Saturday, January 31, 2015

Thomas Merton, 100th Birthday of a Trappist Monk...And a Secular Franciscan?

Today, January 31, 2015, would have been the 100th birthday of Father Louis Merton, OSCO; better known to the world as Thomas Merton.  The Catholic, Christian blogosphere is abuzz with reports, stories, and reflections on the life of this Trappist monk, one I read on Crux, by Dennis Sadowski, of the Catholic News Service; another by Margery Eagan, On Spirituality columnist for Crux, and finally a very moving post by Father Dan Horan, OFM on his blog.

I do not know how many will share this opinion, but I think of Thomas Merton, as the one person who brought Christian spirituality, especially contemplative spirituality to the modern American Catholic population.  After him, I think we see an increase in the number of books on spirituality, and prayer, geared for the Catholic laity, and new authors, like Thomas Keating, M. Basil Pennington, Richard Rohr, and Emilie Griffin. I know for myself, my spiritual life became much deeper, more enriched by reading his writings.  He showed me a path to walk, and encouraged me to seek out other spiritual fathers and mothers, for inspiration and guidance.

I am still discovering new things about Merton, especially as heretofore unpublished journals, books, and essays are becoming public.  This has given a much more rounded view of Merton, his life, his struggles, and his achievements. Now there are some facts that I was not aware of until I recently read Father Dan Horan, OFM book on Merton, was that Thomas Merton had some deep Franciscan roots.  After his conversion to Catholicism, he felt a call to the Order of Friars Minor, and had applied to the Order, and was initially approved to enter into formation as a friar.  Before he was to enter, something happened; scholars are not completely sure what, that caused Merton to withdraw his application.  Still attracted to Franciscanism, he found himself at the Franciscan university, St. Bonaventure’s, in western New York.  There, he joined the faculty as an instructor in English.  It was during his time there, that he became a member of the Third Order of St. Francis, now known as the Secular Franciscan Order.  This bit of information floored me.  Now I knew that Merton had a Franciscan connection.  When I was once a Franciscan novice myself, and attended some summer classes at St. Bonaventure’s, I daily would look up at a hillside clearing, known as “Merton’s Heart.”  But to learn that Merton had been a Secular Franciscan, “Wow!”

Of course, this brings a whole bunch of questions: what fraternity did he belong to?  Is the fraternity still in existence?  Is the fraternity’s register, with his name listed in it, still available?  Did he attend monthly fraternity meetings, or was he an isolated tertiary, attached to a fraternity, but unable to make the meetings?  Maybe someday, some scholar, maybe even a Secular Franciscan, will be able to find answer to these questions.

I owe a debt of thanks to Father Louis, for prodding me to go ever deeper into my relationship with God.  May he rest in peace!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

A New Life of Saint Francis of Assisi by Thomas of Celano Discovered

The Franciscan world is abuzz with the word that another biography of St. Francis of Assisi, written by Thomas of Celano has been found.   A posting, dated January 27, 2015, on the English Speaking Conference ofthe Order Friars Minor (OFM) reported the details of how it was discovered.  Scholars believe that Thomas of Celano wrote it shortly after writing the First Life of St. Francis and way before he wrote the Second Life.  It is being reported that it contains information about Francis, which is missing from the other biographies; or had been changed in later issues. 

It is know that multiple biographies were written about the Saint, one only has to look at the three volume collection: “Francis of Assisi, The Early Documents,” compiled and translated by Regis Armstrong, OFM CAP, J.A. Wayne Hellmann, OFM CONV, and William Short, OFM.  That fact that we even have early versions for Francis’ biographies can be considered somewhat of a miracle.  When St. Bonaventure wrote his “Life of Saint Francis (Legenda Maior)” and presented it to a General Chapter of the Friars, the Chapter accepted it as the official biography, and for reasons that still remain unclear, ordered all copies of earlier biographies destroyed.  Again, I consider it a miracle that, according to Ewert Cousins, translator and editor of a collection of Bonaventure’s’ works; twenty copies of Celano’s first Life have survived, and only two copies of the second Life still exist.  Now another work by Celano has come to surface!  What new insights and revelations will come to light?  The Franciscan world waits in anticipation!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

70th Anniversary of the Liberation of the Prisoners of Auschwitz

Today, January 27, 2015, is the 70th Anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp by Soviet troops during World War II.  It is reported that 1.1 million prisoners died at Auschwitz, 90% of them were Jewish, and the remainder were prisoners from the rest of occupied Europe and the Soviet Union.  The BBC had a very moving report on the anniversary memorial at the camp.  New England has been hit by a record breaking blizzard, so the local news channels have been covering that story non-stop.  I have not been able to see any national news, so I do not know if this anniversary has been mentioned in American media.  I really hope it was, but I would not be surprised if it was not.

After learning about the atrocities the Nazis did to the Jews, and other peoples, the nations of the world cried out; “Never again!”  Yet we know that it has happened again, and again!  In my times, it has happened to the Cambodians, victims of the Khmer Rouge.  It has happened again among the ethnic peoples of the former Yugoslavia.  It is happening in Africa, whether among the ethnic tribes, from terrorist groups, or corrupt governments.  Genocide continues to happen, and all the world seems to do is wring its hands.

Growing up, I was never aware of the Holocaust, until one day a teacher in my high school, I cannot remember which class, showed us a black and white documentary film on the Holocaust.  It was the most powerful film I had ever seen, and I think it still shapes my thinking to this day.  In Boston, near Quincy Market, is a memorial to the Holocaust victims, glass columns shaped like the smokestacks of the concentration camps crematoria.  On each pane of glass are engraved the identification number tattooed on each prisoner of the camps.  When I worked in Boston, I would occasionally walk through the monument, touch the glass, and pray for the victims.  I pray that I will not forget, and I will not be silent.

Exalted and hallowed be God's great name
in the world which God created, according to plan.
May God's majesty be revealed in the days of our lifetime
and the life of all Israel -- speedily, imminently, to which we say Amen.

Blessed be God's great name to all eternity.

Blessed, praised, honored, exalted, extolled, glorified, adored, and lauded
be the name of the Holy Blessed One, beyond all earthly words and songs of blessing,
praise, and comfort. To which we say Amen.

May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us and all Israel,
to which we say Amen.

May the One who creates harmony on high, bring peace to us and to all Israel.
To which we say Amen.


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Shock of a Layoff

On the day of my distress I seek the Lord
By night my hands are raised unceasingly,
I refuse to be consoled.
When I think of God, I groan;
As I ponder, my spirit grows faint.
My eyes cannot close in sleep;
I am troubled and cannot speak.
I consider the days of old;
The years long past, I remember.
In the night I meditate in my heart;
I ponder and my spirit broods.
(Psalm 77: 3-6)

On the afternoon of January 7, 2015, I was led into a small conference room, outside of my work floor, and was told that I was being laid off.  My boss and our company Human Resource person were there, and neither was happy about the situation.  I was not too thrilled either, and it took me some time to get my composure back.  The HR person went over the details of my severance package; and how to file for unemployment benefits.  I shook hands with the boss, and said “It has been a pleasure (and meant it)!”  I was given my coat, and my carry bag; and shown to the elevator.  Nineteen years with the company ended in under an hour.

Fortunately, my former place of business was near St. Anthony Shrine, Boston, and I was able to talk with my spiritual director for a bit.  It helped me for a while, but I am still facing an uncertain future.  I am over sixty, and was pulling in 2 figure annual salary, which does not make a prime candidate for a position in many companies.  There are days (and nights) I can relate to the person who composed Psalm 77.  When life throws you a curve, it can take a while to recover.  It is one thing to say I trust in God, it is another thing to actually do it.

What helps is to maintain one’s rhythm of prayer, even when you do not feel like it.  I strive to pray the Liturgy of the Hours every day, to open my heart to God’s Presence; through the psalms, the readings, and the moments of meditative silence.  As a Deacon, I have assisted at several weekend Masses, immersing myself in the beauty and power of the Eucharistic Liturgy.  I open myself to the Presence of my Savior, in Word and Sacrament, rejoicing in the experience of my Lord Jesus Christ.

I still do not know what the future will hold, but like the prophet Habakkuk, I will “exult in my saving God.”

“For though the fig tree blossom, nor fruit be on the vines.  Though the yield of the olive fail and the terraces produce no nourishment.  Though the flocks disappear from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls.  Yet will I rejoice in the Lord, and exult in my saving God.  God, my Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet swift as those of hinds and enables me to go upon the heights.”  (Habakkuk 3: 17-19)

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Loring Crossman - Rest in Peace Brother

Last week I lost a friend, Loring Crossman, a fellow Secular Franciscan.  I was asked the day before his funeral, to give a brief eulogy for him.  I had no notes when I gave it, but to the best of my memory, here is what I said.

“Loring Crossman was my brother.  Through Baptism, we were brothers in Christ.  We were also brothers in Saint Francis of Assisi.  Loring was a person committed to ’ living the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in the spirit of Saint Francis of Assisi’  He succeeded me as Minister of our fraternity, and he lead the fraternity as we strived to adapt our lives to the new Rule of Life, that came out of Vatican II.  Like St. Francis, he led us with gentleness and compassion.  I only saw him lose his temper once, and that was at me over something I had failed to do.  Like St. Francis, he was generous with his time, talents, and treasure.  And like St. Francis, he had fraternity members who would provide comic relief.  I remember that once at the anniversary of our new Rule, St Bonaventure University, in New York, was sponsoring a seminar on the SFO Rule.  I drove there myself; Loring, Edwina and two other members were traveling together.  They had to pick up one member in Connecticut, because she was spending some time at the casinos! 

Like St. Francis, Loring suffered from many illnesses.  In Francis’ final months, he spent some time with St. Clare and the Poor Ladies of Assisi, at San Damiano monastery.  Francis stayed in a small hut on the monastery grounds.  He was suffering from blindness, stomach problems and other illnesses.  And his hut was being overrun by mice and other critters, which allowed him no rest.  Yet, in all that suffering, Francis was able to compose a most beautiful hymn, the first poem in the Italian language, “The Canticle to Brother Sun.”  It was Francis way of praising God, despite all his suffering.  And I am sure that Loring, despite everything he was going through, was able to continue praising God, to trust in His love.  Loring was able to say, with all his heart, ‘Welcome Sister Death, I am going home to the Father.’’