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.