Monday, December 2, 2013
Actually as we begin this season the Church focuses our attention not on Christmas, but on the Second Coming of Christ. In other words, as we prepare to celebrate the First coming we get ready for the next. How are we to go about that preparation?
Unfortunately talk of the Second coming conjures up images of "the end of the world" and many of the recent movies showing the earth being destroyed in a myriad of ways. Thinking in this way unfortunately evokes fear and leads us to shy away from this topic. I close look at Scripture and the prayers of the liturgy offer us another way of looking at the end times. After the Our Father at Mass we say a beautiful prayer that states that "We await the blessed hope and the coming of Our Savior, Jesus Christ." No fear in that statement. The Scriptures for the First Sunday of Advent this year talk of "spears being turned into pruning hook.s and nations not waging war again." (from the prophet Isaiah). Other Scriptures speak of the heavenly banquet which is foreshadowed in the Eucharist. Far from instilling fear these images offer us hope, a hope that while the world may be now in turmoil, the coming of Christ will usher in a Messianic era of peace, joy and justice.
All of the above could be so much pie in the sky if we did not see the challenge implied in this belief. We are not called to wait for Jesus' coming in the way that we wait for a bus, biding time and getting frustrated and bored. No, we are called to an active waiting, a waiting that is prayerful, but also a waiting that strives to pen ourselves NOW to God's kingdom by working for peace, for justice, for equality for all people, by working to responsibly use the gifts of creation that are given to us. When we do this the Kingdom of God is already among us now, even if it is not yet here in its fullness.
We are all aware and so delighted with the message that Pope Francis is giving the Church, a message of serving the poor, of overcoming animosities, of dialogue between peoples. That is truly the work of Advent.
How far we are from this message when we celebrate a day of Thanksgiving and then prepare to celebrate the Lord's birth with a Black Friday of greed and often violence. There is no sin, of course, in seeking a bargain, to save money, but don't we need to take a look at how we do it.
As we sing "O come, O come, Emmanuel" over the next few weeks let us strive to bring the world closer to the fullness of God's Kingdom. Let us have an Advent of prayer and Christian action rather than one of consumerism and greed.
Friday, November 22, 2013
In our own times, with slight nuances of meaning the same message is both timely and important. Our own society is becoming increasingly secularized, though the threat is nowhere near as great as it was in Europe in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Nonetheless in both the political realm and in our culture there is a powerful tendency on the part of many to want to push religion to the side. I would suggest, however, that there is another dimension of this wonderful feast that is important for today. That dimension is made clear when we ask, "What kind of King is Jesus Christ?"
Christ's Kingship is nothing like that of any earthly king, nor is it like that of any earthly leader. His is a kingship of humility and service, a kingship expressed in His own words, "The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for the many." (Mt. 20:28) These words were spoken after reprimanding his own apostles for quibbling over who would be the first in His Kingdom.
At a time where we see the abuse of power not only in politics, but in the Church herself, in business with things like the Madoff scandal and in society with stories of bullying being told everyday, be it in schools or sports locker rooms, the Kingship of Christ teaches us that true authority and power is exercised not be controlling others and putting them down, but by lifting them up and bringing the best out of them.
I believe that Pope Francis is modelling this kind of leadership and authority. I also believe that there are many in politics, in business, in sports as well as in families who exercise this kind of leadership. This kind of authority, like Christ our King, is willing to die for those that they lead. They have that willingness because they they are motivated by love of God and love of those that they serve.
Happy Feast of Christ the King!
Sunday, November 3, 2013
An explanation is in order here. For us moderns, as much as we dislike taxes, it is possible to make an honest living working for the IRS or any state or city tax collecting agency. This was not so at the time of Jesus. Tax collectors (or publicans) were Jews who worked for the occupying Roman government. They were responsible for collecting and sending to Rome any number of taxes on income, farm goods, road tolls, etc. Most of them gouged and defrauded people, collecting more than Rome needed, and keeping the rest for themselves. They were, understandably, a despised lot.
One can imagine that in spite of having accumulated a great deal of wealth our man Zacchaeus was probably filled with a great deal of guilt and self-loathing. He know, too, that he is despised by his own people. He has hope in his heart that Jesus can set him free from this, which is exactly what happens. Jesus comes into his home and he becomes a changed man, giving half of his possessions to the poor and returning fourfold all the money he has extorted.
What does this story tell us? If you are like me and Jesus invited himself into your home (which, by the way, he often does) you would probably like to tell Jesus all the wonderful things that you have done. After all I have preached over 400 parish missions, written a book, have served in some very poor parishes, etc., etc. But I also know deep within me that I have faults and failings, sins and weaknesses. This is the part of me that needs Jesus' mercy. Quite often those of us that are practicing Catholics, or practitioners of any faith, are tempted to think that our good deeds and practices are what will save us. Those who have strayed seriously from the path have little or any great deeds to present to the Lord. What they often do have, like our tax collector, is a repentant heart that begs for the mercy and grace, that admits their need for Jesus, for mercy, for salvation.
Interestingly enough Jesus never offers anything but mercy to thieves, prostitutes and tax collectors. Only the self-righteous incur his wrath. We all need to pray with the psalmist (Ps 50, 19), "A broken and contrite heart you will not spurn." This does not mean that our good deeds don't matter, but rather that we do good deeds because we are grateful for Jesus love and mercy, not to obtain it.
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
In November of 1987 I worked on my first parish mission with Fr. Rod Petrie, OFM and Fr. Brennan Connolly, OFM. Brennan has gone home to the Lord and Rod is still going strong at close to 85 yrs old. Since then I have preached over 400 parish missions all over the US and in parts of Canada as well. It has been an exciting and rewarding time.
What is truly amazing to me is the fact that the good Lord has opened new doors for me in this wonderful ministry doors to possibilities that I never even dreamed of back in 1987. A chain reaction of events began four years ago and the chain is still growing.
Back in 2009 a friar suggested that I start a blog. It was well received and I have been using it ever since as a tool for preaching the Word. Shortly after beginning this endeavor I took the plunge and signed on to Facebook. I had shyed away from this social media site because I had heard some of the horror stories related to its misuse. I soon learned, however, that Facebook was a nice complement to this blog. I could let people know where I was serving at different times and create links to articles and talks that I found helpful, not to mention letting my Facebook friends (393 of them now) know of this blog. Many of them in turn have shared the blog with their friends and the message goes out far and wide. I also keep up with family and with news of what many of the friars in my province are doing.
Twitter, at first, seemd trivial and silly. I had heard of all the crazy "Tweets" from athletes and movie stars and figured that this outlet was not for me. Just before Lent of 2012, however, a priest friend suggested that I take another look at Twitter. He told me that the key was sticking to one type of message and not straying away from that. He said that if I put out only religious messages that I would build up a following of people also interested in that type of message. I jumped on board Twitter and Tweeted every day of Lent, 2012, on the readings of the day. I rapidly built up a following and have received wonderful messages from those followers which now number just under 2500. When many of them "retweet" my messages to their followers the whole thing multiplies. I repeated the Lenten "Tweets" in 2013 and apart from Lent put something on their once or twice a week.
What has happened is that the blog, Facebook and Twitter weave together to be an internet ministry which reaches thousands and which enriches me in return.
In the midst of all of this it was suggested to me that "The Wandering Friar" could be a book title. Most of you know that the book has been out for several months and has been well-received on the missions I have preached as well as in the parishes in Wisconsin where I served in the summer. I was recently invited to give an interview on the book on CatholicTV in Boston. This channel airs in Boston, Detroit, St. Louis and sever other cities on regular broadcast outlets. It is also able to be seen everywhere on CatholicTV.com. On October 15, the Feast of St. Theresa of Avila, I celebrated Mass on that channel and gave the interview on a program called "Start the Day". The links below will give you the interview as well as the homily from the Mass.
CatholicTV Book Interview
Mass Homily, Feast of St. Theresa, October 15
The latest outflow from all of this is that the folks at "Tekton Ministries" of Indiana discovered my blog and read the book as well. This led to an invitation to lead a pilgrimage to Rome and Assisi which I will be doing on October 6-16, 2014. Details will follow soon.
Saturday, October 12, 2013
I make the above observations in light of this Sunday's Gospel reading from St. Luke, the story of the curing of the ten lepers. (Lk 17:11-19). The story, of course, contains a lesson on gratitude that most of us can remember since childhood. It certainly reinforced every parent's instruction to always say please and thank you. But why didn't the other nine come back to thank Jesus. I can think of several reasons.
1. In the leper colony you were cared for. They all had to find jobs and a place in the community. Just too busy to go say thanks.
2. Entitlement. Some of them perhaps just had acne or psoriasis which was falsely labeled as leprosy. They were glad to be out a place they never should have been.
3. Fear of standing out and calling attention to themselves. Let me get on with my life and stay out of the limelight. Also, I could get in trouble if I hang around this Jesus and am seen as one of his followers.
4. Not stopping to think. Just taking it for granted
5. Yes, in some cases just plain ingratitude.
The point I'm making here is that most of us want to be grateful but we get impeded at times by all of the above attitudes. Which one most applies to you? to me?
As I finished my book I realized that number 4 above was a challenge for me and so I try at the end of each day to think of at least 3 people or things I am thankful for on that day. Usually the list is longer than three.
The word Eucharist is derived from the Greek word for thanksgiving. It is a great act of thanks to the Lord for His saving work in us. Let us always be mindful of that. Let it lead us to be thankful for all of our blessings.
One additional notice, though unrelated to the above reflection. On Tuesday, Oct. 15, I will be celebrating Mass on CatholicTV.com. After the Mass, at 10:30, there is a program called Start the Day, during which I will be interviewed about my book. Both will be re-broadcast at 7:00 PM and 7:30 PM. In Boston and vicinity it will be on channel 68. Otherwise you watch it on your computer, not on the TV.
Thursday, September 26, 2013
The first thing that we need to understand is that Pope Francis is not changing any core belief of the Church. What he is doing is offering us a new vision of Church, a new way (actually a very old and traditional way) of living as the People of God, the Body of Christ. What are some of the hallmarks of this new vision?
1. Pope Francis is inviting us to lead with the proclamation of the Gospel rather than with the pronouncement of moral teachings. This confuses some people on both the left and right side of the spectrum because they think that he is about to change, or is undermining, some of our moral teaching. He is not doing that. What he is doing is saying that if we don't first proclaim the Gospel message of mercy and love, especially love for the poor, then our moral voice is weakened.
2. The Holy Father has indicated right from the beginning that he intends to put more into practice the spirit of collegiality and collaboration that was fostered by the Second Vatican Council. He has done this right from the first day of his papacy when he continually referred to himself as the Bishop of Rome. Everyone knows that the pope is the bishop of Rome. There is nothing earth shattering about that. By highlighting that fact, however, he is saying that he is a bishop among bishops. He is also highlighting a very ancient theology of the papacy which says that he is Pope because he is bishop of Rome, not the other way around. Think about that one. Also by appointing the group of eight cardinals to consult with him on church reform as well as the committee to assist him with financial reform he is clearly indicating that he does not want to go it alone on important matters.
3. Related to the first point mentioned above he is calling us to be a Church of and for the poor. Exactly what does that mean. I don't think that it necessarily means handing out more money to the poor so much as making sure that we journey with the poor in their struggles and understand how life is with them, what their struggles are. He did this as archbishop of Buenos Aires and he is doing it in Rome as well. That is certainly the message of this Sunday's Gospel with its parable of the poor man Lazarus and the rich man. The rich man's sin is not his lack of generosity. It is his lack of awareness. Pope John Paul II pointed this out in his Yankee Stadium homily on his first visit to the US. I see the need for this challenge when I say Facebook postings calling undocumented people criminals or calling for drug testing for food stamp recipients. It is not that these issues are not concerns but rather the complete lack of awareness of the struggles that most immigrants and poor people go through. It is easier to demonize whole groups based on the sins of a few, but if we walk with people and hear their stories I think that our approaches would certainly be different.
4. Uniting all of this together is his example of humility and his call to church leaders to be servants. How often have people been greeted by us priests and other leaders with regulations and policies rather than by a kind word. It's not that we have to eliminate regulations and policies but rather the way that we present them. One priest that I met made a good suggestion in this regard. He said that when someone comes to his parish office he first introduces himself, then asks them about their lives and their faith and only then asks, What can I (we) do for you?" He also said that he always looks for a way of fulfilling a request before he says "No". Pope Francis has really challenged us in this regard in both word and example. He has also called for more bishops who are pastoral and who walk with the people.
I'm sure that there is more that can be said but that is my take on this wonderful new successor of Peter as Bishop of Rome.
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
It is now 12 years later and we are not even close to being done with the consequences of that act of terror. I offer some thoughts on where we might go from here, thoughts not based on politics, but rather, as a Franciscan, on where the Gospel calls us to go.
I am on Facebook, as many of you know, and that social medium today is rightly filled with "Let us never forget" messages. I have no problem with that. We should not forget. At the same time as we look back to that horrible day we need to ask, "Where do we go from here?" I believe that this is an important question to ask if we are not to be mired in decades of attempts to put out every fire that gets lit in the Middle East.
In his recent calls for prayer and fasting for peace in Syria (a word on that below) His Holiness has also called for dialogue. Every time that I have mentioned dialogue with Muslims I get some people suggesting that I am naive. To be sure there is probably little chance of dialogue with extreme Islamic terrorists.. I am talking however about serious dialogue between those Muslims and Christians who desire peace. Pope Francis has set a shining example with things like his Ramadan message to Muslims. By finding common ground with moderate members of that religion I think that the extremists will become more isolated. One of the friars from my province, Michael Calabria, OFM is engaged in Muslim and Arabic studies and often offers very insightful thoughts on his Facebook Page.
We are now concerned about Syria. I am finding a lot of knee-jerk reactions to that situation from both the left and the right. While I do not agree at all with president Obama we need to understand that a boots on the ground war is not being proposed. Also complicating the debate is the fact that not all or even most opponents of Assad are also Al-Queda. The real issue is the use of chemical weapons and the real question is what is the best way to denounce that? Missile strikes could trigger a wider war, as many have pointed out, and still leave WMD's in place. For the world (not just the US) to say nothing about the atrocity is unconscionable. The fact that Russia and France have stepped in with plans to have Syria turn over those weapons in an international forum (perhaps the UN) offers hope that Pope Francis' day of prayer is having its effect.
Finding a way for the world to strongly oppose the recent use of chemical weapons without using further violence might provide us with a way forward in the Middle East in general. I am certainly no expert on these matters. I am simply a Franciscan Friar who in the spirit of our founder who dialogued with the Sultan 8 centuries ago, desires peace and an end to violence.
Indeed let us never forget 9/11 and let us honor the fallen by seeking to build bridges of peace even as we defend ourselves from further terrorism.