Archive for the Franciscan Spirituality Category

Thomas Merton and the Feast of the Portiuncula

Posted in Franciscan Spirituality, Thomas Merton with tags , , , , on August 2, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

porziuncolanotteToday is the Feast of Our Lady of the Angels, both the patronal feast of the “City of Angels” (LA) and a very important celebration in the life of the Franciscan family. August 2 is also known as the Franciscan Feast of the Portiuncula, the “mother church” of the Franciscan Order. This little church in the valley outside the city of Assisi was one of the most important places for St. Francis during his own lifetime. In the early sources we read that this was the only place that the friars were permitted (if not commanded) to keep. It remains an important pilgrimage site in the Franciscan family. I have had the great fortune to visit the Portiuncula chapel twice (Portiuncula means “little portion”). While it was at one time a freed-standing church, today it stands within a large basilica that was built over the tiny little church.

On this day when we remember the place of this church, Our Lady of the Angels — it’s official name, I thought it would be nice to share what Thomas Merton, the 20th-Century Trappist Monk and Author, said about the Portiuncula and the feast itself in his journal. Especially as we anticipate the release of my next book, The Franciscan Heart of Thomas Merton: A New Look at the Spiritual Inspiration of His Life, Thought, and Writing, due out in September, which focuses on the intersection of the Franciscan tradition and Thomas Merton.

The Porticuncula always brings me great blessings – and that is the Franciscan side, which continues to grow also…The feast brings graces of contemplation and spiritual joy, because every church becomes that tiny little church that St. Francis loved above all others and everyone in the world can share the bliss of his sanctity. (August 2, 1948)

May you have a blessed day and remember your Franciscan sisters and brothers in your prayers! Peace and all Good!

Photo: File

Franciscan Friary hit by Missile in Syria

Posted in Franciscan Spirituality with tags , , , on July 24, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

27558Although this happened a few days ago on Sunday evening, this report just came in via Vatican Radio:

On Sunday evening, July 20th, an air-launched missile struck the Franciscan monastery in Yacubiyah, a village located not far from the Turkish border in the Orontes Valley in north-west Syria. The building belonging to the Friars Minor of the Custody of the Holy Land was severely damaged. According to a notice from Fr. Pizzaballa, Custos of the Holy Land, Fr. Dhiya Azziz, who was working inside the monastery when the missile struck, reported that he was uninjured, other than a few blows to the head. “Fortunately, when the missile fell the friar was not in his room, which was completely destroyed”, stated Fr. Pizzaballa, who then repeated the call to pray for peace in Syria and the Middle East.

In spite of the damages caused by the war in Syria, little acts of solidarity and fraternity among believers of different communities continue. There is no shortage of testimony, such as that of Feras Lufti, another Syrian friar of the Custody of the Holy Land, currently in Damascus. “For the last several weeks, Aleppo has been in grave crisis: there is almost no water,” reports Lufti. “People sometimes have to wait for hours to fill their containers with water for drinking or bathing. We are fortunate to have wells in our monasteries, and we can distribute the water to everyone, Christian and Muslim, without distinction. One day when we had finished drawing water, an elderly person came to ask for more. He was a Muslim. He came, in spite of the great effort expended due to his age, not for himself but for his neighbor, a Christian who was very ill.”

Father Feras cites another example. “Another time, here in the capital, I was in the home of a Christian lady who had died a little earlier. Her family and friends sent for me to pray with them. After the prayer, when I was about to leave, a man stopped me. From the way he expressed himself, I immediately understood he was a Muslim. He was very emotional and he cried. He told me that he had prayed for the soul of the departed with two suras (short chapters from the sacred text) from the Koran and asked me if God would accept his prayer for this good soul. I asked him, ‘Why did you pray for her?’ He replied that the deceased had taken care of his grandchildren and fed them. It turned out that this man’s daughters, widowed because of the war, were refugees in Damascus and had not been able to find a place to live except in the Christian Quarter. There they found a solidarity among women that they had not expected. I saw him later in the church, accompanied by his two daughters.”

Photo:  Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land

Franciscan Spirituality in the Lone Star State

Posted in Dating God Book, Franciscan Spirituality with tags , , , on July 24, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

?????????????With the arrival of summer comes a lull in postings here at, a break made more apparent this year due to a number of recent events (such as moving from one religious community to another last week, I now live in Downtown Boston as opposed to near Boston College where I had lived for the last two years) and travel for speaking engagements, leading retreats, and vacation. Just a day after the move to Downtown Crossing in Boston, to our friary at St Anthony Shrine and Ministry Center, I traveled to Dallas, TX to give a series of lectures on Franciscan Spirituality at St. Joseph Church.

It was my first time visiting this community and a wonderful experience! It took a long time, but I was able to schedule a visit to St. Joseph to speak at the invitation of a friend of mine, Fr. Timothy Heines, the pastor of St. Joseph. Fr. Timothy and I studied together in Washington, DC, while we were in coursework together (he was working on his PhD at Catholic University, I was completing a Master’s degree). It was great to reconnect and to meet so many wonderful people over the course of the weekend. The hospitality and welcome was tremendous.

It was my privilege to give to lectures, a talk geared primarily toward young adults (20s/30s) on Franciscan Spirituality based on my first book Dating God: Live and Love in the Way of St. Francis (2012) and a public talk on Saturday morning looking at St. Francis, Pope Francis, and what these two Christian figures say to us today, especially to those who are ministers in the church. I was also honored to be invited to preach at the Sunday masses, at which I met so many fantastic people.

Fr. Timothy was kind enough to send along some photos from the Saturday morning event that the church photographer had captured. I share them with you here.

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Photos: Ron Heflin/St. Joseph Church

The Community of Creation

Posted in America Magazine, Franciscan Spirituality with tags , , , , , on July 11, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

water_mountains_blueskyThis column originally appeared in the July 21-28 issue of America magazine.

Having grown up in central New York State, not far from the Adirondack Park, I have always had a special place in my heart for the beauty of deciduous forests. The green trees and shrubs, the rolling hills and glacial valleys, the clear blue lakes and streams illustrate for me the truth of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poetic vision, inspired as it was by the Franciscan John Duns Scotus, that “the world is charged with the grandeur of God.”

That a Franciscan friar is writing a column about creation may seem like a bad joke or a tired cliché. What’s next? My headshot replaced with a portrait in a birdbath?

But despite the apparent predictability of a Franciscan’s sentimental attachment to creation, there is something that touches me more deeply than the immediately recognizable beauty of the earth. When I am awestruck at the sunset over an Adirondack lake or turn the corner on a road that reveals a landscape that takes my breath away, I reflect on the place that we humans have in this world. This is in part because the landscape of upstate New York has shaped my theological imagination as much as it has informed my aesthetic preferences.

For a long time now theologians, pastoral ministers and environmental activists alike have decried the ways we have treated and continue to treat the earth. We are well aware of the effects of our hubris, like global climate change and pollution. We know that we have a responsibility to the earth and the rest of the created order, and this has developed beyond older interpretations of Scripture that justified a “dominion” approach to creation that advocated human sovereignty over land and animal. We have come to recognize that we are not “lords of the earth” but “stewards of creation.” But I have long wondered if this “stewardship” response is sufficient or even if it is correct.

I am not alone in my doubt about the popular “stewardship” tropes used, admittedly with good intentions, to talk about our relationship to the earth and the rest of its inhabitants. One well-known critic of this paradigm is the theologian Elizabeth Johnson, C.S.J. In Professor Johnson’s new book, Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love, she calls for a renewed look at the biblical, theological and scientific traditions that inform our understanding of ourselves and the rest of creation. She, like the theologians Ilia Delio, O.S.F., and John Haught, reads the work of Charles Darwin not as a threat to Christianity but as a resource for theology and for our effort to engage in faith seeking understanding. The result is a call for humanity to remember what has too often been forgotten: we are part of creation, not over and against it, not above or radically distant from it, as earlier conceptions of an anthropocentric universe suggested.

It is this insight that unsettles the standard stewardship approaches to creation. Rather than think about the whole of nonhuman creation as being entrusted to us, which makes us cosmic landlords or property managers for God, we should consider our inherent kinship with the rest of creation. In addition to the account of creation in the second chapter of the Book of Genesis, which reminds human beings that we are ha-adamah(“from the earth”), we also have extensive physiological evidence that supports Carl Sagan’s assertion that “we are made of starstuff.” We share the same building blocks as the rest of creation.

Yes, we are called to care for creation, but that care does not arise from some extrinsic obligation. Rather, this care should be grounded in our piety. The Latin pietas means duty or care for one’s family, which stems from a deep relational connection. The care we have for our children, parents and siblings should model how we think about and “care for creation.” In this sense, St. Francis of Assisi had it correct from the start. Each aspect of creation is our brother and sister; we are part of the same family, the same community of creation. In this sense, those who don’t live up to their creational family obligation are not very pious at all.

When I hike through the Adirondacks and find myself overwhelmed by the beauty of God’s creation, I am grateful to be a part of this community. The rest of creation cares for you and me; it is our duty to care for it as well. And that’s not just some romantic birdbath talk; it is what it means to be part of this extended family.

Daniel P. Horan, O.F.M., is the author of several books including The Last Words of Jesus: A Meditation on Love and Suffering (2013). Follow him @DanHoranOFM.

Photo: File

Science, the ‘Economist,’ and the Medieval Theologian

Posted in America Magazine, Franciscan Spirituality with tags , , , , , on May 1, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

robert-grosseteste-1-sizedThe first academic article I ever published was in 2007 about two medieval British theologians, Robert Grosseteste and John Duns Scotus, titled: “Light and Love: Robert Grosseteste and John Duns Scotus on the How and Why of Creation” (although the first popular article I ever published happened to be in America a few months earlier!). Scotus is certainly the better known of the two, but Grosseteste was an “intellectual giant,” to borrow the accolade used in a recent Economist blog post.

Grosseteste (d. 1253) was indeed a unique figure: a “scientist” (if we can anachronistically use that term), a theologian, a philosopher, a pastoral minister, a former chancellor of the nascent Oxford University, the first instructor of the Franciscan friars in England, and eventually the Bishop of Lincoln. In old age, he taught himself Greek (something few of his peers could do) so that he could read, and write a commentary, on Aristotle’s work. He was a polymath and a capacious thinker and one whose work is hard to pin-down or easily categorize.

Among the most interesting topics Grosseteste worked on was the question of the reason for the Incarnation. Unlike the majority perspective most associated with the work of someone like Anselm of Canterbury, which posited that “Adam’s Fall” or human sinfulness was the reason for the Incarnation, Grosseteste – like a handful of others before him – insightfully argued that the Incarnation would have been fitting and therefore would have happened even if there was no Fall.

However, the work that caught the attention of the Economist this week was not Christological. Rather, it was Grosseteste’s treatise De Luce (“On Light”) written around 1225, which is a cosmological text positing the development of creation from a singular point of light, the same treatise that first drew me to this thirteenth-century scholar. It appears that the “Ordered Universe Project” team in the UK believes that Grosseteste was “the first to try to develop unified physical laws to explain the origin and form of the geocentric medieval universe of heavens and Earth.”

The Economist explains:

* In the 13th century, atoms were thought to be infinitesimal points, so for matter to have volume, something else was needed. For Grosseteste, that something was light. His geocentric cosmos began with an explosion of a type of light he called lux, which expanded into a vast, ever-thinning sphere of matter and light. But matter could only thin so far, thought Grosseteste, after which it crystallised into a “perfected” layer—the spherical boundary of his medieval universe. Another type of light, lumen, then radiated back, sweeping up, compressing and purifying any “imperfect” matter in its wake. This created the second heavenly sphere (the “fixed” stars), then each of five planets, the sun and moon. By now the lumen was so weak it could no longer purify matter, which left the imperfect Earth, its four elements and atmosphere. For all of this, Grosseteste defined universal physical laws.*

This contemporary engagement with Grosseteste’s work is exciting for a theologian who, for the better part of a decade, has been fascinated with the medieval British thinker’s prescience and perennial relevance (despite his relative anonymity today). What’s more, the Economist highlights how this engagement with Grosseteste illustrates how the increasing popularity of STEM programs and curricula in the United States and elsewhere is highly problematic. Modern scientists would not know anything about Grosseteste, nor be able to understand his thought, without the collaboration of philosophers, theologians, linguistic experts, others from the humanities.

Theology had and still has a lot to say today and perhaps, as this Economist piece notes, something to teach science.

[To read the whole Economist piece, go to: “Unearthing a 13th-Century Metaverse.”]

This was originally published on the America magazine’s “In All things” blog.

FMS World Care Annual Benefit and Celebration

Posted in Franciscan Spirituality with tags , , , , , on March 21, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

FMS_Image2014Every Spring, Franciscan Mission Service (FMS), a wonderful organization that provides training and support for lay missioners who serve from two to six years in various Franciscan placements around the world — e.g., Bolivia, South Africa, Zambia, and Kenya — hosts a fundraiser and celebration. The World Care annual benefit and celebration takes place in Washington, DC, and is set this year for 7:00pm on Friday April 11, 2014. Each year FMS honors a person who has demonstrated leadership in social justice, global transformation, and modeled the priorities of FMS. This year the honoree is Jack Jezreel, the founder of JustFaith Ministries. FMS also invites a keynote speaker to offer a reflection on the theme of that year’s event. The theme happens to be “Profoundly Changed: New Disciples for Peace, Justice, and Hope,” and the speaker is me.

It is an honor to be invited to be the keynote speaker at this event and humbling given the tremendous good work that FMS does at home and abroad. For those in the Washington, DC, area, I encourage you to consider coming to the benefit and celebration on April 11 or help out FMS in any way you are able. You can visit the website via the links above to learn more.

From the Spiritual Bookshelf

Posted in Book Review, Franciscan Spirituality with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 16, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

One of the great unexpected perks of the type of ministry, both popular and academic, that I am engaged in is that frequently publishers and authors will share with you a variety of new books. Many times I experience the personal frustration of not being able to at least preliminarily explore some of the books that come through my mailbox or inbox before they land on an ever-growing real or virtue stack of “to be read” books. Working on several concurrent book and other writing projects, traveling as often as I do, serving the community in pastoral ministry, and completing a doctoral degree full time all unfortunately compete with my ability to mention some excellent and interesting new books with the speed and regularity I would ordinarily like. This is my feeble excuse for not talking about these three books as soon as would have liked (and the many others I hope to also get to at some point).

And so, rather than three individual reviews and comments, I thought I might offer something of a joint spiritual review of three books that have come across my desk in recent months, each from different authors with vastly different backgrounds, grounding their reflections in three different spiritual traditions.

Rooted in Love

91RYJ27ZhoL._SL1500_First on the list is Rooted in Love: Integrating Ignatian Spirituality Into Daily Life (New Voices, 2013). This book, written by the South African author Margaret Blackie, a scientist and spiritual director, offers an interesting look at Ignatian Spirituality. Grounded in accessible and personal experiences, Blackie’s approach to Ignatian Spirituality finds its origins in what Karl Rahner might describe as “everyday mysticism.” It might find itself stylistically in the same vein as Tim Muldoon’s The Ignatian Workout (2004) or Jim Martin, SJ,’s A Jesuit Guide to (almost) Everything (2012), as a text that seeks to make the Ignatian adage “Finding God in All Things” tangible for the modern reader. By and large, I believe that Blackie does this and does so in a unique way.

While one certainly learns about Ignatian Spirituality along the way, this book is less didactic than it is experiential. With the distinctive and expert style of a spiritual director, Blackie’s prose reads more like a conversation than it does a lecture, which is something someone on retreat or seeking to find a quiet retreat-like experience at home can appreciate. One feels like they get to know Blackie personally throughout the book, sharing with her the experiences of her own spiritual and life journey while also considering your own path. Each chapter includes reflection questions for further consideration, prayer, and possible discussion in a group setting.

For those who are already familiar with and are fans of Ignatian Spirituality, this is a good book to take another look at the tradition you embrace. If you are not as familiar, I think this is a helpful and comfortable way to get to know it better.

The Wandering Friar

9781625101815medNext on the spiritual shelf is a book written by a fellow Franciscan friar, John Anglin, OFM, titled The Wandering Friar: A Traveling Franciscan Preacher Looks at the Church Through the Stories of Its Members (Tate, 2013). This is a unique book. Rather than a straightforward narrative or expository text, Anglin’s book is a compilation of experiences, stories, and real-life parables collected from his many years on the road as a retreat leader and preacher. The book is divided into two parts. The first, “The Hand of God,” is the shorter and features his personal vocation story and the setup for how he became the wandering friar (which is also the title of his blog). Here we get the clearest introduction to and description of his whole project, which is mostly contained in the remaining portion of the book:

I hope to hold that mirror, as it were, before many members of the People of God that I have encountered over the years and before you, the reader, in the hope that you will see more clearly the Body of Christ that you receive in the Eucharist and that we truly are as the Church (51).

As you might tell from this brief excerpt, Anglin grounds his reflections as a Franciscan friar and traveling preacher in the rich theology of the church from Vatican II. Throughout the book, you get the sense that he understands — especially having lived through it — the significance of the Council and the importance understanding ourselves and the People of God in this light has for the ongoing reflection on what it means to be the Body of Christ. Additionally, as you might also note, this short except is reflective of another aspect of this book that might be welcomed or not by particular readers. Anglin’s style has an aural quality to it, which makes sense given that these are reflections of a preacher. He writes in a way that bears a resemblance to how we might hear his reflections. This is a stylistic observation, one that could potentially be frustrating for those looking to pick it up like another book, but perhaps interesting to those who can conjure the voice of an experience Franciscan sharing his story and the stories of those he has met aloud.

The second part of the book is the bulk of the text, a collection of stories and parables taken from the life of a itinerant preacher, taken from the experiences of many different people over the years. These are presented in such a way as to provide a different look at what we call “the church,” something that Anglin — rooted in good theology and Vatican II — continually reminds us is the Body of Christ and not just its leaders.

Atchison Blue

9781933495583.jpg.x625The last book on the spiritual shelf today is a real gem. Atchison Blue: A Search for Silence, A Spiritual Home, and a Living Faith (AMP/Sorin, 2013) is a personal spiritual reflection written by the television journalist Judith Valente. The title, which caught my attention right away, comes from the color of the chapel glass found in the St. Scholastica Benedictine Monastery, where Valente’s faith journey finds its support and new life. This is a spiritual memoir of sorts that offers a glimpse and appropriation of a monastic way of living and praying from the vantage point of a modern-day professional. We are presented both with Valente’s journey, but also invited along the way to consider how we might embrace — regardless of social location, profession, and state of life — the Benedictine spiritual rhythm of ora et labor(prayer and work).

Not that one should judge a book by its cover, I feel like I have to say that this book — in its cover, in its French style, and in its rugged page cuts — is an attractive book and one that definitely drew me to it.

Valente’s book is something of an in-between text compared to Blackie’s and Anglin’s. Whereas Blackie gives a solid and direct presentation of Ignatian Spirituality from a personal and dialogical perspective and Anglin provides a collection of disparate and personal narratives, Valente presents the Benedictine tradition as experienced in her journey peppered with seemingly disparate, but nonetheless interesting, stories that bring the reader along with her on her assignments for PBS and other such adventures. It is something of an exitus and reditus flow of the ora et laborspirituality — one leaves the monastery to labor in the diverse fields of the world and returns to the monastery (real or analogous) to pray and recharge.

Valente is an excellent writer and the book takes little effort to settle in. I found myself moving smoothly along with her narration, interested in the first-person “behind-the-scenes” like story of her faith journey.




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