Sunday, December 30, 2012

Feast of the Holy Family

Way back in college, I had taken a Sociology of the Family class.  One of the basic tenets we learned was that cultures throughout the world perceive the family as the fundamental unit of support, and the instrument by which morals, mores, and traditions were passed on.  The family provided stability, and the procreation of children.  Now this is across cultural and economic lines.  This use of the family was in the most advanced western cultures, and in tribal cultures as well.

When John Paul issued his Familiaries Consortio, there were detractors who countered that John Paul was speaking about a family which had no bearing in reality.  What John Paul proposed was that the family was a sacred communion which included a father and mother, and their children.  John Paul detailed the importance of many of the same virtues which St. Paul speaks about in family life, that of patience, understanding, love, kindness, and gentleness.  John Paul encouraged the notion that the family was the domestic Church, with the father as the 'shepherd' of the family unit

What John Paul II proposed was not that much different than the research of many sociologists, over the course of a dozen years or so. The Gospel stories are replete with stories of crisis and chaos within families.  Today's Gospel of Jesus lost in the temple is no exception.  The Church is not naive in believing that all families exist as these loving and joyful entities.  But doing the work of faith, that is nurturing relationships, reconciliation, seeking healing where appropriate, and a family prayer life, lend to the holy life of a family. 

In our post-modern society we do not always recognize the value of a family in our lives.  If it does not lend to immediate gratification, or if it involves too much effort, our society wants no part of it.  As a faith concept, the family encourages a strong self-possession, worth, and values of the human person.  It continues the faith as the parents are the first teachers of the faith.  Further, the procreation of children is good for the communion of the family, and for the larger community as well.

But of course the family has to recognize, and imitate,  the sacramental nature of this union.  The family unit must somehow reveal Christ Jesus, and model the Paschal Mystery.

Mary and Joseph are astonished when they find  Jesus with the elders.  Prayerfully our astonishment can be complete in the holiness of the human family. 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

St. Thomas Becket

Saint Thomas in the latter 12th century, was a civil and canon lawyer, serving King Henry II as both the chancellor, and later the Archbishop of Canterbury.  Thomas and Henry were in conflict over the rights and obligations of the Church, and the King's authority over Church matters.  For a while Thomas was exiled to France.  Shortly after his return to England, he was murdered in the sanctuary of Canterbury by loyalists to the King.

Within this past year we have been speaking quite a bit about religious liberty and freedom.  Now some will assume that this has to do with the abortion issue and nothing more.  The ramifications of recent Federal actions are much broader than this.  It assumes authority over the faith and moral life of the Church.  More so, it asks the faithful to be in conflict with their faith stance.  This is indeed a dangerous and slippery slope.

Our Constitution, and natural law, prohibits the government from creating a state religion.  Further, it guarantees the free exercise of one's religion.  Some may misunderstand this part of the Constitution as to mean we cannot have prayer in schools or put up crosses on public property.  The interference that is alluded to is that persons cannot be required to follow legislation which contradicts their fundamental moral stance.  This has been an ongoing problem for centuries, across the globe.

For catholics this scenario means that we need to have a firm and multifaceted understanding of what we believe and why.  I have often said that it is amusing at Baptism, when I ask the couple 'what they ask of God's Church,' and they respond that they merely want their baby blessed.  While catholics do not have to have the background of Augustine or Rahner, they should know that we teach and preach about the dignity of life, the preferential option for the poor, an understanding of the sacraments and the sacred scriptures.

The folks that we have heard about over these last few weeks have contemplated and reflected upon the wonders of God's mystery.  They participate in the 'Christmas Story' because they have an understanding of God and God-ness in the world today.  Failure to do this relegates to doing some ritual actions because they feel good.

Our faith is about a relationship with God and others.  Our faith and faithfulness calls us to respond to God's love through conversion and discipleship.  Hopefully we can stand with the Marys, Josephs, and Thomas Beckets of the world, and give our unconditional yes.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

John - Apostle and Evangelist

We are told that John was the favorite of the the apostles, for the Lord.  John, Peter, and James make up this small group which the Lord takes with him in various situations of healing, expelling demons, the Transfiguration, and at the garden of Gethsemane.  There is an intimacy and closeness that John has with Jesus.  Artists will portray John as quite young, so perhaps it is this child-like status that John has which endears him to the Lord.

At the Cross John keeps vigil with Mary, and the other women, as Jesus slowly dies.  And it is John, who with Peter, explore the tomb on the first Easter Day.  So John does not only have this close experience  of the ministry of Jesus, as powerful as that is, but this very deep and personal experience of the Paschal Mystery as well.  So when John proclaims and preachings, he is doing so from a well formed foundation which is firmly rooted in the divine mandate to preach to all peoples.

Perhaps we do not make as much about Baptism and Confirmation as we should that is the place where we begin to hear the voice of Christ Jesus, and follow in the ways of Jesus.  As the Baptist reminded us prior to the feast of the Incarnation, our journey of faith should be one of conversion and discipleship.  More so, as John's ministry reminds us, being brought into a relationship with Jesus Christ obligates us to tell others about what we have heard and seen.

On Christmas Eve day, I answered one of the myriads of phone calls we receive at the rectory, for the times of the Mass.  One gentleman seemed intrigued by the prospect of a 4:00 Mass, but asked whether it was going to be one of those "Long drawn out masses," since his family had places to go and things to do.  I did not say so, but perhaps it would be better not to go to Mass with that understanding and level of belief.

Several of the documents of Vatican II reflect on having a full and active participation in life of the Church.  Sometimes I think we want Church 'done to us' rather than going out and doing Church.  Or even we want to re-work the Mass so that it is 'special' for us, rather than coming to the understaning of what we are doing is about salvation, and our participation in the community. 

This feast of St. John the Apostle asks us to lok at our own intimacy with Jesus Christ.  Do we allow Jesus to form and re-form our being, or is he simply like a facebook friend.  As I was looking at some parish catechesis for the Year of Faith this year, I considered how exciting it would be if everyone took some time to examine their baptismal role in the Church, and in the world.  It would be kinda cool if after we did a renewal of Baptismal Promises, folks left Church remembering something more than Father sprinkled water on us.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

God so loved the world

May this be a holy and most blessed Christmas for everyone, and truly a year of faith for the world.

Today we celebrate Emmanuel, a name which means, 'God is with us.'  The scriptures are replete with men and women who are disturbed by this Good News.  Herod who first hears about the child born in Bethlehem, and Pilate, who is intrigued by Jesus, but not enough to seek the truth.  But throughout the centuries this child born in our midst has inspired countless men and women to faith.  Some have 'St' before their names, others would not allow Sin and Evil to dissuade them from doing what is right or good.

Even the 'Advent people' like Mary, Zechariah, Elizabeth, and Joseph, had their lives changed forever as they said 'Yes' to God.  When we place ourselves in God's hands we simply walk by faith that God is with us.  Such an action, a belief if you will, is more like an ongoing profession of faith.  Our faithfulness is not so much about who we are, but about the greatness of God the Father.  God's great desire is to bring salvation and peace to the whole world.

Especially in Matthew's Gospel the God whose birth we celebrate is named Emmanuel, God is with us. In the midst of darkness, and the yuck and gunk which seems so prevalent  in our world today, God continues to be born into our time and place.  The entire point of the Incarnation is that God continues to be faithful from the beginning of time. This great mystery which we celebrate asks us to respond to such great love by faith-filled lives.

God so loves the world that he jumps into human history, in human flesh.  By becoming more like us God invites us to become like him in holiness.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Come Lord Jesus

Mary and Elizabeth are both visited by the mystery of God, and through their 'Yes' to God the Father, directly participate in the saving plan of God.  Mary goes to Elizabeth's house to offer support; but they also theologize their experience.  Elizabeth, overwhelmed by these events, asks "How does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  Mary's response is to offer praise and worship to God the Father for everything that God continues to do in the world.  Together they reflect upon these events.

Years ago our Diocese had a catholic study program called, Renew.  Many people were afraid to participate, but the ones who did found it uncomfortable at first to take leadership roles.  The common protest was that they were not theologians.  But we were not looking for the likes of Augustine or Rahner, rather men and women who would discuss their 'God experiences.'

Maybe because we have seen Mary and Elizabeth depicted in art countless times, we continue to look at the persons from sacred scripture as innately holy, with all knowledge and wisdom.  No these were very human folks, close to God to be sure, who were afraid, confused, and even anxious.  But the one thing that they did have, and that was faith, and a life of faithfulness.  We are told that Mary reflects upon all of these things in her heart.  The 'Yes' given by Mary and Elizabeth comes out of their knowledge and love of God the Father, in addition to their trust in God's unending kindness.

In both the Canticles of Mary and Zechariah, we see a litany of the works of God.  In the past God has done awesome things, so in all probability God will continue to do good things for his people.  Because of their understanding of God's ongoing faithfulness, and the covenant that God has bestowed upon us, Mary, Elizabeth, Zechariah, Joseph, and countless others through the centuries, have said 'Yes' to God, and taken on a life of faithful discipleship.

The Second Vatican Council implored all faithful people to reflect on God's presence in our lives.  Mary and Elizabeth begin one of the first faith sharing groups!  In faith we gather together to contemplate God's action in our lives, to offer support and comfort, and to reflect more carefully on God's plan of salvation.  We might also be able to see and recognize that nothing is impossible for God.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Culture of Death - Promise of Light

Back in 1993, after the World Youth Day, in Denver, Co, John Paul II denounced what he recognized as a 'culture of death,' primarily in the western world.  Abortion, euthanasia, violence, and the deterioration of the family, desecrated the dignity and integrity of humanity.  The shooting in Newtown, CT last week emphasized how far we have gone in violent reactions, and the inability to protect innocent life, as well as quell violence.

There were some statistics some years ago that reported a child will have witnessed a large amount of violent acts against others be the time he or she was 18 years old.  I had read in a very conservative magazine some years ago, that a noticeable trend in T.V. sitcoms, was to portray the parents as inept, and ineffectual, and the kids having a grasp on the real needs, concerns - and solutions - to the problems that were presented.  And what is the number of homicides in Chicago so far this week?  So while many were quite upset with John Paul II description of our culture as a culture of death, the proof is in the commonality of violence and disrespect for human life.

To be sure there is a necessity of evangelization and the development of a moral foundation.  The answer is not as simple as bringing prayer into the public forum.  In our post modern culture we have all but abandoned the notion of a natural law.  The very early Greeks, and even in primitive cultures, certain action, behaviours, and activity, was deemed as inappropriate, and namely wrong.  A natural law challenges us to look at the integrity and value of the human person.

In this season of Advent and Christmas, we celebrate the promise of God through the mystery of the Incarnation.  God blesses once again all of creation as he enters our lives in a moment of time.  This entire action is part of the greater plan of salvation.  The words of the Prophets are most important during this time as they invite humanity to disconnect with Sin and Evil, and begin habits which are good and life-giving.  The fulfillment of our life is found in discovering and following the 'Good News.'

A culture of life respects human life from conception until natural death, despises violence and oppression, and seeks respect and dignity for all people.  Certainly it is naive to believe that there are easy answers for the violence and hate we see around us.  But this celebration of peace and good will is both a comfort and a challenge to us, to transform our ways and live with the Word of God.  "A people who has walked in darkness has seen a great light."

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Be it Done According to your Will



In the Documents, Stewardship: A Disciples Response, and Called and Gifted, the U.S. Catholic Bishops challenged the laity, and all men and women of faith, to be responsible for the faith that they would profess.  Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary and Joseph, only slightly understand the responsibility in which they are undertaking as they say "Yes" to God the Father.  This is not merely a matter of being surrogate parents to this very special child, but their own lives would be changed and transformed forever because of their faith-filled response. 

I am reminded way too often that men and women do not fully understand the task in which they are understanding when they say "yes" to baptizing their children or bringing them forward for confirmation. In some ways we are beset by a "playschool" mentality of faith and religion.  We endeavor to receive the sacraments, and we pray the prescribed prayers, yet we do not engage in a process of conversion and discipleship.  We might think that our belief in God will be enough to carry us through the pains, sorrows, and most importantly the challenges of our adult faith life.  We proclaim our belief in the middle of a time of rainbows and kittens, yet when some challenge or problem comes about, we question God, our faith, and the Church. 

The aforementioned documents want us to live faithfully, responding to the needs of faith and fellowship.  We have to respond to the need to catechize and evangelize, to offer compassion, reconciliation, and peace to one another.  Our "Yes" to the gospel means that we stand for truth and seek justice along the pathway of life.  But again, such a commitment is about our whole persona, and comes with a sacrifice. 

Mary's who is the model of the perfect disciple invites us to recognize God wherever we are.  As we see our children, the poor, an the anawim, we call to mind that God cares for us and loves us very deeply.  God is the God of the covenant and of the promise of the future.

Today as we begin to look at the candidate for the God things which God has given, we pause to consider God's gifts, and how we might share these with the community.  Mary proclaims Good News to the poor.  With such mercy and faith we can place before the faith community all that we have seen and heard.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

A light in the midst of darkness

Whenever I read the prophets from this time of year, I am acutely aware that these holy men are writing to a people coming back from exile.  One of my first thoughts is that the people in the pew cannot comprehend 'exile.'  But considering the school shooting on Friday, we do hurt together these last few days.  We feel empty and pained as we grieve with the families hundreds of miles away.  The horror of the death of twenty some children hurts to the core of our being.

The example of John the Baptist, who preaches about light in the midst of darkness, is most appropriate for this weekend.  People who are searching for meaning, purpose, and conversion, ask John, "What should we do?"  John's answers are very common sense; but we do not always align ourselves with sensibility.  We are to treat each other with respect, reverence the dignity of each other, do not be greedy, and seek that which is true and right.

The role of the prophet is to point out the Sin and sinfulness of a people.  The prophets call evil by its true name, and do not try to sugar-coat the life within he covenant.  The prophets will tell us that we are responsible for our faith and for each other.  We stand up against evil, and seek healing and reconciliation for the broken and lost.  Prophets are not always well loved, but are a valuable part of our culture and Church.

Sadly we begin to think that violence is inevitable and a normal part of the human condition.  So we become numb to the hurt and pain  that we observe on a daily basis.  But what if we began looking for ways to reconcile, pointing out those who are in need of healing or comfort, looking after the lonely and anxious, and offering a blessing rather than a curse.  Think about the vile and vicious political ads this past elect season.  The politicians owe each of us a quarter and need to say three good things about their opponents. 

But somewhere we need to, like John the Baptist, own that role of 'prophet' in our own time and in our own place.  In the midst of the darkness that is around us, we proclaim holiness and peace in our words and deeds.  Just as John points to the Saviour of the world, we have to recognize the human dignity that is ours as children of the light.  Today we call people to joy because we are not afraid of the darkness. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Mary, Our Lady of Guadelupe

The story associated with Our Lady of Guadalupe is familiar for most catholics, especially over the last 20 years.  Juan Diego, like so many of the Advent people we have heard, and will hear about, becomes an instrument in this mysterious event.  Mary's message here reminds us that we have a God who wants to join with us humans.  God sees and knows our goodness, despite we are often greedy, lost, and hurtful.  In our fragile nature God finds a home and a prophet in the Blessed Virgin Mary.
 
Mary is a real person, a model of faith, who had made the choice to join herself to God and to become part of God's plan of salvation.  She praises God who lifts up the lowly and fills the hungry with good things.  While many might be halted by fear and doubt, Mary responds positively to the initiative of God in our lives.
 
Mary's message at this feast is to believe and trust in God.  Even when we are broken and it seems that we are overwhelmed by exterior forces, God's saving actions continue to grace us and lift us up.  In spite of our faults and divisions God shows us a vision of who we really are and what we might become.  Mary, in her motherly love, draws us close to God and recalls for us the covenant made with us from the beginning of time.
 
When John Paul visited the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, back in December of 1999, he cajoled men and women to awaken their consciences as a people of God and to respond to the worlds problems as children of the light.  For John Paul there continues in our time an urgency to respond in faith to the needs and concerns in our midst.  Torture, oppression, violence, and abuse have become so common as to almost not be noticed anymore.
 
Our prayer today is that inspired by Our Lady of Guadalupe, all areas of life, whether it be social, professional, or cultural, might be informed by the immense love which God has for us.  In a very particular way we are to see the needs and concerns of the poor and the anawim.  To Mary of Guadalupe we pray to one who belongs all love, honor, glory and endless praise.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Prepare the Way of the Lord

John the Baptist is a tenacious and fiery man.  From the Gospel we recognize that he is not afraid to challenge the powers that be, so as to proclaim the message of the Gospel.  The Word of God is acting through him.  John helps us understand that the faith we profess is not an invitation to be 'nice' to each other, but a challenge of Metanoia.  That is, turning around; conversion of our whole selves.  Not only is his lifestyle radical, but his message is as well. 

There is a story that I am using for my homily this morning, and it occurs at a Benedictine monastery.  The story goes that the community commissioned a statue of St. John the Baptist for the monastic church.  When it arrived, several of the monks were concerned that the figure looked gaunt, and very stern.  The story continues that the Abbot challenged that the figure was disturbing because it recalled for the monks how they had moved away from their ideals and commitments.  And the real live John the Baptist does exactly that; calling us back to our initial 'Yes' that we uttered (or was uttered for us) at Baptism and Confirmation.

While Advent is not a penitential time as is Lent, it is a period for us to examine our connection to the mysteries that we celebrate.   At the very first parish I was assigned to, we had a large storage area in the basement of the church.  In the liturgy area the shelving was organized according to seasons.  I had always found that amusing in that seasons of our liturgical celebration could be reduced to a series of boxes against a wall.  I am afraid though we do the same with our spiritual lives.  We do "Advent" things but do not really mean it.

When I was in high school work I remember how difficult it was to preach at the parish I helped out at.  Truly I could speak about the teens, and the difficulties therein, but I didn't know about the lives of the people who were in he pews. The Vatican II Dogmatic Constitution of the Church in the Modern world, challenged the Church to be in communion with the world it served.  For Church to call for conversion and discipleship, it also had to go through conversion and discipleship.  The call to change our lives is the beginning of changing the world around us.

Today is about Metanoia and transformation.  We are called and chosen to be sure, but need to reflect that by becoming one with the mystery which we celebrate.  

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Immaculate Conception

The image of Mary from Luke's Gospel is quite different than the Immaculate Mary we see in classical art.  The Mary of the Gospel is troubled by the Angel's greeting, and wants to clarify what exactly is going on.  Yet her faith is strong and she offers an affirmative response giving her whole self over to God.


An image that we take away from this Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is that Mary ponders the Word of God.  Later in Luke's Gospel Mary praises God for the wonderful acts of healing and forgiveness that are so very much like God.  It is God who lifts up the lowly and feeds the hungry with good things.  Now Mary becomes part of the story of salvation.

Sometimes we can make Jesus a fast food item, catching him when we get a chance, or are really in a jam.  And yet this is what the prophets preached about so often.  A people who would settle for simple fixes or easy solutions, rather than transforming ones life and maintaining with God over the long journey.  Mary has been prepared from her birth to be the Theotokos, or God carrier.  Yet the question is still asked of her as to whether or not she would take on this special role.

Even in our holy lives we are asked again and again to make a commitment to God with our whole persona.  It is a life-time of taking responsibility for the faith which we profess.  With Mary as our model we need to develop the habit of pondering the workings of God, and God's plan of salvation.  While we might not be called to participate in the sacred mysteries we celebrate to the extent in which Mary is, we are none the less called to nurture and nourish our faith so as to build up the Kingdom.

Mary rejoices in the possibilities of God within her.  In our Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist, we are asked to make a living profession of faith on a daily basis.  This is so that the good things begun in us may be brought to completion.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

On our way to Christmas

I wonder if the prophets ever stated, or even wrote, "If I told you once, I told you a thousand times, Repent."  But it had taken the prophets many times, as well as the holy men and women of ancient times to get people to turn their lives around.  And when they did, it seemed to only last for a short duration.  Of course sometimes true transformation occurs after life hits people across the face.  I have known parents, young people, and parents of young people, to approach me many years later, apologizing that they had not listened to words of advice and early warnings.

At this time of year we talk a lot about peace and good will.  People seem to think about children more so during this time of year.  But the challenge is to develop a lifestyle which respects the dignity of all people throughout the year, especially children and the child-like.  Justice cannot simply be about Christmas but has to prevail in the midst of all men and women through the year.  Our preparation should be as to how we might be a people of God.

Every year we hear the same stories and listen o the same prayers; yet are not ready for that great moment of metanoia.  To be sure I get sort of sappy about some of the stories I read and hear.  I remember being so impressed with my freshman high school English teacher, who was really studying to be a midwife.  I was greatly moved by a priest who lived in the southwest side of Rockford, ministering to the prostitutes and other assembly of persons in the downtown area.  These and so many others lived the gospel.

Being prophetic maybe means to keep saying the same thing over and over again - but maybe that is not a bad thing.  Christmas is a day of joy, but a challenge to risk everything so as to find the reality of the Incarnation.  Christ becoming flesh certainly blesses our humanity, and asks what we are doing to prepare for Him.

In a way we are always celebrating this season of peace and good will.  We should always be seeking to offer one another tidings of gladness.  The manger is in all of our homes and can never be put away.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Stand straight and raise your hands

The passage from Luke's Gospel today would make a wonderful end of the world disaster movie.  Yet the premise is not made for Hollywood but for our edification.  Like the disciples we can become so enamored with the here and now that we forget about the Kingdom of God.  The prospects of the coming of the Kingdom do not have to be frightful.  But as bot Luke and Paul state today we ought to be vigilant. 

To be sure patient waiting is not sitting on our hands, or looking off into the distance, but participating n the work of the Kingdom.  The Gospels again and again contain stories of the necessity of of being found busy when the master of the household returns.  We are stewards of all we have received and are responsible for our faith.

Way back in the 80s the U.S. Bishops composed a document as a response to the Apostolate of the Laity.  The Bishops entitled the text, Called and Gifted.   Using the same starting point as Lumen Gencium, the Bishops reiterated that the 'call to holiness' included the laity as well within the Church.  Not only is the life of the catholic based on certain moral precepts, but catholics are to participate in works of charity, compassion, justice and peace.  Catholics do no stand along side of the world but are actively involved so as to be a stumbling block to the culture in which we live.

Just as the U.S. Bishops called peoples to community, ministry, study, and service, St. Paul states today that we need to be acutely aware of the Sin and Evil that pervades our culture, and stand up against it's vulgarity.  I recall a young freshman student who inquired why the Church couldn't believe like everyone else.  Well the answer is because we are the Church, and we belong to something much greater than we see around us.

We cannot allow fear from dissuading us from pronouncing our faith.  We have to be holy as our Father in heaven is holy.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Talk About Faith

A book that is on my reading list is written by a young man, James Haws, entitled, From Willow to Sacred Heart.  As a young man James Haws left Catholicism and began attending the Willow Creek Christian Church, near Arlington Heights, Illinois.  Now many have heard of this place.  Willow Creek is one of several Mega-churches that has a spectacular Sunday worship, and large offerings of educational and support services for its members.  Just the mention of Willow Creek tended to send shivers down the spines of many a catholic pastor.
Anyhow Haws tells about his experience in this book of moving away from the Catholic Church, and back again.  This is not an uncommon experience of many of the catholics who leave the Church.  As they move out of young adulthood, begin to raise a family, or begin to become established in life, many will return to the Church.  In his text Haws observes some similarities in ritual and the importance of tradition.  There are 'rules' that the members follow, as there are expectations of those who are members of the Church.
 
Some of the overlapping themes are that of community, preaching the Gospel, and pastoral care.  What Haws seemed to discover is the importance that is put on others bringing Jesus to you.  There is no such thing as a spiritual lone ranger in the Catholic Church, or at Willow Creek.
 
This year at Kairos I was able to really watch the young people much closer than usual.  What astounds and attracts our young people to this experience is that it might be the first time that they have experienced faith, ministry, and real life conversion stories.  What is more is that the conversion has occurred in the midst of their peers.  Other young people are telling them that they had been confused, anxious, hurt, and even making bad decisions; and by faith in Jesus Christ they found fulfillment in their lives.
 
As catholic we do not do that enough.  We might be quick to complain about the music, a building project, the way the pastor parts his hair, but do not witness to the power of grace or blessings in our life.  This would seem unreal since our Church was founded on the proclamation of the apostles.
 
Willow Creek should not scare us.  But when we look at the upper shelf faith experiences, such as CHRP or Kairos, we should ask whether we ask how well we proclaim and bear witness to our faith.  More so, it is our responsibility in faith to take responsibility for what we have received and what we profess.  When we show Christ to others as part of our daily routine, less and less of the faithful will be inclined to look at other places to worship. 
 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Non-negotiables

In Seminary our Rector would begin every school year with the non-negotiable talk.  One of the non-negotiables was that seminarians were not to date.  Seemed obvious enough, but there must have been a reason to mention it.  The thought was, to be sure, that if we were preparing for a specific lifestyle of service and commitment, we had to begin to embrace that lifestyle.  It was not enough to study and pray, we needed to be as priests.

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King.  The mission and ministry of Jesus was always directed towards a particular end, namely the salvation of all men and women through the paschal sacrifice.  In Mark's Gospel when Peter attempts to dissuade Jesus from going to Jerusalem, Jesus refers to him as a 'Satan.'  He accuses Peter of not understanding the Mission.

In John's Gospel, after the feeding of the 5,000, as people followed Jesus, he challenged that they were doing so only because they had been fed, and cautioned them not to be swayed in one direction or another, simply for bread to eat.  Of course after Jesus describes himself as the Bread of Life, some folks still wanted to leave him.

Also in John's Gospel Jesus reminds his followers that what he teaches and does is not about him, but rather it is about the Father in heaven.  As a good shepherd Jesus desires to gather all men and women, especially the lost and forsaken, and present them to the Father in heaven.  And as a shepherd he demonstrates that a good leader is a good servant who washes feet and dies for others, that there might be salvation and peace.

In today's Gospel reading from 18 John, Jesus does not distance himself from his mission of proclaiming the truth.  While Pilate is experiencing inner turmoil as to what course to take, Jesus does not waiver in his determination to live fully as the suffer-servant.  This is a non-negotiable for Jesus.  More so, while Jesus is bound and injured, it is really he that has power and authority.

So today we celebrate the Kingship of the Christ, who comes into our lives as one like us, and teaches us how to live more like him.  He leaves us a set of non-negotiables that leads to life with the King of the universe in heaven.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving and memory




At some point in time I will ask my junior high children what 'Eucharist' means.  Some will answer 'communion, or 'Mass,' but I will continue to push.  Eventually I will let them in on the secret, that 'Eucharist' means Thanksgiving.  The prayers at Mass point to the gifts that God has bestowed upon us, and the salvation that is freely given to us through the Paschal Mystery which we celebrate.

Just like in real life, the ability to say 'thank-you' draws us into a deeper relationship with the one we are thanking.  Whether we consider the gift of sweat socks, or the time spent with us in our sickness, our thanksgiving causes us to consider the giver, and the love that is conveyed by the gifts we receive. 

The pastoral letter, "Stewardship: A Disciples Response," invites us to receive God's gifts gratefully, to nurture and nourish them, to share them with love and charity, and to return them to the Lord with increase.  Our taking responsibility of our faith in this way continues to build up the kingdom.

Today we can welcome people at our door by proclaiming "Blessed be God forever" as we consider the people and gifts that have grace our lives.  We give thanks to God for all things.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Commitment to Witness

I had found on the the USCCB website a selection of African saints.  We do not always think about Africa as being the beginning of much, but our civilization, math and sciences, and much of our theology and spirituality has it beginnings in Africa.  It is notable to consider that after sending missionaries to Africa for many years, today we are receiving African priests to fill our ranks of priesthood in the western Church.

The site mentions Anthony the Great, who lived in the Patristic period of Christianity, who is known as the Patriarch of Monks.  He lived an austere life, spending much of his days in prayer and fasting.  We then have Antonio Viera, an African born in Portugal in the 17th century.  He joined the Jesuits, went to Brazil where he defended the Jewish merchants who face discrimination and hostility, and worked to end slavery.  Of course we cannot forget Augustine of Hippo, who lived during the fourth century, and is known for his conversion to Christianity.  Perhaps because of this experience, his theology of Sin and conversion has influenced much of our present theology and teachings in our Church.

In this Year of Faith it is good to reflect upon many of the relatively unknown men and women who embraced the words and life of Jesus Christ, and nurtured and nourished, not only their own faith, but many who came to believe because of them.  Consider Africa, which we might want to think was converted by European missionaries in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  Their culture and these faith-filled men and women continued to develop the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ.  No doubt the emphasis on the cross, and salvation through the sufferings of the cross, provided great inspiration, courage and strength.

We want to pray for the countless unknown men and women who continue to share the gospel, and live out it's truths.  These are really people of Good News.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Your Faith Has Saved You

I like the 10 lepers story.  Luke presents these men outside of a village who implore Jesus, the Son of David, to have pity on them.  Jesus who is on his way to Jerusalem, tells the men to present themselves to the priests.  On the way they are cured.  On of them realizing what has happened, returns to Jesus, giving praise and thanks to God.

Of course the important element here is that the one has realized, or maybe better yet, has been able to piece together what is happening, and gives thanks to God for his saving activity in the world.  Namely the Incarnation and the forth-coming passion, death, and resurrection.  This man's thankful response is a model of our own call to praise and thank God for the gifts we have received.  When we are thankful we begin to consider the love of the giver of the gift.  We contemplate the generosity and the selflessness that has been directed towards us.  In doing so we are hopefully transformed and even changed.

In 1980 the U.S. Catholic Bishops put together a letter entitled, Called and Gifted: The American Catholic Laity.  It was done as a response to the Vatican document concerning the laity in the Church.  The crux of the letter is the importance of taking responsibility for the faith we profess.  We are proclaimers of the Gospel, evangelizers, faith leaders, and are accountable for the gifts we have received.  In a spirit of thanksgiving we receive God's gifts gratefully, cherish and nourish those gifts, share God's gifts justly and with charity, and return them with increase to the Lord. 

Being thankful stewards is what we do after we say, "I Believe."  We have every indication that the Samaritan begins a new journey following Jesus on the way to Jerusalem.  Now this man recognizes that his faith has healed him.

Monday, November 12, 2012

All in God's Time

This weekend we had our Kairos retreat for our high schoolers.  We had fourteen candidates and eleven teen leaders.  The opening talk at this program invites the young people to consider the purpose for doing this weekend at all.  More than half of the candidates are usually sent by mom and dad, as part of their confirmation requirement.  Then there are a few who come because siblings or friends had had a good experience on Kairos in previous years.  And then there are two or three who have a spiritual life, yes at that age, and want to go on a retreat

Today is the day after and I keep replaying the tapes of the Kairos, and the wonderful teens I was with.  I am again reminded of the importance of evangelization in our Church.  Somehow we need to move out of the mode of sacraments being these magical moments of which we jump from one sacrament to another.  An underlying question that is on many of the young'ins minds is, what difference does any of these actions make.  They grow up in a church that celebrates these rituals, yet seems unmotivated to address Sin, poverty, violence, and hatred.  Hopefully the spirit kindled in these young people will bring about true conversion and discipleship in the Church.

Also I am reminded of John Paul II great love for young people.  Even in his elderly age he continued to attend the World Youth Days.  He enjoyed teaching, preaching, and speaking  with the young people of the Church.  John Paul II envisioned, and rightly so, young people as members of our Church today.  The teen leaders this weekend did an awesome job of putting things together, listening, and engaging the candidates.  More so they knew when to ask questions, and when to consult.  They did a good job.  But these are young people ministering in our Church.

It is so very important to go to the Holy Spirit for guidance, strength, and courage, so as to enable our Church to really do the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ.  Personally I want a bouncy, joyful, active Church, today.  But it is all in God's time.

Friday, November 9, 2012

But The Wise Shall Shine Brightly

This is my bulletin article for the 18th of November
 

                  The apocalyptic signs that are presented to us today are a reminder that we need to remain vigilant in our fight against Sin and Evil.  It seems that when we hear about approaching catastrophes and calamities, we begin to reflect on our lives, and even promise to do better.  But this lasts only for a time and then we are on to our next crisis.  But Jesus warns that we must be aware of the signs that are around us, and be willing to make real change and transformation in our lives.

                Just as a test, ask your family and friends what they are doing for the Year of Faith, or how they are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Vatican II.  We are encouraged to watch and to live the sacredness of our lives.  In a few weeks we will have a group of second graders receiving the sacrament of Reconciliation.  It would be sad if the very next time they receive that sacrament is when they are preparing for Confirmation as  High School students.  Or how is it that catholic young people, well beyond the changes in the sacrament of anointing, still ask for "last rites?"

                My great-grandmother came to the U.S. with her family, and a dozen or so relatives,  around 1920.   They had fled the aftermath of the Russian revolution.  They went from New York, to Chicago, and settled in Rockford.  We would hear bits and pieces of the journey they took which was pain filled and fraught with unknowns.  When we went to her house, especially in the summers, Grandma Soroka would sit in her rocking chair praying the entire rosary.  I have to think this is what gave her peace throughout her life - a life of prayer and reflection.

                It is hard to be prepared for the anxieties and concerns of life if we do not have a relationship with Christ Jesus.  More so if our understanding of our faith is one-dimensional, or we do not know or understand, what and why our faith teaches as it does, all the more difficult it is to articulate what we believe in, or to make those moral decisions which intrude upon our lives.  Be assured we will have to make decisions about finances, health, sexuality, commitments, and faithfulness.

                Sin and Evil, which are very real, are the de-creation of our relationship with God and with others.  If God is only a special compartment of our life, a distant uncle who, we go to in need, then we stand like the naked trees of winter, cold and shivering, waiting for the sky to fall.  But if we can begin to realize  that God is always at work around, that we too take an active role in our faith lives, as God labors to bring us into harmony within and around us.  Of course the important reality is whether or not we believe that we belong to God, by God's creation for us from the beginning and leading up to our final ending. 

                God is always ready to make something more of us than we can make of ourselves.  Living with God forever means that we receive and imitate the life of Jesus today.  Our worship is in spirit and in truth as we maintain a life of ongoing transformation and conversion.  Like Jesus we strive to be lifted up out of Sin and Evil, and hold onto the promises of a loving merciful God.  So that our light might shine brightly for all of the world to see.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Luke 18:8

In a sort apocalyptic statement, Luke asks the question as to whether there will be faith n earth when the Son of Man comes.  During this Year of Faith, this is a very real question for the Church, and of course for myself as a pastor.  Many eons ago I had read a story of a man who had come into a native village during a religious ceremony.  The man reported that the natives went through various motions, but it was evident to him that the participants did not believe in what they were doing.

I am sometimes afraid that we are there now.  When I consider the number of babies that we have baptized over this past year, we should have crying and fussy children at every Mass.  Or even how can you prepare for a sacrament like the Eucharist or Confirmation, and not go to Church?  We still have couples who call the office for the sacrament of marriage, and want to know whether they can 'reserve' the church for their wedding.  It is bothersome that we have catholics who see the sacraments as an amulet or spiritual trinket.  The Gospels really do call for an ongoing conversion and discipleship, and yet we have many catholics who believe that a good catholic is 'nice' to everyone and does not commit homicide.

While some might blame the Vatican II for many of our problems, that becomes an easy target and a good excuse.  The Vatican documents all call people to a full and active participation of faith and living their religion fully and boldly.  Our post-modern society looks less at the community and communal morals and values, than it does on the individual and the personal wants and concerns.  So we are one, as long as each one can do what they want.

The solution is not programs but a relationship with God.  Again and again we have to look at our initiation sacraments as the foundation of our belief.  We have to be serious and ask what the profession of faith means to me.  If it is just an action I have to do to get water, oil, or bread - then do not do it.  But if it really means something, then we have to integrate that into a lifestyle lived.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Sing With All of the Saints in Glory

Father Robert Barron remarks:
Christianity is above all, a way of seeing.  Everything else in Christian life flows from and circles around the transformation of vision.  Christians see things differently, and that is why their prayer, their worship, their action, their whole way of being in the world, has a distinctive accent and flavor."

The holy men and women that we celebrate today have broken out of the world.  Theirs is a vision in which mourning, being meek, being a peacemaker, and seeking justice and peace, are more important than looking for, and striving for, wealth, prestige, and authority.  St.Thomas Aquinas says that the ultimate goal of the Christan is the Beatific Vision.'  It is this goal which keeps thing in perspective for us.  Holiness is achieved by ordinary people seeking the holy, true, and right, in our world today.  More so it is the ability to do good things simply because they are good to do.  In a very real way we end up taking responsibility for our profession of faith.

Rabbi Harold Kushner, in his book, "Who Needs God," speaks about religion as a different way of looking at the world.  Looking at the saints we can understand that more often than not they were making a faith response to a problem, crisis, difficulty, or even an opportunity.  They were not looking for an opening in which to make a name for themselves, but sought Godliness and holiness in the lives of people around them.  In the midst of difficulties they proclaimed truth and justice, and desired to lift up others from their lowliness.  Saints are those who see with the eyes of Christ and act on what they see.

Last week I was listening to some older priests, who had heard stories from old priests in their day, who had known one of the recently canonized U.S. saints.  The stories are that this woman was a feisty, fiery, older Italian woman, who stood her ground, and got things done.  She was not a sweet, pious, wallflower.  In her very human ways she continued to unfold the Kingdom of God.

The wonderful thing about this feast is in it delights in the knowledge that God works with broken instruments, cracked clay vessels if you will, and continues to sanctify the world.  In one way or another we are all called to be saints, sharing our life for what is right, rue and just.  So that in God all things be the glory.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Happy Anniversary Vatican II

Origins this week has an address given by Cardinal William J. LaVada, Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, presented at Catholic University, in Washington.  Bishop LaVada begins his address as referring to Vatican II as a great grace bestowed upon the Church.  The four constitutions, on the Sacred Liturgy, On the Church, on Divine Revelation, and on the Church in the Modern world, while not exclusively teaching documents, offered the Church new insights and provided for pastoral direction.

We really miss the the core of the Council if all that we know is that  the Mass is in English, and not Latin, and that the priest now faces the people.  The Council, as the Bishop pointed out, was to be led by a Spirit of reform for the whole Church.  Unfortunately some began to change things, or go in their own direction, before the ink on the documents was dry.  But look at what was happening both in the world and in the Church in the middle part of the 20th century.  We had had two world wars and were undergoing a social transformation (yes, even in the fifties) and the Church itself was becoming more active in social justice causes.

John XXIII exhortation to 'open the windows' was most appropriate for our Church, and the mission of the Church.  One of the elements that Vatican II has called for which has not really happened is an ongoing catechesis and faith formation of the laity.  There was a priest who spoken with our presbyterate some time ago, and stated that our Church cannot go back.

The Gospel for this weekend reminds us so powerfully the importance of proclaiming Good News.  It is hard to hear but we have a responsibility of making the Kingdom of God known.  For some reason there has been a lot of resistance to Vatican II.  Perhaps it is confusion, or maybe fear.  But we have to continue to nurture and nourish the Church - it is all that we have in our relationship with God.  The Church is to be the light of the world and salt of the earth.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Cup and Baptism



The Gospel today is sort of funny.  One could almost imagine James and John approaching Jesus while the other apostles are just out of earshot.  And in a childish, not child-like, manner they ask for the places of glory in the Kingdom of God.  Suddenly there is all sorts of consternation and contention as the other apostles realize what is happening.

Again Jesus has to unfold the prerequisite of the Kingdom as well as Discipleship.  Following Jesus is not like giving up candy for Lent, or watching ones little sibling for an hour.  It is a lifestyle that connects with God's love and kindness, coming to know the fullness of truth, by imitating the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ.  Even in difficult times Jesus brought the message of Good News to wherever he entered.  By taking on his life in our encounters with others, people should know "That a prophet has been in their midst."

I suspect that when we talk about taking up the cross, or living a Christ-centered life, folks comprehend this to be a monastic-like existence in which many a glum hours are spent in prayer and contemplation.  The reality is that those who take the challenge of Christ seriously live in the world, but with a perspective which is founded upon God's love and mercy.  Human dignity, respect, justice, and peace, are the lens in which they view others, and the means by which they respond to the world around them.  Those who take up the cup of salvation, and embrace the baptism of the cross, challenge their own lives, and of those around them, to a higher level.

Serving the needs of those around them is a natural expression of the disciple, since they have come to know and experience the love of God.  More so they are not seeking rewards or accolades, but rather are anticipating a trend of conversion and discipleship.  Right away we look at people like Francis of Assisi or Mother Teresa, as faithful disciples, but we all have encountered that man or woman who is the perfect host, or performs acts of kindness for others just because.  These are the ones who have embraced the cross.

God's rewards are not based on the 'most converted' or the 'best prayers,' but on our faithfulness in following his Son.

Friday, October 19, 2012

North American Martyrs

Today is the feast of several men, who were childhood heros of mine.  Frs John DeBrebeuf, Isaac Jogues, and six other Jesuit missionaries, who tortured and eventually kiiled, by Huron and Iroquois native Americans, in 1649.  This first group of missionaries brought the Gospel message to the Native Americans and set the stage for further evangelization and exploration in a new land.  As a child it was the tenacity and courage of these individuals which I found outstanding and appealing.

The challenges to be the first to evangelize are overwhelming.  The writings of the early apostles and Church Fathers certainly spoke to the difficulty of establishing and maintaining a faith community.  A lot of arishes today are simply on auto-pilot as they move from pastor to pstor, and year to year.  In a very real way these men found their strength and courage in realizing the close proximity of the cross to their own lives.  The Paschal Mystery becomes very real when we embrace the cross.

In the many years as a priest I have met some outstanding men and women who remain steadfast in faith and faithful in the middle of abuse, alcoholism, disease, and all sorts of other afflictions.  We had a young man at our parish last year who escaped Angola, a culture of violence and torture, to speak to our youth group.  These folks engage the cross and find peace and courage because of the power of the Paschal Mystery.

While we do not have people chasing us down with pointy sticks and sharp instruments, we really need the courage of the martyrs today.  Our Church and our belief in Christ meets up with a lot of hostility and scorn.  The North American Martyrs remain a challenge as to how we might react to those who want to hurt us because of our beliefs.  We do have to go into the fray embracing the cross of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

St Luke the Evangelist

We attribute both the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles to St Luke the Evangelist.  The third of the synoptic Gosples, Luke has give us an extensive birth and passion narrative.  Luke speaks about a Chritian life that aspries to high ideals, which includes prayer as an important component for the believer.

Luke gives us an indication that the apostles were aware of their need to be learners of faith, and in their role as disciples of Jesus Christ.  They seemed to sense in Jesus an inner strength and were in awe of his relationship with God the Father, in heaven.  More so, Luke conveyed the importance of a Christian response to the poor and anawim, and their unity with all people of faith would further the mission of Jesus to the nations.

In particular it would seem both in the Gospel, and the Acts of the Apostles, the twelve were most conscious of the tasks they would need to carry on as they continued on the mission and ministry of Jesus.  Luke was very good at making the connections betwween the life of Jesus, and his Paschal Mystery, with the revelation of the plan of salvation we have from God.  Like all of the other Gospels, Jesus was not simply doing nice things because they were good to do.  Rather there is a direction to the Kingdom.

In reflecting on our own initiation into the Paschal Mystery through the scraments, and our life of faith, we can know who Jesus is and come to reflect that identity in our living witness to Him, and to the love of God which he taught.  Our own Discipleship asks us to take responsibility for the faith which we profess.  We bring together in mutuality the gifts we have received, and the the needs and concerns that present themselves, and carry out ministry in the name of Jesus Chirst.

Very much like the persons we will meet in the Gospel of Luke we are called upon to reflect carefully upon the Word of God, and to with the grace we recieve through the Holy Spirit make known the mystery of faith we celebrate.  In whatever way we can we are to act as disciples of Jesus and show care and concern for all of those in need.  By doing this we continue on the activity of Jesus and are able to announce tha the 'Kingdom of God is at Hand.'

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

St. Hedwig

Hedwig lived during the latter part of the twelve century, in Bavaria.  At twelve years old she married a Duke, Henry of Selesia.  Together they had seven children.  During her life as a wife and mother, having the resources available to her, she assisted in the building of hospitals and monasteries.  After the death of her husband, she joined a monastery.

Hedwig is best known though for her assistance to the poor and the anawim.  Even as a nun, she maintained administration over the various charitable works which she developed.  The reading from the Liturgy of the Hours call to mind her desire to serve God in the poor, as well as her faith and humility.  St Hedwig is one of the many holy men and women who show us what it means to belong to a caring Church.

In the last few weeks I have presided at several funerals.  I have spoken a lot of the Paschal Mystery and the difference that that action makes in our humanity.  The response is sort of like the 'deer in the headlights,' as I reflect on the mystery of faith.  It is sort of like the story I had read twenty some years ago; we go through the motions but really do not believe.

In people like St Hedwig we discover a woman whose faith was strong, and articulated itself in caring for the poor, suffering, hurt and afraid.  Using the resources and influence which she had, being the Duchess of Selesia, she helped to erect places of healing and prayer.

We do not have the same financial backing as did Hedwig, but we can be prophetic and faithful in our response to God and others.   Our faith cannot be just about being nice to people.  We really do have to be profound today.  Like Hedwig we should leave a legacy of faith.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

... And Come Follow Me

The story of the young man and Jesus today continues on the Discipleship theme in St. Mark.  We are told that though the young man has been faithful in the rules and regulations of the religion, the faith challenge to give up everything he has is a difficult one indeed.  Jesus follows up with the commentary that it is as difficult for a wealthy person to enter the Kingdom of God, as it is a camel to pass through a narrow opening in a wall. 

While this is a good story to speak about the difficulties that the accumulation of wealth poses, and how greed can be a personal, as well as a social Sin, the story is about so much more.  It is not only money that carries us away from God, or poses the greatest difficulties from encountering God, but it is also the need to control, to be 'right,' lack of understanding or compassion, the need of popularity, self-centered-ness.  At Mass today I spoke about my fixation of being on time, and starting on time.  While punctuality is good, I can drive some people goofy with my adherence to schedule. 

Jesus tells the Disciples today, and those that seek him, we have to be courageous enough to fully trust in God's call and invitation to be followers of the Christ.  We only have to look at The Blessed Virgin Mary, Francis of Assisi,  or Catherine of Sienna, to understand that saying "Yes" to God is a matter of faith, which does not always offer us a detailed plan, or information.  Being a Disciple means being led by God relying on his grace and blessing.

I remember a time in a parish far away, after Mass a recent widow began to talk about late husband.  In the middle of her conversation I looked at my watch.  She apologized for keeping me, since "Father I know you are so busy" and walked away.  I will never forget that and take great pains not to look at time pieces when I am speaking with someone.  But what other stuff precludes us from operating as God's holy people.

So we pray to the Holy Spirit for wisdom, right judgement, understanding, patience, compassion, and perseverance.  The cross is their to point the way to salvation and joy.  It is not too difficult if we put everything else down and let Christ help us carry it.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

lex orandi, lex credendi

My Latin might be a bit off but this literally means that the law of praying is the law of believing.  The early Church idea was that the worship of the Church, the Mass, is the summation of he teachings of the Church.  Loosely translated it would be something similar to we pray what we believe. 

I think about this as I have gone through a few weddings and several funerals over the last few weeks.  In particular in light of the year of faith.  For many the Scripture and prayer have only a minimal of importance, and the highlight is he procession, or someone saying some 'words.'  Or family members ill rush through the sacred scripture texts.  I am dumbfounded by this in that our liturgy is the center of our faith lives - or at least it should be.

Folks continue to be uncomfortable with the new Mass translation because of its wordiness and run-on sentences.  To be sure, I strongly dislike the version of the Gloria that we sing.  I think that part of the reason the Church made these changes was to add a sense of theology, and even more 'God-language' into the text.  Some liturgists suggest that the mystery of the Mass had been lost. 

It is probably not a bad idea during the year of faith, and the anniversary of Vatican II, that we try to  read the documents more closely.   It can only be helpful if we have a firm understanding of the foundation and the understanding of the Church and the place of the Mass therein.  It is hard to pray if we do not know what we believe.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

50 Years of Vatican II

Fifty years ago today Pope John XXIII opened the first session of the Second Vatican Council.  Many who remember the 'old' ways either offer John XXIII a blessing, or a curse.  The Council offered a radical change in the way we were to celebrate the Mass, as well as the manner in which we 'did' Church in the world today.  At the crux of the Vatican documents was a universal call to holiness. 

Th understanding was that if the Church was to operate in the world today, it had to live in the world, without, as scripture would remind us, not being owned by the world.  The use of the vernacular in worship, the extended role of the laity, and the emphasis on social justice were a radical development in the body of the Church, as well as in its theology.  This was a profound move which caused many to fret.

While some equate the Council simply as a move from Latin, to whatever national language, there is a great deal of change which provided the foundation of our ministry today, in the light of the mission of the catholc Church.  Quite simply pastors were called upon to collaborate with the laity in church ministry, the laity were called to a greater role in work and in governance in the Church, and there continues to be an emphasis on working within the context of all Christian peoples.

Oddly while people would complain about the Vatican Council eliminating many of the good traditions in the Church, the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, and the Permanent Diaconate process are two of the ancient elements that Vatican II revised.  In a very real way the Church took both the old and the new out of its storehouse.

There are not a lot of parishioners today who remember the Church before the Second Vatican Council.  It is amusing to hear some of the younger clergy speaking fondly of the former days, since they cannot comprehend what their role would be like in the good ole days.  Like our faith journey with Christ our Church has to undergo conversion and transformation in order to grow.  Fifty years is not a long time but the practices of the Council are only now taking shape.  We cannot go back but have to move forward in proclaiming the Kingdom of God.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

St. Paul's Letter to ...

Reading from St. Paul I am always very aware of the humanness that Paul conveys.  He struggles with the various communities and works hard at helping them keep connected to the faith they are baptized into.  Paul sometimes seems exasperated with the Corinthians, and other times praises the various communities for their insight and pastoral response.  The issues of pettiness, scrupulosity, divisions within the community, jealousy and a host of other problems, are what we still deal with today in the parish.

Maybe this is why St Paul is so readable.  We continue to struggle with the human fallibility and brokenness which we tend to be hobbled with.  The struggle for the parish community and the community of faith, is to continue to recognize the grace and blessings which are conveyed through the mystery that we celebrate, and to continue to re-group around the mystery of faith.  This is easier than it sounds.

A friend of mine reported once that on Easter Sunday, as we renewed our baptismal promises, and began the sprinkling rite, a couple nearby her seemed annoyed at the fact I was splashing water on everyone.  They have the experience and miss the meaning.  I was sharing with a group the other night that we still have people, and these are young people, that call the Sacrament of Anointing, "The last rites."  Maybe because we do not reach the depths of faith and holiness of which our baptism calls us to, we get drawn back down into all sorts of vices and bad habits. 

Especially during this the year of faith our Church really needs to be bold, as well as prophetic, in its delivery of the good news.  Our message will not be made clear through pious externals, but the challenge to convert hearts and minds. 

St. Paul speaks about the very basics of our faith, the Word of God, and the Sacraments of initiation.  It is good to go  back there again and again so as to recall the origins of our faith.  We need to re-discover the paschal mystery and be amazed once again at the faithfulness of God.  It is probably one of the best ways we can discover our faith.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

A Hermit's Way

Saint Bruno of Cologne lived during the 11th century, and was a well learned and schooled man.  He was a professor, and eventually Chancellor of his diocese, who would go on to begin the Carthusian order.  The Catrthusians are hermits who live austere and strict lives.  While we might think of hermits as being quiet and and simple people; Bruno was not that.  Rather he was a scholar and a leader.  The priests of his diocese wanted him to be Bishop, of which he refused.  He sought the contemplative life instead.

Monks, Nuns, and Hermits, can teach us a good deal of about discipleship and living Christian values and virtues.  Prayer and reflection are the mainstay of their life, they rise in the morning praising God, and retire in the evening asking for pardon and mercy.  To be sure these people are not wallflowers, but are active in ongoing formation of their spiritual and personal lives.  Because they are honest with themselves, they are always in the middle of conversion and transformation.

These contemplatives also become a stumbling block for us.  When we complain about prayer being hard, or even finding the time to do things, these holy people become a sign of what we could and ought to be. Their lifestyle challenges us towards a simplicity and firmness of faith.

I am not called to a hermits life, but men like St. Bruno are a reminder that there is a different, and even better way, of expressing ourselves as followers of Christ.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Francis of Assisi

"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."  This is from the Liturgy of the Hours today.  Fancis of Assisi lived during the 13th century and is probably one of the best loved saints.  We have romanticized his life quite a bit, but Francis himself was set firmly in reality. 

A wealthy young man who had served in the military, was imprisoned and beaten.  During this time a vision of Christ prompted him towards a conversion.  Returning home he gave awaay all of his physical wealth and sought to live simply in the woods.  Francis suffered rejection by his family and friends, physical illness, hardships, and poverty.  Through all of this he maitained a tremendous sense of joy and zeal for the Gospel. 


Also from the Hours today are the words of Francis, "We should never desire to be over others.  Instead, we ought to be servantswho are submissive to every human for God's sake.  The Spirit of the Lord will rest on all who live in this way a persevere to the end. ..."  Francis came to understadn that real peace radiated from real love and a whole understanding of our humanity.  In the humility and simplicity of Francis he came to discover the real needs and concerns of each man, woman, and child.  Just as Jesus was raised on the cross for our salvation, we too are invited, and even challenged, to raise each other up so as to bestow new life.

We are invited to walk in the footsteps of Francis who walkd in the Lord's steps.  As imperfect as we all are Francis sought to empty himself and live the Body of Christ. He gives us a powerful example of what we can be if we are united to Christ.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Guardian Angels

O beautiful Angel Guardian,

you stay with me on this earth,

enlightening me with your splendor.

You are become my brother,

my friend, and my consoler.

~St. Thérèse of Lisieux


Saturday, September 29, 2012

Archangels Among Us

Today we celebrate the feast of the Archangels, Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael.  Their names reflect the divine attributes of God, 'who is like God,' 'God is strong,' and 'God heals.'  We celebrate these heavenly beings because to do so draws us closer to the mystery of God, and of God's providence.  The Archangels remind us that God is not disconnected from us, but finds his home in our places and in our history.

In a parish far away, and long ago, before the Easter morning Mass, as I prepared the incense, one of the parishioners began to complain about the smell of that "stuff."  In my naivete I tried to explain the significance of incense.  I might as well have been describing the attributes of a dwarf star.  But mystery is something that we sadly lack in our spirituality and liturgy today.  Perhaps it is because of the post modern world we live in, but we do not allow our inner being to touch the divine, or even to contemplate the mystery of faith which we profess.  Maybe this is why this feast of angels is so important for us.

In using God words and imagery, we are forced to define what this means in the larger world sense, and for our own lives as well.  To consider the awesomeness of God is to reflect on our response to a God who creates us, as well as brings us peace and salvation.  We also need to move from contemplating the God of life in our head, to our hearts.  This can be a daunting task.

Moving to a more intimate relationship with God helps us understand our prayers, to seek forgiveness and reconciliation, and to serve God in loving him and one another.  The Archangels, and their ministry, helps us to call to mind that God's love and compassion is beyond our comprehension.  When we falter or have doubts, God reaches into human lives and embraces all men and women.  Our use of prayer, meditation, and 'God Language,' keeps us connected to the life of God, and helps us find him in the midst of a confusing world.  We are God's delight.

Today's feast says something very important about us as it does the Archangels.  The whole of the cosmos is directed towards our salvation.  If God is for us, who can be against?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Awaken Faith

As part of our adult religious education, we started the Awakening Faith program tonight.  It was the usual crowd.  In many ways I was disappointed with the turnout, but I am happy using this program.  The need for adult catechesis is so very evident and urgent; especially at this time in history.

Blessed John Paul II called on the Church to begin a New Evangelization.  While catholics have a lot of trouble with the word, it really has a lot to do with relation which one has with Christ, and with the Body of Christ, the Church.  In grade school and in R.E. classes we learned certain facts and figures about the Church, as well as a set of prayers.  This became the be all, and end all, of the Church.

To be sure our Gospel challenge is to have a relationship with God, through his Son, that leads to an ongoing transformation and spiritual growth.  One difficulty is that when we teach the children, we can only offer them so much.  Obviously we cannot explore issues of morality, or teach meditation, with fourth graders.  But then again we need to nurture and nourish that relationship.  This same growth takes place when families pray, go to church together, and participate in a life of faith.

At the conference in Chicago last week some asked whether we were bothered by the mega-church at Willow Creek.  Statistics will indicate that many catholics leave the Church for that and similar churches, but a large percentage returns to the Catholic Church.  The Sunday worship is a high powered music and light show.  It is impressive.  But what most people do not realize is that the real 'parish' happens on Wednesday nights, with a family orientated bible study.  The two hour session is divided by age groups and is an intense study and reflection.

Catholics have a rich tradition and extensive theology.  Sadly very few outside of theologians and the Church leadership know about it.  The Gospel challenges us to be on fire within our faith.  Faith-filled catholics are called to embrace our belief and to mull it over often.  We were created and redeemed in a garden, and have to consider how well our garden is growing.  Its time to till the soil.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

House of Stewardship

I am in Chicago at the International Conference on Catholic Stewardship.  For the most part the speakers have been excellent.  I especially like talking with the other conference goers.  I meet people from all over and get to listen to them talk about their work and their parishes. But I also get to hear them talk about the Church.  This is not only revealing but challenging as well.

I find myself replacing the word 'stewardship' with 'discipleship.'  Even as I read the document, Stewardship: A Disciples Response, in my mind I think that the Bishops of the time were really talking about being disciples.  Some where along the path we fell away from the following of Jesus, and sort of did our own thing.  What is scary is how to help people take responsibility for their faith.

In Psalm 101 today, from Morning Prayer, the phrase "I will hate the ways of the crooked; they shall not be my friends," really struck a chord with me.  Not that I have crooked friends, but I think that we as a Church took upon ourselves some "crooked" ways.  When I was first ordained I recall that business models were being used in running parishes, as was soft psychology to manage staffs.  And more troubling was the power-plays made at the local chancery office.  Pride, arrogance, greed, seemed to be the foundation of some who sought to "serve" the Diocese.

In reflecting on Stewardship we necessarily have to break beyond the time, talent, and treasure mantra, and learn to be Servant-Leaders.  I read a fantastic book a few years ago which spoke to this.  From Maintenance to Mission, proposes that we re-discover the call of the disciples to share 'Good News.'  First and foremost our parishes, and even our catholic lives, are somehow centered on the call to carry the Gospel.  Sometimes we get in the way though.  How do I serve the Gospel, as opposed to the other way around.

More than anything else we need to strengthen that concept of being in communion with God through Jesus Christ.  If God has given us good things, what does our 'thank you' look like in our parishes, families, schools, and communities.  St. James has been quite blunt these last few weeks with ideas.  That is really the stewardship response.