I recently had the opportunity to talk with Auxiliary Bishop Mark Bartosic of Chicago about his love for Jesus in the Eucharist.
As part of the nationwide effort organized by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for the National Vigil for Life, Catholics are invited to join one of the Holy Hours for Life taking place through the night of January 19 in dioceses around the country. In the Archdiocese of Chicago, Bishop Bartosic has spearheaded not just one, but twelve hours of Eucharistic adoration so people could join in prayer according to their availability. You can participate in the Holy Hours for Life around the country via livestream.
For those who haven’t met Bishop Bartosic, he exudes a rare combination of simplicity and depth in his trust that Jesus is much more powerful than any chaos we human beings can create in our personal lives and in the world. As he says, “No problem is too big for Jesus because he loves us. He loves the whole world.”
Sr. Kathryn: It seems to me, Bishop, that gathering a nation in prayer before Jesus in the Eucharist for a Vigil for Life is a profound act of faith. There is such great work being done by so many to help protect the innocent against attacks on human life and to provide care for mothers and their children. On January 19, however, across all the dioceses in the country, we will spend a whole night in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. Could you talk about the value of prayer in the pro-life movement and of a whole night’s vigil of prayer for life?
Bishop Mark: I’m very haunted by the Lord telling the disciples, “The poor you will always have with you.” He says this in the twelfth chapter of John, which recounts the actions of the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet shortly before his Passion and death. It is significant that Jesus says the words, “The poor you will always have with you,” in the context of this woman’s act of adoration, for she has just slathered his feet with perfume and dried them with her hair. In a sense, then, they are said in what is a mystic act of worship this woman is offering to the Lord. The disciples reproach her for wasting the perfume on Jesus and he says, “Leave her alone. The poor you will always have with you.” In other words, Jesus was saying, “Yes, the perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor, but you will always have the poor with you, you won’t always have me.”
Sr. Kathryn: This saying of Jesus, “The poor you will always have with you,” might seem difficult to comprehend when the eradication of poverty and suffering and violence of all kinds—spiritual, physical, and material—is the dream of anyone hoping for a better world for everyone. What is important in these words of Jesus for anyone working for peace, for life, and for justice today?
Bishop Mark: If we want to work for the benefit of the poor, we have to be worshipping Jesus. If we want to face the darkness, the poverty, and the violence in our society without getting tired or angry or cynical or apathetic, we have to be going to Jesus. It is from Jesus alone that we will get the courage, the strength, and the hope we need to continue our work. We all want to do good, but if we think we can take these things on without Jesus next to us then we are going to end up angry, tired, and cynical. That is part of our problem today.
Sr. Kathryn: The phrases “going to Jesus, worshiping Jesus in the Eucharist, allowing Jesus to come along beside us,” that is, doing everything “through Jesus, with Jesus, in Jesus,” seem to be a lens through which you see the needs of a suffering world with great compassion—Jesus’ compassion. Could you tell us more about the way in which you approach our wounded world?
Bishop Mark: Yesterday, I was talking to a young friend who has cerebral palsy, and she sent me a clip from The Chosen that had touched her very deeply. In this video clip, little James, who was born with a form of paralysis that gave him a limp he would have his whole life, complains that the other apostles are so much more than he is. They are stronger. They are better. When the Lord hears this, he speaks to James very sharply and tells him, “I love you, and don’t ever say that again.” My friend found this very encouraging. Jesus tells little James in this clip, “When you leave this earth and meet your Father in heaven, you will leap like a deer. Isaiah promises that. So hold on a little longer.” We’re so keyed for success in the West, and that includes physical strength and beauty. However, the Lord is really attracted to our weakness because he comes to heal and to supply the strength that lacks in us. I think that what my friend found in that clip was—and it is explicitly said in that clip—that the one who praises and thanks God amid some suffering that doesn’t go away is a much stronger witness to the Lord’s love than someone who receives the miracle they are looking for.
Sr. Kathryn: When we are united at Mass with the Paschal Mystery, the great act of love and salvation worked by Jesus, and then receive him in Holy Communion, and when we spend time in Eucharistic adoration, we believe that Jesus is truly present. He truly sees us. He sees all our grief, all our suffering, all our efforts, all our fatigue. He sees our sorrows and our joys. He sees where we think we’ve failed. He truly comes to be with us. Sometimes, though, we can think that we just aren’t good enough. That we haven’t done enough. That our prayers aren’t worthy of God.
Bishop Mark: I think of the times I am before Jesus during Eucharistic adoration, looking at the host and believing that Jesus is looking back at me. Jesus sees to the very bottom of me. His gaze is healing. His gaze gives life. The presence of Jesus raises the dead to life. I would say, have the courage to bring your whole self to prayer, whatever that looks like for you. Put everything on the table and let the Lord see all of it, insofar as you understand all of it at this time. Remember, Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves. Whatever we put on the table right now isn’t going to be the whole story simply because we don’t even know the whole story about ourselves, but we try. And Jesus accepts us where we are wherever that may be. From precisely that place he calls us to move forward with courage, the way he is calling little James to move forward with courage in that clip from The Chosen.
Sr. Kathryn: We not only have to deal with our own poverty, but we also hold in our hearts concerns and worries over the problems we see in the world today.
Bishop Mark: It is really important to remember that there is a purpose in history, an end, a telos. In the Liturgy of the Word at Sunday Mass, we read throughout the year a reading from the Old Testament. We get a glimpse of this sweep of history that starts with creation. It is clear from these stories that history is going somewhere. It reaches its climax in the death and Resurrection of Jesus. There is a purpose in history. It would be really frightening to go through life thinking that we are here for no reason, or that we have to come up with an explanation for being here rather than believing that we are here because we are willed by God. Each of us is here because we are willed by God. Something happens when a person realizes that they have a part to play in this unfolding of history. “I have a role; I have a job to do. And God will tell me what that role is if I can quiet down long enough to listen to him.” I think when a person discovers this, it’s tremendously exciting.
Sr. Kathryn: The scope of the world’s problems—and the tremendous need for transformation on all levels of our society, that it might become a civilization of love—can be discouraging. We can feel powerless. We can get tired. Could you speak to that?
Bishop Mark: When we live the events of our life and the situations in society “through Jesus, with Jesus, and in Jesus,” we realize that nothing is too big a problem for Jesus who was sacrificed on the Cross for me and for every person in the world. The death of Jesus on the Cross looks like a disaster, but it is actually the prelude to the Resurrection. The Lord redeems that disaster on Easter Sunday. That is what gives us—even with all the turmoil we are experiencing politically and socially—a sense of hope, the surety of hope. We are certain that we can present everything the world is going through to the Lord and offer to him our plans and activity. In this way, we will work “through him, and with him, and in him” to right what is wrong and transform the world we live in. The Night Vigil of Prayer for Life that takes place on the eve of the March for Life in Washington, D.C., is a credo that the love of Jesus is much more powerful than any chaos—interior or exterior—that we can come up with as a race, as human beings.
Sr. Kathryn: Could we say, then, that the Vigil for Life is a night to simply trust in the Lord’s love for the world?
Bishop Mark: Yes. Jesus loves the whole world. He loves its history. He wants to redeem it all. If I can be a part of that, it is tremendously exciting. I think when people catch on to this, they’ll find it compelling. They’ll say, “I want to live my life that way. I want my life to look like that. I’m not just a solitary figure in a random universe. I’m connected, in a zillion different ways, ‘through Jesus, with Jesus, and in Jesus.’ ”