Red Martyrs & White Martyrs

Our Lady of Consolation Parish here in Carey, OH has a lot in common with the Church of the Assumption in a small town, about an hour from Medugorije, called Široki Brijeg  in the country formerly known as Yugoslavia.  They also have a huge celebration on August 15th, pilgrims come from all over and flood the little village for the Feast of the Assumption just like Carey.  The profiles of the church looks very similar, especially the giant rose, stained glass windows. 

Franciscan Monastery in Bosnia/Herzegovina
Our Lady of Consolation Shrine & Basilica Carey, OH

They were founded in 1846 and here in Ohio was in 1875.  They are run by the Franciscans and used to have a seminary there, and we too had seminary here and are run by Franciscans.  On all the buildings around the Franciscan monastery is found the Franciscan coat of arms, and all the buildings here have the same crest and words scrolled on the bottom “Deus Meus et Omnia” My God and My all. 

Franciscan Coat of Arms

Only here is where they differ. A horrible thing happened 75 years ago on Feb 7th, 1945.  Communist soldiers arrived to the church and told 30 gathered friars “God is dead, there is no God, there is no Pope, there is no church, there is no NEED of you, you must go out in the world and work.”  The friars were actually doing good work in the nearby school, and teaching in the seminary, and many were noted scholars and famous authors.  The communists told the friars to remove their habits. They refused.  And so the soldiers desecrated a crucifix and threw it on the floor and said, “You can now choose, life or death.”  Each of the friars came forward and held the crucifix tenderly in their hands and said “My God and My All” and each received a bullet of martyrdom.  Imagine one by one professing your faith and watching your loved one die in front of you.  One by one by one until the last one stands to witness all your brothers die. The bodies of the friars were taken to a cave and burned to cover up the murders.  Today those remains are found in the Franciscan Monastery, and pilgrims by the 1,000’s honor those friars who remained faithful to their calling. In the Gospel of St Matthew (10:28) we hear the words of Jesus, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; fear him rather who can destroy both body and soul in Gehenna.”  These 30 martyrs in Bosnia/Herzegovina were NOT concerned with preserving their own bodies, but instead praying for their sins.  The friars are remembered for praying a “Litany to our Lady” for the sins of their murderers and the sins of each other.  I doubt many of us will proclaim our faith in such a dramatic fashion in a gory red martyrdom.  However white martyrdom is much more likely.  A white martyrdom is a bloodless martyrdom when you faithfully remain stout-hearted to your calling.  This means taking Jesus to work with you.  Remembering Jesus in every moment of the day.  This means speaking about Jesus at the water cooler.  This means inviting people into this most cherished part of your lives, your faith life. 

Franciscan Monastery in Bosnia/Herzegovina

If I come over to your house and have a splendid visit, heart-warming, hospitable, and utterly fulfilling.  Then I walk off and never mention your name again.  What kind of friend am I? I don’t tell my family about how wonderful your words of kindness were, how great your hors-deurves tasted, how thoughtful the conversation … nothing.  And wouldn’t I be selfish to not mention the goodness of your hospitality with others?  And do we ever do that to Jesus?  He gives us his very life blood and we depart with a grateful heart for sure, but do we even talk about Jesus to our best friend?  How do you think Jesus feels when he’s NOT introduced to your friends?  He’s never mentioned at your workplace?  His name is not even spoken in your house?  I don’t want to be that guy who listens to Jesus when He says, “you couldn’t even mention my name to your friends?”  Instead, I want to be a good disciple and solid witness.  So I can rejoice in these words of Jesus “Whoever declares himself for me in the presence of others, I will declare myself for him in the presence of my Father in heaven.”  (Mt 10:32)

It is not easy to witness to Jesus in the every day.  No one wants to be labeled that “Jesus guy” or “Jesus girl”.  If we are truly a disciple, that means we look for ways to insert the story of Jesus into the story of our lives.  To have opportunities to mention the name of Jesus to a friend or better yet to a complete stranger.  Wow, dangerous right? This is what witnessing looks like.  This is what is means to be faithful to our calling.  Are we willing to pray publicly in a restaurant and acknowledge Jesus in front of strangers?  Do we laugh along with an off-color joke? Just go along with mob mentality instead of bringing Jesus into the conversation.  I remember one friar witnessing to Jesus by saying, “I would have never survived college without Jesus.”  Wow what a powerful witness, short, succinct and provocative!  In that way this friar was being faithful to his calling.

Back to Bosnia/Herzegovina, one of those communist soldiers was so inspired by these friars praying for their murderers, asking God to forgive their executioners and to muster the courage to stand up for Jesus … that same communist observer converted.  Not only him but later his son who became a priest and his daughter who became a religious.  Now that is what I call a convicted witness of a disciple. They were faithful to their calling.   

My God and My All

Drive-Thru Pope Mobile

Traversing the Midwest trumpeting the way of the troubadour St Francis has been one unexpected surprise after another. I love being a Franciscan Friar and sharing the story of St Francis with others.  I love even more being a Vocation Director invited to schools, retreats, and eager prospects excited to hear more about Franciscan life. God has been preparing me for a long time to do what I’m doing now.  Before the friars, I was encouraged by God to seek a CDL driver’s seat and negotiate professionally a tour bus, an 18-wheeler, and various passenger shuttles.  Never did I expect to be evangelizing the drive-thru!!!  Since fall of 2016 benefactors have helped me wrap the vocation director’s car with an icon of St Francis of Assisi alongside an image of Pope Francis.

Drive-Thru

Dubbed the “pope-mobile” by teenagers, I reach a wide area with the Franciscan message, and drive about 25,000 miles a year. Now whenever I enter a drive-thru the first thing workers see is Pope Francis in their window, waving to them, before they ever notice me.  In one case a worker jumped backward in terror.  I replied, “You are afraid of the Pope, really?”  She embarrassingly backed away from the window, made an “all call” to her co-workers who huddled at the window to point and laugh.  This wasn’t the nice laughter of something cute and adorable, this was the insulting laugh of “joke is on you.”  I turned 3 shades of red, waved, and sheepishly grabbed my order and split.  I wish I had left a prayer card with her, and patiently shared what we are trying to do.  That everyone has gifts on loan from God, and to use those gifts to make the world a better place is a precious vocation.  To deny those gifts and not feed your passion to a hungry world is a grave tragedy that can ruin your life and those around you.  I missed my opportunity to evangelize, and resigned to my own drive-bye.

The same day, no less, packed another surprise.  Feeling down and frustrated at missing another opportunity to witness to the Franciscan life.  I was walking into a jammed parking lot filled with cars, panning the horizon for the pope-mobile, when I saw some commotion next to it.  All I could see from a distance were parents and their kids facing the images on the car.  I was so excited to redeem myself and re-evangelize this fresh new opportunity before me.  My return had arrived! I zipped around the fender of the pope-mobile, filled with renewed zeal for everything Jesus, and joyfully blurting out, “Are you fans of the Pope?”  These two moms looked up from their children being buckled into a stroller, filled with annoyance at my intrusion, both replied in stereo, “NO!”

Driving with a Catholic billboard wrapped around your driver’s seat has brought unexpected challenge and evangelical turmoil.   I love the fuel island conversations that begin with an eager young voice, “look dad it’s the Pope.”  I get excited with the curious parking lot comments, “what are you up to?”  I’m amazed at the kindness of drivers extending an extra brake for a lost and wandering friar.  What I didn’t expect were the all too familiar hard-hearted responses of people angry and frustrated at the Catholic Church.  But hey it goes with the territory of evangelization, right?  I’m not alone here.  The apostles were not met with universal praise and alleluias, eventually they put their life on the line for the gospel.  Enemies did not want to hear their message of hope and killed them for it.  I love all the accounts we hear in the Easter season of believers who witness to Jesus, eager to share their passion for Him.  Through 12 ragged and bewildered apostles Jesus sparked a world-wide messaging campaign, namely Jesus’ hope is greater than any human despair.  These incredible inspirations fuel my engine.  Yes I believe there is hope to keep the message moving, even in the drive-thru.  Please, pray for me.

Taking Vocations to the Road

CarWrap

We strive to bring awareness to the culture of vocations, to awaken the heart to the personal call from God to build His Kingdom in diverse ways. One way we can do this is to make our vocations efforts more visible on the road.

Over the past year the Development Office has been accepting donations from benefactors wanting to “wrap” the vocation director’s car. This is a common way for business to advertise on the road, surrounding their vehicles with images that describe their trade or business.  We are happy to announce that generous benefactors of 2017 have stormed the Franciscans and successfully wrapped the Vocation Director’s car.

This is a new way to advertise religious vocations, and a novel way to take vocations to the road!   We have accomplished this bold initiative to both advertise vocations and bring awareness to the Franciscan presence in the world to “Rebuild my Church.” Those first words spoken in 1205 that St Francis received from Christ began his exciting work of conversion. Since the 13th century friars have continued the work of rebuilding the church, sometimes brick by brick and other times person by person.

The work of vocations is to re-establish the link to God, awakening the restless pursuit to serve the will of God.  Christ invites people to leave everything and pursue the Lord. Where do we find our life’s passion? Where do we find our purpose that fuels our energies? What thing excites us to greet the day, each and every morning? This is our vocation!  As Frederick Buechner says “…the place God calls you to where your deepest happiness meets the world’s deepest hunger.”

People are inspired by St. Francis and by Pope Francis. One of the challenges of our time is to present the Church as attractive, current, and engaging in people’s lives. Wrapping the vocation director’s car is one small effort to bring the conversation of vocations to the road, and awaken the passion to serve the Lord with the zeal of St Francis.

Consider joining us in this challenge to take vocations to the road through the gift of your prayers, your time, your talents and your treasure!

saint-francis

Artwork by Cecelia Lawrence

The Church must be attractive. Wake up the world! Be witnesses of a different way of doing things, of acting, of living. It is possible to live differently in the world. We are speaking of an eschatological outlook, of the values of the Kingdom incarnate here on this earth. It is a question of leaving everything to follow the Lord. –Pope Francis

Peace and all good,

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