Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Our Byzantine Connection -- Bro. Deacon Jerome Wolbert, OFM

In August, I was appointed to serve as deacon at Holy Ghost Byzantine Catholic Church (link to in McKees Rocks, PA, near Pittsburgh (use photo from blog). I arrived just before the parish celebrated its 100th anniversary. Holy Ghost parish has many young families--children and teenagers (link to byzanteens/children ministry--see Sr Celeste/archeparchy website).

Bro. Deacon Jerome Wolbert, OFM in the center

As we approached the feast of St Nicholas, the children and teens presented a program with readings and carols to help us prepare for Christmas.While I was finishing my studies, my ministry was mostly serving at liturgy and preaching weekly.

One thing I appreciated most about my studies was studying the Bible. Knowing how to read the Bible carefully with understanding is very helpful both for my personal life and for preparation for preaching. Now that my studies are complete, I am helping out at the parish in other ways as well, including helping make pirohi, which the parish sells to raise money. Fr Ron--the pastor at Holy Ghost--and I also visit people in nursing homes and hospitals.

The brothers I live with have a wide variety of ministries--social justice, hospital and police chaplaincy, sacramental service to Roman and Byzantine Catholic parishes and convents. The many experiences of the friars give us different perspectives on the Church and the needs of people.

A number of people in our neighborhood appreciate that we keep our chapel open during the day, providing a quiet place to pray.

Monday, January 21, 2008

35 Years of Roe v. Wade, 22 January 1973 -- 22 January 2008 Part II

While we must continue the struggle to defend the rights of the unborn, we must also engage the so-called “pro-choice” side with their issues. And several of these issues are not unreasonable – health care for pregnant mothers, child care for neglected, abandoned and abused children, protection for pregnant mothers who are in abusive relationships and the like. The strident call for privacy and freedom of “choice” to have an abortion really does miss the mark. But so does the violence of unchecked speech and attitude toward these people.

And, as the late Pope John Paul II and our current Holy Father, Benedict XVI, as well as the US Bishops have stated, we must cultivate a “Culture of Life” – in its entire spectrum. As Catholic Christians we must do so consistently lest we lose whatever credibility we may have.

These issues of life include the abolition of the death penalty, an end to military and government sanctioned torture of prisoners of war, peace-making in foreign affairs (please recall that the late Pope John Paul II condemned the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the US Bishops called upon our nation's Administration for military restraint), just and living wages for workers, justice for the elderly, adequate medical care for all people, and concern for the immigrant, whether legal or undocumented.

These are all part of what the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago called the “seamless garment” of pro-life issues. He was referring to the Lord Jesus’ garment mentioned in the Gospels that was gambled for at his crucifixion. First of all, the “seamless garment” is entirely consistent with the New Testament ethic we find in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 & 6). It is also very much a Franciscan approach – to announce and bring the Good News of God’s reconciling love in Jesus Christ. To announce God's infinite mercy. By the way, Cardinal Bernardin was an honorary Franciscan friar.

I think that it is befitting on this anniversary to recall that a few years ago "Ms. Roe" underwent a powerful conversion experience to the Lord Jesus and subsequently became a fully initated and reconciled Catholic Christian woman in her home State of Texas.

So, after 35 years, we have work to do. While there is politicking on both sides of the issue, the real issue, it seems to me, is human life. In all its stages. Beginning in the womb.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

35 years of Roe v. Wade: 22 January 1973 – 22 January 2008 Part 1

This is not an easy topic to address. Much has been written and spoken about the topic of legalized abortion here in the United States. There are loud and soft voices on both sides of the abortion argument. As a Catholic Christian, as a Franciscan friar and as a priest I vehemently oppose the willful taking of innocent human life, especially at its most vulnerable stages in the womb.

Annual March for Life, 22 January 2007, Washington, DC

My purpose is not to argue but to reflect on the reality we face as Catholic Christians in the United States of America, particularly around the painful and divisive issue of medical abortions.
First of all, I think it is important to note that while Roe v. Wade is considered to be the landmark case that opened legalized abortions in this country, legalized abortions were already being “performed” (for lack of a better word) in some States, like New York, since the 1960s. There were limitations, though, for these to occur.

Millions upon millions of unborn human persons in our country have been literally ripped from the wombs of their mothers. The medical procedures for these are visually and audibly hideous. There are now medications used which “facilitate” abortions and make the procedure seemingly less “difficult” and intrusive (e.g. the pill called RU-486).

While their lives have been terminated, the scars on the lives of their family members remain. As a priest I have had the privilege – and I do consider it to be a privilege – of accompanying several repentant people in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, men and women, who have either procured an abortion or assisted in its procurement. These have been remarkably healing experiences for the penitents and tremendously edifying for me as an ordained minister of the Church.

I have been moved by the recognition of these people of the gravity of what they did. Although what I share is anecdotal and not statistical, the vast majority of those who came to confession were contrite. They not only felt badly – they were still mourning, even after nearly twenty years for some! – they wanted to reconcile with the Lord and his Church.

Some people had rationalized and justified their actions in the past, and had come to realize that they were just fooling themselves. Others had been guilt-ridden and even confused for many years. Some were just plain scared because they did not see any other option for themselves at the time.

In all the circumstances I remember encountering, everyone wanted to know if God still loved them and if God would ever forgive them. Without overusing the word, I must say that I have found these moments truly awesome!
Annual March for Life, 22 January 2007, Washington, DC

Of course God still loves them and of course they can find reconciliation with God and with his Church! Within such Church-sanctioned ministries like Project Rachel and Rachel’s Vineyard, many people have found God’s healing power from having participated in a medical abortion.
Regrettably, I have also encountered several people who staunchly defend having had or assisted in a medical abortion. These people do not go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Sadly they have become “hardened of heart” as the Scripture rightly points out (cf. Psalm 95:8). But just as sad is the reality of people who consider themselves so “pro-life” (i.e. anti-abortion in this case) that they have become very judgmental and condemnatory so that there is no apparent room for mercy! It seems to me, from reading the Gospels, that they may face a severer judgment!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Reverencing the Name

Most Holy Name of Jesus! That's the memorial for today, 3 January 2008.

Many Catholic churches and Catholic schools bear this name. For instance, the Cathedral Church in the Archdiocese of Chicago is named after the Holy Name of Jesus. There is even a Catholic organization of laymen called the Holy Name Society.

Unfortunately, as I am sure we all know, the Name of the Lord Jesus is not always (ahem!) invoked reverently. Frequently it is invoked (loudly) when there is a great disappointment, frustration or other anger-inducing incident (shall we say, hitting one's thumb with a hammer?).

Back in the later Middle Ages, St. Bernardine of Siena, a reformer of the Franciscan friars and renowned preacher in 15th century Italy sought to call people to invoke the Holy Name of Jesus as a way of countering not only vulgarity, but interfamily warfare.
At that time many influential families in Italy were at odds with one another (remember Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet [Capulets v. Montagues]?). They used logos with their respective family crests to "rally the troops". In many ways it was like gang warfare.

St. Bernardine, taking the Gospel of Jesus seriously and being a man of his times, was inspired to become a peacemaker. He used the logo of "IHS", from the Greek word "IHCOUC" (Iesous = Jesus) in the midst of a sunburst to proclaim the Holy Name of Jesus Christ. He had some success at this, calling families and their armies to put down their arms and to reconcile.
Unfortunately, the Franciscan preacher had his detractors. This resulted in Bernardine being called before the Roman Inquisition on charges of heresy! (Some suggested that the use of the logo was tantamount to idolatry.) He was acquitted, but also chastened.

St. Bernardine never gave up, though, on preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, peace and reconciliation in the name of the Savior, and reverence for the Holy Name. He took it quite seriously when the New Testament states that there is no other name by which human beings can be saved (Acts 4:12).

St. Bernardine of Siena, OFM, by El Greco

He received permission eventually to use the logo he and the Franciscan friars had designed. Eventually others also embraced this movement and subsequently, (well after St. Bernardine) in the early 1700s, the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus was added to the Roman Calendar. The Franciscans have celebrated this on January 3rd.

(When the Roman Calendar was revised in 1969 the Memorial of the Holy Name of Jesus was removed as a universal feast of the Church [although the Franciscans continued to celebrate it]; it was restored by the late Pope John Paul II in the early 2000s, again on January 3rd).

In fact, the name Jesus comes from the Hebrew (Yehoshua; or Yeshua) and is also rendered "Joshua". It means "salvation", as in, "Yahweh saves his people". Like the peoples of ancient times and today's peoples of traditional cultures, one's name refers to what one is destined to be or do. In the Gospels which we heard and read prior to Christmas Day, we learned that Jesus is "to save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). His name reflects who he is and what his life was all about.

Scripture also promises that "all who call upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved!" (Acts 2:21; Joel 3:5a).

What about your name? What does it mean? Were you named after a relative or significant person in your family's life? Why did your parents (or other person) choose that name for YOU? Do you live up to it? Is your life fulfilling what your name means?

If you don't know what your name means, I encourage you to look it up (you can do so, of course, on the Internet). It is something you can take to the Lord in your own prayer today.