Ask a Dad

Every year one of the most challenging parts of planning our Living Nativity “Greccio” service is finding a baby to play the part of Baby Jesus.

We’re not too particular about whether we find a boy baby or a girl baby to play the role. One year we even had twins, which was great because the first baby started screaming halfway through, and his mom ran up and switched him out with the understudy! Another year we didn’t have a baby lined up in advance, and we begged the parents of a sleeping toddler to let us cast him in the role. He slept through the whole thing.

But this year, our parish business manager gave me the name of a family whose child was recently baptized. I called them and left a message, and eventually got a return call from the dad of the family.

Normally the moms arrange these things, and I have years of experience in describing what will happen, who will be holding the child, how the baby should be dressed, that we will provide a clean and soft white blanket to cover whatever the baby is wearing, that it only takes about 20 minutes and that it is outside and there are real animals.

And normally the baby’s mom will freak out over one or more of these things, and I have to reassure her that her child will not be handled by a snotty-nosed four-year-old but instead by reliable teenage girls, and that the animals will not touch the baby, and that I’ll bring a gallon of hand sanitizer, and that I use hypoallergenic laundry detergent.

But when the dad makes these arrangements, he says things like, “Great!” “No problem!” “Sounds good!”

I’m definitely going to make it a point to talk to the dads in the future when we plan our events.

Where’s Uncle Louis when you need him?

Sometimes being the leader has its pitfalls.

I have mentioned before that as the minister of my Secular Franciscan fraternity, it falls to me to be the meeting leader. I find this difficult because of the age difference among our members. It’s uncomfortable for me to try to get people who could be my grandmother to stay on topic, when they take a stroll down Memory Lane in the middle of ongoing formation or the business meeting.

In our fraternity we have a lovely older woman who resembles “Aunt Bethany” from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation more and more with each passing minute. We all love her, and we all understand the medical conditions that she suffers with, that cause her to lose track of conversations.

Last night was no exception. We got through formation and the business meeting and then we listened to a report on a wonderful workshop that one of our members attended last month, in Loreto, PA. Then it was time for the closing prayer (that’s my job). So I began. “Let us pray.” Everyone settled down. Just as I was about to begin the prayer, Aunt Bethany piped up, “What county in Pennsylvania did you say St. Francis University is located in?”

About four people simultaneously corrected her: “Aunt Bethany! We’re PRAYING!”

I just sat there trying my hardest not to laugh, or look at anyone, because all I could think of was Uncle Louis with his toupee falling off, yelling, “The BLESSING! They want YOU to say the BLESSING!”

I swear it was only by the grace of God that I was able to get through that prayer with any kind of composure at all. But sometimes, just like when you deal with children, it’s more charitable to see the humor than to lose your patience.

I’m Tired of Keeping My Mouth Shut

So when I received an email today, sent from a member of the SFO Regional Council, asking me to watch a “compelling” video about the environment by Al Gore, I recycled a few of my blog posts (how “green” of me!), did a little research, and responded. I might have to take some heat for this, but if I’d kept my mouth shut, I couldn’t live with myself (or my family. My kids watch and learn from what my husband and I say and do.)

So here’s my response.

“This video may be “compelling” but Al Gore’s position as an environmental doomsayer is less scientific than theatric. According to this article, which links to this piece from the London Daily Mail, Pope Benedict XVI has repudiated such fearmongering. In fact, the planet Mars, as well as other planets in our solar system, is also experiencing “global warming” at this time. Climate change is real, but it is not entirely under human control. Climate change happens all the time, on every planet.

Al Gore is not the environmental Messiah that he purports to be. And his voting record and position on life issues, once he reached the U.S. Congress, is abysmal.

Have you visited the website and checked out the committee members? They include Sierra Club, which is a pro-choice organization by its own admission.

Saint Francis of Assisi has apparently come to be considered the Patron Saint of Earth Day, ecology, and all things “green.” But the green movement does Francis no justice when insistence is placed on “green for green’s sake.”

The only thing the Francis was interested in for its own sake was God.

Yes, he had a great reverence for Creation–the earth, nature, the sun and moon and all the animals, plants and trees. But his reverence was born from his awe of the power and creativity and genius of God. To Francis, every bit of God’s creation reflected God’s glory–and that is what made creation something to be revered. Francis saw God’s glory, power, creativity and genius in everything and everyone, and strove to act accordingly. Let us remember that while it’s great to reduce waste, recycle or reuse what we have, and try to create less garbage, the reason we do this is to treat God’s creation with care–to be good stewards of what we have been given. It’s not enough to be “green.” We should also be grateful.

We cannot sacrifice Francis’ deep message on the altar of ecology.

Pope Benedict has spoken about who Saint Francis really was. He’s not just that guy in the birdbaths. He’s not some enviro-hippie.

Benedict XVI said he wanted to correct the “abuses” and “betrayals” that distort the true character of Saint Francis. And to recall the false view of Saint Francis, Benedict XVI needed just two words: “environmentalist” and “pacifist.” …The truth of Saint Francis – the pope emphasizes – is his “radical choice of Christ,” the conversion awakened in him by the words of the crucified Jesus: ‘Go, rebuild my house.’

It’s not about peace protests. It’s not about ecology. It’s not about blessing our household pets.

Being Franciscan is about conversion. All the rest is incidental.

In the spiritual travail that the young Francis was living through, he perceived these words of vocation and mission as being in the first place an invitation to carry out completely the conversion that had already begun, making his own the concern and plans of Christ for his Church.

So our priority, as Franciscans, is to ask ourselves how we can better turn ourselves toward God, and serve Him in our daily lives. That’s what conversion is about–turning TOWARD God.”

Wish me luck. I’ve got that Veggie Tales song, “Stand,” running through my head right now.

What’s that Tau All About?

My nieces notice, and comment upon, my Tau cross often. They consider it just a fashion accessory–but one I’m always wearing.

Today, one of them was complaining about the fact that the Tau has three knots on the cord–one on one side of the cross and two on the other.

“Aunt Bb,” she asked, “why can’t you put another knot in the other side of that cord? It drives me crazy that you have two on one side but one on the other.”

“There are supposed to be three knots on the cord, not four.”

I couldn’t remember off the top of my head what the three knots are really all about, when she asked me this. I answered, “I think they are to symbolize faith, hope and charity.” (A good guess, but wrong…Bad Franciscan!!)

“Well, if you put in one more knot, they could be for faith, hope, charity and me!”

I guess she wants to make sure that I think of her often. I do, even if I don’t put an extra knot in my Tau cord in her honor!

Serenity NOW!

Over on the left sidebar you will see that the virtue chosen for me this year by our Secular Franciscan Fraternity is: serenity.

I laughed my head off when this was announced. Anyone who knows me is well aware that I am usually anything but serene. So, OK, something to work on.

And I do feel that this year I have been given the gift, the strength of this virtue. I haven’t obsessed and felt anxious to the degree that I usually do over small things. I think that this is the first time in the 8 years or so that I have participated in the Extraction of Saints, and been given a virtue to work on, that I have felt that I’ve improved in practicing this virtue.

Which leads me to today. Tonight is the first night that I will preside over our SFO meeting as Minister of our fraternity. YIKES! I do not feel that leading fraternity meetings is one of my strengths. I’m hesitant to reel people back in when they veer off track (and we have some wonderful members who can veer way off track). Surely I’ll get better at it with a little more experience, but I don’t want to treat my fraternity members like my children or my students. For one thing, these are “more than” my peers–they are my elders; in some cases they are old enough to be my grandmother, and I don’t want to step on their toes.

I also have this dread feeling that I am being “watched” and my performance tonight will be “evaluated.” The last thing I need or want tonight is someone whose purpose there is to give me a report card.

Finally, tonight is our first meeting in our new meeting space, and that means the entire fraternity will be feeling a little unsettled.

So there is no serenity now.

Novena to St. Katharine Drexel

Barbara pointed out that it’s time for the Novena to St. Katharine Drexel.

I’ll be joining her in prayer. Will you join us?

Compassionate God, who in your Son Jesus Christ healed the sick, touched the hearts of the troubled and sent disciples to announce good news to the poor, we offer this novena for peace and for the intentions of all those who are praying with us.

Ever Loving God, You called St. Katharine Drexel to teach the message of the Gospel and to bring the life of the Eucharist to Black and Native American peoples.

By her prayers and example, enable us to work for justice among the poor and oppressed.

Draw us all into the Eucharistic community of your Church that we may be one in you. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Our Father , Hail Mary , Glory Be

St. Katharine Drexel is the patroness of my “region” of Secular Franciscans. I will be praying this novena for the intention of continued spiritual growth among the members of our region, and in particular for the members of my own fraternity as we go through some changes in leadership.

Simply the Best

That’s what we want for our families and for those we love.

And I think that was behind my post last week about my Secular Franciscan family and our slightly-past-Christmas Extraction of Saints.

At our Council meeting we decided not to dwell on “who prays for me” and we tried to gently steer the discussion off that topic when it veered there. And we knew it would, because it always does. And no matter what we said, it was going to happen, because that’s where some of our members are. There was one member who spent the evening making a list of “who prays for whom” on the back of the prayer page.

We had to let that go.

It occurred to me this morning that this whole thing frustrates us because we want the best for our family–in this case our Franciscan family. We want our brothers and sisters to truly benefit from what is truly a spiritual event in our fraternal life.

And it’s OK to do a little joking here and there, like we did when the virtue of Hospitality was chosen for our Minister and everyone told him that this meant his wife was off the hook for cleaning duty when they entertain. I think that was offset by the smiles or kind and heartfelt “thank yous” that were exchanged when announcements were made of who would benefit from special prayer by a certain member this coming year.

Our Fraternity can and will grow in love and virtue because we do have many wonderful members who truly care about each other, and we do have members who care about the ongoing formation of our members. When you love someone, you want the best for them.

Coming Soon: "Watch Your Tone!"

Amazingly, it’s not my kids to whom I’d like to address that statement. (Usually it is, but not this time.)

It’s my Franciscan brothers and sisters in my Secular Franciscan Fraternity.

Next Friday we will begin our year together with our traditional Extraction of Saints. At the Extraction we receive not only the name of a saint (often a Franciscan saint, but not always) to study and even emulate during the year, but also a virtue which we should try to cultivate, a Franciscan quote to inspire us, and the name of another member of the Fraternity or a friar or Sister from our parish to keep in special prayer during the year.

Doesn’t that sound nice? It really is nice. But there’s something that’s been going on in past years that frustrates me, and I’m stewing about how to head it off at the pass.

I really should be praying about it. And I will.

Here’s the situation. Everyone winds up winking and nodding about the virtues that come up. Sometimes it’s a compliment, like “You are already so patient, why would you need to work on that?” and sometimes it’s more like “wink wink nudge nudge, God sure knew what He was doing when he picked that for you.” And worse than that, it winds up being an evening of “what’s in it for me” as people only want to know who is praying for them. Sure, it’s nice that someone in the Fraternity is going to hold you and your intentions in special prayer this year. But what you really need to remember is that you are expected to the same for someone else! It has gotten to the point that someone in attendance is asked to keep a list of “who prays for whom.”

Well, I don’t want to do that. I don’t think that’s what we’re there for, to be so busy worrying about “who prays for me.” If we all work to foster a connection (through prayer and maybe even an occasional note, phone call or verbal wish of encouragement) with the person we are keeping in prayer this year, we won’t need that list.

I find it hard to take a stand in my Fraternity because of my age….it’s a “don’t disagree with your elders” thing. I can write very diplomatically but don’t put me in a room and ask me to correct the behavior of another adult, especially an older adult.

Tomorrow night I will be bringing this issue up at our Council meeting. Please pray that I will find the right way to approach this issue at Council and on Friday at our Extraction of Saints, so that it will be a prayerful and fruitful experience for our members and guests.

UPDATED: I really appreciate the comments I have gotten on this post and I have been thinking of how to handle all of this nicely. I did come up with one suggestion that I will make to Council tonight: put addresses and phone #s on the card with the names. We can announce before we begin that we have done this, so that it will be easier for us to contact our “prayer partner” to ask if they have prayer requests, or send an encouraging note.


I’m preparing for our Secular Franciscan fraternity meeting tonight.

A part of every regular fraternity meeting is Ongoing Formation. Right now, we are combining that with the formation of a new member who is preparing for Profession. Because there is only one candidate, the entire fraternity is participating in the formation process.

We have a formation textbook that is copyrighted 2004, but the author admits that the title and some concepts have been in use since the 1960s. And that explains some of the “Church of the Felt Banner” paragraphs in our assigned chapter for tonight. (This chapter is on the Eucharist, and prayer.)

I can hardly wait until we get the chapter on Nature. Yes, I peeked ahead.

But anyway, I’m quite sure that some of what is said in this chapter about Eucharist is actually incorrect. Like the one line, “The Eucharistic table is a place where all are welcome.”

Next time I will have to prepare farther ahead for this meeting. Then I can counteract this garbage with some good solid stuff. Like Chesterton.

We can’t complain about poor formation among our members if we’re using texts that are full of errors and liberal interpretations, and sacrifice Francis’ deep message on the altars of ecology and anti-war protests.

Hospitality Time!

Every year our Secular Franciscan fraternity has several traditional events.

First, we have our Extraction of Saints during the Christmas season. Each person is given the name of a patron saint for the year, a Franciscan quote to meditate on, another Fraternity member’s name to keep in special prayer, and a virtue to work on developing throughout the year.

Later in the year we hold our Day of Recollection. This will be the fourth time our Fraternity has hosted this event. Our speaker is the National Spiritual Director of the Secular Franciscan Order–how do we get such a famous Franciscan, you ask? Here’s our secret: his mom’s a member of our fraternity! (Too bad Ellen can’t come, but her son graduated from high school last night, so I’ll let her take a pass this year. Next year, I hope to see her there!) The topic this year is “Francis’ Canticle of the Creatures.”

As usual I will be running the Franciscan Kitchen for this event. It’s only right. This year the virtue I am to work on is “hospitality.”

I feel like I am scraping the bottom of the hospitality barrel at the moment. But last night after I came in, I read at Summa Mammas that there is grace in just doing the work. I’ll repeat the quote here:

The obedience of faith requires that we do our work. We must go on day after day, simply and humbly, not waiting for chills and thrills. Grace, not revelation, is our daily bread. Grace is enough. Receiving that, in the portion given according to the lovingkindness of our God, we must act responsibly in the situation in which He puts us, as the disciples had to do when left behind at Christ’s ascension. No doubt they felt bewildered and abandoned and would like to have risen with Him through the clouds. When the angels suddenly stood beside them and asked why they were gazing into the sky, they “came down to earth,” as it were, went back to Jerusalem to the lodging where they belonged and carried on with their prayers.

———–Elisabeth Elliot

So, after I am fortified with more coffee and a good breakfast, I will take myself and my freshly-ironed Generalissimama apron with the St. Benedict medal (wasn’t his motto “Ora et labora”–prayer and work) and my extra Sharpies, and I will do my very best to be an instrument of grace and hospitality in the Franciscan Kitchen today.