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.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Come Follow Me

At one of his Wednesday audiences, Pope Francis challenged his listeners to be less self absorbed, and to take on the identity of Christ.  He went on to say that we are to proclaim the Gospel message with such a joy, which originates from God the Father.  Our exhilaration should be contagious.  In St. Paul's letter today, he reminds the Corinthians that the Gospel message is about Jesus Christ.  It does not center itself on personalities or egos or the like.

Some of the most holy people that I have ever met exude a prayerfulness and piety which always centers itself on the person of Jesus.  Perhaps this is why I like the martyrs.  They do not tend to their days hoping that they can die for their faith someday.  Rather these are men and women of faith and righteousness  who spend their days standing on their convictions, nurturing faith, and sharing what they have come to see and hear.  They do not back down to Sin and Evil, but challenge the vestiges of un-God-likeness.

Christians can make folks uncomfortable and uneasy.  When we live according to the values of the Gospel, and speak about 'Good News,'  our light shines in the dark and dank of the world.  Blessed John Paul II was so right on when he called our culture, a 'Culture of Death.'  I am quick to repeat the story of the young girl who wondered why the Church could not just believe like everyone else.  Mostly because our faith understands that we are created by the God of life, and the dignity and integrity of the human person are more important that the values of this life.

I am often reminded that on ordination day, during the Rite of Ordination, the Bishop hands the newly ordained the paten of bread, and the prepared chalice, instructing him to "Know what you are doing, and imitate the mystery you celebrate."  Some fifty years ago the Second Vatican Council, in its document, The Church in the Modern World, reminded all believers that we are firmly planted in the profession of faith of the apostles.  We have the responsibility of sharing Good News and continuing the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ.

When we go to Church on Sundays we bless ourselves with holy water.  To be sure we do so because we are entering a holy place, but more so as a reminder that we have been baptized into the Paschal Mystery.  We are children of the light.  May our light guide peoples out of the darkness of Sin and Evil, into the marvelous light of Christ Jesus.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Conversion of St Paul

Saint John Chrysostom praises the Apostle St Paul, as he speaks about his conviction of faith, and strength in the face of danger and evil.  Paul, a forceful teacher, feared only one thing; offending God.  We are well aware of the story of St. Paul's conversion,  A blinding light throws him to the ground, as a voice demands to know why he persecuting the Christ.  A righteous man Paul hears the voice of Jesus for the first time, and follows him faithfully.

As we celebrate the transformation of this follower of Christ, his conversion and discipleship, we also pray (as in the Collect of today Mass) that the same "Spirit who helped St Paul to preach God's power and glory, fill us up with the light of faith."    Sadly many of us still reside in a 'service station' mentality of faith.  We approach God when we are empty, or are rattling a bit, and get our fill of holy stuff.  Then we go on our way.  St Paul's entire life becomes centered on the Gospel he preaches.  To be sure, holy people are not always kneeling, nor are our eyes rolled up constantly, but we recognize the love of God, the integrity of our neighbor, and our own dignity. 

We are in a scary culture which does not always contemplate a universal moral law, nor value the sacredness of human life.  So often decisions are made according to ones immediate desires and superficial values.  Faith calls us into a relationship with God and the values espoused in the sacred scriptures.  As St. Paul reflects on the cross, he helps us understand that this faith life is an ongoing progress of suffering, death, and resurrection.

In our Church today we talk a lot about evangelization.  We are always trying to create a program.  But the best programs seems to be one in which there is an ongoing conversion in our own faith life, and sharing 'Good News.'  In particular this applies to the lost and floundering members of our world today.  The Beatitudes and corporal and spiritual works of mercy outline some of the best responses that we can have.

St Paul's letters leave us with a theology and a practice of faithful discipleship, and being good stewards of what we have received.  We just have to listen for the voice of Jesus, and follow his direction.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Lamb of God

I was back talking about bell-buttons again today.  I like the image, and today I did not include navel lint analogies.  I figure when we are so self-absorbed, so narcissistic, self-focused, we are, as it were, curled into ourselves, and the only thing that we can see is our navel.  So we spend a lot of time contemplating our belly button and miss most of the joys and concerns of the world today.  Paulist Father Frank DeSiano speaks about the post modern culture in which we live in is so self-focused, that it cannot contemplate the possibilities of a 'natural law,' or an objective truth.  Every one's morality is the "correct" morality.

So when it comes to life or justice issues, we have many peoples, or groups of peoples, declaring their version as the proper possession of truth.  What often occurs is that the loudest person(s) carries the day.  The understanding of 'right' or 'wrong' is always an opinion.

So here we have John the Baptist who is a witness to the events of Jesus' Baptism, but also most importantly an observer of the mission and ministry of Jesus.  Like the prophets of the Old Testament John recognizes the absolute value of seeking and adhering to the to the covenant of God.  The ability to recognize Jesus as the suffering Messiah indicates that John has in his life pondered the relationship of love and mercy which God has with us.  His insistence on conversion and transformation would suggest that his faith is beyond just the basics. 

Pope Francis has ruffled more than a few feathers, and pulled a few chains as well.  Right now most everyone is in love with him.  But Francis is blunt that our Christian lifestyle needs to be profound.  The ongoing acceptance of violence, poverty, and the destruction of life is beyond deplorable.  Discussion boards and political rhetoric are more often that not hate-filled and disrespectful. 

Not only do we need to have the ability to recognize the Lamb of God, but by our witness we also point him out to the world.  Our lifestyle celebrate the joys of life, and offers solace and compassion to the hurts and neediness of a Sinful world.  The signs and symbols at our own baptism challenge us to look beyond our belly-buttons, to see the beloved children of God.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Baptism of the Lord

Matthew has a rich description of the Baptism of Jesus Christ.  John is understandably confused by this exchange but comes to understand that this moment has a significant implication in the mission of Jesus Christ.  In receiving Baptism, Jesus is obviously not moving away from sin, nor does he need to draw any closer to the Father, but reveals a solidarity within humanity.  St. Paul will theologize for us that Jesus did not grasp at divinity but was emptied out into our human form.  As Jesus becomes one with us we are thus challenged to become one with God through the mission and ministry of Jesus. 

There is a radical exchange here.  We must come to understand that Jesus is not simply 'nice' to us, no are we to merely to be 'nice' to those around us.  Like the early believers our profession of faith must be profound in word and in deed.  Even in the Gospel Jesus urges his hearers to go beyond doing good for family and friends.  With courage and faith we share the Good News with those within, and outside, of our community.  In the Rite of Baptism the parents and godparents are asked whether they are ready and able to accept the responsibility of passing on our faith.  People should see our faith in our response to men and women, moments of calamity, and at times of joy.

More so whenever we speak about holiness, we come to think of the realm of monks and nuns.  In reality we are all invited to be holy.  The martyrs, saints, and holy men and women, did not set out for notoriety and fame.  As life unfolded they responded with faith and trust.  For these folks the baptismal call to be in communion with God, and humanity strengthened them to forge against Sin and Evil and to stand opposed to injustice and unfaithfulness. 

As Jesus comes out of the water he is pronounced beloved.  Hopefully we can hold on to the truth and be seen as a sign of enlightenment.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

God Saves!

The Gospel story is presented in Matthew on this the Feast of the Epiphany, demonstrates that the promise of God is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  Biblical scholars have helped us understand that these three travelers were neither astrologers (at least by our definition) nor were they kings.  Tradition offers us that these men were representative of the major peoples of the world.  Their gifts are symbolic, outlining the life and death of Jesus Christ.

This is a day in which we celebrate the great revelation that Christ is the light of the world.  The Prophet Isaiah acknowledges that the people of God had wandered in the midst of darkness.  To be sure politically and socially, but also n their moral status.  Isaiah reaffirms that God's desire is that all men and women walk in the light of the Lord God.  More so, God's love and mercy encompasses the entire humanity.  Where there was Sin and darkness, we have seen a bright light.

For us today it is valuable to embrace this Feast of the Epiphany as the universal outpouring of God's love.  The revelation of Jesus as the Christ creates an understanding for us that we are indeed loved by God, and anointed with the power of His Spirit.  Like the people surrounding the Christmas story our meeting Jesus changes our lives radically.  Further we are to become faithful witnesses of the mystery of faith which we celebrate.

The Magi literally go out of their way to find the Christ child.  in our world today we are likewise challenged to go out of our way to encounter Jesus.  Being the seekers of the holy and holiness, does not necessitate our hands being folded and our eyes rolled upwards.  It is good to reflect on the sacraments, ponder the scriptures, and engage in corporal and spiritual works of mercy.  Following the example of the Magi we are o respond to God's gift of love and mercy together.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Proclaim the Holy Name of Jesus

Several weeks ago I had a funeral for an older gentleman, a lifelong parishioner, who was extremely active in the parish and in the local community.  There were probably about two hundred people there.  The family, five children and sixteen grandchildren, read the scripture, brought forward the bread and the wine, and had a very nice video presentation at the luncheon.  It was a very prayerful and moving funeral liturgy.

One gentleman caught my attention immediately.  An African-American gentleman, dressed in mostly black, wearing a large silver cross.  I never got a chance to meet him, and was not introduced, but I suspect he was a local minister.  What was interesting about him was his responses to all of the prayers.  He was very reverent throughout the Mass, he sang along from the missal, and responded to the prayers as best as possible.  He was really praying along with the Mass.  The reason I noticed was because most everyone else just stood, sat, and knelt.

It reminds me of the many times I have baptized.  There always seems to be a middle aged couple that sits away from the other families, or family, whatever the case may be.  It is like a Canonical requirement.  They sit throughout the entire ritual never responding to a single prayer.  To be sure they may not be catholic, but "Do you reject Satan?"  "Do you believe in God the Father Almighty?"  These seem like some fairly basic Christian concepts. 

In today's Gospel, from the Gospel of John, we have the religious folk going out to interview John the Baptist.  The evangelist uses words like 'witness' and testimony' to describe what the Baptist is doing.  And I think that is what should describe us as well.  I don't know if we give testimony as we should.  We are almost afraid to give witness, an account of, our belief in the name of Jesus Christ.  If I pick my nose at the Eight O'clock Mass, everyone knows about it by 10:30.  But we are timid in speaking about out faith convictions, and worshiping God with full voice.

John made a lot of noise about Jesus, conversion, and discipleship, and came to know something was going on.    His proclamation, and challenge to live according to the Word of God, gathered a lot of attention.  Too often we view our faith as a 'me and Jesus' religion.  Folks will tell me that they are very private, and I can understand timidity, but our baptism does call us to stand out against Sin and Evil.  And that even means by the way we sing and pray at Mass.

We like the disciples of John are to have to courage to tell others what we have heard and seen.  And to worship in spirit and truth.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014


We celebrate Mary as the, Theotokos, or "God Bearer."  She is prepared by God to be the sacred vessel by which the Son of God would be made Incarnate into the world.  Her unconditional 'Yes' unites her to God, and to all men and women through this holy and sacred sign.  Most certainly we come to know that she must have understood the faithfulness of God, and God's desire to bring a radical salvation into the world, in order to place her life at the service of the Lord.

Throughout the sacred scriptures we have this description of Sin and Evil which afflicts the world.  We experience this in the minor frustrations and the nuances of life, and when we hear of the intense poverty and deprivation of human dignity that is suffered by so many.  God desires peace and salvation in the world.  To be sure we are not talking about a scene taken from a Coke commercial, but a communion with all men and women in which there is a profound respect of the human person.

Mary ponders this faith experience and mulls over these events in her heart.  This posture of receiving God's word, and reflecting on it, so that it might be birthed into the world, is a model that we can follow.  The shepherds and magi take time to seek the Christ, and spend time with the Holy Family.  There is a necessity of taking time for reflection and consideration of the holy signs of God.  Reflecting upon God's love and salvation moves us more and more towards grace, and away from Sin and Evil.

St Paul will remind us that we possess something sacred and holy in the depths of our very selves.  Peace and blessings are ours when we enflesh what we have received in a very real and practical manner.  We are called to ponder the deeds of God which we encounter so as to proclaim the greatness of God in our midst.  In the midst of fear and violence we can be a source of light and healing for those around us. 

Seeking the example of Mary this year can fill us with awe and wonder.  All the more it will enable us to give our unconditional Yes to God's invitation to bring Christ into the world.  So we begin today to ponder the mysteries of faith in our hearts.