November 24, 2019

“God wants to be in relationship with us,” Trappist Father Paul says to Anne, a central figure in The Abbey, Jesuit Father James Martin’s recently published first novel. A conviction that God cares about Anne or might in some way speak to her has not, however, characterized her life. A car struck and killed Anne’s only child, Jeremiah, three years earlier. Today she is confused not only about how she feels, but how she is “supposed to be feeling.”

 

In a series of conversations, Father Paul eventually encourages Anne to “let God be God, and continue to speak” to her “in whatever ways God wants.” But, the priest adds, “let it be God, not Anne’s God, not your old images of God, but God.”

 

That sounds simple enough—or does it? I am struck by how much Pope Francis speaks of spirituality and our relationship with God in his encyclical Laudato Si’ in this regard. “Christian spirituality, the fruit of 20 centuries of personal and communal experience, has a precious contribution to make to the renewal of humanity,” Pope Francis comments in the encyclical (#216). He makes known that “more than in ideas or concepts,” he is “interested in how such a spirituality can motivate us to a more passionate concern for the protection of our world” (#216).

 

“Spirituality” undoubtedly ranks among the most frequently uttered words in the Christian vocabulary, yet “spirituality” resists precise definition. Christian spirituality, after all, is multifaceted and multidimensional. Moreover, it tends to reflect the unique, concrete circumstances, predicaments and hopes that prevail in the lives of the individuals, families and communities that pursue it. Since these circumstances typically involve complicated situations that are hard to resolve, spirituality can mean wrestling in God’s presence with the big questions of ordinary life. That is what happens with Anne in The Abbey.

 

She did not even know if she believed in God. But Father Paul thought she seemed “drawn to God even if she wasn’t aware of that yet.” The time arrives when he suggests that she “try telling God” how she feels. “Our main work in prayer is simply to be present to God and open ourselves up,” Father Paul explains. “Most of the time, God comes to us through everyday things—like relationships and work and families and friends,” Father Paul says. “But sometimes God comes to us in very personal ways, using things from your life to speak to you.”

 

Father Paul mentions how in the parables Jesus used “birds and seeds and clouds and things that people in his time were familiar with,” turning them “into stories to help them understand God’s love.” Through spirituality, believers quietly but earnestly try to be present to God, to understand and to hear him. They converse with God, whether out of happiness or frustration, dashed hopes or gratitude. In one way or another, spirituality encompasses both listening for God and calling out to God. Spirituality reflects a desire to know God is present, not absent. It expresses a desire to understand him better and to grow as a person.

 

In its quest for God and new ways of living, spirituality can involve personal prayer, reading, reflection, meditation or a focus on developing more virtuous attitudes and habits. However, spirituality is not only a private undertaking pursued alone. Christian spirituality just as often anchors itself in the Church’s communal and sacramental life, where God’s voice may be heard through others whose life journeys have paralleled our own in notable ways. It always seems possible to grow in the spiritual habit of listening for God’s voice in the most unexpected people and places. And as Pope Francis points out in his encyclical, “A sense of deep communion with the rest of nature cannot be real if our hearts lack tenderness, compassion and concern for our fellow human beings” (#91).

 

Still, one place to listen for God’s voice is in the world and the universe surrounding us, the encyclical asserts. In the mind of Pope Francis, this is a spiritual practice. St. Francis of Assisi “invites us to see nature as a magnificent book in which God speaks to us and grants us a glimpse of his infinite beauty and goodness,” the pope remarks (#12). He observes that “if someone has not learned to stop and admire something beautiful, we should not be surprised if he or she treats everything as an object to be used and abused without scruple” (#215). For Pope Francis, “the life of the spirit is not disassociated from the body or from nature or from worldly realities, but lived in and with them, in communion with all that surrounds us” (#216).

 

A prayer at the encyclical’s conclusion raises this petition to God: “Teach us to contemplate you in the beauty of the universe, for all things speak of you” (#246). God is always there for us, nearer than we might think, but we need to try to remove all the clutter that can cloud our minds and souls so that God’s presence and God’s voice has room to be felt and to be heard. Only each one of us can make that choice and to decide how we are going to implement it in our daily lives.

 

OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, KING OF THE UNIVERSE

 

On this final Sunday of the liturgical year, the Church invites us to celebrate the kingship of Jesus Christ. All the readings provide an insight into the true nature of this kingship. The First Reading reminds us that all kingship ultimately comes from God. God promised that the kingdom of David would endure forever. The Gospel accounts proclaim that Jesus is David’s descendant and heir to his kingdom.

 

God’s plan for the salvation of humanity is celebrated in the hymn of today’s Second Reading from Paul’s Letter to the Colossians. God’s Son become man is the image of the invisible God.  God’s plan is to “reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross.”

 

The Gospel illustrates the fulfillment of God’s plan. The irony is that the kingship of Christ is revealed through his cross, not through power and majesty, but in the humiliation of the crucifixion. Today’s Gospel presents a memorable scene where the innocent Jesus is crucified between two criminals. The first criminal mocks Jesus, while the other admits his guilt and recognizes Jesus’ innocence. In what must be the clearest acknowledgment of Jesus’ kingship in the Gospel accounts, the criminal confesses, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus embraces this criminal’s sincerity and faith and promises him, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” To be with Jesus in his kingdom is the destiny for every Christian who confesses with this criminal, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” The death of Jesus on the cross establishes his kingdom and brings salvation to all who call on the name of the Lord.

 

On this Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, we celebrate our Lord, who suffered a humiliating passion and death. His life shows another way to live, another vision of a king. His is the life that Christians emulate. The Constitution on the Church, Lumen gentium, states: “That messianic people has as its head Christ. Its law is the new commandment to love as Christ loved us. Its destiny is the kingdom of God, brought to perfection by him at the end of time when Christ our life will appear and ‘creation itself also will be delivered from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the sons and daughters of God’” (#9).

 

St. Paul speaks with gratitude for the share the Colossians have “in the inheritance of the holy ones in light.” He relates that Christ not only delivered them from the power of darkness but transferred them to the kingdom. Having been delivered from the power of darkness, the Church has a role in spreading news of the faith. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church states: “The goal of salvation, the Kingdom of God embraces all people and is fully realized beyond history, in God. The Church has received ‘the mission of proclaiming and establishing among all peoples the Kingdom of Christ and of God, and she is, on earth, the seed and the beginning of that Kingdom’” (#49).

 

In Jesus, one of the criminals understood that Jesus is the way to the kingdom. Jesus makes that kingdom apparent as he promises the man entrance to paradise. In The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis encourages people to be open to the kingdom in their midst. “Let us believe the Gospel that the kingdom of God is already present in this world and is growing, here and there, and in different ways” (#278).

 

For Your Reflection: How does the way kings are treated relate to the way the Lord is honored? In what ways does your life reflect the peace and reconciliation that Christ the King brought his people? Do you desire to emulate the humility that Jesus shows on the cross?

 

THANKSGIVING DAY

November 28, 2019

 

Believe it or not, Thanksgiving Day is just around the corner. Hopefully you will be joining family members and/or friends to give thanks to God for the many blessings you have received and for a delicious meal to celebrate the holiday. Though many competing claims exist, the most familiar story of the first Thanksgiving took place in Plymouth Colony, in present day Massachusetts, in 1621. More than 200 years later, President Abraham Lincoln declared the final Thursday in November as a national day of thanksgiving. Congress finally made Thanksgiving Day an official national holiday in 1941.

 

What better way to prepare for your family Thanksgiving Day together than to begin by everyone coming to church to celebrate the Eucharist? Our one Mass on Thanksgiving at St. Peter’s will be at 10:00 A.M., with the church opening at 9:00 and then closing at 11:00 so that the friars and the security personnel will be able to get together with their families.

 

CATHOLIC CAMPAIGN FOR HUMAN DEVELOPMENT

 

Please be generous in this week’s special second collection, which supports the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. In the United States, one in six people live in poverty. Through this collection, you support programs that address the causes of poverty and provide a sustainable future for people across the country who struggle. In addition, 25% of the funds we collect will remain in our Archdiocese to fund local antipoverty projects. Please prayerfully consider how you can support this collection and work on the margins. More information about the Catholic Campaign for Human Development can be found at www.usccb.org/cchd/collection.

 

OUR MEAL FOR OUR NEIGHBORS IN NEED

 

We want to thank everyone who helped make this annual “Breaking Bread with Our Neighbors in Need” meal this past Wednesday another great success. Our gratitude goes out to the restaurants in the Loop who donated food, to the many volunteers who came to set up, serve and then clean up afterwards, and to the many individuals behind the scenes who worked many hours to make sure all the details were taken care of. It was so good to see people from so many backgrounds all together in one room to welcome our guests and to make sure that they were treated with dignity and respect. Our hope is that next year again we can host a similar event to help us all celebrate the World Day of the Poor in accordance with the wishes of Pope Francis.

 

THANKS TO THE SECULAR FRANCISCANS

 

We are grateful to the Secular Franciscans of the Br. Jacoba Fraternity, who recently gave the parish a check of $1200.00 which they collected for the combined Bake Sale and the Raffle of a statue of St. Francis. Thanks also to the St. Francis-St. Louis Fraternity for their check of $2000.00 toward our special Appeal.

 

2019 ANNUAL CATHOLIC APPEAL

 

I am happy to report that recently I received a check from the Archdiocese in the amount of $7,566.56 which is the first installment of our parish rebate for monies received over and above our given goal for the Annual Catholic Appeal that was conducted just before Ash Wednesday last spring. I want to thank everyone who donated to the Catholic Appeal for your contribution. If some still have a portion of your pledge to send to the Archdiocese to complete what you have pledged, I encourage you to complete it since the entire amount you still send will be rebated to us when we receive our second check after the first of the year.

 

A CHUCKLE FOR THE FALL

 

A DEA officer stops at a ranch in Montana and talks with an old rancher. He tells the rancher, “I need to inspect your ranch for illegally grown drugs.”

 

The old rancher says, “Okay, but do not go into that field over there,” as he points out the location.

 

The DEA officer verbally explodes, saying, “Mister, I have the authority of the federal government with me.” Reaching into his rear pants pocket, he removes his badge and proudly displays it to the farmer. “See this badge? This badge means I am allowed to go wherever I wish, on any land. No questions asked or answers given. Have I made myself clear? Do you understand?”

 

The old rancher nods politely, apologizes, and goes about his chores.

 

A short time later, the old rancher hears loud screams and sees the DEA officer running for his life, chased close behind by the rancher’s prize bull. With every step, the bull is gaining ground on the officer, and it seems likely that he’ll get “horned” before he reaches safety. The officer is clearly terrified.

 

The old rancher throws down his tools, runs to the fence, and yells at the top of his lungs, “Your badge! Show him your badge!”