Sunday, November 25, 2012


In Seminary our Rector would begin every school year with the non-negotiable talk.  One of the non-negotiables was that seminarians were not to date.  Seemed obvious enough, but there must have been a reason to mention it.  The thought was, to be sure, that if we were preparing for a specific lifestyle of service and commitment, we had to begin to embrace that lifestyle.  It was not enough to study and pray, we needed to be as priests.

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King.  The mission and ministry of Jesus was always directed towards a particular end, namely the salvation of all men and women through the paschal sacrifice.  In Mark's Gospel when Peter attempts to dissuade Jesus from going to Jerusalem, Jesus refers to him as a 'Satan.'  He accuses Peter of not understanding the Mission.

In John's Gospel, after the feeding of the 5,000, as people followed Jesus, he challenged that they were doing so only because they had been fed, and cautioned them not to be swayed in one direction or another, simply for bread to eat.  Of course after Jesus describes himself as the Bread of Life, some folks still wanted to leave him.

Also in John's Gospel Jesus reminds his followers that what he teaches and does is not about him, but rather it is about the Father in heaven.  As a good shepherd Jesus desires to gather all men and women, especially the lost and forsaken, and present them to the Father in heaven.  And as a shepherd he demonstrates that a good leader is a good servant who washes feet and dies for others, that there might be salvation and peace.

In today's Gospel reading from 18 John, Jesus does not distance himself from his mission of proclaiming the truth.  While Pilate is experiencing inner turmoil as to what course to take, Jesus does not waiver in his determination to live fully as the suffer-servant.  This is a non-negotiable for Jesus.  More so, while Jesus is bound and injured, it is really he that has power and authority.

So today we celebrate the Kingship of the Christ, who comes into our lives as one like us, and teaches us how to live more like him.  He leaves us a set of non-negotiables that leads to life with the King of the universe in heaven.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving and memory

At some point in time I will ask my junior high children what 'Eucharist' means.  Some will answer 'communion, or 'Mass,' but I will continue to push.  Eventually I will let them in on the secret, that 'Eucharist' means Thanksgiving.  The prayers at Mass point to the gifts that God has bestowed upon us, and the salvation that is freely given to us through the Paschal Mystery which we celebrate.

Just like in real life, the ability to say 'thank-you' draws us into a deeper relationship with the one we are thanking.  Whether we consider the gift of sweat socks, or the time spent with us in our sickness, our thanksgiving causes us to consider the giver, and the love that is conveyed by the gifts we receive. 

The pastoral letter, "Stewardship: A Disciples Response," invites us to receive God's gifts gratefully, to nurture and nourish them, to share them with love and charity, and to return them to the Lord with increase.  Our taking responsibility of our faith in this way continues to build up the kingdom.

Today we can welcome people at our door by proclaiming "Blessed be God forever" as we consider the people and gifts that have grace our lives.  We give thanks to God for all things.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Commitment to Witness

I had found on the the USCCB website a selection of African saints.  We do not always think about Africa as being the beginning of much, but our civilization, math and sciences, and much of our theology and spirituality has it beginnings in Africa.  It is notable to consider that after sending missionaries to Africa for many years, today we are receiving African priests to fill our ranks of priesthood in the western Church.

The site mentions Anthony the Great, who lived in the Patristic period of Christianity, who is known as the Patriarch of Monks.  He lived an austere life, spending much of his days in prayer and fasting.  We then have Antonio Viera, an African born in Portugal in the 17th century.  He joined the Jesuits, went to Brazil where he defended the Jewish merchants who face discrimination and hostility, and worked to end slavery.  Of course we cannot forget Augustine of Hippo, who lived during the fourth century, and is known for his conversion to Christianity.  Perhaps because of this experience, his theology of Sin and conversion has influenced much of our present theology and teachings in our Church.

In this Year of Faith it is good to reflect upon many of the relatively unknown men and women who embraced the words and life of Jesus Christ, and nurtured and nourished, not only their own faith, but many who came to believe because of them.  Consider Africa, which we might want to think was converted by European missionaries in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  Their culture and these faith-filled men and women continued to develop the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ.  No doubt the emphasis on the cross, and salvation through the sufferings of the cross, provided great inspiration, courage and strength.

We want to pray for the countless unknown men and women who continue to share the gospel, and live out it's truths.  These are really people of Good News.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Your Faith Has Saved You

I like the 10 lepers story.  Luke presents these men outside of a village who implore Jesus, the Son of David, to have pity on them.  Jesus who is on his way to Jerusalem, tells the men to present themselves to the priests.  On the way they are cured.  On of them realizing what has happened, returns to Jesus, giving praise and thanks to God.

Of course the important element here is that the one has realized, or maybe better yet, has been able to piece together what is happening, and gives thanks to God for his saving activity in the world.  Namely the Incarnation and the forth-coming passion, death, and resurrection.  This man's thankful response is a model of our own call to praise and thank God for the gifts we have received.  When we are thankful we begin to consider the love of the giver of the gift.  We contemplate the generosity and the selflessness that has been directed towards us.  In doing so we are hopefully transformed and even changed.

In 1980 the U.S. Catholic Bishops put together a letter entitled, Called and Gifted: The American Catholic Laity.  It was done as a response to the Vatican document concerning the laity in the Church.  The crux of the letter is the importance of taking responsibility for the faith we profess.  We are proclaimers of the Gospel, evangelizers, faith leaders, and are accountable for the gifts we have received.  In a spirit of thanksgiving we receive God's gifts gratefully, cherish and nourish those gifts, share God's gifts justly and with charity, and return them with increase to the Lord. 

Being thankful stewards is what we do after we say, "I Believe."  We have every indication that the Samaritan begins a new journey following Jesus on the way to Jerusalem.  Now this man recognizes that his faith has healed him.

Monday, November 12, 2012

All in God's Time

This weekend we had our Kairos retreat for our high schoolers.  We had fourteen candidates and eleven teen leaders.  The opening talk at this program invites the young people to consider the purpose for doing this weekend at all.  More than half of the candidates are usually sent by mom and dad, as part of their confirmation requirement.  Then there are a few who come because siblings or friends had had a good experience on Kairos in previous years.  And then there are two or three who have a spiritual life, yes at that age, and want to go on a retreat

Today is the day after and I keep replaying the tapes of the Kairos, and the wonderful teens I was with.  I am again reminded of the importance of evangelization in our Church.  Somehow we need to move out of the mode of sacraments being these magical moments of which we jump from one sacrament to another.  An underlying question that is on many of the young'ins minds is, what difference does any of these actions make.  They grow up in a church that celebrates these rituals, yet seems unmotivated to address Sin, poverty, violence, and hatred.  Hopefully the spirit kindled in these young people will bring about true conversion and discipleship in the Church.

Also I am reminded of John Paul II great love for young people.  Even in his elderly age he continued to attend the World Youth Days.  He enjoyed teaching, preaching, and speaking  with the young people of the Church.  John Paul II envisioned, and rightly so, young people as members of our Church today.  The teen leaders this weekend did an awesome job of putting things together, listening, and engaging the candidates.  More so they knew when to ask questions, and when to consult.  They did a good job.  But these are young people ministering in our Church.

It is so very important to go to the Holy Spirit for guidance, strength, and courage, so as to enable our Church to really do the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ.  Personally I want a bouncy, joyful, active Church, today.  But it is all in God's time.

Friday, November 9, 2012

But The Wise Shall Shine Brightly

This is my bulletin article for the 18th of November

                  The apocalyptic signs that are presented to us today are a reminder that we need to remain vigilant in our fight against Sin and Evil.  It seems that when we hear about approaching catastrophes and calamities, we begin to reflect on our lives, and even promise to do better.  But this lasts only for a time and then we are on to our next crisis.  But Jesus warns that we must be aware of the signs that are around us, and be willing to make real change and transformation in our lives.

                Just as a test, ask your family and friends what they are doing for the Year of Faith, or how they are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Vatican II.  We are encouraged to watch and to live the sacredness of our lives.  In a few weeks we will have a group of second graders receiving the sacrament of Reconciliation.  It would be sad if the very next time they receive that sacrament is when they are preparing for Confirmation as  High School students.  Or how is it that catholic young people, well beyond the changes in the sacrament of anointing, still ask for "last rites?"

                My great-grandmother came to the U.S. with her family, and a dozen or so relatives,  around 1920.   They had fled the aftermath of the Russian revolution.  They went from New York, to Chicago, and settled in Rockford.  We would hear bits and pieces of the journey they took which was pain filled and fraught with unknowns.  When we went to her house, especially in the summers, Grandma Soroka would sit in her rocking chair praying the entire rosary.  I have to think this is what gave her peace throughout her life - a life of prayer and reflection.

                It is hard to be prepared for the anxieties and concerns of life if we do not have a relationship with Christ Jesus.  More so if our understanding of our faith is one-dimensional, or we do not know or understand, what and why our faith teaches as it does, all the more difficult it is to articulate what we believe in, or to make those moral decisions which intrude upon our lives.  Be assured we will have to make decisions about finances, health, sexuality, commitments, and faithfulness.

                Sin and Evil, which are very real, are the de-creation of our relationship with God and with others.  If God is only a special compartment of our life, a distant uncle who, we go to in need, then we stand like the naked trees of winter, cold and shivering, waiting for the sky to fall.  But if we can begin to realize  that God is always at work around, that we too take an active role in our faith lives, as God labors to bring us into harmony within and around us.  Of course the important reality is whether or not we believe that we belong to God, by God's creation for us from the beginning and leading up to our final ending. 

                God is always ready to make something more of us than we can make of ourselves.  Living with God forever means that we receive and imitate the life of Jesus today.  Our worship is in spirit and in truth as we maintain a life of ongoing transformation and conversion.  Like Jesus we strive to be lifted up out of Sin and Evil, and hold onto the promises of a loving merciful God.  So that our light might shine brightly for all of the world to see.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Luke 18:8

In a sort apocalyptic statement, Luke asks the question as to whether there will be faith n earth when the Son of Man comes.  During this Year of Faith, this is a very real question for the Church, and of course for myself as a pastor.  Many eons ago I had read a story of a man who had come into a native village during a religious ceremony.  The man reported that the natives went through various motions, but it was evident to him that the participants did not believe in what they were doing.

I am sometimes afraid that we are there now.  When I consider the number of babies that we have baptized over this past year, we should have crying and fussy children at every Mass.  Or even how can you prepare for a sacrament like the Eucharist or Confirmation, and not go to Church?  We still have couples who call the office for the sacrament of marriage, and want to know whether they can 'reserve' the church for their wedding.  It is bothersome that we have catholics who see the sacraments as an amulet or spiritual trinket.  The Gospels really do call for an ongoing conversion and discipleship, and yet we have many catholics who believe that a good catholic is 'nice' to everyone and does not commit homicide.

While some might blame the Vatican II for many of our problems, that becomes an easy target and a good excuse.  The Vatican documents all call people to a full and active participation of faith and living their religion fully and boldly.  Our post-modern society looks less at the community and communal morals and values, than it does on the individual and the personal wants and concerns.  So we are one, as long as each one can do what they want.

The solution is not programs but a relationship with God.  Again and again we have to look at our initiation sacraments as the foundation of our belief.  We have to be serious and ask what the profession of faith means to me.  If it is just an action I have to do to get water, oil, or bread - then do not do it.  But if it really means something, then we have to integrate that into a lifestyle lived.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Sing With All of the Saints in Glory

Father Robert Barron remarks:
Christianity is above all, a way of seeing.  Everything else in Christian life flows from and circles around the transformation of vision.  Christians see things differently, and that is why their prayer, their worship, their action, their whole way of being in the world, has a distinctive accent and flavor."

The holy men and women that we celebrate today have broken out of the world.  Theirs is a vision in which mourning, being meek, being a peacemaker, and seeking justice and peace, are more important than looking for, and striving for, wealth, prestige, and authority.  St.Thomas Aquinas says that the ultimate goal of the Christan is the Beatific Vision.'  It is this goal which keeps thing in perspective for us.  Holiness is achieved by ordinary people seeking the holy, true, and right, in our world today.  More so it is the ability to do good things simply because they are good to do.  In a very real way we end up taking responsibility for our profession of faith.

Rabbi Harold Kushner, in his book, "Who Needs God," speaks about religion as a different way of looking at the world.  Looking at the saints we can understand that more often than not they were making a faith response to a problem, crisis, difficulty, or even an opportunity.  They were not looking for an opening in which to make a name for themselves, but sought Godliness and holiness in the lives of people around them.  In the midst of difficulties they proclaimed truth and justice, and desired to lift up others from their lowliness.  Saints are those who see with the eyes of Christ and act on what they see.

Last week I was listening to some older priests, who had heard stories from old priests in their day, who had known one of the recently canonized U.S. saints.  The stories are that this woman was a feisty, fiery, older Italian woman, who stood her ground, and got things done.  She was not a sweet, pious, wallflower.  In her very human ways she continued to unfold the Kingdom of God.

The wonderful thing about this feast is in it delights in the knowledge that God works with broken instruments, cracked clay vessels if you will, and continues to sanctify the world.  In one way or another we are all called to be saints, sharing our life for what is right, rue and just.  So that in God all things be the glory.