Saturday, April 28, 2007

World Day of Prayer for Vocations, Sunday 29 April 2007

Pope Benedict XVI has given his theme for this year's World Day of Prayer for Vocations (tomorrow, Sunday 29 April 2007), The Vocation to the Service of the Church as Communion. Our provincial minister, Fr. Leslie Hoppe, OFM, has encouraged us Franciscan friars to remember that "(w)e are a community of brothers whose commitments to each other are cemented by minority, i.e. by thinking of others as better than ourselves."

Simply put, our Franciscan witness is to mirror Jesus in his self-giving on the Cross. The pope points out that this communion is manifest best in our celebration of the Eucharist. This is when the Church is most visibly in communion -- we partake of the Holy Communion in the Body and Blood of Christ; we are in communion with one another. This is what is most important for our fraternal life as Franciscan friars, too.

As Franciscan friars, however imperfect we are, we try to live this communion both in our brotherhood and in our pastoral ministries. We hope that other men are inspired by the Lord through our witness to join us as friars minor (i.e. lesser brothers) to live for Jesus Christ after the example of St. Francis of Assisi.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Christ is risen! He is truly risen!

"Why do you seek the living one among the dead? He is not here; he has been raised." Luke 22:5b-6
With these joyful words we began celebrating the great Easter Season, the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus, just two Sundays ago. Christians throughout the world, Eastern Orthodoxy and Western Christianity (Catholics and Protestants) proclaim with great boldness that "Christ is risen from the dead, by death he trampled death and to those in the tombs he granted life!"

This past Sunday, the Second Sunday of Easter, we proclaim the mercy of God manifest in the welcome that Jesus gives to the Apostle Thomas in his grief, "Put your fingers in my hands and your hand in my side and see that it is I . . . doubt no longer, but believe!" John 20:27

And yet, in the wake of the horror we all have been confronted with at Virginia Tech on Monday, how do we possibly proclaim "good news"? Where is Easter joy in the darkness of violence, rage and the senseless massacre of innocent life?

Many people have been trying to make sense of this carnage, including both secular and religious leaders. The media are asking probing questions about security (not only at Virginia Tech, but now throughout the country) and outraged survivors are demanding answers to ask the baffling questions of "Why?" and "How could this happen?"

As we might suspect, there are no easy answers. Neither are there simple words to assuage the pain and anguish of those who have lost loved ones. Yet in the midst of the tomb of this darkness, it seems to me that our Christian vocation -- which we celebrate liturgically at the Easter Vigil especially and throughout the Easter Season -- is that as people who are born again of water and the Spirit we bring, in silence, the Light of Christ.

I am reminded of last year's horrible massacre of the Amish children near Lancaster, PA, which resulted also in the suicide of the perpetrator. Commentators in the media apparently were amazed at how "extraordinary" was the response of the Amish community to the violence inflicted upon them. One of our Franciscan friars, though, mentioned to me that, "Really, there was nothing extraordinary in the Amish people's response [of forgiveness]. It's just ordinary Christianity!"

What was so outstanding to me about the Lancaster incident was the silent presence of several Amish people at the funeral services of the perpetrator. They stood in quiet and prayerful solidarity with the widow and her children, in the midst of THEIR grief! They had their own grief to deal with, and they were willing to reach out. What a powerful lesson for all of us who wonder in shock at what happened in Blacksburg, VA at Virginia Tech this past Monday.

As we pray for the murdered victims and the wounded survivors, as we remember before the Lord the grief-stricken families and friends of slain children and grandchildren, godchildren, brothers and sisters, colleagues and classmates, I invite us also to remember before the Lord the perpetrator who apparently committed suicide -- and his family in their horrific shock.

Perhaps we, too, following the very Christian witness of our Amish brothers and sisters, can stand in quiet solidarity with all of those who have perished and all who grieve. Perhaps we, too, can also stand in prayerful solidarity with the family of the perpetrator in their anguish.

"Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May they rest in peace.
May their souls and all the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace.

O God, be merciful. Be merciful. Amen.