“Good to be seen, brother.”

Started by our own Br. Jim Fields 40 years ago. The Franciscan Kitchen in Louisville, KY serves over 400 meals daily.

Hello, I am Friar Jaime Zaragoza. I have just finished my studies in San Antonio, Texas and am now stationed in Indiana and doing ministry in our Franciscan Kitchen in Louisville, Kentucky. I have been looking forward to serving and receiving spiritual growth at the Franciscan Kitchen. Growing up in the Southwest, I was introduced to Liberation Theology, and I find it essential to my spirituality and pursuits for justice. As Gustavo Gutierrez states:

“To abolish injustice and to build a new society, this theology must be verified by the practice of that commitment by active, effective participation in the struggle which the exploited social class has undertaken against their oppressor.”

I have been allowed to go to different parts of Central America, South America, and many different regions in the United States. Many of the towns are still developing, and I have been genuinely appreciative of their hospitality. Throughout my experiences of being a friar, I have received in abundance beautiful hospitality. These experiences have led me to live a mission of hospitality.

The Franciscan Kitchen allows me to practice this mission. I find that while trying to accomplish this mission, I can provide dignity in simple small ways. First, by preparing a meal for the Lord who lives in the people that come to receive physical and spiritual nourishment. Then, by simply saying, “Good to see you.” My favorite response that I have received from the Lord, who resides in His people is, “Good to be seen, brother.” These simple phrases, paired with my work in the kitchen, are my way of “always preaching and when necessary, using words.” This is how I commit to living a progressive theology for the liberation of the oppressed.

“He is not far from us”

Fr. Joe West celebrates the Eucharist, pre-pandemic, with his parishioners at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Clarksville, IN

By Friar Joe West OFM Conv.
Parish Priest at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Clarksville , IN

We are in an era of anxiety and worry, with a virus and violence, societal unrest and racial upheaval with no legal, political or bureaucratic solutions in sight. We need God. We need a savior. Where is he?

Joseph Ratzinger wrote in 1970, after having been asked what the church of the year 2000 will look like, responded, “And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times. The real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already, but the Church of faith. It may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that She was until recently; but it will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man’s home, where he will find life and hope beyond death.”1

Out of recent humiliations will come the grace of God with a saving power like we have never seen before. Where will we find this grace?
St. Paul says to the Athenians in the Acts of the Apostles, “He made from one the whole human race… so that people might seek God, even perhaps grope for him and find him, though indeed he is not far from any one of us.” (17:26 & 27). Paul had an experience of God, through his Son Jesus Christ, that was so “up-close and personal”, so overpowering, that it knocked him to the ground.

As a parish priest for 28 years, I see the presence of God in his faithful people when we gather together for worship at Mass, the other sacraments, and in service. When Christians understand their Church, but no particular building, to be their home, then the faith, and it’s hope, is truly theirs, they own it. Now it cannot be easily taken away by any outside force. This is so beautiful to see. They don’t ‘attend’ Mass, they come back home and their service to others overflows as the most natural result.
Jesus Christ, the compassion of God, is the answer to any significant question we may raise. In Him we place our hope and he will not disappoint.

1 Faith and the Future 2009 Ignatius Press.

“A book without end”

Pilgrims create a “sea of candles” in Carey, OH for the Procession of Our Lady, the night before the 2019 Feast of the Assumption.

By Friar Randy Kin OFM Conv.
Former Pilgrimage Director in Carey, OH

Having spent over ten years of my religious life as the pilgrimage director at the Basilica and National Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation, in Carey, Ohio, I encountered faith-filled pilgrims from all over the world. I heard countless stories from pilgrims about how God had touched their lives through the intercession of Our Lady of Consolation. One story that sticks in my mind is a young girl that came to the Shrine because she was having problems with her eyesight. The doctors had diagnosed her with macular degeneration of the eyes. They told her that she would eventually lose her sight and go blind. The young girl heard about the Shrine of Our Lady and asked her parents to take her there to light a candle to pray and ask God to heal her eyes. Some weeks later, she had a doctor’s appointment, and the doctor told her that there was no sign of the disease in her eyes. She told the doctor and her parents that it was through Mary’s powerful intercession that she was healed. She came back to the Shrine a short time later and asked if she could put her old glasses in the miracle case where hundreds of items are placed by people who were healed by Jesus through Mary’s intercession.

Br. Randy Kin relaxes on the front lawn in front of the OLC Shrine Gift Shop.

It is beautiful to experience a miracle firsthand personally and to know that people are still getting healed at the Shrine. Pilgrims are still finding Peace, Comfort, Healing, and Consolation at the Shrine. I always tell pilgrims, if everyone who has been touched by Jesus at the Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation wrote a page of their experiences over these past 100 years, we would have a book without end.

“Healing in His Wings”

By Friar Ken Bartsch OFM Conv.
Chaplain at the VA Hospital in Louisville, KY

An elderly doctor at the VA, a veteran of Vietnam, remarking about the COVID epidemic, told me he still worked there because, “We lost that war, I’m not going to lose this one.”

Then he asked why I am still there. “I’m atoning for protesting the Vietnam War,” I said.

“You did the right thing!” he replied.

I suppose I am still protesting the war.

The Vietnam War has never ended in the VA. Some Veterans complain they were not allowed to win the war; some are still angry at Jane Fonda and Muhammad Ali. But I have not met many Veterans who thought that the war was worth fighting.

Occasionally a Veteran agonizes with me over what he did, saw, or suffered in the war zone. If it made sense at the time and in that place, it doesn’t anymore. Wars justify themselves while they last, but they don’t last long. The most hardened soldier, surviving, must return to the world of civility.

Does it help when I say, “You did what you were trained to do?” We chose these young men and women to represent us in a conflict. We trained them, armed them, and commissioned them, knowing full-well they were young, immature, and would do foolish things. Very often, they don’t want to tell us what happened, nor do we want to hear it.
One of our chaplains, a scholar who has researched moral injury, told me some Native American peoples created ritual ceremonies for reintegrating their warriors into village life. They not only welcomed and affirmed their braves, but they also accepted full responsibility for the butchery. But some American soldiers serving in Vietnam were back home a week after leaving the jungle.

A chaplain in a Veterans Affairs hospital meets Original Sin every day. There’s no point in protesting war, the military, or national defense. Members of a healing team recognize that their illness didn’t begin when they joined the military. Many were addicted to drugs, alcohol, and violence before they finished high school; many had suffered the divorce and estrangement of their parents; many already acclimated to a racist society. The oldest Veterans were given cigarettes and told to smoke if they expected to take a break. Why would you want a break if you don’t smoke?

The VA chaplain, representing no particular religion, offers spirituality to Veterans. The Catholic chaplain invokes the Real Presence of Jesus Christ. Because Catholics have a First Amendment right to the sacraments, the VA hires priest chaplains. In the rites of Eucharist, Reconciliation, and Anointing of the Sick, we encounter the dark mystery of Original Sin face to face -- within COVID range -- and the atoning mercy of grace. There is healing in His wings.

“Will I see Him?”

By Friar Paul Schloemer OFM Conv.
Vocations Director in Silver Springs, MD

Pope Francis quotes St. Anthony in his exhortation to us to “see the Lord!” And certainly, recognizing Christ in the other, especially the stranger, is a cornerstone of what it means to be Christian. But there is a difference in simply physically seeing Christ, and seeing Christ as the young Augustinian canon Anthony did. On the road to Calvary, countless people saw Jesus with their eyes, but only a few truly saw Jesus, walked with Him to the Cross. The young St. Anthony saw those other young friars ready to give themselves to witness to the Cross, and he didn’t just wish them well, he followed!

I think this is how we are also called today to see Christ in this world torn by war, pandemic, economic and ecological disaster, and the long-standing racism that often results in anger and violence. As Peter stepping out into the storm, we Franciscans are called to enter into that pain. We don’t just see Christ in George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and all the others, we follow them all the way to the Cross. This is difficult and often doesn’t end up where we think it will. Anthony was headed to Morocco and ended up in Sicily. But the point is, he saw Christ, got up and followed!

So now what? In my own little, insignificant way, I’ve tried to lend my voice to those crying for justice in our country. I’ve attended a bunch of marches and a few webinars and got the t-shirt for “Black Lives Matter.” And now we’re in that strange place where the street protests are dying down (until the next senseless death,) and we’re trying to make real change. How should just community protection and crime prevention look? What is the role of the police? How do we move those in positions of power, to relinquish that power to permit those who have been oppressed to have their fair shot?

It’s easy to now just downshift to my usual lethargy. The students will be returning; we’ve got some renovations going on; I’ve got homilies, presentations, and these little articles to write. But Christ is still out there, getting shot, losing His job, fleeing persecution and violence, being forced aside by politicians who won’t need Him after the election. I wonder if I will still really see Him?