Monday, May 31, 2010

Trinity Sunday: God For Us, God With Us, and God In Us

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a symposium at the University of Notre Dame entitled, "Stewards of the Treasures of Our Faith." The focus of the event was how to minister to young adults (aged 18-24) in ways that are compelling and relevant. One of the keynote talks dealt with trying to make the doctrine of the Trinity more accessible to young adults. This is a challenge that the Christian and Catholic faith has been addressing more directly for the past sixty years or so. More precisely, the task is to translate the doctrine of the Trinity which, for the most part, is cast in a terminology that was used during the first several centuries of the Church and during the medieval period into a language that will resonate with contemporary minds and hearts. Failing to do this implies that the most fundamental and important aspect of the Christian faith, namely that God exists as a communion of persons united in essence and mission, is akin to a book that rests on the top shelf in a library, just out of reach, destined for the most part to only collect dust.

One way to begin the process of translating the classical doctrine of the Trinity is to focus less on how God can be simultaneously three-in-one or one-in-three and to emphasize who God is in relation to creation and humanity. The Eastern Christian tradition and the Franciscan Tradition gives us some resources for developing an understanding of Trinity that can resonate with people of the 21st century. To begin with, both Western and Eastern Christianity emphasize that "God is For Us." What this means is that God's goodness is continually poured out upon creation without reserve. St. Bonaventure, a great Franciscan scholar of the 13th Century, remarked that one of the defining characteristics of God the Father is that of being a "fountain fullness" of grace and solicitude which is constantly poured out for others while never being exhausted. In reference to God the Word/Son, the Eastern Church emphasizes that God does not exist in isolation but dwells in God's Word so much so that this Word from all eternity is also a divine person (Son), sharing completely in the Father's glory and majesty.

God is therefore fully with the Word/Son and the Word/Son is fully with God. An important implication of this relationship is that when God extends God's self to creation, God does so fully and personally in the Word/Son. Hence, God is not only "God For Us", God is "God With Us." St. Bonaventure referred to God's Word/Son as "exemplar" (meaning, "model"). What Jesus "exemplifies" for us is how to relate to God and others in such a way that our hearts and minds are one in communion and purpose. Last, but by no means least, "God is In Us" through the Holy Spirit which is poured out upon all creation and offered to all persons. When a person's life is opened to the Spirit and by the Spirit, God's entire self, Father, Son, and Spirit make a home within the person and begin a dynamic process that the Eastern Church refers to as "divinization." This means that the person becomes more and more like God by being united to God and others. St. Francis gave expression to this dynamic process best when he exclaimed, "My God and my All!" Far from being an esoteric, abstract doctrine, the Trinity is meant to become a practical way of life in which we allow God to be for us as fountain fullness, with us as partner and exemplar, and in us as the Spirit which makes God "all in all". Pat, TOR

Sunday, May 30, 2010

First Vows Ceremony!

On May 30th, Br. Matthew Hillman and Br. Paul Johns (from our sister province) made their first profession of vows to religious life. This ceremony is the culmination of the novitiate year (see blog entry below for more information on the novitiate year). The celebration took place in the context of Mass and was beautifully done as always by Fr. Christopher Dobson (and others) from our sister province, the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. Br. Matthew and Br. Paul will both begin studies in the fall. May God bless and keep them during this time of transition and anticipation.

The Long Awaited Investiture Ceremony Arrives!

On Friday, May 27th, our postulant brother, Corey Smoot, along with five other postulants from our sister province were vested with the Franciscan habit for the first "official" year of religious life (known as novitiate). It is said that even angels envy a religious novice! Why, you might ask? The novitiate year of religious life is something of a "honeymoon" you might say between the novice and God. One spends a great deal of time in prayer, study, and discernment. As far as the prayer life of a Franciscan T.O.R., novice, one commonly spends 2 or more hours daily in communal and personal prayer. The studies during the novitiate year focus on Franciscan history, Franciscan T.O.R., history, and the spirituality of religious life and the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. The discernment part of the experience mainly consists of meeting with a spiritual director every two weeks to reflect on one's relationship with God and if God is indeed affirming the call to religious life. Knowing Corey, I'm sure he'll make the most of the year ahead of him! May God bless him and his novice brothers (Nathan, Richard, Rick, Jared, and Paul). Pat, TOR

Thursday, May 27, 2010

What Really is the Worst That Could Happen as a Result of the Gulf Tragedy?

This morning I was having breakfast at a restaurant and I overheard two persons talking about the oil spill tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico. One of the persons stated that the worst thing that could come out of this is for the United States to stop the practice of off-shore oil drilling. He also said quite non-chalantly that "disasters happen all the time" and that we should therefore be undeterred in our quest to extract more oil presumably wherever oil reserves can be found. What made these comments so disturbing to me is that they were being made directly in front of a television set broadcasting incredibly disturbing images of the oil-saturated gulf waters. So, the question that I would like to pose is, "what really is the worst thing that could happen as a result of the Gulf tragedy?" My response to this question is twofold: one response is based on my Catholic, Christian, and Franciscan orientation to the world and the other is based on a rationale analysis of the event (I offer two responses since not everyone has the same faith orientation as I do).

The worst thing that could happen from a faith perspective is for me and people of a similar faith to not stop dead in our tracks and listen for the voice of God's Spirit speaking in the midst of a disaster of nearly unparalleled scale that will have disastrous ecological, social, and economic effects for years or even decades to come in the Gulf area. I suspect that God wishes to say something profoundly game-changing about this event. Further, something tells me that the Creator, who scripture states delights in his creation and from whom all creatures flow and return, is likely not pleased with our hubris in seeking to extract oil reserves from pristine habitats such as the Gulf or the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR) and thereby threaten the environmental health and well-being of these places for years, decades or even generations to come. The burden of proof for people of faith is to explain how drilling operations that at times recklessly threaten the environment could possibly be pleasing or agreeable to the Creator who is glorified through the grandeur of creation. Putting aside the faith response, what is the worst thing that could happen as a result of this tragedy from a purely rational analysis? Given that the oil reserves in or around the US are estimated to supply only a relatively small amount at our current rate of consumption (some estimates are that we have as little as three years) there can be no question that given the catastrophic damage that will be incurred in the Gulf region alone (not to mention the very likely scenario of future disasters), I would say that reason and rationality dictate that, at a minimum, a moratorium should be imposed on current off-shore drilling operations and future plans until such time that fail safe mechanisms can be installed or developed to make absolutely certain that such a disaster never occurs again.

It's a simple analysis of costs v. benefits: the costs of the current disaster and the potential for future ones versus the very limited benefits we will derive demand that we stop dead in our tracks. Make no mistake, there are far worse things that could happen as a result of this disaster than merely stopping our quest for oil, especially if we don't ask some hard questions and learn from it. My prayers go out to those who lost their lives in this disaster (and those who survive them), those species currently fighting for life and dying, and the people of the Gulf who are suffering and will likely suffer for years to come. I also pray that people of faith and reason consider contacting their Congressional representatives and urging them to sponsor or co-sponsor a moratorium on current dangerous off-shore drilling operations and future ones until "fail safe" mechanisms can be developed and installed. Pat, TOR

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Care for Creation (C4C) Blessing Ritual and Potluck Picnic

This afternoon approximately thirty persons gathered at St. Bernardine's Monastery for a blessing of the community gardens, a blessing of seeds that will be planted in area gardens this spring, and a potluck picnic. The blessing ceremony was presided over by Fr. Christopher Panagoplos. The purpose of the event was mainly to raise awareness regarding our dependence on the land for sustenance and to develop a spirituality inclusive of creation and mindful of the rhythms of the seasons. St. Francis was very aware of humanity's reliance on the earth. In his Canticle of the Creatures, he speaks of how the earth governs the human race. What a vastly different take on our relationship to creation from the contemporary, progress and technology driven mentality! This gathering also gave us the opportunity to build community and share in food and fellowship. The C4C project is off to another great start! Pat, TOR

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Reflection on 7th Sunday in Easter: It's All Well and Good That Jesus is the Beginning and End, but What Ever Happened to the "Middle"?

This Sunday's readings for the 7th Sunday in Easter give us the opportunity to examine a very important question regarding forming a contemporary and relevant Christian faith up to the task of meeting the challenges of the 21st Century. In the second reading we read from the Book of Revelation that Jesus is the "beginning and the end." In the Gospel we encounter Jesus prior to his Crucifixion basically offering a long intercessory prayer on behalf of the Apostles he is about to suddenly depart from. His prayer is that they might be one in communion just as intimately and intensely as he and the Father are. When I reflect on the second reading in light of this Gospel passage from John, the question that comes to my mind is, "If Jesus is the beginning and end, what about the middle?"

I pose this question because our faith has placed such a strong emphasis on Jesus as the beginning ("In the beginning was the Word") and the end (emphasized in Revelation) that the middle has often been sorely overlooked. In stating that Jesus is the beginning and the end, what the Book of Revelation is also implying is the very important fact that Jesus is the "middle" that keeps both beginning and end united in meaning, purpose, and trajectory.

What might the "middle Jesus" have to offer our faith and world? "Jesus-as-middle" offers nothing less than the promised eruption of the Spirit into our lives, forming bonds of fraternal communion where before there was alienation, shaking the ground beneath our feet with the tremors of New Creation, and transforming our world more and more into the pattern of the New Heavens and New Earth. What Jesus is essentially praying for prior to his departure in John is that the Apostles might be open, receptive, and responsive to his (and the Father's) "interim" presence in the Spirit. This is the only way that the world will believe that God has sent Jesus and that God and Jesus have sent the Spirit, if the community of believers are united in communion, mission, and enlivened by the transforming Spirit. A shift in focus to "Jesus-as-Middle" can open our lives and tradition to the important work that Christians are called to in this life: not so much proclaiming Jesus "as Lord and Savior" but by declaring through unity in communion and mission that God's saving power continues to be hard at work in a world that desperately needs to experience it. Pat, TOR

Friday, May 14, 2010

Postulancy complete, now novitiate

What a blessed time this year and four months at St. Bridget's has been for me. A chance for me to settle into community as an aspirant really helped me test myself out, and allowed the friars to get to know me. Then I was officially accepted as a postulant in August and was able to learn more about the Order and the life of a Franciscan while I was still working with developmentally disabled clients at a group home and taking a couple classes at a community college for further education. I was able to hone up on my Spanish skills and write a term paper in English about St. Francis' kiss of the leper and what that means to be accepting of the social outcast in our society. My classes with Br. David, Br. John and Fr. Pat at the friary were times to reflect on Franciscan Spirituality and how I can apply those principles in my life today.
But my time in Minneapolis is quickly drawing to a close. The people I have met and with whom I've worked will always have a special place in my heart as I go out from here to the next phase of my formation: the novitiate. In Loretto, Pennsylvania I will live with 5 novices from the Sacred Heart of Jesus Province in a joint novitiate program. We will have just over a year to deeply consider our desire to become Franciscans and what this means to us. I have been told to prepare for classes 4-5 days a week, retreats and hermitages, and lots of time for prayer, communal and private, and a time of intense discernment. I will not be on line much, I will be away from the big city and many of the distractions of life: one very long retreat: a liminal space for study and prayer as I consider taking vows.
Having Br. Jeffrey here after his novitiate year, and having visited my classmates in Loretto a couple of times, has given me some insights into what it will be like. But it is still mysterious to me. I'm taking a lot of note cards and stamps so that I can keep in touch with others while I am without internet access, and I'm taking a lot of books.
Today Fr. Anthony gave me the cord that I will be wearing with my novice habit, a plain black tunic, and he taught me how to tie the knots that represent my vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. In a very short time I will be going on the pre-novitiate retreat with my 5 classmates and I'll be adjusting to a new living arrangement and a new lifestyle. I am excited, but a little trepidatious. I have been blessed up to now though with this new family of brothers, and I know that God is taking me on this journey for a reason. I will trust in God to make me the best servant I can be, no matter where I go. Peace and good, Corey

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Community Gardens and Care for Creation (C4C) Project Getting Revved Up!

The community gardens at St. Bernardine's Monastery in Hollidaysburg, PA, and the Care for Creation Project are springing back to life! The community gardens moved to St. Bernardine's Monastery two years ago after losing their garden at a local VA facility. The gardens have been going strong since just after World War II and were a continuation of the Victory Garden movement. The Care for Creation project is in it's second year. We are hoping to build on the success we experienced last year. For more information on our community's Care for Creation initiative, go to:http: Pat, TOR

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Love of God, Self, and Neighbor in Context

The first reading from today's Roman Catholic Mass describes the tension of the early Christian community as it became inclusive of Gentiles (Acts 15:7-21). Apparently there were Judeo-Christians who thought that the Gentiles must observe the Mosaic Law in order to be saved while others believed this to be a hindrance to them receiving the faith. Eventually it was decided that Gentiles need only observe those statutes of Moses that would allow them to commune with their Jewish counterparts without causing scandal or division.

Today's Gospel is short and sweet: it is the teaching of Jesus in John's Gospel that whoever observes his commandments will remain in his love (John 15:9-11). Of course, the commandments of Jesus are to love God with one's entire being and to love one's neighbor as one's self. While the first reading and Gospel seem to be unrelated in content, when the Gospel is viewed in the context of the first reading it sheds light on one practical way that we are to love God, self, and neighbor. The connection between the two is that love means focusing on what is essential and not allowing ourselves to be distracted by bias, prejudice, pet-peeves, or people's idiosyncrasies. In other words, love implies looking upon the other as a sister or brother who is beloved of God, Christ, and Holy Spirit and not critically eyeballing them for all those characteristics that may not be appealing to us. Just as some Judeo-Christians of the early Church were "troubling" their Gentile sisters and brothers by viewing them with disdain for not following the letter of the Mosaic law, so we can violate the spirit of evangelical love by "troubling" others when we choose to see them through the lens of bias, prejudice, or our "pet-peeves." Today's readings call forth the human capacity to transcend our bias', prejudices, or pet-peeves so that we might see and love others as beloved of God. Pat, T.O.R.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Peace the World Cannot Give

Today's readings from Mass offer us the opportunity to reflect on the gift of peace that Jesus gives his apostles prior to undergoing his passion, crucifixion, and resurrection. No doubt Jesus and his apostles saw the storm clouds gathering on the horizon: he had stirred up the hornet's nest through his message and ministry and there was a price to be paid. The peace that he gifted the apostles with, however, is not to be in any way understood as an "otherworldly" gift of bliss, detached from the messiness of this world nor the coming storm. This would fly directly in the face of the earlier proclamation of John's Gospel that, "God so loved the world that he sent his only son." (John 3:16). The world that God so loved and entered into to save in Jesus would not be one that God now turns his back on. No, what Jesus offers is no "escapist", "pie in the sky", disembodied peace that seeks to flee in the face of so much agony and anguish but one forged directly in and through an intimate experience of the world's travail. What Jesus is offering the disciples is precisely what he came to experience in daring to sink to the depths of the world's misery by associating with the wretched and forsaken of the earth: God's abiding presence laboring to bring about a New Creation. Far from being a gift of blessed, undisturbed repose, this gift of peace is the assurance that if the apostles dare to sink to the depths that Jesus did they will likewise encounter an unparalleled depth of communion with the God who works with a patient restlessness that all creation be utterly transformed. The reason why the "world" (understood as all of those forces allied against God's Kingdom and not the created world) cannot give such a peace is because it's definition of peace is precisely the opposite. The peace of the world is the negation of tension, conflict, or opposition that comes by force of arms, oppression, or the simple, seemingly harmless counsel that the oppressed of the earth accept their lot passively because the next life will bring all that they hoped for in this life but were often brutally denied. For Christ's disciples of the 21st Century, the offer and gift of peace will similarly be experienced only in going to the lengths and depths that he did to trouble the waters of the pseudo peace that so many have begrudgingly or unwittingly settled for. Pat, T.O.R.