Feast of the Porziuncola August 2, 2016

PoziuncolaToday, Franciscans everywhere are celebrating the Feast of the Church of St. Mary of the Angels of the Porziuncola (Little Portion).  Actually, a small chapel, it is one of several chapels around Assisi, Italy, that St. Francis of Assisi repaired; shortly after his conversion.  He was doing this in response to a mystical encounter with the Crucified Christ, who commanded Francis to “Repair My House!”  Taking the command literally, he began to repair the chapel of San Damiano, and the other chapels.  It was only later that he understood his mission was to “repair,” (ie, renew) the Catholic Church.

St. Mary of the Angels became the “mother church,” of the Franciscan Order, and indeed, the entire Franciscan movement.  Francis and his first followers built huts of mud, straw and wattle around the chapel, and used them as cells.  The little portion of  land on which the chapel stood, belonged to the Benedictine monks of Mount Subasio, who have rented the site to the Franciscans, in return for a basket of fish.  Over the years, the chapel became a pilgrimage destination, and eventually, the Franciscans and Pope ordered that the simple little chapel be enclosed in a huge grand basilica; the Papal Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels.

Today, the little chapel, located in this huge basilica, will be visited by Pope Francis.  It ties into the Jubilee Year of Mercy, that the Pope declared last year.  The little chapel is the site of one of the most famous indulgences granted by the Catholic Church.  Although the historical fact has not been proven, legend has it that St. Francis asked the Pope to grant a plenary indulgence to anyone who came to the Porziuncola chapel, praying for forgiveness of their sins.  An indulgence is granted to the soul of an individual, which remits some of the temporal “punishment”or “cleansing,” that a soul must go through in purgatory, before being admitted to the full beatific vision of God in heaven.  A plenary indulgence grants a full remittance.  The “Porziuncola Indulgence,” was originally granted only to those who visited the chapel, later Popes expanded it to those who visited a Franciscan church, chapel, or oratory.  It was finally also granted to those who visited any church designated by the local bishop, between the afternoon of August 1, to sunset on August 2.  They must at least recite the Our Father or the Creed; and must go to Confession, receive Communion, and pray for the intentions of the Pope.

Indulgences is a means by which the Church illustrates the mercy and love of God for all people.  And it is why Pope Francis is making the journey to Assisi, to go into a huge, ornate, basilica; to enter a very small chapel, that has the power of God’s love.

On Retreat – Weekend Coffee Share

Campion Retreat Center 2

Campion Retreat Center

If we were having a cup of coffee, I would tell you that last weekend I was at a retreat for Permanent Deacons of the Archdiocese of Boston.  It was held at the Campion Retreat Center in Weston, MA.  The Center is managed by the Society of Jesus, better known at the Jesuits.  It is also where their retirement home is located.  Our retreat master was a Xaverian Brother by the name of Paul Feeney.  When many of us were in formation, he taught the Old Testament class.  For this retreat, he looked at the lives and spiritualities of Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton; two American Catholics, whose names were mentioned by Pope Francis during his address to the joint session of Congress.  Dorothy Day, a Catholic social activist, was a co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement.  She practiced every day, the Corporal Works of Mercy, feeding the hungry,


Dorothy Day

comforting those in distress, clothing the naked.  But there was more to it than that, she and her followers strove to change society, to make it a place where it “was easy for people to be good.”  Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk, who wrote a spiritual biography in the 1940’s, that continues inspire people.  He was a prolific writer, and a mystic; combining the two, he produced writings that helped guide many into a deeper spiritual life.  He also wrote on matters of peace and justice, that gave support and spiritual sustenance to many Catholic activists, the late Father Daniel Berrigan, SJ, being one of them.

If we were having a cup of coffee, I would tell you that I had planned on writing about this

Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton

sooner.  I packed the old laptop and brought it with me.  Only to find out that Center does not have WiFi available for retreatants.  Just as well, the weekend was suppose to a time of quiet and reflection, a time of sacred reading and prayer.  And I tried to take advantage of the opportunity handed me.  And it was a spiritually refreshing weekend.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that while I was waiting at the main entrance to be picked up, a horse came galloping by, followed by a dismounted horsewoman, and some bicyclists.  There was a horse show going on down the road; I guess this big fellah had other ideas.  Fortunately, they caught him before he could be struck by a car, or run over a retired Jesuit, out for his morning constitutional.

If we were having a cup of coffee, I would tell that no matter how great a spiritual experience of a retreat may have been, life is waiting for you when you leave.  I have a book entitled “After the Ecstasy, the Laundry.”  For me, it should read, “After the Ecstasy, Monday morning, the commute, the cubicle!”  The challenge of any retreat experience, is to strive to make what you learn, what you experience, a part of your daily life.  That is something I am still struggling with.

Well, the coffee mug is empty, maybe tomorrow I will bring another steaming mug over.  We will see.

Pope Francis Turns 79!

Pope Francis 79Yesterday, Pope Francis celebrated his 79th birthday.  And I am sure that the majority of Catholics, other Christians, and peoples of other faiths are all wishing him: “Ad multos annos!”  (Many more years!)  However, it cannot be denied that there are those within the Church who are hoping for a short pontificate.  Nicole Winfield of the Associated Press has a interesting article posted on Crux; which looks into this undercurrent of hostility aimed at the Pope, by the every ones who are suppose to be assisting him.

When, in 2013, the College of Cardinals elected Jorge Mario Bergoglio to the papacy, the conventional wisdom was that they were looking for a reformer.  They saw a Vatican Curia mired in scandal, inefficiency, and dysfunction.  They expected Pope Francis to “clean the stables,” and reorganize the Curia to be more responsive to the needs of today’s universal Church.  Shortly after his election, Pope Francis established a “Council of Cardinals”, one of it’s members is Boston’s own Cardinal Sean O’Malley OFM Cap.  He gave it the task of proposing structural changes to the Curia, and other suggestions on dealing with issues affecting the Church.  He began the structural reform of the Vatican financial institutions, appointing the strong willed Cardinal Pell of Australia to insure the reforms take hold.

At the same time, Pope Francis has said and done things that may have made some of the cardinal electors wondering what they have themselves into.  Traditionalists are up arms at what they see as his reversal of liturgical trends put in place by his predecessors.  Others are concerned that he is taking a more pastoral approach, at the cost of watering down Church teachings.  And then there are those bureaucrats in the Curia, who are more interested in preserving their positions, perks, and power; then in actually serving the members of the Church.

I am among those who wish the Pope “ad multos annos;” but I fear that it may be a short pontificate.  I am afraid that the expected reforms may not be finalized.  And that Pope Francis may not have enough time to appoint those bishops and cardinals who will ensure that his reforms will survive his passing.  Part of me wishes that he would spend more time in Rome; and not on these strenuous trips; that tax his health, and puts him in harms way.

However, the Pope will do, what he believes God is guiding him to do.  And those of us who support him, and wish him well; will pray that God’s hand will be on him, protecting him, and strengthening him.  “Ad Multos Annos!”


Good Press, Bad Press

catacombsI have been scanning the Religion News Service online, when I came across this article by David Gibson, about the Pact of the Catacombs.  It tells the story of what happened, when on November 16th, 1965, close to the conclusion of the Second Vatican, around forty bishops gathered in a chapel located in the Catacombs of Domitilla.  At the end of the liturgy, each of the bishops affixed their signatures to a document that came to be known as the Pact of the Catacombs.  In signing it they “pledged … to ‘try to live according to the ordinary manner of our people in all that concerns housing, food, means of transport, and related matters.’

The signatories vowed to renounce personal possessions, fancy vestments and ‘names and titles that express prominence and power,’ and they said they would make advocating for the poor and powerless the focus of their ministry.

In all this, they said, ‘we will seek collaborators in ministry so that we can be animators according to the Spirit rather than dominators according to the world; we will try to make ourselves as humanly present and welcoming as possible; and we will show ourselves to be open to all, no matter what their beliefs.’  ”

The ideals outlined in that ecclesial manifesto were adopted by many of the South American prelates, Dom Helder Camara, Archbishop of Olinda and Recife, of Brazil, a leading advocate for the poor, was one of the original signatories.  About 500 Latin American bishops would eventually sign the Pact; among them the assassinated Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero.  These bishops strived to be shepherds of a church of, and for the poor.  Many found guidance in liberation theology, which placed them at odds with conservative clergy, their countries’ dictators, and eventually the Vatican.

The original signed document of the Pact has been lost, though its contents have been widely disseminated.  Only one of the original signers is still with us.  But its spirit is very much alive in the person of Pope Francis.  He has called on the Church’s bishops to adopt a simpler lifestyle, to be true shepherds, to have the “smell of the sheep.”  And he seeks to make real the desire of St. Pope John XXIII, and the other bishops to have a Church of the poor.

The Catholic Church is going to have some rough days ahead; this weekend, the movie, “Spotlight” will open in American theaters.  It will tell the story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the extant of clergy abuse of children in the Archdiocese of Boston.  It was that reporting that opened the floodgates, and revealed a scandal that continues affect the Church.  Also, two books will be published and released in Italy, which will “reveal” continuing financial scandals in Vatican City.

In the days ahead, we are going to need to examples of the lives of those bishops, who truly committed themselves to living the Gospel, to be servants of all.  And we are going to accept the challenge of the Gospel ourselves, to be servants for each other, and the world.  To seek to replace hatred with love, and war with peace, if we can do that, try to do this, perhaps we can show the world the true face of the Church.

A Reflection On Pope Francis Speech Before Congress.

I am just now beginning to reflect and put into words what I have taken away from Pope Francis’ visit to the United States.  What I would like to first write about is the Holy Father’s speech before the joint session of Congress.  I was floored by his references to four Americans; President Abraham Lincoln, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton.

Abraham LincolnGrowing up, the only thing I knew about Abraham Lincoln was that he led the country through the Civil War, and that he freed the slaves.  It was not until I watched Ken Burns’ documentary: “The Civil War,” that I came to appreciate the depth of Lincoln’s character, his determination, and his sacrifices.  When he began his presidency, he was not a fervent abolitionist.  He believed that if he could restrict slavery to the Deep South; keep it out of the new territories, it would die out from economic pressures.  When the Civil War began, his primary concern was to preserve the Union, even if it meant keeping slavery.  However, as the war continued, with the vast amount of blood spilled in the conflict, Lincoln came to realize that a higher cause needed to be recognize, the cause of freedom for all persons in America.  He expressed this higher cause in his Gettysburg Address, calling for “a new breath of freedom.”  It began with the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed the slaves in the Confederate States, and concluded with the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, which ended slavery forever.

Martin Luther King, Jr.It was to further the cause of liberty that brought Martin Luther King, Jr., to take on the mantle of leadership of the Civil Rights Movement.  I grew up during those tumultuous years, and was somewhat aware of the importance of Reverend King, and the Movement.  My admiration for him grew, as I began to read biographies, and watch documentaries about him.  I remember watching a docudrama series about him when I was in seminary, which had an effect on me.  The last movie I saw about MLK, was the film “Selma.”  It was a film that brought home to me the sacrifices, the sufferings that those marchers experienced as they headed to Selma, Alabama.  Martin Luther King, Jr. indeed had a dream of liberty for all, a dream that would be fulfilled by nonviolent action.

Dorothy DayNonviolent action was part and parcel of Dorothy Day’s work.  I cannot exactly remember when I became aware of her story.  Dorothy Day always had a passion for justice for the poor and oppressed.  As young adult, she reported for various socialist newspapers, and was a suffragette.  As a young adult, she was known for living a bohemian life style; and having some love affairs.  One of these affairs resulted in a pregnancy, and an abortion.  Day believed that the abortion caused her to become sterile.  While living in New York, she entered into another relationship, this time with an anarchist.  She discovered that she was pregnant again; something about that realization caused her to experience a conversion.  She had her baby girl baptized, and then she herself was baptized into the Catholic faith.

Still very much the social activist, only now from a faith perspective; she, with Peter Maurin, founded the Catholic Worker Movement.  They published a newspaper, “Catholic Worker,” which had columns about worker rights, Catholic social teaching, and care for the poor.  Putting theory into practice, she organized “Houses of Hospitality,” where the poor and hungry could find a meal, and a comforting embrace.  I visited one such house in New York City, St. Joseph’s House, which is considered the unofficial headquarters of the movement.  I was in NYC, testing a vocation to the Franciscan Friars.  One of the friars had a connection with the House, and brought a group of us over for a visit.  Dorothy was in residence, but was ill and confined to her room, so we did not get to meet her.  We were given a copy of her autobiography.  After I read through it, I found myself looking for and reading many of her books (she was a prolific writer).  I would like to say that I was inspired to go out and volunteer at a soup kitchen, but that would be a lie.  I could make the excuse that there was a lack of opportunity; but the truth of the matter is that it would have been way out of my comfort zone.  I am trying to get out the box I find myself in; I try to provide financial support to St. Joseph House.  And I am trying to see the world through the lenses of Dorothy Day.

MertonFinally, Pope Francis mentioned the Trappist monk, Thomas Merton.  Born to an artist couple, he grew up in both United States and Europe.  He was baptized into the Church of England, though his family was not that religious.  He attended Cambridge University, but was not a very good student, living a very wild lifestyle.  He eventually found himself studying at Columbia University in New York City.  It was there that he himself had a conversion experience.  He received Catholic religious instruction, and was baptized.  He would later discern a call to the monastic life.  He entered the Trappist Abbey of Gethsemani, in Kentucky, USA.  He wrote an autobiographical book about his life, conversion, and the development of his spiritual life.  It became a best seller, and he became the most popular Catholic spiritual writer in the United States.  He also wrote about social justice issues, and anti-war and peace matters.  Later in his life, he explored what Eastern religions could teach Christians about meditation, contemplation, and the spiritual life.  He pursued dialogues with Eastern spiritual masters.

My encounter with Thomas Merton came during my seminary days.  Reading his books on prayer and contemplation, I discovered a desire for a more intense spiritual life.  Merton became one of my guides, especially through his journals.  Truth be told, it is still a struggle for me, even at this point in my life.  Issues of discipline, and a very active mind, (I call it the monkey mind, skittering from one thought to another!)

Two famous Americans, two Americans not so well known; but all four can a source of inspiration for all of us.  They can provide us with inspirations on how we as a country can live together, dialogue with each other, and serve one another.  And perhaps we as a country can live up to the expectations of our founders.

Care for Creation – A Franciscan Perspective

Francis and Brother Sun

The Canticle of Brother Sun

Most high omnipotent good Lord,

Yours are the praises, the honor and all blessing.

To you alone, Most High, do they belong,

And no person is worthy to mention you.

Praise be you, my Lord, with all your creatures,

Especially Sir Brother Sun,

Who makes the day and through whom you give us light.

And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor,

and bears the signification of you, Most High.

Praised be you, my Lord, for Brother Wind,

And for the air-cloudy and serene-and every kind of weather,

By which you give sustenance to your creatures.

Praised be you, my Lord, for Sister Water,

Which is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.

Praised be you, my Lord, for Brother Fire,

By whom you illumine the night,

And he is beautiful and cheerful and robust and strong.

Praise be you, my Lord, for our Sister Mother Earth,

Who sustains and governs us,

And produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

Praised be you, m Lord, for those who give pardon for love of you

And bear infirmity and tribulation

Blessed are those who endure in peace,

For by you, Most High, they will be crowned.

Praised be you, my Lord, for our Sister Bodily Death

From whom no living man can escape.

Woe to those who die in mortal sin.

Blessed are those whom death will find in your most holy will,

For the second death shall do them no harm.

Praise and bless my Lord and give him thanks

And serve him with great humility.

(Translated by Fr. Regis Armstrong OFM CAP)

From a Franciscan Perspective – Blessed Frederic Ozanam and Care for the Poor

“1) Secular Franciscans should always act as a leaven in the environment in which they live through the witness of their fraternal love and clear Christian motivations.

2) In the spirit of minority, they should opt for relationships which give preference to the poor and to those on the fringe of society, whether these be individuals or categories of persons or an entire people;  they should collaborate in overcoming the exclusion of others and those forms of poverty that are the fruit of inefficiency and injustice.”  (Article 19, General Constitutions, Secular Franciscan Order)

Gravure d'Antoine Maurin dit "Maurin l'aîné" (1793-1860) à partir d'un dessin de Louis Janmot (1814-1892)

Blessed Frederic Ozanam

On August 4th, the Catholic Church remembers and celebrates the life of Blessed Frederic Ozanam.  Born in France in 1813, he originally wanted to become a writer, but his father insisted that he become a lawyer.  In 1831, he went to the University of Sorbonne, in Paris, to study law.  While there, he noticed that the Catholic Church was being attacked by the intellectuals in Paris.  A devoted Catholic, he and some friends started a debate club, where they could discuss issues of faith with agnostics and atheists.  At one of these debates, Ozanam was challenged to prove his faith with actions, and not just talk.  Taking up the challenge, Frederic and a friend began visiting the poor in the slums of Paris, and providing whatever assistance they could.  Their approach was novel, instead of just giving money to some religious or church organizations; they went out and personally met the poor in their homes.  Other laypersons were attracted to work Ozanam was doing, and together they formed the Saint Vincent de Paul Society.  Frederic did earn a law degree, but would eventually also earn a doctorate in literature.  He married in 1841, and he and his wife had a daughter.  He continued his work with the Society.  Continuously suffering from poor health, he died in 1853.  Some time before his death, he supposedly joined the Third Order of Saint Francis; today known as the Secular Franciscan Order.  The Saint Vincent de Paul Society has grown into a worldwide organization, with local conferences based in most parishes.  They continue their work of personally visiting and providing assistance to the poor in their local communities.

There have been some negative comments about Pope Francis’ focus on the poor.  Some feel that he is neglecting the middle class, who are also suffering from a decrease in wages, the threat of foreclosure on their homes, and a loss of a sense of security that their parents had.  As an out of work member of the middle class, with shrinking resources; I understand the feeling of anxiety, uncertainty and fear people are experiencing.  I am experiencing that to.  But Jesus, through his Gospel, has told us that we are called to take up our crosses daily, and follow him.  And to follow Jesus means to proclaim the Good News to the poor, to heal the sick, to care for the widow and orphans, feed the hungry and to set free the imprisoned.  Even with our own anxieties and sufferings, we are still called to encounter the poor among us, and offer help.  We can accomplish this through God’s grace, and being open to the influence of the Holy Spirit.

Through Jesus Christ, God is with us, in good times and the difficult times.  Let us be open to that Presence, and open to sharing that gift with others.

Laudato Si’ is Out; And it is Shaking Things Up!

Laudato Si 2On June 18th, the Vatican officially released Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment:  “Laudato Si’.”  Truth be told, I have not actually read the document myself; I am basing my own observations on the analysis and commentary of others, whose opinions I trust.  Chief among them is John Allen, Jr. of Crux who has done some analysis on the encyclical.

The theological analysis of the document I have; comes from Father Dan Horan OFM, of Dating God, who gives a Franciscan perspective on the encyclical.  The other comes from Jay Michaelson, of Religion News Service.  He brings out some of the theological points in the document that he considers truly radical.

As a Franciscan, the theological points that grabbed my attention were found in Chapter 2: “Human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbors, and with the earth itself.”  And in Chapter 3: “Our ‘dominion’ over the universe should be understood more properly in the sense of responsible stewardship.”  To Western ears these statements may seem very strange, but they are not new.  If one was to get beyond the image of St. Francis of Assisi as a statue holding a birdbath, one can see a Francis who knew that because of his intimate relationship with God, he had to have an intimate relationship with all people, and all creation.  Joined intimately with Christ, through the Gospels, through the Eucharist, and prayer, he was fully open to, and accepted the reality that he shared a kinship with all people, with all creatures, with everything that exists.

Francis passed this realization on to his followers, through his words and his actions.  Sadly, some of his children did not realize the depth of his teaching, but in recent times, we are finally beginning to get the point.  In our Secular Franciscan Rule, we have Article 18: “Moreover they should respect all creatures, animate and inanimate, which bear the imprint of the Most High, and they should strive to move from the temptation of exploiting creation to the Franciscan concept of universal kinship.”

It is this idea of “universal kinship” that Pope Francis is calling on the world, on all of us, to realize, and to act on.  It is a call to change our way of life, that is abusing our earth, and live in ways that will enhance our planet.

I do plan to read this encyclical myself, and hopefully I will be able share my own insights with you soon.  Pace e Bene!

Countdown to the “Eco Encyclical”

Canticle of the SunIn anticipation of the release this morning (5:00 AM EST) of Pope Francis papal encyclical on the environment; the “Canticle of the Sun” by St. Francis of Assisi:

Most high, all powerful, all good Lord!

All praise is Yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing.

To You, alone, Most High, do they belong.
No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your name.

Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and You give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of You, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
in the heavens You have made them bright, precious and beautiful.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
and clouds and storms, and all the weather,
through which You give Your creatures sustenance.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Water;
she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom You brighten the night.
He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth,
who feeds us and rules us,
and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of You;
through those who endure sickness and trial.

Happy those who endure in peace,
for by You, Most High, they will be crowned.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Bodily Death,
from whose embrace no living person can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Happy those she finds doing Your most holy will.
The second death can do no harm to them.

Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks,
and serve Him with great humility.

Dear Holy Father!

Pope FrancisDear Holy Father:

What are we Catholics are hoping for in the pews?  St. Pope John XXIII declared his reason for calling the Second Vatican Council:  “I want to throw open the windows of the Church so that we can see out and the people can see in.”  Many of us believe that those windows were not opened enough; others hold that after the Council, those windows were shut!  In the stale air of a closed Church the clergy sexual abuse scandal became possible; and the various financial scandals involving the Vatican Bank came about more easily.  Some of the national Churches, the local dioceses; the Spirit was being stifled because of micromanaging from the Vatican Curia.

So when you were elected as our new Pope, it sent a shockwave through the Church.  From the get-go, you showed that you were going to be a very unusual Pontiff; you paid your own hotel bill, you chose not to live in the Apostolic Palace.  You have reached out to Cardinals from outside the Curia to set up a special council to advise you on reforming the bureaucracy.  You have established a commission to deal with the child abuse scandal.  You have begun to clean up the Church’s financial institutions.  You have encouraged the bishops to speak freely at the Synod of the Family, and sought input from the worldwide laity.

So what more are we looking for?  What I am looking is for more concrete action to back up your inspiring words.  I am looking for more bishops to be held accountable for their failure to act in defense of children.  I am looking for the laity to have more of a voice on who is appointed to shepherd us in our dioceses.  And I am looking for all Catholics to have more of a say in how our parishes and dioceses function.  I would like to the national conferences of bishops allowed to have more authority to speak on and to act on issues that concern the Church and country; and not have the Curia always second guessing them.  I would to see theologians have more freedom to” push the envelope,” when examining matters of faith, doctrine, and the world.  And open discussion, transparent disciplinary actions, should they go “off the rails.”

What I am looking for, Holy Father, what I am hoping for, is that the windows of the Church will once again be open wide, let the Spirit blow in, and set the Church on fire for Christ.  And if it scatters again the accumulated dust of ages; if it again shakes the structures of the Church; Holy Father, would that be such a bad thing?

Dear Leader