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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A thankful Attitude--Happy Thanksgiving

    I am at a wonderful point in my life as we celebrate another Thanksgiving holiday.  I have just celebrated 50 years as a member of the Franciscan Order and I will turn 70 in less than two weeks.   Joining the Franciscans was the best decision I ever made and I am grateful for every day of life that God gives me, especially since surviving prostate cancer over 8 years ago.

   A number of years ago a friend of mine talked about having gratitude as an attitude if one really wants to be happy in life.  That is so true.  I see any number of people who constantly grumble about what's wrong, what they don't have, and what's wrong with the world.  They are miserable people.  That doesn't mean that they are bad, just that they don't know how to be happy.

    Of course we all know that the world is in tough shape, as is our nation. Things could be better in most of our lives as well. Even in the Church there are problems. Thanksgiving calls us to realize that while this is true we still have so much to be thankful for.  It is a matter of what we focus on. Today I choose to be grateful not only for life and for being a friar but for the many people that the Lord has put in the path of my life who have been a blessing to me or for whom I may have been a blessing for them.  My book, The Wandering Friar, tells of many of those blessings. I am grateful for my family which is continuing to grow through marriage and the birth of new life.  I am grateful as well for the fact that the beauty of this earth is mine to behold and appreciate even without owning one square inch of it.

   Finally I am thankful for the gift of faith, a thanks expressed most especially in the Eucharist, a word derived from the Greek word for thanks, because in the Eucharist the Lord give us Himself. Now that is really something to be thankful for.

   So, Happy thanksgiving everyone.  Focus on the many things we can be grateful for.  That is the only way we will be able to reach what we still seek for  and overcome the problems in our own lives and in the world.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Feast of Christ the King--What Kind of King is He?



   On this coming Sunday we Catholics, along with many other Christians, will observe the Feast of Christ the King. This Feast was established only recently (1925) by Pope Pius XI.  It was established for a reason that is still valid today--the rise of nationalism and secularism which led governments to be guided more by their own self interests and the quest for power than by the values of faith. The following link to a Wikipedia article on the feast gives are fine summary of its history:  Feast of Christ the King
  
   The Scripture texts for Mass this week tell us what kind of King Jesus was and is and challenges us, His followers, in several ways.

   The First Reading from Ezekiel (Ez 34:11-12, 15-17) tells us that He is a shepherd king who seeks the lost sheep to bring them back and heal them. It also tells us that He will "judge between one sheep and another."

   The Gospel text, from Matthew 25 tell us how He will judge us, namely on how well we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the imprisoned.  It doesn't say anything there about being judged on how well we observe the minutiae of canon law or liturgical rubrics or having the correct theology.  Now I'm not saying that these things should be ignored or that they don't have their rightful place, but Jesus here and in several other places makes it clear that love of others, concern for the poor, mercy and forgiveness are what's really important for Him.

  Jesus is a King who reigns not by domination and control but by lifting up the lowly and inviting His followers to do the same.

  Does all of this sound a bit like Pope Francis?  Someone recently said that Pope Francis is not a liberal but rather a radical.  I agree.  He is a radical follower of the Gospel and invites us to be as well. Are we ready to follow?



   

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

All Souls Day, Purgatory and Praying for the Dead.

   If you are from my generation of Catholics the phrase "offer it up" became part of your vocabulary at an early age.  We were invited to offer things up for the sake of the souls in purgatory. We offered up setbacks and defeats, the illnesses we suffered, the hurts we experienced and of course we offered up our prayers for our loved ones who had died and for the "poor souls" who had no one to pray for them.

   I'm sure that if I spoke of "offering it up" to most younger Catholics I would get a puzzled look.  Furthermore many Catholics find it hard to believe in purgatory.  I can't say that I blame them because of the way that purgatory has been explained over the years.  It seemed to be presented as a mini-hell where people eventually left and got to heaven.  They could be helped by the prayers and offerings of the living which served as a sort of spiritual bail money or get out of jail early card.

   Looking back over the development of this doctrine I believe that we have taken some wrong turns.  Praying for the dead goes back to the Hebrew Scriptures (2 Maccabees 12:42-46) and was also practiced in some other ancient religions.  This tells us that for quite some time there has been a belief that the dead need our prayers as they go before God.  In the early Church some theologians spoke of the need for purification before entering heaven.  In other word though people die in God's good graces most of us are not perfect.  We still have unfinished spiritual business and God in a merciful way cleanses of purifies us. No one spoke of "purgatory" as a place until around the end of the first millennium. While this may be painful it is not punishment in the sense of something intended to hurt one as a result of misdeeds so much as a merciful and therapeutic purification process which may take place rather quickly, I imagine that like many experiences we have here on earth something that is difficult can seem to last forever even if it is brief.  Likewise I would think that the yearning of the deceased to be completely united with God with all barriers removed is in itself painful.

    The Church also speaks of the fact that this purification can be done in this life.  Many think that this means that sicknesses such as cancer are punishments for our sins.  I think not.  I do think that illness, suffering and the aging process lead us more and more to "let go", not only of our sins, but of the trivialities of life that we once thought were so important. 

   As for praying for that dead I think that our loved ones for whom we pray feel the support and strength of our prayers just as we do in this life when people pray for us.  Our prayers for them also help us in the healing of our grief and may also serve to heal our relationships with them if there have been hurts and regrets. This is much different than seeing God as a spiritual banker who lightens the sentence of those who get prayers.

   I live in a friary community that is made up largely of retired friars. I had the privilege of presiding at the community Liturgy on Sunday, All Souls Day.  I suggested to my brothers that our kind of fraternity could be considered a "purgatory".  After eliciting the appropriate laughter I explained that i meant that in a positive sense, seeing our community as a place where we help each other out on the final legs of our journey home to God so that there might be less unfinished business when we get there.  Many of the friars welcomed that thought.

   Our God is a merciful God who desires not to  lose any one of His beloved. May we all assist one another on the journey to our loving God.