There’s No Going Back. November 14, 2014

The Liturgical year is coming to a close, and the readings are a summons to wake up out of complacency, for the End Time is approaching. The end of the church year and the end of time are realities that remind us time continues to pass and our direction must always be forward. Yes, we move forward anchored in faith and community, but we must continue to move forward.

It is so easy to bemoan the times in which we live, so much so, that we yearn for a return to an idealized past that never really existed in the first place. It only exists in our imagination. There is much to be concerned about: the use of technology, family life, the value of human life and a growing materialism. In every age and time, humanity has had to struggle with something.

The truth us we can’t keep looking back. In the gospel, jesus tells the disciples to remember what happened to Lot’s wife in the Book of Genesis. She was told to NOT turn back and look at the devastation occurring to Sodom. But she turned around and looked back and was turned into a pillar of salt. We will never know exactly why she turned to have a look but the directions were clear: continue to move forward….don’t look back!!!

We need to keep moving forward in a spirit of optimism and hope, that people can change and new, life-giving directions can unfold. The church can never try to “look back” to times when everything seemed so neat and clean and everyone was on the same page theologically. These times never existed. The church has lived through countless controversies and divisions in its past. It will continue to do so until jesus returns and brings chronological time to a close.

We must move forward in a unity of faith, the faith as prayed in the Creed every week, and within a community of believers. We must “lose ourself,” as jesus teaches…we must lose the self that needs to control, the self that manipulates, the self that lives in fear, the self that must be at the center of the world. As we move forward in time, we “lose” this destructive and sinful self that turns our spirits into a “pillar of salt.” And we allow the Self, created in God’ s Image, to emerge from the shadows.
This is a slow, lifelong process, a process that always leads to new beginnings, new years, new life….
ADVENT!!!! The church year ends and Advent begins… The season of waiting in Hope as we continue to move forward and not looking back.
Buen camino. Padre

Transformation of the Heart. November 13, 2014

The one experience that totally transformed the life of St. Francis of Assisi was the moment he PHYSICALLY embraced a leper. Something WITHIN him compelled him to confront the disgust he felt towards lepers; he despised even being near them. The moment he embraced that leper, that leper was transformed from an object of disgust into a human being with dignity. After the embrace, francis saw Christ in the human being he once saw as a horrible leper.

In today’s first reading, Paul has a similar experience, in that he sees Onesimus NOT as a slave but as a brother in Christ. In his own way, Paul embraced the slave Onesimus in his humanity and was able to refer to him as his child. What a magnificent transformation of Paul’s heart and this transformation occurred while he was imprisoned for his faith.

How does a leper become a human being with dignity? How does a slave, a piece of property, become a person with rights and dignity? The simple answer that takes a lifetime to unfold is CONVERSION of the heart. Francis and Paul surrendered their lives and their hearts to Christ. They allowed grace to completely transform their lives so that they began to see all of life through the lens of faith.

A saint is someone who lives under the influence of God’s grace. They experience the Kingdom as something alive and present WITHIN the human heart. Yes, the Kingdom of God is here…right now…within your heart. All of our experiences, especially our religious rituals and traditions , are meant to help us go “within,” allowing allow the Kingdom to come alive. Religion is a mean to an end , the end being an encounter with Christ, such that our worlds our turned upside down. Religion is all about transforming our hearts so that we love each and every human being and see the presence of God in them.

Let us pray that our religion and our hearts do not become like fossils, where we are surrounded by the hard rock of rigidity and isolation. For the heart to be transformed it can never be entombed in the fear of change and transformation, by its very essence, is all about change. We are pilgrims of transformation : only as our hearts are transformed will the world be transformed.
Buen Camino. Padre

Overshadowed Thanksgiving. November 12, 2014

Yesterday , I went into Starbucks for the first time in over a month. They were getting the store dressed up for Christmas by pushing their famous and best blend , Thanksgiving, off to the side to make way for their ever popular christmas blend. Thanksgiving , the most beautiful and least commercial of holidays , is now lost in the Christmas shuffle and Black Friday frenzy. How ironic that the feast dedicated to giving thanks is overshadowed, and even forgotten, by a holiday that has its roots in Christ who teaches that GRATITUDE is at the heart of life. The word “Eucharist ” means just that : thanksgiving and gratitude.

At the heart of the life of the Church is thanking God for all that has been given to us. Ten lepers are healed, made WHOLE , by the healing of Jesus. They all run away, presumably in joy, with only ONE of the ten returning to thank Jesus. Irony strikes again: this person who said, “Thank you,” was a Samaritan!!!!! A “foreigner” …, an outsider, was the only one to remember where the healing came from, or rather, WHO did the healing. The God of surprises strikes again. Or maybe I should say that one human being surprised God!!!!!!
The very source of the healing, God, seems to get lost in the shuffle, like Thanksgiving, and even the celebration of God becoming flesh and blood: the Incarnation.

A life of Gratitude is a life that never puts God on the back burner nor forgets Who made all of this possible. The nine other healed lepers were probably very good people but they were disconnected with the Source of of not only the healing but their very lives. We are fast becoming a culture of disconnected individuals who have lost a sense of a personal God calling us together in a community of “connected” individuals who radiate the very presence and love of this God.
We Christians are called to be living examples of gratitude, drawing others in by our joy in the God who wants us to do our part in the transformation of the world.
This “transformation” or re-creation begins in gratitude. How can YOU surprise God?
Buen camino. Padre

(I’m brewing my own Thanksgiving coffee)


Servant. November 11, 2014

We remember the men and women who put their lives on the line for others…for us…in serving to defend the values we treasure: freedom to speak, worship, develop talents and follow dreams. These men and women were/are servants to a higher purpose and they would be the first ones to shun the title of “hero” , believing they were doing what they were called to do.

When we think of “servant,” images of Downton Abbey come to mind: a lower class of people working hard for little money to support the wealthy. Even in our own culture, people in service- oriented occupations work for low wages to serve the needs of others. In their own way, they are servants, making all of our lives much easier.

A “servant” has a rich and deep meaning in sacred scripture. The Suffering Servant of the prophet Isaiah is identified by Christians as Christ, who came to serve and not be served. Christ was the Servant of all servants and he us calling us who follow him to be servants to a higher purpose: to put our lives on the line for the gospel.
As believers, we ALL share in the one priesthood of Jesus Christ, sent into the world to be servants of gospel living.

And as today’s gospel parable reminds us, as servants we are to do what we are supposed to do as disciples and not expect rewards or titles as recompense. We are simply to say to ourselves that we are only doing what we are called to do as followers of Jesus. When all is said and done, when the talking and teaching are over…when we “shut up,” it is our actions as servants that catch God’s heart and love. Yes, our actions, in the end, are all that matter: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink…”
This quote from Matthew 25, which will be etched in the windows of our renovated church, is the foundation of the life of a servant.

Today’s feast of Martin of Tours celebrates a bishop of the fourth century who was a true servant. He welcomed people into his “residence ” and even washed their feet….literally!!!!! We priests and bishops need to imitate his example and not be concerned with titles or accolades but with being Servants of and for Christ. The essence of being an
Ordained priest is not to be a “bridegroom” mirroring Jesus as Bridegroom of his Bride, the Church.
This is a metaphor, a beautiful one, but a metaphor, nonetheless. Maybe the metaphor that needs to guide our theology of the ordained priesthood is the image and metaphor, of “servant. ”
A bridegroom, by necessity, must be a male; a servant can be male or female.
Just a thought ….
Buen camino. Padre.



Television in English November 8, 3014

In every pension, hostal or hotel, I checked out the stations in English. Invariably, only one program in English would be telecast, and it wasn’t the BBC or CNN but a station devoted to the economic markets and “volatility ” if that’s the right word. I couldn’t watch because the message seem tiresome and redundant. Not good viewing for a pilgrimage.

I reflected on today’s gospel and Jesus’ warming not to serve two masters : God and wealth. We all know what he says , that you will end up loving one and hating the other. Well, a strong gospel message as I sat in the Santiago Cathedral boasting its gold, baroque furnishings and artistic expressions that made the sanctuary busy and even confusing. What message are we giving as the priest is celebrating a beautiful and simple liturgy while pilgrims and tourists are walking behind him and climbing up a stairway behind the main altar to venerate a silver statue of St. James!!!
The whole environment needs to be cleaned up allowing the beautiful, simple architecture and carefully placed artwork to speak a beauty that would not be inconsistent with the gospel.

Where your treasure is…there will be your heart. Having a beautiful home or church is something to be sought after , but in moderation and simplicity. Beauty transforms the human heart. God is Beauty. The beauty of our churches must be matched with the beauty the comes with serving the materially poor. What good is it to have silver and gold chalices from which to drink the Blood of Christ if the poor are thirsty ? What good is it for the priest to wear exquisite vestments if the poor have no clothing ? This message comes from St. John Crysostom who teaches that we need both: material beauty in moderation/simplicity and serving the poor.
So many non-Catholics come to this Cathedral and I can’t help wondering what they think of our priorities and values. This Cathedral is magnificent and it’s simplistic beauty must be maintained as part of our heritage. But is all the gold and gaudy artwork necessary? Are they even beautiful ?

Back to the television in English and our turning the economy into an idol that we worship, and we do so at much “expense.” In Leon, I found One station on English not concerned with what Jesus in the gospel refers to as “mammon” or wealth: NCIS with actor Chris O’Donnell!! I never saw this show before but I had little or no choice, since I just wanted to watch some TV.
It was quite good and much needed.
Burn Camino. Padre





The Shrewd But Dishonest Steward. November 7, 2014

A man who misused the money entrusted to him by his “master” is praised by jesus for his ingenious way of getting out of a dilemma. This is a strange gospel because jesus sheds light on the importance of being smart , or “shrewd” in the ways not only of the world but of the gospel. We don’t normally think of being shrewd as a gospel virtue, but it is and needs to be fostered.

Being shrewd is having the “foresight” to anticipate outcomes and responsibilities. Wisdom is at the heart of being shrewd. The steward in the gospel was smart and intelligent in how he explicated himself from personal shame by reducing the amount each debtor owed the master. Presumably, the steward used his own commission to reduce the individual amounts owed. Or maybe he was simply skimming money off the top all along. In any event, the master, and jesus himself, praised the steward’s cleverness. The man was a shrewd person, a quality I never associated with holiness, until now.

In matters of faith and religion, sometimes common sense and intelligence take a back seat to blind obedience and living mindlessly. St. Teresa herself praised intelligence, being clever and shrewd, over holiness , if she had to choose which qualities of a confessor she preferred. “If I can’t have a person with both holiness and intelligence and am forced to choose which is the more important virtue, I choose a smart and ingenious spiritual director,” she said in so many words.
Bold!!! She’d rather have a smart director who wasn’t holy, rather than a holy director who was dim witted.

Jesus wants us to be honest and trustworthy, but he also wants us to have foresight in the ways of the gospel so we can anticipate actions and their consequences. We must use intelligence and cleverness in being disciples. The Church must encourage us to use the intelligence God has given us to create s life of gospel living. For centuries, many of our leaders preferred keeping the masses of people quiet and submissive, especially women.
The ingenuity of ALL the people of the Church, rooted in deep faith, must be harnessed, creating a a powerful force of gospel witness. The church can be afraid of questions that search for answers rooted in the Tradition but spoken in ways meaningful to the present time. We gave to be clever and ingenious in how we apply some of the more difficult and confusing teachings. We can’t be afraid of new answers to these situations especially when it means developing the teachings in the Tradition. Development and evolution are a part of the church’s theological reflection and study.
Be “shrewd” for Christ!!! Find ways that you can spread the Good News that are inspiring, creative and rooted in intelligence.
Buen camino. Padre




The Lost Sheep. November 6, 2014

In the gospel today, jesus confronts those who are angry with him for performing forbidden actions on the sabbath. He tells the story of a shepherd with 100 sheep, who leaves the 99 sheep who are safe and searches diligently for the One Lost Sheep. What joy he has when he finds the lost sheep. What love the shepherd has for his sheep.

YOU are that Lost Sheep…God is searching for you and will do anything to grasp you gently and place you lovingly over his shoulders. This is our God, the very God we love and worship.

But you can only be found by this passionate God if you are lost.
In prayer, discover or rediscover how you have lost your way… And let God do the rest.
Buen Camimo. Padre





Arrival. November 5, 2014

I walked into Santiago early this morning in a beautiful mist, giving the city a mystical aura. I found myself getting my first glimpse of the cathedral tower while making my way through a narrow street. My heart neatly fell because it was clear and real: I made it!!!!
I found the Office For Pilgrims to receive my final stamp or “stella” on my pilgrim passport. And then I received my Certificate , written in Latin , that statescI completed the journey by walking across Spain on the Camino Frances; even my name was inscribed in Latin. The moment was deeply moving and important for me and my spiritual journey.

I immediately went to Confession and vested to concelebrate the Pilgrim’s Mass at Noon. Seeing many of my fellow travelers along the journey sent my spirit soaring. After the Mass, they commented how great it was seeing me on the altar as priest. I guess that moment spoke clearly that I really was a priest. For the past five weeks I looked and smelled like a pilgrim. On the altar, I looked somewhat beleaguered and disheveled in my soggy boots and distinctive odor, which the beautiful red vestments couldn’t mask.
The priest celebrant warmly welcomed me and didn’t care a bit about my appearance. He made certain that I spoke part of the Eucharistic Prayer in English and that I offered one of the Prayers of the Faithful in English. A wonderful priest indeed!!!

The famous Rite of Incensation with the massive “botofumeiro” occurred after Holy Communion. It was a marvelous site to see and be a part of, with the 400pound silver Censor being swept over the congregation. We were God’s holy people, being carried up with the incense into the arms of this magnificent and beautiful God we call Love. This is Liturgy at its best when a rite that could have been just a spectacle of spectators, became an experience of ritual in which we were the participants!!!! It was pure JOY!

We all left the Liturgy with a bounce in our steps and a lift in our spirits. And then the shock: A young woman came up to me after Mass and asked if I was “Fr. Frank?” Of course, I told her I was and asked the obvious, “How do you know me?” It happened that she was on my first camimo two years ago and she and her boyfriend ended up sharing a small room with me in one of the albergues. I distinctly remember joking with them that it must have been a dream of theirs to end up spending the night with a priest in the next bed!!! This young woman decided to do the camino again at the exact same time and she ended up at the Pilgrim’s Mass I concelebrated!!! This was NOT a coincidence! What a gift we were given: a brief encounter two years ago made a difference. She was so happy and took the time to see if I really was that priest of two years ago. We all have had an impact on someone else’s life and are never aware of it. This young woman gave me a beautiful gift I will never forget.
Remember: YOU are God’s gift to another human being, who will experience the Living God through their encounter with you. We all have that power to make God present.
Buen Camino. Padre.





Six Miles To Go. November 4, 2014

Tomorrow , I finally make it to the holy city of Santiago. There is a saying made popular by the movie , The Way , that says, “the journey is the destination.” Yes, that is true, to a certain extent, especially if the journey and life , itself, isn’t very religious. Destinations…arrivals to specific places, are very important, whether you are religious or not. We are all going somewhere, I hope. But if you don’t really believe in the religious significance of a historical person named James, Iago in Spanish, who was an Apostle of Christ, then the destination of the city of Santiago or “St. James” really means nothing. I’m not even sure why getting the official Certificate at the Cathedral is so important. Maybe, deep down, the destination IS important , after all.

We all have a destination awaiting us: living in the Kingdom, in the city of the Living God. This “place” or destination, is the ONLY one on which ALL are invited and welcomed. Jesus told a poignant parable about an who gave a dinner party and invited many people. Each person had a reason , an excuse, not to go to the dinner. In essence, they were busy or preoccupied with other matters believed more important. So the man becomes furious and tells the servants to go into the byroads and alleys and invite the poor and crippled. The story jesus told doesn’t say it, but the implication or outcome is that these unfortunate ones, “Les Miserables,” accepted and dined at the feast.

Perhaps we become too inflated in self importance, that we really believe that we are important and indispensable. The truth is that we are ALL dispensable in the world in which we live, someone can and will take our place. We will be forgotten by most.
This isn’t depressing, it is simply the reality of life in this world and on this side of the Kingdom.
But there is a destination where each and every human being has a place at the table. We are ALL invited to feast at this dinner party which celebrates our arrival at a “destination.”

Jesus gave us the Eucharist as the Meal which makes present his love for all of us in the cross and resurrection. It is a Meal on the pilgrimage of life…
This truly is a feast that anticipates the great Banquet at the end of time when All are gathered around the one table. We are “destined” for this great feast, which becomes our ultimate destination.
We have this feast of the Mass that our church has placed too many restriction on who can partake of the Body and Blood of Christ. If we want to be a welcoming and inviting church and parish, what message do we give when we say , “Your invited , but don’t come to Communion if your are not Catholic of if you are in mortal sin. ”
Restrictions to the great feast of Mass do not seem in the spirit of the gospel.
And the ways I have seen the Mass celebrated in a number of countries, we have no reason to be so restrictive.

Perhaps we even need to rethink the whole RCIA process, the process that gradually initiates a person who is not a Catholic into full communion with the Church. It doesn’t seem to be working and our church needs to look
into this process of initiation that is cumbersome and outdated. Our theology of the Eucharist needs a larger heart of mercy.

So many pilgrims on this wonderful journey have no relationship with any church or religion, a reality that saddens me. The Camino is fast becoming a walk of endurance and an adventure of challenge. These are important reasons to make the Camino , for many, if not most of the people I have met. And the people I have met are truly wonderful people…God’s holy people. But it has been difficult and awkward trying to talk faith on a pilgrimage rooted in faith with people who do not have the desire to engage in such discussions.

But tomorrow , the fifth of November in the year 2014, thousands of pilgrims will arrive at a destination…a truly “holy city ” where they will come to the feast of the Mass and realize, deep down, that the destination IS vital and essential. The priest will hopefully welcome ALL to the Feast, in the Spirit of the Feast’s Founder. Without this destination, these pilgrims could never experience the JOY, I have no doubt they will experience , when they embrace “friends” they will most likely will never see again, one last time , until that ultimate destination….where goodbyes never happen.
Buen camino. Padre.




The Fellowship of the Camino: the Feast of All Saints and All Souls. November 2, 2014

Fellowship is probably the best word to describe the felt experience of those who walked the Camino de Santiago. On the Camino itself, we created fellowship…community …. with our “fellow” travelers. We are “sojourners in a foreign land,” to borrow an image from one of Paul’s letters. We try and stop to help whenever needed, even if it means a change in plans; we share food, water and other beverages; we eat together and frequently sleep together, that is, in the same room with many others; we share stories about our lives and purpose for the Camino. Over a week or more, a fellowship develops that will always remain a part of our lives.

In many cities, including Chicago , groups have developed to continue the fellowship begun on the Camino. And I know how my fellow travelers feel when they get home and friends and family are unable to relate to or understand the deep experiences we’ve had on this strange journey of faith. The key for me as a priest is to inspire ALL people I encounter to help them to connect their lives with the felt experience of “pilgrimage,” in that we are all journeying through life. Nothing in this life ,including all of our relationships, is permanent. Living life on pilgrimage means living in the present and experiencing God in the people we encounter. We allow ourselves to keep moving forward, embracing whatever God brings our way. Each trip to work or the store or a friend’s house or even Starbucks can become a pilgrimage if we allow faith to intersect with ordinary life. Even the Camino can get routine and monotonous.

Each morning I get out of bed, I know I’m going to walk about 15 miles through some difficult territory. The destination is usually made the night before, but must change, when a shin splint develops, as it did for me. Sometimes it means admitting when a bus or taxi is needed because of injury. One never know…
But the walking gets very tiresome nonetheless. Even beautiful terrain gets lost in the, “I just want this to be OVER.”

Walking the Camino allows for pilgrims to enter and leave each other’s lives quickly, but with much intensity. Our shared stories become intertwined forever, relationships that will be rekindled in the Life that follows, where “goodbyes” never have to be said. I carry back with me memories that will continue to work their magic on my life.

One experience that has been strengthened on this Camino for me has been a deep certainty that all the people in my life who have passed on, who have completed their life long Camino, are very much alive and well. They have been part of this “fellowship” : my mom, aunt, uncle, cousins, friends , countless parishioners. They also have names and I spent this day of
saints and souls naming them…seeing them. Their felt presence gave me warmth in the loneliness of the journey.

I strengthened my fellowship with Francis, Teresa, Jude and most important of all… Mary. She is the first person to become a disciple of Jesus when she said “yes” to Gabriel. She was a disciple before she was mother, but it is her motherhood, her love for each one of us, that gives us courage and strength for the long haul. Jesus gave her to the human family as he hung upon the Cross. When he entrusted his mother to John, Jesus gave us a precious gift. “Behold your son…behold your mother,” are words from Christ on the Cross, forever changing how we are to relate to each other. As He suffered, he created a new way of being family. Mary, the Mother of God, is mother of us all, redefining our relationship with each other as sister and brother. I’m finally seeing that my family is much more than biology.
Buen camino. Four days to Santiago.
Fr. Frank