31 July 2011

Servant of God Father Augustine Tolton

31 JULY 2011. Today is the last day of July and the Eighteenth Sunday in ordinary time. However, before we leave July let's reflect on one of the Church's courageous ministers from here in the United States.

Augustine Tolton was born into a slave family in Missouri on 1 April 1854. His father was Peter Paul Tolton and his mother was Martha Jane Chisley. The child's mother had been raised in the Catholic faith, so she named her newborn son after Saint Augustine of Hippo. The child was baptized in St. Peter's Catholic Church in Brush Creek, Missouri (about 12 miles outside of Hannibal, Missouri). The owner of the slave family (as repugnant as it is today to describe one as the owner of another, the description is, sadly, historically accurate) was Stephen Elliot. His wife, Susan Elliot, stood as Augustine's godmother for his baptism.

There are conflicting stories about whether Augustine's family ran away or were freed by the Elliots. In either event, however, history does tell that Peter Paul Totlton went to fight in the Union Army after the outbreak of the Civil War. Martha Jane took Augustine and his siblings, with the aid of sympathetic Union Soldiers and police, to Quincy Illinois.

After arriving in Quincy, Augustine with his mother and brother, took jobs working in a cigar factory. After his brother died at a young age, Augustine met Father Peter McGirr, an Irish-American priest who saw that Augustine attend St. Peter's parochial school during the winter months when the cigar factory was closed. Father McGirr's actions were controversial, however, as a number of parishoners objected to a black child attending school with white children. Despite the controversy Father McGirr was steadfast in seeing to Augustine's Catholic education.

Despite Father McGirr's support, Augustine was rejected by every American seminary to which he applied. So, instead, he attended St. Francis Solanus College in Quincy (now Quincy University) and, with Father McGirr's help, later attended The Pontifical Urbaniana University in Rome, where he became fluent in Italian and learned Latin and Greek. After graduation, Augustine Tolton was ordained to the priesthood at the age of 31 on Easter Sunday, 24 April 1886, at the Basilica of St. John Lateran. Having been trained as a missionary priest, Father Augustine expected to be sent to Africa, but he was instead sent back to the United States to serve the African American Catholic community in this country.

Returning to the United States, Father Augustine celebrated his first public mass at St. Boniface Church in Quincy. He attempted to start an African American parish in Quincy, but he faced strong opposition from white Catholics, who were primarily of German descent, and African American protestants who did not want the new parish to attract people from their ranks. Despite opposition, Father Augustine organized St. Joseph Catholic Church and School in Quincy, although opposition continued from inside the Church as the priest in charge of the deanery in which St. Joseph was located wanted Father Augustine to turn away white people from mass and other services.

History records that many of Father Augustine's masses at St. Joseph were standing-room only. Father Augustine's tremendous character and well delivered homilies drew widespread attention to him and his parish. During this time Father Augustine also came to be known as Good Father Gus.

In A.D. 1887, Good Father Gus was reassigned to Chicago and a few of his Quincy parishioners followed him. In Chicago, Father Augustine led a a missionary society, St. Augustine's, which met in the basement of St. Mary's Church. And, with financial assistance from Saint Catherine Drexel he founded St. Monica's Catholic Church, the national parish for African American Catholics at the time, on the corner of 36th and Dearborn Streets on the South Side of Chicago.

The success and faithful fervor of St. Monica's earned Father Augustine the national attention and gratitude of the United States' catholic bishops. At its peak, St. Monica's has more than 600 active parishioners.

In A.D. 1893, at a young age, Father Augustine began to be plagued by "spells of illness" and collapsed and died during a heat wave on 9 July 1897 at the age of 43. Pursuant to his wishes, Father Augustine was buried in the priests' lot in St. Peter's cemetery in Quincy.

On 2 March 2010, Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago, announced that he was beginning the diocesan investigation into the life of Father Augustine Tolton to begin the long process that could ultimately lead to Father Augustine's canonization. On 24 February 2011, the cause for Father Augsutine's canonization was officially opened. Thus, he now has the title of "Servant of God." A guild has been erected to promote Father Augustine's cause.

It is no doubt that Father Augustine Tolton must have faced much adversity and mistreatment because of the racial inequalities and prejudices that were prevalent in his time. Despite that, Father Tolton was not negative, but shone the joyous Light of Christ to the world as a missionary here in the United States, his own country. Please pray for Father Augustine's cause, and lift up your needs in confronting whatever adversity you face today to the power of Father Augustine's intercession.


O God, we give you thanks for your servant and priest, Father Augustus Tolton, who labored among us in times of contradiction, times that were both beautiful and paradoxical. His ministry helped lay the foundation for a truly Catholic gathering in faith in our time. We stand in the shadow of his ministry. May his life continue to inspire us and imbue us with that confidence and hope that will forge a new evangelization for the Church we love.

Father in Heaven, Father Tolton’s suffering service sheds light upon our sorrows; we see them through the prism of your Son’s passion and death. If it be your Will, O God, glorify your servant, Father Tolton,  by granting the favor I now request through his intercession (mention your request) so that all may know the goodness of this priest whose memory looms large in the Church he loved.

Complete what you have begun in us that we might work for the fulfillment of your kingdom. Not to us the glory, but glory to you O God, through Jesus Christ, your Son and our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you are our God, living and reigning forever and ever.


11 July 2011

Saint Benedict

11JULY 2011. Today is the memorial of Saint Benedict of Nursia, the founder of Western monasticism and famously the author of the Rule of Saint Benedict. From today's Office of Readings, we read a selection from St. Benedict's rule:
     Whenever you begin any good work you should first of all make a most pressing appeal to Christ our Lord to bring it to perfection; that he, who has honored us by counting us among his children, may never be grieved by our evil deeds. For we must always serve him with the good things he has given us in such a way that he may never--as an angry father disinherits his sons or even like a master who inspires fear--grow impatient with our sins and consign us to everlasting punishment, like wicked servants who would not follow him to glory.

     So we should at long last rouse ourselves, prompted by the words of Scripture: Now is the time for us to rise from sleep. Our eyes should be open to the God-given light, and we should listen in wonderment to the message of the divine voice as it daily calls out: Today, if you shall hear his voice, harden not your hearts; and again: If anyone has ears to hear, let him listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. And what does the Spirit say? Come my sons, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Hurry, while you have the light of life, so that death's darkness may not overtake you.

     And the Lord as he seeks the one who will do his work among the throng of people to whom he makes that appeal, says again: Which of you wants to live to the full; who loves long life and the enjoyment of prosperity? And, if when you hear this you say, I do, God says to you: If you desire true and everlasting life, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from deceit; turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. And when you have done these things my eyes will be upon you and my ears will be attentive to your prayers; and before you call upon my name I shall say to you: Behold, I am here. What could be more delightful, dearest brothers, than the voice of our Lord's invitation to us? In his loving kindness he reveals to us the way of life.

     And so, girded with faith and the performance of good works, let us follow in his paths by the guidance of the Gospel; then we shall deserve to see him who has called us into his kingdom. I we wish to attain a dwelling-place in his kingdom we shall not reach it unless we hasten there by our good deeds.

     Just as there exists an evil fervor, a bitter spirit, which divides us from God and leads us to hell, so there is a good fervor which sets us apart from evil inclinations and leads us toward God and eternal life. Monks should put this fervor into practice with an overflowing love; that is, they should surpass each other in mutual esteem, accept their weaknesses, either in body or of behavior, with the utmost patience; and vie with each other in acceding to requests. No one should follow what he considers to be good for himself, but rather what seems good for another. They should display brotherly love in a chaste manner; fear God in a spirit of love; revere their abbot with a genuine and submissive affection. Let them put on Christ before all else; and may he lead us all to everlasting life.
IMAGE: fresco by Fra Angelico (1395-1455).

08 July 2011

et alia

8 JULY 2011. The long absence of a functioning computer is over and A.S. is back on the air, so to speak. Word to the wise for parents out there, if your home computer suddenly stops working, and you have young children, make sure your young ones have not broken the on/off switch in the off position. I am just saying; it happens.

Running on at the keyboard:

My wife and I went to New Orleans for our tenth wedding anniversary. The crescent city is a hot place in June. I mean that literally: over a few days I do not think the mercury dropped below 89° F, even in th dead of night. The Archdiocese, however, believes in keeping the Basilica Cathedral like an ice box. We went to mass on Sunday morning at the Cathedral and then across Jackson Square to CafĂ© du Monde for coffee and beignets. A real treat!

The celebrant for the mass we attended was Auxiliary Bishop Fabre on Trinity Sunday. Bishop Fabre gave a tremendous homily that very eloquently described the interior life of God in the Holy Spirit and the relational nature of God - one to himself - and one to humanity.

Please pray for Father (once) John Corapi. Whatever peril his soul may be in is, indeed, a peril that could visit any of us.

The dog days of summer are certainly upon us, and it is this time of year in the Church calendar that I probably treasure the most. In a way, we are in the desert of the calendar, with a long many weeks of Ordinary Time ahead of us until the eventual coming of Advent. In this desert we have the opportunity to seek ever greater spiritual nourishment from the Church by perseverance.

I continue to pray for the health of our bishop emeritus, John Ricard, and ask that you pray for him as well. I understand he has settled in at the St. Joseph's Seminary in Washington D.C.

I am a lawyer and I live in Florida, so the recent question du jour has been "What do you think of the Casey Anthony verdict?" My prayers go out to all the victims of the case. Certainly first and foremost to the poor child who obviously suffered and died at the hands of another. I pray for her soul and that she is at rest with our Lord. I pray too for all the other victims of the entire ordeal. Certainly that family has been traumatized and injured in a way that time will not heal. I pray that the Holy Spirit will give them the grace to preserve and ultimately be healed. I pray too for Casey Anthony, may our Lord have mercy on her for her sins, no matter how heinous they may be. We are all sinners and in need of Christ's salvation, and the mercy of our God.

My prayers also go out to our Holy Father as he begins his summer period of rest at Castel Gandolfo. I pray that his time away from the Vatican will be restful and spiritually renewing. I also wish him well in his efforts on the third installment of his work on Jesus Christ. The Church is truly blessed and privileged by his pontificate.

Speaking of the Holy Father, did you see the pictures of him tweeting? How cool is that!

(I bet no one will break his on/off button!)

Today is the feast day of Blessed Adrian Fortescue. Blessed Adrian pray for us!

Please pray for me; I will pray for you.