August 2, 2020

One of the things I like to do is read. I enjoy reading for pleasure a variety of books, especially mysteries, books about history and books on current affairs.  I also try to keep current with books about Franciscan life and our Catholic faith. I developed a love of reading early from my mother. She instilled in us kids a whole world that could be explored through books. I usually share books I have read with my siblings or with other friars when I have finished a book. Though I enjoy watching some TV I much prefer reading a well written book.

 

A book I am reading right now is Overdue: A Dewey Decimal System of Grace by Valerie Schultz. The book is her reflections on being the librarian at a prison in California for a number of years. Valerie and her husband had been involved in their parish for a number of years and were looking for another ministry. Through a mix-up in registering Valerie found out that her husband had signed her up for "Detention Ministry" instead of volunteering for the Parish St. Vincent de Paul group!

 

In her book, Mrs. Schultz, writes of her initial fears of being in charge of a library in a prison that housed murders, addicts, molesters, robbers and other assorted convicts. She writes honestly about her own struggles as she began her ministry but as she noted she came to realize that while these men were in prison, "...they possessed all the quirks and gifts and flaws, the nobility and the sin, that define humanity." She writes of her observations that prisons are for the most part not places of rehabilitation often due to lack of funds, overcrowding, unwillingness to explore alternatives ways of incarceration and consequences for unlawful behaviors and attitudes towards prisons.

 

As librarian she often engaged in discussions with inmates who worked in the library with her and other inmates. One day they were talking about our human life. In reflecting upon that discussion she wrote:

"Through the grace of God, we humans can give life, but we can also end it. It cannot be restored once it is taken from another, no matter how real the killer's remorse. Yet we can become blasé about, and even unaware of the miracle of each lived day of our lives. The incessant bad news can inoculate us against feeling anything about the death that invades and conquers life, through war, through terrorism, through crime, through neglect, through disasters, through accidents, through suicides. We become too numb even to mourn its loss.

 

I thought of these words this week as the news reported on the shooting of 15 people attending a funeral in the Gresham neighborhood. Those shot were at the funeral for a man who himself had been killed in a drive-by shooting days earlier. For we who profess the name of Catholic, this wanton, senseless killing of others is a desecration of our commitment to respecting life. It is a blatant disregard for the sanctity of human life. Having spent the past nine years in St. Louis I am well aware that this increasing disrespect of the value of human life is not just an issue for Chicago, St. Louis or any city or town in our country. It is an issue for all of us who live in this country

 

Politicians, law enforcement, protest marches, efforts to more carefully regulate guns and countless other steps have been taken and yet the shootings, killings and disrespect for others not only continues but seems to be growing. I do not have any answers and I fear a clearer return to respecting all of life will be a long and difficult journey. But as believing people in Jesus we dare not retreat from the struggle. Though the future may be difficult it is not impossible.

 

This past week Representative John Lewis, from Georgia, died. He grew up in the segregated South and at only 23 years of age was invited to speak at the 1963 March on Washington. As an elected official he fought to obtain equal rights for all people, not only in the South but throughout the entire USA. Though arrested for marching for civil rights, beaten and seriously injured in Selma in 1965 he continued to push for the dignity of all people. He will be remembered as "The Conscience of the U.S. House of Representatives."

 

In light of the many difficulties facing our country Representative Lewis offers us hope. In his words are some words of hope for each of us; "If you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to do something about it."  "You cannot be afraid to speak up and speak out for what you believe. You have to have courage, raw courage." And in the midst of what can seem at times without hope Representative Lewis reminded us that, "If you're not hopeful and optimistic, then you just give up. You have to take that long hard look and just believe that if you are consistent you will succeed."

 

So what does all this have to do with us who profess the name of Catholic and follow Jesus? Recall this Sunday's Gospel (Matthew 14:13-21) where a vast crowd had spent the day listening to Jesus and receiving healing in their lives. The disciples were all for sending the crowds away, no doubt tired from dealing with so many people and knowing there seemed to be not be enough food for the hungry crowd. But Jesus has another solution, "There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves." But the disciples pointed out they had hardly enough food for themselves, let alone a vast crowd.

 

So the crowd was assembled to sit on the grass, Jesus blessed the five loaves and two fish and not only did they feed the vast crowd but there was even an abundance of food left over. The point of the story is so often we have the solution to our problems and hunger right within us but we so often only want the problem to "be sent away." While the Gospel story seems to indicate the hunger of the vast crowd was quickly taken care of I am sure it was a lot more complicated than the brief passage from Matthew's Gospel indicates. And the danger when we hear stories such as this is to think "if only Jesus would solve our present day problems everything would be fine.

 

The reality and the long-held belief and teaching of the Church is that God has given us free will. We have been given by God oversight of this planet that we inhabit...the Earth. The responsibility of caring for one another is the responsibility of each of us. Far too often we succumb to selfishness and think and act only for ourselves. What would have happened to the vast crowd that had spent the day listening to the teachings of Jesus if he had told them to go home and find food yourself? But the message of today's Gospel echoes what Jesus tells us in so many other passages of scriptures that we indeed ....."our brothers/sisters keepers." That while the first commandment tells us to love God completely the second command is "to love our neighbor as our self."

 

The pandemic in which we and the rest of the world find ourselves these days is a reminder that our actions and behaviors has consequences not only for our self but for others. As the poet John Donne noted so long ago.... "no man is an island." May each of us who proclaim we are for life show by our actions that we indeed respectful of all God's people and all God's creation.

 

Please note in the bulletin that our St. Peter's Book & Gift Shop is now open also on Saturdays. There is a wide variety of gifts and books available. Elsewhere in today's bulletin you will find more information.

 

And mark the dates of Oct. 9-10, 2020 in your calendar and plan on participating in our virtual Gala event. This annual event is crucial for raising support for the ministry of St. Peter's here in the Loop

Fr. Michael