Saturday, December 20, 2014

Vatican diplomatic successes with nuns, the U.S., and Cuba

Thomas Reese  |  Dec. 19, 2014Faith and Justice

Diplomatic skills were on display at the Vatican this week when it issued its report on the U.S. sisters, hosted a visit from John Kerry, and midwifed an agreement between the United States and Cuba.
First, the nuns.
A sigh of relief echoed through convents all over the United States as the Vatican report on the life and ministry of religious women was released this week. The six-year visitation of religious communities, which had all the trappings of an inquisition when it began, turned into an affirming dialogue by the time it concluded.

The key players in this transformation were Pope Francis, Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, Mother Mary Clare Millea and Immaculate Heart of Mary Sr. Sharon Holland. Without their diplomatic skills, this could have been a disaster.

The apostolic visitation began in 2008 under Cardinal Franc Rodé, then prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (aka Congregation for Religious), who was concerned about "feminist spirit" among American sisters as well as "irregularities or omissions in American religious life." He clearly expected to find lots of problems and failings among the sisters, which he had heard about especially from "an important representative of the U.S. church," whom he did not name.
Luckily for the sisters, Rodé retired in January 2011 before the visitation was completed. His replacement, Braz de Aviz, proved to be much more positive in his dealing with religious women. He was not appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to the congregation because of any expertise in religious life. (He is not a religious.) He got the job because the Vatican was embarrassed that the largest Catholic country in the world did not have a high-level position in the Curia, and this was the first vacancy available.
Braz de Aviz began softening the visitation soon after taking office, even before Pope Francis was elected. In this, he had an ally in Millea, who had been appointed by Rodé to lead the visitation in the United States. She had reluctantly agreed to head the visitation team and tried to allay the fears of sisters who objected to the whole process. Although traditional by nature, her respect for other sisters and her nonauthoritarian style brought many of the sisters to reluctantly go along with a process that had been begun without consulting them. 
Finally, Holland, a savvy canon lawyer with 21 years of experience working in the Congregation for Religious, was a wise, strong and diplomatic representative for the American sisters after she was elected president of the Leadership Council of Women Religious in 2013. She knew how the Vatican worked and had the respect and confidence of the American sisters.
This visitation could have been a disaster without the diplomatic skills of these individuals. Because of them, the final report had "an encouraging and realistic tone," Holland said. "Challenges are understood, but it is not a document of blame, or of simplistic solutions. One can read the text and feel appreciated and trusted to carry on."
At the press conference that released the report, the participants (including Braz de Aviz, Millea, and Holland) clearly did not want to talk about the other study of LCWR being conducted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The positive tone of this report, however, will hopefully make it more difficult for the doctrinal congregation to lower the boom on these organizations and the sisters involved with them.
The report on the sisters got more attention than another event at the Vatican this week, the hourlong meeting between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin. In describing the meeting, the Vatican focused on U.S. "commitments."
According to Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi of the Vatican Press Office, the topics covered included "the situation in the Middle East, and the commitment of the U.S. to avoid the escalation of tensions and the explosion of violence; also the commitment to promote a resumption of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians." These are similar to the topics discussed when they last met in January for an hour and 40 minutes.

According to Lombardi, they also discussed "the United States' commitment to the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison," with the Holy See expressing willingness to assist "in seeking adequate humanitarian solutions for current inmates." The U.S. bishops have repeatedly called for the closing of the Guantanamo prison.

Some countries have offered to accept the inmates from Guantanamo, but it is unlikely that the 110-acre Vatican City State could accommodate any. Vatican support for closing the prison may encourage other countries to come forward. Nor will Vatican support hurt the Obama administration in dealing the opponents to closure in the United States.
Other new topics included Ukraine and Ebola, although they were not discussed in depth because of time constraints.
Noteworthy also was the topic not discussed this time that did come up last time: health care reform. The Vatican brought up this topic briefly in January at the request of the American bishops who continue to object to the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act. This time, in talks with Kerry, the Vatican focused exclusively on international issues.
The final diplomatic achievement of the week was the release on Wednesday of U.S. citizen and USAID subcontractor Alan Gross, who was imprisoned by the Cuban government for espionage.

At his January meeting in the Vatican, Kerry had asked Parolin for help in getting the release of Gross from Cuba. Pope Francis secretly wrote President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro, urging them to resolve Gross' case and that of three Cuban prisoners in the United States. In October, the Vatican hosted a meeting between Cuban and U.S. officials that resolved the issue.
The Vatican, which has always had diplomatic relations with Cuba, has long supported reconciliation between the two countries and an end to the U.S. embargo. As Pope John Paul II said during his 1998 visit to Cuba, "Let Cuba open itself to the world, and the world open itself to Cuba." The Cuban and U.S. bishops have taken the same position. 
"Engagement is the path to support change in Cuba and to empower the Cuban people in their quest for democracy, human rights and religious liberty," said Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces, N.M., chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "We believe it is long past due that the United States establish full diplomatic relations with Cuba, withdraw all restrictions on travel to Cuba, rescind terrorist designations aimed at Cuba, encourage trade that will benefit both nations, lift restrictions on business and financial transactions, and facilitate cooperation in the areas of environmental protection, drug interdiction, human trafficking and scientific exchanges." 
Although the president cannot end the embargo without congressional consent, he is moving toward re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba. Now that the president is not running for re-election, he doesn't have to worry about the Cuban vote in Florida. It is also helpful to have the hugely popular Pope Francis in his corner on this one. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Diocese: Holy Land News

Diocese: Holy Land News

JERUSALEM – On Wednesday, November 19, Religious Leaders of Jerusalem: Christians, Muslims, Druze, visited the synagogue, which was the target of a vicious attack the day before. Four Jews and an Israeli police officer were killed. The visit to the Jewish community was a sign of solidarity and an appeal to the people of the Holy Land and the world to promote peace and freedom of religion.

“Your gesture is most welcome. If someone ever criticizes you, pretend not to hear him because your gesture is welcome”. These were the words that welcomed the religious leaders of Jerusalem at the Office of Religious Affairs of the Ministry of Interior, and later all together visited the synagogue in the Har Nof neighborhood in West Jerusalem. This place of worship was attacked on November 18, four Jews, a police officer and two Palestinians were killed.

We come as religious leaders to a place of prayer, therefore to a holy place, stated His Beatitude Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. These people were killed while praying. Any place of worship belonging to any religion should be protected and sanctified.

In the midst of a crowd of journalists and residents of the neighborhood gathered in the synagogue’s courtyard, the religious leaders spoke one after the other, expressed their condolences to the community, and condemned the acts of violence directed at either Israelis or Palestinians. Furthermore, they condemned violence and terrorism committed in the name of religion against another religion.

They renewed a fervent plea for freedom of expression and religion for all people of the Holy Land and around the world.

Message and appeal

Christians and Jews are now preparing for their holidays of Christmas and Hanukkah. In a time of a worsening situation in Jerusalem, each day carries its share of fear, anxiety and disturbing events, the religious leaders expressed anew their desire to find and achieve peace. The meeting of Christians,
Muslims, Druze and Jews in the heart of an ultra-orthodox neighborhood is also a sign for the world and the media, that when an attack is perpetrated, it is not only the target community that suffers, but all those who struggle for peace and for justice.

Jerusalem religious leaders

JERUSALEM – In a meeting this Friday, November 21 with Joachim Herrmann, the Ministry of Interior of Bavaria, who is also a Knight of the Order of the Holy Sepulcher, Patriarch Fouad Twal spoke about the current tensions in Jerusalem and reiterated the importance of education to build a new society and bring about a culture of peace. It was a warm exchange in which the Patriarch expressed these concerns in light of current events.

“In recent weeks, the situation has taken increasingly worrisome proportions. We are part of this country and we suffer with it. What we want is that the last word is not left to the extremists.”

“The unrest began to intensify the violence when Israel allowed religious Jews to visit the Temple Mount. The Jews then touched the most sensitive place for Muslims. One of the most sacred places, which is the key to peace or chaos on earth. Religious coexistence in Jerusalem will be the ground for more peace or more violence in the Middle East and the world. The challenge is immense.

The Patriarch welcomed the news of a forthcoming ban on religious Jews visiting the Temple Mount, a measure that will “ease tensions.” Bishop Shomali recalled in this regard the meeting of November 12 between Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and King Abdullah of Jordan, a meeting during which
Netanyahu pledged to respect the rights of Muslims to pray, and to observe the status quo that places the holy place under Jordanian protection. Since that meeting, no age limit was imposed for the Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa.

Patriarch Fouad also condemned the Israeli Prime Minister’s decision to arm the concern Israeli citizens living in Jerusalem. “This decision encourages neither mutual trust nor peaceful coexistence nor cooperation between the two peoples. Entrust security to the police and not to every citizen. If our Land is Holy, then do works of justice that restore confidence by respecting the dignity of all. We want peace for all, peace will never come to one people, which is surrounded by the walls that have been built. Physical walls are the visible sign of the walls of hatred, fear and mistrust that inhabit the hearts of men.”

Patriarch Fouad Twal: “Education is the most powerful weapon”

Once again Patriarch Twal urged everyone “not to be afraid, to pray for peace. Praying for the same goal can be an opportunity to get closer to each other. The Patriarch further said that this meeting proves that “hope is not dead, there is always hope to stop the violence.”

Keeping in mind stability in the Middle East, the Patriarch criticized the call by certain members of the Israeli government for a “harsh response,” a massive and extensive “arming” of the population. That is not a solution. Political leaders should be smart and wise enough to lead all people toward peace,
while restraining the escalation of fundamentalism.

If the meeting of these religious leaders is an evidence of dialogue, it is being carried out in a difficult and unfortunate situation. In other words, the recurrence of these events under present circumstances is not good news. But there is always hope that one day, they will warmly greet each other on behalf of their respective followers. It will be a sign of peace for all mankind, in a Land that is indeed Holy.

Pierre Loup de Raucourtis Beatitude also condemned the collective punishment inflicted by Israel, including the destruction of the homes of the attackers’
families. “Such practices only sow more hatred and violence.”

During the meeting, issues relating to free access to the Holy Places were raise, and also the reunification of families separated by the separation wall, and, above all, the “Law on Citizenship and Entry into Israel” (2003), that does not allow the spouse who is not a native of Jerusalem to come live with his/her family in the holy city.

“Inhumane Acts” said His Beatitude.

Secondly, the Patriarch spoke about his visit to Gaza, in early November, after the war ended. In an almost apocalyptic landscape where donkeys are now used as taxis and transport, he was struck by the thousands of children roaming the streets. “70% of schools were destroyed; daily school classes are held in rotation, three times a day, in the only schools that remain standing.”

And the Patriarch said, “We believe in the power of education. This is our most powerful weapon. We have three schools in Gaza that welcome all Christian children, who represent about 10% of the students, and the other 90% are Muslims. At school, children learn together, play together, and eat together. This is the most favorable place for coexistence and dialogue for the formation of a new culture of peace.” He invited the Minister and his delegation to continue to work for the establishment of peace through education, particularly the needs of the American University of Madaba where scholarships offered by Germany would be great support for students.

The Patriarch and his Vicar finally gratefully thanked the German Church and in a special way the fraternal closeness of Cardinal Reinhard Marx, as well as solidarity and friendship of the German Lieutenancy.

Myriam Ambroselli

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Gift Giving Practices

Simplify your gift giving this year with a few easy suggestions. Giving and receiving gifts create tensions and awkward moments. Know that gifts often have some attachment to them. Learn to navigate the contours of gifts skillfully. Learn how to give and receive graciously.

Talk before Giving

A. Clarify. Be bold in the conversations because the clarity can avoid uncomfortable situations and will help communicate expectations. (Too often Christmas has too many disappointed hopes.) Discuss with your family of origin which ways you will celebrate the holidays. Eliminate surprises by simply clarifying the ways they want to approach gift-giving, especially with the adults relatives, in-laws, parents, and adult children

B. Determine if your presence during a visit and perhaps a food item is enough of a gift. For most people, YOU are enough. Enjoy the people you are with and let them enjoy you.

C. Perhaps sending a greeting card is enough of a gift. Clarify if that is so.

D. If you discuss gift-giving and decide not to do it, relax. If someone then goes out and gets a gift after you have discussed behaviors, accept it gratefully and realize you do not have to feel guilty.

E. Discuss price range. Ask what others want. Pray for them beforehand and see if some gift idea emerges in your prayer.

F. Know that it is quite O.K. to not give gifts. It is liberating just to come together without the need for gift exchange. Gift-giving can be expensive and stress inducing. Lower the stress.

G. Help the other person by being very specific about what you want to receive. Be as concrete as you can.

If you receive a gift…

A. Know that the other person is giving something about themselves. Cherish that aspect of the giver.

B. Ask the person if you are to open the gift in the present moment. Smile. The person is giving part of themselves away to you and they want you to accept a special part of them, even if you do not understand that special part. The other person wants instance acceptance.

C. Love the person who is doing the giving. They are loving you through their gift.

D. If a gift is unusual, ask the person to clarify what the gift represents to them so you may honor it all the more. Allow the person to share his or her process of dreaming up this gift for you. The person might clarify something you do not quite comprehend.

E. It might take a little while for you to decide if you like it or not. Know that it might take months for the idea of the gift to grow on you and take on additional meaning.

If you give to others…

A. Know that part of you is imbedded into the gift. The gift represents you and you’d like to be accepted well.

B. Feel free to make a donation to a charity in honor of the person. People are generally caring and are honored when they are attached to charitable causes. Everyone wins.
C. Before buying a gift, ask the person if there is something particular they would like. Help elicit from the person what they want because they will make it easier for you to please them. Do not accept a wishy-washy answer. Ask them to clarify for you by a certain time so you have plenty of time to obtain the gift. Set a deadline.

Other considerations

· Just because someone gives you a gift doesn’t mean you have to give one to them. We want to strive for mutuality in relationships, but not every interaction is mutual. You may feel awkward, but you do not have to make excuses or try to come up with an excuse or a promise of a future plan.

· If you agree not to exchange gifts, but then someone gets you one, know that they have unilaterally altered the terms of the agreement. Be kind to them and receive the gift graciously, but realize you acted in accord with your mutual agreement.

· Be exceedingly kind, but don’t try to go against your feelings. If you are confused or disappointed, talk about how the gift makes you feel. The person is going to make some judgment on your reaction. Bless them. You always want to make the other person feel good.

· Remember that relationships are ambiguous. Gifts will also be ambiguous. Manage your disappointment where necessary, and share the joys as fully as you can.

· Remember, you have all year long to get together – for dinner, lunch, coffee or a walk. You don’t have to fit everything into a packed month. Perhaps your gift would be finding a time in February when you can carve a day when you can be together. Extend your gift into a year-round activity.

This list is not exhaustive. What else works for you?

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Our Christmas celebration

Ah! My Christmas has come. Tonight, Chorus North Shore gave Christmas cheer to our audience on a dreary rain-soaked chilly night. Rudolph would have had difficulty finding his way. We were pleased with the full house in light of the weather and we were thankful, for driver’s sakes, that it was not snow. (But I like snow.)

The first half of the show celebrated Advent, especially with a Telemann piece called “Machet die Tore Weit,” which means “Open Wide the Gates.” Two young soloists sang the arias and recitatives. Very nice done. They joined up for a medley of Christmas tunes.

The Honors Youth Choir sang with us in the second half and they were a tremendous hit. After we sang Psalm 100, they performed “In the Bleak Midwinter” and the audience held back their applause because of the stunning silence that concluded their song. The adults sang “Who will come?,” a softly sung narrative of the Holy Family. We then livened up the church with Personnet Hodie and an ancient Galician tune that captured the audience’s attention.

The finale was a selection of Silent Night tunes that were woven nicely together. The audience sang boldly when they were invited into the song. Nearly everyone sang and then opened their mouths so wide I could almost see tonsils. Their eyes were full of joy and delight at times and then some were also moved to tears as the finale tugged at their heartstrings. We gave them Christmas.

At the conclusion, a young girl that was maybe 1.5 years old came forward in her neat little dress and applauded. She kept smiling and laughing. The beauty of Christmas performances is that some people will hear these songs for the first time and the course of their lives can be shaped by it, and some people will hear these songs for the last time before they meet their God.

We brought them the story of Christ tonight. We gave them just what they needed. We all need a little Christmas – no matter what time of year.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Curia reform: Congregation for the Laity

Thomas Reese  |  Dec. 4, 2014Faith and Justice

The creation of a new Vatican Congregation for the Laity appears to be a likely first step in the reform of the Roman Curia. Many are welcoming this as a recognition that the laity have just as important a role in the church as bishops, clergy and religious, each of which has a congregation dedicated to their concerns.
Reform of the Curia has been a major item of the agenda of Pope Francis' Council of Cardinals.

Currently, there is a Council for the Laity, but in the Vatican pecking order, councils are ranked below congregations. For example, a cardinal must head the nine Vatican congregations, but the 12 councils can make do with an archbishop. Not only would the laity council be upgraded, it would be merged into a larger entity that could take over the functions of the Council for the Family, the Council for Health Care Workers, and the Council for Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People.
Whether this new entity will be a congregation or a secretariat, like the new secretariat dealing with Vatican finances, remains to be seen. In any case, a cardinal will head it, and Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga's name has been floated. Laypeople could head offices within the congregation. 
Another entity may result from the merger of the Council for Justice and Peace and the Council Cor Unum. One plan would put the portfolios of the Council for Health Care Workers and the Council for Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People into this new congregation rather than into the Congregation for the Laity. If these councils go to the laity congregation, the emphasis would be on pastoral care for migrants and health care workers. If they go to a new Congregation for Justice and Charity, then the emphasis would be on charity and justice.
A possible solution is to put the pastoral work of these offices into the laity congregation while the charity and justice work would go to the new justice and charity congregation. This is not easy, of course, since people in the old offices often have multiple responsibilities.
Still another new congregation or secretariat may combine all of the communications offices: the Vatican press office, L'Osservatore Romano, Vatican Publishing House, Vatican Radio, Vatican Television Center, Vatican Information Service,, and the Council for Social Communications.

These proposals respond to cardinals and bishops outside of Rome who see the Curia as a bloated bureaucracy that wastes money. They want an efficient operation with fewer officials spending less money. In this, they sound like Republicans talking about Washington.
In reality, the Vatican bureaucracy is very small, considering the church is a 1.2 billion member organization. I often point out that American universities have more press officers for their sports teams than the Vatican has for its entire operation.
What will be the impact of these mergers?
First, merging a number of councils into fewer entities will reduce the number of Vatican offices that could be headed by a cardinal. While councils do not have to be headed by a cardinal, often they have been. If one of the goals of reform is to reduce the number of cardinals in the Curia, then this is a positive change.
Second, the mergers will mean that fewer Vatican officials will have direct access to the pope. Just as there cannot be hundreds of government officials reporting directly to the president, the pope cannot personally deal with scores of department heads. These mergers mean that some Vatican office heads who in the past reported to the pope will now report to someone else.
In reality, since the papacy of Pope John Paul II, popes have been selective in whom they meet. Pope Paul VI would meet almost monthly with heads of major Vatican offices. He would also carefully review any documents prior to their being issued by a Vatican office. Because of his travels and other activities, John Paul had neither the interest nor the time to do this. Some department heads could go a year or more without seeing him, and he left the review of documents to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who made sure the Vatican spoke with one voice.
With as few as 12 major curial offices, the pope could also bring the heads of office together like a Cabinet for coordination and counsel. While Cabinets work well in parliamentary systems, U.S. presidents have never found Cabinet meetings helpful except for photo ops.
A third argument for merging similar offices is to encourage coordination and efficiency. This was one of the arguments supporting the creation of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and many of the more recent Cabinet-level departments in the United States.
Combining offices can lead to the pooling of resources and the elimination of duplication. For example, people who organize World Youth Day could also organize the World Meeting of Families. But mergers can also mean that some priorities will be lost in the bureaucracy. A small office, for better or worse, has more freedom to do what it wants. When it is part of a larger entity, it has to get approval from supervisors. There are fewer loose cannons, but also less creativity.
Bringing all the Vatican media offices together makes good sense to get everyone on the same page and to take advantage of new communication technology. To be successful, such a merger will require a very strong executive to overcome entrenched ways of operating. Changes in technology and priorities mean that staff members have to be continually retrained. But the Vatican's reluctance to fire people will make it difficult to get rid of dead wood and redundancies.
Sometimes Cabinet-level departments combine offices that do not fit well together or have little in common. For example, in the United States, the Census Bureau and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, which have little in common, are both in the Department of Commerce.
Likewise, although a Congregation for Charity and Justice sounds good, it is difficult to see how the Councils for Justice and Peace and Cor Unum will fit easily together. The first is more like a think tank while the second distributes the money from Peter's Pence. If the new congregation combines the portfolios of Justice and Peace, Cor Unum, Health Care Workers, and Migrants and Itinerant People, it will have to pick and choose what it really wants to do.
Most Vatican offices have a mix of jurisdiction and promotional functions. Jurisdictional authority is the authority to make a decision on a particular matter that is binding on people, even bishops, under canon law. The laity office will have little jurisdictional authority except for the review and approval of the charters of international Catholic lay organizations, which was a responsibility of the Council for the Laity.
Most of the work of the new laity office will be promotional. It will operate more through education and persuasion than mandates. The office will put on conferences; its staff will travel to conferences held by others to make presentations. It will publish documents, newsletters, and other publications giving the results of their work and promoting study and action by others in the church.
All of these activities are dependent on its ability to persuade people. For example, it can call for greater involvement of the laity in the church, but if local bishops and priests ignore it, nothing will happen.
In its promotional activities, the laity office will be similar to a public policy think tank except that it will deal with issues from a religious or ethical perspective. Its success will depend on its credibility, the quality of its work, and its ability to attract and persuade a particular audience. Like the new communications office, it will need a good leader who is in tune with the pope.
One of its audiences should be other members of the Roman Curia. Will it speak out for the laity in decisions in other Vatican offices, for example, in the selection of bishops, the training of seminarians, or in the reform of the liturgy? If it does not, the laity will not be well served.
The merging of these offices will be seen in Rome as a major achievement, but in reality, it is a minor reform. It is shuffling around boxes on the organizational chart. It is noteworthy that these reforms focus on the councils created after the Second Vatican Council and do not touch the older Vatican congregations.
Real structural reform, as I have written elsewhere, requires:

1.       Not making Vatican officials bishops or cardinals.
2.       Returning decision-making authority on more issues to bishops' conferences and local bishops.
3.       Clearly separating legislative, executive, and judicial functions.
But besides changing structures and procedures, there has to be a cultural change in the Curia. Pope Francis has been preaching and modeling such a change since the beginning of his papacy. He speaks of leadership for service rather than for power and status. He clearly hates careerism and clericalism.
Reforming the Curia is not easy, nor is it impossible. There are no perfect solutions, but major improvements can be made.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Happy Birthday; Happy Thanksgiving

Many thanks to everyone who wished me a happy birthday yesterday. I had a terrific day made better by so many wishes of good health, happiness, and new life.

My email exploded with messages in the morning when I woke up. I had to force myself to write my Sunday blog entry before I did anything else. Tuesday morning's are always homily preparation time. I finished right at 11:30 a.m., just in time to head out to Chestnut Hill for lunch with Fr. Bill, a dear Jesuit friend.

When I returned, I finished my homework and then visited some teachers in the school to wish them a happy Thanksgiving. Block parties were going on as the holiday season was beginning. Then I returned phone calls (so I would not be tempted to do it while driving.) Then a friend from Amman came over for a visit as her husband is in town dealing with an illness. After a nice visit, I dropped her back at her hotel to get to class.

What joy when I stepped foot into the class and everyone started singing, "Happy Birthday." We had a neat class. At one point, we had to start a drawing and after five minutes move to the next student's easel and assist in their drawing. The results were amazing. We each contributed something but each drawing was amazingly distinct.

As class ended, the streets were eerily quiet. I knew it was not the pre-holiday lull. The Grand Jury indictment was released for Ferguson, Missouri and many Bostonians were civilly protesting in solidarity with the African-American community. At some point, our nation has to address race issues because they are very real. We are simply afraid. Anyways, state police cruisers, one after another, kept coming down Melnea Cass Boulevard and Massachusetts Avenue. Passage back home for me was very easy, but so many drivers were erratic. I thought it might be a full moon because of some of their antics. We need at address driving violations in our Commonwealth.

Once I arrived home, I set out to reply to the over 250 Facebook well-wishes I received during the day. At one point, Facebook responded to me and told me to slow down in my typing. I am a fast typist. I chuckled. I'm probably one of the few people of Facebook to answer each one individually. This was a monumental effort, but well worth it. I was touched by so many good words and such kindnesses. Some people shared with me stories of their heartaches, deaths, and memorials. This is all part of the sanctity of life that we hold so dear.

I love that my birthday is in the Thanksgiving season because it heightens the celebration and I always have plenty of reasons to be thankful. It also overshadows my birthday and I'm pleased the attention is place on the goodwill day that is Thanksgiving. All I know is that I have a lot of love in my life and I'm grateful.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. I think I will draw more Thanksgiving images and just enjoy the slow day. I've tidied my room, reorganized my painting space, enjoyed a healthy lunch, and chatted with a few friends.

I even went grocery shopping. It was very festive. People were in a good mood, free food was offered, everyone was pleasant and cheerful, and the cashier looked at me straight in the eyes and said, "Thank you, dear, and have a happy Thanksgiving."

The wind is howling, the rain is steady, few cars on on the road and people are settling in for one of the most pleasant holidays of the year. Happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Feeling Good

It is a great time of year. November is always warmer in New England than people think. Though it is cold these past few days, the temperatures are often invigorating. The cool nights prepares the trees and bushes for winter. The child in me comes out because I love crunching the unraked leaves that fall to the ground. The sounds of the crackling has the effect upon me as bubble wrap has upon others. I can't resist.

The only difficulty with this time of year is the lessened sunlight. Darkness comes too soon. We do not notice it so much because of events around the holiday, but it encroaches upon our day. I cannot imagine life a century ago when electric lights were becoming widely available.

However, the darkening days helps us to be reflective about the direction of our lives and the last things. We begin the month with All Soul's and All Saints Days and it is a fitting time to remember the dead during this last month of the church year. The whole month is dedicated to memorializing our dead who are still alive to God. As we consider our own mortality, we reshape our actions and make adjustments to those things we most value. We cannot help but see ourselves in closer relationship to God, and fortunately we end the month with Thanksgiving, which helps us to be grateful for the ways we are blessed.

In light of the way we focus upon our relationship with God, I feel truly grateful for the ministry of reconciliation - confessions. Last week, I heard the confessions of high school students on a KAIROS retreat. My absolute best prayer is in the first moments when a penitent leaves the confessional. God's presence seems magnified in that period. Above all, I want the person to know of God's far-reaching love for the person before me. Once the person leaves the room, I pray silently for that person to receive God's love, and I know God is also communicating abundant love for me. It is one of the best experiences of priesthood. It is often the feeling one has when leaving an 8- or 30-day retreat.

Speaking of the end of the year, the feast of Christ the King is powerful to me, and I fear that many people do not quite understand the rhythm of the liturgical year because the feast is superseded by Thanksgiving and the beginning of the Advent season. Our entire year is collected by Christ and presented to the Ancient One for blessing and final (positive) judgment. All our struggles and joys from our lifetime are blessed by God and given new meaning. Christ is given by God power over all living things and he has defeated our great enemies - sin and death.

To celebrate this reality, I had a crown put on a molar this week.

Something that I have missed the past week and a half is yoga. I had meetings scheduled during times that yoga classes were offered and my body had been missing the stretching. However, when I arrived for class this morning, I recognized that I missed the guys a great deal too. They have been a bit of a community for me this semester. One guy, as soon as I arrived, invited me for Thanksgiving dinner. That was so kind of him.

During class, I kept thinking that I ought to cook a meal for some of the old-timers because they live alone. One guy will have Chinese food on Thursday. I tried to ask them if they wanted a meal on Wednesday night, but with their lack of hearing and their propensity to talk over one another, I never received a satisfactory answer. I'll try to figure out something to make sure that they have a special day. It is nice to have a holiday home cooked meal.