A Life of Gratitude. Sunday Homily. October 8, 2016

Pope John Paul was once asked where gays were in a church that seemed to reject them. He responded with no hesitation, “They are in the heart of the Church.” There are so many human beings who need to be reminded that they are in the heart of the church. So beautiful a reality. In the gospel, 10 lepers are healed, which meant that not only was their health restored but their human dignity. They were welcomed in the heart of the community. Most powerful in this gospel story: one of the 10 was a Samaritan, one considered unclean and outside the community of faith. Only this one healed human being returned to say THANK YOU. The dreaded outsider became the hero and focus of Jesus’ teaching. 

A life of gratitude is one which the person knows deeply the Source of blessing and healing and mercy.  The Samaritan connected the healing with Jesus and this connection erupted in gratitude. Those who were witnesses to the healing and Jesus lifting up the Samaritan as a model to be imitated certainly infuriated many. It is so easy to fall into the trap of separating ourselves from those we deem as undesirable, detestable or deplorable. Víctor Hugo called them in the title of his magnificent novel, the “miserables.”

Jesus is calling us, begging us, to see our lives as a blessing, God being the Source of our every breath. We are NOTHING without God. The call of the gospel is to live out of this connection to Divine Love, so that we can take our place, shoulder to shoulder, with the outcast and separated of our world. We, ourselves, are just as much an outsider because we sin and forget that God loves  ALL, especially the ones who are forgotten or pushed to the sides. Spiritual altzheimers is a horrible “disease,” causing so many problems. 

Our church and our parish must be deeply rooted in The Eucharist, a word which means gratitude and thanksgiving. Our faith community needs to continually reach out to transform the stranger into a neighbor. Refugees and undocumented immigrants, the one who is gay, the sick and suffering, human beings  sold in the lucrative business of trafficking,  children being formed by violence, those who can’t afford a doctor, people filled with fear, anxiety and depression, all these are in the HEART of the Church. Our call is to be a community of healing and a parish that brings those who are alienated or disconnected into the HEART of our life. 

As I am learning on this Camino, not everyone welcomes this message for it is uncomfortable. Jesus seeems intent on making us think about our lives and our privileges. He seems to want us to try and create a world where all can work, be educated in fantastic schools, have the ability to care for their health and live without the fear of violence. This world is nothing more than the Kingdom. The people who are the key to the unfolding of this Kingdom are those on the sidelines being refused to be part of the team on the field. Yes, I actually used a sports metaphor, I minor miracle in itself. 

May our parish never relagate people to the sidelines. May our Eucharist and parish life be even more reflective of the world of different cultures and languages. May all “Samaritans” find a home here, which can only happen if we count ourselves as a “Samaritan.” It’s amazing how everything changes  when we walk in the shoes of the outsider. May each one of us be healed of our spiritual leprosy and may we run into the arms of Christ only to say THANK YOU. 

Buen camino. Fr. Frank

Climbing Stairways. October 7, 2016

There stood in front of me a seemingly endless stairway with each step inching its way to heaven. And this  was a steep incline that I had to work my way up, ever so gradually wishing it would be transformed into a mystical, moving excalator. But no, I had to navigate,  one step at a time, the 25 pounds on my back reminding me, “Take it slowly.” And that I did. 

Life presents itself with a series of emotional and psychological stairways, steps we must climb in  patient perseverance. Yes, we want to make it to the top of resolution quickly, but rarely is this possible. I met a beautiful woman and her daughter walking the ladder of the Camino, step by step. This woman was diagnosed with an auto immune disease that combined symptoms relating to MS and ALS. She has to endure treatments, one step at a time and the medical incline must seem interminable. The doctor gave the green light to her dream of the Camino if only for a week. Her daughter was her human angel transformed,  in one breath, into a human walking stick. Both journeyed, step by step with the daughter telling mom at just the right moment,  “Time to stop and rest.” Mom graciously obliged. I met them on a step of rest on a stairway leading into heaven. 

As I look down my stairway in memory, I see this mom and daughter, imagining how many steps of treatments, doctor consultations, medications and procedures they must climb, step by step. The emotional incline must be steep indeed, making my physical mountain stairway trivial. Yes, life is a series of these of these stairways that lead us to a summit..a plateau..in which the vista of life gets larger and more beautiful, even in the tears. As we continue the journey, a new stairway presents itself with new steps and new challenges. 

And at the top of each stairway the vision gets larger and more majestic, allowing the spirit to soar…please don’t flee the steep stairways out of fear…climb slowly, step by step, knowing Christ walks next to you, helping you to carry the burden of suffering. He, himself, climbed the steepest stairwell of all: the mount of Calvary being nailed to a Cross. “Come to me all who are weary and find life burdensome and I will refresh you.”  

Buen camino. Fr. Frank

The Church and the Law. October 6, 2016

St. Paul was not happy with the Galatians who seemed to fall into the trap of blindly following the Law. Christ transformed the observance of the Law by breathing the Spirit in the church, so that the church becomes a pilgrim people on a journey shaped by that same Spirit. The Spirit moves the people, the church, in each generation, so that the church can discover new ways of spreading the Gospel. Laws, rules and disciplines are meant to shape and anchor the missionary activity of the church, making it faithful to its very purpose: to move into the world expressing truths in new ways. 

The Spirit wants to inspirethe church and its leaders to be creative in the ministries of teaching and preaching. But too often, the “Law” we call “canon law” becomes overly sacrosanct and we fall into the trap of following the letter of the this Law. Some bishops seem overly concerned about the many canons and their applications. How is this any different from Jesus forsaking following the Law in certain circumstances? Are our bishops any different from the Pharisees in the time of Jesus? There is the attitude that says if one transgresses a particular canon, one cannot be a faithful catholic. Paul even reprimanded peter for such an attitude in his letter to the Galatians, which is being proclaimed at daily Mass this week. Yes, even Peter, the first Pope, needed reprimanding. 

The problem with the “law” is that it can become or develop into a closed system of who is in and who is out; who is saved and who is not. Following the law and its letter will never save us, only the passion, death and resurrection of Christ. Religion of strict adherence to the law is dangerous indeed, especially when this ideology is rooted in human beings who hold positions of authority.  This way of leading a people always becomes harsh and rigid. 

The priest at the pilgrim’s last night the mass made it clear: if you’re not catholic, don’t receive Holy Communion.  Certainly, canon law and the tradition of the Church were being followed and the priest faithful and orthodox. But at what price? The authority of the church will be compromised and weakened when the strict observance of the law suffocates the Spirit. The Church must find a balance between being faithful to essential Truths which can never change and allowing renewal and development in how these are expressed. 

Buen camino. Fr. Frank 

The Power of Prayer. October 5, 2016

In today’s gospel, the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray and he responds by giving them the prayers that unites all Christians: the Our Father. Prayer, expressed in words, even the Lord’s own words, leads to a deeper reality  within our hearts: love…God’s Love. When we experience this Love, words are not necessary. They lead us to the Person of God, who takes care of the “rest.”  Yes, prayer is simply “resting in God,” words no longer being necessary. 

So many of us do not go beyond the beautiful rituals of prayer and devotion. We cling to realities that are meant to be go of, so we can encounter the living God dwelling within the tabernacles of our hearts. Even in powerful mantra like praying-the rosary, for example, the repeated words are LET GO OF so that the one praying can surrender to God’s presence. We even need to let go of the beautiful Mysteries we meditate on so God can speak the truth we need to hear. 

As I walk, I LET GO of all your prayers and petitions to God who will answer each and every one of them. And Mary in her unique vocation to give us life, does so by carrying our spoken prayers to her Son. Mary loves each and every human being, no matter if they follow Jesus or not. She is everyone’s Mother. All pilgrims walk underneath a small image of Mary sitting in top of an arch, gazing down in love  on ALL God’s people. Most don’t even notice her presence. 

In prayer we fleetingly connect with that loving Presence which gazes in our hearts in Love… a Presence we rarely take notice of or are aware of. No problem. God is always there waiting. 

Buen camino. Fr. Frank

The Virgin of Orisson. October 5, 2016

Walking up a rather steep hill on the Camino the pilgrim is welcomed by a humble, beautiful shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The statue is small, 3  feet, unadorned…truly a statement of humility. The basque people may be deeply proud of their unique heritage and culture, but they are also very humble… earthy. I love  them and their kindness. 

All around the statue are prayer cards and petitions, begging God to hear prayers and alleviate suffering. Mary, as she stands with her back to the Pyrenees and her face to the pilgrims, how appropriate and beautiful, reminds us that she carries our prayers to her Son. Mary is a powerful, humble guide on the pilgrimage, not the one to Santiago but the journey that YOU are on, wherever you live. Life is a pilgrimage and we’re all journeying together, albeit on different routes. We journey in the Spirit, with Mary as our caring Mother, leading the Way. One step at a time…Buen Camino. 

Fr. Frank

Transitus. Oct 3, 2016

Today is one of the holiest days for Franciscans around the world, since it celebrates the moment St. Francis breathed his last breath of suffering and entered into the realm of new Life and  Love. This is s celebration of “transition” from  life in this world to life in the Kingdom. 

Every life is in some state of transition: moving in and out of illness and treatment; new jobs, homes and neighborhoods; creating life and new relationships; giving up existing ones;  children off to high school, college and beyond; letting go of youth; embracing a new way of life, even after retirement!!! Yes, life is a series of transitions reminding us that life lived to the fullest will certainly mean change. 

And all these transitions prepare us for the great Transition, “transitus” in Latin, walking through the gateway of death into the embrace of God….and every loved one who has already made the journey. This embrace will last forever. Resurrection has the final word. 

Peace and Buen Camino. Frank. Frank

Brussels. October 3, 2016

Sitting in the airport at Brussels feeling somewhat lost, until I read the gospel thus morning telling the story of the Good Samaritan. A too familiar tale that has become domesticated: we know it too well and it’s impact is blunted. An enemy, a Samaritan, caring for his enemy , a Jew, in s most extravagant manner. He went way beyond all expectations as the wounded Jew’s own countrymen avoided him like a leper. How can I be a neighbor, not just to to an enemy but a stranger?

In this strange airport I encountered a young man in one of the shops sold  me an adapter for my I Phone. I actually forgot to put one in my carry on, while having a half dozen in my checked backpack. This  young salesman went out of his way to help me, even offering to charge the phone himself. I walked out of there with a spry in my step. Kindness goes a long way, transforming a stranger into a neighbor. And I haven’t even started walking yet. What stranger in your life can you transform into a neighbor, if even for just a moment in time?

Buen camino

Fr. Frank

The Path of Love. October 1, 2016

St. Therese of Lisieux discovered her vocation, her path through life: the way of love. God callled her to be Love in the heart of the Church. This young woman,  who died at the age of 24, gave the world her “little way” which is to experience God in the most ordinary moments of life. And in each of these moments we can choose the path of Love, to experience God in “washing the pots and pans,” to borrow an image from Teresa of Avila. 

Therese of Lisieux is patron of missionaries, those followers of Christ spreading the Good News around the world. In truth, EVERY disciple…YOU are a missionary wherever you live. We are all on a mission, leaving our homes and entering the workplace, the school, the store, the neighborhood with a mission of being the presence of Christ and speaking His gospel in ways people can receive. 

Pray for those who are about to be missionaries on the Camino to Santiago. May these pilgrims walk the “little way” of Therese, the way of Love. 

Buen camino. Fr. Frank ​