Monthly Archives: October 2020

Listening to Francis

Why do I find listening to Pope Francis so fitting today? Here are some snippets from “Fratelli Tutti,” his extended reflection on the parable of the Good Samaritan. Not only are individuals called to love their neighbor. Nations and politicians are too.

 We’re facing a pandemic, but we’re not working together to deal with this common threat to humanity. “ For all our hyper-connectivity, we witness a fragmentation that made it more difficult to resolve problems that affect us all.”  We facing a changed world, and all the nations of the world need to work together, as neighbors, not as individuals.  Not grudgingly, but dreaming together. 

Here are the pope’s comments on politics today. “Today, in many countries, hyperbole, extremism and polarization have become political tools. Employing a strategy of ridicule, suspicion and relentless criticism, in a variety of ways one denies the right of others to exist or to have an opinion. Their share of the truth and their values are rejected and, as a result, the life of society is impoverished and subjected to the hubris of the powerful. Political life no longer has to do with healthy debates about long-term plans to improve people’s lives and to advance the common good, but only with slick marketing techniques primarily aimed at discrediting others. In this craven exchange of charges and counter-charges, debate degenerates into a permanent state of disagreement and confrontation.”

The politicians, the media, Facebook, etc… are blaring away. Why can’t we ” dream, then, as a single human family, as fellow travelers sharing the same flesh, as children of the same earth which is our common home, each of us bringing the richness of his or her beliefs and convictions, each of us with his or her own voice, brothers and sisters all.”

True? Seem to me it is. “Love your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus tells us in today’s gospel..

St. Christopher, Pray for Us

Christopher

“The Vatican said recently he doesn’t exist,” our guide informed us as we visited Cologne Cathedral in Germany a few years ago and looked up at the imposing statue of St. Christopher near one of its entrances. Then, we passed quickly on.

Afterwards, I told him the Vatican didn’t say Christopher never existed, but as of now there is no historical evidence for the popular saint who carries the little child on his shoulders. For one reason or another, no historical evidence exists for a good number of our early saints.

It’s more than finding a Christopher in history, however. If you look at what he’s doing, there have been–and still are– many Christophers. (Bearers of the Christ Child) His type of holiness is mostly unrecognized, but very real. He’s there in the men (and women) who day after day carry children on their shoulders, getting them where they must go and keeping them from the dangers little children face.

Caregivers of all kinds do the same thing. I watch them here at our place, where we have a number of priests and brothers who can’t get around, getting them into wheelchairs and getting them to where they have to go. Not much glamor in that job, but a lot of people need carrying, especially today.

The media seems to thrive on violence today. Gangs taking on gangs, macho heroes blowing up cities, killing thousands.  Non-stop violence. 

Christopher was a sign to generations past that strength is more than swinging a sword.  You’re strong when you serve the weak.

We need you today, St. Christopher. Pray for us. Inspire us.

Major and Minor Saints

Who doesn’t know saints like Francis, the apostles Peter and Paul, and of course Mary, the mother of Jesus? The major saints. But what about the others, most unknown to us, even many we’ve lived with? What about them, the minor saints?

The Calendar today for October 9th lists St. John Leonard,  St. Denis and Companions, who lived many centuries ago. They’re remembered in Italy and France, respectively, but they’re not well known to us. The reason they’re in the Calendar, besides their appeal to a nation or region, is they’re minor saints. Minor saints are part of the saintly communion; a necessary part.

I think we buried one here today.

We buried Father Theodore Walsh, CP, a classmate of mine. I preached at his funeral.

“I sat next to Theodore Walsh for meals and prayers for 8 years in student life. For 8 years when a baked potato came around for a meal, I took the skins from him and he took the insides from me. For 8 years we played basketball together on half days. He was a wonderful athlete, great to have on your side, but watch out when he played against you. He had a quickness you wouldn’t suspect. One minute you had the ball, the next you didn’t. I learned never to underestimate him. He was a quiet, humble man, and he could be underestimated.

After ordination Theodore volunteered to go to the Philippines as a missionary. A big move for someone just ordained. Not only that, but Theodore became the first novice master for our community in the Philippines. It wasn’t easy setting up that novitiate. The housing arrangements were extremely poor. Two young Filipinos finally applied, but when the Provincial from the States came over on visitation he didn’t like the situation, not professional enough, he said, and he told Theodore to send the boys home and close the place.

Father Theodore Foley, the Passionist general came through a short time later and told Theodore to get those boys back and open the place again. The young men became the first Filipino Passionists, Fr. Gabriel and Fr. Nonito. 

Theodore really believed in our community and the Passionist vocation. We saw his love for vocations in these last few years here in Jamaica when he would hobble out on his walker at the 10 AM Mass and after Communion ask a family in the congregation to take home a vocational crucifix and pray for vocations the next week.  Vocations were important for him.

Preaching was important too. He was a very good preacher. For many years, after returning from the Philippines, he and Fr. Kenan preached missions and retreats together in this area in the spring and fall and Florida in the winter, where they would go from parish to parish.

 I went with him on a number of parish missions. I thought he was a great preacher; his preaching was simple, homey, deliberate, sincere, no notes, excellent material. He was an excellent missionary. 

As his health declined he loved being able to preach at the 11 o’clock Mass in the public chapel in Jamaica and to stay on to talk to people and give them his blessing. He heard confessions here every week. 

He began writing homilies for the Province website, and gradually, when he couldn’t preach at Mass,  he read the scriptures during Mass in that deliberate way of his that made every word count.  

Theodore was a contemplative, someone who could spend hours in his own room reflecting and praying. The perfect vacation for him during the summer was to go to Shelter Island and sit on the shore looking out on the water, then take a swim. 

It wasn’t that he neglected people, though.  He loved his family, his sister Maureen, and his deceased brother John’s children and grandchildren. He was on the phone with them all the time. He visited with them as often as he could. Unfortunately, as for so many others, the Covid 19 epidemic prevented them from visiting him in his last illness and attending his funeral.

He loved the Passionist community, the people in it, the things it did. Usually, the first thing he said to me when we met was “What’s going on?” He wanted to know what was happening, how people were doing. “Is there anything new on the bulletin board?” he would ask as he got weaker. He wanted the community to flourish here and in the world. 

I guess I could say about Father Theodore what our wise classmate, Fr. Paul Cusack said about him awhile ago:  “He was the holiest of us all.” 

Now we won’t see Theodore here in the chapel, at meals, in his room on the 2nd floor any more.  Death is a time of closure. Some say death is a complete closure. He’s gone, all that’s left are memories of him, and they will die soon enough.

But that’s not true. For Christians, death is not the end. Life is changed, not ended. We don’t see it with our eyes or hear it with our ears. But there’s life ahead. We believe what Jesus says in the gospel. There are dwelling places prepared for us and he’ll lead us to them. There’s a dwelling place for Theodore Walsh, and Jesus is leading him there. 

Life is changed, not ended. Let’s not forget that that changed life is still connected to this one. The dwelling places Jesus promises are not gated communities separating us from the world where we were born. 

There’s a communion of saints. Saints who care for us. Saints who cared for our world when they were here and care for it now,  saints who were zealous for spreading the gospel in their lifetime and still are zealous for spreading the gospel now. Saints who lived with us, and still do.

There’s a communion of saints. Those who leave us don’t turn away from us. They don’t leave us orphans. They keep us in mind. Theodore Walsh will still be asking “What’s going on.?”

I think this is important to remember today when so many in our world think we are all alone, on a lonely planet, with dwindling hopes. 

But we know, our our scriptures today remind us, that from the mountains, those who see directly, before their eyes, the Lord restoring Zion, bring us comfort. From the places prepared for them, those who go before us guide us still. 

We are not alone. There’s a communion of saints. Great saints whom we never knew, but also saints who were our companions in life and are our companions still. 

Saints of God, pray for us.

 

Fratelli Tutti

On the vigil of the Feast of St. Francis, October 3, Pope Francis traveled to Assisi, where St. Francis is buried, to issue a social encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti” inspired by the same saint who inspired him to write Laudato sí, his letter on the environment. 

The pope hopes,  “in the face of present-day attempts to eliminate or ignore others, we may prove capable of responding with a new vision of fraternity and social friendship that will not remain at the level of words. Although I have written it from the Christian convictions that inspire and sustain me, I have sought to make this reflection an invitation to dialogue among all people of good will.

7. As I was writing this letter, the Covid-19 pandemic unexpectedly erupted, exposing our false securities. Aside from the different ways that various countries responded to the crisis, their inability to work together became quite evident. For all our hyper-connectivity, we witnessed a fragmentation that made it more difficult to resolve problems that affect us all. Anyone who thinks that the only lesson to be learned was the need to improve what we were already doing, or to refine existing systems and regulations, is denying reality.

8. It is my desire that, in this our time, by acknowledging the dignity of each human person, we can contribute to the rebirth of a universal aspiration to fraternity. Fraternity between all men and women. “Here we have a splendid secret that shows us how to dream and to turn our life into a wonderful adventure. No one can face life in isolation… We need a community that supports and helps us, in which we can help one another to keep looking ahead. How important it is to dream together…

By ourselves, we risk seeing mirages, things that are not there. Dreams, on the other hand, are built together”.[6] Let us dream, then, as a single human family, as fellow travelers sharing the same flesh, as children of the same earth which is our common home, each of us bringing the richness of his or her beliefs and convictions, each of us with his or her own voice, brothers and sisters all.”

A community of “dreamers”, “fellow-travelers”, children of the same earth,” in which “we can help one another to keep looking ahead.”

Looks like he is continuing “Laudato sí”.

http://w2.vatican.va/content/vatican/en.html

St. Thèrése and the Passion of Jesus

therese-child-face-a

St. Thèrése put two titles to her name after she became a Carmelite nun. She holds those two titles in this photo. One was Thèrése of the Child Jesus, the other was Thèrése of the Holy Face of Jesus. She wished to be known by these two titles: Thèrése of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face.

The titles came from religious experiences she had. The first occurred on Christmas day, 1886, when she was 13 years old. Shorlty afterwards, she had an experience of the Passion of Jesus, which took place one Sunday of the next year, when she was 14. She describes the two experiences  in chapter 5 of her autobiography. Her experience of the Passion of Jesus involved a murderer.

“One Sunday, looking at a picture of Our Lord on the Cross, I was struck by the blood flowing from one of the divine hands. I felt great sorrow when thinking this blood was falling to the ground unnoticed. I was resolved to remain in spirit at the foot of the Cross and to receive the divine dew. I understood I was then to pour it out upon souls.

The cry of Jesus on the Cross sounded continually in my heart: “I thirst!” These words ignited within me an unknown and very living fire. I wanted to give my Beloved to drink and I felt myself consumed with a thirst for souls. As yet, it was not the souls of priests that attracted me, but those of great sinners; I burned with the desire to snatch them from the eternal flames.”

At the time a notorious murderer, Pranzini had been condemned to death and refused to see a priest. Thèrése was deeply affected by the sensational story and   asked Jesus, “feeling that I myself could do nothing,” to be merciful to him. She had Mass offered for him, she begged God’s mercy.

Afterwards the newspaper reported a priest offered Pranzini a crucifix as he went to his death and he kissed it fervently three times. Thèrése believed her prayers were answered “Then his soul went to receive the merciful sentence of him who declares that in heaven there will be more joy over one sinner who does penance than over ninety-nine just who have no need of repentance!”

For Thèrése the Passion of Jesus was a sign of God’s mercy. His words “I thirst,” were more than an expression of physical thirst, they expressed his desire to show a merciful love to the world.

The teen age girl’s experience reminds us that God’s graces can come to anyone, at any time. The experience left her with a lasting conviction, “I myself can do nothing.” One of her prayerbooks carries a remembrance of her experience.

therese-holy-card