Thursday, March 21, 2013

Papa Francesco

March 13, 2013 was a momentous day for the Roman Catholic Church.  On that day, the cardinal electors, gathered in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican, chose a man from Argentina to be the next pope of the Catholic Church.  The choice was a surprise to many.  Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio and why should he be the pope?
Since that momentous day, I believe the world has come to embrace this new pontiff with his winning ways: his obvious humility and his warmth and congeniality.  Many wonder if this will be the beginning of major changes in the Church.  Of course, the matters of doctrine - either moral or theological - will not change nor can they if we are to be true to what the Catholic Church believes and stands for in the world.  But one wonders what other things might take place with a new hand at the tiller of the bark of Peter.
In an earlier post (written on January 15 of last year), I stated the following:
In our Christian tradition, we have calls to particular states in life and these are invitations by God to serve him and our sisters and brothers in those states of life.  One of my favorite titles that is given to the Roman Pontiff is Servus Servorum Dei - Servant of the Servants of God.  This title is a reminder to all of us involved in ministry - whether pope, bishop, priest, deacon, vowed religious or lay minister - that our call is to service.  When those of us in ministry become more concerned with our titles and the special recognition that we believe should be ours, then we are in trouble.  We begin to lose sight of the fact that we are called to serve others and that should be our most important concern.
From what I have observed to date, I believe the papacy of Pope Francis will be one of service.  It is certainly what he exemplified as priest and bishop when he ministred in his native land.  There was a signal of this during the homily he delivered on the occasion of his inaugural Mass this past Tuesday:
Certainly, Jesus Christ conferred power upon Peter, but what sort of power was it?  Jesus' three questions to Peter about love are followed by three commands:  feed my lambs, feed my sheep.  Let us never forget that authentic power is service, and the Pope too, when exercising power, must enter even more fully into that service which has its radiant culmination on the Cross.
He went on to say:  He (the Pope) must open his arms to protect all of God's people and embrace with tender affection the whole of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important, those whom Matthew lists in the final judgment on love:  the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison (cf. Mt. 25: 31-46).
The world has responded with affection to the emergence of Pope Francis.  Our prayers are with him as he begins his papacy.  He has modeled himself on Jesus who came be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mf. 10:45).   In my previous posting cited above, I stated this:
One of my favorite images of Jesus the Servant was that of his getting to his knees to wash the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper.  A task usually carried out by a slave or servant became that of Jesus....He instructed his disciples that they, too, (and this includes all of us) should go out and wash each others' feet.  Only then do we really serve our sisters and brothers.
The picture I have included here demonstrates that Pope Francis takes this admonition seriously (as he did in his previous ministries).  Just today it was announced that he would celebrate the liturgy of Holy Thursday (a day on which the symbolic washing of the feet takes place) in a prison for juveniles instead of at the Vatican.  May we follow this kind of example in our lives as we strive to serve our sisters and brothers.  May God bless Papa Francesco.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Reminders of Our Mortality

As I come within a few weeks to the beginning of my seventy-ninth year on this planet, I am aware more and more of my mortality and the fact that the greater part of my earthly life is behind me.  This is a natural phenomenon when one approaches your senior years but it has been brought back to me most graphically by the loss of three people close to me over the past few months.
It began on January 19 when a dear friend - Brother Robert Gilroy - a brother of Holy Cross, died suddenly and unexpectedly.  Returning to the brothers' residence following the burial of another brother, he suddenly felt ill and then collapsed, suffering a major heart attack.  He was a year younger than I.  I had the privilege of serving as the deacon at his funeral liturgy.  I had come to know Robert when he joined the ecumenical choir I formerly conducted.  At one point, a few years ago when he was superior of the brothers' house, he invited me to conduct the brothers' annual retreat which was a pleasurable and enriching experience for me.  Just a few months ago, he recommended that I be appointed to serve on the Commission for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of which he was a member.  We enjoyed a number of good times together and he is greatly missed.
Then on February 7, a funeral was conducted for a fellow deacon - Deacon Frank Yankowski - whom I had known for sixty years beginning when we were minor seminary students in the 1950s.  Frank had dealt with a number of medical problems in his life including major heart surgery and cancer which had gone into remission.  It was the cancer that returned earlier this year and required him to undergo chemotherapy.  After the first session, it was determined that the chemo had destroyed his white blood cells and he was unable to fight off an infection he came down with and this caused his death.  Frank was six months older than I.  Again, I had the privilege of serving as deacon at his funeral Mass and delivered the homily for my good friend.  I spoke of how he had lived up to the challenge given to him at his diaconal ordination when the bishop, handing him the Book of the Gospels, tells him:  Receive the Gospel of Christ whose herald you now are.  Believe what you read; teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.  Frank certainly lived up to that challenge in the over twenty-six years of service as a deacon.  May he rest in peace.
The final reminder of my mortality came the next day - February 8.  My younger daughter, age 41, had been complaining for some time about what she felt was a problem with her gall bladder.  This was causing her bouts of pain and on occasion brought on vomiting.  She feared surgery because as a victim of Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (a disease I have written about and she discussed frequently in her blog (Grace Lines, accessed by going to, she feared she would have to undergo a long convalescence.  She was trying different foods in an attempt to relieve the distress she was feeling.  On February 8, we had not heard from her during the day (which we usually did every day as she lived near us in our apartment complex) and finally in the afternoon, I went to check on her as her car was parked and had not been taken out that day.  Much to my shock, I found that she had passed away (probably during the night).  We experienced several days of mourning and grief.  At her wake service, about 300 persons came to express their condolences.  There have been numerous Masses scheduled for her as well as enrollments in Mass societies.  Several people have also contributed to the national association for her disease.  Our family has received wonderful support from our friends and our parish and diocesan community for which we are eternally grateful.  It is said that it is not natural to bury your children and we sorely miss her company.  She was always there with a smile and while disabled, continued to pursue her art and writing - pieces of her will live on anywhere her art is seen and her writing read.  I know she is in a better place and might have had to face a great deal of difficulty if we had preceded her in death and she was left to fend for herself (although I know she would have had the support of her sister and brother).
So I have been certainly reminded of my own mortality having lived through these recent experiences.  But it is my faith in the promises that Jesus Christ has made to me and to all those who will hear that he has gone to prepare a place for us in the kingdom.  I look forward to the day when I will again be reunited with my friends Robert and Frank and my beautiful daughter Christine.  Until then, I pray to them to watch over all of us as we continue our journey in this life.  May their souls and all the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace.. Amen.