Sunday, August 10, 2008

Wandering Northeast Indiana

Lagrange Courthouse

Great Blue Heron in Indiana

Well it has been a great week to be traveling around northeast Indiana. Now I know we are not exotic. We don’t have oceans, deserts, rain forests or mountains. Still, we are not chopped liver! We have so many rivers, slow, low hills, and farms of many sorts. We have diversity, Hispanic towns, migrant’s settlements, refugee relocation and we have Amish. We also have wildlife. Now we don’t have roaming buffalo or elk, we don’t have mountain lion but we have some cool stuff. Red fox (saw one a couple of years ago by one of our golf courses), deer (way too many), hawks, eagles, muskrats, Canada Geese, ground hogs, owls, I even saw a flying squirrel at Fox Island a couple of years ago. Still, my favorite is the Blue Heron and I will get to them in a bit.

I had to drive to Lagrange Indiana. One of our students is doing her clinical rotations at Northeastern Center. I was there for a review of her performance. Of course she is doing great. However I had a great opportunity to drive in the country in late summer.

The sky was brilliant, deep blue with mountains of fluffy clouds. I saw a few hawks, blue jays and cardinals. Beyond Kendallville the land turns in to low rolling hills. Nothing spectacular, just nice. The corn was high, there were fields of flowers. I drove past Rome City, a few smaller towns and lakes. The area was spotted with country churches, farms and Amish. I am use to seeing Amish in their various wagons and buggies but this day I saw an Amish family riding bikes, Americana at its best!

I love Lagrange. It is ten miles from the Michigan border. It is close to my favorite day trip destination, Goshen. It is near Mishawaka and South Bend. It has old stores, a couple of part time museums and quaint cafes. I can’t wait to go back in the fall.

Later in the week the weather and beauty continued. I was walking my dog on the east bank of Headwaters Park by the Maumee River and there was a heron in front of us. The next day we were walking in the Japanese Gardens of Sweeney Park. As we crossed the bridge to our left was a heron standing in the creek. It looked at us, lifted off and flew down the creek where it landed next to another heron. I turned to the right side of the bridge and another heron lifted up, flew over us twice cawing at us and then flew away. They look like pterodactyls when they are in the air!

Finally the next day we were walking on the east side of Headwaters Park along the St. Mary’s River and came almost face-to-face with yet another heron. We were at eye level. It slowly lifted off, flew to the other side of the bank where it was surrounded by a field of purple morning glories and quietly watched us. These are supposed to be difficult birds to site but clearly they are easy to find in Fort Wayne. We have a pair on our campus. There is another one at Tillman Park.

Yep, the skies are blue, the land is bountiful, and creation is everywhere. It is a good time, a very good time, to be wandering around in northeast Indiana.

Heron Eats Catfish

Monday, August 4, 2008

Secular Franciscans, Father Beiting and "Doing"

I am in formation to become a member of the Secular Franciscans, a religious order founded by St. Francis. Our Fraternity, the Holy Family Fraternity is awesome. The members are dedicated, knowledgeable and committed. While we are called to be humble it must be said, we are also pleasing to the eye (it would be wrong to lie, wouldn’t it?)! Some of our members have been in the Seculars for a long time.

One of our older members was expressing her frustration over not being able to do all that she use to be able to do. Age and health issues had taken a toll and now she is less physically active. I found myself thinking she can still do plenty. She can pray. If we believe that the Desert Fathers were Fathers of the Church, leaders of something profound then praying is doing. If we use the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration as one of our models than clearly we acknowledge that praying is doing something.

Lately I have been reading works by Father Ralph W. Beiting, the founder of Christian Appalachian Project. He is a hero of mine. His life is a model of giving, creativity, flexibility and servanthood. Yesterday I was reading Pilgrimage of a Country Preacher…A Journey to the Holy Land of Appalachia.

In one of the chapters he is talking to a woman in her 90s who is questioning her worth because she can no longer physically contribute. Now the Father is writing this while he is in his 70s so he has slowed down a bit and can empathize with the women. However, what he says struck me. The good father stated…”
You aren’t looking at your worth and value. You’re only looking at the tasks you are performing. Your value to God and this world is every bit the same as it ever was. You’re being asked to take on a different task, that’s all. You are being asked to suffer. This is the hard part of life, and God wants to know if you have the courage to accept this part. Youth was easy because you were in charge. Now God wants to know if you’ll let Him run the show.”

I hope our member is able to embrace her value. She is a model to all of us, her prayers are not simply words, they are a communication with God. Her wisdom guides us. I hope she realizes that while she sits she is doing.

WYD 2008 and the Pacific Islanders

WYD 2008: Samoa's Catholic Youth Performance

I was watching World Youth Day 2008 and I was impressed with the focus on Pacific Islanders especially the Catholics from Fiji. Why? Just because I didn’t know a darn thing about the Catholic Church in Fiji, Samoa, the Marshals or any of the islands of the Pacific.

Fiji sent over 300 delegates to WYD. They also had a three day seminar and celebration in Suva during WYD. A Fijian choir sang during the opening Mass.

Papua New Guinea and New Zealand accounted for over 7000 pilgrim to WYD. Another 1000 pilgrims came from Fiji, Samoa and Tonga.

The drums, the dancing even the liturgical dance gave testimony to the fact that the world was witnessing the gathering of a Universal Church and not simply a colonial-European church.

The other emphasis was on the aboriginal peoples of Australia and New Zealand. They were honored, their history respected and they were not a token after thought.

A Universal Church? Well, our last two popes were not Italian. Who knows, the next may not even be European. Now that would send a message of welcome to many who feel they have become invisible.

So to the youth, the dancers, the choirs, the pilgrims of the many island nations of the Pacific, thank you for helping me see just how big, diverse and beautiful our church actually is.

WYD 2008: Australia's Tongan Catholic Youth

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Catholic Church in Viet Nam

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A Gilded Cage - Trailer

The Catholic Church in Viet Nam continues to grow and provides vital services of an almost biblical nature to the nation. Viet Nam is a nation still afflicted with leprosy and the Church cares for the ill and their families. The church has actually created welcome centers to assist in helping a segment of the population that is discriminated against.

So who provides services to the ill? The priests, the religious and the lay Catholics. The numbers of people afflicted is precise and the services well known. This would be an example of what St. Francis describes as “Preach the Gospel always and if necessary use words.” Besides providing medical care the Church helps the families care for their homes, find work and fight the social isolation that is associated with having a family member who is a leper.

The services provided by members of the Catholic community are often done quietly and outside of the government run medical system. That quiet reflects the discrimination associated with the illness. The conditions of Catholics in Viet Nam may actually be improving.

Attendance at Ho Chi Minh City’s Notre Dame Cathedral and the St. Joseph Cathedral in Hanoi are impressive. Church members report the government is more tolerant of the Church. Membership in the Catholic Church is estimated to be 8 million.

The result has been a flexing of the Catholic’s political “muscle”. Members have held prayer vigils outside of church property that had been confiscated by the government after the nation was united under communist rule. The government for its part has been more tolerant of the Church in response to the country being admitted into the World Trade Organization.

The government and the Vatican have held discussions about the possibility of restoring diplomatic relationships between Viet Nam and the Vatican. The discussions have included a tour of the churches by Vatican delegates. Some church land confiscated by the government has been restored. The Catholic Church in Viet Nam appears to be vital, relevant and growing.

Christmas Eve Chorus

Prayer of St. Francis

Prayer of St. Francis, sung by Angelina

I was looking for a good video clip to illustrate Francis' use of words. Instead I found this wonderful clip of Angelina singing the Prayer of St. Francis. It is filmed in Assisi and any pilgrim will enjoy seeing the many sites of that holy city. Enjoy!

Preach the Gospel Always and if Necessary Use Words

I was visiting my friend Jim Larson’s blog, Servant Works. Jim and his wife Judy have a very special mission. They work with young girls in Thailand who were prostitutes. I have known Jim and Judy since the mid 1970s. Both graduated from Wheaton College. I knew them when Jim was the Music Minster for Uptown Baptist Church in Chicago. He worked with Hmong and Vietnamese so I should not have been surprised when they moved to Thailand.

However, today my surprise was his quote. He was quoting St. Francis. Specifically Jim stated,
St. Francis of Assisi is well known for the admonition, "Preach the Gospel always and if necessary use words." In every case I am familiar with, words are necessary for people to know Jesus.
Now I don’t disagree with Jim, I’m just surprised my Baptist friend was quoting St. Francis.

Now to be sure Jim was not using this as an excuse to pull a person’s jaws open and pour Jesus down their throat. Jim simply meant that the words that needed to be said are words that conveyed love, empathy, and compassion.

I love Francis but that quote drives me nuts. It is not what the saint said that drives me nuts but rather how I think folks use or misuse the statement. I hear it quoted so often that I think that sometimes it becomes an excuse for not sharing the Good News, for not being a witness. I can’t imagine anything further from Francis’ mind.

Francis meant that our words and our actions must be in accord, congruent. We read too often today of folks who talk peace or talk faith only to find out that lives lived tell a different story. We know that when a person’s verbal communication and body language are incongruent people believe the body language. I think Francis was saying don’t badger folks and don’t think talking takes the place of doing. He was not giving an excuse not to witness.

Francis was a man of many, many words. He was raised with music and the words of the Gospel. One of the more famous stories about his life is of the saint giving a sermon to a flock of birds. I don’t’ believe his sermon consisted of pantomime and the equivalent of sign language. He stood among the birds and he talked a joyful sermon, he used words.

Francis became a deacon so he could preach. If his preaching was to consist only of a life well lived he would still have been impressive because he certainly knew how to live a life. However, then he would not need to become a deacon. He became a deacon so he could preach on the streets using words.

Francis gave us the Canticle of Creatures, the first poem in the vernacular in Europe. It was the work of his adult life. It is beautiful, stirring, the WORDS touch us.

Francis sought out the Sultan during the Crusades. First his witnessing was real, he placed himself in danger and was beaten for it prior to receiving an audience with the Sultan. Then they meet, and they talked, and they talked and they talked. Both were impressed with the other. I have no doubt that the Sultan, a powerful, sophisticated man was impressed with the holiness and humility of Francis. I also have no doubt he was impressed with the words of this holy man.

Francis gave us the story of the Wolf of Gubbio. This is a story of real peace-making, not peace-wishing. I know this story because it was conveyed to me in words. Had it been conveyed to me in liturgical dance or hand shadows on the wall or some method other than words I suspect I would not get it.

Francis gave the world the gift of the tradition of the Living Nativity when he celebrated Christmas in Greccio as only he could celebrate it. Sure he used symbolism and movement but the Gospel was read, a Mass was said, worship occurred and words, so many words flowed from his lips.

I know he did not trust intellectual life, he feared it could get in the way of faith and spiritual growth. I know he wanted people to walk the walk and talk the talk, to be real. I know he recognized that his many brothers and sisters had different gifts and for some it was not the use of words. And yet he gave us some of the must beautiful words for our spiritual repertoire in the form of prayers, song and poetry.

So I agree, “Preach the Gospel always and if necessary use words.” And if your actions are not making your story clear to your audience, then it is necessary to use words so start talking.