By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — Locally, it began in the rain and ended in the cold.
Globally, it was also called by one pope and finished by another.
But in between, the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph joined the universal church in celebrating an entire Year of Faith.
“I believe in the Truths revealed by God and held as a treasure within the church; I believe in Jesus Christ — Savior of the world and King of all creation. My faith changes me, directs me, makes a difference in my life. Faith sends us ‘out’ as apostles to bear witness in word and deed to the unchanging Truth who is Jesus Christ,” Bishop Robert W. Finn told the congregation at the Mass Nov. 24, the Solemn Feast of Christ the King and the conclusion of both the church’s normal liturgical year and the special Year of Faith.
And in those words, Bishop Finn repeated the themes he has stressed throughout the Year of Faith at several celebrations held in designated parish churches throughout the diocese.
Pope Benedict XVI declared the Year of Faith shortly after promulgating the apostolic letter, “Porta Fidei” (The Door of Faith).
In his letter Pope Benedict expressed his concern for “the decline of Christian culture and the loss of faith as an active component in peoples’ lives,” Bishop Finn said.
Bishop Finn quoted Pope Benedict’s letter: “It often happens that Christians are more concerned for the social, cultural and political consequences of their commitment, continuing to think of the faith as a self-evident presupposition for life in society. In reality, not only can this presupposition no longer be taken for granted, but it is often openly denied.”
Pope Benedict set the Year of Faith, a year of study to strengthen and renew faith, to begin on Oct. 11, 2012, the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the 20th anniversary of the promulgation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
In the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, the first official diocesan celebration occurred just two days later on Oct. 13, the 95th anniversary of final apparition of Mary to three children at Fatima, Portugal.
Father Jim Kelleher, head of the Eucharistic Family Rosary Crusade, was called back to Kansas City where he helped lead a massive Rosary rally at Kauffman Stadium five years before, to lead what was to be a one-mile procession from Divine Mercy Park to St. Patrick Parish in Kansas City’s Clay County suburbs.
In the middle of a long drought, the heavens chose that day to bless the city with a day long rain, leaving organizers both thankful for the badly needed moisture, but cancelling the procession at the last minute and wondering if the faithful would brave less than perfect weather to pray the rosary at St. Patrick with their bishop and Father Kelleher.
They came. And they came. And they came. Beginning two hours before service would even begin, they filled every seat in the parish church. Then they filled the school gymnasium where the service would be simulcast on big-screen televisions. Then they filled the narthex, the chapel, and even spilled onto the sidewalk, just to be close and pray, some 1,300 strong.
“Yes Jesus, we believe in you,” Bishop Finn told the throng that night.
“Jesus, we believe in you present in the Most Blessed Sacrament. Jesus, we believe in you alive in your Body, the church. We love you and we love the church. Jesus, we believe in you teaching the truth through your vicar, the pope, and in the magisterium.”
He recalled visiting “a very ill priest,” Father Thomas Ward who would die within weeks.
“He reminded me that the Holy Spirit is in charge. What the world sees is not what God sees. God loves us a lot, he insisted. I listened. In the midst of his sufferings, this dying priest clearly believed this. With all my heart, I believe it too,” Bishop Finn said.
That God continues to love and stay close to us, especially during times of suffering, is a theme Bishop Finn repeated at regional Year of Faith Mass celebrations.
Those were celebrated July 14 at Immaculate Conception Parish in Lexington, July 28 at the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph, Aug. 11 at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception at Conception Abbey, Aug. 18 at St. Sabina Parish in Belton celebrated in Spanish and at which Bishop Finn preached in Spanish, Sept. 29 at Holy Rosary Parish in Clinton, and finally at the concluding Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, mother church of the diocese.
The crowd who attended the concluding Mass wasn’t nearly as large as the crowd that began the year at St. Patrick. Nevertheless, the hundreds who did come nearly filled the main section of the cathedral, braving strong winds and a biting temperature in the 20s to come, forsaking the comforts of home and a Kansas City Chiefs’ NFL game that afternoon.
“I hope no one accuses us of not being football fans,” Bishop Finn quipped during his opening welcome.
But this was a day that faith mattered strongly.
In his homily, Bishop Finn recalled that Pope Francis, elected in February to succeed Pope Benedict, has taken up the call of the Year of Faith and urged Catholics “to live faith.”
“He has emphasized how much we must ‘go out’ into the streets to bring Jesus Christ, servant and merciful King, to others,” Bishop Finn said.
“You and I must ask ourselves again today the fundamental questions which are so necessary to being a disciple and an apostle: Do I know Christ? Do I believe in him? Do I have faith in what Jesus teaches, what is handed on by his church?”
The Gospel for the Solemn Feast of Christ the King came from Luke’s account of the crucifixion. Christ, dying on the cross, was taunted to save himself if he was who he said he was.
Jesus chose instead to suffer and die, and to rise again, but not before promising the “good thief” crucified next to him, “You will be with me in paradise.”
“If Jesus Christ is the King of our hearts, we must draw our life from him. Then and only then we can go out and faith can begin to work,” Bishop Finn said.
“Yes, faith must work. If worship is our breath, then isn’t it true we live for some purpose? We live so true life can be shared,” he said.
“Our faith has to make a difference in the way we live, in how we treat each other, how we take care of others,” Bishop Finn said.
“Our faith, our deeply held beliefs about what is right and wrong, has to be the directing force in our lives. Because the world is increasingly contrary to the principles of our faith, we can only expect that if we are determined to be faithful, we will experience the persecutions Jesus promised his disciples,” the bishop said.
“Dear friends, the Year of Faith is over. But the call to believe is strong, stronger than ever,” Bishop Finn said.
“The door of faith is always open,” he said. “Standing at that door is a person. He is Jesus Christ. He is King of the Universe and he is standing there — right here if you will — waiting for you, and for me.
“He invites us to believe his truth. He is inviting us to accept his love and his light. He is asking us to trust him, and to entrust ourselves to him so that he can make a difference in our life,” Bishop Finn said.
“And when he has received us, forgiven us, changed us completely, he will send us out so that others may come to know that they have a Savior, they have King who is next to them in their greatest trials and who waits to bring them into union with himself, to bring the faithful into eternal life in his kingdom which has no end,” Bishop Finn said.
“Let us pledge to keep speaking the Truth of Jesus Christ plainly,” he said. “We want to live in such a way that Jesus Christ will be shared with all others, that our faith will be manifest through grace-filled works, that we will live an ever greater integrity despite the challenges of the culture,” he said.
“To Christ is the Kingship and we must extend his Kingdom,” Bishop Finn said. “We must live faith so that all may come to know him and believe in him.”