Friday, November 30, 2007

Come, Lord Jesus!

The ancient cry of Israel, our elder brothers (and sisters), as the late Pope John Paul II called the Jewish community, has been for the fulfillment of the Holy Covenant.

We Christians believe that the fulfillment of the Law of Moses and the Prophets is in the coming and person of Jesus of Nazareth whom we call Messiah (anointed) and Lord.

And yet, not in all its fullness!
An Orthodox Jewish man praying at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem

We await the Lord's return in glory. And, so, how do we do this?

This Advent is an opportunity to grow deeper in our relationship with the Lord -- by focusing on the Scrptures of the Old Covenant that we hear proclaimed daily at Mass, and particularly at the Sunday Eucharst.

During Advent we join as members of the entire Church of God and cry, "Come, Lord Jesus!" The ancient cry of the Church, even from apostolic times in the Aramaic of the Apostles and early disciples of Jesus, is Marana tha! (Come, Lord!).

St. Francis of Assisi taught his friars that we should prepare for the coming of the Lord at Christmas, the great festival of the Incarnation, by fasting from All Saints' Day (1 November) all the way through Christmas Eve. It's in our Rule of 1223 how the friars are to prepare. While we Franciscan friars are not required to maintain a strict fast, we are encouraged to prayerfully and physically prepare for the celebration of the Messiah's birthday.

Like our elder brothers and sisters in the faith, the Jewish people, we pray the psalms and listen attentively to the Word of God, those ancient prophecies from so long ago, believing that this very Word of God is active and living. Unlike our Jewish kin, though, we eagerly anticipate the return of the Messiah!

Icon of Our Lady of the Sign (cf. Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23)

The way that St. Francis called us friars minor, and all in the Franciscan family, to celebrate this Season of Advent is rather countercultural. When so much of our culture wants more and sees the "holiday season" as more and more about profit, sales, being financially solvent (e.g. "Black Friday") -- and advertisements (especially aimed at children) are about more and more toys, electronic gadgets and the like, St. Francis calls his brothers to fast!

Granted, Advent in the Roman Church is not penitential like Lent is. Still, it is an opportunity laden with all kinds of ways to grow in our relationship with the Lord. It is an opportunity . . . if we take it!

So, how about sitting down with the Bible, refrain from TV, computer games, text messaging and the like, and carefully listen and read the prophecies of ancient Israel. You can find their references in your parish's Missalette; sometimes even in your parish bulletin. That the Scritpurre passages are fulfilled in Jesus Christ is certain; still, we await his return in glory, when his Word will be completely fulfilled.

As the priest says after we pray the Lord's Prayer at Mass, ". . . as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ!" Amen. Come, Lord Jesus (cf. Revelation 22: 20b). Marana tha! (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:22b)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Great Gathering of Catholic Youth in Columbus, OH

On November 8-10, about 23,000 teen agers from around the USA descended on Columbus, OH for the biannual National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC). From Dubuque, IA, Kansas City, KS, Green Bay, WI, Albany, NY, Houston, TX -- young people, their chaperones and youth ministers gathered for a festive three days to pray together, meet one another, and grow in their Catholic Faith and identity.

Franciscan Vocation Booth with Fr. Don Miller, OFM and Fr. Kim Studwell, OFM
NCYC 2007, Columbus, OH Photo courtesy of Sr. Carmella Chojnacki, FDC

Fr. Don Miller, OFM from St. John the Baptist Province (Cincinnati, OH) and I stationed the Franciscan Friars' booth for the duration of the conference. Bro. Jack Carnaghi, OFM and Fr. Johnpaul Cafiero, OFM of Sacred Heart Province (St. Louis/Chicago) joined us for Friday. Fr. Don took several pictures, including the shot of the conference here.

The event began, sadly, with a fatal hit-and-run accident of a young lady from the Las Vegas, NV delegations, Veronica Gantt. Their delegation understandably returned shaken and horrified, with grief counselors awaiting their reutrn arrival. The conference continued, with daily reminderes of the tragedy appropriately mentioined -- intentions for Mass, intercessions at prayer times and a place to write messages to Veronica's family and friends.

The theme of this year's NCYC was "Discover the Way". The morning prayer sessions I found to be vibrant, uplifting and energizing. Young adults led the morning prayer and featured speakers gave stirring testimonies of how God worked in their lives through seemingly impossible situations.

Throughout the NCYC, young people visited the area called "Adventureland" where the vocation displays were (strategically!) located. Loads and loads of youth and their chaperones stopped by. Several actually engaged in conversation, either out of curiosity or because there was some kind of interest in religious life. Many youth and adults had questions.

Adventureland at NCYC 2007.
Photo courtesy of Sr. Carmella Chojnacki, FDC

Fr. Don and I, and Bro. Jack and Fr. Johnpaul on Friday, walked among the youth, both inside the vendors' area and beyond. Fr. Don and I helped with confessions during the time, too.

Many young people and their chaperones participated in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Reconciliation Room, NCYC 2007, Columbus, OH
Photo courtesy of Sr. Carmella Chojnacki, FDC

Friends of the Franciscan friars also had their vocation booths -- the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity of Manitowoc, WI. I work periodically with these Sisters in promoting our Franciscan way of life.

Fr. Kim Studwell, OFM with Srs. Julie Ann Sheehan, OSF and Mary
Ann Spanjers, OSF, (Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity)
NCYC 2007, Columbus, OH. Photo courtesy of Fr. Don Miller, OFM

Some others were present, including the Daughters of Divine Charity (FDC) whose foundress, Mother Franziska Lechner, is up for beatification. Sr Carmella Chojnacki, FDC, at their USA Motherhouse in Akron, OH and some of their Sisters represented their community well. She graciously supplied several photos here. And the Capuchin Francisans from the St. Augustine Province in Pittsburgh, PA attended.

Sr. Mary Ann Spanjers, OSF speaking with youth at NCYC 2007
Photo courtesy of Sr. Carmella Chojnacki, FDC

Sr. Carmella Sr. Chojnacki, FDC at NCYC w007 Columbus, OH Fr. Kim Studwell, OFM speaking with Fr. Tom Betz, OFM Cap. at the
Photo courtesy of Sr. Carmella Chojnacki, FDC Vocation Booths, NCYC 2007, Columbus, OH
Photo courtesy of Fr. Don Miller,OFM

The NCYC 2007 was a blessed event, even through a tragedy. I think it was good for young people to be kept aware of Veronica's death without becoming maudlin about it. A final image of the concluding Sunday Vigil Eucharist on Saturday evening, 10 November, may give an idea as to the magnitude of youth from all over the USA and clergy participating. I confess I wasn't there for the closing Mass. However, thanks to Sr. Carmella Chojnacki, FDC, who was there, we have this (I think) powerful photo of youth and adults worshiping God and celebrating the "source of and summit" of our faith, the Holy Eucharist!

Concluding Eucharist at NCYC 2007, Columbus, OH
Photo courtesy of Sr. Carmella Chojnacki, FDC

Thanks, Fr. Don Miller, OFM and Sr. Carmella Chojnacki, FDC for generously sharing your photos of the great youth gathering of NCYC 2007 in Columbus, OH! God bless you both and prosper your ministries and communities!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Praised Be You, My Lord for our Sister Mother Earth

A feature of current Franciscan spirituality and theology is trying to move St. Francis of Assisi out of the "birdbath" and into concrete and real human experience.

Who hasn't seen the image of St. Francis with birds perched on his shoulder, petting a deer or other such animal? While these can be wonderful images, especially for children. they can also do a disservice by "taming" this very wild saint of God!

Simply put, St. Francis believed that God's power and grace were evident in all creation because he had redemptive vision. This means that he believed the prophecies of Isaiah, which we often read during the Season of Advent (e.g. Isa. 11:6-9), were fulfilled -- and being fulfilled -- because of the Incarnation of the Son of God in human history and the saving event of the Paschal Mystery -- Jesus' passion, death and resurrection.

Believing that salvation was a real experience, St. Francis loved creation because it glorified God and because through creation God's glory was manifest to human beings. Of course, for St. Francis, this reaches its apex in the human creature. Francis is faithful to the biblical narrative, which we find in Genesis (1:27), that states that humanity is created -- male and female -- in God's image! And even more so, that image, marred by sin, is restored through the obedience of Jesus Christ. Hence, he was also faithful to the teaching of one of the very early Fathers of the Church, the martyred bishop St. Irenaeus of Lyons, that "The glory of God is the human being fully alive!"

Thus, St. Francis of Assisi rejoiced that salvation was indeed happening! It was happening in his own life and in all of creation; that the teaching of St. Paul the Apostle (Rom. 8:19-23) about all creation groaning for the revelation of the children of God (i.e. those redeemed by the Blood of Christ) was indeed coming to pass. That is why the Poor One of Christ (Poverello) could boldly cry out that the sun was his brother, the moon his sister, the fire his brother, the water his sister, and Mother Earth his sister (cf. his famous Canticle of the Creatures).

This gives, of course, a whole new impetus to the Franciscan push to respect creation as the handiwork of God and intimately connected with our salvation story. Believing, like St. Francis, that the salvation of all creation is a work in progress is to take a bold step in faith out into our sinful world which tends to see creation merely as a commodity to be exploited only for human consumption. It is to stand against the misinterpretation of Genesis 1:28b-30 when the Creator entrusts His dominion to human stewardship -- men and women have dominion over creation, yes, not to destroy this household of our Sister Mother Earth, but to honor and respect the elements, the resources, the minerals, the water, the air -- all of it -- for the glory of God and for the benefit of all humankind and, indeed, all creation.

For us Franciscan Friars, the integrity of creation is not simply a matter of being "green" or being accused of "tree hugging"! Far more than that, it is looking at creation, like our holy founder, with the eyes of a mystic to perceive God's presence and activity. It is not sentimental romanticism -- it is hard-core faith that the promises of God are being fulfilled -- even now -- in and through all of creation!