08 July 2019

A glorious and beautiful day in Quincy to honor Father Gus

A humidity level of 91% did not prevent more than 150 people from showing their love for and devotion to the Venerable Father Augustine Tolton this past Saturday morning in Quincy by commemorating the anniversary of his death on July 9, 1897.

Photo: Reg Ankrom
This was the fourth year that I have had the great joy of leading a group of pilgrims in procession from the statue of Father Gus outside St. Peter's Catholic School in Quincy to his grave in St. Peter's Cemetery, a distance of about a mile.

Photo: Reg Ankrom
In addition to those taking part in the procession, others met us at the cemetery for the celebration of Morning Prayer, bringing the total number of pilgrims to more than 175, a turn out that swelled my heart with gratitude and love for my hometown.

A long line of men, women, and children of all ages, we must have made quite a sight as we made our way towards the cemetery, with media photographs running ahead of us to take photographs as we walked at a casual pace.

Photo: Gretchen Mason
Photo: Gretchen Mason
Photo: Gretchen Mason
Several people looked through the windows of their homes or businesses to watch the pilgrims go by, and one car even pulled over as we passed by on the other side of the road.

Once we arrived at the cemetery, the pilgrims had a few minutes to grab a bottle of water and to find a place in the shade, either in a chair or standing. As they did so, I honored Father Tolton's grave with incense and left a kukui nut lei as a token of my devotion to him.

Photo: Gretchen Mason
Photo: Gretchen Mason
Once everyone had gathered around the grave and was more or less in place, in the celebration of Morning Prayer we praised the Lord, the worker of wonders who draws near to us and is faithful forever (cf. Exodus 15:11; Psalm 119:151; and Psalm 117:2).

Photo: Gretchen Mason
Photo: Reg Ankrom

I invited Deacon Peter Chineke to preach a homily during the Morning Prayer, an invitation he gladly accepted. After hearing his moving words, I am very glad I asked to preach! 

Photo: Gretchen Mason
Here follows the text of Deacon Peter's homily, which was well received by all who heard his words, even drawing a happy applause when he spoke of Augustus of Quincy:
Photo: Reg Ankrom
Good morning.

I can see beautiful, smiley faces. That’s awesome!

Some of us don’t know me. I am your brother, your friend, and your Deacon Peter Chineke. I love Quincy, and I’m happy to be here again today, I think, the second time, but the first for this Pilgrimage to commemorate the death anniversary of Father Augustus Tolton.

The reading this morning tells us to be solicitous to make our call permanent. That when we do so, we will never be lost! Instead, our entry into the kingdom of God becomes guaranteed. The reading tells us that if we become intentional disciples of Jesus Christ; if we become intentional, solicitous, committed to our Christian life, we will see the face of God. We will enter the Beatific Vision of Jesus Christ.

But then, what is this call?

The Apostle Peter is talking about our call to HOLINESS. Holiness is our universal Christian vocation – the most important mission of our Christian life. We are called and baptized to be holy members of the body of Christ, the Church. It is a vocation that started the moment we received the sacrament of baptism – a time we made a vow, a Christian commitment to follow Christ in word and action, in our everyday life. It is a call that we have the privilege to renew every day of our lives. Yes. We can start anew today to pursue our call to holiness.

But how can we be solicitous to make this call permanent? What can we do as Christians to make our call to HOLINESS permanent?

Today, we are standing right in front of the holy grave of a man whose life can teach us how to make our call to holiness permanent in Jesus Christ. There are many others like him. There are hundreds and thousands of great witnesses of the Christian life from all over the world from whom we can learn and grow in our everyday commitment – in our daily resolve to follow Christ, to carry our joys and sorrows, our failures and our successes, our hopes and despairs to Jesus Christ – our Lord and Redeemer. One of these people, one of these great, giant witnesses of our Christian faith, is right here with us. We may not see him with our physical eyes, but with the eyes of faith, we see a man standing right by us, listening to our prayers and interceding for us before the God of all Goodness. He is Augustus Tolton. Some of our brothers and sisters up north may want to call him “Augustus of Chicago.” But we know the fact that he is, and hopefully, will be canonized as “Augustus [Tolton] of Quincy”! [I do not know if Deacon Peter saw my related post on an epithet.]

Augustus, a priest of our diocese – our friend, brother, and priest, lived a life that is worthy of emulation. He suffered rejection from among the people he called his own. Augustus was refused every opportunity and privilege to become what he wanted. Worst of all, he was rejected by his brother-priests. This was a rejection that broke his heart and forced him to seek what today, we would call asylum, in the Archdiocese of Chicago. He went to Chicago, but his heart was home. Augustus ministered among the black people in Chicago, but he never forgot the Gem City of Quincy – the place he was baptized and received into the body of Christ, the Church; the place he received his call to Holiness when he was baptized and received into Communion.

Father Augustus Tolton persevered in his call to holiness. To live a holy life and see the face of God was paramount in his Christian life – so much that no rejection, no persecution, no suffering stopped him or distracted him from making his call to HOLINESS permanent in Jesus Christ.

What can we learn from this brother of ours today? What do we do when we are faced with different but similar challenges in our times? Are we not persecuted for different reasons in our time? Do we not suffer rejection from the people we love in our time? Are we not confronted, every now and then, by circumstances that are beyond our control? What do we do in times like these? Do we give up on Christ and our call to holiness? Or do we, like Venerable Augustus of Quincy, stay focused on Jesus Christ and put our trust and faith in Him?

Even in the midst of his sufferings, Augustus Tolton carried his cross with Christ by remaining loyal to his oppressors; forgiving to his persecutors; respectful and compassionate to those who hate him; unwavering in his love and service to Christ and his Church; and above all, Augustus loved Jesus and his Church so much that he died serving them.

My brothers and sisters, Augustus Tolton, the pride of the Gem City of Quincy, and the Hero of the Christian witness in Illinois, is our model in the Christian faith here in our local Church – The Diocese of Springfield. He intercedes for us before the God of all Holiness. Today, as we go, let us continue to ask for his intercession to be active and intentional in our Christian faith and make our call to HOLINESS permanent in Jesus Christ.

After the conclusion of Morning Prayer, we joined together in praying for more priestly vocations through Father Tolton's intercession and the prayer for his canonization. Finally, we sang "Holy God, We Praise Thy Name," Father Gus' favorite hymn.

In the past, the pilgrims in this procession numbered between 20 and 35. Part of the difference this year is due to the time; whereas we processed in the evening in the past, this year we processed in the morning. The increased numbers are also no doubt due to the Holy Father Pope Francis' recent recognition of the heroic virtue of Father Tolton.

I am deeply grateful to everyone who helped with the preparations for this pilgrimage procession, and to everyone who participated in it, far exceeding all of my expectations! Although very warm, it was a beautiful morning of prayer and was a good example of why I love the Gem City.

There is a definite excitement in Quincy as we continue to hope and pray for his beatification and canonization. As I prepared for this year's procession, I anticipated an increase in pilgrims and printed 70 booklets. The Holy Name Society of St. Francis Solanus Parish set out 96 changes and brought lots of bottles of water kept in ice. Next year we will plan for more pilgrims yet, and look into using a sound system as well.

Several media outlets were present to cover the pilgrimage procession. 

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