I found myself stunned the other day by a few words during Mass on the solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul. “They share one martyr’s crown,” and “the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul bring us joy.” The two were so united in mission and identity that they share a feast day.
I happened to be at St. Patrick’s Cathedral that morning. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York celebrated the Mass, wearing the pallium Pope Benedict XVI gave him on the same solemnity in 2009. But as the Mass was about to begin, the lector made the most wonderful mistake: He said Mass was being celebrated by His Eminence Timothy Michael Cooke.
It was wonderful, because it serves as a reminder that we are not alone; we are not the first to live in the world as Christians with challenges — including great sin and evil and terrible violence. For whatever reason, the late Cardinal Terrence Cooke must have been on his mind — maybe simply because of the way he walked a moment before, as just below the altar are images of previous cardinals in a succession that dates back to Peter and Paul!
It got me asking Cardinal Cooke, a Servant of God, in his heavenly sway, to give the cardinal and priests in the archdiocese a little extra intercessory love at a time when people need not only spiritual fathers but men of courage.
Some months ago I was handed a copy of a prayer book written by Cardinal Cooke. One of the chapters contains prayers he wrote himself, which the editors suggested revealed his heart. And what was on his heart? Praying for media, families and the president, among others.
That was another combination of words that stopped me in my tracks. The media and the president are plenty powerful. But then so are you and I. The family, the Church, the community. That can catch on and catch fire if people see radiating from within us the peace that is so clearly not of this world.
And yet, we let ourselves get enslaved by the world.
We sometimes seem like a culture perpetually outraged. On a recent Monday morning, I saw that Twitter seemed to already be blazing red hot with it. We react to every tweet and allegation and latest example the cracks in public morality. But then where is ours? Where is our trust in the God who made us and won for us victory over that greatest of fears, death?
But then, are we afraid of death? We live in a culture that seems resigned to it. So much so that people take it into their own hands. We want to be gods and yet ignore the power he gives us to live like him, to see him in others and in the world.
My point being: Do we really believe all this stuff on the pages of this newsweekly? Do we really believe in Jesus Christ as we proclaim? This was a question that came up in the Liturgy of the Hours some days ago, too, from St. Gregory of Nyssa: “If we are not to lie when we call ourselves ‘Christians,’ we must bear witness to it by our way of living.”
I work in the media, and recently the most honest thing I can say is: I don’t know what facts are facts and what are actually agendas. And there is something liberating about that. It can serve to refocus things on what we do know to be true, on whether or not we really do believe and are willing to give our lives to that leap that is faith and see that it is the only certain thing there is.
St. Augustine put it perfectly about Sts. Peter and Paul: We “are not talking about some obscure martyrs.” They are foundational, and they are ubiquitous in culture and history. Let our faith be as known. Let us be as willing to live and die and lead with it!
Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review, and co-author of “How to Defend the Faith Without Raising Your Voice” (OSV, $17.95).