Catholic Free Press

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  • Mar
  • 15

Native son returns to preach at novena

Posted By March 15, 2013 | 10:51 am | Lead Story #3
Father Jonathan J. Slavinskas, associate pastor of Blessed John Paul II Parish in Southbridge,greets novena-goer after Mass.
Father Jonathan J. Slavinskas, associate pastor of Blessed John Paul II Parish in Southbridge,greets novena-goer after Mass.

By Tanya Connor

WORCESTER – The day after the St. Francis Xavier Novena ended, the new pope was elected – and he took the name Francis.
March 4, the opening day of the 90th annual Novena of Grace at St. John Parish, Bishop McManus had asked participants to add an intention to their own: that God would raise up a new pope with zeal for evangelization like St. Francis Xavier.
Tuesday, at the last novena Mass, Father John F. Madden, St. John’s pastor, said this year they prayed for the Church in choosing a Holy Father.
“The last day of the novena is the first day of the conclave that we prayed for,” he said. The next day, the conclave elected Pope Francis.
The election wasn’t all that was new – or papal – at this year’s novena.
The theme was the Year of Faith, a universal observance Pope Benedict XVI called several months before he resigned. Praising novena-goers’ faith and challenging them to spread it was a new priest from a new parish named for Pope Benedict’s predecessor. But he was not new to St. John’s.
“I think it’s more exciting than my first Mass at this point,” Father Jonathan J. Slavinskas, associate pastor of Blessed John Paul II Parish in Southbridge, said of being back at the novena, which he prayed even when away at seminary, and attended here when it coincided with his vacation. He was speaking to The Catholic Free Press Monday, just before celebrating the novena Mass for the first time. He was reflecting on “all the holy priests who served at this novena over the years,” he said.
“It’s truly such a joy and honor to be with you all as a priest of God at this … novena of grace,” he told the congregation in his homily. Hearing the opening hymn as he processed in, “I couldn’t help but tear up a bit. For this novena means so much to me – fifth grade is when I started serving this novena as an altar server.”
He recalled one priest saying, “Always pray to the Holy Spirit; invite the Holy Spirit into your heart.” With that wisdom, Father Slavinskas said, “I began to fall in love with Jesus.”
He said his mother told him a few weeks ago that she would have to find a new novena intention; “since you started serving this novena, I’ve prayed for your vocation.” Last June he was ordained a priest.
“For 90 years people have knelt before this statue of St. Francis Xavier, coming to him with deep faith … ‘I need the grace of … Christ to prevail within,’” Father Slavinskas said. “And Christ has shed his grace upon each and every one of us. The door of faith is always open. That is the theme of this novena. … But at times we put a wall in front of that door.” He said St. Francis Xavier had people get rid of idol worship, and he challenged novena-goers to take down their walls brick by brick.
“Let nothing block the light of Jesus Christ, who so badly wishes to dispel the darkness within,” he said.
“We are all called to enter into the missionary life of the Church. … We are not called to be Sunday Catholics or novena Catholics.” Jesus wants to be part of everyday life. “He uses poor saps like me, sinners like all of us, to bring others to him.
“It is my fervent prayer that God blesses you for your fervent prayer,” but also that “you break beyond these walls and you go forth into a world that desperately needs to hear that message, that you might guide others to the Way, the Truth and the Life that is Jesus Christ.”
After Communion, Father Slavinskas added, “You have been a big part of my vocation … I have witnessed your faith. … I thank you for assisting me in walking through that door.”
Father Madden said homilists reminded listeners that they are to be witnesses to their faith. St. Francis Xavier, who lived in a time of clerical scandal and ecclesial division, was a terrific model, he said.
Not everyone’s prayers are answered at the novena, Father Madden said. He said St. Francis’ life seemed to end in failure; he died before getting where he really wanted to go. After he preached in Japan, Christianity was outlawed and Christians were martyred. But, 250 years later, missionaries returning to Japan found that Christianity lived – because people imitated what they saw St. Francis do.
“Five hundred years later, for the 90th year, we are here,” Father Madden added.
He had reiterated some information shared by Jesuit Father Francis Britto, the homilist and guest speaker originally from India, who teaches at Sophia University in Tokyo.
Father Britto said the number of Christians in Japan is small compared to the whole population, but now it is fashionable to get married in Catholic or Protestant churches, which provides an opportunity to introduce people to the Catholic Church.
March 7 Jesuit Father Paul F. Harman told novena-goers he wished young people who think church is boring and filled with hypocrites could be there among them.
“Going to church is not about, ‘What do I get out of it?’” he said. “Going to church is about discovering where Jesus is present.”
He told the congregation the statue of St. Francis Xavier was facing them “because you are the people of God … the Body of Christ … the Church.” He spoke of a saint calling those he preached to “your holinesses,” a form of address now reserved for popes.
Saturday Jesuit Father Philip L. Boroughs, president of the College of the Holy Cross, contrasted St. Francis Xavier and St. Ignatius of Loyola, the Jesuits’ founder.
He said Francis’ gaze had not been on God, but on honor, and financial security for his family, and Ignatius had sought to make a name for himself. He redirected his gaze, but at first was not successful in getting Francis to surrender himself to God.
In the end, instead of roaming the world making a name for himself, Ignatius stayed in a small place, he said. Francis, who wanted a stable life of ease, was a missionary to different countries.
“Where is our gaze directed?” Father Boroughs asked. He spoke of the Year of Faith, and of faith being about a relationship with Jesus, and asked, “Are we free enough to receive what Jesus is offering us?”