Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Proclaiming Christ by Their Life and Words

“They have been made living members of the Church by being buried and raised with Christ in baptism; they have been united more intimately with the Church by profession. Therefore, they should go forth as witnesses and instruments of her mission among all people, proclaiming Christ by their life and words.” (Art. 6a, Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order)

June 30th is the feast day of Blessed Raymond Lull, a Spaniard who lived from 1235 to 1315. He was at one time a member of the court of the king of Mallorca, but after hearing a sermon, he suddenly desired to convert his life. He became a Secular Franciscan and became a hermit for about nine years. He left his solitude when he was inspired to promote missionary work, by founding a college to train future missionaries in foreign languages and in techniques on how to debate with Muslims over points concerning the faith. He traveled through Europe, trying to convince bishops and the Pope on the importance of setting up such colleges in their dioceses. Although he remained a layman, he himself journeyed to North Africa in 1314 as a missionary. Unfortunately, he was stoned by a mob of angry Arabs; he died from his wounds back in Mallorca.

As mentioned above, Raymond, although heavily involved in missionary work, never felt called to be ordained, and remained a layperson. One of the important things that came out of the Second Vatican Council was the realization that the laity has a role in the mission of Church to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ; that fulfilling that mission is not just restricted to the clergy and religious. Some of us are called to be teachers, catechists, but the majority of us make Jesus known to the world by the way we live His Gospel; by the way we obey His command to love one another.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Welcome Sister Death!

“All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Death,
From whose embrace no mortal can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Happy those She finds doing your will!
The second death can do no harm to them.
Praise and bless my Lord, and give him thanks,
And serve him with great humility.”
(Canticle of Brother Sun by St. Francis of Assisi)

“Since they are immersed in the resurrection of Christ, which gives true meaning to Sister Death, let them serenely tend toward the ultimate encounter with the Father.”
(Art. 19c, Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order)

Some of you might find this reflection a little morbid, but something interesting happened to me on my morning commute. Part of my commute is driving southbound on Rte. 1, from the Northshore to the subway station in Revere, MA. This morning the traffic was getting heavy and slow. A space opened up in front of me, and in slipped a flatbed truck. This one was carrying grave vaults for a local cemetery. For the next 10 minutes, I am following this truck, looking a these vaults, knowing that they will soon be receiving a casket.

It got me to thinking about how much Western culture, especially Americans, are afraid of death, how we fight death to the bitter end, no matter what the cost. There are some doctors who feel personally defeated when a patient dies. Death is that great unknown that we all fear.

Francis of Assisi loved life; in his younger days, he was known to party with the best of them. Even after his conversion, as his relationship with God grew deeper, he loved life even more, enjoyed God’s creation even more. Yet, as his life drew to a close, Francis did not fear death, because he had experienced the Father’s love, because he trusted Jesus Christ and His promise that anyone who believes in Him will have life eternal. When the end came, Francis welcomed Death as a friend.

If we open our hearts to experience the Fathers’ love , if we try to deepen our relationship with God, we too may find the hope and the trust that will enable us to look calmly into the face of Death, and say “Welcome Sister.”

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Year of the Priest begins!

“God inspired me, too, and still inspires me with such great faith in priests who live according to the laws of the holy Church of Rome, because of their dignity, that if they persecuted me, I should still be ready to turn to them for aid. And if I were as wise a Solomon and met the poorest priests of the world, I would still refuse to preach against their will in the parishes in which they live. I am determined to reverence, love and honor priests and all others as my superiors. I refuse to consider their sins, because I can see the Son of God in them and they are better than I. I do this because in this world I cannot see the most high Son of God with my own eyes, except for his most holy Body and Blood which they receive and they alone administer to others.” (The Testament of St. Francis of Assisi)

On June 19, 2009, Pope Benedict XVI opened the “Year of the Priest.” In a letter to all of the Church’s priests, he asked them to looked to St. John Vianney as a model on how a priest should live his life, perform his ministry. (See CNS) http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/0902828.htm I am one of those who believe that a year dedicated to priests is good idea, but I hope that it will be a year of discussion, reflection, and discernment on the history of the priesthood, its present, and its future. I fear it could be used as an opportunity to turn the clock back to a clerical culture that existed pre-Vatican II. However, the Church has changed; there is a new understanding and appreciation of the “common priesthood” we all share as baptized Christians, members of the Body of Christ. We all participate in the Eucharistic liturgy; we all have a function in the life and mission of the Church.

There are those individuals who are called by God, from the community of the baptized, to serve that community in a unique and special way. Consecrated by the sacrament of the Holy Order, they receive the grace from the Holy Spirit, to (as the Catechism of the Catholic Church states) “act in the person of Christ the head, for the service of all members of the Church” (Para. 1142, CCC). The keyword is service; the priest must never forget they are called to be servant leaders of the parish community. I know many who are, and we need to pray for them, support them, and make sure they know how much we appreciate them. We also need to make sure that the priests of the future are being formed for servant leadership, that they realize the gifts that the laity can bring to the mission of the Church.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Engaging Bishops in dialogue

Canon 212: 2-3; “The Christian faithful are free to make known to the pastors of the Church their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires.

According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.” (Code of Canon Law)

“Called like Saint Francis to rebuild the Church and inspired by his example, let them devote themselves energetically to living in full communion with the Pope, bishops, and priests, fostering an open and trusting dialogue of apostolic effectiveness and creativity.” (Art 6b, Secular Franciscan Order Rule of 1978)

In San Antonio, Texas, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is meeting. Already, there are some commentators who have doubts about what will come out of this meeting, whether they will really address the needs of the Catholic laity or that of the country. (http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/georgetown/2009/06/the_bishops_agenda.html) Catholic laypersons on the USCCB’s National Advisory Council have suggested that the bishops discuss the state of the economy and how it is affecting people, especially the poor. (http://ncronline.org/blogs/ncr-today/lay-group-asks-bishops-tackle-economic-crisis) It needs to be seen whether they will listen or not. In either case, we need to keep talking, need to keep asking our bishops and priests to enter into dialogue with us, to hear our experiences of what it mean to be a Catholic in today’s world. They need to hear of our struggles to live the Gospel, and how they are either helping or hindering us. Some may not know how to listen, some may not want to hear what we have to say, and there may be a few who do not care. Still we need to persist, respectfully, courteously, but persistently. It is our right; it is our duty to the Church.

Franciscans urge G-8 ministers to promote sustainable economies - From Catholic News Service

ASSISI, Italy (CNS) -- The Franciscan order called on finance ministers from the world's richest nations to radically transform the current economic system into a model that is more sustainable and shares the world's resources more equitably. In their efforts to spur economic growth and employment, governments should also promote methods of production that are less-polluting and pursue energy policies based on renewable energy, the religious order said a statement released to journalists June 13. Representatives of the Order of Friars Minor delivered a letter to the Group of Eight finance ministers meeting June 12-13 in Lecce, Italy. Some 152 representatives of the order were attending an international general chapter meeting May 24-June 20 in Assisi, the birthplace of St. Francis. In the letter addressed to the G-8 treasury ministers, the Franciscan order said in order to overcome the economic crisis, individuals must be committed to more moderate and responsible lifestyles that show respect for the environment, engage in active nonviolence and replace competition with sharing. It asked governments to "plan for an economy that represents a change in paradigm, namely passing from a free-market model of the economy to a model of sustainability, which gives priority to social and environmental dimensions over those that are purely economic and which guarantees the fundamental needs of all with the contribution of all."

Saturday, June 13, 2009

My June column for Secular Franciscan fraternity newsletter

Our June fraternity gathering is taking place on the feast day of our patron saint, St. Anthony of Padua. Reflecting on his life, it suddenly dawned on me that here was a saint for whom nothing went as planned.

Born in the year 1195, in the country of Portugal, with the name of Fernando; at age 15, he joined the Canons of Saint Augustine. He eventually found himself in the Augustinian monastery of Coimbra, ready to commit himself to a life of prayer and study. Then came the day when the bones of the Franciscan proto-martyrs arrived from Morocco. When Fernando saw the relics and heard their story, he was inspired to approach the Franciscan friars and asked them to let him join the Order, on the condition that he could join their missionary journey back to Morocco. He was accepted into the Order and took the name Anthony. Soon he was on a ship to Morocco, with dreams of being a missionary. Only as soon as he made land fall, he became ill and had to be sent back to Portugal.

Anthony’s ship was blown off course and he arrived in Sicily. He made his way to Assisi, just in time to attend the 1221 Pentecost Chapter. As the Chapter drew to a close, the friars were given their assignments, everyone except Anthony. He finally approached a friar, who it turned out was a provincial minister, and asked if he could join him. Anthony was assigned to a hermitage, and again hoped for a life of prayer and contemplation. However, there came the day when at a dinner attended by Dominicans and Franciscans, he was prevailed upon to preach, and his true talents were revealed. Anthony was sent on several preaching tours throughout southern France and northern Italy. He would eventually settle in Padua.

As we have seen, like Francis of Assisi, Anthony had his own designs for his life, but God had different plans. Anthony, though, was open to the Holy Spirit, and trusted in God’s love, accepted and went with the flow. We also need to be open to the Father’s will, even if it may take us down paths we never expected.

Friday, June 12, 2009

June 13 - Feast of Saint Anthony of Padua

Unfailing Prayer to St. Anthony
O Holy St. Anthony, gentlest of Saints, your love for God and charity for His creatures, made you worthy, when on earth, to possess miraculous powers. Encouraged by this thought, I implore of you to obtain for me (request).
O gentle and loving St. Anthony, whose heart was ever full of human sympathy, whisper my petition into the ears of the sweet Infant Jesus, who loved to be folded in your arms, The gratitude of my heart will ever be yours. Amen.

Another Tragic Act of Violence

“In all his (Francis of Assisi) preaching, before he presented the word of God to the assembly, he prayed for peace saying: “May the Lord give you peace.’ He always proclaimed this to men and women, to those he met and to those who met him. Accordingly, many who hated peace along with salvation, with the Lord’s help wholeheartedly embraced peace. They became themselves children of peace.” (The Life of St. Francis by Thomas of Celano)

Another act of violence has griped the headlines these past few days. In a building dedicated to the memory of Jewish victims of the Holocaust, James Von Brunn, a crazed gunman, full of hatred of Jews, shot and killed a security guard, and threatened the lives of many visitors before he himself was shot. (http://www.catholicnews.com/data/briefs/cns/20090611.htm) Hatred drove him to violence, just as hatred drove Scott Roeder to kill Dr. Tiller. They are the public face of hatred in America, but how much more hatred lies under the surface, and what can be done to confront it.

Jesus Christ said “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you,..” (Matt 5: 43-44) These words we need to make our own, carry them in our hearts. We need to live peace in our relationships with family members, co-workers, and strangers, especially those who rub us the wrong way. We need to speak peace when words of hate are spoken. We need to be points of light, which together will be a fire that will disperse the darkness creeping in our land.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

"At the time, as the number of disciples continued to grow, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. so the Twelve called together the community of the disciples and said, 'It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table. Brothers, select from among you seven reputable me, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task, whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry fo the word.' " (Acts 6: 1-4)

Catholic tradition holds that these seven men were the first deacons of the Christian community. The Order of Deacons continued to grow and develope in the early Church. Unfortunately, in the Roman Catholic Church, the Diaconate became a transitional office, given to those in the final stage of their formation as priests. It was not until Vatican II, that the Diaconate was re-established as a permanent ordained office in the Church.
Many men have felt the call of the Holy Spirit to this office of service, and I have been one of them. I have completed my first year as a Candidate, and now comes the evaluation process to see if I am to continue on this journey. I ask for your prayers.


Saturday, June 6, 2009

Communion in the hand brouhaha

In the June issue of St. Anthony Messenger, a Franciscan monthly magazine, there were several angry letters concerning the cover for their April issue (see above), which was a discussion about the sacramental life of the Church. The April cover shows a woman who had received Holy Communion in the hand, in a manner keeping with the rubrics of the Church. The letters were taking the magazine to task for showing a layperson holding the Host in their hand; one writer was especially upset that it was a woman. All felt that the magazine was showing a practice that was disrespectful to the Blessed Sacrament; one even called it a desecration.

Since reception of Holy Communion in the hand was approved by U.S. Conference of Bishops, and confirmed by the Vatican in the ‘70’s, I have been receiving Communion in the hand. And it upsets me when people judge me as being disrespectful to the Blessed Sacrament because I choose to engage in that practice. I believe that Jesus Christ, God the Son, is really present in the consecrated bread and wine. When I approach the Sacrament, it is with a feeling of awe and wonder. When the Sacred Host is placed in my hand, I am moved when I realize that my Savior loves me, loves us all so much, that He willingly comes to us in the form of simple bread and wine. That through our eating of the Bread of Life, we are united with Him. It is a moment of grace, and I approach it reverently.

The practice of receiving Holy Communion in the hand means a lot to me, and I hope we never lose the privilege.

Friday, June 5, 2009

OFM Minister General

Franciscans re-elect minister general to a second six-year termASSISI, Italy (CNS) -- Spanish Father Jose Rodriguez Carballo was re-elected to head the Franciscan order during a general chapter May 24-June 20 in Assisi, Italy, the birthplace of St. Francis. Father Carballo, 55, was elected to a second six-year term as minister general of the Order of Friars Minor June 4. Some 152 representatives of the order reconfirmed the Spanish friar during the Assisi meeting as the leader of the 15,000 Franciscans who live in 113 countries. Father Carballo is the 119th successor of St. Francis and will lead the Order of the Friars Minor until 2015. The delegates will celebrate the 800th anniversary of the founding of their order June 9. Father Carballo told reporters at the end of May that during the general chapter the delegates were looking at how well the order has met the priorities set in 2003 for deepening spirituality, improving fraternal life and living as poor among the poor and in solidarity with all those in need. Second, he said, they would try to find new ways to meet the challenge of being missionaries in the modern world.

Obama's visit to Cairo - A Franciscan tie-in

While browsing through the Web news and blog sites this morning, I came across this June 4 entry by David Gibson on his blog "Pontifications," (http://blog.beliefnet.com/pontifications/). He was sharing another writer's comparison of President Obama's visit to Cairo and a visit St. Francis of Assisi made hundreds of years ago. Both came to promote peace, both hoped to use the power of words to do so. Of course, Francis' idea was to convert the Muslim population to Christianity. Yet, his approach was so humble and gentle, he won the respect of the Sultan, and was given a passport to Jerusalem and the Holy Land. What the might of the Crusader armies could not achieve, entering Jerusalem, a little barefoot man, in a patched habit, was able to do. A story worth reflecting on.