www.franciscan.org

April 18, 2019

Renewal amid the ashes

BY MARK SOEHNER, OFM

PHOTOS BY The Associated PressStill standing in the charred interior of Notre Dame is a bold, shining cross.When I first heard about the massive fire at Notre Dame Cathedral on Monday afternoon, there was stunned silence, then tears.  It was really tragic, even catastrophic, to see this beautiful Gothic work of art being consumed by flames as the world watched helplessly.  We spoke of it again at our dinner table, wondering how it was started and whether they could have done anything to prevent it.  As of this writing we have not learned of its exact cause, but it came as a relief that it was not intentional violence once again.  Still, our hearts ache at the loss.

Wednesday morning, I saw the picture of the interior nave of the Cathedral.  Burned timbers from the supports for the roof littered the floor like charred toothpicks.  From the photo I could spot in the distant sanctuary a fairly well-preserved altar, and a bold, shining cross.  It  seemed oddly out of place in the midst of such destruction.  It was surprising.  And it reminded me of the confusion of the disciples when they first encountered the Risen One.

They frequently didn’t recognize Him.  The Magdalene thought he was a Gardener; those on the road to Emmaus thought he was an Uninformed Stranger.  For the disciples on the shore of Galilee, he was the Cook putting together a tasty fish breakfast.  They did not know Him.

This Cathedral was the center of Catholic life and of France for 800 years.  In fact, there was a gold star in the Cathedral, sitting on the island in the middle of the Seine, which all streets in Paris were meant to point towards.  And yet, most people know that the Catholic faith is at its lowest ebb since its national introduction through Clovis.  Practicing Catholics have dropped to 12% of the population.  The Cathedral is so named because it holds the cathedra, the chair of the Bishop.  Yet such basic meaning could be lost, left in charred remains.

PHOTO BY GETTY IMAGESThe world watched helplessly as fire consumed the roof.Our own Province numbers are diminishing.  As a provincial I join other provincials who lament that we “just don’t have a bench” of new men ready to jump in and take over familiar roles.  And so I wonder as we approach this Easter, am I too “looking for the Living One among the dead,” as the angel told the Anointing Women who rushed to the tomb early on Easter morning?   Is the Presence of Jesus beckoning us to a new way of a revitalized Franciscan life?  St. Francis himself serves to point us to the golden internal cross that cannot be destroyed by fire or any other disaster.

I believe that our Revitalization begins by touching the Risen Christ in our midst.  He probably looks so ordinary – like a Stranger, a Gardener, a Cook.  And yet, when He speaks, our hearts are on fire.  When He confronts our own Petrine denials, we find forgiveness in His Voice.  And then we want to PHOTO BY AL MASCIA, OFMEric Seguin renewed his vows in the midst of Detroit friars.give that joy away in our own fraternities:  intentional prayer and contemplation, some really delicious meals together, perhaps an outing to bowl together, and service.

Yes, service!  While Notre Dame is receiving millions of dollars for renovation, what have we done in our own country for the three black churches that burned just last month near Opelousas, Louisiana?  How are we living and learning with the poor in our neighborhoods?  Do we do what Jesus told us to do: wash the feet of those in need; scour our places of ministry for the Lost One; announce with our laid-down lives the joy of the Gospel?

On Palm Sunday our brother, Eric Seguin, renewed his vows in the midst of all the friars of the Detroit cluster at Transfiguration Friary.  His renewal was catalytic in renewing our own.  Yes, we will see Him – in our well-worn Galilees, our back yards.  The Cathedral we knew may have burned, but God can tease glory out of any destruction.  And we testify to the little world around us that is looking for the living one among the dead:  He is not here.  Christ is risen!  Alleluia!

 

— Fr. Mark Soehner, OFM

 

Sitting quietly with God

BY TONI CASHNELLI

 For many, prayer fits the dictionary definition:

“A solemn request for help or expression of thanks addressed to God or an object of worship.”

But Mark Ligett knows there is more to it than that. Eleven years ago, he and a lay woman named Betty Power started a course called “Prayer of the Heart” at St. Francis Retreat House in Easton, Pa. That phrase was used by early followers of Christ to name a form of prayer they also called “the prayer of quiet”, Mark says. “We planned to teach the history of contemplative prayer and also to spend time each class in quiet prayer.” Seven people showed up for the first session.

Mark Ligett, OFM “Most of them knew that their own lives of prayer and Sunday Mass just weren’t doing everything for them,” says Mark, who works in retreat ministry and serves on the administrative team in Easton. “They were wanting something more, and gave it a chance, and slowly we moved together. After they’d been around awhile they’d say things like, ‘I always knew there was more to prayer than asking for a new bicycle for Christmas,’ or asking God to ‘Give me this or give me that’, or, ‘Fix that person.’”

Eleven years later, “We have 37 people enrolled in the class, including five of the original seven.”  As the seekers have learned, “Contemplation is simply sitting with God and letting God sit with you.”

In the moment

It sounds simple, but “Our wonderful human minds can only deal with past or future,” Mark says. “They take us to the past and we get sad or happy; they take us to the future with worry or concern. We often just miss the present moment. Contemplative prayer is opening us up to the grace and good and love that’s happening in the present moment. The past is gone and the future The retreat house chapelisn’t here yet. All we have is this present moment and we often miss it.”

One example comes from Mark’s years in Appalachia. Each time he stopped his car at a certain traffic light in town, “An old man and woman were always on their porch swing. I never saw them talking; they just swung together. That’s sort of what contemplation is: ‘Let’s sit on the swing together with God.’ There are no words to say; what’s important is being with God. In reality, God is always with us whether we know it or not.”

In Mark’s current two-hour class, which started in September and ends in May, “About one-half of participants are Roman Catholic and the other half are folks of many different denominations,” ranging in age from 25 to 87, including Episcopalians and an Evangelical minister. “All the mainline religions talk about the sacredness of the present moment. That’s one of the things contemplative prayer opens people up to, opening your eyes and seeing the present moment, right now.”

They still follow the original schedule, an hour of teaching by Mark or another presenter, or maybe a movie that conveys a lesson, like The Sultan and the Saint. “There was one year we did all Franciscan themes,” he says. “A lot of them have become excited about Franciscan spirituality.” Many do annual retreats. They study contemplative practices like Centering Prayer, the Jesus Prayer or Lectio Divina, then spend time in fellowship and re-convene to sit together in silent prayer. “We try to do things with the Church calendar. During Lent we write our own creative Way of the Cross. It ties in with what they’re learning.”

God among us

“Contemplation is simply sitting with God.”And they’re not the only ones who benefit. When they say to Mark, “‘We look forward to Thursdays; we would never miss,’ I say the same thing. The contemplative class has done wonders for me. It’s been a huge support in my own life of prayer. The highlight of my week is sitting in silence, with the bond created between us, which is Christ himself.”

What’s interesting, Mark says, “is that people sometimes look at contemplative prayer and call it ‘new age’. It’s the oldest thing in the Church, going back to monastic communities in the desert. This is what their life was about. It was Thomas Merton 50 years ago who began to open the door to making contemplation something that belongs to the whole world.

“Contemplative prayer is not just about talking to God or thinking about God. It’s much more about being with God. God is not just in the heavens in another world, but very much in this world – in every created being, and especially in the human heart.”

For many, Mark’s course is transformative.

“A lady has a rock in her garden that reads: ‘Bidden or unbidden, God is present.’ I think that’s what they come to realize, that it’s not a matter of them conjuring up God, because God is always there.”

The journey to contemplation

BY MARK LIGETT, OFM

PHOTO BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3385462Mark was introduced to contemplative practices at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky.When I was in elementary school, I recall Sister Mary Dorothy explaining to us three “types” of prayer.  She described discursive prayer as a prayer using words where we talk to God, meditation as a type of prayer where we think about God, and finally contemplation, a type of prayer that does not use words or thoughts but a prayer where we are simply with God.  Then she added that this was the prayer of the saints and mystics, and since none of us fit into either of those categories, we should only worry about discursive prayer and meditation!

As I looked back at my life as a child, I realized that there were many contemplative practices that brought me great consolation.  I loved it whenever Sister would tell us to put our heads down on our desk and to sit in quiet for a few moments in the classroom.  At recess, the Oldenburg Franciscan Sisters encouraged us to “give up some of our recess time for Jesus” by going into the parish church to “make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament.”  I loved slipping into the dark and cool church, where all was silent.  Those moments alone with flickering candles of the vigil lights became moments of communion for me with God.

There were also contemplative teachings that moved my soul and continue to move my soul, quotations from the Scripture like, “Be still and know that I am God”.  Or, the wonderful story about Elijah from the book of Kings where God comes, not in noise and thunder, but in a still, soft breeze.  And of course, Jesus’ own teaching about the best way to pray, “to enter that inner room of the human heart and to pray to God in secret.”

Mark Ligett in his early years with the friars These early experiences, combined with the profound influence of the Oldenburg Sisters, led me to seek religious life and particularly Franciscan life.  In my early years with the friars, I don’t recall contemplative prayer being emphasized, but we were given ample time to “be alone with the alone,” and this nourished my soul.

My longing for a deeper life of prayer led me to investigate Trappist life, and I transferred from the friars to the Abbey of Gethsemani in 1973.  There I was introduced to contemplative practices, contemplative prayer and contemplative living.  I came to see clearly that everything I was experiencing at Gethsemani was in fact what my dear Franciscan novice master, Edwin Deane, was trying to teach us in the novitiate.  But we were too young to hear it, to grasp it or to allow God to really grasp us.

I returned to the Franciscans, and on the day I departed Gethsemani the abbot said, “You are privileged to be a son of Saint Francis, the greatest contemplative who ever lived.”

I now fully know and believe the truth of this statement and have spent my life trying to become a truly contemplative person.

A ‘character’ fondly remembered

BY TONI CASHNELLI

StephenRichter, OFMIt was a classic wake, with relatives speaking fondly and openly about a friar prized for his gifts, his quirks and his faithfulness.

Asked to share memories of Steve Richter at his March 27 funeral, many family members weighed in, eager to talk about a man they agreed was “a character”. The Rite of Reception at St. Margaret Hall was a lively, upbeat conversation, with smiles outnumbering tears.

“As we welcome the body of Stephen, we also welcome you who have been part of his life and journey,” said Presider Jerry Beetz, Guardian for Senior Friars. “This is an opportunity for all of us to share brief memories of Steve,” was all he had to say to open the floodgates of memory.

Brother friars remembered him as a cook, a porter, a chaplain at St. Francis Hospital and Friars Club.

Steve’s nieces remembered their “Uncle Jim” for his years at Friarhurst Retreat House. “When we got married he made sure our rehearsal dinner was at this lovely, lovely place,” said niece Colleen Richter. “It meant a lot to me. He was a good, good guy.” At the Friarhurst Christmas party, “Everything was always perfect,” said Carl Langenderfer. “Steve used to brag about running the place,” during two tours of duty as Business Manager.

Family devotion

PHOTO BY TONI CASHNELLITop, Steve’s family at St. Margaret Hall: remembering his gifts, his quirks, his faithfulness; left, a recent portrait of Steve; above, an undated photo with his brother, Robert.Carl joked about Steve’s preoccupation with his health: “His epitaph could be, ‘I told you I was sick.’”

That drew laughs and “Amens” from the family, such as: “That sounds like him”; and, “He enjoyed poor health.”

Although “He was the most quiet of the Richters,” said one relative, “He loved gossip,” according to Colleen, “and wanted to know the scoop about everyone. He was nosy – but not in a bad way.”

Family devotion ran deep with Steve, who always showed up for milestone moments. “But he never stayed long,” one niece reminded another. “He was blunt; you never knew what he’d say, whether you wanted to hear it or not. He was a character.”

One of about two dozen friars who joined Steve’s family and residents in the newly renovated chapel, celebrant Mark Soehner recognized Steve’s sister-in-law, Janet Richter, nieces and nephews and classmate Kenan Freson, all here to “mourn Br. Stephen but also celebrate his new life.”

Life changes

Separated from Steve by age and assignments, homilist Mark chose “to reflect a little bit on how God worked in Stephen’s life” through the themes, “I remember, I regret, I rejoice.”

“I remember Br. Stephen when I was a younger friar. He had a sarcastic wit”; his family called his comments “zingers”. “I remember hearing he had grown up in Cincinnati and had been a cook in some of our houses.”

When their paths diverged, “I missed big portions of Stephen’s life,” said Mark. “I remember meeting Stephen years later at the Motherhouse. He seemed quieter, maybe more withdrawn. I met him again at St. Margaret Hall while on Council. He didn’t quite understand why he needed to be there. But his condition continued to deteriorate. Some days with loud raps on the door I couldn’t quite rouse him.

“I remember cajoling him to come down for our annual party that Br. Jerry throws. He eventually made it down and he had a great time. I remember the last time I came by. Steve said, ‘Isn’t it wonderful I’m being taken care of.’ This is what I remember.”

A storyteller

Giovanni Reid, David Kohut and Bert Heise at Steve’s funeralOne regret, Mark said, “was that I didn’t know him better. He sacrificed finishing high school to take a factory job and take care of his mother until she died two years later.

“I regret I didn’t remember Br. Duane Torisky’s stories from St. George in the 1970s.  He said Stephen knew all the funny stories about older friars, and they would howl at his tales. They used to go to a German restaurant called Lenhardt’s some Sundays. Steve could be ‘a real Dutchman when it came to price,’ according to Duane. “He told the Lenhardt’s owner that he had the best sauerbraten in town, but ‘you know, those portions are getting smaller, while your potato pancakes are getting larger.’

“I regret not knowing the Stephen who would help Duane out with many renters at Friars Club,” Mark said. “Duane told me that Stephen frequently took over as relief desk clerk; that allowed the staff to have a Christmas party, or when someone didn’t show up. I did not know that Steve served on a parish team in Bloomington [Ill.], taking care of sick parishioners. Or the man who left his cooking career to serve as a chaplain for St. Francis Hospital. Or his seven years as Business Manager at Friarhurst.

Steve as a young friar“I regret that Br. Steve has died. I regret the suffering he endured as he slowly let go of all that we think is essential: his memory; his being a friar; his life breath. And yet, I rejoice that many of the things that would irk Stephen have all gone away. In his present state, he knows he is God’s child, for that is what we really are, as he is held in God’s arms.

“I rejoice that he finally gets to see the results of his faith he has followed all these years.”

That faith was a comfort and example for the many relatives who came to mourn and reminisce. As a child, niece Dianne Richter could never understand why her uncle was a bachelor.

“Why aren’t you married?” she once asked Steve. “It always baffled me.”

He was already taken, he told her. “I’m married to God.”

You can combat dizziness

PHOTO BY SHUTTERSTOCK.COMDizziness (vertigo) can have many causes, and one of the most common is called benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV).  BPPV is characterized by sudden bursts of vertigo provoked by head movements.  Vertigo doesn’t just occur when the head is still.  What leads to the development of BPPV isn’t known, but it’s more common in older adults.

Once you develop BPPV, the bouts of dizziness typically occur after you change position of your head, such as rolling over in bed or standing from a sitting position.  It could last a few days to months.  If dizziness lingers or continues to return, a visit to a specialist such as an audiologist or vestibular therapist may be warranted.

A specialized evaluation can determine if BPPV is being treated properly or if other factors affecting balance may be in play.  And some people continue to have symptoms of impaired balance and dizziness after BPPV has been resolved.  Working with a physical therapist specializing in vestibular and balance rehab can help you decrease dizziness symptoms and regain balance.

Aspects of a rehab plan may include keeping active, getting exercise and perhaps learning balance exercises.  Staying as active as possible allows your brain to adapt to a new normal in terms of sensory perception.  Focusing on a visual target 5 to 10 feet away while moving from sitting to a standing position, and back again, is one exercise you can try at home.  Together we can combat the dizziness or “wooziness”, as some people like to call it.  Remember, movement is life!

Michelle Viacava, RN

Province Nurse

  • PHOTO FROM facebook.comThe gathering of friars at Roger BaconApril 10, the halls were filled with friars for the Lenten Reconciliation Service at Roger Bacon High School. “It’s great to have the strong support and commitment from the Franciscans,” according to a Facebook post. “This is what makes us truly unique. #weloveourFriars
  • Reminder: The JPIC Committee has scheduled public showings of the film The Sultan and the Saint for 7 p.m. on May 10 at Shrine Hall at St. Anthony Shrine in Mt. Airy, and at 7 p.m. on June 5 at the Carole Dauwe Fine Arts Center at Roger Bacon High School in St. Bernard. Events are also being planned in Detroit and New Orleans to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the historic meeting of Francis of Assisi with al-Malik Al-Kamil in Damietta. If you would like a copy of the DVD for a House Chapter, contact Scott Obrecht at: scottofm@franciscan.org
  • Eric, Jeremy and friendIt was an eventful week for Eric Seguin, who went to work at the last Fish Fry of Lent soon after arriving at Transfiguration Friary in Southfield, Mich., then joined Jeremy Harrington for breakfast with the Easter Bunny on Palm Sunday, a fundraising project for Rebuilding Together through which parishioners help rehab a home. That afternoon Eric renewed his vows within the context of evening prayer. “All Detroit-area friars were present,” Al Mascia says. “Eric managed the barbecue!”
  • Al Hirt’s fine presentation from the Lenten Speaker Series at St. Anthony Shrine is posted on Facebook at: Shrine (scroll to April 16). In his 20-minute talk, Al focused on the life of Francis and our need for mercy.
  • April 6, when photos were taken for the 175th anniversary book for St. Mary’s of the Rock Catholic Carl and Humbert display the banner.Church in Batesville, Ind., Carl Langenderfer and Humbert Moster were invited to take part. The parish is planning a celebratory Mass and Dinner on Sunday, Aug. 25, starting at 10:30 a.m.
  • The friars of Transfiguration Parish will host the major events for this year’s Franciscan Alumni Reunion, June 20-22 in Southfield, Mich. The program includes tours of the former Duns Scotus College, St. Aloysius and St. Dominic churches, and lots of storytelling and socializing. Planners say it is “sure to be another rewarding weekend of Franciscan fellowship and spiritual reunion.” See the schedule at: Franciscan-alumni
  • Feeling pessimistic about the planet as Earth Day approaches on April 22? National Geographic has compiled a list of 49 environmental victories we can celebrate, including the regulation of pesticides, the creation of marine sanctuaries and a global agreement to plug the ozone hole. Read this good-news story at: Environmental-victories

Send comments or questions to: sjbfco@franciscan.org

ARCHIVES

Renewal amid the ashes

BY MARK SOEHNER, OFM

PHOTOS BY The Associated PressStill standing in the charred interior of Notre Dame is a bold, shining cross.When I first heard about the massive fire at Notre Dame Cathedral on Monday afternoon, there was stunned silence, then tears.  It was really tragic, even catastrophic, to see this beautiful Gothic work of art being consumed by flames as the world watched helplessly.  We spoke of it again at our dinner table, wondering how it was started and whether they could have done anything to prevent it.  As of this writing we have not learned of its exact cause, but it came as a relief that it was not intentional violence once again.  Still, our hearts ache at the loss.

Wednesday morning, I saw the picture of the interior nave of the Cathedral.  Burned timbers from the supports for the roof littered the floor like charred toothpicks.  From the photo I could spot in the distant sanctuary a fairly well-preserved altar, and a bold, shining cross.  It  seemed oddly out of place in the midst of such destruction.  It was surprising.  And it reminded me of the confusion of the disciples when they first encountered the Risen One.

They frequently didn’t recognize Him.  The Magdalene thought he was a Gardener; those on the road to Emmaus thought he was an Uninformed Stranger.  For the disciples on the shore of Galilee, he was the Cook putting together a tasty fish breakfast.  They did not know Him.

This Cathedral was the center of Catholic life and of France for 800 years.  In fact, there was a gold star in the Cathedral, sitting on the island in the middle of the Seine, which all streets in Paris were meant to point towards.  And yet, most people know that the Catholic faith is at its lowest ebb since its national introduction through Clovis.  Practicing Catholics have dropped to 12% of the population.  The Cathedral is so named because it holds the cathedra, the chair of the Bishop.  Yet such basic meaning could be lost, left in charred remains.

PHOTO BY GETTY IMAGESThe world watched helplessly as fire consumed the roof.Our own Province numbers are diminishing.  As a provincial I join other provincials who lament that we “just don’t have a bench” of new men ready to jump in and take over familiar roles.  And so I wonder as we approach this Easter, am I too “looking for the Living One among the dead,” as the angel told the Anointing Women who rushed to the tomb early on Easter morning?   Is the Presence of Jesus beckoning us to a new way of a revitalized Franciscan life?  St. Francis himself serves to point us to the golden internal cross that cannot be destroyed by fire or any other disaster.

I believe that our Revitalization begins by touching the Risen Christ in our midst.  He probably looks so ordinary – like a Stranger, a Gardener, a Cook.  And yet, when He speaks, our hearts are on fire.  When He confronts our own Petrine denials, we find forgiveness in His Voice.  And then we want to PHOTO BY AL MASCIA, OFMEric Seguin renewed his vows in the midst of Detroit friars.give that joy away in our own fraternities:  intentional prayer and contemplation, some really delicious meals together, perhaps an outing to bowl together, and service.

Yes, service!  While Notre Dame is receiving millions of dollars for renovation, what have we done in our own country for the three black churches that burned just last month near Opelousas, Louisiana?  How are we living and learning with the poor in our neighborhoods?  Do we do what Jesus told us to do: wash the feet of those in need; scour our places of ministry for the Lost One; announce with our laid-down lives the joy of the Gospel?

On Palm Sunday our brother, Eric Seguin, renewed his vows in the midst of all the friars of the Detroit cluster at Transfiguration Friary.  His renewal was catalytic in renewing our own.  Yes, we will see Him – in our well-worn Galilees, our back yards.  The Cathedral we knew may have burned, but God can tease glory out of any destruction.  And we testify to the little world around us that is looking for the living one among the dead:  He is not here.  Christ is risen!  Alleluia!

 

— Fr. Mark Soehner, OFM

 

It sounds simple, but “Our wonderful human minds can only deal with past or future,” Mark says. “They take us to the past and we get sad or happy; they take us to the future with worry or concern. We often just miss the present moment. Contemplative prayer is opening us up to the grace and good and love that’s happening in the present moment. The past is gone and the future The retreat house chapelisn’t here yet. All we have is this present moment and we often miss it.”

PHOTO BY TONI CASHNELLITop, Steve’s family at St. Margaret Hall: remembering his gifts, his quirks, his faithfulness; left, a recent portrait of Steve; above, an undated photo with his brother, Robert.Carl joked about Steve’s preoccupation with his health: “His epitaph could be, ‘I told you I was sick.’”

Giovanni Reid, David Kohut and Bert Heise at Steve’s funeralOne regret, Mark said, “was that I didn’t know him better. He sacrificed finishing high school to take a factory job and take care of his mother until she died two years later.

PHOTOS BY The Associated PressStill standing in the charred interior of Notre Dame is a bold, shining cross.When I first heard about the massive fire at Notre Dame Cathedral on Monday afternoon, there was stunned silence, then tears.  It was really tragic, even catastrophic, to see this beautiful Gothic work of art being consumed by flames as the world watched helplessly.  We spoke of it again at our dinner table, wondering how it was started and whether they could have done anything to prevent it.  As of this writing we have not learned of its exact cause, but it came as a relief that it was not intentional violence once again.  Still, our hearts ache at the loss.

Office of Communications Province of St. John the Baptist