Sunday, February 27, 2011

Of birds and wildflowers

St. Matthew is drawing to a close in in the Sermon on the Mound. Jesus begins his mission and ministry here. For his hearers, he sets forward his plan for the Kingdom of God. From the Beatitudes all the way through chapter 7 we see that this is a radical and prophetic ministry. Today Jesus tells us not to worry and to be happy. Again he is calling for an interior disposition that is lived in the exterior reality.

I started my homily today with a story about my brother Tom and a collection of four leaf clover leafs he had. He was always trying to make lots of money, and the clover leafs seemed to be the answer. Our family, with six kids, was not exactly rich, and we had to live in a very frugal manner. I realized this many years later. But we were happy.

Our one big vacation was Springfield and the Lincoln sites. It really was nice. But for the most part it was vacation time in the state parks and forests. Now this was the sixties and seventies so our family fit in with most of the hippies and the like. Again while we did not have a lot of stuff, I do not remember feeling deprived. On rainy or really cold days, as kids we would play board games or cards or some other game of our making. But life was good.

I contrast this to families I know whose whole life seemed to be consumed with where they had gone on vacation, what brand name clothes they had, and which newest toy they possessed. And yet they are not seemingly fulfilled or happy. They continue to look over their shoulders and compare themselves to all around them. To be sure there has be the question here of how we use our resources and the gifts we have. This of course is true not only for the individual but for nations as well.

St. Matthew offers us a hint in the chapter 5 and 25 as to what values we should be searching for. Becoming a peacemaker and giving water to the thirsty is far more valuable in the Kingdom than our brand name shirt and what friends I have. Love and mercy draw us closer to God and others than the passing fads of the day. We know this but ought to be reminded of it from time to time. Seek the Kingdom of God first.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Where do they go?

Four or five years ago, Aidan Kavanagh, O.S.B, died in Hamden, CT. A scholarly man, his liturgical excellence gave shape and substance to the liturgical forms of Vatican II. As continued to be a liturgical leader, he gave new breath to the sacraments of Initiation, and an ongoing understanding of Liturgy. In his Liturgical Theology, Kavanagh advocated the importance of Liturgy in capturing the way people worship. Kavanagh had a "theology of the congregation" in which he understood the importance of using strong and moving words, symbols, and gestures in worship. The Liturgy is the theology of the Church, according to Kavanagh.

And what does this all have to do with anything? Our Church (and many mainline churches) have been wringing their hands lately concerning diminishing numbers on Sundays, a decrease in marriages, and waiting to have children baptized. These are major faith issues which have a variety of causes, and are complex in their composition. Therefore solutions to these difficulties would be multi fold.

In these last few years our parish has been working at Stewardship. But in reflection this is only the beginning. Stewardship needs to be interchanged with evangelization. More and more I recognize that we have done a poor job at evangelizing, not only non-Christians/catholics, but catholics in the pew as well. A catechesis needs to be more than preparing children and adults to receive the sacraments.

In a world and time where there is much violence, division, dis-respect, and general anxiety, the Church has to stand as a sign of hope and peace. I think that for many of the young people today the Church is like a soggy bowl of corn flakes. We eat it because its supposed to be good for us, but we might skip it also, since it really does nothing for our spirit.

I go back to Father Kavanagh. While he emphasized the 'normal' nature of Liturgy, it should somehow draw men and women into the mystery of salvation. It seems that our ministry should be user friendly. Here at St. Mary's we are doing a health screening in a few weeks. I have been thinking about inviting an AA group to use our facilities again. If we are going to "Go forth to love and serve the Lord," we should probably being doing it in their living rooms and around peoples kitchen tables.

These are just some thoughts about the nature of Liturgy, evangelization, and life. Maybe go back to the source, stand at the cross, and eat the Eucharist again as if for the first time.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Chair of St. Peter

Today's feast celebrates the confession of St. Peter, but more importantly the Apostolic succession. Sometimes we become so overwhelmed by the rules and rubrics of the Church, that we miss its spirituality, mission, and purpose. When we do confirmation preparation we sometimes require service hours. The question invariably comes up, "how many hours," and "does this count?" The Church is an instrument that continues to convey the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ. Through it's teach and proclamation of the Gospel it unfolds the 'Good News' of Jesus Christ for all men and women.

Surely our Church has not always been faithful to its call or to the lifestyle upon which it was founded. But through the courage of faithful peoples it was challenged to return to its origins. The text from St. Paul in which he describes the grace poured into fragile vessels. That is the Church in which we live. What is that story, an angel is speaking with Jesus about his time on earth. The angel asks Jesus who is in charge of the Church. Jesus describes St. Peter and the apostles. After a pause the angel asks if there is a back-up plan in place.

Through the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist we continue to nurture and nourish the Church. Jesus gives us the gift of the Church to be a sign and symbol of God's Kingdom in the world today. The sacraments are those life giving graces that continue to strengthen us for the journey.

As a people of God we have to be courageous enough to graciously receive what God has given us and to live according to the words of Christ and the teachings of the Church. The Holy Father and the Bishops are our guides and shepherds in the communion of the Church. By their teaching and proclamation we allow our lives to seek what is good and true.

We are not celebrating a piece of furniture today, but rather a living breathing community which gives life to the world.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Be Sealed

Yesterday we had Confirmation at our place. 38 young people Confirmed and sent out. Sadly for many of them this will end their time in the Church and any sort of religious instruction. We will see them when they get married and have kids. On the upside many of them had some positive Church and spiritual experiences. In addition to that many are from some good families. That foundation means a lot in their connection to faith and Church.

The Gospel yesterday was a great initiation Gospel. Matthew sets the stage for the mission and ministry of Jesus. Jesus recalls for us the importance of the new covenant in that we live for the sake of the Kingdom. What this means, as Jesus tells it, we cannot allow vengeance, hatred, anger, or violence to sway our response to others around us. Even if people hate us or chase us with sticks and sharp instruments, we are to maintain a disposition of love.

this understanding is nice for the young people to think about. We are bigger than the pettiness, arrogance, and hostility which our society offers. Rather we are about a lifestyle which is into peacemaking, justice, and charity. Too often we reduce faith and religion to a matter of going to Church and being nice to people. In reality it is about an interior disposition. Hopefully as our young people begin to own the gifts they have received they will reflect more carefully on how to utilize these gift in the world in which they live.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

We the God's People

A few weeks ago Archbishop Timothy Doaln, Bishop of New York, communicated with members of Congress concerning priorities of the new Congress. Dolan recommended that, "This newly elected Congress will advance the common good and defend the life and dignity of all, especially vulnerable and poor persons whose needs are critical."

Dolan emphasized the needs of people during difficult economic times and how such struggles affect the basic dignity and well being of men and women. Archbishop Dolan commented on the need of our nation to respect all life, from conception until death. At one point Dolan writes, "We hope that the days ahead will be a time of renewal and progress for our nation as we defend human life and dignity, seek greater justice for all God's children and bring peace to a suffering world."

It is good when our Bishops act like teachers. The prophets of old would often stand before the religious and political leaders of the day to challenge them to live according to the Covenant. While we like to proclaim a separation between Church and state, the reality is that Congress does take part in being the keepers of the Covenant. The Bishops, as shepherds and teachers, also have a role to invite all of us to live as Children of God.

With that said it would good for us to muse that if we are to be a great nation, our greatness should not simply be limited by military or economic strength, but our moral lifestyle. When violence is so commonplace that we hardly flinch at the reports of shootings or abuse, then we have a problem. Archbishop Dolan is challenging leaders to be be true to their leadership role, in advancing our national vision along the lines of justice and peace.

While some might contend that the Church has no business stepping into the political arena, what Dolan alludes to here are human issues which have moral implications. Anytime of actions or responses affect human life and dignity, it becomes an issue of morality. It is good to keep the values and virtues of our faith in the forefront to be made known and reflected upon.

As a Church we should not be afraid to contact of legislators. But we also need to pray for them. We ask God to spill wisdom, knowledge, and right-judgement upon all who make and enact laws. The ideal of the common good is an understanding that should be foundational.

In closing Dolan thanks the members of Congress who serve nobly in public office. He urges cooperation with each other for the people they serve, and an understanding of the needs of all men and women. Dolan invites them to stand above the pettiness that distracts good men and women, and to act according to what is right and good.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Seeing and Believing

Father Robert Barron is a Theology Professor at St. Mary of the Lake Seminary, in Mundelein, Illinois. He is a teacher, speaker, and prolific author. One of his texts is entitled, And now I See. It is a text that examines the theology of transformation. To be sure our history with God is one of Conversion and Discipleship. There is notably an ongoing need of conversion away from Sin, and closer to the love of God. Father Barron looks at this journey from the perspective of scripture, spiritual writers, literature, and in our sacramental theology.

In the Gospels Those that 'see' and understand Jesus, are the sick, sinful, and outsiders. In the Barron book, Father Barron uses an example from Father Thomas Merton, a Cistercian Monk, to describe that interior disposition in which conversion occurs. Merton reflects that as monks there is very little to call their own since all things are in common. In the monastery the monks do not seek power or prestige. The gift of humility and becoming lowly allows one to seek the more important values and virtues in one's life.

When we talk about people with addictions, we understand that healing cannot begin until they realize their emptiness. Perhaps this is why the Gospels are so adamant about embracing the cross, and living within the mystery of the passion, death, and resurrection. When I was in college there was an elderly priest that would sit with my friends and I at lunch. While I knew he was a professor of scripture at the college, it was years later that I discovered he was a noted scholar of St. Paul's letters. One could not tell this by his demeanor.

When we are not "full of ourselves," we are better able recognize what is lacking and where we are empty. Even some of the great science fiction as in Star Wars and Superman understand this and convey this in their stories. There is the story of a man walking along a beach who comes across a monk. He asks the monk how he might be holy. The monk walks him into the water, and thrusts him into the sea, holding him underwater. After a few seconds the monk lifts the man up. "When you desire God as much as you desire to breathe, then you will begin your journey of holiness."

May God fill up what is lacking in our life.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Four Loves

When I was in high school, we read C.S. Lewis' The Four Loves, for our Marriage and Family Living Class. The text was mostly a philosophy of love, with some theology thrown in here and there. Lewis would suggest that love could be summarized in four areas, Affection, Charity, Friendship, and Eros. In the human person these directions complimented each other in our relationship with one another. First of all we come to know these 'types' of love from God who is all love and all being.

Today as we celebrate St. Valentine, we acknowledge our own love relationships. Boyfriends and girlfriends will be sending cute notes and gifts to each other, and husbands and wives will re-affirm their affection for each other. While we know very little about the real Saint Valentine, we do know that he is categorized as a martyr. So he died for the faith which he professed.

The aforementioned love relationships which we have with each other all demand a dying to oneself in order to be actualized. We talk to engaged couples about this a lot. In order for ones relationship to flourish and become life giving, it has to reflect the Paschal Mystery. There was a car commercial some time ago which celebrated the fact that their new van had personal entertainment for each occupant of the vehicle. So no one would have to communicate with each other, and accordingly the trip would be more enjoyable.

Of course such examples do not mention that relationships would not be built, nurtured, or nourished. Love can never be reduced to the weekday afternoon kissy-face drama, whereas the characters have the depth of a finger bowl. Real love is messy and offers an ongoing relationship of suffering, dying, and rising. The failure to thrive designation is what probably kills most of our relationships.

The four loves begins when we are created, and continues all of our lives. Like the martyr Valentine, we understand that the cross is a sign and symbol of love.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Let your 'Yes' mean 'Yes.'

To be sure this is a radical perspective of Sin and Evil. Jesus reiterates the importance of following the Law and the precepts of the Covenant, but wants us to go even farther. In today's Gospel Jesus teaches us that it is not enough to, not kill, or not to commit adultery. But the underlying anger, lust, disrespect, and lack of forgiveness can all lead men and women into sin, and away from life with God.

One of my favorites books was Last Catholic in America, written by playwright John Power. In it he relates a story about when he was around eight years old, and was a novice at going to Confession. He had categorized his sins under two areas: lying, and disobeying his parents. One Saturday he had realized that he had transposed the number of 'sins' during confession, and he had basically lied in the confessional. He had worried all week that he might die and be condemned to Hell for this transgression. The following Saturday he was the first in the Confession line to correct this error.

It is a funny story. But in reality Sin and Evil are matters of the heart which have their source in the manner we orientate our lives. Sirach helps us understand that we have choices throughout our lives, and our challenge is to make the best choice. It really is about creating a lifestyle that is centered on values and virtues which espouse holiness and human dignity.

In the Psalter on Fridays, we pray Psalm 51. The text recognizes the reality of Sin and sinfulness, and asks God to make us aware of our faults, and his grace which leads us out of Sin. We rely of the Holy Spirit to teach us the best course our lives need to take. Throughout our days we make value judgements and decisions based on a life that has much to do with God's love and mercy. I believe it is Aaron who proclaims before the assembly that there is the choice to say yes or no to God, and for him and his people he will choose God.

Grace and truth cannot be reduced to a moral check-list. It is all about conversion and discipleship. It is the "What do I do after I have said, "Amen."

Friday, February 11, 2011

Our Lady of Lourdes

The Story of Our Lady of Lourdes is a wonderful reflection of God's continued care over all peoples, especially the poor and the anawim. Beginning in the middle of 1858, and continuing for many months, Mary appeared to Bernadette Soubirous, and a friend, near the village of Lourdes, France. During these apparitions Mary is said to have spoken with Bernadette about God's Kingdom, and the hope we have through her Son, Jesus Christ. The spring which pooled up near the cave where the Blessed Virgin Mary stood, is said to have healing properties.
Each year thousands upon thousands of pilgrim go to Lourdes out of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and to experience healing in the waters of Lourdes. To be sure this is a story of God's faithfulness, but our response is to be out of faith.
While in many ways Lourdes is a great children's story, the message of Mary, her reference to herself as the Immaculate Conception, and the healing that occurs there, has very adult-like ramifications. Little did Bernadette understand the terrible events that would sweep through her nation, and that of Europe over the next decade, which would set the stage for WW I. In addition to political discord, poverty and want were a regular part of many peoples lives, especially in the cities of Europe.
Even today though there is a great need of healing among people. We can bring into our adult lives all types of wants, desires, and hurts. Then are the 'deadly Sins' which form the base of the sins and sinfulness in the world today. All of this hobbles our day to day living as well as our relationships with others.
It seems to me that Mary reminds us that we are made for God. God's desire is not that we exist as distorted men and women, but peoples who share in the freedom and oneness of God. Lourdes helps peoples understand the need of healing and wholeness each person has. And most importantly, through the ongoing ministry and mission of the Church God offers us healing and peace.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

We cry out, "Abba" Father.

In the Office of Readings this morning , St. Ambrose reflects upon the Letter of St Paul to the Galatians's. Ambrose reflects upon how Paul helps us understand the intensity of the relationship we have with God through Jesus Christ. Paul speaks about the Spirit that has been placed in us, which moves us to yearn and long for life with God. More so, this same Spirit enables us to shout out, "Abba" since we are adopted sons and daughters of God, through the Paschal Mystery.

All this week we will be reading from the Book of Genesis at Liturgy. Again here we have an indication of that intimate relationship we have with God. I cannot help but to think of a little child playing with clay, forming an object, and excitedly running through the house to show off what he or she has made. I can imagine God with the same sort of excitement as He creates men and women. The book of Genesis tells us that God blessed all creation and pronounced it to be good.

One of our young altar servers is really turning out to be a good server. The few times he has had to serve by himself, or with just one other server, he is forward thinking enough to move a few things in the sanctuary, so to be more efficient. At the Opening Prayer, for the preparation of the gifts, and the Prayer after Communion, he has the Sacramentary open to the Propers. Please know he is a normal, sometimes goofy, eleven year old. What is most evident is that he has some very loving parents, and grandparents, that encourage him, correct him, and are very present to him. I think that is where he finds his confidence.

If we could begin to appreciate how much our Father in heaven loves us, we too could live out our lives with faith and confidence. My of my favorite saints is Catherine of Sienna. At a very terrible time in the Church, she made the bold decision to challenge the Pope to come out of hiding and return to Rome. Knowing that God loves us and has blessed us we can make bold proclamations and live our faith fully, with the confidence of the children of God.

There is that campy song we used to sing in the Sixties, "They Will Know we are Christians by our Love." That is really true and holds a lot of credibility. So let's let our Spirits long, soar, and cry out "Abba Father."

Monday, February 7, 2011

Green Bay Packers and Jesus

I will occasionally mention to folks that the "G" on the Packer uniforms stands for God. Of course Wisconsin is considered God's Country. The Superbowl was a most excellent game. I am happy about the score, not just because my Packers won, but it was a close game all the way through. There have been some past games where I want to go off and balance my checkbook. This was not one of them.

I watched the game with some parishioners of a brother priest. It was a really good time. Again the Packers won, and there was a lot of good food and conversation. The family dog decided to attach itself to me all evening. And my cell phone didn't ring once.

Sometimes at these gathering, religious or even semi-religious, conversation comes up. Since 'Father' is trapped we can put all of these questions and pondering to him. And there were no major theological or moral quandaries, but religious topics would surface here and there. It occurred to me this was where Jesus did his best work. At Simon Peter's house the cure of his mother-in-law caused a busload of the sick and suffering to come by his front door. At the house of a leading Pharisee, the cure of a man with a physical deformity led to a teaching on Sin and Evil. These were moments when Jesus revealed the Kingdom.

Moms and Dads are the first teachers of faith. Perhaps family meal prayer could begin with the question, "What do we need to pray for tonight?" So much of what our families struggle with can be brought to faith at the family dinner table. With parishes having hundreds, and even a few thousand families, Father have to ever worry about dinner. Invite Father to dinner and prepare for the sacraments, or discuss life, death, sickness, or disease. Not a bad idea.

Religion and faith do not necessarily have to be done in the Church, school, or in Father's office. i think that some of the best religion conversations I have had are with strangers as I am leaving one place and going to another. The conversation always seems to begin with, "Are you a priest?" Those are the times also that folks want to converse about 'theology.'

Even at times as basic as a football game we can have God discussions. Of course when watching a team with a "G" on their helmets, it sort of makes sense.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Salt and Light

Last week Jesus began his ministry by offering us a Mission Statement. Blessed are the poor, peacemakers, and the righteous; theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. Of course Jesus is referring to that place of light, happiness, and peace, which is culminated in the final coming. But Jesus will also remind us that the Kingdom of God is in our midst. So like the wise virgins we out to be prepared for it.

Today he reminds us that we are salt and light. These images can help us answer the mystical question, "What do I do after I have said Amen." At Baptism we are given a garment, a candle, and a piece of paper. Are these placed in a closet somewhere or are they used in our daily lives so as to affect the Kingdom. Receiving Baptism and Confirmation makes us salt and light. The wonderful reading from Isaiah in Today's liturgy indicates what this means for us. Giving bread to the hungry, clothing the naked, and sheltering the poor and homeless are natural expressions of what we have received.

Every year in Seminary we were given the 'non-negotiable' talk. As seminarians, since we were men studying for the Roman Catholic Priesthood, there were certain activities we could not engage in, and places we should never go to. This talk said as much about what we could not do, as it did what we should do. Gospel living and the teachings of the Church are sort of like those non-negotiable. Our words and behaviours more than anything indicate how our lives are committed.

For we who would like to do faith in our own way, Jesus invites us to center on the Paschal Mystery. The Church is founded upon the Christ event. We want to be able to recognize our story, and know our place in the journey of faith as we mull over the teachings of the Church. Prayer. reflection, reading of the scripture, the sacraments, and Stewardship.

Jesus is our good shepherd and we are light and salt.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

I had read a short article about St Mary of Egypt, a woman who lived in the sixth century. Her early life was mostly promiscuous and her behaviour immoral.

Mostly out of curiosity she followed a group of pilgrims to Jerusalem to venerate the cross. When we was not able to enter the church where the cross was, she sought the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Not only was she able to enter the church, but felt drawn to live in the desert.

While in the arid space of the desert, a monk named Zossima visited her, and ministered to her. One day during a visit to bring Mary communion, the monk had discovered that Mary had died. He would reflect on the great conversion and penance that he had witnessed in Mary. This is a wonderful story of conversion and discipleship to be sure.

I have been reading a lot of the writings of John Paul the Great, in particular his Theology of the Body. Our bodies are sacred entities, or beings, that are very much part of our persona. They are not bad, nor is the gift of our sexuality something bad. But to live outside of chastity, prudence, temperance, and charity, hobbles that relationship with God and others. It is easy for us to look at people as things or commodities.

There is a series of books entitled, Jesus Freaks, which portrays the lives of men and women throughout the ages who proclaimed the dignity of the human person, and were often maltreated, tortured, or even murdered for their faithfulness. These folks help us to remember the dignity and integrity that is the life of every man and woman.

Not unlike the icon, we have a deeper reality to be respected and reverenced.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Called and Gifted - Really

At the Second Vatican Council, the document on the laity in the Church referred to the laity as "Called and Gifted." The U.S. Bishops composed a document to mark the 25th anniversary of the Vatican document, with a letter of the same name. It spoke about the responsibilities and the obligations of the Church, and of the laity, who make up the Church. By our Baptism we are consecrated as Priest, Prophet, and King. As in yesterdays Gospel Jesus sends out disciples two by two, we are also sent out through the sacraments of initiation, and at the conclusion of every Liturgy. "Go forth to love and serve the Lord."

Our fourth grade 'did' the Liturgy today. They sang, some played instruments (and very well I might add) composed and proclaimed the general intercessions, and lector-ed. At the P.O.G. before the bread and wine were brought up, the student body brought forward canned food for the food pantry. At the end of the liturgy we honored the teachers with a blessing and a small gift. This is really Church. Now if the young'ins can maintain that same sense of excitement and desire to participate into adulthood, what Church we will have.

But that is that understanding that Church is not just parading around the altar, it is the proclamation of the gospel, living moral lives, caring for the sick and needy, and feeding the hungry. This is just to name a few. Sometimes I wonder if we expect too little from ourselves and from our Church. John the Baptist, who we read about today, had no problem in telling the King that he was living an immoral life. Maybe we should not worry about hurting others feelings as much and proclaim the truth.

At St. M/M in Algonquin, there used to be a small group called, "Friday Night Alive." It was a group of young couples, who realized their bar hopping days were over, who studied scripture. A pot-luck supper, built-in babysitters, and a bible. They were doing theology. We have a small group here at St. Mary's that has begun to compose the general intercessions. A true ministry in our parish. They were doing Church.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Feast of the Presentation

Traditionally Jewish male infants were brought to the temple to be presented to the Lord God. The mother, who was considered unclean, was purified at that time. It is not really a Baptism, but a moment of thanksgiving and dedication to God. We catholics had also called this Feast, candle mas, since we honor the light of the world, Jesus Christ, and would bless all of the church candles today. The latter occurs less often than it had, but we continue to honor Jesus' being brought into the temple.

We are again introduced to Anna and Simeon. One has the impression that these two are elderly, and extremely devout. I am reminded of the elderly parishioners I grew up with at St. Patrick in Rockford. Many were in church thirty to forty minutes before mass on the weekdays, to pray different devotions, and the rosary. My mom and dad would probably remember their names, as a child I was intrigued by them. Then there was my great-grandmother Soroka. When she wasn't in the kitchen making a meal, or in the garden, she was praying the rosary.

Two things come to mind for me today. One is the importance of devotions in our faith lives. I know catholics get much grief for their various prayers and practices. But such actions draws attention to the sacred in our lives. More so it is important for us to continue to bless and praise God for the many good things we have received. "What return do I make to the Lord for all that the Lord have done for me?" We have our church building open all day. We have had some problems, and it has been suggested that we close the church. But I see folks going in and out to pray. Some stop by after school or even after work.

The other thing that I am more convinced of than ever, is that our Church needs to be light in the world today. The parishes themselves have to become places of refuge for peoples who wander through gunk and yuck. At one time we had over a dozen small faith sharing groups. I would love to have a part-time counselor, parish nurse, a group for young adults. In a very practical way, the parish must be a source of light and hope to peoples. St. James comments that we cannot walk past hurting people and say stay warm and well fed, and not see to their bodily needs.

As I am very snowed in today I will be contemplating these mysteries. The Kingdom of God is a place of light, happiness, and peace. What do we do, how do we respond, after we have said, "Amen."