Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Fulfill the Law

The Code of Canon Law is the legal construction of the Church. It gives direction to all aspects of Church life, including the rights and obligations of both the clergy and the laity. It is the modus operandi for the various functions and process of the Church, forming sort of a 'skeleton' by which the Church ministers in the real world.

The wonderful thing about Canon Law, as in any law, is that it creates an identity and maintains a vision. So we are a Church because of our beliefs and theology, and also because we have parishes, sacraments, offices, and a process by which we interact within the faith community. In what might seem like a strange comparison, Canon Law can draw us into communion with God and with others. To be sure the covenant relationship that we have with God can be likened to a legal relationship. But more importantly it is our response to our God who cares for us in love and mercy.

As "puppy-priests" we looked upon rubrics and the like as Pharisaical obstacles to taking care of the people of God. The Gospel passage today from Matthew reminds us that Jesus has no intention of eliminating the 'rules' which God has given us. Living well with each other in a community, celebrating the Liturgy and the sacraments with reverence and solemnity, and responding to the dignity and integrity of God's people, is part of that covenant relationship which we live with God, through the Paschal Mystery, and the ongoing ministry of the Church.

Jesus extols us today to recognize the importance of passing on the truths we have received with all of our members. So whether we are teaching a child to make the sign of the cross, attending a bible study, or in an RCIA program, we are maintaining and unfolding the Law of God.

We would like to believe that Jesus said we don't have to do anything anymore. We have to follow the directions and guidance of God and God's Church. Law and truth, goodness and righteousness, leads us into a way of knowing God more intimately, and fulfilling our role as disciples.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Samaritan Woman

This story of the Samaritan Woman at the Well is a wonderful description of conversion and coming to faith. Her own sinfulness and confusion in life has led her to a life where she comes to the well alone. Perhaps it is her perpetual alone-ness that has caused her to be a woman of 'ill reputation' in her community. Outside of the fact that we know she has had several husbands, we know very little information about her here. Jesus offers a possibility that there is more to her search than simply a bucket of water. Jesus offers her living water. In their conversation we see this woman move from the literal nature of the conversation to the deeper meaning behind what Jesus is making present to her. Jesus is probably the first person that has shown her any sort of love and compassion. Unlike her relationships in the past Jesus respects her dignity and integrity. All the nourishment needed in order to grow faith. And like so many other neophytes of scripture, she suggests to him that he is the Christ. We will do the first of three scrutinies today at Mass. The elect come forward and we prayer over them, asking that they be set free from evil as they approach the living waters of baptism. This action is a great opportunity for the entire parish to consider our connection to baptism and even to the Church. Are there avenues we go down, looking for water, where we shouldn't be? Do we seek after dead end solutions to feel good, when what we really need is healing and forgiveness? We join the elect in discovering the living water offered by Jesus the Christ. The woman in today's Gospel becomes a real steward of faith. She joyfully receives God's gift, she nurtures it, shares it in justice and charity, and it increases. One with Christ she becomes a proclaimer of good news, and a disciple of Jesus Christ. Transformation by through the spirit of God helps us to keep on track in our faith, and to continue to uncover the grace God has bestowed upon us. But we have maintain ourselves around the fountain of life giving water. As Jesus offers this woman the gift of faith, we hope and pray that our own faith is well watered. It is in communion and unity with God that helps us to live as God's children, truly human and alive.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Invisible Children come to St. Mary

This weekend we will have a video presentation and talk about and by the 'invisible children.' Presently in the African nation of Congo, as well as many other parts of the continent, civil war has been going on for centuries. This causes refugees, food and water problems, and the abuse and violence against men and women. One little known fact is that children are being recruited to fight in these wars. Children as young as ten who should be playing soccer and learning math, are solders in a seemingly unending war.

As we read the story of Lazarus in Today's gospel, we are reminded to be aware of the beggars who sit at our gates. If you remember the story the rich man did nothing to harm the poor man, but neither did he act to alleviate his suffering. The stories are these young people is sad and sobering. But there is hope for these children and for the peoples of Africa. The more that we are aware of their plight, the more we will be able to speak on their behalf.

I am reminded often of St. Paul's analogy of the body. As one body if one part hurts, the entire body hurts. When we begin to call attention to the situation these children live in, then hopefully there can be transformation and healing. Blessed is that man or woman who gives a drink to a thirsty person simply because they are a disciple of mine.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Making the journey through Lent

A few weeks ago, Benedict XVI, released his Lenten message to the world. The Pope has seen a great amount of turmoil within the world, and also the Church, during these last few years. In recent months there has been an increase in violence against Christian peoples in the world. Presently the Middle East there is unprecedented violence and rioting. Over the the weekend Benedict expressed his fear over the results of what could occur in this situation.

In his Lenten message Benedict reiterated the necessity of letting go of all traces of selfishness. "The greed of possession leads to violence, exploitation and death." To be sure our recent economic woes stem from a few persons desire for wealth. The lust for power allows dictators to retain their control over peoples, using whatever force necessary to retain their position.

Benedict reminds us that Lent is a time to prepare for Baptism. Quoting St. Paul's Letter to the Colossians, we are to consider that in Baptism we are buried with Christ by our dying to ourselves. In joining with Christ's passion and death, we hope to also share in his resurrection. The hope of unending life is ours when we share in the paschal mystery. Benedict asks us to consider that we are called to live in a singular communion with Christ. I always like to look at how parents give up on their wants and needs so as to advance the needs and concerns of their children.

Jesus Christ humbled himself and accepted death on the cross. Benedict states that we who are Baptized become different because of what we have received in Christ Jesus. He became one like us that through His actions we might become more like him. Our reflection of our Baptism should help us understand that if our lives are overwhelmed by stuff, we remain disconnected from the mystery we celebrate. The sacraments of initiation continue to draw us into that sacred relationship with God and others.

Benedict again uses St. Paul to remind us that once we live with Christ through Baptism, then our whole lives are a journey of seeking for the truth. Prayer, fasting, and alms giving, are traditional ways to re-orientate ourselves to what is important in Jesus Christ. The love that we share from God our Father is then shared with one another.

I remember back in seminary, we had a hunger meal one Lent. We gave some persons only rice, another smaller group received a chicken leg and a potato. And a very small group were served steak, baked potatoes, and vegetables. All to symbolize the distribution of wealth and food in the world. One table cut up the steak, chicken, and vegetables, and shared it with the table, sort of family style. That's how it should be.

Benedict concludes by challenging us to live the depth of the sacrament of Baptism. By his suffering and death Jesus has freed us from Sin and death. We are invited to live the mystery we celebrate and share in eternal life.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

To be Transfigured

Iconographers, before they begin an Icon, spend time in prayer and fasting. Writing an Icon is not about art, but is an experience of prayer. They must consider the mystery that they are to write, and reflect carefully upon the signs and symbols that are part of that image. Like the viewer of the icon, the writer also must be able to step into the the image. It is truly a spiritual journey that changes one as they follow the strict parameters of the nature of the icon.

For the apostles the Transfiguration is a turning point whereas they have a glimpse into the larger meaning of the Kingdom of God. Jesus is not simply a real nice guy who does amazing act to bring healing and peace to people. Jesus is the Son of God who comes into our life to bring us salvation and peace. While the apostles probably did not share this information with the other guys who were waiting at the foot of the mountain, they must have reflected on the image of Jesus the Christ in his glory, from time to time.

It is an image that we are challenged to maintain as well. Not just during the season of Lent, but throughout the year. I think about the martyrs, missionaries, parents who struggle to hold a family together, religious who tale a stand for justice and for peace, and realize that it has to be such an image that gives them the courage and strength to be faithful. If we did not understand the true identity of Jesus, and the implications of the cross and resurrection, most of us would have run away a long time ago.

Our RCIA catechumens and candidates are making a major changes in their lives as they become Catholic. This spring and summer we will have several couples who will begin life in the sacrament of marriage. We have parishioners who visit the hospitals and nursing homes as a ministry. These folks have some sort of vision or image (hopefully) of the glory and the holiness of God. An image that will allow them to be bold in their decision and faithful to the Christian way of life.

Stand in front of our Transfiguration window today. Notice how it lifts you up. You automatically lean up, almost as if to stand before Jesus. This feast is a preview that we are to be lifted up to Christ through his passion, death, and resurrection.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Solemnity of St Joseph

Over the last twenty years there has been an emphasis on fathers and the art of fathering. Psychology has recognized that children, especially boys, without fathers in the household, can have learning problems and difficulty in social skills. The father of the household has a particular place and role towards his wife, and with his children. It is not simply a matter of having another adult around.

Just as the mother nurtures and nourishes the home, the father is the protector, guide, and the bestow-er of life. The roles of the mother and the father should compliment each other. When we talk about the strength of the father we are not simply describing brute force our physical discipline. Rather we are describing an inward strength and courage which provides a foundation for his wife and children.

St. Joseph seems to have always been in the background in the stories of scripture. Yet we are told that St. Joseph, being an upright man, makes a moral decision to divorce Mary quietly; so as not to expose her to shame. And again Joseph takes his family to Egypt, away from danger, protecting and providing for mother and child.

As we are involved with Marriage Building these last few months, the role of being a good father is emphasized and supported. The place of a father in the home is for a lifetime. St. Joseph is looked upon as the model of fatherhood for all Christian fathers. He hears the voice of God and faithfully does the will of the Father in heaven. As a source of faith and strength, Joseph completes the picture of what becomes a Holy Family.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

From Doing to Being

On one of the message boards I frequent, someone who sought cause something of a stir, declared that he/she was giving up the Church for Lent. Of course I laughed and slapped my knee. It is interesting the idea of 'giving up' something for Lent seems so prevalent. Even though many of us were encouraged to "do" something for Lent, during the sixties and seventies. But perhaps it isn't the things, but the behaviours and attitudes that cause all sorts of consternation that we should be giving up.

I read a book entitled, From Maintenance to Mission, one or two years ago. The book challenges parish leaders to follow the ministry of Jesus in working for the mission of the Kingdom of God. That is, stop directing programs and begin to pastor lives. It makes a lot of sense. But the same can be said for Lent. We spend a lot of anguish in making ourselves uncomfortable for five weeks, so we can go back to what we were doing before.

The whole idea of conversion is to get rid of that stuff that causes us to move into Sin and sin fullness. For instance, when I am together with other priests, I am trying not to rattle on and complain about the Diocese or my brother priests. If there is something constructive to discuss, I will talk about it, if not then silence is the best option. This is something I want to continue beyond Lent. I need to go to doctors on a regular basis. Another good habit to begin.

Rather than doing the status-quo, work towards true conversion and change. I am reminded of people who come to the sacraments who wonder how little they have to do to receive the sacraments. Obviously it is not done in that manner, but you get the idea. The question for all of us is where do I need to grow and stretch. What greatness do I want to achieve, and how do I get there.

If this is to be a holy season it needs to be punctuated by opportunities for conversion and discipleship. Lately I have been reminded of how important it is to pray to the Holy Spirit. As St. Paul says we do not pray as we ought, and we need to rely on the Holy Spirit. So let's ask the Spirit to guide us to truth about who we are in relationship with God.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Born in the Holy Spirit

My Sojourners reflection pondered John's Gospel, and the selection on Nathaniel. The latter is introduced to Jesus as one who is questioning faith, and the larger meaning of life. A catechumen to be sure. Jesus essentially contrasts Baptism that is done as an outward sign, and that which has a deeper expression of the Spirit. Jesus tells Nathaniel that only men and women who are born from above, will possess eternal life. Nathaniel is confounded on what being re-born means. Jesus' emphasis is being born of the Spirit.

Catholics get a little uncomfortable with the terminology of being re-born. It sounds a little too evangelical for us. But our faith must be an ongoing process of conversion and discipleship. I like to remind folks that I am not a priest today for the same reasons I became a priest 24 years ago. And I suspect that married men and women realize that their relationship has matured and grown in a variety of ways.

Back in Algonquin, eons ago, I remember after an Easter Sunday a family relating an amusing incident. It seems that after the renewal of Baptismal promises, and after I had sprinkled everyone with holy water, a woman in front of this family was aghast that I had thrown water on her. She had the experience but missed the meaning.

During Lent is a wonderful time to think about Baptism and our life with the Holy Spirit. While we buy new clothes, change our diets, and engage in new activities, between childhood and adulthood; we do not do the same with our faith. Nathaniel is presented as a seeker of truth. Our faith journey really needs to be one of seeking and finding truth in our faith lives. Otherwise we develop a blandness within our hearts.

Being Born Again takes allowing the Holy Spirit to control our lives. The mystery of faith we celebrate is constantly unfolded before us. Seekers of truth move forward in their relationship with Christ.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Pray for Japan

The images of the devastation from the earthquake this past weekend are absolutely awful. The more I listen to the news, the more I realize how overwhelming the damage and death were. When all is said and done there could easily be 10,000 deaths.

Events like this remind me of how frail we really are. The earth shifts and lives are set in turmoil. It is hard to imagine the helpless feeling. Which psalm is it that declares, Only in God is my soul at rest. The image that we are like the grass which withers and fades is most true.

On one of the message boards I frequent the question was raised as to whether the Church would help. The implication was that the Church has vast amounts of wealth and should do something to help. Silliness in the midst of tragedy. I am very impressed that the world has responded as it has. If we could spend one days worth of war on helping Japan, that country can get back up on its feet.

Over the coming months our thoughts and prayers will certainly be with our brothers and sisters in Japan. Certainly it will be years before everything is right again. I truly believe that through God's grace, and faith-filled peoples, they will be on their way to healing and peace again.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Naked is as Naked Does

This is my favorite Genesis account. The image of God forming men and women from the clay of the Earth, breathing life into them, and placing them in the garden. There is sort of an image of a small child who joyfully makes clay figures, and is delighted in the results. God rejoices in his creation. As the story goes on, Sin enters the hearts of men and women, and they realize they are naked, so they need to cover themselves.

Theologians will tells us that Sin, when we can recognize it, causes shame of who we are; that we have lost something of our dignity. What was created as good and beautiful, has become defiled through Sin, and is desecrated. While some might tell us otherwise, shame and guilt are good things. They give us pause to recognize where there is Sin and brokenness. These feelings can be the springboard to transformation and ultimately accepting God's grace to change.

Truly, excessive guilt is a bad, but to ignore or to justify the guilt or shame we feel is just as bad. Throughout sacred scripture the prophets speak for the people as they proclaim their guilt for injustice and transgressions against the covenant. Even today as a Church we have readily admitted the injury caused through sexual abuse. In these moments the leaders of the peoples have made resolutions to change and transform their lives. Thus their new path is guided by God's grace leading to a place of healing and righteousness.

Like the Adam and Eve, we cannot ignore our 'nakedness.' Conversion from sin and the affects of evil begin when we can be honest with ourselves. When our response to God or others causes distance or brokenness, then we have a problem that needs to be resolved. Holy men and women take time to see where the image of God's likeness has been compromised. What do we need to do to restore ourselves to that original dignity.

Just as we are planted in a garden, Jesus Christ brings us salvation and peace in a garden. How is our garden growing.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Way of the Cross

When we did the Way of the Cross in Jerusalem, we were taken aback by the fact that one has to wander through market places, and across streets. But in Jesus' time, city life did not stop from noon until 3:00 p.m. for his Crucifixion. Much like the violence and terror we experience today, the stories of people's suffering and death fades into the background of all the other news stories.
The other night at a parish meeting a parishioner had brought up the fact that in our Parish stations of the cross, the meditations we use, poverty, injustice, violence, and discrimination, have nothing to do with what the stations of the cross are about. I couldn't respond since my mouth was on the floor. When St. Paul reflects upon the Paschal Mystery he points out that through Sin and Evil we become strangers in our relationship with God. By the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we once again have unity and communion with God.
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But there is still that propensity to sin. Evil has a way to make bad things look good. On Ash Wednesday I pondered why it is that I had such a great desire to graze on snacks, though normally I do not snack during the day. Temptation abounds. Suffering, violence, and poverty, are in part of our Sinful human condition. So throughout our lives we are challenged by the way of the cross even in the market-place and on street corners.
While we are not called to be monks and nuns, we are challenged to ponder the mysteries of our faith; and so to live them with courage and faith. Christ crucified calls us out of darkness, to walk the Way with our brothers and sisters.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Repent and Believe in the Gospel

The season of Lent is an awesome time to explore our lives in relationship with the paschal mystery. The ashes are an external sign of an interior reality - hopefully. Our churches will be swamped today, and I hope that this means these same folks will begin a Lenten journey of prayer, conversion, and discipleship. Through prayer, fasting, and alms giving, we are invited to grow closer in our relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

The challenge to rend our hearts and not our garments, a we read from the scriptures today, means to examine the underlying causes of our sin. I see this with the kids a lot. The child who kicks the back of the other child's chair, talks back to teachers, or becomes the class clown, will often be responding to hurts or pain that they seemingly cannot control. Why do we use profanity, become offensive, or look at pornography. These are the results of something much deeper in our lives.

The Woman at the Well, or the Man born Blind, are all stories which tells us about how our choices, actions, and responses to one another can afflict others. But developing habits of grace and love can bring peace and healing to others as well. While we cannot always control our surroundings, we can make decisions which reflect the image and likeness in which we were created. God has made us for life and not for death and we are to dwell in that mystery.

So may our Lenten journey be filled with every good thing. Hopefully we will move into Holy Week drawing closer to the ideals of conversion and discipleship. May the good work God has begun in us be brought to completion.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Say 'No' to federal funded abortion

Mr. Richard Doerflinger, the USCCB Secretariat on Pro-Life Activities, recently testified before the Senate Judicial Committee, on making the ban against Federally funded abortions. During recent health care discussions, and during legislative sessions in regards to the health care law, it was assumed that there are already adequate rules and procedures which preclude federal funds being used for abortion. Mr. Doerflinger points out that this is not the case.

Presently the law, especially legislation connected to the Hyde Amendment, contains exceptions and is narrow in its scope. Some of the present medical assistance programs would continue to allow abortions using federal monies, in particular through medicaid and programs to assist the poor. Part of the Pro-abortion discussion has been that the lack of available abortive services would affect those who live in poverty, and victims of rape and incest. The latter categories account for less than 1% of all pregnancies.

As long as we make decisions based on emotion and hype, we will find our pathway to a Pro-life Congress, and a society, all the more difficult. John Paul II referred to ours as a culture of death. As I have mentioned before, some fifteen years ago, while at a conference, a speaker had mentioned that when abortion becomes easy and readily available, so will aborting children with birth defects, or allowing infants to die who have some sort of abnormality. And we have already seen this.

To be sure it is important to pray for the respect of all human life, at all stages of life. But it is not a bad idea to contact our legislators and share with them our thoughts and concerns. More so we want to pass on to our children the importance to respect and respond to the dignity and value of life. Teaching charity and chastity are important values to convey to the next generation. This might be a good Lenten practice.

Monday, March 7, 2011

I believe ...

There was a book by Morris West entitled, The Clowns of God. A futuristic fiction, it was written back in the 80s, and centered on the Pope's revelation of the apocalypse. It was a fast moving, and wonderfully intriguing. As I recall the person responsible for putting all of the pieces together was a Jesuit professor from Boston College. He had to struggle with faith, fear, and his academic background. While I do not remember how the book ended, the scenario that was presented was not too far from what is happening today in the world.

I thought about this book as I considered that this weekend we enrolled our second graders as on the journey to receive the Eucharist for the first time, and we had the rite of sending for our catechumens and candidates. It is interesting to consider how different the experience of faith is for both of these groups. Sadly for some of the families of the second graders, Church is an occasional experience at best. Not unlike one's local BP or Road Ranger station, they stop in for a moment, and maybe pick up a cup of coffee or chips while they are there. For the catechumens and candidates, this is part of a faith journey made after prayer, reflection, and discernment. They are in this for the long haul.

The readings suggested over the weekend that our faith cannot be part-time faith. Belief demonstrates itself in our response to God. On one of the morning news shows today they were discussing the tendency to put emphasis on a 'proper' engagement, and a personalized wedding. One of the commentators chimed in that marriage is more than the wedding day. It seems that so much of what afflicts us today is because we fail to forgive, love, and to show compassion and mercy. Our faith becomes way too personal, and surface level at best.

The basic tenets of our faith are to love God and one another. While that might bring about images of butterflies and rainbows, the reality is more about doing the work of reconciliation and peacemaking. It is easy to lend forgiveness and kindliness to those close to us and those whom we like, but we have determined never to offer compassion or care to a co-worker, neighbor, or the clerk that was 'mean' to us. Even the scriptures challenge us to love our friends and enemies.

Our faith really has to challenge us to be counter-cultural in the world today. Not just the Church, but men and women of faith have to be stumbling blocks that cannot allow anger and nastiness to rule the response of Christ in the world today. The virtues of charity, chastity, reconciliation, peace, and justice, really have to be part our homes and communities. We go to church to pray, and we reflect everything we do through the filter of our faith. Faith rules.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A blessing and a curse

There is a radical nature in the Gospel today. Matthew completes the Sermon on the Mound section of his Gospel. A few weeks back we began with the Beatitudes, and spoke about how this was the springboard of Jesus' ministry and mission. As we finish, Jesus reminds us that faith is not simply about being in the general vicinity, but we have to have an intimate relationship with Jesus.
In the Book of Deuteronomy the invitation is to choose to follow the Covenant, or not. But it is offered as a choice between life of death. Moses tells his people that they may have a blessing or a curse, depending upon whether they follow the statutes and laws as prescribed in the Covenant. Following the law means that we are developing a relationship with God and all men and women, based on justice, love, and peace. These are important elements in our faithful response to all that God has given to us.
Eons ago, I remember this gentleman at the 'Y' who would park himself in the locker room. I would go for a swim, lift weights, and soak in the hot-tub, and come back to the locker room, where it would seem that this man had not moved. Did he think that simply being at the Y was enough to stay healthy?
But I think that we can do that with our faith too. If I pray these prayers, or get my kids baptized that will be enough. The theology of Stewardship teaches us to receive God's gifts gratefully, to nurture them, share them in love and justice, and return them with increase to God. Conversion and Discipleship asks us to go beyond looking through the 'store window' at faith. Faith and belief mean that there is a relationship with God that demonstrates itself in compassion and charity.
Aaron spoke similar words to these of Moses. His response was that for him and his people, they have chosen the Lord. Hopefully as we go into Lent we can make those choices and decisions which place us in the household of the Lord. It would be nice to hear God say to us, "Well done good and faithful servant, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world."

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Late Have I Loved You

We are reading from St. Augustine's Confessions in the Office of Readings. Augustine realizes late in life, relatively speaking, the sinfulness of his life. He has to profound conversion experience. St. Augustine recognizes our propensity to Sin and sinfulness. All the more reason then for us to uncover grace in our lives and live according to the ways we have received in the values an virtues of Christian life. Because St. Augustine understands Sin so well, he also has an understanding of God's love and mercy.

Next Wednesday is Ash Wednesday. While I will write about this more, I have been think of how we need to move away from the "magical" connotation that is connected to 'ashes.' St. John the Baptist's words challenging the Pharisees and Sadducees comes to mind. Hopefully this time of Lent will become a real moment of conversion and discipleship for people. Sadly it seems that until we are on the ground writhing in anquish, we do not really appreciate the intensity of our sins, and how Sinfulness is controlling our life.

This past Fall a large group from our Diocese went to San Diego for a stewardship conference. Some who had never heard folks so alive about faith, Church, and ministry, were overfwhelmed by the excitement of so many people. There was a n understanding that there is something more about church life.

It would be wonderous if something simular happens this Lent. If men and women could come to see their life in Christ in a new and exciting way. There is that quote, "Chrisitians can be like street children satisfied with playing in the mud with sticks, because they cannot even imagine a sunny day on a beach." if just ten percent of Christians had a 'Jesus' experience this Lent, and really took on conversion and discipleship as a life motiff; That would be absolutely awesome.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011