Interpreting the Signs of the Times. October 21, 2016

Those who love Jesus know exactly why: He knows the human situation and predicament oh so well. He says in the gospel that we can observe various physical  realities that can be seen or measured, like the direction of the wind and the formation of the clouds, and make predictions. We easily see the signs of the earth but so easily MISS the signs of the times and the seasons of the heart. The weather is a huge preoccupation for us: the huge weather pages in the papers, the length televised predictions of the weather, Tom Skilling, the weather guru and tech nerd; we can observe and make predictions about the environment based on ocean temps, rising sea levels, the extremes of weather and the ozone level. Yes, but do we SEE the “signs of the times?”

Clearly, Jesus seems to think that we miss these signs, or better yet, are blind to them. We have so much to be grateful for: technology, advances in medicine, material comfort, freedoms, education , and the list goes on. But there is a growing unease in our world and a growing loneliness because people are losing community and human warmth. 

We need each other, we need to see and feel each other much more readily than we see the signs of the earth and atmosphere. Why can’t we see the connection between the growing violence,  brokenness and our alienated spirits thirsting for human companionship? The violence on the streets is connected to the violent rhetoric on display for all to hear, the many clandestine drone attacks in countries we rarely  think about, the gun industry, domestic violence, poverty and injustice, human rights violations, abortion. ALL violence, physical AND spoken ( words can be violent) is a complex web of expressions that divide and crush the human spirit. 

In SEEING these signs, we are not to become discouraged,  or worse, defeated because the answer lies within each of our hearts. God plants seeds of grace,  waiting to take root and burst into life, within each our hearts.NO HUMAN BEING IS LEFT UNTOUCHED OR UNLOVED BY GOD, Who is a powerful presence within the heart. It is this PRESENCE that compels us to respond to these difficult “signs of the times,” in prayer…quiet, deliberate, tranquil prayer. Peace within the heart is the only antidote to these troubling times. It is this peace, a peace only God can give, that begins to build bridges between peoples, softens the tongue, SEES other solutions to our difficulties than endless, violent actions. 

Our laws and government can help, but what is ultimately needed is a change within each of our hearts: conversion to a new vision. All the legislation in the world will never be and can never be the bottom-line solution, only changed hearts. 

Buen camino. Fr. Frank 

Christ Recrucified. October 20, 2016

On the Camino, I’m rereading a novel by Nikos Kazantzakis called “Christ Recrucified,”‘about a poor, Greek village that dramatizes the Passion during Holy Week every seven years. The novel tells the story of one particular enactment, in which the people who portrayed the various roles, gradually became their  character in the political reality of Greece in the 1920’s. The Passion of Christ can never be enacted, particularly during Holy Week, but must be lived. And all the political and religious machinations and hypocrisy are in painful relief throughout the story, giving credence to the old adage, ” Sone things never change.” The main character, Manolios, is killed by his own people…Christians no less…for trying to reach out to a group of REFUGEES, who also happen to be Christians living in a decimated nearby village! These “foreigners” were  singled out by the religious authorities of the village to reject them out of FEAR that they might bring disease and rupture their comfortable, established patterns of living. They were specifically called, “refugees.”  

Fear is the greatest weapon used by those who have authority and the power that frequently comes with that authority. This “fear” is weilded to unify the masses in a cause to prevent change from occurring. The main religious authority of the village was threatened by the religious leader of these “refugees,” fellow Orthodox Christians, who was truly a living witness to the gospel. He was poor and humble, a lethal concoction of virtue for the one who is jealous and pompous. I’m reading this with amazement at how this morality tale speaks so clearly to events today. 

Christ was “re crucified” in Manolios’ laying down his life through a violent execution. The Passion, the crucifixion of Christ,only happened once as THE event of Redemption, but it is extended in the violent deaths of the poor and those with no power. The humanity of Christ crucified becomes manifested in the humanity of those who suffer injustice in its many forms. The denial of Peter, the betrayal of Judas, the love of Mary Magdalene, possessed by evil spirits, the deep loyal love of John, the fearful flight of the disciples and their silence…are all on trial in our own humanity. We live the Passsion in our own humanities, making us participants and NOT observers. We play our own “part” in this main Act which will go on until Christ returns. 

The Resurrection will be the eternal Final Act which never ends but keeps playing on in endless love. In the meantime,we must become more like the religious leader of those refugee Christians: humble, simple, poor.  Christ calls us to play our own part in the gospel drama, which may very well pit “father against son, son against father, mother against daughter, daughter against mother…” the very words of Jesus in today’s gospel. “I have come not to bring peace but division,” he says in words that can only pierce our hearts and make us think. 

As I walk the Camino in a sea of humanity, closely with Bob, Katie, Tom, and soon to be, Rebecca, Jessica, Anna, Claire, Anastasia and Paolo….and a throng of others, I better sense we are ALL a part of this gospel drama in our struggles, confusions, brokenness and sin. May we embrace Christ who always walks the Way with us on our own unique journeys, leading us, eventually, into the Final Act of an Easter that will never end. 

Buen camino. Fr. Frank

Waiting. October 19, 2016

Most of us have a hard time waiting for anything, particularly if it involves something truly difficult. But we are all waiting: in traffic, at the doctor’s office, for a response to an email, for a package to arrive. Sometimes the wait is for a reality that is life changing, or even life threatening, if it involves the state of our health. How do we wait?

Jesus is asking this question in the gospel and tells a parable about a servant who becomes selfish and  self absorbed as he waits for the return of his master. In our waiting, we can become impatient and demanding, losing our focus and sense of priority. Jesus is urging us to reflect on how we are waiting for God to enter our lives, and to see how He enters in surprising and unexpected ways. God has the most remarkable way of being present: in the ordinary encounters of life. We keep missing them because we expect something extraordinary, or we don’t expect God to make His presence known in the “mundane” realities of life. We transform the beauty of ordinary life into the “mundane,” which is nothing more than lifeless!!! And then we become restless, looking over our heads and hearts for excitement in new relationships, new jobs, new friends…all well and done,  if we are being led into these encounters and not grabbing to get them. We need to be led by God, who will show us the way, ever so gradually. God isn’t too partial to those who are always “grabbing” to get what they want, like the wicked servant in the parable. 

People are restlessly moving from relationship to relationship, from job to job in an endless search for the new or the novel.  Once the newness wears off…so are we…off and running on the surface of life. We never enter the “deep waters,” which demand risk and patience. We stay on the shore where we are in control and comfortable and we where are waiting for nothing but self gratification, which must be instant. Just think, in the near future, drones from Amazon will be “dropping” your orders the very same day they are ordered!!! Instant delivery!! And the restlessness deepens…

Jesus is teaching us to wait, not for “something” to happen but for SOMEONE to happen. Let us wait for God to come into our lives in surprising ways or ways we don’t expect: in the ordinary, day to day living of life!!! But it’s always on God’s terms and not our own. Jesus wants us to be good stewards of time and how we “spend” our time: waiting. God is waiting for you to live in the present, to stop running and become aware that the One you are waiting for is right before your eyes. 

Buen camino. Fr. Frank

Wind Turbines. October 18, 2016

Throughout Spain, one can see countless wind turbines in various landscapes, large, white ominous-looking structures: a huge,  white horizontal column rising hundreds  of feet, capped by three long outstretched blades that turn with the wind, creating a natural source for energy. They are the post-modern version of the traditional windmill, not nearly as beautiful, however. I see them each day as I gaze on the distant horizon, walking past them, attune to their “humming” sound. It feels almost eerie. 

When I think of these massive turbines, I’m drawn to the Holy Spirit. The blades of each turbine is completely dependent upon the wind and its force. Without the wind…no energy, which means back to fossil fuels. We need to “harness” the wind to create energy. Isn’t it true of the Holy Spirit: we need to harness the Spirit of our lives and the life of the church so that we can be propelled forward.   Each human being is a human “wind turbine,”harnessing the wind of the Spirit, giving a spiritual energy that ignites the human spirit within. Our Church must allow the Spirit to give it the energy and impetus to move forward, proclaiming Christ to the nations. The Church must “catch” this Spirit wind and be moved by this Holy Breath of creativity. 

Today we celebrate the gospel writer Luke, who also composed the second volume to the gospel known as the Acts of the Apostles. Luke was a gentile physician who experienced a conversion to Christ and the Gospel. This conversion transformed Luke into a human turbine of the Holy Spirit, as he was moved to go into the world as companion to Christ and other disciples. He listened to the stories of Christ told by disciples and the Spirit “harnessed” the faith and imagination of Luke which  propelled him to write down the message in a beautiful form called the “gospel,” which is nothing more than a unified piece  of writing with a particular focus or vision. Luke, the physician, presents a tender Jesus who wants to heal the sick and reach out to the sinner. Luke’s gospel unfolds a Jesus deeply in love with the poor and the outcast , who have a central focus in this gospel. 

Luke, like the other three gospel evangelists, allowed the Spirit to move heart and pen, creating a written expression of the Truth, who is Christ. The message of Christ is not just one among many equals. His is the only Message that embraces the totality of the truth about God, creation, humanity, grace and redemption. Luke is NOT Jewish, but gentile,  and his gospel expands the message to the whole world and beyond. 

In Luke’s gospel, Jesus sends the disciples…US..into the world, never alone but in pairs to eventually create communities of faith propelled and energized by the Spirit. Can you imagine what could happen if our parish and our Church became completely dependent upon the energy of the Spirit? Can you imagine what would happen to our liturgies, our programs (do we even need them) our catechetical and social outreach, our presence in the larger world, our music and religious architecture, our bible study, our spirituality…if the Holy Spirit were given more freedom to move us and transform us? 

I have such hope. Let’s move foreword together, in prayer and in Spirit, allowing this Spirit greater breath and freedom. Changing our teachings will do nothing to swell the ranks; changing our hearts is the only response that will attract people. Transformed hearts moved by the Spirit of Christ. 

St. Luke. Pray for us.

St. Teresa of Avila. Pray for us. 

St James of Santiago. Pray for us. 

Buen camino. Fr. Frank

The Veil of Veronica. October 17, 2016

I rarely think about the one Station of the Cross depicting Veronica wiping the tortured face of Christ as he makes His  way to Calvary. Nothing in Scripture supports this encounter, and yet it is one of the traditionsl 14 Stations. Two different depictions of Veronica wiping the face of Christ that I encountered in a church in the town of Domingo de la Calzada struck me for some reason. I was drawn to these two depictions of Veronica and her Veil.  This “veil”has been depicted in art countless times, particularly in the Stations of the Cross, but I never gave it a thought, until now. 

A “veil” is a beautiful symbol in scripture and liturgy. People’s faces had to be “veiled” so that they could not see the Face of God directly. There is a hiddeness, a mystery,in being”veiled,” in that a complete and totally transparent encounter is elusive….a beauty is waiting to be exposed, but we are not yet ready for it. 

Underneath the veil of Veronica lies the terrible beauty of suffering and sacrifice. We can focus on the IMAGE imprinted in the cloth that veiled His countenance for a brief moment. To “see” this tragic beauty is sometimes too hard to behold. The “veil” is a symbol of a mystery waiting to be revealed, only when we are ready. There is something poignant and moving about Veronica reaching out to comfort Christ is His agony with her ordinary cloth being transformed into a “veil” of mystery. 

We never “cover” statues or sacred images during Lent, we VEIL them, allowing for their beauty to be UNVEILED at Easter. In the Resurrection of the dead,  when Christ returns to usher in the final eternal age of unending Easter, veils will no longer be needed for we will be able to encounter beauty in its utter fullness. 

In the meantime, we honor Veronica and her beautiful Station, we honor the women who bare her name…Veronique… a name reminding us of the hidden beauty “veiled”in each of our humanity. 

Buen camino. Fr frank. 

God, The Persistent Widow. October 16, 2016

We have a rich reservoir of metaphors expressing a unique facet of our God. God is father, mother, king, shepherd, creator, friend, lover, and the list goes. Jesus most frequently spoke of his “Father,” but used many other images to speak to our hearts. Today’s gospel gives us a rather unusual metaphor or image of God: the persistent widow! How wonderful and powerful: God compared to a helpless, vulnerable woman who lost her husband and ALL her security. Imaging a God who is vulnerable and without security and status. 

When we hear this story, we usually take the place of the widow and WE are the ones who refuse to stop pleading , Jesus urging us to be persistent in prayer: never give up. Fair enough. However, what if God were that widow pleading to US, refusing to give us on US? What if God were that widow, knocking on the door of our heart…pounding and shouting,”Let me in your life?” God is the One who is persistent and won’t give up on us. 

Yes, discouragement can overwhelm us, making our hearts heavy with apathy and cynicism. We give in to these dark spirits and close our lives and hearts to possibility…to hope. We immerse ourselves in the various narratives that saturate our culture, voices that make us fearful or bitter. Give yourself a gift on this Sunday: turn off the TV, the computer and every other device that distracts. In conversations, turn off the arguing, angry voices that go absolutely nowhere. Discuss and talk about realities that uplift and stretch the Spirit. The Widow God, doesn’t that sound joyful, is persistently beckoning us to engage in things that can change the world for the better. 

Instead of staring at a screen feeding you endless images of nothing, play with your child or grandchild; take them out to somewhere fun; govout with your significant other on a long walk, saying nothing, just being present; if you want to turn on your computer, do so to write some needed emails or to learn a language; read a good book; clean out the garage; collect colorful leaves; PRAY; go to Mass. 

Our Persistent Widow God is completely vulnerable to our free will. This  is the one area where we have the edge: we are free to create beauty or to create chaos. God allows us to make the choice and God is totally beholden to our response. This is such a responsibility that God gives us: to recreate the world, participating in its restoration or to tear down and destroy. 

Give in to the Widow God. Answer God’s prayer for us, that we surrender to His will and plan…that we let ourselves be loved by Him…that we see the world and every human being as He sees them….that we love ourselves, each other, and all creation into “a new  heaven and a new earth.” 

Look at this wonderful cathedral and see its magnificence, and its awesome beauty. Humankind did this, but only with the help of our Widow God who inspired the artisans, builders, sculptors, musicians, architects litugists, bishops and the people of God who prayed this  Temple into being. In the first reading,  Moses is depicted as one who needed help , trying to confront his adversaries and he got the help he needed, to keep his tired arms uplifted and outstretched. We, like Moses, need help in being our best selves, the ones created in God’s image. 

God helps our spirits to be uplifted and stretched out, to embrace those like the Widow, vulnerable and powerless to forces of darkness. God wants us to create a Temple made of human lives and hearts, more beautiful than the Temple church in Burgos or Leon or Rome or Chicago. God is Persistent, like the Widow in the parable: he won’t give up on us…on YOU. 

Buen camino. Fr. Frank 

Teresa, A Woman of the Spirit. October 15, 2016

In every depiction of St. Teresa of Avila, the Holy Spirit is above her, inspiring her to write her magnificent theology of the spiritual life. She holds the pen that will give expression to the inner inspiration of the Spirit of God. She stands on the corner of Armitage and Seminary, with open book and pen in hand, welcoming those who pass by to open the book of their hearts to God in prayer. 

Prayer is our relationship with God, Who wants nothing more than to have our lives be a completely open book to His Presence. God knows us more than we know ourselves and we never have to fear revealing to Him even the thoughts that trouble us the most. As Teresa teaches, the humanity of Christ is the gateway into God’s very life. And the humanity of Christ teaches us to be completely transparent to God, talking to God like a friend we trust to tell ALL our deepest secrets.  Teresa was a close and deep friend of Christ, Who taught her the foundation of prayer and the spiritual life is friendship with God. How beautiful!!!!

I spend much time walking alone, praying, trying to give expression to my love of Christ. Sometimes, inner thoughts and difficult memories trouble me, even embarrass me. I want to hide them from Jesus, fearing what he might think. How  ridiculous to even think this, since I know that God knows everything and that I can’t hide anything from Him. My intellect knows the Truth, but my heart wanders in other directions, away from the Spirit. Jesus teaches in today’s gospel to trust in the Spirit. He goes so far as to say that the one sin that can’t be forgiven is to blaspheme the Holy Spirit, which means to completely doubt the power of Spirit to transform our hearts. To refuse to let the Spirit breath in our hearts, in our parishes and in our Church is truly grievous in the teaching of Christ. 

Teresa was a woman led by the Spirit and transformed by the Spirit. She fought many demons, her own and those who tried to prevent her theology from finding expression. Teresa was much too smart for  her “inquisitors,” who never tired of hounding her, trying to keep her quiet, even accusing her of heresy!! Yes, this devout, daughter of the Church, loyal to the Pope and Church, was deemed dangerous! The only thing dangerous was these religious leaders trying to shut down the workings of the Holy Spirit. 

Teresa had the last word: the tremendous body of her spiritual teaching, making her the very first Woman Doctor of the Catholic Church, declared so by Pope Paul the VI in 1970!! This is the inscription on the pedestal on which the statue of Teresa rests. What a beautiful tribute to this woman of the Spirit. 

Buen Camino. Fr. Frank