Habemus Papam - We have a pope - Francis
Few of us really understand the life of St. Francis, the young man who renounced everything for the kingdom - in a sense redeeming the life of the rich young man in the Gospel story who just could not bear to leave all to follow Christ. We think of Francis as someone who had this affinity to animals, who was kind and gentle, who had a preference for the poor. And all of this is true. But Francis had a side in him that was steel, a deeply held belief in the power and mercy of God that made him fearless and bold. For this Francis was the same man who went to the Middle East to converse with and hopefully convert the sultan in an effort to end the bloody violence between Christian and Moor. While unsuccessful, he nevertheless revealed a tenacity that would serve the order he was in the process of forming. Such a strength was needed as he set about to be God's instrument to reform and rebuild God's Church.
Such were my thoughts upon the election of the Archbishop of Buenos Aires.Jorge Mario Bergoglio
. Here one finds a truly humble recipient of God's grace in action. Here one finds a man of courage and conviction,who lives his vocation in the very simplicity of the Gospel - by example - all the while exhorting us to come, follow Jesus.
He reminds me of the Bishop of Digne, the character in Victor Hugo's classic, Les Miserables
. The bishop was a humble man, yet one of tremendous courage. He arrived in town and eschewed the huge bishop's palace and instead chose the humble building next door. He gave the palace to the hospital so it could serve the poor, the sick and the elderly. The chapter goes into great detail on the bishop's pastoral approach, his sense of prayer, his generosity to the poor, and his loyalty to the truth of the Gospel. Thus the reader fully appreciates the charity of the bishop toward Jean Valjean in the momentous scene when he claims Valjean's soul for God.
Perhaps this Successor of St. Peter can do the same for this forsaken and lost world. Perhaps the broken and forgotten, the sick and the outcast will see the gentle and healing touch of Christ in our new Peter. Perhaps the emptiness and the broken promises of the world's temptations will be rejected for the living and merciful embrace of the one true Church. We can only hope.
In Francis one will find a champion for the poor, the forgotten, the oppressed, the unborn, the elderly and the marginalized. Francis will defend the right to life and the dignity of marriage as found in nature and revealed by God. He will support the rights of conscience and the rights of parents to raise and educate their children consistent with their duty as parents. There will be no equivocation with teaching the truth. for only the truth can set us free.
Only in Christ will my soul be at rest. In Him is my hope and salvation. If all those who are so worried about everything will think - first, I must be reconciled to God and to His perfect will, then God can act through us in a mighty way. And just as Valjean was transformed by the grace of God through the gentle but honest counsel of the bishop, so each of us, together, can be instruments of God's grace and mercy to a broken and hurting world.
Let us pray for our pope. May God watch over Francis and give him all the grace needed to be a sign of Christ's redemptive love. Amen.
Michael Schwartz - Warrior Hero
Over the weekend a good man died. Michael Schwartz
passed into his eternal rest on Sunday February 3, 2013. For those of us who have known this "happy warrior"
as our friend Bob Morrison called him, it is a bittersweet time. Mike was suffering form ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrrig's disease,
It is a painful disease and Mike suffered silently these last years as his body slowly shut down. Yet Mike was always the fighter and never did he complain to us. He was always thinking up new ideas and strategies to advance the culture of life. So in his passing, he has completed the race; he has kept the faith; he has won the prize. I believe that he is with the Lord of life whom he loved so much and for whom he truly lived his life. His boss, Senator Tom Coburn offered a moving tribute on the Senate floor last fall that can be viewed at this link
I do not quite remember the first time I met Mike. It seems that I have known him my entire adult life. I do remember one of those early times. He was working over at Free Congress and we decided to go to mass at St. Joseph's Church over on the U.S. Senate side of Capitol Hill. He was so very good at integrating the Catholic understanding and approach to life with his work and in his conversations. I learned so much from him. As the years went by I made it a point to introduce new members of the pro-life community to Mike. I instructed aides who worked for other congressmen to contact Mike and learn as much as they could from him. Mike was always generous with his time and his advice. He always had time to explain to some new young lawyer the intricacies of the process of government. Later as he worked in Senator Coburn's office as his chief of staff, it was a regular event whenever in DC for me to bring some young pro-life aide or law student or intern to meet this warrior hero and become acquainted. Mike never tired of meeting the next generation of pro-life leaders and always had a word of wisdom especially appropriate for these young persons.
Because Mike was an avid reader, he was always full of ideas. He refused to be conventional in his thinking on how to end the scourge of abortion. He had no patience for the equivocators and the compromisers in the movement. Yet as a strategist, he was disciplined enough not to waste efforts on losing battles. He knew it would be a long fight and he looked for innovative ways to defeat the enemies of life
As a man, a father and a husband, he was a fierce defender of the family. One could not repeat his distaste for those who would throw traditional values regarding marriage and family life under the bus for political gain. As much as he always was a gentleman, Mike was no wimp and his visible frustration for those who undercut the movement over the years was seen and heard in his strong statements at many a private meeting.
Yet as tenacious a warrior for the pro-life cause, Mike was as caring and loving of those who were victims of the attack on life as any man I know. He supported the pregnancy centers calling them the proof of our real concern for the mother and her child. He supported efforts to raise awareness of the need to help women who were post abortive, so that they would find God's tender mercy through the outreach of pro-life centers. He encouraged priests, bishops, rabbis and ministers to extend the hand of compassion for those touched by the tragic shadow of abortion.
We often spoke of the need for pro-life leaders to work together and support one another, to put aside petty disagreements and selfish interests. Perhaps that was an impossible wish in Washington, DC, where the selfish interests of many rule the day, where political power is more important than integrity. But Mike never stopped hoping that things could be better. Every day he made the effort to do something that would advance the cause of life.
As we grew older we both took a special pride in our children and later grandchildren. There is now a tradition in my family that when a child becomes a senior, I will take that child to DC in January for the March for Life. Mike was especially impressed with my daughter Jamie, who I brought to DC not only for the March but also an NRLC Proudly Pro-Life dinner. Mike peppered her with questions and the two of them had a lively discussion. As the years went by after Jamie got married, I would show him pictures of her children and he would show me pictures of his grandchildren. He was happy when I told him my other daughter got married and later when she was pregnant. He truly enjoyed hearing about the good things that were happening in one's life. We shared some very happy moments.
As the pro-life movement continues to grow and mature, L pray we take a lesson from the life of Michael Schwartz. Just as we have seen some other heroes such as Nellie Gray and Mildred Jefferson pass on after leaving their mark, let us remember that one characteristic embodied them all - a genuine love for their fellow brothers and sisters. They truly cared about mankind. Mankind was their business to paraphrase Dickens. . and Michael Schwartz throughout his life cared about those defenseless little ones in a way that we should all emulate. Let us then re-commit ourselves to the cause for which he gave the last full measure of his devotion. Let us make him proud. Let us win this battle. Let us restore protection for all persons. Let us end the killing and build a culture of life.
Capturing the Essence of Les Mis
It happens toward the end of the film; Valjean is talking to
Marius and explaining why Cosette cannot know about his past. They are in a room that has no ornaments on
the wall save a tiny crucifix. At that point it became so crystal clear that
the main character in the story was not Valjean; it was not Javert; it was not either of the young lovers. Later Valjean sings in the end, “To love another person is to see the face of God.” Indeed the main character in the movie
is God – or more specifically, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whose suffering
and death on the cross redeemed the world and brings hope to those whose lives
are so tragic and “miserable.”
Each of the characters talks to God about their own situation
and what is remarkable in the film is that the visual effects remind us of His
enduring presence as well. From the early scene where Valjean is walking along
the mountain road and passes a shrine of a simple cross to his transformation
before the altar to the closing scenes, the visual signs are magnificent to
Just as the story of the prodigal son is about the love of
the father, so too, the story of Les Miserables is about the limitless mercy of
God. Valjean, whose hatred after
nineteen years of hard labor is so gripping, is confronted by true love; first in
the kindness and mercy of the old bishop; then in the sacrificial life of
Fantine; and then in the innocence of Cosette. He embraces this love and
personifies it throughout his life. It is this love that Javert cannot accept –
the love of a brother that has its origins, its roots in the mercy of God.
Valjean acts not only out of a sense of duty and obligation – but out of a
genuine understanding that he is called to be this way. His penance he knows
will take a lifetime to complete. Yet he has embraced the cross knowing the
There is so much more that I will say in later posts. This
much please consider now. How do we as a
society treat those who have been oppressed, attacked, marginalized? Let us consider the mercy of God and give
life to those vulnerable and dispossessed.
As a nation we need to stop the senseless killing of our children –
whether they be born or still in the womb. As a society we need to look at the
role of men and women and their relationship to children. Why do we have the
institution of marriage, if not to create and promote the beauty of life and
love that is seen in our children? What is this “right” we call liberty? Is
it something that is selfish or is it to be used for the service not only of
ourselves but others?
Go see the movie. Then tell me what you think.
the power of mercy and forgiveness
November is a month that reminds us of death. In the Church calendar All Saints and All Souls mark the first two days of the month. On November 11 the country celebrates Veterans' Day and for many it is a reminder of those veterans who gave "their last full measure of devotion" to defend this great land of ours. For me personally, the month is also a reminder of family members lost. All this reminding, remembering, recalling. So what's the message?
Look around you and consider what you have. Look at those relationships with the people close to you. Embrace them; hold on to them; love them; appreciate them.. For the truth is, you do not know how long you will have them or they have you.
Are there people who have hurt you? Forgive them. Be reconciled to them. Release them from the prison of your anger and you will find that you have freed yourself. Realize that all of us have fallen short and sinned before God. All of us deserve death. And yet His Son became a human being, a little baby, just so he could die for our sins and restore that relationship with Our Father. All of our sins, all of our failings, all of our evil actions toward one another He took upon Himself so that we might live and be free.
I so relish His mercy and forgiveness. I thank Him for being so compassionate to me. and I ask Him, "What can I do to show you my thanks?".
He told me - He told all of us what to do in the prayer He gave us. He told us that when we pray for God to forgive our sins, we should forgive those who sin against us.
Powerful and scary.
I am to forgive those who hurt me. But wait that is not what the culture tells us. Society would have us linger in our hatred and anger. After all I have been harmed, hurt, assaulted, robbed, - you fill in the blank. Granted the person who commits wrong should suffer a punishment. Nothing in these thoughts suggest otherwise. And the punishment should be appropriate to the betterment of the person and the appeasement of true justice. But what of the bigger picture. In a post Christian culture is it even to be considered? Are we left with the "quaint" stories of saints who as they are dying, forgive their murderers and nothing else? And what about other hurts, the family kind, the strains between parents and children or between spouses or siblings or friends or co-workers? How does one muster the strength to deal with betrayal and loss? How are we to respond, not just to the every day attacks but to the serious offenses that throw our lives into turmoil?
Christ's words are the same. Forgive them all the same.
If we truly believe that God is in control, that He loves us and only wants our happiness and joy, then whatever happens can be used by Him to bring about great good. But we must trust Him. And I think sometimes as we try to "contain" God in the box we have made for Him, that we conveniently forget His admonition to us. We want to be justified in our anger against the person who harmed us. We want that person to suffer because we have suffered. Perhaps we forget that God uses these tragic events to teach us as well, and perhaps to bring us closer to Him - even when He is on the cross.
So as we continue throughout the month of November, let us seek to draw upon the Father's mercy and love. Let us recall the famous words of the playwright,
The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
Forgiveness can free us from the past, from the pain and from the control of the one who would not want us to forgive. Forgiveness is more powerful than the evil that would destroy us. It is the one gift that can bring us life and restore any broken relationship. It is fitting then that November ends with both Thanksgiving and the beginning of Advent in the Christian calendar. Both events speak to an appreciation for the mercy and love of Divine Providence. Both call us to reconcile with one another so that we may break the cycle of cynicism and hate. In this way we can teach our children the lasting benefits of mercy and forgiveness.
So as we pray for the many troubles of the day, take time to pray for those who have hurt you. Reconcile with them and ask God to give you the strength to forgive them as He would have you do.