October 19, 2014 click on left end of black bar to play-pause
October 19, 2014
1 Thessalonians 1:1-5b
Fr. George Smiga
Catholic parishes do not choose their patron saint. The patron saint (and therefore the name of the parish) are chosen by the bishop at the time that the parish is founded. In 1980 James Hickey was bishop of Cleveland and he had a long standing devotion to the North American Jesuit Martyrs. So when he founded this parish, he named it after one of them: Noël Chabanel. Now most of you know that the word Noël means Christmas in French. But we as a parish were not named after Christmas. We were named after a Jesuit martyr who was named after Christmas. Each year when we celebrate his feast day, we ask ourselves “What is there in the life of this person that can be useful to us as we follow Jesus?”
Today’s second reading is helpful. Paul says to the Thessalonians that when God called them to faith in Jesus that call did not come only in word but also in power and in the Holy Spirit. That is to say, when God calls us to do something, God does not simply say, “Do this.” God also gives us the power and the strength to live out that call.
This truth is clearly seen in the life of Noël Chabanel. Noël joined the Jesuits when he was seventeen years old. He excelled at academics, especially languages. He loved the arts and his sophisticated French culture. It seemed that he was on course to teach in one of the great Jesuit universities of Europe. But after a short time Noël came to the conclusion that God was calling him to become a missionary in the New World. He assumed that his ability at language would help him learn the language of the Native Americans. He convinced his superiors to let him join a Jesuit missionary team that was working with the Huron Indians around the Great Lakes. Noël soon found out how ill equipped he was for the work. Despite his best efforts he could not learn the native language. Nothing prepared him for the brutality of the Huron culture. He found it impossible to eat and digest the Indian food. His health quickly deteriorated. Noël Chabanel did not have the mindset or the stamina to be a missionary. But he remained convinced that God was calling him to this work. And he believed that if God was calling him, God would provide him with the strength to carry this out his mission. So he continued to teach and to preach among the Huron Indians for the rest of his life.
Our patron, Noël, is a reminder that when God calls us to do something, we can count upon God’s help and strength to live that call out. When God calls us to commit ourselves to someone in marriage, to enter the priesthood or religious life, to live the single life; we should trust and believe that the same God who calls us will empower us so that we can follow that call successfully. When we commit ourselves to our friends, we should believe that God will be with us to make us flexible and adaptive so that those friendships can last. When we take on some important project to help another person—when we decide to adopt a child or care for an aging parent or try to influence change in the neighborhood in which we live—we should trust and believe that God is going to give us the wisdom and the courage to bring that project to completion.
This of course does not mean that we can never change course. Marriages fail. Priests leave the ministry. Friends separate. The best of projects can run aground. And in those circumstances, we may discern that God is calling us to something new. But the presumption is that if God calls us to something, that is where we should stay. So when our spouses become difficult, when our ministry becomes empty, when our friends start to annoy us, we should remember the example of Noël. We should believe that God’s call is not simply a matter of words, but of power. God does not simply say to us, “Go there.” God says, “I will go with you.”