Archive for Franciscans

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 oliver.ortega@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @ByOliverOrtega.

Photo: Zack Witman/Boston Globe

‘Duns Scotus’s Oxford’ by Hopkins

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on July 10, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

oxford-cycle_1252173iHere is a poem from the famous poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, a Jesuit who was significantly influenced by the philosophy and theology of the medieval Franciscan John Duns Scotus. This short poem is titled Duns Scotus’s Oxford and reflects the admiration the poet had for Scotus, aware as he was of the Subtle Doctor’s persistent spirit in the place where the medieval master first developed his original philosophical and theological insights that, as the poem states, “most swayed” Hopkins’s “spirits to peace.”

Towery city and branchy between towers;
Cuckoo-echoing, bell-swarmed, lark-charmed, rook-racked,
river-rounded;
The dapple-eared lily below thee; that country and town did
Once encounter in, here coped and posed powers;

Thou hast a base and brackish skirt there, sours
That neighbour-nature thy grey beauty is grounded
Best in; graceless growth, thou hast confounded
Rural rural keeping — folks, flocks, and flowers.

Yet ah! this air I gather and I release
He lived on; these weeds and waters, these walls are what
He haunted who of all men most sways my spirits to peace;

Of reality the rarest-veined unraveller; a not
Rivalled insight, be rival Italy or Greece;
Who fired France for Mary without spot.

New Franciscan Minister General on the Challenge of Pope Francis

Posted in Franciscan Spirituality, Pope Francis with tags , , , , on May 29, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

The new Franciscan Minister General, Fr. Mike Perry, OFM, the American friar who was elected the 120th successor of St. Francis of Assisi last week was interviewed by Catholic News Service about the challenge Pope Francis offers to the Franciscan Order today.

Video: CNS

Francis of Assisi (Still) in the Spotlight

Posted in Franciscan Spirituality with tags , , , , , , , on January 8, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Francis of Assisi FireThis article originally appeared in the online edition of America magazine with the introduction by Fr. James Martin, SJ, that read: “We asked Daniel P. Horan, OFM, a Franciscan author, to respond to Joan Acocella’s long and substantive article in this week’s New Yorker on St. Francis of Assisi.  Ms. Acocella, a superb writer, looked at several books on Il Poverello and offered a reflection on his life.  Father Horan’s own meditation follows…”

You know that you’re not just a saint but a “big deal” when, in addition to being frequently lauded as the most-popular saint in all of Christian history (after Mary, of course), you are featured in a six-page article in the most recent issue of The New Yorker. Such is the case with Francesco di Bernardone, or “St. Francis of Assisi” as he is known to most of the world.

In what initially appears to be a review of two recent biographies of Francis — Francis of Assisi: The Life and Afterlife of a Medieval Saint (Yale 2012) by the French historian André Vauchez and Francis of Assisi: A New Biography (Cornell 2011) by the Dominican Priest Augustine Thompson — Joan Acocella’s essay, “Rich Man, Poor Man: The Radical Visions of St. Francis,” turns out to be a profile on someone who died almost 800 years ago in the Umbrian region of Italy and whose life, writings, and the religious orders that bear his name continue to influence the world.

What is it about Francis that continues to capture the attention of so many? Why would such a prestigious, if admittedly “secular,” magazine dedicate such a large amount of space to this medieval saint? The answer to these questions comes in the form of Acocella’s depiction of the Poverello, the “little poor man” from Assisi.

This is not the first time that Acocella, a dance and book critic, has dabbled in portraying saints in popular writing. Her 2007 book, Twenty-Eight Artists and Two Saints, a collection of essays, features Mary Magdalene and Joan of Arc. But there is something about this survey of the life of Francis — occasioned by two excellent (if predictably imperfect) new scholarly biographies of the saint — that draws the reader into a world that is both familiar and oddly intriguing.

The story that Acocella tells is, by and large, accurate according to the best in current Franciscan historical scholarship. Sure, there are the minor mix-ups, like when she refers to the “Portiuncula” as “a district” in Assisi (“Portiuncula,” which means “little portion,” was the nickname for the chapel that she later correctly identifies as Santa Maria degli Angeli and not some geographic region) or when she characterizes the deaths of several friars in Morocco as “murder” without the qualification that they provoking hostility by preaching against Islam (something Francis did not condone). However, like the occasional faux pas or stylistic difficulty she notes in the respective works of Vauchez and Thompson, such slight errors in fact can be forgiven easily. Mistakes are easy to make. Presenting the life of Francis in six pages is not easy to do.

Just as the editors of America are sure to get nervous when hearing a non-Jesuit or some non-professional talk about Ignatius Loyola, we Franciscans are likely to feel our blood pressures rise when a piece like Acocella’s hits the newsstands. Yet, what Acocella does here is admirable for its succinctness, while still paying attention to detail. Early into the essay, knowledgeable readers are able to relax a little.

Francis is presented as a unique historical figure, but not one of antiquated value or passé curiosity, like an artifact in the museum of saints to be viewed and admired from afar. Acocella’s Francis, shaped by her reading of Vauchez, Thompson, Thomas of Celano, St. Bonaventure, Octavian Schmucki, Paul Sabatier, and Francis’s own writings, largely withstands the test that Acocella credits to Sabatier for establishing in the late nineteenth century. Those who wish to talk about Francis, let alone present him in biography, must take seriously the scholarly developments of history, paleography (the study of manuscripts), and hagiography (the study of saints’ lives).

One of the highlights of this essay is the way in which Acocella presents Francis as a complex figure who unsettled (and continues to unsettle) both those who wished to make him out to be the champion of their respective agendas including certain iterations of “leftist causes” (Acocella’s term) and those in positions — then and now — of ecclesiastical authority who wish to “neutralize” or tame the “dangerous radicalism of the new Gospel-based theology” introduced by Francis’s life, writings, and religious orders. Francis is both a radical “leftist” and a loyal son of the church. He is also neither of these things.

This is the paradoxical reality of Francis that few have been able to capture adequately in the past. Which seems to explain, in part, his universal appeal and why this medieval mendicant continues to be attractive to religious “conservatives” and “liberals” alike. Who else can claim such a status, especially today?

Acocella is keen to note several of the characteristics about Francis and his way of life that remain universally appealing. One of these is the explicit emphasis his vision of living the Gospel places on universal holiness and the laity. Centuries before the Second Vatican Council will rightly recover and emphasize the “universal call to holiness,” Francis, a layperson (he was never ordained a priest and, contrary to a passing claim in Thompson’s book, contemporary scholarship has cast serious doubt on the legend that said he was ever a deacon), recognized that what it meant to be a Christian was the responsibility of all people.

Another thing that is appealing about Francis is the simultaneous respect he had for the church as an institution and its leaders, while also loyally dissenting and challenging some of the standard teachings and practices of the time. Perhaps the greatest example of this is Francis’s decision to meet with Sultan Malek al-Kamil in Damietta, Egypt, during the height of the Fifth Crusade. Acocella only briefly mentions this historic event, but what most who recall this interreligious moment usually fail to recognize is that Francis disobeyed both Pope Innocent III’s command in calling for all of Christendom’s support of the crusade as well as a cardinal’s order forbidding the would-be saint from crossing the enemy line at the crusader’s camp in Egypt. In an act analogous to civil disobedience — perhaps, “ecclesiastical disobedience” is the right term — Francis’s actions didn’t always reflect what some, like Pope Benedict XVI, would have us believe about this beloved Italian saint (I have written about Benedict XVI’s interpretation and use of Francis in my recent book, Francis of Assisi and the Future of Faith). Acocella seems to get intuitively that Francis was neither an unquestionably loyal son of the church nor a renegade friar.

Still, I think one of the most attractive aspects of Francis’s life and personality is something Acocella presents well in her essay. Francis was a gregarious man that, although ascetic and at-times extreme in his religious practices, could be incredibly generous, forgiving, and patient, even if that patience was occasionally tried. His renunciation of all property, and his insistence that those who wished to follow his way of life do the same, was emblematic of his desire to rid himself of the barriers that interfered with and prevented the building of authentic relationships: one’s relationship to self, one’s relationship to others, and one’s relationship to God. In a keynote address at Siena College some years ago Franciscan theologian Kenneth Himes summarized Francis’s attraction this way: “It was the fact that no one ever had to fear Francis.  Francis never sought to dominate, manipulate, or coerce anyone.  No person ever looked into the eyes of Francis and saw a lust for power or control.”

Francis’s life provides a model for all Christians, but his own words challenge the sentiments of historian Ernest Renan cited at the end of Acocella’s essay that Francis is proof of what authentic Christianity looks like. Near the end of his life Francis is remembered to have said, “The Lord has shown me what was mine to do, may he show you yours.” While the church collectively and each Christian individually can learn from Francis, the answer is not that true Christianity is achieved only when we all look like little Francis clones. On the contrary, true Christianity is achieved when, in following in the footprints of Jesus Christ, each Christian lives authentically his or her true self as created by God.

Acocella’s New Yorker piece nicely introduces an audience that might otherwise not give much thought to Francis of Assisi to a perennially relevant model of Christian living. Her treatment of his life and legacy will surely disabuse the skeptical nonbeliever as well as the pious churchgoer of the mistaken caricature of Francis that is so popularly reinscribed in the imaginations of those who think first of stone birdbaths, tamed wolves, and other such romantic images when they hear his name.

Photo: File

Franciscan Celebration of Ordination in Newfoundland, Canada

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on September 7, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

I’m writing from beautiful St. John’s, Newfoundland in Canada, up here on the eastern-most point of North America (hence the delay in posts this week). After a day’s worth of travel (mostly in a lengthy Newark layover), I arrived to this warm-in-spirit, cool-in-weather island and was greeted at the airport by three of my Franciscan brothers from the States. Shortly after my arrival, about an hour to be exact, a fifth friar arrived via Toronto and we headed into town. The last of the Holy Name Province friars to make the journey up to this spectacular part of the world arrived on Thursday afternoon, just in time for our dinner with the Archbishop of St. John’s and the diocesan clergy, family, and friends of our brother, Frank Critch, OFM.

We’re all up here to celebrate the diaconate ordination of our brother Frank. This is a very unusual situation in that such ordinations are generally smaller celebrations held in one of our East-Coast locations (mine was in Washington, DC last year), but Frank, a native of Newfoundland with many, many, many family and friends up here, was hoping to have some opportunity to share the joy of these important celebrations in the life of a friar and ordained minister with the people from home. Whereas in the United States along the East Coast it isn’t too difficult for someone to travel from, say, New York to Washington, DC, to travel from anywhere to Newfoundland is difficult and very expensive (I lucked out back in the Spring when these arrangements were being made — I had more than enough miles to book my flights for nothing, others had to pay thousands of dollars: hence the limited number of friars representing our larger community).

Because the costs are so exorbitant, it made sense to our Provincial and the local Archbishop in Newfoundland, to have his ordination to the diaconate at home and at a time and place when the hundreds of people would really want to make it, could make it. And hundreds of people did indeed show up!

The large church was packed, there were dozens of priests, and the five of us brother Franciscans present. The liturgy was very nice, as was the generous and local meal we had with the Archbishop and his diocesan clergy before the mass. Franks two older brothers also happen to be priests, the older of the two is a diocesan priest in St. John’s, and he headed the cooking crew for the great dinner — it seems that all the Critches are excellent cooks!

After the liturgy the Knights of Columbus and the Critch family held a large reception at the Knights of Columbus hall a few blocks away. There was a live celtic band, Irish step dancers, generous food, plenty to drink, and lots of laughs and hugs. The people of Newfoundland are the nicest, most warm, and generous people you can imagine.

I spoke with many of the family, friends, and guests, in part for an upcoming Dating God Podcast that will feature the story of this trip to Newfoundland and interviews with all sorts of people at the ordination; the folks here absolutely adore Frank and many have known him his whole life or for at-least 20, 30, 40 years.

This was an incredibly meaningful experience for so many, and to be a part of that on behalf of my brother friars in the states and to support my Franciscan brother and friend, Frank, has been extraordinary! Stay tuned for an upcoming podcast with so much more!

Photo: Dan Horan

One of the Best Books on St. Clare, Franciscan Life Today

Posted in Book Review, Franciscan Spirituality, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 15, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Sr. Margaret Carney, OSF, the current President of St. Bonaventure University and a well-respected Franciscan scholar, writes in her foreword to the English edition of The Poor Sisters of Saint Clare: Their Form of Life and Identity (Tau Publishing, 2010): “These pioneering contemplatives wish to promote a life for the third millennium that will adhere to ancient principles, attract modern women and inculturate the Order in new social situations.” In a sentence, Sr. Margaret summarizes the aim of this relatively new study by a community of Italian Poor Clare Nuns under the direction of their then Abbess, Sr. Diana Papa, OSC, to pray, reflect and raise important — if at times challenging — questions about their life and religious life in the 21st Century.

This is by far one of the more exciting books that I’ve read on either the Clarian life (those women who follow the Rule of St. Clare of Assisi, commonly known in the Franciscan family as the “Second Order”) or the Franciscan form(s) of religious life more broadly conceived.

The text is a compilation of the Rule of St. Clare, the Second Order Rule of Pope Urban IV, and the General Constitutions of the Poor Clares, presented in such a way as to offer a thematic selection of different aspects of their life. After the presentation of the primary texts that govern the way of life for the Poor Clare Nuns, these Sisters provide commentary, supplementary scholarship, and, most interestingly, raise questions about how to authentically live this way of life in our contemporary setting.

It might not sound like a text that would appeal to a wide audience, but for those who are connected in any way with the Franciscan family or interested in the historical development and contemporary appropriation of St. Clare’s way of life after the model of Francis of Assisi, this will be of great interest to you. It certainly is something that speaks to friars, sisters and Secular Franciscans who wish to delve more deeply into the Franciscan tradition from the vantage point of modern Poor Clares engaging their tradition head-on.

I’m inspired by the insights, questions and commentary presented by these women and hope that such work might be pursued by the men of the First Orders. As I’ve read The Poor Sisters of Saint Clare, I find myself reflecting on what a comparable project might look like for the Order of Friars Minor. Similarly, I wonder what a project of this sort might look like for women and men of the Third Order Secular of St. Francis, recognizing that something akin to this was published by the Third Order Regular communities not long ago (see History of the Third Order Regular Rule: A Source Book).

I definitely recommend this book to those who are connected at all to the Franciscan tradition, especially to those women and men who have professed to follow one of the Rules inspired by Francis’s way of life. I can’t imagine that there is a Poor Clare Sister out there who hasn’t yet picked this up, if such a Sister exists, she should get ahold of a copy of this right away. It is through the honest and courageous work, prayer and reflection of women like these Italian Poor Clares that we will continue to authentically live the Franciscan life long into the future.

Blessed Feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe, OFM Conv.

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on August 14, 2011 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Here’s a lesser-known fact about Br. Dan Horan, OFM: my confirmation name is Maximilian, after St. Maximilian Kolbe, the Polish Franciscan who gave his life in Auschwitz that a young father might live. Today, August 14, is his feast day. His story is indeed one of great inspiration and spiritual edification. Although best known for his final moments in this life, his whole life was shaped by his vocation to live as a Franciscan friar and theologian. Here is an excerpt of AmericanCatholic.org‘s Saint of the Day description of Kolbe. You can now get a Saint of the Day App for the iPhone among other ways to get information about a variety of holy women and men on their feast days.

“I don’t know what’s going to become of you!” How many parents have said that? Maximilian Mary Kolbe’s reaction was, “I prayed very hard to Our Lady to tell me what would happen to me. She appeared, holding in her hands two crowns, one white, one red. She asked if I would like to have them—one was for purity, the other for martyrdom. I said, ‘I choose both.’ She smiled and disappeared.” After that he was not the same.

He entered the minor seminary of the Conventual Franciscans in Lvív (then Poland, now Ukraine), near his birthplace, and at 16 became a novice. Though he later achieved doctorates in philosophy and theology, he was deeply interested in science, even drawing plans for rocket ships.

Ordained at 24, he saw religious indifference as the deadliest poison of the day. His mission was to combat it. He had already founded the Militia of the Immaculata, whose aim was to fight evil with the witness of the good life, prayer, work and suffering. He dreamed of and then founded Knight of the Immaculata, a religious magazine under Mary’s protection to preach the Good News to all nations. For the work of publication he established a “City of the Immaculata”—Niepokalanow—which housed 700 of his Franciscan brothers. He later founded one in Nagasaki, Japan. Both the Militia and the magazine ultimately reached the one-million mark in members and subscribers. His love of God was daily filtered through devotion to Mary.

In 1939 the Nazi panzers overran Poland with deadly speed. Niepokalanow was severely bombed. Kolbe and his friars were arrested, then released in less than three months, on the feast of the Immaculate Conception.

In 1941 he was arrested again. The Nazis’ purpose was to liquidate the select ones, the leaders. The end came quickly, in Auschwitz three months later, after terrible beatings and humiliations.

A prisoner had escaped. The commandant announced that 10 men would die. He relished walking along the ranks. “This one. That one.” As they were being marched away to the starvation bunkers, Number 16670 dared to step from the line. “I would like to take that man’s place. He has a wife and children.” “Who are you?” “A priest.” No name, no mention of fame. Silence. The commandant, dumbfounded, perhaps with a fleeting thought of history, kicked Sergeant Francis Gajowniczek out of line and ordered Father Kolbe to go with the nine. In the “block of death” they were ordered to strip naked, and their slow starvation began in darkness. But there was no screaming—the prisoners sang. By the eve of the Assumption four were left alive. The jailer came to finish Kolbe off as he sat in a corner praying. He lifted his fleshless arm to receive the bite of the hypodermic needle. It was filled with carbolic acid. They burned his body with all the others. He was beatified in 1971 and canonized in 1982.

May the example of St. Maximilian Kolbe inspire us to live as better Christians, willing to follow Jesus’s call to “lay down one’s life” for our sisters and brothers. Although most of us will never have to face that call in the literal sense that Kolbe did, we should be aware of how we do or do not respond to the needs of others each day.

St. Maximilian Kolbe, Ora Pro Nobis.

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