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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Blessed Christmas to all--For Unto Us A Child Is Born

 This past year has been filled with so many incredible blessings and great experiences. The list includes another trip to Honduras, the publication of my book, The Wandering Friar, as well as the great reception the book has received at parish missions and various book signings, the opportunity to appear on Catholic TV to celebrate Mass and to be interviewed about the book,  the great send-offs given to me by the parishes in northern Wisconsin that I have served over the past 18 years. As wonderful as all of these events were, the top moment of the year by far was the birth of my grandniece Madeline Elizabeth Donahue on May 11 to her proud parents Kevin and Michelle, that along with her Baptism in August.

    Although I have only been to Boston twice since Madeline's birth--her baptism in August and again on a family visit at Thanksgiving--I have delighted in the impact that she has had on her parents, grandparents, and everyone in our family, an impact that I became keenly aware of when I began to prepare this Christmas reflection.  One of my favorite parts of Handel's Messiah is the chorus, For Unto Us a Child is Born, based on a prophecy found in Isaiah.

     What happens when a child is born unto us?  In the case of the arrival of Madeline she certainly brought great joy.  She has a beautiful smile to heighten that joy and like any little baby she just draws the love right of of you.  The pictures below of her and of her with her grandmother Laureen illustrate all of that.  In addition a little baby has to be cared for and nurtured, a 24 hour job of feeding, changing, bathing, soothing and so much more.  I admire the way that her parents share that responsibility, which is also shared by her four grandparents and her aunt Laurie.

 
Loved by Nana
  Now what does all of this tell us about Christmas?  A great deal I think.  We gaze upon the newborn child in the manger.  He is sent by the Father as a gift of love to all of us, but he also evokes love from us, just as Madeline and any newborn baby does.  The challenge for us is that Jesus needs to be cared for in all kinds of ways.  In humbling himself to come down to us as a baby born in a manger He trusted that He would be cared for.  Think of that, God needing us to provide care.  Now Mary and Joseph did a great job. they did all the things that Madeline's parents, Kevin and Michelle, are doing and even more because there were no modern conveniences. The apostles took a while before they stepped up to the plate  .  But
Madeline's winning smile

      Do we realize that He also trusts us to care for Him today?  How is that so. We often think of the great mystery of the Incarnation, of God taking on flesh, as a 33 year event that ended with the Resurrection and Ascension.  But that was only the beginning.  That mystery continues today in the Church and in the sacraments. Jesus is among us and through the Spirit dwells in us.  We care for Him well in our life of prayer and in reverently approaching Him in the Eucharist.  But there is another way in which He is so often neglected.  In the oft-quoted 25th chapter of Matthew we are told, "I was hungry and you fed me, naked and you clothed me, sick or imprisoned and you visited me." How is the Christ being cared for in that way?  By many that job is being well done, but by others not so much.  I have to admit that I have lived on both sides of that equation.

      This Christmas may our hearts be filed with joy because unto us a child is born.  We celebrate not only that He was born all those years ago in Bethlehem, but that He desires to be born in us today, in our own lives and most especially in the lives of the so many poor and needy where He awaits our loving care.

    Merry Christmas Everyone!
As a special treat listen to the London Symphony Orchestra Rendition of For Unto Us a Child is Born
                                            

Monday, December 23, 2013

Friar Alessandro--An Angelic Voice





  I'm getting my Christmas blog message ready but in the meantime I just thought I'd share with you a beautiful rendition of the popular Italian Christmas carol by Friar Alessandro, a young friar who lives in Assisi and has hit the world stage with his beautiful singing voice.
  

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Rejoice in the Lord always, Gaudete Sunday

 The word joy has been in the Catholic mindset quite often in recent months mainly due to the influence of Pope Francis, especially after his recently published apostolic exhortation entitled Evangelii Guadium (The Joy of the Gospel) Today the Church officially brings "Joy" to the forefront with the Third Sunday of Advent being called "Gaudete" or "rejoice" Sunday.  Along with Laetare (which also means rejoice) Sunday which comes in the middle of Lent we have two days placed in the middle of penitential seasons that call us to have joy, to rejoice.  On both of these Sundays the priest is asked to wear rose colored vestments to indicate this call to rejoice.

   What, though, does it mean to have joy, to rejoice.  The fact that both of these Sundays are placed in the middle of penitential seasons ought to give us a clue.  The word joy has several shades of meaning. We could say that there was joy in my home city of Boston this year when the Red Sox won the World Series. Indeed there was joy, but the joy of vicariously celebrating the triumph of one's favorite local athletes, though wonderful, is a fleeting joy. It doesn't really help anyone to eal with life's problems and challenges.

  More to the point is the joy of a married couple celebrating an anniversary after many years of living the Sacrament of Matrimony.  I was delighted to participate a few weeks ago in the surprise 40th Anniversary of my brother Michael and his wife Laureen.  Their joy was a deep one because they had endured many challenges over those 40 years including Michael's suffering a stroke last year. They have raised two beautiful daughters and now are grandparents. They were able to celebrate that their love for each other and their faith in God had sustained them through all the ups and downs that marriage presents.

  On the level of faith joy does not mean being in a state of bliss that removes us from our problems. If we read Pope Francis work closely we see that joy for Christians comes from encountering Christ and from knowing through that encounter that even though we may have to carry the cross there is live and resurrection on the other side of the cross. This is why we talk of "celebrating" the Mass because in the Eucharist that living encounter with Christ is renewed. The Mass is indeed both a sacrifice and a celebration because their cannot be joy without sacrifice--in marriage, in religious life, in the priesthood, in life in general.

   To sum this up I refer you to a meditation that I heard several years ago during Holy Week.  In this reflection it was stated that little children have fun. They play.  Even as adults we like to have fun, and fun is a good thing if we seek the right kind of fun.  But fun is not joy.  In late childhood and adolescence we are more likely to experience pleasure.  Pleasure is something wonderful, but also dangerous.  We can seek pleasure all to easily in the wrong things, or make it an end in itself.  Nonetheless it is good, but it is not joy.

  Finally when Jesus was dying on the cross He was certainly not having fun, nor was He experiencing pleasure.  His heart though was filled with joy because He was pouring out His love for us.
The Letter to the Philipians (4:4) tells us "Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say, Rejoice"

  May your lives be filled with true joy.

Monday, December 2, 2013

O Come Emmanuel! It's Advent, A Time of Hope and Challenge

   I imagine that most Catholics, if asked, "What is Advent?" would reply, "It is the time when we prepare for Christmas."  This answer, of course, is correct, but it is only half of the answer, half of the explanation of what Advent is about.

  Actually as we begin this season the Church focuses our attention not on Christmas, but on the Second Coming of Christ.  In other words, as we prepare to celebrate the First coming we get ready for the next.  How are we to go about that preparation?

   Unfortunately talk of the Second coming conjures up images of "the end of the world" and many of the recent movies showing the earth being destroyed in a myriad of ways.  Thinking in this way unfortunately evokes fear and leads us to shy away from this topic.  I close look at Scripture and the prayers of the liturgy offer us another way of looking at the end times.  After the Our Father at Mass we say a beautiful prayer that states that "We await the blessed hope and the coming of Our Savior, Jesus Christ."  No fear in that statement.  The Scriptures for the First Sunday of Advent this year talk of "spears being turned into pruning hook.s and nations not waging war again." (from the prophet Isaiah). Other Scriptures speak of the heavenly banquet which is foreshadowed in the Eucharist.  Far from instilling fear these images offer us hope, a hope that while the world may be now in turmoil, the coming of Christ will usher in a Messianic era of peace, joy and justice.

   All of the above could be so much pie in the sky if we did not see the challenge implied in this belief. We are not called to wait for Jesus' coming in the way that we wait for a bus, biding time and getting frustrated and bored.  No, we are called to an active waiting, a waiting that is prayerful, but also a waiting that strives to pen ourselves NOW to God's kingdom by working for peace, for justice, for equality for all people, by working to responsibly use the gifts of creation that are given to us.  When we do this the Kingdom of God is already among us now, even if it is not yet here in its fullness.

   We are all aware and so delighted with the message that Pope Francis is giving the Church, a message of serving the poor, of overcoming animosities, of dialogue between peoples.  That is truly the work of Advent.

  How far we are from this message when we celebrate a day of Thanksgiving and then prepare to celebrate the Lord's birth with a Black Friday of greed and often violence.  There is no sin, of course, in seeking a bargain, to save money, but don't we need to take a look at how we do it.

   As we sing "O come, O come, Emmanuel" over the next few weeks let us strive to bring the world closer to the fullness of God's Kingdom. Let us have an Advent of prayer and Christian action rather than one of consumerism and greed.

Friday, November 22, 2013

A Humble and Merciful King

 This Sunday we Catholics, along with several other Christian denominations, will celebrate the Feast of Christ the King.  This is a relatively new liturgical celebration given that it was established by Pope Pius XI in 1925 in an era of increasing nationalism and secularism. (Sound familiar?)  The message that the pope wanted to deliver was one of saying that there is a Power beyond that of the secular rulers, one to whom they are accountable, that their power was not the ultimate power. This message was vitally important in a world that was witnessing the rise of both communism and fascism, both of them totalitarian extremes that saw no need for God.

   In our own times, with slight nuances of meaning the same message is both timely and important. Our own society is becoming increasingly secularized, though the threat is nowhere near as great as it was in Europe in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Nonetheless in both the political realm and in our culture there is a powerful tendency on the part of many to want to push religion to the side.  I would suggest, however, that there is another dimension of this wonderful feast that is important for today.  That dimension is made clear when we ask, "What kind of King is Jesus Christ?"

    Christ's Kingship is nothing like that of any earthly king, nor is it like that of any earthly leader.  His is a kingship of humility and service, a kingship expressed in His own words, "The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for the many." (Mt. 20:28) These words were spoken after reprimanding his own apostles for quibbling over who would be the first in His Kingdom.

    At a time where we see the abuse of power not only in politics, but in the Church herself, in business with things like the Madoff scandal and in society with stories of bullying being told everyday, be it in schools or sports locker rooms, the Kingship of Christ teaches us that true authority and power is exercised not be controlling others and putting them down, but by lifting them up and bringing the best out of them.

   I believe that Pope Francis is modelling this kind of leadership and authority.  I also believe that there are many in politics, in business, in sports as well as in families who exercise this kind of leadership.  This kind of authority, like Christ our King, is willing to die for those that they lead. They have that willingness because they they are motivated by love of God and love of those that they serve.

   Happy Feast of Christ the King!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Jesus Turns the World Upside Down Again--The Little Man in the Tree

  The Gospel text for today (Luke 19:1-10) is one of my favorites.  A man named  Zacchaeus, a wealthy man, short in stature and a tax collector has climbed a tree so that he could see Jesus.  Jesus invites him down and then invites himself to dinner at the home of this man, an action that shocked the crowd because this Zacchaeus was known to be a sinner.

   An explanation is in order here.  For us moderns, as much as we dislike taxes, it is possible to make an honest living working for the IRS or any state or city tax collecting agency.  This was not so at the time of Jesus.  Tax collectors (or publicans) were Jews who worked for the occupying Roman government.  They were responsible for collecting and sending to Rome any number of taxes on income, farm goods, road tolls, etc.  Most of them gouged and defrauded people, collecting more than Rome needed, and keeping the rest for themselves.  They were, understandably, a despised lot.

   One can imagine that in spite of having accumulated a great deal of wealth our man Zacchaeus was probably filled with a great deal of guilt and self-loathing. He know, too, that he is despised by his own people.  He has hope in his heart that Jesus can set him free from this, which is exactly what happens. Jesus comes into his home and he becomes a changed man, giving half of his possessions to the poor and returning fourfold all the money he has extorted.

   What does this story tell us?  If you are like me and Jesus invited himself into your home (which, by the way, he often does) you would probably like to tell Jesus all the wonderful things that you have done. After all I have preached over 400 parish missions, written a book, have served in some very poor parishes, etc., etc.  But I also know deep within me that I have faults and failings, sins and weaknesses.  This is the part of me that needs Jesus' mercy.  Quite often those of us that are practicing Catholics, or practitioners of any faith, are tempted to think that our good deeds and practices are what will save us.  Those who have strayed seriously from the path have little or any great deeds to present to the Lord.  What they often do have, like our tax collector, is a repentant heart that begs for the mercy and grace, that admits their need for Jesus, for mercy, for salvation.

   Interestingly enough Jesus never offers anything but mercy to thieves, prostitutes and tax collectors.  Only the self-righteous incur his wrath.  We all need to pray with the psalmist (Ps 50, 19), "A broken and contrite heart you will not spurn."  This does not mean that our good deeds don't matter, but rather that we do good deeds because we are grateful for Jesus love and mercy, not to obtain it.

  

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Some New Dimensions in an Old Ministry--Using the Internet to proclaim the Word


    In November of 1987 I worked on my first parish mission with Fr. Rod Petrie, OFM and Fr. Brennan Connolly, OFM. Brennan has gone home to the Lord and Rod is still going strong at close to 85 yrs old.  Since then I have preached over 400 parish missions all over the US and in parts of Canada as well.  It has been an exciting and rewarding time.

   What is truly amazing to me is the fact that the good Lord has opened new doors for me in this wonderful ministry doors to possibilities that I never even dreamed of back in 1987. A chain reaction of events began four years ago and the chain is still growing.

   Back in 2009 a friar suggested that I start a blog.  It was well received and I have been using it ever since as a tool for preaching the Word.  Shortly after beginning this endeavor I took the plunge and signed on to Facebook.  I had shyed away from this social media site because I had heard some of the horror stories related to its misuse.  I soon learned, however, that Facebook was a nice complement to this blog.  I could let people know where I was serving at different times and create links to articles and talks that I found helpful, not to mention letting my Facebook friends (393 of them now) know of this blog.  Many of them in turn have shared the blog with their friends and the message goes out far and wide.  I also keep up with family and with news of what many of the friars in my province are doing. 

   Twitter, at first, seemd trivial and silly.  I had heard of all the crazy "Tweets" from athletes and movie stars and figured that this outlet was not for me.  Just before Lent of 2012, however, a priest friend suggested that I take another look at Twitter.  He told me that the key was sticking to one type of message and not straying away from that.  He said that if I put out only religious messages that I would build up a following of people also interested in that type of message.  I jumped on board Twitter and Tweeted every day of Lent, 2012, on the readings of the day.  I rapidly built up a following and have received wonderful messages from those followers which now number just under 2500.  When many of them "retweet" my messages to their followers the whole thing multiplies.  I repeated the Lenten "Tweets" in 2013 and apart from Lent put something on their once or twice a week.

   What has happened is that the blog, Facebook and Twitter weave together to be an internet ministry which reaches thousands and which enriches me in return.

    In the midst of all of this it was suggested to me that "The Wandering Friar" could be a book title. Most of you know that the book has been out for several months and has been well-received on the missions I have preached as well as in the parishes in Wisconsin where I served in the summer.  I was recently invited to give an interview on the book on CatholicTV in Boston.  This channel airs in Boston, Detroit, St. Louis and sever other cities on regular broadcast outlets.  It is also able to be seen everywhere on CatholicTV.com. On October 15, the Feast of St. Theresa of Avila, I celebrated Mass on that channel and gave the interview on a program called "Start the Day".  The links below will give you the interview as well as the homily from the Mass.

CatholicTV Book Interview

Mass Homily, Feast of St. Theresa, October 15

   The latest outflow from all of this is that the folks at "Tekton Ministries" of Indiana discovered my blog and read the book as well.  This led to an invitation to lead a pilgrimage to Rome and Assisi which I will be doing on October 6-16, 2014. Details will follow soon.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

An Attitude of Gratitude

   As many of you who read this blog are aware I have now published a book called The Wandering Friar.  As I finished this work I had several strong feelings--relief that it was done, satisfaction at an accomplishment, fear that it wouldn't be accepted and GRATITUDE.  I have long been thankful for many of the blessings that the good Lord has given me in the course of my life, but writing this book about the people that I have encountered along the way made me feel especially blessed and grateful.  Interestingly, one of the most common comments I have received from readers of the book is, "What a blessed and wonderful life you have lived, Fr. John."

   I make the above observations in light of this Sunday's Gospel reading from St. Luke, the story of the curing of the ten lepers. (Lk 17:11-19).  The story, of course, contains a lesson on gratitude that most of us can remember since childhood. It certainly reinforced every parent's instruction to always say please and thank you. But why didn't the other nine come back to thank Jesus.  I can think of several reasons.

1.  In the leper colony you were cared for.  They all had to find jobs and a place in the community.  Just too busy to go say thanks.

2.  Entitlement.  Some of them perhaps just had acne or psoriasis which was falsely labeled as leprosy. They were glad to be out a place they never should have been.

3.  Fear of standing out and calling attention to themselves.  Let me get on with my life and stay out of the limelight.  Also, I could get in trouble if I hang around this Jesus and am seen as one of his followers.

4.  Not stopping to think. Just taking it for granted

5. Yes, in some cases just plain ingratitude.

   The point I'm making here is that most of us want to be grateful but we get impeded at times by all of the above attitudes.  Which one most applies to you?  to me?

   As I finished my book I realized that number 4 above was a challenge for me and so I try at the end of each day to think of at least 3 people or things I am thankful for on that day.  Usually the list is longer than three.

   The word Eucharist is derived from the Greek word for thanksgiving.  It is a great act of thanks to the Lord for His saving work in us.  Let us always be mindful of that. Let it lead us to be thankful for all of our blessings.

  One additional notice, though unrelated to the above reflection.  On Tuesday, Oct.  15, I will be celebrating Mass on CatholicTV.com.  After the Mass, at 10:30, there is a program called Start the Day, during which I will be interviewed about my book.  Both will be re-broadcast at 7:00 PM and 7:30 PM.  In Boston and vicinity it will be on channel 68.  Otherwise you watch it on your computer, not on the TV.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

A New Vision

   Ever since the election of Pope Francis last March I have frequently been asked what I think of him.  The answer is always something like "Tremendous" or "Amazing" or "Wonderful". I have also found myself almost daily finding something that he has said that I find uplifting and/or challenging for my life as a priest and religious.  What I would like to do here is offer more than a one-word answer to the question of my impressions of this wonderful pope.

   The first thing that we need to understand is that Pope Francis is not changing any core belief of the Church.  What he is doing is offering us a new vision of Church, a new way (actually a very old and traditional way) of living as the People of God, the Body of Christ.  What are some of the hallmarks of this new vision?

   1.  Pope Francis is inviting us to lead with the proclamation of the Gospel rather than with the pronouncement of moral teachings.  This confuses some people on both the left and right side of the spectrum because they think that he is about to change, or is undermining, some of our moral teaching.  He is not doing that. What he is doing is saying that if we don't first proclaim the Gospel message of mercy and love, especially love for the poor, then our moral voice is weakened.

   2.  The Holy Father has indicated right from the beginning that he intends to put more into practice the spirit of collegiality and collaboration that was fostered by the Second Vatican Council.  He has done this right from the first day of his papacy when he continually referred to himself as the Bishop of Rome.  Everyone knows that the pope is the bishop of Rome. There is nothing earth shattering about that.  By highlighting that fact, however, he is saying that he is a bishop among bishops. He is also highlighting a very ancient theology of the papacy which says that he is Pope because he is bishop of Rome, not the other way around.  Think about that one.  Also by appointing the group of eight cardinals to consult with him on church reform as well as the committee to assist him with financial reform he is clearly indicating that he does not want to go it alone on important matters.

  3.  Related to the first point mentioned above he is calling us to be a Church of and for the poor.  Exactly what does that mean.  I don't think that it necessarily means handing out more money to the poor so  much as making sure that we journey with the poor in their struggles and understand how life is with them, what their struggles are.  He did this as archbishop of Buenos Aires and he is doing it in Rome as well.  That is certainly the message of this Sunday's Gospel with its parable of the poor man Lazarus and the rich man. The rich man's sin is not his lack of generosity. It is his lack of awareness. Pope John Paul II pointed this out in his Yankee Stadium homily on his first visit to the US.  I see the need for this challenge when I say Facebook postings calling undocumented people criminals or calling for drug testing for food stamp recipients.  It is not that these issues are not concerns but rather the complete lack of awareness of the struggles that most immigrants and poor people go through. It is easier to demonize whole groups based on the sins of a few, but if we walk with people and hear their stories I think that our approaches would certainly be different.

  4.  Uniting all of this together is his example of humility and his call to church leaders to be servants.  How often have people been greeted by us priests and other leaders with regulations and policies rather than by a kind word.  It's not that we have to eliminate regulations and policies but rather the way that we present them.  One priest that I met made a good suggestion in this regard.  He said that when someone comes to his parish office he first introduces himself, then asks them about their lives and their faith and only then asks, What can I (we) do for you?"  He also said that he always looks for a way of fulfilling a request before he says "No".  Pope Francis has really challenged us in this regard in both word and example. He has also called for more bishops who are pastoral and who walk with the people.

   I'm sure that there is more that can be said but that is my take on this wonderful new successor of Peter as Bishop of Rome.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

September 11, Syria, Muslims, Christians and More

   I remember very well where I was on September 11, 2001.  I was preaching a retreat to a small group of priests from the Stigmatine Order at their vacation house on Cape Cod.  As the news poured in that day I asked them to pray especially for Fr. Mychal Judge, a member of my province.  I knew that Mychal, fire chaplain for the FDNY, always had to be where the action was.  And indeed that was true as later that day I received an e-mail that he had perished while trying to assist firefighters and others on that day.  We friars were both saddened and proud because of the role that he played on that terrible day.

   It is now 12 years later and we are not even close to being done with the consequences of that act of terror.  I offer some thoughts on where we might go from here, thoughts not based on politics, but rather, as a Franciscan, on where the Gospel calls us to go.

   I am on Facebook, as many of you know, and that social medium today is rightly filled with "Let us never forget" messages.  I have no problem with that.  We should not forget.  At the same time as we look back to that horrible day we need to ask, "Where do we go from here?" I believe that this is an important question to ask if we are not to be mired in decades of attempts to put out every fire that gets lit in the Middle East.

  In his recent calls for prayer and fasting for peace in Syria (a word on that below) His Holiness has also called for  dialogue.  Every time that I have mentioned dialogue with Muslims I get some people suggesting that I am naive.  To be sure there is probably little chance of dialogue with extreme Islamic terrorists..  I am talking however about serious dialogue between those Muslims and Christians who desire peace.   Pope Francis has set a shining example with things like his Ramadan message to Muslims.  By finding common ground with moderate members of that religion I think that the extremists will become more isolated.  One of the friars from my province, Michael Calabria, OFM is engaged in Muslim and Arabic studies and often offers very insightful thoughts on his Facebook Page.

   We are now concerned about Syria.  I am finding a lot of knee-jerk reactions to that situation from both the left and the right.  While I do not agree at all with president Obama we need to understand that a boots on the ground war is not being proposed.  Also complicating the debate is the fact that not all or even most opponents of Assad are also Al-Queda.  The real issue is the use of chemical weapons and the real question is what is the best way to denounce that?   Missile strikes could trigger a wider war, as many have pointed out, and still leave WMD's in place.  For the world (not just the US) to say nothing about the atrocity is unconscionable.  The fact that Russia and France have stepped in with plans to have Syria turn over those weapons in an international forum (perhaps the UN) offers hope that Pope Francis' day of prayer is having its effect.

   Finding a way for the world to strongly oppose the recent use of  chemical weapons without using further violence might provide us with a way forward in the Middle East in general. I am certainly no expert on these matters.  I am simply a Franciscan Friar who in the spirit of our founder who dialogued with the Sultan 8 centuries ago, desires peace and an end to violence.

  Indeed let us never forget 9/11 and let us honor the fallen by seeking to build bridges of peace even as we defend ourselves from further terrorism.

 

Saturday, August 31, 2013

What is Humility?

 This Sunday's Gospel text from Luke 14:1,7-14 contains a challenge for all of us, a challenge to be humble. What exactly is humility? To begin with the negative, it is not putting yourself down or making believe that you don't have God given gifts and abilities. 

  So then, what does humility look like?  The quote on the left by CS Lewis is a good starting point.  The Gospel text cited above gives us even more insight.  There is a parable about guests taking the highest places at a wedding banquet.  This may seem strange to us because at most of our wedding receptions people are assigned a seat. It was evidently different at the time of Jesus.  The real issue with the story is a sense of entitlement.  There is a great deal of discussion today about  cutting back on entitlement programs, but a sense of entitlement applies to much more that feeling entitled to money from the government.  How many of us have a sense of entitlement to various honors and privileges.  We feel offended when we don't get them. The humble person, because he or she has no sense of entitlement is able to receive everything as a gift and thus is often feeling grateful and appreciative.

    In the second part of the Gospel text Jesus tells us that if we hole a banquet we should invite "the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind."  We are to do this precisely because these are people who cannot repay us.  The lesson on humility here is that we see that our love is genuine when we expect no reciprocation, even when we reach out to people who can return our generosity.  To be humble then is to be truly loving in our dealings with others, giving generously with no expectation of return.

    Pope Francis is certainly an example of humility for us.  St. Francis of Assisi, after whom the Pope is named, teaches us well about humility when he says in one of his admonitions to the early friars, "What I am before God, that I am, and nothing more.  This shows another dimension of humility.  It is not self-abasement, but rather honest self-assessment.

  Finally, I pray that I not get too proud of this lesson on humility.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Thy Will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. Part III of series on prayer.

  It's been 2 weeks since I wrote on this blog. The Wandering Friar has been very busy.  Picking up where I left off in my series on prayer based on the Lord's prayer we turn to the phrase, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." We all want God's will to be done and in the end God's will is the answer to every prayer even when we don't agree with what God has in mind, but what is God's will in any given circumstance. Rarely does God make His will known directly by, for example, calling us  up a mountain and giving the ten commandments.  We need some means of figuring it out.

   A big help to me in entering into this figuring out process can be found in the eleventh step of AA and the other 12-step programs states, "Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out."

   What this gem of spiritual wisdom tells us is that we can't just go to prayer and ask God to let us know His will instantly.   We need to pray and meditate regularly and grow in "conscious contact" as the step says. The more we grow in relationship with God the more sure we can be of knowing God's will.  I'm always amazed when I see my married friends in action.  If they have been together for a number of years and have a good relationship they often know what the other desires without even asking.

  Another criterion for finding out the divine will is thinking not just of yourself, but of others.  God always desires the greatest good, and the greatest good may not always be convenient for me as an individual.  I was very impressed a number of years ago when a man that I know declined a major promotion which would have required a move to a far away city.  He and his wife decided that in spite of the big pay raise the move would not be good for the family.

  Never trivialize the seeking of God's will be fretting to much over small things.  There have been several times in my life when I have been asked to pray that someone make the right decision over the purchase of a stove or a TV.  I don't think that most of the time things like that are on God's radar screen. 

  Finally, be open to the big picture, seeing how a decision will play itself out over time. Often when we think God has let us down in the moment we realize only later that something that seemed so bad at one time lead us over the long haul to something wonderful.  I remember well going to Bolivia in 1982 thinking that God was calling me to serve there for the rest of my life.  That didn't work out.  I came back wondering what was next.  After a few years of floundering my provincial asked me to consider the preaching ministry.  I've been in that work now for over 25 years and frequently preach in the Spanish language that I learned while in Bolivia.  God knew hat was best in that situation.

   If you want to know more about discerning God's will then ask a Jesuit. Discernment of spirits is one of their specialties.

   

  

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Prayer Series, Part Two--Thy Kingdom Come

  When I was a child I thought that the line that said "Thy kingdom come" in the Lord's Prayer meant that we were praying for the end of the world when the Lord's kingdom in its fullness would be brought about.  I wasn't so sure I was ready for that.  There was plenty of life on earth left for me, so I thought.

   Fortunately this is not a prayer for the end of the world but rather a prayer for God's Kingdom to continually break into our lives now, even as we await in hope its coming in the fullness of time.

   One scripture scholar recently said that the kingdom of God might better be expressed as a verb--the reigning of God.  I like that.  This helps us to understand that after calling God our Abba (see the last reflection on this blog), we pray that Abba and his values will rule over our life and take priority over any other philosophy or political system.

   To pray for the reigning of God to come about is also to pray that injustice be overcome, that life be respected, the war will end and that there will be peace between peoples and an end to hatred.  Yes, realistically we know that until the coming of Christ in the fullness of time none of these ideals will be fully realized.  At the same time God's Kingdom or reigning breaks in among us whenever these ideals are realized, to whatever limited extent that may be so.

   In this world of racially charged trials, kidnappings and acts of terrorism I am so lifted up by the many acts of love, service and kindness that do not get reported.   God is indeed reigning in many ways.  Let's just continue to open the doors and to open our hearts to let that happen even more.

  The Lord is teaching us here that our prayer is not just about ourselves, but about bringing about the good that God desires.  May God reign over our hearts and over everything that we do!

 

Monday, July 29, 2013

A Revolution in Prayer--Part One of a Series

 On this past Sunday we were presented with a lesson on prayer, indeed with a veritable revolution on the meaning of prayer, a revolution that is 2000 years old and which we have forgotten as revolutionary.

  What  could that be?  Calling God Abba, Father. A little background is in order here.  In the Hebrew Scriptures there are several references to God being like a father to Israel.  The Israelites, however, never prayed to God by calling God "Abba".  That was seen as making oneself too chummy with God.  The divine name was not to be pronounced.  God was called Lord (Elohim) or Master of the Universe, but never "Abba". In the Gospel text for this past Sunday we are given Luke's version of the Our Father, the Lord's Prayer.  The Church very early on adopted Matthew's version. Both are essentially the same.  When the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray He gave them and gives us this beautiful prayer which is not so much a formula as it is a way of relation to God.
By telling us to call God Father, "Abba", He is drawing us into the life of the Trinity.  He is telling us that his Abba is our Abba as well, a relationship established at our baptism and renewed throughout our lives.  Ans what does "Abba" mean?  Father, yes, but more. Let me illustrate via an experience I had in Israel when I visited there 20 years ago.

  I traveled to the Holy Land with a Scripture study group directed by the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. As we went about we were often in the vicinity of various Jewish groups who often spoke their native Hebrew language.  On one such occasion a little boy of about 5 years old fell and hit his head on the pavement.  After a period of stunned silence he began to scream and cry, not a pleasant sound, but one that brought relief because it meant that he was breathing.  At any rate as the crying decreased the little guy got his bearings and spotted his father out of the corner of his eye.  Upon seeing his father he got up and ran towards him crying, "Abba, abba, abbaaaa."  His father came running toward him and picked him, embracing and soothing him.

  I was taught in seminary Scripture class many years ago that "Abba" meant not only "father" in the more formal sense, but also "daddy" or "papi".  This scene brought that home. That was definitely a "daddy" moment.

  So then, in teaching us to call God "Abba" I believe that Jesus wants us to reverence God as "Father", but also wants us to know that when we fall and are wounded we can cry out to our "Daddy" and be picked up in His loving embrace.  I invite you to occasionally when praying the Lord's prayer to begin with "Our Daddy" or dad, pop, whatever word works for you.  I think that might change our image of God and move us away from the old man with the beard image that so many have.

  For those who have read my book, The Wandering Friar, this story is told on pgs. 81-82. 

  Finally, we have only touched on the first line of the Lord's Prayer.  Stay posted for more in the week's ahead.

Friday, July 12, 2013

What about the Guy that was Helped--The Good Samaritan from a Different Point of View.

  Everybody knows what a good Samaritan is, even an atheist.  That's how familiar Jesus' parables are. Even the non-believers know the stories.

  But what of this parable (Luke 10: 25-37) presented to us on this 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time?  How does it speak to us?  those of us who try to take Jesus' teaching seriously certainly try to be good Samaritans whenever the opportunity arises.  We try to help the stranger in need.  We wonder how to help a homeless person if we don't choose to offer money to them.  On this past Memorial Day I tripped on the sidewalk in St. Petersburg sustaining cuts and bruises on my face and hands and any number of "good Samaritans" came to my rescue.  I was deeply touched by that and will .always be grateful to those people.

    Being that I was the guy who was helped that day has lead me to see this parable in a different light. We always ask, and we should, "Am I like the priest or the levite, passing by because I am too preoccupied with my own agenda,  or do I help out the one in need?  Might we also, however, ask "What would I do if I were the one in need?"  It is difficult for us in a culture that overvalues self-sufficiency to accept help.  Even though I was so grateful that day after I fell there was part of me that wanted to say, "Thanks, I'm fine. I'll be OK. I don't need help." even though I'm not OK.  We worry about having a sense of entitlement, and we should, but being willing to receive help, receive the gift from another, is an act of humble graciousness, not entitlement.  Peter learned that lesson from Jesus when he first refused the Lord's offer to wash is feet.  He was told, "Unless I wash you you will have no inheritance with me." (John 13:8) In other words he had to learn how to receive the gift that Jesus offered.

  There is more to being the one who needs help.  In the parable the man who was robbed was helped by a Samaritan, people who were in conflict with the Jews.  I wonder if the man thought, "Oh my goodness this guy is going to kill me, or rob me and beat me some more."  What a surprise when this Samaritan helped him.  Would you and I accept help from someone obviously attired as a Muslim, or who looked like an undocumented immigrant, or who looked "strange" in some way?

  The last challenge is realizing that there are countless millions of people beaten and abandoned by the roadside.  They are the poor and forgotten of this world, the people that Pope Francis calls the marginalized, the people on the outskirts.  These are people that the Pope said are victims of the "globalization of indifference".  Can we at least stand in solidarity with them, share in their vulnerability, realizing that in spite of many differences between us that they are our brothers and sisters and that we are all neighbors as the parable suggests?

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A Fourth of July Reflection

 As I look forward to the fireworks display tonight (July 3) in Land O'Lakes, WI--always one of the best I've ever seen, I thought that I might offer a few thoughts on what we Americans celebrate on this day--freedom.

  There is a lot of discussion today about different types of freedom, about rights for different groups and about the erosion of constitutional rights.  All of these discussions are vitally important in a free country. People may have different ideas about the issue involved but we as citizens have a responsibility to make our voices heard in all of these areas. I am not going to focus here on this level of freedom, as important as it is.  This freedom I would call civil freedom or freedom under the law. Thank God that we have our constitution and the ability to speak up when we think that it is not being observed and protected.  This civil freedom, however, must be accompanied by another type of freedom. I prefer to call it Christian freedom, though on a very deep level it applies even to the non-believer, so I will call it inner freedom.

  This past Sunday's second reading was from Paul's letter to the Galatians.  Here I quote Chapter 5, verse 1 of that letter. "Brothers and sisters: For Freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery."  He later writes in verse 13, "Do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love."

  Our Lord went to the Cross freely. He did so out of love.  That is the deepest and most complete act of freedom ever exercised. The temple leaders and the Roman authorities put Him to death and  tortured Him, but they did not take away His freedom.

   This may seem a strange notion of freedom to some, but put simply it means that when I do the loving thing, the right thing, by my conscience, there is no civil authority, even though they imprison or kill me, that can take away my ability to freely choose to do that which is right.  This is the freedom exercised by martyrs and be people imprisoned for their beliefs. It is the freedom exercised by anyone who does good even though they are mocked, rejected and ridiculed for it.

  As an aside let me point out that when Paul speaks of not using freedom as an opportunity for the flesh he is not talking about the body  and sexuality necessarily but rather using the word to mean the selfish ego, doing what pleases me rather than what serves others.

  One of our problems today is that all too often people want to claim their civil right to do whatever but lack the inner compass to do the right thing, the good thing.  In other words just because the law allows me to do something doesn't mean I have to do it.

   So, as we celebrate Independence Day let's rejoice in our freedom. let's use that freedom responsibly and wisely.  Let's ask if I should avoid doing some things even though the law says they are OK, and finally let us have the courage to act correctly even though I may have to pay a price for doing so.

  I was going to give some examples of issues that this applies to but I think that my intelligent readers can read between the lines.  I assure you that this is a challenge to folks of all political leanings.

 Happy 4th of July

Friday, June 21, 2013

Some Final Thoughts From Honduras

The beggar Lazarus at the door of the rich man.

 I'm back from Trujillo, Honduras and settled in to my summer ministry here at St. Peter the Fisherman in Eagle River, WI. While I'm back I must also say that there is a special place in mu heart for Trujillo, the people there and the wonderful missionaries from Christ the King Parish in Little Rock. I'm proud to be part of this wonderful team.

   What message do I bring back from Honduras?  My thoughts go to a parable found in Luke's Gospel, chapter 16:19-31. It is the story of the poor man Lazarus who is outside the door of a rich man's house.  The sin of the rich man is not his wealth.  His sin is the lack of awareness that the poor man is there.  Having served three years in Bolivia and having visited Peru, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Jamaica and now Honduras I can verify the claim that 75-80% of the world lives more like the people in those countries than like we do in the US, Western Europe and a few other places on this planet of ours.  Are we aware of that fact?  This question is not just mine.  It was raised by Pope John Paul II in his homily at Yankee Stadium in 1978, using the same Gospel parable.

   In raising this question I am NOT trying to evoke guilt in anyone for being American or wealthy, etc. Likewise I am not simplistically assigning blame to anyone because there is plenty of blame to hand out not only to wealthy nations and corporations  but also to corruption within the poorer countries. What I am suggesting is that by becoming more aware of the situation we begin to commit ourselves to finding the solution. Some might be thinking that there is no solution or that it is too idealistic to think that way.  To some extent such criticism is valid.  On this side of the Second Coming we are not going to solve all of the world's ills and injustices, but we must try. We must strive to create a more just world. Our faith (and not just politics) demands that of us. The goal I have in mind is not some sort of socialist utopia (which really can never exist) where everyone has the same but rather a world in which everyone has access to all of the resources that the Creator has given us.  For example, some of you know that a few weeks ago I took a bad fall and ended up in the emergency room in St. Petersburg.  I was well cared for in a state of the art, highly computerized emergency facility and am just about fully recovered from my injuries.  While in Honduras with dedicated doctors and surgeons from Little Rock who gave their best to the people in Trujillo the conditions at the hospital there were sub-standard even compared to some of the poorest facilities here in the US.  I considered myself blessed to have received the treatment I did but wondered why there can't be such facilities in Honduras and other places.

   Another faith dimension of this issue is the fact that as Catholics we believe that as Church we are the body of Christ in the world. This faith belief unites us to all members of the Body as brothers and sisters in Christ.  Even beyond actual Church membership we are united to the entire human community as children of the same Creator.  The goal and the task is a daunting one, but let's begin by at least being aware of the many beggars at the gate.

   Below are two pictures taken from a Mass I celebrated at a prison facility in Trujillo. The conditions there were deplorable, but there was also genuine faith in many of the inmates.  They are part of the Body of Christ as well.

   I am looking to return to Trujillo again next year. Together with the medical and other missionaries from Little Rock we have much to bring to the people there and they have so much to teach to us.

  


Friday, June 14, 2013

The Face of Christ--In Honduras

 
A beautiful embrace
  As Catholics we believe in faith that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist. That is something, as they say, that you can take to the bank. Christ is also present in other, more subjective  and personal ways, but truly present nonetheless  Last year when I visited here you may remember that I was touched, as were other missionaries, by a young woman with cerebral palsy who could not talk, but when I asked her if she knew Jesus, she pointed to the Crucifix on the wall.

   One year later,yesterday afternoon to be exact, I visited her again. Her family was happy because the mission had just procured a wheelchair for her.  I was deeply moved when she looked up at me and smiled and then proceeded to pull me towards her and give me a big hug.  All I can say is that with this hug I felt Christ pulling me toward him.  It is an experience I will never forget.  When I said goodbye to her and her parents I looked at her smiling face and saw the face of Christ.

   I have been blessed a few times, not many, in my life by such experiences.  Pope Francis has said that we must go out to the "outskirts" and meet Christ as well as to bring Christ. Well, in Los Leones, Honduras I met Him and hope that I helped to bring Him alive here as well
A Joyful smile

    The other pictures here show a young boy who followed us as we made visits to the sick in Los Leones as well as a young man that we prayed with and annointed
A young follower
The Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick

Let the Pictures Tell the Story--From Trujillo, Honduras

Hospital team ready for a busy day of surgeries and clinic visits

 It's been another busy day in Honduras. With this entry I'm going to let the pictures do the talking for the various places that some of us visited during the day.


Fr. Felipe commissions delegates from communites at the end of Encuentgro Mass in Los Leones




Audiologist doing hearing evaluation




These next few pictures show the doctors and nurses at work at the Los Leones clinic




Doves with names of each Arkansas Missionary working at Los Leones
 Bac k in the Church (San Marcos) in Los Leones
Grateful delegates with beautiful gift bags prepared by Team

Encuentro Mass with delegates,people from Los Leones and Missionaries
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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Hospital, A Renovated Church, R & R and an Orphanage--Another Day in Honduras

Patients signing in at Trujillo hospital
 Today began with a visit to the Trujillo hospital, but before I mention what I did let me tell you about the wonderful team of doctors and nurses that are giving their time there during this mission.

  The Christ the King mission serves those who cannot afford medical care.  All sorts of surgery from routine to absolutely life-saving stuff is offered under sometimes difficult circumstances. This week,for example, the x-Ray machine is not working. All of this makes me appreciate the kind of medical care I have received in the US over the past few years.
Blood pressure check by local nurse
As for myself I traveled with the hospital team early this AM and anointed all of the patients awaiting surgery with the Anointing of the Sick.  I also visited wards for men, women, children.  There are no private rooms. I anointed or prayed with each patent. I encountered many heart-breaking situations in the children's ward.

  I then moved on to la Colonia and the blessing of a renovated church, superbly done by the construction team members. It was a truly joyful celebration.
 beautifully   Wednesday is a half day for work so we enjoyed a nice fish or chicken dinner at a seaside recreation area.  The ocean and a pool were available to us.

   Finally we celebrated Mass at an orphange run by Franciscan Sisters.  It is a place that is wonderfully run by a loving staff of sisters and lay people ans well as several terrific volunteers from the states many of whom give two years of service.

   It was a great day and we're looking forward to tomorrow.
Myself with our great construction team

Enjoying the beach

Yours truly enjoying the day at the beach

Peace Garden at the Orphanage

Chapel at Finca de los ninos orphanage.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Living Faith in Honduras

Concelebrating with Fr. Felipe in SantaFE
   The past two days have been a real blessing here in Honduras. I have had the privilege of participating in two "encuentros", formation sessions for the lay leaders of the local communities here.  During the sessions a lesson prepared by Fr. Felipe Lopez, the local priest, is shared.   The floor is open for discussionb of the various points in the lesson.  The sharing of the participants has been tremendous, revealing a deep-seated faith rooted in their lived experience and daily struggles. The picture here show  the Mass at the Cathedral on Sunday night and some scenes from the encuentro at the community of Santa Fe.
Mass at the Cathedral


Praying the Rosary


Fr. Felipe commissioning catechists and delegates at the end of Mass
The Santa Fe community is made up largely of Garifuna people. Those who saw this blog last year may remember that they are a people of African descent whose wandering history from slavery to settlement on a remote Island to the coast of Central America is quite interesting and inspiring. They are Hondurans who at the same time have maintained their native culture. The video clip below shows them singing during the encuentro.

 By the way my luggage and all of the lost luggacd arrived OK. Looking forward to the visit tomorrow to the Finca de los ninos, a local orphanage run by Franciscan sisters.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Getting to work in Honduras


Dental team loading up to head to a clinic site
Just as I was preparing a blog journal entry yesterday the internet went down, so let me today tell the story with pictures and few words. yesterday, Sunday, our evangelization team visited two of the sites where we will be conducting encuentros (formation sessions for local lay leaders.  The evangelization part is integrated with the medical so we got to witness the work of the fine doctors,nurses and desntists who are here.

This morning I went with seminarian Joseph Friend to visit the hospital and give the Annointing of the Sick to patients awaiting surgery. then it was on to the town of Maranones to spend the day visiting clinic patients, visiting homebound people and joining with local priest Felipe Lopez in conducting an encuentro there.

Joe Friend engaging local kids outside the Los leones clinic

Patients waiting at Los Leones
Surrical team getting ready at Trujillo hospital
Medicines being dispensed at Maranones clinic
On site evangelization team praying with patients at Maranones
A ladder that cannot be bought at Home Depot and a produce sales truck

Patient "waiting room" at Maranones



  More pictures to follow, taken by others, that include myself in action will follow.