Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Saint Charles Borromeo

St. Charles Borremeo, Bishop of Milan, (1538-1584) lived and worked in the Church after the Reformation, and during the reforms of Trent.  It was through the work and effort of Charles Borremeo that several of the crucial documents, and important precepts, were completed during the latter sessions of the Council.  St. Charles recognized the need for reform within the Church; especially in its administration, and training of its priests.  But his work was not without opposition.

St Charles attempted to form a loose society, or small groups, of priests for their spiritual and personal growth.  A major concern for St. Charles was to have a clergy which was directed to holiness, formed in spirituality, and well educated in scripture and theology.  Within this context, Charles also worked are reforming the liturgy and celebration of the sacraments.

In today's Church, especially in recent years, the Church has worked to create a clergy that would be real shepherds to God's people.  Today we look to have priests who are virtuous and who have a deep concern for doing ministry in the Church.  Over the last twenty some years we have seen seminary education change extensively to meet the needs of a changing Church.

St. Charles Borromeo reminds us how important it is, as a Church and individuals, to engage in conversion and discipleship.  Today we talk a lot about personal witness and proclamation of the Gospel, but it is as important to have a grasp of the theology and tradition which we adhere to.  As a Church we have to be faithful to the ministry portion of what we say and due.  Pope Francis has been excellent in helping our Church recall its mission, especially to the poor and anawim.

The Liturgy of the Hours sums up St Charles life well, and his challenge to us, when it states:  "Seek after integrity and holiness, faith, love, patience, gentleness."

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Eternal Rest Grant Unto Them O Lord

The Solemnity of All Souls celebrates God's love and mercy, and recognizes that our gracious God invites us into the fullness of salvation.  We call to mind our brothers and sisters who have died, and we pray for them, as they prepare, through purgatory, to enter into heaven.  Our understanding of Purgatory is that it is that space by which we are wholly made ready to share eternal glory with the Father in heaven.

This day asks us to consider our own death, but also to consider the action and activity of Jesus Christ in the Paschal Mystery.   John's gospel will remind us that God "so loved the world," that by his Son Jesus, who entered our human condition, we have participation in the salvation that has been promised to us.  At the funeral Mass we consider the Eucharist to be that sign and symbol of God's great care and mercy.  But also by the very nature of the Mass, we pray for the deceased and ask God to receive our loved one, forgive their Sins, and unite them to the eternal Kingdom.

We might reflect that the funeral Mass is a celebration of the resurrection and not a celebration of the individuals life.  In Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist we have a union and unity with God the Father.  St. Paul will remind us that the love of God the Father cannot be taken from us.  But in that same understanding we must be open to receive the mercy offered us.

We are on the same journey of faith with our loved ones.  We now take responsibility to pray with them.  We are not people without hope.  Jesus Christ unfolded before us the mystery of the Father.  As children of God we have oneness with God.  It is that confidence and faith which allows us to remain firm and serene in the face of death, knowing that Christ has conquered  and we are promised a place in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Give to God what is God's

We are all very familiar with today's Gospel story.  The Pharisees attempt to catch Jesus in a verbal snafu, and end up trapping themselves.  They propose to Jesus whether or not it is proper to pay the government tax.  Jesus suggests that to each in their proper order, we are responsible to civil and religious authorities.  Mostly because this is the world we live in.
 
But as citizens of the Kingdom must live in such a way that we take responsibility within the community we live, and become a living witness to that ultimate communion of which we are part of.  Our response to our brothers and sisters much be perfected by the faith we profess.  Within the environment we find ourselves in we are always proclaiming, always bearing witness to the truth which we profess.   To be sure our faith calls us to live in a counter-cultural manner, yet drawing members around us into that journey of faith.
 
Certainly this is what the fathers of Vatican II must have meant when they drafted "The Church in the Modern World."  We are not called to be detached, that is a special vocation, but very much part of the communities in which we live.  Our faithfulness and desire to be holy does not allow for the brokenness of humanness  to distort or mis-direct of lifestyle.  Rather as living as faithful witnesses we have the possibility of transforming the world around us.  All the while giving to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's
 
In a very real way we become the leaven in the midst of the rotten dough.  Being a faithful steward of the goodness of God can become an inspiration and a source of encouragement.  It becomes less of a choice of living in one world or another, and more about the choices of life which we make.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Fall-time

 
 
I have been having massive problems getting into my blog over the last several weeks.  I have been trying to update to the latest version, and it doesn't happen.
 
Anyway, got back from retreat this past weekend.  This had to be one of the better retreats in that I attended very few of the talks, and prayed, read, and prayed some more.  In the past the conferences have become too much like theology classes.  I do not need that right now.  But to pray and reflect has been very valuable for me.



This fall we of course start the RE and youth ministry.  It is becoming more difficult to really expand the notion of 'faith' and 'holy' within our children since so many of their families are disconnected from Church.  We still labor under that 'quick-mart' mentality which quickly delivers our religion to us without any commitment or lasting effects.

I am starting Fr Robert Barron's section on Jesus Christ in a few weeks.  I hope to have a lot of people there but I fear it will be the same old stalwart peoples who come to everything.  I long to discover how to get into these peoples homes to get them excited about faith and Church. 

In the meantime Advent is just around the corner.  I really want to push the aspects prayer and preparation during that time.  Reconciliation services seem like a thing of the past, but I would like to offer that as well.

So I am excited.  I look forward to the upcoming high holy days, and then the cold winter.  All should be well.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

He looked up and had pity on thm

In Matthew 25, Jesus separates sheep from goats to help illustrate the last judgment and the coming of the Kingdom.  This is a powerful image, especially for those who would like to think that Jesus accepts any sort of response to his invitation to be a disciple.  Who gets into heaven?  Well it seems to be the meek, humble, kind, compassionate, peacemakers, seekers of justice and truth, and those who are persecuted for being righteous.  It should be noted that the 'nice' are not included here. 

To be sure we are called and directed to take up the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ.  That work includes the ability to see peoples in deserted places, see their needs and hungers, and have the ability to feed them.  Like the apostles we might cry out and declare the we do not have enough.  But as Jesus indicates we are to feed each other from our wellspring, from that which we have received from the blessings of the Christ.  More exactly Jesus builds up what is lacking in our lives.

See we are supposed to be the Church in the world today.  It is easy to imagine that 'Father' and 'Sister' do all of the work and are responsible for the ministry of the Church.  But St Paul will want us to understand that just as we have received the body and blood of Christ at the sacred altar of salvation, we are to share with others that same grace and blessing.

That is we recognize and identify the hungry, sorrowing, and the broken.  Through the ministry of Jesus, and of the Church, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we minister to each other and share Good News.  Being Church is understanding that we are fellow sojourners and therefore we respond with and for each other.  I remember at one parish asking what was central to the mission of the parish.  Their response?  The parish dinners.  With much prodding and some fairly obvious hints they could not think of the Eucharist.

Like the crowds we are fed with the Body and Blood of Christ.  Let's make sure that the Eucharist is always the beginning and end of all that we do in faith.  The bread and wine should move us to consider what (who) we have received, and to respond with compassion and mercy towards each other.  Even St Paul advocates that we cannot receive the Eucharist unworthily, and need to respond with love and kindness towards all of our brothers and sisters based on the Eucharist. 

We let Jesus work with and through us so that we can be a reflection of Christ's care and compassion for all men and women.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Ignatius of Loyola - Priest, pastor

Most of us know St. Ignatius for the Spiritual Exercises.  His life though is a careful study of conversion and interior transformation.  The founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius was born into a noble Basque family in the late 19th century.  While the family was said to be catholic, it becomes apparent in his writings that there was no practice of the faith.  Pursuing a military career, Ignatius was seriously wounded in battle.  During his recovery he read the life of Christ, and of the saints.  Overwhelmed by these texts he determined to devote his life to Christ.

Now Ignatius lived during a very broken time of the Church.  After the split of the Church in the middle part of the 16th century, the Holy Father invited Ignatius begin an order which would catechize and evangelize as part of the post reformation process.  So with St. Francis Xavier, and six others, the Jesuit order was born.  For the Jesuits the motto, "For the greater glory of God," guided their ministry and their work. 

Ignatius understood, quite personally, how our human desires could direct the human heart wrongly.  For Ignatius we had to constantly discern our response to the many people and situations we would find ourselves encountering.  Like St. Paul, the cross became the instrument which would guide us throughout our faith journey.  Having a deep intellectual and spiritual encounter with the mystery of faith was very important for Ignatius.

All in all, there was a firm desire, to conform our lives to the will of God.  The divine plan of God was that God chooses, or 'elects' us, and thus we are to be subordinate to the Father's will.  Our response then is to choose God in all of our actions and activities.  Just as in the Letters of St Paul love is not a theory but an action, our response towards the Fathers love for us is in our actions.  As St. Paul indicates to the Corinthians (11:1) "Imitate me as I imitate Christ."  Ignatius would want  us to seek what is advantageous to the Word of God and not ourselves.

This ongoing seeking Christ and pruning away Sin and Evil is the lifestyle which Ignatius would suggest for us.  We are invited to become an instrument (remember not a dish-rag or floor-mat) for the living Christ.  So that all of our works are for the Gory of God and his Kingdom.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Kingdom is a Pearl, Treasure, Net full of things

 
We used to have a class in our high school entitled, "Introduction to Catholicism."  It was for freshmen and was two semesters in duration.  Some parents, and a few young people thought this a weird title, especially since they were already 'catholic,'  and many had gone through catholic grade school.  But the intention of the class was not so much to rehash the number of commandments and sacraments, but to build up in their lives that to be a catholic meant that their was a lifestyle to be lived. 

As a Parochial Vicar at a parish in a college town I received a phone call one afternoon from a young lady who wished to go to confession for the things she was planning to do that evening.  That's right.  Sort of a pre-confession so I suppose she could go to communion on Sunday.  That idea sort of defeats the whole idea of reconciliation.  Where is the conversion and discipleship?

Today's readings allude to the necessity of obtaining the wisdom, and nurturing that wisdom and understanding, in order to make good and holy choices.  The persons presented in the parables are in the extreme.  These folks make a great sacrifice in their very lives in order to obtain those things that are truly valuable and have great worth.  Possessing the Kingdom is about seeking, uncovering, and spending our entire being on the value we unearth.  And even more so, It is having the ability of being able to discern what is true, good, and beautiful, from the base and superficial.

This is where ongoing prayer and reflection come in.  I like to tell the story of an older professor of mine from seminary.  Before teaching he had had a Diocesan job.  When priests made not so good decisions it was his job to talk with them.  Time and again he told us seminarians, these priests had ceased praying, did not engage in spiritual reading, did not go on retreats, and their words and even actions did not model charity or chastity.  They had ceased living a priestly lifestyle.

Especially today we are challenged to live a Christ centered life.  Where do we those values, morals and ideals, which give meaning and purpose to our life.  Living in the ways of Christ certainly points to the ways in which we might possess Christ as our very own.  We seek Christ first by putting his words and love into the center of our lives, making him the focus of our faith.

Friday, July 25, 2014

St James - Apostle

James, the brother of John, is one of the first of the Apostles to be called.  With Peter and John he joins Jesus on Mt Tabor to witness the Transfiguration.  James joins Jesus when the daughter of Jairus is raised to life and in the Garden at Gethsemane.  James was in that inner circle of the Apostles.  Tradition has it that James went to Spain shortly after Pentecost, and was martyred on his return to Jerusalem.  The first of the Apostles to share in the "Cup of suffering."

Our Church is planted and nurtured by the proclamation and confession of the Apostles.  Being that Jesus did not leave a theology tract or a litany of law, the early Church had to rely of what they received from Jesus and inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  While some might consider the Vatican Council to be the ruin of the Church, the profound and even radical nature of the documents, reminds us that the Church still considers the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ to be relevant and necessary for our faith, and the salvation of the world.  The apostolic mind-set is to use the gifts that have been given to us to make bold proclamations of the Kingdom in the world.

Too often we can perceive our life as Church akin to the 'Dunkin Doughnut'  man, whose life is simply about making the doughnuts.  The martyrdom of St James, and all of the Apostles for that matter, is because their words and life were counter-cultural.  The Apostles show us what it means to be real servant leaders.  In an early part of the Letter of James, St James place the dilemma of a needy man at the side of the road before us.  James poses the question what good would be done if we walked by and stated, "Stay warm and well fed."  From today's Gospel we are reminded that "Anyone who wants to ranks first among you must serve the needs of all."

Christians are told today that we should stay in our churches and pray.  The Apostles would disagree.  We who profess faith in Jesus, through sacrament and word, are asked to bring peace and healing into the lives of others when we perform acts of charity, stand our moral ground, and challenge the Evil and Sinfulness we discover around us.  Our lifestyle that responds with dignity and respect to the various dilemmas and crisis' around us, in itself becomes a witness of faith.

Through the intercession of St. James, and all of the Communion of Saints, we ask for the same courage and strength to perform the works of the Church.  With the holy men and women of the past we share in the cup of salvation and bread of life; making bold proclamations of faith.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

MT 13:10-17

Today Jesus instructs the Apostles that his teaching lies open to them, unlike the crowds who are taught in Parables, because they have the eyes and ears to see, hear, and understand.  The more one has, Jesus explains to them, the more one will be given.  Though again and again Jesus will have to nudge the apostles along as they compete for the places of honor in the Kingdom.  But his teaching is for them and us that we might live with an openness to God.

A brother priest and myself had a conversation this past week reminiscing about some of our college classmates; especially those in the college seminary.  Our conversation centered on those who tried to imitate the externals of priesthood, or at least their perception of what priests do and think.  They came across as overly pious if not self-righteous.  But we observed that only a few of them actually went into major seminary, and of those none were ordained.  Our conclusion was that ministry was not what they pretended it to be.

Our faith journey has to be a time of listening and turning to the cross for inspiration and strength.  A large part of the reason it seems that people walk away from Church and faith, is that is does not meet up with their expectations.  The desire to have some sort of grand spiritual experience in the context of saintly men and women does not exist.  They are disappointed when Sin and Evil continues to grasp men and women - even in the Church.

I muse with folks that the reason I am a priest is not the reason I became a priest.  Over twenty-seven years it has evolved into a deeper and more complete way of doing Church.  Being with a family last weekend I watched two people respond to the moment by moment challenges of parenting, as they worked together, and in subtle ways supported and encouraged the other.

Being an instrument of Christ is this ongoing process of growth, renewal, and using the tools in our spiritual toolbox.  The cross cannot remain a piece of artwork, nor a theology to live by.  Their is an active desire to seek Christ first in all that we do, overcoming Sin and Evil, striving to do good.  Like John's disciples we have to go forward and declare all we have seen and heard.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Kingdom of God is Like ...

 
 
In a particular passage of Luke's Gospel (chapter 9) Jesus and his disciples are on their way to Jerusalem.  The disciples go on ahead to prepare for Jesus' passing through some of the various towns and villages.  One town refuses to receive Jesus, and throws the Disciples out of town.  The disciples are upset and suggest to Jesus that he call down from heaven fire and brimstone to destroy them.  Jesus does not justify the comment with even a response and moves on to other towns.  Such is the disposition of our God and Father in heaven.

In the middle of our hurt and pain we want to inflict injury upon those who have harmed us.  The love and mercy of God knows no limits or exceptions.  Throughout the Sacred Scripture, and best demonstrated by the Paschal Mystery, God continues to love and care for all peoples.  And as pointed out in Matthews Gospel in the demonstration of the Wheat and Weeds, the Mustard Seed, and the Leaven story, God knows of our brokenness, but knows also we are good and sacred.  Most importantly we are all made worthy of God's love.

When we are told that we must love even our enemies, we immediately think of some '60s T.V. commercial whereas all are holding hands, swaying and singing together.   There is evil in the world and some men and women reject whatever is good, beautiful, and true.  But we cannot wish them harm or distress, or even more so support actions and activities that causes them hurt or distress.  Too often the news of the day is filled with the anguish and pain of a peoples who suffer from centuries old hurts and wounds.  Reconciliation and peace-making must be part of our life-response.

The story of the Prodigal Son is a powerful illustration of the love and mercy the Father holds out for us.  The younger son really desired that his father die, so that he might have the inheritance.  The father is shown to be faithful and full of love and compassion.  Even after the son's return, the father refuses to treat him as anything less than his son.  We are asked to have that same level of compassion and kindness towards each.  That we might respond in love rather than anger or hostility.  We pray that we might have the courage to forgive as we are forgiven.

The Kingdom of the Good Shepherd is certainly one of light, happiness, and peace.  Like true disciples, we are faithful stewards of the gifts and people God the Father has set before us.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Faith and Understanding

St. Anselm's adage "Faith seeking understanding," reminds us of our own journey of faith, as we are introduced to a life with God, and come to unfold its meaning and purpose throughout our lives.  While we want to know God in our heart, it is good to define and reflect upon the meaning and purpose of our life in Christ Jesus.

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Bonaventure, Bishop and Doctor in our Church.  Bonaventure lived during the 13th century a member of the Franciscans Minor.  A contemporary of St. Thomas Aquinas, he was a theologian, philosopher, preacher, teacher, and regarded as a mystic.  His writings and preaching inspired many; drawing them away from mediocrity into a deep and vibrant faith.

In his text,  The Journey of the Mind of God, Bonaventure muses that Christ Jesus "... is both the way and the door.  Christ is the staircase and the vehicle ..."  Bonaventure asks that we direct our entire being to the cross and its meaning.  Persons who live in this mystery of faith can experience the fullness of wonder and joy as they meditate on the foundation of the faith we profess.  Like so many other of our saints and holy men and women, it is vital for us to have a solid cognitive knowledge of our faith, in addition to being in love with Christ.

It is good for us to understand the story of our faith, in addition to knowing the basic premise of what we believe in.  Sadly many in today's world have a very shallow understanding of their profession of faith, and the teachings of the Church.  St. Bonaventure is shown to be a gentle teacher who was full of Joy.  We are invited to make our journey of faith one in union with Christ, to know his Word among us, and to share it with joy.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Sowing Seed

As part of our missionary coop, it has been a delight to have a Carmelite Friar with us this weekend.  His homily was concise and to the point.  An educator himself, the most significant part of his message was a quote from St John Paul the Great.  St. John Paul challenged his listeners to understand that we are all missionaries.  Not all of us will go to far away lands, inner-cities, or hyper-rural areas; but we are all called to nurture and share the Word of God.

Sometimes folks will tell me that they are going to read the Bible, usually for Lent or spiritual reading.  But they get to the Book of Leviticus and decide to give up.  To be sure the Bible is not assembled as a novel or the latest non-fiction book.  It is a collection of stories which are gathered for our enlightenment and understanding.  The scriptures are the telling of men and women of faith who have come to know God and struggle to remain faithful to the covenant.  More so the scriptures tell the marvelous story of God's love and mercy; and in his compassion, the desire for our salvation.

It is so important for us to recognize this story of God's journey with us, our sinfulness, and the need for conversion.  When we can narrate that story from our hearts we are called to share that story with others.  We spend a lot of time and effort in religious education and catholic schools training children in the ways of the faith.  In addition we need to familiarize them with the stories of our faith, introducing them to men and women who continued to seek for goodness, beauty, and truth.

Because our scriptural tradition conveys to us that beyond our own sin and betrayals. In the end, as Julian of Norwich says, "all will be well, and all will be well, and every manner of being will be well."  This ongoing process of receiving, cultivating, and sharing, knowing and telling the story of salvation, bears a fruitfulness which endures.  The story of sacred scripture becomes our story too.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Take My Yoke Upon Your Shoulder

St. Thomas Aquinas propose that there are unique foundations, or transcendents, which tie our understanding of God and creation together.  These are Beauty, Goodness, and Truth.  Aquinas would ague that since all is created by God, everything exists with these basic intrinsic properties.  Further, our journey throughout our lives should center on discovering and building our response to life on these foundational elements.

The Gospels, and the teachings of the Church though, recognize that where there is Sin or Evil, men and women are seeking meaning and purpose in their lives from power, prestige, wealth, or even control over others.  In his ministry Jesus recognizes how people have moved away from a covenant relation with God and others, and are seeking to build up earthly treasuries.  To be sure our struggle to obtain stuff or position can hobble our ability to be true children of God.

The bottom line of the Gospel message is that our participation in the mission and ministry of Christ is to try to be servant leaders.  With the faith of a child we come to know that all good things come from the generosity and graciousness of God the Father.  The yoke that we wear cannot be about "worldly" desires and offerings.  Rather we are a counter-cultural people who seeks the values and virtues of the heavenly kingdom; in particular, Beauty, Goodness, and Truth.

In recent days our news has been filled with stories of those in authority who have followed righteousness rather than self-righteousness.  Of course they are dragged through the muck and gunk for doing what is right.  Many years ago my nephew related ho his classmates were antagonistic towards him for confronting a fellow classmate with an addiction problem.  In our faith we are to always stand in awe before the power, love, and mercy of God the Father. 

The burdens of the world do not lead us to new life.  The life of Jesus will reveal before us the face of the Father.  With a child-like faith we should be bust about rejecting whatever is evil, and learning to do what is right.  The process will always be countercultural, but it is the only way to recognize the light of truth.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

St. Thomas - Apostle

For many of us, the phrase, "My Lord and My God," was an automatic response at Mass, at the elevation of the host and chalice.  This is the profound profession of faith by Thomas, his doubts giving way to the loving presence of Jesus Christ.  We might ponder Thomas as a weak apostle for having doubts.  Yet, throughout the centuries, we have encountered many holy men and women, mystics, and even the prophets, who wondered Where God was. 

But doubting can lead us to seek answers at a deeper level, to intensify our prayer-life, and even to motivate us to act on the very faith we profess.  Faith has many dimensions.  It affects our lives and our response to life in a variety of ways.  A faith life can lead us towards a communion unity with God and others.  Our faith life leads us to hope for a more perfect life thus encouraging us to move from Sin and Evil; learning to do good.

Faith is a dynamic gift and grace.  In the Office of Readings for today, St. Gregory the Great suggests that the "Disbelief of Thomas has done more for our faith than the faith of the other apostles.  As he touches Jesus he is won over to belief and every doubt is cast aside."  Thomas shows us that in times of doubt how important it is to seek out the Lord all the more.  Further, we see a community coming around its member who is questioning and experiencing difficulties in faith.

The Passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus continues to encourage and strengthen the faithful.  The journey of faith taken by the apostles, and all holy people, becomes a source of courage and inspiration.  As we touch, receive, and consider the Body of Christ, hopefully we can have the same boldness of faith to pronounce, My Lord and My God.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Saints Peter and Paul

 
Whenever we consider the very beginning of our Church, its preaching, teaching, and evangelization, we cannot help but consider the two great Apostles - Peter and Paul.  Peter's profession as is found in Matthew's Gospel, "You are the Christ," and the extensive missionary activity of Paul, continues to inspire and encourage the Church today.  More so, it is evident of the power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of these two men, and in that early Church.
 
Again and again we come to recognize how God can and does do wonderful things using very basic instruments.  Peter at times could come off as self-righteous, seeming to know what was best for the mission and ministry of Jesus.  Peter's three fold denial brought him shame, especially after he adamantly pronounced that he would stand by him.  And Paul, so caught up in a limited vision of the word of God, could not imagine God unfolding a new chapter of salvation for His people.  He set out, with good intentions mind you, persecuting that early Christian community.
 
The words and works of these outstanding Apostles reminds us that doing Christianity is a daunting task.  Sometimes we act as 'nabobs,' and get it wrong.  At other times we end up standing against sin and evil, very much by ourselves.  As both Peter and Paul came to understand the cross plays a major facet in the Christian life.  In very real ways  the Apostles suffered while and in proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ.
 
Discipleship requires that we continue to ask the very basic questions of our life.  Why did God create us?  Why are we here?  Who do we say Jesus is?  In pondering these inquiries with our hearts, we begin to draw close the one who has all of the answers.  When like Peter and Paul we allow the power of the Spirit and integrity of the Gospel to be our guide and guardian, we are made strong.  This of course does not mean we will not have pain and suffering; but we will have the courage to witness the mystery of faith.  Jesus calls to us, "Come follow me."

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Nativity of John the Baptist

There was a man sent from God whose name was John.  He came to bear witness to the light, to prepare an upright people for the Lord.  (Jn 1:6-7)

Today's celebration of this great prophet, John the Baptist, is filled with awe and wonder.  Luke's infancy narrative recites the story we are all familiar with.  We are told that the people are filled with 'fear' as they see the events surrounding John's birth.  We have to understand that the word 'fear' alludes to 'awe,' and not being scared.  John is seen as the last of a line of prophets who is sent by God as a sign of expectation and promise.

Father Carroll Stuhlmueller had once commented that John was a "Fierce prophet of truth and justice.  So great was John the Baptist that the entire prophetic ministry of the Hebrew Scriptures was summed up in him."  John called for conversion and discipleship as people came into the desert to be baptized by him.  While his message was not original, calling people back to the covenant, John was telling them to reflect and look deeply into their lives so that they would be able to recognize the Christ; the Word of God made flesh.

In John's time, as is the case today, there were people who had doubts, who were confused, and wondering.  John asked them, through repentance, to put their interior selves in order, and to believe more strongly in the living God.  Sin and confusion opens the doorway to all sorts of evil.  A life which seeks the truth, and puts it into practice, pushes evil away.  John's plea is to make our lives more worthy of God.

John's ministry is very much about recognizing the Lamb of God, and pointing him out to others.  The premise of John the Baptist is to prepare ourselves to follow the way of the Lord.  Our best spiritual practices and efforts tap into an abundance of grace and blessings.  It's not about becoming a monk or a nun, but to be aware of our faults and failings, learn to do good, and o be attentive to the Word of God.  In the foreground of our minds and hearts we want to be aware that Jesus is our salvation and our peace.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Corpus Christi

The Second Vatican Council teaches us that the Eucharist is the "Source and Summit" of our Church; of our faith.  The Paschal Mystery continues to be celebrated, and experienced, in the Eucharistic Celebration.  In the U.S. Bishops document, "Eucharist: Hungers of the Human Family," again the Bishops speak about the many gifts which Christ left his Church, and the Eucharist is the most cherished of all of those gifts.

I remember going on retreat twenty plus years ago whereas the director held the loaf of bread which that community used as communion bread.  He spoke about the labor that went into making the bread, and in sharing this loaf of bread, whether we be the bakers, farmers, Priest, or congregation,  we all have some participation in what happens at the Mass.  To be sure the sign and the symbol of the Eucharist supersedes our brokenness and gathers us together in joy and healing.

By the ritual actions which is our Mass, we are gathered together, affirmed and even challenged.  The Eucharist reminds us that the ways of the world are not our ways, thus challenging us to bear faithful witness to the Eucharist which we celebrate.  Perhaps this is why St John places so much emphasis on the washing of the Apostles feet in his Gospel.  The Body and Blood of Christ becomes real food for our journey so that we can go out and continue the ministry which Jesus has left us. 

The Eucharist becomes a reminder that we are not abandoned or left alone in the world.  But rather the grace that is available to us through the Eucharist is our promise, strength, and protection.  For many who are home bound, hospitalized, the poor, or in prison, find in the Eucharist solace and strength in order to meet the challenges of that particular moment.

My very favorite part of the ordination rite occurs after the priest is vested and the bread and wine are brought forward.  The newly ordained priest kneels before the Bishop, who hands the new priest the bread and wine, and instructs him to know what he is doing, and to imitate the mystery he celebrates.  These are powerful word for any one of us.  We are challenged to appreciate the Eucharist for what it really is, and to imitate its significance in spirit and in truth.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Saint Romuald - Monk

Romuald lived during the early part of the 11th century as the son of a wealthy landowner.  Early accounts of his life suggest that he indulged in many of the niceties afforded to the wealthy and influential of the time.  As a youth he witnessed his father kill another man during a duel.  This situation bothered Romuald greatly.  As he began to reflect on his life he came to understand a great void existed within the depth and breadth of his being.

The young man Romuald ran away from home to the Benedictine abbey of St. Apollinare, in the northern Italian city of Classe.  There he embraced the Benedictine lifestyle.  But over time, while this was a strict monastery, he felt this was not ascetic enough.

With encouragement of the abbot he began his own community which we today know as the Camaldolese Order.  From the beginning this order of hermits lived in solitude in simplistic and harsh conditions.  According to his rule, monks were encouraged to, "Empty yourself completely and sit waiting."  This sense of passivity and simple life was to lead to an interior conversion and both an intellectual and spiritual movement towards God.  Much of the day of the hermit was to be spent in prayer, and most importantly, in quiet meditation.  The monk was always waiting to hear the voice of God.

To be sure Romuald's lifestyle is extreme.  As one might imagine the strict nature of the Camaldolese  do not attract large vocations.  But his understanding of waiting in stillness, and listening for the Lord, is an ideal that we can take home with us.  Sometime even when we pray we believe that we have to either be speaking or singing.  It is rather amusing as I lead evening prayer here, no one likes to pause for too long of a time between psalms.  We always want to distract ourselves with 'stuff.'  Even good and holy stuff!

Reflection, meditation, and eventually contemplation, are good and beneficial ways to pray.  It's good sometimes to sit in the presence of the Eucharist, icons, or in total silence, and wait for the Lord. 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Holy Trinity

The Councils of Nicaea, Constantinople, Chalcedon, all up until the present age try to make sense of the mystery of the Holy Trinity.  Theological ideas were thrown about but none could adequately describe how the God of mercy and love exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  St. Patrick attempted to describe the relationship of the Trinity through the shamrock; and dozens of times more, various saints and holy men and women attempted to talk about the Trinity.

But our understanding is best articulated through the scriptural narrative of our faithful God who sojourned among them.  St. Paul talks about the mystery of the cross revealing the love of the Father and the power of the Holy Spirit.  The people of faith, and the early Christian community were not so much trying to develop a theology, as they were bearing witness to the simple divine reality of our God who came to dwell with us, who gave his life for us, and lives in our midst as the Holy Spirit. 

This was who God was for them, not by an ecclesial edict, but because they experienced, as St. Paul states, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit.  Mutuality is the source of life.  Relationships ground our very being.  To be sure true love relationships direct us towards he other.  The most famous passage from St John, "God so loved the world..." demonstrates a love of otherness.  God loves us more than we can imagine (or deserve)  Our faithful response would be to profess, or bear witness, to what we have come to see and hear.

It is in beginning to understand the attributes of God as grace, we hopefully can come to desire God all the more.  Just a when we are in love, our coming to know God and Godliness will effect a longing for God's eternal friendship.  Then we can experience the God who so loved the world.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Come Holy Spirit

For these last several weeks we have read the journey of the early Church, from the Acts of the Apostles.  While early on this community is described as one guided by the Word of God and in love, the stories certainly indicate various challenges and moments of consternation.  As we know his will continue for the next two thousand years. 

This is the post-Pentecost Church.  But what we find is that this body of believers, when they succeed, rely on the wisdom, knowledge, and right-judgment, of the Holy Spirit.  When the Church allows itself to be inspired by the Holy Spirit, and the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ, we see a Body alive with faith and faithfulness.  Certainly the celebration of the sacraments communicate the outpouring of the Spirit as they indicate a communion with God.

The was a movie some years ago called the Apostle.  In it a talented and articulate preacher enjoys the fruits of his ministry as he leads faith communities and gatherings.  His wife commits adultery.  Becoming enraged he seriously batters his wife's lover.  He runs away, changes his name, and now leads tent revivals.  During this time people come to faith, and find healing and peace in their lives.  The preacher at the end is so moved by the power of the Word of God, he sets out to make things right.

The power of the Holy Spirit will not be dissuaded by our sins and brokenness.  The Holy Spirit can work in us and through us despite our hurts and sin.  To be sure the Spirit seems to do best through frail human instruments.  Perhaps this is why I keep going back to the book Jesus Freaks.  Ordinary folks are transformed into living witness who proclaim Good News, seeking the truth of the value and worth that is part of all humanity.  Our faith history is full of men and women who seek the good, beautiful, and true, becoming transformed themselves, and seeking the transformation of the Church, and even the world.

Through the Holy Spirit we are perfected and drawn into the unity and communion which is God.   The Paschal mystery is not some eschatological reality, but part of our profession of faith.  So we pray to the Holy Spirit to guide and direct all of our endeavors in the name of Jesus.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A time for the Word

More often than not anymore, at funerals, family members want to "say some words."  Now the Rite for Catholic Funerals does not allow for eulogies, or the like, during the liturgies.  During the vigil family and friends are invited to share stories and reflections.  The Funeral homily should reflect on the scriptures, and attempt to bring understanding and comfort to the grieving, as the Paschal Mystery is expounded upon. 

Sometimes there is a lack of appreciation for what is occurring at this point of the funeral.  The celebration of the Eucharist unites us to the mystery of faith we celebrate, and at the Mass we the grieving unite the soul of our loved one to the communion which is celebrated and offered.  So we have moved from gathering as family and friends around the body of our beloved, into the coming together as the larger faith family, to profess our faith on the Paschal Mystery, pray for the deceased, and begin the journey of healing, encouraged by those at the funeral.

Several days ago I celebrated a Funeral where the family was insistent at saying "some words" at the funeral.  I went through the guidelines, suggested no more than one page, and asked to see the text beforehand.  As I listened to this woman speak I was taken by the fact that the most important characteristic of the deceased, was that they were a 'nice' person.  After twenty minutes I came away with knowing that this was a nice and kind person.

What was absent was any sense of faith, mention of God, or hope that is held out to us by the Paschal Mystery.  In some ways this talk was more depressing than it was of any comfort.  To be sure, the words of sacred scripture, and the prayers of the Church, are filled with hope and joy.  At the time of death it would seem better to recall that we are loved and saved by God, than we will miss Aunt Olga's special brownies. 

Throughout the centuries theologians and spiritual writers have reminded us that we are made for something much more than the world we see around us.  The fact that we are created and redeemed by the God of life means we strive to be more than just nice, and we find comfort in the love and compassion that God has bestowed on us.  In the face of the Paschal Mystery, and the Christ who continues to be in our midst, our words pale in comparison.  At times of death, we should seek to hear the Word of God made flesh.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Ascension of our Lord

Catherine of Siena and Francis of Assisi have to be two of my favorite saints.  to be sure both hold a very important place in our Church, but even more so, their lives were bold and faithful.  In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, the disciples are told to stop staring up into the sky and get busy about the mission entrusted to them.  In Matthew, Jesus mandates his Disciples, that would be us, to go to the ends of the earth, baptizing, and proclaiming what is true, good and beautiful. 

Catherine and Francis found themselves in challenging times for the Church.  We could no longer afford to simply 'be' on the top of a mountain, but needed to respond to the immediate crisis at hand in all that we had seen and heard.  In a time and place where me and women wandered in darkness, holy people such as Catherine and Francis brought light and hope to peoples. 

On this feast, and at this time in our Church we are in need of lively witnesses.  The temptation is to remain on the mountain, or even to revert back to a time and place we are familiar with, but that can never serve the Church.  We have to die to our desires, sinfulness, and doubts, and become proclaimers of truth.  We are today enamored with sound-bytes that can make us question our legitimacy.  So we fall back on the Gospel, and the Paschal Mystery. 

Jesus entrusts the Church to the frail yet faithful disciples.   We continue the work of the Church baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

I was Blind, but now I See

Some time ago I had read a book by Fr Ronald Rolheiser, The Holy Longing.  Father Rolheiser certainly asks those who believe that they live a life in the Spirit, to look again, and to make sure that it is really the Holy Spirit that they are following.  While not a Jesuit, Rolheiser certainly has some Ignatian spiritual twists and turns asking one to look deep within their heart for the holiness of God.  A spiritual life is certainly founded in God, but also our humanity, and that relation we have with God and others.

So we come to the Blind Man in today's Gospel reading.  Isn't it strange that his parents are readily available, as are neighbors, and perhaps other family members.  Yet the religion and social mores of the day insist that the man take his place as the 'town beggar' in the village square.   So along comes Jesus to introduce this broken and hurting man to an experience of grace, love and mercy.  The healing that takes place is to be sure a great sign of God's love and desire to restore all men and women into wholeness. 

This action of healing is a great source of confusion and anxiety.  Certain premises and accepted expectations are now shattered.  Suddenly God has leapt out of the box in which he had been comfortably placed in.  But if God brings us salvation, restores a fallen humanity, and brings healing and peace, then we have to reconsider our relationship with God - and others.

Again the Blind Man recognized his brokenness and desired to be healed.  Those who had physical sight could not accept that life could ever be different.  They loved God, but not enough to be changed or transformed.  Many a holy man and woman has wandered into the darkness, filled with the light of Christ, to stand as a stalwart witness of goodness and truth.  That is really the testimony of the Blind Man.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Woman at the Well

The Samaritan Woman at the Well story is decidedly rich with images and theology.  Sort of like an icon, one could sit before it for days and days and be moved by its meaning and depth.  Almost immediately we are told that the Jews and Samaritans are not close.  Besides this we have Jesus, a man, speaking to a woman.  So the stage is set for a theological tension; and there will be teaching.

The woman here is a broken person.  She is gathering water in the middle of the day's heat, alone, with no one to help her.  As Jesus speaks with her, we come to know of her history which involves five husbands, and presently a living situation with a man which  does not sound appropriate.  Apparently her neighbors and kin want nothing to do with her.  We can only assume that her searching for meaning, purpose, and love, in her life has left her scarred and hurting.

Jesus does not see the social or religious differences, nor does he see her as a sinner, but as a child of God who has lost her way, dignity, and sense of value.  As he begins to speak with her his words begin to break down all of the barriers and fear as she starts the new journey into transformation.  We will see that as she recognizes Jesus for who he is, and most importantly what he means for her life, she will become a proclaimer of Good News to those in her village.

It was Fr. Henri Nouwen who suggested that response to the world is so full simple solutions and easy answers to the deep needs of life, that we end up pushing away prayer, reflection, and meditation.  We do not take time to ponder God.  So then we end up roaming from one bright light to a loud sound, never discovering who Jesus really is.

Oh sure we have our grade school level understanding of Jesus that we carry around from one place to another.  But this relationship is usually no deeper than a finger bowl and cannot respond to the needs of our adult relationships, sickness, disease, death, and all of the other chaos or crisis we face.  So we attach ourselves to unhealthy sexual relationships, because we think its love, alcohol makes us not feel, and money and power make us feel powerful. 

Jesus offers us the Father in heaven and eternal healing.  When we gather around the altar we take care to note that we are not worthy of the sacred gift we are to receive.  But Jesus makes us worthy.  The love and mercy of the Father are more powerful than we can understand.  Jesus stands there before us asking for a drink, all the while wanting us to enter the living water.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Joseph, Beloved Spouse of Mary

The term 'righteous,' is probably the most admirable of all of the descriptions for Joseph.  Here is a man, religious, pious, to be sure, who meet s the love of his life.  Upon finding out that she is pregnant, while the Law clearly give direction of the course of action to take, decides to divorce her quietly.  This same man is so centered that he ponders his dreams and makes a decision which is beyond the dictates of the law.  He does what is right because it is the right thing to do.

Evidently Joseph has a firm understanding of the covenant and the was of God.  Certainly here is a man that does not follow rules and regulations for their own sake but rather understands the foundation of mercy and justice to which the prophets keep calling us to.  To love God and others transforms our heart to make us more God-like, at least in principle.  To be sure this will be the invitation of Jesus Christ.  As he emptied himself to come in human form, we are to be filled with holiness to become more "Godly."

Conversion does not come easy.  Was it Catherine of Siena, who lamented in a time of trouble, that God had few friends, because of the harshness they endured.  For Joseph this role of 'foster father' would be wrought with pain and difficulty.  And it by giving an unconditional 'yes' to God, he would find himself in the middle of the plan of salvation.  There is a challenge there for us too.

Today we buried a brother priest.  A very young man in his middle thirties.  Originally from Mexico, Fr. Lorenzo embraced the priesthood with his heart, mind, and soul.  The Bishop fondly remembered his joyful disposition.  Hopefully the same can be recalled about us.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

He Was Transfigured Before Them

There is this great song by Mercy Me, entitled, "I Can Only Imagine."  A great contemporary Christian song which reflects on our possible reaction before the face of Christ.  Our participation before the glory and beauty of Jesus Christ would be overwhelming to say the least.  With it of course is the recognition of our unworthiness and the desire of God's love and mercy.  Not unlike St. Peter we would most like recoil with shame and beg Jesus to "Leave me for I am a Sinful man.

Such is the response of Peter, James, and John, in the Gospel on this Second Sunday of Lent.  They have a response of fright, if not shame, as they behold Jesus in his glory.  Falling down to the ground, a voice from the sky recalls for them that Jesus is the favored Son of the living God. 

A great mystery is revealed here as the Apostles are given a glimpse into the fullness of the Paschal Mystery.  Jesus had been alluding to his suffering and death prior to this moment, and now they behold the glory of Christ.  Our participation in the mystery of faith demands that we 'die to our self,' with the promise of resurrection to guide and strengthen us.  But there is no glory without the passion.

Our culture today wishes that there was a way to avoid suffering and simply the reward of glory.  We have little league teams in which everyone receives a trophy, and some school systems that are doing away with grades.  But suffering can make us deep,  Moreover it enables us to connect with our humanity in all of its foibles and brokenness. 

Relying on God's grace and mercy through the person of Jesus Christ, we can transfigure of Sins and Evil, and encounter a relationship of divine love.  But we really do have to move away from fear and learn to nurture and nourish what God has already given us in faith.  Looking at folks like Mother Teresa and Francis of Assisi, while knowing their own limits, sought the mission of the Kingdom as they endeavored into the unknown.  They simply believed in being a presence of Christ.

The sacraments we receive are centered in the Paschal Mystery.  They cannot be something 'we get' so as to enhance our degree of holiness.   They are a matter of encountering Christ, within the Body of Christ, and unfolding his glory to others.  Like the apostles, we are always on that journey up the hill - be it Tabor or Calvary.

Friday, March 14, 2014

A Mission Church

This week I was sent an email with an article about a priest who had renovated the church building.  One of the central features was the inclusion of the communion rails.  The Priest emphasized that Vatican II never forbade the communion rail, and kneeling is the absolute best way to receive the Eucharist.

Now it is very important to have a sense of reverence and solemnity at Mass, and surrounding the Eucharist.  Once in awhile someone will bring up "clown Masses" and using raisin bread for the Eucharist.  As a child of the sixties I had experienced neither of these.  And, most probably this sort of expression and familiarity has not been of our liturgical tradition for some time.

I mention this as I also share that a couple weeks ago I had suggested dropping the morning Mass on two days of the week, and having an afternoon or evening Mass.  This caused quite a stir.  To be sure our neighboring parish Has morning Mass at the exact same time we do.  For two days of the week, go next door, and allow the parish to open daily Mass to entirely different group.  Because I am sure that there are peoples who would love to go to Mass, receive the Eucharist, to begin their day in communion with Jesus.

While these two things seem unrelated, I think that we need to revisit the Vatican II challenge to reclaim our status as a 'Missionary' Church.  To be sure there is a small group which would find comfort in communion rails, for many catholics, and potential catholics, it is a spirituality which is not even close to being part of their faith expression.  And while it is convenient to have a Mass time which suits our needs, didn't Jesus suggest that we move out of our comfort zone for the good of our brothers and sisters.

Once upon a time we had large catholic parishes in which large families went to Mass every Sunday, we filled our catholic schools, and rectories and convents were bursting with priests and religious.  Things were comfortable.  But in retrospect I don't know if they were good.  Our faith really is about sharing 'Good News' and witnessing to the Gospel in word and in deed.  For most catholics I suspect the very idea of sharing faith is anathema.  But the Second Vatican Council suggests that this is what we should have been doing all along.

'Faith' was something that 'Father' and 'Sister' did.  The average catholic was about paying, praying, and obeying.  When Jesus sends out the apostles, or the seventy-two, or his disciples, he makes no mention of theology degrees, or taking vows.  Jesus makes known the fact that we are expected to proclaim the Gospel.  "Whoever is for us is not against us."  At Baptism, and as parents, we are told that we must share faith with our children.  This seems to imply more than dropping kids off at Religious Education class.

To be sure not everyone is going to be happy at the same time.  More so most of us remember a time or experience that we hold as the "best time of our life."  But our parishes have to make an effort to evangelize, draw new people into the Church, to catechize, and to transform our world.  The Church has a mission to unfold the Kingdom of God.  We don't do it be staying the same.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Tempted by Demons

In a hymn composed by John Henry Cardinal Newman, Newman recounts the foundation of salvation.  Using the theology of St. Paul, Newman lays out the premise that Sin entered the world through human disregard of our Divine relationship, in favor of selfish ambition, but humanity is redeemed through the Paschal Sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  Again in Philippians we are told that Jesus willingly became empty so as to take up in himself our sinfulness, and to bring salvation to the world.

Our human story is one of a contemptuous relationship with God.  Sort of like a squirming little child, the more God tries to hold on to us, the more we want to wiggle away, and do our own thing.  But when we hurt, we come crying back to God.  While we refuse God's friendship, God remains faithful to us and restores us to the dignity and wholeness that is properly ours. 
with a
The temptation by the Demons in our life is subtle and often veiled.  We are convinced that we should question our relationship with God and go it alone.  Following the construct of God limits us and can be quite naive.  We are tempted to believe that we can be so much more without God and a life of holiness.  But this is really a delusion and a dream.

When I was much younger I want on vacation with a good friend down south.  We were told be some locals that a certain section of the beach was clothing optional.  With visions of young, well formed and tanned women, we in search of this beach.  Well, instead of finding women around our age, we discovered women about our grandparents age.  Our expectations were not to be realized.  But Sin is like that.  Promises of greatness give way to frustration and sadness.

Jesus' response to temptation is to remind the Demons that haunt him, that the Word of God is all that he needs.  God has placed sacred relationship deep within each of us.  Recognizing that we are made for God, we strive for holiness in our relations, response to the world, and our demeanor.  Just as Jesus is revealed to be blessed at his Baptism, we have union and communion with God.  Our daily pondering should be one of pushing away from Sin and Evil; recognizing the voice of God.

It is difficult to be sure, but ours is an ongoing process of discerning what is of God and what is not.  The more our hearts are directed to goodness and truth, the more our pondering can seek our God in all things.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ash Wednesday

Today is the beginning of our Lenten journey.  It is fantastic to begin the day with Mass, to contemplate the mystery we celebrate, renew our commitment to Jesus, and take with us the grace and blessings from Mass to guide our purpose down this seasonal road.  The marks of ash on our forehead should be seen as a reminder to us as to what we are about, and a sign to others that our lives are an ongoing profession of discipleship.

Now I do cringe when I meet folks who look to the reception of ashes today as the end all, and be all, in their Lenten journey.  With Joel, St. Paul, and the Jesus we hear in Matthew's Gospel we should be ready to tackle the spiritual evils which befall us.  As Pope Francis has reminded us in his Lenten message, our faith should be an active faith.  The Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving, certainly enables transformation in our lives, but it also calls us to be sharers of the gifts which we have received.

Back in Seminary Ash Wednesday was a prayer day.  One of these days we celebrated the Mass throughout the Day.  That is we began with the penitential rite, late in the morning we read from the scriptures, and later in the day we brought up bead and wine, concluding the day with the Eucharist.    What was most powerful here was to go through the Mass very slowly, taking each part separately, and pondering its meaning and implications.  Ash Wednesday can be the beginning of this journey of faith.  We have an outline as to where we want to end up, but it is a process of looking at sin and evil, our sin and evil, and reflecting on the need for conversion, as well as the grace and mercy God holds out for us.

While there is a gnawing hunger from the fasting, the greater hunger should be for the wholeness and love which God has promised us through the covenant.  We ought to turn around, metenoia, and go back home to where God is calling us.  The greatest thing that we can learn today is the insistent  relationship we have with God forged by the blood of the cross.  So we must 'repent and believe in the Gospel.'

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Gird the Loins of Your Soul

On this the eve of Ash Wednesday, we had the opportunity to read from the First Letter of St Peter.  In this very straight-forward text St. Peter is emphasizing the necessity of refuting the values of the culture and to live according to the precepts of the scriptures and the Paschal Mystery.  In the end St. Peter challenges to be holy in every aspect of conduct.

To be sure we have come to believe that holiness is simply about being nice to one another.  So we accept any sort of deviation from the virtues and teachings of the Church, and our Scriptural tradition, because not to do so might 'hurt the feelings' of one or another.  While Jesus is not nasty or mean-spirited, he insists that men and women live by higher standards than what is offered in the world. 

Even as the mystics and saints understood, holiness is the ongoing conversion and discipleship that comes from prayer, the sacraments, reflection, and becoming actively engaged in a life with Christ, in the Body of Christ.  Sometimes we try to avoid suffering; convinced Jesus would not want us to suffer.  Or we avoid confrontation on moral matters; assuring ourselves that Jesus would not want us to appear self-righteous.  Holiness develops in the depths of prayer and worship, as well as those moments when our journey brings us to stretch our understanding, compassion, kindness, and charity.  Certainly the Word of God made flesh comes along with us to guide and guard us.

If  the last time we have prayed well, been to Mass, read the scriptures, taken in some theological or spiritual reading, was in eighth grade, then we are ill prepared for the spiritual awakening which we all long for.  The apostles in Mark's Gospel, today notwithstanding, often demonstrate a very shallow grasp of God's plan of salvation.  Jesus points out to them that the process of dying to oneself brings out healing and grace, in addition to revealing the self-less love of God.  This is an active process in which we are engaged and conscience of God's love and mercy.

Paradoxically holiness is often found in the tensions and trauma of life.  Holiness continues to demand to know how we can bring God and Godliness in a variety of situations in life.  The Word God directs us:  "Be holy because I am holy."

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Not a Hair of Your Head

 
The love of a mother is often the most powerful, unconditional, lavish and compassionate love, that one will ever experience. The prophet from today's scripture suggests that, even if a mother could forgetting her child, our God promises, “I will not forget you.” God is present here to us in an everlasting and powerful manner, as a mother who always and without fail cares for her child.  We are forever inscribed on the hand of our God, and burrowed beneath the shadow of his wings.  Our awesome God continues to watch over us.

The Gospel shares with us today that through this covenantal relation in which we are part of God's life as he is in ours, we do not need to worry or be concerned about our welfare, those who desire to harm us, or the needs and concerns which constantly gnaw at us.  God will make sure hat we are okay.  Too often our fears and anxieties send us scrambling for brighter light, loader sounds, and stronger tastes, all in order that we might have a sense of security or meaning. 

Of course the problem becomes that we can spend a lot of time and energy trying to gain authority, prestige, and to accumulate wealth, all to have what we have achieved come falling down around us.  Seeing folks at the end of their lives, I have seen them mostly naked, requiring help to dress, eat, bathe - and other things - all apparently disassociated from their wealth and titles.  Yet as I wander through the peoples I have encountered in life, it is not the rich and famous whom I can recall, but those who were kind and generous, who loved, served, and had time and a place for others.

This is what Pope Francis is trying to help us remember.  We cannot allow the need to have or acquire stuff get in the way of our relationship with God and with others.  Too often we let our culture, our want and whims, to lead us around by the nose.  We are challenged to develop a vision of the Kingdom of God and use our gifts and talents to achieve that end.

St. Paul will ask the question in one of his letters, "If God is for us, who can be against."  The love of God enable the Holy Spirit to enable us to put our life in order.  O course that order always includes putting God first in all things.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Church's Poison

As the Dean of this Deanery, and as a Pastor who likes to travel hither and yon to help with confessions, I have concluded that one of the greatest toxins we have in our Church today is Parochialism.  The community I live in now is smaller than my former residence, yet we have three (and had four) parishes.  The two older parishes struggle financially as do the catholic schools, and we are fairly cozy out here.  The suggestion that places combine or share falls on deaf ears.

At a Deanery meeting last week we had spoken about the combination of some youth activities.  One of the obstacles is that in many of the rural areas most towns are football rivals.  Some families, and their pastors, are hesitant in trying to attempt to draw the youth together.

One of the many great things that came out of the Second Vatican Council was an understanding that the Church is a community of faith.  The Eucharist we celebrate is a memorial of the Paschal Mystery which draws all men and women into one communion.  As such the needs and concerns of any part of Body of Christ, is a concern of the whole Body.  More so it is the foundational obligation of the entire unity to nurture and nourish our gifts so as to proclaim the Good News. 

Now there are pockets where the Church does come together to minister and foster an understanding of the Kingdom of God.  In some locales the catholic school, ministry to the poor or sick, are accomplished by a group of parishes with that vision of having a communion in the Body of Christ.  The recent text, Rebuilt, proposes a radical look at how to do 'Church' well.  Part of the process is to break down the barriers within and outside of the parish community.

When I was in DeKalb I had envisioned a Easter Sunday Mass at Northern Illinois University.  I could see combining the choirs, liturgical roles, use lots of smells and bells, and divide up the collection at the end.  Folks smiled when I suggested it, but that is as much of a response I received.  So we remained crowed in our own churches.

The ministry of Jesus sees him going from place to place, sharing the Good News in very different scenarios.  The Kingdom was proclaimed and the resurrection was revealed.  We could follow his pattern of ministry carefully and become less focused on "my space" and my ministry" and center on making present the Good New.  If we never engage with and for each other, the parochial toxins will kill us.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Be Holy!

Some time ago I had read a book by Fr. Ronald Rohlheiser, The Holy Longing.  In one section he wrote about the 'Incarnational' spirituality.  Rohlheiser suggests that we as followers of Christ, baptized into the Body of Christ, constantly show the face of Christ in our own flesh and blood.  By our touch, response, and interaction with others we always want to be demonstrating our "Christ-ness."  He even tells the story of a woman who left the Church because she could not recognize the face of Christ in anyone connected to the Church.

In the text Rebuilt, the authors suggest the very same observation.  They share the observation that the churches that thrive have a broad sense of hospitality and generosity.  Like Jesus in his ministry these places have mastered the art of table fellowship.  Even Pope Francis conveys to us that our Church is a missionary Church.  We can never sit still and be satisfied with the way things are.  We are always on a journey and bearing witness to the gospel.

Even in the Gospel today Jesus offers these very difficult challenges.  Be holy as your Father in heaven is holy.  Jesus tells his hearers that they must love and forgive even their enemies and persecutors.  More so we go the extra mile and give to each other even to the point of it being painful.  Holiness is not a posture per se, but an attitude that seeks out the paschal mystery on an ongoing basis.  We continually want to go up higher bringing others with us.

This in particular is true with the ability to forgive and seek forgiveness.  So much of the gunk and yuck in our society stems from the inability and unwillingness to work for reconciliation, justice and peace.  While dysfunctional families make great movie fodder, such animosity, anger, and brokenness breeds unhealthy relationships with God and other.

It is important to remember that we walk on sacred ground.  God has made all things, and created al men and women, so we have value, dignity, and worth.  Above and beyond simply being "nice" to others, is seeking out other's goodness, and striving to convey upon them God's life and grace.  By embracing the cross we testify to the holiness that God has bestowed on us.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Faith and Religion

A long time ago our Diocese undertook a process of evaluating parish life and ministries throughout the Diocese.  It was a long endeavor, and for the most part had positive effects for most parishioners and places.  Basically this endeavor asked us to examine who we are as Church.  It revealed our strengths as communities and peoples of faith, but also exposed a lack of ecclesiology and understanding of the connection we have with the mission and ministry of Christ and the Church.

Yesterday's Gospel from Mark tells the story of Jesus inquiring of the apostles, "who do people say that I am?"  We know the story; various responses are given, and Peter declares Jesus to be the 'Christ.'  Yet, in the same breath Peter urges Jesus not to go through the passion and death, as Jesus had enunciated it.  Peter had yet to reach that faith level, the depth of relationship with God which leads to an intense intimacy, and outpouring of love and mercy.

This certainly demonstrates the difference between the concepts of Faith and Religion.  Our faith indicates our belief, as St Peter will say much later, and embrace, of those mysteries that are unseen but lead us to a deeper understanding of our life with  God.  Our religion, those external practical facets which give expression to our faith, helps assist and guide us through our life, and can lead us to a deeper faith experience.  Having a religious practice does nothing if it does not transform and expand our hearts.

Eons ago, at a parish far away, I would go to the local 'Y' to swim and lift weights.  Each time I went there was this same rather stout man sitting in the locker room.  He never seemed to budge from the bench which he and his gym bag occupied.  He probably told others that he went "To the gym three times a week," yet I never ran into him at any other place in the Y.  We too can "go to church three times a week," but if we simply occupy space, and our hearts are not moved, then our religion does nothing for us.

Pope Francis in his Evangelii Gaudium, wants to impress upon us that we are a missionary Church.  God so loved the world, St John tells us, that he came into our midst as one like us, to suffer, die, and reveal the resurrection.  Filled with that same love we are to go forth into the world and share the Good News of the Gospel with all of our brothers and sisters.  Our religion calls from us a faith response in accord with the needs and concerns of the world today.  Pope Francis reminds us that an evangelizing community gets involved in the world today, taking up our cross, and following the Christ.  We are to take responsibility for our faith.

I recall having a young person imploring me to bless him prior to a math test.  When I pushed him as to whether he had studied, he admitted that he had not.  We can bless ourselves, go through all sort of religious motions, but unless we have a close and intimate relationship with God through Jesus Christ, our hearts are never transformed.  More so, the mission of the Christ is not expanded.

In the spirit of God's love and mercy we have to continue to move forward in life, embracing the mystery of the cross, and remaining close to Jesus.  Then we become a living testimony, a faith-filled witness of all that we have seen and heard in faith.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Amen, amen ... what I say to you is

For the people of Deuteronomy, and of Jesus time, the most important precepts that one needed to follow, was the covenant and the law.  The Pharisees and Sadducees spent hours mulling over the smallest iota of the law.  The law became sort of a check-list as to evaluate how you were living with God, and one another.

So when Jesus comes upon the scene, it seems like he is going to do away with the law.  Jesus tells the peoples that nothing is farter from the truth.  They expect this Jesus, who does nice things for and to people, to abolish the law.  No Jesus tells them, he is here not to abolish be to fulfill the law.  For Jesus the law is too narrow and he comes for its fulfillment. 

So Jesus begins with expounding each of the main categories of the law.  It is not enough, Jesus say not to kill, but do not allow anger and rage to disquiet others.  Do not commit adultery is too narrow, Jesus tells his hearers.  Lust and impurity disregard the innate dignity that is part of al men and women.  Jesus wants his listeners to know that we go above and beyond the basic tenets of our faith.  We are to strive for holiness and work to transform our very lives.

We are made in the image and likeness of God.  This fact brings to us a particular identity and a challenge as to our own self-worth and value of those we engage with in life.  Looking at the news one can become discouraged as we see the variety of awful and terrible violence, abuse, and oppression which takes place.  Human life is sacred and requires our respect as well as our full and active response.  I our engagement of each other we are always on sacred ground.

I recall a gentleman from a parish, long ago and far away, who advised me that he did not need the sacraments, nor the Church, since doesn't go around killing people.  More so, as he went on, God and he have an understanding.  I thought 'how beautiful.'

But the reality is that all of us need to be aware of our words, thoughts, honesty, chastity, charity and understanding.  This is why we need to call upon the Holy Spirit so as to know the will of the Father, that we might be always obedient to him.  In a world that can be ugly and un-Christ-hard and like, we need to have the courage to live a life of Christ. 

As we trek through the gospel we can come to recognize that it is fraught with many challenges.  If we love Him, as he loves us.  We do not need to chop off our hands only remain faithful to the Lord

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Be Salt. Be Light

Some days ago I was watching a video of an evangelical tent revival.  On the stage were many very well known and popular evangelists.  The vid itself, lasting about seven minutes, was of a woman, with a powerfully beautiful voice, singing "Precious Lord Take My Hand."  After her rendition, the ministers; then the congregants sang.  It was outstanding.  What was fascinating to watch was these people swaying back and forth with their hands waving freely in the air.  The environment was certainly charged with the spirit, and people were really moved.

As Jesus speaks about being salt and light today, I think that it is that spontaneous joy and witness that he is suggesting.  Our faith should demonstrate itself in powerful ways so as to positively affect the hungry, naked, homeless, and all of those afflicted by the darkness of Sin and Evil.  To be sure the Vatican II document of the Constitution of the Church in the Modern World, would recommend that our profession of faith be bold and clear.  As the Gospels relate, all men and women should see our good works and give honor and praise to the Father.

Back in the 60s we sang "They will know we are Christians by our love."  That was sort of the theme song of the sixties and early seventies.  While we did not have much in theology or ecclesiology we did understand that our profession of faith needed to be accomplished outside of church and in addition to the Mass.

When I came to this parish several months ago, and had asked about the RCIA program, the program leaders had stated that they put information in the bulletin so as to attract candidates.  Certainly we should be going out into the highways and by-ways, but the community of faith, in the manner it serves and worships in spirit and in truth, should draw peoples into the Body of Christ.  Like the Christopher West song, we can no longer simply go through the motions.

While Vatican II alluded to full and active participations being mainly in regards to the Mass, Our entire faith life asks that we take responsibility for the mission and ministry entrusted to us.  We are to be salt and light in the world today.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Presentation at the Temple

In the film "The Lion King," Simba is lifted up by his father.  The future 'King of the Jungle' was to become a sign of hope and promise.  There is something very powerful and prophetic in this scene and many like it in movie and animation.  The child is shown to the people as someone who would become the leader and shepherd; heralding a new time and season.  To be sure Simeon's gesture of proclaiming the child is a moment of revelation for the hearers to understand that the Christ-child was not merely a nicety bestowed on us by God, but a communication to us of God's divine plan of salvation.

Simeon and Anna are presented to us as righteous people.  Their longing for the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God, their prayer and devotion are presented to us as evidence that these are indeed holy people.   To be sure because of their connection to the covenant, in addition to their understanding of God's love and mercy, they have the ability to recognize Jesus as the Christ.  And this is certainly good news for all of us.  Even in the midst of chaos and frustration they are still able to proclaim the 'greatness of the Lord,' helps us to understand the demeanor we need to undertake.

The experience of this small faith-filled communion saw the same pattern in Jesus’ earthly ministry – proclamation of the good news of God’s salvation followed by acceptance and belief by some and by opposition and crucifixion by others (the civil and religious establishment). But then God triumphs, raising Jesus to new life.

Our encounter with the Christ is a challenge and a call for conversion and discipleship.  This story is no exception.  We must as Christians to proclaim God’s salvation, by deed and in word, being mindful of the response we will evoke, and remembering that the crib of Bethlehem lies in the shadow of the cross at Calvary.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Thomas Aquinas - Priest and Doctor of the Church



Known for his outstanding writing and commentaries, St. Thomas Aquinas is foundational in understanding Catholic theology and philosophy.  We also encounter a wealth of spiritual and practical advice in his Summa, and commentaries on belief in God.  From his definition of the study of God, we understand that Faith is seeking understanding.  For Thomas Aquinas our belief is strengthened by a moral and intellectual understanding of God, in addition to creating a relationship with God through his Son Jesus the Christ. 

In discussing the cross, the crux of the mystery we celebrate as Christians, Thomas Aquinas proposes that Jesus suffers for us because of the immensity of our Sins, but also as an example of how to act.  In pondering the Cross, and the entire paschal mystery, we enter more deeply into the love of God and of our own humanity as well.  The whole of our life as disciples is coming to know Jesus and grow more in love with him.

Growing up the religious women who were our teachers took time and effort to explain the actions and rituals we undertook as catholics.  The gestures and actions performed had meaning and purpose.  To be sure we were (and are) to reflect on the words, response, and ministry we undertake.  In wisdom and charity we have these incredible enlightening moments in which we increase our understanding of our relationship with God within the Church. 

Our prayer is that his holiness continue to inspire, strengthen, and encourage us.  More over that we, like Thomas Aquinas, ask good questions in addition to seeking understanding in regards to our faith.  So that as Jesus is our shepherd we might strive to obey the will of the Father in heaven.