Sunday, October 30, 2011

Beyond the Whitewash

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 29, 2011

It's doom and gloom time again

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Narrow Gate

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 24, 2011

We are not Debtors to the Flesh

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 23, 2011

God is Love

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Be a good fig tree  That should be the Spirit and Truth Face book.  Over the last nine years it is one of the groups I have tried to start here at St. Mary's.  Maybe because we are so far from Chicago these things are hard to get going.  It is a group meant of young adults that combines faith discussion and reflection with a Eucharistic spirituality.  This is more than keeping the young people in Church kind of thing, but hopes to expand their understanding of what Church is.

When the Bishops wrote about Discipleship about a dozen years ago, they used the image of a garden in which men and women were originally planted.  The question that they proposed was how well our garden is growing.  If we who are Baptized and Confirmed are responsible for the pruning, trimming, and watering, we have to reflection from time to time as to whether we are bearing much fruit,

The home I grew up in had several fruit trees in the backyard.  About this time of year we prune off branches that were dead, and fertilize and water the tree; getting it ready for the winter and spring.  The scariest aspect of the tree's life was fungus.  You do not want fungus to invade your tree.  The Gospel for today makes a lot of sense in that much like a tree the Body of Christ, the Church, needs ongoing care and maintenance.  Using St.Paul's analogy, all parts of the Body need care and attention.

Years ago we priests had a seminar in which we heard again about evangelization.  Again we were told that small faith sharing groups were the way to go.  The life of the parish, and essentially the Church, continues on and bears fruit, when e take time after Sunday to discuss scripture, theology, and faith.  Father does not have to  be present, be an able leader does.  This activity is what causes the sap to continue and the plant to blossom, giving fruit at due season.

We can pray and work for evangelization and stewardship in our parish community.  We stand with Christ in order to share good news.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Oh yeah ... the world was supposed to end.

I guess I missed this prediction a few days ago.  A minister like person has three times predicted the end of the world; and today would have been the day of the end.  I heard about this when the local paper called to ask about the prediction.  I guess they were looking for a holy priest and got me instead.  But in the end, as I had mentioned to the paper, the proof of our life lies in how well we life as faithful disciples.

I like the Gospel today since it plays right into this 'telling signs.'  We recognize the patterns of weather and the seasons, why cannot we recognize the things of God?  I had asked the children today at the school as to whether of not they could recognize the non-verbal communication of moms and dads.  Several shared stories of the looks they received which meant, 'stop it,' and having their full name pronounced.  To be sure there are clues which can direct or actions and response.

For us as a people of faith we hear about the miracles of Jesus and reflect on His teaching.  From our perspective we know that these are the words of God, and try to amend our lives.  But the challenge for us is to look at the very stark selflessness of Jesus.  The cross remains this powerful reminder that we need to continue to live faithful and profound lives.  Our response to the sign of the cross is beyond being nice to other people.  A community of disciples takes responsibility for the faith that they profess.

Like those who stood at the foot of the cross we too see where others have been crucified.  We stand with them, and stand up for them.  That is the real challenge of discipleship.  In today's homily I alluded to the Good Samaritan Story.  Those who passed by him were good people with legitimate concerns.  It was the Samaritan though who responded out of faith.

The sign of the Cross is a sign of love and compassion upon all peoples.  It asks us to move beyond where we are comfortable into a life of Discipleship.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

St. John de Brébeuf and St. Isaac Jogues

These North American Martyrs present to us a wonderful story and an awesome challenge.  Outside of all of the social and political ramifications involved here, their primary mission was one of proclaiming the Gospel and bring the message of Jesus Christ to new people.  They endured spiritual and physical hardships as well as eventually death.  What we admire most about them is their tenacity of faith.  Despite the dangers  involved they continued to engage the native peoples.

These men lived what they preached.  In a very real way these men loved the people they preached to, and cared for them deeply.  Perhaps this is what motivated them to return again and again to this sometimes hostile environment.  We have the impression that these early missionaries had an admiration of the native peoples and their culture.  They were ready to serve them.

The Problem that is conveyed in Luke's Gospel today, (12:39-48) is that the Pharisees and religious leaders are good at teaching the law, but not very good at living it themselves.  The teaching and preaching of Jesus Christ should challenge us to become true Disciples.  A Disciple loves the people that they serve, and reaches out to them with kindness and compassion.  Their faithful lives are built upon the faithfulness of God.  In this way they become living witnesses of 'Good News.'

Saints like John De Brebeuf, Isaac Jogues, and his companions, demonstrate that being a Disciple welcomes Jesus Christ into oneself, so that it might be radiated towards those around them.  Discipleship is a lifestyle of ongoing conversion which recognizes the holiness of God in all things and in all peoples.  Because we are part of the Body of Christ we respond to the needs and concerns of those around us.  These North American Martyrs hopefully can help us examine our life of faith in the wilderness in which we live.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Ignatius of Antioch

Today is the memorial of one of those obscure Martyrs, Ignatius of Antioch, whom we know very little about.  What we have is a series of writing which were supposedly inspired on his trek to be executed.  These texts deliver an insight into Ignatius' own holiness, and the understanding of the theology of the cross by the early Christians.  It would seem that the Paschal event had this great great focus in the lives of those early men and women of faith.

While our theology does speak to that today, most of the theological giants of the first few centuries insisted that the celebration of the Passion, death, and Resurrection of Jesus, take center stage in the daily struggles of life.  True discipleship is the understanding of seeking the ways of God first, considering our place with God, and then the cares and concerns of others, then ourselves last.  To be a disciple really is about being faithful to our Baptismal promises a well as finding joy in our service for one another.

When we talk about the theology of stewardship we really are talking about being a disciple.  We receive God's gifts with joy.  We nurture and nourish these gifts, so that they can grow.  We share the gifts of God with justice and love for the benefit of all of God's people.  And then we return the gifts of God to Him with increase. This is a bit more than time, talent, and treasure; it is the embracing the cross so that in dying we might have life.

Ignatius is one of many holy men and women who gladly 'pour out' their lives for the goodness of all people.  We had a missionary here a few weeks ago, for the annual mission appeal, who spoke about courageous men and women who minister in difficult and dangerous situations in Africa.  To be sure simply being true to our faith can be difficult but perhaps not as dangerous.

If we really believe what we are professing, and in the bread and wine made the Body and Blood of Christ, then our lives have to become different.  Most of us are probably not called to martyrdom, but we are called to be faithful to the Paschal Mystery.  Our Church life is not about 'pray, pay, and obey.'  The Lord of life invites us to the cross and to new life.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Give to God what is God's

The Pharisees and Sadducees  are often portrayed as these rigid adversaries in the Gospel passages.  They are greatly offended and bothered by Jesus and hope that he will simply go away.  But their question today is a larger question which still gnaws at us today.  Who do we belong to?  The is a liturgical adage which states we pray what we believe.  The same can be said of our spending, desires, and focus throughout life.

To be sure even St. Paul recognizes that as a matter of good citizenship we have to live within the confines of our national laws and obligations.  But besides that do we live a counter-cultural life so as to be living witnesses of what we have seen and heard in Jesus Christ.  Even the Apostles have a difficulty in this matter as vie for position in the Kingdom of God, and seek to destroy those who disrespect them.  Sometimes the kingdom of Caesar can be so enchanting and alluring that we begin to dream of wealth, power, fame, and glory.

Jesus demonstrates his Father's Kingdom as he heals, has compassion, feeds, and nourishes, those whom he comes in contact with.  Jesus' position of power is hanging from the cross.  Serving God and serving one another are the hallmarks of our Christian lifestyle.  Stewardship tells us that being a disciples means that we receive God's gifts with joy, nurture those gifts, share them in love and justice, and return them with increase to our God.  This is the way that we unfold the Kingdom of God and pronounce the good news.

The choice in our life comes down to which Kingdom we wish to follow.  The Kingdom of God has those often unseen values of justice, peace, mercy and love, which last forever.  Caesar's Kingdom shows up on Nasdaq, but will always leave us empty and wanting for more.  Hopefully we can embrace the Kingdom which offers happiness, light, and peace.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Teresa of Jesus, virgin and doctor of the Church

I have just returned from a week on retreat.  I had visions of blogging everyday, but alas, we had no Internet access.  It was a wonderful retreat and very much needed.

Teresa of Jesus is one of my favorite saints.  A mystic and a woman of great faith and holiness; was reluctant to claim the grace of God.  Teresa was blunt about her own faults and failings, and in some ways found it impossible to believe that God would call her out for any special gifts or talents.  These sort of men and women are the most open to God's promise since they know and understand their weakness and foibles.  It is St. Paul who reminds us that when he is weak, then he is strong.  It is at those moments that Paul realized that Christ could work through him - and us.

Part of our Kairos retreat is to help the young people recognize the walls and obstacles they set up around themselves.  Actually we priests examined this aspect of sinfulness this past week.  This 'pretend' life can come in the form of false piety, arrogance, pride, and even anger.  And there are many more.  Earlier this week Jesus challenges the Pharisees and Sadducees to cleanse their interior as well as their exterior selves.  Take away the false selves that become obstacles to Christ and others.

Teresa was very honest with herself.  One of her difficulties was that she liked to be liked.  It was difficult for her to do anything that would cause others not to like her.  When we can say, "This is where my weakness is," then we can begin the process of finding wholeness and conversion.  In one of the prophets we are reminded that God desires a humble and contrite heart.

With the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the example of saints like Teresa, hopefully we can put out of our lives that stuff that blocks who we ought to be.  When the obstacles come down then we can fully embrace the person of our Christ.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Those red letters in the book

Last week I had a wedding, which was not the worse, but was frustrating all of the same.  We started fifteen minutes late since everyone was busy being hidden.  Someday I am going to sit in the rectory watching the ballgame, and have someone come get me when the wedding party makes it to the altar.  In some ways funerals have become a source of frustration as well.  I have noticed in recent years the emphasis is more on a memorial of the person than a connection to faith and resurrection.  An then there is the ever present need for someone to do a eulogy.

I write of this as I had read an article by a bishop which cautioned against using "Pastoral Necessity" for allowing a sundry of questionable liturgical practices.  Unfortunately many of the allowed practices are done so to retain a sense of peace, or the very fragile faith of many who come forward for sacraments.  While catechesis is the appropriate response to much of these misconceptions, often times there is no good time for a thorough teaching on sacraments, liturgy, and the rites.  In a room full of the family who has just lost a wife and mother, it is difficult to explain why a eulogy is inappropriate.  Outside of this venue you do not have access to these same people.

The difficulty becomes then 'Father' is either part of the mean and evil Church that will not let the family express this very special moment, or you hope that by giving a little peoples will have an experience of faith.  Part of the solution is that faithful catholics need to know why we do the things that we do, and share this knowledge with family and friends - in an unapologetic way.

Which brings us to the Liturgy and the rituals themselves.  Everything we do in the Church has an order to it.  There are rubrics (those directions in red letters) which the priest must follow.  As a priest, at Mass, I have to wear the proper vesture, and when I come to the altar, I have to venerate it.  This is not an option.  It is part of the ritual.  And while I really enjoy some British poets, we have to use the proper scriptures for the day as the readings.  We do not start from scratch for each ritual.

The celebration of the Mass and each ritual hopefully draws people closer into a faith relationship with God.  The signs and symbols that we use should help in that task, and speak to the mystery that we are celebrating.  To be sure in baptism total immersion would be a powerful sign of our being washed clean from Sin, and being united to God.  There are certainly some practical problems here.  Young people should really not be wearing stoles at Confirmation since this is a sign of the Presbyters office.

If we know and understand the ritual language and the actions that are occurring, our celebration and participation becomes deeper.  Moreso we are no longer spectators but actively involved.  I always remind people that the Church already gives us scripture and music so as to make the rituals speak to a particular nuance.  But these are always the Church's actions and not a private act of faith.

How we worship says a lot about what we believe in.  Our act of faith is made manifest in our prayer and in our worship.  It might be good to take a good read at the ritual from the Church before we do any planning.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Where is Your Wedding Garment?

As we draw close to the end of the liturgical year, Matthew begins to expose some eschatolgical realities.  The journey that Matthew has taken us on began with a litany of the genealogy of the House of David, detailed some miracles, challenged the religious elite, and will end at the cross.  All the while Matthew is talking to Jewish-turned-Christian audience, he is also speaking to us today.  Matthew is helping us understand a relationship that we as individuals have with Jesus Christ; but mostly how we are as a Church.  The Body of Christ, the Church, is the sign and symbol of salvation in the World.

So we come into the Church through Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist.  When we are Baptized into the Body of Christ we take on a new relationship with God through Christ Jesus.  More so as members of the Church we are stewards of the covenant and we continue to cultivate the Word of God, unfolding the Kingdom of God before the world.

After we have water poured over us, the priest or deacon anoints us with chrism, and then we receive a white garment of some sort.  The ritual reminds us that we have put on Christ.  Through our faith and faithfulness we are to bring this white garment with us into the eternal banquet which lasts forever.  Please note her that Saint Paul shares with us that Christ Jesus calls us while we are sinners, and makes us worthy through the Paschal Mystery.  In today's Gospel we might feel sorry for the guy without the wedding garment- after all he is doing the king a favor just by showing up.

Actually it is our God who does us the favor by giving us every good thing and continually blessing us with grace and goodness.  We are made in the image and likeness of God and are called to maintain that same dignity throughout our lives.  So we live according to the covenant and practice the faith that has been shared with us.

As an aside, we sometimes have folks who want to say some "words" at a funeral of a parent or friend.  Usually we discover what a saintly life they lived because they were very nice.  In a few weeks we will read that it is more than niceties that connect us to God.

Our baptismal garment should be well worn as we engage in charity and live lives of chastity.  The concerns of justice and peace are our concerns as well.  We can point to where our garment has been torn because we climbed down into the ditch to help someone, or we fended off oppressors and evil-doers.  That is the challenge of the baptismal garment.

On the holy mountain of God a lot is expected of us.  But for those who are faithful to the task, a lot is received.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Mission Appeal

Some of us might remember, back in catholic grade school, receiving what looked like saving booklets, in which we inserted nickels, dimes, or quarters.  At the end of Advent or Lent, we would turn these in to Sister, which would then be sent to support the missions.  At a young age this was our first experience of supporting the mission activity of the Church.

This weekend we have the Oblates of St. Francis DeSales presenting their work and ministry.  I had supper with Father Reese last night and he shared extensively his experience in Africa.  That conversation extended into the social and political difficulties that Africa faces on a daily basis.  As we spoke we lamented the fact that at one time or another most of the continent is engaged in some sort of military activity.  On top of this there is violence between faith groups and intense poverty.  It is not a good situation.

Too often the governments are corrupt or centered on keeping themselves in power.  The basic necessities of food, clean water, medical care, education, and housing seem to often fall be the wayside.  So there are a few who are always wealthy and wield most of the authority, and a population that struggles to make a life for themselves.  It is a terrible situation for many.  The Church provides for the spiritual needs, but must also provide food, clothing, health care, and education for a desperate people.  The corporal and spiritual works of mercy are foundation to build on here.

I say this because often we are told that the Church needs to stay our of politics.  But is human dignity and human right really a political issue?  The story of the Good Samaritan certainly sounds as if Jesus is mandating taking care of the physical as well as the spiritual needs of one another.  The community we see described in the Acts of the Apostles quite naturally moved to care for the poor and the needy.  More often than not, the Church is alone in caring for the poor and the anawim in many places.

We are taking a second collection today; there are no cute coin thingys.  But it is our responsibility to pray and support the work of those in the missions.  It is part of our sharing Good News.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Knock, Seek, Ask

Each time I am with my junior high students, I try to leave them with a little insight into stewardship, the mission of the Church, and being part of the Church.  I figure that if I suggest one aspect of ministry every week, that in the years to come they may want to serve in the Church.  To be sure not just pushing cups of coffee across the counter at Fellowship Sunday, but acting in a way that might enlighten or comfort others.  That is my hope for the years to come.

The prophet Malachi today is certainly frustrated.  Speaking for God he asks how people can be confused or unknowing the way of God, after has been so evident in their lives.  Like a parent who stands in a child's dirty room God asks the question, how can you say 'what mess?'  For the Prophet Malachi simply denying brokenness, injustice, oppression, and violence, is an abomination to God.  We are stewards of creation and are given a garden to nurture and nourish so that it might bring about growth and fruit for the Lord.

I like using the gross image of mulling over navel lint.  I always imagine a person that is so tucked up into themselves that they are literally staring at their navels.  In such a posture we miss all of the good things that are around us, and are unaware of the needs and concerns of our brothers and sisters.    Like the prophets, early Christians, and all holy men and women, we have to be able and willing to take a risk in our faith lives.  We cannot be afraid to pronounce what we believe in.

Part of that is the action of seeking, asking, and knocking.  Both in the Vatican II documents on the laity in the Church today, and many years later the catechetical document, Sharing the Light of Faith, Men and women are encouraged to an ongoing study of scripture and teachings of the Church, and putting into practice the teachings they have received.

When I had done CPE, or Clinical Pastoral Education, we students were encouraged to think about peoples illness in a theological manner.  Our conversions with patients was informed by their sickness and needs, and what sort of theological needs and concerns they might have.  Whether the patient had fear or was worried about their child, we as ministers were to pull out of our toolbox an appropriate response that could really help them.

To do this takes an ongoing study of theology and being able to identify the needs and concerns to the community or individuals in the community.  Most importantly we can identify and recognize that their is a need of healing in the world today.  The human family has a lot of brokenness and people of faith are to respond accordingly.

Hopefully the Holy Spirit can continue to encourage us to draw deeply from the springs of living waters, and be so inspired so as to seek Christ Jesus in all things.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Francis of Assisi

Saint Francis was born in 1181 in Assisi, Italy.  From a wealthy family, we all know the story of how Francis devoted his life to poverty and humility.  His family and friends had thought he had gone 'mad.'  Francis lead a life centered on caring for the poor, sick and oppressed.  He obtained resources through begging.

We can easily romanticize Francis' life through images and paintings.  Simply the story of his life seems so wonderful, and he himself seemed so very focused in his vocation.  Throughout his life Francis experienced the cross as he felt the rejection and scorn of others.  The work that he chose to do was by no means easy.  But the same cross by which he committed himself to, became a source of strength and courage.

The entrance antiphon gives us an insight into his life, "Francis, a man of God, left his home and gave away his wealth to become poor and in need.  But the Lord cared for him."  After his conversion Francis understood both the transforming power of the cross, and the courage it holds for those who seek Christ.  To be sure Francis was not planning to be a saint, but rather a disciple of Christ who recognized that his life was most full when he lived the counter-cultural way of the cross.

Today when people seek justice and peace because it is the right thing to do, remain in committed relationships and work out their problems, and share with others; we cannot help but notice them.  In a post-modern society where there is not always a lot of depth, Francis shows us how important it is to care for people one person at a time.  St. Francis directed his small band if Friars to "Love in charity and humility."  Even in regards to preaching, he directed this small group to proclaim good news, "Using words if you have to"

Saint Francis is one of our best known saints.  But it is important to remember what he stood for and the challenge he conveys to the Church today.  Hopefully we can develop a Franciscan spirituality.

Monday, October 3, 2011

And who is my neighbor?

Yesterday I had an opportunity to con-celebrate at our Diocesan silver and gold anniversary Liturgy.  Every year our Diocese honors couples who are celebrating a significant wedding anniversary with a Mass and recognition.  The Bishop presides and gives a great homily.  i like going to this Mass because of the sacrament and most importantly being married for a long time is a lot of work.

In these last few years I have run into high school classmates.  Which is weird since they can't possibly be married for 25 years; we just graduated in 1979.  And I have seen my classmates parents.  These are wonderful faith filled people who still have a sense of joy within themselves which permeate into their relationship.  The Holy Spirit is not a theory for them, but an inspiration to mull over the the Paschal Mystery in their daily lives.  And here is my conclusion in all of this, my high school friends who were great people, and are married for a long while today, are so because their parents marriage showed them the way to be.

The other week at one of the grade school Liturgies, I encouraged the sixth grade (a high energy class) to set an example, and bring in food for the food pantry, as we do at our all school Mass.  While promulgated by the teachers, the other classes are doing this now.  Beginning with the Mass, our sacraments and sacred moments seep into our daily lives encouraging us and challenging us to live holy and even prophetic lives.  St. Paul would return to this premise in his letters.  If we receive the Eucharist and hear the Word of God, then our premise of life begins with the mystery of faith which we celebrate.

The Good Samaritan story centers on a man who did a profoundly good act.  But he did not have to contemplate or reflect on its goodness.  There was no one prodding him to help, T.V. cameras around so that he could be a hero.  Somewhere in his moral formation he came to understand that it is a positive action to do good for others.  More so his action was beyond a simple nicety, he put himself out (dying to oneself) for the welfare of another.

When the sacraments are lived out in their entirety, we can experience their live and goodness.  We experience their grace.  But the community benefits too.  The model of faith they provide offers an affirmation of Christ-centered living, and a challenge to move into the realm of God's peace and goodness.  These moments of holiness are not disconnected from our day to day activity.

Jesus' very ministry answers the question of neighborliness.  He heals, forgives, and consoles all he comes in contact with.  Our reception of the sacred mysteries we celebrate invite us to imitate the good works of Jesus, and to be a living model of faith for others.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Church of the Holy Vineyard

Throughout sacred scripture the image of the vineyard is one that is most popular.  To be sure Genesis has us planted and cared for in a garden.  And when Adam and Eve sin, they are cast out of the garden.  More often than not the imagery is that we are the caretakers, stewards if you will, of the vineyard.  Isaiah today sings about his friends vineyard.  It is sort of a song of woe since the tenants did not take good care of the vineyard entrusted to them.

What if Isaiah though wasn't talking about a vineyard some three thousand years ago, but talking about the Church today.  A carefully planned and nurtured vineyard becomes an overgrown plot of land yielding wild sour grapes.  We might be set back on our heels a bit.  As Isaiah speaks about the injustice and bloodshed he observes, in some ways that can be our Church.  When we move over to Matthew's Gospel we can contemplate the number of times we as a Church may have rejected the prophetic voice of the scriptures and tradition for something a lot more comfortable.

Two very important Vatican II documents are often overlooked.  One is on the Church in the Modern World, and the other is the role of the laity in the Church today.  Understanding that we have been give the Church as a gift (everything we have is a gift from the Father) we have an obligation to tend to, and nurture, the work and the mission of the Church.  In the first parish I was at, the church emptied into a very large foyer.  The entire rear of the church was separated from this foyer by glass window.  During mass there were always about sixty of seventy people "attending" mass from behind the window.

In our Church today we seem to have lots of folks who are tending to the Church as if from behind a glass window.  If they step inside they might have to participate or take responsibility.  The Second Vatican Council envisioned a learned clergy and laity, working together, to evangelize, catechize, and promote charity and justice in the communities where the Church existed.  Going to Mass on Sundays was meant to be a springboard for making our faith present in the world today.

Some of my most admired saints are men and women like Francis of Assisi, and Catherine of Sienna. In the midst of crisis they took on the responsibility to work towards conversion and discipleship.  Their lifestyle, teaching and proclamations became a stumbling block for many men and women, even Church leaders.  I remember a parish of long ago whereas the Parish leadership commented that the most important activity of their parish were their two parish dinners.  I guess I was expecting them to say the Mass, or our Lenten program, or adult faith formation.

In this vineyard we realize that God has set us as stewards of the mission of His Son.  Which author commented that we should be wearing seatbelts and helmets at church since we are after all invoking the spirit of God.  The Catholic Church should be a moral and social justice hallmark that others strive to imitate.  In and out of our churches we should be a challenge to the popular culture.  In being the imitators of Christ, busy about the vineyard, we can bring about an abundant harvest for the Lord.