Our mission as Catholics in a divided nation


By Barb Arland-Fye

Cardinal Wilton Gregory’s voice became emotional as he recalled the two Chicago priests who served as chaplains at his ordination as an auxiliary bishop in 1983. Twenty-five years earlier, whether or not they realized it, Msgr. John Hayes and Father Gerry Weber became then-11-year-old Wilton Gregory’s role models at the Catholic school and parish he attended. Their ministry and the example they set inspired young Wilton, with his parents’ permission, to convert to Catholicism and to discern a vocation to the priesthood. Cardinal Gregory shared that story during a livestreamed presentation of “A Listening Church in a Divided Nation” Feb. 28.

Will a listening Church stop the division in our nation and among the faithful? That depends on how willing each of us is to be a good listener! Pope Francis’ Synod on Synodality models good listening skills — focused on active listening for learning and understanding — with prayer as a girder. This is not the task of just clergy, women religious and the leaders in our parishes. If we are to heal the wounds of divisiveness, each of us must exercise these skills in our daily lives, in our interactions with family, friends, colleagues, neighbors and even strangers.

However, one more girder is essential to mending a divided Church and nation: each of us must become role models — in the best sense of that term — for the 11-year-olds or 4-year-olds or 16-year-olds in our lives. The Wilton Gregorys of the world will become leaders who inspire others when they witness the adults in their lives inspiring them.


Alarmingly, the “role models” in today’s vitriolic culture and multimedia platforms incite anger, name-calling, bullying, xenophobia and suspicion. Kids receive the message that it is OK to be selfish, to engage in temper tantrums, to insult and disparage their “enemies” and to throw people “under the bus” to avoid taking blame or responsibility for their actions. If we fail to point out the wrongness of this behavior, if we fail to serve as role models through our own actions and words, then we are complicit in dividing our Church and nation.

Father Bruce DeRammelaere, pastor of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport, gave an excellent homily March 3 reflecting on the Gospel reading for the Third Sunday of Lent, which can serve as a template for role modeling. In John’s Gospel, an angry Jesus drives out the money changers for desecrating his Father’s house, for taking advantage of the worshippers.

“… Lent is the Church’s official time to get angry enough to overturn old tables and set up new ones,” Father DeRammelaere said in his homily. He identified five suggestions, or principles, for restoring our Father’s house. Here are excerpts:

  • First, I will love things that are worth loving. … The things that are worth loving are family, faith, God, Jesus, friends …
  • Second, I will put first things first. For us Catholics, celebrating the Eucharist on Sundays should come before everything else.
  • Third, I will cultivate spiritual insight. This means seeing beyond the realities that we can see, looking beyond the flesh and blood to the Ultimate Spiritual Reality. (Father DeRammelaere strongly recommends Eucharistic Adoration as a way to get to know God, who knows us best and loves us most.) We come and offer God our distractions, our weaknesses, joys and sorrows.
  • Fourth, I will strive for integrity of character…meaning that I will not do anything that will compromise my integrity. If my neighbor has something, I will not put myself into debt just so I can have it too. If I am a student, I won’t cheat on exams. I won’t do anything to get ahead or gain the whole world at the expense of my own soul.
  • Fifth, I will enlist in causes that benefit the community and to which I can give my loyalty. Help stamp out hunger in the world by supporting our local food banks or by supporting parish efforts. Find the time to help at school or volunteer in one of the parish activities. (Do whatever will help draw the focus away from ourselves for the sake of turning the “Temple back into ‘my Father’s House.’”)

During their lifetimes, Msgr. John Hayes and Father Gerry Weber (both now deceased) lived out the five principles outlined in Father DeRammelaere’s homily. By doing so, they inspired an 11-year-old to pursue a life of service beyond himself. Today, Cardinal Gregory serves as a role model for nearly 700,000 Catholics in the Archdiocese of Washington and for countless faithful throughout his 51 years in the priesthood. We, too, can serve as role models by moving beyond ourselves in our faith communities and the community at large. A listening Church needs good role models.

Barb Arland-Fye, Editor

Support The Catholic Messenger’s mission to inform, educate and inspire the faithful of the Diocese of Davenport – and beyond! Subscribe to the print and/or e-edition, or make a one-time donation, today!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted on

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *