Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas 2008!

From wherever you are reading this, we in southeastern Wisconsin are having a very white Christmas. It could change, of course! The snow is sloppy wet and the temps seem to be going up. But, then again, we're expecting another 3 inches or so today. Glory to God!

We Franciscans are preparing to celebrate along with the rest of the Christian world (which follows the Gregorian calendar), the birthday of the Lord Jesus Christ, the great celebration of the Incarnation of the Word of God.

It really is a glorious celebration, which St. Francis rated very high. One of our friars, Fr. Roch Niemier, OFM was recently taped about the first Franciscan celebration of the Lord's Nativity in Grecchio, Italy in 1223. You can find it on YouTube and at our Web site,

However you and your loved ones celebrate this holy day and feast of feasts, may the Lord Immanuel bless you greatly as you commemorate the Word made Flesh in human history. How wonderful is our God!

Merry and blessed Christmas!

!Feliz Navidad! Buon Natale! Froeliche Weinnachten! Joyeaux Noel! Wesolych Swiat Bozego Narodzenia! Sretan Bozic! Vesele vianoce! Nollaig Shona Duit! Mele Kelikimaka! Linksmu Kaledu! Christos Rozdajetsja! Slavite jeho!

(Spanish, Italian, German, French, Polish, Croatian, Slovak, Irish, Hawai'ian, Lithuanian, Church Slavonic)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Wonder of Lights -- A Blessed Hanukkah!

As Christians are bustling preparing for the annual celebration of the Messiah's birth in just a few days, our "elder brothers (and sisters)", as the late Pope John Paul II referred to the Jewish community, are celebrating the annual festival of lights called Hanukkah.

This commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple after the Maccabean revolt about two hundred years before the birth of Jesus Christ. The Seleucid Syrian Greeks under King Antiochus IV Epiphanes had taken over the region of Palestine after the time of Alexander the Great. The king sought to impose Greek customs upon all his subjects in the Middle East, including the Jews.

This included the gymnasium (in which participants played athletic games in the nude, according to the Greek custom), which was rendered abominable to Jewish sensibilities. Furthermore, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, considering himself divine, sought to force the Jews to abandon monotheism and support the Greek polytheistic tradition by placing a statue of Zeus in the Temple in Jerusalem!

Many Jews agreed to accommodate to "keep the peace" and some had the mark of circumcision covered, a very painful process that resulted in hiding a man's distinctive Jewish character. The Seleucid Hellenized Syrians also sought to have Jews abandon other practices of the Law of Moses, including the refusal to eat pork.

Eleazar, an old man, became a martyr for staunchly refusing to give into the pagan demands that he violate the Law which God had given Israel (cf. 2 Maccabees 6:18031). There is also the famous story of the seven brothers who were slaughtered in front of their mother for also refusing to surrender to the demands of the Gentiles, the mother being the last to be murdered (cf. 2 Maccabees 7:1-42).

Surprisingly, the Maccabean revolt succeeded in driving out the Seleucid Greeks and re-establishing a Jewish entity. They purified the Temple by ritually cleansing it of idolatrous defilement and rededicating it. There are two variations to the story (cf. 1 Maccabees 4:52059; 2 Maccabees 10:1-9), both recalling God's faithfulness to the Jewish armies and to rededicate the Second Temple for its holy and noble purpose, celebrating for eight days and this to be commemorated for perpetuity.

The celebration begins, then, on the twenty-fifth day of Chislev, according to the narrative. Since the Jewish calendar is lunar and not solar the dates change.

Tonight marks the beginning of the Third Day of Hanukkah (see above) with the lighting of the Hanukkah menorah (eight branched candle specifically for this feast). It is not only a feast for the children (and the accompanying gift-giving and playing with the dreidle [a traditional top for games]) but a feast for all the Jewish people to remember once again God's faithfulness.

God delivered Israel from the slavery of Pharoah; God delivered the Israelites from their many enemies; God raised up King David and the Prophets; God brought back the exiles from Babylon to the Holy Land; God gave us Jesus, his only-begotten Son (cf. John 3:16) from among Israel in the flesh (cf. Romans 1:2-3; Matthew 1:1-17).

This feast, by the way, is recounted in the Gospel of John (cf. 10:22). As Christians we believe that Jesus has fulfilled the Law of Moses and the Prophets and that he himself is the fulfillment of all the Jewish feasts. In fact, Jesus Christ is the Light of the world! (cf. John 8:12).

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Advent Swiftly Passing -- What's My Attitude?

Some musings of a Franciscan friar in a Midwestern winter:

Here in southeastern Wisconsin we are getting both frigid weather and new snow fall. Last week when we were preparing to celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe it was quite cold! This past weekend the temps went up into the 40s F, and then they plunged into the single digits. Wow! What a contrast.

For me in the northern part of the Midwest it seems to take more time to adjust to the fluctuations of weather. When it's cold and stays cold I seem to be fine; when it's warmer and stays warmer I'm OK, too. But when it goes up and down my body seems to get rather confused!

Maybe that's just how our lives are -- adjusting to the fluctuations that happen beyond our control. Economic downturn, violence both near and far, insecurity at work, a loved one's illness. I don't think it means we're "powerless", at least not completely so.

As Advent is quickly moving toward the great celebration of Christmas next week, it might be an opportunity for us to consider how we respond to the changes in our lives, the changes about which we have very little, if any, say.

Yes, there are many things in life that we do have control over -- what we put into our bodies, what we watch on TV and in the movies, the people we call friends and with whom we associate outside of work and school.

But, taking a look at this past Sunday's Second Reading (1 Thess. 5:16-24) from the Roman Rite, it speaks a lot about our attitude in life. "Rejoice always;" "pray without ceasing;" "give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus."

We might be tempted to think this is sweet religiosity or pious prattle until we confront that our life in conversion really is becoming more and more like Jesus Christ! As we yield to the operation of the Holy Spirit in our lives we begin to notice a change. We are becoming more like the Lord in our attitudes. Just take a look at what St. Paul writes about the fruit of the Holy Spirit (BTW, it's singular "fruit") in his Letter to the Galatians 5:22-23.

That's our attitude in the face of uncontrollable events. Not a sense of desperation. Not cynicism. Not even resentment. But an atttiude that God is greater than whatever happens, though for now, at least, it might seem overwhelming. The Christian vocation sees God at the center, at the periphery and throughout the experience.

Advent swiftly passes; tempus fugit as the Latin proverb states (i.e. "time flies"). Still, what's my attitude this Third Week of Advent?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Holy Russia and the Franciscan Friars

With the passing of Patriarch Alexiy II of Moscow and All Russia I thought it opportune to mention the relationship between Orthodox Russia and the Franciscan Friars.

The relationship between the Orthodox East and the Catholic (and Protestant) West has been contentious for many centuries. After the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, Moscow's metroplitanate declared itself the "Third Rome", to the consternation of the first Rome -- in Italy -- which was in the throes of its own crisis, the Great Schism among competing men bearing the title "pope" of Rome.

Russian Orthodox clergy bid farewell in Moscow to the late Patriarch Alexiy II

Also, due to various Western incursions, such as the Teutonic Knights in the Middle Ages, Napoleon's invasion of Russia in the early 1800s and, most recently, Nazi Germany's invasion of Russia and Soviet-controlled lands (e.g. Ukraine, Lithuania) at the time during World War II-- have made Russia historically sensitive to and suspicious of Western advances (i.e. Western Europe and North America).

So, when the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 1990s and the glasnost and perestroika policies of Mikhail Gorbachev and his successor, Boris Yeltsin, opened the former USSR to expressions of democracy -- including freedom of religion -- the Franciscan Friars (OFM) saw this as an opprtunity of God's grace and providence and so decided to reach out to Roman Catholics in the former Soviet Union who were not previously able to freely express themselves or practice their faith.

This included persons who were ethnically Poles, Germans, Slovaks, and Lithuanians who were, at least, nominally Catholic before their parents' and grandparents' forced migration to the regions of Siberia.

This, however, was met with suspicion by the resurgent Russian Orthodox Church which accused the Roman Catholics of proselytism (i.e. the practice of seeking converts). Our General Minister at the time, Fr. Herman Schaluk, OFM and members of his General Council visited the late patriarch in Moscow to assure him that the only intention of the friars minor was to minister to those who were already Roman Catholics and not to actively seek new converts to the Catholic Church.

Bro. Mario Nagy, OFM (right) of our province receiving the renewal of temporary vows of a young friar in Ussurysk, Siberia, Russia in 2006

The Franciscan friars went to the former Soviet Union and, in various countries, have done a significant outreach and ministry among those Roman Catholic descendants of Europeans displaced during the regime of Joseph Stalin.

Bp. Henry Howaniec, OFM (born of Polish parents in Chicago, IL), a member of our province who served at our General Curia in Rome for many years volunteered to serve in Kazakhstan and was named by the late Pope John Paul II to be bishop of the Catholic diocese in Almaty. (Having reached his 75th birthday, Bp. Henry submitted the mandatory request to the Holy See for retirement.)

Bro. Mario Nagy, OFM (pictured above), also from our province -- who had served for many years in our former missions in the Philippines -- likewise volunteered and lived and served in far eastern Siberia (not too far from the border with North Korea)! Due to increased restrictions on foreigners by the Russian government, Bro. Mario has come back Stateside to help here in the US.

Fr. Blase Karas, OFM, born in Poland before World War II and, as a child, was a refugee under Stalin's USSR in Siberia (Poland was divided between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union during World War II). He returned to Russia, this time to serve in central Russia in the western Siberian city of Novosibirsk. He has returned to the States and is working among Eastern European immigrant men recovering from alcohol addiction in Chicago, IL.

As instruments of peace, the Franciscan friars -- following the example of our holy founder, St. Francis of Assisi -- seek to respect the integrity of the Orthodox Church of Russia and to serve among those people who are Roman Catholic as well as those -- even indigenous Russians -- who choose on their own (not through proselytism!) to be received into the Catholic Church.

Russian Orthodox faithful in Moscow mourn the passing of Patriarch Alexiy II of Moscow and All Russia

And so, we mourn with our Russian Orthodox brothers and sisters, both in Russia and abroad, the death of their Patriarch Alexiy II of Moscow and All Russia. May God grant his servant blessed repose and eternal memory. And may there be increased trust and charity between the Orthodox Churches and the Catholic Church, in the name of our one Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Eternal Memory -- the passing of Patriarch Alexiy II of Moscow and All Russia

His Beatitude, Patriarch Alexiy II of Moscow and All Russia (1929-2008)

Our profound sympathies to the members of the Russian Orthodox Church and all Orthodox Christians on the passing of His Beatitude, Patriarch Alexiy II of Moscow and All Russia yesterday, 5 December 2008.

Patriarch Alexiy's history is, like most human histories, checkered. Born of German extraction of parents who were devout Russian Orthodox Christians, he grew up in Estonia during the violent era following the overthrow of Czar Nicholas II of Russia (+1917) by the Bolshevik Revolution which ushered in the communist regime known as the Union of Soviet Socialistic Republics (USSR).

He was ordained a priest in 1947 and eventually was ordained a bishop, being elected in 1990 to the Patriarchate of Moscow and All Russia, just as the Soviet Union was collapsing. Patriarch Alexiy was responsible for the resurgance of both the placement and respect of the Russian Orthodox Church in Russian society. He also worked diligently with the flegling struggling democratic Russia of Boris Yeltsin and, subequently, Vladimir Putin.

Former President and now Premier Vladimir Putin of Russia embraces Patriarch Alexiy II of Moscow and All Russia during the Divine Liturgy

His Beatitude has been accused of collaborating with the KGB when the USSR was still extant. Some noted that the once secret files of the former secret police force (for which Vladimir Putin worked) have supported this allegation, although there was no arrived conclusion.

Nevertheless, Alexiy worked diligently at re-establishing the Russian Orthodox Church from its debilitated state under the oppressive communist regime. While severely punished in the early days of the Soviet Union, it was more tolerated toward the time of Mikhail Gorbachev in the 1980s.

One of the successes of Alexiy's patriarchate was the reconciliation and reunion with the Russian Orthodox Church Aborad (ROCA). This body had split with Moscow over the patriarchate's accomodation to Soviet persecution of the Church -- banishment to the gulags and execution of bishops, priests, monks, nuns and laity. The patriarch at the time apparently made concessions to the Soviet government which drew the wrath of Russian expatriots and exiles around the world.

Hence, many formed the parallel Church meant to restore the Orthodox Faith of Russia all the while mistrusting the Church leadership in Moscow as being agents of the KGB. In 2007, Patriarch Alexiy II met with Metropolitan Archbishop Laurus of the ROCA in the partiarchal cathedral in Moscow (with Mr. Putin attending) and signed the official document of reconciliation, embraced with the sign of peace and concelebrated the Divine Liturgy.

Metropolitan Abp. Laurus of the ROCA and Patriarch Alexiy II of Moscow and All Russia at the celebration of reunion and reconciliation in the patriarchal cathedral in Moscow, Russia in May 2007

St. Nicholas of Myra -- Model of Charity and Promoter of Justice

Today, 6 December, the Christian community throughout the world celebrates the memory of our Holy Father Nicholas, Bishop of Myra.

Having lived and served in what is today Turkey, his bones are now interred in Bari, Italy (a rather convoluted history).
St. Nicholas, the "inspiration" for what we call "Santa Claus" and in other countries "Father Christmas" or "Papa Noel", is also a model of charity and a promoter of justice.

Among the most famous of the stories of his life and ministry in 4th century Asia Minor was the rescue he performed -- quietly, behind the scenes -- of the three daughters of an older man who had fallen into financial ruin. As payment for his debt he was going to be forced to hand his three daughters over to prostitution. The holy bishop got wind of it and, under the cover of night, placed three bags of gold secretly for the older gentleman to spare his daughters.

A lesser known story about St. Nicholas was that he had been a confessor (i.e. one who confessed one's faith through persecution without having suffered martyrdom [e.g. imprisonment, torture]) during the last empire-wide persecution under Emperor Diocletian. When Constantine ascended the throne and issued his famous Edict of Milan in AD 313 it paved the way for Christians to worship freely and openly practice their faith.

However, there was also another looming issue in the Roman Empire, especially in the East, and this was the Arian heresy (the priest Arius of Alexandria basically taught a doctrine of Christ that amounted to a denial of his full divinity).

At the First Ecumenical Council at Nicea in AD 325 the Council Fathers consented to a Creed (called the Nicene Creed, and later ratified at the Second Ecumenical Council in Constantinople in AD 381) that definitively address Christian faith. This is what we in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches profess at our Sunday Eucharists. They also condemned Arius and his doctrine.

According to one tradition, the holy Nicholas of Myra stood up and approached the preist Arius and then slapped him on the cheek and so condemned him! While we wouldn't find that particularly "ecumenical" and certainly not polite in our 21st century Western culture today, it is important to remember that St. Nicholas lived in a different culture, a different time and a different era in human history, even Christian history.

His charity and his justice are demonstrated in his faithfulness to the truth of the Gospel, his ecumenicity with the entire Church and his pastoral foresightfulness in responding to a very unjust situation afflicting his flock that would have led one of his people to submit to trafficking in the sexual exploitation of women -- prostitution.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

World AIDS Day -- 1 December 2008

As a way to choose life it seems that we as Catholic Christians must be in the forefront of concern for people with HIV and AIDS. It has been a long time since the mysterious illness in the early 1980s first began wreaking havoc among young men who were mostly homosexually-oriented and active.

First dismissed as a "gay man's disease", people in leadership, both elected and religious leaders alike were outspoken in their criticism of homosexual men and some publicly stated that they deserved this disease, that this was their punishment from on high!

St. Francis 'Neath the Bitter Tree by Fr. William McNichols, SJ, depicting St. Francis of Assisi embracing Christ crucified as One suffering with AIDS and rejected by society.

People with AIDS and who are HIV+ continue to often live "outside the pale" of regular human society. The Catholic Church, both in Rome and in numerous dioceses around the world, has consistently advocated for justice and care for people suffering with this dreaded disease.

As this image depicts, "The Body of Christ has AIDS". And it is proper and right to outreach in the name of the Lord Jesus to anyone who is afflicted and rejected, for in doing so we outreach to the Lord himself.

Thanks to the research of Bro. Pio Jackson, OFM, chair of the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Office (JPIC) of the Sacred Heart Province (USA), here are some interesting, and perhaps disturbing, data from UNAIDS as of July 2008:

"Approximately 33,000,000 around the world are living with AIDS. The numbers of people on AIDS medication jumped by ten times in the last six years going from 300,000 to 3,000,000 worldwide. Millions of others are poor and cannot afford or gain access to critical drugs.

In the US alone, 1,500,000 Americans have been infected with HIV since the start of the epidemic and more than 524,000 have died of AIDS. At least 40,0000 are infected in America with 48% of the cases being African-American. The number of women living with HIV has tripled in the last two decades."

Get involved; learn more; advocate -- all in the name of the Lord Jesus. The struggle for care for people with HIV/AIDS is far from over.

A sad fact that seems to correlate with the aforementioned data -- more people die in one year from malaria in the Third World than from other diseases. And many of these are people with HIV/AIDS because of their poverty, lack of sanitary conditions and access to adequate medical care.

Franciscan men and women have been in the forefront of care for people with AIDS and who are HIV+, often through medical outreach and welcome to the outcast. The folks are certainly not asking to be pitied! The embrace pictured above is not about pity, really. It is about love.

What's happening in your area this Monday, 1 December 2008, World AIDS Day? What can you do to help? Perhaps, begin with prayer . . . and see where that leads you!

Happy New Year! Advent 2008

Tomorrow, 30 November 2008, begins the New Church Year in the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church. Tomorrow is the First Sunday of Advent.

The Byzantine Rite began Christmas preparations already on 15 November, the Feast of St. Philip the Apostle according to their calendar. Hence, the Christmas preparation is called "Philip Fast". It is a time of penitential preparation to celebrate the Nativity of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In the Western Church -- the Roman Catholic and those of the Protestant Reform which keep the Season of Advent (e.g. Episcopalians, Lutherans and Methodists), we begin this evening with First Vespers of the First Sunday of Advent.

As Franciscan friars, we eagerly anticipate this joyful Season of Advent -- and Philip Fast -- to celebrate Christmas Day. The celebration of the Incarnation of the Son of God in human history was so dear to St. Francis of Assisi's heart! And to ours, as well. And so we learn to wait, like Mary, the Mother of God, awaited after the Annunciation for nine months to give birth to the Lord Jesus. We learn to listen, as the Children of Israel of old listened with attentiveness to the prophetic utterances of the coming of Messiah. We learn to hope, in a darkened world where sin holds sway -- we claim that he who came in the manger is indeed the conqueror of sin and death!

Our Lady of the Sign (cf. Isa. 7:14, Mt. 1:23), "Behold a virgin shall give birth to a son and shall call him 'Immanuel' [a name which means 'God is with us'!]"

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving Day is more than "Turkey Day"! Give Thanks to the LORD for He is Good!

Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus." 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

The word "thanks" in New Testament Greek is the basis for the word we have for "eucharist". During the Mass or the Divine Liturgy at the Preface Dialog beginning the Eucharistic Prayer/Anaphora, the priest says, "Let us give thanks to the Lord our God", and we respond, "It is right to give him thanks and praise", or, "It is just and right." In effect the priest is addressing us as congregation and saying, "Let us do the eucharist!"

Thanksgiving is deeply ingrained in the entire Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments. It is simply what we as Christians do! We give thanks to God.

Fr.Joachim Studwell, OFM at the Great Entrance of the Divine Liturgy

Fr. Patrick Gawrylewski, OFM (right) and Fr. Brendan Wroblewski, OFM during the Eucharistic Prayer at the chapel of Assumption BVM Parish

Thanksgiving Day is far more than its nickname, "Turkey Day!" It is about an attitude of life. Giving thanks and forgiving someone are both might antidotes to bitterness in human life. Not just the proverbial "counting the blessings", as good as that might be. Just giving thanks!

It takes our attention off ourselves and focuses us on Another, in this case God. Hopefully we have been reared to be grateful -- grateful for presents, sending thank-you cards, showing appreciation to people in our family, at work or in school.

Giving thanks just makes plain sense -- and it's good for mental health, besides. Grateful people are happy people. They notice small things about people and take notice of them in a positive way. People of thanksgiving notice the details of life and express gratitude. As the 12 Step Program calls it cultivating the Attitude of Gratitude!

And so it is with the Lord. Maybe we can look at the New Testament reading (above) again, where St. Paul the Apostle deliberately writes that we are to give thanks in ALL circumstances (please note, not for all circumstances, but in all circumstances)! That means we acknowledge God is supreme and greater than any and all circumstances in which we find ourselves.

I'm grateful for Him, first of all! And for my Franciscan brothers, my family and my friends, for the many who have trusted me and allowed me into their lives through ministry, for all the good things that the Lord has lavished upon me. And I am grateful for my vocation as a Franciscan friar and priest.

What are YOU grateful to the Lord for this Thanksgiving Day?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Enough is enough!

A couple weekends ago I attended a youth event that was led by a group of Brothers and Sisters. There was lively music and high energy and, overall, a rather positive spirit among the presenters and participants.

This was shortly after our national elections on 5 November 2008.

Later in the afternoon, a priest gave a talk on Christian morality and was preparing the young people and their chaperons for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Two things he said astonished me -- he obviously supported John McCain as his choice for president of the USA (by stating that the wrong man had been elected) and he inferred that there was a similarity between the rise of Adolph Hitler in 1930s Germany and the election of Barack Obama.

His choice of candidate is fine; it is his business and has no correlation to a public announcement at a Catholic youth event sponsored by the Church. His connection seemed to be focused solely on Mr. Obama's consistent pro-choice stance and support of the 1973 Supreme Court decision of Roe v. Wade.

Since then I have become aware of others making this rather odd and, quite frankly, frightening association. Some have been Catholic (on blogs like this, apparently) and others have been political. Already at the end of the political campaign there seemed to be fear-mongering about Obama as a "socialist" and other such epithets directed at him.

BTW, is anyone familiar with the political campaigns when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was running for president? As I recall, he was also dubbed a socialist!

I find it alarming that people -- especially people of faith and public Catholic leaders like I had met -- would insinuate a connection between Hitler and Obama. Hitler was a thug! He wanted to eliminate the Jews from Europe (and beyond, if possible!), as well as the Roma (Gypsies), homosexuals, Communists and Free Masons. He made it to office through thuggery and manipulaton. He precipitated World War II in 1939 by setting up a bombing in Germany and falsely accusing the Poles of committing the violence, and subsequently invaded Poland for the sake of the "honor" of the German fatherland. BTW, he committed this heinous injustice with the collaboration of Joseph Stalin and the now-defunct Soviet Union. Hitler explicitly promoted violence and Germany as the "superpower" and the Aryan people as the "super race" in his book, Mein Kampf (My Complaint).

As a Catholic Christian, a Franciscan friar and a priest I certainly disagree with Mr. Obama's stated position on abortion and the so-called pro-choice stance, as well as his apparent and unequivocal support for the "Freedom of Choice Act" (FOCA), which our US Catholic bishops have rightly and resoundingly opposed.

At the same time, I oppose any insinuation of connection between Obama and Hitler! Enough is enough. Someone who is "unhinged" may take this inference and seek to protect the nation from "another Hitler". God forbid! We as Catholic Christians, as clergy and religious, must advocate for life and oppose violence of any kind. Especially as Franciscans, for as St. Francis of Assisi stated to his friars early on, "If you are going to proclaim peace with your lips, make sure you have it first in your heart!"

Friday, November 21, 2008

US Catholic Bishops Responding to Presidential Election and the Freedom of Choice Act

In their semi-annual meeting earlier this month in Baltimore, MD, the US Catholic Bishops had to confront an unsettling reality -- the election to the presidency of the United States of America of a man who has consistently supported abortion rights for women.

US Catholic Bishops at their semiannual meeting in November 2008 at Baltimore, MD

While acknowledging the landmark election of the first African-American man as president and, it might be added, the first president to NOT have a European surname, the challenge the US Catholic bishops perceived was responding to the new president-elect's campaign promise to sign into law the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA). This piece of legislation would, in effect, roll back any federal restrictions to the availability of legalized abortion in this country that the sitting President G.W. Bush had put into place earlier in his term.

Francis Cardinal George (on right), Archbishop of Chicago and current president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), together with brother bishops, drafted a strongly worded response to the proposed Freedom of Choice Act.

He stated at the bishops' meeting that Roe v. Wade was a "bad court decision" and expressed concern that FOCA would ". . . deprive the American people in all 50 States of the freedom they now have to enact modest restraints and regulations on the abortion industry." He pressed on and said, "FOCA would coerce all Americans into subsidizing and promoting abortion with their dollars. It would counteract any and all sincere efforts by government and others of good will to reudce the number of abortions in our country. Parently notification and nformed consent precautions would be outlawed, as would laws banning porcedures such as partial-birth abortion and protecting infants born alive after a failed abortion. Abortion clinics would be deregulated. The Hyde Amendment restricting the federal funding of abortions would be abrogated. FOCA would have lethal consequences for prenatal human life."

President-elect Barack Obama and Vice-President-elect Joseph Biden , Democrats. Both consider themselves "pro-choice" regarding the availability of legalized abortion. Joseph Biden considers himself a Catholic in good standing, is originally from Scranton, PA and the now-former senior Senator of the State of Delaware.

Among the painful realities that the US Catholic bishops must confront is their own "house cleaning" and the ongoing struggles pertaining to the 2002 fallout of the sexual abuse crisis. The cases don't disappear. In fact, arch/dioceses are still reeling from the effects of the sexual abuse crisis of minors. Some have already declared bankruptcy as a result of inability to pay the lawsuits. So, while the bishops rightfully decry abortion on demand, their own credibility -- by their own admission, by the way -- has been sorely compromised.

What are the bishops to do? What are we, as Catholics, to do? First, it would seem prudent and just plain smart to admit to the past failures and seek to make as much restitution as possible. This does not diminish the bishops' teaching authority as successors to the Apostles. In fact, it might really augment it.

We, as Catholics, are called upon to pray for our bishops. They are the successors of the Apostles. St. Francis of Assisi, in the Rule of 1223, writes, "The brothers may not preach in the diocese of any bishop when he has opposed their doing so." Yes, we obey our bishops. We also encourage them to "come clean" -- out of support for them and their office as teachers of the local Churches.

Unlike our more secular society, the teaching credibility of the US Catholic bishops doesn't come from popularity. Rather, it comes from their succession to the Apostles and their communion with one another, with the Pope and with the entirety of our Tradition.

However, the bishops are not limited to dealing only with Catholics -- being public figures, they also must contend with the reality of a much broader world. They are legally responsible and accountable, as well as ethically so, to secular society. This is not such a bad thing, although it may be uncomfortable. It may be truly a moment of grace for greater authenticity -- on the part of us all.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Cafeteria Catholics

Recently there was a video posted about Maria Shriver, the first lady of California (wife of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger). She described herself rather matter-of-factly as a "cafeteria Catholic." No apologies; no regrets.

Now, Ms. Shriver is a very articulate, attractive and vivacious speaker. She is clear and deliberate in her speech, which is evidence of a very good education and professional training.

She stated that as far as matters of faith were concerned she clearly identified herself as Roman Catholic -- liturgy, creed, etc. But as far as practice of faith and the Catholic Church's position on various issues -- e.g. women's roles in the Church, the right to choose an abortion, gay marriage and the like she clearly stated that she disagreed with the Catholic Church's positions.

She said that she did agree with the "social" content of Catholic teaching -- justice and peace, outreach among the poor, and she noted that she identified with Jesus' compassion and mercy, especially among the poor and the downtrodden.

As a Franiscan friar and priest I find this attitude curious and disturbing. For one thing, Ms. Shriver is a member of my generation, the so-called Baby Boomer Generation. She is a member of the Kennedy clan (first cousin, for example, of Caroline and the late John, Jr., the famed children of the late President John F. and Jacqueline Kennedy).
I think that Maria speaks for many of my/our generation and our generation's treatment of the practice of faith. One unabashedly picks and chooses as one wants. This certainly fosters a sense of individual identity, even a sense of individualism. Problem is -- and this certainly is problematic -- it flies in the face of the notion of the New Testament's image of the Church as Body of Christ. We are members of one another, as the Apostle teaches in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14. We are not as individuals the Body of Christ!

St. Paul, in his various writings, and those attributed to him, certainly warns the various Christian communities against "novelty" in faith and strongly admonishes the members of the communities to be faithful to their Tradition -- i.e. what has been handed to them by Paul and other Apostles. We are an apostolic Church, after all, as we readily profess in our Creed Sunday after Sunday.

The one thing that was even more curious to me -- maybe you've seen the interview? -- was how Maria described teaching her daughters about a woman's right to choose an abortion. She said that she differentiates between being "pro-choice" and being "pro-abortion." At the very least, it is an interesting split. To be pro-abortion means, according to what she seems to have described, to advocate the termination of a pregnancy whereas being pro-choice means that it is the woman's right to choose whether or not to terminate the pregnancy.
This seems to me, at least, to be a definite disconnect between faith and practice. I am not advocating a so-called black-and-white approach; life is not that simple -- most of us have had to confront situations in our life where the answers were not easy. But the "cafeteria Catholic" approach to faith is, at best, disingenuous if not actually dishonest. Perhaps not deliberately so, but certainly the result leads to a rather loud dissonance of faith. Especially understanding faith as communion -- communion with one another, with our Bishops, with the Pope of Rome.
As Franciscans, we have traditionally been at the vanguard of mission and outreach. Since the time of St. Francis of Assisi and the early friars, we have been in the proverbial "trenches" where others did not want to go or were simply not aware.

It seems to me that confronting the "cafeteria" approach to Catholicism is one such "trench" to which we are called. Not as judgemental or arrogant, of course! But approaching folks with the reality of the lack of consistency -- and as an opportunity to evangelize (without being "preachy").

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Young Single Mom, Widow and Saint -- the Franciscan Elizabeth of Hungary

St. Elizabeth of Hungary attending to the poor
She died shy of her 24th birthday; she was rejected by her deceased husband's family and became virtually homeless; she was a widowed Mom of four children; she ardently loved her husband; she gave generously to the poor.

This was a rather dynamic woman, this Elizabeth of Hungary. The universal Church celebrates her festival today, and for Franciscans, friars, nuns, Sisters and Secular Franciscans alike, this is a feast day to celebrate God's goodness manifest through this amazing woman.

She lived contemporaneously with St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi, although she never met them. She lived north of the Alps while they, of course, lived on the Italian peninsula, south of the Alps.

Elizabeth lived in a violent age, and her mother was apparently murdered while she was a young girl. Having been betrothed at 13 years of age to marry Louis, the landgrave of Thuringia, she willingly did so, as was the custom of filial obedience in those days for a daughter of royalty.
Unlike so many unhappy marriages, which may have been contracted solely for commerce or political alliances, Elizabeth and Louis genuinely loved one another. In the royal palace, during the celebration of the Eucharist, they would gaze upon one another in rapturous love, so deeply convinced in their hearts that indeed the Lord had guided them to the marriage covenant. And their children knew it, too!

Elizabeth was very generous to the poor, with her husband's blessing. Sadly her husband died tragically in the Crusades and subsequently her in-laws, who were not favorable to her for several reasons (among them her generosity to the poor!), evicted her from the palace. Her brother-in-law, having laid claim to the crown, even forbade any of his subjects to take her in!

In the meantime, some men of the newly founded Order of Friars Minor had arrived in the vicinity and were blessed to have Elizabeth as one of their benefactors. Even though she was rejected by her late husband's family, she was loved by the people. She, together with the friars, began a hospital for the poor. Eventually some women joined her in the effort on behalf of the poor and they had a community of sorts.

Inspired by the friars, Elizabeth became a member of the Franciscan family, what used to be called the Third Order and who are now called Secular Franciscans.
In religious art Elizabeth is frequently depicted with roses and bread, due to her love for the poor and her outreach to the marginalized. She herself knew from her own life experiences what it was to be an outcast and, rather than become bitter, she chose to love. Her life of penance and asceticism, even while living in a royal household consisted in her simple clothing, suffering the indignities of her in-laws and her generosity to the poor.
She has become the co-patron of the Secular Franciscan Order, along with St. Louis IX of France (no relationship to her husband, Louis), also a contemporary, although, again, they never knew one another.
What a marvelous model for young adults! This young woman, single mother and widow, lived for the Lord Jesus and for him alone. Eventaully she was to be reconciled with her husband's family, but through it all, she never sought vengeance. She gave herself over to love, especially among the poor. And like her spiritual father, St. Francis of Assisi. she saw in the poor the face of Christ crucified.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Wearin' of the Brown!

When Galen Osby, from Howards Grove, WI decided to embark upon the journey of becoming a Franciscan friar, he probably didn't guess the various challenges that lay ahead. He had an unusual postulancy program (the first year when a candidates begins to explore, or "postulate", becoming a friar minor), mostly because he was the only one!

Galen Osby as a postulant to the Franciscan Friars (OFM) of the Assumption BVM Province.

After his varied experiences and ventures -- from Milwaukee, WI to McAllen, TX to Greenwood, MS and then to our senior friar residence of Queen of Peace Friary in Burlington, WI, Galen "took up his cross daily" to follow the Lord Jesus and encountered several surprises along the way.

Last May 2008 Galen applied to and was accepted to be received into the novitiate, when a man entering our brotherhood becomes a novice, or "new man". It is what St. Francis of Assisi calls in our Rule, the "year of probation", or a time of testing. The novice is tested by life in the fraternity to help in the discernment if this is the right life for him; the novice tests the community to ascertain if this is the correct community or way of life for him. That information can be found in a previous blog.

This past 26 September 2008 Galen and his classmates were invested in the "habit of penance", the brown habit of the Franciscan Friars of the Order of Friars Minor (OFM). It consists of a long tunic, a brown habit, or "capuche" and a woolen cord. Novices have no knots in their cords -- that is reserved for their first profession when they make temporary vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

Bro. Galen Osby, OFM, novice and newly invested with the habit of penance, the Franciscan habit, at San Damiano Friary, Cedar Lake, IN

The novitiate is located in Cedar Lake, IN, south of Hammond and about one hour or so southeast of Chicago, IL. The Assumption BVM Province hosts the novitiate and shares its leadership and membership with two other provinces, Sacred Heart Province (headquartered in St. Louis, MO) and St. John the Baptist Province (headquartered in Cincinnati, OH).

The team for the novitiate is Fr. John Stein, OFM (SJB Province), Fr. Larry Nickels, OFM (SH Province) and Fr. Camillus Janas, OFM (ABVM Province). Fr. John is the Novice Director, Fr. Larry is assistant and Fr. Camillus is the Guardian (local superior).

You might ask, "Why 26 September?" In the calendar of the Catholic Church of the Roman Rite, 26 September is the memorial of the holy brother and doctor martyrs, SS. Cosmas and Damian. It was at the chapel in honor of St. Damian (in Italian, San Damiano) that Francis of Assisi heard the Lord's call to him, "Francis, go repair my Church, which you see is falling into ruins!" And, the house of the novitiate is called San Damiano Friary. So, it's their friary's patron saint's day!

Fr. Camillus Janas, OFM, Guardian of San Damiano Friary (Novitiate) and Bro. Galen Osby, OFM, newly investied novice

Thursday, November 6, 2008

A New President for the USA!

Whether you voted Repulican or Democrat, Independent, Green or Libertarian, Socialist Worker Party or a write-in candidate this past Tuesday, 4 November 2008 was a historic day in the United States of America!

We are remarkably blessed in this country to be able to vote, albeit indirectly (i.e. through the Electoral College), for the office of President of the United States. And the fact that our nation has for its new leader an African-American man is a stunning development. Barack Hussein Obama is the first President-Elect whose surname is not European; it is defintely African. He is the first President-Elect to carry a KiSwahili first name (Arab influenced, meaning "blessed") and an Arab middle name.

The fact that 52% of the popular vote went to him across racial, religious, ethnic, social, income and gender demographics is also a historical development for this nation which, just fifty years ago, was struggling with overt segregation in the South and covert segregation in the North.

Discrimination is still happening, folks, as I think we are all aware -- race, gender, immigrant status, age and, yes, even religion -- in the USA. Lots of work still to do!

John McCain's concession speech was also remarkable in being gracious and conciliatory, as was Barack Obama's victory speech referring to his now former opponent. What a superb blessing we have and, hopefully, a light of real hope for the world in which so many people cannot vote freely and in which national elections (e.g. Zimbabwe) are marred with terror and violence.

So, let's pray for the new President-Elect and the Vice President-Elect -- for their safety and wellbeing and that of their families, for their new administration and for a greater openness and response to the whole pro-life message, from conception to natural death. Scripture urges us to remember our leaders in prayer (cf. 1 Timothy 2:1-2) and this mandate has been honored in the historical Churches (Catholic and Orthodox alike) ever since.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Br. Jason Welle, OFM Runs 2008 Chicago Marathon

Beginning of Chicago Marathon 2008 on Sunday, 12 October in Grant Park

by Bro. Jason Welle, OFM
Bro. Jason recently professed solemn vows as a friar minor on the Solemnity of the Assumption, 15 August, in the parish church of Pulaski, WI, Assumption BVM. He is current ly a student at Catholic Theological Union (CTU) in Chicago

On October 12th, I joined 33,000 other athletes for the 2008 Chicago Marathon, the fourth marathon I have run as a Franciscan friar. Doing a marathon a year is quickly becoming a tradition for my younger brother Scott and I; we have run four together, shoulder to shoulder, start to finish. This year, we completed the 26.2 mile course through twenty-nine Chicago neighborhoods in 3:45.
Chicago Marathoners running through the streets of the City of Chicago, Sunday 12 October 2008
The unusually hot weather slowed down the field on this flat, fast course which starts and ends in Grant Park. Runners weave through the downtown Loop three times total, after jaunts as far north as Lincoln Park and as far south as U.S. Cellular field.

Great crowds in areas like Pilsen and Chinatown lift the runners’ energy, as do playful signs encouraging us that “Oprah did it, you can too!” and to “find your inner Kenyan.” Running for charity also gave me a boost. For the second time, I ran on behalf of St. Coletta’s of Illinois Foundation, an organization founded by Franciscan Sisters to work with developmentally-disabled children and adults.

I think I’m a little different than many of last Sunday’s fitness gurus. I own neither an i-pod nor an mp3 player. When I train, I usually don’t even wear a watch. I just go out and run, to breathe fresh air and immerse myself in the world around me. I’m often struck by how many people ceaselessly try to escape from their surroundings, hiding behind a cell phone, headphones, a newspaper, or any other means they can find to insulate themselves from the world. I find the true value of aerobic exercise in re-connecting with the world, attentively looking at the trees, listening to the birds, and becoming more conscious of how I interact with it all, through my steps, my heartbeat, my breathing, etc.

Our house of studies is just two blocks from Lake Michigan, so I do most of my training out on the lakefront running/cycling trail, where many Chicagoans come for a bit of peace. Getting out into this world for a time clears my head and refreshes me for our other daily tasks: prayer, housework, ministry at different sites around Chicago, and the perennial tasks of reading and paper-writing that mark a house of studies. In time, I have come to see running as a form of prayer, because it renews me, leaves me in better touch with who I am, and better able to face the challenges of each day.

Of course, running a marathon is a quite different from a daily jog by the lake…and I wouldn’t continue to do it if these rather painful days hadn’t taught me an additional, different lesson about myself. People often tell me that they’re impressed with the determination it takes to complete a marathon, that they don’t think they could do it themselves.

It obviously does require discipline, building up one’s mileage over the course of months to prepare oneself for race day. But honestly, running three marathons in Chicago and one in Austin, Texas, has taught me more about relaxing my discipline than how to build it up.

Many people, especially endurance athletes, seek out new and bigger challenges for the sake of having a new challenge, and can’t live with themselves if they fail to complete these challenges, to meet their self-imposed goals. I hear many runners say with pride that they couldn’t imagine not finishing the race. No matter what happens, they have to finish. Marathoning has taught me that my goals for myself are not God’s goals for me. If I miss my goal time or drop out, God still loves me. That might seem obvious, but the way we often fixate on our goals in school, in work, in athletics, in our finances, or other things demonstrates that many people don’t internalize it.

I entered Sunday’s race intending to finish but knowing that if I failed to, God and my ego could accept it. This gave me the freedom to run hard, to do the best I could, and enjoy the race for the graced moment that it was. Even though we ran our best (I’m still rather stiff and sore…), this was the first race when Scott and I missed our goal time, and that was fine on a very hot Sunday morning.

Right: An obviously relieved and rejoicing Bro. Jason after having completed the 2008 Chicago Marathon -- "thumbs up!"

Left: Bro. Jason (R) with his brother, Scott, after having ocmpleted the 2008 Chicago Marathon!

We did what was ours to do, we ran the good race, and we did it together. And God willing, we’ll probably do it again somewhere next year!

Dear Jason Welle, Congratulations from Bank of America for finishing the2008 Bank of AmericaChicago Marathon! Your recorded finish time was3:45:43 and you placed 3925out of 31,401 finishers.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

"Faithful Citizenship" -- Is There a Catholic Vote?

So, who are YOU voting for? Barak Obama or John McCain? Those are rather brazen questions, and quite frankly, it's none of my business!

However, whom WE vote for is all of our business, at least it will be in the end when National Election 2008 is over by late Tuesday, 4 November.

Not so long ago there used to talk of a "Catholic vote". This meant that at least a majority of US citizens who identified themselves as Catholics tended to vote in a particular way, usually Democratic.

This was not universal, but it was strong enough to gain a popular title, at least through the media. Many Democratic candidates, at least in the North, tended to foster policies which the Catholic Church supported -- outreach for the poor, support for laborers, justice for the marginalized and disenfranchized and the like. As the '60s progressed into the '70s, the Catholic Church also supported affordable housing, Civil Rights, an end to the war in Vietnam and initiatives which supported and encouraged the poor, including education and job opportunities without discrimination based on race, ethnic identity, gender and religious affiliation.

Catholics themselves had been the subjects of discrimination, especially with the arrival of the multitudes of Irish people in the mid-1800s. Subsequent European Catholic immigrants also faced a harsh "welcome", in the mines and in the mills, in the Northeast, Midatlantic and Midwest USA.

President John F. Kennedy inauguration in 1961. President Kennedy, a desendant of Irish immigrants,
was the first (and only) Catholic elected to the US presidency.

Pope Leo XIII published his socially conscious encyclical, Rerum Novarum in the 1890s to address the social ills of the late 19th century, and especially the growing specter of Marxism in Europe and beyond. Thus began the modern Catholic social teaching which would be added to by Pope Pius XI (Quadregessimum Annum), Pope Bd. John XXIII (Pacem In Terris) and Pope John Paul II (Laborens Exercens). That, and the document of the Church in the modern world at the Second Vatican Council (Gaudium et Spes) solidified the Catholic Church's engagement in modern society.

US Catholics, though, found themselves in a quandary and struggled with American identity vis-a-vis the US Supreme Court's decision on 22 January 1973 in the case of Roe v. Wade which paved the way for abortion on demand as a woman's right to privacy and her freedom of choice. As we all know, this continues to be a major significant area of concern, both for Right to Life groups and those which favor a woman's individual right to choose to have an abortion.

The US bishops, in their document Faithful Citizenship encourage Catholics to exercise their right to vote calling such involvement a moral obligation (please see picture above). They also state that each is to vote according to one's conscience.

They can be easily accessed on-line at for the download to this insightful document. The US bishops state that one should not vote for one issue only. At the same time the issue of life, especially for the most vulnerable persons, along with respecting human dignity of all persons from conception to natural death, are crucial. The US bishops call for attention to the issues regarding life -- abortion, euthanasia, embyonic stem cell research (and destruction of human embryoes in the process). They also point to the care for the elderly, infirm and disabled persons, responding to the needs of the poor, rights of workers, the plight of many immigrants, whether they be in this land legally or are undocumented, and the issues of peacemaking and bringing wars to an end.

A very fine video presentation that seems to attempt to address this (with rather dramatic music, by the way) is It is definitely a Catholic perspsective.

The US bishops do not tell us, the Catholic electorate, HOW to vote. Rather, they do give us some rather well thought out guidelines for discerning and making responsible decisions according to one's informed conscience. Conscience, however, is NOT opinion!

Is there a "Catholic" vote? Probably not any longer. At least, not like it may have been once in the past. Nevertheless, there are Catholics -- MANY Catholics -- who vote!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Synod of Bishops in Rome Focus on the Word of God

Many bishops from around the world have gathered with His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI in Rome to prayerfully study how to respond to the situations in the world and the Catholic Christian response according to the Word of God. You can find the latest updates on the Vatican Web site,, including the working document and responses.

The Holy Bible has always been at the heart of the life of the Church since its beginning. The Lord Jesus, the Word of God made flesh (cf. John 1:14) is often depicted in the Gospels as quoting from the Scritpures [Old Testament] -- in combatting the devil (cf. Mt. 4:4; see Dt. 8:3), in addressing the people at his hometown synagogue in Nazareth (cf. Lk. 4:18-19; see Isa. 61:1-2a), and even when hanging upon the Cross, Jesus invokes the Scriptures (cf. Mk. 15:34; see Ps. 22:1).

Pope Benedict XVI, 2008

The Apostles and Evangelists quoted freely from the Sacred Books of the First Covenant of the Jewish people, citing from the ancient texts to indicate that Jesus is the Messiah of Israel and the Savior of the nations. Therefore, he is the fulfillment of the Jewish Bible (Hebrew and Greek texts).

The proclamation of the biblical texts has always been part of our liturgical tradition. Direct Scriptural quotes are found throughout the Roman Mass and other sacramental celebrations. Indirectly, there are multiple allusioins to the Bible. Two examples are the "Holy, Holy, Holy" [Sanctus], which quotes from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah 6:3 and Psalm 118:26b, and the "Lamb of God" [Agnus Dei], which combines the invocation to Christ as the Lamb of God (cf. John 1:36 and Rev. 5:12) with the plea for mercy (cf. Mt. 9:27).

As Franciscan friars we rejoice that Pope Benedict and the bishops from around the world have gathered in the Twelfth Synod to focus on the Word of God. The Bible, being at the heart of the Church, is always at the heart of our Order and our Franciscan tradition.

St. Francis and St. Clare were both inspired to renounce everything for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and as our respective Rules state (i.e. that of St. Francis for the Friars Minor and that of St. Clare for the Poor Clare nuns), ". . . to live the Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in obedience, without anything of our own and in chastity."

Monday, October 13, 2008

“Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”

When I was growing up back in the late 1960s I remember older folks commenting about the “Great Depression.” Both of my parents were teenagers during the Depression and recounted experiences of struggle, want and family togetherness. Maybe you remember your parents or grandparents (great-grandparents?!) telling the stories?

Strikers protest for just pay and form unions

And every so often I would hear survivors of the Great Depression remark that they thought such a harrowing experience in the present time might bring people together again in a fractured society like it was back then. That, and it might get them back to church!

To be honest, I don’t know what it was like back in the 1930s. The Great Depression, begun when the stock market crashed in 1929, was not my experience. I only know what I read and what people recounted as they remembered. Problem is, nostalgia can also omit facts. And it probably could resurfac songs of the period that depicted the plight of the poor and unemployed in shantytowns such as the title of this article.

Dust Bowl in the 1930s in Oklahoma

What people frequently recount, though, is the sense of community they remember. People helping people; people, if you will, in solidarity with one another.

Of course, it was also a time of great political turmoil – the Ku Klux Klan had reached its zenith of racial, ethnic and religious intimidation in the 1920s and continued in the 1930s (in the North as well as the South), Jim Crow laws were enforced in the segregated South since after the Civil War and mills and mines in the North were the sites of some rather violent strikes.

Economic refugees from the Great Dust Bowl in Oklahoma were not particularly welcomed to sunny California, as well recounted in John Steinbeck’s famous novel, The Grapes of Wrath. So, not all was “togetherness” or “community”.

To be sure, houses of worship were probably more frequented than in the Roaring Twenties. When disaster strikes, off to God we go!

Train station in South Carolina in the 1930s shows effects of "Jim Crow" segregation laws

In the midst of the current financial downturn, and reality for many of job loses or the threat of job less, we can be faced with the temptation to despair. Many did in the Great Depression. Just as preachers warned their flocks in the past so we are being warned today to not put our faith in the “almighty” dollar, but in God Almighty!

Scripture warns us that the love of money is the root of evil (by the way, not money itself) – see 1 Timothy 6:10, and it follows, “. . . and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains.” (NAB Rev).

St. Francis of Assisi and St. Clare of Assisi each renounced fortune and the comforts that their respective parents’ afforded. Not because money in itself was evil, but because they wanted to live for Jesus Christ and him alone. And to love money and seek after it would have defied the Word of God and separated them from the Lord. They each renounced greed, and probably had to renounce it daily in their lives, for there are many forms of greed! They found their hope and their source of strength in the Lord, not in their families’ wealth or social status. And in this they found great freedom.

St. Francis of Assisi as a youth encountering the leper outside of Assisi.
In this meeting Francis found Jesus Christ, which helped lead him to radically change his life.

While the economic forecasters and experts are struggling with what to do next for hope of an economic upturn, all seem to agree that we are not headed for something similar to the Great Depression of the 1930s. Let’s hope so!

At the same time, this may be a graced opportunity to get our focus right and our proverbial “store in order” as we consider our lives and our futures. Yes, we want what is good for us and for those whom we love – affordable health care, just and living wage, honest work for honest pay. These are important. But our faith in what is eternal is even MORE important.

Like St. Francis and St. Clare, it would seem to behoove us to guard against the temptation to greed. As Franciscan Friars it is our sincere hope that we can offer this insecure world the hope of God’s security!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Franciscan Parade in Manitowoc, WI -- in Fr. Bob's Own Words

From Fr. Robert (Bob) Konopa, OFM

Little did I know that this St. Francis Feast Day, October 4th, 2008, would be most memorable.

Fr. Bob Konopa, OFM at the John Deere tractor for the Francis/Oktoberfest Parade in Manitowoc, WI on Saturday, 4 October 2008

My first opportunity for my “Channel of Peace Itinerant Ministry” began on September 2nd. I became a chaplain for the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity in Manitowoc, Wisconsin.The city of Manitowoc, the parish of St. Francis of Assisi, and the Franciscan Sisters collaborated to organize a 9-day Francis Fest/Oktoberfest.

One of the events of this celebration was a parade on October 4th. The Franciscan Sisters constructed a creative, outstanding and attention-grabbing float depicting their history beginning in 1869. But the question arose, “How can we pull this float in the parade?”

They asked me to drive their John Deere tractor. After taking it for a test drive, I realized how many years had passed by since my tractor-driving days on the Wisconsin farm where I grew up. The 50 minute drive on tractor to reach the starting point of the parade (while all the regular traffic whizzed by me) made driving the tractor in the parade pure pleasure, relaxing and fun.

The float in the parade was a hit! It was a great time for the Franciscans and our Franciscan presence in Manitowoc.
Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity float driven by Fr. Bob Konopa, OFM on Solemnity of St. Francis of Assisi at the Francis/Oktoberfest Parade on Saturday, 4 October 2008. The Sisters are "modeling" their original habit from the 1860s.