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

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Go to Big Joe!

St Joseph is a model and powerful intercessor for men who are discerning God’s will.  Like many of us, he had his own plans, desires and dreams.  Work hard.  Build a career.  Settle down with the woman he loved and raise a family.  Sound familiar?  Sounds great.  And then God stepped in!  Mary’s news that she was pregnant turned his world upside down.   He didn’t know what to do.  Confused. Disoriented.  Afraid.  How could this be?  What did it mean?  We cannot really know what Joseph went through at this moment and there is much speculation amongst the Church Fathers that is beautiful and helpful for our meditation[1].  But essentially it was too much for him, so broken hearted, he decided to divorce her and move on with his life (Mt 1:18-19).  

Then suddenly he received his own annunciation!  God broke through again and (somewhat) explained the mystery he was involved in and how He was asking him to respond (Mt 1:20-24).  Joseph was like us. A human being, a real man, struggling to understand and do the will of the Father, wrestling with God’s will and God’s ways!  I wonder if he asked himself, and asked God “why me?” as so many of us have done when faced with the call to live for Christ with an undivided heart, when asked to live consecrated chastity?  Joseph, I imagine, struggled to do the Father’s will.  It must have sounded crazy to him.  He had no idea what it could mean and God only gives us enough light for the next step!  But he listened and he obeyed (Mt 1:24; 2:14).  His was the obedience of faith (Heb 11).  He acted manfully.  He made a decision.  Even though he didn’t have the whole picture!  From then on, his life was marked by this “special grace of intimacy” with Jesus and Mary.

 “Ite Ad Joseph” is a wise spiritual maxim.  Go to Joseph.  He knows.  He understands.  He will help you struggle with the will of God and move forward.  He will strengthen you in your struggles with chastity.  He will help you make a decision to follow the Lord.  He is the heavenly patron of all consecrated men and women.  He is a model of manliness for all priests, called to chaste, spousal love for the Church and entrusted as guardians of the Holy Eucharist.  He is the guardian of virgins and spouse most chaste and he is a real man!  He is the terror of demons!    Ite ad Joseph!   

God Bless,

Fr. Emmanuel Mansford
Vocations Director      

[1] “Saint Joseph, Our Father in Faith”, pp 15-21, Fr. Frederick Miller (Catholic Information Service, 2008).   

Monday, March 2, 2015

He is Trustworthy

           Recently, three of our postulant brothers from New York came to visit St. Pio Friary in Bradford.  We were all curious to hear their story of discernment.  As the vocation director in Europe, I was particularly interested in knowing what they found most helpful during the process of discernment.  I was surprised by the simplicity of what they said.  For many of them it wasn’t the web-site or an interesting blog—except maybe for this one—it was something more basic.  While one of them was discerning they got a phone call from the New York vocation office…but it wasn’t the familiar voice of Fr. John Paul, the vocation director at the time.  It was Fr. Isaac. Noticing that the visitor was from Minnesota he wanted to be the one to call him.  Fr. Isaac was also from the great state of Minnesota (“great” of course for its relative proximity to Canada).  When the postulant was discerning the “idea” of religious life and making inquiries, what helped him along the journey to take the next step was the awareness that Fr. Isaac took a personal interest in him. 
           Brothers, I don’t say this to compliment the work of the vocation team but to highlight something very important in discerning your call.  As simple and as basic as it may sound, discerning your religious vocation is about the Lord’s personal interest in you.  It is not about trying to “figure it out”—although that can be part of it at an earlier stage.  Discernment is not like solving a math equation.  Discernment is about a relationship.  One makes progress through the stages of discernment as one becomes more and more convinced and heartened by the Lord’s love and providential care for them.  When the postulant sensed that the one who was guiding him was personally interested and invested in them, he was encouraged because the one guiding him proved more trustworthy.  This is the same way brothers that the Lord wants to relate to us.  He wants us to experience more and more that he is trustworthy.

Brothers, may this Lent be a time for more prayer so that you can let the Lord reveal to you more and more that he is indeed trustworthy.  May there be many signs of his personal interest in you as you ask him for guidance and so come to trust him more.  Brothers, he cares about you and is personally invested in your discernment.  As you approach Easter may you know the joy, more and more, of following someone who is indeed trustworthy: Jesus the risen Lord!

With a pledge of prayers brothers for a blessed Lent,
Fr.Gabriel Joseph

Vocation Director, Europe.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

"Lent - Making space for God"

I was recently on the metro heading back home from JFK airport to Harlem.  The train was pretty full.  Standing by the door was a young woman listening to music on her headphones.  She seemed lost in her music and was humming fairly loudly, gaining the attention of the other passengers around her who seemed faintly amused by this.  Looking at her kindly, a man in his 40’s turned to the lady next to him and said in a gentle southern voice, that reminded me of Forrest Gump, “My Momma said you can’t hear God with those things in your ears.”  The lady, a black New Yorker, responded simply, “That’s right.”

Silence.  We can’t hear God without silence.  And yet many people seem to be afraid of silence, perhaps because they’re afraid of themselves-their own thoughts, fears or problems -or maybe even God!  But we can’t hear God without silence and if I can’t hear God I can’t begin to know his will for my life.  Traditionally Lent is a time when we give things up to make extra space for God through prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  Maybe we could give up listening to music, watching TV, playing computer games or looking at Facebook.  In its place we would have space for God and who knows what could happen?  

Blessed Mother Teresa knew our need for silence: “God is the friend of silence.  His language is silence… We need silence to be alone with God, to speak to him, to listen to him, to ponder his words deep in our hearts.  We need to be alone with God in silence to be renewed and to be transformed.  Silence gives us a new outlook on life.  In it we are filled with the grace of God himself, which makes us do all things with joy.”  I dare you!  Make time for God in silence! Every day for 10 minutes!  This Lent could change your life!  

God Bless  each of you!

Fr. Emmanuel Mansford

Friday, February 13, 2015

Interior Attraction to a Matchless Beauty

 “I led them with cords of compassion,
    with the bands of love.”
Hosea 4:11

“Contemplation of the glory of the Lord Jesus in the icon of the Transfiguration reveals to consecrated persons first of all the Father, the Creator and Giver of every good thing, who draws his creatures to himself (cf. Jn 6:44) with a special love and for a special mission. "This is my beloved Son: listen to him!" (cf. Mt 17:5). In response to this call and the interior attraction which accompanies it, those who are called entrust themselves to the love of God who wishes them to be exclusively at his service, and they consecrate themselves totally to him and to his plan of salvation (cf. 1 Cor 7:32-34).”
-          Saint John Paul II Vita Consecrata (§17)

It is not uncommon to find in our hearts suspicion towards things we find attractive, especially when we are trying so sincerely to seek the will of the Lord. This misgiving is understandable and we ought to have a healthy suspicion towards what might be simply a base attraction rooted in the flesh. We need to have a discerning heart in these matters and yet resist being rigid by giving ourselves permission to be drawn by the Lord.

I was impressed by the words of St. John Paul II saying that our response is not only to a call but a call that is accompanied by an interior attraction. Do I find in myself, in the interior man, an attraction to belong exclusively to the Lord? This is an essential question to ask. I think that the dynamic of attraction is quite amazing, especially when we recognize that it is the Lord who is drawing us to himself. Several times in the document Vita Consecrate JPII makes reference to the tremendous beauty of the Lord, in one such instance he calls those who are consecrated to the spiritual path of philokalia (love of divine beauty).The beauty of the Lord is without match, in fact all created beauty is only a reflection of His eternal beauty .

How is this related to a vocation to consecrated life though? This is my own reflection on the matter, but I am speaking from experience. Whenever I find something beautiful I feel attracted to that thing, be it music, art, a building, a landscape, a person…there is a draw, a desire to know more. I think this draw comes from finding consolation in beautiful things, and what this feeling of consolation says to me is that I belong here, I am home here. As the scale of beautiful things goes up the Lord is at the top, and so in finding the Lord beautiful (and in him revealing his beauty) I feel most at home, I can say I belong here.

 I think this is why interior attraction accompanies the call, we recognize the beauty of the Lord (which is attractive) and allow ourselves to be drawn by Him to Himself. After some time spent pursuing the Lord, hopefully, if it is your vocation, what will emerge is the conviction to belong entirely to Him.

One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.” Psalm 27:4

God Bless each of you!

Brother Lazarus

Monday, February 2, 2015

Prophets of Hope

            While winter apocalypses were being predicted the other week I was basking in the sunshine of northern California in the San Francisco bay area. Several friars and sisters went out to support the Walk for Life West Coast rally that happened on January 24th. Surrounding the “Walk” we were blessed to be able to do a number of other evangelistic events in the area as well, one of which was a visit to UC Berkeley’s campus. We descended on the campus with friars and sisters on the first day of their classes and quickly realized that unlike most other places we’ve been, we were not the weirdest looking people around!
            In the course of the day we had a few strange conversations prefaced with, “Wow, where can I get a gray dress like that?”  One of our encounters, however, was truly anointed. We met a young man, Colin, searching in the true sense for meaning, for the truth, for hope. The conversation went deep quick and we found ourselves sharing about the struggles of life, suffering, despair, depression, faith and the longing of the human heart for something more.
            At a certain point I shared with him how St. Francis had been searching in a similar way and that his prayer he raised to God for years was, “Who are you God? And who am I?” Immediately Colin blurted out with eagerness, “So what did he find?!” His heart thirsted for an answer; it thirsted for an authentic hope in the midst of life’s struggles. This opened the opportunity for me and the brother I was with to share not only how St. Francis had encountered Jesus Christ and the joy and hope that he gives to life, but we also shared how today in our own life we both have experienced the reality of his love. This is the love of a God who does not simply hit the delete button on evil’s presence, but takes it on himself and makes it a source of new life.

            In the end every human heart that finds itself walking in the “valley of tears” wants to know they are not alone…and as religious we are blessed to be that prophetic witness in the world speaking with our lives and words the message of Christ, “Do not be afraid!”… “I am with you always.” It is His presence in the world, in our lives, that gives us an enduring hope no matter where we may find ourselves on the journey of life.  

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

For the salvation of others

In response to one of our posts on Facebook, one of the poor who has been coming to us for years expressed his gratitude for the presence of the brothers in downtown Bradford.  Here follows an excerpt:

""The brothers", two words, two words alone, those two words, for over two year, represented, hot food, on a Tuesday, "the brothers" was synonymous with a Tuesday. My feet, set off there , every Tuesday, without fail, Tuesday, wasn't Tuesday, without, seeing the brothers, a warm welcome, a hot drink, and lo and behold, being immersed with the love there.  The brothers, bro Felice, father Thomas, father Conrad, father Leo, there are many more, they never fail, consistent and true. Never stop the awesome work you do, You may not always realise just what you mean to so many, it's like you don't twig, until it's not there anymore. You have given me the strength to reach into new pastures, so a flipping big well done is in order. Flipping big well done. out of all the projects, you and Emmanuel, reach deeper for people, well done."
Our life in service to the poor is regular fare for us, like bread and butter.  Hard to imagine one without the other or a week without it.  There are times when it is a struggle to let go of your plans and make your way down to the kitchen to be with those that come.  But when you hear what kind of an impact it can have on others' lives it makes your objections so petty.
Brothers, as you continue to discern, never underestimate the significance your lives have on others.  Many times our discernment is focussed on our relationship with the Lord alone, listening in prayer for indications of his plan for us, and seeking the grace to say "yes".  Know, however, that your vocation is not for your salvation also includes the salvation of others.  Jesus not only has you in mind when he calls you, but also the many people he is sending you to be his hands, his feet, his heart, his voice.

One of our founders, Fr. Glenn, was preaching recently in Scotland.  He told the story of driving in a snow storm once.  He strained to follow the lights of the car in front of him.  As the snow continued he pulled over to rest a moment when he noticed something behind him.  Stopped behind him now was a row of cars waiting for him to continue.  Unbeknownst to him, many were relying on him to continue ahead.  He thought he was  looking for his own way down the road.  Take the chance brothers.  Set out to follow the Lord's light down the road, and know that your willingness to follow the Lord, will enable many others to follow along the same path to Him.
May this light that has come make you more aware of the drama of salvation that a vocation invites you into...a drama that is no solo show.

Happy Christmas are in my prayers daily.
Fr. Gabriel Joseph,CFR
Vocation Director, Europe.