Saturday, October 27, 2012

Happy Anniversary Vatican II

Origins this week has an address given by Cardinal William J. LaVada, Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, presented at Catholic University, in Washington.  Bishop LaVada begins his address as referring to Vatican II as a great grace bestowed upon the Church.  The four constitutions, on the Sacred Liturgy, On the Church, on Divine Revelation, and on the Church in the Modern world, while not exclusively teaching documents, offered the Church new insights and provided for pastoral direction.

We really miss the the core of the Council if all that we know is that  the Mass is in English, and not Latin, and that the priest now faces the people.  The Council, as the Bishop pointed out, was to be led by a Spirit of reform for the whole Church.  Unfortunately some began to change things, or go in their own direction, before the ink on the documents was dry.  But look at what was happening both in the world and in the Church in the middle part of the 20th century.  We had had two world wars and were undergoing a social transformation (yes, even in the fifties) and the Church itself was becoming more active in social justice causes.

John XXIII exhortation to 'open the windows' was most appropriate for our Church, and the mission of the Church.  One of the elements that Vatican II has called for which has not really happened is an ongoing catechesis and faith formation of the laity.  There was a priest who spoken with our presbyterate some time ago, and stated that our Church cannot go back.

The Gospel for this weekend reminds us so powerfully the importance of proclaiming Good News.  It is hard to hear but we have a responsibility of making the Kingdom of God known.  For some reason there has been a lot of resistance to Vatican II.  Perhaps it is confusion, or maybe fear.  But we have to continue to nurture and nourish the Church - it is all that we have in our relationship with God.  The Church is to be the light of the world and salt of the earth.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Cup and Baptism

The Gospel today is sort of funny.  One could almost imagine James and John approaching Jesus while the other apostles are just out of earshot.  And in a childish, not child-like, manner they ask for the places of glory in the Kingdom of God.  Suddenly there is all sorts of consternation and contention as the other apostles realize what is happening.

Again Jesus has to unfold the prerequisite of the Kingdom as well as Discipleship.  Following Jesus is not like giving up candy for Lent, or watching ones little sibling for an hour.  It is a lifestyle that connects with God's love and kindness, coming to know the fullness of truth, by imitating the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ.  Even in difficult times Jesus brought the message of Good News to wherever he entered.  By taking on his life in our encounters with others, people should know "That a prophet has been in their midst."

I suspect that when we talk about taking up the cross, or living a Christ-centered life, folks comprehend this to be a monastic-like existence in which many a glum hours are spent in prayer and contemplation.  The reality is that those who take the challenge of Christ seriously live in the world, but with a perspective which is founded upon God's love and mercy.  Human dignity, respect, justice, and peace, are the lens in which they view others, and the means by which they respond to the world around them.  Those who take up the cup of salvation, and embrace the baptism of the cross, challenge their own lives, and of those around them, to a higher level.

Serving the needs of those around them is a natural expression of the disciple, since they have come to know and experience the love of God.  More so they are not seeking rewards or accolades, but rather are anticipating a trend of conversion and discipleship.  Right away we look at people like Francis of Assisi or Mother Teresa, as faithful disciples, but we all have encountered that man or woman who is the perfect host, or performs acts of kindness for others just because.  These are the ones who have embraced the cross.

God's rewards are not based on the 'most converted' or the 'best prayers,' but on our faithfulness in following his Son.

Friday, October 19, 2012

North American Martyrs

Today is the feast of several men, who were childhood heros of mine.  Frs John DeBrebeuf, Isaac Jogues, and six other Jesuit missionaries, who tortured and eventually kiiled, by Huron and Iroquois native Americans, in 1649.  This first group of missionaries brought the Gospel message to the Native Americans and set the stage for further evangelization and exploration in a new land.  As a child it was the tenacity and courage of these individuals which I found outstanding and appealing.

The challenges to be the first to evangelize are overwhelming.  The writings of the early apostles and Church Fathers certainly spoke to the difficulty of establishing and maintaining a faith community.  A lot of arishes today are simply on auto-pilot as they move from pastor to pstor, and year to year.  In a very real way these men found their strength and courage in realizing the close proximity of the cross to their own lives.  The Paschal Mystery becomes very real when we embrace the cross.

In the many years as a priest I have met some outstanding men and women who remain steadfast in faith and faithful in the middle of abuse, alcoholism, disease, and all sorts of other afflictions.  We had a young man at our parish last year who escaped Angola, a culture of violence and torture, to speak to our youth group.  These folks engage the cross and find peace and courage because of the power of the Paschal Mystery.

While we do not have people chasing us down with pointy sticks and sharp instruments, we really need the courage of the martyrs today.  Our Church and our belief in Christ meets up with a lot of hostility and scorn.  The North American Martyrs remain a challenge as to how we might react to those who want to hurt us because of our beliefs.  We do have to go into the fray embracing the cross of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

St Luke the Evangelist

We attribute both the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles to St Luke the Evangelist.  The third of the synoptic Gosples, Luke has give us an extensive birth and passion narrative.  Luke speaks about a Chritian life that aspries to high ideals, which includes prayer as an important component for the believer.

Luke gives us an indication that the apostles were aware of their need to be learners of faith, and in their role as disciples of Jesus Christ.  They seemed to sense in Jesus an inner strength and were in awe of his relationship with God the Father, in heaven.  More so, Luke conveyed the importance of a Christian response to the poor and anawim, and their unity with all people of faith would further the mission of Jesus to the nations.

In particular it would seem both in the Gospel, and the Acts of the Apostles, the twelve were most conscious of the tasks they would need to carry on as they continued on the mission and ministry of Jesus.  Luke was very good at making the connections betwween the life of Jesus, and his Paschal Mystery, with the revelation of the plan of salvation we have from God.  Like all of the other Gospels, Jesus was not simply doing nice things because they were good to do.  Rather there is a direction to the Kingdom.

In reflecting on our own initiation into the Paschal Mystery through the scraments, and our life of faith, we can know who Jesus is and come to reflect that identity in our living witness to Him, and to the love of God which he taught.  Our own Discipleship asks us to take responsibility for the faith which we profess.  We bring together in mutuality the gifts we have received, and the the needs and concerns that present themselves, and carry out ministry in the name of Jesus Chirst.

Very much like the persons we will meet in the Gospel of Luke we are called upon to reflect carefully upon the Word of God, and to with the grace we recieve through the Holy Spirit make known the mystery of faith we celebrate.  In whatever way we can we are to act as disciples of Jesus and show care and concern for all of those in need.  By doing this we continue on the activity of Jesus and are able to announce tha the 'Kingdom of God is at Hand.'

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

St. Hedwig

Hedwig lived during the latter part of the twelve century, in Bavaria.  At twelve years old she married a Duke, Henry of Selesia.  Together they had seven children.  During her life as a wife and mother, having the resources available to her, she assisted in the building of hospitals and monasteries.  After the death of her husband, she joined a monastery.

Hedwig is best known though for her assistance to the poor and the anawim.  Even as a nun, she maintained administration over the various charitable works which she developed.  The reading from the Liturgy of the Hours call to mind her desire to serve God in the poor, as well as her faith and humility.  St Hedwig is one of the many holy men and women who show us what it means to belong to a caring Church.

In the last few weeks I have presided at several funerals.  I have spoken a lot of the Paschal Mystery and the difference that that action makes in our humanity.  The response is sort of like the 'deer in the headlights,' as I reflect on the mystery of faith.  It is sort of like the story I had read twenty some years ago; we go through the motions but really do not believe.

In people like St Hedwig we discover a woman whose faith was strong, and articulated itself in caring for the poor, suffering, hurt and afraid.  Using the resources and influence which she had, being the Duchess of Selesia, she helped to erect places of healing and prayer.

We do not have the same financial backing as did Hedwig, but we can be prophetic and faithful in our response to God and others.   Our faith cannot be just about being nice to people.  We really do have to be profound today.  Like Hedwig we should leave a legacy of faith.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

... And Come Follow Me

The story of the young man and Jesus today continues on the Discipleship theme in St. Mark.  We are told that though the young man has been faithful in the rules and regulations of the religion, the faith challenge to give up everything he has is a difficult one indeed.  Jesus follows up with the commentary that it is as difficult for a wealthy person to enter the Kingdom of God, as it is a camel to pass through a narrow opening in a wall. 

While this is a good story to speak about the difficulties that the accumulation of wealth poses, and how greed can be a personal, as well as a social Sin, the story is about so much more.  It is not only money that carries us away from God, or poses the greatest difficulties from encountering God, but it is also the need to control, to be 'right,' lack of understanding or compassion, the need of popularity, self-centered-ness.  At Mass today I spoke about my fixation of being on time, and starting on time.  While punctuality is good, I can drive some people goofy with my adherence to schedule. 

Jesus tells the Disciples today, and those that seek him, we have to be courageous enough to fully trust in God's call and invitation to be followers of the Christ.  We only have to look at The Blessed Virgin Mary, Francis of Assisi,  or Catherine of Sienna, to understand that saying "Yes" to God is a matter of faith, which does not always offer us a detailed plan, or information.  Being a Disciple means being led by God relying on his grace and blessing.

I remember a time in a parish far away, after Mass a recent widow began to talk about late husband.  In the middle of her conversation I looked at my watch.  She apologized for keeping me, since "Father I know you are so busy" and walked away.  I will never forget that and take great pains not to look at time pieces when I am speaking with someone.  But what other stuff precludes us from operating as God's holy people.

So we pray to the Holy Spirit for wisdom, right judgement, understanding, patience, compassion, and perseverance.  The cross is their to point the way to salvation and joy.  It is not too difficult if we put everything else down and let Christ help us carry it.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

lex orandi, lex credendi

My Latin might be a bit off but this literally means that the law of praying is the law of believing.  The early Church idea was that the worship of the Church, the Mass, is the summation of he teachings of the Church.  Loosely translated it would be something similar to we pray what we believe. 

I think about this as I have gone through a few weddings and several funerals over the last few weeks.  In particular in light of the year of faith.  For many the Scripture and prayer have only a minimal of importance, and the highlight is he procession, or someone saying some 'words.'  Or family members ill rush through the sacred scripture texts.  I am dumbfounded by this in that our liturgy is the center of our faith lives - or at least it should be.

Folks continue to be uncomfortable with the new Mass translation because of its wordiness and run-on sentences.  To be sure, I strongly dislike the version of the Gloria that we sing.  I think that part of the reason the Church made these changes was to add a sense of theology, and even more 'God-language' into the text.  Some liturgists suggest that the mystery of the Mass had been lost. 

It is probably not a bad idea during the year of faith, and the anniversary of Vatican II, that we try to  read the documents more closely.   It can only be helpful if we have a firm understanding of the foundation and the understanding of the Church and the place of the Mass therein.  It is hard to pray if we do not know what we believe.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

50 Years of Vatican II

Fifty years ago today Pope John XXIII opened the first session of the Second Vatican Council.  Many who remember the 'old' ways either offer John XXIII a blessing, or a curse.  The Council offered a radical change in the way we were to celebrate the Mass, as well as the manner in which we 'did' Church in the world today.  At the crux of the Vatican documents was a universal call to holiness. 

Th understanding was that if the Church was to operate in the world today, it had to live in the world, without, as scripture would remind us, not being owned by the world.  The use of the vernacular in worship, the extended role of the laity, and the emphasis on social justice were a radical development in the body of the Church, as well as in its theology.  This was a profound move which caused many to fret.

While some equate the Council simply as a move from Latin, to whatever national language, there is a great deal of change which provided the foundation of our ministry today, in the light of the mission of the catholc Church.  Quite simply pastors were called upon to collaborate with the laity in church ministry, the laity were called to a greater role in work and in governance in the Church, and there continues to be an emphasis on working within the context of all Christian peoples.

Oddly while people would complain about the Vatican Council eliminating many of the good traditions in the Church, the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, and the Permanent Diaconate process are two of the ancient elements that Vatican II revised.  In a very real way the Church took both the old and the new out of its storehouse.

There are not a lot of parishioners today who remember the Church before the Second Vatican Council.  It is amusing to hear some of the younger clergy speaking fondly of the former days, since they cannot comprehend what their role would be like in the good ole days.  Like our faith journey with Christ our Church has to undergo conversion and transformation in order to grow.  Fifty years is not a long time but the practices of the Council are only now taking shape.  We cannot go back but have to move forward in proclaiming the Kingdom of God.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

St. Paul's Letter to ...

Reading from St. Paul I am always very aware of the humanness that Paul conveys.  He struggles with the various communities and works hard at helping them keep connected to the faith they are baptized into.  Paul sometimes seems exasperated with the Corinthians, and other times praises the various communities for their insight and pastoral response.  The issues of pettiness, scrupulosity, divisions within the community, jealousy and a host of other problems, are what we still deal with today in the parish.

Maybe this is why St Paul is so readable.  We continue to struggle with the human fallibility and brokenness which we tend to be hobbled with.  The struggle for the parish community and the community of faith, is to continue to recognize the grace and blessings which are conveyed through the mystery that we celebrate, and to continue to re-group around the mystery of faith.  This is easier than it sounds.

A friend of mine reported once that on Easter Sunday, as we renewed our baptismal promises, and began the sprinkling rite, a couple nearby her seemed annoyed at the fact I was splashing water on everyone.  They have the experience and miss the meaning.  I was sharing with a group the other night that we still have people, and these are young people, that call the Sacrament of Anointing, "The last rites."  Maybe because we do not reach the depths of faith and holiness of which our baptism calls us to, we get drawn back down into all sorts of vices and bad habits. 

Especially during this the year of faith our Church really needs to be bold, as well as prophetic, in its delivery of the good news.  Our message will not be made clear through pious externals, but the challenge to convert hearts and minds. 

St. Paul speaks about the very basics of our faith, the Word of God, and the Sacraments of initiation.  It is good to go  back there again and again so as to recall the origins of our faith.  We need to re-discover the paschal mystery and be amazed once again at the faithfulness of God.  It is probably one of the best ways we can discover our faith.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

A Hermit's Way

Saint Bruno of Cologne lived during the 11th century, and was a well learned and schooled man.  He was a professor, and eventually Chancellor of his diocese, who would go on to begin the Carthusian order.  The Catrthusians are hermits who live austere and strict lives.  While we might think of hermits as being quiet and and simple people; Bruno was not that.  Rather he was a scholar and a leader.  The priests of his diocese wanted him to be Bishop, of which he refused.  He sought the contemplative life instead.

Monks, Nuns, and Hermits, can teach us a good deal of about discipleship and living Christian values and virtues.  Prayer and reflection are the mainstay of their life, they rise in the morning praising God, and retire in the evening asking for pardon and mercy.  To be sure these people are not wallflowers, but are active in ongoing formation of their spiritual and personal lives.  Because they are honest with themselves, they are always in the middle of conversion and transformation.

These contemplatives also become a stumbling block for us.  When we complain about prayer being hard, or even finding the time to do things, these holy people become a sign of what we could and ought to be. Their lifestyle challenges us towards a simplicity and firmness of faith.

I am not called to a hermits life, but men like St. Bruno are a reminder that there is a different, and even better way, of expressing ourselves as followers of Christ.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Francis of Assisi

"Francis, a man of God, left his home and gave away his wealth to become poor and in need.  But the Lord cared for him."  This is from the Liturgy of the Hours today.  Fancis of Assisi lived during the 13th century and is probably one of the best loved saints.  We have romanticized his life quite a bit, but Francis himself was set firmly in reality. 

A wealthy young man who had served in the military, was imprisoned and beaten.  During this time a vision of Christ prompted him towards a conversion.  Returning home he gave awaay all of his physical wealth and sought to live simply in the woods.  Francis suffered rejection by his family and friends, physical illness, hardships, and poverty.  Through all of this he maitained a tremendous sense of joy and zeal for the Gospel. 

Also from the Hours today are the words of Francis, "We should never desire to be over others.  Instead, we ought to be servantswho are submissive to every human for God's sake.  The Spirit of the Lord will rest on all who live in this way a persevere to the end. ..."  Francis came to understadn that real peace radiated from real love and a whole understanding of our humanity.  In the humility and simplicity of Francis he came to discover the real needs and concerns of each man, woman, and child.  Just as Jesus was raised on the cross for our salvation, we too are invited, and even challenged, to raise each other up so as to bestow new life.

We are invited to walk in the footsteps of Francis who walkd in the Lord's steps.  As imperfect as we all are Francis sought to empty himself and live the Body of Christ. He gives us a powerful example of what we can be if we are united to Christ.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Guardian Angels

O beautiful Angel Guardian,

you stay with me on this earth,

enlightening me with your splendor.

You are become my brother,

my friend, and my consoler.

~St. Thérèse of Lisieux