A book that very early in my life made a deep impression on me was one entitled Saints Are Not Sad written by Frank Sheed (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1949). I don’t know whether this was the case or not, but I think the principal of our school must have told all the Sisters of St. Joseph to use this book because we all were instructed to read it and then we discussed it in our religion classes. At the time I saw the contents primarily as neat stories about some interesting people from the past, but as time went on, I realized that the contents helped to shape me in a particular way that was most conducive to my spirituality. To this day I continue to believe and try to live that Jesus brought the Good News to each of us and that the result should make us a person filled with hope and joy.
Saint Francis de Sales said it best when he remarked that “A sad saint would be a sorry saint.” For years, many biographers of the saints have done them a great disservice by painting them in sad and subdued colors, so that their personalities turn pallid. Some of the saints never managed to easily fit into that mold: the curmudgeonly St. Jerome, the rather bossy St. Catherine of Siena, and the playful St. Philip Neri, but many others became “homogenized” by their well-meaning biographers. The portrait of the perfect saint was someone very quiet, very polite, very pious, very withdrawn, very humorless, and very bland. And, we must admit, this portrait does not offer a very impelling and very attractive model of holiness. The saints are meant to attract us and to inspire us to follow Christ, not to bore us or to think that we could never be “worthy enough” to follow in their footsteps.
Now when I think of the saints, I see that “broad and joyous garden” which St. Catherine of Siena speaks of, full of different varieties of delightful flowers, no two alike. I think of the joy of the martyrs—of St. Lawrence the Deacon, burning on the fiery grill, asking his executioners to “turn me over since I think I’m done on this side.” I think of St. Francis of Assisi, who could walk the valleys around Assisi when they were in full bloom and take two sticks in the form of a violin and play marvelous music. I think of St. Dominic scurrying around the choir admonishing his friars to “Sing strongly, brothers, praising the Lord!” Or then there is St. Therese of Lisieux, who was always putting on skits and dramas for her community. She was also quite a mimic, so much so that one sister lamented her absence at recreation with “Little Therese is not here; there will be no laughter tonight.”
Frank Sheed, in the book cited above, says “Saints are intensely themselves,” or as some say, “Grace perfects and builds on nature.” Our growth in virtue does not destroy or smother our individual personality and character, with our God-given talents and gifts but, rather, perfects them, making us “whole” and holy. The universal call to holiness is just that—universal—for all of us. We are all “Saints-in-the-Making,” called to be who the Lord wants us to be, “devoting ourselves with all our being to the glory of God and the service of our neighbor” (cf. Lumen Gentium, #40).
This brings me to reflect on the person of Pope Francis, who recently celebrated the 5th anniversary of his election as Pope. If there is anyone in this world today whose life day by day is captured on videos and in photos of all kinds, it is our present Pope. And most frequently how do we see him? It seems that he has a perpetual smile, and not one that is forced or fake, but one that radiates his personality and his interior disposition. No doubt sometimes he must be excessively tired, or experiencing the weight of his office, or perhaps depressed over some problem he must try to solve, but still he has a joy that still comes through in these circumstances. In a homily he gave on May 23, 2016, he said, “The identity card of a Christian is their joy, the joy of the Gospel. In the crosses and sufferings of this life, Christians live that joy, expressing it in another way, with the peace that comes from the assurance that Jesus accompanies us, that he is with us.” On in another place (The Joy of the Gospel #85) he writes, “We cannot preach the Gospel if we are ‘sourpusses.’”
We are called to be bearers of God’s own joy. This joy comes to expression in the human face, first of all that of Jesus, but also our own. Francis’ own joy springs from his conviction that the Lord has smiled upon him, and the delight of the Lord in us draws us out of self-preoccupation, liberating us from the sad introversion that suffocates all pleasure in life and love. This liberation from self-centeredness engages with two other themes of Francis’ understanding of joy. First, our greatest joy is in the joy of others. The more we delight in their happiness, the deeper shall be our own. And second, true happiness flourishes when we are freed from enslavement to possessions.
Yes, saints are not sad, and we are all called to become saints by living each day as well as we possibly can, which brings true joy. May we continue generously on this path, especially during this Easter Season!
FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
Today’s readings crackle with the Apostles’ excitement over the new understandings they were experiencing after the resurrection and with their work of creating a new way of life, a community of the resurrected Christ—living and life-giving. In the light of resurrection, Jesus’ words in the Gospel, spoken before the passion, take on new meaning.
The First Reading is part of a lengthy story that began with Peter healing a crippled man near the Jerusalem Temple and then addressing the people who stood around him, amazed at what he had done. As the crowds continued to grow, Peter and John were arrested, and his accusers demanded to know by whose authority they did such a thing. Peter is answering that question in today’s First Reading. His sense of urgency and conviction ring out as he testifies that “there is no salvation through anyone else.” He is, after all, “filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Likewise, in the Second Reading, we can hear a deep sense of community identity. Thanks to the loving gift of the Father, which is his Son, we have become “children of God” both now and in the future, when God (or Christ) is fully revealed and we become like him.
In today’s Gospel, John uses the image of the Good Shepherd to explain what it means to be a faith community. It is about our shared trust in Christ, who put his life on the line to take care of his flock and keep them secure. It is about a flock that can be open and welcoming to others without fear for its safety, because of the one who laid down his life for them.
Today’s Gospel provides an image of the Lord laying down his life for his sheep. In Isaiah, God speaks of his people as a flock that he feeds and lambs that he gathers. John’s account of the Gospel continues the metaphor with Jesus as the Good Shepherd and the Church as the flock. Lumen Gentium (The Constitution on the Church) explains, “The Church is a flock of which God Himself foretold that He would be the shepherd, and whose sheep, although watched over by human shepherds, are nevertheless continuously led and nourished by Christ Himself, the Good Shepherd and Prince of shepherds, who gave His life for the sheep” (#6).
The reading from Acts portrays an unrepentant Peter addressing the leaders and elders who were provoked by the Apostles’ preaching and healing. Peter knew that the followers of Jesus were to continue to do as he had done and care for those who are in need. Lumen gentium describes the Church’s way of life as reaching out to all who suffer. “The Church encompasses with love all who are afflicted with human suffering and in the poor and afflicted sees the image of its poor and suffering Founder. It does all it can to relieve their need” (#8).
For Your Reflection: What place does giving thanks have in your prayer life? Through what merciful acts do we help others come to know God? Do you reserve quiet time for God so that you will know his voice?
WELCOME BACK, FR. KEN
Fr. Ken Capalbo, O.F.M. returned to Chicago and to our Franciscan community this past Wednesday, April 18. After a few days of recuperating from the time change from Vietnam back to the States, he will once again be regularly on staff here at St. Peter’s. We are most pleased to have him here so that we might all benefit from his preaching, celebrating the Eucharist and being available on the mezzanine. Fr. Ken hopes to return to his ministry in Vietnam sometime in August.
GAUDETE ET EXSULTATE
Rejoice and Be Glad!
AN APOSTOLIC EXHORTATION OF POPE FRANCIS
I am pleased and excited to call your attention to the fact that the long-awaited letter of Pope Francis on the topic of holiness was signed on the Feast of St. Joseph, March 19, and officially released on Monday, April 9, after it was translated into a variety of languages. Pope Francis has made it clear that this document is not meant to be a thorough treatise on this subject (he feels there have been other books from the past that have tried to do such), but he wants the present letter to address how each person is called to holiness and must attain this goal in the context of our present circumstances.
We have ordered copies of this Exhortation for our bookstore, and I would strongly suggest that you purchase and read it in the coming weeks. We are hoping to offer a three-part series discussing its contents during midday in the near future, but I would just quote here the first two paragraphs for your consideration.
“‘Rejoice and be glad’” (Mt 5:12), Jesus tells those persecuted or humiliated for his sake. The Lord asks everything of us, and in return he offers us true life, the happiness for which we were created. He wants us to be saints and not to settle for a bland and mediocre existence. The call to holiness is present in various ways from the very first pages of the Bible. We see it expressed in the Lord’s words to Abraham: ‘Walk before me, and be blameless’ (Gn 17:1).
“What follows is not meant to be a treatise on holiness, containing definitions and distinctions helpful for understanding this important subject, or a discussion of the various means of sanctification. My modest goal is to repropose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time, with all its risks, challenges and opportunities. For the Lord has chosen each one of us ‘to be holy and blameless before him in love’ (Eph 1:4)”
SCHOOL TAX CREDITS
In late February, the Empower Illinois Scholarship Granting Organization (SGO) for tax credit scholarships successfully launched its family application process. Since then, the Archdiocese has worked closely with Empower Illinois and other SGOs to ensure that Catholic School families have access to this important program.
To date, empower Illinois has received more than 26,000 scholarship reservations, constituting more than 43,000 students. Empower Illinois is now inviting families to apply for scholarships based upon when their reservation was logged.
We estimate that more than 11,000 reservations have been received by the Big Shoulders SGO. Big Shoulders is already informing families about the status of their applications.
More than $47 million state-wide has been pledged for tax credits (against a cap of $100 million). Most of these funds have been pledged in Cook county and the northern counties of Illinois (including Lake). About $35 million in pledges have been collected. Fundraising efforts are ongoing. It is still too early to know how many of our families will benefit from tax credit scholarships, and which schools they attend. More details will be coming out in the weeks to come.
We continue to maintain an active website dedicated to tax credits, Please see www.school.archchicago.org/tax-credit-scholarships for more information.
A CHUCKLE FOR THE EASTER SEASON
At the Henry Street Hebrew School, Goldplate, the new teacher, finished the day’s lesson, and it was now time for the usual question period.
“Mr. Goldplate,” announced little Joey, “there’s something I can’t figure out.”
“What is that, Joey?” asked Goldplate.
“Well, according to the Bible, the Children of Israel crossed the Red Sea, right?”
“And the Children of Israel beat up the Philistines, right?”
“And the Children of Israel built the Temple, right?”
“Again you are right.”
“And the Children of Israel fought the Egyptians, and the Children of Israel fought the Romans, and the Children of Israel were always doing something important, right?”
“All that is right, too,” agreed Goldplate.” So what is your question?”
“What I want to know is this,” demanded Joey. “What were all the grownups doing?”