Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Be Vigilant!

The image of the fig tree resonates with me quite strongly this season for very personal reasons. I have somewhere in one of my prayer books, a photo of me at four years old in front of a fig tree planted by my grandparents in their yard. Now, today, when I go to visit this house for the last time, as we prepare to sell it and walk away from a family history over 110 years old, that same fig tree towers over my head. I need to climb a ladder to harvest the many figs on its branches. I don’t even like figs all that much, but every time the image of the fig tree comes up in scripture, I see this tree again, and am connected to my family story. These feel like the end of days for this particular part of my family story.

Jesus is talking about the ‘end of days’ in this gospel passage. He is trying to help his listeners learn to recognize the signs of the times, so that they will be prepared for whatever comes next. He uses an example of a tree sprouting new green shoots as a sign that summer is near. In our part of the world, as the leaves turn colors and fall, we know winter is on its way. Pumpkin spice gives way to peppermint and woolen mittens, down coats and snow boots.

What of our world? What of our church? Surely we have witnessed many signs these past months, most of them seeming to speak of end times. What are we to do? How are we to be hopeful amidst so much that is terribly sad? Jesus gives us the answer quite clearly “ Heaven and earth may pass away, but my words will NOT pass away”. These are the days when we are called to double down on our faith in the Word of God. We need to look at the signs around us and discern with our inner heart, those things that are of God, and those that are of man. If we can ignore the noise all around us and focus our hearts on God’s voice, on God’s call,  that is where we will find our hope. God will not abandon us no matter how terrifying the end signs may appear.
These are the days when we need to be vigilant in our prayer. We need to ask God to lead us, to guide us on his path, and ignore the chaos around us. Now may be the time to pray even more with scripture and hold on to the Word of God with both hands. Catholic Social teaching is another guide for us here: See, Judge, Act!  Can we look at the signs that the world puts before us, use our educated and informed conscience to make some prayerful decisions and choose to act in the best way possible?
We have so very much to pray for don’t we?

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Love Our Neighbor...and Vote!

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A few months ago I was having dinner with family and saw a banner on a church that said: "Love Thy exceptions". I was struck by the thought that it really IS that simple, and we human beings make it so very complicated, don't we?

I guess I am pondering two questions:
Who is my neighbor? and, Why do we make it so complicated?

Standing as I do in my catholic faith, I know the answer is that all people are my neighbor. I don't always feel comfortable with this, and most days I'm challenged by this in big and little ways. I didn't rise to the occasion so well last night when I had to wait for a neighbor (really, a neighbor in my building!!) as she unloaded a ton of garbage from the only elevator we have when all I wanted to do was get to my apartment and relax after a long day at work. I was ashamed of myself when another neighbor graciously helped her unload the elevator when all I could do was grudgingly hold the door for her. I could have been so much better, if I was thinking of someone else but me.

In Sunday's Gospel, Jesus reminds us that our greatest commandment is to love God and our neighbor. And yet, we find so many ways to make this way too complicated. We argue semantics over who our neighbor is,when we know the truth, Jesus meant everyone, even and especially the folks we don't gravitate towards naturally, even the ones who make us angry, those who speak a different language, even the folks who we disagree with.

It occurred to me this morning that this would be a great gospel to keep in prayer as I prepare to go vote next Tuesday. I'll be glad when the elections are over for several reasons, not the least of which is that the negative ads on the television are so disturbing. Perhaps the most encouraging thing I've heard lately about voting is the plea that all of us who can vote, must use this privilege-no matter which party or candidate we choose...we must exercise and use our right to vote. I agree with that.


Because in my deepest core I have to believe that faithful voices raised in meaningful, respectful dialogue can change the course of history. It doesn't happen quickly and it takes great patience, but change does happen. Our Judeo-Christian values...heck, even basic humanistic values, can lead us back to those two commandments, Love God and Neighbor...and act accordingly!!

So if we are honest with ourselves, we know darn well who our neighbor is, and we know exactly what we're supposed to them in every action and way we can. It's not complicated. It is hard, for love others. But just because it's hard doesn't mean we don't have to do it. Lots of things in life are hard and we do them anyway because we want the good results (dieting, exercising and school work come to mind).

Are we up for the challenge of loving our neighbor? I hope so! And I hope and pray we go to the voting booth on Tuesday contemplating how our choices will show our love for one another.

Peace and good.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Who Are Our Saints?

As we move through October more quickly than I'd like, I'm looking at Halloween decorations and thinking that by now everyone must know the connection between Halloween and All Saints/All Souls day, right?

If you don't, simply, quickly, All Hallow's Eve, the vigil for All Saints day, with the addition of folk customs and local traditions over time morphed into the crazy, fun, candy filled night we call Halloween. If you've seen the movie "Coco", you may have recognized that some of the customs that appear in a celebration for The Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) are similar in many ways to our Halloween.

There's much fun in this celebration, and for many, as seen in "Coco" a real and deep desire to remember and honor our ancestors. If you haven't seen this particular Disney movie, it is both moving and beautiful.

So who are our ancestors in faith? Whose shoulders do we stand on? Who do we celebrate when we remember All Saints and All Souls Day? Do we still need saints today?

What do you think?
Church history has taught us that saints arise at our most troubled times, when the world is in darkness and needs to be called back into the light. During times of war and revolution great souls have arisen to give their people hope, to remind them of God's faithful love.

This Sunday the church officially recognizes one such hero: we will canonize Blessed Oscar Romero, the Bishop Martyr of El Salvador. Hopefully we will hear much about him at Mass this weekend and there's a great bio-pic starring Raul Julia that you can watch. A brief synopsis of his amazing life would look something like this:

Bishop of El Salvador--unaware of extreme poverty of his people--living a life of church power broker in a third world country--suddenly shocked when one of his priests (Rutilio Grande, SJ) was murdered for teaching the Gospel message of justice and peace for all God's people--suddenly became aware of the terrible injustices the government was inflicting on his people--began to speak up for human rights for the Salvadoran people--was murdered by the army while celebrating Mass (at the consecration!) for speaking the Gospel.

St Oscar, as well as Fr Grande, and the four women religious and lay workers who were killed, the other Jesuits and their staff, all these people were murdered for believing in the Gospel of Jesus. This isn't ancient history, it happened in the 1980's. Less than 50 years ago.

Should it frighten us to think that we are called to sainthood as well? No it shouldn't be frightening at all. Living holiness is a matter of living authentically who God has created us to be. For Oscar, it meant learning about the lives of his people and speaking in their defense. For you or I it might mean treating someone politely in a conversation when we disagree and believing we can still be friends despite the disagreement. Perhaps for us it may mean treating our elderly, ill parent with love and care no matter how many times she asks the same question. Could it mean teaching our NYC children how to treat the unfortunate homeless on the street with dignity and respect?

Not all of us are called to be holy in big flashy ways. Like one of our newer saints (Mother Teresa)said so often: Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.
So it is with sanctity, holiness, we can all be holy in every day ways. Every day.

As we celebrate with our church the life of St Oscar Romero, let us commit ourselves this week to finding the everyday little moments of holiness in our lives and celebrate those as well. Amen.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Look at Where You're Going!

As we start to approach the end of the church  year, the readings are very 'end times' and it gives us much to ponder. A recent Gospel reminded us that if we 'put our hand to the plow, we'd best not be looking behind us, but paying attention to where we are going. Like the magnet on my fridge says: Don't let yesterday use up too much of today.

When I think about the plowing image...or, in contemporary times maybe Jesus would be saying something like "look up from your phone once in awhile and pay attention to what's in front of you!" I wonder what Jesus is really asking us? My guess is, it's a question of trust. Do we trust God enough, believe in God's word enough to know that the path God has set us on will lead to life, and to good things? I suspect if we're not sure, we'll keep looking over our shoulder wondering about the what if's and what could have beens. In the end, wondering about the road not taken doesn't really help me move forward in life does it?

Sometimes, like my beloved niece Danielle, all we can do is take the opportunity that is given to us and run with it. Receiving the possibility of a second job offer on the day you begin your very first adult job is disconcerting for sure. God does like to mess around in our lives doesn't God? What do we do? I firmly believe that if we have made what we think is the best possible decision for ourselves, then when other options present themselves, if the timing isn't right, we need to be grateful for the offer, and be faithful to what we have already chosen in good conscience. How many times in life have we learned that choosing one path necessitates letting go of another? I think we find happiness on the journey if we walk confidently down our chosen path knowing that God will be with us, leading and guiding us into new life and wonderful surprises.

I pray that we all have the courage to follow the path that God has shown us, and that we find much joy on the journey.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

What Do I Do When I Fail?

I am struck this week by the very visual nature of the first reading this coming Sunday.  The writer says that the Lord took some of the Spirit that 'was on'  Moses and shared it among the 70 elders that were gathered on the mountain. I imagine God scooping up some of the Spirit in his cupped hands and pouring it like water over the heads of the elders. Quite a picture the writer paints.

We talked a lot this week about how God is generous in giving us all gifts and talents. Some of us wonder what our talents are and how we are supposed to use them for the kingdom. If you don't know what gifts the Lord has given you, here's a clue...listen to what others say they see in you...often times people will recognize gifts and talents in us that we would never see in ourselves. Of course, then you need to trust that they are speaking in charity and helping you to truly discern.

We met with our families last weekend and we touched on this in a roundabout way. Parents have asked how they could speak with their children when they are effected by a lapse in judgement made by some pop star or sports icon that they hear about through social media. Our children hold entertainers like Demi Lovato, or sports figures (you can tell I'm not much into sports if I can't drop a name here...) in such high esteem. What do we tell them when these men and women suffer a very public fall from grace?

I believe we talk about forgiveness. We talk about prayer. We talk about our common humanity. All of us have made mistakes at one time or another. Luckily for most of us we don't live in the public eye and we don't have to deal with massive publicity when we make poor choices. I pity those folks who have to deal with that on a regular basis. It frightens me to think that in our world of constant social media, our children can be shamed by their peers via snapchat or instagram if someone catches them in a less than perfect moment. Gosh, even having a zit can be traumatic if you're a 13 year old.

How do we protect our children from this nightmare? What do we as adults do to shore up our souls so we are not battered by the criticism of others? I go back to the previous paragraph, we learn to not only accept, but revel in our humanity, warts and all. If I believe that God made me good and that God loves me, then no one can harm me with their words. We need to teach our children this too, so that they know that for themselves, and they know how to be kind and accepting of others mistakes.

So when your daughter is so very sad because that awesome young singer has sadly had a relapse, maybe that's the time to stop and say: "let's say a prayer for her recovery. Let's ask God to give her the strength to try again. And let's talk about why this is a situation you don't want to find yourself in as you get older."

May God share a portion of the Spirit of wisdom on each of us, so we learn better how loved we are, and how to graciously live to share the gifts and talents we have been given.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

What Does It Mean To Be Humble?

Yesterday we buried an elderly woman who had been a life long parishioner here. I really did not know her at all. I knew OF her. What I learned at her funeral yesterday will stay with me for a long time.
But first, what I knew OF her. I first saw her with her brother a few years back when they could still get out of their apartment. They were on the line coming to reverence the cross on Good Friday. I didn't know who they were yet, what I saw was an elderly gentleman leading an older blind woman down the aisle toward the cross. Slowly, with great care, they both venerated our Good Friday Cross. The picture of them in front of the cross was like something off of a holy card. Quite simply, it was beautiful and profound.

I learned after that who they were, our neighbors across the street, but I still never had a cause to visit them. Others did so and would tell me about how hard it was getting for them to stay in a walk up apartment, but how they wanted to keep their independence.

On one occasion I answered the phone here at the parish and it was her on the other end. When she found out who I was on my end of the phone she told me how happy she was to talk with me. While we had never met, she said she was hearing from others and seeing in the bulletin all the activities that were happening here in the parish and wishing me God's blessings on my ministry. She was so very encouraging.

And so yesterday we commended her soul to God. Her brother had gone before her, can't be more than a year ago. The family gathered to pray our final prayers for her and to remember her. Her nephew spoke of what a beloved aunt she was to them all. How she was always encouraging them in their endeavors and challenging them to be, in his words, the best version of themselves. They miss her already.

This woman lived a simple life with great humility, and her family is different because of her. They will in turn, live their lives in such  way as to make her proud of them, and make their part of the world a bit better. Her life like a pebble thrown into the water, will spread ripples of goodness for years to come. Though she may know nothing about it.

As Christians, this is the life we are called to. Some people will do great things and receive accolades for their work. Most of us will not. We trudge through our every day and try to do our best. Our reward is the satisfaction of a job well done. A life well lived. Jesus says, if we want to be first, we must be last. That doesn't mean putting ourselves down, it means knowing who we are, where we are, and whose we are! It means if I know I belong to God, at the end of the day, that is more than enough.

I wish I had gotten to know Kitty while she was here among us. I am sorry I didn't take the time. I know that I hope I live my life as well as she did. I want others to know I care about them and encourage them to be their best selves. I am grateful for every evening when I can put my head on the pillow and know the satisfaction, the blessing of having tried my best for the coming of the kingdom. For the days when I fall short, I'm grateful for the opportunity to try and do better tomorrow.

St Vincent de Paul claimed humility as one the three virtues he strove for.  As I have always admired his story of conversion and his heart for the poor, humility is something I value as well. Not an easy virtue to cultivate in a world that is always telling us we are the most important person in the universe.

So I am always grateful to know where my center is, and who I belong to. What about you, who do you belong to?

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Can You Keep A Secret?

Man in Red Crew-neck Sweatshirt Photography

When my Small Christian Community met this past week, we were again mystified by the idea of the messianic secret employed by Mark's writer. How did anyone think that a deaf man with a speech impediment, who is suddenly amazingly healed by Jesus, would keep this miracle a secret? Of course he would go shouting it from the rooftops, along the highways and byways, in his newly clarified speech! He'd be thrilled just to hear himself shout out his good news!

We know the idea of keeping this secret was a literary tool engaged by the writer of the gospel. Jesus really didn't think he could keep these miracles a secret did he? I can see why he'd want to: the more miracles that folks heard about the bigger the crowds around him grew. It became so much more difficult to find time to pray to his father, or gently teach his disciples. Peace and quiet rapidly became a distant memory.

As I think about this I'm wondering, are we, in our day, supposed to keep secret the wonderful things God has done for us? Are we supposed to keep the Good News to ourselves? Of course not! In a world that is sometimes so dimmed by darkness and sadness all around us, are we not compelled to share the joy we feel when we discover how God is working in our lives? Sometimes it's really big things like when you're 17 and you pass your road test after many tearful practices with your parents. Sometimes it's things that seem coincidental like the person who was difficult to work with has been transferred to another building. Sometimes it's a simple as a fine conversation with a colleague.

September is always a new beginning for so many of our children and our teachers. Parish programs kick back into full gear after a lighter summer schedule. Here at St Francis we are super excited to announce that there are new ways to share our good news. Some of our parishioners have been working diligently all summer long to put up a new, way more fun website for us. Along with the new website comes a very cool 'app' for your phone, a new way of supporting the parish electronically, and other neat social media tools. The way our youngsters used Snapchat so frequently...well, let's take advantage of that in the healthiest ways possible. We encourage all of you, but especially our families with pre teen kids, to Snapchat before Mass on Sunday and let everyone know that you're proud to be here with us at St Francis.

Jesus didn't really think that deaf man was going to stay quiet after he was finally healed did he? Surely we're not supposed to keep secret the many gifts God gives us each day. Don't be shy about sharing your good new whatever it may be. We all need to hear some good news!

And Melissa, congratulations once again !