Saturday, December 22, 2012

God's Promises to Us--The Fourth Sunday of Advent. A Time to Hope

 The Gospel text for the Fourth Sunday of Advent this year gives us the story of the visitation of Mary to Elizabeth. Every line of this wonderful account could be the subject of a reflection, for example the meaning of the baby (John the Baptist) leaping in Elizabeth's womb for joy.  What struck me as significant for this year when we have just experienced the horrible tragedy in Sandy Hook, CT and see violence erupting all over the world was the last line of this text from Luke 1:45 "Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled."

   These words, spoken by Elizabeth to Mary, apply to the recent acceptance by Mary of God's invitation to her to be the mother of the Savior in spite of Mary's not understanding how this can be.  What might we, today, learn from these words? How do they apply top us?

   Remember, God has made promises to us and with all that is going on today we, like Mary, wonder how all this can be. "What promises?", you may ask.  The promises yet to be fulfilled of peace, of people beating swords into plowshares.  The promise of justice proclaimed in Mary's Magnificat which concludes the visitation account--"He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty." (Luke 1:52-53). Indeed, how can these things be? Can we even imagine it?

   I believe that one of the real evils of our day is the widespread cynicism that besets too many of us.Cynicism is the lack of hope, the belief that things are a mess and that's how it is and how it will always be.  As Christians we must admit that indeed things are a mess, but hope tells us that even though we don't understand how this can be, that yes those promises of peace of the hungry being fed, etc are part of God's plan and will be fulfilled in God's time.  We are challenged as well do do our part to cooperate with God's grace and help those things to come about.  For me the outpouring of love and support to the people of Sandy Hook were a wonderful sign that evil will have its moment but it will not prevail.

    The Advent season is a reminder to us that because God's promise of a Messiah was fulfilled by Mary's fiat, her yest to the Lord, that the rest of His promises will be fulfilled as well--in His time, with our help.  We are called to look beyond the present moment without escaping from it and realize that as believers in Jesus Christ we are part of a bigger picture, a bigger plan. That is our cause, not for optimism, but for hope.  What is the difference between hope and optimism?  Leonardo Boff, a Brazilian theologian, once said, "Optimism is believing that the glass is half full. Hope is believing that when it is bone dry and empty God will still lead us to something good." (My own recollection of words that I read years ago.)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Gaudete Sunday

  The Third Sunday of Advent is upon us--Gaudete or Rejoice is the theme. We are invited to have joy because Christmas is upon us soon.  Yet in light of the tragic events of the past week, and tragic doesn't even begin to describe them, what is it that we are to rejoice in.  Are we just asked to go along for the ride liturgically as we grieve, ponder and question the meaning of this horrible event where 20 innocent children and 6 adults, some of them heroes who prevented further death, were killed?

  On the surface it is not only absurd, it is an insult to the fallen and wounded people of Sandy Hook, CT to dedicate this Sunday to rejoicing just because the liturgical calendar calls for it.  But let us ask nonetheless whether there is cause for joy and what, after all is joy?

    With these questions in mind I would like to share with you my own journey of the past week.  On Saturday, December 8, I had a wonderful weekly phone chat with my brother Michael.  Both of us were upbeat, waiting for Christmas and my visit to Boston and chatting about the New England Patriots upcoming games and Super Bowl chances.  On Tuesday, Dec. 11 my niece Laurie called to let me know that he had suffered a stroke.  Life indeed has a way of changing the game plan.  I immediately asked for prayers and worked things out so that I could travel to Boston early for my Christmas break. I chose the Amtrak auto-train so that I could have my car when I arrived.  I was quite shaken by this news about Michael's stroke. I fought back tears. He is my younger brother. I remembered the day of his birth and taking him to his first Red Sox game.I thought of the fact that he is due to become a grandfather in May and I asked the Lord to bring him through. Even before leaving Florida I realized that prayers were being answered.  Mike's improvement began immediately. I was hopeful. 

   When the train arrived in Lorton, VA on Friday morning there was more good news of his improving condition, but then as I was awaiting the unloading of my car from the train the station monitors began to show coverage of the horrible tragedy unfolding in Sandy Hook and Newtown, CT.  I have heard the news of too many other tragic mass shootings and always felt both compassion for the victims, anger at the perpetrator and confusion about the irrationality of it all. Certainly every incident form Columbine to the movie theater to the Siek Temple and so forth have evoked prayer from me.  In this case  innocent children were killed and in my already emotionally vulnerable state concerning my brother I drifted into a quiet corner of the station and began to weep. I was mildly embarrassed by this and hoping that no one would see me, but then I thought, "No, this is good. Weeping is the most appropriate response to this."  Later on Facebook I found that someone in response to this horrible event had quoted the well-known line from the Hail, Holy Queen,  "Mourning and weeping in this valley of tears."  At times that is what we need to do.

     After retrieving the car and beginning to drive north I thought of this Sunday and was glad that I didn't have to preach and somehow try to bring joy into all the sorrow and concern that I was feeling. I turned on the car radio however and in addition to hearing more horrible details I heard an interview with a rabbi from Newtown who was offering spiritual assistance to the victims.  I heard that there were to be prayer vigils at two churches, one Catholic and one Protestant.  It was then that i realized where joy came into play.  Our joy is not necessarily a jump up and down, sing and dance kind of joy, but rather the deep inner joy that comes to us at sorrowful times like this when we realize that in spite of the insane, irrational evil that there is a merciful and loving God who never abandons us in these moments.  People of all faiths in that grief-stricken community realized that.  That is why their instincts called for those vigils and for the comfort of clergy.  That is truly a cause for joy as is the realization that in God's plan evil may have its day, but it never has the last word.

    My brother is now at home and facing a long recovery.  As the days have gone on there has been news of the kind of love and good that conquers evil in the persons of teachers and first responders whose actions saved even more children from being killed, some of them by laying down their own lives. 

   After spending a night in northern NJ I traveled on to Boston and had to drive along I-84, right through Sandy Hook.  I said a prayer. Another wave of sadness passed through me. I saw some small children and their parents when I stopped for coffee.  I wanted to give all of them a hug. I prayed for them.  When I arrived in Boston I knew then that there is cause for true joy, not celebratory joy, but the deep joy of knowing what a blessing is life and what a blessing is our faith, the hopeful joy of knowing that evil can never conquer love and faith.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

More Thoughts about Advent--Advent in 3D

            Last week I shared with you my thoughts about Advent as a season in which we focus our desires, ultimately towards our deepest desire, the desire for God. The Church guides us on this journey of desire by taking us through three dimensions in three time zones. As important as it is to prepare our selves spiritually for Christmas that is only one aspect of Advent, one "dimension" if you will.

            Interestingly enough the first dimension is the future.  At the beginning of Advent we look to the end times.  On the First Sunday we are presented with apocalyptic literature with its frightening images of earthquakes and wars.  In spite of these scary scenarios we need to understand that this genre of biblical literature, found especially in the Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelation, but also in parts of the Gospel, was meant to give hope to people who were suffering and oppressed. Is it any wonder that along with the Exodus story the African American slaves found this literature appealing?   For ourselves today who often become discouraged by the situation in the world—the war, the violence, the injustice, it reminds us that in the end God’s promises of peace, justice, healing and happiness will be realized.  At the beginning of Advent we are reminded that Christ will come again. In the liturgy, after the Our Father, we pray that we await this coming as “the blessed hope and the coming of Our Savior Jesus Christ.”  I liked the older translation even better which had us waiting “in joyful hope.”  In either case we do not await in fear and gloom.  Our waiting, however, should be an active waiting.  While there is not complete victory over the ills of this world until the Lord comes again this phase of Advent should spur us on to engage in the works of justice, peace and the integrity of creation.

            The second dimension is the past. We are presented with the figure of John the Baptist and are invited to “prepare the way of the Lord” along with him.  Beginning on December 17 Advent really turns to the past as we pray the O Antiphons and read Scriptures that proclaim God’s preparation of the world, right from the beginning and through the history of Israel for the coming of the Messiah King.  This looking into the past not only helps us to prepare for Christmas it also assures us that God is still providing for us and is leading us forward throughout our present history.

This leads us to the third dimension, the present. Advent is not complete if we only think of the great feast of the birth of Our Lord as a celebration of a past event that took place in Bethlehem a long time ago.  It is above all a time to welcome Christ into our life now, to let him be born in us. I tune in occasionally to the Busted Halo program on Sirius XM radio and check in with them on Facebook as well.  They have some nice two minute clips on various Church seasons and feasts.  The Advent clip tells us that Lenten penance is about overcoming our sins while the work of Advent is to prepare the house to welcome a special guest.  Hopefully we are preparing ourselves to welcome that guest now, allowing Christ to be born in us today.  St. Francis understood this well when he created the live Nativity scene at Greccio.  Br. Bill Short, OFM, in a talk that he delivered on an educational CD that I heard recently, points out that while there were various animals, etc. at the Greccio scene, there was no baby.  Francis wanted people to see their own hearts, their own lives, as the manger.  The image of little baby Jesus is a nice one, indeed an important one, but we cannot imprison him in Bethlehem. He desires to be born in us NOW.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Come Desire of Nations, Come--An Advent Reflection

   Yesterday morning our community celebrated Mass for the last day of the liturgical year. The responsorial psalm was "Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus."  To use a modern word this statement makes for a nice segue into Advent.  One article that I read recently suggests that Advent is the season of desire.  I agree.  But what is desire.

   Our desires are our deepest longings, the things that we most crave for. And what is it that we most desire. St. Augustine answers that question magnificently when he writes at the beginning of his Confessions, "We were made for You alone, O God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You."  It is God, then that we most desire. This is why Fr. Ronald Rolheiser, OMI in his book, The Holy Longing, says "Spirituality concerns what we do with our desire."  At this point we get into some challenging issues.  Desire can become the desire for wealth and power, or lustful desire.  Over the years this has lead to a distortion of Christian spirituality that leads people to crush all desire.  This leads to a lifeless, dull and boring as well as rigid and legalistic approach to Christianity.  Rolheiser points out that our call is to integrate the other desires into our ultimate desire which is for God.

  Of course we desire love. When young lovers meet, desiring each other so much that they wish to marry, that is a good and holy thing.  That is why I rejoiced at the privilege of presiding at the wedding of my niece, Michelle and her husband Kevin during this past year.  We desire money,not for its own sake, but to provide us with a means of sustenance and support for our families. We can desire power, not to dominate others, but so that we can make a positive difference in this world.  As long as the realization of these desires lead us to that deeper desire for God it is a good and holy thing.  A few months ago a good friend of mine posted on her Facebook page on the occasion of her wedding anniversary a picture of her and her husband in the limo on their wedding day.  Her caption was, "best decision I ever made."  Indeed it was. She found the love of her life, the father of her children and a clear path to God in that decision.

   So what does all that have to do with Advent?  Advent celebrates the desire of the human heart, a desire that was realized in the birth of Christ so long ago.  Yet it also celebrates the fact that all of our desires are yet to be realized. There is still injustice, violence, terrorism and lack of respect for life. In Advent we not only prepare to celebrate Christmas, that first coming, we also open our hearts to prepare for His second coming when all of the ills that we lament will be overcome. There is much talk these days about Mayan calendars and the end of the world.  I would point out that our faith belief is not in the end of the world but rather in the coming of the Kingdom when all the desires of our hearts will be realized in God.  In the liturgy we pray, after the Our Father, "As we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ."  Let us, this Advent, unite all of our desires to that blessed hope.  Come, desire of nations, Come.  Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Vatican II and the Year of Faith--The Liturgy

Tridentine Mass, Priest Facing Altar

Vatican II Mass, Priest Facing People
   While the Second Vatican Council brought about many changes in the life of the Church there is no doubt in my mind that the most significant of these has been the changes that have taken place in the Mass as well is in the rites of the other sacraments. I was fortunate, I believe, to be in the seminary as the council unfolded and was well-educated in the reasons for the liturgical changes as well as in the changes in approach to the theology of the Church and the understanding of the Scriptures that went along with that.

   Unfortunately while the changes were implemented in many cases the faithful were not well educated in the reason for them.  This, I believe, has led to many of the problems that the Church has had to deal with in the celebration of the Eucharist since that time.

   Without dwelling on problems I will say that without proper formation change seemed to many to be happening just for the sake of change. "They turned the altar around and are using English. What will they do next?"  Many sought even more change that was not well grounded theologically and others sought to retrench into the past.  Both tendencies are unfortunate.

   So what happened?  Even before the council there was a loosely organized, but quite strong and widespread "liturgical movement".  This movement encouraged wider participation by the laity and resulted in practices such as the dialogue Mass where the whole congregation said the responses, in Latin, that once were recited only by the altar servers.  Gregorian chant, now considered so traditional, was re-etablished because it was simpler than some of the elaborate Mass arrangements that required trained choirs to sing. There was a strong push as well for the use of the vernacular language, including many bishops and theologians.

    The changes, then, did not happen in a vacuum.  There was a previous impetus leading up to them as well as several principles set forth by the council and leading up to it.  Almost everyone has heard of aggiornamento, Pope John XXIII's term for updating, literally "bringing up to the day". But have you heard of resourcement, or resourcing. Many theologians like Yves Congar and Henri de Lubac from France were calling for us to look back to the earlier theological resources of the first centuries of the Church and not to rely solely on the scholastic theology of the Middle Ages.  Without rejecting the latter they called for a new look at the former..  It was this movement which led to the re-establishment of the Kiss of Peace and the Prayers of the Faithful, as well as the practice of concelebration by many priests at the same time.  These things were not innovations but the recapturing of ancient practices.

   The council also insisted on "full, conscious and active participation in liturgical services" (Constitution on the Sqacred Liturgy, # 14.) as well as  a liturgy  which "respects  and fosters the qualities and talents of the various races and nations.  The call for active participation included increasing the role of the laity in formal liturgical roles such as lectoring and eventually.  The several statements on cultural expression has led in my experience to some beautiful African, Oriental, Slavic and Hispanic liturgical celebrations.  The Council did insist that some aspects of the Mass are unchangeable but that others may be adapted according to these principles.

  I grew up with the Tridentine (Council of Trent) Mass in Latin.  I sang in a boy's choir and was fortunate to be in a parish where we children sang the high Mass every Sunday of the school year. I have a great appreciation for all that was represented in that way of worshiping. I have gregorian chant and Palestrina motets on my iPod.  Nonetheless,  I have grown to embrace the new rite for Mass and see the need for us to move forward with it so that we can develop an equally rich tradition as the one that is behind us.  I will admit that there have been excesses in the implementation of changes, some of them merely silly, others outright wrong. I also think that some things were cast aside that the council never meant to cast aside and we need to re-claim those.  But in this Year of Faith we need to move forward.  90% of the Church now lives in Asia, Africa and Latin America.  Theologians and bishops in these places, most especially in Africa, attribute a great increase in the practice of the Catholic faith not only to superb missionary efforts, but also to the use of vernacular language and openness to cultural expression. The Mass in Latin was seen as a foreign ritual that rightly or wrongly kept many away. They can now celebrate the Eucharist in a manner and with an expression that is native to them and yet is the Eucharist in union with the whole Church.

   As we move forward in the Year of Faith let us deepen our understanding of the Mass. Let us realize that in theEucharist not only are bread and wine changed into the Body and Blood of Christ, but those of us who receive that Body and Blood are called to be changed and transformed by it so that we can be Christ in and for the world.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

All are Called to Holiness

A gathering of Asian Laity
Back in October I started a series of reflections on Vatican II as we began our Year of Faith.  Several events have intervened--the election, hurricane Sandy and my own need to complete the final edits on my soon to be published book.  Regarding the latter please stay posted for a release date and the possibility of pre-ordering the book. As for the other two events know that while they interrupted the orderly flow of postings on this blog they each, in their own way, summoned up our faith. The vocation director of my province, Fr. Brian Smail, OFM, had some interesting thoughts on Sandy posted on his blog.  Just click on this link to see that. Be a Franciscan

   Now it is time to continue where I left off on October 21 when I promised to highlight 3 facets of Vatican II and covered only one.  I will take up the second of the three now--the role of the laity in the Church.  It has been said that prior to Vatican II the role of the laity was "to pray, pay and obey." While this is certainly an exaggeration, it is not far from the truth. The parish in which I grew up, St. William's, in the Dorchester section of Boston had a robust number of activities for the laity.  Most of them involved prayer and devotion, e.g. the Ladies Sodality and the Holy Name Society, and fund-raising for the parish.  That was not bad, but the model was that of helping the priests to run the parish.

   The council made it clear that the laity working under the leadership of the clergy, are called to service and ministry in their own right by virtue of their Baptism and Confirmation (see Lumen Gentium (Constitution on the Church)# 33. Also in the previous section of that document it is clear that the laity are equally called to holiness, along with priests and religious, a theme that runs throughout the council documents.

   The result of this is that many lay people see themselves as "engaged in ministry" rather than as simply "helping out in the parish"  Lay people have felt their voice and express it, often to the consternation of the clergy.  Interestingly enough this applies to both the more liberal and the more conservative members of the laity. 

   It has often been said that because of the clergy shortage that lay people are exercising more minstries in the Church.  In the Diocese of St. Petersburg here in Florida where I live the chancellor of the diocese is a fine laywoman, Joan Morgan.  Many faith formation programs are led by laypeople as well. This is the case in my summer parish in Eagle River, Wisconsin where Mrs. Adele Svetnica does a wonderful job in that role.  I do not agree, however, with the sentiment that it is principally due to the lack of numbers among priests and religious. that this is so.  Lay people, especialy in the western world, were becoming more and more well-educated after World War II.  They themselves often read the council documents and were ready to lay claim to what the council taught.

   It is obvious too that lay participation in the liturgy has changed dramatically.  Before Vatican II the only lay people to serve in the sanctuary were altar boys (and not girls).  Now there are lectors, extraordinary minsters of the Eucharist and altar servers (girls as well as boys).  I will say more about htis in my next reflection on the liturgy and the council. 

   What is obvious is that the age of the laity is with us and it is not going away.  My own Franciscan  province has made partnering with the laity in all of our ministries a priority and many dioceses run formation programs for lay ministers. Even at that Vatican there is a council for the laity.  This, I believe, is a welcome change.

   Finally, my own life as a priest and friar has been enriched by the laity with whom I have been involved, from the lay teachers at Columbus High School, to the couples on the Marriage Encounter weekend, to people in the parishes where I have served and Mrs. Linda English of Ridgewood, NJ and Mr. Pete Suarez of Miami, FL who have worked with the Ministry of the Word as lay preachers.   The life of our Church is blessed today and is indeed a more complete expression of the mystery of the Body of Christ in the world because so many laity are serving in ministry.


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Stormy Days, Election Day--A Time for All the Saints

Long Beach Island, NJ under water

The Communion of Saints

   For those who have been following my Vatican II, Year of Faith, reflections they will continue.  In the meantime the events of recent days have called me in another direction.

   On this All Saints Day morning I am sitting in northern Michigan preparing to fly home to Florida this afternoon.  Even this far west of the Atlantic we have felt the effects of Sandy, though in a very minor way compared to the destruction that has been inflicted on the East Coast, especially in New Jersey and in New York City.  As people of faith what are we to make of such a tragic event?

   First of all let me say that I am glad that I have not heard any nonsense about God punishing people there.  People have asked though, "Why did God send us this storm?"  I don't think that God sits in heaven and sends storms, earthquakes and other natural disasters our way.  God not only did create the universe, but is still creating it.  The universe has both life-giving beauty and terrifying destruction.The Creator has built in a natural cycle of death and renewal into the universe. We humans are placed on this planet in the midst of all of these forces of nature. The real question is "How do we deal with it? How do we respond when a natural disaster strikes?

   We are fortunate to have more advanced technology and things like weather radar that help us to forecast such things with more accuracy.  With this tremendous storm the meteorologists were at their best and warnings were sent out.  Most heeded the warnings. Some did not.  Such is  human nature. Even for those who prepared for what many called the "superstorm" the destruction wrought was beyond anything we might have imagined.  I have friends in New Jersey and New York, as well as many of my fellow friars, and my prayers go out to them.  It will take months and maybe years to fully repair all of the damage.

   As we move ahead what will it take to move forward, especially in the most ravished areas?  The answer lies in today's Feast of All Saints.  It will take saints.  No, not robed spirits sporting halos, but rather the saint, the holy one, the dwells in all of us. Yes, we are all sinners as well, weak and imperfect human beings, but saints, as they say, are nothing but sinners who have grown and are forgiven.  To not only recover from hurricane Sandy, but also the economic and political  mess that we are in will call forth the saint in all of us, the capacity to go beyond selfish interests and to pitch in and serve others.

   Whether it was the days after 9/11, or hurricane Katrina or now hurricane Sandy, our saintliness will be needed.  And it will be seen in the short run.  People of different political stripes will pitch in and work together. We have already seen some of that.  The challenge is to strive to sustain that spirit as things get better, and not to despair if they get worse.

   We have a big election coming up with much at stake.  Neither of the candidates and neither of the parties is fully satisfactory to me.  I will have differences with whomever wins as well as areas of agreement.  It will take the same kind of "saintly" working together to move our country forward as it takes to recover from this storm.  Let us disagree with our leaders where we must, where our consciences tell us that this must be so, but let us fond enough common ground to move forward, to recover from all of the storms that threaten us.  Of such is the Reign of God.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Year of Faith--Vatican II after 50 Years, Part II

Singing with the ecumenical choir in Eagle River, WI
   As promised I will continue my reflections on Vatican II as we begin this Year of Faith. I want to stress that these are my personal thoughts. I do not present myself as an expert, nor do I pretend that this is an in depth analysis of the council, but simply thoughts that come from my own personal experience.

  In this reflection I would like to name 3 important things that have emerged in the Church as a result of the Second Vatican Council.  The first is ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue.

  I was riding in a car recently with someone who said, "I'm glad the days of ecumenism are over."  I was stunned by this and pointed out that they've only just begun.  It is true that in recent years the leaders of our church have warned against relativism, thinking that we're all the same when it comes to religion, and have pointed out areas where we are still not in agreement with other Christian churches.  That having been said though one should note that the Orthodox patriarch of Constantinople and the Anglican archbishop of Canterbury were present at the opening of the Year of Faith in Rome. Likewise it is true that both Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI have met on many occasions with leaders of other churches and other religions.

   I remember when we were forbidden to enter Protestant Churches.  That has changed.  The council encouraged open and honest dialogue with other churches and collaboration with them in areas where we agree.  I have placed a picture above which show me singing in an ecumenical choir, something a priest would have been in deep trouble for doing years ago.  The ecumenism promoted by the Church is one which seeks to find common ground while honestly acknowledging our differences, but always striving toward the unity which Jesus prayed for in John's Gospel. (See John: 17,1),  It does seem at times that we have come to a certain point and stopped.  Some of the other churches seem hardly open to ecumenical activity as well.  We need to pray to the Holy Spirit to move us beyond this impasse.

   Some may not realize this but the word ecumenical applies only to interaction between Christians.  The term inter-religious dialogue is used for dealings with Jews, Muslims and other religions.  The council document Nostra Aetate dealt wonderfully with that and opened up a whole era of improved relations with our Jewish brethren, something for which Pope John Paul II deserves a great deal of credit.  Pope Benedict has continued that openness.  For  me I always remember my parents having Jewish friends and I worked at the soda fountain in the drugstore of a wonderful Jewish man when I was a teenager.  There was plenty of antisemitism around me though and we still have to work in society in that area even though we have come a long way.  Over the years I have had the privilege of participating in the Seder in  Jewish home and having wonderful discussions with several rabbis. Among other things the Seder or Passover celebration made me more aware of the Jewish roots of our Catholic Mass.

   As for dealings with Muslims this is a must for us today.  As we deal with Islamic terrorists who distort that faith we need, in the spirit of St. Francis who met and prayed with the Sultan during the fifth crusade, to engage our Muslim sisters and brothers in dialogue.   I am not talking about dialogue with political leaders but with religious ones.  We need to discover the common ground between us and honestly ask them about aspects of Islam that would seem to encourage violence.  Did you know that Muslims believe in the virgin birth of Jesus and see him as a prophet?  Did you know that the Franciscans and Dominicans who traveled with the crusaders were so impressed with the Muslim prayer beads and their practice of praying 5 times daily that they created the Rosary and the Angelus (prayed three times daily).

   Well folks, I began this reflection desiring to point out three  things of importance that came from the council.  The other two are lay involvement and liturgical reform.  This is enough writing however for one blog entry so I will take up the other two in my next post.

Pope John XXIII


Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Year of Faith--Vatican II after 50 Years

Bishops gathering at Vatican II
  Fifty years ago today the Second Vatican Council, convened by Blessed Pope John XXIII, began in Rome.  Our current Pope, Benedict XVI, has called the Church to a Year of Faith to mark this important anniversary.  In my next few blog entries I would like to reflect on the core ideas and actions presented by that council and its impact on the Church and the world.  With this blog posting though I simply wish to share my own experience of the council and its aftermath.

  On October 11, 1962 I was a college freshman at Immaculate Conception Seminary in Troy, NY. While I do remember that we had a special Mass of the Holy Spirit to pray for the success of this council  I don't remember having any sense of what the council would do or was supposed to do.  That would change quickly.  I would add that the world was at the brink of nuclear war due to the Cuban missile crisis and that there was a prayer vigil for peace in Rome the night before the council began.  Could that be part of the reason the crisis was averted?

   My early days in formation were not affected by the council, though we did hear reports that the use of the vernacular at Mass might be allowed.  We prayed in Latin and were taught in the traditional way which reinforced that sense of Church that I had grown up with, but then things changed. In Advent of 1964 a limited use of English was allowed at Mass. By Advent of 1969 everything was in English and a new rite for Mass was put forth.  The rituals of all the Sacraments changed.  Over a period of about ten years the changes proposed by the council were put into effect.  The Anointing of the Sick was not limited to the time of death. Extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist were allowed. There were permanent deacons. Lay people were used as lectors.

   These were the external changes.  They were wonderful and beautiful to me and many others.  It was a time of excitement and renewal in the Church. There was also, however, a good deal of turmoil.  Large numbers of priests and religious left and married.  There was experimentation with the liturgy that at times was "over the edge" and I must admit at least a small amount of guilt with that.  There was also an encouragement to read and study Scripture and liturgical rites became more scriptural.  This went hand in hand with the promotion of ecumenism.  In my own experience I have been able to participate in ecumenical prayer services and most recently to sing in an ecumenical choir in Eagle River, WI.

   In the western world at least the council also happened at a time of social upheaval. There was the civil rights movement and the Vietnam war protests.  Priests and nuns were participating in many of the civil rights marches and war protests.  This was a good thing and was inspired, I believe by the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern Word, or Gaudium et Spes, put forth by the council. I myself was in a few of those marches  At the same time the healthy spirit of change promoted by the council became in many cases an iconoclastic and rebellious unleashing of angers long held in check since prior to the council itself.

  As Franciscans we reflected on Perfectae Caritatis, the document on religious life.  This encouraged us to return to the spirit of our founder, Francis of Assisi.  We, and members of many other orders as well, realized how we had strayed from that spirit.  Of course the more legalistic and formal way of living religious life still produced many fine and holy people, but that in spite of structurally moving away from our early ideas.  The most visible way that our life has changed has been in having the brother,the non-clerical members of our community, become treated equally with the priest, though we are still disputing with authorities over what levels of leadership they can participate in.  Likewise we have moved away from being a sort of semi-monastic order which we were never meant to be.

   Four years after ordination I made a Marriage Encounter and became involved in that movement as a team priest.  Along with the Cursillo and the Charismatic Renewal many lay people as well as priests and religious grew into the more personal relationship with God, with Jesus, that the council was trying to promote.  I could write many wonderful thins about Marriage Encounter and how it made me a better friar and priest, but in relationship to the council it was a wonderful experience of ministering with lay people as equal partners in ministry, something now promoted by my Franciscan province.

  In recent years I have heard people say that the Vatican is trying to roll back the council.  While there may be some truth to this it really can't happen because Vatican II, like any council, is part of the Church's magisterium, or teaching authority.  I have a great respect for our ancient traditions and am glad that I was steeped in them at a younger age.  There are some today however who want to go back to an age that never really existed because it is a nostalgic notion of what it was like back then.  Have there been excesses that need to be curtailed?  Yes.  Go backwards?  No.  Let us be guided by these words of Pope Benedict XVI in this mornings opening of the Year of Faith.

"The Council did not formulate anything new in matters of faith, nor did it wish to replace what was ancient. Rather, it concerned itself with seeing that the same faith might continue to be lived in the present day, that it might remain a living faith in a world of change."
--Benedict XVI, Rome, October 11, 2012

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Meeting More Wonderful People on the Road

Some other "Wandering Friars"
  My travels are off to an early start this year as I am now completing my third parish mission since finishing my summer ministry in Eagle River.  The pace will slow up a bit for a few weeks as I return to my friary in St. Petersburg and work on the editing of my soon to be released book, The Wandering Friar.

   Speaking of the book and its title my publisher, Tate Publishing, asked me to search the internet to see if there were any other similar titles of books.  While there were no similar books the search provided many hints of the fact that we friars are indeed wanderers or itinerants.  There were any number of inns and hotels named for fictional friars including the well-known friar Tuck.  Most interesting though was a fish and chips place in Suffoeirlk, UK called The Flying and Traveling Friar.  I thought you might enjoy their website and stop in there if you ever travel to England.  Just click on the link: Flying and Travelling Friar

   On the more serious side the three missions that I have done, though taking place in small parishes, have proven to be quite fruitful not only for the parishioners but for myself.  I have met so many wonderful people whose living of the faith is an inspiration to me, including a family here in Brookfiled, MO who have started a successful small business and who also have taken in foster teenagers, troubled teens that others do not want or cannot handle, and provide them with both love and the firm direction that they need.  If I write another book like the one that is awaiting publication their story will certainly be in there.   In these times when issues like pro-life and pro-choice are being bandied about by politicians it strikes me that folks like them are putting their money where their mouth is and truly living the pro-life message.

  The last two weeks spent in central Missouri have also exposed me to life in a different part of our country.  This is an area where farming is big.  It is so interesting as well as both inspiring and heartbreaking to hear the stories of people who till the land for a living.  The drought of the past summer combined with our difficult economy present some real challenges for them.  When we urban and suburban folks go to the supermarket and have to pay more for food we need to realize our connection to these good folks who work hard to grow the crops that provide our food.  This is just another example of the interconnectedness of us all in the Church and in the world.

  Now it's on to St. Anthony Friary and at least the end of the Oct 4 Feast of St. Francis with my brother friars.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Seasonal Reflection: Middle East Conflict | HNP Today newsletter: September 26, 2012, Vol. 46, No. 20 | Communications | Holy Name Province

Michael Calabria, OFM, a member of my province and a  student of Islamic and Arabic studies offers a thoughtful reflection on the situation in the Middle East.  I urge you to read it and reflect.  It is much different than the knee-jerk thoughts we see coming from the media. Just click on the title above to read it.

Seasonal Reflection: Middle East Conflict | HNP Today newsletter: September 26, 2012, Vol. 46, No. 20 | Communications | Holy Name Province

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Book--When? What? Why?--Coming Soon

   As many of my blog readers know I have written a book which will become available in early 2013.  Many have asked,  "Why so Long to publish?" or "What's it all about?" or "What's the name of the book?

   As of now the book title is the same as the title of this blog, The Wandering Friar, the my publisher has let me know that titles can change in the editing process.  I finished the book in the spring and Tate Publishing of Oklahoma accepted it in late May.  They then explained to me the process of moving it to production.  They actually began that process earlier this month and are reviewing it for grammatical errors and adjusting the format a bit.  In October I will be assigned a copy editor who will suggest changes.  Fortunately after returning from two weeks in Missouri preaching missions I will be free the cooperate with that process and do some re-writing and new writing.  In November they will design the cover and the layout of the book with my collaboration.  After that comes pre-release publicity.  The book will have its own web page as well as a Facebook page. Finally in January or February the book will be released. It will be in paperback and also eventually available on and on the various e-readers such as Kindle.  That should answer the first question as well as the third.

   More important is the "What's it all about?" question.  The answer to that is twofold.  It tells the story of how I got my Franciscan vocation as well as how from an early age I have been a wanderer or traveler. My friends from Savin Hill, St. William's Parish and from Columbus High school will enjoy that part of the book.  The bulk of the book is a collection of true stories from my life and the lives of people I have met in my ministry travels who are the Church.  So often the Church is presented only from the perspective of its institutional life and often not favorably.  My book shows the Church to be the People of God and the Body of Christ alive in its many-varied members from many different cultures and backgrounds.  Without denying the problems that confront the Church it accentuates the positive in presenting the stories of its members.

 I think that it will be an easy and enjoyable read.  It would be a great  asset for  RCIA programs, for vocation directors as well as providing for Catholics and non-Catholics alike a positive picture of Church as Church is lived. 

  I hope that I have peaked your interest and that you will purchase a copy when the time comes. The book will be available in parishes where I preach missions as well as in my northwoods Wisconsin summer parishes.  Likewise there will be various book signings.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Ephphatha--Be Opened

 Now that we are back into the Gospel of Mark for the second week in a row after five weeks of John this coming  Sunday presents us with an interesting miracle story, one from which we can all learn.  People bring to Jesus a man who is deaf and cannot speak.  The Lord touches the man's ear and spitting touches his tongue (See Mk 7:31-37) and says "Ephphata (that is "Be opened.") and the man's ears are opened and he is able to speak.

  Like the people in the Gospel account we might be amazed at what Jesus does, but as is often the case with Jesus' miracles amazement is not enough.  There is a lesson to be learned that is often missed.  What is the lesson for us.

   In the rite of Infant Baptism there is an optional ritual where the child's lips and ears are touched with a recollection of this story.  The following prayer is then said"
                  The Lord Jesus made the deaf to hear and
                       the dumb speak. 
                  May he soon touch your ears to receive
                       his word,
                  and your mouth to proclaim his faith.
                  to the praise and glory of God the Father. Amen.

    The first challenge for us then is to realize that our gifts of hearing and speech are given to us not only to hear the many sounds that come to us in God's creation and in the the human voices around us, and not as well to speak the words that we have to say, but to hear and proclaim God's word.  To do that we need silence. We need to get behind the myriad sounds and noises around us not to mention the anger filled and fear mongering words that come to us in order to truly hear what God is saying.  We can then be proclaimers of that Word as well.

   As we become more tuned to hearing God's Word we became more able also to listen to one another.  it seems to me that in this era of blogs and social communication networks that we can all get out some sort of message, but we don't know how to really listen.  That is why our political ads and debates so often degenerate into negative ads and name calling.  We have so-called talk shows which are only meant to reinforce ideas already held.  Try to call one of them with the opposing point of view.

   Lest we heap blame on politicians and media leaders we need to look into our own personal lives.  Do we really try and listen to our spouses, family members, friends?  Do we try and listen to and understand people who disagree with us about politics and religion or do we simply tune them out and shout them down?

   We all need Jesus to touch our lips and our ears and say "Ephphata, be opened."

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Nuns on the Bus Discussion

When Nuns get Political

This will be one of my shorter blog posts, but with a message that I believe to be important.  I was watching Bill Moyers and Company on PBS the other night and saw a segment entitled When Nuns get political. It was about the well publicized Nuns on the Bus trip recently carried out by Sr. Simone Campbell and several other Catholic sisters to protest the Paul Ryan budget.   Paul Ryan, the Republican VP candidate is Catholic and claims to speak from the viewpoint of Catholic social teaching, as do the nuns.On Moyer's program he had Sr. Simone engaging in dialogue with Mr. Robert Moyle, A Catholic and a Ryan supporter.  You may agree with Sr. Simone, Mr. Moyle, or neither.  What impressed me most was that this exchange is an example of the kind of civil discussion between people of differing viewpoints that is so needed in our political debate.  I hope that you take the chance to click on the link above.  After watching it, whether you are Republican, Democrat or neither, I hope that you and I can learn from these two fine people.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Eat My Flesh and Drink My Blood

   Over the past few weeks we Catholics Have been hearing passages from the sixth chapter of John's Gospel, first the story of the multiplication of loaves (John 6:1-15) and then the Bread of Life Discourse (John 6:22-69).  In this discourse Jesus not only presents Himself as the Bread of Life but tells us that "unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you."  Even as He spoke many found this message difficult.  Many have found it difficult throughout the ages and that is likewise the case for many in our own times.  Let's take a look at the several levels of meaning behind this statement.

   For us Catholics, as well as for the Orthodox churches and some Protestant denominations this statement of Jesus means that we truly receive His Body and Blood when we receive Holy Communion.  I will return to this part further on but let's look at what else we are presented with in this discourse.  First of all before we get to the Eucharist Jesus tells us that He is the Bread of Life.  Now any Christian will instinctively say "Yes, that's true, Jesus is indeed the Bread of Life.?"  But, on a practical day to day level is He?  Is Jesus the one we turn to first for nourishment? Do our lives and our practical decisions reflect that fact?  Or is some philosopher, talk show host or politician our real source of nourishment.  By this I don't mean the shallow and silly "What would Jesus do?" phenomenon that's going around but rather at a deeper level asking " Are our lives shaped by the Gospel message? The Scriptures are often called The Bread of the Faithful.   Do we let them nourish us and shape our lives?

   And yes we do truly receive His Body and Blood in Communion--not however His flesh as it was in earthly form, but His risen and glorified body given to us in the form of bread and wine.  When we participate in the Mass we are not just distant spectators however watching the priest make Jesus present.  We are gathered in and drawn into the depth of His love which was poured out on the cross and which rose on Easter Sunday.  It was on the cross that He literally gave His flesh for the life of the world. (see John 6:51).   After the consecration of the bread and wine there is, as it were, another consecration--of us.  We pray, in the words of the third Eucharistic Prayer, " that we become one body, one spirit in Christ."
Later on in the Mass we have the greeting of peace. Unfortunately many Catholics think that this was some nice gesture initiated by the Second Vatican Council.  It is not.  The council restored this gesture which was always present at the Solemn High Mass and which was practiced in the early Church. It is a gesture which says that in receiving Christ in Communion we are also united with one another in Christ.  We not only receive the Body of Christ, we are that Body.  To eat His flesh and drink His blood is to embrace one another as the Body of Christ and to strive to be that.

   This is even harder than believing that bread and wine are His Body and Blood.  To believe that He comes in the form of bread is one thing, but to believe that he is present in the world through this Church of very imperfect human beings.  That's a challenge.  Of course I am not saying that  we use this belief to excuse sin and imperfection. Far from it.  It calls us to strive to overcome that.  But it also challenges us not to walk away when we dislike this priest, that nun, this parish secretary, that weird person who sings off key at Mass, etc.  So many folks today say things like, "I believe in Jesus but not the Church." or   "I can find God on my own in nature."   We don't want to be part of "the great unwashed" which is the Church.  But to eat His flesh and drink His blood for me means being part of a flesh and blood Church made up of very imperfect people. It's a lot easier if I am my own Church, but Christ has chosen to work through me, and all those others too, warts and wounds and all.


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Assumption of Mary

Death of the Virgin (Byzantine Art c. 950)
   We Catholics pause in the middle of the summer to celebrate the Assumption of Mary.  For myself it is a special day because on August 15, 1963 I put on the Franciscan habit for the first time in Catskill, NY.  One year and one day later, on August 16, 1964 I professed my first vows as a friar.

   Besides the special meaning that the feast has for me it is good to ask why we celebrate this feast. What meaning does it have for us?  Unfortunately many folks think that both the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption are some sort of special reward given to Mary that separates her from the rest of us.  Let's take another look though and ask, "How does it apply to us?" 

   On August 15, 1950 Pope Pius XII declared that belief in the bodily assumption of Mary into heaven was a truth to be believed by Catholics.  Did the pope just decide one August morning that he would make this an obligatory belief for Catholics?  No. Of course not.  he was affirming a truth that goes way back in Christian tradition, one known in the West as the Assumption and in the East as the Holy Dormition (sleeping) of Mary.   Pius XII chose that particular time in history to declare this doctrine as truth because the world was just coming out of the horrors of the Holocaust and World War II.  Millions had been killed, maimed and mutilated and Europe and Japan were in tatters.  It was a way of proclaiming that the salvation that Christ came to bring was not just a spiritual one, but a bodily one as well.  What is given to Mary immediately, a glorified soul and body, is the hope for every human being.  The Gospel text for the feast tells the story of the visitation of Mary to Elizabeth in which Luke places on Mary's lips the canticle known as the Magnificat in which she proclaims that "the hungry will be filled with good things and the rich will be sent away empty." (Lk 1:53).   This gives us a clue as to what this feast means for us and what its challenges are. In the creed we proclaim to believe in the resurrection of the dead.  This means that in some way we have the hope that we will live in eternity not just with a redeemed soul but with a glorified body as well.  In the meantime in this life we are challenged to strive to correct and heal with God's grace all the terrible things that degrade the human body and which degrade earthly human existence--from sexual abuse to sexual promiscuity, to violence in any form which destroys the human person, to helping the poor, especially those who live in the most abject poverty, to striving for peace and an end to war in the face of those who tell us that it is too idealistic, to healing the sick and making sure, as the Church teaches, that all have access to affordable health care.

   The news in recent weeks underlies the importance of this feast.  We are seeing people maimed and mutilated and tortured in Syria and elsewhere.  We see people killed in movie theaters and Sikh temples.  We debate about poverty and health care. We also have witnessed the tremendous feats of the Olympic athletes, not only of the medal winners, but all who worked hard to use their talents and give glory to God through their bodies.  When we get past metaphors which too often betray an understanding of modern science and plum the deeper meaning of this feast we are both affirmed and challenged and can say with St. Iranaeus whom I quoted in my last blog entry that "The glory of God is the human person (Man and woman, body and spirit) fully alive. Mary, assumed into heaven, pray for us!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Glory of God

St. Irenaeus
   Over these past few weeks I have been struck by contrast between the absolutely wonderful things that we humans are able to accomplish and the horrible evil of which we are capable as well.  During this time the horrible conflict in Syria moves on and we have been stunned by more senseless acts of violence in Aurora, CO at the movie theater and here in Wisconsin at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek.

  Against the backdrop of that horror I have been catching glimpses of the Olympic Games and have been amazed not only by the actual feats that the various athletes have been able to accomplish, but by the hard work and striving for excellence that has gone into their achieving their goals even when they fall short of winning a medal.  When I see that I am motivated myself.  No, I will never manage to go on a balance beam or run 100 meters in less than 10 seconds, but it does inspire me to live my life as a priest and friar with ever more dedication and to take even better care of this body that God has given me.  The saint whose image appears at the beginning of this article, St. Irenaeus, one of the great theologians of the early Church said, "The glory of God is the human person fully alive."  What a wonderful statement.  God is glorified when you and I are alive by using all of the gifts and talents that God has given us.

   Speaking of giving glory to God through what we do how about the landing of that rover The Curiosity on Mars.  To me that represents the desire of the human person to reach out and to explore new things. Some will argue that with our present economy that such enendeavor is a waste of money.  That is understandable but also, I believe, short-sighted.  I beleive that it represents something of the best in the human spirit that desires to explore this vast and wonderful universe that the Creator has given us and that such efforts will bear fruit in the long run, not only economically but for the good of the human race and the glory of God.

   Back to the shootings and the violence I wonder if the Olympic athletes and the great scientists of NASA might not inspire us to use all of the talents at our disposal to build a human race that respects one another in spite of our differences and that builds bridges of peace between people.  That would truly be the human being fully alive and give glory to God.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Northwoods Relay for Life

Modern Radiation Treatment Equipment

    In June of 2006 I was visiting a friend in Atlanta and received a call from the office of my urologist informing me that I had prostate cancer.  Because I had been going for regular checkups and screening my cancer was a very early stage one and was very treatable.  Nonetheless when one hears the word cancer with one's own name attached it gets one's attention.

   I had to call St. Peter's in Eagle River, WI and let them know that I wouldn't be able to come there that summer because I had to visit doctors and decide on a treatment option. I was told that in my case the decision was up to me regarding surgery or radiation as well as some other approaches.  With that I began a spiritual, emotional and physical journey that continues to this day.  Even though I had confidence that the cancer could be treated I still had to face the fact that this was something that could kill me if I did not take action.  It was an encounter with my own mortality.

   I returned from Atlanta to my friary in St. Petersburg and found my mailbox already filling up with cards and letters with prayers and support from the parishioners in Wisconsin.   I was deeply moved by that.  I had every intention of getting something done quickly but found that the whole process would take several months.  After visiting with several doctors I chose a course of radiation therapy. A combination of radiation beam therapy and radioactive seed implants was recommended and I accepted that.

   The good Lord knew that I needed to slow down.  Although I never felt ill or in pain I was not able during that time to do my work of traveling around to different parishes.  I had to show up at the hospital every weekday for five weeks as well as attending to other medical appointments to prepare me for everything.  It was a time of letting God be in control and giving myself over to the care of wonderful doctors for whom I will always be grateful.  I still see them for annual followup and am glad to report that after nearly 6 years everything is fine.

    I truly believe that I was healed.  No, there were no miracles in the sense of supernatural intervention but the had of God was with the doctors and nurses who provided not only high quality medical treatment but truly compassionate care, with my Franciscan community and so many people who offered me prayers.  Healing for me consists in knowing that God is with you no matter what.

   My perspective on life has subtly changed.  I appreciate every moment that God gives me.   I pinch myself when I take a long bike ride and feel so grateful that since then I have started this blog, preached several missions and retreats, am having a book published (release in early 2013), went on a mission trip to Honduras and had the joy last week of presiding at the marriage of my niece Michelle to Kevin Donahue.  I mention those things not to boast but because I am grateful that I am alive and have had a chance to do these things.

    This Friday and Saturday, August 3&4 I will be participating with the team from St. Peter the Fisherman parish in the Northwoods Realy for Life. These relays go on all over the country during the year and raise money for cancer research, new treatments and above all the hope for a complete cure. I will participate as a grateful survivor.  If any of you are so inclined you can click on the link below, when you get on line you will see a donation box on the right side of the page.

  And one last thing please get your regular  gender and age recommended cancer screenings--prostate,colonoscopy, mamogram. etc. They're not always fun, but they save lives.

 Just click on:    Northwoods Relay for Life

Moving Out and Moving Ahead Cautiosly