Archives: March 2020

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In the Catholic Church every five years diocesan bishops travel to Rome to meet with the Pope and members of the Curia to report on the state of their dioceses. It is a formal trip known as the “ad limina.” It is usually made together by all the bishops of a single region. The bishops of Minnesota and North and South Dakota made their “ad limina” visit to Rome this past January. On February 10, 2020, Pope Francis met with the bishops from New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming as part of their “ad limina” visit to Rome. 

After the meeting at least two of the bishops, who were present, spoke anonymously to the Catholic News Agency (CNA is owned by The Eternal Word Television Network. It provides news related to the Catholic Church to the global English speaking audience.). These bishops said that as part of their conversation Pope Francis indicated that while he had accommodated a request for a meeting with Fr. James Martin, S.J. he was clear with them that he did not intend for it to convey any significance. One of the bishops was quoted (anonymously) as saying that Pope Francis “made his displeasure clear” about the way the meeting was interpreted, and framed by some journalists.’ Another bishop said: "He told us that the matter had been dealt with; that Fr. Martin had been given a 'talking to' and that his superiors had also been spoken to and made the situation perfectly clear to him.” One of the bishops went on to say; “I do not think you will be seeing that picture of him (Martin) with the pope on his next book cover." 

As background to the above, it is important to know that Fr. James Martin, S.J. is a best selling author who advocates for and ministers to LGBT Catholics. In 2017 he authored the book “Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community can enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion and Sensitivity.” On September 30, 2019 Fr. Martin met for 30 minutes in a private audience with Pope Francis and had his picture taken with the Pope. While Fr. Martin did not reveal what the Pope said to him in the course of their conversation, he did say that “among other things, I shared with Pope Francis the experiences of LGBT Catholics around the world, their joys and their hopes, their griefs and their concerns. I also talked about my own ministry to them and how they felt excluded.” Fr. Martin concluded by saying “I saw this audience as a sign of the Holy Father’s care for LGBT people.”

Now the above would not be all that newsworthy except for the fact that Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe, New Mexico, recently responded publicly to the CNA account. In his statement Archbishop Wester said: “I wish to address the article that appeared in CNA regarding the meeting of the bishops of Region XIII and Pope Francis on Monday, February 10, 2020. The article puts forward a series of statements supposedly made by Pope Francis regarding Fr. James Martin's meeting with the Holy Father on September 30, 2019. The bishops who reported these statements to CNA remained anonymous throughout the article.” Archbishop Wester went on to say: "Our meeting with the Pope lasted almost two hours and forty-five minutes, so it is difficult for anyone to remember with precision anything that was said. "However, the general tone of the Pope's responses to issues raised with him was never angry, nor do I remember the Pope saying or implying that he was unhappy with Father Martin or his ministry." He also said that while Martin and his ministry were discussed, it was not the pope who raised it but rather some bishops. “My recollection is that it was not Father Martin the Pope was talking about, but the way others tried to use that encounter, one way or the other. In my view, the language subtlety, yet incorrectly, leads the reader to believe that Father Martin was the issue while, in fact, it was how others used their meeting that was in play. Furthermore, I have no memory at all of the Pope being angry, upset or annoyed. He spoke gently and patiently throughout our meeting.” Archbishop Wester ended his statement by saying: “Ordinarily, I would not be sanguine about offering these recollections of our wonderful meeting with Pope Francis. However, I believe that I have an obligation to offer my perspective on those matters contained in the CNA article about Father James Martin, SJ, since my understanding of the facts differs from what was reported anonymously.”

After Archbishop Wester’s statement, a second bishop also spoke up to counter allegations that Pope Francis expressed displeasure with Fr. Martin during the meeting with bishops of the southwestern United States. Bishop Steven Biegler of Cheyenne, Wyoming, said he supports the recollections of Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Bishop Biegler said in part: that “Wester's response accurately describes the tone and substance of the short dialogue regarding Fr. James Martin," 

Hmmmmm, we have two bishops speaking publicly about their recollections of a meeting with the Pope, and at least two bishops speaking anonymously about their recollections of that same meeting, And interestingly and remarkably their recollections differ dramatically. What are we to make of this? Who are we to believe? Well, since I believe that the privilege of anonymity belongs only to God and people who are doing good works, my money is on Archbishop Wester and Bishop Biegler as being truthful and honest in their recollections. 

I am truly saddened and deeply disappointed, both personally and for our church, by those bishops who chose to make anonymous allegations about Fr. Martin. I believe the example of those bishops who made these anonymous statements is yet another instance of a failure in leadership in our Church. While I do believe that some of our bishops “get it,” this instance is clear evidence that some do not. More importantly, it causes me to wonder if the majority of our bishops will ever understand that truthfulness, integrity, transparency, and accountability are requirements for their job, and not just pious platitudes. 

 

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. 
http://usccb.org/bible/readings/031520.cfm    

In Minnesota we are proud of calling ourselves the land of 10,000 lakes.   Owning, or at least having access to, a cabin on a lake seems like a birthright to native Minnesotans.   In many parts of the world, though, access to water is severely limited.   This is certainly the case in Israel, where people rely on the yearly rains for a significant amount of their water supply.  At the time of Jesus, cisterns were used to store water from the yearly rains, and wells were public places where people gathered to draw water for their daily use.   Now I mention this because in our Gospel this 3rd Sunday of Lent Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman at “Jacob’s well.” 

There are a couple of details in this Gospel that are significant.   First, notice that the Gospel tells us that it is about noon.  Most people would have come to draw water early in the morning when it was cooler, as opposed to mid-day.  This suggests that perhaps the woman didn’t want to bump into other people. Possibly (as we discover later in the Gospel) this is because the woman had 5 husbands and was currently living with another man.   Second, it would have been highly unusual for a man (and a Jew) to talk with a single woman (and a Samaritan).  The reason for this is that there was a great deal of hostility between Jews and Samaritans, and at that time there wasn’t any fraternization between men and women, most especially when they were strangers.

Although the woman initially misunderstood Jesus and his offer to give her “living water,” after talking with Jesus we discover that she was transformed by the encounter.  

Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the book of Exodus.   It is the story of the Jews in the desert grumbling against Moses because of their thirst for water.   God instructed Moses to “Strike the rock, and the water will flow from it for the people to drink.”    The connection to the Gospel is evident.  The difference, though, is that the water Moses provided only satisfied the people’s physical thirst.   Jesus satisfies our spiritual thirst.  

Our second reading this Sunday is taken from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans.   It reminds us that “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

1.   I suspect we have all been physically thirsty at some point in our lives, and we know what that feels like.    What does it feel like to be spiritually thirsty?   
2.  Can you remember a time when Jesus has quenched your spiritual thirst? 
3.  While it is easy for me to acknowledge that I have sinned, it is hard for me to see myself as a sinner.    Our second reading today, though, reminds us that Christ died for sinners.   Do you, like me, have difficulty seeing yourself as a sinner?   

 

Fear is a complicated emotion. It serves to protect—alerting us to possible danger. Sensing a threat, we freeze, take flight or fight for survival. When the threat is clear, we can respond appropriately. These instincts keep us safe, offering security and a chance to flourish.
 
Yet fear can also overwhelm us. When the threat is vague, diffuse or constant, we can find ourselves consumed by worry or anxiety. We struggle to make sense of our lives, as we experience times of change, economic uncertainty, natural disasters, terrorism, disease, unemployment, war or death. As we seek to process possible risks, we can find ourselves paralyzed—feeling powerless in front of uncertainty and challenges.
 
It is striking how pervasive anxiety is within our society today. Close to one in five people in the United States experience disruption in their life due to some form of anxiety. I hear it in conversations with parishioners, community members, family and friends of all ages. Manifested in many different ways, our brothers and sisters are struggling to find stability, security and meaning to their life amid challenges and uncertainty. 
 
How do we respond to fear, when it is pervasive and embedded in our lives? How do we reframe the questions we live, to remove the threat?
 
One paradigm to consider: The opposite of fear is trust. When we believe all shall be well and what is needed will be provided, we can let go of fear, worry or anxiety and find peace. 
 
Our faith provides the container for this trust. 
 
Scripture tells us that God understands our tendency to fear, and continually assures us—“It’s alright, I am here.” The phrase “fear not” is used at least 80 times in the Bible. 
• “Don't fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine.” Isaiah 43:1
• “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9
 
Pope Francis states: "The world has great fear, and spreads it. Often it makes this the key for interpreting history, and not infrequently adopts it as a strategy to build a world based on walls and trenches. We too can understand the reasons for fear, but we cannot embrace it, 'for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.' Let us draw from this spirit, and go: open doors, build bridges; weave bonds; establish friendships; promote unity. (Sept. 17, 2016)
 
Ultimately, where does fear lead us? Pope Francis suggests fear leads us to experience the feeling of being closed in on oneself—trapped. We become paralyzed, loosing an ability to dream, grow and create. He states, “When we are paralyzed, we miss the magic of encountering others, making friends, sharing dreams, walking at the side of others." (Prayer vigil at Campus Misericordiae, Krakow, Poland, July 31, 2016) 
 
This Lent, we have the opportunity to root our trust in God’s love and presence. We have the challenge to identify the anxiety in our lives. As we name the undercurrents of fear, God’s love gives us the courage to attend to our hope and dreams—to think about unfulfilled potential and to work toward unity and peace. With God, all things are possible and all shall be well. 

A few weeks ago I made an attempt (which ultimately was only minimally successful) to clean off my desk. In some ways my cleaning attempt was like an archeological dig. The deeper I got, the more interesting things I discovered. Now I used to feel bad about how my desk looked. Several years ago, though, I went to a talk about how to be better organized. The presenter said one thing in particular that really spoke to my heart. Specifically she said: “Some people file things to find them. If you are one of those people your desk is always neat and clean. Other people, though, file things when they are finished with them. If you are one of those people you almost always have piles on your desk. The reason for this is that you need to keep everything you are working on in plain view. If you put something away you are done with it.” These words immediately brought me a sense of comfort and peace. And while I don’t brag about the appearance of my desk, I no longer feel bad about it either.

I suspect that most of us have had similar experiences—times when someone has said something that calmed our fears, eased our distress, or lessened our guilt. These times are islands of peace amid the often stormy sea of life. There are other times, though, when someone says something that can cause us to feel uneasy or even anxious. For me, the words of Jesus often do both of these things. 

At times, Jesus’ words can be enormously comforting as when he reminds us that God loves us and forgives our sins. At the same time, though, Jesus’s words can also challenge us as they remind us that we are to love others as we have been loved and to forgive others as we have been forgiven. Jesus’ words are often a two-edged sword. They comfort and console us, while at the same time challenging us and perhaps making us feel a bit uneasy about how we are living. 

While I definitely like living in my comfort zone, I find I function best when I am on the edge of my comfort zone as opposed to being in the middle of it. Most often Jesus’ words challenge me to move out of the middle of my comfort zone and live on the edge of it. They remind me that if I want to experience God’s love and forgiveness, then I need to work to extend these to others. This isn’t easy and in fact I fail at it regularly. If I look to Jesus’s words for comfort and consolation, though, I must also hear and be open to the challenge in them. The promise, as well as the challenge of Jesus’s words can not be separated. Being a disciple of Jesus is not just about recognizing this, but also living so as to give witness to it with our lives. 

 

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. 
http://usccb.org/bible/readings/030820.cfm  

Each year on the 2nd Sunday of Lent we read one of the accounts of the Transfiguration of Christ.   This weekend we read Matthew’s account of this event.  The basic details are the same in each of the Gospel accounts of the Transfiguration.  Jesus takes Peter, James and John up a high mountain.  (In the scriptures, mountains were often the place for an encounter with God.)  While there, Jesus was transfigured before their eyes --- “his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold Moses and Elijah appeared to them conversing with him.”   After Peter voiced his desire to stay in the experience, a voice from a cloud announced:  “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”   After the experience was over, Jesus charged his disciples:   “Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”  

I believe there are moments in each of our lives that are moments of great grace --- times when we see or experience things on a deeper level and feel God’s presence.  These moments don’t occur regularly and certainly not often.  They are not under our control, but they are “transfiguring” moments, nonetheless.  Our “transfiguring’ moments may not be of the same intensity as that of Peter, James and John, but I believe they are no less real.    

For our first reading for this 2nd Sunday of Lent we always read a section of the story of the call of Abram (soon to be Abraham).  God told him:  “I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and curse those who curse you.”  

Our second reading this weekend is from the second Letter of St. Paul to Timothy.   In the opening sentence of our reading for this weekend Timothy is admonished:  “Beloved:  Bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

1.   As I mentioned above, I believe we all have “transfiguring” moments in our lives ---- certainly not as intense or to the same degree as Peter, James and John, but no less real.   When have you had a “transfiguring” experience in your life?  
2.   How many people have you told about your “transfiguring” experience?   If you’re like most people, it is a very limited number (if anyone at all).   Why is it hard for us to talk about these experiences?
3.   When you have had to bear a hardship did you find the strength that comes from God? 

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