Tuesday, May 29, 2012

We have given up everything to follow you

I have mentioned this a few times before, but I think it is worth repeating.  As a child I remember a picture in one of my religion books, from second or third grade.  Now remember this is the mid-1960s.  On one page the was an illustration of a married couple, with the caption beneath which read, 'This is a good life.'  On the opposing page was a picture of a priest and a religious sister, in cassock and full habit of course, bearing the caption, "This is a better life."

For many generations, and probably even today, there was this unspoken understanding that priests and nuns had a higher, and a better calling.  Father and Sister did ministry in the Church while everyone else just came to watch.  This is strange in that since I was a young'in men and women were encouraged to take an active role in a variety of Church ministries.  Yet one of the comments which I often hear, that causes me to cringe, is that folks are doing something in the parish "to help Father."  Such a mindset lacks the commitment and ownership which is required in ministry.

Peter approaches Jesus today with the concern of having given up so much for what they do, and what return do they receive.  Jesus will, as he does multiple times in Mark's Gospel, reiterate that discipleship is about the cross.  The question we ask is not about the perks we might receive through a Christ-centered lifestyle, but rather how much more can we pour out?  The Gospels use the imagery of accepting the Gospel as a child, good Samaritan, and a foot washer.  These are models of discipleship.

More so, in the Epistle from this past Sunday, Paul will remind us that the gifts bestowed on us through the Holy Spirit are given us to build up the Church; the living Body of Christ.  Baptism Confirmation, and the Eucharist, are spring boards in which we launch into the world.  But if ministry is simply done to get service hours, or because Father needs help, we are missing something very essential in our relationship with the faith community.  This is why stewardship is so hard to understand for a lot of parishioners.

I am old enough to remember a day in which we had several people in my home parish who played the organ for Mass.  One of whom was a public school teacher.  None of these persons received a stipend.  To be sure today we require more training for our catechists and ministers of care.  But Baptism says we enter into a relationship of ongoing conversion and discipleship.  We take responsibility for the needs and concerns of the community because it is our community of faith.  We do not count the cost but give because it is the right thing to do. 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Lord, send down your Spirit

Jesus appears to the apostles, who are fearfully huddled in the upper room, and breathes on them.  He commands that they might receive the Holy Spirit.  This action is reminiscent of the creation story in which God breathes life into the nostrils of the clay made man.  The Spirit of God is about new life, peace, and unending joy.  At Pentecost the apostles launch out into the world proclaiming the Paschal Mystery with tenacity, and in various languages.

The gifts of the Holy Spirit enables the Church to continue on the mission and ministry of the Church.  So we receive these gifts with love and thanksgiving, nurture them, share them in love and charity, and return them with increase, to the Lord.  The Spirit does not leave room for complacency or doing the status quo in the Church today.  The renewal brought to us through the Holy Spirit moves the Church along the journey towards our Christ.  What we receive through the Holy Spirit continues to unfold the reality of the Kingdom before us.

Certainly the challenge for our Church, and for the faithful within, is to understand that the Holy Spirit leads us into the uncomfortable.  The Spirit stretches us and opens us up.  Yet this same Spirit provides us with the strength and courage so that we might be able to make bold proclamations according to truth.  Both the prophets and the apostles discover this to be true.  They protest that they are too young, or they grow weary of being chased by evil people, yet discover an inner strength which enables them to stand firm on conviction and the values they have come to know.

When we allow the Spirit to work in our Church, and in our lives, we discover how powerful the grace of God really is.  We discover words and wisdom that we never knew that we had.  The Spirit allows the Church to be light, life, and holiness for the world.  More over it continues to be an obstacle and stumbling block for the impious and self-absorbed.

Lord Send Out Your Spirit and Renew the Face of the Earth.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Feed my Sheep

Scholars have mused a great deal over the Gospel of today, from John 21, whereas Jesus will ask Peter three times, whether he loves him.  Some claim it is because of the three-fold denial by Peter, while others will claim Jesus is setting forth instruction for the early Church; ie feeding, caring, tending.  In my great scholarship I like to think that sometimes it takes asking the same question three times to finally have a sincere and truthful answer.

In Isaiah 40 God is conveyed as the shepherd who takes care of the flock, and like in Psalm 23, pastures them with great care and compassion.  Later in 1 Peter 5, St. Peter instructs his community that the role of the shepherd, ie Bishop, must be one of love, care, and mercy.  Leadership is tempered with justice and love for those that one serves.

In the early description of the Christian community, as found in Acts, we see a group that are single minded and full of Paschal joy.  But where two or more are gathered we have conflicts, misunderstandings, and challenges.  More so, this early group of believers, not unlike today, has folks who have been part of the faith revealed to them by the apostles, while others are barely starting their faith journey.  So first the shepherd needs to be patient, kind, and a good teacher.  Second, as the believer grows they need to understand that so to do the challenges of faith.

Shepherding and Pastoring have never been easy tasks.  Like Paul in the readings of these last few days, some will always be offended by the Gospel message and want to destroy the messenger.  It is tempting to water down the message, but it is not being faithful.  The more we grow into our roles as faith-filled, baptized and confirmed Christians, the more and the greater responsibility we have in life.  This is a scary prospect.  But we are given the gift of the Spirit to sustain us and give us courage in our shepherding endeavors.

Make no doubt about it, the Shepherds and Pastors of our Church have an important role in the Church today.  But then again so do moms and dads who are responsible for the faith of their children, and married couples who are sacramental signs each day.  It is easy to become distracted.  So we need to be asked several times by Jesus, until we are really paying attention - Do you love me?  

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Where are we going?

In John's Gospel today, Jesus states, "Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God."  The Gospels continue with this theme that true discipleship comes with its relationship to God the Father.  This is of course where we want to be headed, but how we would want to live our lives today.  In John's Gospel there is some extrensive teaching about the love relationship which Jesus shares with the Father, and through the Paschal Mystery we share in that relatonship now.  And we want to live in that unity forever.

In one of Mark Twain's stories the young Tom Sawyer questions whether he wants to go to heaven.  The descriptions he hears are of long robed people waving palm branches and singing hymns.  This does not sound real exciting for him.  Cwertainly this does not sound real exciting for any of us.  But we need to re-visit an understanding of love and joy which we have found in the scriptures.  The loving relationship we come to understand is one of completeness and selflessness.  In a world that is overwwhelmed by lonliness, violence, and selfishness, it is difficult to perceive this place of light, happiness, and peasce which the scriptures allude to.

Every once in awhile we meet people, or have the experience, of selflessness.  Not only are we beset by its depth and sincerety, but also by its power to change our lives.  This is why the scriptures do not simply invite us to be "nice" to one anotehr, but to be profoundly loving.  The prayer that is offered in the Gospel today has Jesus praying that we, the people he has redeemed, may be protected while we live in the world.  And if we are blessed and graced by God, then we have the capacity to love boldly.  Our focus is on eternal life while we live as people in communion with God.  It's that 'Where Charity and Love prevail, there God is ever found.'

This goes back to this past Sunday in which our task is not about staring up into the heavens with longing, but being busy about the mission of Jesus Christ.  Our society offers many challenges to our faith today.  It is tempting to dilute the teachings of scripture and tradition and midigate the call to discipleship.  Inspired by the Holy Spirit people of the Kingdom of God have to be a stumbling block from time to time.

Why  can't we believe like everyone else?  Because we are consecrated to the truth.  That place of light, happiness, and peace, has to be our ultimate goal and reality.  We get there by remaining focused and orientated on what is good.  Anything else we are deceiving ourselves.

Sunday, May 20, 2012


In Paul's letter to the Hebrews, St. Paul carefully puts together the significance of the Paschal Mystery.  Jesus as the High Priest offers one perfect sacrifice, on the cross, which brings salvation and peace to the world, and sanctifies everyone else who participates in this sacrifice.  Some of the Patristics who comment about today's feast, would suggest that our participation is not just receiving the Eucharist, but rather it is a lifestyle that includes a dying to oneself.  Again there is that ominous .conversion and discipleship aspect to the faith which we profess.

Yesterday I went up to Rockford for an ordination of two men, to the priesthood, for our diocese.  One of my favorite parts of the ordination is at the receiving of the bread and wine, and while kneeling before the bishop, receiving the prepared chalice and paten, being directed to imitate the mystery that is celebrated.  Priestly ministry is not about prancing around the altar.  The sending forth in the new translation of the Mass directs us to 'Go and proclaim the Gospel of the Lord.'  Receiving and celebrating the Eucharist implies a lifestyle which imitates the Paschal Mystery.

Eons ago, in another parish, the director of our RCIA did a reflection on the consecration of the Mass.  Her entire focus was the phrase, "Do this in memory of me."  It was very good.  Her premise was that once we leave the Mass we continue to do our discipleship in memory of Jesus Christ.  To be sure there is a lot of yuck and gunk that is encountered each and every day, and our proclamation of the Gospel needs to be a beacon in the midst of darkness.

In the pastoral letter, Called and Gifted, the laity are challenged to possess the sacraments they receive in Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist, and to 'do ministry.'  I think that we sometimes still labor under the assumption that 'Father' and 'Sister' do church things.  The rest of the people show up to watch.  The Disciples are basically directed to stop staring up at the sky.  They are to be busy about building up the Church.  All Easter we have read from the Acts of the Apostles and have witnessed a faith-filled group which lives a Christian lifestyle, all the while struggling with the carious challenges and demands of the Gospel.

Our proclamation takes may forms and directions.  St. Paul reminds us that there are teachers, administrators, prophets, and evangelizers, all formed by the Holy Spirit.  Each step we take is a new moment of Gospel living.  We cannot stand around posing for holy cards, but have to get to work for the Kingdom of God.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Spirit of Truth

In high school and college, part of my television entertainment came from Saturday Night Live.  Most of the members of the original troupe became well loved mainstream actors and actresses.  The SNL skits were very funny for our teen-aged and young adult minds.  Everything from the Loud's, to the Church Lady, were parodies on the experiences and major news stories of the day.  There were enough suggestive remarks, and off color humor, to make the show and characters memorable.  As I have tried to watch the show in recent years though, I have found it more offensive than not. This is not from some sense of maturity, but the attempt at humor has become become vulgar and cheap.

In some ways this is our culture today.  We live in a place where everyone is a social commentator and a comedian; all in one.  As Paul and Silas launch out into the world to proclaim Good News, they find their message receiving less than a popular hearing.  They were going into a culture that was consumed with having, and an unusual philosophy of one's body and spirit.  To be sure they were in a place and time that was overtly materialistic and sensitized.  The message of the Gospel, with it's emphasis on compassion, love, and mercy, did not find an eager hearing among the various hearers.  More so to advocate a lifestyle based on moderation, charity, and chastity, was laughable by many.

Television shows such as SNL, are an indication of what our culture finds acceptable in regards to humor today, in addition to a base attitude towards the human person.  Discipleship as perceived in sacred scripture is more about instilling a sense of Christ-ness in the world today, through the love of God and one another.  Our Christian witness really has to be prophetic.  I have been recalling the story of "The emperors new clothes," as of late, and call to mind that the truth is found in the innocence of a child.

Faith and reason allows us to be in the world, yet to rise above the culture of the day.  If we are striving for truth then we cannot allow the vulgarities of the day to dissuade us from being and doing good.  The message of the Gospel really is a threat to many people today.  It asks us to be profound in matters of love, charity, justice and peace.  We are called to take seriously our human dignity, and respect life from the womb, to the tomb.

Every time we proclaim Good News there is a risk that someone will want to chase us down with a pointy stick or sharp instrument.  But in the realm of things it is a risk worth taking.  Going forth and proclaiming the Gospel of the Lord.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Bishop David John Malloy

Today our Diocese installed its ninth Bishop.  David John Malloy is a Wisconsin Native and has served the Church on a national and even international level.  This has been a wonderful two days of celebration and a mega liturgy.  Several of my brother priests have spoken about how excited they in receiving a man of his background and pastoral nature.  He seems to be a very kind and gentle man.

In actuality the Bishop is the full priest of the diocese.  Since it is difficult to celebrate 7:00 a.m. Mass at two dozen parishes, the Bishop will ordain Presbyters to assist him the ministry.  The Priest is ordained to preach, teach, and sanctify.  The Bishop stands as the head-shepherd of the local Church, or a diocese.  By the teachings and the policies of Bishop, a diocese receives a direction by which it responds to the needs and concerns of a particular local.

It is appropriate that we had the ordination and installation today being that it is the Feast of St. Matthias.  Matthias is appointed as the new apostles who would replace Judas.  This action was one of the first of many challenges that the early Church faced.  In addition to replacing apostles and devising the role of Deacons, the Church encountered some infighting and hostility from the outside.  The early faith communities continued to rely on the Eucharist and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to guide them.

But even today we have problems from the inside of the institution, as well as from without.  Like the early Church we are challenged to rely on the sacraments we have received, the power of the Holy Spirit, as well as the gifts and talents of shepherd like Bishop Malloy.  The tasks of the Church today, while they be daunting, are best answered through the human instruments like our Bishops.  Bishop Malloy asked that we pray for him, as he will pray for us.

May what God has begun in him be brought to completion.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

That all may be One

In 1 Peter, chapter 2, Peter tells his hearers that they are, "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.'  This is very different than what our society sees us as often times.  Men and women are more often than not perceived as a commodity, a business opportunity, and perhaps even as a means to be elected or elevated to a higher position.  Men and women are often perceived as a an objective for entertainment or personal satisfaction.

When the writings of John Paul II were compiled into what has become the Theology of the Body, the response ran the gamete from praise and inspiration, to criticism and outright anger.  Of course his starting point was the creation story, calling to mind that we are made in the image and likeness of God.  God calls us to be holy and sanctifies our lives.  Jesus as the image of the Father brings us salvation and peace through the Paschal Mystery.  So we really are chosen, royal, and holy.

Too often we recognize the hyper-criticism of truth and goodness.  We seem to have an odd thing going on whereas we talk about being open to one another, we become violent towards values and righteousness.  People like being angry about something nowadays.  This is where the love of God, through the mission and ministry of Jesus needs to make a difference.  Often Jesus encounters opposition and hostility as he offers forgiveness and love.  St. John reminds us that Jesus came as a light, but people preferred the darkness.  In darkness one can do what they want without taking responsibility.  The love of Jesus Christ brings light to the world, as well as an affirmation that we belong to the light.

If we have a relationship of love with God the Father, and are one with God, then we also must be one with each other also.  And that will make a difference as to how we respond to each other.  Human life and dignity are of immense importance.  A chosen, royal and holy people respects ones own body, and the bodies of each other.  True love pours itself out for the goodness of the other.  Just as Jesus continued to refer to the Father throughout John's Gospel, we want to make sure we are not imposing ourselves upon others, but looking out for each other in care and charity.

I think we can get stuck in sort of a 'Brady Bunch' motif of faith whereas everything is nice, sweet, simple, and resolved in twenty-six minutes.  Real love is hard work and invites us to go to the cross again and again. And at the cross we find Jesus, a fearful, yet faithful community, and we come to discover the resurrection.  We must see ourselves as we are, a chosen, royal, and holy, people, and then we can act righteously towards ourselves and others.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Church as an image of Christ

This past week we had our Jubilarian Mass and luncheon.  I have been ordained for twenty-five years come June.  As always it was great to be with the brothers.  The Bishop is the main celebrant and homilist.  His homilies for this occasion have always been distinctive and unmatched.Being with the Brothers always causes me to consider why I had made this choice to begin with.  So much of it has to do with the priests I grew up with.  Probably the biggest inspiration is the understanding of priesthood as something prophetic and truthful.

I had visited with an older gentleman this afternoon and told him about a time I had been at the bedside of a dying woman, and the conversation I had had with her.  I can honestly say that I had brought comfort to her, and perhaps even made her better able to accept what was happening in her life.  In both telling the story, and the subject of the story itself, I can recognize the value in the lives of so many people.  In recent weeks there has been much said about the power and authority present in those in the Church.  I always think that I must have missed something because I do not feel powerful or that I have a lot of authority.

A few weeks ago I was with some of our young people and we were discussing Theology of the Body.  It is always very uncomfortable, but I got the kids to laugh.  I felt good about that.  I hope that whatever we were able to discuss that night made a difference n their lives.  At the ordination rite the Bishop hands the newly ordained the chalice and bread, with the command to imitate the mystery he is celebrating.  The is an immense challenge that would not be possible without the inspiration and support of the Holy Spirit.  We are invited to consider that we do not do the ministry of the Church on our own.

As the Church we have receive the image and presence of Christ in the sacraments and the Word, in order make known the Good News to all peoples at all times.  There are days in which I had spent so much time with budgets or personnel issues, that it really 'feels good' to visit the home bound or be with the little children.  Because in the end I am called to teach, preach, and sanctify.  As Church it is important to remember this from time to time.  It is easy to become distracted with the activities of supporting the ministries rather than doing the ministries themselves.

It is certainly important to have a structure and a protocol in matters of being Church.  But in a world that includes violence, anxiety, sin, and confusion, we have to present the compassion and mercy of Jesus Christ to the world today.  Our preaching needs to be bold and centered in the truth; in addition to extending compassion and love to our hearers.  More so as a Church we are asked to step into the lives of the many people that we serve.

Go and proclaim the Gospel of the Lord.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

I am the Vine, you are the Branches

John's Gospel contains several proclamations in which Jesus reveals himself through various analogies.  I am the bread of life ..., I am the resurrection and the life ..., I am the good shepherd..., et al.  Sort of like the miracle stories in the synoptic Gospels, in John these statements unfold an understanding of the relationship that Jesus has with the Father in heaven, and with us.  We are as hearers given an insight into the very intimate relationship that exists in the love of the triune God, and the relationship which we are adopted into through Jesus.

Considering vines and branches, one very important aspect of this relationship is that it is sometimes difficult to determine where a branch ends and a vine begins.  The vine-grower has to be very careful therefore in pruning the vines, and caring for their growth.  There is a very 'hands on approach' to nurturing grape vines.  The true disciple follows the master so closely that the distinction between the master and student is difficult to discern.  Of course in our case it should be that we are following Jesus so carefully, and are so firmly connected to the source of our being, that it is hard to tell us apart from Jesus.

The care of the Father indicates that all of us have to be pruned.  An un-pruned vine might be full of leaves and appear very healthy, but it is really overgrown and offers little or no fruit.  This common theme from the scriptures reiterates the expectation that as disciples we are expected to bear good fruit.  I think it was in Luke's Gospel which we read yesterday for First Communion, and the story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand.  When the disciple present their problem to Jesus, is response to them (read to us) is the challenge of, "Give them something to east yourselves."

Fruitful disciples offer an abundance of food.  More so it is in the bearing of fruit that the work of God the Father can be recognized.  Jesus is careful to point this out in John's Gospel.  In John Jesus reminds us that he does nothing on his own.  Rather he obediently follows the Father.  A true disciple responds faithfully to the call to serve, and does what the Father asks of him.  In this way he serves the mission and ministry of the Kingdom of God, and eventually the Church.

But to do any of this calls for that intimate vine and branch relationship which we develop with Jesus the Christ. It is a relationship that is nurtured by lots of pruning and following the commandments of Jesus Christ.  The Spirit empowers us to do this so that we can courageously go out and bear lots of fruit.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

First Eucharist

Today we have some forty children receiving the Eucharist for the very first time.  Now I used to be with a pastor who referred to this day as the "magic moment," considering that this would be the first time since baptism that many had been in church.  More over some of these families will not be seen until confirmation.  But with all of this doom and gloom aside, the apostles continued to misunderstand and misconstrue the works and words of Jesus.

But what we are dealing with is the Body and Blood of Christ.  When we speak about the Eucharist as being a symbol it is not a matter of being 'like' the Body of Christ, but in actuality is the Body of Christ.  The theology behind this awesome sacrament is that through the hands of the priest, simple bread and wine is offered up, and the spirit descends upon the elements,  which in turn are the Body and Blood of Christ.  The bread and wine are not 'blessed,' as I would bless a scapular or water, but are consecrated.  The elements become changed.

Pope Pius X was insistent in the frequent reception of the Eucharist, as well as the receiving this sacrament at a younger age.  Prior to this time the Eucharist was received once a year at most, and usually one was 8-10 years of age before first communion.  Pius realized that such an important part of our sacramental and spiritual life should not be reserved exclusively for adoration, but needed to be received on a regular basis.  St Paul often writes about the Eucharist as an action of sharing, eating and drinking.  But Paul also challenges his listeners to take the Eucharist in a worthy manner.

The Second Vatican Council will speak about the liturgy, but especially the Eucharist, as being the source and summit of our faith life.  More so the saw all of the ministries of the Church as an extension of the Eucharist.  The vision of Vatican II was that the Eucharist might be available to all peoples whenever they were to gather for prayer and worship.  But again this would depend upon whether one was spiritually and morally prepared to receive the Body of Christ.  Many hands have been wrung over the fact that we had gone from a time when no one went to communion, to when everyone goes to communion.

Today the Eucharist still is the central identifying factor of catholics.  While it is misunderstood by some, this simple bread and wine becomes the beginning our relationship with God in Christ.  The Body and Blood of Christ beckons our memories to consider the suffering, dying, and rising of Jesus Christ.  The communion we share insists on a community of love and reconciliation.  "Do this in Memory of Me," is not just about the bread and wine becoming the Body and Blood of Christ, but a lifestyle committed to truth and dignity.

These children will go home today to cake, sweet sugary drinks, and Italian beef sandwiches.  The grace and blessing of the Body and Blood of Christ will continue to work in their lives.  It is also the Parish communities responsibility to offer a living witness of what it means to be the body of Christ.  We pray that just as the bread and wine are changed, these children might be transformed into the image of God's Son.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

I am the Light

Today is the feast of one of our Church's outstanding theologians, St. Athanasius of Alexandria, who live in the early third century, and was a contemporary of St. Alexander.  Athanasius was one of several Bishops at Nicaea who defined the nature of Christ.  His writings and preaching helped the Church to develop a deeper theology of Christ, and of the role of the Church.

Athanasius is probably best known for his defense of the nature of Christ, against the heresy of Arius.  In the early centuries of the Church there was a great controversy as to whether Jesus was fully divine, or whether he contained both a divine and human nature at all times.  Needless to say these disputes caused a rift in the Church,and much confusion within the early Church.  To be sure the teachings of the Patristics offered a framework for the Church as to the foundations of our faith.

In our Church today, as there has been for the last two thousand years, there is controversy and concern as to what to believe.  The teachings of the Church sometimes can seem confusing and even out of place in our contemporary society.  The challenge of the teaching authority of the Church, as well as those who are believers, is to remain faithful to the essence of our faith.  When I was in college we had two professors who had an ongoing debate, over some Church issue, which was hashed out in the Diocesan paper.  The funny things was that both professors were right; though coming at the issue from different angles.

At times we do not always know, that we do not know, so we latch on to a philosophy or spirituality which seems convenient at the time.  It would seem much more welcoming if everyone could come and receive the Eucharist at Mass.  And if God loves us don't men and women go right to heaven, especially if they are good people.  There are a plethora of teachings which might make us uncomfortable, but it is part of the faith we behold.  Most importantly it would seem expedient  for us to read and study the reasoning of such theology.  It is easy to dismiss what we do not like.  The more difficult task is to come to an understanding.

People like Athanasius endured many hardships and much offensiveness because he maintained a teaching that was connected to the Scriptures and apostolic tradition.  In John's Gospel Jesus tells his hearers that he had come to testify to the truth.  He readily admits for us that the truth is hard to hear and not always popular.  It is important to reflect whether we are looking towards a faith In Christ's image, or our own.  Is the Church about the Kingdom, or about me?  I think it is about Jesus the Christ.