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.”

Saturday, 21 September 2013

The Pope's Interview

There is a story told of the future Good Pope John when he was Cardinal Archbishop of Venice. Dining with some of his senior clergy in his residence he listened as his Vicar General spoke harshly of a particular priest who was drinking too much and causing scandal.

The future Pope took his empty wine glass and asked, "Monsignor, to whom does this glass belong?" "It is yours, Your Eminence," was the reply.

The Cardinal let the glass fall to the ground. Then, indicating the broken glass, he asked, "And now to whom does it belong?" The answer, "It is still yours." The Cardinal replied, "And so it is with the brother you speak of - he is still my brother!"

Those who deserve love least need love most.

Mercy is the most beautiful face of God. There is more mercy in the Lord than sin in us. We will always underestimate His goodness.

If we as Church forget these basic truths, fail to open ourselves to that mercy and mirror that mercy we are all lost.

As Francis puts it: "The thing the Church most needs today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful. It needs nearness, proximity."

There has been a huge international response to Pope Francis' interview with its tone of compassion and graciousness. And some in the Church are trying to "explain away" some of his statements. And, as expected, some sectors of the media are reading into his words what is not there. But overall there is a sense of breathing in lung-fulls of fresh air; the response has a tone of hope and freedom and blessing.

Why? Because we are all hearing once again with simplicity and clarity the Gospel of Grace. This is the Word of love that draws and attracts us even with all our sin and brokenness, and then refreshed in mercy we are able to accept the redeeming grace that heals and puts us on a new path. He loves us first always and frees us to love in return.

In one of his homilies - commenting on the phrase, "Jesus was teaching in the temple each day" - Gregory the Great said that the Lord continues to teach daily in the temple that is His Body, the Church, if only we have ears to hear.

Through His servant Francis the Lord is definitely teaching us at this time. We are being taught that the Church is to be a place of welcome, mercy and healing. It is as if the Lord repeats to all of us what he once said to those who complained about Him eating with sinners: "Go and learn the meaning of the words: What I want is mercy not sacrifice."

May we learn their meaning at depth!

Our fundamental vocation is to rejoice in the Gospel of Grace - to be a people who continue to experience the tender mercy of God, and celebrate, proclaim and live in that mercy.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

'The Secret of our Joy'

David and Hugh
Just back from a wonderful celebration of the Solemn Profession of our brother David Collins in Adam and Eve’s Church, Dublin. Our Provincial Minister, Hugh McKenna, received David’s vows on behalf of the Order.

He told David: ‘Our world needs to see people of joy and faith and hope and love.’
And he reminded him of the words the Pope spoke to a gathering of young religious in Rome this summer for the Year of Faith, an event David attended. 
Pope Francis said: ‘In calling us God says to us: “You are important to me, I love you, I count on you.” Jesus says this to each one of us! Joy is born from here, the joy of the moment in which Jesus looked at me.'
'To understand and to feel this is the secret of our joy. Don’t be afraid to show the joy of having answered the Lord’s call, of the choice to love and witness His Gospel in the service of the Church. And joy, real joy, is contagious; it infects … it makes us go forward.’
Hugh continued: ‘David, like our Father Francis before you when he discovered his Gospel calling, you too have been able to say: “This is what I want, this is what I seek, this is what I desire with all my heart.” And I pray that God’s call may always fill your heart with joy as you continue your journey of faith.’

Saturday, 7 September 2013

The Cry for Peace!

A Prayer for Peace in Syria:

O Prince of Peace, we come before you sinful and sorrowful.
We know that we are all guilty of hatred and contempt,
and yet we ask for your mercy and forgiveness.

In Syria, millions of our brothers and sisters are suffering greatly.
And it seems that their suffering may be increased by people
who themselves wish to bring peace to this land.

We know that it is you who turn our hearts to peace,
and so we ask you to turn your eyes to Syria,
so near the towns and villages where you grew up and ministered,
to look upon that Holy Land, and bring an end to violence.

Help us do all that we can, physically, morally, legally,
to support dialogue, foster reconciliation and promote justice. 
End the terrible violence directed against so many Syrians
from so many places, and turn their hearts to
forgiveness, compassion and love.

Open our own hearts to the needs of the millions of refugees. 
Help us to see that they are our brothers and sisters in crisis,
for you were a refugee yourself once,
along with Mary and Joseph.

Most of all, let us not bring more violence and suffering
upon a people who have already suffered immensely. 

Bring them peace, O Prince of Peace.

(Photo: Raghad Al-Hussein, a 30-year-old Syrian refugee, holds her newborn child inside their makeshift shelter in the village of Jeb Jennine, in Lebanon.  CNS Photo: Paul Jeffrey.)

Monday, 2 September 2013

Monuments of Mercy

All smiles: Vincent and David after their profession.
I was in our friary in Ennis on Saturday as we celebrated the First Profession of our two brothers - Vincent Finnegan and David Connolly. Having completed their novitiate year they took this major step on the path of their Franciscan formation. 

This coming Sunday the friars gathered again, this time in Dublin. We have the joy of celebrating the Solemn Profession of David Collins. David will make a final, life-long commitment to live out his Christian discipleship as a Friar Minor within the Irish Province.

Witnessing the profession of a brother is a particular grace. The actual profession of vows, made 'into the hands' of our Provincial Minister, is a very radical statement. Listening to it the friar cannot but challenged.

On Saturday I realised that I need, even more than ever, to lean on, indeed to fall back on the grace of God. Any fidelity to this life flows from the action of the Spirit.

As St Francis unceasingly experienced and taught - All is Grace!

The words of Theodore Jennings are striking: 'If grace is to be real, then it must have real effects. And these effects must be palpable, visible. When the divine enters the world, it produces changes everyone can see, not invisible craters, but manifest "monuments of mercy".'

May the lives of our young brothers and all our lives be monuments of mercy!

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Making Demands of God

An insightful reflection from Kayla McClurg, Church of the Saviour, on Psalm 82... a faith that can demand of God, a faith that dares to pray, hope and work for a different world.

"The psalmist has experienced God as a God of justice and mercy, but when he looks at the vast needs of so many, the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, the nations failing to serve, he has to wonder. He interrogates the Holy One, demanding response. “What’s going on, God? How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? How long will you delay?”
Would we dare such boldness? Do we have such raw and intimate relationship with God?

The psalmist talks to God as one might a spouse—a spouse who has been quite a disappointment lately. Not only does he take the risk of haranguing God, he lays out in plain language what he thinks needs to be done. The psalmist gives God a “honey-do” list, a reminder of what awaits repair if God hopes to clean up the mess the world is in. Here is the psalmist’s list (I wonder what would be on mine): Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute; rescue the weak and the needy. Just do it already!

Do you notice the psalmist does not ask for God’s intervention in his personal life and community? The relationship between them is greater than that. For the psalmist, God is not a personal peddler of goods, a well-stocked pantry to whom he goes for replenishment. In the psalmist’s daring, we hear what a deeper, more intimate connection sounds like, what it means to be in alignment with God’s own heart.

When we dare to speak honestly on behalf of the silenced ones, perhaps it is because we know that God and we want the same things, that we are bonded with a covenant love that can be trusted., and we will be yoked together in the tasks at hand. In the depths of this kind of love, we can dare to ask boldly, dare to call God, our beloved, to task. C’mon, God, show us the right hammer and nails for the job. You know how to fix this!"

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Clare: A Heart Free For the Lord

St Clare, whose feast we celebrate on 11 August, was a woman who responded to Christ's call and grace with magnificent courage.

Christ, poor and crucified, captured her heart. Thereafter her one desire was that she be utterly his.

She sought to allow grace form in her a heart turned fully toward the Lord, and she taught her sisters to walk the same path of absolute surrender to Christ.

The external poverty and simplicity of the life she embraced was the sacrament, the outward sign of an interior disposition - a heart utterly free for the Lord!

This passage, from her First Letter to St Agnes of Prague, reveals a woman who knew the treasure that was hers in Christ, a brave woman willing to jettison all that would hinder the deep work of his redeeming love.
Be strengthened in the holy service you have undertaken
out of an ardent desire for the Poor Crucified,
who for the sake of all of us 
took upon Himself the Passion of the Cross.

O blessed poverty,
who bestows eternal riches on those
who love and embrace her!

O holy poverty,
to those who possess and desire you
God promises the kingdom of heaven
and offers, indeed, eternal glory and blessed life!

O God-centered poverty,
whom the Lord Jesus Christ
who ruled and now rules heaven and earth,
who spoke and things were made,
condescended to embrace before all else!

What a great laudable exchange:
to leave the things of time for those of eternity,
to choose the things of heaven for the goods of earth,
to receive the hundred-fold in place of one,
and to possess a blessed and eternal life.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Mr Obama: No Guns for Syria!

Christian leaders in USA, including the Franciscans, have written to President Obama with a clear message concerning the civil war that is tearing Syria apart.

They ask for strong diplomatic efforts, and continued humanitarian aid, but they state arms should not be sent to Syria as it will only prolong a brutal war.

The Franciscans in Syria (members of the Custody of the Holy Land) know the suffering and devastation at first hand as they struggle to protect and support those from all communities impacted by the war.

Letter to President Obama

Monday, 29 July 2013

In Rio - a Renewed Call to Rebuild!

Pope Francis has frequently spoken of St Francis and how his life and message are particularly relevant to the Church of our time.

During World Youth Day in Rio, at the Prayer Vigil, in which some 2 million youth participated, the Pope recalled the invitation from Christ that changed the life of Francis of Assisi. Praying before the Cross in the little ruined chapel of San Damiano he heard the invitation: 'Francis, go and rebuild my house!'

As part of the vigil a group constructed a 'church' on the huge stage - a symbol of our task to work with the Lord in constantly renewing his House, his People!

Pope Francis said: 'We have just recalled the story of Saint Francis of Assisi. In front of the crucifix he heard the voice of Jesus saying to him: "Francis, go, rebuild my house". The young Francis responded readily and generously to the Lord’s call to rebuild his house.'

However St Francis had to learn the deeper meaning of Christ’s invitation.

'But which house? Slowly but surely, Francis came to realize that it was not a question of repairing a stone building, but about doing his part for the life of the Church. It was a matter of being at the service of the Church, loving her and working to make the countenance of Christ shine ever more brightly in her.'

The Pope reminded the youth that this call of Christ was also given to them:

'Tonight, let us answer Christ: Yes, I too want to be a living stone; together we want to build up the Church of Jesus! Let us all say together: I want to go forth and build up the Church of Christ!
Dear friends, never forget that you are the field of faith! You are Christ’s athletes! You are called to build a more beautiful Church and a better world.'
And as he so often stresses -  this sacred space we help rebuild must be 'roomy' enough for the whole world. Pope Francis has no time for an inward looking Church, caught up in itself.
'In the Church of Jesus, we ourselves are the living stones. Jesus is asking us to build up his Church, but not as a little chapel which holds only a small group of persons. He asks us to make his living Church so large that it can hold all of humanity, that it can be a home for everyone!'

Sunday, 14 July 2013

That First Smile...

The Irish Jesuit Michael Paul Gallagher likens Christian faith to the first smile of an infant:
“For weeks you smile and express your love... then one day your baby smile back. He or she has entered into a different relationship, has responded to all you have given. It is a moment of recognition, of love. Our life of faith is exactly like that in its core simplicity. God loves us in Christ; and one day you must realise it... there is a danger of reducing faith to morality or to the externals of religious belonging. If that happens behaviour in the Christian life becomes a matter of ‘I ought to’ or ‘I ought not’. Needless to say the commandments come alive and make best sense if God’s love is received and recognised – like that first smile.”

I recalled this image of the first smile when reading Pope Francis’encyclical, Lumen Fidei where he writes:

“Faith transforms the whole person precisely to the extent that he or she becomes open to love.”

Then, in turn, this love leads an ever deeper knowing.
"Through this blending of faith and love we come to see the kind of knowledge which faith entails, its power to convince and its ability to illumine our steps. Faith knows because it is tied to love, because love itself brings enlightenment. Faith’s understanding is born when we receive the immense love of God which transforms us inwardly and enables us to see reality with new eyes.”
“Love itself brings enlightenment.”
This echoes our deepest Franciscan understanding. Commenting on the profound Christian wisdom obvious in St Francis’ life, Friar Thomas of Celano, his first biographer, wrote:
 “Where the learning of the scholars remains outside, the affection of the lover enters within!”
Pope Francis emphasises frequently the link between love, faith and seeing:
"Faith is born of an encounter with the living God who calls us and reveals his love, a love which precedes us and upon which we can lean for security and for building our lives. Transformed by this love, we gain fresh vision, new eyes to see. Those who believe - see!"
And by the grace of the Spirit this seeing, this knowing can persist even when our faith enters, as it must, the various seasons of darkness on life's path.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Telling it like it is!

British Prime Minister, David Cameron, is chairing the G8 Summit that began in Northern Ireland today.

He received a letter from Pope Francis that goes beyond "wishing you well with your discussions" type of greeting. Basically the Pope said there will be no change in the "rotten system" - to quote Dorothy Day - until the dignity and value of the human person is recognised.

Concern for the fundamental material and spiritual welfare of every human person is the starting-point for every political and economic solution and the ultimate measure of its effectiveness and its ethical validity.

The goal of economics and politics is to serve humanity, beginning with the poorest and most vulnerable wherever they may be, even in their mothers' wombs.

Every economic and political theory or action must set about providing each inhabitant of the planet with the minimum wherewithal to live in dignity and freedom, with the possibility of supporting a family, educating children, praising God and developing one's own human potential.

This is the main thing; in the absence of such a vision, all economic activity is meaningless.

In this sense, the various grave economic and political challenges facing today's world require a courageous change of attitude that will restore to the end (the human person) and to the means (economics and politics) their proper place.

Money and other political and economic means must serve, not rule.

Fundamental Christian, indeed human, principles.

Pope Francis ends: I wished to share these thoughts with you, Prime Minister, with a view to highlighting what is implicit in all political choices, but can sometimes be forgotten: the primary importance of putting humanity, every single man and woman, at the centre of all political and economic activity, both nationally and internationally, because person is the truest and deepest resource for politics and economics, as well as their ultimate end.

As we have come to expect from Pope Francis - he tells it like it is.

Let's hope someone is listening!

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Friars' Letter: Defending Life

Below is a letter to our local TDs (members of parliament) in which Irish Franciscan Friars (OFM) express their deep concern about proposed legislation that would introduce abortion into Ireland.

Debate about this fundamental issue is often contentious and bitter. In keeping with the Franciscan spirit the tone of this letter seeks to be prayerful and courteous.

Franciscan Friary


The Lord give you peace.

I write to you as an Irish citizen and also as a Franciscan friar, guided by the Gospel vision that inspired St Francis of Assisi. At the heart of that vision was a profound reverence for life.

As you are so well aware the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill has aroused intense discussion. The proposed legislation has raised grave concerns for many, particularly about its likely unintended impact on the protection and care for human life in our country.

I wish to echo the compassionate approach expressed by Pope Francis who has said: “We must listen, support, and understand in order to save two lives: we must love and support the mother in every way we can and also respect the smallest and most defenceless human being, to take all possible steps that can preserve the child’s life, to allow that child of God come to birth.”

I realise that you carry a major responsibility as you reflect on this most important matter – literally one of life or death.

I promise to pray for you as you fulfil your duty as our elected representative.

Yours respectfully,

Saturday, 25 May 2013

A Brother's Embrace!

"How good and how pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!" (Ps 133:1)

The Irish Provincial Minister, Hugh McKenna embraces our new Minister General, American friar, Michael Perry,OFM, after his election in Rome on 22 May.

He succeeds our brother now Archbishop José Rodrígiez Carballo, OFM, who was appointed by Pope Francis to the Vatican position of Secretary of the Congregation of Religious.

Michael, in an interview after his election, rightly said that the friars are united, energised and challenged by the ministry of the new pope, whose name honours our founder, St. Francis.

Pope Francis "has energised us, but he also has challenged us just by who he is. His authenticity challenges us to rediscover our own authenticity. By his example he calls us to simplify our lives and to speak less and demonstrate more who we are."

“It's not a matter of promoting the Franciscan ‘brand,’ but of demonstrating that simplicity of life means greater life for all people, it means greater access to all that people need to have dignity and survive on this small, tiny planet we have. It means respecting creation so that we do not destroy the environment in which we live.”

Michael is honest: “Pope Francis has taken the name of the person we hold as a model, who calls us to live faithfully the Gospel. I think how short we fall sometimes in living the Gospel. This man has lived for a very long time what he is calling all of us to take on."

Monday, 13 May 2013

On the Wind of the Spirit

I live by the sea and I often watch the gulls hover in the wind. They know the art of working with the wind. They let the wind carry them. That is why they are able to remain in the air for so many hours and yet not grow tired.

The gulls teach me how to be carried by the wind of the Spirit, the Breath of God.

It is hard to walk against a strong wind. Yet with what ease we move when the wind is in our favour. So when I am ‘moving in the Spirit’ how much ‘lighter’ does my daily Christian living become. But what heavy work I make of my life when I am out of tune with the movement of grace!

One of the Fathers of the Church put it clearly: ‘The breath of the Spirit blows to fill the sails of our faith and our praise.’

An even earlier source, the second century Odes of Solomon uses another image.

‘As the wind passes through the lyre

And the strings speak,

In the same way through my inward being

Sounds the Spirit of the Lord, and I speak in his love.’

The wonder is that the Spirit who hovered over the waters at the dawn of creation is available now to me, to you, to breathe fresh life in us and to uphold us with power from on high.

Come Holy Spirit, Come Divine Wind, Come!

Friday, 3 May 2013

The Hungry Soul

Matthew Kelly in the The Rhythm of Life writes, "It would be lovely if our souls growled every time they were hungry the way our stomachs do. But they don't. The voice of the hungry soul is confusion, questions, and a general sense of being overwhelmed."

I know the feeling! These past few weeks have been filled with rushing, taking on too many tasks, and so not giving myself enough time for silence and solitude. And my hungry soul is making me aware of the imbalance.

So this morning in prayer, by God’s patient goodness, I was able to refocus, to centre myself, and to surrender in peace the concerns and tasks that had seemed so important.

And as Pentecost draws nearer the desire grows within me for the grace of Pentecostal refreshment. I realise that this holy desire is itself a touch of grace, a desire that the Lord stirs up so as to fulfil it in me if I am open, available for the fresh gift.

I hope to pray the Sequence for Pentecost Sunday daily during these coming weeks. Many of the ancient, beautiful invocations speak deeply to my present need.

Thou, of all consolers best,
Thou, the soul's delightful guest,
Dost refreshing peace bestow.

Thou in toil art comfort sweet;
Pleasant coolness in the heat;
Solace in the midst of woe.

Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
On our dryness pour thy dew,
Wash the stains of guilt away.

Bend the stubborn heart and will;
Melt the frozen, warm the chill;
Guide the steps that go astray...

Amen, Alleluia!

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Pope Francis' Call to Go Out!

Holy Thursday: Pope Francis kisses feet of youth in detention centre
Pope Francis means business. He is quickly giving a clear and definite direction to the Church.

The Church exists for mission and needs to get out into the world, to be with people as bearers of Christ’s presence and love in the reality of their lives.

Speaking to priests at the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday he said:

“We need to'go out', then, in order to experience our own anointing, its power and its redemptive efficacy: to the 'outskirts' where there is suffering, bloodshed, blindness that longs for sight, and prisoners in thrall to many evil masters. It is not in soul-searching or constant introspection that we encounter the Lord: self-help courses can be useful in life, but to live by going from one course to another, from one method to another, leads us to become pelagians and to minimize the power of grace, which comes alive and flourishes to the extent that we, in faith, go out and give ourselves and the Gospel to others, giving what little ointment we have to those who have nothing, nothing at all.”

And what he emphasised in that homily he enacted later on Holy Thursday, when he celebrated the Mass of the Lord Supper, not in the splendour of St Peter’s Basilica, but in a Roman Detention Centre for youth where he washed and kissed the feet of 12 young people, including two girls.

This "going out" to where Christ’s light and grace are most needed is how he has lived his vocation and priestly ministry for many years.

Before the conclave began he spoke to the cardinals about the dangers of narcissism, of a Church caught up in herself. Here is a passage from that short speech, just now made public.

“Evangelizing pre-supposes a desire in the Church to come out of herself. The Church is called to come out of herself and to go to the peripheries, not only geographically, but also the existential peripheries: the mystery of sin, of pain, of injustice, of ignorance and indifference to religion, of intellectual currents, and of all misery.

When the Church does not come out of herself to evangelize, she becomes self-referential and then gets sick. (cf. The deformed woman of the Gospel). The evils that, over time, happen in ecclesial institutions have their root in self-referentiality and a kind of theological narcissism.

In Revelation, Jesus says that he is at the door and knocks. Obviously, the text refers to his knocking from the outside in order to enter in. But I think about the times in which Jesus knocks from within so that we will let him come out. The self-referential Church keeps Jesus Christ within herself and does not let him out.

Put simply, there are two images of the Church: the Church which evangelizes and comes out of herself, and the worldly Church, living within herself, of herself, for herself.”
The Lord has given us a pastor "after his own heart", a shepherd's heart.
This Pope is seeking, in the grace of the Spirit, to model for the Church the core of the Gospel of God's redeeming grace.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

The Pope's Challenge to Franciscans!

At different times Pope Francis has spoken of why he chose the name Francis. His words and lifestyle options are a challenge to the whole Church. In particular, Franciscans experience themselves challenged to live more generously the charism they profess!

The Jesuit Pope with the Franciscan heart is calling us to to fidelity to our vocation.

Speaking to the world media two days after his election Pope Francis said:

"Francis of Assisi: For me he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who love and safeguards Creation. In this moment when our relationship with Creation is not so good—right?—He is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man … Oh, how I wish for a Church that is poor and for the poor!”

A week later, in his talk to the Diplomatic Corps, Pope Francis further elaborated on his choice of the name.

"As you know, there are various reasons why I chose the name of Francis of Assisi, a familiar figure far beyond the borders of Italy and Europe, even among those who do not profess the Catholic faith.

One of the first reasons was Francis’ love for the poor. How many poor people there still are in the world! And what great suffering they have to endure!

After the example of Francis of Assisi, the Church in every corner of the globe has always tried to care for and look after those who suffer from want, and I think that in many of your countries you can attest to the generous activity of Christians who dedicate themselves to helping the sick, orphans, the homeless and all the marginalised, thus striving to make society more humane and more just.

But there is another form of poverty!

It is the spiritual poverty of our time, which afflicts the so-called richer countries particularly seriously. It is what my much-loved predecessor, Benedict XVI, called the “tyranny of relativism”, which makes everyone his own criterion and endangers the coexistence of peoples.

And that brings me to a second reason for my name. Francis of Assisi tells us we should work to build peace.

But there is no true peace without truth!

There cannot be true peace if everyone is his own criterion, if everyone can always claim exclusively his own rights, without at the same time caring for the good of others, of everyone, on the basis of the nature that unites every human being on this earth."

Hearing the Pope speak of the beauty and importance of Francis' Gospel vision, Franciscans throughout the world repeat the words of our blessed Founder: "Let us begin again, for up to now we have done little or nothing!"

Friday, 22 March 2013

Gestures that Speak...

Back Seat: Pope Francis with Argentinians in the chapel of Casa Santa Marta
The Italian media are speaking of “a revolution of small gestures,” of the "Bergoglio-style" that is refreshing the Church. Reported anecdotes abound of Francis' symbolic first actions.

Instead of adorning himself with an ornate gold cross as Popes traditionally do, he wears a simple cross around his neck. He pointedly refuses to sit on a throne after his election and met his fellow cardinals standing, on equal footing. Since then he has also refused a "throne" - meeting with other religious leaders he sat on a chair similar to theirs, and one not placed on a raised dais.

The night he was elected, according to New York's Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Vatican officials and staffers came forward to meet the new Pope. He politely put them off: “Not now, the people are waiting.” Then he went to the balcony. When he appeared before the world, he was plainly dressed, a simple white cassock, no regalia, no finery. He began with the simple “bona sera” and ended by wishing us all a “good night, have a good rest”, as if talking to family members.

Looking at his non-verbals, which experts believe are much more truthful than language, he comes across as someone with simplicity, a prayerful man of faith and warmth, like one who comes “to serve and not to be served." This has since been confirmed by his subsequent meetings with different groups and his heart-felt, often unscripted, talks and homilies that reveal a deeply pastoral heart. It has also been confirmed by what we have learned about his choices and lifestyle as Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires. All this conveys a person of substance and yet one with a light touch.

The fact that almost every account of him uses the word "humility" or "humble" to describe him, is indicative of how we pick up people's actual “energy” much more than their words or actions. People are drawn to accessibility, to loving presence. A priest say: “I would go to him for confession!”

There is no doubt the Benedict, Pope Emeritus, is a man of great holiness and humility. However gestures can carry great power. And the right gestures can be bearers of transforming grace.

So Pope Francis, with the simplicity and wisdom worthy of his namesake, is letting his gestures speak a "word" that is capturing the attention of Church and world.