Pope Francis presided at the Christmas Mass during the Night in St. Peter’s Basilica the evening of Thursday, Dec. 24, 2020. In recent years, this Mass has been celebrated at 9:30 p.m. Because of pandemic restrictions, the Mass was rescheduled to 7:30 p.m. Rome is seven hours ahead of us, so I was able to watch the Mass as it began at 12:30 p.m., well before my 4 p.m. vigil Mass.
I turned to the Vatican’s English translation of the pope’s homily, and discovered that, toward the end, he quoted an American poet.
And so, we find ourselves in the brief season of Advent, at the point of entering the even briefer season of Christmas. When we examine our liturgical calendar, we find that this time of year is a sort of unkempt “seam” for the entire year, where the irregularities of each year are dealt with, not necessarily in an elegant fashion. Holy Family gets moved from Sunday to Friday in some years; the Baptism of the Lord moves from Sunday to Monday in others.
It took me several hours to read the new encyclical letter of Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti, after it was published on Oct. 4. In case you’re wondering about the word “encyclical,” it refers to a letter which is circulated to many people. In case you’re wondering about the title of the letter, it is Italian for “brothers all.”
In my senior English class at Decatur St. Teresa High School (1974-1975), we read A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor. It did not go over well. For one thing, there is some really shocking violence. For another, there did not seem to be any sympathetic characters.
Traveling on Interstate 55 between Springfield and St. Louis, the motorist sees the sign indicating the “Mother Jones Monument” at exit 44 in Mount Olive.
Mother Jones? Isn’t that a magazine?
Here are some follow-ups from the previous column:
Someone in our diocese has contacted me regarding the anti-racism team of the Illinois Conference of Churches. I hope that, in a later column, I can report on our activity.
No sooner did I write, joking about anti-racism activists and our need for superhero suits, than I discovered that DC Comics has published a young-adult graphic novel called Superman Smashes the Klan! We cannot forget that the story of the Man of Steel himself contains the theme of his being “alien” and “other.”
“We really ought to have superhero suits,” I have joked to fellow members of my ecumenical anti-racism team. I was trained in 2005 and 2006 to serve on a team called Illinois Christians Encountering Racism, part of the Illinois Conference of Churches. Our current membership is scattered widely across the state. We would love to have the power to convene a meeting by flying to some central location. We settle for audio and video conferencing.
I suspect that many of us, although we are finding plenty to keep us occupied during our time at home, are coming up with lists of things we want to do when it will be possible to circulate socially again.
A pandemic miscellany:
My parents, in assisted living in Decatur, found aggressive measures in their residence being taken relatively early. I am grateful for the management’s foresight. I have not seen Mom and Dad since early March. Needless to say, we keep in touch by phone.
After the death of Jean Vanier on May 7, 2019, I wrote about his groundbreaking work in establishing relationships with people with intellectual disabilities.
I in fact had a personal memory: Mr. Vanier had spoken to my seminary nearly 40 years ago. I felt the genuineness of his willingness to carry out this most important work.
It’s Oscar time!
I imagine that this note is surprising, coming from me. I do not see many movies. Regular readers of this column know that I am more into books than films. I am the type of person who, when I see a film based on a book I’ve read, find the film to be something of a cheat.
In recent days, I have seen a couple of obituaries of theologian Father Johann Baptist Metz, who died at age 91 on Dec. 2 in Muenster, Germany.
I recall having written a paper in my theology studies on the virtue of hope, and having referred to Father Metz’s thoughts on hope.
In my column of Sept. 29, I described a moment in high school in which my religion teacher, Sister Marie McCloskey, OSU, stressed that our God is passionate about the here and now as well as the hereafter.
As we learned from this publication in the Nov. 10 issue, Sister Marie died in New Orleans on Oct. 4 at age 105.
As I consider the passage of days in our calendar, I am primarily aware of the Sundays of the liturgical calendar and of the various saints who are honored on weekdays. But, peripherally, I am also aware of “National Days” of various things.
So, I went looking for a “National Pizza Day” and I discovered that pizza claims, not a day, but instead the entire month of October. So, if you have not properly observed National Pizza Month, it’s time to get started.
Many years ago, I was waiting to hear a speaker at a Diocesan Adult Education Conference in Springfield. I was seated in the front row, and other priests were sitting on either side of me. The chairs were rather close together, and I can imagine that I and my seatmates were looking quite uncomfortable.
The woman we were waiting to listen to came forward to us, shook our hands, and exclaimed: “Y’all look like a bunch of convicts!”
As our diocesan church prepares to restore the proper order of the sacraments of initiation, my parishes anticipated the need to have a number of our children “catch up” in the sense of having received all three sacraments: baptism, confirmation and Eucharist. Therefore, last November, over 140 of our young parishioners, in grades 3-8, received the sacrament of confirmation from Bishop Thomas John Paprocki. This was done at two different Masses on consecutive evenings at our neighboring parish, Ss. Peter and Paul in Collinsville, where we had ample space to do this “catching up.”
My name is Kevin, and I am a perfectionist.
Some will read this and wonder why I seem to be boasting. Many people think that being a perfectionist is a good thing.
“You’re a man and a half!” So stated the Dominican sister when — was I in second or third grade? — I purchased a daily missal from her.
This was the mid-1960s, and I really had not made things easy for myself. Our liturgy was in transition, and the missal was not necessarily reliable. I spent more time puzzling over it than learning from it.
Jean Vanier, a groundbreaking and profoundly influential Catholic activist, died in Paris, France, on May 7, at age 90.
Born to Canadian parents, Vanier told them, when he was 13, that his interest was in naval affairs. Accordingly, he proceeded to prepare for a naval career in England and had spent time with the British Royal Navy and the Royal Canadian Navy by the time World War II ended in 1945, the year he turned 17.
As we survey the highlights and “lowlights” of human history, there is a category of achievements (or achievements’ opposite) which have been classified as “dubious distinctions.”
Especially now that baseball season has started, we may recall the obituary of Randy Jackson, who died on March 20 at age 93. His New York Times obituary noted that he hit the last home run for the Brooklyn Dodgers (Sept. 28, 1957, at Philadelphia) before the team found itself playing home games in Los Angeles. The Times called this a “melancholy achievement.”
I was shocked when, on visiting Ireland at Easter 1981, I discovered that St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin is Anglican (“Church of Ireland”), not Roman Catholic!
I did, however, find some consolation at this cathedral.
I had written my first high school term paper on a portion of Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift (born at Dublin, 1667; died at Dublin, 1745). When I wrote the term paper, I consulted a number of commentaries on the book; what I did not do was read a biography of Swift. I kept wondering why the commentaries referred to him as “Dean Swift.”
You may remember my mentioning, in 2016, a professor of New Testament named Amy-Jill Levine. I have been thinking about her Jewish perspective on how Christians respond to their own Scriptures, and I remember especially her question to Christian pastors: “Do you know the Bible, or just the lectionary?”
First of all, you and I as Catholic Christians can take great pride in the 50 years that we have had our Sunday lectionary, which allows us to proclaim the Scriptures on a three-year cycle, and the weekday lectionary, which has a two-year cycle for Ordinary Time and a one-year cycle for the other seasons. Our lectionary is the basis for Sunday lectionaries which have been adopted by numerous Christian denominations.
With ever greater frequency, it seems, I hear people talking about the items on their “bucket lists.”
This term refers to the things one feels called upon to do before “kicking the bucket.”
Over the last weekend, I heard from a parishioner who had just attended a Sabbath service at a St. Louis-area synagogue. This first Sabbath of November was also the first Sabbath since the killing of 11 worshipers at a synagogue in Pittsburgh on Oct. 27. There was, in fact, an emphasis on interfaith Sabbath participation in many synagogues. My parishioner had never previously been present for a Jewish worship service, and she found it uplifting, for a couple of reasons: an awareness that our Christianity sprang from Judaism, and the encouragement coming from people of many religions at a time of grief.
Pope Francis’s extraordinary Aug. 20 letter “to the People of God” undoubtedly inspired many people around the world to seek out this letter — published in seven languages only six days after the Pennsylvania grand-jury report — on the Vatican website.
By visiting w2.vatican.va/content/vatican/en.html, you will have before you a most valuable English “portal” to the contents of the site.
Here is a very quick summary of the stance of the Catholic Church on the death penalty. This review is necessary because of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s recent proposal to reinstate capital punishment — abolished in Illinois in 2011 — for persons convicted of mass killings or the homicide of a law-enforcement officer. I write as one who, many years ago, testified before a committee of the Illinois General Assembly about the evolving teaching of the Catholic Church on this topic.
Two weekends ago I enjoyed two different cultural efforts: a concert by the Heartland Community Chorus at St. Jerome Church in Troy (this concert was repeated at Highland St. Paul), and the performance of Annie Jr. by the Drama Club of St. John Neumann School in Maryville.
Over many years, I have learned to appreciate the skills and attention needed to sing and act effectively. As a presider at worship, of course, I am always putting my singing into service. And although it has been 20 years since I last performed in a theatrical production, the proclamation of the Word of God always calls for a sense of drama.
First, a few words about Billy Graham.
I can remember that, in my youth, I would hear the Rev. Graham and others speaking about “accepting Jesus as your personal Savior.” My reaction was to think that salvation was taken care of by my being part of a “system” of salvation — the Catholic Church. I would wonder, “What’s this personal business?”
When I moved to Madison County in July, it was my intention to get involved with the Metro East Interfaith Partnership (MEIP). I was surprised when I received an invitation to join their steering committee. My reaction was: You don’t want a newcomer to be on your steering committee, do you? But this is how I was welcomed, and I have been on the steering committee since my arrival.