Letters from a Pastor to His People- June 16, 2019
"I will give you what is mine and declare it to you" (John 16:15). Growing up, my parents used to refer to possessions in the first person plural: our house, our backyard, our car. It impressed me because my siblings and I did nothing to earn these things. We were not entitled to them. But that is how generous my parents were. They took what was rightfully theirs and declared it to us. I'm sure many of you parents do the same. What love, what generosity!
We celebrate the Holy Trinity today which affirms for us, among other things, God's generosity and love. The fact that God is relational from all eternity tells us that God is not alone. If God was one and not three, he would be alone, which means he would need to create the world for relationship. This means he would need our love, our worship, our holiness; and if he needed it, he would be angry if he didn't receive it. But the Trinity tells us God is perfect in himself. He is totally dependent and not in need of us. He created us to allow us to share in the beauty and love that God is. What God has, he declared to us. That is what the Trinity tells us.
“Through the words of the Gospel may our sins be wiped away.”
This is another secret prayer of the deacon. The term, "secret prayer,” refers to how the prayer is said quietly, as if it was hidden; it does not mean no one else can know them apart from the deacon.
The beauty of the secret prayers is that they add a dimension of mystery to the liturgy. The liturgy is the foretaste of heaven. A lot of the symbolism found in the Mass is found in the Book of Revelations. Heaven, in a very short explanation, is unveiled intimacy with the Trinity. As St. John the Evangelist and St. Paul remind us, we will see Him face-to-face.
Today the Church celebrates the Solemnity of The Most Holy Trinity, we honor all three Persons of God.
In the First Readingfrom the Book of Proverbs we hear of the creation of all things by the Father. Wisdom, who is usually considered to be the Holy Spirit, is there with the Father.
The saving work of Jesus is a major theme in theSecond Reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans. We are saved by grace. We do not earn it. Rather, by opening our hearts to Jesus in faith, we “gain access” to God who is our peace, hope and end. Because of our relationship with God, we can endure afflictions with the help of the Holy Spirit who is the love of God poured out into our hearts.
You see at Mass the deacon pouring the wine into all of the chalices. At one point, the deacon pours a drop of water into the priest’s chalice. As he does this, the deacon prays silently these words:
"By the mingling of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled Himself to share in our humanity."
The prayer over the preparation of the chalice anticipates what is to be received when we come to Mass, the divine life of Christ as it is spoken to us and given to us as spiritual food. The last portion of the prayer touches upon one of the greatest teachings from the early Church Fathers, known as the Marvelous Exchange. Jesus became Man, so that we may participate in His Divinity. The early church Fathers used the term, divinization, to articulate the mystery of how God pours His life into our souls.
Today the Church celebrates the solemnity of Pentecost, the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and other followers of Jesus.
The first reading from Acts of the Apostles occurs on one of the great pilgrimage feasts, Pentecost, fifty days after Passover. Saint Luke has the Holy Spirit coming on Pentecost to announce the beginning of a new Israel. The Church will be universal in scope. People of every nation will be invited to join this new People of God.
Late last night, the Illinois Senate voted to approve a bill that strips unborn children of the protection afforded to every other human being in our state. As the statement below notes, much hard work, even until the last hour was spent on making the case that this bill devalues life. Our thanks go to all who reached out to legislators and who prayed that this bill would not become law. Please include the most vulnerable among us and their families in your prayers.
Please also remember the 12 persons killed in Virginia and the hundreds of people in our own communities who were shot this year and those in danger every day, even in their own homes. When a society cheapens life, it becomes easier to pick up a gun to solve a dispute, express frustration or fire carelessly where people live and children play. Let us pray to our Blessed Mother, who gave life to Our Lord and who held Him in her arms when He was taken from the cross to open hearts to the beauty and dignity of all life.
Yours in Christ,
Cardinal Blase J. Cupich
Statement of Cardinal Cupich on the Passage of Senate Bill 25
The passage of Senate Bill 25, eliminating even the minimal limitations on abortions under previous law marks a sad moment in our history as a State. We have worked to make the case for a consistent approach to human dignity in Illinois and will continue to do so even as elected officials single out unborn persons for particular disregard. It remains our hope that Illinois will eventually distinguish itself as a safe place that welcomes not only those seeking a new life or second chance, but also the most vulnerable among us who deserve a chance at life.
We are resolved to let women and families in the Chicago area know they have alternatives to abortion. We will continue to provide help during their pregnancies and throughout their journey as parents. Our ministry in Cook and Lake Counties has taught us that when teenagers in underserved communities experience an unplanned pregnancy without proper support, the consequences for the health and well-being of mother and child can be grim.
But, we have also seen that a brighter outcome is possible when support is provided. Catholic Charities and its partners serve hundreds of young women and developing families every year. They nurture the mother and therefore the baby by providing classes in health and child development. They encourage the new families toward independence by providing childcare and making referrals for education, housing and employment.
As a young woman served by a Catholic agency said, “It was like a second family when I came here. My Doula took me to doctors’ appointments, explaining what all the papers and procedures meant, how my baby was developing, the changes my body was going through and how to eat and exercise to stay healthy.”
Today, her son is thriving in the organization’s early childhood program and its family support program helps her stay on track with personal goals. She will begin a bachelor’s degree program this summer. With loving encouragement, she has turned stressful circumstances into a positive, hopeful future for herself and her son.
Women have a real choice when they are given the support they need to bring their children into the world and parent them, supported by a society that truly values them. We will give that support to all who seek it in the hope that by offering them a choice, we will build stronger families and a better Illinois.
There are many hills in the Holy Land, and when a figure from the Scriptures ascends one, we should pay attention. Abraham goes up Mount Moriah to sacrifice his son Isaac. The angel stays Abraham's slaughtering hand, Abraham is established as the father of Israel, and Moriah will become the site of the temple mount in Jerusalem. About 1,000 years later King David will ascend that very same hill to recreate the nation of Israel. His son, Solomon, will construct the temple on that mount.
Noah's ark lands on Mount Ararat. Moses ascends Mount Sinai, is literally wrapped in a cloud of divinity, and comes down with the Ten Commandments. And Elijah defeats the pagan priests atop Mount Carmel.
"The Lily of the Valley" is an epithet for the Blessed Virgin. In simply describing this May flower we can see a few attributes of Mary.
The lily, with its white petals, symbolizes purity. The Easter Lily's flower, atop the straight stem (honesty), is in the shape of a trumpet, pointing up to heaven, as if it is announcing the good news of the Resurrection. But it is also in an open position, able to receive the gifts and love of God. Inside the flower are seven gold (in some cases, red) seeds. The seven sacraments and gifts of the Holy Spirit come from God. And in connection to purity, the red seeds symbolize the fire of love for God that burns within the virgin's heart. The Blessed Virgin is no shrinking violet. She is a burning bush.
The posture of lily of the valley species is slightly different. The bell-shaped flower on the wilted stem points to the ground, symbolizing a teardrop and the virtue of humility. Mary, in saying "I am the handmaid of the Lord," has no ounce of pride.
The lily is the first of the spring flowers to bloom, sprouting from the cold earth around March 25th (the Annunciation). These hardy and fragrant perennials grow abundantly, rapidly and in any environment, be it a valley, plain, manicured garden or a wild field. Wherever they be, they beautify the landscape. Hosea, prophesying the growth of Israel, said, "he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon" (Hosea 14:5).
"Consider the lily of the fields," Jesus himself told us. "Even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these" (Matthew 6:28-29). We should consider Mary, the Lily of the Valley and greatest flower of all.
The website for Amazon lists 60,000 books on “leadership.” It is a hot topic these days. Everyone seems to have an opinion on what makes for a good leader and what leaders are supposed to do.
During these days in which our local church has just ordained eight new priests and 23 new deacons, we should take a moment and reflect on the leadership qualities that are expected of those who lead us. Obvious ones come to mind. A servant-leader should be selfless, patient, collaborative, decisive, hardworking, visionary. Most books list those and other qualities.
But one quality for leadership that is specific to church life, dating back to the earliest days in our tradition, is often overlooked: Leaders in the church are first of all to be “witnesses of the Resurrection.”
That is what we learn in reading the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. There Peter identifies the criteria for selecting a replacement for Judas. In addition to being with Jesus throughout his earthly life, hearing his words and seeing his many deeds, the candidate to be named as one of the 12 also had to be “a witness to his resurrection.”
Surely one who leads in the church must know and witness to Jesus, who lived 2,000 years ago as recounted in the Scriptures and tradition. Getting to know Jesus, especially through the Gospels, must be at the center of all ministry formation.
But that must include not only Jesus who walked along the shores of Galilee and lived in Palestine 2,000 years ago. Ministers in the church must also bear witness to the Risen Lord, as one who is present and active in the world today.
By making one’s witness to the Risen Lord the priority, church leaders keep ever fresh in their minds that Jesus is the one taking the lead, not them. Their job is to discern and point out where he is leading us. Such an approach to ministry distinguishes leadership in the church in a number of ways.
First, it eases the burdens of leadership, as Jesus told his first disciples: “take my yoke upon your shoulders, for my yoke is easy and my burden light” (Mt 11:30). Instead of being burdened with the task of taking the initiative, mapping out a way forward and defining goals, servant leaders in the church are confident that everything for the salvation of the world, as St. Paul often reminds the early Christians, does not depend on our works but is proceeding according to God’s own design (cf., 2 Tm 1).
This is a warning to church leaders not to take themselves too seriously, as if everything rises and falls on them. They should always remember that it is the Lord who takes the initiative and they are called to be attentive to all that he is doing.
Pursuing leadership in this way also has a calming effect in moments of great challenge and even crisis. I always like what St. John XXIII recounts in his memoirs. After a very heavy day, filled with the many seemingly intractable problems he faced as pope, he would simply say to Jesus, “It’s your church, Lord; I am going to bed.” This great pope was able to remain serene and composed as he carried out his ministry, because he knew that the Risen Lord was once again in the boat with him as Peter’s successor.
Finally, servant-leaders, for whom witnessing to the Risen Lord is the priority, are able to provide a hopeful vision, for they remind the community that Christ is always doing something new. No challenge is too daunting, no crisis too overwhelming. The future is not intimidating, nor is the past confining, for Christ is the Lord of history, who is moving all of creation forward by his plan and design.
Surely, servant-leaders in the church must have the skill set to respond to the everyday needs of the community living in this temporal world. They must have integrity, know how to consult, collaborate, give direction and take hard decisions. More is required for those who serve as leaders in a church that recognizes that Jesus is alive and at work in ways that are ever new and that need to be discerned.
It is up to servant-leaders in the church to be attentive to all that the Risen Lord Jesus is doing, for it is their witness to it that inspires and gives direction to the pilgrim people of God as they march through time until all things promised are fulfilled.
Michelangelo's pietà—the image of Mary holding her dead son at the foot of the cross—was perhaps the most famous depiction of the subject until this past week. Now, I argue, it is the pietà underneath the high altar of Notre Dame in Paris. Two images of the sculpture just after the monumental fire stand out. One is of three French firefighters looking into the smoke-filled nave of the church. The statue can barely be seen, other than the brilliant gold cross above Mary. The other image is of the statue with a pile of charred rubble before it.
Yes, the pietà at Notre-Dame de Paris is a symbol of resilience, just like the cathedral itself. The 800-year-old church survived the Black Plague, the 100 Years War, the French Revolution, Napoleon, the Kaiser, and Hitler, who wanted to burn it. But Notre Dame is something more, which is why this fire made the front page of every town's newspaper in the world. A church is, fundamentally, our gift of worship and praise to God. Sure, we celebrate community and even the sacraments in a church, and we are inspired by the art, the preaching and the music. But a church building is not about us. It is about God. The cross is God's gift to us. Our gift in reciprocation is a church. And Notre Dame—the most beautiful church in the world—is the best we as a human race can give.
And it burned. It is up for us now, individually, to give as a gift to God our hearts. Lay your burned heart before Christ when you venerate the cross, and your gift will be greater than Notre Dame.
George Washington's Farewell Address is considered one of the greatest speeches in American history, second to Lincoln's address at Gettysburg. It has been analyzed, referenced, and reenacted (the speech is read every year on the US Senate floor on February 22) countless times.
Washington didn't actually deliver publicly the over-seven thousand word address. It appeared in the newspapers on September 19, 1776. The father of the nation indicated he would not seek a third term as President of the United States. He would instead "retire" to his home in Mount Vernon. This was truly his desire since the end of the Revolutionary War. He simply wanted to tend his land. He truly was a 'Cincinnatus'.
Washington warns, in the address, against division: geographic, political, international. But he is also positive, attempting to guide the people and leave an American legacy. "The name of American, which belongs to you, in your national capacity," he wrote, "must always exalt the just pride of patriotism, more than any appellation derived from local distinctions."
Washington wanted to form an American identity in the people. They were no longer British colonists. Nor were they citizens of a particular state, federalists, republicans, farmers, soldiers, whatever. They were Americans.
We read from the Gospel of John this week part of Christ's 'farewell address.' It's better than Washington's. His 'command' to the people (just like Washington 'commanded' the people not to be divisive) was: "love one another" (John 13:34).
When I first prayed over the second reading for this Sunday, in preparing for this letter, I had my own revelation. Of course, this is John's revelation. He sees a great multitude standing before the Lamb of God, wearing white robes with palms in their hands. One of the saints leans over to John, during his vision, and explains to John that “These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (Rev 7:14).
My vision was that this multitude in the white robes was you all, you faithful Catholics. No, it wasn't an idea of throwing a toga party. It was me seeing you all who have survived 'the time of great distress.'
Okay, what's the time of great distress? Two things. First, in the Catholic Church. It's been a rough year for the Church, with the scandals and so forth. You are still coming to Church. (If anyone thinks Catholicism has been weakened, I hope you saw the Church on Easter Sunday—it was an absolutely packed house. And, talking with pastors elsewhere, they had similarly full congregations.) You have persevered in your faith throughout the scandals. Your robe has been washed white.