Saturday, May 18, 2013
While I'm not going to go through forty two years of priestly ministry and talk about everything that has been the work of the Spirit in my life I would like to highlight two things and then talk about more recent developments in that regard. As most who are reading this blog already know I have been in the Franciscan Ministry of the Word, a ministry of preaching, for over 25 years. I often pinch myself when I think of my early days of ministry and even my days of seminary. My lowest grade during my four years of theology was in homiletics (preaching). As a young priest I was very nervous and shy about preaching. The fact that I can preach as I do today, effectively, with good response from people, is eloquent testimony not to anything that I have accomplished, but rather to the work of the Spirit in my life. I also speak Spanish and Italian, as well as English. In high school and college I studies languages, got good grades, but never mastered speaking them. While I never received the gift of tongues the way the apostles did I do believe that my attaining fluency in Spanish and to a lesser extent in Italian is another gift of the Spirit in my life.
Back to the present, in recent years my fellow friars had been encouraging me to write a book. I resisted somewhat, not sure that I could do that. As you know My book, The Wandering Friar, has just been published. The Spirit was working,I believe, not only in me, but through my brothers, to nudge me to get this done. On the way to the book I began to write this blog in 2009. This project lead not only to the book, but to the use of the Internet as a tool for ministry and sharing the word of God. Facebook shows, for the most part, the lighter side of my ministry and travels. It also gives me a chance. to make known my stance on some issues of Justice and Peace and to connect more people to this blog. About 15 months ago I started using Twitter. I was reluctant at first, having heard of some of the banal ways in which this medium has been used, but now I am sending out almost every day a "tweet" with a reflection on the day's Mass readings or a reflection on the meaning of certain feasts. I have been amazed at the responses I get from many people not only telling me that they like what I do, but that they have been helped by what has been written.
I was reluctant to write in this vain because it may seem awfully close to boasting, which I do not want to do. Rather I offer these thoughts to give witness to what I believe, the Holy Spirit has helped me to realize in a way that is so much more than what could be done merely on my own strength and with my own resources.
I hope that those of you who read this reflection, who are not priests, realize that the Holy Spirit works in all of our lives through our Baptism and Confirmation, something again which Pope Francis has reminded us of quite a bit in recent weeks. Ask yourself, as we celebrate Pentecost 2013, how the Holy Spirit has worked in your life, how you have been called to serve others, how your marriage has grown with the help of the Spirit, how God has used you in ways beyond your wildest imagination, but also how you may, at times, have resisted the work of the Spirit in your life.
The clip at the top of this page is the trailer for The Wandering Friar created by Tate Publishing. You can learn about and purchase the book as well has connect to mu social media sites at the book's website thewanderingfriar.tateauthor.com Though many of you have purchased the book from me or the publisher it's official release date is actually not until May 28 when it will start to be distributed to bookstores. With that date in mind it can also be pre-ordered in paperback or kindle format on Amazon.com.
Saturday, May 11, 2013
As I sit to write this reflection on the Feast of the Ascension of Jesus I am overjoyed by the news I received this morning that my niece Michelle gave birth to a baby girl, Madeline Elizabeth. Congratulations to her and her husband, Kevin Donahue.
Quite a few years back a gentleman asked me a question to this effect, "Fr. John, I believe what the Church teaches and I believe that Jesus ascended into heaven, but what difference does it make in my life?"
A good question indeed, and one that has affected my preaching not only for this feast, but for several others throughout the years. Before addressing that question I'll deal with another that has been asked. How come some places keep the traditional Ascension Thursday while others have the feast moved to Sunday (as is the case here in St. Petersburg)?
The answer to that question is that holy-days are not set by Rome but by the local bishop. Corpus Christi,for example, a holy-day in most of the world, was never one here in the US. At the present time each ecclesiastical province (a cluster of dioceses presided over by a metropolitan archbishop) determines which are the days of obligation. In most of the US and Europe it has been determined that it is more important that the greatest number of the faithful celebrate this great mystery rather than holding to the 40 days mentioned only in Luke's Gospel, thus it is moved to Sunday except in the northeast corner of our country. It is the mystery of faith that is important rather than an exact date.
Now back to that man's question to which there are basically two answers. First of all we can say that the Ascension is a continuation of the Incarnation. The Word became flesh and with Jesus entry into heaven human flesh, now glorified, enters heaven with Him. To the rest of us fleshly folks that is quite significant. Where the head goes, as St. Paul teaches, the body will follow. Where is heaven? The word ascend, of course, applies that heaven is "up there somewhere". With our present understanding of the universe we really don't know spatially what is up and what is down. I like to think of this feast as the feast of transition, the feast of Jesus returning to the Father so that He can be present to us in new ways.
This last thought leads into the second answer to the man's question. Even in His appearances as the Risen One, Jesus is only in one place at a time. With His return to the Father and then His sending of the Spirit (next week's feast) He is present everywhere, most especially in the Eucharist, but also whenever 2 or 3 are gathered in His name. We don't have to fly to Jerusalem to see him. We also believe that when we act in His name that He is acting through us. As our young people would say, "That is pretty cool stuff."
So then, I think that the Ascension means a great deal to us.
Finally, back to the good news mentioned at the beginning. Here is a picture of Madeline Elizabeth Donahue.
Wednesday, May 1, 2013
In the Gospel text for the coming Sunday we read in John 14:23-24, "Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him." Christianity is about accepting this offer, an offer which the Lord gives in different ways throughout the Gospels.This tells us that Jesus and His Father (as well as the Spirit) desire to dwell in us now. We prefer to keep God at a distance and then we wonder how we will get to God, what we need to do to get to heaven. We are afraid of spiritual intimacy. We find it too good to be true. We think that when we overcome our sins God will dwell with us. Wrong!!! It is the other way around. Ask God to dwell with us and our sins will be overcome. Even our approach to the Eucharist reflects this fear. We readily believe that bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ, and indeed that is true. We find it hard to believe that that transformation is only the first step. We then are transformed and sent into the world to be Christ for others. When we start to take that seriously both we and the world will change.
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
|First responders at terror attack in Boston|
To be sure that healing will take a long time but I have been lifted-up and moved by the prayers coming in from all over the world and by gestures such as the one provided by the New York Yankees and other sports franchises who transcended sports rivalry to lend support and prayer. Even more encouraging has been the actions of first responders and others who ran to the scene to help the victims as well as that of Bostonians who opened their homes to stranded marathon runners and, of course, the spontaneous outpouring of love shown to the Richard family of Dorchester at the rally last night in Garvey Park. (see picture below)
My reflection today leads me to ask why have we been experiencing so many acts of random and irrational violence, be it from guns, bombs, or whatever.The answer, I believe, lies in the human heart, a heart that is in need of healing. It is easy to blame politicians, government or whatever for what is going on, and certainly there is much to improve about today's political world, but I think that each one of us has to look into our own heart for the answer. The truth is thatthere is way too much anger in many of our hearts.
Anger has its place. We get angry at injustice. Anger motivates us to seek justice, and then to seek reconciliation with those who have wronged us. Often, however, justice is not granted. We are wounded. The anger is unresolved. This may begin with little things like not getting our way with the fifth grade teacher. Hurt builds upon hurt. We feel excluded from the political process, from our family, our Church. The anger mounts. It has to come out. For most of us it does not come out in acts of extreme terrorism, but in things like road rage or political ranting on Facebook. it comes out in acts of emotional terrorism against family, neighborhood or the people we work with. What to do with such anger? Ask the Lord to heal our angry hearts. Ask the Lord to drain the air from our "anger baloon" that is filled with unresolved anger. Anger that is originally justifiable and understandable turns to bitterness and resentment. At its worst this anger leads to terrorism. At the least it makes for a lot of angry people walking around with a chip on their shoulder.
Alcoholics and others in 12 steps programs know that resentment is the surest way back to the bottle. Let us head the words of St. Augustine, "Maintaining resentment is like drinking poison and hoping that the other person dies." I would add that sometimes it leads people to outright kill.
Lord, heal our wonded and angry hearts!
|Spontaneous vigil for the Richard family. 8 yr old Martin was killed and his mother and sister are critical.|
Tuesday, April 9, 2013
|Pope Benedict XVI giving Communion in the traditional manner|
|At a Mass in Honduras, June, 2012|
Although I am a solid proponent of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council I must admit that there were many hokey and superficial liturgical expressions practiced in the name of that reform that were strictly "gimmicky" and that lacked substance. This lead to a desire by many to return to a more staid and reverential liturgical style, and even to return to the traditional Latin Mass. This was understandable. People were looking to have a more reverential celebration of The Eucharist and the other Sacraments. To say, however that the actions of Pope Francis such as the washing of the feet of 12 young people at a detention center, including two women, one of them Muslim, was a move away from this is to somewhat miss the point. What is at issue rather is different ways of expressing reverence. Hopefully we can all agree that the Eucharist must be celebrated in a reverent way. Reverence, however, has more than one way of being expressed. In Europe and much of the US and in parts of Asia, reverence is expressed through silence and through formally prescribed gestures of reverence such as silence, kneeling and the use of music which elevates the soul. For me, one of the best examples of that music is polyphony. Mozart's Ave Verum Corpus, being one of the best examples of that. Gregorian Chant, of course is right there as well. Activities such as Eucharistic Adoration certainly promote reverence in this sense.
There is, however, another face of reverence. It is less formal, more spontaneous, more obviously emotion-filled. It is a reverence with which Pope Francis and anyone who has lived in Latin America and many parts of Africa has seen. It leads to hand clapping and spontaneous shouts of praise. it is not gimmicky because it is straight from the heart. While not rejecting the rubrics and liturgical guidelines of the Church it implements them flexibly. I have experienced this sort of reverence during my days in Bolivia, in the predominately Hispanic parish in which I served in Camden, NJ, in a Morning Prayer to Our Lady of Guadeloupe in Pahokee, FL and on my recent trip to Honduras. It is not only Hispanic and African. It is seen in the Catholic Charismatic renewal, the Cursillo and other renewal movements in the Church.
What is important in our life of prayer and worship is faith and reverence. Let us not fall prey to thinking, however, than one expression of reverence is better than another. Our cultures my incline us in one direction or another. We may have our preferences, but it is all reverence, and it is all good.
Saturday, March 30, 2013
Ever since the middle ages there has been a Christian obsession with the bloody details of Jesus' Passion and Death and with that came the evoking of guilt due to our sin being the cause of that. Now I'm not suggesting that the sin of humanity did not cause the suffering of Jesus, but rather refocusing on what the mystery of the Cross ought to evoke in us.
In our Franciscan theological tradition Jesus did not come to get punished. He came to love us. We hold that it was the plan of God from the beginning to be united with God's creation even if we had not sinned. The sources for this in Scripture are to be found especially in chapter one of John's Gospel and in the canticle in the Letter to the Collosians. The friars did not "invent" this approach but rather made it popular. It has its roots in the early Church fathers as well.
Now there's no denying that Jesus was punished, that He bore the weight of human sin, but His mission from the Father was to come in love and proclaim the Reign of God. He was rejected in His attempt to carry out this mission and instead of withdrawing from us or lashing out in anger He continued to love us. Real love always brings about suffering and Jesus' was no exception. St. John in Chapter 13 of his Gospel tells that "He loved his own in the world and He loved them to the end."
What then is to be our reaction? Yes, we ought acknowledge our sin, but not by way of some big guilt trip, rather by opening our hearts in humble faith and trusting that in His great love our merciful and loving Lord wants to enter even the darkest recesses of our souls to heal us and make us new. In me this evokes deep, heartfelt gratitude. When Peter, again in John 13, resists Jesus attempt to wash his feet he is told, "unless I wash you you will have no inheritance with me." What Jesus means by this is "Unless I pour all of my love into you you cannot be my follower or disciple." As Pope Benedict XVI tells us in his commentary on this gospel text in Volume II of his Jesus of Nazareth, the foot washing is a "Sacrament" of the entire mystery of Jesus Passion and Death. From the Cross Jesus' love is poured into all of us who open our hearts to Him. Have we all surrendered totally to that love? I know that I have not, but that is the challenge. I am,like most if not all of us, on the way.
So, my friends, on this Holy Saturday as we prepare to celebrate the Resurrection let us open our hearts to such a Wondrous love and allow ourselves to be transformed by it. That is the real goal of the Christian life.
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
|The Widow's Mite|
I am a Franciscan and delighted by the fact that a Jesuit Pope has taken the name Francis, but I am also challenged by that fact. It makes me want to be a better Franciscan and to simplify my life even more. The initials OFM after my name stand for Order of Friars Minor. Even knowing that the term Friars Minor is not clear to everyone. The minores (as opposed to the maiores) at the time of Francis were not only the very poor, but all those who were excluded from power, who had no say in things. That included ordinary small merchants as well as lepers and beggars, all who were outsiders, as it were. Francis wanted to be among the minores and above all let them know that they were not on the outside with God or with him and his fellow friars. This should tell us the first thing that we need to know about serving the poor. That service begins by being among them and knowing and understanding their struggles. Pope Francis, as Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires did just that. He did things like taking the bus to work. He talked with people. He came to understand their struggles and to see things from the point of view of the ordinary person.
I think back on my own life and realize that I have been at my best when I have been among the people, be it in the North End of Boston, mid-town Manhattan, Buffalo, NY, Camden NJ and so many of the places where I have preached parish missions. What poor people and ordinary working people are looking for first of all is a sense that they matter, that they are not forgotten. Yes they need and want our financial help and other assistance as well at times, but if they don't think that people form the Church or from their government, etc.(in any country) know how to walk with them and understand their struggles then anything else that is offered seems awkward, foolish or off the mark.
I try to stay away from political commentary on this blog, but in this case I believe that a challenge can be sent to both political parties. Republicans really do need to connect with the poor and make sure that while budget cuts are necessary they should not be made on the backs of the poor. Giving the impression that everyone who takes money form the government is a moocher and freeloader is not the way to go. Yes, there are freeloaders, but most of the excess spending is not because of that, but because of abuses within the system of delivery of services within medicare, Social Security (which people have paid into) and other government programs. I am also upset when I go on Facebook and see requests to drug test every welfare recipient. Welfare recipients should be treated like everyone else. If there is reason to drug test them, fine, but don't subject all of them to this. If you have ever talked with a family that is working at two underpaid jobs and trying to make ends meet you would clearly understand this.
And what about Democrats? You too have to learn to walk with the ordinary people. Many government programs are inefficient and encumbered by bureaucratic red tape. When poor folks seek help they may in fact get money, food or whatever, but they often feel degraded in the process. Democrats these days are often accused of being socialists. That is giving them too much credit. Most of them are just taking money from different lobbyists than the Republicans and then try to make the poor and the middle class think that they are working for them. Maybe some of the Democratic and Republican Congress people could try riding the bus to work and simply listening to what the ordinary folks have to say.
In recent years our Catholic sisters have come under scrutiny for some of the things they have undertaken, but I believe that they, above all in the Church, are walking with the poor and the marginalized. We would do well to follow their example.
Finally, lest I be charged with hypocrisy, I am making some cuts and simplifications in my own lifestyle and am looking for ways to better listen and spend time with the many ordinary folks that I serve as I go about preaching.