20 July 2017

Tolton Drama coming to the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois

The good folks with St. Luke Productions have a produced a one-man drama about the life of the Servant of God Father Augustus Tolton titled, Tolton: From Slave to Priest. The subtitle is taken from the title of a biographical novel by Sr. Caroline Hemesath, O.S.F. of the same name and published by Ignatius Press:
In the past, I've had the honor of working with Leonardo Defilippis, the President and Founder of St. Luke Productions when he gave a very moving performance of Vianney, a one-man drama on the life of the Cure of Ars. I'm especially looking forward to his team in brining Tolton: From Slave to Priest to the Diocese.
We are still working on firming up the cities and the specific locations for the performances, but it is safe to safe that Tolton: From Slave to Priest will be performed in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois November 5-12, 2017. I will soon be working to arrange performances in Quincy, Springfield, Decatur, Jacksonville, Effingham, Alton, and Edwardsville (priests in these cities will soon be hearing from me).
If you're interested in scheduling a performance - or even a set of performances - you may inquire here. If you'd to help support the production of these performances and help make the story of Father Gus known, you can do so here.
I hope to be able to announce the dates and locations of the performances in the next few weeks. Keep on this blog, the Catholic Times, and your parish bulletins for more information!

18 July 2017

On the Defender of the Holy Sepulchre, Duke Godfrey de Bouillon

On this day in the year 1100, Godfrey de Bouillon died in Jerusalem at the age of about forty after suffering from some sort of illness. One of the leaders of the First Crusade who set out to reclaim the city of Jerusalem from the Muslims (who first took it from the Christians in 637 - this is often forgotten), Duke Godfrey became the ruler of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, ruling for only about a year, after the city fell to the Crusaders on 15 July 1099 after 462 years under Muslim control.
In his Historia rerum in partibus transmarinis gestarum, William of Trye described Godfrey in these words:
Godfrey was the eldest of them by birth and the foremost in his inner qualities as well.... He was a religious man, mild mannered, virtuous, and God­fearing. He was just, he avoided evil, he was trustworthy and dependable in his undertakings. He scorned the vanities of the world, a quality rare in that age and especially among men of the military profession. He was assiduous in prayer and pious works, renowned for his liberality, graciously affable, civil, and merciful. His whole life was commendable and pleasing to God. His body was tall and although he was shorter than the very tall, yet he was taller than men of average height. He was a man of incomparable strength, with stout limbs, a manly chest, and a handsome face. His hair and beard were a medium blond. He was considered by everyone to be most outstanding in the use of weapons and in military operations.
That William did not exaggerate the piety of Godfrey can be seen in what he said after his election as the first ruler of the Kingdom of Jerusalem on 22 July 1099. Not only did he refuse to wear a golden crown because Jesus wore only a crown of thorns, he also refused the title of king because Christ Jesus is the only true King of Jerusalem. He took instead the title of Advocatus Sancti Supulchri ("Defender of the Holy Sepulchre," the tomb of Christ) and, for this reason, Godfrey is the founder of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, of which I am a Knight. Regrettably, those who succeeded him did not always demonstrate a similar humility.
Godfrey was respected not only by Christians, but also by Muslims, one of whom noted Godfrey was "satisfied with such a modest apparel, without rugs or silk drapes and without a royal attire". Such was Godfrey's fame in the Middle Ages that he was soon numbered among the Nine Worthies, of whom three were pagan (Hector, Alexander the Great, and Julius Caesar), three Jewish (Joshua, David, and Judas Maccabeus), and three Christian (Arthur, Charlemagne, and Godfrey).
The tomb of Duke Godfrey de Bouillon was destroyed in 1808.
The creation of the Jerusalem Cross, the symbol of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, is attributed to Duke Godfrey:
The meaning of the five crosses varies, mostly commonly being held to recall the Five Wounds of Christ, or the Cross of Christ and the Four Evangelists, or the Cross of Christ and the four corners of the world. The color of the Jerusalem Cross was later changed from gold to red.

To the rank of Knight Commander

Last week I received the happy news that I am to be promoted from the rank of Knight to that of Knight Commander of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sephulchre of Jerusalem this coming October. One of the few remaining chivalric orders, the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre has a long history:
The Constitution of the Order states four specific purposes to which the Knights and Dames are committed:
  1. To strengthen in its members the practice of Christian life, in absolute fidelity to the Supreme Pontiff and according to the teachings of the Church, observing as its foundation the principles of charity of which the order is a fundamental means for assistance to the Holy Land;
  2. To sustain and aid the charitable, cultural and social works and institutions of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land, particularly those of and in the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, with which the Order maintains its traditional ties;
  3. To support the preservation and propagation of the Faith in those lands, and promote interest in this work not only among Catholics scattered throughout the world, who are united in charity by the symbol of the Order, but also among all other Christians; and,
  4. To uphold the rights of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land.
Please join me in praying for the work of the Order and for our brothers and sisters in Christ living in the Holy Land.

17 July 2017

Should Tolkien's faith be discussed?

Being an avid reader of the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien and various commentaries upon his writings, I have been a member of The Tolkien Society for a few years now. I enjoy both its print publications and its page on Facebook, where a great many things are shared, from a wide variety of questions to news articles to artworks inspired by his legendarium to Tolkien-related events.
As a sort of security measure, the Facebook page of The Tolkien Society is a "closed" page with moderation, meaning that requests to join the page and posts to the page must all be approved by an administrator.
Yesterday, I submitted Mike Aquilina's "Chord of the Rings," which someone passed on to me the other day. It is an older reflection on Tolkien's creation myth in relation to the hymning of creation spoken of by Fathers of the Church. I received a disappointing response from one of the admins:
Thanks for wanting to share that post from the Eighth Day institute. It is an interesting article, but reading it carefully reveals that it has a rather strong religious message. Unfortunately, we've often found that religious posts often lead to unnecessary and unpleasant arguments, so we won't be putting it through to the group.
Being, as I said, rather disappointed with this response, I asked if it wouldn't be better instead to call for civility and respect for those who oppose Tolkien's faith, which was undeniably central both to his life and to his writings. I also asked the administrators of the group page to reconsider this decision. The response was again disappointing but understandable: "[T]he current rules have grown up from years of experience of moderating a FB group with thousands of members."

Have we in the West really fallen so low that we cannot allow devotees of an author to discuss every aspect of an author's life? Tolkien himself said his The Lord of the Rings "is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work" (Letter to Robert Murray, 2 December 1953); how much of an integral conversation can actually be had, then, if this foundation is not allowed to be discussed?

I understand the difficulty the administrators have in keeping on an eye on the page. They are all volunteers and have their families to attend to, and rightly so. But what does it say about us if we cannot allow a discussion of the role of faith in the lives of various people? I, as a man of faith, do not go around causing a ruckus on the Internet whenever I see a post by an atheist; why do they feel the need to stir up trouble when they see a post about Tolkien's faith? If the read his letters, they'd know how central it was to him and to his works.

It seems we need a new lesson in decency, respect, and civility.

16 July 2017

A sixth step for Deacon Kandra's five steps

Some days ago, Deacon Greg Kandra wrote a post directed to pastors with "5 things to do before you say Mass ad orientem," some which are helpful and some rather obvious. To these five, I suggest a sixth: Know your congregation.
During my first year as Parochial Vicar at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Effingham, Illinois, I was to celebrate the entire Triduum at our mission parish of the Annunciation (more commonly referred to simply as St. Mary's) in Shumway. To help prepare myself for these celebrations, I went out to the church early during Holy Week to have a look around with and through the Roman Missal. In doing so, I noted an oft overlooked rubric for Holy Saturday that says after the third singing of "The Light of Christ" and the response "Thanks be to God," "the Deacon places the paschal candle on a large candlestand prepared next to the ambo or in the middle of the sanctuary" (no. 17, emphasis mine).
The ambo was situated rather close to the wall of the sanctuary, so placing the paschal candle on the right of the ambo did not seem a good option. However, the ambo was also situated rather near the altar and placing the paschal candle on the left of the ambo might impede between the ambo and the altar. Pondering this little dilemma, I said to myself, "I wonder..."
It's not the best picture, but you get the idea
This church maintained (and still maintains) it's old "high altar," complete with candles and altar clothes as if the altar were simply waiting to be used. The newer, wooden altar in the middle of the sanctuary was on plastic pieces to help move furniture about. I wondered to myself if we should remove the free-standing altar, replace it with the paschal candle, and simply use the high altar for the Easter Vigil.
As I gave serious consideration to the pros and cons of this idea, some ladies of the parish came in to begin decorating for Holy Thursday. I shared this idea with them, women of different ages and backgrounds, and asked their opinions. One of them said, "Change is good, Father," and the rest agreed. And so it was done.
Prior to the lighting of the Easter Fire, the Book of the Gospels was placed on the high altar, so when the alleluia began, I ascended the steps of the high altar, took the Book of the Gospels, and went to ambo. Later, for the preparation of the altar and of the gifts, I again simply went ascended the steps to the high altar and offered the holy sacrifice of the Mass as if nothing at all were different; I made comment about celebrating ad orientem at all and, contrary Deacon Kandra's fifth step, no criticisms were voiced whatever. It was the most prayerful Mass I had yet celebrated. The servers remarked it was the best Mass they served. And the members of the congregation all seemed to have enjoyed it, as well. Together, we turned towards the Lord and it was lovely.
A few years later, I did the same at Sacred Heart Parish in Virden, Illinois, my first pastorate, again without commenting about it in any way. There, too, it was very well received.
However, I once celebrated the Mass ad orientem in a church at which I was a "visiting" priest, filling in one Sunday for the pastor who was away. One of the lights at the front of the pews was flickering incessantly and I had a very difficult time keeping concentration through the Liturgy of the Word because the light was so distracting; it was, frankly, obnoxious. In order to keep my concentration through the Liturgy of the Eucharist, I again offered the Mass ad orientem, this time at the free-standing altar and again without commenting about it in any way. In this particular parish it was not at all well received, though no one said anything to me about it (the pastor heard about it, apparently, upon his return).
These experiences have shown me that some parishes are quite open for ad orientem worship (even eager for it) while others are not at all open to it; some parishes will need little (if any) catechesis about ad orientem liturgies, while others will require lots of catechesis to prepare for ad orientem liturgies (if they are ever ready for them).

Homily - 16 July 2017 - The Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Homily for the Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)
Dear brothers and sisters,

How often do we, too, wish to ask Jesus, “Why do you speak to them in parables” (Matthew 13:10)? Moreover, how often do we wish to ask him, “Why do you speak to us in parables?” Why does he not speak plainly to us, but rather in riddles and intimations? Does he not want us to hear, understand, and receive his message in humble joy?

When we reflect on the parable proclaimed today, we usually focus on the various types of soil. Important as these are, it seems to me the primary focus of the parable is not so much on the ground, but on Jesus, the Divine Sower. It is the seed of his word that goes forth from his mouth to do his will (cf. Isaiah 55:11). This does not negate the certainty that the types of ground “represent different modes of receiving the Word, or different modes of listening: the Word of God is sown in every human being, and in each one it wants to bring forth a fruit full of life.”[1] It is always Jesus who sows and speaks, and so this parable is “autobiographical,” for it is he who has “visited the land and watered it” with his word; it is he who has “prepared the land: drenching its furrows, breaking up its clods, softening it with showers, blessing its yield” (Psalm 65:10, 11).[2] 

Indeed, this parable “reflects the very experience of Jesus, of his preaching,” even as it demonstrates the various ways in which we attend to his preaching.[3] Like every natural seed, the seed of the Word of God takes time to be implanted into the soil of our lives, to germinate and break out of its shell, to push through the soil, and, finally, to produce fruit. To put it perhaps more simply, “the interiorization of the Word needs appropriate, suitable spaces and times: it is not something that happens everywhere, in a moment.”[4] What is more, 

stony ground speaks of a journey that happens in a hurry (the adverb “at once” happens twice) and for this reason it cannot endure, it does not withstand long distances. Speaking of this inconstancy, the evangelist Matthew uses a particular adjective, which literally means “what is only of a moment” (proskairós): the man “of a moment” is one who is enthusiastic about everything, but does not love anything deeply; he lives very fragmented, and does not unify himself around a relationship; he knows no patience.[5] 

Does this not describe a great many of our contemporaries, perhaps even us, men and women of the moment, enthusiastic about everything but loving nothing deeply? It remains, then, for us who are dedicated to the study of the sacred liturgy to remind our neighbors that “without the sacraments of the Church, the Christian life is like the seed fallen on rocky ground which, when it sprouted, it withered for lack of moisture.”[6]
It is within the liturgy of the Church that the Divine Sower reveals the reason for his speaking in parables. Within the sacraments we come to realize that “God's true ‘Parable’ is Jesus himself, his Person who, in the sign of humanity, hides and at the same time reveals his divinity.”[7] Just as he hides himself behind and within his parables, so, too, here he hides himself in the appearance of bread and wine. “In this manner God does not force us to believe in him but attracts us to him with the truth and goodness of his incarnate Son: love, in fact, always respects freedom.”[8]

It remains for us to allow the Lord to drench the furrows of hearts, to break their clods, to soften them with the gentle and yet forceful showers of his love, so that his fruit may be produced in us. This happens not in a moment, but over time; we must be patient with him. May he bring this about continually in us and so allow us to help others interiorize the Word and see the beauty of his love precisely in his hiddenness so his fruit may be born in them. Amen.

[1] Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Homily for the Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time Year A, 15 July 2017.
[2] Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, 10 July 2011.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Homily for the Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time Year A, 15 July 2017.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Robert Cardinal Sarah, Address tothe ConferenceSacra Liturgia Milan 2017),” “The Sacred Liturgy – Our Encounter with Almighty God: A Christological and Ecclesiological Perspective,” 11.
[7] Pope Benedict XVI, ibid.
[8] Ibid.

10 July 2017

Covering the pilgrimage procession

The local news media did a very fine job reporting on yesterday's pilgrimage procession to the grave of the Servant of God Father Augustus Tolton on the 120th anniversary of his death, all nicely done:

Homily on the 120th Anniversary of the Death of Father Augustus Tolton

Homily at Vespers for the

120th Anniversary of the Death of the Servant of God

Father Augustus Tolton

Dear brothers and sisters,

The grave of Father Augustus Tolton
PHOTO: Gretchen Mason
For nearly two full days in Illinois in 1897, “the mercury had not crawled below the 80-degree mark, and the heat wave had penetrated into the innermost citadels of comfort and coolness.”[1] In its wake, twelve babies in Quincy and nine adults in Chicago lay dead, one of whom was our beloved Servant of God, Father Augustus Tolton, who died on July 9th at 8:30 p.m. at the age of forty-three.

On July 11th, they brought his body into St. Monica’s church in Chicago, where he served as pastor for eight years, there to lay in state until his funeral Mass the next day. His body arrived in Quincy on July 13th and was received at the old St. Peter’s church at 8th and Maine streets for a requiem Mass. Later that day, the Quincy Journal noted that

the church was filled with the friends of the deceased priest, whose reputation was national, and the many lovely floral tributes were evidence of the high esteem in which he was held. Seldom has St. Peter’s Church held such a large funeral assemblage as was gathered there this morning.[2]

After the Mass, the body of Father Tolton was brought in procession to this cemetery, where he was laid to rest one hundred and twenty years ago. “The cortege which followed the body to the grave was over four blocks long”[3] and “street cars took those out to the end of the line who could not be accommodated with carriages, they then walking from Baldwin Park to the burial ground.”[4] Though fewer in number, we, today, have retraced many of their steps because we, also, wish to offer some token of the high esteem in which we hold our friend, Father Gus.

A procession to pilgrims to Father Tolton's grave
PHOTO: Gretchen Mason
It was said at the time of his death that “the story of his life reads like a romance.”[5] These words may seem strange to us, given that he was born into slavery, that he endured prejudice as a boy, and that he suffered discrimination as an adult, even from a fellow priest. This does not seem like a romance to us. His was a life seemingly marked by opposition wherever he turned, save for a few moments of calm. Even his death from heat exhaustion seems unromantic, but romance did not always mean what it does today.

In the fourteenth century, a romance was a story concerning the adventures of a knight, or even of a hero. When the Quincy Morning Whig learned Father Tolton had collapsed on a sidewalk in Chicago, they called him “a gentleman of the rarest merit.”[6] Is this not a fine description of a hero, or even of what a knight was supposed to have been? Even now the Holy See is examining the life of Father Gus to discern if he did in fact lived a life of what we call heroic virtue. It remains our great hope and our fervent prayer that Mother Church will favorably judge his life and call him venerable.

Father Roy Bauer, who studied the life of Father Gus better than any of us, often reminded me of Father Tolton’s long-suffering, of his willingly and patiently enduring lasting offense and hardship. It is not a common phrase these days in which we have so little patience with ourselves or with others, in which we are quick to take offense at the smallest thing and do not hesitate about broadcasting our anger, but, I dare say, Father Gus’ long-suffering was his greatest virtue.

The now unthinkable treatment he received from one of the priests in Quincy is well known to us. In a letter to then-Archbishop James Gibbons, Father Tolton expressed something of the reason he endured such prejudice from a brother priest:

I can say this most Most Rev. father that at first the priests here [Quincy] rejoiced at my arrival now they wished I were away because too many white people come down to my church from other parishes: I am sorry of course but I can’t drive them away.[7]

This, of course, is precisely what this particular priest wanted him to do, but Father Gus did not publicly condemn or speak ill of him.

When finally he could take no more, in July of 1889, Father Tolton wrote to the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith in Rome, for which he was ordained a priest, saying:

There is a certain German priest here who is jealous and contemptuous. He abuses me in many ways and he has told the bishop to send me out of this place. I will gladly leave here just to be away from this priest. I appealed to Bishop [James] Ryan and he also advises me to go elsewhere.[8]

In the midst of his troubles with this priest, Father Gus began speaking across the country to raise money for his parish, but he never spoke against the one who should have been as a brother to him, not even after he left Quincy on December 19, 1989. Indeed, in January of 1891, Father Tolton explained to Father Slattery that “the cause of my being in Chicago now” is “the jealousy of a Dutch priest in which facts I have kept hid and will never let them out through fear of it greatly injuring the success of the mission among the colored race.”[9]

In all of this, Father Gus never mentioned the name of the priest who made his life so difficult, neither in letter nor in public speech; he simply described the reality of the situation without impugning the reputation of another. In a time in which we are quick to shout our disagreements with others or to reveal their faults in whatever way we can, Father Tolton stands as a model of long-suffering - of willing, patient endurance of hardship - a fruit of his deep humility and the strength of his faith. We might rightly say that long-suffering is the way to embrace the Cross as it comes to us; it is the offering of our sufferings with those of Christ Jesus for the sake of his body, the Church (cf. Colossians 1:24). That Father Gus was filled with an “ardent charity and self-denying zeal” was noted by Mary Elmore even during his life; his charity and zeal were the fruits of his long-suffering and in this he is a model for us to follow.[10]

The procession arrives at Father Tolton's grave
PHOTO: Gretchen Mason

The adventure of Father Gus’ life was marked by the Cross. He embraced it knowing that “the Lord will bless those who fear him, the little no less than the great” (Psalm 115:13). It is his confidence in the Lord’s loving care for us that marks Father Tolton as a Christian hero and for this reason we give God thanks for him. May Father Gus teach us to set ourselves aside for the sake of the Gospel, to glory not in ourselves, but in God alone. May he help us to “achieve the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” and be found in Christ and with Father Tolton to be men and women of the finest merit (II Thessalonians 2:14). Amen.

[1] “Sun Shows No Mercy,” Daily Inter Ocean, July 10, 1897.

[2] “Funeral of Father Tolton,” Quincy Journal, July 13, 1897.

[3] “Priest Laid to Rest,” Quincy Daily Whig, July 14, 1897.

[4] “Funeral of Father Tolton,” Quincy Journal, July 13, 1897.

[5] “Father Tolton Stricken,” Quincy Morning Whig, July 10, 1897.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Augustus Tolton, Letter to Archbishop Gibbons, July 24, 1888.

[8] Augustus Tolton, in Roy Bauer, They Called Him Father Gus, Part 24.

[9] Augustus Tolton, Letter to Father Slattery, January 8, 1891.

[10] Mary Elmore, in Bauer, Part 27.