Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Unbound--Working together to Set Others Free--Thoughts on Independence Day

    Regular readers of this blog know that since last October I have been occasionally preaching for a wonderful organization called Unbound.  Unbound was established in 1981 by a group of lay Catholics in Kansas City.  The preaching is to seek out people who are willing to sponsor children, students and needy elders in various poor countries.  I came across this great organization last summer and hope to continue preaching for them in addition to my ministry of preaching missions and retreats.

   As we celebrated July 4th yesterday, a day to celebrate our freedom as Americans, I realized that there is a dimension to freedom that is part of Unbound that is often missing in our American discussions about freedom.

  When I write on this blog I usually go to Google to seek out appropriate images for my theme.  99% of the time I am immediately successful.  This time when I sought images for freedom I got images such as the one at the top left of this page. They depict individuals being and feeling free.  Something is missing there.  While there is nothing wrong with individuals gaining freedom and feeling free I realized that there is something more to the pursuit of freedom, the dimension of community, of working together for freedom and of helping others to truly be set free.

    Unbound takes its name from Luke 11:44.  After calling Lazarus forth from the tomb Jesus says to the gathered crowd, "Unbind him and set him free."  In the part leading up to that Jesus has ordered them to "role away the stone".  The point here is that the liberation from death and the tomb comes from Jesus, but others in the community obey Him to help bring about Lazarus' ultimate freedom. 

  The work of Unbound has already helped or is helping over 330,000  people to be set free from poverty. When I preach for them I seek sponsors.  The funds raised go to local communities in the various countries.  They, in turn, work with the sponsored people and their families.  it is a community effort.

   Our American culture has become very individualistic.  Freedom is about "my rights.While there is nothing wrong with insisting on "my rights" the danger is that my rights and those of others often conflict.  We all quote the Constitution to prove our point, and the beat goes on.

   If we can only  realize that the rights of all are best realized when we seek the "common good" and not just "my rights", that sometimes instead of looking only to "my freedom" we can work together to "unbind and set free" someone else would there be the real freedom that we seek.  I believe that when our country has been at its best we have done this.

  Maybe the image for freedom, instead of being the individual leaping for joy, could be something like the picture below.

Also, please consider being an Unbound sponsor.  See





Thursday, June 8, 2017

A Gospel Vision--Nearing the End of Our Chapter.

  I am sitting here at Siena College on the final full day of our Provincial Chapter.  It has been a wonderful week for several reasons.  For one thing just to renew acquaintance with friars that I have not seen for a while is a blessing, as well as getting to better know other friars, especially the younger ones.

  Chapters are also for electing leadership and we will complete the process this morning of electing our provincial council.  I think that our nation could learn something by observing how religious orders do elections.  Yes, we are human and there is a level of "politicking" at times, but when the moment comes to pass out ballots and vote there is a sense of solemnity, silence and prayer-fullness about the matter.  Did you ever stop and pray as you cast your ballot in local and national elections?  Something to think about.

  As I mentioned in my last blog post a chapter is primarily about renewing our commitment to our religious life, in my case the Franciscan life.  That is the real blessing of the past week. I came to that realization over the past few days as we discussed our stance towards refugees and immigrants and towards health care as it applies to our elder friars.  As we discussed these issues I realized that terms like liberal and conservative do not apply.  I suppose that our stance on immigration and sanctuary for refugees could be called "liberal" and our belief in the dignity of every person as they age and move towards natural death could be called "conservative".  The truth, however, is that for us the only label that applies is "Gospel."  There are certain things that living the Gospel calls us to that just do not fit into convenient political categories.

   I have been dismayed at times, and especially recently, when posting something on Facebook and well meaning people immediately frame it in political terms.  Please know that whatever positions I take on this blog or on social media are based on my conviction (right or wrong) that these things are part of living the Gospel.
   At times living the Gospel sounds like "pie in the sky".  It would be if we did not have the Christian virtue of hope which calls us beyond our present reality because the Lord is risen and ascended and gone to prepare a place for us.  To live the Gospel is to call us now, on this earth, into the realization of the Kingdom that is yet to come.  God's reign, in its fullness, will come in the future, but God's Kingdom is among us, even now, where there is justice, peace and forgiveness.

   Think about that--PLEASE!!!



Saturday, June 3, 2017

Heading for Our Provincial Chapter--Prayers Please.

Friars gather for Eucharist during the 2014 Chapter of Holy Name Province
 Tomorrow, Pentecost Sunday, I will be heading north to Siena College in Loudonville, NY to participate in our provincial chapter.  Many readers of this blog might wonder, "What is a chapter if not a section of a book?"

   In religious life a chapter is a gathering of the members of the community, a gathering which has several purposes.  The primary one is to deepen our commitment  to our way of life.  In my case that is the Franciscan life.  The chapter is also a time for electing new leadership.  This year our provincial and vicar provincial are in the middle of a sex year term.  There are six councilors who work with them and they will be elected this week, some of them re-elected, others new to the job.  The chapter also makes important decisions regarding our life, some of them in the form of specific laws and statutes, others as more broad policy statements.  In addition in recent years our chapters have also taken stands on various issues affecting our society, particularly when they involve values that are dear to us as Franciscans.

   The chapter I will be attending is for my province, Holy Name Province.   There are also general chapters for the whole order as well as local friary chapters.  The chapter is the highest governing body of the order and the province.  This means that superiors must abide by chapter decisions.  In our province, at the present time, every solemnly professed (final vows) member must attend.  Those over 70 may be excused.  I am 72, but still gladly attending.  At one time only superiors and specifically elected delegates attended.  Smaller numbers enable all of us to do so.

   I am looking forward to participating in this years chapter.  A big topic of discussion will be what we call reconfiguration and revitalization as we move towards not only having fewer provinces in the US, but also striving to living our Franciscan life more deeply and authentically.

   I hop that this glimpse into our Franciscan life is informative for you.  More importantly I ask your prayers for us that as we gather at Pentecost the Holy Spirit will indeed inspire all of us as we gather in chapter.

Veni Sancte Spiritus--Come Holy Spirit


Thursday, May 11, 2017

If you Love Me, Keep My Commandments

 We all know Jesus basic commandment--Love one another as I have loved you. (See John 15:12).  That sounds wonderful but when we reflect more deeply on those words we realize that they are very challenging words because He loved us by laying down His life for us.  Christian love then is not about holding hands and singing kumbaya, not that there is anything wrong with that, it is about sacrificing for one another, giving generously in every way to one another.  Our love can take many forms--love of spouse, of parents, of children, of brothers and sisters, of friends. For myself it is the love between myself and the other friars, the love I give and receive with God's people. However, no matter what form love takes it seems to me that it evokes 2 things from those who are loved--to spend time together and to strive, to sacrifice to please the one who loves me.

   Knowing that the Lord loves us calls us to these two things--to spend time with Him and to do the things that please Him.   As for the first, spending time with Him, that is our life of prayer and I will tackle that soon in another blog post.  For now I would like to concentrate on the second part--doing the things that please Him.  And what pleases Him?  He tells us directly. "If you love me, keep my commandments." (John 14:15)

    A quick response to this invitation would be to go to the ten commandments.  Aren't those Jesus' commandments?   Certainly the Lord wants us to follow those, but He gives us a few others.  The 10 commandments tell us what not to do--commit idolatry, steal, lie, cheat, kill, commit adultery.  Fine, of course we ought not do those things.   But what about "love your enemies, and pray for your persecutors"? Or, "Forgive seventy times seven times"?  And then there is Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick and visit the imprisoned (all implies in Matthew 25) Finally there are the beatitudes which while not exactly commandments tell us that we are blessed when we are poor in spirit, pure of heart or peacemakers. Then there is the most challenging of all--to take up the cross every day and follow Him (also a subject to be explored soon).

   I think you get the idea.  Without living out these challenging demands of the Gospel we reduce Christianity to a moral code.  We focus only on personal sin, especially sexual sin, and fail to truly live the Gospel.  Don't get me wrong. I am not saying that basic morality is not important.  What I am saying is that real Christian discipleship is so much more.

   Do you love Him?  Do you keep HIS commandments?


Sunday, April 16, 2017

He is Risen. The victory is won!

  It is a beautiful Easter morning here in St. Petersburg.  I have spent a wonderful Holy Week here at our friary and am looking forward to our Easter morning Mass in a bit over an hour from now.

   He is Risen!  that is the Good News of Easter.  Think of that. It is in the present tense.  Our faith is not only that He rose from the dead, but that He is risen and lives now, not only in heaven, but here among us.  How?  For starters in the Eucharist.  Unfortunately a lot of people stop there.  The Eucharist is indeed the most concrete, visible and tangible was that He is alive among us, but not the only way.  In Matthew's Gospel Jesus tells us "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (Mt. 18:20)  Think of that. Not only in church, but when we pray at home or anywhere else He is with us.  Then, of course, is Matthew 25 "I was hungry and you fed me, naked and you clothed me, etc." There is likewise a real presence of the Lord among us in the Word.  When we read the Scriptures either as a community or privately the One Who is the Living Word comes to dwell in our hearts.  Life, then, is indeed alive with the presence of the Risen Christ.

   Our problem, very often, is that we are not aware of this.  Our spiritual vision needs to improve.  It is so easy to get weighed down by all the horrible things going on in the world.  How do we keep the awareness of His presence alive? I return again to the Eucharist.  Sometimes we stress the presence of Jesus there so strongly that we act as if that is the only way in which we encounter the Risen One.  The Eucharistic presence is not the only way.   In the Eucharist we can connect the dots to these other, perhaps more subtle forms of His presence among us.  In Luke's Gospel we have one of my favorite Resurrection accounts, that of Jesus on the road to Emmaus. (Lk. 24:13-35).  Two distraught disciples are in Jesus' presence but they don't  recognize Him.  In the breaking of the bread (Eucharist) they not only see him, but they realize that He is the One who was with them earlier in their brokenness.  For us it is in the Eucharist that our eyes are opened, not only to see Him while at Mass, but to realize how wonderfully present He is throughout our lives.

   One last, but important, thought.   At Easter we proclaim that Christ has won a victory over sin and death.  It is certainly easy to look at the condition of the world today and say, "What victory?  Are you kidding me?"  I just finished reading a book by one of my favorite contemporary spiritual writers, Fr. Ronald Rolheiser, OMI. The book's title is The Passion and the Cross.  In one section of the book he explains something important in talking about the meaning of Redemption,  He explains that Jesus is not a rescuer.  He doesn't bail us out but rather allows us to go through pain and suffering only to discover something unimaginably wonderful on the other side.  On the cross the Father does not rescue Him. He is allowed to die.  That's what the two disciples mentioned above failed to see.  Incredibly He rose from the dead.

   As we confront suffering, sickness and death in our own lives and in the lives of our brothers and sisters around the world our faith teaches us that there will be redemption, that we will not usually be spared or rescued, but rather that we will be strengthened to go through these things not in some stoic grin and bear it mentality, but in true Christian Hope that something new awaits us on the other side, not only in the next life, but even now. 

   Christ is Risen! He is truly Risen!  Alleluia!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Would You Let Him Wash Your Feet?

  Several years ago a wonderful friend gave me the gift of a figurine depicting Jesus washing the feet of Peter.  It is on the top of my bookshelf along with some of my other religious objects.  I often look across my room and meditate on the meaning of this action performed by Jesus at the Last Supper  This is especially true during Holy Week.

   There is one moment in the telling of this story that often gets overlooked.  As Jesus approaches him, ready to wash his feet, Peter refuses.  Jesus responds by telling him, "Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me." (John 13,8)  Jesus, of course, does was his feet.

   What are we to learn from Peter's refusal?  There are lessons on several levels.

   We live in a society that overvalues self-sufficiency.  We tend to feel weak if we let someone help us.  While this applies to all of us it is especially true of men.  We need to be able to do it all, or so we think.  What we fail to appreciate is the difference between taking and receiving.  Taking from others is to assume power and control over them.  It leads to an attitude of entitlement.  Receiving is to take a position of humility.  It is to acknowledge and be grateful for a gift that is being offered.  Peter is initially practicing false humility.  He doesn't want to allow his Teacher and Master to perform such a menial task.  Jesus is offering a gift, a gift of love, which Peter receives.

   On a deeper level we need to understand the gift that is being offered.   Washing feel is a task that even slaves could refuse to do under Roman law.  When we re-enact the washing of feet in our parishes I am sure that all of the volunteers make sure that their feet are clean.  In Jesus' time people walked barefoot or in sandals.  Few people had boots and shoes.  With sharing the roadways with animals, and most roadways being made of dirt, you can imagine what a chore it wast o wash feet.

   This gesture by Jesus is what Pope Benedict XVI, in volume II of his Jesus of Nazareth trilogy calls a Sacramentum of Jesus' Passion and Death.  By this he does not mean that washing of the feet is an eight sacrament, but rather that it is a ritual playing out of what would happen to Jesus the next day.  In His Passion and Death Jesus is pouring out His love for all humanity.  He is stooping down to an entering the darkness and filth that is our sin and our suffering in order that all of that might be forgiven and healed.  That is what the dirt and filth on the muddied feet of the apostles represents.

    For us the challenge is to allow ourselves to receive this gift of total love from Jesus.  It is to admit at the same time that there is darkness within us and that we need this precious gift.

   Are we willing to let Him wash our feet?  At the end Jesus reminds us that we must do as He did. We cannot do that well if we are not first willing to receive from Him.


Monday, March 20, 2017

From Sinner and Outsider to Missionary--Accompanied by Jesus

  Pope Francis often urges us priests to accompany people who are in sinful or strained relationships with the Church.  This frightens a lot of tradition minded folks because it sounds like just giving in and going along with whatever anyone is doing.

   Nothing could be farther from the truth.

   In the Gospel reading for the third Sunday in Lent this year (March 19) we find the beautiful story of Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:5-32).  In this story Jesus offers Himself as a beautiful example of what it means to "accompany".

   Jesus takes the initiative.  He breaks social taboo to speak with her and ask her for a drink of water.  This was forbidden on several levels.  First of all Jews did not speak with Samaritans.  Secondly she was a woman.  Men and women to whom they were not married had to keep a respectful distance in public. Jesus, however, breaks both of these taboos.  Also, in asking her for a drink of water He is showing a willingness to receive from her before He offers her the great gift that He has to bring.  He doesn't lead this meeting with confrontation and judgement, but with compassion and  desire to listen. Only after establishing a connection with her does He tell her "to go and get her husband".  When  He finally tells her that she has five husbands she responds with amazement.  She tells her Samaritan friends, "He told me everything I ever did."

   I often wonder why she didn't tell Him to back off and mind His own business.  I think that there are two reasons why her reaction was differen:

   1.  She was thirsting.  She was in pain and looking for a way out of her difficult life.

   2.  More importantly Jesus spoke and gazed upon her with such love that she was able to hear and take to heart His challenging words.   Thus, she was set free and became a "missionary", carrying the Good News to her friends and neighbors.

    When we accompany people we are not condoning their bad behavior but rather meeting them where they are at, listening to them, compassionately responding to their pain and then leading them to the truth.  Leading with statements of rules, etc often drives people away.

    As for ourselves, for what do we thirst?  Are we open to the compassionate and yet challenging voice of Jesus?