In a passage from the Gospel according to Luke, Jesus expresses a longing for flames to engulf the earth.
Those flames are the fire of God’s love, enlightening and warming the hearts of all people.
“As fire gives light and heat, so Jesus looks to the time when God’s love, God’s Holy Spirit, will fill our hearts and minds, enabling us to know the truth and live it with courage,” Bishop Emeritus John R. Gaydos told about 700 Hispanic Catholics from throughout the Jefferson City diocese.
Representing various ages, communities, nationalities, cultures and experiences, they gathered as one congregation in the Cathedral of St. Joseph on Aug. 18 to celebrate Hispanic heritage and worship God in the language in which they first came to know Him.
Bishop W. Shawn McKnight presided at the Mass.
Bishop Emeritus Gaydos, who led the diocese from 1997-2017, preached the homily in Spanish.
“Our Hispanic heritage in these days is manifested all over the one American continent, from Tierra del Fuego to the Arctic Circle,” he said. “We are especially grateful to God for the rich Hispanic heritage that has been taking root here in the Diocese of Jefferson City.”
Bishop Gaydos, whose tenure coincided with a period of unprecedented growth and development for Hispanic communities in many parts of the diocese, said fire symbolizes the divine energy that empowers human beings to reach and go beyond what they think is possible.
Bit fire not only heats and illuminates; it also consumes and destroys.
Similarly, “if our hearts are to be filled with the light and love of God’s Holy Spirit, something has to give: that is, our selfishness and sin,” said Bishop Gaydos.
“When the fire of God’s love is at work in us, we will feel the pain of letting go of whatever is not compatible with our new relationship with God,” he stated.
Bishop Gaydos noted that especially in the past few decades, the Catholic Church in the Western Hemisphere has been a powerful source of the Gospel fire.
He pointed to the prophetic witness the Catholic bishops of Latin America have shared with the world in their gatherings, beginning in Medellin, Colombia, in 1968 and continuing through their most recent gathering of 2007 in Aparecida, Brazil.
The Latin American bishops have focused consistently on a renewed call to evangelization, particularly through the avenue of social justice.
Bishop Gaydos reflected on solidarity and subsidiarity, which are foundational principles of Catholic social teaching.
Solidarity refers to standing with Christ in unity, especially with people who are most in need.
Nineteenth- and 20th-century Popes have described solidarity as “friendship,” “social charity” and “a civilization of love.”
Subsidiarity is a practical call for decisions to be made as closely as possible to the level at which they will be carried out.
The ideal outcome is for personal responsibility, individual liberty and the needs of the common good to be brought into fruitful balance.
Bishop Gaydos believes these principles, heated up with God’s love, can help renew the Church and all of society.
“With our help, these teachings could light a Gospel fire in our communities, a fire sorely needed in these days,” he said. “And the fuel of that Gospel fire is at the heart of our Hispanic heritage.”
Something even bigger
“We are one family, of one faith, of one Church,” said Bishop McKnight. “Our family is richly blessed with peoples of various cultures and languages, and in this diversity we find spiritual support.”
He said it is strength for Catholics to be able to recognize immigrants from various lands throughout the entire world as “one of us.”
“We, in fact, belong to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ,” he said.
The celebration continued after Mass, with a luncheon served in the Cathedral Undercroft.
Many young families with children participated.
In cultivating fellowship and unity, they experienced firsthand the accelerating convergence of numerous branches of Hispanic culture and heritage in these 38 counties.
The influence of Hispanic heritage often infuses parishes and communities with youth, energy, ardor and a renewed emphasis on family and community.
This local Church is being renewed as more Catholics of Hispanic heritage heed the U.S. Catholic bishops’ call to accept their rightful place of leadership in their communities, their parishes and the Church at large.
“We celebrate together in gratitude this fire that God has set in our midst and continues to sustain,” said Bishop McKnight.