Journal Archive 2017 CYCLE A

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First Sunday of Advent
MT 24:37-44
November 27, 2016

The division within our country can’t be denied. LET US PRAY for a spirit of empathy, so that Americans at least attempt to see what makes “the other side tick.” That might be the best way to start the healing process…empathy!

More painful to me, however, is what appears to be a growing and increasing public division within the Roman Catholic Church. There is a certain element within our Church, particularly here in the U.S., that is gravely concerned by implications to be found in Laudato si, the Holy Father’s second papal encyclical, and Amoris laetitia, the post-synodal exhortation by Pope Francis. The critics appear to come from a position of legalism, fearing the Holy Father’s tone is often too lenient. There are also negative comments floating around such things as His ecumenical efforts as well as his reluctance to “judge” those who some feel should be condemned…marginalized…excluded.

All this is somewhat ironic since the “legalist critics” of Francis seem to be overlooking Canon Law, which provides that the Bishop of Rome (currently Pope Francis) has supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary jurisdiction. In the not too distant past, this power has been used to silence opposition. At least at this point, the Holy Father has not taken repressive action. Hopefully, he will remain pastoral and patient. Whether in the civil arena or within the Church, efforts to bury opposition often prove to root it deep and firm within good soil, where it thrives. This does not lead to resolution, but continues the conflict.

These are certainly turbulent and unsettling times. The protests, the demonstrations, the violence and terror, the wars…even the climate and natural disasters fuel the argument of “survivalists” that humanity is …as the song form the ‘60’s goes…on the eve of destruction. Our Second Reading doesn’t help lighten the mood. Paul warns the Romans: The night is advanced, the day is at hand. This is not a good way to begin a new liturgical year!

It might enhance the joyful spirit of Advent to skip ahead and consider how Paul continues his letter. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! (Romans 15:4-13)

In order to “think in harmony,” isn’t it necessary to listen to one another? “To think in harmony,” don’t we have to try to get into…rather than under… each other’s skin? That is certainly what God has done through Jesus. The Divine has taken on human skin, and, in turn, has asked us to do the same…put on the Lord Jesus Christ! (Romans 13:14)

If we begin this new year with a new wardrobe and wear Christ to work, to school, to parish meetings, to family gatherings, then the day might come when two people with conflicting opinions might come to really empathize with one another, even as The Creator, through Jesus, empathized with human nature. The opinion that supports tender mercy and loving kindness (the Divine attributes) will be taken up…and the other left behind. As we begin the Season of Advent, LET US PRAY FOR A SPIRIT OF EMPATHY. Our survival depends on it!

Second Sunday of Advent
MT 3:1-12
December 4, 2016

We began the Advent Season last weekend with a set of Readings that, when proclaimed against the backdrop of the current state of world affairs, raised the need for humankind to start listening…and empathizing with one another. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the target of an especially harsh greeting by John the Baptist, directed towards “many of the Pharisees and Sadducees” who were coming to him for baptism. The negative spotlight he directed at them would be enough to make any self–respecting person turn around and go back to where they came from. This might be the exact reason why John called them A brood of vipers, trying to escape the wrath of God.

By way of background, both were sects of Judaism that were not unlike contemporary political parties. Both had a “vision” as to how things should operate and pushed their agendas. The Sadducees were the “conservatives.” They opposed change in the religious/political order. This is understandable in that they were the “1%.” They distinguished themselves, in particular, by rejecting the resurrection of the dead. Of course, by denying an afterlife, this group of privileged and powerful aristocrats relieved themselves of the fear of punishment for their sins. Unburdened by a concern for judgment day, they basically could live the good life without thought of consequences.

By contrast, the Pharisees were not from the “priestly class.” Today, we would call them “laity.” Since they were much more open-minded than the folks on the other side of the aisle, they were given both to study and to the possibility of change. Still, like their counterparts, they suffered the scorn of The Baptist as well as Jesus. The Lord often greeted members of both sects with the words…Woe to you hypocrites!

For one thing, both made their living off of the Temple economy. In short, their lifestyles were supported by the contributions of the faithful…often “the widow’s mite.” Moreover, in the Gospel, reports of their various interactions with Jesus, it does not seem that they were interested in listening to, or empathizing with, either Him or any of the poor, downtrodden, marginalized common folk that gathered around Him. Accordingly, when they presented themselves for John’s baptism by water, he challenged their motives. Were they mingling with truly repentant sinners simply for the publicity? Were they sincerely seeking forgiveness of their sins? Did they come with the intention of changing their ways? Or would they submit to the ritual bath and then simply turn around and go back to where they came from?

Regardless of their intentions, they serve a purpose. They help us to understand the distinction between John’s ritual bath and Jesus’s Baptism with Fire and the Holy Spirit. If they truly understood what The Lord’s Baptism was all about, regardless of how good the publicity might be, it is doubtful that they would submit.

Baptism in the Holy Spirit means dying to one’s self and rising again with Christ to a new life in the Spirit. It is literally a spiritual re-birth. As a “new creation,” those Baptized in the Spirit are called to walk as children of the Light…the Light of Christ, that is.

So then, as we begin the second week of this Advent Season, it might be good to ask ourselves whether we truly understand what Baptism by Fire and the Holy Spirit is all about. Would we willingly make a conscious choice to “put on Christ” and walk “The Way” if we fully understood that it involves personal sacrifice? Would we come to the Living Waters if we comprehended the fact that baptism is a “call to action”? Would we want to have our babies baptized if we sincerely appreciated that Christian disciples are called to be agents of change…committed to take the action necessary to build the Kingdom of God according to the plans laid out in the Gospel?

At first glance, this examination of conscience might seem more appropriate to the penitential season of Lent than the joyful season of Advent. But, in fact, those Baptized in Christ are called to share the mission and ministry of the brilliant Advent figure…John the Baptist!

We are called to PREPARE THE WAY OF THE LORD! We do this by living out our baptism…Baptism by Fire and The Holy Spirit!

Third Sunday of Advent
MT 11:2-11
December 11, 2016

People who are not grounded in faith consider the Bible to be “ancient literature.” Those who cannot bring themselves to embrace a relationship with our God often regard Sacred Scripture as frozen in time and useful only to provide insight into what people believed and the moral code they tried to live by many centuries ago. In fact, many believers, as well, come to God’s Word with the sense that it is “written in stone.” For some unfortunate reason, many fail to appreciate that God’s Word is alive. While the core truths which it delivers from The Source of all life and love are unchanging, God has a fresh, new message for each person, each and every day, when we only take the time to listen. God’s Word is ALIVE!

In a culture that amplifies every sound and demands “real-time news,” it is important to understand that God’s Living Word isn’t always broadcast with the speed of Twitter or Instagram; nor does God always intend that a particular message spread far and wide like something that goes viral on Facebook.

Our Second Reading is helpful in understanding the mystery and miracle of Scripture. Oftentimes, the message intended for a certain period in salvation history, or for a particular faith community or parish or family or individual, is like a seed that is planted but must be nourished and nurtured and allowed to grow before blossoming. This is to say that if we want to randomly turn to a page in the Gospel in the hope of finding the information we are searching for, we will often be disappointed. GOD IS NOT GOOGLE!

We should come to God’s Word with the spirit of patience and the willingness to bear hardship that we see in the lives of the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. This was even the case when, in the most dramatic, powerful, and unrepeatable of ways, God showed that His Word is alive. The Incarnation…Jesus…God’s Eternal Word made flesh walked among us to bring a message of peace, joy, hope, and love and was almost subtle in His delivery. Jesus, God’s Living Word, was delicately complex and understated.

Certainly, vision was given to the blind and the lame began to walk. Lepers were returned to their families and communities having been healed. Possibly the most significant reaction to God’s Living Word was the noticeable change in the poor and downtrodden. They began to stand taller and walk with a more determined step. Those who took the time to hear responded to Jesus with hope.

But, these things, while highly significant, were delicate ways of proclaiming the Reign of God. There was no news conference with a declaration or proclamation. Even John the Baptist, who, still in the womb, recognized the unborn Jesus as The Messiah, required confirmation. Sometimes, God’s Word is that difficult to comprehend. It takes patience, persistence, hard work, and even hardship to fully embrace what God is telling us at any given time in history, or even in our own lives.

There is no better example of Jesus’s subdued way of delivering God’s message than in the Gospel proclaimed on this Gaudete Sunday…the 3rd Sunday of the Advent Season. Rather than making some grandiose claim to the title that rightly belonged to Him…Messiah, The Christ…Jesus simply responds to The Baptist’s request for proof of identity by saying: Tell him what you see….what you hear. Explain how people are reacting!

But then, The Lord goes on, in the most sweeping of terms, to bestow a title on John the Baptist. AMONG THOSE BORN OF WOMEN, THERE HAS BEEN NONE GREATER!

You can hardly hope to top that. One would think.

But, in the very same breath, Jesus does just that. He goes on to say…in a not so subtle way….yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. Put those statements side by side and we get back to the fact that The Word of God is subtle…sometimes difficult to perceive or understand…requiring spiritual acuity and discernment. In other words, to understand Jesus’s role in salvation history, we need to understand John’s role, which, in turn, enables us to begin to see what is expected of us.

Jesus is God’s Word Who took flesh to walk among us in order to announce that God’s Reign had begun, and, at the proper time, Christ will once again break into human history to proclaim God’s Reign in its fullness. But, during the “in-between times” that we live in, The Lord has made room for us to continue the work. As great as John might have been in preparing the way for the Lord, in our own way, we are just as important.

Think of just how important we are…The Son of God moved aside to give us the opportunity to bring God’s Word to life for our brothers and sisters, whether or not they are believers. In this hi-tech age, it’s not unusual to use Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to share the Good News. In fact, I am doing that as I complete this very thought.

However, it seems that the most effective way to bring God’s Word to Life is subtly…delicately…without triumphal proclamations or great pomp and circumstance. Don’t you think, possibly, the best way to share the Good News and to bring God’s Eternal Word to life is by following Jesus’s example and by LIVING IT and letting the rest of the world hear and learn through our example? And the best part is…there’s no need to wear camel hair and survive on a diet of grasshoppers and honey. All we need to do to get the Advent work done is PUT ON CHRIST!

Fourth Sunday of Advent
MT 1:18-24
December 18, 2016

I celebrated a birthday last Sunday. It wasn’t a big one…but close…very, very close to a BIG one. Ironically, the day before, my favorite news source decided to make a big deal over the fact that the life expectancy in the U.S. had dropped for the first time in many years. Granted, it was just a fraction of a year. Still, it is moving in the wrong direction.

So I noticed that over the following day or two, I spent some extended time mirror gazing. I thought back over family history, taking some comfort in the fact that Mom is almost 92… stressing a bit about an uncle who died at 62. I even took my blood pressure. None of these things were bad in and of themselves. But as I began my reflection on the Readings for this final Sunday in Advent, it occurred to me that I had been hunting “for signs”. We all do it…look for signs…and then try to interpret them.

Our First Reading introduces a person who stands out …not only because he is not out looking for signs…but actually brushes aside God’s offer to guide him. He seems to think it will cause God too much trouble. Or, that it makes God mad to be constantly bombarded with requests of “signs”. Scripture scholars, however, debate his real motives. Some think Ahaz preferred not do things his own way rather than enjoying directions from above. This passage is especially fitting to our final week of Advent because, in spite of Ahaz’s attitude, and no matter what his motivate might have been, God described a sign that would be timeless… guiding, consoling and bringing peace and hope to those wise enough to notice.

The virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and you shall name him Emmanuel!

The thing about signs is this. We might well be on the lookout for them, but more often than not, pass them right by. All too often we are blind to them. Or, we do not properly read them. It’s not unusual to willfully ignore signs, or deny the warning they bring. Yellow lights, blood sugar levels, credit card balances, uncommunicative teenagers… the list goes on and on of signs that go unheeded. Eventually, however, whether or not we are wise enough to read and react to them, good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant, the prediction of an authentic sign becomes reality.

And so it was with “The Sign” God sent through Isaiah. A child was conceived by the Holy Spirit, to a Virgin who has been pre-sanctified, so as to be a worthy tabernacle for The Eternal Word Who was to take flesh and walk among us. As the story of salvation unfolded, most were oblivious. Some in a murderous rage tried to prevent the prophecy from becoming reality. Others could not bring themselves to believe or to understand. A few responded to the signs that took different forms: a dream, a choir of angelic voices, a star rising in the east.

And so something began in a cave in Bethlehem which continues to reveal God’s plan to us to this present day. The only thing that has changed is that WE ARE THE SIGNS that Christ our Savior is born. We have been given “a dream” of a world of peace, justice and love. But it doesn’t come to us in our sleep. Rather it is intended to be lived out through us, during our waking hours, so that others can share the Good News!

There is still a choir singing…but those voices are not angelic. We are the voices that sing of the truth that God’s promise has been fulfilled with the birth of the Christ Child. And even as we sing GLORIA! we also sing… SOON AND VERY SOON WE ARE GOING TO SEE THE KING. We sing of that day when the Risen Christ will return in glory.

We don’t follow a star. We follow the Light of Christ, and we carry that Light with us into a darkness that is defeated each and every time we forgive someone…help someone in need…welcome the stranger in our midst…heal someone who is suffering or share the hope that have been placed within our hearts through the birth of Jesus Christ, God’s most perfect sign and assurance that every story has a happy ending!

The Nativity Of The Lord
MT 1:1-25
December 25, 2016

Most people have a very special “Christmas memory” from years gone by. Maybe we treasure the year we were snowed in and had no choice but to enjoy a simple celebration at home with our family. For some, there is the memory of foregoing gift exchange, and, instead, traveling to Hawaii for a family Christmas vacation. Floating in the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean on Christmas Day is certainly a memory to hold onto! There are very often engagement rings unwrapped by the light of the Christmas tree; a moment not to be forgotten by the giver or the receiver.

While I have many special Christmas memories, a lot of them from my parish ministry, there is one that I think has enlightened all of the others. My memory is not of something that happened on December 24/25. In fact, my special Christmas memory tracks back to a hot summer evening. It is not something that happened with family, or in church, or as part of my ministry. Still, it is at the top of the list of my best memories.

In hopes of beating the heat, a friend and I decided to go to a “Christmas in July” offering at a local planetarium. We weren’t certain what to expect. We were simply hoping for an hour or two in free air-conditioning. From the moment we entered the small, round room with the high-domed ceiling, we knew we had made a good choice. It was actually chilly; and, it was a bit like being in church. Everyone gathered for the presentation sat quietly or were whispering to the people around them in hushed tones.

At the appointed time, a man with a “professorial air” about him came in and explained that he was going to display the night sky above our heads, and with the help of the star-making machine in the center of the room, and, of course, relying on science, replicate the night sky that hovered above Bethlehem on a winter’s night about 2000 years ago. With that, he plunged us into total darkness.

After our eyes were somewhat adjusted, we heard the “whir” of the star-making machine. In an instant, the dome of the small, round room was transformed into a brilliant, clear night sky. The professor of astronomy then began to orient us by using a laser pointer to indicate this planet and that galaxy. Once, we had a sense of the fact that, through science and technology, he had transported us to another time and place.

He began to explain the phenomena of what we Christians know as the Christmas star…the star that the three Magi saw rising in the East…the star that guided them to the place where they encountered Mary and Joseph and the child Jesus in Mary’s arms. The lecture was certainly not religious, but neither was the professor critical of what is reported in the Gospels. He simply described how astronomy was able to confirm that a celestial event occurred at a specific time and place. Through the technology of a planetarium, he was able to replicate the experience for us on a sweltering July evening.

Sitting in a comfortable chair in a cool, dark room, looking up into the replication of a long ago night sky was, for me, a very special Christmas memory. It made me feel like I was there. It helped me enter more deeply into the sacred mystery of how all creation responds to God’s will and helps to make God’s plans reality. That lecture in astronomy was as enlightening, possibly even more so, than a theology lecture. Watching a brilliant globe of dazzling light rise in the east and make its way across the night sky was a profound and very moving experience.

The “whir” of the star machine faded into the background. What I was hearing, not with my ears but with my heart, was the heavenly choir singing Glory to God in the highest and on Earth peace to those on whom God’s favor rests! I could smell farm animals and straw; obviously not with my nose, but through the power of creative religious imagination. I became less interested in the scientific explanation and simply enjoyed the spiritual experience of being there…in Bethlehem…under the magnificent light of the Christmas Star that shone in a dark, cool, round room. That summer night, I truly paid homage to the child born to the Virgin named Mary!

The take-away from that very special “Christmas in July” memory?

Being snowbound with loved ones can be very joyful. But, we are always time-bound with all of humanity that lives on this small little planet Earth with us. And while we share time…we should strive every day of the year to share as well the message the shepherds were privileged to hear: Do not be afraid, for behold, I proclaim GOOD NEWS of great joy that will be for all the people. A savior has been born for you Who is Messiah and Lord!

Beautiful beaches and warm tropical waters are certainly something to enjoy. But the heavens are telling the glory of God, and all of creation is shouting for joy! Nature is one of God’s ways of revealing Divine power and the loving care our Creator offers each of us. The entire universe is constantly proclaiming God’s love; all the time moving towards that day when Christ’s glory will, once again, fill the dark sky. We, in turn, must care for this great gift…the gift that proclaims the wonder and glory of God!

The giving and receiving of gifts is the thing that special Christmas memories are made of…especially engagement rings. But, on that Holy Night in Bethlehem…God made a proposal to all people of all ages…I will be your God if you will be my people! God has been unfailing in His commitment to this relationship; we should strive to be, as well, and not just on Christmas.

May God grant you a very special Christmas memory each and every day of the coming year, together with the wisdom to accept, treasure, and share the experience.

Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
LK 2:16-21
January 1, 2017

I was talking with a parent who has concerns about the direction the life of an adult child is taking. After listening to the details, I could well appreciate why my friend was so distressed. I commented that “parenting” is definitely the most challenging vocation to live out. My friend nodded and replied: A parent can only be as happy as their unhappiest child…and so I’m pretty unhappy right now.

The Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, celebrated just seven days after the joyful feast of The Nativity of the Lord, seems to be the perfect way to keep up the thrill and excitement of the season. For example, there is a choice between two antiphons to begin the Mass.

Hail, Holy Mother, who gave birth to the King,
Who rules heaven and earth forever.

Or:

Today a light will shine upon us, for
The Lord is born for us; and He will be called
Wondrous God, Prince of peace,
Father of future ages: and His reign will be
without end.

Either is entirely fitting to this Season of joy and hope. Through the extraordinary cooperation of Mary, and with the critical support of Joseph, God’s promise of old was fulfilled. Our Savior came into the world. While the secular world continues “the party” Christians rightly hold on to the sense of triumph, knowing that God’s Eternal Word has taken flesh to walk among us. The victory over darkness and sin is something we want to savor. And we do by gathering again, in honor of the Blessed Mother, singing the same songs, continuing to enjoy the poinsettias and beautifully decorated trees. We might even linger in church for a few moments, and do what the Shepherds and Magi did; pay homage the Christ child lying in a bed of straw.

Standing before the crèche, our eyes might wander up to the serene look on the face of the statue of the young woman. But I wonder if that look of wonder and awe that artists strive for in paintings and statues might mask The Blessed Mother’s deepest feelings. When Mary is mentioned in the Gospels, our attention is not directed to the expression on her face. Rather, we are drawn to her heart.

As we celebrate The Blessed Mother today, we most certainly remember the cosmic impact of her willing acceptance of God invitation. But at the same time, we should make an effort to gaze into her heart. The Immaculate Heart of Mary was the living vault into which she carefully secured every detail about the life and mission of The Messiah. From the moment the Angel visited her, to that morning when she stood gazing up into the heavens as her Divine Son, returned to where He had come from, her heart was constantly flooded with an entire range of emotions.

The first words spoken by the angel were: “Do not be afraid Mary!” Still, many occasions followed that unexpected visit when she must have been absolutely terrified. She had to disclose her pregnancy to her intended. They had to travel to a little village far from home and family as her time drew near to deliver the Christ child. And then, in utter terror at the bloody rampage of the murderous King Herod, they fled for their lives to Egypt. After re-settling in Nazareth, she endured the horror of being separated from Jesus, Who had remained behind in the Temple after a family pilgrimage to the Holy City. Years latter, she stood by and looked on as their entire village turned on her Son, driving Him out and threatening to push Him over a cliff. She must have been continually looking over her shoulder each and every time Jesus was confronted and challenged by religious leaders, too vein and foolish to comprehend that they were debating and challenging God’s Son. Still, nothing could compare to the raw emotions that tore her heart apart as she followed Jesus to Calvary on Good Friday.

All of this misery was stored within her heart, mingled with and tempered by the pride of watching Him grow in strength and wisdom. Her heart must have burst with joy as she looked on as He miraculously fed a famished crowd…nourishing their bodies with bread and fish, and their spirits with The Good News! There is no word to capture what The Blessed Mother felt when she first looked upon the Risen Christ.

As a loving parent, Mary could only be as happy as Her Divine Son, when He was unhappy…and there were times when the Lord was definitely unhappy. Repeatedly, He was moved with compassion and pity as he encountered the sick and suffering. He wept with those grieving the loss of a loved one. He was saddened by the cruel and unforgiving way people treat one another. He was outraged by the manner in which His Father’s House was used as a place of business. Mary felt all of this pain and took it into her heart.

But at the same time, as a good and loving parent, Mary’s heart was overflowing with the joy that Jesus experienced by walking this earth and encountering us…God’s most excellent creatures. Because in spite of our failings, we do bring God great joy.

All of this is what we celebrate, when we set aside a day of the Christmas Season to honor the Blessed Mother; her Immaculate Heart a tapestry of sorrow, joy and glory.

We live in very troubled times. As we begin this new year, it’s very important that we keep all of these things we know about the Blessed Mother in our hearts. As we await the joys we hope for, and weather the unavoidable sorrows that the next 365 days will bring, we will find comfort in the angelic message that sustained Mary: Do not be afraid…you have found favor with God.

Happy New Year!

Epiphany of the Lord
MT 2:1-12
January 8, 2017

I did something this week that I have never done before. I woke up from a very disturbing dream, ran right past the coffee pot, skipped morning prayer, sat down at the computer, and began to write it down while it was still fresh. I will spare you all the gory details and simply tell you that I was asked at the last minute to “substitute” for the pastor of a great cathedral in a large city far from home. In my dream, I was extremely nervous to the point that I was tempted to decline. But it seemed there was no choice; I had to go. So, I began to work feverishly on the homily that I would deliver during the liturgy. Although I wasn’t totally satisfied, as I rushed…of all things…catch a bus to travel the long distance to this great cathedral, I had an idea of how to “break open God’s Word” for the faithful who would be gathered for this very solemn event.

The entire trip, I continued to work on the homily, struggling to concentrate. When I got off the bus and walked into the enormous, poorly lit, shadowy stone church, I encountered total chaos. There were hundreds of choir members, and, rather than rehearsing, they were arguing about the music choices. Very scary! In my dream, there was an entire symphony orchestra, clearly not prepared to play for Sacred Liturgy. I tried to motivate them but wasn’t successful. Florists were scurrying around with potted plants, trying to prepare a beautiful environment, but it was still a big, dark, stone building.

Overwhelmed by the total lack of organization, the nerves I felt early on in the nightmare escalated into sheer panic. I struggled to wake up. But I just kept dreaming. The most agonizing part of the bad dream was that there was so much confusion and chaos, I couldn’t concentrate on the message I hoped to deliver.

Then I heard the opening hymn. With a sense of urgency, I searched for a private place to change into my clerical clothes and vestments. I opened my suitcase, and a shock went through my entire body…it was empty! Somehow, I had neglected to pack any of the trappings of priesthood. Now, you would think this would be the moment that I woke up SCREAMING. I didn’t. The dream held on to me. Alone, I walked out into the brightly lit sanctuary, wearing flip-flops, cut offs, and an old golf shirt. I looked like the gardener, not the presider. There was a communal gasp!

The gasp turned to angry grumbling and cat calls. Many of the well dressed, elegant people simply got up and left. I still could not break free from the dream. In my dream, I actually began the Mass. Things became quiet, and someplace in my subconscious, the terror of the nightmare began to recede and I started to calm down. I was no longer willing myself to wake up. My dream carried me to the ambo, where I began to proclaim a passage from Matthew’s Gospel: I give praise to You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although You have hidden these things from the wise and the learned, You have revealed them to the child-like.

With that, I woke up!

I didn’t wake screaming. I woke up smiling and with a sense of peace and joy…even excitement. I think maybe I dreamed my own special “epiphany.” I don’t want to play Sigmund Freud and interpret my bad dream/good dream, but I suspect that throughout Advent and Christmas, I have been so focused in prayer, reflection, and homily preparation on the mystery of the Incarnation, that the Sacred Mystery filled my mind and was absorbed into my dream. The result, as the Season comes to its conclusion, was my own special “manifestation” of what God has done for us through the birth of Jesus Christ.

God called upon Jesus to bring the Eternal Word into the world; a message of Peace, Joy and Love! Jesus could not decline. But, upon entering time, He found the world to be a place of unimaginable confusion and chaos, so much so that The Lord’s mission was constantly being challenged, even threatened. Jesus had to struggle to stay focused on what He was about and the message He was to deliver. Making matters even more complicated, the Messiah arrived, looking nothing like what was expected.

The “wise and learned” that surrounded the evil Herod were anticipating the arrival of an earthly emperor. Misguided by the image of Caesar, they were looking for a military leader who claimed to be divine, who, ruling with absolute power, would make Israel great again.

The Magi, also “wise and learned,” came at the mystery of the Incarnation from a different direction. Unaffected by the attempted influence of Herod or the worldly expectations of what the Messiah would look like, they followed the star with open minds and open hearts. Their “child-like innocence” protected them as they embarked on their search. Their wisdom and goodness enabled them to recognize The Christ child, lying in the straw-lined manger, for Who He was…The Son Who is given to us…Wonder –Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace…Whose dominion is vast and forever peaceful. Prepared with appropriate gifts, they laid the gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the side and offered something far more appropriate. They humbled themselves before The King of Kings!

And they felt radiant at what they saw…their hearts throbbing and overflowing, filled with peace, joy, love, and excitement. They returned home “a different way.” They returned home with a new dream! They left their encounter with the Christ-child filled with a dream of how all people from all nations can live together in peace, joy, and love, confident that their Christ-dreams can be reality to those who strive to live with child-like hearts.

Pleasant dreams to you! May each of you experience a personal epiphany!

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
JN 1:29-34
January 15, 2016

The calendar doesn’t always cooperate with the telling of The Story of Salvation. We celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany this past Sunday, and so our Gospel Readings during the Christmas Season were proclaimed in chronological order. That’s a good thing.

But this year, we missed the opportunity to celebrate the Feast of The Baptism of the Lord together at a Sunday liturgy. That’s not a good thing. It is an extremely important chapter in The Story of Salvation. Church historians tell us that the dramatic events in the Jordan River reported by Mark, Matthew, and Luke were considered by early Christians to be more significant than Christmas.

Certainly, Jesus submitting to baptism by John marked the beginning of Jesus’s public ministry. But, possibly of even greater significance is the fact that the heavenly Voice and the descent of the Dove served to identify Jesus as the Messiah. And so, in those parishes which even offered Mass this past Monday, we marked a “Feast of Light” with only the small gathering of weekday faithful. The majority of the Church missed the opportunity to rejoice in this great Feast of Light! That’s not a good thing.

However, we embark on this period of Ordinary Time, which links the Christmas Season with Lent, proclaiming John 1:29-34. That’s a good thing, because, although John does not offer the same kind of “real-time” description which the other three Gospels present, the key elements of recognition and introduction are there. This offers us a second chance to celebrate this Feast of Light on this Second Sunday of Ordinary Time.

We live in a period of history riddled with “false news,” “hacking into personal information,” and “identity theft.” That’s not a good thing! These are methods employed by dark forces in order to mislead and deceive people. We fully comprehend the importance of credible testimony and concrete proof of identity. John’s testimony provides that. In today’s Gospel, John the Baptist reaffirms what was seen and heard on the banks of the Jordan. This is the Good News! And there is nothing false about it. It is The Way, The Truth, and The Life. Jesus is the Son of God.

Now it is our turn!

There is no need to “hack into Christ!” Through Baptism, the Lord has opened His life to us. He has freely shared His identity with us. That’s a good thing! Now, He asks that we share what we have been given. We are called to continue John’s work. Strangers to Christ should be able to recognize Him in the way we lead our lives. Those who do not know the Lord can be introduced to Him by what we say and by what we do and don’t do.

Everyone Baptized in Christ somehow authors a chapter in Salvation history. Some chapters are very short, maybe only a few lines…others are very lengthy. That’s a good thing!

During Advent, we “prepared.” During Christmas, we “celebrated.” Now it is Ordinary Time, and we “live it!”

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 4:12-23
January 22, 2017

Marveling at the fact that we are already nearing the end of January, a friend explained that each year, he experiences a real “low point” after Christmas. Who doesn’t? There is a sense of loss in leaving behind the joy of the Christmas Season. Our rooms look so bare when the tree is taken down and all of the decorations stored away. Even food becomes more routine. The feasting is over. The days might be getting longer, but we don’t seem to notice the extra light. It is “back to business.”

The same holds true with our Readings.

We begin the Liturgical year with Advent, a season of preparation. The all too short Christmas Season is a continuous celebration of God’s Eternal Word having taken flesh and come to live and work among us. And that’s what we see in these Sundays of Ordinary Time which link the Christmas Season to Lent. Jesus…God’s Eternal Word…getting down to business, the first order of business being the recruitment of helpers.(Matt. 4:12-23)

As for the work, basically, it is to continue what John the Baptist, now in prison, is no longer able to do…call people to REPENT!

For many, that’s not a welcome message. It implies we have done something wrong. From the time of the first parents, human nature has shown a strong resistance to admitting guilt. But, denial is nothing more than a kind of darkness that leaves the offender blind to reality, while just about everyone else can see things for what they are.

REPENTANCE might be a little easier to embrace if we allow ourselves to look past the discomfort, shame, and even embarrassment of acknowledging our shortcomings. When we focus on what comes after REPENTANCE, we see that it’s entirely possible to recover something that we thought was lost. REPENTANCE brings with it the ability to rise above the “low points” of life and resume the celebration. When we do some much needed spiritual house cleaning, we are better able to see and appreciate how full our lives have been all along. Once the clutter is removed…we can enjoy how God’s love fills our lives with beautiful things, things that were never lost, only hidden from our view. REPENTANCE is like taking off dark glasses, opening us to the warmth and healing rays of the Light of Christ, a Light that never grows dim. REPENTANCE enables us to worthily approach the Eucharist…a spiritual banquet that never becomes routine.

Jesus recruited Peter, James, and John to help with “the work.” I suspect that they left more than their boats and fishing nets behind as they set out on the great adventure of following The Lord! I suspect that they left behind all of those things that made them less than God created them to be. If we make every effort to do that…leave behind those things that prevent us from being all God created us to be…then we can make Ordinary Time as joy-filled as Christmas. And, by our example, we can show others how to walk in The Light. Let’s get busy!

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 5:1-12A
January 29, 2017

In our First Reading, the Prophet Zephaniah depicts “the law” as a kind of shelter for the righteous. This makes sense. If you remain within “the law,” you are safe and protected…or at least you should be. When you step outside of “the law,” you put yourself at risk. The problem today is that “the law” seems to be in a state of flux. The trend these days seems to be towards rolling back, repealing, and abolishing various policies and laws. Some feel that certain laws, as they exist, are not effective. In other words, the vision the drafters had in mind has not become reality. And that may well be the case. But still, changes in our laws and policies can be confusing. It makes it difficult to find dependable shelter when laws keep changing.

Presently, in the USA, there are a number of laws and policies being debated, reconsidered, and re-evaluated. Some will fall, some will stand, and some will be modified. Even within our Church, there is palatable tension, if not about “the law” as written, then about how it should be interpreted or administered, especially in “the penalty phase.” Pope Francis’s teaching letter , is the target of harsh criticism from some well-respected Church leaders because of its pastoral tone. How sad that is! And so, it would seem that our Gospel on this 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time is particularly relevant to today’s world.

When people charged Him with trying to abolish “The Law,” Jesus was very clear that He had not come to abolish or repeal EVEN SO MUCH AS ONE LETTER of the law. Nevertheless, through “The Beatitudes,” the Lord seems to be “rolling back” the enormous and burdensome policies, that, over the generations, grew up around “The Law.” Even good laws do that. Over the years, they accumulate policies and interpretations that weigh them down and cloud the vision that inspired them in the first place. So, with the Beatitudes, Jesus seems to be rolling back those things that cloud “The Law” and make it more difficult to provide dependable shelter to the righteous.

Many, whose vision of life does not include God, have been critical of “The Beatitudes,” charging that this teaching is a way to pacify the poor, the marginalized, and the disenfranchised. They see Matt. 5:13-19 as a way of anesthetizing common folks, like St. Paul is writing to in our Second Reading….those not wise by human standards…not powerful….not of noble birth…the weak. The Godless dust away this extremely important teaching like sappy words in a greeting card. Or worse, the un-Godly use Jesus’s Words to encourage people to accept suffering…quietly.

So, it is very important to remember that “The Beatitudes” have a two-fold purpose. First, they offer us a vision of how things will be when Christ returns in all of His Glory. But, additionally, they inspire us in how we should live, here and now, while we wait for the Reign of God to come upon us in its fullness. What the Lord has given us here is a guide to form policies for the interpretation and administration of “The Law”…GOD’S LAW…THE LAW OF LOVE!

“The Beatitudes” are an instruction to lawmakers…both civil and church leaders alike…in how to offer dependable shelter for the righteous who strive to live within “The Law of Love.” Civil and Church laws alike should provide both comfort and blessing to the righteous…especially to those in greatest need.

Moreover, we, who have been baptized in Christ Jesus, have a duty to insist that “The Beatitudes” be more than a vision. Our Second Reading begins with these words: Consider your calling, brothers and sisters!

Our calling is to insist that the beatitudes are not merely a vision, but a reality, here and now! Our calling as citizens, and as members of the Body of Christ, is to push back against any law or policy or penalty that is contrary to GOD’S LAW…THE LAW OF LOVE!

And should you ask: But what can I possibly do? Take special note of St. Paul’s words: Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God.

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 5:13-16
February 5, 2017

Last week, my oldest and dearest friends invited me to join them on a short trip to Cuba. The “price was right,” so I decided to escape a few days of January weather here in Michigan to enjoy some quality time in warm sunshine with my friends. It was a short vacation, but it was also a very profound experience.

The paperwork needed to enter the country offered a heads-up to the fact that life in Cuba is much more regulated and far less casual than we are used to here in the U.S. The reception at the airport was official; some might even say “severe.” Entry was serious business, devoid of any warm welcome. I found it unnerving.

During the taxi ride into Havana, we passed through a neighborhood that the otherwise silent driver described as one of the more elegant and fashionable areas of the city prior to the revolution. He then offered the comment that when Cubans “who left” return home, “they turn their heads.” He gave the impression that these words had become an idiom to express the feelings of pain people experience when they see how formerly beautiful things have severely deteriorated.

One evening, we enjoyed fine dining at its very finest. My friends splurged and took us to a restaurant that only “the 1%” of Cubans could ever hope to patronize. As one person explained to us: “What you Americans call expensive, we Cubans call impossible.” Arriving early, we were escorted to a rooftop bar. A cool ocean breeze added to the glamorous décor and the festive atmosphere. From our vantage point, we got a view of the entire capitol city. At first glance, it was magnificent. But, it suddenly occurred to me that I was looking at a city in darkness. Even the imposing capitol building, modeled after ours, was completely dark. There are almost no streetlights in Havana. Most of the homes and even the businesses are “shuttered.” What little artificial light there is comes from a partially opened door or window, or the headlights of a passing car. When the sun sets, Havana contradicts today’s Gospel. It is literally a hidden city. A city of shadows.

The next day, in the almost blinding sunlight, we toured an enormous cathedral/convent complex dating back to the Spanish colonial times. Unlike most of the buildings from that era, these were perfectly preserved and maintained; no longer a place of worship, however. After the revolution, Castro nationalized all Church property, declaring this overwhelmingly Catholic country a bastion of Soviet style atheism. Historic churches were repurposed to things like museums and concert halls. In fact, as I walked through the nave of the cathedral, an orchestra was rehearsing. The beautiful music, for me anyway, re-sanctified the church that “the revolution” tried to de-sanctify. The government tried hard to suppress Christianity. There was an attempt to put a bushel basket over the Light of Christ. But of course, The Light of Christ cannot be extinguished. The Holy Spirit cannot be driven out of a building, a nation…or the hearts of the faithful.

Only 90 miles away from the United States, and, in spite of the fact every Cuban has a cousin in Miami (an expression used to convey the financial support that native Cubans enjoy from ex-patriots living in the U.S.), very few speak English. They have been isolated from American influences, including spoken English, for almost 60 years. The younger generation has not been taught our language. Likewise, while many Cubans still bring their children to the few churches that have reopened to be Baptized, we were told that very few practice the faith. Why would they? Like English, they have not been taught our faith. They have been estranged from the Body of Christ. They have nothing to pass on to the next generation other than the memory of Christ and our Sacraments…and desire!

Finally, a word about the Cuban people. They seemed to me to be reserved or distant. Folks on the street were not unfriendly, but neither were they engaging. There was a reference in a guidebook explaining that the isolation they have suffered for decades has left them wary of Americans. The few that did share their feelings explained just how hard life is for them. Even the more privileged wrestle with concerns over “feeding the kids.” Low wages, shortages, and deprivations across the board drain the joy out of day-to-day life. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? Possibly hope! Hope can re-season even the most desperate of lives. And it seems that the average Cuban has enjoyed an infusion of hope in recent months through the visits of President Obama and Pope Francis.

The average Cuban hopes that restoring relations with the U.S. will revitalize the extremely depressed economy, even as American business interests see a lot of potential for profit in restoring Cuba to its former glory. U.S. dollars might help to light the city…but money will not bring the Light of Christ to Havana. You can’t buy the City of God. You have to build it. And the work begins by teaching the language of the Gospel. American business interests might be looking to Cuba with an eye toward fat returns on investments, but Christians should be looking to Cuba with the hope of re-sanctifying not just buildings, but a people. Disciples are called to take the bushel basket off the lamp and place it high…on a stand. Our First Reading explains just how to do that. Live Jesus! Live charity and love! Then your light shall break forth like the dawn!

Investors might well be looking to normalize relationships in order to open new markets, but Christians should be pondering ways to reunite our estranged sisters and brothers with the Body of Christ. Our corporations might very well help to put money in the average Cuban’s pockets, but Christians should be anxious for ways to restore joy in their hearts.

I had a profound experience in Cuba that left me with a deeper understanding of and appreciation for this week’s Gospel. I saw firsthand a hidden city, efforts to extinguish The Light of Christ, and lives lived without the seasoning of joy and hope. But, it isn’t necessary to travel to Cuba to have this kind of profound experience. We drive by dark, abandoned, or repurposed churches in our own cities. As we pass by, we should not turn our heads. Instead, we should look for ways to turn the lights back on.

Many of our children are baptized, but are never taught the language of the Gospel or the traditions of our faith. It’s as if they are isolated from the Christian community that’s not 90 miles away…but right across the street from them. Parents need to be more faithful to the promises they made, first in Christian marriage, and later when they presented their children for Baptism. A greater effort needs to be made to teach our kids our faith.

And as for us, we should be eager to offer a warm…inviting welcome…without formality. When people who have left, then “return,” they should encounter Christ at the door of our churches…that haven’t been closed but have certainly been diminished. We live in a culture that is as toxic to our spiritual lives as oxygen deprivation is to a candle. We need to open ourselves to the cool, refreshing breeze of the Holy Spirit so that the flame of faith grows bright…and can push back against darkness.

We attempt to season our lives with possessions and entertaining distractions of every sort, only to find them lacking. And so, we turn to addictive distractions that rob us of our freedom and our hope. We need to reawaken our appetite for Eucharist, which is the only thing that can season our otherwise bland lives with hope and joy.

After my short trip to Cuba, I came to see our Readings this week as a call to revolution… a spiritual revolution. We are called to revolt against darkness by rekindling the fire of faith. We are challenged to place the Light of Christ above everything else in our lives, so that, as we hear in our First Reading… light shall rise for us…and from us…for those around us…and the gloom shall become like midday.

We need to revolt against anyone…and anything that tries to estrange us from Christ!

And the revolution begins with you!

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 5:17-37
February 12, 2017

It’s possible that, in the near future, there will be a wall separating the U.S. and Mexico. The mere suggestion that a wall be constructed has already divided our nation. We all know the arguments…pro and con. The concern over national security has triggered the discussion. Most recently, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl Game dramatized the arguments in opposition. I don’t raise the issue to weigh in on either side. I mention it because I think it’s extremely ironic that, while the national debate rages as to whether or not “walls work,” or that bridges should be preferred to walls…our Gospel calls us to BUILD A WALL!

The Lord doesn’t use those exact words, but the people listening to Him knew that’s exactly what He was saying.

From earliest of times, Israel understood that, in order to protect their “spiritual security,” more than compliance with The Law was needed. As the generations passed, the expression build a fence around the Torah (the Law) was used to communicate an understanding that when our spiritual lives are at stake…or at risk…extreme measures are in order. Certainly, the Lord was not encouraging self-mutilation. Like the Super Bowl commercials, He was offering a dramatic explanation. His point being: we should take extreme measures to protect ourselves so that we do not wander outside of the protection of God’s Law. In other words, build a fence around the Torah and strengthen the border between good and evil…life and death!

Our First Reading offers another irony to ponder. Consider this: God’s greatest gift to us is our free will. The passage from the Book of Sirach emphasizes that our Creator is (to borrow a phrase) “pro-choice.” God is not an arrogant, iron-fisted dictator who imposes the Divine will. Rather, we are allowed to choose for ourselves how we are to live. We can choose the excitement of fire, which has the potential to harm or even destroy us. The other option is cleansing, nourishing, healing, and life-sustaining water. The choice is ours.

But, Sirach also makes it perfectly clear that “free choice” must not be confused with a license to sin. And so, in God’s infinite wisdom and kindness, God gave us The Commandments as a “boundary” or “border” that keeps us from wandering off into dangerous territory through poor choices and bad decisions. Wisely, the people wanted to reinforce the “boundary,” and so they added to The Commandments an extensive body of rules, regulations, and traditions in order to “build a fence around The Law!

The hope is that a spiritual “firewall” will provide an even stronger barrier between the danger zone of sin and the safety and peace to be had through a life of virtue. Extreme danger calls for extreme measures. Jesus most definitely is NOT calling for self-mutilation in order to avoid sin. He is suggesting that we “reinforce our borders.”

There is another ironic situation to be found as our three Readings work together. St. Paul seems to be telling the Corinthian community that a wise person seeking to remain within the border surrounding the City of God should seek the protection of love! Love of God is a sufficient spiritual firewall, or barrier, to protect us from those things that threaten eternal life. Love of God is the perfect fence, or wall, to prevent us from wandering off into dangerous territory. Every choice that a wise person makes is motivated by love…of God…and of God’s Creation!

So, the final irony to ponder during this sixth week of Ordinary Time is that walls do work…at least spiritual walls…but not to keep people out; rather, to invite them in! When we isolate ourselves from things like fear, hatred, envy, prejudice, and selfishness by surrounding ourselves with LOVE…then our hearts and our doors are open to God and to all of God’s Creation.

It all boils down to this…and there is nothing ironic about it: If it’s safety you are looking for…it is wise to choose love!

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 5:38-48
February 19, 2017

If a youthful, mop-topped blond kid walked into my parish by himself on a Sunday morning, I would be delighted. I’d make every effort to see that he felt welcome. After all, the young are the future of our Church. It is the duty and the joy of disciples to pass on our faith to the next generation. I would be even more pleased if a young man of that description wandered into a Bible Study or a parish meeting. I would see the opportunity for evangelization, or possibly even conversion. I would hop right on it.

I suspect that 19 months ago, in Charleston, S.C., when such a young person walked through the doors of Emanuel African Methodist Church, the Christians that saw him felt the same feelings of delight and opportunity. I suspect that they were pleased…if not overjoyed…to welcome him. And welcome him they did, in spite of the fact his skin color distinguished him from the majority of the folks on hand that day for prayer and study. In fact, two days after unleashing horrific violence in this place of worship, the young man acknowledged that everyone was so nice to him that he almost abandoned the plan that he’d spent months concocting. Nine people were martyred at the hands of this youthful, mop-topped blond kid.

Having been quickly apprehended by authorities, the young man faced a judge at a bail hearing. People watching the televised proceedings must have been as shocked by his harmless appearance as they were by the violence and hatred he unleashed on innocent people at prayer. When someone commits a crime of this magnitude, we expect them to look like a monster, not the kid next door.

Even more shocking, however, were the statements made that day by family members of the nine people who died. Rising out of their grief, they tearfully confronted this unrepentant “white supremacist” with the words: I FORGIVE YOU! I FORGIVE YOU!

From the moment of his arrest until he heard the jury sentence him to death, the young man has shown no contrition…no regret…no remorse. He has persisted in his hatred, his sole defense to his heinous crime being bigotry and prejudice. And still, many of the victims remain as steadfast in their forgiveness as the young man in his hatred: I FORGIVE YOU!

What’s most shocking of all is that any Christian would be shocked by the totally Christian response to such blatant evil. Forgiveness is what Jesus calls us to. The willingness to forgive…at least try to forgive…is what distinguishes us as followers of Jesus Christ. It is our eagerness to forgive even the most grievous offense or insult that makes us images of our God, Who is slow to anger and quick to forgive.

The folks from Emanuel African Methodist Church, who have expressed forgiveness of the man who brought death into a place of spiritual life, are brilliant examples of Christian discipleship. To their great credit, certainly, but also to their great benefit. If they were to harbor hatred and the desire for revenge against him, they would be in the same position as he is today: in prison, facing death! Because that is what the desire for revenge does to us. It imprisons us in a dark cell…and sentences us to the death of joy and peace. Their willingness to forgive has preserved their freedom to live as children of God.

What brilliant images of our God they are!

Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 6:24-34
February 26,2017

I haven’t seen the most recent movie directed by Martin Scorsese, “Silence.” It has been called his “masterpiece.” I haven’t wanted to see it because I am told that it is extremely violent. It offers a graphic depiction of Japanese Christians being tortured and even martyred. One film critic says of the movie: “Silence is a monumental work, and a punishing one. It puts you through hell with no promise of enlightenment, only a set of questions and proposition, sensations, and experiences. So, at least for right now, I’ll pass.

I did, however, read the book by Japanese author Shusaku Endo on which the movie is based. The story is inspired by historical fact, but relies on fictional characters. It is set in 17th century Japan during a period when the island nation isolated itself from European influences, especially Christianity. The story is about two young Jesuits who embark on a dangerous voyage from their homeland to Japan, their purpose being to locate an older Jesuit priest for whom they had enormous respect. Their mentor had risked his life by ignoring the prohibitions of the Japanese government, stealing into the country in hopes of converting the people to Catholicism. Somehow, word had gotten back to Europe that the elder priest had apostatized. It was rumored that he rejected Christ.

Their motive might well be one of the questions which lingers at story’s end. While it is inferred that they hoped to disprove the accusations and possibly rescue him, it could be argued that their purpose was confrontational. One thing is clear: During their search, they were determined to minister to those Catholic Japanese who they encountered, and they continued to evangelize as well.

The story is extremely complicated. If I ever do muster the courage to see the film, I will take this week’s Scripture passages with me. What the Church proclaims on this 8th Sunday of Ordinary Time might well help to answer lingering questions and enlighten those who are stymied by the complexity of the drama.

For example, as the story unfolds, we find one of the younger priests in desperate circumstances. His plight, as well as that of the Christian community he has grown to know, seems beyond hope. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually, he is totally depleted. Unwavering in his commitment to his mission and ministry, he is unable to comprehend why God has not answered his prayers and somehow intervened. God’s apparent silence fuels within him feelings and emotions which echo the passage from Isaiah: “The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.”

Even the reader/viewer can’t avoid praying that God somehow steps in to offer relief from the unimaginable suffering. The thing is, the young priest seems to have expectations as to how God should respond. And so, he fails to hear God’s assurance: I will never forget you. Our Old Testament Reading reminds us that God is constantly mindful of every detail of our lives. God NEVER forgets or abandons us. We just need to be patient…and silent, so that we can hear what God is saying.

It seems that there are many similarities between the young priest and St. Paul, who, in our Second Reading, describes himself as a servant of Christ…a steward of the mysteries of God. They differ, however, in that Paul is very conscious of the futility of judging others…or even himself. The young priest, on the other hand, is constantly judging. Certainly, he judges the Japanese authorities, finding them cruel and barbaric. He judges the culture, traditions, and even beliefs of the country, finding them in need of “saving.” He judges the strength of faith of the Christian community with which he had interacted, holding some in the highest regard, while being harshly critical of others. There comes a point in time when he stands in judgment over the priest he came to find. And, in the end, he judges himself. In a way, throughout much of the story, it seems that he is even judging God.

Unfortunately, he never sits in “silence,” listening to evidence. Some might find his judgments hasty or even questionable. Most important, however, he totally disregards St. Paul’s admonition: Therefore, do not make ANY judgment before the appointed time, until the Lord comes, for He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will manifest the motives of our hearts, and then everyone will receive praise from God.

Finally, we turn to the passage from Matthew’s Gospel. The plain meaning, obviously, is that we should not be materialistic, fretting over our worldly needs. But, if we delve deeper, don’t we find that Jesus is urging us to trust God in all things, and at all times…even those times when we think God is silent? Simply put, the lesson here appears to be: Stop worrying. God has a plan! One might well argue that the young priest placed his plan over God’s.

Next Wednesday, we begin our preparations to engage in another Story…The Passion of Jesus Christ. No part of this story is fictional, and it is truly God’s masterpiece. The story of The Lord’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection is truly a monumental work, and a punishing one. It puts you through hell! But, at the end, we find ourselves in Paradise. And, while there are most definitely questions, propositions, sensations, and experiences to be had in this cosmic drama, unlike the story of missionary work in Japan, The Passion is filled with promise. In fact, the entire purpose of the Passion is so that we might live in hope. Still, in order for us to better understand and appreciate THIS STORY…we need to prepare.

Next Wednesday, we begin Lent 2017! The three traditional pillars of the Season are PRAYING, FASTING, and ALMSGIVING. It might be of benefit to add a fourth…SILENCE. If we allow ourselves just a few minutes each day for 40 days to sit in SILENCE, we might find that God has something to say to us. Rather than judging our spiritual progress by what we “give up” or “how much we give” or “how many prayers we say,” it might serve us well this Lent to permit ourselves the gift of SILENCE. It’s in SILENCE that we are better able to hear God speak. We might just hear something wonderful! We might hear God praising us for our willingness to listen.

First Sunday of Lent
MT 4:1-11
March 5, 2017

There is a BIG difference between “excuses” and “reasons.” For one thing, we can learn, improve, and make progress when we search for and finally discover the reason that something has happened…or hasn’t happened. Excuses usually do not carry the kind of information that leads to learning, improving, and progressing. They simply brush things away. Excuses often prevent progress.

Reasons, at least valid reasons, are based on fact. They are truth. And so, there is only one valid reason for anything. Since excuses are concocted, based on partial truths, if that, they can go on…and on…and on. Rather than searching for truth, the spinner of excuses looks for ways to avoid accountability, quite often attempting to deflect blame from oneself. When someone reaches for an excuse rather than a reason, they are thwarting the possibility of changing things for the better.

Not only are excuses inherently dishonest, but there is an element of immaturity about them. It takes maturity to choose accountability over denial and avoidance. Moreover, the childlike tendency to excuse things away means that the same mistakes will be repeated over and over and over again.

And there we have the essence of ORIGINAL SIN!

In their immaturity, BOTH of the disobedient first parents turned to excuses rather than valid reasons when responding to God. We often refer to the ORIGINAL SIN as “the fall from grace.” I wonder if things might have been different had they given mature, honest, and candid reasons for their cosmic mistake? Had they simply said: God, I was greedy, arrogant, ambitious, foolish, and weak….and I am so sorry…well, then, we might be talking about a “slip” and not a “fall.” Because of that fatal day in the Garden, all humanity suffers from the same spiritual and emotional immaturity that makes excuses seem preferable to candid reasons. As a result, we continue to fall rather than walk in righteousness before God. Fortunately, because of Jesus, after a fall, contrition, forgiveness, and grace enable us to get back up and start moving again.

With the greatest of purpose, The Holy Spirit led Jesus from the waters of Baptism directly into the desert. Faced with the same kinds of false and deceptive promises as the first parents: SATISFACTION…MATERIAL THINGS…POWER…Jesus proved, once and for all, that TRUTH always prevails. And so, on this First Sunday of Lent, we might consider refreshing ourselves at the Baptismal font of our parish church, and then walking with confidence directly into the desert to face off against those things about us that make us less than God created us to be. If we want to “give up” something truly meaningful this Lent, why not try giving up “excuses.”

In Baptism, we have been given the graces we need to overpower the effects of the original sin. While we might very well stumble, there is no need for us to “fall from grace.” But the first temptation we need to resist is the tendency to make excuses! If we are to use this Lenten Season to learn, improve, and make progress, CHOOSE TRUTH!

Second Sunday of Lent
MT 17:1-9
March 12, 2017

This past week, I was watching an “online” video about the Sacraments of the Catholic Church. At one point, the lecturer used a word that I had actually filed with other infrequently used expressions in my theological vocabulary. The word “typology” is almost self-defining. It is “the study of types.” It is a tool used in many of the sciences. For example, archaeologists will group artifacts according to certain characteristics. Anthropologists separate humankind into cultures, usually identified by race. In linguistics, languages are categorized by structural features.

However, for academics, especially Scripture scholars, the word “typology” usually brings to mind the fact that there are persons and things used by God in the Old Testament that foreshadow a person, event, or thing in the New Testament. In other words, the Old Testament frequently points forward to the New. For this reason, it is important that we read the Old in light of the New and the New in light of the Old.

The perfect example of “typology” is to be found in the Readings for this Second Sunday in Lent. The Liturgy of the Word opens with Genesis 12:1-4. God directs Abram to leave all that is familiar…home, family, land, work…and having completely separated himself from all distractions, to look into himself to enjoy an encounter with God. It took courage for Abram to follow through, but his obedience was greatly rewarded. This episode in Salvation history foreshadows Jesus separating Peter, James, and John from the other Apostles and disciples, leading them up a high mountain. And, having risen, about the demands and distractions of day-to-day living, Jesus looked inward. The Lord called forth His Divine Nature that was concealed by His human nature. Even his clothing responded to this cosmic event, becoming “white as light.”

When we read “The Old” in light of “The New,” we are able to see that the directive that the Father issued to Abram points forward in time to Jesus’s invitation to the privileged three. Placing these passages side by side helps us better understand both. By categorizing what is often referred to as “The Call of Abraham” with “The Transfiguration of the Lord,” we are better able to understand the purpose of both. Simply put, when we rise above the demands and temptations of this world and enter into prayer and reflection, we can call forth from within us some special message that God has placed there. And for our efforts, we will be changed and much blessed.

The life-changing experience of Abram and the Transfiguration of Jesus both point forward to today…to us…to this Lenten Season. These 40 days are a time when we are called, like Abram, to leave all distractions behind and to indulge ourselves with at least a little solitude, so that we can look inward and discover the wonderful things God has placed there. Lent can be a hike up a high mountain…making the journey with other followers of the Lord. If we take the Gospel with us and simply sit and listen, we will hear wonderful things, things that give us the strength and courage to walk back down to our daily lives…changed…for the better! It all comes down to what type of person do you want to be?

Third Sunday of Lent
JN 4:5-42
March 19, 2017

If you look at a map of the Middle East, it’s amazing to think that it took Israel 40 years of wandering through the Sinai Peninsula before making their way into the Promised Land. It’s a large land mass, but still…40 years? The Reading from Exodus 17 helps to give some insight. It wasn’t a matter of poor sense of direction. It was about needing to shake off the spiritual and emotional effects of being enslaved for so many generations. The time in the desert was akin to a “spiritual detox.” The experience of being enslaved dehumanized the people. They were looked upon and treated by the Egyptians as work horses. When people are denigrated for a long enough period of time, they lose their sense of self-worth and an appreciation for the value which God places upon each and every individual. In this passage, we find them still suffering from a slave mentality. When animals are hungry or thirsty, they cry out. And so, when thirst overpowered them, the people cried out, demanding satisfaction even if the cost might be their freedom. But God always hears the cry of the poor and the suffering and responded with a miracle. God called fresh water out of a dry rock.

In a way, this miraculous event in a barren desert foreshadows and points towards the Gospel passage for this 3rd Sunday in Lent. It’s likely that this was not a mere chance meeting. Jesus probably sent his traveling companions off for food because He anticipated the encounter and knew that they might try to prevent the woman from approaching, or would be scandalized by The Lord engaging a pagan woman in conversation, stepping up the intimacy by asking her for a cup of water.

Much like our Readings from last Sunday, we see that wonderful things happen when we encounter Jesus while we are alone in a deserted place. The Samaritan woman seems to have been suffering from a severe case of self-loathing. Her life was like a barren desert in which she was going round and round in circles, making the same mistakes over and over. Some theologians suggest that she was a victim of human trafficking, or she might simply have become enslaved to her own passions. Addictive behavior has the same impact as forced slavery…it robs its victims of freedom, dehumanizing them. It leaves them little better than animals.

Still, from this dry, hardened life, The Son did exactly for the people of the Samaritan town of Sychar what The Father did for the people in the desert. He struck the woman in her hardened heart, certainly not with a staff, but with loving and healing words. And then, life-giving water poured forth from her. She carried back to her village much more than buckets of water from the community well. She took back from her personal encounter with Jesus Christ the living water that Jesus offered her…and she shared it…and the people drank. This is not only a story of conversion, but also evangelization.

Fourth Sunday of Lent
JN 9:1-41
March 26, 2017

On this 4th Sunday of Lent, our Readings are filled with physical things that are brilliant communicators IF one takes the time to notice them…and listen to their message.

In the First Reading (Sam. 16), the Lord commands that David be anointed with oil. Oil was key to survival in the ancient world. It was back then, and continues to be today, extremely important in many different ways. Especially critical to the lives of our ancestors, it was an important source of nutrition, fueled lamps to provide light, was used as a medicine, and served to enhance one’s appearance. It’s remarkable how such an ordinary thing could be elevated to a place of extreme importance. How appropriate, then, for God to use oil to elevate an ordinary shepherd boy to king. Still, without water, there would be no oil.

Then, in the Gospel, John tells us how Jesus used spit…basically water…to make mud while giving sight to a man born blind. But this was no ordinary spittle. This came from the mouth of God. It was, in every way, like that which all human beings are capable of producing, except Jesus’s saliva was a transmitter of the Holy Spirit…the same Spirit that God used to call life into ordinary mud in the creation of humankind. The same Spirit that God breathed into the ordinary body of a young woman who became impregnated with The Eternal Word of God. The same Spirit that calls us to a new life in the waters of Baptism…and entitles us to share in the ministry of Christ…Priest, Prophet, and King, when we are anointed with Sacred Chrism in the Sacraments of Initiation.

As we begin the second part of our Lenten journey, we are reminded of how often in salvation history God has elevated the most ordinary of things so that they might serve as brilliant communicators of Divine Mercy and Love. But, in this passage of the Gospel, we are also reminded of how often we fail to see, understand, or appreciate what God puts right smack dab in front of us. Even the religious leaders of His time failed to recognize The Christ…because God placed Jesus before them in an ordinary human body.

Jesus’s decision to use mud made from the Living Water that came from the very mouth of God brings to mind the Creation of Adam and Eve. This healing miracle should, likewise, alert us to how our ordinary lives are elevated through our re-creation in Baptism. Through our Sacraments, God takes our extremely ordinary lives…sin and all…and elevates them so that we can be brilliant communicators of God’s abundant mercy and love.

The problem is…so few of us actually take the time to see just how extraordinarily important we are to God in the work of salvation. We have the power to nourish people with The Word of God. We are called to bring the Light of Christ into the darkest of lives. We are healers! And when we put on Christ through the Sacraments, there is nothing more that could enhance our appearance.

Fifth Sunday of Lent
JN 11:1-45
April 2, 2017

This is the third Sunday in a row that we’ve been given powerful images on which to ponder and reflect. First, there was a dramatic encounter between Jesus and a woman by a deep well. Thirst was the obvious theme. Jesus asked for a drink of water from the well. What He was truly thirsting for, however, was the woman’s salvation.

His acceptance, forgiveness, and love struck the woman in such a way that “Living Water” came pouring out of her stone cold heart. In spite of her reputation as a sinner, the people of her village listened to her and came to believe that Jesus was the Messiah. It would appear that the entire story unfolded next to a deep, dark well. The symbolic value should not be overlooked.

Like so many, the woman was living her life in a deep, dark pit. Escape seemed impossible to her. And then, Jesus drew her up from out of the dark pit that was her life into the light of day. Like a bucket pulled up from a well, she brought with her Living Water to share with all who suffered from thirst.

Then, last Sunday, continuing the movement from darkness to light, Jesus interacted with a man who had been born blind. The story features a number of people who suffered from spiritual blindness. Religious leaders and even Jesus’s disciples assumed that the poor man’s condition was the result of his personal sin, or that guilt inherited from his parents brought on his affliction. Here, the obvious theme seems to be a miraculous event. But hovering close under the surface is the significance of faith.

True faith brings with it the ability to imagine God for Who God is. People who should have known better imagined God as punitive and unforgiving. That spiritual blindness also cost them the opportunity to witness and understand what God is telling us through Jesus. God is a good, loving, forgiving, and compassionate Parent. The man who benefited from God’s tender mercy and loving kindness was raised up from darkness to the light of faith slowly and gently, like a bucket filled with fresh, cool water raised from a deep well.

When questioned, he first acknowledged a healing, but nothing more. He did not understand how this wonderful thing could have happened. But, as he continued to ponder and reflect on the gift of sight, his interior vision became more and more acute. Eventually, he was able to see and acknowledge Jesus as a powerful prophet sent by God. The story ends with the incredible insight that Jesus is The Messiah!

All of this brings us to today’s Gospel on this Fifth Sunday of Lent. No one can overlook the obvious image of a burial cave, a massive stone blocking the entrance to the tomb, or the binding clothes that encase the body, even covering the face. The story screams oppressive darkness and finality. But, Jesus orders the stone rolled back, and even as He called forth life from the woman at the well and from the man born blind, The Lord calls Lazarus back to the light and life that sickness had taken from him.

These three key players most likely never met. The location and surroundings of the events were different, and the beneficiaries of The Lord’s compassion and power have little in common…beginning with a public sinner, moving on to an innocent man presumed to be guilty, and concluding with a much loved friend. Jesus gifts each with the same thing…LIGHT AND LIFE!

Of the four Gospels, John’s reports the fewest miracles. But what is contained in the 4th Gospel is extremely powerful and described in great detail. These three stories that lead us into Holy Week work together to help us better understand that no matter who we are, how low we might have sunk, how deep in darkness we might find ourselves, how impossible our circumstances, He stands ready to call us into Light and Life…His Light…His Life! All we need to do is respond when He calls!

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
MT 26:14—27:66
April 9, 2017

Early in my ministry, when I still found preaching more nerve-provoking than delightful, (BTW, after over a quarter of a century, I do experience the delight, but have not shaken the nerves) I sat down to prepare my homily for Palm Sunday. It was overwhelming. How can one, in the course of a few short minutes, break open The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ in a meaningful way? How can any preacher do justice to the grand finale to The Lord’s ministry and mission? For me, the most daunting prospect about preaching on Palm Sunday is the celebratory way in which it begins. How can you bridge the triumphal entry into Jerusalem with the Paschal Mystery?

Bishop Ken Untener was one preacher who seemed to always find great delight in the enormous privilege of preaching the Gospel. And he was always eager for others to enjoy the same positive experience. Moreover, he was anxious that God’s people be truly inspired by God’s Word broken open in a meaningful way. And so, he was continually passing on “preaching tips.”

So it happened that after a few days of fruitless struggling, I heard Ken’s voice in the back of my mind: step out of your comfort zone…trust in the presence of the Holy Spirit… take risks! Inspired by this pearl of wisdom that Palm Sunday morning over a quarter of a century ago, after the Reading of the Passion, I pointed to the folks on the north side of the church and simply said: Say I love you!

Now it was the people’s turn to step out of their comfort zone…especially the men. There was a lot of shifting in the pews and a low ripple of laughter. So, I repeated…Seriously folks! Humor me. On the count of three, everyone say, “I LOVE YOU!” Here we go! 1…2…3…

With that, a mixture of voices, men, women, and children (the latter being the more dominant) basically whispered: “I love you!”

I didn’t give the south side of the church much of an opportunity to think about it. I simply turned to them and said: Now, you folks say, “Crucify Him!” 1…2…3…

A roar went through the church, echoing off the walls: “CRUCIFY HIM!”

I went on to explain that even as a child, I was confounded by the people of Jerusalem. How could they have given Jesus such a loving, joyful, and triumphal welcome into their city: Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest! And then, less than a week later, be screeching: “Crucify Him!”

Even to this day, it baffles me.

There is something in human nature that makes it easier for us to shout: CRUCIFY HIM! LET HIM FRY! GET THEM OUT OF HERE! LOCK HER UP!…than to whisper, I love you.

Maybe that’s the challenge.

Maybe that is the broken link between the Lord’s triumphal entry into the Holy City and the barbaric way He was driven out just a few days later.

Maybe it’s the difficulty we seem to have in bringing ourselves to whisper, I love you, and the ease with which we bellow out, Crucify Him, that is the broken link that we call divorce, bigotry, discrimination, and even war.

Maybe if we had the courage to step out of our comfort zone…trust in the presence of the Holy Spirit… take risks, and proclaim love with the same gusto as we seem to be able to so easily belt out slogans of anger and hate…well, maybe then our world would be a better, more just and peaceful place for everyone to live.

Maybe if we were less nervous about being vulnerable to “others,” we might experience the joy that is to be found in all of God’s children.

Maybe that is the lesson that is to be found in the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ…step out of our comfort zone…trust in the presence of the Holy Spirit…take risks!

The Resurrection of the Lord
JN 20:1-9
April 16, 2017

We began this Lenten Season marveling at the fullness of Jesus’s human nature as He withstood the temptations of the flesh. He showed the power of the human spirit, when fortified by The Holy Spirit, to withstand every assault by Satan.

The 2nd weekend in Lent, we moved from the desert to the mountaintop. There, like Peter, James, and John, we were privileged witnesses to a display of Jesus’s Divine nature. We were given a glimpse of the glorified Christ as Jesus was transfigured. Even His clothing was electrified…as were the three eyewitnesses. The experience was so profound that Peter didn’t want it to end. But, while in this world, even on mountaintops, we can only get a brief glimpse of God’s Glory. Jesus led His friends back down the mountain to the real world. Still, it’s amazing to think that after what they saw and heard, they still asked: What does it mean to be raised from the dead?

We’ve completed the Lenten journey, and now we are standing outside of the empty tomb. STILL…the questions, confusion, and even doubts persist. What does it mean to be raised from the dead?

As the Easter mystery unfolds, Mary Magdalene fails to recognize The Risen Lord. Peter and one other are met by an angel who is waiting for them inside the empty tomb. There seems to be an air of frantic confusion and shock. We are given the sense that the Apostles and disciples were rushing around in haste, sharing the bits and pieces of information as they were reported, wondering what might be false news and what is reality. Resurrection is like that; it is way too big for the human mind to absorb.

Fear runs high within the community. They remain behind the locked doors of the Upper Room. The Easter Story even contains a very definite note of doubt, and doubt is contagious, especially when confined to a closed-in space. So, over the next weeks, The Risen Christ lovingly and gently exposes His followers to just exactly what it means to be raised from the dead.

The centuries have passed and the question persists: What we do know with certainty is that Resurrection, like Transfiguration, is not part of the material world. The beautiful post-Resurrection stories we will be hearing during the Easter Season could not go on and on. The Risen Christ could not remain in this world indefinitely. He had to leave the prison of time and return to Eternity. And, like the Apostles and disciples, we have to move out of the Easter Season into Ordinary Time and the ordinary world. But, the Lent and Easter lessons should have fortified our spirits so that as we cross “the barren desert,” we are not tempted to relegate Resurrection to indulgence of our appetites, wealth, and riches, or power and control.

What does it mean to be raised from the dead? All we can say with complete certainty is that it is the passage from sin and death to Eternal Life in Christ. For believers, the end to the story is Christ, Who IS Resurrection and Life. That is all we really need to know. Alleluia!

Second Sunday of Easter
JN 20:19-31
April 23, 2017

A fair number of years ago, when I was much younger, healthier, and more fit, I was in a convenience store fairly late in the evening. As I was making my way through the aisles, I saw a very unkempt man. His chest-length beard and shoulder-length hair were filthy. The mismatched layers of clothes hanging from him were little better than dirty rags and were completely unsuited to the warm summer night. His shoes were so worn out they barely covered his feet. To complete the image, he was staggering around and mumbling to himself. I confess that I quickly distanced myself from this person. Before I did, however, I managed to get a glimpse of his face. The identifying characteristic was a deep depression and scar on his forehead. Clearly, sometime in the past, the poor man had suffered an obviously severe head trauma.

Having paid for the few items that I was there to buy, I stepped out of the brightly lit store into the dark parking lot. It was then that this man jumped out at me from the shadows, blocking my path to my car. I couldn’t see his face but I certainly heard him speak. He said: You are gonna see Jesus!

Quite honestly, I do not ever recall having been so panicked in my entire life. I was certain that there was a gun, a knife, or a tire iron in his hand. In that moment, although my life did not pass before me, I truly believed that I had come to the hour of my death. I was frozen. Even though I was in far better physical condition than today, it didn’t even occur to me to flee or to somehow defend myself. I just stood there, electrified.

And then the man went on: …and someday, so will I, and Jesus is gonna touch my head and fix me and I’ll be like everybody else…and everything will be OK!

In an instant, the panic and terror left me, replaced by shame, compassion, and an overwhelming feeling of…yes! LOVE. While it was my arm that was extended, my hand that rested on his shoulder, and my voice that spoke, I am absolutely certain that the gesture and the words were motivated by Someone else. I heard myself say: Yes…someday, you will see Jesus and Jesus will touch your head, and He is going to say “I am so sorry you were hurt! But I don’t want you to be like everybody else…I love you just the way you are!” And everything will be OK!

When I think back to that most terrifying moment of my life, I also see it as a great blessing. I have recalled and reflected on that encounter over and over since that hot, dark summer night, especially at Easter time, when Resurrection is very much a part of our Readings, our thoughts, our hopes, and our prayers. That experience is especially meaningful and powerful for me on this Divine Mercy Sunday.

No one can be certain of what it means to share in the Glory of the Risen Christ. Many, like Thomas, have doubt. But many more can never bring themselves to believe.

Others, like Peter, Mary Magdalene, and the disciple who Jesus loved are slow to recognize…slow to enter into the fullness of the mystery of eternal life. Some, like the Emmaus couple, are privileged in a special way and come to understand Eternal Life through the Word and Sacraments.

Those who do “walk by faith and not by sight” try our best to imagine the thing we most hope for but cannot see, for that poor, broken soul who blocked my path on that dark summer night, Resurrection means healing…being restored…being touched by Jesus so that everything will be OK!

And there is the purpose for and lesson of Divine Mercy Sunday. Someday, each of us will stand before the all-loving and merciful judge. And Jesus is gonna touch that part of us that was injured and scarred by sin, making us less than what we were created to be. The touch of Christ will fix us and everything will be OK!

Third Sunday of Easter
LK 24:13-35
April 30, 2017

Today’s Gospel is something of a treasure map…with a few added details. Somewhat uncharacteristic of the Gospels, and offered in an almost offhanded manner, Luke motivated early Church authorities, pilgrims, archaeologists, historians, and those who were simply curious to search for a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus. Besides the name and the distance from Jerusalem, searchers were guided by other clues. For example, they were looking for ruins of an ancient town located near a Roman trade route. A water source, such as a deep well that could serve a small community, was also a key factor in the hunt. Expectations as to what was to be discovered must have been low. Many decades had passed since the events of Easter Sunday Night that immortalized the name of the village and one of its residents. As our Second Reading on this 3rd Sunday of Easter points out, the things of this world…even gold and silver…are perishable. So, barring a miracle, searchers could expect to find little more than a pile of rubble.

In fact, in at least four different locations, each about seven miles from Jerusalem, although in different directions, searchers declared that they had discovered Emmaus. Accordingly, the true location remains unresolved and the search for the “lost village” continues to this very day. Nevertheless, churches were built on several of the sites claimed to be the village where a person named Cleopas and his unnamed traveling companion entertained the Risen Christ. The faithful began to walk the walk that two dejected disciples made on that fateful Easter evening.

Centuries have passed, and still, pilgrims travel from Jerusalem to one of the “Emmauses.” As they embark on their journey, they remember how two of Jesus’s followers made the long walk home, the horror of Good Friday still fresh in their minds, the shocking reality of the Crucifixion causing the dejected pair to regard the whispers of Resurrection as false…rather than Good News!

As pilgrims draw closer to their destination, they often read and reflect on today’s Gospel. They recall how a stranger joined the pair, and how His words made their hearts burn within them. The Gospel report is sufficient to enable believers to feel The Real Presence of this Stranger and to ponder His explanation of the Good Friday tragedy foretold in the Hebrew Scriptures. The walk to Emmaus…whichever Emmaus…does that. It offers an AHHH! moment, even to those who think they already know all there is to know. The destination is not just a village, but also a new insight into The Paschal Mystery. To this very day, the seven-mile walk from Jerusalem towards…whichever Emmaus…causes the hearts of the faithful to burn within them.

Upon arrival, Cleopas and friend did not want to let this stranger go. They urged Him: Stay with us! And so He did. He entered their home and sat at their table, just long enough to Break the Bread and share The Cup. Pilgrims today, regardless of which Emmaus they journey to, very often mark their arrival by celebrating Eucharist. Hopefully, during their prayer, the hearts of the faithful burn within them, and they come to see that in the Eucharist, The Risen Christ does not disappear from our midst; rather, we become what we eat. Through the Eucharist, The Word Proclaimed, and the Body and Blood of Christ shared…we make Christ’s continued presence a reality for others.

Our Gospel for this 3rd Sunday of Easter, Luke 24:13-35, truly is a treasure map. The starting point is an empty tomb. The journey is not measured in miles, but in lifetimes. Every step of the way, there is a Companion eager to accompany those brave enough to embark on the journey. Those wise enough to listen to His Words find that their hearts burn within them. The destination is not the ruins of an ancient village over which a commemorative Church has been built. Emmaus is EVERY Church, worldwide, where we celebrate the Supper of The Lord. The Treasure is not hidden. It sits out in the open…on The Table of the Word…where The Good News is proclaimed so that all may rejoice in the truth. The Treasure is also on the Communion Table, where the imperishable Treasure of the Body and Precious Blood of Christ, ”the spotless, unblemished lamb” awaits those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

There is something miraculous to be found by those invited to these Tables. They are changed! Their faith and hope in God is strengthened so that they might continue their pilgrimage towards a final, eternal destination…The Kingdom of God!

Today’s Gospel truly is a treasure map! But what we search for is not hidden. It is right before our very eyes! And there is a Companion eager to walk beside you every step of the way.

Fourth Sunday of Easter
JN 10:1-10
May 7, 2017

Just before Holy Week, I had an extremely unnerving experience that is worth sharing as we begin this 4th week of Easter. The pastor of a rural parish in our Diocese asked if I would preside at his liturgies while he recuperated from a serious surgery that was scheduled as “urgent” if not “emergency.” I had never been to the parish before and thought it best to pay a short visit to familiarize myself with the worship space.

I asked my Smart phone for directions. Traveling the 30 odd miles to my destination, I didn’t pay all that much attention to where I was, simply following the instructions of the mechanical voice. Almost before I realized it, I was approaching my destination. It was then that my gaze moved from the road to the distant sky. I saw the bell tower of the church I was to visit, and for a brief moment, became totally disoriented. It was a very unnerving feeling. For an instant, I didn’t know where I was. I thought that I had unconsciously driven to the rural parish where I had served for nine years several years ago. A wave of panic washed over me as it occurred to me that I must be losing it!

It was then that I remembered that this church was built from the same architectural plans as the rural parish where I had spent so many wonderful years. It was understandable that my first view of this church would be disorienting. It was the identical spire that had, for so long, signaled that I was “almost home.” With the same brilliant blue sky as the backdrop, I could easily have been approaching my former parish. Entering the church, I continued to be amazed. As I walked through the building, I observed far more similarities than differences.

When I returned a few days later to lead the community in prayer, I was once again overwhelmed by the same eerie experience. This time, the cause of my uneasiness was not the place, but rather, the people. As I began the liturgy and looked out at the assembly, I kept seeing faces that I thought I recognized. Maybe it was someone’s coat, or hairstyle, or glasses, or height that caused me to think: “Oh! He is visiting here, too.” Or: “She must have family in this neighborhood.” Of course, whatever it was that seemed familiar I had never seen before. A past memory was simply awakened by a shared characteristic encountered within totally familiar circumstances. As the weeks have passed, these false sightings of old friends have stopped. Quite possibly, if someone from my past ministry were to visit this parish, I wouldn’t trust myself enough to call them by name.

Still, the entire unnerving experience has hung with me to the point that it seemed that God was telling me something I had better consider. And so, after a good deal of reflection, and with the help of this Sunday’s Readings, it occurs to me that regardless of the architecture of a church building, the faithful gathered there to worship should look alike.

Just as two church buildings constructed from the same architectural plans evoke a sense of the familiar, those who are guided to the waters of Baptism by the Good Shepherd have defining characteristics in common. Through Baptism, disciples are reborn in the Holy Spirit according to God’s eternal plan; and the plan is that we all look the same because we live the same. The defining characteristic shared by the flock we are gathered into has nothing to do with clothes, hairstyles, or height. Disciples should look alike because we should all reflect the Face of Christ to everyone we see. Our voices should strike a familiar note as we speak in a loving, forgiving, and charitable way. We should even smell the same! We should give off the aroma of holiness, because through Baptism, we receive the Holy Spirit.

The sad thing is….WE SHOULD BUT WE DON’T. Although through Baptism, we are reborn in the Spirit according to God’s Eternal plan, among the defining characteristics we share is free will. We can choose to live according to God’s Eternal plan or we can pursue our own plans; often going so far as wandering away from the flock. And so, our First Reading emphasizes the need to repent those times when other’s don’t recognize us for who we are called to be… God’s People…the Flock of the Lord.

But we must also pay homage to the image of Christ that our Gospel offers us, because it is the Good News in all of this. The Lord is a Good Shepherd, Who recognizes each of us as both unique and precious in the eyes of our Creator. In spite of our similarities, He calls us by name. Although we mask our identities through poor decisions and bad choices, even going so far as to leave the flock, Christ knows exactly who we are…each and every one of us. And should that arouse an unnerving feeling within anyone, The Good News is that it is the will of the Father that the Good Shepherd not lose what has been given to Him. Even when we stray, He finds us and brings us safely back to the flock.

The Easter message as we near the midpoint of this holy season is that we are God’s People…the Flock of the Lord. And everyone we come in contact with should recognize that in all of us!

Fifth Sunday of Easter
JN 14:1-12
May 14, 2017

Once upon a time, telephones were just for talking. Then, one day, it somehow happened that phones became “smart.” They learned how to do research and answer questions, store information, pay bills, buy things from stores, and give directions.

And so, one day, I was in the sacristy after presiding at a weekday morning Mass when someone asked to see me. The lady was well known to me, so I was concerned about what was on her mind. She wasted no time in explaining that she was very bothered by a man who “is always on his cell phone during Mass.” She wanted to alert me to what she considered to be disrespect bordering on sacrilege. It was her hope that I would put a stop to this behavior.

I immediately realized that she was talking about a younger man, a daily Communicant and good and faithful disciple, who is in the habit of following the Readings of the day on his Smart phone. I told my scandalized friend that the man was not talking on the phone, but using it to pray. She was skeptical. So, I pulled out my own smart phone and clicked onto the daily email that comes from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, distributing the Scripture passages of the day. She looked at my phone, satisfied herself that what was on the small screen in writing was what she had just heard proclaimed during Mass, and then passed the phone back to me and said: “I don’t care! This just isn’t right.”

Maybe it’s not this way with young people, but I think that most members of AARP appreciate a written bank statement delivered to the mailbox, a printed receipt for a major purchase, a pamphlet with assembly instructions, and, in spite of the fact that even senior citizens have learned to use GPS, we feel a sense of security knowing that there is a road map in our glove box. Many people simply do not feel comfortable without seeing things written down…ON PAPER.

Maybe that is why God saw fit to give Moses The Law engraved on tablets of stone. God knew that the written law would provide the people a sense of certainty and security. It simplified their lives having things written down. The people felt that if they observed what is written “in stone,” they would be pleasing to God.

But then, God did something so revolutionary that it can never be repeated. God spoke the Eternal Word into the Blessed Mother. And with Mary’s cooperation, God’s Word took flesh to walk among us. With Jesus, God didn’t send more stone tablets or written rules and laws, but A Divine Person. Jesus, fully human (just like us in all things but sin) and at the same time, fully Divine, is God’s most beautiful, complete and unrepeatable way of showing the Divine Self to us. Jesus is the summation of God’s will and God’s ways. That is to say, if we know Jesus, then we know “The Law,” not written on stone, but on The Lord’s Sacred Heart, on fire with love for us. Jesus is God’s most perfect way of communicating and communing with us. Without stone tablets, scrolls, books, laws…with only One Living Word…Jesus…God shows us the plan for us. Jesus IS who we could have been, but for the original sin. Jesus IS who we should strive to be more like as we walk through this life. Jesus IS who those that strive to follow HIS WAY will become when they leave time to dwell in eternity.

In spite of all of this, many simply respond: “I don’t care! This just isn’t right.” They go off a different way, listening to other voices, following bad directions, influenced by false messages and directed into darkness. They become lost.

Those who follow The Way of the Lord, however, walk in the Light of Christ. Through Jesus, God has simplified our lives here in this life, and assured those who follow “The Way” a destination of eternal peace and joy!

Sixth Sunday of Easter
JN 14:15-21
May 21, 2017

In the First Letter of St. Peter, our Second Reading (3:15-18), we are told to “always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.” From the earliest days of the Church, God blessed us with followers of Jesus Christ who brilliantly explained the faith. It was through the convincing witness of these early Christian apologists that The Faith spread throughout the ancient world. We are blessed today with multiple resources in multiple media that help us do just that. Theologians and other Christian writers have flooded the marketplace with books that can be classified as “apologetics,” the religious discipline of speaking in defense of what we hold to be true. Besides written publications, there are videos, CDs, and tapes, podcasts, several lecture series available on the Internet, and even movies that offer us ways of explaining why all of our hope rests in Jesus Christ. And this is a good thing.

Recently, a motion picture based on the book called “The Shack” was showing in the theaters. It offered an image of the most significant reason for Christian hope: THE BLESSED TRINITY. But how, if asked, do we even begin to explain that Three is One? “The Shack” does a beautiful job of showing the “threeness” of God. The boundless love and mercy of The Creator is depicted in a very pleasant looking, warm, and sensitive older black woman. Later in the story, the wisdom of the Father takes on the appearance of an elderly Native American man. The person experiencing The Trinity in the movie (as well as the readers and viewers) somehow understand that both are images of the First Person.

God the Son is depicted as a strong, young Jewish carpenter, dressed in a plaid flannel shirt, blue jeans, and sandals. We see Jesus as the kind of fun loving but encouraging person who you really want to be friends with. It’s hard to resist following Him. Finally, a petite wisp of an extraordinarily beautiful young Asian woman tackles the very challenging role of the Holy Spirit. She is so light and airy in appearance and demeanor that it seems you can gaze right through her.

“The Shack” is a profound story, and the movie adaptation does the book justice. However, I have my doubts as to whether someone who has no faith would find either to be a convincing explanation of why our hope rests in Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We need to do better than weaving charming stories around the Divine Life if we are going to capture the attention of the growing numbers of pagans in our world.

In our First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear how Philip went down to Samaria to proclaim Christ. He captured the attention of a crowd, both by his words as well as by his deeds. They were convinced and they were converted. What made the first witnesses to Christ so successful in their efforts to bring people to accept the Word of God? (Remember…Jesus IS the Eternal Word of God!) The answer might well rest in today’s Gospel, and easily summarized in one word…LOVE! Philip, Peter, John, and all of the others who walked with Jesus absorbed and reflected the perfect love that radiates from the Son of God…The Second Person of the Trinity. The love that came into the world with Jesus, a love with which His Apostles and disciples were saturated, “went viral.” And having returned to heaven, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit into the world to seal the love of Christ within the hearts of all who believe.

How, then, do we prepare to give an explanation to anyone who asks for the reason for our hope? By loving God with our entire being…and…by loving one another even as we love ourselves.

Love is a more powerful explanation of our faith than any book, any movie, any podcast. Love is the perfect and most convincing explanation of our hope in the goodness and mercy of God…FATHER, SON, AND HOLY SPIRIT.

The Ascension of the Lord
MT 28:16-20
May 28, 2017

Featured speakers at the White House correspondence dinner this year were Woodward and Bernstein. Both gave short talks…more like reflections…on how they perceived the role of the press/journalism, especially as it functions in a democratic society. Both stressed that journalists and reporters have an absolute obligation to offer to the public “the best attainable version of the truth.”

In order to achieve this, they explained that “sustained inquiry is essential.” Their thoughts were especially poignant in a day and age when we are constantly assaulted with so much untrustworthy information and prevented from hearing the real truth by “cover-ups.” As I listened to them caution about the extreme danger of any effort, by anyone, to suppress the access of journalists to “the best attainable version of the truth,” I couldn’t help but shift my focus from the political arena to the spiritual life.

“The best attainable version of the truth” is Jesus Christ. Jesus IS THE TRUTH, and The Source of The Truth (Jesus Christ) is God.

The Lord came to broadcast to all of humankind the Good News that eternal life comes to those who know the only true God, and the One Whom God sent, Jesus Christ. So that all might come to believe in this truth…the Good News…Jesus suffered a very public death, after which He revealed The Source of His Truth to the Apostles and disciples in the most dramatic of ways. Jesus rose from the dead and remained present to them until it was time for Him to return to the Source of all life and all love.

Knowing it is the way of this world to “cover up” the truth, drown out “The Good News” with false news, and persecute and silence those who give witness to the Risen Christ, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to enlighten and strengthen those first chosen to continue the work that God began through Jesus. As we bring this Easter Season to a close, it is critical that we remember that the sacred duty and absolute obligation to continue the work of the first witnesses now rests on our shoulders. In many ways, the challenge is even greater than ever before, because the means and methods of suppressing truth and broadcasting false news are many, varied, hi-tech, and comes at us from the most unexpected places. But we have the Holy Spirit…the same Spirit that poured down on the Apostles and disciples on Pentecost, to inform, embolden, and energize us as we go about our duty as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Still, “sustained inquiry is essential.” We must continue to read, learn, listen carefully, and pray. And, of course, we must continue to gather together to celebrate Eucharist where “the best attainable version of the truth“ is made available to us through the power of the Holy Spirit in the Word proclaimed and the Bread broken and shared.

Welcome the Holy Spirit of Pentecost!

Pentecost Sunday
JN 20:19-23
June 4, 2017

This past Sunday, I was standing near the doors of the church after Mass, greeting people as they made their way to their cars. A young family approached and a little blonde kid came up to me, looked up with a grin, and said: “I only come for the juice!” This parish offers coffee and juice following the liturgy (no donuts though–I checked).

I wanted to reply: “Me, too! I come for the juice as well.”

I refrained. Instead, I asked him: “Did you get some?”

His grin broadened and he said: “I took two!”

To which I replied: “Good! When something’s free…there for the taking…you should take as much as you want.”

Had the little guy been a bit older, and if there were less commotion around us, that exchange would have been a perfect teaching moment. As it was, it offered a reminder to me of why I come to the Table of the Word and the Communion Table for Eucharist. Being the Sunday before Pentecost, the timing for this little “faith refresher” could not have been better.

We hear in Isaiah 11:2-3 that the Spirit of God offers us seven priceless gifts. These gifts are “free for the taking,” and we are encouraged to take as many as we want. When we use these gifts for the purposes they were intended, we show the world what it means to live as one anointed in the Spirit of the Lord. Paul tells us that these 7 Gifts are “manifestations of the Spirit” (1Cor. 12:7-11). And so, if we walk out of church clothed in these 7 Gifts: WIDSOM, UNDERSTANDING, RIGHT JUDGMENT, COURAGE, KNOWLEDGE, REVERENCE, WONDER, AND AWE…it’s as if we have put on Jesus Christ.

On top of these 7 Gifts, there is also “juice!”

At Galatians 5:22-23, Paul gives us a recipe for a “sacred mixture” of 7 of the 12 Fruits of the Holy Spirit. What is particularly special about this “Holy Smoothie” that is offered free of charge…available in unlimited quantity…there for the taking…is that this “juice” is blended specially for each person who is thirsting. Every individual is given a special blend of these Fruits that will revitalize what was given them at Baptism and sealed in Confirmation.

Just as we can easily research the benefits of ingredients, loading our blenders with what our bodies require to improve our physical well-being, so, too, The Holy Spirit knows just exactly what we need to improve our spiritual lives and adjusts the recipe to each individual’s needs. Look up the spiritual health benefits for yourself and see what you might be lacking. Here is the basic recipe, but order according to your personal taste and needs.

RECIPE FOR A HOLY SMOOTHIE

LOVE: 1 Cor 13

JOY: Luke 1:39-45

PEACE: Luke 7:1-10

PATIENCE: Romans 8:31-37

KINDNESS: John 21:15-17

GOODNESS: Mark 12:41-44

FAITHFULNESS: Mark 6:7-10

GENTLENESS: John 18:19-38

SELF CONTROL: Romans 6:12-14

Come for the juice! And even before you get here…consider what would best improve your spiritual health and well-being…and put in your order.

And remember…you can take as much as you want…IT’S FREE.

Trinity Sunday
JN 3:16-18
June 11, 2017

One of the first things that American elementary school students learn about our government is that there is a system of checks and balances firmly in place. This concept of government is traced back to ancient Greece. Found primarily in constitutional governments in which the people enjoy a voice by way of elected representatives, checks and balances prevent one branch of government from usurping power and control beyond what is given to that office by law.

Every elementary student learns that the United States Constitution provides for a “tripartite governance,” entrusting specific responsibilities to three separate branches: Legislative, Executive, and Judicial. If one of the three steps out of its job description, it is both the right as well as the duty of the other two to “check” that effort to claim powers that are reserved to one of the other two branches; thus, restoring proper balance. Simply put, the concept of checks and balances is about controlling power to prevent the abuse of power.

Trinity Sunday invites us to ponder the impenetrable mystery of Three Divine Persons in one God. Theologians and philosophers have struggled for centuries to understand, explain, and defend this truth, which, in the end, is actually impossible for the finite human mind to grasp. In fact, in trying to tackle this Divine mystery with ill-equipped human intelligence, many have gotten it wrong. It’s a hard truth for our minds to absorb. And yet, each time we profess our Faith through The Creed, we speak of the consubstantial nature of the Three.

For many, that word, consubstantial, simply passes across the lips without penetrating the mind. Fortunately, God does not always message us through our minds. Very often, God speaks directly to our hearts. In other words, as we read the Gospels, it is not unusual for something to simply pass through our minds like words we speak without totally understanding them. But, when we listen to the Gospel with “open hearts,” the full message is transmitted and received with a special kind of clarity that approaches a personal experience of what we are being told.

It was Jesus Christ Who revealed the Doctrine of the Blessed Trinity. Throughout His teaching and preaching, at different times and in different ways, The Lord explained that with The Father and The Holy Spirit, He is God…Three in One, One in Three, each co-eternal (no beginning and no ending), uncreated (always was and always will be), unchanging (eternally perfect), and co-equal (each all-powerful – omnipotent)…more words that risk passing through our minds without enlightening us.

So then, on this Trinity Sunday, let’s open our hearts!

Long before ancient Greece, the infinite Mystery of God was expressed in “tripartite governance.” But there was no need for a system of “checks and balances,” because there was no possibility of abuse of power. The Three Divine Persons we call consubstantial are pure Love. Love is the complete opposite of selfish ambition. Because Each of the Three is One in Being…Each pure Love, it is impossible for The Trinity to suffer any kind of imbalance.

Moreover, Love cannot resist being expressed.

And so, The Creator expressed this Eternal Love by calling the universe into being and holding it in existence through the power of infinite, never-ending Love. The Son revealed this Eternal Love by becoming one like us…in all things but sin, so that He could walk among us, healing, forgiving, teaching, preaching, feeding, suffering, dying, and rising…all the time telling us: “I Love you!” Then the Holy Spirit poured out over all creation, sealing the message in our very hearts….YOU ARE LOVED!

Our words are inadequate and sometimes even misleading or just plain wrong. Our minds are incapable of fully understanding what it all means. But, our hearts are up to the challenge. It is within our hearts that we meet the Blessed Trinity…Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And it is within our hearts that we come to believe that if we do our best to love God and others, then someday, we will be part of this Holy, Eternal Union we call God…but what our hearts know as Perfect Love!

Body and Blood of Christ
JN 6:51-58
June 18, 2017

A friend recently told me about a chance encounter at Sunday Mass with a mutual friend of ours. She said: “I love that just sitting by someone through Mass is just as nice as spending an hour talking with them.” As an afterthought, she added with enthusiasm: “Maybe better!”

I totally got what she was saying, and her musings took me back many years, to when I had first gone “away to school.” Whenever possible, I would make the hour drive on a Sunday morning and sneak into the pew my family gravitated to each week. Usually just a few steps ahead of the entrance procession, there would be no time for anything but smiles and nods. And most often, I had to rush right back to Ann Arbor for one thing or another. But, the hour spent sitting shoulder to shoulder, praying with my family, was “just as nice as spending an hour talking with them… maybe better!” At least for that hour, our family was complete and enjoying a brief retreat from all of the cares and concerns and burdens that each of us carried. If only for an hour…together…we would bask in the kind of peace that can be found in the Eucharist…The Peace of Christ!

The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi Sunday) is the final step of the three special Sundays which bridge the Easter Season with Ordinary Time. It is rich in meaning and very focused on The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. But it is also fitting and proper to turn from the Altar to the pews in order to better understand why this Sunday so special.

Consider for a moment how our Second Reading concludes. Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.

Clearly “the loaf” that St. Paul is speaking about is The Bread of Life…Holy Communion. And when we gather around the Communion Table to share The Body of Christ and drink from the Cup of our Salvation, we experience a special unity or communion with The Lord as well as with one another. And so we are able to say: “…just sitting by someone through Mass is just as nice as spending an hour talking with them. Maybe better!”

So then, as we move into Ordinary Time, it is a good thing to recall that when we are “shoulder to shoulder” with one another…family, friend, neighbor, or even stranger…basking in the Peace of Christ…there is nothing ordinary about our time together. We become what we celebrate. We become what we eat. We become the Body of Christ, and grace and peace flow through our body giving us life…life in Christ.

That is why “…just sitting by someone through Mass is just as nice as spending an hour talking with them,” because we are sitting next to the Body of Christ! The Body and Blood of Christ is on the Altar…and through us…sitting in the pews! What could possibly be better?

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 10:26-33
June 25, 2017

On Wednesday, June 14, 2017, we woke to the shocking news that over 20 U.S. Congressmen, staff members, and lobbyists were attacked by a gunman during their early morning practice on a neighborhood ball diamond in Alexandria, Virginia. Even as the story was unfolding, there was more breaking news. A shooter in San Francisco claimed five victims. It was hard not to be overwhelmed by feelings of hopelessness and fear.

The “UPS” story got pushed to the background as our nation’s leaders rushed to the microphone to express their horror over the assault on our government. Each expressed deep regret that we have somehow become so steeped in “vitriolic rhetoric” (a number of speakers used the word “vitriolic,” meaning “filled with bitter criticism or malice”) that unstable people are moved to acts of extreme violence.

Our nation’s leaders faced the cameras, issued press releases, or “tweeted” assurances to the American people that this tragedy could become an opportunity to recapture the spirit of unity that has held our nation together, and a glimmer of hope returned. Under the circumstances, the words of these politicians seemed genuine and sincere. Most people listening certainly wanted these commitments to dialogue, cooperation, compromise, unity, and peace to be true.

Our hope was strengthened as we learned that the opposition team, practicing on a ball diamond in a neighborhood on the other side of our nation’s capital, having been alerted to the shooting, gathered in prayer for the victims. Then came news that it was agreed by both parties that the charity ballgame would still be played the following evening. Our spirits began to rally. As the day came to a close, the suggestion began to circulate that rather continuing the century-long tradition of the Red Team playing the Blue Team, the teams be mingled as a sign that all of the speeches and statements and “tweets” of the day were genuine. How great would that have been!

But it didn’t happen.

The Red Team played the Blue Team. More speeches were made during the game. The trophy was awarded to the Congressman still in critical condition. And the next day, returning to their offices on Capitol Hill, the words of Jeremiah the Prophet once again began to echo throughout the Chambers. Denounce! Watch for any misstep! Perhaps he will be trapped, then we can prevail! In other words: Business as usual!

The immediate return to “vitriolic rhetoric” should come as no surprise. St. Paul explains in our Second Reading (Romans 5:12-15) that bitterness and malice…sin and death…entered the world through the first parents and have infected all humankind from that day forward. Talk about hopelessness!

But, Paul goes on to offer us much more than a ray of light or glimmer of hope. Through God’s gracious gift of Jesus Christ, the possibility of perfect dialogue, cooperation, compromise, unity, true and lasting peace, and unconditional love becomes reality. We know that the fullness of the Good News awaits Christ’s return in glory and the establishment of the eternal Reign of God. But, in the meantime, we are called to push back against darkness, hopelessness, and fear by giving witness to the Gospel.

Today, we resume Ordinary Time. Hopefully, having spent the past months pondering the depth and meaning of Jesus’s passion, death, and resurrection, we return to this liturgical season truly changed. If not, we might not be up to the task of this Sunday’s Gospel.

In Matthew’s 10:26-33, The Lord challenges us to acknowledge our faith. But, the acknowledgement we are called to demands more than a TV interview, a press release, or a “tweet.” Acknowledging that a tragedy has occurred because of our failure to live as God created us and suggesting that things should change is simply not enough.

The acknowledgement Jesus speaks of comes from the heart, which inspires the mind. Only then can the lips speak with sincerity. It is easy to frame words that are pleasing to the ear. But they have no real meaning or lasting value unless they are sincere and genuine. Words that do not originate in the heart are little more than noise.

Later in Romans, St. Paul tells us: For one believes with one’s heart and so is justified, and one confesses with one’s lips and so is saved. But to have the power to save…to change…to bring about dialogue, cooperation, compromise, unity, and peace in our nation, our world, our families, our Church…our acknowledgement must originate in our hearts where The Holy Spirit dwells.

As we make our way through the coming months of Ordinary Time, may the Lord be always on your mind, and on your lips…and in your heart – always in your heart!

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 10:37-42
July 2, 2017

Early on, students in composition classes learn about a literary technique called “the back story.” The concept isn’t new. Aristotle explained to his students in ancient Greece that when telling a story, it is good to include the significant facts and details that lead up to the main story. “The back story” helps to make the main story more credible. Recently, this tool of storytellers seems to have been borrowed by journalists who promise a convincing “back story” that will remove any suspicion that their main story is fake news.

The Good News for this 13th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Independence Day Weekend) seems to beg for “the back story.” The opening line leaves us asking ourselves: WHAT?

It certainly isn’t as if we don’t already know the “back story” to this Gospel. Every time we profess our faith through the Creed, we state a significant fact….a critical detail…that enables a deeper understanding of the “main story” of salvation…the Gospel. We say:

I believe in God….Creator of heaven and earth.

While creatures ourselves, humankind is unique within the created realm because we alone are able to know and love God. This is possible because God, The Source of all life and love, called us into existence as both earthly as well as spiritual beings. The problem is that, many times, we are so rooted in our earthly selves through relationships with others, attachment to material goods, pride in our accomplishments, and ambition for even more…and more and more…that the main story becomes all about the things of this world, and the back story of who we truly are and what we were created to be becomes more and more distant. As we lose touch with our spiritual side, we also lose touch with God. That might well be what Jesus is telling us when He says: Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

Jesus is calling us to restore God to the Creator’s rightful place in our lives. Essentially, what we have here is a challenge to move God from the back and place Him first in all things. Moreover, The Lord offers assurance of great rewards for those who declare their independence from the earthly attachments which can enslave us, and pledge our total dependence on our Creator, Whose will it is that we live for all eternity in the freedom of The Holy Spirit.

The American theologian, Monika Hellwig, when commenting on these Readings, concluded with this thought: When we think what is asked of us is sheer death, we may find that it is a breakthrough to new life!

There is nothing fake about this news…It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 11:25-30
July 9, 2017

The experts tell us that: Every pound of excess weight exerts about 4 pounds of extra pressure on the knees. So a person who is 10 pounds overweight has 40 pounds of extra pressure on the knees; if a person is 100 pounds overweight, that is 400 pounds of extra pressure on the knees. It’s a whole lot of work carrying around an additional 40 pounds everywhere you go. It amounts to slave labor, taking a major toll on every part of the body, when one is forced to move 400 pounds throughout the day.

And then there are the things that weigh heavy on the mind, which are, in many ways, more debilitating than obesity — things such as debt, ambition, envy, greed, anger, the desire for revenge…the list goes on and on…and can be as debilitating and destructive as 100 extra pounds of body fat. If airlines were to charge for emotional baggage, a lot of flights would be canceled. Few could afford to fly.

St. Paul to the rescue!

In our Second Reading (Romans 8:9, 11-13) we are reminded that there is a “better part of us”…our spiritual self…that can’t gain weight. When we are in touch with our true selves, all worries and concerns, even the real ones that require our attention, become lighter and much more manageable. The better part of us, that part that God created with the ability to outlast time, is not flesh, “On the contrary; we are in the Spirit if only the Spirit of God dwells in us.” When we recall that we leave all of our cares and concerns behind “in time” when the better part of us moves into eternity; then somehow, we manage to enjoy greater control over the things that burden us.

Certainly, good physical and mental health are important. After all, God has seen fit to package the better part of us “in the flesh.” We should take care to be good stewards of our minds and our bodies. But, when we give priority to the better part of us…our spiritual lives…somehow, some way…everything else seems to become lighter and easier to carry.

Supported by the First Reading, this little Gospel passage (Matt.11:25-30) should inspire us to relieve the pressure we place on our bodies and our minds by laying aside those things that have a stranglehold on us, weigh us down, and prevent our spirits from soaring! Moreover, Jesus assures us that it isn’t complicated; it’s a simple matter. It doesn’t require the expertise of a dietitian or a personal trainer or a psychologist.

Through His death and resurrection, Jesus has proven that even though the better part of us is packaged in flesh and bones, our earthly bodies cannot weigh down our spirits…so long as the Spirit of Christ dwells within us.

As we move deeper into Ordinary Time, exploring the Mysteries of Faith, help to take the pressure off your bones by including Eucharist in your food plan, and calm your frayed nerves by God’s Word proclaimed. Walk lighter…live lighter!

Walk in the Light of Christ. Live Jesus! It’s that simple!

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 13:1-23
July 16, 2017

Trying to write with a broken pencil is pointless!

This was one of a number of little riddles that a friend recently forwarded to me via e mail. Frankly, it’s the only one I remember…and one of the few in the lengthy litany that I really didn’t have to think too long on before I found the humor.

Actually, when I first opened the message, I was in a rush and almost hit “delete.” But, having read and “solved” the first, I moved forward…groaning at how silly some of them seemed, but challenged by a few that, at first glance, stumped me. I actually felt a bit of excitement when I solved one of the more obscure…cleverly hidden, and was encouraged to continue reading. For the most part, I smiled, giggled to myself, or laughed out loud as I made my way down through the list of little brain teasers. I was glad that I had taken the time to read through them. The exercise slowed me down, relaxed me, and lightened my mood. I actually sent on a “Thank You!” note to my friend.

Jesus often taught in parables. Matthew reports this particular farm parable, but the majority of the Gospel on this 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time is The Lord’s explanation to His disciples of why The Lord chose to address “such a large crowd” in this manner. It’s easy to imagine the scene, and even to place oneself there in the enormous and diverse crowd, observing the various reactions to His “spirit teasers.”

Some passersby, happening on the spectacle, might well have hurried away without even stopping. Being too busy to spend even a moment listening to The Word of God spoken by The Living Word of God, they suffered a tragic loss of opportunity!

Sprinkled throughout the crowd, there were probably a few scribes, Pharisees, leaders from the Temple in Jerusalem and area synagogues…maybe even a few Roman soldiers standing by to keep the peace…surrounding The Prince of Peace! These were the kinds of people the Lord described as “the wise and learned.” Can’t you just see them scoffing at the simplicity of Jesus’s teaching? Can’t you almost hear them GROAN? Their arrogance left them blind to the beauty of Jesus’s teaching and deaf to the empowering and life-changing lessons He brought. GROOOOAAAANNNNS…especially from “the wise and learned,” tend to be contagious. Influenced by this haughtiness, many who might otherwise have stayed to listen ended up elbowing their way out of the crowd to resume their day…unchanged.

In spite of their skepticism or inability to unlock the parable, some people, for whatever reason, hung in there. Their commitment was greatly rewarded with an AAAHH! moment. At some point, they got it! They understood. They were able to apply the message to their own lives. They discovered answers they were searching for. A sense of peace replaced a troubled mind. Feelings of hope pushed despair to the background. They were excited! They wanted more.

Finally, there were people in the crowd like you! You wouldn’t be reading this reflection if you weren’t the rich soil in which The Gospel is able to root deeply, be nourished in, and produce an abundant harvest. The Good News lightens your spirits, even as my friend’s email lightened my mood. People of faith find rest, refreshment, and wisdom in the Word of The Lord!

Still, these days, the GROOOOAAAANNNNS of the arrogant seem to be getting louder and more determined than ever to influence those eager to hear the Good News…anxious to see what God has ready for those who love Him. When we gather in our parish churches, we see the empty places. People are “too busy,” ”too preoccupied,” “too distracted,” ”too influenced” by people and things to commit to stopping to hear what God is saying to them through the Gospel. Things really aren’t that different than the day when Jesus used a small fishing boat as His pulpit.

There can be dangerous fallout contaminating the rich soil if we don’t resist. And so it’s especially important to unpack the Second Reading (Romans 8:18-23). While we live in the flesh, there are people and things that try to persuade us that our beliefs are “false Good News” and that our faith life is “futile!” In a very real way, our Church, The Body of Christ, is experiencing a period of great suffering. This is nothing new. Things really aren’t that different than the day when Jesus used a small fishing boat as His pulpit.

But the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us. With these hopeful assurances, the First Reading becomes less of a riddle. While it might seem to us that God’s Words are being ignored, or worse, the reality is in God’s time, it will achieve the end for which God sent it. In other words, things really aren’t that different than the day when Jesus used a small fishing boat as His pulpit. God is in control.

As for you… the rich soil…continue to listen and see what God has ready for those who love the Lord. And remember, trying to live a Christian life without the Living Word of God is as pointless as trying to write with a broken pencil. Don’t let anyone try to convince you otherwise.

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 13:24-43
July 23, 2017

If you drive past my house during the spring and summer, one glance will alert you to the fact that I am no gardener. I could easily use my knees, my back, and certainly my advanced age as an excuse for what many would call “neglect.” But the reality is that even when I was younger, pulling weeds was just not my thing. Moreover, I’m not good at it. When I try to “clean things up,” I end up killing the good stuff…and clearing space for the bad stuff to thrive.

Having driven past my house myself and noticed that my yard needs a little TLC, a good buddy sent over “the kid” that keeps my friend’s yard looking like Dow Gardens. This young man has the proverbial touch. Not only a hard worker, who keeps at it until the job is done, he also has the skill to pick out the weeds, leaving the garden plants and giving them an opportunity to grow stronger and blossom. After he leaves, I really try hard to keep things looking nice. And although my knees, my back, and certainly my advanced age prevent me from doing what “the kid” can do…he inspires me to do what I can at least try to do! God Bless my buddy and “the kid!”

It seems that I hear…or hear of…a lot of preaching these days that tends to highlight certain words from our First Reading from the Book of Wisdom. I’m talking about words like: Condemned! Might! Perfection! Rebuke! Power! Just! And while it is certainly the case that God is perfectly just…and all that goes with that…there are other words in that First Reading that we frail, weak-kneed, sometimes spineless human beings need to focus on. Care! Lenient! Clemency! Kind! Repentance! Hope!

The first and longer of the three little parables that are this Sunday’s Gospel brings my back yard, as well as my spiritual life, to mind. But when I read and reflect on it, remembering those words that so often enjoy the spotlight by demanding preachers: Condemned! Might! Perfection! Rebuke! Power! Just! I get a little nervous. Who can honestly say that they haven’t had a bad thought or feeling, or an appetite that is contrary to God’s will? Most of the time, we don’t even know where they came from. These “weeds,” like dandelions, thistles, and crabgrass, just appear and then start to take over. And once they get ahold of us, we sometimes feel so overwhelmed that we don’t know where to begin. It’s then that we start with the excuses and let the weeds grow.

Just about the time I panic over the state of my “spiritual garden,” I think about our Second Reading (Romans 8:26-2). Like “the kid,” the Holy Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness. The Holy Spirit searches our hearts and tends to them with Care! The Spirit knows how our lives could look if this or that thought or feeling could be uprooted. With a Kind and gentle hand, The Spirit begins to clear away the bad things so that goodness, charity, and love have room to thrive. And when the work is done, The Spirit “sprays” (with an ecologically-friendly product) our “spiritual garden” with Repentance – a powerful preventative that stops the bad stuff from coming back – or at least slows it down.

When “the kid” pulls into my yard and sees how bad things have once again become, he NEVER condemns or rebukes me. “The kid” is Lenient! He quietly goes to work cleaning things up again. So, too, with the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit tempers God’s perfect justice with Clemency, quietly going about the work of removing what is bad and nourishing what is good; and leaving behind an enormous feeling of Hope! After this spiritual gardening, one can’t help but want to keep things looking nice. Sure, our knees are still sore, and our back is still weak, and the ever-present reality that the seeds of spiritual dandelions, crabgrass, and thistles continue to invade. But a visit from The Holy Spirit inspires us to do what we can…to try harder…until that day when The Master Gardener perfects us.

So, how does your yard look this summer? Need a little “TLC?”

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