Thursday, May 31, 2007

"I thought you didn't believe in Me?"

A Scottish atheist was spending a quiet day fishing in the lake when suddenly his boat was attacked by the Loch Ness monster.

In one easy flip, the beast tossed him and his boat at least a hundred feet into the air. It then opened its mouth waiting below to swallow them both.

As the Scotsman sailed head over heels and started to fall towards the open jaws of the ferocious beast, he cried out, "Oh, my God! Help me!"

Suddenly, the scene froze in place and as the atheist hung in midair, a booming voice came out of the clouds and said, "I thought you didn't believe in Me!"

"God, come on, give me a break!" the man pleaded, "Just seconds ago I didn't believe in the Loch Ness monster either!"

"Holiness is the real revolution"

I am back from a nine day pilgrimage to Italy, and what a wonderful journey of faith it was for myself and the 43 other pilgrims we had with us. We travelled to Paris (unexpectedly, but that's another story), Rome, San Giovanni Rotondo, Gargano, Assisi, and Orvieto. I will have stories and images to share over the next few days, but I thought I would start with one of our first experiences that I have been pondering in my heart since last Wednesday.

Last Wednesday (May 23) was our first day in Rome and of course, we went to the Wednesday General Audience of Pope Benedict. As always, it was an incredible and grand experience of the universal church. We were gathered with approximately 30,000 other people who were there to hear the Holy Father and receive his blessing. Pope Benedict had just returned a few days earlier from his apostolic journey to Brazil and so his Wednesday message was primarily a reflection on that experience.

In his speech, the Holy Father reflected on the canonization of Franciscan Friar Anthony of St. Anne Galvao, which he presided over. St. Anthony is the first native-born Brazilian to become a canonized saint of the Church. Reflecting on his life, the Pope said, "His witness is further confirmation that holiness is the true revolution that can promote the authentic reform of the Church and society."

"Holiness is the true revolution." What a powerful statement that is. Forget about all of the forms of revolution the world typically has to offer - usually at the end of a gun barrel or some other violent form, the Holy Father reminds us as does the life of St. Anthony of Brazil, and of course proto-typically that of Jesus, that the only way to effect true, lasting, profound change in our world is by living a life of holiness.

The great lie of our culture is that holiness is not something to be desired, sought after or even possible, except for a few elect. The Holy Father reminds us that in the lives of the saints we see them following our model, the perfect human being - Jesus Christ. Where He has gone, we too must follow.

If we want real change in our world; if we want to no longer lament the culture of death, the decay of civility, the increase of violence and immorality; then it is time to put the rubber to the road and lead lives of true and obvious holiness.

Holiness is the real revolution! Let us all be revolutionaries!!!!

You can read all of the Holy Father's Wednesday Audience address from last week at:

Sunday, May 20, 2007

When necessary use words

Seventh Sunday of Easter, May 20, 2007 :

This Seventh Sunday of Easter seems to be a Sunday in search of an identity as it is sandwiched in between the two major liturgical celebrations that precede and follow it – the Ascension of the Lord which we just celebrated on Thursday, and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost which will be celebrated next weekend. Thursday gave us the dramatic scenario of the Risen Lord giving His disciples their missionary agenda and then departing to return to Heaven. Next week is even more spectacular as the Holy Spirit descends upon the disciples to prepare them to continue the work that Jesus has begun. So, what is this Sunday to do? What can this day say that even begins to compete with the power and brilliance of Jesus’ going up and the Holy Spirit’s coming down?

But, just when we think this Sunday might find itself momentarily lost in a dark valley between two mighty mountains, we are given the enlightening and inspiring story of St. Stephen the first martyr.

“As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them;’ and when he said this, he fell asleep.”

Someone once said that people are moved more by sermons they can see than by sermons they can hear. Or, perhaps as St. Francis of Assisi put it, “Preach the Gospel at all times, when necessary use words.”

This incredibly dramatic story of St. Stephen is a very fitting one for us to contemplate today. Chapter 6 of Acts just before what we heard today, says, “Stephen, filled with grace and power, was working great wonders and signs among the people…certain [people] came forward and debated with Stephen, but they could not withstand the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke.” They are infuriated with him because he is preaching about Jesus, and so they knock him to the ground and take his life through the violent means of stoning. But, in perhaps the most powerful preaching of his life, Stephen did not hold the crime against his attackers. Instead, Stephen forgives them. “He fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’” Stephen lives and dies in the same way that Jesus did. He is a living witness, a martyr, to what it means to be Christian.

In this act of forgiveness, we see in Stephen in a very real way how he carried out the command that Jesus gave to His followers just before He ascended to His Father. Jesus said, “Make disciples of all nations…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Stephen did just that. And, he did it in the most powerful way that anyone can teach another – he did it by example. Stephen quite literally preached a sermon that people could see. He preached the good news of Jesus Christ by the example of his life, right to the very moment of his death.

Where did Stephen get that kind of strength? Stephen found that strength in something that Jesus did just before He ascended into heaven. Jesus prayed for His disciples in the words we heard in today’s Gospel, “Father, I made known to them your name and I will make it known, that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them.” Stephen was able to bear witness to Jesus by the example of his life and death because Jesus had prayed for him, and because the Father’s love and Jesus Himself dwelt in Stephen.

And, this is what we celebrate today, on this Sunday that is caught between Ascension and Pentecost. We celebrate the fact that what Jesus promised just before He ascended into heaven has come to pass. The love of the Father and Jesus Himself are present within His followers, enabling them to carry the good news to the four corners of the world, not only by word, but perhaps even more profoundly by example.

And, what Stephen and so many other martyrs and holy men and women who followed did, we too are called to do. We also are called to bring the good news, if not to the four corners of the world, perhaps to the four corners of Connecticut, or New Milford, or our own households – by word and importantly by example. This is what Jesus commissioned each and every one of us to do before He ascended to His Father.

And to help us carry out this task, Jesus promised that the love of His Father and He Himself would be with us. It is this promise of Jesus that we celebrate in this liturgy. It is this promise of Jesus that makes it possible for us to do what Stephen did. And if we carry out the task that Jesus gave us, we too will someday share with Jesus and the Father the joy of eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Lord, help us remember always that without You we can do nothing. But with You, we can do all things.

May God give you peace.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Good to the last drop!

As I sit here this morning enjoying my first cup of coffee of the day, I received the following in an email from another friar. It is a beautiful reflection.
A group of alumni, highly established in their careers, got talking at a reunion and decided to go visit their old university professor, now retired. During their visit, conversation soon turned into complaints about stress in their work and lives.
Offering his guests coffee, the professor went to the kitchen and returned with a large pot of coffee and an assortment of cups - porcelain, plastic, glass,crystal, some plain looking, some expensive, some exquisite - telling them to help themselves to the coffee.
When all the alumni had a cup of coffee in hand, the professor said, "Notice that all the nice looking, expensive cups were taken up, leaving behind the plain and cheap ones. While it is normal for you to want only the best for yourselves, that is the source of your problems and stress. Be assured that the cup itself adds no quality to the coffee.
In most cases it is just more expensive and in some cases even hides what we drink.What all of you really wanted was coffee, not the cup, but you consciously went for the best cups... and then you began eyeing each other's cups.
Now consider this: Life is the coffee; your job, money and position in society are the cups. They are just tools to hold and contain Life. The type of cup one has does not define, nor change the quality of Life a person lives.
Sometimes, by concentrating only on the cup, we fail to enjoy the coffee God has provided us. The happiest people don't have the best of everything. They just make the best of everything.
"God brews the coffee, not the cups... Enjoy your coffee! Live simply.Love generously. Care deeply. Speak kindly. Spend time with God over your coffee."
If you're wondering, I'm drinking my coffee out of a Red Sox cup this morning.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

"Thirsty for the salvation of all"

Dear Brothers,
May the joy of Easter always support you on your journey!
The press has already spread the news of what I am about to communicate to you officially: Our Order will soon have two new Saints.
During his upcoming Apostolic Visit to Brazil, on the 11th May 2007 to be precise, the Holy Father Benedict XVI will canonise Blessed Antonio of Sant’Anna Calvão de Franca, born in Guaratinguetá, Brazil, in 1739, and died in São Paulo on the 23rd December 1822. Beatified in 1998 by John Paul II, he is the first ever Saint of the Church in Brazil.
On the following 3rd of June, in St. Peter’s Square, Rome, the Pope will canonise Blessed Simone of Lipnica, born in Lipnica Murowana, Poland, in 1439 and died in Krakow on the 18th July 1482. His cult was confirmed by Blessed Innocent XI on the 24th February 1685.
I, with the help of God, will be present at both canonisations to express our thanks to the Holy Father on behalf of the entire Order of Friars Minor which rejoices at the ecclesiastical glorification of these two singular Friars who lived in times very distant from ours, but are very current in the Spirit who led them in their exemplary activity in the service of the poor and of the Gospel.
I willingly read into this dual event, which pleases the Provinces of the Immaculate Conception of São Paulo and of Krakow in particular, almost an ideal start to the celebrations of the VIII Centenary of the foundation of the Order, at the origins of which there was, above all, a yearning for sanctity, totally fulfilled by many of our Friars, beginning with Francis.
The two new Saints, the former defined as “a man of peace and charity” and the latter as “thirsty for the salvation of all”, are inserted into the journey of our Seraphic Family as present-day models of a sanctity based on love for the weaker and forgotten people and capable, because of their love of truth and freedom, of taking on the sufferings of those who undergo injustice or violence.
Looking on these two authentic witnesses to the Gospel of charity, we entrust to their intercession the realisation of the life project which each one carries defined in his heart, confidently asking these exemplary Friars to guide us with “clarity and audacity” along the path of total fidelity to the grace of our origins through a presence in the Church and in the world which is a gift of hope and light for all.
On greeting you affectionately, I invoke the blessing of the Lord and that of our father Francis of Assisi on you all.
Rome, 25th April 2007
Br. José Rodríguez Carballo, OFM
General Minister

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

You be Jesus!

Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, May 17, 2007:

A mother was preparing pancakes for her young sons, David and Billy. The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake. Their mother saw the opportunity for a moral lesson. “If Jesus were sitting here, He would say ‘Let my brother have the first pancake, I can wait.’ David turned to his younger brother and said, “Billy, you be Jesus!”

The Preface to today’s Eucharistic Prayer says, “Christ…has passed beyond our sight, not to abandon us, but to be our hope. Christ is the beginning, the head of the Church; where he has gone, we hope to follow.”

Today’s feast of the Ascension of Jesus to Heaven, marks something of an ending – it commemorates the end of Jesus time with us on earth as a man. This feast doesn’t try and explain how the Ascension happened – that is a mystery; instead, it sheds light on what it all means, “Christ…has passed beyond our sight, not to abandon us, but to be our hope.”

Ascension has two strong qualities of hope and of challenge or commissioning. First the hope: Jesus didn’t ascend to an unknown place. He didn’t disappear into the clouds and no one knows where He is never to be seen or heard from again. No instead, “Where He has gone, we hope to follow.” Jesus attained the goal of all humanity – an eternity in Heaven; an eternity caught up in the loving gaze and grace of God the Father; and eternity of glory and perfection that can only be found in Heaven. And, all of us who have been baptized into life in Christ hope to follow Him to that place.

But, we are also challenged today by the realization that with His ascension, Jesus has left everything else in our hands until the end of time. Another way of phrasing this challenge, is that as He ascends to the Father in Heaven Jesus says to us the same as the punch line of the joke I began with: “Now, you be Jesus.”

As Jesus returns to the Father, He says to us, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses …to the ends of the earth.” He says, I will send the Holy Spirit so that you will have what you need to be My presence in the world until I return. Jesus brought to us the most incredible gifts ever – He brought us the Gospel; He brought us the Sacraments; He brought us the Church. And then, He left them in our hands to be the ones who proclaim those Holy Words; share those Divine Gifts; and welcome the world to take part in this mystery as one great community of believers.

St. Paul reminds us of the same thing in the reading from Ephesians, “May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call…for us who believe.” We are the hope of the Gospel; we are the hope of Jesus. We must all pick up the call that He has given us to preach the Good News to the ends of the earth. We’re being called to bear witness to the Gospel and to make disciples of all nations.

Our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to be Jesus in a world crying out desperately for Him. Our mission is to be the presence of His kindness, compassion, joy, and love to a world that is too often dominated by vengeance, evil, war, greed, materialism, and meanness. To all of those societal ills, we are commissioned: You be Jesus! To the immorality all around us, we are challenged: You be Jesus. To the impurity we are faced with every day – whether the scourge of the profane on television and movies and in music; the epidemic of people living together outside of wedlock; the destruction of the family; the attacks on the sanctity of marriage – we are called: You be Jesus. To the lack of peace in our world – in marriages, relationships, family, our country and world – we are charged: You be Jesus! Because if not you; if not me; than who will be Jesus in our world?

I saw a bumper sticker once that said, “Jesus is coming…look busy!” Jesus reminds us that He will send His Spirit to empower us; that with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can in fact be His presence in our world now. We need only to open ourselves to the grace of His Word, His Sacraments, and His Holy Spirit. If we do these things, my brothers and sisters, He promises us that mountains will be moved by our faith.

“Christ…has passed beyond our sight, not to abandon us, but to be our hope. Christ is the beginning, the head of the Church; where he has gone, we hope to follow.”

My brothers and sisters, you be Jesus.

May God give you peace.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Power of Mary

This story appeared in the Monday, May 14, 2007 edition of USA Today.

By Diane Cameron

I grew up in a Protestant family. My brothers and I went to Sunday school, got confirmed and later married in the same Methodist Church on Pittsburgh's North side. It was a good experience. But I always envied Catholic girls, especially in the month of May. Why May? As I would learn, it was an entire month set aside to honor a woman — Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus. Quite a revolutionary concept, especially in the early 1960s.

Our working class neighborhood was a mixture of Protestant and Roman Catholic families. Kids were divided by schools: Spring Hill public or Saint Ambrose Catholic. But it was a close neighborhood, and we all played together after school. We were in and out of each other's houses, and one mother could stand in for another when it came to discipline or first aid. The differences were few, but to me, the Catholic girls seemed to have something special.

In second grade, my feelings of envy emerged. My Catholic friends were having their First Holy Communion. My friends got to wear poofy white dresses and headbands with flowers and little veils. They were given medals with pictures of saints, rosaries and most intriguing, scapulars.
A scapular is two small patches of cloth with holy pictures on them, connected by a loop of string. My girlfriends told me that it protected them from all manner of bad things. The idea of a passionate commitment to something, even a string with holy pictures, was very appealing.
'Comforts' to live by

Catholicism offered my friends other comforts. As a kid, I would have liked a patron saint or a guardian angel, but the Methodist Church didn't offer those. Instead we were counseled, in an ecumenically respectful way, that all that stuff was Catholic...The best thing, though, that Catholic girls got was Mary. She was presented as motherhood and sweetness, but Catholic girls got a clear message that a woman in heaven understood the female side of things.

For Protestant girls, Mary shows up once a year — at Christmas — to give birth. She might get dragged out again on Good Friday, but only in the background. No role model, no intercessor, no friend.

My Catholic pals had statues of Mary. Some had the plastic glow-in-the-dark kind, and the older girls had painted plaster Marys, dressed in blue robes with big doe eyes like my Barbie's. And Mary was always standing on a snake. I didn't understand the symbolism, but I knew at 10 that this 12-inch woman had some power you could not buy for Barbie.

Best of all, my friends had May altars. A May altar was a table with an old lace tablecloth thrown over it. They put their Mary statues on it with flowers and candles that they were allowed to light when they said their prayers. It still strikes me how feminine those altars were. The Catholic girls had total permission to identify with the feminine in spiritual matters. But no one gave little Protestant girls such romantic, mysterious things.

A life with Mary

This carried over into all of a Catholic girl's life. Mary got prayers, devotions, pilgrimages and even architectural consideration: There is a Marian statue in every Catholic Church. Mary's presence meant that the Catholic Church included at least one woman at a high level. In her assumption into heaven, Mary had broken Christianity's glass ceiling.

We pretty much get the shape of our beliefs early on, and what Catholic girls got was a She and a Her, someone like them, to pray to. And they got all those accessories: medals, scapulars, rosaries, ruffled altar skirts and little white prayer books. Protestant girls got black leatherette New Testaments, Jesus stories, but nothing that said, "We're glad you're a girl."

...What I did see my childhood Catholic girlfriends get was faith in their girlhood and an image of feminine power. It's not a bad way to start out, even if the Church has a long way to go.

Diane Cameron is a writer, teacher and director of Community Caregivers in Albany, N.Y.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

"You are a priest forever..."

This is the day that the Lord has made!

What joy that today, at 11 a.m., at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Derry, New Hampshire, two men will be ordained into the priesthood of Jesus Christ. Our brothers, Philip Pacheco and Andy Rennie, through the ancient laying on of hands by Bishop John McCormack and anointing with oil will become God's holy priests.

You couldn't ask for two better men to assume this great ministry. Both Andy and Phil have walked a long road of formation and studies and now come to this day, the first day that they will make present Jesus in the form of His Body and Blood, the first of many days that they will minister the Sacraments of God to His people.

It is a day of memory for me as well. Today is the anniversary of my ordination as a Transitional Deacon, and I too was ordained a priest by Bishop McCormack at St. Thomas. So, I share greatly in the joy that Andy, Phil and our entire Franciscan family experience today.

Pray for these two new priests!!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

"They have no wine."

Below is the homily given by General Minister of the Franciscan Order Br. José Rodríguez Carballo on the Feast of Blessed Mary Mediatrix of Graces:

Dear Brothers and Sisters, May the Lord give you peace!
Today we celebrate the Feast of Blessed Mary Mediatrix of Graces, the patroness of this Church and of our street; the protector and Mediatrix of this Fraternity and of this district. For us who daily break the bread of the Word and of the Eucharist in this Church, who live on this street, it is a day of celebration. And for us who are present here today, the feast is also felt in a particular way because of the presence of our confreres the Presidents of our Conferences which are spread throughout the world.
The feast strengthens our closeness, communion and fraternal love and, therefore, we can confess with the Psalmist: How good it is for the brothers and sisters to be together. The feast strengthens our hope, because even if we feel weak, fragile and in need, we know that Mary, the “full of grace”, “the co-redeemer with the Redeemer, the Mediatrix beside the mediator”, is there, ready to intercede for us, to present our needs to her Son –“they have no wine” – as she did in Cana one day. The feast nourishes our faith, because we know that Jesus is ready to transform our water into wine, our lack of love into love, as He did in Cana through the intercession of Mary, His and our mother. The feast fills us with joy, because we know that, at home or in the “cloister of the world”, Mary is always close to us like a mother, that she loves and nourishes us like a mother, that she guides and accompanies us in our journey towards Jesus. Let us celebrate! Let our hearts rejoice because, in Mary, God has blessed us and has made His face of peace and mercy shine on all of us. Let us celebrate! Let us praise the Lord, let us rejoice, because, in Mary, the Lord has given us the mother and Mediatrix of grace, the advocate of sinners, the queen of mercy.
But let us also accept, with an open and generous heart, the message which the Lord communicates to us on this day of celebration through the readings proclaimed. We heard “They have no wine”. Let us take note that Mary did not say “there is no more wine”, but “they have no wine”. This is more than a shade of meaning. The accent is not placed on the absence of wine, but on the situation in which the people present at the wedding found themselves.
“They have no wine”. This, my dear brothers and sisters, is the reality of the Old Covenant, symbolised in the “the wedding at Cana in Galilee”. In the Old Covenant, at the heart of which the Torah given to Israel is found, there was observance, but no love; joy was missing.
Here, then, is the first application to our life. Christian life, the religious life, is an agreement, a covenant between God and each one of us. In this agreement, however, it can happen that the wine is missing, that is, love, mercy and joy. Everything then becomes arid, sterile; life loses its meaning, our witness loses its joy, our journey becomes burdensome and sad, fidelity is easily transformed into simple observance of norms which, without the wine of love, mercy and joy, are reduced to slavery. Could it be that a little wine, love, is missing in our life and in that of our Entities?
If this is our situation, the situation of our Entities and Conferences, Mary is there to say to Jesus for us: “They have no wine”. The sign of wine, in the text, is of a prevalently christological nature, but Mary had a particular role: she, through her kind intervention, pushes her Son the reveal His glory. In this way, Mary is truly the Mediatrix of the revelation of Jesus and of the faith of the disciples. Mary does not substitute for Jesus, she pleads with Him.
The duty of Mary is not only that of pleading with Jesus to fulfil His first miracle, she herself is presented as a sign in so far as she is a faithful woman, having said “yes”, because she believed, because she loved; Mary was joyful, because she was sure of the fidelity of God to His promises (cf. Lk 1, 45-55).
The fidelity of Mary is made up of detachment and poverty, of contemplation and cross, of availability and trust. Mary began by believing in the fidelity of God; her fidelity was based on Him, to whom “nothing is impossible” (Lk 1, 37) and who “looked upon His lowly handmaid” (Lk 1, 48). The fidelity of Mary knew difficult and painful moments: she did not understand the hidden meaning of her Son’s reply in the temple (cf. Lk 2, 50) and suffered His harrowing martyrdom while at the foot of the cross (cf. Jn 19, 25). But her fidelity, growing in awareness and in fruitfulness, was expressed in a serene and silent joy.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, there is no lack of moments of crisis in our life also. Wine can be lacking, at times, in our life. Keeping in mind the first miracle of Jesus and what Mary did, this is the time to be cheerful in hope (cf. Rm 12, 12). It is the time to rekindle the will to live the “joy of fidelity”. We are not alone. The Virgin Mary, Mother and Mediatrix of grace, is with us. And if she is with us, then, even in times of profound crisis, “the light will break through” and there will be happiness and rejoicing. Water will be changed into wine: the wine of love, of fidelity, of joy.
On returning to our first love there will be celebration, the celebration of a new wedding ceremony, definitive this time, between God and us. And we will sing with Mary: “My soul glorifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God, my Saviour”.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Amazing Grace!

He was lost, but now is found!

“Bless the Lord, all you works of the Lord,
praise and exalt him above all forever…
All you beasts, wild and tame, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.”
(Daniel 3.57, 81)

I think most of you are aware that both Fr. Mike and I are real animal lovers. We have two black labs, named Bubba and Fenway (both 2 ½ years old – they were actually born during Game 7 of the Yankees-Red Sox AL East Championship game, Oct. 20, 2004), and I have a six year old cat named Lucky. For eight days last week, Lucky was missing and then, wonderfully, was found. But, it really got me thinking about how important these simple pets of ours can become in our lives, or as one person commented to me, how they “wrap their paws around our hearts.”

Lucky is quite a cat. In my former parish, one of our staff members also worked in a vets office. One day she came into the parish office with a sad story. They had treated a months-old kitten who had gotten out of its owners home and was run over by a car. They did a fantastic job of saving the life of this beautiful, tiny, kitten. However, the kitten’s tail had been too badly damaged and had to be amputated. Once its owners saw that it no longer had a tail, they said they no longer wanted the kitten. If the vets office was unable to find a placement, they would have to put the kitten to sleep. So, being the good Franciscan that I am, how could I say anything other than, “I’ll take him” after hearing that story.

This was a beautiful kitten. Long black hair with white paws, a white nose and white chest – and a little pom-pom of hair on the inch of tail remaining. I let my young niece name him and she came up with “Lucky” because she said, “He’s lucky to be alive.”

Today, Lucky is a very cuddly cat. He loves to snuggle up to anyone and can sit and let you pet him for hours. He’s also the only cat I’ve ever encountered who loves to play fetch. We can’t even get our dogs to do that.

Now, I like to fashion myself as a rather stoic individual, but I have to tell you, I was pretty devastated while he was missing. The first day wasn’t too bad as it isn’t all that unusual for Lucky to sometimes hide out somewhere in the house. But after a few days, then the suggestion by someone that “maybe the coyotes got him,” I was a regular mess. And, I kept thinking I can’t believe that I’m so effected by my cat – and yet, those paws I guess were wrapped tightly around my heart. So, you can imagine my reaction when he was found (hiding in a crawl space under the friary).

This week, Lucky has been very hungry and thirsty, but is otherwise in good shape. And, now that he’s back, I’m doing okay too! So, thank God for the blessing that can be these small, furry companions – and thank all of you who were praying to St. Anthony and St. Francis for his return! Lucky was lost, but my now is found!

Love, Fr. Tom

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Mary's Month

VATICAN CITY, MAY 6, 2007 - Here is a translation of the address Pope Benedict XVI delivered today before reciting the Regina Caeli in St. Peter's Square:

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

The month of May began several days ago. For many Christian communities this is the Marian month par excellence. As such, in the course of the centuries it has become one of the peoples' dearest devotions and has been valued by pastors as a propitious occasion for preaching, catechesis and community prayer.

After the Second Vatican Council, which emphasized the role of Mary most holy in the Church and in salvation history, Marian devotion underwent a profound renewal. And the month of May, coinciding at least in part with the Easter season, is quite propitious for illustrating the figure of Mary as the Mother who accompanies the community of disciples united in prayer in expectation of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 1:12-14).

Consequently, this month can be an occasion to return to the faith of the primitive Church and, in union with Mary, understand that our mission even today is to proclaim and bear witness with courage and joy to Christ crucified and risen, the hope of humanity.

I would like to entrust to the Holy Virgin, Mother of the Church, my apostolic voyage to Brazil March 9-14. As did my venerable predecessors, Paul VI and John Paul II, I will preside at the opening of the General Conference of the Episcopate of Latin America and the Caribbean.

This fifth general conference will begin next Sunday in the great national shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida, in the city of the same name. Before this, however, I will travel to the metropolis of Sco Paulo, where I will meet the young people and bishops of Brazil and have the joy to register Frei Antonio de Sant'Anna Galvco in the book of saints.

This is my first pastoral visit to Latin America and I am preparing myself spiritually to visit the continent where almost half the Catholics of the whole world, many of them young people, live. It is for this reason that Latin America has been given the name "continent of hope": It is a hope that has to do not only with the Church, but with the whole of America and the entire world.

Dear brothers and sisters, I invite you to pray to Mary most holy for this apostolic pilgrimage and, in particular, for the 5th General Conference of the Episcopate of Latin America and the Caribbean, so that all the Christians of those regions may see themselves as disciples and missionaries of Christ, the way, the truth and the life. Many and multiple are the challenges of the present: This is why it is important that Christians be formed to be a "ferment" of good and a "light" of holiness in our world.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

They'll know we are Christians by our love

I want to begin tonight with a bit of a sing-a-long. I think it is a song you know, so I’ll sing and then invite everyone to repeat: “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love. Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

There is a story about the renowned artist Paul Gustave Dore who lost his passport while traveling in Europe. When he came to a border crossing, he explained his predicament to one of the guards. Giving his name to the official, Dore hoped he would be recognized and allowed to pass. The guard, however, said that many people attempted to cross the border by claiming to be persons they were not. Dore insisted that he was the man he claimed to be. “All right,” said the official, “we'll give you a test, and if you pass it we'll allow you to go through.” Handing him a pencil and a sheet of paper, he told the artist to sketch several peasants standing nearby. Dore did it so quickly and skillfully that the guard was convinced he was indeed who he claimed to be. His action confirmed his identity.

Jesus said in our Gospel passage today, “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Or, as our sing-a-long reminded us, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

Our Scriptures today cause us to ask whether or not people can tell who we, as Christians, are. Think about that for a minute – how does someone know who you are? Often a uniform helps – we can pick out a police man or a fireman quickly. We can pick out a priest in his collar, or a member of a religious Order in their habit - like the distinctive Franciscan habit that Fr. Mike and I wear. But, a uniform doesn’t make the person, or in the words of Shakespeare in Measure for Measure, “The hood does not make a monk.”

Don’t get me wrong, uniforms, clerical garb or religious habits all have their place. We are, after all, symbolic beings who express ourselves in symbolic forms. And Jesus Himself wrestled with the question of how to distinguish His followers from non-believers around them. But His answer is very different than mere habits and uniforms. For Jesus the essential mark of distinction between Christians and non-Christians is not in the way we dress but in the way we live - and most importantly in the way we love.

We heard today, “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.” Or to phrase it just a bit differently, Love is the Christian identity. Love is the Christian uniform. Love is the Christian habit.

You see, Jesus wants the world to recognize us as Christians. We need to evangelize and witness and preach to the people around us; the people we encounter every day. But effective evangelization and witnessing usually has less to do with how eloquently we speak and more to do with how faithfully and lovingly we live. As St Francis of Assisi told his brothers, “Preach the gospel at all times and, if necessary, use words.”

You’ve heard the statement before, “If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” The way to be a convicted Christian is by living and loving in such a way that through us people begin to have a glimpse of the unconditional love that God has shown us in Christ. The best habit we can wear is to love everyone the way Christ loves – without restriction, without judgment, without condition. The love of Christ, leads us to passionately proclaim His message, to feed those who are hungry without thought, to give shelter to the homeless, to reach out to the lost and forsaken, to support life in all its forms.

Put on the garment of love and show it to all whom you meet. I’ll end with the words of Blessed Mother Teresa which capture well the love of Christ: “People are unreasonable, illogical and self-centered. Love them anyway! If you are kind, people will accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway! The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway! Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway! What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway! People really need help but may attack you if you try to help them. Help them anyway! Give the world your best and it will hurt you. Give your best anyway! In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”

“This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” My brothers and sisters, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

May God give you peace.

Friday, May 4, 2007

What a bad plan!

You may have seen this week in the news that the Connecticut legislature passed a bill that the Governor will sign into law making it mandatory for all Connecticut hospitals - including Catholic ones - to make available the Plan B abortion pill to women who have been raped. This is yet another blow against those who would seek to preserve the sanctity of all life - yes, even a life conceived in such a brutal manner, even that life is sacred - and yet another victory for the Culture of Death.

It is bad enough that our legislature - elected to represent our views - has voted in favor of this, but what is unconscionable is that they are effectively saying that Catholic institutions will be forced by law to conduct abortions in these cases. What ever happened to the separation of Church and State?

Those who disagree with this position will contend that the Catholic church has no compassion towards those who have been victimized by rape. This is simply not so. The point is that there already exists the caring, compassionate treatment for these women so brutalized. The point is that there is no need for a law that forces people to provide abortion against their moral and religious convictions.

Archbishop Henry Mansell has said this far more eloquently than I. Let me share with you his response to this law:

"Let me say from the outset, if the bill were only about emergency contraception there would not be a problem. Traditional Catholic moral theology allows for emergency contraception for a woman who is the victim of rape. What we cannot allow is abortion.

The bill as it is currently proposed would demand that our four Catholic hospitals in Connecticut provide for abortion.

For women who have been victimized by rape all hospitals conduct a pregnancy test. Our Catholic hospitals, and possibly others, administer an ovulation test as well. It is all done in the same procedure without inconvenience to the woman. If the woman is not pregnant or is not ovulating, Plan B, the hormonal pill, may be administered as a contraceptive, preventing ovulation. When the woman is ovulating, Plan B can act as an abortifacient by preventing the fertilized ovum from adhering to the wall of the uterus.

It is astonishing to realize that the bill as currently written would prohibit doctors from administering the ovulation test. It is a simple urine test. Has it ever happened before that legislators have prohibited doctors from obtaining information that is so relevant to the treatment of a patient? What about the woman who is the victim? Is she not entitled to that information?

Our Catholic hospitals do provide extraordinary compassionate care to victims of rape. Any inspection of our emergency departments proves that fact conclusively. At the same time we may not violate our Ethical and Religious Directives and provide abortions in our facilities.
As has been widely noted, there have been discussions concerning possible 'third party resolutions.' We cannot compromise our ethical principles and convictions. The General Assembly, if it believes it is a compelling State interest, might consider having a sexual assault nurse or some other person provide the pills to the victims in their homes or some other venues. The pills are available in pharmacies and without prescription. The pills may not, however, be administered in our facilities.

We have consulted with a number of Catholic ethicists in various parts of the United States on these issues, and they are in complete agreement with the positions we are articulating. Clearly at stake here is the free exercise of religious principles in our Catholic hospitals. If any law is passed mandating Plan B in the hospitals of the State, we would expect that Catholic hospitals would be exempt from such a demand.
Catholic Hospitals in many instances have led the way in comprehensive compassionate care for rape victims, with medical care and counseling for the victim and her relatives, both in the hospitals and beyond.
The four Catholic hospitals in Connecticut (Saint Francis, Hartford; Saint Mary’s, Waterbury; Saint Raphael, New Haven; and Saint Vincent, Bridgeport) provide well over $100 million of uncompensated care every year. It is part of our mission.
Our hospitals do provide very compassionate care to the victims of sexual assault. We do provide emergency contraception to victims of rape. We cannot provide abortions.
In the Constitution State the freedom to exercise our religious principles is very much at stake. Let your voice be heard."
Archbishop Mansell is right - it is never too late to let your voice be heard. Contact your legislators and let your voice be heard.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

The Creed of St. Athanasius

Saint Athanasius is one of the least known, and yet most interesting of the early Church fathers. Here's a small profile of him:

Studied the classics and theology in Alexandria. Deacon and secretary to bishop Alexander of Alexandria. Attended the Council of Nicea in 325 where he fought for the defeat of Arianism and acceptance of the divinity of Jesus. Formulated the doctrine of homo-ousianism which says that Christ is the same substance as the Father; Arianism taught that Christ was different from and a creation of the Father, a creature and not part of God. Bishop of Alexandria, Egypt c.328. When the dispute over Arianism spilled over from theology to politics, Athanasius got exiled five times, and spent more than a third of his episcopate in exile. Biographer of Saint Anthony the Abbot. Confessor of the faith and Doctor of the Church, he fought for the acceptance of the Nicene Creed.

St. Athanasius also offered his own creed which is a wonderful statement of the faith. Though seldom used in worship, it is one of the clearest definitions of the Trinity and the incarnation ever written. Here is the text:

Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith. Which Faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.

And the Catholic Faith is this:
That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinityin Unity, neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance.
For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost.
But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one, the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal.
Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost.
The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, and the Holy Ghost uncreated.
The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible.
The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Ghost eternal.
And yet they are not three eternals, but one eternal.
As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated, but one uncreated, and one incomprehensible.
So likewise the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty, and the Holy Ghost Almighty.
And yet they are not three Almighties, but one Almighty.
So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God.
And yet they are not three Gods, but one God.
So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Ghost Lord.
And yet not three Lords, but one Lord.
For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by Himself to be both God and Lord, so we are forbidden by the Catholic Religion, to say, there be three Gods,or three Lords.
The Father is made of none, neither created, nor begotten.
The Son is of the Father alone, not made, nor created, but begotten.
The Holy Ghost is of the Father [and of the Son], neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.
So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts.
And in this Trinity none is afore, or after other; none is greater, or less than another; but the whole three Persons are co-eternal together and co-equal.
So that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.
He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity.
Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe rightly the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
For the right Faith is, that we believe and confess, that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man.
God, of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and Man, of the Substance of His Mother, born in the world;
Perfect God and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul in human flesh subsisting;
Equal to the Father, as touching His Godhead;
and inferior to the Father, as touching His Manhood.
Who, although He be God and Man, yet He is not two, but one Christ;
One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of the Manhood into God;
One altogether; not by confusion of Substance, but by unity of Person.
For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and Man is one Christ.
Who suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead.
He ascended into heaven, He sitteth on the right hand of the Father, God Almighty, from whence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
At whose coming all men shall rise with their bodies and shall give account for their own works.
And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil into everlasting fire.

This is the Catholic Faith, which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved.

Changing the impossible

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