Mission Appeal: When faced with a difficult problem, I often think, "Well, what do I do now?" During a recent mission appeal (where a missionary goes to a parish for the Sunday Masses to share the story of what is happening in the broad missionary activity of the Catholic Church) I posed that question to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Lexington, Ky. I had been asked to do this mission appeal (and another one the first weekend of August in Danville, Ky.) by the mission office of our St. John the Baptist Province.
"What is this parish to do? St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parish, this question that I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you. It is not up in the sky...Nor is it across the sea...No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts. Today I appeal to your generosity. I appeal to what is already in your hearts. God is the source of all good things already in our hearts and on our lips. God is the source of generosity. And I, Br. Richard, Franciscan friar, missionary and beggar, appeal to your generosity. Help us friars help the needy of this world. We need your help. We need your generosity to continue the mission."
Now, mind you, before this closing salvo I told a very textured story about my time living and working in Negril, Jamaica. This resulted in small hoards of people after Mass asking me follow up questions about what I had shared with them. Thus, mission appeals are not just about "begging for money" and one after-Mass experience bears that out:
"Br. Richard, how can I help the missionary effort in Jamaica? I am an infectious disease doctor. [I had spoken about the friars’ work with folks that are HIV+] My practice is concerned especially with HIV/AIDS. I would like to help you. Here is my card!"
Yesterday evening I attended a Vespers Service at St. Clement Church in Cincinnati at which Brother Marcel Groth, O.F.M. (pictured at right) renewed his vows on the occasion of his 50th Anniversary of Profession. As a Franciscan Friar for 50 years, Brother Marcel has served in many capacities always with an unbeatable sense of humor and good will.
Next month three of our younger Friars will also have celebrations of committment. Brother William Estrellanes, O.F.M. is finishing up his novitiate at this time and will profess vows for the first time on August 2. On August 31 Brother Clifford Hennings, O.F.M. will step forward and make his Solemn (perpetual) Profession of Vows. On August 17th, Brother Richard Goodin, O.F.M. will be ordained to the transional diaconate.
These occasions are important in the life of a Religious Community. They remind us of our beginnings and the power of a life-long witness to the faith and to the Church. We need these celebrations to keep us going. Thanks to all of our jubilarians this year and to our newest members of the Order and to the ordained life.
CPE midterms: Two friars called me this week to check up on me and how my Clinical Pastoral Education program was going. And thanks to those two brothers I have taken time to think about it. The trouble with life sometimes is that we neglect to follow Socrates' insight: Indeed, the unexamined life is not worth living!
Fruit of my examination: I have met Sister Death in the rooms of St. Joseph Hospital over a dozen times in my four short weeks as a Chaplain Intern. I have watched her with my own eyes and entered the room as her job was complete. When Francis of Assisi coined the term "Sister Death", he had a powerful insight that thunders through the ages. Death as a sister is to say that death is as much a part of living as having a sibling. Funny how that differs from the modern notion to avoid, escape, and fear death at all costs!
My growing acquaintance with so called Sister Death is as a witness, not a participant, in the grand final dance of death. During these past days I have come to a new understanding of how to adjust to her arrival and how to be calm and aware while in her presence. Strange as it may sound I have become alert to the powerful sacred quality of her duty.
Let it also be stated that I am but a novice at processing death. I struggle to find how to cope with attending three deaths in one evening shift. I balk at the emotional overload that such an evening carries. There is reason that I am yet just a Chaplain Intern. And in moments of clarity I have concluded that I will never fully understand Sister Death. My conclusion: Her mysteriousness withstands my grasping.
As mentioned in a previous entry, Br. Richard and I took some students from the University of Illinois at Chicago to our missions in Western Jamaica. Part of this trip was sharing our foundational charism of fraternity with the students. For us Franciscans, it is our fraternity which propels us into ministry and mission to people who are on the margins of society. On the same note, experiences in mission and ministry can strengthen our fraternity. This has been true for the students who went to Jamaica.
After returning to Chicago, we continued to reflect on our experiences. Since we returned to busy student schedules we did some of these reflections online. But we have also been able to have a couple of reunions, gathering at a house, cooking/eating Jamaican food and talking. One of these took place at the friary where I lived. Unfortunately not everyone was able to make the dinner, but we enjoyed ourselves nonetheless. We made curried goat, rice and peas, fried plantain and drank J&D’s authentic ginger beer, Ting, Soursop juice as well as a juice cocktail with mango and ginger.
During dinner we shared different memories about our trip to Jamaica, how we have been since December, updates about people and families we met, how our end of the school year schedules are busy, and what our plans are for next year. After dinner we went to a park on Lake Michigan and had a bonfire to continue the conversations.
Experiences like this are a great gift for me. I have had the opportunity to meet many wonderful people since entering the Franciscans. And as I have moved from different assignments it is always nice to have a chance to catch up with the people who have been so special in my life.
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