Sunday, August 30, 2009

My Thoughts on "Ad Orientem"

“As Jesus was the true worshipper of the Father, so let prayer and contemplation be the soul of all they are and do.

Let them participate in the sacramental life of the Church, above all the Eucharist.” (Art. 8a-b, Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order)

Before the death of Senator Edward Kennedy hit the news wires, I was preparing to comment on a story I read on the National Catholic Reporter website, posted on August 21, 2009. It was from Kristen May of the Religion News Service. She reported that Bishop Edward Slattery of the Diocese of Tulsa, OK, was going to be celebrating the Eucharist “ad orientem.” This means that he will be facing away from the congregation.

There have been many comments on this, many in support, saying that this brings about a more sense of the sacred; that it focuses the attention of the people on God, rather than on the priest. There were comments on maintaining a sacred tradition, the history of that tradition, and so forth.

Well, I am going to add to the debate. As I think I may have mentioned in an earlier posting, one of the great concepts, great teaching, I think, to come out of the Second Vatican Council, was that of the common priesthood of the faithful. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states in paragraph 1141:

“The celebrating assembly is the community of the baptized who ‘by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated to be a spiritual house and a holy priesthood, that through all the works of Christian men they may offer spiritual sacrifices.’ This ‘common priesthood’ is that of Christ the sole priest, in which all his members participate:

Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be lead to that full, conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy, and to which the Christian people, ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people’ have a right and an obligation by reason of their Baptism.”

All the faithful are called to actively participate in the Eucharistic liturgy. No longer is the laity to be just passive observers of the liturgy, but are to join with the priest in prayer, through their responses, and through their praising of God in song. And as part of the common priesthood of the baptized, the laity is worthy to witness the divine action, when through the words of consecration, the bread and wine on the altar becomes the Body and Blood of Christ. For me, this is why it is so important for the priest to be facing the congregation. Granted, there have been priests who distract, by their words and movements from the central act taking place, but the solution is not turning back the clock, but better training.

The Eucharistic liturgy is no longer a secret act by the priest, with the laity given the privilege of seeing only the elevated Host and Chalice. No, the Eucharistic liturgy, especially the Consecration, should be witnessed by all the faithful, so that all the faithful can be drawn into this wondrous Mystery.
Image by RNS

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The End Of An Era

Senator Edward (Ted) M. Kennedy was the senator from my state. His death was expected, but it still came as a shock. It brings to a close the Kennedy Era, which has been a part of my life since I was a little child. I barely remember the election of John F. Kennedy as the first Catholic President. My most vivid memory was being at my grandparent’s house for our Sunday visit. The campaign was in progress. The adults asked me who I wanted to be elected President. I declared in a loud voice, “Nixon!” Only luck and my mother kept me from being thrown out of the house.

My next memory was being in Catholic elementary school on a day in November, 1963. Word of President Kennedy's assassination spread through the school, the sisters were all tearful. I remember the following days being very sad. I have no clear memories of where I was when Robert Kennedy died, but I do remember being shocked by it.

Ted Kennedy remained, and served Massachusetts as its Senator. His career has had highs and lows. He has had more than his share of tragedies and losses. Yet he seems to overcome them and became one of the most respected legislators on the U.S. Senate. He always maintained his concern for the poor, the marginalized, and the emigrant. He spoke up for them, even when it was not popular to do so. He spoke out for peace, even when most of his colleagues were agreeing to war. He was passionate about his causes; he did have the roar of a lion.

He held to positions that put him in conflict with the Church, for which he will have to make an accounting of to God. But I hope in God’s compassion and mercy. And I will keep him in my prayers.

Michael Paulson of the Boston Globe has reported on Cardinal Sean O’Malley’s statement and the funeral plans. The National Catholic Reporter has published essays on the life and death of Senator Kennedy.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

My Life with Nuns

The story of the Vatican making a visitation, an investigation, of the state of women religious life has been in the news lately. There have been stories on National Public Radio, and on one of their talk shows. The National Catholic Reporter has been covering this story, and has been publishing stories and essays on their Website.

All this has brought back memories of my life with nuns. It began with elementary school. My parents were determined to have me educated in a Catholic school, so when their first choice was filled, they put me and my brothers and sisters in the only other Catholic school in town. It was run by a congregation of Franciscan Sisters that originated from Poland. To hear my parents talk about it, the sisters had a hard life in the parish, the pastor was a bit of a tightwad, and at times the parents had to get together and bring food for the sisters. My experience with them was mixed. I remember that there were a few sisters who were nice and professional, but there were others who should never had been allowed in a classroom. If there was not physical abuse, there was definitely psychological abuse. After I and one brother graduated from the school, my parents pulled the rest of my siblings out and put them in public schools.

After elementary school, came high school. I entered a high school that was run by the Sisters of Notre Dame da Namur. The Second Vatican Council had ended; the religious orders and congregations were making some changes. The sisters at the high school all had change to “street” clothing, although a few did keep the veil. They all wore their distinctive cross. I enjoyed being taught by them, and they definitely improved my view of religious sisters.

My most intensive contact with nuns came when I entered the formation program for the Franciscan friars. I had contact with the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany, who not only taught in the parish school, but were also involved in caring for the poor. There was a Poor Clare monastery, where the nuns wore modified habits, but still deeply involved with the contemplative life. I assisted a priest who celebrated Mass for a community of Missionaries of Charity. Then there were the sisters I met attending a summer school at St. Bonaventure University, joining with them in prayer, in classes, and socializing with them. Since leaving the Franciscan formation program, I have had a sister as a spiritual director.

There has been criticism that too many of the religious sisters are challenging the Church, its policies, its view of women. But if one looks at the history of religious life, one sees that many of the communities’ founders pushed the envelope. St. Clare of Assisi, founder of the Poor Clare nuns, was always challenging the Pope to allow her community to live evangelical poverty. Many congregations founded in this country, met with resistance from local bishops for various reasons, yet they prevailed. They did so because of persistence, respect and love for the Church, and divine grace. Now there are those individual sisters and communities who might push the envelope too far, and in such cases, they must be held accountable, but with charity and compassion.

Vatican II called on religious communities to reexamine their current lives in the light of their founding charism. A community should not be judged on whether they wear habits or not, but whether they are living the Gospel, serving the poor, showing compassion to the outcast, showing the power of God’s love by the example of their lives. We should not try to force religious communities into the same mold, but allow the Holy Spirit to guide them, inspire them, enflame them. And they in turn will inspire us.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Old Furry Friends Remembered

“Moreover they should respect all creatures, animate and inanimate, which bear the imprint of the Most High, and they should strive to move from the temptation of exploiting creation to the Franciscan concept universal kinship.” (Art. 18, Secular Franciscan Order Rule)

Rev. Anne Robertson, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Bible Society, recently shared on her blog, the sense of loss and sadness she experienced over the death of her dog. It brought to mind the number of dogs that have been a part of my family’s life. Some we got as pups; one came from a shelter; one was a purebred, the rest were mutts. One was a real chow hound, could hear a box of crackers being opened from upstairs. Another was easily frightened; she went into a panic one time when a blimp flew over our house. And one always knew how to strike a pose when a camera was pointed in his direction. All of them brought a lot of joy over the years.
The early biographies of the life of St. Francis never mention him being with dogs, just his encounter with the wolf. But all of them tell of his close relationship with other creatures, from lambs, to a hare, and a hawk, as well as other birds. But I can visualize him being followed through the Italian countryside by a small pack of dogs. And during his nights in the hermitage, there had to be least one cat curling up in his lap. He had this unique relationship with animals, birds and fishes, because he recognized them all as brothers and sisters of his, because they all shared the same Creator. He loved them all and in turn was loved by them.

A Blessing of the Animals

Blessed are you, Lord God, maker of all living creatures. On the fifth and sixth days of creation, you called forth fish in the sea, birds in the air and animals on the land. You inspired St. Francis to call of them his brothers and sisters. We ask you to bless the animals and all living creatures. By the power of your love, enable them to live according your plan. May we always praise you for all your beauty in creation. Blessed are you, Lord our God, in all your creatures! Amen

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Remembering Eunice Kennedy Shriver

“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, Secular Franciscan Order Rule)

Yesterday, Friday, August 14th, 2009, family and friends of Eunice Kennedy Shriver gathered to say farewell to a remarkable woman. A member of a famous generation of Kennedy’s, if times were different, she too might have made her mark in American politics. Still, she was able to make a difference in the lives of many people; people whom the rest of society were all too ready to ignore or to shut them away, out of sight. Through her efforts for the Special Olympics, she enabled hundreds of people with mental disabilities to the show the world their skills and their courage. She gave them all a sense of acceptance, and love.

Many years ago, when I was a seminarian, I had the privilege to spend some summers at a camp for children with mental disabilities. It was called Camp Fatima and it was in New Hampshire. For a week, these children received a true summer camp experience, with swimming, horse rides, arts, and crafts. It was both challenging and rewarding for me. I made mistakes, but they were forgiving and they still had fun.

We have had, and still have members of our Secular Franciscan fraternity with mental disabilities, and they have been a blessing for us. I have a nephew with Downes Syndrome, who is a joy to the family. In a different era, their lives might have been bleak, but thanks to people like Eunice Kennedy Shriver, their lives are full of promise and hope.

The National Catholic Reporter website has a very nice tribute to Mrs. Shriver.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Feast of St. Clare of Assisi - August 11

The story of Francis and Clare of Assisi is one that no one could make up. The young daughter of one of the noblest families of the city of Assisi, Italy; meets with Francis Bernandone, son of one of the richest merchants in the city, turned itinerant preacher. In that meeting, Clare finds herself inspired to leave all her rich clothing, her jewels, and her comfortable home, to live the gospel as a nun. In March, 1212, Francis would take Clare to a Benedictine sister’s monastery as a temporary abode. There she would be joined by her sister Agnes. They would eventually take up residence at San Damiano, where other women would join them.

Under the guidance and support of St. Francis and his brother friars, Clare developed a contemplative community that was unique in the Church of that time. She and her sisters, known then as the "Poor Ladies of San Damiano," lived a life of prayer and contemplation, supporting themselves by their own labor and accepting alms. They lived a life of poverty, not accepting endowments of money or property, like other monasteries. Clare would struggle with the leadership of the Church over the “privilege” of poverty for the rest of her life. She would survive Francis by 27 years,

There are very few writings of hers in existence, but they reveal a woman of deep prayer, a true Franciscan mystic. Her words continue to inspire many Poor Clare nuns around the world; her words and her example can inspire us. I close with words Clare wrote to Agnes of Prague, a fellow Poor Lady:

“O most noble Queen,
gaze upon Him,
consider Him
contemplate Him,
as you desire to imitate Him.
If you suffer with Him, you will reign with Him.
If you weep with Him, you shall rejoice with Him;
If you die with Him on the cross of tribulation,
you shall possess heavenly mansions in the splendor of the saints
and, in the Book of Life, your name shall be called
glorious among men.”
(Image by Robert Lentz)

Sunday, August 9, 2009

My August Column for Secular Franciscan Fraternity Newsletter

“And loving one another with the charity of Christ, may the love you have in your hearts be shown outwardly in your deeds so that, compelled by such an example, the sisters may always grow in love of God and in charity for one another.” (Testament of St. Clare of Assisi)

“The brothers and sisters are co-responsible for the life of the fraternity to which they belong and for the SFO as the organic union of all fraternities throughout the world.

The sense of co-responsibility of the members requires personal presence, witness, prayer, and active collaboration, in accordance with each one’s situation and possible obligations for the animation of the fraternity.” (Article 30, SFO General Constitutions)

When the feast of St. Clare came around in the past, my columns usually was a reflection on what Clare can teach us about contemplation. This time I would life to reflect on what she can teach us about living in fraternity. She and her sisters had a very intense, very challenging experience of what it meant to be a fraternity, a community of Franciscans. Enclosed in a monastery, they experienced each others strengths, each others weaknesses. There must have been days when living together was full of joy and light, and other days of trials and darkness. Through it all, St. Clare was a light that guided her sisters. The early biographies of her describe her love, her compassion, her humility, her service to the community. She saw herself as servant to her sisters, was never comfortable with the title of “abbess.” Clare was a mother to the community, caring for those sisters who were ill, moderating the penances some of them may have taken on, and making sure they took care of their bodies. She was also a spiritual mother, encouraging the sisters by her words and example on how enter into the Lord’s Presence.

In our fraternity, we are called to love each other, to serve one other. We are called to bear with each others faults, and encourage the best in each other. We are to be examples to our sisters and brothers of what it means to be a Franciscan, a follower of Christ.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Cardinal Sean's Anniversary

I am a member of the Archdiocese of Boston, MA. Our current Archbishop is Cardinal Sean O'Malley, O.F.M. Cap. In August, he is celebrating his 25th anniversary of his consecration to the episcopacy. It occurred on August 2nd, 1984, when he was made coadjutor bishop of St. Thomas, in the Virgin Islands. He would later be transferred to the Diocese of Fall River, MA; and then to Palm Beach, FL. In both dioceses, he received credit for helping to heal the wounds created by the clergy sexual abuse scandals. Because of his skill in handling these situations, he was appointed Archbishop of Boston, to replace Cardinal Bernard Law. Most Catholics in Boston, myself included, thought he did a masterful job in beginning the healing process. During the U.S. visit of Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal O'Malley arranged to have the Pope meet with some of the survivors of clergy abuse.
Cardinal Sean has had to also deal with a financial crisis in the Archdiocese, directly or indirectly brought about by the abuse scandal. There has also been a significant decline in the number of clergy available to staff the parishes. The Cardinal had to institute a Archdiocesan restructuring process, that many feel was ill-conceived, poorly implemented, and caused only more harm to an already wounded community. Still the Archdiocese seems to be on the mend, and moving forward.
A Franciscan Capuchin, Cardinal Sean continues to wear his habit during his workdays. He sold the Cardinal's mansion to Boston College, and I believe has taken residence in the rectory of Holy Cross Cathedral. He comes across as a gentle man, comfortable with people, firm in his teachings, but definitely not a fire and brimstone preacher. He is one of the earliest members of the episcopacy to enter into the world wide Web, writing his own weekly blog. Here is a link to his blog entry on his consecration anniversary.
Happy Anniversary, Your Eminence!

"That I May Carry Out Your Holy and True Command"

All of us at various points in our lives wonder what is our vocation in life. It does not matter how young or how old we may be, I think all of us ask the question, "Where is God leading me?" And sometimes the answer is not clear. That is why I turn quite often to this prayer by Thomas Merton, who wrote it in his magnificent little book, "Thoughts in Solitude:"

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore, will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me alone to face my perils alone.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Porziuncola

"When the Lord saw him coming over to look more closely, God called out to him from the bush, 'Moses! Moses!' He answered, 'Here I am.' God said, 'Come no nearer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.'" (Exodus 3: 4-5)

If today had not been a Sunday, Franciscans would be celebrating the feast of the Porziuncola. It is the short name given to a chapel St. Francis of Assisi repaired back in 1208, "St. Mary of the Angels of the Little Portion. For Franciscans throughout the world, it is sacred space, it is "holy ground." In the early days of the Friars Minor, the chapel was rented to them by the Benedictines of Monte Subasio monastery. The friars, including Francis, built simple huts around the chapel, and prayed there daily. As the Order expanded throughout Europe, Francis called the friars back to the Porziuncola once a year for a meeting, a Chapter, during the Feast of Pentecost.

Every worshiping community needs its' sacred space, a place where they can come together in prayer, to experience together a sense of the divine. For Christians, many, if not most, find their sacred space in churches. Some find it in simple parish churches, or in grand cathedrals and basilicas. We must remember though, why we are gathering in a particular place, at a particular time. Our Lord said, "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them." It is the coming together in His Name, that makes that space sacred, that ground holy!

I would go even farther. Francis said that when a friar is on the road, he carries his cell with him, in his body; and it is in that cell that the friar prays, and opens his heart to God. Anytime that we open our hearts to the Father, we open ourselves to the opportunity to experience the divine, to experience His Presence, to know that we are standing on "holy ground."