September 30, 2018

For all of us associated with St. Peter’s, this is one of the holiest and important weeks of the year since we celebrate the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi on Thursday, October 4. I would like to have sufficient room in this bulletin and the time to write extensively about the life of Francis, but a summary with highlights will have to suffice.

 

Francis was born in 1182 in Assisi, Italy. He received his primary education at the Church of San Giorgio, probably under the guidance of one of the priests. His father was a cloth merchant and often travelled to France to purchase expensive materials which were used to fashion the finest garments for the women of Assisi. It was his father’s love for France that led to this child being named Francis. In his youth Francis tried to learn the merchant’s trade as he worked in the shop, but he knew he was called to something else. He loved to spend time with his friends, to sing and to dance, to compose poems and to absorb the beautiful colors of the landscape throughout the valleys surrounding Assisi.

 

He thought he wanted to become a knight, so he joined the military campaign of Walter of Brienne. He had travelled no further than Spoleto when he was laid low by illness. During his recovery, Francis had a dream that made him wonder if he were meant for a military career. He heard someone ask him, “Is it better to serve the lord or the servant?” “The lord,” he replied. “Then why do you serve the servant?” The questions haunted the young man and initiated an intense, restless search that was characterized by periods of solitude, pilgrimage and experimentation.

 

Later, while he was kneeling before a crucifix in the deteriorating chapel dedicated to St. Damian, he heard a voice say, “Francis, go and repair my house which, as you see, is falling into ruin.” He immediately began going from house to house begging for the materials he would need to rebuild this chapel—and several others as well. As he did so, his friends came out to see what he was doing, and they saw that he seemed happier than ever before. At one point he was attending Mass at the Portiuncula chapel and heard St. Matthew’s Missionary Discourse proclaimed. “This is what I want,” Francis declared. “This is what I desire with my whole heart!” As a result, Francis burst upon the world as a poor, itinerant evangelizer proclaiming a simple message of peace and salvation. He did so in such simplicity and with such energy that he was bound to attract followers, several of whom were his friends in his party days.

 

By 1209 there were twelve brothers. They set off for Rome to receive papal approval for their “form of life.” We do not know what the brothers showed Pope Innocent III, but the sincerity of Francis and his brothers inspired the pope to give them oral approval so that they could live under the protection of the Church without fear of being accused of heresy. So was born the beginning of the Order of Penitents, now known as the Franciscan Order.

 

Finally, with his brothers gathered around him, Francis died at Our Lady of the Portiuncula, the very place where he had first heard the gospel call. It was the evening of October 3, 1226. His body was slowly carried to the city for burial in the Church of San Giorgio (It was later moved to the magnificent basilica built in his honor). Within two years, his friend Cardinal Hugolino, now Pope Gregory IX, canonized him and, in doing so, sang the praises of God whose marvelous deeds are renewed in every age.

 

Please join us for the following special celebrations in the days to come:

 

Today, Sunday, September 30: The Blessing of Animals at 2:00 P.M. in front of church (in the lobby in case of rain): Saint Francis had a great love of all God’s creation since he saw God’s beauty and goodness reflected everywhere. He could walk in the valleys and fields around Assisi and go into ecstasy at what he saw. He loved to spend days and weeks at a time in the quiet of a cave to meditate on how God’s love was manifest in nature. He had a special love of animals (confer the story of the wolf of Gubbio as one example). And he even composed a beautiful poem entitled The Canticle of the Creatures which captures this spirit:

 

Most High, all powerful, good Lord,

            Yours are the praises, the glory, the honor, and all blessing,

To You alone, Most High, do they belong,

            and no one is worthy to mention Your name.

 

Praised be You, my Lord, with all Your creatures,

            especially Sir Brother Sun,

            Who is the day and through whom You give us light.

And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor,

            and bears a likeness of You, Most High One.

 

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,

            in heaven you formed them clear and precious and beautiful.

 

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,

            and through the air, cloudy and serene, and every kind of weather,

            through whom You give sustenance to Your creatures.

 

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water,

            who is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.

 

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire,

            through whom You light the night

            and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.

 

Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Mother Earth,

            who sustains and governs us,

            and who produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

 

Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks

            and serve Him with great humility.

 

We invite you to bring your pet(s) Sunday afternoon to be blessed and to allow us all to praise and thank our God for them and for all of creation. We welcome all animals—dogs, cats, snakes, gerbils, scorpions, fish, etc. In past settings I even blessed goats, sheep, pigs, and horses. The service will not take long, so don’t think your pet will get too distressed. The sounds of their voices will ring out God’s goodness—even shrills and howls.

 

Tuesday, October 2: Father Ed McKenzie will give a presentation entitled “Five Pillars of Franciscan Spirituality” in the St. Clare Auditorium at 12:10. We often hear the term “Franciscan Spirituality,” but we might wonder what that is all about. Over the course of his life Francis learned more and more about Jesus Christ, and he found that these five elements were absolutely foundation in his living out his vocation. They eventually led to what drew more and more brothers to join him and to become what we today know as The Franciscan Order. We hope many people will join us for this wonderful presentation.

 

Wednesday, October 3: At 7:00 P.M. on Wednesday evening we invite you to join us for the traditional Transitus Service, which is always celebrated on the evening before the Feast of Francis. This service recounts the passing of Francis from this life to eternal life. Francis asked his brothers to gather around him and pray as he gave himself back to God. We will gather in the lobby of church and then process inside to hear Brother Elias’ reflection on the life of Francis in his letter to all the friars announcing Francis’ death. We end the service in an attitude of prayer. This simple service is always a moving experience and a reminder of our own future passing from death to life.

 

Thursday, October 4: The Solemn Mass begins at 11:40 A.M. and will continue through the 12:15 Mass time. This is truly a time for all the friars and for the many people who come to St. Peter’s either on weekends or on weekdays for Mass, confessions, for our renewal programs downstairs in the auditorium, to visit our Gift Shop, or to visit with a priest on the mezzanine. In a special way we welcome the Secular Franciscans to join us as part of the Franciscan family. The choir will sing to bring added solemnity to this celebration. We invite you not only to the Mass but also to the reception following in the auditorium.

 

At 5:40 P.M. or shortly after the conclusion of the 5:00 Mass, we will have Solemn Vespers for the Feast of Francis in the church. If you have never come to these Vespers before, we hope you will be able to attend this year. Vespers is the Evening Prayer of the Church, prayed each evening by priests, religious and many laity (and recited each Monday and Wednesday in church at St. Peter’s), but on this feast day everything will be sung, alternating between choir and congregation. In case you have to be concerned about time to get to your train, the service should last about a half hour or so.

 

May the Feast of Francis and all the festivities of this week be spiritually enriching for all our many friends at St. Peter’s!

 

TWENTY-SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

 

God’s work in the world cannot be the exclusive domain of only one group of people. The reading from the Book of Numbers relates that some Israelites wanted Moses to stop outsiders from prophesying. Similarly, the disciples in today’s Gospel ask Jesus to stop an outsider from driving out demons. Both Moses and Jesus, however, welcome the good actions of these outsiders. As Jesus says, “Whoever is not against us is for us!” It is not for us to decide where and how God works. We are called to embrace the good no matter its origin!

 

When evil is perpetrated, however, we must identify it. Speaking like the Old Testament prophets, James condemns the uncaring rich. He does not, however, rail against the wealthy as such. Rather, James condemns those who live in luxury with no thought for the poor; he condemns those who profit at the expense of the poor, those who refuse to pay their laborers, (workers were paid daily, so their families were dependent on that wage).

 

The Gospel reading continues to offer significant wisdom for avoiding the destructive power of sin. Speaking metaphorically, Jesus says that whatever becomes an obstacle to following God’s will must be eliminated—“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off!” And anyone who causes a new, vulnerable Christian to sin deserves the worst punishment. Gehenna, to which Jesus refers, has become for Christians a traditional symbol for hell. The word comes from the Valley of Hinnom outside Jerusalem where the city refuse was thrown and burned. This foul-smelling and smoldering valley became a symbol for a place of punishment for those who do not live according to God’s will. Good and evil are realities in our world. The readings in the liturgy call us to stand united with those who are on the side of goodness.

 

St. James calls on people to act justly, not to make up for their actions with charity. Such injustice cannot be made up with charitable acts, the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church points out. “In her teaching the Church constantly returns to this relationship between charity and justice. The Council Fathers strongly recommended that ‘what is already due in justice is not to be offered as a gift of charity’” (#184).

 

In the Second Reading, St. James chastises people for living in luxury while cheating workers of their wages and ignoring the cries of the poor. The Catechism of the Catholic Church points out that such a way of life is contradictory to the Gospel teaching to love the poor. “Love for the poor is incompatible with immoderate love of riches or their selfish use” (#2445).

 

“Whoever contributes to the development of the human community is also contributing in no small way to the community of the Church” (Gaudium et spes, #44).

 

For Your Reflection: Have you ever dismissed another’s gift because they are not Catholic? When have you realized that a material investment left you at a loss spiritually? Are there habits or patterns that you need to pluck out to live as God would desire?

 

FROM THE WORDS OF POPE PAUL VI

 

Are the faithful united in love, in the charity of Christ? Then certainly this is a living parish, here is the true Church, since then there is a flourishing of that divine and human phenomenon that perpetuates the presence of Christ among us. Or are the faithful together only because they are named in the parish register or recorded in the baptismal lists? Are they together only because they meet on Sundays to hear Mass, without knowing one another, maybe even elbowing one another out of the way? If this is so, the Church in this case does not appear bound together.

 

Remember the solemn words of Christ: they will truly recognize you as my disciples, as authentic faithful followers, if you love one another, if there is this warmth of affection and of feeling, if there is a vibrant sympathy for others—sympathy not merely passively experienced but deliberately willed, not merely spontaneously arising but purposely achieved, with that breath of heart and power of begetting Jesus in the midst that spring from awareness of our unity in him and through him.

 

A CHUCKLE FOR FRANCISCAN WEEK

 

My friend’s husband is always telling her that housekeeping would be a snap if only she would organize her time better. Recently he had a chance to put his theory into practice while his wife was away.

 

When I popped in one evening to see how he was managing, he crowed, “I made a cake and frosted it, washed the kitchen windows, cleaned all the cupboards, scrubbed the kitchen floor, walls and ceiling, and even had a bath.

 

I was about to concede that perhaps he was a better manager than his wife, when he added sheepishly, “When I was making the chocolate frosting, I forgot to turn off the mixer before taking the beaters out of the bowl, so I had to do all the rest.”