God is our Constant Hope

Reflection for the First Sunday of Advent by FAN Board Member, Sr. Marge Wissman, OSF

This reflection was originally posted in our November 30th newsletter


“COMFORT, GIVE COMFORT TO MY PEOPLE
SAYS YOUR GOD”
WHICH GOD DOES WHEN WE HEAR:
“BEHOLD, I AM SENDING MY MESSENGER AHEAD OF YOU;
A VOICE OF ONE CRYING IN THE DESERT;
PREPARE THE WAY OF THE LORD;
MAKE STRAIGHT HIS PATHS.”

These messages give us HOPE! Someone referred to these messages as HOPE UNDER CONSTRUCTION. In the Gospel this week, John the Baptist made it very clear that he was not the subject matter of his message. It was never about him but always about getting people ready, he is only the messenger. John the Baptist had charisma which influenced the people to listen to and follow him. He gave the people HOPE that Jesus will bring the baptism of the Holy Spirit-a form of empowerment. HOPE is not wishful thinking but an assurance that God is constant! John the Baptist ushers in HOPE.

God sends messengers into our lives to clear for us the path that leads to God. Do you recognize the messengers that God sent your way and still sends to you? Are you aware of what each has been or still is for you? There have been many in my life and I am grateful for each one. The messenger that is my most outstanding, I have only met through stories, visiting Assisi, and feeling his presence. And that, as you may have guessed, is St. Francis. I always knew about St. Francis but when I entered our Franciscan community, he became a part of me. He gave me HOPE in many situations. Leonardo Boff in his book St. Francis says: “Francis of Assisi, more than an idea, is a spirit and a way of life. The spirit and the way of life are only made manifest in practice not in a formula, idea, or ideal. Everything in Francis invites practice: an alternative act that makes real more devotion toward others, more gentleness with the poor and greater respect for nature.”

God not only sends messengers, God renews our HOPE by sending Jesus as our shepherd. In the concluding verses of the first reading, Isaiah gives us a vivid portrait of God as the good, loving and strong shepherd who sends Jesus, able to protect us from any threat. GOD IS OUR CONSTANT HOPE!

Sr. Marge Wissman, OSF
FAN Board Member

Published in: on December 1, 2020 at 10:30 am  Leave a Comment  

The Economy of Francis – of both saint and pope

By Tony Magliano

Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated Catholic social justice and peace columnist whose writings are published in print and/or posted online in various U.S. diocesan papers. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the Franciscan Action Network.


The world – and especially the poor – needs a national and global economy that justly and fairly works for everyone.

The hungry, homeless, unemployed, underemployed, refugees, and all destitute fellow human beings desperately need, and deserve a just and fair sharing of the wealth. But instead, most economies are designed to overwhelmingly benefit the rich while throwing crumbs to the needy and simultaneously wreaking havoc upon the earth.

For example, while oil, gas and coal companies – which are dangerously contributing to climate change – continue to receive billions of dollars in annual taxpayer subsidies from the U.S. government and other wealthy nations (see: https://bit.ly/397xho3), and while huge U.S. tax cuts which have overwhelmingly benefited rich individuals and huge corporations remain in place, the U.S. federal minimum wage of $7.25 hasn’t been raised in over 10 years.

And this was before COVID. Now millions of people are not only unemployed, they are also uninsured. Furthermore, the World Bank is warning that the number of people in extreme poverty – defined as those struggling to survive on less than $1.90 a day – is estimated to increase by at least an additional 88 million people before year’s end (see: https://bit.ly/33bfkRS). And in the midst of this crisis billionaires are raking in new financial fortunes (see: https://bit.ly/3fs9lgx), while countless workers continue to be mere disposable cogs in the corporate wheel – even during the pandemic (see: https://bit.ly/2UWN7tF).

Into all this national and global injustice enters Pope Francis. God knows our Holy Father has been doing everything he can to inspire the world to undo the immoral unjust economic status quo, and create economic systems that work for all – especially the poor.

His most recent effort is the very creative initiative dubbed “The Economy of Francesco.”

In a beautifully prophetic letter to young economists and entrepreneurs around the world, Pope Francis extended an invitation to participate in an international gathering designed to lay the foundation of a “pact to change the current economy and give a soul to the economy of tomorrow” (see: https://bit.ly/33eBlzn).

And they came!

More than 2,000 young economists and entrepreneurs from 120 countries, along with farsighted experts, kicked-off “The Economy of Francesco” (Nov. 19-21) with a virtual global online conference centered in the historic Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy (see: https://francescoeconomy.org/).

Using the “Economy of Francesco” conference video (see: https://bit.ly/397IvZU) would be an inspiring way to imagine and begin implementing a world which works for everyone. Consider using it in parish, high school, college, campus ministry and various faith group settings.

In their final statement, the young professional participants of the “Economy of Francesco” conference present to world powers and financial institutions a 12-point human-centered proposal outlining a fresh economic way forward away from greed and death, toward life and dignity for all (see: https://bit.ly/362fQDF).

They end with this very moving final point: “We young people can no longer tolerate resources being taken away from schools, health care, our present and our future to build weapons and fuel wars needed to sell them. We would like to tell our children that the world at war is finished forever.”

May the people of God say Amen to that!

In concluding his invitation letter, Pope Francis wrote “The name of this event – ‘Economy of Francesco’ – clearly refers to the Saint of Assisi and to the Gospel that he lived. … For me, who took his name, he is a constant source of inspiration.”

May St. Francis and Pope Francis be an ongoing source of inspiration to each of us that with God’s grace, we can together build a world where all God’s people have a place at the table of plenty!

Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated Catholic social justice and peace columnist. He is available to speak at diocesan or parish gatherings. Tony can be reached at tmag6@comcast.net.

Published in: on November 28, 2020 at 10:30 am  Leave a Comment  

Blessed Hope

Reflection for the 1st Sunday of Advent, by FAN Member, Sr. Maryann Mueller, CSSF

This reflection was originally posted in our November 23rd newsletter


Our message this first Sunday of Advent is one of hope. “God wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for” (Is. 64:3) even as our nation and our world cope with a pandemic that has impacted the lives of possibly every person on earth. A microscopic virus has reminded us of our common humanity and how interdependent we are with all of God’s creation. We all can get sick, we all will die, and we all at times hang on to hope by a thread. Often during the past few months, my only thread of hope was the words cited after the Our Father at Mass “…may we always…be free from distress as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our savior, Jesus Christ.” Blessed Hope.

COVID has forced us to question the roots of our happiness and what is important in life. Our baptismal mandate calls us to place our lives at the service of others as Jesus did, especially those poor, marginalized, those deemed not “acceptable” or not “worthy” by others. Self-absorption can never lead to satisfaction or happiness. Self-serving behavior and actions will only prompt violence within the self. Pope Francis states in the encyclical, Fratelli Tutti: “Isolation and withdrawal into one’s own interests are never the way to restore hope and bring about renewal.”

We enter this season of waiting remembering that “No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God…doing such deeds for those who wait for him.” (Is. 64:4) Our experience this year has taught us that we cannot put our hope in our possessions, power, wealth, position, nationality, skin tone, or anything else in this world but the love of our God who is always our source of hope. The Pope exerts in Fratelli Tutti, “Hope is bold; it can look beyond personal convenience, the petty securities and compensations which limit our horizon, and it can open us up to grand ideals that make life more beautiful and worthwhile.”

At this time when fear, suffering, insecurity, grief, and sorrow have brought our world together, so can hope. As Pope Francis declared back in April, there “is a different type of ‘contagion’. Its message transmitted from heart to heart—for every human heart awaits this Good News. It is the contagion of hope.” In Fratelli Tutti, Francis writes “everyone has a fundamental role to play in a single great creative project: to write a new page of history, a page full of hope, peace and reconciliation.” So “Be watchful! Be alert!” (Mk. 13: 33) to those threads of blessed hope as we enter this season of waiting. Then exhale and allow your threads of hope to flow into our future.

Sr. Maryann Mueller, CSSF
FAN Member

Published in: on November 24, 2020 at 10:30 am  Leave a Comment  

Whatever you Do to the Least of These…

Reflection for the Feast of Christ, King of the Universe by FAN Board Member David Seitz, OFS

This reflection was originally posted in our November 16th newsletter


The readings for the feast of Christ the King teach us two things about kingship. First, the king is the sovereign ruler and second, the king is charged with the care of his people as the reading from Ezekiel 34 demonstrates. “I myself will look after and tend my sheep.” (Ezk 34:11) The prophet describes other duties of the king; to rescue, to pasture, to give rest, to bind up the injured, and to heal the sick. Isn’t this the expectations that we have from those who govern us? Providing systems and policies that make it possible for all-from the greatest to the least-to have the necessities of life. A good example can be found in St. Louis IX, king of France. A follower of St. Francis in the Third Order, he was known to open his palace on feast days and invite in the poor of the city. He taught his son to care for those in need and taught that it is the duty of a ruler to provide for the poor, to side with the poor in disputes, not letting social status influence justice. These are lessons we can all take to heart in our culture today.

The Gospel reading from Matthew 25 is one of my favorites. We see beginning in verse 31 the Son of Man separating the sheep from the goats. The sheep are those who have provided for those in need; clothed the naked, fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, visited those in prison, and welcomed the stranger. The Son of Man refers to himself as “king” in verse 40 when he issues judgement. “And the king will say to them in reply, Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Mt 25:40)

We have just witnessed a fiercely contested election. We have chosen those who will govern over us. We must expect them, and yes hold them accountable, to provide for the needs of those they govern. We have witnessed all too often of late, politicians who when elected, accumulate great wealth while in office. It is said that no one leaves congress a poorer person. Lobbyists, political action groups and large campaign donors make it nearly impossible for our legislatures to be truly independent and seek the common good. The Franciscan Action Network is actively involved in taking the money out of politics, advocating for a system that will take away the large financial incentives that often influence those elected “by” the people, yet, do not always work “for” the people. This is an important and extremely worthwhile cause.

So what can we do? Each of us can live out the call of the King in Matthew 25 and work to ensure the least among us are cared for. In the early Church, before Christianity was legalized in Rome, there was an emperor, Julian the Apostate. Julian, it is said, lamented that Christians were making the Roman government look bad. He observed that Christians were taking better care of needy Romans than the Roman government. The Christians not only looked after their own, but any who demonstrated a need. In the end, it was that witness of Christian charity that converted the culture. It took a few centuries, but in God’s time and with perseverance, charity converted the most powerful empire known to the world at that time. We also should take the advice of Blessed Solanus Casey, the Capuchin Franciscan friar of Detroit, MI., to “Shake off excessive worry and exercise a little confidence in God’s merciful providence.” I believe that the Church will always be better positioned to provide for those in need than the government. The Church is on the front lines and knows the needs of its local communities far better than a bureaucrat. However, we must also advocate to ensure that there are systems and policies in place that make that work easier and able to be performed unimpeded.

So as the dust settles from our recent elections and the pandemic, the experiences which we will all remember as 2020, a year that will live in infamy, let us not lose the peace of Christ in our hearts. Let us all call to mind the King to whom we owe our ultimate allegiance, Jesus Christ, the King of Kings.

David Seitz, OFS
FAN Board Member

Published in: on November 17, 2020 at 10:30 am  Leave a Comment  

After elections what next? Let the Gospel lead the way!

By Tony Magliano

Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated Catholic social justice and peace columnist whose writings are published in print and/or posted online in various U.S. diocesan papers. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the Franciscan Action Network.


Not only is the United States a divided country, but the Catholic Church in the U.S. is as divided as the nation. And the presidential election drove home that point.

According to the Jesuit review America, the Associated Press VoteCast declared that 50 percent of Catholics backed Trump, while 49 percent voted for Biden (see: https://bit.ly/2UfR0cQ).

Many Catholics, like many other Christians appear to be predominantly guided by their preferred political leaders, nationalistic tendencies, the culture, conservative or progressive leanings, their wallet and their often unconscious prejudices. These unhealthy tendencies are not conducive to building unity within Catholicism, nor overall Christianity. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Let’s really try to live our lives in such a way that everything we think, feel, say and do faithfully reflects what Jesus taught us as recorded in the four Gospel accounts of our Lord.

And let’s also go the extra mile: Let’s apply the words and actions of Jesus to the cultural, economic, and the political areas of our nation and world. Now you might be thinking how on earth – especially in today’s highly fractured societies – can we possibly do this?

Well, let’s consult the angel Gabriel. When this messenger from the Almighty visited the teenage Jewish woman Mary and conveyed to her God’s desire to take on human nature by being conceived in her virgin womb, Gabriel put to rest her natural query saying, “For nothing will be impossible for God.” But while of course this is true, we like Mary need to give our wholehearted “yes” to God. We need to cooperate with God’s life of grace in order for grace to be fully operative in our lives – and by extension in our suffering world.

But how can we translate this into public policies and civil laws with so many different contrasting opinions?

Let’s let the Gospel lead the way!

In the last judgment scene of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus rewards with eternal life those who have loved him by feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, consoling the sick and imprisoned.

And so, the Gospel mandate is for us to fully address the legitimate needs of the many Americans and countless human beings around the world lacking sufficient nutritious food and clean water, decent clothing and housing, quality comprehensive healthcare, humane restorative prison reform and a warm welcome.

It is necessary to remember that as important as it is for us to individually respond to these needs, it is also absolutely essential for governments to fully respond to these needs as well.

And certainly Jesus’ total nonviolent example calls us to convert our high tech swords into instruments of peace. Thus Catholics and all Christians – if we are to be faithful to the Gospel – need to take the Gospel of peace to heart.

Exactly what types of laws, budgets and public policies that need to be enacted is open to honest, respectful and compassionate debate. But that debate needs to lead to timely and fully adequate comprehensive solutions.

If each one of us starts and finishes with the Gospel mandate that every single human being – born and unborn – deserves not only to live, but deserves to live with dignity in a world where people come before profit, where the care of the earth outweighs corporate greed and where nonviolent solutions replace war, we will surely find ways to move governments, corporations and economies toward the right way – the Gospel way!

Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated Catholic social justice and peace columnist. He is available to speak at diocesan or parish gatherings. Tony can be reached at tmag6@comcast.net.

Published in: on November 14, 2020 at 10:30 am  Comments (1)  

Using our Gifts: Reward or Burden?

Reflection for 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time by FAN Associate Director, Sr. Marie Lucey, OSF

This reflection was originally posted in our November 9th newsletter


On this mid-November Sunday, we are approaching the end of the Liturgical Year, and in another month the end of a calendar year. In this part of the world, falling leaves note the end of a season, inviting us to reflect on endings—not only of a season, of a year, but also one’s earthly life. Our consciousness of dying is heightened this year by the daily deaths resulting from COVID 19; tens of thousands in the United States, and millions world-wide. Rising statistics are sobering and alarming. Most of us know at least one person who has died from COVID.

But endings are also a beginning. When this reflection is read, we may know or not know the results of U.S. elections. What we do know is that we are deeply divided as a country, and a specter of violence hangs over elections and their outcomes. On a national level, it may be the continuation of an administration or the beginning of a new one. Whatever the results, we are called upon to use our God-given gifts, our talents, to contribute to the reign of God on Earth and the common good of our country. All of us have gifts, and in God’s wisdom, they differ, all contributing to a common goal. How can my gifts help with healing of deep divisions?

The fault is to bury one’s gifts. In Matthew’s gospel parable, one servant buries his talent out of fear of the master. Could his fear also have been that of assuming responsibility? As a reward, the servants who use their talents are given more responsibility. Perhaps this seems more like a burden than a reward. There are times I do not welcome opportunities to use my gifts. Doing one more thing seems too much. I’m tired, or I’m old, or I’ve experienced more failure than success. I’m tempted to say, “Let someone else do it.” Jesus understands my reluctance, my weakness, yet he reminds me—and us—that every gift, no matter how small, is given to be used for promotion of the Gospel and for the common good. May we be grateful for our God-given gifts and not bury them, even when the reward for using them is greater responsibility.

Sr. Marie Lucey, OSF
FAN Associate Director

Published in: on November 10, 2020 at 10:30 am  Leave a Comment  

Walking in Holy Wisdom

Reflection for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time by FAN Board Member, Sr. Margaret Magee, OSF

This reflection was originally posted in our November 2nd newsletter


Our readings for this Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time are filled with images and references of wisdom. The first reading from the Book of Wisdom gives us a wondrous image of Wisdom as a woman resplendent and unfading. Lady Wisdom is said to be available and recognizable to those who are alert and who seek her. However, the writer of the Book of Wisdom also acknowledges that Wisdom does not simply wait for those who seek her, “she makes her own rounds, seeking those worthy of her and graciously appears to them in the ways, and meets them with all solicitude.” These qualities of Lady Wisdom, qualities of graciousness, attentiveness and kindness flow through Wisdom from a God, who is a Trinity of Persons, filled with “supreme goodness…supreme communicability…supreme mutual intimacy.”1

In the same way, Matthew’s gospel of the foolish and wise virgins is a call to be alert, to be prepared with oil in our lamps awaiting the bridegroom, for we do not know when he will arrive. “The foolish ones, when taking their lamps, brought no oil with them, but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps. Since the bridegroom was long delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep.” Francis of Assisi often struggled with the sense that the people he encountered daily had become drowsy, sleepy and unaware of the presence of God within them and around them. He desired to help them come awake, alert and to see and encounter the living and loving presence of God in their midst.

In this way, Francis himself, perhaps through his many conversion experiences, had become awakened and alert. His awakened religious imagination led him not only to live in strict poverty as a means of following Christ, rather his deep desire to know Christ led him to an encounter with Lady Poverty and an espousal relationship with her. We know that once awakened, Francis no longer saw Jesus Christ simply as a historical figure, written about in scripture and preached in homilies. Through Francis’ ongoing conversion he experienced Christ alive, who spoke to him through the cross of San Damiano, who was the babe in the manger in Greccio and who became vibrant through all the Brothers and Sisters in Creation. Francis’ desire was for everyone to also have this experience. For Francis and for each of us, this is what holy Lady Wisdom does, she awakens our slumbering drowsy souls to the brilliance of Divine Love and Light, the presence of Christ, who shines even in these dark times of the Covid pandemic and the pandemics of racial inequality, violence, health and economic disparities, and environmental destruction.

Let us together desire Lady Wisdom so that our slumbering and drowsy souls may be awakened in Christ. May this awakening give us the strength and the courage to speak out to the injustices of racism, xenophobia and the inhumane treatment that keep people, especially children, imprisoned in cages. Let us walk in Wisdom. Let us be awakened!

Sr. Margaret Magee, OSF
FAN Board Member

  1. Soul’s Journey into God, St. Bonaventure, Chapter 6, 2.
Published in: on November 3, 2020 at 10:31 am  Leave a Comment  

“These are they who have come out of the great ordeal.”

Reflection for the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time/All Saints Day by FAN Board Member, Br. Paul Crawford, OFM Cap.

This reflection was originally posted in our October 26th newsletter


The readings this week seem to really speak to us through the lens of these unusual times of political and health concerns. Here we are just a week away from another national election and to not be outdone, during a time of great concern over safety in the midst of a health crisis. The current ordeal has been something we never expected, thought would happen, or worse that we would have to live in a different and unexpected time, as we have been doing since April of this year.

We as believers are always concerned when the readings seem to come from a similar time, yet also what a different time and experience.

We are a week away from a national election where the results may take days to tally before we know the outcome. So the readings appropriately remind us to trust in God and to depend on God in spite of how things may seem to be going.

In the Gospel, we hear Jesus say to the crowd: Blessed are the poor in Spirit, …Blessed are the meek,…Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, …Blessed are the merciful,…Blessed are the clean of heart,… Blessed are the peacemakers. Rejoice and be glad for your reward will be great in heaven.

Our greatest threat today is a moral numbness that prevents us from seeing Christ in the other, the least, the poor, and especially in those with whom we disagree.

May we be blessed as a nation and learn from these rough and challenging times that we might disagree, but we are one in Christ. May the examples of the Saints and Blessed remind us of this and encourage us to love and to forgive again and again.

We pray for all those who are working this week to allow us to vote, and may we vote informed and with our FRANCISCAN Hearts.

Br. Paul Crawford, OFM Cap.
FAN Board Member

Published in: on October 27, 2020 at 10:30 am  Comments (1)  

A Food Oasis Grows from the Alliance of Two Franciscan Organizations

by Candace Blase, a volunteer at the Little Portion Farm. What follows is the story of two Franciscan organizations who, together, are growing food and community by “bringing faith-infused farm-to-table dining to those in need” in Baltimore.


The Little Portion Farm (LPF) is a ministry of the Franciscan Friars Conventual, Our Lady of the Angels Province [FAN Members], located on the grounds of The Shrine of St. Anthony in Ellicott City, MD. Prior to 2017, much of the land at the shrine was leased to farmers employing traditional methods of industrial agriculture. The land was planted in a one-crop monoculture, like corn or soybean, and sprayed with abundant chemicals to ward off pests and diseases. Crops were often sold to produce food additives or ethanol. Inspired by Pope Francis’ encyclical focusing attention on caring for creation, the Friars decided to reclaim their land, and lease most of it to Mary’s Land Farm, for rotational cattle grazing. The Friars retained 3 acres (a “little portion”) to devote to sustainable, organic farming practices. The first crops were planted in June 2019.

The Franciscan Center (FC) ministry was started by the Franciscan Sisters of Baltimore in 1891. The cornerstone has always been recognizing the dignity of every human being and serving all with respect. In addition to providing necessary meals, FC offers a continuum of care that includes clothing, emergency health services, counseling, technology, and training which are all designed to help guests become as self-sufficient as possible. Under the leadership of Chef Steven Albright, the Franciscan Center is creating a food oasis where there used to be a food desert. The partnership between LPF and FC lives out Pope Francis’ call to “hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” This article tells the stories of some of the people who are bringing this mission to fruition, illustrating the community that has formed and has embodied the project mission.

The collaborative partnership between The Little Portion Farm (LPF) and The Franciscan Center (FC) is bringing faith-infused farm-to-table dining to those in need in Baltimore City. Wardell, a guest of the Franciscan Center, said he had been used to eating “fried chicken and white rice” before Chef Steve and his team started serving the new farm-to-table menu. “I love the freshness and variety,” said Marvin, another guest. Many guests said the range of vegetables was “an acquired taste,” but they now much prefer them to the canned food, packaged snacks and leftovers served at other food kitchens.

Matt Jones is the Farm and Outreach Coordinator at LPF. He is responsible for the overall running of the farm including managing volunteers. He is a life-long Catholic whose educational background is in Environmental Engineering, Religion and Ecology. He and Chef Steve work closely together to decide the crops to be planted each season and coordinate the weekly transfer of the harvested crops to FC during the spring, summer and fall months. He assigns tasks to volunteers but also is open to input them because “they often see things that I don’t that would improve the farm.” He loves being outdoors and says his faith is “alive in the mindfulness of paying attention to the plants, insects, and birds.”

Broadfork

At LPF, Brian is one of the “broad forkers.” What is board forking you may ask? Shown here, broad forking is a manual alternative to rototilling. It is a strenuous task used to aerate the soil, while preserving the soil structure rich with nutrients and growth enhancing organisms. Brian grew up in St. Mary’s County and always liked farming and gardening. His Lutheran faith is the center point of his life. He starts each day with spiritual reading and brings a steady, calm, and warm spirit to LPF. “I see God in nature. My faith is what happens outside the doors of the church. Aren’t we all being asked to be the hands of God?”

For weed control between beds, cardboard is laid down and wood chips are put over the cardboard. LPF receives many donations of cardboard, but often the cardboard has non-degradable plastic tape on it, which needs to be removed before it is laid between the beds. Ginny, who has been a practicing Catholic all her life, is a master at removing the tape. A retired vocational rehabilitation counselor who loves gardening, Ginny says “my faith is to do good works. When I come here I forget everything. I feel happy and involved.” Ginny is also a keen observer of beauty and often calls everyone’s attention to the beauty of the wildflowers and other flowers that are planted at the farm to attract beneficial insects.

Once the rows are ready, planting begins. Rusty, a life-long Catholic, came to LPF to volunteer with her gardening-loving mother. She brings an infectious enthusiasm to the farm and this season has planted a variety of crops including kale and squash. “I cannot imagine my life without LPF,” she says, but admits, “I have gotten so much more out of LPF than it has gotten out of me!” Rusty’s family has always believed in doing good works, and her mother was so inspired by the good that FC was doing that she donated much of her late husband’s clothing to FC to help men who needed business clothes for job interviews.

Plants need fertilizer, and Jim is the man who typically volunteers for this task. Jim loves gardening, being outdoors and being with other people. He was attracted to LPF after he retired and was looking for something constructive to do. He is often seen walking up and down the rows, carrying a plastic container of ground fish remains and seaweed on his back, quietly and methodically spraying the crops with the natural, though foul-smelling, concoction. His positivity and congeniality are mixed with his serious thoughts about how LPF can do more to meet the needs of the poor. He echoed other volunteers’ feelings about Matt’s “earnest, diligent and non-dictatorial” style of managing volunteers, which he feels creates a warm community.

Weeding is a constant task at LPF. Everyone weeds at LPF. But not everyone would brave a rainstorm to finish a weeding task! That distinction applies only to Stella and her husband, Patrick. Stella, another life-long Catholic, loves being outdoors and getting her hands dirty. Patrick recently retired as head of the Franciscan Action Network. Stella was attracted to volunteering at LPF for “something totally different to do.” She remembers being mesmerized by the beauty of the brilliant orange that emerged as freshly picked carrots were washed.

Harvesting is, of course, one of the major tasks at the farm and everyone pitches in. One of the most prolific crops has been the cherry tomatoes, which have grown so much they seem like a jungle. Many shy away from entering this jungle and doing the meticulous time-consuming picking. Not Melvin, who was born and grew up in a fishing community in India and is used to chopping down banana trees and other tropical plants. He dives right in. Melvin came to the US when he was 22 inspired by his brother, who came to America through Catholic sponsored college scholarship. Melvin became a successful engineer, but never forgot his childhood poverty which became severe after his father died when he was 7. He always went to Catholic church. He says of the Church “it helped me, you don’t know the importance of it until you live in a desperate situation and you have nowhere else to go.” Once the crops are harvested, they head off to the Francsican Center.

The FC provides food to many who have nowhere else to go. While guests interviewed for this article said they have always been grateful for the meals at FC, they unanimously agreed things have radically changed since Chef Steve Albright came to FC a year ago and started a food revolution. Chef Steve’s enthusiasm for all things culinary is infectious. He believes passionately in cooking and serving the best. Chef Steve developed a passion for cooking while serving time in prison for a domestic violence charge. Chef Steve, raised a Presbyterian, was introduced to Catholicism in prison. He acted on his passion for cooking after his release and went to culinary school. And he is now combining his faith and culinary passion at FC. The Center serves between 200-300 guests each day during COVID. Whether guests are served in person at FC or with “to-go” containers as during the pandemic, Chef Steve emphasizes the plating of the food. He and his team do everything from chopping to cooking to plating while focusing on serving beautiful, nutritious meals to their guests each day.

Kesha, one of the assistant chefs, says she always loved cooking. She was working as a medical biller which she didn’t like and after her 3 girls left home she decided to go to culinary school. She loved it but found it too expensive. She was able to complete a free 12-week culinary program at the MD Food Bank. Her Baptist faith was a part of why she wanted to work at FC because “we have the same Christian values.” She is excited about her job and all she is learning. You can see her enthusiasm in her warm and joy-filled smile. She loves how guests’ palates are expanding as they are exposed to fresh food. She says “mouths are being trained.” She is happy to be creating beautiful, good and nutritious food for guests who comment “it is like a gourmet restaurant.”

The influx of fresh vegetables from LPF is changing some of the chefs’ eating/cooking habits as well. Brenda, who has worked as a chef in the FC kitchen since 2012 said “I didn’t know what half of the vegetables were.” Now she is roasting beets at home as well as at work. Brenda said she had a difficult life and being hired at FC, after volunteering for a year, has changed her life. And, Chef Steve is enhancing that change. “Fresh food was new to me. With Chef Steve we get more experience.” Among the dishes she has enjoyed cooking are roasted beets with garlic, butternut squash soup, tomato soup and mashed turnips and potatoes. She said the guests used to leave the canned vegetables on their plates. “Now they eat everything.”

Will, who used to be a guest and is now an assistant chef, says, “I look forward to coming to work.” Since he was in high school, he has had a knack for picturing things and putting them together and he enjoys applying this skill to cooking. He grew up a Jehovah’s Witness and spoke highly of his parents. He said he has had a “crazy history” but has come back to his roots at FC. Chef Steve is helping not just with cooking but with his recovery program as well. “The world is rough. It is dog-eat-dog in Baltimore. But, this is my new home.” He too wasn’t familiar with many of the vegetables from the farm but has now developed an interest in vegan cooking.

All this cooking couldn’t be done without Jeffrey. He has been washing dishes at FC for 21 years. COVID has cut down on the number of plates he has to wash … “now it’s just pots and pans! I like that!”

And what do the guests say? Wardell said he had been used to eating “fried chicken and white rice” before Chef Steve Albright and his team started serving the new farm-to-table menu. “I love the freshness and variety,” said Marvin, another guest. Many guests said the range of vegetables was “an acquired taste,” but they now much prefer them to the canned food, packaged snacks and leftovers served at other food kitchens. “This is healthy eating and I love it,” added Marvin. Darrell commented that he feels better since eating the fresh food at FC. The partnership between LPF and FC is a community effort that is changing lives as it “hears both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”

Candace Blase is a volunteer at the Little Portion Farm. She has worked in the fields of social justice and counseling in the US, Cambodia and South Africa. She is committed to the human, social/racial justice, environmental, and spiritual impacts of the LPF and FC partnership.

Published in: on October 26, 2020 at 2:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

Love of God and Neighbor

Reflection for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time by FAN Board Member, Sr. Marge Wissman, OSF

This reflection was originally posted in our October 19th newsletter


The First Reading this week from Exodus ends with God saying “I am compassionate”. God is compassionate about the oppression of aliens, the wrongdoing of widows and orphans, lending money to the poor and charging interest, taking a neighbor’s cloak as a pledge and not returning it to him by midnight because it is all he has to keep warm. If any of these actions happen, “God is Compassionate” and will hear the cries of all of the oppressed.

In the Gospel, Jesus is asked by the Pharisees “Which commandment in the law is greatest?” Jesus responded: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment and the SECOND IS LIKE IT. You shall love your neighbor as yourself!” They are not separate commandments. In loving my neighbor, I am loving God! In our neighbor we see something of God: God’s creature, God’s image and likeness, and if we love God, we must also love his image, the work of God’s hands. In one of our first religion classes as children we were assured that we were all made to the image and likeness of God. Sr. Helen Prejean says that in the worst person you can always find something good. That good is where God is.

A question posed in many spiritual reflections is: Who is my neighbor? During this time in History, we are extremely aware of who is our neighbor – the immigrants who are looking for a place of safety, those who are being discriminated against through killings, profiling, religious beliefs, those kept captive by poverty, abusive relationships, and trafficking. Oscar Romero once said in a homily, “My soul is sore when I learn that our people are tortured, when I learned how the rights of those created in the image of God are violated.” These are our neighbors! Sr. Helen Prejean, advocate against the Death Penalty expressed, “I saw the suffering and let myself feel it…I saw the injustices and was compelled to do something about it…” The two greatest commandments about love lead us to action. Let us join with one another in expressing our love and living service to God through our compassion and be able to say with God: “I am compassionate!” Jesus affirms that love of God and love of our neighbor are essential to life.

Sr. Marge Wissman, OSF
FAN Board Member

Published in: on October 20, 2020 at 10:30 am  Leave a Comment