By Father James E. Shea, C.Ss.R.
Dear Parishioners and Friends:
He had been out of a job for months. Then he got an unexpected call from an employment agency in Florida. The agent said, “We think we have found a job for you. But there is one question. Can you pick lemons?”
“Can I pick lemons?” stated our man. “Boy oh boy, can I pick lemons. I’ve been married five times!”
Today we celebrate ‘World Mission Sunday.’ We bring the Good News to the poor and the most abandoned. Yes, we bring the truth, even the truth about marriage in the Catholic Church. Pope Francis has written to us about World Mission Day:
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Once again, this year, World Mission Day gathers us around the person of Jesus, “the very first and greatest evangelizer” (Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, 7), who continually sends us forth to proclaim the Gospel of the love of God the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. This Day invites us to reflect anew on the mission at the heart of the Christian faith. The Church is missionary by nature; otherwise, she would no longer be the Church of Christ, but one group among many others that soon end up serving their purpose and passing away. So it is important to ask ourselves certain questions about our Christian identity and our responsibility as believers in a world marked by confusion, disappointment and frustration, and torn by numerous fratricidal wars that unjustly target the innocent. What is the basis of our mission? What is the heart of our mission? What are the essential approaches we need to take in carrying our our mission?
We Redemptorists are missionaries. We have heard much about being missionary disciples. German Redemptorist priests and brothers came from Germany to be missionary disciples. They came to the United States to bring the Good News to the poor. In 1828 they heard about the need for priests and brothers in the United States from Mgr. Rese, Vicar-General of Cincinnati. He visited Europe in search of priests. While at Vienna he secured three priests and three lay brothers; they arrived in New York on 20 June 1832 and began working amongst the people of northern Michigan. In 1839 they were called to Pittsburgh to assume charge of the German congregation and from this time the care of German congregations became a prominent element of the Redemptorists in North America.
Last week I attended a three day meeting in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. We call the meeting a ‘Superiors’ Meeting.’ The superiors who attended the meeting were pastors of parishes as well as superior of a community. Since I am the pastor of St. Gerard and also the superior of our community of priests and brother, I wore two hats. The superiors came from across the United States. About 2 of us. Superiors are appointed by Father Provincial. As one Redemptorist told me, “You are superior by appointment only.” I was asked to give a presentation on ‘Superior as Animator.’ In our book of Constitutions and Statutes, and from our ‘Pastoral Guide for Superiors’ we hear about the type of person who is elected a superior. He must be a shepherd to the men living in the community as well as to the parishioners. He must develop healthy relationships with the members of the community. He must be a man of prayer, dedicated to Jesus Christ and serving his community. “I have come to serve and not be served.”
During our meetings we heard about ‘downsizing’ as the business world would call it. We call it ‘solidarity.’ Realizing that our numbers are dwindling, and many elderly Redemptorists are in need of health care, we have been encouraged to share our resources with Redemptorists beyond our provinces and even with Redemptorists from other countries. We are encouraged to live in solidarity with one another. In the past the individual provinces, or geographical areas, were pretty much independent as far as our finances and personnel were concerned. Now, we are beginning to share. The word that we are using to embrace many provinces is ‘Conference.’ We remain provinces. Each province has its own government. But in our mission to the poor we turn to one another and figure out the best way to minister to them.
A wonderful example of how this Conference works is taking place here at St. Gerard. All seven provincials have been meeting at the Conference level for the past few years. The provincials decided to send all the Redemptorist students, studying theology, to San Antonio where they would attend the Oblate School of Theology. The students had been studying theology in Toronto, Boston and Chicago. We certainly welcome these young men. This program is a ‘Conference’ experiment and is working well. The Conference will continue exploring programs in which Redemptorists from many units will be working together to bring the Good News to the poor.
We also discussed ‘financial stability’ within our Denver Province. Some serious decisions have already been made. More will come. Since 1996 the headquarters has moved to Chicago. Each year our parish as well as parishes across the nation takes up a second collection for ‘Retired Religious.’ The central office is called ‘The National Religious Retirement Office.’ It is located in Washington D.C, One arm of the NRRO provides consultation for religious orders. Consultants approach religious orders to evaluate their personnel and financial resources. The consultants have a pretty good idea how long the religious order will survive with their limited resources.
This consultant firm studied our resources in the Denver Province. They concluded that the Redemptorists in the Denver province will go bankrupt nine years from now unless some drastic decisions are made immediately. Moving the provincial office to Chicago was the first drastic decision. The provincial residence in Denver was an apartment house. The offices are in a separate building. As soon as the provincial office moved to Chicago, the apartment house went on the market. It sold immediately. The office building is currently up for sale. In January we should close on the old seminary property in Oakland, CA.
Many decisions are being made, But the biggest one of all was to close our nursing facility in Ligouri, Missouri. Because of the cost of health care, we can no longer afford our own nursing home for our sick and elderly. So, the Redemptorists who do not need skilled nursing and who are ambulatory will be assigned to rectories in our parishes. We will hire a nurse to check in on them, daily or at least on a frequent basis. Those who need skilled nursing will be placed in a nursing home which is owned to and operated by another entity. Eventually, we hope to be able to rent a wing at this nursing institution. There are some other decisions hanging in the balance. With the decisions that have been made, we hope that we will establish financial stability in our province.
“We will go before God to be judged, and God will ask us: ‘Where are your wounds?’ And we will say, ‘We have no wounds.’ And God will ask, “Was nothing worth fighting for…?”
Fr. Jim Shea, C.Ss.R.