Last week I mentioned that Pope Francis had just released another Apostolic Exhortation, and this time the topic was holiness. He wanted to make sure that we were not expecting a long treatise with definitions and distinctions, nor was it meant to primarily talk about different spiritualities that sometimes are associated with the Franciscans, the Dominicans, the Benedictines, etc. What he really was trying to do in this writing was to help each follower of Jesus find ways of becoming holy in the midst of our real world with all its busyness, its noise, its pressures, and its limitations. For, after all, if we are going to become holy, we must do it day by day, little by little, by the grace of God.
Have you ever heard the hymn Take My Life or also sometimes referenced as Holiness? It’s not a hymn that many of us who grew up totally in a Catholic tradition might have heard or sung, but it is a beautiful hymn that says so much in word and melody. It was written by Scott A. Underwood, and it has been recorded by a number of artists and choruses. The lyrics are as follows:
Holiness, holiness is what I long for,
Holiness is what I need.
Holiness, holiness is what You want for me.
Righteousness, righteousness is what I long for,
Righteousness is what I need.
Righteousness, righteousness is what You want for me.
So, take my heart and mold it,
Take my mind, transform it,
Take my will, conform it,
To Yours, to Yours, oh Lord.
Brokenness, brokenness is what I long for,
Brokenness is what I need,
Brokenness is what You want for me.
Holiness, holiness is what I long for,
Holiness is what I know I need,
Holiness, holiness is what You want for me,
It’s what You want for me, I got to be holy,
It’s what You want for me.
Pope Francis, speaking of holiness and how we see it in various people and all around us, writes the following: “The Letter to the Hebrews presents a number of testimonies that encourage us to ‘run with perseverance the race that is set before us’(12:1). It speaks of Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Gideon and others. Above all, it invites us to realize that ‘a great cloud of witnesses’ (12:1) impels us to advance constantly towards the goal. These witnesses may include our own mothers, grandmothers or other loved ones. Their lives may not always have been perfect, yet even amid their faults and failings, they kept moving forward and proved pleasing to the Lord.
“The saints now in God’s presence preserve their bonds of love and communion with us. The Book of Revelation attests to this when it speaks of the intercession of the martyrs: ‘I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, ‘O sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge?’ (6:9-10). Each of us can say, ‘Surrounded, led and guided by the friends of God, I do not have to carry alone what, in truth, I could never carry alone. All the saints of God are there to protect me, to sustain me, and to carry me.’
“Nor need we think only of those already beatified and canonized. The Holy Spirit bestows holiness in abundance among God’s holy and faithful people, for ‘it has pleased God to make men and women holy and to save them, not as individuals without any bond between them, but rather as a people who might acknowledge him in truth and serve him in holiness.’ In salvation history, the Lord saved one people. We are never completely ourselves unless we belong to a people. That is why no one is saved alone, as an isolated individual. Rather, God draws us to himself, taking into account the complex fabric of interpersonal relationships present in a human community. God wanted to enter into the life and history of a people.
“I like to contemplate the holiness present in the patience of God’s people: in those parents who raise their children with immense love, in those men and women who work hard to support their families, in the sick, in elderly religious who never lose their smile. In their daily perseverance I see the holiness of the Church militant. Very often it is a holiness found in our next door neighbors, those who, living in our midst, reflect God’s presence. We might call them ‘the middle class of holiness.’”
Pope Francis, I am sure, is looking back over the many wonderful people he has met and come to know throughout his ministry as a layman, a priest, a bishop, and now as pope. I know that it is such the case with me. I have lived with a number of holy friars; I have witnessed devoted young people I taught in my early years as a priest; I have had the privilege of working with many individuals in pastoral ministry that have been edifying to me—truly saintly men and women. I have been gifted in the confessional to meet dedicated followers of Jesus who were struggling to make ends meet, who were valiantly overcoming temptations, who were finding out day by day how to apply God’s word in everyday circumstances and thereby coming to know the Lord intimately in the process. Yes, we do not become holy, to become a saint, in isolation but very much surrounded by countless others who raise us up and show us the love of God.
We will let you know as soon as we receive Gaudete et Exsultate in the bookstore so that you can begin reading it (you can also download it from the internet), and we are still working on putting together a series of presentations in the auditorium at midday sometime during the summer. Stay tuned!
FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
Today’s readings continue the previous Sunday’s emphasis on the community of the resurrected Christ—living and life-giving. The First Reading gives us a thumbnail sketch of the illustrious teacher and missionary Paul, who began as Saul, a zealous Jew and persecutor of the Jesus followers, who experienced conversion, was persecuted by fellow Jews, and for some time was viewed warily by Jesus’ disciples. Eventually he became the missionary to the Gentiles.
The reading from the First Letter of John highlights the most important attribute that makes the Church truly alive and authentic—love. But this love is not simply a warm feeling or tender words. Rather, it is love “in deed and in truth.” If we stay grounded in God’s command to believe in his Son and love one another, we remain in him, and he remains in us.
In today’s Gospel, John gives us another metaphor for understanding what it means to be Church—the vineyard, for wine was considered a necessity of life. First-century vineyards were constructed differently from today’s vineyards. They were surrounded by a stone wall to keep animals from trampling the vines, which were allowed to spread along the ground. When the vines were pruned to increase production, the discarded branches were placed on the wall to dry so that they could later be used for fuel. Vineyards also had towers, where the owner and his workers kept watch during harvest time to protect their produce from thieves and marauders. This is the cultural context for understanding the metaphor of the vineyard.
The reading from the First Letter of John recalls the Commandment that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. Gaudium et spes helps us to understand that the neighbor is everyone and that we should not discriminate in giving aid. The document from the Second Vatican Council states, “Today, there is an inescapable duty to make ourselves the neighbor of every individual, without exception, and to take positive steps to help a neighbor whom we encounter” (#27).
After encountering Jesus on the road to Damascus, Saul submitted to God’s will and wasted no time in aligning himself with the Apostles and other disciples and preaching the Good News. He embraced the call of the disciple to bring others to the Lord. Dei verbum notes that the Apostles were left with the mandate to spread word of Jesus’ saving work. “Christ the Lord commanded the apostles to preach the Gospel to everyone as the source of all saving truth and moral law, communicating God’s gift to them” (#7).
Though Saul was blinded by the light that flashed when Jesus appeared, he still did as the Lord said, traveling to Damascus to do what he was told. The Lord’s words lighted his path as stated in Psalm 119:105: “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light for my path.”
For Your Reflection: When has the work of the Holy Spirit defied your expectations? How do we help the community recognize that they are to love “in deed and in truth” as today’s reading from the First Letter of John states? How does the fruit you bear glorify God?
MEMORIAL OF ST. JOSEPH THE WORKER
Tuesday, May 1, 2018
To foster deep devotion to Saint Joseph among Catholics, and in response to the “May Day” celebrations for workers sponsored by Communists, Pope Pius XII instituted the feast of Saint Joseph the Worker in 1955. This feast extends the long relationship between Joseph and the cause of workers in both Catholic faith and devotion. Beginning in the Book of Genesis, the dignity of human work has long been celebrated as a participation in the creative work of God. By work, humankind both fulfills the command found in Genesis to care for the earth (Gn 2:15) and to be productive in their labors. Saint Joseph, the carpenter and foster father of Jesus, is but one example of the holiness of human labor.
Jesus, too, was a carpenter. He learned the trade from Saint Joseph and spent his early adult years working side-by-side in Joseph’s carpentry shop before leaving to pursue his ministry as preacher and healer. In his encyclical Laborem Exercens, Pope John Paul II stated: “The Church considers it her task always to call attention to the dignity and rights of those who work, to condemn situations in which that dignity and those rights are violated, and to help to guide social changes so as to ensure authentic progress by man and society.” The Church has been a beacon of hope and a guide for the relationship between employers and workers through its many instructions on social justice over recent centuries.
Saint Joseph is held up as a model of such work. Pius XII emphasized this when he said, “The spirit flows to you and to all men [and women] from the heart of the God-man, Savior of the world, but certainly, no worker was ever more completely and profoundly penetrated by it than the foster father of Jesus, who lived with Him in closest intimacy and community of family life and work.” This silent saint, who was given the noble task of caring for and watching over the Virgin Mary and Jesus, now cares for and watches over the Church and models for all the dignity of human work.
YOUNG ADULTS AT ST. PETER’S
We invite young adults between the ages of 20-40 to come to the weekly sessions of Saint Peter’s Young Adults on Mondays beginning at 5:30 P.M. with some refreshments and continuing with some input and discussion at 6:00 P.M. Once a month the group meets in the friars’ chapel for Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and reflection on a passage from the Scriptures. Often there is faith sharing and discussion of topics current in the group. Other times there are elements of fun, e.g., an outing in the city such as a baseball game or skating at Millennium Park. Periodically there are also service opportunities at Franciscan Outreach. We promise that each session will conclude by 7:00 P.M. so that you can plan the remainder of your evening according to your needs. Coming to these meetings is a great way to meet new friends and to deepen your Catholic faith. You may stop down to the Saint Clare auditorium at any time; you don’t have to be a member of the group from the very beginning.
It may be that some people are unfamiliar with the fact that we have a priest on call Monday through Friday from 10:30-6:00. What this means is that if you have any reason to talk privately with one of the priests, you may stop at the Front Office and ask the receptionist to do so. He will then get in touch with the friar assigned for that time, invite you to go to the mezzanine via the stairs off the lobby, and the friar will be there shortly. The only time you might have to wait is if someone has just come before you, and the priest is already occupied.
What are some of the things that people might want to see the priest on the mezzanine? Some wish to go to confession face-to-face rather than behind the screen in the confessional. Others have a problem they wish to discuss, and the confessional is not the appropriate place to talk about it. Some might have a theological question, or there might be an issue in their family they want to discuss, or they are having a difficult time due to a death in the family. Sometimes we are asked to fill out a witness form for an upcoming Catholic wedding or to help someone learn a bit more about the annulment process in the archdiocese. At any rate, we want to be of service, and we will try to be there for you if we can possibly help.
A CHUCKLE FOR YOUR PLEASURE
It was John’s turn to drive carpool into town on a day when a new member was travelling along for the first time. As they rode along, he began to be suspicious of his new carpooling passenger.
John checked to see if his wallet was safe in the pocket of his coat that was on the seat between them, but it wasn’t there. He immediately slammed on the brakes, ordered the fellow out, and said, “Hand over the wallet!”
The frightened carpooler handed over a billfold, before John drove off, leaving him alone at the side of the road.
When he arrived home that evening, he started to tell his wife about the experience. Just as he started to recount the whole story, she interrupted him, saying, “Oh, that reminds me, John. Do you know that you left your wallet at home this morning?”