Silence. January 17, 2017

So many are seeing and discussing the challenging movie, SILENCE, about two Jesuit missionaries in 1700’s Japan. During this time, Christians were undergoing horrible persecutions because Christianity was seen as a threat to Japanese culture. The movie, and the book on which it is based, by Shusaku Endo, is the harrowing tale of faith, doubt and why God is so “silent” in times of suffering. 

I read the book before seeing the movie so I was prepared for being disquieted, and even disturbed. Any comfort can only come upon reflection of the film and its impact on the human spirit. In other words, you need some distance from the actual viewing to assimilating the message after much thought and prayer. Why doesn’t God seem to hear me or answer me in my loneliness and despair? This is at the heart of the film and novel. 

Yes, there are other important themes: how to be a missionary, enculturation, imposing versus proposing the faith, discovering Christ in other religious traditions. But at the heart of the film,  in my opinion, is: where is God in our suffering? The book was much better than the movie in expressing and exploring this question, with no easy answers. The movie was just too long and didn’t grab me the way the novel did. I would love to see a great film about religion that is rooted in life, is realistic, but one that also inspires with hope. 

This Sunday after the 6:00 on Mass I will be gathering with a few parishioners who saw the film for a discussion. All are welcome. 

Chicago and Violence.               January 6, 2017

The city of Chicago continues to make headlines worldwide due to the violence that is plaguing neighborhoods that are poor and gang infested. The flow of guns is saturating these areas, making it impossible to stem the violence and murder of so many lives. The lives lost to gun violence is double that of New York and Los Angeles combined! Just mention the name of our city…Chicago… and people immediately think of gun violence and murdered lives. What can we do to change this?

The areas of violence are poor and primarily African American, lacking in strong schools, jobs and stable families. The cause is extremely complex, but deeply rooted racism and the history and impact  of institutional slavery, are certainly at the heart of this tragedy. Historically, Chicago has been defined by racial segregation, with clear borders of demarcation: railroad tracks, acknowledged highways, expressways, forest preserves and rivers. These defined,  bordered areas create “bubbles” of desperate humanity. Throughout the city are other “bubbles” of neighborhoods that have as many as four or five large grocery stores, good private and public schools, easy access to public services, streets and parks maintained, better opportunities for employment. 

What do we do? The problem is so huge and entrenched that we can only respond as individuals in the best way that we can. I try and read to learn the history that helps to explain how we got where we got. Education opens the eyes and hearts to unpleasant and disturbing realities: we are all a part of the problem. The situation in which we are born largely determines the kind of human being we become. I was deeply fortunate by my birth into a strong family with parents that were always present in a neighborhood that was safe and grounded in community. The public schools  were the best, giving me a phenomenal education, creating so many possibilities and career pathways. But my upbringing was very middle class and very White. Cultural diversity wasn’t even thought of or discussed and the races were separate and NOT equal. 

In reading, learning, praying and connecting we can simply try to create human bridges between individuals and between small communities, allowing for ALL to learn from the other. Hearts can only be changed when minds are changed. Hearts that are hardened need to be cracked open through dialogue, learning the history of the “other” through sources not tainted with defensive positions that want to  maintain the status quo, volunteering together, and most important: sharing a wonderful meal with lots of unheard of food! Yes, a meal can change a heart but only when the way we think changes. We have to let go of certain ways of thinking and  ideologies rooted in prejudice. Each one of us has to become a new human being. 

Changing minds and hearts, becoming a new person…where have we heard this before? Through our baptism, when we were immersed in those waters of death and rebirth those words of new life we prayed and spoken. The Spirit of our baptism is always waiting to surface, deepening our conversion and furthering the transformation of our characters. Liturgy, seasons, rituals and prayer are given to us for the sole purpose of transforming our identities into that of Christ. The solution to all the problems of our world: each one of us must keep the internal journey moving forward, allowing God and Grace to chisel away our darknesses, which  allow our own small humanity to shine a bit of light into the small dark corners of world we inhabit. 

Peace. Fr. Frank 

Footprints in the Snow. December 30, 2016

During this week of Christmas, we hear of two elderly prophets, Simeon and Anna, waiting patiently in the Temple, praying for the coming Messiah. As Mary and Joseph bring the infant Jesus to the Temple for His Presentation, these two wisdom figures erupt in prayer and praise. We only know of these two prophets through a few verses in the gospel of Luke, and yet their witness and memory are like “footprints in the snow.”

While walking on a lonely road after a snowfall, the wind was howling up a storm. I noticed how the footprints imprinted in the snow gradually disappeared as the wind swept new snow across the road…slowly erasing any signs of a human walking. But did they truly disappear?

Simeon and Anna are like those footprints that are covered over by the winds of time. But under the surface of life, the footprints of these two prophets continue to “trod” a hidden path to the messiah. Their consistent prayer and patient waiting were grounded in an act of love deeply rooted in faith and the Promise of God. 

We are all making our own “footprints” creating a path as we slowly pilgrim our way through life. This “path” of footprints exists under the surface and can be seen with eyes of faith. Sometimes the wind of the Spirit clears away that which fills them, so they can be plainly  seen. Every act of kindness, mercy, justice, reconciliation creates an imprint that can be followed. The Saints have given us multitudes of foot printed paths through their witness. Faith has a way of clearing these paths so that we can see them and create a unique path with our own “footprint.”

What path am I creating has become a piercing question,  as the year comes to an end. I have been blessed with the example of so many women and men who have carved out a beautiful path of gospel witness: walking into the streets with food for the poor, visiting the sick and lonely, supporting the immigrant and refugee, teaching children, caring for the home, tending the garden, creatively investing  the economy to helo our needy, serving behind the counter, collecting our waste…the list endless and the paths marked by individual human beings our spiritual GPS. Where do our footprints lead? Around a tight-knit circle of life…or OUTWARD into humanity? 

Peace. Fr. Frank

Christmas Martyrs. December 26, 2016

The day after celebrating the birth of Christ we celebrate the martyrdom of St. Stephen, Christianity’s first martyr. On December 28 we commemorate the slaughter of the Holy Innocents by King Herod…these little baby boys threatened his power,  since a “king” was prophesied to be born. Herod felt he had to make certain that this newborn king, whoever he was, would not usurp his Throne. Just to be safe, he ordered ALL newborn boys to be killed. And on December 29, we celebrate the feast of St. Thomas Becket,  who was killed in his cathedral at the orders of King Henry II in 1170. The King didn’t like the fact that Thomas kept challenging his authority in matters pertains to the Church. 

Christmas week, the Octave of Christmas extending the Feast eight days, reminds us that the birth, life and teachings of Christ will always encounter opposition, some violent, given the commemorations celebrated. Pope Francisco just sent a message to the Church on this Feast of St. Stephen that Christians all over the world are being killed for their faith at alarming numbers. The Pope is calling us who can worship and believe freely to pray for these martys of our own time. The freedoms we have can make us immune to the millions of Christians being persecuted and killed because they believe in Christ. As the Pope clearly states, the teachings of Jesus and His gospel will always shed light on the dark abuses of power. These darknesses exist in our own country, particularly in how we want to secure our dominance on the world stage. 

The Birth of Christ heralded “Peace on Earth,” a beautiful phrase sung in so many carols and songs. But this  “peace”will always come at a cost, sometimes a dire cost, because Christ’s Peace is rooted in the dignity of EVERY human being, from conception until death. There can be no peace without justice: for the poor, the immigrant, the refugee, the prisoner, the exploited, the unborn. For religion to be a means of bringing peace to the world, it can NEVER force or compel people to believe. NEVER. Christ extended His arms on the Cross, embracing the world in every age with mercy and non violence. Christ forgave those who killed Him; Stephen forgave those who stoned him. Forgiveness and Mercy bring a peace that is the balm the world so desperately needs. In our own lives, when we let go of vengeance and the need to control, when we forgive and show mercy, we not only bring peace to the world….we give birth to Christ in our own individual humanity. What a powerful Truth Christmas celebrates. 

Peace. Fr. Frank

A Charlie Brown Christmas. December 22, 2016

I just watching this beloved classic remembering watching it with family when it first aired in 1965. Charlie wonders in exasperation just what is the meaning of Christmas. Linus takes center stage and  asks for a spotlight to shine down on the stage as he beautifully tells the story of the first Christmas according to Luke’s Gospel. After telling the story of Christ’s birth, Linus tells Charlie Brown in so many words, “Now that’s what Christmas is all about.”

Wow!!! It really is so simple that the true meaning of Christmas can easily get lost in the trappings of the season. A cartoon over 50 years old is timeless in its message, which is barely 25 minutes in length. Take the time to reflect on what Christmas is all about. Let the wonder and beauty of the Nativity of our Lord, the Word Made Flesh, take center stage in your heart. The Christmas story is alive in your  own life, as you give birth to Christ every time you love, forgive, reach out, accompany, gently speak the truth, feed the poor, welcome the stranger…”Glory to God in the highest and Peace to His people on  earth.”

Christkindlmarket. December 20, 2016

I walked through this joyous festive outdoor market in Daley Plaza, thinking about the horrible tragedy that took place in a similar market in Berlin. Each entrance was flanked by two large chicago police trucks, with several  police officers keeping watch. The first Christmas was filled with harsh realities and rejection, including the slaughter of the Innocents. The world in which we live has many darknesses, including attacks of terror in places where people gather to create community. The first Christmas had its share of darkness. 

Mary and Joseph have to leave their home to participate in the census; Bethlehem, the least of villages, did not open its door in welcome; the Child had to be born in a damp cave around animals; he was placed in a feeding trough for comfort; the Holy Family had to flee the wrath of Herod; the first born were slaughtered because Herod was threatened by this newborn King. There was little that was sentimental and quaint about the first Christmas. 

I write this on the shortest day of the year: the Winter Solstice when the rays of the sun point away from the earth on an angle. The irony of the two solstices: the sun is actually closer to the earth at the winter solstice than at the summer solstice. At summer, the rays are very direct and pointed,  creating heat. After December 21st, the sun gets stronger and daylight gets longer. Warmth is slowly returning. 

Christ is the “Son” whose Light and strength grow at any time of the year when we reflect His Light through our actions. It is no coincidence that Christmas comes at a time of the year when the “sun” is getting stronger. Yes, like the sun, Christ, the Son, is returning. 

May our ” Light” shine in the darkness of illness, loneliness, violence, addiction and hatred. We pray for a world in which all of Gods’s people are safe wherever they may be and all the Christkindlmarkets be freely open without any barricades. 

Peace. Fr. Frank

The End of the World. November 23, 2016

The end of the Church year is fast upon us with just three days to go. Advent begins this Saturday evening ushering in a new year with a new season that breathes patient hope in a church expecting the return of Christ. Yes, he’s coming again, a reality that is both sobering, because it demands waking up and preparing for this encounter, and joyful, because it means life and love will have the last word. 

And so the world as we know is going to come to an end, something which can’t be really surprising to anyone who reflects and prays. Many worlds come to an end: when a loved one dies, the end of a relationship, losing one’s job, changing vocations or careers, facing a difficult illness. The end of one world gradually gives birth to a new world. Yes, worlds come to an end, so must the whole world and its history come to a definitive end. But new heavens and a new world of eternal love will emerge. 

Jesus is very clear in the gospels this week: be prepared, for the Lord will return when least expected. If we are asleep in apathy and self-centeredness, we will miss out and be left out. Of course, God doesn’t want us left out but included in this wonderful New World. However, just think how different it will be if we ARE wide awake and ready for the great return of Christ. The encounter will be unbelievably joyful and ecstatic because we will recognize Jesus as the long awaited Friend…the wait is ended, a new world is born. 

Peace. Fr. Frank