Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Catholic Schools Week

We are smack in the middle of Catholic Schools Week.  This is a great time to ponder the institution of catholic schools, and a catholic education.  In our larger, more catholic cities, most everyone went to a catholic grade school.  I had the opportunity to teach, and serve as a Spiritual Director, in a catholic high school.  I enjoyed that time very much.  While today we offer a solid curriculum in our schools, the origin of our schools was to provide a catholic refuge.

St. John Neumann, who served as Bishop of Philadelphia in the early part of the nineteenth century, crated the first diocesan system of catholic schools.  Over the years catholic immigrants were able to send their children to these catholic schools so as to maintain the faith of their children.  There was a great deal of hostility towards catholics in our nation in the early part of our country's history.  In the early version of the public schools, that hostility was subtle but ever present.  So throughout the early part of the twentieth century these schools provided a safe haven from the unfriendly aggression which many catholics experienced.

As the cities grew another undertaking of the catholic school was to provide a quality education to the poor.  Even today the catholic schools outscore the public schools in academic achievement.  For many children who lived in inner-city, poverty entrenched, neighborhoods, and even for poor rural children, the catholic school provided a formidable foundation which would allow these children to attend college, or even technical education of some sort.

Sadly today many of these same schools are closing, leaving a valuable ministry unfulfilled.  Some thirty years ago the U.S. Bishops offered a document entitled, The Light of Faith, which offered a plan of catechsis and religious education in the United States.  In regards to catholic schools, it recognized that these places are part of a larger ministry of the Church.  When reflecting on John Paul's call to A New Evangelization, we can come to understand that the catholic grade school has an important part in this ministry.  Now there continues to be much debate about this.

When we celebrate our Catholic Schools, we are celebrating a rich history and promising future.  The Schools can survive, and even thrive, when parishes begin to take more responsibility for catechesis and evangelization.  But that can only come out of a strong faith community.  Catholic Schools, in one form or another, will always be part of proclaiming Good News.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Faith Seeking Understanding

Today is the Memorial of St. Thomas Aquinas.  A Doctor and Priest of the Church, his theology and philosophy has done much to influence the thought and practice of the Church, even today.  St. Thomas Aquinas' theological achievements are influenced by his great faith, as is evidenced in his homilies.

A great frustration of many in ministry is the lack of understanding of the basics of faith.  In sacramental preparation there is nary  a person who can define of describe a 'sacrament.'  Many times folks will use the phrase, "God blesses us."  while this is sort of correct, there are so many better descriptions.

The documents of Vatican II, the U.S. Bishops documents on Catechesis and on Evangelization, all speak about a faith which includes a full and active participation in the life of the Church.  This would include the knowledge of the 'what' and 'why' we do and teach as we do.  The instruction for the Ordination rite informs the candidate that they must believe and know what they are doing.  The same can be said in all of the sacraments which we receive.  The mission and ministry of the Church makes more sense when we have an understanding of the theology of the Church.

St. Paul's letters are meant to encourage people in their faith, especially in the midst of persecutions or community difficulties.  But they are also teaching tools that those hearers might have an understanding of sacraments, ecclesiology, and the paschal mystery.  Paul too understood that the deeper our understanding is of the mysteries that we celebrate, the better our faith response could be.   And that is Good News.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Conversion of St. Paul

The story of St. Paul's conversion is fairly well known by most of us.  Paul, while on his way to Damascus, to arrest, and even kill Chrisitans, has an experieince of Christ.  The meeting of Jesus causes Paul to move from being a distractor of Christianity, to its foremost apostle.  This is really a situation of conversion and discipleship.

We can feel pretty smug about this feast.  Unlike Paul most of us like Jesus, we do nice things, and we do not try to make others believe like we do - to the point of persecution - as we see in the life of Saul.  While we are moved by Paul's determination and passion; it is hard to recognize the need of conversion and discipleship for ourselves.

When I was in high school ministry I would go a parish for one Mass every weekend.  It became difficult to preach, since I really did not engage these people throughout the week, and I became a bit irritated when the Pastor asked me to take a second weekend Mass, every so often.  I wanted to go home, have breakfast, and read the paper.  But I began to understand how easy it was to take up an express faith practice.  I put n my hour, what else do I need to do?

When faith and religion becomes a checklist of things to do, we lose any connection to the Paschal sacrifice and the call of our faith life.  Paul will speak about how he feels a physical pain when he tries to with-hold the preaching of the Gospel.  More so Paul knows that this preaching does not cause him to be 'liked' by everyone, nor does it come without its emotional or physical toil.  To be sure being a disciple is costly.

When we baptize we are committing ourselves to sharing a radical faith which gives life, and asks us to engage in a life of ongoing conversion and discipleship.  Unlike a 'bucket list' Baptism cannot be one of many things that I get before I die.  It is about experiencing the crucified Jesus and living with the promise of the resurrection.  It is a lifestyle of faith which nurtures and nourishes a relationship with the living Jesus.

Paul is asked to proclaim Christ crucified.  But more than offering a theology he is selfless and loving.  Like Jesus Paul goes about proclaiming good news.  Paul puts his profession of faith into the life he lives.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Sanctity of Life

Almost twenty years ago now, John Paul II reflected on our society and our culture.  In his observation he deemed it the 'Culture of Death.'  For John Paul II he called to task the violent society, the complacency in regards to poverty, the abortion mentality, and the cause to speed up the dying process.  In all of this the Pontiff decried the lack of respect and dignity for human life.  John Paul challenged our society to live according to a culture of life. 

And today as we look back at a time when abortion was made simple, and the advocacy for greater access t abortion today, we recognize the post modern mind-set which seeks an immediate response to an immediate want or desire.  Death and destruction can be renamed or categorized if it makes our day to day life easier and less complex.  Way back in the '70s the concern of peoples in the Pro Life areas was that, easy abortion would lead to the diminishing of a respect for life in other areas.  Of course the pro-abortion people stated that this would never happen.  Thirty years later we have the sequence of abortions later in life, the debated over ending life for the elderly and developmentally disabled is quietly going on, all the while we consider procreation and embryos as if they were things, and not related to humanity.

To be sure the larger picture that we need to consider today is the runaway violence that we observe today throughout the world, in addition to the growing body of men, women, and children, who live in poverty.  The adage which we used back in the sixties have a tremendous amount of relevance today, "If you want peace, work for justice."  We have reached a point whereas we can no longer ignore the very deep and human issues surrounding poverty and the lack of the basic needs of human dignity and respect.

Back in the Day, Ezra gathered the community of faith, and had the covenant read to them.  We need to recall that men and women are made in the image and likeness of God.  Unless pain or difficulty affects us personally we tend to ignore the brokenness of human life around us.  "Am I my brother's keeper?"  God answers yes, we are set as stewards over all of creation.  Part of our task is to nurture and protect all life, everywhere, and at all times.  Life is sacred.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

They have no Wine

Last Friday the Gospel reading was taken from chapter 2 of Mark's Gospel, concerning four men who lowered a paralytic through a roof opening, in order to see Jesus.  I referred to these men as the friends of the paralyzed man, though we really so not know if this is true of not.  But there is a communal dimension here as the four work to bring this man to Jesus based in the hope and expectation that Jesus might be able to help him.

See, the four men realize that the paralytic has no wine.  The Cana narrative is about a wedding and a covenant relationship.  Isaiah proposes that those who are returning to the covenant, and determine that their relationship with God should be like the covenant, will enjoy a marriage-like relationship with God and their brothers and sisters.  The sacrament of marriage reflects the union  of  God with humanity.  When we share in that unity we discover God.

Just as Mary indicates to Jesus the lack of wine, true disciples are able to recognize where there is a lack of joy, hope, respect, or dignity of love.  Just as married couples seek the goodness of the other, when we live the covenant we recognize where there is hurt and injury - and strive to bring resolution.  St. John reminds us that 'God is love,' and to 'live in God is to live in love.' 

So we are a people who are to be called 'espoused,' and a 'delight.'  But to reach that point we have to have the ability to approach Jesus and do what he tells us to do.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Jesus Christ the High Priest

The text from the Letter to the Hebrews provides us with some solid theology as to the nature of Jesus Christ.  We are reminded that Jesus is the priest, altar, and the lamb of sacrifice.  Through what happens on the cross we have access to salvation and peace.  The Eucharist that we celebrate at the Missa is our participation in the sacred meal of the Last Supper, and of the Paschal Mystery.

Towards the end of the first chapter of Mark's Gospel (our reading today) Jesus is invited into the home of Simon and John.  Simon Peter's Mother-in-law is sick.  Now I used to be struck by how amusing this situation was, the guys come home, the woman of the house is sick, so Jesus cures her that she might wait on them.  But there is a powerful statement about Discipleship here

We are baptized as priest, prophet and king, and share in the mission and ministry of Jesus through the sacraments of initiation.   Like the many folks in the Gospel stories when we encounter Jesus Christ, when we healed, forgiven, comforted, our response needs to be stewardship and discipleship.  Jesus comes into our homes in a variety of ways to offer us wholeness and joy.  So how do we respond?  Hopefully by serving the ministry of the Lamb who takes away the Sin of the world.

Our encounter of the Christ must be up close and personal.  There is a real danger of going through the rituals of our religion and never allowing the grace and blessing of Jesus to affect our lives.  In the Gospels Jesus seems to display a frustration with the apostles who are privy to the signs and words of Jesus yet just do not get it.  The blind, leprous, sinful, and broken receive Jesus well, and respond to healing and forgiveness by following him.

It is good to consider the radical kinship we have with Jesus Christ through his passion, death, and resurrection.  Because are united with Jesus Christ we can more easily share in his ministry and eternal life.  May we bring to completion the good things God has begun in us.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Baptism of the Lord

In the Office of Readings today we have a reading from a homily by St. Gregory of Nazianzus, on this feast day.  St. Gregory concludes that the basic premise of this celebration, and of Baptism itself, is that we be made clean.  While we speak of being made one in the Body of Christ, Gregory uses the image of standing along side of Jesus - sharing in his glory.

It is a nice image in that it implies that the Lord Jesus walks with us on our journey of faith.  It brings about images of the Good Shepherd, or the Disciples of Emmaus.  When we speak about being made clean it is not so much those little nicks and dings that we encounter throughout life.  It is the sins that St. Paul would say, stem from our passions and the darkest realms of our being.

Both in the ritual for children and adults, the priest or deacon invites those to be baptized (or their parents) to state their readiness to receive the sacrament.  Those involved are asked whether or not they will live a life of loving God and our neighbor, and avoiding sin and evil.  Maybe too often people really do not think about this pledge.  This is a very solemn obligation to live rightly with God and all of creation.  Maybe because we are thinking about the sandwiches and cake after the ritual, we forget to ponder the mystery that we are celebrating.

When the early Church baptized and confirmed the catechumens, their really was an all night vigil, with the whole community, which would pray to God for the catechumens, and the community itself.  The catechumens would rite their baptismal promises three times.  The baptismal font would be exorcised prior to the blessing of the water.

The image which is both comforting and challenging is that of Christ beside us.  Baptism is not done in a vacuum but in a community of faith.  Perhaps this is why St. Paul will admonish communities to live rightly, and no so much individuals.  Again there is that notion that we live with and for one another.

To be sure our Baptism draws us into a sacred and everlasting relationship with God the Father.  We are given grace upon grace to know God and live by his commandments.  In doing so affords us the possibility of being referred to as God's beloved sons and daughters.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

we piped you a dirge, but you did not wail

At one of several points throughout the Gospels, the Pharisees and Sadducees confront Jesus in regards to his lifestyle.  At one time they compare him to his contemporary, John the Baptist.  Jesus counters by observing their contradicting nature.  Jesus comments that they had complained about John's ascetic life and his own more social and interactive life.  Jesus essentially calls them out indicating how childish their arguments are.

Every once in a while I will run into a person who has left the Church, or changed parishes, because the pastor was stern or demanding.  In listening to the person I am always intrigued by the lack of depth their faith has.  More often than not their consideration is not about some great theological or spiritual chasm, but a personal convenience.

I like to point to the Advent people whose lives were changed forever because they had said 'Yes" to God.  It look all very easy, clean, and nice, in he Gospels, but we have to stand by their side, where they were, and realize how difficult their choices really were.  Remember they had not read the end of the Gospels.  Or yet, the Christian men and women who throughout history, stood in the face of evil, harm, who decried Sin and injustice, because of their faith stance.  They did not get up one morning and consider how nice it would be if they could suffer for their beliefs that day.

It is sometimes hard to remain patient with folks who complain about a parents meeting or service project, when I know of men and women who 'do without' for the sake of their children, who visit a parent who does not recognize them, or deal with addictions or emotional difficulties.  In celebrating the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord tomorrow, the question which seems to be most important is, 'what does our profession look like in real life?"

There really does have to be a depth to our faith.  Otherwise we a re simply processing through various rituals and actions.  Especially today where it seems that vulgarity is the norm and truth and righteousness are tossed aside - we have to act on our belief.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

We Three Kings ...

Biblical scholars love to debate the identity and the origin of the Magi.  Were they astrologers, men of wealth, of priests from a pagan sect.  But what is most important is that they are searchers.  Because they have seen signs and put pieced together an understanding from ancients texts and traditions, they have come to believe that a great event is unfolding. 

Certainly the texts of the prophets remind us that this Christ event is not simply about the Israelites, but Christ Jesus comes into our human history for all people for all time.  There is a comfort about this message but also a challenge.  If God is responding to human brokenness with love and mercy, then how do we respond to God?  Just as God gives us an unconditional 'Yes' now we have to consider what needs to change about us, that we can give a positive response to God.

Folks like Herod are not to clear about the message.  While we might be filled with joy over the message of salvation, the Herod-type people are generally threatened by the 'Good News' and would seek to destroy the message.  The suffering servant motif threatens that power and prestige that they have set up.  To be sure the lives of those who receive Jesus is decidedly different as they encounter the Incarnation.

Isaiah's text today is a source of promise and one of hope.  But it carries with it an indication of how we ought to live according to the light of Christ.  Again, this is not about being nice to people, but are faith becomes so integrated into our being that we become an example of faithfulness.  So in our journey of life we cannot reach a time and consider that we are finished transforming, converting, seeking, or learning; but our entire lives are an experience of coming to faith. 

In these last several days we have celebrated saints whose 'saintly' highlight occurs later in life.  Then consider Elizabeth and Zechariah who are called to be part of the salvation story in their elder years.  So we are never done being a light to others, nor should we ever be unprepared.  In the gloom and darkness of our world we have to be a source of light and glory so that others might experience the gift of God's love and mercy.

"Let your light shine before all."

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

BVM Mary Mother of God

Mary is the sacred vessel chosen to be without Sin, that she might be the Theotokos, or 'God-carrier.'  For centuries Mary has been venerated in her very special and immediate role, as the Mother of God.  While she had been prepared beforehand for this task, she still needed to give her full consent for this job.  And it is by this 'unconditional yes' that we  have the Saviour of the world born into our lives.

Blessed John Paul II would remind us though that Mary is very much like us.  She was anxious as the message of the angel was presented to her, overjoyed at God's favor, and full of sorrow as she witnesses the suffering and death of her son.  So John Paul would suggest that we can confidently approach Mary with our own needs and concerns, as well as the need and concerns of the world.  We trust that she places these prayers of ours before her Son.  She becomes our number one intercessor before Jesus.

More so the importance of this Solemnity, especially as we begin this new year, is to recognize her ability to be faithful and full of peacefulness.   This is most certainly the result of contemplating the mystery of God, and recognizing in her calling the responsibility to do ministry.  Mary is not only a model of faithful discipleship, but of stewardship as well.  Mary's trek to Elizabeth's house was one of support and encouragement of a relative, but also to share good news.  At the wedding feast in Cana Mary solicits the help of her son as a crisis occurs.  Her command, like so many times in the Gospel, is to "listen to Him."

If we wan peace and security in the new year then we have to look to the Mother of God.  We receive the Word of God with joy, reflect on it, and then respond to that Word by our very lives.  In doing this we find solutions in the midst of chaos, folks in need are supported, and our sorrows are overshadowed by the paschal promise of the resurrection.