For many years Ursuline Academy in Springfield had as its motto Serviam, which is Latin for service (serve). A large part of the Christian formation of the UA students was centered on offering “service” in the church and the community.

Often, in the sacrament of confirmation programs of formation for young adults, one of the important components is completing “service hours.” Often parents (not the youth) would ask if a certain task would be “counted” as falling under the umbrella of “Christian service.”

Sunday, 03 September 2017 11:13

What becoming a person of prayer requires

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Over the past 42 years since I entered the seminary, I have had plenty of occasions for considering what prayer is. I was instructed that a priest is a “man of prayer.” How to become such a person was less clear to me.

I discovered, some years ago, a discussion of prayer which I have found eminently practical. The source was one of the Little Books of the Diocese of Saginaw, Michigan. People in many of the parishes of our diocese are familiar with this series which, perhaps most notably, takes us through the days of Lent and Easter with daily “six-minute meditations.”

You might well imagine that, in the seminary, aspiring priests practice doing things like celebrating Mass and administering sacraments. And in fact, I engaged in such “practices” during my seminary years.

You might also imagine that we carry out these “practices” with great solemnity. My answer: Not always!

People talk a lot about prayer.  But what do we know or understand about prayer?  Do we, as believers, enjoy a sense of confidence about ourselves as praying people?

In the seminary I was warned against saying — as many, apparently, were accustomed — “My work is my prayer.”  The priesthood I was preparing for certainly has its share of “workaholics.”  Indeed, numerous people tend to define themselves by their work. 

Anyone who goes to a synagogue or church might be excused for thinking negatively about Egypt.

After all, it is in the Scriptures that God’s chosen people found their enemy in the Egyptians who had enslaved them. The canticle of Exodus chapter 15, perhaps the most ancient writing in the entire Bible, exults in proclaiming the Lord’s triumph as “horse and chariot are cast into the sea.”

The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Illinois and Wisconsin has been outstanding in its anti-racism work. I was pleased to be able to attend on April 7, a lecture by Jim Wallis at Eureka College (a Disciples institution) on the themes of Wallis’s recent book on racism, America’s Original Sin.

“We don’t wear that around here.” A Muslim woman in Decatur reports that she received this reaction from a woman in the place where both were shopping. The woman was referring to the Muslim hijab or veil.

The Jan. 29 ecumenical event at the Chiara Center in Springfield — a Lutheran-Catholic event intended to begin a series of commemorations of the beginnings, in 1517, of what came to be called the Protestant Reformation — was very well attended, giving evidence that there is great interest locally in addressing the mandate, implicit in the fact that there is one Lord Jesus Christ, that Christians seek the unity which Jesus intends for his people. A planning meeting for further events will be held Thursday, March 2, 7 to 8:30 p.m., at Grace Lutheran Church in downtown Springfield.

Back in November, I let you know that there was some planning going on among Catholics and Lutherans in the Springfield area to commemorate the beginnings of the activity, five hundred years ago in Europe, which led to what is today called “the Protestant Reformation.”

Pope Francis visited Sweden this past Oct. 31 and Nov. 1. He met with Lutheran leaders at a time in which all Christians must be attentive to the sad reality of division among Christians and eager to encourage the unity which Jesus intends.

On Oct. 31, 1517, the Augustinian monk and Scripture professor Martin Luther, of Wittenburg, Germany, sent 95 “theses” or debate topics to the Archbishop of Mainz. He may also have nailed a copy of these theses to a church door. There is no evidence that any debates on these topics actually took place. The date Oct. 31, 1517, is considered the beginning of what is now called the Protestant Reformation, which led to great brokenness within Western Christianity, as many felt compelled to leave the Catholic Church.

Sunday, 02 October 2016 20:53

September reflection, forthcoming event

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September is already in the rear-view mirror; still, I wish to reflect on an event, announced in this column, which occurred in Springfield on Aug. 25.  A large crowd gathered at Westminster Presbyterian Church to hear Dr. Amy-Jill Levine, a professor of New Testament at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, speak about our need to understand better the intertwined yet distinct traditions of Judaism and Christianity.

Numerous people around our diocese are reading Forming Intentional Disciples by Sherry Weddell (Our Sunday Visitor, 2012). We are doing so upon the recommendation of Father Chuck Edwards, who is leading diocesan efforts in stewardship and discipleship.

After his resurrection, Jesus told his disciples: “Go … and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28: 19). The term disciple — learner — is to be preferred to any other description of a Christian. We are not passive recipients of our church’s pastoral care. We are active in our openness to being changed and formed by our union with God and, in particular, by our friendship with God the Son, Jesus, true God and true human, the Word upon which all disciples depend for salvation, identity, and peace.

It was my good fortune, at the end of June, to enjoy a performance by a group which has been in operation for 44 years in our area, but of which until then I had never heard. Encounter, with its headquarters at Main Street United Methodist Church in Alton, presented the musical The Story, a quick overview of salvation history from the time of Abraham and Sarah to the Paschal Mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Sunday, 26 June 2016 10:34

Orlando and the real meaning of identity

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In recent days, we have read and heard plenty of commentary about the mass shooting in Orlando, Fla. We also contemplate the killing of a member of the British Parliament prior to a referendum on whether the United Kingdom should remain part of the European Union.

Swirling around these devastating events are a series of questions about how human beings identify other human beings, and about how we self-identify.

At times, as you read this column, which focuses upon our relationships with people of every religion and no religion, it may seem as if these relationships are “easy.” All we need to do, it seems, is strike up a conversation and discover all the things we have in common with different groups of people, and life is sunny and friendly.

As I’m writing this column, on the evening of Easter Sunday, reports are coming in of a suicide bombing in Lahore, Pakistan. Those claiming responsibility for the bombing have confirmed their timing it to coincide with the most important solemnity of the Christian year.

It was a pleasure to participate, on Saturday, Feb. 13, in some of the education and formation of our diocesan permanent-diaconate class of 2020. This class consists of seven men from around the diocese. The wives of several of them were also present as we took a day, at Villa Maria on Lake Springfield, to survey the challenges of ecumenical and interreligious activity within our diocese.

I have received some comments about my allusion, in the January column, to my personal conversion to Jesus. It seems to me that it is necessary to develop this theme further. The development of the "discipleship and stewardship" way of life certainly demands that we be able to articulate our personal faith.

Our local church of Springfield in Illinois is giving a great gift to the larger Catholic Church in the United States, as Father Peter Harman assumes the post of rector of the Pontifical North American College, Rome, on Feb. 1.

As of Wednesday, Dec. 9, Catholics worldwide have entered the second half-century since the close of the Second Vatican Council. Vatican II gave us a vision of the church, the People of God, in its role of transforming humanity in accord with the gift of Jesus Christ.

"So, are all the religions going to merge?" This was the gist of a couple of questions I have received concerning the Parliament of the World's Religions, held last month in Salt Lake City.

I imagine that such unrealistic expectations are spurred by that word, "parliament," which was first used in 1893. We tend to think of a parliament as a legislative body; therefore, we might imagine delegates of various religions deliberating resolutions which might be adopted by all religions.

As we approach the 50th anniversary of the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council on Dec. 8, I feel as if I may be repeating myself in reviewing some of the documents which are of great importance as we consider our stance as Catholic Christians in the "big small world" we live in today. But as we think of the diversity of our world, and our inclination to think that a "simpler" world society would be better, we must recognize with great pride that our church does, in fact, accept and honor the world as we find it.

Sunday, 20 September 2015 17:07

A column ‘of many things’ on my agenda

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In my July column, I noted an event in St. Louis on the Declaration on Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate, "In Our Age") of the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II).

I am happy to pass along some information on another St. Louis event, this one focusing on this same declaration as well as the same Council's Declaration on Religious Freedom (Dignitatis Humanae, "Human Dignity").

Since Aug. 13, when I read a report in The New York Times, I have felt that I need to write about the horrific abuse of women and girls by the "Islamic State" (perhaps better known to us by the acronym ISIS, for "Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.")

This Dec. 8, it will have been 50 years since the close of the Second Vatican Council, the most important event in the Catholic Church in the 20th century, and very likely for many centuries into the past and future. Nearly all the Catholic bishops of the world, including our own Bishop William A. O'Connor, attended the four sessions of the Council at St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City, from 1962 to 1965.

If Pope Francis's encyclical letter Laudato Si' (Praised Be) had been the only compelling news story of recent days, I would have had plenty to write about.

With tremendous grief, however, we must also turn to the June 17 murders at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.

I've just returned from the National Workshop on Christian Unity, an event I attend every year. The most recent Workshop, held this time in Charlotte, N.C., had a distinctly interreligious emphasis. The interreligious input is always welcome. Most people who are active in ecumenism — that is, work for unity among Christians — also find themselves involved in enhancing relations among people of the various religions of the world.

Resurrection: Every time I come to the Easter celebration, it seems as if this great gift is too great to be appreciated.

All of us experience life as a wearying thing. We work; we expend energy; we feel tired at the end of each day. Our bodies show signs of age, and we are reminded that we are subject to death.

It's time to note one recent event and two upcoming.

First of all, on Sunday, Feb. 8, St. Jude Parish, Rochester, hosted a dialogue session for young Catholics and Muslims, and I was pleased to be an adult guest there. It was a very enjoyable initial session and the young people are looking forward to further opportunities to consider how Islam and Christianity converge and differ. The food was great, too. Thanks to the Muslim adult leaders, and to Dan Frachey and Father Dean Probst of St. Jude.

Pope Francis continues to be an effective communicator to the world. Over this past month, as we have been reflecting upon the terrorist attacks in Paris, we have certainly been moved to re-assert human rights to freedom of expression. Pope Francis, however, brings up a very important point which must be interpreted in light of the goal which must be before all of us: that we must learn how to communicate effectively, and with love, across religious boundaries.

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