Journal Archive 2014 CYCLE A

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A Chance To Work With God
Thoughts on the Gospels –by Joe
1st Sunday of Advent (A)
Matthew 24:37-44

I still remember being scared by this gospel when I was a child. It was the same kind of fear that I had going to school without my homework or seeing my parents drive up to the house when I hadn’t done the jobs that they’d left for me. As I became an adult, I put most of those fears behind me with the thought that I could only do what I could do and, as long as I was trying my best, God would understand and be patient.

Years later I came to realize that the issue was neither God’s understanding nor God’s patience. It was our freedom. I had been raised to have a perpetual child-parent relationship with God: God would tell me what to do and I would decide whether or not to do it. On that decision depended my status as either obedient or disobedient with its consequences. It took quite a while for me to understand my relationship with God as a friendship with a shared and deeply desired goal. God wants to give us an existence of boundless beauty and joy. And we, as we become aware of God’s intention, want to see it realized.

Still, a key aspect of the gift is our freedom. We’re free to decide whether and how whole-heartedly to cooperate with God’s gift. The price of not cooperating is that we delay or wound the world God wants to give. That’s not a punishment but the natural result ignoring or resisting the process of creation.

As I’m writing this, the Philippine people are struggling to rise from the destruction left by Typhoon Haiyan. Their president, Benigno di Aquino III, estimates that 2,500 residents may have been killed.

Recent cuts to unemployment compensation, food stamps, rent subsidies, and Head Start have made it more difficult than usual for poor people to survive and live with dignity in our country.

There’s nowhere that God says, “Help the people of the Philippines and restore cuts to the poverty programs.” God, however, does say, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” It takes us all a while to realize that we’re free adult friends of God with a chance to build something wonderful together – not children pleasing our parents.

God Under Our Nose
Thoughts on the Gospels –by Joe
2nd Sunday of Advent (A)
Matthew 3:1-12

Since Christianity’s third century people committed to our faith often spent part of their lives in the desert. For some the desert was dune covered or barren land far from population centers. For others the desert was a quiet apartment or a farm or even a monastery where they could pray and think long about the God for whom they longed.

These people frequently understood God to be outside of themselves and their world. They spoke of escaping the shallow, sinfulness of life to contemplate the beauty of God and discover how to join with him.

In our time, people seeking God are more likely to feel the need to understand how he’s active in the heart of life. They want to plum life deeply, not escape from it.

What’s really going on here? What’s the future God is offering? Where are we and God working in harmony? Where are we at odds? What do I bring to our project? How can I encourage what’s positive and refrain from and diminish the negative?

These are intense questions of faith. No one finds the answers outside of the world. They require not just involvement with but love for life. Still, love and involvement are sterile without insight. And, as active people know, such insight is usually grabbed on the fly, in the fleeting moment and the startling realization that brings us up short. It’s often visible only against the backdrop of surprising humor, pain or wonder.

Insight, however, can rush by without leaving a trail if it hasn’t a chance to settle in and find a spot of its own. And such spots are found in times of reflection.

To actually live the Christian Way we need a way to spend time reflecting. We don’t all need the same amount of time; we don’t all need the same type of time. But we have to have our own desert: not a place where we can escape but a place where we can make a spot in our minds and hearts for the love between God and people that we witness in life and allow it to make a home in us.

Searching For The Church
Thoughts on the Gospels –by Joe
3rd Sunday of Advent (A)
Matthew 11:2-11

Recently, while discussing the Church, some friends and I realized that there’s very little useful information about it. We’ve lots of data about the numbers of converts and people leaving, the number of priests and how powerful progressive and conservative elements are. Most dioceses count Mass attendance, baptisms and students in Catholic schools. But this tells us little about the real health of the Catholic community.

We exist to bring Jesus’ revelation to our world. Just repeating Jesus’ words to people doesn’t begin to accomplish our task. The only meaningful measure of the Church’s health is how well we promote and support love and justice among our members and within the larger world community.

As most institutions, we tend to focus on internal matters: are our ranks waxing or waning, how are the finances, whose priorities are ascendant, are our different factions satisfied with the distribution of power, where’s the next threat coming from? Since we’re a community of human beings, all these concerns are understandable. But they divert huge amounts of attention and energy from the function that we exist to perform.

Maybe one day there will be a form sent to each parish asking: how many times did your members bring God’s forgiveness to their world by loving those who harmed them, to what extent were your members willing to forego their comfort and risk their security so that others could live securely with dignity, how frequently did your members encourage those who were losing heart because their efforts for good bore no visible fruit?

As difficult as it would be to gather that information, it would create a very useful snapshot of the Church. It sure would help us know the extent to which the gospel has freed us for God’s work and the efficacy of our Church as Christ for the world. It would remind us of what we all believe is really important.

To Be Christian Is To Forgive
Thoughts on the Gospels -by Joe
4th Sunday of Advent
Matthew 1:18-24

According to Jewish Law, Joseph could have had Mary stoned for becoming pregnant with a child that wasn’t his. He could also have had her publicly humiliated in a religious ritual designed to prove or disprove her fidelity. Had he chosen either path, the story of Jesus, if it were told at all, would have been radically different. Joseph’s love and forgiveness of Mary made Jesus’ life, as we know it, possible.

When Matthew’s gospel goes on to tell how the angel described Jesus’ life’s work as forgiving our sins, we can hardly miss how central forgiveness in God’s relationship with us.

Usually we speak of God’s forgiveness in terms of our human weakness and cussedness rendering us undeserving of divine gifts. There’s another, more satisfying explanation. We can’t explain why the source and life of the universe should love and promise fulfillment to us. We can’t even explain why that Being would create us in the first place.

Everything we know of life is a chain of trades. The saying that nothing in life is free has deep roots in human experience. Imagining a relationship with our Creator that isn’t predicated on an exchange of some kind has been difficult almost to the point of being impossible.

The real foundation of our alienation from God isn’t the failures and nastiness that so often mar our lives but the complete inability we face when we try to trade for our lives and happiness. We have nothing to bring forward. That leaves us with an insurmountable insecurity – an insecurity that would leave us scrambling for the shakiest island of stability regardless of its cost were it not for God’s reaching out to offer us the hand of welcome and friendship. The message of Christmas and Holy Week is I value you not for what you can give me but as a friend of unquestioned worth.

We pray that this message will flow over us all as we celebrate the birth of Jesus. We pray that is will become so powerful in our lives that we convey it to our world in our every relationship.

Love Your Enemy: Listen To Your Enemy
Thoughts on the Gospels -by Joe
Feast of the Holy Family
Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

Herod the Great ruled Judea under Rome’s auspices when Jesus was born. On the one hand he had to keep peace and collect taxes for Rome who brooked no nonsense in its provinces and kept a garrison in Judea to make that point clear. On the other hand, Judeans were not at all shy about voicing their contempt for everything Roman, from culture to politics to religion. Keeping both parties happy also meant keeping both angry. Complicating things still more was Herod’s penchant for living large. He didn’t hesitate to take anything he needed to make that happen. He lived with mixed motives: protect his people and protect his lifestyle. Herod’s threat to the infant Jesus arose from both. He didn’t need some supposed infant Messiah riling up his citizenry and precipitating a Roman clampdown. He also didn’t need the rumor of a nascent Messiah undermining his authority.

We’re all prone to ascribing simple motives to people. We maintain that our own motives are rooted simply in the good we espouse. Those with contrary visions derive their motives, at best, from complete ignorance and, at worst, from unadulterated self-interest. We’re able to act out of these one-dimensional notions even though we protest, “Of course, I’m not perfect and my opponents aren’t all bad but . . . .”

Love entails many things; one of them is listening. While counselors and TV gurus have touted this bit of wisdom in personal relationships for decades, we seldom apply it to our political or ecclesiastical relationships. It’s so far from our normal way of interacting in these arenas that we think ourselves open-minded when we grant our opposition the clichéd five minutes to make your case.

Most all of us sincerely want, and try to be, just and loving to others. When we fail, we pick ourselves up and resolve to do better next time. It would help if we would resolve to listen to others – especially to those others who, we are totally convinced, have no good reason for what they think and do. If we really want to love others, we have to do everything that loving entails. Listening is a good place to start.

The Gift Of Giving
Thoughts on the Gospels –by Joe
Feast of the Epiphany
Matthew 2:1-12

Oh, I really don’t need a thing. Please don’t get me anything. I’m just glad that you can be here. All of us have heard those words from parents, siblings and lovers. In fact, we’ve most likely spoken them ourselves. Nonetheless, we go out and buy a gift for the one telling us not to bother and others do the same for us. Why do we all do this?

Gifts have many meanings. Usually they have significance for the receiver; they always hold significance for the giver.

Giving a gift to our Creator is a concept full of contradiction. We have nothing and do nothing that the Creator’s gift of our very existence doesn’t make possible. To speak of giving God something is, at heart, a figure of speech. But it’s a powerful figure of speech.

When we give a gift to a loved one, knowing that he or she hasn’t any need for candy or roses or a new bathrobe, we remind ourselves of how much we value him or her. Even going out into the cold of a winter’s night reminds us of how fortunate we are to have this person in our lives. We may grumble at the parking lot slush and grouse at pushy people pawing through shelves but we know how wounded our lives would be were the loved one for whom we shop. We certainly hope that our lover will enjoy our gift but, in some ways, we know that we need to give the gift more than our lover needs to receive it.

We’ve all heard someone we love say to us, “You didn’t need to get me anything.” And we’ve responded, “Sure I did. I love you; how could I not get you something!”

The saying is true: It’s not the gift that counts; it’s the thought behind it. With God, even that thought is a gift to us. Though we look like the giver, once again we’re the receiver.

Funny how that works.

The Inseparable God
Thoughts on the Gospels –by Joe
Baptism of the Lord
Matthew 3:13-17

When a person reaches out to a lonely person in friendship, God’s Spirit is at work in her. Whenever a person writes to a government official encouraging greater justice for the poor – whether or not his effort bears fruit, God’s Spirit motivates him. God’s Spirit is not out there somewhere dropping in occasionally to lend us a helping hand. The Spirit is inseparable from life. Traditional religious language that prays for her to “come down” or “visit” us from on high can obscure that fact.

What difference does that make whether God’s Spirit is here or out there? Does it matter whether or not we need to ask God for help or God is constantly working for our welfare and growth?

For those who don’t speak of or imagine the world and themselves using images of God and Christ it doesn’t matter. They have other ways of envisioning their union with life and its future. For Christian how God relates to us matters a lot.

First of all, the foundation of the human family is the presence of God creating and pulling us all forward to his promised future. It’s that action of God in all of us that unites us, whatever our differences, into one human family.

Secondly, our lives are often difficult and confusing. The obstacles we face and the lack of any obvious path through confusing choices frequently overwhelm us. For those possessing our faith, knowing that our Creator is involved in our struggles rather than watching with occasional interest is a source of strength and courage. Jesus’ life reflected for us God’s determination to do everything possible to assure the fulfillment of human potential. That revelation frees us from the nagging fear that our best efforts may accomplish no lasting good.

Though God’s constant immersion in our lives is frequently missing from official prayers and popular piety, the realization of his total and unalterable engagement in human reality is deeply embedded in Catholic theology. We needn’t wait for the slow rewriting official books to change our own habitual image of God.

God is at work for our growth before we’ve developed the slightest inkling that new possibilities lay before us. God isn’t behind us waiting to be invited up to join us or even beside us waiting to be told what we need. God is ahead, never taking his eyes off of us, drawing us forward and giving us everything possible for the journey into the future he promises.

The effort to believe, imagine and constantly search out God’s creative presence in life will bring a new maturity to our spirituality. It will also offer a firm foundation to the respect for all of life and creation itself that is essential to practicing the Christian morality that we long to live.

See As Jesus Saw: Love As Jesus Loved
Thoughts on the Gospel -by Joe
Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
John 1:29-34

Almost all the Christians I know try hard to live the way they think they should, not primarily because they fear God is keeping tabs on their actions but because they want to live in a world where people treat each other well and trust one another.

I also know that most don’t find living the way they want to be as easy as they’d like. Not only do they face the obvious difficulties but they find making decisions about what constitutes living justly less than simple.

When friends ask how to make their attempts to live as Christ more successful and how to know the right thing to do in difficult cases, the best piece of wisdom I have to pass along came from a professor many years ago. “Before you can love and act the way Jesus did you have to see the world the way Jesus saw it.”

When Jesus looked around him, he saw God at work in everyone and everything. When he met laborers, when he witnessed celebrations, when he gathered with mourners, when he touched the sick and watched children, he saw God’s handiwork – not the finished product, not the perfection of what would be but the process of an ongoing effort of love.

For years, as a student, I heard preachers and spiritual advisors tell me to put on the mind of Christ. It always sounded like so much boiler-plate piety. It was many years and much living later that I realized the wisdom those words held. It is only when we view the reality and potential for good of everything around us that we will love and respect our surroundings – both people and things – as Jesus did. Only when we see what God is doing can we join in his efforts.

The essence of prayer is seeing creation as the Creator sees it. That idea doesn’t always help since we’re so conditioned to think of prayer as telling God something. But if we can change that idea and understand prayer as putting aside our assumptions about what’s going on around us and allowing God to point out a fuller reality, we will benefit immensely.

Maybe we should get wrist bands asking not what would Jesus do but what would Jesus see.

The Gospel Is An Action
Thoughts on the Gospel –by Joe
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matthew 4:12-23

“I don’t care what church my roommates attend or if they go to church at all. It’s not my business. I hate people pushing their religion and flaunting their piety. It’s egotistical and obnoxious.”

That rant from a generally easy-going student wasn’t surprising. Many Catholics react negatively to explicit promotions of religion. Yet, the gospels make it obvious that Jesus clearly recruited others to carry his message far and wide. The last sentences of Matthew tell how he promised to work with the disciples while they preached his message.

Jesus wasn’t a my-religion-is-my-business guy. He knew that his message would free people from the fears that stifled their ability to love others and advance the common good. He was revealing God’s love and wanted his followers to do the same.

Over the years many have felt the need to explain my work to me. Their observations are often insightful. But not always. One man spent a very long bus ride telling me that we were in the same “racket”: sales. “You’ve got a product to sell and you try to get people to buy. You sell religion; I sell cars. Same thing.” More than a little alcohol fueled his need to convince me of our common occupation but his take on my work isn’t uncommon. And his take was a mistake.

When we accept baptism, we agree to pass on our experience of God’s love. We do that by loving others and by encouraging their efforts to love. We also pass it on by telling how Jesus’ life assured us of God’s love.

If we tell the story of Jesus’ love by our own love and respect, his revelation continues in us. “Live what you preach,” a wise priest told me. “You can keep your homilies shorter.”

Being Jesus’ love for others, frees us from obsessing over whether they use the correct language to express their faith. We’ll be more intent on showing our respect for the promise of their lives and the good they’re accomplishing. That’s never obnoxious.

For Better Or Worse, We Matter
Thoughts on the Gospels –by Joe
Feast of the Presentation of the Lord
Luke 2:22-40

“The most important thing that I want to teach my kids is that no matter what they do, God is always there for them and doesn’t hold their failures against them.” This statement is an on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-hand truth. It’s certainly crucial to teach children that God’s love is unqualified. On the other hand, it’s crucial to teach them that their actions have consequences and God can’t rescue them from those consequences without obviating their freedom and ability to love: without denying them humanity. Our actions make a difference for good and ill. God’s love doesn’t change that.

The reactions of Simeon and Anna to the infant Jesus at the Jerusalem temple make very clear that Jews expected concrete, practical accomplishments from the Messiah. God had promised much more than a nice guy who would reassure them of their place in his heart. The Messiah’s role was to change the world. If he didn’t do that, he wasn’t the Messiah.

From its earliest days our community’s faith was that Jesus was the Messiah. He had changed the world. He hadn’t done everything himself, as Jews assumed he would. He had revealed God’s power in us to bring peace and justice to the world not with horses and swords but with loving service and the refusal to blind ourselves to the presence of God in even those who oppose us.

It’s easy to domesticate Jesus. We can put him at the service of social tranquility and smoothing out the bumps in the status quo. We can – but doing so eviscerates the reality of Jesus, the Messiah. As Simeon put it, Jesus was “destined for the rise and fall of many.” He did so because he challenged all he met to enlist in or desert God’s future of a just world.

Being Christian has consequences for the world. Our lives too are destined for the rise and fall of many. If people aren’t moved to choose God’s future when they encounter us, we aren’t living the Spirit of the Messiah.

Faith: The Love To Keep Trying
Thoughts on the Gospels -by Joe
5th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matthew 5:13-16

For many of us, today, the idea that Catholics should see ourselves as “the light of the world” is absurd. Some in our community have embarrassed us repeatedly in the most egregious ways. We along with much of society celebrate Pope Francis simply for being a decent and down to earth human being. “Finally,” many are saying, “a public Catholic that we don’t have to apologize for.” Yet his acclaim carries no little irony. The pope is only living the basic gospel that we hear every Sunday. That so few of us who call the Gospel our own are willing to stand up and invite others to find in us the example of human potential and the promise of life’s future raises important questions.

The core of Jesus’ message was the promise of God’s Future for all humanity. He delivered that message in the midst of and in spite of our egotism and failures. There’s a wonderful story in John’s gospel of Jesus rescuing and forgiving of a woman caught in adultery. We miss the power of that story if we overlook the serious harm adultery does to real people: to spouses, kids, relatives and society. Death by stoning was an ancient nomadic people’s way of punishing the most dangerous threats to their welfare. Marriage wasn’t if-it-works-it-works-and-if-it-doesn’t-it-doesn’t thing for Jesus or his world. For him to rescue then forgive this woman was astounding and the lesson it held about God’s Future was profound.

All of us fail – morally and every other way. We fail in ways that do serious harm to ourselves and others. That is a fact of life. God promises the fulfillment of our dreams in the face of those failures.

The light that we bring the world isn’t our virtue. It isn’t that we always get it right or that we don’t at times make a shameful spectacle of ourselves. Our light is that we acknowledge our failure, we forgive ourselves and we keep moving toward the Future God promises. We do that for ourselves. We do that for everyone else. Our light for the world is that evil – anyone’s evil – is never the last word. The Creator’s Love is.

Not A New Law; A Deeper Investment
Thoughts on the Gospels -by Joe
6th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matthew 5:17-37

The gospels present differing pictures of Jesus’ attitude towards Jewish Law and scholars debate about his precise views. For those of us who would like a working understanding of Jesus’ thinking though, here are a few observations. First, Jesus respected the Law of his people. Second, Jesus seemed to want folks to focus on the heart of Law, not on simply the externals. Third, he oriented his thoughts about The Law around his promise of God’s Future.

Jewish Law (capitalized because it is sacred in Jewish faith) preserved civility among the people, protected the powerless and united the people in their relationship with God, the core of their communal being. In a way foreign to us, there was and could be no separation between sacred and profane law. Jesus honored this vision of Law. He also tried to turn a spotlight on its heart.

His message was, don’t do things by halves; don’t play hide and seek with God. Look at what the Law promotes and commit yourselves completely to that goal. Don’t begin by seeking the minimum that you have to do. Begin with the determination to live the heart of the law as completely as possible.

The issue isn’t how much you have to love but how you can love completely. The issue isn’t how much you have to share with the poor but how you can help the poor find their rightful power and move into security and dignity. The point isn’t how much you can legally and socially get away with in your sexual relationships; the issue is how you can treat others in the most respectful way possible in every circumstance. Ask these questions not to avoid punishments from a judgmental God. Ask to them to advance the Future that God offers.

With Jesus, the assumption is that we and our Creator have a common goal and we are determined to do all we can to achieve that goal as quickly as possible.

A God For Grown-ups
Thoughts on the Gospels -by Joe
7th Sunday of Advent
Matthew 5:38-48

Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you that you may be children of your heavenly Father. . . . Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. Jesus had a clear vision of how those who accepted his promise of God’s Future should act towards others. He taught it plainly. He didn’t offer new laws. He mined Jewish Law for its underlying goal and encouraged people to make that their guide. Many overlook the respect Jesus showed his followers. He treated them as adults and encouraged them to see themselves as such.

Too often we view God as a power we must serve rather than a lover whose gift we have a chance to accept and enjoy. As we would any other authority we study God to imagine what he wants then we give him as little as we can safely get away with to stay in his good graces. Yet, even while we are doing this, we have an intuition that the whole idea is childish and something inside us refuses to take this kind of relationship with God seriously. Too many of us then see ourselves left with a choice between denying God or denying religion.

When I was 17 my dad taught me how to drive. In preparation for the dreaded Highway Patrol driving exam he went over the speed limit laws. At the end of the discussion he said, now remember, regardless of what the signs say, the police can arrest you if they judge that you are driving too fast for road conditions. “That seems really unfair,” I responded. “Look,” my dad said, “ the point is to keep you and everyone around you alive and safe. It’s not a game of gotcha with the police. I hope you’re smart enough to see that. If not you’re not smart enough to be driving.”

Living a life of love and justice for every person in every circumstances isn’t a game of gotcha with God. It’s the essential condition for human promise, advancement and happiness. That is the foundation of Christian morality. We do our level best to live always with love and justice out of hope for God’s Future, not out of short term cost/benefit analysis. We will fail at times but God will not abandon us. And we get up and keep on trying.

Faith Demands A Choice
Thoughts on the Gospels -Joe
8th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matthew 6:24-34

Decide where your heart is; decide what you believe and commit to it. That challenge appears over and over in the gospels. Some understand Jesus’ words as an effort to elicit statements of personal loyalty from his followers. But Jesus’ words don’t rise from a desire to have others second his ideas or a need to shore up his self-confidence. For Jesus, the goal was always to advance God’s Future.

Realization of God’s promise of a world fulfilled relied on his followers’ faith in it – a faith strong enough to create in its adherents a willingness to reflect God’s love in their relationships with a world that did not.

Though the 6th chapter of Matthew’s gospel inserts the lot of those trusting followers into a lovely picture of lily-filled fields, ten chapters later the same gospel promises us a cross to bear.

As the saying goes: Christian faith ain’t powder puff; if you’re going to play, play all the way or don’t suit up.

That’s a difficult thing for us to accept sometimes. Since, as we constantly proclaim, we are a Christian nation and, despite those who see Catholics bullied on every street corner, we comprise 25% of the American population, being Christian and Catholic is a very socially acceptable thing. We can easily overlook the fact that true faith entails a radical commitment to a drastically different way of living. Loving our enemies and sharing the lot of the poor until they aren’t poor anymore isn’t an oh-by-the-way element of life.

“You cannot serve two masters” isn’t a statement about choosing between following someone obviously good and someone obviously evil. It’s a way of saying that though we can be casual Christians in our society, we can’t casually live the faith of Jesus. It simply won’t work.

Begin With Jesus’ Assumption
Thoughts on the Gospels –by Joe
1st Sunday of Lent
Matthew 4:1-11

When I was growing up, my siblings and I had a simple understanding of right and wrong: you couldn’t do something bad to someone else unless that person had done something bad to you. We considered, “He hit me first,” an iron-clad justification for anything short of permanent maiming. And any grown-up who didn’t accept this reasoning was grossly unfair – even incomprehensible.

There are days when I wonder if my moral instincts have advanced much in 65 years. Whereas the weapons of most of my currant battles are social and emotional blows rather than the bloody noses and black eyes of playground days, the rational for my violence is about the same: “I can’t let him make a fool of me . . . I have to stand up for what’s right . . . If I let this (whatever the offense) go, he’ll think it’s alright . . . For evil to triumph all that is necessary is for good men to do nothing.”

Jesus faced the temptation to accomplish his good goals by whatever means would succeed. He lived in an acutely evil situation where Rome afforded Judea no more humanity than was necessary to keep its hatred from exploding. The right person could have easily set a match to this hatred and Jesus had that capability. Who, but the Romans, would have questioned his right – even duty – to lead his people in rebellion.

The Satan in Matthew’s story of Jesus’ temptation isn’t a horned, personified evil. Satan is the urge to use the very behavior that keeps the world in an uproar to rescue the world from uproar. Use violence to stop violence. Use force to promote justice. Use hate to spread love. Use ridicule to nurture respect. Use the methods of the world’s history to bring about God’s Future. It all seems realistic – until we think deeply about it.

The Satan that Christians need fear isn’t a red, pitchfork-toting demon; it’s the idea that we can further the world Jesus promised without living the way Jesus lived. Our temptation is to believe that, if we pray correctly and believe correctly, we can do everything else our way. That temptation is real, it’s now and it’s huge.

So Many Faiths,Yet One Before God
Thoughts on the Gospels -by Joe
2nd Sunday of Lent
Matthew 17:1-9

No one ever asked me why Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus during the Transfiguration nor did anyone speculate with me about what the great liberator and the great prophet discussed with Jesus during their visit. Luke has them pondering Jesus’ approaching execution and resurrection;” Mark and Matthew don’t say. Of course, I don’t know what the three discussed but what’s always struck me is how different these three people were. With lives encompassing nearly a millennium and a half years of Jewish history, they represented very different experiences of faith. Yet an overriding concern united them. A crisis in God’s process of creating humanity was taking place and all three had dedicated their lives to that process.

Our faith – this may be true of all faiths – runs the danger of thinking that “it’s all about us.” Sometimes we speak loosely of salvation coming only from Jesus. Sometimes we speak of God’s love bathing the earth only from the spigot of our Church. For my entire childhood, we divided the world into Catholics and non-Catholics. It was the Second Vatican Council that finally voiced the growing realization that God’s process of bringing the world to fullness involved all people and every religion, not just ours. That was a hard pill for many to swallow. For many it still is.

A united destiny ties all people together regardless of who or how they worship and even whether or not they worship at all. From our perspective, God works with and within all people regardless of their thoughts about him. After all, none of our concepts of God comes close to capturing The Reality. Our faith knows and admits that even if it rarely talks like it. The ultimate goal isn’t that we develop a perfect theology or single way of speaking of our Creator, it’s that we all to open ourselves totally to the gift of life.

There is so much division among people, so much tension between differing schemes of human advance that we easily lose our common purpose. The image of the very different Moses, Elijah and Jesus engaged in the advancement of their common dream can help keep that purpose before our eyes.

Spirit Of Life: Spirit Of God
Thoughts on the Gospels
Feast of the Ascension -by Joe
Matthew 28:16-20

I sometimes wonder, when we celebrate a baptism, what the people involved think when the priest say, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Most people imagine God the Father creating the earth and stars. Most know Jesus as the Son revealing God’s love and being executed for his efforts. But few imagine God the Spirit beckoning them to love beyond their comfort and safety for a future beyond imagining. Yet, it’s God in that intimate union with us that we name The Holy Spirit.

God’s Spirit gave Jesus life, it revealed his work to him at his baptism, it gave him the courage to carry out his mission and the joy he experienced when he saw it succeed. It was the presence of God’s Spirit that Jesus promised his disciples to guide them in continuing his work.

People frequently ask where God is in their lives. If Jesus’ life is the pattern for Christian living, it’s the Spirit of God that leads us to search for God. It’s the Spirit that urges us to hope in life, whatever adversity we face. It’s the Spirit that motivates us to commit our time and energy – even our individual lives – to the future of life.

Our longing for and commitment to God in the present are inseparable from living for the world of God’s future. It’s no different from our love and care for children now that’s inseparable from our hope for their future.

A danger of being mortal is that we tend see everything in terms of our own lifespan. God, however, is bringing about something that can’t be realized in such a few years. When we say that we believe in Jesus, his life, his promise and his resurrection, we are saying that we view our destiny not in terms of our individual lives but in terms of God’s Future that will embrace us all. Living baptism means responding to God’s Spirit urging us on toward that reality.

Overcoming Fear, Living Faith
Thoughts on the Gospels -by Joe
Pentecost Sunday
John 20: 19-23

Fear of drowning keeps us from learning to swim. Fear of losing love keeps us from loving. Fear of going broke keeps us from investing. (Though I’ve always had sympathy with the poor guy in Matthew’s gospel [Mt.25:25] who buried his master’s money rather than risk his master’s ire over a bad investment. Jesus, I guess, not so much.) It’s hard to argue with the observation that fear easily keep us from living fully.

It’s easy to imagine the disciples locked in an apartment somewhere in Jerusalem bemoaning the mess they were in since Jesus’ arrest and execution. How would they ever get out of town and back to Galilee without someone recognizing them and informing the temple authorities. Gone were dreams of God’s Reign: the long-awaited Time of the Messiah. Now it was just about saving their necks.

The gospel story presents Jesus’ appearance to the disciples as extraordinary because he was able to pass through physically locked doors. But that was symbolic of something much more amazing. Jesus was able to break through their paralyzing fear and refocus their energy on God’s Future.

Get up off your couches, stop hiding and start forgiving people’s sin. Go teach, as I’ve taught, that God isn’t bound by their weaknesses and mistakes. God’s promise of the New Future is infinitely more powerful than whatever evil they come up with or succumb to. They have to learn this. No one else is showing them. You’re the ones to get the message across by your love, your service and your respect for them. You can’t allow yourselves to hide here till dark and try to slip out of town. If you do, you and everyone you could have touched will live the rest of their lives as prisoners of human weakness. Go!

In essence, That’s the commencement message of every Baptism, every Confirmation, every Marriage, every Reconciliation and every Eucharist to this day.

Trinity: God At Work And Love
Thoughts on the Gospels
Feast of the Holy Trinity –by Joe
John 3:16-18

“We live alone; we die alone.” Those were the words of a man dying in ICU many years ago. He was alienated from his family, convinced that, in their eyes, his faults outweighed any good he had done. Their rejection had left him cynical about relationships. “Color it how you will, that’s the reality,” he said.

Not five feet away, on the other side of a thin wall, another man lay dying. But he could have well have been in entirely different world. “Nobody expected this,” he said, “but it’s okay. I’ve had great friends and a great family. Nobody’s here but they’re still with me. They always have been. I trusted life and I trust death. It’s okay; I’m at peace. It’s all good.”

Some say that spirituality is an individual and private reality but it isn’t. We experience God indirectly through the goodness, the beauty and the promise of his creation. Other people are essential to our understanding of God because other people help us see the meaning of the world around us and the possibilities of life. They help us understand what our own lives are all about: the possibilities we embody.

We speak of the Trinity: The Creator, Love’s Revealer, The Beckoning Future. Speaking of the Trinity is speaking of the power and dynamic of life. Speaking of the Trinity is also speaking of the role of others in making us who we are and empowering us to accomplish all we can.

It is easy, in the ordinary of life, in the race and chaos of life to overlook what we are to one another. But pondering the Trinity means pondering what Jesus revealed about God. Central to his teaching was that God, The Trinity, acts through each of us for all of us.

Seeing the Trinity isn’t about discovering an esoteric, divine reality out there somewhere. It’s about our giving and nourishing life, our loving without question, our encouraging and supporting others to hope and live fully. We find and live faith with one another or not at all.

Nourished By Christ To Be Being Christ
Thoughts on the Gospels
The Body & Blood of Christ –by Joe
John 6:51-58

“The grace of Mass lasts as long as it takes to get from the pew to the parking lot,” one of my early pastors used to say. He’d heard too many curses and seen to many fists shaken as people rushed to get home after the 10:30 service to be naive about the sacraments power to transform lives. I remember that it struck me as sarcastic and even a bit cynical at first. But, as I got to know the man better, I realized that it was more sadness than sarcasm. He deeply wanted to promote peace and a shared vision in his parish and he chafed at the slow pace of our progress.

Sometimes people think of religion as an aspirin, some thing that we get to make life better. Catholics, because we place great emphasis on sacraments, can view our rituals in the same way.

But a religion is the form of a relationship and sacraments are symbols of a relationship. Without the people the relationships and hence the religion and the sacraments are nothing.

The parties to the relationship are Jesus and the God he revealed and the Bobs and Bettys trying to live in Jesus’ Spirit. Our Church has always sought to place its reliance on the divine element in the relationship without tying its hopes too tightly to the much less constant presence and support of the human element. That has never worked very well.

Human salvation, the human future, is a partnership between the Creator and us creatures. The Creator comes through every time: we and our universe endure. We creatures come through sometimes: much less reliably that we’d wish. The reality, nonetheless, is that Jesus’, and thus God’s, ongoing love and care is historically embodied in his disciples: in us.

The eucharistic presence that we’re encouraged to believe and place our trust in isn’t simply the bread and wine as the physical and spiritual reality of Jesus. We are encouraged to find Jesus fully present in the person of our fellow Christians. In fact, we are encouraged to realize that our faith makes us the presence of Jesus for one another and our world.

It costs us nothing to believe in Jesus’ Real Presence in the bread and wine. It is much more difficult, much more demanding to put our faith in the Real Presence realized in one another and in ourselves.

A popular nutritional aphorism used to remind us, “You are what you eat.” As trite as it sounds, that saying is absolutely true when it comes to Eucharist. Those five words are a succinct definition of our religion and, yes, they include church parking lot dramas. They also contain great love, service and hope.

The Authority of Integrity
Thoughts on the Gospels –by Joe
Feast of Ss. Peter & Paul
Matthew 16:13-19

When I was a young minister I once tried telling a gentleman who was up in years how I thought he should behave. “What makes you think that I care for your opinion about what’s good or bad for me to do,” he asked, none to gently. “He’s got a good point,” a small voice whispered to my presumptuous self.

Reflecting later on how poorly I had handled that pastoral situation, it dawned on me that a legal mandate makes a painfully weak foundation on which to base religious authority. Only a life lived in faith gives an authority that all acknowledge. Nothing else really matters. That is what Jesus’ words to Peter and the disciples have come to mean to me.

When Peter, speaking for the disciples, acknowledged Jesus as the Christ or Messiah, he was saying that he saw his life and teaching as providing the path to God’s great future for the world. Not only did he realize it intellectually and emotionally, he had committed himself to living Jesus’ way.

Jesus’ response to Peter and the disciples told them that in committing themselves to his, and thus the Father’s Way, they truly reflected what God was revealing in him. Jesus wasn’t giving them a new legal power. He was pointing out the real authority that their lives now had in the world.

This realization opens up the meaning of authority in the Church. Every one of us who lives the Way of Jesus has the authority Jesus found in the disciples. Bishops and priests represent our authority but it’s the same authority that resides in us all. By our lives we speak the Creator’s promise to our world. That’s who we are; that’s what we do.

Fr. Kelly’s Introduction
July 6, 2014
14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 11:25-30

If you are reading this, chances are fairly good that you know me personally, or at least are aware of the fact that as of July 1, 2014, I hold the status of “senior priest” within the Diocese of Saginaw. What this means is that I am not assigned to a particular parish, and at this time, do not have regularly scheduled duties. When my decision to leave my post as pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas was first made public, one of my best friends stopped me and asked: Why are you running from God? Without giving it a second thought….actually without thinking….I immediately replied: I’m not! I’m running to God!

You see, I was raised in a home where faith was the center of our family life. Somehow, throughout college and into a very busy professional career, I was able to maintain, what seemed to me anyway, to be a healthy spirituality. Still, “the things of the world” became more and more demanding. My time and attention were continually being over-taxed, and I became acutely aware of the fact that “the things of the Spirit” were getting less and less of my attention. Over time, the result of this priority shift was fatigue, in every sense of the word. Thankfully, my upbringing was so solid that I knew to turn to Christ, when I needed rest!

The Eucharist has always been a spiritual oasis for me. With time, I decided to pitch my tent, and reside there permanently. I accepted the invitation of the Holy Spirit, and in July of 1994 took on the yoke of ordained ministry. I cannot say that the work was easy, but without a doubt it was extremely rewarding and each day as a Catholic priest, I learned more about Christ, from you…The Body of Christ.

Senior priest status does not mean I am laying aside the work. It simply means that I am turning away even more from “the things of the world” so I can commit more fully to “the things of the Spirit.” By excusing myself from the busyness of parish life, I hope to enjoy the freedom to rest and relax in Christ.

I am sharing this personal information because maybe some “retiree” reading this reflection may come to see that the wisdom of age and experience is very useful in the service of the Lord! Christian service is a labor of love, that brings with it an opportunity to learn more about Christ than is to be found in any book or sermon. We meet Christ in a special, up close and personal way, when we serve those in need. Maybe some younger person, years from normal retirement age and on the verge of fatigue, might read this and remember Jesus’ words: ….you are anxious and worried about many things…there is need of only one thing! An hour of rest in the oasis of the Eucharist does wonders for the mind, the body and the spirit. Possibly a parent will read this and come to see how important it is to keep Christ at the center of family life because no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal Him.

This weekend, our nation celebrates our freedom. Our Readings teach us that true freedom can only be found in our God. So…this holiday weekend….Run to God…and you will find rest for yourselves!

The Sower of the Seed
July 13, 2014
15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 13:1-23

The very first “Sunday Homily” I preached was in St Patrick’s church in Palms, Michigan. It was the summer before my Ordination and Bishop Untener wanted me to have a rural, as well as an urban experience of parish ministry before making the determination as to whether or not I was “ready” for my first assignment. For the latter, I was sent to St John the Baptist in Carrollton. At the time, both parishes were pastored by nuns. Among their many other gifts, both were exceptionally fine preachers. They both stressed to me how vital it is to good liturgy to break open the Word proclaimed, and distribute it among the people in a way that nourishes and lifts up their spirits. Fully understanding the gravity of what I was about to do, I stepped forward to the Table of the Word (Ambo). Knees knocking and hands shaking, I began to proclaim Matt. 13:1-23.

Because of the summer heat, the front doors to the church were wide open. At some point, I looked up from the Sacred Text, and caught a view of the rolling, “knee high” corn field thriving in the July sun. Surrounded by an impressive stand of old hardwood trees, the field, directly across the country road from the church, was nothing less than magnificent. During that brief glimpse of natural beauty, it was as if the field spoke to me. Look at me! I’m what Jesus was talking about. Think about all the hard work that it took to make me look like this. Think of how many people will be nourished if I continue to grow and thrive and produce a good harvest this fall. Think about the waste and the loss if I am not cared for. It was a very powerful experience.

I had another powerful experience that Sunday morning. St. Patrick’s at the time, was a relatively small faith community, but the people filled the church for Sunday Mass. The elders, the younger people and families…all looking to the Table of the Word and the Communion Table to be “fed” so that they would have the strength to begin a new week. As they came forward to receive Communion, I noticed how sun tanned most of the people were. When they lifted up their hands for the Eucharist, I couldn’t help but notice the evidence of hard work! The men in particular all seemed to have massive strong hands. But even the teenagers took the Body of Christ on to hands that were clearly used to working in fields like the one across the road. And with that I was graced with another “AHHH!” moment!

Clearly, we the fields in which the Word of God is sewn, and cultivated in hopes that it will grow and offer a bountiful harvest at the end of our earthly season. But, I wonder if maybe Jesus is telling us as well, that we are also the farmers called upon to sow the seeds of faith in the lives of others. I wonder if Jesus is encouraging us to go out into the world and propagate what is entrusted to us from the two Tables. Could He be encouraging us to work hard in spreading the Word of God, the Seeds of Faith, even if it doesn’t always seem to germinate, or survive or thrive… because when it happens to fall onto a rich life eager for Christ, the results will be worth all of our efforts?

It’s true that a good homily is essential to good liturgy. But the duty to preach the Good News doesn’t rest exclusively with the ordained, or pastoral leaders. All of the Baptized should continue to preach the Gospel, out in the fields of their day to day lives; aware that it will not always be well received but that when it does take root the potential good is beyond calculations. It is indeed hard work. However, the faces of committed disciples, made strong for their efforts, glow…like the sun tanned faces of the folks out at St. Patrick’s.

The Company We Keep
July 20, 2014
16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 13:24-30

My Dad, early on in my life all through high school and well into my university years, found numerous occasions to use this pearl of wisdom; typically introduced with the question: “Who are you going out with tonight?” And then it came: “Remember! People judge you by the company you keep.”

Today, I might respectfully respond: “They really shouldn’t Dad; it’s only God’s right to judge.” Still, Dad was right. We are often judged by the people we are seen with. Even Jesus was ridiculed for his friends; after all they were tax collectors and sinners.

Today Dad’s pearl of wisdom might rightly be expanded to say: “People judge you by the reality TV shows you watch, the video games you play, what you post on social media.” Quite honestly, it isn’t by accident that the company we keep, or the things we spend our time, energy and money on, are the standards by which others come to evaluate us. The truth is all of these things influence who we are and what we make of our earthly lives. The soil in which we plant ourselves, where we turn for nourishment and what we use to support and guide us, are the very things that form us. We can certainly argue that others have no right to judge us, but we will lose the argument if we are foolish enough to think that the people and things we spend our time with have no effect on who we are and what we are all about. Dad was right! My Dad was a “holy father!”

Speaking of holy fathers, Pope Francis, in a recent address entitled “In the Joy of the Holy Spirit” offered his own pearl of wisdom to Catholic families. The Holy Father said: “Families are the domestic church where Jesus grows; He grows in the love of spouses, He grows in the lives of children. That is why the enemy so often attacks the family. The devil does not want the family; he tries to destroy it.”

And then there is the parable that Jesus offers us in this week’s Gospel (Matt 13:24-43). Neither my Dad’s exact words, or those of Pope Francis, but Jesus makes a point that really needs no clarification. We need to be very careful about who and what we allow into our lives; especially our family life. In a very short time, the healthiest of gardens can be easily overpowered and strangled by weeds. And the same holds true for the healthiest of families; and the most vibrant of spiritual lives. Moreover, this is the season when weeds thrive. Maybe it might be advisable to examine both to see if it’s time to put some effort into pulling out those things that might cause us to be judged to be less than what we are: children of God. Happy gardening!

The Extraordinary in the Ordinary
July 27, 2014
17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 13:44-52

This 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time, offers us the last in a series of parables which Jesus uses to give us a sense of The Reign, or the Kingdom of God. In fact, He frequently used the ordinary, the familiar, the common place, to help better acquaint us with the Extraordinary, The Sacred Mystery, The Transcendent God. In this way, The Lord helps us to see that God is with us in the “here and now” and yet there is far more that awaits us when we at last break free, from time and begin to exist in eternity.

If you have made any effort whatsoever, over these past weeks, to reflect on The Lord’s parables about The Reign…The Kingdom… of God, then hopefully you have come to appreciate that it is impossible for our finite minds to fully comprehend what this is all about. Nevertheless, in spite of our limitations, there are SOMETHINGS we can grasp about The Reign, or the Kingdom of God; which might explain the series of parables. It’s as if Jesus kept grasping for examples or images…so that we could grasp the reality that when time ends, God’s will and ways will reign supreme. Yet, even now we can strive to live in this world, as we will exist in eternity.

Another way to say this, is that God’s Reign is here and now…because Christ is here…in “the now”, fully present to the universe through the power of the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, not everyone is wise enough to see this is the truth. Many turn a blind eye to Christ’s Way. And so the existence that God yearns for us all to enjoy, escapes us in its fullness. This is evidenced by the reality that we continue to experience as “ordinary”….things such as war, violence, discrimination and poverty. When Jesus returns in glory, all that will be reversed, and only then will we fully comprehend what God has ready for those who love the Lord.

Now it seems to me anyway, that the thing about parables is that while they offer an image of something that’s challenging to imagine, they also invite us to dig deeper. I wonder if just possibly, through this week’s little string of parables, (Matt 13:44-52) Jesus is not only telling us about the incomparable value of The Reign, or the Kingdom of God, but just possibly, might also be offering us an image of God.

Could God be like the treasure hunter, Who finds in each of us, something so precious, that He pays the ultimate price…His only Son, so that He might possess us exclusively? Could there be a pearl hidden within each of us, so alluring that even God can’t resist? Does God caste a net of love and mercy over our lives, and having captured the whole of us, sort through and discard what is waste, but savor what is good and wholesome? I wonder!

I also wonder, why…if God sees so much value in each of us…we don’t see it in ourselves…or in one another?

It’s an ordinary thing to wonder…it’s extraordinary however to search for the answer! Why not do some treasure hunting this week! Don’t be ordinary during Ordinary Time…search for buried treasure…because…without using a parable…Jesus tells us: “seek and you will find!”

Look Around
August 3, 2014
18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matt 14:13-21

Last week I was traveling on a rural highway, relatively free of traffic, enjoying that beautiful, golden glow that comes with these summer sunsets we’ve been blessed with. I happened to glance over to the south and recognized a perfectly manicured golf course. Within seconds, I noticed two golf carts, perched side by side on the little rise leading up to, what I assumed must be the 18th hole. There were four, very colorfully dressed men, standing around, leaning against their putters; clearly waiting to finish up their round of golf. Because of the hour, I guessed they were the last foursome on the links. It was a very ordinary summer scene that was abruptly cut off by a narrow but thick and tall stand of trees that marked the boundary of the course.

Before I turned my attention back to the road, I saw what was on the other side of the tree line. Side by side with the golf course, was an enormous field with a healthy crop growing in it. And, there were people in this scene as well, using up the last of the day light. These people were also colorfully dressed, with red and blue head scarves and straw hats. These people however, we’re not leisurely waiting to bring a few house of relaxation to a close. They were bent over weeding and hoeing this field, where they had most likely been hard at work since the first light of day. The contract between the two scenes was shocking and thought provoking.

As I drove on, I wondered whether they were aware of one another. The screen of trees made it impossible to see from the golf course to the field…but still…the golfers had to drive past the field and the workers in order to get to the greens. Did they even notice? Or we’re they so excited about the hours of fun ahead of them, that they drove past without seeing.

I also wondered whether the farm workers were aware of the fact that such a short distance away, there were people enjoying the summer evening, rather than bent over, exhausted but anxious to use the last of the light to finish their work. Could they hear laughter coming through the trees or smell hot dogs grilling at the club house? Did it make their work even more tedious being aware of what was so close to them, but at the same time so very far away?

The lines from this week’s Gospel (Matt 14:13-21) that seem to blast off the page…at least for me…are: “GIVE THEM SOME FOOD.” This is Jesus’ rapid fire response to the disciples urging Him to “DIMISS THEM! SEND THEM AWAY! GET RID OF THEM! THERE’S NOTHING WE CAN DO FOR THEM!

At least the disciples noticed. They recognized the need, but seemed to be so overwhelmed by it that they just wanted it to go away. They didn’t want to take it on as their issue…their problem. They wanted to send the hungry off for someone else to deal with. It’s not so easy to wave away the needy however. There aren’t tall, thick stands of trees blocking our view from what surrounds us. There are no borders secure enough, that we aren’t forced to look at the hungry, needy people who are on the wrong side of poverty. They are certainly aware of and looking to the privileged for help. And the Lord is as well…with the challenging words: “You give them something to eat!”

St. John Paul II, when contrasting the privileged with the poor once summarized Christian social doctrine as follows: “The goods of this world are originally meant for all. The right to private property is valid and necessary, but it does not nullify the value of this principle. As far as the Church is concerned, the social message of the Gospel must not be considered a theory, but above all else a basis for motivation and action.” (From Go in Peace)

In other words, we have to look through the forest…and see the people on the other side of the trees. Those who are in need have a right to look to those who have plenty …for something to eat. The privileged cannot in good conscience, simply put out and then turn and walk towards the club house. We cannot ignore the poor. We cannot simply send them away. We need to give them something to eat.

The Voice
August 10, 2014
19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 14:22-33

A friend once told me that a good story is worth telling over and over and over. I suppose that is why we have the Gospels. The story of salvation, the Good News, has been repeated over and over and over again, for generations, because there is nothing more worthy of telling or hearing. So then, I feel like I can share, yet once more, a story I’ve told countless times, about a photograph of my nephew that I took about 35 years ago.

Joe was a few months shy of his first birthday, when I happened to be visiting with my camera. He was almost ready to be put down for the night. My sister had him snug in pale blue, flees pajamas, the kind that have feet…and cuffs…and zip up the front. He was ready for a cold winter night. Crawling around on the living room floor, he made his way over to the sofa, and used it to support himself as he stood up. It was his “new trick” and he turned around to see if anyway was looking at him, obviously proud of himself. It was at this point that I thought: “I got to get a picture of this!”

Well my sister rewarded his efforts with the appropriate praise and then she crouched down on the floor…just a few feet away from him and said: “Okay Joey…now come to me! You can do it! Walk over to Mommy!”

You could see it in his eyes….a mixture of eagerness, daring, desire and fear. When, all of a sudden, he let go of the edge of the sofa, turned and started to walk towards the first voice he recognized, the voice he knew was filled with love, the voice he loved to hear. It was my sister’s voice that enabled her baby to let go of what he was clinging to for support and walk towards her. He threw out his arms, probably to balance himself, or maybe to ready himself to embrace her. He had a look of sheer delight on his face. It was then that he took his first step. CLICK! I was standing behind her and I got the picture. What I didn’t photograph was his first big fall. He got distracted by something, took his eyes off of her…and BOOM!

While I love the picture, I don’t need it to remember the moment. It’s etched into my heart. And, I think of that “first step” and that “first fall” every time I hear this weekend’s Gospel. (Matt. 14:22-33) My little nephew’s experience of moving towards love…as well as his “fall” changed him forever. After those first steps, he realized what he was capable of. He quickly recovered from the fall, and once he was duly comforted, and tears dried, he crawled right back to the sofa, turned and tired again.

Peter was able to jump into a raging sea because of “The Voice.” He recognized the love with which the simple little word “COME!” was spoken. The love was so powerful, Peter couldn’t resist. The love drew him out of the boat and enabled him to defy the laws of nature. True, he became distracted and he sank. But the experience changed him forever. It taught him how difficult it is, if not impossible, to sustain the momentum that enables us to do things which…literally defy nature. “

When we follow “The Voice” we are able to defy the stormy forces of anger, hatred, discrimination and revenge. “The Voice” draws us out of our own personal safety zones and enables us to walk over the all too human feelings of materialism, greed, and self-interest….so that we can reach out for those things that are eternal, treasure those things that have lasting value, and share what we do enjoy with those who have less…those in great need.

It’s certainly true that there are times when we get distracted and someone or something shifts our attention and we sink! But, having had the spirit lifting experience of walking above the things of this world, and moving towards “The Voice” we know that we can rise to the surface and with God’s help, start again. So…”IF THIS WEEK YOU HEAR THE VOICE….HARDEN NOT YOUR HEARTS!” Take your first step and don’t be afraid of your first fall.

In Your Presence
August 17, 2014
20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matt 15, 21-28

I want to talk about crumbs, leftovers, those little particles that tend to be brushed aside…or even intentionally discarded because they are seen as having no value. You know what I mean. Things like that last, bothersome spoonful of casserole that you look at and think: “What am I going to do with this? I can’t eat another bite but there’s not enough to save.” So you flip on the garbage disposal and wash the problem down the drain without giving it another thought. That is the image that the pagan woman we meet in this Sunday’s Gospel (Matt 15:21-28) used when asking for Jesus’s help. She begged for the scraps…crumbs…the leftovers not worth saving.

In my efforts to enter into this story, my first reaction was to marvel at her appreciation for the sacred. The reverence which she showed Jesus should have inspired the actual witnesses to the meeting, and should continue to inspire us today. We have become pretty “casual” in our lifestyle, to the point that the sense of the sacred is at risk. That is not a good thing, in fact, that is a very dangerous situation…losing a sense of the sacred. Consider the recently re-introduced practice of “purifying” all of the sacred vessels after Communion, in many parishes, even before the Mass is ended. Through this symbolic gesture, the Church is reminding us that Christ’s Body and Blood is truly present to us in the Eucharist and is so sacred that NO FRAGMENT of the Lord’s Body, and NO DROP of The Precious Blood should be lost or disrespected. Even the smallest particle of the Eucharist IS THE BODY OF CHRIST!

Sometimes we fail to recall, however, that the Lord is also present to us during the Eucharist, through the liturgical action at the Table of the Word…the Ambo. Many centuries ago, from a cave in Bethlehem, where he translated the Bible, St. Jerome explained it this way: For me, the Gospel IS the Body of Christ. Christ’s Body and Blood are really the word of Scripture, God’s teaching.” (Emphasis added)

So then, when we allow our minds to wander during the proclamation of God’s Word, it’s as if we are dismissing Jesus. When we aren’t fully present to The Readings, we miss an opportunity to have Christ be fully present to us. It’s as if we are brushing Him and His teachings aside like annoying crumbs.

On the other hand, when we take the opportunity to begin our day with the Scripture passages set out in Morning Prayer, we are nourishing and strengthening our spirits so that we are better able to face the challenges of the day ahead of us.

In spite of all that God has revealed to us through Christ…many do not seem to know what the pagan woman fully understood. She knew that even the briefest of contact, the smallest fragment, the scraps left over, hold the fullness of Christ’s healing power. What others might brush aside, she desperately sought.

The reverence of this pagan reminds us today, that it is as fitting and right to give the same attention and reverence to the Table of the Word as we give to the Communion Table. Moreover, even as we take pains to purify the sacred vessels, it is important for us turn to the Ambo with pure hearts, because when we hear God’s Word proclaimed, it is as if we become sacred vessels. When we hold The Living Word in our minds and hearts we are living chalices from which others can be nourished.

It’s In The Name
August 24, 2014
21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 16:13-20

I have a lot of good friends in the Filipino community here in Saginaw. But, I admit, I had trouble getting to know them because many seem to go by two or more names. Obviously, everyone has a legal name…a given name. But most also go by “nicknames” they have acquired over the years. Some, in fact, have several nicknames. It is a custom that my friends have brought with them from the Philippines. What makes the whole thing especially confusing is that when I ask: “Why do they call you ‘Bing’? … or… How did you get the name ‘Cherry’?” the response is typically: “I don’t know, my family has always just called me that!” Moreover, there is no obvious connection between the “nickname” and the individual, so that the nickname seems appropriate or well suited to the person.

Not so with Simon. Jesus gave the Big Fisherman the nickname “Simon” or “Rock” because he was so solid in his commitment to The Lord. Whatever qualities Simon exhibited were clearly what Jesus regarded as a solid foundation for “The Church.” Just possibly, however, Jesus had something slightly less complimentary in mind as well. I wonder if just possibly, even as Jesus was acknowledging Simon’s strengths, in the back of His mind, He was thinking to Himself…Yes! You are the Rock alright…hard headed…stubborn…slow to change and difficult to move.

Consider this: This week’s Gospel centers on Peter recognizing Jesus as “The Christ.” The thing is, “Christ” is NOT A NICKNAME. “The Christ” is the title given to the One whom God promised to send into the world to lead us out of darkness. Somehow, Simon Peter was able to connect Jesus of Nazareth to the title “The Christ.” But, repeatedly throughout the Gospels, we see that Peter did not fully understand why the title was fitting to the Person. That might well explain why this week’s Gospel ends with Jesus issuing a strict warning to tell no one that He was the Christ! Simply put, they did not understand what the title meant, or why it was perfectly suited to only one individual … Jesus of Nazareth. It would only be after Jesus died, rose, ascended into heaven, and sent the Holy Spirit to enlighten the minds of Peter and the Apostles and disciples that they would be able to correctly answer the questions: Why do you call Jesus “The Christ”? How did He get that name?

It took His suffering, His death, His Resurrection, His Ascension…and yes…His Holy Spirit…to get through Peter’s thick skull…just exactly why Jesus is The Christ!

So, here’s something to think about: Why do they call you Christian? How did you get that name? Is there a connection between the name Christian…and you? The answers to these questions should be obvious…or maybe…that name does not fit the person just yet!

Your Table is Ready
August 31, 2014
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mt 16:21-27

The tragic circumstances surrounding the recent passing of comedian Robin Williams gives new meaning to some of his “one-liners” that caused audiences to erupt in laughter. For example, Williams once observed: “Death is nature’s way of telling you that your table is ready!” Actually, that is a very profound observation. Death, for many if not most, means a place at the heavenly banquet, in the company of the angels and saints, is all prepared. Unfortunately, because of emotional and physical issues, this man who brought so much entertainment and joy to others became too impatient to wait for the summons.

Taking a bit of liberty with “the joke” that is so deeply rooted in truth, I would like to suggest that: Baptism is Jesus’s way of telling you that your Tables are ready! Through Baptism, we are invited to the Sacred Banquet of Eucharist, first stopping at the Table of the Word in order to enhance our appetite for what is served up at the Communion Table…the Body and Blood of Christ! This Sunday’s Gospel encourages us to consider how we make our entrance!

When some people move through a room full of diners to the table that has been prepared for them, they do so with arrogance and a sense of entitlement. Confident that they are worthy of everyone’s attention and admiration, they make a grand entrance. Others, for whatever reason, are so self-conscious that they follow the maître de, hoping to pass through the room unnoticed. And then there are the people who “take it all in.” Making their way to their place, for them, is part of the entire experience of fine dining. They take in and savor the environment.

This might cause one to wonder if possibly the manner in which we make our way from the pew to the Communion Table is indicative of how we are moving through life waiting for nature to tell us our table is ready.

Before taking her place at the heavenly banquet, the great Vatican II theologian, Monika K. Hellwig, reflecting on this Gospel, wrote: It is a distorted human self-centeredness that pits personal safety and well-being before all else and therefore loses meaning and purpose, identity and community. This is the heritage and distortion of sin. This is a fancy way of cautioning us not to make a “grand entrance.” We should, however, be completely self-conscious of who we are…or better still…who and what we have become through Baptism.

Having shared in Christ’s death and resurrection, we are called to follow Him to our place at the heavenly banquet, the entire time “taking it all in” and savoring the environment; in other words, appreciating the entire experience of Eucharist. As we make our way to the Communion Table, we should be aware of our fellow diners…mindful of their needs. And we should not try to pass through the community unnoticed. Rather, we should draw attention to ourselves through our service to others.

Jesus prepared the eternal banquet. Jesus extends the invitation. Jesus leads us on our journey through time. And if we follow Him in a life of service to others, there is great meaning and purpose to what we say and do…even in our suffering!

The Keys to the Kingdom
September 7, 2014
23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matthew 18:15-20

Two weeks ago on the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time, we read Matthew 16:13-20, and we heard Jesus change Simon’s name to Peter, meaning “rock,” and entrust the keys to the kingdom of heaven into the strong, calloused, and hardworking hands of this ordinary fisherman. With a profound display of trust, the Lord told Peter, “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

The image of “the keys to the kingdom” has stuck with me over these past two weeks. In fact, as I was standing at the counter waiting to have duplicates made of the key to my new house, it occurred to me that it is only when we want to keep something hidden, concealed, private, or even protected that there is only one key, and we don’t pass that key out to others. I wanted to share copies of my house key. I made a list of all my family members and friends whom, for whatever reason, should have a key to my home. I was very concerned that I not leave anyone out.

When we consider that Jesus’s entire ministry was to proclaim the Kingdom and to invite everyone to enter, I wonder if possibly the Lord, after handing Peter “the key,” might not have then added, “Now go out and make duplicates and pass them out as fast as you can. Also, tell all those to whom you give ‘the key’ to duplicate it so that we can keep sharing access to My Father’s house.” We know that Jesus certainly wanted to make sure that no one was left out of the Kingdom.

The more I thought about this image of “the keys,” the more it made sense when I read this week’s Gospel passage. In this passage, Jesus is continuing to teach the disciples about the kingdom, and He gives them the same assurances that He offered Peter on the day He gave Peter a new name and “the keys to the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus said, “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” He said this as he was proposing a method of conflict resolution to promote forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation. Could it be that one of “the keys” that provides access to the kingdom is forgiveness? And if that’s true, doesn’t it follow that anger, revenge, grudges, resentment, and all of the related shades of darkness might prevent us from gaining admission to the Kingdom?

It’s not always easy to find a key in a purse or coat pocket. Sometimes we look all over the house before we find our car keys right where we left them. But we have to keep looking if we want to get in the house or get going in the car! Other times, we find the key, but we struggle to get it into the lock. Sometimes we face off against one of those stubborn locks that refuse to release the bolt so that the door can swing open.

If, indeed, forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation are keys to the kingdom, then we have to keep searching within our hearts for the grace to swing open the door and free ourselves from whatever grudge we hold, resentment we harbor, or desire for revenge that weighs down our spirits.

We don’t want to be left out of the Kingdom, left out in the cold, or stranded!

Marking Ourselves
September 14, 2014
The Exaltation of the Cross
JN 3:13-17

These days, young people appear to be spending a lot of money to suffer a fair amount of pain in order to impact their appearance in a rather permanent way…and not in a way that is likely to improve with age. “Body art,” “inked,” “stamped,” “tattooed”…the name is of little matter, but the impact is apparently a dramatic way of claiming and publicizing an identity. I am told by reliable sources that “The Cross,” in one form or another, is the third most popular image, among thousands to choose from.

Certainly, St. Paul took great pride in identifying with The Cross. At Galatians 6:14, he tells us: But may I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. From now on, let no one make troubles for me; for I bear the marks of Jesus on my body.

However, St. Paul enjoyed special enlightenment from the Holy Spirit that few of us share. It is very difficult to understand or even begin to appreciate the full meaning of The Cross of Jesus Christ, or, for that matter, the significance in “marking ourselves” with this symbol of our faith. Nor should we be shamed by our ignorance. After all, Jesus’s suffering and death are often referred to as “The Paradox of the Cross.” In other words, it is a sacred mystery as to why the Son of an all-powerful God had to suffer and die.

While there should be no shame in our inability to grasp the full meaning of The Cross, it would be a shame, however, if we were not to at least strive for a deeper understanding and appreciation of the very means of our salvation; and that is especially true for this weekend when we celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross.

If we can be certain of anything, it is that by taking up His Cross, Jesus has given us an example of perfect acceptance of God’s will, even in the face of suffering and death. We know as well that The Lord’s acceptance of His Cross was possible because of His unshakable trust in The Father’s love and mercy. We can also be certain that through His Holy Cross, Jesus has redeemed the world. So, in some way, The Cross is all about forgiveness.

It is also important to remember that through our baptisms, we are marked or stamped in a very permanent way with The Cross. What is freely given in Baptism is a share in Christ’s death, which also enables us to hope that we will share in Christ’s Resurrection and eternal glory. While there is definitely no pain in receiving this Sacrament of Initiation, it comes with the challenge to live out fully and publicly the identity we enjoy as a disciple of Jesus Christ; and a Christian way of living can often bring personal sacrifice, discomfort, and pain, as we’ve seen in the Middle East over these past few months…death…martyrdom!

People should “know we are Christians by our love” as well as by our efforts to empty ourselves of all that is contrary to God’s will even as Jesus totally emptied Himself on the Cross. Although the indelible mark of Baptism cannot be seen, others should recognize us as Christians through the quality of our lives, including the ways in which we face the challenges and suffering we encounter in this world.

Many young people feel the need to introduce themselves by marking their bodies. But, through Baptism, we Christians mark our inner selves with The Cross. And while that mark cannot be seen, its image should shine through our flesh and bones, and show itself clearly in the manner in which we live. Today, we are called to honor The Cross on which hung the salvation of the world. The best way to pay tribute to that unrepeatable act of acceptance, trust, love, and forgiveness is not to pay to be branded with it, but to follow the Way of the Cross. And if we do that…follow The Way of the Cross…eventually, we will discover where it leads!

Have We Outgrown Our Image of God?
September 21, 2014
24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matt. 20:1-16

Mid-life, I was given this piece of advice: Don’t let life fit you small! You’ve got to think about that one, don’t you? If I had been told that in my younger years, I might well have forgotten it. But it came to me at a time when I was showing the first signs of aging…or maybe maturity…and so the idea stuck with me and I spent a lot of time reflecting on just what that might mean. Certainly, it motivated me not to settle. It encouraged me to explore options, take chances, and to stretch myself. Among other insights…Don’t let life fit you small…led me to consider how unfortunate it is to try to “shrink God.”

In her book Glimpse of Grace, author Madeleine L’Engle writes: I sense a wish in some…to make God possible, to make (God) comprehensible to the naked intellect, domesticate (God) so that (God) is easy to believe in. Maybe it’s a sign that I am maturing spiritually, but even though it took a while, that thought started to make some sense to me as well. It seems that many times, in an effort to make it easier to believe in God, we tend to “make God fit small.” We settle for a God that we can more easily manage. Unfortunately, when God is “domesticated,” people get so comfortable that they stop exploring the Infinite and miss out on some mind-blowing, spirit-growing insights. Moreover, when we make God small, rather than make the Divine more believable, we actually are left with an image that is not always totally credible.

For example, if we settle for a “comprehensible” God, then this Sunday’s Gospel will prove totally incomprehensible. How can a just God permit the last to come to the head of the line? This certainly doesn’t gel with the traditional concept of justice. The thought would simultaneously send shudders up the spines of labor leaders and CFOs alike!

I wonder if, just possibly, with this little parable about the Kingdom, Jesus is trying to stretch us…help us mature spiritually…encourage us, where God is concerned, not to settle for what we are comfortable with but to search for more. Could Jesus be telling us not to let God fit us small…so that our lives do not fit small? Have we outgrown our image of God?

The Big Talker and the Grumbler
September 28, 2014
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matt 21:28-32

Scripture scholars and theologians, in order to dig deeper into the mystery of the Incarnation (God’s Eternal Word made flesh in Jesus)…and for that matter, non-believers hoping to cast a shadow of doubt on what we hold to be true, have looked to various passages in the Gospel to argue that Jesus had siblings. Whether or not Mary gave birth to other children, in this Sunday’s Gospel, we certainly see that Jesus had an understanding of the dynamics of family life. The parable of the man with two children, polar opposites from one another, has to ring true with anyone who has the joy of being a parent. For that matter, anyone who has supervisory responsibilities over others runs across “big talkers” who accomplish little and “grumblers” who, in the end, come through.

There is a lot to unpack in this simple parable. But if we stick with the image of a parent dealing at the same time with a “big talker” and a “grumbler,” we are likely to come away with a deeper understanding of what God is like and how God works.

Parents usually know what’s going on. They know that the “big talker” is all words and no actions, contributing nothing to the good of the household. They also know that the “grumbler” will get the job done. Good and loving parents recognize the strengths and weaknesses in their respective children and try hard to forgive their weaknesses, even as they hope to show their child a better way. Good and loving parents also have effective filters which enable them to ignore a certain amount of grumbling, confident that the end result will be satisfactory. As a result, human parents are often accused of being unfair, particularly by the “grumbler.” The fact is, they probably are. Parental justice is usually tempered by love and mercy. When mercy trumps justice, someone usually walks away feeling cheated. Now, if this is how human parents operate, consider how God’s infinite love and mercy make Divine justice all that much more difficult for us to understand and accept.

The surface message of Jesus’s parable seems to be that true disciples get the work done without grumbling, regardless of what the next guy is saying, but not doing.

All this leads me to wonder whether there is some sibling rivalry going on within each of us? Could a “big talker” be sharing a room with a “grumbler’ in most of our minds and hearts? If that’s the case, it might be worth a moment to take this lesson a step further and read and reflect on Matt 7:16, 20-21 where we read: “By their fruits you will know them. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father.”

2 Corinthians 9:7 might also be helpful in improving ourselves, as we try to bring this Gospel to life: “The Lord loves a cheerful giver.”

We Have Hope
October 5, 2014
27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 21:33-43

The world is shocked, horrified, revolted and incensed by the violent murders of members of the press corps…and even more sickening…aid workers who traveled to the region on missions of charity. ISIS, labeled radical Islamists by some, might be better identified as radical evil. And if it is even possible to quantify evil, isn’t what we see unfolding in Syria and Iraq on par with the evil that Jesus describes in the parable set out at Matt. 21:33-43?

The plain meaning and purpose of this parable seems to be an effort on the part of The Lord to prepare His followers for what would happen to Him on Good Friday, and what might well be their fate if they continue to follow Him. (A fate, by the way, that Christians around the world, not just in the Middle East, continue to suffer even today.) But if we dig deeper, there seems to be a lesson, as well, about God’s persistence in offering us every opportunity to do the right thing. With that, there also seems to be the suggestion that some people are persistent in their rejection of God’s will and God’s ways.

If we lay this passage beside recent headlines, it reinforces the truth that even as God is unchanging, so are some humans. If this is the case, it seems extremely unlikely that we will live in peace, free from the threat of war, terror, and violence…until Christ returns in glory. This might seem like a hopeless situation, which, of course, is the first victory that terrorists are eager to claim. Evil targets hope…a cornerstone of our Christian faith.

And so this weekend, it is important that we pay special attention to our Second Reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (4:6-9). The passage begins with words that are particularly relevant in these dark and dangerous times: “have no anxiety at all…the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Notice that St. Paul does not specifically mention our bodies. We can’t be naive. We need to be vigilant about our homeland security, and, as a great nation, we need to do what we can to protect those defenseless victims of radical evil who do not enjoy the relative safety with which we Americans are blessed.

What Paul seems to be telling us is that within our in spiritual arsenal, readily accessible to us in times of danger, is the most important weapon…hope! Whatever it might be that terrifies us, whatever form radical evil might take, if we keep our focus on Christ, Who is Truth…perfectly just and unconditional love…our hope will not be shaken and our hope will sustain us. Only when we lose hope in Christ is the battle lost.

How do we best deal with the radical evil that surrounds us? Just “keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen”…in Christ Jesus. And be assured that no matter how persistent radical evil might be in its efforts to destroy peace in our world…God will protect the peace of Christ that He has placed in our minds and in our hearts.

Finally, remember that October is the month of the Rosary. This is a perfect time to make a committed effort to pray the rosary…as a family…asking God for as much peace as we might know in this world…while we wait for the Prince of Peace!

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 12, 2014
MT 22:1-14

Invitations are a little like snowflakes, no two exactly alike. They come in a variety of ways, shapes, and forms; formal and engraved, casual and funny, handwritten or verbal…texted, via Facebook, or communicated by a third party. They are also a little like snowflakes because they make us “feel” something. While a snowflake causes a sense of “cold,” an invitation might leave us with a feeling of “warmth in our heart” as in: Ahhh! They included me in their celebration….how nice! The opposite effect is also common: Another graduation party! I’m going to have to take out a second mortgage! You get the picture.

The last thing about an invitation…at least a SERIOUS invitation…is that it has the power to make us think, and often, think hard. SERIOUS invitations extended by people who, for whatever reason, are important to us, can’t simply be tossed in the trash and forgotten. We tend to weigh the consequences of how we respond. Even if we have no intention of attending…the invitation hits the mark and hangs there. Whether or not we RSVP, we continue to be aware of the upcoming event. The day of…we sense that it is going on. After it’s over…we wonder how it went. And, if we happen to come face to face with the host we declined or ignored…we make ready our excuse to the inevitable: We missed you last week…it was a wonderful evening…hope nothing was wrong.

As for those events we decide to attend, there is also a response. Invitations motivate us to respond with the purchase of a new dress or shoes, a haircut, by shopping for a gift or a card…and, of course, by carving out the time in a busy schedule. Simply put, invitations demand a commitment, some more costly and time consuming than others. And that is what we take into consideration when we come face to face with an invite!

Jesus knew this!

Even way back then, without the U.S. Postal Service or the internet, people were inviting, being invited, committing to or ducking invitations. Invitations had the same power 2,000 years ago as they do today. And so, Jesus drew upon the whole range of emotions that come with the simple words: You are cordially invited…

But, the Lord was not trying to teach a lesson in etiquette. He was using an ordinary human reaction to a request for commitment and preparation to teach us about something extremely important. Knowing how we tend to react when “invited,” Jesus was trying to drive home how eager God is that each of us ACCEPT, COMMIT, and PREPARE for Eternal life! The thing is…there is no “next time” when it comes to Eternal life! Think about it and think HARD. Really weigh the consequences of your decision. Should you decline, the “regrets” are infinite. There is no second chance…there is no “next time.”

So, maybe the questions of the week should be:

Have you sent in the RSVP?
Now, what do you need to do to get ready?

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 19, 2014
Matt 22:1-14

In 1961, American author Joseph Heller wrote a war novel entitled “Catch 22.” Because of its popularity, it was made into a movie that was released in 1970. By 1971, the title of the book and subsequent film adaptation was so commonly and frequently used that it made its way into Webster’s Dictionary. Among several rather complicated definitions of the expression is this: A hidden difficulty or means of entrapment. Synonyms for “Catch 22” include words such as “booby trap,” “gotcha,” and “landmine.”

In Matt 22, we see Jewish religious leaders trying hard to push Jesus into the very center of a deadly “Catch 22.” Either way, had He answered their seemingly simple question with a very simple “yes” or “no,” He would have found Himself guilty of a capital offense punishable by death.

If Jesus had said: “No, it is not lawful to pay taxes to this foreign power because the coin with which the tax has to be paid declares that the Emperor is a god, and to acknowledge that to be true is blasphemy”…then the Romans would have accused Him of treason and sedition. On the other hand, had He responded: “Yes, citizens have an obligation to pay taxes to support the common good”…then the Jewish religious leaders would have accused Him of blasphemy by acknowledging the Emperor as a god. On the spot, they would most likely have done what they ultimately did on Good Friday…incite the crowd, which might well have stoned Jesus. There was a definite hidden difficulty here and a classic example of “Catch 22”…their win-win would be a lose-lose for Jesus, or so they thought.

If a Catch 22 is anything which the effect is the opposite of what is intended, it was the Pharisees who got caught in their own trap. The landmine they buried in the question they posed to Jesus blew up in their faces. Their treachery and hypocrisy, which they did their best to conceal, was made visible. Moreover, through this exchange, Jesus’s unparalleled wisdom came to light. Jesus tells us: “For there is nothing hidden except to be made visible; nothing is secret except to come to light.” (Mk 4:22) That’s what happened here.

The confrontation concludes with The Lord’s often quoted reply: “Then render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” This invites a good deal of reflection on our duty as citizens. There is no denying that we reside in overlapping kingdoms…The Kingdom of God and the orders of civil authority. And we know as well that civil authority imposes and enforces duties and obligations on the part of citizenry, to which obedience is expected.

Even in a democracy such as we are blessed to live under here in the USA, there are times when God’s Law and civil authority not only overlap but clash. In the complex times in which we live, this seems to be happening much more frequently and in the most unexpected areas of our lives. We Christians must be conscious of these conflict situations and raise our voices to ensure just civil laws that are in keeping with God’s will and God’s ways.

But it might be good to zoom in on this whole idea of “Catch 22” and apply it to something smaller than the conflicts that arise between Church and state. Ask yourself: How often do I owe God something, but at the same time, convince myself that for whatever reason, I am legitimately entitled to withhold payment? Almost daily, we make choices in which there are hidden difficulties that threaten to entrap us. When this occurs, it’s oftentimes a struggle to break free of the habit, addiction, attitude or false belief that was hidden within what seemed like a simple choice: Yes or No? All too often, we make a choice, the effect of which is the direct opposite of what we SHOULD intend…almost oblivious to the dire consequences. We need to learn to walk cautiously through life because there are booby traps and landmines every step of the way…and when they blow, our spiritual health and happiness are at risk. GOTCHA! is not a word you want to hear.

Through the Lord dealing with a Catch 22 situation, the fact that Jesus is indeed The Way, The Truth, and The Life comes to light! If we do our very best to LIVE JESUS, at the end of our dangerous journey through this world, He will be the One to speak that word: GOTCHA!Gotcha!

Vocation Preparation
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 20-2014
MT 22:34-40

Three of my closer friends have kids who are getting married next year. Actually, I know all six sets of parents, and through them, am fairly well acquainted with the three brides and three grooms. They have honored me by asking that I preside at their wedding liturgies and witness their marriage covenants.

I have always felt that it is a good thing to do “marriage prep” in groups because the truth is a Christian Marriage is not simply about the couple or even their families and friends. A Christian marriage is about the entire Catholic Christian community. Through this new union, our Church experiences new life and growth. When the engaged couples come together to prepare for the Sacrament, the group dynamic offers them an experience of faith community and reminds them that the enormous step they are taking is much bigger than just the two of them…it involves the entire family of faith!

The majority of the six young people I will be working with over the next few months are products of Catholic schools. Moreover, all six are very spiritual. I think probably that is something that has drawn them together in loving relationships with one another…their already loving relationship with The Lord. So, this should really be easy sledding for me since they are already fully aware that the commitment they will be making is not simply to one another…but to God as well, and that the entire Church will benefit if they always strive to live out their marriage vows.

Actually, because these three couples distinguish themselves in the way in which they are living out their Baptisms, I see my work in helping them prepare for Christian marriage to be especially challenging. I need to find ways of helping them to build as a couple on the strong foundations that were laid in their parents’ homes. I need to inspire them to do great things in and through their marriages. I need to somehow put them in touch with the enormous power that, through their marriages, they will enjoy…a power that they could use to make this world a better place for everyone to live. Actually, I have been stressing a little bit over how I can best use this opportunity to benefit not only them…but The Body of Christ…our Church.

As I mull over what I will say to them next week, it occurs to me that these six are a full half of our very beginning. What did Jesus say to the 12 the first time they were all gathered together as Apostles, messengers He picked so that He could send them out with The Good News? Maybe the Readings this Sunday hold the key.

I wonder if His starting point might not have been our First Reading (Exodus 22:20-26). There, we are reminded that the world is a very harsh and dangerous place. We have it within us, however, to tame our hostile environment if only we can bring ourselves to treat one another with charity and love…even strangers.

In our Second Reading, St. Paul recounts how he went into a pagan land as a stranger…an alien…a foreigner with a foreign message: The Good News. The people began to believe the unbelievable…the news that Jesus rose from the dead and will return to usher in God’s Kingdom in its fullness…not simply because Paul was a good teacher…and preacher…but because he imitated Christ. St. Paul did his best to be an imitator of Christ. Because he lived Jesus, others came to imitate Jesus as well. Christians who strive to LIVE what we profess to believe have the power to change the world.

It would seem that in working with the 12 to prepare them for their vocations as messengers, Jesus needed to find ways of helping them to build on the strong foundation that was laid as they sat at His feet listening to Him…or as they stood on the fringe of a crowd watching Him cure and heal…or as they cowered in a boat while He calmed a raging storm. Jesus’s challenge was to inspire the 12 to do great things in His Name. The Lord worked with the 12 so that they would recognize the great power the Holy Spirit had placed within them; power to effectuate change. And it is entirely reasonable to believe that at the very core of each of His “vocation preparation sessions” with the 12 was His response to yet another trick question from misguided individuals…you shall love the Lord Your God with all your hearts, with all your soul, and with all your mind, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

This week’s Readings seem to come together to emphasize that regardless of what vocation we are preparing for…or living out…if we are to be faithful to Christ, it’s all about love. Love is the foundation on which the Kingdom of God is built. Love is both the inspiration as well as the power to continue the work Jesus began. Love enables us to do great things. The whole Law and the Prophets depend on love!

This is what I will share with my six young friends preparing for the Sacrament of married love. If you’ve got the love…you’ve got the power!

Concern for the Family
All Souls
November 2, 2014
JN 6:37-40

The story goes that before Creation day, God called a meeting of all of the angels in heaven. Once assembled, God announced the intention of creating a being in the Divine image and likeness, gifting these creatures with free will. The angels reacted instantly, and in a very unsupportive way. They pointed out, and rightly so, that one of the Divine attributes was PERFECT JUSTICE! They assumed, and again rightly so, that these creatures would eventually abuse or misuse the gift of free will, and since God is perfectly just, there would be no choice but to destroy the offenders. God certainly could not argue the point.

So, God withdrew to a private place to study the issue. Having come to a conclusive decision, God again assembled the angels and announced the intention of moving forward with the plan. Acknowledging the inevitable abuse or misuse of free will, and the fact that PERFECT JUSTICE would necessitate severe responses to such abuse or misuse, God revealed that the Divine Personality included PERFECT MERCY! God tempered justice with mercy to avoid the dire consequences of gifting creatures with free will. And so God created humankind in the Divine image and likeness, gifting us with free will.

We Roman Catholics have known for quite some time now that the Bishops would be assembled at the Vatican this fall to examine a variety of issues concerning family life. Clearly, the modern family is under siege and is suffering great losses. It is fitting that the Church should turn her attention to the crisis issues with which families are struggling, in hopes of bringing some sort of relief. We were called to pray that the Bishops be inspired by the Holy Spirit so that they might shepherd our Church according to God’s plan.

Due to the complexity of the issues on which the Bishops have focused, the secular press has found the meetings to be most newsworthy. Pope Francis has encouraged transparency in these discussions, so there is no reason for us to feel uneasy with the attention. What could be troublesome, however, is the scope and nature of the reporting. Journalists are framing the issues as socio-political. While the ultimate outcome will have an impact on our culture, the issues are, in truth, entirely theological and spiritual. This has nothing to do with establishing a general consensus. What our Church is about…is straining to hear directions from God as to how we are to live in this era of salvation history.

Front and center is the gift of free will. As they go about their work, the Bishops need to consider what constitutes an abuse or misuse. Moreover, they are faced with the task of determining what justice requires and what mercy demands as humankind employs free will in an increasingly confusing era.

We individual Catholics were asked to weigh in on these very sensitive issues. If we took the invitation seriously and spent any time at all completing the questionnaire that was circulated throughout the universal Church, we have a slightly better appreciation of how difficult the task is that our leaders are faced with. The Bishops were not sent to Rome to do their own will…or the will of the majority…or a determined minority, but rather the will of God. And this is the will of God…that we should not lose anyone…but that we should raise them up into the waiting arms of our Savior.

So, over the next year, we should intensify our prayers in hopes that our Church dispatches the will of God, confident that hope does not disappoint.

Domestic Church
Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome
November 9, 2014
JN 6:37-40

Last Sunday, I celebrated All Soul’s Day Mass with a small, rural community in a neighboring diocese. Their pastor was sick. I had two noteworthy experiences as a visiting priest. First, in spite of the fact that I did not know one person, even before Mass began, I became acutely aware that the people of the parish were still “in shock” over the fact that their beloved parish has merged with the faith community in the next town. Things changed and they are suffering. Even though I did not know the names of the people sharing their feelings and frustrations, their stories were very familiar because I have been hearing the very same things from folks I do know from people all around the Diocese of Saginaw. These are challenging times as we “reorganize” ourselves so that we can be of better service to one another and to Christ!

The second noteworthy experience came at the end of Mass. By the time I offered the closing prayer, heard the announcements read, and offered the final blessing…I felt as if I DID KNOW these people I had never even seen before that morning. I had prayed with them and there is nothing more intimate humankind can do than to pray together. Moreover, the Eucharist, the Source and Summit of our faith, is unmatched in its power to draw us into a deep and intimate relationship with Christ…and also with one another. And even though I did not know people’s names or addresses, as I stood at the Communion Table and the Ambo, looking out over this wonderful family of faith, leading them in our prayer, it was if I became instantly acquainted…and well acquainted at that. The young, eager faces, the lined faces of the elders, the arthritic hands and stooped shoulders, the varsity jackets…all of it made me feel like I was praying with people in a parish where I had served for many years. But the experience of familiarity was rooted in much more than these material, worldly things.

As I drove away, knowing it was unlikely that I would ever again preside in that church, or meet any of those parishioners, it occurred to me that, with God’s help, we will hopefully meet at a different Table…as we gather for the heavenly banquet. After all, through the Eucharist we shared, we have become traveling companions. And if we do our best to live what we celebrate, someday, we will have a joyful and eternal reunion at our ultimate destination…The Kingdom of God!

This Sunday, like last Sunday, we again step out of Ordinary Time to mark the Feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran. The original building was a family home – actually a palace – belonging to a wealthy Roman family. In 313 A.D., Emperor Constantine declared Christianity to be the “official religion” of the Roman Empire, and the grandiose building was dedicated as the first official place of Christian worship. As such, through the centuries, it has retained the title of “Our Mother Church.” Though destroyed and rebuilt on several occasions, what was once a family home still stands as a reminder of our humble beginnings…IN THE HOMES OF EARLY CHRISTIANS…most not so grandiose. This great Basilica in Rome, which most Catholics will never visit, is a symbol of our unity through the Eucharist, wherever we might gather to celebrate. The dedication of this place of Christian worship commands a special feast, even setting aside the Readings for the 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, so that we can hear John 2:13-22 proclaimed.

In the Gospel chosen for this feast, we see Jesus furious over the desecration of the Temple. Certainly, the Feast and the Readings motivate us to consider and appreciate more deeply our own parish churches, but this might be a good opportunity to reflect as well on our own homes and families. Christians’ homes are truly “the domestic Church.” As a Christian family gathers around their dining room table, they should share much more than a meal. They share life! And if their family life does not include a strong faith component…then it is not being lived to its full potential.

When families neglect to gather in prayer, they miss the opportunity for the deepest kind of intimacy among themselves and with Christ. When, for whatever reason, families do not leave their domestic church together to travel to their parish church…wherever that might be, to join together in Eucharist, they miss the opportunity of continuing to build on what our ancestors in faith have handed down to us…our faith in Jesus Christ.

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
November 16, 2014
MT 25:14-30

I’m slowly replacing the incandescent light bulbs in my house with LED bulbs. I am doing it “slowly” because they’re expensive. But it’s a good investment. I read the package and determined that the LED I was putting into my reading lamp has a longer life expectancy than I do. Even better, the cost of burning an LED (light emitting diode) is significantly less than the old fashioned light bulb that the electric company used to give away free of charge. So, I can keep more lights on longer and pay much less. During the long winter nights this is a very good thing for many different reasons. Light is very important. Light means life, security, safety, and even joy.

While LEDs offer a bright, clean and cool light source and are a welcomed advance in technology, they are nothing more than the flicker of a firefly when compared to the LIGHT OF FAITH. Pope Francis points out that “The light of faith is unique, because it is capable of illuminating EVERY aspect of human existence.” The Holy Father goes on to point out that: “A light this powerful cannot come from us but from a more primordial source: in a word, it comes from God.”

Pope Francis explains that the LIGHT OF FAITH is so powerful that it illuminates the past so that we can see all that God has revealed, especially in Christ. At the same time, faith makes it easier for us to see the right path…here and now…the path that leads through time and into eternal joy. The Light of Faith even makes it possible to get a glimpse into the future that awaits those who do their best to live in the Light of Christ. There is nothing more important than the LIGHT OF FAITH. The Light of Faith allows us to walk safely through this dangerous world, secure in the hope that we will enjoy ETERNAL LIGHT and LIFE.

Light is indeed important, and so are we! In this Sunday’s Second Reading, St. Paul describes us as “children of the light…children of the day.” This is a way of saying that we are created in the image and likeness of God, and so, when God calls us into being, there is a spark of the Divine within our earthly self, that by the power of the Holy Spirit, in Baptism, bursts into a brilliant beam of glory.

Our Gospel reminds us that God INVESTS this Light in us so that we can share it with the entire world. In a way, we are God’s LEDs. We burn bright and clear…with a life expectancy that is without end. We are the light that enables others who would otherwise exist in darkness…to see what God has done for us in the past, and to walk safely and securely on an illuminated path toward the City of Eternal Light that glows brightly in the distance. We are truly LEDs…LIGHT EMITTING DISCIPLES!

But “Faith is a light, and once the flame of faith dies, all other lights begin to dim.” We cannot allow that to happen. And it won’t! Because, with the help of God’s grace that flows into us freely though our Sacraments…the LIGHT OF FAITH will be continually energized…powered…strengthened…and we can continue to defeat darkness.

I think our school kids say it best when they sing their wonderful little song:
“This little light of mine…l’m gonna let it shine! This little light of mine…I’m gonna let it shine! This little light of mine…I’m gonna let it shine! Let it shine…let it shine…let it shine!” Amen!
(All quotations from Pope Francis are taken from Lumen Fidei, June 2013).

Holy Spirit Sets a True Course
Feast of Christ the King
November 23, 2014
Matt 25:31-36

Mid-term elections are behind us…finally! As our nation watches a tragically unproductive session of Congress come to a close, it seems fair to say that the majority of Americans are road-weary from the gridlock that has characterized our government in recent years. We are certainly looking forward to a fresh start, but is there really any reason to hope things will change? The only element of our society that seems to benefit from this constant clash of philosophies, ideologies, and even personalities is the press. In fact, even the press has divided itself into camps. Rather than simply reporting facts, journalists are inflaming passions with biased reports from both sides of the aisle. It’s sad!

What is sad as well…and possibly even sinful…is that our Church seems to be experiencing the same deep divisions. You certainly get that impression from the secular press reporting on the October meeting of Bishops. The media seems to almost delight in broadcasting the diverse opinions expressed during the first meeting of the synod committed to the challenges Christian families are struggling with during this 21st century. Particular glee colored the reports of a comment attributed to an American Cardinal who is purported to have likened the Church under Pope Francis to “a ship without a rudder.”

This Sunday, like the past two, we step out of Ordinary Time to celebrate something special. On November 2, All Souls Day, we recalled how our Church is a union that cannot be divided even by death. Those who have gone before us benefit from and depend upon our prayers, and, in return, intercede for us. Last Sunday was the anniversary of the dedication of the “Mother Church,” St. John Lateran in Rome. That Feast offers an opportunity to consider our long, unbroken history. We are built on the strongest of foundations with Christ as our Cornerstone. Tracing our lineage back to this first place dedicated to public Christian worship is strong evidence of our unity and endurance.

This week, we mark the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. Today, we image The Lord as a sovereign. Christ rules over all creation in a benevolent and loving way. It is Christ’s hand on the tiller, steadying and guiding the ship. And even as Christ charts our course through salvation history, it’s the Holy Spirit who fills our sails and propels us toward our final destination.

This Sunday’s Gospel offers a vivid description of the course that The Lord has charted for us as the Church moves through time toward eternity. The Holy Spirit carries us directly into the seas of need. As we pass through among the poor, the marginalized, the desperate…we should not simply observe what surrounds us, but through the Holy Spirit, we are called to reach out! We are called to take our hand OFF the wheel, confident that Christ our King, our Captain, our Shepherd, is guiding us into the waters where we need to be at any given point in salvation history…in order to be productive. The Holy Spirit sets a true course, and our duty is not to control the direction, but to serve those whom we encounter on our journey.

And so, as we bring this liturgical year to a close, our Readings make a clear distinction between the Church and state. In spite of the differing opinions, philosophies, ideologies, and personalities we bring to the Communion Table, we are unified by our shared belief in Jesus Christ…King of the Universe, who rules with compassion, mercy, and unconditional love. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we will endure whatever forces attempt to divide us. If there is an aisle that separates us, it is that some seek to control…while others commit only to serve…especially those in greatest need. For their efforts, they will be greatly rewarded!

Next Sunday, The Church can move into the season of Advent and begin a new liturgical year filled with hope…because it is Christ, our loving and gentle King, who is in control!

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