Saint Francis Xavier, Patron of the Diocese of Joliet

Today’s readings

We celebrate the memorial of Saint Francis Xavier as a feast today, because he is the patron saint of the Diocese of Joliet.  Francis Xavier was a sixteenth century man who had a promising career in academics.  He was encouraged in the faith by his good friend, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, and went to join the new community founded by Ignatius, the Society of Jesus, better known today as the Jesuits.

Francis had a passion for preaching the Gospel and living a life of Gospel simplicity.  He would live with and among the poorest of the poor, sharing their living conditions, ministering to the sick, and preaching and teaching the faith.  In fact, we might say that he reminds us of a current Jesuit, Pope Francis!  Saint Francis Xavier lived in the East Indies for a time, before going on to minister to the Hindus, Malaysians, and Japanese.  He even learned a bit of Japanese in order to communicate well with his people and to preach to them.  He dreamed of going on to minister in China, but died before he could get there.

Francis Xavier truly took to heart the words of Saint Paul who said he made himself all things to all people in order to save at least some.  He made it his life’s work to live as his people lived, preaching to simple folk, and calling them to Jesus.  He was also able to live freely Jesus’ Gospel call today: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.”

That same Gospel call is the inspiration of our diocese’s current focus on missionary discipleship.  This year, Bishop Conlon wrote to us in his pastoral letter, “’Go,’ He Said” that missionary discipleship needs to be the priority for the Church and her members in order to bring the Gospel to “every creature.”

In that letter, Bishop tells us what this means for us: “Discipleship begins when you sense that Jesus Christ loves you and is calling you to follow Him. You are a disciple if you, in turn, acknowledge that He really is the Son of God and the true source of your life here and for eternity, that you love Him more than anyone else, that you want to form your daily life and its decisions around Him, and that you want to talk about Him with others.”

So we might not have the opportunity to live as Francis Xavier did and to actually go out to distant shores to preach the Gospel.  But we certainly are still called to preach it with our lives.  We are called to witness to Christ to everyone we meet: family, friends, coworkers, neighbors-anyone the Lord puts in our path.  Our diocese chose Francis Xavier for our patron because our founders took seriously the call to proclaim the Gospel to every person in this diocese.  We are called upon to do the same, according to our own life’s vocation and state of life.  May all who hear our words and see our actions come to believe and be saved.

Saint Cecilia, Virgin Martyr

Today’s readings

I’m sure we have some musicians here in church today: whether you play an instrument or sing, this is your feast day, because today we celebrate Saint Cecilia, a virgin and martyr who is the patron saint of musicians.  Because she is a martyr, we also remember those people of faith throughout history who have been persecuted for their faith, have given their lives for the faith, and have triumphed for the faith.

In today’s first reading, Judas Maccabeus and his brothers are celebrating that triumph.  Their people had been sorely oppressed and the temple was destroyed.  But Judas and his brothers led an opposition that overtook their enemies, and when they sent their enemies packing, they fixed up the temple.  In today’s reading, they rededicated the sanctuary and celebrated that God helped them to triumph over their Gentile enemies.

Saint Cecilia was a force for good among those who knew her.  She worked hard to convert her husband and his brother to the faith.  She was successful, and they were so strong in the faith that they also were martyred, just before she was.  All of them refused to give up the faith and all of them triumphed in heaven.  

And of course, it is Jesus who makes the triumph possible.  As he refused to stop preaching the truth, his enemies, as our Gospel reading today shows us, will stop at nothing to silence him.  Obviously, we know they were not ultimately successful: indeed Christ’s paschal mystery is the ultimate triumph: as he gave his life for us on the Cross, he triumphed over sin and death to give us the possibility of life forever in heaven.

It is said that as Saint Cecilia was being tortured and put to death, she sang a song of joy in her heart.  She was joyful because she knew that death would not be the end; her Lord made that very clear to her and she believed in it with all her heart.  We, too are called to sing a song of joy in our hearts, in every moment of our lives.  In good times and bad, we know that we will triumph if we trust in Jesus, and that is certainly enough reason for us to sing for joy!

Saint Martin of Tours / Veterans Day

Today we have the opportunity to celebrate some heroes.  One hero is today’s saint, Saint Martin of Tours, who was actually a veteran and a fierce defender of our faith.  The other heroes are our nation’s veterans, who have fought in wars to protect us and to protect our freedoms.

St. Martin of Tours is a fitting saint to pray for veterans today. His father was a veteran and he himself became a soldier and served his country faithfully, even though that was not what he most wanted to do.  But, at fifteen he entered the army and served under the Emperors Constantius and Julian. While in the service he met a poor, naked beggar at the gates of the city who asked for alms in Christ’s Name. Martin had nothing with him except his weapons and soldier’s mantle; but he took his sword, cut the mantle in two, and gave half to the poor man. During the following night Christ appeared to him clothed with half a mantle and said, “Martin, the catechumen, has clothed me with this mantle!”

During this time, Martin indeed became a catechumen, someone preparing to become a Catholic, and he wanted to focus on doing that. He asked his superiors in the army, “I have served you as a soldier; now let me serve Christ. Give the bounty to those who are going to fight. But I am a soldier of Christ and it is not lawful for me to fight.” After a time, he asked for and received release from military service. Having received his release, he became a monk and served God faithfully. As a soldier of Christianity now, he fought valiantly against paganism and appealed for mercy to those accused of heresy. He was made a bishop, also not his first choice of things to become, and served faithfully in that post.

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day in the eleventh month of the year 1918, an armistice was signed, ending the “war to end all wars” – World War I.  November 11 was set aside as Armistice Day in the United States to remember the sacrifices that men and women made during the war in order to ensure a lasting peace. In 1938 Congress voted Armistice Day as a legal holiday, but World War II began the following year. Armistice Day was still observed after the end of the Second World War. In 1953 townspeople in Emporia, Kansas called the holiday Veterans Day in gratitude to the veterans in their town. Soon after, Congress passed a bill renaming the national holiday to Veterans Day. Today, we remember those who have served for our country in the armed forces in our prayers.

On this Veterans Day, we honor and pray for veterans of our armed forces who have given of themselves in order to protect our country and its freedoms. We pray especially for those who have died in battle, as well as for those who have been injured physically or mentally during their military service. We pray in thanksgiving for all of our freedoms, gained at a price, and pray that those freedoms will always be part of our way of life.  St. Martin of Tours, pray for our veterans!

The Solemnity of All Saints

Today’s readings

Today, the Church militant – which is all of us – rejoice with the Church triumphant – which is all the Saints in heaven – because of the great glory of God. This glory they can already see; we hope to see it one day. And we will see it if, please God, we perfect ourselves and grow in holiness to the point that we too become saints for the Kingdom of God.

But I think many of us bristle at the very idea of becoming a saint. We might even throw up our hands in some conversations and say something like, “hey, I’m no saint…” Saints are those people in elaborate paintings or statues, who lived lives that we find very remote. Saints just seem out of touch and sainthood seems way past our grasp.

But that’s messed up. We were all made by God to come back to him one day: we were, in fact, made for heaven. Becoming a saint is the vocation of all of us. Because the most important thing we know about saints is that they are definitely in heaven, which is our true home, which is where we were meant to return some day. To get there, we ourselves have to become more like them. We have to grow in our faith and make our reliance on God’s mercy the central focus of our lives.

It may help to know that many of the saints struggled with holiness too. Think about Saint Paul himself: he began his career by persecuting Christians and we know that he had a hand in the stoning of Saint Stephen. He wrote of a “thorn in the flesh” that bothered him throughout his life.  Or think about Saint Augustine who was an intellectual man who disdained Christianity, until his mother’s prayers caught up with him. He even once said to God, “Make me holy, but not yet…”  Or we might think even more recently of Saint Teresa of Calcutta who experienced a very dark time in her life when she could not even communicate with Jesus. But Jesus was still there and led her to heaven.

And so this feast in honor of all the saints is an important one. We celebrate those saints we know of like Mary and Joseph, Peter and Paul, Patrick and Dominic, Francis and Pio, and so many others. But we also celebrate the ones we don’t know of; people whose faith and goodness only God knows. And most importantly, in celebrating them, we strive to become like them: close to Jesus who leads those who believe in him past the gates of death to the glory of heaven, where our reward will be great, as Jesus says in the Gospel today. On that day, we will indeed rejoice and be glad!

The Solemnity of All Saints (Vigil Mass)

Today’s readings

Since we’re gathered here on Halloween, All Hallows Eve, I thought I might get your attention by doing a little homily I like to call “Would Jesus Go Trick-or-Treating?” It’s an important topic, because I think a lot of parents wrestle with the message of Halloween and whether or not they should support their children joining in the festivity.

And I think it’s an important thing to wrestle with. On one hand, we don’t want to make a joke out of evil, because evil is real and it’s no joke. But on the other hand, we don’t want to call attention to evil by making a big thing out of it. Exorcists tell us that those are the two common mistakes that we can make about evil: First, we might say think there is no such thing as the devil. Satan would be happy for us to do that, because then we’re not on guard against him. He is real, he’s out there, and we do have to be on our guard. The second mistake we might make is that we look for evil everywhere, and that just shuts us down and keeps us from living the Gospel. Neither of these is a good thing, and both of them play into Satan’s plans for us.

So let’s talk about Halloween. Its origins are a bit murky, and many people think that what happened is that we sort of baptized a pagan festival. Yes and no: there is a traditional pagan festival on October 31st, but apparently there is a traditional pagan festival on the last day of every month, so really that’s nothing particularly special. More likely, Halloween was a celebration of the Eve of All Saints – hence the name, Halloween, All Hallows Eve. All Saints Day originated in the year 609, when it was celebrated in May. But in the ninth century, it was moved to the first of November, which is when the Germanic church celebrated it, and it’s been celebrated then ever since.

The origins of trick-or-treating may have been in Ireland where an ancient Gaelic festival celebrated the harvest and marked the beginning of winter – the time of year when a significant portion of the population would often die. Because of the fear of death that came with winter, these celebrations seemed to have included going door to door asking for treats dressed in costumes, which were thought to disguise the living from life-taking spirits.

So the origins and intent of Halloween are more or less benign, and mostly intended to honor the saints. But in our country, over time, a more sinister tone was added to the celebration. Think of some of the more horrific costumes, extremely elaborate and grotesque “haunted houses,” and parties where more evil customs were brought to the celebration. Add that to some of the more elaborate horror movies that get released this time of year, and you can see how it would be easy to brand Halloween as an evil holiday.

Fundamentalist Christians especially see the evil, and thus throw out the entire celebration. But we are not fundamentalist Christians. So we remember that God is good, and that he is always in control, and we do not give the demonic or the evil any power it doesn’t already have. In fact, a lot of people think that there is more demonic activity at this time of year than normal, but exorcists tell us that is not true. It’s just that people tend to open more doors by their worrying and by doing some things they shouldn’t do to celebrate the holiday.

So now let’s remember what this holiday is really about. Today we celebrate the feast of all the Saints – those who have been officially canonized over the ages, and those that perhaps we don’t know of, but who God certainly knows. This is the Church Triumphant, those who have conquered evil and have mastered holiness. They have accomplished what they were created for, to take up their rightful place in the Kingdom of Heaven, that place that God has prepared for each one of us. Today we celebrate their triumph, and hope for our own triumph, for we too wish to live forever with our God. We celebrate the example the saints have given us and we depend on their intercession, which helps to guide our lives and lead us on the path of life eternal. So it is right to celebrate this as we celebrate other holidays, with great festivity.

I think it’s important that we celebrate Halloween and All Saints Day as one, which is the intent. If we do that, we keep our minds on what is positive and turn away from all that bids us evil. So yes, I think it’s okay to trick-or-treat, to celebrate with parties, and to dress up. But I’d skip the more evil costumes, perhaps in favor of costumes honoring the saints, and any party games that summon evil, like Ouija boards.  In fact, if you have an Ouija board in your house right now, I want you to go home and destroy it and throw it away – don’t even give it to someone else – it’s not a party game.  All these are things that open the door to evil, and we always want to avoid that.

Avoiding evil was the glory of the saints. That was part of the path to holiness for them. As we celebrate all the saints today, we might think of some who famously battled evil and won. Saint Michael the Archangel, my middle-name patron, fights the battle of evil that we don’t usually see, every single moment. He is a wonderful patron, and we should memorize the prayer to him and pray it often. Saint Benedict battled evil temptation in his own life by rolling around in briars rather than give in to a lustful memory.  The Saint Benedict medal is particularly powerful in warding off evil.  Saint Patrick, my principal patron, famously converted the pagan king of Ireland to Catholicism and exorcised the forces of evil in that country. His famous Breastplate prayer is considered a deliverance prayer and a help to those who feel oppressed by evil. Of course, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Heaven and Earth, is a powerful protector of all of us, her children. And let’s not forget our Guardian Angels, who do battle for us on a daily basis. That’s just a few of the saints who battle for our good.

And in the spirit of their glorious battle, we should dedicate ourselves to joining them one day. We are all supposed to be saints, and as tall an order as that may sound, it needs to be our number one priority. Because there is no one in heaven who is not a saint. So then, we need to take all the help God and His Church gives us: we must dedicate ourselves to the sacraments, particularly the sacrament of Penance and the Eucharist, which together are more powerful than a solemn exorcism. We must put prayer at the beginning, in the middle and the end of our to-do lists, dedicating ourselves to the Blessed Sacrament, to the reading of scripture, and devotions, particularly the rosary. We have to make every effort to live the Gospel, and to give witness to the power of God’s love in our lives and in our world. Because if we honor and witness to Christ in this life, he will surely be our advocate in the life to come.

So yes, I think Jesus might trick-or-treat. But we come to him today for the best of all treats, the saving grace that he offers us that we might join the saints in heaven one day. We come to Jesus rejoicing and full of gladness, because we know that those who belong to him will have great reward in heaven.

Saints Simon and Jude, Apostles

Today’s readings

Today, we celebrate two apostles who, as often is the case, are relatively unknown except that they were followers of Jesus.  Jude is called Judas in Luke and in the Acts of the Apostles, but he’s not that Judas.  Matthew and Mark call him Thaddeus.  We have in the New Testament the letter of Jude, but scholars say it is not written by the man whose feast we celebrate today.  Saint Jude is perhaps best known as the patron saint of the seemingly-impossible, reminding us that in God, all things are possible.

Simon – and this is not the Simon who Jesus later named Peter –  was a Zealot, a member of a radical party that disavowed all ties with the government, holding that Israel should be re-elevated to political greatness under the leadership of God alone.  They also held that any payment of taxes to the Romans was a blasphemy against God.

Neither of these men held any claim to greatness here on earth; they found their glory in following Christ.  Their joy was, as St. Paul instructs us in his letter to the Ephesians, in that their citizenship was in heaven, as it is for all of us.  We are merely passing through this place, and our task while we are here, as was the task for Simon and Jude and all the apostles, is to live for Christ and to live the Gospel.  The reward for them, then, as is for all of us, is in heaven, their and our true home.

Their message, as the Psalmist says, goes out to all the earth.  Blessed are all of us when we catch that message and live that message, following the way to Christ Jesus.

Saint John XXIII

Today’s readings

The firstborn son of a farming family in Sotto il Monte, near Bergamo in northern Italy, Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli was always proud of his down-to-earth roots. After his ordination in 1904, Fr. Roncalli returned to Rome for canon law studies. He soon worked as his bishop’s secretary, Church history teacher in the seminary, and as publisher of the diocesan paper.

His service as a stretcher-bearer for the Italian army during World War I gave him a firsthand knowledge of war. In 1921, Fr. Roncalli was made national director in Italy of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. In 1925, he became a papal diplomat, serving first in Bulgaria, then in Turkey, and finally in France. With the help of Germany’s ambassador to Turkey, Archbishop Roncalli helped save an estimated 24,000 Jewish people.

Named a cardinal and appointed patriarch of Venice in 1953, he was finally a residential bishop. A month short of entering his 78th year, Cardinal Roncalli was elected pope, taking the name John after his father and the two patrons of Rome’s cathedral, St. John Lateran. Pope John took his work very seriously but not himself. His wit soon became proverbial, and he began meeting with political and religious leaders from around the world. In 1962, he was deeply involved in efforts to resolve the Cuban missile crisis.

His most famous encyclicals were Mother and Teacher (1961) and Peace on Earth (1963). Pope John XXIII enlarged the membership in the College of Cardinals and made it more international. At his address at the opening of the Second Vatican Council, he criticized the “prophets of doom” who “in these modern times see nothing but prevarication and ruin.” Pope John XXIII set a tone for the Vatican II when he said, “The Church has always opposed… errors. Nowadays, however, the Spouse of Christ prefers to make use of the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity.”

On his deathbed, Pope John said: “It is not that the gospel has changed; it is that we have begun to understand it better. Those who have lived as long as I have…were enabled to compare different cultures and traditions, and know that the moment has come to discern the signs of the times, to seize the opportunity and to look far ahead.” “Good Pope John” died on June 3, 1963. Saint John Paul II beatified him in 2000, and Pope Francis canonized him in 2014.

Three years ago, I had the opportunity to celebrate Mass at the tomb of Saint John XXIII in Saint Peter’s Basilica. What a privilege to be in the presence of a pastor-saint who loved the Church enough to set her on a course of renewal in what many of us would consider to be our retirement years! It’s a great reminder that we’re always called to be productive disciples no matter what our age.

Saint Francis of Assisi

Today, we celebrate the memorial of one of the most beloved saints of all time, Saint Francis of Assisi. Saint Francis has a conversion that came when he was very young. He had contracted a serious illness, and spent a good deal of time in intense and difficult prayer. In that time of prayer, our Lord called Francis to renounce everything that people who live according to the flesh tend to desire, and to embrace everything that the world tended to shrink from. He did this by embracing an leper, and piled all of his earthly possessions – including the clothes he was wearing – before his father, who had demanded that he give restitution for the gifts he had given to the poor.

Prayer before the cross in the crumbling church of San Damiano led Saint Francis to seek to reform the Church. Our Lord told him to “go out and build up my house, for it is nearly falling down.” Francis saw that our Lord was not merely referring to that church, even though it was nearly in ruins. He saw the ruin of the Church as a whole at a difficult period of history and sought to build it back up by authentically preaching and living the Gospel.

He didn’t seek to found a religious order, but it happened anyway. People were drawn to the way that he lived the faith, and so he wrote a rule of life for his followers which began as a collection of texts from the Gospels. When he was pressed to form the Franciscan order, he did it willingly and did everything he needed to do to create the legal structure the Church required.

During the last years of his life, Saint Francis received the stigmata. During his last hours, he received permission to have his clothing removed so that he could die naked on the earth, as Our Lord died. On his deathbed, he prayed the last addition to his Canticle of the Sun, “Be praised, O Lord, for our sister death.”

Saint Francis is well-known for the Canticle of the Sun, and his famous prayer. But he is also credited with composing the song we began with this morning, “All Creatures of our God and King.” His devotion to the Church, to the gospel, to the creatures of the earth, and most especially to our Lord inspires people even today. And his dedication to rebuilding the Church is one that our current pope took on when he chose his papal name. Through the intercession of Saint Francis, may we all find true joy in following our Lord and his call in all things.

Saint Vincent de Paul, Priest

Mass for the school children.

Saint Vincent de Paul is one of my favorite saints. He knew what it meant to be a priest, and he lived it every day. But he didn’t start out wanting to be like that; he had a conversation experience along the way.

Back in the days when Saint Vincent became a priest, they had a rather easy life and were quite wealthy. This was the expectation he had when he was ordained. That was his goal in some ways until he heard the deathbed confession of a dying servant. That encounter led him to realize the extremely great needs of poor people in France at that time.

That same servant’s Master had been persuaded by his wife to support the creation of a group of missionary priests to serve the poor. The countess asked Father Vincent to lead the group, and although he declined at first, he later returned to do it. That group is now known as the Congregation of the Mission or the Vincentians. They took vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and stability and devoted themselves to serving the poor in smaller towns and villages.

Later, along with Saint Louise de Marillac, he organized the rich women of Paris to collect funds for his missionary projects, founded several hospitals, collected relief funds for the victims of war and ransomed over 1,200 galley slaves from North Africa. Over time, this became a parish-based society for the spiritual and physical relief of the poor and sick. This became the inspiration for the organization now known as the Saint Vincent de Paul Society. You know the Saint Vincent de Paul Society, because we collect clothing for them every year.

Saint Vincent was also very interested in helping with the formation of priests. He wanted the priests to realize the needs of the poor and to know that the idea of becoming rich wasn’t part of priestly life. He converted his attitudes from the cynical and even slothful ambitions of the clergy in those days, and turned instead to follow his true passion, bringing Christ to the needy and the downtrodden.

We too are called to be true servants of our Lord, by looking out for the needs of those who maybe don’t have as many advantages as we do, and by caring for the poor and being true friends of those in need.

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