Blessed Alojzije, intercessor of the Church and the Croatian people, pray for us!

22.3.2018.

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Cardinal Josip Bozanić, the Archbishop of Zagreb
Homily on the Feast of Blessed Alojzije Stepinac
Zagreb, Zagreb Cathedral, 10 February 2018
Readings at Mass: 2 Corinthians 1:3-7; 8b-9,12  John 12: 23-28
 
Dear brethren bishops, priests and deacons,
honourable friars and nuns,
dear seminarians, monastic candidates,
honourable members of the Second Synod of the Zagreb Archdiocese,
dear pilgrims, brothers and sisters in Christ!
 
1.There are many ways to become more familiar with the life of Blessed Alojzije Stepinac, as well as with many images and concepts which were used to describe Alojzije over the past few decades; as in him we can see an evangelical commitment and dedication and an evident gift of comfort intertwined with hope and suffering.
 
In the Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, Saint Paul mentions comfort and consolation more than ten times within a couple of sentences. Thus St. Paul shows us how much he wants us to hear this, but he also wants to make us realize how much comfort is interwoven with Christians' circumstances in life; circumstances such as hope and confidence, but trouble and suffering as well.
 
Comfort connects us with God and thus we can experience an encounter filled with God's presence in the most difficult of times in our lives, when we realize that we cannot go through such an experience on our own. The Apostle's words tell us this very clearly: 'Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.' (2 Corinthians 1:9)
 
St. Paul does not wish to mislead or convince us into something untrue or unfamiliar to our life's experience by repeating those words about comfort. There is no superficiality or escape from difficulties in his words. He sees comfort as part of experience of the cross. Thus we find comfort interwoven with trouble, suffering, difficulties, and as such it leads us towards salvation.
 
Blessed Alojzije embodies what St. Paul arguments as the reason for effectiveness of this comfort. In the final sentences of today's reading we heard St. Paul's explanation: glory in testifying conscience, life in sainthood, God's honesty and mercy.
 
2. Dear believers, blessed martyr Alojzije is a permanent sign of our Lord’s proximity; God who comforts us in need. Indeed, when we look back into our recent history, a time when it seemed comfort had no fertile ground to sprout from, a time when people were eliminated and many imprisoned and humiliated, a time when values of freedom and human dignity were oppressed, and a time of great lies, evangelical seeds existed and helped safeguard life with their trust in God and clear conscience. This seed contained visible strong comfort, as in Zagreb, thus in Lepoglava and Krašić as well.
 
On this day fifty-eight years ago, the Communist government believed this seed could be relinquished to oblivion, hidden in the ground, under a tomb stone slab among the walls of this cathedral, without the faintest idea that it would become the most fertile ground of Church comfort could speak from so loudly. That is why we are here, tonight, in Stepinac's cathedral; grateful we may safeguard his earthly remains and pray before them.  Blessed Alojzije Stepinac is the bearer of comfort to believers, the entire Church and especially his Croatian people.
 
We are aware of the attempts made to justify what was done in those totalitarian times by repeating interpretations, concepts and proposals from those times, even the most blatant lies; something that wants to be done in our times as well, although somewhat differently.
Presenting our Blessed Alojzije Stepinac, and our entire Church for that matter, continues to confront us with those occurrences. Lies implanted and systematically promoted in that way gain power and hinder access to truth and continue to destroy the good.
 
In moments of discouragement, personal pain and problems we have to deal with as individuals, as a family and a nation, we stand united with what is greater than us. Our God does not abandon us in suffering. Comfort is a gift which connects us, foremost with God, as He is the one who fills us with it, so we could live it and comfort each other. Christian comfort seeks listening, patience, compassion, attention, well-being of our fellow humans, helping everybody, especially those in need, testimony of hope and prayer.
 
Our Blessed is a permanent mark of this, as he embodied the words of his episcopal motto and entrusted us with these words from the Holy Scripture, ' O my God, in You I trust'.  This trust is not inaction or giving up, but commitment to count on God with everything, to listen to Him and seek strength, meaning and comfort in Him.
 
Where there is true comfort, it is not the result of human strength and skill but mercy of the Holy Spirit. We know where to draw Stepinac’s comfort from. We really need it today, a time when we feel new challenges, the threat of anxiety and attempts to sow desperation in a different way. That comfort is God’s comfort; it speaks the language of love, and most importantly, it cannot be taken away by another human being.
 
3. With that in mind, brothers and sisters, from the very beginning, we sought Blessed Alojzije’s intercession for the Second Synod of the Zagreb Archdiocese, and we prayed for the strength of his trust in God. We announced the Synod on his feast, and today, again on the day when we celebrate his feast, we conclude its sessions.
 
We are grateful for this extraordinary gift of grace by which the strength of the Holy Spirit revives, comforts and renews us. As the Archbishop of Zagreb, I would first like to thank all members of the Synod who found time, love and knowledge to participate assiduously. My wish being that the entire Archdiocese is involved in the Synod, I would especially like to thank all parishes, religious communities, associations, movements and other prayer meeting groups, as well as individual believers, who contributed so that during the pre-synodal period and during synodal sessions many initiatives were proposed, and care and joy of our Church of Zagreb was felt.
 
Remembering the preparations for the Synod in their very beginnings, we now see the fruits of this gift which hopefully instils into us a certainty of facing the future. Inspired by Blessed Alojzije Stepinac, I believe we may rightfully say that he taught us and helped us live church-like.  I shall try to summarize this in three points: get to know the Church, love the Church and act church-like.
 
4. The Synod has made us aware of our belonging to a specific Church of Zagreb in a joint walk of the holy people of God. It has brought us closer, believers to priests and other functionaries, and believers among themselves. This closeness, we are called upon to strengthen and bring into every aspect of our Archdiocese’s life, praying in particular for each other.
 
We have felt that there are many believers who live their faith, who are active in their parishes, live regularity in the rhythm of their family life and the community they belong to. We have had the opportunity to become more familiar with the nature and work of church institutions, bodies, departments, to learn about positive church regulations, general provisions and many opportunities which the Holy Spirit entices in our surroundings, by giving away His gifts and creating new opportunities carried with love and service.
 
In questions asked and propositions presented one could notice honest wanting, manifested accomplishments and expressed expectations. New ways were indicated, and real difficulties were pointed out, although they do not have to be insurmountable.
 
It is important to get to know the Church as a mysterious sacramental reality through which the Lord asks us to live our faith within the Church in all its beauty, high standards and human limitations. We’ve come to know the Church as God’s gift, because any other interpretation leads to seeking predominance, insensitivity, striving for power; and in doing so it neglects Kingdom of God with its earthly criteria for success.
 
All of Blessed Alojzije’s speeches and works showed us how important it is to know the Church. He spoke of it to believers so they could realize what their place in society and mission was. He defended the truths of faith and moral with the same commitment, and left speechless those who could not understand his fearless testimony of staying faithful to the Church.
 
Even in our time, getting to know the Church better does not become less important, as some try to create a certain image of the Church and impose impressions which deny its very essence, that of the Church being God’s and Christ’s. They try to limit it as a mere social fact, as just one organisation in a sea of many others, with same or different goals of other components of society. We bear the responsibility of getting to know the Church itself by living it, and we cannot do it without love.
 
5. Only those who love the Church get to know the Church. Blessed Alojzije Stepinac left us with a large legacy of love for the Church streaming from his words and attitude he testified every day until his last breath. Who was more inflicted by the wounds of the Church than him; who faced those Christians who denied their Christian dignity more than him; who set a better example in those complex times by helping those in need than him? It suffices only to mention his relentless charitable activities. He could do it because he loved his fellow human the way the Church would.
 
The Synod has put before us a joyous truth that the Church of Zagreb lives off the love believers testify in their families, work places and society, often subjected to questions and unpleasantness, facing the temptation of denying defence and testimony of the truths of faith. The Synod shows us that love is stronger than these temptations.
 
Love also distinguishes and questions the reality it loves, wishes for its improvement, sheds layers which disfigure it, wishes to revive it if it feels that life is fading, wishes to bring back joy and hope where it sees apathy and feebleness. That is why in the family of Church, believers’ responsibility and decisiveness, love encouraged by the synodal walk shall find ways to purify the Church on all levels and lead it into novelty, not for novelty itself, but for love which is always new.
 
Blessed Alojzije Stepinac shows us how to do it. He knew that both his believers and persecutors see the Church in him; on the pulpit, as the defendant, in prison….. They could reach him as the Church’s official, but they could not reach his love for the Church, love rooted in faith and hope. The fruits of love for every human being, regardless of their nationality or denomination, shine more as time goes by. Blessed Alojzije Stepinac is an exemplar of this for his Croatian people.
 
6. Third lesson the Synod teaches us and martyr Stepinac testifies is act church-like. Those who love the Church and anchor their lives in it, find a valid way of Christian testimony, far from restrictions and fear, far from selfishness and self-promotion.
 
To act church-like means to act Christ-like. When we act like this then we feel the spirit of the Synod, starting from prayer which steers us towards the Kingdom of God and results in community, subsidiarity, freedom of expressing one’s opinions, listening to others, discussion and examination, seeking good and taking responsibility.
 
Then the Church, and a parish in particular, is not a foreign distant place, but a place full of life, human closeness, as for the parishioners and thus for everybody else, especially those in need. The Church should make way for inclusion, for more church bodies where believers could participate and it should be more open to new initiatives.
 
It is important to notice that because we need firm foothold in our lives. There are many conspicuous offers, attractive ideas and fleeting promises. This is how old and new ideologies work as they do not look at life in its entirety or care about proper footholds. Stepinac’s testimony survived every ideology. He found his foothold in God and not human ideas and goals, and he compared everything according to the criterion of eternity.
 
7. Brothers and sisters, yesterday, on the 9 February 2018, the fifth synodal session of the Second Synod of the Zagreb Archdiocese marked the ending of the main working part of the Synod, and that is why today in this concluding celebration I address all of you, ordained priests, friars and nuns, layman believers; to all of us I wish to say: Let’s dare more!
 
Pope Francis, as he gave thanks for the fruits of our Synod, wanted us to be witnesses of a renewed ‘Pentecost’ of the Zagreb Church, and asked us to reach out to every believer, every family and, finally, people of good will (comp. Pope’s message for the end of the Synod).
 
I encourage you to see the Synod as a new beginning, a new momentum in pastoral action, especially in our parishes, prayer groups, religious associations and movements as well as parish bodies. Christianity always starts over. The Synod provided safety and stability, strengthened our steps, gave focus, especially in a new environment, where one generation attempted to face the challenges in their own way and now another generation is asked to do the same.
 
Our Synod has from the very beginning shown this change with so many youth present, and they show us how they have grown into responsible mature believers. Before you, dear youth, boys and girls, is a two-year preparation for the Croatian Catholic Youth Meeting, which is to take place in Zagreb and the Zagreb Archdiocese in 2020.  
 
I call upon your youth to discover gifts and the strength of religious experience, strong spirituality, which is not based on superficial emotions but finds foothold in the Holy Scripture, sacraments and spiritual guidance.
 
8. I just want to point out the following. This year we are celebrating the twentieth anniversary of Cardinal Stepinac’s beatification, and just as that beatification confirmed the comfort he encouraged us with during the Communist regime, so have we over the past twenty years felt this closeness of comfort knowing that it would lead to his sainthood. Every attempt to challenge his sainthood with lies, wishes to take away our comfort, life strength and hope. The comfort of that time, alongside safety of a clear conscience, hope and mercy consoles us now and is efficient forever.
 
Twenty years ago, John Paul II, Holy Pope of Croatian hope, at the time of Cardinal Stepinac’s beatification said that the figure of our Blessed summarizes the tragedy which struck Europe during the twentieth century, as it was marked with great evils of Fascism, Nazism and Communism. Holy Pope pointed out that in Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac the Catholic response shines brightly in its fullness; faith in God, respect of his fellow human, love for all confirmed by forgiveness, and unity with the Church  guided by the Successor of Peter (comp. Pope’s speech on the apostolic visit to Croatia, Vatican, 7 October 1998).
 
Even today we need to persevere in a distancing ourselves consistently from all the evil regimes of the twentieth century. In Croatia, we are in danger of building mechanisms of social treatment where the values of life and truth about all the victims of war and post-war period in the twentieth century without difference are easily disregarded. We feel the consequences of lack of criteria, as well a certain distancing from applying the rules promoted even by the European institutions. Our Croatian society is still challenged by this, although it is the basic condition to achieve social peace, be free from constant instrumentalism of the past, regain healthy national pride, awaken hope and face the future.
 
What the Church does regarding this issue is based on faith in God, our Merciful Father, evangelical love, community and responsibility, set straight by humbleness, remorse and mercy; supported by the Cross and enlightened by resurrection. We feel that constant intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph, patron saint of Croatia, is with us on our path.
 
Brothers and sisters, as we stay thankful for the proximity of God’s heavenly Church, we do not stop pleading:
Blessed Alojzije, intercessor of the Church and the Croatian people, pray for us!
 
Amen.