Tag Archives: spirituality

Local priest describes trip to Rome to become missionary of mercy

February 19, 2016


Father John Ubel greets Pope Francis during his trip to Rome.

Father John Ubel greets Pope Francis during his trip to Rome.

By Father John Ubel

My brief trip to Rome began with a plethora of questions from an inquisitive Jewish woman sitting next to me on the flight from Minneapolis. Among them: “What do you mean by mercy?” and “But does forgiveness actually accomplish anything?”

While a great discussion starter, on this evening flight to Amsterdam, I was most interested in sleeping. But when the pilot kept giving us Super Bowl updates every 20 minutes just as I began to doze, I accepted reality! But, her pointed questions left me pondering some very basic concepts, and how I ought to be able to explain mercy in terms understandable even to those who do not share my faith.

After a two-hour layover at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, I arrived in Rome on Monday afternoon (Feb. 8) only to discover that my phone’s battery had inexplicably gone completely dead, even though turned off. My rusty Italian was enough for me to comprehend that it was indeed an expensive fix and I’d be better off seeing if it was under warranty back home.

On to Plan B. I said a quick prayer they had Wi-Fi at the Domus Paulus VI. This is the clerical residence for priests working in the Vatican near the Piazza Navona that also welcomes occasional priest guests. Pope Francis stayed there in the days leading to the conclave that elected him, and you may recall the photo of him returning to pay his bill!

Thankfully they had Wi-Fi, because in typical “Fr. Frugal” fashion, I was too cheap to purchase a data plan for my iPad. My simple but comfortable room looked right over a bus stop (if elected to the Italian parliament, I’d immediately sponsor legislation to outlaw scooter horns and pigeons), but the priests and staff were most gracious and welcoming of their American interloper.

When I mentioned at table that I was from Minnesota, I was met with deadpan stares. I clarified that it was six hours from Chicago — still nothing. Finally I said that I lived near Canada! I began writing this travelogue while enjoying my third (alright, perhaps my fourth) cup of cappuccino on Tuesday morning. I could get used to this! I had time to pray and go to confession, as well as purchase a few Holy Year related gifts. While visiting the tomb of St. Monica in the Church of St. Augustine, I prayed for my mother and all mothers, as they labor tirelessly to pass the faith along to their children.

The Holy Year theme “Merciful like the Father” and the Jubilee Logo are omnipresent, as are the pilgrims here to venerate the mortal remains of St. Padre Pio, brought here from San Giovanni Rotondo in Puglia. The logo was emblazoned on a beautiful commemorative violet stole given to each priest, which I plan to wear in the confessional. St. Pio stands as a model confessor, humble and simple, and he reminds me that we must never tire of offering forgiveness. I have a special devotion to Padre Pio since my days at St. Agnes, when I prayed for his intercession at a critical time in that school’s history in 2007. He came through then, and continues to inspire.

On Tuesday afternoon, the universality of the Church was especially evident as nearly 700 priests designated as Missionaries of Mercy gathered at Castel Sant’Angelo for a solemn procession toward St. Peter’s Basilica to enter through the Holy Door. It was a prayerful walk as we recited designated prayers, gathering by language groups. The procession took us inside the Basilica, all around and back out again. We continued around the perimeter of the outside of the Basilica leading us to the Apostolic Palace and the Sala Regia (Regal Room). Completed in 1573 A.D., it is adjacent to the Sistine Chapel and was originally used to receive foreign princes and ambassadors. But the purpose of this meeting was quite different.

Without really trying, I wound up in the eighth row, as the room quickly filled up. Archbishop Rino Fisichella prepped us for the audience. Among other things, he encouraged a total fast from all food on Ash Wednesday and reminded us to silence all cellphones. His American assistant, my friend Father Geno Sylva from the Diocese of Paterson, New Jersey, then stepped to the microphone and asked those without headsets (for the purpose of providing a simultaneous translation for non-Italian speakers) to move to an overflow room just off to the side because the headset reception only worked in the main Sala. No, please don’t ask me to move! Since I had chosen not to take a headset, I was banished, and would watch the address on a monitor.

But as it turns out, the Holy Father walked right past me on his way to and from the audience, and on his way out I shook hands with him and greeted him. God provides — the last shall be first! During his address, the Holy Father exhorted us to be patient and kind confessors — and not to ask too many questions! He reminded us that the sacrament of penance is an encounter with our loving and merciful Father and that sometimes our words get in the way. It was sage advice and I plan on heeding it carefully. After the meeting, we were treated to a delicious dinner in the atrium of the Pope Paul VI Audience Hall. It was after all, Martedi Grasso (Fat Tuesday), so I enjoyed it as well as meeting priests from various parts of the World, truly a highlight for me.

On Ash Wednesday, I had the rare luxury of not needing to set my alarm. The fatigue of travel and the excitement from Tuesday’s activities coalesced, enabling me to sleep in until nearly 6 a.m.! I made my way down to the refectory for a cup of coffee at 6:45, but it was still brewing. I said my morning prayers and patiently waited. Roman coffee is always worth the wait, and I took the time to finish writing a Cathedral bulletin column before emailing it back home. Later in the morning I visited with David Kirsh, a lifetime Cathedral parishioner and St. John Vianney College Seminary student, spending the semester in Rome through the University of St. Thomas’ Catholic Studies program.

Desiring to keep the rest of Ash Wednesday in a spirit of preparation, I neither shopped nor did any sight seeing. Instead, I spent some quiet time in prayer and reading at the Augustinianum, a Pontifical University right next St. Peter’s Square, specializing in Patristic studies. And where, I might add, I took the toughest oral exam I have ever had in my life 10 years ago — it still stings!

It was peaceful and prayerful, and I eventually made my way to St. Peter’s, thirty minutes ahead of our appointed time. But I was still far from first in line. The piazza was packed and people were trying to acquire tickets for Mass. One lady even asked if I would give up my ticket so she could attend with her toddler.

I politely declined, noting that the gold tickets were for concelebrating priests only. She was not impressed! We priests spent the next 90 minutes waiting patiently, as this is just part of the deal in the Eternal City. Those cobblestones really do a number on one’s back — a chiropractor could make a fortune in Rome! But it provided ample opportunity to visit with the other priests, whether Italian or English speakers, and I found this quite enjoyable.

A prayerful, yet jubilant spirit was kept throughout. While waiting I met Father Joseph Reilly from Newark, New Jersey, and learned that he was the rector of their Cathedral. I replied, “Father, you and I have at least two things in common — we’re both rectors and we are currently sharing an Archbishop!”

We made our way to the bronze steps where we waited for Mass to begin. There, final instructions soon followed in five languages (no, I did not need to be reminded to refrain from taking pictures during Mass!) and the long procession began. While I ended up toward the back of the reserved section for priests, it mattered little because we were all there together concelebrating with the Holy Father.

The Sistine Choir, composed of men and boys from the Basilica, provided the beautiful music. Readings, petitions and the gift bearers were provided by men, women and children from different countries, and the distribution of ashes began with Cardinal Angelo Comastri, the Archpriest of the Basilica, imposing ashes upon the crown of the head of Pope Francis. In Rome, the ashes are not placed on the forehead in the shape of a cross, but rather sprinkled on the crown of your head, recalling the Book of Nehemiah 9:1 in which the “Israelites gathered together while fasting and while wearing sackcloth, their heads covered with dust.”

The highlight for me was the commissioning ceremony at the end of Mass. The prayer asked the Lord to “watch over these your servants, who we send forth as messengers of Mercy, liberation and of peace. Guide their steps with Your right hand and sustain them with the power of Your grace, so that they do not come under the weight of apostolic endeavors. May the voice of Christ resound in their words, and in their gestures the heart of Christ.”

It was so clear that the human aspect of the encounter is central for Pope Francis, and even his commissioning prayer was a sober reminder of the role that we are called to play. I would not be surprised if he wrote the prayer himself. I will not soon forget this powerful exhortation and the brief, but extremely rewarding, time I spent in Rome. And, I felt uplifted by the prayers of so many from home and kept the good people of the archdiocese close in my prayers.

Father Ubel is rector of the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul. He was commissioned to be a Missionary of Mercy by Pope Francis on Ash Wednesday in Rome.




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10 rules of thumb for living with less

August 24, 2015


It’s not all about you — or your stuff

The search for meaning in our lives, for activity that truly satisfies, is a spiritual journey even for people not connected to any organized religion.

BlessedByLessThat’s the belief of author Susan V. Vogt, and in “Blessed by Less,” her book about living lightly, she named the spiritual principles that guided her and “rules of thumb” as practical advice. Her principles “are about letting go of what is less important to make way for a contemplative heart in action.”

One’s worth and importance, Vogt wrote, are not dependent on what we own, how we look and feel, how much we know and what we can accomplish.

“Spirituality is about seeking the Divine Presence. It’s not all about me,” she noted. “God’s presence surrounds me if I but look and listen. The spiritual response is to turn this contemplative awareness into action for the good of humanity.

“Uncluttering our lives, both materially and inwardly,” Vogt wrote, “can bring us a fuller, more meaningful life and free us to attend to the needs of others. . . . We want to make a positive difference in our world. Learning to live more generously, humbly and lightly is a way to do this.”

Deciding how much is enough — and how much is too much — is something every person needs to answer for him or herself, Vogt added, but she included the following 10 “Rules of Thumb for Living Lightly”:

  1. Living in destitution in not a virtue; helping people out of destitution is.
  2. Be prudent, responsible and wise.
  3. Be generous, unencumbered and fair.
  4. The less I have, the less I have to guard, clean and repair.
  5. If I don’t need it now (or soon), can I give it to someone who does?
  6. Spend in order to save.
  7. Decide which technologies save time, energy and money — and which ones waste time, energy and money.
  8. Let go of anger, grudges and compulsions to lighten the heart.
  9. Smile and laugh more.
  10. Forgive others. Forgive myself. It lifts the spirit.


Excerpts are from “Blessed by Less: Clearing Your Life of Clutter by Living Lightly,” by Susan V. Vogt. Loyola Press (Chicago, 2013). Paperback, 122 pp., $13.95.

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County Fairs and Back to School

August 24, 2015


Tim-ParkerGlastonbury154MuckyBoots-300x225August has a certain rhythm for me; it means the hottest days of the summer, the county fair and preparing to go back to school.

Every August we see the ads: Back to School Sale! Even years after having no children to buy school supplies for, I still have this uncontrollable urge to purchase notebooks and No. 2 pencils! There is something about that anticipation of starting something new and fresh and getting all new notebooks and pens that is so exciting! This year, although I am not going back to school, I am starting a new job. It was such a pleasant and welcoming surprise for me on my first day to find new note pads, pens, paper clips and post it notes on my desk.

August also brings back other memories for me; that of the county fair. Being involved with 4-H, the fair means projects, barns and showing animals. If you didn’t grow up around animals, you may not know much about manure. Let me teach you a few things that this farm girl knows. A lesson I have learned from manure can be used whenever we are starting something new.

As you walk through a barn and collect manure on your boots, you need to be careful not to track that mud and manure into other buildings, whether that is another barn where disease could spread to other animals or your home and clean living spaces. Often, there is a hose or tray filled with water outside of the barn put there just for the purpose of washing off the muck.

The image from Matthew 10:14 come to mind whenever I see this process. “Whoever will not receive you or listen to your words—go outside that house or town and shake the dust from your feet.” Although not shaking dust exactly, the image of ridding yourself of the muck on your boots before entering into new territory is a good practice.

The anticipation of children starting a new school year fresh is wonderful. I would remind my children that anything is possible! They were starting with a new teacher, new subjects and a new start! Issues from the previous year or school didn’t need to follow them. If last year you struggled with a certain class or classmate, now was the time to set a new tone. This is a lesson I think we all can use as we start new seasons of our life.

Is there any muck that is stuck to your boots that could contaminate a fresh start?

Let’s thoroughly clean the muck from our hearts and minds and start fresh! And just for good measure, buy yourself a new notebook and a No. 2 pencil, too!

* This post was originally posted on WINE: WomenIn the New Evangelization

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Willing to be ‘blessed by less’?

August 17, 2015


BlessedByLessAre you ready to clear your life of clutter by living lightly?

Those willing to try the suggestions Susan V. Vogt offers in “Blessed by Less” — an easy-to-read, 122-page paperback — will find they are right in sync with the recent encyclical of Pope Francis that encourages better stewardship of the earth’s resources and valuing all creation.

Vogt hits a nerve right from the start: “Your life is an overflowing closet. You know it is.”

Living lightly, she writes, “is not just about the stuff we accumulate, and it’s not just for people in the second half of life. It’s about an attitude of living with fewer burdens and encumbrances, whether you’re 21 or 65.”

There is a spirituality to that attitude, one held by those who remember that their existence is more than accumulating possessions and gaining status, and those spiritual principles drive this Loyola Press book. As Vogt puts it, “It’s a delicate dance to balance my own genuine needs with those of others. The spiritual paradox is that the less tightly I cling to my stuff, my way, and my concerns, the happier and more blessed I feel. Once I have enough, less is more.”

How many of us are aware of what Vogt labels “creature comfort creep”?

It’s feeling perfectly comfortable with a possession like a cell phone until we see people around us who have a newer phone with even greater capabilities. We
“have to” buy it, thus creating a “new normal,” one that will itself one day be outpaced by a yet newer model. The creature comfort creep goes for seeing others with a lifestyle we might covet, too.

As good as are the suggestions for how to go about decluttering and living lightly, there is great advice here too about the intangibles in our lives, such as privacy, social media, feelings, over-scheduling and over-committing, being consumed with being right, winning arguments and getting one’s way.

The chapter on letting go of emotional baggage is as valuable as Vogt’s criteria for making purchases. She does an excellent job of condensing good things to remember into lists and bullet points, and each chapter has suggestions both basic and more complex, plus an appropriate Scripture passage to mediate on and questions to reflect upon or discuss.

And, in a approach I hadn’t seen before, “Blessed by Less” includes ideas to try “For those in the first half of life” who may be more in the accumulating mode and “For those in the second half of life,” more likely to be looking to disburse some of those accumulations, both the material and the emotional. That’s good thinking.

Deep in a chapter on recycling the author drops what may be the one take-away from the book that could be a mantra for everyone in the 21st century:

“The best way to recycle is to reduce the need for it (recycling) by buying and accumulating less in the first place.”



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Ride with African aid workers is fiction, but it reads like reality

January 5, 2015


Children are DiamondsWhat is on-the-face fiction reads so much like a memoir that I couldn’t stop myself from checking — and more than once: This is a novel, right?

The first-person narrative is so visceral, so descriptive of what I imagined the reality of war-torn central Africa to be, that, finishing “Children Are Diamonds,” I feel I’ve just ridden through the African bush and taken a class in geopolitical history, not simply read a compelling tale from someone’s imagination.

Author Edward Hoagland imbeds you in the life of Hickey, his narrator, carrying you along on his aid runs into South Sudan during its civil war. But before you finish with page 230 at the story’s end you’ll feel you’re being carted along in his jeep, feeling every rut in the jungle track, watching out the window as you pass emaciated refugees fleeing the fighting, urging him to take aboard one more sickly child, hurting for those who have fallen by the wayside and will never get up.

Hoagland makes heroes and heroines of the aid workers, the missionary priests and nuns, the volunteer health care professionals, the bush pilots who fly for the nongovernmental organizations.

Why they are there is as much the story as what they are doing and what happens to them.

One answer to the why question lies in the book’s title — the NGO workers and the missioners see hope and value in Africa’s children. And, as characters in the story express viewpoints from the perspective of those who are not American, readers will be challenged to give second thoughts to U.S. foreign policy that — from those other perspectives — hasn’t always acted as if those diamonds are worth saving.

The only negative, and the reason for four stars instead of five, is the gratuitous sexual encounters that the author goes into in far too much detail. This story is so good junk like the sex scenes just wasn’t needed, and certainly not so graphic.

Balancing that, however, are repeated expressions of the inner spirituality that helps some of Hoagland’s characters cope with the hunger, the lack of medical help, the economic conditions that force people into immoral acts and of course the brutality of war and death. Maryknollers in particular get quite the shout out.

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An Advent Reflection

December 3, 2014

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I have agreed to be a guest writer on facebook for a new organization -Women In the New Evangelization. The acronym is WINE. To my delight, the first time I write the daily post, the daily readings include one of my favorite passages about food and WINE.
Below is my post. If you would like to follow the daily Advent reflections just like us on facebook!
A favorite passage from today’s readings.

On this mountain the LORD of hosts
will provide for all peoples
A feast of rich food and choice wines,
juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.
Isaiah 25:6

A feast of rich food and choice wines! This is what God promises us!

A feast of rich food and choice wines!

A feast of rich food and choice wines!

I don’t know about you but I love a party and I love to host parties. Gathering friends around for special moments is a wonderful part of the Christmas season. Parties take preparation and that is what Advent is about – preparing for the feast.

Preparation includes arraigning for and cooking the food. Planning the drinks decorating and making sure everyone has a place to sit. It may require rearranging a room, polishing the silver or plates from a friend. There are centerpieces to think about and…. the list goes on.

I have a friend who has the spiritual gift of hospitality. No matter what is going on in her life, when you enter her home you always feel welcome. It helps that she is an excellent cook! One day she shared with me a secret of her party prep.

She prays!

She prays for every guest that is coming, she prays for good and enlightening conversation, she prays for all to feel welcomed and loved. Sitting quietly and praying before 6 or 20 people are set to arrive at my house is not something I usually turn to in the frenzy of last minute prep but when I did it, it put my heart in the right place. I focused on my guests and not if my hors d’oeuvres would get a complement or that no one notices the stain in the carpet. Those worries are all wrong because they are focused on me and not on my guests.

This Advent as you prepare for your feasts – add prayer to your party preparation. It is one thing that isn’t mentioned in the Martha Stewart handbook!

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A time for waiting . . . and thanksgiving

December 1, 2014


Father Michael Becker, rector of St. John Vianney College Seminary in St. Paul, poses for a picture with his 10-point buck.

Father Michael Becker, rector of St. John Vianney College Seminary in St. Paul, poses for a picture with his 10-point buck.

As we make the transition from Thanksgiving season to Advent, I offer a story that combines both — offering thanks to God and waiting for his blessing. It comes from Father Michael Becker, rector of St. John Vianney College Seminary in St. Paul and avid deer hunter. In his own words:

“The first weekend of deer hunting opener, I was stationed in a stand one hour west of Bemidji. I saw a total of 10 small 1-year-old deer at different moments in the morning and late afternoon.  The party I hunt with abides by the rule that one never shoots a buck with less than eight points on a full rack, so that the young bucks can grow, and one never shoots a yearling unless you want to be made fun of.

About fifteen minutes after sunset, I decided that I would get on my knees and thank God for the beauty of his creation — the sun, the moon and the stars, the vegetation, the snow on the ground, and all these 1-year old small deer frolicking around the tree line.

It was not but thirty seconds after I knelt down and offered my thanks to God that a larger 2-year-old fork buck trotted past my stand. I saw it head toward the woods 40 yards to my east, and watched it elegantly scope out the territory before heading into the woods.

As I am a guest on Jerry and Bitsy Dehmer’s land, I abide by the same rules they follow, which is again not to shoot any bucks with less than full racks, but to let them grow to full stature. Suddenly, the fork buck took off running at high speed away from the woods. I thought, ‘Wow, there must be a bigger buck in that woods claiming the territory and chasing him away.’

So, I lifted my rifle and got in place, ready to shoot. The next sight was stunning. I watched a 200-pound black bear climb a tree on the edge of the forest like a monkey. I was in awe at how fast it ascended and descended, and realized, ‘One trying to escape a black bear by climbing a tree would never make it.’

Then, it climbed a second tree. I’m not sure what it was looking for, as the trees were barren, but the sight left me in awe. I continued to thank God for his small and great gifts of love.

The second day followed a cold storm, which lifted about midnight, leaving a very bright moon to shine on the landscape. As a result, most deer were out feeding in the night, and no one saw deer in the morning’s hunt. At dusk Sunday evening — and, mind you, I had celebrated Mass the evening before with the whole Dehmer clan — we all went out to our stands, and I took the stand on what is called, ‘Machinery Hill,’ as a few old combining pieces rest on the 15-foot hill overlooking a patch of corn and beans.

Jerry Dehmer, the grandfather and owner of the land, instructed me to go to Machinery Hill because there was more food left in that area for the deer to graze. Internally I wondered, ‘Maybe I should go to another stand in which no one has yet sat,’ but this little interior voice told me, ‘Trust Jerry’s advice.’

You see, Jerry has been hunting and trapping since he was 8 years old. For much of his youth he trapped fox and skunk, selling the hides for money. He is an expert huntsman, who has shot many whitetail deer, elk, antelope, etc. So, I trusted Jerry and went to his recommended stand. One other thing about Jerry and his family: No matter how good the hunt, one always gets out of his stand on Sunday to go to church!

Now sunset was judged to be 4:46 p.m. that evening; thus the final minute to shoot would be 5:16 p.m., which is one half hour after sunset. As in the first day, I saw only small yearlings, but this time 13 of them in different packs. They were cute and playful.

About the last 10 minutes of my hunt, because I could not go out on the second weekend, I decided again to simply thank God for all his gifts of love, in creation, in prayer, in the Sacraments, in the Scriptures, in my family and in friends like the Dehmers, in my vocation as a Catholic priest, and in these 13 small deer who scampered around 20 yards from my stand.

As soon as I completed my prayer of thanksgiving, sure enough, this large buck comes strutting out of the woods. It chased some of the yearlings, only to discover they were not ready for mating, then left a large scrape on the ground under a twig, into which it pressed its facial gland, leaving notice to any does in heat.

Sighting the buck in my scope, I recognized the antlers widened beyond the ears, revealing it to be a fully mature male whitetail deer. My first shot was over the buck, highly unusual for me, but the sound the bullet made in the woods behind him confused his judgment, and thus he stood for another second trying to get his bearings. This gave me the opportunity to lower the rifle and put a bullet through the heart. Upon retrieval, I found that it was a 10-point buck with a beautiful, full body. God is good to the grateful man!”

Congratulations go to Father Becker! I’m sure that made quite a story for dozens of seminarians at SJV. We’ll have to see if that buck makes it to the wall of his office. If it does, it will join two other handsome buck mounts already there.

I think my strategy for next year should include asking Father Becker to bless all of my deer hunting gear, especially my bow and my gun!

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‘Gutenberg’s Apprentice’ a superb novel

November 25, 2014


Gutenbergs ApprenticePrinting history and church history mesh to make for compelling reading in the terrific first novel of Alix Christie, “Gutenberg’s Apprentice.”

Protagonist Peter Schoeffer is the apprentice of the title, and there’s no fiction there: Schoeffer was Gutenberg’s apprentice in the 1450s as the German’s workshop developed moveable type and used it to print 180 copies of the Bible.

The fictional story comes from Ms. Christie’s imagination, but there’s hearty research behind the tale, particularly when it comes to the details of printing and the hurdles that elements of the church put in Gutenberg’s way. Interdicts on dioceses and conflicts between archbishops and religious communities are fact and a dark part of church history.

Gutenberg gets credit for combining the various elements needed for mass production of printed matter. He pulled together dozens of ideas and technological advances systematically, including the creation of metal type, ink and the press itself. But in the novelist’s hands the much-lauded inventor, talented as he is, is schizophrenic. One moment he’s praising his apprentice for his marvelous gifts and telling the tradesmen in his workshop that he couldn’t have printed his Bible without them, and the next he’s taking all the credit, declaring that he did it all alone and needed no one’s help.

Through Schoeffer, who in real life went on to become one of the first publishers of note in Europe, Christie presents a spiritual element to the process that brought about not just the first printed Bible but an invention that was key to the Renaissance and often named as the greatest invention of all time.

Christie’s  Schoeffer sees his part in the drama as one divinely led, that God has placed him in his time and his place to use the gifts he’s been given to be a part of this amazing fete that will change life on earth.

“You always did think that you had some private pact with God,” a life-long acquaintance charges Gutenberg’s apprentice.

Author Christie answers for her story’s hero: Of course. How could he not. . . . How could he have understood his own life otherwise?

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Connecting St. Francis with Pope Francis

September 25, 2014


When Saint Francis saved the ChurchTake a refresher course in what it means to be Catholic.

Read John M. Sweeney’s new book, “When Saint Francis Saved the Church.”

Sweeney packs reminders about what faith, saintliness and the life of a Christian are all about into just 156 pages of this small Ave Maria Press book (not counting acknowledgements and notes). There are highlighter-worthy phrases, sentences and paragraphs galore, great food for thought and a bounty for discussion.

Sweeney’s hook, of course, is the connection between St. Francis of Assisi and the newest Francis on the Catholic scene, Pope Francis.

Throughout he links the revolution that St. Francis started to the hope that many in the Church today, what — entertain? predict? — with the pope who chose to be the first to adapt Francis is his papal name.

Sweeney writes about Francis of Assisi, “His spiritual vision from eight centuries ago is already familiar to anyone paying attention to Pope Francis and the changing atmosphere in the Catholic Church today.” And he adds:

“Many of us are watching carefully, and participating willingly, as that edifice softens into something less predictable, more godly. If something monumental happened 800 years ago to revive the Church, then it can happen again today; and the spirit that animated the earlier conversion may be quite similar to the spirit at work in the Church today. Much depends on what we ourselves will do.”

In sharing the historical background and development of Franciscan spirituality, the book points out dozens of interesting details of Francis’ thinking, including:

  • Faith is not something done only inside the walls of the church. Instead, “Faith today is readily seen as concerned with many things other than what you believe — it includes hope, passion, family, love, story, virtue, commitment, and identity, all of which may seem more important than matters of creed.”
  • St. Francis was relatively uninterested in theological debates and creedal statements. “When he states his beliefs in his writings it is most often regarding how one is supposed to behave toward others and the created world, not a matter of pure doctrine.”
  • The Gospel is not something to believe as much as it is a vocation to a changed life.
  • For Francis  there were no “others.” He responded to each person he met as if he were already a friend, developing a simple kindness, openness, neighborliness and looking out for their needs, an approach that is part and parcel of gospel living.
  • Francis befriended without judging, noticed and responded to people’s needs and expressed love for them simply because that person had been created by a God who says that every created thing is good.
  • Contrary to the prevailing thought of his time, he didn’t see the world as evil but instead embraced it.

Not a dissenter, a nonconformist

Sweeney writes that Francis of Assisi “rebranded” the idea of sanctity. He was never a disobedient son of the Church, although he was as nonconformist who had his own priorities.

He advocated for humble dress, fasting as part of one’s regular diet, grace before meals, nonviolence, hospitality and prayer. Sweeney notes:

“He placed such a priority on personal prayer, contemplation, charity and loving-kindness because the habits of the heart are important to God, as well as to the faithful who want to know God better.”

And all these things we not just for the friars of his community but for ordinary believers. That was revolutionary during Francis’ era, when the Church felt threatened by individual expressions of faith and priests were taught that they were the primary mediators between God and their parishioners. Along with forming the Order of Friars Minor that we know as Franciscans, Francis wrote a Rule for laity — Third Order Franciscans — that included many of the principles of his Rule for the friars, plus gathering together as community, aiding the sick and caring for those who die. These practices all became to be known as spiritual acts.

Francis lived during the height of the Gothic era, when it was believed that religious people should turn away from the coarseness of the world and lift eyes and minds upward, toward the rising height of steeples and images of angels and saints, the world to come. Francis found beauty in the ordinary things of the world.

Sweeney connects St. Francis with Pope Francis in the way that both seems to be advocates of a Church that is at times unpredictable, threatening to some, a Church listening to the Spirit. Francis the pope “meets people face-to-face as equals. He touches people who might seem untouchable. He loves to laugh. He is not afraid of change.” Pope Francis, Sweeney posits, “has begun to return the Church to a Franciscan understanding of friendship, relating to the other, poverty, spirituality, care and death,” and is “leading the Church toward greater humility; revaluing poverty, especial by his own example; and preaching as a last resort to explain the values that he wants to uphold as most important for Catholics and for all people.”

Pope Francis, in Sweeney’s mind, “is calling us to recreate God’s Church to better foster the art of true gospel living.” And he writes:

“Who knows what the next few years will bring. As a Catholic who is interested in the positive role the Catholic Church can play in sanctifying the world, I’m anxious to be part of the vision that Francis realized long ago and conscious that we live in a world ready for our making today.”




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The Pope’s Top 10!

July 29, 2014


Finally – a “Top Ten” I can really use!

David Letterman of the Late Show often used a fake and funny top ten list to get a good laugh but Pope Francis’ Top Ten should be printed out and placed on everyone’s refrigerator.

In an interview published in part in the Argentine weekly “Viva” July 27, the pope listed his Top 10 tips for bringing greater joy to one’s life. Although listed one to ten in the Catholic Register, I am going to list them David Letterman style with my own commentary going  from number ten  to number one!

The number one tip for bringing joy into your life is....

The number one tip for bringing joy into your life is….


10. Work for peace. I am reminded that this doesn’t just go for peace in the Middle East, but for peace in my home, parish, community and work place.  Pray and work for world peace but demonstrate it at home.


9. Don’t proselytize; respect others’ beliefs. I love my Catholic faith and occasionally my friends and family get sick of me harping on the “Catholic ” teaching of things.  I have an obligation to live and teach my faith but I want others to recognize the beauty of the faith in me. If I am not living and radiating  joy – who would want to be Catholic like me. It may be an odd comparison but,  I think of a great line in the movie When Harry Met Sally –  in the restaurant scene the neighboring customer leans over to the waitress and says “I’ll have what she’s having.”  I want people to see me and say, “I’ll have what she’s having!”


8. Stop being negative. Oh, this one is so hard for me because misery loves company! I find the best way to get rid of the crabbiness is to talk to a trusted friend (or in my case my spouse) and get it out.  We have a saying in our house that we used when our kids were little. We say, “Over, done with, gone!”


7. Respect and take care of nature. This seemed easier when my children were little.  They would bring me a rock or (heaven forbid) lizard and marvel at how beautiful it was.  I remember one time when driving to visit my mother when my children were in the back seat.  My son pointed and yelled to look out the window at a rainbow and said, “Mom, look what God made for us!” Out of the mouths of babes…


6. Find innovative ways to create dignified jobs for young people. I found this an interesting thing to be on the Pope’s list.  I have , however always loved being with and working with young people.  The whole world is ahead of them and a little encouragement can bring them so far, but I have to say when I spend time with youth it is me who benefits from their enthusiasm.


5. Sundays should be holidays. We have sort of lost Sundays in this country.  It becomes yet another day to do chores or in this digital age catch up on work.  My parents used to talk about “Sunday go to visiting day” and we would visit family and friends and build that community that you just cannot get with virtual facebook friends.


4. “A healthy sense of leisure. Father Patrick Peyton used to say “The family that prays together stays together.”  While that may be true, I also believe the family that plays together enjoys each others company while they stay together. Have fun!


3. “Proceed calmly” in life.  I am sure you have seen the facebook memes that say “Keep calm and XXXX” With the X’s being one of many things.  Maybe facebook is catching on to the Pope! Maybe I’ll make a meme that says ‘Keep calm and listen to the Pope!”



2. “Be giving of yourself to others. Being stingy of my time or resources only leads me to misery.  The number one way to break out of a depression is to get involved and give to others.  It is like God’s very own Prozac!


And the number one way to bring greater Joy to ones life is: (Drum roll please!)


1. “Live and let live. When I find myself getting tied up in someone elses drama I need to remember this one.   The Pope said their is a similar expression in Rome with the saying, “Move forward and let others do the same.”  I prefer a Polish saying I saw recently. I even posted near my desk at work. It says, “Nie mój cyrk, nie moje ma?pe”  Translates into “Not my circus, not my monkey.”


Thank you Pope Francis, for reminding us once again how to live!

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