Franciscans in China

Ideograms for Rabban Bar SaumaServant of God – John of Montecorvino
Franciscan and first Bishop of Beijing

Writing earlier about St. Francis Xavier, I was reminded about a Franciscan missioner, John of Montecorvino, whose feast was November 29. Mention John of Montecorvino and most people – even most Franciscans – will say “who?” John was the first Catholic missionary to China, centuries before the efforts of other Catholic religious orders. It is a compelling story.  If you would like to read an interesting and accessible account of the travel within the context of an art historian comparing 13th century Italian and Chinese art, read Lauren Arnold’s: Princely Gifts & Papal Treasures: The Franciscan Mission to China & Its Influence on the Art of the West, 1250-1350 – fascinating book.

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Co-Patron of Missioners

Today is the Feast of St. Francis Xavier SJ. I remember in March of 2013 while returning from a meeting of the priests of the deanery, the radio announced that Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a Jesuit, had been elected and taken the name Pope Francis. My first thought was, “that’s a great choice to take the name of one of the amazing saints of the Jesuit order, Francis Xavier, one of the church’s most widely traveled missionaries. I remember thinking that it was a sign that the universal (katholica) church would increasingly focus its attention on the world of the southern hemisphere.

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“Calumny” is not a word that finds common usage in most people’s everyday vocabulary. Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines “calumny” as “the act of uttering false charges or misrepresentations maliciously calculated to harm another’s reputation.” The word came into English in the 15th century and comes from the Middle French word calomnie of the same meaning. Calomnie, in turn, derives from the Latin word calumnia, (meaning “false accusation,” “false claim,” or “trickery”), which itself traces to the Latin verb calvi, meaning “to deceive.” Calumny made an appearance in these famous words from Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “If thou dost marry, I’ll give thee this plague for thy dowry: be thou chaste as ice, as pure as snow, thou shalt not escape calumny. Get thee to a nunnery, go.” Hamlet is basically tormenting poor Ophelia. He tells her that, as a woman, she will never escape slander.

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Today is a great set of readings. Here on the first day of December in the year of Our Lord 2020, in the time of the coronavirus pandemic, when I read them is preparation for celebrating Mass, it felt like a half-time locker-room speech by the coach, by Knute Rockne. And, I mean that in the best sense.

The “first half” of the pandemic is over, but we have been taking beating to be sure. The coach begins with this chorus-rousing look to the future when we win:

“On that day, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom. The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him: a Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a Spirit of counsel and of strength, a Spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD, and his delight shall be the fear of the LORD.” (Isaiah 11:1-3a)

I was inspired to hear it in that vein because of something a good friend wrote in response to one of my posts, Choosing Hope. He wrote a response in the comment section, that I will recast  to capture the sense of the half-time exhortation with a spiritual war afoot:

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Advent Preparations

Next Sunday is the 2nd Sunday of Advent in Year B. You can read a full commentary on the gospel reading here.

1The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ (the Son of God). 2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way. 3 A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.’” 4 John (the) Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins. 6 John was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He fed on locusts and wild honey. 7 And this is what he proclaimed: “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:1-8)

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How about us?

Today is the feast of St. Andrew, the one named the Prōtoklētos – or “first called.” Andrew is so designated because as it tells us in the Gospel of John (John 1:35–42) Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist, whose testimony first led him to follow Jesus. Andrew at once recognized Jesus as the Messiah and hastened to introduce him to his brother, Simon Peter.

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If only we’d known

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (George Santayana). Yesterday, the Tampa Bay Times published a front-page article: “Road to a million; a case study: Early optimism, indecision, then fatigue; now a scary spike.” Here are the highlights.

January 20th – it was announced that there was a first verified case of the coronavirus in the United States.

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Ship’s Captain

One of the aids to remembering events and where to place them in your life is having major milestones that serve as a point of reference, an external anchor so to speak. Sometimes it’s as simple as our progression through school – “oh, yeah, that happened at elementary school such-and-such.” Middle and high school serve well, as does college and so on. Major life events help secure our memory on the timeline: dating, marriage, children, family vacations. Careers and our work events – all of that and more. It all helps. “Sure, I remember that. It was while we lived in Baltimore, dad was working for Martin Marietta, and we all went to St. Perpetua.”

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Waiting and Hope

As we enter the Season of Advent, it strikes me that “Hope” and “waiting” are even more a part of our lives in these times. In the dark hours before dawn, I muse about waiting and hope in the season of Advent, I was pondering what is higher on my list – waiting for Christmas or waiting for a coronavirus vaccine, herd immunity and the return to normalcy. If I am honest, it is the latter. It feels like we are living in the time of Noah. We are not just waiting for the flood waters of illness to reside, but we are optimistically waiting now that the vaccines are on the horizon.

But while I am optimistic, am I hopeful? I know I am waiting, but am I hopeful? Are you?

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Hope and a Comment

Earlier today I posted “Choosing Hope“.  From time to time folks post comments – and I do read them all but have learned long ago there is not time to respond to the comments on a regular basis. Today someone posted a comment that I thought was such an awesome message… “you know what,” I thought to myself, “I am going to make a post of it.” So from my good friend, Jim Rossman:

A liminal 9 months for sure! But, we live in hope. My prediction is that we will limp into a new normal, dragging many deniers with us, exactly on May 1, 2021. (I don’t have to be right — just confident.)

Between now and then, I will use whatever platform is available to me, as we count down the days and weeks to that benchmark, to encourage:

  • hopeful preparation during Advent
  • celebration of the Lord’s birth (our most inspiring symbol of HOPE)
  • embrace the days of Lent as opportunity to open our hearts to God and make room for inspiration on the countless ways we can help our “fellow runners” limp to the finish line
  • acceptance of our ultimate HOPE in the Resurrection of the Lord, and
  • the final 26 day countdown to May 1 when an outpouring of Gratitude signals another “new beginning” —- where we come together as a Parish, a Church, a community and a nation with determination to recognize the unfair distribution of the suffering of this pandemic and to repair the fabric of our connectedness.

I can’t imagine just hunkering down in despair and taking a beating for 5 more months. Time to begin the countdown and the ground building for a better world post May 1.

[Wow, now that is a clarion call to all people of faith!]