Friday, December 31, 2010

A new year, a new work week.

I was sharing with some of the servers this past week that I understood how happy they must be to be going back to school on Monday. They were less than amused. But for most of us, the end of the Christmas season means beginning the rigors of work and school once more. Someone had mentioned this past week that Christmas seems so anticipated, only to pass by in a few short hours.
Though even in the Church year we lead up to the story of Jesus' birth, it seems we barely take any time at the manger, and then we have Jesus beginning his public ministry. But alas, Jesus himself will remind us that the reason he came into the world was to reveal the Kingdom of God, proclaiming salvation, and announcing the 'Good News.' Peter wants to keep Jesus around, his family comes to see him, and we even would like to have some quality time with the child Jesus; but the Gospels tell us that we have to work.
And the work that the Church does is to teach, preach, and sanctify. From its celebration of the Eucharist at Liturgy, its education and catechetical programs, and ministry to the sick, poor, and oppressed, the Church continues to make known the words and teachings of Jesus Christ. The teaching of the, Church in the Modern World, presaented to the world at the Second Vatican Council, makes it clear that the Church cannot be a wall flower.
It is always amusing to read comments on message boards, and in text, stating the Church needs to stay out of politics. Well in reality issues of Life, human dignity, poverty, and violence, are all moral matters and call for moral leadership. If anything the Church needs to take a stronger position on some of the problems afflicting our society.
It is an ongoing task to recognize that the Church has a place in the world today. Our going to work encompasses all of humanity, and human life from womb to tomb - and into eternal life. At St. Mary's we have spoken a lot about stewardship over the last few years. We are really speaking about discipleship and taking responsibility for the Church. I remember that Dunkin Doughnut commercial with the baker, "Its time to make the doughnuts."
For us after this feast and all of the celebrations, food, people, and fun, its time to proclaim the Kingdom.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Feast of the Holy Innocents

We were confirmed in the Eighth Grade. I choose St. Michael as my Confirmation name. It seemed appropriate and I liked the image of chasing evil out of heaven. We talked about the gifts of the Holy Spirit and even went away for a one day retreat. Anyway a week before Confirmation a young boy was kidnapped while doing his paper route. He happened to be the cousin of one of our classmates, and a well known family in the City of Rockford. There was a massive search throughout the city and in northwest Illinois. Sadly they found his body at a boyscout camp, near Stockton, Illinois, on the day of our Confirmation. Being that he was the same age as many of us, and our parish relationship with this family, our focus was less on Confirmation and more on this horrific event staring all of us in the face. Even as an Eighth grader I could not help but wonder what terror there must have been for this child.

In sort of a weird way, even a scriptural way, it was an awakening to the real world. As we put away our Christmas stuff we go back to work, school, and other activities far removed from the niceties of the celebrations of Christmas. The intention of this feast is that we might not lose our focus, and to remember that Christ comes to take away Sin and Evil. While Christmas is a Child's feast in so many ways, the reality is that Christ comes to bring salvation and peace into the very adult world where there is brokenness, pain, and division.

It is mind-boggling to read about the amount of poverty and hunger that wracks the world. Child abuse and neglect are way too common in the world today. And sadly abortion is commonly looked upon as a form of birth control. Sometime google the phrase, 'boyfriend charged with abuse.' News stories from across the U.S. will pop up. To be sure the abuse is problematic, but we enter into unhealthy relationships that foster all sorts of ugliness and pain.

I was with a family several nights ago, sharing some of the subjects that I would cover with the Fifth graders. The husband and father mentioned that he thought some of the subjects I had mentioned, should be covered in the home. I had no objection to dads and moms talking to their children about chastity, modesty, self-respect, and even sexuality. The home is the beginning of good faith formation and stewardship.

We want to respond to the overt damage and abuse that is done against children, but also that which is covert, whereas we expect schools, sports activities, T.V. stars to models and directors of our children into adult life. I don't think we have to live as monks and nuns in order to offer a moral foundation for our world today. Like the prophets we have to be aware of the brokenness and make bold in declaring the virtues and values that our lives stand for.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Holy Family

"Wives be submissive to your husbands... ." That is about the extent of the Pauline text from today most people ever hear. There are usually some nudges, side-way glances, and smirks. What people seldom hear is the continuation of St. Paul advocating that husbands should love their wives as does Christ the Church. And we can look at any crucifix and meditate on how much Christ loved the Church.

In a very real way if families are to be Holy, then the they have to follow the example of the Paschal Mystery. In love men and women come together to pledge their commitment to the other under the auspices of Christ's love. As St Paul would suggest, such a journey requires an ongoing unconditional 'Yes.' Families are formed in the image and likeness of God and need to bear witness to the sacredness and holiness of God in their very lives.

I grew up in a family with five siblings and two parents. I remember going to mass every Sunday. I don't remember if I "got" anything out of it every Sunday, but we went. I do remember the chaos that would erupt on some Sundays as our parents tried to get us ready, (as well as themselves) as we headed out the door. There were days when were not in the proper mental or spiritual framework to be at mass.

It is at these places where Paul speaks most practically. St. Paul calls for patience and understanding of one another. Moreover he reminds us that we need to act in charity within our families and communities. We are even to admonish each other, but with love and charity. Sirach goes to some lengths to describe the reverence and holiness that needs to exist in the Communion of the family. Children to love and honor their parent's as parents should love and honor their children. This is our holy call to honor and rspect each other.




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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Vigil of Christmas

I think that it was in the 16th or 17th century that religious superiors were advised lock the monks in the cloister on Christmas Eve, so that in their drunken state they would not damage the church. In the last few hundred years our Christmas celebration has taken on somewhat of a religious nature again. All the while we are deluged with the message to buy stuff, people of faith recognize the religious aspects of this feast. While the vigil is not really Christmas, very much like waiting for the birth of a child, we pray and fast during these last few hours anticipating the presence of Jesus, our King and our Saviour.

There are a plethora of stories recalling the ceasing of war, if only for a few hours, during the eve of Christmas. In Paul the VI, Pacem in Terres, Pope Paul VI will expound upon the nature of the vulnerable, oppressed, and dejected in our world today. Echoing the Gospels Paul call for conversion and discipleship throughout the world. Over the next few nights we will be inundated with Christmas shows. All in all hey make us feel good about ourselves. Certainly God feels good about us because he comes in human form, to bring us salvation and peace.

I was reading another blog this morning in which the writer quotes an article finding commonality between the manger and the cross. This author sees the journey, the dangers, and the proclamation of 'Good News' to be sort of bookends in our experience of Christ Jesus. The Incarnation is the unconditional 'Yes' of God, who loves us more than we can understand or really deserve. God wants us to enter into a communal relationship with him.

To be sure this is a time of family and celebration. But there is an introspective part of this feast that asks us to look at our response to God. We want to receive God's gift of himself gratefully, and allow it to change us. The Vigil is a good to look at our preparation for the coming of Christ. I recall eons ago sitting at home with my parents and siblings prior to midnight mass, bathed in Christmas tree light, I had realized how great my family was. Previous squabbles just seemed so silly at that particular moment.

Hopefully this will be a time of comfort and joy for everyone. May the blessings of the Christ child show us the way to peace and healing throughout the year.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Its almost here

Wow, its been awhile since I have been here. This weekenCheck Spellingd is the celebration of Christmas. Now I have to say the older I get, the less excited I become over Christmas. But from a liturgical and theological point it is a most important feast.

These last few days of Advent dissect the entire feast. The birth narrative is read slowly each day, pray, fasting, and reconciliation are strongly encouraged. We are preparing for a day and for a transformation. At Evening prayer we use the O Antiphons. We can chant these at Mass too. Our best contact with these is in the song, O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

The Antiphons highlight the titles of the Messiah. So each day we chant a distinct title: O Wisdom, O Lord, O Root of Jesse, O Key of David, O Rising Sun, O King of the Nations, and O Emmanuel. This context helps us who pray in this manner to focus more deeply on the mystery we are about to celebrate. It is in particularly important at this celebration which can become watered down in the social and cultural hype. God redeems humanity and changes our lives forever.

St Thomas Aquinas says that this is really the best way that God can bring us salvation and peace. Through the coming of an infant we can reflect on the fact that we are in need of development, love, care, and compassion in order to achieve our potential. God loves us more than we can imagine. St. John will remind us that he loved us so much that he took on our human nature.

This feast also helps us to contemplate that in the Incarnation God blesses, and even affirms, human flesh. Our human nature can cause us all sorts of hardships, difficulties, and sadness. Our experience of God through Jesus Christ helps us to remember the love and the mercy which God holds out for us. We just have to say 'Yes."

As we behold the child Jesus, we remember all of the Christological titles, and most importantly that he is Emmanuel, God with us.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Basilica of St Mary Major

At the Council of Ephesus, in 431 A.D. Mary is declared the Mother of God. In honor of this pronouncement Pope Sixtus built a Church, which stands today, honoring Mary as the Theotokos, or God-Bearer. For many centuries this church has stood dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, recalling her Fiat, or unconditional 'Yes' to God. It remains also as a challenge to the Church to remain faithful to God, and to continue to seek what is true and good.

In his Caritas in Veritate, Benedict XVI calls to mind for us that the Church has in effect, "A mission of truth to accomplish in every time and circumstance, for a society that is attuned to man, to his dignity, to his vocation. ..." (#9) Benedict will go on to state that in it's mission and ministry the Church has this ongoing search for the Truth, and when it finds it, must proclaim and pronounce it. The Holy Father declares that Truth is divine. The Word of God establishes all of creation, and continues the salvation of the world, through the mercy of God, and the Paschal Mystery. Jesus Christ states in John's Gospel, 'I am the Truth.' To be sure our search for Truth begins and ends in the teaching and preaching of Jesus.

In our post-modern world it seems that everyone has found the 'truth.' Whatever answer we come up with is always the right answer. I remember a young girl in my freshman high school class wondered why we needed rules or teachings. She made the point everyone should be able to do what they wanted; whatever lifestyle was comfortable to them. But after several minutes of questions and discussion, she had to admit that there were some standard 'rights' and 'wrongs' in life. Today many are hostile to the foundational virtues and values we find in our faith tradition.

Twentieth century Yves Congar would often write about the power and the working of the Holy Spirit in our Church today. While Congar could be thought of as a bit of a theological radical, his understanding of the guidance of the Spirit gives us pause. In seeking this Truth, we have to listen to the voice of God, especially in our daily ministry. Doing Church, or doing church work, opens us to receive the direction of God. Perhaps this is why monastics have this wonderful balance of prayer, work, and study. In all of this they are to cease from unnecessary talking.

Remember Paul's letter to the Colossians (3:1-5,9-11) last week? Paul argues that we need to set ourselves on 'higher goods.' He alludes to some of the virtues which draw us closer to God's holiness. A church in Rome reminds us that we are called to be Church in every time and place. Like Mary we need to have the courage and strength to "Proclaim the greatness of the Lord." Our journey of faith desires to be fed and nourished on the word of God and the love of the Father in the context of the Church community.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

St John Vianney

Today we celebrate the patron of the priesthood as we honor the memory of Saint John Mary Vianney. John Vianney was a very holy, and to be sure, a very patient man. He was born shortly after the French revolution, during a peiod of extreme secularist thought. Faith and religion certainly had been shoved into the background during this time. Ordained in 1815, it is safe to say that John Vianney had an almost child-like faith as he assumed the pastorate the parish at Ars in 1818.

Ars was a back-woods sort of place that was openly hostile to religion and the Church. It was John Vianney's care and love for these people that drew men and women back into the church. He is best known for the many hours he spent in the confessional. In a very real way what he did went beyond simply celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation, but offered spiritual direction and guidance to people's lives.

We often forget to mention that John Vianney was a man of immense compassion and engaged in many acts of charity and pastoral care. In these very simple but profound ways John Vianney revealed the mystery of the Church to many men and women, and articulated for them the 'Good News' of the Gospel. Through this holy saint, people began to associate the Church with God's love and care.

"Accept from the holy people of God the gifts to be offered to him. Know what you are doing, and imitate the mystery you celebrate: model your life on the mystery of the Lord's cross." These are the words spoken to the priest, by the bishop, at ordination, as the new Priest is given the bread and the wine. Like everything else in our Church we center ourselves on the Eucharist. The Priest is to be that living sign of the presence of Christ in the community he serves. He is the 'Father' and 'Pastor' to the people of God.

Since the time Christ sent his disciples out on mission, the ministry of Priesthood has remained to preach, teach, and to sanctify. There is a prophetic role here in which the Priest calls people to experience Christ through the celebration of the sacraments, and hearing the Gospel proclaimed. When I taught high school, and had to be a disciplinarian, the children would whimper, "I thought priests were supposed to be nice." Being "nice" includes challenging the lives and institutions that do not always include the love of God.

John Vianney certainly helps us understand the fullness of Christ Jesus in our priestly ministry. We pray that God continues to raise up holy men and women to be a living example of the paschal mystery.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Welcome the Stranger

In the newspaper today it was reported that a federal judge has suspended the Arizona Immigration law. For the last several months this has been a contentious subject. It is debatable to even say there is a right side and a wrong side. The issues here are much larger than the difficulties experienced by a particular group of people. And of course politicians are milking every ounce of political expediency out of this situation.

Some are concerned that the Catholic Church has come out in support of the Immigrants, many of them perhaps are in the U.S. illegally. Some might see this as unpatriotic and impractical. Many of the message boards scream about the Church simply being interested in money, or simply numbers.

The latter though touches on where the Church is looking. For the Church it sees men and women looking for a livelihood that they are not finding at home. Most, if not all of the immigrants that come from Central and South America, are coming from nations that are filled with violence and political corruption. The nightly news reports regularly on the murders which occur on a daily basis in our neighboring Mexico.

The solution to the problem of illegal immigration is not as simple as putting people back on their side of the border. Poverty and despair lead to violence and illegal activity. For some who live in these countries, the survival of their families offers very few choices. One either must sneak into the U.S., partake in illegal activity, or watch the destruction of one's family. The Church recognizes that often the dignity of the human person is compromised. The lack of the basics of life, but those attributes that are hard to define, which offer men and women safety and security.

We need to find solutions in our own nation, but as a matter of justice we should want to encourage our neighbors to provide safety, employment, and access to the basics of life. There is that old saying from back in the 1960s, 'if you want peace, work for justice.'

The Gospels remind us that the Kingdom of God is in our midst. St. Paul would challenge those who consume the Eucharist, to be a source of living bread for one another. Resolution to our concerns does not come from essentially un-enforceable laws, but through compassion and mercy. There is a lot of stuff here, and we can find solutions when we stand on the Gospel values as our springboard.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

On Vacation

Sunday night began my one week vacation. I am sharing a cabin with a priest friend, just outside of Galena, IL. He shares my love for woods and waterways. We will be having supper with several other presbyters while we are out here, The only thing is that I cannot get him to play golf. Oh well.

In recent years I have forgone the treks to far away cities and beaches, and stayed within a six to eight hour drive of home. I usually get about six to ten days of vacation a year. But what is important is to take a vacation or time away to rest and relax. Jesus calls his apostles to come away by themselves for some rest after they had been at their ministry for some time.

In our culture we might even feel guilty about rest and relaxation. There was an article in the Chicago Tribune some time ago about workers today who take their cellphones and laptops with them so as to keep in touch with the office. These working vacations can contribute to ongoing difficulties with stress and family relationships. There is never a clear separation between work and personal life. Our jobs owns us and that is not a good thing.

When we talk about stewardship we necessarily are talking about responsibility, and that includes being responsible for our own health and well-being. Rest and relaxation are important components of our spiritual life. In our time here we have done our best to avoid "parish-work" talk. That has not meant sharing concerns about people in our parish, and of course the Liturgy and Liturgy of the Hours are part of our routine, because we are still priests.

When I get back on Friday night I expect that I will be sitting in a pile of mail. But that's okay. Just a few days of hiking and canoeing will regenerate us and help us in our pastoral care, preaching, and teaching ministry. It is okay to take some time off and play for a while.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Priest, Prophet, King

As we end the Year of the Priest, I was reading an article about a talk given by H. Richard McCord, who is the executive director of the Bishop's Committee on Laity, Marriage, and Family Life. His talk attempts to mesh the priesthood of all believers, which is ours at Baptism, and the Sacramental Priesthood.

McCord makes mention of the fact that the Sacramental Priest is set apart both through ordination, and specifically by lifestyle. McCord reiterates the importance that the Priest is taken from the people of God, so as to serve the people as the shepherd and priest. The community of faith works together to make present the Kingdom of God. McCord reflects that the Second Vatican Council, "Intended to highlight the significance and indeed the necessity of a truly mutual ecclesial relationship between priests and laity; all of which brings us to where we are today.

Mr. McCord borrows from Lumen Gentium as he describes the fact that, "Though they differ essentially and not only in degree, the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood are nonetheless interrelated; each in its own way shares in the one priesthood of Christ. McCord points out that we all know of mothers and fathers who hold their families together. Parishes are composed of many faithful people who pass on the faith tradition, but also live out that same faith, through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

More and more I look at the Beatitudes as a springboard for Christian living. We are nurtured and nourished by he Word of God, and the Bread of Life, and are invited to "Love and Serve the Lord. It is not rainbows and lollipops. I think that we can all admit that striving to fully live a Christian life can be a challenge. That is the cross thing again.

Members of the priesthood of the faithful, and the ministerial priesthood all participate in the works of the High Priest, Jesus Christ. McCord makes mention that both carry our three principle works. As members of the priesthood of Christ we are all to Teach, Sanctify, and Govern. Laypersons do these things by the "unfolding of baptismal grace," and the ordained through the sacramental powers of Holy Orders, in which they act "in the person of Jesus Christ."

McCord concludes his talk stating that it is the vocation of the laity to express this threefold ministry in their daily lives. We as a Church are necessarily a body of faithful witnesses who participates in the Body of Christ by being a priest, prophet, and king. Sometimes in parishes we get wrapped up in matters such as the placement of a table or what songs to sing at mass. Instead we should be evangelizers who strive to bring about unity, healing, and peace, where we live. We are a light to all of the nations.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The art of mentoring

Time and again I have become aware that I am one of the older priests in the diocese. I look around and see that there are as many active priests older than myself, and many more who are younger. When I was a seminarian I would go to these seminarian/priest gatherings and be in awe of men who were ordained twenty-five, thirty, and even forty years. I would enjoy listening to their stories, and admire their friendship.
While I would refer to a dozen or so of these men as models of priesthood, each of them were a great example of priestly ministry and priestly life. As a young priest I would call some of the older pastors concerning pastoral situations, and for priestly advise. I so not know how many of these men realized how valuable they were for my own presbyteral formation.
As an older priest now, I have begun to recognize how important mentoring is, in particular for the younger men. This is not only for those few who have called to ask a question, or who need coverage at their parish, but also in priestly gatherings as well. It is easy to get into the "us" and "them" mentality, musing about how we did things, in the day. But that becomes destructive to our personal and fraternal relationships.
I had emailed a younger priest some months ago about a reconciliation service. He was a most excellent presider. I told how much I appreciated his enthusiasm and reverence. I know that he was thankful for the compliment and really hoped that would be a building block to continue doing the good things that were already evident.
But I really do believe that whatever life we are in, it is important to be a mentor to each other. In our post-modern age we become so self-identified, we can block our selves off from others. We look at others interaction as intrusive as opposed to supportive or instructive. If we really look at ours as a faith journey, than it becomes crucial we watch over those who are on the road with us. Think about what it would be like if we went to our elders and sought advise and understanding. Or if older parents assisted and encouraged younger parents. It would be a good thing.
While I do not have a long white beard, I think that new part of ministry for myself is that of mentoring. With the other old priests to watch over and care to the young presbyters who are beginning this lifestyle. This will be our disciples response.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Gift of Charity

Today's Gospel is one of my favorite. It is the story of the Good Samaritan. I think that it is so relate-able since we have been both the passerby, and the victim in the ditch. Like the lawyer we are sometimes left asking the question of who is my neighbor.

Father Henri Nouwen, way back in the late 1960s, wrote a book entitled, The Wounded Healer. Nouwen emphasizes that which is common in humanity, both to minister and believer, the experience of woundedness. This woundedness can serve as both a source of strength and healing when counseling others. When we are most aware of our own suffering, than too we become aware of the suffering world, family, generation, and all of the others. This is the starting point of our service to each other. Most importantly we can develop both challenges to each other, and modes of healing that will bring forth peace and consolation.

In those sadly familiar moments when I inspect the abyss between the holy desires God has placed deep in my soul, and the oft sorry fruit of them, I turn to the words of St. Paul who reminds us that we cannot reconcile this dilemma on our own. "It pleased God to make absolute fullness reside in Him, and by means of Him to reconcile everything in His person, everything I say both on earth and in the heavens making peace through the blood of His cross."

Jesus was never fearful or hobbled in doing what was right and good. Even in moments whereas his 'good deeds' might be uncomfortable or inconvenient. Jesus remains the ultimate model of compassion and reconciliation. There is risk involved to be sure. On our own journey to Jerusalem we have a responsibility to one another. Sometimes it entails holding another's hand, while at other times we have to go down into the ditch to rescue someone. That is the cross.

When we begin to allow compassion and kindness to be part of our own persona, we will begin to see those robbed of justice and dignity, stripped of their spirituality and integrity, and left fro dead by society. We recognize neighborliness when we act like neighbors. What does it mean to act like a neighbor? To live in the realm of love and mercy.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

WOW

Last week I spent some time at Camp WOW. Several area parishes, encompassing three different diocese, participate in this junior high ministry, summer camp. The campers spend four days at a campground, complete with cabins, a dining hall, a swimming hole, and a chapel. The kids have an awesome time. I go there for confessions and for mass. It is a lot of fun.

Junior High kids are at a good age to begin to look at values and lifestyle choices in their young lives. They are not little kids anymore, and are old enough to understand that their choices can have consequences - for life. In my closing homily I asked the question of how do we want people to remember us. Hopefully the memories we leave people with are good ones. We certainly would not want others to recall us as a frump or nabob.

This was an excellent time for evangelization. The High School students who were the camp counselors, had to reflect on their own faith and what brought them to the camp. For all of the Junior High kids, this was really the first time for them to consider faith and values, outside of mom and dad, and even school or R.E. This will hopefully inspire them to develop a habit of asking the question, "Who do I say Jesus is?" And of course we want to examine that question in the context of our faith life.

The evangelical nature of this camp will hopefully enable these very young people to think beyond religion, into a sphere of a lifestyle based on conversion and discipleship. We would like them to begin to articulate and share their faith through faithful witness, words, and acts of charity.

Many of us might remember the Psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg and his Stages of Moral Development. The lowest level is that of avoiding punishment and being rewarded for being good. If that is where our faith is, it is not really very deep. The highest level, which very few attain, is doing good because it is good to do.

We want these children, or young people, to strive for the highest levels of faith and morality. This process of evangelization will set the stage for a life long relationship with Jesus Christ and his Church.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Through the Mercy of God Rest in Peace

Yesterday I went to a funeral for a brother priest. He had been a Jesuit, a professor at Boston College, served in two parishes in our diocese, before retirement. In these last few months he had begun to feel weakness and extreme fatigue. He was diagnosed with ALS, and died several days later.

Father John was a wonderful man, a great sense of humour, and most importantly a great love for the Eucharist and the Liturgy. Priesthood was very important for him. We look at people like this, those with great intellects and talent, and think of how unusual it is that they are drawn to the priesthood. And yet I think that he could not possibly have seen his life outside of the priesthood and ministry.

I am always moved also at the sight of the number of priests at a priest funeral. This is especially true when the priest was elderly. There might be a very few family and friends there, but anywhere from thirty to sixty priests. Some would accuse our life as one of loneliness. In reality we belong to a fraternity which extends even beyond our diocesan boundaries. I am reminded of this especially when we concelebrate the Liturgy, but throughout our ministry. And a priest funeral is a time to recall the very beautiful mystery we celebrate in the Eucharist.

At the end of the Funeral Mass the priests sang Salve Regina. A fraternal send off for one who had been so faithful and devoted to the saving mystery of the cross and resurrection. A sad day in some ways, but also a time of great joy and happiness as we return to God one of his gifts.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Working saints

Last night I was noticing how dirty our Mary statue had become again. We painted it last summer, and cleaned it up again in the Fall. But it has become really dirty again. It sits under a tree near some other bushes and the like. All of that probably gets sprayed onto the statue.

But I was also thinking, as I was walking the dog this morning, the saints were folks who were not afraid to get dirty. Even our great intellectual saints were most likely least concerned about their pristine appearance, and more focused on the truth of the Gospel. The men and women who focused on the Good News would not have time for the latest fashions or finery. I like to look at parents as examples of unselfish love. Here we have people who swallow hard to clean dirty diapers, wipe dirty faces, and clean up all sorts of food mess, as they center on the more important aspects of raising children.

And isn't that what the Eucharist calls us to be about. At the Last Supper Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. He reminds them that what he is doing, we must do for one another. I have sometimes thought this would make a nice 'sign of peace' gesture at mass. Wash each others feet. There is an intimate connection between this action of foot-washing and Eucharistic celebration.

Doing Christian life is a messy action. The Gospels tell us that it is no walk in the park. To proclaim good news is a lot of hard work. We have the saints and holy men and women to be models and guides in this endeavor.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

It's Fatehr's Day

Over the last several months I have gone back to the creation stories in Genesis as a source of personal inspiration, and for use in pastoral care as well. St Mary's has been using the Theology of the Body for teens, in its confirmation preparation. I am always taken aback by the power of the Word of God. God speaks and creation comes into being. And is it in Jeremiah where the prophet alludes to God carving us in the palm of his hand. In God the Father there is this great power and strength, but also an intimacy and compassion.

Back in the late eighties and nineties there was sort of a mini-men's movement. Over the previous twenty years men had become lost in the cultural shuffle of the time, and sort of lost their place. What is man's role in society and in the family? Books like Iron John sought to provide some models and examples of how to be 'manly' in our culture today.

But to go back to Genesis, we as Christians have been given the role of men and women in our world today. Males and females are meant to compliment each other. Somehow we reached a place whereas we believed we were in direct competition. But no, we are made for each other. Now there was an article I found on the Web some days ago, entitled, "Why women can't park?" While it seemed like it might be an attempt at humour, in reality it spoke to the truth that men' s and women's biology is very different - apart from the obvious. Our brains and physiology respond to various stimuli in very unique and different ways. It is all good stuff too.

About five years ago the University of Wisconsin, Madison, came out with a series of studies on the family, and familial roles. Time and again the researchers reiterated the importance of a mother and a father. Moreso, while T.V. and movies relegates the father to a secondary role, or that of a buffoon, the reality is that the male parent provides a unique set of principles and directions which compliment and enhance the role of the mother.

Going back to Genesis, God makes them male and female, commanding them to go forth and multiply. God the Father is the creator and the giver of life. God the Father shows strength and compassion. Where do we find our models of Fatherhood? It is in the Sacred Scripture where God's word brings all things into being. Today we honor fathers for their strength and leadership. They reveal to us the fullness of life and all that is of value and importance. We ask God the Father to be with these men always.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The place where Christians came from

These past several weeks tensions have been extremely high in the Middle East. Peace groups, mainly from Turkey attempted to bypass an Israeli blockade, and deliver food and medicine to Palestinians in Gaza. Of course you all heard about the Israeli response, and the world-wide outcry. In the middle of this ongoing test of wills and clash of cultures, are people who try to go about their daily life.

For the Christian this is no easy task. In the Middle East world, Christians are most definitely seen as outsiders. They face added hardships, oppression, and discrimination. In his recent trip to Greece, Pope Benedict prayed for a resolution in the areas conflictual nature. Benedict spoke about the hardships caused by ongoing violence and urged all sides to work for a lasting solution which would bring peace and unity to the region.

At the Request of the Holy Father, the regions Bishops will begin creating a document which will focus on the faith witness, and the value of publicly pronouncing a Christian faith in the Holy Land today, and encouraging Christians to be advocates for peace.

These are our brothers and sisters in Baptism. The creed reminds us that we are One, Holy, catholic, and apostolic. The Christians in the Middle East need our prayers and support. We have a responsibility to understand and support their struggles through our prayer and faithfulness. While I do not expect my readers to engage in any kind of public protest, it can only help to contact our congress people. Lastly we remember our friends in Christ through our prayer and sacrifice.

St. Paul will remind us that when one part of the body hurts, the whole body is in pain. We ache for our broters and sisters, and maintain an awareness of their plight, as we lift them up to the Lord.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Where Charity and Love Prevail

This past Sunday I had a great time at a neighboring parish attending their Bean Bag contest. It was rained out, which created a great opportunity to watch this parish in action. As soon as the rain began parishioners scrambled to bring food, chairs, and tables into the parish hall. It was in that order mind you! Save for the very old and very young, there were no slackers. Everyone helped in some way.

When I was growing up in Rockford, during one particular rainy weekend, we received a call from some of the 'men of the parish.' The Church hall, which sat at the bottom of a hill, was flooding. There had be forty to fifty men, teens, and pre-teens, with mops, buckets, wet-vacs, and anything to move water. It was an action that saved the floor and tables from damage, and it was a great service to the parish.

Today I wonder if we could do that again. Here at St. Mary's our usher population is dwindling, I have a hard time getting lay-people to visit the home bound, and we scurry about in the Fall trying to find catechists. I know that we are very busy now-a-days, but I would think as a parishioner one would want to have some connection to the parish family.

The documents, "Stewardship: A Disciples Response," and "Called and Gifted," invite men and women to a fuller response in parish life. This is our faith community and we want to nourish and nurture it. It is our mandate to share the Good News, something which we cannot do standing against a wall. We take responsibility for our faith and for our parish community. Baptism calls us to a communion with God, and each other. Just as the disciples are sent out to proclaim, the gospel message, we engage in that faithful witness too.

Again we are not talking about coordinating a multi-faceted religious education program. But we are inviting to gather together and respond to the needs and concerns of each other. Sometimes that means lectoring at Liturgy, and other times it means attending a Lenten supper.

Jesus washes the feet of his disciples before they share the Eucharist. He reminds those disciples that what he is doing, they must do for each other.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Church Culture and Sex Abuse

A letter written by Bishop Mark Coleridge, of Canberra, Australia, given on Pentecost, attempts to give the clergy sexual abuse some perspective. Bishop Coleridge draws some conclusions as to the root causes of clergy abuse. He reflects that it is not really one thing, but a series of factors. These include the Church teachings on sexuality, human formation in the seminary, institutional immaturity, clericalism, and a culture of secrecy.

Bishop Coleridge, like many in and out of the Church, found it incredulous that pedophilia could exist at all in the Church. Many believed, that as the cases began to surface in the 80s and 90s, that these were isolated situations. Sexual abuse became the elephant in the living room. It would take almost a decade for Church leaders to comprehend the power and depth of this pathology. The wounds from this crisis are deep, and the division it has caused is immense.

In speaking with some older priests, they comment that some thirty plus years ago, when abuse cases were brought forth, many of the bishops went to psychologists for help. Back then the understanding of pedophilia was very different. The bishops were told to treat the situation like a priest having a relation with a woman. If he is removed from the temptation, the action would cease. Remember that bishops back then, and few today, had any sort of psychology or social science background. Not to offer excuses but were not always able to make the best judgements. Perhaps they relied to heavily on psychology of the day.

The Protecting God's Children charter did much to initiate a climate for the safety and well being of children. This charter insisted that all of our interaction with young people be done openly and in public view. In all of the training, one of the aspect that was emphasized again and again, was there should not be secrets between adults and children. Children, and those who work with them, are safer with the various mechanisms which are in place today.

Today many of the detracters of the Church use the sexual abuse to call for demolishing celibacy, the heirarchy, and many of the teachings of the Church. The Church has been bruised and battered. To be sure we as Church have an obligation to work for forgiveness and reconciliation, but there is also a matter of justice. We serve our Chuch best when we take responsibility for the hurt and pain inflicted on others, especially the vulnerable.

Where do we go from here? The Church will have o continue to be open the the voices of leadreship, and will have to work at bringing peace and reconciliation to victims and their families. Our Church leaders can be a catelyst for nurturung forgiveness and healing. We also have to continue to be Church, The Church should not be afraid to do the mission entrusted to it. The Church must contunue to preah, teach, and to sanctify,

As church we sould strive to be the very bes we can be. With God's help we can be instruments of peace and love.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Back to Ordinary Time

School is out, our office staff hours have changed, R.E. is finished until the Fall, and summer has begun. We are also back to the Ordinary time of the Church year. There is sort of a laid back feel at the parish too. Actually we do not actually put all of the spring things away until mid-June, but there is some more down time.

I like the readings for the next few weeks. This coming week we will talk about recognizing our need of forgiveness, and the difference between being righteous and self-righteous. The week after that Jesus poses the question to us: "Who do you say that I am?" We will examine our faith response to Jesus. And, by the Fourth of July, the disciples will recognize the power they have, in Jesus' name. The summer holds a great profusion and abundance of themes and reflections for us in our faith journey. To be sure it is not the heaviness of Lent, but asks us to take some time and call to mind our faith and faithfulness.

We are in an era where faith seems to be a quaint concept. Granny and Aunt Marge have faith and pray and do nice things, and we are happy for them. We can easily confuse being religious with being nice. So much to the point where w might state 'I don't need God to be nice." But in reality our faith is not calling us to be 'candy stripers' but to pour out our lives in compassion, peace and forgiveness. Our day to day living needs to be a bit more prophetic than simply wearing a happy face.

In years gone by our Bishops have spoken on poverty, the crisis in Sudan, the war in Iraq, genetic testing, and political responsibility. Some thought that the Bishops were out of line in addressing these issues. But these are the moral and ethical ethical dilemmas which our faith struggles with on a daily basis. Our Church must take a prophetic stand and speak up where there is human tragedy, questions, and crisis.

During these summer months it is not unusual not to see people at Church. Our lives continue though, albeit at a slower pace, and we need that strength and guidance which our communal worship offers us. This is a good time to take in the beauty of creation and reflect on our own pathways of life. The summer months are perfect to regroup and to re-invest ourselves in life of our family and friends.

Ordinary time is not really about sameness, or even worse boredom, but in taking time and discovering the extra-ordinariness of God and one another. Let's take time to praise God and recognize we are God's holy people.

Monday, May 31, 2010

TRUTH

What a wonderful weekend! On this the Feast of the Holy Trinity, we had an excellent liturgy, in addition to this being Memorial Day weekend, as well as the eighth grade graduation, it has been a festive weekend. The downside is that our church air conditioning has ceased to exist. There are no more fixes or patches, or anything else. We will need a new air conditioning system. But we continued to celebrate.

Earlier in the week we had the memorial of St. Philip Neri. St. Philip challenged all to seek God in all things, especially in the holy and sacred moments of life. His dedication to the Eucharist, prayer, and sacred scripture, presented for him insight and reflection upon the holiness of God. So to this motivated his great fervor in acts of charity and compassion.

John's Gospel, while having very few healing stories, demonstrates that those who seek wholeness and holiness in life, can and do discover healing. Towards the end of John's Gospel, as Jesus debates the religious authorities of the day, we recognize that they are uncomfortable with the Good News, and reject the truth of the Gospel. While the public sinners, physical broken, and spiritually lost go away healed and whole, those who should be spiritually insightful, are lost in their arrogance and pride. They do not want to hear the truth since it will challenge them to change their lives.

In our post modern era we tend to view truth as relevant. My truth supersedes every one's sense of truth. My opinion is equal, if not greater, than those around me. The Gospels though teach us something very different.

Our sacred scripture draws us into some very core themes. The greatest commandment reminds of these as we are called to love God and Neighbor. Both the Beatitudes and the last judgment scene, as found in Matthew's Gospel, reiterate the notion of love, charity, chastity, dignity, respect, and responsibility. These values and virtues are found in our scripture tradition, as well as in Western and Eastern philosophy.

Truth is not about being right, but being directed to that which is proper and good. Remember how Jesus becomes irked when the apostles sometimes considered their own welfare first. Jesus is real good about placing the cross in their midst. Seek the truth and the truth will set you free.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The reality of the Cross

The other day I ran across an article about an obscure Spanish saint, Rafael Araiz Baron, a Trappist who lived in the early part of the twentieth century. By profession he was an architect , an was drawn to monastic life. Illness kept him from taking solemn vows, but he lived as an oblate in the infirmary. The article spoke of his intense love of the cross, in particular that this is the tool of our salvation.

One of the more pronounced reflections of Rafael is that in the suffering of Christ those who suffer are lifted up with Jesus, and discover final healing and peace. In one of his letters he writes: To savor the Cross ... to live sick, unknown, abandoned by all - only you .. and on the Cross. How sweet the bitterness, the loneliness, the grief, the pain, wolfed down and swallowed in silence, without help. How sweet the tears shed next to your cross. Ah! If I knew how to tell the world where true happiness is! ... To love it one must suffer.

In today's daily readings James and John try to figure out a way to sit in the places of honor next to Jesus, in the glory of heaven. Jesus reminds them that to follow in his footsteps, one has to be willing to follow him all the way to the cross. We try to make these words nice and even sugar coat them a bit. There is that relationship we have with God, through Jesus Christ, in which we are necessarily 'number 3.' We are challenged in our faith to take the position of foot washer.

On a day to day basis we are at least somewhat aware of the many folks who live next to the cross. Those with chronic disease, addictions, the poor, elderly, single parents, widows, people in war torn nations, and oppressed. As St. Rafael suggests their lives are full of the hurt, anguish, and loneliness of the cross. Jesus' own Cross brings salvation to men and women, but also helps us understand the need of salvation in our lives. Moreso the true and only love that is necessary in our life is the love of Christ.

Aware of the broken body of Christ, we might become more aware of the brokenness of the Body of Christ throughout the world. The Cross teaches us what 'things' really matter in life. We too infused with the Holy Spirit are challenged to stand out against Sin and Evil. The Church talks about the Preferential Option for the Poor. In continuing His mission and ministry we sit in the gunk and yuck, holding each others hands.

St. Rafael recognizes that Jesus, and the mystery we celebrate, offers us courage and strength as we caress the Cross. Jesus stands with us guarding us beneath the shadow of his wings.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Be Sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit

Today, we celebrate the feast of Pentecost. As a Church we celebrate and remember that day when the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles, inspired the apostles to proclaim the Good News, and began the Church. At Confirmation we we bring men and women into full communion of the Catholic Church. The prayer of consecration invokes the Spirit to send out the traditional gifts upon the individual. Inspired by this same spirit the person takes their place at the Eucharistic table, prepared to profess faith in word and in deed. Sadly, today, many see the sacrament more as graduation from a religious program rather than as an invitation to do ministry.

Throughout our scriptural history we see the transformation that occurs through the power of the Holy Spirit. The prophets and holy men and women are able to stand for truth, often as advocates for justice and the poor, against every sort of evil. Whether it be the three young men in the fiery furnace, Amos, or Jeremiah, the Holy Spirit gives strength and courage against all types of evil and pain.

We see how the Spirit helps us discern and keeps us connected to God's holy will. We look at people like Francis of Assisi, or even Frances Cabrini, and realize that the holy Spirit moved these people to make some very crucial decisions in their lives, but offered them the peace and calm so as to make good solid choices. In the same way the Holy Spirit moved these individuals to stay close to the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ.

The Holy Spirit renews the whole world and reveals to us the meaning of the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We should always pray to the Holy Spirit for ourselves, the Church, and the world. The Holy Spirit can and does help us recognize God's hand in the Church, and prompts us to use our gifts to proclaim 'Good News.' We hope and trust that the Holy Spirit unites us in a communion with God and the Church.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Visiting the imprisoned

There was an article today in the America magazine concerning U.S. prisons. There was the usual list of statistics concerning who is in prison, and the of course the age old discussion as to how to assimilate persons back into society. To be sure the article reiterated that the largest problem we have in prisons today is the 'out of sight, out of mind' mentality. Since we all have very little contact with prisoners or the prison system, we do not think much about the conditions in our nations prisons.

When I was at St. Anne, in Dixon, IL, we were down the street from one of Illinois' medium security prisons. Three times a day the guards would gush out of the confines, looking to get home. Unlike their contemporaries in law enforcement, there was no hanging around with the next shift, just to chat. I think that says something about what it must be like 'inside.'

Studies that have been done detail the violence, the cramped conditions, lack of educational and social orientation programs. One writer once compared a jail cell to living in one's bathroom for eighteen hours a day. This is where the debate becomes heated. The question that comes around again and again is the purpose of prison. Is it to keep bad people far away from everyone else, or is it rehabilitate them back into society. As a culture we have gone back and forth on this question for ages.

Many of those in prison are suffering from addictions. Yet, the appropriate programs of therapy and rehabilitation are not available. Some of the prisoners have emotional, learning, or affective disorders. Again, many prisons lack the adequate staff or facilities to help these persons. And once outside of prison, what tools do we utilize to assist these people regain entrance into society.

We can understand how this is a human rights problem. If we simply want to warehouse criminals, that borders on vengeance. Obviously we cannot be so simplistic to think a big hug and a sticker will make peoples change their lives around. But if as Christians we are about reconciliation, healing, and peace, then we need to take a very close look at our correctional system. Perhaps we need to move even farther back and take a peek at neighborhoods, schools, and families.

This is a big problem which calls for a lot of people to work together for the common good. When Jesus told us to visit those in prison, he was asking us to love and respect these people as well. May we bear each other up as Jesus bore us up on the cross.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Catholic Social Justce

Professor John Milbank, an Anglican theologian, spoke recently at Notre Dame College, in Ireland. Milbank referred to Pope Benedict XVI encyclical in general, and specifically about Catholic social teachings. Whenever we speak about Catholic Social teachings, most catholics have no idea what we are talking about. These truly are the best kept secrets in the whole entire Church. Anyway Benedict had written quite eloquently on the whole idea of charity.

This is to be sure a very radical way of seeing Justice and Peace. It neither depends on the government to wholly respond to brokenness in our culture, nor the individual alone. Benedict would affirm the value and the dignity of the individual man and woman. As communities, with peoples uses all of the resources available, we are challenged to afford one another with a quality and dignity of life.

Charity begins at the home. We teach our children to take care of one another, as well as their surroundings. We are responsible for the people and the things that are placed in our midst. By the time we reach adulthood we hopefully have an understanding that we need to have an awareness and care about the ecology, political and cultural matters, economic concerns, and poverty in the world. Charity, and of course catholic social teachings, remind us that social justice does not end at our front door.

Remember several weeks ago we read about the feeding of the five thousand. When the apostles present the problem to Jesus, his first, and best, response is, "give them something to eat yourselves." In faith how do we respond to the various afflictions, hungers, and sinfulness that we find around ourselves.

As we watch our economy we are even more aware of our interdependence and fragility as a people. St. Paul uses that wonderful image of members of a body. When one member hurt we all hurt. It might sound cliche, but we are indeed members of one whole family.

There is that ancient yet relevant hymn, "They will know we are Christians by their love." Maybe this should be our theme song emblazoned on our chest.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Ascension

Today we celebrate the feast of the Ascension. I was sharing with our seventh graders the other day, the image of weaving fabric from navel lint. They were utterly disgusted. I like that image though. Nothing speaks more profoundly of being self-absorbed than staring at ones navel.

The Disciples have been instructed about the journey they are about. Not only does Jesus explain the cross to them, but demonstrates it to them as well. As St. Will describe today, Jesus is our great high priest who continues to intercede on our behalf. The challenge for us though is to move beyond ourselves into the world with the gospel message we have received.

At the ritual of ordination the priest is given the chalice with the direction to know what you are celebrating, and to imitate the mystery you celebrate. This is not a bad reflection for any of us. The journey we take is not always a gentle one. It cannot be done looking heavenward all of the time. Our vision is of the Kingdom, but we walk with our brothers and sisters on this the journey of faith.

Jesus intercedes for us, already having poured out the spirit of truth upon us. Our faith draws us evermore closely into an intimate relation with God and God's people. We do not stare into the heavens, but proclaim our faith in everything we have seen and heard.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

One Bread, One Body

In a few weeks there is a workshop at St. Patrick Seminary, in Menlo Park, California, entitled, "Reclaiming and Renewing our Mission." It is for priests, concerning priestly ministry. It sounds tempting, but I will be gone for two weeks in the Fall for workshops, so I probably won't go. But the title intrigues me. Lately the idea of returning to our priestly roots has held great importance for me, especially in our Church today.

I was especially keenly aware of our ministry after reading excerpts from the Christian Unity Conference, held in Tampa, Florida, some weeks ago. Some of us remember the the term 'ecumenism' with all sorts of varied emotions. For many years, and in many forms, the Church has worked to bring forward unity amongst all Christian churches. It would seem that at the local church level, there have been many ventures which draw us together. Food pantries, Habitat for Humanity, PADS, Ecumenical prayer services, just to name a few. But there are some major theological points which keep us at an unhealthy distance.

All Easter we have spoken about the sacrament of Baptism. For all Christians this is the foundational sacrament which draws us into the union of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Through Baptism we participate in the paschal mystery. This should always be our starting point. Of course the question remains for us, where do we go from here. Cardinal Walter Kasper has invited all interested parties to look carefully at our commitment to unity with an honest assessment of where we stand today. Moreso he challenges us to look at the major issues which cause separation with a sense of honest charity. In the paschal mystery we will discover more of which brings us together than keeps us apart.

Going back to our priestly mission then, our call is to teach, preach, and sanctify. Our witness as priests, and in a larger sense as a Church, is to give a witness to all that we have seen and heard. Jesus prayed that all be one in him. We pray that we can be a sign of unity and an instrument of peace.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Bishop

Our Diocese has been filled with excitement, as one of our priests, Father Tim Doherty, has been named Bishop of Lafayette, IN. Father Doherty is a very humble, quiet, and prayerful man. To be sure he is not a Monk, but someone who has taken priesthood seriously. He will make a stellar Bishop.

In the Epistles, St Timothy calls upon bishops to be men of outstanding holiness, prayer, who have their own house in order. They need to be good with finances, and good managers. The bishop is the chief teacher and liturgist of the diocese. I remember an older aunt asking whether I wanted to be a bishop some day. I remember giving my definitive 'no.'

In today's Church, with the problems of sexual abuse, divisions amongst the laity and the clergy, and the post-modern self-relevance, it is mostly a challenge to be a bishop. In the very early Church most of the martyrs were bishops. Today the controversies tend to cause less death, but much pain and chaos. Moreso today there is the scrutiny of the public media. So that whatever decision a bishop makes is the discussion of the town square.

Certainly our prayers and well wishes will go with Father Dorherty. He is an outstanding man. Because he is a man of prayer, he will have a good foundation to stand on.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Bernie the reformer

St Bernard of Clairvaux lived during the early part of the 12th century. A Benedictine monk, he was greatly bothered by the influence that wealth and power had in the monastic community. Reflecting carefully on the Rule of St. Benedict, as well as sacred scripture, Bernard realized that the Benedictines were no longer living according to their original calling. With courage and perseverance Bernard brought about a great reform of monastic life, with the development of the Cistercians. A very austere order of men and women which exists even today,

St. Bernard is one of many men and women in the Church throughout its history who observed brokenness or lethargy. Reflecting closely on the mission and ministry of Jesus and the early Church, recognized that there needed to be a renewal. I think about people like Catherine of Siena who encouraged the Pope to return to Rome and to face the sin and evil there. Or Francis of Assisi who gave up everything to live for and with the poor. To be sure these are holy people opened to the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

If anything we are in dire need of that sort of charisma in our Church. Too often we are content with weaving prayer rugs out of navel lint. Certainly we don't mean we should do anything we want or be moved by our wants and whims. There is that core message in the scripture that challenges us to share the 'Good News' to the ends of the earth. I like to talk about conversion and discipleship a lot, and in a very real way that seems to be what our Church is really about.

Sometimes we as Church, and a catholics, are too shy or timid in publicly professing our faith. I remember one parish in which the pastoral council persons commented that the most important thing their parish does is their dinners. Eek. It is important for holy men and women today to take courage and to pronounce their faith, In the end we take responsibility for our faith communities and the faith which we pass on, as the Church.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The 'baby Church'

The neat thing about this time of year, is that we get to read the Acts of the Apostles. A continuation of the Gospel of Luke, we hear the story of that early Church. And while this is a wonderful time in the history of the Church, things are not well all of the time. There is persecution, misunderstandings, disagreements, and dissension. This Body of believers, begun by Christ Jesus, begins to have growing pains almost immediately.

Today's reading is so very typical. The question of maintaining Jewish rituals and practices in the Church comes up. Peter and those close to him firmly believe that the traditions of the Jewish laws must be maintained. Paul, who is receiving converts from the gentiles believes that this is a burden. A meeting is held at Jerusalem. Through prayer and reflection the conclusion is that those elements that lead to salvation ought to be maintained. Essentially living a holy lifestyle is most important.

Today very much like that early Church we have to return to the source of our salvation. Namely we are saved through the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus. The question has to continue to be, How does what we do best reflect the mystery of faith we celebrate? There is today a powerful need for our Church to be a sign and symbol of the salvific activity of Jesus Christ. We can't blow it by getting all concerned about stuff that does not draw us to God.

I remember an old priest once telling me that it is much more holy to kneel for confession, in order to receive absolution. Well I can understand that and appreciate that. But in the Sacrament of Reconciliation it will not be my main focus.

The saving death of Jesus reminds us that we too have to be willing to die to our wants, if we are going to experience the grace and blessing of the Paschal Mystery. I think that this is the reason that the Vatican documents continue to return to our Baptism, Eucharist, and Confirmation. Like St. Paul reminding us that we are heirs of the Father, as a Church and individuals we have to review what it means to be Church, and delight in the saving activity of God.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Love one another

I looked out into the church today and saw five couples I would like to have be in a marriage support process. These are awesome couples. They are prayerful, come to church, have great families, and have "normal" families. These are the kind of couples that are those signs and symbols when we talk about the sacrament of marriage.

The gospel today from John is part of the Last Supper discourse. Jesus prepares the disciples for the crucifixion. It is important that the disciples reflect on the passion, death, and resurrection, as the Fathers faithful love for his people. Jesus' sacrifice on the cross is his love poured out for all people. The idea of taking up one's cross becomes very real and tangible here.

To be sure in marriage, and in most parts of our life, when we take love seriously, it always reflects the reality of the cross. We make that decision to love, especially in difficult moments, which then draws us closer to the Father.

Today's 9:30 Liturgy was sort of a microcosm of parish life. We had three baptisms, three first communions, candles to replace, a half-dozen persons needed to speak with me, and I left my glasses in the sacristy. I am reminded of the words of several older priests who would muse, "love your people, and you'll do fine," There is so much truth in that.

The Prayer of St Francis invites us to be n object of peace. People will know we are Christian by the way we love one another.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

First Communion


It's First Eucharist Day today here at St. Mary's. It is really exciting and a wonderful celebration. A former pastor of mine used to say the theme song for today should be, That Magic Moment. But the children are delightful and so full of energy and enthusiasm. The simple concepts of bread, feeding, being loved and cared for, are all very close to their lives and hearts. When the scripture speaks about a child-like faith, it certainly had these moments in mind.

And for us as catholics, the Eucharist is the center of our entire faith. The Passion, Death, and Resurrection, of Jesus draws us into an intimate relationship with God. The Eucharist is both a meal and a sacrifice in which we remember the saving activity of God, and are nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ. This is a powerful sign and symbol of God's love for us.

For the children, they are continuing on their journey towards full communion in the Church. The idea that as they grow in age, that they also grow into the Church is a unique and important facet. I like comparing it to being able to sit at the big peoples table.

Hopefully the first communion of these children is not the last communion. When we talk about the lack of reverence for the Eucharist today, a large part of it is the lack of participation in the Liturgy and the community of faith. If we are not connected to the Church, it becomes sort of social hall for family events, ie weddings, funerals, and confirmations. But if the Eucharist begins to call us to a greater responsibility we might begin to understand our faith and the faith community as well.

This is a great day. I pray for these children and their families a lot. I would invite us all to do the same.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Stewardship

We are in the middle of our Diocesan Stewardship Appeal. Years ago the powers that be, tried to describe this annual fund drive as, diocesan services appeal. Much more appropriate, but it never caught on. Last weekend I did my small introduction, sent a letter, and now we wait for the results.

We are still far away from understanding stewardship though. We labor under some sort of concept that the bishop sit in front of this big pile of money, doling it out on a whim. Then there is the, "why should I give for people across diocese," mentality. There is a spirituality that goes with stewardship, and it is really necessary to enable that outlook. It is not just so that these appeals can go easier, but there is a lifestyle of catholicity which is suggested by stewardship. It is the same notion that is found in Acts chapter 2, and in chapter 4.

People complain about the Second Vatican ll changes, and there are some things I would agree with. The 'turning the altar around' has only intensified the concept that we are watching a show. At the end of the performance we come up and get some 'holy bread,' and then go home until next week. It wrecks some of the very foundations of stewardship.

The Bishop's document talks about receiving God's gifts, nurturing those gifts, sharing the gifts, and then returning God's gifts with increase. Our faith has been passive for way too long. Ours has to be an active faith full of passion and joy. Stewardship is more about taking responsibility than about giving money.

The main thing is to know.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

If you want peace, work for justice

On one of the message boards I frequent, the question arose as to what the Church does for the poor. I am always stupefied by that question or statement. Even for catholics who are loosely connected to the church and parish, cannot help but notice the work and institutions that are directed towards the anawim, poor, oppressed, hungry, homeless and abused. Here at St. Mary's we put in a lot of time and energy to help people to know that Sunday night is our dinner night at Hope Haven.

But to be sure, the Social Teachings of the Church, and maybe even our social activity, seems to be the best kept secret. From the Beatitudes in Matthews Gospel, the role of the deacon in the early Church, to the work for justice and peace in the Church today, our faith community is one of a Preferential Option for the poor. I remember very clearly in grade school, the sisters taking every opportunity to talk about the needs and concerns of those who had less than us. And we were not wealthy by any means!

Each year our Church collects funds for Catholic Relief Services, and for the Catholic Charities. Parishes, like St. Mary here in DeKalb, tithe a portion of their Sunday collection for the poor and the needy. And of course we cannot forget St. Vincent DePaul.

St. Francis of Assisi is a wonderful example of the care and compassion that the Church shows in its care for the poor. Francis' early brothers would beg for alms for the poor. These they shared with the needy, and met their spiritual and pastoral needs. Like Jesus the Church has taught throughout its history of the importance of caring for all people, especially the poor and vulnerable. The Acts of the Apostles speaks of a community which gathers its goods together for equal distribution within the community.

It is really sort of hard to miss the corporal and spiritual works of mercy of the Church. Like Jesus the Church has made a determined effort to confront oppression, and to raise the human person to the dignity that is properly theirs. A place of light, happiness, and peace, continues to be the goal of the whole Church.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A God Will Teach Them.


I have always loved this particular story from Acts 8:26-40. The Ethiopian eunuch is reading Isaiah and encounters Philip. After Philip describes the suffering servant passage to him he desires Baptism. They stop the procession, Philip baptizes the eunuch, and is whisked away to a new mission. But the Word of God, and the teaching of a disciple have brought this man to faith, a faith which caused a desire to be baptized.

The RCIA and RCIC are supposed to be like that. Now the ideal program would be a three year program for adults and older children. Persons come into the parish throughout the year. There are some introductory sessions concerning the Church, sacraments, and scripture. Most importantly the person(s) talk about their relationship with God. In September there is a formal series of classes that is centered on faith and the teachings of the Church. This concludes with the Baptism and/or Confirmation and Eucharist, at Easter. Then the last year is taken up with even more learning and drawing the person(s) into the life of the Church.

The Parish can really be an instrument of catechises and evangelization. Actually it really has to take on that role. Many of our ministries and contacts are with the unchurched and uncatechized. Not unlike the eunuch they are reading or encountering something of the faith, or even the Church, and not fully understanding what they are taking in. But how can they understand unless someone explains it to them. So the greeter at the door, the Lector, and especially the Catechist, all have a role in bringing the faith to people.

Bringing people home to Christ has a lot to do with faithful discipleship. We hope that our experience can help othes have an experience of God.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

To Know

When I was very young, in grade school, I thought that the teachers in the upper grades were a lot smarter than the teachers in our grades. I mean lets be real, to teach first graders all you really needed was a solid fourth grade education. Or so I thought. I even remember being amazed when a third grade teacher became the fourth grade teacher in the class across the hall. She must have gone to summer school or something.

When we became altar servers (really altar boys since there were no girls) Father Raun mentioned that to be extraordinary servers we should attend these special Saturday morning classes. He had a bible study for fifth graders! We spent five Saturdays in and around Lent looking at the Prophets. It was great. This short time was one of the best things I could have done as a child. It put religion into a different perspective.

In my life I have met some really smart people who lack a lot of common sense, and some wise persons who went through high school. One of the aspect of Benedictine life I have always admired is the insistence of study, prayer, and work. It has become so apparent as I wander through my daily tasks, the value of being able to reflect on life and its meaning and people. It is good to know things, but also important to understand their interaction within the world.

I think about that in our faith. I was at a workshop some weeks ago on the Sacrament of Reconciliation. One of my brother priests went on about making distinctions between serious and grave matter. Why not, I thought, be compassionate and understanding, tell the penitent that God loves them, and offer absolution.

It is very good to be able to knows tomes of stuff. But we have to be able to use what we know to give water to the thirsty, food to the hungry, and to comfort the sick and grieving. Sr. Anna Patrice would ask if we were posing for a holy card, if we simply sat in her class. Our faith cannot have wallflowers, but needs to engage the head and heart in action.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Feed my Lambs

Yesterdays Gospel has to be one of my favorites. It is the perfect bookend of the first call of the disciples. Again Peter is found to be that sinful man. In one moment Jesus offers Peter reconciliation and calls him to lead the Church. "Follow Me." For any of us these are hard words to here. The gospels make the call from God seem so easy and effortless. Even as the gospel figures 'ponder' or 'wonder' what the call means for them, things seem to work out.

I think that we might forget that the stories are in the context of retrospect. We too can look back and see where God's grace and love have intervened. But we continue to be in the midst of a journey even today. There are a great deal of hurts, sins, and evil, personal and otherwise, that we deal with on a daily basis. It is a challenge at times to pronounce, "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord."

It would seem that we like Peter, have to articulate a response to Jesus, who continues to ask, "Do you love me?" And like Peter we have the challenge of faithful discipleship which asks us to tend to the flock, and to feed the lambs. Once in a while I threaten to run away and raise cattle for the rest of my life. But the needs and concerns of people still remains, that doesn't change anything.

Later in the week I will talk about stewardship. We are entrusted with a great responsibility. Around every spiritual hurdle is Jesus inviting us to, "Follow Me."

Friday, April 16, 2010

Courage of the Apostles

Way back in 1974, the future Cardinal Avery Dulles, exchanged a series of letters with the then Cardinal Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI. In this exchange they discussed the vision or model of the Church. The Ecclessiology of Benedict was then and seems to be today, an understanding of what Christ handed on to the Apostles. The Mission and the Ministry of the Church is one in which the Church proclaims the Gospel, celebrates the sacraments, and guides men and women with a moral premise.

Some of you might recall Dulles' work from the 1970s, Models of the Church. This was an excellent premise in identifying our theology in which we interact as a Church, and even as persons in that Church. Benedict it would seem takes those various markers and employs them throughout his role as the Pontiff. To be sure he has a very keen universal view of the Church. While some have accused him of being solely European, or too western, he has an understanding of the culture and the history of the entire Roman Catholic Church. But what he does is to draw us back into the vision of that Early Church. While we might want to apply some sort label on him, none really fits well.

What so many would like is to have the Pope fulfill the role of a CEO. So we go out and do marketing studies and surveys, and the company makes various changes so as to remain competitive. The bottom line is always the bottom line, and we want our shareholders to be happy. The Vicar of Christ must lead the people of God according to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Just as the message of Jesus was counter-cultural some two thousand years ago, it remains such even today. So our proclamation of life, human dignity, conversion, faithfulness to the 'Good News,' and stewardship, do not resonate well in our post-modern society.

Recent revelations of sexual abuse is the problem of all of society, not just the Church. Should the Bishops responded differently? The answer is extremely complex. Sound bytes cannot tell the whole story. Benedict XVI continues to lead the Church in the context of the apostles, who received their mandate to spread the gospel message, from Jesus Christ. It is important for us to continue to pray for healing and peace, and especially for the Holy Father. We want also to pray that the Church continue to lift up good and faithful shepherds to share the 'Good News.'

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Benedict XVI in the news


There was a book that came out some years ago entitled, "All the Pope's Men." It examined the inner workings of the Vatican. It was outstanding and frightening at the same time. How can such a huge complex organization be run in such a seemingly inefficient and random manner. But then again the Church is not Ford or IBM.

In recent weeks now we have had all sort of accusations and allegations thrust against Benedict XVI in regards to the sexual abuse of children in Europe, and in regards to some situations in the United States. At once we have to say that the sexual abuse of children, or even sexually taking advantage of anyone, is a terrible and sinful act. It causes shame and emotional distress for a lifetime.

It seems that we are to quick to jump into the fray here. At a closer look there are situations in which Benedict, as Pope, and in his former responsibilities, was either not enacting a decision in regards to the abuse of a child, or was not in a position to do so. There were some matters that were up to the local Bishop, and in a California case, as Cardinal Ratzinger, the abusing priest had left active ministry many years before any paperwork ever reached his desk.

We also have to understand the difference between confidentiality and secrecy. Persons are entitled to their privacy, especially in the middle of an investigation. We do not accuse people out in the open or in public.

But it seems that we are painting the Church with one large broad brush. On message boards involving teachers sexually abusing children, the Biblical notion of "Judge not, lest you be judged," is the highlight of the discussion. In the U.S. the Priests and Bishops made heroic strides in making sure that abuse does not happen again, in the "Protecting God's Children," charter.

If we are a Church and a Holy people, we have to work to bring healing to the victims and their families. We need to bring healing and closure to parish communities, and then also work towards forgiveness. We proclaim and preach God's enormous mercy and forgiveness at every Eucharist, we should take our cue from that.

Lastly we should pray for the Holy Father and the Church. This should be our ongoing daily prayer. It's St. Paul, I believe, who gives us this image of broken vessels. But our fragility and brokenness should not hold us back from being God's Holy people.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Passing on the Faith?

It was interesting this past Sunday, during the adoration with the youth group. I suppose I noticed it before, but it struck me on Sunday night, how few prayer responses the young people knew. As I went through the Glory Be, and the litanies, we had to walk these young adults through the responses. Now granted I am not really a public reciter of the Rosary, and there are a few other devotions I am only aware of, some of the basic prayer models are very absent.

Now I am not going to launch into blaming the secular public education or the Church after Vatican II. When I observe some of our more orthodox brothers and sisters, and even those of the Jewish faith, there does seem to be a more complete catecheses. Maybe it is not enough to do the prayers with our children, but to offer a theology lesson as well. But I think that this is part of the difficulty. To be able to teach we also have to know. If our religious education ended at eighth grade, it would be hard to explain the Triduum, precepts of the Church, or even the Church's teachings on social justice.

I have reminded our junior high children that if they carefully read their religion books, they will have a greater knowledge of religion than their parents. And that is really sad. We have at various times offered Catechesis for adults. We have the same ten to fifteen people there. But I really wonder how many out there would like to understand the Church position on any variety of topics. Some people will tell me, "Father if you just say it from the pulpit." 8- 10 minutes at a homily is barely enough time to even begin some of our topics.

the Second Vatican Council emphasized the importance our taking responsibility for our faith. I like to use the example of making prayer rugs out of navel lint. There has to be more than staring at our belly button. We can't defend our faith, or pass it on if we ourselves do not understand it. Again its that whole thing of conversion and discipleship by sharing our faith in witness and Word.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

During the Eucharistic prayer, we pray that the mystery we celebrate might bring salvation to all of the world. When I pray that I cannot help but think about the people, places and things that are in need of salvation. I remember reading the Genesee Diary by Fr. Henri Nouwen. He spent several months in a monastery to spiritual growth and just to 'come and see.' In a seemingly perfect place Father discovered frustration and discord. Even amongst monks not everyone was happy all of the time. We all need salvation.

I often think of a childhood friend, Martin, who came to our school in the middle of fourth grade. Several of us wanted to go play baseball and convinced Marti to stop by his house to get his glove. He was extremely reluctant to do this, but we convinced him otherwise. He crawled into his house. He literally fell out of the back door, his mom cursing and yelling at him. He said she was sick. Today I think otherwise. I often worry about what happened to Martin. There is a real need of salvation and peace in the lives of so many people.

Our faith, and the mission and ministry of Jesus, reminds us of the ongoing necessity of conversion and discipleship. Part of that has to be reconciliation. The Sacrament of Reconciliation of course holds enormous healing power. But we have to reconcile with each other, be able to forgive, and receive forgiveness. It seems, especially lately, we are too ready to be angered and upset. I cannot help but to recognize that Jesus showed his disciples the Kingdom, rather than to become angered with them and lash out. He demonstrated love and forgiveness.

In our families, schools, church, community, and world our offer of peace has to be substantial. It has to be symbolized by a commitment to truth, life and love. "My peace I give to you."