Saturday, May 19, 2018

Feast of the Holy Spirit/Feast of Canadian Franciscans

Just before our OFM Chapter of Mats in Loretteville, Quebec, I sat to be interviewed by Salt and Light Media.  This was not our first conversation, so the reporter had been given already, from me, a sense of the occasion.  As we spoke he was, in his head, continuing to formulate the story and questions that would feed the spin.  One word that was a particular preoccupation for the reporter was that of “unity”.  And his most pointed, memorable, and frankly disturbing (to me at the time) question was this: “Why is unity important?”

The question caught me off guard because “unity” is not the word we have been using to describe our Order’s restructuring process in Canada.   As Franciscans, it is, in my view, a given that we are one, the important question is “Why, or at least how, are we united?”  And, to drive home this point the word we have been using, and is, in my view, more appropriate, more representative of the subsidiary and incarnational nature of our Canadian Franciscan restructuring process is that of “diversity”. 

As Church, we are a diverse communion of Spirit-animated disciples.  We are, we believe, united and diverse.  But, more importantly, we are by the Spirit.  

Today is the feast of the Canadian Franciscan Province to be; united, diverse, and animated by the Spirit we hope to become (the friars have just learned that the new Pan-Canadian Franciscan entity will be called the Holy Spirit Province Saint-Esprit).

Imagery from all three readings for Pentecost provide a wholesome framework for what we Canadian Franciscan Friars are becoming.  In Acts, for starters, the spirit divides Galileans into many languages – although they are not really divided at all, they are, rather, being equipped for mission.  Though the friends of Jesus are one, both in history and in what they preach, His disciples, with the help of the Spirit, will do so in a variety of ways. 

Variety is expressed, as well, by St. Paul.  In 1 Corinthians, he speaks of a variety of gifts and members, all animated by a single Spirit that is Holy.  Together, they work toward a common good.

And, of course, there is the Gospel.  Jesus today, as always, points to what the Spirit, who is Holy, does in our lives.  Himself an example of the Spirit’s Good-News, Jesus comes upon his friends where they have locked themselves away for fear of their pasts.  From fear Jesus lifts his followers to send them out with that which animates him first -the Holy Spirit of peace and reconciliation. 

As Christians, if we truly believe in this narrative, we are all too raised, healed, and sent in this same way.  We are united, not only by our history, but more importantly by our mission to proclaim the Good News to all peoples, of all languages, cultures, and traditions.   We are a people of the Spirit, made Holy by the one who unites commissions.

As one people then, as one Canadian Franciscan Province, we are without question, diverse.  But we are very obviously united.  If only we recognize how, and embrace why we are one, we will do for others what Christ Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, does for all of us.  

Friday, September 1, 2017

In the Footsteps of the Récollets - renewing a missionary charism!

This summer, thirteen “able bodied” missionaries, Canadian Franciscans, made a historical, and transformative, pilgrimage along Quebec’s Saint Lawrence River from Montreal to Percé (Perce Rock) and back.  Led by Fr. Guylain Prince, OFM, of Trois-Rivières, the “young friars” (four of these men have not yet made their Solemn Vows) delved deep into their Religious Order’s history, rediscovering the heroic stories documented by Canadas’ pioneers of the Christian faith.  While camping, hiking, prayer and fraternal fellowship, were essential to the pilgrim experience, it was the humbly promulgated history of the Récollets, known since 1893 as the Franciscans (Order of Friars Minor), that would have the profoundest impact on these servants of the Word for today, tasked as was St. Francis of Assisi, to renew God’s Church in their own time and place.   

Most Canadians, especially Canadian Catholics, have a sense of the significance of the Jesuit contribution, which has been anything but small, to the shaping of the Church and social fabric of Canada over the last four hundred years, but few have the
slightest idea of what Franciscans have done.  The first priests and brothers to venture into the continent, on board with Samuel du Chaplain in 1615, Franciscan Friars (then known as Récollets) have served God and Canada in noteworthy and inspirational ways.  Primary sources paint a picture of adventurous and dedicated labourers of the Gospel who were unpretentious and consistently aligned with the faithful, while so often at odds with both Ecclessial and Civil authorities of a Colony. 

Several notable events make the case for recognizing the Franciscans as Canadas “first Missionaries”.  Franciscan, or Récollet, Priests presided at the first documented Eucharastic Celebrations, the first baptisms, and the first marriages – all between 1615 and 1629 – in New France.  It was a Récollet, Joseph LeCaron, who in 1624 first announced to the world that Saint Joseph had been chosen as Patron of Canada.  And, the Récollets claim the first martyr, Nicolas Veil, drowned by the Huron in 1625. 

While this latter event would indicate some initial tension between the friars (or Europeans in general) and Canada’s first peoples (particularly the Hurons), a reading of Gabriel Sagard (Le grand voyage au pays des Hurons, 1632), Nicolas Viel’s companion, paints a harmonious vision for mutual evangelisation between the French and Native Peoples.  In Sagard, one finds a deep respect for not only first nations culture but their religion, as well as a call for integration, which includes intermarriage between natives and settlers.  The Récollets, along with Champlain, had a dream that would, unfortunately, be stifled by forces contrary to the authentic mission of disciples.      

Rooting and renewing their own missionary identity, our pilgrim friars for today were graced to rediscover legends of a once emerging French Canadian Church.  The learned about Brother Didace Pelletier and Emmanuel Creshel, for example.  Long considered the Saint of Saint Ann de Beaupre, Pelletier, a Récollet carpenter, was believed to be responsible for the miraculous healing of Quebec City’s second Bishop, Jean-Baptiste de Saint-Vallier.  For his part, Emmanuel Crespel, is known less for his piety and more for his leadership.  The once provincial Superior of the friars in the Colony, Crespel spent the winter of 1736-37 playing not only chaplain but nurse and doctor to 54 fellow shipwrecks on the Island of Anticosti, in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.  Less than half of the stranded would survive to see their families or friends again.    

Driven out twice, and finally forbidden, by the British Royal Government, to recruit vocations, Canada’s last living Récollet would die in 1813, but the fruits of their labours would endure.  For nearly 70 years, the Franciscan third order, also known as the Secular Franciscans, kept a the hope of Saint Francis alive and regularly pleaded with
their bishops to bring the friars back to Canada.  Finally in 1881, the Abbé Leon Provencher of Cape Rouge, invited the Flemish Franciscan Friar Fredéric Jansoone, OFM, to preach missions throughout Quebec, and the next (and still ongoing) chapter of Franciscan missions to Canada would begin.      

Saturday, September 13, 2014

FOR GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD: A Homily for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross

“For God so loved the world”(John 3:16).  

Is there a better premise on which to base a life?  
‘For God so loves us, for God so loves me, for God even loves those I do not love so much.’
It is hard to argue with the thesis of John’s Gospel:  a Gospel that explains so well the marriage between the Incarnation and life in the Spirit, affirming the unequivocal goodness of Creation and the transcending nature of faith –all providing hope for genuine resurrection.
But the Philippians hymn, that also we hear today, is not bad either. 
It reminds of once upon a time while I was struggling and a wise person rather providentially said to me that a vocation is grounded in service – it (the Christian calling) does not make sense without a significant other to love.   

I think she was right.

Unless we empty ourselves of ourselves and become open to mystery, to needs and wants outside of ourselves, we implode (and sink). 
Life in the spirit demands self-sacrifice, genuine care, and compassion for others who long to be loved.
The Christian calling is, sine glossa, to love as Jesus loved. 
And it never hurts to remind ourselves that “God loved us first”(1 John 4.19), while Jesus loved his friends to the end (John 13.1).

In preparation for the upcoming Synod on the Family, a Belgian bishop has written an inspiring theological expose on his ‘expectations’ for the Synod where he wrestles with the relationship between the Church and the World - the world that, of course, God so loved.   Bishop Bonny makes the point that while with Christ it was indeed all against one, it was never one against all. 
“Jesus opened his heart and his arms to people whoever they were and whatever their experience in life.  There were no walls or boundaries around his mercy and compassion.  He went from village to village to be sure that no sick person would elude him, no leper seek him in vain, no sinner be left without forgiveness.  He entered into dialogue with unexpected dialogue partners and accepted invitations to dine with people of questionable character.  He was not particular or exclusive in his choice of friends or table companions, not even in his choice of apostles.  These,” the bishop says “are the tracks on which Jesus placed the Church.  In her relationship with the world and the people who live in it, the Church should exhibit the same openness and compassion as her founder.”

Well friends, we are the Church and we are to follow Jesus.  Might we do so by being open. Might we ground ourselves in the words of Jesus, believing that God truly loves the world including all of us who remain within it.  With hope for resurrection, might we too love and serve. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Dying to Love: Transitus of St. Francis (Oct.3)

Christians are different on death.

Much to the confusion of our world, we celebrate death; we speak positively about passing on.

Christians honour death-days.  Tonight for example, we celebrate St. Francis’ departure to what we perceive as a better place, with a dead and risen Lord. 

Because, for believers, dying is rising! 

Death is, for disciples, the beginning of service, a movement toward relationship, and the manifestation of the most important fruit of all, love. 

Over the past few months I have had some dark thoughts around dying.  I have wondered: What if the Church changed?  What if the People of God, universally, adopted the Franciscan ideal (which is nothing other than the gospel); would the Franciscan Orders and charism become irrelevant?  Would we as a Franciscan Order, after 800 years, meet our own death?

I think, fundamentally, the answer is yes we would but in faith I feel secure in this vocation because I also doubt. I doubt the ability of the Church or the Order to achieve the ideal; I trust that St. Francis’ vision and the gospel will always be radical, hoped for, for us all to strive toward, rather than be satisfied in us.  I hope, and that is why I can call myself a Christian, but like St. Thomas I doubt.  We all know that change is coming in the Church, but some of us need to touch the mark of the nails, so to speak, before we can truly believe. 

This week Pope Francis expressed his hope for the Church as she attempts reform and renewal, and oddly enough his hopes were based on the hopes of our Holy Seraphic Father Francis I (of Assisi). 

On his namesake, the “bishop of Rome” states:

“St. Francis of Assisi is great because he is everything. He is a man who wants to do things, wants to build, he founded an Order and its rules, he is an itinerant and a missionary, a poet and a prophet, he is mystical. He found evil in himself and rooted it out. He loves nature, animals, the blade of grass on the lawn and the birds flying in the sky. But above all St. Francis loved people, children, old people, women.  He is our most shining example of agape,” love.

St. Francis, in others words, exudes an ideal.

And the Pope continues:

"Francis wanted a mendicant Order and an itinerant one; Missionaries who wanted to meet, listen, talk, help, to spread faith and love. Especially love.  And he dreamed of a poor Church that would take care of others, receive material aid and use it to support others, with no concern for itself.  800 years have passed since then and times have changed, but the ideal of a missionary, poor Church is still more than valid. This is still the Church that Jesus and his disciples preached about."

This ideal, in other words, persists.  It will never go away.  Christians, and especially Franciscans, must aspire to the poverty of Jesus Christ – an ideal we must hope to immolate.
The teachings of Jesus, that St. Francis put above all other “prescriptions”, remain the lifeblood of the People of God. Yet, it is only when dying to ourselves that we begin to understand our Lord’s counsels. 

Not as individuals do we come to the truth (and beauty and goodness) but together, and only together are we truly free.  It is only when we aspire beyond our own deadly wants that we begin to know the real needs of others and to do what Jesus says to do, to wash feet. 

On his deathbed, on this very night many moons ago, St. Francis told his companions “I have done what is mine to do, may Christ teach you what is yours’.”

St. Francis’ life, and his particular vocation, is over.  He died; now we must live as called.  Christ, in like and purer manner, died and set us free, free to follow his lead, free to discover each other – to serve, to relate, and to love. 

May we listen to Francis and follow our Lord’s example by dying to ourselves.  May we rejoice in what death has accomplished, and do what is ours, in particular, to do.   Above and beyond all else, may we love as we are loved. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Feast of St. Clare. Follow a Loving and Faithful God.

For Franciscans, today is the feast of the great St. Clare of Assisi.  I think of St. Clare as the feminine side of Franciscan spirituality. If Francis was the worker, Clare was the prayer.  Clare pushed Francis to assess his relationships, to trust his intuition, and to follow his instincts for compassion toward the poor and the outcasts, particularly lepers.    
Clare believed in an intimate and meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ, a loving and faithful God.  Because of her strong sense of God as spouse and lover, she challenges us to soften our hearts and to treasure what we (males in particular) may rather suppress.  
And so a gospel that points to the heart is most fitting for Clare’s feast.
As Jesus says, “where your heart is, there also your treasure may be.”
From the human heart, as Clare concurred, spurs real treasure indeed.  The heart, which does not lie, is the garden of faith, the place where true insight, even prophecy, is born.  The heart is the host of things assured, the generator, so to speak, of conviction, trust, courage, humility, and strength – all of which are brought out as themes in Hebrews – all fruits of faith in Jesus Christ (a heart tendering and faithful God). 
Faith itself is a pilgrimage of sorts.   A certainty that seeks to understand, faith wants more.   Like Abraham, a good Jew, the faithful Christian journeys without knowing where he is being led, or what he will lose along the way.  Like Sarah his wife, she knows not what unexpected blessings she will receive, or what promises to her will be fulfilled.  The faithful Christian, male or female, trusts and so follows. 
Jesus says ‘be not afraid!’  ‘Go, but shed the distractions from me, and most certainly leave your weapons behind’ –as St. Francis did literally after his second crusade.  Because the only valuables that disciples possess cannot distributed by force.   Not by power, not by prestige, nor by wealth is the gospel proclaimed, does God’s love and mercy change lives.  Not in any other way than the way that Christ came into the world (than how God’s love was first announced) can it be revealed again by those who have been converted.  A God who is poor and meek, can be made known only by disciples who are themselves poor and meek.  Love is sown by lovers.
Which returns us to the treasure within.  And here I quote Richard Rohr who says:
“Who you are before God is all you are, and you are more than enough. Everything else is passing away. Your reputation, your titles, your possessions and roles do not define you" they only distract from who you really are and what truly matters. 
Sisters and brothers, we are God’s treasure.  And be our hearts are disposed to God, thus is so that we can know that we are loved by God.  The part of me, the heart, that does not lie leads me to Jesus Christ (he who alone who defines), a God who loves and treasures everyone.   
With faith, our hearts lead.  With faith, we leave extra baggage behind and share pardon and peace with the world. 

In faith may we journey toward intimate, honest and trusting relations with the God who treasures us.  May we sow in others what a loving and faithful God has sown in our hearts, following a poor, meek, and vulnerable Saviour.  

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Feast of Holy Father Dominic! Heresy and the Word becoming Flesh

“I give you the keys.  Whatever you bind will be bound, whatever you loose will be loosed.”

Today we celebrate the feast of the St. Domenic, founder of the Dominican Order, and because of his historical relationship to St. Francis of Assisi, a “Holy Father” even to Franciscans.  St. Domenic, and the Dominicans, have a charism to preach, and more specifically, to purge heresy from the Church. 
The first heresy that St. Domenic, a 12th century priest, was charged to preach-out was known as the Albigensian heresy.  Domenic’s first target thus, the Albigensians, a group of self-described believers who insisted that all matter was evil.  Recycled from the early church, this heresy (at that time called docetism) arguably influenced the making of John’s gospel in the sense that John is the strongest proclamation of the opposite.  It is the heresy that denies the humanity of Jesus Christ.  Docetism denies that Word becomes flesh, that creation is good and that everything from God has dignity.  And like all heresies, this one tends to resurface. 

The heresy that denies material and therefore human goodness is the heresy that tempts all of us to exclude or to condemn those who are different from ourselves.  If I deny that creation is good, essentially denying the first paragraph of John’s Gospel as well as the first chapter of Genesis, I deny that God became one of us, that God truly loves.  And if I deny these things, which are a denial of the incarnation, I can more easily discard those who are different (races, cultures, creeds, genders, sexualities, etc).  I can discard those who are small, weak, or unable to speak for themselves. I can abuse the power within me, and persecute my neighbour.   And I can react as Peter does, frightened and angry, to Jesus’ revelation that a real Messiah gets crucified – that the gospel is rejected.

To deny that the Word becomes flesh is to deny the authentic love of God, it is to deny that the gospel is a living reality, and that even we as Church, bind and loose.  Something we do with the help of God’s spirit alive in our flesh. 

This may be the human beings’ greatest temptation - to deny our own inherent goodness, the image of God that we reflect, the spirit alive in all of us, and to therefore refuse to work for justice, peace, and mercy; such is to exclude and to condemn.
As people of God we posses the power, which is the love, of God.  We behold the means to come together, to forge genuine peace and to reconcile, to build-up with Christ a kingdom of love and mercy, a place where all belong.  And we posses all of this because the Word becomes flesh and dwells within us.  May we take hold of the keys and bind what should be bound, and loose what ought to be set free.       

Saturday, June 22, 2013

In Faith We Are One

Today we are graced to reflect on St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians, a passage that truly explains the identity of Christians, the Church.  We are one! 

“In Christ, we are neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, woman nor man, we are one.”

As People of God we are one in faith, that which we have been baptised into.  Neither race nor culture, profession, income nor status, gender nor sexuality, define us – we are one in Christ Jesus and He alone, united because we believe.  And yet, praise God, we remain different. 

This Christian identity, explained by St. Paul, is affirmed by the gospel.  When Jesus orders the disciples to “tell no-one” about their perceptions in terms of Jesus’ identity, an identity that is only comprehensible after he dies and rises, Jesus asserts that he himself is not defined or accessed by words.  Who I say that Jesus is matters little; my life, not my words, may make him and my convictions known.

It is never what is said, but what is done, that that truly converts and binds human beings. 

And at a deeper level, it is not even what Christians do but what they believe that matters most.  It is how we are “clothed”, so to speak. 

Every believer should ask herself:  Am I clothed by what I believe? 

Do I wear the salvation, the hope, the joy, the peace and the love of Jesus Christ –on my heart and for all to see? 

Because though we are different (difference being just one  grace God shares– life would surely be boring if all folks were the same), believers share the greatest gifts of all.  People of faith share the grace to reflect God for each other as well as the world.  We share the grace to be ourselves, and free at the same time.  We share the grace to create as God creates, to bond as we have been bonded.  In Christ we share the grace to love as we are loved. 

May we believe in this grace.  In our ever discerning quest to become who we truly are as Christians, may we not be discouraged or deterred by words –the expressed differences amoung us or within the world that God ever sees as good (Genesis 1:31)- but become united in faith, not to mention hope and love. 

Clothed by conviction and uniquely themselves, may all be one Jesus Christ!