May 20, 2018
Last week in the bulletin I announced that our Franciscan Province of the Sacred Heart was having an Extraordinary Chapter in Saint Louis from May 29-31, 2018. Having such a chapter in addition to the mandatory Provincial Chapter every three years is really extraordinary and therefore only happens when some urgency or some extremely important decision(s) must be made with the input from the friars at large. Let me put all this in perspective so that you get the big picture of what is being set before us at this time.
No doubt you are well aware that in general vocations to the religious life and priesthood here in the United States have been decreasing for a number of years. When I was a novice in 1958-59, our Franciscan Province had just over 800 friars. My novice class consisted of 25+ clerics (those intending to study for the priesthood) and 10+ lay brothers. When we were ordained in 1966, 18 were ordained for our province. For the past several years we have had no novices, and as you probably know, we have had only one friar ordained over the past three years with hopefully two more later this year. We now have a total of 169 friars in our province.
In quite a few dioceses various means of dealing with a shortage of priests have been in process already. In the Archdiocese of Chicago we have been working through our own process which is called Renew My Church, which Cardinal Cupich reminds us frequently is not primarily for reducing the number of our parishes but rather to have all our parishes become more dynamic, more concerned about the new evangelization, more ready to engage young adults in a meaningful way for involvement in the Church, and for all of us to become missionary disciples. However, this process will most likely also demand a good deal of restructuring of parishes to accomplish these goals.
Just a few weeks ago the Bishop of Pittsburgh announced that, after a three-year period of consultation with the people of that diocese for the purpose of trying to develop a plan of providing religious services in a new way for all the people, they were undertaking a plan that ultimately would reduce the number of parishes from the present 188 to 57 by October 2023. In some cases a new parish may have more than one worship site and several priests and deacons—along with various laity—to staff it, but in each case there would be only one pastor.
A number of religious communities of both men and women have looked at their numbers and have decided to merge in some fashion or another. The Jesuits and Marianists are two groups that I know of, as well as some groups of the Sisters of St. Joseph and the Mercy Sisters. Well, that is what we Friars Minor in the United States are considering as well. For the past three to five years we have been in discussion, and now six of the seven provinces have decided to “bite the bullet” and actually take a vote to see if the majority of the friars in each province are desirous of moving forward with this project.
Therefore each of these six provinces will hold an Extraordinary Chapter at the same time but in six different locations. There will be some preliminary prayer and sharing on Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning, and then on Wednesday afternoon each province gathered in chapter will vote at the exact same hour on the proposal that its province wants to join the six provinces into one. If there is a majority in each of the six provinces, the vote will be forwarded to our General Curia in Rome for approval. If any one of the provinces does not have a majority, the proposal fails, and we will have to assess where we go from there. If the vote is positive in all provinces, then a methodology of how we proceed is already established so that the actual merger will take place in three to five years, or when all the details have been worked out.
This, of course, is a matter of great significance for every friar. As many friars as possible have been encouraged to participate in the Extraordinary Chapter, and only those who are present there are able to cast a vote. Therefore, almost all the friars who live at St. Peter’s will be travelling to Saint Louis for those three days. As a result, while the church will be open at the regular hours on Tuesday-Thursday, May 29-31, 2018, there will be no Masses, no confessions, no mezzanine, and no office hours on those days. People will still be able to come into church to pray, the Gift and Book Shop will be open, the auditorium will still be available for scheduled programs, mail will be received, deliveries can be made, and security will be here. The friars will return on Thursday afternoon, and everything will return to normal beginning with the 6:15 Mass on Friday.
We ask your prayers for us while we are away and also for your understanding of why we will be gone. We value your appreciation for our ministry and for our fraternal life, and we will remember you as well during these days. I cannot help but think that you will be reading this around the Feast of Pentecost when the Apostles and disciples received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and thereby found themselves infused with new life and direction. May that same Holy Spirit come to us similarly as we look to our future also.
Pentecost celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Hebrew word for Spirit is ruah, meaning “breath” or “wind.” Speak the word ruah aloud, and you will hear its meaning. In the opening verse of the Bible the writer uses this image of wind to capture God’s creating power: “When God created the heavens and the earth, a mighty wind was sweeping over the waters” (Genesis 1:1).
When God created the human being, the writer used the image of God “blowing into his nostrils the breath of life” (Genesis 2:7). In a symbolic way, God shows us that life itself is a gift that comes from God. Not only did God bring us into existence, but God also wanted humanity to remain close to God. Humans had more independent schemes—captured in the story of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9). The different languages of humanity became a sign that without God we were unable to communicate perfectly with one another, and strife emerged.
The First Reading describes a noise like a strong driving wind that points to the presence of the Spirit, ruah. That Spirit works through the preaching of the Apostles, enabling everyone to understand the message despite the different languages. Through the Spirit, the human family
is recreated into a new people of God that can communicate and understand each other. The Tower of Babel is reversed!
Today’s Gospel is a passage prior to Christ’s death and Resurrection when Jesus promises to send the Spirit on the disciples to continue God’s communication with them into the future. “The Spirit of truth” will testify to Jesus and will guide us into a deeper understanding of Jesus’ teaching.
The Acts of the Apostles records that, after the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples, they were understood by the peoples of the many languages gathered in Jerusalem. Pope Benedict XVI’s letter to the bishops who gathered at the Fifth General Conference of the Latin America and Caribbean Bishops’ Conference in Brazil in 2007 spoke of the need for the Church to accompany people who travel. In Aparecida, the pope sends the message that the Church needs to reach out, regardless of borders. He states: “The Church must experience itself as a Church without borders, attentive to the growing phenomenon of human mobility in its diverse sectors. It is crucial to develop a mindset and spirituality for the pastoral service of brothers and sisters on the move to facilitate the encounter between the foreigner and the welcoming particular church. Bishops’ Conferences and dioceses must prophetically assume this specific ministry” (#412).
For Your Reflection: Do you pray to the Spirit to guide you? Have you noticed that when you deepen your prayer life, you grow in the fruits of the Spirit, such as patience, kindness, peace, gentleness, generosity, and self-control? How can our parish help you understand the work of the Spirit in the life of the Church?
FEAST OF THE DEDICATION OF THE PAPAL BASILICA OF ST. FRANCIS
Thursday, May 24, 2018
The Papal Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi is the mother church of the Order of Friars Minor—the Franciscans. It is one of the most important places of Christian pilgrimage in Italy. St. Francis of Assisi died in October 1226 and was interred in the church of San Georgio in Assisi. Given the fame of the saint and the attending miracles, Pope Gregory ordered the beatification and the building of a church in his honor. In 1228, work and planning on the basilica complex began. Simone di Pucciarello donated the land for the church, a hill at the west side of Assisi, known as “Hill of Hell” where previously criminals were put to death. Today, this hill is called “Hill of Paradise.”
On July 16, 1228, Francis was canonized by Pope Gregory IX in Assisi, and he laid the foundation stone of the new church the following day, although construction may already have begun. Since the construction was begun at his order, the Pope declared the church to be the property of the papacy and thus a “papal basilica.” The church was designed and supervised by Brother Elias of Cortona, one of the first followers of St. Francis and the former Vicar General of the Order under St. Francis.
The basilica is built into the side of a hill and comprised of two churches known as the Upper Church and the Lower Church, and a crypt where the remains of St. Francis are buried. The whole complex towers over the valley below, giving the impression of a fortress. On Pentecost, May 25, 1230, the uncorrupted body of St. Francis was brought in solemn procession to the Lower Basilica from its temporary burial place in the church of St. George, now the Basilica of Saint Clare of Assisi. In fact, only the casket was processed on Pentecost. The actual body had been transferred several days earlier for fear the zealous people would dismember the body of the saint in their desire for relics or that the people of the rival city of Perugia would attempt to “kidnap” the remains.
The early transfer of the body of Francis caused a controversy with Pope Gregory. The pope excommunicated the citizens of Assisi for moving the relics without Episcopal authority and placed an interdict on the Basilica of Saint Francis, though these punishments were later rescinded. The burial place within the basilica was concealed and secreted for fear that St. Francis’ remains might be stolen and dispersed. In 1818, the burial crypt was discovered and is now accessible from the nave of the lower Basilica. If ever you have a chance to visit the wonderful city of Assisi, be sure to visit this basilica with its magnificent Giotto frescoes in the Upper Church and then go to the crypt and pray before the body of the Poverello.
MAY IS THE MONTH OF MARY
Pope Paul VI, in his encyclical letter on the Month of May, wrote the following: “The month of May is the month which the piety of the faithful has especially dedicated to Our Blessed Lady, and it is the occasion for a moving tribute of faith and love which Catholics in every part of the world pay to the Queen of Heaven. During this month Christians, both in church and in the privacy of their homes, offer up to Mary from their hearts an especially fervent and loving homage of prayer and veneration. In this month, too, the benefits of God’s mercy come down to us from her throne in greater abundance.”
This Christian custom of dedicating the month of May to the Blessed Virgin arose at the end of the 13th century. In this way, the Church was able to Christianize the secular feasts which were wont to take place at that time. In the 16th century, books appeared and fostered this devotion. The practice became especially popular among the members of the Jesuit Order, particularly at their Gesu church in Rome, and from there it spread to the whole Church.
More recently in May of 2002, Pope St. John Paul II wrote, “Today we begin the month dedicated to Our Lady, a favorite of popular devotion. In accord with a long-standing tradition of devotion, parishes and families continue to make the month of May a ‘Marian’ month, celebrating it with many devout liturgical, catechetical and pastoral initiatives.” In these remaining days of May, let us reflect on the person of Mary, our mother, and ask her intercession to lead us more and more to her Son.
It may be that some people are unfamiliar with the fact that we have a priest on call Monday through Friday from 10:30-6:00. What this means is that if you have any reason to talk privately with one of the priests, you may stop at the Front Office and ask the receptionist to do so. He will then get in touch with the friar assigned for that time, invite you to go to the mezzanine via the stairs off the lobby, and the friar will be there shortly. The only time you might have to wait is if someone has just come before you, and the priest is already occupied.
What are some of the things that people might want to see the priest on the mezzanine? Some wish to go to confession face-to-face rather than behind the screen in the confessional. Others have a problem they wish to discuss, and the confessional is not the appropriate place to talk about it. Some might have a theological question, or there might be an issue in their family they want to discuss, or they are having a difficult time due to a death in the family. Sometimes we are asked to fill out a witness form for an upcoming Catholic wedding or to help someone learn a bit more about the annulment process in the archdiocese. At any rate, we want to be of service, and we will try to be there for you if we can possibly help.
A CHUCKLE FOR PENTECOST
A farmer was driving along the road with a load of fertilizer. A little boy, playing in front of his house, saw him and called out, “What have you got in your truck?”
“Fertilizer,” the farmer replied.
“What are you going to do with it?” asked the little boy.
“Put it on strawberries,” answered the farmer.
“You ought to live here with us,” the little boy advised him. “We put sugar and cream on ours.”