Prayers for today: Lord, you are near, and all your commandments are just; long have I known that you decreed them for ever.
Psalm 118: 151-152
Almighty Father, give us the joy of your love to prepare the way for Christ our Lord. Help us to serve you and one another. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
Blessed Adolph Kolping (1813-1865)
The rise of the factory system in 19th-century Germany brought many single men into cities where they faced new challenges to their faith. Father Adolph Kolping began a ministry to them, hoping that they would not be lost to the Catholic faith as was happening to workers elsewhere in industrialized Europe. Born in the village of Kerpen, Adolph became a shoemaker at an early age because of his family’s economic situation. Ordained in 1845, he ministered to young workers in Cologne, establishing a choir, which by 1849 had grown into the Young Workmen’s Society. A branch of this began in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1856. Nine years later there were over 400 Gesellenvereine (workman’s societies) around the world. Today this group has over 400,000 members in 54 countries across the globe. More commonly called the Kolping Society, it emphasizes the sanctification of family life and the dignity of labour. Father Kolping worked to improve conditions for workers and greatly assisted those in need. He and St. John Bosco in Turin had similar interests in working with young men in big cities. He told his followers, “The needs of the times will teach you what to do.” Father Kolping once said, “The first thing that a person finds in life and the last to which he holds out his hand, and the most precious that he possess, even if he does not realize it, is family life.” He and Blessed John Duns Scotus are buried in Cologne’s Minoritenkirche, served by the Conventual Franciscans. The Kolping Society’s international headquarters is at this church. Kolping members journeyed to Rome from Europe, America, Africa, Asia and Oceania for Father Kolping’s beatification in 1991, the 100th anniversary of Pope Leo XIII’s revolutionary encyclical Rerum Novarum (On the Social Order). Father Kolping’s personal witness and apostolate helped prepare for that encyclical.
Some people thought that Father Kolping was wasting his time and talents on young working men in industrialized cities. In some countries, the Catholic Church was seen by many workers as the ally of owners and the enemy of workers. Men like Adolph Kolping showed that was not true.
“Adolph Kolping gathered skilled workers and factory labourers together. Thus he overcame their isolation and defeatism. A faith society gave them the strength to go out into their everyday lives as Christ’s witnesses before God and the world. To come together, to become strengthened in the assembly, and thus to scatter again is and still remains our duty today. We are not Christians for ourselves alone, but always for others too” (Pope John Paul II, beatification homily).
The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew 11.11-15)
Jesus said, I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. He who has ears, let him hear.
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)
One of the intriguing things about life and reality and which we tend to take for granted — because it is so pervasive — is the fact of variation. Nature films are the source of unending entertainment. In the world of plants and non-sensitive life there are myriads of species, and new species are often being discovered. The same applies to insects, reptiles, and at times larger animal life. The range of awareness the animal kingdom manifests is breathtaking, and inasmuch as it is only man who possesses a spiritual principle, the awareness possessed by animal life shows the inherent capacity of matter under the hand of God. But the point I am referring to here is the universal presence of variation in created being. There is greater and smaller, higher and lower, difference from one to the other. Within the vast human species, there is variation everywhere. Man differs from man not only in race, colour and creed, but manifestly in capacity. There are men and women great in intelligence or this or that gift, while there are ordinary men and women, and there are those bereft in capacity such as the retarded or those deprived because of this or that circumstance. At times God himself has pronounced on the greatness of some people. The angel Gabriel when addressing Elizabeth, the wife of Zechariah, said that her son would be great in the sight of the Lord. We are referring to John the Baptist. In our Gospel today our Lord said that “among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist.” Of course this greatness of John the Baptist could not have been meant to signify just any kind of greatness. It could not have been meant to signify sheer holiness, for instance, for Mary the mother of Christ was, in all her lowliness, unparalleled in personal holiness. John was the greatest prophet in that dispensation prior to the coming of the Messiah. He was the greatest prophetic representative of the Old Testament and the greatest Forerunner of the One who would eclipse all in both the past and future, as the very Blessing of God.
Of course, it is not necessary to be prominent to be great. On one occasion our Lord was seated near the Treasury of the Temple and was observing a poor widow putting in two tiny coins. He told his disciples that she had put in more than all the others because she had given all she had to live on. In our Gospel today (Matthew 11:11-15) our Lord pronounces on the key to greatness. Great as John is in his person and mission as prophet of the One to come, yet “he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” John was great precisely as a prophetic embodiment of the Old Testament revelation, and he pointed to what was much greater. He pointed to the person of Jesus, whose sandals he was not worthy to bend down and untie. In our Lord’s words exalting the dignity of those who are in the kingdom of heaven, he is referring fundamentally to himself. The kingdom of heaven is nothing other than the lordship of God as present and available in the person of Jesus Christ. In him is the fullness of the Godhead bodily, as St Paul expresses it. In him is to be found every heavenly blessing, and the one who is his friend and who shares in his life by the gift of grace is, by that fact, a member of the Kingdom of God. No matter how lowly a person might be, how ordinary in talent and visible achievement, the more such a person is immersed in the person of Christ, the greater will be his standing in the sight of God. A person virtually unknown to the world can, in his heart, be buried with Christ in God. That person is the truly great one. Union with Christ is the answer to the universal quest for meaning. The twentieth century psychiatrist and author Victor Frankl wrote that the key to happiness in profoundly adverse circumstances is the possession of a sense of meaning. All men and women require a sense of meaning, and — let us add — one that is objectively true. It gives to their lives not only happiness but, indeed, a true grandeur. A life of union with Jesus Christ will bestow that meaning, that happiness and that grandeur before God amid all the obscurity and limitations which the ordinary life of the millions will necessarily involve.
Let us understand that however ordinary and seemingly insignificant our lives may appear to be, we have the key to greatness in the sight of God. It is a greatness that he, God, is pleased to regard as such. It is a greatness that is lowly, after the manner of the greatness of the lowly Virgin Mary, the mother of Christ. It derives from a humble and loving union with Jesus Christ, a union which is marked by faith in him and obedience to the will of the Father. Let us understand then that to possess Jesus Christ and his friendship is to possess all.