We at St. Peter’s want to congratulate our Archbishop Blasé Cupich on being elevated to the rank of Cardinal at the recent consistory in Rome on Saturday, November 19. Pope Francis has honored Archbishop Cupich and also all of us in the Archdiocese by this appointment. Obviously the Pope has a great deal of confidence in the leadership of this shepherd both at the local, national and universal levels. We have concluded the same over these past two years that we have come to know him since he arrived from Spokane in November 2014. I am convinced that his appointment to this new position in the Church is not merely because he heads one of the largest sees in North America but primarily because of the way he exercises his role as a bishop in light of the qualities Pope Francis has outlined.
We realize that this new role will demand that he travel to Rome more often than in the past. Cardinals are expected to serve as some of the closest advisors to the Pope both on a personal level and by their appointment to various committees within the curial structure of the Church. Archbishop Cupich comes to this task bringing a broad background of education, experience and success in his assignments prior to being named a cardinal. Assuming he maintains good health, he also has many years of future service since he is now only 66 years of age.
Pope Francis emphasized in his homily at the consistory that he wanted these new Cardinals to be pastors of the people rather than purely administrators. He told them that he hoped they would be good leaders in three ways: sometimes in the forefront of their people by offering vision and planning; sometimes in the midst of their people so that they would get to know the situations of their flock firsthand, and sometimes at the back of their people when they drag their leader along on paths that need to be addressed. In particular, the Pope asked the new Cardinals to do all they can to bring peace to their communities by working with civil authorities to reduce violence and crime, to help everyone build bridges rather than walls, and to avoid falling into the divisions that result from operating out of ideologies rather than by seeking to work together for unity and the common good. Certainly Cardinal Cupich will be able to help us all apply the message of Pope Francis in our city of Chicago.
One of the ways we all can cooperate with Cardinal Cupich is by learning more about the Renew My Church initiative in the Archdiocese and by becoming involved in the process to the extent possible. We will be hearing more about this endeavor in the weeks and months to come, but the main purpose is to help all our parishes to become revitalized: to change what needs to be changed and to create new directions that will serve the needs of the people as well as offering outreaches to young adults, new families with small children, new approaches to make the faith come alive at all levels, and to help everyone understand what being missionary disciples is all about. As we look to the future, we have much to do and exciting paths to walk.
SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT
Universal peace will take hold when the shoot sprouts from Jesse’s stump. On that day, animals that usually prey upon one another will exist in harmony. Babies and children will play among creatures that naturally would cause harm. We hear in Isaiah’s prophecy an announcement of Emmanuel’s coming. On him, the Lord’s spirit will rest. He will judge with justice. On the day of his coming, peace will reign on the holy mountain. The glory of God will compel everyone—Gentiles, too—to come and celebrate the advent of the Lord.
The Responsorial Psalm taken from Psalm 22 carries forward the theme of justice and peace from the First Reading. In the royal psalm, the psalmist prays that God bestow on the Israelite king divine judgment so that his decisions and actions universally bless all people. The poor and lowly the king shall not leave behind, but save.
We move ahead two chapters in Paul’s Letter to the Romans for today’s Second Reading. Saint Paul’s words remind the Romans that the teachings of the Scriptures provide encouragement and the strength to endure as a Christian community awaiting the return of the Lord. Like the Romans, we are to unite our minds in praise of the God of Jesus Christ. As we prepare to welcome Christ anew at Christmas, we are to welcome one another—neighbors and strangers alike—as Christ continuously welcomes us.
Many in our assembly will claim some familiarity with John the Baptist. Some will know he preached repentance as he proclaimed that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand. Others will remember that John knew that one greater and mightier than he was coming after him and would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. Through the consistency of his preaching and actions, Jesus would reiterate John’s message to the Pharisees and Sadducees to “produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.” Such is the Gospel message for us on this day: let the Scriptures and words and songs and prayers that fill our assembly on this Second Sunday of Advent take root in our lives through actions of forgiveness and repentance.
Humility appears as a theme in both the Prayer over the Offerings and the Prayer after Communion. Our prayers and offerings are “humble” because we lack our own “merits” to approach God in prayer. As such, we ask the Lord to come and save us with his mercy. In the Prayer after Communion, we “humbly” call upon the Lord to school us in how to make wise decisions about earthly things and hold tight to what is heaven’s. Wisdom also appears as a focus in the Collect as we pray that what we learn of heaven’s wisdom will allow us to share in the company of God’s Son.
THE FEAST OF THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION
This year the Feast of the Immaculate Conception falls on Thursday, December 8th. It is one of the holydays that is always considered a holyday of obligation, no matter what day it falls on, primarily because it is the patronal feast of the Church in the United States. Here at St. Peter’s on Wednesday evening, December 7, we will offer a vigil Mass that will fulfill your obligation at 5:00 P.M. On Thursday, December 8, we will celebrate twelve Masses, namely, 6:00, 6:45, 7:30, 8:15, 9:00, 10:00, 11:15, 12:15 (with choir), 1:15, 4:30, 5:15, and 6:00. On this holyday we will only hear confessions between 2:00-5:00. Please plan ahead now so that you will be able to participate in one of these Masses. You might also want to invite some of your friends and co-workers to join you for the celebration.
The Feast of the Immaculate Conception is the subject of many misconceptions. Perhaps the most common one, held even by many Catholics, is that it celebrates the conception of Jesus in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. That the feast occurs only 17 days before Christmas should make that error obvious. We celebrate another feast—the Annunciation of the Lord—on March 25, exactly nine months before Christmas. It was at the Annunciation, when the Blessed Mother humbly accepted the honor bestowed on her by God and announced by the angel Gabriel, that the conception of Christ took place.
The Feast of the Immaculate Conception, in its oldest form, goes back to the seventh century, when churches in the East began celebrating the Feast of the Conception of Saint Anne, the mother of Mary. In other words, this feast celebrates the conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the womb of St. Anne. However, that original feast does not have the same understanding of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception has in the Catholic Church today. The feast arrived in the West probably no earlier than the 11th century, and at that time it began to be tied with a developing theological controversy: both the Eastern and the Western Church maintained that Mary was free from sin throughout her life, but there were different understandings of what this meant.
Because of the doctrine of Original Sin, some in the West began to believe that Mary could not have been sinless unless she had been saved from Original Sin at the moment of her conception, thus making her conception immaculate. Others, including St. Thomas Aquinas, argued that Mary could not have been redeemed if she had not been subject to sin, at least to Original Sin. The answer to St. Thomas Aquinas’ objection, as Blessed John Duns Scotus showed, was that God had sanctified Mary at the moment of her conception in His foreknowledge that the Blessed Virgin would consent to bear Christ. In other words, she too had been redeemed; her redemption had simply been accomplished at the moment of her conception rather than, as with all other Christians, in Baptism.
On December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX officially declared the Immaculate Conception a dogma of the Church, which means that all Catholics are bound to accept it as true. As the Pope wrote in the Apostolic Constitution, “We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.”
RETIREMENT FUND FOR RELIGIOUS
The annual Retirement Fund for Religious collection will be held next weekend, December 10-11, in parishes throughout the United States. Now in its 29th year, the collection is coordinated by the National Religious Retirement Office (NRRO) and benefits over 35,000 senior Catholic sisters, brothers, and religious order priests. The bishops of the United States initiated this collection in 1998 to address the significant lack of retirement funding among U.S. religious communities. Proceeds are distributed to eligible communities to help underwrite retirement and health-care expenses. Since the collection began, Catholics have contributed $785 million, with over 95 percent of those donations going directly to support senior religious and their communities.
Last year’s appeal raised $28.3 million and enabled the NRRO to distribute $25 million to 395 religious communities across the country. Communities utilize these funds to bolster retirement savings and to subsidize such day-to-day expenses as prescription medications and nursing care. Our own Franciscan Province of the Sacred Heart received $246,668.50 from these funds. The NRRO also allocated nearly $4.3 million to assist religious communities with the greatest needs and to promote ongoing education in retirement and elder-care delivery. Our province also received a grant from this category as well.
Despite the generosity of people to this collection, numerous religious communities struggle to provide adequate care. In the past, religious men and women often served in ministry for small stipends that did not include retirement benefits. Their sacrifices now leave their religious communities without adequate savings for retirement. The average annual Social Security benefit for a religious is $6312.00—roughly one-third the amount received by the average beneficiary in the United States. Of the 590 communities submitting data to the NRRO in 2014, only 8 percent were fully funded for retirement.
The rising cost of care compounds funding difficulties. Last year, the average annual cost of care for senior religious was over $41,000 per person, while skilled care averaged more than $57,000. The total cost of care for senior men and women religious was over $1.1 billion in 2015 alone. At the same time, the number of religious needing care is on the rise. In 2015, 68 percent of the religious communities providing data to the NRRO had a median age of 70 or older. Accompanying the higher median age is a decrease in the number of religious able to serve in compensated ministry. By 2023, the NRRO projects the retired religious will outnumber wage-earning religious by four to one.
Please come prepared next weekend to make a generous contribution to this Retirement Fund Collection for Religious.
A GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY
Congress has revived a law that allows you to make charitable donations directly from your regular IRA during your lifetime, which might provide older people with some significant tax advantages. The “IRA charitable rollover” was discontinued at the end of 2014, but Congress has now resurrected it, made it permanent, and also made it retroactive to the beginning of 2015.
If you are over the age of 70 and a half, you are required to take minimum distributions each year from your IRA, and you have to pay income tax on those distributions. But the “charitable rollover” law lets you transfer assets from your IRA to a charity, and whatever amount you transfer reduces the amount you are required to withdraw. So if you are required to withdraw $20,000 in 2016 but you instead donate $20,000 to charity, you do not have to withdraw any funds for yourself, and you do not pay any income tax.
To qualify, you must contact the plan custodian and have the custodian transfer the assets directly to the charity. If the custodian sends you the funds and then you give them to the charity, you will have to pay income tax on the distribution. You can donate up to $100,000 to charity each year from an IRA. A married couple can donate up to $100,000 each, as long as each spouse contributes from his or her separate account.
As the end of the current year comes closer and you begin to think of charitable donations before December 31, I would ask you to consider the above and Saint Peter’s as a recipient. This could certainly benefit us, and you would benefit as well. God bless you for your continuing support of Saint Peter’s ministry.
A CHUCKLE FOR ADVENT
King Ozymandias of Assyria was running low on cash after years of war with the Hittites. His last great possession was the Star of the Euphrates, the most valuable diamond in the ancient world. Desperate, he went to Croesus, the pawnbroker, to ask for a loan.
Croesus said, “I’ll give you 100,000 dinars for it.”
“But I paid a million dinars for it,” the King protested. “Don’t you know who I am? I am the king!”
Croesus replied, “When you wish to pawn a Star, makes no difference who you are!”