“From of old I was poured forth, at the first, before the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no fountains or springs of water;before the mountains were settled into place, before the hills, I was brought forth; while as yet the earth and fields were not made, or any of the dust of the earth”
Those were the words of the first reading at today’s celebration of Trinity Sunday. Fr. Dan Riley, OFM read some words prior to the beginning of Mass from Robert Lax’s “Circus of the Sun”. Lax’s poem prefaced the words from Proverbs. I was struck by the similarity of the words.
Lately I’ve been attending Quaker meetings on Zoom and as many of you know there’s a lot of silence in those services. Quaker liturgy is devoid of images and the absence of wrote prayers is refreshing too. The encounter with God is wordless and yet the presence is there. Silence has often been the voice of God in my life. When I visit monasteries I love the silence. When I walk along the creeks and among the trees in the wooded areas that surround our villlage I’m struck by the presence and power of creation but at the same time by its stillness.
I grew up surrounded by images of God, Jesus, and the saints. More often than not they looked white like me. Lately I’ve seen more depictions of Jesus, Mary and the disciples as darker which is what they probably looked like. What struck me about today’s reading is that it was a description of a force without form or shape. It was a presence but not a depiction. Everyday I’m surrounded by trees, grass, flowers and people yet I fail to reflect that all of these sentient beings are animated by a power and spirit that is without form. The presence of God is within and without all that I see whether Republican or Democrat, man or woman, woodchuck, squirrel, sparrow, rock, stream and sky. I’m surrounded by goodness and some badness too but it’s all permeated by this presence that’s described in Proverbs and other sacred writings from other traditions.
God always seemed forbidding and distant to me because I saw God as a angry man like my father. I couldn’t feel close to a force like that. In the past few years after a challenge from my wife I’ve been reconsidering my concepts and beliefs and it’s led me to a new conception of a supreme force for good in my life. More often than not that force has been feminine. EMDR therapy has helped me to discover the roots of that belief. It was my grandmother who was my early nurture and to whom I could always go for help. She had the time to spend with me that my mother could not because she was working with my father. That hurt my mother and I understand that now but it was Grandma who I felt close to.
Fr. Lou was sitting next to me at Mass this morning and he said “The Shack” had given him the perfect description of the trinity. That fit for me. Octavia Spencer portrayed God in that film. Sumire Matsubara played the holy spirit and Jesus was played by Aviv Alush. None of the characters were threatening. There’s a feminine spirit that’s missing in much of western Christianity that needs to be reclaimed. The world needs more of the feminine and less of toxic masculinity that pervades. We need more of the nurturer at least I have found it so in my life.
The word catholic is defined as all embracing. However there are some Roman Catholics who are single issue voters. The paradigm is changing. Fr. Dan Horan OFM who represents the emerging millennial Catholic conscience is one of the reasons I have hope for the future. Dan shared an article from Sojourners in his Twitter feed this morning that points to the growing trend away from single issue voting.
There’s far more to being pro-life than being against abortion. Care for the immigrant, the refugee, climate justice, income inequality, human trafficking, universal affordable healthcare are issues that resonate with a majority of Americans and too with today’s young Catholics.
A couple of years ago while I was visiting Assisi the leader of our pilgrimage invited us to pray a special prayer request in the Basillica of St. Clare in front of the cross of San Damiano. This is the same cross at Saint Francis was praying in front of when he heard the voice of Jesus asking him to rebuild the church.
On that morning in May 2018 I asked for a child for our son and our daughter in law. A month later I learned that they were expecting. We waited anxiously for the arrival of our third grandson. Those hopes were dashed in December 2018 when Theo Joseph died in utero. Everyone was devastated and I thought my prayer had been in vain.
In January of this year we learned that they were once again expecting a child. We learned at this time it would be a little girl.We prayed every day and sometimes twice a day. we waited in anxious anticipation.
This morning at 5:47 AM on the Feast of Saint Clare of Assisi, Fiona Katherine Watkins was born. She’s a healthy and beautiful baby. Is that a coincidence or an answer to prayer? I choose to believe the latter. Deo Gratias!
This beautiful chapel was my favorite place at the Franciscan Sanctuary of La Verna. The beautiful statue of the blessed mother really captured my attention and imagination. The building was the Chapel of Santa Maria degli Angeli (Mary in Heaven), built in 1216 by St. Francis himself.
Since the lockdown began I’ve been prayer walking daily. As I walk I pray and each day those prayers include the rosary. I prefer the Franciscan Crown Rosary. The last decade of the Franciscan Crown is the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. There’s always been something about Mary because I was born on a Marian feast day. My favorite hymn is Ave Maria. Ave Maria Gratia Plena Dominus Tecum. Protect us this day.
We adore you, Lord Jesus Christ, here, and in all your churches throughout the world, and we bless you, for by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.
St. Francis of Assisi
Two years ago I was in Assisi with a group of United States Veterans as part of a Franciscan pilgrimage to Rome and Assisi. That morning the friar leading our pilgrimage celebrated Mass at the Portiuncola. It was a peak experience for me and other members of our group. Now, two years later as we are reeling from the effects of this global pandemic those days come into sharper focus. Pope Francis has designated the entire month of May as a time of prayer for relief from Covid-19. Fr. Kevin Mullen, OFM who is the provincial of Holy Name of Jesus Province of the Order of Friars Minor has designated today as a special day of prayer.
Therefore I’m joining Franciscans and others in a special day of prayer. The crucifix below is a San Damiano Cross I received on the pilgrimage.
Today I posted a picture of my rosary on Instagram and posed a rhetorical question about the effectiveness of that ancient prayer. The only way I learn is by experience and asking questions. That led one of my followers to respond that my family was healthy which indeed they are. I’m grateful for that. This month Pope Francis has asked us to pray the rosary everyday and pray that Mary intercede for us with the pandemic. I’m inclined to be a skeptic of rote prayers and particularly the rosary but I’ve been praying the rosary everyday since early March. It’s been part of a larger effort to seek and do God’s will. I usually recite the rosary when I’m walking. It’s a walking meditation for me but being a curious guy I wonder does it really accomplish anything. I’ve always had a special place in my heart for Mary. After all I was born on a Marian feast and blue is my favorite color. I believe that doubt is integral to faith. They’re two sides of the same coin.
As Jesus was dying on the cross he is supposed to have said, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me.” If the son of God can express doubt then isn’t that a sign of spiritual health. I hope so. Is everything so certain in your walk of faith that you don’t question the effectiveness of your prayer life? My life has been a series of conversion experiences. Dark nights and soul searching followed by metanoia.
This beautiful reflection is from Sister Margaret Carney, OSF who is one of my favorite people. She’s also the past president of St. Bonaventure University.
“These countless COVID-19 victims were not alone. In that final hour, the veil fell away and they moved forward surrounded by ancestors of their family and of their faith. God has wiped away their tears. Can this faith also help to dry ours?”
Three years ago I joined thousands of others at the Climate March in Washington DC. Our small group of Franciscans joined other groups. We had overnighted at Silver Spring, Maryland and rode the metro to near the Smithsonian Institute. Then we made our way to St. Dominic Church which is near the mall. We gathered with other Franciscan Friars from Holy Name Province and then had Mass. Then we gathered in front of the church with others who like us would join the thousands of marchers who had come from all over the country.
It was a great day of solidarity. I remember getting interviewed by a Catholic radio station. It was a very warm day. I remember perspiring profusely and being spiritually and emotionally drained at the end of our march. I remember joining a group of Houghton College students who were part of Young Evangelicals for Climate Action at the end of the march to rest on the ellipse.
We never imagined then that less than three years later we’d be quarantined and locked down in a global pandemic perhaps caused and certainly exacerbated by climate change.
The word Christian is meaningless. It has become so because of all the charlatans who have taken it as a mantle. We need a new word to describe followers of Jesus. Following Jesus is much different than worshipping him. Following implies living as he did among the outcasts and dregs of society. In the United States the word Christian implies selective and exclusive adherence to so called conservative worldview. Conservative in the United States implies connection to the Republican Party which means you denigrate the poor and marginalized. Conservative here means love of wealth, power and enfranchisement. That’s not following what Jesus taught. That’s diametrically the opposed to the gospel.
The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free,
What is good news to the poor? Are you part of the good news? Are you proclaiming this message?
“Jesus called his disciples to create a new transformed Earth, a kindom of equality and inclusivity, where all men and women could live together in justice, mercy, and peace. His consciousness of the whole evoked a genuine revolution in cosmic and social relations.”
— A Hunger for Wholeness: Soul, Space, and Transcendence by Ilia Delio, OSF
Contrast this spirit with what we are witnessing around us each day as those on the margins suffer most from the Covid-19 pandemic. This is just one more example of why we don’t deserve to be called a Christian nation or even a moral nation. To their credit many of our states and nation’s governors are doing their best to bridge the gap. Nonetheless folks are falling through the cracks in a nation where money is valued more than people. The paycheck protection program is one more shining example of how our leaders bail out Wall Street and stick it to Main Street. The funding is already depleted. Contrast our own national priorities with those other nations around the globe who are putting their citizens first.
Some politicians are calling for the establishment of universal basic income for all citizens. Not surprisingly some say this would incentivize the less fortunate to stay home and not seek work. These politicians have lifetime pensions which are their own universal basic income and not the $2,000 dollars a month that’s being proposed but salary and benefits in excess of $174,000 per year.
We always have lots of money to bail out Wall Street or start another war but nothing for the poor souls in our midst. These are the folks who call themselves conservative and cloak their greed in patriotism and pseudo-religious trappings.
‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.