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It seems way too easy to fall into conversations that expose confusion, tension or fear, these days. We are living in a time of uncertainty—encountering transition on every level of our public lives. Change is happening. The question is: How do we respond?
Gathering inspiration and wisdom from our Church and Scripture, we can consider five guideposts for our lives. These guideposts offer us strength and direction, as we respond to the challenges and opportunities of our time.
Ground our lives and actions in hope.
Conflict, pain, and suffering seem inevitable in our life. We can be challenged by situations beyond our control—experiences that often have roots in fear, hatred, or ignorance. Our faith gives us perspective and balance. Incredibly, our faith has the fundamental promise of new life and wholeness through the experience of suffering or death. Can our faith help us find hope in the struggle?
Engage with those who are different than you.
Pope Francis frequently challenges us to encounter the other. He specifically calls us to cross over and get to know those who have differing experiences and viewpoints, advising “one is always more at ease in the ideological system that he is built.” He challenges us to “talk among yourselves, talk to one another.” I have found this openness-to-difference to be very difficult unless I ground myself in the hope offered by faith. How often do I reach across the isle to engage?
Listen deeply. Practice humility.
One of the cornerstone concepts of The Basilica Emmaus Ministry is the practice of mutuality. Mutuality is defined as “A respectful give-and-take between and among two or more persons. Each person in the relationship is worthy of dignity and respect.” The Emmaus material states, “Mutuality is the expression of loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. Every one of us has our Samaritans; people who we believe do not have a right to respectful give-and-take from us. Yet, this important story in our Christian tradition calls us to be transformed by them.”
Because of our unique life experiences, we all see the world differently—although we experience it in the same place, at the same time. A mutual relationship requires us to listen deeply and understand another’s experience and frame of reference. We must be willing to hear and understand the story from that person’s perspective. Am I open to be changed?
Be bold. Respond.
Just as people in scripture were called to lead in prophetic ways—creating a loving, forgiving community—so are we called to get involved today. And just as people in Scripture try to say “no thanks” (Moses declined God’s call eight times before accepting!) we often find ways to stay uninvolved or quiet. We are called to get engaged: Be bold. Make a difference. Pope Francis says, “A good Catholic meddles in politics.” He states that politics “is one of the highest forms of love, because it is in service of the common good.” We may get involved through actions that accompany another, serve, or defend. How do you hear the call to get involved and create a community of love and forgiveness?
We are called to perseverance and faithfulness. We are responsible for our efforts. Yet, we can trust that God is present and in charge. Indeed, our God can move mountains and will be responsible for the results of our efforts. Are we able to trust?
Our times call us to deep and loving engagement. Let us, as a Basilica community, find ways to accept this call and engage together. Let us seed a revolution of love and tenderness!
“Let’s go and pray.” Inevitably, these were Sister Eusebia’s words shortly after we greeted one another. She knew the world was in great need of prayer and rather than spend our time in idle chat she was convinced that time spent in prayer was much more valuable.
Sister Eusebia was a Dominican nun who lived in Cologne. I visited her every time I went to the city. She had a beautiful smile and was always joyous and welcoming. Together, we prayed for her sisters in Cologne and abroad. We prayed for the Pope and his intentions. We prayed for the Church. And we prayed for the needs of the world in a rather general way.
One day I suggested that we should pray for actual needs. “Like what?” she asked. I suggested she read the newspaper before praying. She mentioned she would give it a go. When I saw her next she had stopped reading the newspaper because there was just too much anger in people, she said. So she continued to pray for all the needs of the world in general, but added a prayer for all those whose heart was hardened by anger.
A couple of weeks ago the newspaper posted the pictures of four young people who tortured a teenager and streamed it online. I was struck by the anger in their faces. It made me think of Sister Eusebia who has long since passed. She was right. We are indeed bombarded with the reality of endless reports of anger and violence in our homes, in our cities, in our countries and throughout the world. And we are verbally assaulted by people literally shouting at one another or doing it virtually through harsh Facebook posts and brassy tweets. Anger and fear are at the basis of all of this. And as we know, anger begets more anger resulting in an endless spiral of violence.
The kind of anger our world suffers from is not limited to any specific group of people. We witness anger between people of different races, religions, classes, genders, sexualities, political affiliations, etc. Anger appears to be pervasive. And often, this anger goes hand in hand with the most extreme forms of individualism, even bordering on narcissism. We are on a very precipitous and dangerous path.
This surely is not the path of Jesus and it cannot be the path of a Christian or any follower of God. The readings for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time make this very clear. They stand in sharp contrast to the un-holy ways of our world.
First, the prophet Zephaniah states that the people of God are humble. They seek justice. They do no wrong and speak no lies. They are honest and honorable. And they take refuge in the name of the LORD.
Second, Saint Paul, in the first letter to the Corinthians tells us that “God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something.”
Third, Saint Matthew counts among the blessed those who are poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who are meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, those who are merciful, those who are clean of heart, those who are peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness.
These are challenging words. They are almost revolutionary ideas. And yet, this is how we are called to live. So, let us join Sister Eusebia who now prays for us in heaven. Let us pray for our own conversion and for a conversion of heart of those who are chained by anger. Then, emboldened by fervent prayer, let us take up Pope Francis’ challenge and unleash a revolution of love and tenderness on our broken world. For as we know, in the end love always prevails.
Just before Christmas, Fr. Welch, one of our weekend presiders, sent me an email that contained a picture that had been published in several newspapers. The picture was that of a 21-week-old unborn baby named Samuel Alexander Armas. The baby was being operated on by a surgeon named Joseph Bruner. The reason for the surgery was that the baby had been diagnosed with spina bifida and would not survive if removed from his mother's womb. Samuel’s mother, Julie Armas, is an obstetrics nurse in Atlanta, and had heard of Dr. Bruner’s remarkable surgical procedure—a procedure in which Dr. Bruner performs these special operations while the baby is still in the womb.
During the operation, the doctor removed the uterus via C-section and made a small incision to operate on the baby. As Dr. Bruner completed the surgery on Samuel, the baby reached his tiny, but fully developed hand through the incision and firmly grasped the surgeon’s finger. Dr. Bruner was reported as saying that when his finger was grasped, it was the most emotional moment of his life, and that for an instant during the procedure he was just frozen, totally immobile.
The photograph that accompanied the email captured this amazing event with perfect clarity. The editors titled the picture, “Hand of Hope.” The text explaining the picture began, “The tiny hand of 21-week-old fetus Samuel Alexander Armas emerges from his mother’s uterus to grasp the finger of Dr. Joseph Bruner as if thanking the doctor for the “gift of life.” Samuel’s mother said they “wept for days” when they saw the picture. She said; “The photo reminds us pregnancy isn't about disability or an illness, it’s about a little person. Samuel was born in perfect health, the operation 100 percent successful.”
Now I mention the above because this Sunday, January 22 we celebrate the 44th anniversary of the United States Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. And while many herald this anniversary as a once and for all victory for those who advocate abortion rights, I have to ask, whether in light of the changes in the care we can now offer during pregnancy, and especially given the fact that we can operate on a child while it is still in the uterus, isn’t it time we revisit the issue of abortion?
I think it is time for us to advance the discussion 44 years and look at the issue of abortion with fresh eyes and open hearts, and not allow it to be discussed simply as a private matter involving freedom of choice. At a minimum and as a starting point, the many advances in medical science demand that we raise and respond to the vital question of when life begins.
Now, from our Catholic perspective the answer to the above question is clear. Life begins at conception. From our perspective, human life is a precious gift from God. Each person who receives this gift has the responsibility to protect and nurture human life at every stage of its existence. This belief flows from ordinary reason and from our faith’s consistent witness that life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception.
Legalized as a private act, abortion remains a very public issue. As such it deserves a new discussion, not one that is 44 years old. As Catholics, as people who are pro-life, I think we need to take the lead in this discussion. In doing so, we need the courage and honesty to speak the truth about human life. We need the humility to listen to both friends and opponents. We need the perseverance to continue the struggle for the protection of human life. And we need to ask God for the prudence and grace to know when and how to do all of this.
This past All Souls day, I spent some time reflecting on those family members and friends who had died these past few years. I then commended them to God in prayer. In some cases their lives were long and full, and there was much to remember and celebrate. In other cases their passing—at least from my perspective—occurred too soon. There was much that was left unsaid and undone.
As I continued to reflect on the lives of those people who had touched my life and whose passing occurred much too soon, I found myself feeling not just sad, but also a little irritated. I couldn’t get out it of my mind that they had died before their time. As I continued to pray, though, suddenly two thoughts occurred to me almost at the same time.
The first was something the Irish pastor I worked with for six years used to say. Specifically he would say: “Sometimes the Lord uses poor sense.” This was his standard response when something happened that he didn’t understand or that seemed nonsensical. I think it was his Irish was of saying that God’s ways are not our ways. And the surprising thing was that once he said it, he was able to let go of whatever it was he couldn’t understand. It was as if having given voice to his lack of understanding, that was all he needed to do. He could let it go and move on.
The second thought that occurred to me as I prayed were the simple words: “Remember the Blessings.” While I had been caught up in the sadness of loss, these words reminded me that I needed to focus instead on the blessings these people had been in my life. Now in saying this I don’t think I was being called to deny or try to block out the sadness I was feeling. Instead I also needed to remember the blessings these people had been in my life, and then let the healing balm of those blessings sooth and console me. And when I was able to do this, I did find comfort and consolation.
When we encounter situations that are painful, sad or difficult, we need to remember that God’s ways are not our ways. It is not for us to understand the ways and work of God in this lifetime. Sometimes we will just need to acknowledge and accept this. At these times it may help us to say as my Irish pastor did that: “Sometimes the Lord uses poor sense.” Additionally, though, when we encounter situations that are painful, sad or difficult, it can be helpful to “Remember the Blessings.” The memory of the blessings we have experienced and enjoyed can bring healing and hope to the sometimes difficult and painful situations we encounter.
In this lifetime none of us can escape having to deal with situations that are painful, sad and difficult. Accepting the fact that we don’t have to understand them and remembering that even in these situations there are blessings that can help us move forward in faith and hope, trusting in our God’s grace and great love.
I think I have mentioned before, but I really enjoy the Christmas letters that accompany many of the Christmas cards I receive. I realize that sometimes these letters are “over the top” in terms of announcing the accomplishments of various family members during the past year. And occasionally they do cross the line and become more fiction than fact, or worse, more confessional (revealing things that were perhaps better left unsaid) than newsy. Despite these occasional misfires, though, I do love those Christmas letters.
I follow a similar practice with all the Christmas letters I receive. I read them when I first receive them and then a couple weeks after Christmas I go through them again and re-read them. The reason for this is that I have discovered that more often than not, I pick up something the second time around that I failed to notice on my first reading. Sometimes it is a fact I overlooked or a nuance that I failed to notice the first time through. In any case, reading these letters again often yields an insight I missed the first time through.
Just as we discover new things when we re-read Christmas letters, I believe something similar happens when we read the scriptures. Often times when I read a familiar scripture passage, something new will pop out. Sometimes it is a word or phrase that will catch my eye. Sometimes a new insight or a new understanding will present itself. While this doesn’t occur every time I read the scriptures, it happens often enough that I am no longer surprised when it does.
I believe the above is particularly true with the scriptures we read at Christmas. Each time we read those familiar passages they invite us to enter anew into the wonderful mystery of God’s love made visible to us in the birth of Jesus Christ. While we may not remember many—if any—Christmas homilies, I’m willing to bet that we all remember the scripture accounts of Jesus’ birth. When we read or hear those words of scripture we are brought back to the root and core of Christmas. They have the power to speak to the deepest parts of our heart, and remind us that God so loved the world that He gave form and flesh to that love in the infant born in Bethlehem.
The beauty and wonder of scripture is that because it is the inspired word of God, it can speak to us in a way that no other words can. This Christmas, as we hear or read again the story of Jesus’ birth, let us allow those simple words of scripture to speak to our heart and soul. May they help us to remember anew the breadth and length and height and depth of God’s love revealed to us in the gift of his son Jesus, whose birth we celebrate at Christmas. And let us pray that we might always strive to be worthy of such a great gift.
"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love…Let us love one another.” 1 John 4: 7,8
During Advent, we reflect on and anticipate God’s incredible love for us. God came down to earth. God became human. God lived among us and modeled love each day. We know, through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Christ, that our daily life is not separate from our faith. Our whole life—every thought and action—can manifest love in our world.
During Advent, we are invited to learn and grow in love each and every day. In small and big ways, in everything we do, think or say we are challenged to know and live love. Indeed, we are invited to be part of a revolution of love and tenderness—transforming the world through love.
There are three facets of life to consider as we grow in love. They are all crucial and all connect. Like a ripple effect, they effect one another. We are called to grow in love with a focus on our internal, individual and institutional life.
Internal: What is going on in our heart and mind, as we live each day? Our prayers continually call us to reflect on and become aware of the state of our heart. The psalmist cries out, “Create in me a clean heart, oh God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Are there ways we have become consumed with hatred or fear? Have we been hurt and do we seek retribution? Have we become overwhelmed or numb to the suffering in our world? We are invited to bring these to prayer and find healing, comfort and strength. God calls us to renewal and peace. Let us open our hearts to this call.
Individual: The way we interact—person to person— reveals the individual facet of our life. Whatever condition we find in our heart, we are called to reach out and engage with compassion. Seeking spiritual progress, not perfection—and always considering one’s safety and care—our faith challenges us: If we are afraid, can we find a way to be kind? If we find ourselves consumed with hatred, is there a way to be humane? If we are hurt and alienated, can our faith give us strength to find a place to engage? Our actions matter. Jesus reminds us, “All will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." John 13:35.
Institutional: Our lives don’t end with one-on-one interactions. We are part of systems and organizations. Our lives are shaped by policies and laws. Pope Francis states, “A good Catholic meddles in politics.” In his provocative way, he affirms this “is one of the highest forms of love, because it is in the service of the common good.” We share a responsibility for the way our society is organized. We are challenged to consider ways to impact institutions with love—ensuring all develop to their full potential. Collectively, we must consider how love can influence our family, church, neighborhood, city, country and world. This is not easy work, but it is crucial work.
Together, we can attend to all these facets of our lives. As a community, we sponsor refugee families, accompany the grieving, assist the unemployed, protect the marginalized and serve those in need. Let us share, celebrate and bless our community by our honest struggles for love and peace.
On November 20, the Solemnity of Christ the King, Pope Francis closed the Holy Doors in the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome thus completing the Extra-ordinary Holy Year of Mercy. 39 pilgrims from The Basilica of Saint Mary were in Rome for this celebration. Our Basilica Schola Cantorum sang for the Mass. It truly was a beautiful and joy-filled liturgy. Pope Francis spoke about the past year with appreciation and gratitude. He also indicated that a lot remains to be done.
To that end Pope Francis wrote an Apostolic Letter entitled: “Misericordia et Misera” or “Mercy and Misery” or one could say: “mercy meets and heals misery.” St. Augustine used these two words to describe the meeting between Jesus and the woman caught in adultery (John 8: 1-11). This life changing encounter between Jesus and the woman pre-figures our own encounter with Jesus for we too, though sinners, are the recipients of God’s mercy.
In this beautiful letter Pope Francis wrote: “The Jubilee now ends and the Holy Door is closed. But the door of mercy of our heart continues to remain wide open. We have learned that God bends down to us (cf. Hos 11:4) so that we may imitate Him in bending down to our brothers and sisters.”
He goes on to say that we need to deepen our commitment to mercy by celebrating the mercy we have been shown by God; by witnessing about God’s mercy to the world; by sharing God’s mercy with the world; and by showing mercy to all those around us. In essence he once again calls on us to embrace a culture of encounter characterized by mercy, love and tenderness; a culture that tears down walls and builds bridges; a culture that invites dialogue instead of division; a culture that lifts people up rather than putting people down.
In one of the most beautiful passages of the letter, Pope Francis calls on us to “unleash the creativity of mercy” so as “to bring about new undertakings, the fruit of grace.” In response, here at The Basilica of Saint Mary we decided to continue on the path of mercy by initiating a Revolution of Love and Tenderness. Revolutions, peaceful and otherwise, have changed the world. Our suffering world is in dire need of great change. So we propose a peaceful revolution accomplished through love and tenderness, two Christian strengths Pope Francis often links to mercy.
How will this revolution manifest itself? It will manifest itself when we protect creation and respect and honor all life. It will manifest itself when we bridge divisions and work for the common good. It will manifest itself when we stop all discrimination and accept one another no matter our class, race, age, gender, sexuality, creed, physical or mental ability. It will manifest itself when we end all speech and acts of hatred. It will manifest itself when we put the “we” before the “I.”
During this upcoming Year of Our Lord 2017 may we truly find ways to bring about a Revolution of Love and Tenderness for the much needed healing of our world.
Waiting. I don’t think we’re very good at it anymore. But then again, maybe we never were very good at it. In this fast paced, electronically driven, and hectic world we seem to get frustrated very easily if we have to wait for any length of time. We’ve gone from voicemail to email. That wasn’t fast enough, so now we text and instant message people. And waiting in a line at a store or at a stoplight can feel like doing hard time in prison. Waiting feels like time wasted. And who can afford to waste time these days. We are a busy people. We have way too much to do. Every second counts.
But now we are in the season of Advent, and Advent is all about waiting. During this season, we remember all those faithful and faith-filled people who waited in hope for the messiah to come. So maybe a little waiting is a good thing. Now I know this is probably a heretical thought for some people. I think, though, that there are some real and tangible benefits to waiting. In fact, I’d like to suggest four specific benefits to waiting. You may disagree with them of course, but I think they are worth reflecting on.
1. Waiting reminds us that God is in control. Or looked at another way, waiting reminds us that we are not in control. Now I realize that for some people this may be a difficult concept to accept. For many people control is an emotion, and not being in control can be anxiety producing. Ultimately, though, waiting reminds us that God is in control and we are not. This is a lesson some of us need to learn over and over again.
2. Waiting reminds us that the present matters. It is easy to focus on what we have to do today, or what we have to do next week or next month. Waiting gives us the opportunity to remember that the future is in God’s hands not ours. The present is what we have and we need to make the most of it. Being aware of the present can help us recognize the grace that is always being offered to us at this time, in this moment, in this circumstance.
3. Waiting reminds us that all that we have and all we are is a gift from God. When we are caught in a traffic jam, we can choose to grumble and complain about the loss of our precious time. On the other hand, though, we can use those moments to thank God for the blessings we enjoy in our lives. And in thanking God for those blessings we are reminded of the gift that life is, and what it means for us.
4. Waiting reminds us that we are not the center of the universe. Now while none of us really believes we are the center of the universe, we sometimes act this way. It is just too easy to get caught up in our own plans and priorities. Without intending or acknowledging it, we can believe that every thing we do is of absolute and critical importance. Waiting can help us remember that we aren’t the center of the universe. That doesn’t mean that we are unimportant. Rather, waiting just puts us in the same boat as everyone else.
Now perhaps the above won’t give you a new perspective on waiting, I hope, though, that at least it will help you to begin to think of waiting in a new way, especially during this season of Advent. Most particularly, I hope it gets you to think that the waiting time of Advent is not wasted time. For in Advent, while we know for whom we are waiting, it is important that we allow our waiting to remind us that the birth of the Jesus is part of God’s plan and the fulfillment of God’s promises. And clearly celebrating the birth of our Messiah is something that is well worth waiting for.
When things get out of balance, you begin to hear a call for revolution. In any sphere of life, when things lose their original purpose, or a system we are invested in becomes corrupt, there are cries for radical change.
Revolution is a powerful word, full of assumptions and expectations. It may conjure up fear of violence or loss of power. Yet, the word also contains seeds of comfort and hope. So much depends of what drives the revolution.
Revolution can be described as rolling back toward an original purpose. It can initiate dramatic and wide-reaching change in the way something works or is organized. Pope Francis offers a provocative and inspiring paradigm of revolution. He invites us to recognize the incredible, radical, and all-encompassing power of the forgiving, reconciling, and redeeming love of God. In a call for renewal, he invites us to start a “revolution of faith.”
“Put Christ in your lives, put your trust in him and you will never be disappointed! You see, dear friends, faith carries out in our lives a revolution that we can call Copernican: it takes us away from the center and puts God there; faith immerses us in his love and gives us safety, strength, and hope. In appearance nothing has changed, but deep down inside us everything changes. When there is God in our hearts there is peace, gentleness, tenderness, courage, serenity, and joy which are the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Then our existence is transformed, our way of thinking and acting is renewed; it becomes the way of thinking and acting of Jesus, of God. Dear friends, faith is revolutionary, and today I ask you; are you ready to enter this revolutionary wave of faith?” (World Youth Day, 2013)
Pope Francis highlights an important truth for our day: As we put God first in our life, we come to know and become love. As we know and become love, we act boldly and compassionately in the world. As we act compassionately in the world, the world is transformed and healed.
This is, indeed, a revolutionary wave of faith—a revolution of love and tenderness.
Today, our world is experiencing pain, fear, hurt, misunderstanding, division, suffering, and violence. Rather than push these away, our faith calls us to the provocative response of encounter—we are called to stand in these hard places. The road of encountering human suffering, and the invisible and institutional dynamics that accompany it, is uncomfortable. Our faith gives us strength.
Together, through an encounter shaped by love and tenderness, we are called to see clearly all that needs healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation. We are called to see and stand with those experiencing grief, death, vulnerability, unemployment, disabilities, mental illness, and societal oppression. We face the questions as individuals and as a community.
Our faith in God, and the redeeming love of Christ, isn’t just for us. It is also for the transformation of our families, our communities, our Church, our country, and our entire world. The birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ invite us to reimagine and reconstruct human life and society once again.
Pope Francis states, “This is the moment of mercy. We are all sinners. All of us carry weight within.” At a time of great division, fear, and pain, he calls us to intentionally encounter God’s love and tenderness—and to act on it. This vision of the common good is a powerful invitation to engage in what Pope Francis calls a “revolution of love and tenderness.” Together, let us open our lives to this call.
I stood looking out the kitchen window having returned home from a funeral I attended that day. I was asked to cantor. The funeral was for the father of two girls who were friends of my sisters. As I stood there looking out, I thought, “What would I do if dad died?” I would have never considered that I would know the answer to that question that very day.
Since I was working the second shift at the Canterbury Hotel that day, I decided to watch a movie around Noon— The Devils, starring Vanessa Redgrave. (It was quite a disturbing movie but I digress.) My father had left to pick-up my aunt so I had the place to myself. I didn’t need to leave for work until 2:30pm. After the movie, I got ready for work. I passed the kitchen window and noticed that dad had left the garage door open. I couldn’t wait to reprimand my dad like he had done so many times to me for committing the same infraction.
I went out, closed the door, and noticed that his car was parked in the neighbor’s yard, three houses down. Thinking he was somewhere talking to a neighbor, I went back and finished preparing for work. As I got in my car, I thought, I’ll just go through the alley to make sure everything is okay. As I passed his car, I noticed that he was slumped over the steering wheel. He had had a massive stroke while pulling out of the garage. The car making a sharp U turn out of the garage ended up in the neighbor’s yard stopped only by a pile of rubbish. I got to the car, opened the door, and tried to wake him but my father was dead. He had been dead for a few hours at that point.
I ran into the house panicked. There was a message from my aunt wondering where my dad was. I called 911. The ambulance came. Dad was pronounced dead. I began to contact my brothers and sisters. Luckily, I got a hold of one brother. Unbeknownst to me my siblings were headed out of town; I had caught them just in time.
As the day turned to evening, family and relatives began to arrive. The air was thick with cigarette smoke as family gathered around the cluttered table chatting about my father. I was exhausted but needed to get away from it all so I volunteered to go to the local grocery store to pick up something for everyone to eat.
As I got to the store, I grabbed a cart and aimlessly strolled through the aisles, occasionally snatching something from the shelves. In my daze, I got to the check out line. Not paying any attention, I listlessly unloaded the groceries onto the conveyor. It was the sound of the cashier’s voice which brought me back to reality. I looked up. I can’t recall what she looked like but her name badge read: Hope. And from that point on, I did.