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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Heading Home and Hitting the Road--Some Random Thoughts

On Sunday, Sept. 6 my car will be loaded and I'll begin my drive back to Florida. As much as I hate to leave the Northwoods of Wisconsin and the people and the parishes there, I will be looking forward to returning to my brother friars in St. Petersburg and getting back to my ministry of preaching. I have published my schedule at the head of this page to give you an idea of what I will be up to in the months ahead.

As I begin to prepare to travel to 6 different states I hope to add followers to this blog from the various places that I visit.

I often tell people that being an itinerant Franciscan preacher, a wandering friar as it were, is my vocation within a vocation. Over the past 22 years I have preached over 330 missions and have preached a number of retreats to sisters and priests as well. I have shared this work with several of my brother friars as well as with some fine lay preachers that have joined up with us at times. For those reading this blog who wonder what a mission is I refer you to the very first entry on this blog. (Just scroll down on the white column to the right and click on May).

This ministry has taken me to large city parishes, rich ones, poor ones, suburban ones and rural ones. I have preached in English as well as Spanish, in Canada as well as the United States. I hope to keep doing this until my body doesn't allow the strain of travel any more. As varied as are the people that I have served I find that their faith and their desire to grow closer to God are the one thing they have in common and this is a strength and an inspiration to me. At this time when the goings on of Church leaders can drive me and many others crazy I find that I constantly have to tell me that the Church, the Body of Christ, is these good people and not just the leaders.

So homeward I go and am eager to understand the Church better, not in books, but in the people of the six states I am about to visit.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Play Nice, The Health Care Debate

Though not a parent I have been a first hand witness to the challenges of raising children while visiting the homes of friends, parishioners, etc. Very often siblings will get into an argument which ends up basically like this, "You're stupid." "You're more stupid." After a while one of the kids yells out "Mom, he called my stupid and the other chimes in, he/she called me stupid first."

I'm sure that any of you who are parents know the drill. It is to be expected of five and six year olds. Unfortunately that is basically how the health care debate is being carried out by many so-called adults.

Health care is an important issue not only politically but also morally and spiritually. Going to meetings held by politicians and simply yelling out names will not get the job done. I think that we should ask to see specific proposals and let our leaders know why we agree or disagree with them. We need to avoid hearsay accusations and fear tactics and show our displeasure with those on either side who approach the debate in this way. We also need to be guided by our faith and not just our political leanings in making our own decision about this matter. I found some principles put forth by the Catholic Medical Association helpful in this regard.Just click on the highlighted spot below to go to their web site.
Catholic Medical Association

One final thought. Though the Medical association don't address the public option I do know that our Church teaches in various papal encyclicals as well as in letters, etc from local bishops that a society (not necessarily the government) must ensure that all people must have access to affordable health care. Based on that I do believe that if there is not a public option (which I favor) there must be some means of seeing to it that health care is available to all.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Happy to Be a Friar

On August 16, 1964, at the very young age of 19, I completed my novitiate in Catskill, NY, and took my first vows as a Franciscan. Forty five years have certainly flown by and many things have changed in the world and in the Church. I truly rejoice and am grateful for these many years.

What drew me to the friars was not any book knowledge about St. Francis or Franciscan spirituality.that would come later. It was the living witness of the friars at Christopher Columbus High School in Boston's North End who were my teachers. To sum it up they were "real", "down to earth". They were strict, but they cared about us kids and the things that were happening in our lives. I had wonderful parish priests in my life too, but there was something special about these friars that made me want to join up with them.

My instincts as a young man were correct as a realized that the "down to earthness" of these men was a result of their Franciscan charism. Francis of Assisi called his early friars (friar means brother) to walk humbly with people, as equals, as brothers, not as some sort of spiritual superior who had all the answers.

In his Testament Francis writes, "...and the Lord gave me brothers." He did not set out to found a religious order, but simply to follow God more closely in his own way. As he did so others were drawn to what he was doing and asked to follow him.

During my 45 years as a friar I have discovered that it is this brotherhood which makes our life what it is. My brothers are not always the ones I would choose(believe me) but the ones that the Lord has given me. It has been their love, support and challenge that his enabled me to live my vows and to grow in understanding of what they mean. It is because my brother friars have stood by me in difficult times such as deaths in my family and sickness and times of struggle in my own life,with prayers and moral support and encouragement, that I have become the friar that I am today. I can only hope that I have given back to them as much as they have given to me.

It is this life that we share that brings out the special qualities mentioned above in our ministry.

The initials, OFM, after my name stand for Order of Friars Minor. Minor is a designation of social class at the time of Francis. I like to think that it means the class of ordinary folks, not just the powerful ones, though Francis reminds us that they are our brothers and sisters as well.

So join me in thanking God for 45 years as a friar minor, or lesser brother and now that I thank God for the was that so many have been brother and sister to me.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Why We Pray

After 38 years of ministry as a priest many things have changed, but many are still quite the same. One of those is the fact that people are always asking us priests to pray for someone, often a request that they will be spared from some illness or tragedy. I always graciously accept such requests and am presently involved with several such requests for prayer. I see it as an important part of my ministry, but I find that a word of caution is necessary as well.

One cautionary note is the thought that many carry that priests, religious and clergy in general have more of an inside track to God in prayer. While we are called to lead I can assure you that everyone's prayers matter to God. I hope that no one discounts the power of their own prayer.

More importantly we need to ask why we pray. We live in a results oriented society and look to get "prayer that works, that gets me what I want." The problem is that this is not why we pray. We pray to deepen our relationship with God, to allow ourselves to be drawn ever closer to our God.

Certainly there is no problem with presenting the Lord with our desires. The next step though is to surrender to God, to say in effect, "OK Lord, this is what I want, but I now leave it in Your hands and trust that You will be with me no matter what."

This is a real challenge for us. It is only natural that we want ourselves and our loved ones to be delivered from pain and sorrow. No where in the Scriptures does God promise to take away our problems in we but ask. God's promise is to never abandon us, to assure us that he is with us through thick and thin.

Many like to quote Luke 11, 9-10, the passage that says ask, and you will receive, etc. Most of us forget to read though to verse 13 we find that the result of prayer is that we always receive the Holy Spirit when we turn to God in prayer. With the Spirit of God in our lives we can indeed deal with whatever challenges come our way.