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!   

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Prophetic Compassion. (10th Sunday in Ordinary Time)

Compassion is prophetic. 
This is something that I find perplexing and even at times discouraging. In our Christian tradition and the world in which we live compassion is not the norm, merciful love, it seems, is extraordinary. 
Whenever I witness instinctive kindness, someone who is is not inhibited by social taboos or rules but naturally gives, I am surprised. And I wonder even why Jesus’ actions were prophetic?
While wrestling with these things I, just last night, stumbled upon a facebook status that read thus: 

"When we look past race, religion and creed to see others just like ourselves -- others who seek love and compassion -- differences that were once monumental collapse."
And that, apparently, was from a 17 year old highschool student. So beware, prophetic voices are everywhere and anywhere.  I considered lying about the author and attributing this to somebody famous (ie. Nelson Mandela) but…
Anyway, speaking of prophetic voices, Pope Francis, in his Sunday reflection described compassion as “merciful love”.  Compassion, he said, “is the attitude of God in contact with human misery, with our poverty, with our suffering, and with our grief.”  
Compassion is an attitude!
In these two quotes, or ideas, I think we find what is expressed by the gospel and the readings for today – and it is all about attitude. 
Not only is God none-prejudiced, free to react mercifully to human pain, suffering, and grief, restoring life to the child of Elijah and his Mistress, God can take a murderous and legalistic soul like Paul, a persecutor of Christians, and draw out the goodness and beauty that is there – compassionately transforming even an enemy into a prophet of love.
The message there is that if I can consider myself in the experience of somebody I detest, and exercise compassion to towards him, I am truly prophetic.
Compassion, according to the gospels, is always prophetic. 
When Jesus responds to a grieving woman, a widow, in the same manner that God responds to request of Elijah, the crowds are stunned.  When Jesus restores life, witnesses are afraid.  What does this mean for us, do they wonder?  Well it means the same for them, as it means for others, and it means the same for you and myself. 
God’s merciful love knows no limits. God loves everyone, even those whom you and I despise.  And, remarkably, God loves you and I as well. 
All of us, we are the poor, sometimes the miserable, the grieving, we are the needy who seek compassion and love.  And from God we, in stunning ways, receive it. 
And so might we be transformed by what we recieve. Like St. Paul, and like the woman in the gospel, might we share what God gives.  May merciful love change our attitudes toward others.  Might we become what we desire.  May we look past differences, and prophetically react with compassion and love to each other, and to all.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Palm Sunday Homily (Anglican Retreat)

Such can be hard to do, but disciples are called to serve.

Shortly after my Presbyteral Ordination, a couple of years ago, I was feeling on top of the world when a friend of mine cautioned me:  “Pierre,” he said, “remember these peaks when you go into the valleys”.   For better or for worse, I soon found out that honeymoons do not last.  In two years I have experienced frustration, grief, humiliation, anger and sadness, along with inner peace and joy.  Such is the nature of Christian life. 

So we have a new Bishop of Rome, as well as a new Archbishop of Canterbury.  I am not as intimately affected by the latter, but can tell you that the election of Pope Francis has placed me and many others on top of the world once again.  For anybody who wants to see change in the Roman Catholic Church this is an exciting time – but we all know the honeymoon will not last.  Scribes, Pharisees and Romans are already manoeuvring to discredit the new Pope, or to downplay the prophetic nature of his actions, linking Francis to less holy ways of the past.   Indeed difficult times lie ahead for he, for Justin Welby, and for the Church.

Christ knows all about such challenges.  When the despairing people of Jerusalem cry out for a Messiah, Jesus becomes theirs’ for a day.  But no sooner is betrayal plotted than while they are feasting together.  And through vanity it thickens (men gathered for supper jockey for positions and pledge their loyalty as though words mean anything without actions).  In the end, fear overcomes all; Jesus is abandoned and put to death. 

Apparently, we are an insecure Church.  As people of God we desperately long for a Messiah to eliminate fear and grace with unwavering hope -and sometimes despair wins.  Sometimes we fail to see the salvation walking amoung us. 

This week, holy week, is for Christians the reminder that we do not always see nor do we understand the obvious.  The passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, memorialized by Eucharist, is the source and the summit of discipleship.  These events can be a wake up call and/or a liberation.   The journey of Jesus to his cross and beyond can and does transform the clueless into the conscious, the unsure into the zealous, the afraid into the courageous, and the desperate into the hopeful, but such is a journey that never ends.  As they go with God through peaks and valleys believers become who they are, sharers in the life, death and resurrection of a Christ who has been there before. 

Ours’ is a God who makes all things possible.  From Him may we discover what it takes to do the impossible –to suffer through valleys and emerge ready, able, and willing, to serve. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Why Pomp and Pageantry is Ugly - My Liturgical Comment

Not all press on Pope Francis has been friendly.  In apologetic tone, self-described Catholic liturgical “traddies” struggle to makes sense of the Pontiff’s lowly oriented instincts.   Many Catholics grieve the end of "Benedictine" rule, characterized in part by dismay for the liturgical reforms of Vatican II.  Pope Francis signals a move toward more “simplicity” in Catholic worship;  he has said that he is not into “Carnivals”, so to speak.  Thus pietists fear the loss of an identity rooted in some of the most subversive traditions of a triumphalistic cohort.  As a man who will not be caught dead in lace, I fail to empathize.   The un-catechized equate simple with ugly and beauty with the lie that we are stuck in our sins.   The church equates beauty with salvation, confidence in the outstretching truth and the goodness of a risen Lord.  'Might we avoid the sickness of a self-referencing body' (Pope Francis)?

In Catholic worship we celebrate what God does for us.  The Eucharist is the “Source and Summit” of Christian life, where we attest that God incarnates and transforms.  Eucharist is the church’s statement that God enters this world in profound ways, and changes human beings into spirit-filled disciples.  And perhaps most importantly, Eucharist states that God sides with the poor. 

Christians believe that Christ is present whenever two or more gather in His name.  In liturgy, we say that God is present in the Word, in the Presider, in the People gathered, and in the forms of Bread and Wine.  Each of these presences carries its own, but equal, significance.  But beyond the fact that God is present to God’s people, we have to acknowledge that God affects us in the in-breaking (sacrament).  That is why we call Eucharist "the source", as well as "the summit". 

We say that Eucharist is the source because we take it with us when we leave.  In the world we are called to do for others (hence the holy Thursday foot washing) what God does for us in sacrament (symbolic of what God does through the cross).   When we return, it should be evident why Eucharist is our summit.  Common worship, complete with signs and symbols of a transformation, announces what Christians have become for the world.  Through gestures of mutual dependence, indications of baptismal dignity and universal hope, a church of prophets, teachers, proclaimers, and more, images appreciation for what God does within them.  And there is nothing more beautiful than human beings redeemed – people who serve.

Pomp and Pageantry displays the dark side of humanity.  It flaunts a perverse desire to construct superficial hierarchies, to abdicate personal accountability along with mutual dependence, and to suppress grace.  To downplay or to deny the inclusive and the transformative liberation of the risen Christ is a slap in the face to our Jewish ancestors who for centuries longed for what Christians have received.  Pomp and Pageantry is ugly because it highlights the sins of a fallen race rather than celebrating the Beauty, the Truth, and the Goodness of a victorious God. 

Of course, this is just my opinion.  

Saturday, February 16, 2013

God Alone (First Sunday of Lent)

The temptations of Jesus Christ point to the everyday experience of human beings –our tussle with seductive power and wealth.  I find it intriguing that Luke does not address our third basic persuasion (sex).  

This is a bit of a side but, for those who do not know, the knots on my cord stand for poverty, obedience and chastity – how to deal holistically with money, power and sexuality- the issue for every believer.  The Gospel directly tackles but two of three. 

Underneath the lure of food and of kingdoms for Jesus is an identity struggle.  Once alone, Jesus’ first temptation is to  serve himself and himself only.  Through this struggle he emerges (as St. Augustine says “struggle and emerge” like Jesus Christ).  He emerges zealous to worship and to serve God alone.  And, in time, Jesus would show all that to do so is to love brother and sister, the poor, the meek, the merciful, the abandoned, the lost and the confused.  As Christ becomes who He is He becomes for others; we do the same. 

This week, as you know, the Pope resigned and by and large the reaction from around the world has been positive but there are some who are less than impressed.  Few of these sorts have spoken out but an Italian politician, the granddaughter of Benito Mussolini, the Fascist dictator, has ranted that Benedict is out of line.  “The Pope is not any man,” she said this week, “he has no right to resign.  Jesus stayed on his cross and the Pope should stay on his.”  Alessandra Mussolini goes on to fret that the Popes’ resignation “will weaken the Church."

Well I cannot agree with her at all!  The fact is that the Bishop of Rome is but an office held within God’s people for the world and need not be a death-oriented sentence.  What Benedict XVI did is admirable, a humble reminder to us all that the Church exists to serve.  As children of God, brothers and sisters for Christ, each believer, every one of us, has work to do that she/he does not posses.  We do it for God and for God alone. 

But back to Jesus:  Why did he exist and what did he learn about himself in the wilderness? 

St. Paul says that there is only one Lord and that is Jesus Christ.  For believers this Christ is generous, inclusive and above all who remain equal.  God, Jesus learned, is the Lord whom all worship and the Lord whom all serve.  The Lord of Jesus Christ is the God who serves Him.  Ours’ is the Lord who, though tempted, serves us. 

As people of God we are constantly tempted, as Christ was in the wilderness, to serve only ourselves.  We struggle to accept that in order to worship and to serve God we must let go; after the example of Jesus Christ we must give ourselves to relationship.  Because God is not known until creation makes God known.  God is not loved until what God creates is beloved.  God is served where God is present, in the poor, in the Word, and in the Eucharistic feast. 

As children of God may we, like Christ, be tempted.  May this wilderness teach us who we are, and lead us to worship and to serve our God alone.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Grace, Happiness, Gratitude - the Baptism of Jesus

Speaking about grief and loss as it relates to chronic illness, Canadian actor Michael J. Fox, who suffers from Parkinson's disease, once said "My happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance (of what is) and in inverse proportion to my expectations."  Another way of expressing this is to admit that "we would all be much happier if we lowered our expectations."

But is it really possible to accept what is and be satisfied?  Should we not expect more? 
Well, personally, I am not sure if I will ever be content with status quo but I am sure that I can be a lot more grateful.
I should be more grateful because I have been baptized, and in baptism a Christian has a lot.  Like Christ, who humbled himself to be baptized before us, we through water and grace posses the very life-giving spirit of God. 

What God gives is neither entitled nor is it earned -what God gives is pure grace.   What God gives is the ability to live the beatitudal virtues of Christ himself:  to build and strengthen relationships and to bring forward a kingdom of such things as mercy, patience, charity and kindness.  Baptism is the grace to be prophetic, which is to adopt an attitude of gratitude.

Basilian Father and World Youth Day legend Tom Rosica calls baptism the “call to a prophetic career”.    A means to make the gospel our way of life, Baptism, says Rosica, is an invitation “to get our hands and feet dirty” so to speak.   The sacrament of baptism, he says, “fills human beings with boldness, confidence, and enthusiasm, reminding them that the Gospel must be proclaimed with gratitude for its proven beauty”.   And I would add its revealed beauty. 

Yes, the Gospel is indeed beautiful because Christ lived it. 

G.K. Chesterton, as you may know, said "it is not that Christianity has been tried and found wanting it is that Christianity has never been tried”.   And perhaps, in a sense, he was right – there are no perfect disciples but we know that Jesus practiced what he preached.  

Who among us gives God the gratitude God deserves? 

Whether we are Christian or not, I think we tend to think of ourselves as self-made, as though everything I have I have because I have earned.   Such is a lie we tell ourselves. 

Because in baptism we know that such is not true.   Baptism affirms that I am neither self-made nor am I alone.  In baptism we are reminded that God not only formed humanity in God’s very own image, God confirmed that we are good, that God brought us together and graced a Christian community with every opportunity to love and to give as Christ has loved and has given. 

So yes, baptism is the grace to be prophetic:  to stand out for the truth, the goodness, and the beauty that comes from God alone; the grace to witness to things that come from above, and to give from ourselves especially when it hurts. 

In the spirit of Christ Jesus whose baptism we celebrate today, may we accept the grace of our own baptism.    As one prophetic voice, may this community of baptized be nothing other than grateful for all that it has.