Saturday, February 18, 2017

Love your enemies


A priest was preaching one Sunday on the theme of “Love your enemies.” After a long sermon, he asked how many parishioners were willing to forgive their enemies. About half held up their hands. Not satisfied he preached for another 20 minutes and repeated his question. This time he received a response of about 80%. Still unsatisfied, he went on for another 15 minutes and repeated his question. With all thoughts now on Sunday dinner, everyone raised their hand except one elderly lady in the front row. “Mrs. Jones, are you not willing to forgive your enemies?” the priest asked. “I don't have any,” she said. Surprised, the priest said, “Ma’am, that is very unusual. How old are you?” “Ninety three,” she responded. “Mrs. Jones, please tell me, how can you have lived to be 93 years old, and not have an enemy in the world.” The sweet little lady, smiled, and said simply. “Oh, Father, I’ve had plenty of enemies. It’s just that, at 93, I’ve outlived them all!”

Jesus said, “ Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Today’s Gospel message to love our enemies is perhaps one of the most difficult parts of the Gospel for us to accept. It offers us a message that is contrary to our human nature, contrary to what the world tells us. So, what do we make of this command today? We probably hear it with some doubts – are we really meant to love our enemies, turn the other cheek, give without expecting repayment, refuse to pass judgment on people, pray for those who are unkind to us? It would be difficult to find another passage in the Gospel that is more at odds with our normal way of behaving. If we turn the other check, after all, won’t we just get hit on that one too? It is certainly a risky proposition.

What is really going on here is that Jesus is trying to get us to move – in heart and mind and soul – away from the way of the world and into the Way of the Kingdom. Leviticus said it best today, “Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy. You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart…Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus is calling us to see that we waste so much energy holding on to past hurts, trying to settle old scores, even handing down grudges from one generation to the next. How many of us are angry with someone because of the way they treated us, something they said to us, or something they said about us – a day ago, a week ago, a month ago, hw about years ago? As Christians, this is not what we are called to. We aren’t called to anger, judgment and resentment. We are called to love – always, everywhere, everyone, with no conditions or exceptions. And not a superficial kind of love; not a huggy-feely love, not an all-accepting generic love that fails to ask anything of us or the other. Jesus inaugurates a new kind of love – one that is so profound, so deep that it leads Him all the way to the Cross for us; a love so powerful that it is transformative of not only us as individuals, but even of the whole world. The flowers and chocolates that we may have received on Valentine’s Day are not the greatest sign of love. Jesus hanging on that cross – specifically for you, for me – is the greatest symbol of love that has ever existed. He didn’t do that merely for some unknown person eons ago. He did that for you because he loves you.

This love has its own rules, its own logic, its own way of dealing with people – and it is a way that is counter to what the world prescribes. The most important part is that everyone is to be within our circle of love – even our enemies. No one is excluded; no one is shut out. And not just in theory; but in practice. Once we embrace this way of love, the world changes. If Christianity is to ever change our world it will only be accomplished by the noticeably different behavior of Christians. In our world today, a world that is so full of hate, anger, and division, do we stand out in contrast as recognizably different; as the hymn reminds us, “They will know that we are Christians by our love”?

Jesus calls us to rise above the pettiness of the world; to never be satisfied with the sad state of the world; to be constantly striving with all that we are, for all that God promises. The one who was struck on the cheek should rise above the attack or insult and not respond in kind. The one who lost the tunic relinquished even the cloak, not outdone in generosity. It is a way of saying: I will outdo your violence toward me with generosity, goodness, kindness, mercy and compassion. I will erase your evil with my constant acts of goodness. The insight and brilliance of Jesus is to recognize that the only real antidote to the violence and evil in our world is the love, forgiveness and mercy of God – as shown to the world by you and by me.

Is it possible to forgive our enemies in a world torn by war, discrimination, economic disparity and exploitation of the vulnerable? We are not expected to overlook these evils, but to always to forgive and not retaliate. We are called to be merciful, and not vengeful. I like to say that there are no asterisks in the Bible. After Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” There isn’t an asterisk that says, “See below: Unless your enemy is really, really mean; or really, really, deserves it.” Our Lord and Savior says simply, “Love, and bless and pray.” This is a type of Christian heroism that does not merely respond to evil in the world, but transforms it – through Christ – into goodness and holiness. But it takes real courage to practice it. This is the only way that the Kingdom of God will ever reach its fulfillment; if it begins in the converted hearts of believers.

Today, Jesus is urging you and me to join Him again on a journey. We’ve all come a certain distance and now He wants us to move just a little more. Can we give a little more to those in need, forgive a little more those who hurt us, love a little more? He says today, “You have followed me this far; and now join me for the extra mile.”

Love, give, pray, forgive – even just a little more; and you will transform the world. And so, I ask you today, how many of you will love your enemies?

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Make America KIND again


Everyone has heard of Jesse Owens, famous for winning four gold medals in the Berlin Olympics in 1936. Not so many of us, though, have heard of Lutz Long. Lutz was one of Germany’s top athletes in the 1936 games and one of Adolph Hitler’s favorites. In the long jump trials, Lutz broke the Olympic record. There was only one man who could possibly beat him – Jesse Owens.

Just before Jesse’s turn to qualify, Hitler infamously left his box and walked out of the games. This was viewed as a snub of the black athlete who didn’t fit into Hitler’s white supremist ideal. Jesse spoke of how that moment made him feel. “It made me mad. As man as anyone can be. Then, I fouled on my first try and didn’t jump far enough to qualify on my second. With only one try left, I began to panic.”

But, then, Jesse felt a hand on his shoulder and he looked over only to see that it belonged to Lutz Long. Lutz suggested that Jesse draw a line a few inches short of the takeoff board and jump from there. And it worked. Jesse qualified by a foot.

That moment of unexpected kindness sparked the beginning

of a brief but close friendship between the two. Over the next couple of nights they sat up together talking late into the night about the world situation and their own young lives.

In the days ahead, Jesse won three gold medals – the 100 meter and 200 meter dashes and the relay – with Lutz cheering him on at every event. Then came the long jump finals pitting Jesse against Lutz. Again, Jesse won. He later recalled what happened next, “While Hitler glared, Lutz held up my hand and shouted to the gigantic crowd, ‘Jes-se Ow-ens! Jes-se Ow-ens!’ Then the stadium picked up the chant ‘Jes-se Ow-ens! Jes-se Ow-ens!’ My hair stood on end.”

Ordinarily athletes don’t help their opponents, but Lutz Long was no ordinary athlete. He showed Jesse an heroic kindness that was truly miraculous giving the situation they were both in. Ordinarily athletes don’t celebrate an opponent’s victory. But Lutz Long was no ordinary athlete. He rejoiced in Jesse’s achievement.

All of this speaks to us about the passage from the Sermon on the Mount that we heard proclaimed from Matthew’s Gospel today. Jesus today is reminding us that we too are called to offer acts of heroic kindness each and every day. He reminds us of the incredible power that showing kindness can have in our lives and in our world. Jesus urged His followers to show kindness to one another, even to the point of “turning the other cheek” when someone treated them unkindly. He warns those who treat others with anger, “You have heard that it was said…’Whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.” Jesus lived this message Himself showing kindness to sinners, compassion to the sick, mercy to His enemies. And so should we.

Kindness blesses the person to whom we are kind and it also blesses us when we extend that kindness. The actor Michael Landon, who starred in shows like Bonanza, Little House on the Prairie, and Highway to Heaven, told a story about his first paying job as an actor. He was just 19 years-old and just been paid $260 for his work. He said, “I felt so rich and famous that I decided to go to Beverly Hills and look at the fancy store windows.” At a toy store he saw two young boys with their noses pressed against the glass looking at the toys inside. Landon asked the boys which toys they liked best. One pointed to a wagon, the other to a model airplane. He took them inside the store and bought the toys for them. The boys were beside themselves with joy. What surprised Landon most was the thrill that he got from this simple act of kindness. “It was deeper and more satisfying than anything I had experienced before, and it has stayed with me my whole life,” he said.

My friends, today’s readings invite us to take a look at our own lives and our love and to ask ourselves how they compare to the life and love that Jesus calls us to in the Sermon on the Mount. The invite us to ask ourselves what would happen in our world and in our lives if the energy we expend on anger, or even apathy, were instead expended on kindness? How would our lives and those around us change if we embraced kindness as our mission and our daily focus? What would our nation look like if we each spent every day striving to make America kind again?

In the final analysis, kindness is a power greater than any other on earth. And it is not the resource of a single person or a single nation. It is a resource that is at the disposal of every person in every nation; at the disposal of each and every one of us here today. What’s more, it has no limit. In fact, the more kindness that we give, the more there is to receive.

When we feel the desire to respond to the challenges of our world with anger or even hatred, let’s remember Lutz Long and face that anger with heroic kindness. Let us remember Michael Landon and how much a very small act can change lives. Let us live the lives of extraordinary kindness that Jesus Himself lived and that He calls forth from each one of us, His followers. Let us engage in random acts of kindness as though it were the only thing we were called to do.

Let me end with the Prayer of St. Francis, which exemplifies the lives of kindness that we are called to live:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy. 

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive, 
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, 
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.


May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Be the Light!


I am continually in awe of the way that our weekly Scriptures seem to speak directly to things going on in our world. As I reflected on our first reading from Isaiah, the words had a sense of being ripped from the headlines. We heard, “Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own.” We know that the news – and probably our own conversations at work, with friends, at home – have been dominated by talk about President Trump’s new directives affecting the ability of refugees and immigrants to come to our shores.

Several Church leaders have spoken out against these directives. A good example would be the response of Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, NJ. He said, “I understand the desire for every American to be assured of safe borders and freedom from terrorism. The federal government should continue a prudent policy aimed at protecting citizens. But, I also understand and heed the call of God, who through Moses told the people of Israel: ‘You shall not oppress an alien; you well know how it feels to be an alien, since you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.’ Jesus asks His disciples to go further, calling on us to recognize Him in the stranger: ‘Whatsoever you did to the least of my brothers, you did to me.’”

All of the division and contention we’ve experienced can leave us wondering what should we do? How do we as people of faith respond to all of this negativity swirling all around us? Is our own response nothing more than the same partisan responses that we see played out in the media over and over and over again?

Well, Jesus gives us the answer to that question this week. He said, “You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world… Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” Now, this may seem like a simplistic answer, but what Jesus is reminding us in the midst of the challenges in our world, is that we must respond to the world around us in a different way, in the way that we have been called to, in the way that is the signature of those who are followers of Jesus – we are called to be not like the rest, but instead to be salt and light. This is our identity and our response must be rooted here.

Recalling our identity grounds us and keep us rooted in something bigger. Our identity as Americans calls us to be welcoming, generous, desiring for all people the same kind of opportunities and freedoms that we enjoy. The great wonder of the American dream is that it is limitless. It doesn’t have a maximum number of participants. It doesn’t have a limit on who can succeed. We believe that nothing can hold you back once you have arrived on these shores and read the words emblazoned on Lady Liberty:

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

We add to this, our identity as people of faith and followers of Christ, the identity of salt and light. It is an identity that calls us to have a preference, as Isaiah reminds us today, for the homeless, the hungry, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned, the refugee and the immigrant – because we too were once the immigrant and because it is among these groups that we are invited into a real encounter with Jesus. What we have done for the least of these, we have done for Him.

Our identity as salt and light does not blind us to the challenges and dangers in our world, but instead reminds us that as we assess the challenges, our response must be moral, not fearful. Our faith calls us always to encounter our challenges in a moral, fair, caring and compassionate way. This is our way; this is who we are. We know, that as salt and light, we can balance our safety with our beliefs. These are not contradictory realities.

When Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world,” He was reminding us of our call to live and spread His Gospel, to spread His light into the darkness of our times. It can’t wait for someone else. It can’t wait for another time.

We are all, here today, the light of the world. We shine that light through the devotion of those who come to daily Mass; through those who have reared their families and taught them to share a love of God and His church. We shine that light through the innocent faces of the beautiful young people joyfully coming to church with a smile on their face. We shine that light as we care for the needy of our community, in prisons and nursing homes and homeless shelters; we see that light shine in the face of the sick and the dying facing the final moments of their lives with tremendous faith. We are the salt and light that our world needs now. Our light shines through the bowl of hot soup offered on a cold day or the help offered shoveling out from another snow storm. It shines on the face of the person who tells us not to worry or that they understand what we’re going through or that they will offer a prayer for us and our needs.

So, what are we to do in our world today? Nothing more complicated than continuing to let our light shine through our idealism, our commitment to faith and family and Church, through our devotion to prayer, our acceptance of the values of the Gospel, our prayerful celebration of the Holy Mass, our continual outreach to the homeless, the hungry, the sick, the refugee, immigrant and the imprisoned.

And as we heard from Isaiah, “If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech; if you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday.”

My friends, “Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” Let us be the light.

May the Lord give you peace.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Restorationism brings traditionalist approaches to parish life | National Catholic Reporter

By Peter Feuerherd | Feb. 2, 2017

Within church circles, restorationism, a movement to "renew the renewal" of Vatican II by bringing traditionalist approaches to liturgy and governance of parish life, is often denied and frequently argued about.
It might be akin to how a Supreme Court Justice famously viewed pornography: hard to define, but you know it when you see it.
In parishes across the country, young pastors, raised in a post-Vatican II world, are incorporating costumes, vestments, music and other elements that have their roots in practices preceding 1965.
For some, including Pope Francis, one of its most acerbic critics, the movement is rife with clericalism, asserting priestly powers in parishes where laypeople had grown accustomed to participation in ministries and governance. The pope has railed against a resurgent clericalism, in one case telling a group of religious formation directors about "little monsters" who use ordination to lord it over others.
Benedictine Fr. Anthony Ruff, associate professor of theology at St. John's University in Collegeville, Minn., told NCR that restorationism is a reaction to growing secularization and rapid social change, such as the widespread acceptance of same-sex marriage and declines in Mass attendance.
"There is fear of a rapidly changing world. I think it is driving people to bad solutions," he said.
The idea that the changes of Vatican II needed "a reform of the reform" rooted in traditional practices developed during the papacy of St. John Paul II via Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then the head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.
"These ideas developed into a school of thought," said Ruff, noting they took on more power when Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI.
In 1984, permission was given to allow for the Latin Tridentine Rite Mass with the permission of the local bishop, a right extended four years later. The changes were noticed in seminaries.
Ruff noted that younger seminarians have been raised in a time when practicing the faith was more of an intentional, and less of a cultural, act. Part of a generation that is less inclined towards formal religious practice, a cohort of seminarians have latched on to distinctive features of Catholicism.
Some seminary rectors have encouraged these developments, with their seminaries viewed as restorationist pipelines. Sometimes restorationist groups among seminarians are more informal. Some go to internet sites, such as one run by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf of Madison, Wis., for inspiration. Zuhlsdorf's site is heavy with photos of colorful vestments, liturgical regalia, and scathing criticism of Pope Francis.
Ruff regularly hears reports that, while Francis is extraordinarily popular among practicing Catholics, restorationist adherents remain energetic.
"They are more motivated," he said.
[Peter Feuerherd is a correspondent for NCR's Field Hospital series on parish life and a professor of journalism at St. John's University, New York.]

People are Afraid | Friar Friday

“People are afraid.” I heard these three simple words recently in a news broadcast and they are three words that have really stuck with me. I haven’t been able to shake them from my mind, from my heart, from my prayer. People are afraid.
There are many ways to look at this. People are afraid of their economic situation. Perhaps they’ve struggled finding lasting or meaningful work. Perhaps their wages have been stagnant for too long. People are afraid of terrorism, of violence. There are so many voices in our world that want to ratchet up that fear and fill us with unlikely scenarios. And so people are afraid of refugees and immigrants as voices make false connections between those who are fleeing danger in their homelands, or those simply seeking a better tomorrow here, with the violent acts that spring up throughout the world from time to time. People are afraid.
But there is a real problem with fear.  Fear often gets out of hand. Fear leads us to conclusions that often mismatch or outmatch the concern.  I keep thinking of a quote from Yoda in the movie Empire Strikes Back, “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” So take the source however you will, but it points out a simple truth – fear is a slippery slope down a dangerous path.
This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t be concerned, even gravely, about some of the situations in our communities, in our world.  It doesn’t mean that the only other option is to turn a blind eye and pretend that everything is okay. But, fear arises because we perceive a problem and we don’t know the solution. That can lead us to act rashly.
Instead of fear, I think we are called to a different approach. Instead we are called first to remember who we are.  Recalling our identity will ground us and keep us rooted in something bigger.  Our identity as Americans calls us to be welcoming, generous, desiring for all people the same kind of opportunities and freedoms that we enjoy. The great wonder of the American dream is that it is limitless. It doesn’t have a maximum number of participants. It doesn’t have a limit on who can succeed. We believe that nothing can hold you back once you have arrived on these shores and read the words emblazoned on Lady Liberty:

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
We remember who we are not only as Americans, be even more so as Christians, as people of faith, as Franciscans. That is an identity that calls us to have a preference for the homeless, the hungry, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned, the refugee and the immigrant – because these are the places and the people who invite us into a real encounter with Jesus. What we have done for the least of these, we have done for Christ.
It is that identity that does not blind us to the challenges and dangers in our world, but reminds us that as we assess the challenges in the world, our response must be moral.  Never do we excuse a response that does not deal with these issues in a moral, fair, caring and compassionate way. Because that is not our way. We know, because of who we have been called to be, that we can balance our safety with our beliefs.  These are not contradictory realities.
At this very moment at the start of this new and challenging year, we have to ask the question of who we are. We have to remind ourselves who we are, and begin to act from that place and not from a place of fear.
Ithink of the way that Robert F. Kennedy was able to likewise remind Americans of their truest identity in the midst of a difficult moment. Responding to the news that Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated, RFK said, “In this difficult time for the United States, it’s perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in…We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort to understand, and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, with compassion, and love. We have to make an effort to understand, to get beyond, or go beyond these rather difficult times…What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country.”
Yes, people are afraid. But that does not have to be so. That fear does not have to define who we are and how we respond. We can also be reminded that people are kind, people are loving, people are compassionate, people are united. People are filled with the hope that together we can make things better, together we can seek peace, together we can find an end to the divisions and violence and negativity that trouble our world. Let us remember who we are and move together towards that hope.

Keep the Johnson Amendment!

US Franciscan Friars speak out against immigration ban

February 1, 2017

“I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” (Matthew 25.35)

The recent actions of President Donald J. Trump regarding the treatment of immigrants and refugees entering our country have been troubling to a wide ranging group of citizens across the United States. As Franciscans, we are morally outraged by and resolutely denounce the January 27, 2017 Executive Order addressing the U.S. immigrant and refugee admission program.

While the action’s stated intention is to protect the U.S. from terrorism, it is ill conceived and counter to our country’s founding principles. Furthermore, whether intended or not, it is perceived as targeting Muslims and as suggesting that all Islamic immigrants and refugees are suspect.  This is an affront to the human dignity of our refugee sisters and brothers fleeing persecution and war, and the many immigrants who hope for a better life on our shores. We believe that the order as written and implemented sows division and animosity, making the solidarity that leads to security less possible.

We feel compelled to add our support to the many voices from various sectors of our society who also have denounced this Executive Order: refugees and migrants themselves, business leaders, civic and political leaders, public personalities, and religious leaders including many U.S. Catholic Bishops.

Some of our ministries have been fortunate to welcome refugees into their communities, working with Church organizations contracted by the U.S. government after the lengthy (usually two to four years) vetting process already in place.   Still other ministries have been places of welcome for immigrants, carrying out the Biblical mandate to “welcome the stranger.”

Pope Francis, during his 2015 visit to the U.S., reminded Americans of the importance of our own identity as immigrants. He said, “As the son of an immigrant family, I am happy to be a guest in this country, which was largely built by such families.” Our country, at its best, has cherished and embodied this decree to “welcome the stranger” by proudly embracing its identity as a nation of immigrants.

Considering this heritage and in solidarity with our immigrant and refugee brothers and sisters, we Franciscans commit ourselves to:

  • Advocate for the withdrawal of the January 27 Executive Order;
  • Prepare to be communities that offer hospitality to our refugee brothers and sisters; and
  • Continue to reach out to and deepen our commitment to solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters.

We pray that God’s wisdom will prevail and will lead all of us to seek the Common Good.

Franciscan Friars (O.F.M.) of the United States of America

Very Rev. James Gannon, OFM
Assumption BVM Province
Franklin, WI

Very Rev. Kevin Mullen, OFM
Holy Name Province
New York, NY

Very Rev. Robert Campagna, OFM
Immaculate Conception Province
New York, NY

Very Rev. Jack Clark Robinson, OFM
Our Lady of Guadalupe Province
Albuquerque, NM

Very Rev. William Spencer, OFM
Sacred Heart Province
St. Louis, MO
Very Rev. David Gaa, OFM
Saint Barbara Province
Oakland, CA
Very Rev. Jeffrey Scheeler, OFM
Saint John the Baptist Province
Cincinnati, OH

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Called to be holy


I would like to conduct an informal poll this morning. By a show of hands, how many of you would say that you are a saint?

King Henry III was King of Bavaria in the 11th Century. He was a God-fearing man but the demands of being king did not leave him much time for his spiritual life. One day he got so tired of being king that he went to the Abbot of the local monastery and asked to be admitted as a monk for the rest of his life. The Abbot said, “Your Majesty, do you understand that you must make a vow of obedience as a monk? That will be hard because you have been a king.” “I understand,” said Henry. “But, for the rest of my life I will be obedient to you, as Christ leads you.” The Abbott responded, “Good, here is what you must do. Go back to your throne and serve faithfully in the place where God has put you.” King Henry returned to his throne and he ruled his people with kindness and justice, in holiness. He was a saintly king.

In our second reading today St. Paul addresses us as those “who have been sanctified in Jesus Christ, called to be holy.” Paul is reminding us of that essential fact – we are all “called to be holy.” Now “holy” is just another word for “saint.” So if we are all called to be holy, my friends, we are all called to be saints! Holiness or saintliness is not a call that God places in the lives of just a few. Saintliness is not meant to be rare, but rather the norm for the followers of Jesus. We have been fortunate to live in an age of great saints – St. Mother Teresa comes to mind almost immediately to everyone just in the last few years, St. Pope John XXIII and St. Pope John Paul II were both canonized as saints.

Did you know that as Pope, St. John Paul canonized more saints than all popes before him combined? And he consciously canonized not just priests and religious, but he made saints of men and women from every state of life; every age group; every occupation; married, widowed, single. He did this for a reason – so that we might all be reminded when we look at the saints that they are like us and so we are called to be like them, “called to be holy”.

Like King Henry we sometimes believe that we need to run away from the demands of life and escape to a monastery, a convent or the desert, if we want to become a saint. But, as the Abbot reminded Henry, God expects us to be saints in the concrete situations of our personal, family and business or professional lives. Or stated another way, we are called to bloom where we have been planted.

As we leave Christmas behind end enter Ordinary Time, the Church reminds us that holiness is not meant to be extraordinary; it is not meant to be rare. Holiness is meant to be very ordinary, very common – it is meant to be in the reach of every baptized person. Let me ask a different question: by a show of hands, who hopes to get to Heaven? Many more hands this time, and yet, that is the very same question that I asked before. Who gets to Heaven? Saints do. Heaven is full of saints! We are all meant to be saints! While we may not feel like we are saints yet, that is the purpose for which God has called us. We are all called to holiness.

That God has called us to be “saints” doesn’t mean that we are called to be perfect and never without sin, it means that God wants us to be different than other people in the world. He wants us not to simply follow the crowd, but to blaze a new path – one that is marked by kindness, compassion, joy, forgiveness and healing. These are the tools of the saints, the tools of holiness. Our world needs holy parents, holy children, holy doctors and nurses, holy teachers, holy garbage collectors, farmers – wherever we find ourselves, whatever we do.

Shortly after he converted to Catholicism in the late 1930s, the famous Trappist, Thomas Merton, was walking the streets of New York with a friend who asked Merton what he wanted to be, now that he was Catholic. “I don’t know,” Merton replied, adding simply that he wanted to be a good Catholic. His friend stopped him in his tracks. “What you should say,” he told him, “is that you want to be a saint!” Merton was dumbfounded. “How do you expect me to become a saint?” Merton asked him. His friend said: “All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one. Don’t you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if you will consent to let him do it? All you have to do is desire it.”

My brothers and sisters, one last question today – how many of us want to be saints? I hope it is all of us! Here’s the good news: to be a saint is nothing more complicated than to be ourselves – to be the person God created us to be. God has called us to be saints. All of us here today are called to be holy. Let us each desire to live saintly lives and may God consent to make each of us saints.

You may remember that at his funeral Mass, the crowds cried out for St. Pope John Paul, "Santo Subito!" or "Make him a saint immediately!" Let us make that the mission statement of our own lives; let us all pledge to be on the road to holiness, on the road to sainthood today. Santo subito!

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Go home by another way


Today, of course, we mark our last Sunday of the Christmas season. It will fully come to an end on Monday with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Today, of course, is the Feast of the Three Kings which marks the first time the birth of Jesus is acknowledged by outsiders. These “wise men” have travelled from afar because they saw His star at its rising and have come to worship the new born King. We call it “epiphany” because this is a word that means literally “to reveal” and Jesus, the Son of God, has been in this moment revealed to the world.

There are wonderful Christmas hymns for this day, the best known, of course, is We Three Kings. But my favorite song for Epiphany is one you may not have heard of. It is by James Tayler and is called Home By Another Way. It is a song about the dream that the wise men had following their visit with Mary, Joseph and Jesus; the dream that told them to avoid King Herod and seek a different route home.

This notion of moving in a new direction serves as a good understanding of what Epiphany is all about. Epiphany is about our call to change course in our lives and set our direction to the star that is Jesus. Just like the Magi, we have seen the star that called us to move towards Him. When the Magi saw that star they had no idea who Jesus was or what He would mean to the world. They were literally far from Him and made a choice to move in His direction. We too might find ourselves in the same position. Maybe we have always desired to know Jesus more intimately, more powerfully, more personally in our lives and yet have not come close. The star again calls us today. Maybe we have been hurt, wounded, or are sad or grieving and feel a great distance from Jesus today. Again, the star calls to us. Maybe our relationship with Jesus feels stagnant, like it isn’t growing or moving or changing, and we don’t know what to do to make it better. The star calls to us today.

Jesus wants to reveal Himself to each one of us today, just as He did to the wise men so long ago. And, He wants that revelation to change our very lives. We have to do our part and alter our course towards Him. Whatever parts of our lives have been distant – perhaps we have been full of anger or fear, anxiety or judgment. Perhaps we have old wounds and broken relationships that we’ve not tended to. Jesus wants to be the healing for all of the broken places in our lives.

Pope Francis in his homily for today said, “[The Magi] had to discover that what they sought was not in a palace, but elsewhere. In the palace, they did not see the star guiding them to discover a God who wants to be loved. For only under the banner of freedom, not tyranny, is it possible to realize that the gaze of this unknown but desired king does not abase, enslave, or imprison us. To realize that the gaze of God lifts up, forgives and heals. To realize that God wanted to be born where we least expected, or perhaps desired, in a place where we so often refuse him. To realize that in God’s eyes there is always room for those who are wounded, weary, mistreated and abandoned. That his strength and his power are called mercy.”

My friends, this is the “other way” that a living encounter with Jesus sends us. If we change our course to head towards the star, and there we encounter the real manifestation of God, we too will be sent home by another way. We too will be called to not take the road of self-fulfillment, but instead take the road of empathy, care and concern for others; the road of forgiveness, healing and hope.

Our beautiful manger scene is a perfect icon of this encounter. The manger reminds us exactly the way that God decided to come to earth and take on our human flesh. God chose to enter humanity not in a grandiose way, not with trumpet blast and glory, but in the simple way that you and I entered humanity - within a family. And, not only that, He chose to enter as someone who was homeless – they could not find a place to lay their head. He chose to enter as a migrant on their way to another land for the census. He chose to enter our world as a little baby, as someone who was helpless and had to rely upon the assistance of others if He were to complete His mission among us of spreading the good news and bringing His promised salvation.

God chose to enter our world precisely in the places and in the people and in the ways that we, today, so often struggle or even fail to see God. When we look at the immigrant, the refugee, the homeless, the helpless, what do we see? Do we realize that they too are icons of the very image of God as He was on that first Christmas morning; as He was as the Magi travelled to see Him? Every manger is an image of a homeless, migrant family who had no place to lay their heads. And all over our city, you can find a homeless woman or man huddled under a blanket or a cardboard box. As we pass them by, do we recognize that their image and the image of our manger are in fact the same? Do we see God present there when we see them? This is the new road our encounter with Jesus invites us to travel.

In a few days, our Christmas mangers will be carefully packed and put away for another year, but these urban mangers that surround us on our streets will remain in the men and women who live there. The star shines brightly today guiding us to change our course and head toward Jesus – here in this Church as He reveals Himself in Word and Sacrament. And, when we leave this encounter, Jesus tells us as a dream told the Three Kings to have the courage to go home by another way, to embark on the path that opens our eyes and our hearts, our minds and our lives, to the presence of Jesus that we will suddenly see is all around us.

Let us be mercy, the forgiveness, the healing, the joy and the hope that the Baby Jesus came to bring to our world.

Merry Christmas and may the Lord give you peace!

Click to enjoy the James Taylor song:

The real electoral problem may lie within us | Sr. Joan Chittister | NATIONAL CATHOLIC REPORTER

By Joan Chittister | Jan. 5, 2017 | NATIONAL CATHOLIC REPORTER

We're in the middle of it now. But where it's going in the end may be to the wrong place entirely.
The election is over but we are up to our ankles in the detritus it leaves behind. The new issues that have emerged in this election — the Electoral College, the media, the fake news, the hacking — are serious ones, yes. And yet, I do not think that these are the most important elements to be addressed in this term's electoral autopsy.
Yes, we now have a minority president who skated into the White House on a system meant, some point out, to correct the democracy the founders purported to set up. The Electoral College, some argued, would balance the numerical disadvantage of the less populated Southern slave states with the larger, immigrant-populated Northern states by counting slaves as part of the population though they were counted for absolutely nothing else. Or, as others say, the Founding Fathers created the Electoral College in order to save us from "the tyranny of the majority." So now, with slavery ended, we are apparently meant to believe that some voters know better than others though we have yet to be told on what grounds that correction should occur.
And all of that would be problem enough surely.

But the real problem is that we are also left with something even more dangerous than an archaic political system. We now have an electorate for whom facts have no meaning and programs apparently have little value and generate even less interest. And we have a word for it now: We have become the 'post-truth' generation. We rely more now on the kinds of feelings that can be generated in the electorate than we do on the kind of facts that once shaped decision-making in this country.
For instance, no major news media devoted time during this electoral cycle to teaching the American public the advantages or disadvantages of any single political promise. Hillary Clinton kept saying she had a plan and we could find it on her website. In Clinton-land there were plans for everything. But no major networks bothered to create a series of programs to evaluate any of them, let alone all of them. Ideas, it seems, do not get the media the kind of ratings that bring in ad income, and so are now being routinely ignored.
From the Trump campaign, on the other hand, assertions — and often downright lies, not plans — were the coin of the realm. There were no details to chart, let alone compare to other plans around them.
Instead, though the media struggled mightily to expose the constant stream of lies that were the pillars of Donald Trump's campaign — Mexico is forcing criminals into the U.S.; Hillary is the most corrupt politician of all time; there was voter fraud in Virginia, New Hampshire and California; there are 3 million criminals in this country illegally; and "In many instances, [people's] health care costs are more than their mortgage costs or their rent" — the lies fell on deaf ears. One lie after another; 25 pages of them all neatly archived now but apparently without any importance whatsoever to the voting public at the time. Instead, name-calling and assertion became the coin of the realm. Vice President Joe Biden said that the details of Hillary's campaign "got drowned out by the most vicious campaign, the craziest campaign I've ever witnessed."
So, the political autopsy is in full swing and the focus now is on why the Democrats lost the election.
But I do not think that party politics are either the real question or a substantial answer to the question of how and why a national electorate simply ignored the name-calling, the lack of plans, the din of vague accusations and the myriad shifting promises of a candidate for the highest office in the land.
Nor was there any explanation of how it could be that the ill-advised use of a private email server by one candidate could possibly outweigh all the outright lies of the other.
Nor was there serious mention of the Constitutional crises the Electoral College was charged to deal with concerning the kinds of conflicts of interest that ought to preclude a candidate's qualifications for presidency.
Instead, it's becoming plain, the real electoral problem may actually lie in us, in the electorate. Why didn't we insist on some kind of public consideration of these issues before the election? Why didn't we demand answers and data and the public analysis and discussion of programs and plans, and of the advantages and disadvantages of each? What happened to serious examination of serious questions? One candidate won all three debates, the process designed to do just that, and lost the election regardless.
So, what is missing? Not in the political campaigns but in us?
I've considered two possibilities. The first thought that came to mind is that this country's easy dismissal of liberal arts in education may have finally come home to roost.
Our colleges, in large part, have become extensions of U.S. business. We teach our students how to make money, how to build corporations, how to compete in the marketplace, how to win in a digital world, and how to "brand" something. Do we require courses on government or the history of ideas anymore? How long has it been since we heard about anyone taking courses on the Great Books as part of the core curriculum? When did we stop wondering which of the great philosophers really told us the most about what it means to be good, to be happy, to be beautiful, to be truth-tellers? How long has it been since we have had a good discussion on the purpose of a university?
Why is it that the first things to be cut in response to our shrinking education budgets are courses on world history, philosophy, logic, ethics, great literature, music, and the arts? How much time do we spend these days teaching things that concentrate on the development of the human spirit, the definition of the truly human, human being. How often do we ask whether what can be done ought to be done?
The question is a simple one: When will we again give as much attention to stretching the thought process and nourishing the soul of the society as we do to increasing the earning power of part of the population?
Or second, when will the Hastert Rule — institutionalized by Dennis Hastert, Speaker of the House from 1999-2007 — be seen for what it is? Hastert allowed only those bills that were known to already have the support of a majority of the majority party to be brought to the floor of the House for a vote. It is a strategy that smothers the democratic ideal. It makes partisanship the unwritten law of the land. It is the creation of one-party rule in what is meant to be a democracy of conscience.
It all but silences the thinking of the minority party by refusing to submit for consideration the contribution of the minority voice to the legislative development of the country. It is a crime against the democratic commitment to work for the common good.
From where I stand, it seems that we ignored the evaluation of ideas in this election for at least two reasons: First, we no longer put much emphasis on idea development and critical thinking. And second, we long ago abandoned the hard work of working through ideas together, even at the highest levels in the land. What we have learned is to let other people do our thinking for us. Then, the rest of us can simply sit by, make up false news, and substitute name-calling for thinking, for public planning, for the Constitution.
But that's not what we call democracy. That's what's we call oligarchy and plutocracy — rule by a few. Both of which systems failed. We'd all recognize it quickly — if we ever learned about the effects of something like that to begin with.

[Joan Chittister is a Benedictine sister of Erie, Pa.]

"Kindness to all" | Cardinal Joseph Tobin | AMERICA MAGAZINE

NOTE: I have been a big fan of Cardinal Tobin's for some time. I recall being at a keynote address that he gave to vocation director's about a year before the election of Pope Francis. He gave an exegesis on the term "pontifex" as "bridge builder". I can only hope that his voice continues to grow stronger with in Catholicism, especially American Catholicism. I think in so many ways our faith in the public sphere has been reduced to a sort of baptized political polarization that is more about what the Cardinal dubs "hot button issues" than it is about the core of our faith. Let's get back to what we are about - "See how these Christians love one another" and the rest will follow. - FT
Cardinal Joseph Tobin used his installation Mass as archbishop of Newark on Jan. 6 as an opportunity to call on Catholics to move away from rancor over “hot button” issues and toward contemplating how to live out their faith in a more holistic way.
Standing before a massive crowd inside Newark’s Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart, which included scores of clergy and local officials, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Cardinal Tobin said he was recently asked which issue worried him most about the future of the church.
His answer? What he dubbed “the chasm between faith and life”—and not the culture war issues that “dominate the discourse, both inside and outside the church,” he said.

“As noisy and divisive as those questions might be,” he continued, “they don’t worry me as a growing trend that seems to isolate us, convincing us to neatly compartmentalize our life, subtly seducing us to go to Mass on Sunday and for the rest of the week, do whatever we think we need to do to get by.”

He said that Christians must be marked by their willingness to show “kindness to all: to the searching young and the forgotten elderly, to the stranger and the voiceless, to the powerful and the cynical.”

Cardinal Tobin’s appointment to Newark came as something of a surprise, given that Pope Francis announced in October that the then-archbishop of Indianapolis would be made a cardinal in November. Just weeks after that announcement, the Vatican announced that he would be transferred to Newark to lead the archdiocese’s 1.5 million Catholics.
Outgoing Archbishop John J. Myers, who welcomed Cardinal Tobin to the cathedral at the start of Friday’s Mass, has faced criticism for his handling of instances of clergy sexual abuse and accusations of lavish spending on a retirement home.
Archbishop Myers is seen as a church traditionalist. He released a memo in 2015, for example, reiterating the church’s ban on divorced and remarried Catholics being able to receive Communion, just as other bishops from around the world were discussing the issue in Rome at the behest of the pope.
Cardinal Tobin, by contrast, is a member of a religious order and is viewed as someone open to dialogue and discernment.
“I think Redemptorists always like to look on the other side of the tracks and care for people that maybe the church isn’t able to care for,” he told America in October. “Our founder spoke of the most abandoned poor and that can take different form in different areas. The way I hear it, and the way I would speak of it when I was superior general, was basically we must go where the church isn’t able to go.”
He is also willing to take on difficult political questions, as evidenced by his 2015 refusal to comply with then-Gov. Mike Pence’s request not to resettle a family of Syrian refugees in Indiana, which brought him national attention.
In a speech at the University of Notre Dame last October, he said Catholics must “urge public officials to avoid reactions that politicize events abroad, or in this country, and to avoid misplaced blame that creates an atmosphere of fear.”
Ordained a priest in Redemptorist order in 1978, Cardinal Tobin, who speaks five languages, worked in parishes in Detroit and Chicago. By 1997 he was head of his religious order, based in Rome, and in 2010 Pope Benedict XVI promoted him to archbishop, assigning him the task of managing the Vatican office that oversees religious life.
Around this time the Vatican had launched two investigations of Catholic sisters in the United States, apparently the result of the dissatisfaction among some church officials at what they saw as a drift away from traditional church teaching on contentious social issues among U.S. women religious.
For his part, then-Archbishop Tobin emerged as an advocate for the sisters, ruffling the feathers of some church leaders. After serving just two years of a five-year term, he was appointed to serve as archbishop of Indianapolis, traditionally not a premier post in the American church.
Then, with Pope Francis, he was named a cardinal and sent to Newark, a meteoric rise after falling out of favor during a previous pontificate.
And he echoed the words of the pope during his homily, laying out his vision for the church.
Speaking to an audience that included six other cardinals and more than 60 other bishops, he said the church is “neither an elite club nor static container of truth,” calling it instead a “place where believers speak and listen to each other, and it is the community of faith that speaks with and listens to the world.”
Using language borrowed from the pope, he said “the church senses a responsibility for the world, not simply as yet another institutional presence or a benevolent NGO, but as a movement of salt, light and leaven for the world's transformation.”
“For this reason, our kindness must be known to all,” he said.
Michael O’Loughlin is the national correspondent for America and author of The Tweetable Pope: A Spiritual Revolution in 140 Characters. Follow him on Twitter at @mikeoloughlin.