Friday, December 30, 2011

Feast of the Holy Family

While it is difficult to look at Jesus, Mary and Joseph, as a 'normal' family, they can be for us a model of a family and family life.  In our introductions to both Mary and Joseph, the announcement that they were to have a special role in salvation filled them with awe, but also troubled them as well.  Mary and Joseph reached into the depths of their hearts to find peace and strength.

Mary we are told ponders the mysteries that surround her with a peaceful heart.  Joseph we come to understand is a righteous man who goes beyond the law in receiving Mary into his home.  We immediately have an understanding that Mary and Joseph have a deep and abiding relationship with God.  Their faithful response to God is based on truth and understanding.

Sirrah is a wonderful reading today, but St. Paul needs to be look upon very closely today.  Paul offers some practical advice as to how to respond within our human families and all of our relationships.  There are some practical values and virtues which challenge us to understand that we are on holy ground in our encounter with each other.

John Paul II and Benedict XVI have offered some excellent encouragement and advise for us who live in the human family.  Both make mention of the importance of finding Christ in our midst within our household.  More so that, like St. Paul, we have to find it within our power to love with compassion and care, as well as to offer reconciliation.  There are no lack of examples of families which are strained and hurting from past injuries and behaviour.  To be sure reconciliation does not mean forgetting, but it is about healing and setting things aright.

When I was in high school some eons ago, Bishop Doran (then Father Doran) was my marriage and family life teacher.  He had us read C.S. Lewis' "The Four Loves."  Lewis proposes that Affection, Friendship, Romance, and Unconditional Love, are not only founded with Christianity, but are essential within our human relations.  Today we consider our human relationships within the context of a Big Mac and fries.  The image of the Holy Family teaches us that there is a depth which exists that holds sacredness and a mystery.

The challenge today is the ability to treat one another with reverence and respect.  We are more than the sum of our body parts.  Jesus Christ comes into our lives, our human family lives, so that we can experience the healing and peace of God.  With St. Paul we have the ability to offer a blessing rather than a curse.  All this to build up the household of the Lord.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

St John - Apostle and Evangelist

St. John is traditionally one of the first disciples called by Jesus, son of Zebedee, and brother of James the Disciple.  Some suggest that John is the Disciple whom Jesus loved above the otehr disciples.  Throughout the scriptures we see John being included within a smaller group of disciples, with Peter and James.  The Acts of the Apostles certainly includes John as one of the primary evangelizers of the faithful after the resurrectiion.  Moreso we see John as intimately involved in the mission and ministry of the early Church.

As to the Gospel of John, scripture scholar J.L. McKenzie, notes that John reveals the mystery of the Word incarnate.  The most theological of the Gospels, John presents an outline of the Kingdom of God, and of the person of Jesus Christ.  McKenzie notes that Jesus is demonstrated to be the pre-existent Son of God and the Word of the Father, made flesh to live among us.  John's Gospel takes time and effort to demonstrate that Jesus reveals through his words and miracles, the glory of the Father.

John's Gospel does not have a birth narrative.  Jesus begins his ministry at his Baptism.  Like any faithful follower this is a sign of the spirit and an external sign of an internal connection to God the Father.  For John the full reality of Jesus Christ is defined through the passion, death and resurrection.  Jesus cannot be known simply as a human figure within a historical context.  St. John the Evangelist gives us a picture of Jesus as the Christ who has been raised from the dead, and sits in glory at the right hand of the Father in heaven.  The best way that we can come to know Jesus, and by this we  mean to experience Him, is through grace.

The beginning of John's Gospel draws us into the mystery of Jesus the Christ, by presenting Him as the Word made flesh, and the light of which no darkness can overcome.  John has very few miracle stories, but in these stories there is this conflict between those who have seen the light, the believers, and those who do not, the unbelievers.  Even more, those who are healed and are saved are not the religious but persons considered outside of the law and the covenant.  They do not rely on their human attributes to save them, but are opened to the Word of God, and find healing and salvation.

John's challenge to the Church, and those who worship therein, is that we cannot take our liturgy, sacraments, or preaching too lightly.  Jesus does not offer cheap grace.  The cross and resurrection are regular components in everything we do as members of the Body of Christ.  Just as Jesus reminds his listeners that He is about the Father, our (the Church) mission and ministry must be about God and the Kingdom.  Posing for a holy card is not enough for John the Evangelist, our faith and love needs to be authentic.

This is a good week to celebrate this feast.  John wants us to experience the real and living Christ, and change our lives so as to receive what he gives us.  John opens for us a vision of a Kingdom which is about light, happiness, and peace.    

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Blessed and Joyful Christmas

John begins his Gospel by pronouncing "The Word became flesh."  This simple statement allows us to contemplate the mystery which offers us a life of salvation and peace.  In last night's first reading we read from Isaiah, "A people who had walked in darkness have seen a great light."  Certainly that same darkness full of violence, hatred, and despair is still part of our lives.  It is St. John who reminds us that the people preferred the darkness to the light.  This awesome feast challenges us to ponder these mysteries we celebrate so as to use them as a guide and meditation throughout our lives.

The Incarnation asks us to consider that we have a God who is not distant, nor does God observe human drama from some far away place; rather; our awesome God sit in the muck with us so as to embrace our hearts and offer us peace and joy.  This feast is part of that larger plan of salvation whereas St. Paul observes that God does not wish to condemn us but to save us.

It is later in St. John's Gospel that John returns to this image of light.  Jesus Christ, Son of the Father and King of Justice, sets us free from Sin and Evil and allows us to walk as children of the light.  Again St. Paul offers a litany of virtues today, patience, understanding, mutuality, that deliver us from the darkness of Sin, so as to remain oriented to the light which is Christ.  In John's Gospel Jesus speaks about that intimate connection between him and the Father.  When we live in relationship to Jesus Christ, we share in that same relationship.

Pope Benedict XVI spoke about moving beyond the externals of this season and remaining focused on that grace and blessing we experience from the Light of the World.  Benedict stated that we should move through the glitz and sparkle of this season and focus on the meaning of our celebration.  The light of Christ enables us to see clearly what is true and good, and not succumb to the superficial nature of Christmas.

May our celebration bring us to light, happiness, and peace.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

"As Mary's Time Drew Near"

Traditionally this is a day of prayer and fasting.  While normally the actual feast might be celebrated after evening prayer, we will have our first vigil Liturgy at 4:00 p.m.  It will be a huge Mass.  We will have roughly four hundred people here easily.  Of course part of the reason is that we have our children's choir doing our music.  Children plus Christmas equals cute, so we have lot's of families coming here to watch the children.  Ours is also the earliest of the neighboring parishes, so people can go to families or travel tomorrow without having to go to Mass first.

I mention these things because I consider the other people in the story of Christmas who are just sort of there.  As all of these marvelous events were occurring, did they all give praise and glory to God.  I think not.  I have met some people down through the years who love to complain and whine.  I have often thought that if Jesus were to show up in all of his glory, they would be bothered by the noise of the angels, or would be disappointed in the seeming lack of mystery and majesty.  So even back in the day, many folks may have had the experience but missed the meaning.

The potion from St. Augustine's homily, from the Office of Readings, almost sounds like St. Paul.  Prepare yourselves for the coming of the Lord.  We might yawn because we have heard those words so often, but there is a real necessity to constantly call one another to conversion and discipleship.  Consider the apostles who were so close to the activity of Jesus Christ, yet Matthew and Mark will present them as men who often misunderstood what Jesus was about.

One of the first times I went to the Holy Land, I remember standing at the Mount of Olives looking out over Jerusalem, considering Mathew's passage of Jesus crying over the ancient city.  As I stood there I thought about that day when Jesus and his disciples made several treks between that city and the garden.  An ongoing reflection, meditation, and contemplation raises our awareness and draws us closer to those ah ha moments.  Someday hopefully the moms and dads who are recording the cute moments of their child, might be moved by a song, a reading, or the Sacraments.

Isaiah's prose, "A people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light," is the inspiration of my homily this Christmas.  There is a lot of darkness around us.  If anything I hope that this Christmas challenges faith-filled people to share the story of the Incarnation by faithful living, stewardship, and discipleship. We should walk to Mass this Christmas with our Baptismal candles in hand and re-commit ourselves to the light of the world who scatters the darkness of Sin and Evil.

Our time of salvation draws near.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Blessed are You!

Hark! my lover--here he comes
springing across the mountains,
leaping across the hills.
My lover is like a gazelle
or a young stag.
Here he stands behind our wall,
gazing through the windows,
peering through the lattices.
My lover speaks; he says to me,
"Arise, my beloved, my dove, my beautiful one,
and come!

The First Reading today is taken from the Song of Songs.  This is the beginning of Chapter 2.  The interesting aspect about this text is the two levels it is written on.  It is a love poem in which a mn describes his desire for his spouse, or even spouse to be.  But it is also a poem in which God describes his desire for his beloved - Israel.  The comparison gives us pause as we consider that God's intense love for all of humanity.  God seeks us out so that we might be saved and enjoy His peace and joy. 

The story of the Visitation helps us to understand the faithfulness of Mary as we are told that she dared to believe in God's promise.  Mary and Elizabeth give us an indication that God' plan of salvation is extra-ordinary, though using ordinary human vessals.  As the Magnificat reminds us, God lifts us up out of our lowliness.  More so like with Mary, God pours his holiness into us.  These sacred moments call to mind for us that God desires the entire world to be sanctified and to be made holy. 

The birth of the child points out that God wants newnesss of life in this covenant.  We who live in a culture of death which seems to be apathetic to life can take stock in the unserstading that God is doing some thing new when it comes time to bring salvation to humaity.  Like Mary and Elizabeth hopefully we are able and witness the love of the Father for all men and women.  More so we are challenged to share all that we have seen and heard.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Advent 4

Today we see the heart of the Incarnation.  That the indescribable and beyond words God could take human flesh and become one with us.  The teaching we receive from this exchange between the angel Gabriel and Mary conveys to us that utter openness to the Father's will reveals the presence of God.  Mary becomes a challenge for us today in that we too are called to make the Word of God part of our flesh.

The great song of Mary, the Magnificat, gives us an insight into Mary's spirituality.  Mary summarizes the saving works of God up to this point.  As Mary ponders the great and awesome works of God throughout human history, she easily commits herself to the call of God the Father.  More so because she understands that God has been faithful in the past, God will continue to work the impossible in the present time.

Mary has no problem believing that God can and will become enfleshed.  It is in Mary's very acceptance of the "Mystery hidden" for ages, her very openness to the promise of God's intimacy with us, that yields her pregnancy.  Herein she was fertile to bear the Most high into the world for our salvation and peace.

Mary's faithfulness is our invitation to a life of holiness.  Mary is a model of what we might become if we imitate her unconditional love of the Father.  We too are called to be that chaste son and daughter of Israel, walking on holy ground, welcoming the love of God within us.  But we might add that as faithful disciples we are to be 'God-bearer' to those in our house as well.  Mary runs to her cousin's house to assist her.  There are many folks that we can encounter and share the good news with.  Mary's faith opens our eyes to see that divinity walks around in our midst in human skin.

From the very beginning God desired to live in the tents and fringes of our human life.  Jesus will minister to the 'low-born,' sick, and outcast.  God encounters all men and women, and makes all humanity sacred, but has a special place in his heart for the poor and oppressed.  Matthew's genealogy reminds us that God works with and through even broken vessels.

From the time when Sin entered the world God sought to save us.  God continues to lift us up and sanctify us with his love and mercy.  Ultimately Jesus will suffer, die, and rise from the dead.  The Incarnation points to the reality of God's love and friendship with us.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Keeping the Christ in Christmas

Other bloggers have been chatting about the secularization of the feat of the Incarnation, and the almost bully-like methods by which people have been denouncing Christianity in this celebration.  I am not going to do that so much.

But a few days age, on the Feast of our Lady of Guadalupe, The U.S. Bishops office came out with a communication that they would be renewing their anti-poverty campaign.  (  For those who are old enough we remember the posters that declared that 'God does not make junk.  This season is about the coming of Jesus Christ into our midst to bring us salvation and peace.  What better way to celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ by being aware and responding to the poor, anawim, and the oppressed.

As we try to establish and dismantle creche scenes in the public square, we might want to consider that the 'Advent' people whom we contemplate during this time were people of action.  There was a lot of pondering of the word of God to be sure, but we have Joseph making decisions based on righteousness and justice; and Mary goes to her cousin's house to offer service and support.  Mary and Joseph, with Jesus, will become refugees as they seek to escape the tyranny of King Herod.  

This sort of human struggle continues today.  It is so very important that this Feast reminds us as to the 'why' it is necessary for Jesus to come into our lives in the first place.  Christmas is really a challenge of welcoming the light of Christ into the darkness of our world.  John's first chapter muses upon this as it considers that Jesus came as a light, but people loved the darkness.  As a Christian people we should be bold and courageous in pronouncing our faith, and even more so in living a lifestyle of dignity, compassion and respect.

The end of the year economic statistics show a widening group of families who are at, or just above, the poverty line.  Forecasts for the coming year do not look much better.  St. Peter, in one of his letters, praised his community for their faith and unselfishness.  He indicated that they were a real model of faith for other Christians and for non-believers.  Even better than debating the meaning of Christmas in newspapers and the like, is responding to the needs and concerns of many who share life with us, to uphold the sanctity and dignity of life, and to care for the hurting, anxious, and the afraid.  

Our shepherds have called us to respond in Christ-like fashion towards our brothers and sisters.  In doing so our light shines and dispels the darkness.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Let There be Light

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Lucy, Virgin and Martyr.  Legend has it that she refused to be married.  When it was discovered that she was a Christian, Lucy was sent to a brothel.  Again she refused the orders of the guards there and was sentenced to be burned.  The flames did not harm her, so her executioners stabbed her to death instead.  She is a patron of those with eye troubles, presumably because her name means light.  She is a perfect Advent saint in that she maintained her Christian posture even in the face of persecution.

While we do not know what traditions are true, and which are simply stories, from the early Church, we are aware that being a Christian was ominous journey in those early days.  Christians were used as scapegoats for some of the social ills and national problems, and were looked upon with suspicion because of the values and virtues they adhered to.  So much of the growth of that early Church occurred because faithful men and women, and faithful communities, remained centered on the teachings of Jesus Christ, and the tradition of the Gospel.  These early Christians were the kindling of the flame of faith in those early days.

I think that it would be easy to look at the problems in our world today, and even in the Church, and to simply 'go along with the program.'  We speak about Jesus being kind, nice, and loving, so he would certainly understand.  If the Church relaxed its teachings on life, dignity, and holiness, we would certainly be more popular.  But as we will uncover in Mark's Gospel, over the next several months, Christianity is not about a popularity contest.  Our counter-cultural stand on matters of life and a holy lifestyle becomes a stumbling block for those who want a subjective morality.

During this Advent time the prophets point out how Sin and Evil diluted the religious ethos of the day, and eventually the culture along with it.  These prophetic types, along with scripture and the teachings of the Church, draw our attention to the fact that the emperor has no clothes on.  The scandal of the cross points to a life that is lived well for the unfolding of the Kingdom.

In Scandinavian tradition the oldest daughter of a family, while wearing a wreath with candles, serves her family traditional pastry, in order to honor St. Lucy.  Just as the vocation of these martyrs in the early Church was to live faith in a very public manner, our baptism and confirmations asks us to be light and bread for those around us.  May we be so inclined to serve one another in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Advent 3

During a retreat when I was in high school, the retreat director, who was the vice-principal at the time proposed an interesting dilemma.  He placed a freshman student in the center of the gym, and took a twenty dollar bill out of his wallet.  He then asked various students whether they would like to become friends with the freshman, or receive the twenty dollars.  Predictably everyone chose the money over the potential friendship.  In our old age, we would have chosen friendship.

But this was a radical question for us that asked to make some value judgments.  John the Baptist is asking the same questions of those who come out to receive baptism.  Perhaps this is why the religious authorities have such a difficulty with John.  John is challenging the hearts of the believers, asking them to make a decision about God, faith, and the direction of our lives.  For the religious authorities of the time, the sign of a faithful person was to follow the statutes and directions of the law.  John is calling for conversion.

I like to go to St. Francis of Assisi for this example, but take a look at this man who had a very nice life.  More so, we do not have any indication that Francis was a sinful or evil man.  But there was an emptiness which drew him closer to Jesus, and a lifestyle which was radical in compassion and charity.  This conversion and discipleship comes about when we can recognize the significance of the Paschal Mystery in our daily living.  For many of the holy men and women, those with 'Sts' in front of their names and those without, have made bold changes in their lifestyle upon recognizing their own neediness, and the needs of the world.  They become uncomfortable standing on the sidelines.

John today tells his listeners that he is not the light, but rather has come to give testimony to the light.  Of course in doing so he acknowledges where there is darkness in the world.  St. Paul invites us to remain full of joy, to worship and pray regularly, so as to convey a brightness in the world, and to call people out of darkness.  Now this is not some sort of pious joy, but a joyfulness that comes in recognizing and acclaiming Jesus as the Christ. When John does this he draws people into this water bath, as they confess their sins, and commit themselves to the covenant with God.

John's faith is radical to be sure.  It directs folks out of darkness so as to recognize the Lamb of God who takes away the Sins of the world.  So with firm faith and joyful hearts we want to engage Christ in our lives and share that experience with one another.  Our faith might bother some people, like John's does today, but we are called to be daring in announcing the good news.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Immaculate Conception

I like that we begin this feast with the reading from the book of Genesis.  Sin enters the world through the disobedience of men and women, but through our human nature, the Word of God made flesh, we are restored to the relationship with God.  The Immaculate Conception is that Mary is not affected by the brokenness of Original Sin.  Mary who becomes the Theotokos, the sacred 'God-carrier, has been set 'aside' so as to be a worthy place for the Prince of Peace, Christ the King.

Now while we do not readily associate evangelization with this feast, it does present itself very nicely.  Both Pope John Paul II, and our present Pontiff, Benedict XVI, have made it clear that our announcing the Good News is of utmost importance in our world toady.  Many people have either moved away from faith-filled living, or have never heard the message of Jesus Christ.  More so we live in a place where there is real hostility towards truth, values, and justice.  Human dignity and respect are under attack.

In his post-modern era everyone is right, and no one is wrong.  In the news recently people had protested the actions taken against an individual who was knowledgeable of criminal and harmful behaviour.  We hold in high esteem those in the public spotlight those whose lifestyles are less than exemplary, and deride those who stand for goodness and truth.

So today we celebrate the unconditional Yes of Mary.  Here is a woman who began her journey being troubled and confused.  The angel told her that she was "Blessed" and "Highly Favoured."  In a stable in Bethlehem she is filled with joy as she witnesses the visitors and excitement of this child.  When Jesus is lost in the temple she feels the first pangs of losing a child.  Jesus' ministry delights and frightens her at the same time.  The sorrow at the cross is overwhelming to be sure.

Mary becomes an 'everyman,' and 'everywoman' as she experiences the joys and sorrows of life.  But that vision of an angel, and the words spoken to her remain constant in her life.  One can almost imagine that she returns to these mysterious experiences again and again as a source of hope and of joy.  In the Magnificat she praises the faithfulness of God.

Like Mary, people of faith who recognize that they are blessed by God, become witness of the faith they profess.  In telling the story about Mary we  also tell about this faithfulness that God has in each of us.  We too can proclaim the greatness of God when we come to know that God has done great things for us.  And like Mary, when we encounter the joys of love, and the deep sorrows of loss, we know that we can rely on Jesus - God saves his people.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Preacher St. Ambrose

St. Ambrose lived during the fourth century, born to a government official in Trier, Germany, he went on to become ordained a priest, and was eventually Bishop of Milan.  Ambrose was known for his defense of the faith through his writings and preaching.  St. Augustine was greatly inspired by Ambrose and was eventually baptized.  Ambrose had a strong interest in the sacred liturgy, and the study of scripture.  He had written several hymns to be used during Mass, and the fourth Eucharistic Prayer is attributed to St. Ambrose.

During his time there was a heresy known as Arianism.  The basic thought here is that within the Holy Trinity, Christ is less than the Father.  The priest who began this movement, Arius, was motivated by his interpretation of the scriptures and went as far as stating that at one time Christ did not exist.  Obviously this contradicts Christology and the very foundation of the teaching of the Church.  Eventually the Council of Nicea countered the claims made by this group.  One of the main preachers who defends the Church position was Ambrose.

St. Ambrose was also known for his compassion and generous heart.  It is said that he gave much of his personal wealth to the poor, and lead the Church to serving and caring for the poor and anawim.  The opening prayer today speaks of Ambrose having the courage of an apostle.  He certainly moved peoples lives and challenged their faith.  More so the early writings about him speak about his apostolic zeal and pastoring the people he served.  It appears that Ambrose was not a 9-5 churchman, nor did he spend his time behind a desk.

As we think about Ambrose it is not hard to think about our own role in professing faith clearly and soundly.  If we could have some of the same courage, think of how different our Church would be.  But we might also take time to pray for our Bishops and Pastors in the Church.  Ask God to fill them with the Holy Spirit and grant them wisdom and right judgement.  encourage and support your Bishops and Pastors too.  (Pastors like going to peoples homes for dinner)

In Advent we contemplate light in darkness and the newness of the reign of God.  Ambrose certainly was one of the unfolders of the truth as given us by Jesus Christ.  Ambrose was certainly an outstanding and courageous Shepherd in the Church.  Thanks be to God for giving us holy men and women as models of faith. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Peace is like a River

Several weeks ago about 300 religious leaders joined Pope Benedict XVI at Assisi, for the the Interfaith gathering for peace.  Pope Benedict called for the 'purification of religion,' and acknowledged that in the past Christians had used force to advance Christianity.  More so today political extremists attempt to promote their agendas through religious means.

This is the 25th such gathering of such leaders.  In the past Blessed John Paul II received criticism for engaging in prayer with non-Christian leaders.  John Paul, like Benedict today, declared the necessity of gathering together those leaders who engage men and women in a common belief and understanding of worship, so that the ideals of peace might be conveyed to the peoples of the world.  This year for the first time there was included those who consider themselves non-believers, or seekers.

In this the season of Advent there is something quite insightful about asking peoples of various cultures, understandings, and theologies to consider making peace in the world.  To be sure we understand that peace is not simply the absence of violence, but it is an interior conversion which holds men and women, and really all of creation, as something very sacred and holy.  Consider St. Francis of Assisi who refers to various aspects of the cosmos as  brothers and sisters.  Coming to a commonality and common purpose is the first part of forging peacemaking in the world today.

It was Bishop Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, who suggested that we do not have to be strangers to each other.  Williams comments that religious leaders have a task to struggle "against a world still obsessed with fear and suspicion, still in love with the of a security based on defensive hostility and still capable of tolerating or ignoring massive loss of life among the poorest through war and disease."  This prayer time reaffirms for us that we really do stand on sacred ground.  Made in the image and likeness of God, Bishop Williams, as well as the other leaders acknowledged the need to know our neighbors.

Our reading of the sacred scripture over these last few days of Advent will reveal a prophetic ministry that calls for peace and well being of all people.  The coming of our Saviour Jesus Christ challenges us with the teachings and humility of the Lord of life and Prince of Peace.  For us Christians we understand that Jesus' good works are not meant to be observed in and of themselves, but to raise our minds and thoughts to a higher realm.

This religious gathering is a sign and symbol of the unity and communion which is about God.  It begins to help us understand that we cannot afford to nurture our differences, since too many are suffering and dying because of it.  Religions can and should be a starting point for healing, forgiveness, and love. As Christians the Daystar asks us to be light to the nations and instruments of peace.  We can take a cue from our leadership and learn to love one another as God loves us.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Advent 2

Of the synoptic Gospels Mark is unique in that there is no infancy narrative.  Perhaps part of the reason is that, first of all, Mark has a sense of urgency in making know the Gospel message.  While the story of Jesus' birth is wonderful to consider, the more important matter is the theme of conversion and discipleship.  Secondly perhaps because the ideal of discipleship is so strong for Mark, he wants to set the stage from the very beginning with the message of John the Baptist.

John the Baptist is quite a character to be sure.  He presumably looks like a 'wild man' with camel hair clothes, and munching on insects.  But it is his message that is most disturbing for those who come out into the desert to hear him.  Like Isaiah and Elijah before him John will accuse the very people who listen to him of being responsible for the Sin and Evil that is around them.  If they observe poverty, brokenness, religious apathy, division within communities, then they need to look at their very selves to see who is responsible.

John is speaking to his hearers and us as he offers a litany of social and religious responsibility.  The water bath is an external sign of an internal pledge to right wrongs, and to seek a moral and ethical pathway.  There was a song from back in the 80s by Mister Mister, entitled something like, 'The Living Years.'  The premise of the song is of a man who would like to reconcile with his now deceased father, realizing that, that work needs to be done while we are still here on earth.  John's preaching is about a discipleship which unfolds the Kingdom of God here and now.

In several verses from now we see John lambasting the scribes and pharisees for coming to be baptized.  John challenges them to show some sort of sign of their sincerity of conversion.  While Advent is not as strong in the reconciliation sense, it does ask us to prepare ourselves to receive Christ into our lives.  Again we should return to the last weeks of Ordinary time in which we hear the stories of un-motivated stewards and foolish virgins.  And it was Monday this past week we recall Jesus' challenge, "Not everyone who cries out Lord Lord, will enter the Kingdom of heaven."

The candles of the Advent wreath are sort of a countdown until Christmas, but even more so a reminder to be light in our winter-like world.  Our discipleship might be modeled on the wild-man prophet John the Baptist.  But in any form we take on the responsibility of stewardship and proclaiming good news in our homes and communities.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

St. Andrew the Apostle

Andrew was one of the first apostles called by Jesus.  In John's Gospel, Andrew is first presented as an apostle of John the Baptist.  Significant in that Andrew recognizes Jesus as the Messiah.  Moreso we see in the sixth chapter of John's Gospel, it is Andrew who approaches Philip and requests to meet Jesus.  Jesus' response is to, "Come and See."  Andrew gladly tells his brother Peter about Jesus.  This is what disciples do; they are excited about the Word of God, and share it with as many as possible.  Perhaps this is the reason that he is chosen by Jesus.

St. John Chrysostom, in a homily on this occasion, talks about the zeal of St. Andrew.  To be sure a disciple is called to be zealous.  Andrew is shown as one who is constantly seeking, looking for truth and understanding the mysteries of God.  Once he discovers 'truth' Andrew does not hesitate to proclaim the good news.  In the Collect for today's liturgy, we pray that Andrew guide the Church in faith, and always be our friend.

St. Andrew makes a wonderful Advent saint in his vigilance and faithful posture.  Obviously he is always in the process of seeking that which is of God.  But Andrew does not wander to find meaning in crystals, or trees and bushes, but understands that the God of all creation will be the source of the 'Messiah.'  Andrew understands that to be a disciple is an activity of seeing the works of Christ, and sharing those works faithfully.

In the Vatican II document on the Laity in the Church, men and women are invited to continue to grow in holiness, and participate actively in the life of the Church.  There is no doubt that it is difficult to maintain a high level of excitement, especially as we meet the routine of life.  Even if in small ways we can seek and find holiness, all the better for the Church.  How do I recognize God's presence?  How can I respond in love and charity? 

No doubt that there are occasions throughout our lives when we can see Jesus at work.  Like Andrew we have to be courageous and Come and See.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

So we begin the journey

Advent is a pretty tame time of year.  While it does have its penitential nature, it is not as demanding as is Lent.  When I was in grade school, in the sixties and seventies, the Sisters usually used 'psychology' to have us understand what was 'good' or 'bad.'  "How do you think Billy feels when you hit him in the head?"  Advent is sort of like that.  Isaiah wants us to understand that it was bad choices, and a lifestyle that abandoned the covenant, that caused the difficulties for Israel.  Like the parent who has a conversation with a child, Isaiah wants us to try to grasp how our decisions can have dire consequences.

We remember the last few Gospels.  Stewards who fail to invest their master's money and virgins who do not bring extra oil, will find themselves in the dark and cold, wail and gnashing their teeth.  This season reminds us that we are not on a ride at Disney World whereas we sit in a car, while the scenery moves around us.  We are active participants in the story of the Gospel, and it is our responsibility to live out our faith, as well as to convey that same faith to those around us.

Consider Elizabeth, Joseph, Mary and Zachariah, who were doing as they had planned, on their journey, and suddenly God changes their pathway.  Now they are responsible for preparing for the Light of the World, and the source of Salvation.  In so many ways our journey sometimes changes, and we are challenged to take on new and even more difficult responsibilities.  But in the softness of the Advent colors, God continues to walk with us on this new path.

Preparing for Christ takes time and a lot of patience.  In addition we need to work on our meekness, humility, and generosity besides.  We too are really Advent people on that journey for the Christ Child.  God does not slap our knuckles or any such thing, but offers us a vision of peace and joy.  May the good works God has begun in us be brought to completion.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Advent 1

Isaiah today comes very close to blaming God for the unfaithfulness he sees around him.  If God was 'closer' none of this would ever have happened.  But as if coming back from a momentary lapse of judgement he is quick to point out that the people of God had slowly wandered away from the covenant.  He eventually refers to this wounded-ness which lies at the depths of our being.

This kind of brokenness is what we experience when people will compliment us, our comment on our spiritual maturity.  We know full well the fears, anxieties, hurts, and pain we lug around with us.  Sometimes we do a very good job at hiding the depths of our sinfulness.  But the challenge for a disciple is to be honest with our own needs and concerns.  What hobbles us, preventing the fullness of the Lord to reside within us.  The Closeness of God, or lack therein, is not from God;s side but from ours.

One of the commentaries I had read referred to 'sleepwalking' through life.  We are not really awake to the Sin and Evil that swirls about us, and refuse to address it's effect in our own lives.  Now we are not all called to be mystics, but we are called to a holiness of life.  The ability to wake up invites us to transform ourselves from mediocrity and apathy, to full of compassion and a commitment to God's covenant with us.

During this season we will see the very traditional Christmas Carol, the not so traditional Scrooged, and the entertaining The Grintch.  In each of these the premise is the same; a powerful event changes the hearts of the main character, causing them to love and care.  Now the birth of Jesus has already occurred, but we make present the Body and Blood of Christ on the altar each day.  The Sacrament of Reconciliation invites us to begin a journey of healing and grace through God's mercy.

The trappings of Advent challenge us to conversion and discipleship.  It is a journey of growing closer to the Lord and experiencing his great love for us.  This season calls us out of darkness into his own most marvelous light.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Crisis of Faith

Today's ominous readings hint at the end of time as well as the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God.  For Matthew the Kingdom is something very important.  Talk about the end, whether it be '2012' or some rock from space, causes people to become frightened and even anxious.  The Gospels and the Epistles charge us to remain faithful to the calling we have received all the way to the end.

In a simpler time, when life seemed slower, and communities more stable, believing in God and being faithful to the covenant was easier - or so it seemed.  A friend and I talk about those who seem to long for the 40s and 50s.  Sort of a 'Father Knows Best' life when identity and position were clear and unquestioned.  Yet a popular T.V. show bluntly presents the evil and sinfulness that part of the culture then, yet it was well hidden.  As disciples our entire being must be presented to God.

The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, recently went to Germany and spoke with several different groups of people.  In his address to the laity he mused about the post-modern mentality which reduces issues of moral and ethics to a subliminal relativism.  While he spoke about the inability of many to make a life long commitment, he was alluding to marriage.  But the same can be said of religious life and priesthood today.  More so, Benedict indicated that the task self-denial and sacrifice for others seems less of an option in today's world.

Rather than living in fear the Gospels recommend making our faith vital and strong.  St. Paul asks the question, 'If God is for us, who can be against?'  Paul offers a litany of exterior forces that can harm, and even kill us.  But Paul answers his own question by stating that God is always for us.  In Benedict's speech to the German people (and this applies to us too) he recommends that faithful people gather together to discuss their faith, and to encourage one another in faith.  Through prayer and the study of sacred scripture these small communities can be a source of connection to God and a more intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.  These small groups can be a springboard of healing, and a reaffirmation of the Father's love.

No matter what the world throws at us we need a faith family to go to so as to experience the fullness of the Father's compassion and peace.  We used to have Bingo here at this parish.  Part of its ministry, unintentional to be sure, was a social outlet for many of the elderly.  The Church might want to look at new models so as to gather people, support them, and bless them on their way.  In this way we can respond to the ongoing crisis of faith.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Leaving the Gospel of St. Matthew

kata Matthaion euangelion, or the Gospel of St. Matthew, is the first in the order of the Gospels, but most likely not the first written.  The author of Matthew borrowed heavily from the  source of Mark, and one or two common narratives day.  Like the Gospel of John, Matthew seems to be the 'Church" Gospel, with it's references to church and the ideas of a community it proposes.  Throughout the Gospel we have read five discourses, or themes, which help to bring an understanding to the theology of the Kingdom of God.

Throughout this Gospel Matthew has again and again reiterated the importance of evangelization.  The Disciples are to go out and share the Good News.  Those who are cured or healed share what has happened to the.  But more important than the going out to places, is that as individuals, and as a community, or lifestyle shares the 'good news' of Jesus Christ with others.  The last judgement scene from chapter 25 challenges members of the community to perform corporal and spiritual works of mercy as a means of making known the Gospel message.  Back in chapter 24 Jesus admonishes the religious leadership for being more concerned with their exterior  trappings, than being servants of the Word of God and the people of God.

John Paul II pronounced that this century needed to be one of a New Evangelization.  Not only are there those who have not heard of the Gospel message, but in our post-modern society we have made religious truths into subjective truths.  In recent years the Church has recommended faith sharing from the pulpit, and within small Christian communities.  Across the Church there is a new emphasis on preaching and catechesis.  The Paulists have developed a series of programs which help form these small communities, and give them purpose and direction.  Of course the most difficult aspect is to find good catechetical leaders.

Matthew's presentation of the apostles demonstrates that they struggle with faith, in particular with the Paschal Mystery.  Faithful people, and faith-filled communities, are those that remain connected to Jesus even as the boat (the Church) is rocked hither and yon, and during the threat of persecution.  The disciple stays with Jesus through the good and the bad.  Doing so increases their own faithfulness, but also becomes a witness to those around us.

hopefully this year has been a lesson(s) learned thanks to the narrative of St. Matthew.  Matthew has called us to become a holy people, directed towards the gifted-ness we have received, all for the unfolding of the Kingdom of God.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Day

There is a story I had read eons ago, about a young mother, rushing to get her five year old daughter to school one rainy day.  As always they were running late.  The young woman had to get to a meeting and was considering the dozen or so other details of the day.  The little girl amused herself with the puddles as the woman urged her towards the car.  As she fumbled for her car keys, the little girl looked at her and declared, "This is a great day to float sticks in the water."  From children we can be brought back to momentarily consider the basic gifts and wonders that are around us.

The monastics can teach us a great deal about living a well rounded life, praise and thanksgiving.  Their lives are very ordinary, shaped by a routine that includes work, study, and most importantly time to pray and thank God.  The ability to offer prayers of thanksgiving to God on a regular basis keeps us focused as to where our life is from, and on the 'who' we should be dependent on.  When we can pause and recognize the wonders of life, friendships, healing, reconciliation, and healthy relationships, we can also begin to see the hand of God in our very lives.  Then we learn to approach God in faith with our needs and concerns.

The late Father Henri Nouwen taught us so much about growing as a people of thanksgiving.  When we begin to recognize the intimacy that God has with us, and how we as a people can be a gift to each other, it begins to change our perspective of living.  Yes there are hurts and pains, but we can journey forward in confidence and faith knowing that God continues to be one with us.  In Jesus Christ we have the promise of salvation as well as the grace to stand up against the anxiety and fear of life.  Watching seeds sprout and birds fly calls to mind that God's mercy and love is overwhelming this day.

At Liturgy I will lift up the bread, and the chalice full of wine, and say, "Blessed are you Lord God of all creation through your goodness we have this to offer."  We might look at who and what we have received, and bless the Lord for all that we have been gifted with.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Be a Jesus Freak

Towards the end of Matthew's Gospel, and as we end this liturgical year, we begin to think about the 'end times.'  I was looking at a web-site the other night which detailed the times throughout history that the world was supposed to have ended.  About this time people get more religious and start looking for faith in their lives.  In recent months, and I believe it has something to do with our present cultural chaos, there have been a number of movies on demonic possession and evil spirits.

All of this can be pretty frightening and certainly even the most faith filled person might find themselves a bit perplexed.  Matthew though looks at the challenges of our faith in a very different way.  There will be confrontations and oppositions to our belief and faith throughout our days.  Now we can choose to ignore these difficulties, or squelch our faith to such a degree that it is barely recognizable.  But when we pronounce our faith we leave ourselves open to all sorts of hostility and brokenness.  It might even seem like the end of the world.

I found this neat reflection which I used for my homily last weekend.  It was entitled a 'Franciscan Blessing.'  The prayer invited us to be bothered by oppression, hunger, hurt, and despair.  It asked that we never be comfortable.  As a Christian, we should be disturbed by a lack of peace and human dignity.  Jesus did not have a quota of healing and miracles to do, he responded to the needs that presented themselves.

Faithful disciples look forward to the coming of God's kingdom, with our eyes towards heaven, but our feet firmly planted on the ground.  I remember listening to a woman who stated that she was a mystic.  But throughout the conversation she seemed angry and hostile.  When I suggested that being a mystic should fill one with peace and joy, she became even more belligerent.  Holy people are not put off from doing holy things when they hear about distress.  All the more they are strengthened by their faith and relationship with Jesus the Christ.

Our participation in the mysteries we celebrate gives us the insight and courage to proclaim Jesus even during frustrating times.  Like the first disciples we are told not to worry about our speech since it will be the spirit speaking within us.  It is this truth that sets the modus operandi of our response to God and others in our world today.  Like any good Jesus Freak we should be concerned that justice and peace are proclaimed.  We work to give witness of the very foundation of our faith.  So that in the end people might hear good news and be moved by it.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Faith Opens us to Truth

Way back in September, Bishop William Lori, of Bridgeport, Conn. celebrated a Red Mass at his Cathedral.  The Red Mass is traditionally celebrated for persons involved in the legal profession.  In using Luke's Gospel.Bishop Lori began framing his homily along the path of the 'Spirit of God.'  Bishop Lori reminded the faithful members of the legal profession that we were indeed strengthened with the Holy Spirit at Baptism and Confirmation.  This very action unites us more closely with the Paschal Mystery which we celebrate each and every time we do the Mass.

Lori used Cardinal John Henry Newman to demonstrate the connection between faith, and our obligation in seeking out the truth.  Lori states, "Newman's witness to the fullness of Christian truth brought many to the Church and profoundly affected the culture of his day."  Just as Cardinal Newman displayed a propensity to find the truth in all situations, in our own lives, personal and public, we are to seek out what is true and good.  Lori reminded those present that this necessity had importance for our own moral character, and because of our public nature human life itself.

An important challenge that Lori gave his listeners is where he intones the late John F. Kennedy, "The rights of Man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God."  In our post-modern society I tend to think that we have forgotten this very basic truth.  God gives us every good thing, and maintains and sustains our lives.  We like to believe that we can legislate morals and ethics.  It is a mentality that believes that if it is legal, or we think that it is in the constitution, when then it must be right.

I have come to know our state representative for the DeKalb area.  Recently there was some legislation which was supposed to help one of the many problems within the state.  He did not support it, and even wrote an editorial explaining his reasons.  He bristles at legislation based solely on emotions or good feelings.  Something will happen which causes people to declare together, "There ought to be a law."  But as Bishop Lori would suggest, and as our Gospels proclaim, how we guide our lives needs to be based on truth and right; something that will build up the common good.

Sadly today much of what passes for 'truth' is an easy answer for a complex and difficult problem.  More so our answers today can tend to move us away from responsibility and ownership of Sin and brokenness in our world today.  As faith-filled people we are guided by our faith and some basic truths.  We apply the teachings of Jesus Christ and our tradition to the problems of the world today.  The respect of life, human dignity, and freedom, and some of the foundational  virtues of our life.  It is the most basic of challenges of the Gospel which invite us to seek God first in all things.

May what God has begun in us be brought to completion.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Christ the King

Today we make that transition from the end of one liturgical year to another.  Before we spend four weeks considering the Incarnation, we will spend a day celebrating the reality that Jesus Christ is our King and Good Shepherd.  The readings lead us to understand that Christ reigns as the image of the living God, whom through the Incarnation, suffering, death, and resurrection, has brought us salvation and peace.

Matthew's Gospel seems ominous and even harsh.  If we have been good people, and not murdered anyone, why would there be a judgement.  To answer that we go back to chapter 5 in Matthew's Gospel, whereas Jesus indicates the vision of discipleship.  Virtues such as meekness, humility, and peacemaking,  can focus one on God's reign, and help us to be good disciples.  It is always worth noting that the righteous are also scratching their heads here; they have ministered to, and served others, simply because it was the right thing to do.

Jesus suffers and dies on a cross so as to reveal the resurrection.  If we are following Jesus we have to be willing to suffer and die with him - again and again.  We all remember Sister telling us to 'offer it up,' or to 'carry our cross' when it came time for difficult tasks.  Discipleship is more intense than doing nice things for other people.  The reason I dislike service hours for confirmation students is that they work at 'getting' their hours completed, rather than seeing service as part of the Church.  The paschal mystery is a challenge to go out and share good news.

The stories of the Gospels convey to us the visible love and compassion of a God we cannot see.  The Church which shares in the ministry of Christ our King, continues to carry out the love and mercy of God.  By imitating Jesus, being serious disciples, we continue to proclaim good news.  A few weeks ago I had stopped in the rectory for a mid-day snack.  Walking down the sidewalk was a school parent with her kids in tow.  They were going to work in the food pantry.  Not only is this a great ministry, but mom is being a model of what it means to be a disciple.

Saint Francis told his friars to proclaim the Gospel wherever they went, using words if they had to.  This feast is about God's great 'Amen' for all people of all time.  The Church continues on the mission and ministry of the Christ by it's preaching, teaching, and sanctifying.  By our participation in Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist, we proclaim what we have seen and heard in Jesus Christ.  By being faithful Disciples we make known the fact that Christ is King.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Faithful Citizenship part 2

I remember a freshman student once asked why the Catholic Church had to be so different, why they could not believe like everyone else.  I tries to explain the challenge of the Gospels and the demands of Discipleship.  The response was sort of 'deer in the headlights' stare.  But it can at times be difficult to appreciate the challenges we are called to live by in our faith.This fall the U.S. Bishops revised their document on political participation, "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship."

The document hopes to convey to catholics the importance of allowing our faith to inform our political decisions.  We as U.S. citizens tend to shy away from making political judgments from a religious view.  Separation of Church and State and all of that.   But we as religious people are to be concerned with the common good of all men and women, as well as their welfare and the respect of life.  So we have an obligation to participate in the government process.

Because we are part of this larger community, the Bishops want us to understand that we bring our principles and moral convictions to the discussion table.  The Church has a long tradition of teachings on marriage, family, justice and peace, human dignity, respect of life, and human dignity.  The Bishops state, "The Church, through its institutions must eb free to carry out its mission and contribute to the common good without being pressured to sacrifice fundamental teachings and moral principles.  Our catholic tradition should inform we the voters, and also the leadership who forms legislation and forms policy.

This text asks that catholics become aware of our moral and social justice teachings.  The Bishops do have a check-list, but ask that catholics allow their faith to be their guide.  But the Bishops wisely note that we cannot become persuaded by candidates who agree with only one or two moral principles.  Some candidates will say the the right words or phrases for political expediency.  We need to be aware of this.

The last half of the Document looks at a series of issues which effect our culture today.  These are issues which have moral implications and are important to the commonality of our society.  We as catholics are asked to be aware and educated about the issues which are core to the human family.

From the very first day that Sister asked us to be aware of that 'little voice' inside of us, until today, we as a Church are called upon to be keenly aware of our Church Teachings, and to have our consciences formed by the truth of these teachings.  The Church needs to continue to be the stumbling block in the world today.  We have to have the courage and perseverance to point out when the emperor has no clothes.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Don't Bury Talents

One of the awesome qualities of the prophets is that they could not be quiet.  Life would have been much easier, much more gentle, if they would not have spoken as much as they did.  But, that is the mandate of the prophet.  To recognize Sin and Evil and to speak about it.  The curious thing about today's Gospel is that the third servant recognizes the harshness of his master, so he safeguards the treasure he has received.  We might look at this and wonder what the problem is.

The point of the Gospel today is that this man did nothing at all.  The first and second servants were willing to take a risk and invested the master's talents.  Saints, disciples, and prophets, are all willing to take risks, and to take responsibility with what they have been given.  The Apostles will sometimes confuse being a follower of Jesus as a pathway to power and glory.  Jesus reminds them from time to time that to have authority means that  one takes responsibility and serves those entrusted to them.  What we have been given is present so as to do good and build up the community in which we live.

Certainly this week the Penn State scandal is fresh on every one's mind.  A simple phone call, a follow-up, becoming filled with righteousness, would have solved a lot of problems.  Like the third servant we can sometimes run away in fear or uncertainty.  Or worse yet, we declare that the brokenness, or evil, or even the Sin we observe, is really not our problem.  And we walk away.  Truly we might not be responsible for the War of 1812, but human dignity, respect, creation, faith, and holiness, are very much our responsibility.

To be sure the prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah can serve as excellent models for us.  But men and women like Dorothy Day, Frances Cabrini, and Oscar Romero, make us pause and consider what is of value and of truth.  There words and wisdom is very much like the reading from Proverbs today, in which we possess the heart of good, and work at maintaining a holy and healthy household.  These folks demonstrate to us that religion cannot be lived out of fear and anxiety.

Faith only makes sense when it is lived in a spirit of love.  God bestows upon us every good thing.  We share what we have received in love and in justice.  We are to speak the truth and offer a blessing rather that a curse.  This is all part of the discipleship which we are called to.  We can never be afraid in doing what is right.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

What is man?

The past week voters in Mississippi rejected a State constitutional amendment, that would have defined a 'person' as beginning at conception.  Proponents had hoped that his would eliminate abortion and provide for recognition for pre-natal needs.  Opponents felt that the definition was too broad and would infringe on various rights of women, especially abortion and contraception.  As always the debate returned to whether or not a fetus is really a human being.

This whole question brings us back to philosophical arguments and the age old question of our very being.  For the ancients the concept of a soul was very real.  Humans who are capable of logic and intellect possess a human soul, whereas animals, which are at the service of Man, contain an animal soul.  This all sounds well and good but yet we continue to debate this philosophy and the modern day medical evidence we have today.  Often we hear the comment that a woman may do what she wants with her body.  But the physiology of the matter is that the child is very much separate from the mother.  The umbilical cord is actually from the fetus, the human child, and not the mother.

The problem is that when we begin to legally define who is a human and who is not, then we can excuse ourselves from the responsibility of caring for those who are "less than human."  So we can say that someone with less than a '70' I.Q. is not a human.  Or we can counter that once we begin to lack control of our bowels or bladder, then we become less of a human.  Now some will say that we will never get to that point, but yet we discuss assisted suicide as if we were a root canal.

Pope John Paul was correct in calling our culture a 'culture of death.'  We try to legalize and legitimize our animal-like nature which says that only the strong should survive.  The prophets of the Hebrew Scripture  challenged the religious and political leaders for neglecting the convenant, and neglecting the needs of the widows, orphans, poor, and the anawim.  If we begin to forget about the needy and vulnerable then we begin to weaken our society and break down the morals and ethics that offer us support and integrity.

We are made in the image and likeness of God.  It is necessary to return again and again to the basic foundation of our humanity.  We have to remember and ponder that sacredness that exists in all people.  Otherwise we will vote ourselves out of existence.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Chronos vs Kairos

This past weekend we had our Kairos retreat for our high school youth.  While it is supposed to be a four day retreat, we squeeze everything into three days.  There is quite a paradox here.  We take the students watches and cell phones to remove them from time and the obligations of texting, etc.  But we have a very rigid schedule whereas we need to keep the retreat moving.  It is a weekend that is packed with reflection, prayer, and stretching their spiritual imaginations.  We want them to move beyond doing religion into doing faith.

In some ways this is a quick jaunt through the Gospels.  We call them to follow us, and then we begin to take them along on a journey of discerning Jesus as the Christ.  Even if it is once in their lifetimes, this is a powerful time in their lives.  We ask them to look deeply into their relationship with God and others.  One of the most important things that we do is to paint a vivid picture of faith for these young people.

There is an important insight about conversion and discipleship here.  In our time we say that we have to have the sacraments completed by a certain age and with particular requirements.  But, how many high school juniors might not be ready to make a faith commitment?  We look at the apostles and find that at the very end, as Jesus begins the process of the Paschal Mystery, did not fully comprehend what Jesus was about.  In face they all ran away out of fear.

The Scriptures are full of stories of God choosing young teens to lead nations, and old couples to bear children.   This is Kairos.  It requires that we remain open to the possibility of the Holy Spirit in our life.  Discipleship takes with it the necessity to 'Come and See' all that Jesus does in the most sacred moments of life, and the most ordinary.  We are always looking for holiness and the opportunity to make Christ present.

When we had the Branches here at St. Mary Parish, I would joke about the ability to create a homily out of any object or situation.  We laughed, but I could do it.  As these young people heard about family and friends, Sin and grace, falling on ones face, and having the strength to stand up again; we tried to help them see the presence of God in all things.  And once they begin having 'holy' thoughts, and responding to the world in Christ-like ways, then conversion and discipleship becomes a possibility.

Friday, November 4, 2011

St. Charles Borromeo

St. Charles Borromeo lived during the time of the Protestant Reformation.  As Bishop of Milan he himself was instrumental in the reform of the Church.  A well educated man, he sought to build up the theological and the spiritual foundation of the Church.

Today I leave for our parish Kairos retreat.  We have eighteen high school students with us.  My peers think that I am crazy staying with the young people all weekend.  It is exhausting but I love it.  Under the model of St. Charles, I want these young people to seek what is true and good.  More so to build a strong and permanent relationship with Jesus Christ, and His Father in heaven.

So we are off to God's time.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

All Souls

"On this Holy Mountain ..."  The Book of Wisdom offers us a vision of a place with God, on his Holy Mountain, in which the love and mercy of God will destroy death and sinfulness.  The invitation given to us by God is to dwell in a place of light, happiness, and peace, forever.  This is the promise that is given to us by God throughout the sacred scriptures.  God maintain and sustains us throughout our lives. 

Writer Rainer Maria Rilke writes that because we live in a world surrounded by artificial light, that we have forgotten how to be comfortable with being in darkness.  There is a wisdom and lesson to be learned from the darkness which surrounds us.  It pushes us to contemplate mortality and death.  Long ago we had wakes in our homes.  Today the moments of death and dying are sterile and clean. 

The mystics who understood and struggled with darkness, came to realize the immensity of God's nature.  More so many of our beliefs have become almost like idols, and our call is to surrender our attachments so as to grow into a deeper relationship with God.

Our ancestors in faith struggled with death and came to understand, and believe that even in the midst of sadness and grief comes the brightness of God's love.  Our faith in the Paschal mystery, that is the passion, death, and resurrection, of Jesus Christ, gives us the courage to release of grip on the things we think we know, and enter into the realm of faith, trust, and hope.  Our God is the living God who desires salvation and peace for all of creation.  At funerals today we speak eloquently about uncles Zeke's love of fishing, while forgetting to talk about the saving death of Jesus Christ.

Baptism and Confirmation unites us into a community here on earth, but also gives us communion with our brothers and sisters who have gone on before us from this life.  Just as we treated each other well in this life, we maintain our connection to each other as member of Christ's Body, and pray for our friends in Christ who have died.  We believe that there is this process which we call Purgatory, by which we are made fully ready to live with God forever.  There is this final orientation to God, whereas we come into the presence of God's glory. 

We continually pray for those who have died and entrust them to God.  There is a literal handing over to God the souls of our beloved.  We believe and trust in the mercy and love of God.  The Gospels, especially St. John, indicates that Gos makes us ready to share in this glory.  The cross and resurrection already unite us to God Through Jesus, but we are continually filled up with what is lacking in our lives.

Today is a special day to declare God's faithfulness, and call to mind our family and friends who have died.  Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon them.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Sing With All The Saints In Glory

Today is the celebration of All Saints.  This solemnity honors the holy men and women who, by their very lives, gave praise and honor to God.  We have to be real about this feast.  While many of these people were exemplary in holiness and piety, they still became frustrated, tired, hungry, jealous, angry, and even bored.  It was their intimate relationship with God the Father, in Jesus Christ, that became a faithful witness to those that encountered them.

The image in the Book of Revelation is outstanding.  The heavenly concert which continues to give praise and glory to the Lamb of God, were the ones on earth who praised God through prayer and liturgy, but also by act of charity and mercy.  As John reports this marvelous vision of the Kingdom in its fullness, we realize that our brothers and sisters in Christ did this by their teaching, missionary work, parenting, nursing, contemplative prayer, and being good and faithful disciples.  Folks who encountered this community would 'trip' over their holiness.  In that they became a challenge by their often times counter-cultural lifestyle.

The Beatitudes were more than a moving text, or a check-list of things to do today.  They became a foundation on which their lives were set.  A working document, again and again these same men and women reflected on what it meant to be a peace-maker, merciful, and humble of heart.   Because they were disciples of Jesus they were nor afraid to get their hands messy for the Kingdom of God.

We step back today and look at this great company of Saints knowing that we follow along on the same path.  Along the way they made it known that they believed and trusted in Jesus Christ.  They are models to us how to live faith in a profound and faithful manner.  Hopefully we can also take up the challenge and life saintly prophetic lives.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Beyond the Whitewash

An older priest, who worked in Hispanic ministry, once told me of the frustration he was having because of the various storefront churches springing up in the area.  Non-denominational ministers would buy an old building, call it a 'catholic church,' place statues of Mary and Jesus in a window, dress up in clerics, and begin their own religious group, drawing in various elements of Catholicism.   The Hispanics would often, unaware of the difference, go to these places for the sacraments and worship on Sundays.  He had a difficult time expounding the difference between the Catholic Church in which they were gathered together in, those places that pretend to be 'Catholic.'

Today the Gospel wants us to understand the difference between authentic and 'pretend' faith.  The Pharisees have a legitimate place and have received their role as teachers in proper order, but their lifestyle contradict the covenant teachings that they are to convey to the people.  While they are saying the right words they act in order to be seen and respected.  In all of the Gospels this is a common theme that we will run up against again and again.  If we profess faith, and commit ourselves to discipleship, then we have to apply that same to our response to situations in daily life.

The other day a potential bride called and asked about marriage in our church.  She had commented that she really liked our church.  I did not ask, but had to wonder, does she like our prayer liturgies, our ministry to the sick and the home-bound, St. Vincent De Paul Society, RCIA program, or is it the stained glass windows and long aisle.  Sadly I suspect that it is the latter.

Again it is no mistake that Jesus washes the feet of the apostles prior to the last supper.  Service is an integral part of Discipleship.  St. Paul alludes the image of a nursing mother who nurtures her child completely with her whole body.  Now we are not going to Central America, or the inner-city, to do ministry, but our proclamation of faith needs to be manifested in charity, mercy, and forgiveness.  When the need arises we are willing to serve one another as Christ served those he encountered.

Our faith is not about 'pretend' or dressing the part.  It is about making our lives a commitment to the truth and seeking justice and peace.  People should know Jesus when they encounter us.  We respond in the way the Teacher has shown us.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

It's doom and gloom time again

The National Catholic Reporter recently ran an article detailing a survey pertaining to the Catholic Church.  The conclusions do not look good.  Low Mass attendance, fewer and older priests, and a general discontent within the pews.  The article offers some solutions though such as married priests, greater lay leadership, and flexibility on various Church teachings.  This sounds fairly easy and clear cut.

Taken alone this survey looks pretty bleak for the Church.  But in the context of other recent surveys and polls, including CARA and PEW research, the Church and the desire for a faith community are alive and well.  Almost like the U2 hit, many people today, especially young people do not know what they are looking for.  But the fact of the matter is that they are looking.  While it is easy to take out the old idea that priests should marry (That seems to be the solution for so many things) returning to the Gospels shows us another way of ministry.

In our recent memory, say 1945 - 64, the Church seemed vibrant and alive.  We had packed seminaries and Catholic grade schools were bursting at the seems.  By the numbers everything seemed fine and good.  We had  become used to passing on our religion, but I am not sure we were passing on our faith.  Our children were baptized, sent to the catholic grade school, and they were married in the Church.  I have begin to wonder whether we were strong in our faith, that is our relationship to Jesus Christ.  Or sis we simply go through the motions of being good Catholics.

What these surveys report, and what the experience of Pastors affirm, is that many, especially the young, are looking for a spirituality.  Presently they embrace eastern religions and more humanistic styles.  We have two thousand years of spirituality within our religion.  More so, devices such as Facebook and Myspace do not fulfill the need of basic supportive communities.  Several months ago a young child was trying to explain to me his weekly schedule of being shuttled between a father and mother, with some other half relatives in between.  We crave community and intimate relationships.

Our youth minister was reflecting upon how much some of the young people are very attracted to adoration of the Eucharist and meditation.  These same young folk are the first to volunteer for service projects and the like.  For many today the depth of what we believe in has never been explained.

Our ministry must convey the mystery of the cross.  Out proclamation of faith is set upon solid principles of belief and tradition which does not lend itself to negotiation.  I believe it is in Mark's Gospel where as people wander away from Jesus as he details discipleship.  Like Peter our faith has to be bolding pronounced, 'Lord you alone have the words of eternal life.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Narrow Gate

The college I went to is a small catholic liberal arts college.  Across the way there is another catholic college; which had been an all-girls college.  Both of these colleges are well over one hundred years old and have a good academic reputation.  I am always impressed at how well they have maintained themselves in good times and in bad.

Sometimes I compare these two colleges to another catholic college, near my first pastorate.  Run by a religious order it has since been sold to a for-profit college company.  Sometimes I try to figure out why these two colleges in a blue collar working class town continue to thrive, while another, in a similar community, fails to thrive.  The answer I come up with is from Sirach.  Sirach states for us, "A people without a vision perishes."  While this write is speaking to a particular community, this truth holds for parishes, religions, and institutions.

Our college, and our sister college, directed its educational mission outwards.  When it was not doing academic work, we were pushed out into the community.  Various groups at both colleges served the city and it's parishes in a variety of ways.  More so every year we traveled to Kentucky to work soup kitchens and winterize houses.  I so not remember this same sense of mission coming from college number three.  There never seemed to be a great connection between the college and the community.

The question this always raises for me is one of vision and mission.  Without some sort of interaction and connection with the world around us we become rather shriveled and eventually die.  The command that we have been given is to go out into the whole world and proclaim the good news.  Our focus is not about what we get out of the ministry, but how we convey the meaning of the Kingdom.  When people complain to me that they do not get anything out of church or Church ministry, I always wonder whether their parents felt fulfilled in changing diapers, being vomited on, or listening to temper tantrums.

The Disciple must die to oneself in order to do the work of the Kingdom.  There is a real process of setting God first, others second, and we as servants, are number three.  The Word and sacraments have to become a regular part of our life, and a challenge to be sure.  We do not negotiate with temptations, but move far away from them.  That is the narrow door of striving for perfection.  That is how we proclaim the Kingsom of God.

Monday, October 24, 2011

We are not Debtors to the Flesh

St. Paul uses this comparison and and contrasting of our nature with the world around us.  Paul wants us to remember that not only are we made for the spirit, but that through the Paschal Mystery we we participate in the spiritual realm.  This is what separates us from the plants and other animals.  St. Paul's morality will be based on this premise.  That is because we belong to what is above, we cannot respond to the basic bodily urges and desires any time they present themselves.

In our post-modern culture stuff like ethics and natural law is a hard sell.  Morality becomes a very subjective issue.  For many today what it comes down to is if my action or desire does not hurt others, then whatever I do does not matter.  Our morality, as a Christian people, would suggest that there are basic truths and values by which we form our lives.  Even if I go out and become drunk, and then lock myself in a room, it is wrong based on the fact that it devalues my integrity and dignity.

Our traditional morality looks at the whole person and their relationship with others.  Christian morality would see us as sacred and holy beings who are meant to live in common with each other.  We work and respond for the commonality of all people.  All people have worth and value and are deserving of respect.  More so, and this is where people begin to cringe, we are responsible for each other.  "Am I my brother's keeper?"  Yes you are.  This is a hard truth to live with.

We have become comfortable with brokenness and violence so that we no longer flinch when we see it.  Again in our society there is the notion that if it is not a problem for me, then why should I be concerned.  A first step need to be in re-connecting peoples into real communities and groups.  Not some Facebook thing-y whereas we collect virtual friends, but the meeting of flesh and blood people.  Too often we are distanced from our families and fail to make friendships, this is would be a major undertaking.

Just as in today's Gospel Jesus responds to a human need, when we can encounter each other we might begin to respond to others as brother and sister.  We have to meet them first.  Maybe we should return to the garden, and meet our first parents again.  Or sit with Jesus and really listen to the hurts, pains, and confusion, of others. Maybe then we can begin to discover community.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

God is Love

The perfect commandment that is presented today has its origins in our scriptural tradition, and in the reality that we are made in God's image.  The stories passed on to us in the Old Testament show our loving God as God who is most kind, generous, and merciful.  When we begin to put away all of our expectations  of how God is or ought to be, then we can appreciate all that God has done for us.

But (as the psalmist asks) if God has done these marvelous things for us, what should our response be.  Jesus reminds us quite often that the work that he dos is not about himself, but it is in accord with what the Father has commanded.  The saints and holy men and women put their own needs and concerns aside, so as to be part of drawing people into the Kingdom.

Love God and Love one another then has to begin with that image of the Father.  We are created for relationships.  A relationship with our God, the giver of every good thing, and with one another, in which we share a covenantial  relationship because we are God's people.  The Paschal Mystery is that culmination of the saving activity of God through Jesus Christ.  We see the cross event as the model of how we need to be.

We sometimes confuse our love with each other with our being friends.  The love that we share is based in compassion and hope.  Like the Good Samaritan we readily stoop down next to our brother or sister when they are broken or oppressed.  Our care is not limited by the artificial boundaries that we put up.

St. Paul uses this great example of the Body of Christ to illustrate our relationship with God and others.  When one member of the body hurts, we all hurt,  As a Eucharistic people we strive to become perfected in the image of Jesus Christ.