Friday, August 31, 2012

Tearing Garments and Rending Hearts

In the Office of Readings this morning there is an excerpt from St Jerome on the prophet Joel.  Now I think that the only time we ever hear from Joel is on Ash Wednesday.  Joel admonishes the peoples, especially the religious leadership to rend their hearts, and not their garments.  St. Jerome does a little catechesis here, offering that the action of rending, or tearing one's garment, was an exaggerated expression of angst, and deep sorrow, especially in regards to sin and sinfulness.  The prophet Joel makes the point that interior change and transformation should arise from such exterior actions.

St. Jerome would of course concur with this, adding that penance leads us to conversion and drawing closer to a life with God.  Eons ago the Church detracted the 'sin' of eating meat on Fridays.  Many were distressed by this, especially after many years of eating fish.  But what many failed to grasp is that the Church continues to strongly recommend regular fast and abstinence as a practice of penance.  The responsibility is on us to lead a virtuous life, receive the sacraments worthily, and avoid Sin and Evil.

I like telling the story of my little brother who came home from work late one Friday night during Lent.  He popped a pepperoni in the oven, and twenty minutes later was having a fine meal of a frozen pizza.  Suddenly realizing it was Friday, he didn't know whether to throw the pizza out, or what to do.  But the real question is whether that Friday had been an occasion of grace for him.  Had he engaged in some sort of prayer, charity, and most importantly making necessary changes in his life.

St. Jerome makes the distinction today between Evil and the absence of virtue.  Evil as that brokenness that afflicts the human condition requires a faith response, and a commitment to doing what is right and good.  We avoid Sin and the affects of Evil when there is an ongoing conversion and discipleship that is occurring in our lives.  Just doing holy things does not make us holy, but the decision to do good and to avoid evil changes our interior posture.  This is vastly more important than simply doing 'things.'

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Fire or Ice

I had read an essay the other day comparing the 'theology' of Huxley and Bradbury.  Both proposed a frightening vision of the future.  In both interpretations men and women would be little more than cogs in a machine.  The ideals and meaning of humanity would be diminished.  While Bradbury saw a place where government would be in total control of the person, Huxley viewed a world whereas human concerns would center on the trivial and mundane.

I am reminded of the passage from, I belief it is, in Luke's Gospel whereby Jesus chastises his hearers for being lukewarm.  We can in our faith life rally our emotions around actions or attitudes that add little to our faith or relation with God or others.  But we forget about matters of charity, chastity, peace-making, and reconciliation.  This past week we celebrated the beheading of John the Baptist.  John's challenge to Herod was not in regards to matters which were minor, nor did he soften his approach.  His speaking faithfully cost him his life, but it advanced the dignity of the faith entrusted to him.

Our faith needs to be approached with a sense of passion.  Years ago I had jokingly made a comment about the Chicago Bears, to which a gentlemen took great offense.  We really need to be offended and even disturbed at poverty, injury, the lose of human dignity, and the degradation of our faith.  Too often we allow for others to make moral decisions for us, or to direct our consciences.  We are made in the image and likeness of God and need to act like it.

Last week in the Gospel some of Jesus' disciples left because his teachings were 'hard.'  But if there is going to be growth or direction they need to be hard.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Bread of Spirit and Life

People wander away from Jesus because his sayings are to hard.  The Gospel describes this turning away as, "returning to their former life."  I used to think that meant occupations, like a mechanic, or lumberjack.  But commentators are pretty adamant that this means their lifestyle prior to coming to know Jesus.  They have even left the 'way.'

To be sure, the teachings of Jesus can be hard to reconcile with,  A disciple is called to true selflessness and a life totally committed to the Father in heaven.  We are called to be holy, that is a lifestyle that is counter-cultural in word and in deed.  We see this in John's Gospel more than in the Synoptics, but our life is communal.  Our relationships, and everything else, has a communal dimension to them.  So we are a living witness to that larger body.

So when we say 'Amen' at communion, receiving the Eucharist, we are not just responding to the consecrated elements, but to a life that hears and follows Spirit and Life.  It is a committed lifestyle that centers itself on the foundational teachings of the Gospel, as well as the Paschal Mystery.  The Eucharist becomes a source of strength for us, and a challenge to us to live faithfully.

We all cringe at St. Paul's words today when he tells women to be subordinate to their husbands.  And we can get stuck there, but need to move on whereas he tells husbands to love their wives as Christ did the Church, as he died on the cross.  The Christian life is marked by a love of mutuality and selflessness.  So all of the moments of our life are lived as a proclamation of the mystery of faith.  We are challenged to make a faith response as to what we see and experience in Jesus as the Bread of Life.

We have a long tradition of faithful men and women who said 'Yes' or 'Amen' to God.  The Eucharist was their strength and courage.  Some of these people are called 'Saints,' while others are family, friends, or people we just heard about.  With all this testimony, and the blessings we have received, how can we not believe.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Bread for Life of the World

Throughout our Church's history, we had taken the Eucharist away from the people, and put it up on a shelf to look at.  In some cases, like during the plague, there were practical reasons to this.  But at other times there were popular pious movements that emphasized adoration over the reception of the Eucharist.  Today's Gospel certainly maintains the importance of eating and drinking, the Body and Blood of Christ.

St. Pius X, while Pope during the early part of the last century, emphasized the importance of frequent reception of the Eucharist.  While Pontiff he lowered the age for first communion, supported the frequent reception of Reconciliation and the Eucharist, and devotion to the Eucharist.  Pius was one of many who recognized the foundational  importance of the Eucharist in the life of the Church, and especially the daily life of men and women.

To be sure, receiving the Eucharist requires that we take this sacrament faithfully and in purity.  When we consider who it is we are receiving within us it causes us to ponder our response to this great gift, and our relationship with the world.  Just as the bread and wine is changed into the Body and Blood of Christ, we too are transformed into a Eucharistic people.  The Bread of life invites us to respond to the world with charity and mercy, just as the giver of this gift responds to us.  The Eucharist asks us to seek wisdom and truth in all of our daily endeavors.

Again as is often commented, this is not 'fast food.'  We share this meal within the community of faith.  We are eating and drinking with each other.  Not unlike the table in the homestead, there are particular table manners that must be followed.  St. Paul today would simply suggest that we do not act foolishly around the Eucharistic table.  Not only do we have Christ within us, but so does everyone else who we share this meal with.  We are sharing in the Bread of Life and Cup of Salvation.  The eating and drinking is an activity of the Church, which informs all of our other actions.

Lately at my parish we have had difficulty in maintaining enough Ministers of Holy Communion, for all of the Masses.  So, we have the Body and Blood available at some Masses, and only one form at the others,  The Church says that the best form is to receive both the Bread and the Cup.  This is the fullest expression.  This make sense since chapter six here in John's Gospel emphasizes the eating and drinking nature of the Eucharist.

This sacred meal is extremely important for the life of our Church.  It is certainly not a solo act, nor an occasion to look and see.  Jesus invites us to 'taste and see the goodness of the Lord.'

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Today's feast speaks of the great love that God has for all men and women, and how through his plan of salvation, has brought love and mercy to the world.  The Gospel for today includes the Magnificat, or Song of Mary, by which Mary praises God's name for the work of salvation.  the simple fact that Mary replies with an unconditional 'Yes' to God indicates that she trusted n God's faithfulness. 

One would not be able to tell by mass attendance, but today is also our Parish feast-day.  For over one hundred and fifty years men and women have been saying 'Yes' by lives of faith and faithful service in our parish.  When I look at our church I am always struck by the beautiful Assumption window in the front of our worship space.  But all around are windows of men and women who also said 'Yes' to God, and challenged the lives of their contemporaries.  Hopefully the sacraments that we receive in this same building has the same effect for us.  That is that the sacred mysteries challenge our response to the world around us, and cause us to live and maintain a holy way of life.  We see that Mary's response is not to wallow in the honor of being called by God, but to go and serve her cousin Elizabeth.

I receicve a monthly magazine which features men's and women's religious orders.  As some of the articles are written about the various sisters, friars, monks, or nuns, it becomes apparent that these are not wall-flowers that cannot make it in an active order, or even in real life for that matter.  They have powerful personalities for whom Christ is the center of their lives.  Their religious life is a natural conclusion of their desire to serve and be present to others, all in the name of Christ Jesus.

As Mary proclaims the greatness of the Lord we seem to get a sense that she has pondered God and holiness quite completely.  Her body, her entire persona, becomes a profession of the goodness and faithfulness of God.  As men and women declare that they can do what they want with their bodies, Mary shows us what it means to devote ourselves to the faithful God.  And when we receive the Body of Christ, it must be shared.  In this way God continues to feed the hungry, lift up the lowly, and holy is his name.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Memorial of St. Maximillian Kolbe

Most of us are familiar with the story of Maximilian Kolbe.  Father Maximilian Kolbe was one of several Friars from his community, who were arrested, and sent to a Nazi concentration camp.  While there an escape had been planned.  As punishment the Nazis choose a group of men at random, to suffer death.  Kolbe volunteered his life in place of a man who had a wife and a family.  The punishment was long and grueling in that the men were starved to death.

Father Kolbe, like many martyrs and holy men and women understood the power and the symbol of the Paschal Mystery.  These men and women were not afraid of the cross, and following the advice of St. Paul, were willing to give their entire lives for the name of Jesus.

It is disturbing today that we have people who profess faith, and yet are not willing to sacrifice something, anything really, to uphold the dignity and integrity of another.  It is troubling to see how  myopic we can be in the face of the Sin and Evil that is around us.  To be sure we cannot be full time missionaries or social workers, after all we still have our day job, but there are moments when we can speak truth and become advocates for justice.

I will meet Catholics who do not know basic Church teachings, and cannot tell me stories from the scriptures.  Sometimes we do not know, that we do not know.  As a people of faith we have to be clear as to what we believe in, especially today.  In the Old Testament, in the Book of Joshua, Joshua challenges his hearers, and professes, "For me and my house we will serve the Lord."

It seems that we have to allow this feast of Maximilian Kolbe to strengthen our resolve to be faithful to the Word of God, and the teachings of Christ and Hid Church.  If God is for us who can be against.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Communion with the Father

"Offer a blessing rather than a curse."  I have used that line several times, in regards to gossip or even sarcasm.  I have to remind myself of this directive when I feel sort of nasty or mean spirited.  In the Gospel today the people around Jesus begin to murmur at what is being discussed.  Anyone who has ever been in a parish knows what this is like.  Of course the topic moves from the "Bread of Life," to "We know your parents."

It is interesting that the word we use for the Eucharist, 'Communion,' also means being together, and having a commonality.  To be sure a way that we reach that communion is through conversation and words which build up, as well as draw peoples together.  From the very beginning of scripture we can recognize the life giving quality of the Father's Word.  And the Word made flesh lives among us to bring us to the newness of life. Right before receiving communion at Mass we pray that Jesus 'only say the word and we will be healed.'

In our culture today we do not always use good and life-giving words, or strive for communion with each other.  We are quick to verbally assail each other.  But just as Jesus' words give life, and he who is the Word of God, becomes bread of Life, our challenge is to use good words and to speak the truth.  To be in communion with God and others we have to use a language of 'holy' and life-giving words.  Even St. Paul speaks about the importance of admonishing one another with charity.

When I was in high school my office had an entrance into the main hallway, which meant I could hear many of the conversations of the students.  The back-stabbing, nastiness, and vulgarity, was distressing.  I would often call to mind that these young people received the Eucharist with those same mouths.  Perhaps this is way St. Paul was so adamant about acting like a Eucharistic people outside of the place of prayer and worship.  Our words should imitate the one we receive in building up each others character, offering comfort, and speaking the truth.

We have to be careful to stay away from murmuring crowds and join those whose nature is life giving - like the Eucharist we have received.  That way we know we are close to the Father in heaven.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

I am the Bread of Life

The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, as found in the documents of Vatican II, teaches us that revelation does not come from dogma but rather from the person of Jesus Christ.  Jesus is an icon of God the Father, and what we understand of God we do so because we have encountered Jesus Christ.  John's Gospel plainly reminds us that we cannot come to know God the Father, except through Jesus Christ.  Jesus after all is the Word of God made flesh.

It is amusing in today's Gospel to witness the hearers of Jesus ask for a sign.  They had just witnessed 5,000 people fed from five loaves of bread, and a few fish.  And yet they seem to look right through Jesus and expect something more.  Even in our churches today though, people are forgiven, lives that are challenged are changed, the naked are clothed, the hungry are fed, and those in the midst of anguish are consoled, yet people complain that the Church is boring and that they do not get anything out of Church.  Jesus comes into bread and wine, and some folks want a laser and sound show.

To recognize Jesus means that we have to recognize our own hungers and pains.  It can be difficult to admit that we are in need, or to talk about we are really hungry for.  So if we ask for more signs we can move away from the real issues and concerns of our life, and the world around us.  St. John tries to move us away from false religiosity, and towards conversion and discipleship.  Recall the story of the man born blind whereas the witnesses were so busy in trying to determine the man's identity, that they totally miss the event of this man's healing.

If  the Eucharist we receive is Jesus then we have to re-examine how we receive Communion, and what we do after we leave Church.  St. Paul is quite a stickler about responding to the Eucharist through faithful lives. Even more so today we cannot have an experience of Jesus and fail to grasp the meaning.  I recent years we have allowed ourselves to be concerned about matters that do not make a difference in real life.  Just as Jesus becomes a sign of the Father in heaven. as individuals, and as a Church, we need to reflect Jesus the Christ.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The potter and the clay

The Sisters of Charity, in Nazareth, Ky, have a long and fruitful history in central Kentucky, and the surrounding area.  They have been primarily teachers, but have served in a variety of ministries which have served the needs of men and women, in an region known for its poverty.  One of my favorite stories about this group is from the civil war.  During this time the Sisters provided medical care and respite to both, the northern and southern soldiers.  The color of their uniforms was the least important aspect of providing care.

This action put the Sisters at great risk, from both sides of the fighting.  But they believed they had a higher calling.  Jeremiah today is offered the image of the potter.  When the clay vessel did not turn out quite well, the potter reformed the clay and started over again.  Of course for us the image is that we are the clay in the hands of our God the potter.  When we can accept that and recognize that fact, we not only are able to take on the form that God wants from us, but are then filled with every good thing.

The people of Jeremiah's time had come to see their religion as a social entity.  Like membership in a country-club, or some prestigious group,  religion had become a 'meet and greet' experience.  And most distressing was that there was nothing about faith contained herein.  Jeremiah is sent to reintroduce peoples to the word of God.

Once in a while we meet people, like these Sisters, who can appreciate that they are formed by the hands of God.  Their work, ministry, praise, and thanksgiving are done so on the foundation of a loving and merciful God.  Last weekend I was with a group of Marriage Encounter families, at a camping weekend.  In family life they appreciate the image of starting over, never giving up, and reforming the vessel.  Just as God does with us, they have witnessed this re-formation in family life.

So we allow ourselves to be the clay in the hands of God.  When we become hardened, or pick up too much debris from around us, we cannot take on His image and likeness.  So we are to be workable and open to the molding of God.  He is the potter we are the clay.