Thursday, December 17, 2015

O Wisdom, A Needed Prayer for Our Times

 December 17 marks the beginning of the final part of Advent, the time when we move to the immediate preparation for our celebration of the Lord's birth.  Each day between now and December 24 is marked by the recitation, or even better, the chanting, of one of the O Antiphons.  We find these during the Alleluia verse at Mass as well as at the praying of the Magnificat at Evening Prayer (Vespers).  These Antiphons, composed in the sixth or seventh century beautifully express the world's longing for the coming Messiah.  While I won't be able to write on each of the coming days I find it worthwhile to comment on this first of the O Antiphons.

   O Wisdom, O Holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet gentle care, Come and show your people the way to salvation.

    Wisdom is a virtue that we all admire, yet I find that it is sorely lacking in today's world.  There are indeed individuals who are imbued with wisdom, but overall it is much needed in our world today.  Our political and social discourse and even many of our religious discussions are in need of wisdom.  Wisdom is different from knowledge and intelligence.  It is the quality of knowing how to use knowledge and intelligence.  Without it we see the tendency to oversimplification.  What passes for political debate in both of our parties is not debate at all.  It is largely the utterance of one-liners and remarks that "show up" the opponent.  With wisdom would come the recognition that problems like fixing the economy, defending against ISIS and other terrorists, gun violence on our streets, immigration reform and a host of other issue, are not solved by quick fix answers.

   Even in Church circles we too easily get polarized into liberal and conservative camps and settle for merely attacking the other side.  Wisdom calls us to pray to find the deeper truth that unites us.

    I use social media and this blog is always posted on Facebook and Twitter, but I must admit that I am often tempted to abandon the social media because it is filled with a lack of Wisdom.  I have indeed at times been guilty of that myself.

   Among the many prayers we might utter between now and Christmas, and well beyond is "Holy Spirit, Fount of Wisdom, fill us with that gift as we strive to meet the challenges presented to us by the world in which we live, and give us leaders in the Church and in society who are imbued with that wonderful gift.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

A Gift of Life in Death

 Fr. Ronald Rolheiser, OMI, in his recent book, Sacred Fire, discusses the challenges of developing a mature spirituality during the middle years of life.  At the end of this wonderful work he presents the notion of making your death a gift.  He promises to write his next book on that topic, and being ready to turn 71 this week I am eager to read that book when it is published.

   Last night (Friday) and this morning I experienced just what it means to make one's death a gift.   I arrived at St. Luke's parish in HoHoKus, NJ on Thursday in anticipation of preaching a parish mission here beginning with the evening Mass tonight at 5.  Unlike most of the parishes I visit I am no stranger to St.Luke's.  My very good friends Joe and Pat Eitner live here and I have been here often for weddings and baptisms for their family.  I also preached a mission here 26 years ago in 1989.  Each time I visited  here I was warmly received by Fr. Paschal Tsiquaye, a priest who hails from Ghana in West Africa.  He has served as a full and later part time assistant here for many years. Fr. Paschal was close to Joe and Pat especially because he reached out to Pat's mother in her final years.  I can't say that I got to know him well, but the more I saw of him the more I was impressed that he was a truly holy man, not just someone with a lot of external piety, but a true saint.  Shortly after arriving at St. Luke's I was informed that Fr. Paschal had died.

   I attended the wake service for him last night and concelebrated at his funeral Mass this morning. What an outpouring of love for a man who loved so much. Fr. Paschal's family and friends who have now settled in the US and Canada were there, many parishioners and about 20 priests.  The presider at the Mass was Bishop John Flesey, an auxiliary bishop of Newark and regional bishop for this part of the Archdiocese.

   The various testimonies and homilies that were given confirmed my impression that this was a holy man.  He was a man who suffered kidney problems and had to undergo dialysis regularly, yet he gave of himself both tirelessly and cheerfully to everyone he met.  Among the many things said of him that impressed me were first of all words from his pastor of many years.  Besides the many accolades that he bestowed on him he said that he had never received a complaint about him.  Not many of us priests can havew that said about us. When bishop Flesey began the words of final commendation at the end of the Mass he said that like all priests Fr.Paschal frequently said the words of consecration, "This is My Body,  This is My Blood, etc." The bishop said that Fr. Paschal lived those words with his own life.  He gave his body and blood to the Lord and his people.

   As I participated in this beautiful funeral rite I began to realize that I was being given a gift in Fr. Paschal's life and death, a gift that will inspire me to be an even better priest, to give my body and blood, along with the Lord's to God's people.  I am sure that in his life and death he is a gift to many others as well.  May he rest in peace!

   I will live you with one final thought.  Fr. Paschal was know to often say during Mass and especially in homilies, "God is good."  People always completed that sentence by shouting out "all the time,"  As we move into the second week of Advent and here the invitation to "prepare the way of the Lord" let us remember that our Lord and God is good, all the time.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Coming of God's Reign

  In the course of the liturgical year the Church presents us with the entire Mystery of the Christ, from the Annunciation, to Jesus' birth, His death, resurrection and Ascension, and lastly His final coming.  As the liturgical year ends and begins anew our attention is called to His final coming. Due to fundamentalist exaggerated focus on prophecies of gloom and doom and the number of apocalyptic movies that have appeared thinking of the end times can seem like a scary project.  That is not the approach taken by the Church.  In fact our understanding of the coming of Christ in the fullness of time is a message of hope, rather than of gloom and fear.

   Last week as the liturgical year ended we celebrated the Feast of Christ the King.  It was indeed a celebration of our belief that in the fullness of time Christ will reign, and all sin and evil will be overcome.  Given the state of the world today that is indeed something to celebrate.  This week, as Advent begins, we not only prepare to celebrate His first coming at His birth in Bethlehem, we also remind ourselves that we are always to be ready for His final coming.  We understand the apocalyptic descriptions of earthquakes and celestial calamities not in a literal sense, but rather as a way of stating that the world as we know it will not only end, but be transformed into a kingdom of Justice and Peace.  Unlike the many who claim to know just when this will happen we cling to the statement by Jesus that we must always be ready, but we know the day or the hour.  We Catholics likewise do not believe in a "rapture" where some will be taken to heaven sooner than others.  That is a late 18th century fundamentalist interpretation and not part of the ongoing tradition of Christianity.

    So what is God's Kingdom?  It is not so much a place as a state of being.  Many scholars like to change kingdom into a verb, calling it "the reigning (or ruling) of God."  Jesus came to bring about this ruling, but it is obviously not yet fully established.  We live in the time "in between" the two comings of Christ.

    In our times of terrorism, racism, irrational gun-violence, crime and war it is obvious that God is not reigning everywhere.  At the same time God's reign is among us now when there is love, forgiveness, thirst for justice, compassion, welcome to the poor and afflicted and all the other things that Jesus describes as part of  God's reign.

   This belief calls us to set aside fear and to point out and bring about the promises of the Gospel, at the same time being realistic enough to see that right now the kingdom of this world is competing with the reign of God. We need to acknowledge that without giving in to fear that tempts us to use the weapons of this world to meet the challenge of evil.  When we do that we are abandoning hope in the coming of God's reign and giving in to the powers of this world.

   As Advent begins and we prepare to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace let us be instruments of that Peace as we await His coming in the fullness of time.

   The late Eugene La Verdiere, an outstanding scripture scholar, once gave a beautiful description of how we Catholics view the reigning of God.  He spoke of growing up in rural Maine and traveling with his family to the seashore.  They would be coming home at night and he as a child was seated in the back rear facing seat of a station wagon (remember that?).  He said the moon was so big one night as he beheld it from that position that you felt like you could reach out and touch it, yet one knew that it was really so far away.  God's reign is like that, so close, yet so far away. Let us yearn for it to come close and take hold of us.


Sunday, November 15, 2015

Paris--Support and a Faith Based Response

  Like people of good will the world over I am saddened and angry about the terrorist attacks in Paris by ISIS.  I have read most of the comments by political and religious leaders and by many ordinary people.  What I would like to do on this blog is offer a faith based response.  I'm not suggesting that all should agree with everything that I say, but am offering a response based on my faith. When i say "my faith" I am not following some directives from on high by the hierarchy or some literalist Bible interpretation, but rather what is in my heart.  So here goes.

   1.  Though I am one who tries hard not to opt for war and the military response I don't see how it is possible not to take strong military action against this evil

   2.  Said military response should be a united effort of civilized nations.

   3.  It must be a reasoned response.  It is understandable that our anger might lead us to a "bombs away" mentality but the situation is more complicated. This is not a fight against a nation such as Nazi Germany.  We are fighting a multi-headed hydra.

    4.  Military force alone will not do the job.  Intelligence that helps us get to the financial and communication structure is vital.

    5.  Pray.  Just because I am listing it as number 5 doesn't mean that i don't give it top priority.

    6.  Do not lead fear prevail.  I have seen suggestions of total border shutdown, massive bombing, etc.  Yesterday I suggested on Facebook that it was hatred and racism that caused these reactions.  No, it is fear.

   7.  While I agree with those who say that our earlier actions in Iraq made ISIS possible now is not the time to go there.  Just get the job done, but learn a lesson from this for the future.

   8.  As regards refugees and immigrants I say again that reason must prevail.  Some are connecting our present crisis of immigration from the south to this.  I'm sorry but Mexicans and Central Americans, whatever problems their legal status may create, are not the problem.  I am for a sane immigration reform that secures our borders and offers at the same time a path to legal standing for those who are already here, but that is a topic for another time.  And please, mass deportation is a ridiculous and costly way of handing things.

   9.  As for refugees from Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East there are clearly secutiry issues here.We cannot randomly accept all. There must be screening.  At the same time remember that many of the refugees are Iraqi ans Syrian Christians and other non-Muslims.
10.  Remember, the religion of most of those killed by ISIS, AL-quaeda and other terrorists is Islam. Muslims cannot be lumped together as terrorists.  Many of them are among the persecuted.

11.  One of the strengths of the Catholic tradition is the use of reason in matters of faith and its application.  Let's not abandon reason.

   Finally, I offer these points as topics for discussion.  I am not an expert on world affairs.  By all means draw me out, agree or disagree with various points, but if you just hurl insults back I will say "Goodbye."

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Recalling A Wonderful Experience of Church

St. John Lateran--Main Entrance and Facade
   Yesterday the Church celebrated the Feast of the Dedication of the Arch-basilica of St. John at the Lateran.  For most this probably seemed like one of those liturgical oddities that creep up throughout the year, but for me it evoked beautiful memories.  I ministered there for seven months during the Jubilee Year of 2000.  To understand this church one need only to look at the Latin inscription on the outside of it--: "Sacrosancta Lateranensis ecclesia omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater et caput"--The most holy Lateran Church, the head and mother of all the churches in the city and in the world.  This is the oldest standing Christian Church in the West and perhaps in the world. It is also the Pope's Cathedral as Bishop of Rome. Of course since it was built in 325 or so the Eucharist was celebrated in other places before then.  Nonetheless all other churches are historically connected to this, not only as buildings, but because, as the liturgy of the day tells us, the Church is made up of "living stones".

    I went there to serve as a confessor in three languages--English, Spanish and Italian. Our order has been entrusted with ministering the Sacrament of Reconciliation there for several centuries.  We have friars there permanently, but extras were needed for the jubilee and I volunteered to serve from June, 2000 to early January 2001 when the Jubilee ended.  As the weeks and months moved on my personal experience mirrored the history of the place.

    While I obviously cannot comment on things told to me in the confessional I can truly say that the role of this place as mother of all churches came alive in the variety of people that I met while celebrating this beautiful Sacrament. I literally encountered people from every continent and from countless countries who came there to find The Lord's mercy.   I also found that the structure of the basilica was a microcosm of the Church as a whole.  The pictures here tell some of the story.

 On the left you see the mosaic in the half dome.  At the bottom is the river Jordan, representing the waters of baptism from which the Church, depicted in some of its saints, grows.

    Below one sees the main aisle with immense statues of the 12 apostles, representing the Apostolic foundation of the Church.
Bernini's Pieta"
Confessionals--always busy
   To the left there is another aisle.  I suppose that Pope Francis would call it the Church's filed hospital.  You see in one picture the confessionals where I served during the jubilee and above you see Bernini's Pieta', not quite as beautiful as Michaelangelo's, but a place where women who had lost children to death came to pray.

Finally, I could not fine a picture for the aisle to the right but that was the place where various searchers and seekers milled around and perhaps entered a souvenir chop which is there.

  When you put all of that together you get a wonderful picture of what the Church is--a great mystery uniting in Christ saints, sinners and seekers alike.

Finally, if you would like to visit this basilica as well as others in Rome and Assisi, please join my pilgrimage in October, 2016

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Passing it On--Our Catholic Heritage

   I am privileged to live in a community of friars who have served for a long time.  One of them, Fr. Tom, a former military chaplain, recently lost is older brother.  Tom was not able to travel to the funeral due to illness, but was able to celebrate a memorial Mass here at the friary for his brother.

  Tom began his homily by referring to his parent's passage from Ireland to the US in the early twentieth century.  He told us that they prayed, while on the way over, that their family would not lose the faith in the "hustle and bustle of America."  It would seem that their prayer was answered. After all, Tom is a friar and priest.  His brother who died was a good Catholic husband and father who had a daughter that became a nun.

  Stories like that are true of so many families that came here from Ireland, Italy, Poland, Germany and other parts of Catholic Europe.  They came here, worked hard, educated their children, saw their children advance economically and above all witnessed their Catholic faith being passed on.

   Sadly, after 3 or 4 generations, the passing on of faith has slowed down.  Why is that?  There is no easy answer to that question.  We can play the blame game and point to the faults of the Church and her leaders, not only the scandals, but the rude and harsh treatment of people by clergy and others in Church positions.  There is some truth to that.  Pope Francis has clearly called for a change of attitude in that regard.  We can also point to the fact that our age is more secular, less open to faith, that it is more individualistic, or that relativism--everybody as their own truth, is the order of the day.  Again, there is much truth to this.  I think, however, that there is something else, something that should cause both sides of the equation to stop and think--shallowness of thought and the temptation to the instant fix.
   Unfortunately we have become a culture that lives in the shallow end of thinking.  Our schools educate for test results, overemphasize math and science to the detriment of the humanities and are slaves to political correctness. We see the fruit of this lack of depth in what passes for political debate. The social media are filled with "gotcha" moments presented by both liberals and conservatives, but rarely do we see a well thought out position on anything, just playing to the masses and their emotions.

   This is a blog post, and thus prone to oversimplification with the need to be brief, but I am convinced of the truth of my case.

   When it comes to faith both the Church and those who would walk away, are often guilty of the same shallowness.  The Catholic Church has a rich intellectual tradition.  Instead of sharing it we too often just quote rules and laws. On the other hand too many people walk away because of the human foibles of Church leaders and never explore the depth of meaning of our faith.

   I believe that if we jump into the deep waters of rational thought and the rich heritage not only of Catholicism, but of Western civilization, that many of our problems could be solved, and our Churches would start to fill again.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Pope Francis' Last Day With Us

 Pope Francis has finished his visit to us, a visit that I believe was a moment of grace for our country.  There a countless reactions to his various talks and homilies.  Apart from saying that I think that most of it was great I don't think that I have anything new to say in that regard.  What I would like to do, as I did in my last blog post, is reflect on the context of his visit, his approach to us and a suggestion as to how to receive his inspiring words.

   I was very impressed by the fact that his holiness dis his homework on our nation's history and on the history of the cities he visited.  In Washington, addressing congress, he referred to us as "the land of the free and the home of the brave".  He referenced Lincoln and ML King, Jr, as well as two important Catholics, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.  He called us to live out the  values of the founders of our nation. In Philadelphia he used one of the great women of the city's history, Katherine Drexel, as an example of how that city had a history of opening walls to others rather than creating barriers. In New York he exhibited a keen awareness of how the tragic events of 9/11 affected that city and our nation.  Most importantly in all of this he offered us a framework in which to rethink some of the issues that divide us.  That is the real challenge for all of us and for the leaders of our own country and the world.  I am afraid that instead of doing that they will just check off what they agreed and disagreed with and that nothing will change.

  The comments from both the left and the right of the political spectrum showed that we Americans, for the most part, while we have great respect for someone like Pope Francis, do not know how to receive his message.   We're addicted to our political lenses.  I really wish that they had banned applause during his talk to congress.  The applause thing is great for the president's State of the Union Address and for speeches by other politicians.  I wish that rather than that we were asked to respectfully listen and then ask "What did he say that comforted and strengthened me?" What did he say that challenged me?"  " What did he say that offered me a new perspective on the issues?" 
I wonder what would happen if congress and the UN members had a discussion on those three questions.

   From a Church perspective I thought his homily at the Cathedral in Philadelphia was the clarion call for all of us.  He cited Katherine Drexel's meeting with Pope Leo XIII  When she spoke to him of the needs of the missions, the Pope – he was a very wise Pope! – asked her pointedly: “What about you? What are you going to do?”. Pope Francis then turned those words on us, priests, religious and laity alike when he asked that question of us, "What are you going to do to build up the Church the Body of Christ?"

   With those words he reminded us that we all have a responsibility to build of the Church.  So often I hear complaints, and I must admit that I have uttered complaints, that began with the words, "Why Doesn't the Church, etc, etc.?"   We are the Church, We're all in this together.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

A Mission of Mercy--Pope Francis in the Big Apple

You have to double click
 As I continue to reflect on Pope Francis' visit to our country I would like to turn away from comments on his presentations and reflect instead on his actions throughout his time both here and in Cuba.

  We all know that two very important components of his message throughout his papacy have been mercy and reaching out to the peripheries.  To engage both of these one also has to have humility.

   The above picture is a wonderful example of his humility.  While visiting a school in Harlem he engaged some students by participating in one of their projects.  The project on creation, one of his favorite themes, involved moving trees, etc. around a computerized screen.  Pope Francis was failing to move items when a girl corrected him, telling him that he had to double click.  He smiled and not only followed here advice. He let her hand guide him.  A pope allowing himself to be correct by a young student.  That's humility.

   In Washington his holiness declined an invitation to dine with congressional leaders and chose instead to visit with the homeless and have lunch with them.  In New York, while he delivered an important and moving address to the UN, his presence there was above all a presence of healing and mercy.  This began with his brief homily at the Vesper service in St. Patrick's Cathedral where he praised the work of women religious who had been under strong scrutiny just a short while back.  He also spoke to the issue of child sex abuse.

   I believe that his best moment in New York came at the interfaith service at ground zero where in addition to his wonderful words and prayers he certainly brought comfort and healing to the families of victims and to survivors who have been wounded in so many ways both physically and emotionally.  For me as a Franciscan, even though I was observing from Florida, his message was a comfort to me and the friars of my province because on that day we lost our brother, Fr. Mychal Judge, OFM

   Thank you Pope Francis not only for your inspiring words, but above all for your ministry of encounter and mercy here in our country.   We await now your trip to Philadelphia.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Wisdom with a Capital W

 Earlier today I posted on Facebook my initial reaction to Pope Francis' address to Congress, "Wisdom with a Capital W".  I stand with that line for the address and for his entire time in Washington. 

  I came across a few negative comments suggesting that the pope should have given Obama, and later Congress, a "smackdown" or a "setting straight."
   That is just not the way of Pope Francis.To
understand his way we need only look to the talk he gave to the US bishops yesterday at a midday prayer service.  He commended them for their work in calling the nation to respect life and likewise on immigration, but he also warned them against using "harsh and divisive language" and talk that leads to polarization. He also urged them to use a method of dialogue.

   Moving ahead to the address to congress he himself gave an example of these words to the bishops.  He certainly stated clearly that life at every stage of its development must be respected, but he did no moralistic finger waving. Let's face it that approach may sometimes may sometimes make us feel good when it is done to people we oppose, but it usually drives them further away rather than leading them to look at our position.

   Others thought he was really going to sock it to the right on climate change.  In fact, he did not use the phrase "climate change."  He used a softer expression--"man made pollution of the environment." I think that whether we agree with climate change or not we can all agree that we humans have polluted the environment and that we do have a responsibility to care for the earth, "our common home"

     On immigration his Holiness did not directly enter into the area of immigration law.  He used neither the term "illegal" or "undocumented', the buzz words from both sides.  He simply called us to realize why people want to immigrate and asked us to listen to their stories and respond.  This is what he means by dialogue in all areas.  We too easily begin by telling people why they are wrong.  Pope Francis calls us to listen to them first.

  It is because of this approach that I say that this speech was filled with wisdom.

  Even more important than all of this is the way that this talk was crafted in the context of the approaches of 4 great Americans, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.  I hope that Americans not familiar with the last two would get themselves acquainted with them. I do not have the space in this article to go down that road, but they were a great choice by the Pope.

   Lastly I would simply state that Pope Francis has offered a spiritual vision in which we as a nation should see ourselves. It was a call to hope and to dream, and we certainly need more of both.



Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Pope Francis in Cuba--A Powerful, But Subtle, Message

   I am spending my last days at San Pedro Parish in the Florida Keys.  About 100 miles from where I sit Pope Francis is visiting the island nation of Cuba, the third pope to do so.

   Because of spending four years in Hialeah, FL, often called "North Cuba" I have several friends who left that nation when Fidel Castro took over, or shortly thereafter.  

   Most of them have very strong anti-Castro feelings but are cautiously optimistic about this papal visit to their homeland.  The mere fact that the previous two papal visits have brought improved conditions for Catholics and other Christians is a good sign.   The opening of diplomatic relations with our country is another.  Nonetheless, there is a long way to go.

   Some people have expressed the opinion that the pope should have spoken more strongly about human rights and freedom.  Regarding this one news commentator suggested that because the pope is not only a religious leader, but a head of state, that his words needed to be careful.  Also it is likely that in his private meeting with president Raul Castro those issues came up.

   I would like to point out here three things that were very significant.

   1.)  In his homily at the opening Mass in Havana Pope Francis, basing his words on the message of service found in that Sunday's Gospel text from Mark, reminded the people that we are called to serve people and not ideologies.  That, to me, was the most succinct criticism of Marxism that I have ever heard.  It was said in a way that was memorable and likely to stick in the minds of the millions who heard it spoken in person or on TV and social media.  Will it subtly stir people to action? Only time will tell.

  2.)  In a similar vein, in his talk to the youth of Cuba, Pope Francis called on religious orders to reach out to those who were seen as "useless".  Likewise he called on young people to realize that no one was useless and that all deserved dignity and respect (My paraphrase of the pope's words). Under Marxist thinking those who cannot work and contribute to society are considered "useless" and they are neglected.  Again, his holiness was planting a seed in the minds of many.

  3.) In his brief visit with  Fidel Castro the pope gave him a copy of a book written by one of Castro's Jesuit high school teachers, as well as some other works on spirituality.  I'm sure that this gesture had to have given Mr. Castro something to think about.

   These three actions, and probably several others, were subtle and were carefully chosen.  I think that the first two especially, have a chance to bear much fruit.

   I will write next week at the conclusion of Pope Francis's trip to our country.  Although we are blessed with freedoms that Cubans do not have, I think that the most powerful things that come from his visit here may be equally as subtle.

   Finally, a request.  Do not, I repeat, DO NOT, interpret anything the pope says to us through the lenses of the political left or right.   Hopefully he will both support and challenge both sides.


Friday, September 11, 2015

Louis and Laurie--A Sacrament

  One of the special blessings of being a priest is the privilege of sharing in special family moments.  I had one such moment last night when I witnessed the marriage of my niece Laurie to her husband Louis Strazzulo at Sacred Heart Church in Boston's North End.

   We Catholics call marriage a sacrament.  What does that mean?  Most think that it simply means that a priest or deacon blesses the couple on their wedding day.  That's part of it, but it is so much more.  Matrimony is the only sacrament not given by the priest.  The couple confer the sacrament on each other, not only on their wedding day, but every day of their lives.  In doing so they are a sign to all of us of Christ's love for His people, of God's love for all of us. Each couple is unique and different and reflects that love in their own way.

           Laurie and Louis have known each other for a few years. At first they were "just friends".  It all grew from there and I think that the good Lord had a hand in all of that. I'm sure that they will have a wonderful life together and will bring wonderful children into the world.

   Their wedding reception was held at a hotel on the Boston waterfront.  Given that it was Labor Day weekend there were fireworks during the dinner.  We interrupted the fine meal and went out to see the fireworks.

   I think that when 2 people marry fireworks should always go off. I think that God would like that.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Eat My Flesh and Drink My Blood

   As I promised in my last blog post I will offer a reflection on the Eucharistic dimensions of John 6. As Catholics we believe that the bread and wine of the Eucharist are truly the Body and Blood of Christ.  In this Sunday's Gospel from John 6 Jesus tells us "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink." (Jn 6:54-55).
there are several important implications of these words, several aspects of our belief in the Real Presence that we often do not think of.

   First of all Jesus is telling us that He doesn't just want us to look up to heaven and pray top Him.  He wants to be united with us, to enter into the depths of our being.  He desires that we eat and drink, take Him into our selves as nourishment.

Secondly, He wishes to transform us.  there is a saying that says "You are what you eat."  Now I wouldn't go to far with that in terms of some of the things that make up my diet, but in the case of the Eucharist my body, my flesh and blood, joined to that of Jesus must shape my life and make a difference.  This was very clear to the early Christians, but unfortunately it is not so clear to many today.  In Baptism we are joined to the Body of Christ. In the Eucharist that bond is strengthened.  One of the excuses I hear people saying for not going to Mass is that "you don't need the Church to be a good person."  Believe it or not that is true.  We don't participate in the Eucharist to be good. We partake of the Eucharist in order to become holy, to be more Christ-like.

   A third aspect is that the Eucharist is not a me and Jesus event, but rather a we and Jesus event. St. Paul had been dead for about thirty years when John wrote his Gospel.  It was Paul who joined the notion  of the Eucharist as the Body of Christ with that of the Church as the Body of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 10:17 he writes "Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, because we all partake of the one loaf."  I have to believe that John and is followers were well aware of those words because the letters of Paul were often read at early celebrations of the Eucharist and were in circulation in the early Christian communities.  If everyone else is partaking of the real flesh and blood food that is the Eucharist and is thus joined to Christ, we are all joined to each other.  How different our attitudes towards other peoples would be if we dwelt on this because this union is not only with those who attend the 10 O'clock Mass with me, but with all people everywhere and throughout the ages that receive the Eucharist.

   A fourth dimension is the part where Jesus says "my blood is real drink."  A rather superficial question that has been raised in recent years is "Is the Eucharist a meal or a sacrifice?"  It is both. It is obviously a meal and began as a meal.  At the same time the blood is Jesus blood poured out on the cross.  In the Mass we are united with His sacrifice and hopefully offer the sacrifice of our lives in union with is.

   Lastly I would like to dwell on the fact that Jesus chose to be present to us in the form of bread and wine, common food and drink made up of, as we say in the offertory prayers, "the fruit of the field and the vine, and the work of human hands. He takes earthly, created things, the fruit of our labor, and transforms them into His Body and Blood.  Pope Francis has recently written a beautiful encyclical on our responsibility to care for creation.  The fact that in the Eucharist we offer the Lord the fruits of His own creation should certainly motivate us to take better care of the Creator's work.

   I believe that if someone understands everything that I have written here they would never avoid participating in the Eucharist regularly no matter what the human foibles of the clergy and other members of the Body of Christ.  We need to do a better job of communicating this understanding

Sunday, August 9, 2015

What Kind of Bread do you eat?

  Over the past few weeks the Gospel texts for Sunday Mass have been taken from the 6th chapter of John. It began a few weeks ago with John's account of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes and continues with the beautiful Bread of Life discourse.  The entire chapter leads us to a wonderful and profound understanding of the Eucharist.  Unfortunately, though understandably, there are many who get the concluding message of this chapter, namely that we are called, as Jesus tells us to eat His flesh and drink His blood in the Eucharist, but who miss out on the first point that the chapter makes, that Jesus Himself is the Bread of Life.

      This is important because it leads us to realize that not only are we to partake of the Eucharist, but that Jesus is to be our nourishment in everything that we do.  That means that Jesus life and teachings are our source of nourishment.  We can't receive Him in Communion and act contrary to His message of love, peace and forgiveness in our everyday lives.  An old Cherokee story that has been circulating on the internet lately helps us, I believe, to understand this point. 

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.
He said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all.

“One is Evil – It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.
“The other is Good – It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

   I believe that if one is nourished by the Bread of life that one is nourishing the good wolf.  Unfortunately we too easily feed on the bread of violence, rage and division that comes to us through the media, through politics and even at times from some voices within the Church.  I would clarify here that I am not saying that we should never be angry.  The list of things that we can be upset about is long.  The challenge is not to allow anger to become a state of mind, a way of being.

   Jesus tells us in a later chapter of John "You are my friends if you do what I command you." (Jn 15:14)  What does He command us to do? One might think  of the ten comandments, but I think that Jesus also commands us to turn the other cheek, to forgive seventy times seven times and to seek to serve rather than to be served, just to name a few.  If we are nourished by these things the evil wolf will fall silent.

   John 6 is with us for a few more weeks and I do hope to reflect on the Eucharistic message of this chapter in my next blog entry.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

And Jesus Wept.

"Dominus Flevit" "The Lord Wept--outside of Jerusalem
   I am reading  Jesus, a wonderful book by James Martin, SJ. It presents a wonderful and prayerful reflection on Jesus based on the author's experience of making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  I am reading it slowly, not because it is difficult to understand, but because so many of his reflections lead me into prayer and meditation.  When I finish reading I may review it on this blog, for now I am picking up on one part of it that struck me today.

   Fr. Martin comments at length on Luke 19:41--"And Jesus Wept."  He goes into what is behind this and all of the anguish Jesus felt on the night before His death.  That lead me to ask "Over what would Jesus weep today?"  It would be easy to answer that question by listing any number of the evils of the day--terrorism, human trafficking, racial violence are among other things that come to my mind.  I'm sure that the list is longer than that.  I would suggest, however, that we go deeper than that to find the answer.

    I think that more than anything else Jesus weeps at the hatred that is in the world, not only the hatred that fuels terror groups like Isis, but the hatred that I see everyday on Facebook and Twitter directed at other races and nationalities, at politicians, at other nations and at other religions. I am taken aback by anger and outrage expressed so vehemently even when I agree with the opinion of the one expressing it.  It is the anger expressed in things like road rage and the random shootings that so often take place. 

   No doubt much of this anger has its roots in hurts that the angry person has experienced in the past.  It comes out indirectly at anyone and anything that gets in their way. We need to work on healing the anger within us.  While I am an advocate of some type of tighter gun control (no, not repealing the 2nd amendment), the real issue is healing the rage that leads to the crazy level of gun violence that we have seen recently.
   So, what is the answer to this problem? Interestingly the members of the African-American church in South Carolina where nine of their members were killed forgave the shooter, a young disturbed racist fanatic. In other places further violence erupted after the initial shooting.

   Maybe Jesus's message of forgiveness, which seems so idealistic is not so impractical after all.  Forgiveness is not softness. It is not about excusing bad behavior and injustice. Those folks in Charleston had a great deal of courage.  They were saying that something terrible happened, but they are not going to give it any more power by spreading the violence. Forgiveness is a form of healthy selfishness.  It says that if I continue the cycle of anger, rage and violence I will be hurting
myself, and probably a lot of other people as well.

   In John's Gospel Jesus command to "Love one another as I have loved you.(See John 15:9ff.) is given on the night before he died, knowing that He was to die, and after the betrayal of Judas.  There is a lesson to be learned in this.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Social Justice, Politics, Popes and the Church

  There has been  a lot of talk lately about Pope Francis' statements on the world economy and on the environment.  A lot of it has been positive, but a good deal of it has been critical. I have no problem with the criticism.  Even the Pope himself is taking a look at some of the criticisms before he speaks to the US Congress in September and has repeatedly said that he is open to dialogue on these issues. g the What I don't accept is people saying that he is overstepping his bounds, that he should stick to religion.  I'm sorry but caring for creation and helping the poor are moral obligations rooted in our faith. Also, every Pope since Leo XIII in the 1890's as either issued an encyclical or made an important statement on matters of social justice, speaking out on things like worker's rights, war and peace, the arms race and the care for creation.  In fact Pope Francis recent encyclical, Laudato Si, mirrors thoughts put forth by both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. Francis has simply made these matters more of a predominant theme of his papacy.

   Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical  Redemptor Hominis expounded at length on the meaning of the redemption that Christ came to bring. All Christians agree that on the cross He won victory over sin and death.  We agree also that He gives us the grace to combat sin in our own lives and in the world.This is where working for social justice becomes a part of our Christian responsibility.  It is not enough just to ask the Lord to help me overcome my personal sins, we must also work to combat all of the terrible evils in the world and to point out those political and economic system that contribute to poverty, injustice and other evils.

   Here in the US people will claim separation of Church and  state.  Clearly the Church has no authority to control government policy, nor does the government have the authority to dictate to the Church. Likewise churches must stay away from endorsing any party or candidate. The churches, however, do have the right to speak up when we believe that something is wrong., whether it is on abortion, poverty, slavery, war and peace, etc.  Several of our forefathers said that the churches must be the conscience of society.  It was the churches that led the charge against slavery.  May we continue to speak a prophetic message to our world.

   Popes and other Church leaders are often criticized for not offering practical solutions That criticism is understandable, but it is also exactly where the dividing line is.  As a general rule religious leaders denounce the evils.  They say in effect, "There's a problem here. It needs to be fixed. This is not what God wants" The appropriate experts then hopefully take action. Pope Francis is saying that the current worldwide economic system needs to be fixed. There is too much greed, too much poverty and inequality.

   The Church does not expect some sort of utopia.   The world will always be imperfect until Christ comes again.  Our task, in the meantime, is to work for a better, a more just, a more peaceful, a more equitable world.  Can we all agree that we can do better?

   Lastly, people often tell me that I am too idealistic, that there will always be war, poverty, etc.  My answer to that is to say yes, that is true, but we must keep the ideal before others so that we don't lapse into cynicism and despair.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Pope Francis, Creation and the Poor

Poor Home in Honduras
There has been a lot of buzz lately about Pope Francis Encyclical,  Laudato Si, which was released today.  I have not read it and will comment on this blog after I have.
  What I can say is that unfortunately everything this pope says gets filtered through either a conservative or liberal political lens.  That is exactly the wrong way to read him because the Gospel just cannot conveniently fit into either of those frameworks.

  Before getting to the issue of the encyclical I would like to address the issue of income inequality, something that Pope Francis has commented on frequently.  His real complaint is that 1% of the world population controls about 80% of the worlds resources.  Now to be fair I know that several of the most wealthy people give generously to charity, put people to work with just wages and do other things to improve society.  Many others, however, simply horde their wealth.  The Catholic Church, going back centuries, has taught that there is a thing called distributive justice.  Basically this means that if someone, some nation, some corporation, etc controls so much of the world's resources that others simply don't have a chance there is an injustice, even of those things have been gained honestly.

   Talk of this kind of injustice makes  people nervous.  is the pope advocating socialism, some kind of forced income redistribution?  Some critics say that he is. Others hope that he is.  I believe that both are wrong.  What I do believe is that he is calling for a system where everyone has a fair shot at living a reasonably comfortable life with access to decent housing, health care, clean water and a few other things.  This doesn't mean that governments  have to give these things away.  It does mean that we should have an economic system that empowers people and gives them access to the resources that they need to live a decent life.  I would call this an economy of empowerment.

   The above picture of a poor home in Honduras, a home that I visited last week, makes the point. No one should have to live in a house made of sticks with an outside toilet.  The owners of this dwelling are not lazy.  They work hard.  They just don't stand a chance.  This is true of too ma ny people in our world.

   Moving on to the issue of Pope Francis' encyclical, Laudato Si,  it is interesting to note that those words are the first words of St. Francis' Canticle of the Creatures. In that canticle Francis sees the other creatures as his brothers and sisters.  This poem was not a romantic musing of his youth.  It represents a profound awareness as he was dying that he was a creature, a created one, and not the Creator.  For many years people have justified the exploitation of nature based on the verse in Genesis about God giving humans dominion over creation.  This is a gross abuse of Scripture.  If there is dominion it must be responsible use of nature, not the exploitation that pollutes the air and that prevents the poor from having access to the goods that they need.  There is another strain in Scripture that needs to balance this dominion concept, one that is found in the Book of Wisdom, in several of the psalms as well as in the Canticle of the 3 youths in the Book of Daniel,  In this places God is praised for all aspects of creation and for making us part of it.

   Some are objecting to Pope Francis' embracing of climate change. Perhaps you disagree with him. I do not. Keep in mind that the Vatican has a team of wonderful scientists who keep abreast of just about any scientific developments from astronomy to physics, genetics and many other things.  Maybe the fact that they are not affected by big economic interests in stating their position is the reason why they are correct.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Midweek on the Honduras Mission

 Due to heavy rains the day was limited.  Our visit to the orphanage was canceled.  We did have a wonderful re-dedication of the Church in Last Crucitas. Pictures are below.



Wednesday, June 10, 2015

More Action in Honduras

Many of you may not be aware that our mission has several sites.  Fortunately Scott Pursley, one of the missionaries, sends me pictures from different sites.  Also, you may remember yesterday's picture of the washed up road.  Later in the day our team from Santa Fe got stuck because of heavy rains.Fortunately they were eventually able to cross the waters and get back home safely. Later today we will be blessing a refurbished Church and visiting the Finca De Los Ninos orphange, celebrating Mass there.

Once again let the pictures tell the story.

People lining up at Carney clinic

Testing blood sugar.  Diabetes is rampant here

Wonderful Honduran children with one of our school team members

Working with children is an important part of the mission

Scott and some local "delegados"

Praying at Los Leones clinic with waiting patients

Mother with child getting help

Encuentro Mass

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

A Great Day in Santa Fe

Getting Ready for the Encuentro
 After overcoming the obstacles on the road we had a great day in Santa Fe
Missionaries at the clinic in Santa Fe

Taking Blood Pressure

A Selfie at the new pier in Santa FE

Moving Out and Moving Ahead Cautiosly