Saturday, 28 June 2014

Missionary Disciples

The Irish Franciscans are gathered for their Provincial Chapter - held every three years - from Sunday 29 June to Friday 4 July. The meeting takes place in the Franciscan College, Gormanston, Co Westmeath.

During the week some 90 friars, including two friars from our Custody in Zimbabwe, will pray, reflect, discuss and make important decisions. With both Irish society and the Church going through a time of major transition we Friars Minor need to make sure that our life and mission are responding to 'the signs of the times' - our times.

The theme for the Chapter is taken from Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel: 'Missionary disciples, witnesses who never cease to be disciples!'

We are honoured that our Minister General, Michael Perry OFM, will be with us to lead us in a 'spiritual day' on Monday. However St Francis teaches us that the Holy Spirit is the true Minister General of our Order. If we are not being open and docile to His inspirations and guidance little else matters!

We ask you to pray with us that the Spirit of the Lord may be with us with divine grace, light and courage.

May our deliberations be guided by His wisdom. May whatever decisions we reach help us live more faithfully the Gospel life we have promised, and may they bring glory to God and serve His people.

Please keep us in your prayers!

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Enjoy the Lenten Feast

It is several years since I came across the list below on Fasting/Feasting, describing a different type of fasting during Lent.  It still makes a great deal of sense to me.

What we feed in ourselves grows strong, for better or worse. We can be unaware of the powerful impact our habitual way of thinking has on ourselves and others.

Authentic religion brings about inner transformation. We can focus on the inessentials, the externals while the Lord looks to the heart.

In the Franciscan story we read that Gordan of Giano was a novice at the Pentecost Chapter held in the woods below Assisi in 1221. Several thousand friars had come together. Gordan tells us that Francis went among them collecting all their instruments of penance, hair shirts, corded ropes, whatever.

He did this for two reasons.  Firstly, he did not want his brothers in their fervour  to overdo their bodily penances. But especially Francis realised that physical self-denial can simply inflate one's spiritual pride.  It is a danger warned of by Christ in his parable: "The Pharisee lifted his eyes to heaven and prayed: I thank you Lord that I am not like the rest of men. I fast twice a week..."

It is easier to give up chocolate than unkind words.

It is easier to increase our devotions than our spirit of gratitude.

It is easier to abstain from food than from bitterness.

So this list is not simply a Lenten exercise but a programme for life, for daily living in grace and generosity. It goes straight to the core of the Gospel: the renewal of our hearts and minds.

FAST from judging others;                     FEAST on the Christ within them.

FAST from emphasis on differences;   FEAST on the unity of life.

FAST from apparent darkness;             FEAST on the reality of light.

FAST from thoughts of illness;              FEAST on the healing power of God.

FAST from words that pollute;              FEAST on phrases that purify.

FAST from discontent;                            FEAST on gratitude.

FAST from anger;                                     FEAST on patience.

FAST from pessimism;                            FEAST on optimism.

FAST from worry;                                     FEAST on trust in God.

FAST from complaining;                         FEAST on appreciation.

FAST from negatives;                               FEAST on affirmatives.

FAST from unrelenting pressures;        FEAST on unceasing prayer.

FAST from hostility;                                 FEAST on non-resistance.

FAST from bitterness;                              FEAST on forgiveness.

FAST from self-centredness;                  FEAST on compassion for others.

FAST from personal anxiety;                  FEAST on eternal Truth.

FAST from discouragement;                   FEAST on hope.

FAST from facts that depress;                FEAST on verities that uplift.

FAST from lethargy;                                 FEAST on enthusiasm.

FAST from suspicion;                               FEAST on truth.

FAST from thoughts that weaken;         FEAST on promises that inspire.

FAST from shadows of sorrow;              FEAST on the sunlight of serenity.

FAST from idle gossip;                             FEAST on purposeful silence.

FAST from problems that overwhelm;  FEAST on prayer that under girds.


The Psalmist prayed: "My soul shall be filled as with a banquet" (Ps 63:6).  We can choose with what we will nourish our souls. My prayer for us all during this season of grace is that we will feast richly on all that will make our lives flourish in Christ-like serenity and goodness. 

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Bono on Grace!


I recently came across Bono's reflections on grace - well worth a read....

“It’s a mind-blowing concept that the God who created the Universe might be looking for company, a real relationship with people, but the thing that keeps me on my knees is the difference between Grace and Karma…

You see, at the centre of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you; an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics – in physical laws – every action is met by an equal or opposite one.  Its clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the universe.  I’m absolutely sure of it.

And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that “As you reap, so will you sow” stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff.

That’s between me and God. But I’d be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge. I’d be in deep shit. It doesn’t excuse my mistakes, but I’m holding out for Grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity.

The point of the death of Christ is that Christ took on the sins of the world so that what we put out did not come back to us, and that our sinful nature does not reap the obvious death. That’s the point. It should keep us humbled….its not our own good works that get through the gates of heaven…

If only we could be a bit more like Him, the world would be transformed.  All I do is get up on the Cross of the Ego; the bad hangover, the bad review. When I look at the Cross of Christ, what I see up there is all my shit and everybody else’s. So I ask myself a question a lot of people have asked: Who is this man?  And was He who He said He was, or was he just a religious nut?  And there it is, and that’s the question.  And no one can talk you into it or out of it.”

All text taken from Chapter 11 of Bono on Bono: conversations with Michka Assayas, 2005 (Hodder).

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Divine Self-Squandering

Carmelite Ruth Burrows writes: “God is the ultimate self-squander, always giving Himself as far as He can be received, and always trying to enlarge our capacity so He can give Himself even more fully.” Christmas celebrates how this self-giving is revealed in an astonishingly tangible way. And as our Franciscan tradition emphasises it does not stop there. The “sublime humility” that Francis wrote of continues in the Passion and daily in the Eucharist – the Crib, the Cross and the Cup.
Francis’ encounter with the God who squanders Himself in love led Francis to an understanding of sine proprio - living without anything of one's own - that is far deeper than material poverty. Responding in grace to this God “who gives Himself totally” Francis asks us to “hold back nothing of ourselves for ourselves”. 
He teaches, especially in the Admonitions, how our hanging on to, our refusal to surrender our comforts, our status and position, our entrenched attitudes, our ways of doing things, our hurts and resentments – how this greatly hinders the work of the Spirit of the Lord in us and through us. The aim is to be fully available to God and fully free to serve the Gospel.

This deeper understanding of sine proprio came to mind when I read Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium. He issues a radical call to Gospel freedom, a willingness to surrender what no longer serves the mission entrusted to us. “I dream of a ‘missionary option’, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation.”

The Pope says rather than being afraid of "going astray," what the Church ought to fear instead is "remaining shut up within structures that give us a false sense of security" and "within habits that make us feel safe."

Of course, what Francis writes of the Church can also be applied to my life and to Order and fraternity I belong to. There is always the danger of routine instilling staleness into life and ministry, a sapping spirit that robs them of joy and energy so that “mission” is reduced to certain routine practices.

In contrast to such an attitude Pope Francis sees mission as rooted in his very identity: “My mission of being in the heart of the people is not just a part of my life or a badge I can take off; it is not an “extra” or just another moment in life. Instead, it is something I cannot uproot from my being without destroying my very self. I am a mission on this earth; that is the reason why I am here in this world.”

Only the deep inward working of the Spirit can stirs us to generous self-giving by granting us a share in the Divine Self-Squander's love for the world.

Friday, 8 November 2013

The Embrace

The images went viral after the papal audience on Wednesday. Pope Francis met, embraced and kissed a man suffering from a rare disease called neurofibromatosis, a painful and disfiguring skin condition.

Those who know the story of St Francis embracing the leper, the most loathed in his society, can immediately see a connection. Surely the physical pain of that poor man in Rome is matched at times by the emotional pain of being shunned because his disturbing appearance. We see in the Pope's gentle love, his physical touch a glimpse of the divine compassion that reaches the least of the Father's children.

However I also believe that these images reach something even deeper in our hearts. In recent years Franciscans have looked again at the story of Francis and the leper. We now speak of how we are called not simply to embrace the "leper" we meet - those who for whatever reason are rejected and despised - but also the leper within.

In a powerful passage in Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Carl Jung writes “The acceptance of oneself is the essence of the whole moral problem and the epitome of a whole outlook on life."

He recognises that Christians can often show great love towards others. But he asks a disturbing question.

 "That I feed the hungry, that I forgive an insult, that I love my enemy in the name of Christ - all these are undoubtedly great virtues. What I do unto the least of my brethren, that I do unto Christ. But what if I should discover that the least among them all, the poorest of all the beggars, the most impudent of all the offenders, the very enemy himself - that these are within me, and that I myself stand in need of the alms of my own kindness - that I myself am the enemy who must be loved - what then?"
Then sadly Jung writes that from his experience for most believers compassion does not extent to self.  "As a rule, the Christian's attitude is then reversed; there is no longer any question of love or long-suffering; we say to the brother within us Raca, and condemn and rage against ourselves. We hide it from the world; we refuse to admit ever having met this least among the lowly in ourselves.”
Looking at the profound images of Francis holding in his arms the disfigured and the shunned is an invitation to cease rejecting the broken and despised within, to tenderly give to ourselves "the alms" of our own kindness.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Gospel Mission - People First, Always!

Brother Juniper O'Brien, 1925-2013
When he was in Brazil in July Pope Francis met with the bishops there and posed a fundamental question: “I would like all of us to ask ourselves: are we still a Church capable of warming hearts?”

Hearts are warmed by love, by compassion, by a presence that accompanies with understanding and wisdom.

On Sunday 20 October the Church celebrates World Mission Day and Francis marks out a path for that mission to our contemporaries.

“Today, we need a Church capable of walking at people’s side, of doing more than simply listening to them; a Church which accompanies them on their journey; a Church able to make sense of the ‘night’ contained in the flight of so many of our brothers and sisters from Jerusalem; a Church which realizes that the reasons why people leave also contain reasons why they can eventually return. But we need to know how to interpret, with courage, the larger picture.”

Writing recently in the Washington Post, Michael Gerson focused on the priority that Francis gives to the person.

“This personalism is among the most radical implications of Christian faith. In every way that matters to God, human beings are completely equal and completely loved.

Their dignity runs deeper than their failures.

They matter more than any cause; they are the cause.

Francis knowing that he has been criticised by some over his comments about gays, observed in his interview for Jesuit publications: ‘Tell me, when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person? We must always consider the person.’

While the Pope's views on moral topics are orthodox, his critique of legalism is radical and unsparing. The Church must be more than the sum of ‘small-minded rules.’ ‘We have to find a new balance,” he said, “otherwise even the moral edifice of the Church is likely to fall like a house of cards.’

This teaching - to always consider the person - was disorienting from the beginning. The outsiders get invited to the party. The prodigal is given the place of honour. The pious complain about their shocking treatment. The gatekeepers find the gate shut to them. It is subversive to all respectable religious order, which is precisely the point. With Francis, the argument gains a new hearing.”

The photo with this blog is that of Brother Juniper O’Brien who went home to the Lord on 13 October in Harare in his 89th year. A Dublin man he had spent 49 years as a missionary in Zimbabwe where he was deeply loved and respected by both the friars and people. He spent his days building churches, missions and schools, training apprentices, plumbing and painting, whatever was needed. And when his strength decreased he raised turkeys and gardened.

To my knowledge Brother Juniper never preached a homily in his life. However in the witness of his life of prayer and service, in his humble, cheerful way of being with people Christ’s love was proclaimed strong and clear.

Loving concern for the individual comes first, always. Or as the Pope puts it: “The proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives.”

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Stripping in Assisi!

During his visit to Assisi on the feast day of St Francis, one of the first places Pope Francis visited was the “Sala della Spoliazione” - the room is the site where Francis stripped himself of his clothes before his father, the bishop and the townspeople, saying, "From now on I can truly say: Our Father who art in heaven.”

When forced to choose by his father – Francis chose the call of God and sonship in Christ.

A radical turning point in his, at times, painful journey of conversion

Pope Francis used this evocative setting to speak a strong message on “the cancer of worldliness.”

He did not read the address he prepared, choosing to speak off the cuff. He began by pointing out that in recent days the newspapers “fancied” how the Pope would “strip” the Church in Assisi, the habits of the Bishops, the Cardinals, and himself. He said that this was a good occasion to invite the Church to strip herself of worldliness.

However, all of us are the Church, beginning with the baptized. “We must all go on Jesus’ path, who followed the path of despoliation of himself,” recalling that Jesus made himself slave, servant, he let himself be humiliated to the Cross, he added. The Pope reminded those present that “if we want to be Christians there is no other way.” He also warned about the danger of being “pastry shop” Christians, nice cakes but with no real substance.

“What must the Church strip herself of?

Pope Francis stressed emphatically the danger of worldliness, “a very grave danger that threatens the whole Church,” a worldliness that leads to vanity, arrogance, pride. “This is an idol, and idolatry is the strongest sin,” he noted. Once again he said that all of us are the Church and that it “is sad to meet a worldly Christian.” As he has already stated on other occasions, the he warned that "one cannot work for both sides: either one serves God or one serves money.”

Francis addressed those present: the poor people assisted by Caritas. He said that many of them have been “stripped by this savage world that doesn’t give work, doesn’t help and is not concerned if people die of hunger, who flee seeking freedom, with so much sorrow we see that they meet with death, as yesterday in Lampedusa. Today is a day of mourning. These things  are done by the spirit of the world.”

He ended by reminding us all, “the strength of God is what pushed Saint Francis to strip himself and I invited you to pray for the grace to have the courage to strip yourself of this worldliness that is the cancer of society.”