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Protecting Children and the Vulnerable

Blessed Solanus

By Fr. Tom Zelinski, OFM Cap.

July 30 is the feast day of Blessed Solanus Casey. The Catholic Church has long had the custom of declaring certain people to have shown forth a certain level of holiness, and so we call them “Blessed” or “Saint.”

Why is Blessed Solanus considered to be a holy man? Many people would say it is because of all the stories of amazing things that happened in connection with his prayer for people, his counsel, his kindness toward all who approached him. But all of these stemmed from his basic, simple trust in God. He believed God was present to him and to all people and he lived as though he believed that.

He would tell people not to worry, but to pray, and if they were Catholic, to participate in the sacraments of the Church. It all seems so simple. But most of us don’t seem to reach the depth of trust that he had. Holiness can be an elusive topic, and it is difficult to measure holiness or to compare one’s holiness with another. We don’t control these things or “make ourselves holy” with great effort.

But some people, like Solanus, seem to open themselves more sincerely to the presence of God and let themselves become instruments of God’s grace and mercy.

What would Solanus say to us about the strange times we are in? He might refer to things he would say as regular advice. “Thank God ahead of time.” To face the rest of this year with that attitude would take some courage. Thank God for whatever is to come. And he would add his other famous words, “Blessed be God in all his designs.”

To pray like this and to believe like this is part of what it might mean to be a holy person. The Vatican Council told us we are all called to holiness. Don’t worry. Trust. Thank God constantly. We are called to that journey. Blessed Solanus, pray for us.

Giving Thanks

By Fr. Tom Zelinski, OFM Cap.

Our friary chapel has a large window looking out on a flowering bush. Every day hummingbirds visit the flowers. Amazing little creatures. On the morning I am writing this I saw a doe and fawn walking behind the retreat center.

Earlier this summer, a pair of house finches built a nest on our window ledge and produced two crops of eggs and little birds. The second hatching numbered 5 little ones. We noticed two turtles of different sizes laying eggs in our flower bed. We await the results of that activity.

And then there are people. Each weekday about 30 people arrive to attend our outdoor Eucharist. Our contribution to worship in the time of COVID-19. It is almost fun to pray in that setting, in the presence of the green trees against the blue sky –most days have been sunny — with the choir of birds singing in the background.

These all are part of some good news in a time when so much news seems bad.

I think of the words of the hymn, “for the wonders that astound us, thanks be to God.”

Prophets and Parables

By Fr. Tom Zelinski, OFM Cap.

During these weeks at Mass we have been reading scriptures which express different ways in which God wants to communicate with the people. We have words of prophecy and words of parables. As Jesus says in several places in the Gospel, if we have ears to hear, we ought to hear!

But with the scriptures, hearing takes some discernment and interpretation. The words of the prophets in the Bible are directed to people living thousands of years ago, dealing with issues of those times. We are to hear the message and apply it to ourselves. The message is often about honesty and integrity and worshiping God in sincerity and truth. Often the words are directed at religious and civil leaders who are acting unjustly toward the people. How is our sincerity, our justice toward others? When we worship, is it mostly empty ritual or are we acting justly and “walking humbly with our God,” as Micah tells us?

With parables, the message is less direct. Jesus speaks in stories, images, little twists which are aimed at getting us to look again at our lives. Where is the Reign of God? How is the Reign of God present to us? Jesus bases his stories on ordinary things: farming, gardening, shepherding, baking.

The thought occurs to me that we could use his formula and apply it to ourselves. “The Reign of God is like our family gathered at Thanksgiving.” “The Reign of God is like my workplace.” “The Reign of God is like taking care of my grandchildren.” There could be many examples. If we believe God is present to us everywhere, then why not see our stories as parables of that presence? What do we see? What do we hear?

John Lewis

By Fr. Tom Zelinski, OFM Cap.

On July 17 we received news of the death of Congressman John Lewis. He gave his whole adult life to the cause of civil rights. As a young man he had his skull cracked by a police baton during a demonstration for voting rights. But from that time on he did not cease to speak out for what he believed in: the simple message that all people are of equal value and ought to be treated with respect. He was of course not alone in that belief, but he was one of the great voices of that message in the 20th and 21st Centuries.

Mr. Lewis tried to follow the example of his mentor, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The message spoken was to be bold and firm, but also non-violent. Following the example of Mohandas Gandhi, Dr. King and Mr. Lewis believed that only a non-violent message would have lasting effect.

Mr. Lewis was a prophet, perhaps not in a religious sense, but in speaking out for freedom, justice, and peace for all. And if these are the values proclaimed, then people of faith can easily see there the presence of God.

In an incident late in his life, he went to a religious motherhouse to meet with two sisters who had helped treat his wounds when he was a young man. He was happy to call them his “sisters.” Indeed, rest in peace, John Lewis, a brother to us all.

Weeds and Wheat

By Fr. Tom Zelinski, OFM Cap.

In the Gospel for the 16th Sunday, Series A, we have more parables, including the story of the weeds and wheat growing up together. Jesus gives a simple explanation about the story: basically there will be good and bad people living in the world and God will allow that until the end when a judgment will be made (Matthew 13:24-43).

I like to see something else in this image. Besides seeing the parable as being about the Church or the world, I like to see it as an image of the human person.

Each of us is a mixture of many experiences, thoughts, and feelings. We try to be good people, but we also know that we have various faults and failings, and, let’s say it, sins. We are like the field containing both weeds and wheat.

It would be nice if we could simply get rid of all faults and things which stir our guilt and be totally pure and good. But most likely we will be like the field in our Gospel as long as we walk the earth. And that is why we pray and try to lead a spiritual life and often turn to God for mercy. We pray “Lord, have mercy” at every Eucharist, and we say “I am not worthy.” Amen to that.

But part of our maturing as members of the Body of Christ is to hold and accept all that we are, weeds and wheat, forgive ourselves and believe and trust that God loves us just as we are and keeps inviting us to change and grow.

St. Bonaventure

July 15 is the Feast of St. Bonaventure, often called the “Second Founder” of the Franciscan family. St. Francis was the spark, the charismatic founder and inspiration for the Franciscan movement. But after some years of rapid growth, the Franciscans needed some structure and organization.

When St. Bonaventure was elected Minister General of the Order, he began the task of reconciliation and collaboration among several factions in the Order, who wanted to go in different directions.

Besides his leadership in the Order, Bonaventure was a philosopher and theologian who sought to give some theoretical form to the life and teaching of St. Francis. But for all his learning and study, he, too, realized that the holiness of Francis was not captured in theology and pious writing. Sooner or later it had to be about a deep personal relationship with God. And so one of the famous works Bonaventure gives us is his “Journey of the Soul into God.”

In his personal life, he realized after all that his wisdom and knowledge came mostly, not from book learning, but from opening his mind and heart in meditation and contemplation. Sooner or later we learn wisdom by uniting ourselves with the Source of Wisdom.

His proper sense of who he was before God is shown in the little incident at the time he was named a cardinal. When delegates from Rome appeared at the friary to present this honor, Bonaventure asked them to wait while he finished washing the dishes. Wisdom indeed!

Life and Loss

By Fr. Tom Zelinski, OFM Cap.

I am thinking of a building. On Saturday, July 11, the Palace of Auburn Hills was imploded with explosives. As far as I know, this arena was still in fine shape for basketball, concerts, and other events. But it was considered unneeded in its location. And so it was destroyed. Some people on the radio spoke of this with sadness as they recalled many happy hours in that building, especially when the Detroit Pistons were having good seasons.

We can say that was “just a building.” Yes it was, but this event can mirror our dealing with loss. Many of you have suffered much more important losses in this year: family members, relatives, friends. You may have lost a job or possessions. This is part of thehuman journey. Things change. People and things are taken from us. It is the repetition over and over of the Paschal Mystery: the life, suffering, death and Resurrection of Jesus. This pattern repeats in our lives and reminds us that we have here “no lasting city,” as it says in the Letter to the Hebrews (Hebrews 13:14).

The comings and goings, the gains and losses of life call us back again and again to the present moment. We recall the past, we look to the future. We may get tired of hearing it, but we are called back to the present moment, where we live. In all our thoughts and feelings, we open ourselves to the presence of God and the love of our neighbor.

God’s Word

In the first reading for the 15th Sunday, Series A, we hear the familiar image of God’s Word being like the rain that falls on the earth, nourishing it and bringing forth growing things, achieving its purpose (Isaiah 55:10-11). The Word of God is spoken not only once, but over and over again. The Word of God is constantly “watering” our minds and hearts.

The Word of God has been spoken to us all our lives, from the Bible, from sermons in church, from the teaching and example of our parents, other family members, teachers, coaches, and other sources. All these have had some effect on us and have helped to make us who we are. The scripture passage seems to imply that God’s Word will achieve results, no matter what.

However we can help ourselves if we try harder to hear the Word, get the message. In the current civil and social climate, we have been asked “Are you listening?” As a society we have not listened well enough to what some of our brothers and sisters have been trying to tell us.

And so also in our personal and spiritual lives, how well have we been listening to the steady message from God:
love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, justice, healing? It is always there, like a constant falling rain.

Emotions

By Fr. Tom Zelinski, OFM Cap.

It seems the emotional state of the country is becoming more tense. People are feeling the strain of weeks of quarantine, sheltering in place, loneliness, lack of human contact. We hear of incidents of shouting, pushing, more violent behavior, people standing on their “right” of not being told what to do.

We need more exercise of what some call “emotional intelligence.” Can I recognize the feeling roiling inside me before it pops out in an angry outburst? Am I too willing to point fingers and blame someone else for my troubles? Am I, in the words of the Gospel, unwilling to see the log in my own eye?

I don’t have any answers or solutions to our state of uneasiness. But we are always invited to turn to prayer, but prayer that is not mere saying lots of words or asking for things. We are invited to enter into quiet, look honestly within and see ourselves in the presence of God, admitting that we are “poor in spirit.” As Jesus told us, we are to be like children as we live in the Kingdom of God. We need quiet moments, perhaps combined with a walk in the neighborhood or in nature.

Our egos may want to control everything, to always be “right,” to fix what is wrong. We could take more advice from our friends in Alcoholics Anonymous: admit our weakness and hand our lives over to God, “however we understand God.”

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