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?