Friday, June 17, 2016

Thoughts, prayers AND actions! | #FriarFriday







NOTE: This originally appeared as part of the #FriarFriday series at USfranciscans.org

In the wake of last Saturday’s tragedy in Orlando that took the innocent lives of 49 people enjoying a night out at a bar that caters to the LGBTQ community, it is hard to find the words to express the sorrow, the anger, the hopelessness, and the desire for change that all swirl around together in the minds and hearts of most of us.

What people come to quickly, myself included, is a desire to express “thoughts and prayers” for the victims, and for all of their loved-ones who now carry a burden of loss and grief that I’m sure feels too heavy to bear.

This tragedy brings up within us a visceral reaction to the event itself, but unfortunately in our country, it also brings up the cumulative feelings of events like this that take place far too often here. There have been 182 mass shootings this year alone (and we’re not half way into the year). These shootings have taken the lives of 288 people and injured another 673. Six of these shootings have taken place since Sunday’s shooting in Orlando alone. And, we as a society have become numb to it all. We throw up our hands and wonder what can be done?

But, we always come back to thoughts and prayers. And this is a good thing. In the wake of the Orlando shooting, there have been numerous sentiments expressed through social media saying things like, “No more thoughts and prayers.” The thought behind these posts is that thoughts and prayers are not enough. We need action if things are going to change. And they are right.

However, I think these statements create a false dichotomy. The reality of what we need is not a decision between “thoughts and prayers” OR “action”. What we need is thoughts and prayers AND action. Thoughts and prayers, if authentic, will lead to the best action.

Thoughts are an important first step because these lead us to be focused on people, to be focused on compassion, to focus on doing what is truly best for the safety in our world. We keep the victims and their family and loved ones in our thoughts, because in that way we share some small measure of the burden of their loss and grief. Our thoughts tell those who remain that they are not alone; that we are with them in their pain. Saying “you are in our thoughts” is a way of saying, I stand with you in solidarity in this tragic moment.

Thoughts lead to prayers. Pray for those who have died and for those who grieve. By connecting our thoughts in and through prayer, it brings us to a very different interior space. It brings us into a space that is God-centered and God-focused. When we bring these thoughts to God, we are more likely to be rooted in the best of who we are – in compassion, in kindness, in solidarity, in sorrow, and in a desire for healing and authentic change.

When we do not connect our thoughts to our prayers, we are lead to the worst side of who we are; a road of irrationality and vengeance fueled by our anger. Our “solutions” will more likely be temporary and designed to make us feel like we’re doing something, but which actually won’t solve the problems we face. It brings us into a space of accusation, and prejudice and name-calling – which cloud our vision from real solutions.

Prayer places us in a balanced space which allows a thoughtful process so we might enter into the complexity of these issues. This tragedy in Orlando isn’t about terrorism, or mental health, or gun laws, or immigration, or religion, or prejudice towards the LGBTQ community. It isn’t about any one of these things. It is about all of these things in a complex mix that will take time to unpack, and a one-size-fits-all solution will not make things better. From thoughts and prayers, we can find the courage to act.

So what can we do? Our actions can begin by seeking unity and rejecting the division that unbridled anger call forth. We can, and must, stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our LGBTQ brothers and sisters in solidarity. They need us now more than ever. They need us to weep with them, to comfort them, to be angry at the situation with them, and to hear that we love them and that God loves them.

We can seek to advocate for reasonable, sensible gun reform. No one is coming to take all of the guns. But, surely there are sensible first steps that we can take to live in a safer world. Reforms could include background checks and bans on weapons that are needed only by the military in a war zone. This will mean putting aside the political divisions on this issue that are so entrenched that we have all stopped listening to each other.

And we can stand up and demand of our leaders every effort to assure that this never happen again. We have to shake ourselves out of the numbness or helplessness that has overtaken us; the sense that this won’t change, that this can’t change. It can change and we need to be the ones holding our leaders to task to make sure that it does.

Let us never again have to add another community to the heartbreaking list that includes Columbine, San Bernardino, Fort Hood, Aurora, Colorado Springs, Newtown and now Orlando.

Let us pledge, especially we who follow St. Francis, to truly be instruments of peace in a world full of violence. Let us offer our thoughts and our prayers – and then, let us act.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Defined by glory, not sin








HOMILY FOR THE 11th SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME, June 12, 2016:

One Saturday afternoon, a group of boys went to confession. Curiously, one by one, each of them ended their confession the same way, saying, “I threw peanuts in the river.” The priest thought, if that is a sin, it really is a strange one. The last to come in was the smallest boy of the group. The priest expected to hear the same sin he heard from the others, but the boy didn’t mention it. So the priest asked, “Is that all? Did you forget something? Did you throw peanuts in the river?” The boy looked shocked and replied, “Father, I am Peanuts! They threw me in the river!”

My friends, our Scriptures today want to remind us of a humbling truth – that we are all sinners. No one of us is immune from sin – not even the greatest and holiest among in our midst. In our first reading, we hear of the sin of King David. Despite having it all, he still wanted Bathsheba, and in order to have her, he arranged the death of her husband by sending him to the front lines of battle. Worse yet, David remained oblivious to the seriousness of his sins; blinded by his own power. So God sent the prophet Nathan to shake him out of his spiritual coma and only then did he repent and seek forgiveness.

And, in our Gospel today, we hear of a woman who lived in sin for far too long. But, fortunately, she had a personal encounter with the merciful and forgiving heart of Jesus. That unique experience opened her eyes and led her to a profound change of heart. Grateful for forgiveness, she went to see Jesus at dinner in a Pharisee’s house and tearfully showered Him with acts of gratitude and love. Both King David and the woman were sinners. But they were made aware of and had sincere sorrow for their sins. And they received tremendous forgiveness from God.

God’s message for us about sin today is as simple as that – we should be aware of our sin, sorry for it and turn to God for forgiveness and when we do, everything changes. The problem is that we know this isn’t the way it usually goes. In our world today, we are more likely to justify our sins, or simply be unaware of our need to seek God’s forgiveness. Perhaps the greatest spiritual danger facing us today is that we have become insensitive to sin, not aware of our need to seek forgiveness. Yes forgiveness is one of God’s greatest gifts to us. Pope Francis repeatedly reminds us that, “God never tires of forgiving us.”

The Irish writer and poet Oscar Wilde said, “Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.” This really gets at the heart of the issue. What keeps many of us from an awareness of our sin is that we get stuck there; we get stuck on sin. When we think about sin, and we think only about sin. We let sin stick. We let our sin become our label. We define others and we define ourselves by our sin. We say, “You know Joe, he’s a drunk.” “You know Mary, she cheated.” “You know Bill, he’s such a gossip.” And so on. The Pharisee does this in our gospel today when he says, “He would know what sort of woman this is.” He has defined the woman by her sin.

But Jesus defines her, and us, in a very different way. Jesus defined her by her goodness and her glory and by what she can be. Jesus sees not the sum of her sins, but her potential for holiness and goodness and love. Jesus doesn’t apply labels. He recognizes our failings, our sins, our shortcomings. But he also sees something more. He sees beyond those things. He sees not just what we are, but what we can be. We are more than the sum of our sins. We are better than the sum of our sins.

Deacon Greg Kandra puts it this way: “We are the alcoholic determined to stay sober—and attending AA meetings five nights a week to make that happen. We are the husband neglecting his family because of his job, or his ego, or his own selfishness, and deciding to rearrange his priorities so that he can attend his son’s little league game. We are the woman who hasn’t been to confession in 20 years, quietly slipping into the pew on a Saturday morning, waiting for the chance to reconcile with the Church and finally, at long last, come home.”

Thomas Merton, the famous Trappist monk, was talking with a friend shortly after his conversion to Catholicism. The friend asked, “Now that you are Catholic, what do you want to be?” Merton said, “I guess I want to be a good Catholic.” His friend said, “What you should say is that you want to be a saint! All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one. Don't you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if you will consent to let Him do it? All you have to do is desire it.”

My friends, God wants us to see our sins – not so we will beat ourselves up or feel bad or define ourselves by the bad things we’ve done. We are not the sum of our sins – we are the sum of our Grace; we are the sum of our Salvation purchased with the Blood of Jesus on the Cross. God wants us to be aware of our sins so that we can seek forgiveness, move beyond them and be the people He has created us to be; and He has created us for greatness.

Every sinner has a future and that future is holiness; that future is sainthood – that future is ours. God knows what we can be – all we have to do is desire it.

May the Lord give you peace.