Sunday, October 31, 2010

Time to climb a tree!

A young turtle one day slowly began to climb a tree. After long hours of effort, he reached the top, jumped into the air waving his front legs, and crashed onto the ground with a hard knock on his shell. After recovering consciousness, he started to climb the tree again, jumped again, and again hit the ground heavily. The little turtle persisted again and again while two birds sitting at the edge of a branch, watched the turtle with sorrow. Finally, the female bird said to the male bird, ”Dear, I think it’s time to tell our son he is adopted.”

I don’t know about you, but as a child, you couldn’t get me out of trees. Our family home was on the edge of the woods and there were seemingly endless trees to choose from. Trees had a magnetic quality to them. I couldn’t be near one without resisting the urge to climb it. I loved nothing more than climbing up a tree as high as I could. It seemed like you could just keep going, and, if you got high enough, it almost felt like you could fly. Everything – the whole world – looked so different from high atop a tree. It gave a new perspective to everything. I don’t recall any feelings from my childhood that felt quite as free as climbing a tree. Somewhere along the line though, we hear an anti-tree message. We hear that it is dangerous, you might hurt yourself, the tree might break, you really shouldn’t be doing it! But the memories of those eternal moments of freedom high atop the branches swaying in the wind lingers.

We heard in our Gospel today, Zacchaeus “ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus.” What can this image teach us today? As the chief tax collector of the city of Jericho, Zacchaeus would have been one of the richest men in Israel. As chief tax collector, he moved in the highest circles, and he had power — lots of it. He was also a crook, a collaborator with the Roman enemy, and a target of hatred for his countrymen. He’d always thought of himself as successful. But suddenly, at the height of his career, it dawned on him that his life wasn’t working. There was a void at the core. He was regarded as a public sinner, as a traitor and as someone unclean before God. Although he was financially well to do, he lived of life of loneliness, alienated from his own people and alienated from God. There was no joy, and intuitively he understood that there would be no joy as long as he continued on the same path.

Picture this scene if you can. Here is perhaps one of the most feared men of his community, a noble image, someone who would be likely surrounded by an entourage, and now he is running like a child and climbing a tree to see who? To see this poor, relatively unknown preacher who was passing through town. And you know what? This new perspective, found high up in a tree, changed everything for him.

Jesus looked at Zacchaeus up there on the tree and spoke: “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” He hurried down the tree with a big smile on his face and the crowd made way for him as he lead Jesus to his house. Take note that at dinner Jesus did not preach to Zacchaeus that he must repent or he would go to hell. Instead, Jesus’ non-judgmental and unconditional acceptance of Zacchaeus spoke more eloquently to his heart than the best sermon ever could. The effect? Zacchaeus stood up and said, “Half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” By giving half of his wealth to the poor and using the other half to repay fourfold all those he had defrauded, Zacchaeus’ wealth would be all but gone. But he had realized one of the great truths of life - who needs all that money when you have found a meaningful life with Christ?

Zacchaeus learned what many people learn once they take the time to climb a tree and see things differently – the world wants to sell us a way of life that is ultimately empty – only Jesus can bring things that are truly meaningful into our lives. How many of us have our priorities in the wrong order? How many of us spend our days accumulating wealth, working endlessly to have a better job, a bigger position, one that offers more wealth, more power, more prestige. Only to discover at the end of the day that it is empty, that it does not bring any greater level of happiness or peace at all – in fact, it may be the very thing robbing us of quality relationships with family, friends and ultimately God. The successful author, Jack Higgens, was asked what he would like to have known as a boy. His answer: “That when you get to the top, there’s nothing there.”

There are many Zacchaeuses around us everyday, we may also be at times a hidden Zacchaeus. Jesus challenges us to have the courage of Zacchaeus and climb that tree and see things differently, to gain a new perspective, a Christ perspective. There are figurative trees in front of us all the time, just waiting for a climb. There are the chances to gain a new perspective in our faith life with God, but how often we walk past because we fear that we might get hurt, that we might not be strong enough, that it might be dangerous? Every time we seek out the Sacrament of Reconciliation; every time we come to the Table of the Lord for the Eucharist – these are tree climbing moments. God offers us the chance to see things differently; to see them as He sees them; to make a change that will bring true happiness. We only have to embrace it; to climb; to be free.

Unlike many of us, Zacchaeus knew he had to change. So when he heard that Jesus was passing through town, he abandoned all dignity and climbed up a sycamore tree to make sure he’d see this holy man who just might be able to tell him how to find the joy that was missing in his life. The rest is history. Jesus looked up into his eyes and said, “Let me come to your house today.” Jesus came and Zacchaeus’ life was forever changed. He found the joy for which he’d so longed.

If we take the time to climb the tree that leads to a deeper faith, we just might find a greater freedom than we have ever known in life. The tree gave Zacchaeus the ability to see Jesus instead of the world that he knew; the world that clouded his sight. If we have the courage to take our lives of faith to this new perspective we too will hear Jesus say to us, “Today salvation has come to this house for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”

May God give you peace!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Christians and Bullying

By Jim Wallis, Christian leader for social change | October 21, 2010
Christians and Bullying: Standing With Gays and Lesbians

My mother used to give us kids two instructions:
1. If there is a kid on the playground that nobody else is playing with -- you play with them.
2. If there is a bully picking on other kids -- you be the one to stand up to him or her.

Those two principles have served me well. And I can almost hear my mother's voice sometimes... like now.

On Wednesday, I wore purple. I was speaking at North Park University, an evangelical Christian college, with Tim King, my colleague and a former student there. I was pleased to see them passing out purple ribbons and announcing why just before chapel.

So I joined thousands of others across the country who believe that bullying should never be tolerated at any time, at any place, or for any reason. I wore purple to commemorate "Spirit Day," in memory of the many young people who have taken their own lives as a result of harassment and bullying inflicted on them because they are gay. I wore purple because I am a follower of Christ.

A bully is a person who habitually intimidates, harasses, or commits violence against those who are smaller, weaker, or more vulnerable because of their "outsider" status. A bully stands in opposition to all of what Christ taught and lived. There is broad opposition within the Christian community to bullying, especially the sort that leads to the deaths we have seen as of late. This sort of harassment is indefensible. And the stories of young kids being so bullied that they take their own lives have been heartbreaking to hear.

But, to paraphrase Christ, if you oppose bullying, what reward will you get? Isn't everybody against it? If all you do is say that you shouldn't harass someone until they kill themselves, are you really doing more than others?

The fact that bullies target gay and lesbian people should mean that Christians give extra attention to protecting and standing up for them. The fact that any community or group of people is regularly the target of harassment and hate means Christians should be on the front line of defense against any who would attack.

But, most bullies don't know that they are bullies. A bully might think that his or her words don't matter that much or affect others that greatly. A bully might think that he or she is being funny or just kidding around. A bully might think that he or she is just saying what everyone is thinking or speaking out about what everyone thinks.

There is disagreement within the Christian community when it comes to issues of human sexuality. But, there should be a united front against all who would disrespect, disparage, or denigrate anyone created in the image of God.

I hope you will join me in prayer for the family and friends of every young person who has taken their own lives. I hope you will join me in a message of hope for any person who has been teased, harassed, or bullied by another because of his or her sexual orientation. More than that, no matter what your views of homosexuality are, I hope you will join with me in standing in the way between bullies and their victims.

At an evangelical Christian college in the Midwest, there was a lot of purple yesterday. And the airline security official who checked my boarding pass saw my purple ribbon and said, "I see you're wearing purple today, that's a good thing."

Last week, I was taking my boys to school and raised the issue of the bullying and gay teen suicides to see what they had heard about it. My 12-year-old Luke, of course, knew all about it; while 7-year-old Jack hadn't heard yet. But Jack spoke of a boy on the playground of his school who was sometimes a bully to others. Before I could say a word, Luke said to his little brother, "Now Jack, you need to talk to him. He will respect and listen to you because you are an athlete, a good student, and very popular. Kids who are strong need to be the ones who stand up for those who get bullied. Jack, part of our job is to make sure nobody gets bullied at our school. Understand?" Jack said, "Yes," and I could just feel his grandmother smiling.

Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street -- A Moral Compass for the New Economy, and CEO of Sojourners.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

"O God, be merciful to me, a sinner"

One day, Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, visited a prison and talked with the inmates. As he spoke to them, he heard endless tales of innocence, of misunderstood motives, and of men wrongly accused of crimes. Finally the king stopped at the cell of a prisoner who remained silent. “Well,” remarked Frederick, “I suppose you’re an innocent victim too?” “No, sir, I’m not,” replied the man. “I’m guilty and deserve my punishment.” Turning to the warden the king said, “Quickly, release this man before he corrupts all these fine, innocent people in here!”

“Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Our Gospel continues last week’s theme of prayer where Jesus encouraged us to “pray always without becoming weary.” If last week’s message was about being persistent in prayer, this week speaks to us about the quality of our prayer. We’re given the story of two believers, a Pharisee and a tax collector who both believed in the same God, both belonged to the same religion and both worshipped in the same temple. But, at the end of the day, one of them goes home at peace with God but the other doesn’t. This story gives us some insight into how to approach God in prayer and how to lead a life of faith that brings us to justification and not disappointment at the end of the day.

The Pharisees, of course, were very disciplined and very devout men of religion. Pharisees were serious-minded believers who had committed themselves to a life of regular prayer and observance of God’s Law. In fact, they went far beyond the requirements of the law. They fasted twice a week even though the law only required people to fast once a year. They gave tithes on all their income and not just on parts of it. When the Pharisee said, “I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector,” he wasn’t kidding. In fact, I bet few of us today could measure up to the external standards of the Pharisees.

Tax collectors, on the other hand, were generally regarded as people of low moral standards. Because tax collectors worked for the pagan Romans, mixed up with them and constantly handled their unclean money they were said to be in a state of impurity. Tax collectors were considered public sinners on the highway to hell. But the tax collector in our story still hoped for salvation not on the merit of any religious or moral achievement of his but on the gracious mercy of God.

Now, my friends, simply believing in God does not save anybody. James tells us that the devil himself believes in God and trembles with fear. What really matters is what people believe about God and how their faith in God affects their view of themselves and of others. And this is the key difference between the Pharisee and the tax collector. The Pharisees believed in a discriminating God who loves good people and hates bad people. People behave like the God they believe in. So the Pharisees quickly learn to love only good people like themselves and look down with contempt on bad people and sinners like the tax collectors. Jesus told this parable against the Pharisees because they “trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt.”

The tax collector, on the other hand, trusted not in himself or in anything he had done but only in God’s mercy. Standing far off, he would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and prayed, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” This is the man who went home at peace with God that day; and what a powerful lesson he can teach us today.

Like the Pharisee and the tax collector we too have come to God’s house to offer worship and prayers. Like them we too hope to go home at the end of this service reconciled and at peace with God. Let us learn from the tax collector the secret of worshipping in a manner that is acceptable to God – the secret of praying humbly.

There is a story about a young woman who died and went to heaven. Her life on earth had been a life full of sin and when she arrived at the Pearly Gates she was told that she could only be admitted under one condition: she must return to earth and bring back the gift that God values above all others. The young woman returned and came upon a young man who had just died for his faith in God. She thought, “This is the gift that God values most: the blood of someone who has died for their faith.” She took a drop of the man’s blood and brought it back to heaven. But, when she presented it, she was told there was something that God values even more than this.

She returned again and came upon an old missionary preaching God’s word among the poor. She thought, “This is the gift that God values most: the sweat of the brow of someone who has spent their life bringing the Good News of salvation to the poor.” But, she was again told there was something that God valued more. She returned several more times, with several more gifts but was still told there was something God valued more highly.

She was about to give up when she came upon a child playing at a fountain. The child was beautiful and innocent. At that moment, a man on horseback rode up and dismounted to get a drink at the fountain. When he saw the child, he remembered his own childhood innocence. Then he looked into the fountain and saw the reflection of his own face. It was hardened and weathered. He suddenly realized that he had terribly wasted the life that God had given him. At that moment tears of repentance welled up in his eyes and rolled down his cheeks and fell into the fountain. The young woman took one of the man’s tears and brought it back to heaven. When she presented it, there was great joy among the angels and the saints. This was the gift God valued above all others: the tears of a repentant sinner.

“The tax collector…beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

We pray for the grace to be like this tax collector, to humbly place ourselves before God in worship and praise and to trust fully in His mercy and love for us.

May the Lord give you peace.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

More from the Times

THE GOSPEL IN THE DIGITAL AGE | New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan

More from the Times

I know, I should drop it. “You just have to get used to it,” so many of you have counselled me. “It’s been that way forever, and it’s so ingrained they don’t even know they’re doing it. So, let it go.”

I’m talking about the common, casual way The New York Times offends Catholic sensitivity, something they would never think of doing — rightly so — to the Jewish, Black, Islamic, or gay communities.
Two simple yet telling examples from one edition, last Friday, October 15.

First there’s the insulting photograph of the nun on page C20, this for yet another tiresome production making fun of Catholic consecrated women. This “gleeful” tale is described as “fresh and funny” in the caption beneath the quarter-page photo (not an advertisement). Granted, prurient curiosity about the lives of Catholic sisters has been part of the nativist, “know-nothing” agenda since mobs burned the Ursuline convent in Boston in the 1840’s, and since the huckster Rebecca Reed’s Awful Disclosures made the rounds in the 19th century. But still now cheap laughs at the expense of a bigoted view of the most noble women around?

Maybe I’m especially sensitive since I just came from the excellent exhibit on the contributions of Catholic nuns now out on Ellis Island. These are the women who tended to the homeless immigrants and refugees, who died nursing the abandoned in the cholera epidemic, who ran hospitals and universities decades before women did so in the non-Catholic sphere, who marched in Selma and today teach our poorest in our inner-city schools. These are the nuns mocked and held-up for snickering in our city’s newspaper.

Now turn to C29. This glowingly reviewed not-to-be missed “art” exhibit comes to us from Harvard, and is a display of posters from ACT UP. Remember them? They invaded of St. Patrick’s Cathedral to disrupt prayer, trampled on the Holy Eucharist, insulted Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger when he was here for a conference, and yelled four letter words while exposing themselves to families and children leaving Mass at the Cathedral. The man they most detested was Cardinal John O’Connor, who, by the way, spent many evenings caring quietly for AIDS patients, and, when everyone else ran from them, opened units for them at the Terence Cardinal Cooke Health Care Center and St. Clare’s Hospital. Too bad for him. One of the posters in this “must see” exhibit is of Cardinal O’Connor, in the form of a condom, referred to as a “scumbag,” the “art” there in full view in the photograph above the gushing review in our city’s daily.

Thanks for your patience with me. I guess I’m still new enough here in New York City that the insults of The New York Times against the Church still bother me. I know I should get over it. As we say in Missouri, it’s like “spitting into a tornado.”

More from the Times « The Gospel in the Digital Age

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Brother Andre canonized today!

In the city of Montreal, Province of Quebec, Canada, on a rise of earth known as Mount Royal, there stands a religious edifice of staggering proportions. It is three hundred and sixty-one feet high, taller than either Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York or the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. Its girth is so massive that it could hold within itself any one of most of the world’s great shrines, including Saint Anne de Beaupré and Saint Paul of London. The cross atop its domed roof can be seen for miles around, guiding the millions of pilgrims who come there each year. It is the Oratory of Saint Joseph, a worthy tribute to him who is the head of the Holy Family and the Patron of the Universal Church.

If one were to ask any Canadian for the name of the person who built this magnificent House of God, he would be told, “Brother André.” Yet, this little lay brother’s name does not appear on any of the official records of the building of the Oratory. He was only a porter — a doorman — at a college owned and operated by his religious congregation. He was a little man, both in size and, if one were to judge by appearance, in importance. He was not a priest; therefore he could neither offer Mass nor preach. Because of poor education, he did not know how to read or write until he reached the age of twenty-five.

How is it, then, that this little brother is known and venerated all over the world as the little saint who built the Oratory of Saint Joseph in Montreal? It is our privilege within the following pages to provide you an answer to that question.

The Early Years.

On August 9, 1845, Alfred Bessette was born to Isaac and Clothilde Bessette, the eighth in what would become a family of twelve children. The Bessettes were a poor French Canadian family who lived in the farming village of St. Gregoire, thirty miles from Montreal, and about the same distance from the border of the United States. Isaac and Clothilde were devout Catholics who, by their own example, taught their children the virtuous habits of prayer and hard work, habits which were to become for little Alfred the key to his ultimate sanctity as Brother André.

Alfred was born a very sick baby; so sick, in fact, that his father baptized him shortly after birth, fearing he would not survive. This lack of physical health and strength stayed with him throughout his entire life, yet he lived to the incredible age of ninety-one.

Recalling what he could of those early years, Brother André later told of how happy they were for him, of how great was his love for his parents, especially his mother, who had special affection for her frail child. But that happiness was soon tempered by tragedy. When he was six years old, his father was killed in a lumbering accident near the town of Farnham. Four years later, his mother, trying to raise twelve children single-handedly, contracted tuberculosis and was forced to put the children up for adoption. Keeping with her only the feeblest one, Alfred, she went to live with her sister, Mrs. Timothée Nadeau, in St. Cesaire. Two years later, in 1857, she died. Brother André later recalled, with great love and affection, her last days. Knowing her end was near, she summoned her children to her bedside and addressed them sweetly:

“My dear little ones, it has been six years since your papa left us to go to Heaven. The good God is coming to look for me in my turn. Pray for me. Do not forget the tomb of your father. My body will repose beside his in the cemetery at Farnham. From the height of Heaven I will watch over you.”

These parting words from his devout mother left a lasting impression on the frail youth. Years later, he would say of her, “I rarely pray for her, but very often I pray to her.”

Alfred was but twelve years old when his mother died. He was now an orphan, separated from his brothers and sisters. But the next ten years of his life would see the accelerated formation of a saint.

After the death of his mother, he remained with the Nadeau family. Timothée put him to work on the family farm, but, try as he may, little Alfred could not cope with strenuous farm labor. He simply did not have the physical stamina required to perform the chores asked of him. Then his uncle sent him to a cobbler to learn the shoemaking trade, but this didn’t work either. The poor lad was so clumsy that he was constantly pricking his fingers with the sharp cobbler’s awl. This scenario was repeated over and over again: He would take a job and work at it as hard as he could, but always his poor health made it impossible for him to continue. Here are Brother André’s own words describing these years of his life:

“I was never very strong. From the time when I was a little boy, ten years old, I have suffered from dyspepsia [indigestion]. It seems as if I was always sick from it. I have had it all during my life, and it still annoys me.

“When I was living with my uncle and was very young, I could not go to school much because I was always sick. Once I tried to become a shoemaker, but I could not stand bending over and being inside the place so much, and my health made me give it up. Then, after a little while, when I thought I was strong enough, I tried to become a baker, but again I found that my health would not let me do inside work. It seems that I was never very strong.”

So much for the physical deficiencies of little Alfred Bessette. Now let us tell of the one great strength which made this peasant weakling such an exceptional boy — his astonishing holiness.

Father André Provençal

During the canonical proceedings for his cause, Father Henri Bergeron, C.S.C., related a comment made to him by Brother André’s sister: “Ah, if you only knew my brother in his youth! On Sunday he passed the greater part of the afternoon in the church.”

We should not quickly pass over this statement without reflection. Sunday was probably the only day of the week on which the boy had no assigned chores. It was most likely the only time he had to play with other children in the village, but Alfred chose to stay in prayer for “the greater part of the afternoon.” This is truly heroic in a child.

It was during this time that he came into contact with the priest who proved to be the worthy spiritual tutor of a saint, Father André Provençal, the Curé of Saint Césaire. It was Father Provençal who instructed little Alfred for his first Holy Communion. It was Father Provençal who inspired devotion to Saint Joseph. And it was also this holy parish priest who put Brother André on that road which, for him, would end in perfection — the road to a religious vocation.

Even in his youth, Brother André practiced severe penances. His aunt, Madame Nadeau, several times had to take away instruments of mortification from the boy. A leather belt pierced with tacks and worn around the waist, an iron chain, and sleeping on the floor were all penances that his poor aunt had to forbid for fear of his health. Little Alfred never disobeyed; when he was told not to practice one penance, he simply adopted another. Some may think these penances were just childish excess which would fade away with maturity, but they continued throughout his lifetime, making him a truly mortified religious.

Penance is nothing without prayer, though. And here was the true sign of the lad’s holiness: He relished being united with God in prayer. His spare time was spent either in the presbytery of the parish, talking to Father Provençal, or in the church itself in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, absorbed in prayer for hours at a time. It was during these years that he started what was to be his lifelong habit — long, deep conversations with Saint Joseph. In his Epistle to the Philippians (3:20), Saint Paul said, “Our conversation is in Heaven.” For our little French Canadian pauper, these words were not a pious platitude, but a beautiful reality.

To the U.S. and Back

About the year 1863, when he was eighteen years old, he emigrated to the United States, thinking that the milder climate of New England and the opportunities for better employment would benefit his frail health. He settled in Connecticut and worked in various towns including Hartford, alternating higher paying, but more strenuous, factory labor with less difficult, lower paying, farm work. Not much is known about this period except that his vagabond existence never changed; it seemed he would always be a wanderer.

Many years later, Brother André related an incident from his laboring years: One day, while working in a field, he stopped momentarily to rest. As he leaned on his rake for support, he asked Saint Joseph where he would die. At that moment, he had not exactly a vision, but a vivid daydream in which he saw a large stone building with a cross on top. He had never seen this building before, but received a definite mental impression of its size, proportion, color and windows, all of which suggested a barracks. Years later, the vision was confirmed when he became the brother porter of that very building — the College of Notre Dame in Côte-des-Neiges.

Biographers have assumed that, since Brother André actually died in a hospital in Saint Laurent and not the College of Notre Dame, he misinterpreted his dream. But this is not so, for the word “death” can have many meanings, naturally as well as supernaturally. Just as in the case of the Old Testament Joseph, it was in the mystical sense that this dream was fulfilled. Alfred did die at the College of Notre Dame. When a priest stood over him and pronounced, “Alfred Bessette, henceforth thy name will be Brother André,” Alfred Bessette died, cloaked in the black pall of the religious habit, and Brother André, a religious of the of the Holy Cross Congregation was born.

We will discuss his religious vocation soon enough. For now, let us continue with his travels: After three years in the United States, the young wayfarer returned to his native country, still a vagabond and, by worldly standards, still a failure. But he came back weary of the world, for it had nothing to offer him but distractions from the things of God.

While in New England, his associates used to marvel at the fact that almost all of his spare time was spent in prayer. Little did they know that this was only the beginning, for Alfred wanted to give himself completely. Though as yet he had no plans for the religious life, he knew that he would have to take leave of worldly affairs to enter a greater union with his Beloved. It must have been a wondrous thing to see the pious young man begging for guidance, storming Heaven with petition after petition, and offering up his many trials and sufferings in an effort to discern what his true vocation was.

His prayers and supplications were answered. Not long after his return to Canada, Alfred went to see his spiritual Father with whom he had kept contact during his travels, Father Provençal. The same loving, paternal hand which guided Alfred to Saint Joseph while still a child, also brought him to his vocation. He didn’t have to take his little one far. Across the street from Father Provençal’s parish Church was a new building that had been built during the time Alfred was away from Saint Césaire. The building was a school where some eighty pupils were taught by six brothers, members of a fledgling religious congregation known as the Congregation of the Holy Cross. To fully appreciate the next phase of Brother André’s life, we must learn a little about this noble institution.

Congregation of the Holy Cross

The religious whom Alfred met were the spiritual children of two fathers.

In 1820, Father Jacques François Dujarie founded an association meant to provide sacristans and teachers for the parish priests of France. Such men were sorely needed, for the Masonic French Revolution had suppressed the religious orders in France, depriving the faithful of teachers and the parish priests of the assistance they needed from brothers and nuns. Many religious were martyred for the Faith during the Reign of Terror.

Father Dujarie was a parish priest in a village near Le Mans, France, and founded his association there. He called these men the Brothers of Saint Joseph. Fifteen years later, he put his brothers under the care of Canon Basile Moreau, who had just founded a group of priests called the Auxiliary Priests. Two years after that, in 1837, the Congregation of the Holy Cross was formed. In 1857, Venerable Pope Pius IX made Holy Cross an official Congregation of the Church.

Saint John Vianney, the Curé of Ars, said of the institute, “The Congregation of Holy Cross is destined after many trials, to perform great works.” Indeed the Congregation did perform many great works all over the world. Missionary work, teaching, and writing are all part of the Holy Cross apostolate. It is impossible to go to a theological library and not find several scholarly books written by Holy Cross priests and brothers. Many were great poets too. But they were best known for the Catholicity and academic excellence of their schools. In addition to countless high schools, the Congregation founded, and still operates, Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana. We do not know just what the particular work is that the Curé of Ars was referring to, but it is not too unlikely a guess that he meant the great work of Brother André. For, though this Order has accomplished much (the early days in Indiana are replete with edifying stories of astounding zeal and piety), its only candidate for canonization to date is Brother André.

In 1847, a small group of religious was sent to Canada to open a foundation in the diocese of Montreal. The group was led by a Holy Cross priest and included six brothers and two nuns. They came at the request of the bishop of Montreal, Bishop Bourget, who went to France to ask Father Moreau for their assistance. These pioneer religious founded a college in Saint Laurent, in the diocese of Montreal.

Acceptance and Profession

Alfred’s meeting with these brothers was an event of singular importance. He was impressed by them; their black habit with Roman collar, cincture and medal of Saint Joseph, their manly bearing and devotion all attracted him. Nevertheless, he was nervous. These men were educated; they ran a school — just the six of them — with eighty children. Alfred was still an illiterate. But Father Provençal soon relieved him of that worry, assuring his young friend there was a need in the order for janitors and manual laborers. His fears allayed, Alfred soon came fully to desire the life which he saw before him in these six men.

On the brothers’ part, however, there was reservation. Could this frail little one actually live up to the great rigor of religious life? Could he take the formation that they had all been through? Was his apparent piety enough to overcome such deficiencies? These were real concerns for the brothers, though they did not express them to the lad. They simply answered the questions Alfred asked about their rule, their history, and their devotion to the Holy Patriarch, Saint Joseph. Without discouraging him, they said nothing to indicate any desire that he join them.

Alfred was not at all put off by the brothers’ lack of enthusiasm. As was already his common practice, he sought Divine Assistance to overcome this challenge and prayed all the more. Then, in 1870, he made up his mind that, if they would have him, he would join the Congregation. They accepted him into the novitiate in Côte-des-Neiges, and he took the habit of the order. The novice master, Father Gastineau, gave him a great welcome. Perhaps he was expecting much of the new arrival, because before Brother André got to the novitiate, the novice master received a letter from Father Provençal which said, “I am sending a saint to your Congregation.”

Brother André was a good novice, well liked by his superiors and respected by the brothers. During the novitiate he progressed in the spiritual life under his spiritual director, Father Hupier, and in the religious life under his novice master, Father Gastineau. He also learned to read, a skill which he applied with great fervor to the Holy Scriptures and the Imitation of Christ, as well as to the lives of the saints. As part of the Holy Cross religious formation, novices were required to memorize the entire Sermon on the Mount. But Brother André didn’t stop there. In later years, he memorized the Passion of Our Lord as it is contained in each of the four Gospels, being able to recite the entire Passion word for word according to whichever Evangelist he wished. In addition to this, he had whole sections of many spiritual books memorized.

As it would happen, one area of his life which did not improve during the novitiate was Brother André’s miserable health. It was so bad that he was not allowed to make his temporary vows as a Holy Cross brother. There was even talk of dismissing him from the community. Naturally, this upset the frail little servant of God, who wanted to work out his salvation as a religious. Desperate to save his vocation, he took advantage of a visit by Bishop Bourget, the bishop of Montreal, to the college. Overcoming his timidity, the novice knocked on the door of the prelate’s room and, once admitted inside, threw himself at the feet of his Excellency. In tears, he explained the situation. Towards the end of the conversation, the young brother humbly declared, “My only ambition is to serve God in the most obscure tasks.” The bishop, having heard all he needed, said, “Don’t be afraid, child. You will be admitted to the religious profession.” He was true to his word; Brother André made his profession on August 22, 1872.

Our Lady’s Porter

His first assignment was as porter of the College of Notre-Dame-du-Sacré-Coeur in Côte-des-Neiges, the same college where he spent much of his novitiate. This was the position he held for nearly forty years. As is common in the lives of all of the saints — and, indeed, in the lives of all men — there was never a time when he was without crosses, some of them serious. His superior at the College, Father Louage, was not particularly impressed by Brother André and oftentimes disciplined him in what seemed to be an unfair manner. Because of this, Brother André was given the name “the lightning rod of the college” by the other religious, who said, “He receives the bolts of Father Louage.” In all of this, the pious religious persevered without the slightest protest, wishing to unite his sufferings to Christ’s instead of wasting them by complaining.

It was soon after his assignment at the college that those supernatural phenomena which marked the rest of his life started to happen.


God, knowing that men do not think often enough of their final end, nor of Him, nor of the truths of religion, gives human nature external signs of His presence and the truth of His religion. Our Lord Himself, when the disciples of Saint John the Baptist approached him, asking if He were the Messias, said, Go and relate to John what you have heard and seen. The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead rise again, the poor have the gospel preached to them. Culminating with His own miraculously prolonged passion and His glorious Resurrection, Our Lord gave ample proof of His Divinity. In addition to His own miracles, He promised His Apostles that signs would follow their preaching. He was true to this promise: But they going forth preached every where: the Lord working withal, and confirming the word with signs that followed. (Mark 16:20) As is plain from Church History and the lives of the saints, the divine foundation of the Church was proved by miracles in every age.

Since Our Lord’s time, then, there have been sufficient — and oftentimes more than sufficient — extraordinary proofs for all to know the One True God and His One True Religion. And so, in this age of great intellectual pride, God manifests his mercy again to an unbelieving people to give them more than ample opportunity to save their souls.

As for Brother André, the public nature and frequency of the miracles he worked make them impossible to dispute. He cured many of the students at the college, so many that he developed a reputation as a great miracle worker.

One day, as the pious porter was scrubbing the floor in the parlor of the college, a lady came to see him, having heard of his reputation. She was so afflicted with rheumatism that she could only walk with the assistance of two men supporting her by holding each arm. Her request to Brother André was simple enough: “I am suffering from rheumatism. I want you to heal me.” Not looking up from the floor he was still busily scrubbing, Brother André said to the men assisting her, “Let her walk.” The woman walked out unassisted.

As the school’s doorkeeper, Frère André saluted and bid farewell to the many guests who came to the college. Having a keen interest in their spiritual welfare and a symphetic ear for their problems, the little doorman could often tell who was in need of his prayers or counsel. One day he noticed on the face of a guest — the father of a boarding student — a preoccupied, strained expression. When Brother André learned that the man was worried about his sick wife, he told him, “But she is not so sick as you think. At this very moment she became better.” The man was quite cynical, for he knew that his wife had been ill for many years. Yet upon arriving home, his wife greeted him at the door, perfectly healthy, in good spirits, and inquiring about the couple’s children. The man later learned, upon speaking with his wife’s nurse, that she had asked to be taken out of bed exactly when Brother André pronounced the words, “At this very moment, she became better.”

Father Henri-Paul Bergeron, a Holy Cross Priest who knew Frère André, gives an account in his book, The Wonder Man of Mount Royal, of an event that recalls some of those recorded in the Gospels:

“One day as he was going along Bienville Street in Montreal, a sick woman was brought to him. Immediately all of the sick of the neighborhood, children, men and women, were brought out until the whole street was filled with the sick and the infirm. Brother André attended to all with kindness, and his chauffeur. . . making his way through the crowd, remarked:

‘How wonderful; it is like a scene from the life of Our Lord: everyone rushed forth to beg for favors and cures.’

‘Perhaps so’ replied the Brother, ‘but God is surely making use of a very vile instrument.’”

On another occasion, when the porter was in the infirmary, he saw a student sick in bed. He told the boy, who had been ordered to rest by the school doctor, to get up. “You’re not sick, you lazy bones! Go and play with the others.” This the boy did, in perfect health and good cheer. The story of the incident soon spread around the college. Teachers, the doctor, students and parents alike marveled at the miracles wrought by the confident prayer of the young brother.

We say that the miracles were wrought by the prayers of the brother. Perhaps, if he were here, he would rebuke us for saying this. He never claimed that he worked a single miracle. In his humility he gave all the credit to Saint Joseph, in whose power Brother André had infinite confidence. In fact, any attempt to credit him with miracles brought a stern reprimand from the normally kind religious. One day a visitor said to him, “You are better than Saint Joseph. We pray to him and nothing happens, but when we come to see you we are cured.” The brother was so incensed at the slander of the Holy Patriarch that he screamed, “Get out of here. It is Saint Joseph who cured you, not I. Get out! Throw him out!” The incident shook the frail constitution of the holy man so much that he spent three days sick in bed.

If miracles are proof of the True God and His True Religion, then the miracle workers chosen by God are going to have enemies, just as God Himself did when He dwelt amongst us. It didn’t take long, then, for Brother André to acquire enemies of his own.

Many parents who sent their boys to the school were alarmed at the activities of its brother porter. Large numbers of sick were coming to the school where their children not only went to classes, but boarded as well. These pathetic masses — many of whom had contagious diseases — crowded about the train station across from the college. In their quest to see Frère André they constantly filed in and out of the very building where the students were housed. The just concerns of the parents, coupled with ill feelings (perhaps jealousy) of many at the college, spelled trouble for the porter. And worse yet, many physicians, whose hatred of religion was deposited upon the little man they styled a “fake healer,” added their venom to the rising fury. Soon Brother André had a mob of hostile enemies complaining to his superiors, the bishop, and even the public health officials.

The Bishop of Montreal — at this time, Bishop Bruchesi — dismissed the multitudes who came to complain to him. But this did not mean he was unconcerned. He scheduled an appointment with Brother André’s superiors, many of whom were not convinced of the divine origin of the miracles. During the meeting, the bishop asked whether Brother André would cease his activities if told under obedience. The reply came, “He would obey blindly.” To this the bishop said, ” Then let him alone. If this work is from God, it will live; if not, it will crumble away.”

Not only was the Bishop won over by the porter’s virtue; even the public health officials, who were forced to investigate the goings on at the college, came back from their meeting with him impressed at his common sense and stability. The enemies of Brother André failed, and Bishop Bruchesi’s statement was proven true: the work was from God and it did live.

The Oratory of Saint Joseph

In the midst of all of the excitement, the brother’s heart became fixed on one holy ambition: the erection in Montreal of a shrine to Saint Joseph.

Brother André was not the first to conceive such an idea. Years before, in 1855, the saintly Bishop Bourget had written in the decrees of the Second Plenary Council of Quebec:

St. Joseph, then, must have a church which will in a certain sense supply the service of all the others, and in which he may receive every day the public honors due to his eminent virtues . . . We wish to consecrate whatever is left to us of strength and life in the task of having him honored in such a church and of making that church a place of pilgrimage whither the faithful will come to visit him. . .

This is the same bishop whom we reported earlier saved Brother André’s vocation nearly twenty years after writing these words. Perhaps he knew that the holy little novice who pleaded with him was the humble instrument through which the Patron of Canada would finally have a worthy shrine built. But even Bishop Bourget was not the first to express the desire that such a shrine be built. Father Moreau had dreamt of a place of pilgrimage to Saint Joseph in the very early years of the Holy Cross Congregation in France. He thought of using the novitiate at Charbonnière, near Le Mans, for such a site. Both men were dead and buried before the Oratory was started, but both had a hand in its foundation all the same.

The shrine was in the thoughts and prayers of the porter for quite some time before he dared ask permission to build such a thing. He let only a handful of privileged friends know of his holy aspiration. Every once in a while he would let out a stray remark impressing on the hearer the need for a chapel to Saint Joseph. Some of these occasions came with certain signs of the divine origin of the brother’s dream. One of his confreres told him of a strange phenomenon in his cell: It seemed that every time this religious put his statue of Saint Joseph facing his bed, he came back to find the statue turned around, facing the Mount Royal. Laughing, Frère André told his confrere, “It is not strange at all; it simply means that Saint Joseph wants to be honored on the mountain.”

Certainly Brother André wanted Saint Joseph honored on the mountain. In 1890, he took a young student with him on one of his regular Thursday meditation walks. Taking the student up to the mountainside across the street from the school, he told him, “I have hidden a medal of Saint Joseph here. We will pray that he will arrange the purchase of this land for us.” For six years he persevered in prayer for that intention, and in 1896, his prayers were rewarded. The Holy Cross Congregation purchased the land, fearing that such a prime piece of real estate would attract a club or resort which would be an unwholesome distraction so near the students. After the land was purchased, Brother André put a statue of Saint Joseph in a little cave on his chosen site. Placing a bowl in front of the statue, he planned on collecting alms from Saint Joseph’s petitioners, alms which would be used to build a chapel.

The building of the shrine was a complex thing. It would be a distraction in this short biography to go into all of the details of what was completed and when. Indeed, at times the biographies of the Blessed read more like architectural manuals than the life of a saint. This is because the life of the little brother was so intimately connected with the building of this shrine that one cannot be discussed without the other. To put it simply, what started out as a fifteen-by eighteen foot chapel in 1904 became a minor basilica in 1955, and was completed — interior and all — in 1966. In his lifetime, the shrine became big enough to warrant having a full-time guardian, a job to which Brother André was appointed in 1909. For the present, however, we would rather discuss the life of the holy builder than the building itself.

From the moment that he conceived the idea to the day he died, the Oratory of Saint Joseph was a sacred task which Blessed André pursued with burning zeal. Everything that he could do in the confines of religious obedience to make the shrine a reality, he did immediately.

In his days as porter in the college, he also became the school’s barber, a position which gave him opportunity to give holy counsel to the boys. When the students paid him the small fee for their haircuts, Brother André would set the money aside for the shrine.

Miracles in the U.S.A.

The determination that our brother had to build the shrine to Saint Joseph took him well beyond the confines of Montreal to find the money needed for the project. He toured many cities in the United States and Canada in this holy pursuit. Many of the French-Canadian towns around Boston, including the industrial cities of Lowell and Fitchburg, were on his itinerary. In these forays, he made the rounds of factories to beg contributions from their workers.

Even today can be found residents of these areas who vividly recall the visits of the saint. A religious in our own order once met such a privileged resident, who related the story of a young couple with an infant diagnosed as having a brain tumor. Upon learning of the child’s malady, Blessed André took the baby into his arms, gently rubbing the afflicted infant’s head. The moving scene of the aged Brother caressing the infirm baby was more than just a tender moment; the child, it was later discovered, was completely cured.

Another episode in his American travels saw the conversion of a young non-Catholic named Henry Paine. Mr. Paine had pierced his hand with ice tongs and it was so infected that the doctors talked of amputating the affected member. The young man promised his Canadian visitor that that he would convert if he was healed. At the touch of Frère André’s hand, the pain left. Almost immediately, the hand was completely cured. Mr.Paine kept his promise: he did indeed convert; and soon after, he married a Catholic young lady.

The miracles wrought at the Oratory were many and spectacular. Still there were critics. Many cynics doubted the efficacy of St. Joseph’s oil, medals and novenas for healing bodily illnesses. Others took the cures for granted, thinking that it was the good work of the kindly brother, who, like any other humanitarian, had no other aim in mind than taking away people’s suffering. But for Blessed André, the working of miracles had one end and one end only: Faith.

Zeal for Souls

Many of the people who sought cures from Frère André were good Catholics; but others were heretics and unbelievers of all kinds. One of the witnesses at his cause for beatification said, “As to heretics, schismatics and also unbelievers, Brother André treated them with more kindness and sympathy than the Catholics. He wanted to gain the confidence of such people. When the right time came he talked to them of the goodness of God and of religion. . . He profited by the visits of Protestants and unbelievers to slide in a good word to them, an evangelical word.”

It was by this kind of work that the guardian of the Oratory wrought thousands of conversions, many among lapsed and lukewarm Catholics, but also among Protestants, Freemasons and Jews. Brother André looked upon the humility of the non-Catholic, in coming to a Catholic brother for a cure, as the beginning of faith. In this he was imitating Our Lord Himself. When the father of the possessed boy in Saint Mark’s Gospel begged for a cure, Jesus told him that all things were possible to those who had faith. And immediately the father of the boy crying out, with tears said: I do believe, Lord. Help my unbelief. Like Our Lord, Blessed André took every opportunity to give the gift of faith to the unbeliever. About this, the Blessed said, “Those who are cured quickly often are people who have no faith or little faith. On the other hand, those who have solid faith are not cured so quickly, for the good God prefers to allow them to suffer that they will be sanctified even more.”

Devotional Life

In early life, our diminutive porter acquired the habit of frequent, long, and devout prayer. As he advanced in years, this habit never waned. During the daytime, which he typically spent cleaning and doing other chores, Frère André received many visitors. At night he frequently visited hospitals, oftentimes returning with crutches to add to the growing collection in the Oratory. After such a day, he would spend much of the night in prayer. One of his intimates said about this, “Frequently, after his sick calls, he invited me to sleep in his cell over the primitive chapel. More than once I struggled against sleep in order to watch him. Towards morning I fell asleep while he remained in prayer. When I awoke, about five o’clock, I often noticed his bed had not been touched.”

Though he is known for his tremendous devotion to Saint Joseph, all those who knew him said that Blessed André’s central devotion was to the Passion of Our Lord. Many times, he would turn a worldly conversation into an emotional narration of Our Lord’s sufferings, often bringing those present, including himself, to tears. Because of this devotion, the good brother led Friday Stations of the Cross every week at the Oratory, hoping one day to construct a large set of stations around the Basilica’s exterior.

His devotion to Our Lady was quite conspicuous too. Logically, with such a love of the Passion, he often invoked Mary as Our Lady of Sorrows, the title under which she is the Patroness of the Holy Cross Congregation. Frequently he walked around with Our Lady’s Rosary in his hand; and in visiting the sick or raising funds for the Oratory, he would take advantage of the car ride to recite not one but several Rosaries. In his simplicity, he spoke of the Virgin as a child would: “If you consider all the saints, you will see that all of them had a devotion to the Blessed Virgin; Her intercession is most powerful, she is the Mother of God and the Mother of men.”

The piety that he had toward the Patron of the Universal Church was simple and childlike too: “When you invoke Saint Joseph, you don’t have to speak much. You know your Father in heaven knows what you need; well, so does His friend Saint Joseph.” “Tell him, ‘If you were in my place, Saint Joseph, what would you do? Well, pray for this in my behalf.’” To the people who came to him with their troubles — and thousands did — the friend of Saint Joseph recommended the use of sacramentals, like Saint Joseph’s oil or a Saint Joseph medal. Most of all, he recommended persevering and confident prayer, usually prescribing a novena to his powerful benefactor.

A typical example of the favors wrought through the intercession of Saint Joseph is this one: A girl at a convent school not far from Quebec was severely injured when another child struck her in the right eye with an oar. The doctors tried to save the eye, but paralysis of the optic nerve set in, causing the girl to lose her sight. The sisters at the school had heard of the cures at the Oratory and procured a medal of Saint Joseph which had been blessed there. They decided to make a novena. For nine days, all the Sisters and students received Holy Communion and prayed to the foster-father of Jesus, applying the medal to the child’s eye. There was no progress at all during the course of the novena, but they remained confident. On the ninth day, after everyone had received Holy Communion, the child opened her eye to see the chapel’s statue of Blessed Joseph. Before the cure, the seriousness and permanence of the damage had been verified in writing by two competent ophthalmologists. Later, these two declared that the eye was perfectly cured, with no trace of injury. Neither could explain the cure.

Though Brother André was given the grace to heal others, he was constantly sick himself. He suffered from stomach illness all of his life. As a result, he could eat little more than a mixture of flour and watered-down milk, or sometimes bread soaked in the same. To him, these sufferings were an opportunity for reaching greater sanctity. As we shall see, his final sickness provided him with many such opportunities. When asked if he was in great pain, he said, “Indeed I am, but I thank God for giving me the grace to suffer; I need it so much!”

The Death of a Saint

In the ninety-first year of a life dedicated to Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the miracle man sensed his imminent departure from this vale of tears. Late in 1936, he told one of the priests in his order that Christmas of that year would be his last in this life. Once, when he passed the tiny hospital of Saint-Laurent, he commented, “What a fine place for patients to prepare for death.” At 8:30 in the evening of December 31, the wonder worker who cured so many was himself admitted to that very hospital for what the physician thought was a mild heart attack, but was later diagnosed as acute gastritis.

He spent his dying days as he had spent his whole life, unconcerned with his own sufferings — which were great, considering that he refused any pain medication — and constantly praying for others. He offered up his prayers and mortifications for Catholic Spain, then being torn asunder by civil war, prior to General Franco’s defeat of the Communists. He also prayed for the Holy Father, Pope Pius XI, who was sick and near to death. With friends at the side of his own deathbed telling him how much he was still needed, the good brother said, “There is one who is far more necessary than Brother André in this world: that is the Pope. If the Holy Father passed away, it would be disaster; he still has much to accomplish.”

The Pontiff lived for two more years, years in which he did accomplish much, addressing problems all over the globe: the Germans losing their faith to Nazism, the Mexicans being oppressed by an evil Masonic government, and the even more horrible menace of Communism. On March 19, 1937 — the Feast of Saint Joseph — the Holy Pontiff published Divini Redemptoris, an encyclical letter condemning Communism. As if in gratitude for his own recovery and with great confidence in the mighty Patriarch, towards the end of the encylical Pius wrote,

. . .We place the vast campaign of the Church against world Communism under the standard of Saint Joseph, her mighty Protector.

Like Our Blessed Lord on the Cross, his faithful imitator spoke many words of piety and holy resignation to God’s will during his final agony: “My God how I suffer. . . Heaven is so beautiful that it is worth all the trouble with which one prepares for it.. . . How good God is. . . How beautiful. . . How powerful. . . Mary, Sweet mother, mother of my sweet Savior, be merciful to me and help me . . . Saint Joseph. . . “

The name of his holy patron was the last intelligible word issued from the holy lips of Blessed André.


So Brother André died as he had lived, suffering heroically, praying fervently, and even working great cures. The purely spiritual mission of his life became more evident when, during the exposition of his body — which lasted a week — confessionals were filled with repentant sinners who had been away from God’s grace too long. Not only at the Oratory, but all over Montreal sinners were returning to God in great numbers as more than one million people streamed past his poor little coffin. Some of these people had been sworn enemies who had spurned the miracle worker as a fake, having dubbed him, “the old fool on the mountain.” The “old fool’s” prayers very well may have saved many of these from an eternity without God, just as they may have saved Canada from the clutches of Communism.

Today, the mortal remains of Blessed Brother André lie in a black marble sepulcher in the back of the Oratory, the shrine he dedicated his life to erecting for Saint Joseph. In front of the Basilica towers a statue of Saint Joseph holding the Child Jesus. The millions who file past it every year see on its stone pedestal the words which the saintly old guardian calls out from heaven: ITE AD JOSEPH — GO TO JOSEPH!

Article printed from

Saturday, October 16, 2010

"Pray always without becoming weary"


Two young boys were having a sleep over at their Grandmother’s house and as was their custom, before they were about to go to bed, they prayed. The first boy prayed about the day he had and about everything he had done; offering the usual thanks and blessings. Then the second boy started to pray, but he prayed much louder than his brother. And his prayers were very different. He prayed asking God for a new bicycle, and various toys. When he finished, his brother asked, “Why are you praying so loud? God is not deaf.” The boy responded, “I know, but Grandma is.”

Our readings today call us to reflect on our own lives of prayer – how we pray, when we pray, why we pray. Do we pray with constancy and trust; or do we pray infrequently and in distress? In our first reading from Exodus we heard the dramatic story of the people of Israel going up against the forces of Amalek. We heard, “As long as Moses kept his hands raised up, Israel had the better of the fight, but when he let his hands rest, Amalek had the better of the fight.”

Immediately before these verses, the people of Israel were grumbling and questioning God. They were in the desert and they were thirsty, because there was no water. They wanted to know if God was with them or not. It was a moment of mutual testing. God probed the faith of Israel and Israel tested fidelity of God. Of course, God proved His faithfulness by presenting a rock which when struck produced saving water; meeting the need of their thirst. In fact, Scripture tells us that the place where this happened was named “Massah” and “Meribah” words which in Hebrew mean “test” and “argument.” Israel was honest about their thirst and complained. And God remained faithful to their prayer. The people grew in their trust by signs they were given from God. They went into battle trusting Moses’ power given him by God.  Moses prayed with the weight of his arms outstretched and the weight of the people’s expectation. The people learned that God works through humans who work with Him; that they shouldn’t be weary. They learned that if they trust in God, God will help them triumph.

Today’s Gospel passage also tells us something about prayer. We heard, “Jesus told his disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.” Again, this is a story about our need for prayer and God’s faithfulness to us. The parable gives us a bad judge, who does not honor God or anyone else for that matter. He is approached by a widow for justice. The judge ignores her and her request, but she persists in her petitioning. Finally, he relents, not to help her or honor his tradition, but to avoid her wrath.

On the surface, this seems to be a rather simple parable about how we should be tireless in our prayer; pounding on God’s door to eventually get what we want. But, as always, there is more to the parable than first meets the eye. This is not an encouragement to try and wear God down with our prayers. Prayer, or persistence in asking, is more than just multiplying our words to God.

Jesus is telling the disciples that a life of prayer is not occasional; it is constant. That it is not one way, our asking God for things; but rather, it is relational. We can’t engage in drive-through prayer, simply popping in on the Lord when we need something, and taking off again when we get it. No instead, a life of prayer is constant; a life of prayer is a relationship with God that never gives up. Waiting, hoping, watching, and longing, are all parts of this loving relationship with God. Our life of prayer with God relies on constantly being engaged in the conversation of prayer; faithfully bringing our needs, our joys, our lives to God – sometimes grumbling and questioning, sometimes praising and thanking, but always persisting in the relationship. This constancy with God is how prayer is a way of life rather than an occasional occurrence.

God has taught me this lesson powerfully in my own life. My parents were married in 1965; my Mother a lifelong Catholic and my Dad never baptized. My Mom encouraged him to become a Catholic when they got married, but it was something that didn’t take root. But, she continued to pray. When I was old enough to understand the situation, I began to pray too. Especially once I entered religious life, I thought Dad would become a Catholic. In fact, I began to pray at Mass every day. After I received the Eucharist, I would pray simply, “Dear God, I offer you the grace of this Eucharist and ask that you place within my Dad a desire for Baptism.” Beautiful prayer, but, still nothing. And, still we prayed. Finally, as I got close to my ordination to the priesthood, I thought, a little Irish guilt might work. I said to my Dad, “You know Dad, nothing would be more special to me than to be able to offer you Holy Communion at my first Mass.” That’s some first class guilt right there; but still nothing. And still we prayed. I even had my emergency plan for Dad. Should he get sick and it looked like he might not make it, I was going to baptize him whether he wanted it or not; and let God sort things out later!

But, then, four years ago, not long before my Dad’s 70th birthday, he called me on the phone and said just two words to me, “I’m ready;” and I knew exactly what he meant. And, in the greatest honor of my priesthood, I welcomed my own father into the faith baptizing him and giving him his First Holy Communion. And in the midst of that, I could hear the words of Jesus, “Pray always without becoming weary.” Everything happened perfectly with my Dad – not in my time; certainly not according to my plan – but in God’s time and according to God’s plan; which is always perfect.

Our waiting can be long, but we must be persistent. God calls us to faithfulness, and fidelity; and not to lose hope. “Jesus told his disciples about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.” Instead of falling into doubt in our prayer; instead of chastising God for not answering our prayers in our way or our time; instead of giving up on our prayer because of uncertainty or length of time; our God is calling us once again to be faithful and tireless in our life of prayer with Him. Like Moses, we hold up our hands in prayer, confident that God will bring us victory if only we will trust in His will; His Word; His ways; His plan; and in His time.

May we all renew ourselves as people who lead lives of constant and faithful prayer with God; and God will reign in our hearts and in our lives.

May God give you peace.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

'A Prayer When I Feel Hated': Helping Prevent Gay Teen Suicide

By James Martin, SJ

The recent rash of suicides among young gay youths cannot fail to move the Christian heart, or indeed any heart capable of compassion. While any suicide is a terrible tragedy, the suicide of a young person who feels that his or her life will never change, and who moves towards despair as a result of constant bullying and harassment, is especially poignant.

Many of the gays and lesbians, young and old, who have spoken about this in the last few days have pointed to how wounded they have felt by their churches and by other religious organizations. The Christian community must find a way to reach out more compassionately to gay and lesbian youths, help them feel welcome and valued, and help them know that they are beloved by God -- and by us. We must lead, as we do with any group, and as Jesus did, first with welcome, not condemnation. For my part, here is a prayer I composed for all who feel excluded, rejected, marginalized, shamed or made fun of, in any way or in any place, religious or otherwise:

"A Prayer When I Feel Hated"

Loving God, you made me who I am.
I praise you and I love you, for I am wonderfully made,
in your own image.

But when people make fun of me,
I feel hurt and embarrassed and even ashamed.
So please God, help me remember my own goodness,
which lies in you.
Help me remember my dignity,
which you gave me when I was conceived.
Help me remember that I can live a life of love.
Because you created my heart.

Be with me when people make fun of me,
and help me to respond how you would want me to,
in a love that respects other, but also respects me.
Help me find friends who love me for who I am.
Help me, most of all, to be a loving person.

And God, help me remember that Jesus loves me.
For he was seen as an outcast, too.
He was misunderstood, too.
He was beaten and spat upon.
Jesus understands me, and loves me with a special love,
because of the way you made me.

And when I am feeling lonely,
help me remember that Jesus welcomed everyone as a friend.
Jesus reminded everyone that God loved them.
And Jesus encouraged everyone to embrace their dignity,
even when others were blind to that dignity.
Jesus loved everyone with the love that you gave him.
And he loves me, too.

One more thing, God:
Help me remember that nothing is impossible with you,
that you have a way of making things better,
that you can find a way of love for me,
even if I can't see it right now.
Help me remember all these things in the heart you created,
loving God. Amen.

James Martin, SJ, is a Jesuit priest and the author of The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything and My Life with the Saints.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

An attitude of gratitude


One day, a man went into a crowded restaurant to have a meal and just as he was about to begin, another man approached and asked if he could join him. The man invited his new friend to have a seat and, as was his custom, bowed his head in prayer. When he opened his eyes, the other man asked, “Do you have a headache?” The first man replied, “No, I don’t.” The man continued, “Is something wrong with your food?” Again, he said, “No, I was simply thanking God as I always do before I eat.” The man said, “Oh, you’re one of those, are you? Well, I want you to know that I never give thanks. I earn my money by the sweat of my brow and I don’t have to give thanks to anybody when I eat. I just start right in!” The first man paused and said, “Yes, you’re just like my dog. That’s what he does too!”

As we heard in our Gospel passage, “One of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.” Brothers and sisters, our Scriptures remind us today that there are a lot of people in our world who are just like the man in our story, believing that they have earned every good that comes their way and, therefore, do not need to thank anyone or even God for it. They forget that the blessings that come into our lives are first God’s blessings before they become our achievements. Just think from the earliest moments of life - what did any of us do to “earn” even being born? What did we do to deserve loving parents? What did we do to have eyes to see, ears to hear, tongues to speak, feet to walk? How much did we pay God to make us intelligent or beautiful people? And certainly, what could any of us have ever done to merit our salvation from sin and the reward of eternal life? My friends, the message is simple and clear today: too often, we take our blessings for granted. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that if the stars came out only once a year, everybody would stay up all night to behold them. Friends, we have seen the stars so often that we don’t bother to look at them anymore. How easily we grow accustomed to our blessings and forget to give thanks for them.

In today’s gospel Jesus heals 10 lepers, yet only one returns to thank Him. Why didn’t the other nine lepers return? Here are some possibilities, maybe we’ve used excuses like this ourselves: Perhaps one said, “Jesus told us to go to the priest. He would be mad with us if we return to him now.” Perhaps one said, “I think we need to wait and see if the cure is for real.” Perhaps another said, “There’s plenty of time to see Jesus later, if we need to.” Perhaps one said, “Maybe we never even had leprosy in the first place.” Maybe one said, “There was no doubt in my mind that we would get well someday.” Another might have said, “I told you that if you think positively enough, you will be well.” And another might have said, “Jesus didn’t do anything special; any rabbi could have done it.” Maybe one said, “What we need now is the temple priest, the one who can declare us clean.” And, perhaps one said, “Now that we are okay, we do still need him?”

We’ve all been in the position of making excuses that seem to make sense, but really are just a lack of gratitude. Ingratitude is nothing more than putting our personal needs before other’s needs. But, fortunately for us, there is the 10th leper who says nothing but simply turns back to thank Jesus. He follows his natural impulse; and impulse of gratitude to God for the wondrous blessing he has received.

I can’t help but think of a parallel when it comes to the way that many Catholics approach Sunday Mass. We know that fewer than 30% of Catholics in this country attend Mass on Sundays. There are probably a lot of reasons for this, but more than anything, I think, it is a sign that we have become an ungrateful people. I say this because we lose sight of the main reason that we gather for Mass every Sunday – to give thanks to God. The very word “Eucharist” comes from the Greek word meaning “to give thanks.” If we count our blessing, if we realize that all is from above, from God, then we shall be more likely to act like the 10th leper when he realized he was healed - to return with joy and give God thanks and praise - every Sunday. How often I hear people say, “Do you think God really cares that I’m not at Mass? Does it even matter?” To that question, we hear Jesus say today, “Where are the other nine?” Let us never be counted among that number.

“One of them…returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.” For all that is blessed in our lives, we need to give thanks – we need to give that thanks to God. Let us be like Number 10 and return to the Lord, falling on our knees, as a people who give thanks to God for all the blessings we have in life; in fact, for the blessing of life itself. Let us make Psalm 35 our prayer, “I will give you thanks in the great assembly; among the people I will praise you.”

May God give us grateful hearts and may He give us peace!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Love radically


Today we celebrate a glorious day – especially for we who are Franciscans – today is the Solemnity of Our Holy Father Saint Francis. And so, for us it is not just another Holy Day, but it is our Founder’s Day. And it is a day for us to remember who we are called to be as followers of Christ Jesus in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi.

It has been more than 800 years since the Saint walked the earth and yet it never ceases to amaze me at what an impact he has had on our Church and our world, and continues to have to this day. St. Francis is a holy man who transcends even faith. He is a holy man who finds popularity throughout Christianity – both Catholic and Protestant – and even beyond Christianity. And so, how right it is that we celebrate this holy man and renew ourselves in the attempt to imitate him in our common call to follow Christ.

St. Francis is known for so many things. We remember him for light things like his preaching to the birds so faithfully commemorated in bird baths on the lawns of many people. We remember him for the very serious things like his total acceptance of the life of poverty; his embrace of lepers; his love of all creation and more. But, one of the most stunning things we remember him for is his reception of the sacred stigmata – the sacred wounds of Christ.

In our own day-and-age, we are still astounded by something so remarkable as receiving the wounds of Christ, but it is not unheard of for us. Many people today have tremendous devotion to Padre Pio, who lived in our own time. And there have been others who have born the wounds of Christ over the ages. But, St. Francis was the very first.

Upon his death in 1226, Br. Elias, who was the friend, companion and successor of St. Francis issued an encyclical letter to announce that the Saint had died. This letter was also the first public proclamation of the stigmata. He wrote, “I announce to you a great joy and a new miracle. It is a sign which has been unheard of from the very beginning of time except in the Son of God, Christ the Lord. Not long before his death, our brother and our father was seen to resemble the crucified Lord, bearing in his body the five wounds which are the marks of Christ.”

The life of St. Francis can be characterized in a very simple way – he sought to conform himself to Christ. In 1993, Pope John Paul II visited Mount La Verna in Italy, the place where St. Francis received the wounds of Christ in 1224. There he spoke about this conformity to Christ, “By his life Francis proclaimed…the saving word of the Gospel. The reception of the stigmata on La Verna thus represents that visible conformity to the image of Christ which makes Francis the example to which every Christian can aspire in the process of drawing ever nearer to God the Creator and Redeemer.”

As we commemorate this holy man today, we can be tempted to think, what a truly remarkable person; what a beacon of light for the Christian faith – but, that could never be me. But we would be wrong. What St. Francis shows us is not a way of life that is so remarkable that it can barely be imitated. What St. Francis shows us is that the way of life that Jesus Himself has invited us into is within our reach. If he can do it, so can we. We too can be imitators of St. Francis in following the life of the Gospel.

And we too can be conformed to the image of Christ. As remarkable as the five wounds appearing on the body of St. Francis are, they are not the true stigmata – the true stigmata is in the soul; in the heart; in the day-to-day. If the sacred stigmata were merely about flesh-and-bones, it would be an interesting supernatural reality. But, this is something that came at the end of his life, not the beginning. It was a divine confirmation of a life lived in conformity with Christ, not the goal of it. In other words, St. Francis most profoundly conformed himself to Christ, not in the wounds in his hands, feet and side, but in the way that he loved; in the way that he lived. And so can we. St. Francis loved as radically as did Christ. And he shows us that we can too can take away all that keeps us from loving fully; all of the challenges, difficulties, hurts, pettiness, prejudices and pains – and make a choice to love others because God has first loved us.

Let me end with the words of the current successor of St. Francis, our General Minister José Rodríguez Carballo, who said, “Francis, come among us! We need you to tell us that true joy does not lie in human wisdom, riches, and rewards, but in being faithful to the plan of the Lord. We need you to help us learn that to follow Jesus, there is only one path to take: the path that was trod by him. Francis, we need you to teach us how to…become true friends, imitators, and lovers of Christ. Come, Brother Francis!”

My friends, let us conform ourselves to Christ as did our Holy Father St. Francis.

May the Lord give you peace.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Let us begin again


St. Bonaventure tells us in his Life of St. Francis, that towards the end of his life, our Holy Father would say to the friars, “Let us begin again, brothers. For up till now we have done little or nothing.” What a wonderful and renewing phrase that is, “Let us begin again.” To me, it speaks of renewal; it speaks of resurrection; it speaks of new beginnings and a newness of life. And, I think it is one of the most powerful statements St. Francis gives us – a reminder that we are part and parcel of the remarkable cycle of renewal that our God offers us; that the Paschal Mystery is not something we observe from the outside, but something we participate in from within. That today, and every day, we continually have that opportunity before us to begin again.

In a simple way, I think of my own experience just a year ago. As you know, I also had the great honor of sharing some thoughts with all of you for the Transitus last year. I was barely a few months into my new ministry as Vocation Director; and I asked you dear sisters, knowing how powerful are the prayers of Holy Women, to please make, as part of your daily prayers, some petitions for my ministry and for vocations to our Province of the Immaculate Conception. And, now, just a year later we are preparing to receive six men into our formation program later this week – three of whom are here tonight. Those are some powerful prayers!! And, I ask you once again to keep them coming! “Let us begin again.”

You know, in one way, the celebration of the Transitus of St. Francis can seem a bit odd from the outside. With painstaking detail, we recall the death of St. Francis; we remember each of the things he did as he approached his final breath. There can be a morbidity to the celebration – except for that refrain that keeps coming back to us, “Let us begin again.” We know that this celebration is not named the Death of St. Francis or the Demise of St. Francis or even the Final Moments – rather, it is a night we call Transitus or passing or transition. It is a celebration not about an ending, but about a movement from the pale existence we enjoy here on earth to the remarkable existence of eternity, the Beatific Vision, the Communion of Saints – the incredible wonder that it is to dwell in God’s presence forever.

St. Therese of Lisieux, who’s memorial we celebrated last week said, “I want to spend my Heaven doing good on earth.” Even for St. Francis, he has “begun again”; his work, his life was not completed when he passed from here to Heaven – his great work had only just begun; as now he intercedes for us in the presence of our Almighty God.

As we commemorate and recall our Holy Father’s passing, we are also given an invitation to begin again ourselves. And we all know, I think, the universal call to renewal, to new beginnings, is something that we all crave. As we gather on this holy night, we are invited to reflect in our hearts about what needs to be new in our own lives. Perhaps we need a newness of vigor in our life of prayer, a renewal of charity and compassion in our lives with one another. Perhaps we need a fresh start in our community life, in our family life. Perhaps we need a renewal in our Provinces, convents, friaries and homes. To the areas of our life that are being called into transitus, St. Francis says, “Let us begin again.”

As we place St. Francis once again in the tomb in the quiet and darkness of this night, let us place there with him all that needs resurrection in our world, so that tomorrow as we greet the risen Francis on his Feast, sainted in Heaven with the Lord, we can also greet newness in our own lives.

Transitus is all about transition. Last year we celebrated the 8th Centenary of the Franciscan way of life and, in renewal, embarked upon a new era for the sons and daughters of Francis and Clare. This year, our Province celebrates its 100th anniversary. We too recall past glories and look forward with a renewed hope. These young men with us tonight transition from the life they have known in the world and with excitement look forward to the religious life of the friars.

Let us begin again and embrace anew the words of Francis who said in his Letter to the Entire Order, “Listen, sons of the Lord and my brothers, pay attention to my words. Incline the ear of your heart and obey the voice of the Son of God. Observe His commands with your whole heart and fulfill His counsels with a perfect mind. Give praise to Him because He is good; exalt Him by your deeds; for this reason He has sent you into the whole world: that you may bear witness to His voice in word and deed and bring everyone to know that there is no one who is all-powerful except Him.”

My friends, what do you need to place in the tomb this night? On His way to the cross, Jesus said, “Behold, I make all things new.” What shall our Lord make new for you? My friends, let us begin again, through the intercession of our Holy Father Francis, to do what is ours to do.

May the Lord give you peace.

Reviving Our Faith in Priests: Letter of the Minister General and Definitory for the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi

Dear Brothers,
May the Lord give you peace!

As part of a tradition, we write to you on this occasion to greet and wish you a Happy Feast Day of our Father St. Francis. May this be an opportunity to re-invigorate our Charism to follow Christ according to the way of life handed down to us by St. Francis!

Reflecting on the Year for Priests, recently celebrated by the Church, and on the requests made by some of the brothers, this year we wish to share with you some thoughts on the ministerial priesthood in light of the Writings of St. Francis. This should lead us to a reflection on the identity of the Friars Minor called to priesthood – as requested by the General Chapter of 2009 in mandate 2. Afterwards, we will have the occasion to reflect on the identity of the lay brothers.

Indeed, with the Poor Man of Assisi and in harmony with the Church, we want to deepen our faith in the ministerial priesthood “which is not merely an ‘office’ but a “sacrament” (Benedict XVI, Homily, June 11, 2010). For this reason, we are dealing with a beautiful and great reality entrusted to men chosen to be “among and for the people” (Heb 5:1); it is also shows the boldness of God who entrusts himself to human beings and who, though aware of our weaknesses, considers them able to act and be present in his stead. This boldness of God is truly great when one considers that God hides in the word “Priest” (Benedict XVI l.c.).

“The Lord gave me such a great faith in priests” (Test 6)

Eight centuries ago, in his Testament, Francis confessed explicitly his convinced-faith in priests, even in “poor priests”; it is a faith we are called to live out today by rediscovering the meaning of the priestly ministry for both our life and mission. For Francis, priesthood is looked at, above all, in relation to “the body and blood of Christ…” and to “the holy words…of our Lord Jesus Christ, whom clerics pronounce, proclaim, and administer” (IILF 33-34). In other words, it is truly through the apostolic ministry – which priests participate in – that we receive the message of the Gospel and the sacraments of salvation, such as baptism, the Eucharist, forgiveness of sins, all which serve to make us true children of God and members of the Body of
Christ. In light of this, we understand better why Francis wanted to turn to priests…and not consider sin in them because in them, [he] discerned the Son of God and [therefore] they are my lords (Test 6-9).

During the current situation of the Church, it is absolutely important to go to the root of this reality Francis is talking about. He enlightens us to know how, as believers, we are to behave in our lives toward priests and, if we are priests, in our ministries. "Understanding the greatness and beauty of the priestly ministry” (Benedict XVI l.c.) means to accept at the same time with realism and humility that this greatness and beauty are deposited in earthen vessels (2Cor 4:7). We are to do this without being scandalized or, worse still, separated from the Church who, through the ministry of priests, allows us to have direct access to Jesus and his salvation.

“Look at your dignity, brother Priests” (LOrd 23)

On different occasions, Francis expressed what he thought about priests and how we were to behave in their presence. The fraternity that was gradually forming around him included both clerics and the laity. This is evident from his writings where he states, my blessed Friars whether they are clerics or lay should confess their sins to the priests of our religion (ER 20, 1; cf. LR 7, 2). Toward the end of his life, when the Friars priests had become numerous, he dedicated for them “who are, will be, or desire to be priests of the Most High” (Lord 14), a good part of his Letter to the Order. He addressed them as “Ministers, Custodes, and Priests of this same fraternity”, calling them, “humbles ones of Christ” (LOrd 3). This seems to be all in one breath a remembrance, a desire, and an admonition.

The central part of his message addressed to priests refers to the celebration of the Eucharist. He reminded them that they must draw close to this sacrament purely, with reverence, with a holy and clean intention, not for any earthly thing or fear or for the love of any man, as it were pleasing men. But let every will, in so far as the grace of the Almighty helps, be directed to Him, desiring thence to please the High Lord Himself alone (LOrd 14-15). These repetitive accumulations of dos and don’ts reveal a certain restlessness on the part of Francis because of the possibility that things can go wrong. It seems, moreover, that such concerns are not just a thing of the past. The strong admonishings and warnings that ensue – drawn from the Letter to the Hebrews – show the seriousness with which Francis approached the Sacrament of the Eucharist and the Word of God.

The whole of the letter serves to underscore the incomparable greatness of the dignity of priesthood. With a paradoxical realism, Francis speaks of the Friar priest as one who touches with his hands, who receives with his heart and his mouth, and proffers to be received by others Him [the Lord in the Eucharist] who is now no more to die but to triumph in a glorified eternity: on whom the angels desire to look (LOrd 22). He even goes so far as to compare the priest with Mary who bore Christ in her womb; to John the Baptist who trembled at the mere touch of Jesus’ head; and to the tomb that held his sacred body (LOrd 21).

Behold then the deeper meaning of the ministry with which God has entrusted priests. Toward them love, reverence, and honor is to be shown. What follows then in this text leads us deeper into the revelation of the humility of God in the Eucharist. There, Francis makes a realistic description of the Sacrament, using words such as flesh and blood, hands that touch and distribute, and mouth that eats. This is afterwards followed by a last and stupendous mystery, namely, that God should humble himself in the Eucharist as he did in the incarnation when he relinquished the glorious bosom of the Father in order to assume the frailty of human condition (cf. 1Adm 17-18; IILF 4). By becoming flesh, moreover, God manifested his self-abasement and kenosis. In the Eucharist, however, this reality goes even beyond, for there he doesn’t assume a human body, but makes himself present under the accidents of bread, a basic essential of daily life. Because of this, Francis exclaims, Consider, brothers, the humility of God and “pour out your hearts before Him, and be ye humbled that ye may be exalted by Him. Do not therefore keep back anything for yourselves that He may receive you entirely who gives Himself up entirely to you. (LOrd 28-29). Hence, the humility of God manifested in the Eucharist is for Francis at the base of our evangelical vocation.

Our Faith in Priests in Daily Life

The vision which Francis had of the priestly ministry may seem theoretic and idealistic. Instead, it is inspiring and it shows us how we must carry ourselves today. We are very well aware that priests today are not held in high regard. Some situations show that to be the case, such as the dwindling number of vocations to the priesthood in many countries; the lack of overall faith in both the world and the Church; accusations over the abuse of minors committed by some priests; and the current way of life that often leads the priest to live “separated” from the lay faithful. All these examples contribute further to the lack of esteem for priests coupled with a lack of faith in both them and their ministry.

Nonetheless, we are invited to renew our faith on that which the priestly ministry is founded on, reaffirming its necessity for the Church – though aware that priests like the Church are never perfect beings. To revive such a faith, there is nothing better than to meditate on this very personal text by Francis where he states, among other things, that The Lord gave me, and gives me, so much faith in priests who live according to the form of the holy Roman Church, on account of their order, that if they should persecute me, I would have recourse to them. And if I had as much wisdom as Solomon had, and if I should find poor priests of this world, I would not preach against their will in the parishes in which they live. And I desire to fear, love, and honor them and all others as my masters; and I do not wish to consider sin in them, for in them I see the Son of God and they are my masters. And I do (his because in this world, I see nothing corporally of the most high Son of God Himself except His most holy Body and Blood, which they receive and they alone administer to others (Test 6-10).

The Order of Friars Minor is made up of both clerical and lay brothers” (GGCC 3, 1). Our Franciscan vocation is, therefore, not necessarily tied to the priesthood, so that what St. Paul the Apostle said in this matter is true, “So, brethren, in whatever [vocation] each one is called, there let him remain with God” (1Cor 7,20); and even more importantly is what Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (Jn 15,16). Furthermore, priestly vocation as well as lay is not our choice, but a specific call from the Lord. All we have to do is respond with generosity. We recognize in each vocation the gift of the Lord to both the Church and humanity. It is the same with regards to religious profession (cf. GGCC 3, 1). We are all called to live as brothers and according to the demands of our common vocation and mission. Indeed, in the diversity of ministries, all Christians are called to respond to the word of the Lord who sends them to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom (BGG 25).

He who has been called, therefore, to exercise the priestly ministry must remember always that such a ministry cannot be assumed as a human promotion or a personal dignity placed in our fraternities as something to be above our lay brothers or the lay faithful. On the contrary, we must be in deep communion with all, especially the least ones, and open to a shared mission in the spirit of ecclesial conversion (cf. BGG 25). In this way, priesthood for us will be lived out according to the demands of our identity as Friars Minor – as indicated by both our General Constitutions and Priorities. Also, the gift of priesthood in the Order will be a great wealth in
order to build the Kingdom among us.

Dear brothers, here you have it: some pointers to encourage us to reflect much on the identity of the Friars called to priestly ministry. We invite you, therefore, to continue such a reflection in your fraternities, Provinces, and Custodies. We invite you, to reflect especially on the point of departure, i.e., the humility of God by St. Francis or on the boldness of God by Benedict XVI. There is no better way to conclude this letter than by quoting the words of St. Francis himself who said, And let us hold all clerics and religious as our masters in those things which regard the salvation of souls, if they do not deviate from our religion, and let us reverence their office and order and administration in the Lord (ER 19, 3-4).

May the blessing of the Lord descend upon you, beloved brothers, both clerics and lay!

Your brothers of the Definitory:
Br. José Rodríguez Carballo ofm (Min. gen.)
Br. Michael Anthony Perry, ofm (Vic. gen.)
Br. Vincenzo Brocanelli, ofm (Def. gen.)
Br. Vicente-Emilio Felipe Tapia, ofm (Def. gen.)
Br. Nestor Inácio Schwerz, ofm (Def. gen.)
Br. Francis William Walter, ofm (Def. gen.)
Br. Roger Marchal, ofm (Def. gen.)
Br. Ernest Karol Siekierka, ofm (Def. gen.)
Br. Paskalis Bruno Syukur, ofm (Def. gen.)
Br. Julio César Bunader, ofm (Def. gen.)
Br. Vincent Mduduzi Zungu, ofm (Def. gen.)
Br. Aidan McGrath, ofm (Seg. gen.)

Changing the impossible

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