Journal Archive 2018 CYCLE B

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First Sunday of Advent
MK 13:33-37
December 3, 2017

The past two years, I’ve been driving a vehicle that has a special safety feature. The car came with sensors on the front and sides. Not that I ever did, but if I just happened to “tailgate” the car in front of me, a flashing red “collision alert” would appear on the dashboard, warning me to back off. And if I ventured out of my lane, which, of course, even the most conscientious drivers occasionally do, a cautionary signal appears on the side-view mirror, together with rather loud chimes. If one method of warning doesn’t reset wandering attention, the other certainly will.

When I first started driving the vehicle, I actually found these devices as annoying as my Dad…who was a world class backseat driver. But with time, I came to appreciate these watchful helpers. Obviously, no one can rely totally on this technology to get safely to their destination. Drivers still have the primary responsibility for getting home safely. But these warning signals certainly help. They are especially helpful at night. I recently changed to a vehicle without these bells and whistles, and I missed them. Once again, I was totally dependent on myself.

We begin Advent 2017 with a passage from Isaiah, who acknowledges the human inclination to wander from the path of righteousness. The First Reading brings to mind how easily we are distracted from what is good and holy.

It doesn’t take that much to distract even the best driver. Our minds wander, especially if we are worried about something. Our vision tends to stray from the road to a sign or a building. Don’t even get me started on the cell phone.

It’s the same sort of thing with our spiritual journey. There are countless distractions that draw our attention away from God. We travel through time in the darkness of sin and death. The neon lights of worldly things are constantly trying to draw our attention away from The Light of Christ. They don’t offer true light, only dangerous distractions. And once worldly…material things…grab our attention, they hold on with a death grip.

Which brings us to this first season of the liturgical year. Although technically, Advent is not a time for repentance, still, it is a four-week long opportunity to refocus on our journey. The key words in our First Reading are like the safety features in my old vehicle…they get our attention. And if we happen to ignore one of the warnings, another follows quickly behind.

WANDER…RETURN…HEAR…SEE…WAIT…ROUSE!

Today we are reminded of the need to redirect our attention and make any course corrections that are necessary to ensure safe traveling. Just like the signals on the side mirrors of newer vehicles, our Gospel flashes words at us that are impossible to ignore…even with the multiple distractions of shopping, parties, decorating, assembling, wrapping, and baking. The Lord Himself cautions us to BE WATCHFUL! BE ALERT!

Thankfully, we are not totally dependent upon ourselves. We are equipped with all of the safety features a traveler needs to arrive home in the Kingdom of God. We are given the Gospel to guide us. We have the Holy Spirit to “backseat drive.” And of course, we have the Sacraments to help us get back on the right path when we wander. So, then, together, let’s travel around the Advent wreath, making four stops to light candles as we make our way around this symbol of eternal life. Our first stop is the candle that reminds us to BE WATCHFUL! BE ALERT! Because the Day of the Lord is at hand!

Second Sunday of Advent
MK 1:1-8
December 10, 2017

One tradition has it that the Advent wreath has four candles to symbolize the 4,000 years separating Adam and Eve from the Birth of Christ. Symbols are essential to our Christian faith. We use symbols to help us wrap our minds around things we cannot see. So, it’s important that the message they offer is true and accurate.

To protect the symbol value of the four candles, take special note of the opening line of our Second Reading (Peter 3:8). Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord, one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like one day. Rather than counting days, or years, or centuries, or millennia, it might be more helpful to focus on the gradually increasing light the Advent wreath gives with the passage of each week of the season.

God works very slowly so as not to overwhelm us. We see “Godspeed” throughout nature. Even a new day, with all of its promise and potential, begins with a mere suggestion. Slowly, gradually, gently…almost without notice, the light pushes back the darkness. Nothing we do can hurry “daylight.” We can fight darkness with artificial light, but to enjoy true “daylight,” we simply have to wait patiently. The waiting, however, is made easier by the certainty that eventually the sun will rise.

That seems to be the message that Isaiah brings in the passage from the Old Testament proclaimed on this Second Sunday of Advent. God works very slowly, and there is a lot of work to be done. A straight path needs to be carved out through the wasteland. That means valleys need to be filled in and mountains and hills need to be leveled. The process of clearing the way for The Incarnation, the Birth of Jesus Christ, took many generations. So, too, with respect to the Lord’s return in Glory, when, as our First Reading concludes: the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people shall see it together.

John the Baptist is a major character in the Advent Season. His mission and ministry focused on the work of carving a straight path for Jesus to walk into human history. His call to baptism and the repentance of sin was a challenge to the people to remove all obstacles that prevented them from recognizing Jesus as the Messiah. Unlike the Almighty, John did not move slowly. He went about his work with a sense of urgency.

And so, too, with Jesus Himself. His earthly mission as God’s Word Incarnate was measured in time…slightly over 30 years. He could not go about His work of building the Kingdom slowly. There has never been, nor will there ever be, a greater urgency to any task than the urgency of the work which The Father sent The Son into the world to accomplish.

And the same holds true for each of us. Through our own baptisms, Jesus shares both His power and His mission and ministry. But our earthly lives are measured and limited. We have to be aggressive in carrying out our duties as Christian disciples. We cannot go about nourishing the hungry or thirsty at a leisurely pace. We have only a minuscule amount of time to reach out with a healing touch to the sick, shut-in, and dying. We are required as followers of Christ to extend an immediate welcome to the stranger. We might not be able to level mountains or fill in valleys, but we should be quick to knock down the walls that divide us.

Advent is the perfect season to evaluate the pace at which we work on discipleship, aware of the fact that every time we do what we are called to do, the Light of Christ burns just a little brighter in this dark, dark world.

In the coming week, let’s resolve to be a true and accurate symbol of Christ, so that those who do not know the Lord can wrap their minds around Him, Whom they cannot see.

Third Sunday of Advent
JN 1:6-8, 19-28
December 17, 2017

In his little reflection for this Gaudete Sunday, Bishop Robert F. Morneau of Green Bay, Wisconsin writes: Joy has fallen on hard times in this turbulent world. He goes on to ask: Is joy possible in such a broken world?

It’s certainly true that network news these days brings shame and fear to mind a lot faster than JOY! But the fact is that the world was “broken” when the first parents made the first shameful choice. Fear entered the human conscience when, as a consequence of the Original sin, they were turned out of the Garden. The “news” we deal with in 2017 is not new. But, because of God’s infinite mercy and love, it has been overpowered by The Good News of Jesus Christ.

Bishop Morneau is able to go on to answer his own question. Turning to the Second Reading, (Thessalonians 5:16-24), he reminds us: Paul’s faith in God’s presence enabled him to have joy and peace far beyond our limited understanding. The Holy Spirit empowered Paul to be prayerful, grateful, and yes, joyful.

The same Holy Spirit comes to each of us in Baptism, empowering us to shrug off shame and face down our fears. The same Holy Spirit Who enabled Paul to find joy and peace in the midst of ridicule, persecution, imprisonment, and finally a martyr’s death enables us to find joy even in a broken world. The same Holy Spirit that energized St. Paul motivates us to be prayerful, grateful, and yes, even joyful.

We have lit the third candle and are entering the midpoint of this season of prayer, gratitude, and joy. And so it might be a good thing to join The Holy Father in praying to God with grateful hearts for this special season of joy.

A Prayer for Advent

Let us open our hearts to receive
the grace of this Advent season,
which is Christ himself,
whom God our Father has revealed
to the entire world.
Where God is born, hope is born.
Where God is born, peace is born.
And where peace is born,
there is no longer room for hatred and for war.
God alone can save us and can free us
from the many forms of evil
and the selfishness in our midst.
Let us welcome into our lives God’s mercy,
which Jesus Christ has bestowed on us,
so that we in turn can show mercy
to our brothers and sisters.
In this way we will make peace grow!
Pope Francis

Fourth Sunday of Advent
LK 1:26-38
December 24, 2017

From the time that God directed Abram (later to be known as Abraham) to leave the comfort of his hometown and go out into a strange land, abandoning the familiar and venturing into the unknown, the Jewish people have taken pride in being “chosen.” God chose Abraham and later his descendants for a special role in salvation history. That’s why you often hear them referred to as “the Chosen People.”

We typically take pride in being “chosen” for this or that. Granted, there are times when we are “passed over” that we actually feel relieved. But even then, the sense of relief is usually tinted with feelings of being overlooked or unappreciated, even unworthy…deemed unfit or not up to the task.

And then there are times, when chosen, that we decline. Sometimes, even though we accept, we give only a half-hearted effort to the task. Either way, this can leave us wondering: What would have happened had I accepted? What would things be like if I had made a true effort?

Being chosen by God is clearly a great privilege. However, as we see in today’s Gospel, an invitation from God also requires that we leave our comfort zone and venture into strange and uncharted territory. Being chosen by God involves risk-taking and requires strong faith and trust in God, together with courage and self-sacrifice. Being chosen by God involves commitment even to the point of suffering. Mary was chosen. She accepted God’s invitation and embraced the task with her entire being.

Christians are likewise chosen to bring Christ into the world, although not in the same dramatic and unrepeatable way as the Blessed Mother. Still, at our Baptism, God whispers the Eternal Word into our very being and then invites us to do just what was asked of Mary…permit the Word to take on our flesh…so that Christ might come to dwell in this world.

We are called not simply to celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ…The Incarnation…God’s Eternal Word taken Flesh to dwell in this world. God has chosen us to participate in the great mystery of our faith. This might require us to step out of our comfort zone and venture into unknown or unexplored territory. But if we accept the invitation and commit ourselves wholeheartedly to the work of discipleship, we will find that we have ventured into the Promised Land…where The Spirit of Christmas never ends!

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
Luke 2:22-40
December 31, 2017

What is there to say about 2017?

LOTS!

In fact…there is way too much to say about this year of change, confusion, violence, terror, natural disasters, escalating international tensions, and shame. At the end of every news day, we were left wondering: “What’s next?” Nothing can surprise us anymore.

The Church ends this calendar year with The Feast of the Holy Family. Our Liturgy offers us three Readings, each seemingly perfect to the occasion because of specific references to family life. That is certainly a good thing since we live in times when there is a lot of change and a good deal of confusion about just exactly what “family” means. Our Readings invite us to look deeper into the interactions within families, but, at the same time, expands the meaning of the word “family.” Let’s start small.

When we “look deeper into the interactions within biological families,” very often we see violence. No police officer is a stranger to domestic dispute calls. Our Readings propose a different way of living together…in mutual respect which brings about peace. Now, let’s expand our understanding of the word “family.”

Terror and the escalating international tensions are the products of a very limited view of “family.” Sadly, we often use our religious beliefs to divide us rather than bring us together. If people of faith would truly recognize God as Heavenly Parent to all humankind, then the harmony we hope for within our biological family could begin to define global relationships.

While we are heartened by the stories of families and neighbors working together to survive hurricanes, floods, tornados, and forest fires…the majority of our sisters and brothers in Puerto Rico, for example, can’t enjoy these reports. They are still without electricity, three months after a devastating hurricane. Moreover, there is unimaginable human suffering from natural disasters. Those of us who have not experienced protracted utility failures are completely unaware of this because their stories go unreported. It seems that unless we feel related, then the suffering of others is of little or no interest to us. That’s exactly why we need to “stretch” our understanding of the word “family.” Think of it this way: If we want to call Christ our brother, then we must do the same for every other man, woman, and child.

Which brings us to shame! 2017 was a year when so many prominent men fell from grace…publicly shamed. One can only wonder how different 2017 might have been had these men set themselves apart, not by thoughtless acts of disrespect, but rather by treating others with heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. (Would you want your mother, your wife, your sister, your daughter treated like that?)

We begin a new year tomorrow. One can only wonder how different 2018 could be if we do our best to live what we proclaimed today on this Feast of the Holy Family.
Let’s work to distinguish this year as a year of mutual respect. Start small. Be especially conscious of making your family holy by respecting one another. And once you get that down pat, stretch the word “family” to include your neighbors, coworkers, and classmates. From there…recognize the guy who cuts you off in traffic as a much loved “brother.” Look at the lady in the grocery store who pushes ahead of you in line as your favorite “sister.” Greet people who look or act differently as “cousins.” Watch the news with the same concern that you bring to the Facebook posting from a family member in distress.

Just keep stretching.

And one year from now, if you’re asked: What is there to say about 2018?

No matter what else might be happening in the world, you will be able to say: LOTS!

It was a year of PEACE!

Happy New Year…Christ’s Peace reign within your heart and within your family!

The Epiphany of the Lord
MT 2:1-12
January 7, 2018

People put different boundaries around Christmas. Some decorate the day after Thanksgiving and have everything taken down and packed away by noon on Dec. 26. Others wait until Christmas Eve to put up the tree and it is well into the New Year before they let go of the season. In almost every neighborhood, there is a house that still has the outdoor lights brightening up the dark winter night…until it’s not winter anymore. With the exception of the retail industry, in the secular world, there is no official starting point or closing date for the “season to be jolly.” And that might be a good thing. The early starters and the last to finish help to stretch out the “tidings of comfort and joy.”

From a spiritual standpoint, our Church places NO BOUNDARIES on our celebration of The Incarnation…God’s Eternal Word made flesh. Throughout the year, we continue to hear and rejoice in what God reveals to us by the Eternal Word that was spoken into the body of Mary and born into time in Bethlehem. The Good News continues to gladden our hearts every day of the year, filling those wise enough to listen with “comfort and joy.” That being said, we do follow a liturgical calendar, and, in that sense, there is a beginning and an end to The Christmas Season.

Which brings us to the celebration of the Epiphany. From a chronological standpoint, the events described in Matthew’s Gospel must have occurred after the arrival of the shepherds but before the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt to avoid the tragic slaughter of the Holy Innocents. And so we hear this event proclaimed towards the conclusion of the Christmas Season. This, by no means, indicates that the exotic visitors from the East played a minor role in the Birth of Jesus Christ. There is much more to this Feast than merely bringing the final three figures from the closet to our crèche.

Woven into this story are the same themes that run throughout the Infancy Narratives. The three are aware of God’s promise to send a Savior and are vigilant for signs that the ancient prophecies are fulfilled. Like Mary and Joseph, they respond in a courageous manner when, at last, the star signals that something extraordinary has happened. They are accepting of the risks that faith often demands and they undertake an arduous and dangerous journey to parts unknown. The gifts they bring indicate their awareness of what they are searching for: King…Sacrificial Lamb…Divinity. And, in spite of the unlikely circumstances in which they find The Christ Child, they recognize Him immediately for who He is and they respond by humbling themselves.

While the Gospel offers little detail of these three mysterious witnesses, it is clear that they represent faith-seeking understanding, and for their efforts, they are richly rewarded.

Theirs is a story that we cannot simply wrap in tissue paper and pack away with the little plaster camels. The Feast of the Epiphany is a reminder that God’s promise to send a Messiah was for all people of all ages. However, to appreciate that the Promised One has arrived, a person must be vigilant for the signs signaling His arrival into our lives. Like the Magi, when we sense that God is inviting us to take part in something extraordinary, we should respond in a courageous manner, accepting risks and traveling into foreign places, carrying us far from our comfort zone. We bring the gifts which God has given to us and place them at the feet of the Newborn King…the unblemished Lamb Who will become the perfect sacrifice to atone for sin.

Possibly the most important lesson we learn from these three paragons of wisdom is humility. If we humble ourselves before the Christ child, we will be richly rewarded, and, like the three visitors from the East, we will return to our lives “another way,” that is to say…sanctified.

THE STAR is not a seasonal event. It is there in the night sky every single night. Are you wise enough to look up? Are you courageous enough to follow it?


Here is a star that will lead you to a child who did not suffer the wrath of Herod, but nevertheless found very little comfort and joy during the Christmas Season. Saginaw County currently has within its custody and care far more children than can be placed in safe and loving foster homes. These kids obviously did not spend Christmas in a stable, but they did not have the support and protection of a Holy Family. If you are willing to take a risk…leave your comfort zone…and accept an invitation to do something extraordinary…please consider becoming foster parents. And if possible, please share this urgent message by means of your social media outlet. PEACE!

For information as to how you can serve….please call

Amanda Moran, LLMSW
Children’s Services
Foster Care Worker
Foster Home Licensing
Saginaw County
Michigan Department of Health & Human Services
411 E. Genesee
PO Box 5070
Saginaw, MI 48605

989-293-6561
989-758-2708 Fax

Second Sunday of Ordinary Time
JN 1:35-42
January 14, 2018

Connecting the dots…

The Christmas Season is over. We are now in a brief period of “Ordinary Time.” (Ash Wednesday is early this year…actually Valentine’s Day… make plans to take your sweetheart to dinner…BEFORE 2/14). So when I sat down to give some serious reflection time to this Sunday’s Readings, I expected to make a jarring leap from Bethlehem to Galilee, a span of about 30 years. The jump was softened for me when I shifted my attention from Jesus and His mission to the other characters in the story.

Fresh from the Feast of the Epiphany, I was still pondering the quest of the three exotic visitors from “the east.” The story of these seekers lacks detail, but we do know that they were willing to make an extreme, personal investment in order to be among the first witnesses to something extraordinary.

The Magi are called “Wise Men” in that they were aware of a promise from God to bring about a radical change in the world. They were vigilant for signs that this change was about to begin and confident that, through a spectacular star, God had provided a reliable guide for what they understood would be a most treacherous journey into the unknown. The three encountered the embodiment of sheer evil in the person of Herod. But the light from the heavens broke through that darkness and they continued their search.

Convincing evidence that they deserve to be remembered as wise is their understanding that they had found what they were looking for in the most unusual place…a stable. Perhaps the most convincing evidence of their wisdom, however, is their reaction: they prostrated themselves, offering gifts that proved that they fully comprehended they were privileged witnesses to the beginning of the Reign of God. For their efforts, they were changed.

On this Second Sunday of Ordinary Time, we hear, through John’s Gospel, the story of another “epiphany.” Also involving three seekers, these individuals probably were not considered to be especially wise, nor is it likely that they could afford costly gifts. Still, they were aware of God’s promise to send The Messiah, Who would usher in radical change in our world. Their faith in God’s promise motivated them to seek a deeper understanding of how and when this promise would be kept. And, even as God sent the Magi a star, these three very ordinary people enjoyed the spiritual guidance of John the Baptist. With a few powerful words whispered rather than shouted, John redirected their attention from himself, and it came to rest on the Person of Jesus.

They didn’t have to travel a great distance to find Him. Actually, it seems that He found them. Notice the similarity between the reaction of the Magi and the three we meet in today’s Gospel. Recognition!

At first, they called Him “Rabbi,” a sign of respect and an indication of their willingness to sit humbly at His feet and learn from Him. As the day wore on, there was a declaration of the fullness of their understanding. They recognized Jesus as The Messiah…the fullness of God’s promise.

With this initial encounter, they began a journey with The Lord that carried them into the unknown…with many dangerous encounters and experiences of evil and treachery.

They traveled across deserts, up to the summit of mountains, and crossed angry waters in the middle of raging storms. However, repeatedly along the way, they were amazed by the power, the compassion, and the love of the man who inspired them to put their very lives in His hands. At first, they thought their journey had ended at Calvary. But then, they were guided to an empty tomb…and ultimately to another hilltop, where, like the Magi, they gazed into the heavens until their attention was once again redirected…this time into the world where they were sent to continue the work that Jesus had begun.

And then, last Sunday evening, at 11:45 p.m., as the celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany was coming to an end, The Star reappeared in the night sky over Saginaw, Michigan, and the century-long, wonder-filled journey of Sr. Bernardone came to an end. She was guided out of time and into eternity, where she encountered The Christ and paid Him homage. She had no exotic gifts to offer. Rather, she laid before the Lord the same gift that Andrew and Peter brought to Jesus that day described in John’s Gospel…her very life. And the Lord was well pleased.

Even as a young woman, she showed enormous wisdom, trusting that God’s promise to make a radical change in the world had indeed been fulfilled through Jesus Christ. Like the Magi and the Apostles and disciples, Sr. Bernardone made the ultimate personal investment, committing herself to a life of contemplation, prayer, and service. She spent a century giving convincing witness to all whom she met on her journey that something extraordinary and unrepeatable had happened in Bethlehem. Moreover, through her vocation as a Poor Clare, she taught us how what was begun back then continues today through those who humble themselves before The Lamb of God. She deserves to be remembered for her wisdom…but it was her humility that shines through the darkness.

The words of St. Clare were always on her mind and in her heart. We become what we love and Who we love shapes what we become. Sr. Bernardone loved God with all her heart, with all her soul, and with all her mind.

And so we pray as St. Clare prayed: Go forth in peace, for you have followed the good road. Go forth without fear, for He Who created you has made you holy, has always protected you, and loves you as a mother. Blessed be You, our God, for having created this wise woman…who lived among us and taught us and inspired us to be holy.

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
MK 1:14-20
January 21, 2018

It’s true what they say. In retirement, you often feel busier than when you were working. And while “senior status priests” do not experience retirement in the conventional sense, being relieved of parish duties and responsibilities does not mean loads of free time with nothing to do.

So when, out of the blue, I got a phone call asking if I would consider stepping in mid-year to fill an unexpected vacancy and teach theology at Nouvel Catholic Central High School…my IMMEDIATE response was…I simply don’t have the time! And that really was the truth. But, before the conversation ended, I found myself agreeing to meet with the principal to “discuss” the situation. A few days later, as I was walking up the sidewalk to the front doors of the school, it occurred to me that this was the only “interview” I had ever gone to that I was hoping and praying that I did not get the job.

I started teaching on Thursday of this past week!

As the news got around that I was a temporary/part time faculty member, more than one person reacted by saying things like: What were you thinking? Did you forget you’re retired? And then there was the more colorful reaction: Have you lost your mind? You’re going to kill yourself. In fact, even my doctors expressed some reservations and concerns.

Why did I agree? The Readings for this 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time are my best explanation.

St. Paul begins the Second Reading with an alarming note: I tell you, brothers and sisters, the time is running out. You can feel the sense of urgency in those words. As I approach the BIG 7-0, it dawns on me how true those words are. My time to live out my baptismal responsibility by passing on our Catholic faith to the next generation is indeed coming to an end. And so, I came to see the unexpected call about the teaching position not so much a “job offer” as a call to discipleship. In other words, it occurred to me that this was one more opportunity to do my duty as a follower of Jesus Christ. And so, it was an offer I really couldn’t refuse. In a very real way, it was the exact invitation that Jesus extended to Peter, Andrew, James, and John. And they found that they couldn’t refuse, to the point of leaving everything and IMMEDIATELY following Jesus.

So, this past Thursday, I went fishing for souls…this time in a high school!

All three Readings this weekend carry a note of urgency. In the work of salvation, there is no time to discuss, consider, interview, and decide. And there are no acceptable excuses. Discipleship should always be given a priority. And when the opportunity to bring someone to Christ presents itself, IMMEDIATE action is called for. The very kind of urgent response that the Prophet Jonah demonstrated in our First Reading is what is needed. And our lack of preparedness, or skill…or time should not be a concern. When Jesus calls, He sees in us what He saw in four ordinary fishermen…the ability to help save the world.

And so, my prayer for you this weekend is that when an opportunity comes your way…you won’t react as I initially did…but IMMEDIATELY accept the invitation to serve.

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
MK 1:21-28
January 28, 2018

I found the recent shutdown of the Federal Government very unnerving. I acknowledge that I might have been over-reacting, but still, as the weeks, then days and finally the hours passed without a resolution, I became more and more tense, questioning: What have they been doing all this time? Why has a budget become a national emergency? And I began to worry.

I began to think about all of the things we look to our Federal Government to do, and I began to worry what would happen if the machinery of government just came to a stop? True! I might have tried harder to heed St. Paul’s opening words in our Second Reading: be free of anxieties! But even though we should strive to “live above the world” so that our focus can be on spiritual things without distraction, the reality is that we do “live in the world. So, I confess to being anxious. And, quite frankly, the frustration didn’t subside when our politicians began congratulating themselves for having struck a deal…a temporary fix at best.

The entire experience left me feeling not simply worried and anxious, but less hopeful. There is an illusion that we are forging ahead as a great nation. However, we keep hearing words like “polarization” and “tribal politics.” I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that there has been a major “disconnect” in Washington D.C. that isn’t serving the “American dream.” So, I find myself straining to hear just one credible voice that speaks with authority…and I don’t care which side of the aisle that voice comes from. I am longing to be “amazed” by just one of our leaders. I really want to believe that we have entrusted our children’s future to people who are genuinely concerned about the common good of the American people…and our world. Tragically, however, things like ambition, pride, ego, greed, and even inappropriate behavior keep dashing my hope.

Whether or not you agree with this assessment of the direction in which we are heading…or for that matter, not heading…as a nation…as a world…know that this was the socio-political and spiritual climate of Israel when Jesus began His public ministry. He was very clearly frustrated with the crisis in leadership and did not mince words. >Blind guides! Wolf in sheep’s clothing! They tie up heavy burdens (hard to carry) and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All of their works are performed to be seen. They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor…

And the people listened to Him!

They were amazed by this “new teaching” and they listened because He taught with authority, an authority that inspired hope, an authority that instilled confidence that the Kingdom of God is not an illusion, but a reality that we can and should…and MUST be moving towards. And the more they saw and listened, the more certain they were that this “astonishing” teaching was rooted in Jesus’s first-hand experience of God.

Maybe most important to know is this: Jesus did not come to destroy. He came to build…by driving out what was contrary to God’s will and God’s ways. He came to restore hope. He came to renew.

And His work continues.

Hope is not dead. The Kingdom of God is not an illusion, but a reality that all people of faith…all of God’s children…should insist that we continue to work towards.

This brings us back to St. Paul and our Second Reading. We should be free of anxiety, because Jesus has already initiated the Kingdom of God. And no earthly leader…no matter how powerful…can stop what Jesus Christ has set in motion. No dark force can overpower Easter Glory.

In the end…love wins! Love always wins!

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
MK 1:29-39
February 4, 2018

What “mom” among us has not come home, bone weary, with an armload of groceries, but no plan for dinner, only to be greeted at the door with a chorus of
“MMOOOOMM!!!! Where have you been? I need__________________” (fill in the blank)?

Or what “dad,” after a long, hard day at work, anxious to lay back in the recliner and watch a game, is welcomed with…not a hug and a kiss…but: “Don’t get too comfortable, we have to __________________________” (fill in the blank)?

This probably strikes a familiar note to most folks, bringing a nod and a knowing smile to the face. But, ask a young parent in Afghanistan, or Syria, or Peru, or Africa how they enjoyed last evening, and you are likely to hear a heart-wrenching story that brings tears to the eyes, not a smile to the lips. All over the world, there are parents who hear their children say: I need…and you can fill in the blank with words like…water to drink, I am so thirsty…something to eat, we haven’t eaten since yesterday morning…help, I am so sick…there are too many blanks to fill in to even begin to recount the suffering!

For some, the First Reading from the Book of Job is a vivid description of their day-to-day, hand-to-mouth existence. But, even those of us blessed to live in a privileged country still wrestle with things that keep us tossing and turning at night. In fact, wealth is not a protection from misfortune, distress, or the loss of hope. Oftentimes, it is actually the cause of tragedy. It all boils down to the fact that the world is indeed a hostile environment. And while there are most definitely degrees of suffering, pain is pain…worry is worry…misfortunate is misfortune…loss is loss, and whatever the cause or the level of intensity, it can still be debilitating. It can rob us of our sleep, leaving us physically, emotionally, and spiritually fatigued. And God knows this!

Motivated by love for us and the desire to ease our sufferings without eliminating our free will, God’s Eternal Word took Flesh to walk among us. And for an all too short period of time, Jesus could not help but overpower sickness, disease, hunger, sin, evil spirits, and even death itself. When encountering human suffering, the Lord’s wondrous powers and miraculous deeds simply erupted from Him in an almost spontaneous and uncontainable display of compassion and love. Jesus could not help but to heal. And when He returned to heaven, He left behind the healing and calming power of the Gospel.

In our Second Reading, St. Paul describes how The Good News has the heart, the mind, the energy, the power, and the compulsion that was The Incarnation. The Lord left, within easy reach of our hands, what we need to plow through our sufferings and to recover hope and peace. When you step forward and extend your hands and say AMEN…it truly is given to you.

And this might be the key to opening up today’s Gospel passage. Once you have recovered your health, like Peter’s mother-in-law, stand up and serve!

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
MK 1:40-45
Febrary 11,2018

One of the most effective weapons used by Allied forces in the Pacific Theatre during World War II, was leprosy. Afflicted with the dreaded disease, Joey Guerrero, a young Filipino wife and mother, was forced to abandon her home and live apart from family and friends. After the Japanese invaded and occupied the Philippines, she quickly discovered that they were especially fearful of contracting the disease. The invaders took great care to maintain as much distance as possible between her and themselves. She was never asked to show identity papers; soldiers simply waiving her through check points. Believing the disease was highly contagious; not once was she subjected to the all too common personal search. And so she was able to carry supplies, medicine, food and even weapons and ammunition all over Manila. Her greatest contribution to “V J Day” (victory over Japan) was her ability to wander unchallenged into strategic areas in order to do recognizance. She was then able to deliver this vital information to the allies unchallenged. She was one of the most important intelligence agents of WWII; and she needed no disguise to go about her work. The sores on her skin protected her from being discovered.

Her name is, for the most part, lost to history. But her story is worth hearing and retelling. It is the story of how one, brave, young woman was able to use a horrible disease to help achieve a great victory.

In Biblical times, it was believed that leprosy was punishment for some grave sin. Over and above the fear of contracting the sickness, people shunned those afflicted, regarding them as both spiritually and physically impure. Like Joey Guerrero, lepers were driven from home and family and forced to live desolate and miserable lives on the very fringe of society. Every precaution was taken to ensure a great distance between these “unclean sinners” and the healthy. It was even written into the Law…the religious law…The Old Testament.

So then, what we hear in Mark’s Gospel is the story of how two, exceptionally brave men, used leprosy to help achieve a great victory. First the leper himself, demonstrated the urgency of his need, the depth of his courage, and the strength of his faith, by disregarding his enforced quarantine and calling out to Jesus. For His part, the Lord, rather than recoiling in horror, eliminated the distance between Himself and the man. He touched him. That healing touch must have stunned everyone looking on. They must have regarded “that touch” as extremely reckless; not to mention a serious violation of God’s Law.

With that touch, Jesus declared the urgency of His mission: to proclaim the Reign of God…where the Law of Love is primary. By eliminating the distance between Himself and the afflicted man, the Lord not only pre-viewed the courage that He would reveal in it’s fullness on Good Friday, but He also proclaimed God’s desire to close the distance between The Divine Self and sinners. Finally, “that touch” is proof positive, that the healing power of Jesus Christ is without limit…and it is His will that all should be healed…cleansed…freed from sin and death itself.

What a perfect story to hear as we prepare to set out on our Lenten journey. If we only have the courage to approach and call out to Him, the Lord will close the distance between us and God. He will touch us and we will be made clean. And once restored to health, on Easter morning, we will be able to join our voices in celebration of the greatest of all victories…the final victory over sin and death!

God is eager to speak the words to you…I do will it! Be made clean.

First Sunday of Lent
MK 1:12-15
February 18, 2018

Mark’s report of the “Temptation in the Desert” is the shortest of the 3 versions that appear in the Gospels. While Matt. and Luke offer details of the encounter between Jesus and evil, Mark simply says that He was: tempted by Satan. This brevity and simplicity somehow add power to key elements of the story that might otherwise not be given proper attention or weight.

First of all, consider how Jesus came to find Himself in the wilderness, among wild beast. The Spirit DROVE Jesus!

Yes! That’s correct. THE SPIRIT drove Jesus!

What a striking thought. Those few words enable us to almost feel the Holy Spirit propelling Jesus through time and space to engage the enemy without further delay. Salvation is an urgent matter. Certain of a final victory over sin and death, The Holy Spirit urges The Lord forward, to engage in battle without delay.

So then, why would we pray: Lead US NOT into temptation? Could it be that we aren’t as certain of a favorable outcome?

If there was “a rush” to get there, things seemed to have slowed way down once Jesus arrived in the desert. This was a 40 day war, not a swift victory. Hopefully you have made the connection between our Old Testament Reading from Genesis and our Gospel on this First Sunday of Lent. 40 days happen to be the exact duration of the torrential rain that wiped out every living thing on earth: man and cattle, the creeping things and birds of the air. Everything on dry land with the faintest breathe of life in its nostrils died. Only Noah and those with him on the ark were left.

Maybe we are being told that there is no quick fix when it comes to the war against evil. Purification takes time. Conversion is typically a long, drawn out process, which for most takes an entire life time.

And so now we look to our 2nd Reading to bring things all together. At 1Peter 3:18-22 we are given the comforting news that God patiently waits. With this reassurance, we follow the Holy Spirit into the 40 Days of Lent 2018. If we feel uncertain of the outcome of our personal confrontation with those things that tempt us, the 2nd Reading reminds us that Jesus has already defeated Satan. Granted, evil is still very much a part of this world and temptations of every kind, are very much a part of our day to day lives. But through Jesus’s 40 day war, sin has been permanently weakened. More importantly, through our Baptisms, we have been permanently strengthened. So, we should engage the “enemy within” totally confident of victory. Do you feel the driving force of the Holy Spirit? Don’t resist! Salvation is an urgent matter.

Second Sunday of Lent
MK 9:2-10
February 25, 2018

We began “Lent ‘18” with the shocking news of yet another test of faith. This test did not occur on a mountaintop, but rather on the campus of a high school in Florida. The test did not end with the unbinding of a child. In fact, it began when parents heard the news that the lives of their children had already been sacrificed. No angel came to stop the slaughter. Tests can be opportunities to demonstrate what we have learned from listening, contemplating, and conversing with others. Tests call us to commit to what we believe is true. When we successfully complete a test, we should feel more confident about what we know, who we are, and what we are capable of doing. But when we fail a test, it can break us.

And so we must pray for the parents, families, and “student survivors” of the unimaginable test that they are only just beginning.

Shock, horror, grief, anger, hatred, the desire for revenge are powerful bindings that can be next to impossible to break. The only effective way to be liberated from these life-threatening restraints is through faith…an intense, unconditional, and even extravagant faith like Abraham demonstrated on the mountaintop. Without faith, the lives of the parents and loved ones of those sacrificed might end up on the fire; a further sacrifice to a moment of insane violence.

The truth is, life is filled with faith-challenging tests. From the moment we are born, we begin the lifelong process of letting go of things we treasure. And there are countless ways in which we are bound by things that restrict the freedom which God intends us to enjoy.

The Ash Wednesday test that continues to unfold in Florida seems to push the boundaries of human endurance. But the reality is that day…like every day since the Original sin… people all over the world faced equally severe tests that were unreported. This is the fact that makes it so very important that we hold close to us the ultimate test that Jesus endured.

And so we look from the mountaintop of our First Reading to the mountaintop of the Transfiguration. It was there that Jesus prepared for the ultimate test: the Paschal Mystery. By listening, contemplating, and conversing with Moses and Elijah, Jesus made the commitment to permit Himself to be bound over to face the brutality of Rome. With the help of Moses and Elijah, the Lord left that mountaintop experience confident of what He knew, Who He was, and what God was asking Him to do.

And when the “Good Friday survivors” were bound tight by the horror of Jesus’s public execution, the memory of The Transfiguration must have enabled them to liberate themselves so that they would be free to embrace The Risen Christ on Easter morning.

How are you being tested? Does your personal test seem beyond your personal endurance? Will you let the test break you? Look to the mountaintop to recall who you are…a much loved child of God…one who God will not permit to be sacrificed.

Fourth Sunday of Lent
JN 3:14-21
March 4,2018

Over the years, on multiple occasions, and for any number of reasons…some baseless, others valid…I have heard “detractors” of the Roman Catholic Church use this Sunday’s Gospel (John 2:13-25) to support the comment: Clean your own house before you start telling other people how to live. And with that, they simply wipe away a rich tradition of social justice teaching which, if observed, would make this world a better and safer place for everyone…Catholic or not…detractor and supporter alike…believer and non-believer…to live. How tragic.

One of the foundational teachings of our Church is that the original sin has left all human beings vulnerable to poor choices, bad decisions, dark feelings, and sin. It isn’t an excuse; it is reality. All humankind struggle with PTSD…POST TRAUMATIC SIN DISORDER. Catholic Social Justice Teaching readily acknowledges that to be true. And so, we embrace with gratitude and relief that which our Creator has revealed about the Divine Self. God is slow to anger and quick to forgive.

Moreover, we are eternally grateful to the Son of God for leaving us Sacraments that continue to do what He did on that day in the Temple area. Through the Sacraments of the Church, The Lord continues to cleanse us, heal us, and strengthen us so that we are better able to resist those inclinations that make us less than we were created to be. After all, Jesus did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well. And so, after returning to The Father, The Son sent us The Holy Spirit.

We are encouraged to turn to the Holy Spirit for guidance when we are discerning what is right and just and true. The Spirit enlightens us to what needs cleansing and healing. The Spirit is eager to fill us with the strength of God’s grace to overpower those inclinations that cloud our good judgment and turn us in the wrong direction.

Over the years, on multiple occasions, when listening to “detractors” voice criticisms of our Church…some valid…some baseless…I have always replied: We acknowledge our sins! We admit to our sinful nature. That is exactly why we embrace the penitential season of Lent. We know we need to “clean house” in order to properly celebrate the Good News of Easter morning: CHRIST IS RISEN!

Christ HAS died…for the forgiveness of all of our sins. Christ IS RISEN…and invites us to join in eternal life. Christ WILL come again. But while we wait, we continue to prepare. And we will not be detruded from our work of proclaiming the Good News. The Good News overpowers those voices of darkness that try to shake our faith in God’s unconditional mercy and love.

Fourth Sunday of Lent
JN 3:14-21
March 11, 2018

We are halfway through Lent 2018. This 4th Sunday of the Liturgical Season of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving…not unlike the midpoint of Advent, has a name.

Today we mark Laetare Sunday. The third Sunday in the four-week-long Season of Advent is called Gaudette Sunday.

The two Latin words both have the same meaning: JOY. But it seems that there is a subtle distinction between them. Gaudette describes the kind of excitement and happiness that bubbles up from within us. In other words, internal feelings brought about by “the season” that can no longer be contained and are expressed. Laetare is more external and it’s joy in spite of “the season.” We take a break from the somber practices and anticipate the joy of hearing the message: HE IS RISEN! We get a break from ashes and sack cloth.

Several different spiritual authors have suggested that because Catholics today are far less committed to observing the ancient traditions and practices of Lent, there is no need to take a break, and so there is no spurt of joy.Theologian Monika Hellwig put it this way: The rejoicing does not seem to come quite as spontaneously nowadays as it used to when Lent was, for the most part, far more rigorously observed. In other words, for many Catholics, Lent is “business as usual.” There is no need to re-charge when there has been nothing taken from our ordinary ways.

That being said, I readily admit that I personally do not feel a sense of joy today, nor have I for the past week. And I suspect that many of our sisters and brothers here in the Diocese of Saginaw would say the same, whether or not they have been observing a “good old-fashioned Lent.”

Why no joy for me this Laetare Sunday?

The media has been reporting conditions in our Church that echo the opening lines of our First Reading from The Second Book of Chronicles. And as that passage unfolds, things go from bad to worse. The story ends in total destruction. Please, God, spare us further suffering. Let us once again experience joy.

So we look to our Second Reading for relief. There, St. Paul reminds the Ephesians, as well as us today…of who we are and what we are about. In spite of the things that threaten our peace and rob us of our joy, we must not lose sight of the fact that we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared.

As we venture into the second half of Lent 2018, more than ever, we need to keep focused on The Cross, the source of our hope and of our salvation. Whether or not we embrace the traditions and practices of Lent that have been passed on through the generations, we must continue to embrace The Cross and enjoy its healing powers. As our prayer goes…By Your Holy Cross You have redeemed the world.

Let’s pick up The Cross and continue our journey knowing that after every Good Friday comes Easter Sunday.

Fifth Sunday of Lent
JN 12:20-33
March 18, 2018

It’s hard to know just exactly how much of what I am trying to pass on to my 9th grade theology students about our faith is sticking with them. Putting facts down on paper isn’t the real test of what they have learned about Christ and our Church. How they live their lives is the “final exam.” And that is a test that will take a lifetime to complete. I do know this much with certainty: No one will get a 100%. Even if I should happen to have a future saint in my classroom, it is highly unlikely that they will escape their desert experiences of life, or their own personal agonies in the garden, without succumbing to temptation.

The other day, one of my kids (who, by the way, rarely speaks) shared a profound insight while we were reflecting on The Passion according to Mark. The class was focused on the religious leaders taunting Jesus, saying: “If You truly are the Messiah, come down from there…save Yourself.” My usually silent friend pointed out that this was a temptation much like Satan used in the desert when the evil one dared Jesus to jump from the parapet of the Temple. Elaborating, the student suggested that Jesus resisted the very human instinct of self-survival, so that He could save us.

This was a good teaching day for me, because at least one 9th grader understood that right up to the end, He must have been tempted. Consider what we are told in the Second Reading: In the days when Jesus was in the flesh, He offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death.

By my continually repeating our belief that Jesus was fully human, like us in all things but sin, it is my hope to instill hope in my students. I myself find enormous hope in knowing that by sharing in our human nature, The Lord shared as well all the things each of us deals with each and every day, including temptations and the fear of suffering and death. However, He was able to resist every temptation…even the very human temptation to avoid pain and suffering because, unlike the rest of humankind, He was not weakened by sin.

Still, He knows our struggles from first-hand experience and will be understanding and merciful when we submit our lives for judgment…our final exam.

If this seems presumptuous…too bold a statement… then refer back once again to our Second Reading to another statement which seems presumptuous and bold when we recall that Jesus was not only fully human but also fully Divine. He learned…from what He suffered!

He learned what it means to be human. And from Him, we have learned what it means to be perfectly human. The more we strive to be like Jesus our Brother, the more like The Christ our God we become. How much of what The Lord has passed onto us has stuck with you? It’s not about what you know…or what you are able to write down on paper…it’s about how you live that will help you pass the final test.

These final days of Lent 2018 are “study days.” Let’s put them to good use.

Palm Sunday
MK 14:1—15:47
March 25, 2018

The XXIII Olympic Winter Games began on the 9th and concluded on the 25th of February, 2018. Held in Pyeongchang, South Korea, athletes from all over the world gathered to participate in 102 events in 15 sports. As with all “Olympics,” the opening and closing ceremonies were much anticipated and did not disappoint. A special stadium with a construction cost of $100 million was built just to accommodate the two spectacles and is slated for demolition now that the games are fading into sports history.

As always, there was a swell of emotion as the teams from the various countries marched into the arena, gathering to witness the entry of the torch, which, after traveling around the world, would light the Olympic fire that would burn over the course of the competition. This bright fire was a symbol to remind people that “the games” were in progress.

As the participating countries entered the stadium, as with every Olympiad, they were announced. A quick glimpse would give spectators a preconceived notion of how successful that nation would be. Even those who do not follow sports closely could make a good guess by the way the athletes presented themselves. The size of a delegation, the outfits in which they were dressed, the physiques of the individual athletes were good indicators of the sport they enjoyed back home, the skills they were bringing to the competition, and their chances of winning a medal. Even people who had no interest in the sports competition made a point of watching the opening and closing ceremonies. They always prove to be an exciting spectacle.

Today, we remember the opening and closing ceremonies held in the city of Jerusalem many centuries ago, marking the celebration of Passover. Much like the dominant nations at the opening ceremonies in South Korea last month, The Roman legion, led by a man named Pontius Pilate, marched into the city with great pomp and circumstance. Well equipped, this imposing military force was determined to offer spectators a view of strength, power, control, and the determination to “keep the peace.”

At the same time, religious leaders and Temple authorities were making their own entry onto the scene. Outfitted investments and ceremonial dress intended to define their position or rank in the scheme of things, their entrance sent a message to the spectators as well. The chief priest, the Sanhedrin, the scribes, the Pharisees, and the lawyers were intent on making a showing of their “closeness to God.”

Finally, most likely on the other side of the city, entering through a gate that led out to the Kidron Valley and the Mount of Olives was what the other two delegations most likely regarded as a mob. The poor, the sick, the outcast, and known sinners were part of the delegation that accompanied a humble but extremely effective preacher from the dusty little village of Nazareth. With little to mark the entrance of this Teacher besides the branches from the trees and the cloaks on their backs, they, nevertheless, celebrated Jesus’s entry into what would become an arena. And the games began.

At the conclusion, Pilate left the Holy City confident that, in spite of the politically charged issue he was forced to deal with, his mission had been a success. He had kept the peace. The power, control, and authority of Rome had gone unchallenged.

So, too, with the Temple authorities. They got rid of this annoying little man Who, for some reason, was able to gather a mob of low-life’s that threatened the status quo. And so, they went on to celebrate The Passover, remembering how The People were freed from slavery in Egypt and made their way to the Promised Land.

The conclusion of the Passover for that final group participating in this cosmic battle between good and evil, at first, seemed like total defeat. They left the arena carrying the mutilated corpse of the man in whom they had placed all of their hope. They left defeated.

But of course, that was not the closing ceremony. The Romans had returned home. The religious leaders had gone back into the restricted areas of the Temple. And the others? They went to the now Empty Tomb and the games began anew.

A Light much brighter than any Olympic fire has ever burned burst into the universe and drove back all darkness. And that brilliant flame, the Light of Christ, will continue to burn…while the battle continues to be fought…until Christ returns to claim the final victory!

Holy Thursday
JN 13:1-15
March 29, 2018

Here we are on Holy Thursday…of Holy Week….a very sacred time for our Church. In fact, these are the beginning hours of the most sacred time for our Church. On this Thursday…of this Holy Week….however, rather than savoring the wonder and the mystery of the great gift we were given during the Lord’s final Passover meal, my mind is taking me to what comes next. “The Agony in the Garden.”

I am having the most intense experience of those hours, Jesus spent in the deepest of prayer, while Peter, James and John slept, than ever before in my life.

And I think that is the case, because last week, here in the Diocese of Saginaw, we lived through a very un-holy week. This past Thursday, without a doubt, will always be remembered here in our Diocese as un-holy Thursday. And tragically, there is no need for me to give a further explanation of why I say that. The media, here at home, and in fact all over the country, described the events that cause me to think of last week, especially last Thursday, as un-holy.

That’s what has taken my attention away from the profoundly urgent teaching, and the priceless gift that Jesus gave us during His final meal, to Gethsemane. The elements of that story are all to be found in our lived experience of this past week. Alleged betrayal, doubt and denial, rejection, abandonment, loss of credibility, are all part of Jesus’s time in the Garden. And these things were used in the headlines last week, to describe us: The Church of Saginaw. So, I hurried out of the Upper Room, to “what came next” in hope of finding some meaning or purpose in all of this darkness and suffering.

For these past days, I’ve been in the Garden with Jesus. Unlike the three who accompanied Him, I tried to my best to stay awake and keep watch and pray. And my agonized prayer was for all of us. My prayer has been that these extremely trying times would not cause our faith to under go the test. I’ve been praying that God would help us to rise above all the darkness that’s swirling around us, and restore a sense of holiness to this Holy Week. I was praying for The Peace of Christ. The Peace of Christ that enabled Jesus of Nazareth to rise up from the ground, and move forward with His mission…The Salvation of humanity.

I found it. I found that Peace, here this evening. I have recovered that priceless sense of the sacred, from you. You, faithful disciples who have come here to keep watch and pray have made this Thursday evening Holy as you do as The Lord has commanded…gather at this Table to share in His Body and Blood.

It’s good that we are here. But I do not at all regret my time in the Garden. There I saw Jesus lying on the ground in such an overwhelming state of emotional, and spiritual distress that He was literally sweating blood. He appeared to be broken.

One spiritual writer describes it this way: Jesus lets His strength trickle out in weakness, His courage drown in fear and His love sink into the darkness of Godforsakenness. His cry for help drowned in silence.

Still, somehow, out from that “silence” strength washed over Him. He was able to stand and move on with His work…the work of suffering and dying, so that we might live. What we learn from being in the Garden and watching human weakness transformed by Divine strength is simply this. There is no darkness in which God does not live.

This is most definitely a lesson of Holy Thursday, as important as the call to serve one another that The Lord taught by washing the Apostle’s feet. Through His Agony in the Garden, Jesus has proven once and for all, that even at times when it might seem to us that the Father is silent…has abandoned us…eventually, God’s love and mercy will pour over us to give us strength. Then, with confidence, we can rise up from whatever it is that has driven us into the ground in agony, and move us with what it is we need to do. There is no darkness in which God does not live.

Having ventured into the Garden to reflect on “what comes next” we look back to “what came before.” The Life Giving Bread and the Saving Cup…The Eucharist is what made Holy Thursday Holy. The Eucharist is what makes us Holy. The Eucharist is what makes us the Body of Christ and we will prevail against anything that attempts to rob us of our holiness.

(Quotations are from theologian Fr. Karl Rahner and used by Fr. James J. Bacik in his book Humble Confidence.)

Good Friday
JN 18:1—19:42
March 30, 2018

Ash Wednesday, which happened to be Valentine’s Day this year, a day in which we celebrate love, there was yet another mass shooting at a High School in Parkland, Florida. Seventeen people were killed and seventeen more were wounded, making it one of the world’s deadliest school massacres. Among those who died that day, were 3 staff members who were attempting to protect the lives of the students entrusted to them. Since I am teaching 9th grade theology this semester, I personalized the news of this most recent tragedy. And so did my students. When I walked into the classroom the morning after, they were talking about it.

As they shared their reactions and feelings, I commented on the extreme sacrifice of those who lost their lives so that others might live. I reminded them of what Jesus said: No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13) To this, one of the kids immediately replied: “I couldn’t do it! I wouldn’t do that. It would cause my family way to much suffering.” I noticed that the rest of the kids just sat silently. Clearly they were weighing in their minds, whether or not they had it within them to show that kind of unconditional love. It’s a sobering thought.

I understood the kid that was honest enough to say: “That’s not for me!” I responded by saying that in my opinion, it is contrary to every human instinct to submit voluntarily to suffering and death. We immediately recoil from danger. It’s an involuntary reaction, much like breathing, or batting our eyes when something unexpectedly comes flying at us. Recall Jesus’s Agony in the Garden? His human nature resisted what was being asked of Him. The though of suffering and dying on The Cross literally drove Him to the ground in bitter anguish. But He did it. In spite of His completely human nature, He submitted.

And so did those three heroes during the horrific 6 minutes of senseless violence in a Florida school. They laid down their lives so that others might live. And since then, it’s happened again. A police officer in France, already a war hero, traded places with a woman who was among other hostages being held by a terrorist in an ordinary neighborhood supermarket. He suffered a fatal gunshot wound within moments of entering that store. He had a wife and family and loved ones and friends who would suffer from his loss. He had time to think about them and their feelings. But he still did it.

We remember and celebrate these heroes, and other individuals like them, for their courage and bravery. That is certainly a fitting thing to do. But if we leave it at that, we are not doing them justice. These examples of rising about human nature are mystical experiences. These instances of overpowering the overwhelming instinct to save ourselves….to live…are examples of unconditional love. Regardless of the spirituality or the religious beliefs of these heroes, they are continuing the sacrifice of the Lord.

God was present in the darkness that the young shooter brought into that school in Florida. God enabled the three to move beyond human instinct and to arm themselves with Divine love. God was behind that police officer, guiding him into that super market in France…assuring him that the danger of dying was of no consequence because as he the hostage he exchanged his life for stepped through the door to continue her life…he was stepping into eternal life in the joy of the Kingdom.

That is the message of Good Friday. The inevitability of the Cross sent Jesus’s human nature into a profound agony. But the love within Him, His Divine nature…because that is what love is…enabled Him to see that Calvary was not a catastrophic ending to His mission and ministry, but the high point of His earthly life. Jesus’s death on the Cross was The Father’s most perfect way of telling us: YOU ARE LOVED!

It’s quite doubtful that any of us here will ever have the opportunity to rise out of our humanity, ignoring our human instinct to self protect; at least not in the dramatic way that the three in the Florida school or the man in the supermarket in France did. But, every time we put aside our own self interests and respond to the needs of someone else, we are making our own, small contribution to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Every time we lay down our own lives, in order to make the life of someone else a little easier, we our joining our voices with God’s and saying: YOU ARE LOVED.

As Christians, that is exactly what we are called to do on Good Friday…celebrate love by showing the love of God to everyone we meet.

Easter Sunday
JN 20:1-9
April 1, 2018

In this hi-tech, computer-dominated age, “fact checking” has become not only a simple matter of a few Google searches, but is something we have come to insist upon. We demand truth, and we know how to find it.

Biblical scholarship, as with all serious sciences, has taken full advantage of this resource in order to delve deeper into what God is revealing to us through Sacred Scripture. But even before “artificial intelligence,” the human intellect focused on The Gospel. Serious students of the Bible did not require a search engine to go about their work. And it did not take them long to see something that might easily escape many of the faithful. Simply put…the endings of all four Gospels…THE RESURRECTION NARRATIVES…do not agree in many details. Moreover, these varied accounts of the empty tomb cannot be harmonized. So, we are left asking the very question that Pilate posed to Jesus on Good Friday: WHAT IS TRUTH?

One fact that needed no confirmation for His followers was that Jesus was dead. A bloodless corpse was removed from The Cross and placed in the arms of His grieving mother. No further confirmation was necessary.

It also appears beyond doubt that the Romans permitted burial. That was accomplished by placing the lifeless, earthly body in a cave and an enormous rock sealed the tomb. It is reported, and seems most logical, that the Romans posted a guard at the entrance of the tomb. But there are no eye witnesses to what happened next.

Those who came onto the scene Easter morning encountered an accomplished fact. The tomb was empty. THAT IS TRUTH.

As is to be expected when we human beings encounter something that stretches our minds to the breaking point, their individual reactions and observations were personal and unique. The fact that they might differ in various details does not render any of them untrue. All four of the accounts, together with all of the recorded appearances of The Risen Christ after Easter, come together, as a complete body of evidence that enables us to imagine the unimaginable…THE TRUTH THAT JESUS LIVES ON.

Mark offers instruction on the best way to “fact check” THE TRUTH THAT JESUS LIVES ON. The first and shortest of the Gospels concludes with the directive: But go tell His disciples …He is going before you to Galilee…there you will see Him As He told you.

So then, on this Easter morning do as we’ve been directed. Go to your own personal Galilee…that place, or prayer, or memory of your most vivid experience of Jesus, and there, you will see the Risen Christ. And you will have no further need to fact check THE TRUTH THAT JESUS LIVES ON…and those who follow His Way will as well.

THAT IS THE TRUTH!

Blessing on you this Easter Morning.

Sunday of Divine Mercy
Second Sunday of Easter
JN 20:19-31
April 8, 2018

St. John Paul Il, while Bishop of Rome, declared the Sunday after Easter to be “Divine Mercy Sunday.” This is certainly the appropriate time of the liturgical year for our thoughts to linger on “The Mercy of God.” The Father gave The Son as the spotless, sacrificial Lamb. On Good Friday, on the altar of The Cross, Jesus was offered up in reparation for the sins of the world. The Paschal Mystery is God’s perfect expression of forgiveness and love.

Our First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles describes a faith community that mirrors Divine Mercy. There, we hear that the community of believers was of one heart and mind. Their generosity and care for one another is nothing short of inspiring. But, considering that many of these first Christians knew Jesus personally, and might even have been among the Easter witnesses who experienced the Risen Christ, it is easy to understand how they could live out the Law of Love so dramatically.

But, before they were able to put The Lord’s teachings into practice, the disciples needed first to escape the “Upper Room.” Easter night found them behind locked doors. Fear had caused them to seek refuge in the very place where the Lord had gathered them for His final Passover meal. Even after Christ mysteriously breached the false security of the “locked door,” revealing His resurrected life to them, it appears that their fears remained. A week passed, and they were still hidden behind locked doors. This time, Thomas was with them.

Thomas voiced doubts that were quite possibly shared by the others who were still “locked behind closed doors.” Fear holding them within the perceived security of the Upper Room might also have kept them from expressing their feelings and doubts which remained locked in their minds and hearts. Thomas had the courage to speak.

The Risen Christ, showing the fullness of Divine Mercy, did not rebuke Thomas for his doubts. Instead, Christ invited him to reach out and touch resurrected glory. Christ’s wounds had been transformed; no longer gory scars memorializing the brutal and violent death, but now radiant evidence of unconditional love and infinite mercy.

Over 2000 years have passed since the Risen Christ appeared to His followers to calm fears, strengthen faith, rekindle hope, and resolve doubts…and to proclaim in the most dramatic fashion the Father’s love and mercy. But still, even to this day, many remain hidden within the false security of upper rooms.

Today’s Readings work together to reassure us that Jesus is alive and walks among us, inviting us to reach into the very depths of His Risen Glory so that we might no longer be unbelieving but believe…no longer be fearful but be courageous…no longer be isolated in our upper room but come down and join the other disciples in our proclamation that Christ has died, Christ is Risen, and Christ will come again.

Peace

Third Sunday of Easter
LK 24:35-48
April 15, 2018

Two weeks have passed, but our Gospel for this Third Sunday of Easter holds us in “The Upper Room.” It’s not exactly rewinding the scene to watch it again. Each of the four Gospels report slightly different details concerning the Easter Morning discovery. By keeping us in a holding pattern, hovering over Easter Morning, we not only savor this season of joy and hope, but we also have the opportunity to consider Christ’s Resurrection from the perspective of the different eyewitnesses. If the details of their experiences vary, the common denominator is certainly an empty tomb. But more than that, there is the shared experience of Christ’s REAL PRESENCE, regardless of the circumstances.

And that is exactly what we see in this passage from Luke. Here, we are given a blend of many stories of the unbelievable becoming reality. Recognizing Jesus in the breaking of the bread, through His wounds that were not healed but glorified, watching Him eat fish and remembering Him feeding a multitude with a few fish…all convincing proof that Jesus had conquered death. As they shared with one another their various encounters with the Risen Christ, they began to see and better understand how all that was foretold in the Old Testament had been fulfilled through Jesus of Nazareth. The sharing of their stories enabled them all to see how God had kept His promise to send a savior, an unblemished lamb, to be the perfect sacrifice to take away the sins of the world.

Possibly the most convincing evidence of The Lord’s Resurrection was the change in His followers. Over the 40 days they spent together in the company of the Risen Lord, as He calmed their fears and enlightened their minds, they began to bond into a family of faith. In Acts 2, the sequel to Luke’s Gospel, the communal life of what was to become the first Christian community is described. They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.

Those of us who gather together today are really doing more than merely savoring something that happened in the past. Like the early Christians, we shrug off all of the things going on in the world…war, violence of every kind, greed, materialism, bigotry, and injustice in all of its forms. Turning from darkness and guided by light, we come together to share our own personal stories. Each of us, in our own way, has experienced the Risen Christ, Who has calmed our fears and resolved all of our doubts.

We are doing much more than remembering and celebrating Christ’s Resurrection. We are living it. We are an Easter people, devoted to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.

As such, we are commissioned to go out and share the Good News that has died, Christ is Risen, and Christ will come again. And upon His return in glory, He will find us waiting…a family of faith…living as best we can…the teaching of the apostles and the communal life, sharing in the breaking of the bread, prayers and our stories.

Fourth Sunday of Easter
JN 10:11-18
April 22, 2018

The last thing that I would have envisioned myself doing in my retirement years is boarding a school bus filled with high school students and embarking on a “field trip.” But that is exactly how it spent the Monday morning after Easter break. The entire student body of Nouvel Catholic Central was invited by Sacred Heart Parish, Mount Pleasant, to join Catholic school students from around our Diocese to a production called Cross and Light. Staged right in the worship space of the church, we experienced what might be described as a Passion play/musical. Coming at the very beginning of the Easter Season, it had a special impact on all of us. (You can find information on Facebook about this touring production.)

The folks from Sacred Heart were excellent hosts. They were also well organized. When our bus arrived in the church parking lot, there was someone there to greet us and show our driver where to park in the sea of yellow buses that all looked alike. As we disembarked, we were told where to enter the building and how to find the seats that were reserved for us. The energy level of the kids tends to be contagious, and, anxious to get into the “theatre,” I simply followed the directions without looking back.

At the conclusion of the play, there was an orderly dismissal. However, no bus had yet to move and it was only then that it occurred to me that I should have taken better notice of where we had parked. With the group of students for whom I was responsible fast on my heels, their energy level ramped up even higher from the performance, my post-production enthusiasm changed to panic. It was then that I spotted the principal, who stands out in a crowd because of his height, and his booming voice. He had ridden with us and was walking confidently in one direction. So, without another thought, I followed him…leading my own little flock.

My BRIEF time as a substitute theology teacher has given me the opportunity to see lots of examples of the power and influence of GOOD SHEPHERDS. The band director with the tap of his baton, the football coach with a few shrill blows on a whistle, the drama teacher calmly calling out: listen up, people! In fact, every time I walk down the hallway of the school and look into the classrooms I am passing, today’s Gospel comes to life for me. I very much enjoyed the same kind of experience of Christ the Good Shepherd as I walked through the halls of the elementary school during my six years as pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas. There, I daily observed Sr. Ann leading the flock of our littlest lambs…while the rest of the faculty followed her example.

Jesus said: I am the Good Shepherd. I think rather than simply trying to self-describe or leave us with an image of Himself and the way He interacts with us, The Lord used the title Good Shepherd as a “job description” for Christian discipleship. We are called to live the kind of lives that inspire others to follow our lead. We are called to be imitators of Jesus Christ, Who is the Good Shepherd, even to the point of laying down His life so that we might be saved. We are called to be “good teachers” in the school of life, helping The Good Shepherd guide all of God’s children safely home. It is God’s will that no child be left behind…no soul wander off…no life be lost! And God asks our help!

Fifth Sunday of Easter
JN 15:1-8
April 29, 2018

It is being widely reported that the cost for a bottle (or box) of cheap wine is about to rise faster than the price of a gallon of gas. The reason is the weather. Hail storms and freezing temperature during the 2017 growing season resulted in an extremely poor harvest of grapes worldwide. Italy, the largest producer of wine, suffered a 21% reduction causing the cost for a bottle of ordinary table wine to skyrocket by 74%. Things are no better south of the equator. South Africa, also a major wine producer, has suffered drought conditions. And across the ocean, California grapes also went thirsty (a single grape needs 1/3 of a gallon of water to mature) last year due to drought. Wildfires added to the crisis. Although grapevines do not burn easily, and in some cases, vineyards actually served as nature’s “firewalls,” helping to impede the progress of the fires, still, there is something called “smoke taint” that threatens the quality of the wine made from exposed grapes. The good news is that grapevines are resilient, lasting between 50 and 100 years, if they survive total destruction. They simply need to be pruned!

Unless you are a frequent consumer of cheap wine, on its face, this information might be of little interest to you, until you consider the fact that EVERYTHING affects EVERYTHING else. Somehow, this crisis in the world’s vineyards will impact the cost of glass, cardboard, labeling, transportation, labor, etc., etc., etc.

More importantly, Jesus uses the image of a grape vineyard in the Gospel for this 5th Sunday of the Easter Season that enables us to shift from cheap wine to cheap grace.

“Cheap Grace” was an expression introduced into God Talk (theological discussions) by German Protestant minister and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Before suffering a martyr’s death in a Nazi concentration camp, he wrote a book entitled The Cost of Discipleship. There, he defines cheap grace as the attitude: “Of course you have sinned, but now everything is forgiven, so you can stay as you are and enjoy the consolations of forgiveness.” In other words: cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ. Bonhoeffer continued: Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus. It comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Not all theologians agree with this thinking…but it is certainly something to think about!

Jesus seems to be inviting us to imagine our spiritual lives as a vineyard, planted and growing under the constant assault of bad weather, pestilence, and even forest fires that might not destroy us but leave our spirits “smoke tainted.” So, as long as we remain attached to THE ROOT…we will survive. Still, if we are to produce quality fruit, we need to be pruned. That part of us that has suffered damage due to the hostile environment we live and grow in has to be cut away. And pruning takes work.

When the just and merciful judge takes a sip of our lives, will He taste cheap wine? Will we offer God something fouled and “smoke tainted”…like vinegar, or will God delight in what we offer and place us among those considered to be “vintage” Christian lives?

Sixth Sunday of Easter
JN 15:9-17
May 6, 2018

The Easter Season is coming to a close. The school year and my career as a substitute teacher are rapidly coming to an end as well. I can’t help but wonder if The Risen Christ, knowing He would soon return to heaven, felt as I feel. There is so much left to teach these 9th graders about God, and so little time left to do it. Moreover, as the time grows short, so does their attention span. Good weather isn’t helping the situation either. Their minds are looking forward to summer vacation, and not to The Coming of Kingdom. When it gets especially challenging to motivate them, I remind myself that “that they are just kids.”

So, on Ascension Day, as The Lord was fading from time and returning to Eternity, was He concerned that He was leaving behind a band of ill prepared…immature…disciples, who still had so very much to learn? Maybe!
But it’s doubtful that He was as concerned about them, as I am about my students.

After all, Jesus knew that He was not leaving His followers orphaned. He knew that on Pentecost the Holy Spirit would come upon them, and they would receive all they needed in order to continue the work which He had begun.

So, as my students move on with their educations and their lives, I take comfort in knowing that Pentecost was not a one time event in history. The Holy Spirit continues to shower humankind with those Gifts that enable us to live as Jesus calls us to live…in love. Maybe some things simply can’t be taught and can only be learned by experiencing them. And this is the lesson to learn from our Readings on this final Sunday of the Easter Season.

We live in the Spirit, we live in love…and when we live in love..we live in God Who is Love!

If my students have learned this much, then I will not feel that I have failed them…and so I won’t….fail them that is.

The Ascension of the Lord
MK 16:15-20
May 13, 2018

We’ll start with a little geography lesson.

Bethany was, and to this very day, is a little village that is located on the crest of the Mount of Olives. It is separated by a valley from the city of Jerusalem a little more than a mile walk from the city gate. Presently, it is within the boundaries of the Palestinian territory referred to as “the West Bank” and is known by the Arabic name “al-Eizariya,” which means “place of Lazarus.” The modern day village is well named because on the outskirts of the village, there is a deep cave, reputed to be the tomb from which Jesus called Lazarus back from the dead. Lazarus lived in Bethany with his sisters Martha and Mary. Jesus was a frequent house guest of this family. Finally, Jesus chose this location to ascend back to heaven.

Now for a Scripture lesson.

In Bethany, Jesus resolved a domestic dispute between Martha and Mary, by explaining to Martha that her sister was wise to sit at His feet and listen and learn from Him. Later, He relieved the grieving sisters by calling their dead brother out from the burial cave, where he had been entombed for four days. During this dramatic encounter, The Lord also relieved the doubts and fears of all God’s people. Jesus said to Martha: I am the Resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Finally, Jesus chose this location before ascending back to heaven to renew His promise to send The Holy Spirit into the world to empower believers to bear witness to all that He had done and taught.

Now for a lesson in Christian anthropology.

For human beings, death is inevitable. But, through our faith in Jesus Christ, we come to know and better understand that, somehow, our personal identity continues after the biological event we call death. Finally, from the events in this little village, we are challenged to go out into the world, reaching out in a loving way to nonbelievers, and sharing all we have learned through our visits to two little villages…Bethlehem and Bethany.

We are witnesses to all that took place during the years in which Jesus walked the earth. We have sat at His feet and learned from Him. Through our Baptisms, we have received the Holy Spirit, Whom The Lord promised to send. We are now called to help shape the future, according to The Law of Love, so that humankind can live in the Peace of Christ while we await Jesus’s return in Glory.

Pentecost Sunday
JN 15:26-27; 16:12-15
May 20, 2018

I was invited to share a meal, after sharing Eucharist, with the Sisters of St. Clare in their monastery on Shattuck Road. It was Pentecost Sunday, and the sisters had taken special care in setting the table to celebrate the Feast Day. But it wasn’t until I sat down at my place that I noticed how extra special the table had been prepared. At each place, there was the usual knife, fork, and spoon. But there was something very unusual about the flatware. The base of each utensil was engraved with one of the Gifts, or Fruits, of the Holy Spirit. A friend had given this tableware to the Sisters as a gift, and they only brought it out on special occasions.

Whoever had arranged the place settings did so without taking notice of who was sitting in a particular spot. She left it to the Holy Spirit to determine who was in most need of a particular gift or was challenged to use the gifts they had been given “to bear fruit.” After taking a moment to consider what was placed before us and how we use these gifts, we spent a little time sharing. We passed a fork or spoon across the table to someone who felt they had a particular need for that gift, and we recognized the work of one another in using a gift in a fruitful way, by passing around a spoon. It was fun, but it was also serious.

I can’t recall what was on the silverware at my place when I sat down, or what was passed on to me, or what I passed on with a compliment to one of the Sisters. What I do recall is thinking that I needed the entire set of flatware…all of the gifts. I also recall that the little exercise was, for me anyway, as much an “examination of conscience” as a Pentecost celebration.

Through our Baptisms and Confirmations, we are infused with the same gifts which the Apostles and disciples were given on that first Pentecost: WISDOM, UNDERSTANDING, KNOWLEDGE, FORTITUDE, KNOWLEDGE, PIETY, and FEAR OF THE LORD.

This is a good time to ask ourselves if we use what has been given to us to bring about “the Fruit of The Holy Spirit” — LOVE, JOY, PEACE, PATIENCE, KINDNESS, GENEROSITY, FAITHFULNESS, GENTLENESS, SELF-CONTROL, MODESTY, CHASTITY!

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
MT 28:16-20
May 27,2018

It is estimated that at least three billion people watched “the Royal wedding” last weekend. That means that through the miracle of satellite communications, close to half of the world’s population was in attendance. Only a very few were required to wear silly hats, ridiculously uncomfortable shoes, or fancy suits. Personally, I did not “attend.”

I did, however, after the fact, locate and watch with great interest the homily delivered by Episcopal Bishop Michael Curry. I regard weddings as an opportunity to preach The Good News to a gathering of folks, many, if not most of whom are irregular church-goers or even nonbelievers. I was anxious to see how this preacher would take advantage of this opportunity to bring about conversions as he broke open The Word of God, to almost half of humankind. Since it was “Pentecost weekend,” I was excited that people around the world would be hearing The Good News broadcast to them in their own language as their local news translated whatever Bishop Curry had to offer. The occasion offered a real possibility for a 21st Century Pentecost.

The first thing that I took special note of was that he began with The Sign of The Cross. While this gesture is typical to Roman Catholics, it is the Baptismal formula by which all Christians begin their faith life here on earth. When we sign ourselves, we are expressing our hope that after death, in Eternal Light, we will be given a share in this indivisible union of love that is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. What I did not see is how many people in the congregation took the cue and signed themselves.

Certainly, the non-Christians would not have. While other world religions acknowledge the existence of The Creator, they are not aware of the Divine quality of “Three-ness”…the belief that God is an invisible Trinity of Persons. From the very beginning, however, this revealed truth has been part of the deposit of faith that Jesus entrusted to the Apostles. Drawing from the Gospel accounts, the Blessed Trinity was part of the preaching, teaching, and prayer life of the early Church. St. Paul employed the concept of Triune God in his greeting to the Corinthian Community, one that we still use at Mass to this very day: The Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Cor 13:14)

Admittedly, however, while it is a cornerstone of our faith and it is familiar to all Christians, our belief that God IS Three is something we celebrate, but cannot easily explain. In fact, Christian Marriage offers the perfect opportunity to explore this sacred mystery.

It is easy to summarize Bishop Curry’s homily at “the Royal Wedding.” He spoke about the power of love.

Believers and nonbelievers alike can appreciate that love has the power to draw two people together in an intimate sharing of every aspect of their lives. People entering into marriage, whether civil or Sacramental, seek a bond that is far more than a legal arrangement. The power of love causes human beings to seek a union, grounded in the hope that the marriage partners can be “all things” to and for one another.

And so last weekend, as The Church celebrated The Descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, over half of humanity celebrated the “Royal Wedding.” What a perfect occasion to better understand the Blessed Trinity! Through the power of infinite and unconditional love, God has revealed the Divine Self to humankind as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit so that God can be “all things” to and for each and every one of us.

What we celebrate on this Trinity Sunday is the power of love, perfect and expressed to us through the communion of the Divine Persons…an intimate sharing of eternal life which those who strive to live in love will someday become part of.

May God Bless you…Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! Amen.

Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ
MK 14:12-16, 22-26
June 3, 2018

Change and presence are the very core of every Eucharist.

For many generations, we Catholic Christians have traditionally used Corpus Chrsiti to display this change and presence…taking to the streets of our cities, towns and villages in solemn procession. Enthroned in a monstrance, we carry the Blessed Sacrament into the world proclaiming the truth that Christ is truly with us, even as Jesus was present to the people of Judea so many centuries ago. These public displays are proclamations of our belief that The Lord is with us in the Blessed Sacrament.

At every Eucharist, not just on Corpus Christi, those of who gather to do as Jesus disciples did, experience change. And with the final blessing we are sent out into the cities and towns and villages where we live to make Christ present in a world in desperate need of peace, justice and love. In other words, we become what we eat…and then having undergone this spiritual change brought about by the Real Presence of Christ within our body…we carry The Lord within us like living monstrances into a doubting world.

We MUST gather each and every week, so that we can shift our focus from the things of this world, which drain us…even de-humanize us, and continue to undergo the change that makes us more Christ like. That is what Eucharist can do for us…it can make us more Christ like…as we become what we eat. And as we change, we make Christ more present to the world.

So…chances are good, that in whatever parish you celebrate The Solemnity of Corpus Christi …there will not be a procession. But without a doubt..,there will be a change in the bread and wine…and through it…a change in you. And if you in turn…”take it to the streets”…without a doubt,,,somehow, some way…there will be a change in our world.

You are The Body of Christ! Make Christ present to a world desperate for change.

Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
MK 3:20-35
June 10, 2018

Last Sunday, the Church celebrated The Feast of Corpus Christi with Readings that brought the concepts of change and presence to mind. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, Whose real presence we experience in the Eucharist. And since we become what we eat, the Sacrament changes us, and we, in turn, make Christ present in the world, as we are better able to live the Gospel through the graces we enjoy when we come to the table for Holy Communion.

The Readings for this 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time seem to emphasize the same concepts, although in reverse order, and to a different end. The passage from Genesis demonstrates that evil is present in the created world. Dark forces stimulated in the first parents an appetite for something that was lethal, and, therefore, forbidden. They ate anyway, and they were changed. The original sin brought about more than a change of residence. Not only were the first parents evicted from the Garden, but their relationship with The Creator and with one another changed. What they consumed on that fateful day became part of them, incorporated into their spiritual DNA, and has been passed on through the generations, present in every human being to this very day. The original sin infected human nature with the tendency towards division.

Jesus certainly has something profound to say about division! If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.

Fifty years ago…about two months before his assassination on June 6, 1968, Robert F. Kennedy also had something to say about division. What we need in the United States is not division…not hatred…but love and wisdom and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice towards those who still suffer within our country.

Politics aside, who can argue with that statement? Certainly no person of faith. Definitely no Christian. Any sincere call for unity, peace, justice, compassion, and love echoes the message of the Gospel. To challenge an effort to unite humanity is to challenge Jesus Christ! And that kind of challenge is nothing short of Original Sin!

Fortunately, our Second Reading speaks to the transformative power of grace. Grace enables us to overcome our inherited guilt and divisive tendencies. Grace enables us to “do the will of God” and to live in harmony and peace. Grace makes Christ present when darkness clouds our judgment. Grace heals that about our human nature which threatens to divide, and enables us to see one another for who we really are…sisters and brothers…all children of God, Who loves us equally.

So we gather for Eucharist, seeking the grace that makes Christ really present through us…so that we can change the world.

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time
MK 4:26-34
June 17, 2018

Jesus taught in parables…we know that. Today’s Gospel passage concludes with the words: without parables, He did not speak to them.

Any teacher will tell you that there are thoughts or ideas or concepts…OR TRUTHS that are so enormous that the best thing we limited human beings can do is “imagine” what it is we are trying to understand or learn. So, a good teacher will search for little stories that are like seeds. A good teacher will plant these seeds into the imaginations of their students, in hopes that the seeds will begin to grow into understanding and knowledge.

On the other hand, a good farmer will tell you that you can’t just plant a seed and then walk away. If there is any hope for a fruitful harvest, you have to tend to the field. You can’t just plant and wait. There needs to be committed follow-up if one hopes for an abundant harvest. That’s exactly what we have going on here.

Jesus used little stories to plant seeds of faith into the imaginations of a crowd of people. Once that work was done, His attention returned to a field where the seeds had already broken through the surface and begun to grow, but had not yet produced a crop. After addressing the crowd, He focused on the disciples. The passage concludes: but to His own disciples, He explained everything in private. We see how The Lord continued to work with His followers, nurturing and supporting what was planted before, in hopes of a bountiful harvest.

That’s what we are about this morning. The seeds of faith have already been planted within you and have germinated and begun to grow. But, they need to be cared for. And so, like the disciples, the Lord calls you here to this private place so that you can be fed with the Eucharist and that from the Table of the Word, everything can be explained to you. So, it seems like we need a little story…a parable.

Imagine this!

The owner of an orchard wanted to grow a hardier variety of apples. He was looking for a tree that would withstand the harshest of Michigan winters. But, at the same time, he wanted a bigger, sweeter, crispier, and juicier apple. And so, over the course of several years, he studied the different varieties of trees already growing in his orchard. He was able to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the different trees. Then, one year, he took a healthy branch from a tree that produced a really large apple and grafted it onto the strongest of the hardy trees. The next year, he took a healthy branch from a tree that always produced really sweet fruit and grafted it to that strong, hardy tree that was now producing large apples. He continued that process until he had a tree that produced everything that he had hoped for. And then he took the seeds from that fruit in order to begin a new orchard.

My story might not be good science, but it is a fairly good image to plant in our minds as we reflect on our three Readings for this 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time. The seed of faith is planted within us at our Baptisms. However, we can’t just stand by and do nothing, leaving faith to grow on its own. There needs to be a committed effort to nurture and nourish it. In hopes that the gift of faith will continue to grow throughout our lives, finally producing eternal fruit, it’s critical that there be committed follow-up.

Jesus calls us here to the privacy of this holy place. Through the Eucharist, we come to a deeper understanding of the things that are ultimately beyond our understanding…although here, we can catch a glimpse of these things using our imaginations. And as we imagine The Reign of God, we should carefully examine ourselves to see what we need in order to produce excellent fruit.

Over the summer, as we move through the Sundays of Ordinary Time, it would profit us as individuals as well as a family of faith to study ourselves closely, to see what it is we need to withstand the harsh conditions of this world, and, at the same time, produce an increasingly excellent fruit.

So, it would seem that the question of the week is simply this: What do I need to graft onto myself…so that I can be stronger in faith and produce something ever more pleasing to God?

Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist
LK 1:57-66, 80
June 24, 2018

Last week, I visited my old friend, Marie Wrocklage. She was “at home with hospice” and might well be “at home with the Lord” before you have an opportunity to read this reflection.

In 2016, at the age of 96, Marie was awarded the Bishop Murphy Award for her continued service within the Diocese of Saginaw. I intentionally say “continued service” because, at the time, she was still involved in religious education. Marie was recognized as the first parent-catechist in her parish community, and her ministry has spanned three generations. During our final visit, she taught me one final lesson. At least she reminded me of something that no minister or religious educator should lose sight of.

With a twinkle in her beautiful blue eyes, she told me how delighted she was to have received a phone call from one of her former students. This woman, living on the other side of the country, heard about Marie’s final illness and called to express her appreciation for all that she had learned about Christ and our Church from Marie. She explained that she was now involved in faith formation in her own parish. At some point in her description of her own efforts to pass on the faith, the younger woman said something that echoed a line from our First Reading. I thought that I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly spent my strength… (Isaiah 49:1-6).

Marie quickly replied: If they remember just one, single thing you taught them, it was worth your effort.

This weekend, the Church steps briefly out of the Season of Ordinary Time in order to celebrate the birth of an extraordinary life. John the Baptist is recognized and honored by Jesus, Himself, at Matt. 11:8. “Amen I say to you, among those born of women, there has been none greater than John the Baptist.”

John’s greatness stems from his work in heralding the coming of the Messiah, proclaiming the Kingdom of God, and calling people to repent. He was relentless in his efforts to the point of shouting out his message from a jail cell shortly before his execution. He used the last minutes of his earthly life to teach…or at least to remind people of something that no human being should lose sight of…GOD IS FAITHFUL TO US AND WE IN TURN MUST STRIVE ALWAYS TO BE FAITHFUL TO GOD…and repent those occasions when we fall short. What is amazing is that as important as John’s work was, Jesus elevates the efforts of everyone who echoes his message.

How wise it is for The Church to shine the spotlight on John. It gives us an opportunity to recall and celebrate all those in our own lives who have taught us just one single thing about Christ and our Church. Parents, grandparents, friends, neighbors, teachers, catechists…everyone described by St. Paul in our Second Reading, as those to whom the word of salvation has been sent. Christ Himself elevates the lives of all those, who, like John the Baptist and Marie Wrocklage, use their strength to bring light to the nations. Their reward is with the Lord.

As I was completing my thoughts for this reflection, I received the news that Marie had died. We take comfort in knowing that the thousands of seeds that she planted in the minds and hearts of three generations of Catholic children will grow and bear fruit. She was a “light to the nations” and now may Eternal Light Shine upon her.

13 Sunday in Ordinary Time
MK 5:21-43 OR 5:21-24, 35B-43
July 1,2018

When I was in middle school, my parents invested in a set of World Book Encyclopedias, including an enormous dictionary. They felt that the best way for me to learn was through self-help. So, from that point forward, whenever I asked them something, rather than simply feed me an answer, they encouraged me to, “Look it up!” But they didn’t leave it there. They turned the tables with questions directed at me. “What does it mean? What did you learn? How can you use this knowledge?” (I imagine, today, parents using this tactic would simply say: “Google it!”)

I recall an occasion when I took the initiative and “looked up” a word that I didn’t understand but that I kept hearing on TV, in hospital shows and in war movies as well. “Triage” was the word. If you Google it today, this is what you will learn:

TRIAGE: a sorting of and allocation of treatment to patients and especially battle and disaster victims according to a system of priorities designed to maximize the number of survivors.
b: the sorting of patients (as in an emergency room) according to the urgency of their need for care.

Having learned what “triage” meant, I used this newly acquired knowledge in my image of Jesus and His healing ministry. I envisioned the large crowds that engulfed Him. I could almost hear the roar of voices calling out in hopes of attracting The Lord’s attention…desperate for a cure…healing…relief from suffering. And, it occurred to me that the Apostles and disciples had the responsibility to “triage.”

It only made sense to me that there had to be a system to sort out supplicants “according to the urgency of their need for care.” Pretty smart for a kid, even if I say so myself. But my image broke down when I first heard today’s Gospel. Why would Jesus take the time to stop and deal with a woman who was losing blood, when there was a young girl about to lose her very life? To me, this didn’t seem like a good system of prioritizing. There needs to be triage, doesn’t there?

And so we turn to the Readings for this 13th Sunday of Ordinary Time. When we reflect on them…What does it mean? What did you learn? How can you use this knowledge?

Possibly a more mature understanding of Jesus’s use of His healing powers begins with God the Father. God never intended for there to be sickness, suffering, or even death. We brought that upon ourselves. Knowing we are greatly afflicted, God does not categorize us according to “urgency for care.” Each of us, in one way or another, is in need of healing. Each of us, to one degree or another, suffers from the loss of grace…even as the woman’s life was trickling away due to the loss of blood. All of us are dying. With each passing day, we get closer to the end of our lives. There is, however, Good News in this stark reality. God sent Jesus to heal us. God sent Jesus to stop the bleeding and to raise us up to a new life in the Spirit.

Best of all…God does not triage. All we have to do is ask…and we move right to the head of the “urgent care line.”

14 Sunday in Ordinary Time
MK 6:1-6
July 8, 2018

Last Sunday, our Readings were like a brilliant finale to a 4th of July fireworks display. Even as the dark night sky is filled with color and light and sound, the story of a miracle interrupted by a miracle filled the darkness in the lives of people struggling with sickness and even death.

As we hear this story of multiple healings, it’s difficult to know where to focus our attention. Should we simply enjoy the wonder and awe of the lady who stopped hemorrhaging by simply touching the hem of Jesus’s robe? Or should we shift our gaze to a 12-year-old girl who was brought back to life? There’s so much going on here, it’s hard to know where to look. It seems almost impossible to take it all in. It might help to look back to what triggered this grand display of healing.

Skyrockets don’t light themselves. The fuse needs to be lit. Maybe the lesson from last week is that Jesus’s healing doesn’t ignite itself, either. Wasn’t it the faith of the two whose lives were shrouded in darkness that sparked an incredibly beautiful display of Jesus’s healing power?

Consider the last line in this Sunday’s Epistle: For when I am weak, then I am strong. Is St. Paul telling us that it is our weakness that ignites Jesus’s healing powers?

Well, there is no doubt that Jesus embodied compassion. Throughout the Gospels, we repeatedly see The Lord taking notice of and responding to those in desperate need. But His visit to His hometown appears to clue us in to what turned His compassion into healing…what lit the fuse that exploded into a brilliant miracle…FAITH!

The Lord was unable to penetrate the darkness that engulfed His own hometown because of the obstinance of the hearts of The people who lived there…the people among whom He was raised.

We needed both last week’s Gospel…the grand display of healing…as well as the description of Jesus’s unfortunate visit to Nazareth, in order to appreciate that our weakness triggers Jesus’s unlimited compassion, but it is our faith that ignites His healing powers.

15th Sunday of Ordinary Time
MK 6:7-13
July 15, 2018

Jesus began to send them out two by two.

I have no idea whether or not they ever met face to face. However, in the last century, there were two Jesuit theologians who accepted the Lord’s invitation to go out into the world and face off against darkness and evil. Karl Rahner, SJ (1904-1984) and Walter J. Burghardt, SJ (1914-2008) may not have worked side by side, but they were contemporaries who were “shoulder to shoulder” in the work of discipleship.

Like Amos the prophet, they both heard and heeded God’s call to Go prophesy to my people. Through their respective preaching, writings, and prayers, they both made God’s will and God’s ways known to the world, addressing 20th century issues in 20th century language. And like God’s message delivered through Amos the prophet thousands of years ago, their writings are not “dated material.” In fact, their messages might be more relevant…more critical today than when the Holy Spirit first placed extraordinary wisdom on their minds and in their hearts…and moved it to their tongues and to their typewriters. (They both did their most brilliant work before PCs).

PREACHING
In a talk he was giving sometime prior to 1965, Rahner is quoted as saying: From a historical point of view, our age, the twentieth century, is more difficult to live in than ages past. But this is our age; it is an age of momentous change, and also a time for new orientation for Christian living.

Over 50 years have passed since Rahner made those remarks, and during that time, humanity has experienced a virtual tsunami of change…in every aspect of our lives. The word “momentous” is totally inadequate to capture the breadth and width of change in science, technology, medicine, transportation, politics, and social structures we have experienced and endured. There has even been great change in our Catholic Church.

But, in spite of all of that change, God’s eternal plan for us described so beautifully in our Second Reading has remained completely unchanged…in every detail. However, God’s plan remains under attack from dark and evil forces. And so, we are called to develop a “new orientation” for Christian living that will be effective in “driving out the many demons” that are rattling around in the world. This is our age! This is our opportunity to go out “two by two”…in other words…in the company of other disciples, to square off against every form of darkness and evil and to help heal a wounded world.

WRITING
In a book called Speak the Word with Boldness, published back in 1993, his intended audience being preachers of the Gospel, Fr. Burghardt wrote: Must we be silent while power structures rape the earth that sustains us, destroy legally 1.6 million developing humans each year, keep every fifth child in abject poverty, hold 37 million Americans without healthcare, balance the scales of Lady Justice in favor of the moneyed, yes, even gas or hang criminals for vengeance’ sake? Shall we be silent when rugged individualism threatens not only our country but our church?

The numbers might well have changed since 1993, becoming increasingly dire, but the issues remain the same. And so, we are called to develop a “new orientation” for Christian living that will be effective in “driving out the many demons” that are rattling around in the world now…today…in 2108. This is our age! This is our opportunity to go out “two by two,” in other words, in the company of other disciples, and work to make God’s plan for all humankind a reality.

PRAYER
And so we pray today…on this 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time…2018…an age more difficult, more challenging for followers of Jesus Christ to live in than other times in Salvation history…for a new orientation to the ways in which we hear and live out the Gospel.

Dear Lord, grace us to see you more clearly, love you more dearly, follow you more nearly. Force us freely to feel your presence—in our gathering together, in the Word proclaimed, in the bread transformed into your body, in the Host within our hearts. Then send us forth to proclaim news that is excitingly good, to cast out of ourselves and our people the idols we have erected in your stead, to witness to your risen reality because we have experienced you…alive!
(Fr. Walter J. Burghardt, Speak the Word with Boldness, 1993)

16 Sunday in Ordinary Time
MK 6:30-34
July 22, 2018

Ekapol Chanthawong isn’t a name that rolls easily off our western tongues. Fortunately, his friends just call him “Ek.” But, whether or not you even know or are able to pronounce his name doesn’t detract a bit from his global fame. I would venture to guess that he is one of the best known persons in the world today.

Ek is the 23-year-old assistant soccer coach who led 12 boys on an outing in their native Thailand. As you must have heard, because it was breaking news for days, the outing ended in the team being trapped in a cave. At first totally lost, finally discovered but trapped by rising waters, and further threatened by tropical storms, there was literally an international effort to rescue the boys and their coach.

When the whereabouts of the kids was finally established, people were surprised and even angered that Ek would have led these young boys, whose lives were entrusted to his care, into such a dangerous situation. The hostility towards him intensified when it was learned that there was a sign posted at the mouth of the cave, warning explorers against the potential dangers. The opening line from our First Reading from Jeremiah the Prophet comes to mind: Woe to the shepherds who mislead the flock…you have not cared for them…but I will take care to punish your evil deeds.

We do not know as of yet why this happened in the first place. We do know that after many days of imprisonment in a cave gradually filling with water, at first in total darkness, the boys were finally liberated and have even been discharged from the hospital. We also know how Ek cared for his lambs once they were lost. He gathered them in prayer. That’s how they spent their first night in the dark cave…praying!

Ek, having once pursued the training to become a Buddhist monk, taught the boys to meditate. In that way, he was able to bring a sense of peace, calm, acceptance, and patience to his flock, so that they could endure the hardship with hope. He gave up his own share of the food they had taken into the cave so that the boys could have just a little more nourishment, while he went hungry. The youngest on the team told his parents that when he was cold, Ek wrapped him in an embrace. As a consequence of his self-sacrifice, when rescuers finally made contact, they found Ek to be the weakest of the 14. He insisted on being the last to be freed from the cave, and later, the last to regain sufficient strength to be discharged from the hospital.

It occurs to me that when he realized that they were lost, trapped, in grave danger, and he reached out in the darkness to gather those kids around himself, Ek must have been feeling the very same emotions that Jesus felt when He looked out on the crowd. In today’s Gospel, Mark tells us that Jesus’s heart was moved with pity for them…and He began to teach them many things.

Since the first parents were led into a dark cave by the evil one, all humankind has been trapped…entombed, so to speak, in a sinful world; brutality, violence, and division rising faster than flood waters. But we are not alone. Jesus is with us. The Lord is here with us, in the midst of all that threatens us, teaching us how to survive while we wait to be liberated.

He has taught us to reflect and meditate on God’s Eternal Word, so that, as we wait to be freed from the prison of time and enter into Eternal Light, we can find a sense of peace, calm, acceptance, and patience. Jesus has given us the Gospel…the Good News…the perfect guide to survival, so that we can endure any hardship with hope. He has taught us how to pray…urging us to call God…Our Father…confident that He will continue to search for all who are lost and will raise up the righteous.

The Lord feeds us. Through the Eucharist, He doesn’t simply give us His share…He IS our food…He IS what nourishes us in a way that our survival is made certain. And when the desperation of our situation overwhelms us, He wraps us in the Holy Spirit.

The entire time I followed the unfolding events in Thailand, I couldn’t help but draw a parallel between the plight of those lost lambs…and our human condition. Just as through enormous human effort those kids were called out of darkness into light…through all powerful Divine effort, the righteous will be saved.

In the meantime, we are comforted, protected, encouraged, and fed by The Good Shepherd.

17 Sunday in Ordinary Time
JN 6:1-15
July 29, 2018

The woman reporting the international news gave the warning that often issues these days when we are trying to fool ourselves into thinking that we can protect our children. The more “sensitive” folks take note, however, when they hear: “Warning: We are about to air images you may find disturbing.”

I usually don’t count myself among the “sensitive,” but she was absolutely right. The images were beyond “disturbing.” They were heartbreaking. As was the narrative, delivered with grim voice by the reporter on the scene as the horrific video of an infant, barely recognizable as being human, was recorded. The reporter described the circumstances leading up to the ultimate starvation death of the infant in one of the many war-torn, impoverished third world countries…I can’t even recall which…there are so many places where this could have occurred.

I was struck by the irony of warning children against watching something inappropriate on television when they “see it all” on their iPads or smart phones, even as other children are literally starving to death. I wondered how many people found the horrific image of a starving infant too much for their “sensitivities” and reached for the remote, dismissing the tragedy from their minds as quickly and easily as changing channels. I personally watched the entire report. It was hard. And the memory lingers and I’ve replayed the image in my mind over and over again. It’s a difficult picture to shake off. But, in my mind, the grim voice of the reporter is now replaced by the challenging voice of The Lord: YOU GIVE THEM SOMETHING TO EAT!

Now I need to switch channels. I had another experience I want to share.

Late one evening last week, just before I turned out the lights, I received the following urgent text from a friend of mine who is the pastoral administrator of a parish. I know it’s rather late (it was VERY late) and I am not sure you are even up. (Technically I wasn’t) I have been trying to get cover for tomorrow’s Mass since early evening when I found out I needed a priest for tomorrow (weekday morning Mass)… just got the latest response from someone who is also not available. I should just figure 3 strikes and you’re out, but I am trying one last time (In other words, I was 4th fiddle!)

When I replied that I would be there, she sent a brief “sigh of relief” with the words “THANK YOU” in capital letters. I arrived the next morning, and she was waiting for me in the sacristy, and again expressed her gratitude. (I didn’t say anything about being 4th fiddle!) In truth, I am always thrilled to preside at Eucharist. The Church teaches, and I firmly believe, that Eucharist is the “source and summit of our Faith.” We are at our very best when we come together around the Table of the Word and The Communion Table. We are doing as Jesus commanded. All of this is absolutely true. Still, my friend is a solid theologian, a gifted teacher, and a very fine preacher. So I asked: Why did you get so upset? You could have done a Word Service. To which she replied: It was in the bulletin that we were having Mass and that is what the people expected.

Again, I get it! As a lay adult, I was a daily Communicant. As a pastor, I made a point of providing morning Mass each weekday. But, at least right now, the numbers of priests have declined and it isn’t always possible. HOWEVER, THE FAITHFUL WILL NOT STARVE. Jesus also assured us that: Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them. And, when two or more gather at the Table of the Word in a Church…or at the kitchen table of their home… there is nourishment to be had…especially when there is a gifted teacher or fine preacher there to “break open the Word” and pass it to hungry hearts.

So, while I fully understand the urgency my friend felt, once again, I heard Jesus’s voice saying: YOU GIVE THEM SOMETHING TO EAT!

Hit the remote again…and go back to the first…tragic story.

This Sunday, and for each Sunday in August, we step out of the Gospel of Mark and hear passages from John, often referred to as “The Bread of Life Discourse.” At this point in the Liturgical year, we are called to reflect in a special way on the gift of the Eucharist. Our work begins with the great feeding miracle reported in each of the four Gospels with varying detail. While John does not include the direction: YOU GIVE THEM SOMETHING TO EAT, nevertheless, all four descriptions of this miraculous event explain that the disciples were the instruments of distribution. Jesus did not personally hand a loaf or a fish to the starving people. The disciples did the work.

So, as I “rewind” the two experiences of this past week in the light of our Gospel, I wonder if we are being reminded that Eucharist is more than Communion. True, that when we Break the Living Bread and pass the Cup of our Salvation, we are doing as Jesus commanded, but, from the Table of the Word, we also hear The Lord command His disciples: YOU GIVE THEM SOMETHING TO EAT! These are not contradictory instructions.

Maybe it boils down to this: If we do more than celebrate Eucharist…if we do our best to LIVE IT…then just possibly, no infant would starve to death…and none of the faithful would go hungry even if it happened that there was no Mass one morning.

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
JN 6:24-35
August 5, 2018

It’s often said that Evangelical Christians use the Bible as a “rule book,” while Catholic Christians look to the Bible as a prayer book (about 30% of the Mass is Scripture proclaimed.) The Jewish people, on the other hand, see The Old Testament of the Bible, The Book of Exodus in particular, as “the history of their nation.” There is truth to all three approaches.

As we continue to explore “The Bread of Life Discourse,” reported at John 6, in search of a deeper meaning of and appreciation for The Eucharist, our First Reading on this 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time is from the Book of Exodus. All people of the Bible should be able to appreciate the “Exodus Story” as history. If it is true that “history repeats itself,” then the story of this mass migration of an entire nation deserves special attention in these first decades of the 21st century.

The world is experiencing the greatest population shift since World War ll. The United Nations estimates that 65.3 billion people have been uprooted from their homes because of war, terror, violence, and natural disaster. This historic movement of people brings with it traumatic change to both the migrating peoples as well as to the host nations. And with change very often comes grumbling, the kind of grumbling that we hear about in our Old Testament Reading. Liberated from severe oppression and forced labor in Egypt, the freed slaves began to “grumble” at the first sign of adversity.

Suddenly, their lives under the harsh taskmasters in Egypt seemed the better alternative to the uncertainty of their future as they wandered in the desert looking for the Promised Land. Their grumbling, it would seem, was the symptom of an underlying condition more threatening to their spiritual lives than either slavery or vulnerability in the desert was to their physical well-being. They had lost confidence in their leaders as well as their trust in God.

It’s hard to conceive how this formerly enslaved and oppressed nation, both witnesses to and beneficiaries of the infinite power of our liberating God, could so quickly look back to Egypt with longing. But, when you give it some thought, isn’t this the all too common reaction to change…once change appears to offer some challenge, danger, or threat…real or imagined…don’t we want to “go back to where we came from?” When change starts to “stretch us,” don’t we grumble?

We see this happening today with those fleeing from the likes of brutal dictators, civil war, religious extremists, drought, and famine. As they search for a “promised land,” they often grumble (sometimes with good reason) at the circumstances they find in the very place they are seeking refuge.

Moreover, the nations of refuge often raise a voice of protest, grumbling at the invasion of refugees and the enormous changes that involves. We are being “stretched” and there is a whole lot of grumbling!

History is likely to identify these later years of the second decade of this century as a time of rising nationalism, tribalism, isolationism, and protectionism. These are the exact paranoid and self-serving feelings that brought disaster to Egypt. Certainly, the Exodus story describes practices and policies the “host nation” implemented to control the resident aliens. The change from welcoming host to cruel taskmaster ultimately brought plague, disaster, and ruin to Egypt. For their part, the desire for immediate gratification and the satisfaction of their material needs brought renewed misery to the recently liberated Israel. These trends should be alarming to Christians because they can be contrary to God’s will and God’s ways.

Jesus came into the world to redirect our focus towards God and away from ourselves and our selfish needs and desires as the entire human race migrates. We are all citizens of a pilgrim nation in search of the Promised Land…The Kingdom of God.

Jesus has left us with the Eucharist as a “rule book” that teaches us to make the journey in peace and harmony, caring for one another, especially those in greatest need.

Jesus has given us the Eucharist so that, rather than grumble, we can pray as we move closer to The Promised Land.

And, just as God fed a migrating nation fleeing slavery and searching for home, Jesus feeds us with Eucharist, to nourish us while we are on the move.

We cannot deny that Eucharist calls for change…change that stretches us in the most profound way. But, if we grumble…think about just Who it is we are grumbling against!

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
JN 6:41-51
August 12, 2018

The table is turned…the dinner table, that is.

Among my earliest memories are the agonizing hours (at least it seemed like hours) spent sitting in front of a plate piled high (at least it seemed piled high) with things I hated! My mother had an entire litany of reasons why I couldn’t leave my chair until my plate was clean. You need it to grow! It’s full of vitamin C! It’s good for your bones! It cost a lot of money! Like all mothers, she was concerned that I be properly nourished. And in response, I “murmured.”

Now, I make a point of visiting “assisted living” at mealtime, concerned that she is being properly nourished. Failure to thrive in elderly persons (also referred to as faltering weight) is defined by The Institute of Medicine as weight loss of more than 5%, decreased appetite, poor nutrition, and physical inactivity, often associated with dehydration, depression, immune dysfunction, and low cholesterol. At 93, she is vulnerable and I am concerned. So, I sit there and coax her to “take one more bite of chicken…at least try the broccoli…don’t you want the pudding…it looks really good!” And in response, she “murmurs.”

Our First Reading this 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time tells the story of God providing nourishment to Elijah the Prophet so that he could withstand the 40-day journey to the mountain of God. But God did more than simply place the food within easy reach. Concerned that Elijah would fail to thrive…falter…be too weak to reach his destination, God sent an angel to encourage him. Get up and eat! I wonder if Elijah murmured, “I’m too tired!

While it is true that Our Heavenly Father, the perfect Good Parent, is concerned about our physical well-being, of infinitely greater concern is that we be properly spiritually nourished and that we flourish…thrive…be all that we were created to be. Continuing our reflection on the Bread of Life Discourse, we see God’s concern for our spiritual growth and development. In order that we not falter, like the first parents, and satisfy our hunger with poison fruit, God sent Jesus to be The Bread of Life and The Cup of our Salvation.

We are invited to The Table of The Word and The Communion Table, where we find waiting for us, in abundance, what we need to grow strong. And it takes enormous strength to make the journey through time and into eternity. The banquet set out for us at each Eucharist is what we need, not only to satisfy our hungry hearts, but to keep our spirits healthy. Eucharist is both food and medicine and while a total gift…free to us for the taking…the cost was the suffering and death of Jesus Christ.

So, let’s encourage one another…especially those who mutter…those “too tired” to be here…GET UP AND EAT!

Be nourished! Thrive! Grow! Be healed and refreshed as you continue your journey towards the heavenly banquet!

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
JN 6:51-58
August 19, 2018

Last Wednesday, August 15, we celebrated the Feast of the Assumption of The Blessed Virgin Mary. A “dogma” of our faith, we Catholics believe that at the end of the course of her earthly life, Mary was taken up into heaven body and soul.

The Gospel proclaimed at Mass that day was Luke 1:39-56; the inspiration for the Second Joyful Mystery of the Rosary, “The Visitation.” The passage describes the reunion of Mary and Elizabeth, two women indispensable to God’s plan for salvation, and concludes with a powerful profession of faith made by The Blessed Mother. Her beautiful words, memorialized as the prayer many of us conclude our day with: The Magnificat, declares her complete surrender to God’s plan for her. Her unequivocal trust in God’s mercy and love enabled her to accept the invitation delivered by the Angel of The Lord without resistance. And she conceived by the Holy Spirit, becoming the living Ark of the Covenant…a flesh and blood Tabernacle…The Mother of God.

In the face of today’s Gospel, it is important to take a look back to the lesson which last week’s Feast Day offers. As we continue to make our way through John 6 (The Bread of Life Discourse), we need the example of wisdom, faith, and unshakable trust which we see throughout the life of The Blessed Virgin, as a counter-balance to the reaction of “the crowds” to Jesus’s declaration: I am The Living Bread that came down from heaven.

Remember, this is the very same crowd that hunted Jesus…pursued Him…hanging on His every word…eager for His healing touch. This was the same crowd of people who stood and listened to Him teach and preach to the point that they were exhausted and famished. This is the same crowd that Jesus invited to get comfortable and “recline in the tall grass,” and then, miraculously, multiplied a few fish and loaves of bread so that they could all eat their fill. And eat they certainly did. They ate until they were satisfied…and then they became dissatisfied.

The mood shifted rapidly from contentment to hesitation. (Wow! Hold on a second…what did He just say?) Then they began to grumble, murmur, and argue amongst themselves. The resistance to The Lord’s message of hope intensified. Eventually, they began to walk away.

Why?

For the very same reasons that people are backing away from The Good News today. Christian discipleship involves the kind of total commitment to God’s will and God’s way that we see in the life of Mary. How many folks do you know who are willing to make that kind of commitment? Are you?

Think of it this way: Disciples don’t just eat the food and then walk away. We can’t remain lounging around in the comfort of the tall grass. Once we are fed, we are sent out to continue to proclaim…as Mary did…our complete surrender to God’s plan for us. And God does have something important for each and every one of us to accomplish in the coming week. At the end of the course of your earthly life, will you be able to tell the Just Judge “There might have been times when I murmured and grumbled…but I never walked away”!

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
JN 6:60-69
August 26, 2018

R-E-S-P-E-C-T
Find out what it means to me
R-E-S-P-E-C-T

And so begins the song recorded by “Detroiter,” Aretha Franklin, back in 1967, that went on to become the anthem for the civil rights movement in this country. It was also a big part of the “background music” for my college years. Every now and again, over the past half-century, I search out that song, play it, and enjoy the memories it brings back to me. I do have to admit, however, that last week, with the passing of the woman who made that song so popular, it was played so often in the many tributes to The Queen of Soul that I got a little tired of hearing it.

This is the fifth and final Sunday of our work with John 6: The Bread of Life Discourse. As we made our way through what might be thought of as The Lord’s introduction to The Eucharist, the music and the message have been pretty much the same. I am the Living Bread…Eat My Flesh and Drink my Blood…and you will never die.

Hopefully, no one has tired of this life-giving theme. The fact is, Eucharist is the “source and summit” of our faith and the basis for all Christian hope. It really is the focal point of our relationship with Jesus Christ…and should be the Center of every Catholic Christian’s life, if we truly want to remain in Christ.

When we gather around The Table of the Word and The Communion Table, we are certainly doing as Jesus commanded in memory of Him. However, Eucharist is far more than remembering something from the past. Eucharist IS “life in Christ.” True that “we remember,” but we also commit to live Jesus here and now…and to prepare for that future day when Christ will return in glory.

During these past weeks, our First and Second Readings have supported Jesus’s teaching on Eucharist by directing our attentions to varying aspects of this inexhaustible mystery. The common denominator of all three Readings this week seems to be:

R-E-S-P-E-C-T!

In our First Reading, Joshua challenges Israel about the LACK OF RESPECT the people are showing for the inheritance of faith passed onto them by their ancestors. Drifting away from the special relationship to which God called them, they were wandering back to their pagan ways. They were at a crisis point, on the verge of forgetting that they had been chosen by God to live The Covenant..to live as children of God.

St. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, addresses concerns over another kind of sacred covenant: marriage. Fidelity to this covenant relationship demands mutual respect to the point of putting the other’s interests ahead of our own. When respect between husband and wife falters, the relationship spirals into a crisis.

This is where we find Jesus and the disciples, at the conclusion of The Bread of Life Discourse. They are at a critical point in their relationship. As Jesus unfolds His plan to continue to be present to us through the Eucharist, His followers begin to murmur, grumble, and debate among themselves. They find it impossible to understand just exactly what this New Covenant relationship to which He is inviting them means. They are faced with a very critical choice. But it is simply too much for many of them and they lose respect for The Lord. They walk away.

There are times in our personal faith lives…or in the history of the Church for that matter…when we disciples reach a critical point in our relationship with Christ. Someone or something challenges what we believe…what we value…what we respect. It is then we are forced to make the decision: Do I continue to honor and respect the Covent God has made with us through Eucharist?

Or do I walk away?

It is at this critical point when we ask ourselves…

R-E-S-P-E-C-T
Find out what it means to me
R-E-S-P-E-C-T

22 Sunday in Ordinary Time
MK 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
September 2, 2018

In the political arena, the expression: Speak Truth to Power has become quite popular. It seems to describe the need to challenge authority when leaders are misguided, or in error. I wonder how often this approach is tolerated in the corporate world?

The term Speak Truth to Power is not new. It was the title of a publication issued by the Quakers in 1955. Speak Truth to Power: A Quaker Search for an Alternative to Violence expressed the belief that humankind can live in peace if we suppress hatred with love. While the expression is from the 20th century, the concept is as old as The Bible. Consider the opening line of John’s Gospel:

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.

All things came to be through him,
and without him nothing came to be.
What came to be through him was life,
and this life was the light of the human race.

“The Word” that John is talking about is Jesus Christ…God’s Eternal Word made Flesh. And “The Word” is Truth. Remember? Jesus called Himself “The Truth.”

Soon after creation, however, came the opposite of truth. Lies, falsehoods, deceit, and hypocrisy took root in The Garden with those fateful words hissed by a snake: You will not surely die! God knows well that when you eat of it, your eyes will be opened and you will be like God.

That first lie took root in the garden and thrived, spreading aggressively throughout human history. Tragically, we have reached the point where one of our political leaders has told us: truth isn’t truth, a statement that is especially dangerous in that it comes alarmingly close to a denial of Christ…Who IS Truth!

And so our Readings for this 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time are not only timely and relevant, but especially important. In the Gospel, we hear Jesus, as He did on many occasions, Speak Truth to Power. Calling out religious leaders for their hypocrisy, the Lord strikes a blow against lies. No one likes to be called a liar…especially those guilty of lying.

Possibly, the take-away from these three Readings is that through Jesus Christ, Power IS Speaking Truth to the Powerless. The Power of The Almighty, recognizing how vulnerable human beings are to lies, through Jesus Christ, has spoken The Truth into our minds and our hearts. When we humbly welcome and live The Truth…when we Live Jesus…then love overpowers hatred, envy, ambition, greed, and deceit, and we can live in peace…The Peace of Christ!

Power has Spoken Truth…and it is for us to listen to and then live The Truth.

24 Sunday in Ordinary Time
MK 8:27-35
September 16, 2018

The scene opens with a prosperous-looking young man wearing fancy sunglasses and driving a shiny convertible sports car along an ocean highway…wind blowing through his hair and a great big toothy smile on his face. Switch to the same young man, riding a bicycle down a quaint little street in Paris. Next, we find him in an art gallery, contemplating a painting. Finally, we see him in an upscale restaurant, surrounded by a group of laughing friends, clearly the center of attention and enjoying every minute. The man is “Terry.”

As the video plays, the narrator explains that “Terry” got a new car, went on a vacation to Paris, bought an incredibly expensive piece of modern art…and then the kicker…the only problem is: this is Terry. And it’s then that the scene changes to a pink bedroom, where we see sitting cross-legged on her bed doing homework, a young girl. It’s one of several TV commercials that a cyber security firm is airing; cautioning that “millions of young children have already had their identity stolen.” The firm offers to protect our kids from bad people on the so-called “dark web.”

I don’t have any idea of how important it is to engage this kind of service to protect the identity of our children. What I do know with absolute certainty is this: it is imperative for us to start at an early age forming them as Roman Catholics if there is any hope of protecting their identity as followers of Jesus Christ!

The Gospel for this Catechetical Sunday is all about identity. Jesus questions Peter about the popular conception of who He is. Peter acknowledges that there is confusion among most people regarding Jesus’s identity. Peter, on the other hand, correctly identifies Jesus as “The Christ,” but the Lord cautions Peter to keep this confidential. Why keep His identity secret?

This is something that Scripture scholars reflect on, discuss, and even debate. One very likely possibility is that Jesus knew that the “popular conception” of what it means to be “The Christ” was wrong. People’s expectations of Him were many and varied, and, in some cases, contradictory to His purpose and plan. Peter, for example, correctly identified Jesus as “The Christ” but did not understand what that meant. It is possible that even the Apostles needed to grow into an appreciation of the role of “The Christ.” After all, it is a stretch to think that “The Christ” should suffer and die in order to fulfill His mission in this world.

Likewise, it is a stretch to embrace all that is expected of us as faithful disciples. All three Readings this weekend explain what it takes to be properly identified with “The Christ.” It is a challenge that requires a lifetime to get even close to right. Throughout our lives, we must continue to learn and mature into an understanding of what is required of a person in order to be recognized as a Christian. It’s a steep learning curve, and the process, when possible, should begin in the cradle.

It is a sacred duty to continue to pass on the faith to the next generation. Our parishes help families satisfy the obligation to continue to grow in the faith and to pass it on to our children. Families can best protect their identity by taking advantage of every opportunity offered by the local Church. And so, this Sunday, we join Catholics around the world by protecting our identity as followers of The Christ by re-committing to continue to learn and grow in our faith…and to live what we learn.

25 Sunday in Ordinary Time
MK 9:30-37
September 23, 2018

Last Sunday’s Gospel was about establishing Jesus’s identity as “The Christ.” But Peter’s response to Jesus’s question…Who do people say that I am?…spoken as the voice of all the Lord’s closest followers, made it clear that Jesus had a lot more work to do.

What God intended to reveal through the Incarnation…God’s Eternal Word Made Flesh…was complete in Jesus of Nazareth. There was nothing more for God to say. The “work in progress” was discipleship.

The Apostles and disciples recognized The Lord as The Messiah, but did not fully understand what “Messiahship” meant, and so they could not know what “discipleship” meant. That was a serious problem considering the fact that He intended His work to continue through them (and us). The Lord zeroed in on the issue when He said: You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.

In this week’s Gospel, there appears to be little progress.

How let down Jesus must have been when He caught them in the all too human act of competing with one another for recognition. Genuine, authentic Discipleship means doing the right thing, because it is the right thing, and without concern for recognition or reward. There is no Academy Award or Nobel Prize for serving God by serving others. There is only the gratification that comes from serving in Jesus’s name.

The Three Readings this week seem a bit disjointed. At first glance, they don’t seem to work well together. But, if we read them with the minds and hearts of innocent children…who are eager to learn…we begin to see how things can be when people strive to live in peace.

When we think like adult humans, we are often selfishly ambitious…aspiring for “greatness” as individuals, or as nations. That makes peace less attainable. However, when we learn to think as God thinks…ambitious for “greatness for all,” then the reasons for conflict slowly drop away. When we put ourselves at the service of others without looking for accolades, our reward is a sense of accomplishment as well as a sense of peace. And peace is contagious.

This is not easy stuff. It’s a strain to “think as God thinks.” But it is even more difficult to live as God lives…in perfect peace. We are “works in progress.” But, when we do our best to Live Jesus…should we happen to wonder: Who do people say that I am? The response is simple…You are a disciple of Jesus Christ.

26 Sunday in Ordinary Time
JN 3:14-21
September 30, 2018

It’s unclear why Eldad and Medad, the two men named in the First Reading (Numbers 11:25-30) were not invited to join the 68 others who accompanied Moses to a special encounter with God. The only thing the passage tells us is that they had been “left behind in the camp.”

Left behind! Could that be a clue? Is it possible that they were intentionally excluded?

We learn to be selective about who we associate with at a very early age. It’s a skill we develop, often beginning on the playground, when kids are organized into sports teams. It continues throughout our lives. The opportunities to evaluate one another, to see if people measure up to our own personal set of standards, and to exclude those who don’t, are countless. We do it all the time. So, just possibly, Eldad and Medad were “left behind in the camp” because their peers, for whatever reason, decided that they didn’t pass muster. Did the “others” think these two weren’t good enough?

There are some Scripture scholars who argue just the opposite. The clue they base their theory on are the names: Eldad and Medad. Not exactly two handles you would want to burden your child with…until you learn what those two Hebrew names mean. Loosely translated, Eldad means whom God loves and Medad means loved. So, this theory holds that the two excluded themselves because they considered themselves unworthy or unfit to be in God’s presence. Seeing and admiring their humility, God gifted them with the same powers as the other 68 who presented themselves for a more formal commissioning.

Whether they were intentionally excluded or graciously excused themselves is a matter for discussion and debate. What we do know with certainty is their names. Unlike the identity of the 68, which is lost to history, the names Eldad and Medad are recorded in the Old Testament, remembered and discussed thousands of years after their work was done. That is significant, in and of itself.

The second thing we know with certainty about these two is that they were empowered with the Spirit of The Almighty…even though they were “left behind in the camp.”

This Reading pairs nicely with the Gospel, where we see one group hoping to exclude and disempower another group simply because they aren’t part of “the inner circle.” The disciples totally ignored the good works being done in Jesus’s Name. Why? Because they were protecting the “in crowd” from intruders.

And why were these imposters doing “the work” without being official disciples? Could it be they did not think they were worthy to seek admission to The Lord’s inner circle? Or did they apply and were denied? We aren’t given the details. We are left to reflect and discuss and debate.

What are we supposed to learn from all of this?

Could the answer possibly be that God does not demand that people have a special credential or a license to do good things? It’s all about the work…not about who’s doing it. OR…maybe the lesson to be learned here is that God rewards the humble. That would be consistent with the powerful teaching on discipleship we heard last Sunday: if anyone wishes to be first, they shall be last of all and servant of all.

I wonder if it’s as simple as this: whether we are in or out…“left behind in the camp” or invited to accompany the important people…we are all Eldad and Medad…much loved children of an all-loving God. And we are all empowered by the Holy Spirit to do good things in God’s Name…especially to drive out evil. No further discussion or debate is necessary on that. God loves us all.

27 Sunday in Ordinary Time
MK 10:2-16
October 7,2018

It sounded like good news when I read the headline last week: Millennials have caused the U.S. divorce rate to plummet by 18% over the past 10 years. Could it be that young people are once again embracing the spirit of our First Reading, “The Creation Story”…where marriage is defined with the words: two become one flesh?

Although frequently proclaimed at the celebration of Christian marriage, the “baby boomers,” even into their 60’s and 70’s, seem to have disregarded God’s call for perfect union between husband and wife. There appears to have been an epidemic of the “hardness of heart” that Jesus mentioned in today’s Gospel. The divorce statistics having accelerated at a staggering rate towards the end of the 20th century, the report of the marked decline…at first glance…sounds like very good news. However, after the headlines came the analysis.

It seems, unfortunately, that the reversal in the trend has little, if anything, to do with young people being more attentive to God’s plan for us by honoring the marriage covenant. The researchers explain that Millennials are delaying marriage until both the man and the woman are well established in their careers. This allows time for them to become more mature and to be “more selective” in choosing a mate. Moreover, the selection process typically involves several trial runs. When a couple finally decides to marry, it is a very deliberate decision. It sounds more like a well thought out business plan than a sacrament. Possibly the most alarming finding from this recent study is that a wedding and marriage have become a form of status symbol enjoyed by the advantaged. Less educated and less prosperous couples simply do not marry, and so, when they separate, they do not need a divorce. The breakdown of these “informal” relationships goes unrecorded.

Where is the good news in all of this?

Maybe we need to shift the focus away from us creatures and how we live and love to our Creator. Our Second Reading enables us to do just that. In the Letter to The Hebrews, we are reminded that, through Jesus, two ACTUALLY DO become One Flesh! This is to say that Jesus unites Creator with creature…Divinity with humanity…in a bond that that will not be broken.

Through Jesus, a new relationship between God and us came into being, a relationship so intimate that The Lord now calls us sisters and brothers. We have become more than creatures. We are now God’s family, and God does family in a much different way than we do. God’s love for family is perfect and unconditional. God’s love for family is patient and forgiving. God’s love for family can never be broken.

In the New Covenant, God has used the voice of His Son Jesus Christ to speak a promise to us. The Lord has promised to have and to hold us…for better, for worse…for richer, for poorer…in sickness and in health…

Through Jesus, God has promised to love and to cherish us…regardless of our hardness of heart…

Through Jesus, God has promised that at the time of our death, the union between God and those who love Him will be perfected in the Kingdom, where, once again, two will become one flesh when we put on Christ.

Through Jesus, God has made wonderful promises to us, and, unlike us, God never breaks a promise.

How can the news get any better?

28 Sunday in Ordinary Time
MK 10:17-30
October14, 2018

I have never heard a homily, or, for that matter, preached a sermon on this Sunday’s Gospel that I’ve been completely comfortable with. I feel uneasy about the rush to judge the “rich young man.” Sure, he walked away crestfallen. And then there is Jesus’s reaction to consider. The Lord’s teaching about wealth and worldly possessions barring entry into The Kingdom definitely seem inspired by, if not directed at, the young man. But there are so many questions left unanswered. We don’t even know the name of this guy who is such a provocative figure in The New Testament.

For one thing, I would like to know how he acquired his money. Was this inherited wealth or did he prosper through hard and honest work? We tend to place greater value on and guard those things we have earned through our own efforts.

I am also curious as to how he used his wealth. Was he totally and completely self-involved? Did he use his money to gratify appetites that are self-destructive or even lethal? We see so much among the rich and famous these days. Was it like that back then? Or, could he have been a philanthropist who was mindful of social justice issues?

It would also be interesting to know how he happened to become acquainted with and attracted to Jesus. Was he simply looking to hook his wagon to a rising star? Did he understand that Jesus was the Messiah? More importantly, did he know that the Messiah was destined to suffer and die and that His disciples were expected to pick up their own crosses and follow?

This young man certainly provokes many questions that we should ask ourselves.

A good starting point is the fact that we are heirs to the Kingdom of God because The Messiah did suffer and die for us. Do we fully appreciate, value, and protect this great gift of salvation? Or do we take it for granted, failing to show our appreciation by joining in the hard work of building The Kingdom of God?

How do we use the wealth of blessings gifted from God to each of us? Are we focused only on ourselves and satisfying our own perceived needs and unquenchable desires? Do we lack a sense of social justice and concern for those in need?

Just why is it that we pursue a relationship with Jesus Christ? Moreover, do we fully comprehend that discipleship, at its very core, involves embracing our own personal crosses, even while helping others to carry theirs?

This nameless young man’s encounter with Jesus provokes a litany of questions and an examination of our conscience. Will we walk away from this Gospel sad and crestfallen?

29 Sunday in Ordinary Time
MK 10:35-45
October 21, 2018

Talangka’ is the name of a variety of “shore crab” found in the Philippines. Plentiful, they are an inexpensive food source for many families. Purchased live in the markets, they are stored in large, uncovered baskets. In spite of the fact that the crabs use their pincers and legs to crawl up the sides of the baskets in an effort to escape, no cover or lid for the container is needed. The crabs are each other’s jailers. Just as one crab reaches the top, the one behind latches on to it, and pulls it back in an effort to make its own escape. One crab in a basket would successfully win its freedom. Add a second crab and neither will escape because they will continually drag each other down.

What appears to be instinctual behavior on the part of these little creatures, reminded Filipinos of a certain pattern of very intentional and negative human interaction. So, when out of envy or ambition, one individual or group of individuals tries to advance their own interests or ambitions, at the expense of someone else, their behavior has come to be called: “talangka’.”

Talangka’ mentality is not confined to the Philippines. Social scientists have identified it as a universal human characteristic. Simply put, “crab mentality” is an attempt to better one’s own position at the expense of someone else.

Should an example of crab mentality be needed, check today’s news from our nation’s capital. If the “swamp were to be drained” a whole lot of crabs would be scurrying for cover. Actually, it seems that no one is immune. When you give it some thought, you will recognize this behavior in the work place, at school, in sports, in the neighborhood, within faith communities and possibly even within families. “Crab mentality” is all too common. What’s shocking, is to encounter this anti social behavior, that is so destructive to our relationships, in the Gospel and among the Apostles!

Not acceptable!

But as we hear in our Second Reading: we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but one who has been similarly tested in every way, yet without sin. Himself experiencing our imprisonment, Jesus offered His crucified Self as our means of escape. Through Jesus, God has placed The Divine Self at the very bottom of the basket. Rather than trying to escape, The Lord become humanity’s way to freedom. Planting Himself in the very center of sin and death, and fastened securely to The Cross, it appeared to the foolish that there was no way out for Jesus. In truth, The Cross is humanity’s means of escape. If this is hard to understand, don’t panic. It even took awhile for the Apostles to grasp.

James and John were ambitious. They were climbing to the top. When the ten heard this they became indignant. The others stood ready to latch on and drag the two back into place with a variety of arguments. Jesus did it with the sobering reminder that to be in relationship with Him, one must unselfishly embrace The Cross.

By dragging each other down, we all remain imprisoned. It is by embracing The Cross that we can all be set free. Christ has set us free!

30 Sunday in Ordinary Time
MK 10:46-52
October 28, 2018

Where does it hurt?

That’s a question that Moms ask toddlers with a high degree of frequency. Am I right, Moms?

Towards the end of our lives, EMS responders, doctors, nurses, caregivers, and concerned loved ones react to the moans and groans of the elderly by asking the very same question…Where does it hurt?

During the “in between” years of our lives, when we feel the need to seek medical attention for whatever reason, the process of healing begins with the same question. Maybe not framed in the same simple way…but still, the patient initiates the healing process by explaining where it hurts. Even when the injury or condition is open and obvious, the person seeking relief needs to identify the source of pain.

We see that very same interaction between blind Bartimaeus and Jesus the healer. Although The Lord didn’t ask the simple question: Where does it hurt? and while it must have been clear to everyone what the man’s disability was, still, Jesus gave the man the opportunity to explain where it hurts.

On the surface, this passage presents itself as a straightforward healing, but there are elements all along the way that suggest that there is more at play here than eyesight. For example, why would the crowd try to quiet him and block his efforts to heal?

Once recognized by Jesus, he threw off his cloak and sprang forward. Could this detail be Mark’s way of telling us that, in spite of The Lord’s summons, the crowd was still trying to restrain him…hold him back from being healed? If so, they failed.

Jesus asked Bartimaeus the question that triggers relief: Where does it hurt? The man was obviously blind, but, still, Jesus asked that all important question. Of course, he replied: Master, I want to see! The Lord’s reaction is another little detail that alerts us that something even more miraculous was at work here, beyond giving vision to a blind man. Jesus attributes the healing to strength of faith. Could this possibly mean that the healing involved more than 20/20 vision? Could it mean that, because of his faith, the man was given spiritual insight to follow Jesus? Because he did. That’s how the drama ends…with Bartimaeus following Jesus.

I wonder if we might apply this miracle story in our own spiritual lives? For example, every Sunday morning when we get out of bed and join our sisters and brothers to share in Eucharist, in a way, we are ignoring the voices of the crowd. In order to worship, we ignore the kids begging to sleep in…the invitations to brunch…the Sunday morning news program that is too interesting to miss…even the weather. We shrug off another cup of coffee or the lure of our recliner and spring up and “go to Mass.”

Think about the first thing we do after the ritual greeting. Gathered together in prayer, even before honoring God with the Gloria, we enjoy the Penitential Rite. When you think about it, isn’t that a way for the Lord to say to each of us: Where does it hurt?

It seems to me that if we answer that question honestly and with sincerity of heart, we trigger the healing process that comes through the rest of the Eucharist. Isn’t the Penitential Rite our opportunity to tap into the healing power of Jesus Christ by telling the Lord exactly what we need?

And if we do that…speak truth…and tell God where it hurts…maybe we can expect to hear the words Jesus spoke to the blind beggar: Your faith has saved you!

31 Sunday in Ordinary Time
MK 12:28B-34
November 4, 2018

Seventy-two hours of the last full week of October, 2018, will long be remembered as among the darkest days in American history. At least they should be.

It began on Monday, when the first of several suspicious packages that would be delivered to various prominent Americans over the next few days was discovered on the front steps of one of those targeted. The packages contained what appeared to be pipe bombs.

Wednesday, a gunman failed in efforts to break into The First Baptist Church of Jeffersontown, Kentucky, home to a predominantly black Christian community. Determined to vent his hatred, he simply walked into the nearby Kroger Store and opened fire on African Americans in the middle of grocery shopping. Two men died.

Finally, on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, a gunman attacked worshippers in a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Eleven worshippers were killed and several others seriously injured.

If they had not already, the people gathered in prayer were about to pray The Shema. This is a prayer inspired by Deut. 6:2-6, also referred to by Jesus in this week’s Gospel (Mark 12:28). The name for this prayer is the Hebrew word for “hear” or “listen,” the first word of the passage. The Shema is a declaration or profession of faith in the One True and Living God. It is a centerpiece of Jewish liturgy, comparable to The Apostle’s Creed or the Lord’s Prayer.

The observant Jew sees the recitation of The Shema as a daily obligation. The Shema is prayed morning and night…and is kept close at all times; always on the mind, in the heart, and on the lips.

We tend to think of prayer as a way for us to talk to God. But Jesus doesn’t call The Shema a prayer. The Lord identifies this passage from the Old Testament as “The First,” in other words, the greatest, of all the commandments. And then, He takes a further step and stretches this “Law of Love” to include all humanity.

As this infamous final week of October 2018 came to a close, federal and state prosecutors were busy framing charges against those accused, who survived the violence they caused. We hear words like hate crime, domestic terrorism, obstruction of religious freedom, in addition to murder and manslaughter. The death penalty is being sought. Spiritually…if they can’t find it within themselves to seek forgiveness, the perpetrators of these crimes are already sentenced to death. These unthinkable acts of violence are indefensible violations of God’s commandment to live in love. The only hope for reprieve is conversion and contrition.

While few respond to the feelings of hatred with such ferocity, even fewer can honestly say that they have survived 72 consecutive hours without violating The First…the greatest of all commandments. Moreover, even fewer can honestly say that they have perfectly observed “The Second”…in spite of the fact that there is no other greater commandment than these!

LISTEN! HEAR!

This is a commandment…an obligation from God! LIVE IN LOVE! If everyone in the world were to obey these commandants for just 72 hours…think of how this world would be!

32 Sunday in Ordinary Time
MK 12:38-44
November 11, 2018

We are nearing the end of this liturgical year. The week after next is the Feast of Christ the King, and then we begin the cycle of salvation all over again with the Season of Advent.

One might consider the Sunday Readings of these final weeks as a “survival guide.” In truth, the entire Gospel is rightly considered a “survival guide.” That was the primary purpose of Jesus’s mission and ministry. The Father sent The Son into this sinful and dangerous world so that humanity might see and learn how we can survive our journey through darkness and arrive safely home to Eternal Light. Jesus, Himself, explained that He is The Way, The Truth, and The Life. Those who follow His ways and live in His truth will survive and enjoy eternal life and light.

Last Sunday, you may recall that in response to a very sincere question posed by a good and faithful person, Jesus declared “The Truth.” And “The Truth” is that the first and greatest of the commandments is: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.

Through this week’s Readings, The Church offers us two dramatic examples of The Way to live The Law of Love. The Old Testament widow of Zarephath, and the widow that Jesus pointed out making her contribution to the Temple treasury are more than sources of inspiration. We remember them and learn from them, not because they obeyed the laws of hospitality, or tithing, but rather, because they are examples of unconditional love for, and trust in, God.

Each responded to what would seem, to most, as unreasonable demands with extravagant trust. Each is an example of the kind of self-sacrifice which can only be motivated by love. In this way, both women are like GPS…offering guidance and directions to keep us on course…so we can survive the dangerous journey through time. And when we look towards the direction they are pointing, we see Calvary far off in the distance. I wonder if the courage, trust, and love of these two women helped Jesus stay the course as He followed The Way to The Cross?

In any event, their stories are important chapters in the “survival guide.” They remind us that there are times in each of our lives when we will be faced with what appear to be unreasonable demands. When we experience these Calvary moments, if we are true to the Law of Love, and respond with total self-sacrifice, we will survive!

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