Saturday, March 30, 2013

On the Brink of Alleluia - Last day of the 45 day fast.

My stomach is rumbling and I am on the brink of Alleluia.

Today is day 45 - the last day of the fast I began on Ash Wednesday, February 17th. (still time to donate!)

In a matter of hours, the Easter Vigil will begin at my parish, St. Cecilia's in Toronto. For the 45 days of Lent Catholics do not sing Alleluia, but tonight at the Easter Vigil we will sing. We will sing and we will celebrate the mystery of Jesus Christ, whom death could not defeat.

Ryan's scale this morning
And after we sing, I will eat. There will be a meal of delicious meats, cheese, salad, bread and wine. There will be a meal and there will be a phone call - to my friend and colleague, Ryan Worms. He will be breaking his own fast at the same time in Montreal today. Yes, the best thing about this fast has been doing it together. As he wrote today,  "Une soupe par jour, le r├ęsultat est sur la balance et dans nos coeurs." (One soup per day, the result is on the scale and in our hearts.)

When I look in my heart, what is it I find after 45 days as I stand here, hours away from Alleluia and hunger still in my stomach?

My scale this morning
I find the hunger has fed my heart - my spritual desire. In my heart is a deeper yearning for our mission at Development and Peace. I so want others to join us in our search for a better world.

There is also a deep understanding in my heart that it is a great privilege be able to choose to break my fast. It is a choice that so many of our brothers and sisters do not have. For them the fast continues. The burden of hunger will not be lifted from their shoulders as it will be from mine. For that reason,  Ryan and I have both told each other that we would like to try and continue to fast in a similar manner at least one day a week.

Sharing soup together...
My heart is lighter (and not just because my body is). Along with the spiritual desire is also a spiritual peace. In some strange way, the self-denial has brought with it a liberation and self-fulfillment. Somehow, knowing that I can go without food has deepened my knowledge that there are a great many things that I can go without in my life.

When I look into my heart I see desire, understanding, and a spiritual peace - here on the brink of Alleluia.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The First Homily of Pope Francis - Walking, Building, Professing.

On the 28th day of my fast for Development and Peace the Holy Spirit gave us the first pope from Latin America. And what was his first act? To ask us all to pray for God's blessing upon him - Pope Francis, the first of his name.

Little more than a day has now passed since I sat with my father and children watching the momentous events unfold in Rome via a choppy rural Internet connection on the farm where I grew up.  Since I am not digesting much food during the fast, instead, I have been digesting the first actions of our new pope, chosen from the ends of the earth.

In the words of my friend and colleague Jess Agustin:

Pope Francis pays his hotel bill

Instead of adorning himself with an ornate gold cross as popes traditionally do, he wears a simple cross around his neck. Rather than riding in the "popemobile," he joined cardinals on a bus back to their temporary Vatican residence after his election. On Thursday, he stopped by the priests' residence where they had stayed before the papal conclave to grab his bags and pay his bill.

This seems consistent with the stories of simplicity that abound in the media. He gave up his palace and chauffeur to live in an apartment and ride local transit. He cooked his own meals and washes the feet of those living with AIDS.  Did he aid the violence of the dictators in Argentina's dirty war? If Nobel Peace Prize laureate Adolfo Perez Esquivel and Sergio Rubin are to be believed, the answer is no. I wonder if Rubin's biography of our new pope, El Jesuita, is available in English. If it's not, it will be soon.

Of all that I have read, Mary Jo Leddy's article in the Toronto Star has impressed me the most. In her reflection on the wounded angel she expresses her hope that, "like St. Francis of Assisi, he will follow the call to 'repair' the church by being with the poor."

What I was most keen to read though, was his first homily, delivered in the Sistine chapel.   In the readings for the mass, he identified the common theme of movement and broke it down into three points - Walking, Building, Professing. Turns out he delivered it in Italian without script.

It was the bit about 'professing' that I kept returning to: "We can walk as much as we want, we can build many things, but if we do not confess Jesus Christ, nothing will avail. We will become a compassionate NGO, but not the Church."

Many Catholic activists who work for NGO's are fond of the saying attributed (some would say falsely) to St. Francis, "Preach the Gospel, and if necessary, use words." We use it to stress the importance of our actions as people of faith - the importance of walking and building.

And yet, I have often felt that our use of these words serves another purpose at times.  Sometimes, these words are an excuse. They are a convenient way to excuse ourselves from speaking in the language of faith as we go about our daily work of trying to change the world and make it a better place.  I myself have been guilty of this. And yet the truth is that my belief in Christ and love for God are the beating heart of my work with Development and Peace. This is something that must be professed in words.

Development and Peace is something more than a compassionate NGO. It is true that we provide assistance for others regardless of their creed. It is true that we work closely with those who do not share our faith. It is true that we do not concern ourselves with proselytising but focus on development. It is true. Yet I believe there is no contradiction between these facts and that fact that we are the Church - the official international development agency of the Catholic Church in Canada.

Development and Peace is the Church in the world - seeking in love and truth God's justice for the poor and oppressed.  This means being ready to accept crucifixion at the hands of those who would have it otherwise. To stand for God's truth and to truly stand with the poor requires a readiness to accept crucifixion.  Pope Francis recognizes this in his homily,

"The same Peter who confessed Jesus Christ, says 'you are the Christ, the Son of the living God. I will follow you, but let us not speak of the Cross. This has nothing to do with it.' He says, "I'll follow you in other ways, that do not include the Cross.' When we walk without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, and when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord. We are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord."

The hunger I am feeling right now, the hunger that has left me more than 20lbs lighter as I start the 30th day of my fast, reminds me of the cross that nearly 1 billion of my brothers and sisters must face each day. This fast is my small way of taking up a cross as I walk, build, and profess.

When he became Cardinal in 2001, Pope Francis asked the faithful in Argentina not to spend the money to come and celebrate with him in Rome. Instead, he asked them to celebrate by taking that money and giving it to the poor.

I hope that now he is Pope, people will again celebrate by giving to the poor, to the crucified ones. Why not do so by sponsoring my fast with a donation to Development and Peace?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

To Renew the Spirit of Lent

40 Day THINKfast - The First Sunday

 Let us renew the Spirit of Lent once again.

As Ryan and I complete the first 5 days of our fast for Development and Peace, these are the words that come to me. We are grateful to those who have already donated to our own fast pages.  We are moved by those who have signed up for D&P's  Good Friday THINKfast and become D&P fundraisers in response to our call.

When Development and Peace was founded 46 years ago in the wake of Vatican II, it was mandated to "renew the Spirit of Lent". For 46 years Catholics in our parishes and schools across Canada have continued to faithfully give on the 5th Sunday of lent in support of our mission to end poverty and build a world of justice. But our annual ShareLent campaign must also now reach beyond these safe walls and out into the world if we are truly to be Christ's witnesses.

Over the last two days I have had the honour of walking with a true witness of Christ - Pedro Jimeno Barreto, archbishop of Huancayo, Peru. He has joined us in Canada to launch the national ShareLent campaign. Death threats against his life would not stop him from speaking out in defense of the poor in his archdiocese - who live in one of the most polluted places on the planet, la Oroya. His efforts, supported by your donations, have put a stop to the ecological destruction of their lives.  His witness embodies the Spirit of Lent, the move from death to life.

As D&P moves towards its 50th anniversary, it is time to renew the Spirit of Lent once again. This time: on-line, where the world now gathers. Through our on-line Fast pages, we are calling out to the world, "Repent and believe the good news."

These words, "repent and believe the good news," are spoken as we are marked with ashes for the world to see on Ash Wednesday. Repentance is not a popular word in today's culture, especially if you are trying to raise funds for your mission, as we are doing with this Fast.

But repent we must if we are ever going to live in a world that respects the human dignity of each and every person and sees the truth of God's Love. We are calling out to all those who know that the world cannot continue to ignore the cry of the poor and of the earth much longer.  We are calling out to those who know we are not sharing the riches of the earth as God would have us do. We must repent from our ways of selfishness, violence, war and destruction that are the source of so much poverty and despair.  When we desecrate the poor, we desecrate God.

I believe there are millions of us that want to repent. Because repentance is not about guilt. It is really about wanting to live a better life and to be a better person. God's love can show us how to do that. There is nothing more generous than God's love.

Generousity is the antidote. Generousity of Spirit is where goodness is to be found. Generousity is able to recognize the image of God in every human person, no matter where they come from or what they look like. That generousity is there in every one of us, beating in our heart. Through our fast we want to find that generousity - to honour it and celebrate it.

We choose to fast to renew the Spirit of Lent. We choose to fast as Christ's witnesses to the world - "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring the good news to the afflicted." Liberty to the captives, sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed. This is the Good News. Development and Peace is making it happen in our work around the world every day. Read the stories about what we are doing. Come and join us. We are fasting for 40 days. We invite you to sign up and join for one of them - Good Friday. Sign-up for the Good Friday THINKfast and raise funds for a better world!