Several weeks ago in this bulletin I wrote about the missionary evening we had at our provincial chapter and how much I appreciated hearing of the good work our missionary brothers were doing in various parts of the world. I also mentioned that I intended to tell you all a little more of what we discussed during our five days of the chapter. The time has come for “the little more.”
Back in the early 1960s our Franciscan Province of the Sacred Heart numbered just over 800 members. We had large numbers of vocations—both clerics and brothers. When I was ordained in 1966, there were twenty-one in the ordination class, eighteen of whom were for our province. We were opening several new high schools and taking on new parishes. We had a flourishing retreat ministry and Mission Band. We had friars who were chaplains of hospitals, motherhouses, jails, nursing homes and the military. We were spread out in the Midwest from Nebraska to Ohio and from Minnesota to Texas. It was a booming time which seemed to offer much hope and excitement for the future.
However, now just fifty years later we are 212 members of the province. Our average age has risen from under forty to almost seventy. This year we now have no novices, two friars making solemn profession and one friar being ordained. We have turned the vast number of our parishes back to the care of dioceses, our high schools are administered and staffed by primarily wonderful lay folks, our retreat houses are gone and our preaching ministry is done by individual friars rather than a team. Geographically we have constricted our places of ministry, but we have tried to maintain as many as possible for the sake of diversity and culture.
All of this could be cause for great anxiety and even fear and despair, but that is not the road we want to travel. We want to be realistic, yes, but also hopeful, joyful and as energetic as possible. Much of our time together in St. Louis was spent trying to look at our present picture and then projecting out in the years to come to plan as best we can with the personnel we have and the finances that are available. We want to be absolutely open to the direction of the Holy Spirit and to the needs of the Church as we read the signs of the times. We are aware that any planning must take into consideration to aging population of the province while remaining open to new initiatives that might surface. And we are keenly conscious of having to do it all within the parameters of our Franciscan Rule and charism.
We had approximately 150 friars at this chapter meeting, so you can just imagine the variety of opinions and strategies that would be present in the room as we grappled with this issue. What was very evident was that each friar felt welcome to speak, that friars were very carefully listening when others were speaking, and that we all tried to come to some consensus about the general direction we wanted to take. What did we decide? We determined that we did not want to restrict our presence only to the St. Louis-Chicago corridor; rather, we saw the importance of keeping greater distances available as long as the ministry was viable and fraternal life was maintained.
The corridor proposal would have demanded that we leave many of our present locations but would have encouraged better interaction on a regular basis. Now with Facebook, Twitter, e-mails, and the Province Newsletter we think we can still communicate sufficiently even if we are perhaps a thousand miles apart. We also indicated to the provincial administration that we are open to new ministries as long as they fit the criteria we agreed upon at the chapter. The details of how this will unfold will be left up to them and will be regularly reviewed at regional meetings over the next three years. What is certainly apparent is that we (and hopefully you) will continue to pray for vocations to our Franciscan way of life as well as all of us friars encouraging suitable candidates to consider religious life and priesthood as a possible option for their lives.
The second major issue of business was discussing our Franciscan presence in the United States. The Order of Friars Minor (Franciscans) for many years have had seven provinces in the U.S.: two on the East Coast, three in the Midwest, and two in the West. All seven provinces have been experiencing smaller numbers and therefore, like many other religious communities, we are discussing how we can best serve the Church under these new circumstances. Some religious communities have decided to have the entire country as one province. That is one option for us also, but some friars would more like to see either two or three provinces rather than one that geographically took in such a vast territory. Over the next three years all the friars in each of the provinces will be evaluating these options in preparation for a decision in 2017 if we feel we are ready to vote. This issue is a monumental one for us, and again we ask your prayers.
FIFTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Rain in the Bible is a sign of God’s blessing. The Israelites were dependent on the weather for survival. There is no river that waters the country like the Nile does in Egypt. The Jordan is below sea level and is not an adequate source of water. They depend more on the rain. Isaiah speaks of the efficacy of God’s word in today’s reading. Using the image of rain, which waters “the earth, making it fertile and fruitful,” he tells us that God’s word will achieve “the end for which I sent it.”
Agriculture was very much a part of Jesus’ world, and images of sowing and reaping are often found in his teaching. In today’s parable—found in all three synoptic Gospels (see also Mk 4:1-20, Lk 8:4-15)—Jesus compares God’s reign to the act of a sower sowing seed. Although the same type of seed is planted in various locations, only some of it produces a harvest. Frequently called “The Parable of the Sower,” the emphasis of the parable, based on Jesus’ own interpretation, is on the various types of ground where the seed is sown. He challenges us to hear the word and understand it, producing a good harvest. We must be open to receiving the word and allowing it to take root in our lives.
Paul’s letter to the Romans uses another familiar image, that of an expectant mother: “All creation is groaning in labor pains.” History continues to unfold, and the followers of Jesus endure suffering. But this suffering is temporary, for just as a seed sprouts to new life, so too we will one day experience “the redemption of our bodies,” when God’s reign is fully realized.
For Reflection: How does my life benefit from the gift of God’s word? Is there something in the “soil” of my life that needs to be changed before I can bear an abundant harvest? Does this parable resonate with me in terms of how my spiritual life in relation to Jesus has been growing?
THEOLOGY ON TAP
Those of you who have been coming to St. Peter’s for at least several years are no doubt aware that we have welcomed being part of the Theology on Tap series sponsored by the Ministry for Young Adults of the Archdiocese of Chicago. We have been pleased not only to host this program but also pleased with the participation of so many individuals who have come for the program in the past.
The St. Peter’s Young Adults (SPYA) is now delighted to announce that once again this year we will be hosting Theology on Tap. These sessions will take place on four consecutive Monday evenings beginning tomorrow, July 14, and continuing until August 4. The Theology on Tap will begin at 5:30 and will run until approximately 7:00 P.M. Refreshments and snacks will also be served. This program is designed primarily for adults 20-40 years of age, but you are welcome even if you are a bit older. This year the schedule is as follows:
July 14: Dr. Claire Noonan, Vice President of Mission and Ministry at Dominican University, will speak on “Finding God in the Everyday” and then will invite the group to experience this type of prayer.
July 21: Fr. Ed Shea, O.F.M., a friar here at St. Peter’s, will speak on the topic “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.” He will offer some reflections on the blessings of reconciliation inside and outside the confessional.
July 28: Mr. Wayne Smith, a layman in the Archdiocese of Chicago, will speak on “Mercy—From Blindness to Sight,” sharing his faith journey and inviting us to look at our own.
August 4: Dave and Martha Meus, a young , Catholic married couple, will speak on “Living the New Evangelization,” in which they will help us to understand and then live this call to be Gospel people in the world.
For those who are interested, our St. Peter’s Young Adults meets every Monday evening from 5:30-7:00 P.M. except on holidays and on the final three weeks of August. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to call Fr. Ed Shea at 773-892-4134.
Here at St. Peter’s we have always been fortunate to have many men and women volunteer to serve as lectors, acolytes and Communion Ministers at both our weekday and weekend liturgies. In fact, if it were not for these dedicated people, we would not be able to have the well planned and well done worship services that we do day in and day out. We are well aware that many of these individuals go to a great deal of sacrifice in order to make their assignments, especially those who minister at the early weekday liturgies.
From time to time we invite new people to join the ranks of those who already have volunteered, been trained, and now regularly are on our monthly roster. Sometimes work schedules have changed, or someone has been transferred from a downtown location to one in the suburbs. At other times, work-related issues have caused families to move from Chicago to another city. Some people have retired and now no longer get down to the Loop as they formerly did.
We are always looking for new individuals to take their places as these things occur. You don’t have to be a perfect Catholic in order to minister in these positions; often people tell us that they have come to an entirely new appreciation of the Eucharist and their spiritual lives as a result of serving at the altar. We will train you to become a reader, an acolyte or a Communion Minister, and we will try to accommodate your personal schedule and availability. Always remember the proverb, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained!”
Therefore, I am asking you to consider joining us at the altar in some capacity. We are particularly in need of individuals for the 8:15 A.M. weekday liturgy and for any of the weekend liturgies. If you would like more information or if you are ready to volunteer, please call Mr. James Kapellas at 312-853-2418, and he will assist you. Thank you for considering this invitation and request.
THE YEAR OF THE SACRAMENTS
Anyone who has been reading our parish bulletin for the past several years is aware that we have been publishing a feature called “One Word at a Time,” sent to all the parishes in the Archdiocese of Chicago in conjunction with the Strategic Plan developed as a means of bringing aspects of the New Evangelization down to the parish level. It has been a good way of offering very practical ways of applying the teaching on an individual and family level.
You might remember that July 2011-2012 was called The Year of Teens and Young Adults. It focused on ways younger Catholics could get involved in their parishes and schools and to live their faith in that context. July 2012-2013 was called The Year of the Sunday Mass, and it was a time that hopefully all people could learn a bit more about the Sunday Eucharist and how to worship in a more meaningful way. July 2013-2014 which we have just completed was called The Year of Strong Catholic Parents, and it concentrated on how important parents are to form their children in the Catholic faith and how they can help them form good values and approaches in their lives.
That brings us to this year which will run from July 2014-2015 and is called The Year of the Sacraments. This year will focus primarily on the sacraments of Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick, Marriage and Holy Orders. It will rely on many of the teachings of Pope Francis in his daily homilies and in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, or in English The Joy of the Gospel. The sacraments are at the heart of us developing a continuing relationship with Jesus Christ and thereby growing in our love for God in order to live a good life on this earth and to prepare for life with God for all eternity. I hope you will look forward to these “One Word at a Time” segments in each weekly bulletin and that you will be able to benefit from what you read and reflect upon each week.
We know that sacraments bring us in contact with Jesus and his saving mysteries, but how exactly does that happen? First, we must be clear that there is nothing automatic or mechanical about the sacraments. The sacraments, for example, are never imposed on us. In fact, the opposite is true. We can only celebrate and receive the sacraments with a free and loving act of faith.
At the end of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus commissions his disciples to go into the whole world and proclaim the good news. Then he adds, “The one who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mk 16:16). From the very words of Jesus, we know the absolutely close link between faith and sacraments. Believers, people who have accepted the word of Jesus Christ proclaimed in the Church as true and who rely on that word, are the ones who celebrate and receive the sacraments. Then, in faith, the gifts and the graces of the sacraments take hold and change the lives of believers.
A SUMMERTIME CHUCKLE
St. Peter is questioning three married couples to see if they qualify for admittance to heaven. “Why do you deserve to pass the Pearly Gates?” he asks one of the men, who had been a butler. “I was a good father,” he answers. “Yes, but you were a drunk all your life. In fact, you were so bad that you even married a woman named Sherry. No admittance.”
St. Peter then turned to the next man, a carpenter, and asked him the same question. The carpenter replied that he had worked hard and taken good care of his family. But St. Peter also rejected him, pointing out that he had been an impossible glutton, so much so that he married a woman named BonBon.
At this point, the third man, who had been a lawyer, stood up and said, “Come on, Penny, let’s get out of here!”