Monday, October 26, 2009

The H1N1 Flu is Coming! The H1N1 Flu is Coming!

Like many other Catholic dioceses in the United States, the Archdiocese of Boston, MA, is issuing guidelines to protect parishioners from being infected by the H1N1 flu. The guidelnes, which are to take effect October 31, 2009, are:
v The Holy Water fonts are to be drained, cleaned with a disinfecting soap, and re-filled with holy water on a regular basis. Please note that old holy water should be disposed of in the sacrarium.

v The distribution of the Precious Blood for the faithful is suspended, with the exception of those who must receive from the cup due to medical reasons. The faith of the Church teaches that Christ, whole and entire, is received even under only one species.

v The exchange of the Sign of Peace is to be offered without any physical contact. If the priest celebrant chooses to extend the invitation for the sign of peace, the faithful, instead of a handshake, may bow to the persons nearby.

v While the faithful retain the option of receiving Holy Communion on the tongue or in the hand, all ministers of Holy Communion are advised to distribute the consecrated hosts with care, being cautious not to touch the tongue or the hand of the communicant.

v Parishioners should be reminded that if they are ill or suspect they are ill with a contagious illness, they are not bound by the Sunday Mass obligation. They should remain at home and return to church when they are well.
I wonder how soon, along with the water and wine cruets, there is going to be hand sanitizer on the altar.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Reflections on the Readings for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jeremiah 31: 7-9
Hebrews 5: 1-6
Mark 10: 46-52

Can anyone of us who have our eyesight, imagine what it must be like to be blind? To be living in total darkness? Imagine what it would be like in the time of Jesus; with none of the aids or support systems we have today for the blind. Some would be abandoned by their families, ashamed because they think God is punishing them for some unknown sin. Some of the blind would be like Bartimaeus, sitting on the roadside, hearing the sounds of the world going by them, calling out for some alms. They hope to hear the clatter of coins; they hope that no one will rob them of what little treasure they have.

We do not know how long Bartimaeus was blind, how long he had been sitting at that roadside. Whether he was despairing over how his life was turning out. Then one day he hears this commotion, he learns that Jesus of Nazareth, the famous healer and preacher is coming. He suddenly feels a spark of hope, and he grabs for it. He cries out, somehow inspired to call Jesus, “son of David.” Bartimaeus is brought before Jesus; he is asked what he wants Jesus to do for him. Now he has only heard stories about this Jesus; and there have been so many so-called healers in Judea. But deep in his heart, he believes in this man from Nazareth, so he asks that he might see. It is that faith that saves him, he receives his sight and his world is forever changed. Now, his world is open to new opportunities, he can take any road now. He chooses to follow Jesus, who is “the Way, the Truth and the Life.”

We all suffer from some type of blindness, the blindness of prejudice, greed, hate, depression, and self-doubt. It is a blindness that keeps us from seeing the beauty of God’s creation; keeps us from seeing others as our brothers and sisters in Christ; keeps us from seeing how much the Father loves us. We all need healing; even though that healing may change us, change how we perceive the world and ourselves. And change can be scary; it can draw us out of our comfort zone. What we need then is the gift of faith. It is faith that causes us to get up and draw near to Jesus. It is faith give us that little spark of hope. It is faith that makes us ask Jesus, to say, “Master, I want to see.”

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Anglicans are Coming! The Anglicans are Coming!

The Catholic blogosphere has been humming with the news about the Vatican issuing a document that will enable Catholic national conferences of bishops to set up special ordinates for disaffected Anglicans/Episcopalians. Those Anglicans that do come to the Catholic Church, will be able to maintain their own congregations, liturgy, and clergy (including married clergy). The National Catholic Reporter, America magazine, and the blog, Whispers in the Loggia, all have stories and commentary about this.

While I think it is good that the Church is willing to offer a spiritual home for these Anglicans who feel abandoned by their church; there are some issues to be concerned about. First is a case of "the grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence." While Rome promises to be accommodating to the liturgies, spirituality, and traditions of any Anglicans who come into the Church; there is the possibility of culture clash. I think that any Anglicans, no matter how traditionalist or conservative they may be; come with a very different view of church governance. Some congregations have an empowered lay vestry, where the laity have had a strong voice in the decision making process. They will come up against a Catholic tradition of centralized, clerical, authority; with the laity having limited input.

This possible culture clash also has a risk for Catholic authorities also. Seeing laity taking an active role in decisions; could influence the Catholic laity. Also, a more visible married clergy, could cause Roman Catholics to raise questions anew about the practice of priestly celibacy.

Finally, there is the question of a Catholic Church that may have a sign at the door, "Conservatives welcomed! All others need not apply." As I have read in another blog, this is an additional act that, taken with the attempts to reconcile with the Society of St. Pius X, and the appointment of an archconservative cardinal to the congregation that nominates bishops; gives one the impression that even progressive, moderate Catholics are not welcomed in the Church.

It is going to be interesting to see how this is all going to work out, as the various conferences of bishops decide how to implement the Vatican's policy on Anglican converts. Stay tuned!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Reflections on the Readings for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 53: 10-11
Hebrews 4: 14-16
Mark 10: 35-45

One could say that James and John are the most clueless of Jesus’ disciples. And they are definitely slow learners. We have seen in the earlier readings from the Gospel of Mark, what it means to be a disciple of Jesus; what are the challenges and the sacrifices that are required. But James and John do not seem to get it, they are still looking to be above the others; they want to be Jesus’ “number one” guys. Jesus is blunt with them; he lets them know what will be required of them, what it will cost them to be his followers. James and John are still clueless; they should have remembered what Isaiah had written about the Messiah, how he was going to suffer, so that others may be saved. Jesus reminds them and the other Apostles that they are not to be like the rest of society, where everyone is continuously seeking power and prestige. No, they are to be servants to all people; that if one wanted to be the greatest of all, they would have to be “the slave of all.”

In our society today, we are constantly being bombarded with images and stories of people who are seeking fame, power, and wealth; and those who have it, are flaunting it. Our televisions are constantly showing us the lives of the rich and famous, the checkout counters of our stores are almost buried with magazines, papers, “scandal sheets,’ revealing every aspect of these “bright, young things” lives. And truth be told, all of us have a desire to be “top dog” in our own little part of the world, to have at least fifteen minutes of fame.

And there is Jesus telling us: “You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you.” We are all called to be servants, to one another, and to the rest of the world. This will require us to make sacrifices, let go our egos, give of our talents, time and treasure. We are inspired by the example of Jesus Christ; receive strength from his Body and Blood, so that we can give our lives for others.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

St. Teresa of Avila - October 15

October is turning out to be one of my favorite months for saints. In this month, we have the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi; and today is the feast day of Saint Teresa of Jesus, also known as Teresa of Avila. She was born the city of Avila, Spain, on March 28, 1515. In 1535 she joined the Carmelites, entering the convent of the Incarnation, in Avila. It was a large community of 180 nuns, and had grown lax in living their Rule. Teresa was a member of this community for 20 years, when she experienced a conversion, and desired to live a more prayerful life that adhered more closely to the Order’s primitive Rule. She was inspired to found a reform movement in the Carmelite Order, for both nuns and friars. She would eventually found 14 convents before her death in 1582.

I have one of those funny bits of coincidences; I attended an elementary school run by Polish Franciscan nuns. At school, I came across a vocation info card for the Carmelites and tested a vocation to join their Order. It was while I was in seminary that I came across a biography of Saint Teresa, written by Marcelle Auclair, and it became one of my favorite books. It leads me to read through her autobiography, which was a bit of a struggle, and also her book, “The Way of Perfection.” What impressed me about her life was that a relatively older age (for her times); Teresa was inspired by Christ to change her life, to explore new pathways of prayer. Teresa grew into a great mystic, who had a deep relationship with God. She had an understanding of the life of prayer that was both inspiring and practical. It was her writings that lead me to explore the prayer of quiet; of just being in God’s Presence; centering prayer.

Another thing that attracted me to her was her earthiness. When one reads the stories of her life, one sees a woman who could climb the heights of mystical prayer; and then do housework in her convent. Teresa was a practical woman, who could plan the logistics for opening a new convent, working with workmen and officials. In her role as foundress, she dealt with nobles and bishops. She sometimes had to covertly establish her convents over the objections of local civil and church officials.

Teresa’s writings would have great influence not only on her own Order, but also in the wider Church. She would eventually be designated as a Doctor of the Church, one of the few women to be so honored. I would eventually find my spiritual home with the Franciscans, but Teresa of Avila remains an old family friend.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Hawaiian Liturgy in an Ancient Church

In his October 13th entry, Rocco Palmo on his blog, “Whispers in the Loggia,” reported on a special Mass that was celebrated at the Basilica of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls in Rome. It was a thanksgiving Mass being celebrated by the pilgrims from Hawaii, who had been in Rome for the canonization of Damien de Veuster of Molokai. In one of the most ancient churches in the Eternal City, the sound of Hawaiian singing filled the air; dancers, dressed in green, performed a solemn hula as part of the Eucharistic Liturgy.

I really believe that one of the gifts that the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council gave us was the liturgical renewal. In a worldwide Church, the Eucharist unites us all in the Body of Christ. We come together to hear God’s Word; witness the consecration of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ; and we receive Christ in Holy Communion. In the whole world, we share the same ritual, we proclaim the same Creed. But the liturgy is flexible enough so that each people can incorporate their own traditions, songs, and in some instances, dances, so as to make the celebration more meaningful for them.

There is always going to be tensions between traditionalists who feel the liturgy must be in the same form in all countries, and those who feel the need to inculturate the liturgy. What we need to remember is that the goal of all liturgy is to give us the opportunity to encounter God, to praise, worship and be renewed.

My October Column for Secular Franciscan Fraternity Newsletter

“The rule and life of the Secular Franciscans is this: to observe the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ by following the example of Saint Francis of Assisi, who made Christ the inspiration and the center of his life with God and people.” (Art. 4, SFO Rule)

A story in The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi has Brother Masseo asking St. Francis, “Say, why it is that all the world comes after you, and everybody desires to see you, and to hear you, and to obey you?” Almost 800 years later, the question still has relevance. Why is it that the world is still attracted to the figure of St. Francis? For many, they attracted to the image of St. Francis, the man who was connected to nature, to whom animals and birds came to readily. For others, it is the image of Francis, the servant of the poor, the forgotten. And there are those who see in Francis, a perfect person of prayer and contemplation.

Why are we attracted to this little poor man of Assisi? For me, Francis shows me how an ordinary person can live the Gospel of Jesus Christ, by being a person of prayer, by giving up those things that distract me from loving God, and emptying myself in the service of others. Francis provides the inspiration for me, and for many others, to find the path that Jesus wishes each of us to take to the Kingdom.

We can all still learn from Francis what it means to live the Gospel life. It means that we need to learn more about him, read and reflect on his words. Each of us should try to read the early biographies of his life, written by authors who were still close to him or to those who knew him. Feel the excitement and the power of his presence that those early biographers felt, and open our hearts and our minds to feel it also. Then we will come to know the answer to Brother Masseo’s question, “Why after you?”

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Reflections on the Synod on Africa

Currently in Rome, the Synod of Africa is being held. John Allen, of the National Catholic Reporter, has been posting daily stories on the Synod, on NCR’s website. I have been reading those stories with great interest, and encourage others to do so, because they let us know that there is a wider Church beyond our shores.

I think sometimes that American Catholics, be they conservatives or liberals; think the internal life of the Church revolves around the American Church. This Synod reminds us that there are other Catholics out there, with different priorities. John Allen has reported on the Catholic Church in Africa, Asia, and South America. He has described them as part of the “Global South.” While in some countries, especially in Africa, the Catholic communities have a more traditional view on family, sexual ethics; they have much more progressive view on social justice. They are less concerned about internal Church politics, and more concerned about how the Church is helping the poor.

If people are looking to continue the renewal of the Church that began with the Second Vatican Council, they need to be aware that Church is made up with more than Americans. If conservatives wish to preserve traditional liturgy, they need to be aware that there people in Africa who are seeking to inculturate the liturgy, so that it will speak to their peoples’ hearts. We all to need to learn more about each other, and to dialogue with each other; share with each other our dreams, our hopes, and our disappointments. We are all part of the Catholic Church; no individual Church can go it alone. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ, let us learn, share, listen and love one another.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Francis and the Wolf

Last week, the Franciscan friars of St. Anthony Shrine, Boston, MA, co-sponsored an art exhibition of the works of Sister Frances Falk. One painting caught my attention; it was a depiction of St. Francis of Assisi’s encounter with the wolf of Gubbio.

Most people, I think, know the story. Gubbio is a town in the Umbrian region of Italy. The story is told in the Little Flowers of St. Francis, how the townspeople were being terrorized by a savage wolf. Francis decided to go out and try to make peace with this wolf. He encounters the wolf, talks to him, negotiates a peace, and the wolf becomes friend and protector of Gubbio. Most pictures of this story show Francis holding one of the front paws of the wolf, who is sitting down, looking like a domesticated German shepherd.

Sister Falk’s painting of that encounter is much different. Francis is shown embracing the wolf; only this wolf is no tame animal. It is a large wild beast, with an open mouth full of large sharp teeth, its red eye staring out at me. One gets the impression, that were it not for Francis, the wolf would be making a meal of me. I have to say though that this picture appeals to me on a Franciscan level. The foundation of Franciscan spirituality is to love as Christ has loved us. It does not matter whether the person is good, or sinful, that person is a brother or sister of us in Christ, and deserves our love and compassion. As Francis lovingly embraced the ravenous wolf, we are to embrace the sinner, the stranger, the outcast also with love.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Suggestion for a Patron Saint of Veterans

Yesterday, October 4th, was the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi. Now St. Francis has been designated as the patron saint of Italy, Catholic Action, animals, and the environment. A patron saint is considered a special intercessor before God for an either group of people with a specific profession, illness and who work for special causes. I would like to make the suggestion that St. Francis be considered the patron saint of veterans who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Now I say this because Francis was not always the little holy friar, constantly in prayer, communing with the birds and the animals. In his younger days, he was an active, wealthy, young buck; the leader of the Assisi party scene, who longed to be a part of the nobility. Now for a commoner to move into those circles, he had to be knighted. To be knighted, he had to perform some great military service for a local lord. In medieval Italy, it was not hard to find some little war, somewhere. As it turned out, Francis’ home town of Assisi was going to war with their neighbors, the city of Perugia. So Francis had his father spring for armor and weapons, and he joined the other Assisian men of arms as they marched on Perugia. The two armies met at a bridge and a battle ensued. Now in those days, soldiers fought each other with spears, swords, axes and daggers. It was close, in your face, combat. One survived by chopping off an opponents' limbs or gutting him. Blood and gore would have been everywhere. Long story short, the Perugians whipped the men of Assisi butts. Those who survived were either scattered or captured. The captured commoners were sent to hard labor for Perugia, the nobles were cast into dungeons, to await their families ransoming them. Because Francis was so well decked out, he was considered to be a noble and was incarcerated with the others.

Now the dungeons were dark, damp, with little water or food. It is reported that Francis tried to keep his companions’ spirits up by singing songs made famous by French troubadours. But eventually, even he was worn down by the long captivity. Finally, his family was able to pay his ransom, and he was released. Francis was bedridden for a long time with illness when he got back to Assisi. When he recovered, he was able to go out once again amongst the hills and valleys of Umbrian countryside. But nature’s beauty no longer touched him. Parties no longer brought joy to his heart. Feeling empty, he began turning to God for help. He would spend more time in prayer, seeking out caves for solitude. As he opened himself more to the Father’s presence, he began to experience God’s love for him, and the peace that comes with it. It was the beginning of his conversion.

In his book, “My Life with the Saints,” Father James Martin, SJ, writes: “My novice director told me that he thought of the saints as older brothers and sisters to whom one could look for advice and counsel.” I would like to think that veterans can see in Francis, somebody they can identify with, and someone they can turn to for help and encouragement.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Memories of the National Parks and ACMNP

I watched the last episode of Ken Burns’ documentary on the National Parks. It brought back memories of my time in the Parks. This was back in the ‘70’s, when I was attending St. John’s Seminary in Boston, MA. I heard of this interdenominational Christian group called “A Christian Ministry in the National Parks.” It recruits seminarians, theology school and college students to go out into the National Parks to provide worship services for visitors and employees. I would spend a summer and a full year in the program.

My first summer, I was assigned to Yellowstone National Park. I took a train out to the Park, which was definitely an adventure. I arrived in the Park during early June, with a suitcase full of summer clothing, only to see snow on the ground and the temperature close to freezing. I definitely was entering another world. The beauty of the Park took my breath away. To earn my keep, I had a job as a dishwasher at the restaurant of Lake Yellowstone Hotel. During the week I would be working, sightseeing on my days off. On weekends, especially Sundays, I would either be assisting a priest who would come to celebrate Mass, or lead a Liturgy of the Word for Catholic park visitors. Sometimes, I would be assigned to lead a worship service for other Christians. It was a challenge to write sermons that would be meaningful to the people attending the service. I got mostly positive feedback.

The Lake Yellowstone Area, home of the largest alpine lake in the world, was beautiful. And if you were not careful, you could turn a corner and come face to face with a moose. I took tour buses around the park, saw Old Faithful, the Mammoth Hot Springs, the mud pots, and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. All this beauty, and it really made me thankful for the love of the Creator, that He would give us such a great gift.

It was also an experience living and working with people, young and old, from all different parts of the country, with very different backgrounds. As someone who had lived a pretty sheltered life, I was to have some very “interesting” adventures. It helped me to appreciate the differences in people, to accept them as they are, as they did me.

After my third year of theology studies, I decided to take a year’s leave of absence. It may not have been the best decision I have ever made, but I decided to spend the year with the ACMNP. For the summer, I was sent back to Yellowstone, this time to the Old Faithful Area. I was again a dishwasher, but I did not mind. To be able to daily walk amongst the geyser fields, to look into the hot springs, and to lead a worship service with Old Faithful in the background; Oh boy!! Again, I was working with a great crew of people, both on the job and the ministry staff.

My fondest memory was of the time I did an overnight hike to a nearby field. The next morning, I woke up, got out my tent, and saw that my campsite was surrounded by bison!

My next assignment was to spend the fall, winter and spring seasons at Big Bend National Park, which is located on the Rio Grande in Texas. My job was as night watchman at a motel located in Chisos Mountain Basin. It was quite a difference, coming from the mountains and forest of Wyoming and Montana, to the desert of Texas. My co-workers had a blend of southern and Mexican accents; they were forever amused by my “Yankee” accent. And I was coming from a very large ministry staff, to a staff of two. I found myself doing four worship services each weekend, at various campsites throughout the park. I was beginning to feel like a modern version of a circuit rider. It was at Big Bend that I bought my first used car. God must have been looking over me, because that car was to last me a couple of years, and take me all around the country.

I did a lot of hiking and discovered the beauty of the desert; I could see why it attracts prophets and mystics. And from the park mountains, the view took your breath away. On my travels, I would run into deer, coyote, roadrunners, and javelina (wild pigs). I would take a dunk in the Rio Grande, and visit a small Mexican village.

The time I spent in the National Parks, serving God and His people, and being rewarded with such sights and memories, will always make the Parks very precious to me.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Street Party!!

One thing I have learned about Franciscans, be they Friars, Sisters, or Seculars; Franciscans love to party! So it was no surprise to see the Franciscans Friars of St. Anthony Shrine in Boston, turn Arch Street into a street fair! It was a celebration to both mark the upcoming Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, and the 800th Anniversary of the approval by the Pope of the Franciscan Rule of Life, giving birth to the Franciscan movement.

Now before his conversion, Francis was known as a party animal. He was famous was leading the wealthy youth through the streets of Assisi in raucous parties. I have no doubt that even after his conversion, he would still have parties with his companions, although much more simple affairs. And he would invite everyone to come, poor, rich, noble, or commoner. All would be welcomed.

And I saw that same Franciscan spirit reflected last Tuesday. Everyone was welcomed! Young and old; office workers and the homeless; business men in suits and construction workers. All together, eating hot dogs, cookies, listing to a band play modern Christian songs. It was a time of fun, joy, and a moment of grace.