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In my last blog, I mentioned how I had attended the Elms College symposium The Footsteps of Francis earlier in April. During the symposium, Fr. Mark Stelzer mentioned one line that has stayed with me ever since: “Are we answering questions that no one is asking?” He posed this question as a way of looking at the relevancy of our teaching, ministry, and outreach. Aside from my work managing the Annual Catholic Appeal, I also volunteer as a catechist, so this question really changes how I look at CCD/RCIA, because it flips the traditional religious education model to one that is student-centric and question-driven. And if you look at the teaching style of our Pope, you can see why people respond to him: he’s answering the questions people are asking, and going out and meeting them where they are at that moment – physically and spiritually.
Consider one of his comments from last year: “At this time of crisis we cannot be concerned solely with ourselves, withdrawing into loneliness, discouragement and a sense of powerlessness in the face of problems. Please do not withdraw into yourselves! This is a danger: we shut ourselves up in the parish, with our friends, within the movement, with the like-minded… but do you know what happens? When the Church becomes closed, she becomes an ailing Church, she falls ill! That is a danger. . . .A Church closed in on herself is the same, a sick Church.” Last week, my blog focused on the work that Saint Francis and Pope Francis have done to repair God’s house; we have seen that this repair work includes reaching out to our brothers and sisters of different denominations and faiths. Have you seen this cell phone video that Francis made this past January?
And now he recently spent Holy Thursday at the Don Gnocchi Center for elderly and disabled people, washing the feet of 12 people, including a woman and a Muslim. What a beautiful image for all of us to remember from Holy Week: that at the Lord’s Supper, all are invited; and that we are called to serve with love.
I’d like to invite you to come to an upcoming event to learn more about how you can become more involved as a volunteer in our local agencies and parishes. On June 11th, we’re having a Volunteer Fair at the Bishop Marshall Center at St. Michael’s Cathedral from 5-7 p.m. We will have on hand representatives from several of our ACA supported agencies with information about their programs as well as opportunities for folks to find out how and where they can volunteer. Light refreshments will be served. If you’re interested in learning more about this event, please email me at email@example.com or call me at (413) 452.0670.
This past weekend, I was at The Footsteps of Francis, a fantastic symposium hosted at the Elms College. During one of the presentations, the speaker mentioned the vision St. Francis had in 1299 while praying before the cross in the Chapel of San Damiano, where he was told, “Francis, go and repair my house which, as you see, is falling into ruin.” The Chapel had fallen into ruin, and so Francis took these instructions quite literally, and began repairing the roof. And then he proceeded to beg for stones to continue to the repair of the church in obedience of the Lord’s request.
Of course, at the same time, he was changing people’s perception of the Church (with a capital C) and its role in the community. It had been allowed to decay and crumble from neglect. Francis’ efforts not only restored San Damiano, but renewed peoples’ belief in the beauty that exists in servitude to others and the Lord. Sound like another Francis we’ve come to know over the past year? “Francis, go and repair my house which, as you see, is falling into ruin.”
Over the past year, Pope Francis has shown us what this means. He has eschewed palatial apartments for simple guest quarters; he has washed the feet of prisoners; taken “selfies” with the young; embraced the disfigured; walked among the poor; and appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone. In this case, repairing God’s house has meant removing the barriers and letting people hold and touch and be with their Holy Father.
As we approach Holy Week, how can we replicate this in our own lives?
Our spiritual selves- in a recent conversation, someone mentioned how when they pray, they offer their prayers for all of the Blessed Mother’s intentions, knowing that what she has in her heart must be for the best of the universe. That might be a nice way to repair our shared house through prayer!
Our homes and families- Francis (both of them!) has shown us through example that we do not need much to be joyful. As you and your family prepare your home for Easter, consider donating items to local agencies.
Our community and our church- be involved! Make time to volunteer in your parish or a local agency. Not sure what you want to do? Contact me, and we can talk about the opportunities that are available. Call 413 452-0670.
By Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Arizona
In 1958, I was a junior in high school. I attended Quigley Preparatory Seminary, a day high school, where I began discernment to consider if I wanted to be a diocesan priest serving in the Archdiocese of Chicago. That year marked major changes in our local church of Chicago and the universal church.
Cardinal Samuel Stritch, Chicago’s Archbishop, had been called to Rome on March 1, 1958 to serve as Pro-Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith only to die several months later.
Cardinal Albert Meyer was appointed the new Archbishop of Chicago on September 19th. He would play a significant role in the Second Vatican Council especially influencing the Council’s statement on religious liberty.
On October 5th, 1958 Pope Pius XII died and on October 28th after eleven ballots, Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli was chosen Pope at 77, taking the name Pope John XXIII. Unexpectedly, as if by inspiration, on January 25, 1959, with jottings on a piece of paper, he called for the twenty-first Ecumenical Council. It had been 95 years since the first Vatican Council that was called for by Pope Pius IX in 1864.
Needless to say in the mind of a young seminarian, it was a time of excitement and change. A seminarian like any aspirant looks to the elders, the leaders, those responsible, for modeling, inspiration and direction. I found just that in the humble, simple aura of our new Pope.
John XXIII was Pope during my most formative years in the seminary through high school and philosophy. He was like a grandfather, one you admired, one you wanted to be with. He modeled what a seminarian would most want to be, proven in virtue, holy, prayerful, joyful, jovial, caring, loving and approachable. Although adorned in papal regalia, he never lost the simplicity of a sharecropper’s son, one among the people. I felt close to him, admired and respected him as someone who lived what I was trying to learn.
We were given prayer cards of the new Papa Roncalli and I remember looking at his picture, thinking I was sitting with him, chatting together as he told me what being a good priest would entail.
At that time, many kept saying that he was just filling in, a “care taker” Pope. He surprised everyone. He would inspire my generation of priests with a desire to enliven the Church, to make the Church speak to the burning questions of the times. Engagement and dialogue were to be expected of a priest. The one ordained was not to stay in the sanctuary but be out serving in the street, mixing and mingling with his people, leading them into an encounter with Jesus Christ.
When John XXIII called for the Second Vatican Council it was as if the Church awoke from her sleep as we entered an exciting time of new ardor and creative ideas. Pope John challenged the church to think and act anew. There was a sense of breathing fresh air, a state of exuberance. The Church’s patrimony would be dusted off, renovated and renewed.
As seminarians we were being exposed to a wealth of thoughts on theology that took us beyond our textbooks to an engagement with theologians and bishops filling us with insights on liturgy, the meaning of Church, who we were to be as disciples of Christ.
Good Pope John now to be St. John XXIII continues to inspire and prod us to step boldly into the world with the saving message of Jesus Christ. He wanted a Church unafraid to engage new ideas, confident to embrace the world. The Church was not set over and against the world but was to be the breath of the world. John XXIII received the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and as always the Spirit worked wonders in opening the locked door of the upper room, sending out missionary disciples possessed with the Gospel message for all to hear.
I pray that the Church, still beset by challenges as was the Church when Roncalli was chosen Pope, will face these challenges as he did, creatively, confidently, and courageously. A saint is meant to inspire, to make holiness seem attainable, to communicate the joy of knowing Christ. John XXIII for me and for many has done all of that.
St. John XXIII, pray for us.