Monday, May 18, 2020

Emmanuel, God With Us

   As the pandemic continues and churches re-open slowly I believe that there are lessons to be learned. I am not speaking of lessons to be learned about the virus and restrictions although I do think that too many people failed to understand that federal and state governments were not simply trying to control us. They were, and in some cases, are, trying to protect us. As Catholics we balance the common good with individual rights.  Too many folks left out the common good part of the equation.

   I am writing this piece to suggest that there are some things we can learn about being Church. Since the Second Vatican Council we have been giving lip service to the fact that WE are the Church, the Body of Christ, the People of God. Do we really believe that if we start making statements about government taking away our right to worship.  Granted, the Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life for us Catholics.  That doesn't mean that when we can't have the Eucharist and the other Sacraments that we are not connected with our God.  Scripture teaches us that where two or three are gathered the Lord is in our midst. It also tells us that when we feed the hungry, help the sick, etc. we are doing it for Christ. Then there is the fact that when the Lord at the Last Supper said, "Do This in Memory of Me" He also meant to wash one anothers feet just as He did for us.  The Sacraments are not just rituals that we participate in, they are mysteries that we live.  We can be a Eucharistic people even if we cannot go to Mass.

   To some extent we priests have failed to educate the laity and empower them into living the priesthood of all the faithful.  Likewise in helping families to see that they are indeed a domestic church.  These are not just words but indeed are the realities of our faith.

    When the virus has passed, which won't be for a while yet, I pray that we grow in realizing that Church is not a building but a great mystery that we live every day.

Friday, April 17, 2020

What The Pandemic Is Teaching Us.

   Along with the other members of my Franciscan community I have been practicing what here in Florida are called Safer at Home measures. It is a blessing at this time to be living with a community.  I certainly appreciate the struggles that some people are going through who are living alone with no loved ones nearby to support them. Nonetheless it has been a challenge for us here in the friary.  We go out only for exercise walks and doctor visits. I myself have no scheduled preaching engagements until July, and that is in doubt.

   With all the time on our hands what do we do?  I find that having a schedule really helps. In religious life we have a schedule for meals and prayers, but having a plan with how we use the rest of our time is important and is a buffer against boredom. Still there is quite a bit of down time.  In our society I believe that we can be easily overstimulated with excitement, music, noise, etc. Perhaps this time can teach us the blessings of silence. Spiritually silence is an important dimension of prayer. It is also important emotionally. We need to learn to silence our minds, not to stop thinking altogether but so that we might concentrate more and give depth to our thinking.  Psalm 46:10 tells us "Be still, and know that I am God." Scripture scholars tell us that this invitation to be still not only calls us to silence and quiet.  It can also mean "let go", or as another translation of the Hebrew says, "Cease striving and know that I am God." To let go or to cease striving at this time is a call to let go of what is really not necessary. As we do without some of the material things we are accustomed to perhaps as we come out of this pandemic we will realize that so many things that we thought were vital and important really aren't.  Our consumerist culture makes us think that we really need things which are not necessities at all.  Now that we are without some of these things we can live more simply without them after the pandemic.  Related to this is that call to cease striving.  Of course, this does not mean to give up legitimate ambition or to not have goals but perhaps this time will help us to realize that we are too often busy about being busy, something that drains our energy and takes us away from what is really important.

   An important dimension of Catholic social teaching is seeking the common good. This, of course, is balanced by the right of the individual.  Our American culture, I believe, is too focused on the individual especially in the form of what many call rugged individualism.  At this time it is important to put the common good first, and many are doing this, yet there are still some who fail to see this.  Also we need to realize that this is a global pandemic.  We stand in solidarity with all peoples who suffer from this terrible virus. As we come out of lock-down and social distancing I would hope that we can grow into a deeper awareness of the common humanity we share with people everywhere.  This is a challenge for all peoples.  Pope Francis has constantly called for an end to war and peace between nations.  I am not naive.  There are conflicts and serious divisions, but perhaps as we emerge from this crisis nations can realize that war serves no one except the companies who sell arms.

  I pray that everyone may reflect on what is going on and ask what lessons there are to be learned. Hint.  Being blindly conservative or liberal is not the answer.


Monday, March 30, 2020

Untie him--Lazarus called forth from the tomb.

Jacob Epstein's Lazarus at entrance to the chapel at Oxford University
   Yesterday's Gospel, the Fifth Sunday of Lent, tells the remarkable story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the Dead. Many have rightly and beautifully commented on how this story reminds us that in Jesus we all have new life.  Yes, we will all die physically, but we have new life through Baptism in which we are united to the death and resurrection of Christ.

  I think that the real challenge for us is found in the words of Jesus after Lazarus comes out of the tomb. "Untie him,and set him free."(John 11:44).

   The image to the left of Lazarus bound in burial cloths brings home the human condition. We are called to life in Christ but we are bound up in many ways, of course our sins, but also negative attitudes and thought patterns, false priorities, prejudices, spiritual blindness, etc.

   A first and understandable reaction to this is to say "Yes, dear Lord, I am tied up, bound up, in many ways, help me, set me free." That is, to be sure, an  honest prayer. but notice Jesus command is to the community, the family and friends of Lazarus. It is their job to untie him.

   For us it is, I believe, important to realize that we are called to untie, unbind, one another.  Indeed it is by the grace of God that we do this, but it is our job.  The easy part of this is reaching out to one another, to assist those who are tied up by sickness, by poverty, by injustice, etc.  The challenge is, however, to help unbind one another by speaking the truths to each other that the person spoken to does not want to hear.  I think here, for example, of loving interventions done to confront people with their addictions.

   At the present time we are passing through the corona virus crisis, a crisis that is no where near over. Though we are socially distancing, we are nonetheless on human community. This is a time to help untie one another from false attachments to things that aren't really necessary, from blindness to inconvenient truths.  Really, if you still think this whole thing is a hoax, wake up!

   Though we are passing through difficult times now, they are times, as Pope Francis pointed out in his Urbi et Orbi address last Friday, when we can truly become free and emerge a better nation, a better Church, a better world.

NB. A big thanks to Fr, Kevin Mackin, OFM of my friary community for his homily on Sunday that inspired part of my message.

Also, Here at St. Anthony Friary we have Mass and community prayer everyday because our chapel is private. It is open to our guests but we are not receiving guests at this time. We pray for you every day.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Adifferent Kind of Lent

   For many years, since way back in my seminary days one of my favorite writers is the French Jesuit, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Once considered contoversial, now more widely accepted, he was on of the first to integrate an evolutionary world view with his Catholic faith.

   I read several of his books but was especially moved by a poem/prayer that he wrote while doing archeological work in China. He found himself without bread and wine, unable to celebrate Mass, so he composed a beautiful piece called Mass on the World.  Over my nearly 49 years as a priest I have often re-visited this  prayer. As I thought of the many people who are unable to participate in the Eucharist because of the corona virus it came to mind once again.  Since it is rather lengthy I offer at the end of this reflection the beginning portion of this work. Perhaps especially those who cannot go to Mass at this time can reflect on this.

  Although I am blessed by living in a community that can have Mass together in spite of bans gatherings with the public in Churches, Mass on the World invites me to lift up in prayer the victims of Covid-19, their friends and loved ones, and all who will suffer financial hardship from this dread disease. During Lent I will bring my own meditations on Teilhard's great work to my celebration of the Eucharist. It also calls me to remind everyone that this is a time to stand together, to avoid sniping at one another bu using a political lense on this pandemic which is affecting the entire human race.

   Lent is indeed different this year. Giving up things doesn't seem to cut it for me at this time. If it works for others that is fine, but I would like to suggest that experiencing this time, perhaps in quarantine or self imposed separation, certainly be social distancing and doing so in faith, is the call of Lent this year.  By doing so in faith I mean praying for the patience to endure long times alone by not grumbling about the inconveniences I endure, and above all doing what I can to help others.

                                              Mass on the World (the beginning)

“Since once again, Lord — though this time not in the forests of the Aisne but in the steppes of Asia — I have neither bread, nor wine, nor altar, I will raise myself beyond these symbols, up to the pure majesty of the real itself; I, your priest, will make the whole earth my altar and on it will offer you all the labors and sufferings of the world.
Over there, on the horizon, the sun has just touched with light the outermost fringe of the eastern sky. Once again, beneath this moving sheet of fire, the living surface of the earth wakes and trembles, and once again begins its fearful travail. I will place on my paten, O God, the harvest to be won by this renewal of labour. Into my chalice I shall pour all the sap which is to be pressed out this day from the earth’s fruits.
My paten and my chalice are the depths of a soul laid widely open to all the forces which in a moment will rise up from every corner of the earth and converge upon the Spirit. Grant me the remembrance and the mystic presence of all those whom the light is now awakening to the new day.
One by one, Lord, I see and I love all those whom you have given me to sustain and charm my life. One by one also I number all those who make up that other beloved family which has gradually surrounded me, its unity fashioned out of the most disparate elements, with affinities of the heart, of scientific research and of thought. And again one by one — more vaguely it is true, yet all-inclusively — I call before me the whole vast anonymous army of living humanity; those who surround me and support me though I do not know them; those who come, and those who go; above all, those who in office, laboratory and factory, through their vision of truth or despite their error, truly believe in the progress of earthly reality and who today will take up again their impassioned pursuit of the light.
This restless multitude, confused or orderly, the immensity of which terrifies us; this ocean of humanity whose slow, monotonous wave-flows trouble the hearts even of those whose faith is most firm: it is to this deep that I thus desire all the fibres of my being should respond. All the things in the world to which this day will bring increase; all those that will diminish; all those too that will die: all of them, Lord, I try to gather into my arms, so as to hold them out to you in offering. This is the material of my sacrifice; the only material you desire.
Once upon a time men took into your temple the first fruits of their harvests, the flower of their flocks. But the offering you really want, the offering you mysteriously need every day to appease your hunger, to slake your thirst is nothing less than the growth of the world borne ever onwards in the stream of universal becoming.
Receive, O Lord, this all-embracing host which your whole creation, moved by your magnetism, offers you at this dawn of a new day.
This bread, our toil, is of itself, I know, but an immense fragmentation; this wine, our pain, is no more, I know, than a draught that dissolves. Yet in the very depths of this formless mass you have implanted — and this I am sure of, for I sense it — a desire, irresistible, hallowing, which makes us cry out, believer and unbeliever alike:
‘Lord, make us one.’”
— Teilhard de Chardin, “Mass on the World”
[Editor’s Note: The above is from the beginning of “Mass on the World”, one of Teilhard de Chardin’s most mystical and poetic writings.  You can find background on his writing “Mass on the World”, its relation to the Transfiguration and a link to the complete text of “Mass on the World” here.]

Friday, March 13, 2020

Corona Virus, A Big Challenge

   I have just cancelled 3 Lenten parish missions due to Corona Virus. I did so considering not only myself but the parishioners where I was due to go and most especially my fellow friars who are elderly and very vulnerable to the virus.

   Now that I have said that I would like to offer some thoughts from a spiritual and religious point of view. Many are upset by cancellations and restrictions by various diocese and churches.  Keep in mind that preventing disease and sickness is just as important a part of the healing ministry of the Church as is the curing and treatment of those diseases. We have to balance our liturgical preferences with this moral responsibility. Communion on the hand rather than the tongue is not a decrease in reverence, but rather a different form of reverence.  As a priest saliva on my hands which can then come in contact with other communicants is not a good thing.

   In Italy and in some diocese of our country churches are closing.  I believe that in those cases it is necessary and may be necessary in more places very soon.  Some, in extreme emotional response, are saying that their access to Jesus has been blocked.  STOP IT! Yes, the Eucharist, for us Catholics, is the source and summit of Christian life. Jesus is present there in a special way, but it is not the only way that He is present.  He is present when we help the poor and tend to the sick (which is what the restrictions are doing.  He tells us Himself is present wherever 2 or 3 are gathered in His name.  Think about this and become more attuned to these means of encountering the Lord. The only thing to block us from meeting Jesus is a hard and stubborn heart.

   For all of us the days ahead may be difficult, but they are also possibly days of growth, days of realizing that we can live with a lot less, days of reaching out and helping others, days of realizing that all of us in the world, not just the USA, are in this together.  God Bless and stay well!

Monday, February 24, 2020

Letting the Earth Speak

Cattle ranch in Oklahoma

Desert buttes in Utah,

Oil Well in West Texas
The new decade began for me  with several trips to the western US to preach appeals for Unbound. Being that I am from the  East Coast the vast expanses of land in the western part of our country is something unusual as well as awe inspiring for me.

Another development in my life comes from reading and studying Pope Francis' recent encyclical Laudato Si.He takes on several issues in this wonderful work. One of his main points is stressing that the earth is our common home. He is inspired in many ways by Francis of Assisi, author of the canticle which begins with those very words, Laudato Si, and in which he praises God for the earth, the water, the sun and the moon which he calls his brothers and sisters.

   In my own prayer I have recently reflected on how God speaks to us through creation. Here in central Florida where I live the beautiful waters of Tampa Bay, the wonderful tropical vegetation and the interesting birds of the area speak to my heart of God.

   Moving out of this area and experiencing God's creation in other ways enriches this sense of the beauty of our common home. It also brings about sadness when I see some of our lands being recklessly destroyed because of greed. Do we need oil? Sure, but not at the expense of ruining our rivers, streams and underground waters.

   I invite you to reaad and study Pope Francis' encyclical and to reflect on St. Francis wonderful canticle.

Most High, all powerful, good Lord,
Yours are the praises, the glory, the honour,
and all blessing.
To You alone, Most High, do they belong,
and no man is worthy to mention Your name.
Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and you give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendour!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon
and the stars, in heaven you formed them
clear and precious and beautiful.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene,
and every kind of weather through which
You give sustenance to Your creatures.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water,
which is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you light the night and he is beautiful
and playful and robust and strong.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Mother Earth,
who sustains us and governs us and who produces
varied fruits with coloured flowers and herbs.
Praised be You, my Lord,
through those who give pardon for Your love,
and bear infirmity and tribulation.
Blessed are those who endure in peace
for by You, Most High, they shall be crowned.
Praised be You, my Lord,
through our Sister Bodily Death,
from whom no living man can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin.
Blessed are those whom death will
find in Your most holy will,
for the second death shall do them no harm.
Praise and bless my Lord,
and give Him thanks
and serve Him with great humility.[3]

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

A Priest For The World

    Welcome aboard to my new blog.  I have chosen to keep the same web address so that my Wandering Friar Posts are available here by just scrolling down. As the new blog title suggests I will be offering perspectives from my own heart and soul on my life and on the world around me. I also hope to avoid entering into the mire of rancor that floods the internet today.  That having been said, here goes.

   I was ordained to the priesthood in May of 1971, almost 49 years ago. At that time I was quite aware that while a priest is ordained to serve the whole Church, The Body of Christ, and indeed the whole world, his immediate and primary focus is to serve the parish, school, etc. where he is stationed. That was certainly my primary focus in places where I served.

   As the years have gone by I have noticed that I have become, by God's grace, a priest for the world. Prepositions can be important.  I do not say "of the world" for two reasons.  One is that a priest is not supposed to be worldly, desiring money. power, etc.  The other is that I am not a megalomaniac who thinks that I have some sort of special power over the world or that I am widely known around the world. Rather, I find that I am becoming more aware of and connected to the wider world in my ministry and more desirous of raising awareness of the wider Church and the wider world in my preaching.

   In many ways I have been prepared for this role from an early age.  In the fourth grade my teacher, Miss Kelly, specialized in geography. I still remember her vivid presentations about different countries including slides that she had taken while visiting many of them.  Later, in the seminary, I was always intrigued by  the stories told us by friar missionaries who were home for vacation. Since joining the Ministry of the Word in 1987 I have visited more than half of the 50 states and 3 provinces in Canada. I spent almost three years in Bolivia and  served in Rome for 7 months as a confessor in the Jubilee Year 2000.  I was chaplain on 4 mission trips to Honduras.  Finally, in recent years I have been preaching weekend campaigns for Unbound, a charity that invites people to sponsor children and needy elders in 19 different countries.With them I have been on awareness trips to El Salvador and Peru and am sponsoring someone in each of these countries.

   I list these wanderings of mine not just to say "Wow, look at the places where I have been.", but because in each of these places and others I have encountered people form all over the world and heard their stories, stories of faith, of struggle, of courage, of love and much more.  When I preach missions and retreats all of this wonderful journey comes with me. When i preach for Unbound I am actually able, by God's grace, to connect people in our country with folks in other parts of the world. I consider all of this to be a unique blessing that has shaped my ministry as a friar and as a priest. My awareness of all of this came together in the past year (2019) as I traveled to places like Honolulu, Peru, Fargo North Dakota, Mississippi and New York.  I realized that the good Lord was enriching me and  shaping the sense of my vocation.  I am grateful for that. Of course, with all my travels returning to my friary community in between events is vitally important. I may be a priest for the world but without grounding in my community I would easily float adrift. Also, my roots are in Boston and I enjoy visiting my brother and his wife, his daughters and hgis gandchildren whenever I can.

Below are some pictures from 2019:

With a Hawaian lei around my neck at Mass in Honolulu

With my sponsored frined Anthony and his family in Peru

A memroy garden at a parish in Brooklyn for 11 people killed on 9/11

Baptizing my grand nephew Michael
 With all my travels my family is never forgotten
Family gathered with baby Michael

With awareness trip group at a home in Peru

With an all female fan group in Green Bay watching the Packers

An Unbound table at a parish in Texas


Emmanuel, God With Us