“All powerful and ever living God, you called St. John XXIII to guide your people by his word and example. With him, we pray to you; watch over the pastors of your Church, with the people entrusted to their care, and lead them to salvation.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen!
From the Liturgy of the Hours, Morning Prayer, Common of Pastors.
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!
“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.
It has been several months, since last my fingers touched a keyboard for this blog. Now that I have something to say, my laptop will not load the WordPress page for it. So I am using my IPhone, and my thumbs this morning.
It is safe to say that current news involving the clergy sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church is beginning to wear me down. Living in the Boston area, the so called epicenter of the crisis, I have struggled to be both a faithful Catholic, and a supporter of accountability. I, perhaps foolishly, thought that, at least in Boston, we had begun to turn a corner and begin to rebuild the community.
Then came the report of the Pennsylvania grand jury, and other reports from other cities, states, and overseas. The amount of news of the inability of the Pope and bishops to get a handle on the situation was another blow to my “spiritual” gut.
Perhaps the among the things that has kept me from drowning in a sea of depression has been my interest in Church history. I am well acquainted with both the glorious and inglorious moments in the life of the Church. We are a world-wide community of both saints, great and small; and sinners. Many of us are to a lesser or greater degree, both. And there have been dark, indeed, some very dark moments, that the Church has risen up from and shined.
Another saving factor has been my prayer experiences. Moments when the Holy Spirit breaks through my shell of indifference and depression; and the Light of the World blazes forth within! There are moments when I am joined with others in worship, when the Presence of Christ is felt deep within me.
There will more dark moments in the life of the Church that will be revealed. We need to be open to those moments, move through the pain, sense of betrayal, and doubt. As we seek healing for ourselves; we need to be healers and reconcilers for others.
We need to hold on to that faith, and believe in the promise Jesus Christ made to the first disciples, and to us, that the powers of Hell will not prevail against His Church!
Today, the Catholic Church celebrates the life of St. John XXIII, was Pope, Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, from 1958 to 1963.
Born Angelo Roncalli, in the Italian province of Lombardy, to a family of sharecroppers, in 1881. He would be ordained a priest in 1904, serve as an stretcher bearer and chaplain in the Italian army, during World War I. After the war, he would be a bishop’s secretary, papal diplomat to Bulgaria, Turkey, and France. During World War II, he would use his diplomatic and ecclesial status to help hundreds of Jews escape the Holocaust.
He was appointed Patriarch of Venice, Italy, and made a Cardinal, in 1953. In 1958, after the death of Pope Pius XII, he joined other Cardinals in the Sistine Chapel, to elect the new Pope. After eleven ballots, Cardinal Angelo Roncalli was elected Pope. As is custom he took a new name, and became Pope John XXIII.
He was expected to be a “caretaker” Pope, his papacy was to be short and uneventful. He shocked everyone when in 1959, he summoned the world’s bishops to what became the Second Vatican Council. He would not live to see it’s conclusion, dying of stomach cancer in 1963.
I have no memories of his pontificate. As an altar server, I witnessed the steady changes that came in the liturgy. When I was in high school, I came across a book listing his memorable sayings, including his more humorous ones. I became attracted to this Pope from the Italian countryside. In seminary, I read his spiritual journal, “Journal of a Soul,” and encountered the deeply spiritual Pope John. And I have read, or at least tried to read his social justice papal encyclicals “letters,” especially his famous “Pacem in Terris.” I am finding that this letter still has something to say for our times.
Recently, I learned that there is something St. John XXIII and I share; we are both Secular Franciscans. He joined the OFS during his seminary days, I joined in 1988. So to my fellow Franciscan, I ask his intercession for our troubled Church, that the Holy Spirit will guide us into living the Gospel life more fully.