Sunday, July 17, 2011

Brother James?

When I was in the seventh grade I wanted to be a Franciscan Brother. We were taught in school by these fine men, and at the time they made a powerful impression on me. True there were a few wackos mixed in, Like Brother F. who used to hang me up by my belt in the cloakroom (there's a word you don't hear much anymore) and use me for a workout bag when I misbehaved. Then there was Brother D. ( the role model for Darth Vader). A short, bald, muscular man, Brother D. had problems I can't get into here, but fortunately he was transferred out of our school the year I was to get him as a teacher in eighth grade.

Luckily, most of the Franciscans who taught us were good men who sacrificed for the good of serving God and man. I respect all religious...priests, nuns and brothers...who answer the Lord's call and devote their lives to helping others. While my religious career was cut short after my first game of "Spin the Bottle", Phil, my good friend and neighbor, entered the Franciscan Order and spent a number of years teaching and working in administrative posts. He later left the Order, married and currently lives in Phoenix with his wife Susan and daughter Claire.

At Mass today we were addressed by James McKnight, Marist Priest and spokesperson for the Catholic Missions around the world. Father McKnight is a former New York City native about my age who also heard the call and spent his life doing missionary work, including 25 years in the Philippines helping people in that largely Christian country. As he talked of his experience I kept trying to picture me at the age when Father McKnight joined the Marists. Could I have ever left my family, my country, and everything I held dear to travel across the world not knowing what fate had in store for me? I think not. The church was wise in choosing a man like James McKnight to pick up this challenge and help spread Roman Catholicism to new converts.

Let's take religion out of the equation for a minute. Even if we want to be cynical and say the Catholic Church does good just so it can swell the ranks of the faithful, no one can deny the fruits of their missionary outreach. These dedicated men and women help educate, doctor, feed, house and clothe the poorest of God's people. They go to the farthest corners of the earth bringing something that the people living there never had much of...hope. The Church is criticized for all its riches, and yet there is no other religion I am aware of that walks the walk more than Roman Catholicism. All this happens no thanks to weaklings like me, but to staunch, steadfast and courageous men like Father McKnight who spend their lives fighting for the dignity of others.

I remember as kids in school being asked to take home a "Mite Box", a cardboard cutout that we folded into the shape of a box. We were expected to go out and solicit coins to put into the box that would then be donated to Catholic Missions around the world. Like Father McKnight did at today's Mass, a missionary priest would visit our parish back then with tales of unbearable poverty in some exotic country where they were posted. It was hard to relate to such hardship even though the way we grew up would have probably placed us below the poverty line by today's standards. How could children have nothing to eat or wear; how could there be no drinkable water; how could babies die for want of basic medical care?

As a kid I could never fully appreciate the accomplishments of Catholic missionaries on earth, but I can now. I pray that these good women and men receive blessings in the afterlife a thousand times more than they earned during their lifetime. If by any chance I do get into Heaven, look me up. I'll be the guy shining Father McKnight's golden sandals.


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1 comment:

The Whiner said...

Careers I'd last 5 seconds in: 1. Missionary