50 Years Ago

Depending on your age, this column is either a walk down memory lane or a “history” lesson — 50 years in the making. So, if you look over at someone reading this column and nodding their head up and down in phantom agreement, you can take a guess at their age.

The Year 1968 was a year in which a manned spacecraft first orbited the moon, the Boeing 747 made its first commercial flight, average monthly house rent was $130, gas was $0.34/gallon, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy were assassinated, Intel Corporation was founded, the Beatles released the “White Album,” the first Big Mac went on sale (…for $0.49), Ziplock sandwich bags were introduced, the “hip” products of the year were bean-bag chairs and lava lamps, and you will want to burn any remaining Polaroid pictures of what you thought was high fashion. Continue reading

Opening the doors…

PopeFrancisThis past week, at a daily Mass, Pope Francis shared some wonderful thoughts that I thought would be good to share here on the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ.  He said, “I remember once, coming out of the city of Salta, on the patronal feast, there was a humble lady who asked for a priest’s blessing.  The priest said, ‘All right, but you were at the Mass’ and explained the whole theology of blessing in the church.  ‘Ah, thank you father, yes father,’ said the woman.  When the priest had gone, the woman turned to another priest:  ‘Give me your blessing!’  All these words [of the first priest] did not register with her, because she had another necessity:  the need to be touched by the Lord.  That is the faith that we always look for, this is the faith that brings the Holy Spirit.  We must facilitate it, make it grow, help it grow.”

The question he raised is do we as Church, as pastors, as priests, and as the faithful help other people’s faith to grow?

The Pope also mentioned the story of the blind man of Jericho, who was rebuked by the disciples because he cried to the Lord, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  The Pope said, “The Gospel says that they didn’t want him to shout, they wanted him not to shout but he wanted to shout more, why?  Because he had faith in Jesus!  The Holy Spirit had put faith in his heart.  And they said, ‘No, you cannot do this!  You don’t shout to the Lord.  Protocol does not allow it.’”

This weekend past, someone mentioned that after my homily she wanted to stand up and give out an “Amen” and applause.  Over the particular quality or delivery of the homily?  No, I think because she was moved by the Spirit… but our “protocol” does not allow such things in the church – just not done in the Catholic Church, don’t you know?

Maybe it is that we try to control the Holy Spirit – or as the Pope remarked, “try and take possession of the Lord.”  It can become very dangerous if we try to overly bind the Sacraments in rules that blind us to the movements of the Spirit in a person.  The Pope remarked:  “Think about a single mother who goes to church, in the parish and to the secretary she says:  ‘I want my child baptized.’  And then this Christian, this Christian says:  ‘No, you cannot because you’re not married!’  But look, this girl who had the courage to carry her pregnancy and not to return her son to the sender, what is it [that she faces]?  A closed door!  This is not zeal!  It is far from the Lord!  It does not open doors!’”

As Christians we have a choice:  we can be “the controllers of faith, or the facilitators of the faith of the people…[or] We think today of Jesus, who always wants us all to be closer to Him, we think of the Holy People of God, a simple people, who want to get closer to Jesus, and we think of so many Christians of goodwill who are wrong and that instead of opening a door they close the door of goodwill … So we ask the Lord that all those who come to the Church find the doors open, find the doors open, open to meet this love of Jesus.  We ask this grace.”

Catching Fire…

memorial-day-shadow-soldierIt is Memorial Day Weekend – a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces.  Please take time to remember in prayer and thanksgiving those who paid the ultimate price in defense of our country.  And remember, too, their friends and families who still grieve their loss – from our World War II veterans to our veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Memorial Day weekend is also the time when Hollywood begins to release their summer blockbusters.  Of course, some studios are releasing them earlier every year.  One of the movies coming our way is “Catching Fire,” the second of the Hunger Games trilogy authored by Suzanne Collins.  The tag line for the movie is that “every revolution begins with a spark.”

I am writing this on the afternoon of Pentecost when “catching fire” seems like an appropriate message.  It has set me to thinking about what are the sparks of faith that could start a revolution in the life of an individual parishioner, a ministry group, or an entire parish.  Maybe you can help address my musings by participating in the spiritual assessment survey.

Last summer we offered a special six-week course on covenant theology that not only sparked a lot of interest, but several people took the time to write and say how it had so changed their understanding and appreciation of God’s love for them.  This summer we are offering a six-week course on Early Church History (described in the next column).

But there are other kinds of “sparks” out there that might be wafting in the air seeking the right people to “ignite.”  Maybe it is a women’s or men’s prayer group; maybe it is a justice and peace group or a group dedicated to working for a solution to homelessness.  It could be a “Catholics Come Home” program or a series of retreats, outside speakers, and a whole host of things not yet even on our radar.

Take the survey, send an email, write a note – let your voice be heard and let your spark ignite a revolution of faith!

Something new…

Every once in a while we need to stop and look around and ponder what we see.  When I look around I see lots of new and wonderful things that weren’t here a year ago.  We have a new space, the San Damiano Center at the corner of Florida Ave. and Madison.  It has allowed us to hold sacramental preparation for our children here in the locale of the church.  The space hosts Bible Study, workshops, meetings, and even retreats.  Two weeks ago it hosted the first Dismas Ministry meeting.

The Dismas Ministry is part of the “portfolio” under the banner of Franciscan Care Ministries lead by Fr. Sean and a whole host of wonderful parishioners.  Other ministries in that portfolio are “Bereavement Care,” “Divorced and Separated Care,” “Franciscan Hands of Hope,” an expansion of the Eucharistic Ministry at Tampa General, all the while continuing the prison ministry, and ministry for the AA community.  So much good being done for the greater glory of God – and so much of it new in the last year.

One of the things that surprised me when I became pastor was the absence of social events – the community getting together because we wanted to share a meal, some fun, and our friendships.  But this is just another area in which there are new things!  Last Fall, we had a parish gala (there is another coming up – Oct 12th – Save the Date).  Next weekend, we will have a parish picnic at the Sacred Heart Academy campus – in the words of Bob Barker – “Come on down!”

This year has seen a wonderful growth and energy in our Children’s Faith Formation programs (Sunday catechism, children’s liturgy of the Word, and sacramental preparation).  We have so many new and vibrant volunteers – that it almost all seems new.

In every corner and aspect of the parish, there is something new, lively, and Spirit-filled.  We seem to be on the leading edge of Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem…and to the ends of the earth.”  Our end of the earth is here in downtown Tampa – and what a change we have seen in one year.  I can’t wait to see more people catch the Spirit and can only imagine what we will be able to see a year from now!

Every once in a while we need to stop and look around and ponder what we see.  When I look around I see lots of new and wonderful things that weren’t here a year ago.  We have a new space, the San Damiano Center at the corner of Florida Ave. and Madison.  It has allowed us to hold sacramental preparation for our children here in the locale of the church.  The space hosts Bible Study, workshops, meetings, and even retreats.  Two weeks ago it hosted the first Dismas Ministry meeting.

The Dismas Ministry is part of the “portfolio” under the banner of Franciscan Care Ministries lead by Fr. Sean and a whole host of wonderful parishioners.  Other ministries in that portfolio are “Bereavement Care,” “Divorced and Separated Care,” “Franciscan Hands of Hope,” an expansion of the Eucharistic Ministry at Tampa General, all the while continuing the prison ministry, and ministry for the AA community.  So much good being done for the greater glory of God – and so much of it new in the last year.

One of the things that surprised me when I became pastor was the absence of social events – the community getting together because we wanted to share a meal, some fun, and our friendships.  But this is just another area in which there are new things!  Last Fall, we had a parish gala (there is another coming up – Oct 12th – Save the Date).  Next weekend, we will have a parish picnic at the Sacred Heart Academy campus – in the words of Bob Barker – “Come on down!”

This year has seen a wonderful growth and energy in our Children’s Faith Formation programs (Sunday catechism, children’s liturgy of the Word, and sacramental preparation).  We have so many new and vibrant volunteers – that it almost all seems new.

In every corner and aspect of the parish, there is something new, lively, and Spirit-filled.  We seem to be on the leading edge of Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem…and to the ends of the earth.”  Our end of the earth is here in downtown Tampa – and what a change we have seen in one year.  I can’t wait to see more people catch the Spirit and can only imagine what we will be able to see a year from now!

What is ours to do

tn_2013 Holy Thursday foot washingThe days of Holy Week, Triduum, and Easter are very special, but these days just past seemed especially so. With the help of many people, we were able to do two new things this year: (a) use San Damiano as our place of Eucharistic Reserve following the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper, and (b) process through the streets of downtown Tampa as part of the celebration. Many, many people have called, emailed, or made a point to mention to me how special Holy Thursday was for them.  One email commented that in almost 70 years of Holy Thursdays, none had moved her spiritually as did that evening.

And Holy Thursday was just the start. The celebrations of Good Friday, the Easter Vigil, and Easter Sunday were just as moving and Spirit-filled. All of the Easter Sunday services were standing-room only with three of the morning masses having people extending out the front door onto the steps.  We friars were wondering if we should add more Masses on Easter Sunday – but the questions of when and where left us scratching our heads.

There just seemed to be a wonderful spirit about these celebrations. I wonder if the Holy Spirit has ushered in a new sense of Hope along with the election of Pope Francis.  Our Holy Father continues to demonstrate what is ours to do by simple acts of humility and direct words about how the love of Christ is to form us and our actions in the world.

At the Chrism Mass, the pope spoke directly to priests about their ministry – but they are words that should speak to each one of us who would carry the name “Christian:”

A good priest can be recognized by the way his people are anointed. This is a clear test. When our people are anointed with the oil of gladness, it is obvious: for example, when they leave Mass looking as if they have heard good news. Our people like to hear the Gospel preached with “unction,” they like it when the Gospel we preach touches their daily lives, when it runs down like the oil of Aaron to the edges of reality, when it brings light to moments of extreme darkness, to the “outskirts” where people of faith are most exposed to the onslaught of those who want to tear down their faith. People thank us because they feel that we have prayed over the realities of their everyday lives, their troubles, their joys, their burdens, and their hopes. And when they feel that the fragrance of the Anointed One, of Christ, has come to them through us, they feel encouraged to entrust to us everything they want to bring before the Lord: “Pray for me, Father, because I have this problem,” “Bless me,” “Pray for me,” – these words are the sign that the anointing has flowed down to the edges of the robe, for it has turned into prayer. The prayers of the people of God. When we have this relationship with God and with his people, and grace passes through us, then we are priests…. (Pope Francis, Chrism Mass homily 2013)

Then at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday – celebrated in a youth detention facility – he washed and anointed the feet of young men and women, Catholic and not.  Words and action – simple yet speaking volumes.

But not all are so enamored with Pope Francis.  One group has called for Pope Emeritus Benedict to come out of retirement, take up again the Petrine Ministry and declare Francis an “anti-pope” before he destroys the Church. They hear the words of the Gospel, and their witness of Pope Francis washing the feet of the imprisoned is quite different from mine. Here is one view:

“I am a young, recently ordained priest. Tonight, I planned on preaching about the Eucharist and the institution of the priesthood. How can I speak about such things – the self-offering of Christ, the 12 viri selecti – when our Holy Father is witnessing to something different? I feel like going up to the congregation and saying, “I don’t have any idea what the symbolism of the washing of the feet is. Why don’t we just all do what we want.”

Hmmm? When I look back on my life as a leader in the Navy and business, I wish I had “washed a few more feet.”  Perhaps not a literally as Jesus, but in a way that served others consistent with the mission, vision, and values of the company.

Christian ministry is about vision (the Kingdom of God), mission (go to the ends of the earth), and values (salvific service). It is not about doing what one wants. If one is a pastor, the people will do what you do. So? We should be asking if what we do is true, necessary, and helpful in the light of the Kingdom of God and salvation?  And do you let others know why you do what you do? In that moment our values are writ large; our struggles for holiness and a virtuous life are on display.

St. Bonaventure once wrote that humility is the guardian and gateway to all the other virtues. It seems to me that Jesus washing feet and the pope washing feet portrays the core value of what it means to serve as priest. Humility – while you are reviewing the parish finances, meeting with the bake sale people, after having heard hours of Holy Week confessions and you thought you might actually get lunch today, another person says, “Hey Father, can you hear one more confession?” – or one of a hundred other tasks that seminary never mentioned.  In that moment your sense of vision, mission, and action as priest will speak volumes about the model of priest one enacts.  The question is will it model Jesus? Will people see Jesus in our priestly ministry?  Will it encourage them to follow Christ? That is why we are ordained.

While I thought of all this in the light of the young, newly-ordained priest who is not enamored with Pope Francis, in truth, all the above is larger than ordination. This is why we are baptized. It is what is ours to do.

May God in his mercy, grace us to do what is ours.

 

The Light of Christ Has Come Into the World

tn_2013 Easter 2At my first Easter Vigil, years ago, I brought with me all the sense of confusion that had been building throughout Holy Week.  A Holy Thursday Mass that did not seem to end in the usual manner but just silently ended with a procession and the stripping of the altar.  A Good Friday liturgy of the Lord’s Passion that ended with the gathering darkness of the sky and Jesus breathing his last upon the cross.  Lost. Our savior had died – everything seemed dark. Continue reading

Rejoicing with the Angels in Heaven

This Sunday is Laetare Sunday, so called because of the opening words to the antiphon for the Mass: Laetare Jerusalem….Rejoice, O Jerusalem…

All of our readings reflect and point to the celebration theme of joy here at the midpoint of our Lenten journey. When the Israelites reach the promised land the Lord announced that their guilt had been lifted, and so the people celebrate. They had become new people in a new land – just as St. Paul reminds us in his 2nd Letter to the Corinthians: “Whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.” But the gospel is the real celebration in the wonderful telling of the parable of the Prodigal Son. There are a myriad of things that could be said about this parable, but let me suggest one for your consideration this Sunday. Continue reading

Glory in the Midst of Bad News

There is someone in Tampa that clearly enjoys the Tampa Bay Times. Most mornings – recently at least – they help themselves to the copy intended for the friary. At the crack of dawn, one of the friars makes the daily pilgrimage to the Florida Ave. curb to retrieve the newspaper. Sometimes we are rewarded for our journey; some days not. But even the days when the paper has been absconded, perhaps that too has its own rewards. When our newspaper takes flight it also carries away the bad news with it. I know, I know – it’s not all bad news, but… At least for a while we get a respite from the next report of death, doom, despair, flood, fire, famine, pestilence, poverty, and plague. Continue reading

Some thoughts on prayer.

There are three traditional “pillars” of Lent: prayer, fasting, and the giving of alms. As we enter Lent, I thought I would share some thoughts (mostly borrowed) concerning prayer.  There are wonderful books and treatises written on prayer in the Christian tradition, but perhaps there are at least five things that form a beginning place when considering the role and place of prayer in our spiritual life:

Prayer is a mystery. In the Christian tradition, “mystery” is not that which is unknowable, but something that comes through revelation. And the thing is, we have been the recipients of the greatest of Revelations – the person of Jesus Christ. “Undeniably great is the mystery of devotion, Who[Christ] was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed to the Gentiles, believed in throughout the world, taken up in glory.” (1 Timothy 3:16.) So, should we be surprised that even after a lifetime of prayer, no matter how much we pray, no matter our experience, what happens in and during and through prayer remains a mystery? A mystery to be approached with intellect, learning, faith, and reflection, to be sure, but just as much a mystery to be embraced through practice and experience. Even if…

None of us knows exactly how to pray. We may find something that works or is comfortable for us, but everyone in the conversation seemed aware that prayer is something we keep learning and that we learn best by doing. Even if we don’t know what we are doing. “The Spirit … comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because it intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will.” (Romans 8:26-27)

There is no one way to pray. In private, in community, in song, in Scripture, in tongues, in repetitive phrases, contemplatively, in meditation, and more.  In the many ways and richness of our cultures, dispositions, and traditions, there is a multitude of different ways to pray that suit all persons and situations. Take a measure of freedom and try out different ways of praying.

Doing and being are all mixed up in prayer. Our usual distinction between being and doing, or between identity and activity, don’t apply to prayer. Prayer is doing something, certainly, but it is also a way of being, and as we enter into prayer with our whole being, we are changed and things happen.

Just pray. There is no wasted prayer. God is eager to hear and receive and respond to our prayers because there is, I believe, nothing more that God wants than to be in relationship with us –all of us – and for us to flourish in this life together and with each other. Just do it.

So…what are you giving up for Lent?

lent-2-heartlargeIsn’t that always the question? As if that is the reason for the season. Growing up, everything I remember about Lent circled around the acts of self-denial – what food, entertainment, or habit one would give up and how hard it was to deny oneself of that thing. It was not always made clear that the denial was meant to help one think about God and Christ’s sacrifice.

Of course it’s understandable that the deeper meaning of Lent can be missed. Even elsewhere in this bulletin we mention the religious traditions rituals and “Lenten obligations,” which are easier to promote, understand, and implement than spirituality and faith. We Catholics understand rules. It is far easier to tell kids (and ourselves) to obey rules than to explain to them why we should desire to act rightly. We can end up following the rules simply because… well because that is what we do, that is how we think of religion. In Lent, too often we are denying ourselves for the sake of denial. We give up chocolate or Facebook thinking that act of denial is the purpose of Lent. And we end up missing the point. Continue reading