Thursday, May 23, 2013

Admonitions of St. Francis of Assisi

Admonition IX    True Love

The Lord says:  Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who persecute and blame you. (Mt 5:44)  That person truly loves his enemy who is not upset at any injury which is done to himself, but out of love of God is disturbed at the sin of the other's soul.  And let him show his love for the other by his deeds.

(Francis and Clare - The Complete Works, translated by Regis Armstrong, OFM Cap, and Ignatius Brady OFM.  Paulist Press)

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

My Homily for Pentecost Sunday 2013

Happy Birthday!

So right now some of you are asking: “Whose birthday?”  Some of you are thinking: “The deacon has lost it sooner than we expected!”  Actually what I am talking about is the Church’s birthday!  Many Christians believe that on the day of Pentecost, the Church was born. 

Now I am going to submit the proposition that there was a chance the Church may not have come into being.  Think about it.  There are Apostles, and other disciples.  Yes, they have witnessed the Resurrection of Jesus, and they did receive his command to go out and preach the Good News to everyone.  But they have seen Jesus ascend into heaven, and now they are alone.  It would be expected that they are coming down from that spiritual high.  Yes, they know Jesus promised to send this Advocate, this Holy Spirit; but he never said when, and what it would mean.  Better that they stay under the radar of the Jerusalem temple authorities and the Romans.  So maybe the safer course is to stay in the Upper Room, worship together quietly, remain in their comfort zone.

Then one day, during the Jewish Feast of Weeks, known in Greek as Pentecost, they hear this sound like a strong driving wind.  Now we New Englanders, we have experienced northeasters, thunderstorms, and hurricanes.  We know what a strong wind is like.  How it can shake a house.  How it will scatter lawn furniture, and scatter toys (which we were supposed to pick up) all around a yard.  Well when the Holy Spirit comes to the Apostles and other disciples, it shakes them, shakes them out of their complacency, it blows them out of their comfort zone, and scatters them out into the Jerusalem crowd, who hear the Good News proclaimed.

 But that is not all that the Spirit brings with it, “tongues as of fire,” came and rested on each one of them.  Now artists have depicted these tongues of fire resting on their heads.  I would suggest that the fire entered their hearts, the center of their very being; and rekindled the fire of love they had for Jesus.  It reminded them of all that Jesus had taught them, filled them with zeal for the Lord.  And when the crowds heard them proclaim the Word with such love, such zeal, such power; thousands were baptized in the name of Jesus, and the Church, this community of faith is born.

So now we have to ask ourselves, where is this faith community, this Church today?  If we are to look at Europe, Canada, and these United States, we have seen with our own eyes, the drop in number of members.  We have seen the numbers of those persons who say they do not belong to any church at all.  We have seen our Hispanic brothers and sisters, both in this country and in Latin and South America, joining the evangelical Pentecostal communities; because they do not see the same zeal, the same fire in our Catholic communities.  Pope Francis has preached that among the greatest dangers to the Church are those with lukewarm faith, who lack the courage to proclaim the Gospel.

So the question we all have to ask ourselves is; do we have a lukewarm faith, are we willing to just remain in our comfort zones, our closed rooms.  Or can we open ourselves up and let the Holy Spirit in, to let it shake us up, and drive us out into the world, to boldly proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ by word and deed.  We all have a part to play in this evangelization; we are all called by the Spirit to different forms of service to one another, and the larger community.

There was a time in early Christian history, when the Church was no longer persecuted; it had become the state religion.  It was no longer a challenge to be Christian, and the local churches were becoming lukewarm.  Many Christians, men and women, wanted to experience the old zeal, so they went tout into the deserts to live lives of solitude, constant prayer, fasting and service to one another.  One day, a young hermit approached an elderly hermit by the name of Abba Lot; and asked his guidance.  The young hermit had a deep prayer life, was able to give up all desire for material wealth, but he still felt something was missing from his faith life.  So he asked Abba Lot, what should I do?  The elder hermit “stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, ‘If you will, you can become all flame.”   May we all have the courage to become a flame of the Holy Spirit, and help spread the light of Christ throughout a world in so desperate need of it.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Countdown to Phase I of Archdiocesan Pastoral Collaboratives

A little more than two and a half weeks before Phase I of the Archdiocese of Boston reorganization takes effect, and the first Pastoral Collaboratives come into existence, with their new pastors.  The Archdiocesan newspaper, the Pilot, has an article of the pastors receiving specialized training to prepare them for this new role.  Luke Hill, who is a community organizer in Massachusetts, has a good, short history of the events for Commonweal magazine, and circumstances that have lead up to this moment.

As I mentioned before, the Beverly parish I am assigned to as Deacon, is in one of those Phase I Collaboratives.  While the new pastors are being trained, those of us on the ground really do not know how the transition process will go.  It is not like a new pastor coming into a single parish, is a pastor coming in to take charge of an entire city’s faith community, with three unique parishes.  The process of becoming one united faith community, yet maintaining our diversities, this will be the real challenge. 

The symbol the Archdiocese has chosen for this year of faith, of new evangelization, is a square rigged sailing ship.  I think this symbol is more appropriate than what they originally thought; because for many Catholic parishioners these year, we are definitely entering uncharted waters.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Homily for Seventh Sunday of Easter 2013

Acts 7: 55-60
Revelation 22:12-14, 19-17, 20
John 17:20-26

For me and my fellow Deacons, the story of St. Stephen, as told in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, has a special place in our hearts.  Stephen, whom the Church recognizes as the first martyr for the faith, is also the patron saint of deacons.  He was one of those seven men, appointed by the Apostles to serve the Hellenist or Greek Christian widows.  Tradition has it that from this group of seven, the office of Deacon arose. Very quickly, their service of charity becomes also a service to the word; they become proclaimers of the Good News about Jesus Christ.  One of them was Stephen, and he was good at it, so effective at bringing new members into the Christian faith, into the community, that the Jerusalem temple authorities brought him to trial.  Now it was during this trial that he had this vision of the glory of God.  Now a trial lawyer of our time would warn Stephen to keep this experience to himself, to exercise his right to be silent.  But like the prophet Jeremiah, this experience, this vision became like a fire burning within him.  Stephen could not keep it in; he had to proclaim it, and so sacrificed his life for the faith.

Proclaiming the glory of God is a constant theme throughout the readings we have had during this Easter season from the Book of Revelation.  Tradition has it that the Book was written by St. John the Evangelist, our patron saint.  He wrote it while he was in exile on the island of Patmos, a Roman penal colony.  The rest of the Christian communities were under severe persecution by Roman authorities.  It was during this time of crisis that he received this vision of the glory of God, and tried to put that experience into words that could help the struggling communities remain faithful to Jesus.

To experience the glory of God, something so wonderful, so indescribable; I am sure we all think; that it cannot happen to us.  But I would remind us of this phrase that is in today’s Gospel, in which Jesus says: “And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me.”  From the day of our baptism, we all have been made part of the Body of Christ; we are loved by Father just as much as He loves the Son.  That is the glory of God, which is alive in each one of us. 

But how many of us are aware of this wonderful, this awesome fact?  Or are we like the seed from the parable of the sower; people who receive the Good News, but like thorns, we let the anxieties, the fears, the burdens of everyday life smother the experience of the glory of God.  This is the challenge we face, the struggle we are called to enter into; to pull up those thorns that surround our hearts, let the glory of God blossom forth, let the wonder of it fill us with joy; let the beauty of it shine forth from each one of us for all the world to see. 

Jesus, through His Gospel, shows us the way to accept the challenge, to enter into the struggle; if we only will take the time to read it, reflect on it, and live it.  Jesus, through the Eucharist, gives Himself to us, to strengthen us for the challenge, for the struggle, if we only open ourselves to him and say, as St. John did: “Come, Lord Jesus!”

Monday, May 6, 2013

My Fifth Sunday of Easter 2013 Homily

“I give you a new commandment: love one another.  As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.  This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  (Gospel according to John)

Love one another; this is the new commandment that Jesus gave to the Apostles, as recorded by John the Evangelist, on that night before his Passion, death and resurrection.  This theme of love, loving one another, we see throughout all of the Gospels.  Jesus expresses this commandment in different ways in the Good News as written by Mark, Matthew, and Luke.  The greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul and mind.  And we are to love one another as we love ourselves.   But what does Jesus mean when he commands us to love one another.  Sometimes when we hear the word “love,” we have images of little hearts floating around lovers.  We think of spouses being kind to one another; parents being nice to their children; brothers and sisters being kind to one another.  Everything is all very nice and sweet, like in a movie we see on the Hallmark Channel.

Let me remind us all again of what Jesus said: “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.”  Look at the crucifix!  “As I have loved you...”  Jesus loved us so much that emptied himself totally for our sake, was willing to suffer and die for us, so that we can be free from the power of sin and death.  He, who is the Messiah, the Son of God, was willing to become a servant for all, healing the sick, freeing those possessed by evil, welcoming and caring for the outcast. 

It is His example that we are to follow.  Whenever, wherever the opportunity presents itself, we must be ready to feed the hungry, care for the sick, welcome the stranger.  And our love is not just restricted to members of our family, our parish, our faith, or the “nice people.”  Our love must be given to those whom we are uncomfortable with; the ones we would have called strange.  Love must be given to those who hate us, are unkind to us. We are called to love them just as strongly as our families and friends.

Now to love as Jesus expects us to love a challenge!  But it is not impossible, we see in the lives of the saints, persons who have been able to love others totally.  Francis of Assisi lived among lepers, cleaning and bandaging their wounds, as did Damian of Molokai, Theresa of Calcutta lived among the sick and dying, giving them love and comfort.  Dorothy Day lived among the poor, the addicts, the alcoholics, the disturbed of the streets of New York, and welcomed them all.  And there are many more out there and in our midst, in big ways and small, who love others as Christ loves us.  But I will be the first to admit, it is a challenge, and we are not all going to be able to succeed keeping this commandment.  In fact at times it may seem impossible, but that is when we turn to Him who is the source of all love, Jesus.  We seek inspiration from Him through His words in Scripture.  We gain strength from Him when we receive Him through the Eucharist.  He will help us overcome our weaknesses; give us the courage to reach out to others, in love.

And when we love as Jesus has loved us, we will be evangelizers to the world.  When we love as Jesus loves us, we will be living the Good News.