Last week I was cleaning out old holy cards from family prayer books, and I discovered a picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. On the back of the holy card was printed: Remembrance of the Mission conducted by the Diocesan Missionaries, Rev. William E. Cousins and Rev. Raymond P. Hillinger, in St. Pascal Church, Chicago, Illinois, March 10 to March 24, 1946, Reverend George P. Heimsath, Pastor.
Father Cousins later became Bishop of Peoria and later Archbishop of Milwaukee, and Father Hillinger became Bishop of Rockford and later auxiliary Bishop of Chicago. Seventeen years after the Mission, already retired and somewhat ill, he returned to St. Pascal Church to ordain me a priest on December 21, 1963.
The Archdiocesan Mission Band of a generation ago was constituted by an extraordinary group of Chicago priests who spent years calling Catholics here to conversion to Jesus Christ. That conversion, that encounter with Christ in word and the sacraments, was extended and protected after the Parish Mission by a set of practices.
On the back of the holy card, just below the names of the mission preachers, was a list of THINGS TO REMEMBER. There were eight:
1. Receive regularly the Sacraments of Penance and the Blessed Eucharist.
2. Say your morning and evening prayers. Make acts of Faith, Hope and Charity every morning and night. Before retiring, examine your Conscience and make an act of Contrition.
3. Attend Mass on all Sundays and Holydays of Obligation.
4. If there exist any Church societies in your parish, join at least one of them.
5. It is an obligation binding under sin to pay your debts, church debts included.
6. You are obliged to avoid the Occasion of Sin; an occasion of sin is any person, place or thing which will likely lead you into sin.
7. Practice Daily Devotion to the Blessed Virgin; pray to her particularly for the grace of a Happy Death.
8. Remember: Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell, and you will persevere unto the end.
Are those eight points a merely quaint period piece or do they contain some wisdom that speaks to us this Advent? I would say the latter. Advent is a time when the Church asks us to prepare to meet the Lord in word and the sacraments when we celebrate his birth liturgically at Christmas. Is our meeting with Christ all in our heads or does it shape our actions, our way of life? If our meeting with Jesus is just a head-trip, then the Church is a debating society, a floating seminar. It seems to me the Church has become that too often in the past thirty years. But if our meeting with Jesus occasions a genuine conversion, then it will not only change the way we think and see, it will also change the way we live and act. In other words, the Church is a community of disciples. Disciples change their way of life in order to remain in contact with their master, in our case, Jesus of Nazareth, Son of God and Son of Mary.
The Archdiocesan Mission Band knew this. The priests preached the truths of our faith and then left instructions on how the parish and its members should help Christ keep the mission alive in their lives. The eight points are habits that protect the life of grace given us when we encounter Christ in word and the sacraments.
Advent means waiting. We wait for Christ to change us, but we have to give him space to work. The third thing to remember on the back of the holy card takes on a special importance in the way of discipleship. Keeping the Lord s day holy through weekly celebration of the Mass and breaking with the normal activities of work and busyness enables us to experience the action of God in our lives. In clearing a whole day of our own plans and projects, we become used to the fact that God shapes our lives here and in eternity, which is a kind of extension of Sabbath rest. If the world is a stage, we are not the major player. God creates the stage and writes the script, although he gives us the freedom to run our own show and mess things up.
On November 27, Pope Benedict XVI wrote: "Sundays remain a fragment of time pervaded by eternity, because its dawn saw the Risen Christ enter victoriously into eternal life. For the first Christians, participation in Sunday celebrations was the natural expression of their belonging to Christ, of their communion with his mystical Body, in joyous expectation of his glorious return. Each Sunday celebration of the Eucharist enacts the sanctification of Christian people, until that Sunday without end, the day of the definitive encounter of God with his creatures."
At Christmas, many parishes invite non-practicing Catholics to come home to Mass. That custom should be extended to every Sunday of the year. Their eternal salvation depends on it. Fr. Cousins and Fr. Hillinger knew that; the Pope knows that; you and I know that. Knowing isn't enough; we have to act on it, with the help of God s grace. Have a blessed Advent season.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Francis Cardinal George, OMI
Archbishop of Chicago