Stretching Toward the Kingdom

Stretching Toward The Kingdom (Mark 2:20-22)

In his reflection this week Fr. Thomas Mckenna of the Eastern Province of the Congregation of the Mission reminds us that “Jesus is bringing us a new world, the world of his Father’s Kingdom. It won’t fit snugly over the previous forms of serving God and neighbor – and as a matter of fact, will crack them open if they don’t loosen and allow in the freshness.”

A key theme in a recent workshop on intercultural living was stretching – the oftentimes painful effort needed to expand our perspectives and widen our view of what true and valuable. Coming to understand and then appreciate how others view their world requires a lot more than gaining a concept. It asks us to work through the fears of stepping into unknown spaces and to push out against the boundaries of present experience.

When a person doesn’t stretch a worldview but hunkers down inside it, nothing ever changes, nothing novel enters. Keeping tight and secure boundaries is a formula not just for isolation but also for resisting anything that’s different.  No stretching, no ability to take in the newly given riches.

And isn’t that what Jesus touches on in Mark’s second chapter? If the cloth is old and rigid, any newer more pliable fabric will pull away from it. If the wineskin is brittle and doesn’t bend, it won’t withstand the expansion any new wine brings.

What Jesus is bringing is a new world, the world of his Father’s Kingdom. It won’t fit snugly over the previous forms of serving God and neighbor – and as a matter of fact will crack them open if they don’t loosen and allow in the freshness.

The jostling that happened in the early Church is a good instance of this. Jesus proclaims that God’s plan is for everyone, Jew and Gentile, man and woman, slave and free.  But for some, the boundary of God’s reign was drawn primarily around Israel and couldn’t be expanded to take in its vastly wider scope. So buckling under the strain, the Jerusalem church eventually shrivels while the Gentile one prospers.

We see Vincent de Paul tugging at the old cloth of a tradition that all religious women should remain behind the walls of a cloister. Stirred by new needs of a new time, Vincent pushed against these structures and with his Confraternities and Daughters of Charity injected some of Jesus’ suppleness into the fixed forms of the day.

In these weeks of remembering Martin Luther King, Jr., similar lessons arise for race relations. The unbending wineskins of white privilege hold any number of assumptions about whom should be given first place. Dr. King’s challenge to insert more elasticity into the skin of that calcified view echoes Jesus’ overall call to keep extending the boundaries of the Kingdom’s justice.

The warmth of Jesus Spirit forever blows over frozen forms and practices of the status quo, softening them to take in the newness coming from The Father’s Hand. Though this stretching exacts its cost, is this not the price of “Thy Kingdom Come.”

Eternal Peace to James Bamber, brother of Fr. William Bamber

January 28, 2019

James E. Bamber, 87, of Havertown, PA, passed away on January 25, 2019. James was the loving son of the late William and Kathryn (nee Liston) Bamber.

James was an electrician by trade and worked for Global Marine Inc, University of Pennsylvania and St. Joseph University. He was a 20 year Veteran of the U.S. Navy and served during Vietnam and Korea.

James was the devoted husband of the late Mary J. Bamber (nee Rogers); beloved father of Mary Bamber, James Bamber (the late Denise), Alice Haggerty (Kevin), John Bamber (Patricia), Kathryn Bamber Cloran, Jane Procopio (Robert), and William Bamber (Joanne); caring brother of Rev. William Bamber, C.M., the late Lillian Green, and Sr. Marie Alice, IHM.  He is also survived by his loving grandchildren and great-grandchildren

Relatives and friends are invited to his Visitation:

Friday, February 1, 2019
Visitation 9:30 to 10:30 AM
Funeral Mass 10:30 AM
Sacred Heart Church
105 Wilson Avenue,
Havertown, PA 19083

Interment Private

Condolences may be sent to:
Mary Bamber
17 Shelbourne Rd
Havertown, PA 19083

Please remember James in your prayers.

Our Universities and Our Mission in Action – Part 2

The second of two stories that show our Universities and our mission in action.

University Chaplain Opens His Heart to St. John’s Community

Fr. John Holliday, CM  knows from personal experience the journey of many of today’s students.

“I came back to the church and changed my life at a relatively late age. I hope that helps people to realize that things are not necessarily over when you enter the later stages of life.”

Born and raised in Wilmington, DE, Fr. Holliday said he grew up in the Catholic faith, attended Catholic schools, and considered becoming a priest when he was a teenager. But he “fell away from the Church” when he turned 18 and spent nearly 20 years managing restaurants and movie theaters. The death of his father at only 58 years old caused Fr. Holliday to reevaluate his life, and he soon returned to practicing his Catholic faith at his local parish, the Cathedral of St. Peter in Wilmington.

Today Father John J. Holliday, C.M., is quick to name one of his favorite parts of his job as University Chaplain at St. John’s.
“It is working with young people,” said Fr. Holliday, who arrived on the Queens, NY, campus in August 2017, after spending his priesthood as pastor of several parishes in Emmitsburg, MD, and Philadelphia, PA.

“In parishes, the people who are 18 to 24 years old are either away at college or they are not going to church anymore, so you do not see many young adults,” he observed. “But here, we are surrounded by young people—we are in the middle of all of their energy, and they are at a transitional point in their personal and spiritual lives. They are full of excitement and optimism about beginning their careers and going out to change the world. That attitude is very contagious.”

Sharing his own journey

One of his main goals, he said, is to encourage students not to take their spirituality and their relationship to it for granted.

“They should also ask questions and know that Campus Ministry can help them figure things out instead of trying to do it on their own, the way I did.”

Several years later, he rekindled his interest in joining the priesthood and found his way to the Vincentian community after realizing he wanted to work primarily in service to the poor and marginalized. At 40, he was accepted into the formation program of the Eastern Province of the Congregation of the Mission and was sent to St. John’s to study philosophy. He graduated in 2000, and at 47, he was ordained into the Vincentian priesthood.

“I think it just turned out that God thought I would make a better priest at 47 instead of at 27,” Fr. Holliday said.

See also Our Universities fulfilling the Vincentian Mission – Part 1

Our Universities and Our Mission in Action – Part 1

Niagara University students give up their Christmas back to serve

Living the mission of Niagara University’s patron saint, St. Vincent de Paul, three dozen students took personal time from their Christmas break to travel to Houston, TX to assist in the relief efforts from Hurricane Harvey. The students work focused primarily on repairing and rebuilding homes damaged during the hurricane more than a year ago.

John Prior, ‘75 and Catholic Charities hosted the BASIC crew for dinner. The group was joined by Bishop George Shultz and NU alum Tim Carroll,’84.

The trip was organized through Niagara University’s Office of Campus Ministry, and was part of the biannual program Brothers And Sisters in Christ (BASIC).

“The homeowners have been displaced or living in a construction zone for a year and a half since Hurricane Harvey. The devastation is unbelievable,” said Kristina Daloia, the university’s director of campus ministry who helped organize the trip and served as a chaperone. “We hear about it in the news for a few weeks, maybe a couple months, and then the news stops, but the struggle continues in Houston. We will definitely be returning to these communities.”

Working in the small rural communities of West Columbia, Holiday Lakes, and Richland, the home improvement work included installing insulation, hanging siding, painting, building a porch, hanging dry-wall, taping, mudding, and sanding dry-wall, interior wall texture and painting, and installing floors.

The groups begin each day with a prayer for their work, safety, and the homeowners, and concluded the day with reflection, which included journaling, partner discussions, and group sharing.

Although the work was hard, and a snowstorm in Buffalo extended the group’s stay in Texas, the students raved about the experience, “Despite having to stay three extra nights …being in Texas and helping fix up homes to help after Hurricane Harvey was one of the best experiences of my life,” said Brigid Burns, a junior sociology major. “I could not have asked for a better trip or better people to spend it with, and I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to help those in need and meet amazing people who I will never forget.”

In addition to the daily work students were able to do a little sightseeing in the Houston area, including the beach town of Galveston, the museum district and Rice Village in the city, and because of the extended stay, some students were able to visit the NASA Space Center.

Proving that purple pride stretches around the globe, the students also had a chance to meet members of the Niagara University alumni network. Elaine Nowak, ‘91 hosted the group for dinner at her home, and John Prior, ‘75 treated the group for dinner at the local Catholic Charities. The even had a chance to meet Niagara alum, and basketball hall of famer, Calvin Murphy, ‘70, who stopped by the work site to greet the students.

BASIC trips are service immersion trips that take place over winter and spring breaks and allow students opportunities to travel, meet new people, build community, learn, and serve in the Vincentian spirit.

See also Our universities fulfilling their Vincentian Mission – Pat 2  

Gospel Joy in a  Vincentian

Gospel Joy in a  Vincentian – Fr. Tomas Mavric speaks to Vincentian Youth in the context of WYD Mass

Readings: Isaiah 52:7-10; 1 Corinthians 1:26-31; 2:1-2; Matthew 5:1-12

An improved translation is available at famvin.org

My very dear young Vincentians, I am delighted to be with you here today. You have gathered from all over the world to celebrate our Vincentian heritage prior to the events of World Youth Day. I trust that this meeting will be a wonderful experience for you, grounding you in the charism and spirituality of Saint Vincent de Paul. May it mark your life now and forever.

The theme for today is, “The joy of the Gospel in the Vincentian.” You will recognize that the first part of this phrase comes from the Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, of our Holy Father, Pope Francis. The organizers of this event want to highlight, from the start, the joy of the Gospel that fills the heart and life of those who meet Jesus, who allow themselves to be saved by Him, freeing them from sin, sadness, inner emptiness, and isolation. With Jesus, joy is ever reborn in our lives.

The readings we just heard fit in very well with today’s theme. Isaiah emphasizes the beauty and joy that are part of sharing the good news with others. Paul reminds us that we are in Christ Jesus because of God’s choice of us. Jesus Himself teaches us that we are blessed when we live lives that are poor in spirit, gentle, merciful, desirous for what is right and just, and accepting of insults and persecutions because we of Him.  

As Vincentians, I want to encourage you to witness to the joy of the Gospel. Our meeting with Jesus and the freedom that fills our hearts come from our service to the poorest. We want to share this joy with the world, to spread it to others. To do so, we not only must meet Jesus first, but also stay with Him, walk with Him, make Him the very center of our lives, and never wander away from Him.

For us Vincentians, the joy of the Gospel comes from a conviction that, as Vincent de Paul said, we continue the mission of Jesus on earth. We are called to announce through our words and works that we are at the service of the poor or, in other words, at the service of Jesus Himself. This is evident from Jesus’s own words in the 25th chapter of the gospel according to Matthew, “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers or sisters of mine, you did for me” (25:40).

Isaiah tells us: 

How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of the one bringing good news,
Announcing peace, bearing good news,
announcing salvation, saying to Zion,
“Your God is King!”
Listen! Your sentinels raise a cry,
together they shout for joy… (52:7-8a).

Yes, bringing the good news to others through our service is a reason to shout for joy.

In doing so, we are answering Jesus’s invitation to follow Him, to help Him, to be His collaborators on the mission that still endures. Our response should be a loud “Yes,” because Jesus helps us too. He does not abandon us. He gives us all we need in life. He opens for us the doors to Heaven, to eternal life. We respond to Him by getting on board with deeds, example, and words to witness the joy that comes from following in the path of Jesus.

Our Holy Father addressed his message for World Mission Sunday this past year specifically to you. Its theme was, “Together with young people, let us bring the Gospel to all.” He said:

You too, young friends, by your baptism have become living members of the Church; together we have received the mission to bring the Gospel to everyone. You are at the threshold of life. To grow in the grace of the faith bestowed on us by the Church’s sacraments plunges us into that great stream of witnesses who, generation after generation, enable the wisdom and experience of older persons to become testimony and encouragement for those looking to the future. …

This transmission of the faith, the heart of the Church’s mission, comes about by the infectiousness of love, where joy and enthusiasm become the expression of a newfound meaning and fulfilment in life. The spread of the faith “by attraction” calls for hearts that are open and expanded by love.

Pope Francis also reminded us that being missionaries helps not just the other person, but also helps us to deepen our own faith. He expressed it this way: Christian faith remains ever young when it is open to the mission that Christ entrusts to us. “Mission revitalizes faith,” in the words of Saint John Paul II. Likewise, by being a missionary, we even do good for ourselves, because the experience opens so many new ways to understand better the other person as well as ourselves.

In the Preparatory Document from last October’s Synod of Bishops, one thought speaks very strongly to our charism: Charity is the preferential place for vocational discernment. It stated:

Social activities and volunteer work provide opportunities for unselfish service. In this regard, meeting with those who are poor and on the margins of society can be a propitious opportunity for spiritual growth and vocational discernment, because, from this vantage point, the poor can teach a lesson, indeed they, in themselves, are bearers of the good news that salvation is experienced in weakness.

It also noted that contact with poverty, vulnerability and need are of great importance on the road to vocational discernment. Through the experience of service to the poor, Jesus helps us understand and discover our call in life: to married life, to single life, to the consecrated life as a Sister, Brother, Priest.

Last year we celebrated the 400th anniversary of the Vincentian Charism and this year we embarked on the Fifth Century of the Charism. As I mentioned in my letter of last January, we should keep in mind and attempt to deepen two areas:

  1. our own Vincentian Spirituality and Charism by getting to know better the Saints, Blessed, and Servants of God of the Vincentian Family.
  1. the Culture of Vocations.

In my letter for the feast of Saint Vincent this past year, I focused on the first of these two areas: that of getting to know better the Saints, Blessed, and Servants of God of the Vincentian Family. I suggested that the various entities (schools, parishes, etc.) within the different branches of the Vincentian Family could choose a Saint, Blessed or Servant of God in order to become better acquainted with that person’s life and also make him or her known in their surroundings, the society in which they live, by different initiatives. Through such specific saints, we can present the Vincentian Charism in action to the larger society.

Throughout the second half of 2018, I also tried to place our focus on the other above-mentioned area: renewing the culture of vocations. This was very much in line with the most recent Synod of Bishops whose theme was “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment.” We hoped too that our Vincentian Film Festival last October would encourage young people to take up lives of service to the poor and, perhaps, follow a call to the priesthood or consecrated life. In addition, within the Congregation of the Mission, we sponsored a special ongoing formation program for the Vocational Directors from each of our provinces, regions, and international missions.

As you know, some cultures are favorable to vocations, but many are not. Those cultures that are defined by consumerism, materialism, individualism, egoism, systematic laicization of society, etc. actually promote an “Anti-Culture of Vocations,” making it very difficult to see the beauty, attractiveness, and life-giving meaning of responding to Jesus’s call. Nevertheless, I continue to trust that our efforts in this regard will help us to deepen this culture of vocations. I hope that one day it will be normal for a young person in any society, environment, or country to respond to the call of Jesus with a resounding “Yes.”

Therefore, I launch this appeal to you today. As Saint Paul said in the second reading, “consider your own calling” (1 Corinthians 1:26a). Do you hear Jesus calling you to the priesthood or consecrated life? If so, believe and trust in that call. In doing so, the choice you make will be your best life choice. You cannot go wrong in choosing to follow Jesus. I encourage you to pray, through the intercession of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, Saint Vincent de Paul, Saint Louise de Marillac, and all the Saints, Blessed, and Servants of God of the Vincentian Family for the courage to respond positively to Jesus’s call. Keep in mind, his promise from today’s gospel:

“Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven” (Matthew 5:12).

Tomaž Mavrič, CM

Superior General

Who is standing up to read the scroll today? Luke 4:16

Who is standing up to read the scroll today? (Luke 4:16ff)

A friend stands up in our world today

As I was reflecting on Jesus “mission statement” in tomorrow’s gospel I received a joyful email from Slovenia. Rok Zlender proudly announced that yesterday he had pronounced his final vows in the Congregation of the Mission.  I knew him during his novitiate here in Philadelphia.

It occurred to me that yesterday Rok had stood up in a synagogue-like setting and accepted as his mission for life as the same mission as Jesus. The scripture seemed to jump off the pages of the gospel as I placed Rok in that scene.

I wrote back to him congratulating him on standing up in our day as Jesus had done in his day.

Vincent’s way of reading the scriptures

This experience reminded me of something I had written just 2 weeks ago

Vincent not only studied the scripture, he seemed to live and breathe the scriptures especially the Gospels. He allowed the scriptures to shape the way he interpreted his life. It was as if he were reading the book of the events of his life in one hand and the scriptures in the other hand.

I realized that the times the scriptures seem most alive to me are when I see myself in the stories recounted. Of course… I always identify with the “good guys” and am surprised at how slow-witted the “bad guys” are. I surely would have recognized the young couple knocking at the door as Mary and Joseph. Oh yeah!

At one level it is easy and even somewhat glorious to place myself on the pages of scripture. It is an exercise of imagination especially when I identify with the hero. But that is not the whole story.

Reimagining myself standing up saying “This day…”

Many years ago I was handed a card that read. “If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” This is certainly a thought-provoking and a soul-searching question as evidenced by my recalling it so many years later.

So it is with reading Luke 4:14.  I realize I figuratively stood up I the church of my day when I committed myself in the Congregation of the MISSION. I committed myself to a mission of bringing good news to the poor and marginalized. Now 62 years later I wonder whether I am still on my way to saying “mission accomplished.”

The gospel is an occasion to celebrate Jesus’ accepting the mission from his Father. The passage from Luke is also a challenge to ask myself how much evidence is there that I am working toward the completion of the mission I have committed myself to.

Questions about our mission

  • Do I look for myself in the pages of scripture?
  • How conscious am I of the mission and meaning of my life?
  • How consistent are my actions with the overarching mission that Jesus entrusted to each of us?

The Vincentian Thing is Caught Not Taught

The Vincentian thing is caught not taught. Who is this Mr. Vincent who founded the Ladies of Charity, the Congregation of the Mission and the Daughters of Charity?

The Vincentian Family gathered January 25th at the Shrine of the Miraculous Medal in Philadelphia to celebrate the anniversary of the founding of the Congregation of the Mission

I first heard the story of a man called Vincent 63 years ago. Let me correct that! I first experienced the spirit of a man named Vincent 63 years ago. I was a quiet Freshman from a working-class immigrant family in his first semester at St. John’s Prep. There I met Vincentians for the first time.

It was only later that I could name the fact that in these Vincentians I was meeting were, each of them, unique embodiments of a man named Vincent – a man who changed their world.  … And because he changed their world, they would, over the next few years, change my world.

In these Vincentians, I experienced the glowing embers of the ideals of Vincent – following Christ the Evangelizer of the Poor with Vincent’s characteristic virtues

  • Honesty (Simplicity)
  • Approachability (Meekness)
  • Self-disciplined (Mortification)
  • Realistic (Humility)
  • Hard working (Zeal for souls)

(Fr. Ed Udovic’s translations of the traditional words in parentheses here.)

I am privileged to see one of these men every day. Fr. Lou Trotta, at 94, is alive and well in St. Catherine’s Infirmary.

In the six decades since then, I have learned many things about this man people called Mr. Vincent. In hindsight, some things have become clearer to me. One is that the impact these role models had on me was probably the kind of impact Vincent had on idealistic young men of his day. Another is that I am still learning about this man called Vincent.

Let me unpack these two insights.

1. I am still learning about the impact of this man called Vincent. Of course, over the years I learned much about what he did and how he changed the face of France and the Church 400 years ago. But it is only in my later years that I have realized how he has impacted the Church in which I have lived for 80 years. And you in your lifetime!

Just look around at the most vital movements in the Church today. You will see the still glowing sparks of the practical love of Vincent de Paul that ignited the hearts of so many women and men of his day. With their help, Vincent changed his world. In doing so he also anticipated many of the most exciting currents in our Church today…

  • A lay centered church focused more on the People of God and the poor than the hierarchy
  • A recovery of the ideal of a church of the poor
  • A concept of holiness that is more mission-oriented than a monastic emphasis on personal sanctification
  • A practical vision of the role of women in ministry
  • A commitment to forming priests who have “the smell of the sheep”

When you think of it, in some senses, we are still trying to catch up to him!

Surprised at his influence on things we take for granted? Most people, even many who think they know Vincent, are unaware of how much Vincent de Paul has shaped the Church of today.

2. The other insight is particularly relevant on this day when we celebrate the impetus for his founding a group of men known as the Congregation of the Mission… his genius for networking and working smarter.

When I was ordained 53 years ago, I handed out a little memento with the words attributed to Vincent: “Let love light my mortal flame until others catch the living flame.” I now think I have an understanding that that was precisely how the Congregation of the Mission… and the Ladies of Charity, the Daughters of Charity, etc. … came into being.

Vincent did not have access to the media we have today. But long before the term was invented, he demonstrated the impact of word of mouth or viral media. His life was contagious and lit that flame in the hearts of those who resonated with the mission of Jesus to bring good news to the poor.

But there is more. Vincent was a genius, a genius at networking and bring people together.

It was just some 20 years ago when I had begun collaborating with the wider Vincentian family that I began to understand some forgotten or poorly understood truths about Vincent’s approach to ministry. I have come to call them “forgotten truths.”

    • The truth is that … he was convinced that others shared his vision and would be generous in their response to needs. “The poor suffer less from a lack of generosity than from a lack of organization.”
    • The truth is that … he was humble enough to ask others to help. He was not wedded to any messianic delusions or “Lone Ranger” tendencies of thinking that he had to do it on his own.
    • The truth is that … he was adept at involving others in what he saw needed to be done. He found his strength in accepting his limitations.
    • The truth is that … so often he had the courage and the skill to walk where few had walked before.
    • The truth is that… he courageously spoke the truth to power.

Thank you, Vincent de Paul.

Thank you for illuminating our lives with the flame of love manifested in your virtues of honesty, approachability, self-discipline, realism, and hardworking zeal.

The Vincentian thing is caught, not taught!

Thank you for teaching us by example the power of networking with others, working smarter and bringing about real systemic change in society.

Thank you, Vincent!