Friday, July 30, 2010


One of my most thrilling adventures took place on the south island of New Zealand, a land blessed with a bounty of variety and beauty, including fjords, snow-capped peaks, crystal clear lakes, rain forests, and rolling green hills covered with 70 million sheep (and a human population of about 3 million). I was driving a solitary road that snaked around a river or lake when I came upon a solid wall of fog. I stopped the car, got out and walked to the fog, trying to see through it. I could not. Even my hand disappeared as I stuck my arm into the fog. After waiting a while, I decided to venture forth slowly with bright lights, while honking the horn. Driving through the thick fog was like entering the Twilight Zone ~ part of me in the present, part in the unknown. Thankfully the fog disappeared after about 50 feet.

Life can sometimes feel that way: transitioning from one point to the next, one foot here, the next seemingly nowhere. As a missionary and even prior to my religious vocation, I have had a number of these transitions. They can be a time of anxious moments, perhaps even frustration. But, mostly I have discovered that they are a time to most fully experience the Holy Presence…and get some real direction in life.

When I first ventured on blind faith from suburb to inner-city I had no clue where life would lead. During that first summer I accompanied my son, Steven, to a camp for teens preparing for a mission to Belarus and Poland. One night I sat in my cabin reading a Pauline letter calling us to be “ambassadors”. Looking up from the Bible the first object my eyes focused upon was a painting of Jesus standing as tall as the United Nations Building behind him. I had been in this cabin for more than a week, yet this was the first time I had noticed the painting. I wondered if there was a message here.

Later, at my new parish, Sacred Heart on the near south side of Indianapolis, I attended a parish retreat. After a morning of lectures and spiritual exercises we were given time for rest and reflection. I laid down near a window where sunlight warmed the carpeted floor. As I dozed, I dreamed that I had entered a huge mansion (like the White House). Upon entering the house I heard someone playing a piano. I followed the music and saw Jesus at the piano. After he stopped playing, I reported to him (much like an ambassador) that the violence in Southeast Asia and Africa was getting worse, did he want me to go there to help bring peace. He said, “No. Just bring peace wherever you are.”

It did not take long for me to be quite active in the parish and in the neighborhood. I was also a daily communicant, attending the 6:30 morning Mass. I would usually go around 6:00 a.m., take about 20 minutes in silence with our Lord before entering the chapel for daily Mass. On one occasion, I closed my eyes and saw myself, as if in a dream. I was standing in a park-like setting, with a river or lake separating me from trees on the other side. Then I noticed Jesus and Mary across the water. It was an odd sensation. It was as if I was in a movie and at the same time I watching myself in that movie.

Jesus motioned for me to come across the water. I remember thinking, “Will I walk on the water or through it?” I began to walk on water until I got about half way, and then I fell through the water, yelling, “Jesus, save me! You know I can’t swim.” He said, “Frank, you need more faith.” Then he elevated me and I crossed to the other side.

When I got to him, I hugged him and embraced Mary. And then I looked at him eye-to-eye and asked him, “What do you want from me?” He said, “Share my peace and joy, so that all will see me.”

I don’t know if it was a dream or a vision. What I do know is that when I went to Mass that morning, the Gospel reading was of Peter walking on water, falling through, and being told of his little faith. When I heard those words, goose bumps immediately covered my arms and the back of my neck.

Peace and joy…PACE ALLEGRIA (in Italian). It has been a goal and a challenge.

As I wrote in my last blog, this is one of the reasons for my work with Food for the Poor ~ to help to build peace by bridging the gap between rich and poor…and to feed the hungry…but most especially to help bring out the Christ in those to whom I preach.

Others in our lifetime who strove to build a peaceable heaven on earth, such as Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Oscar Romero did so by imitating Jesus and his message of non-violence and of truth. As Gandhi said, “What I believe, I think. What I think, I speak. What I speak, I do.” He also said, “If there is peace in our hearts, then at least in one place on earth there will be peace.”

We have lots of good advice and faithful models to achieve this illusive dream. But in the end all these words and examples become just as empty as those of Jesus, unless we ourselves enflesh them. Peace begins with us…within us…by being true to who we are and whose we are.

Peace and joy is my wish for you. But may these words be more than a wish…may they evermore become a part of your life and mine.

Monday, July 26, 2010


Recently, LeBron James, a very talented professional basketball player, held the sports world in suspense until he announced “The Decision”, regarding which team he would join. Interestingly he based his decision on where he thought he would have the best chance to win a championship, rather than where he might best further develop his talents and personal attributes, and leave his mark on the game and in society.

We, too, are called to make “The Decision”. Our vocation is not basketball nor is our goal to win a championship, but rather to be peace-makers and to help build a peaceable kingdom…a heaven on earth…and to leave our own mark in the world.

During my days at Catholic Theological Union (CTU ~ a seminary in Chicago), a renowned theologian from Sri Lanka visited. At a special gathering there were about 100 of us in attendance in a large L-shaped hall. In the larger part of the room there were some folding chairs set up in rows for us to sit. As he began his presentation he asked for about 20 volunteers. Quickly hands went up and he asked the 20 to go to the short part of the L-shaped room where there were very plush chairs, love seats, and sofas. There was more furniture there than the number who volunteered. He pointed to an empty corner in the larger room and said to the rest of us, “Go to that corner and squeeze in so tightly so that there is not even room for you to sit on the floor.” We did. Then he said, “This is the reality of the world. Twenty percent who have far more than they need; and eighty percent who sorely lack the bare necessities.”

Many of us are perhaps aware that a third of the world’s population lives on four-fifths of all the foodstuffs available in our world. Two-thirds of all humankind however has to make do with the remaining one-fifth, which is woefully inadequate. Millions of people die of hunger each year…over five million children alone. Given this deplorable situation how can there be peace on earth?

All too often we have heard that the primary challenge to world peace is the ideological conflict between East and West…or more recently between the religious fanaticism of fundamentalist Christians and Muslims. But the real source of division is between North and South…the ‘haves’ of the northern hemisphere and the poor countries of the southern half. As I have visited places of dire poverty I have pondered, “What would I do if I were in their shoes? Would I remain committed to nonviolence?” I’m not sure.

We are called to be makers of peace...a meaningful and lasting peace. Pope Benedict XVI said in his book, Jesus of Nazareth, “Isn’t the problem of feeding the world the primary, true yardstick by which redemption is to be measured?” And it isn’t only to help feed the hungry…it is indeed to work for peace. President Carter, upon accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, said, “The greatest obstacle to world peace is the growing chasm between rich and poor.” This year’s Nobel Laureate, President Obama, added in Oslo, “True peace is not just freedom from fear, but freedom from want.”

If we want true peace, it bears asking, “Who is the God we worship…the God of Jesus Christ…or the almighty dollar?” All we need in order to discern the answer is to look at two things: our calendar and our checkbook. Where do we spend our time…which is of greatest concern to us…our investments and comfortable life style or our poor sisters and brothers?

During those days at CTU I had many discussions with friends about the comfortable life style of those of us who had taken the vow of poverty…no worries about food, shelter, medical attention, car, etc. I was told that we couldn’t simply give it all up. It would not be reasonable. Seems there are always ‘reasons’ why we cannot live our commitment radically. Perhaps in one sense the fundamentalist fanatics have that advantage over us: they are living what they truly believe, distorted as their faith may be.

Jesus said that he came “to bring good news to the poor…to set the captives free.” Probably because of my own experience, I am particularly impassioned about freeing those imprisoned by golden hand-cuffs…by their comfortable life style. As I have previously written, if we want to measure our relationship with God, it is not in how much we give, but how much we hold back. All too often we are afraid to give too much; and this compromise in our commitment is the greatest stumbling block to our holy encounter with the discovery of Christ within…to true peace in our world.

During my theological studies I wrote my dissertation on “Rich and Poor ~ Love and Justice”, stating that the Church could do more to address the plight of the poor if we had greater focus on the conversion of hearts of those with power and money. I still believe this. I wonder what our world might look like if we made this conversion our personal mission…our calling from God. Of course the most important heart to convert is our own. Can we live a simpler life…to help another with theirs? The decision is ours.

Monday, July 19, 2010


A team building exercise many of us have seen, and perhaps participated in, is to be blindfolded and to be guided by another as we maneuver around the room. It is meant to enhance trust in the other…in the team…especially when confronted with unforeseen obstacles or set-backs to the group’s objectives.

This past weekend as I flew from Chicago to York, PA (our nation’s first capital, and where the Articles of Confederation was signed on November 15, 1777), I sat across a man who was blind, deaf, and mute. He had begun his journey in Seattle. As I gazed upon him, with his serene appearance and half-smile, I was in awe at his trust in himself, in others, perhaps in God, that he would manage to get to his destination without a hitch. Despite his physical limitations he seemed to have a keen awareness that he was not alone on his journey.

This gentle soul certainly brought to life the scripture readings of this Sunday: Abraham, who gave generous hospitality to three strangers, whom he perceived to be messengers from God. He, too, had a sense that his journey of life was not a solitary one. Perhaps, that is why he had the trust to uproot his family to seek a new home in an unforeseen territory. Perhaps, that is why he also had such great trust in God that when put to the test to sacrifice his own son, he knew that God would not see it through. (Perhaps, trust in his father allowed Isaac to place himself without protest on the sacrificial altar.)

In the Gospel passage we hear of Jesus’ visit to his friends, Martha and Mary. We find Martha slaving away in the kitchen to provide food and warm hospitality to a dear friend, while Mary sees more than a friend and cannot be drawn away from him, even when tested by the dictates of social custom or a sister’s complaint.

We are gifted in so many ways, not the least of which is the gift of sight. But, perhaps, this gift can also blind us to the reality of whose presence we are in…of the holy encounter with every friend, stranger, or foe. Mother Teresa said she saw our Lord’s face in the forgotten and dying poor she attended. Now that is a special gift of sight. No doubt we all long for this gift. What a difference it would make in our life…in our world!

A refrain from a popular liturgical hymn is “We walk by faith and not by sight…” May it be so.

Monday, July 12, 2010


From the time of our baptism, we have been anointed to be “prophets”. No doubt we have heard that word a lot in life, but may have no idea what it means for us. Perhaps we know that a prophet somehow is both a keen observer of the “signs of the times” and acutely attuned to the heart of God…sort of like having one foot (or ear) in heaven and the other on the ground. The great prophets of old seemed to speak a truth…truth that was often uncomfortable and unwelcome, yet always essential and life-giving. Still, we might ask, what does this mean for me?

We are not alone in being unsure and puzzled. So, too, were they. Beginning with the first, Samuel, who heard God calling his name one night, but had no clue. With the guidance of Eli, he begins to understand. Later, he is told to tell King Saul that God is not pleased and is going to make a change. But fearing for his life, he tries to avoid carrying out God’s order.

Jonah doesn’t fare any better. His marching orders are to go to Nineveh and preach the Word of conversion, but he wants no part of it. He would rather jump in the ocean. We, too, can have our fears and doubts about a perceived call from God.

We want to serve God, but perhaps we would like to be like Daniel or Esther who recruit relationships with those at the highest level. Though maybe at times we feel like Ezekiel who felt his words fell on deaf ears, though God impelled him to speak of the urgency of the moment, to awaken, to inspire, to raise dry bones to new life.

Perhaps we would like to be like Isaiah whose words are lofty and poetic, compelling and majestic; or like Hosea who hears the divine words, “Get thee a prostitute” to marry. Yet this command, in its own unique way, reveals God’s desire for intimacy with each of us, despite our persistent infidelity.

God’s love and mercy remain unshakable. And that ultimately is what being a prophet is all about…manifesting God’s presence and God’s love…speaking for, and to, the oppressed AND the sinner, bringing them both hope, healing and nourishment!

There is a little song that captures the heart of our prophetic call:

Tell my people I love them
Tell my people I care
If they feel far away from me
Tell my people I’m there

Of course, no one did this better than the greatest prophet ~ Jesus ~ our Savior, our teacher, our model. And there has been no better student than a fellow Italian who lived about 800 years ago. I refer of course to Marco Polo. [My apologies to all the devotees of my Patron Saint: Francis of Assisi.]

Marco was the first prophet to the Orient, who bridged East and West. Upon his return to Venice, he went to his king and said, “My Lord I bring you silks, and spices, and noodles.” The king replied, “Of silks and spices I am well acquainted. But what are noodles?” “You cook them, my king, and they are delicious.”

The king called his chef and said, “Prepare these…al dente.” Shortly the chef returned. When the king tasted his first bite he exclaimed, “MA…MA…MA…CARONI!”

Now we must understand that the word, “caro” in Italian mean “dear”. “Caroni” means “very dear”. WE are God’s MACARONI! WE are very dear to God. As prophets this is the message we are called to proclaim: how much we are loved by God, and how greatly God wants to feed us all ~ those who lack what they need and those who appear to have more than they need. There is a hunger in each of us…for love and peace, happiness and fulfillment.

We are not the only ones who are hungry. God is hungry too…for us…our love and fidelity. That is why we gather at the Lord’s Table to be fed; and we for our part commit to give our all to feed God…because we ARE God’s MACARONI.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


There is a story about Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, brilliant and at times a little absent-minded, riding on a train when he sees the conductor approaching. Furiously he starts to look for his ticket, which he has apparently misplaced. When the conductor spots him with a troubled look on his face, he says, “Don’t worry about the ticket, Mr. Justice. I know you and trust you.” Justice Holmes responds, “You don’t understand. I need to find my ticket. Without it, I don’t know where I am going.”

Where are we going? The answer lies in part in who we believe we are…our dreams and convictions. And also in believing whose we are. In the early days of Christianity, the movement by those who built their lives around Jesus was called “the way”. Many religions have long called themselves “the way”. So, in general, to know where we are going depends on whose way we profess to follow.

Some of us may want a more specific plan of life…a discernment of our vocation. Psalm 139 says, “You knit me in my mother’s womb.” And the Book of Jeremiah states, “I chose you…Before you were born I dedicated you.” These seem to confirm that we each have a call from God. Thus, discovering our particular call ~ our ticket ~ will shed light on the path we are meant to follow.

Now some may believe that God has a specific plan for each of us, and that perhaps God somehow micro-manages life to direct our journey. And they may be right. I believe that God has gifted each of us, in many and diverse ways, and invites our collaboration.

My favorite image of God is that of a Grand Artist, who says to each of us, “Would you help me to create a masterpiece in you? Would you help me make a masterpiece of the world?” I don’t know of any artist who would say to me, “Frank, would you help me finish the Sistine Chapel? Or the Ninth Symphony? Or any other work of art?” And yet God invites each of us to be equal partners in the creation of the masterpiece that we and the world can be. WHAT GREAT TRUST GOD HAS IN US!!!

How do we discover how best to co-create this masterpiece? One sage offered the following counsel: “Know what you are good at, what you like to do, and what the world needs.” Another put it more simply saying that all we need to do is to ask ourselves one little question..."What do they need?" Thomas Merton went to the Source and wrote a simple prayer, which briefly says, “God I don’t know what you want me to do. I don’t even know if what I am doing pleases you. But I do know that my desire to please you pleases you.”

Sometimes, in our desire to please God and to find meaning in our life, we may try too hard to find the perfect ticket…that perfect vocation that we think God intends for us, rather than simply discovering our gifts and talents and using them in the most life-giving way. I have a dear friend who once said to me, “Frank, you seem to know what God wants from you. But I have prayed and prayed and still have no clue.” My response was, “Maybe God is saying to you, ‘Why don’t you surprise me?’”

How would YOU like to surprise God? How does it feel to know of God’s great confidence in you? If you really believed in God’s great trust in you, is there any masterpiece that would be too challenging?

Friday, July 2, 2010


I was in Honduras this week to witness some of the poverty there and the ministry of Food for the Poor. On the trip down and on the return there were a number of high-school and college students with various missionary groups going to Central America and Jamaica to provide ministry and to be strengthened in their faith. It was both heart-warming and inspirational to see youths and young adults who want real meaning in their life…and find it by putting their faith to the test by being of service.

While in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, we saw countless homes built on cliff edges, often at the risk of mud-slides caused by torrential rains. The poor have few options, and will climb steep mountain sides to build their abodes wherever there is a stamp-size parcel of land. How they carry blocks and other materials up non-existent trails is a wonder.

We visited several ministry sites including two housing projects where we are building homes for more than 100 families (who help by providing “sweat equity” with the men laying the block walls and the women mixing cement and applying the stucco to the walls). At one of these, I observed two little boys enjoying themselves, jumping up and down on a muddy-soft ground covered with saw-dust as if it were a trampoline. We also visited the city garbage dump which lies atop of a mountain.

Even as we were making the steep climb in a bus on a winding dirt road I noticed the sky was covered with hundreds of vultures circling overhead. When the bus door opened, the stench immediately took our breath away. There were hundreds of folks, competing with the vultures, to perhaps find food, and working to collect bottles, cans, plastic and cardboard to recycle so that they might earn some meager income. Among the folks were pregnant women and children, with blackened hands and faces that most likely had not seen water for days, weeks or longer. As 18-wheelers arrived to dump more garbage the people would make an assault to find the “goods” as if it were a hidden treasure in the hope that they might have some income and food. At one point I noticed two kids kicking a beat-up soccer ball to take a momentary break…a respite from their daily hell, which most might never leave all their life.

As I watched those two children at play, it reminded me of two others I had seen years earlier in Guatemala City. Early one morning I took a walk in the neighborhood of St. Anthony Mary Claret, our Claretian parish, and noticed two children at play. Their mom was making tortillas and tamales outside a little metal shack, one side of which was the wall that separated the brick, cement and lumber yard on which the shack stood from the sidewalk, another side of which was the wall of an adjacent warehouse, and the other two sides were large metal strips held somewhat upright by some poles. The six-by-six foot shanty had a tin roof. As the mom was preparing food for the workers to earn her livelihood, the two little boys, with beautiful black eyes, of about three or four years old were playing joyfully in sand and mud. I delighted in watching them at play. And they reminded me of two friends.

In 1999 I participated with a group of about 40 in a biblical study in the Holy Land, part of which included archeological visits of holy places. One of these was Mount Sinai. Because of the desert heat we prepared to make the two-hour climb long before sunrise, so as to be at the top to witness the rising sun, and return before the heat would make it unbearable. As we began our climb with the light of a full moon there were perhaps thousands of pilgrims from all parts of the world. Some went on camel back, but most walked. The long, serpentine line that was silhouetted by the moonlight reminded me of the ancient exodus from Egypt. We had only gone about 100 yards when Fr. Pierre (from Phoenix) sat down on a large rock, saying he could not go on. His legs and strength would not permit it. His closest friend, Fr. Mark (a Canadian) said he would stay with him, to which Pierre said, “No! You must go. You have wanted to climb Sinai all your life. Go!” Mark replied, “Do you think I would leave you here alone?”

Later that day, Fr. Chris (from Australia) celebrated Mass for us and he shared this song in his homily:

Two little boys had two little toys
Each had a wooden horse
Bravely they played each summer’s day
Warriors both of course

One little chap then had a mishap
Broke off his horse’s head
Cried for his toy, they wept with joy
When his young playmate said

Did you think I would leave you crying
When there’s room on my horse for two
Climb up here Joe, we’ll soon be flying
I can go just as fast with two

When we grow up we’ll both be soldiers
And our horsed won’t be toys
And I wonder if we’ll remember when we were two little boys
Oh I wonder if we’ll remember when we were two little boys

Long years passed, war came fast
Bravely they marched away
Cannons roared loud and in the mad crowd
Wounded and dying lay

Up goes a shout, a horse dashes out
Out from the ranks of blue
Galloped away to where Jack lay
Then came a voice he knew

Did you think I would leave you lying
When there room on my horse for two
Climb up here Jack we’ll soon be flying
I can go just as fast with two

Can you feel my heart’s all atremble
Well, perhaps it’s the battle’s noise
But I think it’s that I remember when we were two little boys
Yes, I think it’s that I remember when we were two little boys

During the homily, recalling the sacrificial love we had seen earlier that day, there wasn’t a dry eye in the group. Would that we could more and more be like the young people I met on this pilgrimage, and most especially like “two little boys”.