Caring for All Creation

imagesBack a few weeks ago, we decided to pray outside for our weekday mass honoring the words of Pope Francis’ new encyclical Ladatio Si.  It was lovely but I also noticed one thing:

It was hot.

In the last five years or so, I have found it difficult to be outside because the heat is often too much for me.  Now hear me carefully, I love to be outside.  But I’m finding it more and more difficult because the temperature is much higher and the humidity much more unbearable.

If this is global warming, I’m not playing this game.   And anyone who denies that we play a part in this each and every day, is simply kidding themselves.

I’m honored that the Pope has written such an amazing call to action for the global community.  Hear that! The Pope is challenging all people, not just Catholic people, to care more diligently for the earth.

Our difficulty in taking up this challenge seriously has much to do with an ethical and cultural decline which has accompanied the deterioration of the environment. Men and women of our postmodern world run the risk of rampant individualism, and many problems of society are connected with today’s self-centred culture of instant gratification. We see this in the crisis of family and social ties and the difficulties of recognizing the other. Parents can be prone to impulsive and wasteful consumption, which then affects their children who find it increasingly difficult to acquire a home of their own and build a family. Furthermore, our inability to think seriously about future generations is linked to our inability to broaden the scope of our present interests and to give consideration to those who remain excluded from development. Let us not only keep the poor of the future in mind, but also today’s poor, whose life on this earth is brief and who cannot keep on waiting. Hence, “in addition to a fairer sense of intergenerational solidarity there is also an urgent moral need for a renewed sense of intragenerational solidarity”

So what is that to all of us mean?  It means that we have a responsibility for the earth. And in celebrating stewardship we are called to love the earth as St Francis did and as Pope Francis does. Smartly, Pope Francis links this global crisis additionally to a care for the poor.  How many live in poor environmental conditions because of our unwillingness to reduce our dependence on the comforts of our developed world?  How many places have no drinking water or minimally no clean drinking water?

Today I will call myself to consider the environment more intentionally and make changes in my own life that will be good for both me and the world.  I’m trying to eat less meat, recycle as much as possible and reduce my driving as much as I can.  I’m sure they’ll be more to do–but for now this is a good start.

So let us pray for all those who are living in less than adequate conditions and face the world each day a little poorer because of our consumption. Let us pray for more sustainable solutions so that all might live a bit more freely in peace and security.

Pope Francis: Wearing His Heart on His Sleeve

SleeveThis is the sleeve of Pope Francis.  Tattered, like much of the poor are throughout their lives each day.  Again, Pope Francis reminds us of the priorities we need to have in a simple and yet profound way.

I’m sure the lack of attention to tailoring is intentional on his part and not forgetful.   My guess is that at some point someone may have pointed it out to him and he replied, “What are you talking about?  It’s fine!  Lots of wear in this left.”

Photo Credit: People for Others.

Pope to Visit New York as well as Philly and D.C.

As rumored, Pope Francis will likely make a trip to New York as well as Washington, D.C.

Newsday has the scoop, quoting Joe Zwilling, Director of Communications for the Archdiocese.of New York.

Zwilling said a visit to New York makes sense for a number of reasons. This year is the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s address to the United Nations in 1965, when he was the first pope to visit the United States.

One of the more exciting things in this story is that Pope Francis may be making a trip to Fordham, my alma mater.  Some have said that the Pope wants to visit some areas where people struggle with poverty.  The Bronx is certainly an area where poverty is evident and I spent a good deal of time at POTS, the Fordham soup kitchen called Part of the Solution which serves many of the hungry in the borough.

So pack your bags.  I’m planning to try to be there.

Pope Francis Names Cardinals on the Margins

The Pope named 15 new Cardinals today most from countries that have not had representation recently. No Americans as Chicago, Los Angeles and Philadelphia would be options for red hats but there’s usually a wait for the former Cardinals of those Archdioceses to pass the voting age of 80.

The Pope is preferring Bishops from the global south and moderates including as John Allen reports at Crux

Archbishop John Atcherley Dew from New Zealand, for instance, argued for allowing divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion at a 2005 Vatican synod of bishops. Archbishop Ricardo Blázquez Pérez is president of the Spanish bishops’ conference and generally seen as a moderate opposed to the harder line of former Madrid Cardinal Antonio María Rouco Varela.

The other newly named Cardinals are:

Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura

Archbishiop Manuel José Macario do Nascimento Clemente, Patriarch of Lisbon (Portugal)

Archbishop Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel, C.M., of Addis Abeba (Ethiopia)

Archbishop Edoardo Menichelli of Ancona-Osimo (Italy)

Archbishop Pierre Nguyên Văn Nhon of Hà Nôi (Viêt Nam)

Archbishop Alberto Suàrez Inda of Morelia (Mexico)

Archbishop Charles Maung Bo, S.D.B., of Yangon (Myanmar)

Archbishop Francis Xavier Kriengsak Kovithavanij of Bangkok (Thailand)

Archbishop Francesco Montenegro of Agrigento (Italy)

Archbishop Daniel Fernando Sturla Berhouet, S.D.B., of Montevideo (Uruguay)

Bishop José Luis Lacunza Maestrojuán, O.A.R., of David (Panamá)

Bishop Arlindo Gomes Furtado, of Santiago de Cabo Verde (Archipelago of Cape Verde)

Bishop Soane Patita Paini Mafi of Tonga (Island of Tonga)

In addition honorary Cardinals beyond the age of 80 were named:

José de Jesús Pimiento Rodriguez, Archbishop Emeritus of Manizales

Archbishop Luigi De Magistris, Major Pro-Penitentiary Emeritus

Archbishop Karl-Joseph Rauber, Apostolic Nuncio

Luis Héctor Villaba, Archbishop Emeritus of Tucumán

Júlio Duarte Langa, Bishop Emeritus of Xai-Xai

Pray for the new red hats who will be officially given their red hats in February.

2014: Get Lost!

So the end of a crappy, crappy year is upon us. I spent today taking my beloved pet, Haze Hayes to the eye doctor who thankfully sent him home with meds and not with surgery plans.

Might as well end on a sort of an up note.

But the Holy Father noted today that the end of a year should be marked by gratefulness, for what has been and for what will be, but more importantly…

“…the Church teaches us to end the year, and in fact each day, with an examination of conscience. This devout practice leads us to thank God for the blessings and graces we have received, and to ask forgiveness for our weaknesses and sins.

The fundamental reason for our thanksgiving, the Pope explained, is that God has made us His children. It is true, he said, that we are all created by God – but sin has separated us from the Father, and has wounded our filial relationship with Him. And so “God sent His Son to redeem us at the price of His Blood.” We were children, the Pope continued, but we became slaves. It is precisely the coming of Jesus in history that redeems us and rescues us from slavery, and makes us free.”

This indeed is true. And so here’s a look back at some of the great things in 2014.

From the World of Medicine
My father survived a bout with colon cancer.
The dog went through a lot of surgery but lived despite it all.
Great doctors, great vets are a sure sign of thankfulness.
Two tough guys duked it out with illness and prevailed.

From the World of Vocation
3 semesters into being the director of Campus Ministry with ups and downs, joys and sorrows.
New initiatives taking hold as we move forward.
Appreciative students who make it all worthwhile and easy.
Good colleagues and friends continue to bring much joy and companionship, especially on tough days.
I’ve developed a greater appreciation for order, calmness and beauty.
That God-forsaken rickety ugly church sign is gone and replaced by a lovely smaller sign affixed to the outer church wall.
I will be editing/writing a new retreat manual for the U.S Pilgrims with two of my favorite colleagues.

From the World of Relationship
Marion and I have been together for 14 years, 12 of them married.
That girl, loves me, you know?!
And I love her more with each passing day.

So the year hasn’t been all bad.  And in the process, I will begin a new year of more focused blogging again.  So I am indeed grateful for much…and for you dear reader.

And so we pray…

Dear Lord, teach me to be grateful and patient.
Teach me to find you in all things, past, present and what will be.
In these things, remind me that I need to see the goodness in the world
Even when times are tough.
Mostly, Lord,
Teach me to find you in all things
For your love and grace are enough for me
If I but remember this all the year through.
Amen.

 

 

Do You Believe in Santa Claus?

I wrote a bit about this before but one of my former colleagues used to say that placing Santa into a Catholic Mass in any way sends a mixed message.

And I say he’s as wrong as wrong could be!

Why? Well, lest we forget, Santa Claus is a saint! And that makes Santa a Catholic, a Bishop, even!

And the real St. Nicholas was a 4th Century Bishop who was renown for his care for poor families. He would try to provide money for desperate families who would be forced to send their daughter’s into a life of prostitution in order to survive. So he would throw a gold bar through their open window and that would provide a dowry for the daughter to be married. If their window was closed, he wouldn’t give up–he’d climb to the roof and throw the gold bar down the chimney!

Santa reminds me of a great Jesuit that we have come to call Pope Francis. The usual trappings of the Papacy haven’t stopped him from going the extra yard for the poor. One of his colleagues upon his election even said to him to “Congrats! Do not forget about the poor.” Knowing of course how easy it would be to forget about the poor in the fancy Vatican residence. And reportedly, the Pope leaves that fancy place and goes into the streets at night to spend time with the poor. Can you imagine?

Santa Claus was a lot like that. He was so beloved that even non-religious people made a real person into a legend–but that legend sprang from his dedication to Christ.

So I do believe in Santa—because to not believe is to not be dedicated to Christ and to all those we are called to be dedicated to.

Is there a more famous saint than Santa Claus? That’s doubtful. He’s certainly the easiest to recognize and the one who has effected so many lives. By the same token, I’m sure the real St Nick is none too happy about how commercialized Christmas has become.

So perhaps that’s our job these days? Maybe instead of all the presents we buy, we might ask how we can go the extra yard, taking our dollars and putting them at the service of the poor in some way?

To do so, honors Santa and in turn, Christ. It also sounds like the message of Francis, who has been one of the better gifts that we could have gotten this year.

So today let’s pray in the spirit of Pope Francis, Saint Nicholas and of course, Christ, that the poor might be given dignity and a safe harbor during this Christmas time. Maybe we can consider who is sleeping on the streets and who might be awake but lonely? And perhaps we need Santa to move our hearts just a bit more so we might be filled with joy and love that comes with the birth of a Savior from a God who loves us so magnanimously!

Obsessed With Others…In Good and Bad Ways

Today’s NY Times has reporter Laurie Goodstein talking about Conservative Catholics (her term, not mine) being disenchanted with Pope Francis. One particular commenter stuck out for me.

Steve Skojec, the vice president of a real estate firm in Virginia and a blogger who has written for several conservative Catholic websites, wrote of Francis’ statements: “Are they explicitly heretical? No. Are they dangerously close? Absolutely. What kind of a Christian tells an atheist he has no intention to convert him? That alone should disturb Catholics everywhere.”

Should it? I’m not sure it should. Don’t get me wrong, I’d be gloriously happy if we had a bunch of new Catholics around, but I’m not sure I can MAKE anyone convert to our faith. I also think it would be haughty for me to think I could.

The truth is that we can’t control anyone and often, at least I find that there are many who are overly concerned about control. They need to have rigid rules and strict adherence to those rules–not merely for themselves, the one person that they actually have control over, but also for others. There seems to be a constant preoccupation with influencing others and their beliefs.

But shouldn’t we be obsessed with others? That’s the forthcoming question and my answer is a certain yes, but not with an eye towards controlling them and making them into who we hope they will be–any parent knows all too all well that this is a recipe for disaster. Rather, we need to be obsessed with people who are far too often left out. We need to be obsessed with those who face poverty, with those who can’t care for their children, with those who are elderly and lonely.

And by being obsessed and working closely to care for their needs and even more so, by changing the systems that keep people in vulnerable situations, we, in fact, convert others without controlling them or even saying a word.

We are most powerful when we are not merely living FOR others but also living WITH others. When we don’t exert our power over another but have the courage to be with people in solidarity. Giving people the freedom to be who they are and being humble enough to realize that we don’t always have all the answers.

A prime example: As the director of Campus Ministry there’s obviously a power imbalance between my students and myself. Less so, but still there, is a different kind of power imbalance between the campus ministry staff and myself.

I find that I’m a much more effective director with the campus ministry staff when I am open and honest with them. When I share my feelings with them. When I am able to be myself and allow them to see me as a person who cares for their professional needs and doesn’t just want them to complete tasks.

With students when I can care and empathize with their struggles and share a bit of my own, I find I can develop a deeper relationship with them. One based on mutual trust instead of my authority as an administrator. When I can treat each person as an individual instead of trying to get everyone to just get in line and do what I want, I find people are more willing to give me the benefit of the doubt most of the time, mostly because they know I have their best interests at heart.

When we are far too concerned about the results, we miss the person standing in front of us. We also keep people at an arm’s length–as if we only care about them as they relate to our success, our conversion rate, if you will, where numbers on converts trump caring for people despite what they believe and emphasizing that conversion lies in coercion instead of realizing that the conversion of souls lies in the person’s development in their relationship with God, not in their relationship with you.

We need to give people freedom and be obsessed with their lives, not with our own.

And People Are Crazy…

When I was a talk radio producer I had a hierarchy of “callers”, people who would call into a talk show trying to get on the air to voice their opinion. My hierarchy was as follows in reverse order:

3) You had a very intelligent point, succinctly made and you could go toe to toe with the host intelligently and passionately.

2) You were angry and you would make the host go ballistic. Or you made me laugh and I thought the host would either laugh or get mad at you.

And #1) You were just lame enough to be funny. Not in a sad or pathetic way, but in a way that was just lame enough that we could get one good laugh out of you.

It also convinced me that there are a lot of loonies in the general public–and I mean that in the best way possible.

So today I read a beautiful article by Fr. James Martin, S.J. on the Pope’s recent embrace and kiss of a disfigured man with a horrible skin condition. His main point is succinct:

Even more broadly, for believers, the Pope’s kiss reminds us of God. This is the way God loves us. God loves us in all our pain, in all our struggles, in all our humanity.
Few of us suffer from such a terrible disease as does the man in the photo; not many of us are physically disfigured. But many of us feel internally disfigured – unworthy of unconditional love. Yet God wants nothing more than to embrace us as tightly as the Pope’s embrace.

But then I read the comments below and just felt like the democracy of internet is creating way too many “minor league radio callers” with the folks who write into the com boxes. One person even suggested that Fr. Jim kill himself–which if it happened in my day was enough to get you banned for life. Another suggested that God doesn’t exist and that Fr. Jim’s article was akin to buffoonery. Of course, they made the same old arguments that we’re all sick and tired of hearing. Nothing new. Not even anything creative.

They are not getting close to being just lame enough to be funny.

A colleague of mine recently invited me to plan some events and to invite some “friendly atheists” to the conversation. I asked him what I should do about “unfriendly atheists”? His response was great. He said that we have to stay in conversation with people who are willing to have an intelligent conversation and dismiss those who simply cannot maintain a conversation or who simply don’t want to be part of one.

So tonight I will begin my prayers by asking God to bless those who are unable to have a conversation and who more importantly, find it necessary to be mean. I pray that we can find ways to talk with one another. And I pray that we don’t get discouraged in this work, this vital work that can indeed bring about peace in the world.

And I pray that everyone can see that ugliness comes in many forms. There are many in the world who would call the man who the Pope embraced “ugly”. But the truth is that I find attitudes to be far uglier than any physical attribute.

And here is the Pope who, like God, is unafraid of touching the ugly parts of who we are.

What about us? Who are we all too eager to dismiss? Who do we cast off and cast out? Who are we so uncharitable to, to the point of denigrating?

We are called to touch these people with our own willingness to stay in conversation with those we can talk to despite the difficulty in doing so. And that can get ugly. It can get painful and vengeful and just simply put, sinful.

May God inspire us to stay in conversation with each other and in doing so may we be healed and renewed.

Sometimes a Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

vatican-pope-francis

Pope Francis touches and kisses a man with neurofibromatosis, a genetic condition that causes thousands of tumors and much pain to those afflicted with this. How many of us would dare to touch this person, even though there is nothing to fear in doing so.

Papa Francisco, thank you for showing us how to live and how to care for people who need our touch.

Photo credit: NY Daily News