Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Introduction to the Last Homily of Fr. Christian Mondor

Notes: Friar Ryan Thornton reflects on his experience of accompanying Friar Christian Mondor on his last days prior to embracing Sister Death. This article was first published in WestFriars vol. 53, no. 6 (November/December 2018).
 
(l-r): Friars Ryan Thornton and Christian Mondor
 
As you all know, I have been covering for Fr. Daniel and Fr. Vincent for the past two weeks while they have been on pilgrimage in the Holy Land. When Fr. Daniel asked me 9 months ago whether I would do this, I had no idea that it would entail being with Fr. Christian in the last week of his life and then preparing his funeral. But I’ve come to believe that it was meant to be, that God wanted it this way if for no other reason than the following.

The first day I was back in California, before I had even made it to Huntington Beach and was still with my parents, Fr. Christian called me and invited me to visit him. He had not done this with any of the other friars, and as much as Fr. Christian had every intention of getting out of the hospital, I believe that this was his way of letting me in should he not. It was a spiritual intuition, though, not a conscious one, because he quite adamantly informed me (on more than one occasion) that scientists believe the first person to reach 150 years has already been born and he still thought that this person might very well be him.

Fr. Christians lays his hands on Ryan at his priesthood ordination
Fr. Christian accomplished many things in his life, but that would not be one of them. He spoke his last right before they began the treatments aimed at saving his life, and that same evening he was given the Anointing of the Sick; two hours later, he passed from this world to the next. It was April 25th. I, the youngest Franciscan priest in California, had anointed Fr. Christian, the oldest, on the third anniversary of my ordination. Those two moments, our two lives and ministries are now forever connected. I can only aspire to be the kind of priest that Fr. Christian was, and with his prayers and God’s grace perhaps, after many, many years, it might be so.  

Until then, I would like to share with you what Fr. Christian was saying in his final days. Because even though his voice was hoarse and the doctors told him not to talk so much, that could not and would not stop Fr. Christian. Each time that I saw him during that last week, he gave me another, slightly different version of the same discourse, and I have put it together here—as best my memory and wits allow—into what I have called, “Fr. Christian’s Last Homily.”


 The Last Homily of Fr. Christian Mondor, OFM

            “All my life I’ve been learning, and I’m still learning. They’ve been teaching me how to breathe here, but I also think that I am teaching them a thing or two. I’ve always been a short breather, but now I have to concentrate and take these long breaths to let the air get all the way into my lungs. When I do this, I think about the ruah, the breath of God that hovered over the waters (cf. Genesis 1:2). God’s breath, His spirit was there at the first moment of creation, and it is still here in His creation. Because He and His creative act have not stopped.

            You know, I’ve preached many times about how the theory of evolution does not in any way contradict the Catholic faith. People have come up to me afterwards and said, ‘Do you really think that we came from monkeys?’ And I tell them, ‘Yes!’ God could have started the process to make us before we ever came to exist. In fact, that process is still going on. The universe is expanding! When scientists, astronomers look at the edge of the universe, they see that it is moving outwards, it is still going and growing larger. What does this mean except that God isn’t finished yet?

            God is still creating. Paul was wrong: the pleroma (πλήρωμα), the fullness of time has not yet come (cf. Galatians 4: 4). The universe is not completed, God’s plan is still opening up to us. We are evolving, and our understanding of God is too. How could we say that our conception of God who is beyond time and space, which are themselves expanding, is not expanding as well? Because these concepts are the only ones we have and God is larger than them, then God is infinitely, infinitely beyond our understanding. This infinitude of God means that our finite minds must evolve to receive Him. As He expands our universe, we must breath in to let Him continue to create and recreate us. It’s all connected.”
 
-- Thus ends the homily. And while his last words were addressed to me, I believe that they were meant for us all. "Keep working," he said to me as they prepared the treatments to save his life. "Keep working."
 
Friar Ryan Thornton made his solemn profession as a Franciscan in 2014 and was ordained a priest in 2015. His ordination took place at Sts. Simon and Jude Parish in Huntington Beach, CA where he still serves as part-time parochial vicar when not in school working on his Ph.D.; it was during one of these periods of time that the events described occurred.




Franciscan Friars
Office of Vocations
1500 34th Ave.
Oakland, CA 94601
Phone:  (408) 903-3422
Email:  vocations@sbofm.org

Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Advent of Hope: A Brief Week by Week Overview

We’ve heard it said and we say it ourselves: Siempre adelante! Keep going! But we’ve also
heard it said, quite bluntly: Don’t get up your hopes! Which message should we listen to?
 
Advent, this ultimate season of hope, challenges us to consider some fundamental
questions: What gives us hope? What keeps us going in difficult times? How can our faith
traditions help us to re-center ourselves as a Christian people, a people of hope?

First a word from an unexpected center of hope. The country of Sweden, tucked away in the northern reaches of Europe, is one of the most affluent and secularized societies in the world. It has only a very small percentage of observant Christians and an even smaller, yet
surprisingly vibrant Catholic community. From Cardinal Anders Arborelius of Stockholm,
we hear these words of tremendous hope: ". . . the dark collective night (of the soul) can
even penetrate the Christian heart. We see it in the lack of vocations and in the empty
churches in Europe. Nevertheless, we need hope to continue our pilgrimage in this world.

Hope helps us see our journey from the perspective of eternity.” Referring to the French
author Charles Péguy he continues: "We talk a lot about faith and love, but often forget hope which is, nevertheless, an enormous force—even and especially in our secular society. Hope is the little sister to faith and love. We really need this ‘little sister’ for our continued pilgrimage Because it is hope that determines the direction of the journey in our lives and helps us t survive in the hardest moments of our existence. Hope is always necessary. We must not lose hope that the Lord will help us on our path."

As Christians, we look to our Scriptures to better encounter the Holy Spirit as our source of
hope. To remind us that hope is about confidence, expectation, preparation, anticipation.
Hope is about belief in God’s promise of peace, protection, and care in and through Jesus.
Our faith further reminds us that hope is both God’s gift and response to our yearning.

In Romans (5:5) we learn that “Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been
poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Hope, this “little
sister” of love, sustains us in good times and in bad; in our individual lives as well as in our faith community-- and throughout our blessed and broken world yearning for authentic and lasting peace.

Advent is the quintessential season of hope. Our readings from Scripture for this all too brief time of preparation for the Incarnation of the Lord, the coming of Jesus at Christmas, are filled with hope. You’ve heard of the 12 Days of Christmas. Well, from now until Christmas, we can celebrate in our Sunday Advent readings no fewer than 12 words from Scripture that inspire and sustain our hope. Week by week, we are invited and challenged to take time with the Word, to let the Spirit of Jesus fill our hearts with the promise of fresh, new and renewed hope. And to give us the confidence to us to trust that God always keeps His promises.
 
Week 1: In the first Sunday of Advent, God’s prophet Jeremiah (33) proclaims a season of
abundant hope-- Messianic hope—for the Israelites exiled and enslaved in Babylonian some 600 years before the birth of Jesus: “In those days, Judah shall be safe and Jerusalem shall dwell secure.” In 1 Thessalonians 3, St. Paul enjoins his community and us to: “Strengthen your hearts to be blameless before the Lord at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones.” And in the Gospel, the evangelist Luke (21) offers us an apocalyptic vision of the end times—not to frighten us, but to call us to be vigilant and to prepare for the coming of the Lord: “Stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand”.

Week 2: Baruch (5), secretary to Jeremiah, continues the legacy of his mentor: “Up, Jerusalem! Stand on the heights; look to the east and see your children. . . rejoicing that they are remembered by God.” In Philippians (1), Paul, himself in prison, tells us not to worry: “The one who began the good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.” Most significantly, in Luke 3, John the Baptist, literally a voice in the wilderness, shouts to all the world: “Prepare the way of the Lord!... All flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
 
Week 3: The prophet Zephaniah (3) applies shock therapy to jolt people out of their
desolation: “. . . The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst, you have no further misfortune to fear.” His cry is amplified in Philippians 4 this Gaudate Sunday in the middle of Advent: “Rejoice! . . . The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything…. Make your requests known to God.” And Luke (3) continues to present us with the figure of John the Baptist who humbly announces the coming of the Lord: “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
 
Week 4 is the week many people will miss Mass because that Sunday is December 23 and a
lot of folks will move their church attendance to Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Still, the
drum roll increases and intensifies as Micah (5), writing 8 centuries before the coming of
Jesus, shouts to all the world: “His greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth; he shall be
peace!” In Hebrews (10), the author quotes Jesus, our new and eternal High Priest, and
reassures us that “by this (Christ’s) will we have been consecrated through the offering of
the body of Jesus Christ once and for all.”This joyous shout of living, fulfilling hope is
ultimately expressed in Luke 1 as Elizabeth confirms her cousin Mary’s greatest hope with
this cry of hope-filled joy: “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by
the Lord would be fulfilled.”

These Scriptures of Advent intrude upon us in marvelous ways. They break the cycle of our
“stinking thinking”. They jolt us out of pessimism and apathy fed by the incessant flood of
messaging produced by people who feed upon cynicism born of despair.
Advent offers us hope: firm, solid, rooted, deep, trustworthy, clear, certain, and sealed with
the promise of the Lord himself. In a paraphrase of what St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians
about love can equally be said of its “little sister,” hope: Hope is patient, hope is kind. It is
not jealous, not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude. Hope is not quicktempered, it does
not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.
Hope bears all things, believes all thigs, endures all things. Hope never fails.


Friar Charles Talley is the Communications Director of the Province of St. Barbara. He currently resides at San Damiano Retreat Center in Danville, CA and is active in retreat ministry, both at the retreat center and all the way to Sweden. He is fluent in Spanish, French, and Swedish.






Franciscan Friars
Office of Vocations
1500 34th Ave.
Oakland, CA 94601
Phone:  (408) 903-3422
Email:  vocations@sbofm.org

Friday, November 9, 2018

Veterans Day: Honoring Those Who Serve

Note: This reflection was originally published at https://hnp.org/veterans-day-2017/

In anticipation of Veterans Day, a student friar who spent 12 years in the military reflects on the importance of the holiday and of recognizing men and women who have served in the armed forces.

Each year on Nov. 11, our nation honors the men and women who served in our armed forces. This tradition dates back to Nov. 11, 1918, the final day of World War I. In 1918, this day was referred to as Armistice Day, as the word “armistice” is an agreement made by opposing sides in a war. It wasn’t until 1954 that the Nov. 11 holiday was referred to by its current name, Veterans Day.

Perhaps you are asking yourself who these “veterans” are and why we honor them each year. According to the 2014 U.S. Census Bureau, there are 21.8 million veterans in the United States. This population includes all the men and women who served in the military at one time or another. This is a striking number, given that the population of the United States is approximately 323 million people. These statistics show that veterans make up nearly seven percent of the entire U.S. population. Most likely you know someone or many friends or family members who are veterans. My experience is that most veterans who are on active duty or previously served go about their lives with quiet professionalism. One might never be aware of the responsibility to service that veterans display.

Now, onto the second part of the question: why do we honor these men and women each year? From 2003 to 2015, I served in the United States Navy alongside some of these men and women. I consider it a great honor to have worked with individuals who selflessly dedicated their lives to a central mission.

I saw people make great sacrifices; whether it was having to leave loved ones behind during extended deployments or standing watch through the middle of the night, these veterans have gone to great lengths to protect and defend the rights of this great nation. And veterans are not just the ones who we read about going to war and into battles. Many veterans serve or have served in roles that may primarily have included hours and days of tedious training to be prepared should some action be required of them.

I want to share briefly the lives of two individuals who have strongly influenced me during my time in the military. These men are Lt. Brendan Looney, USN, and Capt. Owen Thorp, USNR. Unfortunately, both of these men have passed on to eternal life, however, during their life here on earth, they both had a strong impact on many people. Lt. Looney was a fellow lacrosse player at the United States Naval Academy and went on to become a Navy Seal. His genuine spirit of kindness along with his commitment and perseverance always stood out to me.

Capt. Thorp was a kind, compassionate leader who strongly valued his faith. As a submariner, I don’t believe he ever had to serve in any hostile combat. However, as a long-serving engineering instructor at the academy he used his strong Catholic faith and belief in the development of young leaders to provide immeasurable care, counsel, and encouragement to many midshipmen he met while serving there. On one occasion, he mentioned to me that he thought I might have a vocation to religious life. While I distinctly remember wrestling with this idea, it turns out that he had some wisdom there.

You all probably know some veterans as either family or friends. Let us remember all of those individuals even the ones we don’t know on this Veterans Day in gratitude for their selfless service.

Peace & all good.  I wish you a happy Veterans Day!

Friar Steve Kuehn is a member of the Holy Name Province. A 2003 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, he grew up in Annapolis, Md., where the academy is located. He is the youngest of four children. His father, Leo Kuehn, was a Commander in the Navy and served in aviation as a naval flight officer onboard P-3C aircraft.  Steve now lives at St. Joseph’s Friary in Chicago and studies theology at Catholic Theological Union.



Franciscan Friars
Office of Vocations
1500 34th Ave.
Oakland, CA 94601
Phone:  (408) 903-3422
Email:  vocations@sbofm.org

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

A Diaconate Ordination: Behind the Scenes


It was 4 o’clock in the morning. I was wide awake and could not go back to sleep. It was the day of my diaconate ordination. In about 6 hours the bishop would be laying his hands on me, invoking the Holy Spirit to empower me to assume this ministry that has existed since the time of the apostles. Although I had been a Franciscan friar for almost 10 years by this time, and had professed my solemn vows two years prior, I was still filled with trepidation. The clerical status (that of priests and deacons) is such a highly visible, public ministry in the Catholic church. I wasn’t sure I could take on that tremendous responsibility. I doubted my worthiness of such an important, holy office.

I tried watching something on TV. It did little to ease my anxiety, so I decided to walk out of the house. There was a meditation chapel next to the friary on the grounds of the Franciscan Renewal Center. I was starting to walk over there when I noticed a cozy, peaceful-looking ramada. The sky was softly lit up by the early light of dawn. Beautiful desert vegetation surrounded the ramada. The birds were chirping. The early fall air felt cool on my skin. I had always prayed better when i was out in nature. I made a turn and started walking toward the ramada.

I sat there in quiet for awhile, taking in all the beauty around me. Then I started saying my prayer. I could only mutter one sentence, over and over again: “I’m scared, Lord.” Plus the sobbing. For the last few days I had been so busy preparing for the ordination. I also had to introduce myself to the community, which meant lots of smiling and shaking hands. Little did I know that I had been suppressing all the nervousness, anxiety, and other unpleasant emotion. It was only then that I could open the flood gate and let all the raw emotion come out.

Then the sun started to appear in the horizon. I could feel its warmth on my face. I paused my lamentation. Suddenly I remembered one of my favorite songs, Rawn Harbor’s rendition of Psalm 27: The Lord is My Light and My Salvation. Finding a new strength, I started walking back to the house. There, I pulled out my Bluetooth speaker, searched for the song on my phone, and played it in full volume. I jumped in the shower and sang along. The belting out of the cantor, along with fresh, warm water, gave me a bit of energy.
 


After I got dressed, I went out go get coffee. A friend of mine sent me a Starbucks gift card with a generous amount of credits. I decided to finally give Pumpkin Spice Latte, that great American fall tradition, a try. I splurged and ordered a grande. Then I sat there for awhile and did more reflection. I looked back at my past life, of all the things that had been helpful to my vocation, and some that had served more as a distraction. When I checked my watch, it was time to get back.

Around 9 AM, I walked into the church. The choir was practicing and the sacristans were preparing the space. A couple of guests who had come early greeted me. I still had a little anxiety and didn’t feel like greeting a lot of people. So I went into hiding in the Blessed Sacrament chapel. It also always felt cooler there than in the church. I knew I was going to sweat a lot. I naturally do anyway, but this time it was further exacerbated by my nervousness. I thought sitting there would calm and cool me down.

That sense of calm and cool didn’t last very long. I had to go back to the seemingly warm church. The bishop was already there, so my anxiety went up. Then it was time to line up for the entrance procession. In my nervousness I neglected to say hi to my brother friars who had come to support me and were lining up in front of me. I only remembered making a special request if one of them, who had been a good friend to me, could sit next to me during mass. Maybe he could catch me if I fainted.

Somebody gave us the sign to start the procession. I forced my legs to move. As I stepped into the worship space, the choir was still singing the prelude. It was Chris Muglia’s “You Are Welcome Here.” 

Come all you wounded and weary
Come all you heavy of heart
Come with your fear and your burden
Come with your pain and your scars

You are welcome here, come as you are
You are welcome here with open arms
Bring your burdens, bring your pain
Bring your sorrow and shame
You are welcome here, come as you are.

I choked back my tears. I looked away from the assembly in an attempt to hide them. I cried because at that moment I really felt embraced lovingly by God. It was as if the words of that song were directed specifically to me. I was the one with the heavy heart. I was the one filled with fear, sorrow and shame. How could a man like me be a deacon of Christ? Yet God was saying to me, through the community in their song: “Come as you are!”

I wiped my tears and turned my head back toward the assembly. My heart, my steps felt lighter. I found it easier to crack a smile. The rest of the mass seemed like a breeze, despite problems with the AC and trying to keep my stole in place. As I laid prostrate during the Litany of Saints, I tried to imagine all the saints mentioned surrounding me, especially Oscar Romero and Pope Paul VI who had just been canonized a week earlier. But somehow it also came to my mind all the migrants that had died on our southern border. I vividly remembered a photo of  one of them, a 14-year-old girl from El Salvador named Josseline. I also remembered Richard Purcell, a friar who helped me a lot during formation and died not long after I finished novitiate. Again, I felt a little strengthened knowing that all these people, on earth and in heaven, were supporting me.

Some of my old friends from my years with the Indonesian Catholic young adult group in Los Angeles traveled the long distance to be with me. Their presence reminded me of what prompted me to walk this path into priesthood for the first time. It was the time I had spent with them, praying, singing, sharing our faith, feasting, serving, and laughing that inspired me to want to dedicate all my life to the Church. We can barely call ourselves young adults now. Some of them even have already had kids.

A couple of days later I finally had time to open all the congratulatory cards. One of them had a piece of paper attached. On it was something scribbled by one of my friends' kids. My friend told me that on that long road trip from California, his kid had been busy flipping through the pages of his Bible, trying to find something to write for me. My tears began to flow as I was reading it. It was the perfect prayer for what I experienced that morning of my ordination. Through a 7-year-old, I was reminded that God had been with me throughout that very special day, and all my journey that got me this far.



Friar Sam Nasada joined the friars in 2009, professed solemn vows in 2016, and received his Master of Divinity degree from the Franciscan School of Theology in 2017. He was ordained to the diaconate in October 2018 and currently serves at the Franciscan Renewal Center, Scottsdale, AZ.

Franciscan Friars
Office of Vocations
1500 34th Ave.
Oakland, CA 94601
Phone:  (408) 903-3422
Email:  vocations@sbofm.org