Hungers, Empathy and Homecoming

“A man had two sons …” (Luke 15:11) – such is the beginning of the beloved and well-known Parable of the Prodigal Son. But you know Scripture doesn’t come with titles for such things. That’s just what the parable has always been called. But we could call it something else. The Parable of the Waiting Father? Or perhaps the Parable of the Petulant Older Brother? I guess it all depends on what draws your interest and attention. What about you? Where are your thoughts drawn: to the younger son’s selfish greed, the older son’s arrogant fury, or perhaps the patient father’s extravagant love? Continue reading

The poverty of Lent

Here is another Lenten reflection question for you: What do St. Francis of Assisi, Pope Francis, and belonging have in common? It was almost six years ago, in March 2013, that Pope Francis famously, and perhaps controversially, said that he wanted a “poor church for the poor.” Not surprisingly, this raised an eyebrow or two. Many online commentaries excoriated the pope as an opponent of capitalism, socialist-in-religious clothing, or another South-American-reactionary-liberation theologian. Equally, many have concluded that Pope Francis wants Catholics to devote greater attention to poverty-alleviation social programs. Both miss the deeper meaning Pope Francis attaches to poverty. Continue reading

4th Sunday in Lent

This coming Sunday marks the fourth Sunday in Lent (Year C; but if you are attending a Mass at which one of the RCIA scrutinies is celebrating, you will hear readings other readings).You can read a complete commentary on this gospel here.

The traditional title of the parable focuses on the younger son who left home, the so-called prodigal son. Pause for a moment and ask your self if you know the definition of “prodigal.”  Years of leading Bible Studies has revealed that many people think “prodigal” carries the meaning of disrespectful, sinful – after all, didn’t the young man waste all his money on wine, women, and song – at least that is the charge of his older brother. Regardless of how the money – or more to the point – the inheritance was wasted, it is the waste that is key. The word “prodigal” means wasteful, profligate, or reckless. Continue reading

Tales from the front steps

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”  A quote often attributed to Mark Twain (although it seems that “ain’t so”). Nonetheless it is a nice summary of more than one conversation on the front steps of the church. Such as the one yesterday in which someone expressed their disbelief and near shock that our parish had chosen not to celebrate or announce the holy day of obligation. After a moment of internal… “what is he talking about?…” it dawned upon me that me was referring to the Solemnity of the Annunciation, celebrated today March 25th. When I reminded him the Annunciation was not a holy day of obligation, but that we were certainly celebrating the solemnity at our Masses, I was given “the stare” and then he walked away shaking his head. Of course I can’t know his thoughts, but I have seen “the stare” before. It is the one that says, “No wonder the Catholic Church is in trouble with priests like you.” I hope he well celebrates the solemnity; I know that we will.

Just another tale from the front steps of the church.

Controlling chaos

We friars assist as Catholic chaplains at Tampa General. It is not my first time as a hospital chaplain.  That was at Bethesda Naval Hospital. My time at Bethesda was at the beginning of the war in Iraq when the Marines were engaged in combat around Fallujah. Casualties were high. Every evening there was a chaplain assigned to the flight line to be there when marines, sailors, airmen and soldiers were medevac’d from the war zone. All of these service men and women were in grave medical conditions. I witnessed injuries that still left me amazed that the person was still alive. Alive with lives that would never be the same, never as they had planned. But the combat/trauma ICU and the flight line were not the hardest chaplain duty at Bethesda – at least not for me.  For me, the hardest ward was the NICU; the neo-natal intensive care unit. Continue reading

The well is deep

I own a bucket. I suspect you do also. So…what is your favorite story about your bucket? Seriously. Ok, not so seriously. We don’t think about buckets a whole lot. It is not like we have a plethora of “bucket stories.” They are just kinda’ there when we need them. You use ‘em, you put them away. Back in the closet, pantry, or garage ready for the next time. And when the “next time” comes” and we go to find them and they are missing from their assigned place, it is not like the world has ended. Perhaps annoyed or inconvenienced, but not ended. A lots of times, the task is generally not too big and we can work around the missing bucket. Continue reading

Being holy

I have a Lenten question for you: Are you holy? On a recent Friday at the noon Mass I asked the 100 or so folks in the pews to consider that question. I actually called on three people for answers. Their replies were (a) “not yet”, (b) “working on it”, and (c) “yes.” The “yes” was given with some enthusiasm and there followed some chuckles throughout the church – and I suspect some wonder who was the bold, brash soul that responded “yes.” Rather cheeky, one would think. What would have been your answer? I suspect the most common thought would be somewhere between “no,” “no, of course not, Saints are holy, not me,” “not holy, but I am a good person,” and “oh my, no, I am just a sinner” (said with a sincere piety). Continue reading

What was lost

This morning’s gospel is the parable of “The Prodigal Son” (Luke 15:11-32)

Luke 15 is one of the great chapters of Scripture for parables, bound together by the theme of joy over the recovery of what was lost. All three parables of Luke 15 (the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Prodigal Son) point to the idea of the return of one that was lost.  To the simple structure of lost/found/joy, in the Prodigal Son parable, there is further development of the theme of God’s love and the contrast of the older brother’s hostility. Luke uses this motif to teach a newer, more full meaning of repentance. Continue reading

St. John of the Cross

St. John of the Cross (San Juan de la Cruz) was born John de Yepes, the youngest child of a poor family from Toledo, Spain in 1542. He entered the Carmelite monastery in 1563, went on to study theology at the famous University of Salamanca in 1564, and was ordained to the priesthood in 1567. Dissatisfied with the laxity of his order, he considered becoming a hermit but was persuaded by St. Teresa of Avila to remain a Carmelite and work for the reform of the order. Not all Carmelites were pleased with his reforming activities, and he was actually imprisoned on order of a superior and subjected to great hardship for 9 months before escaping. His efforts led to the establishment of the Discalced Carmelites, a reformed branch of the Carmelite order. The writings of St. John of the Cross on the spiritual life combine the depth of a Thomist theologian with the sensitivity of a poet. His Spiritual Canticle was composed in prison in 1578. The Ascent of Mount Carmel was written soon afterword as well as the Living Flame of Love. Perhaps his best known work is The Dark Night of the Soul. St. John of the Cross died after a severe illness in 1591. He was canonized in 1726 and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1926. His feast (liturgical memorial) in the Roman calendar occurs on December 14.