Friday, June 29, 2012

Saints Peter and Paul

In celebrating these ordinary men, who are called to proclaim the Gospel in spirit and in truth, we also celebrate the extra-ordinary ministry we share in, by being called by Jesus Christ.  When we celebrate the sacraments, and come together for the Eucharist, we are asked to respond in faith.  Whether we are directed to go and 'sin no more,' or to 'go and proclaim the Gospel,' our faith is to be our foundation and our guide.  Both Peter and Paul are shown as initially misguided by their own wants and needs, and later as servants of the Gospel, become the greatest of the apostles; rooted in the Paschal Mystery.

So before either Peter or Paul can answer the question, "Who do people say that I am?" they, like us, have to first discover who they are.  We begin our own journey of faith by recognizing our own emptiness and weakness before God.  As Peter is called to discipleship he is able to proclaim, "Leave me Lord for I am a sinful man."  And Paul writes that he is, "Least among the apostles."  In making this kind of profession of faith they realize the lack of grace on their own and the need they have for the divine in the ordinary and extra-ordinary affairs of living.

Again and again, in the preaching of Peter and Paul, our identity in Christ is shown in our inescapable need for Jesus to be our Messiah.  We cannot fully appreciate the grace and gifted-ness we have from God unless we first recognize and develop a relationship with Jesus Christ.  By connecting ourselves to Christ Jesus we soon discover a wisdom and insight that leads us to truth, but then is able to convey that same truth to others.  But again it means we have to be rooted to the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Recently, and especially this week, we have seen so many examples where men and women have refused to live as children of light, preferring the darkness over the light.  Peter and Paul will discover that the word of God, the message of the Gospel, is often met with hostility and dejection.  As bearers of Good News we are sometimes dejected along with the Gospel.  This is why we have to rely on Christ in our mission and ministry.  His grace and love allows us to remain firm in the truth and unmovable in our faith.  St. Paul asks the question, if God is for us who can be against us.

As a Church, and the faithful that are part of the Body of Christ, we have to unite ourselves to this 'Rock' foundation of the Church.  As we live in communion with Christ, and all holy men and women, we will never be assailed by the Sins and weaknesses that seek to undo us.  "The powers of death shall not prevail" against the Church and it's mission.  Like Peter and Paul, we seek to throw ourselves upon the love and mercy of Christ as we help to establish a place of light, happiness, and peace.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Do Not Fear, But Believe

I am starting to read another one of my summer books.  This one is entitled, 'Servant Leader,' or something of that nature.  The context is using the spiritual motif of servanthood, in the business world today.  The author (whose name I have yet to recall) had attended a leadership seminar at a monastery.  The monk-retreat leader had been a former investment banker, before joining a monastery.  I will have more on this as the summer progresses.

As short as the Gospel is, Mark succinctly outlines how human fear, greed, ambition, selfishness, and self-righteousness, can lead to death and destruction, and distance us from any relationship with God and others.While we may have enjoyed the writings of Charles Dickens, Flannery O'Connor, or Samuel Clemens, they are very blunt in pointing out how sin and brokenness can destroy individuals as well as an entire culture.  And like those surrounding  the child in the Emperors New Clothes, we do not always have the courage to point out where there is something wrong.

In today's Gospel (Mk 7:6, 12-14) the crowd is hurrying Jesus to the synagogue officials home.  Everyone is so caught up in this drama, they miss the un-named woman, who had been suffering for a lifetime, with a disease.  This one of those situations whereas Jesus reminds us that the Father's love and mercy are meant for all peoples.  The salvation and peace promised us is not just about those who have a 'voice' in society, but also about those who we could easily bypass.  Jesus spends some time with this woman, reassures her that her healing is because she did not allow fear to keep her from reaching out to the Christ.

Again the teachings and proclamation of Jesus is not all rainbows and daisies.  Jesus challenges us to love our enemies, to forgive our persecutors, to take up a cross, and know that the kingdom is based on the ability to give a cup of water to a thirsty man or woman.  We are called to be servants (not door-mats) of the Gospel. And not unlike a gentleman's gentleman, have the ability to guide, lead, and serve one one another, along a pathway of healing and hope.  But we have to have the ability to wash feet.

More and more it becomes apparent that we need servant-leaders who aspire to nothing more that eliminating fear, and offering compassion, communion, and peace.  Our profession of faith needs to be bold and eager as we go out into the world.  But try to go through the narrow door.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Nativity of John the Baptist

"His name is John."  That had to be a shock to the relatives and friends of Zechariah and Elizabeth.  To some maybe these two old people were flaunting tradition.  To others though the events surrounding the conception and birth of John the Baptist were something more along the divine realm.  In Luke's Gospel, Luke uses this marvelous inter-play of call and response.  Luke wants us to understand that God directly intervenes in our lives so as to offer salvation and peace.

We see in the section of Zechariah, that when there is doubt, not just confusion or misunderstanding, God imposes sort of a silent retreat to reflect on the Word of God.  When John is named, Zechariah's tongue is loosened and he begins to speak; praising God and prefacing the life of John the Baptist.  But there is your typical faith journey.  The struggle we all have with the presence of God's love and mercy.

In this other birth narrative God again shows himself as counter-cultural, and beyond the expectation of men and women.  God is born into our lives through a virgin, in a remote village, in the midst of poverty and oppression.  The Son of God is not a powerful warrior king, but a wandering preaching who is mistrusted by the religious authorities and loved by public sinners and outcasts.  So like the folks who are with Zechariah and Elizabeth, we might seem a little confused, if not frightened about our faith and relationship with God.

Ours is a radical faith.  John's preaching and ministry calls for nothing less than metanoia.  That is turning our lives around.  John's birth challenges us to own and live our faith.  I am apt to recall a parish far away, long, long ago, whereas when asked about he most important part of parish life, replied that it was their annual dinner.  Try as I might to get them to say, 'the Mass,' 'the sacraments,' or 'our prayer together,' they kept going back to the dinner.  You see, it raised a lot of money for the parish.  "The main thing, is to keep the main thing, the main thing, Christ and him crucified."  I always forget where that is from, but is a reminder that our faith is about the cross, the Kingdom of God, and a relationship with God.

Especially at this juncture, we can be nothing less than faithful disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ.  We are called to have the ability to proclaim with Zechariah, the name of the Lord, Blessed.  We cannot give up on being faithful because it is not going our way.  God goes beyond our expectations of bringing us salvation and peace and we are happy about that.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Religion and Politics

As part of the Fortnight, our Deanery had a Red Mass yesterday at Christ the Teacher Newman Center.  It was appropriate to have this Mass on the Memorial of St. Thomas Moore, but also at a Newman Center.  It is hard to miss the ongoing debate about religion in the political realm, and in the public square.  A question that continues to raise its head is the place of religion in so called political issues.  But, considering topics like abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty, and poverty; are these political or moral issues?

It would seem obvious that issues concerning life, and the quality of life, have definitive moral and ethical overtones.  With that being said, social justice would insist that we implore our legislators to enact laws and policies that uphold life, and defend the poor and marginalized.  Of course this is where things become intertwined.  In a perfect world we would work together to respond to the needs and concerns of everyone around us.  But in our broken world we do things that are most expedient for the present moment.

At an lecture at Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., Archbishop Charles Chaput, Archbishop of Philadelphia, spoke about religion and religious liberty.  At one point he spoke about the perception of 'Man' as he is conceived in our Bill of Rights, and the Constitution.  Chaput pointed out, "Man is first and fundamentally a religious being with intrinsic worth, a free will and inalienable rights. He is created in the 
image of God, by God and for God. Because we are born for God, we belong to God. And
any claims that Caesar may make on us, while important, are secondary."  It would seem that when Chaput speaks about religious, he is speaking less about an institution and more about a philosophy or even a theology of being.

The waters get muddied when we try to insist on a relationship between religion and politics as an 'either or,' as opposed to a 'both, and.'  To be sure we have witnessed devastation and horror in places where the religion and the government are one.  But shouldn't what we legislate be responsible to certain morals and ethical principles.  More so, it would seem that since men and women are orientated towards a belief system which transcends the here and now, that the government should be respectful of those beliefs and mores.  The prohibition of the establishment of religion have nothing to do with religion influencing our social or culture, but rather holding one religion up as the true religion.

There is a slippery slope which begins with the paring away of the essence of any groups beliefs or values.  I am reminded of a science fiction novel from many years ago, THX 1138.  There was a state religion which looked sort of like a combination of world religions.  People worshiped a program.  Because we perceive religion as a peripheral rather than part of his essence, as a culture we gladly take parts of it away.  We need to understand and appreciate the intersection of religion and politics, as being complimentary to our world and not against it.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

This is My Body

This past week saw the International Eucharistic Congress take place in Dublin, Ireland. There were about 10,000 participants from throughout the globe.  My understanding was that it was an outstanding gathering centered on what is central to our faith, and our Church.  The Eucharist transcends our human limitations and draws us into the the mystery of the Paschal sacrifice.

The Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, opened the Congress with a recollection of the Vatican II document, Gaudium et Spes. The document itself invites the Church to live in the modern world as a sign and symbol of the Paschal Mystery we celebrate.  Archbishop Martin used this notion to connect the Eucharist to the world today.  Archbishop Martin suggests that just as we are in communion with God through the Body of Christ, we are also in communion with humanity.

Martin spoke about how the religion and the political/cultural realm of the Irish people were very much interconnected for generations.  While the world as a whole is very different than it was 20 years ago, there is a need of inter-connection and dialogue between our faith and the world.  Vatican II spoke about the necessity of the Church being a source of evangelization.

I like using the image of cotton candy to describe a faith with seeks very surface level satisfaction.  It is a faith, or even better a religion, which has to be sweet and tasty.  The problem is of course it never fills us up. The challenge of the Eucharist, and of the ministry of Jesus, is its call to feed, heal, forgive, and uphold.  The whole of our Eucharistic theology leads us back to the dying and rising of Christ.  Our communion with God demands that we love God and others with our whole heart mind and soul.

The Eucharist proclaims the joy of good news.  Wherever Jesus went he cared for people and shared insights of the Kingdom of God.  The Eucharist cannot be take out food not our own private devotion.  It asks us to seek truth and to work for peace and justice.  The ideal of one bread, and one body invites us to see the commonality that exists in the world.  We all share in the same hungers - and are given the same bread of life.

After Mass we go forth and become bread for one another.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Mustard Seed Chronicles

In St. Paul's letter today, he advises his listeners to "Aspire to please him."  Paul will go on to say that is because we walk by faith, not by sight.  I remember one of the lines from a Godspell  song, which states, "The seed is planted in the good soil in the ground, but it is fed and watered by God's almighty hand."  Like today's Gospel reading, we witness the miracles of God's grace and blessing, but we cannot fully appreciate the 'hows' and 'whys' of God's will or wisdom.  But the challenge for us is to become part of the story.

One of the commentaries I had read this week spoke about the faith and trust which Abraham and Sarah had.  At their time and place children and family were very much off of the radar.  Through Abraham's faithfulness a great deal of children were attributed to them, of a legacy which Abraham would never see.  Abraham believed that the message of God would be fulfilled because he had come to know God as a faithful God.

This is the story of so many of the prophets, and holy men and women throughout the generations.  Their 'Yes' to God was filled with struggle, hardships, and uncertainty - as well as overwhelming peace and joy.  As Thomas Merton once mused, we have no idea as to whether we are really doing God's will.  Yet these same folks are faithful to the larger picture, the image of the Kingdom of God.  Now there is a fatalistic temptation to simply be nice to others, and to go on as we please.  Life is short, so we need to be happy in this life, and hope for the best in the next.  But this leads to frustration because we can never fill up what is lacking.

But we are about sowing seeds.  We will no always see our live returned to us, or our compassion rewarded.  I remember a former high school student of mine who was a real brat, coming up to me as an adult, commenting that I was a 'cool' priest back in the day.  The real challenge is to continue to sow seeds of love, kindness and forgiveness.  We have to get over the idea that like the Brady Bunch, all of our dilemmas will be resolved in 26 minutes.

Being faithful can be most difficult in that we do not always see the results of our faithfulness.  We are always in process.  Bishop Doran, our now retired Bishop, used to have us read a tremendous amount for his marriage class.  Years later he had told me that he knew that sometime in life those assignments would come back to us, and would make sense in some situation.  So we strive to be the holy men and women we are called to be.  And with God's help we become the sign and symbol of holiness for generations to come.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Healthy Religion

I had just finished reading, Bad Religion:  How we Became A Nation of Heretics, by Ross Dauthat.  I like the fact that he intermingles a sociological thread throughout the text.  In today's culture it is increasingly easy to see the world as either right or left leaning.  In the Religious sphere Dauthat takes both sides head-on.  His text is not only a challenge for our religious bodies but also our cultural mores as well.

True religious theology, that is not heretical, has mystery, and includes an often times contradictory concept within its teaching and precepts.  Dauthat shuns religious who declare themselves spiritual, but have no religious affiliation, and those who religion is based on their wealth or position.  He uses a phrase that I have heard before, which is that Christians should be uncomfortable in their cultural skins.  This is very much like the proposal that we find in John's Gospel.  The true follower of Jesus must live a counter-cultural lifestyle.

I  was on a retreat a few years ago in which the retreat leader centered on the Gospel of Mark.  For St. Mark the Disciple had to completely abandon their sense of self, and identify with Jesus.  We see frustration in Jesus as the apostles fight over their ranking amongst each other.  The Christian lifestyle really is an ongoing giving of oneself so as to achieve new life.  But he reality is that we do that day in and day out.

Last week my good friend and myself stopped at a Benedictine Monastery, to look over the retreat facilities, and sat with the abbot for some time.  As I sat there it occurred to me that in a monastery there is really no place to hide.  People talk about 'running away' to be a monk or nun, though in reality you are forced to be with others.  First of a relationship with God is demanded of one.  And secondly even monks and nuns are expected to be part of the community.

Using that same model we have to force ourselves to live the Gospel lifestyle that is entrusted to us.  The older I grow the more I realize what a radical lifestyle it relly is.  True religion does not offer easy answers or solutions.  If it does maybe it isbecause it is just bad religion.'  Moving through faith as adults we have to struggle with som very difficult questions of life based on truth, justice, love, and not just a bunch of sound-bytes.

I have a few other books waithing to be read.  Part of being a religious person has to be mulling over our beliefs and faith.  We can never pretend that we are done learning or reflecting.  God has given us every good thing.  We  have a responsibility to uncover it.  It is good stuff.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Word Made Flesh

Cardinal William Burke, Prefect of the Apostolic Signature, recently spoke at a conference in Rome, for those working in the field of Catholic communications.  It is interesting to note that Burke was the developer of the "Dead Theologian Society."  This is a study group for young people centered on the lives of the Saints and holy men and women throughout the ages.  In speaking about the media, Cardinal Burke reminded his listeners of the awesome responsibility that they have in providing information and promoting the Gospel.  As a Church we can use the media for catechesis and evangelization.  There is a lot of good that can come out of the various media available to us.

John Paul II was a prolific writer, with a long list of published books.  He is probably one of the only Popes to have a comic book series based on his life.  Benedict XVI has a Twitter account, and often Tweets messages and information.  While the Apostles used the methods available to them at the time, they certainly might have used the Internet if it were available to them.

Some of my classmates from eastern dioceses had days in which they were "on-call" in the rectory.  They were in houses with two or three other priests, and at least twice a week they had to stay in the rectory.  So people stopping for everything from a blessing to reconciliation would have a priest available to them.  This is an older model, but makes me wonder whether there is a better way to communicate the Gospel rather than sitting in a office all day.  Even the Apostles went from town to town.

We are fortunate today to have a large amount texts, DVDs, CDs, and the Internet to guide and direct our inquiries and our faith life.  Too often we take to looking up the end of the world motifs or some equally out of the ordinary topics.  But what a great way to enhance our faith and religious life than to read commentaries of one of St. Paul's letters, or than to do an online retreat.  Cardinal Burke recommended that we avoid those materials that are negative to Christianity.  While it is good to know what the complaints are, it is important to be nurtured by healthy and succinct material.

Catholic media has come a long way from the Catholic newspaper and Faith and Freedom readers.  There is a wealth of information that we can take home with us.  Even more so, it is important that we stay informed about the current issues and challenges of our Church and our world.  Being Catholic means to have our sights set on heaven with our feet firmly planted upon the earth.  That pathway is made evident when it is well informed.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Body and Blood of Christ

At St. Meinrad, where I went to seminary, the eucharistic bread was made by the monks.  These were round unleavened loaves, which were think and chewy.  The wine also was the monks own vintage, perfected from the monastery's own vineyards.  In mentioning this to people there is sometimes an audible gasp.  We are so used the round wafers that 'bread-like' loaves seems shocking.

And yet the entire idea of the Eucharist is to "Take and Eat," and to "Take and Drink."  This is real food and drink which becomes for us, in reality, the Body and Blood of Christ.  In both the Acts of the Apostles, and in St. Paul's letters, there is an understanding of the sacredness of this meal.  The early Church seemed to appreciate the fact that this was a sacred action in which the participants entered the mystery of the Paschal sacrifice.  This seems to be evident in Paul's admonishments as to what behaviour is expected around the Eucharist, and in the fact the Eucharist was celebrated whenever a new ministry was begun, or a decision was to be made.

John Paul II had a great devotion to the Eucharist and encouraged a greater love of, and prayers associated, to the Eucharist.  Rituals and devotions such as a holy hour and benediction had not been celebrated as often as it once had.  These rites are a great source of meditation and reflection on this food from heaven.  But most importantly for the life of the catholic, the Mass which is celebrated daily is the springboard which leads us into our daily life.  The Vatican II has often referred to the celebration of the Eucharist as the "source and summit" of our Church's life.  To be sure the Eucharist is a memorial which Christ leaves us to offer us the strength and courage to go about our mission activity.

I have often used the analogy of Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, when speaking of the Mass.  It is here we have a wide assortment of family members gathering together, sharing stories, and most importantly eating.  At Mass too we come together with all of our faults and foibles, listening to our faith story, and eating and drinking.  We go home from Thanksgiving strengthened in our identity; as we are sent out of Mass recalling the Paschal mystery, ready to do Church.

The feast we celebrate today is about the core of our being.  We are called together through baptism and confirmation, and affirmed by being invited around this sacred table.  Then we are fed and nourished for our journey of faith.  The Body and Blood of Christ is comfort food in that it becomes a holy embrace, and is a challenge in that it asks us to be poured out as well.

By consuming the Body and Blood of Jesus we affirm that we are members of his Body.  We understand that we do not walk alone but he is with us to nurture and nourish us.  Just as Jesus became one with us, this Eucharist asks that we become one with him.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Take Lord Receive ...

Most of us are probably familiar with the Anima Christi, "Soul of Christ Sanctify me, Body of Christ Save me"  This is a great prayer of meditation and of abandonment.  Sometimes when I ask people to pray a prayer of abandonment, or the Prayer of Francis, I get some real funny looks.  It is a real challenge to let ourselves become immersed into the persona of Christ.  We want some control.  Our spiritual life tells us to seek Christ in all things, and in all places.

When Blessed John Paul II spoke about the New Evangelization, he was indicating a process of formal teaching and preaching as well as a lifestyle among all men and women.  There was an article that I came across on Face book the other day asking the question as to whether Jesus was "nice."  I have spoken about this (though no one ever publishes my works) for some time now, that Jesus was not about simply being nice to one another.  The Gospel message is not conveyed by niceness, but by a radical and authentic faith.  In Mark's Gospel for instance, Discipleship is the ability to go to the cross with Jesus.

Yesterday at our grade school graduation there was a non-catholic family at the Mass.  Their child is a wonderful young lady who is respectful and caring as well as a very good student.  It was evident that the Mass was very unfamiliar to them, they sang louder than most of the catholics and were very attentive to the scriptures being read.  It was apparent to me that the most important part of this family's desire for their daughter was a faith education.  the "catholic things" might have seemed strange, but they desired faith.

In the midst of the wickedness and evil in our world, we cannot afford to have our expressions of faith to be a private matter.  We really need to be profound in charity, social justice, and compassion.  But like the rich man, we cannot get there if we are in our own way.  Personally I think Stewardship and Evangelization need to take center stage in our Church-life.  But as a Church we need to seek the truth and to make bold proclamations of the Gospel message.  It is a message not just about being 'nice' to others, but bearing Good News.

Later in the summer I will be going up to a recreation area to have Mass for a World-wide marriage encounter group.  Some are a bit uncomfortable with their faith expression, it can and should be a challenge to those within, and outside of the Church.  We empty ourselves and take on the ways of Christ. Our new lifestyle teaches, preaches, and sanctifies.  By being poured out like Christ we can become worthy instruments of his love.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Holy Trinity

Throughout the centuries men and women have attempted to grasp, or even to describe, the mystery of the Trinity.  St. Augustine has written some wonderful texts on the relationship that exists between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  He expands our understanding on the relationship and communion of the Trinity.  In more recent times Karl Rahner had offered some insightful direction of the Trinity, and how it exists for us today.

This icon depicts the relationship of the Trinity.  The three angelic figures are Father, Son and Holy Spirit, reclining with each other at table, with a space at the table for us.  To be sure this latter piece is essential for us to take home.   In Baptism we enter into this perfect communion,  In water and the Holy Spirit, through the Paschal Mystery, we now share in the life of the Trinity.  Now we have always had a connection with the Trinity.  The Father's love continued to 'hound' us down throughout the generations.  When men and women wandered away from God's love, God reached out and drew us back in.

This is an important part of the relationship.  In John's Gospel there is an intimate relationship described between the Father, Son, and Spirit.  Jesus speaks about the union that he has with the Father, and even more so, he does not act on his own, but does what the Father commands.  And as he prepares to offer himself on the cross, he promises the apostles that they will send their Spirit upon the apostles.  While at one point we tried to describe the Trinity in relation to 'creator,' 'redeemer,' and 'sanctifier,' a more apt description would be the relation of perfect love that exists in the Trinity.

In recent weeks we have seen soft news stories in which total strangers have given to others with no expectation of return.  On a regular basis we hear about people celebrating 60 and even 70 years of marriage.  To be sure there is a lot of selfless love, forgiveness, and nurturing going on in these relations.  Then there are religious men and women, priests, who have remained in ministry, even through very turbulent times.  These are folks who have touched the divine, and likewise share the image of the Trinity with others.  Like the Holy Trinity is the sign of perfect love and unity, people who make attempts to love selflessly become a sign and symbol of that same perfect love.

In creation, salvation, and divine providence, the Holy Trinity is not merely theology or a proposition.  It is the way that God loves, and a model for our relationships.  God comes into our midst as one like us, so that we could become more like Him.  So we ask God to continue to bless us Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.