Journal Archive 2016 CYCLE C

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LK 21:25-28, 34-36
First Sunday of Advent
November 29, 2015

Have you ever noticed how people entering a boarding area, waiting for a flight, look around for an empty seat that seems to offer the best view of the counter…or that is near an electrical outlet so they can charge their cell phone or iPad…or that has a vacant chair on either side to accommodate their carry-on luggage (even though that means others might have to stand)? To a lesser extent, the same holds true in train stations, bus stops, and even doctors’ offices. Wherever we gather “to wait,” we look for the most convenient spot and then claim it. We set up camp and make the best of it while we wait. And when there is activity at the gate…or vibration on the tracks…or we catch sight of the bus lumbering down the street…or the nurse opens the door of the waiting room, the reaction is universal. We put aside whatever we might be absorbed in…AND WE STAND AND MOVE! There is no looking back at the space we have been occupying, no matter how convenient or comfortable it might have been. It served its purpose as we waited, AND WE STAND AND MOVE!

On the surface, the Season of Advent is very much like that. It carries with it the feelings of the excitement and expectation or even the anxiety we experience, at whatever level of intensity, as we wait for an arrival. This is a season of joyful expectation and anticipation. It is a season of preparation. But if you go deeper, it is much more.

While it is true that this opening season of a new liturgical year culminates with the celebration of the BIRTH of Jesus, our Readings for this First Sunday of Advent invite us to look beyond The Nativity to that time when Christ RETURNS in all of His glory. These next four weeks are an opportunity for each of us to shrug off whatever spiritual lethargy we might have settled into…and to STAND UP AND MOVE towards Christ. When we realize that we are waiting for both the cosmic arrival and the ultimate destination of all creation, it’s almost impossible to get comfortable where we are. It’s too exciting to merely sit and wait until we see some activity. We shouldn’t simply search for a place to camp out and get comfortable while we wait. Jesus has already signaled that the time is at hand.

We sing “Arise from your slumber, awake from your sleep.” Over these next four weeks, during the Christmas Season…and throughout the coming liturgical year we begin today…let’s live those words we sing. Let’s STAND UP AND MOVE towards the new day that’s dawning in Christ!

LK 3:1-6
Second Sunday of Advent
December 6, 2015

During the last ten minutes of a recent visit, and sensing my concern for her well-being, my 90-something-year-old widowed mother asked: Would you be more comfortable if I were to leave the house and move to assisted living? Honestly…the answer is both YES! and NO! I would certainly feel more comfortable knowing that she has people around keeping her safer than she is living on her own. On the other hand, she would not only be leaving HER home…but…she would be leaving MY home as well. Somehow, knowing that my childhood home has always been there when I needed it has made it easier to reside in and MOVE from rectory to rectory as my pastoral assignments have changed. I’ve always had “home” during these years of temporary residences. And so the prospect of Mom MOVING is as jarring to me as it is to her. The reality is, however, there is no such thing as a permanent “dwelling place” in this world. All of our residences are temporary.

The Readings for the First Sunday in Advent invite a reflection on the very human experience of MOVING towards the anticipated arrival of Christ, Who will invite us to a place of permanent perfection from which we will never again have to move. When Christ returns, there will be no more WAITING and no more MOVING…only the splendor and glory of God for all eternity. Even knowing this to be true, it is still hard to accept that our earthly lives are all about change…in appearance, health, energy level and homes! The reality is, each day, we move closer to being re-settled from time and into eternity, which makes the appearance of John the Baptist on this Second Sunday in Advent especially meaningful. He challenges us to CHANGE in ways that will MOVE us closer to Christ and make us worthy to make our permanent home in the safety of the Kingdom…surrounded by the angels and saints.

His voice, calling out into the wilderness where the people of Israel found themselves stranded, roused them out of their slumber and called them to MOVE. John’s voice caught their attention and prompted them to STAND AND MOVE toward the cleansing waters of the Jordan River. There, another Voice…The Voice from heaven, confirmed that Jesus of Nazareth had finally arrived, bringing with Him all they had been WAITING and hoping and praying for. For those wise enough to listen, the waiting was indeed over and they STOOD AND MOVED towards The Way, The Truth, and The Life.

The season of Advent reminds us that in a very real way, we are still a WAITING PEOPLE. While it is true that what we have been waiting for…salvation…has already arrived, there is more to come. We continue to wait for Christ’s return in glory. Having passed through the cleansing waters of Baptism, we should not be clinging to the places and things that we find comfortable. Only Christ offers lasting comfort and perfect peace. During Advent, we hear the echo of the Baptist’s voice, calling us to STAND AND MOVE towards THE DAY OF CHRIST JESUS…when there will be an end to all waiting. …and all moving!

LK 3:10-18
Third Sunday of Advent
December 13, 2015

Humanity needs to STAND UP AND MOVE towards solutions to the environmental crisis that threaten the well-being of future generations. World leaders need to STAND UP AND MOVE together, as seekers of peace, in order to quiet the terrorist threats to our common security. Our Church needs to STAND UP AND MOVE in order to restore trust and confidence lost in recent years. Our parishes need to STAND UP AND MOVE and aggressively take up the call to evangelize to a generation which appears deaf to the Good News. Families need to STAND UP AND MOVE towards the dinner table, in their home, so as to discover the joy and sanctity of family life. Married couples need to STAND UP AND MOVE towards each other, rather than searching for opportunities to be apart. Individuals need to put aside the remote, give the computer a rest, and STAND UP AND MOVE so as to lower blood pressure, sugar levels, weight, and increase energy and enthusiasm for life. The Advent message is loud and clear and relevant to every area of life…especially our spiritual life…STAND UP AND MOVE!

But even those wise enough to listen to the echo of John the Baptist’s voice, and STAND UP AND MOVE, tend to join their voices to those of John’s followers…asking: WHAT SHOULD WE DO? WHERE SHOULD WE GO? WHAT IS EXPECTED OF US? I wonder if possibly the Gospel softens his response. Is it possible that he fired back something like: WHAT DO YOU MEAN WHAT SHOULD I DO? ISN’T IT OBVIOUS?

After all, don’t we all know, without asking, what we need to let go of…what we need to change…fix…heal…forgive…so that we are able to STAND UP AND MOVE towards Christ? While Advent is not technically a penitential season, it’s hard to STAND UP AND MOVE TOWARDS CHRIST when we let anything weigh us down.

LK 1:39-45
Fourth Sunday in Advent
December 20, 2015

I began my reflection for the Second Sunday of Advent, relating how during the last ten minutes of a recent visit, and sensing my concern for her well-being, my 90-something-year-old widowed mother asked: Would you be more comfortable if I were to leave the house and move to assisted living? Quite honestly, at the time, had I said out loud (because I was certainly thinking it) YES, I WOULD BE, I’m fairly certain that she, in turn, would have replied…”Well, I’ll give it some thought…maybe in a few years, I’ll move.”

Ironically, before we light the pink (rose-colored) candle marking the Third Sunday of Advent, she took a bad fall. Although she couldn’t STAND AND MOVE…she was first transported to the hospital for hip surgery, then on to rehab in hopes that soon she will be able to, once again, STAND AND MOVE on her own. After that her future is uncertain, except for this: She will continue to move in the direction her life’s path has always led her…TOWARDS CHRIST…WHO IS ALWAYS MOVING CLOSER TO US. About any of our futures, we know this much to be true: Christ is always moving toward us with outstretched arms.

The Sunday Readings throughout this Advent Season have inspired the mantra: STAND AND MOVE! We Christians should not be a sedentary people who merely sit and wait. While it is absolutely true that we are waiting for Christ to return in all of His glory, it is also true…that we should go out to greet Him…and also that we should bring Him to those who do not know Him yet.

We light the final candle on the evergreen wreath as we hear the story of The Visitation. This Second Joyful Mystery of the Rosary is the story of two holy women, both surprised by their present circumstances, uncertain about their futures, but fully responsive to what God was asking of them. For her part, Mary STOOD AND MOVED so as to bring The Christ within her to her cousin Elizabeth, who STOOD AND RAN OUT to greet her and the child that she was carrying. Mary and Elizabeth are true action figures who should inspire each of us to continue to move through the Christmas Season, certain that we are always moving towards Christ.

Search and Recovery
Luke 2:41-52
The Holy Family
December 27, 2015

While in high school, I worked in a grocery store, not daily…but almost…and especially on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings, when the store was especially crowded. And there was the crackle of the sound system interrupting business as the cheerful voice of the manager announced: “Attention, shoppers. We have a little lost boy named Jimmy (or girl named Sally) here in the office…would the mother please come a get him/her?” And with that, everyone would turn and look as some frantic young mom came running to the front of the store. By that time, the child was usually crying. It seemed to me that the younger the child, the faster the mother hurried to the office, in tears as well, or darn close. And then we “spectators” would witness the reunion that typically began with hugs, more tears, often ending with a scolding. There would be a collective AHHH, and then people would go back to what they had been doing.

The Last Joyful Mystery, Finding Jesus in the Temple, reported in this Sunday’s Gospel, must resonate in a special way with parents. At some time or another, most parents have suffered the pain, anxiety, fear, shame…all of the emotions that go with losing or being separated from their child. On this Sunday after Christmas, we are reminded of Jesus’s human nature and the fact that God elected to have the Christ-child raised within a normal, human family, experiencing the fullness of family life…even the joy of reunion and the “scolding” that follows getting lost.

But Mary and Joseph experienced much, much more than all that comes from being separated from a child. At the time of the incident, Jesus was 12 years old. The parents had already stood wide-eyed as heavenly messengers explained to them that this gift from God was no ordinary child. They had over a decade to reflect on the truth that God’s Eternal Word was sleeping under their roof, sitting in their laps, looking to them for comfort when He skinned a knee, eating at their table…growing into a God/Man before their very eyes. For three entire days, they had not only lost their much loved child…but they had lost the Savior of all humankind.

When pondering this Joyful Mystery, we can easily tap into the extraordinary relief Mary and Joseph felt at the reunion, so much so that we risk losing sight of the setting…the location. The frantic parents did not respond to an announcement to come to the manager’s office. They were not called by police to the local precinct where they found Jesus wearing one of the officers’ hats and eating ice cream. It was in God’s House where Jesus was found. And what surprised The Child was not the sudden appearance of frantic parents, but that they would think Him lost in the first place. “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

Lots of people today are living a life of “search and recovery.” Compounding all of the angst they are experiencing is the sad fact that they don’t even know Who it is they’ve lost…or Who it is they are searching for…or that it is God’s Eternal Word they are desperate to recover. Moreover, they are looking in all of the wrong places. This is where people of faith come in. We need to make the announcement: There is a lost Child in our churches! Would you please come and get Him!

For those wise enough to listen, the reunion will be joyful beyond our imagination. Christ the Savior is born! People of good will need proclaim this Good News so that those who are lost can be found…and those who are searching know where to look.

Every Blessing to you during this Christmas Season!

Divine Presence
MT 2:1-12
Epiphany of the Lord
January 3, 2016

If you “click on to” the NASA web site, you can make your way to a very interesting article, put up in October of 2015 entitled: JOURNEY TO MARS – Pioneering Next Steps in Space Exploration. The article gives a detailed explanation of the three stage proposal that will hopefully lead to establishing a sustainable human presence beyond earth, not just to visit but to stay. PHASE I of the project is called “Earth Reliant.” Basically, this means that all of the work is done here. PHASE 2 is referred to as “Proving Ground.” The rockets and satellites, the research in progress on the International Space Station, and every other way in which “human presence is expanded into deep space” falls within this PHASE which is intended to lead us into PHASE 3 by the year 2030. The ultimate goal of PHASE 3 is clear from its title: “Earth Independent.”

As one reads through this plan to pioneer and settle deep space, it’s difficult not to become engaged and excited. This spirit of exploration that motivates the scientists, engineers, medical researchers AND INVESTORS, is contagious. It offers us an image of the future…what might be? But it also is a vehicle to the past, in the sense that it enables us to tap into the “spirit of exploration” alive in the 14th century, that led to the discovery of “The New World.” The modern day desire to “expand the human presence into deep space” might offer as well, some insights into THE EPIPHANY OF THE LORD!

In the beginning, all was “God Reliant,” But the Creator was eager to “expand the Divine Presence” and in that way share the Love that is God. PHASE 2 opened with creation. Earth became the “Proving Ground” for this cosmic expression of Love. The original sin interfered with The Divine Plan to share with a creature made in the image and likeness of The Creator. But God persisted to make the Divine Presence felt, in many different ways. Eventually, through the Incarnation, God’s Eternal Word became Flesh to dwell among us. With the Birth of Jesus Christ, God established a sustainable Divine Presence beyond Heaven…not just to visit but to stay. In fact, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Divine Presence that broke through the barrier separating Heaven from Earth, has remained.

The three explorers who we remember on this Feast of the Epiphany, played a key role in PHASE 2 of the Divine Plan. We call them The Three Wise Men…because they were indeed, wise enough to recognize and follow the star that guided them towards Bethlehem, as having been sent by God. Moreover, they were wise enough to recognize the Child, in His mother’s arms, as being worthy of their homage. Finally, they were wise enough to listen to the angle’s warning, not to return in the way they had come, but to go home a different way.
The Magi have a great many things in common with the adventurers who have set their sights on Mars. But what distinguishes them, and sets them apart, is the motivation for their research and journey. They left their homes bearing gifts…not looking for ways to profit or gain. Unlike the explores who crossed the Atlantic the first time, they were not searching for gold…or spices…or for new lands to add to their kingdoms. The Magi brought and presented those very things and presented them to the Christ –child and then subjected themselves to His Kingdom, which they understood was not of this world. Their efforts were rewarded. They were invited into PHASE 3. This is to say, they returned to their homes changed. Because of their encounter with the Divine, they became “Earth Independent”…wholly dependent upon the God Who revealed the Divine Self to them.

We should be grateful to God who created us with the intellects that enable us to discover new worlds. But above all else, we should be grateful to God, Who through Jesus Christ established a sustainable Divine Presence here on earth…not just to visit but…through the Holy Spirit to stay…until Christ returns in glory!

In this coming year, let’s resolve to become totally EARTH INDEPENDENT…trusting and rejoicing in our God Who shares Life and Love with us.

Baptism of the Lord
LK 3:15-16, 21-22
January 10, 2016

If you are fortunate enough to visit the great cathedrals of Italy, which all tourists typically do, Christian or non-Christian, make certain that you don’t miss the baptisteries. Our ancestors in faith, who somehow managed to erect these amazing architectural wonders without the benefit of modern-day tools, equipment, and machinery, often included in the sacred space they set apart in honor of God a second smaller, yet still grandiose, structure. The adjacent building complements the main worship space in every way except purpose. The singular purpose of the baptistery is clear from the name. At the appointed time during the celebration of the Easter Vigil, the faithful gathered in the cathedral celebrating Christ’s Resurrection would process into the baptistery to celebrate the Sacraments of Initiation. Church historians tell us that in honor of those becoming part of the Body of Christ, the baptistery would be transformed into a beautiful garden, filled with flowers and trees and vines. The environment was intended to remind those celebrating Easter that Jesus Christ was the New Adam, Who has won back for us the right to once again dwell in Paradise.

However, by pairing the drama of Jesus’s Baptism in the Jordan with Isaiah 42, the Church points to yet another meaning of “Baptism.” Moses led the people to the banks of the Red Sea. The waters parted and the people fleeing from slavery in Egypt passed through unharmed to begin their journey to the Promised Land. Jesus, the New Moses, leads us to the waters in which He allowed Himself to be submerged. Upon rising, The Lord was introduced as the Son of God. Jesus, the New Moses, then began to lead those who shared in His Baptism toward the Kingdom of God. Just as Israel passed through the “birth canal” of the Red Sea, entering as a slave nation, and reborn as a free people….so too in Baptism, we are reborn. We are no longer enslaved by sin and death, and begin our pilgrim journey to the promised land.

Our ancestors in faith fully understood that Baptism is not simply an initiation into an organization, but a sharing in the Story of Salvation. They remembered and celebrated the cosmic significance of Jesus’s Baptism by building elaborate structures without the benefit of modern-day tools, equipment, and machinery, in honor of the New Beginning that all humanity was given on that day. But they did more than build buildings. They continued the work that began as the heavens parted, and a Voice expressed Divine pleasure in Jesus. They continued to build the City of God.

And the work continues. We, who have been baptized in Christ…redeemed by The New Adam…led by The New Moses through the waters to escape slavery to sin and death…reborn in the Spirit…are called upon to continue to build the City of God. Even as our ancestors in faith set aside a special place to honor God and built special buildings as testimony to the significance of Baptism, we are called to set aside our lives and to live them in a way that complements The Life of Christ. We are living baptisteries that stand next to Christ, in Whom God is well pleased. And all who look upon us…even those who are not Christians, should marvel at our beauty. As we begin this new year, resolve to continue the work. You have been given the special tools, equipment, and machinery which it takes to make your life a spiritual architectural wonder. It was all given to you in the Spirit-filled waters you passed through. Use what was given to you…and someday, you will hear a heavenly Voice introduce you as a “beloved child in whom God is well pleased!”

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
JN 2:1-11
January 17, 2016

Last Sunday, the Gospel took us to the shores of the Jordan River. We were privileged to look on as Jesus submitted to John’s Baptism by water. Only AFTER all of the people joined in this ritual of repentance and cleansing did the heavens open, and somehow, God the Son was acknowledged, introduced, and appreciated for Who He was and remains. Because the people shared in the cleansing bath, they also shared in the acknowledgement, introduction, and appreciation that poured forth over the earth…even as the star poured its revealing light over the humble manger. The events of the day must have caused the people to recall John’s assurance that someone mightier than he would come with a new Baptism, not one with ordinary water, but a submersion into the Holy Spirit…and a cleansing by Fire.

This Sunday, through John’s Gospel, we fast forward…how much, we don’t know…to Cana, a small, humble, dusty village a short distance from the scene of Jesus’s Baptism. Among the four Gospels, John’s particularly makes effective use of symbolism. The report of the embarrassing shortage of wine, the assertiveness of the otherwise silent Blessed Mother, the witness of the astonished disciples, and, of course, the amazing transformation of ordinary water into the finest of wines are all key elements to this event. Each has a deeper meaning worth delving into further. Today, let’s limit our reflection to the circumstances of Jesus’s first public miracle, often referred to as the beginning of His ministry.

This happened during a joyful celebration…filled with hope and love…and the promise of a bright future for a couple who gathered their family and friends together as they began a new life. Today, even people without a faith life can appreciate the celebratory atmosphere and can also understand how the wine shortage would have brought the celebration to a screeching halt. Then, persuaded and possibly even encouraged by His mother, Jesus miraculously changed water drawn from the well into the finest wine. This miracle is very often associated with the Sacrament of Christian Marriage. Rightly so. This passage, reported only in John’s Gospel, is frequently chosen by a couple to be proclaimed at their wedding liturgy; a fitting choice. But, it would seem that this is about much more than the fact that Jesus appreciated the fact that the hopes and dreams of a young couple in love warranted a good party…that should not be cut short by empty wine bottles.

We should take particular note of the symbolic value of changing the ordinary into something extraordinary; in fact, so extraordinary and special that it was clear to the witnesses that God was indeed present and active in the transformation. The movement from the ordinary to the extraordinary at the wedding feast at Cana was not unlike the transformation that occurred at the Jordan River. There, Jesus changed ordinary river water, which John used to baptize, into cleansing, cauterizing, and healing Fire…The Holy Spirit. By allowing Himself to be submerged into an ordinary river, Jesus sanctified and made holy the water in every Baptismal font, in every church, and in every age. Those submerged in these living waters will rise up transformed, changed…reborn into an extraordinary life in the Spirit, a future filled with hope, love, and the promise of everlasting life.

Last Sunday, we brought the Christmas Season to a close. This is the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time. But, there is nothing “ordinary” about lives lived close to Christ and the Church. Regardless of which of the Seven Sacraments we celebrate, the impact on our lives is transformative…intoxicating…a preview of a celebration that will never end.

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 1:1-4; 4:14-21
January 24, 2016

Recently, a BBC journalist, reporting from Madaya, Syria, a besieged city just miles from Damascus (actually a relatively short distance from Nazareth) started her TV report by acknowledging that when she began her assignment, she had doubts that conditions were as dire as described by the residence. Then, as trucks filled with food and medical supplies rolled into the town, and she saw the faces of starving people come out of the safety of their homes…she knew there was no “photo shopping” of the pictures of skeletal children posted on social media.

She spoke of the fact that “food” was being used as a weapon of war. The town had been surrounded by enemy forces, preventing the delivery of the things essential to sustaining life. She went on to explain that “even wars have laws” and that it is an internal national “law of war” that innocent civilians should not be starved to death. It was very difficult to watch this story. What is even more difficult, is knowing that there was only one month’s worth of supplies delivered to these people, who by now are probably down to the last of it…not knowing if more aid is going to make it through the military barricade. The report was nothing less than a study in hopelessness.

The present day events in the Middle East bring to mind the First Reading. Over run and over powered by enemy forces, Jerusalem was sacked and burned and its residents enslaved. Having finally been liberated after many years living in a foreign land, they returned to Jerusalem to find their beloved city…even the Temple…totally destroyed. To be in touch with the feelings of desperation and hopelessness they must have felt, tune into BBC.

While the loss of hope was devastating, perhaps the most lethal wound was the loss of faith. Separated from the Temple and their religious traditions, the Jewish people lost touch with God. They forgot that they were the Chosen People. It is likely that many even embraced the pagan ways of their captors. When they finally returned home, Ezra called them together to celebrate their homecoming; making it an opportunity for Israel to re-learn God’s will and God’s ways. With the return of faith, came the return of hope. Israel felt the same sense of relief and joy in hearing The Law, as the people of Madaya, Syria felt as the relief trucks rolled in. Why wouldn’t they? God’s law is as important to sustaining life, as food, water and medical supplies.

The conditions in Corinth, which Paul is addressing in our Second Reading, were probably not as violent and tragic as what many people in the Middle East are fleeing from today. Still, it does not take long for differences in appearance, beliefs, and life styles, to become the tinder for hatred and violence. Think of it this way: there would be no “refugee” issue if humankind were to hear Paul’s message encouraging us to accept our differences…not as something that distinguishes and divides us, but rather as ways in which we complement each other. Tolerance, acceptance and dialogue are ways to combat the tragic divisions that led to people starving children to death. Which brings us to this week’s Gospel.

Like the BBC journalist, Luke investigated the events he reported. He took pains to accurately, and in a logical sequence, record the events surrounding the mission and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. Again, like the BBC reporter, it was his desire to report in such a way that left no doubts as to the truth of what he witnessed and was broadcasting. He did not want to be accused of “photo shopping” the story. The message is too important to allow room for doubt.

What is reported in this Sunday’s Gospel, is that God’s Word made flesh, spoke God’s Word first proclaimed through Isaiah. God is telling all people of all ages, that there would be no need for “laws of war” or “rules of engagement” if God Law were to reign supreme and if humankind were to set aside our differences and engage one another as loving sisters and brothers…all children of a good and loving God.

We take this Third step into Ordinary time, reminded by our Readings that no day or age is “ordinary” because Christ has come to strengthen our faith, fill us with hope and challenge us to live as we were created to…in a loving union with God and one another. If we were to re-learn and then live this lesson…then like the people returning to the destroyed city of Jerusalem, we could begin to rebuild our world, and the BBC could proclaim a “year favorable to the Lord!”

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
LUKE 4:21-30
January 31, 2016

I have a very distinct recollection of the first time I heard this Gospel proclaimed. I was old enough to listen and absorb what I heard, but not so old that I totally understood the message. I was also young enough not to be embarrassed to ask my Gramma, who had taken me to Mass: “How did Jesus get away?” After thinking about it, she replied: “It was a miracle. He just disappeared.” That satisfied me for a long, long time and also left me with an image of Jesus as super hero, like the characters on my favorite TV shows. Certainly, the Resurrected Christ “disappeared from their midst” after celebrating Eucharist in a little village called Emmaus. The Ascension of the Lord is another example of a miraculous vanishing act. And, just possibly, that is exactly what happened. All that Luke tells us is that: “He passed through the midst of them and went away.” We are left to do what Gramma did…ponder the matter.

As an adult, I have pondered the matter, and while I continue to believe the first part of Gramma’s answer…because Jesus’s escape from a murderous crowd was definitely miraculous, the thought that He simply vaporized, to me anyway, is unsettling. It seems in a way to devalue His human nature. Flesh and blood human beings are not capable of that kind of dramatic exit. So I wonder if another possibility might be found in our Second Reading.

Yes! Jesus was fully human, but Jesus was also fully Divine. St. Paul’s beautiful description of love is also a description of Jesus…because Jesus is God and God is love. While our all-powerful God is certainly capable of disappearing in a flash, I wonder if it was the power of love that enabled Jesus to “pass through the midst” of a bloodthirsty mob. Could the sheer power and force of pure love have shielded the Lord, repelling every effort to harm Him? Ponder that some more!

But to be honest, as adults, there is another question that seems more important to me than HOW Jesus managed to escape. WHY were the people of Nazareth so angry? Why did they move so quickly from appreciation to utter hatred? Once again, our Second Reading might offer fodder for a deeper reflection. They were people of faith. After all, this entire episode unfolded in their village synagogue where they were gathered to celebrate the Sabbath. As faithful Jews, they lived in hope…hope that the Messiah would come to liberate. Possibly they were lacking in one thing…LOVE!

Why is this possible? Well, they certainly were not patient with Jesus, and there is nothing kind about their response to Him. In fact, this passage is a perfect example of being “quick-tempered.” Arrogance and jealousy might well have blinded them to the truth that what they had hoped for was standing in their midst…The Messiah. The mob mentality we see here rejoices in wrongdoing. In other words, Nazareth that Sabbath morning appears to have been the antithesis of love. The result was tragic.

The behavior of this faith community offers us a good reality check for our contemporary faith communities. If we do not receive one another with love…if we do not relate to one another with love…all we are doing is “making noise,” and the Lord might well “pass through our midst” and move on…just as Jesus vanished from Nazareth, reappearing in Capernaum where He was received with love.

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 5:1-11
February 7, 2016

Somehow, I was able to squeak through my high school English literature class by reading the “Cliff Notes” summary of Charles Dickens’, “A Tale of Two Cities.” Although I didn’t know too much more about the tale other than London was a refuge and Paris was a dangerous place where the streets were filled with angry, vengeful, and bloodthirsty mobs. Years later, I found, read, and thoroughly enjoyed the novel.

In a way, the passages from Luke’s Gospel we’ve heard these 4th and 5th Sundays in Ordinary Time offer us “A Tale of Two Cities.” Well, not exactly cities; rather small, close-knit villages, the center of each being the synagogue where the people set the pattern of their daily lives through the traditions and practices of their faith. Almost isolated by geography, poverty, and primitive means of transportation, the people of both Nazareth and Capernaum looked inward rather than outward to the rest of the world. And as they faced the center of their village life, they encountered God in their village house of prayer. Still, in spite of the shared religious practices and traditions, they proved to be very different kinds of communities. The people of Nazareth rose up against Jesus, and were literally transformed from worshippers into a dangerous mob. In order to avoid being hurled over a cliff to His death, the Lord passed through their midst and went away.

Jesus didn’t cross the English Channel to seek refuge; instead, He hiked the 40 or so miles across rugged terrain to the northernmost point of the Sea of Galilee. There, He found an adopted family and a “new home.” The people of Capernaum welcomed The Lord. They encouraged Him to stay with them. They listened to and embraced the message He brought to them…The Good News! And among them were those willing to be transformed from ordinary fishermen into Apostles and disciples. Luke reports a “tale of two cities” separated by only a short distance; the first, threatening violence to God’s Word made Flesh, the other offering The Lord refuge and supporting Him in the work of evangelization.

So, as we prepare to begin the 40-day journey through the Lenten Season, it is important to ask: What is my starting point? Which city am I departing from as I make my way to the heavenly Jerusalem? If the answer is “Nazareth,” then a deep conversion experience is needed. This involves truly accepting and then living the Gospel. There are no “shortcuts.” But, when we permit the Holy Spirit to be our guide, then the journey becomes more joyful and the destination more certain. Whether we simply neglect it or intentionally resist it, once we open ourselves to the power of the Holy Spirit, life becomes so filled with peace and joy that we wonder why we waited. But there are no “shortcuts.” To put on the mind of Christ, we must reject sin and commit to faithful discipleship in the Church.

For those who “live in Capernaum,” Lent offers the opportunity to become better acquainted with Jesus Christ. Even the people who walked the shores of the Sea of Galilee with Him learned new and ever more amazing things from and about Jesus; and so, too, with us today. The transforming power of the Holy Spirit enables us to learn new and ever more amazing things about our God as we live with Jesus Christ. But, like the fishermen who were transformed into disciples, we, too, are called to become fishers of others. A perfect way to continue our own conversion process is to make Lent a time when we look for every opportunity to introduce the Gospel to our day-to-day lives in hopes that others might come to believe. Lent is the perfect time to let the light that came into our hearts at Baptism shine even more brightly, so that others might come to Christ. Lent is a time to amaze ourselves as we discover that when we speak, think, and act like Christ, we have the power to transform the lives of others.

So, whether you are beginning the journey from Nazareth or Capernaum, know that by allowing the Holy Spirit to chart the course over the 40-day journey…the destination will be the same…an empty tomb and Easter joy; and someday, the Heavenly Jerusalem. It really is “A Tale of Two Cities,”…here and there. And if we want to live for all eternity THERE, across the channel of time, in a place of safety, joy, and eternal peace…we need to make the crossing with the Spirit of Lenten repentance and conversion.

First Sunday of Lent
LK 4:1-13
February 14, 2016

Good parents, I would think, recognize their children’s strengths and weaknesses. Good parents most likely try to encourage their children to “play to their strengths”…take full advantage of their gifts. At the same time, good parents probably think of ways to help their children overcome, or compensate for, or work around their weaknesses. These are a few of the ways that “good parents” imitate God, the perfect and most loving Parent.

We always begin Lent by hearing what came immediately following Jesus’s Baptism. The Son was led by The Spirit into the desert for 40 days of solitude and fasting under the most grueling of circumstances. Typically, we refer to this event as “The Temptation of The Lord.” That description is a tip-off to the fact that the tempter plays a key role in this early episode in the earthly life of Jesus Christ. But, I wonder if it might be a little misleading. Could we be paying too much attention to the darkness of this passage?

What if we referred to this passage as: THE GOOD PARENT?

Before you dismiss the suggestion, consider how Jesus happened to find Himself in a barren desert, exposed to the elements, and without food or water. He was LED BY THE SPIRIT! Isn’t it possible that The Father, with the help of The Holy Spirit, was trying to teach The Son to “play to His strengths”? Rather than leading Him into temptation, could The Father have arranged a situation for The Son to experience the fullness of the gifts which Jesus brought into this world in a human body? Could this have been a way for The Father to encourage The Son to embrace His Divine nature? Was this an opportunity staged by The Father so that The Son would understand that He was able to overcome all weaknesses? Certainly, His 40-day retreat was proof that He was more powerful than hunger, greed, or pride.

When we keep the spotlight on the tempter, we risk losing sight of the good parenting at play here…and we also risk missing the opportunity to reflect on where and why the HOLY SPIRIT is leading us.

Certainly, Lent is a penitential season marked by fasting, almsgiving, and prayer…but it should also be embraced as opportunity to be more like God created us to be. We are led by The Holy Spirit into these 40 days so that we might learn to “play to our strength”…THE HOLY SPIRIT…and, at the same time, develop the skills we need to overcome, or compensate for, or work around our weaknesses. Lent is really a wonderful gift from our heavenly Parent…A Good Parent.

Second Sunday of Lent
LK 9:28B-36
February 21, 2016

Next Sunday is the 88th Academy Awards. I doubt I’ll be watching. One of the motion pictures nominated in several categories is called “The Martian.” doubt I’ll see it, although I did read the book. I don’t need to issue a “spoiler alert” because it’s pretty much common knowledge that the story is about an astronaut marooned on Mars. As I read the book, I had an overwhelming sense of, and appreciation for, the distance that separated this lone explorer from his home on Earth. But the distance became less of an issue for “the Martian” at those times he was able to communicate with the scientists and engineers at NASA.

In a way, this movie offers a sense of how Jesus must have felt. Like an astronaut exploring another planet, The Lord found Himself in “another world.” The distance between The Kingdom of God and Earth must have been overwhelming to His Divine nature. That sense of separation from His Heavenly home would have been particularly intense when He was faced with things so alien to Him…things like hatred, greed, anger, arrogance, prejudice, corruption, and raw ambition. For a lesser heavenly visitor, the atmosphere of sin here on earth would have been as toxic to the Lord as the lack of oxygen was to the astronaut on Mars. Jesus survived…that is, until He gave up His life here…so that someday…we might live in The Kingdom.

And, of course, there was the issue of communicating with The Father. Jesus typically resolved the communication issue by going off to a deserted place…alone…and praying…by Himself, except on the occasion reported in this week’s Gospel, when He took three companions. And, almost as if He wanted to eliminate all possibility of interference or distraction…He led them up a high mountain. There, through His Transfiguration, The Lord all but closed the gap between heaven and earth; establishing visual as well as verbal communication with Moses and Elijah. The connection was so perfect that Peter, James, and John gave witness to it.

This foretaste of Resurrection also reminds us of the power we have to establish communication with God’s Kingdom through prayer. John Paul ll once wrote: We need to reaffirm our need for intense, humble, confident, and persevering prayer if the world is finally to become a dwelling place of peace.” The same holds true if we want to sustain a lasting sense of peace in our own hearts and minds. When we neglect our prayer life, we become like the astronaut stranded on Mars without means of communicating with Earth. Life without prayer is sentencing ourselves to solitary confinement in a foreign prison.

Lent is the time to make the journey up to the top of the mountain…above the toxic air we breathe each day…in order to improve or re-establish communications with The Source of all life, love, and peace.

LK 13:1-9
February 28, 2016

The Flint water crisis is international news. It is a tragedy on par with the Zika virus in the sense that it poses a serious threat to public health. The most shocking thing about the poisoned water is the fact that it is robbing children of their right to a bright future. If a child’s life does not end because of the toxic water, their potential to grow, develop, and flourish into all that God created them to be is very much at risk. No wonder Flint parents are demanding immediate solutions. There is no time to waste, because every time a water tap is turned on in Flint, there is a chance that a child’s life might be wasted. This is a crisis of utmost urgency. Our neighbors cannot afford to be and should not be patient!

This is also the case with our spiritual lives and that of our children. Every single time a TV, radio, or computer is turned on, there is the likelihood of a flow of toxic material into our minds and hearts. The poison that has infiltrated our lives is so constant and so uncontrolled, coming at us from every direction, that we have become accustomed to it. It’s as if we’ve lost our taste for what is pure, good, and life-giving.
This pollution is a grave threat to our spiritual lives, but an even greater threat to our kids, who have grown up in this contaminated environment. To them, spiritual pollution is the new normal. We would not think of watering a tomato plant with water from the Flint River and then putting the poisonous fruit on the table for our family to eat. But, neither do we give a second thought to allowing ourselves and our children to be occupied and entertained by so many lethal things.

On this Third Sunday of the Lenten Season, our Readings remind us of the urgent need to spiritually detox…i.e., REPENT! Our First reading offers the powerful image of God as a burning bush that is never consumed. This is a fitting image of our Creator’s burning desire to communicate unconditional love, inexhaustible patience, and limitless mercy and forgiveness. But these priceless gifts are offered, not imposed. We must ask for them. And once we have them, we need to put them to good use in tending, cultivating, feeding, and pruning our spiritual lives.

While God might be patient with us, our Gospel calls out a degree of impatience…with ourselves. Lent is a time to turn off the toxic tap, and, with the sense of urgency that befits every serious threat to the public health…PRAY, FAST, GIVE ALMS…and above all…REPENT! For the sake of ourselves and for that of the next generation…we cannot afford to be patient…WITH OURSELVES!

LK 15:1-3, 11-32 or Scrutinies: JN 9:1-41
March 6, 2016

The Polly Klaas Foundation is an organization committed to locating and helping runaway and abducted children. In one of its publications, PKF writes: “There is a very strong Runaway Myth that goes like this:  Children who run away make their own decisions to go. Let them be, they’ve made their own choice and must deal with the consequences. If they want to come home, they will.” The article continues: “We want you to know the Runaway Myth makes several false assumptions. False Assumption #1: Teenagers are rational decision-makers. They make decisions and plan their actions with care.”

The parable of the prodigal son is a true myth buster. While it does not specify the age of “the prodigal,” it certainly paints the picture of an impulsive, reckless, inconsiderate, and self-indulgent individual. No doubt, these are all characteristics of immaturity. However, it would be a false assumption that we grow out of these very human attitudes that trigger irrational behavior and poor decisions.

On this 4th Sunday of Lent, we are offered the option of proclaiming the well-known parable from Luke 15, the story of the prodigal son…or “the Scrutiny” from John’s Gospel reporting on the drama surrounding the healing of the man born blind. Both stories reveal our spiritual immaturity that blinds us to God’s infinite goodness and love for us. Both stories offer an example of the impulsive tendencies that cause us to turn a deaf ear to what the Lord asks of us and to make our own decisions…chart our own course…go our own way.

Most important, however, both stories debunk the myth that when we fall into the pit, the inevitable result of irrational decisions and bad plans…the pit that distances us from the Gospel…God reaches down to raise us up. All we need to do is call out for help. As Pope Francis puts it: THE LORD ALWAYS FORGIVES EVERYTHING! EVERYTHING! WHEN YOU HAVE THE STRENGTH TO SAY “I WANT TO COME HOME,” YOU WILL FIND THE DOOR OPEN…GOD IS ALWAYS WAITING FOR YOU!

JN 8:1-11 or Scrutinies JN 11:1-45
March 13, 2016

A report of Pope Francis’s recent visit to Mexico summarized the points he made to the Bishops of that country. Framed in a Lenten “examination of the conscience,” the Holy Father listed the qualities that he deems essential to Church leaders…really…qualities that every follower of Jesus Christ should strive to cultivate in their lives.His six points clearly reflect the Gospel and are good fodder for our own examination of conscience as we continue this season of repentance.

A preference for ordinary people and the poor rather than elites.
Then Jesus said to the host who invited him, “When you hold a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors, in case they may invite you back and you have repayment.

Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. (Luke 14:12-14)

Close contact with social realities, including concrete humanitarian and charitable efforts.

‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?
When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?
When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’
And the king will say to them in reply,
‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine,
you did for me.’ (Matt. 25:31)

Political moderation and dialogue with all parties.

As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting
at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.
While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners
came and sat with Jesus and his disciples.
The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples,
“Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
He heard this and said,
“Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’
I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matt. 9:9-13)

Simplicity of lifestyle and approach.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth,
where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal.
But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys,
nor thieves break in and steal.
For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be. (Matt. 6 19-21)

Personal integrity and distaste for wheeling and dealing.

Then the Pharisees* went off and plotted how they might entrap him in speech.
They sent their disciples to him, with the Herodians, saying,
“Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man
and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.
And you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion,
for you do not regard a person’s status.
Tell us, then, what is your opinion?
Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?”
Knowing their malice, Jesus said, “Why are you testing me, you hypocrites?
Show me the coin that pays the census tax.”
Then they handed him the Roman coin.
He said to them, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?”
They replied, “Caesar’s.”
At that, he said to them,
“Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”
When they heard this, they were amazed,
and leaving him they went away.(Matt. 22:15-22)

Rejection of careerism; that is, a prelate who thinks more about this job than the next one.

He told a parable to those who had been invited, noticing
how they were choosing the places of honor at the table.
“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet,
do not recline at table in the place of honor.
A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him,
and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say,
‘Give your place to this man,’
and then you would proceed with embarrassment to take the lowest place.
Rather, when you are invited, go and take the lowest place
so that when the host comes to you, he may say,
‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’
Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table.
For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,
but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:7-11)

This week’s Gospel challenges us to consider whether we are living the Gospel or simply giving it “lip service.” It would benefit our Lenten exercise to join the Mexican Bishops in examining our lives using the Holy Father’s “job description” for a good Bishop…because these are also the qualifications for discipleship.

LK 22:14—23:56
March 20, 2016

A “triumph” in the Roman Empire was actually a bit like a “ticker tape parade” a city holds for Super Bowl champions or when the hometown team returns with “the pennant” or the Stanley Cup. In ancient times, the City of Rome held public celebrations to honor a general and his army returning home after a major land or sea battle. There were established rules and regulations as to who was entitled to a “triumph” as well as how it was to be celebrated. Typically, there was a solemn procession along a defined route that came to be known as “the sacred way.” The streets would be lined with crowds of citizens who were enjoying a day off work, and at the same time, sharing vicariously in the victory that was being celebrated. The “triumph” was also a display of Roman strength and a warning to those who would challenge the power of the Empire.

During the Passover, the population of Jerusalem swelled with pilgrims visiting the Holy City. Anticipating the need for a more obvious military presence in hopes of keeping the peace, Pilate arranged for a dramatic entry. While this was certainly not a “triumph,” it was definitely intended to be a warning not to challenge Roman occupation of Judea.
Coming into the Holy City through another gate, maybe at the very same time, Jesus was as deliberate in planning His entry as the Romans were in preparing for their “triumph.” The Lord purposefully and intentionally orchestrated the day, at the beginning of which would be His final week “in the Flesh.” He did so in order to fulfill the Scriptures, but also to establish a vivid contrast between the Reign of God and the reign of Caesar.

It truly was both the celebration of many victories against a vile enemy as well as a show of strength. Moreover, the crowds embraced the moment and responded with great enthusiasm, celebrating Jesus’s victory over demons, storms, illness, and even death.
But the show of force was in stark contrast to what was on display on the other side of Jerusalem. By His triumphal entrance into the Holy City, Jesus put on display the power of God…a power that is not based on the number of swords, spears, horses, or arrows at a general’s command. The Power of God is not measured in terms of the number of boots on the ground, or missiles on the launch pad, or nuclear warheads in the waiting. The Power of God is rooted in unconditional love.

St. Paul puts it this way: Our strength is in our weakness. Not “weakness” in the sense of being without power; rather, “weakness” in the sense of giving over all control…emptying ourselves and laying down all “arms”…so as to rely totally and completely on our God…The Source of all Love! And what we gained from Jesus’s triumphal entry and the week He made Holy is that the truly “sacred way”… in fact, the only “way” entitled to be called “sacred”…is THE WAY OF THE CROSS!

If we have planned and executed a proper Lent through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, then this Penitential Season has been a bit like a 40-day long “triumphal entry” into the Easter Season. By laying down all of our defenses and emptying ourselves of all that weighs us down, surrendering to the power of God’s Love…we are ensuring that, someday, we will be given a triumphal entry into the heavenly Jerusalem…where the Sacred Way…leading us to the Throne of the Almighty…will be lined with angels and saints cheering our victory over the enemy!

Easter Sunday
JN 20:1-9
March 27, 2016

I am taking a few liberties with an ancient saying by modernizing the currency. It goes like this:

“Three words are worth $1.00. Two words are worth $5.00. One word is worth $10.00.”

Applying this wisdom to Easter:

HE IS RISEN! $1.00
BELIEVE! Priceless

Believe in the power of The Risen Christ and you will dwell forever in the land of the living!

Second Sunday of Easter
JN 20:19-31
April 3, 2016

At some point during my school years, I was reluctantly introduced to the works of the American poet, Emily Dickinson. Each student was required to memorize and recite a poem in front of the entire class. I chose for length, rather than for depth of meaning. My selection was:

The Bustle in a House

The Bustle in a House
The Morning after Death
Is solemnest of industries
Enacted upon Earth –

The Sweeping up the Heart
And putting Love away
We shall not want to use again
Until Eternity –

Source: The Poems of Emily Dickinson Edited by R.W. Franklin (Harvard University Press, 1999)

What’s ironic is that as I went about the easy work of committing the eight short lines to memory, the depth of meaning actually started to sink in. And as years passed, and I found myself actually awakening to “the morning after” the death of a loved one, this poem would resurface. It comes again to my mind on this Easter Monday morning 2016 as we begin the season of celebrating and exploring the infinite depths of meaning in Christ’s Resurrection.

Imagine the remaining Apostles, disciples, Mary, Mary Magdalene, and the others who did not run…flee…try to escape the savagery, huddled together in the very room which Jesus Himself arranged for them to gather and grieve. That “morning after death”…the Sabbath morning following the horrific events of Good Friday, brought with it far more than the pain of grief.

These faithful followers of The Lord were forced to undertake “the solemnest of industries” which would ever be affected on this earth. Having seen, heard, and felt the very power of the Almighty radiate from the person of Jesus, they were the first to be confronted with the Paschal Mystery.

On that chilling morning after the Crucifixion, bound together in their shock and grief…terrified that every sound outside the door of that upper room might be a death squad coming to take them, they struggled to make sense of it all. Why did the mob turn on Him? He could calm a violent storm. He could drive out demons. He could bring an overwhelming sense of peace to great crowds of people with a few simple words. Why didn’t He get control of that Good Friday mob? He called Lazarus from the tomb…why did we have to entomb Him?

And in the midst of “sweeping up their hearts”…news came that The Tomb was empty. Like every news story, The Good News came in brief and even varying “flashes” that must have been received by each in their own way. Some immediately convinced, some grasping at hope, some confused. It’s not likely that Thomas was the only one to doubt.

Then, on Easter night…the door locked against the evil lurking in the world, but their minds and hearts open…The Risen Christ stood in their midst. With time, even those with the most determined doubts found that their hearts were swept up and healed for them and they came to believe and to understand.

Because of their experiences with the Risen Christ, they came to believe and to understand that they should not put love away. Rather, it was their calling to share the Love and Peace of Jesus Christ until He returns in all of His glory to put an end to death…so that every morning dawns with perfect joy, hope, love, and everlasting peace…The Peace of Christ! Alleluia!

Third Sunday of Easter
JN 21:1-19
April 10, 2016

When he was very young…first or second grade…my sister indulged my nephew’s great fascination with magic. She permitted him to take lessons from a local magician. So, after a few months as the “magician’s apprentice,” and while our family was out to dinner, Joe stood next to the table in the middle of a fairly crowded restaurant and regaled us with several slight-of-hand tricks. The tricks themselves were amazing, but, to see them so smoothly executed by such a little kid only made the act more fascinating; so much so, that when he sat down, the other diners broke into applause. As we were bringing our meal to a close, the server brought over an enormous ice cream sundae, complete with lit sparklers, and placed it in front of Joe, indicating that the people at the next table had sent it over to him. It is one of those treasured family memories that we tell and retell…without tiring of it. But, even more than the magic show, what stays with me is what happened after we left the restaurant.

I was so impressed with his skill that I asked for an encore. He refused! I persisted. He continued to decline. Finally, with a note of impatience in his voice, he replied: “Listen, Uncle Ran…if you see the trick over and over again…you’ll figure out how I do it…and it won’t be magic anymore.”

This weekend, we hear yet another of the many experiences of the Risen Christ that the Apostles and disciples enjoyed between Easter Morning and Ascension Day. The passage from John’s Gospel is rich in symbolism and invites each of us to spend time reflecting on it in private prayer. Breakfast with Jesus! Can you think of a better way to begin the day?

What is striking to me, however, is that The Risen Lord continued to reveal the mystery of resurrection to His followers…in many different ways and places, each experience carrying with it a special lesson or message…or gift. Each, in its own way, seems to be an effort to reinforce that THIS IS FOR REAL! THIS IS NO TRICK! THERE IS NO ILLUSION…I LIVE!!!

Jesus appeared over and over to His followers so that they would “figure out how He did it.” With each visit, it must have become more and more clear to them that the power of Almighty God rolled back the stone and called back to life what the destructive power of darkness tried to kill. The visits of The Glorified Christ were repeated so that the Apostles and disciples would “figure it out.” But, the Lord, in turn, asked that Peter repeat his declaration of love…to the point that Peter’s final reply was quite likely carried on a note of impatience. OF COURSE I LOVE YOU! YOU KNOW THAT! WHY KEEP ASKING?

The fact is Jesus did keep asking Peter, and continues to ask each of us…DO YOU LOVE ME? We are continually challenged by The Lord…in a variety of places and circumstances…each and every day of our lives…to declare our love. Why? Maybe so that we finally “figure it out”…come to see that we were created in the image and likeness of God…WHO IS LOVE!

It’s no trick. It’s not magic. It’s reality. Love is the power by which the dead rise…and share in the Easter Glory of the Risen Christ.

Fourth Sunday of Easter
JN 10:27-30
April 17, 2016

Years ago, I was traveling in Ireland with a few friends, one of whom could not pass a shop without entering and making a purchase. Toward the end of our travels, we were in a small, picture perfect, ocean side village. Sure enough, rather than simply enjoying the natural beauty of the place, I was “shepherded into” (thankfully) the only shop in sight. I no more than set foot in the door than the elderly proprietor, in her enchanting Irish brogue, said: “Thanks be to God! You are just the man I wanted to see!” Surprised, I looked over my shoulder, certain I would see a local who had walked in after me. There was no one. Standing, she started for the back room, calling out: “I want you to try on a sweater that I’ve only but a few stitches to finish.”

I quickly responded: “Thank you but I wouldn’t be interested…I’ve already tried on so many sweaters since I’ve been in Ireland that I smell like a sheep.” She stopped dead in her tracks, turned around, looked me in the eyes, and in a very grave whisper, said: “Oh, my dear…never say a thing like that…sheep are the most foul smelling of beasts.”

It turns out that I was, indeed, “just the man” she wanted to see. It seems that she got a bit carried away while knitting a sweater she intended to sell in her shop. The garment turned out much larger than one that would spark the interest of any villager, and too big even for the few tourists who wandered into this fairly remote place. It fit me like a glove!

She didn’t doubt that I was going to buy the sweater from her…even though I had no idea of the price. She said: “Now, you go along to the pub next door, Love, and have yourself a nice pint while I finish the last few stitches.” So, once again, I found myself being “shepherded” out into the seaside beauty, only to be taken immediately into a dark, smoky bar.

After a bit, three very…I mean VERY VERY…scruffy-looking men walked into the place. In all truth, we smelled them before actually laying eyes on them. The young waitress must have seen the looks on our faces and came immediately over and leaned down, wiping our table with a bar towel, and in a low voice, said: “Pay them no mind. They’re not what they look to be. They’re just having a bit of a break from their sheep.”

Trust me…sheep ARE the most foul smelling of beasts.

So it is especially surprising, that in his homily during the celebration of his first Chrism Mass as Bishop of Rome and leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis looked up from his prepared text and into the faces of over 1,600 priests, challenged them by saying: “This is what I am asking you: Be shepherds with the smell of sheep.”

What he was telling those priests, assembled to restate their commitment to ordained ministry that is they must make every effort to be an image of Christ to the people whose spiritual lives are entrusted to their care. Think of it like this: Through Jesus, The Creator got up close and personal to His creatures, who, as a consequence of the original sin, had indeed taken on the foul smell of death. By walking among us…rubbing against us…hugging us…leading us…feeding and protecting and healing us…Jesus took on our stench. And, having taken on our odor, He carried it with Him to Calvary where He became the True Lamb of God…sacrificed…so that we would no longer be “the most foul smelling of beasts.”

Our encounter with Jesus, The Good Shepherd, has given all of humankind the opportunity to look, sound, act, and even smell…the way in which God intended when He created us. All that made us “beastly” was burned up…destroyed…by the sacrificial fires of The Cross.

And then, on Easter morning, a fragrance of unequal beauty…a holy smell…the fragrance of new life…resurrection…re-creation…poured out from the empty tomb…overpowering every foul odor that blemished what The Creator first called into being. At first, only a chosen few enjoyed this powerful fragrance…far sweeter than any Easter Lilly. But, with the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost…this Divine fragrance poured out over the whole world.

Those of us who are made clean in the waters of Baptism have this Christ smell infused in us. Through Confirmation, it is sealed within us. At Eucharist, we celebrate and share the fragrance of new life…no longer foul-smelling beasts…but images of God. When we make an effort to live out our Baptism to the fullest…the Lord recognizes our voices and our smell…and so do other people! And they are attracted to it…the smell of Christ.

Now, back to the sweater.

It was waiting for me, wrapped up nicely with a bill sitting on top of the package which was a fraction of what the value was. I handed the lady a much larger travelers’ check…but still got the better of the bargain. Not only did I have a beautiful sweater, but when I got back to the U.S. and opened the package, there was a handwritten note: “Wear this for many, many years with the protection of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

The blessing was priceless, the same blessing we enjoy in Baptism…when we put on Christ…in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When we do our best to wear Christ without allowing the world to stain our Baptismal garment…we are no longer foul-smelling beasts, but children of God…recognized easily by how we look, speak, act…and even smell.

Fifth Sunday of Easter
JN 13:31-33A, 34-35
April 24, 2016

A British research team has published a convincing study showing that “loneliness and social isolation can increase a person’s chances of suffering stroke or heart disease by as much as 30%.”

While he did not mention this particular study, Pope Francis’s recent Apostolic Exhortation: Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) definitely sets out the numerous situations that might bring about these harmful feelings. Likewise, in his 267 pages, the Holy Father suggests ways in which loneliness and social isolation can be avoided. Everything he proposes somehow ties into this week’s Gospel…“I give you a new commandment. Just as I have loved you…you also must love one another.”

It has been suggested that the whole of the Bible can be reduced to that brief sentence spoken by The Son of God that concludes with the command, “…you also must love one another.”

As the title suggests, this “Commandment of Love” is at the heart of the latest Papal teaching, which attempts to draw together the thoughts of Catholic Christians from around the world, voiced during the two-session Synod on the Family. Francis’s insights are invaluable.

On the other hand, if you aren’t able to read the entire document, you would be safe in saying: Pope Francis is telling us “…you also must love one another.”

Oddly enough, Francis begins his rather lengthy reflection by musing: “For where love is concerned, silence is always more eloquent than words.” Later, he clarifies that point by quoting St. Ignatius of Loyola who once observed that: “Love is shown more by deeds than by words.” While it is true that there is great joy in love, it is equally true that love very often brings with it the most gut-wrenching pain. Possibly that is what Jesus means when He says: “…just as I have loved you.”

During His time on earth, His unconditional love was the source of enormous joy for Him…but His unconditional love was also the cause of His unimaginable suffering.

Libraries have been written about love. Most music is inspired by and speaks of love…sometimes love lost…sometimes love unrequited…sometimes love rejoiced. And the complete absence of love is evident on the front page almost every day, as we hear news reports on terror, war, violence, hunger, homelessness, prejudice, and bigotry.

Maybe the best thing to do in a reflection on this “New Commandment” is to just sit in silence and allow God’s all-powerful love do its work within us.

But before I fall silent, let me conclude by saying that if just for a moment…all humankind was to be perfectly obedient to this “New Commandment,” then the passage from the Book of Revelation would not simply be a vision, but reality. If, for a single moment, love triumphed, there would be no more loneliness or isolation…or anything else that causes pain, suffering, and death.

If, for a split second, the whole world LOVED…there would be only God…Who IS Love!

Sixth Sunday of Easter
JN 14:23-29
May 1, 2016

While I was living in Israel, it didn’t take long to adjust to greeting and taking leave of people with the same simple, beautiful, almost poetic word: Shalom!


Try it.

It’s a little like exhaling. Lifegiving breath comes out of a person when they speak that gift…Shalom…to another. And gift it is. The literal translation is “peace.” What a very thoughtful gift. I often wondered, however, if a shopkeeper, bus driver, waiter, or passing stranger actually stopped to think that when speaking that word…Shalom…they were giving a gift…the gift of their lifegiving breath…and the hope that the recipient of the greeting enjoys a peaceful encounter with the giver and a peaceful day after parting. It seems to roll off the lips of folks so easily and casually that, by some, it might have been de-valued to the level of Hi! Bye! Morning! Nite! – low-energy ways we verbally punctuate our encounters with other people…small, colorless words that do not require “an exhale.” No lifegiving breath is necessary to say: “Nice Day!” No gift is given. No hope is inspired.

Fortunately, our God does not give as the world gives. For example, God greeted all creation with another Word that involves exhaling…Jesus! That Word took flesh. With that Divine exhale, God sent the world the gift of new hope that the just will enjoy everlasting life…and eternal Shalom!

But, even as God gives differently than we… with Divine intention…generously and purposefully…with a plan…we “receive” in an imperfect way. We do not always comprehend, appreciate, or even accept the priceless Gift of Shalom that The Father has breathed onto creation through The Son. Just this past week, for example, gunfire broke out at a high school prom in our country’s midwesttry, a Canadian hostage was brutally murdered in the overwhelmingly Catholic Philippines by fundamental extremists, and North Korea, once again, rejected Shalom! by firing a missile from a submarine. Where is Christ’s Peace in all of this?

And so, through the Gift of the Holy Spirit, we are reminded that, ultimately, God is in control. God has a plan imaged in our Second Reading. At the appointed time, the Glory of God will dispel all darkness that makes a vain effort to disturb Shalom! Meanwhile, while we wait for the day of fulfillment of the Divine plan…the just need only keep free of those things which deceive the foolish into thinking that there is anyone, or anything greater than God.

So Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid…Shalom!

The Ascension of the Lord
LK 24:46-53
May 8, 2016

This past week, Pope Francis tweaked their consciences in a letter directed to the Bishops of South America. The Holy Father challenged the Church leaders of his “home continent” to reject “clericalism.” That is a term that many pew Catholics might not have heard before, but, unfortunately, may well have experienced. Simply put, “clericalism” is the attitude or belief that the ordained, by virtue of Holy Orders, are a “cut above” lay people in the sense that they are closer to, or know more about, our God.

In his message, the Holy Father echoed Jesus’s final teaching at the Last Supper, which The Lord both dramatized and emphasized, by humbling Himself and washing the feet of those gathered at the table. Francis has made the same dramatic gesture each Holy Thursday since he has become the leader of the Roman Catholic Church. Each year, he has begun the Triduum by humbling himself and washing the feet of people who might, too many, seem “unworthy.” Through this gesture, Francis not only obeys Jesus’s command, but emphasizes his own belief that pastors and Church leaders should be, first and foremost, the servants of God’s people.
It seems that he has chosen an especially appropriate time of year to raise this issue, which warrants consideration by the baptized worldwide, not just the Church leaders of South America. As we come to the end of this Easter Season and prepare to celebrate The Lord’s Ascension followed by the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, our Readings stress that Jesus’s work here did not end with His return to heaven; quite the contrary. By returning to the Father, the Son has made room for all of us to get involved. For that reason, The Holy Spirit was sent to dwell among us, investing certain gifts within each of us, so that we might put these talents and abilities to good use.

For this reason, Pope Francis spoke of the need for Bishops and priests to put to full use the great treasury of talents and abilities that rest within the Catholic Christian laity, and he cautions us that to disregard the graces of the Holy Spirit bestowed on each Christian at Baptism is to do a great disservice to The Church…The Body of Christ.

While it is the Holy Father who asks the ordained to humbly open themselves to the gifts that are lodged with the non-ordained, it is Scripture which teaches the laity that they have both a right and a duty to respond to the needs of the people of God in a way in which each individual is specially equipped through the gifts of the Spirit. This requires all of the baptized, first and foremost, to respond to the call to service after discerning how they can most effectively serve. In addition, like the ordained, the laity must humble themselves by acknowledging personal limitations and submitting respectfully to the shepherds entrusted with the overall care and protection of the flock.

The world does not know God…searching desperately to find something to believe in, but repeatedly falling into idolatry by elevating and worshipping things that, in the end, fail them. We know God because Jesus has revealed Perfect Love to us. Through our Baptisms, that Perfect Love has come to dwell in us. “As one,” lay and ordained…we are now called to pass on to the rest of the world what has been given to us…so that when Christ returns in glory…there will be a loving people, anxious to greet Him. Then God’s love will be brought to perfection, and “all will be all.”

Last week, after reading the Pope’s remarks mentioned above and reflecting on this Sunday’s Readings, I had three occasions to see words take life. Friday evening, two elders of our Church were recognized by our Diocese for their contributions to their respective parishes; one giving 50 years of service as a catechist, the other through her work in multiple outreach programs. Saturday morning, I was privileged to preside at the funeral Mass for a woman who moved from the classroom of a Catholic school to become the principal at a time when the religious women who worked so hard to establish a Catholic educational system began to fade from the scene. Sunday, I attended the wake service for a theologian, spiritual director, and leader of her religious congregation held at the motherhouse.

Together, these four lives represented almost 400 years of service and discipleship. These celebrations of Christian Baptism lived out in such a brilliant way…to its fullest…were occasions of great joy.

On the other hand, they also raised the concern…who will replace them?

Could it be you?

Pentecost Sunday
JN 20:19-23
May 15, 2016

One of my early memories…or possibly best learned and most used lessons from my early elementary years in Catholic school, was how very important Pentecost is. If the Holy Spirit had not rained down from heaven…well…possibly the easiest thing to do is use Jesus’s image: We would be left orphaned. We would be on our own…left to our own devices…street children, the target of every kind of evil. But the Holy Spirit did come, just as Jesus promised.

Bishop Ken Untener must have enjoyed the same “take-away” from his years in Catholic schools, because Pentecost truly was very important to him. In a conversation at the outset of my first assignment as a pastor, Ken asked if I had ever heard of the ancient tradition of Pentecost Novena…nine days of prayer in preparation for the Feast. Actually, I had not. He talked briefly about it, and, true to his gentle style, did not direct, order, or command, but rather, “wondered” if it would be a good thing to call an entire parish to prayer for nine days prior to Pentecost. So I did that.

As often happens in parish life, the first year was met with lukewarm response. But the word did spread, and, by the end of the nine days, there was a very healthy group of people praying for the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit.

The second year, the church was close to capacity almost every single evening. Looking back, I think that people came to appreciate that this is truly a very special time of year…an especially holy time. I think they came to that realization because during those nine days, they were on “watch.” They were searching for signs that the Spirit was among them. They were not disappointed, and neither was I.

Many extraordinary things happened that very well may have happened anyway…but, because we were on “watch,” we were better able to appreciate that these mysterious happenings were of and from the Holy Spirit.

I often share the memory of a dear little lady who lived just on the outskirts of the small town in the Thumb parish, where we prayed the Pentecost Novena. She was the primary caregiver for her husband, who was confined to a hospital bed set up in the living room of their home. She was a devout Catholic and made special arrangements both the first and second year to have someone care for her husband, while someone else drove her to church for the prayer.

On the ninth evening, we celebrated the Anointing of the Sick as part of the Novena. She stepped forward to be anointed. As her daughter drove her home, she noticed that her mother was holding her hands out in a peculiar way, but didn’t think to ask why. When they got home, the lady walked immediately over to her husband’s bed, caressed his face with her hands, and “anointed” him with the Oil of the Sick that had remained glistening on her palms.

After saying a brief prayer over him, she said to her daughter: “I’m really tired and I’m going to bed. Before you leave, would you please find my red sweater and lay it out for me. I want to wear red to church on Pentecost Sunday.”

Sometime during that night, The Holy Spirit guided her out of time and into eternity. When the little town gathered for her funeral Mass, after placing the pall on the casket, we dressed her earthly body in her red sweater, as a symbol of her spiritual life.

Every year, I think about that dear little lady …and how the Holy Spirit honored her…for the way in which she honored the Spirit.

Another thing Bishop Untener taught me is that: “It is never too late!” While it’s true that we can’t pray a Novena to PREPARE for Pentecost, it’s never too late to honor the Spirit with nine days of prayer…asking for the gifts and the fruits which the Spirit is so eager to give.

I wonder…if you say the prayer that follows, and if you “keep watch,”… will you see some special…extraordinary…holy things…and understand from where they came?

I wonder…

Come, Holy Spirit, fill my heart with love.

Grant me wisdom to know what is good and true;
Understanding to embrace your plan of salvation;
Right judgment to act according to your will;
Courage to share my faith in Jesus Christ with others; knowledge to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ; reverence to respond faithfully to your grace each day of my life; wonder and awe in your presence to enjoy your abiding love now and for all
eternity in heaven.

Inspire me with enthusiasm for my Catholic faith,
Grant me boldness to proclaim the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ,
and guide me in transforming my world through
the Divine power of the Gospel!

I make this prayer through Jesus Christ, my Redeemer, Savior and Lord.

(Contact Paulist National Evangelization Association for the complete Novena)

Trinity Sunday
JN 16:12-15
May 22, 2016

Every fireworks display ends with a grand finale. In one way, it’s disappointing to know that the sky will soon go dark. No more beautiful, sparkling, colored jewels lighting the night. On the other hand, the grand finale offers a series of spectacular skyrockets so amazing that the squeal of delight from the crowd almost drowns out the loud booms as the rockets explode.

This is an image that might help you appreciate how the Church brings the Easter season to a close. After weeks of celebrating Christ’s Resurrection, the grand finale begins with Pentecost Sunday followed by Trinity Sunday…and finally, next week, before turning back to Ordinary Time, we celebrate Corpus Christi. This is truly a spectacular way to bring the celebration of our hope for eternal life to a close.

The New Testament makes it easier for us to understand how Jesus’s promise not to leave us orphaned was fulfilled on Pentecost. The Acts of the Apostles (2:1-11) describes this spectacular event in salvation history. A forceful wind, tongues of fire, a dramatic change in behavior manifested in the fearless behavior of the Apostles and disciples in the miracle of speech wherein The Good News was simultaneously translated into a language which all who heard understood and accepted with great joy. The vivid description of these historic events helps to put us in touch with our own personal experience and relationship with The Holy Spirit. In fact, the grand finale of the Easter Season begins with remembering and celebrating something that occurred in the past…a bit like a “birthday.”

Today’s celebration is far more difficult to wrap our minds around. Trinity Sunday is not about an event that occurred in the past…within human history. There are no eyewitness descriptions of how our One God is Three Divine Persons…Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is a sacred and infinite mystery that is beyond the ability of our finite minds to comprehend. So, we search for concrete images in order to delve deeper into The Three Persons identified in today’s Gospel (John 16:12-15). St. Patrick used the familiar shamrock to acquaint the Irish with the unfamiliar Blessed Trinity. St. Hildegard of Bingen spoke of the light, heat, and power of a flame to explain how three can be one. But these are just word pictures, and, although useful, at best, provide only a superficial explanation of the Divine existence.

Perhaps in these times of “multitasking,” real life experience might give us a deeper sense of what we celebrate today. What better experience of “trinity of persons” is there than a working mom? Leaving her own bed in the middle of the night to comfort a crying child…she is pure mother…and her child sees her as that and only that. Hours later, at her workplace, dealing with and focused on whatever challenges her day brings, she is absorbed by her job…and her coworkers see her and relate to her in terms of her function. Then, at the end of a busy day, when they are finally able to enjoy a quiet moment together…she is a loving spouse.

While we all “multitask” to the point of having multiple dimensions to our lives, moms might experience the reality of The Blessed Trinity in a special way because all they do is motived by love. It is love that enables them to “live three.” And so it is with God.

The Creator calls us into existence and holds us in existence out of love. We, the coworkers of The Son, look to Jesus to teach us the work of healing, forgiving, exercising, calming storms, nourishing, sharing, teaching, and proclaiming the Kingdom. It is the Holy Spirit whom dwells among and within us…inviting us to join in the perfect harmony of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Simply put, God multitasks!

As we look up into the dark unknown today, and see the wonder and beauty of the Holy Trinity burst open before our eyes like a brilliant skyrocket…the shouts of delight from the Church should drown out the loud noise of the world. The image of the fireworks display, however, is pathetically superficial. A skyrocket lasts for mere seconds. The beauty and wonder of our good and loving and “multitasking” God…is eternal. There is no finale to God!

Corpus Christi Sunday
LK 9:11B-17
May 29, 2016

I have resisted total knee replacement (both knees) for a number of years now and for a number of different reasons (excuses)…some rational and some not so much. At the top of the list is the concern over infection and rejection of the implant. Although there are many more happy recipients of “new knees” than those who have experienced the complications that concern me, still, I am wary…of infection and rejection! So, I continue to hobble around dealing with pain and significant limitations. This experience, however, caused me to read the Scripture passage from morning prayer this past week with new insight.

The Old Testament Reading was Genesis 2:23-24. Often chosen to be proclaimed at Christian weddings, this short and powerful passage is commonly referred to as “the Second Creation Story.” So often, however, we listen to this passage without digging deeper into just exactly what transpired at creation.

There was anesthesia. (The Lord cast a deep sleep on the man.) This was a donor/recipient procedure. (He took out one of the man’s ribs and closed up its place with flesh.) The recipient received the rib, and the procedure was entirely successful, as indicated by the delight of the donor upon awakening. (This one at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.) What we sometimes gloss over is just exactly what that means.

Consider, for example, that our bones carry our DNA. The first man’s bones carried within them the Divine DNA…because God created him in the Divine image and likeness. So, in fact, what “the recipient” received, over and above a rib, was what “the donor” was gifted with…a share in the Divine life. This seems all very joyful. However, if you read on…the story turns ugly very quickly.

There is, in fact, infection and rejection! The original sin infected the first parents, who ultimately rejected God. Compounding the tragedy, this first bad choice…this primordial rejection…caused an infection that spread quickly and continues to attack all of humankind…striking at the very core of our being, debilitating us, weakening our bones so that we hobble through life, incapable of being all that we were created to be: images of a good, loving, and merciful God.

But God did not reject us!

Determined to rehabilitate us, God sent Jesus into the world. And through the Lord’s work for our salvation, we were given the antidote to this highly infectious spiritual disease that leads to a rejection of God. The Sacraments of Christian Initiation both prevent as well as treat spiritual infection, and, at the same time, are an exercise and also rehabilitation therapy. By Baptism, the Divine DNA, lying dormant within our bones, is awakened and then protected through Confirmation. And that part of us which is “bone of the Divine bone, and flesh of the Divine flesh” is nurtured and nourished through Eucharist. In a sense, the three Sacraments of Christian Initiation are a “Second Creation Story” because they offer us an opportunity to claim that which was once given, but was ultimately rejected…a share in the Divine Life. When we embrace these gifts and do our best to live within the Sacramental Life of the Church, our bones become strong and resilient, and our true identity breaks forth for all to see. When we do not use irrational excuses to absent ourselves from Eucharist, we are strengthened so that we no longer hobble through life in pain, but walk with confidence and hope toward our destiny…a complete and perfect union with God. When we satisfy our hunger for Eucharist, we become what we eat: The Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

This weekend, Corpus Christi Sunday, we conclude the finale to the celebration of Christ’s Resurrection. Next Sunday, we resume Ordinary Time. As we move forward into the Church year, it is important not to lose sight of the truth that we are not ordinary! We are the bone of His bones…the flesh of His flesh…

We are Corpus Christi! We are the Body of Christ!

Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 7:11-17
June 5, 2016

Someone recently asked me what brought me the greatest joy as a parish priest. I did not hesitate in responding, explaining that there were far too many happy, fulfilling, and rewarding experiences to do justice to that question. But, for some reason, it kept rattling around in my mind. Later in our conversation, I found both the opportunity as well as what seems to me to have been a proper answer. The privilege to be at the deathbed of an elder of the community, for me anyway, was the most joy-filled experience of pastoral ministry.

Giving witness to the earthly life of a Christian disciple coming full circle is extraordinarily profound. Certainly there are tears as an important chapter in the life of a family, as well as a faith community, comes to an end. But, at the same time, there is an overwhelming sense of excitement, wonder, and awe. It feels as if, when the heavens opened to accept the eternal spirit of the person, the glory of God rains down on those keeping vigil…showering those left behind with a sense of peace…and even joy!

Then, there was a follow-up question. “What was the hardest part of being a parish priest?”

In spite of the fact that “the job” brings with it a long litany of stress, challenges, troubles, and sorrow…I did not hesitate even a second in replying to this question. The hardest thing that I experienced while serving as the pastor of a parish was presiding at the funeral Mass for a child. The deep sense of loss weighs heavily on everyone in the church, making it almost impossible to breathe. To have to call the community to prayer and find “The Good News” in the face of unimaginable tragedy is definitely a heavy task. Still, that somber responsibility helps me to stand in the sandals of both Elijah as well as Jesus…both having to look into the agonized face of a widow who had lost her son. How could they not implore God to restore life to the lifeless body?

Yes! Presiding at the funeral Mass of a young person is indeed the hardest thing that I did as a parish priest, and even reading the passages the Church gives us as we continue our journey through Ordinary Time brings back painful memories of those occasions when I needed to do just that…celebrate a life that had ended far too soon…and under the most tragic of circumstances. Nevertheless, there was one occasion in particular when the “sorrowful mystery” of a child’s death was tempered by the “glorious mystery” reflected in the final loving gesture of the parent.

The community response to the tragedy was unbelievable. The church was overflowing. All were ushered into the worship space leaving only the bereaved parents, the funeral director, and myself in the privacy of the narthex. I raised an urgent prayer for the right words to help the parents through what was to come, but, in fact, it was the mother of the child who helped me move forward into the funeral Mass with a sense of peace.

She asked the funeral director to open the lower half of the casket. He looked to me for guidance. Incapable of denying her any request, I nodded that he should oblige her. When the entire earthly body of this beautiful young person was revealed, the grieving mother calmly stepped forward. Beginning at her child’s head and moving all the way down to the feet, she gently and lovingly caressed the entire earthly body, the body that she had used her own body to give life to. When she had completed this profound expression of love, she stood, turned towards her husband and myself, and, with a radiant look on her face, indicated that she was ready to continue with the liturgy.

I did not ask her what motivated this dramatic expression of love. It was too personal. Neither did I tell her what passed through my mind as she caressed her child for the last time. She was, for me, a perfect image of the unconditional compassion, mercy, and love with which our God celebrates the passage of the faithful from time into eternity.

For me, that gesture offered an image of what happened in Zarephath when Elijah prayed over the lifeless body of a child. That loving gesture in the narthex of my parish church transported me to Nain, as Jesus interrupted a funeral procession. That morning, I was offered a glimpse of what happens when the finite and frail earthly bodies of the faithful have completed their work of hosting that which is infinite and eternal. Our good and loving and merciful…and all powerful God…God of the living and the dead…approaches us and lovingly caresses us…completely embracing us in a life-giving hug …and resurrects us…turning the sorrowful mystery of death into the glorious mystery of eternal joy.

On this Tenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, we hear the stories of two miracles. But, I think possibly I was privileged to give witness to an even greater miracle. The indescribable look on the face of that mother as she took leave of her child was made possible because in the very depths of her being, she heard the words that Elijah spoke. YOUR CHILD IS ALIVE. When we believe that Jesus Christ is the Resurrection and the Life… someday, we will hear Him speak the words He spoke in Nain…I TELL YOU ARISE!

We may be in Ordinary Time, but there certainly is nothing ordinary about our God…God of the living and the dead! Our God visits us in the sorrowful mysteries of our lives, turning them into glorious and joyful mysteries…if only we are wise enough to believe.

Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 7:36—8:3
June 12, 2016

For months now, we Americans have been evaluating, discussing, criticizing, and judging the people who want to be the leader of the “free world.” We should be. This is important work and it should be given thoughtful consideration. Moreover, open and candid discussion among ourselves helps us as individuals, and as a nation, to come to what will hopefully be a decision that will promote the good of our country and the entire world. This is a right that not all people enjoy…the right to evaluate, openly discuss, freely criticize, and then pass judgment on our leaders.

As our focus narrows to the final two, we should take full advantage of that right that is protected by our First Amendment. At the same time, we need to be realistic. We need to understand that whomever we elect come November 2016, that person will be a finite, limited human being, who, like each human being, will make mistakes.

Our First Reading (2Sam 12:7-10, 13) reminds us that even when Almighty God made the choice and elevated David from a humble shepherd to a boy warrior, and, ultimately, King of Israel, God’s chosen one was not immune from the effects of original sin.

The judge, Nathan, read the indictment handed down from God, The Just and ultimate Judge. The guilty deed, so open to public view, could not be disputed. The people, even though there was no First Amendment to protect them, most likely evaluated, discussed, criticized, and judged their king. No trial was needed. The sentence was severe.

But, in an instant, everything seemed to change. With one sentence…I HAVE SINNED AGAINST THE LORD…David was pardoned. God looked into David’s heart and saw that his contrition was sincere and genuine, and so Nathan proclaimed: “THE LORD ON HIS PART HAS FORGIVEN YOUR SIN…YOU SHALL NOT DIE.”

FOR HIS PART…FOR HIS PART! Those words sound almost like a qualification.

Consider that the rest of the story is filled with palace intrigue, plots, conspiracies, and open revolt. It leads one to believe that his subjects were not so quick to forgive him. It seems that they continued evaluating, discussing, criticizing, and judging to the point of revolting against him. As the expression goes…that’s politics!

Wherever there is free speech, leaders…even those chosen by God…are continually being evaluated, discussed, and criticized. (I suspect Pope Francis would readily agree!) The truth is we are social beings who live in community with shared interests and concerns. We learn, progress, advance…and hopefully improve by our ongoing discussions. How grateful we should be to live in a country where we can do this openly and without fear.


The Gospel makes it quite clear. It is not for us to pass judgment. Politics might be politics…but…in the spiritual realm, The First Commandment trumps the First Amendment. The lesson to be learned from the dramatic encounter between Jesus, a woman whose sin was so public and open that “no trial was necessary”… and the self-satisfied and sanctimonious host, who passed judgment on both the woman…as well as the Lord…is simple. God is quick to forgive a repentant sinner. And only God has that right!

Pope Francis summarized today’s lesson so well when he said: “Who am I to judge?” And for that, the Holy Father was equally applauded…criticized…and judged! Which side were you on? After reflecting on today’s Readings…do you need to cross the aisle?

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke 9:18-24
June 19, 2016

It is graduation season and the party invitations are flooding the post office. These days, most announcements are a single card with several pictures of the graduate. When I glance at the return address, it raises a mental image of the kid. If the young person is someone who I haven’t seen for a long time, I look to the past…and picture a little girl in her First Communion dress…or a middle school boy sitting in the principal’s office waiting to face the consequences for one of those bad decisions that middle school boys so frequently make. And then I open the envelope and find a beautiful young woman in a prom dress…or a confident young man, maybe sporting a beard…or showing off a “6-pack.”

The transformation never fails to amaze me as my memory of a young child gives way to the present reality of a young adult. The experience also puts me in touch with the harsh reality of time and reminds me of how frail and finite the human body is and how quickly it changes. And then there is the look in the graduate’s eyes, which gets me thinking about the future.

Maybe it’s the skill of the photographer…but I tend to think it’s something unimaginably greater. I think that the look I see in the faces of these young people is the result of the skill of The Creator. The twinkling eyes of the beautiful girl in her prom dress, or the confident smile of the strong young man put me in touch with that part of being human which is infinite. Those graduation cards mark a passage of time, but the pictures offer a glimpse of the timelessness that God has placed within us.

There is a look of eagerness to be “on with it”…to grab on to freedom and begin to explore the world looking for answers to the big questions. The whole idea of graduation is about moving into the future, but not to the exclusion of the past. The picture of the graduate is an image of what the parents, grandparents, family, teachers, pastors, and coaches…together…helped to mold and form. Now, it is up to these young people to begin the work of forming themselves into what they will be for all eternity.

Truthfully, for me anyway, these announcements, if only for a moment, become prayer cards. I look at the individual whose past and future will be celebrated and pray that we have done enough.

I hope and pray that we have been successful in our efforts to form consciences that will withstand the destructive influences of the dark side of our world, guided by, but not burdened by, guilt and fear.

I pray that we have taught them how to engage the world as authentic Christian disciples, who live in, but at the same time, live above the world.

I pray that they will find someone to love, and through that love, experience and develop an increasing hunger for a deeper relationship for The Source of all love.

I pray that they will keep close to the Christian community…and recognize that they are an important part of the Body of Christ, and will do their part to pass on to the next generation what is handed to them…a love and appreciation for our Church and our Sacraments.

And, most of all, I pray that after long and happy lives, they will understand that death is not simply a matter of the body closing down, but rather, is a spiritual act wherein all of the worthy and beautiful and loving strands of their lives are woven into the eternal tapestry of The Sacred Mystery we call our God.

Finally, the exciting beginnings of these young people remind me that, someday, we will all “graduate” from time and into eternity. And when we stand before the Just Judge, we might well be asked: “Who do people say you are?”

If we have lived up to our full potential…if we have not permitted life to fit us small…if we have done our very best to be all that God created us to be…we can respond truthfully…PEOPLE SAY THAT I AM A FOLLOWER OF YOUR SON JESUS CHRIST!…and we will “graduate” with the highest honors.

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke 9:51-62
June 26, 2016

One of my favorite points of reflection is attributed to Vatican II Jesuit theologian Fr. Karl Rahner, who once wrote in a prayer: You have seized me (Almighty God)…I have not grasped you!

Our Readings this weekend offer examples of God reaching out and “seizing” someone who is needed to take on the work of a prophet. Elisha is willing to accept the very challenging task. The call appears to be “non- verbal.” Elijah simply threw his cloak over Elisha’s shoulders. Elisha, in turn, totally grasped what God asked of him, but asks for the little time it will take to go home and say good-bye to his family before getting down to business. That seems like a reasonable thing to do.

But after that, he does something that seems a little less reasonable. As if to make certain that there can be no turning back, he totally destroys his old way of life. He makes a fire with his farm equipment, and, after slaughtering the farm animals, roasts the meat and feeds his people. Through this gesture, Elisha seems to be completely liberating himself from his old way of life, totally embracing and trusting in God. He is free because he has fully submitted to the will of God.

In the Gospel (Luke 9:51-62), we see three different reactions to God seizing someone. The first is a person who appears to be “captivated” by an experience of Jesus. Maybe he witnessed a great miracle…or heard Jesus preach…or shared in a banquet where thousands were fed by a few fish and a couple of loaves of bread. Whatever it was that drew him to the Lord, it was a powerful enough experience to motivate him to step forward and volunteer.

Jesus, however, seems a little reluctant to bring him on board.

Rather than welcoming the man and putting him to work, the Lord challenges him, as if to say: I don’t think you grasp what it means to follow me. You need to completely liberate yourself…cut yourself off from your old way of life…give yourself over totally and completely to the will of God.

A little ways down the road, The Lord spies someone, and this time it is Jesus Who seized the moment, extending an invitation to follow Him. We aren’t told just what it was that caught the Lord’s attention. Nevertheless, Jesus clearly recognized the potential for discipleship and made the overture. For his part, however, the man did not grasp the urgency of Jesus’s mission and ministry.

The man is willing; he only asks enough time to attend his father’s funeral. It’s a bit unsettling that The Lord demands an immediate response. Why would the Lord deny him a slight delay in order to honor his earthly father?

Possibly to emphasize how little time He has left to prepare disciples to carry on His mission and ministry. Maybe to highlight the urgency of the work of proclaiming the Good News! Possibly, Jesus was testing the man’s ability to commit fully to will of the Heavenly Father by asking him to forego the funeral of the man’s earthly father. Or maybe it was a way of demonstrating how inconsequential death of the earthly body is when compared to eternal life in Christ.

Then there is the final encounter.

It isn’t clear whether this person stepped forward or was called out of the crowd by Jesus. What we see, however, is a qualified commitment. Once again, who would consider the request to say good-bye to family unreasonable? Elijah didn’t. Elisha was given the time we all would want…the time to say good-bye. Jesus seems to see this very human request as an indication that the person is unfit to serve. Seems harsh, doesn’t it?

Luke doesn’t tell us what happened. We don’t know which, if any, of the three chose to follow Jesus. What we do know is that being seized by God is not being enslaved. Once invited, we are free to either grasp onto God or simply go about our business. What would you do?

Consider this:

We are called to the living waters because The Creator recognizes the potential for discipleship within us. The reality of the Sacrament of Baptism is that we are seized by God to live our earthly lives as disciples of Jesus Christ. Elijah placed a cloak over Elisha’s shoulders to anoint him prophet. In Baptism, we put on Christ and are anointed with The Holy Spirit. But, we are not enslaved or pressed into service. We are free to grasp onto the Hand of God, liberating ourselves from material things that tie us down…things that anchor us, so to speak, so that we aren’t able to journey with The Lord.

So then, each of us is left to wrestle with the question of whether we allow the things of this world to enjoy a death grip on us…or…do we reach out in freedom and grasp the Hand of God, Who has reached out to us in love?

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 10:1-12, 17-20
July 3, 2016

Last week, I encountered a big traffic jam…just a few blocks from my home.

When traffic started to slow, my first thought was “orange barrels.” They’re all over the place this time of year, so naturally, I assumed that roadwork was the cause of the stop-and-go. But, as I moved forward towards my street, there were no orange barrels in sight…no flagmen, no heavy equipment or workers to be seen.

So, I began to think that there had been a bad accident. I turned the radio off, lowered the air conditioner, and opened the driver’s side window so I would be better able to hear approaching emergency vehicles. But again…nothing! Well, about five minutes and just a few hundred feet later, I was able to determine the cause of the delay…GARAGE SALE!

Cars parked, almost bumper to bumper, on both sides of the road…some pulling out while others struggled to maneuver into a ridiculously tight space…people jay-walking in every direction…that was the cause of the traffic jam!

Several homes in a row had tables filled with whatnot, long racks of clothes, ladders and bikes and playpens and old lawn mowers, all pouring out of the garages and filling the driveways almost to the curb. As I crept past each house, trying not to hit anyone rushing to get a bargain, I couldn’t help but wonder how all of this “stuff” on display had fit into one home. And then I got to thinking about how the houses would soon be filled with “new stuff.” And then there were the people hauling freshly purchased and slightly used “stuff” to their cars to take to their homes…which are probably already filled with other “stuff.”

Our First Reading this Sunday, (Isaiah 66:10-14), is a very poetic description of the prosperity that Jerusalem was experiencing. The wealth that the people were blessed with was a source of comfort and joy. Still, over and over again in the Old Testament, we see how prosperity was the undoing of the people. The heavy burden of “stuff” weighed them down…in a sense, re-enslaved this former slave nation that left Egypt for freedom in the Promised Land with little more than the clothes on their backs.

We live in a very prosperous nation, prosperous to the point that it’s hard for us to consider the reality that untold millions in other parts of our world live in tents, makeshift shakes, and other temporary shelters. Countless families don’t have real homes let alone garages. They have no surplus or discarded “stuff” to sell. Americans, wise enough to stop and reflect, come to an appreciation of how blessed we are.

But our Readings should cause us to pause and consider how easily the blessing of material prosperity can become what it became for Israel…a burden that weighs us down…a kind of enslavement that prevents us from moving freely toward the Kingdom…a source of pride that could well bring about our undoing.

The lesson here is not a call to be charitable, although that is certainly implicit in every line of the Gospel. Neither does it appear to be a condemnation of wealth; rather, it seems to be cautionary in tone.

There is a definite sense of urgency in the Gospel warning us that time is short. We can’t afford to use energy on lugging any unnecessary “stuff” with us as we make our way towards the Promised Land. The source of our comfort, pride, and joy should not be in the “stuff” we are blessed to use…but rather in our faith…our faith in the saving power of The Cross.

The message on this 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time seems to reinforce what we learned last Sunday when Jesus challenged would-be disciples to get their priorities in order, putting God above all else. Certainly, faithful discipleship demands that we put the Gospel above “stuff.”

What a perfect message to hear on this Independence Day weekend. True freedom comes from being independent on material things and completely dependent on The Cross.

Whether or not you have actual travel plans this weekend…travel light…travel free…travel in the Peace of Christ!

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 10:25-37
July 10, 2016

Before our own stock market responded with a significant downward slide to the outcome of the vote, I don’t recall the news giving much attention to “Brexit.” After the British elected to leave the European Union, however, it became clear that the fallout from the decision was a matter of global concern. And so we are learning more and more about what brought about this national movement with international consequences.

The battle cry of those promoting Great Britain’s separation from the EU is: “Let’s make Britain great again.” The debate centers on how to best prioritize national values. The separatists argue that Britain has to go its own way in order to protect its identity…its culture…its place in the world as an international power and voice…its independence. The key seems to be the promise of economic prosperity. However, the immigration issue also plays a prominent part in this clash of visions. Pro-Brexit advocates are calling for closed borders in view of the significant migration of people who are searching for safety, security, and a peaceful life.

All of this seems very political and very much about economics. But is it possible that it is all about spirituality?

Throughout the Old Testament, right up to this very day, the Jewish people have been debating how to make Israel great again! Our First Reading finds the people wandering in the desert in sight of the Promised Land, but still bearing the scars from the slave chains that shackled them to Egypt. Eager for safety, security, and a peaceful way of life, they debate how to prioritize what they value as a nation. With a tone of frustration, Moses seems to be saying: “It’s not rocket science, people! If you want to be a great nation, make God’s will and God’s way your first and only priority!”

A little further into this passage, Moses explains:

    If you obey the commandments of the LORD, your God, which I am giving you today, loving the LORD, your God, and walking in his ways, and keeping his commandments, statutes, and ordinances, you will live and grow numerous, and the LORD, your God, will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

He goes on to caution, however, that to give priority to anything else will lead to certain disaster.

And so, we come to today’s Gospel, one of the most familiar passages in the whole of Sacred Scripture, known even to those without a faith life. Eager for a debate, a “scholar of the law,” in other words, someone who should know better…engaged Jesus, asking questions, the answers to which are not in the least mysterious or remote. Jesus, possibly with a more patient tone than Moses, replies with the little parable about a foreigner…an immigrant…a traveler…who puts all other concerns aside in order to care for someone in great need. He gives the victim of violence first priority, putting his time, interests, money and all else second to the urgent need for mercy. That ended the debate.

For the third Sunday in a row, our Readings challenge us to consider what should have priority in our lives. As we reflect on the passages proclaimed in light of the issues of our day, it might be fruitful to raise another “battle cry”… let’s make the Catholic Church great again! Or even…let’s make our parish great again!

How do we do this? It’s not rocket science.

Let’s protect our identity as the Body of Christ…by continuing to reflect the face of Christ to the world. Let’s protect our Catholic Culture that is energized by the Holy Spirit by following The Way the Spirit leads us…The Way to the Promised Land. Let’s ensure our place in the world by speaking out with a powerful voice on behalf of those in greatest need…even if they are foreigners or immigrants…seeing them as fellow travelers. Let’s ensure our independence through our total DEPENDENCE on God’s goodness, mercy, and love. Let’s work on bringing all people and nations together…as caring and supportive neighbors, and reject those things separating us from one another, because, ultimately, such things separate us from God. And let’s always remember that through Christ, all things are reconciled…those on earth…as well as those in heaven…and for this we should rejoice and be glad!

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 10:38-42
July 16, 2016

In the 1960s and ‘70s, there was a large influx of immigrants to the United States from India. When they arrived here, they entered the working class, lived frugally, and saved their wages. Then, when they had enough money set aside, they would buy failing businesses and build them back up. They were living the American dream.

The largest number in this wave of immigrants came from one particular part of India where they were members of a specific “social caste,” sharing the surname Patel. That name, Patel, is one of the most common in India, and in this country, ranks 174th out of the 500 most common last names.

For whatever reason, members of this family who came to America gravitated towards the hotel and motel business, making an enormous impact on the hospitality industry. Statistics show that approximately 1/4 or about 22,000 of the hotels/motels in the U.S. are Indian owned and operated with an estimated value nearing $128 billion, the vast majority owned by a member of the highly successful and extremely affluent Patel clan. In the hospitality industry, this trend is called “The Patel Hotel Phenomenon.”

I recently heard a young man interviewed who has co-authored a book with his sister about what it means to be a Patel. He described a forced family vacation, where the two teenage kids grumbled every mile of the cross-country road trip intended to help the family become better acquainted with their adopted home. In some remote part of the west, after a long day of traveling, everyone exhausted from being cooped up in a car all day, the family finally pulled into a hotel to spend the night. They walked into the lobby and recognized a person of Indian descent behind the counter who greeted them formally and politely. However, when the father registered and the proprietor saw the name Patel, he rushed around the counter and excitedly hugged and kissed everyone.

He waved them past the registration desk and ushered them directly into his family’s living quarters, calling out to his own family that Patels were visiting. The response was immediate. The Patel family who owned the motel welcomed the Patel travelers like long lost relatives. The best of everything in the house was brought out and shared graciously and with a sense of real joy. There was a holiday atmosphere and an evening long celebration. In the morning, the families parted like loved ones who knew it was unlikely that they would ever meet again. And, of course, the host Patels rejected the offer of repayment from the guest Patels. Nor was this an isolated incident…this is simply how Patels treat one another.

The experience of “being Patel” on the young travelers was profound.

There is a family spread around the whole of planet earth that is far larger than the Patels. This family does not share a surname…but shares something far more meaningful than a bloodline. This family consists of our fellow travelers…our sisters and brothers…so that everyone can take full advantage of the Creator’s hospitality. It is God’s will that all humanity have the opportunity to live out the “American dream,” share faith, and be identified by the name “Christian.”

As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to recognize, embrace, and celebrate a common identity that, by far, transcends country of origin, cultural heritage, or family name.

We are all children of a good and loving God, Who provides the most gracious and elaborate of hospitality to all humankind. We are all guests in this world, and our heavenly Host wants us all to enjoy our stay here…and to be respectful of the rights of our fellow travelers…our sisters and brothers…so that everyone can take full advantage of the Creator’s hospitality. It is God’s will that all humanity have the opportunity to live out the “American dream.”

And, if the occasion arises for us to provide hospitality, we are expected to be lavish in our response…like Abraham. When we are privileged to have a guest in our homes, we should work tirelessly to accommodate their needs, like Martha…although probably with a little less complaining. When we are the host, we should be completely present and attentive to our visitor, as was Mary.

The Patel phenomenon is said to have had an impact on the hospitality industry in this country. Christianity is called to have a profound impact on the whole universe. The Christian phenomenon should have an impact on every aspect of life. But specifically, when we have the opportunity to play host, we should be images of God, manifesting in our attitudes and actions the phenomenon of Divine hospitality. Our guests should be made to feel like family…not just welcome… but completely “at home.”

Now, the obvious application of all of this is the appropriate Christian response to the enormous migration of people…all over the world. Immigrants, refugees, those seeking asylum are sisters and brothers and should be made to feel at home. But, today’s Readings also speak to a more local issue. As our parishes become more cooperative…blending and merging…closing and changing names…it’s critical that we remember that there are no strangers in our midst. We are all members of the same family of faith. There are no hosts…and no guests… in our churches. The Table of the Word and the Communion Table belong to each of the Baptized. We are at home wherever we go to celebrate Eucharist, and we are expected to make one another feel just that way.

After all, if the Patels can do it…why can’t we?

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke 11:1-13
July 24, 2016

When we Catholics pray, we begin with the Sign of the Cross. I wonder if many of us really stop to consider what we are doing. Is it possible that the little prayer that helps us enter into prayer has become almost a thoughtless gesture? For example, when batters “sign themselves” before the first pitch, are they really conscious of the fact that they are invoking the fullness of the Divine Mystery…The Blessed Trinity…Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Or has this opening prayer taken on an air of superstition, not unlike crossing one’s fingers for luck?

Certainly, for many, “signing ourselves” with the Cross is done without thought and out of habit…following the que of the priest or the folks standing next to us. Something precious is lost when we don’t understand the power of that gesture.

Another prayer/gesture that I am concerned is fast becoming an endangered species is our way of welcoming the proclamation of the Gospel at Mass. I’m not confident that our younger Catholic Christians even know that the gesture of marking our forehead, lips, and heart is accompanied with the prayer: MAY THE LORD BE ON MY MIND, MY LIPS, AND IN MY HEART. So, on those occasions when, like Jesus, I have been asked to teach people how to pray, I often begin there…with the signing of our forehead, lips, and heart…asking God to be present to my entire being.

Far from a gesture of habit, this is an extremely important prayer that invokes the Holy Spirit. We are asking that we be fully attentive to the Real Presence of Christ in the Gospel. We are praying that we may fully understand and appreciate The Good News that we take in through our ears. If God is always on our minds, we are better able to orient ourselves in the direction of eternal life. If we are continually thinking about God, we can easily shrug off the dark influences of this life and concentrate on our future…because God is the Future of those who seek Him with a sincere heart.

When we mark our lips, we are, in a sense, making a commitment to take full advantage of every opportunity to pass on what has been given to us by what we say to others and how we live our lives. If God is always on our lips, then our last word will open the gates of the Kingdom to us. How comforting is that?

When we sign our hearts, we are, in a sense, offering hospitality to God’s Eternal Word…offering ourselves as living tabernacles. When we invite the Divine to live within us, on our last day, we can leave here with the sure and certain hope that God will repay the favor and invite us to dwell for all eternity in the company of the angels and saints. Far greater than anything but a mindless gesture done out of habit, we should greet the proclamation of the Gospel with an eager spirit…eager to become what we hear.

Jesus has taught us to approach our God as a good and loving Parent Who knows each of us intimately, and treasures us as unique and precious individuals. And so, we pray to Our Father Who art in heaven. But it is also important to know that same God can also be on our minds and lips and in our hearts…if we only ask!

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke 12:13-21
July 31, 2016

I remember a conversation I once had with a friend whose spending habits were beyond extravagant. He put an entirely new spin on the words “self-indulgent.” One day, after listening to him order the most expensive things on a menu, in a very pricey restaurant, I asked if he had set up an IRA…a “Roth”…had a savings account…basically, whether or not he had a retirement plan. He smiled and said: “Trickle down theory!”


My friend was an only child, an only grandchild to well-fixed grandparents, and an only nephew to a wealthy and childless aunt. So, he lived lavishly in the present, planning on maintaining the lifestyle to which he had become accustomed…into the future…with the inherited funds that would eventually “trickle down” to him.

My friend was an extreme example of the way most of us think when we are younger. Who will inherit the family cottage? I wonder who Gramma will leave her diamond necklace to? I hope old Uncle Ralph wills me his ’40 Ford.

But when we are older, we wrestle with a different concern, the sort of thing, as we heard in our First Reading, that keeps us awake at night. Who would take good care of the cottage? I love that place so much, I don’t want it to fall in disrepair after I’m gone. Who would appreciate my diamond necklace? My great-grandmother brought it from the old country. It’s been in our family for over a century. I don’t want it in a garage sale. None of the kids take care of their own cars…what am I gonna do with my vintage ’40 Ford?

It seems like our Readings this weekend speak to both situations. The young shouldn’t be overly confident about what might “trickle down” to them. Those nearing the end of their earthly lives, while wanting to be responsible with what they enjoyed in this life, should see the folly in trying to reach from beyond the grave in order to control material things…and focus on embracing the things that will never end.

But there is a much deeper lesson to be learned from the Readings. It deals with what is truly worth passing on…the thing of greatest value that we should make every effort to “trickle down” to the next generation…our faith in Jesus Christ!

From a spiritual standpoint, the young SHOULD LIVE LAVISHLY…in the present…using freely and without concern all of the graces which flow through the Holy Spirit in order to live a life of peace and joy. Lavishing themselves in the inexhaustible gifts that come from God, the young can better prepare themselves for an endless future in the Kingdom. Cultivating and becoming accustomed to a Christ-centered life style in our youth enables us to accept, appreciate, protect, and pass on all that trickles down to us from our ancestors in faith…OUR CHURCH…OUR SACRAMENTS…OUR HOPE IN THE PROMISE OF RESURRECTION AND ETERNAL JOY!

From a spiritual standpoint, as we age…WE SHOULD BE CONCERNED ABOUT WHAT WE LEAVE BEHIND.

We should be concerned that the next generation will care lovingly for The Church which we pass on to them. We need to gather our families together in our parishes, even as we invite them to “the lake.” The young should come to appreciate that our Church is a place where we come together as a family of faith to celebrate, to feast, to make memories, and to learn about our family history. The young should be eager to inherit our Church and commit to maintaining it in the best of conditions so that they, in turn, can pass it on to the generation that follows.

We should stay awake at night, hoping and praying that our children and grandchildren will recognize the value of our Sacraments. Handed down to us through the centuries, the Sacraments are seven priceless jewels meant to be used, and used frequently. If they are put away for safekeeping, they serve no purpose, and are in danger of being lost and forgotten. It is only when we bring them out and enhance or accessorize our faith with them that the next generation sees the beauty and understands the enormous value of these great treasures. It is only when they see how we treasure our Sacraments that they become eager to inherit these gifts that come to us from Christ.

It is entirely understandable that as we age, we wrestle with the fear that whoever gets the keys to the ’40 Ford that we have taken great pains to restore and preserve…will care for it as we try to. Of infinitely greater concern, however, is that the next generation will care for their spiritual lives. The keys to the most valuable of vehicles are nothing compared to the keys to the Kingdom.

So then, it seems that our Readings this week encourage the young to be extravagant in drawing from the infinite source of grace that is at their disposal…while at the same time working to establish a reserve of faith, hope, and love that will enable them to live in eternal peace.

At the same time, God’s Word that trickles down on the older generations is a reminder that what has been passed on to us must be used in such a way that the next generation becomes eager to inherit what we pass on to them.

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke 12:32-48
August 7, 2016

The martyrdom of an elderly French priest in Normandy, France, during morning Mass on Tuesday, July 26, 2016, was all but ignored by our press. Totally obsessed with the day-to-day drama of the political conventions and the upcoming elections, the desecration of a Catholic Church simply wasn’t that newsworthy. The few details that were broadcast about the slaying of Fr. Jacques Hamel used words like “murder,” “assassination,” and “act of terror.” Although technically accurate, these words fail to capture the full significance of this shocking act of violence which occurred on the holy ground of St. Etienne-du-Rouvray Church during the most sacred of moments…The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Even as he entered into the Paschal Mystery through the Eucharist, offering up the most innocent of victims…the most perfect Sacrifice…the priest became a victim whose life was sacrificed. What an honor to be martyred during Mass…literally standing at the foot of The Cross. What an honor to have your life’s blood mingled with the Blood of Christ. Unfortunately, even in France, where, undoubtedly, the story was widely reported, the spiritual significance of this horrifying act of violence quite likely escaped most people, who simply saw the terror but were ignorant of the sacrifice.

The question is, did the spiritual significance of his impending death escape Fr. Hamel?

At the moment that the two hate-filled and deranged teenagers stormed the Altar and forced him to the ground, did he comprehend that he was to be sacrificed with The Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world? Was his last thought…Lord, I am not worthy…not worthy to place my life next to Your Divine Life on this altar? Did he appreciate that he was doing far more than remembering Calvary as he stood at the altar where he had prayed so often? Did he understand that, for him, that Tuesday morning Mass had become Good Friday?

Or…was he afraid?

Even those who were eyewitnesses to the horrific event cannot be certain what was in the mind of the sacrificial victim of Normandy. But we do know that he was a human being, and that fear is very much a part of being human. And that is exactly why our Readings on this 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time are profoundly “newsworthy”…GOOD NEWSWORTHY!

The Gospel begins with the words that Jesus spoke to His disciples, and, through the Gospel, speaks to us…words He spoke to Fr. Hamel as he lay at the foot of the altar where, moments before, he was merely praying the Eucharist…not living and dying it…DO NOT BE AFRAID!

All three Readings enable us to better appreciate that while fear might be part of our human nature, we are much more than flesh and blood. We are spiritual beings, created in the image and likeness of our Eternal God, and that part of us is totally fear resistant. Whether death comes to us by the hand of a terrorist…or by a cancer cell…or a natural disaster…or a traffic accident…it is NOT the biological event that is “newsworthy.”
The spiritual significance of death escapes many people, who only see the end of something, and remain ignorant of the new beginning in Christ. Our Readings speak to the spiritual significance of passing over from this world to The Promised Land…”a better homeland…a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11).

In spite of a life committed to Christ and the Church, no one can say with certainty what the final thoughts of the martyr of Normandy were, but the Good News proclaimed this Sunday allows us to know the first thing he heard as he entered into eternity…BE NOT AFRAID!

And, if we take these Readings to heart…and prepare ourselves for our own moment of Passover…we won’t be.

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 12:49-53
August 14, 2016

As the rest of the world looks on as nervous “observers,” we Americans are living between two battle cries: LET’S MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!…and…STRONGER TOGETHER! Both campaign slogans are clearly intended to arouse within voters’ minds images of a brighter future…a time of prosperity, peace, and security. It is for us to decide which candidate is most likely to make their slogan reality, and there is certainly discussion and debate at the family dinner table, the workplace, the corner bar…and even within the leadership of the two political parties. There is one thing on which everyone appears to be in agreement, and that is simply that we live in very dangerous times. Whoever becomes “the leader of the free world” will shoulder unimaginable challenges and responsibilities.

Eliminate the threat of nuclear annihilation and you get a pretty good sense of the times into which Jeremiah was sent by God to deliver a message to “the leader of the Chosen People,” “the ancient free world.” King Zedekiah ruled at a time where there were the usual concerns over the economy, the effects of natural disasters and diseases, human rights abuse, and all of the other things that concern us today. In addition to all of that, there was a grave concern over national security. How committed were the allies? How serious was the threat of invasion? How prepared was Israel to defend The Promised Land? Sound familiar? The more things change, the more they stay the same!

Enter Jeremiah!

He is often referred to as “the weeping prophet.” The reason is simple. His message was harsh…not well received…and he was severely persecuted for his service on God’s behalf. In fact, Jeremiah was persecuted to the point that he wanted to resign. But he found that he couldn’t quit. I say I will not mention Him (God), I will no longer speak in His (God’s) Name. But then, it is as a fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding back, and I cannot! Jeremiah 20:9

Feel the burn?

Jeremiah did, and he continued to preach the message entrusted to him, which can be reduced to one word: SUBMIT. Or, if you prefer: SURRENDER. It was unthinkable that the Chosen People should submit to a foreign power…and surrender the Promised Land. He was accused of treason and thrown into a pit to die. But God’s Word did not sink down onto the mud. In the end, it was raised up and prevailed.

Enter Jesus!

Like Jeremiah, a prophet mighty in Word and deed, Jesus was much more. Jesus was both the Messenger as well as the Message. Jesus was God’s Eternal Word made flesh, Who came to dwell among us with the same message from God…burning in His Heart…SUBMIT! SURRENDER! However, Jesus was not proposing submission to a foreign power, rather, to the will and power of Almighty God. For His efforts, Jesus was also doubted, ridiculed, and conspired against. There was no escape for the Lord. Rather than being thrown into a pit, He was driven to the crest of a hill and nailed to a Cross…the perfect model of submission and surrender to the will of God…laying down His life so that others might live. Jesus gave His life so that others might know the brightest of futures…a future of prosperity, security, and eternal peace.

If a presidential candidate were to propose to voters that America SUBMIT! SURRENDER! …they probably would not be thrown into a pit to die…nor would they be crucified. But they certainly would be mocked and ridiculed, and they very definitely would not be elected. Yet, that is what Jesus is asking each of us to do. If we SUBMIT! SURRENDER! to God’s will, we can “Make our spiritual lives great again.” If, together, as the people chosen by God to follow Jesus Christ, we SUBMIT! SURRENDER! to the power and will of Almighty God, then we will know a strength that defies all earthly powers. And, someday, we will enjoy the brightest of futures…one that will never end.

The question before us is, “How do I do that? How do I submit to the will of God?”

Here’s how: We open our hearts to the power, to the truth of the gospel. We ask ourselves, “Am I living with integrity? Am I faithful to my commitments? My responsibilities? We ask ourselves in challenging situations, “What would Jesus do?” We live as Jesus lived. We love.

Now, do you feel the burn?

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 13:22-30
August 21, 2016

There is a new, state-of-the-art, extremely hi-tech “doorbell” on the market. I’ve seen it advertised on television. Even before a visitor touches the button, the homeowner is alerted that someone is trying to gain access, and not by the traditional “ding dong.” An “app” on the resident’s cell phone engages, warning that someone is at the door, and actually streaming a video of the visitor. From wherever they might be in the world, the homeowner can then take the initiative and literally greet the guest…or scare off an intruder. Clearly, there is an element of convenience to this system, but, it is primarily a home security device. If the video shows a suspicious-looking stranger, the property owner, without personal risk, can tell them (in whatever way they might choose) YOU ARE NOT COMING IN!

Obviously, this hi-tech security system was not available in Jesus’s time, but there was a method to deter intruders. City walls with low, narrow gates made access by invading armies more difficult, leaving intruders vulnerable to defensive attacks by the residents as they tried to gain access. Even doors to homes were so low that the taller the person, the further they would have to bend down in order to enter. People with bad knees found coming and going a little painful. Home invaders were more easily driven off. In other words, “narrow doors” were the means of deterring unwelcome and unwanted guests.

And so, when we use our creative, religious imagination to explore today’s Gospel, it is helpful to see Jesus sitting next to a city gate or outside the door to a friend’s home. Someone asks: Lord, will only a few people be saved?

Searching for a way to answer that would give those eager to hear His response hope, without encouraging bad behavior, Jesus looks around and points to some very familiar things. See this door? Look how low it is. Try your best to keep your knees in good shape and your back strong…and then you won’t have any trouble getting in. Look over there at the gate to your city. What happens when a hostile band of men come riding in, carrying weapons? STRIVE…TRY YOUR BEST…to approach the Gates of Heaven in peace. Lay down all baggage and weapons you might be carrying around with you… so that you move easily through the narrow gate.
STRIVE…TRY YOUR BEST to look like you belong…and you shouldn’t have trouble getting in.

In his reflection on this Gospel passage, Pope Francis reminds us that: In our day, we pass in front of so many doors that invite us to come in, promising a happiness which, later, we realize lasts only an instant. Then there are those doors that we easily pass through, only to slam shut behind us, trapping us in dark rooms filled with things such as anger, revenge, prejudice, greed, and addiction. It seems like there is no escape. But there is.

Pope Francis tells us that: (Jesus) is the door. He is the entrance to salvation. He leads us to the Father, and the door that is Jesus never closes.

If someone were to ask the Holy Father: Pope Francis, will only a few people be saved? I imagine that he would search for a way to answer that would give hope to those eager to hear the response…without encouraging bad behavior. And that is what he does by pointing to Jesus…the back door to those dark rooms we find ourselves imprisoned in…The Way to the gate to the Eternal City…and The Door that never closes!

In the coming week, be especially aware of all of those doors that seem so inviting…the doors which swing open so easily, and then slam shut and lock. Know that each time you turn away and continue to follow the path of the Gospel, you strengthen your knees and your back and you heal those things that might impede entry to the place where all good people long to be. And take hope in the knowledge that God is fully aware of your arrival…long before you ring the bell…and eager to greet you with the words…Welcome Home! Come right in!

Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 14:1, 7-14
August 28, 2016

I have, and treasure greatly, many Filipino friends, in spite of my persistent disregard for one of their customs. You see, I have discovered that in the Philippines, it is not only polite, but expected, that when a person is greeting an older person, as a sign of respect, they take the “senior’s” hand in their own, bow their head slightly, and touch the top of the older hand to their own forehead. This custom has immigrated to the United States. It really is a beautiful gesture, especially because it seems to me that it is always done with sincerity and a genuine appreciation for the dignity of the elder. It is more than etiquette. The simple gesture of humbling oneself is acknowledgement of the wisdom of age that rests with the elder. The problem for me is that the courtesy extends as well to the clergy, regardless of age…or wisdom!

I was first extended this honor by a very dear and very holy and pious little lady, who, at the time, was well into her 90’s. When she approached me, I didn’t even have an opportunity to see her face. As was her habit, she grabbed my hand (because I am a priest), bowed her head, and pressed my hand to her forehead. I truly felt blessed! But, I’m afraid that I shocked her because I followed her lead. I took her hand in mine, bowed slightly, and pressed the top of her hand to my forehead. Actually, I then felt DOUBLY blessed.

But my rash action embarrassed her. She pulled back her hand and covered her mouth with it, shook her head from side to side, and giggled. Someone then explained to me my breach of etiquette. Still, in spite of the fact that I now understand the tradition, I persist in reciprocating the honor, no matter the age of the person “honoring me.” It seems to me that what is certainly BAD ETIQUETTE on my part…is GOOD SPIRITUALITY. I suggest that because of this week’s Readings.

In our Second Reading, St Paul refers to Jesus as “The Mediator of a new covenant.” There is a private prayer, whispered by the priest at the very beginning of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, which is helpful in understanding the terms of this “new covenant.” As the chalice is prepared for the consecration, a few drops of water are added to the wine as the presider prays: By the mystery of this water and wine (mingling together) may we come to share in the Divinity of Christ, Who humbled himself to share in our humanity. In other words, the “new covenant” brought with it an entirely new way of relating to God, bringing with it a new tradition…a new etiquette.

Through Jesus, it’s as if The Creator has taken our frail, soiled, and unworthy hands into the Divine Hand, and pressing them to God’s Forehead honors and blesses our human nature. We, in turn, are called to humble ourselves before one another, honoring and blessing each other, without consideration to such inconsequential things as age, vocation, wisdom, or wealth…especially not wealth.

Under the old covenant, no one saw the Face of God and lived. (Exodus 33:19-23) With the new covenant, through Jesus, we do see the face of God when we look at one another, especially those who do their best to live as an image of Jesus Christ. And, for that reason, we should make an effort to humble ourselves before everyone we encounter, honoring and blessing them.

It might not be good etiquette, but it is certainly good spirituality…a tradition which leaves us doubly blessed.

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 14:25-33
September 4, 2016

Last Sunday afternoon, within the span of about 90 minutes, I was contacted by four different friends. Two were driving back from East Lansing, one was in route home from Ann Arbor (Go Blue!) and the fourth was sitting at home pondering the fact that the next day his pride and joy would begin her college career locally. Three of my friends were experiencing for the first time the mixed emotions a parent feels when sending their child off to college. The fourth was a veteran, having made the trip with a van full of “essentials” several times before. This time it was the youngest. It was clear from his tone of voice that it hadn’t become any easier. Actually, knowing that he was returning home to an empty nest left him even more vulnerable to the dark side of the mixed emotions.

It’s hard letting go!

And yet, in this week’s Gospel, Jesus seems to be encouraging friction and division even within immediate families. Can He really be calling us to “hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters”? Certainly, that is the surface meaning of what He is saying. But, unless we dig deeper, we stand the risk of using the Gospel of peace and love to promote and justify the kind of violence and terror that is plaguing our world.

It might be helpful to ponder how the Lord ends the list of people “to be hated” and then look to our First Reading for a deeper meaning. “If anyone comes to me without hating…even (their) own life, (they) cannot be my disciple.” Another confusing statement. Since we are created in the image and likeness of God, what is there about ourselves that we could possibly hate?

The Book of Wisdom spells it out in clear and simple terms. We can “hate” our limitations. We can “hate” those things about us that are the consequence of the original sin. That first bad choice left us broken, limited, and far less than The Creator intended us to be. Few of us will ever be able to totally overcome these limitations while in our earthly bodies. However, we can compensate for our spiritual disabilities by consciously planning and then building a life on the foundation of the Gospel. But, it is an expensive project.

The cost of discipleship is an unconditional commitment to Jesus Christ…even at the expense of our loved ones…even if it means ignoring our own desires and needs. It is hard letting go!

My friends, who sent their college freshmen off to the next phase of their lives, face some pretty stiff costs. They are making the necessary sacrifices because they know that it is worth the expense to help make their children’s future more successful. How much more important is it to invest in our spiritual lives, where the goal is eternal life? Who counts the cost when salvation is at risk?

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 15:1-32
September 11, 2016

Last Sunday, September 4, on the 19th anniversary of her death, Pope Francis canonized Mother Teresa a saint of the Catholic Church. Although such things as “sainthood” would typically escape the notice of the secular press, her international notoriety made the criticism of this holy woman and her work especially newsworthy. NBC World News, for example, posted the headline: Mother Teresa’s Canonization Marred by Controversy. The article then gave voice to all who found fault with our newest saint. Actually this isn’t “new” news. After her death, some of her writings were published. Her critics used her personal reflections and spiritual pondering to fashion arguments that Mother Teresa’s faith and trust in God were not as solid as her public image portrayed. Although I never had the honor of meeting her, I assume that she was her own harshest critic, followed closely by our Church, which thoroughly scrutinized her entire life before declaring her sainthood.

But our Readings this week do not deal with saints, but rather, with sinners.

As we move into the next season of the calendar year, we enter as well into the final phase of the liturgical year. We’ve already given consideration to the cost of discipleship. It’s pricey! It demands a total and unconditional commitment to and complete trust in God. Many (even on occasion people like St. Mother Teresa) if not most of us fall short…way short. So, for the next few weeks, we are called to reflect on what happens when we miss the mark, fall short, or wander from the path to which God, through Jesus Christ, directs us.

In 1987, National Catholic Register (a Catholic publication that does not shy away from transparency and constructive criticism of our Church) published an article by philosopher and author Peter Kreeft, entitled: What is a Saint? As he goes about listing the seemingly contradictory qualities and characteristics of saints, whom he refers to as “little Christs,” Kreeft opines that “saints are not the opposite of sinners.” He writes: There are no opposites of sinners in this world. There are only sinners and unsaved sinners. Thus, “holy” does not mean “sinless” but “set apart,” called out of the world to the destiny of eternal ecstasy with God.

So, I guess I was wrong!

If it’s true that: There are no opposites of sinners in this world. There are only sinners and unsaved sinners…then, in a way, this week’s Readings are about saints and holiness. The last of three parables that Jesus uses to explain the difference between saints and sinners is the story of the Prodigal Son. This selfish, inconsiderate, disrespectful, self-indulgent, blasphemous, immoral, and careless young man was saved because he was able to say those three little words: I was wrong!

When the Pharisees and scribes heard this little story of redemption, like those who “marred Mother Teresa’s canonization with criticism,” they probably scoffed, “The kid hit rock bottom! Why wouldn’t he come running home? The father was a sucker.”

The first two shorter and simpler parables are the perfect response.

Jesus tells us that God is the kind of parent Who doesn’t simply wait at home, hoping that the sinful son will come to his senses. God goes out searching. God doesn’t rest until we speak those three powerful little words: I was wrong! And when we do, God rejoices.

I was wrong!

The three little words that saves a sinner…and makes a saint!

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 16:1-13
September 18, 2016

Timing couldn’t have been better.

Last week, I heard the news that Wells Fargo Bank fired 5,300 employees who had falsified sales records by generating millions of bogus accounts in order to appear to be more productive than they actually were. Now, as part of the unemployed, and because of their dishonesty most likely unemployable, at least in the banking industry, they are totally unproductive.

Moving on with my morning, I turned off the TV and opened up the Gospel to begin my reflection on the Readings for this 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time. I literally laughed out loud when I saw that the Gospel was Luke 16: Jesus’s parable about the dishonest steward.

The Lord describes the incompetence of a man in the management of his master’s affairs. Realizing that he’s getting the sack for squandering his master’s property would most likely make him unemployable, he decided to do a little “networking.” In an effort to ingratiate himself with people who might give him a helping hand when he needed it, he did just what the 5,300 Wells Fargo employees did…falsified the records. In this case, he wrote off debt that was rightly due and owing to the master.

The reaction of the master to this further breach of duty is what makes this parable especially challenging. Rather than being outraged by the additional loss he suffered at the hands of the dishonest steward, the master seems almost amused. Even more difficult to understand, the master appears to admire the ingenuity of the villain. I seriously doubt that the board of directors of Wells Fargo Bank were amused by the “ingenuity” of the 5,300, especially after the government fined the Bank $185 million because of the dishonesty of the employees. So, what is this parable meant to teach us? What is this story all about? Certainly not that cooking the books is a clever and even admirable way to dig yourself out of a heap of trouble. Dishonesty of this sort is no laughing matter.

The Church makes it a little easier for us to grasp what the Lord is saying by pairing this bad guy with Amos the Prophet. Our First Reading comes from the writings of “The Voice of Social Justice, “a/k/a AMOS! Rather than being mildly amused by slick business dealings, Amos warns us about the wrath of God that will pour down on the dishonest…especially those who take advantage of the poor. It is simply unimaginable that Jesus would be reversing God’s message delivered by Amos. Clearly, the parable is not to encourage shady business practices. So what then?

The answer might well be set within our Second Reading (2 Tim 1-8). Jesus is the Mediator, Who stands between God and us. What that means is that in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, the Divine Mystery (God) and the perfection of human nature blended.

Because the Lord was fully human, just like us, in all things BUT SIN, the Lord experienced all of the emotions, feelings, needs, desires, and even temptations which we encounter in this world. The Lord always rejected what was contrary to the will and ways of The Father. We don’t. As a consequence, we, as individuals, and as the whole of humanity, have run up a staggering debt, which we could never even begin to repay. And so Jesus “cooked the books.”

By His complete and unconditional commitment to the will of The Father, even to the point of experiencing death on a cross, Jesus paid our debt for us. That is what St. Paul means when he tells us: Christ Jesus gave Himself as a ransom for all. And this perfect act of self-giving, rather than offending The Father, was most pleasing to God Who wills everyone to be saved!

Paul concludes this week’s passage with these words: It is my wish, then, that in every place, (people) should pray, lifting up holy hands, without anger or argument. One way that we can be certain that our “hands are holy” is by using them to be productive; picking up a pen and canceling the debts that we feel others owe to us.

That is the wish of The Lord…that we juggle the books in favor of our sisters and brothers.

Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 16:19-31
September 25, 2016

I worked in downtown Detroit, Michigan, for over 20 years. Twice a day, year after year, I drove past a little green patch in the middle of Jefferson Avenue without paying any attention to the monument that stands there. Within view of the imposing sculpture of “The Spirit of Detroit” and the equally impressive and enormous “fist” of Joe Louis, the statue of Armenian cleric Gomidas Vartabed stands as a silent memorial to what is referred to as the Armenian Genocide.

Overshadowed by the tributes to civic pride, a sports hero, and completely surrounded by the hustle and bustle of the busy city, I venture to say that on any given day, few, if any, of the tens of thousands of people that pass by the statue even notice that it is there. What is more sobering is the fact that few, if any, of those passersby have any idea that between 1915 and 1923, 1.5 million Christian Armenians, living within the Ottoman Empire in Turkey, were systematically murdered. Another 1 million refugees fled their home and country, never to return.

Like many Detroiters, I passed by the monument without noticing it and was totally ignorant of the terrible crime against humanity that it memorializes. Simply put: This didn’t involve me! Not having personal ties to that part of the world, and not being taught about this atrocity in any history class, I remained ignorant of this grievous sin. Then, I happened on a brief report on the memorial services the Armenian community in Michigan organized to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the systematic effort to eliminate an entire population. There is obviously nothing I can do at this point…except remember.

But remembering is about the past, which we cannot change. Still, when we remember, we learn, and when we learn from our past mistakes, we can do something to avoid making those same mistakes.

Certainly, we remember that during World War II, 6 million Jews were murdered in German concentration camps, many more becoming refugees never to return to their homes. But, what we might not know is that, today, on this 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time, as we hear and reflect on Luke 16:19-31, many Christians in the Middle East risk their lives to do what we are doing…celebrating Eucharist. Other Christians are gathering to break The Bread and to share The Cup, to find comfort and hope in the Gospel in refugee camps or in foreign countries to which they have fled. Untold others have been martyred for our faith.

The systematic effort to eliminate Christians from the Middle East has resulted in genocide comparable to the Holocaust of World War II. But, many of us, like the rich man dressed in purple garments, simply go about our business oblivious of the sacrifices so many of our sisters and brothers are making for the faith we share. Living in a nation where our freedom to worship is a guaranteed freedom, we have fallen victim to the attitude that the Prophet Amos warns against in our First Reading. (Amos 6:1, 4-7) We have become “complacent.”

In fact, we have become so very complacent that, on Sunday mornings, rather than taking advantage of the great freedom to worship as we choose, many of us remain lying upon beds…stretched comfortable on couches…rather than doing what people are risking their very lives to do…share in the Eucharist.

The parable that Jesus used to challenge the Pharisees is not an attack on wealth, it is an echo of Amos’s warning against complacency. We can’t change the sins of the past, but we can at least learn from them. We might not be personally, or even as a nation, capable of stopping the mass murders that are going on at this very moment in the Middle East, Africa, India, and in many other parts of the world, but we can at least be aware of what is happening.

This week’s Readings caution us that when we allow anything to overshadow our commitment to Christ and to others, we are in grave spiritual danger.

This week’s Readings are a sober reminder to us that when we get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life that we ignore the sufferings of others…we are in grave spiritual danger.

This week’s Readings are a stark reminder that when we become so self-indulgent and self-absorbed that we are not made ill by things like religious persecution, bigotry, and genocide…we are in grave spiritual danger.

This week’s Readings call us to acknowledge that all human suffering does involve us, because all humanity is unified in Christ!

We can’t change the past, but we have a duty to remember and to learn from it. Unlike the rich man, who was so preoccupied with himself that he didn’t notice the beggar at his gate, we might not be in a position to change things…but we cannot be complacent. We must make a point of at least being aware of the sacrifice so many make to enjoy the banquet at which we feast without a second thought.

We must at least be aware or we become part of the sin!

Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 17:5-10
October 2, 2016

A key issue in the presidential debate conducted this past week was how to deal with international, as well as domestic, terrorism. That is certainly foremost on my mind.

Almost daily, we hear about an act of horrific violence, which brings to life the images set out in our First Reading. Often using the Holy Name to support the darkest of visions that ARE written down…on websites…terrorists are radicalizing young people and encouraging them to acts which bring ruin, misery, destruction, strife, and clamorous discord; everything that the Prophet Habakkuk describes.

Unfortunately, both presidential candidates seemed at a loss for a plan that does not include more of the same: violence…ruin…misery…destruction…strife and clamorous discord. Even more tragic is the fact that many people see more air strikes, more boots on the ground, more restrictions on our civil liberties, more intense interrogation methods as the only way to deal with this evil that is rapidly metastasizing. It would be naive to suggest that when evil people have stirred into an intense flame feelings of hatred in the hearts of so many, that more violence is inescapable. Still, the response to today’s Psalm cannot be ignored.

If today you hear His voice, harden not your heart.

If we permit the bad guys to harden our hearts, then terrorism truly does win.

On this 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time, we do hear The Voice of God encouraging good people not to be rash, but to face life’s challenges with integrity. It is anything but cowardly to respond to evil with self-control. God’s grace enables us to resist the temptation to respond to violence with more violence. It takes great courage to deflect murderous hatred with intense love. But that is the most powerful of weapons that God has placed in our arsenal…LOVE! Even if world leaders are at a loss as to how to put an end to terrorism, God is not. If we do not permit our hearts to become hard, but open them to The Voice of The Almighty, then the gift of faith which rests within each and every one of us will be stirred into an intense heat that will do what bombs and guns cannot. It is faith in the power of God which will bring about a true and lasting peace.

“So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord.” (2 Tim 1:6-8). Do not be ashamed of your faith. Faith is God’s greatest gift to us and the most powerful of weapons. Faith is the ultimate weapon of mass destruction. Faith can overpower violence, put an end to hatred and division, heal the wounds that are caused by strife, and change clamorous discord into meaningful dialogue.

The next time we hear those alarming words: BREAKING NEWS! causing us to brace for the next round of video of carnage and destruction that arouse the urge to react rashly and without integrity…before we completely lose self-control, remember God’s assurance: THE JUST ONE, BECAUSE OF FAITH, SHALL LIVE.

The candidates might not have the solution, but God does.

Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 17:11-19
October 9, 2016

The 2016 Noble Prize in medicine was announced on Monday morning. It was awarded to Japanese researcher, Yoshnori Ohsumi for his work in “autophagy.” Most folks have never heard of that word and have no idea of what it means. It comes from the Greek word auto-“self” and phagein-“to eat.” In the simplest of terms, the cell…the smallest part of all living things, recycles.

Within the cell, there is a process whereby parts that have worn out and are no longer useful, are surrounded by healthy parts, which encircle and transform what is broken and potentially dangerous. This is very important because what’s broken takes up space needed to keep the cell operating properly. This useless material causes life threatening neurodegenerative diseases. Autophagy breaks down what is no longer functioning as it should, becoming dangerous, and converts it into new, fresh, life giving cellular material.

The work of Yoshnori Ohsumi is being heralded as a medical break through because somehow, what he has discovered within the lowest level of life, might be used to cure life threatening diseases. Certainly the honor being paid him for his work is well deserved. It is very doubtful however, that many will give thanks and praise to The Creator, by Whose work the living cell “re-cycles.” As his accomplishments are acknowledged and celebrated, few will recall with gratitude, that it was Almighty God, Who called Yoshnori Ohsumi into life, gifting him with the intelligence, vision, and commitment necessary to make the discoveries that will benefit humankind.

Whether or not there’s any connection between leprosy and this cellular recycling process remains for medical researchers to discover. There is however, a definite connection between autophagy and our spiritual lives. The Nobel Prize in Medicine 2016, and the story of the 10 lepers Jesus encountered on the outskirts of a dusty little village about 2000 years ago, are linked by the truth that we often fail to give thanks to God for the many gifts which the Almighty continual showers us with.

First, it’s important to remember that the lepers stood at a distance from Him (Jesus) as well as from their families, neighbors and friends. Even back then, long before Noble Prizes in medicine were awarded, people recognized the highly contagious nature of the disease.

It is also noteworthy, that when they saw Him approach, they raised their voice. All 10 were desperate for the same thing: healing. And so, they spoke as one. Jesus did have pity on them and “cleansed them.” But even though they raised their voice to ask for healing, only one voice returned to give thanks and praise.

Because of his reaction to being cleansed the Samaritan sets himself apart from the group. And, Jesus’s reaction to this foreigner encourages us to consider that there was something more at work here, over and above Jesus’s power to cure. The key might be in The Lord’s response to the man’s gratitude. YOUR faith has saved you. This is more than a healing miracle, this is a story of conversion.

By acknowledging and expressing thanksgiving and praise to The Lord, the un-named Samaratin man has left us with a brilliant display of faith. And for his work, he won a “peace prize” of sort. He was awarded The Peace of Christ!

Through the Eucharist, God offers that same prize to all the baptized. Consider that the Greek word Eucharist means “thanksgiving.” So, when we Christians gather around the healing Word of The Lord and then feast of His Body and Blood, we are doing exactly what the 10th leper did. In the Eucharist, we are giving God thanks and praise, and for our work we are awarded the ultimate peace prize…THE PEACE OF CHRIST!

It might be helpful to consider the Eucharist as a spiritual process whereby the things that take up space and keep us from living as we were created to live…in the image and likeness of our Creator …are transformed into new, fresh, and life giving grace. But the process IS NOT “autophagy.” The process is Holy Communion…“Christophagy.”
We become what we eat.

Through the Eucharist, we set ourselves apart from those who fail to recognize that all good things come from God. By gathering together and raising our voice in thanks and praise, we are not only doing what is right and just, but we are also increasing our faith. In turn, faith triggers a process of conversion whereby things like greed, selfishness, and envy are recycled into good things.

One last thing…we are contagious! So in the coming week, take every opportunity to infect others with the belief that all good things are from God, Who is deserving of thanks and praise!

Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 18:1-8
October 16, 2016

A small, rural parish decided to undertake a much needed restoration of their historic church. So, in addition to his pastoral duties, the priest, together with parish leaders began a series of meetings interviewing and retaining architects, engineers, contractors, designers and decorators. It was time consuming and exhausting. What demanded the lion’s share of his time, attention, and concern however, was the finances. Budget meetings, fund raising plans and campaigns seemed to be never ending. As one group dreamed about how beautiful their church would be, another group struggled with the need to pay for the project.

Eventually someone approached the pastor, explaining that part of their work responsibilities included completing and filing grant applications. Apparently there is an art to asking big corporations and charitable organizations for money. There is even a “giving season” that means tracking and meeting deadlines for the filing of the lengthy paper work. Each application requires a detailed description of how any gift of money will be used. The pastor, fully aware that he had no time left to tackle this effort, not to mention his lack of experience in the area; was very appreciative that someone else was willing to take on this responsibility; which was clearly a “long shot.”

The pastor soon discovered that he didn’t get off so easy, constantly being drawn into the process. Although appreciative to the person heading up the campaign, he was getting a little frustrated by the numerous requests for information for yet another grant application. Casting around for free money turned out to require as much of his time in meetings, discussions, fact finding and document gathering as every other aspect of the project. But the “volunteer” kept after him, confident that someone would take the bait and award a grant.

What he did come to see with time however, was that the exercise of completing the grant applications had an unanticipated benefit. It seemed that each time he meet with the eager volunteer, to complete yet another long list of questions; things surfaced that no one had previously considered: a potential problem, a better way of doing something, an area that had been overlooked, a less costly method. In other words, as annoying as the tedious process of applying for free money could be; it offered the benefit of re-examining and improving the plan.

Then, one day as he sat down to sort through a particularly large stack of mail that had accumulated on his desk, the pastor took a second look at an envelope that he assumed was an advertisement. Rather than discard it; he thankfully opened it. A very brief transmittal letter from a corporate charity, enclosed a very large check! The persistence of the good hearted volunteer had paid off. Not only did the parish benefit from the “free money” but the entire project was made better by virtue of the application process that involved re-evaluating the project with each and every application. Asking for money helped the parish to see their needs in a new light every time they approached a new, potential donor.

What we call “intercessory prayer” is like that!

Of course when we ask God for something, no matter how great or small, critical and urgent, or minor…God already knows exactly what we need. This is no detail that we can add that will in anyway enlighten or inform our “all knowing God.” But, much like a grant application, the process of prayer brings with it an opportunity for us to consider and re-consider our wants and our needs as we present them to God in hopes that God will satisfy our desires.

The prayer process itself, enables us to recognize potential problems with “our plans” and wait for the Holy Spirit to enlighten us to a better way of doing something. If we are truly discerning in our pray, and patiently wait for God’s response, we might actually discover on our own, an area that we had overlooked. For example: prayer is an occasion to consider cost. Is there a less costly method; or if I actually get what I am asking for, will there be a hidden cost to me that I am not willing or capable of paying?

Have you ever asked someone: Are you listening to yourself? Do you actually hear what you’re saying? Persistence in prayer gives us a chance to do that. By praying repeatedly, we might actually listen to ourselves…what we are actually asking of God…and come to see how silly, or selfish, or materialistic we are. Better still, persistence in prayer means that we are repeatedly engaging God in conversation. If, over and over, we talk to God, even if the topic is always the same, there might come an occasion when we give God a chance to get a word in edge wise. Persistent prayer gives God the opening to TELL US…what we really need…what is truly good for us…what is life giving and genuine.

St. Ignatius of Loyola put this all into one, sage little thought: PRAY AS IF EVERYTHING DEPENDS ON GOD…WORK AS IF EVERYTHING DEPENDS ON YOU! Today’s Readings add only this…BE PERSISTENT ABOUT IT!

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 18:9-14
October 23, 2016

One of the lingering images from this past summer’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro is not about a victory, but what some might consider to be a tragic defeat. During a qualifying heat for the women’s 5,000 meters, a little more than mid- way through the race, an American runner bumped into a competitor from New Zealand. Both fell hard. The New Zealander appeared to be overcome with emotion and in great pain. She laid on the track, aware that in a split second her Olympic dreams were ruined. Then, as people all around the world watched, she was roused by a hand on her shoulder. It was the American woman, who leaned down and shouted over the roar of the crowd: Get up! We have to finish this! The fallen runner latter reported thinking: “Yup, yup, you’re right. This is the Olympics Games. We have to finish this.”

Then, forgoing an opportunity to immediately rebound from the fall and make an effort to “catch up” with the other runners, the American bent down and helped the other woman to her feet. The two then supported one another; until they were able to resume the race.

As it turned out, the American had in fact suffered the more serious injury. But she persevered; continuing on the course in spite of excruciating pain; supported by words of encouragement from the woman who only seconds before, she had encouraged to stand up and get back in the race.

Eventually the New Zealander sprinted ahead; but the American did not give up. When she finally hobbled to the finish line, the other woman was there to greet her. Remarkably, both finished the race. They not only competed well…they were excellent competitors teaching the whole world a lesson about compassion, commitment, persistence, gratitude, humility and yes…even love! They finished the race because of one another. And while neither received a gold medal, both wore the “crown of righteousness” out of the stadium.

Our Second Reading this Sunday is frequently proclaimed at funeral Masses. Here, we find St. Paul, quite likely familiar with the sporting events so popular in the Greeco-Roman world, coming to the end of his earthly life. His imagery transports us back to the Colosseum, where cheering crowds urged runners on to the finish line.

St. Paul is using the image of Olympic games to give us a sense of what it means to be a disciple. Like all Sacred Scripture, his words are dramatic and powerful. In fact, over the past several weeks, each of our Sunday Readings have laid out for us a dramatic and powerful description of what is expected of a follower of Jesus Christ.

The training for discipleship is rigorous. Moreover, the race isn’t measured in meters or mile, but in lifetimes. Catastrophic falls and collisions are to be expected. To finish the race, one must be totally committed and persistent… “keeping the faith” in the face of every adversity. To compete well, a disciple must be forgiving of those who crash into us, and knock us down. Likewise, on those occasions when we are the cause of the fall, we must be repentant. Disciples are not oblivious of the needs and safety and welfare of others. Rather, and even if it means interrupting our own plans, disciples stop and care for one another; especially when a sister or brother needs to be raised up. In other words, to cross the finish line to the cheering of the angels and saints, and to be awarded the crown of righteousness, a follower of Jesus Christ is loving. Certainly this is what we have learned from our Readings over the past several weeks. And, during the summer games in Rio, we saw these words in action.

There is something additional about discipleship that is made very clear in this Sunday’s Gospel. True followers of Jesus Christ, NEVER award themselves the gold medal. Quite the contrary. Disciples acknowledge their faults and failures and trust in the mercy of the Just Judge to raise them up and heal them.

And when we see someone fall into sin…we do not judge them, rather we are called to put a hand on their shoulder, speak words of encouragement and help to raise them up…supporting them as they resume the race towards the finish line…no matter how badly they might be hobbling.

As for ourselves…when we fall into sin…because of our own poor choices or because some bad influence has crashed into us and knocked us down…be assured that the Holy Spirit is there to whisper words of encouragement to us…until we say…. I have to finish this! This is Salvation. I have to cross the finish line.”

Now be still for a moment…and you might just hear off in the distance…the roar of the angels and saints…encouraging all who are competing for Christ!

Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 19:1-10
November 30, 2016

I was invited to some friends’ for dinner. Shortly after I arrived, their young son asked if I wanted to see some pictures he had recently taken. I said that I would like that very much. He quickly produced his iPad, which serves not only as his “album” but is also his “camera.”

He began to scroll through a number of different photographs of the kind that you would expect to be the product of an adolescent photographer…ballgames, friends, family, cars, and so on; when, out of the blue, came a series of aerial pictures. After the second or third, I realized that they were pictures of his street and his home. So I asked: “How did you take these pictures? Were you in a helicopter?” It seemed like the logical, if not the only, explanation. His answer came with a tone that the “DUUUHHHH!” was implied. “No! I was in a tree.”

Looking up, I saw the expression on his parent’s faces and knew that was how he was able to capture the images of the roves of his neighborhood. With that, he pointed out the window to the tree where he and his iPad were located when he snapped this series of photographs. I was amazed by the distance between the ground and the first “climbable” branch. I had to step outside to get a sense of the overall size of the tree. IT WAS A BIG TREE!

So, I asked him how high up into the tree he was when he took the amazing photos. He pointed to the very branch and then estimated that it was about 54 feet up into the tree. There was still about a third of the tree to go before it became too slim to support him.

We then sat down for dinner, and I was paid the honor of saying Grace. I was inspired to include in my prayer special gratitude that my young friend has not been injured in climbing so high up into trees; also asking God to give him the wisdom not to attempt anything higher than 54 feet (which I still thought was way too high). His parents gave an enthusiastic “AMEN!” and shot me brief nods of appreciation.

Still, as I drove home, I thought about my own tree-climbing days. The exhilarating feeling of being above everything and everybody else. The view. The sense of solitude and privacy, hidden among the leaves and branches. And, most of all, the urge to climb higher and higher in order to intensify all of the other feelings. Sitting in the branches of a tree, a kid easily loses track of time; forgetting about and simply present to the moment.

Although his motivation was only to “see over the heads of the crowd,” I wonder if, from his perch in the giant sycamore, Zaccheus enjoyed all of those feelings that tree-climbers experience?

Eucharist is like that!

When we gather, as Jesus instructed us, to remember and celebrate, we are, in a way, climbing a spiritual tree. It takes effort and determination, strength, and energy. But, once we begin to rise above worldly things….we are able to leave behind on the ground all of our cares, concerns, worries, and even temptations that are part of life.

Having chosen to gather with our sisters and brothers in Christ to remember and to celebrate, we really do set ourselves apart from the rest of the world. Even though Eucharist is a shared Meal, at the same time, it offers the opportunity to enjoy a sense of solitude. We stand together, shoulder to shoulder, remembering and celebrating. But, at the same time, we are also alone with the Lord.

Eucharist breaks the power of time and permits us, for an hour or so, to experience the overwhelming peace of eternity. And it is in this sense of timelessness that we find ourselves eager to climb higher and higher into the Sacred Mystery.

When I led a family in prayer before our shared meal, I asked God to give a young man the wisdom not to press his limits and to stop his assent at 54 feet. Before Eucharist, my prayer is entirely different. I pray that God gives us the wisdom, the courage, and the strength to keep climbing until we are able to catch a view of the Kingdom, and then, to be able to share what we have seen with everyone we meet once we are back on the ground.

Don’t be afraid to keep climbing!

Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke 20:27-38
November 6, 2016

A new sit-com aired on network television this fall. It’s called “The Good Place.” I’ve only seen the first episode so I’m not an expert on the program, but it appears that the plot involves a young woman who is quite beautiful on the outside, but not so attractive on the inside. The audience doesn’t know how, but she died. Through some “administrative error,” she was sent to “The Good Place” although the glimpse we see of her earthly life makes it clear that she doesn’t belong there. While the words “heaven” and “hell” are never used, we are given enough of a glimpse of her life on earth to appreciate that her destination should have been “the other place.” She is completely aware of the fact that she is not where she is supposed to be, and is extremely concerned that the mistake will come to light and she will be evicted. We can’t blame her for staying undercover because “The Good Place” is very, very nice.

The show is filmed on a set that brings Fantasy Island or Disneyland to mind. It is a beautiful little town with ice cream shops, candy stores, bakeries, and cafes where everything is free…you never get full…and best of all…you never gain weight. Everyone is given a wonderful place to live. No one wants for anything.

The reason I’ve only seen episode 1 is because, although it is somewhat entertaining, I am concerned that it might be “harmful to our spiritual health.” The show offers such a simplistic image of what is obviously The Kingdom of God that people without a mature faith, grounded in Sacred Scripture, could very well develop an extremely limited view of paradise. Even though the program means no harm and is merely light entertainment, it really does demean the reality of resurrection from the dead.

I am not trying to be a TV critic or to discourage folks from tuning in. I’m only making the observation that the show is terribly misleading because it reduces the reality of The Kingdom of God to a fantasy world reflecting the most pleasant aspects of this world. In fact, The Reign of God is infinitely greater than the most pleasant of earthly experiences; to the point of being beyond the ability of the frail and finite human mind to even begin to imagine.

But it’s not just Hollywood script writers who try to shrink eternal life into some sort of good dream. Most of us do it whenever a loved one dies and those left behind are forced to deal with the harsh and painful emotions that come with grief and loss. As a coping mechanism, we tend to envision our beloved dead surrounded by the people and the things they treasured and enjoyed most in this world.

We often do the same thing when we consider our own passage out of time and into eternity. Imagining heaven as the perfect “here and now” makes our own death a little less threatening. We are in good company in approaching the end of our “earthly life” in this manner. After all, the 23rd Psalm paints a picture of green pastures and mouth-watering picnics when we pass on to the other side. Certainly, this is an effective way of helping children through loss and grief; calming their fears about death. A mature faith, however, should approach the thin veil between time and eternity without fear and with an eagerness to see more of what REALLY awaits those who have loved and served the Lord. In this week’s Gospel (Luke 20:27-38), Jesus invites us to do just that. This passage which immediately follows our celebration of All Saints and All Souls Days broadens our horizon and gives us a lens to enjoy a glimpse of the infinite beyond.

What awaits us in the Kingdom of God is far more than a reunion with our loved ones, which, of course, is something we hope for. In dealing with a question intended to make Him look foolish, The Lord makes religious leaders appear immature and childish in their beliefs. There is a cautionary lesson set within His response. Jesus is warning us not to trust our own imaginations when it comes to resurrected life. It limits us when we try to describe something that is, in fact, beyond description.

What the “final outcome” will be is too far beyond us to grasp until that part of us which is eternal has shed our earthly bodies; flesh and blood always intended to be “disposable.” The Good News which Jesus brought to us, however, assures us that we are each unique and intimately known and treasured by our God. This means that once we leave all that is temporary behind to enjoy the total freedom of timelessness, we somehow retain our identity. We don’t fall out of existence. On the contrary, we become part of the pure and everlasting existence of God.

Jesuit theologian Fr. Karl Rahner suggests that those anxious or worried about the inevitability of death might find it helpful to ponder what awaits us BECAUSE OF DEATH, rather than wondering about what to expect AFTER DEATH. BECAUSE OF DEATH, our hearts are no longer plagued with uncertainty and fear, but finally know the perfect peace and freedom that is to be found in union with the Resurrected and Glorified Christ.

Back to the sit –com.

In my view, if there is anything worthwhile about “The Good Place,” it is that all residents find their perfect soulmate. The idea is that each couple will enjoy unconditional love with another for all eternity. That part of the TV show is accurate. BECAUSE OF DEATH, our souls are reunited in perfect harmony with the Cosmic Soulmate….Christ.

For those who need more details about what to expect BECAUSE OF DEATH, strive to be more loving and charitable in all earthly relationships. That is the best way to get a glimpse of our final reunion…our eternal union with The Sacred Mystery of God!

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 21:5-19
November 13, 2016

Last Sunday, through Luke’s Gospel, Jesus gave us a glimpse of what awaits those who are redeemed in the Blood of Christ. We bring this liturgical year to a close on this 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time 2016, listening to Jesus offer a rather grim description of events to come. In fact, approximately 30 years later, the Roman Empire did as Our Lord foretold. The great Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed, and the Chosen People were driven out of Jerusalem, were forced to abandon the Promised Land. But, the passage also applies to things STILL to come.

A little over a year ago, three of the greatest minds of our times, Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and Bill Gates joined other scientists and engineers at an international conference held in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The purpose of the gathering was to discuss rising concerns among many in the scientific community over what is referred to as “artificial intelligence.” Basically, what they were discussing was computer technology, especially as it is used in warfare. Many people might not know this, but there have been recent advances in research and development in the area of “autonomous and self-aware robots.” It is hoped that these machines will eventually take the place of human soldiers on the battlefield. In an open letter, the participants in the meeting express their belief that artificial intelligence has the potential to become more dangerous than atomic weapons. The concern centers on “the ethical dilemma of bestowing moral responsibilities on robots.”

It is interesting to consider that, in addition to his concerns about “artificial intelligence,” Hawking warns about the very human tendency toward aggressive behavior. He has been quoted as saying: The human failing that I would most like to correct is aggression. It may have had survival advantage in caveman days, to get more food, territory, or partner with whom to reproduce, but now it threatens to destroy us all. Unfortunately, while science and technology might well find ways to monitor and control artificial intelligence so that it is only used for the good of humankind…there is no way of eliminating aggressive behavior. It is a consequence of the original sin. Not even Stephen Hawking can “fix us.” Only God can!

In her book, “Love Unknown,” Carmelite nun Sr. Ruth Burrows writes: The more highly developed a people, the wider their knowledge and ability to control worldly factors, the greater the danger. Science and spirituality seem to intersect here. We still harbor the aggressive nature of “cavemen,” except now, the weapons of choice are not sticks and stones. We have indeed advanced to the point that we have the means to destroy the entire planet. Even our children know this. This reality makes a great case for hopelessness…which, in turn, fuels aggression.

Sr. Ruth Burrows and all people of faith share the concern for the planet and for humanity that brought the greatest minds of our times to a meeting in Argentina. While few enjoy the same depth of scientific knowledge as those in attendance, many have been gifted with spiritual wisdom that brings with it the ability to see beyond the edge of the universe…beyond time…and into Eternity.

Christians should not fall victim to hopelessness, even in the darkest of times, because we know that “time” and the “material world” were never meant to go on without end. Even most scientists agree that our universe is moving…unfolding…evolving. What WE KNOW (which they might not) is that the direction we are moving in…is TOWARDS CHRIST!

Christ is The Beginning and The End…The Alpha and the Omega.

When the Risen Christ returns in glory, He will usher in The Reign of God. From that point forward and for all eternity, there will be no more aggression, war, hunger, envy, injustice, or hatred. It is God’s plan to destroy all that is CONTRARY TO GOODNESS, PEACE, AND LOVE! It is God’s will that all The Chosen dwell in harmony in the New Jerusalem…in the promised land that can never again be invaded or destroyed.

The exact cause or the nature of “the end” might be something we talk about and speculate over. But for people of faith, it should be of little consequence and certainly nothing to worry about. What comes after “the end” should be foremost on our minds and anxiously awaited. What comes “after” is what we celebrate next weekend…CHRIST THE KING!

The Feast Christ the King
LK 23:35-43
November 20, 2016

A friend gave me a gift. It is intended to hang on a wall as a decoration. It is a miniature deer mount. It is shiny chrome. I like it. But, it is a mere image of a real deer head, preserved and hanging as a trophy from a successful hunt. That’s a really beautiful thing…although the living animal in the wild is what is most beautiful. My gift is eye-catching, it fills a space, and it is a reminder of something much more authentic and real…but that is all it is…a reminder…a space-filler…a decoration. It is the mere suggestion of majestic, wild game roaming free in the woods, and the thrill that hunters know when they bring home their prize.

I remember asking my friend what made her think to give me such a gift. She answered: “Oh, they are very popular in home decor catalogues right now…you see all kinds of these. They are the rage.” In fact, I now have a small collection of these faux trophies. Something possessed me to buy one as a companion to the first. Another friend saw and admired the pair, and when Christmas came along, I was the proud owner of a third. Eventually, I acquired a little “trophy room.” But, in truth, there is no pride or admiration to be had in this room. There is evidence of shopping skills and generosity, but not marksmanship.

For many generations after being settled in the Promised Land, The Chosen People were ruled by leaders known as “Judges.” They were not elected, and this was not a hereditary title passed on through a family. Judges were appointed by God. When Israel would rebel against God’s will and God’s way, they would encounter disasters. When they repented, God would send a Judge to deliver them from whatever oppressed them, quite often a neighboring pagan nation.

With time and exposure to pagan ways, Israel became infatuated with the idea of being governed by a king. Like my shiny deer mount, hereditary monarchs and the glitz and glamour and even intrigue of court life appealed to them. Royalty was…and for many centuries remained…”the rage.” And so, Israel begged to be like other nations. They wanted a king. Samuel, the last in the line of Judges, was distraught. But God told him: “Grant the people’s every request. It is not you they reject. They are rejecting me as their king. But at the same time, warn them.” I Sam 8:6

Samuel did describe what life under a monarch would be like. But the people ignored the warning and persisted in their demand for a king. This is a classic example of the old adage: Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it. They got their king.

The story of the brief monarchy is checkered at best. Even David and Solomon had their shortcomings. Solomon, for example, was still humble enough when he took the throne to acknowledge his faults and recognize the dangers of power. He prayed that God would give him wisdom so that he could be a wise and just king. God listened to his prayer and gave Solomon what he needed to be a good shepherd. But Solomon did not rely exclusively on God’s counsel. He allowed himself to be influenced by others, including pagans. He gave in to his own appetites and greed. He even fell into the grave sin of public idolatry.

In the history of Israel…the first part of the story of salvation…the Kings were certainly decorative and they filled space while the people waited for the Messiah. We remember the good things they accomplished, and most often, overlook their shortcomings. In fact, when all was said and done, they fell short of the authentic and real leadership of the patriarchs called by God to protect, teach, and guide the Chosen People. What pride or admiration was to be had from the decisions made in their throne rooms was blemished by human weakness. Possibly the most destructive result of the longed-for monarchy was that it gave the people a false and unreal image of what a king should be. And so when God the Father sent The Son into the world to initiate a new reign…The Kingdom of God…THE PEOPLE DID NOT RECOGNIZE HIM FOR WHO HE WAS!

From His humble birth to His humiliating death, Jesus was the exact opposite of the image of a civil leader. There was no pomp and circumstance, only a gentle and loving Shepherd who “smelled like His sheep.” (Pope Francis) There were no military drills or buildup of armaments; rather a call for unity and peace. There was no royal court or cabinet. Jesus was surrounded by a rag tag band of fishermen, tax collectors, and public sinners. Jesus was in no way, shape, or form what the people expected from a king. The people rejected Jesus. His crown was thorns, and His throne The Cross.

What Christ’s Kingship does have in common with worldly monarchs is the right of succession. Through our Baptisms, we are called to share in what we celebrate today…Christ’s dominion and the Reign of God. When confirmed, we are anointed like queens and kings, only we are anointed with the Holy Spirit and become part of a royal priesthood ordained to serve all, especially those in greatest need. Like the patriarchs and matriarchs, the prophets and judges, we have been chosen by God to show the rest of humankind how to live in harmony and peace. To insure that we are up to that enormous task, we are invited to a banquet unimaginably more important than any state dinner. We are guests at the Eucharist, where we first hear God’s Eternal Word that defines our mission. And then we are nourished by the Bread from Heaven and The Cup of our Salvation so that we have the strength to carry out our ministry…telling the whole world that Soon, very soon, we are going to see the King! Then our ending will be like our beginning…Christ!

Monarchs, dictators, prime ministers, and presidents come and go…but Christ is the Eternal King!

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