By Msgr. Owen F. Campion - The Priest, 9/1/2012
This edition of The Priest commemorates the anniversary of Our Sunday Visitor, the national Catholic newspaper, founded by Father, eventually Archbishop, John F. Noll a century ago. From this initial effort came a series of projects, such as The Priest. Without being too boastful, Our Sunday Visitor is the largest and most enduring print medium of Catholic communications in American Church history, and it is rapidly moving into other media. So, this edition has been planned to be special.
In each edition of The Priest, on the final page of editorial content, “Last Things” in the lower right corner, is a quotation from Scripture.
For this edition, we wanted a verse in itself special. We wanted words from the Gospels, words spoken by the Lord. We wanted a quotation that would bring together the person, and priestly sense, of Father John F. Noll, of everything achieved under his direction and still pursued, and what drove him, and what has continued to impel Our Sunday Visitor in what now are its many operations.
We chose a verse from the Gospel according to St. Matthew, “Come to me, all who are burdened, and I will refresh you” (11:28). Only 20 words are in this one quotation. It is overflowing in dogmatic fact and implication for all believers, and it can be capsulized in just two words, “Christ Jesus.”
John Francis Noll, Christian, priest and bishop, loved the Lord. For him, two words were supreme: “Christ Jesus.”
Consider human need. See this need much more widely than material want or the press of injustice, albeit the fact that Jesus has a most sensitive concern for persons afflicted with material needs or with injustice. Think about needs of the heart and spirit that bedevil the rich as much as the poor, the mighty as much as the downtrodden. Look at the context from which comes this quotation from Matthew.
Without doubt, there must have been much hopelessness, or at best bewilderment, among the Lord’s Jewish contemporaries. Had God tricked them? Abandoned them? Where was God? Did God even exist?
Read the two Books of Maccabees. Read the Book of Daniel. They tell of great faith and marvelous fidelity despite awful challenges, but many souls must have wondered if God cared. For those who refused to consume the forbidden meat, others succumbed.
Read the Gospels. Jesus met more than a few who scorned the notion of God’s goodness and presence, for example, the thief crucified beside Jesus, on the other side from Dismas.
Fast forward to the day when Father John Noll, then pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Huntington, Ind., with funds from his own pocket, purchased a printing press for $10 and began Our Sunday Visitor. It was another time. Americans then overwhelmingly trusted religion and almost universally accepted without questioning the great moral values of the Judeo–Christian tradition.
That was the good news. The bad news was that Catholics in the United States were having difficult times. The vast majority were not financially secure. Worst of all, most Catholics enjoyed the respect of few who held the power, and formed the opinions, in the country. Many Catholics, or their rather recent forebears, had come to North America looking for opportunity and respect, and this is what that had gotten.
They spoke different languages. Catholics spoke Polish in Buffalo, Italian in New York, French in New Orleans, and Spanish in El Paso. African–American Catholics, as did all African–Americans, struggled under pressures unimaginable today. In American community after community, Catholics constituted a small minority, perceived as odd and somehow a threat. On balance, Catholics were not well educated.
Father Noll had to build community and confidence amid all this.
So, here we are in 2012, a century after the first edition of Our Sunday Visitor rolled off that press that Father Noll personally acquired for just 10 dollars.
Ultimately, today’s pastoral need is the same as it was in 1912: presenting Christ as the answer. Vexing today is the flight from institutional religion. Extreme individualism and moral judgments taken without regard to any outside source long ago overtook regard in this country for ecclesial authority or tradition.
At best, the culture sees churches as sideshows, if not as intruders. The music to which modern Americans dance these days is not hymnody, much less Gregorian chant. High rates of suicides occur in the military, and across society; people simply drift through life, or they wish life were over. Discontent and aimlessness particularly rush through the youth culture.
“Come to me, all you who are burdened, and I will refresh you.”
The greatest example furnished by Father Noll, and an objective of Our Sunday Visitor now as throughout its years, has been to summon Catholics — and priests — not to fear, to stand tall, and to speak out. After all, believers — and priests — have in their very faith the most empowering of understandings, and the best of blueprints.
Observing our anniversary, Our Sunday Visitor’s staff prays in thanksgiving. With equal fervor, it also prays in renewed commitment. Its commitment will unfold in catechetics, in continuing to inform and to form readers.
It is a task undertaken with confidence. Go back to that quotation from Matthew. Note the sequence of the eleventh chapter of Matthew, from which this quotation comes. First, the Lord prayerfully thanks the Father for revealing truth and reality to humans who otherwise would be in darkness. He communicates with God. Then, Jesus addresses the Almighty with the intimate term of “Father.” Jesus, the Son of God, perfectly united with the Father, and with the Holy Spirit, in the Trinity, used this term by right.
Dwell on the title of “Father.” God is not met as king, almighty, judge or creator, but as “Father,” one of the most intimate forms of address in human language, overflowing with images, and realities, of the most profound and forthcoming love.
Christians fittingly use this title in speaking to God. Indeed, the Lord taught them to pray “Our Father.” In and through the Lord’s Incarnation, disciples are adopted brothers and sisters of Jesus, heirs to the kingdom, beloved children of the Father. It is a powerful thought, worth remembering constantly.
Worth constantly remembering also is the fact that we need God, and that without God, humans well may reap the whirlwind.
Returning to Matthew’s eleventh chapter, the Lord made clear that human sin, not coincidence or divine indifference or revenge, is the root of all unhappiness and of everything that is wrong. Jesus warned Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum that their collective sinfulness brought misery and even doom.
“Come to me, all who are burdened, and I will refresh you.”
Jesus comes in and through the Church. Our Sunday Visitor has held firm to this belief from the beginning. It has called Catholic laymen and women to think with the Church and be with the Church. It has demanded that all humans be respected, and that their rights be made real, especially the right to life.
This reflection on the past is no self-serving tribute by an editor on the staff of Our Sunday Visitor. It is the collective judgment of millions of readers over the years.
For 100 years past, Our Sunday Visitor has been, and it resolves always to be, the fruit of Archbishop Noll’s bright, courageous and innovative priestly mind, heart and soul.
“Come to me, all who are burdened, and I will refresh you.” TP
MSGR. CAMPION is editor of The Priest and associate publisher of Our Sunday Visitor. He is a former president of the Catholic Press Association and the Vatican’s ecclesiastical adviser for the International Catholic Union of the Press.
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