Ten years ago, when I was appointed bishop of Pittsburgh, my first decision was to live on the campus of St. Paul Seminary. I hoped that my presence there would encourage more men to explore vocations to the priesthood. And I knew that I would be inspired by living among men who were discerning those vocations.
But there have been many other benefits. Among them is the free tutelage I receive from the seminarians on how to use electronic devices. I grew up in an age when televisions and transistor radios were the hot new electronics. The iPhone that I carry now is a tremendous asset to communication, as it allows me to stay in touch wherever I am. But when it comes to using it for functions other than what I used my parents’ old rotary telephone for, I confess to near illiteracy.
So I am learning slowly from the seminarians about the many apps that can assist me in my ministry. I learned about a new one this past week, when 12 seminarians began their orientation at St. Paul’s. Four were returning men, whom I call “veterans,” and eight were new men, whom I call “rookies.” They were already actively communicating with each other using a new smartphone app called GroupMe. They use this app to disseminate information quickly from one seminarian to the rest of those in the house.
As I considered how important it is for all of us to communicate more effectively and efficiently, my thoughts turned to how especially important it is for us to receive and share the messages that come to us from Jesus. I began to daydream about the possibility of creating a brand new app, “Group Jesus.” Through this app, I thought, everyone who is serious about Jesus could receive the urgent messages he wants to implant in our hearts.
Given recent events, with the growing signs of hatred, prejudice, bigotry and intolerance in our country and worldwide, such an app would be most appropriate. Imagine a situation in which you are angry, and GroupJesus pops up with “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7), or “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44), or “Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good” (Romans 12:21).
Whenever we open up the New Testament, we learn so much about Jesus. The four Gospels are real treasures. They help us to learn Jesus, to love Jesus and, hopefully, to live Jesus. I urge you to reread them at least once a year. If we are to be serious about Jesus, then our hearts must be open to everyone, not simply to people like us, or people who think like us, or people who look like us, or people who believe like us. We must love everyone as Jesus loves them. In fact, we must love everyone as if he or she is Jesus himself.
Jesus is very clear that our eternal salvation depends on it. In a parable about the final judgment, he condemns those who failed to care for him when he was sick, impoverished, a stranger and imprisoned.
“Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (Matthew 25:44-46).
St. Teresa of Kolkata knew how to live this way. Her community’s mission is to reach out to the neediest of all people. Her sisters tell a story of a man whom they brought in literally out of the gutters. He not only smelled foul, he spoke foul. As the sisters tried to feed him, bathe him and tend his wounds, he spat on them and showered them with the kind of words I can’t write here. The sisters were so disgusted that they went to Mother Teresa and asked her to throw him out of their convent.
Mother Teresa replied, “Oh Sisters, that is impossible. The man who is with us just happens to be Jesus, in one of his more difficult moments.”
Cleanse the toxic air
When we act like Jesus and act as if everyone else is Jesus, it transforms anger into love, hate into mercy. Even if the person we are angry at remains unchanged, those who witness our response are moved to be merciful themselves. This is why the witness of heroes such as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Blessed Oscar Romero are so powerful. Their example of love and mercy was so strong that, even when those controlled by hatred cut them down, their message flowed out to transform millions of people. And that is also part of what Jesus did for us on the cross.
It is one thing for us to regret the news we see in the morning newspaper, on the evening news or via bulletins on our smartphones. It is something else for us to begin to cleanse the toxic air of our present world by doing something about it. The way that we must respond is by beginning to think more like, to speak more like and to act more like Jesus himself.
Back when I taught the Christian Lifestyle course at Quigley Catholic High School, the very last lesson on the very last day was the most important: If you remember anything from this class, remember to always treat everyone you meet as if they are Jesus, and always treat everyone you meet as if you are Jesus.
So my challenge to you today is to join GroupJesus. Read the Gospels. If you don’t have a Bible, there’s an app for that. In fact, there are many. Then follow the news, whether in a paper, on TV, the radio or a smartphone. When that news dismays you, remember that message from GroupJesus. Respond as if the person you are reading about is Jesus. Respond as if you are Jesus, whose name you bear if you are a Christian.