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.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Lent is coming, Time to do Penance

   In a few short weeks the season of Lent will be upon us.  Catholics as well as many other Christians, will be giving thought to what they might do for Lent, what type of penance to undertake. A good beginning is to visit the three-pronged approach to this practice--prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  Focusing on these three, and not just on fasting (sacrificing, giving up) helps us to go beyond a trap that can really be ego-driven because Lent is not just about "what I give up", but about deepening our relationship with the Lord through prayer, and expressing our concern for the poor.  Our fasting should be fueled by these two to insure balance.

   I would invite my readers to include the above, but to go beyond it.  We need to take a look at the meaning of the word repent, or do penance  as found in the Gospel.  Mark's Gospel, the most direct and to the point of the four, has Jesus, right after His baptism by John in the Jordan, going to Galilee and proclaiming the message, "This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel."

   Jesus here is not just saying, "Be sorry for your sins and believe in the Gospel."  He is rather inviting His followers to make a radical shift on how they view life, not viewing it from the perspective of the leaders of this world or of the various ideologies offered by this world. He is inviting us to make a whole new basis for our life and for the decisions we make.

   One of the challenges for Christians today is to realize that we tend to get caught in a trap. We want the Gospel and Jesus and the Kingdom to be the source of meaning in our life but we compromise that stance with our loyalty to political parties, politicians and different ideologies. We live in the real world. As Americans we have to choose whom to vote for and what party to back, and that is fine, but as we do so can we admit that in the present state of affairs our decision is always a compromise.

    It is not only the world of politics that traps us but the various competing ideologies tossed at us by news media, talk shows, etc.

   Perhaps for Lent we can read and meditate on the 9th chapter of John's Gospel, the story of the man born blind.  This story is not about physical, but spiritual blindness.  The Pharisees cannot admit that they are blind.  Jesus tells them that there would be no sin in admitting blindness but tells them, "We see, you say, and so your sin remains." (Jn 9, 41)

    Maybe, just maybe, this Lent we can say to the Lord, " I am blind.  My vision is cloudy.  I see You, Your values, but I cling on to some others.  My blindness leads me to make idols of political parties and ideologies, to make idols of personalities and politicians.  Help me to see Lord. Help me to make your Gospel and the Reign of your Father, the basis for every decision in my life."

   If you do this I promise you:

A) You will have inner peace.

B) May people, including your friends, will misunderstand you

That is my experience anyway

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

El Salvador, Part IV--Visiting a truly Holy Place.

At the Romero Shrine

Portrait of Archbishop Romero

Archbishop Romero's blood-stained vestment
Our final day in El Salvador was one of the most moving experiences of my life.  On the way to the airport and our journey back to the US we stopped in San Salvador at the shrine dedicated to Archbishop Oscar Romero who was martyred in 1980 because of his speaking out on behalf of the poor of his country. His simple apartment on the grounds of a hospital is no a shrine.  Walking through there was a palpable sense of being in a holy place.

   After that visit we went into the chapel to celebrate the Eucharist together with the Unbound community from that city. We were It was in this chapel that he was murdered while saying Mass.  I was the presider at the Mass and the knowledge of what happened at the altar where I was celebrating the Mass filled me with emotions that are hard to describe. I will let the pictures and the video of my homily (In Spanish and English) tell the rest of the story

In front of the altar flags of Unbound countries and pictures of Unbound founders.

Franciscan Sisters provided the music

At the Consecration

El Salvador, Part III--A Trip into the mountains and a Visit with Scholars

Beautiful mountain scenery

  It was Sunday. We needed to celebrate the Eucharist. There were several churches nearby in Santa Ana, but we drove for 90 minutes over winding dirt roads and beautiful scenery. It was wonderful because it gave us a sense of the beauty of this wonderful country. There were several small farms and not a few sheep, goats cattle and other animals.

   At the end of our journey was the town of Los Apoyos where the Unbound community warmly greeted us.  I must say that the greetings we received throughout this trip were truly humbling.  The people so deeply appreciate what sponsorship is doing for them.
Passing men riding on horseback

 After the Mass we were treated to a wonderful display of El Salvadoran culture, a display that showed us the richness of what sponsorship does. Sponsored children, elders and their families by developing their talents grow in confidence and with that with hope for the possibilities that await them in the future.

   On the way back to Santa Ana we visited the beautiful cathedral there and shared a great dinner at a local restaurant.


Mass at Los Apoyos

Entrance into the Church
Fr. Jerry Frank preaching the homily
The Santa Ana Cathedral

   On Monday morning we stayed at the center and several of the Unbound sponsored teenagers and scholarship students came to pray and share with us.  Once again it was a deeply moving experience not only because of their presentations but especially because of the informal chats we had while sharing breakfast with them.  For those unfamiliar with Unbound it is good to know that as sponsored children reach the later years of their education they can apply for scholarships.  Their stories showed that Unbound really does see possibility and not poverty when dealing with people. They desired to be doctors, teachers, social workers, lawyers, and one of them an electrical engineer. Although I am certain that when they attain their goals they will have material success, not one of them mentioned that.  They all spoke of how they hoped to be of service to the people of their country

Friday, December 8, 2017

Unbound in El Salvador, Part II--The Elders and a Christmas Party

Ready to hit the road on Day 2
   After a busy and very moving first day I didn't know what to expect on Day 2 of this trip as we prepared to visit sponsored elders in the Santa Ana area.  The day began with prayer which was lead by a beautiful 88 year old woman who was barely 4 feet tall.  Her energy and enthusiasm inspired and energized us as did the stories of some of the other elders who attended.  Being an elder myself (73 years old) I became filled with gratitude for what we have here in the US. For one thing there is no social security or anything like it in El Salvador and in most of the other countries where Unbound is present, nor is there anything like Medicaid.a s a result the elderly, especially if there are no family members nearby to help, are in a difficult position.

Fr. Marty Holler with sponsored elders

   After breakfast we were split into two groups and visited gatherings of elders. As was the case with the sponsored children and parents community is a vital part of Unbound. Elders groups meet monthly to share experiences and encourage one another. They also receive benefits differently than the children as each month a different benefit is given.  At this gathering new shoes for all, dresses for the women and pants and shirts for the men were given.  At other time medical check-ups, medicines or a recreational experience may be the benefit.  Some may think that recreation is rather superfluous as a benefit but most of these fine folks don't really get a chance to do simple things like going to a beach.  As was the case with the mothers groups there was much singing and some serious prayer as well as a well-prepared hot breakfast.

Entering the home of an elder woman
 In the afternoon in three different groups we visited the homes of some of the elders. In my case a few of us visited a woman who lived in a very poor home and was so appreciative of being sponsored.  She told us that sponsorship saved her life because it provided her with needed medicine. She did have a son and a neighbor who looked after her.  In spite of the simple condition of her home with a dirt floor the home was filled with love and again with gratitude and hope.

  After two days of heading out for visits our next day kept us home at the Unbound center for a Christmas party for some of the Unbound communities in the Santa Ana area.

Inside the Unbound property
 At this celebration we were again warmly greeted by Unbound families. Gifts were exchanged among them and given to us as well (a nice bag of fresh ground robust El Salvadoran coffee) .  There were several wonderful song and dance presentations reflecting both traditional folk lore and modern music and dance as well.  That is another aspect of Unbound. The sponsored children and teens are encouraged to develop their various talents and learn more about their culture. And just as it would be here at home Santa made an appearance.  The morning ended with a fine lunch

Lunch at the Christmas Party
Each colored ball had an expression of gratitude on it

Gathering for the entertainment

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Unbound in El Salvador--A Special Journey

      Just last night I returned from a wonderful trip to El Salvador with Unbound. Many of you know that I have done quite a bit or preaching for this wonderful organization.  Unbound really backs us priests who preach for them and desires that we experience the workings of their program first-hand, and what an experience it was.  One blog entry cannot do justice to the experience that I had so there will be several of them in the days ahead.

   Though I have presented Unbound on this blog before I will again describe it for those who missed previous entries.  The program sponsors children and elders in 18 countries around the world.  At his point there are over 333,000 people being sponsored and the number is still growing.  We preachers go to parishes and seek out people who are willing to sponsor. For more information you can go to Unbound.  Perhaps after exploring that link you might be willing to sponsor.

Parishioners at St. Matthew's, Tyrone, GA choosing people to sponsor
   Before going to El Salvador I had visited Unbound headquarters in Kansas City and had the program explained to me.  Having traveled to the Unbound center in Santa Ana, El Salvador the explanations came alive.  The entries on this blog will tray to present various aspects of the work of this great organization as I experienced them each day.

(Note: As a matter of policy Unbound does not allow pictures of sponsored members and families to be shared on social media so any pictures here will be of places, or be taken from behind the groups of people).
Being greeted by a group of mothers of sponsored children near Santa Ana

   On our first full day in Santa Ana we experienced Unbound sponsored children and the groups of mothers of these children who make it all happen. At morning prayer the mother of a five year old sponsored child spoke to us about what sponsorship meant.  She talked about being able to buy shoes and clothing, etc, but most of all  she shared deep gratitude and a sense of hope for the future of this boy and all of her children. There was not a dry eye among us.

Walking to the home of a sponsored child
   Later in the morning we split into two groups to visit two of the mother's groups.  Community is a big part of the Unbound experience.  As my group arrived at one gathering we were greeted like heroes with clapping and singing.  It was a moving, emotional experience.
   Mothers meet together and support one another. They help each mother decide how the sponsorship funds will be used for her child.  Unbound really believes that these mothers, and not some higher ups, know best what their child needs.  In addition to gratitude and hope several mothers thanked us for trusting them.

   In the afternoon we were split up even more and visited the homes of sponsored children.  In my case together with Fr. Tim Coday from Unbound headquarters, the visit was to the home of a girl and her family. The girl had just graduated from ninth grade and told us how it would not have been possible without Unbound.  She told us as well that she not only wanted to complete high school, but to go on to a University.  For a girl in El Salvador this is rarefied air.  She had hopes of applying for an Unbound scholarship to help with her goal. (More on that in a later blog entry).  Besides having her goals of achievement she, like just about every teenager that we met, sought to work in the future in some sort of service related job in their own country.

   I know that some who read this are asking "Where are the fathers?"  Good question.  Many of the fathers work long hours and cannot attend meetings, though some join in with the mothers groups. Others may have abandoned the family feeling shame about unemployment which is a big problem in El Salvador and elsewhere.  Besides this it is only a few years since the end of a bloody civil was that took the lives of countless thousands of men.  While there are many good fathers and husbands it is the mothers who are on the front line, and they do a great job.

Meeting up at San Salvador airport
Walking to make a home visit
Man selling fruit in the middle of heavy traffic
Stopping for a tasty El Salvadoran meal on the trip from the airport


Monday, November 6, 2017

Enough!!! But What to do?

   I am practically speechless after another mass murder, this time in a Church.  What are we to do?  The answer to that question cannot be a simplistic one size fits all thing and if anyone else says, "Our thoughts and prayers go out to them, " I will scream.

   Of course I do pray every time that these horrors happen and prayer is important, but if it does not lead to action it is in vain.

   What actions?  For one thing some level of gun  control and please stop quoting the second amendment.  That misses the point.   Without repealing that amendment limits can be placed on the sale of various weapons.  Shame on the NRA for not realizing that. And please, enough of "guns don't kill, people do"   That is true as far as it goes but it's more difficult to kill scores of people with a knife of some other weapon.

   But let's not be simplistic. Gun control laws alone are only part of the fix.  There is a mental health issue as well.  All too many of these murderers have had serious mental health issues. There is no perfect screening system but we can do better. 

  Deep down, however,  the issue is a spiritual problem that won't be fixed be just saying prayers.  As a country we need to face the level of anger that is about, anger that is expressed not only in shootings but in hate speech, racism and all sorts of phobias around different types of people.  We need to look inside ourselves and ask God to help us heal the deep-seated anger that is in many of us.  We most certainly can and will have disagreements about politics and religion.  This is part of the greatness of America, but we need to learn anew how to disagree without being hateful. Most Americans will never commit an act of gun violence or any other type of violence but I have seen frequent examples of people shouting each other down over all kinds of things.

  We in the clergy of all faiths need to address this in our preaching.  We also need to speak out against a distorted expression of Christianity that puts guns, the Bible and the flag all together.

  I write these words not as a liberal or as a conservative, but as a Catholic Christian. I also have no illusion that these words will solve anything, but hopefully they point us in a direction