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By Peggy Weber
The headlines are frantic and frequent. But they are not about two Mexican priests who were found murdered Monday, just hours after they were kidnapped from the low-income neighborhood where they served in the Gulf coast state of Veracruz.
Few are talking about how the priests were abducted from their church.
Instead, the world seems obsessed to discuss the impending divorce of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
It is sad news for that family, but the press might want to focus more on a more important topic, like the deaths of these two men who were working to help the poor in an area that reportedly is controlled by drug cartels.
They are not alone.
Sister Margaret Held, 68, a member of the School Sisters of St. Francis in Milwaukee, and Sister Paula Merrill, 68, a member of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in Kentucky, were found stabbed to death Aug. 25 in their Durant, Mississippi. They, too, were working to help the poor.
And on Sept. 14, Father Jacques Hamel had his throat slit while celebrating Mass in a church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray near Rouen. He was killed by youths caliming allegiance to the Islamic State. Pope Francis has declared Father Hamel a martyr.
St. Pope John Paul II tried to draw attention to the continuation of Christian/Catholic martyrdom During Jubilee Year 2000, he wrote, “the Church has once again become a Church of martyrs.” He established a Commission on New Martyrs to collect testimonies from around the world. It includes the names of more than thirteen thousand Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant witnesses of the faith.
More and more names are added each day.
Noted reporter John Allen wrote that between 2006 and 2010 “Christians faced some form of discrimination, either de jure or de facto, in a staggering total of 139 nations, which is almost three-quarters of all the countries on earth. According to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts, an average of 100,000 Christians have been killed in what the center calls a ‘situation of witness’ each year for the past decade. That works out to 11 Christians killed somewhere in the world every hour, seven days a week and 365 days a year, for reasons related to their faith.”
If you google the topic “modern Christian martyrs” a staggering number of “hits” appear. One contains a list of hundreds of priests and nuns who have been murdered.
And everyone might think about what it might mean to be a martyr in this day in age. It was reported that the man who stabbed nine people at a Mall in St. Cloud, Minnesota asked one person if he were a Muslim. What would you have answered if you knew your life would be spared? Would you be willing to join the list of martyrs?
The trend is real and something that needs attention – more attention than a Hollywood divorce.
The following is the homily given by Springfield Bishop Emeritus Timothy A. McDonnell at the Chalice of Salvation Mass held at the Big E on Sept. 18.
While there are 50 States in the Union, there are far more than 50 State Fairs for some States have more than one. The most unusual, however, has to be right here at the Eastern States Exposition, the Big E, for it is not simply one State but six that call this
fair their own. All the States of New England (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts) are part of this one hundred year old exhibition and extravaganza. And we come together this Sunday morning here under the tent, and through the wonder of television, to thank God for the blessings of the past 100 years, and to pause in gratitude for all that the Big E is and has been. For it has been a respite from the pressures of everyday life, a chance to get away from the underbelly of shoddiness about which the prophet Amos warns in the first reading or the craftiness of the self-seeker Jesus describes in the Gospel.
The Big E has been a chance for families and individuals to take to heart the call to “come apart and rest awhile.” And while its acreage may be tough on the feet, the Big E has proven to be balm for the spirit over the years.
In 1916 it started, like so many State Fairs, as an agricultural event, a National Dairy Show, and to this day it has stayed true to its roots as a visit to the various farm exhibits will show. But so much more has been added over the years from the regional highlights of the individual State buildings to the Big Name entertainment to the circus, the Mardi Gras, and all the vendors especially those providing those Big E food specialties that can be found nowhere else. I urge you to visit the Young building here on the Exposition grounds for an exhibit on the past one hundred years of the Big E. It’s titled “A Century of Greatness” and, like just about everything here at the Big E, it exceeds expectations.
Think of all that the Big E stands for. It is and always has been an opportunity to rest and relax, to enjoy a family-friendly atmosphere as we try to sample a worthy variety of the hundreds of attractions. We know especially of the food for the stomach, there’s also been food for the soul. For almost half its existence the Big E has arranged for the celebration of Mass every Sunday of its operation. Twice each Sunday, an opportunity is provided so that Catholic exhibitors, volunteers, employees and guests can put God at the heart of their day. And the tradition has arisen that on the first Sunday of the Fair, the Bishop of Springfield celebrates the Mass. Today we’re expanding that tradition and substituting another bishop, yours truly, only because Bishop Rozanski cannot be in three places at once. Don’t tell him, but I’m delighted I got to celebrate this Mass once again.
For, like you, I come to the Big E each year with certain expectations. I expect that there will be great exhibits, delicious food and outstanding attractions. I come with a certain mindset, ready like you to enjoy myself– and each year I find expectations fully met and, more often than not, exceeded.
Today’s gospel is about expectations as well. And it’s about expectations turned upside down. It’s not what we expect of God.
Our picture of God is influenced to some extent by our ordinary way of looking at things and that is why, as we listen to this gospel, we are tempted to react and wonder why Jesus seems to commend the dishonest steward. For the dishonest steward, in order to gain an in with his master’s debtors, changed the IOU’s owed to his master, cheating the master of what he was rightfully due. Jesus tells us to be as astute in the things of God as the steward was in looking out for himself. In other words, the Gospel today really challenges us to ask what it means to call ourselves Christian. God entrusts each of us as stewards of his generosity, with unique gifts, unique opportunities, unique situations. The only request he makes is that we should each do our utmost to share his Good News with others before his return.
Today’s gospel is also a reminder of how we can forget that we have no claim to this world’s goods over and above our brothers and sisters at home or elsewhere. Creation and life itself are God’s gifts, given for all equally. We are entrusted with true wealth. Talents and work opportunities are not entitlements for selfish ends but rather make one responsible for building a better world for all. No matter how small is the contribution we make to our neighbor’s welfare, our neighbor’s welfare is our responsibility as followers of Christ.
Look at the outpouring of support for the victims of the recent flooding in Louisiana, and the killer earthquakes in Italy and Myramar. There was a need; people responded to it. There was no question of who did or didn’t deserve help; there was a heartfelt realization that people were in need. And, so, everything that individuals and communities could do was undertaken. People reached out to help other people.
The point Jesus makes with the parable is that God’s generosity to us is meant to be shown to others if we are truly to serve God. And it is to be shown without stinting, without cutting back, without short-changing the gifts that God has given us that we might use them for love of God and neighbor. Now that gives us pause since realistically we know our generosity is often tempered and not ongoing like that of God. We don’t intend to forget those in need, but our attention span is limited. Being human, we can forget the necessity for ongoing response. Paradoxically, then, I’m going to ask you to remember that we shouldn’t forget. Our generosity, like that of God, needs to be ongoing.
The Gospel is a challenge to be as generous as God is. Before the Almighty we all stand like beggars; we haven’t earned our salvation; Christ died for it. Everything we have is a free gift of God’s love and mercy. We cannot explain his generosity, but one thing is certain – God’s ways are not our ways. Our challenge is to make our ways more like his.
In a real sense, learn from your experience here at the Big E. Enjoy the atmosphere, enjoy the mood, note the way strangers are more at ease with one another, note the friendliness, note the pace of life where people saunter rather than scramble, and carry that lesson with you back to the everyday. For it is a lesson that is truly in keeping with our challenge as Christians: to accept God’s generosity to ourselves and share it with our neighbor.
By Father William Hamilton
Chaplain for the Mass. State Police, Springfield Police Dept., Easthampton Police and Fire Depts., Agawam Fire Dept., and ATF, overseeing the New England Field Division
The morning started out like any other. I was on retreat at Ender’s Island in Mystic, CT. The air was crisp and clean. The smell of the salt water permeated the air and the sky was a brilliant blue with no clouds in sight.
We were celebrating Mass in the Chapel when during the general intercessions, one of the workers came in and informed us that something was happening in New York; they thought a small private plane had hit one of the towers. We immediately prayed for all involved not knowing how serious this event would become.
Upon completing Mass, we were invited into the retreat house to watch the news. It was there that the full scope of reality was laid upon us. As we watched a second plane hit the towers. Not private, they were commercial. At that instant my pager for the Massachusetts State Police went off asking where I was and what my proximity to Headquarters was. I was on my way home now to await further instructions.
Fifteen years ago, we all watched in horror as what we knew of an American way of life, forever changed. Within the span of endless minutes, iconic towers tumbled to the ground planes crashed and the Pentagon attacked. Thousands of lives were lost. A willed and hate- filled event by an ideology that has existed from the beginning of time stole the little innocence we had left. A thought that somehow we cannot coexist together and share what is not ours has prevailed through the adverse actions of a few. However, there are still the masses of good people who would rather use, to the best of our abilities, what is for the common good.
Since that day, the moral fabric decayed, and unprecedented selfishness and entitlement have continued to grow in our land. Hatred abounds, fear is copiously laid upon us and we are frequently reminded that we are no more secure or peaceful now, than we were on that bright September morning 15 years ago.
Fifteen years later, we gather once again, promising to remember and to never forget. The question before us is what are we remembering and what are we not forgetting?
Thousands died that day, who are still mourned and whose seats at the table are still empty. Buildings were destroyed. Planes were crashed. Landscapes changed to burial grounds. But now, they are a fleeting memory as where they once stood are quiet tranquil memorials and new testaments to humankind’s dauntless tenacity to rebuild bigger and stronger.
Sadly, much of our collective memory remembers the horror, the hatred, the clouds of debris, the wailing of sirens and the crushing sounds of torn, twisted and melted steel.
Like the tranquil setting of Memorial Park and the new Trade Tower in New York,, would it not strengthen our resolve to remember that hatred is quenched by mercy, vengeance gives way to forgiveness and peoples of different races, creeds, and cultures can and do join hands in friendship?
Fifteen years later we are compelled by history and a dignity that only few in this world enjoy, to stand for what is right, good and just. Not living in fear or hatred, we strive to build a more fertile world, where all God’s children might live in true harmony and concord. This, like the Memorial Park and the new tower, the field in Pennsylvania and the Pentagon, will be the legacy we leave to our children and our children’s children. That the memory of that fateful day did not cloud our vision, or lower us to a standard that is not ours, but challenged us to rise to an occasion that helped usher in a new world order of peace, justice, equality, mercy, compassion and forgiveness, seeking out the least in our midst and raising them to a new heights of dignity.
Let us pray then today for all victims of violence and terrorism around the world, and for their families, that they may find comfort and peace.
That the Governments and religious institutions may continue to provide care and healing for all, especially those affected by the attacks on September 11, 2001.
That national leaders may work together to address the problems that provide fertile ground for the growth of terrorism, and work together for an end to hatred and revenge and lead us in ways of mutual respect and dignity for all – with the ability to establish the ultimate gift of justice which is mercy.
And so we Pray:
God of faithfulness, we come before you today filled with both sorrow and hope. We are in need of your grace to redirect our hearts. We are in need of the fire of your love to rekindle and sustain our passion for justice. We are in need of your wisdom that we might recognize anew your presence dwelling within us, calling us to live as children of light and hope rather than of darkness and fear.
Be with us in our prayer this day. Help us to truly believe, not only in your abiding presence within and among us, but in the power of our prayer to move mountains.
Receive graciously into your kingdom, our colleagues who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in protecting, serving and preserving our freedoms. Send your comforting spirit upon all who mourn their passing and fill them with the hope of your infinite love. Give them rest from their labors for their good deeds go before them. Give us who remain the assurances of faith and the resolve to continue their legacy in preserving life and true liberty by establishing your kingdom of justice, love and peace here and now, that we may fully experience on the day to come
All this we ask in the name of Jesus our brother, who shares our lives and yours, in the unity of the Spirit, one God, Forever and ever. Amen.
By Sister Constance Veit, l.s.p.
Director of Communications for the Little Sisters of the Poor
Grandparents Day is Sept. 11
For many young Catholics the defining moment of the summer took place in Poland, where Pope Francis joined over a million teens and young adults for World Youth Day. Although we Little Sisters of the Poor spend our lives in the service of the elderly rather than the young, we followed the festivities in Krakow with great interest. For us, the most exciting moment of the event came at the very end, when Pope Francis told young people that the best way to prepare for the next World Youth Day is to spend time talking to their grandparents!
This is not the first time that Pope Francis has spoken to the young about the old. He did so at his first World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro. “At this moment, you young people and you elderly people are condemned to the same destiny: exclusion. Don’t allow yourselves to be excluded … Make yourselves heard; take care of the two ends of the population: the elderly and the young; do not allow yourselves to be excluded and do not allow the elderly to be excluded,” he exclaimed in 2013.
Speaking in Rio on the feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne, the grandparents of Jesus, Pope Francis continued with the same theme: “How important grandparents are for family life, for passing on the human and religious heritage which is so essential for each and every society! How important it is to have intergenerational exchanges and dialogue, especially within the context of the family … Children and the elderly build the future of peoples: children because they lead history forward, the elderly because they transmit the experience and wisdom of their lives. This relationship and this dialogue between generations is a treasure to be preserved and strengthened!”
Echoing these sentiments in Krakow, our Holy Father told the youth that if they want to be hope for the future they must talk to their grandparents because “a young person who cannot remember is not hope for the future.” As Little Sisters, we would like to offer young people some suggestions about how to talk to their grandparents and elders.
First, keep in mind that the elderly are not really very different from you. Although the means of communication and other technologies have changed since they were young, deep down your grandparents probably had interests very similar to your own when they were your age. Ask them about their greatest challenges in school, what they did in their free time, their memories of family life or, for those who are immigrants, what it was like adapting to a new culture.
If you are facing important decisions ask your grandparents’ advice. How did they discern what college to attend, or what career to pursue? How did they know that their future spouse was the right one for them? How did they navigate the ups and downs of married life, raising children and other important relationships? What advice can they offer you about getting a job, finding an apartment, or buying a car?
Ask your grandparents about their joys, accomplishments and even their disappointments and failures. Invite them to share their values, their personal heroes, how they got through the tough times, and the role of faith in their lives. Confide to them your hopes and fears, your dreams and anxieties, and ask them to pray for you – the elderly are powerful intercessors!
Pope Francis seizes every possible opportunity to encourage young people to reach out to their grandparents because, as he says, “they have the wisdom of life and can tell you things that will stir your hearts.” He speaks from personal experience, often referring to the profound influence of his grandmother on his life. “I still carry with me, always, in my breviary, the words my grandmother consigned to me in writing on the day of my priestly ordination,” he confides. “I read them often and they do me good.”
As Little Sisters, we are happy to help youth connect with their grandparents and other elders by offering volunteer opportunities to individuals and groups. We are sure that, like our Holy Father, you will learn lessons that will last a lifetime!
By Peggy Weber
I was blessed at age 27 to attend a press conference with Mother Teresa. You can see me in my mint green dress on the left. I have on a red ribbon and still wear my hair the same way. The photo is from Marquette’s archives and my daughter, Elizabeth, found it.
Soon-to-be St. Teresa was amazing. I recalled the experience in an article for The Catholic Observer in 1985, when she was visiting the Diocese of Springfield.
I still cannot believe I asked her about her retirement plans. But I will always remember her kindness, her eyes and her smile.
Enjoy this article from the archives and enjoy my photos from a day long ago that I remember quite well.
FROM THE CATHOLIC OBSERVER
“Strong, clear, loving blue eyes. That’s what I think of and remember best from my meeting with Mother Teresa of India four years ago.
I was working for the Catholic Herald newspaper in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, when it was announced the famous missionary would visit the Midwest and be given an award from Marquette University. I was assigned to cover the award’s Mass and attend the press conference.
In preparation for the event,, I began reading all about the Yugoslavian girl who joined an Irish order, taught in India and then began her own order which serves the poor and dying. Her work and reputation were so impressive that I was not prepared to see a tiny, frail little woman walk into Mass.
But even in her ‘little way’ she radiated strength. All during Mass, people were taking pictures of her (me too) but she didn’t look around. She was there to pray and communicate with her Master. She did give one big smile though, when two young Indian children were part of the Offertory procession.
Later she admitted that she didn’t like having her picture taken. She said she offered it up for the souls in purgatory. The with a grin she added, ‘I must have helped a lot of souls today.’
When laughter filled those incredible eyes, I thought to myself –now I know what it means to see Christ in another human being. She was magnificent. She was demure, aging and a foreigner, but she was witty, serene and strong. She held firm when reporters hounded her about her pro life stand and she said, ‘abortion is the greatest poverty a nation can experience.’
She showed so much love when she asked her listeners to discover that the poor and dying are somebody, too. She never wavered in her stands on church issues yet she also was so calm and forgiving.
When it was my turn to ask a question I couldn’t think of anything ‘tough’ to ask her. Most of the ‘good stuff’ had been used by the secular reporters but I wanted to speak with her. So I asked her about her future plans for herself and her order. (She was 70-years-old then). I can’t recall her answer exactly, but I do remember that she smiled at me and I looked into her eyes and if at that moment she had asked me to come to India to work I would have said yes. There I was trying to be an objective reporter but she was so impressive. And the beauty in her magnificence is that she doesn’t really think it’s a big deal. After all, she is just doing what God asks of us, to love one another.”