Over the last weekend, I heard from a parishioner who had just attended a Sabbath service at a St. Louis-area synagogue. This first Sabbath of November was also the first Sabbath since the killing of 11 worshipers at a synagogue in Pittsburgh on Oct. 27. There was, in fact, an emphasis on interfaith Sabbath participation in many synagogues. My parishioner had never previously been present for a Jewish worship service, and she found it uplifting, for a couple of reasons: an awareness that our Christianity sprang from Judaism, and the encouragement coming from people of many religions at a time of grief.
Pope Francis’s extraordinary Aug. 20 letter “to the People of God” undoubtedly inspired many people around the world to seek out this letter — published in seven languages only six days after the Pennsylvania grand-jury report — on the Vatican website.
By visiting w2.vatican.va/content/vatican/en.html, you will have before you a most valuable English “portal” to the contents of the site.
Here is a very quick summary of the stance of the Catholic Church on the death penalty. This review is necessary because of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s recent proposal to reinstate capital punishment — abolished in Illinois in 2011 — for persons convicted of mass killings or the homicide of a law-enforcement officer. I write as one who, many years ago, testified before a committee of the Illinois General Assembly about the evolving teaching of the Catholic Church on this topic.
Two weekends ago I enjoyed two different cultural efforts: a concert by the Heartland Community Chorus at St. Jerome Church in Troy (this concert was repeated at Highland St. Paul), and the performance of Annie Jr. by the Drama Club of St. John Neumann School in Maryville.
Over many years, I have learned to appreciate the skills and attention needed to sing and act effectively. As a presider at worship, of course, I am always putting my singing into service. And although it has been 20 years since I last performed in a theatrical production, the proclamation of the Word of God always calls for a sense of drama.
First, a few words about Billy Graham.
I can remember that, in my youth, I would hear the Rev. Graham and others speaking about “accepting Jesus as your personal Savior.” My reaction was to think that salvation was taken care of by my being part of a “system” of salvation — the Catholic Church. I would wonder, “What’s this personal business?”
When I moved to Madison County in July, it was my intention to get involved with the Metro East Interfaith Partnership (MEIP). I was surprised when I received an invitation to join their steering committee. My reaction was: You don’t want a newcomer to be on your steering committee, do you? But this is how I was welcomed, and I have been on the steering committee since my arrival.
Thus far, in surveying types of prayer with the help of Bishop Ken Untener’s discussion in the Little Books of the Diocese of Saginaw, I have looked at verbal prayer and prayer which is essentially reflection on reading the Sacred Scriptures.
Before moving into meditation (thinking), I want to consider an activity which contains elements of reading and thinking.
Many of us seem to have been taken aback by the occurrence of Advent and Christmas this year.
First of all, there is the matter of Dec. 25 falling on a Monday. This means, of course, that the Fourth Sunday of Advent will be Dec. 24, and, after the regular Sunday Masses, we go immediately into the Christmas Masses on Sunday evening.
Returning now to a survey of kinds of prayer, I am taking a look at “divine reading,” or, if you like the Latin expression, lectio divina.
This is essentially a process of spending time with portions of the Bible. We may find it forbidding to contemplate a journey through the Scriptures. We may suppose that Biblical literature is so vast and varied that we cannot help but become utterly disoriented when we try to explore the literature on our own.
In July, at my first meeting of the steering committee of the Metro-East Interfaith Partnership, a Baha’i member mentioned the Buckminster Fuller Center at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
On Aug. 31, I was in the Fuller Center for the first time, as I had been asked by the Newman Club at SIUE to hear confessions that evening.
Fifty years ago, the geodesic dome, which Fuller patented in 1954, came into great prominence. The U.S. pavilion at Expo 67 in Montreal was one of the outstanding symbols of that World’s Fair. The SIUE dome was built under Fuller’s direction in 1971; at the time he was in the Department of Design at SIU Carbondale.
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.”
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.
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.
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.