Journal Archive 2015 CYCLE B

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Our Journey Together
First Sunday of Advent
November 30, 2014
MK 13:33-37

Whether or not we enjoy it, most of us will be doing a whole lot of walking over the next few weeks. At the Mall, grocery store, through Christmas tree lots, cleaning and decorating the house, to and from grandchildren’s pageants and programs, to parties and gatherings and hopefully…to special Advent prayer at our parishes. It’s relatively easy to get in the recommended 10,000 steps each day of the season of rushed preparation. We are on the move and it can be exhausting.

During the Season of Advent, were are also on the move, in the spiritual sense. We walk in a circle. The Sunday before we light the first candle on the Advent wreath is Christ the King Sunday, when we celebrate Jesus as the King of the Universe…Sovereign of all creation, who rules with mercy and love. With that image fresh in our minds, we begin to move around a circle of ever greens, symbolic of everlasting life. Each week, we light another purple candle…pushing back the darkness and anticipating the glory of God that will pour out from the heavens on that night when The Word takes Flesh to dwell among us. We distinguish the third week of our journey with a rose colored (pink) candle…because of the mounting sense of anticipation…expectation…the growing sense of joy. Finally! We light the last candle and then we wait.

AND THEN WE WAIT! Those are very important words. We wait to close the circle, by encountering the new born King!

Advent is a season but it is also a journey when we walk together as a family of faith preparing to celebrate a past event…but also conditioning ourselves for a future event…Christ’s return in glory. And so we wait and we walk together as a pilgrim people…walking in a circle that began with Christ and will conclude with Christ…with Christ at our side throughout the journey. Don’t count the steps…measure instead the mercy, the forgiveness, the acts of charity and tolerance…and

Walk in peace!

Are You Walking?
Second Sunday of Advent
December 7, 2014
MK 1:1-8

Just over a year ago, Pope Francis traveled to the home of his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, to meet with a gathering of Church leaders. During his address to those assembled, The Holy Father commented on his great appreciation for the word “walking” in the context of exploring the spiritual life. He began his remarks this way:

WALKING is one of my favorite words when I think about a Christian and about the Church. I think that this is truly the most wonderful experience we can have, to belong to a people walking, journeying through history together with Our Lord, Who walks among us! We are not alone; we do not walk alone. We are part of the one flock of Christ that walks together.

Bringing his remarks to a close, The Holy Father stressed that: “…the most important thing is to walk together by working together, by helping one another, by acknowledging one’s mistakes and asking for forgiveness, and also by accepting the apologies of others by forgiving. How important this is.”

Advent is a very short and brisk walk. Already we are at “3:00” on the Advent wreath. We have WALKED 1/4 of the distance that separates us from the celebration of God’s Word taking Flesh to dwell among us. As we strike the match to light the second purple candle, it might be helpful to look back over the past week to see if we WALKED on the straight path that Isaiah described in our First Reading…recalled as well in the Gospel. Did we WALK with determination in our step…determination to be better disciples? Did we walk with others in the spirit of the season…the true and authentic spirit of the Advent season? Did we do anything to prepare spiritually, or did we just stumble along distracted and diminished by the Spirit-less “holiday” season?

Does it seem like the first part of this journey around the Advent wreath passed by quickly? That would not be surprising. Urgency is certainly a theme that is common to all three Readings on this Second Sunday of Advent. The season is short…only four weeks. Perhaps, before we light that second purple candle, we might do well to take a few minutes to plan how…and with whom …we will walk this next week of the Advent wreath. It does not take long to come full circle. The journey is brief…and so is life.

John the Baptist
Third Sunday of Advent
December 14, 2014
JN 1:6-8, 19-28

A key figure in the Advent season is John the Baptist. We met him in Mark’s Gospel last week and we meet him again in John’s gospel this week. Clearly, we are called to pay attention to who he is and what his life tells us. Two facts about him stand out.

First, he was extremely ambitious. He wanted to get things done and done right. He was so ambitious that he refused to let worldly concerns such as, food, clothes, or shelter interfere with his work of calling people to repent. He was the ultimate “motivational speaker”! He was committed to have people discover God and to do the difficult work of self-discovery. He wanted people to progress in their spiritual life by changing the things about themselves that needed to be changed.

Second, in spite of his ambition, he never lost sight of who he was and what he was called to do. He enjoyed the celebrity of a rock star! Jesus described him as “the greatest of men born to woman.” And yet, John’s success did not blind him to his limitations. He did not permit his fame to remind him that he was “the announcer” or the “warm-up act” for the Messiah. And with that role, he was content!

We are now past the halfway mark in our journey toward Christmas. The fourth Advent candle is in plain view. Maybe it would be a good thing to let John the Baptist “motivate” us to finish this last lap around the Advent wreath with the ambition to give ourselves the perfect Christmas gift…the joy of REPENTANCE.

Consider this: When describing John, Jesus said: “Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. “ (Matt. 11.11) Wow! That includes you and me!

The problem is that the things of this world often blind us to who God created us to be…THE GREATEST! We tend to get so wrapped up in who we think we are, and who WE WANT TO BE that we lose sight of the ambition that God has for us! We let our worldly ambitions cloud the vision that God holds for us.

While it is true that REPENTANCE means acknowledging and seeking forgiveness of our sins, that is only part of the process.

Once we have unwrapped our lives from sin, we are free to do what John the Baptist did. We are free to use what God has given us to further God’s plans for us and for all the lives we touch.

John the Baptist has shown us the way! Now, let’s go light that pink candle and shed a little more light on who we truly are, and what we are called to do so that we can be all that God created us to be.

Our Spiritual Warm-Up
Fourth Sunday of Advent
December 21, 2014
LK 1:26-38

People who are faithful to exercise appreciate the value of “stretching” or “warming up” before jumping into their workout. In a way, that’s what the Season of Advent is all about; our lap around the Advent wreath is a spiritual warm-up. Over the course of four weeks, we stretch our religious imagination by reminding ourselves of the promises God made to us through the holy prophets. We turn to St. Paul, who coaches us on how to “warm up” our spiritual life, so that we are fit and ready to celebrate The Birth of Jesus Christ. We listen closely to four carefully selected passages from the Holy Gospel proclaimed at Sunday Mass so as to build spiritual enthusiasm for the sprint to the finish line.

And it’s there…at the finish line…Christmas Eve…with our warm-up complete, that we need all of the energy we have been building over the season of preparation. On Christmas Eve, we rely on our Advent training in order to make an unimaginable leap of faith.

Think of it this way: For many people, Christmas is simply a winter holiday. For Christians, it is a day when we celebrate the truth that an Eternal Word was spoken by our Creator into the finite, human body of a young woman, who willingly agreed…through the power of the Holy Spirit…to give birth to The Word made flesh…Jesus Christ. We believe that on Christmas, The Word of God took Flesh and dwelt among us. That is a leap of faith!

God prepared Mary in a very special way for her unparalleled leap of faith. Last week, December 8, we celebrated the truth that from the moment of her conception, The Blessed Mother was totally free from sin. Obviously, very few of us can come remotely close to her degree of holiness. But through our Sacraments and the traditions of our faith…including a committed observance of the preparatory season of Advent, we can “stretch ourselves.”

If you haven’t joined the family of faith in our annual walk around the Advent wreath, there is still time to “warm up.” And a “warm-up” is essential if we are to be able to make the leap of faith that carries us into a reality that is almost too big for us to wrap our minds and our lives around. But that is exactly what God is calling us to do.

Like Mary, God is asking us to wrap our minds around the truth that God has a plan that will end in perfect and everlasting joy for those who believe. That requires some “spiritual stretching.” And, like Mary, we are called by God to become participants in this plan. Even as Mary was invited to become Jesus’s mother, we are invited to wrap our lives around the Gospel, giving our very flesh to the Eternal Word…and then carrying it out into a world in desperate need of The Good News that…CHRIST THE SAVIOR IS BORN!

There are now four candles burning on the Advent wreath…Come and “warm up!”

The Wrapping of God’s Gift
Feast of The Holy Family
December 28, 2014
LK 2:22-40

Among my childhood memories of Christmas, (and most of us are blessed with treasured memories of “Christmases past,”) is that of a neighbor who always brought over gifts for my sister and me. Her gifts are among my most unforgettable Christmas memories because of the extraordinary way that this kind and loving soul wrapped her gifts for us!

One year there were empty oatmeal cartons transformed into beautiful Christmas locomotives. Another year, she somehow transformed shoe boxes into “Santa’s sleigh,” complete with reindeer. I couldn’t wait for her knock at the door on Christmas morning because when the door opened, we would see another magical surprise in her hands. But when we opened the gifts, we did not find magical contents inside the boxes.

You see, this lady didn’t have a whole lot of money, so inside these amazing packages would be an apple, or a candy bar, or a few pencils. As young children, we didn’t understand why these gifts were so ordinary. It was only years later that we came to see and appreciate that her REAL gift to us was THE PACKAGE! Until we came to appreciate the gift of her careful wrapping, I wonder how it made her feel to watch us tear apart her hours of work to get to what, in our immaturity, we thought was “the gift.”

My Mom, on the other hand, was the total and complete opposite of our neighbor next door. Our gifts from our parents, as much as their budget would allow, were exactly what we were desperate to have. Usually these desperate wishes were whatever toys were popular that year. In addition, we got what we needed…things like new snow boots or school clothes. And finally, there was always the special gift that Mom and Dad thought we would treasure and keep forever such as a watch or a ring.

Our parents’ gifts were wonderful and thoughtful expressions of their love, but my Mom was not at all into wrapping. In fact, NOT AT ALL! When we were growing up, our Christmas gifts would often be sitting under the tree in plain, white, tissue paper, or maybe in the gift box from the store with a simple bow and name tag. She was even known to “wrap” a gift in a brown paper grocery bag.

As I hear and reflect on today’s Gospel on this Feast of the Holy Family, I think about both experiences. Consider the unbelievable gift that God sent to Simeon and Anna, two people who sat in the Temple day after day, year after year, praying and waiting. They waited with the same excitement and anticipation in their hearts that children feel as Christmas morning draws near. They waited for the gift that God promised them…the Messiah. This was a gift they desperately wanted and that all of humankind needed. This was a Gift, Who deserves above all other gifts ever given, to be treasured, protected, and valued above all else.

And so, at the appointed time, the Gift of the Christ Child was presented by God to Simeon and Anna, who received Jesus on behalf of all humankind. And look at how this gift was wrapped! The gift of our salvation came wrapped in a man whose face was lined with worry, confusion, and maybe even fear. God presented this gift wrapped in the loving arms of a young woman who had to be totally exhausted from a hard journey across rugged terrain. She was probably exhausted from childbirth and completely mystified by all that had happened to her in such a short time and at such a young age. This young, tired, dusty, poor, and very ordinary couple was the way in which Almighty God purposefully and very intentionally chose to wrap the greatest gift ever given…the Savior of the World.

Today, as we continue to celebrate the birth of that greatest of all Gifts, the birth of Jesus Christ, we remember and celebrate as well the way in which this priceless gift was packaged. It came to us in an ordinary human family. Like my neighbor lady from so many Christmases past, God took great pains to wrap this precious gift in an extraordinary way, a way that God in God’s infinite wisdom judged to be the most beautiful. It was a way that God determined that we would appreciate BOTH the wrapping as well as the gift inside. And in a way, God has continued to present the Gift of Christ to us over the centuries, generation after generation, in this way.

Today, on this Feast of the Holy Family, we continue to celebrate God’s infinitely generous gift of the incarnation. We also celebrate as well the way God presented The Gift. God wrapped the gift in people like you and me, in Christian families. We hold the Gift of Salvation within us, and for this we need to remember, to rejoice, and to be glad. Because God has chosen to use Christian families in such a profound and important way, we need to protect the family, God’s package, as well as God’s Gift, the Christ Child.

God loves us, in spite of all our failings and weaknesses. God chose to use the most ordinary people like us for the wrapping of God’s gift. For that, we are very grateful and blessed. It gives us hope for ourselves and for the world.

What Are You Looking For?
The Epiphany of the Lord
January 4, 2015
MT 2:1-12

I recently heard an interview of a 25-year-old woman named Lt. Heidi Beemer; who is currently stationed at a U.S. Army base in Arkansas serving in a chemical defense company. That is enough to make her a person of interest. But what has attracted the attention of NPR (National Public Radio) to the point that her interview that aired this past week was her second of 2014, is the fact that she is a “Mars One Candidate.”

Lt. Beemer is among a small, select group of young people associated with a non-profit corporation called: “Mars One” which is working to establish the first colony on Mars by 2025. Within the span of only 10 years, this young adventurer hopes to fulfill her childhood dream of “leaving Earth to represent humanity on Mars.”

It was an interesting interview, but I was disappointed that the reporter did not ask the follow-up question: WHY? What do you hope to accomplish? Are you looking for gold or some other precious element? Do you want to establish new markets to expand the U.S. economy? Is it your hope to lay claim to and develop vast expanses of virgin real estate in order to accommodate our growing population here on Earth? What is your ambition for this great adventure? I also wish the reporter had asked Lt. Beemer what her parents think…how her siblings feel…whether her friends are supportive…or do people think she has lost her senses?

Like the NPR interview of the young explorer, St. Matthew’s report on the adventurers from places unknown, east of Bethlehem, is dramatic…exciting…thought provoking…and engages the (creative-religious) imagination of the listener. However, there are missing details and it might prove worthwhile to use our “religious imagination” and take what we do know…what has been reported, in order to suggest answers to unasked questions.

We know there was Prophecy…the star…the encounter with evil…the warning…the reception by Mary and Joseph…the recognition of what was revealed to them as they entered the place where The Child was. In fact, “the recognition” of what was made apparent to them is at the very core of this Feast of the Epiphany. We know that these adventurers were so moved by what they experienced that they humbled themselves before the infant child whom they encountered. We know they offered highly symbolic and meaningful gifts. Finally, we know that they returned home another way. They changed directions!

Taking what we do know, it would seem that an appropriate answer to the simple question “WHY?” might well be: “It’s as if we were chosen. We were inspired by something or someone above and beyond ourselves, extending an invitation we couldn’t resist.”

“WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO ACCOMPLISH?” We want to find a new world, one where all people live together in peace and justice with mutual respect for one another regardless of differences in appearance or beliefs. We hope to be part of a new beginning, a fresh start.

“WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR?” We are looking for someone who will lead us! We are not looking to enrich ourselves by the journey. We are looking to enrich all of humankind. We aren’t seeking new lands to dominate…we are seeking The Kingdom of God!

Had Lt. Beemer been asked those questions, and had she answered them in the way that creative-religious imagination suggests answers that the Magi might have given to the same queries…then I hope and pray that she realizes her childhood dream. I hope and pray that this young woman realizes her childhood ambition of “leaving Earth to represent humanity on Mars.”

But it is important to remember that you don’t have to leave Earth, or even your home, in order to find what the Magi were seeking! It has all been revealed to us in Christ Jesus Our Lord! Amen!

Life of Christ
The Baptism of the Lord
January 11, 2015
MK 1:7-11

Somehow, last week, I allowed myself to be talked into watching a “foreign film,” complete with English subtitles. These days, it’s hard enough for me to hear…in English…let alone read the dialogue printed along the bottom of the screen as I try to watch the action of the film. But, being a gracious guest, I agreed to watch a Japanese movie called “Departure.” Within no time, I was completely hooked. Although tempted to share the entire story, I’ll restrain myself and share just this.

The movie is about a young man, desperate for work, who takes a well-paying job that no one else wants. Apparently, there is an ancient Japanese tradition for a family to gather in the presence of the body of a recently deceased loved one and watch as the body is very ceremoniously prepared to be placed into a coffin, before professional morticians step in to take charge. This ceremony is not exactly religious; rather, it is cultural. Nevertheless, it is highly spiritual.

Early on in his apprenticeship, the young man is repulsed by the work, and in spite of the lucrative salary, is on the verge of leaving his employment. Besides the nature of the work itself, the attitude of the bereaved families is what he finds intolerable. The families, who have arranged for the ceremony out of respect for the deceased, (it’s what Grandma would have wanted) nevertheless are impatient, scornful, and even disrespectful and dismissive of this old tradition…this “old way.”

However, as the service progresses and moves into a “ceremonial washing” or cleansing of the body, the families seem to undergo a conversion. They stop being impatient spectators and become genuine mourners, participating in a powerful ritual, which, although they don’t fully understand, they come to appreciate as necessary to properly prepare the departed to leave this life and move into what awaits them. For his part, as the young man observes the change the cleansing ritual has on the mourners, as a consequence, he himself is changed. He comes to realize that his work is far more than a job; it is a special calling or vocation.

I think I was so captivated by this foreign film about a ritual I do not understand because the movie reminded me so much of something I fully understand…The Sacrament of Baptism. So often, in what has tragically come to be referred to as “the post-Christian era,” the parents or parent of a newborn will approach a parish to arrange for infant Baptism because it is a “family tradition.” “Grandma is putting pressure”… or even…”It’s a way to get the family together for a party.” Way too often, the Sacrament of Initiation is tolerated, often impatiently, by young parents who regard Christian Baptism as a cultural tradition, rather than what it really is…REBIRTH IN THE HOLY SPIRIT.

It is not unusual to have parents resist the sacramental preparation program intended by the parish to put them in touch with the spiritual reality of Baptism. If a pastor holds firm and insists that preparation is mandatory, some walk away and do not give their child the priceless gift of the Sacrament, while others endure with obvious boredom the Church’s best efforts to make the celebration as meaningful and joyful, as it should be. Even during the beginning of the Mass, on the day of the Baptism, it is clear from the demeanor of the family that they are “spectators” or gracious guests…clearly unaware and unappreciative of what is about to happen.

And then, it’s finally time to bring the baby to the living, Spirit-filled waters. At this point in the ceremony, almost always, the atmosphere and attitude changes. As the priest prays the prayers, extracts the promises, intones the Baptismal formula, pours the water, anoints the child with the Oils, and lights the Baptismal candle from the burning paschal candle…entrusting The Light of Christ to the parents…it’s as if the heavens part…and the Voice comes from the heavens, saying…THIS IS MINE! I AM WELL PLEASED WITH THIS NEW LIFE …AND I ENTRUST THIS CHILD TO YOU. And at least, for a brief moment, the parents seem to hear and understand.

Very often, even as the infant is reborn through Baptism, the family experiences the effect of collateral grace; a conversion experience by virtue of being present at the Sacrament, no matter how reluctantly. But, this grace must be nurtured and fed if it is to continue to grow and bear fruit. A moment of grace can lead to a lifetime of holiness, but it takes full, active and conscious participation in the Sacramental life of the Church for this to happen.

As we bring this Christmas Season to a close with the Baptism of the Lord, it is good to recall our own Baptismal dignity…a point of true “DEPARTURE” from a life of sin and darkness…setting us on a path illuminated by The Light of Christ. Our Baptism is not a cultural tradition. It is a spiritual reality that brings us into union with the Son of God. When we come to understand this, we are no longer satisfied with being mere spectators. Instead, we become eager to be full participants in the Life of Christ. And when we fully embrace the identity of Christian…disciple…child of God…the heavens are no longer foreign to us…but become our home.

The Light of Christ
Second Sunday of Ordinary Time
January 18, 2015
John 1:35-42

Last Sunday, January 11, 2015, led by rulers from nations around the world, well over a million people marched through the streets of Paris, France. The demonstration was in response to the terror attacks in that capitol city often referred to as the City of Lights. The tone of this massive rally was almost entirely secular…even the gathering in the Grand Synagogue. Many of those participating in this massive demonstration held an ordinary ballpoint pen up in the air. This was a symbolic response to the brutal murders of the publishers of a relatively unknown magazine. The gesture communicated the statement: “The pen is mightier than the sword.” That was very much the theme of the day…free speech and the power of the press.

While the demonstration of unity was impressive, the most powerful response to evil was markedly absent…PRAYER! Prayer is the most powerful weapon with which to defeat terrorists! Certainly, the press, editorials, speeches, propaganda, and, most recently and most effectively, social media might influence people’s minds and actions, but only The Word of God has the power to change the world.

At the core of this week’s Second Reading is a truth that the modern world seems to have forgotten or simply chooses to ignore: WE ALL BELONG TO GOD! Our bodies are entrusted to us by God, who has a plan for each of us to follow. If we respond to God’s plan for us, then we can live in harmony and peace. But in order to know what God is asking of us as individuals, as families, as Church, as a nation…as humankind…we have to do as Samuel in our First Reading. We have to listen and then respond. If we are to truly know what God is asking of us, we must do as Andrew and his friend did in the Gospel. We have to be willing to learn. We have to spend time with The Word of God, as they spent the day with Jesus.

“The pen” is only as powerful as the word it reports. Today’s Gospel reports one of Jesus’s most powerful words: COME! Come and see! Come and learn! Come and serve. The only fitting and proper response to that invitation from the Lord was spoken by Samuel many centuries ago: SPEAK, LORD, I HAVE COME…COME TO DO YOUR WILL!

The will of God is that we should live in peace! And each of is called to help bring that peace…the Peace of Christ… into the world. God intends more for us than to live in a “city of lights” that depends on electricity in order to defeat darkness. It is God’s will and God’s plan that we should all live in The Heavenly Jerusalem…the city illuminated by the eternal glory of God…the city that will never be the target of terror or violence or injustice…the city where all freedom is in Christ and all power comes from the Eternal Word…the city that will never grow dark.

So COME! Live in the Light…The Light of Christ!

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
January 25, 2015
MK 1:14-20

I have read and reflected on, prayed over, and preached on today’s Gospel for 20 years; I know it well. But, as I was preparing to break open The Word for you today, one word kept jumping off the page for me, causing me to relate to this passage in an entirely different way than ever before. That word was “NET.”

Those three letters…”N-E-T”…hooked me to the point that even though I obviously can spell it and use it in a sentence, I looked it up in the dictionary. This is what I found:

NET: As a noun, means a contrivance or trap for catching something, like fish, or butterflies. A NET is also something that divides, like the net that divides a tennis court. And NETS can be something that protects us…like mosquito netting.

But the word NET is also a verb, an action word that means: to take with…to catch or snare.

Finally, the word NET can be an adjective to describe something that’s left over when everything else is taken away, like our net salary, our “after taxes” pay…our take-home check! It means: what’s left…what’s pure!

Well, by now, you’re probably thinking that this is a grammar lesson and not a homily, but please keep reading. You see, I had to work all of this out in my own mind in order to understand why The Holy Spirit kept drawing me to the simple little word, NET, as I reflected on this week’s Readings. And this is what I’ve come to see:

The NETS that Simon Peter and his brother Andrew and James and John were working with, cleaning, mending, folding in order to get ready for another night of fishing were clearly the tools of their trade and were extremely important to them. Without their nets, they couldn’t make a living. They couldn’t be fishermen. However, I’m wondering if there just might not be a deeper, more profound meaning here in this passage from Mark’s Gospel.

Is it possible that the Holy Spirit wants us to think about ALL of the contrivances…or traps…that occupied these four men? Certainly, there were other things that captured their minds and hearts, things that had such a strong hold of their attention that they almost didn’t see Jesus as He passed by them on the shore of the Sea of Galilee…things like debt, the relationship with their wives, a sick child, a dependent parent, or even a leaky roof.

Could it be that the Holy Spirit wants us to consider all of those things that divide, or separate, us and have such a strong hold on our attention that we are at risk of failing to see the Lord pass through our lives? Could this passage be an invitation to reflect on all of the things that threaten our unity with God and with one another? Could the “nets” that Mark’s Gospel is referring to be all of those things that divide us from God?

Maybe the Holy Spirit is asking us to consider the NETS we surround ourselves with to protect us from things that make us uncomfortable…or challenge us…or threaten our way of thinking…or acting.

Maybe the Holy Spirit is trying to stretch us…and get us to think of all of the OTHER THINGS besides their work tools that these first disciples had to put aside in order to follow Jesus, so that we are able to identify and lay aside all those things that keep us from following the Lord.

Consider this: NET is an action word. Some might argue that Jesus said something that so influenced these four men that they abandoned their lives, their families, and their obligations. Some might argue that Jesus trapped…or snared…or captured them. But the truth is, Jesus liberated, or freed, Peter and Andrew, James and John from the world as they knew it, so that they could enjoy a glimpse of what the world could and should be. He took away those things that weighed them down, burdened them, and encumbered them. And the NET result of this encounter with The Lord on that amazing morning was their purest self. What was left when they laid aside their NETS was everything God intended them to be when God spoke them into existence.

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 1, 2015
MK 1:21-28

If you listened closely to the Second Reading last Sunday, which we all should certainly do, (1 Cor 7:29-31 just in case) you might have found yourself a bit unnerved, and rightly so. The passage begins with the startling warning: TIME IS RUNNING OUT! It almost sounds like the headline from a tabloid. Paul goes on: “FOR THE WORLD IN ITS PRESENT FORM IS PASSING AWAY.” This week’s Second Reading is more of the same; a continuation of a dire warning. Not very cheery. Paul actually seems to be suggesting there is no point in marrying and having a family. The message is along the line: “Use all of your energy for saving yourself…because TIME IS RUNNING OUT!” Two thousand years later, we can safely say, it would seem: “Well, he was wrong!” But imagine the impact he must have had on his contemporaries.

It’s easy to do that…to imagine the effect his letter had on the Corinthian community who heard this warning for the first time. In order to put yourself in their sandals, read the recent report in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Last week, they moved their famed Doomsday Clock, which started ticking after World War II, two minutes closer to Midnight. Now at 23:57, this clock attempts to help us imagine how close we are to a global catastrophe due to EITHER natural disasters that these scientists believe are caused by global warming, or as a consequence of a nuclear war. It’s not as easy to dismiss this report as it is to put aside St. Paul’s cautionary lesson. Concurrent with, and in large part motivating the “Doomsday Bulletin” are the graphic videos of men in orange jump suits with a menacing figure shrouded completely in black standing behind them with a dagger in his hand. And then there is the increase in earth tremors in states that have never before been considered at risk, melting glaciers, and drought in the areas of the globe where most of our food is grown. These are undeniable realities.

Unnerving…to say the least!

But the world has always been an unnerving, violent, dangerous place for us fragile human beings to inhabit. We are literally, every moment of our lives, surrounded by danger. We are on HIGH ALERT from cradle to grave…or at least we should be. And, as it turns out…St. Paul is right…“our world,” in its present form, is passing away. Our time in this world is limited. We have just so many heartbeats within our frail bodies. All of this is not speculation; rather, it is based on our experiences. And all of this is unnerving to most people.

That is why God sent Jesus into this hostile environment. We are in desperate need of Good News! The dramatic encounter between The Lord and the man possessed with evil spirits, which occurs early on in Jesus’s public ministry, is just that…Good News…not just for the man liberated from a force that overpowered his free will, but for our entire universe.
Much more than helping one desperate individual, what Jesus did in the synagogue in Capernaum was to interject Himself into salvation history in a powerful and dramatic way, introducing Himself as The One Who commands authority over all that threatens us, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. The story of this exorcism that so astounded and amazed the eye witnesses is sort of a preview of what will happen when the “clock strikes Midnight”…whether for us as individuals…or when “time is up” for “the world in its present form.” Then Jesus will say to all that is unclean, evil, violent, all that is opposed to goodness and love…all that is contrary to the will of God…BE QUIET! COME OUT! And the Peace of Christ will prevail.

In the meantime, we can’t be too hasty to dismiss St. Paul. Although sometimes unnerving and maybe even extreme, he reminds us of the power that Christ shares with us through our Baptism. We are called to join our voices to that of the Lord, facing off against all that is evil…and shouting out…BE QUIET! COME OUT! Sometimes even in front of the mirror, always confident The Peace of Christ will prevail.

Our Own “Selfie”
5th Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 8, 2015
MK 1:29-39

Autograph books are a thing of the past. Today, it’s all about the “selfie.” Even Pope Francis has been known to humor the occasional fan by leaning back and smiling into the cell phone, held at arm’s length by the eager young people standing shoulder to shoulder with him. A picture with a celebrity is certain proof that a person came into contact with a celebrity. Moreover, it is something that can be easily shared and will endure the passage of time, helping the people in the picture relive the moment over and over again. Still, it is the actual moment of contact that’s important. Anyone can “photo shop” an image of themselves standing next to Taylor Swift. But only the fortunate few can say that they actually danced with her, touched her hand, or were graced with a hug. The thrill is the actual moment of contact…and if there happens to be a picture as proof…even better.

The Gospel proclaimed on this 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time offers us a timeless Word picture of an amazing moment of contact between a desperately ill woman and Jesus. “Immediately” upon entering the home where she laid close to death, the Lord was informed of her condition. One can’t help but wonder what He was told. Maybe he was warned away, like health care workers in an Ebola-infected village. “Jesus, You shouldn’t come in, Mother is very sick and You might catch her fever! We just can’t take the chance.”

Rather than backing away, or looking for a hazmat suit, Jesus moved towards the healing moment of contact. He grasped her hand and wrapped His arms around her waist, helping her to her feet. Mark 1:29-39 is the ultimate “selfie.” In this Word picture

“…you see how fever loosens its grip on a person whose hand is held by Christ’s; no sickness can stand its ground in the face of the very source of health. Where the Lord of life has entered, there is no room for death.” (Taken from Sermon 18 of St. Peter Chrysologus 380-450, Doctor of the Church)

This healing miracle was shared far and wide. It was certain proof of the healing moment of contact between the familiar face of the celebrity carpenter from Nazareth and a woman in desperate need. But, it was and continues to be much more. It is God’s “selfie”…standing shoulder to shoulder with humankind…but at the same time…at arm’s length from us…capturing for all time the Divine Image so that we can relive the healing moment over and over; especially when we are incapacitated by anything that threatens our physical, emotional, or
spiritual health.

And here is the Good News! We don’t have to look at this Word picture to remember or relive this healing moment of contact. We can experience it for ourselves each and every time we walk up the isle with an outstretched hand. The Eucharist offers us an opportunity to invite Jesus into our hearts, and even as He did not recoil from the threat of illness as He stood at the threshold of Peter’s home, there is nothing that would cause The Lord to turn away from us. Rather, in the Eucharist, Christ approaches us and grasps the hand that we extend. And “where the Lord has entered there is no room for death” or fear, or hopelessness. The thrill of that healing moment of contact will transform us…bring us to our feet, and make us want to share our “selfie with Christ.” Who wouldn’t want to prove that they held the hand of the Lord…danced with The Lord of life…were hugged by God?

Black and White
6th Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 15, 2015
MK 1:40-45

Recently, I was invited to be one of three clergy participants in a “theology on tap” held at a local restaurant. Although publicized in parishes throughout the Diocese, the pastor who organized the event, appreciating how busy life is these days, was hopeful that there might be 10…at tops 20 people responding to the invitation to share faith and beverages in a social setting. In spite of inclement weather, three, maybe even four times that number gathered with a very enthusiastic spirit. This was telling of the fact that Catholics want to learn more about our faith.

It was apparent from looking around the room that the group was very diverse in terms of age. There were seniors, middle-aged folks, and even a table of college students. As the evening progressed, and people began to share thoughts and feelings, it also became apparent that there were a variety of “spiritualities” represented. Some comments carried what might be called a traditional tone, while others were more “exploratory.” It was very heartening to see Catholic Christians with differing approaches to the core truths of our faith, dialogue without debate or argument. The weather outside was unpleasant but the atmosphere in the room was warm and congenial.

The very first question directed to the panel of pastors, which caught and held the attention of everyone, was simply this: What’s going on with the Sacrament of Reconciliation? Everyone put down their glasses and leaned in to catch every word of reply. It’s not possible to even summarize the ensuing 20 or so minutes of discussion which that simple question prompted. However, for the purpose of this reflection, suffice it to say that the core of the Sacrament is unchanged throughout our history, although the way we celebrate it has changed and evolved over the generations. At some point, one of the young college students offered a rather surprising observation. She said something to this effect: “Many people my age, at least the ones I talk with, want things (matters of faith) to be black and white.”

While on the surface, this Sunday’s Gospel is a healing miracle, is it possible that contained within the story of a leper who is made clean, there are some “black and white” facts that help us better understand our Sacrament of Reconciliation?

Consider this. Sin, like leprosy, gets under our skin. Very often, sin has an external impact on our health. It somehow, some way, shows itself to others. It marks us, or scars us. At the same time, it attacks our interior, our spiritual well-being. It leaves us with a gnawing sense of guilt…a queasy feeling we simply can’t shake. Try as we may to ignore the symptoms and effects of sin, we carry it both inside and outside of ourselves and it impacts every aspect of our lives…our relationship with God, with others, and even with ourselves.

Who in their right mind would not do everything possible to be healed from a devastating disease? The burning desire to be made clean prompted the leper to shout out: “Jesus, if You wish, You can make me clean!” When this healing miracle was first recorded in Greek, Jesus’s reply was much more dramatic and powerful than the translation we hear in church this Sunday. Jesus’s answer was something to the effect: “I desire it so intensely that I feel it in my gut!

Who in their right mind would not want to be freed from sin? And so we sinners call out: “Jesus, if You wish, You can make me clean! You can heal me from the ravages of sin…You can make the scars disappear…You can quiet the guilt and restore my peace…You can put me back into right relationship with God…with others…and with myself.”

And here is the “black and white of it” when we call out in that way. Jesus responds with the same urgency that He answered the leper: “I desire it so intensely that I feel it in my gut!

But there is a final element in the healing miracle that we might want to take special note of in this discussion. Even though the leper was clearly healed, Jesus referred the man to the priests in the Temple, whose responsibility it was to declare the man clean. And so, even though we know that Jesus need “only say the word” and we will be healed, we look to the Church to prescribe the manner in which we approach the Lord for forgiveness. And the Church, in Her wisdom, often adjusts the manner in which we celebrate the Sacrament to suit the times and circumstance in which we find ourselves.

Still, it is great comfort to know that the leper was healed…even before he showed himself to the priests! That’s “the black and white of it”!

First Sunday of Lent
February 22, 2015
MK 1:12-15

I recall that way back in 1988, The Detroit Free Press committed the entire front page of the entertainment section of the Sunday paper to a movie which had just been released called “The Last Temptation of Christ.” It was the first that I had heard of the film directed by Martin Scorsese, and I was excited by the possibility that Hollywood had finally done something right. Within a few paragraphs, however, I made up my mind that I would not see the movie. Much of the article laid out the criticisms of the film by the Church, leaving me convinced that the movie was “condemned.”

Fast-forward about 10 years. I was taking a class called Christology (the study of Christ) in preparation for Ordination. I was shocked when the professor not only recommended, but mandated that the class view the movie. What I discovered was that the film was not the typical “life of Christ” movie that used the Gospel as its script. Instead, this film took what might be called artistic license, telling the story in a way that used different images and symbols in order to convey what the Sacred Texts first reported. For me, Jesus’ temptation in the desert was especially powerful.

True to the Scriptures, the film depicted Jesus, fresh from the waters of baptism, journeying out into the desert. He picked up a long branch and purposefully drew a circle in the sand and then sat down in its center and began His meditation. As the 40 days drew to a close, an enormous cobra slithered up to the edge of the circle, reared up so that it was eye level with Jesus, and, in an alluring and seductive female voice, began to tempt the Lord with suggestions of earthly pleasures. The loathsome snake hearkened back to Eve’s conversation with the serpent in the Garden. Unlike Adam and Eve, Jesus angrily dismissed the cobra.

Shortly thereafter, a majestic and powerful lion approached. In a strong, masculine, and markedly arrogant voice, the lion listed all of the things that made Jesus a force to reckon with. The lion offered a plan for Jesus to take control of the world. Jesus quickly sent the lion, a symbol of pride, off into the darkness, clearly preferring God’s plans for His time in this world.

Following the second temptation, a brilliant pillar of flame shot up from the desert floor. Jesus mistook this manifestation as an archangel. Reminiscent of the pillar of flame that guarded the camp of the Israelites during their time in the desert, the flame was warm and comforting. Jesus greeted what He thought to be a heavenly messenger, but soon realized that the message was not from God. The voice from the pillar of flame was calm and ethereal, and gently tried to persuade Jesus to put His Divine powers to purposes contrary to the will of God. Jesus extinguished the flame, but the voice was not silenced, and promised to return.

The three temptations, although not portrayed in the detail given by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, nevertheless conveyed the nature and intensity of Jesus’ struggles. The scene from the movie was memorable.

So, fast-forward several more years. Remembering the striking way in which the Lord’s Temptation was filmed in the Scorsese movie, I decided to use it in a Lenten program in the parish where I was serving. My first stop was at the local library, where I was told that the film was removed from circulation because of strong objections from fundamentalist Christians. My next stop was at the video store. There, the manager explained that each time he offered a copy in for rental, it “disappeared.” He had a sense that would continue to happen and did not re-order it. Simply put, some people “condemned the film” because it made Jesus too human for their sensitivities, while at the same time, others praised the movie as offering something the Gospels do not always clearly convey: a vivid picture of Jesus’ humanity.

This reflection is not meant to promote the film. Rather, it is using the varied reactions to the Hollywood production to demonstrate how some Christians focus solely on the truth that Jesus was fully Divine. Others appreciate that The Lord was also fully human, and as such, wrestled with the same temptations that all humankind face. In fact, it’s extremely important to image Jesus in both natures. When we fixate on either His Divinity or His humanity, at the expense of the other, we miss the fullness of His mission.

Think of it this way: Throughout his teachings and writings, St. Francis de Sales often stresses that when we are human, it is then we are more in touch with that within us that is Divine. In those instances where Jesus faced off against evil, and overpowered every kind of temptation, He gives us an example of what it means to be FULLY HUMAN; that is, the way we were before the first parents were misled by the serpent.

Lent is a time for us to strive for that experience…the experience of being FULLY HUMAN…human as Jesus was…human to the point that we can resist those things that tempt us…to be less than we were created to be…FULLY HUMAN.

And so…draw a circle in the sand and stand in the center of it for 40 days. Drive out the serpents that approach with alluring invitations. Tame the lions that are hungry to devour your good intentions. Extinguish the flames of passion. Walk only in the Light of Christ. Our time in the desert has begun. Use this Lent to experience what it means to be FULLY HUMAN…so that, someday, you will know what it is to be FULLY DIVINE.

Visit to the Mountaintop
Second Sunday of Lent
March 1, 2015
MK 9:2-10

The first full week of Lent separates the proclamation of Mark 1:12-15 (The Temptation in the desert) and Mark 9:2-10 (The Transfiguration on the mountaintop), but almost the entire ministry of Jesus occurred in between these two significant events in the life of the Lord. So, it’s interesting that the Church should choose this sequence of Readings to begin the Lenten Season. It gives a sense of geography and journey to the Lenten experience, but there is something far deeper here.

For one thing, the contrast between desert and mountaintop reminds us of the “ups and downs” of our Lenten journey…or even our lives. (Have you been perfectly faithful to the commitment you made before Ash Wednesday?) Sometimes it’s easy to “be good” and other times, it is so very, very hard. There are times during Lent…or during life… when we enjoy a mountaintop view of the Kingdom of God. At those times when we are graced to rise above the world…it’s as if we can see forever…right into The Promised Land…and we want to be worthy to be part of it all. But then there are other times, for any number of reasons, when we are bone dry, with a hot desert wind almost sucking the spiritual life right out of us.

Another obvious contrast is the image of Jesus which these successive Readings offer us: In the desert, subjected to temptation, we are invited to ponder Jesus’s human nature. Transfigured before the three He chose to labor with Him to the top of a mountain, Jesus gives the briefest glimpse of His Divinity. His earthly Body “transfigured” helped to prepare them, as well as us, to better understand what it means when Christ reappears Easter Sunday morning…RESURRECTED.

Possibly, in her wisdom, the Church pairs these two episodes in the Life of Christ at the outset of Lent as a guidebook for us to follow on our journey. There is a cautionary lesson in the Temptation of Jesus in the desert. Very simply, we are reminded that to be human means to be vulnerable to urges and inclinations that make us less than what God created us to be. But, to be FULLY HUMAN…as only Jesus was, means we have the power to override these impulses. And when we do, we are very likely to enjoy the same invitation that Peter, James, and John were honored with: “Come with me to the top of the mountain.”

In other words, the path to the mountain top begins in the desert. But for those who manage to struggle through the rigors of “basic training,” an unimaginable view awaits at the end of the trail. At the top of the mountain, our deepest longings are satisfied. On the mountaintop, we are free from temptations, as well as from the confines of time and space. On the mountaintop…we breathe in the purest of air…the Holy Spirit…and are offered the briefest glimpse of what awaits us when, once and for all, we set aside our earthly bodies. At the top of the mountain, we commune with all of those holy women and men who have gone before us and through their company and companionship, in a way, we are changed…purified…transfigured.

Unfortunately, we can’t stay up there. The air is too rare for our fragile earthly bodies to tolerate for long. We have to come back down into this world, where, once again, we find ourselves vulnerable to temptation. But, because of our brief visit to the mountaintop, we are better able to say… One does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God, recalling that the Eternal Word of God took flesh to dwell among us. When we do our best to live by Christ here and now…someday, we will dwell on God’s Holy Mountain for all eternity.

A Fitting Dwelling Place for the Lord
Third Sunday of Lent
March 8, 2015
JN 4:5-42

Around the time that the life of Jesus Christ was being recorded in the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke, the Romans marched into the holy city of Jerusalem in full force. Once there, they poured oil over the walls of the great Temple. The massive and ornate granite stones were filled with moisture from the winter. The Romans lit the oil that covered the surface of the stones, and as it burned, the water inside the stones rose to the boiling point. The perfectly placed stones literally imploded, bringing this wonder of the ancient world to ruin. The people had demanded a sign and there it was before their very eyes. The Temple was destroyed.

The irony is that was not the sign that Jesus presented to their doubting minds. Anticipating that His earthly Body would be destroyed as a result of fear, ignorance, doubt, pride, and greed…He promised Resurrection. And He made good on the promise.

God’s House, that Jesus so loved, was destroyed. But His Body was raised. While the Temple was never rebuilt with stones, construction was already well underway on an even more fitting dwelling place for the Holy Spirit of God. The materials were not stone and mortar…but something completely indestructible…the Word of the Lord. The Holy Spirit dwells within the Gospel…the Living Word of God…and no earthly force has the power to destroy it. On the other hand, just as the Jerusalem temple was disrespected, all too often, so is the Gospel.

Think of it this way. Before we hear the Gospel proclaimed during Mass, we sign our foreheads, our lips, and our hearts…and we pray…May the Lord be on my mind, on my lips, and in my heart! When we open our minds fully and our hearts completely…when we pray and speak and share the Good News, it’s as if we become living temples of the Holy Spirit. We become “houses of prayer.” And even as zeal for God’s House consumed Jesus, The Lord is eager to dwell in our hearts.

Lent is our special time to purify ourselves in order to be a fitting dwelling place for the Lord. This is a time for us to take stock of all of those things that clutter our minds and our hearts, so that it is not fitting for the Lord to “come under our roof.” During this penitential season, we should think back with regret to those things we should not have said…and look ahead for opportunities to say the things that we need to say. This is the time for us to recognize who and what we are…so that our lives are not a “market place” for what is profane. This is the time for us to take full advantage of the Sacraments, and in that way, undergo a purification that is fitting for a Resurrection people.

Each day of Lent is like a perfect stone for us to pick up and put into its proper place so that by Easter Sunday, we have rebuilt the Temple, where the Lord will certainly dwell.

“The Theory of Everything” except Love
Fourth Sunday of Lent
March 15, 2015
JN 9:1-41

British physicist Stephen Hawking is enjoying a new wave of celebrity, and it’s not limited to the scientific and academic world as in the past. The motion picture “The Theory of Everything,” based on the autobiographical work by Hawking’s first wife, Jane Wilde, entitled “Traveling to Infinity,” has moviegoers around the world intimately familiar with the story of the couple’s very complicated relationship. Married while university students, in interviews, Hawking acknowledged that having first been diagnosed with ALS, ”Falling in love (with Jane) gave me something to live for…Jane was beautiful and gentle, and seemingly undaunted by the harsh reality of my illness.” He has admitted that the relationship motivated him to move forward with his life, his studies, and ultimately, ground-breaking discoveries.

After 30 years of marriage, the couple divorced. Jane Wilde describes the challenge of caring for three children, as well as a husband struggling with a devastating illness, which, together with the negative effects of Hawking’s rise to international fame, pressured the relationship to the breaking point. But she also says that a major reason for the divorce was Hawking’s committed atheism. In his search for a single universal equation for all existence, Hawking professes to have ”controversially shown the laws of nature suggest there is no need for a creator or God. The universe just came into existence all by itself.”

While his love for her gave him the will to continue to live and work and accomplish great things in spite of the devastating impact of ALS, it was Jane’s Catholic faith which sustained her throughout a very stress-filled married life. With great success, there apparently came the desire within Hawking to challenge the existence of God, in whom his wife found comfort, strength, and solace. This relentless ambition to eliminate God from the “equation for all existence” intensified with his success and was intolerable to his wife.

The popularity of the movie is worrisome in the sense that many people, impressed by his almost unparalleled scientific accomplishments, might be unduly influenced by his thinking, and may wrongly presume that he offers a convincing argument for atheism. Those so inclined might well benefit by attempting to answer two questions, the first being the source of Stephen’s life-giving love for Jane. Secondly, where did his burning desire to eliminate God from his personal “theory of everything” come from? Actually, the answer to both of those questions might well be inspired by…of all things…the movie!

Hawking acknowledged that the film was “broadly true.” With respect to the young actor who portrayed him, the renowned physicist is quoted as saying: “I thought Eddie Redmayne portrayed me very well…at times I thought he was me,” the great irony being what Hawking recognized in the actor’s performance was not himself…at least not his true self…not the Stephen Hawking that God created him to be. What is revealed by the movie, as well as by Hawking’s writings and statements, is a person in costume…a face behind a mask. What Hawking recognized was, in truth, his “false self.” We all have one….a false self. We come by it naturally because of the original sin. It is our false self that leads us to make decisions and choices that conceal who and what we are at our core: creatures created in the image and likeness of our Creator…Who called us into being out of love.

In his efforts to discover a “theory of everything”, and misled by his false self, Stephen Hawking appears to offer an explanation for the origin of everything EXCEPT love. If he actually believes that human feelings, emotions, and even the human intellect are mere accidents…somehow a by-product of the Big Bang,” his “travel to infinity” will carry him to a dead end…a place of total darkness, confusion, and despair. How could he fail to include love in his “theory of everything”? Simple. He listened to the serpent. He let his false self-overpower the person God created him to be. It is Professor Hawking who deserves an Academy Award for his flawless portrayal of Adam…the first creature to deny the supremacy of God’s creative love.

But there are lots of others competing in this category because there are lots of people who bring Adam to life by allowing their “false self” to control and misguide their thinking. And that is the exact message of our Readings for this 4th week in the Lenten Season.

Consider this: Any journey to infinity should begin at the beginning. John’s Gospel offers the starting point: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race.

It is impossible for us fragile, finite, limited human beings, no matter how brilliant we might be, to “travel to infinity.” So, through Christ, the Infinite has traveled to us. And, in arriving in time, the Timeless has brought the light of truth, love, and peace to a world that would otherwise be covered in darkness. Tragically, as we hear in both the First Reading as well as the Gospel, Adam still lives within each of us and struggles to show his face…our false self…setting a course towards darkness and away from the Light of Christ, the only true path to infinity.

So how can we drive out the serpent? How can we push Adam back into the darkness? How can we resist the urge that causes us to masquerade as something much less than we were created to be? How can we stop acting and start living authentically? Prayer offers the right answer and casts the brilliant Light of Christ onto the path that carries us to The Source of infinite peace and joy and love. A good prayer for us as we continue our Lenten journey comes to us from St. Thomas Aquinas, a person who was equally as brilliant as Professor Hawking, but whose travels to infinity took an entirely different course. Let us join St. Thomas Aquinas in praying:


LIFE In Its Fullest
Fifth Sunday of Lent
March 22, 2015
JN 11:1-45

One cold, dark January evening a number of years ago, I was visiting a friend in the hospital. She was nearing the end of a long battle with cancer. When I entered the room, I found her alone, sitting in a chair, wrapped in blankets and just staring out the window into the winter night. She was heavily medicated because of some pretty intense pain. It was a struggle for me to think of something…anything…to say to her.

Finally, with a sense of relief, I noticed sitting off to the side, out of the way of the medical equipment that filled the small room, a festive Christmas cactus in full bloom. It was the only non-essential thing in the sterile ICU room on which to focus, and in stark contrast to its surroundings. Relieved that there was something light-hearted to talk about, I remarked on how beautiful the plant was. Weak as she was, she was able to respond that her kids had brought it to her that evening. Still shocked by her condition and struggling to maintain a somewhat normal conversation, I told her that I had actually tossed a Christmas cactus into the wastebasket that very day. It was given to me at the beginning of the Christmas Season, but it was all brown and withered. (I was sensitive enough not to use the word “died.”)

Actually, this piqued her interest. Somewhat energized by the opportunity to be of use, she told me that I had probably over watered the plant. She encouraged me to take it out of the wastebasket when I got home, advising that I put it in a dark closet. It was her recommendation that I then forget about it until spring.

With that “chit chat” as an ice breaker, we moved into a brief prayer. By the time we were finished praying, she was exhausted. I called for a nurse to help my friend back into bed, and I left for home. Before retiring that night, I did what she suggested. I fished the plant out of the trash and took it upstairs with me and placed it on the shelf of a closet in a seldom used guestroom of the rectory…and I literally forgot all about it.

A few months later, on Good Friday morning, my friend died. It was agreed that her Mass of Christian Burial would be celebrated on Easter Monday morning. Anxious to pay fitting tribute to my faith-filled and heroic friend, and at the same time comfort and encourage her husband and their children, I struggled with both the fatigue from Holy Week, as well as the contrast between Easter Joy and the tragic death of a young wife and mother. I woke early Easter Monday morning, still without a fitting funeral homily.

All of a sudden, I thought about that cold, dark January evening, and I literally jumped up from my desk chair and ran to the room where the poor little plant, rescued from the trash, had been waiting in total darkness. When I opened the closest…just like my friend had predicted…the plant was alive…recovered…revived…resuscitated! It certainly would not have been the first choice in a florist shop, but there was no disputing the life that had returned to its branches. There were even little buds at the tips of the leaves, promising new flowers. My friend had not only saved a plant with her sage advice, she had also arranged her own funeral homily.

I took the little Christmas cactus to the church with me, and, after we blessed her earthly body with the Spirit-filled waters of the Baptismal Font and dressed the casket with the white pall (a reminder that, in Baptism, we put on Christ.), I placed the now living plant on top of the casket with the promise of offering an explanation as to why it was a fitting Christian symbol at the time of the homily.

Of course, I began the homily by telling the mourners the story which I shared at the beginning of this reflection. But then, as now, I stressed that there was no miracle…merely a good gardening tip. Still, it’s clear, or at least it should be, that The Holy Spirit was at work. Timing such as it was, I have no doubt that the Spirit inspired me to use that little plant, much like Jesus used Lazarus…so that doubters might come to believe.

Jesus quite intentionally arranged the timing of His arrival in Bethany, so that all hope for His friend would be lost. Even Martha, after professing her faith in the most powerful of ways: Yes, Lord, I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the One Who is coming into the world…reacted to the suggestion that the grave be opened with hopelessness…Lord, by now there will be a stench…he had been dead for four days!

But then Jesus called a command to live into the darkness of the tomb. Jesus interrupted Lazarus’s dying by resuscitating, reviving, calling the fullness of life back into Lazarus’s earthly body. This WAS truly a miraculous event. Nevertheless, it was only a glimpse of what was to come on Easter morning…and what awaits those who, like Martha, have come to believe that (Jesus is) the Christ, the Son of God, the One Who is coming into the world.

Think of it this way: Just as the Holy Spirit inspired me to run to a closed closet to find not only a revived plant…but also words that hopefully brought comfort, peace, and hope. The same Spirit inspired the events at Bethany so that people might come to see and believe that Jesus has the words…of everlasting life!

Like the little plant, with time, Lazarus died again…fully….not to be revived or resuscitated…but, through Christ…resurrected! Never to die again. The story of the raising of Lazarus is perfectly placed towards the conclusion of the Lenten season, because it reminds us that, as children of a good and loving God, we can open the dark closets and closed tombs with confidence that what is on the other side is a glorious surprise…LIFE in its fullest!

“The Way”
Palm Sunday
March 29, 2015
MK 14:1—15:47

When people travel to the Holy Land as Christian pilgrims and not merely tourists, it is often said that they are able to “read the Gospels with their feet.” In other words, by walking in the footsteps of the Lord, it’s as if the stones on which they trod “speak to them.” This experience is especially powerful when making the short walk from the little village of Bethany down into the Kidron Valley and up through the gate of the ancient wall that surrounds Jerusalem. The geography is such that modern day disciples can be certain that they are following “The Way of The Lord!” Jesus made that very same short walk, quite likely, numerous times.

While spiritual experiences are unique to each individual, any Christian pilgrim who has been privileged to participate in the Palm Sunday procession from Bethany into the Holy City will undoubtedly rank it among the most profound and moving moments…not just of their trip…but of their lives. Commemorating Jesus’s triumphant entry at the beginning of His final week in an earthly body, the event is both international as well as ecumenical. People from many different nations, representing many different Christian Churches, walk in what is more parade than procession, best described as controlled chaos.

The control comes from “The Way.” The road is narrow and winding, oftentimes enclosed with high stone walls or abutting a dangerous drop-off. People need to be mindful of their step, difficult as that might be, due to the chaos. The chaos comes from the wave after wave of hymns, sung in many different languages…the blaring of marching bands…somehow out of place while, at the same time, totally appropriate to the occasion. This religious procession is chaotic because of the shouts and cries of children…the relentless press of people, walking shoulder to shoulder and moving forward at a quick pace. The sense of chaos is enhanced by the feverish and endless waving of palm branches. Everyone has palm branches!

A modern day pilgrim is able to walk “The Way” on Palm Sunday in high spirits, because we know that Easter Glory is only seven days away. In the midst of the controlled chaos, it’s easy to overlook that the parade route passes by the Garden of Olives where Jesus endured an intense spiritual, emotional, and even physical agony that was the prelude to His Passion and death. The high spirit of the parade also causes us to overlook Jesus’s own reaction to the controlled chaos as He made his triumphant entry into Jerusalem.

Is it possible that the exuberant reception which we remember today was controlled chaos for the Lord? Knowing what was to begin there in a matter of a few days, is it possible that as He passed by the Garden of Olives, The Lord’s human nature was once again tempted…this time to flee? Was that day something to be endured rather than enjoyed… the natural tendency to self-protect, held in check and controlled by His Divine nature which gave Him the courage and the strength to move forward into the week we now call “Holy”?

While it’s true that our spiritual experiences are unique to each individual, it’s also true that as a pilgrim people, we do have this much in common: “The Way!” When we walk the Gospel, we follow in the footsteps of the Lord. But, that does not mean that the journey is an easy one. It certainly wasn’t for Jesus. It is fraught with danger, conflict, and chaos. However, when we journey together, the temptations and fears…the conflict and confusion…the doubt and the despair can be controlled, because the Lord is with us.

Once again, Lent is over, and very soon, we will make our triumphant entry into the Easter Season. But, the season is short-lived, and in no time, we will find ourselves back in Ordinary Time of the Liturgical Year…and the ordinary chaos of our daily lives. It will help us to control the chaos if we remember what we learned by walking in Jesus’s footsteps…from the desert to the mountaintop and then on to the Temple that was in need of cleansing. With the Christ Light guiding our steps, like Jesus, we can stay the course. When we are tempted or threatened, we need to look back and re-experience the thrill of standing outside an empty tomb from which a dead man was raised. Better yet, when the chaos of this world threatens our ability to control our lives…we can turn with hope towards another empty tomb…from which burst forth the Glory of The Resurrected Christ…Who is complete control.

Easter Sunday
April 5, 2015
JN 20:1-9

Taking the liberty of changing the currency, there is an old Jewish saying that goes something like this: When talking about the infinite mystery of God…Three words are worth one dollar…two words are worth three dollars…and one word is worth five dollars.

Taking liberty with this ancient wisdom and using it to describe the infinite mystery of Christ’s Resurrection, what can we say except: ALLELUIA!


How Can This Be?
Second Sunday of Easter
April 12, 2015
JN 20:19-31

Palm Sunday evening, there were a number of programs about Jesus on television. I happened to be watching one that I found particularly inspiring. So, I sent a text message to a friend who I thought would appreciate the program as well. I kept it short, so as not to miss anything. “CHANNEL 72 GREAT JESUS PROGRAM.” In no time, I got back an equally brief reply. My friend obviously didn’t want to be distracted, either: “WATCHING LONG ISLAND MEDIUM!” As I read that message, I instantly thought: Why? Why would you watch “Long Island Medium” when you could be enjoying a really good program about The Lord? The answer just might be in this Sunday’s Gospel: John 20:19-31. Thomas’s reaction to the Easter news took me back to that text exchange…and it occurred to me…“that’s why!” Like Thomas, we need solid, concrete proof of things that are so far beyond our human experience, even our imaginations won’t allow us to believe…to be certain…to be convinced…to commit…until we see it for ourselves.

Remember that our story begins with a young girl responding to the invitation of a heavenly messenger with the words: How can this be? (Luke 1:34) We don’t call this very valid and reasonable question “doubt.” It is simply too far beyond either lived experience or even human imagination that a woman can “spontaneously” become pregnant, not to ask: How can this be? Still, Mary’s faith enabled her to lay aside her astonishment and declare: Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord! And from the instant the angel departed, the proof…the validation of her trusting faith…began to literally grow within her.

As we move forward into the Easter Season, it’s good to remember that our own personal stories begin in Baptism. When we come to the font of our parish church, in reality, we are stepping out of the “here and now” and into the waters of the Jordan River, where we share in Jesus’s Baptism. How can this be? That’s a reasonable question since timelessness in not part of our lived experience, far beyond our ability to imagine. And so we ask: How can this be? The answer comes to us on the echo of an angel’s voice: The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. By the power of the Holy Spirit, through Baptism, we are reborn in Christ, and from the instant that the water trickles over our heads, the eternal begins to grow within us.

There are times when, like Thomas, we doubt. So it is also good to remember that even as we are called to share in His Divine life and eternal glory, we are also invited to share in His earthly mission and ministry. Through the power of the Most High, with which we are infused when the living waters wash over us, we are empowered to forgive, exorcise demons, feed the hungry, and calm the storms that rage around us. Through Baptism, we are called to help make timelessness…the Kingdom of God…a lived reality. While we wait for the resurrected life growing within us to be born into the Glory of the Heavenly Jerusalem, whereupon our trusting faith will be validated and rewarded, there will be times when we question, or even doubt. When that happens…DO THE WORK! Jesus was all about “the work!” And when we share in the work, it’s easier for us to imagine just exactly what it means to be raised from the dead. DO THE WORK AND IMAGINE RESURRECTED GLORY!

The Gift of Peace
Third Sunday of Easter
April 19, 2015
LK 24:35-48

We live in an age of “instant replays.” Everything is fair game for recording, including tragic events. For example, “body cams” and “dash cams” of law enforcement have proven of great interest and use to the press. On a good “bad news day,” the cell phone video of witnesses to a tragedy also surface and the cumulative result of all of this footage offers “proof positive” as to how the most recent tragedy unfolded. But does it really?

The families, friends, support network, spokespersons, and attorneys of the people touched by the event very often interpret what they see recorded in entirely different ways. Investigating authorities, and eventually jurors, focus frame by frame on what should be indisputable. Nevertheless, there will be discussion, debate, and flat out disagreement over just exactly what happened and why. We bring our own opinions, beliefs, values, emotions, feelings, and prejudices to what we see. Seeing might be believing…but believing doesn’t always mean what we think we see…and what we believe leads us to the absolute truth!

This is so with the Apostles and disciples fresh from giving witness to the horrifically violent events of Good Friday. They may not have understood “why”…but those who were eye witnesses needed no further proof that Jesus was dead. They saw water pour from His side. The Body of Christ had been entirely emptied of The Precious Blood. And, for those who were not actual witnesses, video evidence was unnecessary. The looks of terror and despair on the faces of His followers who were there was convincing enough.

But then Easter morning dawned. People were seeing things that were not so easy to believe. Their minds argued and debated with their own vision. Mary Magdalene thought He was a gardener. Walking dejectedly back to Emmaus, the two mistook their traveling companion for a stranger. In this Sunday’s Gospel, those involved believed that they were seeing a ghost!

Knowing that our minds and our eyes “play tricks on us” in different ways, the Risen Christ offered proof of His Resurrection. In Mary’s case, it was His voice speaking her name…”Mary!” In Emmaus, it was the breaking of the bread; with Thomas, it was His wounds. And in this Sunday’s Gospel, the proof that Jesus lives was in the great gift of His Peace. And so, they began to believe to be true what they saw with their own eyes…but nevertheless doubted or misunderstood. The experience of the Risen Christ was so powerful and convincing that most of them suffered a martyr’s death for what they had come to believe. There are no videos of this.

Still, modern technology is capturing clear and convincing evidence that followers of Jesus Christ continue to believe, even to the point of suffering a violent death. In different parts of the world, Christians are being separated from non-Christians as video cameras capture their brutal murders. How can it be that after over 2000 years, Christian disciples continue to believe that Christ is Risen…even without seeing a video? The proof is in the Eucharist.

From the Table of the Word, we hear His voice speaking to us…healing, forgiving, and calming our storms. From the Communion Table, we see Him in the breaking of the bread. As we gather for Eucharist and look around at the Body of Christ, we have the same opportunity to do what Thomas did…touch “the wounds”…by reaching out to those less fortunate, who come to join their sufferings to the Lord’s. And, when we gather together as Jesus commanded, we experience and share His Peace! If you need proof that Christ is Risen, a video simply won’t do it for you. But, in order to believe, you need only come to the banquet of life…not an instant replay….but the experience of actually sharing in the Lord’s Supper!

Followers of The Way
Fourth Sunday of Easter
April 26, 2015
JN 10:11-18

We routinely relinquish our freedom of movement, often without a second thought. When the maitre’d in a restaurant says: “Please follow me,” WE FOLLOW! When an usher in a theatre or a baseball game unceremoniously takes the ticket out of our hands, and after a quick glance down, turns and wordlessly leads us towards our seats, WE FOLLOW! When a parking lot attendant or traffic cop signals directions, even when those directions might carry us out of our way…still… WE FOLLOW! We even give up our freedom to “things” like orange barrels and traffic cones. True, there are times when we might question, resist, complain, or even turn around to avoid following directions; for the most part, we simply give up our free will and WE FOLLOW! Why? Because we recognize that someone is acting under the “color of authority” (orange, yellow, red…sometimes blue or brown) for the purpose of protecting us, preserving order, and keeping us safe. And we fear the consequences of disobedience. In countless ways, each and every day, we give up our free will, and, without hesitation or question, allowing ourselves to be “shepherded.” But when Jesus, THE GOOD SHEPHERD, shows us THE WAY…very often…WE RESIST!

How ironic that we would give up our free will to an orange barrel, fearing the consequences of disregarding an unfeeling, uncaring plastic object, but so often insist on going our own way…doing our own thing…when it comes to The Lord! It certainly isn’t a matter of not understanding by “whose authority” Jesus guides us. The Father sent the Son to show us THE WAY! If we took the time to consider the risks we take from straying from THE WAY, we would probably be far less inclined to stray. Crazy as it might seem, we tend to be more concerned about a traffic ticket than eternal damnation! And that is exactly why it is so important to take particular note of the fact that Jesus calls Himself The GOOD Shepherd.

Unlike the numerous other ways in which we are “shepherded” each and every day…The Lord’s style of guiding and leading and protecting does not prevent us from using our free will. We chart our own course. And rather than preventing us from deviating from THE WAY, The Good Shepherd patiently and lovingly travels with us as we move in the direction of our own choosing. Should our chosen course create a distance between us and where He yearns for us to be, He will not give away our table or sell our seat to someone else. Our special place at the heavenly banquet has been reserved for us from the beginning of time, and no one but us will fill it. But there are consequences for not following THE WAY that He teaches. By wandering off on our own, our journey becomes even more challenging and dangerous. We find that we travel in darkness, constantly encountering obstacles that impede our progress. When we detour from THE WAY OF THE LORD, our pilgrim journey is not filled with the Peace that The Risen Christ brings to us.

The Good News that comes to us this week is a reminder that it is the will of The Father that no one should be lost…even if the cost of our recovery is the Son’s death. Jesus willingly accepted death on The Cross so that we might all find The Way to eternal life. Through the power of The Holy Spirit, The Risen Christ can do for us what He could not do for many as He walked the earth. Like a gentle breeze guiding a boat into safe waters, the Spirit makes a course adjustment in our lives. The Holy Spirit is an irresistible force that draws us towards the Source of all life and love; a new song so beautiful that we aren’t even tempted to change the station. Somehow, without giving up our freedom of movement, The Spirit of the Lord draws our attention to THE WAY back to the flock…because that is the will of The Father!

As we continue to make our WAY through the Easter season, the image of Jesus as a Good Shepherd offers insights into His earthly mission while preparing us for the coming of The Holy Spirit. We are truly God’s children, the flock of The Lord…and we know THE WAY!

Grow in Grace
Fifth Sunday of Easter
May 3, 2015
JN 15:1-8

Last Wednesday was “Earth Day.” The purpose of setting aside a special day to celebrate our planet…our home…is clearly to make us more appreciative of this great gift from God. With that appreciation and understanding, it is the hope that we will take better care of Earth.

I watched a special “Earth Day” program on television and I learned some very interesting things. I never realized that almost 100% of the nuts and 90% of many of the fruits and vegetables that we consume in this country are grown in California. Many of these agricultural products are referred to as “thirsty crops.” For example, it takes 1/3 of a gallon of water to bring one little grape to our lips. I also learned some alarming things. I learned about how the severity of the drought in California is threatening our food supply. Scary stuff.

I thought about all that I learned on Earth Day as I sat down with the Readings for this Fifth Sunday of the Easter Season. What hope there is to know that, through Baptism, we are “grafted” into the vine whose roots reach all the way into the Eternal Kingdom. I thought about what a “thirsty crop” we are, and how a constant flow of God’s saving grace flows through the vines into us. We are free to drink in as much of God’s saving grace as we wish, without fear that the flow will ever be interrupted. I thought about how the Light of the Risen Christ warms us and helps us to grow, and how the Holy Spirit provides the spiritual climate we need to be the best we can possibly be. I thought about how delighted our Creator is on that day in which The Divine Hand reaches into this world and picks us from the vine. And I thought about how important it is to stay connected to the Community…our Church…the vineyard which produces such an abundant crop of the most beautiful fruit.

“Earth Day” gave me a deeper appreciation for, and understanding of, our planet. John 15:2-8 gave me a deeper appreciation for, and understanding of, our Church. Thank You, God, for our Earth…and thank You, God, for our Church and our Sacraments, for there is where our thirst is truly quenched.

Experience the Peace of Jesus
Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 10, 2015
JN 15:9-17

We live in an age of “instant replays.” Everything is fair game for recording, including tragic events. For example, “body cams“ and “dash cams” of law enforcement have proven of great interest and use to the press. On a good “bad news day,” the cell phone video of witnesses to a tragedy also surface and the cumulative result of all of this footage offers “proof positive” as to how the most recent tragedy unfolded. But does it really?

The families, friends, support network, spokespersons, and attorneys of the people touched by the event very often interpret what they see recorded in entirely different ways. Investigating authorities, and eventually jurors, focus frame by frame on what should be indisputable. Nevertheless, there will be discussion, debate, and flat out disagreement over just exactly what happened and why. We bring our own opinions, beliefs, values, emotions, feelings, and prejudices to what we see. Seeing might be believing…but believing doesn’t always mean what we think we see…and what we believe leads us to the absolute truth!

This is so with the Apostles and disciples fresh from giving witness to the horrifically violent events of Good Friday. They may not have understood “why”…but those who were eye witnesses needed no further proof that Jesus was dead. They saw water pour from His side. The Body of Christ had been entirely emptied of The Precious Blood. And, for those who were not actual witnesses, video evidence was unnecessary. The looks of terror and despair on the faces of His followers who were there was convincing enough.

But then Easter morning dawned. People were seeing things that were not so easy to believe. Their minds argued and debated with their own vision. Mary Magdalene thought He was a gardener. Walking dejectedly back to Emmaus, the two mistook their traveling companion for a stranger. In this Sunday’s Gospel, those involved believed that they were seeing a ghost!

Knowing that our minds and our eyes “play tricks on us” in different ways, the Risen Christ offered proof of His Resurrection. In Mary’s case, it was His voice speaking her name…”Mary!” In Emmaus, it was the breaking of the bread; with Thomas, it was His wounds. And in this Sunday’s Gospel, the proof that Jesus lives was in the great gift of His Peace. And so, they began to believe to be true what they saw with their own eyes…but nevertheless doubted or misunderstood. The experience of the Risen Christ was so powerful and convincing that most of them suffered a martyr’s death for what they had come to believe. There are no videos of this.

Still, modern technology is capturing clear and convincing evidence that followers of Jesus Christ continue to believe, even to the point of suffering a violent death. In different parts of the world, Christians are being separated from non-Christians as video cameras capture their brutal murders. How can it be that after over 2000 years, Christian disciples continue to believe that Christ is Risen…even without seeing a video? The proof is in the Eucharist.

From the Table of the Word, we hear His voice speaking to us…healing, forgiving, and calming our storms. From the Communion Table, we see Him in the breaking of the bread. As we gather for Eucharist and look around at the Body of Christ, we have the same opportunity to do what Thomas did…touch “the wounds”…by reaching out to those less fortunate, who come to join their sufferings to the Lord’s. And, when we gather together as Jesus commanded, we experience and share His Peace! If you need proof that Christ is Risen, a video simply won’t do it for you. But, in order to believe, you need only come to the banquet of life…not an instant replay….but the experience of actually sharing in the Lord’s Supper!

I support “re-cycling” in all areas except homilies and reflections. Due to technical difficulties, last week’s Reflection was a “repeat.” On the other hand, the message that is repeated in the Readings throughout the Easter Season is the need to live in love. So, maybe it was the Holy Spirit Who caused the technical difficulty…just to reinforce the call to LOVE!
Fr. Kelly


The Perfect GPS…The Holy Spirit
Ascension of the Lord
May 17, 2015
MK 16:15-20

No matter how smart my “smart phone” might be, while directing me to a place where I’ve never been before, it seems like it takes forever to get there. In addition, the greater the distance to be traveled, the higher the anxiety level, especially if I’m expected at a specific time. Moreover, there are those occasions when Siri and I do not seem to be communicating. Her instructions and the compass on my dashboard are clearly in conflict. But, the trip home…even though it’s the same distance…always seems to go much, much faster.

As we bring this Easter Season to a close, with the celebration of the Feast of the Ascension, spend some time reflecting on the 30-something-year journey that Jesus made from Bethlehem to Calvary; the journey mapped out for Him in the Old Testament. He did have a map to follow. The Prophets gave a detailed description of the route His life would take. Likewise, The Lord was guided by the perfect GPS…The Holy Spirit. Still, once He came to understand and accept that His final destination in this world would be the top of a hill outside the walls of Jerusalem on a specific day…Good Friday…it’s quite possible His trip took on the air of anxiety, doubt, and questions…like any “first-time trip.”

Certainly, during the 40-day rest stop in the desert, Jesus questioned the direction in which His life was moving. The scenery along the way must have seemed as unending as the red clay fields of Georgia on a road trip to Florida, or the hills of Pennsylvania rolling past the window on either side of the expressway heading east. Jesus’s unending scenery was the poor, the outcast, the dejected, the blind and lame and deaf…and, of course, sinners. It never ended. They just kept coming in a steady stream, calling out for help. There was a major detour just before arriving at Calvary. The evening in the Garden of Olives was both temptation and opportunity for Jesus to change directions. But He continued to follow the route mapped out for Him for all eternity. No matter how tempted or frustrated or confused, Jesus never once deviated from the path of LOVE! The Ascension of the Lord is all about Jesus’s glorious and very brief trip home. He simply slipped out of time and returned to eternity. But His triumphant return to heaven was made possible only because of His “first-time trip” through life in this world…Bethlehem to Calvary…on the highway of LOVE.

Throughout the Easter Season, our Readings have stressed the need for us to stay the course. Jesus shows us “The Way,” which is LOVE! Life is a first-time, actually only-time journey for each of us. For some, there will be detours, false starts, mishaps, and delays. Many will find the trip especially tiresome or unnerving. The Good News is that we have The Good News as a ready reference to help us get back on the path when, through human weakness, we deviate. And then, of course, there is the Holy Spirit, constantly speaking to our hearts…suggesting the best and easiest route to our final destination; the Holy Spirit, always eager to “recalculate” so that we can find our way back to LOVE…and someday, when our trip through this life is complete, enjoy a return home as gentle and glorious as Jesus’s. TRAVEL SAFE THIS WEEK!

The Gifts We Need to Use
Pentecost Sunday
May 24, 2015
JN 15:26-27; 16:12-15

Last Sunday, May 17, when the Church celebrated the Ascension of our Lord, if my father were still alive, my parents would have celebrated their 68th wedding anniversary. And for all of those years, my mother has kept a set of towels, wrapped very carefully and deliberately, stored away in a special spot in her “linen closet.” The towels were a wedding gift given all those many years ago and never once used.

After I was old enough to realize that there must be something very special about the towels wrapped up so carefully in tissue paper, I asked Mom why we never used them. Her answer was thoughtful. She explained that, at first, she could not bring herself to put them into routine household use because they were so beautiful and she was “saving them for a special occasion.” Then, as years passed and a special occasion presented itself, she would consider bringing them out, but then, she began to think about the relative they received the gift from and decide to “reserve them” a little longer. Her aunt was special to her and the towels took on special meaning because of the special relationship. More years passed, and she would open the linen closet and see them and would be reminded of her wedding day. Eventually, her special aunt died…not knowing that her gift had never been used…and from that point, the towels became a memorial of sorts. I wonder what will happen to those towels when Mom joins Dad in the Eternal Kingdom?

When Jesus returned to the Eternal Kingdom, He kept His promise and sent us the Holy Spirit. The Spirit came to deliver seven very special gifts. It was always intended that the Gifts be put into immediate use. On Pentecost Sunday, the Apostles and disciples, who had locked themselves in the safety of the Upper Room, (like the towels in Mom’s linen closet) managed to make their way to the Temple to celebrate the Feast. Much to their surprise, they were showered with the seven Gifts…and put those gifts into immediate use by going out into the world and sharing them freely.

The gift of WISDOM enlightened them so that they could better appreciate the reasons why Jesus suffered, died, rose, and then returned to Heaven.

The gift of UNDERSTANDING dispelled all reservations and doubts, making it clear to them that their role in Salvation History was to continue Jesus’s mission and ministry in the world.

The gift of RIGHT JUDGMENT proved extremely useful in making choices and decisions that provided complications and challenges due to the noise, distractions, and confusion of this world.

The gift of COURAGE gave them the wherewithal to leave the Upper Room once and for all and go out into the world to share the Good News…even to the point of suffering a martyr’s death.

The gift of KNOWLEDGE brought with it a vision of how things could be in this world if everyone received and accepted the Gifts of the Spirit…and, of course, how things will be when Christ returns in all of His glory.

The gift REVERENCE enabled them to walk humbly before our God.

The gift WONDER AND AWE offered them a glimpse of what awaits all who accept and use the Gifts that The Holy Spirit bestows on us.

What happened to these seven gifts when the Apostles and disciples went to Heaven? They were passed down to you. What will you do with them?

Trinity Sunday
May 31, 2015
MT 28:16-20

I arrived late for the 90th birthday celebration of the matriarch of a large family in my parish. Even before I walked into the hall, the sound of the music told me that the party was already in full swing. No one noticed my entrance because everyone was focused on “Gramma.” There she was in a beautiful dress with a big corsage pinned to her shoulder, in the middle of the dance floor, surrounded by the third and fourth generations of her family…”getting down!” Her gray hair, wrinkles and frail body gave witness to her age, but the spirit with which she was doing her best to copy the kids’ dance moves…the smile on her face…and the joy and love that radiated from her…were timeless. Like the rest of her family, who, like me, did not have the stamina to join her on the dance floor, I just stood and watched and enjoyed.

At some point, she looked over and saw me on the fringe of the crowd. She put her hand over her mouth, bowed her head slightly, and, clearly embarrassed, stopped dancing. I have never forgotten the image of that dear little lady at that moment. For that split second, time fell away and I saw a shy, young girl. She walked over to me and said, “Oh, Father, I feel so silly, I didn’t see you come in.” There was the wise, responsible, hard-working and self-confident elder…not only of her family but of the entire Christian community. And as she stood there surrounded by her loving family…all well known to me because none in that family ever missed Sunday Mass…I got a very brief glimpse of what she would become. At the appointed time, this good and faithful Christian woman, who did her best to live and to pass on our faith, would certainly be given a special place in the heavenly banquet surrounded by the angels and saints.

In a way, there are three persons in each of us. We carry our past, we live in the present, and we are all destined for a future. The question being…is the trinity…the “threeness” of our lives…HOLY? If we do our best to live out the Baptismal dignity with which we were blessed by The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, then our own personal trinity IS holy. And someday, when we turn and see that the Lord has come for us…there will be no need for us to feel embarrassed. We will simply follow Him into the eternal banquet where the feasting and dancing will never end…not even if a priest happens to enter!

June 7, 2015
MK 14:12-16, 22-26

It isn’t an easy task to give a meaningful explanation of what we Catholic Christians celebrate today…The Feast of The Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. It is especially hard to offer an explanation to non-believers.

However, Michelangelo’s depiction of the “Peace of Christ” on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is a very familiar and original image of the creative power that brought life into Adam by “The Finger of God.” Obviously, that is not how the Creation Story is reported in the Old Testament. Nevertheless, the expression “Finger of God” is, in fact, used in the Old Testament in several places. Even Jesus used it as a way of describing the transmission of Divine power.

“The Finger of God” touched the shoulder of a young woman, and Divine Power, Life and Spirit was transmitted and received. Then, nine months later, The Word of God took Flesh and Blood and came to dwell among us. Jesus, the Eternal Word, The Son of God, was like us in all things…with this distinguishing characteristic: The Lord was completely free of sin. Other than that, Jesus was fully human.

At the Jordan River, The Finger of God reached through the heavens and pointed at Jesus, acknowledging Him as The Son of God, in whom God was well pleased. Call it a sacred mystery…but when The Finger of God touched the waters of the Jordan River, all Baptismal water was sanctified and made holy…filled with Divine power…Spirit filled….and able to call people to new life.

Over and above this gesture of introduction was the Divine command that we “Listen to Him!” And people did…and were amazed at the authority with which He taught. They were also amazed that His touch could do what clearly only The Finger of God had the power to do…heal, forgive, calm storms, feed the hungry, and return life to the lifeless.

When His mission and ministry in this world was complete, at the Lord’s Supper, when Jesus took bread into His hands and reached for a cup of wine, it was “The Finger of God” that touched this ordinary bread and wine…and transferred into them the Divine Power, Life and Spirit. Those privileged to be part of that Sacred Banquet listened to Jesus and heard Him say…This IS my Body and This IS my blood…DO THIS IN MEMORY OF ME!

When we bring forward the gifts and place them on the Altar, and do as Jesus told us to do, once again, The Finger of God reaches into time from Eternity…and transmits the Divine Power, Life and Spirit into them, returning them for us to consume so that we might become what we eat!

Think of it this way: When we are touched by The Finger of God, we become The Body and Blood of Christ. The more we participate in the Sacramental Life of our Church, the closer we resemble Jesus. So then, in a very real way, this Feast of Corpus Christi…The Body and Blood of Christ…is about us! It is about our Church. We are The Body and Blood of Christ. So reach out today and touch somebody who needs healing, forgiveness, and life. You have the power…use it!

It’s Time to Grow
Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
June 14, 2015
MK 4:26-34

I was visiting some friends who were babysitting their little granddaughter. She was anxious for me to read her new book with her. My friends, who had already read the book with her, were anxious for me to take a turn. So, the child ran into her room, came back with something under her arm, jumped up onto my lap and presented NOT A BOOK…but her iPad. It took no time at all for her pudgy little fingers to click onto her “favorite book” called “Sid the Seed.” There was no reading to be done by me. The author, David R. Pagen, who illustrated the book as well, also reads the written words as the iPad turns the pages.

Sid is a little seed that lives in a dark hole in the ground with a spider and a caterpillar. They enjoy sharing their home and seem completely content. Moreover, they are all afraid of what is outside…the unknown. Eventually, the spider becomes restless, explaining, “The world is so big, it’s time that I grew…it’s off to the outside to find something new.” Their friend having literally soared out the comfort of their dark, little hole, Sid the Seed and the caterpillar resume their ordinary routine. A few pages later, however, Sid the Seed awakens to find the caterpillar has been transformed into a cocoon that soon breaks open, freeing a beautiful butterfly. Before rising out of the dark hole to soar through the sky, the butterfly announces that: “The world is so big, it’s time that I grew…it’s off to the outside to find something new.” Poor Sid the Seed, however, has grown so comfortable in his surroundings and so intimidated by the prospect of change that he lives on all by himself.

Finally, one day, Sid decides there just might be something more than the hole in which he has basically imprisoned himself. He begins to drink water. That causes him to grow uncontrollably, until, like his friends, he has broken through to the surface. Once reaching the life-giving sun, Sid continues to grow and mature until he becomes a majestic tree. The story ends with Sid’s two friends seeking protection and shade under his beautiful crown of leaves. Sid’s reaction to his metamorphosis was simply: “Life is more full!”

This little story reminds me of Matt 11:25…I give praise to You, Father, Creator of heaven and earth…for although you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, You have revealed them to the childlike. If my little friend is able to make the connection between the liberation of Sid and the Kingdom of God, then, at a very early age, she will know what many people have never learned…or have forgotten; she will understand this Sunday’s Gospel.

We sometimes bury ourselves deep within our day-to-day lives. We become content and we fear change. And so, we remain in the dark. And then, someone takes the initiative and makes the suggestion that “the spider” made. The Kingdom of God is so big…it’s time that we grow. This Sunday, we resume Ordinary Time and we continue in this season of germination, sprouting and growing until Advent. Let’s use these months of Ordinary Time to move outside of ourselves. With just a little commitment and patience, like Sid and his friends, we can break out of the dark holes that we’ve grown so comfortable in, and grow and develop and mature into something extraordinary…something eternal…where LIFE WILL BE FULL!

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time
June 21, 2015
MK 4:35-41

When I was much, much younger, I often sailed with a very close friend. I was not a skilled crew member, although I was quick to obey orders. One year, probably too early in the season to even be boating, we eagerly motored out from the dock and into the Detroit River, bound for Lake St. Clair, eager for the first sail of the year. It was a sunny spring afternoon and there was a good wind. We raised the mainsail, killed the outboard motor, and were thrilled to be underway. As we approached Hart Plaza in the “heart” of downtown Detroit, there was a lake freighter just ahead of us. No worries! At least not until we tried to “come about” (change direction) in order to avoid a collision with the ship. It was at this point that rudder came completely out of the brackets that held it to the transom. So, “the skipper” started pulling frantically on the outboard engine, but it was flooded. It would not start.

In the meantime, the mainsail was flapping out of control and we were being tossed around, caught up in the wake of the enormous ship which seemed to be getting bigger and bigger with every passing second. We were clearly on a collision course and there was nothing we could do to avoid it. I was absolutely certain that we would die. It was then that I called out at the top of my voice and in total desperation: “LORD, HELP US!”

It wasn’t a storm that put us in peril. It was our own negligence. But, like the disciples in today’s Gospel, it was Jesus whom I called to save us. And it really was as if Jesus responded by standing up in the middle of the boat, and, shouting over the wind and the deafening sound of the freighter’s enormous engines and the rush of the water, He said: “QUIET! BE STILL!” He was speaking to me!

That urgent prayer, entrusting us to Christ, brought an unexpected and undeserved calm over me. I felt a wave wash over me. Not cold and threatening river water, but rather, the warm and reassuring PEACE OF CHRIST! The only Peace that is powerful enough to calm the most violent of storms…fear! I continued to follow orders, rather than following my instinct to simply jump overboard to certain death. With the next pull, the outboard roared into life. We then turned our attention to the rudder, and, defying the laws of physics, were able to jockey it into its mounting. With a last-minute course change, we just missed a horrible collision.

That day, on the Detroit River, there was a miracle as certain as the one reported to have occurred on the Sea of Galilee. While it probably isn’t appropriate to rank miracles, the one I experienced might arguably have been even more powerful than Jesus calming a storm. I say that because we have free will…nature doesn’t. Our terror storms can defy or resist the calming Peace of Christ! Nature obeys.

But when we temper our human nature with faith and call out with complete trust and from the depths of our hearts…LORD, HELP US! ….well…expect a miracle!

I Forgive
Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
June 28, 2015
MK 5:21-43

I couldn’t figure out was happening when the families of the victims of the South Carolina “church shooter” addressed him through closed circuit TV and gave what amounted to “impact statements.” It didn’t appear that he had even entered a plea, and yet, from their remarks, it was clear that he was presumed guilty. And then a reporter interjected that this kind of immediate face-to-face contact with those left with the pain of surviving crime is a process unique to South Carolina. While I still wondered how this squares with “innocent until proven guilty,” I quickly embraced the practice as I heard family after family describe their pain and then go on to say: “But I forgive you!” Their loving gesture, one of the purest elements of Christianity, became more newsworthy than the mass murders.

These disciples were able to face this young man who had lost his personal battle with evil and win the war with three little words: I FORGIVE YOU! This was one of the most powerful, dramatic, and sincere expressions of faith I have ever witnessed. I FORGIVE YOU! Very powerful words made possible because of very strong faith.

Last Sunday, we enjoyed a glimpse of the power that rested in Jesus. He could calm a violent storm. This week’s Gospel speaks to the power of faith demonstrated by Jairus, a Synagogue official, as well as an unnamed woman. Both, motivated by their faith in the healing power of the Lord, reached out to Him; Jairus very publicly, the woman with a gesture that went unnoticed by all but Jesus. The power of her faith actually drew Jesus’s healing power out from Him.

The tragic events that unfolded in Charleston, South Carolina, showed us the power of prejudice and irrational hatred. But it is important to remember that evil was ALMOST overpowered by the warm reception that a Christian community offered to a stranger. The accused shooter is reported to have said that he almost abandoned his mission of triggering a race war because of the kindness his targeted victims showed to him. Maybe if he had been able to spend just a little more time doing Bible study with these good people, things might have been different. Sadly, the power of their goodness did not have enough of an opportunity to convert him, and he drew a gun and began to kill. But, up to this point, he has failed in his mission because the power of faith…the power of forgiveness…was so immediate, so public, and so genuine that it has calmed the storm.

I FORGIVE YOU! Words spoken in a courtroom during victims’ impact statements have had the same effect as the words spoken by Jesus as a violent storm threatened to sink a fishing boat: QUIET! BE STILL! Some people have an opportunity to invoke the power of these words very publicly…others…like the unnamed woman, make private gestures. In either case, the power of faith always prevails against evil. What kind of impact will you make in the world during the coming week?

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 5, 2015
MK 6:1-6

There will be lots of patriotic speeches this weekend as our nation celebrates the freedom we enjoy as Americans. It’s quite likely that those hoping to be the next President of the United States will take the opportunity of this Independence Day weekend to hit the stump and share their vision for our country’s future in as many public events as they possibly can. None of them will tell the crowds: “When I’m President, I promise to WEAKEN the economy. Under my administration, the U.S. Military will be as WEAK as it has ever been in our nation’s history. If you elect me President, I promise to work hard to WEAKEN our relationship with our allies.” There is no promise in the word WEAK unless it’s used to describe a forecasted storm front. Yet, in this Sunday’s Second Reading, St. Paul tells us that there is STRENGTH IN WEAKNESS! How can this be?

It might help to better understand how there can be STRENGTH IN WEAKNESS if we first ponder the opposite. Because the Prophets brought God’s message to people with such strong opinions, convictions, beliefs, and prejudices, they were ignored, ridiculed, and even persecuted. Jesus experienced this kind of resistant STRENGTH when He tried to bring the Good News to His family, friends, and neighbors of Nazareth. Their strong wills caused them to miss the opportunity of hearing God’s Word, delivered to them by God’s Word made flesh…Whom literally “dwelt among them.” Mark 6:1-6 is the classic example of a missed opportunity. Had they been just a little less strong willed, just think of how much more Jesus could have done for them.
As it was, “He was unable to perform any mighty deed there”…apart from healing a few folks who were too weakened from illness to resist!

It seems there, in fact, is promise in the word WEAK…the promise of God’s saving grace. But in order to avail ourselves of the power and strength of that free and unlimited gift, we have to let down our guards, drop our shields, and open our minds and hearts…leaving us totally vulnerable. That kind of weakness does not end in defeat, but rather in the ultimate victory…the victory over sin and death.

STRENGTH might win wars and elections…but WEAKNESS wins eternal salvation!

So on this Independence Day weekend, let us pray in thanksgiving that our founders were strong enough to win our freedom, but at the same time, weak enough to proclaim: IN GOD WE TRUST!

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 12, 2015
MK 6:7-13

If you sit in a barbershop, or enjoy an early morning cup of coffee in a local diner, or nurse a beer in a neighborhood bar, chances are fairly good that you are going to hear some pretty sensible, plain English suggestions…peppered with some colorful “expletives,” on how our leaders should be governing the country, or G.M., or even our Church. Now, just for fun, imagine these same people in their “everyday clothes,” standing before a joint session of Congress, or addressing the Board of Directors in an executive conference room, or sitting in front of Pope Francis in his office in the Vatican. If you play this little game, you will, perhaps, better understand our First Reading from the Prophet Amos.

A most unlikely and seemingly ill-prepared “common person,” using the most coarse, everyday language, maybe even employing a few colorful expletives for emphasis, stood in front of a corrupt, arrogant, and all-powerful ruler with a message from God. Of course, the message made perfect sense. It was God’s Word. It was a call to govern in justice and peace…a Divine directive to treat each and every person with respect, charity, and love. But, the messenger was so unlikely, and the Message so totally contrary to the will and ways of the corrupt ruler…well, continue to use your imagination and picture the reception that Amos received.

There appears to be no warm welcome in high places for God’s prophets (except I believe that Pope Francis would say: Are you comfortable in that chair? Would you like a glass of water? Of course you’ll stay for dinner!) There certainly was no warm welcome for Amos…just as there was no warm welcome from the “higher-ups” for Jesus. Yet, just like Jesus, Amos pushed forward with his mission and ministry, as did the Disciples whom Jesus sent out two by two, without any supplies or provisions. The disciples, however, returned excited, fulfilled, cared for, and feeling that their mission was an overwhelming success. This week’s Gospel teaches us that there are eager audiences out there, hungry to hear God’s Word, and open to God’s will and God’s ways.

This brings us to our Second Reading from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians…THE MESSAGE! What we hear is essentially an ancient Christian hymn. We might not sing these exact words in our churches today, because the language is not easy on the modern ear. In other words, the Reading isn’t exactly “plain English.” Nevertheless, the message is for all times and all people. What we hear is, essentially, a list of the blessing that God has bestowed on us and a call to people of faith to share the gifts as well as the Good News! If you want a more detailed version, in more contemporary language…read Pope Francis’s recent encyclical…Laudato Si. Written to all people of planet earth, it has already been received by many of the powerful, ambitious, materialistic leaders…people in a position to bring about immediate change…in the same way that the corrupt and heartless leader of ancient Bethel received God’s message spoken by Amos.

The Holy Father cautions that we have come to see ourselves as her (Mother Earth) lords and masters entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms evident in the soil, in the water, in the air, and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor. And it is the poor who suffer most from this “global environmental deterioration” caused in large part by greed and a total disregard for human suffering. This is not a message that goes over well in “high places.”

Still, there are good and faithful people sitting in barbershops, local diners…and YES, even in neighborhood taverns who are hungry to hear God’s Word and are open to God’s will and God’s Way. In the coming week, MAYBE YOU are the prophet God is sending. MAYBE YOU are the Disciple Jesus calls upon. MAYBE YOU are the Christian in the world inspired by the Holy Spirit to offer a message of repentance, healing, reconciliation, justice, charity, and love…even if it means you might be ridiculed for doing God’s work. MAYBE YOU are the one who can somehow make a real difference.

Come away and rest awhile
Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 19, 2015
MK 6:30-34

There was a cute commercial on TV over the winter months. It showed a series of kids, talking to their parents, but looking at us, the viewing audience, and making a desperate plea to their moms and dads to TAKE MORE VACATION! The sponsor was obviously the travel industry. In fact, researchers tell us that in 2014, 42% of Americans took no vacation days. There are a number of reasons for this trend, each somehow related to the unreasonable expectations that employers, intentionally or unintentionally, place on workers, together with the unreasonable expectations we place on ourselves. Even when we aren’t actually “at work,” we are connected to it by cell phone and computer. At a minimum, for most of us, work is “always on our minds.” It was only after I retired that I came to appreciate how damaging to the human person this total commitment to our work can be…even when we enjoy what we do…even when our work is ministry and discipleship!

Pope Francis recently coined a word for what appears to be the underlying cause of an unbroken chain of workdays: “RAPIDIFICATION” The Holy Father writes: The continued acceleration of changes affecting humanity and the planet is coupled today with a more intensified pace of life and work which might be called “rapidification”…the goals of this rapid and constant change are not necessarily geared to the common good or to integral and sustainable human development.

In this Sunday’s Gospel, we find the disciples returning after an intense, draining, but highly successful assignment. Success can be addictive. Is it possible that after sharing all that they had accomplished, they said to Jesus: What’s next? We’re ready to get back out there! What do you have for us? Let’s get going; there’s lots to be done!

No one was more aware of all of the work to be done than Jesus Himself. Still, the Lord’s response to their “progress report” was simply this: Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while. And so the Good Shepherd gathered His flock and took them on a boat ride, and they had PEACE!

Hard as it is to believe, it is the middle of July, and RAPIDIFICATION…finances, job insecurity, unreasonable employers…any number of things…might mean that you’ve not been able to TAKE A VACATION! But do you at least allow yourselves one hour of PERFECT PEACE? Clearly, that is at the center of our Second Reading where St. Paul urges the Ephesians to take full advantage of Christ’s great gift to us…PEACE!

Back in the 14th century, St. Catherine of Siena wrote something that seems particularly relevant to our 21st century lifestyles. I certainly want to search out the way (to peace), because we have fallen into such danger and harm both spiritually and physically. And I don’t see any other way but one…I mean the holy way! The “holy way” is to make Sunday Mass a priority no matter what. It is one hour a week in which you can join with other disciples in accepting Jesus’s invitation: Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest awhile. There is nothing unreasonable about insisting on one hour of PERFECT PEACE in a week filled with demands and stress. If you’re reading this reflection, you probably have made Eucharist a priority in your life…so why not extend the invitation to someone who hasn’t. Invite a friend to Come away to a deserted place and rest awhile.

Free Food
Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 26, 2015
JN 6:1-15

I have to admit, if I need to go to Sam’s Club, I try to schedule my shopping for late morning. I want to get there after the little stainless steel tables with the electric skillets, or hot plates, or microwave ovens are out and operational…but BEFORE the “lunch crowd” arrives. Silly as it sounds, I enjoy moving from free sample to free sample as I make my way around the warehouse store. I appreciate this sales ploy masked as “free food.” I also like talking with the people who are there to describe and promote the product they are serving. What I have noticed, however, is that while most people take advantage of the variety of samples and few seem to “appreciate” what is given to them without cost.

Some people never break step, simply reaching over and grabbing a little morsel of food, totally ignoring the person who has prepared it. Others, manners aside, reach through those who do stand and listen to the sales pitch. Rarely is the invitation for a sample acknowledged with a simple “please” and “thank you.” Then there is the matter of the paper napkins, plastic forks, and small cups that are tossed carelessly on the floor after the sample has been gobbled down. Some shoppers have become so used to the sample tables that they don’t even glance over to see what is being offered. They walk past like they didn’t hear the server say: “Care to try our new pizza rolls?” Where free food is involved, common courtesy seems to fall by the wayside.

It makes one wonder how the enormous crowd that was fed with a few loaves and fishes behaved. Did they realize that a miracle was unfolding in their very midst? Did they acknowledge the hard work of the disciples who struggled to pass out the “free food” to so many hungry people? Were Jesus’s dinner guests respectful of one another? Was there pushing and shoving and shouting and grabbing? Did they take only what they needed…their fill…or did they hoard or waste? I wonder if they felt a deep sense of gratitude…or did they consider the meal as simply part of the program? Did they dine graciously or did they simply feed like a herd of cattle?

And what about The Lord? I wonder what was going through His mind as He watched. Certainly, Jesus was glad that this crowd was cared for and their needs met…but…did He take delight in watching them enjoy the “free food”?

And what about us? Does The Lord take delight in us when He offers His Body and Blood in the Eucharist? How do we act when invited to eat freely and without cost…The Bread of Life

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 2, 2015
JN 6:24-35

That line, delivered (actually shouted) from the witness stand in a military courtroom by Jack Nicholson in the movie “A Few Good Men” is part of Hollywood history. That courtroom scene has become legendary, certainly because of the skill of the actors, but also, possibly, because it prompts us to ponder whether or not we can…”handle the truth.”

One of the truths that we see in the Book of Exodus is that the people were quick to forget the misery and degradation of slavery, and equally as quick to forget how God, through Moses, liberated them. The same held true with Jesus’s followers. His popularity spiked after the miraculous event of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. However, as soon as their bellies started to growl again…so did they. I wonder if St. Paul’s ratings took a hit after the Ephesians read his letter telling them that they needed to give up the lifestyles to which they had grown accustomed? Could they handle the truth?

Francis echoes Paul in his recent encyclical on the environment. We need to give up our current lifestyles or there will be dire consequences. But this cautionary document has been met with much criticism by many people…even religious leaders. Why? Maybe because, like the Israelites, people have forgotten what misery and degradation comes from slavery to sin…and have also forgotten how God, through Jesus Christ, has liberated us.

In another powerful courtroom scene played out on Good Friday, Pilate asked Jesus: “What is truth?” The Gospel does not report a response. A response was not necessary because Jesus had already identified Himself as The Truth. (John 14:6) So it would seem that if YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH, then…YOU CAN’T HANDLE JESUS CHRIST! St. Paul told the Ephesians the very same thing The Holy Father is telling us today…if you want to be in a genuine relationship with Christ, then you have to change your lifestyle.

The Truth…plain and simple…is that to be in a genuine relationship with The Lord, one must live “in righteousness and holiness of truth.” CAN YOU HANDLE THE TRUTH? We are in desperate need of a Few Good Disciples…hopefully YOU are one of them.

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 9, 2015
JN 6:41-51

Infants and toddlers cry and make a fuss anywhere and at any time. As children grow and develop, they begin to get a little more control over their emotions. Teenagers…well, they are in a class all of their own. But, by the time we are adults, we usually have acquired the social skills and the emotional maturity to express our feelings in an appropriate way and at the proper time. That being said, we never seem to get past the urge to GRUMBLE…MURMUR…COMPLAIN! Whether we “think it,” whisper it to ourselves…under our breath, so to speak, or share our negative and obstinate feelings with others…most of us do it! Maybe it’s one of the consequences of original sin. I suspect that Adam and Eve didn’t leave the Garden silently; if not, maybe as they made their exit from paradise, and certainly by the time they had to work in order to eat!

I wonder if the first parents passed on this all too common human tendency with the other unfortunate things that came along with the original sin. We certainly see examples of this human behavior throughout the Old Testament. Israel spent 40 years wandering in the desert and perfecting the technique which carried over into the New Testament. This week’s Gospel tells us that people who enjoyed the free meal of loaves and fish did not understand Eucharist…and so they GRUMBLED…MURMURED…COMPLAINED.

Do we understand Eucharist? Do we today understand that Eucharist is about God wanting to be an intimate part of us, so that we, in turn, can become more “God-like?” Do we understand that Eucharist is far more than simply a religious ritual? Eucharist is God’s greatest gift to humankind that carries with it God’s greatest challenge to humankind. Eucharistic people are challenged to become what we eat! That means that strengthened by The Lord’s Body and Blood, we are called to go out into the world and show the Face of Christ to all whom we meet.

Eucharistic spirituality includes with it a deep and sincere appreciation for the Communion we share with the Divine and the communion we are called to embrace with the universal family. As the song goes…

“We are called to act with justice.
We are called to love tenderly.
We are called to serve one another, to walk humbly with God.”

The “Gift” part of Eucharist is easy to accept. But sometimes the “call” part…the expectation that comes with the “Gift”…the Divine challenge that is part of sharing in the Divine life….well, sometimes, that part of Eucharist can cause us to GRUMBLE, MURMUR, AND COMPLAIN!

Considering all of this, are you spiritually mature enough to walk up the isle this Sunday to accept the Gift…as well as the challenge? Or might you walk away GRUMBLING…MURMURING OR COMPLAINING?

“That ain’t the way to have fun”
Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 16, 2015
JN 6:51-58

Way back in 1970, just about the time that I really needed to hear it….one of my favorite Rock and Roll groups, Three Dog Night, had a hit song that the DJs played almost non-stop on the pop music channels. The refrain of the song was so simple that even I could sing along as I drove down the highway in my VW Beetle with the sunroof open. Mama told me not to come…she said: That ain’t the way to have fun, son…no, that ain’t the way to have fun! The verses describe the kind of party that makes responsible parents cringe even to think about. The song itself tells the story of a young man who disregarded the wisdom of his mother, and went to a party in spite of her warning…and he is suffering the consequences of his poor decision. Through the fog that has imprisoned his mind, his mother’s final words replay like the proverbial broken record…over and over…That ain’t the way to have fun, son…no, that ain’t the way to have fun!

I suspect that a lot of kids who would not have given St. Paul the time of day were influenced in a good way by that song. A warning from the radio about poor choices and the consequences of bad behavior somehow carries more weight than the same advice coming from the Bible.

But our Second Reading is about far more than acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Like the First Reading from the Book of Proverbs (9:1-6), St. Paul is urging us to live wisely, rejecting destructive behavior, trying our best to understand the will and the way of the Lord!

As we continue to unpack and reflect upon the “Bread of Life Discourse” set forth at John 6, we see that when the people encountered the very challenging mystery of Eucharist, Jesus’s great invitation to us, they simply did not understand. Jesus continued to explain. They apparently did not listen to Him. We’re told that they “argued among themselves.” The louder and more determined voices opposing Jesus proved more persuasive.

What a sad ending this story brings. The people just walked away! Turning away from Jesus! That ain’t the way to the truth…and that ain’t the way to eternal life! Turning away from Eucharist…That ain’t the way to the Father, The Son, or the Holy Spirit!

Make a choice! Are you with me?
Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 23, 2015
JN 6:60-69

Pollsters weren’t tracking and publishing approval ratings in Old Testament times. But the conclusion of this week’s First Reading from the Book of Joshua would have us believe that his rather sobering message from God was well received by the people. Through the prophet, God put the people on the spot. Make a choice! Are you with me or not? If you want to worship idols…if you are pagans at heart…then go do your thing, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t say that you are believers but live like pagans.

The people responded decisively: “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord for the service of other gods.

Good for them! But I wonder what happened as the drama of the moment passed, and they were left on their own to actually live their faith in the God of Abraham and Sarah. Is it possible that, as time passed, they began to murmur and grumble? As God’s Law began to weigh on them, maybe they became like Jesus’s disciples who responded to another prophetic and dramatic moment with the all too human attitude: “This is hard! Who can accept this?” Is it possible that, with time, many simply “returned to their former way of life”? There were no pollsters in Jesus’s time, but there was no need. His approval ratings dropped to the point that many who ate the free bread and fish…who followed in hopes of healing…who witnessed mighty deeds…were among the voices shouting out: “CRUCIFY HIM!”

We do have pollsters today measuring public opinion. A few weeks ago, results were published from a Gallup poll tracking Pope Francis’s approval ratings. It is reported that over the past year, the Holy Father’s popularity has dropped significantly, even among Roman Catholics, and especially within the USA. Pundits suggest that this is a result of the recent Papal Encyclical: Laudato Si: On Care For Our Common Home. Among American Catholics, there is an uneasiness about the upcoming Papal visit, anticipating what Francis might say, especially during his address to the joint session of our Congress.

Simply put, even as Jesus’s disciples were “shocked” by His Bread of Life Discourse (John 6), in our society today, many are shocked by The Holy Father’s teaching. Rightly so! While the global environment is certainly the central theme of the document, I would argue it is much, much more. I see it as a global call to all humankind to examine our collective conscience. It’s as if Pope Francis is challenging all humankind in the same way that Joshua challenged Israel so many centuries ago…“If it does not please you to serve the Lord, decide today whom you will serve!” Why wouldn’t we be shocked by that kind of challenge?

We Roman Catholics receive this challenge as a Eucharistic people…chosen and invited to feast on the Bread of Life…and to become what we eat. As a Eucharistic people, we are not only privileged to be God’s special guests, but also recruited to be God’s partners in the work of building the Kingdom. Laudato Si is not only a statement concerning the environment, it is a suggestion as to how we might go about that work of building the City of God. It is a vision of how our world might look should we embrace the challenge.

Does all of this shock you? Does it cause you to murmur…grumble…argue among yourselves? If so…that’s completely understandable because the Encyclical is hard! And so is the Gospel. It’s hard to be a Eucharistic people…because it’s hard to be God!

But…does all of this make you want to leave and return to your “old ways”? I certainly hope not. Where else will you find the Words of everlasting life?

Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 30, 2015
MK 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Whenever I read this Sunday’s Gospel passage, I think of an experience I had while studying in Jerusalem. An Israeli woman, the administrative assistant to one of my professors, graciously invited me to her home to share in a traditional Sabbath meal. She lived in a settlement surrounded by Palestinian neighborhoods and when giving me directions to her home, warned me that I should not walk the short distance, but that I needed to take a taxi. At first, I thought that she was concerned that I observe the Sabbath law prohibiting work, which, strictly interpreted, precludes even walking significant distances. But she went on to make it very clear that it would be dangerous for me to walk through the Arab neighborhood in order to visit what amounted to an “Israeli island.”

When Friday evening finally arrived, the “Sabbath rush hour” was in full swing as I set out for my friend’s home. It was literally impossible to find an available taxi. So, I kept walking towards my destination, trying in vain to hail a cab. When I finally reached the invisible border between the ethnic neighborhoods, I simply kept walking. I arrived at her door a little late and made my excuses, that, for want of a taxi, I had no choice but to walk. She was horrified!

She proceeded to explain, in not so gentle terms, how reckless and foolish I had been to disregard her advice and walk through such a dangerous neighborhood, especially since I was “not carrying a gun!” Her description of and remarks about her Palestinian neighbors were venomous and shocking. Her hatred was so intense and personal that I asked if she, herself, had been assaulted. “Well, no,” she said, “but…” continuing on with more of the same. When she finally calmed down, regaining her composure, she became a most delightful hostess, “presiding” at a traditional Sabbath meal, much like a priest presiding at Eucharist. The dinner table was covered with an immaculate cloth and set with fine china and crystal. There was an arrangement of fresh flowers on the table and candles as well. She led the beautiful Sabbath prayers and graciously served a delightful meal, into which she had clearly put forth great effort. It was very much a “sacred banquet.” But I must tell you that I recall very little of the details of that Sabbath evening. However, her words, her tone, and the almost tangible hatred in her outburst with which the evening began are fresh in my mind after over 20 years. One can’t help but wonder how God received her prayers moments after such a dramatic outpouring of racial prejudice and hatred.

When the evening came to a close, she left the room to call me a taxi. Trying to be a helpful guest, I took the opportunity to clear the table. When she came back into the room, she seemed a little “stunned” by the fact that the dishes were all removed. My ride appeared and off I went.

Sunday is the first day of the work week in Israel. My “Sabbath hostess” did not appear for work. I later learned that she had to take the day off to “ritually purify” her kitchen. Being an observant Jew, she felt compelled to remove every single item from every drawer and cabinet and thoroughly clean EVERYTHING, because, in my misguided efforts to help, I had mingled foods that should not touch each other, rendering her kitchen impure.

This week’s Readings call us to contrast RITUAL PURITY with sincere and heartfelt SPIRITUAL PURITY. Can someone host a truly holy Sabbath celebration while harboring such a deep hatred for one’s neighbor? What makes a home IMPURE? Is it the mixing of dirty dishes, or the mixing of hateful thoughts with ancient and beautiful prayers? What does it take to make a truly GOOD SABBATH? A perfect table setting and fine meal or a clean heart?

What does it take to make a truly GOOD EUCHARISTIC CELEBRATION?

Be Open
Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 6, 2015
MK 7:31-37

I am at that point in life where I enjoy “senior discounts.” But with the perks there are also some down sides. For example, when I go into a restaurant to enjoy the “Early Bird Special,” I find that I need to be selective about the seating. I need a table that is not too close to the cash register, the kitchen, the juke box, or even another table with a lot of other people. I also need to sit directly across from the person with whom I am dining. If there are more than two at the table, I find myself repeatedly saying to the people on my right and left: “Excuse me? What did you say,” and, as the meal draws on, just plain “Huh?” With age, hearing is starting to fail me. Ambient sounds, noise, and even conversation from adjoining tables block or interfere with conversations I am involved in. Fortunately for me, I was blessed with hearing at birth, so at least at this point, my speech is unaffected by the calendar. All of this has given me a new appreciation for this Sunday’s Gospel.

Mark’s report of the healing of the deaf and mute man (Mark 7:31-37) leaves out a lot of detail, which, in a way, is an invitation for us to color in the lines. This also encourages and even enables us to search for the deeper meaning behind this double miracle.

It appears that this man was born deaf. As a result, his ability to speak was severely compromised. It was with great difficulty, and to only a very few, that he would have been able to express himself. His thoughts, worries, concerns, needs, desires, and longings were all trapped behind a tongue that did not know how to form intelligible words. It was only those who cared deeply for him that would take the time to understand him…and in turn…enable him to understand what they wanted to tell him. A very significant element of this story then seems to be the importance of our relationships with others. The man’s friends cared enough for him that they sought out Jesus and begged Him to cure the man. The man trusted his friends to the point that he went off by himself with Jesus. Somehow, in spite of his disability, the man understood that he could place his trust in the Lord!

For His part, Jesus addressed all of the man’s needs. The Lord gave the man the sense of hearing, and, in an instant, gave him the gift of language. From the numerous healings that Jesus did during His earthly ministry, this one is among the very few reported in the Gospels. In spite of the lack of detail, it stands out and is remembered even to the point that the healing gesture is included in the Baptism of infants. The two-fold gesture of touching the man’s ears and tongue is repeated as the priests prays that The Holy Spirit open the ears of the child…to hear the Good News…and empower the child’s tongue to proclaim the goodness of the Lord!

So then, if you “color in between the lines,” what you might well be left with is a portrait of yourself…a disciple of Jesus Christ. Through Baptism, we are placed into a special relationship with Christ. What a great perk! But along with the “perks” comes responsibility to others. The Holy Spirit opened your ears so that The Word of the Lord can overpower all of the blaring noise of this world, and penetrate deeply into our minds and our hearts. The language of the Gospel…The Good News…has been placed on our tongue…and now, you are charged with the responsibility of taking the time and making the effort to communicate this Good News with those still deafened to God’s Word.

In Mark’s Gospel, we are told that The Lord made an effort to keep His identity secret…but He made no secret of that fact that to be His flower, one must do for others what the friends of the deaf man did. Think of it this way. You have been given the license to use the word “EPHPHATHA!” Be opened!

So the question of the week is simply this: Do you care enough to do that? Are you strong enough in your faith and fearless enough to take someone who is deaf to the Gospel…and speak that word with the same force and effect that Jesus spoke it?

EPHPHATHA! It’s a strange word…that now belongs to you…will you use it?

Your True Identity
Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 13, 2015
MK 8:27-35

Once, while traveling through a large city, I stopped at an ATM machine to get some cash. I was in a hurry because I could see the bus that I needed to catch lumbering down the street. When the money was in hand, I didn’t take special precautions, but simply unbuttoned the flap over the breast pocket inside my over coat, slipped in the cash, and re-buttoned the flap, as well as my overcoat. It seemed secure enough to me; in fact, that was the pocket where I kept my passport. I made a mad dash across the street and stepped onto the bus, surprised that there was actually someone behind me, since the doors were already starting to close as I stepped on. The bus jolted to a start just as I grabbed onto a pole to steady myself. The person who boarded behind me did the same. As the bus got under way, he was jostled against me. He smiled an apology. He got off the bus at the very next stop. When I arrived at my destination, and unbuttoned my overcoat to access the cash, I discovered the flap of the breast pocket open and all of my money was gone. However, to my great relief, my passport was still there. The man had taken my money, but thank God, for whatever reason, had left me with my identity. I could prove who I was and I would be able to re-enter the U.S. without struggling to answer the questions underlying today’s Gospel. Who do you say that you are? How can you prove it?

As Mark reports it, Jesus tried to keep His identity “secret.” Clearly, God sent His only Son into this world with the full range of Divine power. These powers were not kept secret but were used freely and openly. Possibly, Jesus decided that it would be best not to identify Himself as the Messiah, but rather, to let people come to that conclusion based on what they heard and by what they saw. It was through His actions and deeds, rather than some sort of “official credential” that the Lord proved His identity as The Son of God.

Those who recognized Him followed, and, eventually, Jesus invited them to assume His identity! There was no need to steal it…rather, Jesus encouraged the disciples to become Him…to be totally and completely identified with Him…and to go out into the world and introduce Him to strangers. The only thing that He asked in exchange…was that they give up their own “passport.”

Through Baptism, we enjoy the same privilege. We are entitled to travel through this world assuming the identity of Jesus Christ. But there is danger in our journey. Identity theft is rampant. Things such as our own personal desires, ambitions, greed, and selfishness are skilled at reaching into our lives, leaving material things but taking our true identity…the identity that was given to us by the Holy Spirit.

If we don’t take careful precautions against these thieves, some day, when we find ourselves at the border between time and eternity, we might well have trouble answering those questions: Who do you say that you are? How can you prove it?

A Servant of Others as Well
MK 9:30-37
Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 20, 2015

In last week’s Gospel, Jesus asked His disciples: “Who do people say I am?” This week’s Gospel is woven around another question directed by the Lord to His closest followers: “What were you arguing about?” Apparently, His question shut down further discussion because they “remained silent,” too embarrassed to admit that they were debating which one of them was the most important. Jesus, through gesture more than words, had a follow-up question for His red-faced friends: “Who do you think you are?” (You can imagine His tone.)

The second week in July 2015, America: The National Catholic Review (basically the Church’s version of Newsweek Magazine) published a cover photo showing a group of men who were not “red faced” but vested in a brilliant shade of red. The picture was of a procession of bishops at the beatification Mass of Archbishop Oscar Romero celebrated in San Salvador on May 23. The cover story illustrated by the photograph was: “Pastors, not Princes: The Role of the bishop under Pope Francis.” The author of the article, Diego Fares, reported on The Holy Father’s recent address to the General Assembly of Italian Bishops.

While the secular press lifted “sound bites” from Francis’s address and described the new direction in which the Pope is trying to steer our Church, the fact of the matter is, for Christians, there is absolutely nothing innovative about the remarks. The Holy Father was simply restating what Jesus taught “the Twelve” when He closed the front door to Peter’s house in Capernaum, and said: Listen up! This is how it is…“If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all, and the servant of all,” a lesson which, by the way, Jesus repeated at His Last Supper through the washing of the feet.

When the Italian Bishops heard Pope Francis echo the Lord’s call for humility and service, there were probably some faces that turned the same shade as the vestments on the cover of America magazine. Some, like the disciples Jesus confronted, were embarrassed…shamed by the realization that, on occasion, their service took a back seat to their pride and ambition. Others might have become hot under the Roman collar, so to speak…angered at the suggestion that they “have it wrong.” It’s hard to accept criticism, no matter who is criticizing or how it is directed at us. But, hopefully, the vast majority of the Italian bishops sat listening as attentively as the 12 behind the closed doors of Peter’s home.

And, hopefully, the Roman Catholic faithful around the world will hear this Sunday’s Gospel and realize that the teaching and admonition is not just for bishops and other Church leaders. All who are baptized in Christ are called to walk humbly before God. So then, on that day when a true Christian stands before The Just Judge and is asked (in a loving tone) “Who do you think you are?” …the answer is entirely predictable: I am Your humble servant, Lord…and the humble servant of others as well!

What Do I Need?
MK 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 27, 2015

A few years ago, I helped plan the 60th anniversary of a friend’s entry into her religious community. Of course, for her, the high point of the evening was Mass. Still, we wanted to have fun because Sr. Marianita loved to have fun. Keeping in mind that it was her 60th, we looked back to the ‘60’s and took some liberties with The Beatles song: All you need is love! After the final blessing, the entire gathering did their best to sound like John, Paul, George, and Ringo. I don’t think we would make it on America’s Got Talent, but we certainly bellowed out with great gusto the verses…All you need is love! All you need is love! All you need is love! Love is all you need!

That song was entirely appropriate to the occasion…even in church! After all, what would possess a young girl to leave her home and family…forego the probability of marriage and children…take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience…live a regimented life in close quarters with other women, working long hours for no personal gain or profit, and drastically limiting her freedom of movement? The song answered the question perfectly…Love is all you need…to commit your entire adult life to the service of God and to the service of others.

It takes an extraordinary amount of love to be a good disciple of Jesus Christ. While not everyone is called to the extreme and demanding commitment that is required by religious life, all of the Baptized should aspire to the kind of self-abandonment that Jesus describes in this Sunday’s Gospel.

It is nothing short of horrifying to think of mutilating or blinding oneself in order to avoid sin. Yet, our history is full of examples of Christians who gave up more than a foot, or hand, or eye for the sake of God. Mothers and fathers might find it easier to grasp the concept of this total self-giving. Parents are called daily…multiple times…to put themselves and their own personal interests and desires second to their children. A good parent would give their very life to spare their child. Love is that powerful.

Approaching the issue in a different way, we might recall how Jesus responded to the question: Rabbi…what must I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus’s response was basically this: All you need is love! All you need is love! All you need is love! Love is all you need!

Essential to the Building of this Country
MK 10:2-16
Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 4, 2015

I recently had the great honor of presiding at the wedding ceremony of a young couple who are close friends of mine. The bride was raised within the rich, Middle Eastern culture, and the groom is Mexican. Their respective heritages are very important to them, as well as to their families. All were hopeful that the nuptial traditions they are familiar with could somehow be integrated into a Roman Catholic Liturgy.

The Sacrament of Christian Marriage celebrated in the Eastern Church is unchanged since its inception centuries ago. Filled with symbolic gestures, the centerpiece of the wedding liturgy is what is referred to as “the crowning ceremony.” Having first been blessed, two “crowns” are held over the heads of the bride and groom, while ancient nuptial prayers are offered up. The crowns have several meanings. First, that God bestows His blessing upon the couple. The coronation also speaks to the fact that with the marriage, a new kingdom is being established; the couple submitting to Divine authority in the domain in which they will live and rule. Finally, Christians have always spoken of the “crown of martyrdom.” The crowns bring to mind the symbolic dying to oneself, so that the new couple will begin to live for one another. Before the ceremony closes with another beautiful prayer, the two crowns are “switched” three times, indicating that the couple has become full partners in their marriage. Very often, a person is buried with their “wedding crown” as an outward sign that they kept the lifelong commitment.

The Hispanic tradition of the Lasso, also referred to as “The Rope” or “The Rosary,” is an important part of many Mexican weddings, both religious and secular. The Lasso, which is basically a circle, is twisted into a figure 8, the sign for infinity, and then placed over the couple’s heads, resting on their shoulders. This demonstrates their intention to bind their lives and their spirits together for all of eternity. When integrated into the Sacrament of Christian Marriage, beautiful prayers and blessings are offered during the placement of the Lasso. Among other things, those gathered ask God to give the couple the strength to overcome selfishness and self-interest with the spirit of generosity; to quash feelings of mistrust with sound moral strength; to resolve misunderstandings with patience and gentleness; and to face the inevitable sufferings of this life with faith and abiding love.

We found a way to include these two traditions within the celebration of the Sacrament of Christian Marriage as outlined in the Roman Rite, and after the exchange of vows, the couple light a “unity candle,” which was inspired by contemporary wedding planners, but has made its way into the celebration of our Sacrament. Each of these three rituals is beautiful and a delight to watch. But, the true and lasting beauty and delight comes from watching the symbol gain strength and meaning as the married couple lives out the covenant they made with God and one another on their wedding day.

The tragically inflated divorce rate in this country and throughout the world serves to devalue the symbolic meaning of rituals like the crowns and the Lasso…and even the unity candle…and threatens the very fiber of the Christian family unit. And so, last week, Pope Francis traveled from the Vatican in order to be present for the World Meeting of Families. Earlier in his visit to the U.S., the Holy Father addressed a joint meeting of Congress. During his speech, Pope Francis received what appeared to be the unanimous approval of the chamber when he said: How essential the family has been to the building of this country and how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement! Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without.

Still, it is one thing to acknowledge such a serious problem, but another to come up with a solution. What can we do but continue to pray for a reversal of the trend? Let us pray that young married couples take seriously the rituals that they use to celebrate their union, and understand that the warning that the priest intones after the vows and the rings have been exchanged comes directly from Christ. What God has joined together…no one must separate!

Maybe it would be helpful to change the name of our law from “No-Fault Divorce” to something that will accurately identify the cause of the division…and before “the Lasso” is cut, and the video and albums burned, insist that the couple remember what was in their hearts when they lit their unity candle.

Marriage is more than a beautiful ceremony…it is a beautiful way of life…”essential to the building of this country” and…essential to the building of the Kingdom of God! And so we continue to pray!

Proud to be a Catholic
MK 10:17-30
Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 11, 2015

I’ve often heard it said that on St. Patrick’s Day: “The Irish are proud to be Irish and the rest of the world wishes they were as well!” Of course, this sentiment is usually shared while also sharing a pint or two. Taking some liberties, I would suggest that: “On Thursday, September 24, 2015, I was ESPECIALLY PROUD to be Roman Catholic, and the rest of the world wished they were as well!” That, of course, was the very memorable day on which Pope Francis stood before a joint meeting of the Legislature of these United States of America. Relying on the principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Holy Father gave a homily for our nation’s leaders and for the entire listening world. Most of us remember almost every word of the very memorable speech.

Beginning with Moses, who delivered God’s Law to us, the Holy Father then spoke briefly about four Americans who, through their lives, furthered the principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: Abraham Lincoln, in his efforts to ensure freedom to all; Martin Luther King, who articulated a dream wherein humankind would look at one another as God looks upon each of us; Dorothy Day, a voice crying out in the wilderness of greed, materialism, and unbridled consumption on behalf of the poor; and finally, the Cistercian Monk, Thomas Merton, who, from a hermitage in Kentucky helped to engage people of different faith traditions in meaningful conversations. It was indeed a “Grand day to be Catholic!”

But not all Roman Catholics agree. Moreover, the brilliant and moving address by our shepherd did not inspire the desire for conversion in the hearts of many non-Catholics…even good people…people of “good will.” Furthermore, since the Holy Father’s return to the Vatican, the secular press and social media continue to dissect his many comments, taking things out of the context of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and putting their own spin on the life-giving message.

Many are highly critical of the Holy Father as he goes about the work of discipleship, challenging all humankind to commit fully and unconditionally to building The City of God…according to God’s plan laid out very clearly in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Why is this the case? Why would some people, even those who have done their best to observe God’s Law “from their youth,” find the message that Francis brings challenging to the point of being offended? Why would good people be outraged by The Good News?

We might well find the answer in this Sunday’s Gospel (Mark 10:17-30). Possibly, they are “lacking in one thing.” What that one thing might be varies from person to person. But, eventually, at least for good people…people of “good will”, the Holy Spirit will somehow provide what is “lacking.” So let’s just sit back patiently and watch the Holy Spirit, through Pope Francis, go about God’s Work!

Joined to the Sufferings of Jesus
MK 10:35-45
Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 18, 2015

In last week’s Gospel, we heard the story of a pious, faithful, and wealthy young man whom Jesus challenged in a way that, presumably, was beyond his willingness to comply. Spiritually, the young man was on such solid ground that the only thing “lacking” to ensure him a place in heaven was that he sell everything, give the proceeds to the poor, and then follow Jesus. He walked away. Sure, he was sad…but still…he walked away. The call for unconditional trust and commitment was too much for him to accept. And yet, all that was asked of him was to give up material goods.

A few weeks back, in a college classroom in Oregon, people were asked to give up far more. A “shooter” purportedly asked his college classmates: “Are you a Christian?” Those who said “yes” were shot. They did not “walk away” nor did they shy away from the face of certain death. Nine people died what was essentially a martyr’s death. Without any information about how they had led their lives up to that fateful moment, and on the basis of just one word…YES!… these people gave “supreme witness to the truth of faith…even unto death.” (2473 Catechism of the Catholic Church) Our tradition tells us that that one single word…YES…assured them a place in the Kingdom.

The same unconditional trust and commitment to the saving power of Jesus Christ is being asked of countless people each day as ISIS breaks into the homes and the lives of those disciples who remain in the war-torn areas of the Middle East. We have no way of knowing how many martyrs are dying there on a daily basis. Of course, not all have the strength of faith and the unconditional commitment to Christ. Some forsake their religion in order to save their earthly life…and are allowed by the terrorists to “walk away”…walk away from Christ!

All three Readings this weekend speak to the value of suffering. Even Jesus did not shy away from the ultimate sacrifice. The Father did not offer, and the Son did not seek an easy way out of the debt owed for the first bad choice…the first time human beings turned their back on God and walked away. Authentic and sincere discipleship requires that we follow the example of the Master and join our sufferings to His. In that way, we somehow make a contribution to Jesus’s ultimate sacrifice.

Thankfully, few are required to face a gunman’s fury or the bone-chilling shouts of terrorists at the door. Likewise, few can totally escape pain and suffering. Today’s Readings do not explain it or help us to escape it…but serve to reassure us that when it does strike, suffering is a form of sacrifice that has meaning and purpose when joined to the sufferings of Jesus.

Prove Who You Are
MK 10:46-52
Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 25, 2015

More and more often these days, we are being called to show “proof of identity.” However, things such as driver’s licenses and passports or even passwords and codes are subject to theft, allowing bad guys to gain access to places where they should not be and to things that don’t belong to them. So scientists and engineers have developed “biotmetrics.” Simply put, this is a technology that securely binds a person’s identity through some characteristic unique to them. Arising out of biometrics and proven to be one of the most reliable methods of protecting identity is iris recognition. The totally unique characteristics of a person’s iris are permanently fixed by six months of age. No two persons have the same iris pattern, which cannot be stolen, lost, or forgotten. So by simply allowing a computer to scan the iris and compare the image with a database, a person can prove identity and gain access to secure areas.

In today’s Gospel, we find Jesus on His way to prove His identity as the Messiah by suffering, dying, and rising. Access to Him is denied to a blind beggar by those surrounding the Lord, probably thinking that they were protecting Jesus and keeping Him secure. Remarkably, although sightless, Bartimaeus recognizes Jesus. In fact, he is the first person in the Gospel to acknowledge Jesus as “the Son of David.” The significance of this title should not have been lost on those who heard the blind man. Being linked to the House of King David was simply one of the characteristics of the Messiah; characteristics that were not simply established when the Lord was six months old…rather…infinite characteristics of God.

This insight by someone who was “sightless” proved, in turn, to be a characteristic unique to Bartimaeus, establishing his identity as a person of deep faith. His display of faith gained him access to the most privileged of places…the presence of The Christ. His persistence in calling out to Jesus opened the way to the most valuable of treasures…Christ’s mercy and healing powers. Through these mutual moments of recognition, Bartimaeus gained his sight, Jesus gained a committed follower on His way to prove His identity once and for all…on Cavalry….and we gained a priceless lesson.

Through our Baptism, we are given an identity that cannot be stolen or lost. But, the identity with which we are greatly privileged can be enhanced each time we follow the example of Bartimaeus and declare Jesus to be the Son of God and each time we follow the example of Jesus and welcome others with compassion and mercy. And the best part is this: When we stand before the Gates of Heaven, and our lives are scanned by the just and merciful Judge…and we are proven to be who we say we are…the doors open for us to eternal life!

Open House
MT 5:1-12A
All Saints
November 1, 2015

I was talking to a friend who told me that one of the several colleges which her “senior” is interested in waives the application fee for students/parents who attend an “open house.” So, while this is a “B” list choice, they are taking a road trip for the weekend visit. This is a clever idea on the part of the college administrators, because the experience of actually walking the campus shoulder to shoulder with students already enrolled creates an appetite on the part of the applicant that sticks with them in a special way.

In the spiritual sense, every time we gather for Eucharist, we are standing shoulder to shoulder with the faithful women and men who have gone before us, as well as with our brothers and sisters in Christ, who have yet to enter time. In other words, Eucharist is a way for us, for a brief moment here in the present, to step out of time and to claim and celebrate that part of ourselves which is “timeless.” Our Second Reading (1 John 3:1-3) acknowledges that “what we shall be has not yet been revealed.” Still, by gathering at the Sacred Banquet, we are enjoying the company and companionship of those whose hope in The Risen Christ has been realized. The experience strengthens our own hope that we will be invited into the fullness of the Kingdom. Eucharist creates an appetite within us that will only be fully satisfied at the heavenly banquet, and, at the same time, helps us to prepare.

That being said, each year, our Church offers us a special opportunity to remember who we are and who we hope to become. On All Saints Day, we celebrate those who did their best while living in time to be pure of heart. It is a day when we are called to “Rejoice and be glad,” confident that their “reward will be great in heaven.” The following day…All Soul’s Day…is a celebration of our belief that through our prayers, we who exist in “the here and now” (time), can assist those who have already passed into eternity, but who are not yet properly attired to mingle with angels and saints. We believe that our prayers on their behalf help to win their admission to the heavenly household. There is a final element to these two days of “open house.” It is an opportunity for us to consider that we are the beneficiaries of prayers offered by the saints.

All Saints and All Souls Days are a kind of “open house,” where we are given a special opportunity to visit and experience eternal life in the Kingdom. During these days, we are reminded of the entrance requirements. We are also reassured that if, for whatever reason, we are not admitted immediately, even those who are “wait listed” should not lose hope. Christians “here” and “there” are cheering them on. In fact, the entire month of November, which brings us to the threshold of a new season and a new year, should be spent reflecting on the reality that life in this world is the threshold of eternal life. It’s a good time to remember that time is the doorway to eternity…and Eucharist is a window into what is waiting there for the pure of heart!

MK 12:41-44
Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
November 8, 2015

This Sunday’s Gospel has a nickname. It is frequently referred to as: “The Widow’s Mite.” Even people who are totally unschooled in the Gospels are likely to recognize the story reported by both Mark and Luke by just hearing this unofficial title. And, if asked, they would probably say that it is a story about being charitable…generous…giving. In fact, when depicted in art or illustrated in a Bible Story book, “the mite” or the coin which the poor woman gave is the focal point, implying that it was her donation which prompted Jesus to point her out to His disciples. Actually, many preachers and pastors who are or should be well educated in the Gospels have used the story of “The Widow’s Mite” in order to encourage more generous giving from their congregation; this, in spite of the fact that Jesus seems to have directed attention to her as a way of illustrating the much less worthy actions, motives, and donations of some very privileged people.

By choosing to pair “The Widow’s Mite” with the First Reading from the Book of Kings, the Church is enabling and inviting us to look past the coin in her hand to what was in the woman’s mind and heart. We actually have a little more detail about the Old Testament widow, the suggestion being that we shift attention from “the gift” and focus more on “the giver.”

We know the name of the village where she lived with her son. We are able to appreciate just how desperate her situation was. When Elijah the Prophet encounters her, she is gathering kindling for the fire on which she will prepare the very meager meal for her child and herself that she recognizes might be their “last supper” before succumbing to starvation. We can sense her desperation and feel the hunger pains and the fatigue that have sapped her strength. More significant, we can feel the pain in her heart as she looks at her little son. We are shocked by what is being asked of her and even more stunned that she complies. She literally takes food from her starving child’s mouth to feed a stranger. Her act is on par with that of Abraham as he stood on a mountaintop, preparing to sacrifice his son. Clearly, she is motivated by something more intense than a generous spirit or the sense of hospitality.

There are no details offered about the New Testament widow who caught Jesus’s attention. But when her story is placed next to that of the widow of Zarephath, it certainly seems that the lesson to be learned goes well beyond the call to be generous and hospitable. These two women have been remembered for thousands of years for their gifts, but what is truly iconic about them is their trust in God.

Both recognized that God is “The Ultimate Giver” and that all things come from and belong to God. Like Abraham, both demonstrated unshakeable trust in God’s goodness and love. Both gave…not from their surplus…but from what little they had which separated them from certain disaster.

Our Second Reading, (Hebrews 9:24-28), which links the stories of the Old and New Testament widows, serves to direct our attention away from the gift and towards the giver. There, we find a brief reference to the Lord’s ultimate sacrifice on The Cross, made possible by Jesus’s unshakable trust in The Father’s goodness and love.

While the generosity of both women is to be admired, what is truly iconic is the strength of their faith, and their rock solid trust in God. When coupled together, a new name might fit both stories: The Widow’s Might! Both are remembered for mighty deeds, but it was their “mighty” trust in God that was the source of their strength and courage.

Living Hope
MK 13:24-32
33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
November 15, 2015

The National Academy of Sciences recently published the results of a study by economists from Princeton University which demonstrates that death rates among white Americans ages 45 to 54 is increasing dramatically, even as life expectancy among other identifiable groups increases. The majority of these seemingly untimely deaths are attributed to things other than “natural causes,” including drug and alcohol abuse and suicide. Simplifying this alarming and credible study, one might suggest that within this demographic grouping, there is an epidemic of hopelessness. These statistics are certainly tragic. But especially alarming is the possibility that “hopelessness” will metastasize, spreading down to and infecting our kids.

Close in time, the Pew Research Center published its study concerning attendance at religious services. This group suggests a “change in the religious landscape” in the U.S. Approximately 36% of those polled claimed that they attend church services at least once a week. That statistic holds for American Catholics and Sunday Mass attendance. All we need to do is look around our parish church on any given Sunday morning to know these numbers are right.

Is there a connection between these two studies, I wonder? Is there a connection between “epidemic hopelessness” and the reduced numbers of worshipers in our church services?

We Christians know this much for certain: We enjoy a “living hope, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (1Peter1) This “living hope” means that no matter what is happening in our lives, we have every reason to believe that it will end well if it ends in Christ. This “living hope” enables us to walk through dark times guided by The Light of Christ, confident that Jesus’s ultimate sacrifice has ensured for us the happiest of endings…as individuals as well as humankind.

It seems that the question of just exactly when the end will come has always lingered on the minds of people, regardless of whether they enjoy a faith life or not. Possibly, that concern triggers hopelessness. For people without a “living hope,” the end is something to be feared. But, for Christians, “the end” does not evoke an image of endless darkness, but rather the Eternal Light of Christ…The infinite Glory of God. Still, “The End,” whether of our world as we know it or our individual lives, is something for which we must prepare. And, in many different ways, that has been the message of Mark’s Gospel, with which we began this liturgical year on the First Sunday of Advent 2014 and which we conclude this Sunday.

We must remember that, like all living things, “living hope” needs to be nourished, fed, and exercised in order to grow, develop, and mature. And so Jesus has given us the gift of the seven Sacraments, the Gospel AND ONE ANOTHER, so that our hope might sustain us. And the best news of all is that “living hope” is contagious. When we face the challenges of life with Christian hope, we can share our belief with others that “THE END” is, in reality, “THE NEW BEGINNING” of something wonderful that will never end. Let’s get out there and spread the hope!

JN 18:33B-37
The Solemnity of Jesus Christ the King
November 22, 2015

It has been reported that the number of “radicalized” ISIS recruits pouring into Syria and Iraq from around the world has doubled over the past year. Social media has been a very successful means of “getting the message out.” The question is: What is there about “the message” that is so powerful that so many young people find it irresistible? Some believe that the appeal rests in large part with the skillful use of an ancient collection of sayings and prophecies about “the end of the world.” The young recruits have bought in a vision of a final cosmic battle between good and evil; the victor welcoming into existence a new era. They perceive themselves to be God’s champions.

This non-Christian literature that has been used to give the impression of “religious war” is not unlike what we Catholics heard proclaimed last Sunday, on the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, and again this week as we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. The passages from the Book of Daniel as well as that from Mark’s Gospel are “apocalyptic” in tone. In other words, they speak to the final things. But it is extremely important to remember the closing line of last week’s Gospel: BUT OF THAT DAY OR HOUR, NO ONE KNOWS, NEITHER THE ANGELS IN HEAVEN NOR THE SON, BUT ONLY THE FATHER!

Those who are successfully inspiring others to barbaric violence are claiming to know things that Jesus, the Son of God, did not know. They are using Islamic apocalyptic literature as “a war strategy” and a script for terrorism. Those behind this movement are trying to make things occur in such a way that it appears that what has been foretold is now unfolding…and that this is the will of God. In short, they are attempting to impose a timetable on The Almighty.

And so, the message God sent through the Prophet Daniel has particular relevance for us today. There we enjoy a vision of Christ drawing all things together under His dominion and control. Daniel’s vision is one of unity, not war, terror, and violence. This Old Testament vision is made more brilliant by our Second Reading from the Book of Revelation. Jesus is The Beginning and The End…” The First and Last Word” so to speak. And The Last Word is one of love, forgiveness, and freedom for “all peoples.” What we hear in our Second Reading is essentially this: THE WAR IS OVER! JESUS IS VICTORIOUS! The Reign of God has already begun. The terrorists’ vision fails because Christ has won a peace that will prevail until…at the time God the Father choses…He will return in glory.

We celebrate Christ’s dominion in what, at first glance, might appear to be an unusual way. Our Gospel on this Feast of Christ the King takes us to the praetorium in Jerusalem on Good Friday to overhear what theologian Monika Hellwig once referred to as: “perhaps the most important conversation captured in literature.” By that, she means…we have it all wrong. Our perception of…our job description for…“monarch”…is one of power and control; when, in fact, Christ’s Kingship is about suffering, service, justice, peace…and unity! Should the Gospel appear weak next to the horrific acts of violence we are witnessing, consider how weak Jesus looked standing in front of Pilate!

Those who lost loved ones in the attacks on Paris and Beirut or in the downed Russian airplane over the Sinai Desert might not find comfort in all of this. Those who have a son or daughter deployed to the Middle East might well say: “This is just all a bunch of words.” But it is extremely important for us to remember that it is words that motivate all of this violence and terror. Many young people are listening to words that describe a vision that is the complete opposite of that which Jesus has left us, and they are buying into that vision…a false vision.

Christ the King is the Eternal Word of God. And the vision Christ has left us is one of peace, justice, love…and truth!

While we cannot deny that there needs to be a political and quite likely a military response to the evil that is spreading across the world, the most persuasive diplomacy and the most effective weapon…is truth…The Truth…Jesus Christ.

The front lines of this war on terrorism, in a very real way, are our classrooms and our pulpits. More than ever, it is imperative that we “radicalize” our young people…radicalize them in the Gospel. It is imperative that we pass on a clear vision of the Kingdom of God…a vision that has been spoken to us by The Eternal Word…Christ the King.

For some time now, our Church has been calling us to commit to a New Evangelization…but the response has been half-hearted at best. Next week, we begin a new liturgical year with the Season of Advent. Let’s commit in a radical way to these four short weeks of preparation. When we welcome Jesus at Christmas, let us do it with a deeper understanding that He is the Prince of Peace!

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