Thursday, April 30, 2009

Flu, Finances, Foreclosures, Fanatics, Farenheit -- Franciscans?

We certainly are living in "interesting times", as the fabled ancient Chinese curse puts it. Just read today that a huge section of the Anarctic ice shelf is breaking off leaving the glaciers more exposed to the ocean, which can increase their melting speed. As of today almost 170 people have died in Mexico due to the so-called "swine flu." The economic stimulus seems sluggish and US auto makers are in a very bad way. And Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean and Taliban militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan are upping the violence, plus the sectarian inter-Muslim violence spree in Baghdad, Iraq has taken scores of lives.

Swine flu news from Excelsior newspaper from Mexico City yesterday, Wednesday, 29 April 2009.

What, exactly, is happening in our world? On the one hand, probably nothing new as the Book of Ecclesiastes reminds us. Still, it seems to be a "new" reminder that we live in a very real and fragile world fraught with insecurities. Bailouts, viruses, car bombs, unemployment, homelessness -- all these have become harsh realities for so many people. Plus the horrific street gang violence in many of our cities and the brutal and "efficient" massacres of police and others over narcotrafficking along the USA -- Mexico border.

Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean this past April 2009

Even Arlen Spectre's change from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party the other day seemed to herald doom and gloom from the jilted party!

Being Gospel men, "instruments of peace" as Franciscan friars, even as Christians, can seem terribly deluded and naive, don't you think?

And yet, historically, this seems to be the climate in which Christians shine. I'm not suggesting that financial crises, droughts and famines, wars and plagues are something good! Rather, what I am pointing out is that it would seem that these become "blessed opportunities" as the Epistle of St. James teaches. Not that God sends these things -- I certainly don't abide that line of thinking. What seems to be the case is that these situations provide the proverbial "rubber meeting the road" times. Exactly how Christian am I?

I remember back in high school, my best friend who is now deceased, an evangelical Christian, talked to me about his faith often and provoked my Catholic faith by quoting the great American Baptist Evangelist, Rev. Billy Graham (whether this quote originated with him, I don't know): "If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?"

Great quote, don't you think? So, how do we respond to situations rather than react? We can fall into panic and suspicion and even direct or indirect violence against others. Will we reach out to those in need -- those whose business have succumbed to the economic collapse, those whose houses are in foreclosure, those who are afflicted with swine flu, those who are victimized by violence -- especially the poor? Or will we try and protect ourselves in our "bunkers" of propriety and self-respect?

Currency of the USA "In God we Trust?"

This is a question that every Christian, I think, needs to ponder. Certainly it is one that we Franciscans must address! And address it we are -- Franciscan men and women, young and old, throughout the world. For instance, just this past year (2008), the Franciscan friars began a mission outreach among refugees in Darfur, that part of Sudan (eastern Africa) which has witnessed untold violence and repression. Franciscans -- men and women -- are advocating for deliberate and profound positive responses, often "green" responses, to the growing global warming concerns (e.g. Antarctic ice shelf melting).

Perhaps what we as Christians, and as Franciscans in particular, can offer is hope. It is certainly what we are proclaiming this Easter Season with our cry of "Christ is Risen! Indeed he is Risen!"

Maybe this really is our opportunity to shine. The candles we lit during the Easter Vigil, all lit from the Paschal Candle, the candles that the newly baptized held, the newly confirmed clung to -- isn't this all about hope? Not a "hope" that any political leader can elicit or proclaim. It is the singular hope of those who believe -- who have encountered -- Jesus is risen from the dead!

How about choosing hope, the kind that led St. Francis of Assisi way back 800 years ago or so to ask the Lord Jesus in prayer, "Lord, what do you want me to do?"

Monday, April 20, 2009

It's Easter -- again!

Christ is risen! Indeed he is risen!

Jersualem: interior of the Holy Sepulchre, the site which the ancient Christian Churches claim to be the location of both the Crucifixion of the Lord and the Tomb from which he resurrected. This is the ornately decorated Tomb.

Among the ancient Churches which have a place in the Holy Sepulchre -- Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Roman Catholic (Franciscans), Coptic Orthodox and Ethiopian Orthodox

This past Saturday, 18 April, the Eastern Orthodox Christians throughout the world celebrated the Great Fire and the Matins of the Resurrection. Sunday, 19 April, is their celebration of Easter Sunday, or Pascha, and this is Bright Week.

The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theofil, entered into the Tomb (to the right) with some of his clergy on Saturday night and emerged with the Sacred Fire, announcing the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus! This fire is then quickly passed among the crowds of believer both inside and outside the basilica in Jerusalem and beyond, and may even be taken by plane to Greece! (how they do this with security, I don't know!)

The Franciscan friars who serve in the Holy Land (they were part of the Good Friday collection two weeks ago on 10 April) celebrate Easter according to the Gregorian calendar. The major difference between the two reckonings of Easter is this -- the Western, or Gregorian, calendar follows this principle -- Easter is the first Sunday following the full moon after the vernal equinox (i.e. 21 March). The Eastern Orthodox reckoning states that Easter must follow the Jewish Passover, and so is the first Sunday after Passover (Jesus having fulfilled the Old Covenant with Moses).

The Franciscan friars in the Holy Land abide by what is called the Status Quo, which is an agreement among the various Christian Churches to strictly follow guidelines in order to maintain peace -- among Christians! Sadly, and to the scandal of both Christian and non-Christian, there are times when the monks from the different Churches scuffle among themselves to "safeguard" territory. Personally speaking, I think it's rather crazy, but then again, I don't live there.

As Franciscans we strive to work toward Christian unity and mutual respect. What that will look like and how the Lord will realize this ancient prayer of the Church we have no idea. Nevertheless, the Lord Jesus himself prayed for this in the Gospel of John chapter 17, that all may be one. This prayer became an abiding motto for Bd. John XXIII when he called the Second Vatican Council way back in the early 1960s. And it continues to be our prayer as Church.

But, back to Easter. We join with our Eastern Orthodox Christian brothers and sisters in the joyful cry, "Christos aneste! Alithos aneste!" (Greek) "Al-Masiah Qam! Haqan Qam!" (Arabic) "Christos voskrese! Vojistinu voskrese!" (Slavonic) -- all of which are identical: Christ is risen! Indeed he is risen!"
Icon of the Myrrh-bearing women on the Day of Resurrection begin greeted by angel at the Tomb of the Lord

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Harrowing of Hell

This icon depicts what an early Christian homily for Holy Saturday describes in text-- Jesus Christ enters into the regions of the dead (Hades in Greek, technically not "hell" as a place of punishment). There the Lord Jesus, having been crucified and buried for all humanity enters into death, having tasted death for us all, and releases the captives held in the grip of death. Jesus has conquered and we can see him grasping our first parents, Adam and Eve, by their hands and lifting them from their tombs.

Byzantine icon of the Resurrecton of the Lord Jesus Christ

In the Roman Rite's Easter Vigil there is a solemn proclamation of the Lord's resurrection at the beginning of the Liturgy called the Exsultet. It uses biblical imagery from the Old Testament to describe the fulfillment of the Exodus of Israel from Egypt and the Passover in the life, passion, death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus on the Third Day. It also delcares that Christ is risen and victorious.

The same early Christian homily referred to above notes that Jesus brings into the regions of the dead the weapon of victory, his own life-giving Cross. While this particular icon does not show the Cross, it does colorfully demonstrate that Jesus stands upon the crossed tombstones of our first parents as he raises them and all the emblems of death are at his feet. Moreover, other figures from the Old Testament, Saints, are shown gathering around this scene of victory -- King David, John the Baptist, the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, the Prophets. All who from the very beginning of time have perished without conscious hope of resurrection are now participating in the Lord's resurrection!

And this is our hope, the hope of all who have lossed loved ones, who wonder aloud to God about the realities we face in this world of violence, of disease, of hunger, of terror; all who long for an end to suffering and death; all who are preparing for the embrace of what St. Francis of Assisi called "our Sister Death."

As we Christians of all the Rites of the Catholic Church, along with our Protestant brothers and sisters, prepare to celebrate the Lord's glorious resurrection (Eastern Orthodox Easter falls on next Sunday, 19 April 2009), let us remember that Jesus has conquered death; he is the victor over sin. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that is impossible for God! Sacred Scripture declares is, our liturgies celebrate it; the newly baptized profess it and we renew that profession this Easter.

Christ is risen! Indeed he is risen! We Franciscan friars join in extending to you our prayer that you and your lovedones have a very happy and even life-changing Easter.

Friday, April 10, 2009

We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world!

These words echo throughout the Church today on Good Friday. For those accustomed to praying the Stations of the Cross this is how each Station begins.

From the movie, "The Passion of the Christ" by Mel Gibson -- the Fifth Station -- Simon of Cyrene is pressed into service to help Jesus carry his cross to Calvary.

We proclaim that Jesus dies on the cross on Golgatha for the salvation of the whole human race. It is "Good" Friday because of the great good that God accomplished through Jesus' obedience even unto death, death on a cross (cf. Phil. 2:5-11). It is not in spite of the cross but actually through the cross that we have salvation.

St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians chapter 1 that "for the Jewish people the cross is a scandal and for the Greeks (Gentiles) the cross is foolishness, but to those on the way of salvation -- Jew and Gentile alike -- Christ the power and wisdom of God!"

For St. Francis of Assisi, and for successive Franciscan friars, Sisters, nuns and lay people, the Cross of the Lord has always been an invitation to repentance and to joyful (yes, joyful) penance by seeking the Lord in all things and encountering him in every circumstance of life.

From the Crucifix of San Damiano when Francis was a young man, to the design of what would become the habit in the shape of the cross, to the sign of the Tau (T) at Lateran Council IV (1215) as a mark of renewal to the great episode on Monte LaVerna toward the end of his life when he received the sacred stigmata, the cross of the Lord Jesus always impressed upon St. Francis the great condescension of God toward humanity. Such great love of such a great God!

Undeserving sinners that we are, God has never given up on us nor has God turned his back on us. St. Paul reminds us of this in Romans chapter 5 where he writes, "While we were still in our sins Christ died for us."

As we contemplate the Lord Jesus' Passion, death and burial today -- whether Roman Rite, Byzantine Rite or another Eastern Rite of the Catholic Church -- let us consider this great love of God toward us today.

It transformed the lives of the Mother of God, the Apostles and disciples of the Lord, it transformed Francis' and Clare's lives and the lives of countless saints before us.

May this Good Friday be a powerful blessing for you and may your prayer today lead you ever closer to the Lord Jesus who gave his life for us that we might have life, and have it abundantly (Jn. 10:10).

That is our Christian vocation, after all. And this is the Franciscan vocation as well. We bless you, Lord Jesus for by your very cross you have redeemed the world. We believe this, Lord, we believe. Amen.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Lord, do you intend to wash my feet, too?

This question posed by St. Peter at the Last Supper according to the Gospel of John (chapter 13) really can be a focus for us, especially in the West.

Icon of Jesus washing the discples' feet at the Last Supper

Will we allow the Lord Jesus to wash our feet? According to Middle Eastern tradition it was the role of the slave or servant to undertake this seemingly distasteful task. Jesus the Master become Jesus the Servant. And then later on in the Last Supper discourse (chapter 14) he tells his disciples that he considers them to be his friends and no longer slaves.

We have become familiar with the symbolic use of feet in the Middle East, especially since the US military involvement in Iraq. Perhaps this takes on even a more profound meaning for us. Whether it was beating the fallen statue of Sadaam Hussein with the soles of shoes, or the angry Iraqi people insulting US soldiers by showing the bottoms of their feet or the reporter throwing both of his shoes at former President Bush in Baghdad, the Middle Eastern attitude toward displaying feet is understood as a negative act.

Jesus willingly takes on a distateful ritual reserved to the lowest members of the household in preparation for undergoing the ignominious "ritual" of Roman crucifixion. And he teaches his disciples to do the same!

Tonight at the Roman Rite Mass of the Lord's Supper the priest will wash the feet of members of the congregation. It seems that whenever folks are asked to have their feet washed in this solemn ceremony they are quite reluctant to do so. There is an unease, an embarrassment about this public display of humility and even affection.

Franciscan priest kissing a parishioner's foot after having washed it

And perhaps that is exactly where we need to be -- just a bit uncomfortable! Peter was aghast that his Lord and Master would literally stoop to this act. It was, quite frankly, shocking. And then to be instructed that this is how the disciples are to relate to one another -- washing one another's feet! Not just as a ritual act but as a symbol of loving one another as Jesus has himself loved us.

As Franciscan friars we see this as our life, our vocation. It is not only in imitation of the Lord Jesus. Even more so, it is allowing Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, to animate us to live, act and behave in his name. From the time of St. Francis of Assisi's remarkable humilty in caring for lepers and also for his brothers, the Franciscans have attempted to undertake this task in cheerful love, especially among the poor, the forgotten, the isolated and the marginalized.

The Mass of the Lord's Supper, which concludes with the solemn transfer of the Holy Eucharist to the Altar of Repose, leads us to prepare for the Lord's Passion. I would like to encourage any who read this blog to take the time, whether at your parish church or at home, and continue the Gospel of John from the conclusion of the this evening's Gospel (John 13:1-15), beginning with verse 16 and continuing slowly through the following chapters of the Gospel -- 14, 15, 16 and 17 -- often called the Last Supper Discourse (that is, teaching) of Jesus.

Powerful messages for us as we enter into this Sacred Triduum -- loving one another as Jesus loves us, the promise of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the encouragement for perseverence under trial and the famous prayer of Jesus for the unity of his disciples. And more, of course.

The Agony of the Lord Jesus in the Garden of Gesthemani

Jesus washing the discples' feet leads to his own feet being crucified on Good Friday. He does this for you and for me, indeed, for the whole world.

His washing eventually transforms his disciples. If you will, it is a kind of "baptism" in which they are changed by their Master. It leads us to have the attitude of Jesus (cf. Phil. 2:1-11). The same love and compassion, the same strength and grace, the same trust in his Abba, Father (see Rom. 8:14-17).

He wants to wash your feet. Today. Now. Will you let him?

Come, Lord, and wash my feet, too. Deliver me from sin and from my own selfishness. Change my heart that I may trust you with all things in every circumstance in my life. Bring salvation, Lord Jesus, as you wash my feet even now. Lead me through these holy days of the Triduum into the victory (yes, victory!) of your Cross and Resurrection. Lord, by your Cross and Resurrection you have set me free -- you have set us free -- you are the Savior of the world. Thank you. Amen.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Passover Seder and the Eucharist

The celebration of Passover by the Jewish community today has its roots in biblical tradition. However, it is not the same celebration as was conducted by Jews at the time of the Roman occupation and the beginnings of Christianity. It reflects more of a Medieval influence.

Nevertheless, the Haggadah (Hebrew -- story) is the same, namely, God delivered the Hebrew slaves from Egyptian bondage and formed them as his Chosen People in the Sinai Desert and gave them the Torah (Hebrew -- law) through the hands of Moses at Mount Sinai.

The celebration of the the Passover is conducted as a supper and there is a seder (Hebrew -- order) to the meal and all that occurs. It is a home liturgy. The basic contents of the celebration are the meal and the story. This is accompanied by the praying of Psalms, especially Psalms 118, 135 and 136 which render thanks to God for his enduring mercy and recount Israel's liberation from slavery.

The Haggadah text on the right (Hebrew letters for Haggadah), and because Hebrew is written from right to left, the book begins from the right end rather than the left.

The traditional principal foods at the time of Jesus would have been the Passover lamb as cental, the unleavened bread, or matzoh and grape wine. The lamb was likely made into a stew to accommodate as many people as possible for the feast.

The Passover lambs were slaughtered by the priests in the Temple in Jerusalem on the day before the feast began, according to custom, and had to be completed before nightfall. In Hebrew usage, the following day begins at sunset.

By the Middle Ages, perhaps before, the Jewish community ceased using lamb for the Passover meal because in the year AD 70, to quell the Jewish Revolt, the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and razed the Temple. The current edifice, the Dome of the Rock -- or Noble Sanctuary -- the third holiest shrine in Islam, is situated on the grounds where the Jewish Temples were once located.

The Old City of Jerusalem as seen from the Mount of Olives with the Dome o f the Rock (or Noble Sanctuary) to the right, where the ancient Jewish Temples once stood. The Russian Orthodox Monastery of St. Mary Magdelene in in the foreground.

The Jewish Passover now uses a chicken in lieu of the lamb -- there is no Temple at which to sacrifice the lambs and there are no priests to conduct the ritual slaughters. It is a tribute of sacred -- and sad -- memory on behalf of the Jewish community to honor these events in such a manner. They maintain the ancient biblical mandate to keep the Passover, but historical realities have caused a reinterpretation by the rabbis as to how it is to be celebrated.

However, the shank bone of the lamb, in honor of the ancient past, is kept on the seder plate as a reminder of how the celebration was once done and is also a reminder of the hope for a renewed celebration of Pesach in the holy city of Jerusalem. Toward the end of the meal the participants cry out, Lashanah haba b'Yerushalayim! Next year in Jersualem!

Jesus, being Jewish and a rabbi, along with his Apostles, disciples and family would have been very famliar with the customs of his day, including the annual ritual slaughter of the Passover lambs in the Temple just prior to the celebration.

Compare the two separate traditions we have in the Gospels -- the Synoptic tradition (Mark, Matthew and Luke) have the Last Supper as their Passover meal while the Johannine tradition has Jesus die on the very day that the Passover lambs were being slaughtered, just before Passover actually begins.

The differences between the traditions are theological. They do not contradict the foundations of Jesus' Passion, death and resurrecton on the Third Day, nor do they deny the Holy Eucharist. John's tradition places this teaching within the Bread of Life discourse in chapter 6 while the Synoptists place it at the Last Supper on the night before Jesus' death.

Byzanitne icon of "The Mystical Supper" of Jesus with the Apostles on Holy Thursday

For us Christians the Eucharist is the New Passover, the universal Passover. What God instituted through Moses for Israel to commemorate annually the great events of the Exodus foreshadowed the deliverance God would accomplish for all humanity through Jesus Christ who was obedient to death, even death on a Cross (cf. Phil. 2:6-11).

The Mass or Divine Liturgy, then, is our seder meal; the Eucharist is our celebration -- not just annually but weekly on Sundays and even daily -- of the saving events that have brought about the gift of salvation for the whole human race. Our haggadah is the institution narrative we hear at every Celebration of the Eucharist when we believe that the simple bread and wine is transformed by the power of God's Spirit through our recounting of the event and words of the Lord Jesus into the very Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Savior.

Jesus himself is our Passover; he is the Paschal Lamb! He is our Pesach. Is this not what we hear in the Roman Rite before approaching the altar for Holy Communion? The priest, addressing the assembly, cries out, "This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world . . ." to which we respond, "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed!"

We properly honor our "elder brothers (and sisters)" as Pope John Paul II was wont to call the Jewish community in their annual celebration of God's great saving event in the formation of the House of Israel -- the Exodus. That is part of our heritage as Christians. Let us remember our Jewish brothers and sisters, then, as we celebrate the seder and recount the haggadah of our salvation in Christ this Holy Week and especially the Sacred Triduum, the Great Passover of the Son of the God of Israel.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Remembering Pesach (Passover) this Holy Week

Pope John Paul II, who served as Bishop of Rome and Pope from October 1978 until April 2005

Pope John Paul II ushered in a new era of warm relationship with the Jewish community. From the Second Vatican Council's phenomenal delaration of respect for people of other religious faiths, especially for Jews in the hailed document, Nostra Aetate (Latin for "Our Age"), there has been a gradually growing trust between the Catholic Church and the wider Jewish community.

The late Holy Father referred to Jews as "our elder brothers (and I would add, sisters)". He even took the uprecedented step of publicly acknowledging the failure of Christians in the past to respect Jews and to apologize for the wrongdoing committed in innumerable atrocities through the centuries, especially in Europe, culminating in the Holocaust rendered by the Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s.

Jewish children at Auschwitz in Nazi-occumpied Poland during the Holocaust of the Jews during the 1940s

This year 2009 we Catholics and other Christians who follow the Gregorian Calendar who are celebrating Holy Week happily coincide with the Jewish Passover (Pesach).
Pesach is the root word for what becomes translated into Greek as "Pascha" and later into Latin as "Pasch". Thus, Jesus Christ as the Paschal Lamb is the Passover Lamb for us Christians. He is the fulfillment of the Law of Moses and the Prophets. He himself is the Paschal Mystery, that great event of salvation which we solemnly celebrate annually during the Sacred Triduum (three days) leading us to Easter -- the Passion, death and resurrection of the Lord.

Pesach means "passing over", as the Book of Exodus relates when the Angel of Death, the Tenth Plague, comes upon Egypt at God's command to slay the first-born of human and beast alike. And among the humans, anyone who does not have the lintels and doorposts marked with the blood of the lamb will lose their first-born, male or female, to the Angel of Death!

Observant (i.e. religious) Jews celebrate the annual commemoration of God delivering Israel from Egyptian slavery -- the Passover meal, the plagues, the flight out of Egypt, the deliverance at the Red Sea, the giving of the Torah, the manna and quail, the water from the rock in the desert, all leading to the entry at the end of forty years into the Promised Land.

Jesus and his Apostles celebrating the Last Supper meal, which the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) portray as the Passover

For us Christians, Jesus is the fulfillment and every Eucharist is our celebration of the Passover of the Lord Jesus from death into resurrection, and our participation in that Paschal Mystery by entering into the Word of God and finally partaking of the Holy Mysteries of the Lord Jesus' Body and Blood at Holy Communion.

Monday, March 30, 2009

How's Your Lent?

A lot of times folks who are serious about engaging Lent find themselves in a real struggle. If they thought that the works of prayer, fasting and almsgiving would be easy, or, if they thought that it might be a good opportunity to practice some kind of pious "diet", I find they are often very mistaken!

Judean wilderness, between Jerusalem and Jericho, near where the Gospels (Matthew & Luke) report Jesus fasting and praying for forty days and having been tempted by the devil.

Lent is a REAL struggle! And it is supposed to be! That's the blessing, though. Not that we are fasting more or praying more or even more generous in our almsgiving. No, rather, that we are allowing the Spirit of God to move through us and to change us more and more into the glorioius image of Jesus Christ!

That is why, on the first Sunday of Lent, in each of the cycles of readings (A, B and C), we find Jesus, just after having had the exhilirating experience of his Baptism in the River Jordan, going up into the desert to pray and to fast, and to struggle.

We know that the desert is the primoridal image in the Old Testament. The Book of Exodus tells us stories of the Israelites fleeing the Egyptians which then leads them into the Sinai Desert where they wander for forty years. It is where God gives Israel the Torah at the hands of Moses the Lawgiver. The Prophet Hosea depicts God affectionately recalling the desert for the People of God as the holy place of their formation as a people belonging uniquely to God!

Like the desert of the first covenant, the desert of our Lent is a crucible in which we are re-formed as God's holy People. We prayerfully accompany those who are preparing for the Sacraments of Christian Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Eucharist). We stand together in solidarity with all penitents as we celebrate the Sacrament of Reconicilation, especially favorable during Lent.

The Prophet Moses bringing the Tablets of the Commandments to the Children of Israel from Mount Sinai.
As Franciscan friars, we have donned the "habit of penance", as our holy founder, St. Francis of Assisi, called it. We do so not out of a sense of guilt but rather in the spirit of confident assurance of God's Word which extends mercy "for ever" and "to the thousandth generation to those who fear the LORD."
Our vocation, first as Christians and lived out as friars minor ("lesser brothers") is one of trust in the Lord Jesus. We seek to be in the fire of the crucible of the Lent to be transformed by the hot fire of God's grace into the image of his glorious Son (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:18).
Perhaps the challenges of Lent 2009 have involved famiily disputes, or loss of employment or some other significant financial loss, or the loss of a friendship, or the visit of death to a loved ones. All these can be such difficult situations for us and for those whom we love and care.
Maybe it's time, then, to take stock of our Lent. Have we been looking at our Lenten penance superficially or more deeply as growing into Jesus. Maybe standing in prayer with and for those who are struggling -- in Darfur, in the Middle East, in central Africa, in our own cities and towns -- and who are suffering -- maybe this is the kind of penance (or, better, conversion!) the Lord is calling us to as our Lenten journey is drawing to a close next week. Maybe we can review the First Reading from the Friday after Ash Wednesday, Isaiah 58:1-9 and do a "check-in" with the Lord as to how we are responding to this "great season of grace" (Preface II of Lent).

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Inner Conversion -- Outer Works

St. Paul emphatically teaches that one is saved not by observance of the Law of Moses but by faith in Jesus Christ (cf. Gal. 2:16). Still, the Gospel of Matthew has Jesus teaching the crowds that not only has he come to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, not to abolish them (cf. Mt. 5:17), but also warns his followers that it is not enough to call him "Lord, Lord", but also do the will of the heavenly Father (cf. Mt. 7:21). And First John exhorts us that if we claim to love God whom we cannot see and fail to love the brother (or sister) whom we can, then we are liars! (cf. 1 Jn. 4:20).

In various places in the New Testament, both in the Gospels and in some of the Epistles, we are advised that the fulfillment of the Old Testament is to loved our neighbor as ourself (cf. Lv. 19:18b).

Conversion, or metanoia from the Greek meaning a "change of mind" (so, Mk. 1:15; Mt. 3:2 [John the Baptist] and 4:17 [Jesus]), is the universal call to think and do differently. Yesterday, for those Catholics of the Roman Rite, we heard the injunction to either "Turn from sin and believe the Gospel" or the reminder echoing the Book of Genesis, "You are dust and unto dust you shall return." (cf. Gen. 3:19c).

St. Paul reminds us we who are baptized must have a change of mind (cf. Rom. 12:2) and that, in fact, we have the mind [psyche] of Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 2:16b). And yesterday we were also reminded that "today is the acceptable time" (cf. 2 Cor. 6:2-3).

So, being a Christian -- as we all know -- is more than saying words; it is a lifetime of practice and working. We yield to God's Holy Spirit and allow the Spirit of the Living God to transform us -- our ways of thinking, our attitudes, our bad habits, our speech, our behaviors, our actions -- so that they more readily and clearly reflect the image [ikon] of Jesus Christ (cf. 2 Cor. 3:18).

Our Christian vocation is ongoing converstion into Jesus Christ. For us members of the Franciscan family, friars, Sisters, nuns and laypeople alike -- our life is one of penance in joyful response to the Lord's call. Not only to follow Jesus Christ, but to live in him and him live in us, thus following the lead from our holy founder, St. Francis of Assisi.

St. Francis of Assisi embracing the leper, through whom he encountered the Lord Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Giving Up? Giving Over!

Perhaps something for us to consider this Ash Wednesday 2009 is what we are handing over to the Lord. As Catholics, we have been well-trained (I hope!) to think about "giving up" as a means to penance. Chocolate, ice cream, alcohol, pastries, desserts . . . renouncing all of these can help us to be aware of the luxuries of life and to help increase our awareness of Lent.

We certainly fast during Lent from the Gloria and the Alleluia during our liturgical celebrations and prayer. But all the giving up, as it were, the abstaining from meat (i.e. poultry, beef, veal, pork products) on all Fridays of Lent is meant to be a signpost to us of our need to convert. And to point us to what -- that is WHO -- is really important. The Lord Jesus Christ and his Holy Gospel!

Something that is ancient, that is biblical, that is primordial in the human-divine relationship is giving over. This handing over, not as a passive resignation but an active trust into Someone else's safekeeping, this is really what we are called to. It is the basis, interestingly enough, of the Latin root for our English word tradition (in Latin, traditio). In his first Letter to the Corinthians, in both chapters 11 and 15, St. Paul writes to the Christian Church there, "I hand on to you what I myself received, namely . . ." (1 Cor. 11:23; 15:3). He hands over, in trust and safekeeping, to the Corinthian Christians from whom he has been absent, the deposit of faith and the right practice of that faith.

Handing over is actually a choice for life. Jesus does so continually during his ministry, culminating in the Agony in the Garden and his death on the Cross -- for the life of the world, for our salvation. The Eucharist is our frequent celebration of this handing over.

Our handing ourselves over to the Lord is not some kind of "human sacrifice." Although it is, indeed, a sacrifice, it is us allowing the Lord to be Lord, to be Savior, to be who Jesus says he is in our lives. And it's allowing the promise of our Baptism to be once again renewed and fulfilled in us!

We see St. Francis of Assisi and St. Clare of Assisi do this frequently in their lives, both in imitation of Jesus and even moreso in response to his call. It is the vocation of every Christian to hand ourselves over to the Lord. Our Franciscan vocation impels us to do this, to be a people of penance, so that we are not only giving up what is unnecessary, but giving over in hope and trust to the One who has saved us and who never gives up loving us.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Beyond Mardi Gras -- Entering Lent 2009

Here we go again! We enter into the Great Fast (so the Eastern Churches) or Lent this new year of 2009.

As Catholics, along with many Orthodox and even several Protestants, we are commemorating the 2000th anniversary of the birth of St. Paul the Apostle (Saul of Tarsus).

What do these two have to do with one another? It's about conversion. In his epistles the Apostle periodically refers to his own conversion, although obliquely so. He does mention that he was a persecutor of the Church until the Lord Jesus himself definitively affected his life.

I remember in high school when my best friend, an evangelical Protestant, asked me a question that both shook me and piqued my curiosity, "Joachim, do you know Jesus Christ?" I answered him, "Well, I go to church on Sundays," to which he replied, "That's now what I asked."

So, I asked myself that question. I think that is one of the aspects of St. Francis of Assisi that really attracted me, and still does. He knew Jesus; not just knew about Jesus! It was later on that I began to appreciate that I, too, could know Jesus Christ. But knowing the Lord is not just about saying the right prayer or practicing some kind of ritual.

No, rather, it's about growing in a relationship with him. And that is ongoing conversion, something that all of us Christians are called by the Lord to do. As Church we have this wonderful opportunity to do this through the ancient biblical practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving (giving to the poor).

As Franciscan friars, we were originally called the "Penitents of Assisi." Not as self-punishment, but rather, following the inspiration of both St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi, to seek the Lord as our highest good and to pursue him before all others. Having Jesus first in our lives, that's what penance, repentance and conversion is all about.
Being focused on God's Word -- allowing that Word who became Incarnate for us and for our salvation -- is the "center of gravity" of Christian conversion, knowing the Lord.

For Byzantine Rite Catholics who began the Great Fast this past Sunday night at Forgiveness Vespers or Roman Rite Catholics -- and other Western Christians -- who will begin Lent tomorrow with Ash Wednesday, maybe it is time for us to prayerfully consider if we know the Lord. Do our words show it? Do our actions demonstrate it?

For those being marked with ashes tomorrow on our foreheads, and for those who have already begun the Great Fast, perhaps we can enter into this great season of conversion together toward Easter with renewed purpose and vigor to seek the Lord and come through this holy season knowing Jesus more fully. Just like St. Paul the Apostle and St. Francis of Assisi!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Two Men Sharing the Same Birthday Who Changed the World

Just think of it. Two men whose life work and ideas in the 19th century changed the course of human history and human thinking.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) and Charles Darwin (1809-1882) both shared the same day of birth which was commemorated last week, 12 February 1809.

Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States of America

Charles Darwin, father of the theory of evoltion

One was born in rural Kentucky in the newly formed United States of America and the other in England of practicing Christian parents. In fact, Charles Darwin's father was a pastor and hoped that his son would follow in his footsteps.

Each followed a very different path than may have been originally anticipated or expected. Lincoln had difficulty in the mercantile profession of rural Illinois, where he would eventually have greater success as a self-taught lawyer. Darwin was a botanist and zoologist -- more curious than anything. He wanted to know what made living things "tick" -- how they worked and why they were the way they were.

Each ended up radically shifting the course of history. Abraham Lincoln eventually won the presidency of the USA at the time of the secession of the Confederate States in the south was being realized. His dream and purpose was to keep the union whole, even to the point of engaging in the War Between the States (so the South) or the Civil War (so the North).

Charles Darwin, traveling across the world on the H.M.S. Beagle, became convinced of the interconnectedness of all living things through what he would eventually call "evolution." This theory of the beginnings of life on our planet was written under the title, The Origin of Species. It really wasn't until the early 20th century that Darwin's theory began to take hold -- after Gregor Mendel's experiments with genetics, along with others who exprimented similarly, were published. Gregor Mendel, by the way, was a Catholic Augustinian friar from Austria.

For Lincoln, what began as a manifest struggle to hold the country whole resulted in his famous Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, following the Battle of Gettysburg, in which he declared that all African-Americans who were held as slaves should be considered as free individuals. While held high for its lofty aims, it was also a pragmatic piece of literature to incite slaves to revolt and help destabilize the South. Apparently President Lincoln invited Frederick Douglass, the freed slave cum abolitionist to the White House to discuss this and to promote it.

But his incisive proclamation paved the way for the end of institutionalized slavery in this country. It wouldn't do away with the "Jim Crow" laws which followed Reconstruction in the South and subsequent institutionalized segregation. That would not be resolved, at least officially, until the Civil Rights Movement in the middle of the following century.

Charles Darwin's comments and inductive reasoning landed him to be hailed as an enlightenment among many in the scientific community and vilified by many in the religious (especially Protestant Christian) community. His insights and seemingly irrefutable evidence pointed to something quite different than a literal interpretation of Sacred Scriptures of both the Jewish and the Christian communities of faith.
Holding the Judeo-Christian understanding of creation and the theory of evolution in tension has been the struggle for many believers. Some outright deny the possibility of evolution. Others deny the possibility of creation and even a Creator. Some other subscribe to the notion of "intelligent design." Others have no problem whatsoever holding the two together -- creation by God through the means of evolution. And even those who subscribe to evolution note that their understanding of what is evolving and how these processes occur disagree.
What these two men leave us with, though, is a remarkable sense of hope. They never knew one another, although I would suspect that they heard of one another and what the other thought and did. But the hope that they offered -- in Lincoln's famous Gettysburg Address and the aforementioned proclamation, and Darwin's great studies of living things and fossils in nature -- show us the beauty of human life, the great variety of all living things on our planet, the great purpose of the struggle for freedom and the dignity of reconciling one's enemies, as Lincoln did at the end of the bloodiest conflict in our nation.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Denying the Holocaust -- A Frightening Scandal

How can a bishop deny the truth? This one has heads around the world shaking in disbelief. The sad reality is that Bp. Richard Williamson of the Society of St. Pius X publicly denied that the "Holocaust" as such ever took place.

Arrest of Polish Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II

When Bp. Williamson, originally from Great Britain, went on Swedish TV and publicly denied that millions upon millions of Jews perished under the Nazi regime throughout Central, Western and Eastern Europe, an international outrcy went up.

Thankfully, over the course of several weeks, our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI weighed in to affirm the sobering reality of the Shoah ("holocaust" in Hebrew) and denounce any denial thereof.

In Germany it is a crime to deny the reality of the Holocaust that occured in Europe when the Nazis came to power. Adolph Hitler became Chancellor of Germany and began the anti-Jewish practices that resulted in the "Final Solution" of the Jews. There were others whom the Nazis persecuted -- homosexuals, Roma (gypsies), Masons, Jehovah's Witnesses, communists, trade unionists. But by far the attempt to eliminate Jews from Europe, even from the face of the earth, was the Nazi plot of the so-called "Master Race".

Survivors of Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp in southern Poland. The camp was liberated by the Soviets in 1945

My Dad, Joseph AR Studwell, Jr. was an MP with Gen. Patton's Third Army during World War II. After the concentration camp at Buchenwald was liberated by the Allies, he entered the camp and told me as I was growing up the gruesomeness of the camp. He had a photo of himself and another MP taken by the bodies of the victims of Nazi atrocity. (I don't have that photo readily available for this blog).

The sad reality with which we still have to deal is anti-Semitism and racism in all its ugly and evil facets. Truth, even when negated, does triumph. Even sadder, though, is when it exists among people who claim to believe in Jesus Christ. How odd that the Messiah of Israel, himself a Jew, becomes coopted by those who would deny the reality of the Holocaust.

Pope Benedict XVI and many, many bishops in communion with him have decried the untruthful comments that have resulted in scandal provoked by Bp. Williamson's remarks. This is also "anti-life", and disgracefully from within the Christian community.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

We've Got to do Something! But What?

Seems like old times, doesn't it? Democrats and Republicans wrangling (again!) about the economy. So much for "change;" at least so far.

Sen. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Rep. Harry Reid (D-NV) at a press conference advocating the Decomcrats' nearly $800,000,000,000.00 (that's approaching $1 trillion!) Stimulus Package.

Democrats are touting this as necessary, although imperfect, to get the economy going again. Republicans tend to disparage it as inconsequential and a huge waste of government funds.

One very practical question, of course, is where is the money coming from? Our government is already in deep debt to China. And the rest of this economic business becomes foggier and foggier to figure out. We rely on "experts" of economy, who don't necessarily agree with one another. Depends to which Party one subscribes and promotes, I suppose.

Nevertheless, any Stimulus Package, any antidote to a toxic economy that is malfunctioning must always take into consideration the effects on human lives. In a very real way, at least for people of an ethical conscience, be they believers or others, the economy is meant to serve humanity, not humanity at the service of the economy.

Regardless of one's economic theory(ies) or school(s) of thought, it must never be forgotten nor forsaken that so many human beings' lives have been adversely affected -- loss of employment, loss of livelihood, loss of homes, loss of credit, loss of savings, loss of retirement, loss of businesses -- all these add up to people, especially those who are older and therefore more vulnerable, suffering through the ignominy and grief of loss.

As Franciscan friars, we stand in solidarity with all those who are struggling and who are suffering the weight of grief. Our charism, a gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church, and to the world, mediated through the person of St. Francis of Assisi, is to accompany those who are being cast aside through this economic downturn of the last half year or so.

Beginning with property speculations and the bubble that burst and all its subsidiary effects, we have seen the reality of human greed. It's seamy and it's ugly. Greed has no concern for the other, for human life. It respects no one; it is completely self-centered.

Generosity, on the other hand, is life-giving, as its root suggests. St. Francis, inspired by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, wanted to be generative and so became generous. He wanted to live completely for the Lord Jesus.
Greed seduces us into the lull of self satisfaction. Generosity leads us beyond ourselves, away from the pit of self preoccupation into communion. This is what the late Pope John Paul II wrote and again what the current Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI teaches.

Bro. Andy Brophy, OFM at St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Greenwood, MS with parishioners.
Simply put, it's Gospel! And that is life. Perhaps coming through the murkiness of this current economic situation we can learn to be generous and to advocate those values for the economy that are virtuous; those values which respect human life and the goodness of being human. remembering that the economy serves humanity, not the other way around.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Momentous Days and Heady Events in January 2009

Within two days in January 2009 two spectacular and outstanding events occurred in Washington, DC. The first African-American president of the United States of America was sworn into office and the thirty-sixth anniversary of Roe v. Wade was commemorated.

Each event gathered thousands upon thousands to our nation's capital to bear witness.

The first, on Tuesday 20 January, to see a man who rose from relative obscurity in Illinois and who became a US Senator from that State to run for and achieve the highest elected office in the land.

The second, on Thursday 22 January, was to demonstrate on behalf of the inalienable right to life of the unborn and to commemorate the millions of unborn children who have perished in this nation over the last thirty-six years.

However, a bit of a conflict emerges. The first Black US president in our nation's history is also avidly pro-choice! He has both spoken and acted on behalf of a woman's "right to choose" to have an abortion.

The US Catholic bishops have found themselves in a bit of a quandary. While it is a time for celebration for the historic event of the first it is also a sobering reminder of the need for work for the second.

As Franciscan friars, we try to see all events as opportunities for God's grace. The waves of boistrous applause and cheers on the National Mall that frigid Tuesday displayed a unity of peoples of all races, ethnic backgrounds and socio-economic realities. The March for Life two days later expressed a profound frustration at the current reality of both the US government's change of policy to liberalize abortions and a hope. The hope is born, really, of the Gospel of Jesus.

That is what we Franciscans proclaim -- the Gospel of Jesus Christ! While we can celebrate on the one hand with peoples of various religious and historical backgrounds we also can speak the truth of the invioable right to life for every human being.

With the US Catholic bishops we can call for an ongoing dialog so that, according to our newly inaugurated president, "abortions become rare." We certainly hope that this is not empty rhetoric. We also pray for a change of heart -- from an apparent obstinancy toward the right to life "in utero" to embracing these unborn fetuses as human persons, given life by their Creator.

This, of course, calls everyone in the Right to Life movement, Catholics and other Christians and those of other faith traditions or no faith tradition, to take stock of what can be done to promote human life throughout so that, indeed, abortions not only become rarer, they become non-existent.

Pre-natal help for expectant mothers; care for children who are born to mothers who are addicted to drugs and/or alcohol; care for mothers who are incapable, for whatever reason, to care for their own children; increasing responsiblility among all people in the USA toward sexual behavior, regardless of one's religious affiliation; a civil debate about women's concerns regarding their bodies and human reproduction; the reality of the devastating effects of medically induced abortions on the human fetus, the mother and other family members; and so much more.

Perhaps we can take President Obama's inaugural address to heart "to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off" and begin again. St. Francis of Assisi is quoted as saying something similar toward the end of his life. "Brothers, let us begin, for up till now we have done very little."

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Weekend to Remember: MLK and Interfaith Cooperation

From Bro. Jason Welle, OFM -- St. Joseph Friary, Chicago, IL (recently solemnly professed friar minor of the Assumption BVM Province; student at Catholic Theological Union [CTU] and preparing for ordination)

For the month of January, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to spend some time working with the Interfaith Youth Core, a non-profit based here in Chicago. IFYC was founded to promote religious pluralism, meaning proactive cooperation between persons of different religious convictions, to build a healthier and more peaceful world.

Their staff is a fun and interesting mix of Christian evangelicals, Jews, Muslims, and young adults from other traditions. I’ve come to believe deeply in one of founder Eboo Patel’s fundamental insights: institutions matter. Agents of intolerance and hatred in our world seek out young people to indoctrinate them; if we consider ourselves agents of peace and cooperation, we must seek to mentor, guide, and shape the young people of our world in ways that will enable them to share the space and resources of our world as brothers and sisters.

On Sunday I participated in Poetry Pals, a program that brings grade school children from different religions together to read and write poetry. Jewish and Christian kids came together at the synagogue across the street from Barack Obama's house and read parts of MLK's "I Have a Dream" speech, then wrote poems about their dreams for the future of our world. It was a very moving experience--even though these kids have only gotten together a couple times, you can clearly see the friendships forming and the bridges building!

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (+1968) who along with many others struggled for Civil Rights for African-Americans in the late 1950s into the 1960s

We get together again next month…and I’ve been coerced into bringing my guitar so that we can sing together for that one… Later that day, I went up to the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston for a showing of Encounter Point, a documentary about Israeli and Palestinian peace groups. Teenagers from the Islamic Foundation School in Villa Park joined teens from JRC and led a discussion afterwards about the factors inhibiting peace, both here and abroad.
St. Francis of Assisi before the Sultan in Damietta, Egypt during the Fifth Crusade (by Giotto, 13th cent. in the Basilica of St. Francis, Assisi, Italy)

It was very meaningful to me to participate in the event as a Franciscan. Our friars have been such an important presence in the Holy Land for centuries, and a Palestinian Muslim pointed me out and told the story of St. Francis visiting the Sultan during the fifth crusade, without me saying a word! The teens were moved by the afternoon--not just the film itself, but the wonderful hospitality we received at the synagogue.

I didn't realize until I was driving home that on Sunday, I think I visited more synagogues (two) than my parents have in their entire lives! We're forming teens for whom it's not strange to reach out and visit someone else's place, and for whom it's not strange to invite someone else to their place. Hospitality is a core value that must transform the current narratives; I'm thrilled that the JRC helped us take a step in that direction.

IFYC uses service learning as a primary method for building pluralism: bringing young people from different religious traditions together for service projects, followed by discussion and reflection on the values and stories from their traditions that promote and give meaning to that service. In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., we promoted several service projects across Chicagoland.

On Monday, I joined several other IFYC staff and two dozen teens volunteering for Open Books, a nonprofit social venture that operates an extraordinary bookstore, provides community programs, and mobilizes passionate volunteers to promote literacy in Chicago and beyond. We gathered at their off-site warehouse, where they store many of the donated books they receive before processing them for resale. We sorted hundreds of boxes of book into different categories and re-boxed them in a more manageable form, saving the Open Books staff weeks of work and speeding the time when we can get these books into the hands of eager readers!

Part of the joy of the afternoon came in a couple funny things that went wrong...the pipes had frozen in the building, so we had to use a bathroom at a Dunkin Donuts down the street. We ran out of packing tape halfway through the afternoon and had to make a run to the store. But the beauty of it was that the volunteers didn't mind! We just kept sorting away, and we had so much fun chatting about all the many strange titles passing through our hands that the time sped by!

The group with whom Bro. Jason Welle, OFM spent time remembring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Chicago, January 2009

It was an honor to remember Dr. King, such a forward-thinking and learned man, by participating in a program to advance literacy among youth and adults. Service doesn’t take its meaning solely from what we’re able to accomplish, but from the friendships we forge in the process.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Week of Prayer for Vocations -- 2009

St. Francis of Assisi praying before the Cross of San Damiano about his vocation
Giotto, 13th cent. Basilica of San Francesco in Assisi

This week is the annual time of prayer for vocations to the religious life and ordained ministry in the Catholic Church.

Vocation comes from the Latin word "vocare", meaning "to call." There are several Scriptural references telling us about God calling individuals. Abraham, Moses, Naomi, Samuel, Mary, the Twelve Apostles, St. Mary Magdelene, St. Paul (Saul) the Apostle. These are but some names (one could think of Samson, Esther and St. John the Baptist, too).
God continues to call men and women to the consecrated life within the Church. Even from the earliest times in the history of the Church God has been selecting individuals for himself. Most are called to the married life and to be consecrated to the Lord within his Church through this vocation.
At the same time, God has faithfully been calling certain others to the prophetic way of life. People are not called for themselves, however. Looking at the Sacred Scriptures and the lives of the Saints, it becomes very obvious that God calls people to himself for the life of the world. The ancients and the moderns both had to learn that God calls us for others, for his Church.
Abraham is called to be a blessing (cf. Gen 12); Moses is called to lead Israel from slavery (cf. Ex 3); Mary of Nazareth, is called to be the Mother of God and to bring the Word of God incarnate into the world (cf. Lk 1); St. Mary Magdalene is called to be the "apostle to the apostles" (cf. Jn 21; Pope John Paul II); St. Paul is called to be the Apostle to the Gentiles (cf. Acts 9).
St. Francis of Assisi and St. Clare of Assisi were each called to be a force of renewal in the Medieval Church. The Franciscan family continues to try to respond to God's call to proclaim God's grace in our broken and wounded world. Each generation needs the saving and healing power of Jesus Christ because the human reality remains the same although it may take a different form from generation to generation.
In the midst of human suffering we Franciscans are still being called to be bearers of Jesus' Good News and to proclaim his peace and good to a cynical generation, to be men and women who help to repair the Lord's house -- his People!
How is God calling you? What is his "vocare" for your life? Are you willing to listen? Like St. Francis and St. Clare, will you ask him, "Lord, what do you want for my life?" If you do, don't worry, your life will change -- it will be the adventure of faith -- for good!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Franciscan Friars Gather to Prepare for the Order's 800th Anniversary

The Franciscan family around the world is gearing up to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the Rule of St. Francis of Assisi this coming 16 April 2009. That's the traditional date given for the vows of our holy founder in 1209 before Pope Innocent III at the St. John Lateran Cathedral in Rome.

San Damiano outside the walls of the city of Assisi where St. Francis heard the Lord Jesus call him to repair his home.

Members of the various American provinces of the Order of Friars Minor have gathered in Las Cruces, NM at Holy Cross Retreat Center for a week-long retreat being given by Fr. Michael Blastic, OFM of Holy Name Province in New York City.

The US provinces represented are Our Lady of Guadalupe (Albuquerque, NM), the hosting province, Sacred Heart (St. Louis, MO), Holy Name Province (as above), the Commissariat of the Holy Land (Washington, DC), St. John the Baptist Province (Cincinnati, OH), St. Barbara Province (Oakland, CA) and my province of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Franklin, WI). There's also a friar from the St. Mary of the Angels Province in Krakow, Poland who is studying in Washington, DC!

It's a good refresher for all of us Franciscan friars, both young and old, veterans and newly professed friars to consider their respective vocations as friars minor ("lesser brothers"). Fr. Michael Blastic recommended and provided gratis for the friars a relatively small book called, A Study of the Rule of 1223: History, Exegesis and Reflection. It is published by the Holy Name Province of Franciscan Friars.

The San Damiano Cross (now housed in the Basilica of Santa Chiara within the City of Assisi), about six feet tall, which spoke to St. Francis of Assisi calling him to repair his house.

It's been a good reflection, as I stated above, to consider our vocation -- our call from the Lord to be lesser brothers in a viiolent world fraught with greed. Fr. Michael has been juxtaposing the reality of 13th century Assisi with our own reality of early 21st century USA. Lots of similarities! Human life deals with the same or at least similar realities and challenges.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Holy Theophany! Christ is Baptized -- in the Jordan!

Today and tomorrow the Catholic Church of the Roman Rite celebrate the Baptism of the Lord Jesus Christ in the River Jordan by the hand of the great Forerunner, Prophet and Baptist John.

This celebration in the Eastern Churches, especially those of the Byzantine Rite (Rusyn, Melkite, Romanian, Ukrainian, Bylorussian, Russian and Greek -- those in communion with the Church of Rome) call this the Holy Theophany of Our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ.

The Eastern Orthodox (those Eastern Byzantine Churches not in communion with Rome -- Russia, Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, Constantinople, Ukraine, Cyprus, Albania, Romania, Bylorus and Antioch in Syria) also call this feast the "theophany"", but celebrate it on a different day according to the Julian Calendar (predating the calendar we use today in the West, the Gregorian Calendar from the 16th century).

The word "theophany" means the manifestation of God, and differs from the Western Church (Roman Catholic and those of the Protestant Reform which follow a liturgical calendar) "epiphany". For Western Christians the Epiphany celebrates the manifestation of God through the visitation of the Magi -- Gentiles coming from the East, according to the Gospel of Matthew.

Theophany refers to the manifestation of God in the flesh at the Jordan River when the Most Holy Trinity is revealed for the first time -- the Son is baptized in the River by John the Forerunner; the voice of the Father is heard over the waters; the Holy Spirit descends upon the Son in the form of a dove.

In the Eastern Catholic Churches (most of which follow the Gregorian calendar), the celebration of Holy Theophany falls on January 6th; in the West this is the traditional date of Epiphany. For both Eastern and Western Catholics, this is a traditional date for blessing homes.