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?"

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