There is so much going on around the world at this time that it can seem overwhelming and beyond comprehension. The horrible Ebola virus in West Africa has the potential of killing thousands of people—at the time of this writing nearly 1000 have already died from this disease—and there does not seem to be a real approach to containing or fighting it other than total isolation which is almost impossible where it is most infectious. Even though the two health workers with the virus seem to be improving now that they are back in Atlanta and have received an experimental drug, that treatment is not available for the many who are infected.
We are still trying to find a humane way of dealing with all the immigrants crossing our southern borders, most of them children. Returning them immediately to their homelands would seem the most obvious choice to many, but that could mean certain death by the drug lords and gangs that roam the streets where they live. Our Congressional representatives cannot find a solution that will satisfy both parties, and now they are on a five-week vacation as well. I am pleased that many cities and municipalities are taking some of them in temporarily, but that is a drop in the bucket compared to those who have come.
And then we have the continuing conflicts between the Israelis and Hamas that is plaguing that part of the world. Despite the fact that several ceasefires have been initiated, none of them have held, at least up to this point. When we witness the destruction of human life—more than a thousand killed so far—and the homes and structures destroyed, we wonder whether peace and reasonable conditions will ever prevail there. Many diplomats and politicians have argued that the only solution is a two-state one, but that possibility appears to have little acceptance where it counts.
Even though all three of these situations I mentioned above have been dominating our news reports, we cannot forget that the Ukraine is another hot spot at this time. Fighting continues in that region of the world and may turn out to be much more serious if Russia decides to use similar tactics in nearby territories. Caution and perseverance is necessary.
However, as important and essential all of the above are for our consideration and prayer, I would like to draw your attention to still another area: the fact that Christians are being persecuted at this time in many parts of the world. This has been in process for some time, but it has been heightened by the advance of a group known as ISIS, which has been powerful in Syria and now in Iraq, two areas where the Church has been present since shortly after Pentecost occurred. In other words, ancient Church structures are being destroyed and Christians forced to flee from the roots of Christian existence.
What is ISIS? It is an unrecognized state and a jihadist group. It claims authority over all Muslims across the world and aspires to bring much of the Muslim-inhabited regions of the world under its direct political control, beginning with nearby territory in the Levant region, which includes Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Cyprus and an area in southern Turkey. The group has been designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the United Nations Security Council and a number of countries, including the United States.
ISIS has a record of brutal violence which is directed at Shia Muslims and Christians in particular. It is estimated that the group numbers about 10,000 who, in addition to attacks on government and military targets, have claimed responsibility for attacks that have killed thousands of civilians. ISIS had close links with al-Qaeda until earlier this year when, after an eight-month power struggle, al-Qaeda cut all ties with the group, reportedly for their brutality.
ISIS’s original aim was to establish a caliphate in the Sunni-majority regions of Iraq. Following its involvement in the Syrian Civil War, this expanded to include controlling Sunni-majority areas of Syria. A caliphate was proclaimed on June 29, 2014, and the group renamed itself the Islamic State. As the group has moved through parts of Iraq and overcome the Iraqi army with little resistance, it has also recovered large number of sophisticated weapons that the United States had equipped the Iraqis with. It is known that some Americans have joined their numbers with the hope of returning to the States to bring the jihad to our shores. Therefore ISIS is not only a severe threat to the Middle East but to the United States as well.
Right now we are focused on getting food and water to the 40,000 or so people who have been forced to flee to the mountains in northern Iraq because they were driven out of their homes and cities since they were a religious sect. They had three choices: stay and convert to Islam, stay and pay exorbitant taxes to the ISIS until they have no funds and then die, or flee as refugees. They chose to leave, but they could take nothing with them. Our humanitarian effort is first to keep them alive and then to find a way of assisting them to return to their homes in freedom. But ISIS has brutally killed many Christians along the way, often beheading them and putting their decapitated bodies on wires strung over the main streets. ISIS will do whatever it takes to meet their goals, and Christians are suffering terribly every day.
Pope Francis has sent a special envoy, Cardinal Fernando Filoni, to Iraq to show his personal concern and solicitude for the Iraqi people. Cardinal Filoni is well acquainted with the situation there since he served as nuncio in Bagdad from 2001-2006. The Bishops of the United States have asked for prayers in all parishes for these persecuted and suffering people on this Sunday, August 17. We will certainly do that here at St. Peter’s, but I urge all of us to pray daily for persecuted Christians not only in Iraq but also in many other parts of the world. The secular press does not always focus on this aspect of world affairs, but it behooves us to become conscious of our brothers and sisters who are losing everything—even their lives—for their faith. At least our constant prayer to God acknowledges the reality that they are truly our brothers and sisters so much in need at this time.
TWENTIETH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Today’s reading from Isaiah comes from what is traditionally called Trito-Isaiah. Written by an anonymous prophet in the line of Isaiah, it addresses the postexilic community back in their homeland. Written with a universal perspective, the text anticipates “foreigners who join themselves to the Lord.” Membership within the community of God’s people is not about bloodlines as much as it is about keeping the commandments and holding “to my covenant.” They are the ones who will be gathered on God’s “holy mountain”—Jew and gentile alike—for God’s house is to be “a house of prayer for all peoples.”
Paul describes himself as “the apostle to the Gentiles” in the letter to the Romans. He sees his mission to them as a way of making “my race jealous,” which will lead to some of them being saved. The conversion of the gentiles, who have “disobeyed God but have now received mercy,” will serve to lead the Jews who have disobeyed to also “receive mercy.” The disobedience of Jew and gentile results in the mercy of God extended to all.
Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite woman finds him in foreign territory, among gentiles. The woman approaches Jesus pleading for help for her daughter, who “is tormented by a demon.” She is persistent in her request, even in the face of Jesus’ preliminary refusal, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she reminds him that “even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” She is not looking to take anything away from the Jews; she is merely looking for help for her daughter. Her perseverance pays off, as Jesus heals her daughter in response to her great faith. God’s grace and mercy are intended for all who seek them.
For Reflection: How does an “us against them” mentality reflect an attitude contrary to Christianity? Who are those who are overlooked today, and how can we as church assist them in experiencing God’s grace and mercy? Do I have to change any ways of thinking and acting in my life after reflecting on Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite woman?
FRIAR PERSONNEL UPDATE
Several people have been asking me whether there will be any changes at St. Peter’s in the near future since they have read in the Catholic New World of transfers of the diocesan clergy in the Archdiocese of Chicago. Probably people who have been coming to St. Peter’s for some time have realized that our Franciscan transfers usually occur during the summer months as well.
I am happy to report that we will be welcoming two new friars soon to our friary. Br. Marc Sheckells, O.F.M. will be joining us soon in order to complete his college degree at DePaul University. He has finished his time of temporary profession as a friar and has spent the month of July doing his 30-day retreat in preparation for solemn profession. Even though Br. Marc will be spending most of his time at DePaul, I’m sure you will see him frequently in church and attending various events at St. Peter’s.
Fr. Robert Karris, O.F.M. has officially been a member of our St. Peter’s Fraternity for a number of years, but he has been living in the friary at St. Bonaventure University in Olean, New York. Fr. Bob is a Scripture scholar and for many years taught Scripture at Catholic Theological Union in Hyde Park. He moved to St. Bonaventure’s in order to teach at the Franciscan Institute there and to do research in their library, mainly translating texts of early Franciscan scholars into English. He has published a number of books on a variety of topics. Now for the past years he has also been a preacher for Food for the Poor, an organization that gathers money for the poor in thirteen countries and helps to provide food and housing for them. He preaches on thirty-six weekends every year for this wonderful agency. While Fr. Bob lives with us, he will continue both his research and translating and his work with Food for the Poor. He will arrive in mid-September.
Please welcome these two wonderful friars to Chicago and to our friar community. We are most pleased to have them join us.
At this time we also say good-bye to two other friars, although neither of them will be leaving permanently. Fr. Ed Shea, O.F.M. has asked for and has received permission for a four-month sabbatical which he will do at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. As you know, Fr. Ed has become fluent in Spanish and has worked in several Hispanic settings. He has a great love for the Latino people. What he intends to do during his four months away is to study the future of Hispanic ministry in the United States. He will sit in on classes taught by renowned professors at Notre Dame and then do selected reading on the topic. He hopes to come back with a renewed vision for the future to share with other ministers in the Hispanic community. He begins his courses this week and will return to St. Peter’s around December 10. Rumor has it that he just might attend the Notre Dame home football games while he is on campus!
Fr. Ken Capalbo, O.F.M. has been with us at St. Peter’s all summer, having returned from Vietnam, where he teaches English and Franciscan history to the seminarians of the Franciscan Province there. He has been doing this for the past five years and has found a renewed energy in assisting these brothers to learn a new language and to also learn more about our Franciscan heritage and spirituality. Prior to becoming a missionary in Vietnam, Fr. Ken served as the Provincial Vicar of our Franciscan Province of the Sacred Heart and before that as a professor of American History for twenty years at Quincy University in Quincy, Illinois. Many of you have experienced his talents as presider, preacher and confessor at St. Peter’s. We will welcome Fr. Ken back among us for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
We wish both Fr. Ed and Fr. Ken many blessings as they move forward. We will miss them, but we know they will bring a marvelous spirit to their endeavors. Our prayers go with you!
THEOLOGY ON TAP IN RETROSPECT
Now that the four weeks of Theology on Tap are over, I want to give you a summary of how successful it was. First of all, thanks to the St. Peter’s Young Adults, who worked so hard to plan and then make the Theology of Tap happen. Secondly, thanks to the four restaurants who prepared our food and then offered it at a discount to us: Caffe Baci, La Bamba, Mac Kelly’s and Maxim’s as well as to a number of individuals who supplemented it with their own goodies. Thirdly, thanks to our four presenters: Claire Noonan, Fr. Ed Shea, O.F.M., Wayne Smith, and Martha and Dave Meus—each of them did a fantastic job.
122 individuals attended over the four week series with a total attendance of 221 people. In other words, quite a few people participated in more than one session. Overall, it was a grand success, and we plan to host another Theology on Tap next summer. Keep these young adults in your thoughts and prayers and encourage them to continue their relationship with Jesus Christ and their involvement in the Catholic Church. We hope you always find a home here at St. Peter’s.
The St. Peter’s Young Adults will resume meeting on Monday evenings from 5:30-7:00 beginning on September 8th. We invite anyone between the ages of 20 and 40 to come and be a part of the group. We hope to see you there.
YEAR OF THE SACRAMENTS
One Word at a Time
Jesus said that we should earnestly try to enter by the narrow gate, the only passageway that leads to salvation. The Sacraments of Initiation—Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist—and most especially Baptism, open the gate of salvation. By joining us in a real relationship with him who is the way, the truth and the life, these sacraments open the path to new and eternal life.
If the forces of sin and death seemed at one time to conspire to hold us bound and even seemed to have the upper hand, we now stand in the wonder of the free children of God. We now have access to healing, forgiveness, and the fullness of life through the sacraments that bring Jesus, the redeemer, and his saving work into our lives. The narrow gate is now the open gate, and this gate is Jesus.
A SUMMERTIME CHUCKLE
One night a police officer was staking out a particularly rowdy bar for possible DUI violations. At closing time, he saw a fellow tumble out of the bar, trip on the curb, and try his keys in five different cars before he found his. Then he sat in the front seat fumbling around with his keys for several minutes. Everyone else left the bar and drove off. Finally he started his engine and began to pull away.
The police officer was waiting for him. He stopped the driver, read him his rights and administered the Breathalyzer test. The results showed a reading of 0.0. The puzzled officer demanded to know how that could be. The driver replied, “Tonight I’m the designated decoy!”