To quote Thomas Paine, “These are times that try men (and women) souls.” We have experienced once again the horrors of mass shootings, in El Paso TX, and Dayton, OH. It should shake everyone’s being down to their souls. No other country, that is not at war or in civil strife, has suffered the casualties we have in the United States, from gun violence. People from around the world cannot understand how a country, so modern, like the United States, can let this bloodletting continue.
The answer is both simple and complicated. There are those in this country who feel they are losing control of it. That immigrants and of other races are taking what was once theirs; jobs, control of local governments. They see government, especially the Federal government taking away their lands, their jobs, for protection of the environment. They see gun ownership as the only means to protect what they see as their rights. This might only express some of the reasons why the country is so full of hate, so divided; and why some feel driven to pick up the gun.
But Jesus has said, “All who take the sword will die by the sword.” (MT 26:52). What is called for are laws to remove or at least control access to military style weapons. There also must be dialogue between peoples, to understand the desires, the needs, and the fears of all sides. We need a responsible government, whose goals are to preserve the general welfare, and not their own political power.
Jesus said that the primary commandment for his followers was to love God with all our heart, mind, and soul. The second important commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves. The challenge of these two commandments have always been before us. Never before in our society’s history, had meeting that challenge been so important!
“Praise be you, O my Lord, for our Brother Wind, and for air and cloud, calms and all weather by whom you uphold life in all creatures.” Canticle of the Creatures – Francis of Assisi
My wife and I are on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. We are at my mother in laws home, for a gathering of the clan. I am sitting on a deck, a copy of Henry Thoreau’s Walden in my hand.
I am looking up into blue sky, with wispy clouds being blown across. And I spot seagulls circling above, held up by winds coming off the ocean. It is a quiet time, it is a holy time. St. Francis wanted his followers to live in simple huts, mostly as a commitment to poverty. But I would speculate that he hoped his community would be outside experiencing the beauty of God’s creation. As I was for a glorious moment. And in that moment, my soul felt renewed.
“Most high, almighty, good Lord God, to you belong all praise, glory, honor, and blessing!”
Last Friday, I was coming home from work, going down a walkway from the train platform. I just happened to look down and saw on the ground, two sticks in the form of a cross. I do not know if someone put those sticks together to form a cross; or if the sticks fell together that way. What I can tell you is that the sight stopped me in my tracks.
I must confess that my spiritual life has felt a little dull lately. Practices I have done; have fallen by the wayside. Books I have looked to for spiritual nourishment in the past, have remained unopened. Only at Sunday Mass, do I feel the spark ignite! Yet, at the sight of that little cross, I was inspired to begin to pray. It was only for moment, it was a wonderful moment!
I left the cross as it was; I have no idea if it is still there. I hope it is there for someone else to find.
The following prayer is from St. Francis of Assisi; that he is to have prayed before the San Damiano Cross:
Most high, most glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart. Grant me a right and a perfect charity, feeling, and understanding of you, so that I may be able to accomplish your holy and just commands. Amen!
It is very rare for any information to come out on what happened during a Conclave that elects the next Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. It appears, however, that Gerard O’Connell, Vatican Correspondent for the Jesuit magazine, America has found such a crack in the wall of silence. The information he gathered is now contained in a book he has written “The Election of Pope Francis: An Inside Account of the Conclave That Changed History.” It being published by Orbis Books, and I hear it will be in the stores in late April , 2019. An excerpt from the book was posted, March 22, 2019, on the America magazine website.
In the excerpt, Mr. O’Connell describes what took place in the Sistine Chapel during the first ballot of the Conclave, the preparations for it, how the ballots were marked, the ceremony involved in casting a vote, the counting of the ballots, and the disposal of the ballots, describing the elaborate system of creating the right smoke from the burning ballots in the stove, so that the crowd in St. Peter’s Square would know if a new Pope had been elected or not. There was a surprise for the cardinals when the results were announced; of the 115 cardinals present in the Conclave, at least 23 of them received at least one vote. Keep in mind, a two-thirds majority of cardinals voting was required for election. Reading the vote tallies, reported by Mr. O’Connell, one name stood out for me; Cardinal Sean O’Malley, OFM CAP, an American, who came in fourth, with 10 votes!
It was not too much of a surprise to see that voting result. In the days leading up to the Conclave, the Italian press took notice of a Cardinal, who most of the time in Rome wore the brown robe of a Franciscan Friar. The American news media began to pick up the story. And soon Cardinal Sean was considered one of the papabile, the first American in my memory. Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley, 74, is a member of Franciscan Order of Capuchin. Ordained to the priesthood in 1970, he studied at the Catholic University of America, and graduated with a MA in religious education, and a Ph.d in Spanish and Portuguese literature. After some years as an university professor, he began ministering to the Latinos living in Washington D.C. He would eventually be appointed episcopal vicar for the Hispanic, Portuguese, and Haitian communities in the Washington, D.C. archdiocese. In 1985, he became Bishop of St. Thomas, V.I. In 1992, he was installed as the Bishop of Fall River, MA. It was there that he addressed the sexual abuse by clergy scandal, that was coming to light in the Diocese. He would be sent to the Diocese of Palm Beach, FL.,in 2002, to address again a clergy sexual abuse scandal coming to light. He would be at Palm Beach for only a year, when he was sent to the Archdiocese of Boston, MA. The Archdiocese had been rocked by reports in the Boston Globe, of clergy sexual abuse, and cover up by Church officials. The Archdiocese was also going through an, in my opinion, ill considered process of consolidating parishes, that caused additional trauma to parishioners.
Since his appointment in 2003, Cardinal Sean, again, in my opinion, has been a key person, pushing the Catholic hierarchy acknowledge the facts of clergy sexual abuse, and caring for the victims of that abuse. He was appointed by Pope Francis to an advisory council of Cardinals, called to come up with recommendations to reform the bureaucracy of the Vatican. He chaired a commission of clergy and laity, including survivors, to examine how the Vatican has failed to respond to the crisis, put forward corrections. When both Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis visited the United States, Cardinal O’Malley arranged to have them both meet with American clergy sexual abuse survivors. Now, word has been leaking out that there is tension between Cardinal O’Malley and Pope Francis over the slow pace of reforms being implemented. Some Vatican observers felt is was significant that the Cardinal did not play any significant role in the planning of the meeting of heads of the national conferences of bishops to discuss the issue of clergy sexual abuse in the world wide Church. That said, he did address the gathering about the issue.
With Pope Francis seeming to still be in good health, it is way too early to discuss a future Conclave, but, aww heck, let’s go for it. Now Cardinal O’Malley is 74 years old, chances are good he will be one of the electors in the next Conclave. Question is will he once again be considered one of the top papabile. Conventional wisdom is that it will be unlikely, the Cardinals of the Southern Hemisphere and Asia would never support the election of an American Pope. Still, conventional wisdom went out the window with the election of Pope Francis! The Holy Spirit always wins out!
“Hear, O Lord, the sound of my call; have pity on me, and answer me. Of you my heart speaks; you my glance seeks.
Your presence, O Lord, I seek. Hide not your face from me; do not in anger repel your servant. You are my helper: cast me not off.
I believe that I shall see the bounty of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord with courage; be stouthearted, and wait for the Lord.” Psalm 27
We have experienced many tragedies in our world, in our country, in our community, and in our Church. Our world has been shaken by the massacre of innocent Muslims in New Zealand. Our country continues to experience natural disasters. Communities in my home State have witnessed shocking violent crimes. And the Church still struggles with the effects of the clergy sexual abuse scandal.
And we speak out, where is God in all this? We seek the Lord to come to our aid; to give us comfort. The truth is that he is always with us. He is present in ones who give us help and comfort. He speaks through those who speak up for the poor and forgotten. And we feel his Presence, when we are still, and listen for his voice.
There is an opinion out there that President Trump, and his statements and actions, have been sucking the media oxygen from other newsworthy stories that are in the world. Case in point, the fact that Pope Francis is visiting the United Arab Emirates, the first Catholic Pontiff to visit the Arabian Peninsula.
Conventional wisdom is that he is making this visit to promote cordial relations between the two largest international faith communities in the world. Speculation has it, that in trying to establish friendlier relations with Arab leaders, the Pope is trying to improve the lot of minority Christian communities that exist in the majority Muslim nations. John Allen, Jr. of Crux Now, has some good analysis of this trip.
It can be said that Pope Francis is walking in the footsteps of his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi. Francis lived during the time of the Crusades, when Muslim armies had occupied Jerusalem and the rest of the Holy Land; and Christian kings, knights, and common soldiers were marching to reconquer them. Much blood had been spilled during battles and massacres. And the slaughter showed no sign of ending.
Onto this stage of hatred and killing, came this barefoot Italian holy man, dressed in a patched brown robe, with only a few companions. He traveled to Egypt and went first to the Crusader camp. It is written that Francis was horrified at the conditions he found. Soldiers who were suppose to be on a holy quest, were boasting of the Arabs they had killed, of the wealth they had plundered, and the women they had abused. He saw the sick and the wounded, and supposedly work in what they called hospitals, to care for them. He became more determined to end this war, by going, unarmed, into the Muslim camp, convince them to accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and negotiate a peace with the Crusaders. Anyone of the Crusaders who may have heard this plan would have thought that Francis was either suicidal, mad, or both. They fully expected to see his head on a pike soon.
In what could only be considered a miracle, Francis found himself before the Sultan, who could not figure out who he had before him. Francis did not threaten God’s wrath, but instead he spoke of God’s love. He proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ, of a loving God, in whom all people were one. Francis showed respect to the Sultan, and a desire to stop the slaughter on both sides. Ultimately, Francis failed to convert the Sultan, but he did win his respect. As a token of that respect, the Sultan gave an ivory horn to Francis, which is said to be on display in the Basilica dedicated to him in Assisi. Francis is also said to have received a pass that allowed him to visit the Holy Land. What the Crusaders could not win by force of arms, Francis achieved by only loving the Sultan and his people.
Pope Francis is now on the Arabian Peninsula, hoping that by showing respect and love in the same way, he will be able to win peace in the region, and tolerance for his flock. Through the intercession of St. Francis of Assisi, may God make it so.
“Behold, the fiery sun is rising; may blindness at last depart-let us speak nothing underhanded, let us consider nothing dark. To God the Father be glory, and to his only Son, with the Spirit, the Paraclete, for everlasting ages. Amen!” *
On this January 6, 2019, many Christians will be in church, celebrating the Epiphany of the Lord. We are celebrating the moment, when three magi, wise men, came from the east and proclaimed to the leaders of Jerusalem that the birth of the Messiah had been revealed to them. They had traveled from a far land, to see with their own eyes, this wonder. Their belief in this revelation was so strong, that they were willing to make this risky journey, guided only by a unique star, to a foreign land. And the Gospel gives no indication that they were disappointed at what they found. Finding a small child, with his peasant mother, in a simple village house; they “did him homage.”
We are all seeking that intimate encounter with Jesus Christ, with our God and Savior. Sometimes, that life journey may take many years; sometimes, the encounter can happen in just an instant. We find that we need to give up our own preconceived images of Christ; let the Holy Spirit guide us on our journey; and be open to what the Scriptures will reveal to us. And above all, open ourselves to the experience, the wonder of the Eucharist; which in a real sense, is food for the journey we are on.
There have been others, who have also been on this journey before, who, by sharing their own experiences, can help guide us on ours. Some of my favorites, Francis and Clare of Assisi, who made living the Gospel of Jesus Christ an intimate part of their lives. Teresa of Avila, founder of monasteries and mystic. Caryll Houselander, laywoman, artist and mystic; who had a vision of Christ in every passenger of a train she was on. Thomas Merton, author, monk, and mystic. Despite being in a monastery, he was always on a journey, seeking our Risen Lord. And finally, I would recommend Sister Wendy Beckett, who recently passed away. Hermit, art historian, media star; she brought a fresh look at art, with both a scholar’s and mystic’s eye.
I am still very much on journey, seeking the Lord. I have sometimes gone off course, sometimes felt like not going any further. But always, I feel that tugging to continue on; something many pilgrims feel, to finish the journey. I still am not sure what I will find; I have faith that when I truly see the Lord, with eyes of faith; I will bow and do him homage.