Living the Beatitudes in the World – Part XVI

A lay saint would practice love of God and neighbor to an heroic degree

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Faith

We would expect holy laywomen and laymen to be living the Beatitudes, as Pope Francis wrote in his March 19, 2018, Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate (“On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World”). Living the Beatitudes, he wrote, “is holiness.” Within the “framework of holiness offered by the Beatitudes and Matthew 25:31-46,” he listed five “great expressions of love for God and neighbor” that he considers “of particular importance in the light of certain dangers and limitations present in today’s culture” (Para. 110). These were: (1) perseverance, patience, and meekness, (2) joy and a sense of humor, (3) boldness and passion (Greek parrhesia), (4) community, and (5) constant prayer. For whatever reason, Pope Francis did not identify any particular canonized saints — priests, religious, or lay — as modeling any of the Beatitudes, lived to an heroic degree. Perhaps he didn’t want to limit our imagination to a specific person, time, or place. Rev. Jeffrey Kirby wrote a book on how Maria Goretti and her family members lived each of the beatitudes: Kingdom of Happiness: Living the Beatitudes in Everyday Life (2017). Let us examine the actions of some laypersons who aim to live the Beatitudes.

Blessed Are Those Who Mourn

Those who mourn are innumerable, but here I want to single out holiness-minded funeral directors, bereavement counselors, people engaged in the work of identifying remains, and those who dig graves and maintain them. One gravedigger is Joe Kittok, married with children, a Vietnam War veteran, and a deacon. As of 2016, he was 69 and had dug 300 graves annually for 44 years in 30 cemeteries. Prompted by the suggestion of a parish priest, he prays for the deceased while he covers the casket with the same dirt he had removed. And he prays for each of the deceased as part of his night prayers (see David Hrbacek, “Deacon Devotes Decades to Digging Graves,” Arlington Catholic Herald, Sept. 21, 2016).

Blessed Are the Merciful

One example of this Beatitude lived to an heroic degree is St. Maria Goretti. An earlier blog mentioned the forgiveness this 11-year-old girl gave from her hospital bed to her attacker before she died from her wounds. And following her example, her mother Assunta also forgave him.

Steven McDonald (1957-2017), a Catholic New York police officer, was paralyzed from the neck down at age 29 by a gunshot. He forgave the 15-year-old shooter. He reached out to the boy, and he worked for reconciliation in other arenas (Steve McDonald and Patti Ann McDonald, The Steven McDonald Story (1989); Richard Goldstein, “Steven McDonald, A Paralyzed Officer Who Championed Forgiveness, Dies at 59,” N.Y. Times, Jan. 11, 2017).

Some readers may recall learning of this sterling example of forgiveness. In October 2006, five Amish schoolgirls were shot dead at their school in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania:

Within hours, the Amish community forgave the killer [dead by suicide] and his family… A grandmother [of one of the victims] laughed when I asked if the forgiveness was orchestrated. “You mean that some people actually thought we had a meeting to plan forgiveness?”… As the father of a slain daughter explained, “Our forgiveness was not our words, it was what we did.” Members of the community visited the gunman’s widow at her home with food and flowers and hugged members of his family. There were a few words, but it was primarily their hugs, gifts, and mere presence – acts of grace – that communicated Amish forgiveness. Of the 75 people at the killer’s burial, about half were Amish, including parents who had buried their own children a day or so before. Amish people also contributed to a fund for the shooter’s family (Donald B. Kraybill, “Why the Amish Forgive So Quickly,” Christian Science Monitor, Oct. 2, 2007. See also Daniel Trotta, “Amish School Shooter’s Mother Goes Public with Healing Message,” Reuters, Dec. 5, 2013, and the made-for-TV film Amish Grace, 2010).

Blessed Are Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness

Have you heard of the Catholic journalist Bill Minor (1922-2017), called the “Conscience of Mississippi”? (Bart Barnes, “Wilson ‘Bill’ Minor, ‘Conscience’ of Mississippi Journalism During Civil Rights Era, Dies at 94,” Washington Post, March 28, 2017.) How about the Catholic leaders of the pro-life movement in the United States, including actress Loretta Young, co-founder of Americans United for Life; lawyer Dennis Horan; Dr. John C. and wife Barbara Willke of National Right to Life (who had six children and authored Abortion and the Pro-Life Movement (2014), among other accomplishments); Nellie Gray of the annual March for Life (see Emily Langer, “Nellie Gray, March for Life Founder, Dead at 88,” Washington Post, Aug. 14, 2012); and the recently deceased Joseph M. Scheidler (1927-2021), founder of the Pro-Life Action League. He and his wife Ann had seven children. I nominated him for the Laetare Medal, the highest award of the University of Notre Dame (see “Notre Dame: Looking Over a Four-Leaf Clover,” Spero Forum, May 19, 2015). He won all three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court on the issue of whether he was a pro-life “racketeer.”

To be continued…

 

***Editor’s Note: For Part XV in this series, click here

 

James Thunder is a Washington, D.C., lawyer and author, with degrees from the University of Notre Dame, the University of Virginia, and Georgetown. He is former general counsel of Americans United for Life, and past grand knight in the Knights of Columbus.

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