Tuesday, December 12, 2017

El Salvador, Part IV--Visiting a truly Holy Place.

At the Romero Shrine

Portrait of Archbishop Romero

Archbishop Romero's blood-stained vestment
Our final day in El Salvador was one of the most moving experiences of my life.  On the way to the airport and our journey back to the US we stopped in San Salvador at the shrine dedicated to Archbishop Oscar Romero who was martyred in 1980 because of his speaking out on behalf of the poor of his country. His simple apartment on the grounds of a hospital is no a shrine.  Walking through there was a palpable sense of being in a holy place.

   After that visit we went into the chapel to celebrate the Eucharist together with the Unbound community from that city. We were It was in this chapel that he was murdered while saying Mass.  I was the presider at the Mass and the knowledge of what happened at the altar where I was celebrating the Mass filled me with emotions that are hard to describe. I will let the pictures and the video of my homily (In Spanish and English) tell the rest of the story

In front of the altar flags of Unbound countries and pictures of Unbound founders.

Franciscan Sisters provided the music

At the Consecration

El Salvador, Part III--A Trip into the mountains and a Visit with Scholars

Beautiful mountain scenery

  It was Sunday. We needed to celebrate the Eucharist. There were several churches nearby in Santa Ana, but we drove for 90 minutes over winding dirt roads and beautiful scenery. It was wonderful because it gave us a sense of the beauty of this wonderful country. There were several small farms and not a few sheep, goats cattle and other animals.

   At the end of our journey was the town of Los Apoyos where the Unbound community warmly greeted us.  I must say that the greetings we received throughout this trip were truly humbling.  The people so deeply appreciate what sponsorship is doing for them.
Passing men riding on horseback

 After the Mass we were treated to a wonderful display of El Salvadoran culture, a display that showed us the richness of what sponsorship does. Sponsored children, elders and their families by developing their talents grow in confidence and with that with hope for the possibilities that await them in the future.

   On the way back to Santa Ana we visited the beautiful cathedral there and shared a great dinner at a local restaurant.


Mass at Los Apoyos

Entrance into the Church
Fr. Jerry Frank preaching the homily
The Santa Ana Cathedral

   On Monday morning we stayed at the center and several of the Unbound sponsored teenagers and scholarship students came to pray and share with us.  Once again it was a deeply moving experience not only because of their presentations but especially because of the informal chats we had while sharing breakfast with them.  For those unfamiliar with Unbound it is good to know that as sponsored children reach the later years of their education they can apply for scholarships.  Their stories showed that Unbound really does see possibility and not poverty when dealing with people. They desired to be doctors, teachers, social workers, lawyers, and one of them an electrical engineer. Although I am certain that when they attain their goals they will have material success, not one of them mentioned that.  They all spoke of how they hoped to be of service to the people of their country

Friday, December 8, 2017

Unbound in El Salvador, Part II--The Elders and a Christmas Party

Ready to hit the road on Day 2
   After a busy and very moving first day I didn't know what to expect on Day 2 of this trip as we prepared to visit sponsored elders in the Santa Ana area.  The day began with prayer which was lead by a beautiful 88 year old woman who was barely 4 feet tall.  Her energy and enthusiasm inspired and energized us as did the stories of some of the other elders who attended.  Being an elder myself (73 years old) I became filled with gratitude for what we have here in the US. For one thing there is no social security or anything like it in El Salvador and in most of the other countries where Unbound is present, nor is there anything like Medicaid.a s a result the elderly, especially if there are no family members nearby to help, are in a difficult position.

Fr. Marty Holler with sponsored elders

   After breakfast we were split into two groups and visited gatherings of elders. As was the case with the sponsored children and parents community is a vital part of Unbound. Elders groups meet monthly to share experiences and encourage one another. They also receive benefits differently than the children as each month a different benefit is given.  At this gathering new shoes for all, dresses for the women and pants and shirts for the men were given.  At other time medical check-ups, medicines or a recreational experience may be the benefit.  Some may think that recreation is rather superfluous as a benefit but most of these fine folks don't really get a chance to do simple things like going to a beach.  As was the case with the mothers groups there was much singing and some serious prayer as well as a well-prepared hot breakfast.

Entering the home of an elder woman
 In the afternoon in three different groups we visited the homes of some of the elders. In my case a few of us visited a woman who lived in a very poor home and was so appreciative of being sponsored.  She told us that sponsorship saved her life because it provided her with needed medicine. She did have a son and a neighbor who looked after her.  In spite of the simple condition of her home with a dirt floor the home was filled with love and again with gratitude and hope.

  After two days of heading out for visits our next day kept us home at the Unbound center for a Christmas party for some of the Unbound communities in the Santa Ana area.

Inside the Unbound property
 At this celebration we were again warmly greeted by Unbound families. Gifts were exchanged among them and given to us as well (a nice bag of fresh ground robust El Salvadoran coffee) .  There were several wonderful song and dance presentations reflecting both traditional folk lore and modern music and dance as well.  That is another aspect of Unbound. The sponsored children and teens are encouraged to develop their various talents and learn more about their culture. And just as it would be here at home Santa made an appearance.  The morning ended with a fine lunch

Lunch at the Christmas Party
Each colored ball had an expression of gratitude on it

Gathering for the entertainment

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Unbound in El Salvador--A Special Journey

      Just last night I returned from a wonderful trip to El Salvador with Unbound. Many of you know that I have done quite a bit or preaching for this wonderful organization.  Unbound really backs us priests who preach for them and desires that we experience the workings of their program first-hand, and what an experience it was.  One blog entry cannot do justice to the experience that I had so there will be several of them in the days ahead.

   Though I have presented Unbound on this blog before I will again describe it for those who missed previous entries.  The program sponsors children and elders in 18 countries around the world.  At his point there are over 333,000 people being sponsored and the number is still growing.  We preachers go to parishes and seek out people who are willing to sponsor. For more information you can go to Unbound.  Perhaps after exploring that link you might be willing to sponsor.

Parishioners at St. Matthew's, Tyrone, GA choosing people to sponsor
   Before going to El Salvador I had visited Unbound headquarters in Kansas City and had the program explained to me.  Having traveled to the Unbound center in Santa Ana, El Salvador the explanations came alive.  The entries on this blog will tray to present various aspects of the work of this great organization as I experienced them each day.

(Note: As a matter of policy Unbound does not allow pictures of sponsored members and families to be shared on social media so any pictures here will be of places, or be taken from behind the groups of people).
Being greeted by a group of mothers of sponsored children near Santa Ana

   On our first full day in Santa Ana we experienced Unbound sponsored children and the groups of mothers of these children who make it all happen. At morning prayer the mother of a five year old sponsored child spoke to us about what sponsorship meant.  She talked about being able to buy shoes and clothing, etc, but most of all  she shared deep gratitude and a sense of hope for the future of this boy and all of her children. There was not a dry eye among us.

Walking to the home of a sponsored child
   Later in the morning we split into two groups to visit two of the mother's groups.  Community is a big part of the Unbound experience.  As my group arrived at one gathering we were greeted like heroes with clapping and singing.  It was a moving, emotional experience.
   Mothers meet together and support one another. They help each mother decide how the sponsorship funds will be used for her child.  Unbound really believes that these mothers, and not some higher ups, know best what their child needs.  In addition to gratitude and hope several mothers thanked us for trusting them.

   In the afternoon we were split up even more and visited the homes of sponsored children.  In my case together with Fr. Tim Coday from Unbound headquarters, the visit was to the home of a girl and her family. The girl had just graduated from ninth grade and told us how it would not have been possible without Unbound.  She told us as well that she not only wanted to complete high school, but to go on to a University.  For a girl in El Salvador this is rarefied air.  She had hopes of applying for an Unbound scholarship to help with her goal. (More on that in a later blog entry).  Besides having her goals of achievement she, like just about every teenager that we met, sought to work in the future in some sort of service related job in their own country.

   I know that some who read this are asking "Where are the fathers?"  Good question.  Many of the fathers work long hours and cannot attend meetings, though some join in with the mothers groups. Others may have abandoned the family feeling shame about unemployment which is a big problem in El Salvador and elsewhere.  Besides this it is only a few years since the end of a bloody civil was that took the lives of countless thousands of men.  While there are many good fathers and husbands it is the mothers who are on the front line, and they do a great job.

Meeting up at San Salvador airport
Walking to make a home visit
Man selling fruit in the middle of heavy traffic
Stopping for a tasty El Salvadoran meal on the trip from the airport


Monday, November 6, 2017

Enough!!! But What to do?

   I am practically speechless after another mass murder, this time in a Church.  What are we to do?  The answer to that question cannot be a simplistic one size fits all thing and if anyone else says, "Our thoughts and prayers go out to them, " I will scream.

   Of course I do pray every time that these horrors happen and prayer is important, but if it does not lead to action it is in vain.

   What actions?  For one thing some level of gun  control and please stop quoting the second amendment.  That misses the point.   Without repealing that amendment limits can be placed on the sale of various weapons.  Shame on the NRA for not realizing that. And please, enough of "guns don't kill, people do"   That is true as far as it goes but it's more difficult to kill scores of people with a knife of some other weapon.

   But let's not be simplistic. Gun control laws alone are only part of the fix.  There is a mental health issue as well.  All too many of these murderers have had serious mental health issues. There is no perfect screening system but we can do better. 

  Deep down, however,  the issue is a spiritual problem that won't be fixed be just saying prayers.  As a country we need to face the level of anger that is about, anger that is expressed not only in shootings but in hate speech, racism and all sorts of phobias around different types of people.  We need to look inside ourselves and ask God to help us heal the deep-seated anger that is in many of us.  We most certainly can and will have disagreements about politics and religion.  This is part of the greatness of America, but we need to learn anew how to disagree without being hateful. Most Americans will never commit an act of gun violence or any other type of violence but I have seen frequent examples of people shouting each other down over all kinds of things.

  We in the clergy of all faiths need to address this in our preaching.  We also need to speak out against a distorted expression of Christianity that puts guns, the Bible and the flag all together.

  I write these words not as a liberal or as a conservative, but as a Catholic Christian. I also have no illusion that these words will solve anything, but hopefully they point us in a direction


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

In times of Crisis--Various Thoughts

   It's been a month since I last posted.  I don't have one topic to write about, but rather some thoughts about several things.

   1. Over the past few weeks any number of natural disasters have struck our country and several other nations around the world.  The question arises as to what we as believers are to make of all this.  Let me say right off the bat that the loving God that I believe in does not send tribulation to millions of innocent people because of being upset with the actions of some people. That is preposterous.  What I do believe is that these events tell us that we are not in charge.  We are not the masters of the universe in spite of the many advances made by science and technology.  They also lead us to reflect on what is really important.  How many people have I seen recently and in past tragedies say something like "We lost our home and all of our belongings, but we have each other."  Folks who did lose loved ones make statements of faith that God will strengthen them and help them to get through everything."  I could go on but you get the idea. 
   I would add this as well. We need to take a serious look at the issue of climate change and avoid either politically motivated denial of the subject or the simplistic offering of it for everything that has gone one.  Can we ask, "What is the scientific data telling us?"  "Is there human contribution or is it merely cyclic?"  And most importantly, "What, if anything, can we do?"  Try to make the answer scientific and moral, but not political.  I personally think that both sides of the political spectrum skew the issue.

   2.  Speaking of disasters the issue of North Korea is alarming.  That nation is led by a mad man whose people are starving.  There is no doubt that he must be dealt with, and strongly.  That having been said I refer you to the following words from Gaudiom et Spes, Vatican II's Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.  Section 20 of that wonderful document states:

      "Any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities or of extensive areas
       along with their population is a crime against God and man himself. It merits unequivocal and
       unhesitating condemnation."

I will add no comment to those words, but especially for those of you who are Catholic that is the official teaching of our Church.

   3.  On DACA.  I can only hope that Congress can pass a bi-partisan bill protecting those who came here as children.  Whatever you may think of immigration reform on a wider scale to me it is unconscionable to think of sending these people, many of whom are successful young adults making contributions to our country, back to countries they never really knew. The only country they have ever known is our country. Furthermore I state this as a moral issue for us Christians and not just as a political one.

    Well, there you have it, may thoughts on recent goings-on.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Mary's Assumption--What Does It Have to Do with Us? With Everyday Life?

The other day I told a man who invited me to dinner last night that I could not accept because I had a Mass.  "Why?" he asked. I reminded him that it was the Feast of the Assumption.  He then went into a minor rant basically saying that such beliefs are interesting, but irrelevant, in light of all that is going on in the world.

  His objection may be somewhat understandable given the fact that he, like many, don't understand the implications of believing that upon her death Mary was immediately taken body and soul into the glory of eternal life.

   The Church presents Mary, in her sinlessness (Immaculate Conception) and in her death (Assumption)as a model for God's promise to all of humanity, a promise not just of a spiritual eternity with God, but one which holds out the promise of a bodily resurrection, in the fullness of time, for all of us.

   So, why is this significant?  In a world which is seeing so much violence, killing and suffering God's promise is that this will be overcome, that bodies are not just cast off so that we can live some sort of ethereal life in eternity.  The implications of this belief, however, extend not only to our time after death, but to this life as well.  One of the great errors present in Christian history is the dismissal of the body.   We forget that the Word became flesh.  As a result of this we have tended to have a skewed understanding of sexuality, continually bouncing from hedonism to puritanism. We talk of saving our souls forgetting that not only the body but the entire created order is the subject of the redemption that Jesus brings.

    This is why we care for the sick, why we respect the whole human person, body and soul.  It is why we stand against racism which says that the color of some bodies makes them superior to others.
It is interesting to note as well that in the Gospel for the Feast Luke has Mary proclaiming the beautiful prayer, the Magnificat ( See the image above). After she thanks God for what has been done to her.  She proclaims that the hungry will be fed and the lowly will be raised up.

  An interesting historical fact.  When Pius XII declared this belief as a dogma in 1950 he did so with the horrible suffering of two world wars and the holocaust in mind, top hold out hope for humanity.

   If that message is not relevant for today, what is?

PS. It was on this day in 1964 that I took my first vows as a Franciscan

Friday, July 28, 2017

Jesus Withdraws and Prays--Me Too

“Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went and departed to a solitary place, and there He prayed.” (Mk. 1:35) 
   A close reading of the Gospels shows us that there were several occasions during Jesus" ministry where he withdrew and prayed.  Often it was the demands of ministry, after preaching and working several miracles.  Other times it was because he was not ready to fully take on opponents like the Pharisees. (Of course, He often did take them on.) Other times it was to pray for direction and strength.

   If Jesus had to withdraw and pray why not you and me?

   I have just completed a very busy and rewarding time of preaching sandwiched around a wonderful but busy vacation with friars and with my family.  I am also at a loss for what to say about the goings on in our nation.  As I headed back from a preaching engagement for Unbound in Chicago last weekend I realized that I needed to withdraw and pray and reflect.

   Most of you know that I am active on social media, especially Facebook.  One good friend of many years, noting my active schedule,  has several times complemented me for my boundless energy.  Indeed the Lord has blessed me, at the ripe old age of 72, with a great deal of energy and strength.  For this I am grateful, but the supply of energy is not infinite, thus the need to slow down.  Also, as mentioned above, I am concerned about the direction of our nation, not only as regards what can only be called a circus in Washington, but also the many inanities that I observe happening in the general population.  I often feel compelled to make statements on this blog or in the aforementioned media, but find myself at a loss for words.  I get tempted to join in the angry rants but realize that this is foolishness.

   Fortunately, by the grace of God, I was scheduled for some minor surgery yesterday, the removal of a large cyst from my upper back.  The procedure went very smoothly, but the followup requires some slowing down.  I see this as a call to prayer and reflection.  I have a light ministry schedule this month, several weekend engagements but much time at home here at the friary.  I hope to follow the Lord's example and withdraw from the frey a bit to pray and reflect.  This does not by any means suggest that I don't care about what's going on, rather that I need to reflect more on how to move forward. 

   In our overactive and over-stimulated culture withdrawing to pray is often the best thing that we can do--for ourselves, and for those we love and serve.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Unbound--Working together to Set Others Free--Thoughts on Independence Day

    Regular readers of this blog know that since last October I have been occasionally preaching for a wonderful organization called Unbound.  Unbound was established in 1981 by a group of lay Catholics in Kansas City.  The preaching is to seek out people who are willing to sponsor children, students and needy elders in various poor countries.  I came across this great organization last summer and hope to continue preaching for them in addition to my ministry of preaching missions and retreats.

   As we celebrated July 4th yesterday, a day to celebrate our freedom as Americans, I realized that there is a dimension to freedom that is part of Unbound that is often missing in our American discussions about freedom.

  When I write on this blog I usually go to Google to seek out appropriate images for my theme.  99% of the time I am immediately successful.  This time when I sought images for freedom I got images such as the one at the top left of this page. They depict individuals being and feeling free.  Something is missing there.  While there is nothing wrong with individuals gaining freedom and feeling free I realized that there is something more to the pursuit of freedom, the dimension of community, of working together for freedom and of helping others to truly be set free.

    Unbound takes its name from Luke 11:44.  After calling Lazarus forth from the tomb Jesus says to the gathered crowd, "Unbind him and set him free."  In the part leading up to that Jesus has ordered them to "role away the stone".  The point here is that the liberation from death and the tomb comes from Jesus, but others in the community obey Him to help bring about Lazarus' ultimate freedom. 

  The work of Unbound has already helped or is helping over 330,000  people to be set free from poverty. When I preach for them I seek sponsors.  The funds raised go to local communities in the various countries.  They, in turn, work with the sponsored people and their families.  it is a community effort.

   Our American culture has become very individualistic.  Freedom is about "my rights.While there is nothing wrong with insisting on "my rights" the danger is that my rights and those of others often conflict.  We all quote the Constitution to prove our point, and the beat goes on.

   If we can only  realize that the rights of all are best realized when we seek the "common good" and not just "my rights", that sometimes instead of looking only to "my freedom" we can work together to "unbind and set free" someone else would there be the real freedom that we seek.  I believe that when our country has been at its best we have done this.

  Maybe the image for freedom, instead of being the individual leaping for joy, could be something like the picture below.

Also, please consider being an Unbound sponsor.  See Unbound.org/MyOutreach/FrJohnAnglinOFM





Thursday, June 8, 2017

A Gospel Vision--Nearing the End of Our Chapter.

  I am sitting here at Siena College on the final full day of our Provincial Chapter.  It has been a wonderful week for several reasons.  For one thing just to renew acquaintance with friars that I have not seen for a while is a blessing, as well as getting to better know other friars, especially the younger ones.

  Chapters are also for electing leadership and we will complete the process this morning of electing our provincial council.  I think that our nation could learn something by observing how religious orders do elections.  Yes, we are human and there is a level of "politicking" at times, but when the moment comes to pass out ballots and vote there is a sense of solemnity, silence and prayer-fullness about the matter.  Did you ever stop and pray as you cast your ballot in local and national elections?  Something to think about.

  As I mentioned in my last blog post a chapter is primarily about renewing our commitment to our religious life, in my case the Franciscan life.  That is the real blessing of the past week. I came to that realization over the past few days as we discussed our stance towards refugees and immigrants and towards health care as it applies to our elder friars.  As we discussed these issues I realized that terms like liberal and conservative do not apply.  I suppose that our stance on immigration and sanctuary for refugees could be called "liberal" and our belief in the dignity of every person as they age and move towards natural death could be called "conservative".  The truth, however, is that for us the only label that applies is "Gospel."  There are certain things that living the Gospel calls us to that just do not fit into convenient political categories.

   I have been dismayed at times, and especially recently, when posting something on Facebook and well meaning people immediately frame it in political terms.  Please know that whatever positions I take on this blog or on social media are based on my conviction (right or wrong) that these things are part of living the Gospel.
   At times living the Gospel sounds like "pie in the sky".  It would be if we did not have the Christian virtue of hope which calls us beyond our present reality because the Lord is risen and ascended and gone to prepare a place for us.  To live the Gospel is to call us now, on this earth, into the realization of the Kingdom that is yet to come.  God's reign, in its fullness, will come in the future, but God's Kingdom is among us, even now, where there is justice, peace and forgiveness.

   Think about that--PLEASE!!!



Saturday, June 3, 2017

Heading for Our Provincial Chapter--Prayers Please.

Friars gather for Eucharist during the 2014 Chapter of Holy Name Province
 Tomorrow, Pentecost Sunday, I will be heading north to Siena College in Loudonville, NY to participate in our provincial chapter.  Many readers of this blog might wonder, "What is a chapter if not a section of a book?"

   In religious life a chapter is a gathering of the members of the community, a gathering which has several purposes.  The primary one is to deepen our commitment  to our way of life.  In my case that is the Franciscan life.  The chapter is also a time for electing new leadership.  This year our provincial and vicar provincial are in the middle of a sex year term.  There are six councilors who work with them and they will be elected this week, some of them re-elected, others new to the job.  The chapter also makes important decisions regarding our life, some of them in the form of specific laws and statutes, others as more broad policy statements.  In addition in recent years our chapters have also taken stands on various issues affecting our society, particularly when they involve values that are dear to us as Franciscans.

   The chapter I will be attending is for my province, Holy Name Province.   There are also general chapters for the whole order as well as local friary chapters.  The chapter is the highest governing body of the order and the province.  This means that superiors must abide by chapter decisions.  In our province, at the present time, every solemnly professed (final vows) member must attend.  Those over 70 may be excused.  I am 72, but still gladly attending.  At one time only superiors and specifically elected delegates attended.  Smaller numbers enable all of us to do so.

   I am looking forward to participating in this years chapter.  A big topic of discussion will be what we call reconfiguration and revitalization as we move towards not only having fewer provinces in the US, but also striving to living our Franciscan life more deeply and authentically.

   I hop that this glimpse into our Franciscan life is informative for you.  More importantly I ask your prayers for us that as we gather at Pentecost the Holy Spirit will indeed inspire all of us as we gather in chapter.

Veni Sancte Spiritus--Come Holy Spirit


Thursday, May 11, 2017

If you Love Me, Keep My Commandments

 We all know Jesus basic commandment--Love one another as I have loved you. (See John 15:12).  That sounds wonderful but when we reflect more deeply on those words we realize that they are very challenging words because He loved us by laying down His life for us.  Christian love then is not about holding hands and singing kumbaya, not that there is anything wrong with that, it is about sacrificing for one another, giving generously in every way to one another.  Our love can take many forms--love of spouse, of parents, of children, of brothers and sisters, of friends. For myself it is the love between myself and the other friars, the love I give and receive with God's people. However, no matter what form love takes it seems to me that it evokes 2 things from those who are loved--to spend time together and to strive, to sacrifice to please the one who loves me.

   Knowing that the Lord loves us calls us to these two things--to spend time with Him and to do the things that please Him.   As for the first, spending time with Him, that is our life of prayer and I will tackle that soon in another blog post.  For now I would like to concentrate on the second part--doing the things that please Him.  And what pleases Him?  He tells us directly. "If you love me, keep my commandments." (John 14:15)

    A quick response to this invitation would be to go to the ten commandments.  Aren't those Jesus' commandments?   Certainly the Lord wants us to follow those, but He gives us a few others.  The 10 commandments tell us what not to do--commit idolatry, steal, lie, cheat, kill, commit adultery.  Fine, of course we ought not do those things.   But what about "love your enemies, and pray for your persecutors"? Or, "Forgive seventy times seven times"?  And then there is Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick and visit the imprisoned (all implies in Matthew 25) Finally there are the beatitudes which while not exactly commandments tell us that we are blessed when we are poor in spirit, pure of heart or peacemakers. Then there is the most challenging of all--to take up the cross every day and follow Him (also a subject to be explored soon).

   I think you get the idea.  Without living out these challenging demands of the Gospel we reduce Christianity to a moral code.  We focus only on personal sin, especially sexual sin, and fail to truly live the Gospel.  Don't get me wrong. I am not saying that basic morality is not important.  What I am saying is that real Christian discipleship is so much more.

   Do you love Him?  Do you keep HIS commandments?


Sunday, April 16, 2017

He is Risen. The victory is won!

  It is a beautiful Easter morning here in St. Petersburg.  I have spent a wonderful Holy Week here at our friary and am looking forward to our Easter morning Mass in a bit over an hour from now.

   He is Risen!  that is the Good News of Easter.  Think of that. It is in the present tense.  Our faith is not only that He rose from the dead, but that He is risen and lives now, not only in heaven, but here among us.  How?  For starters in the Eucharist.  Unfortunately a lot of people stop there.  The Eucharist is indeed the most concrete, visible and tangible was that He is alive among us, but not the only way.  In Matthew's Gospel Jesus tells us "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (Mt. 18:20)  Think of that. Not only in church, but when we pray at home or anywhere else He is with us.  Then, of course, is Matthew 25 "I was hungry and you fed me, naked and you clothed me, etc." There is likewise a real presence of the Lord among us in the Word.  When we read the Scriptures either as a community or privately the One Who is the Living Word comes to dwell in our hearts.  Life, then, is indeed alive with the presence of the Risen Christ.

   Our problem, very often, is that we are not aware of this.  Our spiritual vision needs to improve.  It is so easy to get weighed down by all the horrible things going on in the world.  How do we keep the awareness of His presence alive? I return again to the Eucharist.  Sometimes we stress the presence of Jesus there so strongly that we act as if that is the only way in which we encounter the Risen One.  The Eucharistic presence is not the only way.   In the Eucharist we can connect the dots to these other, perhaps more subtle forms of His presence among us.  In Luke's Gospel we have one of my favorite Resurrection accounts, that of Jesus on the road to Emmaus. (Lk. 24:13-35).  Two distraught disciples are in Jesus' presence but they don't  recognize Him.  In the breaking of the bread (Eucharist) they not only see him, but they realize that He is the One who was with them earlier in their brokenness.  For us it is in the Eucharist that our eyes are opened, not only to see Him while at Mass, but to realize how wonderfully present He is throughout our lives.

   One last, but important, thought.   At Easter we proclaim that Christ has won a victory over sin and death.  It is certainly easy to look at the condition of the world today and say, "What victory?  Are you kidding me?"  I just finished reading a book by one of my favorite contemporary spiritual writers, Fr. Ronald Rolheiser, OMI. The book's title is The Passion and the Cross.  In one section of the book he explains something important in talking about the meaning of Redemption,  He explains that Jesus is not a rescuer.  He doesn't bail us out but rather allows us to go through pain and suffering only to discover something unimaginably wonderful on the other side.  On the cross the Father does not rescue Him. He is allowed to die.  That's what the two disciples mentioned above failed to see.  Incredibly He rose from the dead.

   As we confront suffering, sickness and death in our own lives and in the lives of our brothers and sisters around the world our faith teaches us that there will be redemption, that we will not usually be spared or rescued, but rather that we will be strengthened to go through these things not in some stoic grin and bear it mentality, but in true Christian Hope that something new awaits us on the other side, not only in the next life, but even now. 

   Christ is Risen! He is truly Risen!  Alleluia!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Would You Let Him Wash Your Feet?

  Several years ago a wonderful friend gave me the gift of a figurine depicting Jesus washing the feet of Peter.  It is on the top of my bookshelf along with some of my other religious objects.  I often look across my room and meditate on the meaning of this action performed by Jesus at the Last Supper  This is especially true during Holy Week.

   There is one moment in the telling of this story that often gets overlooked.  As Jesus approaches him, ready to wash his feet, Peter refuses.  Jesus responds by telling him, "Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me." (John 13,8)  Jesus, of course, does was his feet.

   What are we to learn from Peter's refusal?  There are lessons on several levels.

   We live in a society that overvalues self-sufficiency.  We tend to feel weak if we let someone help us.  While this applies to all of us it is especially true of men.  We need to be able to do it all, or so we think.  What we fail to appreciate is the difference between taking and receiving.  Taking from others is to assume power and control over them.  It leads to an attitude of entitlement.  Receiving is to take a position of humility.  It is to acknowledge and be grateful for a gift that is being offered.  Peter is initially practicing false humility.  He doesn't want to allow his Teacher and Master to perform such a menial task.  Jesus is offering a gift, a gift of love, which Peter receives.

   On a deeper level we need to understand the gift that is being offered.   Washing feel is a task that even slaves could refuse to do under Roman law.  When we re-enact the washing of feet in our parishes I am sure that all of the volunteers make sure that their feet are clean.  In Jesus' time people walked barefoot or in sandals.  Few people had boots and shoes.  With sharing the roadways with animals, and most roadways being made of dirt, you can imagine what a chore it wast o wash feet.

   This gesture by Jesus is what Pope Benedict XVI, in volume II of his Jesus of Nazareth trilogy calls a Sacramentum of Jesus' Passion and Death.  By this he does not mean that washing of the feet is an eight sacrament, but rather that it is a ritual playing out of what would happen to Jesus the next day.  In His Passion and Death Jesus is pouring out His love for all humanity.  He is stooping down to an entering the darkness and filth that is our sin and our suffering in order that all of that might be forgiven and healed.  That is what the dirt and filth on the muddied feet of the apostles represents.

    For us the challenge is to allow ourselves to receive this gift of total love from Jesus.  It is to admit at the same time that there is darkness within us and that we need this precious gift.

   Are we willing to let Him wash our feet?  At the end Jesus reminds us that we must do as He did. We cannot do that well if we are not first willing to receive from Him.


Monday, March 20, 2017

From Sinner and Outsider to Missionary--Accompanied by Jesus

  Pope Francis often urges us priests to accompany people who are in sinful or strained relationships with the Church.  This frightens a lot of tradition minded folks because it sounds like just giving in and going along with whatever anyone is doing.

   Nothing could be farther from the truth.

   In the Gospel reading for the third Sunday in Lent this year (March 19) we find the beautiful story of Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:5-32).  In this story Jesus offers Himself as a beautiful example of what it means to "accompany".

   Jesus takes the initiative.  He breaks social taboo to speak with her and ask her for a drink of water.  This was forbidden on several levels.  First of all Jews did not speak with Samaritans.  Secondly she was a woman.  Men and women to whom they were not married had to keep a respectful distance in public. Jesus, however, breaks both of these taboos.  Also, in asking her for a drink of water He is showing a willingness to receive from her before He offers her the great gift that He has to bring.  He doesn't lead this meeting with confrontation and judgement, but with compassion and  desire to listen. Only after establishing a connection with her does He tell her "to go and get her husband".  When  He finally tells her that she has five husbands she responds with amazement.  She tells her Samaritan friends, "He told me everything I ever did."

   I often wonder why she didn't tell Him to back off and mind His own business.  I think that there are two reasons why her reaction was differen:

   1.  She was thirsting.  She was in pain and looking for a way out of her difficult life.

   2.  More importantly Jesus spoke and gazed upon her with such love that she was able to hear and take to heart His challenging words.   Thus, she was set free and became a "missionary", carrying the Good News to her friends and neighbors.

    When we accompany people we are not condoning their bad behavior but rather meeting them where they are at, listening to them, compassionately responding to their pain and then leading them to the truth.  Leading with statements of rules, etc often drives people away.

    As for ourselves, for what do we thirst?  Are we open to the compassionate and yet challenging voice of Jesus?


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Ashes for Elders--An Ash Wednesday Reflection

    I live in a friary intended mainly for elder and retired friars.  I am not retired myself and I am one of the young guys in my community, but I am certainly closer to the end of my life than to the beginning.  I found myself asking the question, "So what does Lent mean after all these years.  How can people who are getting along in years observe this special season?"  Needless to say, like everyone else, we are supposed to turn to prayer, almsgiving and fasting. I would like to suggest thought that there is a particular framework that might be helpful for those of us who have lived through sixty, seventy, eighty or more Lenten seasons.

   The traditional formula for the imposition of ashes is the one in the upper left hand corner at the beginning of this article.  I recent years we have also been able to use the words "Repent, and believe in the Gospel."  Both formulas are fine and in my younger years I preferred the newer one.  Recently, however, I have reverted to the older one.  Why?  There is the awareness that I, as well as other folks of my generation, are inching closer to "returning to dust."  I believe that this awareness should shape our Lenten practice.

   Some might think this too gloomy and depressing a thought.  Remember, as we move towards death we are preparing to give ourselves into the hands of a loving and merciful God. We should approach this reality with hope, rather than with dread.

   Besides meeting the obvious challenge of overcoming what is sinful inn our lives, I think that Lent is a good time at our age to let go of excess baggage.  Perhaps things that served us well years ago, be they material things or ideas, attitudes and dispositions. need to be cast aside.  We can be trapped into a "we've always done it this way" mentality.  Maybe with the diminish of our bodies, with less energy, we have to learn to do many things differently, including prayer.

   It's amazing how many of us carry anger and resentment towards people and situations that are long past. During Lent we can ask the Lord to set us free from these things as well as negative attitudes and cynicism.

   Whatever our age Lent is not just about giving up things.  It can be a time of new freedom, of doing things that we always wanted to do but did not have time for.  As I go around preaching I am always impressed by the number of seniors who attend daily Mass and who give more time to prayer.  Others with the energy to do so give more time over to service of others.  Maybe one might be inspired to develop talents that you just didn't have time for at an earlier age.  Naturally as we embrace this new freedom the decisions we make can take us well beyond Lent.

   It is difficult to face the reality of decline.  Denial can be a big problem as we grow older.  We like to stay in control and be able to do the things we always did.  It is hard to admit that "I am getting older and can't see, hear and move about like I used to.  Lent can be a time of asking the Lord to help us accept that.  If we do that we will be doing a great service to those who care for us.

   One final Lenten practice could be growing in the ability to graciously receive help.  As Americans and as Christians we were trained to give.  That is good.  We don't want to be takers or fall into a habit of entitlement,  Receiving is not entitlement.  It is humbly receiving as gift what others are willing to do for us. It is admitting that we at time need help rather than stubbornly insisting that we can still do things that we are no longer capable of. I am moved by the fact that many of the men where I live need help getting around, and so graciously receive the offer to assist them. I know that when I have to give up my car keys to the superior for my sake and the sake of others on the road, that will be a challenging moment.

Remember, you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.  That's OK. That's good news.


Sunday, February 19, 2017

A Challenge for Christians

Before entering into the current article I would like to point out an error, a typo, in my last blog entry. it has been corrected. The first line should say 2007, not 2017.  Some of you thought that I was currently suffering from cancer. Thankfully that is 10 years in  the past. 

G.K. Chesterton in his book What's Wrong with the World? made the statement, "Christianity has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and not tried."

I thought of these words when I reflected on today's Gospel passage from Matthew 5:38-48.  This is the section where we are told things like "turn the other cheek", and "love your enemies and pray for your persecutors."  When is the last time that you or I tried out those practices?  In so many ways Chesterton was right.  Yes, there have been shining examples to the contrary.  I think of St. Francis of Assisi, among others, who truly lived the Gospel, but the great majority of us have a long way to go.

   Today's Gospel text is part of the Sermon on the Mount which is given in the entire fifth chapter of Matthew.  It begins with the beatitudes and continues on with an invitation to a radically different way of living.  Today's verses are not instructing us, by the way, to let people walk all over us.  When properly understood they are an invitation to non-violent opposition to evil.  They are ways of shaming an opponent.  There is an marshal art called aikido. As Bishop Robert Barron explains in his meditation on today's Gospel, "The idea of aikido is to absorb the aggressive energy of your opponent, moving with it, continually frustrating him until he comes to the point of realizing that fighting is useless."  A good example of this is in Jesus exhortation to walk two miles if someone asks you to walk one with him (or her).  In Roman law one was required, under certain circumstances to accompany someone for one mile, perhaps to help carry a heavy load.  By going beyond that the other person would start to think, "What's this guy up to?", and get frustrated.

   Perhaps something we can all practice right away is the invitation to "love our enemies and pray for our persecutors."  These days I see on social media so much hatred from both the left and right side of the political and ecclesiastical spectrum.  To love our enemies, both personal ones and members of other religions, nations and groups, does not been to agree with them or to put up with evil attacks on us. It does mean that we understand that every human being is worthy of dignity and respect.  In praying for them we may not pray that their attacks succeed, but perhaps pray for the healing of the violence and anger that is in them.

    Lent is coming soon (March 1). Maybe for Lent we can pray for our enemies, big and small. Just maybe that will herald a deeper transformation in us.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

A 10 Year Old Gift--A Confession and a Thanksgiving

  On January 18, 2007 I was treated with  radioactive seed implants for prostate cancer.  Prior to that I had had 5 weeks of beam radiation as well as several medications as part of that treatment.  I am not unique in having successfully undergone such treatments.  They were not particularly harsh and I know others who have received much more difficult treatments for different cancers.  That having been said this article is not about comparing the harshness of my treatments with those of others, it is rather about saying that I am grateful to God and to many people for being alive today.

   In subtle, but profound ways my life changed when I received the call telling me that I had cancer. That news lead me to several life-changing awarenesses.

   First of all it made me face my own mortality.  The fact that I, as well as every human being, is going to die some day, is not news.  It is, however, a fact, a truth, that we run away from.  Yes, even those of us who believe in the next life, in sin, forgiveness, redemption and all the rest of the good news of the Gospel, tend to hide from this truth.  We don't deny it. We just don't pay a lot of attention to it.

   Sometimes people are faced with this reality at a young age and in a blunt and forceful way.  There are accidents, grave illnesses and tragedies.  Military people and first responders are asked to write out a will, confronting them with the truth of the risk they are taking out of love for our country.

   In my case the news that I had cancer was not a blunt, harsh confrontation with the possibility of death.  I knew that the success rate of prostate cancer treatment was high.  Nonetheless I was faced with the fact that something was growing in me that would kill me if I did not do something about it.
What a blessing. What freeing news.

   Freeing news, a blessing?  Yes, because it forced me to evaluate my life and decide what was really important.  Too much of my time was caught up in the trivial.  More importantly I was carrying way too much anger and resentment.  Yes, on the surface I was gentle and serene, but underneath there was a pot load of anger that I had carried for years. Realizing the shortness of life helped me to just let go of resentments that I could do nothing about.   Much of this anger was tied to loyalties to ideologies and led me to anger towards those who didn't see things my way.  I still have my opinions and preferences, but have them more in perspective.  I really think that one of our main problems today is not "those liberals"' "those conservatives", etc.  It is the anger that we carry towards one another.

  A more important part of the blessing has been the deepening of my prayer life, a movement towards a more contemplative style of prayer, a realization that prayer is ultimately about union with God and not an effort to get God to do things.

    Gratitude is another product of this blessing.  I am so grateful for the Doctors who treated me and for all of the nurses and technicians who were part of that process.  I also came to see how loved and supported I was by so many people who sent prayers and support my way.

   Finally this blessing has given focus to my life as a friar and to my ministry of preaching.  Living religious, fraternal life as a friar is not always easy, but I am so blessed to be part of a community of brothers that cares for me and that challenges me to care for them as I move into the latter years of my life.  My ministry, above all, amounts to letting people know that God loves them, and reaching out to the most vulnerable of people who need to be reassured of that.

   An old song has the line, "What a Wonderful Life".  I have been blessed with a wonderful life and hope to make the most of the years that I have left.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

On the Twelth Day

  The popular Christmas carol celebrating the 12 days of Christmas was originally a coded catachetical song in England in the days when Catholicism was banned there. Perhaps in another article I will spell out the meaning of the turtle doves, etc.  For now I would like to emphasize the fact that there are 12 days of Christmas, not just one, and for good reason.

  In Luke 2:19, after the shepherds visit the manger revealing what had been told to them, we are told that "Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart."  An older translation, which I prefer, tells us that Mary "pondered" these things in her heart. This experience of Mary makes us aware that the great mystery of the Incarnation is not something that can be celebrated quickly.  It has a richness of meaning that must be pondered by all of us.  And so, while the stores have put away the trees and other decorations and are already hanging up the hearts for Valentine's day we must ponder the great mystery that is being celebrated.

    I remember as a child that while our tree usually came down on New Year's Day because it was a real tree and therefore a fire hazard if it stayed up too long, the creche always stayed out until the Feast of the Epiphany was over on January 6.  Of course there was no deep theological reflection done at home but the various "shades" of Christmas, as I like to think of it, were acknowledged.  Everyone knew that the feast of Stephen that sent good king Wenceslaus out, was December 26, the day after Christmas.   On December 28 we heard the story of the Holy Innocents, and on January 6, even though it generally fell during the week and not on Sunday as is now the case, we heard the story of the Magi.

    We can add to the 12 days of Christmas the 4 weeks of Advent leading up to Christmas.  As we "ponder" during this time we look at a world that yearned and still does for the coming of the Lord.  We celebrate that the Lord deeply enters into humanity and most especially into the poverty, sinfulness and brokenness of the human condition, though without sin himself, and finally we see that His coming is for all as He is revealed to the Magi and adored by them.

   This only touches the surface of what we need to ponder.  Our world today likes so many things to be "one and done".  Christmas deserves more than that. 

Moving Out and Moving Ahead Cautiosly