Monday, October 31, 2016

"Look with love and honesty at our past, recognizing error and seeking forgiveness." | Pope Francis

NOTE: Today, Pope Francis joined with our Lutheran brothers and sisters to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant reformation. I watched this service live today and it was extraordinary and moving. Who could have ever imagined a Roman Catholic Pope standing side-by-side with Lutherans working for and hoping for unity. Read Pope Francis' words below. - FT


Monday, 31 October 2016

“Abide in me as I abide in you” (Jn 15:4). These words, spoken by Jesus at the Last Supper, allow us to peer into the heart of Christ just before his ultimate sacrifice on the cross. We can feel his heart beating with love for us and his desire for the unity of all who believe in him. He tells us that he is the true vine and that we are the branches, that just as he is one with the Father, so we must be one with him if we wish to bear fruit.

Here in Lund, at this prayer service, we wish to manifest our shared desire to remain one with Christ, so that we may have life. We ask him, “Lord, help us by your grace to be more closely united to you and thus, together, to bear a more effective witness of faith, hope and love”. This is also a moment to thank God for the efforts of our many brothers and sisters from different ecclesial communities who refused to be resigned to division, but instead kept alive the hope of reconciliation among all who believe in the one Lord.

As Catholics and Lutherans, we have undertaken a common journey of reconciliation. Now, in the context of the commemoration of the Reformation of 1517, we have a new opportunity to accept a common path, one that has taken shape over the past fifty years in the ecumenical dialogue between the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church. Nor can we be resigned to the division and distance that our separation has created between us. We have the opportunity to mend a critical moment of our history by moving beyond the controversies and disagreements that have often prevented us from understanding one another.

Jesus tells us that the Father is the “vinedresser” (cf. v. 1) who tends and prunes the vine in order to make it bear more fruit (cf. v. 2). The Father is constantly concerned for our relationship with Jesus, to see if we are truly one with him (cf. v. 4). He watches over us, and his gaze of love inspires us to purify our past and to work in the present to bring about the future of unity that he so greatly desires.

We too must look with love and honesty at our past, recognizing error and seeking forgiveness, for God alone is our judge. We ought to recognize with the same honesty and love that our division distanced us from the primordial intuition of God’s people, who naturally yearn to be one, and that it was perpetuated historically by the powerful of this world rather than the faithful people, which always and everywhere needs to be guided surely and lovingly by its Good Shepherd. Certainly, there was a sincere will on the part of both sides to profess and uphold the true faith, but at the same time we realize that we closed in on ourselves out of fear or bias with regard to the faith which others profess with a different accent and language. As Pope John Paul II said, “We must not allow ourselves to be guided by the intention of setting ourselves up as judges of history but solely by the motive of understanding better what happened and of becoming messengers of truth” (Letter to Cardinal Johannes Willebrands, President of the Secretariat for Christian Unity, 31 October 1983). God is the vinedresser, who with immense love tends and protects the vine; let us be moved by his watchful gaze. The one thing he desires is for us to abide like living branches in his Son Jesus. With this new look at the past, we do not claim to realize an impracticable correction of what took place, but “to tell that history differently” (LUTHERAN-ROMAN CATHOLIC COMMISSION ON UNITY, From Conflict to Communion, 17 June 2013, 16).

Jesus reminds us: “Apart from me, you can do nothing” (v. 5). He is the one who sustains us and spurs us on to find ways to make our unity ever more visible. Certainly, our separation has been an immense source of suffering and misunderstanding, yet it has also led us to recognize honestly that without him we can do nothing; in this way it has enabled us to understand better some aspects of our faith. With gratitude we acknowledge that the Reformation helped give greater centrality to sacred Scripture in the Church’s life. Through shared hearing of the word of God in the Scriptures, important steps forward have been taken in the dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation, whose fiftieth anniversary we are presently celebrating. Let us ask the Lord that his word may keep us united, for it is a source of nourishment and life; without its inspiration we can do nothing.

The spiritual experience of Martin Luther challenges us to remember that apart from God we can do nothing. “How can I get a propitious God?” This is the question that haunted Luther. In effect, the question of a just relationship with God is the decisive question for our lives. As we know, Luther encountered that propitious God in the Good News of Jesus, incarnate, dead and risen. With the concept “by grace alone”, he reminds us that God always takes the initiative, prior to any human response, even as he seeks to awaken that response. The doctrine of justification thus expresses the essence of human existence before God.

Jesus intercedes for us as our mediator before the Father; he asks him that his disciples may be one, “so that the world may believe” (Jn 17:21). This is what comforts us and inspires us to be one with Jesus, and thus to pray: “Grant us the gift of unity, so that the world may believe in the power of your mercy”. This is the testimony the world expects from us. We Christians will be credible witnesses of mercy to the extent that forgiveness, renewal and reconciliation are daily experienced in our midst. Together we can proclaim and manifest God’s mercy, concretely and joyfully, by upholding and promoting the dignity of every person. Without this service to the world and in the world, Christian faith is incomplete.

As Lutherans and Catholics, we pray together in this Cathedral, conscious that without God we can do nothing. We ask his help, so that we can be living members, abiding in him, ever in need of his grace, so that together we may bring his word to the world, which so greatly needs his tender love and mercy.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Go climb a tree!


One day, a young turtle slowly began to climb a tree. After great effort, he reached the top, jumped into the air waving his front legs, and promptly fell crashing to the ground with a hard knock. He brushed himself off, climbed the tree again, reached the top, and again hit the ground with a thud. The little turtle persisted again and again while two birds watched with sorrow. Finally, one bird said to the other, ”Honey, I think it’s time to tell our son he’s adopted.”

I don’t know about you, but as a child, I absolutely loved climbing trees. I grew up in Acushnet an our house was on the edge of the woods so 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, that 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? Zacchaeus was the he chief tax collector in Jericho, and so was one of the richest men in Israel. As chief tax collector, he moved in the highest circles, and he had power — and 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 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, 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, was liberating for Zacchaeus and it changed everything for him.

Jesus looked up at Zacchaeus in the tree, “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. Jesus did not issue an edict of Zacchaeus’ sins that he must correct before Jesus would speak to him. Instead, Jesus showed him an non-judgmental and unconditional mercy, love and acceptance that 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 – all of the money in the world can’t buy you happiness; all the power in the world can’t give you the meaning that comes from a life with Christ.

Zacchaeus learned what many people learn once they take the time to stop, 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.”

Jesus challenges us today to have the courage of Zacchaeus and climb that tree and see things differently, to gain a new perspective, a Christ perspective. And he promises us that if we do that, we too will be liberated and made free from all that ties us down, that binds our lives and relationships, that keep us from the happiness He promises.

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.

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.” So, my friends, go climb a tree!

May the Lord give you peace!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Walls aren't answer to people fleeing war, climate change, pope says

By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Closing doors to immigrants and refugees is not the answer -- in fact, it only helps encourage the crime of human trafficking, Pope Francis said.
"The only way for resolution is through solidarity," where everyone pitches in because "all together we are a powerful force of support for those who have lost their homeland, family, work and dignity," he said Oct. 26 at his weekly general audience.
In his talk, the pope continued his series of reflections on the works of mercy, focusing on welcoming the stranger and clothing the naked.
He said clothing the naked is about caring for those whose dignity has been stripped from them and helping restore and protect that dignity.
So in addition to providing clothing to those in need, be on the lookout for and ready to help victims of human trafficking and those -- including children -- whose bodies are being bought and sold like some kind of commodity, he said.
Not having a home, a job or fair wages and being discriminated against because of race or faith are all forms of nakedness that "as Christians, we are called to be on the alert (for), vigilant and ready to act."
While voluntary or forced migration has been part of human history, the call to welcome the stranger is even more necessary than ever given that so many people today are on the move because of economic crises, armed conflict and climate change, he said.
There have been many "great expressions of solidarity" over the centuries, even though there have been social tensions, too, the pope said.
"Unfortunately, today's context of economic crisis prompts the emergence of an attitude of closure and not welcome. In some parts of the world walls and barriers are appearing," he said.
"Sometimes it seems that the silent work of many men and women who, in different ways, strive to help and assist refugees and migrants is overshadowed by the noise of others who give voice to an instinctive selfishness," he said.
"Closure is not a solution, rather it ends up encouraging criminal trafficking," he said.
The pope asked that people never be tempted by the "trap" of closing in on oneself, never become indifferent to people's needs and never become focused only on one's own personal interests.
The more a person opens up to others, he said, the more one's life is enriched, the more society opens itself up to peace and people recover their full dignity.
Looking up from his written remarks, the pope told the more than 25,000 people gathered in the square about a "little story" that happened a few days ago in Rome.
He said a woman had asked a man who was barefoot and looked lost if he needed help, and the man said he wanted to go to St. Peter's Basilica and walk through the Holy Door. The woman wondered how the man would ever get there without shoes, so she hailed a taxi, the pope said.
At first the cab driver did not want to let the man inside because "he smelled," but he eventually gave in. During the 10-minute ride, the woman asked the man about his life, and he talked about his trials of being a refugee escaping war and hunger. The pope said the women knew "the pain of a migrant" because of her Armenian roots.
When they arrived at their destination, "the woman opened her bag to pay the cab driver, but the driver, who at first didn't want this immigrant to get in because he smelled, told the woman, 'No, ma'am, I'm the one who must pay because you made me hear a story that changed my heart.'"
Pope Francis said, "When we do something like this, at first we refuse because it makes us feel a bit uncomfortable" or awkward, but in the end, carrying out an act of mercy or assistance makes the soul smell sweet and "makes us change. Think about this story and let us think about what we can do for refugees."
The pope also recalled the "stupendous figure" of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, who founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and who emigrated to New York from Italy in 1889 to minister to fellow immigrants, opening schools, orphanages and hospitals for the poor. She became the first U.S. citizen to be declared a saint.
"It is urgent today as is in the past" for all Christians to be assisting immigrants and refugees, he said. "It is a task that involves everyone, without exception." 

The immigrant and refugee are the stranger in our midst | Pope Francis

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

In our catechesis for this Holy Year of Mercy, we now consider two particular corporal works of mercy: welcoming the stranger and clothing the naked. 

Jesus mentions both of these in connection with the Last Judgement (cf. Mt 25:35-36). Nowadays, the “stranger” is often the immigrant in our midst. In every age, the phenomenon of immigration calls for a response of openness and solidarity. In our own day, the growing influx of refugees fleeing war, famine and dire poverty is a summons to welcome and care for these brothers and sisters. Like so many committed Christians who have gone before us, such as Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, we need to find generous and creative ways of meeting their immediate needs. 

So too, “clothing the naked” increasingly means caring for those whose dignity has been stripped from them, and working to ensure that it is upheld and safeguarded. As followers of Christ, may we never close our hearts to those in need. For by openness to others, our lives are enriched, our societies enjoy peace and all people can live in a way befitting their God-given dignity.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

“Beneath rigidity there is something else, there is often wickedness” | Pope Francis


At this morning’s mass in St. Martha’s House, the Pope said rigid people lead a “double life”, they seem good but they often aren’t; they are strangers to God’s freedom, “slaves of the law”. “How they suffer”!

Beneath the rigid exterior of a person who is not free because he or she is a slave to the law, is a double life, something hidden, some sort of disease. Often wickedness. By contrast, the Lord gives freedom, in addition to meekness and kindness, Pope Francis said in this morning’s homily in St. Martha’s House.

In today’s Gospel story, Christ heals a woman on a Saturday, stirring feelings of contempt and protest in the synagogue chief who claimed the “Law of the Lord” was violated: “It is not easy,” the Pope remarked, “to walk in the Law of the Lord,” it is “a grace we need to ask for”.

The Son of God calls the synagogue chief a hypocrite, a word “he uses so often to refer to those who are rigid and unyielding in their insistence on applying the law down to the last letter”. These people are not free, “they are slaves of the Law”. But “the Law was not made to enslave us but to set us free, to make us children” of the Lord. “Beneath rigidity there is something else, always! This is why Jesus says: hypocrites!”

Francis said: “beneath rigidity there is something hidden about a person’s life. Rigidity is not a gift of God. Meekness is; kindness is; benevolence is; forgiveness is. But rigidity is not! Beneath rigidity there is always something hidden, in many cases a double life; but there is also some sort of disease lingering there. How the rigid suffer: when they are sincere and they acknowledge this they suffer! Because they are unable to feel the freedom that God’s children feel; they do not know what it is like to walk in the Law of the Lord and they are not blessed. And they suffer so much!” They seem “good because they follow the Law; but beneath that there is something not so nice about them: either they are bad or they are hypocrites or they are ill. They suffer!”

The Bishop of Rome recalled the parable of the Prodigal Son: the elder son’s attitude of indignation shows what lies behind some forms of goodness; “The arrogance of believing oneself to be right”. “Beneath one’s good actions lies arrogance. He knew he had a father and in his darkest hour he went to his father; he had only ever seen his father as a master not as a father. H ewas rigid; he walked in the Law in a rigid way. The other one set the Law aside and went off without the law, against the Law but there came a point when he remembered his father and came back. And he was forgiven. It is not easy walking in the Law of the lord without drifting towards rigidity.”

The Pope concluded by invoking God and inviting faithful to pray “for our brothers and sisters who believe that walking in the Law of the Lord means becoming rigid. May the Lord show them that He is the Father and He likes mercy, tenderness, kindness, meekness and humility. May he teach us all to walk in the Law of the Lord, adopting all of these attitudes”.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Caution: Work in progress


Before moving back to New Bedford in June, I was living for the last two years in New York City in the administrative offices of my Franciscan community. Living in New York was an interesting experience. Now, don’t worry, I remained true to our beloved Boston teams the whole time. But, it is a city of over 8 million people and with that comes an energy and diversity that was very exciting to be a part of. There is always something going on in New York – new buildings are constantly going up, there are endless artistic experience – the museums, the symphony, Broadway (and, yes, I even got to see Hamilton the musical!). It is a place of seemingly endless creativity. There’s even a saying that captures this spirit – locals like to say that New York will be a great city – if they ever finish it. It is a place where virtually every aspect of the city – the people, the places, the buildings, the communities – are constantly evolving and changing. It is an endless work in progress.

Our Gospel today wants to say something similar to us as it picks up from last week when Jesus encouraged us to “pray always without becoming weary.” If last week’s message was about being persistent in prayer, this week wants to remind us that even when it comes to prayer or any aspect of our faith life, it is okay to acknowledge that we are all still works in progress.

We’re given this story of two believers - the Pharisee and the tax collector. Both believe in the same God, both belong to the same religion and both worship in the same temple. But, at the end of the day, one of them goes home at peace with God and the other doesn’t.

The Pharisees were disciplined and devout men of religion. They were serious believers who committed themselves to a strict life of 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 they were only required to fast once a year. They gave tithes on all their income, not just parts of it. When the Pharisee said, “I am not like other people,” he wasn’t kidding. In fact, I bet few of us today could measure up to the external standards of the Pharisees. The Pharisees acted as though they were finished products. They had achieve religious perfection and should be admired and emulated for it. There was no room for them to grow in God’s plan. They were certain that they were better than the rest.

Tax collectors, on the other hand, were generally regarded as people of low moral standards. They worked for the Romans occupiers, mixed 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. He knew that God was not done with him yet and in humility placed himself in God’s tender care.

Sometimes, especially in the church, we can focus so much on doctrine and rules, that we begin to develop the impression that the church is meant only for the perfect. If that’s the case, I’ll be the first one making my way to the door. Pope Francis understands well our need to realize that we are not completed projects, but always on the road to closeness with God. In The Joy of the Gospel, he said for example, “The Eucharist…is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak…Frequently, we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators. But the Church is not a [tollbooth]; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems.”

Simply doing all of the external prayers, devotions and other acts of faith we can muster doesn’t save anyone. God isn’t waiting for us to complete 1,000 rosaries, or donate $10,000, or receive the Eucharist 5,000 times. Now, these are all good things, but they are meant to lead us closer to God, they are not meant to be a checklist for salvation or a source of self-righteousness that we use to judge others. This is the key difference between the Pharisee and the tax collector. Jesus told this parable because the Pharisees “trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt.”

The tax collector, on the other hand, trusted in his need for God’s mercy. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and prayed, “Be merciful to me, a sinner!” He knew that he was a work in progress and that God was the master craftsman who would help him become the person he was created to be.

Just like these men in our Gospel, we too have come to God’s house today to offer our prayers. We pray that our attitude be the same as the tax collector. God isn’t finished with us yet, either. He is still working on us. We are clay in the potter’s hands – and our prayer should be that he shapes us as He wants. We already know this prayer by heart: Thy will be done. Make of me what you will – not what I will. Be merciful to me, a sinner. I am a work in progress.

Give us the courage to admit that we still have some work to do. We need to work on our own pettiness, selfishness, anger, jealousy and hardness of heart. The times we slam the door when we leave the house after a fight with a spouse. Or refuse to answer the phone when you see that it’s your mother calling, wondering why you haven’t come home. Or, the gossip around the coffee machine.

Let us remember to bow our heads, fall to our knees, humble our hearts and whisper the words God is waiting to hear. “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” I am a work in progress. You’re not finished with me yet. And I am grateful for your love, your compassion, your mercy and the time you give me to grow as your son, your daughter. This is the gift that God values above all others: the prayers of a humble person. Let us offer those prayers today and always until God is finished with us.

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Handle with prayer


A CCD teacher was struggling to open a combination lock on the supply cabinet for her class. She had been told the combination, but just couldn't remember it. Finally she asked the pastor for help. He began to turn the dial, but after the first two numbers, paused and stared blankly for a moment. Finally he took a deep breath and looked serenely up to heaven as his lips moved silently. He looked back at the lock, and confidently turned the final number, and opened the lock. The teacher was amazed and said, “Father, I'm in awe of the power of your prayer.” she said. “It's really nothing,” he answered. “The combination is written on the ceiling.”

I think if most of us were honest, we would admit to an uncertain relationship with prayer. We struggle with wondering when and how and how much to pray. We wonder if our prayer works. We bring the greatest frustrations and challenges and hopes of our lives to prayer – our broken relationships, our desire for change, our struggle with sin, our hopes for a new job or a new relationship – we bring so much, and how often do we find ourselves wondering, “Is anyone up there? Is there anyone listening? Why doesn’t God answer my prayer?”

And to these questions our readings today give us examples to inspire us in our life of prayer. The reading from Exodus gives us a curious image of Moses. As 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.” What a great image of trust and perseverance in prayer. Israel went into battle trusting Moses’ power given him by God. Moses prayed literally with the weight of his arms outstretched which held the weight of the people’s expectation upon them. God showed He works through people who work with Him; so don’t be weary. If we trust in God, God will help us triumph.

We also heard in today’s Gospel, “Jesus told his disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.” Again, the story of the bad judge and the persistent widow is a story about our need for prayer and God’s faithfulness to us. On the surface, this seems to be a rather simple parable about how we should be tireless in our prayer. But, 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 in order to wear God out.

Jesus reminds us that a life of prayer is not occasional; instead it is constant. That it is not one way, simply asking God for things; but it is conversational. 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, a life of prayer is a relationship with God that never gives up. Waiting, hoping, watching, and longing, are all parts of this loving conversation with God. We’re called to be constantly 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. Prayer is a way of life; a conversation of life.

It reminds me of an experience in my own life that taught me about perseverance in prayer. My parents were married in 1965; my Mother a lifelong Catholic and my Dad never baptized. Dad becoming a Catholic was something my Mom always prayed for, and when I was old enough to understand, I began to pray for too. Especially once I entered religious life, I thought Dad would become a Catholic. In fact, I began to pray at Mass every day, “Dear God, I ask that you place within my Dad a desire for Baptism.” Beautiful prayer, but, still nothing happened. 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.” 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, just before 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.” I realize that everything happened the way it should with my Dad – not in my time or according to my plan – but in God’s time and according to God’s plan; which is always perfect. My Dad was always in conversation with God, and sought baptism when he was ready, and that’s what I was called to as well. That’s the challenge of trusting in prayer.

“Jesus told his disciples about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.” Instead of falling into doubt or question 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; God calls 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.

Pope Francis said, “In the face of so many wounds that hurt us and could lead to a hardness of heart, we are called to dive into the sea of prayer, which is the sea of the boundless love God, in order to experience his tenderness.”

Let me end with this reflection on prayer: I pray because I am a Christian; and to do what a Christian must do, I need help. I pray because there is confusion in my life; and to do what is right, I need light. I pray because I must make decisions; but the choice is not always clear, so I need guidance. I pray because I have doubts; and to keep growing in my faith, I need help. I pray because so much in my life is a gift, so I need to give thanks. I pray because Jesus prayed; and if He considered it important, so should I.

My friends, let us be renewed as we dive once again into the sea of prayer.

May the Lord give you peace.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Accruing our heritage | Transitus of St. Francis

TRANSITUS OF ST. FRANCIS, October 3, 2016 | Monastery of the Holy Land, Washington, DC:

“I’m not Francis of Assisi and I do not have his strength and his holiness.” Now, I know that you know that I’m not Francis of Assisi, but I’m actually quoting another Francis, our Holy Father Pope Francis, who said these words not long after his amazing election to the Chair of Peter. So, he is not Francis of Assisi, but as we have seen in these three years of his papacy, Pope Francis certainly knows the heart of our great saint, who we gather to commemorate tonight – as Franciscans and as those who love and follow Francis and Clare. We gather here as so many others also gather around the world tonight. We gather once again to celebrate this Transitus, this passing, of St. Francis from the earthly to the heavenly realms.

I mention Pope Francis because as we gather to celebrate our great founder once again, we have to acknowledge a renewed Franciscan spirit in our world precisely because of this new Francis who has shaken up the Church, shaken up the world, and hopefully shaken up all of us who so faithfully follow Francis and Clare. Our General Minister Michael Perry has acknowledged the same. He said, “It’s clear that Pope Francis has ushered in a new Franciscan moment in the Church. We now have a Jesuit Pope with a Franciscan heart calling us back to ourselves. And, if we don’t embrace this Franciscan moment, then we might as well all go home.”

So, what does this moment call forth from us; especially those of us in brown, and those of us who follow this Franciscan way? What does it mean for us to have a Pope named Francis anyway? What’s in a name, after all, as Shakespeare so famously questioned? Well, you’ve probably heard the story before, but this is a good night to remember why our Pope chose that name. He said, “Some people wanted to know why [I] wished to be called Francis. Some thought of Francis Xavier, Francis De Sales, and also Francis of Assisi. I will tell you the story. During the election, I was seated next to the Archbishop Emeritus of São Paolo and Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Claudio Hummes: a good friend [and a Franciscan]! When things were looking dangerous, he encouraged me. And when the votes reached two thirds, there was the usual applause, because the Pope had been elected. And at that moment, he gave me a hug and a kiss, and leaned in and said: ‘Don't forget the poor!’ And those words came to me: the poor, the poor. Then, right away, thinking of the poor, I thought of Francis of Assisi. Then, I thought of all the wars [in the world]. Francis is also the man of peace. That is how the name came into my heart: Francis of Assisi. For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation. He is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man … How I would like a Church which is poor and is for the poor!”

So, again I ask, what’s in a name? I once heard someone say that, “A name accrues its heritage.” When you name something, eventually it takes on the characteristics of that name. Well, my friends – it is not only the Pope who bears that name Francis – you and I bear it too. So, what’s in this name that he bears, that we bear? I think it is the hope of our Holy Father Pope Francis to embody the same spirit of renewal and reform that embodied the great Saint of the Poor who we remember tonight.

We know that we live in a time through which the Church has endured many scandals; scandals brought on by its own members. These scandals are reminiscent of the similar ones that marked the times of St. Francis. The 13th Century in which he lived was rocked by sin and immorality all around – both inside and outside of the Church. And yet, today, we don’t remember that time for its scandals, we remember it for the great period of holiness that it gave birth to. We remember the luminary saints who were born in response – St. Francis and St. Clare; St. Bonaventure and St. Anthony; St. Agnes and Bl. John Duns Scotus; and so many, many more. And so much of it began with Francis.

How? Well, he heard those words of Christ from the cross, “Rebuild my Church.” And he rebuilt it by following the Gospel – more through his actions than through his words. “Preach the Gospel at all times; when necessary use words,” is a theme often attributed to him. He rebuilt the Church by loving the poor; by joyfully giving all of himself. He rebuilt the Church by loving the Church, by loving its members, by loving its clergy, by loving its sacraments – and loving them all into holiness. He rebuilt the Church by holding back nothing of himself for himself and by giving of himself completely in service to Christ and His Church and the world.

A name accrues its heritage. So, the Pope may not be Francis of Assisi, but we clearly have a new spirit of Francis in our midst. The list of things he has done gets longer each day. He refused the Papal throne on the first day; he refuses the lavish trappings of the Papacy and dresses more simply. His first action as Pope was not to stand like an emperor before the world, but instead as the whole world looked on to listen so attentively to his first words, the Vicar of Christ on Earth; this new Pope bowed down before the world and asked us for our prayers; asked us for our blessing. He rode on the bus and not the limousine, paid his hotel bill and picked up his own bags. He washed the feet of prisoners, women and non-Christians. He has amazed and surprised us at every turn. He smiles, he laughs, he jokes, he hugs, he kisses and he cries and his homilies are that of a pastor who loves his flock.

And his hope for us? Well, he knows that we bear the name Francis too. His hope is that we will do the same. St. Francis changed the Church and changed the world with one simple proposition – that the Gospel is meant to be lived; that the Gospel can be lived. “The Rule and life of the Friars Minor is to observe the Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ.” Eight hundred years later, this new Francis, our Holy Father Pope Francis, wants to propose it to us again – and if we follow where he wants to lead us – not in word, but in action – we will again change the Church and change the world – if we first again change our hearts.

In an interview with America magazine, Pope Francis said, “Religious men and women are prophets. In the church, the religious are called to be prophets in particular by demonstrating how Jesus lived on this earth, and to proclaim how the kingdom of God will be in its perfection. A religious must never give up this prophecy. Being prophets may sometimes imply making waves. I do not know how to put it.... Prophecy makes noise, uproar, some say ‘a mess.’ But in reality, the charism of religious people is like yeast: prophecy announces the spirit of the Gospel.”

My friends, I am not Francis of Assisi and neither are you, but we do all bear his name. On this night, let us be renewed in our calling, renewed in the name and spirit of Francis. Let us accrue the heritage of the name we bear. Let us burst forth into the world as the prophets that this name we bear calls us to – making some noise as we announce the Good News of love and joy and compassion and healing and faith and hope that God wants all of His people to hear.

May St. Francis bless us and bless our Pope and may the Lord give you peace.

Let us begin again.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Just feed one


One day a man was hiking when he lost his footing and fell off a cliff. As he was falling, he managed to grab the branch of a tree. As he hung there, dangling, unable to pull himself up, he decided to yell for help. He looked up and shouted, “Is anyone up there? Throw down a line and save me.” Suddenly he heard a voice from heaven, “Yes, I am here. It is the Lord. Do you believe in me?” The man shouted back, “Yes, Lord, I believe in you. Please save me.” The Lord said, “If you really believe in me, you have nothing to fear. I will save you. Just let go of the branch.” The man paused for a moment and shouted back, “Is anyone else up there?”

So, is the man in this humorous story a believer? Of course, he is. After all, in his moment of distress, he turned to God. But, the story shows us that there is a difference between believing in God and trusting in God. The man couldn’t make the so-called leap of faith and trust the voice of God. We might laugh as we hear this story because maybe we can recognize ourselves in this man. We too believe in God – after all, here we are gathered in Church for Mass – but sometimes, particularly when the going gets tough, we so often take matters into our own hands or look for help elsewhere. We believe, yes; but sometimes we don’t trust.

Today’s Gospel about the mustard seed is familiar to us as Jesus reminds us that even the smallest bit of faith can work wonders, “can move mountains.” Even the tiniest faith can make miracles possible. But there’s another point here that we often miss. It is the reminder of how much God treasures even things that are small – things as small as a mustard seed, things as small as our needs and concerns, things as small as the simple faith-driven things we can do each day to make our world a better place. After all, small is the very way that He came to earth – as a small, beautiful baby who didn’t even have a place to lay His head. God can do great things with small.

Someone who knew this better than most is the church’s newest saint – St. “Mother” Teresa of Calcutta. St. Teresa dared to embrace and love those nobody else would even touch, and knew that the smallest effort could bring the greatest reward. She once said, for example, in the face of the countless number of hungry people in the world, “If you can’t feed 100 people, then just feed one.” She knew that if we all do our small part, it all adds up to the Kingdom of God. Pope Francis expressed a similar theme recently when he said, “Yes, you pray for the hungry. But, then you feed them. That's how prayer works.”

We are reminded that God asks precious little of us – just a little bit of faith, just a little bit of action – but that if we offer these things to Him, He will bless them, he will make them holy, he will multiply them and make them great and even miraculous good works.

So, don’t be overwhelmed by the hunger in our world – just feed one. Don’t be anxious about the homelessness that surrounds us – just do what you can for one. Don’t be afraid of the anger and hatred in our world – just love one. And then, another and then another and another and another. God will do great things with our small acts of faith and goodness. God loves whatever small things we do.

Let me end with something that St. Teresa said. It is called her Anyway Poem:

People are often unreasonable, illogical and self centered;
Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.

What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
Build anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, others may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give your best anyway.

You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God;
It was never between you and them anyway.

My friends, let us “Stir into flame the gift that God gave you.” Let us offer what little we have to God. He does wondrous things with the little we offer. Believe the truth that your faith can move mountains. Your actions can change the world. Then have the faith and be the change the world needs.

May the Lord give you peace.

Some inspiration this week from The Deacon's Bench

Changing the impossible

HOMILY FOR THE 2nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, January 20, 2019: When my parents got married more than 50 years ago, my Mom came from a pract...