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Protecting Children and the Vulnerable

Advent

By Fr. Tom Zelinski, OFM Cap.

Another Advent is upon us: one of the ways by which Christian people mark their journey through the years. According to some religious writing, Advent ideally is a time for quiet reflection on the meaning of the Incarnation, time to think about the different ways in which Christ has come or will come into our lives. It might be seen as a time for quiet walks on moonlit snow, or a time to sit by the fire and read the Bible and other religious materials. The ideal is one thing; our reality may be different.

For some, Advent and December become times of feverish activity. Quiet reflections give way to shopping and decorating and perhaps attending too many Christmas parties long before the day itself. Though in this year the pandemic may take care of that problem.

With the best of intentions, some people might get discouraged as Christmas draws near and feel the season “got away” from them again. Maybe that’s why we need to repeat it every year, as with other aspects of our spiritual lives: try and try again.

Also, during this season, there may be warnings in church about crass secularism and materialism and “leaving Christ out of Christmas.” Dire warnings may do more harm than good.

It may be helpful to be more intentional about the things we ordinarily do in this season. If there is baking and cooking, perhaps we could see a connection with the table fellowship of Eucharist, which is at the center of our worship. As we choose gifts, let this be truly out of love and care for persons. When we write and address cards, we can let this be a moment of prayerful gratitude for the good memories we have of these people in our lives.

For Advent, there ought to be formal times of prayer, but we can let our spirit of prayer flow over into the other practices of the season.

Passage of Time

By Fr. Tom Zelinski, OFM Cap.

I am writing this on the 57th anniversary of the assassination of John Kennedy. Many of us remember what we were doing when we heard this news. I was doing some cleaning in our seminary. Those were grim days. We wondered if the country was in some danger. I’m sure the military were on high alert.

Now all that is in the past, part of our history. I think of that as we go through our own historical time. The pandemic. We would rather not be experiencing this, but here we are. It is important to note that someday all this will also be our history. Some of you will tell stories to your grandchildren.

In the meantime, we, as people of faith, need to keep our perspective in the present moment. How shall we live our faith in the face of sickness and death and financial struggles? We wonder when this will end. Will there be a “new normal?” Even in this tedium, one friar recently mentioned how quickly the weeks seem to be passing. That may be a perspective of some of us who are older. He is well beyond 80.

In our lives of prayer and spirit, we think of past, present, and future. We look back on the past, remarking how quickly things fade into our history. About the future, we know little and wonder. The teachers of prayer urge us to find the presence of God in our present moment, whatever it is handing to us. We ask for what we need. We find things for which to give thanks.

National Attitude

By Fr. Tom Zelinski, OFM Cap.

Recently I was struck by a comment from a man on the radio. He was discussing the mood of the country. With some sadness, and maybe sarcasm, he suggested that many people in this country are not all about freedom and equality and caring about their fellow citizens, but that the attitude of many is “No one can tell me what to do!” He suggested that is what it means to some people to be a U. S. citizen: “No one can tell me what to do!”

Of course, there was no scientific survey to determine how many people might think this way, and it was one man’s opinion. But, judging by much behavior reported in the news, the man may be on to something. And if it is at all true among many of us, then we are in some trouble. Well, we have been in some trouble, especially since March, when the world changed.

We, as a country, are badly in need of reconciliation, healing, and acceptance of each other. We are in need of respecting each other, even as we acknowledge our differences. We need to move beyond our tribalism and party loyalty, when the “other side” is always wrong, or even dangerous. “How could anyone vote for that guy?” say both sides.

Even among some who call themselves Christian, we seem to have moved far from “Blessed are the poor in spirit” and “Blessed are the peacemakers” and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

We need to move beyond “no one can tell me what to do” to a spirit of looking around to see what we can do for someone else.

Blindness and Sight

By Fr. Tom Zelinski, OFM Cap.

The Gospel for Monday of the 33rd Week is the story of the healing of a blind man . The stories of healing the blind are not only about the cure of one person; they are meant to point further to the issue of personal or spiritual blindness.

I can still hear an old recording by Franciscan priest Richard Rohr where he says emphatically, “It’s all about seeing, brothers and
sisters!” And he and other wise people have reminded us that when we look at anything, we see things not so much as they are, but we see as we are. In other words, as we look at the world, at current events, at our relationships, we see from a foundation of our own bias, perspective, and prejudice.

If we want to grow and deepen and mature in our spiritual lives, or in our human lives even aside from religion, we are invited to be aware of our own biases as we look at the world and people around us. We are invited to admit we may not be seeing clearly, with our eyes and our minds. This admission enables us to be open to more learning and understanding.

A classic example is the husband and wife who, after the children have left home, look at each other and say “I don’t know you.” They need to look and look again. The message is there for all of us. We can look and look again at our world, and keep praying the prayer of the blind man, “Lord, please let me see.”

November

By Fr. Tom Zelinski, OFM Cap.

We are about halfway through November. For many people, this month has two major themes: remembering those who have gone before us and giving thanks.

For Catholics, this month begins with All Saints Day, on which we celebrate all those millions of persons who have gone before us in the Church and who remained faithful in their lives. We honor those whose names appear in the calendar of the Church year. There are many more whose names can be found in collections of the lives of the saints.

Beyond those, there are others who remain anonymous to us, but who indeed lived good and faithful lives. Often these holy ones also suffered much on their life’s journey. Being holy and faithful does not guarantee an easy life!

We can include in the collection of holy people those whom we have known personally, who were our teachers and guides and good example for us along the way.

The day after All Saints is the Commemoration of the Dead, or All Souls Day. It has been Catholic tradition to pray for the dead who may still need further transformation after death on their way to final eternal happiness. This remains in the realm of mystery. But November can be a time of memories about our relatives and acquaintances who have gone before us.

November also calls us to gratitude, giving thanks. That can be a great part of our remembering the saints and our beloved dead. We are grateful to God for them. And then we give a special day to giving thanks. Thanksgiving Day is not a feast of the Church, but in our faith we can easily make it a kind of Holy Day, not by any law or obligation, but simply because we see the value of giving thanks for all our blessings. This year, there may be a certain flavor to our Thanksgiving, because of all that has happened in our world.

But it is part of our life of prayer and worship to be thankful. Eucharist, a word meaning thanksgiving, is at the center of our lives, no matter what is happening to us, good or bad. This year it may take a bit more discipline to find things for which to be grateful, but we are called to do that as part of our faith, not to mention our mental health.

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