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Friday, November 25, 2016

What are You Doing for Advent?

Advent Wreath

  When Lent begins we often get asked, "What are you doing for Lent?"  We respond be telling of the things we are giving up as well as the positive actions we are taken.  I would like to suggest that the same question be asked for Advent, though the answer should be much different.

   In Lent we focus on our personal conversion as we prepare to celebrate the Death and Resurrection of Christ.  We give up things that lead us to sin or that stand in the way of following the Lord more closely.

  Advent is different. It is the time not only to prepare for the celebration of the Lord's birth, but to prepare for the coming of the Kingdom of God. How do we go about that?

  At the end of the Church's liturgical year and at it's beginning in Advent we are invited to focus on the end times, on the coming of God's reign in its fullness.  We are reminded that we do not know the day or the hour, that we must always be ready.  We are also invited to wait for these times in hope, not in gloom and doom, as the realization of all of God's promises and all of humanity's hopes.

   Practically then what are we to do? 

1.  Realize that even now the Kingdom of God is among us, not yet in its fullness, but among us nonetheless.  With all of the negative news around us, with all of the divisiveness brought about by our recent election it is easy to get mired in negativity.  Perhaps part of an Advent penance would be to daily look for signs of the Kingdom among us.  There are countless stories of forgiveness, of differences being overcome, of extraordinary kindness being granted, of harmony between races and religions.  The mainstream media don't highlight these, but they are there.  Look for these things daily, thank God for them and say "They Kingdom come!"

2.  Try to be an instrument of the coming of the Kingdom.  Strive to be a light in the darkness.  Reach out to someone or some group that feels alienated or marginalized.  Work for justice where there is injustice.  Be a peacemaker where there is violence.  This may be on a grand scale or within your own circle of family and friends.

3.  Don't give into cynicism.  This is one of the most unchristian of virtues. Remember that we "wait in blessed hope for the coming of the Savior, that in God's time All will be well.

4.  None of us can help but getting swept up in the secular, commercial celebration of the holidays, but take time to prepare your heart for celebrating the birth of our Lord. Hold back a bit on getting up decorations as a reminder that Advent is a time of waiting, waiting for the birth of Jesus to be celebrated, and waiting for His coming.

    So what are you doing for Advent?

   

 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Blessed Are The Peacemkers

  Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.  (Mt. 5:9).  This particular beatitude was certainly lived by St. Francis of Assisi whether it was meeting the Muslim Sultan during the crusades or making peace between the mayor and the bishop in Assisi.  Being a peacemaker is at the heart of being a Franciscan.  It is also a call that is difficult to live out today, but I am going to give it a try.

   On Tuesday we are going to elect a president. Like many of you I will not be happy with either candidate. Those on the losing side may be tempted to anger, reprisal and violence.   Those on the   winning side may be tempted to gloat and take it out on the opposition.  Others may be tempted to give in to despair.  I pray that neither of the above options is exercised.  I address here neither Mr. Trump, not Mrs. Clinton.  I doubt that either of them care what I think.  I address you, the readers of this blog, and whomever you may share this with.

  What to do?  Here are some suggestions.

  1.  Don't insult or disown your friends and acquaintances who voted for the other candidate.  Avoid saying "How could you?" or "He/she's evil." Rather suggest that we discuss together how we can move forward.

   2.  No matter how disappointed and you are with the winner (Yes, there is reason to feel that way no matter who wins.) try to find something that you can get behind, even if it is just a few things.

   3.  Contact both the new president-elect and you representatives in Congress and plead with them to find a path that enables them to work together.  We have had several years of deadlock.  We have to get past this.

   4.  Above all pray, pray and pray some more for the healing of our nation.

    5.  Any further suggestions that you have that do not involve hostility will be most welcome as comments or e-mail responses to this blog post. Since the blog will go on to Facebook be free to give respectful suggestions there.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

A Light in the Darkness

  In recent months my heart has been heavy--terrorism, racial violence, ISIS, all this as well as our presidential election.  Ugh!

   In the midst of all this the good Lord has shined a light in the darkness through an organization, a community called UNBOUND. Two posts ago I mentioned them in my article.  They are about getting people to sponsor someone--child, young adult or elderly person--in a developing country.  I will give you details on that but first I would like to share about the overwhelming experience I had while visiting UNBOUND headquarters in Kansas City this past week for a discernment and training session.

    I was met at the airport by Fr. Tim and Kimberly and brought to headquarters for a whirlwind introduction to this wonderful organization.  Two things jumped out at me from these days.  First was my impression of the organization.  At every step there is both loving support and accountability.  Secondly, and even more important, they are strongly rooted in Catholic social teaching, especially the belief in the dignity of every human person.  I saw that lived out in the spirit of the people that I met.  I was warmly and lovingly received and saw that same spirit in the way that folks interacted with each other.  Unbound is not just an organization, it is a real Christian community, including the people that it helps.

   Now, back to the sponsorship that UNBOUND is about.  For $36.00 a month you may sponsor a child, young adult or elder in a developing country.  There are people on the ground in these countries who oversee the funds and make sure that they are used properly.  It is not a handout program, but an empowerment program.  The sponsored ones must use the money to further education, get better medical attention, improve living conditions, etc.  If you sponsor someone you will establish a relationship with that person and be expected to communicate with them.  Letters are sent to Unbound so that they can be translated if necessary.  For children who are sponsored the parents, especially the mothers, along with a local project support team,supervise the use of the money.  It is also good to know that UNBOUND has top A+ ratings from the four agencies that evaluate charities.

   I am encouraging those readers of this blog who are able to consider being a sponsor.  Just go to unbound.org and hit the  Sponsor button.  I just did that and am now, with my Franciscan community, sponsoring a 10 year old boy from PERU named Anthony.

    You can play an important role and really make a difference in someone's life.  I understand that two people can share a sponsorship as well.

    I will soon be preaching occasionally at Catholic parishes around the country to invite people into this wonderful ministry.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Out of Silence, Bread Blessed and Broken



  It has been a few weeks since I posted on this blog.  I have not felt inspired to write even though I have had any number of thoughts about things such as the upcoming election, violence on our streets, terrorism, etc., etc.  Many others have spoken on these topics, some in a very  insightful manner, others just ranting and raving from both the left and the right.  Quite frankly I have been dumbfounded by it all, but nonetheless carrying all of this and all of the suffering involved into prayer.

   Suffering.  Inspired by pope Francis and his reflections on mercy I am starting more and more to look at every situation and every person not first of all by are they right or wrong, though that is important, but by how they are suffering.  It is by accompanying then in their pain and suffering that they are possibly lead to Christ.  This applies to individuals as well as to groups.  It is unhealed pain and suffering that leads to irrational outbursts of anger and to violence.  We can and must talk of political and military responses to many of our problems.  Politicians, soldiers and diplomats can do that, but as Catholics, as Christians seeking to find the path to healing the pain is our main task.  With that in mind I was deeply moved by the following piece that was handed to me by a religious sister on a retreat that I gave last month in Cincinnati.  It obviously applies to priests and the special gift we have have celebrating the Eucharist, but in a broad sense it applies to all of us.  As you read it, and ponder it, I invite you to reflect on how it applies to you, to those around you and to our suffering world.

 Imitamini Quod Tractatis (*Imitate What you Hold)

By John Kinsella

The day you were called
to break bread for a living
was the day you were called to be broken.

The days you spend
bending over bread
are spent
around a mystery of fraction.

If you are indeed broken,
you need to gather up
each others fragments gently,
and remember how,
again through you,
He feeds so many
with so little        


  To be broken is not only to suffer, but also to break open our hearts in love. In Christ, in the Eucharist we are united to His suffering and we hold also the suffering of others, because He is holding it as well.                        

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Road Ahead for The Wandering Friar.

  I am nearing the end of the summer while assisting at San Pedro Parish in Tavernier, FL on the Florida Keys.  It is quiet here and I have time to reflect,to read and to work on new homilies and talks.

   As many of you know my summertime is different from my schedule during the school year.  Parishes generally do not schedule missions so my ministry takes some different twists.  This summer I preached to retreats, one to men and one to women.  At the end of May I found myself with the Divine Word community in Bordentown, NJ.  I was impressed with the international flavor of this missionary community of men who serve the Lord in every corner of the earth.  A few weeks ago I traveled to Cincinnati to preach to the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor.  They gave a retreat to me as much as I gave to them. This was a community of dedicated women who truly serve the poor in every way, from inner cities, to homeless shelters to centers for addicted women and prostitutes.  May the Lord continue to bless their work.   I took vacation in Wisconsin and was delighted to reconnect with friends up there from my days of serving at St. Peter the Fisherman in Eagle River.  Before and after Wisconsin I found myself in Chicago for two great events.  One was the Annual Assembly of the Association  of US Catholic Priests, an organization dedicated to the full implementation of the Second Vatican Council.  It was an encouraging and uplifting gathering of priests who were shaped by the vision of the Council.  After Wisconsin I attended a gathering (one of four around the country) in Chicago of friars from each of our US provinces as we engage in a process of restructuring, reducing the number of provinces so that we can better live our Franciscan vocation and better serve the Lord and the Church.

   Participating in all of these events has focused me on the road ahead, for myself, for the order and for the Church.  I will share my thoughts concerning our order and the Church in upcoming blog posts.  For now a bit about myself and where I am headed in my life.

  I am 71 years old, and while feeling healthy and vigorous, I am slowing down.  My province of the friars will permit me to retire at age 75, though I will not be required to do that.  For us retirement does not mean that we cease being priests and friars but rather that we can be free of heavy administrative responsibilities and engage in as much or as little active ministry as our age and health demands.  I hope to be more active.  I do hope to keep preaching retreats and missions, but not as frequently.  I hope to continue to write, be it books, articles, this blog and other internet writing.

  Many of the places where I served in my younger years were poor--the Bronx, Buffalo, NY and Camden, NJ.  Since being a traveling preacher I have been in some very wealthy parishes as well as some very poor ones.  This experience has led me to desire to maintain contact with the poor and to engage in ministries that serve the poor.  For years I went with a wonderful group of people form Christ the King Parish in Little Rock, Arkansas to serve in their 8 day mission to Trujillo, Honduras.  That is not likely to continue for me since they now have local priests who speak Spanish.  A new door opened for me this year while I was at the priest's assembly in Chicago.  I met with some people from an organization called Unbound. Their mission is to invite people to sponsor folks in third world countries.   It is not a hand out program, but one that assists people in achieving goals that will move them out of poverty.  My role would be to go to parishes on weekends, parishes that have invited them to send in a preacher, and ask people to become sponsors.  I will be going for a training session in October and then hope to add this preaching to my "repertoire".  I will still do missions and retreats but will give several weekends a year to this endeavor.  If you would like to learn about this group you can go to unbound.org

   One last request.   I have felt less inspired regarding this blog for the past year or so.  What topics would you like to see me address?  I will not enter into discussions of the elections.  I will write about any spiritual or theological topic. I will also write on social issue from the viewpoint of Biblical and Church teaching rather than as a liberal or conservative.  The truth is that I don't fit into either of those miolds.

Monday, August 15, 2016

A Special Time

   On August 15, 1963, on the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, I first put on the Franciscan habit.  One year and one day later, on August 16, 1964, I professed temporary vows as a Franciscan.  For all of the time since I have been striving, as the title of my latest book says, to follow Jesus in the footsteps of Francis. Even though it was four  years before my final profession and eight years before my ordination as a priest, I knew in my heart that being a Franciscan and wearing the habit, was to be my life.  What I did not know, on that August day was how different the world and the Church would be in the years ahead.

   It did not take long for the world and the Church to change. In November of my novitiate year president Kennedy was assassinated. Shortly after my first profession the vernacular language was introduced into the liturgy and the altar was turned to face the people.  As my seminary years progressed up to my ordination in May, 1971, the world and the country were in turmoil over the Vietnam war, protests were going on over that, and then the civil rights movement took hold.   In 1968, at the end of my first year of theology, both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated.  As I completed my theological studies a human landed on the moon  and turmoil continued.

    I won't list the all of the further changes that took place, but events like 9/11 certainly come to mind, a shocking time for the world, and a day on which we lost a wonderful friar, Fr. Mychal Judge, OFM.

    With all of the political and ecclesiastical changes that place there also came microwave ovens, computers, smart phones and all sort of technological advances.  Certainly in August of 1963 I did not know what a blog was, and here I am writing on one.

    Needless to say my understanding of being a friar, of wearing this brown habit with its cord and hood, has grown as well.

     In spite of all that change there are several things that have remained constant about being a Franciscan:

     1. Fraternity.  We are a brotherhood. The call of the Second Vatican Council to return to the spirit of our founder has deepened our sense of what this means.  We are less institutional than we were before, but this quality of brotherhood (sisterhood for the Franciscan sisters) is a real, tangible and important part of my life.  My brothers have stood by me, and I by them, through thick and thin. That will be true even as a move into old age. (At 71 I'm notold yet).  That is a blessing.

      2.  Minority.   The M in OFM stands for MINOR.  At the time of St. Francis there were two classes of people, the MAIORES, or powerful ones, and the MINORES, the little, ordinary people. This latter group not only included the very poor, but also those who were excluded in some way, who did not have a say, those whom Pope Francis names as those living on "the peripheries" of society.  For me, though like other first world friars I struggle to truly be a minor, my encounters with folks in places like Buffalo, NY, Camden, NJ, the Bronx, Bolivia, Honduras and mid-town Manhattan as well as many of my students at Columbus High School in Boston's North End, have given me a more compassionate heart and have brought me closer to Christ. Speaking of Pope Francis, his message is only calling us to deepen our living of this quality of minority.

      3.  Prayer.  Obviously as a priest and religious prayer is important.  While my own fidelity to prayer can always improve, it is the glue that holds our life together.  In addition to personal prayer I am finding in recent years that the steady and ongoing participation in community prayer, the Divine Office, even when at times it can be celebrated better, is an ongoing reminder that faith is what makes our life tick, that our brotherhood/sisterhood is based on being children of one God.


   Indeed the world is much different than it was in 1963.  I celebrate these days not as some type of accomplishment on my part, but in gratitude to God whose grace has made it all possible.
  

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Silos of Grain, Pope Francis, and today's World Situation



    This Sunday's Gospel text (Luke 12:13-31) is certainly an apt one for our times.  We are all concerned about the violence in our own country, but indeed around the whole world.  Pope Francis has on several occasions suggested that we are in a piecemeal world war, not like the two previous world wars with clusters of nations opposing each other, but rather conflict spread throughout the world involving different sets of adversaries.  The other day, at the World Youth Gathering in Poland His Holiness said that while the world is at war it is not a war of religions, but of money resources and the domination of peoples.

   Some may take exception to his statement citing the obvious connection of violent Islamic groups to religion, but at a deeper level the Pope is right.  Many of those groups are using religion to lay claim to power, control and money.   There are other wars besides the terrorist attacks, Russia and Crimea and the Ukraine and the various outbreaks of violence in Africa.

   The above mentioned Gospel text can inform us on what can be a Christian response to the present situation.  The parable in this passage tells of a man who tears down his storage barns and builds larger ones, thinking that this will provide security.  Jesus, in the end, warns about those who store up treasure for themselves and ignore the things of God.

   For me this parable leads into a dimension of Catholic social teaching that has found its way into legal practice around the world and which is also explained by some of the great theologians of the ages like Thomas Aquinas, that is what is called distributive justice.  This is not the justice of individual rights, but one which says that if an individual, a group or a nation possesses so much wealth that some people do not have access to the basic necessities of life, then there is a situation of injustice.   For the untrained mind in these matters this can sound like a promotion of socialism.  It is not. It is not saying that everyone should have the same amount of goods or that the government should own and control all means of production and distribution of wealth. Both Catholic theologians and secular legal experts recognize the right to private property, with limitations, and the need for some to have more wealth because they do things like employing people and serving the common good in some way.  Distributive justice does mean that both local, national and world governments and institutions should develop a system where everyone has a fair chance.  In my own experience of working in some very poor countries I have witnessed hard working people who just have no chance of working their way out of poverty.

    When this happens people get angry and are prone to act violently.  Pope Francis is correct in saying that this is at the root of so much of the violence we are experiencing.

   I do not offer this reflection as some sort of simplistic,naive thought that this solves everything, but I offer it as food for thought in discerning what is the best path politically and economically for us to take.

   Below are two websites that may be helpful to those who which to explore more about this dimension of Catholic social teaching.



 http://sfxpeaceandjustice.org/principles_docs.html

http://sfxpeaceandjustice.org/principles_types.html