Thursday, May 7, 2015

Pope Francis, a Globetrotter?

Various news outlets, including the Boston Globe's "Crux," had the story of Pope Francis' encounter with the world famous Harlem Globetrotters.  The team presented His Holiness with a team T-shirt, with his name and his own number on it!  A team member then tried to teach Pope Francis the technique of spinning a basketball on one's finger.  Let us just say, that His Holiness needs to practice a little more before he joins the team on the road!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

I Could Fly to Assisi












Where would I go if could be immediately transported somewhere?  I and other bloggers were challenged to write a post, answering this question.

I would like to be soaring over the green Umbrian countryside of Italy, like a brown sparrow, heading towards the small Italian city of Assisi.  It is an ancient city; most of the buildings were built during the Middle Ages, still being occupied.  I am heading towards a large Catholic Basilica, the Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi, the last resting place of Saint Francis of Assisi.

Saint Francis was born Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, the son of a wealthy cloth merchant.  His father, who made his money selling fine cloth to French merchants, nicknamed his son Francesco as a tribute to the French.  Francis was the city playboy; it was not a party if Francis was not invited.  He was a social climber, who longed to belong to the nobility, to become a knight.  He was a soldier, a prisoner of war, a veteran who was broken in body and soul.  And because of his brokenness, Jesus Christ entered into Francis’ heart; and Francis experienced a conversion, a conversion to the Gospel life.  He began to give his money to any poor person who asked for alms.  He went among the lepers, caring for them, washing their sores, and binding them with bandages.  In the solitude of caves, he began to develop a deep spiritual, prayer life.  He reflected on the gospels, he entered into an intimate relationship with God.  Francis strived to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

He gave away everything he owned, dressed like a beggar, in a grey, brownish robe.  He went about serving the poor, preaching in the streets, and marketplaces; proclaiming to all who would listen to him; that God loved them all.  Men, who heard his words, saw his lifestyle, were drawn to Francis, and soon he had twelve followers.  Twelve became a hundred; the hundred became thousands, all promising to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ, according to the example of Saint Francis.  They became the Order of Lesser Brothers, Order Friars Minor.  Women, like Clare of Assisi, were also drawn to this Troubadour of Christ.  With Clare, he formed a contemplative community of women, the Poor Ladies of Assisi, now known as the Poor Clares.  There were other men and women, farmers and tradesmen, wives and seamstresses, who also wanted to live the Gospel, and sought Francis’ guidance.  They became the Brothers and Sisters of Penance, the Third Order of St. Francis; today known as the Secular Franciscan Order.

I became attracted to St. Francis during my third and last year at the archdiocesan seminary.  I had decided to take years’ leave from the seminary; I spent the year with a Christian ecumenical organization which provided worship services in the National Parks.  I was sent to Yellowstone NP, lead services during the weekend, worked in the kitchen the rest of the time.  And in the midst of all that natural beauty, I read about Francis and the Franciscan life.  After two years, I entered formation to become a Friar.  I was to realize that God had another path for me, so I left the Friars, but the Franciscan spirit was already embedded in my heart.  I would later join the Secular Franciscan Order; I have been a professed member for over 25 years.  And I am always wishing I had the means to make a pilgrimage to Assisi, to visit that Basilica.

Francis died on the evening of October 3, 1226, at the age of 44 years old.  He was canonized a saint in 1228.  The friars were already beginning the construction of the Basilica.  The best architects, artisans and artists, the pioneers of the Italian Renaissance, were brought onto the project.  The Basilica was constructed in two levels, the upper church with vaulted ceilings, and large stain glass windows.  The lower church is more enclosed, but both levels are covered with beautiful frescoes, painted by Italian master artists.  The Basilica is considered an international treasure.  However, when the Basilica was finished; the Friars buried Francis in secret; for fear that rival cities would try to steal the remains.  They did such a good job hiding the burial site, that Francis’ body was lost until 1819.  When the burial site was rediscovered, a new crypt was constructed under the lower church.  The crypt has a small chapel, with an altar.  Above the altar is a stone coffin, containing the bones of St. Francis.  It is bound with iron straps, and an iron grill over the entrance.  The walls of the crypt are bare stone, simple, unadorned.  It is there I wish I could sit, contemplating, in the dim light, the last resting place of a man who continues to inspire Christians and non-Christians.  And in the stillness of that place, maybe I can hear a whisper, wishing me and all who come there: “Pace e Bene!”  “Peace and Good!”




Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Reflection on the Easter Vigil - 2015

Mass.  The church was built in the late 1800’s; it has high vaulted ceilings, large stain glass windows, dark wood pews.  Even with the all the church lights on, it is very dim inside.  I am assisting as a deacon at the Mass; I have been the responsibility of chanting the great Easter hymn, “the Exsultet,” which takes about 9 minutes to chant.  And I really do not want to muck it up!  From the sacristy, I stand in the sanctuary of the church, and pray: “My Risen Lord, be with me this night!  All good I am able to do to because of your grace; may your Spirit be within me!”  At that moment, I experience something, I cannot describe; I am rooted in that place, and for a few seconds I am not aware of what is happening around me.  The feeling passes and I go back into the sacristy.

The church has some fine vestments, for the evening Mass, I put on a gold and white dalmatic, the deacon’s vestment.  It feels stiff to me; I usually wear only an alb and stole.  The priests and the other deacon, Michael, also vest.  We then head to the back of the church, as the lights begin to go out.  By the time we are ready, the entire church is in darkness.  Father Mark lights a fire in a brazier, by the light of that fire, he blesses the Easter Candle; from the fire he draws a flame to light the Candle.  The fire is extinguished, the only light that pierces the darkness in the church, is the flame of the Easter Candle.  Deacon Michael lifts the Candle, and he and I walked down the main aisle.  Deacon Michael stops, lifts high the Candle; and I intone: “Lumen Christi!”  The choir and the congregation respond: “Deo Gratias!”  Then from that one Candle, the light is shared with dozens of other candles, points of light begins to spread throughout the darken church.  Twice we stop, twice I chant “Lumen Christi,” twice the light is shared, until the entire church is full of points of light.  The Easter Candle in placed in its stand, next to the pulpit. 

I climb into the pulpit, open my binder, take a deep breath, and sing out: “Exult, let them exult, the hosts of heaven,….Rejoice, let Mother Church also rejoice, arrayed with the lightning of his glory, let this holy building shake with joy, filled with the mighty voices of the peoples.”


“Christ is Risen!”  He is Risen Indeed!”

Monday, March 30, 2015

Palm Sunday, Beginning of Holy Week - 2015

Yesterday, March 29, 2015, Passion (Palm) Sunday, I began my third Holy Week as an ordained Deacon.  I assisted at Mass at two of the three parishes that make up the Beverly Catholic Collaborative.  At the beginning of each Mass, there was the blessing of the palms, followed by my proclaiming the Gospel reading according to Mark; of Jesus’ triumphant entrance into the city of Jerusalem.  Crowds gathered around Him, shaking palm branches, and yelling out “Hosanna,” and proclaiming that the Kingdom of David was at hand.  Yet, during that same liturgy, we would hear the Passion of Jesus Christ according to Matthew; during which the crowds are now yelling out, “Crucify Him!”   

The five weeks of Lent were meant to be a time to prepare for this Holy Week, for in many ways, this week will be the most challenging of the Church’s liturgical year.  We are to recall the events that lead to the Crucifixion of Jesus, and to His Resurrection.  We are being challenged to reflect more deeply and personally on what those events mean to our world, our Church and for ourselves personally.  We are being summoned to; if just for this week, live a life of intensive prayer and meditation.  We are being challenged to open our minds, our hearts and our souls to the presence of our Resurrected Savior, and be willing to be transformed by Him; transformed into bearers of the Good News.  Evangelizers, by word and deed; to let others know of the love and mercy of our God!


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

An Old Argument Re-Surfaces, Communion in the Hand!

A long time ago, I was reading an issue of “Saint Anthony’s Messenger,” published by the Franciscan Friars.  I was scanning the comment letters, when I saw a letter in which the writer was complaining about a previous magazine cover depicting a woman holding a communion host in her cupped hands.  The writer was outraged that a Catholic magazine who depict a layperson (cannot remember if he made reference to gender) holding a consecrated Host.  The writer went on to state that because of this practice, the Eucharist was being demeaned in the eyes of the faithful.  Well, this letter got my dander up (I still had hair at the time!), and I wrote a reply, which actually was published.  As I recall what I wrote, I am sure I stressed that receiving on the tongue, or in the hand, were both valid choices.  What upset me, and continues to upset me, are those who believe that I am desecrating the Eucharist, when I receive in the hand.  For me, it is the greatest honor, the greatest joy, to be able to receive my Eucharistic Lord, in my hands.  To realize that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, loved me; loved all of us so much, that He humbles Himself each day to be with us, to feed and strengthen us.  He is willing be present in simple bread and wine, so He can be one with us.  This realization for me is awesome!

All this came to mind when I saw an article by Mathew N Schmalz, a contributor to the website Crux.  He also was commenting on how divisive how one receives Communion has become.  It is becoming a litmus test, a way to determine if you are for Vatican II reforms or against them.  Are you a “traditionalist,” or a “liberal” Catholic?  Do you believe in the sacredness of the Eucharist or not?  What should be the highest experience of Christ’s Presence among, has become just another theological or liturgical argument!


Since I was ordained as a deacon in 2012, I have distributed Communion at many, many Masses.  The vast majority of those who come forward to receive Communion come with their right hand cradled in their left hand.  Many approach me with a look of anticipation, a look of reverence in their eyes, as they receive the Body of Christ in their hands.  There are some who do come up to me and receive the Host on their tongues.  I see the same sense of reverence, in their eyes and in their voices, as they say “Amen,” and I place the Host on their tongue.  Whatever way we chose to receive the Eucharist, it is vitally important that we remember who it is we are receiving, and be open to His Eucharistic Presence.

Monday, March 16, 2015

A House Divided

March 13, 2015, was the third anniversary of the election of Pope Francis, as the supreme head of the Roman Catholic Church.  As he enters the third year of his pontificate, he appears to enjoy a great deal of support from the vast majority of the world’s Catholics.  However, on the opposite sides of the theological, ecclesiastical spectrum, there is a divided opinion.

When conservatives heard that the cardinals had elected a South American Pope, and a Jesuit no less; there were some who started getting a little nervous.  When he came out in just the white papal  cassock, throwing election night protocol to the winds, conservatives became increasingly concerned.  When traditionalists heard that he was not occupying the papal quarters; saw him adopting simpler vestments, compared to the liturgical finery of his predecessor; they were up in arms!
 
Then there were Pope Francis’ homilies, off the cuff remarks, and his actions towards reforming the Curia, the papal bureaucracy.  Not taking an extreme hard line approach against those who disagreed with the Church teachings on sexual matters, abortion, and homosexuality; while at the same time, denouncing the negative effects of a freewheeling capitalist system; caused some conservative commentators to question the legitimacy of his election.  Career bureaucrats in the Curia are upset over Pope Francis charges of clericalism, and cronyism in the Vatican.  They see his efforts to reform the way financial affairs are handled, as a threat to their way of patronage.  His intentions to introduce more laity, especially women, into the Vatican offices, are equally seen as threatening the curial lifestyle.

Now on the left, many saw Pope Francis as one of them, and expected a wholesale change of Church’s teachings on women’s ordination, sexual morals, homosexuality, and on divorce and remarriage.  And they were extremely disappointed when none of that happened, and with the Pope’s indications that such radical changes was unlikely to happen under his watch.  There are survivors of sexual abuse by clergy who feel that this Pope has not moved fast enough to implement worldwide protections for children, or to hold any bishops accountable for covering up the clergy abuse scandal.  Many are disheartened at the slow pace of the reform of the Curia.  There is a feeling among left wing Catholic reformists, that Pope Francis is all fluff and no substance.


Now I think the conventional wisdom is that when both extremes of a social spectrum are against you, you must be doing something right.  There are many commentators in the middle, one of them being John Allen of the Boston Globe’s website Crux, who feel that Pope Francis has already achieved much.  His reform of the Vatican’s financial system is in place, despite one curalist attempt to weaken it.  His council of cardinals, who are advising him on how to reform the Curia, has presented suggestions that have been discussed with all of Church’s cardinals.  The Synod of Bishops will convene again to discuss the status of the family in the Church and the world.  And Pope Francis continues to encourage open discussion on these and other topics among the Church’s bishops.  Where this will lead, no one is sure.  This will be a test of whether the Pope will continue to be a collegial shepherd, or be the Supreme Pontiff, enforcing his will on the bishops.  John Allen has written an interesting column on what we could see on what the third year of this pontificate might bring.  Strap in folks, this could be quite a ride!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Walking the Way of the Cross




This past Friday, I was given the opportunity to lead people in the Stations of the Cross.  The devotion was held at St. Mary Star of the Sea Church, in downtown Beverly, MA.  The church is old, big, the interior cavernous.  Even with the lights on, it seemed dark inside.  The old furnace has a hard time heating the church, so there was a bit of a chill in the air.  We had about 30 individuals attending the service.  I came out into the sanctuary, dressed in my alb and purple deacon stole.  And for the first time, a wireless microphone; the interior of St. Mary’s soaks up sound, even my loud voice.  I invited those in the pews to join me in walking the Way the Cross; after a short prayer, we began.

This devotion has a long history.  Most scholars credit the Franciscan Friars with establishing the Way of the Cross in its present form.  The Franciscans had already been given responsibility for the Holy Places in the Holy Land, by the Pope.  In Jerusalem, the friars would lead pilgrims through the streets, along the route Jesus would have walked to Calvary.  During the 15th and 16th centuries, Franciscans in other countries began to set up outdoor shrines, imitating the places (or stations) where Jesus would have stopped on His way to His crucifixion.  Later, they requested, and received papal permission to set up Stations of the Cross in their churches.  It was not long afterward, that Rome extended that permission to bishops who wished to also set up Stations in their own churches.
 
The Way of the Cross is a devotion that helps us Christians to remember that Jesus, though the Son of God, was also human; that for Him, the Way of the Cross was a journey into suffering and death.  Realizing this, as I walked and prayed each of the Stations, I found myself entering into a different spiritual space, a solemn space, a sorrowful space.  Sorrowful, because I was sensing the pain and suffering that Jesus went through for us.  For us, He was willing to totally empty Himself, give all that He had on the Cross, so that we would be freed from the power of sin and death.  How often do we forget that?  The Way of the Cross helps us to remember. 

The devotion also reminds us that if we decide to follow Christ, we follow Him everywhere, even to Calvary.  If we follow Him, it means that we are willing to empty ourselves in service to Him, and our brothers and sisters in Christ.  First to empty ourselves of our selfishness, our pride, our self-centeredness, anything that gets in our way of loving God and others.  Then we empty ourselves of our talents, our skills for the sake of Christ, and the world.  It is not easy; it can be very hard and painful.  Still, Jesus Christ calls us to follow; but if we answer that call, we can be assured that we will not be alone on this journey.  Christ assures us that though the journey may be full of suffering, Easter dawn awaits.


After the Station where Jesus in laid in the tomb, I walked to a large bas relief in the church.  It portrays the Resurrection, and standing before it, I read a passage from the Gospel of Luke (24: 1-8), where the women find the empty tomb.  And two men appear before them and announce:  “He is not here; he has arisen!”  On that note of hope, I stood before altar, and blessed those who are in the church, turned and bowed before the Eucharistic Presence in the tabernacle, and left the sanctuary.