Friday, March 30, 2018

The Footwashing

The way Christ behaves in the Gospels is sometimes shocking. God himself can be shocking. This is why the American author, Flannery O’Connor, often represented God in her stories with apparently odd symbolism: a gorilla suit, a charging bull, or, my favorite, the blue-acned and angsty teenager, Mary Grace. Why? Because Flannery knew her audience was religiously deaf and blind, and as she explained, “for the deaf you shout. For blind you write in large startling letters.”

At the Last Supper, Jesus kneels on the ground. Jesus rolls up his sleeves and attaches a towel to his waist. Jesus goes to work washing the apostles’ yucky feet. The Lord is very clearly taking the form of a slave. Meanwhile, Peter is scowling, arms crossed in consternation. The Son of God, the Teacher, has appropriated the servant’s role and it makes Peter really uncomfortable. “You will not wash my feet ever!” he exclaims. “Do not come to me like that.”

It’s not hard to imagine is it? Refusing God because he comes to you in a way you don’t like or understand? Probably you’ve done the same. And probably you didn’t even know it because, you think, that’s just not how God acts.

You will not wash my feet ever! Peter refuses Christ’s touch and God’s cleansing work because he expects that the Son of God behave differently. It was not an uncommon reaction to Christ: He came to John at the berm of the Jordan to be baptized, and John said “No. You baptize me.” He foretells his passion and death to Peter and who responds urgently “No, Lord. It will not happen to you.” At the home of a Pharisee named Simon, Jesus is approached by a woman. She is weeping. She kneels down to the earth and anoints his feet with her tears and dries them with her hair. Simon responds, “If this man were a prophet he would know what kind of woman touches him.” But he did know. And he felt honored.

We have to be very careful sometimes. St. Paul informs the Corinthians that “God is at work in you, Both to will and to work for his own good pleasure.” It is not up to us to determine how God works. Our ways are not his ways. What is important is that when we awake from our religious stupor to find him at work in our lives, we are able to marvel at his presence, his attention and love—even if, it’s not at all how we expected it to be.

+ Br. Joseph Michael Fino, CFR

Yonkers, NY
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Tuesday, March 27, 2018

"Why Confession?"

"If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven..." (Jn 20:23a)
Why go to confession? A few moments of your time; a lifetime of burdens lifted! You may say, "But (excuse, excuse, excuse)..." Why hesitate or be afraid? What's the big risk? No one has ever told me that they "regret" being set free from sin and shame and living a new life of inner freedom, peace and joy. How often people share with us friars after missions how they "came back to church" after thirty or forty years away...! (Why wait so long?)
The evil one will do everything possible (1 Pt 5:8-9) to keep you from receiving our Father's mercy in confession. Even well-meaning people and real responsibilities may distract or deter you. Don't let them! In the fortitude and authority of the Holy Spirit, reject every excuse and run to Jesus who personally waits for you with open arms in the person of the priest.
If we only realized that GOD HIMSELF waits for us in the confessional and in the Eucharist in each Mass and tabernacle (Mt 26:26-28; Jn 6:53,54,66), every church would need those "slow-down" sign-holding figures you see by driveways to keep people from tripping or bumping into each other as they run to him!
Our Lord Jesus said: "For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?" (Lk 9:25) Being in the state of grace is worth more than the whole world! And eternal life with God in heaven is infinitely more valuable than the small sacrifice of humbling yourself to go make a good confession.
Why wait? Life is short; eternity is quickly approaching. God created you free; no one can force you. He invites you to come receive the free gift of his forgiveness and healing (as often as you want), but only you can choose to come to him--the One who loves you with an everlasting love.
Make a fresh start, a new beginning. Come home to Christ in his Church! The door of his Heart is always open (Jn 19:34). The real question is: will you go through it today? (Dt 30:15)
+Br. Philip Maria Allen, CFR
St. Mary of the Assumption Friary
Newburgh, NY, USA

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Palm Sunday and The Wizard of Oz

In collaboration with Array of Hope, Fr. Luke Fletcher shares a story about the meaning of the donkey Jesus rode into Jerusalem.


Thursday, March 1, 2018

40 Days (Before)

40 Days (Before)

When I was in college, most of my summers were spent living in my car.  My friends and I would work as much as possible so as to earn enough money to live off for a few weeks.   As soon as we had enough we would quit, only to begin another journey whose destination was unknown to us.  The thrill of the open road and the promises they whispered to us were too much of a temptation.  We surrendered every time.
The point of traveling, I thought, was not necessarily to see something new, but to experience something new.  This experience, more than just an emotion, was meant to alter one’s worldview, and give new meaning to life.

When I entered the Franciscans I thought my traveling days were over, only to realize that in some way, they had just begun.  For my first assignment after making temporary vows, I was assigned to be one of four friars on an experimental “mission team,” whose very purpose was to travel the world preaching the Gospel.  Instead of jumping into my car, I was now boarding a plane, and similar to my experience in college, I often did not know where I was going.
In a few weeks I will embark on the longest journey of my life.  I will not need a car or a plane; I will not need money or places to stay.  I will not be preaching retreats or giving spiritual direction.  Instead, I will be spending forty days alone in a hermitage.      

In Christianity solitude has always been considered, not as an escape from reality, but as a journey into its very heart.  After Christianity become legal in the fourth century, there was a group of Christians who feared that the legalization of their religion could water down their faith.  Terrified at this notion, these men and women, known as the Desert Fathers and Mothers, abandoned the comfort that a legalized religion brought, and entered the wild and unchartered land of the desert.  Their goal, like all true solitaries, was not to escape life, but to live in direct contact with its source.
Those hermits did not create something new, but walked in ancient footsteps.  St. John the Baptist, St. Paul, and even Our Lord, spent an extensive period of solitude in the desert.  In fact, it was from this time in solitude that their ministry emerges.  Even earlier, God told Israel through Hosea “I will allure her, and bring her in the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her” (Hosea 2:14).

When God leads Israel out of Egypt into the desert she is confused, afraid and lost.  Despite God’s nearness to her and his constant saving help, Israel did not believe the Lord their God, who went before them in the way to seek out a place to pitch their tents (Deuteronomy 1:32-33).  Israel’s faith is childish.  They only believe in what they see and cling to what they know.  Since all Israel knows is slavery in Egypt that is all they can imagine their life to be.  Perhaps the reason Israel spends not just forty days but forty years in the desert is because it took them that long to let go of their narrow and limited ways of thinking, before they could embrace the expansive vision God had planned for them.  

About four years ago I spent two weeks in a hermitage in South Texas.  For most of that time I was alone, without the comfort of friends, my community or a familiar landscape.  When people asked me what I did during that time I responded, “I mostly listened.”    What occurred in that listening is difficult to express in words.  One way I have described those two weeks is by referring to it as a “second conversion” experience.  In that desert, stripped of everything that was familiar, I met the living God whom I thought I already knew.
Shortly after my time in South Texas, I received the inspiration to spend 40 days in hermitage.  Like Israel, I have struggled to know where God is leading me.  After all, I belong to a very active religious community, in which the overwhelming majority is moving not towards the desert, but deeper into the city.  Though I admire this work, the Spirit appears to be moving me in an opposite direction, causing me to ask, “God, is this really you and if so, what are you saying to me?”

As my time to enter the desert draws near, I wish I felt confident and unafraid.    What I will encounter on this next journey I do not know.  Yet in many ways, the “what” is the least important.  One goes to the desert not for an experience, but to answer a call.  This call has led me to the Red Sea, as the waters begin to open.

+ Fr. Jeremiah Myriam Shryock, CFR
Monticello, NY

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