Gospel consequences. December 26, 2014

The day after Christmas, the presents just unwrapped, the glow of the lights fills rooms and hearts. And what do we celebrate on this day after Christmas ? The feast of St. Stephen who is the first martyr of the church. The account of his being stoned to death is found in the Acts of the Apostles. The joy of Christ’s birth is immediately followed by a remembrance of Stephen who gave his life for believing in Jesus. The gospel proclaimed this morning at Mass had jesus warning the disciples that they will experience resistance and persecution for their faith , even within families: “brother will hand over brother to death, a father his child, and children will rise up against their parents and have them put to death .”

So much for a Merry Christmas!!! But the Christmas mystery isn’t about an idyllic world devoid of suffering and challenge. It is the Word made Flesh entering our history giving us the power to transform and recreate the world in which we live. As we give birth to Christ in our hearts, our lives will change. And some of our closest loved ones and friends may not understand or appreciate the changes that may take place when Christ becomes more central to our lives. Deepening our love of Christ will not necessarily bring us peace and tranquility. Whatever the price, and there will be a price, there is no turning back, once we are committed to following Christ.
Peace and Joy. Fr. Frank

Emmanuel. December 20, 2014

What title of Jesus has the most meaning for you ? The most common titles are: Christ, Messiah, Lord, Savior, Good Shepherd , King, Lamb of God, just to name a few. At this time of the year , the title, Emmanuel, speaks so eloquently of the Word made Flesh…the Incarnation. In the first reading of Saturday ‘s Liturgy, the sign is prophesied of the virgin giving birth to a son named Emmanuel: God Is with us.
Jesus, Emmanuel, walks with you on your journey through this life , leading you deeper into the Kingdom. What an intimate God it is who took on our flesh and blood and entered into our history…all of history. God walks with each and every human being and through each and every human being we can encounter this God of Love.

God’s Presence within fills your emptiness, dispels all fear, soothes doubts and robs discouragement of its power to deflate hope.

Emmanuel, God is with us…God is with our church as we come together to pray and worship…

God is with us in our Christmas plans and gatherings.

God is with us when we reach out to the poor with a coat or a sleeping bag.
God is with us as we do whatever we can to make the world a better place.

God is with us as we struggle with personal problems and addictions.

God is with us at every step of the way being our constant companions.

We need never fear for the God who is with us will displace that fear with JOY.

Peace and Joy. Fr. Frank

Posada. December 19, 2014

At 7:00am this morning, I walked a pilgrimage with people who are striving to bring justice to the undocumented. It was a traditional “Posada,” a word which means, “shelter,” and has roots in Mexican catholic culture. Every year before Christmas, a Mary pregnant with jesus walks with Joseph from house to house only to be rejected with the statement , “There is no room
In the Inn.” The couple finally finds a welcome home that “shelters ” them, allowing their Child to born.

A young woman and man dressed as Mary and Joseph led the pilgrimage to various locations that impact the undocumented, which included , the Federal Building, the Metropolitan Correction center, DePaul university and St. Peter’s in the Loop. We stopped at each site and heard the familiar , “There’s no room at Inn,” to shed light on the ways the undocumented have “no room” in our legal system with much red tape and confusing legislation. This early morning procession in the Loop was very cold and uncomfortable, conditions certainly felt by the Holy Family and this Posada lasted only two hours! For many, it is a way of life.

I met some wonderful people committed to bringing justice to the undocumented. “There is no room for you,” can poignantly be answered with, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” The Christmas mystery must transcend cultural expressions that at times can be superficial and empty. The Word made Flesh, Jesus Christ, was born to transform our world and the darkness of injustice. Justice and peace go hand in hand. Christmas is meaningful and joyful to the extent that it enters into our darkness, as individuals and as a society. The Holy Family did not have an easy go of it from the start. The mystery that unfolded on the road to Bethlehem and beyond was filled with trials , rejection , fleeing to Egypt from Herod’s jealous wrath , the slaughter of the innocents, not to forget, giving birth to the Savior of the world in a cave surrounded by animals. Not a pretty picture of twinkling lights and a village scene filled with beautiful snow covered hills and sleigh bells ringing.

The true meaning of Christmas is rooted in God entering our humanity-from within- by being born as a baby. In taking on our flesh and blood , all of creation was blessed and made holy. The first message of the Angels was “Peace on earth,” and the parting gift from jesus on the first Easter was “Peace.”
The Posada this morning was rooted in prayer and a gentle peace. The injustices encountered by the undocumented , the poor, the imprisoned, women and children “trafficked,” need to be brought into the Light. In becoming human and sharing in our human nature, Christ wants to share his divinity with us. Rooted in God’s Presence that dwells within our hearts , we can transform the darknesses of our lives and the world into the Light of hope and promise.
May each one of us…may YOU be s human “posada” or shelter, so that those who encounter you will find room in the Inn of you heart. The transformation of the world begins in your heart.

Peace and Joy. Fr. Frank

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Christmas In The City. December 17, 2014

Last night, I went to a monthly gathering of a Franciscan community named Brother Jacoba. I am a member of the third order of St. Francis, now called the Secular Franciscan Order, and we gather to pray and support one another in our desire to follow the path of Francis. This great Saint from Assisi draws people from all walks of life and religions to embrace the gospel call to a life of poverty and simplicity. It is a daily struggle to face the many inconsistencies of trying to live the gospel and follow jesus. Part of following St. Francis is to see the world through the eyes of the poor and the stranger.
When I try and walk in the shoes of the homeless, the lonely , the undocumented , the abused…I am compelled to see the world through their eyes. And the world looks very different from their vantage point.
Francis teaches that the ultimate joy is to live through suffering and rejection without becoming bitter or resentful. Joy is that deep , wonderful virtue that refuses to let us become immobilized when life doesn’t go as planned. Joy gently pushes us out of our brokenness and forward into new life. The poor have much to teach us about Joy…and how this Joy can be a bridge that unites people of different beliefs and breaks down barriers.

Brother Jacoba is actually a woman Francis admired and loved. She was the only woman welcomed into Francis ‘ inner circle, so he referred to her as “brother.” Jacoba used to bring him his favorite treat : a dessert best described as almond cake, perhaps similar to marzipan. She was there at his death and she was buried very near to Francis in the lower level of the basilica in Assisi.
This is quite remarkable given the strict cultural codes that defined how men and women should interact. Having the presence of a woman in Francis’ living quarters certainly defied the norm. Francis was able to see beyond these codes of conduct to a new vision. And he didn’t stop there.

He traveled to Damietta to meet with the Sultan during the Fifth Crusade. He did not see the Muslim as the enemy and blatantly taught his followers (and us) to see christ in those who believe differently. The Sultan deeply admired and even loved Francis for his ability to love and accept the non Christian while still remaining loyal to his catholic faith.
For this, Francis is the patron saint of inter-religious dialogue. Given the turmoil and violence in the Middle East and other countries, we need to open
our minds and hearts to listen to those of other political and religious persuasions. In the West, we are largely ignorant of the teachings of Islam and reduce the beauty and truth of this religion to the fear of terrorism.

After the meeting I went over to the Christlindle Market to immerse myself in the throng of shoppers and tourists. Standing tall and magnificent was the tree, which during the day looks sparse and rather lifeless, but in the dark of night it becomes a beacon of Light…multi colored lights. Near this tree stands a Nativity scene, a Menorah and the Star and Crescent, three symbols of three different religions, together in a harmony of light…and peace.
Peace and Joy. Fr. Frank

Today begins the Advent Tradition of the “O Antiphons,” sung at evening prayer and at Mass. From
December 17 through the 23 there are seven Antiphons that name an attribute of the Messiah.

December 17
“Oh Wisdom who comes from the mouth of the Most High…teach us the way of prudence. ” The spirit of Wisdom filled jesus in his mission to spread the gospel.

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A Child’s Confession. December 10, 2014

Recently, I had the opportunity of celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation with young children. Their confessions were were both moving and eye opening. These were children around nine to eleven years old and they were struggling with realities I never much thought about until I was late in high school. Our children today are growing up much quicker than we did due to changes in families, use of technology as early as pre-school, the media and changing values.
Religion is certainly losing its influence in dramatic fashion, with churches, temples and other places of worship becoming emptier. The only faith communities growing are evangelical and fundamentalist in nature. Hearing these children’s confessions gave me strong hope that healthy religion is necessary for our culture. While so many adults have unfortunately given up on Confession and Reconciliation to the point of totally dismissing this Sacrament as “pre-Vatican II,” many of the children I listened to spoke about struggling with life and belief. They were given an outlet to try and work through feeling bad about some of the things they are forced to experience in their worlds.

We need to open eyes to all the realities that make life difficult and confusing for them. We have to remember that they are still children and need a childhood. Jesus says in today’s gospel , “Come to me all you who find life weary and burdensome and I will refresh you,” a verse I normally associate with giving comfort to adults not children. I truly believe that our Church and religion is helping children to make sense of their worlds through beautiful rituals like Reconciliation. I was deeply humbled by the faith and sincerity of these children who opened their hearts to feel accepted and loved by God. What a privilege I was given to be an instrument for Jesus to embrace them and fill them with joy and love. Several children thanked me for the experience…yes, they thanked me for the Confession!!!!!
Jesus says somewhere else in the gospel words that speak Advent on the threshold of Christmas , “Unless you become like a child, you will not enter the Kingdom of God.” These children gave me a Christmas gift I will never forget. While walking to my car, my burdens were lifted…I was refreshed…all because of children. I came into the service feeling tired and burdened but I left the service with a bounce in my step and in my spirit. The rest of the day I was a bundle of energy and enthusiasm.
Buen camino. Padre

Fighting Racism. December 7, 2014

All over the country, people are gathering in protest under the rallying cry, “I can’t breath,” a reference to the plea by Eric Garner as police tried to detain him. The idea of putting someone in a “chokehold” for any reason whatsoever is a violent response that is excessive and unwarranted. The past couple of months have seen a number of incidents involving young , black males being killed by officers. The reasons for the large number of African American young black men involved in violence leading to the prison has many complexities making easy responses difficult. The court system works well for those with money and connections , a reality the poor do not participate in.

As I said during my homily last week, there is a narrative underneath places like Ferguson that goes back centuries. African families were ripped apart due to slavery and the power structures at the time saw the African slave as sub human, a piece of property. The Law changed as a result of the Civil War and was solidified in the Civil Rights Act that President Johnson signed into law in 1964. The laws in the books were changed but human hearts were not changed by the enactment of this legislation. As it took centuries for the racism of slavery to take hold, it will
take centuries to repair what was destroyed through systemic racism. We focus too much on our own individual sinfulness without taking into account the structural or communal sin perpetuated by governments and communities, including the church.

There were churches for white people and churches for black people. Segregation is a form of racism. Today, we may not knowingly participate in segregation and attitudes of exclusion, but we participate in ways very subtle.
Attitudes like: judging who is helped by government programs and who comes to food pantries and soup kitchens; believing that problems in Black communities can be solved if they just worked harder and devoted more time to education; slavery ended over one hundred years ago…stop being a victim; these attitudes attest to an ignorance of the root causes of racism and that we have all played a part …and continue to do so.

We must develop not only an individual conscience but a social conscience as well. We are all affected by the sins and injustices of the past. Our country and church have to uncover the realities that cause pain and scandal , not to incite guilt, but to free us so that we can become part of the solution.
Advent is a soul searching season for the community of the believers, the Church, to allow the Light to shine in many uncomfortable places, in our heart, in our history , and in our current culture.

Buen camino. Padre

Words and Actions. December 4, 2014

After he was elected, Pope Francis celebrated Holy Thursday in a youth detention center. During the Liturgy, he washed the feet of men and women, Christian and non Christian, an action that provoked much discussion and even controversy. I was in Rome at the time and felt the joy of the people in Rome: in stores, restaurants, and on the streets. The words and actions of a Pope came together in a beautiful harmony that spoke to the hearts of people around the world. This is religion at its best.

The great enemy of religion ischypocrisy, when words are not supported with actions. We can say all the right words and pray the rituals with all the t’s crossed and i’s dotted; but if our actions and behavior do not reflect the values of gospel discipleship, not only people, but God , are turned away. In the gospel jesus speaks with blunt clarity : “Not everyone who says ‘ Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom…only those who DO the will of my Father. ”

Jesus will recognize us by our actions more so than our words. In the parable that follows, the wise man builds his house on rock, which will not crumble in storm and wind. When our actions and words come together, we are on a solid foundation and can survive all the storms that life brings out way.

When we are all talk and no action, our lives fall a part , like a house built on sand. As soon as the winds keep blowing, sand castles on the beach collapse and dissolve into nothingness. Our lives are like these collapsing castes when we consistently fail to act on our beliefs. But when we live out our convictions and make the sacrifices needed to be a person of integrity , we develop strong characters. Our lives have substance and meaning… they are held together through love in action.

Ironically , the people must threatened by the Pope’s action of washing feet were fellow priests. The liturgical rubrics are quite clear, I guess: twelve MEN are to wash feet, for they symbolize the twelve Apostles. Literalism run amuck!! It seems the Pope knows when rules and traditions need to be transcended, allowing the words of the Liturgy to be strengthened by ritual action that speaks to the human heart. It is sad that people, especially we priests, can be so threatened by a powerful, but simple, ritual of washing the feet of people representing the diversity in the human family.

The greatest tool of spreading the faith and drawing people to the Church is the way we live our lives. Our witness in action is the most compelling teacher there is. We “wash feet” by reaching out, visiting , writing letters of gratitude, volunteering, being kind to people, especially the vulnerable , befriending the lonely , and just being present to those around us.
These simple actions make the foundation of our lives strong and secure. Entrance into the kingdom is not grounded in words but actions.
Buen Camino. Padre