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


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.