Like many of you, I suspect, I have been enamored of Pope Francis almost from the first time I met him when he came out on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica on the day he was elected. We were all awaiting with bated breath to hear who would be the new pope since the white smoke wafted over the Sistine Chapel, and once the name was announced, there was a hushed cry as many said, “Who is it?” Little did we realize in those first moments of the new pontificate that a very different road lay ahead as this Pope began his ministry to the universal Church. We knew, of course, that not everything would be the same since every pope brings his own personality, background and experience to his position, but I can say without any hesitation that this pope—Pope Francis—even to the name he had chosen would be someone very special.
From the moment he chose to ride with the other cardinals in the bus taking them back to the Domus Sanctae Marthae, where they all had been housed during the conclave, to going back to the hotel where he had stayed prior to the beginning of the conclave in order to pay his own bill, to declaring that he would keep his room at the Domus instead of staying in the Apostolic Palace with the array of rooms and people to serve him, and to the open Popemobile instead of the enclosed bulletproof one which Pope Francis described as a “sardine can”—these have been just a few of the innovations of this Pope who has won our hearts and our esteem.
Over this little more than a year that Francis has served as Pope, I have tried to read almost everything I have seen in print that he has spoken: his daily homilies, his homilies for special feasts, interviews he has given journalists, transcripts of his comments to the press on the place returning from the Holy Land, and certainly his Apostolic Exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel,” which we highlighted over five Thursdays in the St. Clare Auditorium in the weeks following Easter. I truly believe his style as well as his content has been edifying and so much to the point of the message our world needs at this time.
The only difficulty has been trying to capture the main themes in the midst of so much material in so short a time. It was for this reason that I welcomed an excellent article in St. Anthony Messenger (July 2014, pp. 16-20) written by Joan McKamey and entitled “Seven Lessons from Pope Francis.” She has done a magnificent job of synthesizing much of what Francis has preached and written, and I would like to take her seven points and then add my own commentary. If you possibly can, I would encourage you to read the entire article; you won’t be disappointed.
Listen (Pray): Pope Francis continues to remind us that only with regular communication can two people become friends. This is true of acquaintances, of future spouses, and certainly between God and us. Each of us must try to develop a daily regimen of prayer that is both practical and possible. Only in doing so can we really come to know Jesus not only as the Son of God but also as a friend and confidant.
Simplify: It is far too easy to accrue all kinds of material things, e.g., too many clothes, shoes, trinkets, etc. Pope Francis has set a great example by where he lives and how he lives. Now is the time for each of us to assess what we truly need and then how we will simplify our lives, paying special attention to the needs of the poor.
Refocus: Many of us live very patterned lives: we have found that a regular routine not only serves us well but also allows us not to get too analytical about how and why we think or act in particular ways. Pope Francis urges us periodically to step back from these patterns and to reflect on what we are called to be in light of the teaching of Jesus. It may very well happen that we have not allowed some aspects of our faith to inform our behavior, our thinking and our values.
Engage: In the midst of our busy lives we may not take sufficient time to “stop and smell the roses.” If truth were told, many of us feel that we do not have enough time to just get done what all we find on our plate, but Pope Francis encourages us to just make use of what is already part of our daily lives rather than necessarily looking for additional ways to engage. He wants us to get to know the real concerns of the people around us rather than being so concerned about ourselves that we neither see the conditions of the poor nor hear their cries.
Embrace: Pope Francis says that we should not be afraid to make our own the situation of people we encounter, no matter their age, illness, financial or human condition. In his words, “We must always consider the person. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy.”
Challenge: To be a true follower of Jesus, Pope Francis says that we must be willing to challenge the status quo when it is called for. He tells us not to be afraid, not to back off because we might be criticized or thought to be foolish. Jesus did not hesitate to address moral issues of his day, and as his disciples neither should we. This demands that we stay abreast of matters of justice and peace, to apply the teachings of Jesus to them, and then to speak out by our words and our actions. Pope Francis helps us by what he says in his daily homilies and in his speeches to various groups, all of which we can hear about by reading our diocesan newspapers, checking the internet, and perusing websites such as ZENIT and the USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops).
Rejoice: One of the very appealing aspects about Pope Francis is his smile; he genuinely seems to enjoy life and people, whether that be at his Wednesday greeting in St. Peter’s piazza, when he travels through the crowds after an audience or when he encounters a child during his papal liturgies, etc. He always seems to give the impression that no matter how much he has to do, he wants to be present to people around him. One of my favorite quotes of his is “One of the more serious temptations which stifles boldness and zeal is a defeatism which turns us into querulous and disillusioned pessimists—sourpusses.” Sourpusses do not easily invite others to come find what we have found in Jesus Christ and the Catholic faith!
Why not try to reflect on these seven qualities or attitudes that Pope Francis holds out to us for reflection and application. They are not particularly difficult; in fact, they are readily available to anyone who just sets out to make them their own. What a different world it would be if every one of us applied them to our lives—we could revolutionize the world!
FOURTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
The words of the prophet Zechariah, written centuries before Christ, are filled with hope as he encourages Israel to look to the future, when Jerusalem will be restored to its true glory as the city of God. At that time all people will come to acknowledge the God of Israel as the God of all the earth. In a verse reflected in the Palm Sunday story, we hear of “your king riding on an ass,” entering Jerusalem amid shouts of joy and gladness. This king will eliminate weapons of warfare and “proclaim peace to the nations.” This hope, long anticipated by Israel, begins to be realized in the person of Jesus, to whom “all things have been handed over.”
Paul reminds us that we have been given a share in “the Spirit of Christ.” This means that we can anticipate victory over death, because “the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies.” We share in the life of the Trinity through our baptism, and God’s spirit dwells in us, guiding us to lead holy lives. Ours is a spirit of adoption, Paul writes in a later verse, allowing us to call God “Abba, Father.”
It is to this Father that Jesus gives thanks and praise in today’s Gospel. His words remind us that knowledge of God is not something acquired by “the wise and the learned” through their own efforts, but something revealed by God “to little ones.” It is our trust in God that leads us to this deeper relationship as we come to know that we are God’s children. Jesus has a unique relationship with “the Father,” a term found five times in today’s reading, and because of that he is able to reveal the Father to us.
For Reflection: In what ways have I come to know God in my own life? Or do I try to find God in all kinds of ways and feel that God is elusive and distant from me? How can Zechariah’s hope be translated into action in today’s world?
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 on 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.
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 the next year which we are beginning this week and 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.
As we begin a year of reflection on the sacraments, we first need to be clear about what we mean. What exactly are the sacraments? How do we understand them? How can we explain them to others?
Sacraments are signs, seven different religious rituals which Jesus has given to his Church. Unlike other signs that just point something out, these sacramental signs bring us in direct contact with Jesus Christ who saves us. Here is another way to express this reality of the sacraments. They hold the mystery of Jesus Christ. The sacraments both contain and bring us close to Jesus Christ, true God and true man, the one who saves us from sin and death, the redeemer who gives us eternal life.
Pope Francis never tires of telling us how God has come close and touched us in Jesus Christ. The sacraments bring us directly into that experience. We are amazed and grateful.
A SUMMERTIME CHUCKLE
Before going to Europe on business, a man drives his Rolls-Royce to a downtown New York City bank and asks for an immediate loan of $5,000. The loan officer, taken aback, requests collateral. “Well, then, here are the keys to my Rolls-Royce,” the man says. The loan officer promptly has the car driven into the bank’s underground parking for safe keeping and gives the man the $5,000.
Two weeks later, the man walks through the bank’s doors and asks to settle up his loan and get his car back. “That will be $5,000 in principal and $15.40 in interest,” the loan officer says. The man writes out a check and starts to walk away. “Wait, sir,” the loan officer says. “You are a millionaire. Why in the world would you need to borrow $5,000?” The man smiles and says, “Where else could I find a safer place to park my Rolls-Royce in Manhattan for two weeks and pay only $15.40?’