Sunday, December 29, 2013

Jesus, Mary, Joseph

In celebrating the Holy Family, we reflect on the fact that God cam into our lives in the messiness and chaos of a human family.  The image of the Holy Family invites us to take Jesus into our homes, and to sanctify the communion and unity that exists in its members.  In particular in Paul's letter for today, we are given a protocol of how we might live in union and peace with each other.  The essence of love stems from the ability to bestow reverence and respect towards each other.

In the Vatican II document on the Church in the Modern World, John Paul II letter on the Human Family, and even in the U.S. Bishop's letter on Stewardship, faithful communities are challenged to take responsibility for the community.  Certainly the texts from Sirach and Paul make this apparent, as does Matthew's Gospel.  Being set in a community, especially in a family we take care of each other through a life-giving participation in each other's life.  The care and respect we show for the other in our family unity, reveals the love of God, and ses us towards the Kingdom of God.

We know that there are many destructive forces out there in the world.  A consumer mentality that substitutes "stuff" for loving relationships. addictions, anger, misguided sexuality, all cause fractures in the love and unity that should be a family.  Not unlike Jesus, Mary and Joseph we can be like strangers in a foreign land.  A family unity always centers itself on the mystery of faith which it celebrates, and shares those values and virtues that are from God.  We endeavor to create a community of faith under our roof, honoring the integrity and dignity of each member.

The family is the springboard by which we are taught to love our faith, those things that are good, beautiful, and just.  Prayer and reconciliation continues to allow the union and unity in a household to thrive.  While we like to believe we are like the 'Brady Bunch,' more often than not we are like the 'Munsters.'  But with Christ Jesus in our midst we can overwhelm Sin and Evil.

Our families are a vital part of the fabric of our faith and the larger community.  As Christ became human, in the family we learn how to become divine.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Today is born our Saviour

John begins his Gospel describing the mystery of the Word which becomes flesh.  The Word of God, which brought all creation into being has now taken human form and dwells in our midst.  We forget sometimes how spectacular this really is.  In the Incarnation human flesh, men and women, are blessed and are made sacred.

The infant calls to mind for us the fragility and vulnerability of the human person.  Not unlike infants we are in the need of care and compassion.  I recall a family that I had been counseling, the older son mentioned to his mother that I was more like a 'father' to him than his biological father.  I did not hit the child or swear at him.  Humanity is sacred and is deserving of integrity and dignity.

John's first chapter goes on to decry the evil and darkness that pervades the human family.  We truly live in a culture of death.  The faithfulness of the Advent people, and the coming of Jesus Christ asks us to consider that we are about something more, something that is greater.  We have a culture that would be happy for all of us to follow our more base instincts.  We need to respond with faith and faithfulness to all of the trials and chaos that our world offers us.

On this most solemn feast we Christians need to make a joyful noise, to be sure, but more so a noise that what we are has a divine and human nature.  The presence of Christ should not and cannot be folded away at the end of Christmas week.  As in earlier in the season our demeanor must be that voice which cries out in the wilderness.

Today Christ hopefully finds a home in our midst.  The humility and poverty of Jesus invites us to bow down before him, to cradle him, and to consider that he has come into our midst to be part of our life, that we might become part of his life forever.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Angel Gabriel appeared to Joseph in a dream we are told, and tells Joseph not to have any fear in taking Mary as his wife.  And Joseph obediently takes Mary into his home.  It seems that Gabriel encounters a lot of fear and anxiety.  The Word of God tends to unsettle us, to be sure, but Zachariah, Mary, and Joseph are fearful and anxious.  Perhaps they are not used to having angels around the house.

But the reality of fear and anxiety is that it causes us to make bad decisions, and hinders the Word of God.  Later in the Gospels we will see folks who are afraid at the words and actions of Jesus and desire to put him to death.  In the Acts of the Apostles Stephen is executed because his words cause fear among the religious authorities.  Much of the reaction towards the Church and its teachings are based in fear and uncertainty.  This sort of reaction causes us to close ourselves off from others, we become very apprehensive and uneasy.

What Joseph does have in his favor is that he is a righteous man.  Decent, moral, and virtuous, Joseph will do 'good' things because they are good things to do.  For us too the more we come to know that our holy God loves us, and are engaged in the holiness of God, the easier it is to move beyond fearfulness and respond to God freely, and out of love.  Humanity is broken and messy.  But God continues to love us and gathers us in mercy and in love.  Joseph knowing this kinship we have with God embraces the plan of salvation which God offers.

As a people called to holiness we can allow the hurts, pains, frustrations, and anxieties of life dissuade us from hearing God's voice, and taking upon ourselves the course of salvation.  More so we do not always seek healing or peace as we try to nurse our wounds on our own.  So we seek quick and easy solutions to difficulties, or worse yet try to hide away.

We really have to take time and meditate on the meaning of Emmanuel - God is with us.  This is the same God who forgives, supports us, and fills up what is lacking in our life.  When we can "Proclaim the greatness of the Lord" in every aspect of our life, we are less persuaded by fear, and are more strengthened by goodness and love, so as to participate in the story of our God.  Mary and Joseph, hearing the Word of God, nurture that Word and bring it into the world.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Advent 3

A few weeks ago Pope Francis promulgated Joy of the Gospel.  In it he spelled out the need of the Church to unfold the Word of the Gospel in very real and practical means.  Pope Francis comments that he wants a Church that is "Bruised, Broken, and Dirty for having been ministering in the streets."  John the Baptist tries to ascertain whether on not Jesus is the Messiah. The response that Jesus gives is that the blind, lame, afraid, and leprous are cured.  The poor and the anawim have the Good News preached to them.

Bringing Christ into the world is serious business.  But it means that we have to recognize the signs of God that are in our midst.  Like the disciples we 'Come and See' where the works of Christ are accomplished.  When we find healing, forgiveness and the beginnings of peace and healing, then we will also discover the Messiah.

I have had the humble opportunity of watching young people all fired up over the faith.  It is awesome to watch them simply going to church, and recognizing that they have a place in the Church.  They have come to recognize that faith, religion, and Church, are not about a series of rituals and rules, but rather a relationship established in the Paschal Mystery.  To be sure they understand that a faith life is messy, and it is certainly not about unicorns and cotton candy.  We exist with God because God exists with us.  This intimate relationship we have with God draws us onto a journey in which we are always seeking the Christ, the Messiah, who gives meaning and purpose to our lives.

In so many of the places and spaces that I have been, I have com to recognize the need to evangelize and catechize.  The are a lot of folks, who like John the Baptist, who are wondering about Jesus.  We church-people need to confirm that Jesus is Lord as we worship in spirit and truth, and seek justice and healing for those around us.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Second Sunday of Advent

From the Mystic, Julian of Norwich:

All shall be well,
and all shall be well,
and every manner of thing shall be  well.

I like to tell the story of the "mean old man" who lived up the street from us.  He seemed to be always angry and distressed.  I have often wondered how people become that way.  What has happened in their lives where anger, rage, and animosity seem to be the only response to the world?  Was it abuse, neglect, a dream not realized, that causes them to fly into a tirade?

One of the wonderful readings in Isaiah muses that "On this Holy mountain God will provide for all peoples."  (Is 51)  What we need to realize that Isaiah is speaking to men and women who have just returned home after years of exile.  They come back to a place of devastation.  And yet the Prophet speaks boldly and confidently that the God of our forbearers would see them through this crisis, and ultimately all would be gathered on the mountain of the Lord.  This was not a rainbows and butterflies pep talk given to a sad people, but a profession of faith which acknowledges that God is bigger than any of us.

Once upon a time I went running during a break on a high school retreat.  Several of the youngsters went with me.  At one point in the run one young man began to speak about how much the retreat grounds reminded him of his grandmother's farm.  He went on for several minutes about a woman who obviously had a powerful impact on his life.

Faithful lives inspire us and help us to hold on to what is good and holy.  Perhaps this is way saint and martyrs are so important for us catholics.  The stories of their lives are an assurance that God provides for all people, in particular the poor, anawim, anxious, and afraid.  I think that it is in the Fourth Eucharistic Prayer where it is stated, "When we were lost and could not find our way to you .. you called us back.

As communities of faith the Eucharist and the Word remind us that we can hope for the glory of the Kingdom of God.  People of hope do not wallow in despair or shame but build a holy edifice out of the building blocks of faith.  More so they are true disciples who share in the task of sharing Good News.  Hopeful people can inspire families and nations  - and call for a conversion of heart.

So it is with joyful hope we await the coming of our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Saint Nicholas of Myra

St. Nicholas, Bishop and Pastor, is honored in the West and East, was Bishop of Myra, part of present day eastern Turkey.  The opening prayer from the Byzantine Liturgy commends Nicholas for his pastor zeal, "O Father and Pontiff Nicholas, the holiness of your life was set before your flock as a rule of faith ... an example of meekness and teaching of temperance."  In the document on the role of Bishops, from the Second Vatican Council, Bishops are exhorted to be one wit the flock that they serve.  The emphasis of course is on the serving.

The best known story of Nicholas is his providing a dowry for the daughters of a poor man in his village.  Traditionally children would set their shoes outside their rooms on the eve of the 5th of December, and find them filled with candy and small toys on the feast of Nicholas.  Bad children would receive coal in their shoes.  What this significant about this feast, and to be sure about this man, is his self-less giving to all who are in his charge.

The Gospel for today, from St. Matthew, reports the healing of some blind men who follow after Jesus.  Jesus poses the question to them, 'Are you sure I can do this for you?'  They assure him that they believe in him.  Not only are their eyes opened but their hearts are as well.  Holy men and women, like Nicholas, are open to the needs and concerns of their brothers and sisters, and respond with compassion and kindness.  We recognize in folks like Nicholas a sense of humility which allows their lives to become instruments of Christ in the world.

We are not all called to be Mary and Joseph on the journey of salvation.  Last night it bothered my to see a mother and son leaving a store not properly dressed for the frigid temperature.  My sister's family could use some financial help this season, and I worry a lot about what our children see in the world around them.  The challenge we have is to be the face of Christ in the world around us.  Our ministry is to unbind one another and se them free.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

St. Francis Xavier

Francis Xavier was one of the first to make profess vows in the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, in 1534.  Three years later Francis and three others were ordained and sent to the East Indies.  From there Francis Xavier and his companions established missions in the Indies, India, and in Japan.  His success is legendary and it is reported that all that he did was celebrated with enthusiasm and joy.

St. Francis Xavier is a great Advent saint in that his mission unfolds the Word of God to those who had never encountered the God of all creation.  His zeal and faithfulness indicate the great love that he had for the Word made flesh, and more so the love of the people he ministered to.  In a letter to Ignatius, Francis Xavier wrote that many people were not becoming Christian because there had never been anyone to proclaim the Word of God, nor celebrate the sacraments.

In many ways we are in the midst of pagan territory today.  In matter of fact there is certainly an aggression towards all things Christian.  But like Francis Xavier we have to hear the Word of God deeply in our own hearts, nurture and nourish it, and share what we have received in love and charity.  As Jesus had reminded us in the Gospels we have to love one another, including our enemies.  As Christians we are called and challenged to be missionaries in our own culture.

To be sure there is something to be said of waiting in joyful hope for the coming of Jesus Christ as opposed to shaking a catechism at people.  People will be more inspired when they can witness what faith means to us.  So we continue to proclaim all that we have seen and heard.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Watchful Waiting

The people that we will hear from, and about, are somehow involved in watchful waiting.  Now I have noticed that when I end the Presider prayers at Mass, or even distribute the Eucharist, there is this muted response from the congregants.  Isaiah would recommend that we become bold and forceful in our response to the covenant.  St. Paul tells us on this first Sunday of Advent to distance ourselves from a lifestyle of non-God-like living.  Watchful waiting is a matter of full and active participation in the mysteries we celebrate.

In my very first Pastorate the Pastoral Council would have long and detailed conversations about the budget, lawn care, and building issues.  But come the topic of evangelizing or pastoral care, these peoples became very quiet.  And yet this is supposedly the mission and ministry of the Church - to proclaim the "Good News." 

While the Advent season directs us to prepare for the upcoming Christmas season, and the coming of Christ himself, I would seem that we are always in this season of preparation.  To be sure we are not always going to be kneeling nor have our eyes rolled heaven-ward, we are called to make great efforts to rid ourselves of Sin and sinfulness, and to learn habits that will lead to salvation and peace. 

Sadly for many our faith life, and certainly our spiritual lives, are only slightly deeper than a finger bowl.  Too often many of us tune out the Paschal nature of our faith and reflect only on the idea of a "Happy Jesus" who smiles and says nice things to us.  This is why todays scripture is such a challenge for folks.  If we take what we have received seriously that we have to boldly and loudly profess all that we have seen and heard in Jesus Christ.

Our faith really has to be a stumbling block for ourselves and others.  The Good News should re-orientate all of our choices and decisions.  So we watch, pray, and do Kingdom stuff.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

St Andrew the Apostle

It has been long understood that Andrew was Peter's brother.  Andrew was one of the first apostles to follow Jesus, and was called to be one of the twelve.  After the Pentecost Andrew preaches in central Asia, east of the Caspian Sea, Greece, and Byzantium.  Legend tells us that during one of the Christian persecutions, Andrew is arrested and later crucified on an X formed cross, somewhere in Greece, during one of his last missions.

In a homily by St. John Chrysostom, St. John reflects on Andrew's eager words to Peter, "We have found the Lord."  St. John goes on to speak about this zealous character, but more so, Andrew's ability to reflect back onto the larger story of salvation.  The word of Jesus emboldened Andrew to share the message of Jesus with his brother, but also eventually those to whom he was sent to preach the Good News to.

While there were scary moments for the Disciples, disciples do not let fear keep them from proclaiming and living faith.  I had read a letter in a newspaper the other day from a man who stated he understood the Christian stance on same-sex marriage, but since public opinion seems to be for it, maybe the churches should change their teachings.  Then should the churches change their teaches on thievery, falsehood, and discrimination too?

Like those  first witness, Andrew teaches us that we have to be true to the center and source of our faith.  The cross of Jesus Christ reminds us that suffering and death are part of the Christian story; and so is the resurrection.  We must keep our attention focused on the larger story of God in the world.  Vatican II Lumen Gentium    teaches us to be a model of faith for others and so build up the Body of Christ.

St. Andrew is a great saint for this time of year whereas we hear the word of the Prophets proclaiming the coming of the Christ.  Advent people live in a world of joyful hope sharing the story of salvation with everyone.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Christ The King

St Paul will implore us again and again to understand that Jesus the Christ, is he image of the Father.  Preparing for my homily today I found a quote by St. Bernard of Clairvaux, an  Abbot and reformer of the Cistercians, in which he muses about the difficulty to avoid Sin and Evil.  Bernard states quite clearly that greed, ambition, bodily pleasures, and, envy, are always pulling at him.  All the more reason, St. Bernard says, to be connected to Christ.  We allow his mission and ministry to inspire and inform our lives.

Fr. Robert Barron commented in one of his CDs that his students are always amazed at the Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists, who will fast for days, undergo all sorts of physical discomfort, and walk miles on pilgrimage.  Fr Barron remarks hat we as Catholics have a hard  time making Mass for an hour once a week.  Even More so, we are called to engage the world with charity, justice and peace.  That old familiar song, "They will know we are Christians by our love,"  needs to be our theme song.

The other week I had a family from my former parish visit me.  They had commented how welcomed everyone made them feel.  That is a wonderful commentary about this parish community; but that should be the norm and not the exception.  One of the first rules of the Benedictines is to welcome everyone as if were Christ himself.  The Kingship of Christ demands that we be servant leaders.  As we follow the faithfulness of Jesus through the Paschal mystery, we enable others to journey along with us on the way. 

There is a great Celtic story entitled "The Fisher King."  There are various versions but all speak about turning our ideas of kingship, power, and authority upside down:

Story of the Fisher King, The
by: Richard LaGravenese, The Fisher King It begins with the king as a boy, having to spend the night alone in the forest to prove his courage so he can become king. Now while he is spending the night alone he's visited by a sacred vision. Out of the fire appears the holy grail, symbol of God's divine grace. And a voice said to the boy, "You shall be keeper of the grail so that it may heal the hearts of men." But the boy was blinded by greater visions of a life filled with power and glory and beauty. And in this state of radical amazement he felt for a brief moment not like a boy, but invincible, like God,
... so he reached into the fire to take the grail,
... and the grail vanished,
... leaving him with his hand in the fire to be terribly wounded.
Now as this boy grew older, his wound grew deeper. Until one day, life for him lost its reason. ... He had no faith in any man, not even himself.
... He couldn't love or feel loved.
... He was sick with experience.
He began to die.
One day a fool wandered into the castle and found the king alone. And being a fool, he was simple minded, he didn't see a king. He only saw a man alone and in pain. And he asked the king, "What ails you friend?" The king replied, "I'm thirsty. I need some water to cool my throat". So the fool took a cup from beside his bed, filled it with water and handed it to the king. As the king began to drink, he realized his wound was healed. He looked in his hands and there was the holy grail, that which he sought all of his life. And he turned to the fool and said with amazement, "How can you find that which my brightest and bravest could not?" And the fool replied, "I don't know. I only knew that you were thirsty." 

In Matthew 25 Jesus indicates that we receive the Kingdom of God based on some very basic Gospel values.  Conversion and discipleship lead the way to works of mercy and charity.  Jesus ruled sitting in the dirt next to the poor and sinner, by touching the leprous, and dying on a cross.  This is what Chris the King is all about.   

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

As was the tradition for the Hebrew people, Mary is presented to God, at the Temple, in fulfillment of the covenant tradition.  Anne and Joachim are faithful parents who put their trust in the God of love and mercy.  Mary's unconditional response to God's call to become the Theotokos, and her reflection on God's providence, as she visits her cousin Elizabeth, helps us to understand that her parents were faithful in sharing their faith and love of God.  To be sure this is what dads and moms do.  They teach prayers and explain the significance of the various feasts and holy days. 

We Christians are united with God through Baptism and Confirmation.  Hopefully that relationship is nurtured; otherwise God becomes that distant uncle we hear from occasionally.  What's the one cliché, one woman says to another, "I love my church, they always have it decorated with Poinsettias and Lilies."  If faith and Church are part of one's household, the child will come away with a deep and rich relationship with God.  But of course if the conversation is about "father is always asking for money," and "God will send you to hell for that ... ;"  then we are doing less than helping develop an experience with God. 

The household, and the faith learning that happens there, ought to be a springboard to launch into the world and all that it conveys.  Mary seems to understand the depth of salvation history, with the love of God and the necessity of making a commitment to God.  Faith moves beyond the head, and moves and transforms the heart too.

We do not know a lot about Mary's presentation.  That's okay since ours has not made it to the Sacred Scriptures either.  But in real life it changed our lives forever.        

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini - Virgin and Religious

Born in the latter part of the 19th century in a small town of Italy, Frances was born into a large farm family.  Her desire was to become a religious and teacher, but poor health would not allow her to fulfill her commitment.  She did end up teaching children in some of the poorer communities.  Her love for these children, and zealous self-giving, did not go unnoticed.  Pope Leo XIII requested her to go to the United States to work among the many Italian immigrants. 

St. Frances became the foundress of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart.  Her Sisters and herself worked in the cities of New York and Chicago, establishing schools, orphanages, and hospitals.  St. Frances worked with a great vigor and joy amongst many of the struggling immigrants who came to seek a new life in a new country.  For 28 years St. Francis remained faithful to her missionary activity and vocation until her death in 1917.

From her own life experience St. Frances knew and understood the struggles one had throughout their life's journey.  As a person of prayer, humility, and with a great commitment to the faith she professed, she never allowed anything turn her away from what needed to be done.  Pope Pius XII, at her canonization, called to mind the great love and devotion by which St. Frances lived.

The Collect from today's mass notes that this Saint had a love of the stranger, sick and frustrated.  Her dedication to God, and love of God's people, truly exposes her as a saintly person.  We can learn something about having a vocation from her life of service.

Monday, November 11, 2013

God of the living

The Maccabees reading from Sunday tells the powerful story of a faith community which refuses to relinquish its faith in regards to the ruling power.  The story of the brothers who are tortured and murdered, before the eyes of their mother, is moving and quite sad.  It is a reminder that even before our present time their were evil leaders who attempted to abolish faith and faithfulness to their own ends.  It also reminds us that the power of the Holy Spirit affords peoples the courage and strength to do marvelous things.

This past weekend I had the wonderful experience of assisting with the sacrament of reconciliation, at the Kairos retreat, of my former parish.  To be sure I was nice to see these young people again.  What occurs here with these young people is that they come to discover that their faith, their religious endeavors, are deeper and more extensive than Sunday morning observance.  People of faith are called to stand against Sin, Evil, oppression, injustice. and the disrespect of human life.  Faith nurtures a relationship, which is based in truth and holiness, with God, and others. 

Some weeks ago a newspaper interviewed me about some Church matter.  Of course the question was raised, why does the Church continue to hold on to these old teachings, when our culture seems to be directed different.  I wanted to answer simply, "exactly."  Sacred scriptures and the tradition of the Church are directed to the values and virtues found in the texts of scripture and our faith tradition.  The mission and the ministry of Jesus is very much counter-cultural. 

What Luke attempts to help his hear-ers understand is that the Kingdom of God is not a continuation of this life, but with nicer clothes, but a radical transformation which is marked by unity and communion with God.  This is hard for some folks to perceive.  The challenge of faith is to be prophetic and profound in our relationships with God and neighbor.    In the same way that Jesus sacrifices his life, as we look to the Kingdom, it must be a life of service and sacrifice.

Many of our young people will become servant leaders in whatever community they live in.  Sadly others will chow down on the cotton candy that our culture offers them.  Living the Kingdom of God is our goal and our source of inspiration. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Give some of your bread to the hungry

A brother priest had shared a story from the trenches of the classroom.  A young girl had seen a movie the previous weekend which depicted the Church with-holding some sort of eschatological secrets in the Gospel of Thomas.  The young lady wanted to know why the Church would do such a thing.

Now the Gospel of Thomas is a Gnostic Gospel and can be purchased through Amazon.com, or wherever books are sold.  There is not enough space here today to describe the whole Gnostic thing.  But what is both amusing and scary is this young woman believed something in a movie depicting a Church position not being able to draw from her 10 years of catholic education to refute the misunderstanding.  What St. Paul asks of us today, as he does so often, is to become firm in faith.

To do so requires a total movement from knowing stuff about the church, to having an experience of Jesus, and thus building a relationship with him.  Perhaps this is why it is so easy for folks to leave a parish of move from one religion to another, we base our faith on music, programs, or people, rather than the mysteries we celebrate.  This weekend I get to go to help out on a Kairos retreat for high schoolers.  For the vast majority of these young people this will be a pivotal moment in which they will discover the divine person of Jesus Christ as opposed to going through ritual motions.

Faith becomes real when we can consider a Christian lifestyle as a normal part of our daily mission rather than having to 'think' about doing good.  The knowledge we gain from catechesis should somehow move our being so as to respond with compassion, kindness, and forgiveness.  Again there is a frightening reality when popular culture can suggest a premise of what 'we Christians' believe in, and we do not really have a retort.

Our faith is not clean and sterile, nor is it rainbows and butterflies.  Christians are invited to a relationship which includes the cross, prophecy, and servant leadership.  It is important for us to remember that Jesus is calling us to be disciples an not spectators.

Friday, November 1, 2013

All the Saints

I love the old classical hymn, "Sing With All The Saints In Glory."  The text of the hymn invites us into a reflection, and a relationship, which the holy men and women have shared, and continue to share in their intercession for us.  While we ask them to pray for us because of their unique position before the Father, we also stand in awe as we contemplate their faithful lives by which they witnessed to all that they had seen and heard in their relationship with Jesus.

Some of these saints were great mystics and theologians, while others were monks and nuns, hardly noticed outside their communities.  All will tell of their sinfulness and the need of the grace and blessing of Jesus Christ.  I always smirk when I think about Augustine's prayer, "Make me chaste - but not yet."  Or even Francis who threw himself into a patch of briers when physical temptations became too great.  These are very human people, the saints whom we honor, who offer us a model of walking our journey with Jesus Christ.  For these people the Beatitudes are not simply a text out of scripture nor a theological premise.  They become a springboard of faith in which we can launch into life.

Jan Richardson is a poet, artist, and blogger.  She offers this verse on the celebration of our holy brothers and sisters:


For those
who walked with us,
this is a prayer.
For those
who have gone ahead,
this is a blessing.
For those
who touched and tended us,
who lingered with us
while they lived,
this is a thanksgiving.    
 
This text is a reminder that this great 'cloud of witnesses' now possess a unique and intimate perspective of the Holiness of God.  Their earthly life had offered us a challenge and an invitation to transformation.  On that same journey they now pray for us on our journey of faith.  As the Preface for today's Mass reminds us these models of faith invite us through their inspiration and supplication to join them at the banquet table in heaven.  So in the meantime we continue to sing with all the saints in glory.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

God be Merciful to Me, a Sinner

Of the many Fr. Henry Nouwen books I have read, I probably appreciate his The Genesee Diary: Report from a Trappist Monastery,  the most.  For the late Fr. Nouwen this was a time of transition and rediscovery of his own place on a journey of faith.  His experience of the Monks puts aside any notion that these men are pious saintly creatures.  Father Nouwen helps us see them in all of their human weakness and frailties.  He also helps us to understand that it is the participation in the Eucharist, prayer, forgiveness, support, and community, which keeps them centered on a life that can be difficult and a challenge, to say the least.  For Father Nouwen, who was so very much aware of his own human nature, these men were very conscious of their humanity.

The Publican who is presented in today's Gospel has an acute awareness of his sin and sinfulness, and at the same time trusts in God's love and mercy enough in order to  approach God in his holy place, albeit at a distance, and cry out for God's mercy and love.  Knowing that one is broken, and understanding the neediness that is ours, allows us to begin the journey towards healing and peace.  We can of course decide to put on a mask, or persona, in which we try to lead people to believe we have I all together.  Our use of food, alcohol, work, or even our relationships, can manipulate our lives into thinking we are "okay."

When we consider our sinfulness it is not enough to examine the basics of lying, cheating, or watching 'dirty' movies.  We need to look at the gaping holes in our lives, the fractures and the brokenness, which displace us from our relationship with God and others.  We find healing and peace by making new decisions and better choices.  We have to remember to include Christ, and our life of faith, into everything we do.

Jesus continues to refer back to his Father in heaven.  This is his mode of operation. We cannot be so mediocre so as to ignore the covenant and commitments we have to live a faith life.  Jesus blesses our human nature.  Reflecting his grace and blessing, trusting in his grace and blessing, we strive to live good and holy lives.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

John de Brébeuf and Isaac Jogues, Priests, and Companions - Martyrs

In our culture today we are very aware that early missionary activity may not have been the best.  In today's situations those who travel to distant lands bring with them an understanding of culture, language, and ritual.  With that being said today we remember several Jesuits who preached the Gospel in the eastern portion of the Great Lakes. 

These men were not looking for treasures of gold or silver, but to share the gifts of 'Good News,' and an invitation to live the Gospel.  Like the early missionaries of our Church these North American Martyrs desired that their hearers take upon themselves a new lifestyle based on the peace and salvation offered us by Jesus Christ.

These same men endured torture and ultimately death for the Gospel they proclaimed.  Despite the hazards of proclaiming the Good News, there is a urgency in making known the gift of Christ to all peoples.  It is easy to get into the 'Dunkin Doughnut' mentality in which we un-reflectively go through the motions of our faith.  The real challenge is to own and to share what we have seen and heard in Jesus Christ. 

May the journey of these men point us forward to be faith stewards of the Gospel message.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

St Ignatius of Antioch

Though I would much rather be at a basketball or hockey game, I try to make all of the home football games of our high schools.  What I have always found curious though is the different levels of participation at such games.  Ever since I was in high school I go wearing the team jacket and sweatshirt.  I watch, follow the plays, and do get excited especially when "we" are winning.  But some around me are having conversations about their weekend plans; and the little kids are playing on the hill over the field.  Last Friday a lady behind was talking on her cellphone for the entire game.  The real participants though are those who suit up, put on their helmets, and are in the mix of running and throwing the football!

Perhaps this is why I like the martyrs.  They are fully completely involved in the activity of faith.  Their whole life is directed toward making the Word of God present, through the mission and ministry of Jesus, to the point of giving their lives for what they profess.  Ignatius who lived during the very infancy of the Church, is best known for his writings on the way to being killed, in Rome.  The letters spoke about his and our relationship with Christ, specifically within the Church - the Body of Christ Jesus.

Ignatius speaks about the Church being the "Place of sacrifice."  His invitation is for men and women to "partake of one Eucharist, for one is the flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one is the cup to unite us to His Blood and one altar."  In this text Ignatius will go on to state how we are completed when we gather around the altar of sacrifice and participate with humble and contrite hearts.  More so this union is establish when we become empty for the Kingdom of God.  Ignatius will admonish us to take home with us that our entire faith life is one of imitating the sacrifice that we participate in.

St Ignatius' letters were addressed to these faith communities as a way to preach to all men and women of faith, the Word of God, in every time and place.  With those early apostles Ignatius wants us to realize that we also participate in a holy and profound vocation.  Again this is not simply about 'being nice' to one another.  Our daily living really has to be a living sacrifice.  This means of course we put on Christ, and make bold so as to live under his guidance and love.

One of my freshman students stated once that she felt Jesus would not want us to be uncomfortable or not do what we wanted to do.  I beg to differ since I recall Jesus equating discipleship with crucifixion.  In another letter St. Ignatius implores his listeners to "Pray for me that I may obtain my desire."  With Ignatius may our desire always be about doing 'Jesus things,' in season and out.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Teresa of Jesus - Doctor and Mystic

Teresa of Jesus (of Avila) was an outstanding faith leader, described as intelligent, hard-headed, charming, and deeply spiritual.  She had a deep wisdom and spiritual sense, but was very down to earth and practical.  Teresa lived in a very difficult time of the Church.  Her great love of Christ and the Church, allowed her the courage to work for transformation and discipleship within her own community, and essentially all religious.

Her years of reforming her convent, and those that she established were marked by aggression and turmoil.  Throughout this struggle Teresa maintained a sense of mission and charity.  She did not allow the hostility of her detractors to sway her from doing what was right and good.  Teresa's prayer life and deep relationship with God are described in autobiography, and in her books, The Way of Perfection and The Interior Castle.  A contemporary of St John of the Cross St Teresa brought renewal and vision into the Carmelites of that time.

Truly St Teresa is a model of holiness for us.  Too often we think about holiness that is only obtainable by monks, nuns, and religious.  St Teresa's practical charisma, and "homey" approach to the various issues which she encountered.  The Vatican II call to holiness within the Church does not ask us to be contemplatives, but men and women engaged in the Church, identifying with the Body of Christ.  We do not have to kneel for several hours to gain holiness.

Pope Francis is in the news a lot these days speaking about a variety of issues afflicting peoples.  His challenge, and the challenge of the Church, is to go beyond the basics of Church life, that our response might be a living witness to the faith we profess.  To be sure mystics like St Teresa shows us that there is a greater level to our being, a deeper reality in our relationship with God.    When we begin to own that part of us, we can have the courage to take responsibility for our faith.

From the collect of today, we pray that "her inspired teaching awaken in us a longing for true holiness."

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Where are the Other Nine?

The story of the Ten Lepers is a familiar one which we hear on a regular basis.  Lepers at the time of Jesus are considered unclean, and thus outsiders.  They cannot communicate with family or friends and have no recourse to the 'ordinary' activities of daily life.  of course the Samaritan all the more so would be excluded from Hebrew culture.  So the fact that a sick man, and Samaritan at that, would be healed and return to give thanks, is outstanding. 

To be sure the folks in the Gospel who are healed or forgiven, who have an experience of Jesus, not only are full of thanks and praise of God's love and mercy, but their own lives become transformed.  The stories of Abram, Saul, and Simon Peter, indicate that this change is so powerful that even their names change.  The Scriptures are replete with this theme of men and women who touch the love of God and experience a remarkable change, healing and peace within their lives. 

With thanksgiving, we ask with the psalmist, what return do we make to the Lord, for all that the Lord has done for us.  Our response should be one of graciousness and faithfulness.  We receive God's gifts gratefully, nurturing those gifts,  we share them in charity and justice, so as to return them with increase to the Lord.  Gratefulness allows us to make a connection to the one who gives gifts.  When we offer thanks and praise to God we necessarily reflect on our relationship with God, and grow more intimately into that communion.

This is not unlike those familial relationships we have.  In offering thanks, by sharing in family dinners, we can come to recognize our identity as well as our status within the family.  At the Eucharist (which means thanksgiving) We can become aware of our communal history and our connection to God and one another.  We become re-centered on the understanding that We are Children of God and are called to act in accord with that call.

We are called to share with others all that we have seen and heard.  In a very real way we need to be thankful people to our God and one another.  As Jesus sees the needy human heart in the Lepers, our ability to offer thanksgiving allows us to examine our relationships with God and others.  This is why we regularly give thanks to God for the many blessings received.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Faith

The Apostles desire to have more faith and ask Jesus to increase their faith.  It would be great if 'faith' were some sort of measurable quantity which could be observed and standardized.  Faith has a lot more to do with relationship and trust.  The apostles who traveled daily with Jesus were often shown to be lacking in faith.  While the blind, lame, sinful, and sorrowing seemed to put a great amount of faith in Jesus.  St Paul in his letter to the Hebrews suggests that faith is those things hoped for, yet remain unseen.  Such a stance serves to increase our relationship in the one who has given us the promise vis a vis 'faith.'

Mary is often shown as a woman with tremendous faith.  Certainly it appears that Mary has a deep understanding of salvation history, and even more so, an intimate love of God and the covenant.   Her ability to say 'Yes' to God the Father comes out of nourishing and nurturing a relationship with God throughout her life.  Lawrence Kohlberg, a developmental psychologist of the 1950s, proposed that men and women encounter a moral development throughout their lives.  We begin with a moral response which strives to avoid punishment.  The highest level, is to do a good action simply because it is good.  Kohlberg suggest that very few of us ever reach the higher level.

I like the martyrs.  To be a martyr takes faith and faithfulness; completely trusting in God's love and mercy.  These are to be sure people of faith who have the capacity of inspiring faith in others.  For these men and women have sought out the vision of God and made it a part of their own conviction.  The Kingdom of God is not simply a theological construct but truly a place of light, happiness, and peace.  So we have these faith-filled people who determine to be light in the midst of the darkness they encounter, and an occasion of Christ to those in their presence. 

I spent part of the afternoon at our Diocesan Youth Summit.  A great time was had by all.  Hopefully our young people were able to experience "Church" in a different venue outside of Sunday Mass. Certainly the oldsters cannot help but be moved by the energy of 1,500 young people gathered together.  Everyone there takes away an encounter with God, and his Son Jesus, coming to touch that which is holy in some way.  Hopefully reflecting on the day can be an experience of faith in all involved.

Mustard seeds, wheat, sowers, and a room full of teens, can help us understand the work of God in our world today.  Reflecting on these sacred, and not so sacred, moments can possibly help increase our faith.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Where there is darkness let me bring your light

Today we celebrate the feast of one of the best known and beloved saints, Francis of Assisi.  While we see him as a patron of creation and animals, known for inviting us to be "an instrument of peace," there is so much more to his preaching and teaching.  The entrance antiphon of today's Mass summarizes his life with the instruction, "Francis a man of God, left behind his home and gave away his wealth to become poor and in need."  Francis lived during the twelfth century, born into an aristocratic family, came to a moment of conversion after returning from war.  Having a vision of Christ, Francis of Assisi gave away all of his possessions and lived a life of open poverty and humility.  Seeing him beg, and giving away what he received, many thought him to be mentally ill.

Francis of Assisi had a genuine love and care for the poor and the oppressed.  His outward witness of charity attracted others to join him in this new lifestyle.  In 1209 Francis began what would become the Franciscans.  Francis and his followers imitated a radical Gospel poverty and engaged in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.  In addition to caring for the poor and sick, this new group also preached and taught about the values and message of the Sacred Scriptures.  For Francis all of creation was reminiscent of the love and mercy of God.  He received the many gifts of God with joy and clearly returned what he had received with increase.

Even today the Franciscans continue the works of their founder, and more importantly the Lord Jesus Christ. In the spirit of St Francis, Franciscans today continue to care for the poor, sick, an anawim, in addition to engaging in a more prophetic ministry in challenging those systems that maintain poverty, oppression, and injustice.  But that does truly reflect our faith and the baptism we receive.

At times we forget that our baptismal promises are not a private matter, but a spring-board into a life of charity and discipleship.  The scriptures really are counter-cultural and call us to reflect the image of Christ in all peoples.  The more we are able to articulate the love of God, the less we have violence, war and the indignities which plague  human life.  Francis was zealous in his stand for truth and righteousness,  His love for all creation was evidenced by his expression of care and compassion.

It would be good to look at the humility and simplicity of Francis' life.  For Francis this was more than a small dose of fasting or the wearing of black.  Francis embraced the cross and with it all which it implies.  Our faith is a counter-cultural faith which bears living witness, even today.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Guardian Angels

For many of us as catholics the image of the Guardian Angels has been a great comfort.  In grade school we were taught that our Guardian Angel would protect us against Evil and be a helper and guide to us. So much so that we could pray that our angel might intercede for us.  The idea that we have a Guardian Angel has been constant teaching of the Church for many generations.  Angels, we are told, are servants and messengers of God, servants of the divine, who hold a unique and important role in God's household.

Throughout the Sacred Scriptures men and women have been visited by Angels who either delivered messages from God, or offered comfort and support.  Some have even been known to wrestle with Angels.  But make no mistake about it, these are not divine beings that we are to worship or adore.  In several passages of Scripture, as persons would kneel, or demonstrate some other posture of veneration, they are quickly reprimanded.

The understanding of Guardian Angels invites us to look at the much larger concept of God's Divine Providence.  From the beginning of time, and especially after men and women discovered Sinfulness, God continued to interact within human history.  More so, God lifts up the lowly and fills the hungry with ever good thing.  God led the people of Israel out of slavery, and when in exile, continued to care for and nurture them. 

To be sure as catholics we have come to understand that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our life of faith.  When we look back at our faith tradition, prior to the Incarnation, we see that God always tended to his people in some form or another.  This is part of the reason we are quick to praise and thank God for his goodness to us.  It is important to consider and reflect upon the very intimate relationship which we have with God.  I believe it is in Jeremiah's writings whereas we are told that God has carved our names on the palm of his hand.

Our Guardian Angel recalls for us that God always has our goodness and salvation in mind.  I believe that it is in a letter to St. Timothy that we are told even when we are unfaithful, God will remain faithful.  God has given us an angel to be our friend on our journey to the New Jerusalem. 

Monday, September 30, 2013

Word of God

Today we celebrate the memorial of St. Jerome.  A monk and scholar, St Jerome translated the Sacred Scriptures into Latin.  That in and of itself is an outstanding accomplishment, but equally as impressive is Jerome's love and devotion to the Word of God.  The monastic tradition teaches about the importance of Lectio, or reading and meditating on the scriptures.  St. Jerome's work helps us understand the importance of the scriptures in our faith.

Our families have stories some of which immerse us in joy and comfort, while others recollect the pain and frustration of our family journey.  Some folks attempt to read the bible from cover to cover.  The first few books are fine, but then comes Leviticus, and other texts having to do with laws and regulations.  This method would be akin to going into a library and attempting to read each of the books from the stacks.  The scripture stories are meant to remind us of our part of God's love, and his tradition of faithfulness.

While we might read the scriptures for information or direction, it is an excellent source of prayer and meditation.  We might not realize how much of the Mass is directly or indirectly taken from scriptural texts.  Men and women of faith are invited to prayer Christian Prayer, or the Liturgy of Hours, a compilation of Psalms and scripture texts.

The Word of God draws us into an even closer relationship with God the Father.  The Sacred Scriptures asks us to reflect upon our faith tradition, connected to the faith story of men and women throughout the generations.  In whatever translation we read, the Scriptures reminds us that we are a people of light, happiness, and peace. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Make Friends With Dishonest Wealth

It would seem that Jesus is giving a wink and a nod to dishonesty.  The quirk some passage from Luke applauds the dishonest steward for being dishonest.  But perhaps we can look at this in a different way.  In particular in light of the Prophet Amos who recognizes that greed and the accumulation of power have warped a once holy people and set them against the covenant. 

In an odd way when dishonest folk know that their dishonesty has caused them all sorts of problems, then they begin to look at virtue, mercy, and life.  What is really true begins to become clear.  I remember a man asking me to come to his house on a particular evening.  He was very upset, he and his wife had been having some real difficult times, and he thought that I might be able to resolve their differences.  When I pulled up to the house there was a U-Haul backed up to the garage, and the wife was putting clothing and some furniture in the back.  Yes, maybe I could do something.  Sometimes when we have done wrong, and the consequences begin to expose themselves, we begin to look for help.

Money, power, authority, are fine things as long as they do not control us  Where your treasure is there your heat will be.  It is so very important to become acquainted  with the covenant relationship which we have with God.  Then we can orientate ourselves with whatever is true, perfect, and good.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

St. Matthew - apostle

While St. Matthew does not occur in the Gospel stories, or at least frequently, we understand that he was part of this close group of Apostles.  More so as one of the Evangelists  Matthew shared the Word of God and made present the message and ministry of Jesus Christ.  This is part of what St. Paul would refer to as 'ministry' as he speaks to the Ephesians.  Matthew's words help to build up that edifice of the temple, which is the Body of Christ.

Matthew begins his Gospel with this lengthy genealogy of David's household, from which Jesus is connected.  The text itself is flawed, as are some of the individuals named there.  This is certainly not a listing of 'saintly' people.  But that is sort of the point.  Jesus Christ comes into a broken humanity, calling to himself imperfect people, to preach, proclaim, and make present the 'Good News.'  It is Jesus who will perfect men and women through the Paschal Mystery, bringing salvation and peace to all peoples.  Not only are we called to participate in this mystery of faith, but we also are ministers, disciples if you will, of the faith we profess.

Matthew is called away from his 'tax collector' job to follow Jesus.  He is not called out of the world, but will be sent into it so as to proclaim the Gospel.  There are folks that would like to see the Church, and its members, somehow removed from the culture so as to practice faith without the distractions of the world.  Even monks and nuns will tell you that escaping from the world is neither good nor is it desirable. We are to live out our baptismal vocation by sharing the story of our faith  life. 

St. Matthew makes the story of our salvation known through the Gospel he authored.  In our daily wanders we share the Good News in a variety of ways.  The manner is not always based in religion nor religious words.  It is using our gifts and talents to build up the Body of Christ.  Imperfect as we might be we have a calling to share our faith and faithfulness.  St. Matthew teaches us that by saying 'Yes' to Jesus Christ we can make his grace and blessing present to a broken world.

Friday, September 20, 2013

St Andrew Kim Taegon

The story of St Andrew Kim, and his companions, is a remarkable one at best. 
 
http://catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=20
These are men and women who took the foundation of Baptism and Confirmation most seriously, and displayed it by their lives.  In the early 19th century Korea came under new leadership.  The emperor at the time despised and distrusted Christianity.  He launched a persecution against the Christian churches, and slaughtered thousands of Christians.  St. Andrew Kim, a convert with his family, eventually became a priest and ministered in Korea.  He and several dozen of his parishioners were tortured and put to death.

These are folks that did not fear suffering or death.  Like Jesus and many of his faithful followers death was not seem as a barrier to life.  Rather Andrew Kim, and many like him, welcomed the opportunity to suffer in the Body of Christ.  To take up ones cross as not simply a theory or nicety, but a living witness which demonstrated the deep commitment one had for the message of Christ.  St Andrew Kim shared his faith in celebrating the sacraments and dying for the faith he professed, as well as the people he served.

And today we have folks who choose soccer over church, and are inspired by the media and not the gospel message.  Martyrs remind us that we are challenged to be counter-cultural in our faith life today.  Sadly today many believe religious practice to be more akin to rainbows and unicorns than the Paschal mystery and standing for truth and righteousness.

St. Andrew Kim, and many others, taught the world that it is essential to profess faith by our very response to what we say we believe in.  May the good works begun in us be brought to completion.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

prodigals among us

The characters in the Prodigal Son story are a sandbox of dysfunction.  The father tries, by love and mercy, bring unity and peace into the brokenness which is his house.  We should not be surprised since in so many ways we are overwhelmed by the Sin and Confusion which shows up today.  Especially in place where there should be love and compassion.

The younger son cannot comprehend the love of the father and searches for love in all of the wrong places, and by the wrong means.  The older son lives according to the rules and direction of the father, but it becomes apparent that there is not a relationship there.  For the youngest, realizing that his actions have led him to a pigsty, he returns to the father.  Perhaps, an hopefully so, the older son might recognize that his hardness of heart has removed him from the house of the father.  Both have missed the understanding of the father's lavish giving.

What is fantastic about the Prodigal son story is that we relate to it so well.  The attempting to find meaning in actions or choices which only serve to destroy life and relationships.  The inability to forgive or to let our misgivings heal.  In the center of our lives is a Father who loves us abundantly.  God is a patient God who is longing to be found; always ready to embrace us with love and mercy.  Too often we seek meaning and purpose like cotton candy.  We fill up on air and sugar only to become more and more disappointed that we are never full. 

Building relationships on the love and mercy of God the Father is the only source of life which we need.  The ability to forgive and be forgiven opens us to each other, and most importantly, to the renewed relationship which our God holds out to us..  Seeking out the lost and forsaken is part of the ministry of Jesus and is part of our ministry too.  Our God of mercy delights in us and sees in us the possibilities of new life.

With St Paul we praise and thank God for the abundance he blesses us with.  Hopefully we can approach the work with a mature faith always ready to forgive and make peace in the world today.  We are like prodigal children, lost sheep and coins, that once found are able to rejoice,  "I once was lost but now I am found."

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Triumph of the Cross

In a homily by St. Andrew of Crete, from the Office of Readings today, St. Andrew muses about the reality that the passion and death of Jesus Christ consummates salvation history.  It is an interesting and a powerful expression to covey the mystery we celebrate.  To be sure its implication is the union we have with God through Jesus Christ, and the life giving properties of the action of the cross.  Also from the Readings, St. Paul reminds his hearers in Galatians that the cross conveys a new way of existing for us.  Because of the cross we do not live in the flesh but become people of the Spirit.

Very much like the Eucharist which commemorates this sacred event the Cross is a great comfort for us.  The Cross and the Paschal activity is a sign of God's great love for us.  God says "Amen" (once again) to humanity and to our identity as God's people.  But the challenge of the Cross, as St Paul implies in his various letters, we respond to this initiative of new life by acting like children of God.  When I was a Deacon, and would go out on a Friday or Saturday with my Deacon classmates, my pastor would jokingly remind me that I was a St John's 'boy' and needed to act accordingly.

At Baptism one of the first actions we do with a child is to make a sign of the cross on his or her forehead.  We then announce that the Christian community welcomes this child with great joy.  For all of it's solemnity Good Friday really is a 'good' day in that it recognizes that we are given salvation and peace through the wood of the cross.  To be sure through Christ Jesus God has broken through the pall of Sin and Evil to draw us into a sacred and holy relationship with him.

While the sign of the cross is most unique to us, it invites us to consider the place we have been given in God's household.  More over we are a special possession consecrated to new life in Christ.  So we can make bold and stand against the evils of humanity and strive for what is true, beautiful, and good.  There is that temptation to stand down from doing what is right in order to be nice to others and not offend.  But the sign of the cross proclaims a truth about our relationship with God and others which we have the responsibility of making present.  We go into the world and Lift High the Cross.

Friday, September 13, 2013

St John Chrysostom - "The Golden Mouth"

Some of us have at least heard of or have even seen, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen.  The original T.V. priest, presented a catechetical hour, weekly on national television.  With his 'magic' blackboard he announced the truths of sacred scripture, and the Catholic Church, to a catholic and non-Catholic audience.  He was both dynamic and charismatic.  St John Chrysostom was the 4th century version of Bishop Sheen.  He was known as an articulate and powerful speaker who offered a no-nonsense approach to the scriptures and Christian life.

John's zealous beginnings originated as a monk and hermit.  He was known to be very well educated and pious in prayer and practice.  As a bishop he was rigorous but very popular in spiritual direction and pastoral matters.  One source describes him as being "outspoken and excited" when he preached from the pulpit.  To be sure he seems to have been a natural born teacher.

Like in every age of the Church, there was division and conflict in the Church at the time of St John.  John Chrysostom worked eagerly to bring about a sense of unity in his communities, and the larger Church itself.  Because of the clarity of his teaching, and powerful preaching ability, he was fulfilling that task.  He began to break down many of the barriers between the different communities and draw peoples from the various ethnic and cultural groups together. 

But his love for the people of God, and his work at bringing together the various communities did not go unchallenged.  Some saw his ministry as a threat.  The Empress Eudoxia had him exiled to a remote section of Armenia.  He died there shorty thereafter.

The Word of God has power and effect.  It transforms and changes our lives and can bring about transformation in the world.  Sometimes we take time o articulate what divides us.  But the Paschal Mystery is the profession which unites us to God and the Body of Christ.  The greater insight we gain the more we can see ourselves as members of Christ's life.  Our Mass prayers today offer us the grace to be zealous and faithful to the Mystery of Faith which we celebrate and the love that we bear.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Come, Follow Me

If Jesus had a Facebook, I suspect that he would have thousands upon thousands of "Like," and even more Facebook friends.  Most of us I think would want to follow him - on Facebook at least. The challenge of course is to fully love and serve him in this life.  Our restlessness can cause us to be distracted from the daily opportunities to demonstrate our faith.  The examples given in the Gospel today invite us to plan and orientate our lives in such a way whereas to draw close to the Kingdom of God.

We really have to be able to discern the Spirit as well as to be open to the Spirits movement in our life.  The Scriptures tend to tease us into waiting for angelic visits or burning bushes, before we make a clear decision for God.  I love Thomas Merton's prose in which he freely admits that after a life-changing conversion, and a life as a Cistercian Monk, he still is uncertain of God's call for him in life.  But he firmly believes that it is the desire to do good, and to do the Father's will that draws him close to the Kingdom of God. 

To be sure the Gospels invite us to understand that Jesus does not want men and women as "friends," but as devoted followers who seek the truth, and pour their lives out as faithful witnesses to all that we have seen and heard.  Today is also the Feast of the Birth of Mary.  Here is a woman whose life is surrounded by poverty, oppression, and strife, yet still believes in God's love and faithfulness.  So much so that she allows herself to become part of the story of salvation.  Being a faithful disciple means taking up part of the mission, even when we do not know the ending.  It is a commitment based in trust and faith.  And when people see our faithfulness they may change their own lives and give glory to God.

I have always love Annie Dillard's prose in which she challenges Christians to believe what they are doing.  She chides us when suggesting we be wearing helmets and life-jackets when invoking the name of the almighty.  Especially today we have to be prophetic in our belief and by our way of life.  At St. Mary's Grade School I was accused of being "too catholic."  We have to take that chance and become 'too faithful' in all things.

As a faith community we bring our crosses with us wherever we go.  As with the Beatitudes we are always becoming meek, humble, righteous, peaceful, and even persecuted for the sake of the Kingdom of God.  More than friends we are his disciples who are all too happy to declare the cross and to profess our faith.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

A Day of Prayer and Fasting

Pope Francis has asked the world community to join him in a day of prayer and fasting today.  The United States wrestles with a military response against Syria, for atrocities committed there.  In this area of the world war and violence seem to be a normal part of daily life.  One again Pope Francis, like so many voices before him has implored the interested parties to discover peaceful and healing solutions to their problems and disagreements.

In a statement issued earlier in the week, The Holy Father reminds us that "peace is a precious gift, which must be promoted and protected" and that "all men and women of good will are bound by the task of pursuing peace."   To be sure the sacred scriptures implore people of faith to become peacemakers, using their gifts and talents to advance humanity, extending mercy and reconciliation.  The celebration of the Incarnation has strong themes of peace and salvation.  The Prince of Peace comes into our lives that we might understand the sacredness of humanity and move away from violence and destruction.

In the olden days there were occasionally posters plastered about which stated, "If you want peace, work for justice."  Prophetic men and women have shown us that poverty, violence, neglect, abuse, and oppression, only lead to more and more horrific acts in our world.  In this the "culture of death," when we become used to the terrible disregard of human life and dignity, we begin to allow it in all sorts of forms.

So today we are asked to be fasting and to engage in prayer.  That might means the rosary, praying the psalter, adoration of the Eucharist, or meditation on the Sacred Scripture.  This can be done in the privacy of our room, or in the Church.  It is important that we engage as a community in these actions, as a Body of Christ, that we might move hearts set on war and destruction, into the ways of peace.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

And the fever left her

The other day I had gone to the hospital to visit a woman who a heart attack hat morning.  One of the daughters was there, and was very anxious concerning her mother.  She decided to call her sister and have her come to the hospital too.  Listening to the conversation I heard the first woman implore her sister to come to the hospital, "Father is here to give mom 'the last rite.'"  Then for the next several minutes she tried to calm her sister who now believed that death was imminent. 

Despite our best catechesis we still use terminology that does not exist.  We have no problem using words like, 'car.' 'cell phone,' 'laptop,' but we still reach into the far away history to describe a rite which the Church has seen as part of it's healing ministry.   The introduction to the sacrament says it best as it instruct us from St. James, "Are there sick among you, send for the priests of the Church..."  More so as Jesus sends his disciples out on mission, healing the sick is one of the basic instructions that they are given.

Sadly we have relegated this Sacrament to the end of ones life.  In today's Gospel, after a day of teaching, preaching, and sanctifying, Jesus and the Apostles are going to Peter's house.  We are told that Peter points out the fact that his mother-in-law has been sick.  There is a great amount of trust and openness that is shown here.  But this is what communities of faith do.  With faith and confidence in Jesus Christ they bring to him the sick, suffering, anxious, and afraid.  They believe that Jesus can and does bring healing to people/

The early Church also understood this remarkable care that Jesus left for the Church.  The Church continued to pray with, anoint, and pray over the sick and elderly.  The revised ritual insists that this is not an 'end of life' ritual but an action that can be repeated throughout an infirmity. 

The sacraments continue to be signs of God's love for us through Jesus Christ.  God does not desire sickness and brokenness to drive us o despair, so it is through these rituals we are brought healing through the ongoing saving action of Jesus.  Remember though:  there is no such thing as 'Last Rites.'

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Lord Has Anointed Me

Some time ago I had read a book by James Hunter, entitled Servant, in which he details his own experience of a life transformation.  As the president of a small company, husband, father, and active in his community, he had realized that his life had stalled.  His relationships were not getting better, but were falling apart all around him.  He attended a retreat held at a monastery, though not catholic in nature, for peoples in business and leadership positions.  The theme of the retreat was about Servant Leadership. 

This new concept, authority based in loving others (not the 'kissy-face' kind of love) caring for others, actively listening, nurturing others, and seeing others as a gift and gifted, radically changed his mind-set and relationships.  Eventually this new model of relating, brought new life and energy into many of the relationships that were dying.  To be sure this was not an overnight miracle, but it offered a radical paradigm through which  to operate.

In today's Gospel Lk 4:16-30, Jesus begins his ministry by offering a 'Mission Statement' which will be reflected in his life and teachings.  Jesus will become for us the suffering servant.  Now we have to offer that being a Servant does not equate to being a door-mat.  Jesus' ministry of healing, forgiving, gathering peoples into a community, challenging people to oppose oppression and injustice, sought to bring about conversation and a transformation of heart. 

Likewise in the Church, it is not McDonalds, but a faith-filled community, which seeks to imitate the Body of Christ in the world today.  So when we are anointed at Baptism and Confirmation it is so to follow in the footsteps of other faith-filled believers in being servants in the world today,  Our service hopefully enlightens and guides a culture to seek holiness, and to find healing and peace.  The Gospels, and sacred scripture, the sacraments, the teachings of the Church, become our inspiration, as well as the tools we use, to demonstrate the Kingdom, and share Jesus' life as Servant.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Passion of John the Baptist


The Venerable St Bede stated that John the Baptist, "Showed in his struggle a goodness worthy of the sight of heaven...suffered imprisonment and chains as a witness to our Redeemer...His persecutor had demanded not that he should deny Christ, but only that he should keep silent about the truth."  From early on we have the idea that John the Baptist does not withhold his challenge to profess faith with one's life, and to articulate a life of righteousness.  The Collect today muses that he gave his life as a witness to truth and justice.  Something that all baptized believers are called to.
 
This feast is a reminder of the radical nature of the Gospel.  The suffering and death of Jesus are powerful signs of the intense love of God the Father.  More so we look at the Beatitudes in Matthews Gospel, or the last judgment scene some twenty chapters later, and we see that the sacred scriptures are not easy on what is expected of us.  There is a holiness of life which identifies our response to God's graciousness and love.  Our 'Amen' is given when we are faithful to our prophetic vocation as the Children of God. 
 
From one generation to the next we have come to see what happens in our society within a culture when we do not stand against evil, and fail to challenge Sin and sinfulness.  Being a peacemaker is as much about giving a cup of water to a thirsty man or woman as it does in exposing the Sinful elements which allowed the thirst in the first place.  Just as God love the world, we are asked to have a love and concern of the world.
 
This feast reminds us to seek the truth in all times and in all places.  Like Jeremiah, Isaiah, and all of the prophets, we can be assured that folks will not always be comfortable we speak the truth or advocate justice.  But it is the right and the best thing to do.  So we pray to the Holy Spirit and work to bring about true freedom and peace. Like John we have to have the courage to stand in the way of evil and show the value of being good.  Let John help is in determining what is proper to do.




Wednesday, August 28, 2013

"Late Have I Loved You"

St. Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church, is best known for his conversion and discipleship.  Here is a man who lived a life most 'un-God-like, and became a great defender of the faith and seeker of the truth.  One of my favorite quotes, attribute to St. Augustine is :"Lord grant my chastity, but not yet."  Augustine realized his own weakness and admitted the need of grace and mercy from God.  As a theologian, Adam Trape in his text, Patrology, suggests that "Augustine is undoubtedly on of the greatest Fathers and on of the great geniuses of humanity whose influence on posterity has been continuous and profound."

Certainly our understanding of Baptism and its foundational significance has been built upon the writings and teachings of St. Augustine.  Using the philosophical understanding of the time, in addition to the writings of Origen and Cyprian, Augustine insisted on the baptism of children, as well as adults, based on this enlightened understanding of the grace associated with this initiation sacrament.  With St. Paul, St Augustine understood that this sacrament created a unit with the Body of Christ.  Salvation comes when we participate fully in the Paschal Mystery.

As a pastor Augustine was zealous in caring for the sick and the poor.  He established monasteries for men and reformed the clergy at the time.  He was known to be a powerful and persuasive preacher.  Perhaps because of his own brokenness, and the bad decisions he had made, Augustine preached often on the need for conversion and reconciliation.  He regularly defined himself as a 'servant of Christ,' and lived out his life in relationship with God, and others in this very context.  In one of his sermons he very bluntly stated, "I do not want to be saved without you."

Augustine certainly understood his need to love God and his people.  In his own experience he knew well of the Father's love and mercy, not only in a theological sense, but in his own body.  In the Collect today we pray that "We may thirst for you [God] alone as the fountain of wisdom and seek you as the source of eternal love."

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Come In By The Narrow Door

While on vacation (which was where I was all last week)  I had read a book by Father Stephen Rossetti, on the happiness of priests.  The book was written shortly after the priest scandal and includes much of the research used by the John Jay Committee.  The bottom line of the text is that priest are a very happy lot.  In some cases a lot happier than those in the secular field.  But here is the caveat: the happy priests embrace and live a priestly lifestyle.  This of course would include prayer, devotions, reading, friendships and maintaining a chaste life.

I couldn't help but wonder if these same 'happiness' indicators could be applied to all aspects of catholic life.  If we could say young and old married couples, parents, single men and women, can find happiness when they live a particular holy and faith-filled life.  I recall evaluating a FOCCUS with a young couple which the young woman had one problem indicator after another.  After I had spoken for a while about the sacramental, and emotional nature, of a relationship I asked if she had any questions.  She did - about the flower placement in the Church.

The Gospel for today is fairly blunt.  Simply knowing he 'name' Jesus, or going to church, does not guarantee a seat at the heavenly banquet.  Rather, and St. Paul would reiterate this, One's life needs to have an intimacy with Jesus Christ.  The is a story I had read some time ago in which two men were at a bar, and one ask the other if they were friends.  The second responded with an emphatic "yes."  The First asked, "Do you know where I hurt?"  The second admitted that he didn't even know he hurt.  The first then retorted, "How can you call yourself my friend."

More and more I have com to understand that we have to have a close and very intimate relationship with Jesus.  Like the psalmist of old, we have to long, mind, body, and soul, for union with Christ.  Perhaps it is my old age (53) but I believe that saying the 'words' and 'doing' the gestures can never be enough.  The Gospel that we preach and witness is not negotiable.  It is a radical statement of how we ought to be in the Kingdom of God.

Happiness comes at a price called the cross.  But for the faithful and determined it is a price worth paying by an intimacy with the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Aim for the Kingdom

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In John 21 there is this marvelous post-resurrection story, and this wonderful dialogue between Jesus and Peter,
 "When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “ Simon son of John, do you love me more than these? ” “ Yes, Lord, ” he said, “ you know that I love you ..."  There is tension here; the light demeanor of an early breakfast is given over to a vocational challenge.  For Peter, and for us, if we truly love Jesus, and want to be his followers, we have to take care of the sheep, and nurture the ministry of the Church.

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem today.  Quoting from Isaiah he reflects that he wishes that the fire he had been sent to start was already burning.  From the Gospel text, and the scriptural tradition, we understand that in order to enkindle such a fire the needs to be a profound faith - not a watered down version of religion.  Our baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist cannot be these 'things' that we get, but need to be a springboard into the world to do ministry and challenge the culture of death.

So often after a disaster, crisis, in the midst of a war, people will ask, "What is the Church doing about?  And I Ponder, "Yes, what are you doing about this brokenness."  But we need to be aware that when we live out our faith, when we call others to live rightly, when we make decisions based on justice and peace, it will not be all rainbows and unicorns.  As Jeremiah discovered when we speak the truth, and pull chains, folks are apt to throw us in the mud.

Father Daniel Berrigan reminds us that if we follow Jesus we have to consider how we look against wood.  Following the path of life is hard but necessary for salvation.  We work for the Kingdom but actively professing the faith we have received.  At baptism we are given a candle.  This is what we use to enkindle the flame of faith.