Monday, June 27, 2011

Receive from the people of God

Today is the actual date of my ordination anniversary. It was 24 years ago today that I formally said "Yes" to the Presbyterate. The day was hot and sunny. I had spent the previous day chasing a small white ball around a beautiful golf course. It was supposed to relax us. It did not. I remember both in college, and even while in seminary, thinking about religious orders. But I have been in the Diocese of Rockford as a priest for almost one quarter of a century.

I went to seminary at St. Meinrad School of Theology in southern Indiana. The seminary was established by Benedictine monks in the latter part of the 19th century. When we came the school had recently changed its formation to coincide with the official Church, and the U.S. bishops on priestly formation. Studies in church history, scripture, theology, ecclessiology, sacraments, and pastoral skills, were emphasized. Then there were the famous 'non-negotiables.' A certain lifestyle that was expected of a seminarian, that would also be expected of a priest, that one needed to adhere to.

Since the seminary was run by Benedictines, the liturgies were always very prayerful; and spiritual life was foundational. It was made clear that we were not becoming monks, but rather being trained for life in the parish.

As I have said often, the most moving part of the ordination ritual is receiving the bread and wine from the Bishop. In this very short prayer everything that a priest is about is summed up. Take these elements from the people of God, and offer them to God. The priest is also told here to believe and form one's life on the sacrifice that they are celebrating. As a priest it all comes back to the Eucharist and the celebration of the Paschal Mystery. In the parish this is where we meet all of the folks at once, and can have the greatest impact on their lives. The daily mass community becomes this faithful group of pray-ers, who are your best supporters and most important evaluators.

It has been a good 24 years. I am impressed when people remember a homily from eons ago, or time I spent with them or their family in a hospital. While next year is the biggie, I like to take time out to pray, spend time with family and friends, and reflect on the gift of priestly ministry. That God chooses people like me is a real testimony to God's faithfulness, and the power of the Holy Spirit in our Church. May the good things that God has begun be brought to fulfillment.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Body and Blood of Christ

When the Second Vatican Council spoke about the Eucharist, they referred to it as the "Source and Summit" of the Church and it's life. The Eucharist offers us a foundation as well as an identity. The bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. In the Incarnation God is revealed in Jesus Christ, and now in the simplicity of bread and Wine God' love and plan of salvation are made known to us.

There is of course a very close relationship between the Manna in the desert and our participation in the Eucharist. God feeds the Hebrew people on their journey to the promised land. For us, God feeds us through our sharing in this perfect sacrifice. Through the celebration of the Eucharist (which means Thanksgiving, by the way) and our eating and drinking of this sacred sacrament, we are fed and nourished for our own journey. I often tell the story of one of the home visits I had made years ago. A woman, crippled by arthritis, found solace and relief each time she received the Eucharist.

To be sure this sacrament offers us courage and strength in our various tasks. It offers us the grace of the Father's love and forgiveness from those little pesky sins. When we are able to take time and reflect on the who and what we are receiving, our frequent reception helps us understand that that we have oneness with God through this sacrament.

At the Last Supper Jesus celebrated the Passover as he had so many other times in his life. What make this time different is that now the bread and wine take on a new character. Jesus exposes himself as the new and everlasting covenant. Jesus plainly states that this is his Body and Blood. More so this Body and Blood are to be the salvation of the world. In this sacrifice and meal we have unity and peace with God the Father and the world.

St. Paul will remind us today in the readings that this solemn sacrament we share in the one loaf and cup. Paul will go on to say that there must not be disharmony or disunity in our Faith community. Not only does this celebration bring about a unity in the midst of diversity, but calls to mind for us the commonality we share in the Eucharist.

What we share is a sacrifice and a meal which guide and direct us towards our salvation. The Word of God made flesh comes into our presence as real food and drink. May what we receive from the altar build us up in mind and body.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Past and Future

In recent weeks there has been lots of news about recent U.S. education studies and surveys. It is the usual stuff, sad to say, the U.S. lags in math and sciences, and does not do too well in social sciences or government. I am bothered by the latter areas as well as the former. Now that our politicians are turning to pop-t.v. to campaign, and comedy shows have become stomping blocks, we really need an educated electorate to see through the smoke and mirrors.

The was a message board the other day where a number of UC-Berkeley students concluded that since they were learning important subject matter such as chemistry and engineering, why should they worry about Second World War battles, or who the Agriculture Secretary was in the 1930s. While I understand their point, choices and decisions that occurred generations ago still effect us today. Serbs and Croatians were terrible enemies, and more importantly were exceedingly cruel to each other. Europe is still hobbled by some of the results of WW I. If we have a global community, we have to understand why folks respond to each other the way that they do. A lot of hurt sometimes takes a long time to heal.

While we might not be responsible for times past, our concern should be in the political sphere, the economic relationships we have with other nations, the ecology, cultural projects and world poverty and the basic needs of peoples. Education has a moral function. We need to know what the main thing is.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Aloyius Gonzaga

St. Aloyius Gonzaga lived during the sixteenth century, the son of a nobleman, a child of great devotion and piety. It was the intention of his parents that he become a solider, but Aloysius understood his call to be that of serving Christ in the priesthood. As a teen he entered the Jesuits, and lived in Rome. A few years after his ordination the Black Plague broke out in Rome. Aloyius worked in a Jesuit hospital caring for the sick and the dying; before contracting the disease himself. Aloysius is known to be a patron saint of youth and youth workers.

I had commented to a brother priest yesterday that I have another excellent server who is able to set the Sacramentary for Mass, and anticipates everything that happens next. Now this is a bright young man, but his family is at Mass without fail. They will sit in the same bench as their grandparents. So we have three generations going to church together. I think that this connection to church, faith, and prayer have been a real springboard for this child, and his siblings, in doing their best in everything they do.

When we consider people like Aloysius, and holy men and women who might not have a "St" before their names, we often recognize that it is through their faith life they often have a broader vision of life and humanity. To be sure they are not always charity workers or professional helpers, but they do justice and peace type things towards those around them.

The concept we talk about a lot in Stewardship is that of taking responsibility. Families that walk in the ways of faith convey that very notion to all in that household. That very good habit becomes a relational skill that they use towards the world around them. Our own Baptism and Confirmation sends us out in to the world to proclaim Good News. St. Paul this weekend recalls for us the importance of greeting each other with a holy kiss.

To be sure we might not want to go around kissing everyone, but simply to greet each other with reverence and respect is a beginning of sharing God's blessings with each other. And like in the notion of Stewardship, we engage in ministry when we are able to marry the needs of the community around us, with our gifts.

A person of faith passes on their faith, and makes one another aware of the Kingdom of God. Then we begin to see our offspring do marvelous things, because they experienced an environment of doing good things because they are important to do. And thus we build up the Body of Christ.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

Trinity Sunday is one of the solemnities of Ordinary Time which celebrates a particular aspect of God's divine life with us. For centuries we have contemplated our God, as one God and three persons. The Nicene Creed articulates the relationship of our God-head, and our God's relationship with us. In the last few weeks of Easter, in the section of John's Gospel which contains Jesus' farewell discourse, we are told of the oneness that exists between God and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is a relationship of communion and love.

In the Book of Proverbs the role of Wisdom is described as a foundational image which existed before all of creation, and through Wisdom God created the world. In the Book of Sirach Wisdom is the Torah which gives the law. The Book of Wisdom describes Wisdom as the soul which holds creation together. And early Christian literature describes Jesus as the Wisdom of God that reveals God to the world. Paul writes to the Colossians, and in 1:15-20 says Jesus is, "The firstborn of all creation ... before all things, and in him all things hold together." Again as Jesus will describes in John's Gospel, there is this intimate relationship between himself, and the Father and the Holy Spirit.

In the Paschal Mystery we share in this unity of love in the Trinity. Jesus, by his suffering, has sanctified us and drawn us into communion with the Father. By the Holy Spirit we are continually sanctified and strengthened for the mission and ministry of God's people. This means of course we are shaped and transformed by this incarnate love. One commentator I read compared the relationship with the Trinity as like dancing with God. I sort of use this in my homily today. But more importantly it is the understanding is that our very character is stamped by God.

What we believe about God affects what we believe about ourselves and what we do. God cannot be viewed as a theological concept that lives somewhere off in the cosmos. God has continued to walk with his people. Throughout our faith journey God stoops down, lifts us up, and sends us on our way. And like an excited school-child, God's intense love jumped into human history as one like us. This solemnity is about God's nature and our relationship with this loving God. We contemplate all that God has done for us, and with joyful hope look to live with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, forever.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Pass the faith please

In recent months there have been a plethora of articles about religion and the present younger generation. This post-modern group of people is spiritual, but not necessarily religious. There is not only parish shopping, but church shopping as well. In some ways this group could be characterized by a Do-it-yourself religion. And, because their sense of community is not as it once was, the old methods of catechises and evangelization do not always work.

But that is what is necessary, catechises and evangelization. Benedict XVI, in his recent Wednesday audiences, as well as his letters to western Bishops, has indicated that such pastoral practice is of necessity in our world today. The Church in the U.S. is seemingly healthy as far as numbers go. But this is in part of the immigrants from Central and South America. A trend that is being observed are later baptisms and marriages. More often than not persons that come for these sacraments have no particular affiliation with the parish.

But who taught us our faith? More often than not it was mom and dad. Outside of the home, we who went to Catholic Schools were taught by Religious Women. But we also lived in a context where religion and faith were an acceptable part of our culture. Because we have really lost at least two generations, in addition to shaky family ties, our children do not always have the faith formation that we who are older might recall.

One of the primary tasks of the parish must be evangelization. Anymore this does not mean going to some far away place, but is in our neighborhoods, workplaces, and schools. Too often faith information is received like fast food at a drive through window. And we have satisfied with that telling ourselves, 'Well at least they have something.' Beyond not understanding the basics of prayer and sacraments, there is a whole area of ethics and morals. When I hear the question, "Why does the Church teach ... ," I cannot assume that the person asking the question has even a foundational knowledge of Catholic teaching.

Here at St Mary I keep pushing for catechists for adults. We can send them away for classes, and set them lose in the parish. I keep on hand several books and website info for catholic understanding and theology. The best way to keep our faith alive is to continue t nurture and nourish what has been planted. Part of the Catholics Coming Home initiative was to invite non-practicing catholics to come to church. It is important to talk and to live our faith.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

God goes to School

In recent years there has been an uneasy relationship between the life of the academic, and that of the theologian. This has been particularly pronounced at Catholic universities. John Paul II made it clear that Catholic Schools of higher education needed to abide within the framework of catholic theology and teachings. There has been discussion in numerous catholic magazines of how religion and theology have seemed to take a back-seat on the catholic campus. This division is most evident in the areas of science and technology. An analogy that was used is that the scientific arena is like a rabbit, making vast leaps over large areas of research and development. The Church is muck like a turtle that creeps behind it.

In the areas of the study of science, the twentieth century saw an upsurge in scientific and technological development. But for most of the last century Catholic Theology relied on a set of Thomistic principles which existed with set rules and guidelines. Theologians like Karl Rahner and Bernard Lonergan are a few of the theologians who have attempted to bridge the gap between theology and technology. This is very important especially for the areas such as ethics to participate in a theological reflection on the vast information in scientific studies.

In his book, Religion and Science, Ian Barbour contemplates four types of relations between religion and science. 1) conflict, 2) independence, 3) dialogue, and 4) integration. Theologians need to move towards the latter of the two, so contends Barbour. To be sure the Catholic University, if it wishes to maintain that liberal arts motif, should learn to incorporate theology throughout all of its teachings.

Living next door to a large university, I have heard stories of religion (especially Catholicism) being battered about. Some academics, especially in the science areas would rather teach and do research at a public university, so as not to have to deal with religion. Others would prefer to have religion simply stay in its own confines.

Pope Benedict XVI has more than suggested that theology and religion do have a place in higher learning. Philosophy and ethics need to guide and inform our various disciplines. Sadly we have seen a lack of moral behaviour in the midst of various professional peoples. Religion places our work in the context of world connected to God and to others. More so today we have begun to recognize our responsibility also to the planet and the environment. It is also important that the Church stays on top of the latest developments in the hard and soft sciences, arts, political issues, and cultural projects.

Proclaiming 'good news' should not threaten academics. Rather it religion and higher learning should be in an embrace, acknowledging that our goals are faith seeking understanding.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Veni Sancte Spiritus

The outpouring of the Holy Spirit bestowed upon the first Disciples, and upon us, the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The presence of the Spirit emboldens the Church to continue the mission of Jesus Christ by unfolding ministries for the good of the Church. To be sure before the Pentecost the apostles simply tagged along beside Jesus. after the Spirit was poured out upon them they had the courage and strength to speak about the Word of God

As a Christian people the center of our faith is firmly rooted in the Paschal Mystery. This same Spirit enlightens us as to how to live in the context of this mystery, as it unfolds the passion, death, and resurrection before us. So it is in the Church, we are drawn into that mystery again and again. It is important for us to reflect upon this very important context of faith on a regular basis. If we do not we can begin to believe that our ministry or our manner of praying is the focus of our community.

St. Paul does a great service in helping us understand the levels of the Body of Christ. When we can understand our communion with the rest of the Body of Christ, we are then enabled to use our gifts and talents for the lifting up of our brothers and sisters, and actively become a catalyst for the the salvation and peace offered through Jesus Christ. Whether we are a health care minister, or someone who pours coffee at a parish breakfast, we do everything in the name of Christ. This is the way we continue that evangelization process.

The Holy Spirit continues to spill life and hope into the lives of all of us. At Baptism and Confirmation we first encounter the Holy Spirit. In these sacraments we take on the image and likeness of Jesus Christ. The Spirit continues to push us out of our comfort zone so as to proclaim Good News. But he does so with care and compassion, strength, and courage. May the good work the Lord has begun in us be brought to completion.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Word of Truth

One of the great Saturday Night Live comedians was Dana Carvey. A favorite character was the Church Lady. An evangelical figure that was convinced that most things were the works of Satan. Whenever the Church Lady sensed a questionable attribute or action, the question was posed, "Could it be Satan? It was hysterical but in some ways more true than simply comedy.

The Paschal Mystery is the focus of the work of Jesus and the center of our lives. Because of the works of Jesus the Christ we possess Salvation and Peace through the dying and rising of Jesus. In John's Gospel Jesus prays that his Disciples, and really all of us, have oneness with the Father, just as Jesus has oneness with the Father. Now understand that Jesus is alluded to much more than a good solid friendship here. Communion with God implies a relationship by which we are embrace by His mercy and love, and participate in His wisdom and grace. We respond then with faith and faithfulness. Jesus prays that God will guard and protect all that come to new life through the Paschal Mystery. While we might be weak, we can become strong through the word of truth.

Christians are not taken out of the world, but we remain part of the human family. Our lifestyle though is wholly directed to a virtuous life. Truth and truthfulness are at the crux of our journey. A commentator the other day was speaking about politicians, and observed that there are so few good leaders anymore. Good people tend to stay out of politics the man observed. How sad it is to look at an arena of life, that of politics, and declare it a wasteland.

Could it be Satan? Well certainly Sin and Evil leads people to make choices for selfish or wrong reasons. The Paschal Mystery says that we should not allow our lives to be vulnerable to Evil. Yes we skin our spiritual knees and bump heads with each other, by the mystery we celebrate brings us the fullness of God's love and grace in the midst of the world's challenges. Part of our response is to seek truth. Look to what is good and proper, and work to establish justice and peace.

Jesus says to us today, "take care." We can learn this phrase and use it and mean it. Or the long phrase that gives us pause for thought would be, "the peace of Christ be with you."

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Missioning Parish

This weekend we will celebrate the great solemn feast of Pentecost, rejoicing in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and drawing to close the Easter season. Those early apostles were transformed by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, from a small band of frightened follower, into a bold and energized community which would go out and share Good News to the whole world. This apostolic zeal continued to build up new communities which began to live a gospel life which was noted by its prophetic stance and charity in the world.

The Church as the Body of Christ, is in possession of the Holy Spirit, who guides and strengthens the Church for it's mission. The Holy Spirit comes upon all peoples, the ordained and the laity, prompting us with different gifts and ministries. Yet all from the same Spirit. These gifts are not for one's own benefits but to be used to continue on the mission and ministry of the Church.

Rev. Ronald Lewinski recently spoke at the Pontifical Mission Societies of the United States. He reflected on the mission that takes place in parishes. Lewinski noted that missionary work is no longer limited to a geographical or cultural context. He suggested nine areas for parish and mission activities. I will not cover them here, you all can read the article.

Lewinski begins with the Redemptoris Missio, promulgated in 1990 by John Paul II the Great. The parish is not an end in and of itself. Benedict XVI challenges parishes to understand that the seeds of faith are planted in the parish atmosphere and take root in the world around us. Lewinski observes that he has never been too overly impressed with parishes that have dozens of ministries and book-like bulletins, if there is no outreach and development of a sense of doing mission. The parish is really about evangelization.

I remember reflecting once that parishes need to produce their own priests. No vocations from your parish, then there is no priest. Our preaching, teaching, and sanctifying really should inspire men and women to encourage the Gospel in the world. Our faith communities need to be counter-cultural, and make a statement of catechesis and evangelization in the community in which we live, and even a globe away.

We had a priest from India come to speak to our parish for the annual Mission Appeal, some years ago. His honest and candid descriptions of his daily challenges, caused many in our parish to be extra generous, but also to ask the question, 'what else can we do.' We have Deacons in our Diocese who have adopted Haiti as their mission ground, and invite others to join them.

As Church we are in the business of sharing good news. We share all that we have seen and heard.

Monday, June 6, 2011

I will send you the Spirit of Truth

This past week we had an interesting protest in the city of DeKalb. A few days earlier a woman began breastfeeding her child in a store, and was asked to move to a more private place. She was angered by this and organized a gathering of of woman to have a public breast feeding sit-in. There were in the end about forty or fifty person downtown, though only two or three were breastfeeding.

Now I found this whole thing rather amusing on two levels. One is that I have never been offended by breastfeeding. Being raised in a family with six kids, most of them younger, in a neighborhood with lots of younger kids, I understand that this is how infants are nourished. It is an integral maternal activity. Two is that while breastfeeding is a natural activity, there is a plethora of offensive images and conversation in the media and the Internet. Outside of the Science Channel or History Channel, I watch very little T.V. What little network television I have seen is predictable and saturated with sexual references. This is even from the mouths of children. Now that is offensive.

I think that it is in chapter 11 of Matthew's Gospel where Jesus is confronted by the Pharisees as to some of his actions and teachings. He responds with the observation this group is not consistent in their religiosity. They look at John the Baptist and call him 'mad' because of his ascetic lifestyle. Jesus eats and drinks with people and they refer to him as a 'drunkard' and 'glutton.' Our culture today has some real difficulties at arriving at solid foundational beliefs. We become deeply offended at trivial matters, but look the other way when we see major wounds, hurts and division.

Last week I met a woman at Jewel who is going to have her child Baptized in August. She said that recognized me from my picture on the website. I would have rather that she said that the family sits in the chapel, or the back of the church, and they really do not get a chance to speak with me after mass. The sacrament that is about faith and community becomes disconnected from its purpose and direction.

Again from the same text of Matthew Jesus expresses his desire that we might be on fire with faith. To be sure the gifts of the Spirit challenges to become strong and consistent in our faith. When we pray to the Holy Spirit we really need to pray that we understand Truth, and Truth on God's terms not ours, and strive for what is true and good in every situation. There really needs to be a consistency in the practice of our faith and religion. Sometimes I encounter non-catholics who cannot understand why they cannot receive the Eucharist at Mass. After I explain it to them, I also invite them to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I have yet to have any takers on that.

Seeking truth, peace, and justice, are very much part of the 'way' of following Jesus. Christian life is a lot more than bowing and throwing incense at an altar. I like to think that our belief is more than being expedient or responding to a superstition. Faith seeking understanding.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

I am ascending to my Father in heaven

The Gospel tells us today that the disciples were full of joy as they gathered around Jesus, but that they also doubted. The temptation is not to read that part or to gloss over it. But again our human weakness, even in moments of grace, manages to creep forward into our lives. The Office of Readings today contained a sermon from St. Augustine on this feast. Augustine knew all too well how Sin and Evil can grasp a hold of us and gain control.

As the Disciples watch Jesus ascend into heaven they encounter two heavenly figures who ask them why they are standing there. It reminds me of an English teacher who would ask if we are posing for a holy card, if we did not participate in her class. The Disciples are supposed to return to Jerusalem to await the Holy Spirit, and to launch the ministry from there. St, Peter will ponder that this mystery bestows gifts upon us which we will need to use to minister in the Church.

Too often we see the Church as the people at the chancery office or in Rome. We so easily forget that the Church is the faithful men and women who are baptized and confirmed, and share in the Eucharist. St. Paul uses that great analogy that we are members of one body. As diverse as we are we share in a communion and unity through Christ Jesus. Of course this means that we participate fully and actively in the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ. Our faith life is more than looking up into the heavens.

At Mass we pray that the gifts of bread and wine be made holy "For our good and the good of all of His Church." This celebration reminds us that the Church is not our chapel or private encounter with Jesus, but it is the instrument of salvation and peace for the whole world. Evangelization and sharing the Good News are primary objectives of our Church and our Church community.

Today is a wonderful and exciting feast as we await the coming of the Holy Spirit into our Church. The Lord Jesus continues to be our Good Shepherd, high priest, advocate, and guide. Jesus' ascension is not a farewell, but a great 'Amen' as he continues to watch over and bless his Church on Earth.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Get Busy

In days gone by this would be Ascension Thursday. The feast was moved so that more persons could celebrate this sacred feast. While I personally had always liked the concept of celebrating this moment 40 days after Easter, I can understand the reasoning. In the context of the Paschal mystery, the Ascension begins to complete the work of salvation through Jesus Christ. I had read one commentary which suggested that the Ascension is the other end of the Incarnation.

In the readings these last several days Jesus prepares his followers for the ministry which lies ahead of them. Jesus prays for them, and for us, asking that we be consecrated to the truth. The Good News is about proclaiming and imitating Gospel truth. The Acts of the Apostles has already demonstrated to us that this early Church struggled to make sense out of faith, questioned what ministry should look like, and work through various interpersonal difficulties. Through it all this body of believers relied on faith and the vision offered by Jesus.

Way back in 1965 the Second Vatican Council offered a document entitled, Apostolate of the Laity, which described the salvation of the world renewing all of creation. The mystery which we celebrate and are baptized into is a transforming event. Through Jesus Christ all men and women are renewed - as is the whole sphere of the created world. We who are connected to this mystery are obliged to make this mystery known. We catechize our children as well as living rightly with God and others. I have always liked the quote, and applying it to Christianity "What I do after I say Amen."

Jesus is really preparing faith leaders for the world. We cannot be observers of all that is good and true. Because Jesus prays for us, and is seated at the right hand of the Father, we know and believe that we have an eternal helper. In all that we do we speak the word of God. Later today I am going to the grade school for their end of the year field day. Even in playing kickball, the possibility of proclaiming Good News exists.