Statement of the Most Reverend James V. Johnston, Jr., Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau
FOLLOWING THE RESIGNATION OF POPE BENEDICT XVI
February 11, 2013
Like many, I was tremendously surprised by the Holy Father’s announcement of his resignation today. I am certain that he arrived at this important decision following much prayer and deliberation. One cannot help but be struck by his great humility. Pope Benedict is only a few months younger than my own father, and I have always marveled at how he could serve the Church so well bearing such enormous responsibilities along with the limits of age. With my respect and admiration of his decision, I must admit a personal sadness too. I will miss Pope Benedict. I took considerable strength and encouragement in knowing he was in the office of St. Peter. He possesses the immense qualities of a good shepherd: charity, gentleness, a keen intellect shaped by truth, courageous fidelity, a love for prayer, and a joy-filled love of God and his Church. Read more
Lent begins on Feb. 13, Ash Wednesday. The 40 days of Lent are a time set aside prior to Easter for deeper conversion in preparation for the celebration of Easter, on March 31.
As we approach this Lent, I would like to suggest that we consider the parable of the sower, which is recounted in all three of the synoptic gospels (cf. Mk 4:1-20; Mt 13:1-9; Lk 8:4-8). In this parable, Jesus describes the different kinds of soil that seed falls upon. It notes three ways that seed can fail to produce a harvest, and concludes with a final example of the “good soil” that brings forth an increase of grain. Read more
“…. We see policies aimed at marginalizing the role of religion in the life of society, as is if it were a cause of intolerance rather than a valued contribution to education in respect for human dignity, justice, and peace.”
—Pope Benedict XVI, address Jan. 9, 2012, to diplomatic corps accredited to Holy See.
As we enter the year 2013, it is important to realize that the grave threats to human life, marriage, and religious liberty not only remain, but have become more serious. At the meeting of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in Baltimore this past November, the bishops renewed their resolve to stand firm in the face of these serious threats to the human person and the common good. From the conversations and correspondence that I have had with many across the diocese, I know that the Catholic faithful are equally concerned and committed. Read more
With the beginning of January, there is a sense of having a fresh start to things. This is why many set resolutions and goals to pursue in the calendar year ahead. January has become known as a month that we expect a certain spiritual focus as well. With my column this issue, I want to briefly highlight some of the significant items and events in the life of our Church during this first month of the year.
Blessed are the peacemakers
January began with the World Day of Peace, on Jan. 1. This year, Pope Benedict chose as the theme for his message the Gospel beatitude related to peacemakers, noting, “In every person the desire for peace is an essential aspiration Read more
“And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” –Lk 2:7
Our troubled world
As we celebrate Christmas this year, many in our world are filled with anxiety. Some are anticipating the end of the world predicted by an ancient Mayan calendar. The Middle East is a boiling pot of unrest and violence, along with the possibility of Iran’s developing a nuclear weapon. Our own nation continues under a pall of uncertainty, with daily reports of perils with respect of going over a so-called fiscal cliff. The right to the free exercise of religion is under serious threat. Some states have now redefined marriage and legalized marijuana use. Pardon the pun, but the nation literally seems to be going to pot. Read more
“… [P]articularly in these times, when the voice of the Lord seems to be drowned out by other voices and his invitation to follow him by the gift of one’s own life may seem too difficult, every Christian community, every member of the Church, needs consciously to feel responsibility for promoting vocations.”
—Pope Benedict XVI, Message of the Holy Father for the 48th World Day of Prayer for Vocations, May 15, 2011
In the next week or so you will receive my annual mailing, updating you on our diocesan seminarians currently studying for the priesthood in the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau. We have 14 men in varying stages of priestly formation. This is a tremendous blessing for which we should be grateful to God. Our seminarians are generous, faith-filled, and desire to follow our Lord’s will for them in life, whatever that might be. Read more
“I look forward to the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.” –The Nicene Creed
Over the years as a priest and bishop, many people have expressed to me their anxiety over the increasing complexity surrounding end-of-life decisions. Much of this is the result of advances in technology that prolong life but also create many questions. Faithful Catholics desire to make decisions for themselves and for loved ones that are wise, compassionate, and moral. They also realize that those who do not share the same faith may not have our values. It is not uncommon in these situations to be tempted to take actions which are based more on convenience and less on human dignity.
Recently, the Catholic bishops of Missouri, with the assistance of the Missouri Catholic Conference (MCC) staff, produced and published “A Catholic Guide to End-of-Life Decisions for Individuals and Families.” The publication includes a form for preparing a Missouri Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. The booklet presents in brief and understandable language how to go about preparing for and eventually making decisions about end-of-life matters. The booklet is available for download both from our diocesan Web site, www.dioscg.org and from the MCC, either by downloading from its Web site, www.mocatholic.org, requesting a copy by Email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling MCC at (573) 635-7239 or (800) 456-1679 for a copy.
If you have not completed a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, I encourage you to do so while you are able. It will help you and those who love you to act with wisdom and a solid moral framework when important decisions have to be made.
Another end-of-life guide
As we have listened to the Scripture readings these past few weeks, one cannot miss the recurring theme of preparing for the end of our earthly lives and what follows. These readings can be somewhat sobering in their warnings, but they are also full of great hope. Jesus does not want us to be surprised, whenever the end of our lives may come. His constant message is “watch, stay awake, and pray.” We are to use the opportunities we now have before us to accept God’s saving grace and grow in holiness, looking forward in hope to our own judgment and the resurrection. Jesus gives us this surest and most important end-of-life guide.
During this Year of Faith, when we are all challenged to grow in our own personal faith, I invite you to review the rich teaching of our Church on the “last things” presented so well in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I especially recommend the Catechism’s treatment of Article 7 of the creed in paragraphs 668-682. As a sample, I include the last two paragraphs of this section here: “681 On Judgment Day at the end of the world, Christ will come in glory to achieve the definitive triumph of good over evil which, like the wheat and the tares, have grown up together in the course of history. 682 When he comes at the end of time to judge the living and the dead, the glorious Christ will reveal the secret disposition of hearts and will render to each man according to his works and according to his acceptance or refusal of grace.”
May these days when we come to the end of the Year of Grace 2012 and begin a new Year of Grace be times of prayerful reflection on the precious gift of life and the new life of grace we are blessed to share as a result of our baptism. May it be a time of renewed commitment and conversion, faith-filled, with frequent reception of the sacraments, and moments to prepare with hope for the end of our earthly lives and the life which will follow.
“And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” –Mt 25:40
The greatest love story
The greatest love story in history is the one between God and the human race. We read about the drama of this great story in the Bible. It is a story that continues to unfold as history marches toward its end. God is alive and in love with man. He draws us into that love and we participate in it, most especially through renewing the “new and everlasting covenant” of the holy Eucharist, and by living it out through our actions of love in daily life.
Because we are loved first by God, we are moved to respond in love. Some works of love cannot be accomplished alone; they require an organized effort. This is one of the most important reasons a Catholic Charities agency was established in our diocese three years ago. There are simply some challenges that cannot be met by an individual or a single parish. This was starkly evident when the Joplin tornado hit in May 2011. The needs were so great and the suffering so vast, that an organized response with great expertise and resolve was needed. Fortunately, our Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri (CCSoMo) was in place. Even as you read this, we continue to have a three-fold presence in Joplin: case managers working with families to put their lives back together; staff and volunteers (over 23,000 volunteers so far!) working to repair and rebuild hundreds of homes; and a donation and distribution center where staff receive and distribute furniture, appliances, and household items to those trying to get re-established. This Catholic Charities program is called “Rebuilding Homes/Rebuilding Lives.”
But this love story is not relegated to Joplin. In these first three years we have established five Catholic Charities offices across the diocese: in Cape Girardeau, Sikeston, Van Buren, Springfield, and Joplin. Catholic Charities has responded in a similar fashion to those who lost homes or had them damaged by the storms and flooding in the southeastern and central parts of the diocese. In southeast Missouri, over 600 volunteers have contributed their time and labor to repair 34 homes, with another 35 projects underway. As these are completed, others are begun. CCSoMo provides the materials, resources, and organization to make this happen.
Our story is not simply about disaster response. Our Catholic Charities agency seeks to help the poor and vulnerable in the diocese by strengthening the family, because intact, healthy families are essential to helping people out of poverty. To that end, we have programs that offer mental health and family counseling; our “Healthy Babies/Healthy Moms” program is based in the Sikeston office and offers assistance to those facing an unplanned pregnancy; we will be offering tax preparation services for elderly and low-income clients in the Springfield area in the near future. This is just a sampling of what our Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri is doing, but there is much more to come. (See also the insert in this issue of The Mirror on pgs. 7-10.)
Catholic Charities hopes to implement programs for emergency housing for pregnant teens and young women; offer legal immigration services; financial literacy skills for those in need; case management services for the developmentally disabled; and other family strengthening services to break the cycle of chronic poverty that many face in southern Missouri. All of this relies on funding.
The Nov. 17-18 annual collection
While this amazing love story is inspiring, it is only made possible by our participation. You see, CCSoMo is all of us. We are the ones supporting and volunteering. We are the ones who make this amazing love story a reality. We seek to serve Christ in the poor and vulnerable. To that end, I ask that all Catholics be a part of this mission of love by contributing generously to the special collection for Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri on the weekend of Nov. 17-18. You may also take part as a volunteer in giving your time and labor to help one of our own neighbors in need.
Hurricane Sandy relief plans
Our concerns are not simply for those in southern Missouri. The needs of those affected by the recent hurricane that hit the northeastern part of the US and other nations of the Caribbean are going to be long-lasting. Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri is sending some of our experienced personnel to assist in the disaster response. Our recent experience following our own disasters here, as well as being the recipient of the generosity of others, provides us with a motivation to do the same for others now in need.
We will also have a special second collection to aid the hurricane victims and recovery effort at Masses on the weekend of Dec. 1-2 (the First Sunday of Advent). The proceeds of this upcoming second collection will go to Catholic Charities USA, and Catholic Relief Services.
Bp. Johnston’s prayer intentions for November are:
For farmers and those who depend upon the land for their livelihood, that they have a safe and successful harvest season.
For renewal and conversion among all in the Church during this Year of Faith, especially those individuals who have fallen away from the practice of their faith.
The following is a homily given by Bp. James V. Johnston at the Steubenville Youth Conference this past summer. It’s message is timely, but especially in light of the recent canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha at the Vatican on Oct. 21.
Recently, while visiting my parents, I was going through an old dresser and found my arrowhead collection from my youth.
When I was a teenager, I would visit my grandparents’ farm and hunt for arrowheads in the fields after they had been plowed.
I was always fascinated by arrowheads and how the Native Americans hundreds of years ago used them. I wondered if my arrowheads had been on an arrow that was used for hunting and what the target had been when it left the bow in flight.
I thought of arrowheads and arrows for several reasons today for our Mass. Read more
In the coming days our nation will hold a major election in which legislators and other government officials will be elected to serve us. Elections are important in that they contribute to the common good or, in some instances, the common detriment of a people. As your shepherd, I wish to offer some reflections to you all as we prepare to vote as Catholics.