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Monday, September 28, 2009

A Word from the Road and a Book to Read

As I write this entry I am at the friary of our Franciscan parish in Woodridge, NJ where I am preaching my first mission of this season. We had a wonderful celebration of Eucharist this morning and I'm looking forward to the first evenin session tonight.

About a week ago I received the gift of the book True Compass, 2009 Twelve Publishers, a memoir by Ted Kennedy. I highly recommend this book to all, Democrat or Republican, those who liked and those who disliked Ted Kennedy. It offers great insight into the heart and soul of this man and into the dynamics of his family. Political opponents are criticized (some of them Democrat as well) but no one's character is attacked. It also offers an excellent review of the great events of the last half of the twentieth century as seen through his eyes. He is very honest about his own failings and shortcomings and delivers a compelling message of hope and persistance in pursuing one's goals. He pertrays his family as loving and he strove to be a loving father not only to his own children but to the children of his deceased sister and brothers and to all of his nieces and nephews. Above all he was a man of deep faith. Some may find this hard to accept because of his pro-choice position and because of the sins and failings which were very much in the public eye. Nonetheless the point of this blog entry and my primary reason for recommending the book is that it gives us an understanding of a wonderful and complex man who though not perfect, though struggling at times with his Church, had a deep and abiding trust in God that he turned to in difficult times and that helped him to see his many blessings even in the face of tragedy. Like most of us he was not perfect and does not present himself as such, but he knew there was a God of immense love, whose most awesome characteristic is "the width of His embrace.(p. 480)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Fantastic trip--Some thoughts on science and religion

Check out this SlideShare Presentation:

Over the summer,while serving the parishes in northern Wisconsin, I entered into several conversations about the relationship between science and religion. I first viewed the slide presentation that you hopefully just watched a year ago. It raises some interesting questions. For me it challenged me to look at the universe as we understand it today and again affirm that there is a God who must be behind all of this and who sustains it continually. There are those who see this and say there is no God. I don't think that one can prove anything either way. Faith is a stance one takes when presented with such wonder. It was also apparent to me that the God who created and continues to create all of this is not somebody that I can easily figure out.
One challenge that our new understanding and awareness of the universe presents to us is that fact that traditional God-talk and religious imagery still speaks of a God in "heaven above" who pulls the strings and controls the life of us "here on earth below.". In light of our present awareness of the universe I prefer to speak of the God who is over all and through all and in all. I believe that in the not too distant future our Church leaders and our theologians will be challenged to walk the fine line between preserving traditional teaching about God, the Trinity and Jesus and expressing that teaching in a new way, with an imagery that fits our present understanding. That having been said it is good to keep in mind that whatever we say about God will always be inadequate.
One final thought--I believe that two principles should guide us in interfacing science and religion. Number one is that insofar as science explains to us what the Creator has given us we must accept that, even if it doesn't jive with images in the Bible. As Catholics we learned a big and embarassing lesson from Galileo in that regard and we now understand that the Bible does not teach science, or necessarily history. It teaches us about our relationship with God and one another. As one of my seminary Scripture profs once said while holding up a Bible, "Every last word of this is true, but not all of it happened." Where religion can challenge science is in the area of ethics, challenging the notion that just because we can do something it must be done. Issues like building nuclear weapons, cloning, genetic engineering, etc are some of the areas where science needs to be challenged. As long as science and religion both honestly seek the truth we will do just fine.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Franciscan Spirituality--Part Two

Greetings to one and all from Atlanta as I head back to St. Petersburg.

In last week's entry I presented what I believe is at the heart of Franciscan spirituality more from a theoretical point of view. this week I would like to suggest what some of the practical implications of this might be. For me it is this--If the son of God became human because it was the plan from the beginning, if the world is created in Christ, then we who follow Christ go into the world, not as the "saved and righteous", looking down on the lowly sinner,but as brothers and sisters who see Christ in every situation as the One who is waiting to be called forth. It is also a spirituality which looks on the Cross not with guilt, but in humble receptivity of a great love which leads us to walk in humble love for all and a greater compassion for all in their weakness. This is why for us to be a brother or sister is not just a canonical title,but a way of relating to all people and indeed to all of creation.

I realize that in two blog entries I cannot plummet the depths of Franciscan spirituality, but I do hope that readers get the general idea.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Franciscan Spirituality--Part One of Two

After my August 13 blog entry on being a friar I received several e-mails congratulating me on my 45 years as a Franciscan, and a few which asked me to say a bit more about Franciscan Spirituality.

Unlike many other founders of religious orders Francis simply instructed the early friars to live the Gospel. He did not develop a systematic spiritual path to follow. The Rule of our order begins with the words--" The rule and life of the Friars Minor is this, to live the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ by living in obedience, without property, and in chastity." In addition to the rule Francis gave several admonitions to the early friars about living together as brothers. Basically then simply living the Gospel is our spirituality.

People in our order who came later reflected on Francis' experience of God and developed a systematic theology/spirituality from that. Among these were two great theologians, St. Bonaventure and Blessed Suns Scotus. A contemporary Franciscan Sister, Ilia Delio, OSF drawas especially on the work of Bonaventure and sees our path as following Christ as "a God of humble love."

A the heart of this line of thinking is the belief held in the Franciscan tradition as well as by many of the early theologians of the church, like Irenaeus, that the reason why God became human in Jesus was not to get punished for our sin, but to walk with humans in unconditional, humble love. As Duns Scotus said, "God must have had a greater reason than sin for becoming human." The punishment and suffering happen because we humans did not accept this love. Jesus, rather than lashing out in anger, or selling out to the system, was faithful in love and surrendered His life. It is a belief that even had there been no sin the Incarnation would have occurred because it was God's plan from the beginning. In Scripture John's Gospel and the letter to the Collosians provide a grounding for this line of thought. This thinking denies neither the reality of sin, nor the redeeming value of Jesus' life, but casts it in a different light. Redemption happens not because the proper punishment was meted out or a debt paid, but because total love is victorious over sin. The Cross then becomes a manifestation of total love, to which we respond by walking in humble love with our brothers and sisters.

On my next blog entry I will reflect on what it means on a practical level to live out this beleif, to respond to this tremendous love.