20 June 2019

Islamic State Ongoing Updates - June 2019

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19 June 2019
11 June 2019

14 June 2019

On Augustinian Epithets

As I continue to rejoice in Wednesday's unexpected and most welcome news that the Holy Father Pope Francis granted to Father Augustine Tolton the title of Venerable, I found myself looking forward to the day when we can mention Father Gus' name in the third Eucharistic Prayer. I know such a day is still quite some years away, and I may not live to see it, but I still long for it eagerly.

As I thought about that day, I began to ponder how we might name him. At first I thought we might simply call him Saint Augustine, as, for example, I do when I mention the Leper Priest simply as Saint Damien.

But then I began to wonder how I might mention him at the parish at which I presently serve as Pastor, that of Saint Augustine [of Hippo]. Surely, though I, I would not say "...with Saint Augustine and Saint Augustine, and with all the Saints..." That would be, to say the least, a bit odd and likely confusing to some, if not many.

Then I thought I might say, "...with Saint Augustine of Hippo and Saint Augustine Tolton..." but that did not seem to be right, either. So then I thought I might say, "...Saint Augustine of Hippo and Saint Augustine of Quincy..." That seemed right to me, but then I wondered if it would be more fitting to call him "Saint Augustine of Chicago" because he died in the Windy City. That, however, seemed very improper to me because his heart always remained in Quincy, in the Gem City.

All of this is what happens when I spend long hours in a car by myself.

As I continued to explore this scenario in my mind, I began to think about the other Saint Augustines. The only two that came to my mind were Saint Augustine of Hippo and Saint Augustine of Canterbury. Saint Augustine of Hippo was born in Thagaste but died in Hippo where he served as the Bishop. Saint Augustine of Canterbury was born in Tarsus but died in Canterbury where he served as the Archbishop.

From here, I returned to thinking that Father Gus could be Saint Augustine of Chicago, but I still did not much like this idea. Suddenly it occurred to me that Saint Thomas Aquinas died at Fossanova but is still known as "of Aquino," after the region in which he was born. But would that mean it should be Saint Augustine of Brush Creek? I was not satisfied with this, either.

In the end, I did not resolve my hypothetical dilemma.

12 June 2019

VENERABLE Augustine Tolton

This morning we received very exciting and unexpected news from Rome when the Holy See announced that the Holy Father Pope Francis recognized today the heroic virtue of eight people, one of whom is Father Augustine Tolton. With this recognition the Servant of God is granted the title of Venerable.

Every Christian is called to follow after Christ Jesus and to remain faithful to him throughout life. When the Pope recognizes that one of the faithful lived a life of heroic virtue, he confirms that the person lived the Christian life to an extraordinary degree and is therefore to be venerated, admired, and imitated.

The Holy See seems particularly interested in Venerable Tolton's Cause for beatification and canonization, as is seen in a news article focused on his advancement today.

Please continue to pray for the swift continuation of Father Gus' Cause toward being named a Blessed and, may it please God, a Saint.

Venerable Augustine Tolton, pray for us!

10 June 2019

Homily - 9 June 2019 - The Solemnity of Pentecost

The Solemnity of Pentecost (C)

Dear brothers and sisters,

It is not insignificant that, “when the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together” (Acts 2:1). The place in which they were gathered was the Upper Room, the very place where the Lord Jesus washed the feet of the Twelve and instituted the cause of our gathering together today: the Holy Eucharist (cf. John 13:15; Matthew 26:26-29). We, too, are in one place together, though not all of us are here.

On any given Sunday, a great number of our parishioners – somewhere around 65% - are not present with us around this altar. The reasons for their absence are many: laziness, work schedules, sporting events, vacation, or even brunch and lunch plans. Sometimes these reasons are legitimate, but, I fear, more often than not, their absence fundamentally comes down to an under appreciation of the importance of the Lord’s Day and of the parish community. Rather than planning their Sunday activities around the celebration of the Holy Mass in their parish, many Americans – because of our general mindset toward personal convenience – plan their Mass attendance around their other activities, wherever it might “fit in.”

Pope Saint John Paul II frequently stressed “the fundamental importance of Sunday,” a day which, he said, “is at the very heart of the Christian life.”[1] Because the Christian life is lived out not simply in the world in general but especially within the parish, he reminded us that,

among the many activities of a parish, “none is as vital or as community-forming as the Sunday celebration of the Lord’s Day and his Eucharist.” Mindful of this, the Second Vatican Council recalled that efforts must be made to ensure that there is “within the parish, a lively sense of community, in the first place through the community celebration of Sunday Mass.”[2]

This is why he also tells us that “time given to Christ is never time lost, but is rather time gained, so that our relationships and indeed our whole life may become more profoundly human.”[3] This is why the Church reminds us that “great importance should … be given to a Mass celebrated with any community, but especially with the parish community, inasmuch as it represents the Universal Church at a given time and place, and chiefly in the common Sunday celebration.”[4]

The community which is formed by the celebration of the Holy Eucharist should be different from the community formed around the card table or the sports field. These are good bonds to form and are necessary for a good human life, but there is a greater, a more necessary, community formed in and by the Eucharist, if one enters into a true spirit of prayer and participates in the sacrifice of the Holy Mass interiorly and exteriorly. Indeed, the Christian community “is not just a vague sentiment, nor is it a sign of indifference to the truth. It is grounded in the supernatural reality of the one Baptism which makes us members of the one Body of Christ.”[5]

It is within the celebration of the Holy Mass, through the invocation of the Holy Spirit and the words of Institution spoken by the Lord that we receive the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus. Whenever a Christian receives the Eucharist, we can rightly address to him or her the words of Saint Paul: “Christ is in you” (Romans 8:10)! This is why we can say that “wherever the Eucharist is celebrated, wherever the Tabernacle stands, there is Christ; hence, there is the center…”[6] What do we keep at the center of our lives? Is the celebration of the Sunday Mass at the center, or is there something else?

We know that we are obliged to participate in the Holy Mass every Sunday and holy day of obligation out of gratitude for what the Lord has done for us and to give him the worship that is his due. And while the Church does not require us to join with our parish community each Sunday, that is certainly the preference so as to build one another up in Christ and to be built up in Christ by others.

As you know, the Sunday Mass schedule here at St. Augustine’s will change on the first weekend of July from 9:00 a.m. to 10:15 a.m. It is a change some will welcome, and others will not. Whatever your reaction to this change, I urge you in the Lord Jesus to make the parish’s Sunday celebration of the Holy Mass the center of your Sunday and, indeed, of your entire week, around which everything else is arranged. I know this will not always be possible – and I know I am speaking, as it were, to the choir – but I ask you to make participation here a priority.

The irony of this request today is not lost on me, as this afternoon I will leave for six weeks for my summer classes at The Liturgical Institute north of Chicago; I plan to return the weekend of July 6th and 7th. As these summer studies are part of my diocesan assignment as Director of the Office for Divine Worship and the Catechumenate, obedience calls and I must follow.

By the time the change in our Mass schedule here takes effect, we will again be within Ordinary Time. We call it this not because it is normal and boring, but because – unlike the Advent and Christmas or Lent and Easter seasons in which we focus on a particular event in the life of Christ, - Ordinary Time is ordered around the whole life of Christ. As we enter into this new chapter in the life of the parish, we have the opportunity to more intentionally order our lives around the mystery of Christ. As frustrating as change can be, such an opportunity can be welcomed and, if it is, can become an outpouring of grace from on high.

Let us, then, implore the Holy Spirit to descend upon us and  take up residence in our hearts. Saint Augustine reminds us that

God is not too grand to come, he is not too fussy or shy, he is not too proud – on the contrary, he is pleased to come if you do not displease him. Listen to the promise he makes. Listen to him indeed promising with pleasure, not threatening in displeasure, “We shall come to him,” he says, “I and the Father” (cf. John 14:23). To the one he had earlier called his friend, the one who obeys his precepts, the keeper of his commandment, the love of God, the lover of his neighbor, he says, “We shall come to him and make our abode with him” (John 14:23).[7]

Let us, then, not grumble too loudly, but let us ask the Holy Spirit to open our hearts and minds to the graces present to us now.

It may well be that this change in the Mass schedule may help bring back some of our parishioners who have not joined us here in some time; this is my hope. I ask you to reach out to them; it means more if you invite them than if I do. Invite them to join you for the Sunday Mass. Invite them to come and receive Jesus into their hearts and minds so we might all grow together in holiness until we are all “distinguished from the world by that love that moves those who are of one mind to dwell together in a house. In this house the Father and Son make their home and impart that very love” that is the Holy Spirit.[8] May the Holy Spirit bring us to together in the one Body of Christ, so that we might all be in one place together now, and in the life to come. Amen.

[1] Pope Saint John Paul II, Dies Domini, 3 and 7.
[2] Ibid., 35. Cf. ibid., Speech to the Third Group of Bishops of the United States of America, 17 March 1998; Sacrosanctum Concilium, 42.
[3] Ibid., 7.
[4] General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 113.
[5] Pope Benedict XVI, Address at an Ecumenical Meeting, 19 August 2005.
[6] Ibid., Prayer Vigil with Young People, 1 September 2007.
[7] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 23.6.
[8] Ibid., Tractates on the Gospel of John, 76.2.

26 May 2019

Homily - 26 May 2019 - The Sixth Sunday of Easter

The Sixth Sunday of Easter

Dear brothers and sisters,

Into what have you placed your heart? To what have you given your heart? I ask this question today because a short time ago we prayed together asking God that “we may celebrate with heartfelt devotion these days of joy” (Collect). This is another way of asking God that we might dedicate our hearts to him fully, totally, completely, so as to keep the joy of the Resurrection.

We give our hearts – or at least part of them – to so many different passing things, all in the vain hope that these things might fill us with joy. They might – it is true – provide some small joy for a time (as a good book does), but these things always leave us wanting more (like another good book, for example).

Although very few people think of it this way, every time we pray the Creed, Mother Church invites us to dedicate our hearts anew to God, to place our hearts completely in him. Sadly, in many places, people’s first reaction to the words, “I believe in one God,” may be a sigh or a silent grumble that this takes too long. What does you heart say at this moment of the Mass?

The Creed, the Profession of Faith, begins, in Latin, with credo, which translates to “I believe.” In the original Latin, however, it means something a bit more.

Some suggest credo is made up of two smaller words: cor is the word for “heart,” as in “coronary” or “cordially,” and do means “I give” and is the origin of “donate.” Thus, the words “I believe” are no simple nod to what God says in the readings – as we might give to the country station versus talk radio. Rather, saying “I believe” is putting one’s whole heart on the line for the Word of God just heard. If I have heard with the ear of the heart, I can then give myself wholeheartedly back to God: “I believe” – which is the response He wishes to hear.[1]

Is this what happens when you take part in the recitation of the Creed? Do you simply mumble through the words, or have you allowed them to become part of the fiber of your being? Have you placed your whole heart in God through them?

To say “I believe in God” means not only placing one’s whole heart in God; it also means keeping the word of God (cf. John 14:23). To put it another way, “being a Christian means having love: it means achieving the Copernican revolution in our existence, by which we cease to make ourselves the center of the universe, with everyone else revolving around us.”[2]

Believing in God thus makes us harbingers of values that often do not coincide with the fashion and opinion of the moment. It requires us to adopt criteria and assume forms of conduct that are not part of the common mind-set. Christians must not be afraid to go “against the current” in order to live their faith, resisting the temptation to “conform.” In many of our societies, God has become the “great absent One”, and many idols have supplanted him, multiform idols, especially possession and the autonomous “I”. And even the major and positive breakthroughs of science and technology have instilled in people an illusion of omnipotence and self-sufficiency and an increasing egotism which has created many imbalances in interpersonal relations and social behavior.[3]

In recent decades, and especially in recent weeks, the power of the autonomous “I” and the imbalance in interpersonal relations has reared its ugly head in the horror of the demands for abortion without restriction which says my life is more important than another life. This is not the way of the Christian; this is not the way of love.

Here in Illinois, as the legislative session draws to a close on May 31st, our politicians are seeking to sneak through a horrendous piece of legislation in both chambers of the General Assembly. The House will reconvene at 4:00 p.m. today and legislators will be in session tomorrow on Memorial Day. Although they have not yet taken a vote on identical bills both misnamed the "Reproductive Health Act" that would go further than Roe v. Wade in eliminating rights for the unborn child, as well as jeopardizing conscience protections for doctors, nurses, and hospitals who refuse to participate in an abortion – you can be sure that the opponents of the Gospel of Life want to force these bills through. The legislation specifically states: "A fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus does not have independent rights under the laws of this State." This claim stands in stark contrast to the findings of science that such a fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus is, in fact, a human being, as every embryology textbook clearly states. At the same time, such a statement seeks to deprive small and weak humans of the Constitutional right to the pursuit of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Both bills would repeal the Illinois Parental Notification of Abortion Act, which requires a parent or legal guardian to be notified when a minor seeks an abortion. The law already allows for exceptions - including children physically or sexually abused - as well as a waiver if notification is not in the best interest of the child. Every state that surrounds Illinois requires at least parental notification when a minor seeks an abortion.

Minors today in Illinois cannot legally use an indoor tanning bed; buy cigarettes, alcohol, or lottery tickets; apply for a credit card, or vote in an election. They need parental consent if they want to get a tattoo or body piercing, or join the armed forces. To forbid these activities to a minor while at the same time allowing them to procure an abortion – which can lead to the death of a minor and causes grave psychological harm and trauma – is simply ridiculous and not in keeping with sincere love.

On Friday, the Holy Father Pope Francis asked an important and striking question: “Is it licit to throw away a life to solve a problem? Is it licit to hire a hitman to resolve a problem?”[4] He has, of course, received some criticism for posing the question in this way, but what else do we call someone hired to kill an innocent person but a hitman? What has unsurprisingly received less attention is His Holiness insistence that we need “a culture that recognizes the value of life, a culture that recognizes in every face, even the smallest, the face of Jesus.”[5] Seeing the face of the unborn children in a sonogram image, who can deny the value and the dignity of even the smallest of persons?

There is perhaps still time to stop this legislation from passing, but only if Christians in the Land of Lincoln hold fast to what they say in the Creed. Only if we act with the bold courage of love can we work to end the culture of death and bring about the culture of life. Have you placed your heart firmly enough in God to live out what the Creed requires? Do you love enough to bother to make a simple phone call or to send an e-mail to our legislators? Perhaps you might be worried what others will think of you for defending the rights of all people. If so, hear again the words of Jesus: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid” (John 14:27). If we place our hearts wholly in God, then - through the reception of the Holy Eucharist - he will “pour into our hearts the strength of this saving food” and conform us to the mysteries of his mighty love (Prayer After Communion; cf. Prayer Over the Offerings). Let us, then, place hearts wholly in God – and not in ourselves – that he might place his heart wholly in us. Amen.

[1] Christopher Carstens, A Devotional Journey into the Mas: How Mass Can Become a Time of Grace, Nourishment, and Devotion (Manchester, New Hampshire: Sophia Institute Press, 2017), 46.
[2] Joseph Ratzinger, Credo for Today: What Christians Believe (San Francisco, California: Ignatius Press, 2009), 11.
[3] Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience Address, 23 January 2013.
[4] Pope Francis, in Nicole Winfield, “Pope:Abortion Is Never OK, equates it to ‘hiring a hitman,” Associated Press, 25 May 2019.
[5] Pope Francis, in “Pope Francis:Foster a culture that recognizes the value of life,” Vatican News, 24 May 2019.

19 May 2019

Homily and Announcement of Additional Assignment - 19 May 2019

he Fifth Sunday of Easter (C)

Dear brothers and sisters,

Sometimes it seems that we want the will of God to be accomplished in us, and through us, and for us, but that we want this to happen on our own terms. To put it another way, we want what God wants if what God wants is what we want. We do not want any hardships or persecutions or even any inconveniences. Instead, we want God’s will to make our lives easier and more comfortable, but that was not the experience of Saint Paul or of Saint Barnabas, both of whom knew that “it is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). This, after all, is how it was for Jesus; why should it be any different for us who claim to follow after him?

Is this where you are right now in your life of faith? Do you want the will of God to make your life less burdensome, or do you simply want the will of God, whatever it might be? If you do not know where you are right now, consider this question: When was the last time you prayed to God asking him to “constantly accomplish the Paschal Mystery” within you?

Andrea Vanni, Scenes from the Passion of Christ
National Gallery of Art
Do you know what the Paschal Mystery is? It is the answer to all of life’s questions, for it is the mystery of the Lord’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection. To put it another way, the Paschal Mystery is the mystery of God’s love for us; it is the mystery of the love of God who sought us out, who endured unspeakable suffering for us, who overcame the sadness of the grave, and who longs to unite us to himself. The Paschal Mystery is all of this – and more – because no words can ever speak eloquently enough or simply enough to understand it fully. It is a mystery to be contemplated and to be imitated so that it may be constantly accomplished in us. The one in whom the Paschal Mystery is accomplished is, as it were, like a lantern from whom the love of Christ shines forth into every aspect of life, which is to say in one who is a saint, one who has been perfected in the crucible of the love of God.

The Lord Jesus famously said, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25). When the accomplishment of the Paschal Mystery is brought about in each of us, these words of Christ are fulfilled in us. His Passion, Death, and Resurrection have this power because

His Paschal mystery is a real event that occurred in history, but it is unique: all other historical events happen once, and then they pass away, swallowed up in the past. The Paschal mystery of Christ, by contrast, cannot remain only in the past, because by his death he destroyed death, and all that Christ is – all that he did and suffered for all men – participates in the divine eternity, and so transcends all times while being made present in them all. The event of the Cross and Resurrection abides and draws everything toward life.[1]

The Paschal Mystery abides because it is the mystery of the love of God, by which, as Saint Augustine said,

we die to this world, and our life is hid with Christ in God [cf. Colossians 3:3]; yea, that love itself is our death to the world, and our life with God. For if that is death when the soul quits the body, how can it be other than death when our love quits the world? Such love, therefore, is strong as death [cf. Song of Songs 8:6]. And what is stronger than that which binds the world?[2]

When the Paschal Mystery has been accomplished in us, we are indeed united with God in Christ Jesus our Lord through the workings of the Holy Spirit.

By now, many of you – if not all – know that I am soon to receive an additional assignment, another means through which the Paschal Mystery may be accomplished in me. As announced to the priests of the Diocese, the individual new assignments were to have been announced in the affected parishes this weekend and then made known generally this week. I have known the present change might be coming for a few months, but I only learned of it definitively about the same time as you. Only yesterday morning I received the following decree from Bishop Paprocki:

By this decree, I appoint the Reverend Daren J. Zehnle Pastor (c. 519) of Saint Peter Parish, Petersburg, Illinois, while retaining duties as Pastor of Saint Augustine Parish, Ashland, Judge of the Diocesan Tribunal, Director of the Office for Divine Worship and the Catechumenate and Post-Graduate Studies at the Liturgical Institute, Mundelein, Illinois, effective July 1, 2019.

In addition to the above-mentioned duties, I also remain Adjutant Judicial Vicar and Episcopal Delegate for Matrimonial Concerns. The fact that this appointment takes effect in the midst of my summer studies complicates things a bit more than I would have liked, but this can be an opportunity for each of us to embrace the Paschal Mystery more fully in our lives, albeit in differing ways.

I understand the rumor mill was active this past week generating a number of falsehoods relating to this news. I ask you always to ignore the rumor mill and never to take part in it, because it always and only causes harm; if you do not know with certainty if something is true, do not pass it on; it is that simple. Let me now take a moment to address three principle rumors I have heard:
  1. I am not leaving St. Augustine’s Parish. As the Bishop’s decree states (and as Msgr. Holinga’s letter also said), I will retain my duties as your Pastor, but will also take on the duties as the Pastor of St. Peter’s, as well.
  2. It is my intention to maintain my principle residence here at St. Augustine’s (I have too many books to move again so soon, and I only recently finished setting up my library), but to spend a couple of nights each week in Petersburg.
  3. While a change in the Mass schedules of both parishes will have to be made, nothing is yet decided. Presently, of course, St. Augustine’s has Sunday Mass at 9:00 a.m., while St. Peter’s has an anticipated Mass on Saturdays at 4:30 p.m. and Sunday Mass at 8:00 a.m. Naturally, at least one of these schedules will have to be changed. Likewise, a change will have to be made to the daily Mass schedules; St. Augustine’s has daily Mass Monday through Thursday at 7:00 a.m. and St. Peter’s has daily Mass Tuesday through Thursday at 8:00 a.m. What these changes will look like has not been determined.

How all of this will come together, I do not know, and, to be perfectly honest with you, I do not know if I have sufficient strength to fulfill all of these duties well. I ask your continued prayers for me as all of this gets somewhat sorted out in the next few weeks before I return to my studies and I entrust myself to the mercy of God and to the intercession of Saint Augustine and of Saint Peter.

As we continue in these days of Easter, we know

There is an inseparable bond between the cross and the resurrection which Christians must never forget. Without this bond, to exalt the cross would mean to justify suffering and death, seeing them merely as our inevitable fate. For Christians, to exalt the cross means to be united to the totality of God’s unconditional love for mankind. It means making an act of faith! To exalt the cross, against the backdrop of the resurrection, means to desire to experience and to show the totality of this love. It means making an act of love! To exalt the cross means to be a committed herald of fraternal and ecclesial communion, the source of authentic Christian witness. It means making an act of hope![3]

Having one time been grouped with three other parishes, you are somewhat accustomed to what this new assignment for me may mean. I am looking at this news as an invitation for me to enter more fully into the Paschal Mystery of Christ, as I think it is for you as well. Let us, then, endeavor to take up the Cross together, to lift it high in the confidence of the Resurrection of the Lord and to make daily acts of faith, love, and hope asking the Lord to accomplish the Paschal Mystery in each of us. Amen.

[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1085.
[2] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Tractates on the Gospel of John, 65.1.
[3] Pope Benedict XVI, Address Before Signing Ecclesia in Medio Oriente.

06 May 2019

Islamic State Ongoing Updates - May 2019

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31 May 2019

30 May 2019
29 May 2019

28 May 2019

12 May 2019

3 May 2019
2 May 2019