Are we Minions?


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About two years ago, Brother Bernardo convinced me to see one of the Minions films. For those who have seen the movies, I refer to the first, titled “Despicable Me,” in English. I have no idea what it’s called in Spanish. In any case, the film seemed nice, but nothing special.

Last week, Brother Bernardo exposed me to the third film of the Minions, which gives you some of the history behind the yellow creatures with the big lenses.

I noted that Minions is not so much a cartoon movie for children, but for grown-ups. This time I enjoyed it much more than before. I do not know if it was the intention of the author of the script. I found that the Minions bring us face to face with the human condition, not as it should be; but as it is today, with its weaknesses and its pursuit of something better than ever that never seems to come.

Also, we realize that the Minions have a transcendental sense of their existence. They are in search of a supreme being who offers them protection and gives meaning to their lives. They cling to the dinosaur, then to the wild bear, then the caveman, to the Egyptians, followed by Napoleon Bonaparte and other figures with great power, but bad intentions. The Minions’ attachment lacks good judgment. They perceive as supreme the strongest, the most astute, not seeing the weak moral character of their new leader.

Has this not been our human reality since God created Adam and Eve?  Man always seeks beyond himself. Our nature is transcendental, going beyond our person. All too often, we make the mistake of following the most perfidious (one whose cunning is malicious). Of course, things never end well. We must start over in search of another supreme being to serve and protect us. That is the great pursuit of the Minions. One who does not understand that the only supreme being who can satisfy one’s need to serve and to be loved and protected is God, is a Minion.

 During a part of the film, the Minions place their trust in the commercial, urban, technical and organizational development of their environment. They build a great society with countless wonders. When they consider their work, they are empty. Technology, science, politics, economics, and no form of material development satisfies his thirst for God. Unfortunately, the name of God is never mentioned in any segment of the series, although in the first movie the three young orphan girls are seen praying before going to sleep.

St. Augustine said, “Our hearts will not rest until they rest in you Lord.”  Augustine is a respectable example of a human Minion. He sought to find the haven of Truth ubiquitously.

When he did not find her, he concentrated on himself, on the pleasures of the flesh and mind, on the satisfaction of his passions. But nothing filled him; because what his soul sought was not in the possessions and forces of this world.

The Minions, despite having their bosses and their great scientifically advanced society, were dying.  They were failing to become what they were meant to be.   Finally, three go out in search of a new foreman, convinced that their lives would be saved if they found the strongest and most astute chief. With a foreman to protect them and give them direction, they would find happiness.  So, they believed. They find other sinister characters and believe they have found their health and safety, just as men do. We cling to those present us with powerful, technology, and ideologies. We seize the job and its “reward” and attach ourselves to shaded individuals. At the end, nothing satisfies the hunger of the heart.

As we follow the series of the Minions, we realize that the satisfaction of the Minions and their foreman lies not in what this world offers, even when they are good things. Their happiness genuine in the measure that they detach from the immoral, the unnecessary and of the supposed security that gives us power. Their true happiness and purpose of their life, is perceived to the extent that the protagonists identify and surrender to the force of love. Even when such love is not seen, its presence is felt.

The experience of the Minions reflects that of many men and women. Conversion does not occur overnight. Change is possible to the extent to which they love and accept being loved.

I cannot tell you when and how the total conversion happens. First because the series is still developing. Second, I believe that the realization of the human being is achieved only in the encounter with the Perfection of Love. For most of us, this encounter occurs at the precise moment when the soul about to be freed from the body. We come face to face with Whom we have always sought. We must pass a judgment to determine if we are worthy to gaze into the eyes of Love for all eternity.

The series of Minions can go on forever, if it stays faithful to the human condition. Even if the producers give a conclusion to the search of the Minions, we know that the end of our earthly life is merely the first page of the next chapter.

The Power of Christian Parenting


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grandchild

 I’m a dad, a grandfather…and the superior of the Franciscans of Life.  Like many founders before me, I had a family before becoming, Brother Jay.  The youngest member of our family is my delightful granddaughter and everyone’s little princess, Katherine.  Katherine celebrated her first birthday October 2017.  Before going further with Katherine, allow me to construct the context for my reflection.

Election day, 2017, the residents of the state in which my family lives elected a transgender person to the State Legislature.  Some people were very pleased, because we have made progress in inclusiveness.  Other people were very upset, because of the moral questions that arise when one mentions “transgender”.

I’m not going to address said moral concerns, nor the legal and political ones either.  I want to address something more important.  Raising our children in a world that is changing very quickly, a world where many changes conflict with our values, culture and identity as American men and women.  This does not mean that change is bad.  However, we must not fool ourselves into believing that change is always good.  When something works, we keep it.  We get rid of what no longer works and replace it with something else.  Sometimes, we simply live with the void left by that which we jettisoned.

This takes me back to Katherine.  When someone approached me suggesting that Katherine’s parents move to another state to avoid “the immorality” taking place where they live, the immorality being the election of a transgender politician, my immediate reaction was to say that there is no state in the United States, nor country where everyone lives according to the absolutes of natural law, much less guided by faith and morals.

That same week I read an article in one of the conservative Christian newspapers.  The author reported on a very special occasion, the baptism of an infant.  What caught my attention, more than the faith of the writer and the newly baptized child’s family was the author’s reference to the Catholic Church as the Titanic.  He clarified that he believes that the Church will not suffer the fate of the Titanic and sink, but that it’s taking on water and things are out of control.

These two events made me think about how we react to a new life among us.  There seem to be some people for whom the birth of a new person is a source of joy and anxiety.  We rejoice in the birth of our children, grandchildren, and nieces and nephews.  We should always be aware the good and the bad in the world around us.  How else can be protect our children and teach them to protect themselves.  Ignorance is not bliss.  Those who talk too much about the bad, the ugly, the sinful, the tragedy and the disasters don’t enjoy the birth of a child to its fullest, because they are hypervigilant.  The author of the article that I read and the person who suggested that Katherine’s parents move to another state seem to be hypervigilant.  There is a danger here too.  While we should not ignore the evil in the world, we must always seek ways for our children to thrive despite the world around them.  This takes me to a third experience that I had this week.

parenting006My son-in-law, who is an internationally known photojournalist, always has a lens on hand to record Katherine’s milestones.  Just this week, he sent a photograph and a short video.  In the photograph, Katherine is on her mother’s lap, her eyes are glued on the page of a book that Mama is reading to her.  Katherine’s family: parents, uncles and aunts are avid readers.  From the first week home, everyone took a turn reading to her everything from Dr. Seuss to Cicero.  She seemed to respond to the rhythm of the reading and followed the reader with her eyes.

parenting005Recently she has started to walk.  She now picks up a book that’s interesting to her, takes it to her mother or father, climbs on the couch next to Mom or Dad and demands that they read to her.  Dad captured one of these moments with his “dadmera” (Dad’s Camera).  A few days later, came the short video.  Katherine picked up a book of her choosing, opened it, and started to read it.

Before we decide to send this baby to MENSA, let’s make it perfectly clear.  She was holding the book upside down and was making sounds as her little finger ran across the page, something that she probably sees her parents do when they read to her.

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Reading time with Uncle Julian!

Katherine never ceases to surprise us.  Her parents are devout Catholics.  Katherine has been attending mass starting the week after she was born.  For a long time, like most babies, she lay in her carrier and slept through the Holy Mass.  When she discovered her voice she also discovered the choir.  When the choir struck up a hymn, Katherine joined them with her melodic babbling.

One Sunday, they were at Holy Mass as usual.  Something interesting happened.  The priest invited called upon the congregation to pray together The Lord’s Prayer, which begins with the words, “Our Father . . .”   To her parents’ amazement, Katherine heard the word “father” and chimed in with her version in Babble.  We have no idea what goes on in the mind of a 12-month old child who sings at mass, joins in reciting the Lord’s Prayer.

parenting002My son-in-law deserves to be the “Fatherhood Poster Boy”.  He’s an excellent father.  He’s a black belt in Judo and has taught Katherine some of moves.  She squeals in delight when Dad engages with her. As we have said, Katherine has a very intimate relationship with both parents.  The bond of love expresses itself in reading, and squeals of delight doing Judo with Dad.   It’s too early to try to analyze Katherine’s thoughts.  We can only observe and report the interesting things that we see.

This takes me back to St. Peter’s “Titanic” and the election of the transgender politician.  Are parents like Katherine’s going to find a haven where their daughter will never hear or see anything objectionable.?  Probably not.  Can they stop the world around them from changing for the good and the bad?  Not so sure that’s possible either.  Nor can they bring down the price of housing, healthcare, gas, utilities and other necessities of life.  Like every parent, Katherine’s will have to deal with today’s moral roller coaster, the political hurricanes that come and go, and ideologies that can do serious harm to our minds and souls.

When we look at this little girl thriving, despite everything that’s going on around her, we must ask ourselves the question, “Is anything impossible for God?”

If Katherine’s mother and father continue the “road less traveled” and continue to provide spiritual, intellectual, physical, social and natural stimulation in an environment where she can reach beyond herself, as is the case in the worship of God every Sunday and holy day, Katherine may not grow up untouched by our weakened humanity.  But she will grow up with a taste and a hunger for those blessings that strengthen us for the journey.  Those are: prayer, books, worship, play, exercise, discipline, nutrition, love and good role models.

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You Were Born on Labor Day


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Labor Day is here.  In most countries, this holiday is an unknown.   To add to my unorthodox way of thinking, I believe that Labor Day and Mother’s Day should be celebrated together.  Make the first Monday of May, Labor Day and the second Sunday of May, Mother’s Day.  I can’t imagine a more tender experience and a greater work of love than giving birth.

Having said this, I would like to share with you how the Franciscans of Life are taught to think of Labor Day.

First:  The day should begin with a reading of the Story of Creation from the Book of Genesis.

It must be read the way that the writers intended to share it with their descendants.  It’s not a scientific or even a historical account of creation.  It is bigger than that.  It is a Revealed Account of Creation.  God revealed Himself as the origin of all that exists. He reveals Himself as a generous Father who gives his children everything they need.  Until the fall of Adam, nothing was missing from man’s life.  He reveals that everything in Creation, even those pesky little insects that annoy us are good.

Observe that each stage of Creation ends with, “and God saw that it was good.”  If man respects the goodness of the natural order and the goodness of all created things and beings, the world would truly be a Garden of Eden.  This message is very clear in Genesis.  The Garden of Eden is a place where all things and beings co-exist in harmony, each respecting the domain of the other and everything fulfilling its role in God’s plan for our salvation.

Second:  When I was a missionary in South America, people often asked me why Americans didn’t work on Labor Day.  They found this to be a contradiction.  I always explained that it is a day that we set aside to honor workers and human enterprise.

The question is, do we in America truly think about all workers, not just those who sit behind desks?

Do we appreciate the fact that were it not for those who work for the Department of Sanitation, we would be living in the Middle Ages, where rats and insects fed off the garbage that people threw into the streets and that children often played with these little critters, were bitten and died?  Thanks to sanitation workers, American children don’t have to feel threatened by infected rodents and insects.  They can play in relative safety in their back yard or a park.

(C) New York City Dept. of Sanitation

Holidays come and go.  Mornings come and go.  Who remembers that the sanitation worker, the teacher, the lawyer, the doctor and every working man and woman in the world has a life beyond outside of their work place?  Sometimes, they face great difficulties in their lives outside work.  For some, work is a respite from family problems, the illness of an elderly parent, an abusive marriage and more sadness.  If we don’t pray for these people during the year, can we at least remember them in prayer on Labor Day?

Third:  I was not kidding about mothers.  Giving birth is an act of real love.

For 40 weeks, a woman gets ready to meet her little one.  But as the weeks go by, the discomforts increase.  There are back aches.  There are issues with gestational diabetes and intra-uterine blood pressure.

Then there are all those things that people keep telling us can happen to our babies: blindness, intellectual disabilities, brain damage, and more.  The truth is that the number of children born with these conditions is a very low percentage and today we have the means and the knowledge to provide for them.

The day finally arrives.  It’s “Labor Day”.  The promise made by God to Eve in the Book of Genesis is fulfilled.  A mother experiences great pain and anxiety for hours between the onset of labor and the actual birth of her child.  However, when she sees and counts those 10 little fingers and 10 little toes, all that pain and anxiety is forgotten.

Dads have been standing by trying to be as supportive of Mom as possible, often feeling helpless.   Some men feel guilty when they see the pain of labor and delivery.  They feel that somehow, they have contributed to the suffering of the woman they love.  Those feelings disappear when they get to hold their child and glance into that tiny face covered with a knitted cap and wrapped in a white receiving blanket (with blue and pink stripes, just in case).

  Grand-parenting can be exhausting!

Do we pray for parents on Labor Day?  Do we remember those who find themselves in unexpected pregnancies and are struggling with the question, “Should we go forward with this pregnancy or get an abortion?” How many parents pray for their sons and daughters that when their time comes to be parents, they will choose labor, not death.

This Labor Day, let us remember to thank God for the Work of Creation.  Let us commit to co-exist responsibly, using what we need and preserving what we don’t need so that others may reap some of the benefits of creation.

Remember that every person has a life beyond the job that he or she does.  They need our kindness, our respect, our patience, and our prayers.

Please do not forget your parents and the labor of love that brought you into the world and the work that they have done or are still doing to help you grow and live happily.

Finally, remember those couples and those pre-born children who may be in crisis this Labor Day.

THE WITNESS OF MAXIMILIAN KOLBE


Statue at St. Maximilian Kolbe parish, sculpted by Sr. Margaret Beaudette, S.C. – (c) Jim Davis, Florida Catholic

Those who have heard the name Maximilian Kolbe, immediately remember the friar who gave his life in Auschwitz.  He took the place of an innocent man whom the Nazis wanted to execute as an “example” to others of what happens when prisoners escape.  Nazi logic is as dull as the edge of a butter knife.

They believed that a prisoner had escaped, because they could not find him.  They decided to make an example to discourage escaping; but their victim was an innocent man who had not attempted escape.

Maximilian contemplated this insane scenario.  Insane, because there was no logic to the proposed execution. This irrational sentencing to death of an innocent man was unlikely to discourage any further attempts to escape.  On the contrary, it had the potential to encourage more attempts.  Those present understood that their chances of survival were probably greater if they tried to escape.  If they did get caught and killed by the guards, their death had some meaning.  To be executed to deter further attempts to escape, when one had never attempted to do so, was irrational.

The man whom they chose to execute was a husband and a father.  He cried, not for his life, but for that of his family.  An intact family would soon be deprived of its father, because a group of men with no moral conscience, no sensitivity and no respect for human life were about “console” their wounded pride, because they failed to capture the escaped convict.  The execution of this innocent man was really a ruthless act to appease their disturbed pride.

“Jesus stepped forward… ‘I am he…let these go’ ” (Jn 18)

God had graced Maximilian with intelligence, a conscience, courage, love for all men, a spirit of detachment from all things of this world, and an unwavering trust in the Immaculate.  The Holy Spirit energized the graces that the Father had poured into Maximilian through the cross of His son.  There was no need for time to consider the consequences. Maximilian stepped forward and volunteered to replace the innocent husband and father.

This is God’s moment of glory in the life of St. Maximilian Kolbe, for all to see.  In an instant that required no time and no consideration of the facts, the power of grace, as strong as the wind of a hurricane and burning like flairs from the sun jolted Maximilian.  The rest was up to his will.  He could choose to ignore grace or surrender to the supremacy and wonder of God, knowing that his earthly life was about to come to a cruel and unjustifiable end; but a new life was about to begin.

Maximilian freely chose martyrdom.  But martyrdom is not the choice of a godless man.  God offers martyrdom to those who have lived their lives in His grace and are spiritually solid enough to tolerate martyrdom. They love as they have been loved.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (Jn 1) – Foto (c) ANSA

We honor Maximilian Kolbe and we look to him as a model, not as a hero who gave his life for another man.  Such heroism happens more often than we think.  But Maximilian’s choice was much more than an impulse to protect a life.  Maximilian’s choice was free cooperation with the Love who had loved him first.

Unless we are aware of the presence of the Beloved in our lives and return love for love, we will never have the courage to freely lay down our lives for pure love.

Such courage comes from grace that is not merited by man, but freely offered by God to some souls.  The soul becomes aware of the rule of grace. At the right moment in time, that soul freely and lovingly places itself under the shield of grace and accepts martyrdom.  For this, man must live in the presence of Christ.  Always linked to him through the Immaculate.

“The conflict with hell cannot be engaged by men…the Immaculate alone has from God the promise of victory over Satan. Assumed into Heaven, the Mother of God now requires our cooperation. She seeks souls who will consecrate themselves entirely to her, wh o will become in her hands effective instruments for the defeat of Satan and the spreading of the Kingdom of God upon Earth.” – St. Maximilian Kolbe. [drawing (c) Franciscans of Life]

At the Foot of the Cross with Our Mother


If we believe what we pray and we pray according to our belief, is it reasonable to imagine that at the hour of our death, or that of a loved one, Mary will remain silent?  Is it reasonable to think that she will not intercede for every soul as it leaves the body?  Is it even imaginable to think that she is far away from any of us?

Holy Mary,

Mother of God,

Pray for us, sinners,

NOW,

And at the hour of our death.

Amen!

The idea that the Mother of God would ignore our prayer for the soul of a loved one and for our own is irrational.

It is reasonable to feel the pain of loss that Mary felt watching her son die on the cross.  Who can watch a son or daughter die and not feel as if the heart is being ripped out of her?  “Many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul” (Luke 2:35).

The Immaculate Mother of God was not spared the pain of loss.  However, she chose to hurt and trust at the same time.“Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word,” (Luke 1:38).

The Sacred Scripture never says that the Blessed Virgin Mary didn’t suffer.

And seeing him, they wondered. And his mother said to him: Son, why hast thou done so to us? Behold your father and I have sought you with great anxiety” (Luke 2:48).

Feeling concern and anxiety for a loved one does not have to conflict with the Faith.  Suffering, for oneself or a loved one, is the most noble sign of our humanity.  Only the man who reaching his full stature as a human being can suffer for another and trust that Christ will always respond to his mother’s intercession.

“Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them (Luke 2:51).

 “When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’

 His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’   Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’

 And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So, they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew),” (John 2:3-9).

With a single sentence, the Immaculate convinces her compassionate Son.

It is important to remember that the “reception” at a Jewish wedding lasted an entire week.  Mary intercedes when they have run out of wine.  They had been drinking for a while, maybe more than a day.

If the Immaculate can open the door to her son’s heart for people who were drinking, having fun, and probably not paying much attention to Him, we can rest in the certainty that she has the key to the Sacred Heart of Christ.  No one who asks her to “pray for us sinners” will be denied her intercession.  Our Lord Jesus Christ will always hear his mother’s prayers and do whatever is for the greater glory of his Father and the salvation of souls.

Those who have not spoken to the Immaculate in a very long time (or never) can always begin today.  She is the mother with the Immaculate Heart.  She forgives!  She understands human weakness.  She has seen man’s lack of faith for centuries.  And she has been a witness to man’s greatest acts of cruelty and injustice.  Despite this, Mary allows us to take her into our very human homes, as sinful as they may be.

She needed only the word from her Son to crush the head of the Serpent that haunts us all. From that moment forward, she remains in our home as Mother.

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home”(John 19:26-27).

The Immaculate Mother whom we contemplate at the foot of the Cross on Good Friday, is our Sorrowful Mother.  Her sorrow is caused by the sins that her Son must carry on his back and the penance that he must do purely out of love, not because he was guilty of any fault of his own.

There is a difference between a sorrowful mother and a pitiful mother.  The latter is one for whom we feel sorrow because she’s an imperfect and perhaps a mother who has not owned her maternity. Mary, on the other hand, is the mother who feels the pain of sin inflicted on her innocent Son.  She feels the weight of man’s sinfulness.  She experiences great sorrow, not for herself, but for the sinner redeemed by the suffering servant that she brought into the world.

There is no room in her Immaculate Heart for anything else than love, crushed by sorrow but never extinguished.  This makes it possible for her to enter our homes as Mother and mediate for us the graces that her Son earned through His most sorrowful Passion, till we reach that perfection of charity which is the perfect fulfillment of Our Lady’s one and only commandment: “Do whatever He tells you”. Let us make this our meditation as the Holy Week begins.


O Mary, conceived without sin,

pray for us that have recourse to you,

and for all those who do not have recourse to you,

especially the enemies of holy Church

and those recommended to you“.

-Prayer of the Knights of the Immaculate

We Fail to See the Light


Very often we hear people say, “That’s good for you guys, because you’re in vows; but the rest of us are not.”  This comes from practicing Catholics.  I believe that people who make such a comment do not understand the temporal purpose of the vowed life.

The vowed life is for the benefit of the person who makes the vows, but also for the benefit of the whole body, the Church.  Married couples also make vows.  Imagine what would happen if people of faith adopted the belief that the marriage vows are for the benefit and responsibility of the couple, but have no bearing on the rest of Christ’s Mystical Body.  Marriage would make no sense.

A vowed life, whether one vows to observe chastity, poverty and obedience or one vows to be faithful to one’s spouse until death, in good times and in hard times, is not wp_20150118_016a private relationship between the person who makes the vow, the people in his life and God.  God does not call people into private relationships with him to the exclusion of everyone else.  Even hermits, such as the Carthusians, embrace the cross in silence and solitude for the benefit of the Church as well as their benefit.

The vows of consecrated life (chastity, poverty and obedience) have a transcendent quality to them.  The individual making the vows renounces everything that the world has to offer in order to live more perfectly the vows made at Baptism.  He or she does not promise to do profession-of-vowssomething different from the rest of the baptized.  He promises to do the same, but more perfectly or as close to perfection as is possible for him.  In doing so he becomes a sign of life in the Kingdom of God.

This leads us into the temporal quality of the consecrated life.  God chooses to place consecrated men and women in the middle of His people for the benefit of the Church.  Through their life of prayer, sacrifice, service and love, God’s grace pours into the world.  God is willing to do Julian_Corpus_Christicartwheels to save us.  He gives us the Scriptures.  He gives us Himself through the Incarnation and the Eucharist.  He shares His life with us through the sacraments.  And he places many other sources of grace in the middle of the marketplace for the salvation of his people.

If one assumes that the life and works of the man or woman in vows or the married couple does not affect us or commit us in any way, then one is ignoring and possibly bride-groomrejecting the grace that God wishes to share with us through these states in life.

We need not be married to learn to love without holding anything back.  Everyone is called to love without restrictions on his love. JEANNIE 31 WEEKS PREGNANT

The married couple is God’s sign of such love.  We can’t simply turn away and say, “Love without reservation is for you, because you’re married.”

We need not to vow chastity, poveuntitled-4rty and obedience to learn how to think and act with a pure heart, how to let go of the many things, people and places that redirect our attention away from God and we don’t need to be in vows to be bound to obey God as he reveals His will to us through Sacred Scripture, Jesus Christ and the Church.

This last one is key, obedience.  Obedience to what God asks of us at any given moment is not for a select few.  oratoryThose bound by a vow of obedience are to be the models of submission to the will of God, not the only people bound to submit to God’s will.

Maybe one of the reasons why vocations to the consecrated life are down and the reason that some consecrated persons are lukewarm in the way they live out the vows, is because we have separated the vowed state in life from the secular man and woman. When we separate the Evangelical Counsels from the secular sphere, what counsels are left to guide the secular man and woman to fulfill his or her baptismal promises?  Chastity, poverty and obedience are the yard-lines that lead to the final goal, the perfection of charity.

How does one know how close or how far he is from the goal without the yard-lines?

When the vows of chastity, poverty obedience and hurricane_matthewthe
vows of marriage are lived as they should be lived, they become a torch that is a sign of God’s light in what sometimes seems like a dark and scary world.flame

SPARE ME THE LITURGICAL GEOMETRY LESSON


People have been trying to impress upon me and others too, that the “new” form of the mass is horizontal whereas the traditional Latin mass is vertical.  I’ve given this a great deal of thought.  From the perspective of language (not Latin, but words) the traditional Latin mass orients the person’s focus toward the transcendent.  There is no mistake about this.

But there is another mistake, which is to say that the current form of the mass fails to orient us toward the transcendent.

There are two ways to “touch” the transcendent.  One can reach up, or that which is transcendent can reach down to man.  Whether man reaches up or God reaches down, the vertical dimension of worship and Catholic spirituality has never been abrogated.  Rather, the action can be uplifting or incarnational.

I think that it would be fair to say that today’s form of the mass, if and when it’s celebrated as per the General Instructions for the Roman Missal (GIRM), has a very dynamic vertical dimension, because it places the focus on God breaking into human history:  the Incarnation.

Everything begins with man reaching out to God asking for forgiveness, during the penitential rite.  This rite is found in both extraordinary and ordinary forms of the Roman rite.  Next, we move to sacred Scripture.  In the ordinary form of the mass, the scriptures are proclaimed in the language of the people.  In the TLM, Latin is usual.  For those who understand Latin or have a missal with the translation, following the proclamation of the scriptures is not a hardship.

Here is where the weakness of both those who love the extraordinary form and those who love the ordinary form of the mass is most visible.  Unfortunately, catechesis in  the Latin Church has been very weak in the area of Sacred Scripture.  To say that many of the religious education books published in the United States could have just as well been produced by Disney Enterprises would not be much of an overstatement.  They fail to convey  the fact that God speaks and we must listen and then respond.

For many Catholics, traditionalists and other, the proclamation of the Sacred Scripture is like story time in elementary school.  Our priests and deacons add to the reduction of the proclamation, because they often fail to mention that what we are about to hear and what we have heard is God’s voice, not the lector’s or the clergyman’s.  Those people are conduits through which God wants to speak to His people.  The vertical quality of the Word of God is obscured by a lack of appreciation on the part of the congregation, poor delivery from those who read it, and very often sermons or homilies that sound more like motivational talks than Divine messages from God to man.

Those who see and hear the voice of God in the proclamation of the Scriptures are definitely praying, because prayer is simply lifting one’s mind and heart to God.  We don’t have to do more.  God does the rest.  During the proclamation of the Scriptures and the homily God calls out to man, as he called out to Adam in the garden, to Abraham, Samuel, and Moses, and to the apostles.  He communicates His love for man and repeats His promise to be save us.

But God also communicates the conditions necessary for salvation.  He reveals to man the moral law that we must observe to be saved.  He offers the means to reconcile, if we violate that law.  He also reveals the consequences for those who violate the moral law and do not repent.

It is during this message that says, “I AM your God and you are my people,” that the soul is intimately tuned in to the voice of God.  But the soul must have a springboard to make the leap from here, into the Word of God.   The springboard for the soul is not an object, but awareness.  We must be aware that it is God who is speaking and that we are commanded to listen carefully.  This is not story time, history class, catechism class or motivational speech to improve your fortune and acquire a younger and better looking wife.  This is the literal voice of God that becomes Incarnate in the Word.  This Word will be offered to the Father in an unbloody sacrifice under the appearance of bread and wine.  Then again, God responds by offering us the Word as spiritual nourishment in Holy Communion.

The horizontal dimension of faith plays an important part in the ordinary form of the mass.  We come to God as a people to fulfill the two Commandments that God gives us, “Love God above all things and love your neighbor as yourself.”   To understand that we relate to each other, not by how we interact at mass, but because of who we ARE, the People of God, and to convert our manners so that everything we do and say reflects God rather than us, adds the horizontal dimension necessary to complete the cross.  This is called ecclesial consciousness.

The ordinary form of the mass provides us with the means to touch and be touched by the Transcendent who speaks directly to us through the Scriptures.  The Word that is proclaimed in the Scripture points our attention to the sacrifice on the altar, which is the life of the Word Himself laid down for our Redemption.  But the Word does not remain in the grave.  It rises and reveals himself to us, glorious and triumphant at every elevation of the sacred host.  He invites us to eat and drink His body and blood under the appearance of bread and wine.  Such great wonder and mystery becomes visible to those who are familiar with the Sacred Scripture, who have an ecclesial consciousness and who attend mass  to present themselves to God, not to fulfill an obligation or to experience the warmth and friendliness of parish life.  Parish life that nurtures the soul is that life which begins with the acknowledgement that the Word has become flesh and is speaking to us.  This is not a replay or a reading of some historical event.  This is reality, more real than the pains of a woman in labor.

 

Br. Jay

The Quiet Amidst the Storm – Part 2


In our previous article on Hurricane Matthew, we closed discussing the attitude of anxiety that can contaminate others during such events, and we mentioned that our Holy Father St. Francis taught us instead to always go through the world filled with the Lord’s peace and joy.

In this article we wish to share a bit more alongside some practical “hints” on how to achieve and maintain inner peace during difficult times.

Transitus at St. Maximilian Kolbe parish

Transitus at St. Maximilian Kolbe parish

On his deathbed, afflicted by physical suffering and by the struggles of the newborn Franciscan family, St. Francis was able to compose his beautiful Canticle, of which we quote only some strophes:

Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures…

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene,
and every kind of weather …

 Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water…

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire…

Praised be You, my Lord,
through those who give pardon for Your love,
and bear infirmity and tribulation…

Blessed are those who endure in peace…

Praised be You, my Lord,
through our Sister Bodily Death…

Woe to those who die in mortal sin.
Blessed are those whom death will
find in Your most holy willl…

This is the commitment that the brothers take upon themselves when they profess to follow the life of St. Francis, when they commit to become mirrors of perfection.

Such was the inspiration that our Father gave us, that he would inspire other great saints to imitate this model. St. Teresa of Avila would write: “Let nothing disturb you”. St. Ignatius of Loyola would speak of “holy indifference” as “not preferring health to sickness, riches to poverty, honor to humiliation, long life to a short one[; instead] wish only for those conditions that will aid our pursuit of the goal for which we have been created”.(Spiritual Exercises) There are many other examples, but  ultimately, they all refer back to the ultimate source of Peace and Joy, the good Lord who once said: “Do not worry about your lives…do not worry about tomorrow!” (Mt 6:25,34).

lighthouses-lighthouse-looking-wide-open-sea-horizon-cloud

Furthermore, as Franciscans of Life, we bear the additional commitment of witnessing to the power and majesty of Life, eternal and all-powerful. “I have come that you may have life, and have it fully” (Jn 10:10). Church Father St. Irenaeus once commented:

“The glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God. If the revelation of God through creation already brings life to all living beings on the earth, how much more will the manifestation of the Father by the Word bring life to those who see God.”

In a practical way, we know that “nobody has seen the Father except the one He sent” and that “he who has seen the Son has seen the Father”, as our Lord reminds us of this and St Francis wishes us to imitate this. Therefore the Franciscan of Life, when seeking to proclaim the Gospel of Life, looks at the person of our Lord within his earthly life, particularly at times when He was surrounded by great agitation and nervousness. How did He act? What did He say?

Thus walking unhurriedly amidst a hurried crowd, being polite at a tired stored employee, smiling at an upset customer, helping a frustrated stranger who is looking for batteries, all of these take a different meaning as they proclaim the Light that shines in the darkness.

A friend of our community mentioned to us during a recent conversation that she felt “ashamed” as she, too, was guilty of having rushed through several stores and having been glued before the TV screen following the alert updates. We do not wish you to misunderstand us… as we said, we too went through the necessary preparations, as prudence is a great virtue. There are, however, certain elements that everyone – even those who have not been through years of formation in Franciscan spirituality – can apply in their daily life to find more of that interior silence that helps us maintain the quiet through the storm.

For example, we avoid following the secular news – including weather updates. The Superior, a man who has mastered interior silence, is tasked with following the development of the event – whatever the event may be – and sharing what he considers necessary for the brothers to know.

To build on a metaphor by Thomas Merton, it seems that the media in this day and age has sadly become a sort of “digital acupuncture” designed to stimulate every possible nerve in the human body, to keep us “on the edge”. “Fortunately”, though, our first-world stores come to the rescue with every sort of product that will reinforce our sense of safety by reinforcing our sense of “having” – even when we purchase those items on credit cards and therefore we are increasing our degree of “not having” (that is, if we assume for the sake of the argument that money is something one can “have”, that is, if we assume that money “is” something).

To make things worse, the media – even those with the best intentions – often miss the elephants in the room. Mother Teresa, recently canonized to the great joy of us all and of so many around the world, reminds us that we need not look far in order to find our neighbor in need. Even before we look at Haiti and the Caribbean, we ought to ask ourselves what we can do to help the homeless men and women on the streets of Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and many other cities of Miami-Dade and Broward who may not even know that there is a deadly hurricane coming their way. Some of them may not have the means to reach a shelter, others may lack an ID that will allow them access into a shelter. Could we find it in our heart to welcome them into our homes for the length of the emergency?

To turn off the “excitement” of the media and to turn from “self” towards the “other” – here are two very useful ways to maintain inner silence, peace, and joy.

The last suggestion I would like to make comes from the spiritual director of St. Teresa of the Andes, a young Carmelite mystic to whom the Lord revealed that she would die within the month. Upon mentioning this to her spiritual director and asking how to go about the remainder of the month, she was told: “Live as usual, as if you were not going to die“. For, in the words of St. Francis, “blessed are those whom the Lord will find doing His holy will“. Then even dreadful, ugly, scary Death becomes no longer our enemy, but our sister.

Francis_blessing

Following Mary’s GPS


On August 14, we celebrate the feast of St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe, patron of the Franciscans of Life, and the 75th anniversary of his martyrdom.  The next day, August 15th, is the solemnity of the Assumption, also known as the Feast of the Dormition of Mary in the Eastern Churches.  For the moment, let’s put the Assumption on the side.  By the end of this article, we’ll see how it all fits together.  Let’s begin with Maximilian Kolbe.

 

  1. Todeszelle_Pater_Maximilian_Kolbes,_KZ_Auschwitz_I,_Block_11We must get past the end of the story in order to understand any saint and his or her journey into the mind of God. All too often we look at the finished product, who the person was at the time of death or in the later years of their life, completely missing a life journey that should inspire us to do better.  Such is the case with St. Maximilian Kolbe.  When you mention his name, everyone remembers him as the priest who traded places with a condemned man Auschwitz and whom the Nazis starved and killed by lethal injection.  This heroic act of faith and charity did not spring up on the spur of the moment.  There was a lifetime that led to Maximilian’s ultimate sacrifice where he unites his life and death to that of the Crucified Christ to give man a chance at new life.
  1. MAX AND MARYAccording to his parents’ and brother’s memories, Maximilian was typical pre-adolescent who had the ability to get under people’s skin like most kids in that age group. His mother often cried out in despair, “What’s to become of you Raymond?  Note:  He was born Raymond Kolbe.  But there was something special about this apparent little magnet for trouble.  His parents had taught him to pray.  As a child, he knelt before Our Lady and asked her, “What is to become of me?”  Our Lady gave him a choice between a crown of martyrdom and a crown of purity.  Raymond chose both.

Here is a learning moment for those who are parents.  As important as it is to reign in your restless children and protect them from getting into trouble, as seemed to be Mrs Kolbe’s daily task with Raymond, it is imperative that we never forget that even those little mischievous creatures that we love and call children were given to us to form so that they can return to God.  The school that any child must attend is the school of prayer.

256px-Luxembourgers_in_England-_Evacuees_in_Surrey,_1942_D11110Raymond, despite the grief that he caused his mother, learned to go to prayer when he didn’t know where else to turn.  This is not something that comes built into a child.  This is the work of actual grace given by God to the parent, which the parent passes on to the child as he promised at the child’s baptism.  In other words, Raymond prayed because his parents had fulfilled the covenant they made when they baptized him, “to bring him up in the faith.”  A child who is brought up in the faith may be derailed, but can find his way back more easily than those who have not grown up in the Catholic faith.  We should pay special attention to those parents who raise saints.  Often, they serve as good models for parenting.

  1. At the age of 15, Raymond decided to join the Franciscans. He enters that branch of the Franciscans known as the Friars Minor Conventual or simply the Conventual Franciscans. Upon entering the novitiate, he is invested in the Franciscan habit and given the name Maximilian Maria.  From that point until his death he will be known as Friar or Brother Maximilian Maria. There is much to be learned here.

Jesus and boyFirst for youth – St. John Paul told the youth of the world, “Do not be afraid of Jesus Christ.” When Our Lady offered Raymond a choice between martyrdom and purity, he chose both.  We think of this story and we swoon over this wonderful little boy who was so pious and so holy.  We completely miss what God wants to teach us.  Those who struggle, as did Raymond, are also called to a life of virtue and sacrifice.  Prefabricated saints don’t need to practice heroic virtue or make heroic sacrifices.  Sinners do.

Raymond admitted that he was a sinner.  He also trusted Christ.  He was not afraid of Him.  If Christ used his Immaculate Mother to guide Raymond to Himself, Raymond was willing to take that step into the unknown and follow her lead.  He didn’t become a Franciscan Friar because this was what he wanted to do.  He may have wished to be a friar.  But he examined his attraction to the Franciscan life in light of the call that Christ made to him through the Immaculate.  Raymond entered the Franciscans because the Immaculate said to him, “Do whatever he tells you.”  She promised to be by his side along the journey.  There was no reason to fear Christ, no reason to fear embracing a life of uncertainty, sacrifice, long days and short nights, penances and many humiliations.  Maximilian teaches us that Christ calls us down paths that he has paved specially for each of us.  Christ never calls you where you cannot walk.

The question for the young person should be, “What is to become of me, Lord?”  This was Raymond Kolbe’s question and the Immaculate responded, “Do whatever he tells you.”  Life is not about what I want to do, but about God’s plan for me.

ST MAX AUSCHWITZ

Second for parents:  The Kolbe parents were committed to raising their children in the Catholic faith, as they had promised at their baptism.  They were also conscious that their children were not their special project, but they were a temporary gift from God that they would have to return when God asked.  However, they had no idea what God would ask of their children, when or how.  They st josephremained open to the God of surprises rather than planning out their children’s lives in advance and trying to steer them into careers and marriages without consulting God’s plan for them.  They educated their children in the faith, provided the academic education available to them and offered them guidance along the way.  But they never owned their children.  Their children belonged to God.  When Christ called Raymond to become Brother Maximilian, it may have not been what Mr and Mrs Kolbe expected or planned, but they trusted.  If this was truly the voice of God calling their son, he would be safe and they could offer him no better assurance of his happiness and salvation.  If it was simply an illusion of youth, God would open their son’s eyes to the folly of his choice in life.  Again, they trusted.

Madonna001The lesson to be learned is that even when we are unsure what God wants  from our children, if the choice is not a sinful one or a danger to to self or others, we can stand back and let the Immaculate guide.  She can only guide our children to her Son.  Her GPS is locked on Christ as the compass is locked on the North Pole.  There is nothing to fear and much to be gained.

This year, during the feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe, let us focus less on the end product, the martyr and more on the boy, the man and his parents.  Let us learn to follow the guidance of the Immaculate and to trust her Son as they did.  When we commit to following the guidance of the Immaculate, which leads to her son, then the Assumption needs very little if any explanation.  She who leads others to her Son was also called to follow Him in body and soul and will lead all men to the same end.

Shrine to the Immaculate Conception and St. Maximilian Kolbe at the FFV Motherhouse.

Guess what?


Hello friends! Pax et bonum!

We would like to share some highlights from the past few months.

Of course, there has been more going on. 🙂 Lent and the Easter season were spiritually fruitful times full of joy and great moments of fraternity. We also posted two new videos on our Youtube channel (http://youtube.com/franciscansoflife) and several updates and interesting news on our Facebook group (http://www.facebook.com/groups/franciscansoflife). We even published our Wikipedia page (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franciscans_of_Life). Check them out when you get a chance!

These highlights are from our community life and apostolate – more of an “insider’s peek”. As you go over them, please keep us in your prayers. Also pray for the men who are discerning with us, and for all those whom the Most High will invite to join us when the time is right. Pray that the seed of their vocation may flourish for the proclamation of the Gospel of Life to the voiceless. In the territory in which we serve  there is much work to be done 🙂 Please prayerfully consider whether God may be inviting you to walk with us.

 

General Chapter

As per the Franciscan tradition, the brothers held a General Chapter on Pentecost (actually, the Monday after Pentecost).

The Mother House with the new artwork for Pentecost

chapter002

The Document of the General Chapter

The tradition of the Capitulum goes back to the 8th Century Benedictines.  The first”General Chapter” for an entire community was celebrated by the Cistercians in 1195.

The IV Lateran Council established in 1215 that all religious communities should celebrate Chapters at regular intervals as a means of promoting reform of religious life. At the time of St. Francis, a General Chapter was celebrated twice a year from 1209 to 1216, once a year from 1217 onward.

This is the highest authority over the community, and the decisions taken by the chapter are binding even on the Superior. At the end, a Document is redacted with the mandates of the Chapter and a summary of the discussions, along with an introduction by the Superior General.

Some of the brothers at the General Chapter

       

Weekend Retreat

The community organized  a weekend retreat which also provided an opportunity for a limited number of inquirers to come and see. The theme of the retreat was Conversion of Manners. Brother Chris provided the canopy and the buckets, and installed it with Brother Leo. Brother Leo rescued it from the stormy winds that followed 🙂 After that, the weather was perfect. The participants gathered on Friday afternoon, shut down and put aside their cellphones, and all contact with the outside world became off-limits.

The outdoors location of the retreat

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Cells 2 and 3.

The retreat included the prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours, formation, fraternity, times of silence and private prayer, and overnight stay. Visitors were allowed to sleep in their own cella, the same the brothers use. We made sure we washed the sheets ahead of time 🙂 The Superior, as traditional, gave up his cella to a guest – our friend Alex – and slept on the couch.

Visitors also witnessed the Friday night Chapter of Faults, where the brothers accuse themselves before the Superior and their brothers of their faults against the Holy Rule and the Constitutions. Attendance to this ritual is ordinarily reserved to the brotherhood.

It was a joyful and edifying experience. Brother Jay, our Superior, delivered the formation talks. Brother Leo was in charge of the meals.

Br. Leo at work – Max and Tasha stand guard

Brother Bernardo ensured that the citronella candles were lit (he has a thing about our brothers mosquito) and helped take down the canopy at the end of the retreat.

Five minutes later, a storm hit again, with much lightning. Brother Jay remarked that the guys taking down the canopy reminded him of Ben Franklin trying to harness the power of lightning 😛

The Storm!

Solemn Promise

On June 20, Extern Brother Luis Charbel, having completed his formation, made his Solemn Promise to live according to the Holy Rule of Penance and our Constitutions for one year. The Extern brothers do not profess the Evangelical Counsels, but they bind themselves to observe their spirit in accordance with their state of life. They are truly members of the fraternity, and the Constitutions provide separate chapters to guide them. Brother Luis Charbel is an exemplary Extern Brother. His entire family attended the event, which took place at the Chapel of St. Maximilian Kolbe Catholic Church during the liturgy of Vespers – including his 28-week pre-born child 🙂

Br. Luis professes his Solemn Promise

 

Project Joseph

The brothers were very excited that Tom, a good friend of the community who had begun his training to be a Project Joseph mentor, completed his training and began serving the dads of the North Dade Center of Respect Life Ministry Archdiocese of Miami. The dads are very excited to be able to have a weekend session and this is also the first time that a Respect Life center offers two weekly Project Joseph sessions! Brother Bernardo was assigned as liaison between the mentors and the center director. He reports directly to our Superior, who oversees the entire Project from the administrative office. Keep your eyes on the Florida Catholic for more on Project Joseph  and the Franciscans of Life 😉

Announcement of the new session

Adopt-a-Brother

adopt_a_student_brotherWe want to express a heartfelt thank you to our friends and benefactors who have participated and still participate to our fundraising to cover the education of our brothers.

Graduate school in Spiritual Theology and Education is an expensive proposition for our emerging community,  but these are skills that we need to serve the voiceless in our ministry. We do not charge the Church or the people whom we serve. Following the Testament of St. Francis, the brothers work to provide for their needs and, only when necessary, they beg. Our monthly income keep our simple living quarters and car up and running and cover for food and medical expenses.

The Adopt-a-Brother program is still up and running. You can read more about it here. We post updates on our Facebook group and we will notify when we have reached our goal. We only ask for as much as we actually need. 🙂

motherhouse

The FFV Motherhouse

The statue of Our Lady at the Motherhouse. It is the same image from the Miraculous Medal which all the brothers wear.