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.

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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.

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