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Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Watch Movies. (And Pray!)

During this time of "shelter-in-place" and "lock-down", we are spending unprecedented amounts of time at home. It is easy to become restless and bored. One way to get through these days is to deepen our practice of prayer. Another way to pass the time is to watch movies. With a little creativity, we can do both.

There are some wonderful cinematic masterpieces that are thoughtful and beautiful films.  Included below are five of my personal favorites. In addition to a brief synopsis of the movie, I also have added some questions for consideration that might help make the time spent in front of the television a little bit more reflective and prayerful.

Of Gods and Men 
This brilliant film tells the true story of Dom Christian and six other Trappists who make the decision to remain in Algeria during the 1996 civil war. Each man gradually decides to stay out of great love for the Algerian people. Get the tissues ready for the monks' "last supper" scene.
What difficult decisions have you had to make in your life?
How did you arrive at your decision?

Jesus of Nazareth 
Franco Zeffirelli's 1977 made-for-television drama is visually stunning. The countryside, the costumes, and even some of the actors look like they were pulled from the pages of the New Testament. The entire series runs six hours, so if you are aiming to watch this film in one sitting,  I recommend the final two hours. (Begin with the raising of Lazarus).
How do I see and hear Jesus in my own life?
How does the message of Jesus impact my life now?

It's a Wonderful Life
While so many of us will associate this film with the Christmas season, the message of a noble life lived for others needs to be emphasized year-round. Along with some iconic performances, this film delivers a timeless message that selfless love is still purposeful.
How do I live my life for others with generosity and selflessness?
Looking back at my past, what were key moments in which I recognize God at work in my life?

The Mission
Set in the jungles of South America, The Mission tells the story of Jesuit missionaries who seek to authentically encounter the native tribes with the good news of the gospel. The Jesuit missionaries must confront the greed and violence forced upon the indigenous peoples by European colonizers.
How can I stand in solidarity with those who are abused, marginalized, and forgotten about?
In what ways can I evangelize and share the good news of the gospel?

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
This film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's beloved fantasy novel utilizes many Christian allusions. The journey follows a band of heroes who must destroy the corrupting forces of a powerful ring.
What are some of the sins and forces of evil that I confront in my life and in the world around me?
Who do I consider part of my "fellowship" during this journey of life?  

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Jesus Raises Us Up

“He stinketh,” Martha protests as Jesus suggests they roll away the stone from Lazarus’ tomb.  Her brother Lazarus, dead now for four days, will certainly carry the stench of decay. Thus, in polite language taken from the King James version of the Bible, we hear: “He stinketh.”

Really, this line from today’s Gospel is revelatory of the unfolding narrative…. the whole situation stinks! Mary and Martha must face the fact that their life is utterly changed. The sisters from Bethany mourn what once was and now face an uncertain future without Lazarus.  Prior to the sleep of death, as Lazarus declined in health, he too must’ve struggled with his inevitable fate. Then, death comes. Lazarus lies silent, wrapped in burial cloths in the cold, dark tomb.

It doesn’t take much imagination to apply these elements from the Gospel of John to our own situation today. The outbreak of COVID-19 has utterly changed the normalcy of our lives. Our calendars, once filled with celebrations, are now eerily empty. We wrestle with what the future holds regarding our health, our jobs, and our finances. We watch as the number of confirmed virus cases rise each day, and with that, the number of deaths. The quarantine forced upon us, though very necessary, is much like a tomb experience. We struggle with our own powerlessness and vulnerability in this bleak time.

“And Jesus wept.” This is Jesus’ reaction to the deeply painful experiences that surrounded him and engulf us today. Jesus is saddened that his good friends must share in the sorrow of grief and uncertainty. Jesus groans and cries because of the loss of his dear friend. Jesus sobs at the reality of death and the darkened tomb, a reality he will soon face and a reality that every person must endure. The whole situation stinks. And so, “Jesus wept.”

"The Resurrection of Lazarus" by Henry Ossawa Tanner

Of course, this is not the end of the story. Neither Lazarus’ story, nor our own, ends with Jesus crying at the stench-filled tomb. Rather, Jesus acts. Jesus manifests God’s undying love by raising Lazarus from the tomb. Jesus demonstrates that divine love has no limits; it even pushes to the realm of the dead. Jesus alone is the Resurrection and the Life who transforms our experiences of mourning, sorrow, and death itself.

As we go through these upcoming weeks of uncertainty, we remember that Jesus suffers alongside us. As we endure our own tomb experience due to this current pandemic, we look to Jesus to transform us into a people of Life and Resurrection. With the love of Jesus, we can confidentially endure the darkness of this current moment. We look for the every-day moments when God’s love proves to be stronger than the power of death. Even as we weep and mourn – as we admit that this time really does stink – may we never forget that in Jesus, God’s limitless love will find us. As Lazarus once experienced and as we soon will know, Jesus always raises us up.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Who's Your Hero?

Hopefully, each of us can look to certain individuals as exemplars of virtue. I often seek out the example of these heroes, learning ways in which I can become more faithful, patient, loving, and generous.

One of my heroes includes Oscar Romero of El Salvador. Romero was named archbishop of San Salvador in 1977 during a period of increasing violence, terrorism, and civil war. It was believed that Romero would be a safe choice as archbishop, passively sitting by while those with economic, political, and military power continued to oppress the poor and marginalized populations. However, Romero underwent a conversion of heart, especially after his friend Padre Rutilio Grande, S.J. was killed.

For nearly three years, Oscar Romero spoke truth to power. Romero challenged the oppression caused by unjust government policies and economic practices. He condemned the violence of both sides, advocating instead for the "violence of love" as demonstrated by Jesus. MonseƱor Romero sided with the weak and the helpless. Romero was, in turn, assassinated on March 24, 1980 as he celebrated the Eucharist.

I look to Saint Oscar Romero to inspire me, that I might always be open to a change of heart. I hope that I can be as courageous as San Oscar, standing up for the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized. I seek to be faithful to my own vocational calling and generous with my life. I ask the holy bishop-martyr of San Salvador to renew the fire of justice, peace, and love within me.

There are many such role models and examples in our world today. So, I invite you to comment on this post, answering the following questions: Who's your hero? Why?

Monday, March 23, 2020

Trust in God

Image result for Teresa of AvilaTeresa of Avila was a 16th-century Carmelite nun and reformer in Spain. Saint Teresa was witty, sharp, intense, and austere. Yet, she was also deeply in love with Jesus Christ and wrote magnificent treatises on the Christian spiritual life. Due to her incredible faith and contributions to spiritual theology, Teresa of Avila was named one of only thirty-six "Doctors of the Church."

The following prayer, penned by Teresa, was found only after her death in 1582. She had written it down on a scrap of paper to use as a bookmark. May these simple-yet-profound words of trust in God alone sit deep within us this day:

Let nothing disturb you;                      Nada te turbe;
Let nothing frighten you.                    Nada te espante;
All things are passing.                        todo se pasa;
God never changes.                            Dios no se muda.
Patience obtains all things.                 La paciencia todo lo alcanza.
Those who have God,                        Quien a Dios tiene
are never lacking.                               nada le falta.
God alone suffices.                            Solo Dios basta.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

A Song of Hope

I've returned to blogging after a long hiatus. I didn't have much time to sit and collect my thoughts for this page, as I have been joyfully busy as a parish priest now for nearly two years. Of course, so much of the day-to-day ministry has come grinding to a near halt due to the Corona Virus pandemic. This time in quarantine has afforded me an opportunity to return to this page and share some thoughts of hope and faith during such an uncertain moment in the life of our world.

Really, the idea of blogging came to me today as I was praying Morning Prayer - which is part of the Liturgy of the Hours, the universal prayers of the Church which includes psalms, canticles, scripture passages, petitions, and reflections from various saints that are prayed daily by clerics, religious, and many lay faithful throughout the world.

Each Morning Prayer includes the Canticle of Zechariah (see Luke 1:68-79). This is the song that the father of John the Baptist belted out upon the birth, circumcision, and naming of his son. Zechariah praises and blesses the Lord for the liberation that God has offered to God's People. Zechariah then looks to his infant son John, and offers a prophecy of his mission as preparing the way for the Christ. Finally, in stunningly beautiful language, Zechariah prays: "In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace."

This daily prayer can become our own song of hope. Yes, even in the darkest night, we know that Jesus Christ, Light of the world, will usher in another dawn. We believe that Jesus Christ offers us a peace which the world cannot give. In Jesus Christ, we experience the very face of the Father's compassion and mercy. While the pall of death is ever-present, so is the life-saving and self-sacrificial work of doctors and nurses, modeled after Jesus the Divine Physician. Though now is the time of the cross, we believe that resurrection and new life will follow.

So my friends, let us make Zechariah's song our own. Let us not be robbed of hope.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

"Rebuild My Church"

It seems that the Church is collapsing all around us.

For decades, the number of people regularly worshiping and participating in their faith communities has plummeted. Ideology has displaced the role of theology. Values contrary to the gospel have crept into our Church. Most devastating of all, vulnerable children became victims of sexual abuse committed by clergy and their crimes were covered-up by ecclesiastical leaders.

In light of these troubling realities, it is worth reflecting on the call of Saint Francis of Assisi to give us guidance.

After years of partying, living extravagantly, and violent fighting, Francis began to journey back to the Christian faith. During this period of re-conversion, Francis lived more simply and generously.

Francis performed works of mercy.
He also began to pray more.

One day, as he prayed before the cross in the dilapidated ancient chapel of San Damiano, Francis heard a very distinct voice saying:
"Rebuild My Church!"

Initially, Francis believed that he was being summoned by God to rebuild the chapel of San Damiano, which he did brick by brick. However, the more Francis embraced the Gospel in his life, the more he realized that the Lord was actually calling him to rebuild the Church - not necessarily brick by brick - but rather person by person.

Throughout his life, Francis worked to rebuild the Church. While some in the Church marginalized the sick and suffering, Francis cleaned and kissed their wounds. While some in the Church acquired unbridled wealth, Francis embraced voluntary poverty. While some in the Church clung onto their individual power, Francis gathered together a community of brothers and sisters. While some in the Church became greedy, Francis lived peacefully alongside all of God's Creation. While some in the Church condemned sinners, Francis preached the good news of salvation. While some in the Church called for war with enemies, Francis risked his life to make peace.

San Damiano Crucifix
Person by person, Saint Francis helped to rebuild the Church in the 13th century.

You and I know the many, many problems facing our Church today. We know that so much needs to
be rebuilt. Right now, just as it happened 800 years ago, the crucified and risen Christ is speaking to our hearts from a place of ruin and decay. He is saying: "Rebuild My Church." 

We might be tempted to think we are not equipped for this mission, that we don't have the proper background, training, or education. But neither did Francis. However, Saint Francis did embrace the values of the Gospel: He was prayerful. He sought community. He preached. He lived simply and humbly. He listened. He acted. He loved.

If we are guided by the Spirit of God and the example of Francis, then you and I also can help rebuild the collapsing Church... person by person.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The Broken Body of Christ is Still Here

Last Wednesday, our parish community hosted an evening of silent prayer before the Eucharistic Lord. We described this prayer moment as "The Broken Body of Christ: A Time to Pray for the Victims of Child Sexual Abuse and Betrayal". The invitation to pray was extended to our parishioners as well as to the Christian faithful throughout the city of Scranton.

Through simple exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, a reading from 1 Corinthians 11:23-29, a brief reflection, and prayerful silence, we, the members of Christ's broken body, offered our prayers for healing for those members of the Body who were violated, sexually abused by clergy, and disregarded by ecclesiastical leaders.

The most profound moment in prayer for me came near the end of this time in silence. I recall looking around our spacious worship site. Though few members of the Body were present, what I did notice nevertheless filled me with great hope:

I noticed three married couples, spanning ten to fifty years together. 
I noticed several religious sisters, most with eyes closed in silent prayer.
I noticed the shrill laugh and scream of a young child echo through the church.
I noticed the tears on the cheeks of an older member of our community.
I noticed the Episcopalian priest and her intent gaze at the Eucharist.
I noticed the languages of Spanish and English spoken in the peoples' prayers.

I noticed that the Body of Christ, though broken, is still here.

Yes, we are the Broken Body of Christ. We continue to pray for the victims of child sexual abuse and betrayal. We pray for justice for the survivors of abuse and we pray for authentic reform of those structures that allowed this to happen. We pray that this Broken Body might one day be made whole again.

Christ is still here in this Broken Body. And this gives me hope.