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

Table of Plenty

The Umbrian Valley wraps around the peaceful town of Assisi, Italy and late summer has a yellow sea of rolling sunflowers.  This backdrop landscape to the hometown of Italy’s famous saint, St Francis of Assisi brings back so many fond memories of sunflowers.  The sunflowers track the daily course of the sun as it yawns across the valley.  Huge fields with yellow flower heads as big as serving platters smile at your arrival and perk up when you walk by. 
nature field summer quantity
Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

We can take lessons from the sunflowers by greeting one another with a smile and marking the course of the Son of God, Jesus working in our day.  I was reminded of these golden teachings from the cycle of the sunflower while visiting Nativity House over Labor Day.  They had an overflowing table, laden with blessings, where they share the goods of the earth with visitors.  Chicago postulants along with one man discerning the Franciscans ventured to this special gathering called a “Farm to Table” fundraiser, filled with the bounty and goodness of the earth shared with the bounty and goodness of hospitality.

LaborDay2018_2
Nativity House Table of Plenty

The predicted thunderstorms were prayed away, and towering wildflowers, verdant vegetable gardens, and smiling sunflowers were like waving hands welcoming us, we were the guests to a festive banquet.  It began with a Eucharistic banquet outdoors and continued to a gourmet menu packed with original courses like cucumber mint sorbet and smoked polish sausage with braised cabbage and apples.  Let’s not forget peach crumble & ice cream to wash it all down, what a scrumptious feast!  The food was a great centerpiece, the kid games encircled the house with glee, and the live band kept line dancers enthralled til the wee hours.

LaborDay2018
Justin & Venus w/Franciscans

The program was a fundraiser to help expectant mothers find a safe haven to nurture their newborn child. The Nativity House was packed with so much love that it spilled over on everyone like the wildflower gardens overwhelming the front lawn.  Better than the seamless program were the smiles on the people present.  It was like those sunflowers waving in the Umbrian Valley of Assisi all over again, and the openness of one person greeting the other with a simple smile.  There are many lessons to be learned from sunflowers, and even more from Nativity House.

LaborDay2018_3
Photo Hams

 

 

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,

olc-3-knot-logo-410-kb

Our Lady of Consolation pray for us…

OLCpink

August 14th, 2016 I witnessed a sea of candles held by pilgrims processing with the statue of Our Lady of Consolation. Thousands of people poured light over the country roads and campsites of Carey village, OH all along the half mile walk from Shrine Park to the Basilica.  The rains held off for an outdoor mass at Shrine Park, celebrated by the Bishop of Toledo Daniel Thomas and the Bishop of Lexington, KY John Stowe, OFM Conv with several Friars, Knights of Columbus, and seminarians participating.   The statue of Our Lady of Consolation is adorned with hand­made, priceless garments sewn by tailors and artisans.  Filipinos, Chaldeans, Albanians, Hispanics, Italians, Poles, Slovaks, Lebanese, and more have all donated these priceless garments.

OLCdresses

We have hundreds of these custom dresses locked up and on display at Our Lady of Consolation lower church, some have platinum threads, others are golden, some with jewels embedded in the fabric.  These dresses are valued beyond money and reflect one’s gratitude to the Blessed Mother. This tradition to dress the Blessed Mother in handmade dresses comes from Luxembourg and intends to gift only the best of the best to Mary in appreciation for the graces received from answered prayers.  Mary has been busy delivering graces in Carey, OH for over 140 years.  So many have received miracles that there are not enough days in the year for Mary to wear all the dresses. It all began with the first miracle in Carey and since that marvelous day the miracles have multiplied.

OLCshrine

On May 24, 1875, the statue of Our Lady of Consolation was carried in procession from the church of St. Nicholas in Frenchtown to the church in Carey. It was during this procession that the first sign of the special intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary was revealed. As the procession marched, a severe storm raged in the entire area. Though the faithful could see the rain pouring down on all sides of them for the entire seven ­mile walk, not a drop touched the statue of Our Lady of Consolation nor anyone in the procession. This memorable church, the place of so many favors granted through Mary, remains today not only as a relic of the past, but as a place of prayer and worship. Members of Our Lady of Consolation parish gather there for early morning Mass, and many groups celebrate the goodness of God with special programs and devotions within its walls.

OLCFrJimSelfie

Fr Jim Sichko catches a “selfie” with Our Lady of Consolation, he has the most amazing friends!!!

 

 

Time to Practice Swimming, unlike Narcissus

image
Narcissus was a handsome hunter who knew he was handsome and would show disdain for people who recognized him. He was proud and haughty, if you loved him then he responded with nothing but dislike for you. Narcissus was enticed by Nemesis, the goddess of revenge, to gaze into the pool’s reflection, whereby he fell in love with his own reflection. Nemesis was seeking revenge for jilted Echo, a beautiful goddess who was despised and rejected at every turn. Narcissus could not take his eyes off himself, leaning closer and closer toward his own reflection, he fell into the water and drowned. Narcissism means to have an unhealthy fixation with oneself. What are the things that captivate you and fixate your attention?

In March I enjoyed a homily by Bishop Jospeh Cistone of Saginaw, MI who uncovered the narcissistic tendencies of our culture to fixate on individualism and the popular philosophy to “go it alone.” One example is the tragic story of Chris McCandless a 24 year-old who broke ties with family, friends, and society to survive solo in the wilds of Alaska with no safety net. Jon Krakauer wrote a book about his adventures called “Into the Wild” that details his journey from the Ivy league to Denali National Park. McCandless did himself in with his narcissistic myopia when he ate wild potato potato seeds that later caused paralysis and the inability to save himself. I listened to Bishop Cistone speak about the chronic levels of narcissistic individualism that paralyze our own culture. We have a strong chord of individualism that pushes the human person toward selfish pursuits rather than seek out community support. I watched a couple venture out to dinner who were sitting with 2 laptops, 2 cell phones, and completely disengaged from each other across the table. We have so much screen to screen communication these days that our person to person communication is deprived of minimal human interaction. We now have resources available to answer every question on the internet that only requires a pocket sized gadget. People delight in their own information overload as we send voice commands to Siri rather than approach a living person. We love to post social media alerts about our doings and updates, “its all about me” right? It is more convenient to pull up Global Positioning by Satellite rather than ask a person for driving directions. Individualism is a part of the every day person engaged in technology. We are so wired to narcissistic media that is is near impossible to unplug. What do you think about my selfie now? Are these technological marvels fixating our attention on Nemesis’ entrapping pool? How do we depart from the pool edge of this beautiful reflection of what the self can do?

A person’s vocation is the polar opposite of narcissism. A vocation will pursue the area in life that a person can make a generous gift of self. It is a call from God that will enflame one’s desire to serve others. St Clare says her entire life is a call “to become a vessel of God’s compassionate love” poured out for others. This call will never survive in a private world of “God and me.” It requires the community to confirm and affirm the call. The community will sustain a vocational call whether the state of life is a call to be single, ordained, married, or religious. A vocation will have a person compelled to serve a part of the world much bigger than the self. A vocation is not a career but is a personal call by God to serve. Individualism will never survive in a selfless sea of God-called swimmers.

There is an imprint of God in the soul of each person to give themselves generously to a vocation. Given the opportunity people will selflessly give of themselves to something bigger than themselves. We are hard-wired to give ourselves away to a vocation. During 9/11 when the twin towers of the World Trade Center were taken out by terrorists, EMS providers were rushing toward the scene. When most people were fleeing the scene for their own personal safety, fireman, policeman, and EMS providers were running toward the chaos. Some ran for their lives away, others ran for their lives toward. 343 firefighters and 60 policemen died on that day under the rubble of the twin towers. One could easily imagine the difficulty to recruit EMS providers in the aftermath of that level of destruction. But the opposite occurred. Recruitment levels are at record levels in NewYork and people desire to put their lives on the line selflessly to give themselves to something bigger than themselves. These individuals have found their vocation and seek this with all of their heart. This type of self donation has no space for Narcissus.

Where is God calling you to make a heroic donation of self? Have you asked yourself, where does God want my gifts to be selflessly given away in His service? This is your vocation swim practice. And today’s swim lesson is to pull you away from that dangerous pool of narcissism. God is our lifeguard and He will not let us drown!

A Case for Francis

Pope Francis directs our lives to the joy of the Gospel in his publication Evangelii Gaudium. Our mission is to live the gospel as disciples, and good discipleship will enact the Gospel mission with great joy. When I was young I wanted to know the faith better than anyone. I would be smarter than anyone. I wanted to have all the answers and be a walking omniscient Catholic encyclopedia. Actually truth be told I never made it past the A’s in the bookshelf size, multi-volume encyclopedia set. A walking reference book I have not become. The more I learned in my theology classes the more my instructors made me aware of how little I knew. Perhaps that is a life lesson to realize we are not walking “know it all’s” even with a google search engine in our pockets.

What were the things that attracted others to St. Francis, what are the things that attract people today to Pope Francis, and what will make good Franciscans tomorrow? Francis’ brother once asked him, why does the whole world chase after you? You don’t have a long lineage of royal blood, you don’t have good looks, you don’t even like books and no degrees! Why does the whole world chase after you? Perhaps people want authenticity!! People crave someone who walks their talk, and it is such a rare thing that when people do it they flock. Perhaps that is why people chase after Pope Francis. We as Franciscans carry a huge respect factor, they see the habit and immediately we’ve won their trust. This is a huge responsibility and also a cross. We must represent the Church well and hold people’s trust with utmost confidentiality and care. Put it in a nutshell, the way we live the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I can give long theological discourses on erudite matters of Gospel-living, but I’m not sure that will compel others to exemplify the Gospel. What is more compelling is how we live our lives, the compassion we show our neighbor, and the love we display beyond ourselves. When I was discerning to enter the Conventual Franciscan order it was the small acts of love that drew me in. It was Friar Ambrose who took the extra time to fold my laundry when I made a quick pit stop from the trucker’s working highway. A small act of love that today continues to humble me. It was Friar John who took the time to help an aging Friar Arnold celebrate daily mass, and assist with finding pages when needed. A small act of love that was the Gospel living portrayed before my very own eyes. Another friar told me of regret having not ever felt genuine love for his brothers so he set the goal to shed sincere tears for his brother some day soon. He selflessly served many friars in the twilight of life and poured his love into their lives. In my humble opinion he accomplished his ambitious goal!

St. Francis enacted the Gospel with bold examples. One story was the gathering of his friars at Rivo Torto when all the brothers were fasting during the penitential season. One of the friars awoke in the middle of the night crying and bemoaning the fast, “I’m dying, I’m dying, I can’t do this anymore.” So St. Francis awoke all the sleeping brothers and announced that all would break the fast and eat bread, grapes and other scrumptious food together. It was this great act of charity to selflessly love the friar with the weaker constitution. Each friar had to let go of their personal fast to selflessly love the weaker brother. This is the Gospel message well lived.

Pope Francis is enacting the Gospel with bold examples. Whether it is denying a limousine for a bus ride, or turning away his personal driver to travel by foot, or visiting with workers behind the scenes. He has truly displayed an image of “the People’s Pope” and one who does not want to be isolated from the flock. Clearly he strives to be involved in people’s lives and in close proximity to the pulse of the people. Pope Francis writes from his Apostolic Exhortation, “I can say that the most beautiful natural expressions of joy which I have seen in my life were in poor people who had little to hold on to. I also think of the real joy shared by others who, even among pressing professional obligations, were able to preserve, in detachment and simplicity, a heart full of faith. In their own way, all these instances of joy flow from the infinite love of God, who has revealed himself to us in Jesus Christ.”1

Pope Francis is the first pope in 110 years to depart the Papal Apartment on the third floor of the Apostolic Palace. Relocating from luxury to simplicity he favors communal living among the working cardinals, priests, and staff of the Vatican at Santa Martha Domicile (Domus Santae Marthae). Here he is one among many. This locale situates Pope Francis in close proximity to a common dining hall for meals and daily celebration of 7am mass with the Vatican employees in the residence chapel. In these small ways his life endears many to the gospel. Pope Francis writes of the joy of the Gospel, our mission is to beam with joy and this will enact the Gospel by our example, “An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others.”2

It is no wonder that so many still chase after the little poor man from Assisi, St Francis. In many ways he did not do anything new. He just lived the Gospel and lived it in his own time and place. Just as Pope Francis is living the Gospel in his time and place. Just as many friars I have witnessed living the Gospel in their own time and place. And God willing people will look upon our faithful community as people who live the Gospel in our time and place. The world is hungry to receive the Gospel, and we with great joy will deliver!

1 Apostolic Exhoration Evangelii Guadium by Pope Francis, #7.
2 Ibid, #24

Time to Cultivate

Time to Cultivate“Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it” (Mt. 13:7) Traveling from Minnesota to Texas and everywhere in between I’m always on the move.  Vocation work requires me to move outward and meet people where they are at.  My role is to nurture the call from God working in the soul who desires to do the Lord’s will.  Along my travels I saw the most tragic thing on the roadside.  It was a semi tractor overtaken by weeds.   A machine that was made to be on the move, rolling down the road and it was covered in weeds.  Wheels made to turn, motor made to rumble, a commander’s chair made for hauling and all were held captive by weeds choking out the truck’s purpose.  The essential nature of the very thing a truck does requires movement.  The purpose of a truck is to move!  Somewhere along the way that movement became stationary and the weeds choked it.  It was the saddest thing ever seen.
054
We Franciscan Friars are called to be on the move.  It is uniquely tied to our charism.  Francis received the Gospel mandate to go forth to the world and be a missionary to plant the Gospel (Mt. 19:21 Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to [the] poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.) St. Francis of Assisi was called to carry the Gospel from Assisi, Italy to the streets of the world.  The Gospel message so moved his heart that he could not remain stationary.  St. Francis was the messenger and sent it to the streets.  Today there is not one continent on the globe that lacks a Franciscan presence to witness the Gospel.  This is why the Gospel continues to move outward today and cannot remain parked on the shoulder, overrun by weeds.

We are called to movement in the spiritual life as well.  The weeds of sin always have the capacity to choke out spiritual growth and tie us down.  The Gospel requires one to move and be willing to accommodate spiritual growth.  Archbishop Joseph Tobin tells of an Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor who was counseling a math professor.  The sponsor was not educated to the level of the professor, and when it came to math he could not keep pace. But when it came to sobriety, the math professor let the weeds of booze take root.  So in the first meeting the sponsor told the professor, you should know that I have only counseled 11 guys in AA and 6 of them committed suicide.  The professor was shocked and said, “why are you telling me this?  You are not all that successful in your counseling, you think?”  The sponsor said, “It’s my job to deliver the message, what you do with the message is up to God.”

We all have a spiritual message to deliver with the collateral of our lives.  This message cannot remain stagnant.  Either we move upward and onward toward our eternal destination, or the weeds will immobilize us.  What part of your life needs a bit of weeding?  Is there a neglected area that requires some focused attention?  An addictive behavior?  A bad habit at work? An internal voice that nags you with the repeat switch of shame?  Selfish time that could be filled with charitable outreach toward others?

We are called to be on the move.  The saints before us like St. Francis shared the Gospel and moved on.  Spiritual growth requires us to nudge forward and move on.  Keep those wheels rollin’ and see you at the next rest area!