Meeting God in the Upper Room: Three Moments to Change Your Life
Monsignor Peter J. Vaghi
Recalling his own Holy Land pilgrimage experience, Monsignor Peter Vaghi explores three significant events in the life of the early Church that can be traced back to the Upper Room in Jerusalem (sometimes called the “Cenacle”) in order to guide us to a deeper appreciation and understanding of living the Christian life in prayer, worship and service.
Each of the book’s three parts is dedicated to one of these key moments in the history of our faith: the Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist, the post-resurrection appearances of Christ to his followers, and the Holy Spirit descending on the apostles at Pentecost.
The walk with the Lord is a continued encounter with Him in the power of Holy Spirit. In Meeting God in the Upper Room, Monsignor Vaghi captures the various integral ways in which we continue in our day to meet the Risen Lord—in the sacraments; in our prayer lives; in our profession of Easter faith; in our works of charity and service; in our devotion to Mary, Mother of the Church and our Mother; in the experience of the gifts of the Holy Spirit; in the call to evangelize and our efforts to evangelize in our own day—in our homes, workplaces, places of leisure, in our travel. All of these make up the rich and continued spiritual legacy of that Upper Room and what happened there.
In writing about the Upper Room, Monsignor Vaghi tells of not just its historical significance, but its profound spiritual significance. It was there that Christ and his disciples retreated from the world in order to teach and learn, respectively, how they could carry on the faith. And as we set aside time to enter the “Upper Room” of our own life, we discover that Jesus is waiting to meet us there as well.
–Monsignor Peter J. Vaghi is pastor of the Church of the Little Flower in Bethesda, Maryland, and a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington.
Wendell Berry and the Given Life
We drive to work on the stored energy of ten thousand years of sunlight. Our daily bread seems to generate miraculously from store shelves. And our communities can be connected with a billion ones and zeros over fiber optic cables. For us, the idea of being a creature can seem passé. Yet in this lonely world of mastery, in a time so dominated by human desire and design that it has been dubbed the “anthropocene,” the human age, many of us feel that we are missing some essential truth about who we are.
The glimpses of this truth come when we lose cell reception on a long hike in the forest and our eyes are lifted to the simple marvel of trees. We feel this truth when we take up a shovel and sense the satisfying heave of dirt as we plant a modest garden. We hear this truth when we tune out the traffic and listen to the song sparrow’s melody, eavesdropping on a beauty that serves no human economy. In all this we hear a whisper of the truth that we are creatures—and we long to live in this reality. But how can we, when we have moved so far from our life source in the soil?
For the past 50 years, Wendell Berry has been helping seekers chart a return to the practice of being creatures. Through his essays, poetry and fiction, Berry has repeatedly drawn our attention to the ways in which our lives are gifts in a whole economy of gifts.
Berry presents us with the sort of coherent vision for the lived moral and spiritual life that we need now. His work helps us remember our givenness and embrace our life as creatures. His insights flow from a life and practices, and so it is a vision that can be practiced and lived—it is a vision that is grounded in the art of being a creature.
Wendell Berry and the Given Life articulates his vision for the creaturely life and the Christian understandings of humility and creation that underpin it.
–Ragan Sutterfield is the author of Cultivating Reality: How the Soil Might Save Us, and a memoir, This Is My Body.
Let the Franciscans guide you through Lent.
So many people wanted the popular pocket-size booklet, Lent with St. Francis, 2017: Meditations and Prayers for Each Day of Lent, that we ran out!
But you can read the electronic version online through Franciscan Media.
Or look for the daily post on our Face Book page: St. Anthony Shrine.
Lent with St. Francis is a collection of prayers and reflections to assist you each day on your Lenten journey adapted from Peace and Good: Through the Year with Francis of Assisi by Fr. Pat McCloskey, OFM. ©2014 Franciscan Media.
Franciscan Media publishes several books to guide you on your journey through Lent. We listed just a few of their titles below. Visit their Lent Collection page.
Sensing God: Learning to Meditate During Lent, by Laurence Freeman.
Many people feel drawn to what meditation offers (quiet, reflection, stillness, time alone with God), but few have tried it. Some Christians even feel that they shouldn’t meditate. In Sensing God, monk, priest, and spiritual teacher Laurence Freeman may just change some minds. And so will the Holy Spirit, Freeman says – if they begin to meditate for a few minutes each day.
A practical introduction and guide to this ancient Christian practice, Sensing God includes easy-to-follow instructions, guidance and support, as well as 46 enriching daily reflections on the Gospels, highlighting their meaning and continued relevance for living today.
Laurence Freeman, OSB, is a Benedictine monk and director of the World Community for Christian Meditation (WCCM)
The Hope of Lent: Daily Reflections from Pope Francis, by Diane M. Houdek
With prayer reflections drawn from the words of Pope Francis, this Lenten companion helps you prepare for the Easter season. With Scripture citations for each day of the season, selections from the pope’s writings, and ways to bring the pope’s message into your life on judgment, justice, forgiveness and mercy, The Hope for Lent will lend a moment’s meditation to discover the extraordinary in the ordinary, to be surprised by God’s mercy when we least expect it.
Diane M. Houdek is the author of The Joy of Advent, Pope Francis and Our Call to Joy, Lent with St. Francis, and Advent with St. Francis. She is the digital book editor for Franciscan Media.
Lent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta: Daily Meditations, Heidi Hess Saxton
“Thoughtfulness is the beginning of great sanctity,” observed Mother Teresa, one of the most beloved Catholic women of all time, popularly acclaimed a saint in her own lifetime. This small book of daily reflections for Lent and Holy Week celebrates the humility, charity and devotion of Saint Teresa of Calcutta.
Lent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta offers a short Scripture passage for each day, a brief meditation with a quote or story from the life of this remarkable woman, plus reflection questions and a short prayer to begin or end the day. Read alone or with a small group, this is a helpful resource for reflecting upon the mercy of God—and modeling the generous heart of this saint from Calcutta in our own lives.
Heidi Hess Saxton is a Catholic editor, wife, and mother, and is author of several books. Heidi is editorial director of Servant, an imprint of Franciscan Media. She writes for adoptive, foster, and special-needs families at “A Mother on the Road Less Traveled.”
Visit Franciscan Media’s Lenten Collection for these and more resources.
Message of hope, faith, and mercy resonates
Tricia Griffith settles into a pew for a presentation by Fr. Mark Soehner.
“This guy is so wonderful I’m recording him,” says Tricia, who hears Mark preach when she attends Mass here at St. Anthony Shrine. Tonight’s topic, mercy, has drawn a large and diverse audience.
It’s not surprising that members of the Sunday community would be here for the Nov. 2 talk, last in a series of three given by SJB friars for the Year of Mercy. What’s surprising is the two rows of Boy Scouts on the opposite side of the chapel. On the advice of Fr. Kenan Freson, who subs at the parish, chaperone Toni Schneider brought the 25 young men from St. Bernard’s of Taylor Creek as part of their “Ad Altare Dei” faith formation program.
Another attendee whispers to a trio of women in the row behind her: “How do you know Mark?” Their responses: “From when he says Mass on Tuesdays”; “He was our parish priest for years”; and, “He’s got the Spirit for sure.”
Introduced by Guardian Fr. Carl Langenderfer, Mark launches into an animated presentation, “A Franciscan Reflection on the Jubilee Year of Mercy”, with themes so relatable that even the Scouts listen intently:
- “God doesn’t love you because you’re good. You’re good because God loves you.”
- “Mercy doesn’t come to us all pretty. It comes to us when we need it.”
- “Before teaching the commandments of God, we need to talk about the God of the commandments….God seen as an unforgiving tyrant or benevolent Santa Claus.”
- “When our resources seem inadequate, it’s time we go to a deeper well.”
- “To be rich in mercy is not to be stingy in any sense.”
- “It’s a lot easier to judge than be generous.”
- “When we receive mercy we want to give it away.”
- “What if we lived our lives in gratitude and had a revolution of tenderness?”
- “We can give regular doses of mercy with simple words like, ‘Forgive me.’ ‘I’m sorry.’”
Mark recounts his adventures with the Walking Friars and their 2009 trek across Virginia. Mercy and generosity were offered in abundance in unlikely places from unexpected sources. “Isn’t God good?” he says, and everyone agrees.
Mark gives Pope Francis the final word, paraphrasing a sentiment that seems obvious but bears repeating. “Everything the Church says and does should be seen as merciful.”
Judging by nods of appreciation, the gift of mercy has been gratefully accepted.
Year of Mercy presentations by Fr. John Quigley and Fr. Larry Zurek can be viewed on our YouTube page.
This article first appeared in the SJB News Notes
Br. Casey Cole, OFM, of Holy Name Province reaches the world through his blog, “Breaking in the Habit.”
In this video he answers the Top 10 Questions he gets asked the most often about being a Franciscan friar.
Questions such as:
“Are you a monk? I thought you couldn’t leave the monastery.”
“What are you wearing? Do you wear that all the time?”
“My friend is a Jesuit. Is that the same thing?”
“So, you take vows? Which one is the hardest one?”
“You can’t get married?”
Br. Casey answers these questions and more in this entertaining video.
Considering joining the Franciscans? Visit our Vocation Page: Be A Friar. Or contact our Vocations Director, Fr. Luis Aponte-Merced, OFM, at: email@example.com, text: 309-361-4500, phone: 800-827-1082 (513-542-1082), or fax 513-542-1083
Pakistani friar is at home wherever he goes
His first week in Cincinnati, Fr. Saleem Amir, happened upon a birthday party at St. Francis Seraph Friary. Asked to join in, he did not hesitate. Soon the animated friar from Pakistan was smack in the middle of things, chatting and mingling as though he were part of the staff.
It’s obvious why Saleem said “yes” to ministry in Jamaica. “I like meeting people of different cultures, sharing their expressions of life,” he says, a sign of adaptability if there ever was one. Being a missionary means “not only going beyond boundaries, but exposing yourself to other realities.”
Here while he waits for the work permit that will allow him to join SJB friars in the Diocese of Montego Bay, Saleem is not just killing time. He volunteers three days a week at St. Francis Seraph Soup Kitchen. “I love to go there. I feel so happy afterward serving these people.” He has met with fellow missionary Fr. Jim Bok in Chicago and done street ministry with friars from St. Aloysius in Detroit. “They are very creative and dynamic,” he says, referring to Br. Michael Radomski’s backpack outreach to the homeless and Br. Al Mascia’s work with the Song and Spirit Institute for Peace. “Having interfaith dialogue, sharing the values of other religions; I was really touched.”
It’s a subject he is eminently qualified to discuss. Saleem grew up facing the social, economic and educational hardships that Christians, 3% of the population in a Muslim nation, deal with daily. In Pakistan, “If a Muslim man marries a Christian girl, you are killed,” he says, “so you have to leave the country. Sometimes poor Christian girls are kidnapped. I remember 10 years back, Christians were not allowed to drink water from the same tap” as Muslims. As youngsters, Saleem and his brother attended a school run by Muslims. “The Imam [worship leader] would send us out of class when he did Islamic studies.”
‘A strong character’
One of eight children, Saleem has been working in the same province where he and his siblings were raised, the Punjab (“five rivers”) of Pakistan. His devotedly Catholic family was tested when his father died young (Saleem was 5 years old). “I loved my mother very much. She was a very strong character, very hard-working, a woman of conviction. She forced us to go to school. All of us are educated.”
After high school, “They wanted me to do technical training.” It must have been fate, but when Saleem went to Karachi, “I had no place to stay. I stayed with Franciscans and saw them singing and praying together day and night.” He wrote home to say, “I changed my mind,” and his mother responded, “This is your life. Do what you want.”
Since solemn profession in 1992 he has been Vicar, Secretary, Novice Master, Guardian, Student Master, Councilor, and most recently, associate pastor at a large parish in Lahore and Professor of Missiology at the National Catholic Institute of Theology.
“I am very happy to be a friar. I wake up every day and thank God.” Even so, “I have been saying for the last five or six years that I want to go for a mission experience. I must also tell you, I received an invitation from the Diocese of Joliet in Chicago” to minister there. “Finally when we had a council meeting, the councilors and Custos talked about the relationship” with St. John the Baptist Province in the United States.
Custos Yusuf Bagh gave Saleem a choice, Jamaica or America. “I chose Jamaica to strengthen our twinning relationship and to be in touch with suffering humanity, to serve God’s people.”
He is an effective ambassador for his homeland, correcting stereotypes conveyed by negative news reports. “Pakistan is not Afghanistan,” he says. In the media, “They try to mix it. Pakistan is a modern country with a very good education system and hospitals and all the natural resources. If we have sincere, dedicated, committed leaders Pakistan can become something,” but corruption and extremists stand in the way of progress.
The seeds of Christianity, the second largest religion in the country, were planted in 52 AD by Thomas the Apostle. “We are growing. We have many Muslims, Hindus and others being attracted to Christianity,” an attraction fiercely opposed by the government. “Christianity in Pakistan has always been seen in the light of the West and Western religion,” so what happens in America impacts Pakistanis. Unfortunately, “Radicals try to blame Americans for everything.”
Saleem’s experience with American friars has been positive. “I knew Fr. John Quigley as a student. I had met Br. Vince Delorenzo and Fr. Alex Kratz” when they visited Pakistan last year. Brothers in Cincinnati have been “very loving, caring, concerned. I’m so grateful to Fr. Jeff Scheeler; he had made arrangements for me to go see different friars. They are asking me all the time if I am happy, if I need anything. I feel very much welcomed.”
Hospitality aside, Saleem is praying “very hard” that his work permit for Jamaica will arrive soon. In the meantime he is educating himself with YouTube videos and a book on Jamaican culture from the public library. “I will be going to Washington, D.C., to see Fr. [Greg] Friedman,” who will serve as General Visitor to the Custody in Pakistan. All along the way, Saleem is keeping a journal he plans to share with the friars back home. “Yesterday I wrote two pages about my experience of being in Cincinnati and visiting fraternities.”
When he gets to Jamaica, where will he live and what will he do? “Jim [Bok] asked me whether I have an agenda” about ministry. He told Jim, “I follow your plans or agenda. I am coming with my mind a blank slate.”
Whatever the future holds, “I have been happy I made the choice to go.”
Originally published in the SJB News Notes November 2016
The Pet Blessing at St. Francis Seraph Church in Cincinnati was beautifully captured by Franciscan Media in the video above, “St. Francis Feast Day Pet Blessing.”
On October 4, we celebrated the feast of the founder of our Franciscan Order, St. Francis of Assisi.
Francis is the patron saint of pets and ecology. Many creatures, great and small, received a special pet blessing while others participated in nature walks and outdoor activities since St Francis was also a major proponent of nature.
In the video below, Fr. Greg Friedman, OFM, explains the Franciscan tradition of Pet Blessings.
Celebrating Pope Francis’ Jubilee Year of Mercy
Mercy is very dear to Franciscans, in fact in some ways, it is our vocation. An early life of St. Francis, called the Legend of the Three Companions, described our way of life this way:
This is our vocation: to heal wounds, to bind what is broken, to bring home those who are lost. In other words to be merciful.
We friars thank you for your many expressions of kindness and mercy toward us, and we pray that this year will be a time when you come to know once again the mercy of God. We thank you for helping us proclaim this great gift, and to continue healing, binding wounds, and welcoming people home. May God give you peace!
Fr. Mark Soehner, OFM, concludes our series.
Wednesday, November 2, at 7:00 pm
St. Anthony Shrine, 5000 Colerain Avenue, Cincinnati, OH 45223
Light refreshments will follow.
To RSVP please contact Fr. Dan Anderson at: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 513-721-4700.
Fr. Jim, Can you help me deal with doubts that sometimes pop into my mind about our Catholic faith? I always feel uneasy. Louise
I’m more than happy to help you because you are surely not the only one who, from time to time, struggles, “With doubts that sometimes pop into my mind.” Let me reassure you that it is important to understand that these “popup doubts” in no way are true doubts about your faith. In fact they are normal and indeed tell me that you are actually an intelligent person of faith. Our faith is filled with mystery. But we have to remember the best definition of what a mystery is: “It is not that about which we know nothing. Rather it is just that about which we don’t know EVERYTHING.”
And it is the nature of our mind to be constantly busy, thinking, figuring out, weighing alternatives, questioning and yes, even doubting. That’s what the mind does … that’s how God made our minds and intellects. We simply want to know more and more as we go through life and with knowing comes questioning and wonderment.
Now, I’m assuming from your question, you are fearful of having doubts about your faith. And let’s face it, our faith covers a lot of territory. And much of what our faith is concerned with is embracing in trust the very mysteries of God, of Jesus, of creation, of life and of judgment. And we may think that if we are true believers, we would never have any questions or doubts. Not true! In fact asking questions or talking about a doubt is just a sign that we are, in fact, thinking and acting as mature adults.
Doubts such as: “Is that host really Jesus?” or “Can I be sure my past sins are forgiven?” are not uncommon doubts at all. When such thoughts come, try to understand what is going on inside you. It is just normal questioning and wonderment. But it is also an opportunity to say to the Lord, “Yes, I believe and I trust. You are mine and I am yours and that is all that matters.”
Understanding the loving and good God who made us and Jesus who died for us can really give a tremendous sense of confidence and reassurance. God never wants us to fear him because there is nothing to fear. Doubts, fearful thoughts are just a reminder of our wounded humanity and that God is always loving us.
May God bless you,
Fr. Jim Van Vurst, OFM
You can share your prayers with us and our online community at our Prayer Page.
Pray for others who have also posted their needs and concerns at View Prayer Concerns.
St. Anthony was devoted to prayer to the Lord, read his words at St. Anthony Prayers.
Fr. Larry Zurek, OFM, celebrates Pope Francis’ Jubilee Year of Mercy in his talk, “The Mystery of Mercy”
When I returned home from being commissioned a Missionary of Mercy by Pope Francis on Ash Wednesday, on my door in the friary was a sign:
Welcome Home Mom – M.O.M. – Missionary of Mercy
I’m sure my brothers meant it as a kind of joke, and yet, our Holy Father Pope Francis reminded us in the talk he gave us before Ash Wednesday, to really be mothers to those who come to confession. He said that,
“I believe this is a time for Mercy. The Church is showing her maternal side. Her motherly face to a humanity that is wounded. She does not wait for the wounded to knock on her door, she looks for them on the streets, she gathers them in, she embraces them, she takes care of them, she makes them feel loved.”
Mercy, sisters and brothers, helps another person to remember who they truly are in the eyes of God.
Learn more about Pope Francis’ Missionaries of Mercy
Next in the series:
Fr. Mark Soehner, OFM:
Wednesday November 2 at 7:00 PM
Fr. John Quigley, OFM
“Mercy – The Force of God Awakens in Us”
Watch the video
Learn more about how the Franciscans are celebrating the Jubilee Year of Mercy at Franciscan.org
♪ “At the Old Ball Game!” ♬
At noon on Opening Day, Fr. Stephen Cho is glued to his smartphone, thumbs churning out tweets and Facebook posts. By now, most friends know he will walk in the 97th Findlay Market Parade with brothers from St. John the Baptist Province. It’s a new experience for Stephen, a Korean friar who is living at St. Francis Seraph Friary while he learns about religious publishing at Franciscan Media.
When it’s time to gather for the parade, he hoists a PVC pipe over his shoulder – it will hold up their banner – and follows a group heading north in Over-the-Rhine to their assigned spot in the lineup.
Wordlessly, Stephen takes in the carnival surrounding him: clowns, kids, floats, bands, flags, bicycles, horses, dogs and cartoon characters with giant heads. Asked if they do this in his homeland, he shakes his head no. “Asian culture doesn’t parade,” he says, “especially in South Korea.” Not that it’s unknown. “Decades ago, when excellent results [were] achieved in the Olympics or world championships,” the government would honor the winners with a parade. In 2014, South Koreans flocked to the processions led by Pope Francis during his visit to Asia.
With or without parades, Koreans are passionate about baseball.
When countryman Shin-Soo Choo played a season with the Cincinnati Reds, the folks back home followed his every move. Then, says Stephen, “He went to Texas. Free agent.”
Stephen isn’t the only rookie on this team. Br. Chris Meyer, preparing to leave for the missions in Jamaica, also responded to a call for participants. He’s hoping to rack up some miles on his pedometer and work on his tan. “It’s my first time in the parade,” he says, “and may be my last.”
While they wait for the signal to start, friars chat with their neighbors in the parade, including a woman who trains miniature horses and brought four of them with her today, their manes dyed the colors of cotton candy. Petted and photographed, they are stars of the backstage show.
Roaming the streets with his camera, Fr. Frank Jasper is approached by parish people and other folks who admit they’ve left the Church. Emboldened by his habit, “They just come up and start talking about how they like the Pope,” he says.
Once the banner pole is assembled, friars Tom Speier, Tim Sucher, Pat McCloskey and Carl Langenderfer gather for a stirring rendition of Take Me Out to the Ball Game, videotaped for social media. Although some words escape him, good sport Stephen gamely follows their lead.
When it’s finally showtime, he picks up one end of the banner for the 16-block trek down Race Street, past Fountain Square, and onto Fifth Street to the stopping point, the Taft Theatre.
From the outset it’s obvious that Chris, like fellow marcher Tim, is a natural. Chris works the crowd, high-fiving a row of kids parked at the curb, and initiates a twirling dance move that spins the banner 360 degrees. The crowd loves it. Tim is everywhere, clasping outstretched hands and dashing from one side of the street to the other with the rallying cry, “Go Reds! Let’s hear it!”
Sharing the joy
Content to carry the sign for much of the way, Stephen is captured smiling in every photo.
By parade’s end, Chris has logged 10,000 steps on his pedometer. More important, “I enjoyed it,” he says. “So often we’re in our own friaries, and here we are in this public view, and we really get to hear how much we’re loved and respected. It’s a great opportunity to share the joy friars bring. It was a very positive experience.” Next year, he says, “I think we should work on our routine. We’ve got to spice things up,” maybe by doing the limbo under the banner?
Stephen says he was glad to see how “friars have been sharing life with the people of Cincinnati for more than 100 years of existence. I was proud to be a Franciscan in the middle of Cincinnati made one,” united in a spirit of exuberance and good will.
Before long, he pulls out his phone and starts thumb-chatting.
As Pat had predicted, “It’ll take him more than one tweet to describe this day.”
Originally published in the SJB NewsNotes.