Saturday, December 27, 2014

In the Wonder of the Incarnation--A belated Christmas Message.

    It is now 2 days after Christmas and it is the feast of my patron saint--John the Evangelist. His Gospel is my favorite of the four because of its profound theology.  John does not give us a memorable infancy narrative as do Matthew and Luke.  Instead he gives us a "prologue", a beautiful and profound statement of who Jesus is.

  I wish here just to highlight 3 important features of this prologue.  I also encourage you to read and reflect on that prologue (John 1:1-18)

   1. Verses 1-3 state that"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be." These three verses are packed with meaning.  First of all they tell us that the Word, as second person of the Trinity, is God and existed before time.  They likewise tell us that all was created through the Word.   This helps us to realize that while Jesus of Nazareth came to us in time He existed and was involved in the universe and in the life of our world even before He came in the flesh.  Francis of Assisi intuited this with his sense that the whole cosmos reflected Christ, something that St. Bonaventure later reflected on.

   2. The key verse in this prologue is verse 14, "The Word became flesh".  This was a shocking message at the time that the Gospel was written.  John was trying throughout his Gospel to combat a heresy that said that Jesus only appeared to be human.  To tell the truth many still find this to be shocking as we tend to spiritualize Jesus and minimize his humanity.  As one theology professor of mine used to point out, "You can't encounter the divinity of Jesus without deeply contemplating His humanity.  John carries this theme throughout His Gospel showing a Jesus who heals by using saliva, who weeps at the tomb of Lazarus and who washes the feet of His disciples.

   3.  The mystery of the Incarnation, begun in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, continues even after He dies and rises from the dead.  John subtlety states this in verse 16 where he says, "From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace"  Fr. Ronald Rolheiser, OMI, in his book, The Holy Longing, reminds us that the Incarnation  was not a 33 year experiment.  It rather continues in different ways--In the Church as the Body of Christ, in the Eucharist, in the encounter with Christ in the poor and needy (Oh how we conveniently avoid that one.)  Adding to that Jesus tells us that where 2 or 3 are gathered in his name He is there with us.  The "grace in place of grace phrase in this verse tells us that what began with the historical Incarnation in Jesus of Nazareth continues down through the ages in us.  Finally, in a deeper sense, we can see in this entire prologue what modern theologians are calling "deep Incarnation".  What this means is that because all is created in and through Christ that the entire evolving universe in some way reveals Him to us.

     An explanatory note:  When John calls Jesus the Word he is talking about the principle that from the beginning God is always communicating, or revealing God self.

   I love the nativity story in Luke that was read at midnight Mass.  I love to behold a beautiful nativity scene, but I love to do so while reading John's prologue.  A belated and Blessed Christmas to you and a Happy New Year.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Need for Silence: An invitation for the last days of Advent.

   As we approach Christmas Day I invite my readers to reflect on the first two verses of the hymn, Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent:

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth
Our full homage to demand.

King of kings, yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
In the body and the blood;
                                                              He will give to all the faithful
                                                              His own self for heavenly food.

   Of course this hymn invites us in silence to ponder the great gift of the Incarnation, of God taking on human flesh.  It likewise call us to ponder how this great mystery is continued in the Eucharist.  In these last days of Advent, amidst the hustle, bustle and noise around us, even the noise of Christmas preparation, I think it is good for us to step back in silence and ponder what we are celebrating.

   Beyond reflecting on the meaning of what we are celebrating I think that we are called to holy silence  as we deal with the many issues placed before us today, issues such as race relations, immigration, tensions within the Church, just to name a few.  Our social media, which can do so much good, are quite frankly filled with immature, foolish rants by both liberals and conservatives.  I'm sorry but "OOh, look at how this conservative sticks it to this liberal," or, "Wow,  look at how this liberal makes a fool out of this conservative," does no good in advancing real discussion on the issues of the day.  Even worse than this are the statements that "Politican X or Y is a low life and an idiot."

   What I believe is needed is to first enter into a prayerful silence, a silence that invites us to put our preferred opinions aside for a moment and to look deeper, to see if there isn't another level at which to approach things, to ask oneself if I am really seeking truth or just seeking to entrench myself further in my own point of view.  We need to have discussion that leads us to a common consensus rather than ones that divide us further.

  I have created a link to a meditation by Richard Rohr, OFM on this subjest. I invite you to read and ponder it. /Richard-Rohr-s-Meditation.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Torture--What's Deep within us?

   The catechism (of the Catholic Church) later declares: "Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity" (No. 2298). The use of torture dishonors the Creator in whose image every human person is created and disfigures the human person who is worthy of respect.

   The above quote from the Catechism of the Church makes it clear that there is no circumstance under which torture is justifiable.  Based on this teaching and based on what is in my own heart I must join with those who were saddened and disappointed in the recent report issued regarding CIA practices after 9/11.

   With this article I would like to take a look at the various reasons presented for supporting what the CIA called "Enhanced Interrogation Tactics."  Oh, how we love euphemisms. For many these practices were justified because of the results that they produced--stopping further terror attacks.  Basically the argument here is that the end justifies the means.  In Catholic moral teaching the end never justifies the means if the means are deemed as intrinsically evil, which torture is.  There have also been studies which show that torture does not produce good information.  The tortured will say anything just to be relieved of the torture.

   I must say though that I challenge the self-righteousness of many who objected to the torture.  It is easy to get puffed up with moral indignation over evil.  It is tempting to say that "I would never torture anyone, or I would never (fill in the blanks).  When we do this we are putting ourselves in the position of Peter who said that he would never deny Jesus.  We know what happened in that situation.

   What I'm getting at here is that we will never eliminate torture unless every one of us looks seriously at the darkness that lurks in our hearts.  This is true not only for torture and violence, but of anything we see to be evil.

  To reveal a bit of my own dark side that I would really rather not admit I can remember as a youngster that there were a couple of bullies in our neighborhood.  I used to fantasize about cruelly torturing them to teach them a lesson.  I never acted on that, of course, but the thoughts were there.  Later in life I faced, through both counseling and spiritual direction that a dark, angry violent streak resided within me, not one that led to physical violence but to angry outbursts that were not acceptable for a priest and friar. As I faced that truth I was freed from letting that darkness control me.

  We all love to point fingers at the government, at school shooter, at violent rapists,etc.  Until,however, individually and as a people we face the darkness within and admit that it is there, we will never be set free.   Let's all think about that.

   The next step is realizing that we can go to a deeper level within us, not one that naively let's evil go unpunished but one that takes the pains to find just ways to do it. I think that we might have found those ways with the 9/11 terrorists if we had  just put in the effort.

Let there be peace on earth!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A thankful Attitude--Happy Thanksgiving

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

All Souls Day, Purgatory and Praying for the Dead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 26, 2014

A Complex and Troublesome Problem

  In the past week there was another school shooting. It took place in the state of Washington.  Also there were reports of young Americans joining with ISIS terrorists.  What do both of these situations have in common?  Troubled youth.

   Please don't get me wrong.  I am not offering excuses for this kind of behavior.  By the time these things happen the perpetrators need to be prosecuted.  What I am suggesting is that we need to look into the causes that lead a young person to want to join terrorist groups that hate their own country or commit senseless violence against their peers and in many cases against themselves.  Hopefully we can do a better job of spotting trouble before it happens and get the kind of help that is needed.

   One problem is that there is no one size fits all explanation.  In many cases there is a lack of a solid family life in a loving home.  In many cases as well the young person is a type of loner or suffers from mental illness.  There are some cases however where the individual involved and the family seem to be just fine but there is nonetheless anger and rage seething below the surface.

   I believe that careful study needs to be done by competent people and better programs of intervention need to be established in schools.  I think that churches can be a big help in spotting troubled families and offering programs both spiritual and emotional to help them.  The churches, even more importantly, can lead the way be praying for the healing of our young people. I also think that we need to ask why so many minors can easily get their hands on guns.  No, I'm not talking about gun control laws or changing the second amendment but something has changed since I was a teenager.  I do remember a few kids who carried knives but I didn't even have a clue as to where I could purchase a gun. 

   I'm sure that there are many other things that can be offered to improve this troubling situation. I'm also aware that realistically there will always be some kids that just can't be identified as problematic, but can we do a better job of prevention and intervention before kids want to join terrorist groups or shoot up a school?  I think we can.

   Lastly I don't want to give the impression that we have a generation of disturbed kids.  There are many wonderful young people whom we never hear about.  Just the other day 2 fine teenagers were honored before the second game of the World Series for essays they wrote in the Breaking Barriers essay contest sponsored by Major League Baseball.  One of them is the grandson of a good friend of mine. I'm sure that there are many more kids like them who will become our future leaders. May there be even many more.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

He Welcomes Sinners and Eats with Them.

  There has been a great deal of "buzz" these days about the message coming from the Synod of Bishops in Rome.   The secular media which quite frankly doesn't have a clue as to how things work in the Church has given their own "spin" to things and making it look like the Church has gone mad and is caving in to modern trends.   Others, reacting out of fear, suspect that this may be true.  I have seen homophobic ranting as well as virulent Catholic-hating comments regarding what has gone on.  With this in mind I offer some of my own thoughts.

   The Synod is not changing doctrine, but rather attitude.  It is not a new attitude but one that is encouraged by Jesus himself and for which Jesus received criticism from religious leaders.  In Luke 15:2 He is criticized for "welcoming sinners and eating with them."  In response to this criticism Jesus offers three different parables of mercy.  All too often we in the Church have been quick to label people and then to dismiss them. You're gay or you're divorced or an addict or something else becomes an excuse for dehumanizing people. It becomes away of saying "get lost."

   During 43 years of ministry as a priest and one as a deacon before that some of the most grace-filled moments that I have had both within the confessional and outside of it have come from encounters with people who fit one of the above-mentioned labels.  Their experience has been not one of rebellion but rather of struggle to maintain their faith while dealing with real-life situations that seem contrary to that faith.  I learned early on that simply quoting doctrine and morals to them right away does not work.  What does work is to walk with then and to validate their lived experience.  Validate does not necessarily mean condoning behaviors but it does mean understanding where they are coming from.  This was how Jesus worked.

   Way back in my seminary days there were several wonderful professors of moral theology who explained to us the difference between the teaching of the Church and the pastoral application of that teaching.  Pope Francis and the Synod are calling us back to that very important part of our tradition.

   I pray that all who read this will give some careful thought to this.  To assist in this endeavor I refer you to another and more well-known bog than mine. It contains quotes from Pope Francis' papacy and has the text of the "relatio" from the Synod.
                                                                                Whispers in the Loggia

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Martyrdom--Part of our Christian Call

Martyrdom of St. Stephen
   I can remember well being a student at St. William's School in the Dorchester section of Boston.  Our religious studies were based on the Baltimore Catechism but were fleshed out with brief lessons in Church history and stories of the saints.  I was always intrigued by the stories of martyrs who gave their life for the faith and was filled and filled with admiration for them.  I often wondered if I would have the courage to make such a sacrifice if placed in a situation where I had to profess my faith or die.

   As time went on I also thought of martyrdom as a remote possibility, especially for those of us living in the USA.  Yes, the sisters and later the friars who taught me in high school mentioned people in Communist countries who were martyred but it all seemed long ago, or far away, or both.

   I have had occasional encounters with the reality of martyrdom that were more close at hand.  I remember swimming at one of my province's vacation houses a number of years ago.  One of the friars there had served at our mission in China and was expelled by the Chinese government after a time in prison.  He had on his back and legs the marks from the whippings and beatings he endured.  Naturally no one of us wanted to bring up the fact that we had noticed the marks, but it did come up and he told us that he was privileged to have suffered for Christ.  I can't tell you how moved I was by that.

   While In Bolivia I saw several catechists in our mission who had been imprisoned under an oppressive regime there for preaching the Gospel and it's message of justice.  Their heroism to this day is an inspiration to me.

   Here we are today in a world where ISIS terrorists are slaughtering people just because they are Christian (or for that matter for being the wrong kind of Muslim).  In our own country we are not subject to that (yet) but we are often ridiculed for our beliefs in an increasingly secular world that is moving from tolerance of religion to hostility in many instances.

  The word martyr comes from the Greek martyros meaning witness. In that sense we are all called to be martyrs, not necessarily in the sense of laying down our life, but in having the willingness to stand up and speak up for the faith and for the justice that the Gospel demands even if it means rejection, social isolation, imprisonment, or even death.

   Are we willing to be martyrs?  How strong is our courage?  Our faith?  Can we pray that the spirit will give us these gifts if they are lacking to us.  Can we embrace martyrdom as a privilege?

   Jesus tells us, "Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad for your reward will be great in heaven. (Mt 5: 10-12)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A Voice Crying in the Wilderness--For Peace!

   When I was serving in Rome during the Jubilee year of 2000 I noticed that people would see us Franciscans on the street and greet us by saying, "Pace e Bene". That is Italian for Pax et Bonum, Peace and good will, which is the slogan of our order.  We stand for Peace, as I hope, thought I often doubt, do all Christians.

    In the world we live in today, the world of ISIS, Boko Haram, drug cartels and human trafficking, just to mention a few of the expressions of madness in our world, it can seem foolish and naive to speak of peace.  One can feel, as did John the Baptist, like a voice crying in the wilderness.

   That having been said I believe that as a Franciscan, as a Catholic, as a Christian, that I must cry out for peace in the world. The question is, "How does one do that?"  Obviously terrorists who massacre innocent people must be stopped.  I have no problem with that.  The challenge comes in asking how do we stop the cycle of violence in the world.  Realistically it probably won't be stopped until Christ comes again, but in the meantime we must try anyway and not give in to it.

   Pope Francis is setting a good example for us.  He is trying to bring together various peoples in conflict and is inviting them to move forward seeking means other than violence to resolve conflict. I pray that he has success in that endeavor. He recently suggested that there be a world council of religions to promote dialogue ad understanding between people of different faiths.  Popes and other religious leaders can speak the message of peace on a grand scale, and they do, but what about the more localized violence that is all about us? It seems that though we have made great strides in our country in overcoming racism we still have a long way to go.  The recent incidents in places like Ferguson, MO tell us that this is true.  What happened there is a case in point with the problem that we have.  Too many people over politicized and/ race baited and it was almost impossible to get to the truth.

   I love football but the recent spate of domestic abuse among NFL players and the inability of the league to confront it forcefully leaves me with my head scratching.  Domestic violence is not just an NFL problem though, it is a national and worldwide problem that we must confront.  That is also part of peacemaking

   You can see that the cry for peace does not apply only to nations at war but goes down to a very local and personal scale.  Many of you know that I post on Facebook.  That social medium is unfortunately too often a forum for rage and resentment.  At times, even when I agree with an opinion expressed I am appalled at the way it is expressed.  So many of us just shout at each other over the internet.  We have forgotten how to debate and disagree civilly.

  Peace, real Peace, the Peace that Christ came to give us, is elusive on both an international, a local and a personal scale. That has been so right from the beginning.  It is tempting to say, "Just get real. That's the way it is," but as Christians we must keep on trying even if we are seen as voices crying in the wilderness.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Joy of the Gospel

  Joy and mercy.  These two words sum up both the frequent homilies and speeches of Pope Francis as well as the content of his writings, above all his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel).  Right now I would like to reflect on "joy".  I will take up "mercy" at another time,

   I was recently touring the western US by train and struck up an
interesting conversation with a young graduate student.  As we
moved from casual chatter to more serious discourse I let it be
known that I was a Catholic priest.  He let me know that he was
raised Catholic but wasn't so sure about the faith any more. We
talked about several teachings of the Church and I found that despite his doubts he was more well educated in matters of the faith than most people of his age.  When the subject of regular Mass attendance came up though I was surprised by what he said.  I don't remember his exact words but they were something like this, "There's not much fun in going to church."  I was taken aback by this not by way of taking offense but just because his words surprised me.  I told him that while I was 100% in favor of having fun that I did not go to Mass to have fun, that there were other motivations than fun for doing things.  He realized the truth of what I said and commented that nonetheless people of his generation often used "having fun" as a criterion for engaging themselves.

   That conversation has stayed with me and it deepened my realization that not only the Mass, but our faith itself while not being an occasion for fun, though I must admit that I have often had a great deal of fun at church gatherings, is an occasion for joy.

   What's the difference?  Fun is basically about having a good time. Nothing wrong with that. But joy is something deeper.  For me it is the deep abiding satisfaction and peace of mind and heart that comes from knowing that one's belief and actions, even though they be difficult and require sacrifice, give meaning to my life.   The ultimate source of joy for me is my faith in Jesus Christ.  Apart from religion I believe that there is a joy that comes from serving one's country or working for a great cause. There is joy in a good marriage even if there are many difficult moments as well. The same can be said for being a parent even though at any given moment a parent may doubt that.  There is certainly joy for me in being a priest and a Franciscan friar.

   With the news that we have heard recently of Christians being persecuted in Iraq, Syria and other places I think it is important to embrace the true meaning of joy.  In the Gospel text from Matthew this Sunday Jesus tells the disciples that he must suffer and that they too, and we today must take up the cross everyday to follow Him. (See Matt. 16:21-27).  Our faith does indeed give me and countless others cause for putting a big smile on our faces.  Moments of deep spiritual encounter with the Lord can do that.  Faith, however, is not just about feeling good.   Many today look to religion to make them feel good.  Nothing wrong with that as far as it goes.  What our faith in Jesus give us however is more than feel good moments.  It gives us the realization that when hardship and suffering and even death confront us that we have something that can take us through suffering and death to life, not only to life on the other side of the grave, but to a fullness and richness of life while on this earth because of that faith.

   At that level faith is something to live for, to be willing to die for, and it is the cause for joy.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

A 50 Year Journey

  "The Rule and life of the Friars Minor is this, namely, to observe the Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ, by living in obedience, without anything of one's own, and in chastity."  (Rule of St. Francis, 1223)

  Fifty years ago today, on August 16, 1964, I promised to live by the rule and life of the Friars Minor.  I was 19 years old having just completed my novitiate.  I took temporary vows for three years.  In 1967 I made it final and after four more years of study in 1971 I was ordained a priest.

   The most important thing that I can say about this fifty year journey is that I am happy, and yes, I would do it all over again.

   One might ask, "How does one become happy over a fifty year period by taking vows of poverty, chastity and obedience?"  The key for me lies in the statement from our Franciscan rule which I quoted above.  These promises are not made in a vacuum, or just individually.  What attracted me to the Franciscans was not the vows per se. It was the friars. I had wonderful parish priests at St. William's in the Dorchester section of Boston where I grew up. The Franciscans who taught me at Columbus High school in Boston, however, just seemed to have a spirit that drew me towards them.  Above all they seemed happy and enjoyed being together.   Needless to say after joining the friars I was soon exposed to the not so pleasant foibles of some of the friars.  We are, after all, human, but over the years I have realized how blessed I am to have brothers who support and encourage me in countless ways. The word friar, by the way, is derived from the Latin frater, and the French frere, both of which mean brother.

   In addition to the friar, brother part of our life is that other word, minor.  At the time of Francis there were two social classes, the mairoes or majors--the powerful, and the minores, the minors, the little people, those on the margins.  Our life then is a call to live as a minor and above all to identify with and accompany the minores of our times. It can be a struggle to live that value in present day America but I can say that when I have lived that reality I have experienced the greatest joy and fulfillment of my life be it in the North End of Boston, midtown Manhattan, The Bronx, Buffalo, NY, Bolivia or my recent mission trips to Honduras, or the many different people that I have had the privilege of serving on the many missions I have preached.  That experience has helped me to realize in a deeper way that my brothers are not only the friars with whom I have lived, but that the many people I serve are my brothers and sisters as well
With my uncle Tom and my cousin Dennis at my simple profession on August 16, 1964
   The actual vows of poverty, chastity and obedience then are the means of enabling me to be a friar minor.  Without those everything that I mentioned above would not be possible.
    Back in 1964 I could not have imagined the changes that would take place in the Church and in the world over the next 50 years.  The Second Vatican Council as still in progress and I actually took my vows in Latin.  In 1967 I would pronounce my final vows in English.  The whole way that religious life was lived has undergone tremendous development over that time.  I am thankful for having experienced all of it, both past and present.

   The same can be said for the world we live in.  The Vietnam War was on and the civil rights movement was in full swing.  Though we were isolated from that in the novitiate those events would impact our life as friars in the years ahead.  From those times right up to our present post 9/11 struggles it became clear that as Friars Minor we were called to be a prophetic presence in the world, not withdrawing to the monastery, but living in the friary and stepping out into the world supporting the struggling and challenging all to live the values of the Gospel.  For those who know me it is this and not any political leaning, that generates my stands on any number of issues in our present world.  My province and the entire Order are a source of strength in doing that.  After all, as the opening statement says, "The rule and life of the Friars Minor is to live the holy Gospel of our Lord, Jesus Christ.."  I am still, after 50 years, growing in living up to that challenge.

October, 2013, after not quite 50 years

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Canticle from a Jubilee Journey.

I just returned from a wonderful vacation, an Amtrak train vacation through parts of our country that I had never seen (and I few that I had seen).  As many of you know on August 16 I will celebrate 50 years a a professed Franciscan, my golden jubilee.  My province of the order gives us a little more time and money for vacation on that occasion.  Instead of traveling overseas, which I have had the good fortune of doing several times, I thought of seeing parts of our own country that I had not seen.  Also I love trains and thought that viewing areas by train rather than flying over them would be a great way to accomplish this.  I was not disappointed.

   I wanted to share this experience and decided that rather than some type of travelog I would express myself in a different way.  Inspired by St. Francis Canticle of the Creatures, though not imitating it slavishly, I have composed my own canticle with pictorial accompaniment. Though I do not, as did St. Francis,  address the various aspects of creation and all of God's wonderful creatures as brother and sister I certainly more and more are becoming aware that I am the creature, not the Creator, and that I am brother to all of creation.

Canticle from a Jubilee Journey

Most High and Glorious all good God. To You be praise for all the awesome beauty and grandeur of your creation and for the men and women who enhance that beauty.

Praised be You my Lord for great cities that house your people and that give expression to the highest aspirations of men and women, cities that show forth great tall buildings and that display wonderful works of music and art, not to mention hospitals and medical centers that bring healing to so many.

And may You be praised as well for farms and fields that produce food in abundance to feed your people.

For majestic high mountains be praised as well, mountains that show your mighty grandeur, mountains that send water into your streams and rivers, waters that quench our thirst and keep us clean.

For wide open plains so splendid in their vastness may you be praised, reminders that we creatures are so small in relation not only to our planet, but to the universe and above all to You, our great, glorious and Most High God. 

Be praised as well my Lord for vast and arid desert places, places that remind us that You alone can fill the many voids and dry places that we find in our own lives.

And above all dear Lord, be praised for people, men and women made in your image and likeness, people of every race and religion, people of many styles of life all of them made in Your wonderful image and likeness.


And Yes, dear Lord, we must sadly admit that we don’t always reflect the goodness and beauty that comes from You alone.  We abuse your creation and we create divisions among ourselves that lead to hatred, division and war.   

Help us to remember Lord who you are, to trust in your great love and to seek your mercy, for only then will we know the peace that You alone can give.

So then Lord, be praised when by your grace we heal our divisions through forgiveness and restore the beauty of your damaged creation. 

All praise, thanksgiving and glory to You, O Lord, for all the blessings that have come my way in 50 years of Franciscan life 


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Immigration Reform with Eyes of Faith

       Over the past few years I have more and more become an advocate of comprehensive immigration reform.  At the outset I want to state that the reason is not political. It is religious, born of my commitment to live the Gospel.  To tell the truth politicians of both liberal and conservative leanings have disappointed me.Enough said about that let's take a look at a few issues.

      Many law-abiding citizens understandably stop immediately at the issue of legality. They decide that if they are here illegally the debate is over.  Not so fast please.  I draw on my personal experience here.  I was a missionary in Bolivia over thirty years ago.  Because of this I speak Spanish and have had the privilege of preaching parish missions in Spanish in the southeastern United States.  Most of the immigrants whose stories I have heard would love to have come legally into our country but the door was closed.  We allow, I believe, 5000 unskilled laborers into our country every year.  Many business leaders say that we need 250,000 such permits.  Without debating the numbers let's agree that a lot more such permits are needed.  The undocumented (I refuse just to label them as "illegals".) people that I see are faith-filled Catholics who work hard at jobs that most Americans refuse to do.  They are not lazy parasites drawing unjustly on the welfare system, though yes, there are some of those.  Many pay taxes and pay into social security.  Most are raising children who are fine US citizens.  Many immigrants as well as their children have served in the US military, some of them sacrificing their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.

      Lest those reading think that I am naive and looking through rose-colored glasses I assure you that I am not.  I am aware that drug traffickers, smugglers and human traffickers are among those who who cross our borders illegally.  The borders must be secured to be sure.

   What to do?   If 11 million people are undocumented and most of them came here to escape poverty and find a home here let's create a path to legal status and possible citizenship.  This is not amnesty. It is not a free ride. It is not just handing out citizenship papers instantly.  There has to be a path with strict requirements, perhaps a more difficult path than the one traveled by those already here by legal means.  Doing this would help weed out the bad guys because I don't thin that the crooks would apply for fear of getting caught.

     Some say, "Just deport them all."  At what cost financially?  And to our image as a country?  Unfortunately the Obama administration is deporting a lot of people and splitting up families in the process.  Is this an expression of the family values

Friday, June 20, 2014

In My Hands, In My Heart--Corpus Christi, Honduras and the World

  This past Sunday I returned home after having made, for the third year in a row, a mission trip to Trujillo, Honduras with Christ the King Parish in Little Rock, Arkansas. Over those three years I have visited several small towns whose residents are poor but who are filled with faith.  I have celebrated Mass in those places and visited some of those confined to home due to illness. Those visits range from a 22 year old young woman suffering from cerebral palsy whose smile warmed our hearts two years ago, to a little boy  of 7 years old suffering from the effects of encephalitis to a 101 yr old man whose smile was radiant simply because a priest was visiting him. I also visited the local hospital  where I anointed several patients awaiting surgery and got to see the bright smile of Victor, nine years old, who received a prosthesis for his amputated leg two years ago and who now plays soccer.  Adding to the list of memories are the celebrations of Mass at an orphanage there, a place where the Franciscan Sisters and their staff bring love, care and good education to many children, truly a place of hope, but also celebrations of Mass in the Trujillo jail, a place of darkness and despair, but one graced by the faith of a small group of residents for who the Mass meant so much.

   With all of this in mind I am preparing to celebrate Corpus Christi--The Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, a feast of the Eucharist.  Over the years this feast has taken on ever greater importance for me not only because I believe that the Lord is indeed truly present in the consecrated bread and wine which I hold in my hands but because through the wonderful gift of the Eucharist I am one, not only with the Lord but with the people of Honduras and all of the people that I have had the privilege of serving over the years.

   This year I will be especially mindful of the people of Honduras as well as the missionaries from Arkansas that I had the privilege of serving with.  I will hold them in my hands, and in my heart, because they, along with people everywhere, are part of the Body of Christ.

   This is a dimension of the Eucharist that I feel is sadly neglected.  The term Body of Christ was first used by St. Paul in reference to the Church that he had been persecuting.  He would later connect the mystery of the Body of Christ with the Eucharist and in his first letter to the Corinthians he writes, "Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread.Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread." (1 Cor 10:17)

   It seems that unfortunately there are many who truly believe in the real presence of Christ in the bread and in the wine but they do not make the connection to the entire mystery which is the Body of Christ. There are others who do not believe or who think it is just a symbol.  Perhaps their faith would be strengthened if this connection were made more clearly.

  At any rate when I celebrate the Eucharist I try to be mindful that in Christ I am one not only with the people of Honduras mentioned above, but also with suffering Christians all over the world, with people who are victims of war and violence and with people of all cultures who celebrate the same Eucharist.

   One final note--the above message is clearly laid out in my book, The Wandering Friar. It is available on Amazon and also at

  The Body of Christ.   Amen.

Friday, June 13, 2014

One Last, But Wonderful, Report from Honduras

Full Moon over Trujillo
  Well folks, the electricity and internet has been spotty at best this year, but it's up and running today.There have been many touching episodes that show that the good Lord is at work here.  Again I will let the pictures tell the story

Evangelization team leader Suzie Blanco working with children
Walking on dirt path to visit the sick in Santa Fe

Very poor home of a woman we visited

Woman baking coconut bread in Santa Fe
|Stained Glass window at orphanage says in Spanish, Let the children Come to Me."

Fr. John Marconi and I at special Baptism Mass at the orphanage
Mass at the Trujillo Prison
Victor who received a prosthesis two years ago from the mission. He now plays soccer and is fitted for an updated prosthesis.
3 sisters baptized together at Mass at Finca de los Ninos orphanage.

Moving Out and Moving Ahead Cautiosly