Monday, October 17, 2011

"Permanent and Burning Enthusiasm"

Tonight we kick off the celebration of the 125th anniversary of the Dedication of the present Immaculate Conception Church in Downtown Knoxville, TN, with a Parish Mission preached by one of the Paulist Fathers' renowned misison preachers.
Parish Missions have been an important part of Paulist ministry from the very beginning – in fact from before the beginning. In the 18th century, St. Alphonsus Liguori (1896-1787) founded the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (Redemptorists) with an emphasis on preaching missions to revitalize religious practice. From 1726 to 1752, St. Alphonsus personally preached missions throughout the region of Naples for the greater part of each year giving missions even in the smallest villages. A special feature of his method was the return of the missionaries, after an interval of some months to consolidate their work by what was called the "renewal of a mission." As a young Redemptorist priest, Isaac Hecker was sent back to the US in 1851 as part of a new English-speaking, Redemptorist mission band. The missionaries conducted 14 parish missions their first season. The first - at St. Joseph’s in Greenwich Village in New York City – was the first-ever English language mission in the United States. Seven years later, the newly founded Paulist Fathers pledged “to carry on the missions in the spirit of St. Alphonsus.”
Parish missions were intended as a type of parish renewal experience, which sought to elevate the spiritual life of the faithful and reconcile back to the sacraments those who had lapsed or become alienated – and thus contribute to what Hecker, in a letter to Orestes Brownson, called “a higher tone of Catholic life in our country.” One consequence of that, Hecker believed, would be to make the Church more attractive to non-Catholics. “The Catholic faith alone,” Hecker wrote to Brownson in 1851, “is capable of giving to people a true permanent and burning enthusiasm fraught with the greatest of deeds. But to enkindle this in others we must be possessed of it first ourselves.”

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