Sunday, November 27, 2016

Stepping Out Of My Comfort Zone
Fr. Emmanuel Mansford, CFR

As Christians, Jesus tells us to “read the signs of the times.”  What then are we to make of these times?  The recent election in the US has caused many to sit up and ask real questions about what’s going on in society.  Whatever one’s perspective might be, this election has highlighted the division and distrust that is present in American politics.  This vote has been seen by commentators as a form of protest against an establishment that has become somehow “out of touch” with the lives of ordinary people.        
The Christian Faith is all about a God who is “in touch” with His people, about Power that is humble.  “Though he was in the form of God, Jesus did not cling to equality with God as something to be grasped at.  Rather he emptied himself, and took the form of a slave, being found in the likeness of men” (Phil 2:6-8).  In Christ, God, the all-powerful One, became man.  He stepped from eternity into our reality to save us “from the inside.”  He clothed Himself with the messiness of our humanity.  He worked with calloused hands and walked with blistered feet.  He knows how I feel and He cares.  This is the beauty of the Incarnation.  God is not distant.  He is close to us.

As much as I may not like it, discernment of my vocation takes place amidst the darkness and sin of the real world that Christ entered into.  I come to know myself -my desires, my gifts and my weaknesses- through my encounters with others, by entering into real relationships.  As an “Englishman in New York” I love living in Harlem NYC, but it also takes me out of my comfort zone.  The other day one of the postulant brothers and I went to a block of government housing- going door to door- to invite our neighbors for lunch at our friary.  To see the reality of the poverty in which some people live was very difficult.  But at the same time it was beautiful to connect with them there- to be with them in their reality.  And some came for lunch simply because they were invited, instead of sitting in their room alone!  

So often I want to remain comfortable but God wants to stretch me because He sees who I can become.  A big part of discernment is about allowing the Lord to call me from where I am and who I think I am to where He wants me to be and who He is calling me to be.  St Francis’ life is a powerful illustration of one who constantly allowed himself to be led by the Holy Spirit - from the lepers to the Pope to the Sultan- and this resulted in the renewal of the Church and society in his time.  What does God have for me in our time?

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Asking like a Child
Br. Pier Giorgio, CFR

In Mt. 18:3 Jesus tells us “Truly, I say to you unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” This teaching has always puzzled me, and made me wonder what it really means to be childlike. Certainly, Jesus does not mean to act in childish ways, but rather to have the disposition of a child. One of those dispositions is to ask. Children ask for everything because they recognize that they cannot provide for themselves, so they go straight to those who can, their parents. The same is true for all of us we must go to our Heavenly Father and ask, if not beg, Him for all that we need, trusting and confident that He will provide for us.
Not too long ago I was driving on a very busy road in Manhattan. While sitting in traffic I realized that there was someone blocking the cars ahead of me. It was a homeless man standing in the middle of the road begging for money and food. As I got closer to him I rolled down my window to greet him. When he saw me he ran over to my car and gave me a huge smile and a high-five, and started praising and thanking God. Unfortunately I had nothing to offer him, so after a quick exchange I wished him well and continued on my way. As I drove away I was struck by this man’s childlike disposition and faith, he knew that the only way to get people’s attention and to get what he needed was to stand in the middle of a busy road. This may seem crazy to us, but we need this level of faith and trust in our relationship with the Lord to be like the child who are uninhibited by norms and will throw himself into his parent’s arms when he is in need because he has great confidence that he will not be refused. We can learn from this poor man’s example- we can ‘get in God’s way’ and be confident that He will stop and give us exactly what we need. Let us strive to be like children, confident and trusting in the Father’s love for us, knowing that we can bring all our pains, needs, and desires to Him and that He will graciously receive and hear our prayer.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Called To Love

            Recently my brother told me that he loved me. It was a blessing to hear those words, but I thought to myself, “What does that word even mean?” Love. What a word. Our experience of love in family life and friendships can be wonderful - but not always. No matter what our experience of love is, deep down inside, there is nothing in the world that we want more than this: to be loved and to love.
            When St. John Paul II wrote his Letter to Families back in 1981, he affirmed that, “love is the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being.” (Familiaris Consortio 11). God is love (1 Jn 4:8) and we are made in his image, after his likeness (Gen 1:26). Therefore, love is normal. It is the main thing that we need and want in our lives because love is our origin (Gen 2:27), our life (Jn 10:10; Rom 5:5) and our destiny (1 Cor13: 8,13).
St. John Paul II goes on to say that every vocation has its’ origin in family life. But what if your family is not perfect? Welcome to the human race! No family is perfect. Notice how the New Testament begins. It begins with Jesus’ genealogy. This list is not a litany of saints. Some of these people in Jesus’ family line were good, some were not so good, while others were very bad. Original sin penetrated Jesus’ family line, as it does yours and mine. What is the solution?
Jesus. He is the Father’s answer to our hearts deepest longings. Whatever vocation God calls you to, ultimately it is going to be centered on love, therefore on God. If not, you will never be at peace. A religious vocation is a response of love, to love back the One who has loved us first. So, once you’ve found Jesus (THE source of love), it’s time to move forward in life. Or, as the infamous rapper Heavy D said back in the day, “Now that we found love what are we gonna do with it”?

Act of Love

O my God, I love you above all things
with my whole heart and soul
because you are all-good and worthy of all love.
I love my neighbor as myself for love of you.
I forgive all who have injured me

and ask pardon of all whom I have injured.

Fr. Sebastian Maria Kajko, CFR

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Love Endures All Things

            Someone recently asked me ‘do you just love being a friar?’ and I didn’t know how to answer the question. I was somewhat at a loss as to what I could say because I’ve been thinking about how Paul says ‘love endures all things.’ To me this means that I can’t truly say I love something until I have persevered through many moments where another option would have been preferable and yet I chose to stay. ‘Time will tell’ could have been my answer. I think that it is important to keep this in mind because our use of the word ‘love’ is often very shallow.
When I think about my parents and ask whether or not they love one another I can say they most certainly do. Currently my dad is going through some painful health problems and at times can be pretty cranky, and my mother is enduring this thing because of her love for him. Does this mean that she is always going to like being around him, no. Does that mean she doesn’t love him, of course not.
We ought to be honest with ourselves when discerning our place and mission in the Church. Am I looking for a place where I will always do really well and never be challenged? Am I trying to find a place where I know what will happen every step of the way and there will never be any surprises? Or, am I open to entering into something where I am not in control and can just as easily be surprised by joy as much as sorrow? Am I open to possibly going somewhere that will challenge me to be real, where I might fail and have to get back up many times, where I will endure many things? I think it is no coincidence that the Second Vatican Council document on religious life is called Perfectae Caritatis (The Perfection of Charity), to be perfected in love must mean that you have ‘endured all things.’

Though I haven’t been a friar very long I’ve been around many of the older friars (Fr. Benedict Groeschel for example) who have been here long before I was born and I can look at their lives and recognize their love for being a friar because they have endured many things. This really is the ultimate test, and a reality check as well. From moment to moment my feelings about being a friar can vary. Maybe what that person meant to ask was ‘do you like being a friar?’ Yes sometimes I do, but there are other times when it is difficult, there are moments when I need to admit I was wrong and change, there are moments when my fickle heart wants to be doing anything else but what I’m supposed to be doing. But when things are like this I can look to someone like Fr. Benedict or any of the older friars, or any other priest or religious for that matter, and see that they too must have endured similar situations and have shown the path of love. I can think of my mother and father who are enduring some difficulty and this is a sign of their love. On many levels I do love being a friar, but in a more sober tone I must say that time will tell. If I persevere to the end and I have ‘endured all things’ then will I be able to look back and say with deep conviction ‘I have loved being a friar.’

Brother Lazarus

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Fear and God Don't Occupy the Same Space

Benny is one of our neighbors who lives just up the block from us here in Harlem.  From time to time we see him on the street, often carrying a cup of store-bought coffee.  He often has an insight or reflection to share, which he does in his own lyrical Harlem-way. He speaks like he’s singing-rythmic and poetic. His thoughts are random-sometimes bizarre, sometimes angry, sometimes spiritual, always real.  Last Thursday he stopped in to our friary where we serve lunch for our neighbors.  As the meal was coming to a close and the brothers were washing the dishes, Benny was just speaking.  “ Fear and God don’t occupy the same space” he said, real matter of fact.  Eyes were raised from the sinks as we looked up at one another.  Christ had spoken.  Having lived with the poor for over 15 years, I have heard His voice many times through simple conversation such as this.  This was one of those moments.  A word from God.  A word for me, and I believe, a word for you.

“Fear and God don’t occupy the same space.”  For those of you who are discerning, this is Benny’s word for you through me.  So often fear threatens men who are discerning, drowning out the quiet voice of the Lord with insistent shouts, “What if…?”,  “I’m not…”, “I can’t…”, “What about…?”.  Such over-questioning leads to a “paralysis of analysis”.  Fear-based questions overwhelm and make it difficult to move forward.  Of course, we must be real with ourselves and with our deepest questions and fears, particularly bringing them to prayer and to a wise spiritual director, but at a certain point we need to move forward, trusting that the step that is being asked of me is all I need to concentrate on for now. 

When Jesus walked past Peter and Andrew as they were fishing, he simply said, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Mk 1:16-18).  He didn’t lay out a 10 year plan or the benefits of being associated with Him, nor the cost!  He simply said, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  Were they afraid?  Confused?  Unsure?  Probably.  But they followed Him because somehow they trusted more in Him than in their own fears and questions.  You see, Benny is a Harlem prophet-“Fear and God don’t occupy the same space.”  So if your fears are stopping you from doing what the Lord wants, ask for the grace to move through them and then take a step.  “Fear is useless. What is needed is trust” (Mk 5:36).   Following Jesus is all about taking steps.  He leads.  We follow. 

Fr Emmanuel Mary CFR

Vocation Director                 

Take a Risk!

Sometimes the Lord invites us to take a risk.  Every Easter the brothers in England and Ireland get together for our annual retreat and some fraternal time.  This year it was in the Lake District in Lancashire.  It is an absolutely beautiful place with numerous trails along lakes and over craggy peaks.  On the last day of our time there the weather began to shift.  The clouds hung over the house foretelling rain.  But there was still one more ridge to climb.  My body had barely recovered from a previous days’ hike and my persistent head cold showed no sign of relenting.  But there was still one more ridge to climb.  In the spirit of fraternity and with a vague sense that this beautiful landscape would not disappoint, I got in the van.   
            We set off just before 1pm.  Our route led up a winding narrow path through the mountains to a car park that seconded as a sheep pen.  With a quick look at our map we began the ascent.  The thought of a restful day in bed quickly lost its allure.  Edifying conversation, epic landscape, and with a trail that seemed to pull us onward, the ominous clouds lost their teeth and the head cold seemed to give up on its grip.  Usually on a long hike it’s the summit that makes it all worth it.  This time the whole thing was worth it.  I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.  It was like a summary of our whole Easter Retreat and time together: “Do not let your own limitations and the temptations of the world limit your vision.  Be willing to take the risk of moving by faith.  See by faith and be moved by the promise of seeing a beautiful landscape rolled out before you.”  I could have let my physical limitations and the signs of gloomy weather keep me at home that day, but to what end?  In comparison to what I unexpectedly received for having stepped-out on a hunch, staying home would have been an extremely short-sighted and dull choice.  Resting at home in the comfort of my room appeared in comparison to be an absolutely ridiculous option. 
            Brothers, the Lord is inviting us in our discernment to take a risk.  Do not let the things of the world limit your vision to this life alone.  The Lord wants you to see more.  He wants you to decide according to deeper criteria.  Our human limitations and the challenge of living in a world that sees only bad weather overhead are not meant to have the last word.  Jesus’ Resurrection has opened up a new horizon for each of us to behold.  He has freed us from the tyranny of our human frailty.  I assure you brothers the risk of following the Lord and walking by faith and not merely by sight is a risk worth taking; the pay off is in the whole of the journey.

            Happy Easter brothers! 

You’re in my daily prayers,

Fr.Gabriel Joseph, CFR

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Love the Lord and His Holy Will

Happy Easter Brothers!

The brothers in Bradford were recently giving a parish mission in a nearby parish in the diocese.  On Wednesday night we were introduced to the oldest parishioner in the parish.  She was 101 and her name was Molly.  I thought her name was perfect.  When I hear the name “Molly” I think of a bright-eyed red-haired young girl riding around on her bike or skipping and laughing all the way.  Molly was 101.  I know….no skipping or riding her bike around her neighbour’s driveway but I have to tell you she was young!  “I still do everything for myself,” she said.  “Oh, yes.  I feel the same as I did when I was 50!”  “What’s your secret?” asked Sr. Elizabeth and Fr. Gabriel standing by.  Presuming to hear something about low fat yoghurt or kale and apple smoothies she offered a response as quickly as we had asked the question.  “I love my God and his holy Will.”  The bright smile and even brighter look she floored us both.  “I’m not sure what that means, but you are holy and still here with us for a purpose; wow…,” I thought to myself.  Molly continued to shuffle around the vestibule of the Church offering many “thank yous” and “goodbyes” while the rest of us absorbed what she had just said.  

She found life in the Lord brothers.  For her living a long and happy life was to “love her God and to do His holy will.”  Sometimes knowing the will of God can be a frightening affair.  Sometimes we want to run.  I’m grateful for people like Molly who can remind me that God’s will gives life and therefore, joy.  May this Easter be for all of you brothers a time to take a step forward in your discernment.  A step forward in trust that whatever the Lord wants, I will be willing because I know that being with Him wherever He leads me is life and joy.  

I have a feeling when Molly dances into the halls of heaven there will be a train of people leaning forward to follow her steps as they stumble along behind her.  May we be found among them smiling and delighted with having “loved the Lord and his holy will.”  

Happy Easter brothers,

Fr. Gabriel Joseph, CFR