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, 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.