Opening our hearts to Christmas
For some reason, I was especially struck by the question the crowds, the tax collectors, and the soldiers asked John the Baptist in last Sunday’s Gospel: “What should we do?” And like everyone, I suppose, I was also processing the incomprehensible and senseless shootings at Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Connecticut, and wondered the same thing: What ought we to do; what can we do in the face of such a tragedy?
Sometimes the bad news is so overwhelming we might be tempted to think that bad news is more powerful than any good news. Perhaps we really need Christmas this year. We need to be reminded that the people who walk in darkness will see a great light. We celebrate these days the almost incredible Good News that the Word has been made flesh, that God has visited his people and pitched his tent among us, not to take away all suffering and pain, but to be a way and truth, to help us navigate our way in a world so marked by sin.
So what ought we to do? As I pondered this, the following path came to mind. I think we need to first let Christmas in. We need to be open, to be receptive to the Gift. We need to first accept and actually enjoy the Good News of God’s light and love among us. But once inside, we then need to let the Christmas Good News work on us. We need to let the Good News of Christmas knead our fears and anxiety; we need to let it soften our hearts and heal and renew us. We need to let it change and convert us. And when that work is done we need to let Christmas out. Accepting the advice of the Baptist, we let the light out enfleshed in works of justice, mercy and compassion. We work, with God, to change and heal this broken world.
This Christmas I know what I have to do, and I have a new mantra to pray and live with: let it in, let it work, let it out. I suspect it will take more than 12 days of Christmas to do this. Will you join me in working with God in the process of dispelling the darkness?
Merry Christmas, everyone!
Fr. Jeff Scheeler, OFM
The Power and the Beauty of the Creche
It started simply. He wanted to celebrate Christmas in a new way by re-creating the stable of Bethlehem. He would have a real ox and ass there, and they would celebrate mass outside the cave with a bare rock for an altar. Francis, who was a deacon, would read the Gospel and preach to the brothers and the townspeople of Greccio whom the brothers would invite to midnight mass.
He asked a local nobleman, John of Velita, a devout man devoted to the brothers, to make the preparations. And all went as planned. In the heart of night the townspeople crossed from Greccio to the hermitage carrying lighted candles and singing Christmas songs. They were amazed at the scene before them, the live Christmas crib that made them see the poverty and humility of God.
So excited was Francis that when he preached, he could not say Bethlehem without bleating like a lamb when he pronounced the word, “Betlemme.” And when the people looked curiously at him, he told them that he had become a lamb and they should, too, in order to honor this Little Lamb of God born to them this night. There was no baby lying on the straw because Francis knew that the one to be born in the Mass was he who was born in Bethlehem.
But when he finished preaching, he turned to the crèche and saw a little baby lying on the stone altar, the Little Word of God made flesh; and he took it in his arms. He didn’t know if the people saw what he held, but they would understand the pantomime, the gesture of reaching down to the altar and lifting something tenderly to his heart.
It was the dearest of Christmases and lifted Francis’ heart from the depths to which it had fallen. Like the hermitage of Greccio itself his faith, that had been clinging desperately to the side of the mountain, let go. And the hermitage did not plummet to the valley below, nor did his faith. It was lifted up with the baby he lifted in his arms.
The people remained after the mass and prayed in the makeshift stable. They asked if they could have some of the straw strewn over the dirt floor for the animals. And when they took it home, Francis heard that animals were healed in eating a portion of the hay, and women undergoing a difficult birth happily and safely delivered their baby. And Francis gave thanks and praised God that indeed this was a new birth of Christ, the Baby and Little Lamb of God.
(Reading a Christmas letter from Br. Philip Wilhelm, OFM, in the Philippines puts everything in perspective. This year Br. Phil wrote about a lunch he attended for 300 children who are deaf-mute, blind, or suffering from Down Syndrome, the service of the Martinian Brothers to the poor and forgotten, and the needs of families living in the barrios. Following are his thoughts about Advent.)
The Christmas season has been upon us in the Philippines since October with Christmas Music blaring in most malls and stores. When I was with our young deaf boys and girls at the lunch given for them, each one was wearing an orange t-shirt. On the back was written: we hear with our heart because we cannot hear.”
Each year, as I try to prepare myself for the spirit of Advent and Christmas, it seems as if someone always comes along that helps to awaken me to follow their suggestion. With all the noise, commercialism, individualism and lack of community spirit that keeps us from hearing the good news, I realize that these young people have a message. It is the listening heart that may awaken us in turning again to accept the greatest love that the Father could give.
I think of the shepherds hearing the announcement from the angels of the great happening in the quiet of the night. I think of the magi, the three astrologers, who left the noise of the towns seeking with listening hearts and following one bright star that showed them the unity that was lost. A colleague says Advent is the time of our awaking, our time to proclaim our faith, our time to respond to God. With Christmas we come together, even if we are far apart from each other by lands, to unite with God through His Son who became one with us that we listen in quiet before the crib with all our heart the message this new-born child, Jesus has for us.
Setting aside the noise of our busy life I too, like the special young people, listen with my heart as I wish you all a blessed Christmas and a New Year with Christ always in your heart.
Not just Catholics have a devotion to St. Anthony of Padua. He is a Saint for Everyman. Everyone misplaces or misses something important from time to time and it doesn’t just have to be tangible things like keys, money, rings or other personal items. It could also be for return to health, peace and contentment or for a deeper spirituality.
People feel comfortable with St. Anthony, calling him by his nickname, Tony, as they beseech him to search with them or to pray with them for an answer to their intention. Does St. Anthony only have one item in his job description that the only reason why he is called upon is to be a scout on a treasure hunt? Hopefully, no, that people see him for the complex man he was.
Devotion to St. Anthony is deep and sincere, intense and often relentless. If the loss or intention is important enough to pray for, people stay at it until they get an answer. There is comfort to the belief that such a Saint is interested in our human desires and takes them so seriously when we entrust him to carry our concerns to the Lord Himself. That is the mendicant in us. He is our go-between for us human beggars and The Almighty. In our desperation, we seek divine help to recover whatever is missing in goods or in spirit.
St. Anthony’s image is easy to identify on holy cards, statues and paintings. He is seen wearing a tonsure (bald spot at his crown) and perhaps there is a tiny flame on his hand or breast. He often holds the Infant Jesus or a large book with some lilies.
He has been called a patron for those away from home in the armed forces and of sailors. Other patronages are vaguer to explain his connection. He is said to be the patron of fishermen, cemetery workers, of amputees and has been called the marrying saint.
St. Anthony was a shy friar, apparently not what we might call a ‘people person’. He wasn’t gregarious or extroverted. But still, we gravitate to him, believing he is the right Saint for the job. More than once, Anthony experienced serious illness in his life and thus people pray easily to him, believing he really understands their situation given that in his life he experienced pain and vulnerability. His health was a cross for him to bear as his body put limits on him that denied his desire to set the world afire in the name of God. He was only 36 when he died of natural causes. He was canonized a Saint just one year after his death. When his body was exhumed in the canonization process, everything was reported to have turned to dust except his tongue. He was also titled as a Confessor, and later was named as only one of 33 Doctors of the Church.
We lovers of Franciscans know he was a Friar, a contemporary of St. Francis of Assisi. Because of Anthony’s reticence it even took St. Francis a while to learn what a gifted man Anthony was. Once he understood how well educated the humble, holy man was, he charged him with educating the Friars and of taking the gospel and Franciscan mission through Italy. Anthony’s gift, he discovered, was to preach on complex matters in a way that was understood by simple people. He has been called the first Franciscan teacher. The saint eventually established new Franciscan Monasteries and became the Provincial General in Northern Italy.
St. Anthony’s Bread is a current model emulating what he did during his lifetime. He tendered tangible assistance, not only in the form of answers to his needy followers’ prayers, but he gave money, goods, food and his time. He worked miracles big and small in his lifetime as after his death. In response, the petitioners wanted to keep their relationship with the Saint from being self centered and materialistic, so many beneficiaries liked to return his generosity with a private token of gratitude. Those helped become the helpers. Those offerings of thanksgiving continue today through your gifts.
Born in Lisbon, Spain to wealthy parents, he was baptized Fernando Martins de Bulholm. But he changed his name when be began his spiritual journey at age 15. “Tony, Tony look around something’s lost and can’t be found!”… flows more easily than “Fernando, Fernando look around…!”
Joanne M. Queenan
On Thanksgiving Day, while folks in the States were still asleep, military personnel at an airbase in the Arab Emirate of Qatar were sitting down to a dinner that sounded just like the one back home. The difference was, instead of being surrounded by their families, they were surrounded by thousands of other troops for whom this was just another active-duty day.
Franciscan friar Chaplain Col. Bob Bruno, OFM, reports,
“The observance of holidays is primarily by means of a very festive meal. Otherwise, it is a standard duty day. There are no four-day holiday weekends over here. Most everyone gets one day off a week – when they can. A standard crew day is 12 hours, sometimes up to 14 hours depending on mission requirements. The days are very long, and the weeks are even longer. Periodically, the troops can get off base to experience the local culture and cuisine. These service personnel are young, highly motivated, dedicated and self-sacrificing. They keep us older guys young in spirit!”
Fr. Bob will be home for Christmas, but more that a million other Americans at military bases around the world will not. All of them love getting mail and packages, especially around the holidays. We asked Fr. Bob what items are most in demand among service personnel. Some of the most popular gifts are:
- Pre-packaged cookies/candy/hot chocolate/coffee
- Toiletries: shaving gear/hand cream/toothpaste/tooth brushes/floss/tissue/
bar soap /deodorant
- Canned soups
- Writing stationery
- Phone cards
- NO BOOKS
“ In addition to the stable population assigned here, this installation is also a transient center, which means that we get lots of folks passing through here in route to somewhere else,” Fr. Bob says. “Because of that, we go through tons of the items recommended above.”
If you would like to send a gift to service personnel in Qatar, the mailing address is:
APO AE 09309
And of course, they always appreciate your prayers.
Fr. Bob Bruno, OFM, is the Senior Staff Chaplain for the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He recently was deployed to an air base in the Arab Emirate of Qatar for four weeks this fall.
Photos © Master Sergeant Brendan Kavanaugh, USAF
Holiday Wish List For Our Troops was an excerpt from the SJB News Notes by Ms. Toni Cashnelli
“Jesus is God, spelling Himself out in language that man can understand.”
—S. D. Gordon
The meaning of S. D. Gordon’s quote becomes clear as we walk the halls of St. Francis Seraph Friary, in Cincinnati. Each Advent, the Franciscans of St. John the Baptist Province welcome the community to the mother house to view an array of cribs from all over the world. The crèche collections, Victorian villages, Bethlehem towns and one of a kind Christmas trees are meticulously designed and displayed by Guardian Br. Tim Sucher, OFM. It takes three to four weeks to create the extensive wonderland which captures every visitor. The display is a part of the Spirit of Christmas Walking Tours through American Legacy Tours and donations benefit St. Francis Seraph School.
St. Francis of Assisi created the first live nativity scene in Greccio, Italy nearly 800 years ago. Today people of all nations arrange their crib sets in memory of the first Christmas in Bethlehem. Simple figure carvings, and elegant works of art each communicate the same message, God made man.
Visitors cannot avoid passing the Christmas decorations on the way to the business offices. They wouldn’t want to. Outdoors in the courtyards there are working trains and live animals (2 donkeys, 4 sheep and 4 goats) in the life size crib. Neighborhood children have the chance to see and touch these live farm animals any time, because the courtyard gate stays open the whole season. It is the first time some little people learn the difference between goats and sheep. They get to pet a donkey shaggy and brown.
Because the animals are not permanent residents of the Friars’ campus, someone has to tote them from the country and take care of them with fresh straw, hay, oats, and water. That head shepherd is Jim “Bubs” Kindt, 73, a resident of Colerain township where he lives with his two white Great Pyrenees dogs.
Animal Keeper is just a small slice of the jobs that Resource Coordinator Bubs juggles. When he was interviewed for this article he was busy installing a dish washer. A man of many talents, he runs the Friars’ Over The Rhine Soup Kitchen across the street from the friary.
He has worked for the Friars for 12 years, 7 years of volunteering and now 5 years of full-time ministry. Bubs says he also goes whenever and wherever he is needed. A good chunk of his work is recruiting volunteers and resources not only for his Kitchen but for other Friars’ programs and activities. He has students coming from as far as 50 miles away, and from grade, high schools and colleges. He coordinates volunteers from suburban parishes who bring supplies and donations of food, gift cards and personal care items.
“The people who come to us are respectful and appreciative,” he said, and proudly adds, “we have never had to call the police in all the time I have been here.”
He calls himself a “shameless beggar.” As the Director of the soup kitchen he uses every skill he has to solicit and obtain the groceries and supplies needed for feeding 300 to 325 people a full meal three days a week. Major grocery stores, businesses, bakeries, companies, and organizations help Bubs fulfill his menus and some of the individual needs of the hungry patrons at the kitchen. “Besides a good meal, homeless people need the basics like blankets, jackets, and personal items,” he said.
When asked what is the hardest part of his job, his eyelids dropped and he replied, “when I can’t meet a need for someone.”
by Joanne M. Queenan
As a social worker, Joanne M. Queenan has worked in hospice, rehabilitation, dialysis, and with the homeless and poor. Her book, The Boys on the Rock, Listening to the Voices of the Homeless, was published in August of 2012.
I was reminiscing on the phone with a former friar yesterday. He remembered that during night prayer on Friday nights in novitiate we would use Psalm 88: “my one companion is darkness.” He laughed and told me that when he leaves his family in the morning it’s dark, and when he returns home, it’s dark. He tells his family that “his one companion is darkness.” He wasn’t quite sure if they would get it.
Well, I’d have to agree that these days are quite short, and the night long. I rise by 5:15 a.m., stumble about as I head down the hall, which seems longer at that hour, for the bathroom. After Morning Prayer with the community, the sun, still sleepy, pulls itself up from the horizon. When snow clouds are absent, there is a palette of color starting with deep mauve trees, merging with a lighter blue, fading to rose before that sun drags itself up over this spectrum of purple.
Yes, there’s a beauty in this season of Advent, an expectation in the air. Of course, we’re busy with Christmas cards and cookies, presents and punch. But there’s a deeper longing present in most of us. That desire is really for The Desire of Nations, the Light of the World, whose birth we celebrate at the end of this month. There is much that is dark in our world. We hold our breath that Gaza’s fragile peace will hold. We know the pain in our cities of unemployment, mediocre education, homelessness. All of these create the sense that our “only companion is darkness”.
Perhaps that is why Jesus was born metaphorically in the middle of the night in medieval minds. Just when it seems that darkness wins, God sends us this Divine Child. Our lives are turned over by this one, holy night. And we who desire to receive Him, then become the new conveyors of this Good News. Like shepherds we are sent back to those we are charged to care for. It might be our own parents, a sick child, that person at work who stamps on my last nerve. Yes, the night will shine like the day as one by one we become the stars that shine with the presence of Christ.
May the beauty and dark lead all of us to the Creator of the Stars of Night, and to a merry Christmas.
Fr. Mark Soehner, OFM,
St. Francis wrote that preparing a will is one of the first duties of a person living in the world. But leave it to St. Anthony to help you find a way to get it done.
You can instantly access our basic introduction to estate planning in our clear and concise video series, Estate Planning Help. The series takes you through the pros and cons of probate, wills, living trusts, advance health care directives, and other basic estate planning tools. Visit our Support the Friars page and download a computer friendly version of our Estate Planning Organizer now. (To order a printed copy of the estate-planning organizer, call Colleen Cushard, at 513-721-4700 or email@example.com)
Effective estate planning usually takes time, effort and a good attorney. In the end your plan will allow your family to avoid the delay, dissension and needless expense that often occurs when a loved one dies without a will. Once you have taken care of your family’s needs, please consider a thoughtful bequest to the Franciscans of St. John the Baptist Province.
Clifford and Betty Dannenfelser were very charitable people. It was very important for them to give back and to help make a difference. Before Betty passed she said, “I want t make this world a better place.” Betty and Cliff made this world a better place becase they were in it. They have blessed many people with their gifts.
To order your estate-planning organizer, call Colleen Cushard, at 513-721-4700 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Colleen Cushard is the Co-director of Friar Works, Franciscan Ministry & Mission.
Talk with Brother Adam Farkas, OFM, for even the briefest moment and you’ll be infected with his open heart and love for people.
The Franciscan charism has influenced Adam his whole life. His parents, who grew up in Hungary, are farmers and have a deep respect for the earth and its creatures in the vein of St. Francis of Assisi. Their parish, Holy Cross Hungarian Roman Catholic Church, with both English and Hungarian Masses, is lead by Franciscan friars. And he remembers thinking, “Someday I’ll be a friar,” as early as six years of age.
Now in his early twenties, Adam is following the path to becoming a Franciscan Brother. He speaks English, Hungarian, and German; is majoring in Catholic Studies at Xavier University and lives in the Interprovincial House of Temporary Professed in Chicago.
He is inspired in this life by his fellow companions in formation who have risen to the challenges, as well as the seasoned friars often with over fifty years of experience, in listening to the Holy Spirit and following the vows and rule of St. Francis. Lives inspired to live a simple life of holiness, a life of humility before God, and love for all people. One mark of this humility is the Franciscan habit.
The brown Franciscan habit which speaks of a divesting of the material world, a sign of littleness, (they are the Order of Friars Minor) is an unusual sight in this day and can bring one much attention. This attention, Adam finds, brings great hope and great responsibility. Hope for those who ask him, “Is God really with me?” And responsibility, habit or not, that Adam takes seriously. “I’m not just Adam but Brother Adam, a public person, to be available to people with both my heart and mind.” To be available to share the joys and sorrows of this world with others and reveal Christ who surrounds them.
Brother Adam has several more years of school and ministry before taking his Solemn Vows and fully joining the Order and the Province of Saint John the Baptist.
When asked what ministry he may want to pursue in his next years of formation, he answers, “Evangelization.” How fitting for him, with his great love for God, to introduce the heart of Christ to the hearts of people.
Starting November 15, three familiar faces will turn up all over town (and TV) when the month-long Retirement Fund for Religious campaign is launched by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
Planners chose images of Fr. Cyprian Berens, OFM, and Sr. Bernadette Asbach, OSF (our receptionist at St. Francis Friary) to adorn 17 billboards.
Look for them at Spring Grove and Clifton, Reading Road and Elsinore Place, Eastern Avenue and Bains Place, River Road and Lilienthal Street, Queen City and LaFeuille, Bridgetown Road and Harrison Avenue, St. Rt. 128 and St. Rt . 50, Colerain and Banning, Hamilton and Roosevelt, Reading Road and Seymour, Crescentville Road and Princeton/Glendale Road, Norwood Lateral and Section, Blue Ash Road and Sycamore Street, Madison Road and Ridge Road, Wooster Pike and Hutton Street, Kellogg Avenue and Wilmer Avenue and Beechmont Avenue and Eight Mile Road.
And that’s not all.
A photo of Fr. Valens Waldschmidt, OFM, will be part of the campaign’s TV blitz.
Profiles of Valens and Cyprian were featured in the November issue of the Catholic Telegraph.
Article from the SJB News Notes by Ms. Toni Cashnelli