Monday, December 29, 2008

A Moral Issue

January 11, 2009 will be a national day of fast to end torture and bring about the closure of Guantanamo. Framed as a matter of war strategy or a national security tool, torture is not in fact a political issue; it is a moral issue. A civilized society cannot stand idly by as its government engages in the practice of systematic torture. Torture is a violation of human rights and affront to the dignity of the human person. A civil society that practices torture, no matter what its justification, is at risk of losing its collective soul. As U.S.-eans, we must speak the truth and make clear that the systematic practice of torture by our government or its agents against human persons is not acceptable and must be stopped. The U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed this belief and recognizes what many of us already knew: torture is wrong and the U.S. government should be engaged in the practice of torture. Whether one is a political activitist, a human rights advocate, or a promoter of human life from conception to the grave, the issue of torture and the need to stop it is a moment in which we can all come together and stand side by side for life and human dignity. Now is the time for the federal government to follow through on the ruling of the Court and close Guantanamo Bay. Now we must let our federal lawmakers know what we believe about torture and why we recognize the need for Guantanamo to be closed permanently. For more information on the national campaign to end torture and close "Gitmo" click here .
Mark your calendar for January 11, a national day of fast to end torture, and consider how you will observe the 100 days against torture in 2009. Think about how you will observe January 11, 2009 and what you will do to call attention effectively and meaningfully to this issue during the 100 days that follow. Torture is not a political issue: torture is a moral issue that a civil society in the 21st century can no longer ignore.
Torture is not a political issue; torture is a moral issue.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Feast of the Holy Family

Photo compliments of Sister Anne Joan Flanagan, FSP taken at St. Joseph's Church, Chicago, IL, Christmas 2008

Today is the feast of the Holy Family. The Franciscan Friars of St. Anthony Messenger have a thought-provoking podcast on today's liturgical readings at "The Sunday Soundbyte." Click here to read the reflection or here to listen to it.

Whatever shape or size or configuration your family is, whether it is born or chosen, may you know all the blessings, joys, and graces of being "family" in today's world. In the Holy Family of Nazareth, may you find inspiration and a model for what it means to love one another.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

"Love Came Down at Christmas"

Photo compliments of

Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing...

As Midnight Mass began with choir and congregation joining in singing "O Come All Ye Faithful,"
this line stood out to me, encapsulating the essence of Christmas, the heart of what we celebrate:
Jesus, the Word of God, in human form,
now living (forevermore) among us...
Jesus, born in the likeness of (hu)man...
Jesus, our Brother, our Savior, our Lover.

O come, let us adore Him.

O come, let us adore Him.

O come, let us adore Him,

Christ the Lord!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Advent 4: Behold!

The four candles are all now lighted, lighting the path to Christmas, announcing that God is indeed near. Today's gospel tells us of Mary's surrender to the Divine will of God: "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to your Word."
Imagine the young Mary, surrendered to the Will of God, even when the word of the angel could not make sense in any human terms. "How can this be - I do not know man?" That was Mary's reaction, yet with the same breath, she prayed the ultimate Fiat: "Be it done unto me according to your word." With that the angel left her and the Son of God, Jesus Christ, was made Incarnate within her womb. Imagine!
Mary's Fiat -- that is the depth to which we are called. Yet in our human experience that depth of Fiat is often a lifelong journey comprised of many small yet significant "Yes"es along the way. Blessed Pauline wrote in her Retreat notes (the exact year I don't recall at the moment), "The moment I realize God's will for me I must relinquish everything, even that which I cherish most." Like Mary, Pauline surrendered totally and completely to the Will of God, casting herself into the security of the palm of His hand, trusting that He would bring to completion the good work He had begun, the path which he carved out for her.
Today, as we approach the feast of Christmas, the feast of the Incarnation, the story of Mary's Fiat asks us to contemplate ourselves in the place of Mary and consider the daily Fiats to which God invites us. In the words of a song I composed many years ago, "With Mary, let us say, 'Here I am!'."

Saturday, December 20, 2008

An Invitation

Photo compliments of

Have you ever felt a call within you to share your life in service to God's people through the consecrated life? Do you wonder if God is calling you to life as a religious Sister? Do you feel comfortable with the idea that God is inviting you to consider living out your one amazing life through the vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience? Would it be nice to have a weekend away on holy ground to consider these questions more directly in a no-pressure supportive environment?
If you have answered "yes" to any of these questions, then please consider the invitation of the Sisters of Christian Charity to attend a weekend discernment retreat at Mallinckrodt Convent, the motherhouse of the U.S Eastern Province. Further information about the retreat is available here and if you drop by the SCC Eastern Province homepage and scroll down beneath the picture you will find an interesting short video about the SCC community.

Will you be RSVP'ing for this special invitation?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Advent 3: Gaudete (Rejoice!)

Continuing to reflect on the practice of Maryistic waiting throughout this week, my arrival at the Third Sunday of Advent reminds me that the waiting is not over: In the context of Advent, God's time has not yet come, but like Mary, I am able to appreciate the foretelling of the prophet Isaiah of the joy that would become hers, that would become each of ours:

[Because] the spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the LORD and a day of vindication by our God.

Isaiah foreshadows the joy that would be Mary's "Magnificat":

[So therefore] I rejoice heartily in the LORD, in my God is the joy of my soul; for he has clothed me with a robe of salvation and wrapped me in a mantle of justice, like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem, like a bride bedecked with her jewels. As the earth brings forth its plants, and a garden makes its growth spring up, so will the Lord GOD make justice and praise spring up before all the nations.

With Mary, I wait. Patiently, I wait for the coming feast of the Incarnation, the celebration of the Word Made Flesh, Emmanuel - God with us.

How is your Advent going?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

It's Officially (Almost) Christmas!

Yes, that's right. Now it feels like Christmas: I have heard the Daughters of Saint Paul live in concert. That means Christmas is near. Since they began their Christmas concert ministry tour a few years ago, usually I would hear (and see) them at St. Paul's in Princeton. This year, however, they have expanded their tour and in the process changed some venues in order to extend their outreach and introduce themselves to new audiences. As a result, I had to figure out when and where I'd see them. As it turned out, the only performance that matched a free night for me was the final one, the one at Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Northeast Philadelphia. Actually that location was closer than the other NJ I had considered but the weather was a bit of a challenge the night I went to see in addition to my speedometer which stopped working correctly. In any case, the trip was well worth it. As always, this amazingly talented group of Sisters gave an inspiring, warm, and artistically well-executed performance. The singing and the dancing were great. I am happy to report that Sister Anne's "O Holy Night" returned for this year's program (her voice is like the purest crystal especially at the uppermost notes). I was happy to have a chance to talk with my friend, Sister Anne, and to meet in person Sister Helena. A new encounter for me was Sister Julia's solo: "Con Te Partiro" ("With You I Go") was an unexpected piece but oh so beautiful and personally very touching. Sister Nancy's "Angels Among Us" is always a centerpiece to the program. I could go on about each element of the program, but you get the idea. Each Sister on the stage and behind the scenes deserves enormous applause and thanks. Sister Bridget, the music director/conductor, is outstanding. Congratulations on another blessed concert tour! May you each have a most blessed Christmas and a grace-filled new year!!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Advent 2 - Waiting Patiently

Image Courtesy of the SCC Generalate Website (2007)

This year, "wait patiently," the central theme of the second Sunday of Advent, is brought alive in a singular way with two significant feasts of Mary that take place during this coming week, the feast of Mary's Immaculate Conception and the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (more on the feasts specifically to come). Waiting patiently is a true Marian characteristic, a "Mary-ism," to use a variation on a term developed by an "aunt" of mine. It's not only that Mary waited patiently or patiently waited but it's how she embodied patience, how she lived out the meaning of "patient waiting."

Much of Mary's life was lived in waiting patiently. As a young Jewish woman, her faith life was centered on awaiting the Messiah. As a young girl, she did not know that it would be through her Fiat that the Messiah would come, yet as a Jewish girl growing up in the faith-filled home of Anna and Yakim she prayed and praised in patient waiting. When the angel Gabriel came to her and with her Fiat she conceived of the Holy Spirit, she began her waiting for the birth of Jesus, yet she did not wait on herself in the meantime; instead she went to Elizabeth and waited with her and tended to her for the birth of John (the Baptist). On the journey to Bethlehem, she with Joseph waited for a place in which to birth Jesus and then in the time that followed she again demonstrated patient waiting as the Shepherds and later the Kings came to honor Jesus. The Flight into Eqypt, the Child Jesus lost in the Temple, the every day occurrences of raising a young boy -- in all these things, Mary lived patient waiting. When Jesus began his public ministry, at the Feast of Cana, after suggesting to Jesus that he do something about the wine, Mary waited patiently for his time to come. On the way to Calvary and at the foot of the Cross, again Mary embodies patient waiting. Following Jesus' death, holding her Son's lifeless body in her arms, she lives patient waiting. Gathered with the disciples, before the Resurrection and again after the Ascension, Mary lives in patient waiting. Following the descent of the Holy Spirit, with John as her side, she lives out her life in patient waiting, moving towards the day she will be alive in everlasting glory with the Father, Son, and Spirit one. In fact, Mary now assumed into heaven, alive for eternity, now waits patiently on us.

Patient waiting, Marian-style, is not a passive act, not a passive posture. It is an attitude of intense engagement in the moment, being alert to the grace of God in the moment, not losing sight of opportunities for encountering God in the present. Patient waiting as Mary lived it is an act of total openness to be available to God "in the meantime." It's about being all one can be in that period of waiting, in that period we might be tempted to call "the meantime." The period of waiting in Mary's view is not incidental: it is the journey and it is as important as the destination.

So as we patiently (a)wait Christmas, let us endeavor to live Maryistic patient waiting, living in the moment, "allowing Advent to Advent so that Christmas can be Christmas" (original source: unknown).

What ideas do you have for Maryistic patient waiting in today's world?
How can each of us endeavor to live Maryistic patient waiting more authentically in our own lives today?

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Jolly Old Saint Nicholas

St. Nicholas, pray for us!

Having attended a Catholic elementary school named after Saint Nicholas, December 6 is always a special remembrance (it was also my +great aunt's birthday). This year it just so happened that our parish Sacred Arts and Music series was able to host a presentation of Frederick Olessi's "Francesco" with a Mass in Celebration of the Birth of Jesus.

The dramatic presentation which includes spoken word and song culminates in a live presepio (we even had a real "Baby Jesus" although the animals had to be the stuffed version since we have a new carpet in the church) and the finale with the entire gathering joining in singing "Joy to the World" with lit candles as the presepio scene processes out of the Church (symbolically going in the peace of Francis to take Christ to the world). Francis is credited with, at the direction of the Lord, putting together the first creche to honor the birth of Christ as a human.

The falling snow (although at first it was cause for worry in terms of audience turnout) was a blessed touch adding to the spirit of anticipation for the arrival of Christmas and the commemoration of Jesus' birth.

Father's homily was spot on, acknowledging the shape in the world currently is and recognizing the promise of hope that Jesus remains for us all. He amazingly wove together seamlessly the readings and liturgy of the second Sunday of Advent with "Francesco."

So, this year my feast of Saint Nicholas was spent in very Franciscan tradition, but somehow it all worked well. (Actually, earlier in the week I had the opportunity to partake in an anticipated celebration of the feast with some of the Sisters so St. Nicholas wasn't omitted.) After helping to de-construct the individual candles and clear up any remaining programs from the pews, I was tired but energized and very happy that I had participated in the event.
A happy feast day to our Sister Nicholas and to all the Nicoles (Nicole, FMI!), Nic(h)olas, Nikkis, and other namesakes of Saint Nicholas!
St. Nicholas, pray for us! And St. Francis, too!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Martyrs of El Salvador, Pray for Us!

December 2, 1980... Twenty eight years ago armed masked men, on orders of the Salvadoran military officials who had been trained at the "School of the Americas" on the U.S. Army base at Fort Benning (Columbus, GA), raped and murdered Maryknoll Sisters Maura Clarke and Ita Ford, Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel, and Missioner Jean Donovan, missionaries who lived and worked among the Salvadoran people, side by side, in response to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Through their lives and their deaths, they willingly and knowingly and unreservedly accepted "the same fate of the poor" (this is the title of a biography of Ita Ford published by Orbis Books).
There is an entire generation or two that has no personal knowledge of that fateful night on a dark road traveling from the San Salvador Airport to Chalatenango. Yet the legacy of these women's lives and the truth about their deaths and the promise of hope that lives on because of who they remain continues to inspire and motivate because even though twenty-eight years has passed still each year countless numbers of us pause deliberately to remember them, to remember Archbishop Romero, to remember the tens of thousands disappeared and murdered, and the 100,000s of displaced.
This year's anniversary of the rape and murder of is different than all those of year's past: this year the anniversary comes and Ita's brother Bill, who immediately following her death, took up the cause of truth and fight for justice in El Salvador, died earlier this year following a battle with cancer. Surrounded by his beloved wife and children, he closed his eyes to this world and without a doubt when he opened his eyes in the next he was immediately welcomed home by Ita whom he so dearly loved and missed.

As we celebrate the lives of these women, let us also give thanks in particular for the witness and courage of the Ford, Clark, Kazel, and Donovan families and the Maryknoll and Ursuline communities and especially for the multiple ways in which Bill in particular challenged us in the same way he challenged himself to walk the walk. Bill, may you rest in peace and in the embrace of our most loving God may you enjoy seeing Ita once again face-to-face! And may your spirit, along with Maura, Ita, Dorothy, and Jean, remain with us in our struggles for peace and justice always reminding us to never forget the people of El Salvador who still today need our "accompanimiento."

Monday, December 01, 2008

World AIDS Day 2008

In Loving Remembrance ... Because Remembering Still Matters