As I began my reflections for the new year – still in the Liturgical season of the Nativity of the Lord – I mentioned that in this month there are a number of special weeks that call us to reflect on a number of dimensions of our life of Faith: National Migration Week, Church Vocations week, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Catholic Schools Week, and a novena of preparation for the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, among other celebrations and prayer. Each of these weeks gives us a chance for a special focus and reflection. In this way, the celebration of the Nativity of the Lord does not simply fade away, but rather points to specific themes of Faith that follow from the Birth of the Lord.
In National Migration Week, the images of the journey of the Magi to follow the star to the Christ Child reminds us of their journey from their homeland to find the child Jesus. The journey of Mary and Joseph in the infant Jesus to Egypt, fleeing King Herod is another journey, another migration. A scholarly and faithful commentary on both of these journeys can be found in Pope Benedict XVI’s recent publication Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives. A journey in Faith and for meaning and a better life certainly drew so many of our ancestors and forebears to the United States. Their welcome certainly could symbolized in the words of Emma Lazarus when speaking of the statue of Liberty in New York: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddles masses yearning to be free.” In these days, as people of Faith we certainly come to know many people who are among us for the same reasons. As their brothers and sisters in Faith, fellow Catholics, are we not called to pastoral care and concern for their welfare, not unlike what was offered to so many of our great grandparents. As our pastors and ministries of the Body of Christ reach out to them, can we not stand by in solidarity, faith, and support so that the same dreams and hopes that drew our ancestors to the United States can be theirs? National Migration week call us to do the same, and bring our faith and convictions to our processes so that their desires to live rightly in our country can be realized.
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity runs from January 18 (the feast of the Chair of St. Peter in Antioch) to January 25 (the Conversion of St. Paul), we take time to reflect on the words of the Lord that “All may be one.” This week has been a feature of January for many years, and is due, in some way, to the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement, who still continue, by their materials and publications, to promote this week. Like many other repeated yearly celebrations, some may think that it lost the excitement that it once had. Yet, the search and prayer for Christian unity is a call to patient fidelity and prayer over many years. In a culture of “instant results” this is certainly a contrast, but the call to unity is as important and vital as ever. Perhaps it may not have the “glamor and excitement” of the l960’s, but in many ways it has now become a movement that has great importance at a local level, and that at an international level has matured in many ways. I think of the various endeavors that I have been involved in over the years, in relationships with so many men and women of faith, and I thank God for the gift of friendship and mutual endeavors that have resulted from these encounters. The work of Christian unity is best summed up by Pope Benedict XVI when he said in his “Twitter Post” recently that “What does the Lord ask of us as we work for Christian unity? To pray constantly, do justice, love goodness and walk humbly with Him.” I am particularly grateful for the blessing to have been involved with the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, and now the Pastoral Provision, and all of the priests and people in those endeavors, that are in a very tangible way, the fruit of the Second Vatican Council. I thank Bishop Jack Iker of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth and Bishop Michael Lowrey, the Methodist Bishop of Fort Worth for their friendship and encouragement.
I want to make special mention of Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church here in Orange for his welcome and the chance we have had to visit and reflect together. The many Bishops, clergy, ministers and representatives of so many Faiths here in Orange were a great witness to all who were present for my installation Mass in December. This is due in no small part to the commitment of Bishop Tod Brown here in Orange for making these relationships and dialogues not only a priority, but a part of life here. Thanks to Fr. Al Baca, Vicar of Ecumenism of the Diocese of Orange for his tireless efforts, dedication and commitment to this ongoing part of our life of Faith, and to which I am committed to as well.
THE MONTH OF WEEKS…Continued!
January also brings us to (last week) “National Church Vocations Week”. The word “vocation” comes from the Latin word “vocare” or “to call”. This would be a good time to thank, and remember to pray for all of those whose ministry has been a blessing in our lives, who have helped us to see the presence of the Lord, and who perhaps have inspired our own vocational journey. In the context of the call of all to lead lives of holiness and service are all of those whose lives and ministry, day in and day out, strengthen and build our own parishes, schools and pastoral outreach. We especially thank , and think of the priests and religious who have inspired us over the years. Recently, I was looking at a copy of the 1962 yearbook of St. Agnes grade school in Springfield, Illinois. It was there that so many of us studied and worked and prayed together, together with our parents and families. In no way could this parish family be caricatured as “pray, pay and obey”in those times. This expression supposed Catholic life before the years of the Second Vatican Council is often more what I would call “revisionist history.” For example, the introduction to the revised Liturgy during the conciliar years was because of the thorough catechesis and preparation by the Confraternity groups, the priests and the Dominican Sisters of Springfield, Illinois. Looking through the pages of the 1962 yearbook, I saw the faces of so many classmates and families, some of whom I keep in touch with to this day. And, I saw the faces of the Dominican Sisters who taught us, most of whom have gone home to the Lord. I was grateful to see the picture of Sr. James Marie OP, who taught me piano and music, and Sr. Charles Maurice OP, who was my sixth grade teacher. Fr. John Sohm, Fr. John Kennedy, and Msgr. Amos Giusti were the parish priests. Fr. Sohm taught me Latin to serve Mass, and his ministry certainly helped inspire me to seek out a vocation to the priestly ministry of Jesus Christ. As we seek to foster a “culture of vocations” where the voice of “Come Follow Me” can be heard, it would be well to take this week to thank the Lord for all who have helped us to show us the way to Him.
STAN THE MAN
There is much in the news these days about the death of Stan Musial or “Stan the Man”, the legendary player of the St. Louis Cardinals for many years. When we were growing up in SPringfield, Illinois, it was a great excursion to go to the old “Sportsman’s Park” on Grand and Dodier streets in North St. Louis for a Cardinal’s game. I remember that I had the blessing to be at his final game in l963 when he was up at bat and his hit won the game!
Most importantly, in this age that lacks credible role models for young people, Stan Musial was a model of integrity, family life and Faith. His Catholic Faith was central to his life. The Bishop that ordained me as a priest in l981, Bishop Joseph McNicholas of Springfield, Illinois was not only a great baseball and Cardinal fan, but a good friend of Stan Musial. I had the blessing to meet him years later when he attended on a Sunday Our Lady of Lourdes parish in Decatur, Illinois where he had relatives.
The appropriate words for him these days are not just “Rest in Peace” but especially “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter now into the joy of your Lord.”