Saturday, January 11, 2014

Feast of the Baptism of Jesus--A Reflection

 While the commercial world took down the lights and started getting ready for Valentine's Day on December 26, the Church continues to explore the depths of the wonderful mystery of the Incarnation. Last week we celebrated the Epiphany, the revelation of Jesus the light of the world to the magi, representatives of the Gentile world. 

  This Sunday we have another celebration of Jesus being revealed as Son of God as we recall His baptism by John in the Jordan River. This year's Gospel account is taken from Matthew's rendition of that wonderful moment. (See Mt. 3:13-17) I suppose it is natural to ask why was Jesus baptized in a baptism of repentance being that Jesus is the sinless one who has no need of repentance.After all John the Baptist himself asks the same question.

  There are several answers to that question.  Some Scripture scholars tell us that in order for Him to be the High Priest of the New Covenant He had had to fulfill the requirements of being a priest of the Old Covenant which required cleansing with water. This is part of Jesus' response that it was to fulfill all righteousness.  The descending of the dove (Holy Spirit) over the waters  with the words from the heavens, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased," represents a revelation of God as Trinity, but also it points to creation beginning anew in Jesus.  Remember that at the beginning of Genesis a might wind sweeps over the waters.  Now it is the breath of the Spirit.

   In addition to the theological richness of all of the above references there is also the belief, going back to early Christianity, that Jesus was baptized because, though sinless, He wanted to identify with sinners.

   In light of where Pope Francis is trying to lead us I think that this last point is important.  Pope Francis has been misunderstood or misinterpreted by those who want to fir him into their own agendas. What he is trying to do is what Jesus did during his earthly ministry.  He hung around with tax collectors and prostitutes not to condone their behavior but because He understood that their conversion could best be brought about by love, mercy, compassion and forgiveness. Though He was the Son of God He journeyed with them as a fellow human rather than standing above them.

   As was the case in Jesus' time many are uncomfortable with that. Many think that unless the point and wag fingers they are not getting the job done.  I think that it is an act of faith to trust that if something was the way of Jesus that it will work for us.

   While I don't pretend to present myself as the perfect model for all of this I will say that some of the most rewarding moments in my life as a friar and as a priest have come from witnessing the mercy of God touching the lives of drug addicts, prostitutes, sex addicts and various kinds of thieves and turning them into saints.  Unlike Jesus we are all sinners.  Saying that I am a sinner but my sin as not as bad as yours is probably one of the biggest pitfalls that stands in the way of our simply walking with everyone as a sister or brother on the journey towards God, not to mention that it shows a great deal of self-righteousness.

   As we celebrate Jesus' baptism in the Jordan let us rejoice in the fact that we are beside Him in those waters.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Jamaica, Part III

Mountain view from Strawberry Hills
 As you may have surmised from the previous two entries Jamaica is a land of contrasts. Amidst the poverty here there is a lot of natural beauty.  On Thursday I was treated to some of that as we climbed the mountains to a place called Strawberry Hills where we had "Tea". I use the quotation marks because as often as I have heard our British friends talk of Tea I was never treated to tea as an event.

  Jamaica  was once a British colony and so customs such as "Tea" in the late afternoon are still part of life here.

   Again the pictures speak for themselves.
Ready for Tea

Sun  setting over Kingston viewed from Strawberry Hills

Sr. Grace in for ground walking up to restaurant for tea.

    Moving on to Friday's experience I would like to point out that unlike my experience in Honduras where I go on a mission trip the Jamaica experience has put me more in the role of an observer, not as directly involved with the local people as I am in Honduras, though I did have some fine conversations with some Jamaicans.

    Friday took us to the north coast of Jamaica (Kingston is on the south coast).   We stopped for some Jamiacan Jerk (a way of preparing fire-grilled meat, not to be confused with American Beef Jerky) which we took to the residence of the Oratorian Fathers who staff several parishes in that region. We also stopped to visit beautiful Somerset Falls.  Again, let the pictures below speak for themselves.

Stopping for "Jerk Meat"
Somerset Falls

Somerset Falls

Me, Sr. Grace and Margaret (graduate of IC High School, instructor of architecture)

Buying some local fruit

Town of San antonio

Sr. Grace with Oratorian Fathers
View from Back of Father's Residence

Jamaica, Part Two

Very Typical spot along the road in Jamaica
 After the retreat for the sisters here in Jamaica I was treated to 3 days of touring to see the country and its natural beauty and to visit some of the ministry sites of the sisters here.  In this first group of pictures I went with several Franciscan sisters from the Philippines who work here and with Sr. Grace Yap, an Allegheny Franciscan to visit a cooperative organic farm that Sr. Grace is beginning as well as a student center in the town of Brees River where students can go after school to do homework and receive tutoring. The canter is partially funded by Bread for the world.  Both projects are part of the many things that Sr. Grace is involved with. We went there on January 1 in the evening for a New Year's Day appreciation banquet.
Beds for plants at Sr. Grace's Portiuncula Farm

Worker's house at Portiuncula Farm

With two of the Filipino Sisters outside student center
The pictures here are captioned and pretty much speak for themselves.

   The name of the Farm, Portiuncula Farm, is from the name of the first Franciscan church and friary in Assisi dedicated to Our lady of thge Angels but popularly called the Portiuncula, or little portion.  Sr. Grace explains that just as the whole Franciscan order sprang from that first little portion, so wonderful things will grow from this farm
Typical Jamaican homes in Brees river

Getting ready for the New Year appreciation banquet at student center

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Beginning An International Year--Jamaica

Outside the Kingston Airport
 As the year 2014 kicks off I realize that it is going to be an international year.  I have been in Kingston, Jamaica since Dec. 26 to preach a retreat to the Allegheny Franciscan Sisters here. the retreat ended on New Year's Day and I am staying a few days longer to get to see the country and some of the other work that the sisters do here.  Later in the year I will be going to Honduras again with Christ the King parish in Little Rock, AR, and in October I am to be the spiritual director on a pilgrimage to Assisi and Rome.

View from my "palatial" quarters at the Franciscan sisters convent
  With this blog entry I will share the retreat and in a few days share about the second half of the experience. As you can tell by the pictures the  convent is on a beautiful piece of property which was once the Constant Springs Hotel when Jamaica was a British colony.  It is part of the campus of Immaculate Conception High school begun by Scotish Franciscans in the 1800's and later given to the care of the Allegheny Franciscans.  The school provides a wonderful education to girls from all strata of Jamaican society.  Unlike the US state aid is given to religious schools here. The sisters can be rightly proud of the work they are doing.

   The retreat takes place over Christmas vacation. In some of the pictures you can see the sisters gathered for their conferences as well as for Mass. I have been very well received here and look forward to venturing out and seeing the rest of the country and other work that the sisters are doing here.
Convent, Once the Constant Springs Hotel
Sisters Gathered for retreat conference


Convent Chapel with Christmas decorations

Ready to begin Mass--Sisters in wheelchairs not part of the retreat but very well cared for by their community

Happy 98th birthday to Sr. Jean Frances Chen

After New Year's Eve Mass for peace with Carol Anglin, perhaps a distant cousin

Moving Out and Moving Ahead Cautiosly