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.