April 18, 2021

I am writing these thoughts on Saturday of Easter Week (April 10). There is a feeling of Spring in the air. Trees are budding, daffodils on street dividers, along south Lake Shore drive and many other places are blooming. One of the friars told me this week that he knew that Spring has arrived because he saw a dandelion in the park during his daily walk. We've had some days not requiring a jacket to be outside and there are more and more people and autos on the streets and sidewalks here in the Loop.

The increase in people attending Holy Week and Easter services was a hopeful sign that perhaps we are making progress in being able to continue to decrease restrictions on allowing the doors of St. Peter to be opened a bit more. Though the cases of those who have been infected with the COVID virus seems to be on an upswing again there is encouraging news of the large number of people who have received the vaccine or will be receiving their vaccine shots soon.

We all can do our part in helping defeat COVID by getting the vaccine, continuing to wear a mask and keep a safe distance, especially in gatherings of large numbers of people. If the rate of infections does not dangerously increase and present protocols are eased a bit we will announce soon that we will be adding another Mass to our church schedule. Please continue to keep all those who have suffered with the COVID virus and also all first responders, care givers and workers who daily come in contact with the public in your prayers. And again, wash your hands frequently, get the vaccine when you are able, wear your mask and continue to practice good hygiene.

This Thursday, April 22 is Earth Day around the globe. Last year (April 22, 2020) was the fiftieth Earth Day celebration. In a speech at his General Audience for that day, Pope Francis reflected upon his Encyclical Letter, Laudato Sí, and the need for everyone here on planet earth to have care for our common home. Pope Francis said,

 We are fashioned from the earth, and fruit of the earth sustains our life. But, as the book of Genesis reminds us, we are not simply “earthly”; we also bear within us the breath of life that comes from God (cf. Gen 2:4-7). Thus we live in this common home as one human family in biodiversity with God’s other creatures. As imago Dei, in God’s image, we are called to have care and respect for all creatures, and to offer love and compassion to our brothers and sisters, especially the most vulnerable among us, in imitation of God’s love for us, manifested in his Son Jesus, who became man in order to share our state with us and save us.

Because of our selfishness we have failed in our responsibility to be guardians and stewards of the earth. “We need only take a frank look at the facts to see that our common home is falling into serious disrepair” (ibid., 61). We have polluted it, we have despoiled it, endangering our very lives. For this reason, various international and local movements have sprung up in order to appeal to our consciences. I deeply appreciate these initiatives; still it will be necessary for our children to take to the streets to teach us the obvious: we have no future if we destroy the very environment that sustains us.

In many ways we have not seriously cared for the earth in which we are blessed to live. Believing we have unlimited resources we have too often failed to protect the precious environment in which we live. Though great progress has been made over the years to help prevent pollution and desecration of the land, we still have much work yet to do. The fragile environment of the Amazon rainforest has been marred by wanton cutting down of acres and acres of trees that provide oxygen for the entire planet. The crystal clear water of the Tapajos river has been polluted with dangerous mercury from gold mines. Indigenous people have been chased out of their centuries old places of living and way of life by unscrupulous destroyers of the land in a quest for "quick money."

Members of the Church, lay and religious, have spoken out and continue to work to protect the fragile rain forest of the Amazon region as well as many other areas in various countries. Is such activism worth it? We have only to go for a walk along the Chicago river today to realize pollution can be stopped. Exploited water ways, lands and even the air we breathe can be made healthy again if we commit ourselves to the effort.

As Pope Francis said last year,

How can we restore a harmonious relationship with the earth and with the rest of humanity? A harmonious relationship... We so often lose sight of harmony: harmony is a work of the Holy Spirit. In our common home too, on the earth, and in our relationships with people, with our neighbour, with the poorest, how can we restore this harmony? We need a new way of looking at our common home. For this is not a storehouse of resources for us to exploit.

For us believers, the natural world is the “Gospel of Creation”: it expresses God’s creative power in fashioning human life and bringing the world and all it contains into existence, in order to sustain humanity. As the biblical account of creation concludes: “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Gen 1:31). When we see these natural tragedies that are the earth’s response to our mistreatment, I think: “If I ask the Lord now what he thinks about it, I do not believe he is saying it is a very good thing”. It is we who have ruined the Lord’s work!

In this Easter season of renewal, let us pledge to love and esteem the beautiful gift of the earth, our common home, and to care for all members of our human family. As brothers and sisters, which we are, let us together implore our heavenly Father: “Send forth your Spirit, O Lord, and renew the face of the earth” (Ps 104:30).

As we honor the Earth on this 2021 Earth Day may each of us pledge to do our part to protect what God has blessed us with the precious gift of planet Earth.

While the past few months have seen us focus on the tremendous loss of life due to the COVID pandemic, I also ask that we resolve to pray and work towards ending the senseless violence and killings that are plaguing our city. When a child is riding in a what should be a safe position in the back seat of a car in a child's seat and is shot by gun violence because of "road rage"..... How can any of us not react with anger and call upon God to help us stop such stupid senseless violence! How can we stand by and say we need to protect "my rights" when guns are flooding our streets and have become the "go to means" to solve any conflict with another....no matter how serious or how trivial that conflict might be?

St. Peter's Church is in Vicariate III (of the Archdiocese). Earlier this year Vicariate III began a parish challenge where parishioners can come together (even if virtually) to explore the specific underlying causes of violence within their parish neighborhood.  While there may be several underlying causes, it is hoped that parishioners will choose one or two and then work to devise a practical solution that would address the underlying cause and reduce or eliminate the resulting violence. 

Violence is like a wildfire consuming Chicago and other parts of our nation.  A lack of civility has replaced kindness and respect.  What’s wrong with this picture?  How do we change course and our future? Little by little – together - by raising awareness and teaching/re-teaching people how to be kind - one gesture at a time (but at the same time) and by proactively and with intention helping our neighbors. Let's work individually and together every day to improve our own little corners of the world, and let’s not be afraid to think BIG and do BIG things!  With God, all things are possible.  

I will be sharing more about this initiative called, Our Peace Plan in future bulletins.

Fr. Michael