The previous two weeks in our church bulletin I wrote about Dorothy Day, one of the people I admire so much about how she tried to put her faith into practice in very concrete ways throughout her life, especially after she became a Catholic. It’s not that she didn’t struggle in this regard from time to time, but she worked through those struggles by prayer and meditation on the Word of God, and I think she became a saint.
Today I’d like to reflect on another contemporary person who in her own way also moved through various phases of her life in relationship with Jesus Christ and with people she encountered in her day-to-day existence. It was through those encounters that she became wedded to the poor and truly a saint. This person is Mother Teresa, now Saint Teresa. She came to be recognized as the face of mercy toward the sick, the dying, the hungry and the unborn. The corporal works of mercy were what she did and her religious order continues to do to the present day.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta brought smiles to the faces of countless individuals. A story she told upon receiving the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize illustrates how much a smile on the face of someone weakened by illness meant to her. One evening, she and several sisters from the community she founded, the Missionaries of Charity, went out and “picked up four people from the street. And one of them was in a most terrible condition.” Mother Teresa asked the sisters with her to “take care of the other three,” saying she would “take care of this one that looked worse.” So she “did for her all that my love can do. I put her in bed, and there was such a beautiful smile on her face. She took hold of my hand, as she said one word only, ‘thank you,’ and she died.”
Then Mother Teresa asked herself what she might have said had she been in the woman’s situation. “I would have tried to draw a little attention to myself. I would have said I am hungry, that I am dying, I am cold, I am in pain or something,” she supposed. But that woman gave me much more—she gave me her grateful love. And she died with a smile on her face,” she commented.
Something similar happened with “a man whom we picked up from the drain, half eaten with worms,” she told her Nobel audience. “We brought him to the home” and he said: “I have lived like an animal in the street, but I am going to die like an angel, loved and cared for.” She added: “It was so wonderful to see the greatness of that man who could speak like that, who could die like that without blaming anybody, without cursing anybody.”
Many who readily acknowledge Mother Teresa as an inviting sign of mercy undoubtedly feel that the situations she encountered among India’s poorest people differ from the situations they confront. But she encouraged everyone to practice the works of mercy in their own circumstances, beginning at home. After all, people who are profoundly ill feel vulnerable no matter where they are. Even those who are encouraged by the long-term prospect of recovery can feel alone in their illness or pain and saddened or even depressed by it.
Mother Teresa grasped this. Her words make clear that she considered it immensely valuable simply to spend time with a sick person, to make oneself available to that person in caring ways. “It is a gift of God to us to be able to share our love with others,” she said in her Nobel lecture. She found Christ “in the smile that we give and in the smile we receive.” She suggested to her audience that there may be someone in their families “who is feeling lonely, who is feeling sick, who is feeling worried.” Sometimes, she observed, people find it difficult “to smile at each other,” but a smile, she believed, “is the beginning of love, and once we begin to love each other, naturally we want to do something.”
The ways of approaching sick and suffering people recommended by Mother Teresa are not reserved to medical personnel. But she did not want all the ordinary ways of caring for the sick, being present to them and expressing love for them to be slighted in importance. For her, quite naturally, the works of mercy were rooted in faith. Her Nobel lecture stressed that “Jesus makes himself the hungry one, the naked one, the homeless one, the sick one, the one in prison, the lonely one, the unwanted one, and he says: You did it to me.”
In his homily at her canonization Mass, Pope Francis spoke about Mother Teresa’s life of service. “Mother Teresa, in all aspects of her life, was a generous dispenser of divine mercy, making herself available for everyone through her welcome and defense of human life, those unborn and those abandoned and discarded. She bowed down before those who were spent, left to die on the side of the road, seeing in them their God-given dignity. She made her voice heard before the powers of this world, so that they might recognize their guilt for the crime of poverty they created.”
He also told the faithful to follow her example and practice compassion. “Mercy was the salt which gave flavor to her work, it was the light which shone in the darkness of the many who no longer had tears to shed for their poverty and suffering. May she be your model of holiness.”
Despite the enormous scale of her charitable activities and the millions of lives she touched, to her dying day she held only the most humble conception of her own achievements. Summing up her life in characteristically self-effacing fashion, Mother Teresa said, “By blood, I am Albanian, by citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus.”
SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Today’s readings provide the insight that our image of God influences how we pray. In the First Reading, Abraham bargains with God over the number of good people needed to save all the inhabitants in the city. God emerges as a kind and patient negotiator.
In Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, God is kind and compassionate. Proclaimed in today’s Second Reading, from that letter, God has “forgiven us all our transgressions; obliterating the bond against us, nailing it to the cross.” God’s forgiveness is total. Both readings contain the foundational dimensions of the Christian image of God as kind, generous, and completely forgiving.
Luke’s Gospel account presents Jesus as a man of prayer. Inspired by Jesus’ example, his disciples in today’s reading ask him to teach them how to pray. In the prayer he gives them (a shortened version of Matthew’s account of the Lord’s Prayer), Jesus deepens their image of God as generous and forgiving. Beginning with “Abba”/”Father,” a small child’s address to a father (“Daddy”), Jesus issues an invitation to approach God with the trust and love a child has for parents. Jesus shows them that prayer is about forming a relationship with God.
As an aside, you might want to check out a book by Fr. Bill Burton, O.F.M., which you can purchase down in our Book and Gift Shop on the lower level of the church. It’s called ABBA Isn’t DADDY and other Biblical Surprises. Here’s what the author says of his book:
The Bible is filled with surprises! By the time you finish reading this book, you
will find this statement to be very true. Here’s another statement: studying the
Bible is itself a fun and entertaining endeavor. Now, you may not be so sure of
this one! In fact, many Catholics are intimidated by Bible study. They shy away
from it, thinking it to be “too hard” or something reserved for experts and
priests. This isn’t so! You really can study the Bible and find it to be an engaging
and fun experience. Stay with me! You will be surprised!
In the rest of the Gospel passage, Jesus continues this intimate relationship between God and God’s children. “What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? How much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” In prayer, God knows his children’s needs better than they know themselves. Prayer will establish the most intimate of relationships between the believer and God through “the Holy Spirit” of love.
In the Gospel we hear Jesus teach his followers how to pray, relating that God answers their prayers. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy explains that Christians must make private prayer a part of their lives as well as prayer with the community. The document states: “The spiritual life, however, is not limited solely to participation in the liturgy. Christians are indeed called to pray in union with each other, but they must also enter into their chamber to pray to the Father in secret; further, according to the teaching of the Apostle, they should pray without ceasing. We learn from the same Apostle that we must always bear about in our body the dying of Jesus, so that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our bodily frame” (#12).
Jesus explains in the Gospel (Luke 11:1-13) that his followers should trust in God and come to him with their needs. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Nothing is equal to prayer; for what is impossible it makes possible, what is difficult, easy. For it is impossible, utterly impossible, for the man who prays eagerly and invokes God ceaselessly ever to sin” (#2744, quoting St. John Chrysostom).
For Your Reflection: What do you need to do to reserve quiet time for daily prayer? When have you persevered in prayer? Does your prayer life reveal the level of trust you have in God?
FEAST OF OUR LADY OF THE ANGELS
THE PORTIUNCULA INDULGENCE
Friday, August 2, 2019, is the Feast of the Portiuncula or Our Lady of the Angels. This name is derived from a little church in Assisi known as St. Mary of the Angels. This chapel, later called the “Little Portion” or Portiuncula, became the “cradle” of the Franciscan Order. It was one of the churches rebuilt by St. Francis when he first began his public ministry.
One night Francis went to this chapel and was graced with a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary, surrounded by a multitude of angels. Then, the Lord spoke and asked Francis to seek some special favor of Him. After pondering this request, Francis asked that a full pardon of their sins would be granted to anyone who visited this little chapel and met the proper conditions. This grace, called a plenary indulgence, can only be obtained from noon on Thursday, August 1, until midnight on Friday, August 2.
The conditions for gaining this indulgence, either for oneself or for a deceased loved one, include going to confession and Holy Communion within a period of eight days before or after this feast. In addition, one must pray the Our Father as well as the Creed for the Holy Father’s intentions, and pray some additional prayer, e.g., the Peace Prayer of St. Francis, while in church. This plenary indulgence was later extended to include any Franciscan church throughout the world. We invite you, therefore, to visit St. Peter’s during the times specified above. The church will be open as usual on Thursday and Friday from 5:30 A.M. until 7:00 P.M.
To celebrate this feast in a special way, we will have a Festive Mass at 12:15. Please join us if at all possible.
FRANCISCAN CHAPTER OF MATS
Going back all the way to the time of Saint Francis, we Franciscans periodically enjoy what is called a “Chapter of Mats.” It received this name because the friars would come from all over a region and bring a backpack and a mat to sleep on, and they would meet in an open area to share their lives together and to get to know each other in a casual manner. This type of gathering was not to legislate or to have all kinds of presentations but rather to socialize and to pray together.
This type of gathering has been continued from time to time down through the ages right up to the present. Our Franciscan Province of the Sacred Heart has held such a chapter occasionally throughout our history. Now that six of the seven OFM Provinces are working toward merging in the future, we are having a Chapter of Mats for all six provinces in Denver this week (July 29-August 2). We are expecting that close to 400 friars from these six provinces will gather to socialize, to pray, and to get to know each other over those five days. We hope it will turn out to be a significant time in moving the merger process forward.
Eight friars from St. Peter’s will be attending this Chapter of Mats. We do not anticipate that our regular ministry schedule will be greatly affected while they are gone, but it may happen that some unforeseen things occur which will necessitate a small reduction. We ask for your understanding, your patience, and your prayers during this week.
A SUMMERTIME CHUCKLE
A preacher dies, and when he gets to heaven, he sees a New York cab driver who has more crowns than he does. He says to an angel, “I don’t get it. I devoted my whole life to my congregation.”
The angel says, “We reward results. Did your congregation always pay attention when you gave a sermon?”
The preacher replied, “Once in a while someone fell asleep.”
The angel answered, “Right. And when people rode in this guy’s taxi, they not only stayed awake; they usually prayed!”