Saturday, February 18, 2017

Love your enemies








HOMILY FOR THE 7th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, February 19, 2017:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Make America KIND again

HOMILY FOR THE 6th SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME, February 12, 2017:

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

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

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

That moment of unexpected kindness sparked the beginning





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Be the Light!










HOMILY FOR THE 5th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, February 5, 2017:

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May the Lord give you peace.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Restorationism brings traditionalist approaches to parish life | National Catholic Reporter

By Peter Feuerherd | Feb. 2, 2017

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

People are Afraid | Friar Friday

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

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



Keep the Johnson Amendment!


US Franciscan Friars speak out against immigration ban

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 1, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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