the community, from service, from reconciliation with others. The Son of God, by becoming flesh, summoned us to the revolution of tenderness.”
I believe that the second revolution Pope Francis has inaugurated is the revolution of normalcy. What he is doing is normal human, Christian behavior. Tenderness and normalcy are the revolutions at the heart and soul of Pope Francis’ ministry. It is his unflinching freedom that allows him to do what he does because he is unafraid and totally free to be himself at the same time of being such faithful son of the Church. He has taken the Church and the world by storm, disturbed our consciences and hearts and made us reflect on very deep realities. He has challenged us to look at the deeper meaning of our priesthood. Over the past five years, Pope Francis has repeatedly asked us to be shepherds, with the “smell of the sheep.” He has frequently reminded us that we are the Lord’s ambassadors and missionary disciples.
Through our words and deeds, the people we strive to serve are anointed with the oil of gladness that Jesus, the anointed One came to bring us. There can be no place in priests for a haughty clericalism, any kind of abuse of our position or a concern to climb the ecclesiastical career ladder, Pope Francis is teaching us that our authority derives not from worldly power and prestige but from simplicity of life, personal integrity and humility in imitation of Christ. This Franciscan revolution is not emanating from Buenos Aires, Assisi, Loyola, Manresa or even from Rome, as significant as those places may be! Pope Francis’ script is coming from another land where we find Bethlehem, Nazareth, Nain, Emmaus, Mount Tabor, Galilee and Jerusalem: the lands of Jesus. If some of us are having difficulty understanding Francis, could it be that we have difficulty with his script?
I firmly believe that we are living a moment of kairos in the contemporary Church, – the appointed time and hour, when the Gospel story is unfolding before us in technicolor 4K and dolby sound in the life of Pope Francis. This Bishop of Rome demands a lot while preaching about a God of mercy, by engaging joyfully with nonbelievers, atheists, agnostics, skeptics, and those sitting on the fences of life – many who thought that Christianity has nothing left to add to the equations of life. We need the Francis revolution of tenderness, mercy and normalcy now more than ever before.
Let us pray for one another, encourage one another and befriend one another in this great mission of being agents of salt and light, joy and hope, mercy and reconciliation, dialogue and peace for the Church and for the world. Thank you for the Touchstone award.