Thursday, April 29, 2010

Different Views of Leadership

I am sorry, but when I saw this picture on the National Catholic Reporter website, I got ill. It was taken at the High Mass, in the Tridentine rite, which was celebrated at the National Basilica in D.C. by Bishop Slattery of Tulsa, OK. I really feel that this has no place in a post Vatican II Church. Seeing the bishop move majestically down the aisle, with the laity bowing to him, where is the image of the servant leader?

I know enough Church history to know how some of these practices came about. And I know there are those who feel that the dignity of the Church was decreased when Pope Paul VI cut back on the pomp, no longer wearing the papal tiara, reducing the number of papal processional escorts, getting rid of those “imperial” fans, and bishops and cardinals reduced the regalia. But I keep remembering what Our Lord said: “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them and those in authority over them are addressed as ‘Benefactors,’ but among you it shall not be so. Rather, let the greatest among you be as the youngest, and the leader as the servant.” (Luke 22: 25-26).

Through baptism, we all have a share in Christ’s priestly office, but there are those who are called by the Spirit to serve the faithful as ordained bishops and priests. When they forget that they are servant leaders, then we see a very least a low opinion of the laity, at worst, abuse of power. And what the Church really needs in this time of crisis are more servant leaders.
Picture from CNS

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Regional Chapter - 2010

On the weekend of April 23 to April 25, 2010, Ministers of Secular Franciscan fraternities from New Hampshire, New York, Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont; gathered at the Franciscan Center, Andover, MA, I was one of them. We were there for the annual Chapter of St. Elizabeth of Hungary Regional Fraternity. 26 out of 34 fraternities were represented.

In 2009 and 2010, many of our local fraternities held their elections, during which fraternity Ministers and Councilors were elected. For a good number of these Ministers, it is their first term. Because of that, the Chapter was structured to give these new Ministers information on how to organize and lead fraternity functions, what makes up a good formation program, both for those just joining the SFO, and those who have been professed for a long time.

The first presentation was on the relationship between the Spiritual Assistant and the fraternity; the relationship between the First Order (Friars) and the Third Order (Secular Franciscans). This was followed by presentations on how to run a Council meeting; what makes a good monthly fraternity meeting (I was on this panel); and what are the nuts and bolts, the documents and reports that keep a fraternity organized.

We also had various reports, the Regional Minister’s and Treasurer’s, to listen to and accept. When the Regional fraternity was established in 1996, we had 40 fraternities, with about 1000 members. Since then we have had to deactivate 10 fraternities, this year, and our membership numbers 680. We hope this is the bottom, and we can begin building up. You can already feel the new energy in some of the fraternities, as you hear how they are trying to build a sense of community among themselves.

Chapters can be a time where those of us who a Ministers are re-energized with the Franciscan spirit. And we carry that energy back to our fraternities.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Gathering of Secular Franciscans

"The Regional Fraternity Council is the representative body of all of the Local Fraternities that together compose the Regional Fraternity, and has the power to create regional guidelines in conformity with the Rule, the General Constitutions and the National Statutes.
The Regional Fraternity Council shall meet at least once a year." (Art.22: 2-3; Statutes of the National Fraternity of the Secular Franciscan Order in the USA)
This weekend I will be attending the annual Chapter of the St. Elizabeth of Hungary Regional Fraternity, at the Franciscan Center in Andover, MA. Some business, some on-going formation, and a lot of prayer. More later.

The Story Keeps Dribbling Out

Most scandals, whether it involves politicians, business men, or unfortunately clergymen, can be exposed all at once, or slowly, with little bits of information leaking out; “death by a thousand cuts.”

We are seeing this happening now with the clergy abuse scandal going global and Vatican connections coming to light. The National Catholic Reporter has been posting a continuous stream of stories concerning Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, a retired Vatican curialist, involvement with some cases of clergy abuse. The uproar resulting from these stories have caused the Cardinal to decline being the principal celebrant at a High Mass in the Tridentine rite. This Mass is being celebrated on April 24th at the National Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.

Those of you have been regular readers of this blog know my feelings about the continued celebration of the Tridentine liturgy. When I heard about the High Mass being celebrated at the main altar of the Basilica, I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I know there those who will disagree with me, but I still feel that the Tridentine liturgy has no place in a post-Vatican II Church; we are a different laity, with a new understanding of our role in the Church.

And as a faithful laity, we deserve full disclosure from the leaders of our Church, not having to endure constant snippets, day after day, month after month, year after year. We deserve to have our church leaders be accountable for their failures, and ready to work towards healing our Church. We deserve an institutional Church we can be proud of, that we can rejoice in.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

"...They Shall Strive to Create Conditions of Life Worthy of People Redeemed by Christ"

“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.
A sense of community will make them joyful and ready to place themselves on an equal basis with all people, especially with the lowly for whom they shall strive to create conditions of life worthy of people redeemed by Christ.” (Art. 13, Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order)

As I have written in an earlier blog, because the number of clients using a food pantry at St. Anthony Shrine, Boston, MA, had grown so large; they needed to expand the space they were using. This meant that our fraternity had to be creative in how we hold our monthly meetings at the Shrine, which called for a good deal of flexibility.

Earlier this month, our fraternity held a town meeting, during which members voiced their feelings about the situation. And did some of them voice their feelings! Some felt that since our fraternity has been meeting there for so long, we should get priority over the meeting space. Others, including myself, reminded the fraternity that as Franciscans, we claim nothing as our own, including a meeting space. We are called to serve the poor, and if sacrificing our meeting space aids in that service, so be it!

So we continue to be inventive on how best to use the space we have; and we continue to seek ways to serve the poor. The friars in their magazine “The Anthonian,” have published a story about the Franciscan Food Center.

Monday, April 19, 2010

An Encounter with Francis

When the Protestant movement was first gaining influence throughout Europe, among the first things to go were the devotions to the saints. In recent years, there have been some Protestants who have shown a renewed interst in saints. They see them as examples of what it means to be a Christian; the saints become a source of inspiration.

Francis of Assisi has always been a popular saint with many people, Christian and non-Christian alike. The Rev. Elizabeth Myer Boulton of Old South Church, Boston, MA, recently wrote an essay for the Christian Century magazine; about her and her children’s encounter with Francis.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Wake Up!

“When he returned to his disciples he found them asleep. He said to Peter, ‘So you could not keep watch with me for one hour? Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.’” (Mt 26: 40-41, NAB)

There is in our kitchen cupboard a coffee mug similar to the one pictured; only mine is white, with black lettering. I had ordered it from an American Zen Buddhist monastery in New York. On it are the words: “Wake Up!” It ties in with the goal that every practicing Buddhist wishes to achieve; enlightenment. Now I had wanted t write about something else, based on my viewing of a documentary on the Buddha, whose name can be translated as “The Awakened.” But as I reflect more and more on the clergy abuse scandal, the more I want to take another tack for this column. And what I want to say, what I want to shout to my Church is: “Wake Up!”

To our Holy Father, the Vatican Curia, and to the bishops: “Wake Up!” This scandal is not some invention of anti-Catholic media; it is real, real people have been harmed. There is so much hurt and anger, that it cannot be kept secret, it is coming out, and will continue to come out. They need to wake up and acknowledge their role in covering up the abuse, and allowing it to continue. They need to wake up and see the victims, care for them, heal them, and beg their forgiveness. They need to wake up and see how the Church’s clerical culture has contributed to the scandal and explore what changes must be made.

To my fellow lay Catholics: “Wake Up!” We have a right to a voice in how our Church is governed. We have a right to make our concerns known to our bishops and pastors; and ask that they be addressed, and not be ignored. We need to wake up, and realize that we can never again be silent when abuse occurs, and demand that the crime be addressed and the victims cared for. We need to wake up and realize that we also have a duty to defend faithful priests, and a duty to defend the Church against malicious rumors. And finally we need to wake up and realize that we need to continue to be faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and live it.

To all of us, I say: “Wake Up!”

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Something I Read on the Way to Work

“We cannot live a life of prayer, we cannot go ahead Godwards, unless we are free from possession in order to have two hands to offer and a heart absolutely open—not like a purse which we are afraid of keeping open because our money will drop out of it, but like an open and empty purse---and an intelligence completely open to the unknown and the unexpected. This is the way in which we are rich and yet totally free from richness. And this is the point at which we can speak of being outside the Kingdom and yet be so rich inside and yet also so free.” (Beginning To Pray, Anthony Bloom)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Clergy Abuse Scandal From One Franciscan's Perspective - My April Fraternity Newsletter Column

“Blessed is that servant of God who has confidence in priests who live according to the laws of the holy Roman Church. Woe to those who despise them. Even if they fall into sin, no one should pass judgment on them, for God has reserved judgment on them to himself. They are in the privileged position because they have charge of the Body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which they receive and which they alone administer to others, and so anyone who sins against them commits a greater crime than if he sinned against anyone else in the whole world.” (Admonition XXVI, St. Francis of Assisi)

“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, Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order)

Once again, there are stories of sexual abuse committed against children by clergy. Once again, we hear of bishops, who were more concerned with the image of the Church, and who covered up these crimes. They failed to act to protect the children, and they allowed these priests to abuse again, and again …and again! Once again we hear of bishops and Vatican officials accusing the press of anti-Catholic bias, of blowing the stories out of proportion.

Whether or not there are some in the press who have an anti-Catholic agenda, the facts are that hundreds, if not thousands of children have been abused. We know that it has occurred in the United States; investigations have proven it has occurred in Ireland; and now there are revelations of crimes in Europe. And the bishops and Rome have failed to stop it.

What should be our response as Franciscans? We need to continue to honor the office of priest, and those who faithfully carry it out for the good of the People of God. They need our prayers, our love and support. But we need to demand, respectfully, but forcefully, that our bishops address this crisis. The victims of the past need to be cared for by the Church. Their abusers must be revealed, removed from ministry and turned over to the law. And bishops need to acknowledge their failure to act and be accountable for it. And finally, we the laity must call on our Holy Father and bishops to take those steps needed to insure that this never happens again.

It is going to be very hard to be a Catholic for coming months, maybe years. We need to continue to love those who are abandoned, to care for the poor, to faithfully live the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as Saint Francis did. In that way, we will be participating in rebuilding the Church.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter Sunday 2010

There is a scene from Franco Zeffirelli’s TV mini-series, “Jesus of Nazareth,” that has always stayed with me. It takes place on Easter Sunday morning, a temple official, who had hoped that with the death of Jesus, it would end the movement Jesus was leading, arrived at the tomb where Jesus was buried. As he looks into the empty tomb, he mutters, “Now it begins; now it all begins.” With the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, his first followers, who had previously been full of despair, are now full of hope. A new dawn had come for humanity, the power of sin and death had been broken. There is new hope in the world. This was the Good News the Risen Christ would charge the Apostles to proclaim to the entire world. It is this Good News that Jesus asks us to believe, and to proclaim to others by our words and lives.

Belief can sometimes be difficult, because it can be challenged both by tragedies, crisis’s, and hardships of the world, and our own lives. There may be moments where we, like the Apostles, may not at first believe, or understand the Resurrection; but the light of Christ will breakthrough to us, will dawn in our hearts. And when that happens, we will be able to proclaim: “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!”

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday, a day of mourning, when spiritually, I sometimes feel the emptiness, the numbness that the first disciples must have felt. The church is drab, empty; the tabernacle is empty. No liturgies being performed, there is just the waiting; waiting for the Easter Vigil.

For many of us, the emotions of the Triduum have been experienced here and now. There has been the suffering of the Haitian people, with so much death and loss; it is understandable that they may feel abandoned by God. On a personal level, there are those of us who have also experienced tragedies, deep suffering, and again, a feeling of abandonment.

We need to hold on, be patient, as we stare out into the night, with open eyes and hearts. Soon a light will pierce the darkness, and a dawn of hope will come for us all.

Waiting to Get Through Apple or Heavens Gate?

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” (Matt. 25: 31-32)

I went this morning to the Northshore Mall in Peabody, MA, to get my wife a Dunkin' Donuts iced coffee. I wandered over to the Apple store in the mall. It was about 9:20 AM, but there was a large crowd in front of the store, waiting for a chance to buy an IPad. There were two groups, those who made reservations; and those just hoping to get a chance to purchase one. Those that made reservations were being let in first, amidst floating blue balloons and cheering staff. And I now have this image in my head of them waiting to enter through Heaven's gates, after being separated into the sheep and the goats. I wonder which gate people are most anxious to get through today?