Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Memorial Feast of St. Martha

“As they continued their journey he entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha burdened with much serving, came to him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.’ The Lord said to her in reply, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.’” (Luke 10:38-42, NAB)

I think Martha would be described as a “Type A” personality. Always rushing around, doing everything, getting the guest quarters ready, making sure that the refreshments are prepared, and served. She was the original “Martha Stewart” of her times. And it drove her crazy to see her sister Mary just sitting there, with all that was needed to be done. Mary, however, was being present to the Lord, receiving wisdom and grace.

We are all involved with things that need to be done; be it housework, on the job or in the marketplace. We can get so involved in activities that we can crowd out the voice of the Lord. We need to balance our lives, and to make time in our daily lives for prayer and contemplation. We need that space and quiet, to let the Lord in and speak to us.

St. Francis of Assisi, in his Rule of life for his friars, encourage those who had a skill or trade, to keep practicing them. But he let them know what the priorities are, “The friars to whom God has given the grace of working should work in a spirit of faith and devotion and avoid idleness, which is the enemy of the soul, without however extinguishing the spirit of prayer and devotion, to which every temporal consideration must be subordinate.” (The Rule of 1223, St. Francis of Assisi) This is wisdom that all of us can recognize and apply to our own lives.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Waiting and waiting!

I am currently in formation for the Permanent Diaconate. A while ago, I submitted my self-evaluation; my wife and I had an interview with the director of the formation program; and an interview with a deacon and his wife. Now comes the waiting for the Evaluation Board’s decision on whether I continue in the program or not. Days of checking my e-mail inbox, looking in our “snail” mailbox for a letter that is not there yet. And during this time of waiting, one’s mind can sometimes begin entertaining thoughts of self-doubt. “Should I have said this, instead of that?” “Was my performance the past year acceptable?” “Is this really the way God wants me to go?” “When am I going to hear from them?”

Amidst all this impatience and worry, my spiritual director shared something with me, to help me through this. It begins with something from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah:

“For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: By waiting and by calm you shall be saved, in quiet and in trust your strength lie. The Lord will give you the bread you need and the water for which you thirst. No longer will your Teacher hide himself, but with your own eyes you shall see your Teacher. While from behind, a voice shall sound in your ears: ‘This is the way; walk in it,’ when you would turn to the right or to the left.” (Isaiah 30: 15, 20-21)

If this way we walk, is truly the path God wishes us to follow, then a way through the obstacles will be found. We need to just to keep peace in our hearts, calm in our minds, and trust in the Lord.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

200th Anniversary of the Massachusetts Bible Society Revisited

I have written earlier about the Massachusetts Bible Society celebration of the 200th Anniversary of its founding. There are now some videos available of that evenings celebrations. The first is a link to the video of the ceremony that took place in the Massachusetts Senate Chamber. Following the ceremony, there was a dinner at the Parker House, with a menu that duplicated what was served at the founding dinner of the Society. Following the dinner was a talk by Dr. Margaret Bendroth, Executive Director of the Congregational Library of Boston. Her topic was the religious climate in 1809 Boston, the year the MBS was established. I hope you will enjoy these videos as much as I did.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Commitment to the Scriptures

“The Secular Franciscan, committed to following the example and teachings of Christ, must personally and assiduously study the Gospel and Sacred Scripture. “ (Art 9.2.a, General Constitutions of the Secular Franciscan Order)

In the America magazine website’s blog, The Good Word, there is an entry by John W. Marstens, on reading the Bible. In it, he expresses the concern that despite the increasing access people have to the Scriptures; through books, the Web, laptops, and Kindles; people are losing the ability to read well. We are now in a time when if an article, whether on paper or electronic, is longer than 400 to 800 words, the viewer begins to lose interest. There is still a growing illiteracy when it comes to the Bible; when people read aloud the Scriptures, some have trouble pronouncing the most common of words, breaking the flow of the reading.

Franciscans are committed to the Word of God, to reading, listening, meditating, and praying over it. As with Francis, we are called to live the teachings of Jesus Christ, make them come alive in our daily world. If we can do that, maybe we can inspire others to take up the Scriptures and read.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Feast of St. Mary Magdalene - July 22

“Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?’ She thought it was the gardener and said to him, ‘Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni,” which means Teacher. Jesus said to her, ‘Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ‘Mary of Magdala went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord,’ and what he told her.” (John 20: 15-18. NAB)

Today was the Feast day of St. Mary Magdalene, also known as Mary of Magdala. Of the women of the Gospel, she is the one who has received a bum rap. It was Pope Gregory the Great, in a homily he preached in 591 A.D., who implied that Mary of Magdala was a repentant prostitute. Most scholars agree that there is no scriptural proof to that assertion, that Mary was an early and significant disciple of Jesus.

There are many in the Catholic community who want to raise the importance of Mary of Magdala in the life of the Church; promoting a title given her “Apostle to the Apostles,” because she proclaimed the good news of the Resurrection to the other disciples. They hope that by doing so, the status of women in the Church will improve.
Image by Robert Lentz

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Favorite Things, And Not So Favorite Things

“Aware that God wanted to make us all a single people and that he made his Church the universal sacrament of salvation, the brothers and sisters should commit themselves to a faith-inspired reflection on the Church, its mission in today’s world and the role of the Franciscan laity within it. They should take up the challenges and accept the responsibilities that this reflection will lead them to discover.” (Art. 14: 1, Secular Franciscan Order General Constitutions)

I am in the midst of the evaluation process for the Permanent Diaconate Candidate program. My wife and I had to meet with a deacon and his wife, for an evaluation interview. Towards the end of it, we were asked what we liked about the Church, and what we did not like about the Church.

What I like about the Church? The way it, through its members, is able to show compassion to the poor, the outcast, and the marginalized. I like the way the Church stands up for these people, being a voice for those who have no voice in their societies. I like the spiritual traditions of the Church, that keep us connected with the believers of the past, and those yet unborn. Yet, the Church always finds ways to make those traditions relevant to our world today. I love the liturgical life of the Church, which, at its best, helps me experience the presence of God.

What I do not like about the Church? The way factions in the Church demonize each other. They seem unable to use compassion or courtesy amongst themselves. I definitely do not like the way some of the bishops showed more concern for the institution, the bureaucracy, than the safety and needs of their people. And the way some of the bishops and pastors fail to listen to their parishioners, hearing their concerns, before making decisions.

So those are many of my favorite things about Church, and some of my not so much favorite things. Overall, I love the Church and I hope that I will continue to serve it, in what ever way the Spirit leads me

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Feast of St. Bonaventure - July 15th

St. Bonaventure is one of the major Franciscan saints. He was a scholar and a mystic, who was the first to theologically interpret the life of St. Francis of Assisi. Besides many scholarly works, he was able to write many inspiring works on prayer. He was born in 1217, in a small village in central Italy. In 1234, he attended the University of Paris, where he came in contact with the Franciscan Friars. He joined the Order in 1243, and would eventually head the Franciscan school at the University. He was known for his scholarship, but was always drawn to a life of prayer and the simplicity of St. Francis' life. In 1257, he was elected Minister General of the Franciscan Order. With his guidance, the Order was able to grow as an institution within the Church, yet still remain faithful to the spirit of St. Francis. Many scholars consider him the second Founder of the Order. He passed away on July 15, 1274.

"In the beginning I call upon the First Beginning, from whom all illuminations descend as from the Father of Lights, from whom comes every good and every perfect gift.

I call upon the Eternal Father through his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, that through the intercession of the most holy Virgin Mary, the mother of the same God and Lord Jesus Christ, and through the intercession of blessed Francis, our leader and father, he may enlighten the eyes of our soul to guide our feet in the way of that peace which surpasses all understanding.

This is the peace proclaimed and given to us by our Lord Jesus Christ and preached again and again by our father Francis." (Prologue, The Soul's Journey to God, St. Bonaventure)

Friday, July 10, 2009

President Obama visits Pope Benedict XVI

Today, President Obama visited the Pope at the Vatican today. Yet, outside of the religion news services, you could barely find a mention about it on some of the news networks websites. BBC world service was mostly preparing for Mr. Obama's visit to Africa, with various news stories. The same could be said about the release of the Pope's new encyclical on the economy, hardly a mention about it in the mainstream press. Some of the best reporting about it, and the Presidential visit, on the blogosphere, was Michael Paulson's Articles of Faith, and the National Catholic Reporter blog, NCR Today. The question needs to be asked, is the Pope relevant to the world? Does the Church has something to say to the world about workers rights, the global economy, business ethics?

I would say yes, the fact that so many world leaders who come to see the Pope, and be seen with the Pope, speaks to the continuing influence of the Papacy and the Church on the world scene. What really needs to happen though is that the message of the Church's social doctrine needs to get out there. It is the most well kept secret in the Church and the world. It needs to be preached on, written on, taught to our future business and government leaders. Ways need to be found to educate the Catholic laity on the social doctrine, and how to live it, how to practice it. These documents, from Pope Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum to the current encyclical, cannot be left on the bookshelves as dead letters, but must be read, discussed, debated! They must come alive!

July Column for Secular Franciscan Fraternity Newsletter

“All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matt 23:35).” (Chap. 53:1, Rule of St. Benedict)

“No matter where they are, in hermitages or elsewhere, the friars must be careful not to claim the ownership of any place or try to hold it against someone else. Everyone who comes to them, friend or foe, rogue or robber, must be made welcome.” (Unapproved Rule of 1221, Francis of Assisi)

“As the Father sees in every person the features of his Son, the firstborn of many brothers and sisters, so the Secular Franciscans with a gentle and courteous spirit accept all people as a gift of the Lord and an image of Christ. (Art. 13a, Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order)

I know, starting my Franciscan column with a Benedictine quote, but since we are meeting on the Feast of St. Benedict (July 11), it seemed appropriate. Benedict lived in sixth century Italy. We know very little about him, his only writings are his Rule. Yet he had a tremendous impact on Western Christianity that has lasted for centuries. Until the time of Francis and Dominic, Benedict defined what religious life was all about.

The Benedictine monasteries were renowned for hospitality towards guests. They were welcomed into the monastery, given food and shelter. Francis carried this concept of Christian hospitality outside the monastery walls. Whether the friars encountered lepers, nobles, pilgrims or robbers; in their hermitages, friaries or on the road, they were to extend care and aid.

When anyone comes to our fraternity gatherings, we must make every effort to make them feel welcomed. And when we encounter anyone on the streets, in the office, in our homes; we need to show the same hospitality as we would at our gatherings.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

200th Anniversary of the Massachusetts Bible Society

On July 6, 2009, a group of men and women assembled in the Senate Chamber of the Massachusetts State House to commemorate the 200th Anniversary of the founding of the Massachusetts Bible Society. Michael Paulson, religion reporter for the Boston Globe, has a nice account of that celebration on his blog, Articles of Faith.

I want to share my own memories of the MBS. I first encountered the Society back in the ‘80’s. I was working in downtown Boston, and during my lunch breaks, I would be walking around looking for religious book stores (at one time, downtown had at least five such stores). Walking up Bromfield Street, I stumbled upon a little bookstore, belonging to the MBS. I went in, and I was in seventh heaven. The store carried spiritual and theology books you could never find in the commercial stores. Needless to say I spent a lot of time there.

Of course, spend enough time in the bookstore and you would hear about the MBS monthly luncheons, with very interesting speakers on biblical, and theological topics. One came away with both body and soul well fed. There were some interesting moments, like one time the speaker was a Protestant theologian from Mexico, and constantly during his talk, he was slamming the Catholic Church in his country. Of course at least two of persons listening were Catholic. The director of the MBS at the time, Don Wells, definitely had an uncomfortable look on his face. Then there was the time when the luncheon was being held in a church hall, whose garage was undergoing major reconstruction. The workers were suppose to be on break, but just as the speaker was making her presentation, the air was full with the sound of jackhammers! Overall, though, I found the talks inspiring and the fellowship very enjoyable.

It was through the luncheons that I learned about the Society’s Advent and Lent morning bible studies. There were mornings when it was a struggle to get to Bromfield St. on time, but the experience was worth it. These programs were lead by some clergypersons, but more often, it was intern students from Harvard Divinity School who put together the programs. Most were excellent, and a few, well.., they tried. I may have been still drowsy at the start, but the discussion, the give and take, was stimulating.

As the MBS begins its third century, the Bromfield St. store is gone (as are all the other religious book stores). The Society is exploring other ways of outreach, through e-mails, the Web, Facebook and Twitter, etc., that will encourage people to read and learn Sacred Scripture. Now, more than ever, the world needs to have the Good News proclaimed. But just as importantly, people must be guided on how to live the Gospel in their daily lives. The mission of the Society outlined two hundred years ago, still holds true today.

"For ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ" (St. Jerome)

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Sunshine at last

"Most high, all-powerful, all good, Lord!
All praise is yours, all glory, all honor and all blessing.
To you, alone, Most High, do they belong.
No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through all that you have made,
And first my lord Brother Sun,
Who bring the day; and light you give to us through him.
How beautiful is he, how radiant in all his splendour! Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.
(The Canticle of Brother Sun, St. Francis of Assisi)
Today the sun is out! The rain has departed, for now. At least on this day that we celebrate the birth of the United States, the day is warm and bright. It lifts one's spirits, to see the bright colors of God's creation once again!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Coincidence or ... ?

As the rest of the nation must know, New England has had almost constant rain for about a month now. Day after day of cloudy, rainy skies is beginning to wear me down.

Now I commute into Boston, MA, by taking a subway train from Revere, MA. During the trip, I have made it a daily practice to read Scripture on the train, using the suggested readings from the American Bible Society. Yesterday and today, the suggested readings are from the book of Genesis, chapters 6 to 9; the story of Noah and the Flood! Coincidence or...?