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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Wisdom, The Missing Ingredient

St. Oscar Romero

This past Sunday Pope Francis canonized 7 new saints.  Two of them had a an effect on my life--St. Oscar Romero and Pope St. Paul VI.

   I entered the seminary in September, 1962, two months after Paul VI was elected Pope.  I had seen this man, Cardinal Montini of Milan,  a few years earlier as a member of my parish band, St., William's in Dorchester.  Cardinal Cushing of Boston had invited our band to greet him with our music.  More importantly he was the Pope during my entire time in the seminary and in my early years as a priest.
Pope St. John XXIII had convened the Second Vatican Council a few years earlier but it was Paul VI
Pope St. Paul VI
who was entrusted with the task of implementing
 the council.  Keep in mind that he had the authority, upon the death of his predecessor, to end the council.  He did not do that.  He steered the Church through the completion of its documents and saw them get put into practice.  That was no easy task as there was controversy over how to carry on in addition to the fact that the turmoil of the 60's was taking place all over the world.  Both liberals and conservatives may have been dissatisfied with particular decisions that he made but in the end he carried out one of the principle tasks for any Pope--to maintain the unity of the Church.  He did that.  Yes, there were factions and arguments but no major breaks in Church unity.  In fact he promoted a healthy ecumenism and made progress in our relationship with the Orthodox Churches.

    Our other saint is St. Oscar Romero, a much different person than Pope Paul, but one who was influenced by him.  He was appointed auxiliary bishop of San Salvador in 1970 and named archbishop in 1977 after having been bishop of Santiago de Maria for 3 years. During the late 70's and into the 80's I was serving in poor areas in the Bronx and in Buffalo, NY. I was becoming increasingly aware of the importance of the Church's social justice teachings.  In addition to that I was meeting with some of our province's missionaries from Brazil and Bolivia who told stories of the struggle for justice in Latin America.  I also heard for the first time the phrase, "fundamental option for the poor."  I read the works of some of the liberation theologians who inspired that phrase.  I also studied Pope Paul's encyclical Popolorum Progressio which outlined the Church's teaching on social justice.  As Archbishop of San Salvador Oscar Romero, who always had a love for the poor, struggled with the works of some of these theologians.  Were they communist?  Were they too political?  The Vatican as well shared this struggle. As for myself I was inspired by all of it and felt the call to serve as a missionary in Bolivia.

   Something happened that opened the eyes of our new saint.  Beyond whatever certain theologians were writing in books Archbishop Romero's heart was moved by the extreme violence and the slaughter of thousands of innocent civilians in his own country.  He began to speak out strongly against the Salvadoran government and on March 24, 1980 he was assassinated while celebrating Mass at the chapel of the Hospital of Divine Providence in San Salvador where he resided. I remember the day when that awful event was announced on the news in the friary where I was living in Buffalo, NY. One of the high points of my life came last December when I got to preside at Mass at the very altar where he was killed. This happened while I was traveling with a group from Unbound.  (See Unbound.org)  What struck me on that day was the realization of what a hero he was to the Salvadoran people who always considered him a saint.

   The canonization of both of these holy men touched me because of the place they played in my own life.  As I was preaching last Sunday the first reading was from the Book of Wisdom.  It spoke of Wisdom as a special gift.  As different as these two men were I believe what they had in common was the gift of Wisdom.  In Pope Paul's case the wisdom to take the council documents and guide the Church through their implementation and in Romero's case the Wisdom to see clearly beyond the cloud of ideologies and to speak the truth to power.  They killed his body but his spirit lives on, not only in El Salvador but to the four corners of the world.

   An article that I read recently said that since 1900 the information accessible to humankind has doubled in each decade since.  Folks, we do not lack for knowledge or information, or even for intelligence. In the world, the Church and our nation today WE LACK WISDOM, the ability to apply the knowledge properly.

St Oscar Romero, Pray for us.  St. Paul VI, pray for us.


Dec. 5, 2017. Mass At the altar where St. Oscar Romero was killed.



  

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Go and Rebuild My House

Cross at Church of San Damiano in Assisi
   We Franciscans will soon be celebrating the Feast of our founder, Francis of Assisi. We will be celebrating this feast deeply aware of the crisis that is facing our Church today.  We are also aware that when our order was founded the Church was also in deep crisis. Several groups of people had left the Church out of disillusionment with the abuse of power even at the highest levels of the hierarchy. They sought to live the Gospel life simply and authentically. I won't detail that here or suggest that one crisis was worse than another.  What I would like to offer is this.  The call that Francis received from the Lord as he was praying before the cross in a run down chapel outside the walls of Assisi is as timely today as it was then.

  As his early biographers recall as Francis was kneeling in prayer he felt the Lord speaking to him from the cross in these words.  "Francis, Go and rebuild my house which, as you see, is falling into ruin."

   He and his companions (They were not yet established as an order, and they were lay people.) heeded this call and began to literally repair several small churches in the Assisi region. Within a short time they realized that God was not calling them to repair building but to spiritually renew the Church of those times.  Within a few years the results of that renewal were evident.  Francis insisted on being loyal to the Church.  He would not leave. At the same time he saw his mission as living the Gospel simply within the Church.  His protest was not in the form of demonstrations and marches or letters to the Pope and bishops but simply the lived example of his followers.

    A few years after this wonderful encounter with the Lord Francis received verbal approval for his order from Pope Innocent III.  Our order at the beginning though was more of a movement than a canonical institution.  The Franciscan family included people who did not profess formal religious vows (what are now called the Secular Franciscans) as well as those who did.  Most of the earliest ones who did take vows were not priests.

  There has been a lot of discussion lately about needed structural reform of the Church, especially the need for giving lay people a greater voice in decision making, about moving away from a model of hierarchy that goes back to the time of the emperor Constantine.  I agree with all of those desires in the strongest terms.  At the same time can we not all commit ourselves to rebuilding the house of the Lord by committing ourselves to living the Gospel more radically, by heeding the call of the Second Vatican Council to a universal call to holiness, a call which means that  the laity are not any less or more called to holiness than the clergy.  I do not propose this as a weak, pious alternative to the hard work that needs to be done to reform Church structures, but rather as the spiritual fire which will spark that reform.

  

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Assumption of Mary: Hope and Challenge

   Today is a big day for me and for the Church, the celebration of the Assumption of Mary. 55 years ago today I put on the Franciscan habit for the first time. A year and a day later I took my first vows on August 16, 1964.

  Now that that has been stated some might be thinking that I am out to lunch and out of touch.  With all that is going on in the world and in the Church what meaning could this Feast have? My answer--a great deal of meaning.

   The belief that upon her death the Virgin Mary was taken body and soul into heaven, though declared a doctrine by Pope Pius XII in 1950, is a belief that has been shared since the earliest days of the Church.

  What this doctrine gives us is a sense of the beauty and dignity of the human body.  What Mary experiences immediately we believe and hope that in the fullness of time we too will experience not just the salvation of our soul, but bodily resurrection and redemption.

   There is so much violence in our world--war, terrorism, abortion, abuse of women and children, sadly the latter by priests bishops and cardinals.  The hope of this feast is that in God's time the ravages done to human bodies (and spirits) will be healed.

   Fine and well, but what about now?  That is where the challenge comes in.  If we believe that God became enfleshed in Jesus, and that his mother is taken to heaven body and soul, we cannot see the body as rubbish, as OK to damage.  We cannot see the body and human sexuality as dirty.  We must seek justice and healing for everything that attacks the body or misuses it.  That is why our Church teaches respect for human life from conception until natural death.  That is also why we need to clean up the mess that does not seem to go away with the sex abuse crisis.  Bishops and priests must be held responsible.  Consequences must be meeted out even at the highest levels and lay people, not clergy, must lead the investigations. 

   A radical sense of the dignity of the boy has been growing in the Church.  That is why Pope Francis has said that capital punishment is not acceptable, nor is human trafficking or violence in any form or any attack on human dignity. 

  Finally this belief calls us to develop a healthy sense of human sexuality.  Over the years we have been bouncing between rigidity and Puritanism to the hedonism and anything goes mentality of today.

  I have touched on a number of issues here. To be sure a more nuanced approach to all of them is necessary.  I just have sought to name to issues and to say that underneath it all we need to realize that our Redemption in Christ is not just spiritual.  It is bodily.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

An Extraordinary Chapter--A New Beginning for Franciscans in the US

   As I shared news this week that 6 of the 7 US provinces met in chapter and decided to merge into one province several people asked, "What is a Chapter?"  Good question. Sometimes the workings of religious orders are a mystery even to practicing Catholics so I thought I would shed some light on how we operate. In religious orders members meet periodically to elect leaders, pass legislation and to take stands on various issues in the Church and the world.  In our Franciscan order there are general chapters, usually held in Assisi, every 6 years, to elect the leadership for the order.  In each province chapters are held every three years.  These are ordinary chapters.

   Occasionally an extraordinary chapter is held, not for the usual purpose, but for some specific reason.  In 1967 my province, Holy Name, met in extraordinary chapter to implement clearly the changes called for by Vatican II.  This past week 6 of the seven US provinces met in extraordinary chapter to decide whether or not to become one province.  The motion passed in all 6 provinces and will go to our leadership in Rome for final approval. The full implementation of this merger will take about 4-5 years.  In the meantime we are fully engaged in collaboration and cooperation with each other.

   With this explanation I would like to share my own experience of participating in this process which began several years ago when each province faced the fact that the present situation, with diminishing numbers, was not sustainable.  From the point on there have been several inter-provincial meetings as well as a coming together of our formation programs.  The recent chapter then did not come out of the blue.  It was carefully prepared for.

  More important than the result for me was the fact that the chapter was a deeply spiritual experience.  Believe me when I tell you that sometimes they are more political than spiritual.  We are, after all, human beings.  At this gathering there was a palpable sense of the presence of the Holy Spirit guiding our deliberations.  Many fears and doubts were expressed but in the end we decided to stretch beyond our comfort zone and do what was best both for the Church and the order in our country. There were friars voting against the motion to unify but after results were published they seemed to unify behind the proposal.  Also, with the help of modern technology the results were broadcast to each of the 6 provinces at the same time, leaving us with a sense of unity with all of our brothers across the country.  I was personally buoyed and uplifted by participating in this great event.

  I do ask that you keep all of us in your prayers as we move in the years ahead towards full implementation of this great decision.

  



Monday, May 21, 2018

Thoughts from a Wandering Friar--A New direction for this blog.



   I have received several e-mails and had comments made in conversations as to why I have not posted on this blog in a while. There is no simple answer to this question.  For one thing I have been sensing that I am not adding much to the conversation about what's going on in our world and I refuse to get drawn in to the angry ranting that passes for intelligent conversation.  I do admit that on a few occasions I have fallen into that trap.

  Secondly I realize that this blog did not have a clear focus.  That can be OK.  This is not a newspaper or magazine with deadlines for writers and an editorial position for the product.

   With all of the above taken into consideration from now on my blog will be about my ministry of preaching, especially preaching parish missions and retreats for religious, but also my work with Unbound. See Unbound. See as well my own Unbound outreach page in the Links section to the right. I will present thoughts on my preaching themes as well as comments (always positive) on the people and places that I visit, as well as occasionally talking about the overall direction of my ministry.

   As we approach the end of May  will be having a busy summer, one that began early last week with an Unbound campaign in Rockport, TX.  Rockport is about 33 miles north of Corpus Christi. I arrived there on a Friday and observed right away the devastating effects that Hurricane Harvey had on the area with many homes and places of business damaged or even totally destroyed, including the parish center at Sacred Heart Parish.  My heart sank and I thought, "How can people who have suffered all this find their way to sponsoring a child or needy elder in another country?"  Nonetheless I carried on and 44 people came forward to become sponsors.  That generosity deeply moved me and was a humbling reminder of God at work even in very difficult circumstances.  A big thank you to the people of Rockport. TX.

   The months ahead have me going to Arkansas,Louisiana, California and Delaware to preach for Unbound.  I will likely have a few more commitments for them.  I will also be preaching a retreat for the Sisters of St. Joseph in Clarence, NY.

   At  the end of June I will be presiding at a wedding in Texas. The groom is a young man that I first met in Eagle River, WI in 1995.   I have come to know his family very well and it will be a delight to be part of that great celebration when Caleb and Sunny get married,  After that I head for Albuquerque for meeting priests.

   Perhaps the moist important event of the summer will happen in Loudonville, NY from May 29-31. All the friars of my province, joined with friars from all over the US who will meet with their respective provinces will vote to possibly merge into one province.  Please pray for us. I will let you know not only the outcome, but what the experience was like.



Table with folders for people to be sponsored.




   

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?

  I have been a priest for almost 47 years and a traveling preacher for the past 30 years.  During parish missions people often come to me feeling that their faith has been stretched to the limit.  They pray and pray for something--to overcome an illness, to deal with a difficult family problem or life situation and there seems to be no answer.  They wonder, "Where are You God with all that is going on in my life?"

   This past Sunday was Palm Sunday, or also Passion Sunday.  The account of the Passion of Christ from one of the synoptic Gospels is always read, usually by the priest and two other readers.  From the cross Jesus cries out, "My God, My God, Why have you forsaken Me?"  The picture at the top of this article quotes Matthew. This year it was from Mark 15:34.  How can this be?  Jesus, after all, is the eternal Word of the Father, always one with the Father and the Spirit. How then, can He be forsaken by God?

   Over the centuries there have been several attempts at answering this question and all of them are valid.  For one thing it is good to point out that these words are the beginning of a Psalm 22. Jesus is speaking the first line of a psalm that expresses deep lament at the sufferings the writer is going through but it ends on a note of hope.  In verses 25-27 we read, "For he has not spurned or disdained the misery of this poor wretch, Did not turn away from me, but heard me when I cried out. I will offer praise in the great assembly:my vows I will fulfill before those who fear him. The poor will eat their fill: those who seek the Lord will offer praise. May your hearts enjoy life forever."

   The psalmist is certainly feeling desperation,, but in the end his prayer is answered.  But what are we to think of Jesus crying out and feeling forsaken by God?  Yes, Jesus is the eternal Word of the Father and in the core of His being always one with the Father,  but He is also so radically and fully human that He experiences this sense of abandonment by God that we humans experience and as He cries out from the cross He cries it out for all of us.  At the same time we need to look at the whole psalm because it gives us hope in two ways.  The first is that the Lord is with us in our moments of feeling abandoned by God. The second is that if we do not abandon hope we, like Jesus in His Resurrection, will find deliverance, and not only personal deliverance, but deliverance from injustice and poverty.

   During the rest of this Holy Week, and especially on Good Friday, let us pray out not only our personal experiences of abandonment and desperation, but also those of the poor, oppressed and marginalized of the world, not in anger and rebellion against God, but with the hope that His Resurrection brings.

   

  

Friday, February 16, 2018

Healing the Anger Within Us, A Task for our Times.

   Once again another school shooting. Once again thoughts and prayers are offered.  Once again there are discussions about gun control and mental health.  Thought, prayers, discussions and above all actions are necessary to resolve this issue, but it strikes me that there is another, a deeper dimension to this problem that we are not facing, a spiritual and emotional one that applies to all of us.

   One psychologist made the statement that most of the perpetrators of these horrible crimes are not truly mentally ill.  They are ANGRY, excessively and over the top, but they are ANGRY.  Anger in and of itself is not a mental health problem, nor is it always inappropriate.  Anger is an emotion that motivates us to strive to correct injustice, both great social injustices and individual grievances. The non-violent expression of anger by people like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. did a great deal of good for the world.

   The individuals that have gone on violent, gun shooting rampages are extreme examples of anger gone rampant.  I would suggest though that rather than isolating them from ourselves we look in the mirror and recognize that they are ourselves, even though the great majority of us will never go to their extremes.

   Our political and even religious discourse lately is filled with venomous anger.  It is one thing to disagree with a politician or a theologian or the guy next door, or even to be angry if we believe that their position is wrong and harmful to others, but when the discussion spills over into vulgar name calling and wishing evil upon others we have a problem.

   Another aspect of our cultural anger problem is seen in our reaction to some of the more heinous crimes that get committed, be that pedophilia, mass shootings, rape and abuse, etc.  There is no doubt that the perpetrators of such crimes as well as the people that cover for them belong behind bars, but I look on social media and find people wishing them to be tortured and humiliated. To me this is just self-righteous posturing and a way of saying, "I may be bad, but not as bad as those people."

    The perpetrators of these violent shootings are not totally distinct from the rest of us.  They are rather at the top end of a spectrum which envelopes us all.

   We Catholics, along with many other Christians, are in the season of Lent, a season of self-examination and repentance.  Perhaps a good Lenten practice would be to look into our own hearts and ask the Good Lord to heal us of all of the pent up anger that comes out in things like road rage, angry ranting, etc.  I mentioned above that healthy anger helps us correct injustice.  Much anger does not get resolved and we are left with a residue of unresolved anger, a residue that began building up when we were mere children.  Much of it was justified in the beginning, but now it is a poison, a spiritual poison that does no harm to those who hurt us originally, but only harms ourselves.

   A number of years ago I realized that this Franciscan priest had way too much anger.  The mere mention of certain teachers, people from my childhood and folks from the early days of my religious life would make my blood boil.  Instead of stuffing this anger back down I started the practice of praying for the person who angered me and asking the Lord to take that anger away.  It's a slow process and I still have some things to work on, but I am a much more peaceful man today than I was just a few years ago.

   Perhaps such a process is needed for all of us, even those with no religious beliefs, if we are to heal the ills of our society.  Yes, laws must change on several levels but without changing our hearts nothing will really change.

    While I have no illusions that this is the ultimate insight into everything I believe it is worthwhile for all to discuss.  I wouldn't mind of this post went viral.