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Saturday, December 25, 2010

Emmanuel, God With US

   A Blessed Christmas to one and all. I had promised a video for Christmas but let's just say that due to technical difficulties it wasn't meant to be, but there are certainly many thoughts on my mind as we celebrate this wonderful feast of the Lord's birth.
 
   Over nearly 40 years of ministry as a priest some words that I often hear as Christmas approaches go something like this, "It's been tough lately. There won't be any Christmas for us this year." While I certainly resonate with and have compassion towards those who express these sentiments I would like to suggest
that there is another way to look at Christmas.  Modern advertising presents us with images of Christmas that are unreal.  There is almost always snow, but just enough and no one has to shovel it.  Families are always happy and healthy.  Alcohol is consumed, but never too much.  What happens is that we compare our lives to these images and then conclude that "There is no Christmas for me this year."

   We also mistakenly think that we are merely celebrating Jesus' birthday, and we are, but we are celebrating much more.  By only thinking of the birth of Jesus, as wonderful a moment as that must have been, we are merely commemorating a past event.  Theologian Ronald Rolheiser reminds that that the Incarnation, the taking on of human flesh by God, is not a one day, or even a 33 year, reality.  It is a mystery that continues in us to this very day.  As we celebrate the birth of Christ we are challenged to let Christ be born again in us today.  To the extent that the Christ comes alive in us  repeatedly we indeed have great cause for celebration. The nativity story told by Luke and Matthew presents us with a Christ who came in humble love to humble surroundings.  That same Christ looks to be born into our own humble surroundings, into the brokenness, pain and suffering that we experience, to bring us healing, comfort and strength and set us free.  When we understand this we can never think that there won't be Christmas for me, but rather rejoice that while we won't have a Christmas card picture Christmas we can have that special cause for real rejoicing because we know that Emmanuel, God with us, is indeed with us, in our real lives, just as they are.

   The next challenge of Christmas is realizing that through us, through our actions on behalf of the poor and marginalized of this word, Christ can be born over and over again in the world today.  If more of us take up that challenge then perhaps the words, "Peace on earth" will be more than a nice theme for our Christmas cards.

  Merry Christmas to all and a Blessed New Year!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Surprise: Fourth Sunday of Advent Reflection

   None of us likes to be called out of our comfort zone. We tend to resist change.  Yet the message of the Scripture over and over again is that our God is always calling us to change, to a new place, where God can be revealed to us more fully.  As we come to the end of Advent this truth is brought before us.  This year the Gosepl reading for this Sunday is the annunciation to Joseph. (Matthew 1:18-25) In other years the annunciation to Mary is featured, but in both cases we have people who have their wedding plans made, everything all figured out, and God intervenes calling them in a new direction, a wonderful direction to be sure, but nonetheless in upheaval in each of their lives.  The Scriptures are filled with such stories--the calls of the prophets, the call of the apostles, etc.
   Granted that you and I are not likely to have anything happen to us quite as dramatic as what happens to Mary and Joseph in these Gospel accounts, but I do know that in my own experience over the years that my greatest times of opening to God have been times of change, whether it was going to Bolivia, and then returning, accepting an assignment to the Ministry of the Word which I thought would be temporary. (It is now 23 years and counting, and constant change within that 23 years.), or having injury and sickness come my way, though fortunately not too much so far.
   Christmas is coming, a time up gift-giving.  Most of us say that we like to be surprised by the gits we receive. Perhaps true, but are we open to God's surprises in our life.  Those surprises, though mixed with challenge and difficulty, are times when our relationship with our God truly deepens and grows.
   Come Emmanuel, we say and sing, but do we really mean it?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Our Lady of Guadalupe

   For the second year in a row I am on the road for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  Last year I was in Paduca, KY, this year in Pahokee, FL.  As I have pointed out previously those who know me know that my preferred style of spirituality is not highly devotional, yet when I participate in this feast I am fully drawn into it. I beleive that the reason for that is the sincerity and authenticity of the people, and the power that this feast represents in their life and culture.   We Americans can be so much in our head as we worship and pray.  We hesitate to clap, sing and express our faith emotionally.  None of that here. Everyone is fully into it.  The little video clip was made at 5 AM today, not an hour when I'm usually awake, before most of the folks headed off to work in the sugar can fields around here.
  
   This feast is so important in the lives of people from Mexico and Central America because it represents a moment when God clearly was revealed as on the side of the poor.  At a time when the Spanish missionaries and Church leaders were debating as to whether the native peoples even had a soul the Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego and imprinted an image of herself on his cloak for him to show to the bishop.
  
   While many of us who are of a scientific bent may raise questions to how this may have happened, I leave those questions aside and simply see it as a sign that God was saying, "You cannot neglect these wonderful people. They need to hear the Gospel too. They are part of my Church."  Today as well as we struggle with issues of immigration reform we would to well to heed the message of Guadalupe.
 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

 I'm at Mary Immaculate Parish in West Palm Beach, FL, ending a parish mission here on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.  Two of my brother friars offer interesting perspectives, one by a fine student friar from my province, Br. Dan Horan,OFM can be found by clicking in the link to his Blog which interestingly enough is called Dating God  Friar Dan's Blog.

The other I have copied below from the daily meditation of Richard Rohr, OFM.  Dan's is more scholarly and historical, Richard's is a meditation, but both suggest that finding meaning in this teaching is a work of continued reflection. You might note that Richard Rohr's page offers a chance too receive his daily meditations.  I highly recommend them.

Richard's Daily Meditations

 Sunrise in Honduras, (photo detail) by ©Henry Hoffman  

ADVENT

Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Feast of the Immaculate Conception


As Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters, he will always love one and ignore the other” (Matthew 6:24).  Our first and final loyalty is to one kingdom:  God’s, or our own.  We can’t really fake it.  The Big Picture is apparent when God’s work and will are central, and we are happy to take our place in the corner of the frame.
Because I am a part of the Big Picture, I do matter and substantially so.  Because I am only a part, however, I am rightly situated off to stage right—and happily so.  What freedom there is in such truth!  We are inherently important and included, yet not burdened with manufacturing or sustaining that private importance.  Our dignity is given by God, and we are freed from ourselves!
Today’s often misunderstood feast of the Immaculate Conception is saying that even Mary’s dignity was totally given by God from the first moment of her conception, and all she could do was thank God for it.  It was nothing she merited.  In that she is a metaphor and archetype for every human life.
Prayer starter:
Thy kingdom come!
If you are inspired by Fr. Richard's daily meditations,
please consider both visiting the CAC
Mustard Seed Resource Center and supporting Radical Grace, the publication of the CAC!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Shalom, Peace: An Advent Reflection

   We begin advent today, a season of hope, a season not only to prepare for Christmas, but to look ahead and prepare for the next coming of Christ, and to ask ourselves how we're doing now in helping the reign of God to come about in our everyday lives.  That task involves many things, but I was struck by a verse from today's first reading from Isaiah, specifically Is. 2,4, "They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again."

   It's obvious that we are far from realizing this prophecy which appears on many of our Christmas cards.  We are still making weapons and training for war.  As a Christian and especially as a Franciscan I feel a call to work for peace. I have no naive delusions  that make me think that the world will disarm in the near future.  But shouldn't we be striving for that.  As nations train for war can we train for peace?

    But how do we do this?  I have been called unpatriotic for raising questions about some of our nations military involvements.  I'm sorry, but as much as I love our nation my faith comes first. Can't you oppose a war because you love this country? Doesn't patriotism call us to strive to live out our deepest ideals and challenge our leaders when they do not.  When I wrote about dialoguing with Muslims a while back I got responses suggesting that when they open to us we can open to them.  That's an understandable knee jerk reaction but doesn't our faith call us to rise above that.  At the same time many Christian opponents of war end up siding with political groups that do dislike our country and that have views that are hardly compatible with the Gospel. I learned this as a seminarian when I marched in an anti-Vietnam war protest in Boston, but walked away from it because the speakers were lashing out in foul-mouthed hate filled venom. I still think that war was wrong but that wasn't my way of expressing it.

   So what do we do?  I think that instead of engaging in angry street protests we should look to take positive steps to bring people together, people from different countries, different religions, different political views and start training for peace, not to try and convince anyone to see things our way but to show that in spite of our differences we can live in peace and that we can develop models of conflict resolution that don't involve violence.  There are groups that do this and I believe we need more. Pax Christi comes to mind as one of those groups.  No, we're not going to end war tomorrow, but let's at least start training for peace, one step at a time.

Friday, November 19, 2010

A Gift of God--Sister and Brother

Left:  Dorothy, Near a beautiful tree outside the St. Petersburg Art Museum

Below to right:  John (myself) by the same tree.  Click on either to enlarge.
   As I write I am in the middle of a wonderful visit with my sister Dorothy here at St. Anthony Friary. Our friary  has wonderful guest accommodations and she is enjoying the warmth and hospitality of my brother friars. The reason for writing about this visit on this blog, however, is the uniqueness of our relationship. I did not know Dorothy, or know of her until a little over 4 years ago.  To give the short version of the story Dorothy was born to my mother a year before she met my father.  Times were different then and Mom had to put Dorothy up for adoption.  My parents met, had a wonderful marriage of 48 years, and raised three children, me, my sister Anne and my brother Michael.  Anne passed away in 2002.

  At the time of our mother's death in 1992 I learned of the child that she bore prior to meeting my father.  I had interest in making contact but looked in all the wrong places. Four years ago, shortly after I moved from Hialeah to St. Petersburg, I received a letter from a social worker in Boston informing me that my sister desired to make contact with us. There was a very respectably written letter from this woman named Dorothy expressing a desire to meet us but fully appreciating that we might not want to do that.  I immediately made contact and arranged to speak with Dorothy and meet her as soon as possible. My brother Michael and his wife Laureen joined me a few weeks later to travel to New Hampshire and meet her.  It has been a blessing for all of us, as well as for Dorothy's children  Melissa and Erik, and Michael's daughters Laurie and Michelle.

   We are amazed at the family resemblance in each others faces and are delighted to learn of the experiences that each one of us has had in life. During this visit with Dorothy in St. Petersburg I have enjoyed seeing her appreciation of art and architecture and she, understandably nervous about living for 5 days in a friary, has enjoyed the hospitality and kind outreach of my brother friars who have truly made her feel like part of the Franciscan family.  In Greek Dorothy means gift of God and she has indeed been that to us and I hope that we have been for her.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A South Carolina Treasure--A Story of Strong and Courageous Faith.


During the past week I have been with Fr. Marty Bednar preaching a mission at St. Anthony's parish in Walterboro, SC.  In preparing for the mission it was explained to me that there was a mission of the parish comprised largely of African Americans. It is not uncommon in the southern US to find a church or chapel that was once all black by virtue of segregation, but which chose to continue its largely African-American heritage while welcoming all people. We found that, but so much more at the church of St. James the greater in Walterboro.

(Pictured to the left you see the Church, a beautiful Black Madonna and Child, and below, at the end of this article, the interior of the Church.)

It seems that in 1835 three prominent  women of the area converted to Catholicism and brought many of their slaves into the Church with them.  They built a small Church dedicated to St. James the Greater on their land.   The real story begins in 1856 when that Church burned to the ground.  With the civil war soon following the community there was neglected until 1897 when a Fr. Daniel Berberich came across an incredible group of former slaves and their descendants who had kept their Catholic faith alive during that nearly 40 year period in spite of there having been no priest.  Local tradition credits a former slave, Vincent de Paul Davis with preserving the faith in the area.  His descendants and those of other original families still belong to the parish.  The Church was destroyed again by a tornado in 1935 and the present structure was built with many artifacts there from the older buildings. 
      I have commented on this blog at different times on the fact the the living witness of people of faith has shown me what Church really is, especially at times when the goings on in high places lead me to discouragement.  The people of St. James certainly head the list of those experiences. I was privileged to celebrate Mass with them this past Sunday and to join in a small picnic on
Saturday.  Several of them joined us for the mission at St. Anthony's here as well.  This is one more example of the great inspiration I receive as I travel around preaching with the  Franciscan Ministry of the Word.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

In God All is One

Greetings from Little Rock, AR where I'm spending two weeks preaching missions in English, then in Spanish. I have been enriched over the past few weeks by receiving daily meditations from Richar Rohr, OFM, a brother friar who lives in Albuquerque, NM.  He reflections are brief, easy to understand, bur profound and thought provoking at the same time. Over the last few days the meditations have been on "Unity" as part of a Franciscan vision of life.  The basic idea is that for Francis of Assisi all things mirrored the creator and even praised the Creator by their very exsistence.  We humans, being creatures, are one with all things in God. This creates a perspective for respecting all creatures and thus caring for our environment as well as for seeking unity with other humans rather that trying to separate ourselves from them.  You can click on to the following link and subscribe to his meditations as well as other resources. Richard Rohr, OFM.

  A practical challenge to living this message came my way the other day  when i was referred to a campaign called. Drop the I Word.  Again you can click to see more of what it is about Drop the I word.  I work regularly with fine Catholic people who happen to be undocumented.  This campaign does not deny that there is a problem to be worked on in our country with immigration, but it realizes that simply calling people "illegals" dehumanizes them and feeds into fear and hatred.  I encourage readers of this blog to consider making the suggested pledge.  I believe that you can do that regardless of your political leanings on this issue.
Going back to Richard Rohr's thought we need to realize that these are human beings, our brothers and sisters, in many cases our fellow Catholics as well.  Treating our immigrants as brothers and sisters, not as "others and outsiders" will do more for leading us to a solution rather than emphasizing what divides us. This is a truly Catholic and Franciscan vision to be sure.   Look to the right side of this blog to see the US bishops Immigration Reform link as well as the Franciscan Action network.  It is under the banner of "Links to my World"  I look forward to your comments.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Feast of St. Francis: A light touch and a reflection

   Yesterday our community here at St. Anthony Friary celebrated the feast of St. Francis.  The celebration began on Sunday night with a ceremony that we Franciscans call the Transitus.  Transitus is a Latin word for Passing and the ceremony recalls the death of St. Francis. Yesterday we had a wonderful Mass and a great dinner afterward.  I was asked to do the honors of slicing the nice selection of beef that was served. I thought you might enjoy the picture to the right.
   For several days I have been drifting between several thoughts about Francis that I might share with you.  Francis, like many saints, was a many faceted man. He loved animals and nature.  He loved lepers and other poor people.  He loved the Church and above all he loved the Lord.  One of the blogs that I link to on this page is  Whispers in the Loggia. If you go to that you will notice that there is a reference, with Francis in mind, of Pope Benedict's love of cats, as well as one recalling Francis initial call to "Go and Rebuild my house,  for it is falling into ruin,"a timely reference in this era of so many calls for Church reform. Whispers in the Loggia2 I would like to comment on both of these aspects of Francis' life and the role of our order in the Church and in the word.
   Many Franciscan Churches celebrate the blessing of animals on or around this feast, including St. Mary's here in St. Petersburg, run by the Third Order Regular friars. Some of our friars from St. Anthony's help out with this each year. At one time I considered this practice nice, but kind of silly.  My thoughts have changed greatly over the years.  In addition to the fact that it draws young people and families it highlights an important part of Francis life and of our spirituality.  Early on in his spiritual journey Francis was searching to discover his place in life, what God wanted him to do. As Fr. Rod Petrie, OFM, a member of our Ministry of the Word team, pointed out yesterday in his homily that in a deep moment of prayer he realized that before God he was a creature, a human being yes, but a creature, one who is created by God, and therefore a brother to all creatures.  Understanding ourselves in this was allows us Franciscans to offer to the world a spirituality of connectedness to the created order, seeing ourselves as part of it rather than as standing above it. That is why Francis is seen by the Church as the patron of ecology and we friars and other members of the Franciscan family are entrusted with the task of helping all people to see this, and to care well for the planet on which the Creator has placed us.
   As for the need to rebuild the house of the Lord , that call is just as true now as it was in the early 1200's when Francis heard this call from the Lord.  But beware, many folks, too many I think, hear the call for reform and launch out on angry crusades to change rules or to make sure they are enforced.  Francis and the early friars did none of that, they merely lived the Gospel, preaching by their actions, thereby showing others by example how we should be Church.  He never denounced abuses, though they were many, he showed the way instead.  We need more of that today.
    
To the right you can see me blessing animals at St. Francis of Assisi in Hilton Head Island during a mission in 2007 as well as Pope Benedict with the aforementioned cat.(picture taken from the blog, Whispers in the Loggia)

   A belated happy feast of St. Francis to all!

With any of these pics just click on them to enlarge them.



Sunday, October 3, 2010

How Long O Lord

 We Catholics often focus on the Gospel text  when preaching on the Sunday readings.  Today however I was struck by the way that the first reading, from the prophet Habakkuk expresses what is in the heart of so many people who endure trial and hardship, turning to God all the time, but being frustrated that God doesn't seem to answer them.  For the entire text of the reading just click on the reference below, then click on the reference below.


Hab 1:2-3; 2:2-4

 We all ask at times "How long o Lord?  How often to I have to pray?  Are you Really there?"
As normal as it is to raise such questions and as understandable as it is that trial and hardship put faith to the test we need to remind ourselves often that the purpose of prayer is not to get God to do things for us, but to open ourselves to God and to seek deeper union with God.

   The prophet in this reading tells us that "the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint.  In other words the point is to trust that if we are in God's hands all will be well, even if it doesn't seem so at the time, to be humble enough to admit that God's perspective is bigger than mine.  To pray is to go before God with our life just as it is, certainly to express our wishes, but then to let go and trust that if we are in God's hands all will be well.

A theologian once defined hope not as optimism, the belief that the glass is half full and not half empty, but rather hope is believing that when the glass is bone dry God will get you through it.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Good to Be Home

After a wonderful summer which began with retreat to the priests of the Syracuse, NY diocese and continued with my summer ministry in Eagle River, Phelps and Land O'Lakes, WI, ending with a mission in Florence, WI, I finally arrived home the other day.  I was weary from travel when I came in the door but was delighted with the warm "welcome homes" I received from my brother friars, a warmth which was added to because I managed to make it home in time for what we friars call Preprandium, a nice Latin euphemism for cocktail hour.

Over the summer I was made aware of how illness was effecting some of the friars here and was taken back by the way that cancer and the effects of advancing years had changed some of my brothers so much during my three months away.  Certainly seeing that is a reminder of what could lie ahead for me in the coming years, but more importantly with that comes the assurance that we friars are well taken care of as we grow older, by our province and by the men we live with.  If nothing else St. Anthony Friary is a faith-filled and caring community and it is good to be back in the rhythm of daily Eucharist and prayer withe the guys here and too look forward to celebrating the feast of St. Francis (Oct. 4) before I go back on the road.

The Fall schedule takes me back to Little Rock again as well as to some of the more familiar states of SC, GA and Florida.  I will be looking forward to a visit from my sister Dorothy in November and then Christmas in Boston with my brother and family before our provincial chapter in Maryland right after the New Year.


So that's a little glimpse into my world over the next few months.  A return to some more serious reflection will soon follow on this blog.

Friday, September 10, 2010

On the Lighter Side--From Pines to Palms

(Just click on a picture to enlarge it.)


After several posts about Catholic and Muslims I thought that I would post something on the lighter side.  I have finished up my summer in Eagle River and will be heading to nearby Florence, WI to preach a parish mission, then head home to Florida.  Some have asked me about my references to the "Northwoods".  Exactly what is it. Basically it is a large stretch of northern Wisconsin that is a beautiful land of tall pines and lakes,  as well as a good deal of white and yellow birch and maples. Deer are abundant, and it is not uncommon to see a bear or a fox while traveling about. In the pictures above you can see evidence of that as well as of the early fall colors here in September.

As I head back to Florida and Tampa Bay with its wide assortment of palms and the possibility of taking a walk on which I might encounter dolphins, wild parrots and pelicans, I realize how blessed I am to be so close to the beauty of nature, in different ways, throughout the year.  I will have a posting soon on Catholics and ecology, with memories of both the northwoods and Florida very much in mind.

I will not be posting again until I get back to Florida later this month, so God bless until then.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Word from my Superiors

After two posts related to the mosque controversy and Catholic-Muslim dialogue I am proud to post here a copy of a statement that has come from my Provincial leadership, namely John O'Connor, OFM, our provincial, and Dominic Monti, OFM, our vicar-provincial.   I offer no further comment except that my words and theirs are motivated by our Christian and Catholic faith and its demands, not by any partisan political leanings.  Also, please note Pope Benedict's recent statement on the outrageous acts planned by the preacher in Gainesville, FL. Just click on Papal Statement

 Reflections Approaching September 11, 2010

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

For the past eight years throughout our nation, the anniversary of the horrific September 11th terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon has been marked by remembrance of the victims and prayers for peace and reconciliation in our world. Each year, the Memorial Mass at our Church of St. Francis of Assisi in New York City has called to mind the self-sacrificing dedication of our brother, Fr. Mychal Judge, OFM, and the thousands of others who perished on that day, and also has offered an opportunity to pray for healing among the peoples of the world so that such tragedies might not reoccur.

This year, however, the mood in our nation is different. Members of a small independent church in Gainesville, Fla., declaring that “Islam is of the Devil,” have announced plans to mark the September 11th anniversary by publically burning copies of the Qur’an. A project to build an Islamic Center in New York several blocks from “Ground Zero” has unleashed vitriolic abuse against Islam as a religion; strong local opposition has surfaced in a number of places against Muslims providing places of worship for themselves in their communities. Perhaps heightened by our current economic insecurity, there is a mounting cry against the perceived “other” in our midst and that “true” – i.e., Christian – Americans must somehow “take back” the country.

As leaders of the Franciscans of Holy Name Province, we wish to lift our voices against this tide of anti-Muslim rhetoric in our nation. We cannot help but recall that in the nineteenth century, there was a similar outcry against Roman Catholics as an foreign, inassimilable mass within the nation, that our Catholic practices and values were contrary to the American way of life. Time, of course, proved those sentiments wrong. We must give our Muslim brothers and sisters the same opportunity. We must accept them as fellow-worshippers of our common God.

Our position as Catholics is grounded in the clear teaching of our Church. The Second Vatican Council’s dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, after speaking of the People of God who have explicitly professed faith in Christ, and then the Jewish people, goes on to state: “God’s plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, first among whom are the Muslims: they profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, who will judge all human beings on the last day” (LG, 16). The Church thus clearly teaches that Muslims are not “pagans” or  “idolaters” but children of the same loving God as Christians and Jews.


On a practical level, the Decree on Religious Liberty of the same Council, Dignitatis Humanae, states that: “religious groups . . . must be allowed to honor the Supreme God in public worship. . . and promote institutions in which members may work together to organize their own lives. . . . Religious communities also have the right not to be hindered by legislation or administrative action by the civil authority. . . in erecting buildings for religious purposes, and in the acquisition and use of the property they need.” (DH 4)  This has clear implications for how Catholic Americans should accept Muslims in our society. We cannot allow the actions of a fanatical minority to define an entire religion.

In a particular way, we Franciscans cannot help but recall that we are followers of a man who crossed frontiers, even battle lines, to offer a message of peace to the perceived enemies of Christianity. As Paul Moses has strikingly portrayed in his recent study, The Saint and the Sultan, at a time when some preachers were urging Christians “to kill a Muslim for Christ,” Francis boldly defied the prejudices of his era to demonstrate to the Sultan of Egypt that Christianity had another face than that of the Crusaders who faced him in battle.  Francis was not able to win the Sultan over to the Gospel of Christ, but returned to Europe impressed by the faith he had experienced among the followers of Islam, convinced that he had met other worshippers of God like himself. Our General Chapter in Assisi last year urged Franciscans throughout the world to take up this heritage and to work in a special way at dialogue among Christians and Muslims and be architects of peace and reconciliation in society.

Three pieces of steel from the tangled mass of debris of the World Trade Center were entrusted to the Church of St. Francis of Assisi in New York and now form a memorial to the victims of September 11th, including our own brother, Fr Mychal. The compressed pieces of steel vividly summon the grief and unspeakable sadness of that tragic morning. Still, a single golden rose rises gently from the mass of contorted steel, transcending the senseless brutality with an enduring promise of hope.

Let this September 11th be an opportunity for all of us to summon the better angels of our nature, to rise above the anger and bitterness that seem to be an increasing feature of our country, to show respect to all people who seek the face of God, and to be agents of true and lasting peace and reconciliation in our own land and among all nations.

Fraternally,

Fr.  John F. O’Connor, OFM                                      Fr.  Dominic V. Monti, OFM
Provincial Minister                                                      Provincial Vicar


(Mrs.) Theresa Bartha
Executive Secretary
HOLY NAME PROVINCE
129 West 31st Street, 2nd floor
New York, NY 10001-3403
(646) 473-0265 x.309
Fax: (1-800) 420-1078

Friday, September 3, 2010

More on Muslim-Catholic dialogue

I want to thank my blog readers for the e-mails and comments that you made last week. My hope is that we can diffuse irrational emotion and enter into a discussion with reason, not only about the ground zero mosque but on a wider level of Christian-Muslim dialogue. Right now the political world, both on the left and the right, is driving that discussion. I believe that in the years ahead the Catholic Church and other Christian Churches, as well as the Jewish faith community, must invite dialogue with Muslims. Dialogue, of course, must be a two way street. there are some questions to raise about violence and the lack of religious freedom, not to mention the treatment of women in many Muslim countries. At the same time we must seek common ground together.

I am in the middle of reading a fine book entitled THE FUTURE CHURCH: How Ten Trends are Revolutionizing the Catholic Church. by John Allen, Jr., a writer with the National Catholic Reporter. Like myself I'm sure that many will not like all of these trends, but they are there and we must deal with them. Apropos of this entry one of the trends that he brings up is the fact that the next major challenge facing the Church, especially in Africa and the Middle East, is Islam. His Chapter on Islam (pp. 95-140) offers a fine summary of the complexities of dealing with Islam, touching on grounds for hope as well as areas of concern. While no one can offer a complete analysis of a topic like that in a space of 45 pages, Allen certainly points out several important features and offers fine references in his Suggestions for further Reading at the back of the book.

Allen's book was published by Doubleday in 2009. The ISBN number is 978-0-385-52038-6. I'm sure you can purchase it through the usual online services, as well as through NCR. When I finish reading it I will opffer a review on this blog.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Catholics and Muslims

The flap over the mosque near ground zero in New York has set me to thinking about several things in regard to our understanding of the Muslim religion. I am not writing this blog entry to take a stand on that issue, but I do think that several things need to be pointed out.

I certainly appreciate the sensitivity to victims of 9/11, but sensitivity notwithstanding we sometimes need to point to facts rather than emotions. And one fact is that the Muslim religion did not take down the World Trade Center towers. Islamic extremists who distort Islam performed that terrible deed. Another fact is that the US Constitution makes it impossible to ban the construction of a house of worship on private property. All this having been said I do hope that the Immam and some of his followers could sit down with political leaders from New York and come to some common agreement. Right now it seems that they're talking through the airwaves but not directly to each other.

I also believe that this debate has surfaced a great deal of Islamophobia. I am not saying that all opponents of the project are guilty of this, nor has most of it come from New Yorkers, but from people all over our country and elsewhere.

When there is fear and anger there is usually ignorance. As a Franciscan, an order entrusted by the Church with Catholic-Muslim dialogue, I believe that we need to learn more about Islam. We need to understand where we agree with Muslims, and where we disagree as well. Maybe each one can take it upon him/her self to try to engage a Muslim in informal discussion about their faith. Perhaps we can try to read literature which explains the Muslim faith.

Here are a few interesting points of which you may not be aware:

1. Allah is not another god. Allah is God. If you go to Mass, say in Lebanon or Syria, it will be in Arabic and the prayers will be directed to Allah, the Father of Jesus. Allah is the Creator. Yes, Muslims believe some different things about Allah than we do, but Allah is God.

2. Muslims believe that Jesus was a prophet.

3. Muslims believe in the Virgin birth of Jesus and honor Mary.

These are a few things to ponder. I'm sure there is a lot more.

Finally, if the New York mosque is built perhaps they could contact local Christian and Jewish clergy and establish a program for dialogue. I'm going to write a letter to my provincial in New York and suggest that we Franciscans might explore that possibility.

Monday, August 9, 2010

A Midsummer Feast

This coming Sunday the Church will take a break from ordinary time and celebrate the Feast of the Assumption of Mary. It was on the feast in 1963 that I received the Franciscan habit. A year and a day later on August 16, 1964 I professed my first vows as a Franciscan. I was 18 for the first event, 19 for the second. Much has changed in the world, the nation and the Church during that time and needless to say much has changed in my own life. An understanding of this great feast of Mary perhaps can shed some light on those changes.

For some it might be tempting to dismiss this feast as something tough to explain in light of modern science and our present understanding of the universe, but I think that a deeper look at the true meaning of the feast shows its timeliness, even though the theology around it may need to be reworked.

With the Church's teaching that Mary is assumed body and soul into heaven a statement is made that our salvation and redemption is not just spiritual. It offers the hope that all human beings share in the hope of resurrection, of body and soul, of the whole person. So why do we insist on praying for the salvation of souls and not the salvation of people? If salvation is only spiritual then the material world is devalued. Is it any wonder that we continue to pollute the environment? Is it any wonder that we can't seem to strike a healthy balance with our sense of sexuality, bouncing constantly over the years from puritanical prudishness to hedonism. And further, is it any wonder that so many Christians struggle to see the quest for justice as an integral part of the Christian mission. If we only have to save our souls why struggle against earthly injustice.

The Gospel text for the feast, from Luke 1, ought to guide us in understanding this feast. The author of the third gospel places on Mary's lips a canticle in which she praises God for what has been done to her in becoming the mother of the Redeemer, and then goes on to proclaim that in this child of hers God, "has cast down the mighty from their thrones, . . .has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty." That doesn't sound like a merely spiritual salvation to me.

It is interesting too that Pope Pius XII in proclaiming this doctrine in 1950 was trying in his own way to offer hope to a humanity so torn by the ravages of World War II.

And so dear readers of this blog please do reflect on the deeper meaning of this feast and ask for what kind of salvation do we strive. What did Jesus really come to bring about?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

In the Blood

Reading the blog of my brother friar Steve Dewitt (A Franciscan abroad, link to the right on this page) brings back memories of my days in Bolivia. I spent a little less than 3 years there between 1981 and 1984, a lot less time than I've spent in other places, nonetheless to borrow a term from Catholic sacramental theology, it left an indelible mark on my soul, mostly for the the better, although there are a few scars as well. Thankfully those have been healed

I think that anyone who spends time away from his or her home country, above all in a poor country, is challenged to stretch, to be open to see life in a different way and to question a lot of the presumptions about life that seemed quite reasonable back at home, and also to appreciate more the many blessings of home.

I could go on at length with various examples, but I'll mention just a few things that come to mind.

1. As a priest and friar I never was big on ecclesiastical pomp and the inner workings of chancery offices and Vatican congregations, but experiencing Church at the level of the campesinos of Bolivia, whose faith is so genuine, real and down to earth, moved me oven further from that dimension of Church, and keeps me grounded in dealing with Church now, helping me to focus on the Church as what is happening in the lives of very real people rather than what is going on at the top.

2. I speak Spanish, perhaps the greatest gift that Bolivia gave me. Sometimes I think that in God's great plan for things that is the reason why I went there. I left Bolivia in a down mood, thinking I had "failed" because my ambition to spend a lifetime there didn't work out. Since returning I spent two years at our largely Spanish speaking parish in Camden, NJ, and now move about the country preaching missions in English and Spanish. With the language comes an openness to the varied cultural differences of the people I meet from Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and other Spanish speaking countries. This has added a richness to my life that would not be there had I not been in Bolivia.

3. My thirst for justice is stronger. I look at issues such as immigration reform, health care, etc. through the lens of my Bolivia years. Likewise my perspective on the present economic downturn is colored by my encounter with a poverty more extreme and severe than anyone here in the US can know.

Again I could go on with more but that could turn into a book. I thought it would be good though to share with you, the readers of this blog, a glimpse into these very important years of my life.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Parish Priest

My summertime experience in the Northwoods of Wisconsin is off and running. Most of you know how much I love being a traveling preacher, a Wandering Friar. It is indeed my vocation within a vocation and I hope to keep on traveling and preaching until I'm unable to do so. That having been said I must say that I love having the opportunity to be a parish priest for a few months here in Wisconsin.

I began traveling from Natick, MA to St. Peter the Fisherman parish in Eagle River, WI, back in 1995. In 1999, due to a shortage of priests here, St. Peter's became part of a three parish cluster with St. Mary in Phelps, WI and St. Albert in Land O'Lakes, WI. Over the years I have grown to feel truly a part of all 3 of the parishes and am warmly welcomed back each year. I enjoy preaching regular Sunday homilies and getting to preside at baptisms, funerals and occasionally a wedding, things i don't get to do while preaching parish missions.

My involvement here has taken me beyond the Catholic parishes to other events in the area. Since 2005 I have been singing with an ecumenical choir at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church here. I love singing and more importantly I have a chance to share faith with other Christians in this nearly 100 member choir. There is a concert from Tuesday through Thursday each year on the last week of July and proceeds from a free will offering go to various local charities. The POPS (for prince of Peace) is a regular part of my summers now as is the American Cancer Society Relay for Life on the first weekend of August. I have been participating in that with St. Peter's team since 2007 after my 2006 diagnosis of prostate cancer.

As I have been sitting here writing this entry at a local wi-fi site several people have stopped to say hello. It's nice to feel a part of the community here and I hope to keep coming back.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Faith and Doubt

The other day I was presented with an interesting question which basically asked if it was sinful to doubt one's faith. My quick response to that is no, doubt is natural and normal, though it would be wrong and careless when presented with doubts not to struggle for deeper understanding.

From my point of view doubt is necessary in order to grow in faith and understanding of the faith. The answers and explanations provided in grammar school often don't satisfy the educated adult mind. I know that it was in the seminary that I began to question some teachings of the Church, as I understood those teachings. Questioning and wrestling with different approaches led me to a deeper understanding of many Church teachings, and a stronger faith in God. Learning that many parts of Scripture were true, but not necessarily historically true, has given me a deeper appreciation of the Scriptures and a deeper conviction that they are the revealed Word of God.One difficulty that we face today however, especially with some of our younger people, is that as they begin to experience doubt they just give up. They don't pursue deeper understanding. Part of this is due to an intellectual laziness on their part, but part of it is due to the fact that many of us Church leaders have never told them that we are available to listen to and discuss their doubts.

Another, and deeper, level of doubt is what happens when we wonder not about a particular Church doctrine, but about the whole thing--Is there a God at all? Is there anything after this life. In the end no expression of doctrine can fully express the great mystery that is God. We are all confronted with a decision to believe, or not believe, that there is a Creator, that there is something more than this earthly life. Though I am a priest I have often visited this question, and always come away with a deeper Yes. Not everyone does however. Though i believe that many of our teachings, while true, are inadequately expressed by an outdated theology and understanding of the universe, I still believe that they point to a deeper mystery which can never be adequately expressed. None other than Thomas Aquinas expresses this at the end of his great work, The Summa Theologica.

A third type of doubt is that created by the bad witness of us Christians, especially those who are leaders. The recent sex abuse crisis is a vivid case in point. This leads people to ask "How can I believe in a Church where such things happen, where priests abuse children and others cover it up?" That is certainly a legitimate question that hopefully leads us to understand that while these things are atrocious and horrible and need to be stopped, the mystery of Church is deeper that the bad example of some leaders. At the same time it helps to realize that this is a true "scandal" in the biblical sense, not because it involves shocking behavior, but because it leads others astray.

There are many wonderful bishops, priests, religious and lay people who provide me with inspiration that strengthens my faith. i pray that more attention can be called to them, especially in the media. At the same time I also believe that it is incumbent on those of us who believe to strive to live lives that reflect those beliefs.

I believe. Amen

Friday, June 25, 2010

I Do: A Reflection on Marriage

    The other day my attention was called to a Newsweek (June 21, 2010) article entitled, I Don't: the case against Marriage, by Jesssica Bennett and Jesse Ellison. Their principal tenet is that "40 years after the feminist movement established our rights in the workplace, a generation after the divorce rate peaked, and a decade after Sex and the City made singledom chic, marriage is—from a legal and practical standpoint, at least—no longer necessary." They cite some interesting facts and theories in favor of their position. For example, "It often pays to stay single," or "If you're going to wait, why get married?" Then there was the 28 year old man quoted as, "If I had to be married to have sex, I would probably be married, as would every guy I know." They also mention things like women no longer needing to depend on men for financial security, or that studies show that marrying a man means that a woman takes on seven hours a week more of housework, even though husbands and fathers these days do more of that than they did years ago. One interesting point made is that marriage has become so idealized and filled with expectations that it is almost impossible to maintain. They cite many other statistics and opinions as well and point out that most young people believe in monogamy, but just not necessarily a life long one or one that includes a wedding ceremony.

    Articles like this certainly present a challenge to Christians and others who do believe in marriage. The question is "How do we respond to that challenge?" a challenge which has been there for a while and is not all of a sudden put on us by this article. There are some who would get angry and condemnatory and go pound on their pulpits. That may bring a certain satisfaction to those in the pew who already believe in, and are in fact married, but I don't think it would go far to alter the landscape. I think a different approach is needed.

    First of all I don't think that we can bury our heads in the sand regarding the whole context, socially and economically, in which marriage is lived out. Most of us don't live on the farm, and even those that do live on a much different kind of farm. In addition the industrial revolution is over and we're in a new phase of a hi-tech, twittering, blogging, facebook and texting world where women have a lot more independence, and a try to juggle careers with child-rearing. They're not going to entertain any notion of marriage where he's the boss and she demurely follows hid commands, and like it or not the sexual revolution has taken place. All of this and more shapes the ideas that young people bring to the possibility of marriage for them. On top of this they have seen their parents generation have not too great a track record on staying married. This creates a certain skepticism regarding permanent commitment. We in the priesthood and religious life see the same trend for our lives.

    Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that I like or agree with all of the above. Some of the thinking is appalling, some of it interesting, but all of it needs to be taken into consideration. Simply going to young people of a marriageable age with "Thou shall or shall not…" will not cut it. So, what can we do?

    Certainly as a celibate priest I tread lightly in saying anything about marriage. That having been said I offer a few thoughts. I think the first thing that we can do is look to the many happily married couples that there are and find out the keys to their success, and there are several. One of the blessings of my life as a friar and priest is the friendship I have with several couples that I met in my days of working with the Marriage encounter. What I have discovered from them is that faith and hard work are the two things that keep things going in a marriage. By faith I don't mean just showing up at Church on Sunday, but a firm conviction that the grace of God is needed to meet the challenges of marriage and a willingness to seek that grace when needed. By hard work I mean the realization that you don't just get married and hang on for dear life, but the day by day struggle to communicate with each other and realize that no matter how long you are together you never fully know and understand each other. Also included in hard work if the struggle to keep marriage and family as a priority over work, especially now when both the man and the woman may be working outside the home.

    In one parish that I visited to preach a mission young couples were invited to draw on the wisdom of a "mentoring couple" from the parish that they could turn to for advice and wisdom. Many took up the suggestion and were happy with the results. W

    I also think that in preparing couples for marriage we need to challenge both the man and the woman but in different ways. With the much diuscussed "bridezilla" phenomenon in planning for the wedding day I think that brides need to be challenged to realize that a marriage is more than the wedding ceremony. With the above mentioned stat that marriage means seven more hours of housework for the woman men need to be challenged to step up to the plate even more. They're doing better than their dads in this respect, but more is called for.

    That's my two cents worth. It's not the whole answer. Much prayer and thought needs to go into this subject. I welcome your response, dear reader of this blog, via direct comments below or by e-mails to me.

    

Monday, June 21, 2010

Another Summer in the Northwoods

The wandering friar has just finished a week of heavy wandering. I arrived in Eagle River for weekend Masses on June 11, and flew to Syracuse, NY on June 13 to preach a retreat to the priests of that diocese, returning back to Wisconsin on June 18 to resume my ministry here for the rest of the summer.

The experience with the priests was wonderful. Though I am a veteran preacher this was only my third retreat for priests, a task which I approach with a great deal of anxiety, and also the realization that much prayer is needed to perform that task well. Many of you provided that prayer, and for that I am grateful. The priests were largely older and seasoned priests whose dedication and zeal was an inspiration to me. It struck me that with priests getting so much bad press the stories of so many who have worked hard in parishes, schools, hospitals, jails and foreign missions over the years needs to be told.

My arrival in Eagle River last week and in Phelps and Land O'Lakes this weekend was deeply touching. I was welcomed with a lot of "glad your backs" and "great to see you agains" which made me realize that the people here are such a gift to me. I travel around and me great people in so many different parishes, but I have been coming back to Wisconsin almost every year since 1995. I feel deeply a part of so many of the joys and blessings, but also the sorrows and losses of so many people here. I will never foget the prayerful support I received from then in 2006 when I could not come here due to prostate cancer. I look forward to another summer of ministering to people here, of singing in the ecumenical choir at Prince of peace Lutheran Church, walking in the Northwoods Relay for Life to fight cancer, and offering an adult faith formation program entitled Revisitng Vatican II. It should be a great summer.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Corpus Christi: A Reflection

Today is one of my favorite feasts in the Church's liturgical calendar, the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ. This feast was established in the 13th century to affirm our belief in the real presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, because that belief was under attack. The Liturgy for the feast was composed by the great Dominican theologian, Thomas Aquinas.

Now in the early 21st century we still find a need to reaffirm this belief that Christ is present, body & soul, humanity and divinity, in this great Sacrament. I have for a long time however thought the we must do more than merely affirm our faith in this belief. We need to ask not only, "Is the Lord truly present to us?", but also, "What's He doing? How does it involve me, us?"

Bishop Robert Lynch, bishop of the St. Petersburg,FL diocese where I reside, has been conducting a wonderful program of Eucharistic awareness over the past few years, that nicely answers that question. He is gathering, nourishing and sending us,according to that program.

I think that many Catholics believe in the Eucharist, but keep themselves outside of the mystery, even though since Vatican II they have been participating more in the prayers of the Mass. I think that many people understand that the Lord is truly present and they receive Him with devotion, and that's it. Now that alone is wonderful, but there is so much more to it.

He gathers us, draws us each Sunday out of our daily lives, and invites us to bring the bread and wine of our own joys and sorrows to the celebration at His table.

He nourishes us--with His Word first of all, and then by not only feeding us with His Body and Blood, but drawing us anew into the mystery of His death and Resurrection, so that the bread of our daily lives is united to Him and we find healing and renewal. In nourishing us in this way He also unites to to Him and to one another so that in the words of Eucharistic Prayer III "we become one body, one Spirit, in Christ. Body of Christ then is the host, the consecrated Bread, but it is also us, the Church, united with Him.

To complete the process we are sent, to "Go in Peace" to bring to the world what the Lord has given us. The Eucharist then is not just a static ritual, as many critics say, but an ongoing drama in which God's love, given to us in Christ, is over and over again poured out in us so that we might pour it out on everyone we meet.

What a wonderful gift. Let's cherish it and renew our dedication to living out this gift in our lives.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Religion and Politics

Recently I have received several e-mails and been in direct face to face discussion as well with folks who ask why the Church speaks out on issues such as immigration, the environment, health care,etc. People object to the Church doing this using remarks such as, "What about the separation of Church and state?" or "The clergy should talk about God, help people to pray better but keep politics out of the pulpit." I would like to offer comments on remarks such as these.

First of all there is some myth busting to do. One of the greatest myths used today in everyday language and even on many talk shows and newscasts is the notion that the US constitution establishes separation of Church and state. It does not quite do that and never uses the expression "separation of Church and state". The beginning of the first amendment reads, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." The purpose of this part of the amendment was to prevent the establishment of a state church or religion or the favoring of one over the other and to allow people of all creeds to assemble in their respective places of worship without harassment and also to freely live out publicly the tenets of their faith. This amendment does not prohibit clergy and other religious leaders from trying to influence society on matters that they believe are in the public interest or public morality. In the 1800's it was the churches, especially some of the protestant churches in the north, who led the campaign against slavery. Today religious leaders speak out on the rights of immigrants, the availability of health care, the injustice of certain wars not by way of trying to impose their religious beliefs on society but because they believe that these things are true for all people. Likewise when they speak out on abortion. Now some people my disagree and sometimes religious leaders may be wrong, but it is their right to speak, the right of free speech, granted later in the same first amendment.

On the other side people get upset when a priest or other clergy person brings some of these issues to the pulpit. They say things like' "Father shouldn't talk about politics. He should stick to the Bible, or Church teaching, etc." The problem here is that the very same Bible speaks on some of these issues that are political. Your priest, minister rabbi has an obligation to address these issues from the pulpit. What cannot be done from the pulpit is to direct people to vote for a certain individual or to belong to a certain party. The general idea is that clergy should speak about political issues when they touch on matters of social morality but not enter into partisan politics.

What the constitution leaves room for from the various religions is that they serve as the conscience, or at least, a conscience for society. Complete separation of Church and state would not allow for that. For those of us who are people of faith we need to do some soul searching when addressing some of these hot button issues and ask whether the Democratic party, the Republican Party, the Tea Party or any particular talk show host or media outlet influences me more on such matters than does my faith.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Pentecost: A Reflection

As a sit here on the day before Pentecost Sunday, celebrating 39 years of priestly ministry, my thoughts go to an event that took place at the beginning of my sophomore year of high school when in 1959 Pope John XXIII called for a council, the council that became known to us as Vatican II. In making this call he asked the Church to pray for a new Pentecost, a new outpouring of the Spirit, on the Church and on the world. The council began three years later in 1962 when this writer was a freshman at the Franciscan College Seminary in Troy, NY, certainly did provide for that outpouring. The Pope's prayer was answered with renewed enthusiasm for liturgy, especially the change to vernacular language, Scripture, the role of the laity in the Church, and ecumenism.

Every year we celebrate Pentecost and recall the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles and ask for an outpouring of the Spirit. This year though, most especially I think, calls on us to cry out loudly for an outpouring of the Spirit. We need to call on the Spirit to heal the wounds caused by sexual abuse, it's cover-up, and exploitation of it by many in the media. We need to call on the Spirit to heal the wounds within the Church between factions who call themselves liberal or conservative and who forget that the idea is not to win out against the opposition as we do in political elections, but to call on the Spirit to lead us to what is best for the Church which is usually a mixture of change and tradition. The Church above all must be a win-win place and not one with winners and losers. We need to call on the Spirit to blow on us anew that we might realize that the Church is not the institution, but the vibrant living community of faithful members, clergy, religious and laity alike, throughout the world. The institution is needed, to be sure, but the institution is not an end in itself, but at the service of this great communion of believers.

When this new breath of the Spirit upon us takes place there will be fewer people saying things like, "I like Jesus, but not organized religion or the institutional Church," because they will see living witness to Him in the visible, institutional Church. When that happens the Church's wonderful social teachings touching areas like the economy, peace, justice, concern for the environment will be heeded because we will once again be credible. People won't be able to say, "Don't speak to us about justice until you clean your own house."

As youngsters preparing for Confirmation many of us had to memorize the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit. I must admit that though I am a friar and priest I still had to check the catechism to be sure I had them all down. Let us ask the Spirit this Pentecost to pour out on us these gifts of Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel (or right judgment) knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. These last two deserve some comment. Piety does not mean walking around with our hands folded and carrying our rosary. It means a strong devotion and loyalty to God and the things of God. Fear of the Lord means a sense of awe and wonder towards the Creator, not a fear of punishment by God. That awe and wonder is certainly created in me by viewing the video clip attached to my last posting.

Veni Sancte Spiritus! Come Holy Spirit and pour out your gifts on all of us.

PS You might look to the column on the left on click on the blog of our bishop here in St. Petersburg (For His Friends)for a nice reflection on Pentecost.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Immigration Reform and Some Other Issues: A faith Perspective.

The Wandering Friar is not wandering this month and is enjoying some quality time at home. I've been able to work on mission talks, prepare more for the upcoming retreat for priests in Syracuse, NY as well as my summer adult education series in Eagle River.

I have also been giving thought to several important issues such as the big oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico--No, it has not hit Florida and there is a good likelihood that it won't. Nonetheless the fishing industry here still is getting hit and you can smell the oil at times when standing on a beach. It certainly tells this writer that we have to pursue other energy sources and that just saying drill, drill, drill is not the answer. The sex abuse crisis seems never to go away and while I'm certain that many in the media love piling it on the Church, we as Church still need to move towards a policy of transparency in everything. It's time for Vatican secrecy to go.

And last but not least among the issues is immigration reform. I believe that a challenge for Catholics is to step out of the slant of your particular political party and look at this issue from a faith perspective. If you click on the site below you will find a very fine interview from Our Sunday Visitor from Bishop Wester. He expresses some of the main concerns on people's minds, especially that of legality. After getting to the Sunday Visitor Web site click on the May 16 issue. I hope you read it and I welcome your comments.Bishop Wester on Immigration

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Grandeur of God, A View From The Hubble Ultra Deep Field 3D

Hubble Ultra Deep Field 3D

I just came across a wonderful video taken from the Hubble telescope. Just click on the line above to see it. The relationship between religion and science has always been important to me. Many people of faith fear science and many scientists eschew religion. Francis of Assisi was known at one time to have gone before God in prayer and repeated these two questions, Who are you O God, And who am I?" For him, who lived at a time when people believed the earth to be the center of the universe, he was bowled over by the grandeur of God and his own littleness, yet belovedness, in the face of God.

For those of us today who do believe in God and see in videos such as this and other pictures sent to us by the Hubble telescope, we can only be awed and stop in wonderment at a Creator who created still creating such as vast universe. We can realize our own smallness as well. Our earth, solar system and even our Milky Way Galaxy are just specks of dust compared with all that is. Yet science tells us that we are one with all that is, that the same atoms and molecules formed at the beginning of the universe are the ones that we are made of. I hope that viewing this video helps us realize that the God who created all of this is a God that none of us can totally figure out. Yet we believe that He loves all that He made, including us, and that really is totally awesome.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Some Thoughts at Season's End

Another season of preaching parish missions has come to an end. After attending a gathering of friars in Raleigh, NC I'll be heading home, taking a week of vacation and then settle down for a whole month with my community at St. Anthony Friary.

These past few months have been hectic. They have included travel to eleven states and one Canadian province, but they have also been quite enriching and filled with wonderful and unique encounters with a variety of peoples, something which I consider to be on of the real blessings of twenty two and a half years on the road.

Regular readers of this blog may remember that back in October I experienced an afternoon on the grounds of a monastery of nuns who lived a life of hermitage and who produced wonderful liturgical art. I have continued to preach in Spanish and am always enriched by the faith and the variety of cultures of the Hispanic people. Keep in mind that the word Hispanic is misleading because it lumps people together by a common language, but each country has its own culture. I am always experiencing that in new ways. This year I worked in Spanish in western Kentucky, North Carolina, Arkansas and South Carolina.

Many of the folks I work with in Spanish are undocumented and have many painful stories that reflect the injustice of our immigration laws. These must be changed and certainly not in the shameful way that Arizona has just gone. You can click on my links to the right to the Franciscan Action Network and the US Bishop's Immigration reform to see more on this topic. In spite of poverty and pain they have great faith, and not the passive resigned type of faith, but an active one that seeks to correct injustice.

Faith is not limited to Hispanics of course. Whether in Kentucky, Arkansas, Florida or the Carolinas I am always deeply moved by the strength of faith in people touched by sickness, injustice, the bad economy or the crisis of credibilty due to the continuing sexual abuse crisis and the cover-up engaged in by too many of our Church's leaders.

Another enriching experience came in February in Sanibel, Florida where the church there had been destroyed several years ago by hurricane Charlie. Many people told me how rebuilding not only the Church, but many of their own homes, brought them together and made them stronger.

Just last week I was in Miramichi, NB, Canada and for the first time in over 22 years of preaching missions joined with a community of native peoples,or as the Canadians say, First Nation people, as I celebrated Mass at the chapel of St. Joachim on the Eel Ground reserve. The Church had some very nice stained glass windows which integrated Christian saints and symbols with symbols from their culture. The brochure describing the windows was entitled, "One Supreme Being, Two Unique Cultures. Salmon fishing was a key part of this people's life and the local pastor and I were treated several days later to a nice grilled salmon, prepared by one of the Eel Ground natives. We enjoyed the meal and appreciated it more for the genuine gift that it was.

In closing this entry I'd mention that I'm often asked how I can live out of a suitcase. The answer to that is because of experiences such as the ones I've mentioned here, and that is only one year, of more than twenty two.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Loving Embrace

Perhaps you're thinking that this is a strange title for the blog entry of a Franciscan friar. Many of you know that I am a sports fan. I just witnessed the end of the Masters Golf Tournament and the impressive victory of Phil Mickelson.

Even the non golf fans are aware of the coverage that has been given to Tiger Woods over the past few months as a result of his multiple marital infidelities. I have constantly challenged so many who have self-righteously pontificated about his failures and those of other public figures because I believe that in his case anyway he has taken all the right initial steps to correct his wrongdoing. Only time will tell where it all goes. I was glad that he performed well, though inconsistently, in the tournament, and I wish him the best in the future, in his own personal life, as well as in golf.

The above having been said I must say that I was on the brink of tears when Phil won. The emotion came not from his birdie putt on the 18th green, but in the loving embrace from his wife Amy who has been struggling from breast cancer. You see Phil took time off last year to be at her side as she began treatment.The following quote, taken from the ESPN website, says it all. "We've been through a lot this year. It means a lot to share some joy together," Mickelson said, his voice cracking has he struggled to keep control. "It's been such an incredible week, an emotional week. And to cap it off with a victory is something I can't put into words.

"It's something we'll share for the rest of our lives." Today was a victory for him, for her and for his family. I congratulate Phil and his family and pray that his wife's recovery be complete, and that he too has much success on the golf course.

A Change of Seasons--a bit of personal news,

Every once in a while I like to use this blog just to let folks know a bit more of what my life is like. This is one of those timesAs you can tell from my schedule posted above I'm heading into a more relaxed time of the year. I head north to Canada via the Auto Train to Washington DC. I used this wonderful mode of transportation last year and it nourished my general love for trains.After that I get to stop and visit friends in New Jersey and then family in Boston. On the way back home I stop at our friary in Raleigh, NC for a springtime gathering of friars. The month of May will see me taking a week of vacation and then spending some good quality time with my community in St. Petersburg as well as a chance to indulge one of my favorite pastimes--following the Boston Red Sox, especially when they come here to play the Tampa Bay Rays.

I hope during this time to work on some more video and have just completed a reflection on the Gospel for the Second Sunday of Easter. You can check it out by clicking on Fr.John's YouTube Videos

Also, I have added a link under My Blog List to a blog done by Steve DeWitt, OFM, one of our friars in formation. You can look at that by clicking here--A Franciscan Abroad

Friday, April 2, 2010

A Good Friday Prayer for Mothers (and Fathers)

Roma Viva - Detail_of_Pietà_by_Michelangelo

There are so many wonderful reflections on Good Friday and the Cross of Christ that I was wondering what I might contribute through this blog. I am spending these days of Triduum assisting at St. James parish in Conway, SC and Resurrection in Loris, SC. I just finished witnessing a dramatization of the Stations of the Cross done by the youth of Resurrection parish here at St. James in Conway. It was indeed a moving presentation. I am always moved when the story of the Lord's Passion and Death is presented well. Often it is one particular part of Jesus' journey that strikes me and this year it was the Thirteenth Station--Jesus is taken down from the Cross and placed in the arms of His mother.

This moment is perhaps best captured by Michaelangelo in his famous sculpture, the Pieta' which is displayed at St. Peter's basilica in Rome. (click on the link above for a view of this great masterpiece.) While I have always been moved when I have visited this great work of art, and touched by this particular station of the Cross, I believe that this year I experienced it in a unique and personal way--in light of the many stories of mothers and fathers who have suffered and struggled over the deaths and other sad and tragic events in the lives of their children. I beleive that it is the mother though who suffers especially for it is she who bore the child. When one looks at Michaelangelo's masterpiece (and looking at the photo hardly does it justice) one amazed at his ability to capture in marble the anguish and sadness of Mary holding her dead Son in her arms.

During my years of priestly ministry I have sat with and wept with mothers who lost children to war, to tragic auto accidents, to childhood illness and even outright murder. I have felt the sadness and anguish of mothers who feel powerless as they watch children going through painful divorces or who see them living self-destructive lives, wasting away with drugs and alcohol or just the effects of foolish and bad decisions. I have prayed with mothers who see little children suffering from illness and who hope that God, the doctors or someone somewhere can bring about healing.

Then there are the little, but nonetheless real sufferings of every mother, such as the worry that they'll be OK at school, especially as they go off on their own for the first time, or venture on a field trip, or begin to choose friends who may not be a good influence on them. In so many ways this celebate priest has come to realize that to be a mother or a father, is to suffer. I pray that this moment in the life of Jesus and Mary brings comfort and hope to mothers everywhere.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

New YouTube Videos for Holy Week

I invite you to go to my YouTube Page for reflections on Palm Sunday and Holy Thursday. Fr. John's YouTube Channel God Bless and have a wonderful Holy Week and Easter

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Bless Me Father--The Light IsAlways On For You

On Thursday, March 11, the Diocese of St.Petersburg, where I reside, sponsored a program called "The Light is On For You." Every Church in the diocese was open from 5 til 8 PM for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. TV and newspaper ads appealed especially to people who had been away for a time to take advantage of this opportunity to return home to God and their Church. The program was a resounding success. This was the second year in a row where this was done.

In recent years The use of the confessional has fallen off. This is not entirely a bad thing because to a large extent it indicates that this Sacrament has been going through growing pains. People have questioned the need for scrupulously going through a laundry list of little sins on a weekly or monthly basis as they may have done when they were children. People wonder too why general absolution was introduced and then taken away. On the other hand there has also been a lessening of the sense of sin. Short of murder and mayhem, some would seem to say, is there any such thing as sin any more? I can assure you that there is.

While folks who know me realize that I stand on the progressive side of most Church issues, (Some think too much so, others not enough so, which tells me I'm doing my own thinking if nothing else.), when it comes to Confession I'm somewhat traditional. While I would like to see general absolution revisited and opened up because I believe that there should be as many ways as possible available to people to encounter God's mercy, I also want to affirm the place for individual one on one confession and encourage its use. As a Franciscan I am the inheritor of a great tradition of being known for merciful and compassionate celebration of this Sacrament. All over the world people still flock to Franciscan churches when they want to go to confession. In my own province, though the numbers are down, our urban Churches in Boston and New York are known for this. As I go around preaching parish missions I am amazed at the numbers of folk who take advantage of the opportunity that the mission presents to go to confession.

Many people protest that they can go directly to God with their sins. While I don't doubt that God is merciful when approached in this way, there is great wisdom in realizing that as humans we occasionally need to hear the assurance of another human voice telling us that indeed our sins are forgiven, especially if we have strayed in a serious way. Even for those whose sins are minimal I believe that it is good to periodically celebrate this Sacrament to hear that reassuring voice and to affirm in a one on one encounter, our need for mercy. I don't believe in going "just for the grace" because that turns grace into a kind of spiritual stardust to be sprinkled on our lives, but I do think it helpful in Advent, Lent and maybe a once or twice more, to celebrate this great Sacrament.

As a priest I find that I need to avail myself of this Sacrament and I am genuinely humbled by the faith of people who come to me for confession and awed by the power of merciful God to touch people's hearts and set them free, no matter what sin they may have committed.

Go in Peace. Your sins are forgiven!

Casting Stones

During the past week I have been preparing my homily for this Sunday (5th Sunday of Lent, Year C) which gives us the well-known story of the woman taken in adultery who is brought before Jesus(John 8, 1-11). Let's face it, even atheists know Jesus' response to the crowd who wanted to stone her in accordance with the Mosaic law, "Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone."

While we may comfort ourselves with the thought that we no longer stone people, at least not in this corner of planet earth, a closer look might offer a real challenge to our present society.

If we take a look at what is going on in Jesus' encounter with the adulterous woman and the crowds we realize that the issue is not only the "stoning", but rather the public spectacle and denunciation and condemnation of this woman. Jesus unmasks their intentions with His invitation to let the one without sin cast the first stone. He is reminding them that though their sins are not publicly known they are sins nonetheless. More importantly He is reminding them that if they repent they will receive the same mercy that He is showing to this woman.

While we don't stone people today we love the public spectacle and denunciation of the sinner, especially if the sin involves sex. (Money scandals are a distant second.) We gloat when the sins of a politician or an athlete are brought to the fore and we let it be known how shocked we are. I wonder if many are not privately thinking "I'm glad my stuff doesn't get known", or "I'm bad, but not that bad." We love to have a scapegoat, someone to blame or punish, rather than looking at our own faults and seeking the same mercy and forgiveness that Jesus showed to this adulterous woman.

I do want to give one caution with this reflection. I'm not saying that public figures and especially Church leaders involved in scandal should not be held accountable to the people they serve. In the Church especially there has been too much secrecy and cover-up in this regard. The point is to take a look at the self-righteous, morally superior smugness with which too many of us meet these situations. The call to all of us is to stop throwing stones and to seek the mercy of Jesus who is always so ready to forgive rather than condemn.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Social Justice and the Gospel

Sometimes I can't believe what I hear from the news media. On this blog i try to stay away from direct criticism of particular people on either the left or the right, but this week I make an exception. Glenn Beck of Fox News has told people who watch his program to run away from any Church that speaks of social justice. I say, Run away from Glenn Beck." Preaching social justice and taking action to correct injustice is anb obligation for those who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ. Back in the 1970's a Vatican synod described working for justice as a "constitutive dimension of preaching the Gospel."

While the Church should generally stay away from partisan politics, saying that the Democrats, the Republicans or anyone else has the whole answer she can and must and usually has spoken out against slavery,racism violation of human rights, the environment, lack of access to health care, abortion and other life issues Why? Because Jesus did, not necessarily on the above mentioned issues, but on the abuses of His own day. Since Leo XIII in the late 1800's every Catholic Pope has made statements and issued encyclicals on issues of social justice.

There are always those who want preachers to stay in their pulpit and tell people just to say their prayers. Pray we must, but we must also work to overcome the injustices that separate people form each other and from God, injustices that lead to war and violence.

No one would deny that preachers must denounce sin. The self-righteous smile smugly when a preacher rails against the excesses of lust, greed and other personal sins. Just one question, "Is injustice a sin, especially systemic social injustice?" Well, "Dah, ought the preacher address this issue?"

By the way I understand that Mr. Beck's remarks were in response to a Catholic nun who labored courageously for women's rights in Syria and who was given an award. Should she have told the women there to be quiet, get beaten and say their prayers? Apparently Mr. Beck thinks so.