Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Life and Death

 As the year draws to a close I realize that it has been several months since I posted. There are several reasons for that. For one thing I backed away when things went crazy at election time. Several things i wrote were misinterpreted or misconstrued. At any rate with 2021 upon us I thought that I would plunge into the water again.

   A few weeks ago I celebrated my 76th birthday.  I know, it's just a number, but nonetheless as one gets older one knows that he/she does not have too many numbers left.

   As of this writing about 300,000 people have died of COVID-19. Several people have been murdered by police. (No, I am not saying all police are killers,) Shooting by gun violence seems to be rampant across the country.  Just thinking about all this can be overwhelming. In my own Franciscan province a number of friars have died, by this terrible virus and by other causes.  Some of them were quite close to me. In addition 3  men have died at what most would say is all too young an age, 2 of them sons of close friends, one of them the son of my cousin.

   Am I sad?  Yes, of course.  Fortunately I am not depressed but there is at times a mood of sadness about me.

   Where do I go from here?  One thing that comes to mind is the realization that I am still alive and that life is a gift. There has understandably been quite a bit written about the need to respect life. I am one of those that believes that respecting life means all life. Developing that idea can be done at another time. What is dawning on me now is that to truly respect the life of others I am called to a deeper appreciation for my own life, all 76 years gone by as well as whatever remains.  I do not say this in a selfish sense, but rather with a deep sense of gratitude for the many wonderful moments that God has granted me during the past and an openness to whatever possibilities lie ahead. I am very blessed by my Franciscan fraternity, by family and friends. I owe it to God, myself and to them to make the most of the time that lies ahead. By making the most I don't mean making money or achieving worldly success. I do mean jumping at every bit of God's grace that comes my way and doing whatever I can to enrich the lives of whomever I meet. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

A Lesson From Sports


The Stanley Cup
   During this time of pandemic I have not traveled out to preach. I have done a great deal of reading, praying, reflecting, etc.  I have also watched more than my fair share of movies and TV series.  I am also an avid sports fan especially when it come to the teams from Boston, my home town. We have been blessed over the past twenty years with a treasure trove of championships

   Living as I do in the Tampa Bay area I follow the local teams, not with quite as much enthusiasm as I do for my Boston teams.  Last night I watched with great joy as the Tampa Bay Lightning captured the Stanley Cup as champions of the hockey world.

   Given that this blog usually reflects on issue of religion or life in our world and its various cultures you might wonder why am I writing about sports.  Good question. I certainly admit that  scoring goals, touchdowns or baskets or hitting home runs is not the most important thing in the world.  I also lament the huge salaries of players and the large sums of money involved in sports. Having said all that I believe that there is an important lesson that our nation, the Church and the world in general can learn from sports, especially from those who win championships.

   Let's just take our hockey champions as an example. Their season was stopped in March with the Covid-19 outbreak. They resumed play at the end of July with playoffs that would lead to a championship over a two month period.  Because of the pandemic they stayed in what is popularly called a bubble staying only in two different cities, away from family and friends for most of this time. The players come from different countries, speak different languages, though all seem to speak English. They worked together as a team and did not let differences of culture, politics or personality keep them from focusing on the big goal--winning the championship. 

   That is what we call all learn from any sports championship--unity of purpose.  Our country and even our churches oar so terribly divided.  It's not bad to have differences of opinion but the hatred and vitriol, even in the Church which is supposed to be following One whose basic commandment is love is deeply concerning.

   So let us rejoice and celebrate when our favorite team wins but more importantly let us learn from them the importance of working together.


Thursday, September 10, 2020

Returning God's Gift

    At this point in my Franciscan journey I have noticed that there are more friars that I knew and often have lived with that are listed in my province's necrology (list of deceased friars) than there are in our directory of the living friars.

   This morning we gave another one of our brothers back to God--Brother Valerian Vaverchak, OFM., or simply Val, as we knew him. Many of the men that have gone before me and on whose shoulders I stand have made contributions to the Church and to the world, contributions that were known and publicized.  I think for example of Fr. Mychal Judge, OFM, one of the heroes of 9/11, a loving and gifted friar and priest who was widely known even before that tragic day.  there are many others.

   Val's life was not lived in the limelight but it was a life a quiet and loving dedication and prayer, a life that touched many in a quiet way.

   He served in the missions in Brazil where he selflessly helped many poor people there. He became a nurse and worked tirelessly caring for our elder friars for a number of years. Fr. Jack McDowell who preached the funeral homily mentioned that he showed up at one assignment where the guardian greeted him by handing him a cookbook. He said,"but I'm a nurse." he was told that they needed a cook, not a nurse, so he became a cook. Such was his vow of obedience.

   I have lived here at St. Anthony Friary with Val for fourteen years. In spite of having a number of health issues he was the weekend cook when I came here.  He also gladly did little chores for the friars, never seeking recognition. I traveled to Assisi several years ago with Val and another friar. It was then that I saw the deeply prayerful side of this wonderful man as we visited the places where St. Francis lived and worked.

   At a time when the Church is judged solely on the basis of bad things done by priests and religious I think that it is important to note that countless thousands of priests and  of men and women religious continue live and work quietly to share God's love. I thank God for the gift of Val and am glad to share in our effort to return him back to our loving and merciful God.


Monday, August 24, 2020

Light in the Darkness

   It is so easy in these difficult times to focus on the negative, to look at the dark side of humanity.  Believe me, it is there and I don't want to deny it or cover it up.  In the midst of all this, though, some rays of sunshine come through.

   Many of you know that over the past 3 and one half years I have been a preacher for an organization called Unbound along with my regular work of preaching missions and retreats. One of the great things about Unbound is that it not only invites people from here in the US to sponsor children and needy elders in various countries, but invites the sponsored children and their families  to unite, to use the sponsorship funds wisely and to help one another.


   As an Unbound preacher I receive regular updates on how the program is doing around the world.  Needless to say the pandemic has hit really hard in some of the poorest neighborhoods in the world where the program is present. In one of the recent e-mails I received the story was told that in the poor sections of Peru unemployment is high and people who are already stretched to the limit financially are often in dire straights, unable to purchase food and other necessities. I am sponsoring Anthony, a 14 year old boy in Lima and when I received this news I thought of him. In a recent letter to me he mentioned the COVID-19 virus and how his family was coping.  He seemed to be OK but others in his area were not.  The bulletin from Unbound told the wonderful story of hos in Peru and Columbia when a family needed food or other necessities they hung a white flag outside their home. When others saw this flag they brought food and left it at the families' doorstep.

   How wonderful!  As I have daily heard stories of people hoarding food and other things, of people fighting over the wearing of masks to receive this story of people who are poor themselves helping one another in this way filled me with great hope. They may be poor, but in a deeper sense they are rich.

   This story made me wonder if anyone in our own country is doing anything similar.  I was a bit down thinking that such things are not happening here and then heard the news that down in Miami there are people who put a refrigerator in front of their home filled with food.  Anyone passing by is welsome to take what they need.

   To me these are lights in the darkness, lights of love and mercy.  I'm sure that there are many stories like this.  I invite you, if you know of any such stories to e-mail me at janglin357@yahoo.com. 

   If I receive enough stories I will post at least some of them here.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

A Faceof Hope

John Lewis
   With all of the racial tension and violence that has taken place our country and our world has lost a man whose vision can lead us forward even after his death.  That man, of course, is congressman John Lewis.

   I must admit that my knowledge of this great man during his life was superficial.  I was aware that he marched across the bridge in Selma and was unjustly beaten and arrested.  I had hear of his association with Dr. King, but it was all in the background for me until the news of his passing.

   Many people, unfortunately, allow themselves to be turned off to the recent protests because of the violence.  Let me be clear, I in no way condone violence as a solution to injustice.  At the same time violence is almost inevitable when there is injustice, here in the US or anywhere in the world.  It can be a real temptation to stand above the fray and do nothing.  We can rightly ask the question, "If not through violence, then how?  Racism, white privilege, unfairness in the judicial system are real problems.  As Catholics we need to be reminded that the last three Popes, at least, have denounced racism as a sin. We need people to inspire us and show us the way.  In the past people like Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, among others  have been models for us.
They remind us that non-violence does not mean passivity.  All of them stood up to injustice and paid a price for it.  They did so through non-violent resistance. They did so by engaging in what congressman Lewis called "Good Trouble"

    When the world finally moves beyond the COVID-19 crisis there will be a temptation to go back to normal, whatever that means.  I don't think we can go back to what was, but rather to a hopeful new future in the Church, in our country, in our world.  I am not speaking of a utopia.  There will be no perfect world until the Kingdom of God in its fullness comes about.  Nonetheless, in the meantime, the Kingdom of God is among us when there is love instead of hatred and when injustices are corrected.  I think that Congressman Lewis can be one of the lights that guide us into a brighter future.


Sunday, July 19, 2020

3 Parables For Today

    In Catholic Churches, and several others as well, the Gospel selection for today is Matthew 13-24-43.  This passage contains 3 brief parables of Jesus that can teach us a great deal in the times in which we live.

   The first of the three is the parable of the wheat and the weeds. The meaning is rather obvious. This farmer wants to throw out the weeds right away.  He is warned, however, that throwing out the weeds may do damage to the wheat.  He is advised to wait and let them grow together and at the harvest things will be sorted out.

   It seems to me that in our present climate people are quick to identify weeds and seek to get rid of them.  You know what I mean.  People are getting shot over wearing or not wearing masks. Property is getting destroyed.  The parable is a reminder that we often need to wait and let God be the judge. This doesn't mean that justice can't be pursued and crime can't be punished.  It does mean that we would be well advised not to so quickly put people into categories and then dismiss them easily.

   The other two parables give us messages of hope and encouragement. The mustard seed, we are told, is the smallest of seeds but it grows and becomes a large shrug in which the birds come to nest.
The parable of the yeast in the dough is similar.  A little yeast makes the dough rise.  the Kingdom of God is like this. The little mustard seeds and the bit of dough make great things happen. Sometimes we think that our efforts or those of someone else are too meager.  Often it's not the grand plans and endeavors that make a difference but the little things we do that allow the Kingdom of God to burst forth among us.

   The kingdom of heaven, of God, is not just where we hope to go after death it is rather the bursting forth of justice, of love, of peace in this life as well.  We have many issue to face, taking care of this pandemic, racial justice, excessive violence among them.  Perhaps the little things that we can do now will bear great fruit when this time has passed.

Friday, July 3, 2020

An End and a Beginning.

   As of today I am a senior friar, or, if you will, I am retired.  What does that mean?  I want to make clear that I will be a priest and friar for the rest of my life. My province of the Franciscans permits us to become senior friars at age 75.  I reached that milestone this past December.  I was hoping to prolong this decision for a few years, perhaps until 80, should I live that long. The reality of the Covid-19 crisis has brought me to the awareness that I will not be going out to preach missions and retreats or to preach for Unbound for the foreseeable future. When this crisis ends I hope to continue my ministry of preaching.  The difference is that I will be able to do as much or as little as I wish.  My hope is to do a lesser amount of traveling and to assist at one of our local parishes.

   As a friar and priest this time also affords me the chance to spend more time in prayer and reflection, to place more emphasis on the contemplative dimension of my Franciscan life. St. Anthony Friary where I live is made up mostly of senior friars.  It is a privilege to live with men who have dedicated themselves to parish ministry, shrine church ministry, education, military and hospital chaplaincy, formation of our younger friars and foreign missionary work.

   During this crisis none of us have been able to minister outside.  Our provincial has stressed that protecting one another from the virus is of utmost importance.  We do, however, have daily Mass in our chapel as well as community prayer.  We have been praying for all of you who have not been able to celebrate Eucharist as well has for those suffering and dying from this terrible virus, for health care workers and first-responders.   I can add to that our prayers and concern for racial justice.

  This pause has also given me the chance to look back over the years and to be grateful for the many blessings the Lord has given me and the many people who have become part of my life. I am taking things one day at a time and look forward to the end of this pandemic, an end that I think is months away and maybe more.  When that time comes our country, our world and out Church will be different.  I won't attempt to say how different, but things will be different, hopefully better.

Life and Death