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.


  

Sunday, July 19, 2020

3 Parables For Today

    In Catholic Churches, and several others as well, the Gospel selection for today is Matthew 13-24-43.  This passage contains 3 brief parables of Jesus that can teach us a great deal in the times in which we live.

   The first of the three is the parable of the wheat and the weeds. The meaning is rather obvious. This farmer wants to throw out the weeds right away.  He is warned, however, that throwing out the weeds may do damage to the wheat.  He is advised to wait and let them grow together and at the harvest things will be sorted out.

   It seems to me that in our present climate people are quick to identify weeds and seek to get rid of them.  You know what I mean.  People are getting shot over wearing or not wearing masks. Property is getting destroyed.  The parable is a reminder that we often need to wait and let God be the judge. This doesn't mean that justice can't be pursued and crime can't be punished.  It does mean that we would be well advised not to so quickly put people into categories and then dismiss them easily.

   The other two parables give us messages of hope and encouragement. The mustard seed, we are told, is the smallest of seeds but it grows and becomes a large shrug in which the birds come to nest.
The parable of the yeast in the dough is similar.  A little yeast makes the dough rise.  the Kingdom of God is like this. The little mustard seeds and the bit of dough make great things happen. Sometimes we think that our efforts or those of someone else are too meager.  Often it's not the grand plans and endeavors that make a difference but the little things we do that allow the Kingdom of God to burst forth among us.

   The kingdom of heaven, of God, is not just where we hope to go after death it is rather the bursting forth of justice, of love, of peace in this life as well.  We have many issue to face, taking care of this pandemic, racial justice, excessive violence among them.  Perhaps the little things that we can do now will bear great fruit when this time has passed.
   



Friday, July 3, 2020

An End and a Beginning.

   As of today I am a senior friar, or, if you will, I am retired.  What does that mean?  I want to make clear that I will be a priest and friar for the rest of my life. My province of the Franciscans permits us to become senior friars at age 75.  I reached that milestone this past December.  I was hoping to prolong this decision for a few years, perhaps until 80, should I live that long. The reality of the Covid-19 crisis has brought me to the awareness that I will not be going out to preach missions and retreats or to preach for Unbound for the foreseeable future. When this crisis ends I hope to continue my ministry of preaching.  The difference is that I will be able to do as much or as little as I wish.  My hope is to do a lesser amount of traveling and to assist at one of our local parishes.

   As a friar and priest this time also affords me the chance to spend more time in prayer and reflection, to place more emphasis on the contemplative dimension of my Franciscan life. St. Anthony Friary where I live is made up mostly of senior friars.  It is a privilege to live with men who have dedicated themselves to parish ministry, shrine church ministry, education, military and hospital chaplaincy, formation of our younger friars and foreign missionary work.

   During this crisis none of us have been able to minister outside.  Our provincial has stressed that protecting one another from the virus is of utmost importance.  We do, however, have daily Mass in our chapel as well as community prayer.  We have been praying for all of you who have not been able to celebrate Eucharist as well has for those suffering and dying from this terrible virus, for health care workers and first-responders.   I can add to that our prayers and concern for racial justice.

  This pause has also given me the chance to look back over the years and to be grateful for the many blessings the Lord has given me and the many people who have become part of my life. I am taking things one day at a time and look forward to the end of this pandemic, an end that I think is months away and maybe more.  When that time comes our country, our world and out Church will be different.  I won't attempt to say how different, but things will be different, hopefully better.







Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Listening Beyond the Noise

    I have not gone on the road to preach in over 3 months and I don't anticipate going out any time soon.  As a result of this I have had a lot of quiet time.  I have asked what God is asking of me in this time of pandemic and in this time of racial protests.

   I have concluded that for me it is important to listen beyond the noise.  There is all kinds of chatter and over-reaction from both the left and the right whether it's about our racial tensions or about the COVID-19 pandemic.

   The first thing that I realize is important is taking the challenge of listening to points of view that challenge me.  I don't mean listening to everything.  Some things are just preposterous conspiracy theories.  As a white person I might be tempted to be complacent, to say "I'm OK, not a racist, etc" but I am discovering for myself the need to confront the fact that I benefit from white privilege.  No, I am not feeling guilty for being white but as I listen to black and other minority voices I am moved to do what I can to eliminate the opportunity gap between whites like myself and people of color..  I would stress that this white privilege issue is not only about the disparities in the police and legal system but touches many levels of society.  A suggestion--take a deep breath, resist the temptation to get defensive and see how this applies in your life.

    The other thing that I discern is that the virus is real and it's not going away any time soon.  I am listening to the health experts and not so much the politicians who are politicizing the issue. The real challenge here, as I have mentioned in previous blog posts, is the American tendency to favor individual rights over the common good.  This, as well as general impatience.  I hear things like, "I'm so done with this virus."  You may feel that way but guess what, the virus is not done with us. I am grateful for the leadership in my Franciscan province in this matter.  My community here is composed of elder men, like myself.  Several men are taking chemo treatments.  Happy to say not one of us has yet been afflicted with COVID-19.

   Where is this all headed? I don't know.  I do believe that the world will be different.  I would like to think that racism will go away.  That is unrealistic but there will be a better attitude among most people and there will be reform (not De-funding) of police structures.  I think that the court system needs an overhaul as well.

   Lastly, what will be the state of the Church, not only our Catholic Church, but all of them.  I see people making that point that liquor stores and tattoo parlors, among other things cannot be more important than the Church.  Of course, they are not.  That, however, misses the point. I believe that terms such as essential businesses miss the pointThe issue is rather when is it safe to gather in a prticular kind of location.  Churches are enclosed spaces.  I have no problem with opening with social distance and other limitations but wide open, anything goes with large crowds is just not safe.  Good pastors know that.  Also, remember that for us Catholics Church is not just the building.  We are the living Body of Christ, the people of God.  The Eucharist is the High point and the deepest expression of Christ's presence, but not the only one.  We can gather in our families and encounter Him in serving the poor.  A deeper sense of this aspect of Chhurch must grow even after all restrictions are lifted.

   These are the things that I hear in the silence of these days.  I invote you not to run from the silence but to embrace it, to listen, to discern and to act.


Thursday, May 28, 2020

Science--Revelation of God's Handiwork

    I am beside myself every time I hear someone say something like "I don't care what the scientists are saying I rely on God."  People are using this as a justification for not wearing masks and ignoring stay at home directives.

   Science, my friends, is not opposed to religious belief.  Science merely tells us what the Creator has given us. Many theologians tell us that creation or nature  is the first book of the Bible.  The catechism of the Catholic Church tells us basically the same.

  So what does this mean in terms of the present situation?  For me the good Lord created viruses. He also gave us intelligence.  That intelligence has lead people to learn about viruses and how they spread.  As an intelligent human being I accept that in order to be safe I need to take certain measures. Wearing a mask in public and social distancing is not a political statement, it is following the advice of expert scientists.

   On a deeper level listening to scientists ought to lead to a deepening of our religious convictions.  Understanding evolution and the 13+billion years of the history of the universe for me deepens my faith in a Creator. It also leads me to deepen my understanding of the Christ mystery. The letter to the Colossians tells us "For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on the earth, visible and invisible. . .He is before all things,and in Him all things hold together." (Colossians 1, 16-17). WOW. I look at the images from the Hubble telescope which show the vastness of the universe, the galaxies, stars, planets, the Quasars and the black holes and it challenges me to believe that all this is created in Him.

   I could go on and on but the point of this reflection is to ask people, to challenge then not to think that advances in science that seemingly toss faith out the window actually do so.  If one probes deeper one finds that faith is enhanced

  

  

   

Returning God's Gift