Saturday, March 6, 2021

A Prophetic Sign of Hope


   Yesterday Pope Francis met with one of the top Muslim clerics in Iraq.  Who would have thought just a few years ago when Isis was attacking some of the towns that he visited that a Pope would be there at this time.

  His Holiness comes to Iraq as a messenger of Peace and as a living witness to the message that he sent out in his encyclical Fratelli Tutti--We are all brothers.

   Does this mean an end to all hostilities between Muslims and Christians?  Of course not, though would that it were so. It does, however, send a strong message to the world, a message that says that peace is possible not only between Muslims and Christians, but between all religions and peoples where there is now hostility.

   In this historic encounter Pope Francis is visibly affirming what the Second Vatican Council said in its document, nostra aetate dealing with Catholic relations with other world religions.   Regarding Muslims it says, "The Chuch also has a high regard for the Muslims. They worship God who is one, living ans subsistent, merciful and almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth," (Nostra Aetate #3).  At the same time it is also important to note that during his visit the Pope also condemned all "violence in the name of God".

    There are too many Christians, Catholics included, who are under the impression that all Muslims are violent and that Muslims worship a different God.  Allah, by the way, is just the Arabic word for God. If you attend a Catholic Mass, or any other Christian service,  in an Arabic speaking country God is addressed as Allah.This visit of the Pope, among other things, calls us to lay aside those misconceptions. Also worth noting, in case you were unaware,Christians, as well as Muslims, have too often used violence in the name of God.

    The call, then, is to move ahead, not denying the many differences between our religions, but most of all finding common ground together.  As Christians we are bothers and sisters in Christ and as humans we are brothers and sisters of all.

 

Friday, January 22, 2021

Pretecting Life: From Beginning to End--Just Not that Simple

 

   This morning, as required by the US liturgical calendar, our community prayed for the legal protection of the unborn. Fine. I'm in favor of that, but I've for a long time been  uncomfortable with praying for only that. I am also in the uncomfortable position of believing that neither major political party gets it right. What is my point?  My point is that you cannot protect the unborn if you do not protect and meet the needs of the woman who is carrying the child. 

   It is easy to attempt to ban abortion.  Even if that effort succeeds abortion will not do away.  It has been with us throughout human history, legal or otherwise. My belief is that focusing only on abortion will not accomplish anything even if our goals are lofty.  

   Early on in my nearly fifty years of ministry as a priest I discovered that simply quoting morals at people does not work.  Good pastoral care begins with listening to people's pain. I have listened first hand to the stories of women who have been raped and abused by men, of women who could not afford health care, and thus pre-natal care.  I'm not saying that these sufferings make abortion just OK.  I am saying that trying to illegalize it without providing for the legitimate needs of the pregnant mother is short-sighted. Too many legislators at both national and local levels are guilty of that.

   Then there is the issue of the father of the unborn child.  So many of them abandon the pregnant woman and do not take responsibility.  I realize that it can be a complicated issue but maybe we should at least look into the issue of making them pay for childcare as well as the medical care of the mother.

   Some will object and say that the permissiveness of the times is a big factor in unwanted pregnancies. It indeed is.  It may be fine to encourage virginity before marriage.  We should. But let's be real--How likely is that effort to succeed in a widespread way?

    The other issue is answering the question, "What does it mean to be pro-life and not just pro-birth? When I bring up issues such as rights of immigrants, racism and  capital punishment too many people dismiss that because of arguments such as "Criminals are not innocent." or "These other issues don't invole the actual taking of life." There is some truth there but you cannot dismiss them because to do so is to attack life.  Also, the Church has now said that capital punishment is not right. Please don't holler for the death penalty and say that you are pro-life.

   This is a short article. More nuance may be needed.As the title suggests it's just not that simple. I welcome suggestions by comment or e-mail. If, however, you just want to call me a name or condemn me or say that I am against the Church please pause and take a deep breath.  You have not read this piece carefully.



Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Life and Death


 As the year draws to a close I realize that it has been several months since I posted. There are several reasons for that. For one thing I backed away when things went crazy at election time. Several things i wrote were misinterpreted or misconstrued. At any rate with 2021 upon us I thought that I would plunge into the water again.

   A few weeks ago I celebrated my 76th birthday.  I know, it's just a number, but nonetheless as one gets older one knows that he/she does not have too many numbers left.

   As of this writing about 300,000 people have died of COVID-19. Several people have been murdered by police. (No, I am not saying all police are killers,) Shooting by gun violence seems to be rampant across the country.  Just thinking about all this can be overwhelming. In my own Franciscan province a number of friars have died, by this terrible virus and by other causes.  Some of them were quite close to me. In addition 3  men have died at what most would say is all too young an age, 2 of them sons of close friends, one of them the son of my cousin.

   Am I sad?  Yes, of course.  Fortunately I am not depressed but there is at times a mood of sadness about me.

   Where do I go from here?  One thing that comes to mind is the realization that I am still alive and that life is a gift. There has understandably been quite a bit written about the need to respect life. I am one of those that believes that respecting life means all life. Developing that idea can be done at another time. What is dawning on me now is that to truly respect the life of others I am called to a deeper appreciation for my own life, all 76 years gone by as well as whatever remains.  I do not say this in a selfish sense, but rather with a deep sense of gratitude for the many wonderful moments that God has granted me during the past and an openness to whatever possibilities lie ahead. I am very blessed by my Franciscan fraternity, by family and friends. I owe it to God, myself and to them to make the most of the time that lies ahead. By making the most I don't mean making money or achieving worldly success. I do mean jumping at every bit of God's grace that comes my way and doing whatever I can to enrich the lives of whomever I meet. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

A Lesson From Sports

 

The Stanley Cup
   During this time of pandemic I have not traveled out to preach. I have done a great deal of reading, praying, reflecting, etc.  I have also watched more than my fair share of movies and TV series.  I am also an avid sports fan especially when it come to the teams from Boston, my home town. We have been blessed over the past twenty years with a treasure trove of championships

   Living as I do in the Tampa Bay area I follow the local teams, not with quite as much enthusiasm as I do for my Boston teams.  Last night I watched with great joy as the Tampa Bay Lightning captured the Stanley Cup as champions of the hockey world.

   Given that this blog usually reflects on issue of religion or life in our world and its various cultures you might wonder why am I writing about sports.  Good question. I certainly admit that  scoring goals, touchdowns or baskets or hitting home runs is not the most important thing in the world.  I also lament the huge salaries of players and the large sums of money involved in sports. Having said all that I believe that there is an important lesson that our nation, the Church and the world in general can learn from sports, especially from those who win championships.

   Let's just take our hockey champions as an example. Their season was stopped in March with the Covid-19 outbreak. They resumed play at the end of July with playoffs that would lead to a championship over a two month period.  Because of the pandemic they stayed in what is popularly called a bubble staying only in two different cities, away from family and friends for most of this time. The players come from different countries, speak different languages, though all seem to speak English. They worked together as a team and did not let differences of culture, politics or personality keep them from focusing on the big goal--winning the championship. 

   That is what we call all learn from any sports championship--unity of purpose.  Our country and even our churches oar so terribly divided.  It's not bad to have differences of opinion but the hatred and vitriol, even in the Church which is supposed to be following One whose basic commandment is love is deeply concerning.

   So let us rejoice and celebrate when our favorite team wins but more importantly let us learn from them the importance of working together.

  


Thursday, September 10, 2020

Returning God's Gift


    At this point in my Franciscan journey I have noticed that there are more friars that I knew and often have lived with that are listed in my province's necrology (list of deceased friars) than there are in our directory of the living friars.

   This morning we gave another one of our brothers back to God--Brother Valerian Vaverchak, OFM., or simply Val, as we knew him. Many of the men that have gone before me and on whose shoulders I stand have made contributions to the Church and to the world, contributions that were known and publicized.  I think for example of Fr. Mychal Judge, OFM, one of the heroes of 9/11, a loving and gifted friar and priest who was widely known even before that tragic day.  there are many others.

   Val's life was not lived in the limelight but it was a life a quiet and loving dedication and prayer, a life that touched many in a quiet way.

   He served in the missions in Brazil where he selflessly helped many poor people there. He became a nurse and worked tirelessly caring for our elder friars for a number of years. Fr. Jack McDowell who preached the funeral homily mentioned that he showed up at one assignment where the guardian greeted him by handing him a cookbook. He said,"but I'm a nurse." he was told that they needed a cook, not a nurse, so he became a cook. Such was his vow of obedience.

   I have lived here at St. Anthony Friary with Val for fourteen years. In spite of having a number of health issues he was the weekend cook when I came here.  He also gladly did little chores for the friars, never seeking recognition. I traveled to Assisi several years ago with Val and another friar. It was then that I saw the deeply prayerful side of this wonderful man as we visited the places where St. Francis lived and worked.

   At a time when the Church is judged solely on the basis of bad things done by priests and religious I think that it is important to note that countless thousands of priests and  of men and women religious continue live and work quietly to share God's love. I thank God for the gift of Val and am glad to share in our effort to return him back to our loving and merciful God.

  


Monday, August 24, 2020

Light in the Darkness

   It is so easy in these difficult times to focus on the negative, to look at the dark side of humanity.  Believe me, it is there and I don't want to deny it or cover it up.  In the midst of all this, though, some rays of sunshine come through.

   Many of you know that over the past 3 and one half years I have been a preacher for an organization called Unbound along with my regular work of preaching missions and retreats. One of the great things about Unbound is that it not only invites people from here in the US to sponsor children and needy elders in various countries, but invites the sponsored children and their families  to unite, to use the sponsorship funds wisely and to help one another.

    

   As an Unbound preacher I receive regular updates on how the program is doing around the world.  Needless to say the pandemic has hit really hard in some of the poorest neighborhoods in the world where the program is present. In one of the recent e-mails I received the story was told that in the poor sections of Peru unemployment is high and people who are already stretched to the limit financially are often in dire straights, unable to purchase food and other necessities. I am sponsoring Anthony, a 14 year old boy in Lima and when I received this news I thought of him. In a recent letter to me he mentioned the COVID-19 virus and how his family was coping.  He seemed to be OK but others in his area were not.  The bulletin from Unbound told the wonderful story of hos in Peru and Columbia when a family needed food or other necessities they hung a white flag outside their home. When others saw this flag they brought food and left it at the families' doorstep.

   How wonderful!  As I have daily heard stories of people hoarding food and other things, of people fighting over the wearing of masks to receive this story of people who are poor themselves helping one another in this way filled me with great hope. They may be poor, but in a deeper sense they are rich.

   This story made me wonder if anyone in our own country is doing anything similar.  I was a bit down thinking that such things are not happening here and then heard the news that down in Miami there are people who put a refrigerator in front of their home filled with food.  Anyone passing by is welsome to take what they need.

   To me these are lights in the darkness, lights of love and mercy.  I'm sure that there are many stories like this.  I invite you, if you know of any such stories to e-mail me at janglin357@yahoo.com. 

   If I receive enough stories I will post at least some of them here.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

A Faceof Hope

John Lewis
   With all of the racial tension and violence that has taken place our country and our world has lost a man whose vision can lead us forward even after his death.  That man, of course, is congressman John Lewis.

   I must admit that my knowledge of this great man during his life was superficial.  I was aware that he marched across the bridge in Selma and was unjustly beaten and arrested.  I had hear of his association with Dr. King, but it was all in the background for me until the news of his passing.

   Many people, unfortunately, allow themselves to be turned off to the recent protests because of the violence.  Let me be clear, I in no way condone violence as a solution to injustice.  At the same time violence is almost inevitable when there is injustice, here in the US or anywhere in the world.  It can be a real temptation to stand above the fray and do nothing.  We can rightly ask the question, "If not through violence, then how?  Racism, white privilege, unfairness in the judicial system are real problems.  As Catholics we need to be reminded that the last three Popes, at least, have denounced racism as a sin. We need people to inspire us and show us the way.  In the past people like Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, among others  have been models for us.
They remind us that non-violence does not mean passivity.  All of them stood up to injustice and paid a price for it.  They did so through non-violent resistance. They did so by engaging in what congressman Lewis called "Good Trouble"

    When the world finally moves beyond the COVID-19 crisis there will be a temptation to go back to normal, whatever that means.  I don't think we can go back to what was, but rather to a hopeful new future in the Church, in our country, in our world.  I am not speaking of a utopia.  There will be no perfect world until the Kingdom of God in its fullness comes about.  Nonetheless, in the meantime, the Kingdom of God is among us when there is love instead of hatred and when injustices are corrected.  I think that Congressman Lewis can be one of the lights that guide us into a brighter future.


  

A Prophetic Sign of Hope