Friday, April 29, 2011

Enough Already With The Royal Wedding - One Franciscan's Perspective

First, let me admit that I regularly watch the BBC America channel, and that I watch and listen to the BBS World News. I will also admit that I watched the BBC documentary series, “Monarchy,” about the daily life of Queen Elizabeth II. Okay, I will admit that I watched that series several times.

That being said, I am tired of all the hype, the hoopla that has surrounded today’s wedding of Prince Harry and Kate Middleton. Yes, it is a prime social news story that deserves coverage by the major news organizations. But when local news stations dig into their pockets to send local reporters to cover it; there is a question of where the priority lies. And they have filed so many stories leading up to today, that they are really stretching what is relevant to report on.

This reminds me of a story that the Franciscan friar and biographer of St. Francis of Assisi, Thomas of Celano, told:

“He (Francis) taught them not only to mortify vices and repress carnal movements, but also to restrain the exterior senses themselves, for through them death enters the soul. When at that time the Emperor Otto was passing through the place with much clamor and pomp to receive the crown of his earthly empire, the most holy father, who was living with his brothers in that hovel close to the road on which the emperor would pass, did not even go out to watch; and he did not let any one else to do so except one who continuously called out to the Emperor that his glory would last but a short time,..”

Yes, this is a time for the people of Great Britain to celebrate, to have a moment of joy after so much bad news. And yes, the rest of the world can watch, and enjoy the spectacle as it plays out on our televisions and computer monitors. But there are people out there that should not be forgotten, the tornado victims in the South, the earthquake victims of Japan; the Arab protestors, seeking freedom. They and others deserve our attention more!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Empty Pews And How To Fill Them Again

The April 15th issue of the National Catholic Reporter has an article by Father Thomas Reese, SJ, former editor of America magazine. In it he analyzes the data from a Pew Research study concerning why Catholics leave the Church, and why some of them join a Protestant congregation.

Despite what conventional wisdom might be, on either side of the spectrum, the data shows that most Catholics leave because they are not getting the spiritual nourishment they crave. And it is not because they feel the Church has strayed from traditional liturgy. A liturgy, whether traditional or modern, that is not done well, will fail to touch the hearts of the congregation. A homily, which does not explain the Scriptures, leaves the listeners feeling empty.

Among the recommendations Father Reese comes up with from the data, is that there needs to be more emphasis on the Bible. Biblical education programs need to be developed for Catholics. And Catholics need to learn that daily reading and reflecting on the Bible is just as important as memorizing the catechism; maybe even more so.

My feeling is that this is just the starting point; liturgies need to be better planned and celebrated. This requires not just the clergy, but also the laity, those with musical skills, to encourage hymn singing. It requires training lectors to not just read the Scriptures, but to proclaim them. People need to be inspired to, encouraged to, gather together for communal prayer; and to share their prayer experiences. Some of the old devotions should be looked at again, renewed for modern needs.

To encourage people to remain in the Church, will require imagination from all of us, bishops, priests, deacons, and laity. Above all, we will need the aid of the Holy Spirit to guide us and inspire us.

Friday, April 22, 2011

A Good Friday Reflection; From the Writings of Saints Francis and Clare

“Let all of us, brothers, look to the Good Shepherd Who suffered the passion of the cross to save His sheep. The sheep of the Lord followed Him in tribulation and persecution, in insult and hunger, in infirmity and temptation, and in everything else, and they have received everlasting life from the Lord because of these things. Therefore, it is a great shame for us, servants of God, that while the saints [actually] did such things, we wish to receive glory and honor by [merely] recounting their deeds.” (St. Francis of Assisi, Sixth Admonition)

“Look upon Him Who became contemptible for you, and follow Him, making yourself contemptible in the world for Him. Your Spouse, though more beautiful than the children of men (Ps 44:3), became for your salvation the lowest of men, despised, struck, scourged untold times throughout His whole body, and then died amid the sufferings amid the sufferings of the Cross. O most noble Queen, gaze upon Him, contemplate Him, as you desire to imitate Him.

If you suffer with Him, you shall 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.”
(St. Clare of Assisi, Second Letter to Blessed Agnes of Prague)

(Image from the e-newsletter of Holy Name Province, OFM)

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Loss In The Family

I am sorry that I have not been posting anything lately, but we suffered a loss in our family last week. My father, William (Bill) Jones, passed away on Tuesday, April 5th. He was 85 years old. A child of the Depression era; he entered the Navy right out of high school and served during the final years of WWII, in the Pacific. He served on the hospital ship, USS Benevolence, as an x-ray technician. While he may not have been in combat, he witnessed the costs of combat, as he cared for the wounded from those final, bloody, Pacific campaigns. He graduated from Boston College after the war. He worked at General Electric. He married my mother, Margaret, and with her, raised six children; three boys, three girls (they believed in equality). He was a very loving father. A convert to Catholicism while he was a teenager, he would teach religious education in our home parish for 30 years. He sang in the parish choir, was a senior altar server, and a regular lector at Sunday Mass. He was a Vatican II man, welcomed the reforms that came out of it. He always wished that the Church would push the envelope a little farther. His and my mother's example of living the faith were definitely an influence on me and my faith life. He died at home, after a long battle with cancer, with my mother and siblings with him. I think I am still processing the loss, because right now, despite all that is happening in the Church and the world at large, nothing is stirring these fingers to begin typing. Hopefully, this block will lift, and there will be more frequent posts. But for now, I ask your prayers for my father's soul, and for my family. Thank you.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

"Why Stay Catholic?"

On the website of America magazine, the Jesuit periodical, was an interview with Michael Leach, past president of the Crossroad/Continuum Publishing Group and currently with the Catholic Book Publishers Association. He was talking about his new book, “Why Stay Catholic.” In it he outlines the reasons he has remained in the Catholic Church. “Why stay Catholic?” has been a question that has been asked of me a couple of times; most recently during the height of the clergy abuse scandal in the Archdiocese of Boston. My first reaction was that I am Catholic in my bones, my heart, and my soul. Culturally, and spiritually, I am Catholic. What helps me to stay is my understanding of the history of the Church, realizing that in the history of the institution known as the Roman Catholic Church, it has not always been lead by saints. There were times when sections of the Church have not always been faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That there have been Popes, bishops, and clergy who abused their offices because of greed or lust. At the same time, I believe that the Holy Spirit is still with the Church, and that the whole Church will fulfill its mission to live and proclaim the Gospel. I believe that Christ is present to His people in the Eucharist, and that through the celebration of the Eucharist; we as a Church are healed and strengthened for the challenges ahead.