As we gather on this first Sunday of October, we celebrate the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time and the beginning of Respect Life month. With our sequential reading of Mark’s Gospel this year, we see the tension between Jesus and the religious leaders continue to escalate. A Pharisee poses a question to test Jesus. He was not seeking understanding or looking for a clarification, but looking for a way to trap Jesus in his speech. His response is clear and direct. The scene moves into a house and people were bringing their children to Jesus so he might bless them. While the disciples tried to prevent this, Jesus welcomed them. It is a scene that we saw repeated during Pope Francis visit just a week ago. It happened in Washington, New York and Philadelphia. Security personnel tried to prevent the children from coming to the Pope, but he welcomed them with open arms. Our Gospel gives us a very compassionate picture of Jesus. He was one who could both speak difficult sayings and welcome the little ones into his presence.
Many of us followed Pope Francis’ visit to our country with enthusiasm and joy. He proclaimed God’s love and mercy to us. He met with the powerful both within our country and throughout the world and thanked them for their service through their public office. He met with our church leaders and inspired them to be servants as the Lord Jesus was himself a servant. He prayed with us at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum at the World Trade Center. He toured the sites in Philadelphia where the hopes and dreams of our country began. And he brought joy wherever he went. It was a very exciting time for our country. In so many ways, we felt the touch of God in what he said and what he did. Pope Francis’ visit was truly a moment of blessing for us all.
Forty-three years ago the Catholic bishops in the United States designated October as Respect Life Month. Throughout October, Catholics are called in a special way to reflect on the gift of human life, the threats against it and how we can protect all persons from conception through natural death. This year’s theme is “Every Life is Worth Living.” Whether it lasts for a brief moment or for a hundred years, each of our lives is a good and perfect gift. At every stage and in every circumstance, we are held in existence by God’s love. Pope Francis recently reminded us, “Even the weakest and most vulnerable, the sick, the old, the unborn and the poor are masterpieces of God’s creation, made in his own image, destined to live forever, and deserving of the utmost reverence and respect.” Jesus proclaimed this belief by what he said, but more importantly by the way he lived and the way he died. As he visited our country, Pope Francis echoed this belief by the way he welcomed everyone into his presence.
Our culture does not believe that human life is worth living, is sacred, from the moment of conception through natural death. So many events have become commonplace – senseless shootings in our major cities, innocent life taken by terrorists, killings based on ethnic and religious differences, executions sanctioned by the state, abortion facilities open in our backyard with approximately 54,559,600 abortions taking place in our country during the 43 years since the Roe v. Wade decision. We can make a start by making the personal choice to uphold and really witness to the sanctity and dignity of every human life. We offer our prayers throughout this Respect Life month that our Catholic Christian values promoting a culture of life continue to influence everything that we do in our society and throughout the world.
The Gospels tell us of Jesus’ practice of gathering his apostles and going off to an out-of-the-way place for prayer, reflection, rest and relaxation. This week all of the priests of our Diocese of Joliet will be following the Lord’s example. We will be gathering with our Bishops at the Pheasant Run Resort near St. Charles, IL for our bi-annual convocation. All of us will be away from Monday afternoon through Thursday afternoon. Our first Joliet Diocesan Convocation of Priests took place in the early 1980’s. It was a very powerful experience for all of us to come together with our Bishops and spend time in prayer, brotherhood, conferences, conversation and sharing. Our current practice is to do this every two years. This year’s theme is “Renewing Parish Catechesis.” Archbishop Jerome Listecki from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee will be our keynote speaker on Monday evening. Presentations will be given by Dr. James Pauley and Sr. M. Johanna Paruch from the Catechetical Department of the Franciscan University of Steubenville throughout the remainder of the week. We will also take time to honor the priests celebrating significant anniversaries this year. Please keep us in prayer while we are away, as we will be sure to remember you. Since there will not be any daily Masses celebrated while we are away, Deacon Larry will provide a Communion service at 7:00am on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings. We will not have a service at the regular 12:05pm Mass time. Our regular schedule of weekday Masses will resume on Friday.
It seems like autumn has settled upon us this past week as many of the trees are changing colors. Let’s make it a point to notice the beauty of this season – it is the Lord’s gift to us in this present moment. As always, we pray that God continue to bless us with all that we need, and more.
Father Jim Murphy