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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Sede Vacante

   It's now official. As of  8 PM in Rome and 2 PM EDT the see of Peter is empty.  The secular media are in a frenzy of reporting and I must admit that some of it is quite good while much of it just misses the mark.

   Many people, including many Catholics, are focusing on what kinds of things the new pope should change or not change.  It is tempting, because we are a democracy, to compare the papal election with our own presidential, congressional and even local elections and make the election about issues. There is nothing wrong with it being about issues in a democratic nation.  We have ways of passing laws and if the majority of citizens through our elected representatives want something then it can be done, even though a minority may lament the change.  In a papal election it is really not about issues but rather about what kind of person is elected, a person who is hopefully holy, but who also can govern, speak several languages and speak to the broad range of cultures that comprise the Church. This latter point is especially urgent since most of the Church does not now reside in Europe or North America.

    That having been said there are, of course, issues that will arise.  I think that the next pope must forthrightly and transparently put the sex abuse crisis in the rear view mirror and not cover for anyone, even high ranking people, including bishops. Pope Benedict made some big strides, but more must be done.

   As for other issues the Church cannot just change things because a lot of people want it that way.  There are beliefs that by their nature are unchangeable.  There are other things that can change but they won;t change by arguing that the majority of people want the change, but by showing that there are theological reasons for doing so and that the living tradition of the Church can be better brought forward by implementing such changes.  This takes time.

   I am not making these points for the sake of being against change.  Those who know me understand that I am in favor of several changes, not to doctrine, but to the way leadership is exercised and faith is expressed.  I am saying that it is important that we understand how things work.

  As a said a few blog posts ago this is above all a time for prayer, prayer to elect the right person to be pope and prayer for the healing of the wounds of the Church and for her continued growth in this time of new evangelization.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Hope in Troubled Times


     Recently a woman who is good friend of mine and  with whom I have been in regular correspondence wrote to me of the following concern:  "I'm worried about the future. There is so much pain, mental illness, family breakdown and loss of faith. We need God now more than ever. We need a moral compass."

    She is absolutely correct in making this assertion. I share in it 100%. The challenge for us is to answer the question, "What do we do about it?" The answer, I believe, is to call on the Lord to fill us with Christian hope. Hope, along with faith and love (charity) is one of the three theological virtues, virtues given us by God and that relate us to God.  But what is hope?  I'll begin by saying what it is not.  It is not optimism. Optimism is based on actual reasons which point to a positive outcome. It is the proverbial belief that "the glass is half full." The Catechism of the Church, # 1818, defines hope in the following way,"The virtue of hope responds to the aspiration to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man; it takes up the hopes that inspire men's activities and purifies them so as to order them to the Kingdom of heaven; it keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude. Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity." 

    Practically speaking how does this play itself out in our everyday lives. I suggest the following:

    1. It gives us the courage to face the truth of what is going on, to move beyond denial and a polyanna approach to the world.  There are problems in our nation, in the world and even in the Church.  From a strictly human perspective they threaten to swallow us up, but because we believe in the promise of the Reign of God we can face them believing that though evil may have its' moments it will not prevail.

    2. Hope gives us the courage to act, to speak out, even though doing so may lead us to persecution, imprisonment and even death.

    3. Even though everything we hold dear may shatter and fall apart Hope teaches us not that there won't be problems, sickness or even failure, but that a loving God will lead us through these things to something better, ultimately to eternal life, but even short of heaven there will be something good on the other side of the problem.  This is the real challenge because at times it is so difficult to believe that.

    4, Remember that there is nowhere in the Bible where God says that if you have deep faith, live a good life and pray everyday that there won't be problems.  It does basically say that if we do these things God will not abandon us.

     Not long ago a writer defined hope "not as believing that the glass is half full, but rather as believing  that when it is bone-dry and empty that God will bring something good from it." (a paraphrase of an overheard quote.)

    So let us with eyes wide open look at the daunting problems that face us and walk in hope with uplifted heads.

    Finally, I will add, that there are signs of optimism as well, signs such as the deep faith of the Catholic students at Troy University here in Troy, AL where I am working this week. There are many others as well.

  

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A Special Call to Prayer & Fasting

 Over the past few months we have seen the convergence of weather systems coming about with dramatic effects. Both hurricane Sandy and winter storm Nemo happened because a storm coming from the south merged into another coming from the west.

   I think that this phenomenon of meteorology is a perfect metaphor for what is going on in the Church,  The Church storm, however, is a good one, not a disaster.  This storm portends a record amount of grace and blessing rather then one of wind, rain and snow.

   What are the two storms?--the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and the beginning of Lent. Lent, of course, is always a season in which we are called not only to prayer, but to fasting and almsgiving as well.  In the past I have often reminded people that fasting is not only abstaining from certain foods, but perhaps more importantly from bitterness, resentment, jealousy, etc.  When we do these things we open ourselves to God and are more inclined to show mercy and compassion to those most in need.
With the resignation of the Holy Father and the upcoming election of  new pope I believe that the Church is called to a time of retreat.  The fact that it overlaps with Lent heightens the sense of that.

   So why are we called to go on a retreat?  We are living in difficult times for the world and the Church. Besides the sex-abuse scandals there has been a great deal of questioning concerning how various issues were handled. There likewise have been attacks not only on the Church in various places, but on the very idea of belief in God at all. In the US and Europe church attendance and participation is declining not only due to mistakes by church leaders but because of increasing secularization.  All of this should tell us that we need to pray and we need to fast.  The prayer we need to do should spring from the realization that by our human resources alone we can't fix the problems.  The fasting I believe that we are called to do is a fast from ideology, both conservative and liberal, so that we can be open to the promptings of the Spirit not only to elect a new pope, but to move forward as Church.  It's not that there should be no disagreements or that we should bury our opinions, but rather that we need to put them on ice for a while so that we can stop imitating the dysfunctional anger and ranting that has affected our political system and deal with differences among us as brothers and sisters in Christ.  If we do that this Lent as we pray for the cardinals who will meet to elect the new pope I believe that a joyful Easter awaits us, not only on March 31, but in the days and weeks that follow.

   So let us pray and fast in the ways mentioned above, and also in this Year of Faith ask to grow not only in faith in God, but faith in the Church.  This last one can be a challenge.  So many say "I believe in God, but not in the Church."  That is understandable with some of the things that have gone on but let us realize that as Catholics we believe that the Church is the Body of Christ, the presence of Christ in the world. That presence is realized not only through the hierarchy but through every member. Sometimes our actions impede the ability of the light of Christ to shine forth, but let our Lenten fasting and prayer help us to clear away some of the things that make it hard to believe that we are indeed His Body in the world.

Monday, February 11, 2013

A Time to Pray


   Just as I was preparing a blog post for Ash Wednesday and Lent, which will eventually appear here, I heard the news of the retirement of Pope Benedict XVI, astounding news indeed since it is the first such resignation of a pope in almost 600 years.

  There is already much speculation about who is papabile as they say and about what kind of changes should be made in the Church during the next papacy.  I know that I have my personal wish list for the next pope but will refrain from sharing it here.

   What I think is most needed at this time is prayer, prayer to the Holy Spirit, that the next pope and the Church as a whole will be open to the Spirit. It is too easy to be driven by a conservative or liberal agenda as we enter this time of transition rather than asking that the Holy Spirit guide us in this time to do what is best for the Church and the world. I suspect that the answer to that prayer will not fully satisfy either conservatives or liberals because God is not on either side of that fence.

   So let us pray.  Remember that in this past Sunday's Gospel the apostles worked all night with no catch of fish. They were frustrated.  Then the Lord came along and everything changed.  In so many ways we are frustrated in the Church today, frustrated both by inner struggles in the Church and by what's going on in the world.  Maybe we have had too much of our own resources, our own way of fishing.  May at this time the Lord will tell us to cast our nets in a new direction, or even in an old one that we had left behind.


Saturday, February 2, 2013

Days of Rest, Renewal and Writing.

Cover of my soon to be released book
   Every once in a while I use this blog to let folks know what's going on in my life as a friar. This is one of those times.  January and May are the two months of the year in which I spend most of my time at home in the friary.  This is, as the new translation of the Mass says, truly right and just.

  Last week our community was led in a wonderful retreat by Fr. Jack Rathschmidt, OFM, Cap., who gave us much to think about in living our Franciscan lives at this time.  On neat idea that he presented was the possibility of looking at distractions not as obstacles to prayer and spiritual growth, but as opportunities to open up more to God.  The weather here has been magnificent and I had plenty of chances to walk outdoors along beautiful Tampa Bay and meditate on Fr. Jack's inspiring thoughts.

   The month has also brought many friars from the north to visit us.  Some of them joined us for the retreat while others are taking advantage of the chance to escape the cold.  In any case it was a great chance to connect again with some friars that I don't get to see too often.  On the more mundane side of things I've had the chance to put some order in my room which gets easily cluttered as I come and go from various preaching commitments.

   Most of you know that my book, The Wandering Friar, will soon be released.  In fact you can pre-order it now through the wonderful website that Tate Publishing has prepared for me--The Wandering Friar--The Book. What you don't know, my now released secret, is that I have so enjoyed working on this book that I have started another tentatively titled Following Jesus in the Footsteps of Francis: Franciscan Spirituality for everyone. The title pretty much says what it's about. I learned a lot in writing the first book about what to do and not to do while writing a book and I hope to apply the lessons learned with this one..  Stay tuned for developments on that.

   I am finding that my writing and my prayer life overlap, that one feeds the other.  That is a good thing.  Speaking of writing I have now been on Twitter for about a year.  I had shied away from that site thinking it to be nonsensical and shallow. Indeed, for much of it is, but last year a friend challenged me to sign up for it and to write a message for every day of Lent.  I did it and it was well-received.  Since then I have written frequent, though not daily,messages. I stick strictly to faith related topics and followers, no sports, gossip, movies, etc., and it has worked out well.Also, everything on Twitter has to be 140 characters or less and that is a challenge, I do plan to do the forty days of Lent again this year.  If your interested you can check it out by going to Twitter.com and then searching for @FrJohnAnglinOFM