Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Ignatius of Loyola

Today we honor a great scholar and theologian of our Church, the founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius was sent to spread the Gospel message in whatever ways possible.  The Spiritual Exercises are classic, and of great value to our Church and our culture today.  The Jesuits have always been on the "cutting edge" of theology, which is perhaps why they are always held in suspicion.

When I was in seminary, we had a weekly seminar in which we would discuss our week's classes, in relationship to some theme, or issue in the Church.  Of course the more we learned, and discovered how to pray and reflect, the better the sessions were.  These gatherings helped us to remain focused in our study, as well as our potential ministry as priests.  The ability to 'theologize,' ponder, and reflect are vastly important for our growth as faithful people.  We might believe that we do not have time, but we have to make the time to do theology and the work of faith.

Not only do the saints and holy men and women have this outstanding spiritual life, but simply review the persons we meet in sacred scripture, who ponder the Word of God, wrestle with divinity, and stand in the presence of God.  These persons too are doing theology as they go about searching for meaning and purpose, in addition working for justice and peace.  They are struggling with some of the very same issues which we do today.

The Church shows us how important it is to ask questions, and seek the integrity and dignity, of our brothers and sisters.  It really is a sign of faith to seek for truth and to uncover the God who lives in our midst.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

They regarded him as a Prophet

The Apostles had returned to Jesus all fired up about what the healing, proclamation of the Gospel message, and the expulsion of demons, so they were both inspired as well as tired.  Jesus tries to have them go away to rest, but when they get to their place of respite, Jesus sees that they are like sheep without a shepherd, and he begins to teach them.  So this brings us to today, and the people are physically hungry.

And of course we know the rest of the story whereas Jesus multiplies loaves and fishes, and gives the people more than they can eat.  Perhaps some of us of a mature age can remember how the Sunday chicken or roast, lasted well into Tuesday.  Our parents made sure that we had enough to eat, clean clothes, and a place to sleep.  Dads and moms knew that sometimes we were like sheep without a shepherd.  Even more so that same table where we received our nourishment was a place of teaching, consolation, and even admonishment.

Jesus it seems is trying to teach the apostles something about taking responsibility for those that they serve.  What seems to be a crisis, we only have a few loaves of bread, and some fish, becomes an opportunity to put faith into action.  With Jesus at our side, how can I feed and care for the hungry and afflicted?  This becomes a faith response.  At the end of Mass we are challenged to go and proclaim the Gospel.  And to paraphrase St. Francis of Assisi, we would use words if we absolutely had to.

St. Paul today speaks about approaching each other with humility, patience, and gentleness.  Certainly we can learn these virtues at the family dining table, but our faith communities learn this at the Eucharistic table when we gather together to worship.  When we learn early on how to act as a family, committed to our faith, the sheep without a shepherd is no longer a scary sight.  In fact it is our springboard into the world to begin to unfold the mystery of God's love.

People who come into our home can hear and see all the good things of the Lord, because we are blessed in abundance, and have learned to make abundant what we have been given.  Our faith is not just what we do in Church, but only begins there, and extends itself out into the lives of others.

Friday, July 27, 2012

A Christian Nation?

I had begun reading a book on the history of Christmas.  I thought, why wait until the last minute?  In the Church it was a relatively minor feast, but in the last few centuries it has taken on great importance.  In the 17th through 19th centuries it was a grand festival which lasted for three days.  A lot of eating and drinking was done at that time.  What becomes obvious is that this celebration had less to do with the Incarnation, and became more about the social frivolities.  It would be a stretch to say that these people had any devotion to the theological mystery surrounding Christmas.

In recent years we have reminded ourselves that our nation was founded on religious precepts, and that those who came to this new land did so for the freedom to practice religion, without fear of persecution.  While it is true we want moral and ethical leaders, we do not expect them to be religious leaders.  But we should expect those who profess some sort of faith to be religious in their demeanor and response to the world and all that it offers.

In recent weeks we have witnessed several situations which are presented to us as a controversy, and a response from those, who might describe themselves as religious, or spiritual, being less than compassionate and understanding.  The new word of today seems to be, "tolerance."  And yet the response of so many towards opposing views would seem to be intolerance.  We decry oppression, injustice, hate, and anger, up until that time we disagree on various issues.  Then we begin to close off any understanding.

I often tell this story of this freshman student, who stated in my class, that people should be allowed to do whatever they wanted to.  There should be no rules or directions, ie moral norms.  But when I suggested that I could hit her upside the head with a meter-stick, she became a bit defensive.  Whether she understood it or not, she began to express the basics of natural law.  This reminds me that as a culture we have forgotten to deal with truth.  Truth is not a relative issue, some might think otherwise; there are rights and wrongs, bads and goods.  Humanity is created with dignity and integrity that cannot be removed nor should be violated.

As a 'Christian nation' we have to do theology.  Unless I practice my faith, it is about as useful as my Red Cross CPR certification card.  We spend a lot of time sitting on it.  Faith is brought into the public sphere and informs and guides our decisions, especially those dealing with life and death, and care of the anawim.  In any issue we have to discover the truths that are being conveyed or challenged.  It is dangerous to let our minds and hearts be led by sound-bytes.

Our Baptism calls us to something more.  The lifestyle we live has to be counter-cultural.  If we seek to keep everyone happy, or simply follow the herd, we are being unfaithful to our religious beliefs.  Everyday we have to make a profession of faith.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Can you Drink From the Cup?

On this feast of St. James the Office of Readings has us read from a homily by St. John Chrysostom.  St. John takes apart today's reading from St. Mark.  James and John are looking for some sort of reward or recognition for their work as followers of Jesus.  The response of Jesus is to respond that the only "rewards" program that he offers is the cross.  But by accepting the cross, and living daily with the reality of the cross, men and women will experience eternal life.

The disciples will eventually begin to realize this.  Even St. Paul speaks about the imperishable crown that he works for, which exists in the Kingdom of Heaven.  True disciples accept that the goal of their work is not the honors and rewards that are bestowed on us here in this sphere, but the unfolding of the divine values and purpose which, though sometimes unobservable,  give meaning and purpose to the human person.  Consider the times when we have gone out of our way, or acted selflessly, knowing that we would not be thanked, but understanding that we had enabled another to experience some good thing.  Husbands, wives, and parents do this all of the time.

The discipleship that Mark speaks about so often is that we do a good thing because it is a good thing to do.  I remember at one parish where someone had donated some statuary to the parish.  From that point on he would complain to the Pastor as to how "his" statues were being cared for or displayed.  We are challenged to give ourselves freely for the welfare and benefit of the Kingdom of God.  We are not called to be doormats or dishrags, but instruments of the peace and joy of Jesus Christ.  If we profess we believe in this faith, what does that look like on the outside.

The cross is not made to make us look glum, but to draw us into a deeper level of love and compassion without counting the cost.  We have to be willing and able to be Christ for each other.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Like sheep without a Shepherd

It is sort of appropriate to have today's gospel set here, prior to six weeks worth of Eucharistic readings.  And today's is a wonderful Gospel.  After the the disciple come back from mission, Jesus tries to take them away for some respite.  As they climb out of the boat, the crowds were already waiting for them. Mark tells us that they were like sheep without a shepherd, and Jesus had pity, or a better word, compassion, for them.

During this anniversary year of Vatican II, we hearken back to the Constitution of the Church in the Modern World, and the challenge for the Church to be a source of compassion in the world today.  When I preside, when I distribute communion, I am aware of the peoples in our parish who are in need.  We have people who struggle with loss, fear, and anxiety, of every kind.  To be sure the task of the Church is to be acutely aware of the needs and concerns of the flock.

And, as St. James will remind us, we cannot simply say, 'stay warm and well fed.'  The Church responds to the brokenness and hurt through its sacraments and ministry.  I always wish I had the numbers memorized, but the Catholic Social Services and Catholic Relief Services responds to tens of thousands of people each year, responding to their physical and spiritual needs.  This is not about bragging but this is what we do as the  body of Christ.  The shepherding continues through our ministry.

In our Church and in churches across the board, we have witnessed those that 'shepherd' on their own terms, for their own selfish gains.  There are those too who refuse to do the tough and challenging work of the shepherd, and offer a variety of spiritual cotton candy; it tastes good, but never satisfies the hunger.  In the private conversation of priests, we will speak of our brothers who believe they were ordained to be a 'bishop' or minister to the wealthy or devout.  Jesus will tell his disciples, in another Gospel, that the true shepherd not only knows his sheep, but is willing to lay down his life for them.

Sometimes folks will call me to visit them, speak with them, or anoint them.  One of the first things they do though is to apologize for "bothering me."  But this is what the Church does; we are here to listen, console, cajole, anoint, and share the Body of Christ.  The work of the Church is a ministry of interruptions.  By taking the Shepherd role seriously we continue to unfold the message and good news of the Gospel.  The story of salvation is told through words, and through "sign" language.  If we are not being bothered (or bothering sin and evil) we are not really shepherding.

Like a shepherd he feeds his flock.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

If you're catholic ... clap your hands

I was reading an essay by a John T. Fischer, an author and educator(?)  He wrote from the perspective of the 'lost generation' which we have in our Church today.  He grew up at about the same time that I did, the sixties and the seventies, though he might be a few years my senior.  He has an interesting perspective of faith and religion, and why he does not "practice" in the traditional sense, and yet considers himself Catholic.

Fischer's point is that there is this cultural Catholicism which loves the rituals, sacraments, mystery, and the stories of the saints, and yet is not inclined to go to Mass on Sundays, nor adhere to the most basic teachings of the Church.  (In teachings, not the dogmas or doctrines)  Fischer is neither hateful towards the Church, nor does he despise what it stands for.

Fischer articulates that the Mystical Body of Christ is the model by which he leads his life.  To be sure he would say that through the sacraments of initiation we are made one with God, through the Paschal Mystery.  It is this union with God, and the development of that relationship with God and others which is most important.  Just as we have communion with God, we also have communion with on another.  He uses the examples of Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton who held similar views.  Yet Fischer is the first to admit that these folks, being converts, cannot fully comprehend the integral nature of Catholicism, since they were not born into it.

I meet these people in the parish a lot.  Now these are not the nominal peoples who want drive through sacramental services, but have a depth to them, and more so an understanding of Catholic faith.  But it is difficult to minister to them since they generally do not register in parishes, or participate in parish life.  A few years ago we had a wonderful family come in to prepare a funeral for their mother.  They had some wonderful ideas for the liturgy, they struggled with which scripture readings to have read, and wanted to carry their mother's body the three blocks to the cemetery.  The kids all lived in the DeKalb area, they all said they were catholic, yet none were part of the Parish.

Now I am a Vatican II type Catholic.  I have a deep love of the smells and bells, but believe in collaboration and the working for the Church between the laity and the clergy.  But belonging to Church is important.  That is why this way always bugs me.  I am deeply inspired by the description of the Acts of the Apostles, and Pauline Churches.  I believe we are members of the Body of Christ, but cannot be members of the body apart from the core of the community.

A challenge we have today is how to minister to this typology, the 'Cultural Catholic.'  We have to minister to them, that is our obligation.  And at the end of the day they are very connected to faith and life with God through Jesus Christ.  But these people would politely decline any invitation to be part of 'Church' or the programs thereof.  I suppose we could wag our fingers at them and tell them they are going to hell; but that is neither pastoral nor prudent.

I think about the description of Nathaniel from chapter 3 in John's Gospel.  The fact that they are seekers is a good thing.  But as a Church we need to examine our mode and messages carefully.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Lord sent them out

For the last few weeks, when I enter the church, I notice the poster for the Diocesan Services Appeal.  For the last two dozen years I have done the stewardship speech and then we collected pledge cards.  I am fairly certain some folks donate some money, not really thinking about what or who it is supporting, others, donate in the hopes that 'Father' will shut up, and still others donate nothing because of some hurt; perceived or real.

One of the challenges that we are given in the Scripture, and is spelled out for us in the Vatican II documents, is that we have a ministry as Church.  Each of us somehow participates in the work of the Body of Christ.  But to make it work we have to 'own' the work of the Church.  Not in the sense that "this" is my area and nobody had better bother it, but to be part of the work of catechesis, liturgy, visiting the sick, comforting the dying, and working for justice and peace.

Certainly Amos gets his hands slapped to doing what he is called to do.  A little later we will see that his life is in extreme danger as he proclaims what is true and right.  God has already given us purpose and direction through the gift of his Son, so we take it the next step by sharing what we have seen and heard in our faith. We might object and say that we do not have the time.  But it is not even about doing programs, per se.

We are to be conscious about our words, wisdom, and actions.  People should see an authentic faith in us.  So whether we are the parish small group coordinator, or buying melons at the store, how we respond and interact with others becomes part of our ministry.  Different gifts and talents with one end - the Kingdom of God.  People will recognize when we are patient, honest, cheerful, and all of those other virtues St. Paul talks about.

Baptism and Confirmation asks us to be aware of our participation in the Body of Christ.  Faithful followers take responsibility for faith, and live at the higher standards of a moral life.  It becomes like that really awful song from the sixties says, "They will know we are Christian by our Love,"  whenever our choices are true, beautiful, and good, we are participating in a prophetic ministry.  But first we have to own it.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


While it is still the balmy days of July, we are preparing for the upcoming fall and winter seasons.  One of the many activities is the celebration of Catechetical Sunday.  Celebrated on the third Sunday of September, this weekend honors and recognizes the catechists and catechetical ministry in the Church.  This years theme is, "Catechists and Teachers as Agents of the New Evangelization."

Bishop David Ricken, of Green Bay, Wisconsin, and chair of the USCCB Evangelization Committee, stated that "Before Catholics can go out and evangelize, they must be evangelized.  To be sure catechists and teachers of religion have a vital part in the training and formation of catholics n our faith communities.  Obviously in the grade schools and formal R.E. programs, but during sacramental programs as well as less formal settings, and in their day to day interactions with other catholics.  Their lives are to invite people to faith.

Catechetical Sunday emphasizes the New Evangelization. We had heard John Paul talk about this, and now Benedict XVI continues to encourage the Church to en kindle faith in all catholics and non-catholics.  Part of the Stewardship message is one of sharing our faith with others.  This had been a crucial role of the Apostles and the early holy men and women, and still is ours today be the challenge of our Baptism.  Dads and moms are to be the first teachers of the faith.  Catechists are the role model and the inspiration and the conveyors of the faith we receive and pass on.

The New Evangelizations asks the Church to be pro-active in its role of preaching, teaching, and sanctifying.  We can no longer wait for people to come to us, we have to go out to where people are.  In some ways we have hid our light under a bushel basket from time to time.  Bishop George Thomas of Helena Montana,  uses the phrase, "Camouflage Catholics," to refer to the minimal catholics who are rarely seen within the confines of the Church.  Many catholics today have an eighth grade education of faith.  And they try to wrestle with adult problems with a childish faith.

We are getting ready for a new school year already, but most importantly a new time in our Church.  Going out two by two and sharing Good News is really an applicable model of evangelization.  Sharing Gospel stories and giving a glass of water to the thirsty is really what it is all about.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

A Prophet is not without honor ,,,

When first ordained, I spent a few weeks at my home parish, doing weekday masses, a Sunday Mass each weekend, and the occasional anointing and funeral.  It was a lot of fun to be sure.  But for many of the parishioners at St. Patrick in Rockford, I was Les and Julie's boy, the former altar server, boy scout, and Northwest Journal paperboy.  Admittedly my homilies were always very affirming - they were also very safe!

When Jesus goes home today the townsfolk find him too much for them.  Even more they take offense at his message.  The lack of faith on the peoples part did not disable any healing from Jesus but it did cause distress.  Jesus did what was necessary and moved along.  Or so we come away with that image.  Certainly we might say that familiarity breeds contempt.  But from our perspective can we become so familiar with Jesus, and our faith, that any challenge becomes offensive.

A few years ago our parish leadership wanted to change the format of the Way of the Cross.  The parish had  used the same form for a dozen or more years.  The format that we chose was a lot more reflective, and used chant in the place of readings.  The people were expected to participate more, and to meditate.  The outcry was deafening.  The texts asked for a faith response.  Sometimes we are not ready, or even unwilling to be drawn into a deeper level.

In Mark's Gospel faith is a total commitment to the cross and discipleship.  We cannot 'sort of' be a follower,  or just 'like' Jesus and his message.  His life, mission, and ministry calls for a total commitment and faithfulness on our part.  Otherwise healing and miracles cannot take place.  Our discipleship is a process of listening to His words and responding faithfully to the message of conversion and transformation.

It is much easier to challenge strangers to convert, change, reconcile, enable healing, than it is those close to us.  And yet St. Paul states that within our communities of faith we need to admonish each other in charity, forgive and be forgiven, and assist one another along the journey of faith.  This means that sometime we have to stand up in the midst of the community and be the prophet, pointing out where there is brokenness and injury.  When we recognize Jesus as the Christ, taking heed of his message, than there can be healing and the foundation of peace.  But when we spin his message to suit our needs, or take offense, then we close down the message and the meaning of our faith.

Really hearing the Word of God means that we are open to the possibilities of Jesus in our midst.  The Word made flesh can make us uncomfortable, but in the end can be the source of love and mercy.  Faith means that we come to Jesus like the leper, the woman with the hemorrhage, Jarrius, the man born blind, recognizing we are empty, and Jesus can and will heal us.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

We Find these Truths to be Self-evident

St. Robert Bellarmine was not given into the divine mystery of kings and queens.  For Bellarmine all men and women contained the mystery of God within them, by virtue of the sacraments, and shared in equality and holiness.  The covenant of the Hebrew Scriptures sets before us the relationship between God and us, and ourselves and one another.  Jesus of course reiterates this as he declares that all peoples are to love God, and to love each other, with heart mind and soul.  For Church leaders like Bellarmine, men and women enjoyed a certain value, or virtue, by the fact we are God's people.

In these last several weeks we have read extensively from the Book of Kings.  The prophets at this time recognized that men and women had removed themselves from the direction of God's law, and no longer maintained the values espoused by the covenant, especially the care of the poor and widows.  By neglecting justice and peace in their own territory foreign nations are able to invade and lat their country a wasteland.  During this time prophetic voices sought to help the leadership in realizing the importance of upholding  a higher virtuous standard of governing and living.

In modern times the Church, through Rerum Novarum, and Pacum en Terris, have reminded us that men and women are created in the image and likeness of God.  So when we walk in the midst of our brothers and sisters, we are really walking on holy ground.  Just as we are formed in the image and likeness of God. we maintain that image by striving for particular values, and a lifestyle, that respects the dignity and integrity of all life, especially the poor and the anawim.

Governments have a responsibility to look after the common good, and to take care of those unable to care for themselves.  But in reality all of us are responsible to look after the needs and concerns of each other.  Justice and peace should be the aim of all peoples of faith.  Governments enact good and just laws, and we as a faith-filled people live by a certain standard of values by becoming caretakers and stewards of all that we have received.  Even more so, we should be aware of what is occurring in our world, and our community, and respond with love and charity.

Spend some time today thanking our forebears, a veteran, saying the pledge of allegiance, and praying for our Church and government leaders.  May God' spirit rest in our hearts today.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Talitha Koum

In Mark's Gospel Jesus approaches the body of Jairus' daughter with the command, 'little child, arise,' we might imagine that Jesus used the same phrase towards the woman with the hemorrhage.  In today's Gospel all parties involved are challenged to a deeper faith, and to respond on that deeper level.  By using this Aramaic phrase Mark wants us, the reader, to experience the intimacy that Jesus has with those who approach him.

Time and again Mark will show the disciples as lacking in understanding of Jesus' divinity and his mission.  Jesus heals and drives out demons, and the disciples response is to wonder which disciple is the greatest.  Even when Jesus sits with a child in his presence, plainly expressing the need of disciples to accept faith as a child, the disciples seem to have the experience but miss the meaning.

To be sure God sees us as his children.  we trend to become preoccupied and distracted, but God continues to love us and draw us back to himself.  In both Jairus, and the unnamed woman with the life-long affliction, they have exhausted all of their other options.  Jairus a man of power and authority, and the woman with the hemorrhage, have reached the point of desperation.  They have come to believe and trust in the word of Jesus.  "If I only touch the tassel of his cloak I will be healed."  It is that trust and faith - and emptiness - that allows them to be healed.

The seminary I went to also had a college seminary connected to it.  These were great men; there is no doubt about that.  But they loved to wear the Roman Collars whenever possible, or to wear albs at some sort of ritual or prayer service.  But Mark shows us that even the disciples could not 'get over themselves,' in their wanderings with Jesus.  The cross is stark and all-exposing.  That is perhaps why it is so frightening.  Discipleship and the cross calls us to conversion, and even more so, to recognize that we need to walk in faith with Jesus Christ.  This is where we will finding healing and peace for ourselves.

Sometimes, even in religious circles, we become too centered on 'me' and 'mine.'  This is maybe why in the Ignatian spirituality it is so very important to become emptied, in order to be filled up.  Ignatius of Loyola realized that discipleship began and ended with the cross.  Healing insists of the faith of a child of God.  It asks us to be open to whatever Christ may give us rather than to expect a response.  Walking on holy ground with Jesus will always fill us with awe.