Chapter 5: Spiritual Combat, Vigilance and Discernment
The gift of discernment has become all the more necessary today, since contemporary life offers immense possibilities for action and distraction, and the world presents all of them as valid and good. All of us, especially the young, are immersed in a culture of zapping. We can navigate simultaneously on two or more screens and interact at the same time with two or three virtual scenarios. Without the wisdom of discernment, we can easily become prey to every passing trend.
This is all the more important when some novelty presents itself in our lives. Then we have to decide whether it is new wine brought by God or an illusion created by the spirit of this world or the spirit of the devil. At other times, the opposite can happen, when the forces of evil induce us not to change, to leave things as they are, to opt for rigid resistance to change. Yet that would be to block the working of the Spirit. We are free, with the freedom of Christ. Still, he asks us to examine what is within us – our desires, anxieties, fears and questions – and what takes place all around us – “the signs of the times” – and thus to recognize the paths that lead to complete freedom.
“Test everything: hold fast to what is good.”
Fr. Francis Koch’s pastoral sense and understanding of changing times was shared by his successor, Fr. Eusebius Schlingmann, O.F.M., who led St. Francis of Assisi as Pastor from 1903 to 1907. On the first anniversary of the Nightworkers’ Mass in 1905, Archbishop John M. Farley wrote the following letter to Fr. Eusebius:
I am pleased to hear of the success attending the half-past two A.M. Sunday Mass at St. Francis Church. Among the many things which I had to communicate to the Holy Father and which he assured me was a great consolation to him, was the request of the night workers in your neighborhood to have Mass at half-past two o’clock on Sunday mornings, to enable them to comply with the duty of hearing Mass. He desired me in the most affectionate manner to convey to yourself and to all those good and zealous Catholics who at such inconvenience comply with the precept of the Church by assisting at that early Mass his apostolic benediction, which I hereby empower you to bestow on that congregation on Easter morning. Praying for you and for them every blessing and all Easter joys, I am Sincerely yours in Christ,
+John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York
Fr. Eusebius also asked permission for a Mass at noon during Lent. The first midday Mass was offered on Ash Wednesday, February 13, 1907. In the Catholic News of that day, Fr. Eusebius wrote:
“For several year past I have been thinking of celebrating Mass at high noon. I have noticed very many people in the church at this hour every day of Lent, making a visit or saying the Stations. Even if only forty or fifty people could hear Mass at that hour who otherwise would be deprived of that blessing, we should feel amply repaid for the sacrifice.”
The noon Mass attracted such crowds that it was decided to continue the Mass on a daily basis. The Church of St. Francis of Assisi was the first church in the United States to have a daily Mass as late as 12:15 P.M., and the little church on 31st Street became known as a convenient spiritual oasis for busy travelers, shoppers and workers.
Grand hotels began to appear in the neighborhood, and visitors to New York found the church convenient and uplifting. In 1910 the Pennsylvania Railroad Station became a main terminal on the corner of 7th Avenue, and travelers began to worship and pray in the beautiful St.Francis Church. Department stores and businesses in the neighborhood were booming, and shoppers and workers found the church a warm welcoming spiritual center. St. Francis Parish had few remaining parishioners, but thousands of devotees were finding their way to the Franciscan church between 6th and 7th Avenues. The attractive sanctuary developed into a Service Church for the people, a new model of urban ministry.
Fr. Eusebius managed to pay off the remaining debt on the church. In the space of four short years he raised $52,000. During those years attendance at Mass had triples, and the number of people at devotions continued to increase. Fr. Eusebius reconstructed the church school, and raised its standards to such a degree that in 1906 the pupils won first prize for being the best of all parochial schools in New York City.
This series of articles on the history of our parish is adapted from the writ- ings of Fr. Flavian Walsh, O.F.M., Pastor from 1985-87.
We learn a lot about God in today’s readings. First, the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah have never had a good reputation, and Abraham tests God to see how far God will go in sparing these places… if there are still innocent people there. Abraham starts with 50 innocent people, then 45, then 40, then 30, then 20, and finally only ten. God does not change and replies that even if there are only 10, they will not be destroyed. What an amazing and merciful God! The Gospel presents us with the Lord’s Prayer and then the famous “ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” In the midst of any age and culture that is evil and cruel and heartless, God wants to remind us that we stand for something positive, life giving and selfless because this is how God has been throughout history and remains the same for us.
On Friday, August 2, we Franciscans celebrate a Feast day that is important to us: the Feast of Our Lady of the Angels of the Portiuncula. This little chapel is regarded as our Franciscan home. Portiuncula, “little portion”, describes the small piece of land that was given to the Benedictines and later St. Francis spent time physically restoring this chapel. He prayed there with his followers; he received St. Clare into his way of life there and it remains a sacred place that Franciscans return to frequently. When you go to Assisi, you will be surprised that this small chapel is surrounded by a large basilica, St. Mary of the Angels. Yes, in the center of this large basilica is the small chapel. When you go there, you cannot help but think of all that has happened in that sacred space over the centuries.
-Fr. Andrew Reitz, O.F.M.
The missionary par excellence, Fr. Francis Koch, succeeded Fr. Ludger Beck as pastor but stayed less than two years. He had inherited a debt of $76,000 which he worked hard to reduce. The neighborhood was changing radically around Saint Francis Church. The modest frame buildings of the German residents were transformed almost overnight into theaters, taverns, saloons and dance halls. Behind the church on West 32nd Street was the famed house of prostitution known as “House of All Nations.” On the same street, closer to Sixth Avenue, was the infamous “Tenderloin Club” which gave its name to the district. On one wall, created out of discarded horse race tickets, were letters which spelled out “LOST HOPES.”
The people were all moving out and the parish appeared doomed as a spiritual center. Rumors circulated that the church might be closed and the site disposed of. The “Nightworkers’ Mass,” which was first offered at 2:30 AM on March 20, 1904, is given credit for turning the tide around when a new clientele began to pour through the doors of Saint Francis Church.
Father Francis Koch had initiated the “Nightworkers’ Mass” in response to the request of Mr. Thomas Meehan, a new correspondent of the Herald syndicate, who approached Fr. Francis in the name of 200 Catholic men who worked at The New York Herald. Fr. Francis was extremely tired after 29 years of ceaseless missionary work in America. At the “Night-workers’ Mass” on August 14, 1904 he announced his
decision to return to his old home in the friary of Fulda, Germany, and devote the rest of his days to quiet reflection in preparation for eternity.
“My life has been so filled with stirring scenes in the last 29 years, that I shall be glad of an opportunity for rest and quiet near the tomb of Saint Boniface,” he told his parishioners.
Fr. Francis sailed on the RMS Pannonia on November 15, 1904 with Bishops McDonnell of Brooklyn and Colton of Buffalo, who were on their way to the Holy Land and Rome. Fr. Francis carried with him an exquisite chalice presented to him as a gift from the New York “Nightworkers.” Fr. Francis did not remain inactive in Fulda for very long. He returned to America and worked for 15 more years, surpassing every other American priest in the number of churches which he built, primarily in northern New Jersey.
This series of articles on the history of our parish is adapted from the writings of Fr. Flavian Walsh, O.F.M., Pastor from 1985-87.
How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place:
St. Francis of Assisi Parish at 175
As part of our parish’s year-long jubilee celebration, the St. Francis Adult Education Center is offering a three-week summer program that will look at our parish’s past and present through several lenses: the biblical, the historical, the theological and the artistic. St. Francis of Assisi Parish offers a case study in what it means to be the Catholic Church in America and an oasis of spirituality in the secular city.
12:00–1:15 PM OR 6:15–7:30 PM
San Damiano Hall, 129 West 31st Street
Week One: Biblical Perspectives
Fr. William Beaudin, O.F.M.
Wednesday and Thursday: July 17 & 18
For centuries, God’s holy temple in Jerusalem was the central shrine of Israel’s faith. It was thought to be God’s dwelling place on earth, God’s “headquarters” for governing his good creation, the meeting ground between God’s space and human space. How did the biblical writers understand the complex inter-relationship between a sacred building, the God to whom it was dedicated, the community of faith that worshiped there, and the larger world which that community was sent out to transform? How might this biblical understanding of temple inform our own understanding of the relationship between a parish church, a parish community, and a parish’s mission to and for the world?
Week Two:Historical Perspectives
Fr. Dominic Monti, O.F.M.
Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday: July 23, 24 & 25
The 175-year history of St. Francis of Assisi Parish is a microcosm of the Catholic Church in America. From its roots as an immigrant church, through its many adaptations to the shifting fortunes of the neighborhood in which it is inserted, to its pastoral response to radical changes in the Church and society, our parish has endeared itself to millions of New Yorkers as a place of refuge and welcome, of healing and reconciliation, of lively worship and direct service to the poor. Few historians in the United States are more qualified to tell the story and trace the history of the parish within the wider context of American church history than Fr. Dominic Monti, O.F.M., and even fewer can do so in as lively and engaging a way.
Week Three: Theological and Artistic Perspectives
Joseph Nuzzi and Fr. Timothy Shreenan, O.F.M.
Tuesday and Wednesday: July 30 & 31
What does it mean to be a parish today? What does it mean to be the Church in a specific place like West 31st Street in Manhattan, at a specific time in human history like 2019? Whether you are or are not a parishioner at St. Francis, these questions about the role and relevance a local Catholic Christian community offer stimulating points for reflection and discussion about your own experience of welcome, worship and witness in the parish of your choice. The course will conclude with an exploration of the art and architecture of St. Francis Church and how what we see in this church building challenges us to be the church in New York City and beyond.
Please Note: The days (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday) for week two are correct in the printed brochure, but the dates (July 22, 23, 24) are incorrect. The correct days and dates are: Tuesday, July 23, Wednesday, July 24, and Thursday, July 25. The information listed in this online post is correct and supersedes the printed material.
We will hold a Week of Prayer dedicated to Parents and Grandparents in honor of Saints Joachim and Anne, the parents of Mary, and grandparents of Jesus.
Special prayers will be said after the 11:30 AM and 4:30 PM Masses
Monday to Friday, July 22-26.
Envelopes will be available on which you may write the names of parents and grandparents whom you would like to have remembered on these days.
Chapter 3: In the Light of the Master
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”
Hunger and thirst are intense experiences since they involve basic needs and our instinct for survival. There are those who desire justice and yearn for righteousness with similar intensity. Jesus says that they will be satisfied, for sooner or later justice will come…
Jesus offers a justice other than that of the world, so often marred by petty interests and manipulated in various ways. Experience shows how easy it is to become mired in corruption, ensnared in the daily politics of quid pro quo, where everything becomes business…
True justice comes about in people’s lives when they themselves are just in their decisions; it is expressed in their pursuit of justice for the poor and the weak… (True justice) is shown especially… toward those who are most vulnerable: “Seek justice, correct oppression, defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.”
Hungering and thirsting for righteousness: That is holiness.
I believe in keeping busy. I inherited that German/Slovak quality of making sure that you stay busy. I still believe in it, but over the years I have also discovered that I enjoy being quiet and taking time for reflecting on life. In today’s Gospel we meet Martha and Mary. Martha is the perfect host, making sure all the details are taken care of. Mary is a little different – she enjoys sitting and listening to Jesus. Martha is frustrated and it seems that she may be overworked. Jesus tries to calm her down, telling her that relaxing and paying attention to Him is good for her. I’m not sure how this went over with Martha, but it is good advice.
Cardinal Dolan recently celebrated Mass at the Shrine of Saint Frances Cabrini in Washington Heights. Mother Cabrini is the patroness of immigrants and refugees. Afterwards he wrote the following message:
“I was moved as I recalled her work among Italian immigrants in the United States in the 19th and early 20th century. This work impresses me today as the Church continues to welcome immigrants from so many countries, particularly in these troubling uncertain times.
“It saddens me to admit that many, some even in the Church, opposed Mother Cabrini’s work. It troubles me that today in too many places hate and malice are directed against immigrants and refugees- in both words and actions.
“As a Pastor, I pray that understanding, respect and love might grow in dealing with newcomers to our land. I am proud of the welcoming that our parishes, schools, charitable and healthcare ministries have and do provide.”
-Fr. Andrew Reitz, O.F.M.
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