Pastor Letter August 2nd

Dear Parish Family,

I received an article from the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal from their Community Leader, Father John Paul Oulette, CFR. I believe in Life Everlasting.

On March 26, Father Louis, Director of Saint Anthony’s Shelter for Renewal in the Bronx, went into self -isolation because he manifested some symptoms of Covid-19. After six weeks of coughing fits Father Louis tested negative for Covid-19, he instead has cancer. Cancer may not kill Father Louis, God willing, but it is forcing him to face his mortality.

          As Saint Francis of Assisi lay dying in a small hut built for him near the chapel of San Damiano, he wrote one of his most beautiful prayers, “The Canticle of the Creatures’’. Soon afterwards, he asked to be taken to the Portiuncla (The Little Portion chapel from which Francis prayed and sent out the first friars on mission).

          There Francis, forgave all who asked for his forgiveness and blessed all absent brothers “Praise to You, my Lord, through our sister bodily death, from whom no living person can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin. Blessed are those whom death will find in Your holy will, for the second death shall do them no harm.

          Courageously, Francis asked his doctor to announce Sister Death’s arrival so that he might welcome her with joy, because he was going to lead him to the gates of eternal life. While our world seems incapable of coming to terms with death, the Church has a message that she alone can provide: eternal life.

          Men, like Francis have for centuries been able to look beyond death to their final destination, life. In 1400, the plague appeared  again in Italy. Saint Bernadine of Siena began serving at the Hospital Della Scala at a time whien it was considered imprudent for young people to serve because they were more susceptible to infection. Bernadine and a band of brave brothers went into the wards after receiving Holy Communion and quietly took their place besides the sick, day and night without intermission. In the Della Scala, 1800 people died. When it was over, Bernadine lay sick for four months. After recovering, he went on to courageously fight a moral plague of bitter and bloody class battles struggles and family rivalries with the devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus.

          Bishop Peter Byrne recently reminded the friars that Archbishop Saint Charles Borromeo served in Milan during the plague of 1576. While people were terrified, the Archbishop offered himself as a victim in expiation for the sins of the people and went to the hospitals even though the gates were barred. There he found faces pressed against the iron bars if windows crying out for food and drink Seeing a priest, they would cry out, “Father, at least give us your blessings!” St. Charles Borromeo made an impassioned appeal to the Milanese priests who let fear keep them from their duties to the plague victims: “ we have only one life and we should spend it for Jesus Christ and souls, not as we wish, but as the time in the way God wishes. This does not mean you should neglect human means, such as preventatives, remedies, doctors, everything you can use to keep off infection, for such means are in no way opposed to doing our duty.”

          Does the Church still have a prophetic and courageous place in the final pandemic of the 21st century? Unlike past centuries, our era knows cures for many illnesses, injuries and infirmities. And still, our bodies will perish. Francis’ faith embraced death as one so near to him as to be called “sister”. Some may think this is inhuman, that the fear of death is natural, but the Church help us to be more human, not less, because she has received from God the words of Eternal Life. “The Church”, Cardinal Sarah, recently has written, “… must stop being afraid of causing shock and of going against the tide. She must give up thinking of herself as a worldly institution. She must return to her only raison d’etre: Faith. The Church is there to announce that Jesus has conquered death through His resurrection. This is at the heart of her message: “And if Christ has not been raised, them empty too is our preaching; empty too, your faith… and we are the most wretched of all men ( 1 Cor 1:5: 14-19)…. The crisis reveals that our societies, without knowing it, are suffering deeply from spiritual evil: they do not know how to give meaning to suffering, finitude and death.”

          In facing our mortality, there is not merely human response that can suffice to calm our fear. Only the hope of eternal life can overcome the fear of death. But who is the man who will dare to preach hope?

          Father Louis does. And with Father Louis stands the crowd of faithful witnessed that give us a modern example of courage to meet Sister Death when she comes.

          Here is a little prescription, take a minute or two before moving one to express a hearty thank you Jesus for your faith. – Father John Paul Oullette, CFR

          May Father John Paul’s words bring inspiration and perspective these summer days,

God Bless

Fr. Tom Devery