Rebuilding Christ’s Church

Congratulations to Br. Dan Horan, OFM, who will be ordained this coming week and who just graduated as the Valedictorian of the last class at Washington Theological Union, which is closing.

Over at his fine blog, Dating God, Br. Dan speaks of the ornateness of the Basilica of St Mary in Assisi, Italy in his valedictory address and how his meditation there led him into a deeper vocational call that has a message for each of us.

As the conference winded down, I snuck away early to pray at the little chapel that is the mother church and founding location for the Franciscan movement.

Called the Portiuncula, or “the little portion,” this centuries-old chapel is about the size of one of our WTU classrooms. It is small and simple and was the church most loved by Francis of Assisi. In the centuries after his death, the Franciscans and the universal church, in order to honor and protect this sacred space, built a gigantic basilica over the Portiuncula.

The basilica church is simply huge, with an imposing presence outside in the open piazza and inside with its massive and overarching structure of marble and stone. My thought has always been that Francis was likely rolling in his grave at the thought of such opulence and excess. But then I realized something that might be insightful for us today. I asked myself: Where is the Church of St. Mary of the Angels? Is it this massive, imposing, stone basilica? Or is it the tiny, fragile, simple church, which is housed within?

The more I considered it, the more I realized that on the one hand, it is both. They are intertwined, the large church protects and shelters the small church, it provides the context and sets the environment. Yet, the small church gives meaning and purpose to the large basilica and it is where Francis’s heart was located. His work and his way of life arose out of the small church – the little portion – and transformed religious life and spirituality forever. If Francis were alive today, I wonder if he wouldn’t still have problems with the big, imposing basilica; with its opulence and with the message it seems to project about what is important and what is not. But, Francis would likely not be as bothered as I can be at times today as a friar coming “home” to the spiritual center of my religious order. He would, I think, still focus his attention and energy and direct his love toward the little Church, the Portiuncula.

It is there that he came to hear the quiet voice of the Spirit calling him to live his baptismal vocation to the fullest.

It was there that the early brothers, inspired by the would-be saint, joined Francis in fraternity and ministry.

It was there that the young noblewoman Clare of Assisi professed her commitment to follow Francis’s way of life.

It was there that women and men, the poor and the privileged, the powerful and the marginalized alike sought out the pastoral care and spiritual guidance of the man who would become Christianity’s most popular saint.

It was there, at the Portiuncula, that Francis asked to have his naked body laid so that, as he entered this world in total poverty and completely dependent on God, he might leave this world in similar fashion.

And, I came to realize while praying in the tiny church, that all of us here have our own Portiunculas, our own “small portions” of the church, like Francis had St. Mary of the Angels.

For some of the graduates, your Portiuncula is at the side of a hospital bed or in the waiting room of an oncology wing, where your hearts are led by the Spirit to reveal the compassionate face of our loving God to the sick and dying.

For some of the graduates, your Portiuncua is found in the parish church where you help form the spiritual life of the faithful, minister to people during their most joyful and sorrowful moments, and share the good news of Jesus Christ in so many ways.

For some of the graduates, your Portiuncula is located in the classroom, educating students about the richness of the theological and spiritual traditions of our faith, guiding and mentoring the next generation of Catholics and other Christians during their most formative years.

For some of the graduates, your Portiuncula is in place yet to be imagined in a world that so desperately needs the Gospel, and with people who wholeheartedly long for the life-giving word that God loves them and journeys with them in life.

Like Francis of Assisi, each of us graduates has received – in some form or another – the vocational call of the Spirit to “Rebuild Christ’s Church.”

Read the rest of his address, but know that this call is not just for graduates, rather it is for us all. We are all called to the Portiunculas of our lives. It may be to the bedside of a sick parent or child, to the homeless down the street, to the neighbor struggling to make ends meet, that co-worker who can’t seem to do anything right these days and fears unemployment and of course to all of those jobless and filled with worry.

And we are called to ourselves. Where our deepest fears need to meet with God’s mercy and love to find that God can meet us in the Portincula too and calm out fears and fulfill our deepest desires if we just hone our relationship with God a tiny bit more each day hearing the words of St. Peter, “To whom shall we go, Lord? You have the words of eternal life.”

Congratulations to WTU’s final class, especially Br. Dan and Rich Andre, CSP and Tom Gibbons, CSP. As ordination awaits each of you, may you be filled by the grace God imparts each day and may that grace lead you to be more of who God calls each of you to be.

And may God call each of us to the same vocation.

Go In Peace: Reflection for UB Graduation Sunday

Sorry for a late post on this. But here is my reflection from last night’s final mass of the semester.

Here’s a graduation story—my own from my undergraduate years at Fordham. It was an outdoor graduation and in the middle of the ceremonies it rained. And as bad as that might be—That rain didn’t stop our graduation speaker–whose name I can’t even recall— from talking for over 22 minutes in the cold mist about well frankly, I don’t remember what he said, I just remember being cold, being wet and not being able to find my family in all the confusion.

I also remember being afraid. Afraid I wouldn’t find a job, much less, a satisfying career. I was afraid I’d never get married, afraid that perhaps God didn’t really have my best interests at heart. By the end of that dreadful day, my parents were annoyed and didn’t even want to go out to celebrate which caused a huge argument between us.

In short, it was one of least peaceful days of my life…and I felt like God was far, far away.

But the truth is that God was working there. Perhaps all of that confusion mirrored the unsettling of my own soul. That I wasn’t really in touch with what God wanted for me at all. I didn’t really believe that God could satisfy all of my desires if I could just be open to listening to that still, small voice that called me to think about what I really wanted in life.

I had chosen to go into radio and I did that because people told me I had a good speaking voice and that’s would be a place I would do well. And I hated it. My gift of speaking was really more of a preaching voice, not a broadcaster’s pitch. But off I went into the world of radio–all the while ignoring where I felt the pull of God’s voice calling me.

And it took me 10 years to listen to that voice. Ah, that voice, that gnawed and prodded and kept telling me “YOU’RE NOT HAPPY HERE” That same voice that told me that I wasn’t satisfied with the relationship I had been in. That voice was calling me to make a change in my life. That voice that was eventually leading me into a place of peace.

Our readings today…are really all about finding that kind of peace—and they remind us that only when we are attuned to God’s voice can God then offer that peace to us.

And in our gospel today Jesus knows that disaster is coming. He is going to the cross and these disciples are all going to think that Jesus’ mission has been a failure. They will head to a locked upper room and not be able to move until that Holy Spirit—the advocate as Jesus calls the spirit—that Holy Spirit comes in anyway and blows off the doors and gives those disciples courage and fortitude and understanding and counsel and a healthy fear of God. These men are able to see that they can’t lock the Holy Spirit out of their lives–no matter how hard they might try. That the Holy Spirit keeps knocking and gnawing until we pay attention and most importantly, these men need that Holy Spirit to unlock not just the doors of that room but unlock the doors of their hearts in order to find peace within themselves.

And of course, Jesus knows that. And so, well in advance of the disaster he makes a promise to send that Holy Spirit to help them. So that not just the disciples but, we all, might remember that in our darkest hour—all we need to do is to let those doors open to listen to that voice of God that resides within us. That asks us “What is it that you really want in life?” When we feel restless with our decisions can we recall the words of St Augustine who once said: “Lord, you have made us for yourself—and our hearts are restless, until they rest in you.”

Have you graduates and even you students who will remain with us — do you ever consider bringing God into the choices you make about who you will become? Because it is there that you will find peace.

And on this Mother’s Day that is all a mother could ever want for her child. Peace. And while you graduates celebrate today, your mothers are probably frantic with worry. The economy is not kind these days. Jobs are scarce. Many of you who are from Buffalo will be forced to leave this great city to find work elsewhere. Others may travel far away from mom, to begin a career that mom prepared you for from the day you came into her life. And maybe for a moment on that day you arrived–mom too, knew a bit of peace. She knew that that was exactly where she was supposed to be–with her child–this gift from God which brought her much peace—well, at least until you became a teen-ager anyway.

And now dear mothers you want that same kind of peace for your child, do you not? That kind of peace that lets you know you have made a great choice. That kind of peace that is life-giving and sustaining. That kind of peace that God offers to us when we are living a life that we are meant to be living.

But we bring a lot of our own baggage to this life, don’t we? Sometimes we choose things that often bring discord into our lives. Don’t we sometimes choose careers that value money or fame instead of service to others? Don’t we sometimes choose relationships based on superficial attraction instead of finding someone who really values us for who we are? Don’t we want something for our children that is better than what we have for ourselves without thinking about what it is that they really want and desire? Don’t we sometimes push others away because they aren’t exactly like us so that we can protect our own self-interests?

I think that’s what we call sin—and we all do it much to often. And because of that–because we rely on things that we think will satisfy us–we get reminded that we need that Holy Spirit in our lives to show us what we really desire in life. It’s why we need to come here at least once a week to remind ourselves that we need to be fed with the peace that Jesus offers to us with his very self—in bread and wine transformed by us so that we might be that same gift of self to the world.

Nearly 20 years ago I sat in this very cap and gown–totally unprepared for what the world was about to throw at me. And 10 years later, I thought I was a complete failure because I found my radio career was a big “so what” to me—this life I was living failed to satisfy me.

But the good news–and the news that Jesus wants us all to hear today is that the Advocate–the Holy Spirit–is always seeking us, even when we don’t seek him. That all Spirit never gives up on us and is always available for us. And when we choose to listen to that gnawing and prodding of that voice within our hearts–things can change for the better.

It’s what allows the early apostles in our first reading to open their hearts and to allow the gentiles into their community even though they aren’t circumcised. Something just didn’t feel right about excluding people because they weren’t the same as everyone else. What really matters is they are all together because of Jesus.

What is it that you may be being prodded by the spirit to change?
Students have you been open to where God may be calling you during your time here?
Mothers have you been able to unconditionally support that same call that God has for your child even when it might not be what you had in mind?
All of us here, can we all look to our mothers with gratitude today for what they had to endure for us to be where we are today?
Can we trust the spirit enough to let down our guard with others a bit, put aside our differences with one another and celebrate peace?

That’s what Jesus calls us to do, folks. That’s all he asks.

15 years after that rainy graduation day, I found myself on that same graduation line, at the same school, Fordham. Instead of an English degree it was a Religious Education Master’s. And I don’t think anyone will convince me that it was a coincidence that it was a beautiful day. 70 and sunny. I was given the honor of carrying the class banner in our procession. My parents had great seats and since I had made so many changes in my life–I was able to attract a beautiful woman who became my wife–and who beamed proudly that day after years of supporting me in school and in my ministry to young people. I had a great career in ministry and my first book was accepted for publication that week.

I felt an overwhelming sense of peace that afternoon. My wife and I had a great dinner with good friends, where the food, I swear to you, tasted better than it ever had before. The next day was Mother’s Day and we had a great dinner with my mother with no family squabbles—and in a Irish family that indeed is a miracle!

I truly believe that I had been given peace by the prodding of that Holy Spirit. And I felt God in my heart more alive that day that I had ever felt the presence of God in my life before. The day literally “gleemed with the splendor of God” the words we heard in our second reading from revelation. “Clear as crystal—where God’s glory gave it light.”

Today, let us all pray for one another that we can keep listening for that place where the Holy Spirit is calling us. And more importantly may we remember that we often miss God’s call in our lives–but we can always return home to that place of peace.

For our graduates, I hope this has been a place where you could come to find peace during your time here and that in the brief time that I have been your campus minister I hope I have been able to offer you peace at times when you’ve needed it. I think I speak for all of us here at St Joseph’s that it is our deepest prayer that as you leave us, you will find the peace that God offers to everyone.

And so Jesus leaves us with the words: “Peace I leave you…my peace I give to you. So do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”

And for those of you who leave us here, at UB—I pray that you can simply go in peace.

Congrats Graduates!

Some of my favorite student-leaders are graduating this year. Tonight was the start of the convocations beginning with the school of biological sciences and Jaime O’Connor who was one of many prayerful students who kept Campus Ministry alive here on the South Campus before my arrival.

As you can see I dressed for the occasion. I was running around for most of today and couldn’t find a parking spot at the convocation. Besides, everytime I go to the North Campus I get lost somehow.

Tomorrow Arts and Sciences graduate along with Pharmacy. Followed by the Dental Students and the Health Students on Saturday. Sunday is the big shebang with the formal commencement.

For those on campus we will be having mass on Sunday night at 8PM. St Joe’s 3269 Main Street next to South Campus.