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

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.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Assumption of the BVM

The Gospel reading today from Luke's Gospel is the Magnificat, Canticle of Mary.  It begins with Mary's praise of the present moment, "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour... ."  From what little we have in the Scriptures about Mary, we get the impression that she is a woman who has carefully pondered the works of God. and has an understanding of the role of God's love and mercy in regards to salvation. 

While in this particular scenario Elizabeth is offering praise to Mary for her faithfulness, Mary directs the praise to God.  This song is not about her, but it is about God's relationship to humanity, and thus our response to God.  Mary has already experienced the Holy Spirit and is now open to give her unconditional 'Yes' to God.  Luke tells us that Mary ponders all of these mysteries in heart.  It is perhaps for this reason that she is able to direct the waiters at Cana to do whatever her son tells them to do.  We see her as one of the followers; amongst the crowd.  And of course she is there at the passion, and during Pentecost. 

It is interesting to compare Mary's response to that of the Apostles.  While Mary accepts the role of being the Theotokos, the Apostles remain concerned as to whom is the greatest of the Apostles.  Mary's profession of faith involves her entire self.  This is why we refer to her as the perfect disciple.  She does not hold back from God, but faithfully accepts the call of God to be part of salvation.

While St Paul refers to us as broken vessels, we are invited to recognize the sacred and profound gift we possess through Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist.  To be sure Mary's role is quite different than our own we are asked to be faithful and true as disciples and stewards of faith.  Mary teaches us how to say 'Yes" to God the Father.  Hopefully we can affirm God's Son in our midst, and with Mary, and all of the Saints, proclaim the greatness of the Lord.  

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

St Maximilian Kolbe

His story is familiar to all of us now,
from Wikipedia
Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe, O.F.M. Conv., (Polish: Maksymilian Maria Kolbe; 8 January 1894 – 14 August 1941) was a Polish Conventual Franciscan friar, who volunteered to die in place of a stranger in the Nazi German death camp of Auschwitz, located in German-occupied Poland during World War II.

It is a story that invites us to stop and reflect on the meaning of our own baptismal commitment, in particular in relationship with others who are God's children.  In recent months Pope Francis has reminded us that to live with our faith is to live with the promise and challenge of Jesus Christ.  His Passion, death, and resurrection, cannot be a 'get out of responsibility' card.  As in Mark's Gospel, if we are to be dedicated disciples then we have to be comfortable in taking up our cross, on a daily basis, and become faithful to the ways of Christ.

To be sure most of us will never be called to the dramatic response of Maximilian, but the love for others can involve hardship, and even distress and pain.  In the last several Sundays of Ordinary time we will follow Jesus on his way to Jerusalem.  We will be privy to his instruction that a life of faith and faithfulness must include a full dedication and devotion to the Word of God made flesh.  So we respect our own dignity, and the dignity and integrity of other men and women.  Virtues such as charity, chastity, compassion, and forgiveness, are the means by which we convey the sacred we possess, with our brothers and sisters.

From one story that I had read, what seemed to infuriate the guards was that Maximilian took so long to die.  Each time they entered his cell, he was standing or kneeling in prayer.  Truth and goodness have a way of bothering those beset by Sin and Evil.  It is important that we pray for that same sort of wisdom, strength and grace, to stand against sinfulness, and learn to always do good for others.  We need to be a sign an symbol to the world that Christ remains in our midst.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

We Walk By Faith

Looking at the likes of Abraham, and generations of holy men and women, we admire their faithfulness, and truly desire a firm and lively faith.  We think to ourselves that these are 'holy people,' thus a deep faith life is easy for them.  The mistake is believing that people of faith live surrounded by rainbows, cotton candy, and spring flowers.  Looking at the sacred scriptures, and the lives of the saints, we come to understand that many of them struggled with the very same issues which we wrestle with, and some of the elite even wondered whether of not God had abandoned them.  Their lives were by no means easy nor simple.

We look at people like Mother Teresa, Archbishop Oscar Romero, and Francis of Assisi, and can admire their unconditional "Yes" to the call they had received.  Their faith life called them to a new reality in their journey, one which they neither sought or even desired.  They responded to a need by allowing their faith to be an active and engaged faith.  They answered the question, "What I do after I say amen," by firmly and resolutely confronted Sin and Evil.  Most importantly this was not about them but about revealing God's love and mercy in the world, by word and deed.

Faith gives us the courage and strength to enter into the unknown and even frightful situations, with courage and strength, trusting that God is with us.  I think about the men and women who enter into marriage, men who make promises at ordination, men and women who profess vows, and parents, all who take on new roles not fully appreciating or understanding what might await them.  Faithful people, like many of the holy men and women, trust in the fact that our God is faithful and true.

Watch children who are learning to swim.  For some it is a terrible experience as fear and the unknown overwhelm them.  Though once they stop resisting the water, and let the buoyancy of the water hold them up an support them, they can learn to swim.  This is true in our life of faith with God.  The more we fight against God's initiative in our lives, and disbelieve his love and mercy, we are overcome with the Sin and Evil of life.  If we can believe and trust in God, we can do marvelous and courageous works.

St Paul says today, "Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen."  This is not a blithering and blind magic act.  Faith connects the lives of faithful people, and understanding by what we have seen and heard, of those who follow God's precepts.  Faithful people become a challenge for the rest of us, and as well as a source of strength and inspiration.

When we pray "I believe in God the Father Almighty ... ," it might be good to consider what this looks like in our lives.  If I say "Amen," what implications does this have for my response to the world, human dignity, and the need to avoid sin and sinfulness.  Faith focuses us on the faithfulness of God, and sends us out to love and serve the Lord.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

St Lawrence - Deacon and Martyr

While very little is known about the life of St Lawrence, two stories always stand out in regards to him.  As a Deacon Lawrence was responsible for the fiscal and administrative mattes of the local Church.  The Roman Prefect, demanded that Lawrence turn over the wealth of the Church to the government.  Lawrence gathered together the poor, lepers, widows, and the sick, and presented them to the Prefect, stating that these are the riches of the Church.

Soon after Lawrence was arrested and sentenced to die, lying prone over hot coals.  Allegedly after some time he requested to be turned over, 'since he was done on one side.'  To be sure for Lawrence there was not fear; only trust in God's love and mercy.

In the Office of Readings today, St. Augustine reflects upon the life of Christ as one marked by obedience to God, and God's life, and of being "poured out" in love on behalf of divine love.  Quoting from St. Paul, Augustine notes that Jesus "did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at, but emptied himself in becoming a slave."  The ability to do so indicates an immense trust in God's love, there must be an intimate relationship here, and a firm belief that God will provide strength and courage.

I was reading a story about a priest who was working with Mother Theresa for some period of time.  On his departure he asked her to pray for him.  She had responded with the question, "What do you want me to pray for you?"  He responded that he wanted 'charity.'  Mother Theresa said that she would not pray for that, but for trust.  Mother Theresa commented that, "I have not obtained charity yet, but I trust in God."

Men and women like Lawrence are so overwhelmed with the Paschal Mystery, and the love that has been revealed by this mystery of faith, that they are able to do amazing things.  This includes standing against injustice, sitting with a dying spouse or child, and forgive in horrific situations.  Martyrs give us an indication that we are called to be like Christ.  Not just in being nice to people, but by being profound in our profession of faith.

Thursday, August 8, 2013


Dominic lived during the twelfth century, being known as a great preacher and teacher of the faith, led an exemplary life of faith.  Like Francis of Assisi he understood a life of poverty as a remarkable witness to combating many of the social ills of the time.  As a young man he is said to have sold his textbooks, and use the money to help the poor.  His entire life embrace poverty, chastity and obedience, as a steward of the Kingdom.

During his time he spent much time and energy refuting the heresies of the Albigensians.  This fanatical religious group denied the Incarnation and considered the body as an evil.  As such they engaged in a variety of extreme ascetic practices which were in reality neither religious nor were they respectful of one's dignity.

As founder of the Order of Preachers he directed his followers to combine prayer, study, and the preaching of the word of God, in addition to the precepts of the Church.  Dominic would instruct his friars to share what they had contemplated.  The Office of Readings today describes him as a man devoted to Christ and motivated by divine love.  Further, the Readings suggest that Dominic showed himself to be a man of God in word and in deed; whenever he spoke it was in reference to God.  Just as his holiness and teaching helped the Church of the twelfth century, it is our hope that his inspiration motivates our Church today to holiness.

At ordination we priests are told to imitate the mystery we celebrate.  790 some years ago Dominic understood that premise by his preaching, teaching, and celebration of the Eucharist.  Today thousands of Dominican men and women keep his spirit alive.  But our challenge of faith too is to contemplate this mystery we celebrate, and to articulate our faith.  We are invited to proclaim Good News where-ever we find ourselves.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


The Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord, breaks into Ordinary Time, with a vision that speaks about the true meaning of Discipleship, and challenges us with the necessity of conversion.  In the Book of Revelation, from today's first reading, we are given a glimpse of the Kingdom which we talk about often, and anticipate in our journey of faith.  It really is conveyed as a place of light, happiness, and peace.  If we are to know Jesus, and to do his will, we have to understand this mountain experience, and bring it to the cross. 

It is this vision of Jesus which becomes part of the Apostle's understanding and contemplation of who Jesus is. We know too what it is like to have an ah-ha moment in matters of faith and religion.  A retreat, a reading or prayer at Mass, reflection on the sacraments, and those holy moments we have with others, brings us joy and peace.  We have a mountain-top experience of Jesus which allows in us the strength and courage to proclaim what w have seen and heard.  And this latter is an important piece of our part of the mission of Jesus.  We have to share the experiences of our faith.

Towards the end of the Kairos retreats, as the young people are hugging each other, and doing all of the gestures to the Christian Rock songs, we have to remind them that they are going back to the same classes, frustrations, and routine as they had before.  The difference is know that they have a vision of life which they had not had before.  While life around them would still be the same yuck and gunk, we have a new insight as to our identity with Jesus.

The Transfiguration of Jesus points to the ongoing transformation of the Body of Christ.  We have to be light shining in darkness and messengers of hope.  Our lives point to what we have seen and head in this moment of Transfiguration.  The mountain must inform the rest of our time with Jesus Christ.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Seek the things of Heaven

The greatest amount of websites, on the Internet, are pornography sites.  A sad but true fact that what should be an instrument to communicate, interchange ideas, explore culture, science, art, and lead to educating peoples, is bogged in a desecration of human sexuality.   Where are we as a culture when we would rather engage in momentary gratification, at a base level, than to expand our hearts and minds.  Of course this is part of a larger post modern problem which looks to equate the needs and concerns of the world with our own selves.

The Gospel today offers a Parable in which Jesus suggests that we break out of a mode of foolishness, in which we act to respond to our selfish needs, rather than seek values and virtues which build up our own worth and dignity, all the while we embrace the needs of others.  When I was at St. Margaret Mary Parish I used to do home blessings.  Many of the new homes in that area, in 1987, were in the mid 200s  range.  In one home in particular I remember there was very little furniture, a BMW and Jeep Grand Cherokee in the garage, and two very nervous looking adults.  Having nice stuff certainly was not making them happy.

In the Epistle today St. Paul muses on the reality that in baptism we exist in a 'new life' with Christ Jesus.  The challenge of our faith is to worship at the mountain of the Lord.  Christians are called to be counter-cultural.  Anxiety, despair, the various hurts and anger, all come from attaching ourselves to a 'cotton-candy' mentality, whereas we want more and more of the sweet stuff; yet we are never filled up.  St. Paul would suggest that the virtues of charity, chastity, understanding, meekness, forgiveness, and patient endurance, lends us meaning and strength in life.

Pope Francis has confounded many in the secular press as he seeks to live by a simpler, more Christ-like venue.  This has been basic to the Church for 2,000 years.  Respect and responsibility for human life, especially the poor, dignity, and a virtuous life.  Seek the Kingdom of God.