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 

Elizabeth of Hungary. November 17, 2016

Elizabeth of Hungary lived 800 years ago during the time of St. Francis of Assisi and was a woman of nobility and influence. But she fell from the grace of her family and in laws because they resented her simplicity and identification with the poor. After her husband died, Elizabeth, pregnant with her third child, was banished and nearly homeless. She continued serving the poor, the sick, the leper…giving away all that she could. Founder of hospitals and hospices, Elizabeth died at the age of 24 on November 17, 1231. 

Today is her feast and her image in stained glass color shines on those who pass by  St. Teresa of Avila church on Armitage avenue. She gazes,  like the other three women depicted in our windows, not IN the church but OUT into and onto the world and its streets of people. Elizabeth  gazes in love as she holds several loaves of bread in the folds of her garments,  waiting to be  released  to the hungry. The Saint from “Hungary” is most remembered for feeding the “hungry” in her midst. The wealthy and comfortable were jealous of her lifestyle and faith because they were made to feel UNcomfortable.  

God visits us in the life of Elizabeth and in the day to day encounters we have with people who make us think and live in broad strokes. God visits us in so many ways that we miss and Jesus is deeply sad in the gospel of today’s liturgy  at the countless missed opportunities to encounter these “visitations.”  Jerusalem didn’t recognize the Visitation of God in Jesus and we are no different. 

In our busy lives, we push God away, perhaps fearing being made to feel uncomfortable. Encountering God deeply will demand a change in how we live. Better not to give in to prayer than to engage in the struggle to embrace new ways of living that  compel us to let go of whatever. Elizabeth was pushed away because she pierced the conscience of those who encountered her. She sacrificed her position, nobility, wealth, and security to discover her true treasure in the outcast who became the face of Christ. 

God visits you in so many ways… in the ordinary events and people of ordinary life. Let these mini  visitations sink in through prayer and see where they lead. You will be challenged but also inspired with new resolve and hope. 

Peace. Fr. Frank 

Get Involved. November 15, 2016

It’s been one week since the election and the protests continue. At some point, those who are upset and angry will need to get involved in the entire political process to effect change by encouraging those men and women who can best motivate and inspire to run for public office. Those who are pleased with the results also need to become more involved and not gloat.  They need to admit that the president elect is very disagreeable and divisive in the way he speaks. The simple fact is that  many chose NOT to vote, a  travesty when you consider all the rights and freedoms we have and aparently are taking for granted. 

Now is the time to read a variety of news sources to get the necessary information needed to make political choices. Too many of us are totally influenced by one dominant news source with its own ideology. We need to LISTEN to other voices and other perspectives and refrain from labeling those who disagree as being narrow, uncaring, racist, etc. Positions can be labeled but  not  the people who hold them. It just doesn’t help. Words can be just as violent as actions. As far as I can tell, Jesus, himself, only used negative names at those who were self righteous and self certaint: hypocrite, brood of vipors, blind guides. And Jesus chose not to join the Zealots in their desire to resort to violence to enact change; he resolutely condemned such violence by forgiving those who perpetuated the violence. Violence breeds violence…

Finally, we need to be active in the political process now and always, not just a few weeks before the Presidential election. Who is your Representative, senator, alderman, not to mention, Vice President, Secretary  of State and other important elected and appointed members of our government? Get to know your local political officials and speak to them one on one, making your concerns be known. A huge number of Americans have no clue as to how our government works, nor who is doing the governing. 

My own position in this situation is to try and unify, inspire and challenge, all at the same time. As a pastor, I have the confidence of so many people and their  political and theological persuasions. I want to honor and love ALL, no matter their positions, knowing that there might be…will be…serious disagreements. I choose to associate,  as much as possible, with a variety of people representing different perspectives politically and theologically. These people share one common reality: they, we, are all created by God and loved by God. Marriages and families CAN bring together different ways of seeing the world and God, building bridges of understanding within the disagreements. 

We have to learn how to live with each other and not build walls around around those who we don’t like or those who believe and vote differently from us. When we create walls of ideology, we, too, are walled in. Listening, reading, petitioning, protesting, engaging, reevaluating…getting envolved…are all  what is needed right now and always. And the foundation of everything is PRAYER, which empowers us to respond thoughtfully and respectively, not simply reacting emotionally. Responding rather than reacting is what is so needed on all sides. 

Peace. Fr. Frank 

Welcome the Stranger. November 12, 2016

In today’s reading from 3 John we are encouraged to love the stranger and encourage them on their journey. These “strangers” will give witness and testimony to the love that the followers of Jesus gave them. I just came in from visiting our food distribution and saw our volunteers joyfully welcoming strangers. Their witness and the gratitude of these strangers, transformed into welcomed visitors, inspired me to write this entry. 

The persistent Widow in the gospel reminds us that consistent prayers encourages us to never give up on hope. Prayer opens our heart to the presence of God in the stranger, whose journey brought them to the doors of our parish and the doors of our hearts.Prayer changes   minds and hearts; prayer transforms the way we talk and how we convey, not only our hopes, but our disappointments as well. The Widow never gave up and her pleas were finally answered. But she never resorted to name calling or threatened words or gestures of vulgarity. She remained resolute, determined and anchored in love and filled with prayer. 

May we become like the Persistent Widow. 

Peace. Fr. Frank 

Refreshed Hearts. November 10, 2016

St. Paul, in his poignant letter to Philomen, speaks of his heart being “refreshed” because of the beautiful way that people can treat each other.  Love is the power that refreshes weary souls and quenches thirsty hearts. Paul received Onesemis, a slave of Philomen, in his care as his brother in Christ. He sends him back to his “owner” not as slave but as brother, equal in all things. 

The world needs us to be people who refresh those around us with attitudes that are open and welcoming. Each one of us can be a prisoner of our own emotions, immobilized by bitter memories and crushed spirits. The slave Onesimus became a complete human being to Paul because Paul allowed himself to be changed. To be a prisoner of one’s own imagination is a reality equal to hell. 

We long to live in the freedom of Christ’s Spirit, an experience that frees the human spirit to soar. We are refreshed and this refreshment becomes contagious. Our world and our country need to be “infected” with this spreading refreshment. 

Peace. Fr. Frank

SHOCK Wednesday. November 9, 2016

I arrived late yesterday afternoon, Election Day, feeling very jet lagged and a bit disoriented. The flights were delayed for a number of hours necessitating change of flights  and layovers, which is part of the travel experience. I went to bed assuming I would wake up to President Hillary Clinton. I woke up at 5:00 am for some water, looked at my cell phone, and just stood there in my dark kitchen, seeing the words on my phone: “Donald Trump elected 45th President.” I was completely shocked out of a deep sleep and thrust into a stunning reality. Things didn’t go as planned…what an understatement. 

I am writing this fully cognizant that we have a new president, whose election is causing so many to be filled with doubt and anger. But before we surrender to emotions that will only cause inner termoil and outer division, let’s surrender to Prayer and our relationship with Christ. Let Christ speak to your heart…what is he saying…how does he want you to respond? When we settle down and into prayer, EVERYTHING changes, including our emotions and thoughts. 

It is so ironic that on this day of political turmoil, we celebrate the Feast of the Dedication of St. John Lateran, which is a celebration honoring the mother church in Rome, the church ofvthe Popes. But this  Feast really celebrates the Church that is Living and Breathing in its People,  with Christ as the Foundation. Christ is THE foundation of our Church, our parishes, our families, our selves. The beauty of the physical building mirrors the beauty of the People of God, the Church. 

Our nation needs us to RISE to the occasion, to THIS occasion and to respond as a People rooted in faith, hope and love. God wants us to be “dedicated” to building the Kingdom. The world, our nation, doesn’t need us to respond with angry words and invectives; it doesn’t need us to refuse to cooperate; it doesn’t need us to feed cynicism and fear. It needs us to be the Living Church of a people “dedicated ” to building bridges and praying that Donald Trump will be a good leader. President Obama had gracious words of support and encouragement, as did Hillary Clinton. 

We need to encourage each other and assure our children that the transition about to take place will be peaceful and hopeful. I thought it beautiful that Hillary wore the color purple, which is a combination of blue and red, at her concession speech. May this time of uncertainty and confusion yield to such graceful gestures. May President-elect Trump surrender to such Grace and surprise everyone. 

Peace. Fr. Frank 

The Color Red. November 8, 2016

Just opened an email containing a letter by our archbishop that concerns a second collection, or maybe it’s about Renew My Church. In any case, it looked like he signed his name with the title “card”  before Cupich. He’s not wasting any time whatsoever, since I believe the actual title, at this point of time, is  “Card elect.”  The color red and the red hat await our archbishop. 

I love the color red, since my mom always said I looked good in red, given my skin color. But the color red has deeper, symbolic meaning that speaks about the giving of one’s life to the point of shedding blood. The very reason these bishops turned cardinal wear red is to “wear” the sufferings and death of Christ, not on their sleeves or cassocks, but in the hearts. But has this tradition of the making of cardinals, a beautiful one at its core, become a fashion statement and a title change? Can’t this College of Cardinals be expanded and involve other voices than the Pope’s  on who gets in? I believe lay MEN have been a part of the College of Cardinals in centuries past…how about lay women and men? There is nothing to prevent this, as long as the one elected Pope is male and a bishop? 

I should be happy and elated at the surprise choice of many of these current cardinals, at the choice of our own archbishop, at the power/status it gives, but I am not. Church intrigue, institutional politics, promotions, who gets the plumb diocese or parish, liberal versus conservative reforms…these used to intrigue me and capture my imagination. Now, I yawn…. what happened?  I’m not down or cynical, I have just let go of these internal church skirmishes and preoccupations. 

And so I where the color red, not to make a statement, theological, fashion, or otherwise. I do so because I simply like red and know my mom thinks/thought it was my color. If I’m going to make a statement about reflecting a life that mirrors Christ’s Sacrifice for All of humanity, I will help the lonely, listen to the struggling young, be generous, weep with those who weep, spread JOY, visit the sick, teach the faith, celebrate God’s Love. 

All these can happen regardless of what color one wears. Peace. Fr. Frank. 

Mamanuncion. November 7, 2016

I found a treasure in one of the shops in Santiago, a shop called “Sagradelos” specializing in ceramic plates, statues, plates, and the like. There she sat, a statue of a woman seated, covered in a large coat, feet wrapped in open ankle-length unlaced boots, with her beleaguered face peering out of coat. The attendant behind the counter explained the title of this statue: “mamasuncion” given by the director of a Spanish film about refugees. The main character is this woman, Mamanuncion, waiting patiently, years, for her son, living in American,  to get her passage from the refugee camp to freedom in the States. But she waits….

The statue intrigued me, particularly its title: “mamasuncion.” The word “AsunciĆ³n” means Assumption. The woman portrayed in the statue certainly has an identity with Mary, something the salesperson did not know, since she was not cognizant of the feast in the Church. Mary as the Mother of Refugees is both poignant and prophetic. The character in this film echoes Mary and her patient love. How rich this simple ceramic depiction is if one understands the meaning of words. The Assumption of Mary celebrates an essential truth of our faith: body and soul, heaven and earth, human and divine will come together in a unity of love that will not obliterate the material but transform it. Soul and body will be joined together in a recreation of humanity and all its racial expressions. We are humans, waiting in advent Hope, like Mamasuncion, for the SON to bring us back. 

Mary patiently waits for us all. She is the mother who wears the clothing of the poor, the political outcast, the field worker, the trafficked, the pregnant indigenous. Her soul that “proclaims the greatness of God,” does so by bringing God into the lives of those who have no voice. Mary is no passive, docile individual who keeps to herself. She is the Woman who spoke words of radical upheaval: “God will cast down the mighty; God will scatter the conceited of heart and send the rich away empty.” These are words are rooted in prophecy, spoken with confidence and power. 

The season of advent is waiting for us to wait in patient love. Fr. Frank 

God of the Living. November 6, 2016

What’s it like in heaven? Angels flying around playing harps? A beautiful landscape bathed in sun? Gazing  upward at a Light? Praying and singing on a constant basis? Total silence and a deep sense of tranquility? Who really knows, this side of Eden, what heaven will be…IS…except God?

The sadducees didn’t believe in the Resurrection of the dead, nor in the  afterlife. They were teasing Jesus because they felt his belief in the Resurrection of the dead was absurd and they gave the silly example of the wife and seven husbands. If there is an afterlife, which of the 7 brothers would be her husband, providing God doesn’t sanction polygamy?

They’re missing the point, thinking only in physical terms and in ways logical to our experience of life. God is a living God of those who are fully living. In life after death, we will still have relationships, love, passion and emotion, but the Living God will be at the heart of all relationships, connecting us and nourishing us with the Banquet of Love. And I truly believe there will be food, actual food, at this banquet; Jesus, Himself, enjoyed breakfast on the beach with friends. 

Yes, there is a life after death, continuous  with the one we are living in time, but different, because the Living God, will always be present and the shadow of death will be no more. Death and God is a type of oxymoron that eluded the sadducees. Only God and Life/Love exist together. Whose wife/husband will be the partner’s is a question with its own answer: we will be partners to each other. In terms of sex, well… I’ll give that some thought. 

November is the month of the Souls and reconnecting with loved ones who are living fully with the Living God. We WILL see them  again, we will hug them, we will talk with them, we will eat and drink, we will journey with them. When body and soul come together, as Jesus promised, that’s when the party will truly begin. All those who have “passed over” are waiting for us so the party can really get started. 

Peace. Fr. Frank 

My Camino Ends Early. November 4, 2016

The end was in site, with only 60 miles to go until Santiago. You must walk the last 60 miles from the town of Sarria to Santiago in order to be “official ” and receive the credential of certification. I woke up in Sarria ready and raring to make it to Santiago for the third time and third certificate. The third time isn’t always the charm and it certainly wasn’t in my case, as severe pains  in my gut caused me to walk at a snail’s pace, with each step getting worse. 

I made it 6 miles until I reached a small roadside cafe where, thank God,  Jessica and Anna were at a table sipping something. They took one look at me and knew all wasn’t well. I sat there thinking about the last 60 miles, 6 of which I just walked. Something deep down within me knew the party was over and time to call it quits, which I did. Anna graciously got me a cab and even paid for it. They both were sad for me but I knew that my health is more important than finishing and even receiving that certificate. It just wasn’t meant to be…God had other plans. 

The Camino teaches much, even…especially when things don’t work out the way planned or envisioned. The gentleman  who gave me my final stamp at the Pilgrim’s Office in Santiago saw clearly from my passport that I left the Camino after Sarria. He looked up at me with sad eyes knowing my disappointment but I quickly assured him I was just fine. He was the kindest man to me at a awkward moment. He reminded me that I should return and do the last 4 days and receive the Credential. He made out a special certificate indicating I walked from St. John pied de Porte, France to Sarria. How beautiful!!

I’ve spent the last the few days in Santiago, alone, enjoying the city and people watching with great coffee. Called the doctor and am on antibiotics for whatever it is I have. Things are fine. Looking forward to Chicago and being in familiar surroundings not living out of a backpack.  Everyone in the journey returned today, happy and relieved that they made it, and indeed they did. I’m proud of them and their spirit of commitment and perseverance. As I believe, the Camino doesn’t start until the moment you get off that plane and are home. 

The experience of the Camino must be let go of so that its Graces may begin to work. We grow as we let go and look back at the experiences that have changed our lives and allow Memory to move us forward. But WHAT we remember will determine HOW we move forward…or don’t move at all. I’m so grateful that these people let me in on their Camino, for our journeys intersected in joy and hope. 

I return with so many uncertainties and isn’t that the way of life? Everything about the future is uncertain. Where will God lead me, how will I know God’s Will, who are the people and friends walking the “way” with me, how will I deal with loneliness, illness, change and aging? Don’t these questions all sound so familiar? Life IS uncertain except for one thing: we have our faith which anchors us in hope and love. 

And it is Love which always has the last word. 

Peace. Fr. Frank