Pope Francis in Arabia

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.

Pope Francis

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.

Thanksgiving Day – 2017

Thanksgiving_grace_1942I am on Cape Cod this Thanksgiving Day, with my wife, her mother and some of her siblings, nephews and nieces.  After a wet drive from the South Shore the night before, this day has been sunny, clear, crisp and cool. In the morning we went to the local Catholic church, and attended a Thanksgiving Mass.  My wife, Peg’s father passed away in October, so after Mass, we visited his grave.

As I write this, various members of the family have bringing their donations for this Thanksgiving tableevening’s dinner.  Food is being prepared, table cloths spread out, and the table has been set.  With all this activity, I have begun to reflect on the meaning of Thanksgiving Day.  Some trace it roots to the English Reformation, during the time when the Puritans had strong influence over the Church of England.  Holy days were done away with; to be replaced by Days of Fasting during times of national tragedies, or stress, and Days of Thanksgiving for good harvests and national victories.  The Pilgrims brought these practices with them to New England.  Various colonies and then states would proclaim days of Thanksgiving.  Abraham Lincoln would issue a presidential proclamation, establishing Thanksgiving as a holiday throughout all the states.

Thanksgiving Day was meant to be a time of both feasting, and prayer.  But as with Christmas and Easter, Thanksgiving has fallen prey to commercial interests.  Stores, car dealerships, you name it, sponsor special “Thanksgiving sales,” using the images of Pilgrims, Indians, pumpkins and turkeys to promote their wares.  Groups of people have a different approach to the day.  The Massachusetts town of Plymouth has a community parade celebrating the day; Native Americans hold a Day of Mourning.

May it be time to try to bring back the spiritual aspect of Thanksgiving?  Whether you are a Christian or not; a believer or not; we all need to have time reflect on what good has happened in our lives this past year, if only to counter the negative experiences we may have had.  As a believer, this day makes me aware that all Creation is gift; that our lives are gift; gifts from a loving God.  Sometimes, circumstances may lead us to doubt that, but life is a gift, and God still cares for us, in wondrous and mysterious ways.  And I am grateful for that.

As I walk around and see the woods and fields in autumn; when I look up into the evening sky, studded with stars, I am moved to thank God for the awesome beauty I am seeing.  I close with a prayer from the writings of St. Francis of Assisi.  Not exactly a Thanksgiving prayer, but I think it is appropriate for the day:

Most High, all powerful, good Lord,
Yours are the praises, the glory, the honor,
and all blessing.
To You alone, Most High, do they belong,
and no man is worthy to mention 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.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon
and the stars, in heaven you formed them
clear and precious and beautiful.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene,
and every kind of weather through which
You give sustenance to Your creatures.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water,
which is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you light the night and he is beautiful
and playful and robust and strong.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Mother Earth,
who sustains us and governs us and who produces
varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
Praised be You, my Lord,
through those who give pardon for Your love,
and bear infirmity and tribulation.
Blessed are those who endure in peace
for by You, Most High, they shall be crowned.
Praised be You, my Lord,
through 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.

(Canticle of the Sun)

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Weekend Coffee Share – 10/22/2017

deacon coffee mugWelcome! Here is a cup of coffee, hot off the Keurig. Today, I want to share experiences from last weekend. Last Saturday, the second Saturday of the month, my Secular Franciscan fraternity holds its monthly meeting. It is held at Saint Anthony’s Shrine, located in downtown Boston, MA. I have been trying to attend this meeting more regularly; so, I was up early in the morning, grabbing a commuter train. I transferred to the subway, and got off at Downtown Crossing, Boston.
I came early into the city; so I would be able to walk around the area before the meeting. It had Downtown Crossing 2017been a while since I had made such a walk about. The biggest change in the neighborhood, is the Millennium Tower. Built in the space where the famous Filene’s Department Store once stood, it is a very, very tall high-rise building. It houses department stores, offices, and condominium apartments. I have not been around Millenium Towerthe entire building, so I was amazed at the changes I saw! One thing that really stood out for me; was the number of coffee shops that are in neighborhood now! I am not talking about an increase in the number of Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks; but places like Caffe Nero. One can imagine the amount of caffeine flowing through the veins of the residents and office workers!
Bromfield Pen ShopOne stop that I had to make was the Bromfield Pen Shop, which is located, where else? On Bromfield Street! It has the largest collection writing instruments, including fountain pens, I have ever seen. And the most expensive collection of pens I have ever seen! I like looking over their pens, and the notebooks and journals they sell also. Sadly, I have only been able to purchase a Pelikano Junior, a very sturdy plastic fountain pen. I purchased a new box of ink cartridges for it, and with a wistful look behind me, left the shop.

St Paul cathedral EpiscopalI continued to walk up Bromfield St., towards Tremont St., which forms one border of the Boston Common.  My intention was to visit the Episcopal St. Paul Cathedral.  The church was established in 1819, as an Episcopalian parish.  In 1912, St. Paul’s was designated as the Cathedral Church of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts.  When I worked in the Downtown, I would visit St. Paul’s on a regular basis; I found the quiet interior to be conducive to meditation.  Back then, it still had, what I would call, cubicle seating.  The pews arrangedInterior St Paul and separated by stalls.  I had heard that the cathedral church was going to be renovated, and I wanted to see the result.  When I entered the main church, I was stunned!  Gone were the pews, the memorial plaques on the walls, the altar rail.  It was wide open space, with stackable, plain chairs arranged for some service.  The interior was flooded with natural light, streaming from the skylights above.  And in the center, was a labyrinth.  Music flooded the church, as an organist was playing at the organ in the chancel of the Cathedral.  I still had a very peaceful experience during my time there.
I left the Cathedral and made my way to the Shrine, to attend the 12:00 Noon Mass, with the rest of the fraternity. I had forgotten that this Mass was going to be a special one, because we were St. Anthony Shrine 2017celebrating a Profession. A young man, Bobby Hillis, was going to profess his intention to live the Gospel life, in the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi, by following the Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order. For about a year and half, he has been in formation, learning what it means to be a Franciscan; in his personal life; his life in the Church; his life in the world. After the homily, before the Franciscan priest, who was our celebrant, and our fraternity Minister, and the whole Fraternity, he declared:

I, Bobby Hillis, by the grace of God, renew my baptismal promises and consecrate myself to the service of his Kingdom. Therefore, in my secular state I promise to live all the days of my life the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Secular Franciscan Order by observing its rule of life. May the grace of the Holy Spirit, the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and our holy father St. Francis, and the fraternal bonds of community always be my help, so that I may reach the goal of perfect Christian love.
[Ritual of the Secular Franciscan Order, pp. 23 & 24.]

After the Profession Mass, we all gathered in the Shrine’s auditorium for a celebratory luncheon. For anytime a new member is professed, it “is a cause of great joy and hope for all the members of the community and for the whole Church.” (Ritual, p. 24)

SFO Profession 1 102017

SFO Profession 2 2017

 

So that was my trip into downtown Boston; now the coffee cups have to go into the dishwasher rack. Hope to see you again next week.

 

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)

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.

A Different Type of Cardinal

Cardinal Sean Weed WhackerThe Boston Pilot reported that on May 11th, 2015,Cardinal Sean O’Malley OFM CAP, Archbishop of Boston, joined staff members of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center, at St. Mary of the Angels Parish in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston.  They were participating in Parish Service Week, where Pastoral Center employees spend the day at an inner city parish, helping to spruce up the parish grounds.  It is an opportunity for the staff to have contact with the urban parishes; get a sense of what is happening on the local level, and see what their needs are.  Cardinal Sean, after some instruction, went to town with a weed whacker, clearing the over growth around the parish buildings and yards.  He even cleared the brush around a statue of St. Francis of Assisi

Pope Francis has stated that he expects bishops and pastors to have the smell of their sheep.  It seems that Cardinal Sean is trying to live up to that expectation.  It is one of the reasons I have a great deal of respect for my fellow Franciscan.

Letter Found on a Road; Hope is Renewed

TAU crossIn the early 13th century, a tradesman is walking down a road in the Umbrian valley of Italy.  He is bent over under the weight of the tools of his trade on his back.  It is not just the weight on his back that bends him over; it is the weight on his soul.  He is a God fearing man, he is a regular church attendee, he prays daily.  Yet, he is afraid that he will never encounter Christ, he will never entire the Kingdom of God.  He hears priests preaching that only those who enter the priesthood, those who are monks and nuns, sequestered in their monasteries and convents; will see the face of God.  And people like him, no matter how hard they strive to live a holy life; will only see Christ after eons in purgatory, being cleansed of their sins.

On the road, he suddenly notices a rolled up piece of parchment.  He picks it up, unrolls it, and sees a letter, written in rough Italian, signed with a Tau cross, “T.”  He begins to read:

“All who love the Lord with their whole heart, with their whole soul and mind, with all their strength (Mt 22:39), and love their neighbors as themselves (Mt 22: 39) and hate their bodies with their vices and sins, and receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and produce worthy fruits of penance:

Oh, how happy and blessed are these men and women when they do these things and persevere in doing them because ‘the spirit of the Lord will rest upon them’ (Is 11:2)…” *

The tradesman heart suddenly is unburdened; he sees the world anew with hope filled eyes.  He hears church bells ringing; he sets off again down the road, towards the city of Assisi.

*These are words written by St. Francis of Assisi, to a group of pious lay men and women.  The document has been entitled “Exhortation of Saint Francis to the Brothers and Sisters of Penance.”