Monday, December 31, 2012

Mourning & Hunger…

This past week, a few of the Brothers and I visited the St. Rose of Lima Youth Group in Newtown, CT. The parish will have 8 funerals this next week due to the tragic shooting that happened the Friday before at the local elementary school.

At times like this no words can really do justice to provide the comfort and consolation that so many long to receive. Our goal at the youth gathering was just to be there. We prayed, comforted, and tried to bring hope in such a desperate situation. I experienced the intensity of the situation as we arrived and were greeted by Police Officers in the parking lot as well as the Knights of Columbus providing security at the front door. As soon as the Holy Hour started I remember being moved by how many of the youth were there but also by the spirit of fear that was in the room. This gathering was supposed to be the night before but due to a threat during the Sunday masses the day before, the event was cancelled. Needless to say many hearts were afraid.

Thank God no press was allowed in the gathering. Large signs in the parking lot and on the building made it very apparent that the Press was not welcome. The shooting has certainly been the story for days now, and even though we don’t have TV I am aware of what those in the media world are talking about. Of course every one is looking for answers and asking all the questions of how something like this could happen. And there are legitimate conversations that must happen about guns and violence, but being there with the young people that night I couldn’t help but wish for one moment that a news camera could be recording live so the whole nation could experience for one moment what I did that night.

The Lord came. And everyone in the room reached out to Him. My heart was filled with the realization and wanted to exclaim: “This is the answer!” The young people full of fear and carrying the burdens of so much violence and despair, reached out to Jesus. He is the answer and they hungered for Him in this moment. As the Holy Hour continued I couldn’t’ help but experience the fear being lifted as many experienced the comfort of Jesus who comes to bring consolation and peace to those who mourn. As Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament was processing around the room the young people literally had their hands raised and extended in the direction of our Lord. They reached out to Him. And He comforted them. In the room that night, so many young people, including their parents, experienced the true message of Advent and the brilliance of Christianity. Our God comes to us. In the joys of life but even more so in the trials and the times where nothing makes sense. Jesus comes to us and He brings us the peace and consolation that we need and also gives meaning and purpose to our suffering.  Words cannot explain what happened last week but the presence of Jesus gives us hope. We don’t know the reason’s why things happened the way they did but we do know that Jesus is Lord of our lives and he was that Lord of those in that room that night. Experiencing this, I know in my heart that these young people will be OK. Through the fear and the tears and the questions they encountered Jesus who broke into their suffering and proclaimed, “I am here.”

Leaving the gathering that night I experienced so many emotions. But more then anything a hope filled conviction that Jesus is with us. Our Father in Heaven is watching over us and leading us despite the horror filled situations and tragedies of life. The truly moving encounter of the evening for me was to experience the hunger and longing these young people had for Jesus. It is like they were tried of all the things in life that haven’t worked. Tired of the media who couldn’t give them answers to their questions and tired of the endless updates on Facebook and Twitter that just reminded them of the horror. They were afraid and they went in search to find meaning and purpose to what they were feeling, and in their search they found our God who had come in search of them. Kneeling down, with their hands raised and extended to the real and true presence of Jesus, they cried out for Him.  

For the first time in my whole life I feel like I sincerely experienced the true meaning of Advent. Jesus comes to those who seek Him and comes every moment we turn our hearts to Him. He is the hope that our hearts long for and this He is the answer to all our questions. I myself was renewed in my desire to cry out to the Lord to come in a more powerful way into my life. This is the cry of Advent. This is the cry of our hearts when nothing else makes sense or satisfies us.

For weeks to come we will hear many opinions about how to recover and how to prevent something like this from happening again. There is no question that many bright and qualified people will take part in the conversation and propose a way for the future. But what gives me hope are the young people and the choice they made that night. Maybe, just maybe, we can learn from them. In the end, Jesus is the answer. Jesus is our hope, He is our victory, and He is our peace. And truly blessed are those who mourn and reach out to Him and hunger for Him in this time, for they will truly be satisfied.

Come Lord, do not delay.

Br. Angelus Immaculata Montgomery, CFR

Most Blessed Sacrament Friary
Newark, NJ


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Saturday, December 22, 2012


Sometimes in prayer, we hear God whisper something to us. Recently, I heard God tell me, “swing little brother swing.” At first I wasn’t entirely sure what this meant. As I prayed and thought about it, it became pretty clear: when I was younger, I used to play baseball and sometimes when I went up to bat, I would get nervous, really nervous. I would be afraid to swing the bat for fear of striking out and looking like a loser or feeling like a complete failure. So instead of really trying for a hit, I would secretly hope for a walk.

Looking back at it now, I see that I was plagued, almost paralyzed, at those moments with a deadly combination of pride and fear: afraid to failure, pridefully thinking I needed to be better than I was. Even today, I recognize this misguided sense of self-protection within myself. I want to play it safe; I want people to think highly of me, I don’t want to make any mistakes. (Sound familiar?) While I say, “please let me get a walk,” Jesus says, “swing little brother swing.” Jesus says be free and joyful – don’t be a slave to the expectations of others, don’t be a salve to this nagging fear of inadequacy. Jesus says, don’t be so concerned with the results, be concerned with a confident, joyful attitude.

How can this be when I am surrounded by so many pressures and demands externally and internally? At times it doesn’t seem possible. The only ray of hope I can decipher is the presence of God. If God is truly with me at every moment, in all circumstances, and never abandons me no matter what the results appear to be, then maybe, maybe I be can free and daring. Maybe, if the focus is on Him and what He can do and what He has done (and not on me and what I can’t do and what I haven’t done) then maybe I don’t have to take things so seriously.

C. K. Chesterton says that this was the glory of St. Francis: that he saw the whole world turned upside down and hanging by a hair. We wasn’t afraid or intimidated by anything because he knew it was all passing away and he knew the love of God that never passes away. In other words, all the pomp, all the power, all the ‘coolness’, all the ‘success’, all the situation and things we fear are like a puff of smoke. None of these things are as important as the love of God that endures all things and lasts forever. If God is Emmanuel, then maybe, I can swing the bat and so can you.

God bless you,
Fr. Giuseppe Siniscalchi, CFR
Most Blessed Sacrament Friary
Newark, N]


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Friday, December 14, 2012

Good and Bad; Happy and Sad

A famous Advent scripture passage is Isaiah 40: 3-5:

"A voice proclaims: In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD!
Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!
Every valley shall be lifted up, every mountain and hill made low;
The rugged land shall be a plain,the rough country, a broad valley.
Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken."

This famous passage is quoted in the New Testament as referring to Saint John the Baptist.

I am fascinated by the idea of filling up the valleys and pulling down the mountains in order to make a straight road for the Lord - they still do that when they are making highways. Here is a spiritual interpretation of the image:

In this life we all have good days and bad days; days that make us happy and days that make us sad. If we have the faith to see, God is at work in both. Some days bring consolations and joys. These days can be seen as "filling up the valleys" as they lift us up. Some days bring trials and sorrow. These days can be seen as "bringing down the mountains" of our pride and self-centeredness.

Another image is two rosaries - one for joys and one for sorrows. Imagine that we are holding one in each hand. As we go through life and experience various joys and sorrows a bead is added. On second thought, it is only one rosary that we are holding. The joyful and sorrowful mysteries are prayed on the same rosary.

May Our Lady prepare the manger of our heart to receive her Son!

Fr. Luke Mary Fletcher, CFR
St. Joseph Friary
Harlem, NY

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Saturday, December 1, 2012

Letters of hope and consolation # 18

In your time of physical sickness and suffering you have experienced the absence of friends and family. Those who have told you repeatedly that they love you were simply not there as you needed them to be. There were few phone calls and emails and even fewer visits from those who you could “count” on. And now you are forced to spend these days with an agonizing loneliness hovering over you.

What could I possibly say to you to try and console you? To some extent you are right, prayer is not enough, we need a human touch, a human companion to hold us, to talk with, to cry with and confide in. When we don’t have even that life itself feels like a meaningless endeavor or a cruel trick played on us by some ruthless authority figure. Loneliness is after all, such a terrible feeling, that we are often tempted to do just about anything to remove it from our life.

Yet here is what is remarkable. Jesus himself experienced loneliness at a level, thankfully, you and I will probably never experience in this life. He was betrayed by Judas and Peter and by almost all of the disciples at an hour when he needed them most. When Jesus is arrested in the garden of Gethsemane the Gospels state, “Then all the disciples left him and fled” (Mt 26:56). While he was forced to suffer the excruciating agony of the crucifixion, Jesus was for the most part alone, with the exception of a few women and the apostle John (Jn 19-25-26). In his humanity he even felt as if he had been abandoned by his Father, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Mk 15:34)

Is this not your experience as well? Without underestimating your feelings and what your experience has been like these past few days would it be too much of a stretch to say that what was true of Jesus is true of you? You have been abandoned and disappointed by friends and family but, like Jesus, you were still not alone. Even though you felt the Father’s absence and could have cried out the same words that Jesus did, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He was still there, as He was for Jesus on the cross, strengthening him, holding him and staying faithfully by his side. How could you have survived these past few days if this were not true for you also?

This reality certainly might not take away the hurt you feel in your heart but it should affirm a truth that you and I both need to be reminded of regularly; God is always faithfully by your side. He has no desire of ever leaving you. Even when you feel as if He to has abandoned you, He is there, He has been there and will continue to be there everyday of your life.

God bless you,

Fr. Jeremiah Myriam Shryock, CFR
St. Felix Friary, Yonkers, NY

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