Saturday, September 29, 2012

Archangels Among Us

Today we celebrate the feast of the Archangels, Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael.  Their names reflect the divine attributes of God, 'who is like God,' 'God is strong,' and 'God heals.'  We celebrate these heavenly beings because to do so draws us closer to the mystery of God, and of God's providence.  The Archangels remind us that God is not disconnected from us, but finds his home in our places and in our history.

In a parish far away, and long ago, before the Easter morning Mass, as I prepared the incense, one of the parishioners began to complain about the smell of that "stuff."  In my naivete I tried to explain the significance of incense.  I might as well have been describing the attributes of a dwarf star.  But mystery is something that we sadly lack in our spirituality and liturgy today.  Perhaps it is because of the post modern world we live in, but we do not allow our inner being to touch the divine, or even to contemplate the mystery of faith which we profess.  Maybe this is why this feast of angels is so important for us.

In using God words and imagery, we are forced to define what this means in the larger world sense, and for our own lives as well.  To consider the awesomeness of God is to reflect on our response to a God who creates us, as well as brings us peace and salvation.  We also need to move from contemplating the God of life in our head, to our hearts.  This can be a daunting task.

Moving to a more intimate relationship with God helps us understand our prayers, to seek forgiveness and reconciliation, and to serve God in loving him and one another.  The Archangels, and their ministry, helps us to call to mind that God's love and compassion is beyond our comprehension.  When we falter or have doubts, God reaches into human lives and embraces all men and women.  Our use of prayer, meditation, and 'God Language,' keeps us connected to the life of God, and helps us find him in the midst of a confusing world.  We are God's delight.

Today's feast says something very important about us as it does the Archangels.  The whole of the cosmos is directed towards our salvation.  If God is for us, who can be against?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Awaken Faith

As part of our adult religious education, we started the Awakening Faith program tonight.  It was the usual crowd.  In many ways I was disappointed with the turnout, but I am happy using this program.  The need for adult catechesis is so very evident and urgent; especially at this time in history.

Blessed John Paul II called on the Church to begin a New Evangelization.  While catholics have a lot of trouble with the word, it really has a lot to do with relation which one has with Christ, and with the Body of Christ, the Church.  In grade school and in R.E. classes we learned certain facts and figures about the Church, as well as a set of prayers.  This became the be all, and end all, of the Church.

To be sure our Gospel challenge is to have a relationship with God, through his Son, that leads to an ongoing transformation and spiritual growth.  One difficulty is that when we teach the children, we can only offer them so much.  Obviously we cannot explore issues of morality, or teach meditation, with fourth graders.  But then again we need to nurture and nourish that relationship.  This same growth takes place when families pray, go to church together, and participate in a life of faith.

At the conference in Chicago last week some asked whether we were bothered by the mega-church at Willow Creek.  Statistics will indicate that many catholics leave the Church for that and similar churches, but a large percentage returns to the Catholic Church.  The Sunday worship is a high powered music and light show.  It is impressive.  But what most people do not realize is that the real 'parish' happens on Wednesday nights, with a family orientated bible study.  The two hour session is divided by age groups and is an intense study and reflection.

Catholics have a rich tradition and extensive theology.  Sadly very few outside of theologians and the Church leadership know about it.  The Gospel challenges us to be on fire within our faith.  Faith-filled catholics are called to embrace our belief and to mull it over often.  We were created and redeemed in a garden, and have to consider how well our garden is growing.  Its time to till the soil.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

House of Stewardship

I am in Chicago at the International Conference on Catholic Stewardship.  For the most part the speakers have been excellent.  I especially like talking with the other conference goers.  I meet people from all over and get to listen to them talk about their work and their parishes. But I also get to hear them talk about the Church.  This is not only revealing but challenging as well.

I find myself replacing the word 'stewardship' with 'discipleship.'  Even as I read the document, Stewardship: A Disciples Response, in my mind I think that the Bishops of the time were really talking about being disciples.  Some where along the path we fell away from the following of Jesus, and sort of did our own thing.  What is scary is how to help people take responsibility for their faith.

In Psalm 101 today, from Morning Prayer, the phrase "I will hate the ways of the crooked; they shall not be my friends," really struck a chord with me.  Not that I have crooked friends, but I think that we as a Church took upon ourselves some "crooked" ways.  When I was first ordained I recall that business models were being used in running parishes, as was soft psychology to manage staffs.  And more troubling was the power-plays made at the local chancery office.  Pride, arrogance, greed, seemed to be the foundation of some who sought to "serve" the Diocese.

In reflecting on Stewardship we necessarily have to break beyond the time, talent, and treasure mantra, and learn to be Servant-Leaders.  I read a fantastic book a few years ago which spoke to this.  From Maintenance to Mission, proposes that we re-discover the call of the disciples to share 'Good News.'  First and foremost our parishes, and even our catholic lives, are somehow centered on the call to carry the Gospel.  Sometimes we get in the way though.  How do I serve the Gospel, as opposed to the other way around.

More than anything else we need to strengthen that concept of being in communion with God through Jesus Christ.  If God has given us good things, what does our 'thank you' look like in our parishes, families, schools, and communities.  St. James has been quite blunt these last few weeks with ideas.  That is really the stewardship response.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Take up your Cross and Follow me

As youngsters we were told more than one to bear our cross.  Sometimes we meet a coworker, neighbor, or even a family member, and we consider them our cross in life.  The Gospel today reminds us that our 'taking up our cross,' has little to do with the arbitrary inconvenience and hardships that we have to faced on a regular basis. The cross is instead a learning instrument for us.

The Disciples will again and again misunderstand what it means to live as true followers of Jesus.  The Profession of Faith by Peter shows that he is, at least for a moment, able to let go of the shallow understanding of being an understanding.  Power, glory, and kingship are not based on what the world offers, but rather a divine model which takes responsibility for what it has received.

Jesus shows his intense love for humanity by his care and compassion towards all of those he meets.  But even more so his real suffering and death on the cross teaches us the importance of being spilled out on behalf of others.  Living with others habits or weakness is not the kind of suffering that the cross is about.  But when we choose to forgive an injury, console the dying, encourage one with and addiction, then we begin to lift up that cross.

To be sure our life is to be formed by the image and likeness of the cross.  God is first and foremost in our lives, and we respond to the needs and concerns of others, and uphold and maintain our own dignity as well. The ability to respect life and to make choices which demonstrate a profound faithfulness, then we start to imitate the flavor of the cross of Jesus Christ.

The cross of Jesus calls us to a new and perfect relationship with him.  What is lacking in our life is made up in the suffering of the cross.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Mass is brought to you by.

If there was some way of avoiding it, I would not mention the Mass intention of the day.  First and foremost because people come to believe that this is "their" Mass.  It is an ownership that is perceived in a very unhealthy way, sometimes with less than liturgical ideas of flower placement, pictures, or even prayers.  Secondly, and the cause of much consternation, is that it is often easy to mispronounce various names,  While I have no problem with the Eastern European names, the Italian and Greek are somewhat tricky.

The common everyday catholic might not understand that the Mass at ones local parish is really the prayer of the whole Church.  When we celebrate the liturgy we are celebrating with all believers everywhere, in connection with the heavenly community, and that on earth.  There is a document entitled, General Instruction of the Roman Missal, which is the guiding foundation of the Mass.  While we might like certain music, or would prefer the sanctuary decorated in a particular manner, the General Instruction, or GIRM, gives a guideline to each aspect of the celebration of the Mass.  The priest is obliged to follow the directions of this document for a proper and valid celebration of the Mass.

Obviously some aspects are more important than others.  It is essential to use only bread and wine for the celebration of the Eucharist.  While the altar should not be obscured by decorations, a single floral arrangement is not problematic.All this is for the reverent and standard celebration of the Mass.

In addition to Mass, each of the rituals has its own directions.  The Marriage rite does not include an elaborate procession, and as of recently includes the Gloria, during a wedding Mass.  As to Funerals, we do not have eulogies, and catholics can have cremains present at a funeral Mass.

When we talk about 'our' Mass, it is ours in the sense that we are Catholic, and gather together to worship in spirit and in truth.  The celebration of the Liturgy of the Word, and the Liturgy of the Eucharist draws us together as a community of faith and Body of Christ.  Doing liturgy well allows us to concentrate on more heavenly matter.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Blessed are the ...

In Luke's version of the Sermon on the Mount, Luke offers a series of contrasts.  Blessed are the poor, mourning, and sorrowful.  Woe to those who laugh and enjoy themselves today, because in the Kingdom they will find anguish.  Luke is not suggesting that we avoid enjoyment in life, but on a larger scale, if we are disciples, we have to accept the fact that there will be pain and suffering as we faithfully live a life of faith.  Commitment to Christ is a lifestyle whereas we struggle with Sin and Evil; striving for what is right and good.

The other evening while at our grade school's 'back to school' night, I realized how few of the parents I knew.  For the most part these were strangers to me.  It was really sort of sad that I have never seen these families at church, parish functions, or even at the school's social functions.  A problem that we seem to have today is that faith is defined narrowly by sacramental moments.  It seems to be an understanding that presenting ourselves for the sacraments, occasionally being present for a liturgical or para-liturgical event, is akin to practicing one's faith.

An article in the America magazine suggests that pesons, specifically youth, who find a sense of holiness in works of charity, scripture, and the occasional Mass attendance, even though they struggle with the 'official' Church, are living a life of faith.  I find some truth in that.  I have met folks whose lives are directed towards 'God-like' things, who really want to believe and have a relationship with Jesus.  And while not the poster-child of catholocism, their faith seems more lively than those who treat faith like the local gas station/minimart. 

Mark's Gospel gives such a rich image of the disciples in their wanderings and misunderstandings.  And yet they will ask the question, "To whom shall we  go, you have the words of eternal life."  Discipleship is a process of becoming.  Maybe we need to, like St. Paul advises, be patient with those whose faith is weak.  More so those whio have a strong and deternined faith must make it their aim to be living examples of faithfulness, and challenge those who simply live on the surface.

While we are not called to be mystics, we are called to discipleship.  We are challenged to recognize the Kingdom and make it present in our midst.  It requires a depth and a journey and a vision of where we need to go.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Be Opened

Remember the story of Jesus preaching in the house, and four men, carrying a paralytic, approach, and finding no way to Jesus decide to open up the roof, and let the sick man down in font of the Lord.  That is really determination.  Today is more of the same.  The crowd brings to Jesus a man who is deaf, with a speech impediment.  Jesus takes him away by himself, touches his ears and tongue declaring, 'Ephphatha,' which heals the man of his afflictions.  "Jesus has done all things well."

The commonality of these stories though is their are friends, neighbors, or even a crowd, who direct Jesus to one who is sick or suffering.  That is sort of what w do at church every Sunday.  We pray for the Church, the world, those with special needs, the sick, and our deceased.  People mention to me all of the time that they have a need of a family member or friend that needs prayers.

From the early Christian community, bringing our needs and concerns before Jesus, and thus responding in faith, has been a  priority.  he early disciples healed, drove out demons, forgave sins, and preached good news.  The charisma of the early Church was the continuation of the ministry of the Christ by healing and caring for those in need.  Certainly today through the sacramental and pastoral ministries of the Church the Good News is preached to men and women.  Responding to the brokenness of those around us is the thing that we do.

More so as the Church continues to grow, and the needs and concerns of our world change too, we have to ask ourselves where the lame, blind, deaf, mute, leprous, and possessed are today.  As a community of faith it is so very important to bring attention to the sick and the hurting.  Decades ago our Church would not have had a ministry to the divorced, those with AIDS, or those with addictions.  In the introduction of the Sacrament of Anointing we read a portion from St. James letter, "Send for the priests of the Church."

In our struggle with sickness and brokenness, Sin and Evil, those who are lost or forgotten, we become most like Jesus Christ.  Jesus takes the sick man, from today's Gospel, off by himself, to be with him and to help him grow into a deeper relationship with the Divine Mystery.  Our pastoral care and concern unfolds the Kingdom of God.

Faithful communities bring the sick and hurting to Jesus.  We are attentive to the neediness of the world around us.  In doing so we remain engaged in the mission and ministry of Jesus.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Nativity of the BVM

For some strange reason I had always imagined that the annunciation occurred as Mary is washing the floor.  The scriptures do not hint at this, and most probably there were no floors of that era, but alas the image remains.  Maybe it is because floor washing (and I mean kneeling on the floor with a scrub brush) is hard, dirty, and it can be painful.  Mary is so very much like us.  There was fear and confusion in regards to the call to be the Mother of God.

But Mary was unlike a lot of us in that she was a woman of contemplation and reflection.  While she is human, she is also prepared to be the Theotokos, or God bearer.  She lives in the midst of political oppression and even religious fanaticism, and yet remains a faithful believer in the ways of God.  Perhaps this is why from the earliest days of the Church Mary is seen to be a model of faithfulness, and even today continues to be our advocate and guide.  Her 'Yes' changes human history, but also challenges us to give our 'Yes' in lesser matters.

In today's Gospel we read from the genealogy of Joseph from Matthew's Gospel.  Some of the folks there were very good, while others not so much so.  What is common for all of them though is that they struggled with a faith life.  We are told that Mary keeps things in her heart, and ponders upon them.  Faithful men and women reflect on the what and where God is calling us to do.  In our celebration on this feast of Mary we come to understand that God speaks to humanity through very human instruments.  We too have a place in the story of salvation.

To be sure Mary is not a theologian or religious leader.  She is a woman of deep faith who trusted in God's faithful words; allowing them to be conveyed in her very self.  The really has to be the challenge to us.  That is our very being is called out to proclaim the greatness of God.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Watchman of Faith

In addition to Labor Day, The Church celebrates the feast of Gregory the Great.  Gregory, a Pope and Doctor of the Church, was an outstanding teacher and leader in the Church.  He brought reforms both to monastic life, and to the Liturgy.  Many forms of prayer and some of our rituals, can be traced back to the time of St. Gregory the Great.  At the time he was truly a light for the Church.

In the Office of Readings today, we are given an exert from one of St. Gregory's homilies, on the prophet Ezekiel.  The Prophet is called to be the 'Watchman' for the House of Israel.  Gregory notes that a watchman is placed in a tower, or some other high place, so as to have an overview of that which he is watching.  So the watchman has foresight, knowing what is coming, so as to prepare the people he is responsible for.  Gregory realizes that he has been called to be a watchman, of sorts, but admits that he feels inadequate for the task,

This is not false humility.  St. Gregory had taken his job seriously, knowing that some of his decisions would be unpopular, and might even cause division.  But St Gregory was a man of great faith and a deep spirituality, and so relied on prayer and the Holy Spirit to guide him in his vocation.  Even in the homily, which we read today, Gregory will allude to the fact that he needs to remain faithful to the teachings of Jesus Christ in the job that has been entrusted to him.

At baptism we become responsible for our faith, as well as making this faith known to the world.  In a very real way we become watchmen, and women, of the faith entrusted to us.  We have to stay at high places and  posses an overview of the world and our surroundings.  People of faith, like all of the holy men and women throughout the ages, are to take care of the faith we have received.

Like Gregory we might have the same knowing doubts of our abilities or the use of our gifts, but we need to rely on the power of the Spirit so as to be light to those around us.  For too long we thought of 'faith' as a private affair.  It is about  the community and the Kingdom to come.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Law of God

Once again Jesus has an encounter with the Pharisees, in Mark chapter seven.  Mark describes how the Pharisees and the experts of the law surround Jesus to inquire why his disciples do not wash their hands.  This is for the Pharisees not merely a matter of personal hygiene but following the Mosaic Law.  The only other group that surrounds Jesus are the crowds, who are seeking healing and wholeness.  But this group is not looking for inspiration.

In these themes it would seem that Jesus is suggesting that following the law is not as important as loving each other.  But this is not the case.  The new law that Jesus gives is a matter of reforming our entire selves so as to be imitators of the dignity we have received.  The Paschal Mystery remains for us a powerful symbol of God's love and mercy for the whole world.  But it is also a mystery we are called to imitate by forsaking our needs and concerns and faithfully following the way of Jesus Christ.

To be sure the Pharisee type truly believe that they are doing God's will by doing religious acts.  The difficulty is that these actions are not converting their hearts.  They are not following through in caring for the widows and orphans, seeking justice for the anawim, or offering compassion towards the sick and grieving.  Or faith response is one of justice and peace is we are truly following the law of Jesus Christ.

Certainly this is more than the "kissy-face" love that we might witness on television or in the movies.  It is the kind of love that challenges us to seek goodness for others, to recognize each other as sacred, and to strive for holiness.  Our life becomes one of conversion and transformation.  We noursih and nurture one another so that there might be true growth and goodness in the name of the Lord.

More so we do not allow room in our lives for the wickedness of Sin and Evil.  Not only do we respond to the Evil which we see around us, but that which hides in the darkness of our lives.If we have been made children of the light, then we need to act like it.  True 'orthodoxy' is fulfilling the law of the Lord in our lives and by our lifestyle.  We cannot keep a count and amount, but look for ways to serve God by serving one another.  It really is what comes out of us that matters.