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.

Moving Out and Moving Ahead Cautiosly