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Protecting Children and the Vulnerable

Signs and Wonders

By Fr. Tom Zelinski, OFM Cap.

During the past week the Franciscan Calendar offered two feast days which featured unusual phenomena, “signs and wonders.” On September 17th we celebrated the feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis of Assisi, which honors his receiving the wounds of Christ in his hands, feet, and side. The next day was the feast of St. Joseph of Cupertino, who was known to “levitate” while praying. That is, during prayer, he would begin to rise off the floor.

Catholic tradition has always had room for miracles and other unusual happenings, seen as reminders of the presence and reality of God. We still make use of miracles in the process of canonizing saints. People await the report of an approved miracle that will allow Blessed Solanus Casey to be declared a saint.

It is normal for ordinary humans to take note of these things and be amazed. But there is a danger of putting too much emphasis on these “signs and wonders” and think that’s what real holiness is all about. We always need to be called back to basic virtue, and to listen to St. Paul telling us that we can do all sorts of “religious” things, but if we do these without love, they don’t amount to much.

Amazing signs connected with saints can be seen as a kind of “seal of approval” for a life well lived in prayer and charity and compassion. And that is always the lesson for ourselves. We are not to seek amazing signs and wonders, but are to do the little things of our lives with love. Anything extra over and above that is God’s business. And we can always pay attention to the ordinary miracles around us: hummingbirds, new babies, the kindness of friends.

The Wooden Beam

By Fr. Tom Zelinski, OFM Cap.

In the Gospel for Friday of the 23rd Week, we have the famous image of the beam in one’s eye. Jesus gives us a teaching about self knowledge. We are not to criticize or pick at other people’s faults when we are not willing to acknowledge our own failings (Luke 6:39-42).

Down through the ages, teachers of prayer have stressed the need for self knowledge as part of a mature spirituality: from Catherine of Siena, to John of the Cross, to Teresa of Avila, to Ignatius of Loyola, down to Thomas Merton and Richard Rohr in our day.

Those who practice the 12 Steps recognize the need for self knowledge and sincerity as they take their “fearless moral inventory” and then tell their story to a willing listener (Steps Four and Five). They are willing to remove the beam of their own blindness and admit their truth.

The beam of blindness is at the center of all racism and bigotry and the large ego of people who will not admit their own shortcomings. It can be a big problem in marriage and other relationships. The beam of blindness causes people to always blame others for their problems.

So this image remains central to an honest and sincere attempt to lead a Christian life, which should also be a healthy psychological life.

“Remove the beam from your own eye first, and then try to help your brother or sister.”

Good Measure

By Fr. Tom Zelinski, OFM Cap.

The Gospel for Thursday of Week 23 is a challenging statement about Christian love. We are to love everyone. We are to love our enemies and pray for those who do us harm. We are to treat everyone the way we want to be treated. We are to lend without expecting a return. We are not to judge or condemn anyone (Luke 6:27-38).

We have heard these things many times, and each time we may wonder: Who can live like that? Perhaps we can’t, with our own power and resources. We always fall short of the ideal, and we lean on the mercy of God.

We need to recall that God treats us that way,loving us unconditionally. When we fall short, when we get angry, or hold grudges, or cling to bitterness, God continues to show us mercy and encourages us to move beyond those things, to get up and keep walking and try again.

Key to the Gospel passage is when Jesus tells us, “The measure with which you measure will in turn be measured out to you.” In other words, Jesus tells us to take an overview of our lives, perhaps each day. We are to start out with a way of “measuring” our relationships and our actions from a standpoint of gratitude, acceptance, and willingness to forgive — and not to wait for something to happen before we react.

This may be another form of those famous words of Blessed Solanus: “Thank God ahead of time,” no matter what the future holds.

September

By Fr. Tom Zelinski, OFM Cap.

These early days of September have a certain “feel” about them. Do you have the same experience? It is something about endings and beginnings. September 1st is merely a date on the calendar, but seems to carry some weight, especially aligned with Labor Day.

The roots of my feelings, I am sure, reach down to years of starting another school year after summer. Summer ending. School beginning. For me, also, it has had something to do with football, especially going back to 8th grade when I played on an organized team. All that grunting and groaning in August heat left an impression. Hardly part of my spiritual life . . . . or maybe it was!

Years of retreat ministry have left impressions of yet another fall retreat season beginning with a new theme. How in any given year, did we treat of some aspect of the life of prayer?

We move through time. Seasons come and go. And yet in each day, each moment, there stands the invitation to pause and recognize the presence of God. In the Gospel for Thursday of the 22nd week, Jesus tells his disciples to “put out into the deep.” In any season, in any moment, we are to plumb the depths inside us, into our truest self, our soul, to once again touch the presence of God.

We are in September of a strange year. How does God speak to us in this season?

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