Monday, May 31, 2010


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


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.