Sunday, July 31, 2011

Come to the Water

The imagery in Matthews Gospel is most powerful. Jesus, who has been in prayer for a while after the death of John the Baptist, goes off to a secluded place. The people who have seen and heard all of the marvelous actions of Jesus travel so as to catch up with him. When Jesus sees the crowds of people his heart is moved with compassion. He heals their sick and proclaims the Good News to them.

There is a dialogue between Jesus and the Apostles. The Apostles suggest that Jesus send the people to the nearby towns for food. Jesus replies that they the disciples provide for for them. The miracle that we the hearer witness is that what little they have is multiplied by Jesus. In another part of the same Gospel we are reminded that the person who possesses gifts will be given more gifts. St. Paul will tell us that these goods things are given for the good of the community.

A theology professor from Yale university, Dr. Kathryn Tanner, comments that Jesus is not an incomprehensible stand-in or substitute for God. Jesus is the Incarnation of the Word of God. Jesus displays in his life what it means to be the flesh and blood of God the Father. This human Jesus recognizes our needs and enables us to be fed and healed. Jesus gives us every grace and blessing in abundance.

St. Paul wants us to understand that Christ delivers us through his compassionate love, which is best understood on the cross. Jesus' blessing of the bread and fish connects to the Last Supper, and the Eucharist in which we share. We gather around the altar with numerous hungers, hurts and needs. We cannot allow fear or other distractions to prevent us from being fed and healed. Once we are full and made one with the Father, and each other, we can 'Go forth to love and serve the Lord.'

Jesus becomes in a real and tangible way food for our journey. It is enough so that we can share Good News with each other of all that we have seen and heard. The Church, and ourselves, become a sign and symbol of the Christ who is our salvation and peace. We do no have to go away to find solace and food, in Jesus we have more than enough to eat.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Like a net cast into the sea

In chapter five of Matthew's Gospel, shortly after the Beatitudes, we are told that we must be Holy as our Father in heaven is Holy. The readings from St. Paul these last few weeks have been from his 'Life in the Spirit' section. "What can separate us from the love of God," he will ask us. Today's selection reminds us that God's invitation to holiness is offered far and wide to all peoples. In matter of fact God pours out upon us every grace and blessing that we might have the resources to follow His guidance and directions. After all we do not want to be left outside wailing and gnashing.

There seems to be a contradiction here. God's call is sent out to everyone, and didn't Jesus forgive sinners and other sort of terrible folk? This is true, but the key words here are goodness and truth. Jesus' Good News calls people to conversion and discipleship. God sends us his Son, the laws and the prophets so as to live in the Kingdom and find light, happiness, and peace. In subtle yet significant wording the ones who actually find fulfillment in the Kingdom, are the seekers, the ones who sell everything to possess the treasury of God, those who are seemingly rotten who cause the bread to rise, and the good fish who show up in the net.

It is common practice today to wag our fingers at the Church since it's teachings and lifestyle seem so out of sync. Some see the Church as unraveling, and dying on the vine. The Church should get with it. The Gospel message is counter-cultural and is a challenge to our society today. The Church continues to change in relationship to its ministries and practicalities. But it continues to proclaim the Paschal mystery, enable conversion, evangelize, teach, preach and sanctify. The dignity of life and the call to holiness will always be part of the Church's teachings.

We continue to be fishers of men and women, drawing folks together by our proclamation of the Gospel. Wherever we are we are making the name of Jesus known, and his promise of the kingdom. There is a real challenge for us today to stand up straight, and to boldly profess our faith.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ss Joachim and Ann

At Mass on Sunday one of my servers felt dizzy and sat down very hard. One of the other servers went over, without any fanfare, and took his place while keeping watch over the stricken server, about three years his junior. I was impressed with how quickly this young man stepped into this situation to help. Making sure that the younger boy was okay and maintaining the decorum of the Liturgy.

If you knew the older servers parents' there would be no surprise in his actions. His parents are good people who live their faith very publicly. I do not mean in a holy-go-pious manner, but their care and respect of others is most evident, as is maintaining a sense of integrity and dignity at all times. They know that they cannot walk by a mess without in some way offering assistance. And their children have learned this lesson as well.

The Profession of Faith is a very public matter. Too often in religion today we try to make our conscience a private matter. Our culture tends to push the 'Lone Ranger' mentality. In the Scriptures today Moses speaks to God in respect to all of the people. Jesus teaches that evil doers will have a difficult time at the end of the age. In the end our orientation and direction in and about the community is mostly important. While we are good people the question needs to be raised for us as to how we have served God's people.

Mary in her unconditional 'Yes' recognizes what God has done for all peoples throughout the generations. She confidently gives an affirmative reply because she recognizes God's faithfulness. Moreso she knows that this faith is not just about her; it is about all of God's people. One can only imagine that she came to that understanding partly because of how she was raised. She had heard the stories of faith around the family table. The commands of God were not merely hanging on a wall someplace in the house, but lived in the daily relationships with family and friends.

The Church teaches how important it is that the family and home become a place of catechesis and evangelization. The domestic Church is where the act of praying is first learned, as are the introduction to faith and morals. By preparing our young ones for the Mystery of Faith, and reflecting that same Mystery in the home, we help our children understand their connection to the faith community, and the community which is all of God's people.

It is amazing how at Mass we can hear about how we need to be God's holy people, and are even given the opportunity to put it into practice. Our prayer is as always, May the godd things that God has begun in you be brought into perfection.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The kingdom of Heaven is ...

Remember back in the 70s there was that one frame illustration entitled, "Love is?" We were to reflect that love is never having to say you are sorry, or is sharing something nice with another, or even complimenting someone else. Matthew is finishing up a series of sayings in regards to the Kingdom of Heaven. Using basic everyday examples Jesus tells us that he Kingdom of heaven is very much like a mustard seed, a woman kneading dough, and a fine pearl of great price. Partly this is Matthew's theology of understanding that the Kingdom is in the future, but it is also deeply rooted in our hearts today.

Matthew begins his Gospel (more or less) with the Beatitudes. Blessed are the meek, humble, peacemakers, and those who suffer for the sake of the Kingdom of God. By living the virtues expressed in this series of sayings, we begin to uncover the Kingdom of Heaven. More to the point of today's Gospel, if we are to possess the treasure offered by God's Kingdom then we have to be able to take radical steps in our relationship with God, and others, so as to possess this valuable entity. Remember that Jesus tells the rich young man to go and sell all that he has, and to come and follow him. The disciples are called away from their lifestyles to be His permanent followers. And Jesus makes it clear that we have to take up a cross in order to be his followers.

St. Paul states that our participation in the Kingdom of God is beyond the celebration of the common meal within the Christian community. It is also a matter of reconciliation and forgiveness, peace-making, charity, and chastity. The Gospels reiterate the truth that as we engage in holy works, we begin to discover the holiness of God.

The journey is as important as the actual possession of the treasure. Seeking the Kingdom of Heaven makes us ready to receive the grace and blessings of God our Father, through Jesus Christ. The treasure though invites us to a radical choice to give up and throw out the yuck and gunk of life, so as to possess what is truly valuable and precious in God's eyes. Take Lord, receive ... your love and your grace are enough for me.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Body of Christ Hurts

I was reading a news story about a young boy who was being accused of murder. The child allegedly killed the girlfriend of his father. The majority of the story was a lot of hand-wringing in regards to how this could have happened; and how did people miss the warning signs. The Yahoo news offered two similar stories in which young kids had been bullied for years and lashed out at their abusers. Many of the commentators offer quick and easy solutions. But we have to understand that these wounds do not happen overnight. And mostly they have great complexities' becoming enmeshed in fear and denial.

In the Books of Genesis and Exodus the writers explore the theology of Sin and Evil. The disregard of goodness and truth are not one time actions that appear out of nowhere. Over time when we allow those small moments of disrespect of God's law, and the love of one another to occur, then we begin to beat up the Body of Christ. It is a matter of looking at those "foundational" Sins as being the culprit to much of the sin and brokenness that we experience in our world.

The Sins of pride, envy, lust, greed, jealousy, and sloth, are so often the cause of the hurts and pains that the human family suffers. The stories of the Old Testament speak to us very clearly as to how these Sins move us away from God, and become institutionalized. The reason that the prophets are hated is that they are speaking to a status quo that had become acceptable practice.

Sins such as violence, even in the subtle forms of bullying, disrespect, the lack of charity and compassion, poverty, and all of the different 'isms' we have, find their source in a tradition of Sin and Evil. We are no longer shocked by pornographic images and peoples broken lives.

The challenge is to go back to the mountain of the Lord and to recall who we are and what we are all about. I have couples come in for marriage who will tell my that they were baptized and received their first communion here in this church. My question anymore is, "What does that mean for you today." A lifestyle of goodness has to be more than a series of disconnected nice actions. It really needs to be striving for holiness, justice, and peace.

The Ignatius 'Take Lord and Receive' can be a daily mantra. It is a challenge not to be dragged down into the gunk and muck. In order to bring healing to the Body of Christ we have to be attentive to his presence withing us.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Eternal Rest Grant Unto Fr. Kaiser

We had a priest funeral today. Someone had commented that i has been a while since we had a priest die. Father Kaiser was a kind and gentle man. To be sure a real pastor of the people he served. I never got to know him well but he always offered a warm greeting when ever we met. Father was one of two dozen or so priests that was at everything. A funeral, anniversary, a dinner, or some sort of gathering he was there.

When priests are ordained we are ordained into a fraternity of sorts. While we work largely on our own outside of communities, having a fraternal relationship is very important. It is the ones who are never present for anything, that we begin to worry about. Since we are not religious order priests, our gathering together throughout the year offers support and encouragement. And at times like funerals we can mourn with each other and be a source of support and encouragement to each other.

I often reflect back upon the Acts of the Apostles whereas the early Christian community is described in terms of communion and unity. The entire body looked after each other, establishing a strong bond, and a becoming a sign and symbol of unity and community. It is in Christ and in the Eucharist that these early believers found a source of support and encouragement - especially when times were difficult.

Father Kaiser, a much older man than I, heard God's call and responded faithfully. That is a challenge for all baptized believers to discern the call of God and to respond with our unconditional 'Yes.' There is that question I use so often when talking about Stewardship, "What I do after I say I believe." Not just ordained priests, but all of us are called to offer worthy sacrifice for the benefit of the Kingdom.

I had already prayed evening prayer, and reflected upon Father Kaiser, but in our prayer we should always be praying for and with each other. More so, as in the words of St. Paul (sort of) offer a blessing rather than a curse. We continue to build up the Body of Christ so as to offer a faithful witness of everything we have seen and heard.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Jesus the Good Buddy?

Back from vacation. We had fun.

I was reading the obituaries this morning, I like to see if I have a funeral coming up, and I had noticed that a few of the obituaries refer to a celebration of the persons life. Having sat through eulogies which highlight the persons love of fishing, or knitting abilities, I have to wonder where the hope is in these peoples lives. To be sure these were good people, essentially we all are, but these celebrations of life seem so very empty. The eulogy giver will allude to heaven. "Uncle Ottis is looking down from heaven right now."

Jesus and the Paschal Mystery become relegated to the niceties of an elderly uncle. Jesus is not the source of salvation as much as he is a good buddy who give us a few bucks for coffee, and is always ready with a compliment. It is good to take a step back and to remind ourselves that Jesus is the Son of the living God, who brings us salvation and peace, by his dying and rising.

This week we are continuing our reading of the Book of Exodus. This is the story of the Covenant that is made between God and us. At Passover Jewish families retell this story as they celebrate the Seder Meal. When we hear about the Pharisees and Sadducees we think of them as being these very rigid religious types. For them the covenant is the foundation of their faith and religious lives.

As Christians, and especially as catholics, we celebrate the new covenant with God, which was ratified in the Paschal Mystery. So that Jesus dies and rises brings us unity and oneness with God the Father. Jeremiah the Prophet tells us that God has carved us on the palm of his hand. That is the intimacy and communion we have with God. We rejoice in this relationship but we are also challenged. This new Covenant necessitates that we are living holy lives.

God pronounces to our fore bearers "I will be your God and you will be my people." So to be sure God will watch over us, but then we live in the way that our God has shown us. The Beatitudes and the last judgement scene are not just nice narratives. They are there to imply what is means to live a life of the covenant. God is just and merciful, so how do we respond to the good things that our God has given to us.

Certainly at funerals we remember of deceased family and friends. But this is a time to be attentive that we belong to God. Just like God raises his Son up from suffering and death, we who risk living out the covenant have the hope of rising again. The larger celebration is that the Paschal Mystery is part of our lives because Jesus loves us. So we give praise and thanks to the Father who keeps watch over us, and embraces us with salvation.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

I am on vacation

I am vacationing in northwest Illinois this week. We rent a condo, go play in the outdoors, visit other priests we do not get to see often, and relax. I am also only two hours away from the mother ship (the parish)

At one time in our Church life this was the area that the Diocese (Chicago first then Rockford) would send some of the problems priests. Like most of society human brokenness was responded to by sending people away. In my home county and even in DeKalb, the county retirement homes were originally out in the country. Illinois once had a huge institution for the developmentally disabled way out in Dixon. Anyway, in the matter of parishes the places out here were once upon a time considered second tier in the larger sphere of parishes.

Of course today 'pastoring' a parish is much like running a small business. A 24/7 business mind you. Many a pastor would love to be out here in the so called hinter-lands. When I first became a pastor many of the older priests would tell me to, "just love the people." Love implies that we give the people the very best that we have to offer. I do get a little embarrassed when people thank me for visiting a spouse, parent, or child who is sick or troubled. Because this is what I do for a living. And I enjoy doing it.

I am often reminded of Matthew's gospel, er, chapter 5 I believe. Jesus we are told went up to the mountain, looked out and saw the crowds coming to him with a variety of needs and concerns. We are told that his heart was stirred with compassion for the people. I am conscious of that gospel each time I do mass and look out at the people gathered together. I know that the best thing that I can do is to share Christ with them.

Both the of the Church documents, on priestly formation, and on priestly life, reiterate the priest as the image of Christ. Healing, forgiveness and compassion were the mainstays of Jesus' ministry. A child once asked me what parish I want to be at ultimately, and I responded that I was already here. Jesus ministered in the moment, in the big cities and amongst the country-folk. We are all in need of salvation and peace. To be sure this is the challenge of priesthood, and all of us as baptized believers.

We are really called to be the hands and hearts of Jesus to all of God's people. There are no cookie cutter parishes, but places where we gather to hear God's Word, and be fed with the bread of life.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Deos Verbum

The Parable of the Sower and the Seed is a familiar one, and one in which we automatically believe we know its meaning. And yet that is the point of the parable, that we might not fully hear or understand the fullness of the mystery conveyed to us. The mystery in which Jesus speaks to us about today takes careful listening skills, understanding, and contemplation.

This past year there was a Pew Study on religiosity in our culture. Almost three out of four young people identify with no religion. Now there is a lot that goes into that conclusion. They may have not been raised in a religion, may have been baptized and not much else, or they have rejected religion for themselves. A survey done by the Pastoral Life Center some years ago found that most young people identify themselves as religious but not spiritual. To be sure in the post-modern era most young people are looking for some sort of immediate, and instant fulfillment. Joy and happiness at the end of life does not appeal to many people in the world today.

The Parable today has us understand that the Word of God is spread broadly and generously. The seed that is spread is good. But the soil needs to be properly prepared and readied for the reception of the soil. The seed then has to make sense to those who receive it. If the soil is too base or acidic then the seed cannot mature and produce much fruit.

Are our communities, catechesis, and evangelization, instruments of unity and communion or do they detract from the very message they are supposed to deliver. It is difficult for our teens to understand the Eucharist as a sacrifice and as a meal, but when they are given a chance to serve the poor, visit the elderly, discuss issues of justice and peace, they begin to see the dynamics of the self-giving conveyed in the Eucharist. Certainly we do not mean for Church to become a social service agency, but if we can help connect the dots the Word of God begins to take root in the hearts and lives of all people.

The Word of God took flesh and dwelt among us. For this we are eternally thankful.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Don't know that we don't know

I caught part of a stranger movie last night centered on demons, hell, and sin. Of course the main characters were catholic priests. It is always amusing how the catholic rituals are portrayed. Put a robe on someone, make up some Latin, and there you have a catholic priest. Place bread and wine before them, use the Lord's prayer, and you have the Mass. Religious woman have long habits and full veils. And in this movie the Church is the problem and not the solution. This is Hollywood's portrayal of the Catholic Church. Movies and T.V. are about twenty-five years behind the Church in real life.

I say this in this post-modern time as we try to convey the relevance of sacraments and morals. Our culture views much of what the Church offers as quaint. Baptisms and first communions are great Kodak moments, but it is hard to understand what more there is in relationship to real life. But yet if we are serious about what it is that we are doing, we are drawn into a counter-cultural response by the very premise of what we profess. Baptism broadens our vision of the world around us and challenges to takes responsibility for the faith that we profess. Eucharist and Confirmation are a sign and symbol of our living the paschal mystery - not in the safety of our homes but in the world in which we live.

A priest friend mentioned how years ago his students wondered why the Church forbade to read the Gospel of Thomas. They had picked up that bit of misinformation from a popular movie. But rather than worry about a Gnostic Gospel, we need to fulfill the precepts of the Gospels we hear week after week. Forgiveness, healing, justice, the respect of human dignity, are all part of our tradition, but we maintain a Hollywood mentality of secret archives, demons, and singing Irish priests. The crux of the Gospels is conversion and discipleship. But it is easier to live at the surface of our faith.

There was a T.V. show years ago that came close to portraying real parish life. One where peoples lives did not always have a happy ending. It lasted less than a season. I guess there was not enough sex and violence. Our faith is a powerful relationship that connects us to God and one another. We are on a journey which transcends this life, and yet is all too down to earth. The motif of our life is the cross, and the challenge it contains.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Jesus is green too

In a parish long ago, far far away, our youth group became involved in Heifer International. Now Heifer is an organization which provides livestock to people in poor and under-developed nations and regions. The livestock provides food and a livelihood for many. It is a solid organization that sort of takes on the adage of teaching on to fish, so as to thrive for a lifetime. Anyway, at this particular parish in order to collect monies for the calf we were going to purchase, we had a fundraiser in which we served black cows. It was loads of fun for the youth, the parishioners enjoyed it, and we got to male a mess. Most importantly we raised most of the money for our bovine.

It was a great lesson for the children on the economy, the various needs of peoples, and even culture. The youth also began to understand the inter-connectedness of other nations economies, and politics and public policies can affect large amounts of people. And while the notion was not as popular yet, our use of resources does make a difference in the lives of people a half of a globe away.

As to the latter there was a news story on one of the catholic news services which spoke about environmental studies on catholic campus' The author of the article said that this is not a topic in the philosophy of religious studies areas. While I do not know whether we want a whole course on this, it is an area of stewardship. Discipleship would challenge us to understand that our use, or misuse, of natural resources can profoundly effect others. Most of us remember that as children we were told to finish our meals; with the reminder that there are starving people in the world.

I cringe often times when we use Styrofoam at parish functions, or purchase cases of bottled water for retreats and workshops. As good stewards we want to be aware of what is happening in nations that we might not ever have heard of. Because we really are our brother's keeper. The environment, politics, the economy, and even cultural concerns become the concerns of us as well. While black cows make it fun, we will always have those teachable moments in order to catechize and reflect on our faith response.

I don't think the article meant to make us tree huggers, we might recycle more often, be careful with our purchases, by local produce, and read the paper more. Make more of a spiritual impact as opposed to an environmental one.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Come to Me All You who are Weary

At the Evening Hour, in the Liturgy of the Hours, we pray the Magnificat, as part of this daily prayer. From Luke's Gospel, Mary muses on the wonders of God. From one generation to the next God feed the hungry and lifts up the lowly. This reflection of the faithfulness of our God is a response to the question of why someones would declare an unconditional 'Yes' to God, as well as sets the stage for many other's faithful response to God. In a seemingly foolish manner, God continues to pour out love and mercy upon His creation.

But when we compare the goodness of God to the often empty promises of those in power and authority, we can begin to see the wisdom in placing our hope in God. "Come to me all who are weary," is about the compassion and love God holds out to us, but it also asks us to understand that the life of discipleship leads to healing and wholeness. While standing for justice and truth, or reconciling in most difficult situations, might not have readily observable results, but is advances a virtuous and holy lifestyle. The very gentle and humble Mother Teresa, or the very holy Padre Pio, would probably bristle at the thought of their saintliness. Today we see them as models of faith and strive to imitate them the best we can.

The ways or better the yoke, of Jesus Christ is by far the more perfect way. Now it is not the easy way, but it does lead one to the intimacy of that Father-Son relationship we read about in Matthews Gospel today. What declares itself as a value so often today is more like cotton candy. It never really fills us up or manages to satisfy us. Jesus' way brings us salvation and peace.

Mathew today will begin to present the lifestyle of the Christian. To follow Christ means that we entertain a particular way or vision throughout our life. In this beautiful reading today we are asked to proclaim the greatness of the Lord by a lifestyle based in truth and virtue.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Sacred Heart of Jesus

By Christian tradition, June is the month that the Church dedicates to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, even if due to Easter's late occurrence this year, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart falls at the beginning of July. Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI has specified that his general prayer intention for the month of June to be "that priests, united to the Heart of Christ, may always be true witnesses of the caring and merciful love of God". Certainly, priests are called to such union with the Heart of Christ so that they might serve as leaders and models for all Christian believers to do the same, those who share in the common priesthood of the Faithful as emphasized in the teachings of the Second Vatican Council (cf. Lumen Gentium 10).

In my homily today I reflected on how dads and moms will lift up their children to see whatever is occurring beyond the sea of adult legs. We place our little children on our shoulders so that they can have a better view. It seems that Jesus does that as well. His loving heart raises us up above hatred, anger, animosity, jealousy, pride, and all of our other favorite sins. By isn't that what he teaches us to do as well? Like Jesus, through the strength and courage of hi loving heart we follow his example and raise one another up.

Some of the more 'humorous' scripture passages are where we find the apostles becoming indignant with one another. Very much like us today we want to be liked the best. And we especially want Jesus to like us the best. Sometimes to get there we knock one another over. Maybe not literally, but you know what I mean. Jesus speaks to us about the Kingdom. Our own lives, and the life of the Church, somehow offers a vision of the Kingdom of God. Our ministry is about lifting each other up, as Christ Jesus raises us up.

When I was here before as a 'puppy priest,' we had a young man who lived down the street, who was developmentally disabled. He spent a lot of time around the church. The pastor would mention occasionally, perhaps when I may have been firmer than I should have been, that he needs love like everyone else. There is a real truth and a real challenge there. We are to be Christ to all God's people, and perhaps even moreso the ones who might be harder to love.

The heart of Jesus is our source of mercy and love. We pray that the power of this heart may give us the courage and direction to meet all of the challenges of life, and raise us up out of our lowliness.