Monday, January 30, 2012

Demonic at the Tombs

yesterday Jesus expels a Demon from a man in the synagogue, and today he is confronted by a similar situation amongst the tombs at the edge of a village.  Jesus sends the demons into a herd of pigs, which are hurled into the sea.  But rather than welcoming Jesus, they are afraid of him and ask him to leave.

We we think about Demons and Evil we often think about movies where there is screaming and strange happenings.  We are fearful of the images of evil and do our best to make it through the movie.  We tell ourselves that this must be what possession is like, and how Satan interacts in our lives.  But evil is much more subtle and tries to convince us that everything is nice and good.  Or, out of fear of the 'cure,' we decide not to confront what we know is evil.

For the people of this village the demoniac was a fearful sight, but since he stayed among the tombs, they tolerated him.  It is easy for us to begin to tolerate Sin and Evil.  I consider the times when parents decide to say nothing about their child's lifestyle choices, in order to keep peace in the family.  We ignore drinking or abuse, so as not to 'make matters worse.'  Addictions to pornography for instance, begins with soft-porn, or very safe and seemingly innocent imagery.  Our defenses are worn down.

Throughout Mark's Gospel Jesus conveys an urgency about the Kingdom of God, and the importance of Discipleship.  Disciples should know that the preaching and proclamation of the Word of God are most important.  So we focus on the things of God.  In response to our words, actions, and desires, we have to be honest with ourselves.  I have asked our young people sometimes whether they would be comfortable if their parents suddenly appeared at the lunch table, or the bus ride home from school.  They all admit that these would be moments of embarrassment because of their discussion or jokes.

Even more so we are challenged to be vigilant and on guard in relationship to Sin and Evil.  We all have weak moments and temptations, but we are to be centered on what is good and true.  There is a problem if we start excusing ourselves from right responses or virtuous decisions.  We cannot tolerate evil because we do not want to 'hurt feelings' or 'rock the boat.'

We are challenged to stay close to the Word of God, and proclaim his truth in all that we see and hear.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

What's a Liberal Catholic???

For my homily last week I referred to two of the Vatican II documents, The Church in the Modern World, and the Pastoral Constitution of the Church.  At the time these were quite radical and far reaching documents.  These envisioned a Church which was proactive in the needs and concerns of the culture, in addition to being prophetic in its message and preaching.  The Council saw the Church as being a challenge to the culture at large.

Now this past week, as there was the Right to Life rally in Washington D.C., there were commentaries and blogs covering the event.  Some of the comments that struck me were the one's proclaiming they were 'liberal' catholics.  In their mind that seems to mean that areas such as abortion, sexual morals, end of life issues, celibacy, marriage, and other like issues, are fairly much subjective and based on popularity, rather than a spiritual or moral foundation.

If taken seriously, a 'liberal' or 'radical' catholic would live their faith fully and publicly.  People would know that they were catholic because of their refusal to be swayed by arguments of the popular culture, and instead would be in solidarity with the poor, anawim, abused, and dejected.  They would be scandalized if they perceived the Church as not involved more in matters of social justice.

Even more so, the 'liberal' catholic would pray, fast, and be actively engaged in works of charity.  This individual would know the teachings of the Church, and be able to reference the sacred scriptures as well.  Our faith, by virtue of Baptism and Confirmation, calls us to be counter-cultural.  Our Church can never fit in nicely with society whereas everyone is happy and glad.

A better phrase for a 'liberal' catholic would be inactive.  A catholic engages their faith fully and makes known what they hold sacred by the lifestyle they live.  To b sure this is scary.  But to live ones faith means we take the risk and embrace the cross.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Conversion of St. Paul

One of my parishioners many years ago would ask her peers whether or not they could still fit in their Baptismal garments?  She would use this line when her friends and acquaintances would object to bible studies and adult catechesis.  She would often mention to me about how much her life had changed since she had started reading the Scriptures and volunteering more at church.  She would talk about a mini-awakening.

Now while Paul was certainly not nice to Christians, he was a devout Jew, committed to the law and the covenant.  He had not taken that next step in receiving Jesus Christ as the revelation of the Father.  Like a patient parent, God had to set him down on his backside to get his attention, and introduce him to the person and identity of Jesus.  In the middle of his life, and of his ministry, Paul undergoes a conversion.

But look at people like Francis of Assisi, Frances Cabrini, or even Elizabeth Ann Seton.  They had a life planned out and were well on their way in achieving what God had called them to do.  Was it that God had changed his mind, or was it that they were not listening to God.  To be sure these moments of conversion, inspiration, and revelation come at the ordinary and the extra-ordinary times of life.  Not unlike the prophets or holy men and women we sometimes want to run far away.

Paul teaches us to trust in the process and to rely on God's help and grace.  In Romans Paul alludes to the mystery of the cross, and in that by dying to oneself, as painful and disorientating that is, there is the resurrection.  There has to be an ongoing awareness of God and holiness in our lives.  We cannot fake being people of God.  Prayer, fasting, and works of charity keep us focused on divine matter and the life and love of God.  I know of two religious woman, who in their middle life, drastically changed their ministry.  There are numerous men and women who have shown up in the parish office, and seemingly out of the blue, have decided to become catholic.

People who grow within their faith journey are  reflective people.  They can look out over a beautiful vista, or down a cramped city street, and discover the invitation of God.  These are folks who are seeking for answers and meaning greater then themselves, and are left hungry but what our society or culture seems to offer.  Let's go with Paul today to get our eyes open so as to entertain the vision of God.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Imitate the Mystery you Celebrate

I was reading one of those top ten list things on the Internet the other evening.  The one that caught my eye was the top ten things that are not in the Constitution.  It listed "rights" that folks believe are enunciated in our Constitution, but are really not there.  Whether it be through myth or folklore, or just verbal tradition, people begin to believe certain texts or phrases are in the U.S. document, or documents like it.

This is especially meaningful for us today as we as catholics are told what we ought to do, and that our teachings infringe on the Constitution.  A brief moment of U.S. history helps us understand that the framers of the Constitution did not want a 'national' Church as was the case in England.  So they sought to make sure that never happened.  But they also believed one's moral lives be guided and directed by one's religious beliefs, and not the other way around.  While many clamor about abortion, euthanasia, and matters of ones lifestyle, being a political issue, in reality these are matters of faith and morals.

So today it is not a matter of religion trying to influence the political sphere, but rather the government trying to mandate what and how a person of faith should believe.  But just as many do not understand what is, and is not, in the Constitution, many believers have a very limited understanding of ones scripturl and faith tradtition.  I remember a freshman telling me once that she did not like the Church's teaching about sex.  When ask to expound on that, she simply repeated that she did not like it.  This is not unlike another woman who told me that her favorite Bible story was where Jesus helped some people.  (I had this image of Jesus moving furniture on a Saturday afternoon)

It is very important that we know the issues and the ramifications of the issues which plague our world today.  But it is also important for us to have at least a foundational understanding of our Church's moral teachings.  I hate to think of a Church in the future which is based on 'nice Jesus' and totally dismisses the challenge of the Gospel.

 It is also a good idea to hold the feet of our elected to the fire, nd continue to presen to them the needs and concerns of our society.  Like the entire citizenry we have a right and an obligation to be heard by our lawmakers.  So we constantly prayer for wisdom, knowledge, and right jusdgement.  In this we continue to serve the Lord.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Called to Discipleship

Vatican II left us with a profound and challenging document entitled, The Constitution of the Church in the Modern World.  In this text the Church reminds us that we all have a call to holiness, and as such we become seekers of that which is holy, and proclaimers of what we have seen and heard in Christ.  Church work is not just a thing that Father and Sister do, but because we are baptized and confirmed we engage in works of charity and evangelization as well.

The Gospel of Mark gives us a sense of urgency in regards to proclaiming the Kingdom.  Jesus begins his ministry calling for repentance and transformation.  That invitation to metenoia was as relevant at the time of Jesus as it is today.  In our present society the idea of religion, core truths and values, a moral life, are often criticized and made light of.  Morality is viewed as something subjective, if it is considered at all.

So in the scriptures today, those who hear the Word of God change their lives immediately.  They do not take time to contemplate the call to conversion, but leave their former lives behind and follow turn to God, following Jesus down the 'way.'  This model says that we take a risk, and become responsible for the faith we have been given.  We nurture the faith we have received in addition to the faith and religious live of each other.

Even more so, faithful people are prophetic people.  Part of our ministry is to bring healing to peoples, driving out evil wherever we find it.  Discipleship does not allow us to be wall-flowers.  I remember one of my freshmen students asking why the Church just cannot believe like everyone else.  That is because we are not like everyone else.  Our teachings and stance are about truth and compassion, justice and peace.  So our very lifestyles become a stumbling block for those around us.

If we were to image ourselves in the boat, with our father and mother, would we have the courage to leave everything and follow Jesus.  Embracing the Christian lifestyle is a challenge.  It is not always a pretty sight.  But in the end it is that nurturing of a love relationship between God and us and each other.  We become stewards of the call to discipleship and nurture and care for what we have been give.  All for the Kingdom of God.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Prayer in the Desert

St. Anthony of the Desert, one of the original Desert Fathers, and models for monastic life, sold all of his belongings as the age of 20, and embraced an acetical lifestyle.  His life consisted of prayer, meditation, reading, and spiritual direction. He sustained himself and engaged in manual labor.  What excess he had, he gave to the poor.

During his time in the desert, he gave spiritual instruction and guidance to many who sought a simular lifestyle of solitude and prayer.  During his 85 years, he formed two monasteries and became the guide and spiritual director for these two communities.

St. Athanasius, a comtemporary of Anthony, presents him as a model of consecrated life.  Athanasius writes about his devout faith and piety, which became a positive influence for many who would seek his guidance.  St. Augustine refers to St. Anthony in his "Confessions" and notes that it was the faith and prayerfulness of Anthony which was such a great influence in his own conversion.  In describing Anthony, Athanasius comments, "You also, once you have heard the story, will not merely admire the man, but will wish to emulate his resolution as well."

In seminary, our class went on an 8 day Ignatian retreat.  Total silence for eight days in central Kentucky.  It was both wonderful and frustrating.  There was a beauty in being able to pray and reflect upon the Eucharist and the Sacred Scriptures.  But you also have to face yourself with all of your faults and foibles.  It really is a time of spiritual growth and a powerful experience of growing deeper into the mystery of faith.

It would be awesome if more persons were able to have a 'higher' level spiritual experience.  Sometimes Mass once a week (if even that) is the only spiritual nourishment we receive.  The ideal of an intimate relationship with Jesus, that we might be understand more fully what it means to be a child of God, could be the hope of all of us.  In the morning before Mass most of the early arrivals pray the rosary together.  After Mass there is a small group that prays Morning Prayer.  This is great stuff.

Anytime we can have a spirit of detachment from the things that pull at us all day long, and live in a spirit of self-denial, we can begin that journey of holiness which we hear about in these Desert Fathers.  Obviously we cannot go to the desert (though today it would be nice) but any additional time of prayer, fasting, and works of charity, help us clarify our relationship with God.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Speak, your servant is listening

When we begin our Liturgy, we are invited to acknowledge our sins, and to prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mystery which the Mass invokes.  And in a very real way, when we pause and ready ourselves for the Penitential Rite, we are getting ready to listen.  The opening of the Liturgy calls to mind for us that the One True God, who is faithful, speaks to us through the Word and the Sacraments.  To be sure we do this faith experience as a community.

Eli understands that God is calling Samuel, as we hear in the first reading today.  Eli who is a mentor for Samuel, tells him to listen again for God, and then to respond in the affirmative.  Part of the background to this story is that folks had forgotten about God, and lived Sinful and immoral lives.  Their religion had become an external show of piety.  We cannot love or respond to one we do know.  So Eli directs Samuel into this new, and somewhat confusing relationship.

As John the Baptist directs the Disciples towards Jesus, he preparing them to continue their faith journey.  Again we have a mentor pointing the way for followers to discover truth - and God.  Jesus does not welcome these new disciples by theology, or religious studies, but by experiencing something about his mission and ministry.  Come and see.  Again it is a time of listening and reflecting upon the deeper mystery that is present.

Today we meet a lot of folks who testify about what they have seen and heard.  The readings are a powerful challenge to each of us personally, and to our parish communities to be places where the celebration of these sacred mysteries, is also an occasion to bear witness to God's love and mercy.  Our small 's' stories blend with the 'S' stories of our faith tradition, so as to draw each other to faith.  More so reflecting on these stories of faith, we are better able to respond to the triumphs and sorrows of our lives.

Just as John points to the Lamb of God, may our lived faith point out what we have seen and heard about Jesus.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Vocation to Prophecy

As we continue to read from the Book of Samuel this week, our focus shifts to the call of the prophets, and the Apostles, and simply vocations.  When we think about vocations, we automatically think about priesthood and religious life.  A young man or woman is called by God to serve in the Church in some way, shape, or form.  Actually I am most familiar with the call of Samuel story since it was repeated again and again at every vocation retreat I have ever attended.

For myself I would have loved to have had bright lights, choirs of angels, and heavenly voices pronouncing the path in life that I should choose.  I had thought about the priesthood throughout my pre-teen and through college life.  With this I had considered monastic and religious life.  Sometimes I still believe that I would make a great monk.  But there is lots of prayer and discernment, and discussions with older persons - some ordained and some not.  These are the mentors that are set along every ones path.  We all have Eli's, Elizabeth's and Elijah's in our midst to guide and confirm our choices.

But in the sphere of the Church, and of the cosmos, there is a vocation each of us is called to.  Each of us in our circumstance of life are called to be a spouse, father or mother, grandparent, widow, or a religious.  Deep inside of us a vocation becomes that desire to follow Jesus Christ closely, growing closer in our relationship with God and one another.  And because our gifts are given to us to be shared, we can then, by our call, be part of the revelation of the Kingdom of God.

Whatever our 'vocation' is, it always involves a faith-filled lifestyle, in which we are to speak on matters of faith, seeking justice and peace, enabling reconciliation, being a person who imitates the love of God take place in our lives.  Just as the reverence of God abides in our self, we can and must respond reverently those we come in contact with. 

Just because we are quiet and like to pray, does that mean we should be a monk or nun.  Or because we love being with persons of the opposite gender mean we need to be married.  There is a deeper level by which God calls each of us.  Our pathway is meant to be part of a proclamation of the Kingdom of God.  Our prayer and connection to the sacraments can both lead us and challenge us as to where God is calling us.  Even the Apostles and Prophets had times of confusion and uncertainty.  By saying 'Yes' to God on a daily basis, God will show us the path of life.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Here I am

Samuel is dedicated to God.  That is why we find him sleeping in the temple, sort of a night watchman, when he hears the voice of God.  I have always been intrigued by this story.  How Samuel came to be was sort of a gift and a blessing in the midst of chaos and brokenness.  But he only recognizes that it is God through a mentor, who is the priest, Eli.  Eli knows of something of the mystery of God and begins to lead this young child through the door which leads towards a deeper journey of God's love and mercy.

In the Baptism ritual, ideally the minister of Baptism meets the child and the parents at the door of the Church.  From there, he priest or deacon will ask, 'What name have you given this child,' and 'What do you ask of God's Church.'  From there they are welcomed into the community.  This is a rich sign of the entrance into the community by invitation with the support and the encouragement of the entire faith community.  We are present, as a communion, to the child and to the mom and dad.

In the noisiness of our world we really do need mentors to show us the way that leads to holiness and so as to hear the voice of God.  Even more so we are at a place where religion and faith has been relegated to the 'high holy days' and at those special sacramental moments.  God could be shouting at us from on high, yet we cannot distinguish the voice of God from all of the other voices that seek our attention.

People of faith can know that God is present to them because they have an ongoing and a daily relationship with God.  Prayer, Liturgy, works or charity, all draw one closer to recognizing and hearing God's voice.  Faithful people have sort of a responsibility in sharing the Word of God, and guiding one another in accord with that voice.  Especially the young and those whose faith might not be strong.

In a way we who have a deep and dedicated faith, are all catechists, ministers of care, and vocation directors.  With the same courage and strength of Eli we have to be able to share, "Next time say, 'Speak Lord, your servant is listening.'"

Sunday, January 8, 2012


One of my favorite Christmas songs is, 'O Little Town of Bethlehem.'  The verses speak so powerfully about the light and darkness, and how in the Incarnation the darkness of Sin is dispelled.  This feast, also called 'little Christmas' shares with us the reality that Christ Jesus is the manifestation of God to the whole world.  Jesus Christ is born into our world to bring us salvation and peace, so that we may be transformed into the image of Christ, and become a people of holiness.

This ancient feast celebrates how we see and witness the mystery of God.  With the show of God in Jesus, we come to see how God's grace is made manifest through Jesus Christ, and all that is ordinary and commonplace is made extraordinary, it is transfigured, and blessed by God who continues to shine on in our darkness.

Today Jesus Christ is revealed as the King of Glory who brings us victory over Sin and Evil.  But as Isaiah and St. Paul will also remind us, he is the suffering Messiah who comes to call us to conversion and discipleship.  Jesus Christ teaches us to recognize him in every man and woman, every poor person, stranger, wanderer, those living in alleys, and those who are victimized by others.  The light of Christ announces to all nationalities that they are not to shoulder their burdens alone.  All men and women belong to God, the giver of every good thing, who is our hiding place, our strength, who calls us his children and beckons us to him so as to experience comfort and peace in our lives.

While Christmas seems more orientated towards children and families, the Epiphany has a more 'adult' flavor to it.  If we wish to fully enter into the revelation of this Christmas season, we have to recognize how we have been gifted by the source of every blessing.  With the Magi who are seeking out the Christ child, we too join in the long march of witnesses, sent to all peoples and nations.  Today in the midst of wars and rumors of war, financial difficulties, cultural dissonance, and political upheavals, we have to keep ourselves directed towards the star which gives light to all peoples.

More so, like St. Paul today we have to remember to rely on the Spirit for all of our needs and concerns.  Our prayer and worship are to make us holy.  We engage in a faithful lifestyle which is highlighted by charity and chastity.  With Mary we too are encouraged to ponder every moment of God's grace deep within our hearts.  We find solace and hope today as we welcome the light of the world into our world, and reflect on God's words, which we get to listen to on tomorrows feast,  "You are my beloved son (and daughter) upon whom my favor rests."

Thursday, January 5, 2012

St. John Neumann

John Neumann, a Redemptorist, lived for most of the 19th century, 1811-1860.  After years of serving as a parish priest, known for his compassion and faithful zeal, he was made Bishop of Philadelphia.  As Bishop he continues to be an advocate of the poor, work tirelessly for youth and for catholic education, and promoted the faith through preaching and teaching.  His love of the Church was directly tied to his love for Christ.

In the reading from St. John today, John is talking to a community that is divided into a variety of little groups.  Each group believes that its theology is that best and final theology.  St. John is working to bring a sense of unity and community to his hearers, so as to bring healing the brokenness that he is witnessing.  John speaks quite eloquently about the communion we share in Christ Jesus. 

John Neumann was good at moving his priests and people to understand the mission we have received in Christ.  Our care for the poor and education of young people are reminders that we have some very important matters to attend to.  True disciples cannot launch out on their own but must remain connected to the Good Shepherd.

I am always very bothered by the various groups that I see in the Church today.  Each with their own theology and each castigating the other.  Make no mistake about it, this is the sort of dicvision that the Evangelist warns us about today.  John Neumann wants u to understand the unity which we have in diversity.  More importantly such a divide will lead us into not doing our mission properly or well.  Our care for the poor, advocacy for the oppressed, and sharing the Good News are much more important than our physical posture or what clothes we wear at mass. 

St. John Neumann would want us to get over ourselves and our petty differences and to learn how to do good in our world today.  We are called to be disciples and prophets and should not be scared to proclaim good news.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

There is the Lamb of God

Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Benedict XVI celebrated New Year's Day with a homily on world peace which stressed the importance of educating youth in moral values, so they could become "builders of peace."  Sharing our morals and values is so very important today.  Considering Benedict's childhood surrounded by a world of hate and fear, he knows all too well the results of a society which is not based in the ways of justice and peace.  Benedict XVI, like his predecessor, see the best hope for a better world in the youth.   Benedict would also like to see them move beyond following rules for rules sake and discover the depth of a Christ-centered lifestyle.

Even the readings this past weekend whereas we hear that Mary pondered and reflected on the 'God event' that were occurring around her, strengthened and encouraged her faith.  Benedict's challenge to the world this past New Years is to envision peace in our world.  And to be sure that vision begins in the hearts and minds of faithful people.  Peace-making cannot be limited to easy solutions, nor simply a seasonal thing whereas we feel good about each other around the high Holy Days.

Speaking with one of Funeral Directors yesterday, we were musing about the lack of respect, and the disregard of basic values which we find today.  In today's society there is a lack of understanding that when each of us goes off on our own we end up in chaos and brokenness.  Morals and values teach us that we are in a community, and all of our responses should be for the benefit of the community in which we live.  Peace-making leads us to understand that we are responsible for each other and the world in which we live.

Hopefully we can begin to enlighten each other with what is true, right, and good.  John the Baptist points out Jesus today to his followers.  As children of God we have to point out Christ, and be confidant and unafraid to share our Christ stories.  Hopefully our faithful living can lead one another towards the Christ that saves us.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Mary, Mother of God

Today the Shepherds depart from the stable, and the Christ-Child, Mary, and Joseph.  They return to the hills praising and glorifying God for everything they have seen and heard.  We are told that Mary ponders these events in her heart.  This latter statement seems like a pious nicety thrown in by the scripture writers, but it is a powerful testimony as to the reflective nature of Mary.

Last night, at evening prayer, if we were in a community, we would have chanted the Te Deum.  This is a litany in which we exhort the love and mercy of God, while recalling God's faithfulness.  In some ways this is similar to the Magnificat.  But the ability to praise God for these marvelous gifts stems from a relationship that we must have with God.  Thanksgiving and prayers thereof draws us closer to the one who has bestowed kindness upon us.

Mary readily and easily affirms God's call to her as she knows and understands the legacy of God's goodness to all peoples for many generations.  She knows that our God is a faithful God.  And now in this special role she becomes ever closer to God.  Of course as a model of faith she challenges us ponder and reflect upon the wonders we have seen and heard.  Yesterday in John's Gospel we were reminded that the Word made flesh is the light to the nations.  But as John cautions us, that there are people who prefer the darkness over the light.  All the more reason for us to live as models of faith.

Maybe because we have heard these stories so many times, we consider the Christmas stories to be like a school Christmas pageant.  Remember, the gospels tell us that Mary was troubled, and Joseph had second thoughts about receiving Mary as his wife.  But their faith and trust in God allowed them to carry through the call that they had received.  The closer we come to God the more can can understand what God wants of us.  Mary's faithfulness is a model and example of how to respond to God, to be sure, but also to the situations in the world around us.  Everything is set up against the window of faith.

May our souls also proclaim the greatness of the Lord, for all the Lord has done for us.