Saturday, March 31, 2012

Making this a Holy Week

Many years ago I ran across an illustrated book called something like, 'the new catholics,' or something of that nature.  It contained cartoon images of how catholics live today.  One was the ability to attend Holy Week services away from one's home parish.  Another was having musical instruments other than an organ.  Now this book was composed in the nineties; which caused me to wonder where these people had been for the last thirty years at least.

For these last several days we have read from John's Gospel in which Jesus is engaging in a lively dialogue with the Pharisees and other religious leaders.  Jesus attempts to draw the leadership into a new understanding in regards to the depths of God.  The religious leadership refuses to move from what they have always held as truths.  What Jesus is proposing is a radical sort of faith.  It asks people to take responsibility for faith, and even more so, calls men and women beyond following law.

John's Gospel begins with the observation that men and women preferred the darkness to the light.  And Jesus is the light that will be opposed.  Now w are not just talking about darkness as in sinfulness, but the lack of willingness to engage in the truth and to seek out matters of truth.  If you ever get a chance to read any Flannery O' Conner, it is well worth the read.  She will always put a twist in her stories so that just as we believe we know who the hero's and heroine's are, she changes everything.  Early on Jesus will remind his listeners to follow the teaching of the religious leaders, but not to imitate their lifestyle.

As we had our last soup and speaker last night I was most aware of how much our people love to come together to share faith and hear stories of other's faith.  Faith has nothing to do with how well we sing or the number of candles around the altar, but how we deal with the people like the Samaritan woman, the blind man, the Lazarus' that sit at our gates, and the lepers.  Jesus is trying to move the conversation away from how many angels fit on a pin-head, to how to engage the cross in the world today.

As a young priest I remember the 50+ year old men I would be seated next to, who would tell me that they no longer went to church because Sr. Cornelius yelled at them when they were in third grade.  I go to Church because hearing the Word of God and receiving the sacraments offers a starting point in which to minister, console, and guide.  Listening to stories about the Good Shepherd, helps me be a better Shepherd.  This is the week to pay attention to the journey of Jesus Christ, to hear his words, and sense his long lasting compassion and love.

Friday, March 30, 2012

You can Make Your Act of Contrition Now

This has been the week of confessions and meetings.  I usually keep an alb and stole in the backseat of my car anyway; but these last few day especially.  For those who think that the Sacrament of Reconciliation is all but dead, we still have healthy crowds at the various localities - and not just old people.  For many there is an understanding that the brokenness and hurt they experience in their daily living has some deeply spiritual roots.

On Tuesday I was at the local Catholic High School.  My brother priest, who presided and preached, gave a most excellent homily.  Referring to a terrible act of violence that had occurred at the school nearly fifteen year prior, he explained how and why this was a sinful and evil situation.  Sin is real.  He also spoke about the mother who had endured the violent death of her son, who was able to forgive the perpetrator .  At the crux of his message was that Sin can and does affect communities, and if left to fester, can cause grave and long-lasting harm.  Reconciliation begins the process of healing and peace.

There was an article in Time or Newsweek some years ago reporting on how apologies were becoming part of  business practice.  And there are actually companies that can come in and coach corporate leadership as to how to properly make a public apology.  While this sounds all nice and good, for us of faith we recognize that part of the 'confession' process is also making contrition.

To make the statement, "I firmly resolve with the help of your your grace to sin no more and to avoid the occasion of sin," is committing ourselves to a process of seeking reconciliation and transforming our lives.  When we were little we were taught how to go through a list of sins, compose and confession, and memorize an Act of Contrition.  As adults we maintain a similar process.  The only problem is we forget that we should be working at growing closer to God and one another, finding healing and peace through this process, and rejecting Sin and Evil in our lives.

The whole of the sacrament cannot rest on a mechanical protocol of listing wrongs we have done, but has to be centered on restoration of relationships which we have with God and with others.  I think that people fear the sacrament because they believe they are going to 'be in trouble.'  If we approach the sacrament with the mentality that we are broken and need to be healed, then we can spend some time with expounding upon where we 'hurt' and come to appreciate what we need to do to be healed.

Maybe its time to throw away the second grade examination of conscience.  We might want to be more like the blind man in the Gospel who cries out, "Jesus Son of David, have pity on me."  Then Jesus will touch our senses and make us whole once again.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

As a Grain of Wheat Dies

Back in grade school, about this time of year, we would suggest to our mother that maybe we didn't have to go to Mass everyday anymore.  This was our Lenten practice. There were 299 other students who had the same determination, in addition to all 13 Sisters.  So we would suggest that we had done this Mass thing long enough.  Mom's encouragement had something to do with the cross and what Jesus had done for us.

It is amazing how that the suffering and death of Jesus can change our lives and our perspective on things.  And speaking of parents, our summer vacations were in the State parks and forests.  It was the sixties so I thought everyone went into the woods. But with six kids and catholic school tuition, these were the vacations we could afford.  Unless the grain of wheat dies, it remains a grain of wheat.

Dads and Moms, religious people, folks who strive for justice and holiness, seem to understand this concept.  God has priority and takes the center place in our lives.  But to love God also requires that we love one another, and have a sense of self respect and dignity too.  The apostles are sometimes shown to be frumps and nabobs in this aspect.  They try to figure out who the best apostle is, or ask Jesus to rain down fire and brimstone upon townsfolk who were mean to them.  St. Paul will remind us later that the Kingdom is not about eating and drinking, but about doing the will of the Father.

So today when the Greeks want to see Jesus, He gives a response which at first does not seem to have anything to do with the request.  We can see Jesus when we can become people at peace with others and ourselves.  Jesus is visible when we do holy things, and decide to engage in lives of charity and chastity.  There are no wallflowers in the Kingdom of God.  The dying and rising is an ongoing process which embraces the cross and looks forward with joyful hope to the coming of our saviour Jesus Christ.

Our faith calls us beyond nice-ness.  Vatican II spoke about full and active participation in our Liturgy.  But even beyond our celebration of the Eucharist, our response and respect is based on the Paschal Mystery.  The psalmist asks the very apt question, If God does all of these great things for us, what ought our response be?  The mystery we celebrate does not allow for spectators, but challenges us to follow through with our commitments of faith.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

In You I Take Refuge

In the Office of Readings today, there is a selection from the Church in the Modern World, formulated during the Second Vatican Council.  The text speaks about a Church which recognizes the needs and concerns of the world around it, and responds with the same prophetic vigor as Jesus did.  Of course yesterday and today we have Jeremiah lament his difficult position as a prophet.  The unrighteous and evil-doers assail him.  He complains to God that this prophet task is most difficult.

About two weeks ago, a woman religious, a Sinsinawa  Dominican to be exact, died in the nursing center at the "Mound."  She had been at my home parish in Rockford while I was in college and seminary.  Her ministry was to the elderly and the sick.  I remember her well because she would visit my maternal grandmother on a regular basis.  Just a wonderful woman.  And just yesterday I ran into another woman religious at one of the nursing care centers here in DeKalb.  I cannot remember where she is now, but it is nice to see her still very active, visiting the nursing center residents.  I consider these scenarios especially when parishioners thank me profusely for visiting the sick and home bound.  This is part of what the Church does in the modern world.

When we were taught about Jesus as children, we were told the stories of his healing and miracles.  It was too early for us to begin to comprehend everything about the Paschal Mystery.  Unfortunately some of us remain with the children's stories rather than to begin to embrace the ramifications of the cross.  So we do not always understand the challenges of our faith, or the teachings of the Church.  In seminary we had the litany of non-negotiables.  These were actions and activities that were not commensurate with the seminary lifestyle.  Having dates with woman woman was one of them.  There was not an equal list of exceptions.

When Jesus teaches about the cross we would sort of like to have a listing exemptions.  But as we see in Matthew's Gospel, Jesus reflects, when I was thirsty, in prison, naked; what you did for the least of my brothers and sisters you did for me.  Carrying the cross has a lot to do with the direction of lives take and the choices that we make.  Being clothed with Christ means that we stand for the values and virtues contained in the Sacred Scripture, and conveyed by the teachings of the Church.

The Body of Christ is a sign and symbol of Jesus in the world today.  Sometimes it is a Body that stands alone because of what it believes.  Early in the Gospel of Mark people are overwhelmed by Jesus' teaching because he teaches as one with authority.  In all of the noise that surrounds us, and even in our own consternation, we have to work at hearing the voice of Jesus.  Then we have to pick up our cross and walk.

Friday, March 23, 2012

By the Power of God

In the fourth Eucharistic Prayer, composed by St. Ambrose, we are given a short synopsis of salvation history. The foundation of our faith is built upon the premise that Jesus comes into out human history, and through his suffering, death, and resurrection, brings us into full communion with God.  Jesus Christ conquers Sin and death and restores us to a relationship of grace and blessing.  This is, in a brief outline, the central theme of our salvation history.  But, it must be reiterated that because of what Jesus does for us, as a self-less action, transforms us forever.  We need to work on that forever part.

As we come towards Holy Week, and the conclusion of Lent 2012, I read on Face book, or hear parishioners, anticipating that chocolate, coffee, or beer, on Easter morning.  Now there is nothing wrong with giving these things up for Lent, but in doing so, in dying to ourselves, did we gain any spiritual insight or wisdom.  Do we understand ourselves better or have a deeper appreciation of God's grace in our lives?The suffering, dying and rising of Christ Jesus is certainly an instrument that brings us into the mystery of faith, but is a model for our own dying to ourselves so as to experience resurrection.

Too often we ask something for ourselves from our relationships.  Quite simply the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ demonstrates how we might reveal good news to those around us.  The ability to comfort hearts and hold hands can be a difficult yet life-giving experience.  Just like the love of the Father overflowing through the Son into our existence, we continue to nurture and nourish that relationship.  We all go to the cross so that we can experience new life.

God leaves us an awesome gift which is meant to change our lives and foster a loving relationship between God and us, and one another.  May the good work begun in us be brought to completion.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Father and I are One

Many generations ago C.S. Lewis wrote an essay entitled, The Four Loves.  As a book this became very popular and offered another understanding of love and companionship in the 60s and the 70s.  Lewis proposed that Charity was the highest of all for the loves since it best imitated the outpouring of the Father's love upon the world.  The first encyclical of Benedict XVI was on the virtue of love, specifically 'Caritas.' 

In John's Gospel we have an extensive dialogue in Jesus unfolds the relationship that exists between him and the Father.  "The Father and I are one."  This sentiment will conclude with a prayer in which Jesus will prayer that the same unity that exists between the Father and the Son, will also be extended to the apostles as well.  Of course the modem of this communion is the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

St. Paul writes a treatise on 'Love' which all the brides love to have at their weddings.  Paul exhorts us to an understanding of Love which is selfless and self-giving.  Pride, arrogance, selfishness, have not place in a loving relationship.  The cross becomes a model of the kind of love which is conveyed here.  It is a relationship which goes to the cross time and again.  Dying also allows resurrection to take place.  This is why Mark's Jesus keeps challenging the disciples with a very radical vision of the Kingdom of God.

Like in the synoptic Gospels, John keeps re-orientating us to the Kingdom, and the Paschal Mystery.  The journey to  Jerusalem is fraught with obstacles and distractions.  "Father don't you think Jesus would understand?"  I get this question sometimes, especially from students after a class on Catholic teachings.  Uncle Ottis or Aunt Henrietta are understanding of some of our frump and nabob choices.  And to be sure God understands human frailty; but calls us to conversion and discipleship.

Knowing that God loves us faithfully and totally allows us to love one another, and ourselves.  More than having a warm feeling for another, love seeks to heal, reconcile, challenge, and to give new life.  It is an action which continues to direct us to what is good and true.  We are made for God and are to commit our very selves to God, as God is committed to us.  May we be holy as God is holy.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Son of Man is Lifted Up

We see them at football games, the placards which quote John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish, but might have eternal life."  While this passage is early in the Gospel it sums up John's Gospel, and salvation as well.  Jesus comes into our live as one like us so that we can have salvation and peace.

The cross reveals to us a divine presence that brings us healing and peace when we participate in it's mystery.  The actions of Jesus is the ultimate expression of how "God so loved the world" by making himself a total offering.  In this God demonstrates the radiance of divine love.  Of course in Baptism we are caught up in that love. It was the poet Anne Dillard who suggested that Christians should wear crash helmets and life preservers; that is if we understood the power we were invoking in God's name.

For Nicodemus who begins this Gospel discussion, we understand that he is a seeker of truth.  He approaches Jesus under the cover of darkness, but he is seeking the light of the world.  Jesus expounds upon the understanding that those who search for the truth will come to God through the cross.  But there are those who prefer darkness to light, and they try to stay away from that which is true or good.  In this contrast of light and darkness Jesus conveys the necessity for believers to remain focused on the light, and to participate in the illumination which Christ offers.

The lifestyle of the cross sets up a journey whereas dying and rising are regular parts of our pathway.  We do not have to go looking for suffering, it is part of our life and all around us.  We struggle to live a virtuous life, we are challenged to respond to the sick, suffering, and the poor, and to proclaim Good News.  We embrace the mystery of the cross so that we can have a wider view of Gods saving actions in our world.  The cross stretches our spiritual imagination.

We share in divine love when we are willing to be broken open for the sake of the Kingdom of God.  It sounds easy but it is not.  Saint Lactantius, from the first century, recalls for us that recognizing our sins is a first step in the way to conversion.  Just as Jesus washes the feet of his disciples prior to the Last Supper, we need to be willing to live in charity and chastity.  It is there that we can find God's love and mercy.

Hopefully the cross can speak words of challenge and peace to us.  It is the key to light, happiness, and peace.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Grant us your Mercy

I always cringe when people suggest that they want something 'Irish' for the funeral of a family member.  I am thinking of the various Celtic hymns, chants and prayers. Some of which I dare say are written by my namesake.  The family or friends are thinking about 'Danny Boy' or 'When Irish Eyes are Smiling.'  We have an experience of something Irish and believe it is the end all, and be all.  To be sure the same thing occurs in our faith life.  So we keep going back to the same ritual, prayer, or action, so as to satisfy our spiritual hunger.

Being St. Patrick's Day I am inclined to pass on a wonderful contribution of the Irish Monks.  Prior to the fourth century persons received absolution through a public reconciliation.  One confessed their sins to a bishop in private, and were enrolled in the Order of Penitents.  Depending on the penance one could belong to this process for a year of more!  The Irish monks, having very few bishops around, developed a rite in which the penitent  confessed to the priest, did a penance, and then returned to receive absolution.  This was the beginning of private confession.  This also began what we would call spiritual direction today.

Not only did the Irish monks begin something that had not been done before, they reached into the depths of our Christianity and unfolded the basic ministry of Jesus Christ.  Think of the story of the Woman at the Well.  Jesus' encounter with this woman was more than making her feel good about herself, or just forgiving her sins.  Jesus enacted a process of conversion within her which united her with God and others.  When I taught High School I had inherited a retreat program which barely scratched the surface of the young peoples needs and desires.  The conversation almost went to transformation, change, and responsibility, but remained safe and bland.

I like to go back to the story of St. Francis and his conversion.  We do not have the impression that he, or his family were bad people, as far as we know they tithed every week, but we understand that Francis desired something even deeper in his relationship with God.  The publican who meekly approaches the altar of God, beats his breast, and prays for mercy, understands the depth of God's love for us, and that we are invited to draw deeply from God's love and mercy.

If we stay at an arms length from God, we do not have to deal with the cross and all of that messy stuff.  But like that beloved disciple at the Last Supper, we need the tenacity to lean into our Lord and God.  We make bold proclamations and approach our God, warts and all, faithfully believing that he can and will heal us from our sins.  The challenge is to dare to be radical in our faith response to our God.  We cannot fill up on the cheese puffs, but we hunger for Jesus who is the Bread of Life.  

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Be A Lamp for our Feet

I ran across a blurb of a quote from Sophia Loren the other day.  The older actress and heartthrob of many was concerned that our society had become a society of sexual addiction.  Her statement was something to the effect that in the days gone by sexuality had a sense of mystery to it, but today everything is in your face.  The author of the article suggested this was another case of an elder looking scornfully at the younger generation.  But I have to tell you I would agree with Ms Loren on this one.

Television, movies, and advertising sexualizes everything today it would seem, even our little kids.  But I am not talking about sex today, but about evil.  Jesus in today's Gospel is accused of being one with the prince of darkness as he expels a  demon.  The people are fearful.. They had become used to the demonic in their midst.  Sometimes grace and virtue can be a scary part of life if we are not used to it.

I am quick to recall the shooting at NIU.  In less than ten minutes an evil action changes the lives of hundreds of people on different levels.  People from the men and women in that lecture hall, to the health care workers were affected by this event.  In the middle of this evil there were peoples whose goodness surfaced, and who acted heroically and bravely.  Peoples responded with courage and compassion.  They offered light in a moment of darkness and evil.

It takes an ownership of faith, and the ability to call Sin and Evil what it really is, to respond with courage and truth.  Think of the story of the emperors new clothes.  In child-like innocence the young boy recognizes the reality of the moment.  We should pray that we can have that same wisdom and insight to point out where there is evil and destruction in the world today.  Then we respond to bring healing and peace.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Rend your Hearts

For morning prayer we read from the Prophet Joel.  Joel, like many of the other major prophets, realizes that the religious and social chaos that is being experienced is from Sin.  The people of God have become unfaithful to the law (divine precepts) and the covenant.  Becoming self absorbed and self centered they have neglected the care and concern for the poor and anawim.  From our perspective we might suggest that is the governments job.  But since the day when two or three people gathered together this has not been a good option.

So as the people neglect the basic precepts of their faith, those elements that once served to bond people together, are coming apart at the seams.  The prophets are not simply conveying the necessity of a religion which will take care of the 'social services,' but calling for a conversion that recognizes our connection to God, and to our communion.  This is the problem that Joel sees.  Men and women are continuing to go through the sacred rituals in a very pious manner, but they themselves remain un-converted.  More so, their day to day living remains anything but pious and holy.  Religion has a nostalgic value; and that is all.

In our Diocese we had participated in a diocese wide evaluation process, several years ago.  Of course we were told that the end product would be a living document which would not end up on a bookshelf.  That lasted about three years.  This had been an awesome project, with much good intentions, but for many their hearts were not in this endeavor.  People dutifully went through the motions, but never really owned the end product of the encounter.

There was a Book I had read a few years ago, From Maintenance to Mission, by Robert Rivers, CSP.  Using the Bishop's document, Go Make Disciples, he outlines the problem in our Church today, in that we are consistently doing stuff, but not really proclaiming the Good News.  But even to get to that point Rivers would suggest removing the crud, habits, and mindset, which allows us to continue to go through rote activities.  To be about the mission we as individuals, to be sure, and as a Church need a conversion.

The prophetic role of the Church seems to have fallen away.  We make soft and nice statements every once and awhile.  Joel would suggest the importance of naming and claiming our Sins, so as to engage in Conversion and Discipleship.  It is not enough to have a cross in our sanctuary, it has to be part of our life too.  Rend your hearts not your garments.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Cleansing of the Temple

"Destroy this temple, and then raise it up in three days."  This is an intriguing story.  Unprovoked Jesus displays an anger never shown in his ministry.  He wanders about in front of the temple and overturns tables; chasing away the animals normally used in sacrifice.  Now in the Jewish religion at the time, having this market-like atmosphere was really a service allowed by the temple authorities.  How else would pilgrims be able to offer sacrifice.  And certainly the Jews would not accept a foreign currency, in Roman coinage, so they were able to exchange their money.

But the Word of God made flesh is offering something new.  Jesus becomes the new sacrifice, establishing the new covenant.  Men and Women are not brought close to God through the blood of farm animals, but through the blood poured out once through Jesus Christ.  The Paschal Mystery is the source of eternal life.

To come close to God now, Jesus holds out a model of selfless love and sacrifice.  Remember the call of the Disciples?  They immediately leave their nets, and in the case of James and John, their father, and follow Jesus down the road.  Then there is the rich young man who walks away sad because he has many possessions.  And lastly, as the Disciples are muttering over the fact that they had left everything, Jesus assures them that they will receive many more times the spouse, home, and children, in the Kingdom, and persecution besides.

True sacrifice changes hearts and transforms live.  Jesus demands total commitment from his followers.  The kind of devotion that sacrificing a goat cannot give.  Moreover men and women cannot bounce from moment to moment and discover Jesus.  We have to be faithful followers through the good and the bad, all the way through the cross.

Sometimes non-catholics are puzzled at our Lenten practices and the lifestyle we undertake.  To be sure simply going through the rituals gets us nowhere.  But for those who use these tools in their life to make changes and move from Sin, this is part of that dying and rising.  So we fast, pray, love each other without counting the cost, eagerly forgive, and are attentive to matters of justice and charity.

And this is the cross.  The sign of Christ's sacrifice.  Disciples embrace it joyfully, and in doing so give a living witness to all that Jesus is about..

Saturday, March 10, 2012

What I have done ... I failed to do.

An article in America reminds me of an incident many years ago.  I had stopped by the home of one of our small group leaders, a middle-aged mother of four, to go over some material for the upcoming sessions.  The kids were home from school, and the oldest sat nearby.  During the course of the conversation the mother made some comments about the principal and some of the teachers at the school.  I did not comment much, mostly because of the child sitting at the table with us.  Later that week she commented that 'we' need to be careful what 'we' talk about, since Bobby was repeating the conversation to all of his friends.

The America article concerns keeping our children in Church.  It is a good article and offers some solid insights.  Mostly it is about formation of the children outside of the catholic grade school or R.E. program.  If we want our children to be catholic, our lifestyle has to be catholic as well.  As I am apt to repeat, "Offer a blessing rather than a curse" includes how we discuss our concerns and situations involving one another.  If the Church is always wrong, or simply a place to get sacraments, then most likely we will not be having catholic children.  It is very telling when we do sacramental preparation and couples speak about having a child "blessed" in baptism, or when marriage preparation becomes about aisle length, that we have not done a good job of passing on our faith.

Our Faith, and especially our Catholic faith, is meant to be lived out within and outside of the church.  We attend Mass on Sundays as well as attend to reconciliation and prayer.  Most importantly we are somehow involved in works of charity, we seek forgiveness within our families, and work to establish a compassion and understanding of all people.  In his Lenten message Pope Benedict XVI commented, "Humbleness of heart and the personal experience of suffering can awaken within us a sense of compassion and empathy."

The cliche for peers who are slightly older was that "there are starving people in China who would love to have your food."  As wrong as the statement is, it is important to convey a message of concern and compassion for all men and women.  Like any family the Church has its dysfunction, but it is founded upon the selfless love as found in the Paschal Mystery.  Despite our brokenness God calls us to a life of holiness.

In our domestic Churches we live the saying, 'Where charity and love prevail, there God is ever found.'  The catholic faith remains part of us when it is lived as a relationship with us as opposed to an entity that we engage from time to time.  I remember an old man who stopped by our office for assistance, telling me that he was catholic.  He proceeded to make the sign of the cross for me.  That was nice but our faith has to be more than external signs or indicators.  We are the Body of Christ and live as a communion of faith.  We convey what we believe in word and in deed.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Joseph and his brothers

As I was getting ready for the Mass this morning, I was looking for something profound to use which would stay with the Third Graders.  I was hoping to find something from St. Bernard or Catherine of Sienna.  The one quote which sort of formed the outline of my homily went something like, 'haters do not really hate you, they just see in you what they wish they were.'  So there I had it.

I had asked the young ones whether or not they became mad or bothered when a younger sibling seemed to have less responsibility, or more toys and attention.  All of them admitted that they were irritated by what they thought was favoritism.  We talked about our gifts and how God loves our uniqueness.  I used the Jeremiah text as an example whereas we are reminded that God has carved us on the palm of His hand.

For us non-Third graders we recognize how terrible jealousy can be.  Like Joseph and his brothers, such a hateful Sin can lead to violence and division between peoples.  In some way or another we have had such feelings or been the recipient thereof.  In the Gospel such hateful feelings cause the tenants to believe that they can have part of the estate after they murder the son.  But that is what Sin does; it distorts the truth and draws us from God and others.

We are asked to consider the intense love that God has for us.  This weekend we will hear from St. Paul who talks about the cross and leads us to contemplate the Paschal mystery.  This understanding leads us into the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  As John reminds us, God so loves the world that he sent us His Son.  It is this kind of love, this divine love, that is vastly more important than the attention and accolades which we might receive from one another. 

More so, we must understand that we are blessed and gifted.  We might not be able to run 80 yards for a touchdown, or be near to discovering the next new heart medicine, but our words, actions, and life has been immensely gifted and made sacred by God.  In some way, shape, or form we ae living witnesses of all that we have seen and heard of Jesus Christ.  In some way we coninue to bless others.  Perhaps this is what Paul was talking about when he considered that if one part of the Body hurts, we al hurt.  Each of us is essencial to the Body  of Christ.

In Jealousy we need to keep things in perspective.  Know that God's love and kindness are more awesome than we can  imagine.  God replies to us as our uniqueness implores Him. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Voting with Faith

It is early and I am already getting tired of this election.  It seems in many ways that the election year never ended, we simply move from one contest to another.  As Catholics and as Christian we are called to make our elections choices based on our faith.  It would be easy if there were only one or two issues that we needed to consider, and if the candidates were forthright in their views and beliefs.  Anymore elections have been marred by all sorts of base and nasty conversation.  But beyond that it is our job as Catholics to respond to elections through a perspective of holiness.

Vatican II reminded us that we are to be holy.  The realm of holiness is not something exclusive to monks and nuns, but all baptized men and women.  The Gospels relate that we are to be holy as our Father in heaven is holy.  So we grapple with issues of human life, dignity, justice and peace.  We have to study the issues and sift through the rhetoric so as to find the kernel of truth.  Too often in our culture we are swayed by a single issue, or because someone "sounds" impressive, as opposed to their integrity and the habits which they convey. 

In the heaviness of political choices we have to have a well formed conscience.  In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we are told that a conscience "Is a judgement of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act.  In all he says and does, man is obliged to follow faithfully what he knows to be just and right."  Feelings and hunches are not conscience.  One's conscience relies on the Church's tradition, teachings, and the Sacred Scripture.

In the 2007 Faithful Citizen guide, the U.S. Bishops wrote that a voter cannot in good conscience vote for a candidate who takes a stand for a moral evil.  But it went on to say that we must weigh the various issue, and candidates, against each other.  To be sure this is very diffficult and means that we have to study and pray about the various issues and the candidates.

We have to apply holiness to all of our actions.  As members of this nation we have a responsibility to advance what is right and good.  We rely on God's grace and wisdom to do what is good.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Transfiguration

Today Jesus takes Peter, James, and John, up a high mountain, and is transfigured before them.  We are told that he becomes radiant in his brightness, and Moses and Elijah appear with him.  The Apostles are overcome with fear and awe.  When they look up finally, Jesus is there alone.

This experience becomes sort of an ecclesial moment, joining the Apostles to the tradition of faith, while revealing the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ; that is the Kingdom of God.  The message from the Father is quite clear, "This is my beloved Son, listen to Him."  The Biblical heroes from Abraham to all the prophets have been faithful to the  Word of God.  Now the Word made flesh is dwelling in our midst, the Apostles, and really we, need to be attentive to his direction and guidance.  Jesus is the promise of the Father fulfilled.

Our obedience in faith is to Jesus Christ alone.  Even today we are invited to walk to Jerusalem with him, sharing in his passion, and witnessing the resurrection.  St. Paul will remind us that we connect ourselves to Jesus in the Paschal mystery, in the midst of our own trials and tribulations, knowing that Jesus has already bound himself to us.  The Transfiguration offers an insight into Jesus' authority, mission, and nature.  Our faith journey begins and ends in the mystery of Jesus Christ.

We look at someone like Peter, who continued to trip over himself throughout the scriptures, is able to state clearly to Jesus, "Lord to whom shall we go, you alone have the words of eternal life"  When we have those insights into God's Kingdom, we develop a broader view of what our faith life is all about, and the mission and ministry of the Church.  Like the Apostles our entire journey becomes one of climbing to a higher level, seeking that which is true-er, and more perfected.

In the Gospels Jesus chastises those who follow him because they like to see miracles, or the religious authorities whose religion has become an end in itself.  Jesus demonstrates a connection here between him and God's plan of salvation.  The beginning of Mark's Gospel has Jesus cajoling his listeners to transform their lives in preparation for the Kingdom.  More so Jesus will state in another Gospel the Kingdom of God is already here.

We might want to consider during Lent in what ways our life is most closely bonded to Jesus Christ, and what compromises that relationship.  We want to be on our way to the higher places in life, using the tools given to us, so that we can experience transfiguration.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Go and Announce the Gospel

Of the dismissals we have at Mass, according to the New Roman Missal, this has to be my favorite.  From the time of the early Church our mandate has been to preach the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Now there were a few centuries there in which we became side-tracked and went down some other paths.  But this has remained a constant of our baptismal faith, that is to pass on the faith which we have received.

This past week I was at a meeting in which the HHS mandate on insurance and contraception was discussed.  During the time one of the Fathers shared an article which had several errors and false statements in regards to the Catholic Church, and it's teachings.  Some there suggested that the Bishop should require some sort of prayer to be said at all of the Masses throughout the Diocese.  While prayer is very important, and we really do not rely on the Holy Spirit enough, we might also catechize.

While I do not expect politicians and journalist to know the basic teachings of the Church, I would hope that persons coming to Mass each Sunday understand the basic teachings of the Catholic Church.  And as such we as catholics should not be shy or embarrassed to speak the truth of our faith, and what we believe in.  It is if we do not want to hurt feelings or seem arrogant, so we remain quiet in pronouncing our faith.  It behooves us to make it clear what the beliefs of the Church are.  Vatican II certainly encouraged the laity, as well as the clergy, to take responsibility for the faith which we pronounce.

More so, it has occurred to me these last several weeks that I have become a regular fixture at the hospital.  While I am not the "official" chaplain by any means, I am recognized by the staff, which feels comfortable in recommending patients who might want to see a priest - catholic and non-catholic.  Now I have gone to the hospital every week, and I go often for emergencies.  So I am there a lot.

But the point is that for many this is a positive image of the Church.  We are not these strange critters who have strange rituals and dress in flowing robes.  The more we engage in the community with our ministries of healing, care for the sick and the poor, and continue to speak up on issues of justice, all the more the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is proclaimed.

It is important to remain true to the mission that has been given to us at Baptism.  We are Stewards of the faith we have received.  There is a writer who suggested the we Christians do not always understand the power we are invoking.  At Mass we should have seat belts and crash helmets.  Our parish communities have to be an occasion of catechesis.  So, now go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.

Friday, March 2, 2012

First Week of Lent

In the Office of Readings today, there is a selection by Saint Aelred of Reinoux, an Abbot of the 12th century, from his text, Mirror of Love.  Aelred discusses the true test of love being the love we have for one's enemies.  He refers to Jesus on the cross in light of Isaiah's description of a lamb being led to the slaughter.  The Gospels will relate to us that Jesus was compassionate and merciful until the very end.  He forgave those that were torturing him.  Aelred has this as a demonstration that real love, or divine love, is the ability to love those who harm us.

There was a blurb on a website which I noted the other day, which spoke about how we as human will probably never get along.  One of the examples it gave was that when we speak about understanding, we mistakenly believe that to understand is to agree.  So when we try to unveil another's point of view, to elicit an understanding, the party of the first part, will often strongly counter, "I cannot agree with that."  What is being asked is to examine another perspective, not to change one's mind.  More so we mistake loving another as being best buddies with the other.

Today's Gospel directs us to live in a righteous manner.  We believe that we are full of God's grace, and are blessed by the Lord.  Well, so is everyone else.  We are on holy ground as we interact and respond to each other.  God comes into our lives, as one like us, so that we can grow in holiness and salvation.  The love which Jesus so readily speaks about is not the weekday afternoon version, but the ability to go to the cross and to recognize our need of God's love as well as a communion with each other.

Jesus does not just wander around with us to do nice things, but to draw us out of ongoing habits of hate and animosity.  The more we can recognize the sacredness of brothers and sisters, the more we will be able to work for justice and peace.  The more we reconcile the less we will allow brokenness to rule our thoughts and actions.  We are to be holy as our Father in heaven is holy.