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Do You Dare to Be Different like St. Rita?

by Jeremy Hiers, OSA

In Luke 17:1-6, Jesus is acknowledging our proclivity towards sin and its effects on the world. Perhaps he says to us today, “Greed, discrimination, materialism, inequality, violence, and hatred will inevitably occur in the world.” Be on your guard so you don’t fall into the way of the world.

Rather, dare to be different.

“Do not look to your own interests; have charity, proclaim truth. Thus you will reach the eternity where you will find freedom from care, and tranquility.”

Saint Augustine (Sermon 78, 6)

For Christians are called to be different. When we acknowledge this, perhaps we find ourselves like the disciples saying, “increase our faith Lord” (Luke 17:5). Increase our faith that we might avoid falling into the trap of sin that so many others freely embrace. Increase our faith that we might stand up for what is right when others will criticize us for it. Increase our faith to be happy with what we have so that we might have more money to give to those who have nothing. Increase our faith that we might dare to be the voice for those who have no voice in our society when others may turn their back on us for doing so. Increase our faith that we might forgive those who hurt us even though we want revenge. Increase our faith that we might befriend those different than us at the expense of losing a friend. Increase our faith that we might dare to work for peace when everyone else wants to fight. Increase our faith that that we might want to heal when others only want to punish.

Increase our faith Lord.

Jesus says, else we might lead the “little ones” into sin (Luke 17:1).

We might ordinarily associate the term “little ones” with young children (Luke 17:2). However as Richard J. Sklba describes, the term can also apply to recent converts or novices to the faith.[1]. This could mean candidates and catechumens preparing to be received into the Church this Easter. Yet, I think it could also mean an entirely different group of people.

Brandon Vogt explains that for every new member of the Catholic faith, 6.5 people leave. Just 7% of young people today who were raised in the Church actively practice their faith today, while 79% of those who leave do so before the age of 23.[2]  Yet, 68% of those who left still believe in God.[3]  They make up the growing “spiritual but not religious” category of people in our population.

They believe in God, but they don’t believe in Catholicism.

How might their observation of our own behavior in public influence their view of Catholicism? Are we leading them away from or towards the Eucharist by the way we live our lives out there? Will they be inspired when they find something different with us than what they find outside the Church doors? This is the question that Jesus asks His disciples to think about, and the disciples are rightfully quick to realize they need faith to be good witnesses.

“What you procure for yourself you must also obtain for your neighbor, so that he may also love God with a perfect love. You do not love your neighbor as yourself unless you try to lead him to the same good towards which you are striving. It is a question of a good which does not grow smaller because everybody is searching for it with you.”

Saint Augustine (On the Customs of the Catholic Church, 49)

During my eight month tenure at the National Shrine of Saint Rita of Cascia in Philadelphia, PA, I have encountered many wonderful witnesses to our faith. People who have inspired me to keep asking the Lord to “increase my faith” in the midst of the obstacles on my own journey of faith. I have encoutnred a prayerful people, people who genuinely care about others, people who are committed to working for peace, people who have been through so much, yet hang onto the faith. People who provide a wonderful example for me as I go through my own struggles.

People who live by the model of Saint Rita. People who dare to be different because Saint Rita dared to follow the way of Christ by being different than many of the people she encountered during her own lifetime. She dared to be different from those who only wanted to befriend “their own kind,” and argue, fight, retaliate, and punish all others.

The people I encounter everyday at the Shrine provide a wonderful witness of the beauty of Catholicism for the”little ones” (whoever they may be) of our world today.

St. Rita was contemplating the passion of Jesus Christ. When she suffered she looked to Christ for guidance on how to handle it. Stained Glass window at the National Shrine of Saint Rita. Photo by Fr. Dan McLaughlin, OSA.

I can’t help but testify that this what I have experienced in all Augustinian ministries I have been blessed to serve in. Just as Saint Rita often found her strength in the teachings and example of Saint Augustine, so in the numerous people I encounter in the various Augustinian ministries I am blessed to serve in, I consistently experience a community of faith that “dares to be different.”

As I write this post at the beginning of Vocations Awareness Week, I am reminded how blessed I am to have been called to be an Augustinian Friar and follow in the footsteps of Saint Rita.

[1] Sklba, Richard J.. Fire Starters (p. 544). Liturgical Press. Kindle Edition.

[2] Vogt, Brandon. Return: How to Draw Your Child Back to the Church (p. 19). Word on Fire. Kindle Edition.

[3] Vogt, Brandon. Return: How to Draw Your Child Back to the Church (p. 19). Word on Fire. Kindle Edition.

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Mike Scianna
1 year ago

Excellent presentation inspiring and encouraging FrJeremy I am very proud of the priest you’ve become

Rosalie K
1 year ago

Excellent writing. It is inspiring, encouraging and may I always strive be different.