My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
“Conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Phil 1:27a). This exhortation from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians provides sage advice as we observe Respect Life Month throughout the month of October.
What does it mean to conduct yourself in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ? I would suggest that the best way to do so would be to follow the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love. These virtues are called theological, or divine, because they unite us to God. Virtues are good habits that order our daily lives to God.
As an example of how to do this, I would like to highlight the grace-filled life of a couple married 75 years ago on Sept. 11, 1948. This couple that I hold up as a model for a pro-life marriage were my parents, John H. Paprocki, Jr., and Veronica Mary Bonat.
My father was a man of faith. He sought to follow the vocation that God had in mind for him, thinking initially that he was being called to the priesthood. After five years in the minor seminary at Quigley Preparatory Seminary in Chicago and one year in the major seminary at St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, he discerned that he was not called to the priesthood. Instead, he met my mother, they married and had nine children, of which I am the third. Dad also practiced his faith devoutly and made sure that he passed that faith along to his children by what we were taught at home, by going to church, and by attending Catholic schools.
My father was a man of hope. I am sure there were times he wondered how he would be able to provide for nine children, but placing his trust in God, we always had what we needed in terms of a good home, sufficient clothing, Catholic education, and plenty of food for all of us.
My father was a man of love. St. Thomas Aquinas says that the virtue of love is willing the good of the other. Of course, the greatest good is to go to heaven when we die. Good spouses help each other get to heaven and they help show the way for their children to get to heaven. That is what Dad and Mom did for us.
My mother was also a woman of faith. Her parents were Catholic and had Mom’s older brother and sister baptized, but they never had their two younger children baptized. So, when my mother was 13 years old and her younger brother was 9, they went on their own initiative to the church to ask to be baptized. My mother is a wonderful example of being an intentional Catholic. She did not just happen to be raised Catholic as a matter of social or cultural expectation, but sought to become Christian of her own volition. With my dad, she passed on that faith to her children as well.
My mother was a woman of hope. The virtue of hope is not naïve optimism pretending that all is sweetness and light. I am sure there were times when Mom was exasperated with raising nine children, but she always trusted in God that all would turn out well in the end.
Mom was a woman of love. I never saw my parents fight or have a disagreement. In fact, they seemed to go out of their way to defer to each other’s wishes. They truly wanted what was best for each other and for their family.
Dad died on Dec. 13, 1997. Mom passed away on March 13, 2019. It is my firm hope that they are now sharing in the happiness, joy, and love of God’s Kingdom forever.
So, with St. Paul, I urge you: Conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ. Live a life of faith, hope, and love, and God will reward you.
May God give us this grace. Amen.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Columbus Day this year will be celebrated on Monday, Oct. 9, designated by the United States government as one of 12 federal holidays. For many years, Columbus Day was observed each year on Oct. 12, commemorating the landing of explorer Christopher Columbus in the New World on Oct. 12, 1492. Since 1971, when Columbus Day became an officially recognized federal holiday in the United States, it has been observed on the second Monday in October.
On Oct. 10, 1992, Pope John Paul II visited the Dominican Republic and celebrated Mass in the nation’s cathedral, the first cathedral in the Western Hemisphere, to mark the 500thanniversary of the discovery of the Americas and the arrival of Christianity in the New World.
In recent years, some critics have taken to blame Christopher Columbus for all the ills and wrongdoings that followed the migration of large numbers of people from Europe to the Americas. Some states do not recognize Columbus Day and have replaced it with celebrations of “Indigenous Peoples’ Day,” “Discoverers’ Day,” or “Native American Day,” or they do not observe it at all. Even Columbus, Ohio, removed Columbus Day as a city holiday in 2018 and now honors veterans instead of their city’s namesake, Christopher Columbus.
At the University of Notre Dame, in the autumn of 2020, Luigi Gregori’s Christopher Columbus murals, painted between 1882 and 1884 and on the second floor of the university’s Main Building, were covered with removable tapestries. Gregori, a former artist in the papal household of Pius IX, arrived at Notre Dame in 1874 at the invitation of Rev. Edward Sorin, CSC, the University’s founder, to create works for the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. After the devastating fire and rebuilding of the Main Building in 1879, the 12 scenes from the life of Columbus were painted directly on the plaster walls of the new structure.
The University of Notre Dame’s website explains that the tapestries, removable for study, “honor the decision to preserve the murals as an opportunity to appreciate the context in which they were created and to understand the University’s history, while respecting the dignity and experience of indigenous people, especially in the aftermath of Columbus’ arrival.”
During a papal Mass in July 2022 in Canada, some indigenous protesters unfurled a banner calling for Pope Francis to “rescind the doctrine,” referring to the so-called “doctrine of discovery.” In a helpful analysis published in the National Catholic Register on April 29, 2023, Father Raymond de Souza, founding editor of Convivium magazine, wrote, “The protesters’ claim is that in granting permission to the Portuguese crown to acquire lands in Africa in the mid-15th century, the papacy created a ‘doctrine’ in which those Europeans who ‘discovered’ lands in Africa (and later the Americas) could claim them, superseding whatever ownership existed among the Indigenous peoples. This ‘doctrine’ then justified the seizure of Indigenous lands and property and the enslavement of Indigenous peoples.”
In response, the Vatican Dicastery for Culture and Education and the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development jointly published a statement last March 30 stating that the Catholic Church “repudiates those concepts that fail to recognize the inherent human rights of Indigenous peoples, including what has become known as the legal and political ‘doctrine of discovery.'” The joint statement clarifies that the “doctrine of discovery” is a legal and political term, not what Catholics mean by doctrine as truths belonging to the faith: “The ‘doctrine of discovery’ is not part of the teaching of the Catholic Church. Historical research clearly demonstrates that the papal documents in question, written in a specific historical period and linked to political questions, have never been considered expressions of the Catholic faith.”
In fact, the term “doctrine of discovery” is not of Catholic origin. It comes from a U.S. Supreme Court opinion written by Chief Justice John Marshall in 1823, in which he wrote, “This principle was that discovery gave title to the government by whose subjects or by whose authority it was made against all other European governments, which title might be consummated by possession. The exclusion of all other Europeans necessarily gave to the nation making the discovery the sole right of acquiring the soil from the natives and establishing settlements upon it.”
The Vatican statement also pointed out that there are numerous affirmations by the Church and popes upholding the rights of indigenous people, such as the 1537 bull Sublimis Deusby Pope Paul III, who wrote, “We define and declare [ … ] that [, .. ] the said Indians and all other people who may later be discovered by Christians, are by no means to be deprived of their liberty or the possession of their property, even though they be outside the Christian faith; and that they may and should, freely and legitimately, enjoy their liberty and possession of their property; nor should they be in any way enslaved; should the contrary happen, it shall be null and have no effect.”
When Pope St. John Paul II met with indigenous leaders in Canada in the 1980s, he made explicit reference to Sublimis Deus as the basis for Catholic teaching on the dignity and rights of indigenous peoples.
Father de Souza has noted that “incomplete and incorrect history has been widely disseminated” about the Catholic missionaries who evangelized the New World. The immoral acts against indigenous peoples that were carried out by competing colonial powers should not prevent us from acknowledging the good that came from the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus and the subsequent spread of Christianity. In this regard, Pope Francis has expressed his “hope that all communities will devote the necessary effort to advancing along the path of a pastoral and missionary conversion which cannot leave things as they presently are. … Throughout the world, let us be permanently in a state of mission” (Evangelii Gaudium, 25).May God give us this grace. Amen.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
In an article entitled, "Why Middle-Aged Americans Aren't Going Back to Church," published in the August 1, 2023 issue of The Wall Street Journal, Clare Ansberry wrote that "Church attendance for Gen Xers has dropped off more dramatically than other age groups. Americans in their 40s and 50s often identify with a religion, but they're also in the thick of raising kids, caring for aging parents and juggling demanding jobs."
Citing a survey of 2,000 adults conducted by the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University, the article says that the "percentage of people ages 39 to 57 who attended a worship service during the week, either in person or online, fell to 28% in 2023, down from 41% in 2020," the largest percentage-point drop of all age groups examined in the survey.
Well, Gen Xers are not the first generation needing to deal with the demands of raising children, caring for aging parents, and juggling demanding jobs. In fact, Gallup Poll reports that church attendance levels have been declining for decades across generations, with less than half of U.S. adults belonging to houses of worship in 2020, compared with 70% in 1999. So why are people not coming to church?
People quoted in the article offered lame excuses rather than convincing reasons for not going to church. For example, John Newman, 41, a Catholic who lives in the Chicago area but no longer attends Mass, said he stopped going to church because he disagreed with the Church's teachings on sexual morality. He said, "I'm not interested in hearing those sermons."
Well, the Bible tells us that a lot of people walked away from Jesus because they did not like the way He challenged them to repent and live a virtuous life.
Marlon Eddins, 45, who was raised Baptist but now attends a nondenominational church in Memphis, Tennessee, says, "I go to church, but not as often as I probably should. . . . When you got faith, you got faith. I just don't think going every Sunday makes you who you are."
Attitudes such as these reflect an understanding of religion described as moralistic therapeutic deism, a term that was first introduced in the 2005 book, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, by the sociologist Christian Smith with Melinda Lundquist Denton. The authors describe moralistic therapeutic deism as being "about providing therapeutic benefits to its adherent," as opposed to being about things like "repentance from sin, of keeping the Sabbath, of living as a servant of a sovereign divine, of steadfastly saying one's prayers, of faithfully observing high holy days, of building character through suffering," and further as "belief in a particular kind of God: one who exists, created the world, and defines our general moral order, but not one who is particularly personally involved in one's affairs - especially affairs in which one would prefer not to have God involved." In fact, moralistic therapeutic deism places belief in a false god, not the God of Christian faith.
While studies have shown that there are therapeutic benefits to going to church, in the end coming to Mass is not ultimately about therapy or making us feel good.
So why should we go to church? Well, there are selfish reasons and selfless reasons, which we might also call imperfect reasons and prefect reasons. What do I mean by that? Well, we refer to an imperfect act of contrition as being sorry for our sins because we do not want to go to hell. A perfect act of contrition, on the other hand, is to be sorry for our sins because they offend God.
Similarly, an imperfect or selfish reason for going to church is because we do not want to go to hell, since missing Mass on Sunday is a mortal sin. Intentionally missing Mass on Sunday without a valid excuse-such as serious illness-is a mortal sin because the Third Commandment of the Decalogue commands us to keep holy the Sabbath, which for Catholics means to go to Mass on Sunday. Refusing to keep God's commandments is an act of disobedience by which we are not only rejecting what we are obliged to do, but spurning the God who gave us these commandments, just as Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden.
Our obligation to go to Mass on Sunday is a matter of justice. The virtue of justice means to give others what is due or owed to them. We owe worship to God to thank Him for creating us, for sending Jesus to forgive our sins, and for sharing His love with us. Failing to give to God the worship that we are obliged to offer as a matter of justice is deadly to our relationship with Him, hence it is a mortal sin.
A perfect or selfless reason to go to church is to express our thanks, praise, and love for God in return for His creation and for the love He has shared with us and continues to share with us in the Real Presence of Christ who comes into our hearts every time we receive Holy Communion at Mass. Going to Mass also expresses our love for our neighbor, since our presence helps to support and strengthen the faith of the other members of the community of faith.
It is virtuous to go to Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation since a virtue is something good that we do out of habit. People of faith who love God and their neighbors in the community of faith do not even have to think twice about whether to go to Mass, since there is no question that this is something we must do as a matter of love. In the end, we should want to go to Mass because we want to spend eternity with God and all the angels and saints in heaven.
May God give us this grace. Amen.
As we begin a new school year, I would like to call your attention to some guidance I shared earlier this year for our Catholic grade schools and high schools in a document entitled, Higher Calling, Higher Standards: Renewal of the Mission of Catholic Education in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. I noted that, “The Catholic Church educates more than ten-thousand students in thirty-six Catholic grade schools and seven Catholic high schools in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. These forty-three schools represent the Church’s largest investment of resources in pastoral ministry in our diocese, reflecting both the requisite resources for operating effective schools and the high priority we place on handing on the faith to the next generation. More than places of academic learning, our schools are centers of formation for children and community for Catholic families.”
On the plus side, “Our schools are staffed by dedicated teachers and administrators who have devoted their lives to the formation of our young people. Our Catholic school system is a central pillar of our faith community and brings much vitality, purpose, and clarity of mission.”
On the minus side, “Our schools, however, are facing significant challenges that, if left unaddressed, threaten to undermine their stability, vitality, and effectiveness in fulfilling their mission of discipleship. To varying degrees, our schools are facing financial, operational, and cultural disruptions and risks just at the time when the need for a Catholic school system is more urgent than it has been for several generations. Our schools are in urgent need of renewal.”
To address these challenges to fulfilling our high calling, I described seven essential characteristics to which Catholic schools in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois must be held. The seven defining characteristics are:
The full text of Higher Calling, Higher Standards can be found at dio.org/schools.
I am grateful to our priests, principals, teachers, parents, staff, and benefactors for the important roles they fulfill in promoting Catholic education. Please pray for a holy and healthy school year.
May God give us this grace. Amen.
Father Robert Spitzer is a Catholic priest in the Society of Jesus (commonly known as the Jesuits) and serves as president of the Magis Center for Science, Reason, and Faith, as well as president of the Spitzer Center for Visionary Leadership. Father Spitzer is one of the brightest people I have ever met. He received his Ph.D. in philosophy Summa cum Laude from the Catholic University of America in 1988 and served as president of Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., from 1998 to 2009.
In 2011, Father Spitzer joined with Tim Busch to co-found the Napa Institute in an effort to empower Catholic leaders to renew the Church and transform the culture of our increasingly secular society. What makes Father Spitzer’s achievements even more remarkable is that his eyesight has deteriorated due to macular degeneration over several years to the point where he is now nearly blind. He sees at about 5 percent of normal vision and must rely on the help of assistants to read to him and transcribe his dictated thoughts into writing. Despite this disability, Father Spitzer lectures brilliantly from memory, since he cannot read from notes or a prepared text.
Over the years I have been impressed and amused by the way he responds whenever we meet, as we did again a few months ago by chance at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport or when I attended the Napa Institute’s summer conference last month. Without identifying myself, I will go up to him and say, “Father Spitzer, how are you?” Without missing a beat, he will respond, “Bishop Paprocki, nice to see you!”
What impresses me is his instantaneous recognition of my voice. What amuses me is his saying, “nice to see you,” when I know that he is not literally seeing me at all except perhaps as a blurry shadow. At first, I thought he was just using a polite greeting so as not to draw attention to his physical blindness, but I have come to understand that Father Spitzer does indeed see me in the image of me that he holds in his mind, even if not in the literal vision of his bodily eyes.
I thought of Father Spitzer’s practice of seeing people in his mind even if not with his eyes recently when I was reading the Scripture passage where Our Lord says, “Blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear” (Matthew 13:16). Jesus was not talking literally about physical eyesight or hearing, but about seeing Him with the eyes of faith as Our Savior and hearing Him as the Word of God.
This is what we are called to do every time we come to Mass. We listen to the readings from the Bible not just as wise literature, but as God revealing His Word to us. When the bread and wine are consecrated and elevated before our eyes, many of us respond quietly to ourselves with the traditional affirmation of faith, using the words of St. Thomas, by exclaiming, “My Lord and my God,” even though what we are looking at appears to be simply a piece of bread and a cup of wine. Following the example of Father Spitzer, seeing the image of Christ in our minds with the eyes of faith, we might add, “Jesus, it is good to see you!”
Many people are praying for a miracle to restore Father Spitzer’s eyesight. I have been praying through the intercession of Venerable Father Augustine Tolton for Father Spitzer’s full healing and the complete restoration of his eyesight. I invite you to do so also.
Father Spitzer has a statement posted on the Magis Center’s website that says, “I appreciate the concern expressed by so many of you and your prayers for me as I await a treatment approved by the FDA. Though this would be a true blessing, I receive so many graces from the condition of near blindness — such as, humility, deepened faith, detachment from the world, and enhanced empathy and compassion for others. The graces are so deep and manifold that I often wonder whether I should be praying for alleviation of my condition, so I have decided to put myself completely in the hands of God — the best course of action for all dimensions of life. I will pray for all of you who are praying for me, so that the Lord’s will may be done in our lives and that we may all experience Paradise together. God bless you.”
May God give us this grace. Amen.
The first day of this month of July marked a momentous occasion for our local Church: the official welcoming to our diocese of seven Norbertine priests from St. Michael’s Abbey of Southern California and the opening of their new Corpus Christi Priory located at the site of the former Chiara Center in Springfield. The members of this community are known officially as the The Canons Regular of Prémontré, but are also called the Premonstratensians or simply the Norbertines, after their founder, St. Norbert, who was ordained a priest at the Cathedral of Cologne and began his ministry as an itinerant preacher traveling throughout the countryside of Germany, Belgium, and France.
At the request of Pope Calixtus II and with his bishop’s encouragement, Norbert settled in the valley of Prémontré, northern France, in the spring of 1120. On Christmas Day 1121, Norbert and his followers professed their first vows, adopting the Rule of St. Augustine. Thus, the Norbertine order was born. Named Archbishop of Magdeburg in 1126. Norbert worked tirelessly for the reform of the Church until his death on June 6, 1134.
The Norbertines’ primary ministry here will be the Evermode Institute. Named after St. Evermode, one of St. Norbert’s closest companions and a bishop renowned for his fearless and tireless defense of the Gospel, the Evermode Institute will teach the Catholic faith to those who are most responsible for sharing the Gospel: to Catholic school teachers and administrators, to catechists in parishes, and to parents in families.
The Corpus Christi Priory and the Evermode Institute did not come about either by sheer accident or by some clever human design. I believe Divine Providence guided these events, so I would like to share with you some “behind the scenes” background information about how the Norbertines and the Evermode Institute came to our diocese at the site of the motherhouse of the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis.
In 1875, the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis established and grew a health system that now operates a network of 15 hospitals and other healthcare facilities in Illinois and Wisconsin. After starting St. John’s Hospital in 1875 in downtown Springfield, where the Hospital Sisters also lived, in 1917 the sisters purchased 500 acres of land situated six miles northeast of Springfield for the building of St. John's Tuberculosis Sanitarium and later the construction of St. Francis of Assisi Church and St. Francis Convent. This sacred place is a visible and powerful element of the sisters’ enduring legacy.
Apart from the church, which will celebrate its 100th anniversary of dedication by Bishop James Griffin next year on April 27, most of the buildings on this campus are new, having replaced older, larger buildings that served, originally, as a tuberculosis sanitarium and a large convent that once housed several hundred sisters. About 15 years ago, the sisters replaced those buildings with the current facilities, trusting that in some form they would be of use to the Church for years to come.
As efforts to secure that future became more concrete, however, the only serious consideration the sisters’ received was from an outside entity that would have forced them to leave their home in less than a year and would not have been a Catholic entity using the space. This was a non-starter for the sisters, so Sister Maureen O’Connor, the provincial superior of the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis, called a community meeting, at which one of the older sisters — in fact, 102 years old — said, “Why don’t you call the bishop?” That started our conversation, leading to the placing of this property in a trust to be used for religious purposes.
Providentially, during that same time period, Bishop Kevin Vann, the bishop of Orange County, a native of Springfield, a long-time priest of our diocese, and a lifelong friend and one-time employee of the Hospital Sisters, had introduced me and Msgr. David Hoefler, my vicar general, to the Norbertine Fathers of St. Michael’s Abbey. Through that connection, some of the Norbertine Fathers spent time in our diocese, offering retreats and conferences for our priests and lay faithful. Some of our priests visited and made retreats at St. Michael’s Abbey in California.
It was four years ago, on July 17, 2019, that I concelebrated the Mass for the Dedication of Christ Cathedral in the Diocese of Orange. At the luncheon after Mass, I met Abbot Eugene Hayes of St. Michael’s Abbey. Having heard of their growing community, I casually remarked that it would be wonderful for the Norbertines of St. Michael’s Abbey to establish a house in our diocese, something I am sure Abbot Eugene hears quite often from bishops around the country. Rather than politely declining the invitation, as I was half expecting, Abbot Eugene did not laugh and did not say no. Instead, he handed me his business card and said, “Let’s talk.” That began a conversation with Abbot Eugene and his leadership council about the possibility of them establishing some kind of more permanent presence in our diocese. As providence would have it, the Norbertine Fathers had experienced decades of growth and fruitfulness, and were discerning the establishment of a new foundation.
In turn, when Sister Maureen approached me and Msgr. Hoefler to discuss the future of the property, it quickly became clear to all of us that the hand of God was at work in this — that so much had been preordained and set in motion, that all the foundation of all these connections had been established far in advance. The Hospital Sisters of St. Francis will continue to live on the property and the Norbertine Fathers will provide for their pastoral care.
So that is some of the backstory of how this beautiful new chapter in the life of our diocese came about and I pray that this divinely inspired endeavor will flourish for many years to come.
June 24 marked the one-year anniversary of the decision of the United States Supreme Court in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade and rightly returned to the states the authority to pass legislation regarding abortion. Remarking on this anniversary, President Joseph Biden issued a statement that day criticizing the Dobbs decision for “denying women across the nation the right to choose” abortion.
Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin said, “It is now up to Congress to protect” access to abortion “from the results of this disastrous ruling.” Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth said that she was “dedicated to doing everything [she] can at the federal level to protect and expand affordable access to” abortion. Of course, Biden, Durbin, and Duckworth avoid using the word “abortion” and instead use the euphemism “reproductive health.” This evasive terminology hides the harsh reality that there is nothing healthy about abortion, which in fact destroys human reproduction.
Taking the pro-abortion rhetoric down to an even lower level of deception and dishonesty, 31 Catholic Democrats in the United States House of Representatives signed a letter on June 24 claiming that the “fundamental tenets of our Catholic faith — social justice, conscience, and religious freedom — compel us to defend a woman’s right to access abortion.” They even had the audacity to make the false assertion that the writings of St. John Paul II — a staunch defender of human life from conception to natural death — somehow supported their pro-abortion stance.
Thankfully, the leadership of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) on June 28 publicly rebuked these Catholic politicians for misrepresenting the teachings of the Catholic Church. Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, president of the USCCB; Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee of Pro-Life Activities; and Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Texas, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Doctrine, jointly issued a correction of these Catholic politicians, saying, “Members of Congress who recently invoked teachings of the Catholic faith itself as justifying abortion or supporting a supposed right to abortion grievously distort the faith. It is wrong and incoherent to claim that the taking of innocent human life at its most vulnerable stage can ever be consistent with the values of supporting the dignity and well-being of those in need.”
Commenting on the authentic teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church that says, “Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception,” the bishops added, “Abortion violates this with respect to preborn children and brings untold suffering to countless women.”
The bishops concluded by saying, “We once again implore and pray for Congress to join us in working toward the true common good by prioritizing authentic, uplifting support for the vulnerable and marginalized, including mothers and families in need.”
I fully support and agree with this correction issued by the leadership of the USCCB and I join them in praying for the conversion of those who obstinately persist in promoting the grave sin of abortion. This call to conversion is especially urgent here in the State of Illinois, where the pro-abortion politicians continue their aggressive assault on unborn human life. We must be steadfast in our prayers for a change of heart on the part of these misguided and mistaken politicians and the voters who share in their culpability by voting to elect them. We cannot relax our efforts to reverse the culture of death that pervades our state and promote a true culture of life where all human life is respected from conception to natural death.
July 2, 2023, marks the 100th anniversary of the death of Bishop James Ryan, the third Bishop of our diocese. Putting his tenure in its historical context, we see the early roots of Christianity and its spread to our diocese depicted in our Cathedral windows. The windows on the north wall tell the story of the spread of Christianity, starting with Our Lord giving the keys of His Kingdom to St. Peter, on whom He built the foundation of the Church, which withstood the threat of the barbarian and Turkish invasions in Europe. The windows on the south wall tell the story of the Church's contribution in America, starting with the depiction of St. Brendan, who is said to have crossed the Atlantic Ocean to reach the American continent in the fifth century. The second window on the south wall shows Christopher Columbus carrying a banner of Mary the Immaculate, with his flagship, the Santa Maria, in the background. The third window features the Jesuit missionary Father Jacques Marquette preaching to Native Americans on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 1674.
That same year, 1674, the Holy See erected the Diocese of Quebec for all of North America. After the United States of America won its independence, the Diocese of Baltimore was created in 1789. As the country grew and expanded westward, new dioceses were created in Bardstown in 1808, Saint Louis in 1826, Vincennes in 1834, Chicago in 1843, and then Quincy in 1853. Pope Pius IX appointed Father Joseph Melcher, the Vicar General of St. Louis, to be the first bishop of Quincy, but he declined the appointment. He would later become the administrator of the Diocese of Chicago and in 1868 was named the first bishop of Green Bay, Wisconsin.
After three years without a resident bishop in Quincy, some Catholics in the new diocese requested the transfer of the See to a more central location. Springfield was considered since it had been chosen as the state capital in 1837, but there was a larger Catholic population near St. Louis. Pope Pius IX moved the See to Alton on January 9, 1857, and named Henry Damian Juncker as Bishop of Alton. He served until his death on October 2, 1868, and was succeeded by Bishop Peter J. Baltes, who served until his death on February 15, 1886. Bishop Baltes was buried next to his predecessor in the crypt below Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral in Alton.
Following the death of Bishop Baltes, Father John Janssen, the vicar general, served as diocesan administrator. In 1887, Pope Leo XIII decided to divide the Diocese of Alton and established the Diocese of Belleville from the southern portion of the Diocese of Alton. Janssen was named its first bishop and continued as administrator of Alton until the consecration of Bishop James Ryan on May 1, 1888, at the Cathedral in Alton.
James Ryan was born on June 17, 1848, in County Tipperary, Ireland, and came to America at the age of seven with his parents and sister. Ryan attended the minor and major seminaries in Bardstown, Kentucky, and completed his theological education at Preston Park Seminary in Louisville. He was ordained a priest on the day before Christmas in 1871 by Bishop William G. McCloskey.
A significant accomplishment of Bishop James Ryan was the Diocesan Synod of 1889, our diocese's first. According to the history book prepared for our diocese's sesquicentennial in 2003, "The bishop convened this assembly of diocesan and religious clergy to adopt rules and regulations that would bring the diocese into compliance with the three Plenary Councils of Baltimore." The impact of this First Diocesan Synod would continue for several decades until the Second and Third Diocesan Synods were convened in 1953 and 1963, respectively. Of course, our Fourth Diocesan Synod took place in 2017, at which we pledged our diocese to the discipleship and stewardship way of life.
Bishop James Ryan served as Bishop of Alton for thirty-five years, the longest tenure of any bishop of our diocese. During his tenure, the estimated number of Catholics grew from 70,000 to 87,000. Forty new churches were opened and six hospitals were founded in the diocese. He is remembered for expanding the orphanage in Alton.
Bishop Ryan's Vicar General, Monsignor Edward Spalding, described Ryan as a reclusive man who lived in almost monk-like austerity. He abstained from alcohol, although he enjoyed smoking a pipe. He was said to have been a voracious reader. His favorite pastime was baseball, and it was said that Ryan knew the names and statistics for every player in the National League.
After Bishop Ryan's death on July 2, 1923, his funeral took place at the Cathedral in Alton, but instead of being buried with his two predecessors in the crypt of the cathedral, he chose to be buried in St. Patrick's Cemetery in Godfrey.
A few months later, on November 3, 1923, Archbishop Pietro Fumasoni-Biondi, Apostolic Delegate to the United States of America, wrote to Rev. James A. Griffin, Pastor of St. Mary's Church in Joliet, Illinois, that "His Holiness, Pope Pius XI, has graciously appointed you Bishop of Alton, Illinois."
Just nineteen days later, on November 22, 1923, the Apostolic Delegate wrote again to "Rev. James A. Griffin, D.D., Bishop-elect of Alton," saying, "I have the honor to inform you that His Holiness, Pope Pius XI, has decided to transfer the present See of Alton to Springfield, the Capital of the State of Illinois, where you will take up your permanent residence."
It is good for us to recall this history as we celebrate the centennial of our diocese's relocation from Alton to Springfield, praying that the practice of the Catholic faith will continue to grow in our diocese in the years ahead.
May God give us this grace. Amen.
"June is Pride Month." That is the message proclaimed on banners hung from lamp posts in downtown Springfield. The rainbow flag is flying above the State Capitol on the flagpole beneath the United States flag and the State of Illinois flag. Rainbow flags are festooned across the front of the Governor's Mansion as directed by its current occupant, Gov. J.B. Pritzker. Pride and rainbows: a slogan and a symbol co-opted by the LGBTQ+ movement to promote lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues.
Businesses and sports teams have bought into the hype. Major League Baseball teams are hosting "pride nights" this month. The Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team has taken their disgraceful promotional event a step further by hosting a night that will honor the "Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence," whom Bishop Robert Barron has described as "an anti-Catholic hate group" that dresses up in religious garb and describes themselves as "queer and trans nuns."
Bishops, baseball players, and others have criticized the Dodgers for their religious bigotry. As the statement of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles says, "The decision to honor a group that clearly mocks the Catholic faith and makes light of the sincere and holy vocations of our women religious who are an integral part of our Church is what has caused disappointment, concern, anger, and dismay from our Catholic community."
Our government is also promoting the LGBTQ+ movement, not only here in the United States, but around the world. President Joe Biden recently scolded the President of Uganda for signing legislation that imposes criminal penalties for homosexual acts. President Biden also threatened to withdraw American financial assistance to the east African country unless Uganda repealed the law.
Such threats are quite ironic coming from the man who has called white supremacy the "most dangerous threat to our homeland security." Apparently President Biden does not see that it is inherently racist and arrogant for the white leader of the United States to lecture an African nation on what laws are right for their country.
The people of Uganda have their own history in dealing with the sin of homosexual actions. The Catholic Church celebrated the feast day of St. Charles Lwanga and Companions on June 3. The biographic information given about these martyrs in the Liturgy of the Hours uses very polite language in saying that they "were put to death, some by sword, others by burning, because they would not accede to the king's unreasonable demands." Just what were "the king's unreasonable demands"?
King Mwanga was a corrupt man and a pedophile who ritually abused the younger boys who served as pages in the royal court. Charles Lwanga became the chief page at the age of 25 and was dedicated to the Christian instruction of the younger boys, whom he tried to protect from the lustful advances of the king. Many faithful Christians were killed in Uganda by King Mwanga during the years 1885-87. St. Charles Lwanga and his companions were beatified in 1920 and canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1964. Their martyrdom helped spread the Christian faith. According to the most recent census, conducted in 2014, 82 percent of the population of Uganda is Christian. The largest Christian group is Roman Catholic with 39 percent. So it is understandable that Ugandans rightly see homosexual actions as sinful.
The Catholic Church teaches that pride is the deadliest of the deadly sins, so it is something to be avoided, along with lust, not celebrated.
The rainbow was first used as a symbol in the Bible, when God told Noah following the flood that the rainbow "is the sign of the covenant that I am making between me and you and every living creature with you for all ages to come" (Genesis 9:12). This rainbow was not a symbol for a license to sin nor was the covenant a one-sided promise on God's part, since the Lord said that He would "demand an accounting" for the actions of every creature on earth (Genesis 9:5).
Humility and chastity: these would be more fitting themes to promote during this month of June.
May God give us this grace. Amen.
Since we cannot see the Holy Spirit, God also uses symbols to tell us when His Holy Spirit is present, but that symbol is not always the same. When Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River, the Gospel tells us that the Spirit of God descended upon Jesus like a dove (Matthew 3:16). In the description of Pentecost in the Acts of the Apostles, we are told that the Holy Spirit appeared to the disciples as tongues of fire, which came to rest on each one of them (Acts 2:3). Jesus is known as the Christ, which comes from the Greek word that means the one anointed by God’s Holy Spirit, and is recognized as the Messiah, the Hebrew word for the Anointed One. Thus, in the sacraments of baptism and confirmation and the ordination of priests and bishops, the presence of the Holy Spirit is symbolized with sacred chrism, the holy oil that is consecrated by the bishop in the Cathedral at the chrism Mass during Holy Week. It is also by the Apostles’ imposition of hands that the Holy Spirit is given (Acts 8:17-19; 13:3; and 19:6).
Most of the time, however, the action of the Holy Spirit in our lives is invisible and not readily apparent to us. Sometimes it is only in retrospect that we can discern the movement of the Holy Spirit. For example, I see the working of the Holy Spirit in the transition of the Chiara Center from a retreat house to become the Evermode Institute for the formation of Catholic school teachers and catechists. Also, the decision of the Norbertine Fathers of St. Michael’s Abbey in Southern California to send seven priests to our diocese beginning July 1 of this year involved a lot of human conversations and planning, but I believe this was guided by the Holy Spirit rather than mere coincidence.
Because the working of the Holy Spirit is often not readily apparent, perhaps we take the Holy Spirit for granted even in our prayer. We pray as Jesus taught us to “Our Father” or we direct our prayers to Jesus Himself. Even if we do not directly invoke the Holy Spirit in our prayers, the Church teaches that the “Holy Spirit is at work with the Father and the Son from the beginning to the completion of the plan for our salvation. … Consubstantial with the Father and the Son, the Spirit is inseparable from them, both in the inner life of the Trinity and his gift of love for the world” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 686, 689).
The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. The tradition of the Church lists 12 fruits of the Holy Spirit: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity.
Our celebration of Pentecost is a good occasion for us to recall the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit and pray that the graces bestowed by our Triune God — Father, Son, and Spirit — will guide us through life on our journey to God’s Heavenly Kingdom.
May God give us this grace. Amen.