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


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.