Friday, August 30, 2013

New Biography on Saint Francis of Assisi

For a Jesuit periodical, America magazine seems to frequently call peoples attention to the latest books on St. Francis of Assisi.  The latest book is biography written by Andre Vauchez, a French scholar.  The work was translated by Father Michael Cusato, OFM, a noted Franciscan historian.  America magazine posted a review of the book on their website, as well as a podcast interview with Father Cusato on the book.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Homily For The 20th Sunday In Ordinary Time - 2013

Jeremiah 38: 4-6, 8-10
Hebrews 12: 1-4
Luke 12: 49-53

“I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!”

“Do you think that I have come to establish peace on earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division.”

It is a little jarring to hear these words coming from the mouth of Jesus Christ.  Where is the gentle Shepherd? The one who welcomed little children? The one who talked about turning the other cheek?  Where did this rabble rouser come from?  But should we be surprised by this?  After all, early in the Gospel of Luke, we see John the Baptist, speaking of the coming Messiah, declaring; “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

I think that we sometimes forget that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Christ the King, Christ the ultimate Priest, is also Christ the Prophet.  He is coming from a long line of Jewish prophets.  And these prophets did not just predict the future; their main role was to speak the word of God, the word of Yahweh.  They spent most of their lives calling the people of Israel back into a loving relationship with God.  Among these prophets was Jeremiah.  He lived during a time when the empire King David and Solomon built up had been shattered, the northern tribes of Israel had been dispersed and exiled.  Only the southern kingdom of Judah was left.  The king of Judah, to insure his kingdom’s survival entered into an alliance with a powerful and ancient Egypt.  Now the price of this alliance was to allow the worship of the Egyptian gods in Judah, which also allowed the resurgence of the worship of the ancient Canaanite gods.  The king of Judah was no longer turning to Yahweh for help and protection.  Along comes Jeremiah, telling the people that salvation lies not in earthly alliances, but in remaining faithful to the covenant with God. He is trying to shake the people up, to bring them back to God.  Reading the signs of the times, he predicted that this alliance would ultimately lead to the destruction of the nation.  The king and his advisers do not want this kind of talk getting around, so they initially try to silence Jeremiah …permanently.  God inspired a court official to convince the king to save Jeremiah; but we see that being a prophet, especially one with an uncomfortable message, has its consequences.  But Jeremiah was committed to reigniting the fire in the hearts of his people, the love for God, to call them to conversion.

Jesus’ coming has changed the world, the old ways of humanity, the old ways of relating which each other, of relating to God the Father, were to be wiped away, and a new heaven and a new earth was to come into being.  His message was not popular with many people, especially those who had a lot invested in the old ways of doing things, in the old structures of power.  They put Jesus to death, hoping to silence the message, but the Father raised Him from the dead, and his message blazed out throughout the world, carried by his followers.  The Gospel of Christ was, and still is controversial, because it threatens the way many see the world and their comfortable relationship with it.  We have seen the negative reactions that many people expressed about Pope Francis’ comments about capitalism, the world economy, and the needs of the poor.  And, yes, when the Gospel is authentically lived; it has the potential to cause divisions among family members, friends, neighbors, and co-workers.  Anyone who is so comfortable with the way society is, the way the world is, the way their lives are, they do not want to change.  Even though the society, the world is so full of injustice, pain and suffering; even though their lives may be empty and at times full of pain; they feel threatened by the Gospel, the call for conversion.  So they try to make the Gospel irrelevant, they try to keep the Word of God in a box. 

And we need to ask ourselves, where are we in all of this?  Has the fire gone out of our faith communities, has it been extinguished in our hearts?  A scholar of the Christian religion, Martin Marty, has called Europe and North America the “Ice Belt,” because he sees the fire of Christianity dying out.  Are we willing stand by and just let this happen.  Our Church, our Holy Father, our Archbishop says no, and they are challenging themselves and us to rekindle that fire which first disciples experienced with Christ, and let it burn anew in our hearts. Let us recommit ourselves to, with the help of the Father’s grace, the inspiration of the Word of God, and the light of the Holy Spirit; to live, really live the Good News.  Let us, as St. Paul wrote, “Persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus.”  Let us set the world ablaze!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

August 11th - Feast of St. Clare Of Assisi

“Trusting in the Father, Christ chose for himself and his mother a poor and humble life, even though he valued created things attentively and lovingly.  Let the Secular Franciscans seek a proper spirit of detachment from temporal goods by simplifying their own material needs.  Let them be mindful that according to the gospel they are stewards of the goods received for the benefit of God’s children.

Thus, in the spirit of the Beatitudes, and as pilgrims and strangers on their way to the Father, they should strive to purify their hearts from every tendency and yearning for possession and power.”  (Art. 11, Secular Franciscan Order Rule)

If August 11, 2013, had not fallen on a Sunday, we would have been celebrating  the memory of Saint Clare of Assisi, co-founder with Saint Francis of the Second Order, then known as the Poor Ladies of San Damiano, and today known as the Poor Clares.  We sometimes think of her and her sisters as the contemplative branch of the Franciscan family, but I would like to share a reflection on another aspect of Clare’s life and spirituality.

When the Poor Ladies were established at San Damiano, Clare requested a special privilege from the Pope and the Bishop of Assisi, the privilege of poverty.  Her monastery would depend only on the income from the work of their hands, or from alms given to them.  At a time when the established monasteries had huge incomes from the rents on lands gifted to them, and the dowries of the women who entered the monasteries, this was unheard of.  The Popes of Clare’s time continually refused this request, believing that the Poor Ladies needed income and sustenance that only lands and endowments could provide.  Now Clare was not an ascetic masochist, nor did she see poverty as an end.  She saw evangelical poverty as a means to an end.  As she and her sisters gazed on the San Damiano cross, they saw Christ, though He was the Son of God, willing to empty Himself for all humanity.  And Clare realized that to follow Christ meant emptying oneself of all possessions, of the need to possess and control, and be dependent on the love of God.  Thus, she held out against the Pope, until finally he relented and gave Clare and her sisters the privilege of poverty.  She received the written permission shortly before her death.

We are also called to empty ourselves so that we can be open and receptive to the love of God.  We, too, are called to empty ourselves and share the gifts of that love with everyone.  Let us ask for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, let us be inspired by the lives of Francis and Clare.  Let us have the courage to open our arms and share all that we have for the sake of the kingdom of God.