During his address to the seminarians on September 30th, Archbishop Cupich gave his assessment of the Synod on the Family happening now in Rome and of his role as one of the Synod fathers from the United States.
Echoing the words of Gaudium et Spes, the Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Archbishop Cupich stressed the importance of “scrutinizing the signs of the times and interpreting them in light of the Gospel.” (GS 4) Usually when someone brings up the need for the Church to read the signs of the times, this is done in a negative light and seeks to emphasize the various pressing issues of the day and the great distance (sometimes chasm) between them and the Church’s teaching.
Archbishop Cupich took a different approach. He explained that he’s approaching the Synod knowing in his heart that this is a profound time of grace. The Holy Spirit is working day and night in and through the Church for the sake of the building up of the Kingdom of God and for the salvation of souls. To approach the signs of the times with a primarily negative or pessimistic worldview is not only damaging but also counterproductive to the Church’s mission.
Sometimes seminarians look out at the times and feel a sense of anxiety about their priesthood. Will there be parishioners? Will there be enough money to support our churches? Will there be support for us under the law? The questions are many, each one more complicated than the last. Archbishop Cupich encouraged us to be enthusiastic about our priesthood! If this is a time of grace, a time in history in which the Holy Spirit is alive, well, and working hard, then there is no need for an existential or vocational crisis. Rather, the Archbishop reminded us of the story of St. Francis of Assisi and the San Damiano cross.
For those unfamiliar, the San Damiano cross spoke to St. Francis as he prayed in the Church of San Damiano in Assisi. The cross now hangs in the Church of St. Claire, also in Assisi. According to the story, as St. Francis prayed about his vocation and God’s will in his life, Jesus spoke to him saying, “Francis, rebuild my church.” Thinking the Lord meant for him to actually repair a physical building, he set to work rebuilding a small church that had fallen into disrepair. As his vocation developed, however, it became clear that the Lord had something much larger in mind for Francis. To this day, this saint is also known as “Francis the Reformer” for bringing the Church back to her roots and helping her to see the beauty in poverty, chastity, and obedience and helping the Church to return to a Christocentric mode of operation.
Archbishop Cupich reminded the seminarians that, in the midst of everything St. Francis did, he lived in the gaze of the Holy One. All saints, from the earliest Christians until today, must live their earthly lives sustained by Christ and inspired by Christ because, no matter how bleak the circumstances might seem, Christ is the actor in all of human history.
It’s interesting to note that the San Damiano cross features an image of the risen Christ. So not only was St. Francis living in the gaze of the Holy One, but in the gaze of the Holy One who had risen from the dead. It is the job of the Synod Fathers and, ultimately, the entire Church to give the world which does not know Christ a sense of the resurrection. There is always hope! There is always grace! The Holy Spirit has not abandoned the Church….neither should we! Giving a sense of the resurrection means looking out into the world and acknowledging the death and suffering all around us, but not letting it cripple us or convince us that this death is the end. Rather, giving the world a sense of the resurrection means giving the world a sense of hope, of light, of peace, of something bigger than itself; something bigger than the world that loves the world, sustains the world, and, indeed, has died and risen for the world.
Practically speaking, the Archbishop encouraged us that a sure way of bringing the light of the resurrection is to work toward greater unity and solidarity among the whole human family. This is especially important for the Synod fathers, of course, but also for every priest and seminarian. Archbishop Cupich left the community with this challenge: “How will you be a part of building greater solidarity among the human family, especially in a life where you will be called ‘Father’?”
The seminarians at Mundelein pray for Archbishop Cupich and all the Synod Fathers that they may be docile to the Holy Spirit and bring about greater unity and solidarity amongst the whole human family.