Horton Hears a Who, and Other Interesting Feelings about the Hurricane

The U.S. was hit by a record-breaking wave of hurricanes in the late summer and early fall of 2017 that devastated parts of Texas, Florida, and Louisiana. Fr. Mike La Lone, whose parish is in Wilton Manors, Florida, endured Hurricane Irma and posted on his experience in real time.

I feel like a Who in the story of Horton who is able to see past the profane into the sacredness of life and puts his life at risk to share the story of the Who with those who will listen, of which there are none, then there are many.

As I watched the people line up for shelters, the line from the movie that played in my head was “We are here.” In the frustration and the fear felt and heard from those waiting for shelter, all I could hear was we are here, we are here, but the shelter was nowhere near.

My heart goes out to those who spent the day in the hot sun waiting to find respite from the storm. And though I walk through the shadow of death, We are here. The huge storm like the clover blossom will cover the state, the National Guard, the Red Cross reaching out but not hearing, the crowd crying out we are here.

And we are here. I sit in the calm before the storm wondering if the cries will be heard, how many we will lose if we are not heard. The angels will work overtime today to both protect those they can, but also to lead those who are not heard to the gates of heaven.

And yet there will be those who harm the soul when the say things like “this is God’s retribution.”

As the world around me changes, I cannot imagine what the town will look like after the storm passes, as the winds and the rains take their toll. Will my house survive or will the house and my love, my pets and my friend, end up in OZ? What will the devastation bring?

In Texas after the aftermath we saw the best of humanity, helping each other. Will it be the same here? Will some senseless human being who thinks they are God declare that it is God’s revenge, God’s retribution? Those narcissistic preachers who are supposed to preach love and the gentle touch of caring for each other often blaspheme against God when they say it’s God’s revenge. They show me they do not know God when they preach hate and play God, when they say this is God’s revenge! They see themselves as more than human, but they hurt the soul, the gateway to the kingdom, when singling out a person because of their identity, no matter what that identity be.

Satellite photo of Hurricane Irma as she approaches Florida

But I digress. The storm is a few hours away and I am reminded that I am both insignificant and significant. I am but a small speck in the cosmos, but can reach out and impact those I love and those I do not know in prayer and in service to the community. I preach God’s love, I preach hospitality which I believe is the cornerstone of Christianity and many other religions. Today I pray that the angels of the heavens reach down and touch you, touch your heart and soul, protect and guide you. May the blessing of God come to fruition in your life! This is the first post during this time but not the last. Keep safe.

* * *

Power was restored to the house on Friday 9/15/17; it left us the previous Saturday the 9th at 4:30 am. Cold showers are not my cup of tea, neither was the heat and humidity that we had for 6 days.

As we rode out the storm several different thoughts came to mind from Charlie Brown.

I remember a segment where Lucy gets a candle saying it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness; her candle went out and she cursed the darkness. I can so relate. And did I ever curse the darkness when the candle was out and I ran into the corner of the table!

Another inspiration was “happiness is a warm puppy.” It was true. I have three dogs who kept me company through the storm. The two older ones were a bit more subdued (mostly due to the heat) but the puppy wanted to play and wanted to sleep touching me. He is laying behind me as I write this.

The third thought was of Psalm 23. Though I was not fearing the darkness of the shadows of death, I realized that the shadows of darkness, both the physical darkness and the darkness of fear that came from not knowing what would happen, helped me to go through the shadow of death and come out with a new perspective on letting go, surrendering, and feeling the force of God within as the storm raged on. This led to a quite centered space that helped me remain at peace during the hours the storm raged. I could go on for hours and hours but want to keep this short. I pray that each of you who reads this finds the peace of being centered in God. I pray that each of you finds that special pet or person that gives you happiness, and I pray that the light of salvation illuminates your heart so that you never have to curse the darkness of being alone in this big universe.

Fr. Mike La Lone

St. Mary’s ANCC (Wilton Manor, FL)

Two Saints Meet: Finding a New Lens Through Which to See God and Each Other

 

In 1219, two years into the 5th crusade, St. Francis sailed to Egypt with Br. Illuminato to try and convert Sultan Kamil and end the war.

Sultan Malik Al-Kamil, leader of the Islamic armies, was as devout a Muslim as St Francis was a Christian. When St Francis and Br. Illuminato arrived for their audience with the Sultan, they had both been beaten, as was standard for Christian prisoners of war. St Francis already knew it would go that way because this was not his first time being captured in battle.

St. Francis did not come to fight, but to talk in the hope of converting the Sultan to Christianity. He gave his trademark greeting to the Sultan, something to the effect of “May the Lord give you peace.” The Sultan likely recognized this greeting in some part; the common greeting in Arabic is “Assalam Alaikum” or in English, “May God grant you protection and security.” Along with the initial greeting from St. Francis, the Sultan also observed what Francis and Br. Illuminato were wearing: what today we call their “habits” were patched-up wool tunics with a rope or cord of some sort around their waists. They were barefoot, probably bloody, bruised and dirty.

They came bringing the peace of Christ in their words, appearance and actions.

Sultan Kamil relied on his spiritual director for assistance, much like many Muslims and Christians did and still do. His spiritual guide was a Sufi mystic. The Sufi mystics’ trademark garb was a rough woolen tunic with a rope or cord of some sort around their waists. Sufi mystics lived the teachings of Islam in their daily lives as an example to other Muslims. They effectively “preached” the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad with their lives, and only used words if necessary. Aestheticism is important in Sufi mysticism, as in many forms of mysticism: living a life of poverty, going barefoot, always being of service always, fasting, and prayer are regarded as holy things to do.

Multiple accounts of this meeting indicate that the Sultan’s military and religious advisors cautioned him that giving ear to St Francis’ preaching was against Islamic teaching and bordering on sin. But when greeting people, the Qur’an urges Muslims “to be courteous to those who use a greeting of peace: Say not to those who greet you with peace, “You are not a believer” (4:94) and “When you are greeted with a greeting, greet in return with what is better than it, or (at least) return it equally” (4:86). The Sultan, being a devout Muslim, would have done his best to adhere to the Prophet’s exhortations on how to conduct oneself to honor Allah in all of his actions, words and deeds. When the Sultan asked St. Francis who was sending him, apparently expecting the saint would reply that the Church had sent him, St Francis replied, “We are ambassadors of the Lord Jesus Christ.” And so, the negotiations began.

The two men found mutual respect without changing one another’s belief system. St. Francis returned to Assisi with a different opinion of Muslims and perhaps a different, more expanded view of God. He had successfully negotiated a truce with the Sultan, who agreed to the terms of the Church; the terms were then rejected by the church leaders who initially set them.

The war raged on for another year or so, ending in 1221 with the Sultan’s armies victorious. Almost immediately, the call went out for another Crusade against the “Muslim hordes.” St. Francis retreated in prayer, and kept the Sultan Kamil, his Muslim friend and brother, deep in his heart while struggling to remain obedient to his superiors in the Roman church. In 1224, two years before the official start of the 6th Crusade, he received the Stigmata, which he lived with for two more years before his death in 1226.

Connecting the stigmatization of St Francis with the Roman Catholic decision to not accept terms of surrender that they themselves had set is pure speculation from an academic and historical standpoint. Through my eyes of faith, I can see St. Francis, beaten, bruised, and bloody, an old warrior in his own right, who had turned his sword into a plowshare, speaking with another old warrior (St Francis and Sultan Kamil were about the same age). Francis did what he thought was right and negotiated peaceful terms based on information he was given by his superiors in the Roman church, only to have those terms denied by the same superiors. What a betrayal!

If I look through the eyes of the world at Francis, who gave all his worldly possessions up for the Church, then everything he did after returning to Assisi looks superhuman and beyond my reach. He was, after all, a saint. However, looking at St Francis’ life through a slightly different lens, where his obedience and love were permanently fixed upon Christ, it all makes more sense to me and is less about superhuman actions and more about simple, humble obedience to God, above all through Jesus the Christ. The institution of the Church was the vehicle by which St Francis expressed his obedience, love, and devotion to God. He followed the Way, the Truth, and the Life as best he was able, according to his understanding, and in his own cultural context and time.

Brother Caleb Oeming, n/FCM

Holy Family ANCC (Las Cruces, NM)

 

Brother Caleb is a novice in the Franciscan Community of Mercy, and teaches Medical Assisting at a Las Cruces professional college.

 

 

Free Blessings!

The last weekend of August our parish, Sacred Heart of Jesus, committed to a booth at the Jersey City LGBTQ Pride Fest. We talked about it for months and our parish leadership committee decided who would staff the booth and what materials we would be distributing—the usual leaflet about the ANCC, a flyer about our all-inclusive parish and the Mass schedule, and some holy cards and religious medals.

My secular career is in real estate. As a realtor, Saturday is your busiest day of the week. I was out the door with my first appointment at 8:00 am and crammed a full day’s worth of work into the morning so that I could be done by noon and get to the event, which had already started, by 1:00 pm. After a hectic morning, I ran home and changed into my clerical clothing and was lamenting the fact that on this hot, last Saturday afternoon of August there were a zillion other things I would rather be doing than going to stand for endless hours on a hot sidewalk with a throng of people passing by giving cynical sideways glances of wonder as to why their arch-nemesis, a Catholic church, was at their Pride Fest.

Father Paul Gulya

As I was buttoning my shirt and inserting my collar tab, I was wondering what to do to make a difference at this event, to get the peoples’ attention and have them notice us, because we weren’t the enemy. It struck me like a bolt of lightning. BLESSINGS! My parishioners have heard me say over and over and over that “God wants nothing more than to touch your heart and to love you.” I have had the courage to step out of my comfort zone for the past 5 years and distribute ashes on the street in front of the subway station on Ash Wednesday, so why not give out Blessings in the middle of the pedestrian concourse at the Pride Fest?

Running late, I ran into my home study and printed out 5 sheets of paper with two large words on them – FREE BLESSINGS. (I wanted people to know that we were not looking for donations). I said to myself, “What the heck, if the people from my parish don’t want me to do it when I arrive, I won’t.” So I grabbed an alb and a stole and my FREE BLESSINGS sheets and summoned an Uber to take me to the Pride Fest since parking would be near impossible.

When we arrived, Scott was handing out materials and Denise was stringing holy medals on necklace cords to give out. We posted a couple of my little 8.5 x 11 black and white FREE BLESSING signs and a woman passing by said— “I can always use a blessing!” For the next 6 hours I had a steady stream of men, women, couples, children and families lining up to receive a blessing. I had media taking photos, politicians working the crowd for photo opportunities receiving a blessing, but more importantly I had the broken-hearted and those most in need of God’s love and reassurance seeking a blessing.

I prayed with a mother whose pregnant daughter had been murdered by her son’s fiancé. I prayed with a father and daughter for their wife/mother who was in rehab. I prayed with a young woman from Brazil who was publicly humiliated and banished from her parish by her parish priest when he announced to the parish she was a lesbian. I had couples asking for a blessing on their relationship. I blessed lonely singles praying God would help them find someone to share their life with. I prayed with someone who was going to start chemo the following week. I prayed with the disabled, the sick, the troubled, the addicted. I prayed with people of every race and language. And it went on and on and on.

We quickly lost count; but we estimate that it was at least 250 people that I prayed with, blessed, and embraced. God’s people are hungry to be touched and healed with God’s love. Yes, at first, I was worried about looking foolish or being made fun of by people attending the Pride Fest. But after the first couple of people came pouring out their hearts and unloading their burdens, letting me dry their tears and assure them that God loves them and will never abandon them, that melted away and I didn’t care any longer. I knew that I was doing exactly what God wanted me to do and that Jesus was reaching into their hearts and caressing them with his love. Jesus was there touching the broken in the crowd of 10,000 attendees at an LGBTQ Pride Fest on a hot summer afternoon.

Funny, isn’t it, that my lamenting and wishing I didn’t have to go to this event turned out to be a very powerful and Spirit-filled day of my priesthood? God has a funny way of doing things. You just have to love His sense of humor. As I always say: “Get out the way and let God be God!”

Fr. Paul Gulya

Sacred Heart of Jesus ANCC (Kearny, NJ)

 

 

Exploring the Call

During the weekend of November 10-12, 2017, I participated in the ANCC “Come and See” Weekend. I drove from Connecticut. I’m a parishioner at St. Joseph of Arimathea Church, a Eucharistic Minister, Lector, Religious Education Teacher, the Treasurer and likely one of the oldest Altar Servers around.

Also, I am a woman contemplating a vocation in the church.

I was, frankly, a little anxious in the week leading up to this event. I didn’t know what to expect. Like women often do, I doubted my knowledge and ability. I don’t have a formal education in theology and my Catholic upbringing was on-again, off-again. I even was questioning whether or not I had a true calling. I decided to attend because Bishop George, after I shared with him that I wasn’t sure if I had a calling, said to me, “Cheryl, you had the calling when you were baptized!” I do know that I truly love God, want to serve and over the last year-and-a-half have deepened my faith through learning with the Notre Dame STEP Program.

Fourteen men and women – well, 11 men and 3 women – participated in the weekend. We began Friday evening with a presentation of the history of the ANCC with Fr. Matthew Bailey and then Benediction and Evening Prayer. We began to get to know each other. Through the weekend, we shared our stories. Many of us were hurt by the Roman Catholic Church, felt betrayed by that church, and stumbled upon the ANCC. We shared our love of Jesus and our dedication to God. I could feel the Holy Spirit at work throughout the weekend and the astounding support and love of all involved was incredibly moving and inspiring. We laughed a lot and cried a bit and built trust, not only in each other, but in our Church.

I participated in a Mass at a county psychiatric hospital at which Bishop George presided, and realized that we can truly spread our philosophy and love of God and church among those most in need. I witnessed a portion of a Spanish mass with Fr. Andres De Leon. The weekend ended with a beautiful mass and one of our participants accepted for candidacy, Bernardo Cardona.

In the end, I realized that in our church, the ANCC, women are absolutely accepted for vocations. Yes, we can be deacons and priests – just as we’ve always thought. At this point, there is only one woman priest in the ANCC, Mother Phyllis McHugh. But I believe the Come and See Weekend retreat inspired all of us to at least consider a vocation. Both women and men know that they are at home with the ANCC.

 

Cheryl Smith

St. Joseph of Arimathea ANCC (New Haven CT)

 

You can read more about the Come and See Vocations Weekend in Fr. Paul Gulya’s “The Came! They Saw!”

 

They Came! They Saw!

The ANCC held its first “Come and See” Weekend as part of its observance of National Vocations Week. Fourteen women and men from various parts of the country made the trek from shorter distances within New Jersey but also from other areas as far as Pennsylvania, Connecticut, upstate New York, Maryland, North Dakota and New Mexico. Deacon Pat Kane, ANCC Vocation Director, is to be credited for a stellar job planning, organizing and handling the logistics for this wonderful event.

Fourteen women and men sacrificed their time and traveled far. They gathered as strangers and left as friends—no, more than that, they left as brothers and sisters sharing their desire to discern that yearning, that “call,” and pledging support to one another on the path. That first frigid Friday evening of the season, everyone gathered in a room on the second floor of the St. Francis of Assisi ANCC parish campus—curious, questioning, perhaps a little guarded at first. But that all melted away quickly as we shared a meal and our stories.

Bishop George Lucey addresses the Come and See Weekend participants

We went around the room and while our stories and our journeys may have been different, there was one common thread. Yes! The light went on inside each of us. That small voice that whispers in the depth of the heart “Come, Follow me” was being heard in New Jersey, in Pennsylvania, in Maryland, in Connecticut, in upstate New York, in North Dakota and in New Mexico. That persistent, prodding voice led 14 men and women on a cold autumn weekend to New Jersey to “Come and See.”

Our attendees included people with some exposure to theological studies, some with none, some who were already ordained in other jurisdictions. Musicians, Information Technology Specialists, Realtors, Doctors, Therapists, Health Care Administrators, Parish Workers…… yes, they came. They all heard that voice and its urging led them to that second floor room in Glen Ridge, New Jersey on the first frosty cold weekend of the season.

In that room, we heard from priests active in the ANCC who talked about their journey to the ANCC and their ministry. Father Matthew Bailey gave us a brief history of the ANCC and its place in the Independent Catholic Movement. Father Geety Reyes shared with us his pilgrimage from the Philippines to the United States and his discernment of his vocation to priesthood and the various steps of his journey from the pew to the pulpit. Bishop George Lucey spoke to the group about the basic theology of the American National Catholic Church and gave many poignant and stirring examples from the documents of Vatican Council II. Father Louis Amezaga and Father Drew Miller, Directors of Formation, took the time to explain the process to holy orders and to answer questions. Deacon Pat Kane and I hosted and facilitated the discussions.

Come and See Weekend participants sharing a meal

Yes, we learned. We shared our stories. We shared some tears. We shared some laughter. We saw. We Heard. Minds were opened. Everyone opened their hearts to each other and to the very presence of God in our midst. In sharing our stories, we each felt stronger and more secure in the knowledge that God was speaking softly but powerfully to us, that there were others just like us out there. It was a perfect weekend of these men and women getting to know the ANCC and us getting to know them in a way that could never be appreciated or comprehended in an email or on a phone call.

Part of the weekend was also the opportunity for the attendees to experience various ministries with the clergy. That included hospital, prison, wedding and parish ministry. Our weekend concluded with the Sunday Liturgy at St Francis of Assisi ANCC, our cathedral parish, with the acceptance into Candidacy of seminarian Bernardo Cardona who is currently serving on the parish staff at Sacred Heart of Jesus ANCC, Kearny, NJ, in a bi-lingual Spanish/English ministry.

It was a wonderful weekend. It filled me with the wonder, awe, joy and excitement I felt almost 40 years ago at the beginning of my own vocation process.

We ended one of our Saturday sessions with the singing of “Come Holy Ghost.” It was while singing that hymn that it struck me that we were no different from the disciples gathered in that Upper Room after the death of Jesus. Gathered to talk, to share, to make sense of it all. And God never disappoints, for indeed, wherever two or three are gathered in His Name . . .

The Holy Spirit was truly present with us this “Come and See” weekend. Please keep these 14 women and men, and all responsible for fostering vocations in the ANCC in your prayers. For, yes, the harvest is plenty.

 

Fr. Paul Gulya

Sacred Heart of Jesus ANCC (Kearny, NJ)

 

 If you would like more information about vocations in the American National Catholic Church,

reach out to Deacon Pat Kane or Father Paul Gulya, Vocation Directors at vocations@anccmail.org.

 

You can read more about the Come and See Vocations Weekend in Cheryl Smith’s “Exploring the Call”