Saturday, November 28, 2015

Advent Promise

Hey Church, here we go again! The holy season of Advent begins the liturgical year. The awesome prayers and readings will focus us on the core reason for the season:

God made a promise.

In the midst of our daily drama, He is with us. Though there are scary signs in the sun, moon and stars, He is with us. Even if the sea roars, the earth shakes and your life is filled with anxiety, He is with us.

So basically, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose ... What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:28-31)

+ Fr. Luke Mary Fletcher, CFR
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Monday, November 23, 2015

Are We Going to Hell?

One day I was the last guy in on a very packed elevator. I had to back in and pull my beard back from the closing doors. The man next to me could not see the buttons, so he asked, "Are we going to L?" I responded, "I hope not!" The crowded cubicle filled with nervous laughter. Then I commented, "But we do appear to be going down." Ponderous silence ensued. When the doors opened I announced, "No flames!"

During the end of the liturgical year, the readings at Mass focus us on the Last Things - death, judgment, heaven & hell. It can be spiritually fruitful to remember that we will die - "Frater, memento mori!" was a common greeting among medieval monks. When you die there is an elevator which transports your soul to your eternal abode. Elevators only go up or down. Don't press L.

+ Fr. Luke Mary Fletcher, CFR
Yonkers, NY
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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Something More: A Vocation Story

I was never able to remain in crowds.  In elementary school as soon as the bell rang for recess students were off like a pack of dogs chasing a ball into the playground.  A quiet country field became a spectacle of childhood games.  I too was like the rest of the kids, excited to do something, anything, after almost dying of boredom from the morning classes.  The excitement for me, however, was short-lived.  After playing kickball for a few minutes, I would often leave the game, sit against the wall, and gaze up at the sky.  For those few moments of pondering the sky life appeared to me like an ocean, wild and free, and there was a presence inviting me to swim in its waves.
When I was a senior in high school we students were obsessed with scoring high on the SAT’s, visiting our favorite colleges, attracting the opposite sex, and embodying the latest trend.  Our frantic attempts and failures at self-realization awoke in me a hunger for something more.  I began reading books of poetry, philosophy, religion and literature, and writing about my desire to see reality in its purest light, rather than live behind a wall of shadows.  While reading and writing I felt like a child again, in the presence of a loving parent who was inviting me to explore this road less traveled. 

After graduating from college everyone I knew went in three different directions: sending out resumes in search of a job, applying for graduate school, or preparing for marriage and family life.  Of these three, the only one I considered seriously was graduate school for either writing or philosophy.  I realized, however, the only reason I would choose graduate school was to make myself more appealing to future employers, something that was not bad, but something I was not interested in.  I would often visit the nearest church where I could be alone in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament to think and to pray, but mostly to listen.  There I often felt like I was in a dream in which everyone was sleep walking, and this mysterious presence was inviting me to wake everyone up.  Enlightened by this presence, I chose another path.  I gave up everything I owned and moved to New York City to begin living a life of poverty, chastity and obedience. 

Looking back, the way I understand my vocation to religious life is the desire for something more.  A part of me was attracted to the same things my friends were: marriage, a career, a family, and the many other good things of the world.  For me, the problem with them is that they were not enough.  When I sat in prayer, and I imagined a “normal” life, I knew immediately that could not satisfy me.       

Some of my more idealistic and philosophically oriented friends understood my vocation to be a social protest against capitalism and a heroic decision to fight for the rights and protection of the poor so as to eradicate human poverty.  Even now, after many years of living with the poor I still chuckle when I think about their misunderstanding of my vocation.  Who did they think I was after all?  By entering religious life I wasn’t protesting or fighting anything or anyone.   I didn’t choose religious life in anger against the government or social conditions, but to joyfully follow Him “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”(Revelation 1:8)

Every Christian, by virtue of Baptism, is called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.  What is unique about religious life is that it attempts to be radical.  It is not admiring His life from a distance or even walking hand in hand next to Him.  It is complete discipleship, following the Master not only where He goes, but how he lived while on earth.  Hence, religious life is sometimes referred to as the “perfect imitation” of Christ.  Perfect, not because those living religious life are perfect, but because the way of life they are choosing is the exact life the Son of Man lived while on earth.  Through the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience the religious radically imitates Christ. (Jn 4:34, Lk 9:58)  Like Jesus the religious chooses poverty for the sake of becoming rich in what matters to God.  He chooses chastity for the sake of a greater love.  And he chooses obedience because he wishes to be led ultimately by the Father.    

In a culture that is obsessed with sex, status, and material possessions the religious becomes a prophetic sign pointing to something more.  To the married couple the religious reminds them that their love for their spouse must be pure, holy, and life giving.  To the youth the religious provokes wonder and amazement in front of a way of life that society does not consider intuitive.  To politicians the religious reminds them that there is a higher law, and that God’s ways are the true path that leads to human freedom.  To the atheist the religious challenges them to reconsider, to probe deeper into their own hearts and discover the presence in which they “live and move and have their being.” (Acts 16:28)

It has been thirteen years since I left everything to follow Jesus.  In that time I have lived a full life.  I have been ordained a priest, preached all over the world, buried my own mother, spent endless hours with the homeless, prostitutes, drug addicts, and those suffering from mental illness, spent days and weeks alone with God in a hermitage, and lived in places I would have never imagined like Harlem, Newark, New Jersey, and Fort Worth, Texas.

Yet the most remarkable aspect of my life is the growing intimacy I experience with Jesus as I stumble along each day following in his footsteps.  Poverty, chastity, and obedience have purified me, humbled me, strengthened me, and have forced me to “seek the things that are above,” (Colossians 3:1) transforming me into a mature human being and an ardent disciple of Christ. 

Religious life certainly is not perfect.  The rules and customs can seem outdated, too idealistic, and even inhuman at times.  Sometimes my fear, pride, or stubbornness prevents me from simply being led “where [I] do not wish to go.” (John 21:18)  The people in religious life struggle with human problems like depression, fear, scrupulosity, self hate, and insecurity.  Even our superiors sometimes give commands that are not based on reason or even good discernment but on their own brokenness.  Through this imperfect reality one is given the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of Jesus who “was oppressed and afflicted…despised and rejected by men…wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities.” (Isaiah 53:7:3:5)

Despite my struggles with broken humanity, I have never once considered leaving religious life.  Why would I?  It has always lived up to its promise of leading me to something more.  I have discovered a treasure in a field, and like the man in the parable “in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Mt 13:44)  Yet as I grow older I am becoming increasingly aware there is still more of God, more human experiences, more life that I have yet to encounter.  In many ways I still feel like a child, fascinated by the simplest discovery yet far away from perfect maturity.  Currently I am living a more contemplative expression of Franciscan life, one that includes large doses of silence and solitude.  The reason is not because I want to avoid people, but because I am falling more deeply in love with the silent presence of God, who is continuing to invite me, even in this desire, to still something more.

+ Fr. Jeremiah Myriam Shryock, CFR
Monticello, NY
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Monday, November 16, 2015

Today's Gospel for Today

Blind man: "Jesus, Son of David, knock down the sight-blocking walls which surround my Jericho heart. Lord, please let me see!"

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Mighty Widow HolyHaiku

poor, yet rich in faith
outpour from her God-like heart
trust seeps from her pores

"Jesus sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, 'Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.' ”
Mark 12: 41-44

Thursday, October 29, 2015

What Waiting Obtains

A characteristic of the world, whether we like it or not and whether we wish to admit it or not, is that everything in this world is limited. We can only eat so much food before we get sick. We can only listen to so much music before our brains beg us for silence and we can only watch so much TV before we get bored and maybe even depressed.

A sign that we are beginning to mature is not only the realization of this fact but the acceptance of it in my life. By accepting the limited nature of this world, which includes other people, I stop hoping and expecting to find my ultimate fulfillment here. The irony is that by accepting life and other people as they really are, i.e., limited, I can begin to appreciate the beauty of life as it unfolds before me.

How then are we suppose to live in this world?

The Psalmist encourages us: “Wait for the Lord, be strong and let your heart take courage, yes, wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27:14). Waiting for God is no easy task. Perhaps there is nothing more difficult in this life than this. In times of darkness and difficulty we run to some “thing” hoping that it can ease our pain. But instead of reacting immediately, instead of running to some “thing” or someone we are called simply to wait upon God, the only one who knows no limits.

+ Fr. Jeremiah Myriam Shryock, CFR
Monticello, NY
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Monday, October 19, 2015

Beyond Death

I have lived almost my entire life, with the exception of two years, in the Northeast.  That is a total, in case you are curious, of thirty-four years.  When I travel and people ask me where I am from their first response is generally something between mystical wonder and childhood enthusiasm.   “Wow,” they often say, “you are lucky to live there.  So close to New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, the ocean, the mountains, etc.”   In other words, there is so much to do here, so many people, so many things happening.  Things are alive here!  Actually, if it was up to me I would live somewhere like Montana, Wyoming or Colorado where there is a lot of “nothing.”

One thing I love about the Northeast is the season of fall.  Every year, like clockwork, an impressive mystery occurs.  The leaves begin to sing.  Up until now they have been quiet, simply blending in and clothing the trees in their simple attire.

I am blessed right now to be living in upstate New York.   There are deer, black bears, foxes and many other creatures roaming around in my backyard.  Not only are the animals great and exciting to watch but I am surrounded by trees of all different shapes and sizes.  The leaves on those trees, now in mid October, are singing their final song.  For the next few weeks these woods will become a glorious spectacle of bright red, orange, yellow and brown.  People will be taking pictures, hiking trails will be crowded and artists will be attempting to paint this majestic scene.  And then it will be over.  The song of these leaves will end as these once brilliant leaves fall to their death.
When winter comes life can appear a bit stark.  Those beautiful leaves, once so colorful, have now disappeared.  The ground is frozen, the trees are barren, darkness hovers over the horizon and snowstorms taunt us with an endless array of possibilities.  And then, as almost by a miracle, the earth appears to be reborn.  The ground softens, the darkness descends into the horizon and the leaves return to the trees, leaving the earth youthful and vibrant.

The season of fall provides us with a mirror in which we can contemplate something much deeper than the changing of seasons, namely the mystery of death.  One of the many paradoxes in life is that by living we are also dying, undergoing throughout the years many “deaths.”  These deaths will be as unique as each person.  For some they could come as an illness, a financial problem or the end of a relationship.  It could be the death of a friend or parent, a dream that was shattered, or trying to move through a period of depression or loneliness.  For others it could be traffic jams, a boss who doesn’t recognize my potential or a prayer that God seems to be ignoring.  And then there is the big death, death itself.

Death, at least according to the rhythm of nature, is always a necessary means, not an end, to something greater.  The same is true with God.

When I was young I played baseball on a very competitive team.  Every morning during the summer before the official practice or game that evening I was out in my backyard throwing a ball against the wall practicing my pitches and working on other skills.  Those mornings I actually believed, due to a vivid imagination, that I was pitching for the Philadelphia Phillies and that there were thousands of people in my backyard yelling and cheering me on.  In fact, we even won a few World Series, at least in my imagination!

However, when I was 17 I came to a painful realization; I was never going to make it to the Major Leagues.  The main reason was simply because I was not good enough.  No matter how hard I practiced I lacked a certain level of skill that would enable me to advance to the Major Leagues.    For about three weeks or so I became depressed.  What else was there to live for?  What else was I going to do with my life?  I had spent so long thinking that my life had to be a certain way and when that idol was shattered I experienced a bit of a “death.”

As time went on I found myself immersed in other activities.  Since I was no longer playing baseball and devoting much of my existence to it I had time for things like writing, reading, hiking, mountain biking and becoming reacquainted with the Catholicism that was the very air I breathed as a young boy.  I discovered, much to my surprise, that I really enjoyed writing and I spent a considerable amount of time fostering my relationship with God.  In fact both of them were inseparable.  Writing was drawing me closer to God and my new found relationship with God was stirring me to write.

While I was a freshman in college and it was time to declare a major writing appeared as the obvious choice.  Not only was it the perfect fit but it led me to another discovery; God was calling me to religious life as a Franciscan and to the priesthood.  Looking back now after thirteen years of religious life and five years as a priest I am so grateful I was not “good enough” to make it to the Major Leagues.  But I also realize that none of this would have occurred if I had not experienced that “death” when I was 17.        

In many ways I am reminded not only of this event, but of the many “deaths” I have had to undergo in life each season of fall.  Some of those “deaths” were much easier; some were harder while others appeared as nearly impossible to survive.  Yet after each “death” I experienced in the depths of my soul a resurrection to something more profound than I could have ever imagined.        

These beautiful leaves that surround me right now are in their glory, but they too must die only to be reborn once again with the passing of time.  The words of Jesus seem most appropriate here, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”  

Perhaps what scares us most about death in general is that we can’t see beyond it.  What will life look like if I lose my job?  If I have cancer?  If I can’t have the career I want?  The truth is there is no answer.  Nobody, including you, knows.  But as nature, and God himself have revealed, there is something much greater beyond what we can see and understand, if only we can trust in its rhythm and allow it to take us beyond ourselves.

+ Fr. Jeremiah Myriam Shryock, CFR
Monticello, NY
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Thursday, October 8, 2015

On The Go

May the Lord give you His Peace!
Has it already been a year since many of us gathered in the Bronx on the evening of October 3rd, 2014 to celebrate the Transitus in a moving way as Fr. Solanus Benfatti led us through the meditations that he wrote? Only to realize later that night that our own beloved Fr. Benedict was experiencing the hand of the Lord and His holy operations in his own life.

I wanted to share with you one picture of Fr. Benedict that I continue to treasure. This picture was taken as we flew from New York LGA to Denver, Co. It was in the Spring of 2011 we were on our way to a Men's Conference in Colorado Springs. I had a camera with me and as he was silently praying the brievary I took this picture. Plane travel with him was always an adventure because the friar traveling with him had to be ready for the unexpected. Whether it was greeting those who knew him from T.V. to having a tip ready for the attendant who was pushing his chair or getting him through security. So moments like this picture depicts was a sigh of relief when all the work was done and you hand a few moments to relax. There were tough moments on the plane of course. Like when he asked me to ask two passengers in bulk head seating who were the size of Br. Giles and Fr. Terry to switch with us. I thought "Really? This is not going to work, and I am embarrassed." But it did work out.
Many times as we traveled the brievary was prayed "on the go." Either in the van or here on the plane. Later on at the St. Joseph's Home with the Little Sisters of the Poor in his room but best of all in the chapel. He truly always wanted to pray in the chapel if he was able to do so. This is how I remember Fr. Benedict so fondly wanting to give his love and attention to his prayers and especially before the Blessed Sacrament.
As we remember Fr. Benedict this October 3rd, 2015 may our hearts be filled with gratitude for all the Lord has done in our midst in and through Fr. Benedict.

Br. Simon M. Dankoski, CFR
Paterson, NJ

Friday, October 2, 2015

Remembering Father Benedict One Year Later

For Franciscans October 3rd is a day of death. Every year we gather on this anniversary to remember the passing of Saint Francis. That Father Benedict would pass on this day was surely a sign.

For me it is also the anniversary of my mom’s passing. As she lay dying of cancer at 47 years of age, she shared with me that she was offering her suffering for my vocation. I had only been a friar for two years at the time. That my mom would pass on this day was surely a sign.

Like a concerned grandfather, Fr. Benedict kindly reached out to me in my grief. I will never forget his tenderness and concern. He took me under his wing for a while as I was recruited to be his “driver.” So many others could tell a similar story. As I shared in the adventures of life with Father Benedict he shared in my sorrow and guided me towards hope.

When I had my own scare with cancer Father Benedict was there for me again. Although he possessed a towering intellect, he could speak directly from the heart. His presence and prayers were a huge consolation. He could always use humor to lighten the burden. My fear broke and I burst into laughter when he told me (in that famous Jersey City accent), “There’s nothing that helps you focus like a loaded gun pointed at your head! Pray for the rest of us who don’t realize we are dying.” It was exactly what I needed to hear.

Father Benedict we miss you, thank you and pray for us.

- Fr. Luke Mary Fletcher, CFR
Yonkers, NY

Father Benedict serving at our South Bronx Homeless Shelter

At the March for Life

Father's food and gift give out during Thanksgiving
Father was a friend and adviser to Mother Teresa
Father touched millions through his popular EWTN shows

Thursday, October 1, 2015


“O Lord, do not your eyes look for truth” Jeremiah 5:3

Truth, not an opinion poll, a fad, a trend, or political correctness, is what God looks for in us. Hence, truth must become the motivation for our entire life.

So often we compromise truth for 3 C’s; comfort, convenience and consolation. There is of course nothing intrinsically wrong with any of these C’s. The problem occurs when we absolutize them and make them the ends for which we strive desperately to reach in our lives.

The comfort we experience in our homes, the cars we drive or the clothes we wear cannot be the end and goal of our lives. The convenience of technology can make communication and other aspects of life quicker and easier, all of which avails us with more time to seek the truth. The consolation of friends, promotions, and parties will always leave a soul hungry and ironically more alone if we merely stop there.

The hope that we place in all of these things is really the desire for Christ himself, who is, “the way, the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6). If I pursue anything in life, relationships, career, vacation, etc. without this desire for truth, my life becomes dominated by superficial concerns and attitudes, all of which are here today and gone tomorrow. The truth, by contrast, never fades away and when our lives are motivated by the truth we stand on a firm foundation in a world that is ever changing.

Fr. Jeremiah Myriam Shryock, CFR
Saint Joseph Friary Harlem, NY
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