Francis Gives Me Hope

Pope Francis certainly has the attention of the press. And much of the faithful. And me.

He has shown himself to be a humble man willing to embrace the poorest amongst us. He has bucked the traditionalists who wanted more theological dogma. He has exasperated the Church hierarchy while they are busy telling us what he meant to say. Francis keeps shaking things up. Today’s interview in America Magazine only serves to further frustrate his critics.

“A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘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.”

Read the whole article here – http://www.americamagazine.org/pope-interview

For several years now I have felt cold, distant and isolated in my Church. Far too long I have felt marginally Catholic (or not Catholic at all). The cultural battle within our Church has divided communities, parishes and families. Instead of joining together in prayer and worship we are often focusing our time and talent on divisive issues. Who is worthy? Who is authentic? Who really belongs at this table?

But where is the charity? Where is the compassion? Where is Jesus in all of this?

When I listen to Pope Francis words, “Without hope, we can walk, but we’ll become cold, indifferent, self-absorbed,  distant and isolated” my hope is once again restored.

And with HOPE my faith is being restored.

Pope FrancisMore powerful than Francis’ words; his love for all of God’s creation and his humility should be an example for us. Ultra-conservative Catholics are in an uproar because he hasn’t devoted enough attention to church teaching on abortion, contraception and homosexuality. Instead he has made poverty and social justice a priority. He is embracing all of us not just a select few who seem obsessed with dogmatic allegiance.

“This Church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people.”

I want to belong to that Church; the one that “throws the doors open” and welcomes us all. A ‘big tent’ Church that has room for saints and sinners. I want a Church where my daughter and granddaughters will be given the same dignity and opportunity as men.

Francis gives me hope…

Peace,

Denis

A World of Brothers and Sisters

At the World Youth Day in Brazil, Pope Francis asked young people to “create a world of brothers and sisters.” He also visited one of Rio’s notorious favelas (slums) to call attention to the poor, disenfranchised and marginalized.

What a message for our youth today: Love all people as a brother or sister and stop chasing material happiness to the detriment of those with less.

Pretty counter-cultural stuff. Do we as the parents and grandparents of today’s youth support these ideals? Do we show our love for our enemies by our words and actions? Do we support global justice? Where do we stand on immigration reform? These are not easy questions to answer. Who amongst us wants less for our own children? Isn’t the American Dream a set of ideals in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, and an upward mobility? But should our personal success and upward mobility be at the expense of our brothers and sisters? As Christians shouldn’t we have a preference for the poor? Francis gives us much to ponder.

It’s hard sometimes to think globally. It’s too big. Too distant. It’s too removed from my world. It’s easy to dismiss Darfur or Egypt or the slums of Rio. But what about my brothers and sisters in my own community?

Recently two failing school districts in Saint Louis have requested help from other districts, one being the district in which I reside. Because these failing districts have lost their accreditation students graduating from their high schools find acceptance at colleges and universities nearly impossible. There is a myriad of reasons for these failures but mostly it is economic and poor kids are suffering. So while the Pope is imploring our youth to reach out to those in need; to create a world of brothers and sisters, some Christians in my community are fighting to keep these “unwanted students” out of our schools. There are concerns about property values, violence and drugs entering our school systems. This matter is further complicated by the fact that these two predominately black districts have requested help from two predominately white districts.

I understand and appreciate concerns for the safety of our children. I also realize that these are complex issues that the local media has reduced to sound-bites. But how can we foster “a world of brothers and sisters” across the ocean when we can’t peacefully and lovingly accept those brothers and sisters across the river? What would Jesus do?

I think that Francis is telling us. And I suspect that more prayer will be required…

Peace,

Denis

Reconciliation From Within

In search of spiritual nourishment, I have recently inquired about joining a lay partnership of a religious order. This is a daunting task: the unholy (me) joining in prayer and mission with the holy (The Sisters of the Most Precious Blood).

The Sisters’ mission sounds simple: To live the charism of reconciliation in their daily lives, work and ministry. But it sounds overwhelming when I try to insert myself into this equation: To live the charism of reconciliation in MY daily life. What does that mean?

Charism is defined by Webster’s as an extraordinary power given a Christian by the Holy Spirit for the good of the church. And reconciliation is defined as the act of causing two people or groups to become friendly again after an argument or disagreement. Or the process of finding a way to make two different ideas, facts, etc., exist or be true at the same time.

This is hard to wrap my head (and heart) around. How can I bring peace to others when I’m often not at peace with myself? And then I re-read the mission statement. The charism (power given by the Holy Spirit) of reconciliation (finding a way to make two different ideas true at the same time). I re-read it again and again. And finally it hits me: this mission statement is both simple and profound; two different ideas but the same in this mission.

reconciliationNow for the practical applications: Judge less; love more. Exploit less; care more. Take less; give more. Worry less; pray more.

I’m going to pray that God will guide me as I discern whether or not to join the Sisters as a lay Partner in Mission. I struggle at times with the arch-conservatives in my Church. I often question the hierarchy. I see a lot of un-loving behavior. So I’m praying that I find a way a to make two different ideas, facts, etc., exist or be true at the same time. And of course my peace will be found in the Holy Spirit.

My two year-old grandson Noah often says at mass, “More Alleluia!” because he loves the music.  I suppose we could all use more Alleluia. I know I could.

Peace,

Denis

Trying To Be A Servant

Jesus poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist. When he had washed their feet and reclined at table again, he said to them, “Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”  John 13:5, 12-15

In our Catholic tradition we celebrate Holy Thursday with foot-washing during the Eucharist. Last night I was honored (humbled actually) to be a part of our parish’s celebration. We are reminded by Jesus’ example that to truly serve God we must become servants to one another. This seems counter cultural in our society today.

Here in the United States we pride ourselves on being a nation of ‘movers and shakers’; of innovators; of doers; of deciders. We don’t just strive – we achieve. We outlast. We outwit. We out-perform. WE ARE NUMBER ONE!

Nothing says “success” quite like hiring out our mundane tasks. I have a very financially successful friend that frequently says, “I have a guy.” Which means he hires someone to do EVERYTHING while he can devote himself to more important tasks (like amassing more wealth so he can hire more guys). I admit I’m often envious. I can only imagine the sheer joy of handing unpleasant jobs off to another.

community_handsBut Jesus challenges me. How can I be a servant when I so desperately want to be served? This will require some prayer and some much-needed humility. I tried “serving” some people in my office today – offering to get someone a cup of coffee and bringing another their copies from the print room. Their reactions were very revealing. “Why are you doing this?” There was a sense of mistrust and confusion. “Are you joking; what do you really want?” Clearly I need to practice being a servant. I am ashamed that no one was comfortable with me in that role. Perhaps my own discomfort showed through in my weak attempt as a servant. What if my self-confidence is just thinly veiled arrogance and elitism? How will I ever really serve others?

On this Good Friday as I thank Jesus for his ultimate sacrifice, I am keenly aware of how much I still need His forgiveness.

Peace,

Denis

Searching

Have you ever searched for something that you have misplaced? A book; a letter; a photo; a gift certificate put away for safe-keeping. I will look in all the usual hiding places, re-tracing my steps and trying to imagine what I could have done with the lost possession. Surely I didn’t throw it out. Or did I? Was I careless and tossed it out with other discards? Did I hide it away too well? Usually my searches are frantic and relentless. Too often they are fruitless. Sometimes I will find the hidden item with great relief. But mostly I just give up; surrendering the lost item to the great unknown. Is there some black hole in the universe that holds all my lost treasures? I suppose I will never know.

The Prophet Isaiah wrote, “Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near.” Is God another treasure that I have misplaced? Was I careless and too busy with other seemingly more important things to remember where God is in my life? Have I packed God away somewhere safe to retrieve on some special occasion – saving God until I have time or need? Or when I feel sufficiently worthy of God’s love?

It occurred to me this week that in the past I’ve probably misread Isaiah. God can ALWAYS be found and God is ALWAYS near. It’s me that is lost. It’s me that is distant.

So I’m searching. But I’m learning that God isn’t somewhere in the cosmos; somewhere high in the clouds above looking down on me. God is here. God is now.

IMG_4302

A glimpse of heaven

And I’m finding God in the most ordinary places – in Deb’s love and devotion; in my grandchildren’s sweet voices and loving embraces; in the kindness of strangers; in music; in art; in nature; even in myself (often after a frantic and relentless search). God is here. God is now. Sometimes we just need to open our eyes (and our hearts) to see those glimpses of heaven in our midst.

I think that Isaiah was imploring us to make ourselves open to God’s call – “Stop searching; the Lord is here.”

Peace,

Denis

Listen as the St. Louis Jesuits sing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nLjgnSKepow

Hope

Tragic. Horrific. Unimaginable.

These are just a few of the headline words used to express the shock and dismay of the merciless attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday morning. Children massacred – it’s still almost too painful to contemplate but I try to understand; to make some sense of it. But I cannot comprehend the hate so virulent in one individual that he would commit the most despicable crime against the most innocent of victims.

As a citizen I am outraged. As a parent and grandparent I am shaken. As a child of God I am broken-hearted.

HandsThere’s a part of me that wants to “put it away”; to not talk about it; not think about it. I would like to tell myself that it happened far away and was random and can NEVER touch me or my precious grandchildren. But as I write this, the tears stream down my face thinking of those grandfathers in Connecticut that won’t get to hold their grandsons and granddaughters on their laps again; who won’t hear giggles and see sweet smiles. Who will never again get another tight squeeze around the neck or a precious kiss on a craggy old face.

Today at Mass our priest asked us to lift up those families in prayer. He implored us to be THE PEACE that we can be in our own families; in our own communities.

I can’t undo the hideous attack that was perpetrated on those children in Connecticut but I can be an agent of peace. I can deplore violence. And I can defuse anger and hatred in my own life. I can try to love as Jesus taught us.

Won’t you join me? Let’s mend broken relationships. Let’s try to ease the pain of others. Let’s stop buying music, movies and video games that glamorize violence. Let’s ask our members of Congress to actively work on real gun control legislation. Let’s stop reacting to violence with more violence.

There is hope amidst the horror. And as we enter into the fourth week of Advent in preparation of the Christ Child, let’s truly create some peace on earth.

Peace,

Denis

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7

Prepare the Way

Advent 2012 -4A voice of one crying out in the desert: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”     Luke 3:4-6

Luke’s Gospel is actually recalling the words of the Prophet Isaiah. My personal rule is that any time the New Testament quotes the Old Testament we should probably pay attention because apparently it is something that bears repeating.

During Advent we are called to ‘Prepare the Way’. But what does that mean? This reading always leaves me with images of giant earth-movers, backhoes and dump trucks frantically lowering hillsides and filling in ditches and chasms. But is that what Isaiah had in mind? I don’t think so. I believe that Isaiah was speaking metaphorically. I suspect that some of us are the valleys that need to be filled and others of us are the mountains that need to be toppled. And often, I suppose, we’re a bit of both.

I know that my own arrogance, pride and boastfulness need to be ‘made low’. My heart and spirit could use some ‘filling up’ right now. And of course there is plenty that needs to be ‘straightened out’ and ‘made smooth’.

So this Advent season when I hear those ancient words of Isaiah I am reminded that God is not asking me to fix the world. He is not expecting me to make others walk the straight and narrow. He is speaking only to me about me. He is asking me to prepare myself to receive his Son. To let go of my pride and my sinfulness and to be more loving and giving. God is inviting me once again to be filled with his Spirit. And to prepare myself to revel in the birth of our Savior.

Peace,

Denis

O Come Emmanuel

Today is the first Sunday of Advent; the beginning of our preparation for the Christ-Child. And as we do most years, we sang ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’ at Mass this morning. That beautiful and mournful and hopeful hymn that has always been part of my life touched my heart in a new way this year.

O come, O come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel; that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear

Lonely exile. LONELY EXILE. LONELY EXILE! Those two words kept reverberating in my head. And that’s how I felt (how I feel). In lonely exile here. Our Church has been so busy lately defining what it means to be a Catholic Christian that I feel marginalized.

If you vote for this person you CAN’T really be Catholic; if you support women’s ordination you CAN’T really be Catholic; if you love and support gay families you CAN’T really be Catholic; if you don’t walk in lock step with the Bishops then you CAN’T really be Catholic.

And so I’m an exile. I refuse to exclude; to hate; to judge; to deny love to those who may not follow ALL the rules.

I’ve decided to join the other ‘lonely exiles’ in prayer this Advent season. I will pray for (and with) others in my Church who may feel disenfranchised; who feel left out; shut out; and alone. We may be silenced but our silent prayers cannot be stopped. And we are companions on the journey. God alone listens to our hearts and responds.

O come, Desire of nations, bind in one the hearts of all humankind; Bid thou our sad divisions cease, And be thyself our Prince of Peace.

Advent 2012May you find love, joy, comfort, but mostly peace in this Advent season.

Peace,

Denis

I Give Up!

It’s Lent and Catholics are expected time to ‘give up’ something. In years past I believed that by  ‘giving up’ or ‘doing without’ I was able to prove my mettle. I could wear it like a badge of honor – “Look at me – I’m stoic.” “I must be holy and worthy because I gave up eating chocolate or drinking alcohol, or stopped using curse words (a personal favorite) for forty days!” But didn’t that miss the point? Could I continue to be a jerk and give up candy and God would still be pleased?

I don’t mean to trivialize something that millions hold so dear and I also know that many people choose to make Lenten sacrifices to honor the great sacrifice that Jesus made for us. But for me at times it all seems so silly – so superficial.

“When you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.” Matthew 6:17-18

This year, “I give up!” I will let go of my need to ‘let go’.  Instead I will make a concerted effort to ‘do something’. A few years ago a friend sent this to me. It’s not necessarily a Lenten ‘to do list’ but it could be. I’m going to give it a try:

This Year

Mend a quarrel ~ Seek out a forgotten friend

Dismiss suspicion and replace it with trust

Write a love letter ~ Share some treasure

Encourage youth ~ Appreciate one another

Manifest your loyalty in word and deed

Keep a promise ~ Find the time

Forgo a grudge ~ Forgive an enemy

Listen. Listen. Listen. ~ Apologize if you are wrong

Give a soft answer ~ Try to understand

Gladden the heart of a child

Examine your demands on others

Think first of someone else ~ Be kind; be gentle

Laugh a little ~ Laugh a little more

Deserve confidence ~ Flout envy

Take up arms against malice ~ Decry complacency

Express your gratitude ~ Welcome a stranger

Take pleasure in the beauty of the earth

Speak your love ~ Speak it again

Speak it once again

Peace,

Denis

Praying With Anna

My granddaughter Anna prays. And she prays like I wish we could all pray – unabashedly, joyfully and out loud! Of course most 3-1/2 year olds don’t have much inhibition. They’re still too young to be controlled by peer pressure. So I suppose that announcing loudly that she “needs to go potty” or pointing out someone’s obvious physical flaw falls into the same category as public prayer – there’s nothing wrong with it. Time will tell. Hopefully she will learn that some public comment should remain private but I hope that she never loses her zeal for prayer.

Holy Anna

Last week we had lunch at one of her favorite places, Chik-fil-A® and before eating she began singing loudly: 

Thank you Jesus, thank you Jesus; For our food, for our food; And our many blessings, and our many blessings; We love You, we love You!” to the tune of ‘Frere Jacque’, complete with hand gestures. Amen!

Some passersby smiled. Some seemed puzzled. Some seemed genuinely touched by her prayer. Of course I had previously witnessed her new meal prayer ritual and was thrilled that she would sing out in public. God bless her parents and her preschool teacher for teaching her to love Jesus.

One evening last month I was asked to lead the Rosary at our parish. For those of you that don’t know, the Rosary is an ancient prayer of our church that dates back over a thousand years. The Rosary beads are used to mark prayers said in repetition while meditating on the mysteries of Jesus’ life on earth. I used to think that the Rosary was just for the blue-haired old ladies of our parish but I’ve come to honor the tradition that it represents and respect those that have gone before me in their devotion to Mary and the Saints. My Aunt Minnie must be smiling down from heaven.

Anna’s parents, Bess and Travis, had gone out to celebrate their anniversary the evening that I was to lead Rosary and Deb and I had Anna and baby brother Noah for the evening. I decided to take Anna with me. Not certain if she could stand still for the 20 minutes or so that it would take to pray at the grotto, I asked the Holy Spirit to look down on her and be with her. I needn’t bother – Jesus held her up for all of us there to witness.

Although she got a little wiggly at times, she stood beside me with her own little rosary and prayed along. At times I lost my place because I could hear Anna’s tiny voice praying, “Hail Mary, full of grace…” But somehow it only made our prayer gathering that much more meaningful for me. This wasn’t something rehearsed or practiced – this was just pure joy.

At the conclusion of prayer I thanked the small gathering for their patience with us and apologized for whatever distraction Anna might have caused. I was assured by everyone that Anna had made the prayer especially beautiful. I was told by one person that he was quite certain that Mary’s statue could be seen smiling. I don’t think that plaster can smile but I know that I was beaming!

Pray on, Anna, pray on! Pawpaw’s learning to do the same.

Peace,

Denis