Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Day - A Franciscan Reflection

Among the stories about St. Francis of Assisi is the one where Francis and his companion, Brother Masseo, had gone through an Italian town, preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Evening was coming, so they went around the town, begging alms for their evening meal.  Francis, thin and gaunt, was not too successful; while Masseo, a handsome lad, was able to gather a few whole loafs of bread.  They met outside of town, and found a flat stone next to a running brook of clear water. 

After they had placed their food on the stone, Francis looked at the scene, sighed and said to Masseo that they had so much to be thankful for; they were not worthy of such great gifts.  Masseo thought that Francis had been in the sun too long.  Here they were, sitting in an open field; no table or place settings; and only with just enough bread to keep hunger at bay.  Francis replied that they should be thankful, for everything they had, the bread, the stone that was their table, the brook that would provide their drink; this all came not from their efforts, but from God, their Father. 

The Father, in great ways and small, continues to show His love for us.  He helps us through the bad times, helps us see the beauty, the good at all times in our lives.  So let us be thankful.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Is the Current Meeting of US Bishops Missing the Point?

There have been many news stories about how disaffected most Americans have been with their government, be it local, state, or federal. Especially on the federal level, many citizens believe that the politicians are more interested in beating each other up, rather than assisting people, who are suffering from unemployment. They see American politicians as being indifferent to their plight.

The National Catholic Reporter’s website provides a link to a commentary on the Baltimore Sun’s website; Baltimore is the city which is hosting a meeting of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. The commentator, Francis X. Doyle, who was formerly with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, makes the observation that while Americans are going through the stresses of massive unemployment, home foreclosures, and national uncertainty, the bishops are not addressing any of these issues at their national meeting.

Now, I would make the observation that while the issues being discussed by the bishops are important, the people need their pastors, their shepherds to speak words of comfort, of hope to them. The last thing they need is to have their immediate concerns ignored by the very men charged with caring for them.

Catholic laity’s opinion of the US bishops is slowly beginning to improve. The bishops risk losing that growing goodwill if they fail to address what is worrying most of American Catholic families, right now.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veterans Day. Another Patron Saint For Veterans

(For Veterans Day, here is a revised posting from 2009.)

There is a tradition in the Catholic Church to designate a saint as a patron for certain occupations, groups, or movements.  St. Francis of Assisi 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.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Cardinal Sean Has Some Juice!

We Catholics in America, and Boston in particular, have our own opinions about Cardinal Sean O’Malley, OFM CAP., Archbishop of Boston. Personally, I think he has done a fine job of beginning the healing process for the Archdiocese. It is interesting to see how others see him, especially the European press. Cardinal O’Malley is in Rome, along with other American bishops for their ad limina visits with Pope Benedict XVI. The website Vatican Insider, sponsored by the Italian newspaper LaStampa, described him as “the champion of the fight against sexual abuse.”
It is perhaps a sign of how much regard the Vatican has for Cardinal O’Malley that Vatican Insider reported that he was the first American bishop to be received by the Pope, and that the meeting was held three days ahead of schedule.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Feast of All Saints - 2011

“Observe, all my brothers, the good shepherd, who in order to save his sheep has undergone the passion of the cross. The sheep of the Lord have followed him in tribulation and in persecution, disgrace and hunger, in weakness and in temptation and in similar things. So the great disgrace for us servants of God is that by retelling the activities of the holy ones we ourselves want to receive the glory and honor.” (Admonition VI, Francis of Assisi)

This day, the Church recognizes and celebrates all those unknown Saints who may have walked amongst us. All of us are called to a life of holiness, all of us struggle to achieve that goal. There are many individuals in the history of the Church who have achieved that goal, unrecognized by our Christian community; but are known by God. By their intercession, may we receive the grace to also finish the race, to reach the goal.