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

Boston Globe Cover Story on Friar Digital Ministry

Posted in St. Anthony Shrine with tags , , , , , on July 17, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

140713_ZW_frier1_metThis story appeared on the front page of the Boston Globe this morning, with the title: “A Prayer is only a text away at St. Anthony Shrine.”

With her mother in the hospital for the second time in a matter of weeks, Aime O’Donovan felt the understandable need to connect with a higher being. So she reached for her cellphone and tapped out a text message.

“Keep my mom in your prayers please,” she wrote to a group of Franciscan friars at St. Anthony Shrine in downtown Boston. “Help her be okay.”

An instant later her phone signaled a reply. The friars, the text said, “will be honored to remember your intention in our daily prayer.”

And so it goes with these friars, who have expanded from pews to bytes, from the chapel to the iPhone, in their desire to minister to a flock that has more faith than time to practice it in more traditional ways.

“People do a lot of texting,” said Brother Jim McIntosh, a friar at St. Anthony. “It’s about facilitating the prayer requests.”

St. Anthony Shrine has received about three texted prayer requests a day since launching the initiative this spring. But that’s not the only virtual way it is reaching out. McIntosh and his religious brothers regularly connect with worshipers on Twitter and Facebook. They post to YouTube and Instagram. They even have a software program that transcribes the hundreds of voice-mail messages requesting prayers that arrive each month. And there are also, of course, about 20 prayer requests sent each day through old-fashioned e-mail.

All of the requests are printed out and delivered to a box in their private chapel on the fifth floor of the center, located on a narrow side street amid the cacophony of Downtown Crossing. Twice a day, once in the morning and then again in the afternoon, the friars gather to pray over the intentions.

If there is a particularly urgent or touching request, the friars will pray for it specifically, McIntosh said, though usually they pray for the messages collectively.

“God knows what they’re praying for already,” he said.

Most requests, texted and otherwise, are from people asking the friars to pray for their health or that of a relative or friend, McIntosh said. Other times, it’s folks struggling with depression. Occasionally, the friars are asked to pray that the sender find a romantic partner.

The outreach is part of a larger effort by the Friars of Holy Name Province, which runs St. Anthony and about 40 other parishes in the United States. The province began offering a national texting service for prayer requests last year. McIntosh said he decided to create one specifically tailored to St. Anthony because of texting’s popularity, especially among younger members.

O’Donovan, for one, said it’s deeply gratifying to be able to communicate with the friars and get a speedy response. She often forwards the messages and the replies to the friends and family she has requested prayers for.

Before moving to Abington, the 47-year-old went regularly to St. Anthony for more than two decades while she was working at a bank downtown — just as many other downtown workers did and still do. The ability to text message her prayers from suburbia is, well, something of a godsend.

“If it’s like 10 o’clock at night, you can shoot it off,” O’Donovan said. “It’s instantaneous, it’s comforting.”

According to Ron Simons of Greater Calling, a Christian group that provides services such as prayer requests via text and teleconferencing to religious groups, churches must embrace new technology if they are to survive.

Greater Calling began offering a texting service in 2007, Simons said, and demand for it has grown steadily, with a particularly large increase last year.

“The generation today that’s growing up, that’s how they live,” Simons said. “Their phone is their outlet to everything. Unless you embrace that, you’re going to see that your church is not going to grow.”

But don’t count on being be able to confess your sins over text or online any time soon. The Catholic Church says the sacrament of penance must be done in the physical presence of a priest.

“I don’t think it’s ecclesiastically possible,” McIntosh said.

For others, like Ann Magiera-Barger, that’s just fine. She puts in her prayer requests weekly, writing them down in neat script on the notepads in St. Anthony’s lobby, a method that predates e-mail. Mostly, she asks that the friars pray for the health of family and friends, particularly for several that have cancer. Texting doesn’t appeal to her.

“This is more personal,” Magiera-Barger said, pointing at the notepad. “It’s much better to take the time to come in and do it.”

Oliver Ortega can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @ByOliverOrtega.

Photo: Zack Witman/Boston Globe

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

Pope’s Homily from Mass with Abuse Victims

Posted in Pope Francis, Uncategorized with tags , , , , on July 8, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

FrancisOver the last twenty-four hours a lot of discussion has unfolded about Pope Francis’s meeting with six victims of clergy sexual abuse and the homily he delivered while celebrating Mass with them. Here is the text of his homily translated by Vatican Radio from the original Spanish.

The scene where Peter sees Jesus emerge after a terrible interrogation… Peter whose eyes meet the gaze of Jesus and weeps… This scene comes to my mind as I look at you, and think of so many men and women, boys and girls. I feel the gaze of Jesus and I ask for the grace to weep, the grace for the Church to weep and make reparation for her sons and daughters who betrayed their mission, who abused innocent persons. Today, I am very grateful to you for having travelled so far to come here.

For some time now I have felt in my heart deep pain and suffering. So much time hidden, camouflaged with a complicity that cannot be explained until someone realized that Jesus was looking and others the same… and they set about to sustain that gaze.

And those few who began to weep have touched our conscience for this crime and grave sin. This is what causes me distress and pain at the fact that some priests and bishops, by sexually abusing minors, violated their innocence and their own priestly vocation. It is something more than despicable actions. It is like a sacrilegious cult, because these boys and girls had been entrusted to the priestly charism in order to be brought to God. And those people sacrificed them to the idol of their own concupiscence. They profane the very image of God in whose likeness we were created. Childhood, as we all know, young hearts, so open and trusting, have their own way of understanding the mysteries of God’s love and are eager to grow in the faith. Today the heart of the Church looks into the eyes of Jesus in these boys and girls and wants to weep; she asks the grace to weep before the execrable acts of abuse which have left life long scars.

I know that these wounds are a source of deep and often unrelenting emotional and spiritual pain, and even despair. Many of those who have suffered in this way have also sought relief in the path of addiction. Others have experienced difficulties in significant relationships, with parents, spouses and children. Suffering in families has been especially grave, since the damage provoked by abuse affects these vital family relationships.

Some have even had to deal with the terrible tragedy of the death of a loved one by suicide. The deaths of these so beloved children of God weigh upon the heart and my conscience and that of the whole Church. To these families I express my heartfelt love and sorrow. Jesus, tortured and interrogated with passionate hatred, is taken to another place and he looks out. He looks out upon one of his own, the one who denied him, and he makes him weep. Let us implore this grace together with that of making amends.

Sins of clerical sexual abuse against minors have a toxic effect on faith and hope in God. Some of you have held fast to faith, while for others the experience of betrayal and abandonment has led to a weakening of faith in God. Your presence here speaks of the miracle of hope, which prevails against the deepest darkness. Surely it is a sign of God’s mercy that today we have this opportunity to encounter one another, to adore God, to look in one another’s eyes and seek the grace of reconciliation.

Before God and his people I express my sorrow for the sins and grave crimes of clerical sexual abuse committed against you. And I humbly ask forgiveness.

I beg your forgiveness, too, for the sins of omission on the part of Church leaders who did not respond adequately to reports of abuse made by family members, as well as by abuse victims themselves. This led to even greater suffering on the part of those who were abused and it endangered other minors who were at risk.

On the other hand, the courage that you and others have shown by speaking up, by telling the truth, was a service of love, since for us it shed light on a terrible darkness in the life of the Church. There is no place in the Church’s ministry for those who commit these abuses, and I commit myself not to tolerate harm done to a minor by any individual, whether a cleric or not. All bishops must carry out their pastoral ministry with the utmost care in order to help foster the protection of minors, and they will be held accountable.

What Jesus says about those who cause scandal applies to all of us: the millstone and the sea (cf. Mt 18:6).

By the same token we will continue to exercise vigilance in priestly formation. I am counting on the members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, all minors, whatever religion they belong to, they are little flowers which God looks lovingly upon.

I ask this support so as to help me ensure that we develop better policies and procedures in the universal Church for the protection of minors and for the training of church personnel in implementing those policies and procedures. We need to do everything in our power to ensure that these sins have no place in the Church.

Dear brothers and sisters, because we are all members of God’s family, we are called to live lives shaped by mercy. The Lord Jesus, our Savior, is the supreme example of this; though innocent, he took our sins upon himself on the cross. To be reconciled is the very essence of our shared identity as followers of Jesus Christ. By turning back to him, accompanied by our most holy Mother, who stood sorrowing at the foot of the cross, let us seek the grace of reconciliation with the entire people of God. The loving intercession of Our Lady of Tender Mercy is an unfailing source of help in the process of our healing.

You and all those who were abused by clergy are loved by God. I pray that the remnants of the darkness which touched you may be healed by the embrace of the Child Jesus and that the harm which was done to you will give way to renewed faith and joy.

I am grateful for this meeting. And please pray for me, so that the eyes of my heart will always clearly see the path of merciful love, and that God will grant me the courage to persevere on this path for the good of all children and young people. Jesus comes forth from an unjust trial, from a cruel interrogation and he looks in the eyes of Peter, and Peter weeps. We ask that he look at us and that we allow ourselves to be looked upon and to weep and that he give us the grace to be ashamed, so that, like Peter, forty days later, we can reply: “You know that I love you”; and hear him say: “go back and feed my sheep” – and I would add – “let no wolf enter the sheepfold”.

Photo: Wire

The Instrumentum Laboris: Too Early To Tell

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on June 27, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

120213112905-moses-bishops-politics-story-top1Now that the General Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops has released the Instrumentum Laboris (or “working document”) for the upcoming synod on the family there have been some mixed early reactions. By and large, the preliminary response has appeared to be one of muted disappointment on some fronts, with commentators noting that on disciplinary and doctrinal subjects the document reinstates the current church teaching despite having solicited worldwide consultation from laity and clergy. Yet, there has been enthusiasm by some for the notably pastoral and patient tone that the document seems to express in recognizing the complications of modern family life.

My own view of the text arises from my personal experience of religious life and the manner in which decisions are or are not deliberated and expressed in that context, as well as recalling the possibility for surprise that we have seen in relatively recent history at the Second Vatican Council. I have some contextual suggestions arising from these two points for those interested in reading the text and making sense of it.

    • First, readers should know what the text is and what it is not. It is the equivalent of a glorified agenda. It is a packet of summarized information that highlights the thematic foci of the following discussions, at least as they are currently planned. There are three primary divisions in the Instrumentum Laboris that lend a clue to the matters scheduled to be taken up by the bishops:
      • An examination of the faithful’s “knowledge and acceptance” of church teaching;
      • A study of “various challenges and actual situations” faced by families;
      • Pastoral challenges concerning “openness to life” and raising of children.

      Each of these areas highlight potential discussions and beg responses on the part of the church’s leadership. Hopefully, if the pastoral tone present at various points in the text offer any clues, there will be a constructive and healing response to the challenges seen between the church’s teaching and practice and the lived reality of women and men of faith.

    • Second, while this text outlines the agenda and topics for discussion, it is not an “official document” in the sense that an Apostolic Exhortation, including a post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation, is. Rather, this text serves as a starting point for the preparatory study and eventual discussion to take place at the synod. Bishops are permitted under the structure to introduce their own “interventions” to respond to, amend, address, or redirect the discussion or focus on particular aspects of the synod theme. That said, under John Paul II’s pontificate, these “interventions” were required to be submitted in advance for review, a practice still on the books.


    • Third, while it is possible that the text serves as a bellwether for what will eventually result as the “official text” of the synod, likely in the form of an Apostolic Exhortation from Pope Francis, down the road, it might not as well. This is where the lessons of Vatican II come in handy. The curial offices prepared preliminary documents such as this as well as working texts that were essentially thrown out by the participating bishops upon their arrival. It is conceivable, albeit admittedly unlikely, that the bishops of the world (0r a significant portion of those conference representatives that will participate in the first synod) reject the tenor or direction of this text and offer an alternative agenda. As has frequently been the case in the pontificate of Francis to date, anything seems possible.

All this is simply to say that it is far too early for people to get worked up about the Instrumentum Laboris and the forthcoming synod. Until the bishops meet, until reports begin to leak about the discussions, until there’s an official document — we won’t know.

As for those aspects of this text that seem to suggest the unchanging of church teaching on subjects like abortion, same-sex marriage, and the indissolubility of marriage — what did people expect? A preliminary agenda-setting document such as this cannot simply gesture toward radical change of teaching in this way. That is the responsibility of the Holy Spirit in the gathering of the leaders of local churches (bishops) in communion with one another and the bishop of Rome. Again, while unlikely, it is still possible that the bishops read the signs of the time through the lens of the Gospel, as Gaudium et Spes instructs, and conclude that something needs to change. Additionally, the pastoral tone and the sense of urgency about the disillusion and pain so many of the faithful experience in the gap between their lived reality and the church’s practice and teaching offers at least a minimal sign of hope.

Photo: File

Pope Francis, Christianity, and Marxism

Posted in Pope Francis, Social Justice, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on June 26, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

77cb7cd5eWell, it’s been a rather long break on my end, but I’m back after a month off. It hasn’t really been a true break given that, rather than enjoying a vacation as such, I’ve been on the road a lot for academic conferences, Provincial Chapter, board meetings, and speaking engagements, which was the primary reason for the radio silence from the blog. Thanks to all who have patiently waited and thanks to those who have expressed their support and desire for the return of posting — your wish has come true today.

Ever since Pope Francis was elected Bishop of Rome in the Spring of 2013 his actions and words have captured the attention of millions. Most seem to be struck by the genuine humanity of this man whose primary concern seems to be rooted in the Gospel call to care for those women and men most at the margins: the poor, the disenfranchised, the ill, the disabled, the sexual minorities, and so on.

Yet, in the spirit of Dorothy Day’s prophetic insight — “when I feed the hungry, they call me a saint; when I ask why people are hungry, they call me a communist” — Pope Francis has been labeled a communist by various self-styled “right-wing” commentators. The role call of accusers is pretty familiar, including the usual suspects Limbaugh and Beck. However, this week a new voice has entered the mix, a voice that has a far-more-respected reputation: The Economist magazine.

The blogger over at The Economist takes this misguided discourse to a new level, suggesting that: “By positing a link between capitalism and war, he seems to be taking an ultra-radical line: one that consciously or unconsciously follows Vladimir Lenin in his diagnosis of capitalism and imperialism as the main reason why world war broke out a century ago.”

Pope Francis is certainly not the first to make this connection. In fact, I was thinking about former US President and 5-Star General Dwight Eisenhower’s famous admonition to the United States and world about the “military-industrial complex,” which itself presupposes the intrinsic link between military action (war) and industrial/market interests (capitalism). I think many would be hard pressed to caricature Eisenhower as a communist or “one that consciously or unconsciously follows Vladimir Lenin.”  But that is a digression.

My real interest here is in part to disabuse those who think that “Marxism,” a term thrown around without much actual study or background by most parties already named, is somehow a bad thing. Those who think it is an actual reality are first and foremost disillusioned.  It is fair to talk about the historical reality of communist governments, the USSR, for example. However, Marxism is a political philosophy that bears the name of Karl Marx and is likewise tied to a number of other thinkers too.

Some have suggested that “Marxism” (I am using the scare quotes deliberately to suggest the accusatory styling of the term as opposed to the un-quoted, which references the political philosophy) is an evil that is antithetical to Christianity. This is not exactly true. While it is correct that certain strains of Marxist philosophy are represented by self-professed atheists, the principles are what is important to appreciate. Many of these principles, concern for the oppressed, the social structures of sin, the increasing gap between rich and poor, the condition of labor, and so forth, are all deeply Christian at their core.

Pope Francis is neither “Marxist” nor Marxist. He is not a political philosopher nor an economist nor an anarchist. He is, true and true, a Christian and to be a Christian, to take seriously the Gospel, means to hold the views that he expresses and demonstrates. Period.

I am not at all surprised about the backlash Pope Francis has received. The Bishop of Rome is, after all, following in the footprints of Jesus Christ who also received a backlash for pointing out injustices and announcing the Reign of God that sought a different reality for the poor and oppressed — that backlash ended with a crucifixion. Anyone who bears the name “Christ” as a Christian, anyone who is baptized should likewise find herself or himself in Pope Francis’s position. Imagine that, imagine if we all took our baptismal vocations seriously and had to face the criticism of those who either benefit or seek to benefit from the unjust structures of wealth and power.

I suppose that is, in part, what Jesus meant when he told us that we need to pick up our crosses daily and follow him. There are a lot of people standing around with crosses still lying on the ground.

It’s powerful and refreshing to see that at least the Pope has picked up his.

UPDATE: Correction: the quote attributed to Dorothy Day above should be attributed to the late prelate, Dom Helder Camara.

Photo: The Atlantic

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