Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Pope's New More Modest Digs

A priest friend of mine wrote today on his blog about Pope Francis' decision to not live in the Papal apartments and instead reside at Casa Santa Marta.  I wholeheartedly concur with Fr. Pablo Migone's thinking about why the Pope is making this choice.  Once again, our Pope is challenging us to evaluate how extravagantly we live to better model Christ to a complacent world.

       "Pope Francis has decided to remain at the Casa Santa Marta rather than moving into the Papal Apartments Palace where past Popes have lived. The Pope did move from the room assigned to him when he arrived for the conclave to a VIP room at the Casa Santa Marta. Federico Lombardi explained that the room is larger and gives the Pope the possibility to more easily receive visitors and guests. Francis will still use the Papal Apartments in the Apostolic Palace for audiences, gatherings and daily activities.

Based on the Pope's actions and words during the first days of his Papacy, this move does not come as a surprise. It is consistent with his desire to live simply and follows his actions in Buenos Aires where he preferred to live in an apartment rather than in the archbishop's house. Some had already joked he would sell the Apostolic Palace and move into an apartment in the nearby Borgo Pio.

          Many may find this disconcerting, that the Pope does not want to live in the place where Popes have traditionally lived for centuries. I believe it is his decision and should not shatter anyone's faith. If our faith and trust in Jesus Christ depends on where the Pope lives, we have serious problems.

          As I wrote a few days ago, I believe our new Pope is the Papal version of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. This is what the Church needs today in order to make uncomfortable a world (and a Church, especially in wealthy countries!) that has become too comfortable and complacent."
Amen to that, Pablo!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Homily - Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord - Fr. William Cummings

Luke 19:28-40
Isaiah 50:4-7
Philippians 2:6-11
Luke 22:14-23, 56

What is the measure of greatness in the human character?
Our faith tells us it is to pour out ourselves in the service of our sisters and brothers, sacrificing our lives for others just as Jesus did. 
Don’t believe me?  Ask our new Pope.   He gets it and is teaching us daily by his words and actions. 
In fact, Pope Francis sent out a message this week on the social media network Twitter.  His message was quite profound.   This is what the leader of 1.2 billion Catholics tweeted:
“True power is service.  The Pope must serve all people, especially the poor, the weak, the vulnerable.”
If it’s good enough for Pope Francis, it should be good enough for all of us. 
Our Church calls us to serve the poor, the weak, the vulnerable.  Not just in our Church, but outside our church in our troubled world.  The homeless.  The prisoner.  The weak and powerless.  The sick and dying.  The poor. 
Blessed Mother Teresa got it, too.  She poured out her life in the service of others throughout her own powerful ministry on earth.
And so did Father William Thomas Cummings. 
Never heard of him?
I’ll bet you recognize this famous saying: “There are no atheists in foxholes.”  Sound familiar?
The wartime priest delivered this line while serving Mass for American and Filipino troops in Bataan, the Philippines. 
One of those troops was my Great Uncle Vernon Weldon.   He left to serve his country a few months before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, the same year his niece, my mother Suzanne, was born. 
             My mother never knew her Uncle Vernon, but she heard lots about his heroic acts in letters read to her by Vernon’s mother, my mother’s grandmother and my great grandmother Elsie Weldon. 
I heard these stories, too, as a boy, and believed my uncle to be a saint for what he did; the sacrifices he made in serving his fellow soldiers.
Men who survived the Bataan Death March wrote my great grandmother to say Vernon was the only reason they were still alive.  Vernon would give up his food so others could eat and get healthy again after falling ill in the death camps.
This is their story.  The story of the Passion played out in the lives of two men who understood, “I am among you as one who serves.”
Fr. Cummings was running an orphanage in Manila as a Maryknoll missionary when Japanese warplanes attacked the city, destroying his orphanage and killing the children he loved and served there. 
Father Cummings survived and went immediately to the nearby U.S. military base where servicemen were preparing their escape from the city. 
Fr. Cummings met my uncle there for the first time and asked if he could join the Army as a Chaplain and serve the men as they fled from the expected Japanese invasion. 
The base commander granted his wish. 
Their epic retreat to the Bataan peninsula with General Douglas McArthur lasted months as American and Filipino troops valiantly fought the Japanese Imperial Army. 
General Douglas MacArthur commanded all American and Filipino troops in the Philippines.  He continually pleaded with Washington to send relief forces to the Philippines.  But Washington refused due to the devastation of the U.S. Naval fleet at Pearl Harbor.
MacArthur was under great pressure by Roosevelt to leave the Philippines.  The Army General offered to resign his position and serve as a volunteer to lead his men.
Eventually, MacArthur got a direct order from Roosevelt himself to evacuate now, abandoning his troops, but promising them, “I shall return.” 
Sadly, his promise to return would be delayed for years.  It would come too late for my uncle and his friend the priest.
Father Cummings became an Army legend due to his service.  Before being captured, a nurse at a field hospital undergoing bombardment witnessed Father Cummings in action. 
Nurse Hattie Bradley recounted the experience of Good Friday, 1942, “More piercing screams.  Scores of dead or dying…  She dashed into the orthopedic ward for help.  There, panic was on the verge of erupting.  Then she saw the chaplain… standing on a desk.  Above the roar of airplanes, the explosions and the shrieks of the wounded.  His voice could be heard:  ‘Our Father, who art in heaven…’  Calmed by his prayers, the patients quieted.”
Father Cummings did all of this with one arm broken by shrapnel from a bomb.
Father Cummings was always on the front lines with the boys doing innumerable Masses, administering Last Rites to the dying and helping with the wounded. 
His field sermons were memorable and legendary. 
In fact, in one of his homilies he made his famous quotation when he said, “There are no atheists in foxholes,” a line that would be published in a book by a Filipino General who was evacuated from Bataan in 1942.
Before capture, Father Cummings had a standing offer to be evacuated to Australia.  But he stayed with his men and never left their sides.  He would serve them all until his dying day.   
When MacArthur fled, the troops left behind were captured and marched by the Japanese after the fall of Bataan on a 60-mile trek “straight out of Dante’s inferno.”  They were given no food or water.   They were subject to random beatings and casual executions especially of the weak and vulnerable. 
Thousands of men would die of starvation, malaria and murder on the Bataan Death March and in Japanese concentration camps.
My uncle and Father Cummings would survive the over two year ordeal and amazingly were among a few thousand men still alive when the Japanese evacuated the Philippines sending the men in the hull of a Japanese warship to Tokyo to be used as slave labor. 
While in Tokyo harbor, my uncle Vernon died when friendly fire partially destroyed their ship.  Father Cummings would give him his Last Rites.
As the horror continued aboard the vessel Oryoku Maru, dubbed “Hell Ship” by the survivors, Father Cummings again tried to calm the men, by saying the “Our Father.” 
From his book “Give Us This Day” by my uncle’s friend Sidney Stewart comes this first-hand account from a dark, fiery cargo hold as Sidney helped prop up Father Cummings:
“Faltering, he began to speak.  “Men!  Men, can you hear my voice?  Slowly he began to pray. ‘Our Father Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy Name… '
The cries of the men became still.  I concentrated on the voice that soothed me and gave me strength and the will to live.  Then I felt his body shiver and tremble in my arms.  He gasped for air and there was a pain written on his face.  He gritted his teeth, sighed and went on.  ‘Thy will be done – on earth – as it is – in Heaven.’ 
I felt him tremble again as if he wanted to cough.  His hands fluttered and his eyelids almost closed. Then with superhuman effort he spoke again.  ‘Give Us This Day…’
I felt his body go tense all over.  He relaxed and his hand fell by his side… I knew he was dead… I cradled his head against my shoulder.  I didn’t want to lay him down.  I couldn’t bear to face the fact that he was gone.”
Father Cummings gave up his life in the service of his poor, weak and vulnerable brothers. He followed the will of the Father and climbed the hill to Golgotha. He experienced his Passion.
Service is Christ’s commandment to us all.  As Christ reminds us in today’s Gospel, “I am among you as one who serves.”

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Pope Francis Meets The People

An amazing scene today after Mass with Pope Francis at St. Anne's Church in Rome. 

The new Pontiff greeted each and every parishioner as they streamed out after Mass, patting heads of little ones and accepting kisses and words of appreciation from everyone else. 

When he was done, Pope Francis waded into an adoring crowd of tourists waiting behind barriers near the Church.

Word is the only ones not happy with their new Pontiff are Vatican security. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Bono's Good News About Fight Against Extreme Poverty

Good News From Bono and the One Campaign:

"On February 26th, Bono spoke at TED to show the progress in the fight against extreme poverty… and what we need to do next.

Bono shares the new facts about fighting global poverty: 'Forget the rock opera, forget the bombast, my usual tricks. The only thing singing today will be the facts.'

By becoming a 'factivist,' we can learn what needs to be done to end extreme poverty within the
next generation. And the facts are beyond promising. Since 2000:
  • Eight million AIDS patients have been receiving retroviral drugs
  • Malaria deaths have been cut in some countries by 75%
  • Child mortality rate of kids under 5 is down by 2.65 million deaths a year
  • Extreme poverty declined from 43% in 1990 to 33% in 2000 to 21% by 2010.
Extreme poverty has been cut in half in the last 20 years, and the facts show that we can get it to virtually zero within a generation — but only if we act.

'Let’s think about that,' he says. 'Have you read anything, anywhere in the last week that is as remotely as important as that number? It’s great news, and it drives me nuts most people don’t know this.'

'If you live on less than $1.25 a day, this is not just data. This is everything. If you’re a parent who wants the best for your kids, and I am, this rapid transition is a route out of despair and into hope.'

Here is what Bono told the TED crowd:

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Archbishop Sartain's statement on Pope Francis

March 13, 2013
Statement by Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain
On the election of Pope Francis
At 11:07 a.m. Seattle time, I witnessed on television with the rest of the world the dramatic sight of white smoke billowing from the flue atop the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican announcing that the cardinals had elected a new Bishop of Rome, the pope. As is now well known, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, S.J., Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, has chosen the name Francis. The election of a new pope is a time of joy and excitement for the whole world, the universal church, and individual Catholics — including bishops like me in the Pacific Northwest. Since Pope Francis is a member of the Society of Jesus, his election holds particular excitement for the many Jesuits who serve in the Archdiocese of Seattle, and I congratulate them as well. I have no doubt that Franciscans around the world also rejoice that he has taken the name of their founder, Francis of Assisi, a man called by God in the early 13th century to live the gospel wholeheartedly, clearly and simply.
Almost 35 years ago, October 16, 1978, I had the privilege of being in St. Peter’s Square when the same scene unfolded at the election of Pope John Paul II. Great excitement surrounded me that night, and as the pontificate of now Blessed John Paul II unfolded, we learned why such enthusiasm was warranted. Though traveling in Tennessee the day Pope Benedict XVI was elected, I nonetheless felt the same enthusiasm as reports streamed across the television. Watching the announcement unfold this morning, I was again filled with excitement, awe and hope in God. We in the United States may not yet know much about Pope Francis, but as with our previous popes the coming years will reveal the gift God has given us.
The election of a new pope is an act of faith on the part of the cardinals, because they have placed their hope in God to guide them. For me as an archbishop and for Catholics everywhere, receiving a new pope means that God has been once again faithful to his promise that he would always provide a shepherd for the church, a successor to St. Peter, a bishop of Rome, the first pastor of the universal church. His choice of the name Francis signals that he strives to be a man of humility and love for the poor, and the fact that he asked the hundreds of thousand standing before him to pray for him further underscores his humility. He told those gathered that he is there to evangelize the City of Rome; that is the prime role of every bishop — to proclaim the good news of Christ.
 It is natural that we will all want to know more about our new pope, his personality, his experience, and his family. Our previous popes have brought with them a wealth of background that made them who they were. But more than all of that, it is important that Catholics understand the election of a new pope as a spiritual event that is filled with joy and hope. Not even knowing who he would be, I began praying for him weeks ago.
I congratulate His Holiness, Pope Francis, on his election to the See of Peter. I promise my obedience and my prayers. As was announced at the Vatican just a few hours ago, we have indeed received news of great joy in the election of Pope Francis.

Meet Pope Francis

Here's the pre-Conclave profile of our new Holy Father, Pope Francis (Jorge Bergoglio S.J.) by National Catholic Reporter correspondent John L. Allen Jr.


While there are still no tracking polls to establish who's got legs as a papal candidate, the 2013 conclave at least has one objective measure not available in 2005: past performance. Many of the cardinals seen as candidates now were also on offer the last time around, and someone who had traction eight years ago could be a contender again.

By that measure alone, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, Argentina, at least merits a look.

After the dust settled from the election of Benedict XVI, various reports identified the Argentine Jesuit as the main challenger to then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. One cardinal later said the conclave had been "something of a horse race" between Ratzinger and Bergoglio, and an anonymous conclave diary splashed across the Italian media in September 2005 claimed that Bergoglio received 40 votes on the third ballot, just before Ratzinger crossed the two-thirds threshold and became pope.

Though it's hard to say how seriously one should take the specifics, the general consensus is that Bergoglio was indeed the "runner-up" last time around. He appealed to conservatives in the College of Cardinals as a man who had held the line against liberalizing currents among the Jesuits, and to moderates as a symbol of the church's commitment to the developing world.

Back in 2005, Bergoglio drew high marks as an accomplished intellectual, having studied theology in Germany. His leading role during the Argentine economic crisis burnished his reputation as a voice of conscience, and made him a potent symbol of the costs globalization can impose on the world's poor.

Bergoglio's reputation for personal simplicity also exercised an undeniable appeal – a Prince of the Church who chose to live in a simple apartment rather than the archbishop's palace, who gave up his chauffeured limousine in favor of taking the bus to work, and who cooked his own meals.

Another measure of Bergoglio's seriousness as a candidate was the negative campaigning that swirled around him eight years ago.

Three days before the 2005 conclave, a human rights lawyer in Argentina filed a complaint charging Bergoglio with complicity in the 1976 kidnapping of two liberal Jesuit priests under the country's military regime, a charge Bergoglio flatly denied. There was also an e-mail campaign, claiming to originate with fellow Jesuits who knew Bergoglio when he was the provincial of the order in Argentina, asserting that "he never smiled."

All of that by way of saying, Bergoglio was definitely on the radar screen. Of course he's eight years older now, and at 76 is probably outside the age window many cardinals would see as ideal. Further, the fact he couldn't get over the hump last time may convince some cardinals there's no point going back to the well.

That said, many of the reasons that led members of the college to take him seriously eight years ago are still in place.

Born in Buenos Aires in 1936, Bergoglio's father was an Italian immigrant and railway worker from the region around Turin, and he has four brothers and sisters. His original plan was to be a chemist, but in 1958 he instead entered the Society of Jesus and began studies for the priesthood. He spent much of his early career teaching literature, psychology and philosophy, and early on he was seen as a rising star. From 1973 to 1979 he served as the Jesuit provincial in Argentina, then in 1980 became the rector of the seminary from which he had graduated.

These were the years of the military junta in Argentina, when many priests, including leading Jesuits, were gravitating towards the progressive liberation theology movement. As the Jesuit provincial, Bergoglio insisted on a more traditional reading of Ignatian spirituality, mandating that Jesuits continue to staff parishes and act as chaplains rather than moving into "base communities" and political activism.

Although Jesuits generally are discouraged from receiving ecclesiastical honors and advancement, especially outside mission countries, Bergoglio was named auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires in 1992 and then succeeded the ailing Cardinal Antonio Quarracino in 1998. John Paul II made Bergoglio a cardinal in 2001, assigning him the Roman church named after the legendary Jesuit St. Robert Bellarmino.

Over the years, Bergoglio became close to the Comunione e Liberazione movement founded by Italian Fr. Luigi Giussani, sometimes speaking at its massive annual gathering in Rimini, Italy. He's also presented Giussani's books at literary fairs in Argentina. This occasionally generated consternation within the Jesuits, since the ciellini once upon a time were seen as the main opposition to Bergoglio's fellow Jesuit in Milan, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini.

On the other hand, that's also part of Bergoglio's appeal, someone who personally straddles the divide between the Jesuits and the ciellini, and more broadly, between liberals and conservatives in the church.

Bergoglio has supported the social justice ethos of Latin American Catholicism, including a robust defense of the poor.

"We live in the most unequal part of the world, which has grown the most yet reduced misery the least," Bergoglio said during a gathering of Latin American bishops in 2007. "The unjust distribution of goods persists, creating a situation of social sin that cries out to Heaven and limits the possibilities of a fuller life for so many of our brothers."

At the same time, he has generally tended to accent growth in personal holiness over efforts for structural reform.

Bergoglio is seen an unwaveringly orthodox on matters of sexual morality, staunchly opposing abortion, same-sex marriage, and contraception. In 2010 he asserted that gay adoption is a form of discrimination against children, earning a public rebuke from Argentina's President, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

Nevertheless, he has shown deep compassion for the victims of HIV-AIDS; in 2001, he visited a hospice to kiss and wash the feet of 12 AIDS patients.

Bergoglio also won high marks for his compassionate response to the 1994 bombing in Buenos Aires of a seven-story building housing the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association and the Delegation of the Argentine Jewish Association. It was one of the worst anti-Jewish attacks ever in Latin America, and in 2005 Rabbi Joseph Ehrenkranz of the Center for Christian-Jewish Understanding at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut, praised Bergoglio's leadership.

"He was very concerned with what happened, Ehrenkranz said. "He's got experience."

Nevertheless, after the conclave of 2005 some cardinals candidly admitted to doubts that Bergoglio really had the steel and "fire in the belly" needed to lead the universal church. Moreover, for most of the non-Latin Americans, Bergoglio was an unknown quantity. A handful remembered his leadership in the 2001 Synod of Bishops, when Bergoglio replaced Cardinal Edward Egan of New York as the relator, or chairman, of the meeting after Egan went home to help New Yorkers cope with the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In that setting, Bergoglio left a basically positive but indistinct impression.

Bergoglio may be basically conservative on many issues, but he's no defender of clerical privilege, or insensitive to pastoral realities. In September 2012, he delivered a blistering attack on priests who refuse to baptize children born out of wedlock, calling it a form of "rigorous and hypocritical neo-clericalism."

The case for Bergoglio in 2013 rests on four points.

First and most basically, he had strong support last time around, and some cardinals may think that they're getting another bite at the apple now.

Second, Bergoglio is a candidates who brings together the first world and the developing world in his own person. He's a Latin American with Italian roots, who studied in Germany. As a Jesuit he's a member of a truly international religious community, and his ties to Comunione e Liberazione make him part of another global network.

Third, Bergoglio still has appeal across the usual divides in the church, drawing respect from both conservatives and moderates for his keen pastoral sense, his intelligence, and his personal modesty. He's also seen as a genuinely spiritual soul, and a man of deep prayer.

"Only someone who has encountered mercy, who has been caressed by the tenderness of mercy, is happy and comfortable with the Lord," Bergoglio said in 2001. "I beg the theologians who are present not to turn me in to the Sant'Uffizio or the Inquisition; however, forcing things a bit, I dare to say that the privileged locus of the encounter is the caress of the mercy of Jesus Christ on my sin."

Fourth, he's also seen as a successful evangelist.

"We have to avoid the spiritual sickness of a self-referential church," Bergoglio said recently. "It's true that when you get out into the street, as happens to every man and woman, there can be accidents. However, if the church remains closed in on itself, self-referential, it gets old. Between a church that suffers accidents in the street, and a church that's sick because it's self-referential, I have no doubts about preferring the former."

On the other hand, there are compelling reasons to believe that Bergoglio's window of opportunity to be pope has already closed.

First, he's eight years older than in 2005, and at 76 he would only be two years younger than Benedict XVI was when he became pope. Especially on the heels of a papal resignation on the basis of age and exhaustion, many cardinals may balk at electing someone that old, fearing it would set the church up for another shock to the system.

Second, although Bergoglio was a serious contender in 2005, he couldn't attract sufficient support to get past the two-thirds threshold needed to be elected pope. Especially for the 50 cardinals who were inside the conclave eight years ago, they may be skeptical that the results would be any different this time around.

Third, the doubts that circulated about Bergoglio's toughness eight years ago may arguably be even more damaging now, given that the ability to govern. and to take control of the Vatican bureaucracy, seems to figure even more prominently on many cardinals' wish lists this time. Although Bergoglio is a member of several Vatican departments, including the Congregations for Divine Worship and for Clergy, he's never actually worked inside the Vatican, and there may be concerns about his capacity to take the place in hand.

Fourth, there's the standard ambivalence about Jesuits in high office, both from within the order and among some on the outside. That may have been a factor in slowing Bergoglio's progress last time, and nothing has changed the calculus in the time since.

Whether Bergoglio catches fire again as a candidate remains to be seen; one Italian writer quoted an anonymous cardinal on March 2 as saying, "Four years of Bergoglio would be enough to change things." Given his profile, however, Bergoglio seems destined to plan an important role in this conclave – if not as king, then as a kingmaker.

Habemus Papam!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Homily - 4th Sunday of Lent - Prodigal Son's Mother

Joshua 5:9a, 10-12
2 Corinthians 5:17-21
Luke 15:1-3, 11-32


I have a favorite Catholic writer who gets to the heart of the matter with the story of the Prodigal Son. 

Author Henri Nouwen writes,

“We often confuse unconditional love with unconditional approval.  God loves us without conditions but does not approve of every human behavior.  

God doesn't approve of betrayal, violence, hatred, suspicion, and all other expressions of evil, because they all contradict the love God wants to instill in the human heart.  

Evil is the absence of God's love.  Evil does not belong to God.

God's unconditional love means that God continues to love us even when we say or think evil things.  God continues to wait for us as a loving parent waits for the return of a lost child.”

Kind of says it all. 

So, what’s Jesus really teaching us here today with this memorable story?

We are never far from God’s love, no matter how much we mess up our lives.

Through our Catholic Catechism we are told, “Christ’s parable of the prodigal son illustrates the sublime meaning of his earthly ministry, which is to forgive sins, reconcile people to God, and lead us in true happiness.”

The forgiveness Jesus wants us to experience is as easy as stepping into the confessional and unburdening ourselves through the sacrament of reconciliation. 

But Jesus also wants us to find reconciliation with each other and Jesus wants us to find reconciliation with ourselves.  Because forgiving others for the hurt they’ve caused us or forgiving ourselves for bad things we’ve done in our past can be the hardest and longest journeys.

As we heard in the first reading from Joshua – who was the successor to Moses – the Israelites finally make it to the Promised Land after 40 long years, free at last after their difficult journey out of bondage.

Jesus is reminding us all our sins – the shackles of our own personally slavery to sin – are forgiven if we just ask. 

But as is always the case with Sacred Scripture, there are many more lessons to learn from Jesus about judgment, forgiveness and true reconciliation.

As Jesus subtlety points out to the Pharisees and scribes, it’s not their job to Judge.  It’s God’s job.  He then reminds them God is all-forgiving.  I’m sure that concept blew their “elder brother” minds.

While in formation, one teacher had us do an intriguing assignment.  She wanted us to give voice to the mother in the Prodigal Son story in Luke’s Gospel.

Some scholars say that the father in the story is representative of God.  For the purpose of my creative writing folly, I purposely chose to have the mother be representative of Jesus Christ. 

It is my great hope the story may help us all to better hear today’s Gospel message.  
Perhaps there’s someone in our lives we need to forgive or to ask for their forgiveness.  

As we take in Christ during today’s Eucharistic celebration, I pray we all feel Jesus’ presence and seek reconciliation with these people in our lives. 

The imagined conversation I wrote is best read as a postscript to the Gospel story we just heard. 

Here is my story of the Mother of the Prodigal Son. 


Then Jesus looked directly at the Pharisees and scribes and said; “Now the mother was watching all these things. Her heart ached when her youngest left home with his inheritance.

She told him, ‘Son, you will always be welcome back in this home. My love for you is great and I wish blessings upon your journey. Peace be with you.’

Her older son overheard the conversation and chastised his mother for telling his younger brother he can return whenever he wishes.
‘Father would never welcome him back in this house again.’

But the mother said, ‘loyal son of mine, I love your devotion. But harden not your heart toward your brother.  For he is lost and needs to find his way home again.  Forgive him. Love him. And pray he returns someday.’

But he stormed away in anger.

The father heard what the mother said to the older son and approached her.

They gave a knowing look to one another and both heaved a heavy sigh.
For how long would it be until the younger son returned?  Would he ever come home or would they never hear from him again?  The pain of not knowing was almost unbearable, but life goes on.

After years and years of worry, the mother had tears in her eyes as she saw her husband run off to greet the figure growing on the distant horizon.
For her heart knew her youngest child had returned home for good. The family was restored. Her heart rang out with unbridled joy.

She was the first to tend with loving care to her son’s painful blisters on his feet and give him water from the small jug she carried hurriedly out to him.

‘Blessed be the Lord, for He has returned our son home to us,’ she cried as she served him.

‘Forgive me, mother,’ he said in a quiet whisper. ‘You are forgiven, my son.’

Later as she was preparing the fattened calf for supper, her older son came to her in the kitchen to grumble about his conversation with his father.

‘Is this house mad? Father is acting like a man possessed. Mother, it is not fair that my brother be treated like royalty after squandering all Father gave him on a life of debauchery. I will not stand for this!’

His mother said in reply, ‘My love for you is no different than my love for your brother. He has asked for our forgiveness.   He has been forgiven.

Remember son; this is the home of your mother and father. It is not your home yet. But I do love your passion and your desire to do what is right.

You should tell your brother how you feel, but do so with love and compassion and don’t be self-righteous.

I pray you will find it in your heart to forgive him.  For he loves you very much and it is your example of being a faithful son he will follow from now on.  So, be a good and loving example as your father and I have set for you both.’

Once again, his mother had offered wisdom that he would wrestle with for days before finally talking to his brother and reconciling their relationship.” 


God so loves us.  No matter how much we screw up He’s always waiting for us to return home.

It’s difficult for us to wrap our heads around an unending reservoir of love and forgiveness God provides for our spiritual well-being. 

And God does not want us to judge others, but use our energies to serve Him better. 

The Catholic Catechism teaches us, “we must always entrust the judgment of a person to the mercy and justice of God.  This is because one person cannot know the extent of another individual’s knowledge and freedom, which are integral factors determining when an occasion for mortal sin becomes an actual sin for which we are morally responsible.”

It’s so easy to look at our world today and think we “see” an abundance of sinfulness.  But Christ looked at the troubled world of His day and offered an abundance of love and forgiveness.

For it, he was crucified and many who called for his execution were people who considered themselves faith-filled people.

If Christ appeared before us today and showed such radical love and forgiveness, would we be cool with it?  Or would we condemn him?

As we ponder these questions, I have one final question: who in our lives do we need to forgive or ask for their forgiveness?
My prayer is that we will act upon this powerful Gospel message and let Jesus Christ heal that relationship.

Friday, March 8, 2013

A priest friend shares his pilgrimage experience

Here's a great article on our recent pilgrimage to the sites of the Central American martyrs.  It really captures the essence of the trip.  Fr. Bob is from Indiana.  The article is from his Diocese newspaper.  Enjoy the read...
Reprinted from:
The Catholic Moment
Newspaper of the Diocese of Lafayette-in-Indiana
By Caroline B. Mooney
ANDERSON — Father Bob Williams, pastor of St. Mary and St. Ambrose parishes here, recently spent 10 days on a pilgrimage to shrines of martyrs of the Salvadoran Civil War (1980-1992).

More than 75,000 people were killed during the conflict.   In El Salvador, the military killed more than 10,000 people and in Guatemala, government-backed paramilitary groups killed 50,000; left 100,000 unaccounted for and committed 626 village massacres.

Each January since 1999, the Maryknoll Office of Vocations has invited bishops, priests, brothers and deacons on a pilgrimage/retreat to Central America.

Maryknoll priests and brothers have served the poor in Central America since the 1940s, and each trip offers presentations by Maryknollers who lived through the conflict.

The itinerary included visits to shrines of some of the war’s martyrs, including Archbishop Oscar Romero; Father Rutilio Grande; American nuns Sister Maura Clarke, Sister Ita Ford and Sister Dorothy Kazel and lay Jean Donovan; Father Stanley Rother; Father Bill Wood; Bishop Juan Gerardi; and Sister Diana Ortiz, OSU.              

Father Williams said he had been interested in going on the pilgrimage for years. “I do parish ministry with Hispanics daily, but they are not familiar with the Central American experience,” he said.

“They are Mexicans and when I mention the name Romero, they don’t know anything about him. I thought the trip would be very enriching for me. I was in Guatemala some years back, but I didn’t go into the areas the retreat focused on.

“I also like to be around others with the same interests as me. The retreat format sounded interesting and inviting — I’m never too old for new experiences,” the 70-year-old pastor said.

“It really attracted me because it was a long list of martyrs that we followed every day.” The retreat team included companions, colleagues, fellow ministers and friends of those who had died.

At each site, Maryknoll missioners told personal stories, and there were translators on hand. Four Maryknollers accompanied Father Williams’ group of 18 priests and deacons. “We really hit the ground running,” he said.

“After arriving in Guatemala in mid-afternoon, we met at 5 p.m. for evening prayer and Mass with the pilgrimage group.” Each day began with prayer at 6:30 a.m. and ended with night prayer at 9 p.m. or 10 p.m.

The group stayed in a Maryknoll House in downtown Guatemala City, with three nights in a retreat house in San Salvador. They travelled by bus and celebrated Mass daily, sometimes at the shrines of the martyrs.

“I had a pretty good sense of safety, but the group that had been before us was robbed,” Father Williams said. “We used a different kind of bus and I didn’t travel with my wallet. But I had to take my passport along because we went from one country to another. We did travel in dangerous territory. “

As we left the city and traveled into Santiago, there was a big shift,” he said. “The indigenous people live in a different world than we are used to. There is a different temperament in society.”

Father Williams said the trip’s focal point was a visit to the hospital chapel where Archbishop Romero was shot during Mass. 

“We celebrated Mass there at the same altar and toured his humble little home and tomb underneath the cathedral in San Salvador,” he said.

“It was quite an experience. “I remember writing a letter to (Archbishop) Romero,” Father Williams said. “I was president of the diocesan senate at that time and I sent a letter of support from our priests. He was on my radar, but I don’t know that most people in the United States paid attention to him until after his assassination.”

Several evenings were spent watching movies educating the group about the next day’s destination. “One of these was about four church women who were raped and murdered,” Father Williams said.

“They were coming home from the airport and were hijacked. The film showed footage of them being pulled with ropes out of graves before they were re-buried. It was pretty graphic stuff.” Father Williams said he was particularly moved by a visit to Santiago Atitlan in rural Guatemala.

“We slept on the floor there in a rectory where Father Stanley Rother, a priest from the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, had been pastor. He was shot and killed (in 1981 by the military) while sitting in a library in his living quarters. The room has since been made into a chapel.”

Father Rother was one of 10 priests murdered in Guatemala that year. “I sat very close to a bullet hole in the floor during a beautiful morning prayer service which included songs about Father Rother by a local group,” Father Williams said. “An older member of the group who knew him had written one of the songs.

“As a non-Hispanic working with Hispanics, I felt a real kinship with Father Rother,” he said. “He was an American working with an indigenous community (Mayan Indians). He was there all by his lonely self, teaching them how to farm, read and write, keep healthy, and the compassionate love of Christ in the midst of their pain and suffering.”

The group celebrated Sunday Eucharist with the local bishop at the site where Father Rother was buried. “It was very, very moving,” Father Williams said.

“The church, about the size of our cathedral, was packed and all these little Indian kids wanted to shake hands with or touch the priests.

Many of the local community were Spanish-speaking indigenous people. Their clothing is outstanding, colorful and beautiful. During the war, they were murdered by the hundreds.

“Leaving the city and entering Santiago Atitlan was a big shift because that was where the indigenous people lived,” Father Williams said. “They were very, very friendly. Where we were in the rectory, there was a balcony that overlooked the plaza in front of the church. When we were on that porch, it was like being in a fishbowl.”
Another stop was the site where Bishop Juan José Gerardi of Guatemala City was beaten to death in his garage. He had just completed a study of the massacres, which filled four volumes. He gave a presentation of his findings on a Friday night in the cathedral. Sunday night he was killed.              

The group also visited The Monument to Memory and Truth in El Salvador. It is a 300-foot-long monument that is engraved with nearly 30,000 names, a roll of those who were killed or disappeared. Not all the names of the war’s victims were available when the monument project began, so the list is growing.

Father Williams said that the members of his travel group grew to know each other quickly and they plan to stay in touch.

“We are planning a conference call — we don’t want this experience to go away,” he said. “I would highly recommend this trip, especially for people who are working with Hispanics. The Maryknoll experience makes it all worth it because they were there.”

The next pilgrimage retreat is scheduled for Jan. 13-24, 2014. For more information, see the Web site http://www.maryknollpilgrimage.org.