Third Tuesday in Advent

Francis and the Christ Child
Francis and the Christ Child

“Advent is the season of the secret, the secret of the growth of Christ, of Divine Love growing in silence. It is the season of humility, silence, and growth. For nine months Christ grew in his mother’s body. By his own will, she formed him from herself, from the simplicity of her daily life.”–Caryll Houselander, woodcarver and mystic

“Hannah, his mother, approached Eli and said: ‘Pardon, my lord! As you live my lord, I am the woman who stood near you here, praying to the LORD. I prayed for this child, and the LORD granted my request. Now I, in turn, give him to the LORD; as long as he lives, he shall be dedicated to the LORD.’ She left him there.”—1 Samuel 1:26-28

A classic Chasidic story says that when the rabbi of Kotzker was asked, “Where is the place of the Messiah’s glory?” he replied, “Wherever we give Him room, wherever we make space for Him.” Where is the tender place in you where the Messiah will come to birth?

The Christmas crèche is a tangible reminder for us to make room for the Christ Child. The tradition dates back to St. Francis of Assisi. As the story goes, on Christmas Eve in 1293, Francis gathered with friars and townsfolk in the woods on Mt. Subasio. There, under the canopy of flowering ash and downy oak, was laid a trough filled with hay. Oxen and a donkey were tied to a tree. In his delight at the sight of Bethlehem in his own little corner of the Umbrian hills, Francis danced in praise and sang the gospel.

When the impromptu mass was over, Francis went to the crib and stretched out his arms as if to hold the infant Jesus. And for a moment, so the story is told, the Christ Child appeared. The empty manger was filled with a radiant light.

Remember to set an extra place for the unexpected guest at your Christmas meal.

“O Dayspring, Brightness of the everlasting light, Son of justice, come to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death!”

Breathe in. Breathe out. Ad…..vent.

With gratitude to Pax Christi USA where some of these reflections first appeared in print.

Pope Francis: The Danger of Being ‘Merely Philanthropists’

mixed media 205 x 185 x 80 cm
Doubting Thomas poking at Christ’s chest wound by Michael Landy (Picture: National Gallery)

Below I include Pope Francis’ reflections this morning on the Feast of St. Thomas offered during Mass in the Santa Marta guest house where he lives. The accompanying art by Michael Landy illustrates to me the dangers of “mechanizing” our experience of touching of the wounds of Christ:

“After the Resurrection Jesus appears to the apostles, but Thomas is not there: He wanted him to wait a week. The Lord knows why He does such things. And He allows the time He believes best for each of us. He gave Thomas a week. Jesus reveals himself with His wounds: His whole body was clean, beautiful and full of light, but the wounds were and are still there, and when the Lord comes at the end of the world, we will see His wounds. Before he could believe, Thomas wanted to place his fingers in the wounds. He was stubborn. But that was what the Lord wanted – a stubborn person to make us understand something greater. Thomas saw the Lord and was invited to put his finger into the wounds left by the nails; to put his hand in His side. He did not merely say, ‘It’s true: the Lord is risen’. No! He went further. He said: ‘God’. He was the first of the disciples to confess the divinity of Christ after the Resurrection. And he worshipped Him.

And so, we understand what the Lord’s intention was when He made him wait: He wanted to take his disbelief and guide him not just to an affirmation of the Resurrection, but an affirmation of His Divinity. The path to our encounter with Jesus-God are his wounds. There is no other. In the history of the Church several mistakes have been made on the path towards God. Some have believed that the Living God, the God of Christians can be found by the path of meditation, and indeed that we can reach higher levels through meditation. That is dangerous! How many are lost on that path, never to return? Yes, perhaps they arrive at a knowledge of God, but not of Jesus Christ, Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity. They do not arrive at that. It is the path of the gnostics, isn’t it? They are good, they work, but they have not found the right path. It is very complicated and does not lead to a safe harbour.

Continue reading “Pope Francis: The Danger of Being ‘Merely Philanthropists’”

Franciscans Say Voting is a ‘Communal Decision-Making Process’ (Part II)

In the middle of this crazy election season, I’ve appreciated the thoughtful leadership of the Franciscans in how to approach difficult decisions.

The Franciscan Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation Directorate is presenting short pieces to help introduce particularly Franciscan and Catholic approaches to the decision-making process. (Click here for the first installment.)

I urge you to read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt from their second installment:

As Franciscans, we see voting as a communal decision-making process that eschews political slogans and mere intellectual abstractions or principles. Instead, it begins with a call to pay close attention to our experience, especially to our relationship with those who are powerless and marginalized. This unique path of discernment goes back to St. Francis of Assisi. Just as St. Francis of Assisi encountered Christ and his love in the embrace of the leper, we as Franciscan-hearted people are invited to embrace the excluded of today and speak for those who are not able to speak for themselves (Proverbs 31:8-9).

Now more than ever, our love for Christ and all the powerless and vulnerable who bear his image impels us to bring their voices to the public square. To do this, it is incumbent upon us to ask critical questions and identify the processes by which so many of our brothers and sisters are being impoverished and excluded. Our desire for integrity and the all-embracing vision of God’s love calls us to transcend the blind spots and biases of any political party with its ideologies.

As we work to this end, we hope that in the silence of our hearts, made more open by compassion, we can behold the beauty of all God’s creation, especially the children who are victims of abortion, the children who live and die in abject poverty, the elderly, the immigrants, the victims of injustice, violence and war, and the homeless, the sick and the unemployed.

Read the rest of Franciscans Are Not ‘Party Animals’ (Part II)

Catholic Cardinal Discusses Competition in a ‘Climate-Constrained Environment’

Cardinal Peter Turkson
On October 27, Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, identified climate change as a critical challenge in the modern world in his welcome to world religious leaders at the Day of Reflection, Dialogue and Prayer for Peace and Justice in the World held in Assisi, Italy.

The Assisi event celebrated and reiterated Pope John Paul II’s 1991 convening for world peace in St. Francis’ hometown.

“We come from different religious traditions and from various parts of the world to renew and strengthen a quest for the truth that each of us, out of our own tradition, is ceaselessly committed to. We come also to bear witness to the great power of religion for good, and to renew a common commitment to building peace, to reconciling those in conflict and to bringing man back into harmony with creation.

The twenty-five years of our joint effort for peace have richly displayed our sense of brotherhood and solidarity in the service of our world and the human family. But the years have also been fraught with challenges to the sense of man and history. We have entered a century in which ideologies would reduce the sense of human person, and distort the relationships with nature. The strong resource competition among peoples in a climate-constrained environment threatens to dissolve the fabric of human society and devastate the very order of creation which Francis of Assisi praised in his Canticle of the Sun. The beautiful song bespeaks an awakening to the universe to be seen not only as a collection of things to be worked and consumed but also as a “community of life” to be entered into profoundly, humbly and creatively.”–Roman Catholic Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace

Read Cardinal Turkson’s complete presentation.

October 4: Francis of Assisi

October 4 is the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, il poverello, the poor one, whose voice in the newly emerging mercantile class of the 13th century warned of the greed and corruption and destitution that would come when the world was run more on profit for the rich than it was on a prophetic commitment to the poor. And he was right.

But Francis was known for more than protests.

Francis loved animals, too. He was a walking apostle for ecology and the protection of woodlands, which, having been destroyed for parking lots and housing estates, leave animals who once lived in caves and forests to spill over into our largest cities. He talked to the animals. He understood them. He knew their place in creation.

No doubt about it. In a world where species after species is disappearing under the rubric of “progress,” where animals are being used for research on materials and cosmetics, where the boundaries between forests and cities are fast disappearing, where bears show up in shopping districts of major cities and crocodiles show up on people’s front lawns, we need St. Francis now.

It is also becoming clear that Francis knew what we are only now discovering.

Continue reading “October 4: Francis of Assisi”

Franciscans on 9/11: ‘Actions based solely on fear are rarely fruitful, and frequently destructive.’

At Mass today at St. Camillus, newly minted Franciscan friar Erick Lopez preached a powerful sermon. Drawing on the prescient lectionary readings from Sirach, Romans, and Matthew, he reminded us of the great compassion that we have all felt toward the victims of the al-Qaeda attacks.

He also read a letter from an Afghan third-grader to her American counterparts, in which she also expressed her compassion for those who had suffered in the attacks. This kind of unjustified violence is something her country has experienced for more than 30 years.

He laid out the path that one must walk to follow the Prince of Peace. A path that is paved with our human brokenness and that leads toward healing when we make a decision – every morning when we wake up – to choose to forgive. He concluded with a thundering voice from the pulpit: “We must NOT look for our security in flags, but in the cross of Jesus Christ.” The congregation responded with thunderous applause.

Below is a letter signed by representatives from eight Franciscan provinces in the U.S. and U.K. addressing the Sept. 11 memorial.

As the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks approaches, the friars of Holy Name Province and seven other Franciscan provinces — six American along with one in England — have released a statement urging Catholics in the United States and around the world to stay informed, to stand firmly against all forms of prejudice and discrimination and to find responses that “can unlock the full potential of the human imagination for good.”

In this message, distributed last week to Holy Name friars, the collaborating provinces recommend five ways that friars and partners-in-ministry can “live the Gospel in the way of St. Francis.” The statement is also available in Spanish.

As we remember and honor, may we move away from fear and toward “the other”

Throughout the liturgical year, as Catholics and Franciscans we are called to remember events in the life of Christ, the Church and the holy men and women who served the Church. Likewise as Americans, we annually remember those individuals and events that have significantly shaped our nation. These days of remembrance — both religious and civil — invite us to examine where we’ve been as a Church and as a nation, where we are now, and where we need to go.

For the past 10 years, since Sept. 11, 2001, we have remembered the men, women and children — our family members, our friends and co-workers — who lost their lives on that tragic day. For many, the process of healing from that trauma continues to this day. In addition to summoning us to solemnly honor the dead and gratefully remember the many compassionate “first responders,” these annual commemorations also have underscored the urgent need to understand the complexity of our world in terms of politics, economics, culture and religion, particularly that of Islam.

To this end, many of our ministries have developed close relationships with local Muslim communities in order to learn from one another, to address common concerns, and to stand in solidarity with one another. The desire to know “the other” as friend is an essential challenge and a necessary aim for those who endeavor to follow Christ in the manner of St. Francis. We need only recall Francis’ encounter with the Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil in which he chose to engage Muslims peacefully and respectfully in a time of violence and hatred.

Seek Patience and Discipline. Such an effort on the part of friars and their partners-in-ministry is needed now more than ever, for while 9/11 has generated an interest in Islam for some, it has engendered excessive fear and hatred for Muslims in others. Left unanswered and unchecked, these fears can lead to prejudice, racism, hate-speech and even violence against our Muslim brothers and sisters. In the past decade, this has sometimes taken the form of attacks on Muslims in the U.S., their houses of worship and their Scriptures.

Many of these fears are based on perceived differences of values and faith. Yet, if the recent revolutions and uprisings in the Middle East are any indication, the vast majority of Muslims in the world fervently desire many of the rights and privileges that we enjoy under the U.S. Constitution.

These “spring uprisings” in the Middle East highlight for us a second challenge since Sept. 11, 2001: the urgent need to develop effective policies and strategies to deal with global violence and international terrorism through non-violent means. Ten years ago, the dominant belief was that the only way to respond to the attacks of Sept. 11 was by means of military force. We lacked the non-violent tools of robust diplomacy and crisis resolution which, coupled with an internationally shared strategy for police action, might have brought the perpetrators of the attack to justice without massive military intervention and additional loss of lives.

Regrettably, seeking the non-violent tools of robust diplomacy and crisis resolution is not an easy road to follow, but we must always seek the patience and discipline to pursue this path as a first option. We remain challenged to find responses that can unlock the full potential of the human imagination for good.

Be Not Afraid. As we move into the second decade after the tragedy of Sept. 11, we must, as people of faith, remember the words of Jesus who tells us: “be not afraid.” Actions based solely on fear are rarely fruitful, and frequently destructive. We are at a crossroads as a nation and world. We can choose to remain primarily on a path of excessive fear and the use of force, or we can choose to find new ways of building communities of respect and cooperation across faith traditions and national boundaries.

As brothers and sisters committed to living the Gospel in the way of St. Francis, we encourage you, your partners-in-ministry, and your families and friends to:

• Increase and deepen your efforts to understand and build relationships with our Muslim brothers and sisters, and indeed with all those from faith traditions different from our own.
• Stand firmly against all forms of prejudice and discrimination, including Islamophobia.
• Stay informed about world events through reliable sources of information in order to better access American foreign policies and their impact on others.
• Call for deeper investments in diplomacy and development so that options beyond military violence are employed.
• Take time for prayer, both private and communal, asking God for peace in your hearts and minds, for wisdom and understanding, for healing and forgiveness.

Followers of the Gospel — in particular followers of St. Francis — must never be timid or satisfied with lesser “solutions” born of fear and prejudice. Rather, let us be inspired by the bold example of our brother Francis who, obeying Jesus’ new commandment to “love one another,” reached out to the Sultan and thereby created new paths of peace.