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 “Asunción” 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 

All Souls.  November 2, 2016

When you walk 6-7 hours each day, alone, the solitary journey elicits deeply rooted memories of people who have passed though the gateway of death. This  soulful walking connects one’s life to the earth, footstep by footstep, and this connection releases buried, mostly forgotten, memories. The problem with a religious pilgrimage is God has other unplanned plans in regards to these memories. One can’t be healed of the past if one is DISconnected with it. Pilgrimages mean Reconnecting…with God through remembering the people who have walked in and out of our lives, sometimes welcomed, sometimes surprised, sometimes very unwelcome. 

Walking hour after hour surfaces many wonderful memories causing a bittersweet joy, since you deeply miss the person remembered but know they are present with each step. You just KNOW it. However, difficult memories WILL surface that are quite painful when they become conscious…relived. The Camino is not for everyone, especially if you choose the route of repression. Bury the pains of the past…don’t face them, for often they’re just too painful. 

I encountered many pilgrims who were forced to face these unpleasant realities that lie deep in the lower regions of the subconscious. Some need serious help to the point of returning home. “Now is the time of salvation,” St. Paul teaches. When the rubber hits the road, or each walking foot connects with Mother Earth, the source of our bodies, this is our moment to TRUST God will carry us through these moments of trial. The basement of our subconscious needs to be cleaned out…aired out….the Light let in. Freedom.  Release. New memories. Healed memories. Maybe we are just not ready for the Camino right now. It takes Wisdom to admit this. 

The movie, “The Way,” with Martin sheen, which caused the Camino to explode in tourist popularity, is really about the healing of memories. The main character walks with his son’s cremains, spreading them at various places and shrines. His relationship with his son was strained and distant; his untimely death in the Pyrenees did not give this father the time to reconcile and offer forgiveness. But it wasn’t too late. Even after his son died so suddenly, the walk reconnected him with this distant son, forgiveness and healing occurred and a man is freed to walk a new Camino pushing in new directions. His son was alive…and well…

All Souls Day, a time to remember the people who helped to shape our identities and journeys. Some of these people may have inadvertently hurt us, or worse, advertently. Healing and forgiveness CAN happen.   NOW. Our faith teachers us that life continues when we breath our last, and those we deeply love and missed are safe and happy…waiting for us to join them. This never ending season of Advent compels us to wait with an openness to gratitude and forgiveness, given AND received. 

Peace. Fr. Frank

All Saints. November 1, 2016

The great teaching of Vatican II was that ALL are called to holiness, not just those who dedicated their life to service in the Church. We focused on the change of language, new liturgical ministries, study of Scripture, ecumenical outreach and a Church that must be engaged in the world,  instead of creating walls of suspicion… these are essential to the renewal of the church. But something is missing…the foundation of the reform and renewal. The teaching that all Catholics are called to a life of holiness, whatever state of life, is truly the radical teaching of the Council. 

I’m reminded of this epoch-changing teaching on this  feast of ALL Saints. The beatitudes, which frame the sanctuary of St. Teresa of Avila Church, are the foundation of gospel living and parish life. Every time we celebrate the Mass, those Beatitudes illuminate and inspire. The very Eucharist we celebrate week after week, nourishes us all to  live out these beatitudes, making our lives Holy and blessed. Every human being is called to be a “saint,” which means we are all ” saints in the making.” Every human being has the potential and the call to exude the holiness of a saint. 

There is nothing arrogant about wanting to be a saint, for becoming a saint means allowing humility and poverty of Spirit, the first of the Beatitudes, to transform how we live. Surrendering to a Spirit of poverty naturally leads us to be merciful, peaceful, compassionate, single hearted, righteous and self giving. I have met countless men and women whose lives beautifully reflect these gospel Beatitudes, people leading lives of holiness. Mothers and fathers giving their lives in sacrifice for their children; teachers who will do anything to reach their students, lawyers defending the rights of the poor, Doctors Without Borders, the unseen faces of the people who clean and work to make our lives easier, volunteers who get to know the people they serve, talking with them and eating with them, musicians, artists, architects…the list is truly endless. 

Countless  people have changed my life and my priesthood, inspiring me to live out my own calling in new and creative ways. The Saints were people of creativity, reflecting the image of God as Creator, Who wants us to share in the glory of transforming the world. Our God is the most humble reality the world will ever know, for our God wants US to shine and share in His beauty and goodness. A vital parish is a creative parish that seeks new ways of being church. The more creative we are, the more we are in tune with our God of three Persons in a community of love. Our parishes are to mirror this divine community, by living out the Beatitudes, accepting that God calls ALL of us to lives of holiness, by studying scripture and catechism, and praying every day, not just when convenient. We are called to take responsibility for the church and its growth, never leaving this to the priests and sisters and bishops and popes. Jesus called the apostles, and the bishops who succeed them, to a life of service, walking shoulder to shoulder with the People who are the church.  Those who lead have the responsibility to hand on the tradition in ways new and creative, but never wavering from the Truth. 

We are a Pilgrim Church on a journey to a point, a destination, which is the the fullness of the Kingdom. The Camino has a saying: the way IS the destination, meaning the endpoint isn’t the main point of the pilgrimage . There is a truth in this little phrase, but it can be very misleading for us who follow Christ. A destination does exist for us and this  Feast is a celebration of that is  destination. Perhaps the journey continues after we pass through the doors of death …who knows but God. But the journey in Paradise will not be fraught with dangers or getting lost or feeling left out. This heavenly journey will be creative ONLY in love and how it is expressed. 

Peace and Joy. Fr. Frank