From the very beginning, the Church has believed and celebrated according to the teaching of Jesus Himself: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him” (Jn 6:54-56). It is not “ordinary bread and ordinary drink” that we receive in the Eucharist, but the flesh and blood of Christ, who came to nourish and transform us, to restore our relationship to God and to one another.
In the Eucharist, with the eyes of faith we see before us Jesus Christ, who, in the Incarnation became flesh (Jn 1:14) and who in the Paschal Mystery gave Himself for us (Ti 2:14), accepting even death on a cross (Phil 2:8). St. John Chrysostom preached that when you see the Body of Christ “set before you [on the altar], say to yourself: ‘Because of this Body I am no longer earth and ashes, no longer a prisoner, but free: because of this I hope for heaven, and to receive the good things therein, immortal life, the portion of angels, [and closeness] with Christ.’”
How can Jesus Christ be truly present in what still appears to be bread and wine? In the liturgical act known as the epiclesis, the bishop or priest, speaking in the person of Jesus Christ, calls upon the Father to send down his Holy Spirit to change the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, and this change occurs through the institution narrative, by the power of the words of Christ pronounced by the celebrant.
The reality that, in the Eucharist, bread and wine become the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ without ceasing to appear as bread and wine to our five senses is one of the central mysteries of the Catholic faith. This faith is a doorway through which we, like the saints and mystics before us, may enter into a deeper perception of the mercy and love manifested in and through Christ’s sacramental presence in our midst. While one thing is seen with our bodily eyes, another reality is perceived through the eyes of faith. The real, true, and substantial presence of Christ in the Eucharist is the most profound reality of the sacrament. This mysterious change is very appropriately called by the Church transubstantiation.
Though Christ is present to us in many ways in the liturgy, including in the assembly gathered, the presiding minister, and the word proclaimed, the Church also clearly affirms that “the mode of Christ’s presence under the Eucharistic species is unique.” As St. Paul VI wrote, “This presence is called ‘real’ not to exclude the idea that the others are ‘real’ too, but rather to indicate presence par excellence, because it is substantial and through it Christ becomes present whole and entire, God and man.” In the sacramental re-presentation of His sacrifice, Christ holds back nothing, offering Himself, whole and entire. The use of the word “substantial” to mark the unique presence of Christ in the Eucharist is intended to convey the totality of the gift He offers to us.
When the Eucharist is distributed and the minister says, “the Body of Christ,” we are to look not simply at what is visible before our eyes, but at what it has become by the words of Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit — the Body of Christ. The communicant’s response of “Amen” is a profession of faith in the Real Presence of Christ and reflects the intimate personal encounter with him, with His gift of self, that comes through reception of holy Communion.
Taken from The Mystery of Eucharist in the Life of the Church, produced by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2021
Results from miracle are match to another eucharistic miracle hundreds of years earlier
By ANDREW HANSEN
After Mass on Aug. 15, 1996 at a parish in Buenos Aires, Argentina, a woman approached the priest saying that she found a consecrated Host in the church. The priest — following proper procedures in such a case — placed the Host into a glass of water so it would dissolve and put the Host into the tabernacle. Days later, to the priest’s amazement, the Host appeared bloody and had a flesh-like appearance.
Then-Cardinal Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, who was Archbishop of the area at the time, was notified and had the host photographed, which clearly showed bloodied flesh that had somehow grown larger than the original Host. It was then placed back in the tabernacle and after several years, with no sign of decay, Cardinal Bergoglio officially opened an investigation. A sample of the blood was sent to scientists and doctors in the United States.
The experts, without knowing where the sample came from, issued their results that it was human flesh and blood. Moreover, cardiologist and forensic pathologist, Dr. Frederic Zugibe said that it was “a fragment of the heart muscle found in the wall of the left ventricle close to the valves.” In addition, it was concluded that “the heart had been under severe stress, as if the owner had been beaten severely about the chest.”
Perhaps most fascinating about the findings, Dr. Zugibe said, “The heart muscle is in an inflammatory condition and contains a large number of white blood cells. This indicates that the heart was alive at the time the sample was taken. It is my contention that the heart was alive, since white blood cells die outside a living organism.”
It’s important to note that after blood is drawn from a person, the white blood cells disintegrate after 15 minutes. Therefore, it’s scientifically unexplainable that in 2005, white blood cells were found in a blood sample from 1996.
Those results were then compared to another Eucharistic miracle that occurred in Italy in the eighth century, when a consecrated Host physically changed into flesh and the wine physically changed to blood before the eyes of a priest who had doubted the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Those present at Mass also witnessed this. Today, despite no form of preservative, that host, which changed physically into flesh and blood is still present at a church in Lanciano, Italy and can be viewed.
When comparing a sample from the eucharistic miracle in Argentina to the one in Italy, it was concluded by scientists that both revealed “AB” blood type, both indicate it came from a man from the Middle East, and the DNA in both were identical.
What do these eucharistic miracles have to do with us today?
In 2019, the Pew Research Center conducted a survey and found with self-identified Catholics that 69 percent do not believe that during the consecration at Mass, the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. On the other hand, only 31 percent of Catholics believe Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist, something the Church joyfully teaches, and has taught from day one. The Church also says that the “Eucharist is the source and summit ecclesial life.” It’s worth noting the survey found that most Catholics who believe the bread and wine are only symbols don’t know that the Church teaches they are transformed into the very Body and Blood of Jesus Christ by the power of His own words.
“While the survey results are troubling, they are not all that surprising,” said Father Daren Zehnle, director of the Office for Divine Worship and the Catechumenate for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. “Even some of Jesus’ first followers questioned His credibility when He spoke about the necessity of eating and drinking His Body and Blood. He did not lessen the strength of His words but doubled down. The difference between some people today and those early followers of Christ, is that the early ones who did not believe Him had the integrity to stop following Him. They knew they had to follow Him on His terms, or not at all. Some people today, however, try to follow Jesus on their own terms and ignore what He says.”
Consider the evidence of the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist:
Jesus said: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him” (John 6:53-56).
At the Last Supper, Jesus was also quite clear:
“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins’” (Matthew 26:26-28).
Notice, Jesus said that this is my body. This is my blood. He didn’t say that this is a symbol of His body or blood. He also told his Apostles to “do this” in remembrance of Him.
“From the beginning of the Church, Christians have taken Jesus’ words at face value,” Father Zehnle said. “If we look at the writings of the Church Fathers, we find people like St. Ignatius of Antioch speaking bluntly about the Eucharist as the Body and Blood of the Savior. People who disagreed with them, they knew to be outside the communion of the Church.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church is helpful in breaking this teaching down, saying, “The Eucharist is the memorial of Christ's Passover, that is, of the work of salvation accomplished by the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, a work made present by the liturgical action. It is Christ himself, the eternal high priest of the New Covenant who, acting through the ministry of the priests, offers the Eucharistic sacrifice. And it is the same Christ, really present under the species of bread and wine, who is the offering of the Eucharistic sacrifice” (CCC 1409-1410).
If what Jesus said 2,000 years ago doesn’t get the attention of non-believers, perhaps that’s why God allows these Eucharistic miracles to occur — a “wake up” call to the Gift in front of them.
“The challenge for all of us is to believe what Jesus says because He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life who cannot deceive us,” Father Zehnle said.
Catholics in our diocese who converted to the faith shared with Catholic Times what it was like receiving the Eucharist for the first time. Their responses will inspire you.
“I remember thinking, ‘This is it! This is it! And, you’re home. No matter what happens now, the most important thing in your life is now open to you and the rest in God’s hands.’”
“The first time I went to Mass with my spouse who is Catholic, I didn’t know what to do with myself. My husband said to fold my arms and the priest would say some kind words giving me a bit of grace to carry on through the week. After I became Catholic, I thought, ‘Finally!’ I can fully participate in Mass. I was overwhelmed with the spirit of Christ and felt I had pleased Him with the direction I had chosen for my life. I was incorrect in thinking this was the end of my journey in coming to Christ. Each time I partake of the Eucharist, I know it draws me closer to God and gives me focus to continue His work in serving those in most need.”
“It was … April 2019, at the Easter Vigil that I joined the Catholic faith and received the Eucharist for the first time. I was finally able to take part in what Christ requested, ‘Do this in remembrance of me.’ I became more and more aware throughout RCIA what it really meant to be part of such a union with other Catholics throughout the world. I was so excited and deeply aware of what it meant to take part in what was truly one bread and one body — Christ’s body. I was finally able to physically, mentally, and spiritually receive with each Communion a renewal, as well as a reminder the deep love Christ has for all who take part.”
“Incredible. Receiving the Eucharist for the first time—knowing that I was truly receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ—those feelings and emotions are just impossible to describe. What I experienced that day is something that will stay with me forever.”
“It was a very personal experience. At that time, I felt like the world was at peace, and I truly felt united with Christ. Being baptized and receiving the Eucharist on the same day was an overwhelming experience filled with love, joy, and happiness for me. “
“It was a point of letting my guard down and accepting that I didn’t have it all figured out and that God and I were going to get to know each other better.”
“I was very nervous at the 2001 Easter Vigil when receiving the holy Sacraments as a convert, but I remember feeling peace come over me as I exclaimed what my pastor taught me to increase my faith in the holy Eucharist, ‘My Lord, and my God.’"
“As a born southern Baptist, Christianity never made any sense to me. I could never figure out what the big deal was. After learning about the Eucharist, things slowly began to make more and more sense, and when I actually received the Eucharist for the first time, I had this feeling of clarity. I almost felt as if my brain had been rewired. I don’t know that it was miraculous but, in my mind, suddenly life and more importantly the Scriptures made sense.”
“When I received the Eucharist for the first time, two things came to mind: First, was an overwhelming sense of peace. I felt closer to Christ than I ever had before. The other feeling or thought I had was that I was finally home. I had waited a long time to be a part of Christ's church and I was so grateful to now be His own. I prayed for the feeling to never subside. I remember the song they played, 'How Beautiful,’ and that I cried.”
“As I approached Father Joe (Ring) to receive my first Communion, I felt completely humbled and most reverent of the great sacrifices Jesus Christ made for me. After receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus, I was overwhelmed, emotionally and physically, with the love of the Holy Spirit. So, in total gratitude, I knelt down to pray that I would be a vessel for His light to shine through me.”
“I entered the Catholic Church in a humbling manner. I never thought that I would have a conversion. I had been raised in the Baptist church and my entire family was of Protestant faith. I had taken communion throughout my life as a ‘symbolic gesture.’ As I attended the Catholic church with my future husband, many times I would be moved to tears. Watching the faithful partake in Communion, there was something special about this, something that I had never experienced. At the Easter Vigil when I received my first Communion it was a feeling of gratitude and renewal. I knew that Jesus was in the Eucharist. I am so appreciative of the Eucharist and what it means to my life, and I look forward to growing in my Catholic faith.”
“Coming from a Protestant background, receiving the holy Eucharist for the first time felt like stepping into a world I had never encountered before. I feel as though I have truly joined the marriage Supper of the Lamb and received the fullness of the faith.”
“Because we are human beings, a union of body and soul, what we do with our bodies affects our hearts and minds,” said Father Daren Zehnle, director of the Office for Divine Worship and the Catechumenate for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. “If we approach the Eucharist in a sloppy or hurried manner, we run the risk of forgetting who it is we are receiving and of setting a bad example for those whose faith might be weak. Rather, if we approach the Eucharist with a reverent demeanor, it can help strengthen the faith of others and offers the respect to God that He deserves.
“If a Catholic has intentionally not participated in Mass every Sunday and Holy Days of Obligation, he or she may not receive the Eucharist without first being reconciled to God and the Church through the sacrament of confession. We should remember that the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days is not the same as receiving holy Communion. If we are not prepared to receive the Eucharist, we should not do so.”
St. Maximilian Kolbe, who gave his life in order to save another man’s life during his imprisonment in Auschwitz during the Holocaust in World War II, said, “If the angels could be jealous of men, they would be so for one reason: Holy Communion.” That’s a great reminder we have the most holy and pure gift available to us every Mass, Jesus, truly present in the holy Eucharist.
My answer to better prepare for Mass would be prayer, study, and live. If possible, I would arrive a few minutes early before Mass. Use the time to pray and quiet yourself. Most of us live very rushed and busy lives these days, so that time of silence allows us to focus our attention on God and offering worship to the Lord. Also, I would suggest praying over the readings before Mass on Sunday. By praying over the readings ahead of time, you will be more familiar to them and ready to let the Lord our God speak to you through them.
The second suggestion I would offer would be to study the Mass. Today as Catholics, we have so much Catholic media at our hands to learn more about our Catholic Faith. We have Dynamic Catholic, Catholic Answers, EWTN, or Word on Fire, to name just a few, literally at our fingertips. Studying the Mass can really open our eyes to the amazing meaning behind the symbols and gestures that are used at Mass. One excellent series on the Mass that I recently watched was Bishop Barron’s The Mass. It is a short series that goes through the different parts of the Mass and explains the rich meanings.
Finally, my third suggestion would be to live the Mass. The Mass is meant to form how we live because the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith. At every Mass, the Lord Jesus speaks to us and pours out his grace to heal and nourish us. One way we live the Mass is to bring an intention to every Mass. We all know someone or something to pray for at every Mass. Offer that intention up during the Prayers of the Faithful in your heart.
Also, we can live the Mass by offering up and uniting our sacrifices up to the Sacrifice of the Eucharist. We see and hear this at every Mass when the priest says, “Pray, brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.” We are all invited here to offer our sacrifices from our lives that we do for God like our work life, family life, and prayer life represented by the gifts of bread, wine, and money. So, to better prepare for Mass, think of your sacrifices that you want to offer to God before Mass and offer them up during the Eucharistic Prayer. Then look in awe as your sacrifices and mine are lifted up literally by the priest to God the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit, and we receive the ultimate gift back, the sacrifice of Christ’s Body and Blood.
Father Mark Tracy is pastor of Holy Family in Decatur and Catholic chaplain for the Illinois Army National Guard
We believe as Catholics that in the holy Eucharist the Lord is truly and substantially present. If we believe this, we also believe that we are unworthy to receive the most holy of gifts offered by Christ, the gift of Himself — Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.
This response at Mass comes after the priest, elevating the Body of Christ in the sacred Host and the chalice of the Blood of Christ says, "Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to receive the supper of the Lamb” (the reference to John the Baptist's words when he observes the coming of Jesus). When we respond, "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed," we are using the words of the centurion from St. Matthew's Gospel when he asked Jesus to heal his servant who was paralyzed.
In the Gospel passage I just referenced, Matthew 8:8, the centurion refers to the word of Jesus as enough to heal his servant and not his soul as we respond. The responses we make at the liturgical celebration of the Mass refers to our individual response in faith to the power of Jesus and so “soul” was inserted in place of “servant.”
This does not change the words of sacred Scripture but strengthens it, because we are servants of Christ and therefore called to serve in mastery over sin and embracing the spiritual nourishment of our souls.
The Body and Blood of Jesus can heal our souls. Our worthiness to receive the holy Eucharist is found in our disposition to receive what we believe and reflects our dependence upon Christ to help change our hearts to receive what is sacred and holy as nourishment for our souls. To receive the holy Eucharist in an unworthy manner is taken up by St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 11:27-29) when he says, "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself."
To acknowledge our unworthiness to receive the Eucharist is to embrace humility before the Blessed Sacrament and to prepare ourselves to be united more intimately to Christ in His passion and death and as a member of His body. Our mind, our heart, and our soul must be prepared to receive what the Church says about the Eucharist in the document Sacrosanctum Concilium from the Second Vatican Council, that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our Christian faith.
Father Stephen Thompson is pastor of Holy Family Parish in Granite City and St. Mary and St. Mark Parish in Madison
The power of eucharistic adoration
By LISA REXROAT
Special to Catholic Times
Eucharistic adoration. What does it mean to me? Wow, I could never explain this fully in words. I will do my best to express the pure joy and the bursting of my feelings that I get and the feeling of not wanting to leave! Eucharistic adoration is a place where I feel happy, joyful, secure, and safe.
I usually attend eucharistic adoration at our church on every Tuesday when we have perpetual adoration that day. I attend at our hospital chapel on other days if I feel the need for extra help on a different day. It is hard on me if I have to miss my hour, as it has become a habit, a habit which I am so happy to embrace.
While at adoration, I like to kneel as close to the Blessed Sacrament as possible. Sometimes I walk and do the Stations of the Cross. Sometimes I pray the rosary. I usually always lay my special needs up on the altar (not physically). Before I begin, I usually sing all the verses of Amazing Grace. I would be lying if I didn’t tell you a couple times I have caught myself dozing off or getting distracted. But, we are all human, we all have free will, and Jesus loves us right where we are right now!
Through adoration, I have realized He has given us all the gifts we need. We just need to be with Him in silence and ask specifically for things that we feel we need at a particular moment. We need to adore Him and thank Him. Remember, He came to earth in the flesh and suffered and died on the cross because He loves us so much. So, over the many years that I have been going to adoration, I have realized that I need to take that time and sit in silence with Him, away from the hustle and bustle.
We must believe that He can heal and answer our prayers, but we must also realize the healing may be eternally in Heaven and not here on Earth. I have had many situations that I took to prayer at adoration — for family members, friends, or myself who were sick or even a young girl that was needing to find beautiful parents to adopt her that she could trust. Those prayers were answered. So many times, I go in with an anxious heart and come out with peace and forgiveness in my heart.
Each of us has our own gift. A gift that God has given me is after each Tuesday night after adoration, He gives me a spiritual reflection, and I share that with others on my Facebook page, through text, and in our local paper. I know I have to take that quiet time and peace to hear what He reveals to me.
Some days I will cry while praying because I feel remorse — or just know He is there with me, and I get super excited. Other times, I feel a sense of peace.
I highly recommend putting adoration on your schedule. I had to do every week, otherwise I wouldn't attend because it just wouldn't get done. That is my nature. Now, I feel an emptiness when I am unable to go. If your church does not have eucharistic adoration, talk to your priest about starting it. If you have one already about your parish, set a schedule and/or bring a friend literally to Christ. We need these graces He gives freely to us. You will have no regrets. God will give you everything you need. All you need to do is ask and adore Him right there in the Blessed Sacrament.
Lisa Rexroat is a parishioner at St. Isidore Parish in Dieterich.
During the Year of the Eucharist in our diocese, Catholic Times and the social media channels for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois will also get you ready for the 100th anniversary of the transfer of the diocesan See city from Alton to Springfield (October of 2023). This includes articles and photos about the rich history of our diocese, videos from the Office for the Archives and Records Management showcasing fascinating documents and objects from our history, and 100 trivia questions, so stay tuned!
In this edition of Catholic Times, we present to you a brief history of our diocese up to the See transfer and the pioneers that made our region flourish in faith.
By KATIE and P.J. OUBRE
Office for the Archives and Records Management
Special to the Catholic Times
Even though Springfield has been the See city of our diocese for just under 100 years, the story of our diocese spans over 300 years. The land that our diocese occupies was once the home to Illini Nations and the migration path of the Peoria, Kickapoo, and Kaskaskia tribes of Indigenous People.
In 1789, the newly formed Diocese of Baltimore included the territory that is now the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. At that time, only a small population of Catholics lived in this area, practicing their faith in the settlement established by Father Jacques Marquette, who had arrived in the areas in 1673 with a group of French explorers. Since then, this area has passed under the administration of the Diocese of Bardstown, Kentucky (1808), St. Louis, Missouri (1826), and Vincennes, Indiana (1834). In 1843, the entire state of Illinois was formed into a single diocese with the See city in Chicago.
In 1852, American bishops and archbishops met in Baltimore for their first Plenary Council. There, they discussed creating more dioceses in the United States. They recommended that Illinois be divided, and on July 29, 1853, Pope Pius IX erected the Diocese of Quincy, which was comprised of the current Diocese of Springfield in Illinois and Diocese of Belleville. A bishop of Quincy was appointed but declined the honor. On Jan. 9, 1857, Pope Pius IX moved the vacant see to Alton and appointed Henry Damian Juncker, a priest from Ohio as the first bishop of Alton.
Bishop Juncker traveled to Europe and recruited priests and seminarians to commit to serve in the new diocese. Bishop Juncker built a solid spiritual foundation that made it possible for our diocese to flourish. He died on Oct. 2, 1868, having overseen the dedication and erection of over 50 local parish churches and missions.
The second bishop of our diocese was Peter J. Baltes. He was consecrated at St. Peter Church in Belleville on Jan. 23, 1870. Bishop Baltes actively recruited women religious for the Diocese of Alton and three communities established motherhouses. He stabilized the administration of the diocese and oversaw continued growth.
In 1887, upon the death of Bishop Baltes, Pope Leo XIII split the diocese in two, establishing the Diocese of Belleville from the southern portion of the diocese. Father James Ryan from the Diocese of Peoria was appointed as the third bishop of Alton.
Bishop Ryan had the longest tenure of any bishop of our diocese, serving a little over 35 years. His episcopacy saw a massive rise in immigration to the area. Thousands of immigrants settled in Central Illinois and Bishop Ryan had to contend with providing religious services to more than a dozen ethnic groups. He steered the diocese through a period of growth and change and is best known for his role in expanding the Alton orphanage. Bishop Ryan died on July 2, 1923.
On Oct. 26, 1923, Pope Pius XI translated the diocesan see from Alton to Springfield. Just 12 days earlier, the pope had named Father James Griffin of Chicago as the first bishop of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. Bishop Griffin's first task was to move the chancery from Alton to Springfield and to establish a new cathedral.
St. Mary Church in downtown Springfield became the pro-cathedral of the newly-formed diocese, but the building, which was built in 1859, was showing its age. In 1927, Bishop Griffin launched the Cathedral Campaign to raise money for the new building and within a month, the campaign had reached its goal of $750,000 and shortly thereafter, it topped the million-dollar mark. Bishop Griffin had timed the construction of the cathedral so that it would be completed in time for the celebration of the diocese's Diamond Jubilee. The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception was dedicated on Oct. 14, 1928, as the highlight of the four-day festivities.
Bishop Griffin worked to centralize the administration of the diocese by creating several new offices. The creation of Catholic Social Services (now Catholic Charities) in 1925 exemplified his new management style. During the Great Depression, Catholic Social Services, in cooperation with St. John's Hospital, initiated a systematic program to feed the hungry. St. John's Breadline operated directly from the kitchen of the hospital at first, but eventually became a freestanding operation.
The death of Bishop Griffin on Aug. 5, 1948 marked a turning point in our diocese. He ushered the diocese into the modern era, but he could not have imagined the challenges that would face the Church in the coming decades.
Our diocese continues to thrive as we celebrate the centennial of the translation of the See from Alton to Springfield, and we look forward to both the centennial of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and the 175th Anniversary of our diocese in 2028.
Katie Oubre, MLIS, CA, CRM is the director of the Archives and Record Management for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. P.J. Oubre, MA, CA, is the assistant archivist for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.
By DIANE SCHLINDWEIN
Berni Ely and Bev Hoffman, both parishioners at Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception Parish in Springfield, agree that by helping people deal with loss, they have found their special niche in life.
The two women co-facilitate a program that helps believers of all faiths paddle through the waves of grief. That program, GriefShare, is now under way on Tuesdays, from 1-2:30 p.m. in the Cathedral School library. It’s a 13-week program (the current one began Nov. 1) that allows people to join in at any time — and Cathedral runs two sessions a year.
GriefShare has existed for over 25 years and is made available in over 19,000 churches in the United States and several other countries. It is a Christ-centered video-based support group that equips lay volunteers to encourage and comfort people going through bereavement.
At Cathedral GriefShare meetings — usually attended by between five and 15 people — each person is welcomed by name. The leaders explain the agenda, offer refreshments, and welcome any new members. When everyone is settled, they say an opening prayer. The leaders inquire about the last week, to see if anyone wants to share any special concern or incident, then discuss the workbook session that has followed the previous week’s topic. The invitation to share is open, but not required. After that discussion, the group views a video, followed by a brief discussion. Guests look over the workbook pages for the upcoming week and then the session is closed with another prayer.
Because they are all feature the same GriefShare videos and share a nation-wide support team, most of the sessions are similar, no matter where they take place. For example, at the urging of her friends, Eli attended her GriefShare program at Athens Christian Church. She later approached Vicki Compton, coordinator of Faith Formation and Mission at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and asked if the parish be able to offer the program.
“I wasn’t sure if the parish could offer it — because it was Christian but not specifically Catholic in origin — but Vicki listened to me and looked into it,” Ely said. “She was very helpful. Our pastor at the time approved it and then we got started.”
“Berni said it was the best thing she could do after her husband’s death. GriefShare is what finally helped her move forward after Jack’s death. She encouraged us to start GriefShare and been part of the team since the beginning (in 2019),” Compton said.
Hoffman says, like Ely, she is pleased to be part of the GriefShare team. “I witnessed the depth of grief my sister and husband experienced following the loss of their 18-year-old son in a car accident, as well as my mother’s grief following my dad’s death. While I could not change the situation, I wanted so much to ease their pain.
“I am a long-time Cathedral parishioner. I have regretted for a long time that Catholic churches have not offered the supportive programs that some other denominations offer,” said Hoffman. “After early retirement from my career in state government, I wanted to do something that made a difference — and that was a position at a local funeral home. For many years, I referred families served by the funeral home to GriefShare programs offered by other churches. I was delighted when it could be offered by Cathedral and wanted to support and be a part of it. It is important to remember that we are not counselors, but presenting information in a compassionate manner and facilitating healing discussion. ”
“We’ve found that our guests find so much solace in good video and print resources, but mostly from the deep and sincere listening of the other participants. We have seen people change over the 13 weeks,” Compton said. “At the beginning they could only cry, but by the end were finding some moments of happiness and sharing stories and supporting others. It is really beautiful to see.”
“After several sessions, individuals feel safer about sharing their grief and tears as they recognize that they are not alone in their grief and others in the group understand,” Hoffman said. “It is easier to share the grief, though the grief doesn’t get ‘easier’ for some time.”
Most people who experience loss have people around them to help immediately after a death. But GriefShare is designed to extend a grieving ministry that follows in the months or even years after a loss, when people around the griever have returned to their busy lives.
“Some guests come as soon as few weeks after the death of a loved one, some years after the death,” Compton said. “All seem to find some healing and hope. Several participants, especially those who come soon after their loss, return to repeat the course. When grief is fresh it is difficult to take in any of the content, but being with others who know how they feel, is a comfort in itself. The second time thru is like a completely new experience for them.”
The materials point to Christ as the ultimate healer, something that Ely thinks is most important. “I don’t know how you can grieve without God,” she said. “I had been to other grief programs, but GriefShare really helped me more than anything. I felt like it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I just want to help people. I understand now that my husband had to die for me to get to this point, but I feel like this is my calling. ”
To find out more about beginning a GriefShare program in your parish, go the website, www.griefshare.org. Or, you can contact Vicki Compton at (217) 522-3342 or email .
By ANDREW HANSEN
Husband, father, and now, a deacon for the Catholic Church. Deacon Andrew Krug was ordained to the permanent diaconate Oct. 28 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Springfield by Bishop Thomas John Paprocki. Family, friends, priests, and deacons of the diocese were all in attendance.
“The Church has always been a major part of my life,” Deacon Krug said. “My mom instilled that in my siblings and myself. So, that thought of serving has always been present. One day, Deacon David Sorrell (director for the Office for the Diaconate) brought the idea of the diaconate to me. I spoke to my family, and it made sense as a move in the right direction. God has blessed me, and I want to serve and help others see God's graces in their lives.”
Those blessings include his marriage to Deanne and daughter, Ally, and now a granddaughter, Aviana Marie.
“I can truthfully say that I can relate with others fears, joys, doubts, and hopes,” Deacon Krug said. “I hope to think of those experiences will help others see that, yes, I can understand and serve by that, walk/talk with them on their journeys of faith. Life can be challenging. It helps to have a friend along the way.”
Deacon Krug will primarily be ministering at St. John Vianney Parish in Sherman and occasionally at Resurrection Parish in Illiopolis. In addition to his work in the Church, he’ll continue as a marketing specialist for Levi, Ray, & Shoup, Inc. When asked what he’s looking forward to the most as a deacon, his response was one of positivity.
“At each level of my journey as a Catholic, be it student, adult, husband, parent and now deacon, the new adventures, challenges, and joys that come with each new level, I witnessed others in that office and watched them help others and themselves in their faith journey, and I hope with enthusiasm for the new experiences,” Deacon Krug said.
Learn more about the permanent diaconate on page XX of this issue.
All Catholics to benefit from new Evermode Institute in Springfield
Prior of community that will lead the Evermode Institute details timeline, mission, programing
By ANDREW HANSEN
Father Augustine Puchner was serving as pastor of a large, multilingual parish with a school in the Diocese of Orange in California earlier this year when he was approached by the abbot of his community with a new assignment. He remembers that moment as “a day my life changed.”
“I didn’t know too much about Springfield, Ill.,” Father Puchner said with a laugh.
Since that moment, he has come to know a lot more about Springfield. That’s because Father Puchner, a priest of the Norbertine Fathers of St. Michael’s Abbey based in Orange, was given the assignment of being the prior of a community of Norbertine Fathers who are tasked with opening and leading the new Evermode Institute in Springfield, which the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois announced plans for last March. The Evermode Institute is something that is expected to become one of the nation’s top centers for Catholic spiritual and intellectual formation, opening in July 2023.
“The Evermode Institute will teach and train the teachers and administrators who themselves are in positions of responsibility and influence in regard to teaching the faith,” Father Puchner said. “Our mission is for the glorification of God and the salvation of souls through the imparting of Catholic doctrine, true Catholic teaching, in regard to all the aspects that will help school principals, administrators, teachers, directors of religious education, catechists, directors of RCIA programs — all of those involved in Catholic formation. They will be participating in the program in a variety of ways, and we’ll be offering classes that we’ll make sure that they themselves really know the faith and know it in a way that will give them the tools along with the enthusiasm and zeal to be even better teachers. But for all lay people, it will be a program that many people can benefit from.”
A native of Milwaukee, Father Puchner has been living in Wisconsin the past several months, making trips to Springfield often as he embarks on this rare and exciting opportunity to start the Evermode Institute from scratch. The Norbertine Fathers also announced Father Ambrose Criste as the director of the Evermode Institute. Both priests have already been working on the programing for the institute.
“It (the programming) will be at a level that is not overwhelming,” Father Puchner said. “It will start with a more basic curriculum to reinforce what our teachers already know about the faith, but maybe they don’t know the reasons behind some of the teachings or how those teachings can be effectively integrated with other teachings. So, it’s a comprehensive program of theology and spirituality. It will be accessible to the common person but it a way that will definitely elevate the knowledge of their faith.”
Located on Springfield’s northeast side on the grounds adjacent to the convent of the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis, the Evermode Institute includes St. Francis of Assisi Church, a large conference room, overnight accommodations for guests, and beautiful outdoor prayer trails, Stations of the Cross, and grottos.
“It’s an incredible gift, and we, the entire Norbertine Community, everyone realizes this is an incredible gift from God,” Father Puchner said. “The first time I came, and now that I am here, the beauty of the grounds and the property and the majestic beauty of this gorgeous church (St. Francis of Assisi Church), all this to glorify God and the mission of evangelization, faith formation, and celebrating the sacraments — it will be renewed in a very powerful way.”
Before the Evermode Institute fully opens in July next year, several more priests from the Norbertine Fathers will join Fathers Puchner and Criste as they will all set up full-time residence at the property, with the Evermode Institute being their primary apostolate.
“Our plan is to make this not only special for Springfield, but far beyond,” Father Puchner said. “There will be in-person classes at the Evermode Institute and electronically.
“The Nobertines have a long history of faith formation programs. We feel we bring a certain amount of gifts, talents, expertise, and experience in regard to the Evermode Institute which will really form the teachers and administrators to be even more well-versed in teaching and living the Catholic faith.”
For the past several years, the Norbertine Fathers were looking for another location in the country to grow their community as they have had to reject potential seminarians because they were full. This happened despite them completing a new and expanded home just last year in California.
Immersed in the 900-year tradition of their order, the Norbertine Fathers live a common life of liturgical prayer and care for souls. Their life at St. Michael’s Abbey in Orange, and next year in Springfield, is organized according to prayer of the Church: the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours. The public will be able to pray with them and attend Mass at St. Francis of Assisi Church, many of whom call the church a “gem of the Midwest” for its striking beauty, history, and relics on display.
The Evermode Institute (4875 Laverna Road, Springfield, IL 62707) is being established under the patronage of St. Evermode, a Norbertine prelate who died in 1178 and was a close collaborator of St. Norbert. St. Evermode is credited with great and effective works of evangelization and formation in the Catholic faith.
In addition to the Evermode Institute, the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois is also working with the daughter of one the most popular modern day Catholic saints, who announced plans to establish an international pilgrimage site and center very close to the Evermode Institute (a block or two away). Dr. Gianna Emanuela Molla, the daughter of Italian saint, St. Gianna Beretta Molla (1922-1962) and Pietro Molla, will establish the St. Gianna Beretta Molla and Pietro Molla International Center for Family and Life, which will be a peaceful place of prayer, learning, study, and spirituality for pilgrims geared to spreading the knowledge of and devotion to her holy parent’s virtues and, thus, to promote the holiness of the family and respect for the sanctity of all human life.
That means in the future, Central Illinois will be home to the Evermode Institute; the St. Gianna Beretta Molla and Pietro Molla International Center for Family and Life; Venerable Father Augustine Tolton, the nation’s first black priest who is buried in Quincy and who is on his way to sainthood; and Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen, who is buried in Peoria and is also on his way to sainthood. When asked if this area could therefore become a “Catholic mecca,” Father Puchner laughed and said, “That’s our plan.”
“After every meeting (with Bishop Thomas John Paprocki and his staff), we all agree that this can be huge,” Father Puchner said. “I mean, all glory be to God, we’ll do the work. God has chosen this place for a ministry that will be so far reaching and renew and reform so much in regard to Catholic education, Catholic formation, and sacred worship. It’s a lot to grasp, but we have great ideas and resources to make it all happen. It’s really exciting.”
Answers taken and edited from Andrew Hansen’s interview with Father Puchner on Dive Deep, the official podcast of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. To hear more of their conversation, go to dio.org/podcast or search “Dive Deep” on all the major podcast platforms. Make sure to subscribe to the podcast as a new one comes out every month.
By DEACON DAVID SORRELL
Special to Catholic Times
As we reflect over the past 20 years, much has happened regarding the permanent diaconate in our diocesan Church. Shortly after Bishop George Lucas was installed as our bishop in 1999, he began a conversation concerning the permanent diaconate in our Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. Since Vatican II had restored the permanent diaconate, many dioceses in our country had already implemented a formation program and called many men to holy orders. Members of our diocesan Curia, Quincy University, and Father Bill Burton, a Franciscan Friar at Quincy University, began collaborating on a formation program for our diocese. From the effort, a dual path was created resulting in a certificate or master’s degree in pastoral theology.
After exhaustive consultation, in the fall of 2002, Bishop Lucas issued an invitation to all interested Catholic men, single and married, above the age of 35 and in good standing in the Church to come and learn more about the permanent diaconate in our diocese. More than 30 candidate families completed the application and evaluation. To be admitted to the formation program, it was necessary for each applicant to be supported by their family and parish. Supported by the faculty of Quincy University and diocesan priests, classes began in December 2002. Two groups of men and wives were graduates of the Quincy University program. In June 2007 and 2009, 28 men petitioned and were ordained to the holy order of deacon.
Periodically throughout the Quincy University program, goals were reevaluated. Further discernment resulted in the formation team looking east to the Benedictine’s at Saint Meinrad in Indiana. They were actively engaged in preparing deacons in more than 20 dioceses across the country and Caribbean in a non-degree model. However, the classes could benefit a deacon after ordination should he desire to continue higher education. The Villa Maria Retreat Center in Springfield, with all its accommodations, became the venue for the permanent diaconate formation. For 12 years, Saint Meinrad’s national network of faculty provided exceptional professors who traveled to Springfield monthly. During this time, 27 men petitioned and were ordained to the holy order of deacon.
Once again, as the formation team reevaluated process and goals, it was determined that formation was lacking in certain dimensions. It was also during this time that the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis in Springfield entered into agreement with the diocese to assume responsibility of the marvelous campus and facilities. Now, the Evermode Institute at that campus has been formed to provide formation not only for teachers and catechists but also for priests and deacons. In August, a group of six men began their path to ordination, God willing, in 2027. Once fully implemented, this new model will allow for men to enter into formation every year.
However, what remains the same is the purpose of formation of future ministers for our diocesan family. So how might we ask the question, “What is a deacon?” A deacon is an ordained minister of the Catholic Church. There are three groups, or "orders," of ordained ministers in the Church: bishops, presbyters, and deacons. Deacons are ordained as a sacramental sign to the Church and to the world of Christ, who came "to serve and not to be served." The entire Church is called by Christ to serve, and the deacon, in virtue of his sacramental ordination and through his various ministries, is to be a servant in a servant-Church.
This review of our permanent diaconate formation once restored and through these renewals remains in fidelity to the call to serve in the manner and example of Christ the Servant. Visit dio.org/diaconate to learn more about this vocation and contact information.
Deacon David Sorrell is director of the Office for the Diaconate for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.
Why are we asking for the “Sacred Heart” of Jesus to pray for us? Does the Heart of the Lord pray to the Lord or to God? In the traditional Mass, we ask for the Sacred Heart to have mercy on us and not to pray for us.
- Jake in Springfield
Thanks for your question. It brings up a couple of opportunities for clarification that I find are pretty common. First, on the distinction of asking for God's mercy versus asking the intercession of the saints: We can look at the centuries-long practice of the Church's use of litanies in her public prayer to answer your principal question.
Litanies today seem to be recited, more often than not, but in former times, they were nearly always sung, which better illustrates that they are a dialogue. Some of the litanies that people might be familiar with still today include the Litany of the Saints, Litany of the Holy Name of Jesus, Litany of the Most Precious Blood, Litany of the Holy Ghost (a central element of St. Louis de Montfort's Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary), the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary (commonly called Loreto), and the Litany of St. Joseph (to which Pope Francis recently added additional invocations). Since you mentioned the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, you might also be familiar with the Major Litanies of the Rogation Days celebrated each spring, leading up to Ascension Thursday, and those of the feast of St. Mark.
In all these, we begin by praying, “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.” These are supplications first to the Father, then to the Son, and finally, to the Holy Spirit. Then we ask for Christ to hear us, and then more emphatically, to graciously hear us. Then we pray, “God the Father of Heaven, have mercy on us. God the Son, Redeemer of the world, have mercy on us. God the Holy Spirit, have mercy on us. Holy Trinity, One God, have mercy on us.”
This would be the most appropriate point to address the second clarification. Many people colloquially use "God" when what they are talking about is "God the Father." Additionally, many use "Lord" only when they mean "Jesus," but we know from the Old Testament that Lord in Hebrew is "Adonai," and they were certainly invoking God the Father of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, when saying "Lord." This leads to some people saying they invoked "both God and Jesus," which is extremely problematic language we should not use, because the three Persons of the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) are indeed all God and Lord. This is most clearly expressed in the ancient Preface of the Holy Trinity which says:
"It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God. For with your Only Begotten Son and the Holy Spirit you are one God, one Lord: not in the unity of a single person, but in a Trinity of one substance. For what you have revealed to us of your glory we believe equally of your Son and of the Holy Spirit, so that, in the confessing of the true and eternal Godhead, you might be adored in what is proper to each Person, their unity in substance, and their equality in majesty."
I am unfamiliar with any prayers that would ask the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus to "pray for us." Instead, the proper response is either "have mercy on us" or "save us" (as in the Litany of the Most Precious Blood), or "Lord, deliver us we pray" (as in the Litany of the Saints), or "hear us / Lord, hear our prayer" (as opposed to not hearing our petitions).
In the Litany of the Saints, the Litany of Loreto, the Litany of St. Joseph, etc., we always respond "pray for us" after invoking the saints. It's possible whatever resource you saw that put Jesus on the same level as the saints just made an error in typing. The distinctions in what we ask from the Persons of the Trinity and what we ask of the saints, by God's power, has been consistently expressed in the ways I've mentioned for a very long time. This is true in both the Extraordinary and Ordinary Forms of the Mass.
To best envision how prayer works in general is to remember what happens at the Offertory of the Mass. We have the horizontal dimension of the faithful entrusting all their prayers and needs symbolically to the priest, who then offers all these needs along with the bread and wine that will later become the Body and Blood of the Lord at the consecration. Then there is the vertical dimension where the priest, on behalf of the faithful, offers up all these things to Jesus on the cross at the Consecration, Who, in turn, offers it all up to God the Father. The priest also asks that the Holy Spirit would come down upon the gifts on the altar and sanctify them. So, Heaven meets earth on the altar, and the vertical dimension of prayer (our love of God) and the horizontal dimension (our love of neighbor) meet. Many hours of meditation can be spent on that reality alone!
I hope this was helpful. Please pray for me and all the clergy.
Father Zach Edgar is in residence at St. Rose of Lima Parish in Quincy and is chaplain at the Illinois Veterans Home.
By ANDREW HANSEN
Aug. 26, 1959 is a date that will forever be in the mind of Sister Mary Ellen Backes, OSU.
“When Janet (her identical twin sister) and I were 14 years of age, a car accident took the lives of our parents and left Janet and myself with serious injuries,” Sister Mary Ellen recalls. “A tragic event such as this changes the course of one’s history. The feeling of helplessness, not being able to awake from a bad dream, ironically became a source of blessing. Amidst the tragedy, I came to know God’s nearness and presence in the human family, in the strangers who appeared to help mend our brokenness. I believe the sudden loss of my parents, the suffering of me and my twin, of my entire family, became the seed that nourished my faith.”
Fast forward to today, and that seed of faith has blossomed into a life-giving tree. Sister Mary Ellen has been ministering at St. Joseph Parish and previously the school before it closed for 27 years, but that is only half her life as a sister. She made her first profession as an Ursuline of Belleville in 1965. She has been an Ursuline Sister now for 60 years come 2023 (since 2005, she has been an Ursuline of Mt. St. Joseph Maple Mount, Kentucky, when the order merged).
“I thought religious life would provide a straight highway to Heaven with no conflicts or distractions,” Sister Mary Ellen said with a laugh. “Eventually I came to understand that it is God who does the choosing, that religious life is one of service, of carrying God’s presence into the lives of others. God chose me first and opened my life to learning what it is to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, to be a servant, to carry the light of God’s love, goodness, joy, and peace to others.”
Born in 1944 in North Dakota, Sister Mary Ellen says her parents and grandparents deeply influenced her faith life.
“They always attended church, never missed Mass, and lived their faith,” Sister Mary Ellen said. “They worked long and hard to cultivate crops of wheat, barley, mustard, and corn, and trusted in a higher power to produce the fruits of their labors. I remember well an often-repeated story that on Sunday mornings, at the exact time most ripe for harvesting the crop, the German pastor would remind them that Sunday ‘is the day of rest.’ Their prayer was unspoken as they walked into the crops to check the health of the wheat and to check to see if insects were present that might destroy the crops. They often looked into the North Dakota skyline for possible coming storms or damaging winds.”
In high school Sister Mary Ellen met the Ursulines, saying that she found them to be welcoming, relational, fun, humorous, and joyful.
“They shared their humanity,” she said. “I found this to be much more appealing. They invited us into their lives and their stories.
Sister Mary Ellen ended up choosing the name “Ellen,” as that was her mother’s name. Over the decades, she has lived in several places in Illinois and for nearly the last 30 years, in Springfield. Saying that she wanted to minister to children and adults in parish life, she received a master’s degree in theology along her journey to today.
“In 1995, I was offered a pastoral associate and director of religious education position at St. Joseph in Springfield,” Sister Mary Ellen said. “I was interviewed for this position by Father Pat Render, CSV, and remember telling him during the interview that I’m a long-time employee and would remain in this parish for years to come. I have loved the parish since the very beginning.”
At St. Joseph, Sister Mary Ellen has touched the lives of so many people, from children to older adults. With her vast knowledge of the faith and joy-filled spirit, her ministry has been a true witness of what it means to be a disciple of Christ. She was responsible for sacramental preparation when the school existed and continued that into the PSR program. Currently, she facilitates faith formation from birth to death, directs the Catholic Faith Formation program for children and those in RCIA, facilitates Scripture classes, and is involved in some way in several other ministries at the parish.
“Sister is incredibly inspirational to me,” said Amy Voils, executive director at Mercy Communities, which is next door to the parish. “We share a wall, so I see her almost on a daily basis. She is incredibly kind. Everything she does, I see her do it through Christ, and it’s very inspirational to me and my faith.
“When she does a program, she completes it, and she does it very good,” said Gary Schmidt, a parishioner at St. Joseph. “You name it, and she is doing it. She spends a lot of her time on building her classes on all these stages people go through to join the Church. I think people appreciate it, and they remember her.”
“It has been a joy to know and journey in faith, life, and death with so many sisters,” Sister Mary Ellen said as she looks back over the decades. “And, it has been a privilege to meet and accompany so many wonderful people who have come into my life through the Church, through my ministry, to struggle with them in their pain, and celebrate with them in their joys.”
Sister Mary Ellen describes her life as a sister as “an adventure.” With National Vocations Week Nov. 7-13, she offers this advice for parents and grandparents who see a vocation to the religious life in their daughter or granddaughter.
“I think the first thing parents and grandparents must do is practice and cultivate their own relationship with God so they themselves can begin to understand what a religious vocation is all about. In this way parents and grandparents can take a more realistic look at religious life.
“Religious life at this time is being transformed into something new and different. We, religious and laity alike, must remain open to the power and movement of the Holy Spirit.”
After her decades of experience being there for others, teaching others, and witnessing so much, she says that she has learned that “it’s more about what God is doing in my life than what I’m accomplishing or experiencing.”
“I would encourage young people to take Jesus as their model first and foremost, to be true to themselves, to live their lives with purpose,” Sister Mary Ellen said. “I’d tell them to give the best of themselves in all that they do, and to trust that life has meaning. I would advise them to be authentic and open to God’s presence and the action of the Holy Spirit in their lives. If they do, they will experience joy! I’ll close by saying I believe this is what it means to be religious.”
Who is God calling you to be? Go to dio.org/vocations.
Why do we not have an American flag in our church? We are "one nation, under God." We sing patriotic songs on July 4, etc., but the flag of our great nation is nowhere to be seen.
Nancy in our diocese
The practice of placing the national flag somewhere inside churches seems to be an American custom. In my travels, I cannot recall seeing a national flag in the churches I have visited in Italy, Scotland, England, Spain, Turkey, Greece, or Australia; I have only seen a national flag in some churches in the United States of America.
Neither the General Instruction of the Roman Missal — which governs the celebration of the Mass and certain aspects of churches — nor the Code of Canon Law addresses the topic of flags within churches, presumably because such a practice is unforeseen by the Bishop of Rome. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, however, has provided some guidance on the placement of flags within churches:
“The Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy has in the past encouraged pastors not to place the flag within the sanctuary itself, in order to reserve that space for the altar, the ambo, the presidential chair and the tabernacle. Instead, the suggestion has been made that the American flag be placed outside the sanctuary, or in the vestibule of the Church together with a book of prayer requests. It remains, however, for the diocesan bishop to determine regulations in this matter.”
Why might this be?
The sanctuary is meant to be a representation of the heavenly Jerusalem and, ideally, represents in various means the worship given to God by the angels and saints, that same worship and life to which we aspire and for which we long. Just as in the life to come, there will be no marrying, neither will there be any national differences among humanity (cf. Matthew 22:30; Galatians 3:28). Consequently, nothing representing national boundaries has a place within the sanctuary because it is not — and will not be — part of the heavenly Jerusalem.
That said, it is permissible to display flags in the vestibule or parish hall, or some other such space, at the discretion of the pastor, unless the local bishop determines otherwise. As far as I know, none of the bishops of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois has issued a policy on the displaying of flags in parish buildings. The displaying of flags outside of the sanctuary is a possibility, but it is nowhere required.
Father Daren Zehnle is pastor at St. Augustine Parish in Ashland; parochial administrator of St. Alexius Parish in Beardstown, St. Fidelis Parish in Arenzville, and St. Luke Parish in Virginia; and is the director for the Office of Divine Worship and the Catechumenate for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.
‘You no longer consider that this is a human being that you are killing’
After performing hundreds of abortions, this doctor is sharing the lies of the abortion industry so truth can prevail
Dr. Haywood Robinson grew up in Southern California and received specialty training in family practice medicine in Los Angeles. He learned how to perform abortions in 1978, after Roe V. Wade legalized abortion in the United States. (This year, the U.S. Supreme Court overruled that decision.) During his residency training, Robinson met his wife and the two started performing abortions together. After performing hundreds of abortions, he and his wife had a conversion, ending their practice of performing abortions after converting to Christianity.
Now, Robinson advocates for life and travels the country speaking the truth about abortion and the lies the abortion industry proclaims. Earlier this year, he was in Granite City as the keynote speaker at the 40 Days for Life kickoff rally next to the abortion facility there.
Catholic Times Editor Andrew Hansen interviewed Robinson to learn about the mind of an abortionist and how manipulation is fooling people into thinking abortion is simply “health care.”
When you were in medical school, what made you think that you wanted to perform abortions?
That’s an excellent question because it really doesn’t quite work out that way. What the abortion mentality or philosophy has been successful at is the mindset of making abortion seem like it is medicine. So, it wasn’t like I decided, “Oh, I think I will go see what abortion is like and go do an abortion today.” Abortions were performed in the hospital I trained in as part of “normal medical practice.” So, I started doing abortions because I thought it was normal. But, abortion is not medicine. Medicine’s purpose is to comfort, to heal, and to make an individual better. There is nothing about an abortion that improves the life of a woman. It kills the baby and damages the mother psychologically and many times, physically.
What is it like performing an abortion?
When I first saw my initial abortion, watching over the shoulder of another resident, I will say that there was something about it that made me queasy. God gives us this conscience that He puts in us, which lets us know when something just isn’t right. What the enemy is able to do, is the same thing he has done from scene one, act one in the Bible. That is deception. If he can deceive you to think, “The woman is getting an abortion anyway and this is legal and you need to know how to do this procedure,” you tend to fall for it.
Here is what happens: You have this progressive desensitization and dehumanization that happens, not only in the doctor, but the nurses, and the entire medical team, where you no longer consider that this is a human being that you are killing.
You mentioned when you first saw an abortion that it didn’t seem right. So, when performing these abortions, taking these now lifeless human beings out of the mother, was there still anything inside of you saying that this is wrong or were you just numb?
You tend to suppress that because you have to remember you are in a setting where your evaluation is looked at how professionally you handle situations like this. If you act like the way you probably should act, then you will possibly be labeled “not professional” or “not being sensitive to the patient’s needs.” So, you treat the abortion just like you treat any other medical procedure. But no, you can’t change that gut feeling that something is wrong.
We totally ignore the humanity of the preborn child, but on the flipside, we admit when a woman has a miscarriage, you’re supposed to handle that a totally different way, being sensitive that there has been a loss in the family, get counseling, etc. But, you can’t have it both ways. It’s a baby no matter what.
How much did money play a role in you doing abortions?
I will say right off, I never enjoyed doing an abortion. I’ve never talked to a doctor who said, “That was a fun abortion.” Abortions are done for money. The fuel for the abortion industry is simply money. If the variable of money was removed from the abortion equation, we wouldn’t be having this conversation because it is a very lucrative and easy business, you don’t have to file insurance, it’s cash, you never have to worry about patients being dissatisfied because once a woman has an abortion, they really don’t want to have anything to do with the facility anymore.
Then, there is the lie you hear of “this is a choice between a doctor and a woman.” I can tell you, it’s not. The doctor doesn’t see the woman until right before the time of the abortion. These abortionists are what we call transient doctors. They just move around to several different venues making their cash.
What are some other big lies about abortion?
Forty years ago, they said it was “just a blob of tissue.” But babies have become more humanized simply by technology. It happened (recently) where a 20 week (baby in the womb) survived in the neonatal intensive care unit and went home. Back in 1973, that didn’t happen. That’s halfway through a pregnancy. So, technology has helped.
Scott Peterson (of California) received life in prison for two murders. One for the murder of his wife and for the murder of the preborn child when his wife was 20 weeks pregnant. So, we have laws that recognize a preborn child is human in certain instances, but then if you flip the coin, they are no longer human (abortion).
In malpractice, if an obstetrician gives his patient, the mother, a drug that adversely affects the preborn child, that doctor is held responsible for the injury of that child. If a doctor suspects a woman is using crack or heroine, by law, that doctor has to report that to the state because the state has an interest of the child to not become drug addicted or harmed. So, we have this abortion distortion where you try to have it both ways, but it doesn't work that way.
You eventually stopped performing abortions after just a few years because first, the city you moved to with your wife, in your words, had this “community standard where they didn’t perform abortions.” But, then you converted to Christianity and that really changed you?
The Lord told me and my wife and said, “It’s time for us to talk about the past and abortions.” That’s where He really revealed the magnitude of that sin. The Lord really allowed us to see how wrong killing these preborn children are and soon thereafter, I launched into the pro-life ministry, and for me, my first pro-life ministry was pregnancy resource centers.
On March 7 this year, you were in Granite City in our diocese as the keynote speaker at the 40 Days for Life kickoff rally by Hope Clinic, the abortion facility there. What was your message?
That facility, they call it Hope, but it’s really hopeless. I know what it’s like to work in a building like that. All they do is bring women in and hurt them. That’s all they do. They do late term abortions there. The place looks hard, it looks cold. My message was thanking them for being a part of 40 Days for Life.
40 Days for Life started in Bryan, Texas (by College Station). Planned Parenthood opened a facility there and this was a facility many knew about — Abby Johnson was the director. She walked out after having a revelation about the sanctity of life and what abortion is. After that, the Planned Parenthood closed down because 40 Days for Life, (people) standing in front of the facility, fasting, and praying. It’s very interesting, when we as believers, when we do things that the Lord says we are supposed to do, like prayer and fasting, we are sometimes surprised when we get results when we shouldn’t be.
The science proves that it is a human life at the moment of conception but for those who support abortion, that doesn’t seem to resonate with them. What is your message to those who still believe abortion is OK?
I would ask them, when do think their life began? Was it two weeks after conception? A month? Have them consider their life personally.
Questions and edited answers taken from Andrew Hansen’s interview with Dr. Robinson on Dive Deep, the official podcast of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. Hear more from Robinson by going to dio.org/podcast.
By NATHALIE CORBETT
Special to Catholic Times
March 4, 1993, 11:53 p.m. and March 5, 1993, 12:12 a.m. Those are the dates and times marking when my twin brother and I were born. But here's what they do not mark: they do not mark the beginning of our lives, nor do they mark the beginning of our stories.
Our stories begin with a brave woman named Cindy, our biological mother. A one-night stand resulted in her unplanned pregnancy, with not one but two babies. This is what Cindy was facing. She was alone and only 22 years old. I'm sure she was faced with a lot of concerns. She was probably scared and had numerous reasons for not wanting to bring my brother and I into the world, but she made the brave decision to keep us and to put us up for adoption once we were born.
This, however, is only the beginning of how brave Cindy was to make this decision. A normal pregnancy was not intended for her. Early in her pregnancy, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. The doctors encouraged her to abort the two of us to give her a better chance at success in her treatment against the cancer. Instead, Cindy chose to give us a better chance at surviving and made the decision to keep us in her womb for as long as she could.
I heard this story for the first time when I was 18 years old. From that moment, my pro-life mission had more focus, and it couldn’t resonate more than with what Biking for Babies achieves every summer. The mission of Biking for Babies is to renew the culture of life one pedal stroke and one pregnancy resource center at a time. Every Biking for Babies missionary partners with a Pregnancy Resource Center (mine was First Step Women’s Center in Springfield), and we raise funds collectively to help these centers and the women entering them by teaming up with other missionaries and bike about 700 miles in six days. Different groups start in various places in the country, but everyone finishes in St. Louis.
In returning to Biking for Babies this year, I thought I knew what to expect when signing up a second time around, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Several curveballs in both my training and my experience during the national ride came my way. There were several moments where I wanted to give up, but the mission kept calling me back.
Due to injuries to my elbow and muscles to my left leg as well as getting COVID, I was unable to start training until a month before the national ride. I pushed through and managed to get an 80-mile bike ride in before the national ride, which is what I needed to assure the team that I could do this.
I met my fellow “western route’ missionaries in Dodge City, Kan., our starting point for our 700-mile ride to St. Louis. We were excited for the long week ahead of us, but our first day of biking, July 10, gave us an idea of what we would be dealing with the entire week: 106-degree weather and humidity. We had cooling towels to cool us off during breaks and an amazing support crew that would spray us with cold water every two miles, but it was quite a challenge.
My leg injury then started flaring up on day two of biking, which meant that I couldn’t do the entirety of the mileage. I started looking for ways to get back home. The week wasn’t going as I had planned. Whenever I started looking for a way home, I would always come to the following conclusion: This wasn’t about me, and it wasn’t about the mileage I was getting in. It was about supporting my fellow missionaries, being a witness to life on the roads, communities, and families we encountered during the week, and ultimately, helping mothers and their unborn children.
After the ride was finished on July 16, we were asked, “What was a ‘God-send’ moment for you and your team this week?’” For me, it was our last day of biking.
Two of our bikers had to leave that morning, which meant that only four bikers were left, including myself. I was worried at the news because I knew that at some point, I would be getting off the bike. So, at 4:30 a.m., we started on the Katy Trail which runs along the Mississippi River. I managed to do 70 miles before hopping off and giving my leg a break. While taking a break, I went to a bike shop with two of the support crew members to get additional inner tubes since we were completely out and biking on a gravel surface. When we got back to the group, another biker, Ryan, was out due to heat stroke.
I decided to get back on the bike because it was too dangerous for only two people to be biking. After biking five miles, we reached a support crew vehicle and were told to stop. Jimmy, the co-founder of Biking for Babies, came out of a van with a bike and said, “I heard you guys needed another biker.” The three of us were so relieved. Once we were getting closer to St. Louis, the hills got steeper and my leg couldn’t handle it, but I knew that the team was in good hands with Jimmy being there. Ryan and I re-joined the team for the last five miles and then continued to bike the final mile with all the Biking for Babies missionaries.
Our team went through a lot of hurdles that day, and Jimmy showing up when he did was exactly what we needed. It’s that moment that reminded me of my faith in God. He will show up exactly when you need help, so turn to Him and embrace Him.
Nathalie Corbett attends St. Katharine Drexel Parish in Springfield.
Given the Catholic Church’s teaching on abortion, is the use of birth control pills considered an abortion? If so, does it prevent those who use birth control pills from receiving the Eucharist
Anonymous in the diocese
To answer your questions, we have to make several important distinctions. Briefly put, the Church’s moral evaluation of abortion is distinct from that of using birth control (contraception) because these are very different acts. Abortion is the “direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being” (John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, n. 57). Contraception is “any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation” (Humanae Vitae, n. 14). Abortion destroys life, contraception prevents it. If chosen freely and knowingly, both abortion and contraception constitute serious sins (see Pius XI, Casti Connubii, n. 56).
In the case of abortion, a new human life is already present, and therefore the only “birth control” possible would be to destroy the human embryo or fetus, a clear violation of the Sixth Commandment, “You shall not kill.” In the case of contraception, fertilization is prevented in some way, and so there is no question of destroying a human life. However, contraception violates the nature of marital love, in which the spouses should give themselves to each other unreservedly. Openness to new life is an essential element of every sexual expression of marital love, even when natural methods like Natural Family Planning (NFP) are used to avoid pregnancy for some legitimate reason (illness, spacing births for serious financial reasons, etc.).
When it comes to contraception, we have to be precise, because the term is often used to describe a variety of drugs with very different effects. The most common contraceptive drug is a combination of estrogen and progestogen known colloquially as “the pill.” The pill alters a woman’s menstrual cycle and prevents ovulation (the release of egg cells), rendering her temporarily infertile. This is contraception in the proper sense of the word because conception is prevented altogether.
However, other drugs advertised as “contraceptives” can actually allow conception (fertilization) to occur and then cause the death of the embryo afterwards. Such drugs are not really contraceptives but “abortifacients” (abortion causing drugs). This is especially the case for drugs sold as “emergency contraceptives.” The so-called “morning after pill,” Plan B (levonorgestrel), is the most popular of these. When taken after sexual intercourse (as advertised and instructed), the only remaining way for this drug to “work” is by preventing the embryo’s attachment to the uterus. This ultimately kills the embryo and is thus an abortion. Of course, given the typical woman’s fertility window of about six days per month, so-called “emergency contraceptives” certainly do not cause an abortion every time they are used. This does not diminish the moral evil of using them, but it does reduce the number of human lives destroyed.
There are also drugs that are explicitly advertised as abortion drugs. The most common one is RU-486 (mifepristone), openly called “the abortion pill.” It is usually used together with the drug Cytotec (misoprostol). These drugs are used throughout the first and second trimesters of pregnancy. They first cause the death of the embryo or fetus and then its discharge. This is called a “chemical abortion.”
So, to your question about whether the Church considers “birth control pills” to be a form of abortion, the answer is that it depends on which drug is used. The most common form of contraception, “the pill,” is taken daily and prevents fertilization itself rather than killing embryos post-fertilization. It is possible for the pill to make the uterine wall less hospitable to the embryo’s attachment. But this would be an indirect abortive effect and not an abortion properly speaking (many medications can have indirect effects on fertility and pregnancy). Recall that abortion is the “direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being,” not a rare, indirect, and unintended side effect of some other action. On this note, it is important to acknowledge that some women are prescribed the pill for therapeutic reasons, for example, to treat endometriosis, severe acne, and certain forms of cancer. This use of the pill is morally permissible provided that the contraceptive effect is not the intention of the woman, and she is still open to life (in the context of marriage, of course) (see Humanae Vitae, n. 15).
It is possible and perhaps even likely that someone could be ignorant of the abortion-causing effects of so-called “emergency contraceptives” like Plan B. After all, they are advertised as “contraceptives,” not abortifacients. This ignorance would reduce the person’s moral culpability for using the drug. However, it would be difficult for someone to claim ignorance about a drug like RU-486, which is openly advertised as an abortion pill.
Regarding worthy reception of the Eucharist, abortion and contraception are not unique: All Catholics who are conscious of committing any serious sin are obliged to refrain from holy Communion until they receive absolution in the sacrament of reconciliation (see 1 Cor 11:27–30 and Code of Canon Law, n. 916). Anyone who has been involved in an abortion in any way should ask for God’s forgiveness and come to the sacrament of reconciliation to receive mercy, grace, and healing. Anyone who has used contraceptives for the purpose of preventing new life should do the same. Behind every “no” in the Church’s teaching is a life-giving and liberating “yes” to authentic human love and flourishing.
Father Christopher Trummer, S.T.L, is parochial vicar at St. Agnes Parish in Springfield, associate delegate for Health Care Professionals, associate chaplain of the Springfield Chapter of the Catholic Physicians Guild/Catholic Medical Association, and has a license in Sacred Theology in Moral Theology at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, Italy.
By BRIAN BIERMAN
Special to Catholic Times
NEWTON — On June 24, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade ending federal protection of the right to abortion. Now, individual states will get to decide whether or not to allow abortion in their state. It was a tremendous victory for the pro-life movement, but there is still much more work to be done, especially in the state of Illinois. On the day of the ruling, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker promised the state would remain a “safe haven” for women seeking an abortion and called for a special session of the General Assembly to further expand and protect those rights in the state.
As many in Illinois fight to expand abortion rights, people who support life in Newton are standing up to support men, women, and families experiencing pregnancy, parenting, and other related issues. The small city in Jasper County is now home to the diocese’s newest pregnancy center, the Newton Family Life Center.
In addition to the Family Life Center, a new thrift store, The Silk Purse, has also opened in Newton. The Silk Purse Thrift Store carries a full range of items for the public’s shopping experience. All items are donated and all net proceeds from the store go to support the ministries of the Family Life Center.
The Newton Family Life Center and Silk Purse Thrift Store are expansions of the locations already located in Effingham that have been operating for 27 years. So many clients were coming from Jasper County and the surrounding area that the board of directors thought there was a need to expand the Effingham pregnancy center to Newton to help those people. After several months of searching for locations in Newton, in April, two suitable locations were found for the pregnancy center and the thrift store.
Thanks to the generosity of one individual, the cost of the pregnancy center building was covered and the thrift store building and land it sits on was donated by the neighboring concrete plant. Both buildings required some renovations, and a capital campaign was started to raise an estimated $290,000. To date, The Moving Forward in HOPE Campaign has raised more than $240,000, so there is still work to be done. If you would like to get involved, you can find information at the Friends of Newton Family Life Center Facebook page or donations can be mailed directly to Moving Forward in HOPE Campaign, 605 Eden Ave., Effingham, IL 62401.
The Family Life Center is a NIFLA affiliated Christian not-for-profit ministry that provides practical assistance, education, and support to empower and equip women, men, and families experiencing pregnancy, parenting, and related issues, to live healthy productive lives. The Newton Family Life Center provides pregnancy testing, limited OB ultrasounds, parenting classes, educational pregnancy classes, adoption information and referrals, post-abortion support, and baby supplies (as part of the Client Cash Program). Participants in parenting classes earn incentives of diapers and Client Cash for use at the Silk Purse Thrift Store with each monthly visit. With the completion of six visits, a mom earns a basket of new items for the baby and a car seat. The Family Life Center has several employees that are all trained to deal with clients as needed as well as many volunteers who help with many of the center’s events throughout the year. You can learn more about the Newton Family Life Center at their Facebook page, Friends of the Newton Family Life Center.
The Silk Purse Thrift Store will be a huge asset to Newton and the surrounding area by providing a wide array of various household items and clothing at low prices. All of its inventory is donated by the public and most of the workers are volunteers keeping operating costs low. Countless area businesses and individuals volunteered labor and donated material to turn the building into a beautiful space the community can be proud of. Donations of clothing and household goods are accepted Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m.-6 p.m. (closed Sunday and Monday). You can find more information about the store on Facebook at the Silk Purse Thrift Store – Newton.
The Newton Family Life Center and Silk Purse Thrift Store could not be possible without all of the amazing community support. Countless individuals, churches, and area businesses have gone above and beyond to help make these facilities a reality. Together, we can all create a positive environment where families stay strong, and society respects the dignity of life from conception to natural death. If you would like to learn more about the Family Life Center, please visit familylifepcc.org.
Brian Bierman is a board member of Family Life Center and a St. Thomas the Apostle parishioner in Newton.
The Silk Purse Thrift Store provides a wide array of various household items and clothing at low prices. All of its inventory is donated by the public and most of the workers are volunteers keeping operating costs low. Participants in parenting classes earn incentives of diapers and Client Cash for use at the Silk Purse Thrift Store with each monthly visit. With the completion of six visits, a mom earns a basket of new items for the baby and a car seat.
By DIANE SCHLINDWEIN
If you added up the years of wedlock represented by the couples at the Sept. 18 Mass celebrating 50 or more years of marriage that number would exceed well over 2,500 years of love, commitment, and fulfillment of sacramental vows. That’s because not only were many couples there at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception celebrating the vows they took in 1972, but also the vows that many of them took in the 1960s and the 1950s.
The evidence of staying together in sickness and in health was obvious among the couples. Some were accompanied by family members, some arrived with one or both of the spouses using canes or walkers, and a few rode in wheelchairs while their loved one pushed them along. In sweet demonstrations of celebration, some even wore corsages or boutonnieres, reminding them of their special day so many decades ago.
All the couples were acknowledged by Bishop Thomas John Paprocki who gave “thanks to Almighty God” for the opportunity to celebrate the annual Mass hosted by the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. The Mass was concelebrated by Vicar General Msgr. David Hoefler, whose own parents, Deacon Ben and Leona Hoefler, were at the Mass.
One of those couples who were married in the early 1950s were Fred and Rita Greenwald, long-time members of Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception Parish in Springfield. The couple raised seven children at Cathedral and saw all of them attend and graduate from the grade school. “Most of our children worked here at Cathedral (while growing up) and several of them were married here,” Rita said. As for their 71 years of marriage, Rita says she believes couples just must put their minds to it. “It takes work,” she said. “But we are still here!”
Another couple, Jim and Pat Nevins from Our Saviour Parish in Jacksonville, were at the Mass to celebrate 66 years of marriage. The couple, who have four children and eight great-grandchildren, gave their own good advice. “Never go to be angry,” Pat said, to which her husband, Jim, added, “Pray together before you go to bed. That way you can’t go to bed angry. It doesn’t work that way.”
In his homily Bishop Paprocki spoke about the sacrament of marriage and how long-married couples are mentors to others. “Today I want to step back with all of you to that life-changing exchange at your own marriage. I invite each of you to recall that moment, that day, that Mass — to remember the joy and grace that came as you made that vow to God together,” he said. “You have all lived out those promises for 50 years or more, promises to be faithful, to love, to honor.
“Today I want to thank you personally for your witness to the world, to the Church, and to me, of fidelity in your vocation. Holy marriages are a great reminder and inspiration to the people of God as we see how you have fought for your marriages day by day, through good and bad, sickness and health, carrying together the sorrows and joys of giving your lives in commitment to one another.
“How happy we are to know and love you,” he said, “to see your strength and commitment, to see the fruit and beauty of the sacrifices that your married love has entailed, to have before us your witness of what lasting forgiveness, patience, gratitude, and commitment look like.”
Photos by Diane Schlindwein
By ANDREW HANSEN
It’s a cold night in Decatur. For those who are living on the streets and cannot find a roof over their head this night, some turn to something else to keep them warm or something soft to sleep on. What they have is made from plastic bags, but not just a few bags, but 700 bags. Most importantly, it’s made with love and compassion, telling the homeless that people do care about them.
Ed and Pat Cirks of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Parish in Mt. Zion started Mats for the Homeless in 2016. Using their time and talent, the married couple have about 20 people helping now and have recruited about 100 people over the years to take on an intricate and time-consuming ministry, but one that has a big impact and embodies the Gospel message of helping strangers in need.
Here’s how it works: The group collects plastic bags then flattens them, cuts them into three-inch strips, loops the strips into balls, and then crochets it all together into a 3 feet by 6 feet sleeping mat, which can be used as a cushion to sleep on or as a blanket.
“We feel that we are providing some comfort to the poorest of the poor,” Pat Cirks said. “We feel that our time is well spent doing this ministry.”
Each mat of 700 plastic bags takes 40 hours to complete. The group of volunteers will meet typically on a Monday to process everything at the parish and the crocheting is done in each person’s homes. So far, the ministry has made 770 mats for the homeless, which means they have not only helped provide comfort to so many but have helped reuse 539,000 plastic bags.
Cirks is also pleased to see more people in the community getting involved. This summer, several young girls set up a lemonade stand to raise money for the ministry to buy cutters, rulers, quilting mats, and safety handles.
“Our equipment was getting rundown, especially our blades,” Cirks said.
The girls raised $280. Cirks says any money that is left over will be used by the ministry to purchase towels and winter clothing.
“We desperately need crocheters,” Cirks said as the demand for these mats continues to be there. That also includes plastic bags people can collect and drop off.
“We have collection boxes for plastic bags at Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Mt. Zion, St. Isidore Parish in Bethany, and the VFW Post 99 in Decatur,” Cirks said. “We deliver the mats to VFW POST 99, Oasis Day Center, The Salvation Army Men’s Homeless Shelter, Northeast Community Fund, Good Samaritan Inn, and Dove.”
Editor’s Note: If you are interested in volunteering to be a crocheter, please contact the Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Parish office in Mt. Zion at (217) 864-3467.
As one who attended Catholic elementary schools, I was taught The Guardian Angel Prayer and prayed it daily. Do they really exist? Given events like the school shooting in Texas, if they really do exist, they certainly aren't doing their jobs!
Nancy in Springfield
Much of the general public’s knowledge and understanding about angels comes from popular media sources such as movies and television programs. Some of it is accurate while some of it is not. Still, there are those who wonder if angels really exist and if they have any impact in our lives.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) tells us that the existence of angels is a truth of faith which is based upon Sacred Scripture and Church tradition (CCC 328). As Catholics, we profess this faith on a weekly basis when we proclaim our Nicene Creed at Sunday Mass. The Creed does not mention angels specifically, but it does allude to them when it states that God created all things that are visible and “invisible” (CCC 331).
Angels are those beings that are unseen and so for the most part, we do not see the angels. However, angels have made their appearance from time to time in Sacred Scripture. Even certain saints such as Padre Pio claimed to have seen their guardian angel. The children of Fatima were addressed by an angel.
The word angel means “messenger,” and there are numerous instances in Sacred Scripture that involve the presence of angels. Sometimes they come under the appearance of human beings, even though angels themselves do not have bodies. They are pure spirits.
There are good angels and bad angels. Satan, the devil, is an angel. He and many other angels of their own free will rebelled against God and were then cast into Hell (Isa 14:12, Lk 10:18, CCC 392-393). They are called demons. Most of the angels, however, remained faithful to God. God sends His good angels to assist, warn, and guide His people (CCC 331-333). Demons, on the other hand, do have the ability to tempt people to do evil things (CCC 395).
These are just a few examples from Scripture regarding the presence of angels (CCC 331-333):
It is sometimes said that if angels are real, and they are meant to help us, why do they not intervene when evil things are about to happen such as murders and suicides? This touches on the mystery of the presence of evil in the world (CCC 309, 385). All evil has its origin in sin, particularly the original sin of Adam (CCC 386-389). This sin was instigated by the evil angel, Satan. The original nature of man was damaged by this first sin and thus the consequent tendency to commit sin, which is referred to as concupiscence is passed on to successive generations down to our present day (CCC 2514-2516). Couple the tendency to sin with free will and you have a precarious combination.
God has given both angels and men the gift of free will (CCC 311, 1704, 1731). Some human beings choose to serve God by obeying his Commandments and living holy lives. The choice to serve God and do what is good brings peace to society, generally speaking. Other human beings out of weakness choose to do bad things which brings about disorder, chaos, and suffering. Good human beings and bad human beings live among each other for the most part. Jesus described this reality in the parable about the wheat and the weeds (Mt 13: 24-30). We can see this reality in our own communities. God respects our free will to make choices. He does not force us or our neighbor to do that which is good. Being a good person and doing what is good is a deeply personal decision. Just like being a bad person is a personal decision.
So, where do the angels come in here? The devil and other evil angels encourage people to do that which is evil, because they hate us and want our souls in Hell with them. God gives the good angels the mission of encouraging people to do good things. But angels, good or bad, cannot force our free will. They can only encourage us one way or the other.
We must be careful not to attribute our decisions to do good or evil entirely to the influence of angels. The individual person must make their own free will choice and unfortunately, some people choose to do bad things and, in some instances, very bad things like starting wars and murdering innocent people.
The spiritual life is a spiritual battle and God has given us good angels to help us in this battle, but the angels respect our personal freedom to choose, even when we make bad choices. The angels are God’s gift to us. We should seek their guidance each day (cf. www.stmaryspittsfield.dio.org, Homily Archives).
Father Mark Schulte is pastor of St. Mary Parish in Pittsfield and St. Mark Parish in Winchester.
Says working with children enriched faith, gave joy
By DIANE SCHLINDWEIN
When it comes to leading PSR classes, only a few people in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois can match the years Cathy Mitchell has been teaching in Illiopolis. Whether assisting at a class, teaching, or acting as DRE of Resurrection Parish, Mitchell has been involved with PSR since the early 1980s.
In the beginning, Mitchell was an assistant when her son was in classes at what used to be known as Visitation Parish in Illiopolis. She had decided the best way to get to know people was to get involved with the parish. “I thought I’d like working with the religious ed program,” she said. “I started as a helper in the classes on Wednesday evening. The first class I taught solo was my daughter’s first Communion class. The teacher had retired, and no one wanted to do sacramental prep, so I said I would try.”
Since those early days, she has seen a lot of changes. “When I started teaching the three parishes (Visitation in Illiopolis, St. Joseph in Buffalo, and St. Ann in Niantic) were all separate and doing their own programs,” she explained. “When the parishes combined as a tri-parish, but each had their own church, we still did everything in our own parishes until the three parishes came together under one church. There were some activities we might do together, but classes and sacraments were held in each separate parish.” She says in “the old days” everything was done with workbooks. “Now we use a variety of resources to engage the children more,” she said.
At Resurrection Parish, students now attend PSR classes during the hour before Sunday Mass. The program is small, with 10 to 12 children in grades 1-6. “Right now, we don’t have any junior high students and only one in high school,” she said. “At this time, I am teaching the third- and fourth-grade class, which is three students. This is my second year with this class, and they are doing the Restored Order of Sacraments. We had one receive the sacraments last year and another one set for this year and one in RCIC. The ones going through the sacraments are given additional time with me outside of class.”
In addition to Sunday classes, each year the PSR students take part in opening and closing events, and a Christmas party. “We try to include fun in their learning experiences,” she said. “I also do Rice Krispie Advent wreaths with my class every year. The children learn discipleship by helping with food pantry collections, socks for the homeless, and most every year they assist in the making of sandwiches for the homeless when our parish provides the meal.”
However, Mitchell doesn’t limit her parish participation to teaching PSR. “Being a member of a small parish allows you to be able to get involved in almost all aspects of parish life,” she said. “I am currently on the Pastoral Council and DRE in addition to teaching PSR and RCIA. When our parishes combined, they wanted to keep a few people who know the parishes history on the council. I am also head of the kitchen for the chicken dinner … for so many years I can’t remember. My newest duty is working part-time as parish secretary, which I started in March. One of the best parts of working in a small parish is getting to know everyone personally. We are like one big family, and we become that way by worshipping and working together.”
As DRE, Mitchell says she oversees finding people to volunteer. “Every time I ask for volunteers to help teach PSR, I am told, ‘I don’t know enough to teach’ or ‘I don’t feel qualified to answer the children’s questions.’ I respond that if you start with the younger students, you can learn along with them. Every year I teach I learn something. We are here to teach the children that God loves them and cares for them. No matter what. … There is nothing that warms my heart more and shows it’s all worth it than sitting in the back of church and watching my class receive reconciliation, first Communion, or confirmation. Somehow those energetic students become little angels ready to experience God’s love in the sacraments.”
She has several other reasons for continuing her teaching ministry. “I guess I have kept coming back to teach PSR partially because the need is there, partially because it is a fun and new experience each time, and mostly because I believe it is what God wants me to do,” said Mitchell, who has been married 48 years and has two grown children and three grandsons. “I took a year off now and then, and during those times it seemed like something was missing. I think it was the sharing of my faith with the children —and they shared their faith with me. I love to see the children grow spiritually and know that I am helping them on their journey with God.
“When I am working with the students, I get to see the simplicity of faith and how sometimes we make it so much more complicated than it needs to be. They have such a different perspective on things,” she said. “The young ones are little sponges eager to hear about God. The older ones challenge me with questions that sometimes I need to research — and in the process learn more about my faith. As they learn, I also learn, deepening and growing my faith and helping me see just how blessed I am.”
First responders risk their lives daily to provide services for their community. This risk is done with commitment and admiration. Out of sincere respect and appreciation for the sacrifices made by these committed public safety officials, the Blue Mass is being held to celebrate the service of first responders and to pray for their safety and continued diligence in all their good work. The Blue Mass is to provide spiritual assistance to these men and women of all faiths who consistently put their lives on the line to ensure the rule of law and safe society.
Bishop Thomas John Paprocki will celebrate the Blue Mass for first responders Sept. 27 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Springfield at 9:30 a.m.
First responders and their families are invited to attend as well as the lay faithful to show their support and pray for our brothers and sisters on the front lines.
Following the Blue Mass, Brendan Kelly will be the featured speaker at the Cathedral, presenting his talk, “The most important tool.” Kelly is the Director of the Illinois State Police, a former St. Clair County State’s Attorney, a former Surface Warfare Officer for the U.S. Navy, and graduate of the University of Notre Dame and the St. Louis University of law.
By ANDREW HANSEN
Chris Stefanick, an internationally acclaimed Catholic speaker, author, and TV host will present REBOOT!, an experience of learning how to better apply the beauty and genius of the Gospel to every aspect of life at the Effingham Performance Center Nov. 2 at 7 p.m.
It won’t be Stefanick’s first appearance in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. A packed crowd of more than 700 people welcomed him to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Springfield in 2019.
“A lot of people associate Catholicism with a particular issue, a particular teaching, or our beautiful rituals,” Stefanick said. “All that stuff is part of it. But, the heart and center of this faith and of life itself is the love that God the Father has for us and our call to respond to that in the way we live our everyday lives.
“Jesus didn’t come to say, ‘To make them boring.’ He said, ‘I came so they might have life and have it to the full. And I told you these things so my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.’ When we rediscover our Catholic faith as that love story, that makes life beautiful, and honestly, it’s the most attractive thing in the world. It’s the best thing ever,” Stefanick said.
You can purchase tickets ($30-39) at reallifecatholic.com.
All women of the diocese are invited to a day of reflection, relaxation, and rejuvenation as the Diocesan Women’s Ministry hosts another one-day retreat for women who want to deepen their spiritual lives by coming to receive God in Scripture and the sacraments. Called “Vessels,” the one-day event will take place at the Villa Maria Retreat Center on Lake Springfield on Oct. 8 from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The Diocesan's Women's Ministry is hosting the day recognizing that women need time away to not just refresh but to receive sustenance by focusing on helping women discover their identity in God and what He wants to give to women in the seconds, minutes, and hours of their days.
The Oct. 8 event is the second of three in the Vessels retreat series this year, although if you did not attend the first retreat, you can still attend this one. The Oct. 8 retreat, “Vessels: Filled,” features speakers Janet Kehoe and Msgr. David Hoefler. You can also mark your calendar for Dec. 3 as the third installment in the Vessels retreat series, “Vessels: Poured,” features speakers Sister M. Karolyn Nunes, FSGM, and Father Brian Alford.
Through talks, reflections, individual prayer time, Mass, confession, and social time, the October retreat will touch on a woman's journey of becoming filled with the Holy Spirit. The December retreat focuses on pouring it all out for the glory of God.
Women who attended the first retreat described the day as “definitely a God send, (where I) met new friends and enjoyed the fellowship,” and, “It was an experience of joy, holiness, and goodness!”
The cost is $35, which includes materials, drinks, coffee, snacks, and lunch. To register, go to www.dio.org/vessels. For questions, contact Sister M. Clementia Toalson, FSGM, at or call (217) 698-8500.