Journal Archive 2020 CYCLE A

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First Sunday of Advent
MT 24:37-44
December 1, 2019

I am embarrassed because last Sunday’s blog was a “repeat”. I am especially embarrassed, because I “should’ve-could’ve” been better prepared, so that a repeat wasn’t necessary.

In late August, I learned that on November 19, I was going to have total knee replacement surgery. The doctor gave me a fairly detailed sheet spelling out ways for me to physically prepare. In short, it was recommended that I lose weight, eat healthy foods and of course…exercise!

Again, I am embarrassed to admit that I knew exactly what I had to do, and had every intention of doing it. However, I wasn’t so good about sticking to the plan. I kept finding excuses to enjoy a second piece of pie, fries with my burger, or a midnight snack. Even more embarrassing is the way that I kept putting off the exercise program by fooling myself into thinking that there was no point in starting too soon. I can get in shape in 45 days…30 days is all it will take…If I work out in the morning AND the evening I can make up for the lost time…etc.etc.etc.

And then “all of a sudden” it was surgery day.

I quickly came to understand that everything was much harder because I had not prepared properly. Everything could have gone much easier, if only I hadn’t fooled myself into thinking that there was plenty of time to prepare.

For me, however, the most serious and painful consequence of my failure to properly and fully prepare for what I knew was coming, was my total inability to make a proper connection with last Sunday’s Readings. I am totally embarrassed to admit that The Feast of Christ the King came and went with me being so totally preoccupied with my physical condition, that there didn’t seem to be much time nor energy to pick up my Bible and properly prepare to celebrate the conclusion of the liturgical year. I was either in a little too much pain to focus on the powerful Readings of the day, or asleep because of the pain med. Determined not to begin the new liturgical year, on the same sad note with which I concluded the year that just ended, I made a point of beginning the multiple, daily rehabilitation exercises with a few moments of spiritual exercise, reading and reflecting on the passages the Church gives us on this First Sunday of Advent.

I made an immediate connection between what I have just experienced and the take away from this set of Readings. It is critical to prepare. Proper preparation makes everything less challenging and that much more likely to be successful. Just so, giving in to the all too human inclination to delay frequently leaves us surprised and at a great disadvantage when we find that we have run out of time.

Even though Advent is the season of joyful anticipation for the great feast of Christmas, preparation is still important. Unlike Lent, Advent is not penitential in its purpose or focus. Still, it is a time for preparation.

It is important to “lose weight.” The weight we place on ourselves by shopping, wrapping, baking, card writing…and trying to at least make an appearance at every, single Christmas party. The busyness of these activities can preoccupy us and become so burdensome, that when Christmas Eve finally comes, we are totally worn out.

I am definitely not one to preach about eating healthy. But who can argue the fact that Eucharist…The Bread of Life…is essential to the Spiritual diet of Advent.

As far as exercise goes, what season offers more opportunities for Christian charity and service?

We Christians know the authentic way to prepare for Christ’s birth. It is simply a matter of following the program. It is the ultimate embarrassment to have Christ come and not be ready to receive Him properly.

Second Sunday of Advent
MT 3:1-12
December 8, 2019

As we began the second week of this Advent season, I am beginning the third week after total knee replacement surgery. The experience has truly become the lens through which I’m examining this liturgical season of joyful preparation for the feast of Christmas.

It seems to me that there have been three stages to this process of orthopedic surgery, each with its own challenges, goals, and expectations, as well as results. The first stage was pre-surgery preparations. The second stage was the surgery and recovery mode. Finally, the place I am at right now…rehabilitation. So, how can I possibly learn anything about Advent from knee replacement surgery?

As I see it, John the Baptist was in charge of “pre-habilitation.” His role in salvation history certainly involved the announcement to the Jewish people that the Messiah had arrived. But his role did not end by gathering people around Jesus and declaring Him to be the Lamb of God. John’s call to repent has echoed throughout the centuries and remains as relevant today as then…possibly even more so as humankind finds ever increasing distractions from the direction in which God calls us. It’s important to remember that when John shouted out to his listeners: REPENT! he wasn’t just asking for “contrition.” John’s pre-habilitation program involved a radical rejection of all those distractions that keep us from being what God created us to be.

Jesus ushered in the next phase of the process of salvation. Baptism is a little like a surgical procedure that cuts away what is broken or diseased. Freed from what causes spiritual disability, we move forward in the restored health of God’s grace. But the process does not end there.

Post-surgery rehabilitation is critical to a successful procedure. Post-Baptism Spiritual rehabilitation is essential to continue the process of recovery from the original sin. Exercising our faith through the Sacraments, staying close to and participating in the Christian community, and acts of discipleship are all ways of ensuring that we continually grow stronger in faith, hope, and love.The Holy Spirit is very much in charge of our post-Baptism spiritual rehabilitation. Moreover, just like those who have undergone joint replacement must continue with the strengthening exercises throughout their life or regress…the same holds true with the process of conversion.

My recent surgery has really been the lens through which I am in examining this Advent Season. What lens has God sent you to see and better understand the beauty of the season of joyful expectation?

Repent! Recover! Rehab! And REJOICE! Salvation is at hand.

Third Sunday of Advent
MT 11:2-11
December 15, 2019

A friend called me this week and asked what I know about the Latin phrase Lectio Divina.

Translated as Divine Reading, the term describes an ancient tradition of our Church, which recognizes the truth that Sacred Scripture is alive and has a fresh and relevant message for every person in every age. Accordingly, we should engage the text in a special and very deliberate way.

After reading a passage, seekers should spend time in quiet reflection. Next comes prayer, centered on what we have read and pondered. The process concludes with contemplation. Here, we invite the Holy Spirit to be our dinner Companion, enlightening our minds so that we can better comprehend what God is saying to us. The ultimate goal in all of this is an ever-deepening relationship with Christ.

Teachers of this process often describe it as” feasting on the Word of God.” A wonderful meal begins with that first bite. As a diner begins to chew, they realize they have been served up something very special. Rather than hurrying through the meal, they slowly savor and delight in the experience. Finally, as they digest what they have taken in, it becomes a part of them…of who they are.

As we begin this third week of Advent, it occurs to me that all four Sundays come together to offer a lavish and rich buffet banquet. Each Reading of the Season is like an exotic blend of ingredients, spiced with provocative thoughts. Regardless of how we choose to fill our plate, we can be assured of the most delightful bite. At first taste, we get a hint of PATIENCE. But as we continue to savor the Reading, we clearly detect a note of RADICAL IMPATIENCE. Blended together so pleasantly within God’s Eternal Word, we begin to appreciate that Advent calls us to joyfully prepare for a time of perfect and endless joy…with assurances that the Day of the Lord is coming, and that until it arrives, our hearts will be restless.

The aroma wafting from the serving table stimulates a sense of PROMISE. But, as we begin to chew, there is an undeniable note of WARNING. These seemingly contradictory flavors work together and leave on our palate a taste of God’s mercy, forgiveness, and unconditional love.

Consider taking a portion of Isaiah 35:1-6, 10, which has been placed on the Table of The Word this Gaudete Sunday. The opening lines are very light, but, below this garnish of HOPE, there is more substantial, more practical fare.

Strengthen the hands that are feeble; make firm the knees that are weak.

Is there a hint of WORK in this passage? Are we called to embark on a spiritual therapy program that makes what we can only hope for seem more real? More attainable? At hand?

Complementing the Old Testament Reading is James 5:7-10. Here again, we find a curious blend of PASSIVE and ACTIVE. Maybe this is the way of offering nourishment and at the same time cultivating an appetite for something totally and completely satisfying.

Ever present in the Advent Season, John the Baptist presents the Gospel in a somewhat confusing way. Even in the womb, he recognized Jesus as the Messiah. As he baptized Jesus in the Jordan River, he introduced Jesus as the Lamb of God. But here, he seems to be asking for confirmation of Jesus’s identity. Why? Why would CERTAINTY be seasoned with UNCERTAINTY?

This Gospel selection invites exhaustive reflection, prayer, and contemplation. Still, the first taste of this passage seems to lay out the guest list for the heavenly banquet, and, at the same time, suggest the proper attire. Those who are hungry are INVITED. Those who have their fill of things that are neither nourishing nor lasting are likely to DECLINE. The proper attire is humility and charity.

Lectio Divina…the Divine reading…the holy reading…the spiritual reading of each of the Advent passages generates an appetite for the heavenly banquet where God will provide for all our needs. Until then, we are encouraged to feast at the Table of the Word, where we enhance our appetite for the eternal.

Fourth Sunday of Advent
MT 1:18-24
December 22, 2019

Our First Reading introduces a character named Ahaz into the Advent Season. If this passage was all that we know about him, we might walk away with the impression that he is a pretty solid character. Isaiah is encouraging him to ask God for a sign. Ahaz seems to be saying:

I really don’t want to bother God. I’ll figure it out. I can handle things.

But if you read what led up to this brief conversation, your impression of Ahaz might not be so positive. Moreover, by contrasting him with St. Joseph, who enters this Advent Season through the Gospel, his favorability rating falls even further.

Consider how Isaiah encouraged Ahaz to ask God for a sign to guide him. Ahaz immediately responds to Isaiah: I will not do that!

Had the Prophet asked: Why not? And had Ahaz been truthful, he might well have said something to the effect: Because I don’t want to be bothered by what God has to say…I want to do things my way. How different from Joseph.

The opening line of the Gospel passage deserves special attention: This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. Reading on, it becomes clear that a “righteous man” was a key element in God’s eternal plan to send the ultimate sign of the unconditional love the Creator has for us. A “righteous man” was essential to the Incarnation, and Joseph was up to the task. Open to what God was asking of him and equipped with the wisdom needed to interpret God’s signs, St. Joseph put aside his own desires, cares, and concerns, and eagerly replied: I WILL!

The birth of Jesus Christ came about because a young woman trusted in God’s signs, accepting God’s invitation to bring Christ into the world. And the birth of Jesus Christ came about because the man to whom she was betrothed did as well.

Over 2000 years have passed since this “righteous man” named Joseph agreed to protect, foster, and serve Jesus. And now, the responsibility rests with us disciples…believers…those who strive to be righteous.

There is clear and convincing evidence that the “Ahaz attitude” is alive and flourishing. We are surrounded by signs that Christmas has become a pagan holiday celebrated by extravagant spending and over-indulgence. But on Christmas Eve, the righteous will look up into the dark night and hear the message delivered to the shepherds of Bethlehem by the angels…for onto you a Savior has been born. And we must reply to this GOOD NEWS as St. Joseph did. This is how the reign of God comes about…righteous people say I WILL!

HAVE A VERY BLESSED AND JOYFUL CHRISTMAS SEASON.

Feast of The Holy Family
MT 2:13-15, 19-23
December 29, 2019

Inspired by his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, St. Francis of Assisi returned to Italy and initiated what quickly became a rich and beautiful Advent/Christmas tradition in Christian churches and homes. St. Francis introduced the first “Nativity Scene” in Greccio, Italy in 1223.

Fast-forward almost 800 years to the first day of Advent 2019. Pope Francis visited the little mountain village where the beautiful drama of Luke’s Gospel was originally staged through the “crèche.” The Holy Father chose that very special time and place to sign and proclaim his Apostolic Letter, Admirabile Sigmun (Wonderful Signal). In this document, Pope Francis lays out the history, meaning, and continued importance of the Nativity Scene.

If anyone questions the need for this teaching, they might well consider the legal battles here in the United States over the display of the “manger scene” by municipalities and other public agencies. As the crèche disappeared from town squares and courthouse lawns, it began to fade even from Christian homes.

Pope Francis reminds us that: The nativity scene is like a living Gospel rising up from the pages of sacred Scripture. As such, it carries a message for people of all ages with specific relevance to that time in Salvation history. Whether or not the people of the Claremont United Methodist Church in California were influenced by the Apostolic Letter, they certainly showed an awareness of the truth that The nativity scene is like a living Gospel…broadcasting a message critical to this very day and age.

In their outdoor Nativity Scene, this Christian community separated the figures of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, imprisoning each in a cage. In an interview, the pastor explained: “We thought about the most famous refugee family in the world, the family of Jesus. What if this family sought refuge in our country today?” Many criticized this gesture as sacrilegious. Others applauded the manner in which three plaster figures and mesh fencing were used to proclaim The Word of God.

On this Feast of The Holy Family, the dramatic gesture of the Claremont faith community brings to mind other things besides immigration policies that separate families. Hurt feelings, anger, and resentment are like iron cages that imprison us and distance us from family members. In our Second Reading, St. Paul offers the key to open the cages that confine us…or those in which we attempt to lock others. Heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, each in its own way has the power to unlock the cage.

Greed, materialism, arrogance, and pride can overpower us, driving us into solitary confinement…isolated and distant from our families. Patience and forgiveness will open the gate.

So then, the question becomes, has some dark feeling or emotion captured you and caused you to be separated from your family?

On this Feast of The Holy Family, it is very important to take a moment to gaze at The Nativity Scene…in our churches…or hopefully in our homes. As we place ourselves into this family story…of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph…we come to better understand that THE HOLY FAMILY IS A WONDERFUL SIGNAL of how God wants us to live in this world…united in love…inseparable…mutually dependent.

The Epiphany of the Lord
MT 2:1-12
January 5, 2020

Pope Francis frequently voices his concern over the Church’s declining influence in the world. Most recently, on December 21, 2019, during his annual Christmas address to the Roman Curia, he said: Today we are no longer the only ones that produce culture, no longer the first nor the most listened to. The faith in Europe and in much of the West is no longer an obvious presumption but is often denied, derided, marginalized, and ridiculed.

If we consider the health and vitality of our parishes, we quickly see that the Holy Father’s concerns are not exaggerated. For that matter, the state of the spiritual lives of many of our families speaks to the waning influence of our Church. King Herod is alive, healthy, and as determined today as he was so many centuries ago to eliminate Christ. But he will fail. Herod will always fail so long as there are wise and faith-filled people who are attentive to that which God is calling us.

Herod will fail because the Star will not. The Light of Christ will continue to guide those with the wisdom and courage to follow where it leads. And for their efforts, the Source of all life and love will be revealed to them.

Herod will fail because those who have encountered Christ and paid Him homage, like the Three Magi, will return to their homes to share what they have experienced. And others will come to Christ because of their witness.

Herod will fail because he is always motived by fear, and courageous faith is far more powerful than fear.

Herod will fail because love always triumphs over hate.
This Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord is the perfect time to ponder the challenges we face as The Body of Christ as we enter this new decade of Salvation history. And although we should be aware of those forces that oppose the Gospel, we should never let them overwhelm us.

Pope Francis offered Church leaders an accurate assessment of the challenges we face as we begin this new decade. However, The Holy Father also offered a course of action that is very much in step with what we celebrate today.

Through the Incarnation, God came into the world. Now we must go out into the world and encounter God wherever God has arranged for us to meet. Like the Three Magi, we must follow the star from out of the Church and into the streets…to our homes and families, our places of work, our schools. Like the Three Magi, we are called to take The Good News into the world.

We are relevant!

We are influential!

We are strong!

We must be courageous!

Peace

Baptism of the Lord
MT 3:13-17
January 12, 2020

I have never been a big fan of poetry. Maybe because it usually takes a good deal of work to understand and appreciate the message the poet is communicating. But every now and again, I run across a line of poetry that really captures my attention. I memorize it and ponder its meaning; and, if I’m fortunate, the message hits me sometime later.

And so it happened that during the past year, I heard and took to heart a “pearl of wisdom” by a poet named Kaveh Akbar, who wrote: I live in the gulf between what I have been given and what I have received.

The poet’s message hit home as I pondered not the poem, but today’s Gospel.

Jesus’s baptism in the Jordan River, the second of God’s dramatic gestures revealing Jesus Christ as The Eternal Word made flesh, is reported by Matthew, Mark, and Luke. What isn’t made clear is who exactly heard God speak this profound introduction: This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.

The earliest report is from Mark who adds the words: LISTEN TO HIM! The command would imply that all those gathered on the shore heard the heavenly voice. This is where the wisdom of the poem proves useful. There is a gulf between what is given and what is received. Salvation history is filled with examples of God GIVING and humankind not RECEIVING.

On certain occasions, there has been a failure to RECEIVE what God has GIVEN because of ignorance or obstinance. How often do we close our ears, our minds, or our hearts to what God is GIVING to us? How about the times we have “selective hearing” and RECEIVE only that which we choose? On other occasions, however, God’s message has been RECEIVED loud and clear, but totally rejected. So, it’s interesting to ponder who heard the heavenly voice that day at the Jordan River and what they did with the message they were GIVEN.

But a more personal and far more important question to ponder is this: Do I fully RECEIVE and put to use what was GIVEN me at my baptism?

We live in the gulf between the new life in the Spirit we are GIVEN in Baptism and the eternal life we hope to RECEIVE…and we will RECEIVE in its fullness…if we use what we have been given, to live here and now as children of God, in whom God is well pleased!

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
JN 1:29-34
January 19, 2020

Among the very first songs that Catholic school children learned prior to Vatican II was the Agnus Dei.

Agnus Dei
Qui tolis peccata mundi
Miserere nobis.

Agnus Dei
Qui tolis peccata mundi
Miserere nobis.

Agnus Dei
Qui tolis peccata mundi
Dona nobis pacem.

Introduced into the celebration of the Mass by the Pope in the seventh century, whether sung or recited, this ancient prayer inspired by today’s Gospel (John 1:29-34) is a signal to the faithful that we are about to receive The Eucharist.

But looking back to the time before we proclaimed this statement expressing our belief in salvation through Jesus Christ IN ENGLISH, one can’t help but wonder if we understood what we were saying. Certainly, praying in Latin posed an obstacle to some. But even today, as we pray the Agnus Dei around the world in our native tongues, do we really understand what we are saying?

In 1983, American faith-based singer/songwriter Michael Card released a song inspired by Genesis 22: “Abraham’s sacrifice.” The hauntingly beautiful melody adds to the intense drama of the story. An elderly man struggles to the top of a mountain followed by his much loved and only son. Abraham’s faith is put to the test. He has been asked to sacrifice Isaac. At the last moment, an angel holds back Abraham’s hand. The name of the song which brings Genesis 22 to life is: GOD WILL PROVIDE A LAMB.

Three days’ journey to the sacred place
A boy and a man with a sorrowful face
Tortured, yet faithful to God’s command
To take the life of his son
With his own hands

God will provide a lamb
To be offered up in your place
A sacrifice so spotless and clean
To take all your sin away

There’s wood and fire
Where’s the sacrifice
The questioning voice
And the innocent eyes
Is the son of laughter who you’ve waited for
To die like a lamb
To please the LORD

God will provide a lamb
To be offered up in your place
A sacrifice so spotless and clean
To take all your sin away!

And so, our all-merciful God did provide a lamb…Agnus Dei! The Lamb of God Who has taken away the sins of the world.

If we really did understand just exactly what it is that we have been singing for over 1,400 years, we would be overwhelmed with gratitude. Grateful hearts look for ways to repay valuable gifts. No gift is more valuable than salvation. So how can we hope to repay God for the gracious gift of salvation? We can strive to be like Abraham and withhold nothing from our God. And on those occasions when we fall short…and most of us will fall way short…we can still feel peace…knowing that God has provided THE LAMB…WHO HAS taken away the sins of the world.

That’s what John saw that day when Jesus walked past him… Agnus Dei!

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 4:12-23 OR 4:12-17
January 26, 2020

I was in a meeting with a group of parishioners to plan upcoming liturgies. The recently ordained associate pastor was also present. I began by talking about the “Table of the Word” and the “Communion Table.” My young friend interrupted, and with a note of correction in his voice, said: “Altar.”

I patiently resumed my presentation, and once again mentioned the “Table of the Word” and the “Communion Table.” Once again, I was corrected with a single word, this time spoken with a bit more emphasis: “ALTAR!”

I continued with my thoughts, which required a further reference to the “Table of the Word” and the “Communion Table.” You guessed it! He chirped up again, this time allowing the slightest bit of impatience as he spoke the single word: “ALTAR!”

I shot him “the look” which I hope no one else noticed, but I know that he saw, because he was quiet for the rest of the evening. At that point I said: “Fr. we don’t want these folks to be confused, so I think we’re going to have to give a little bit of an explanation as to why you keep interrupting me.”

I went on to explain to the gathering that the names we give to liturgical furniture speak to their sacramental purpose and are very important. By referring to “the Altar” the younger priest was inviting people to Calvary, where The Lamb of God…the Agnus Dei…was sacrificed on The Altar of The Cross. Jesus was the perfect offering…the only sin offering capable of redeeming the world. Offerings are made on altars. And so my young friend is correct.

Nevertheless, the Lord instituted the Eucharist at the last Passover meal that He celebrated with the Apostles and disciples. Accordingly, when we speak of “The Communion Table” we are inviting the faithful to take a place at the Lord’s Supper…and to hear Him speak those words that have echoed across the centuries: DO THIS IN MEMORY OF ME!

Far more than an invitation Jesus has given us a command to come to “The Table.”

So in reality that piece of liturgical furniture that is the center and focal point of every Eucharist is both Table and Altar. And we know this because of that piece of furniture that stands beside it supporting God’s Eternal Word. It is the proclamations made from “The Table of The Word” that give meaning and purpose to what we are about when we gather around The Communion Table/Altar.

God tells us: Pay attention and come to me; listen, that you may have life. (Isaiah 55:3) And so Pope Francis has named this 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time WORD OF GOD SUNDAY. In choosing to do so, the Holy Father has directed our attention towards that piece of liturgical furniture that supports Sacred Scripture, so that we Roman Catholics may deepen our appreciation for the Living Word of God. He is encouraging us to pay closer attention to what is being proclaimed, so that we might have life.

So here’s a question that is easily answered. What do you call the piece of furniture in your home where Sacred Scripture rests? Is it a shelf in the closet that’s not often used? Is it the bottom drawer of a dresser in a spare bedroom? Do you even remember where your Bible is? Do you even have a Bible in your home?

On this first “Word of God Sunday”, we are reminded of the enormous importance of Sacred Scripture. It is an excellent opportunity to place a “Table of The Word” in a prominent place in your own home. And each time you pass by it, remember God’s invitation/command…. Pay attention and come to me; listen, that you may have life.

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord
LK 2:22-40 OR 2:22-32
February 2, 2020

Growing up near Lake Erie, my family was no stranger to “tornado warnings.” Our home was located right in the middle of “tornado alley.” And while there were far more false alarms than actual funnel clouds, the injuries, deaths, and destruction resulting from two actual “touchdowns” over the course of about 15 years conditioned us to take storm warnings very seriously. When we heard the sirens, my parents would hustle us down to the least vulnerable corner of the basement, at which point, we would gather around a “holy candle” that my mother would light, and we would pray the Rosary. By the end of storm season, there would be little left of our “holy candle.” It would have burned down to a stub. But that was not a problem, because, each year, it would be replaced by a brand new candle.

The “holy candles” were blessed by the pastor on February 2…THE FEAST OF THE PRESENTATION OF JESUS IN THE TEMPLE, also referred to as Candlemas.

The tradition of blessing candles 40 days after Christmas dates back to the seventh century. The practice was inspired by the witness of Simeon and Anna, whose testimony echoed the Christmas message:

The Christ-child was indeed The Light that God had sent into the world to dispel the darkness of sin and death.

Sharing these sorts of “Catholic family memories” today, many people would consider taking shelter in the light of a “holy candle” superstitious. In fact, not every pastor continues to bless and distribute candles to the faithful. Not every Catholic family has a blessed candle in their home to light on those occasions when dark storm clouds, of whatever nature, threaten security or happiness.

Moreover, it’s sad to consider how few families these days gather to pray the Rosary together. Some traditions are sadly forgotten and lost, but what will withstand the passage of time is The Gospel. This week’s Gospel finds the Holy Family gathered together in the most secure of places…The Temple…The House of God. They are joined by two elders of the community who seek refuge and comfort in that holy place. Simeon issues a warning to Mary, but the realization that they are in the presence of the Light of Christ makes this the most joyful of occasions.

Simeon is now prepared to walk into the darkness of death, confident that Eternal Light awaits those who recognize Jesus as Lord and Savior. For her part, Anna’s life of prayer and fasting were richly rewarded, having been included in this further revelation that Jesus is the Lamb of God Who will take away the sins of the world. She cannot contain her joy and shares The Good News with “all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.

After all these centuries, Simeon’s warning is still very relevant, and should be taken seriously by everyone. Few people will be spared the violent storms that threaten our security and peace. But when we seek shelter in the Light of Christ, we will be saved. Knowing this, how can we not experience the joy that Anna felt in the presence of the Holy Family? We may or may not have a blessed candle in our home, but the Light of Christ will always be close by to dispel any darkness that threatens us. Knowing this to be truth, we can say with confidence:

Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to Your word.

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 5:13-16
February 9, 2020

Way back in 1940, there was a special movie premier…Not in Hollywood or New York or London…but in Port Huron, Michigan. Mickey Rooney played the lead in the biographical film called “Young Tom Edison,” the setting being Port Huron, where Edison spent much of his childhood.

One of the more memorable scenes in the movie comes about when Edison’s mother suddenly takes ill. The town doctor was summoned. He made his diagnosis and explained that surgery was the only hope if she was to live through the night. Unfortunately, surgery was not possible because there was insufficient lighting to enable the doctor to operate. This, of course, happened before electricity.

While the rest of the family, grief-stricken by the shocking news, surrounded what they were certain was to be Mrs. Edison’s deathbed, “Young Tom Edison” sprang into action. He ran through the house gathering every mirror, oil lamp, and candle that he could find. He arranged the mirrors all around the dining room table and placed the lamps and candles in front of them. Calling the doctor away from the dying woman’s room, he led the man into the dining room now flooded with more than enough light to enable him to successfully operate on Edison’s mother.

This story somehow made its way into children’s textbooks in a chapter dealing with the inventor’s life. Eventually, someone “fact checking” determined that it could not have happened as depicted in the movie. In the late 1800’s, surgery had not advanced to the point that an operation of this nature would have taken place, regardless of how well-lit the room was. So, apparently, the textbooks were edited, and the story deleted. It seems a shame because the little story was a fine way to teach children how mirrors can make a dark room seem brighter by reflecting and magnifying a light source. The little story…real or not…might help us as well, come to deeper understanding of this Sunday’s readings.

Over the past few weeks, we have heard about the radiant light of Christ. This “Christ-light” dispelled the darkness that overwhelmed creation through the original sin. But it is part of God’s plan that we reflect and magnify this brilliant light so that the darkness of sin and death is completely vanquished.

Whether or not “Young Tom Edison” actually saved his mother’s life, he certainly must have understood the power of reflective surfaces like mirrors. And although mirrors have no power on their own to generate light, they do have the ability to increase the brightness of a room by reflecting and magnifying a light placed in front of them.

Through Baptism, the light of Christ is placed before us. And although, on our own, we do not have the ability to generate this “Christ-light,” we can and should make every effort to diffuse it. There is nothing we human beings can do to add or detract from the Glory of God. But what we can do is enable this “Christ-light” to reflect off of us, and, in that way, drive back darkness even more aggressively.

When people of good will let their souls become reflective surfaces, brightening the world with the Christ-light…what is revealed is hunger, oppression, homelessness, and dire poverty.

The spotlight revealing this suffering…we are then called to offer relief. Humankind can no more produce God’s glory than a mirror can generate light. But once we become aware of the needs of others, we do have the power to offer relief and bring about healing.

That is God’s plan. God provides the light, and we reflect it and magnify it. In so doing, our next challenge becomes visible. We are expected to feed the hungry, shelter the displaced, clothe the naked, and speak out on behalf of the oppressed.

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 5:17-37 OR 5:20-22A, 27-28, 33-34A, 37
February 16, 2020

For health as well as appearance sake, a good friend was determined to begin 2020 “on a diet.” She did her homework and hit on a program that, at first glance, appeared to be fairly severe. What appealed, however, was the promise of dramatic results within 30 days, and without the need to measure or weigh food or count calories. She bought the book and began to read “the laws.” THOU SHALL NOT CONSUME…sugar, grains, legumes, dairy products, or alcohol…simple as that! What was permitted, however, was a wide range of healthy, fresh, and non-processed food. The theory behind this particular diet is that by abstaining from certain addictive foods for a relatively short period of time, it is possible to regain control over our appetites, redirecting them towards what is good for us.

My friend began by enthusiastically reading the book. By day two, she still had her nose in the book, only now she was desperately searching for ways to circumvent “the laws.” Can’t I use just a 1/4 teaspoon of sugar in my coffee? Do I have to take the croutons off my salad? Peanuts aren’t really legumes, are they? What harm would a small glass of wine be on Friday night? As the first week progressed, her search for exemptions intensified. She became especially anxious when she read that ANY violation means starting over again from the beginning.

Midway into week two, she noticed some significant changes occurring. The hunger pains had disappeared. Her cravings for things that are prohibited became less demanding. Her feelings of wellness and well-being increased as did her energy level. And she became less dependent on the book, consulting it only occasionally for a new recipe. “The law” had moved from the book to her mind and became central to her lifestyle. At the beginning, the program required a good deal of discipline. For her efforts, however, she has been rewarded with better health, and she did lose weight. But, will this last?

St. Augustine once said that: God wrote on the tablets of The Law what men did not read in their hearts. It is important to understand, however, that “The Law” that Jesus is referring to in today’s Gospel is much more than The 10 Commandments. The Old Testament Law is found in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, speaking to three distinct areas: ceremonial- ritual, civil, and moral law. All three areas of the Old Testament Law were a gift from God to guide humankind in the responsible use of God’s greatest gift to us: free will.

God’s Laws were given to help us live healthy, happy, and peaceful lives by making the right choices and good and sound decisions. When faithfully observed, God’s Laws enable us to be even more beautiful in the sight of our Creator as well as one another. Although the principles underlining the ceremonial and civil laws intended to guide Israel still stand, the requirement for strict observance has given way to the New Covenant in Jesus Christ. By contrast, the moral aspect of the Old Testament Law remains in full force and effect.

But, human nature being what it is, those whom Jesus encountered and challenged…much as people today, search God’s Law for ways to circumvent it…rationalize behavior inconsistent with it…impose it in a severe fashion on others while living above it themselves…or judge themselves as being totally compliant, when, in fact, few can be totally faithful to every letter of The Law. Then, of course, there are those who totally ignore God’s Law.

And so, Matthew reports on The Lord’s efforts to enlighten the people of His time…as well as us today…as to God’s intentions in gifting us with The Law. Our Creator has provided us with guidance so that we might live free from all those addictions that erode our free will and cause us to indulge in unhealthy cravings.

Moreover, Jesus shows us that this doesn’t have to be complicated. Just like my friend’s diet can be reduced to THOU SHALL NOT CONSUME…5 things…God’s Law can be reduced to THOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND…AND YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.

It really is quite simple. When we reduce The Law to these two, simple Commandments, moving them from The Book to our minds and hearts, our spiritual health rapidly improves. Love becomes our lifestyle. And the good news is, should we slip back into our old addictions, we can easily start again with the help of God’s grace.

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 5:38-48
February 23, 2020

Our Gospel concludes with what certainly seems to be a near impossible challenge. Jesus calls us to be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Well, if “perfection” is necessary for redemption, then a whole lot of us are in a whole lot of trouble. We can take a little comfort, however, in our understanding of the word “perfect.” We say that something is “perfect” when it is as good as it can possibly be.

In terms of our spiritual life…most of us have a lot of room for improvement…before we are…as good as we can possibly be.

Until we draw our last breath, we are works in progress.

And so, all three Readings proclaimed on this 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time are especially helpful and very fitting for us to hear as we prepare to begin the penitential season of Lent. At its core, Lent is all about self-improvement. Lent is the season of opportunity…opportunity to make possibilities realities. The reality we are stretching towards is “holiness.” And so, this week’s Readings outline a perfect Lenten program, which, if followed, enable us to progress towards our ultimate goal of “holiness.”

Both the First Reading from Leviticus as well as the opening line of the Gospel establish, as a starting point, our relationships with one another. The Old Testament passage is broad in scope, addressing the entire community. The passage proclaimed at Mass is shortened, but what we hear is that Israel will be the best it can possibly be, a “holy nation,” if everyone lives in mutual love and respect.

It follows, then, that our Church…if we are to be the best we can possibly be…must foster among our members a spirit of mutual love and respect…not only for the person sitting next to us in the pew, but rather, for all humankind. If we put the needs of others on the same plane as our own cares and concerns, our Church, our nation, our world…will become holy even as our Creator is holy. There’s a whole lot of work to be done.

Jesus seems to be telling us to start small; in other words, with ourselves and our own relationships…especially those which are most hurtful or most demanding. It seems unlikely that we are expected to take a second hit from those who have injured us. But, if we can turn away, distancing ourselves from the injury and the possibility of escalating violence, we diminish the possibility of further harm and create an opportunity for healing. When we react to a personal injury with anger and the desire for revenge, the wound only deepens.

We may not be able to perfect every troubled relationship, but by doing our best to live out this Gospel, there is an opportunity to make things as good as they can be until they are healed through Divine Mercy and forgiveness in the Kingdom.

The Lord is also encouraging us to give it our all. When we think we have done all we can to make ourselves as good as we can possibly be…we have to redouble our efforts and keep striving for perfection and for holiness…until our last breath. There is no doubt that we are not going to perfect ourselves in 40 days, but, with God’s help and our efforts, we can improve.

We begin the self-improvement project this coming Wednesday, when we mark ourselves with ashes as a sign to the world that we are indeed works in progress, hopeful that, one day, we will be perfected through the healing touch of Jesus Christ. Through Christ, all things have been made possible.

First Sunday of Lent
MT 4:1-11
March 1, 2020

Last fall, I had TKR (total knee replacement) surgery, and I quickly reached the point of boring myself with the details of my recovery. Although listening politely, I can only imagine what my friends are thinking when they ask about my progress, and I go on for half an hour about every ache and pain. Simply put, this has been a “desert experience.” I look forward to the time when I am healed and this is all in the past. However, there have been some extremely important lessons that I would do well to remember for the rest of my life.

The first lesson came when I finally got around to opening mail and resuming the obligatory monthly task of paying bills. I was shocked to see my credit card statement, with a balance of $8 due and owing. I saved a whole lot of money by being “housebound” for over a month. As I wrote the check, it dawned on me that I must indulge in a whole lot of unnecessary spending when I’m able to walk around normally. Although I do not think I am extravagant, I must be spending a good deal of money on things I want but don’t really need. Going forward, I have vowed to think twice before pulling out the plastic. Thoughtless spending can easily become a way of life.

The second big lesson hit within the first five minutes I was back home after being discharged from the hospital. The surgeon had assured me that I would be “perfectly fine” even though I live on my own. In fact, while I was not totally helpless, I was very much dependent, in countless ways, on the kindness and generosity of my good friends. I thought I understood the importance of “charitable giving,” but being the recipient made me appreciate all that much more how dependent we are on the goodness of one another. Thoughtful and generous giving should become a lifestyle for all faithful disciples.

Insomnia has been part of my post-op experience. I just can’t seem to get comfortable, and I spend half the night staring at the ceiling. I got to the point that I dreaded bedtime. For me, the most frustrating part of the sleeplessness was the inability to even pray. All of my energy was going into the pointless exercise of tossing and turning, making it nearly impossible to focus. As a result, I abandoned my usual prayer routine.

Then, at some point, I came to the realization that I was actually thinking some pretty big thoughts. Although I wasn’t able to talk to God, God was trying to talk to me. This insight hasn’t made it any easier for me to fall asleep, but it has made me much less anxious about going to bed. Now I look forward to hearing what God has to say to me in the wee hours.
My desert experience of TKR has helped me to jump start this Lent. Inspired by The Lord’s temptations in the desert, the pillars of this penitential season are FASTING, ALMSGIVING, and PRAYER.

What I have learned over these past months is how easily we can talk ourselves into what is unnecessary. The result is that we fall into a pattern of self-indulgence. We are never fully satisfied with what we have, and we do not fully appreciate the things we actually need. A more conservative lifestyle leaves us much more content with necessities, and, at the same time, enables us to be more generous with others. All of this came to me in the middle of the night, once I finally learned to stop telling God what I think and what I want. When I finally stopped talking and started listening, I discovered that God has a lot to say to me.

Funny that it took TKR for me to fully appreciate the value of the “desert experience“ of Lent. This season is an opportunity to gain control over those things trying to control us. This is an opportunity to reflect on our total dependence on the kindness and generosity of others…reaching out to those who have needs that we can easily meet. This is a time to truly listen to what God is saying to us.

If we embrace the penitential practices of FASTING, ALMSGIVING, and PRAYER, when Easter comes, we will have an improved spiritual lifestyle. But what’s more important, we will enjoy a deeper and more meaningful relationship with Christ.

Second Sunday of Lent
MT 17:1-9
March 8, 2020

On Thursday, February 28th, as the very dire consequences of the coronavirus were being reported, the Church was celebrating the lives of “unnamed” disciples, collectively referred to as THE MARTYRS OF ALEXANDRIA.

Some might call it a coincidence, but it certainly seems providential that as the financial markets were “crashing,” we were “raising up” in loving memory an example of the way Christians are called to respond to catastrophic emergencies and the human suffering they bring.

Plagues and highly contagious diseases have always been part of the human experience. In the middle of the 3rd century, a pandemic spread throughout the ancient world. At the time, Christianity was an underground movement. The targets of bloody persecutions, early Christians had no choice but to worship in secret. Then, in the year 261 A.D., a highly contagious disease spread throughout the Roman Empire. The Egyptian city of Alexandria was hard hit. The residents of the city were totally ill-equipped to face the challenges of the pandemic. The sick were not cared for. Corpses were simply thrown into the street, which fueled the spread of the deadly disease.

In our First Reading, we are told how God challenged Abram to leave his place of security and comfort and venture into the unknown. So, too, the early Christians of Alexandria were motivated by The Holy Spirit to leave the relative safety of secret rooms and secluded places to bring the Gospel into the light of day.

Historic documents report how these courageous disciples began to care for the sick and bury the dead. Through these public acts of charity, they risked arrest and persecution. The highly contagious disease was an even greater threat. Many of them contracted and fell victim to the lethal virus. And so, today, we honor them as martyrs of our church.

One can’t help but marvel at the courage it took for these disciples to respond so lovingly to the very people that were persecuting them. Clearly, even though they were forced to practice our faith “underground,” they had been to the “mountaintop” and were transfigured…changed…made radiant in the way they reflected the Light of Christ. With the strength that came from God, they gladly embraced the hardships of caregiving for the sake of the Gospel.

There is a great deal of confusion and conflicting information about the disease that is rapidly spreading around the globe today. Here in the United States, there is a debate over how serious this epidemic actually is, and whether we, as a nation, are prepared to meet the challenges it poses. It is hard to know what we are to believe.

We Christians, however, are absolutely certain of this much: love is infinitely more powerful than any pandemic. We know this to be true because of our love for humankind. Our Savior, Christ Jesus … destroyed death and brought life and mortality to light through the Gospel.

We can be confident, as well, of the truth that Christian charity is as contagious as the most infectious disease. Acts of charity spread and spread rapidly. And we disciples are “ground zero.” It is our duty as Children of the Light…as a Resurrection people…to follow the heroic example of the Martyrs of Alexandria, and bring comfort and healing to those who are suffering and in need.

At this point, we have been spared the hardship that comes with this virus. But what we can do now is to make those who are afflicted, as well as first responders, medical personnel, and caregivers the focus of our Lenten PRAYER. We might also recommit to FASTING; offering up our sacrifices for the success of scientists and researchers who are working to find an effective immunization. Aware that it is the poor who suffer most in times of crisis, it would be most appropriate to step up our ALMSGIVING.
There are many unanswered questions raised by the coronavirus. Among the uncertainties is our capability as a nation to test for the virus. We, as disciples of Jesus Christ, also have some questions to answer. These questions are an effective way of testing our spiritual health.

Would I respond to the Call of The Holy Spirit in the same way as the Martyrs of Alexandria?

Do I have the strength of faith it takes to leave my comfort zone in order to bring healing to those in greatest need?

Am I willing to bear my share of hardship for the Gospel?

Do I test positive for Christ?

Third Sunday of Lent
JN 4:5-42
March 15, 2020

“Social distancing” is an expression that is becoming more and more familiar as the coronavirus continues to spread.

Besides avoiding large gatherings (even in Rome, public Masses are being canceled/limited…during Lent no less), people are encouraged to maintain a distance of at least 3 feet from one another. “Fist bumps” that became popular during ordinary flu seasons in years past, are considered unnecessarily intimate. Polite nods are becoming the new normal when greeting friends. If people feel that physical contact is absolutely necessary, some countries are introducing “shoe bumps.”

As silly or extreme as these measures might seem to some, we simply can’t pretend anymore, that we are not in the midst of a universal health crisis. And so “social distancing” is the order of the day. Even those who have convinced themselves that this is not a serious situation should respect the personal boundaries of those who are working for containment.

Any examples of “social distancing” employed as we deal with the current pandemic, seem minor when compared with the practices common to Jesus’s time. Consider the examples in the Gospel, as to how lepers were treated. To avoid contamination they were totally banished from the community. Today this might well seem heartless but at the time it was the only way to prevent the spread of the dreaded disease.

What was in fact, very heartless and difficult to understand, was the “social distancing” that observant Jews…religious people who believed they were doing what was right and proper in the eyes of God, employed when coming in contact with people of other faith traditions; especially women.

Although “cousins” of “the Chosen people” Samaritans clung to certain pagan traditions that observant Jews found totally unacceptable. And so, automatically grouped with other pagans, Samaritans were simply “shrugged off”…ignored…passed by as if they did not exist…especially Samaritan women. Physical contact with a pagan, rendered an observant Jew, spiritually contaminated; unworthy to even pray until they have been cleansed in a special, ritual bath.

John’s Gospel makes a point of explaining that Jesus’s disciples were not present when The Lord encountered the Samaratin woman and engaged her in conversation. Had they been present, it is quite likely that they would have tried to prevent this beautiful story of inclusivity, forgiveness, evangelization and conversion. It certainly was a break from the rules of “social distancing”. The woman herself was surprised and alarmed by the encounter with Jesus. She understood the rules. Had Jesus not taken the initiative, she quite likely would have returned home with her water jug as empty as her spirits.

But here we see how Jesus is a game changer…collapsing human traditions that distance people from one another. Had The Lord complied with “the rules” and not engaged this public sinner…the distance between her and God might have gone so far as to exclude her from salvation.

We also see here, that even the most unlikely of persons…the hardest of hearts, has within them the ability to hear God’s voice and repent. This woman was very courageous. She stood her ground. She spoke truthfully and she asked questions. Most notably after her conversion she became an evangelist.

“Social distancing” in times of crisis like we’re living through might well be unavoidable. But while safe distance and common sense are necessary, we cannot wall ourselves off from the rest of humanity. No virus could possibly be as lethal as distancing ourselves from Christ. Very often we find Christ in the midst of others, particularly those in greatest need.

So as we move into the final weeks of this Lenten season, we should continue to PRAY for a speedy end to the virus. We should also pray that these challenging times draw us closer together, rather than distancing us from one another.

Rather than panic buying and hoarding, we should be more committed to FASTING from the unnecessary, and appreciating and using to the best advantage, what we do have.

As part of our annual ALMSGIVING, we should make a point of looking beyond our own isolation, to see what we might share with others…especially the poor.

This might well be a time when “social distancing” is unavoidable. Still, this is a time to grow closer to Christ by drawing closer to one another.

Fourth Sunday of Lent
JN 9:1-41
March 22, 2020

Last weekend, reality hit. The very same “reality” we Christians marked ourselves with on Ash Wednesday. The “reality” that so many people turn a blind eye to…pushing it to the back of their minds, trying to live around the truth that…

WE ARE DUST…AND TO DUST WE SHALL RETURN!

So how did you react to this high-powered hit of “reality,” reminding us of how fragile and vulnerable we are?

Were you one of the folks that rushed to empty the shelves in the stores, selfishly stockpiling, focused only on yourself? There certainly have been reports of the “everyone for themselves” mentality. Fear tends to BLIND us to the needs of others, causing us to lose sight of the call to be CHARITABLE.

Did you make an effort to comply with the authorities’ urgent call for “dramatic reduction of activity,” or were you resentful and resistant to the suggestions that you voluntarily limit your freedom? Again, there are the unfortunate reports of bars, filled with patrons, refusing to close. It seems that a lot of people are so focused on protecting their own right to do as they wish that they become BLINDED to the rights of others to avoid being infected.

We Christians are accustomed to “FASTING AND ABSTAINING.” It’s part of our Lenten routine…or at least it should be. We know how to take control over the things that try to get control over us…or at least should. We’ve got this!

For us Catholic Christians, “the reality” became REALLY real…when we learned that dioceses around the world were canceling Masses…even Sunday Masses. The Eucharist is THE SOURCE AND THE SUMMIT of our faith. The Eucharist defines us.

And in no small way, the definition is one of the participants in Jesus’s act of total Self-sacrifice for the sake of others. Foregoing Eucharist for the sake of containing the pandemic…for the sake of others…is very consistent with the meaning and purpose of the Eucharist. But, while we wait for the “all clear” it is good to remember that when two or more are gathered in my name…

The third pillar of Lent is PRAYER. In past generations, that has involved families gathering in their own homes for special Lenten prayers. In recent times, that practice seems to have been neglected or forgotten altogether. This might well be the Lent to reinvigorate the long and rich tradition of family prayer. We do not have to gather in our churches to enjoy the presence of Christ. When two or more are gathered in my name means that the Lord is eager to be a guest in our homes.

Even still, in the meantime, priests are being encouraged to celebrate “private masses.” The Mass is a way of breaking out of time and space. From the moment we gather “In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” until we hear the celebrant say: “Go in the Peace of the Lord,” we exist in a spiritual reality that defies the laws of nature. We are all there.

Through the Eucharist, the past, the present, and the future all blend into the reality of the Eternal Christ. So, for one hour a day, I will be joining other priests in defying the order for social distancing. YOU will all be in my home GATHERED around my table…doing as the Lord commanded…in memory of Him…and He will be in our midst.

We don’t know when this emergency will come to an end. We are uncertain as to how the dramatic events of today will impact our future. But what we do know with certainty is that Lent 2020 will conclude with Easter Sunday. Don’t let this emergency blind you to the reality of Resurrection.

We embrace the practices of ALMSGIVING, FASTING, AND PRAYER so that we are better able to understand that it is only our earthly bodies that will return to dust. Our spiritual selves will rise to share in the glory of the Risen Christ.

And so…GO IN THE PEACE OF CHRIST!

Thanks be to God.

Fifth Sunday of Lent
JN 11:1-45
March 29, 2020

The Plague, by French philosopher Albert Camus, although first published over 70 years ago, offers a very vivid description of everything humankind is living through today. Very much like today’s news reports, it is hard to read/watch but impossible to turn away from. I found one chapter to be especially unnerving, and it wasn’t the graphic description of the human suffering that a pandemic brings with it.

In the book, the priest in the fictional French city that was in strict military-enforced isolation, called for the citizens to join in a “Week of Prayer.” The faithful took this seriously, begging God to bring an end to the pandemic. At the conclusion of the week, a special Mass was scheduled. The cathedral was filled with the city’s residents. The church was also filled with all of the feelings of fear and desperation that many people around the world are wrestling with today.

The priest began his sermon to this stricken community, in need of comfort and hope, with the following words:

Calamity has come upon you…and you deserve it!

He went on to explain that the city had been punished by God because of the sinful practices the residents had fallen into. He concluded by telling the worshippers that they should be grateful for the plague, and they should see it as an opportunity to learn from their mistakes, and change their way of living.

Certainly, any preacher would be correct in saying that we very often bring “calamity” on ourselves through poor choices and bad decisions. There are always consequences. But, the suggestion that an angry and vindictive God would send a plague to punish offenders is not consistent with all that God has Self-revealed through Jesus.

God is…

kind and merciful, slow to anger but quick to forgive.

Although natural disasters and public health emergencies DO offer an opportunity for us to learn how to be more FULLY human, it very difficult to believe that God purposefully inflicts suffering on us, as a way for us to “self-improve.” God values and treasures us, and He does not wreak havoc upon us out of anger or the desire to punish us or teach us a lesson.

God’s loving and merciful nature is especially important to remember at this time of global crisis, because it is very possible that there are sermons being preached today, suggesting that Covid-19 is our “just rewards” for all the sins of the world. There is no doubt that this is a sinful world. Still, it bears repeating.

God is not punitive.

God does not send plagues or pandemics or tsunamis or tornadoes or forest fires…no matter how much we might deserve these “corrective measures.”

And the very dramatic events in the dusty little Village of Bethany validate this belief.

The story of the raising of Lazarus is one of the longer and more detailed reports of Jesus’s healing ministry. It is filled with extraordinary detail, both obvious and subtle. Possibly the most important detail for us to focus on during Lent 2020 is Jesus’s reaction to the grief that He encountered having finally arrived in Bethany. He cried!

The significance of the Lord’s expression of grief goes well beyond His empathy for His friends, Martha and Mary, at the death of their brother. His tears and anguish offer insight into how God reacts to all of our afflictions. God takes no delight or satisfaction in human suffering.

Clearly, the most memorable element of the “raising of Lazarus” is just that…THE RAISING OF LAZARUS. But, in addition to being the miraculous event that it clearly was, it is also an opportunity to learn more about our Creator. Through Jesus, God reveals that when we suffer…God weeps.

So, a major takeaway of this week’s Readings is that God puts great value on every human life… and so should we. This Lenten season of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving is soon coming to an end. But, it does not appear that the season of COVID-19 is. Still, we can enter the Easter season with the certainty that through Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection…Salvation has come upon you…even if you don’t deserve it!

By His Holy Cross, He has redeemed the world.

Palm Sunday
MT 26:14—27:66 OR 27:11-54
April 5, 2020

The liturgy for “Palm Sunday of The Lord’s Passion” begins with the proclamation of a processional Gospel. All four of the Gospels, with varying degrees of detail, report the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. This year, we hear from Matthew.

Sharing the excitement of the crowd gathered to welcome Jesus is a very dramatic and joyful way to begin our prayer, as well as Holy Week. It is ironic to think, however, that if Jesus were to attempt to enter the holy city of Jerusalem today, any crowd gathering to greet Him would quickly be dispersed by authorities. Like most of the countries in the world, Israel is responding to the pandemic with a policy of “social distancing.” And, as in most countries, many Israelis are resistant to, or totally ignoring these lifesaving measures.

Prof. Ido Erev, a behavioral economics expert, has weighed in on his country’s reaction to the call for social distancing. His research reveals two predictable reactions by the general public to the kind of restrictions on freedom of movement brought about by emergencies like the current pandemic. The majority of people, initially alarmed by the risk, immediately comply with all directives. Fortunately, it is only a small minority that adopt the attitude “it won’t happen to me.” The obstinance of this smaller group endangers the entire population. But, the majority is not free of blame. Studies prove that after a period of “sheltering in place,” even the conscientiously compliant begin to drop their guard and resume their normal lifestyle as best they can under the circumstances.

Arguably, a whole lot of research wasn’t needed to come up with these findings. Anyone who reads the Old Testament could easily come to the same insights about human behavior…which has not changed over the centuries.

The virus of “sin” attacked the first parents, robbing them of the perfect freedom that God intended for us. There is no way to self-protect from this spiritual virus traced to the original sin. It is an inherited condition that has infected every person born into this world, with a single exception…The Blessed Mother. In a way, the entire Old Testament is the story of how our ancestors dealt with a pervasive and highly contagious spiritual pandemic.

God continually offered guidance on how to survive. The majority of people would comply, but there have always been those so afflicted with this lethal disease, that they felt that God’s law does not apply to them. Their “stiff neck attitude,” obstinance, endangered their own spiritual well-being. Furthermore, their attitude was contagious, putting others at risk as well. Many of those, who, at first, would hear and comply with God’s will, over time, would fall back into their old sinful ways.

Rather than taking a heavy-handed approach like a number of authoritarian world leaders are doing today, Prof. Erev suggests a more effective way to influence human behavior. His research has led to the conclusion that the most effective way to modify attitudes rooted in obstinance…or forgetfulness…is through “friendly reminders.” In other words, continually reminding people to protect themselves with caring comments is the most effective way to combat Covid-19.

Arguably, a whole lot of research wasn’t needed to come to this conclusion. Anyone who reads the New Testament can easily see how God saw no choice but to intervene in human history in order to teach us to self-protect from sin.

The Father sent The Son into this world to offer the most loving “reminder” possible. Through Jesus, we are cautioned to distance ourselves from anything that threatens our freedom to live as children of God.

The Lord was not a heavy-handed dictator, using power to control and punish. Rather, by His word and example, Jesus inspires us to combat sin with love. We can flatten the curve and reduce the symptoms of the spiritual pandemic, by loving God…

With all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind
…and by
loving our neighbor as ourselves.

So simple and so entirely effective.

Yet, there are those (the stiff necked) who feel that the Law of Love does not apply to them. They consider themselves above it. Others comply…for a while…and then wander back into old, unhealthy habits. And so, we continue to pass on the virus.

That is why the “The Hosannahs” of Palm Sunday changed quickly into “CRUCIFY HIM!” on Good Friday.

So, by way of “friendly reminder,” protect your physical health by sheltering in place, practicing social distancing when you must go out, washing your hands, and taking whatever other precautions the medical experts recommend. Regarding your spiritual well-being…PUT ON CHRIST! There is no better personal protection against sin and death.

Easter Sunday
JN 20:1-9
April 12, 2020

I am usually hard-pressed to say anything on Easter Sunday morning except…ALLELUIA! Easter is truly the season of hope and joy…and that word…ALLELUIA! says it all…the perfect homily. What more needs to be said?

But this Easter, even though we are certain that THE TOMB WAS EMPTY…and, someday, ours will be as well, because of what’s happening in our world, it is hard to say or feel ALLELUIA! For one thing, we can’t even gather to join our voices in that simple but powerful word that expresses our faith in an endless future of joy and peace. And so, I search for words that can restore that amazing feeling that has washed over me every Easter morning for as long as I can remember.

Actually, the “words” came to me while I was sitting in the forced isolation of my car, waiting in a long line to do some unavoidable banking at the drive-through window. It was the first time I had left my home in over a week. I prepared for human contact by taking one of latex gloves a concerned friend had given me when we were first asked to shelter in place. I slipped the glove on my left hand when it was my turn at “the window.” I also had bleach wipes at the ready.

But when I took the little canister out of the delivery system (with my gloved hand) that connects patrons in the “drive-through” with the bank teller, I ended up with the plastic cylinder on my lap and against my sweatshirt. So, I tried to wipe my clothes down with the bleach wipes after I sent my deposit back into the bank. But within a few minutes, the poor bank teller (risking her life to be at work, facing the public) had to send it back because I forgot to endorse the check. I had to go through the whole process again.

I used the gloved hand to grab onto the plastic container, but, once again, it still ended up in my lap. I needed the other hand to take out the check. Then I endorsed it with the pen that was in the container that had been used by countless people before me. So out came the bleach wipes for another wipe-down. I sent the tube back to the teller. She made the deposit. And then, through the speaker, asked that I sign the receipt and send it back to her. And there was more fumbling, more contact, and more bleach wipes. As I was driving away, I realized that, in spite of every precaution I took, it was entirely possible that 10 minutes in a bank drive-through might well have cost me my life.

Short of living in a bubble, we can’t totally protect ourselves from Covid 19! And that’s exactly the case with our spiritual lives…isn’t it?

It is truly impossible to totally isolate ourselves from sin. Sin is everywhere. In spite of our most conscientious efforts, we cannot totally self-protect from this invisible enemy. Appreciating our dilemma, God’s Eternal Word took flesh, to dwell among us, and then willingly suffered, died, and rose to communicate a message. The message is simply this: I’ve got you covered! The Incarnation and The Paschal Mystery is God’s dramatic way of expressing our Creator’s unconditional love and infinite mercy for us.

Although constantly exposed and vulnerable, and often infected, we can move through this world without fear of death…because…Jesus is the cure. The empty tomb, and the reassuring post-Resurrection experiences were and continue to be Jesus’s way of telling us: Don’t be afraid! We’re all in this together. I’ve got you covered.

We Christians know this is more than a slogan. We know this to be true. All our faith and hope rests in Christ. By His Holy Cross, Jesus has redeemed the world. And so, even in the midst of a pandemic, isolated in our own homes, we can shout out with conviction…ALLELUIA! because Christ has defeated death.

EASTER BLESSINGS!

Second Sunday of Easter
JN 20:19-31
April 19, 2020

On this Second Sunday of Easter, designated Divine Mercy Sunday by John Paul II, my focus, personal prayer and reflection, and, consequently, my preaching usually centers on Thomas. The doubts he harbored, the Lord’s patience and understanding, together with the dramatic way in which the Risen Christ dispelled those crippling doubts teach us a great deal about our human limitations. There is an odd sort of comfort in the realization that, on occasion, even the great ones, like Peter and Thomas, lost hope. But, from this Easter night episode, we also see the power of grace to shore up faltering faith and restore hope. Thomas emerged from his crisis of faith with a declaration that, centuries later, many Catholic Christians use at The Consecration: My Lord and my God!

This year, however, I am struck in a special way by what the Risen Christ did to, and for, those seeking sanctuary in the Upper Room, prior to Thomas’s arrival: HE BREATHED ON THEM.

Throughout this past Lenten season, people all around the world have taken extreme precautions to avoid being “breathed on.” The breath of an “infected stranger” passing by in the supermarket, or standing in line at the post office, could be lethal. So, when, here, we see The Lord intentionally, and with great purpose, breathing on His followers, it certainly gives one pause, and warrants further reflection. It might help our efforts to step beyond this week’s Readings for some helpful insight.

At Genesis 2:7, we hear: …then the LORD God formed the man out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

During His years of public ministry, Jesus set about “forming” what was to become His Church. The Lord gathered and molded women, men, and children into a community of faith, even as the Creator “formed” the first human being from “the dust of the ground.” One can only imagine the state of His followers…ordinary folks…with the same limitations and frailties all humankind share…after the horrors of Good Friday. In spite of the news of the empty tomb, the heavenly messengers, and the initial encounters with The Easter Christ, His followers remained traumatized. They sheltered in place, behind locked doors, “for fear” that they would suffer the same fate as the Master.

After the Crucifixion, I wonder if a far more serious threat to the early Church than possible persecution and martyrdom might not have been “lifelessness.” Loss of hope will do that. Loss of hope can leave us frail human beings lying on the ground as lifeless as the pile of dirt from which God formed the first parents.

Enter Jesus, through a locked door, no less. And just as the Father/Creator breathed life into a mound of clay, the Son breathed new life into the fledgling Church. Fortified by the Breath of God, those gathered in the Upper Room appear to have developed an immunity from the doubt and loss of hope that infected Thomas. It does not appear that his crisis shook their confidence in any way that Christ had, indeed, risen.

It cannot be denied that we are frail, often weak, and susceptible to doubt and hopelessness. Baptism does not wash away our human limitations. And challenges like the current world health crisis underscore just exactly how vulnerable we are…physically, mentally, and spiritually. But the Lord’s patience and understanding…and mercy… are limitless.

The message of our Readings on this Divine Mercy Sunday is crystal clear. God’s grace serves to shore up sluggish faith, renews hope, and breathes new life and purpose into our minds and hearts. So, expose yourself to Christ and continue to breathe in the Easter proclamation…HE IS RISEN…and someday, so will you. Alleluia!

Third Sunday of Easter
LK 24:13-35
April 26, 2020

Every now and again I am asked to “do a blessing” at a family’s “new home.” The Church provides a beautiful prayer for such occasions. But, I always include in the blessing, a proclamation of this Sunday’s Gospel…The Emmaus Story.

When making the arrangements for “the blessing” I tell the family that it would be nice for us to sit at the dining room or kitchen table; whichever is most convenient for them. Once we are gathered: In the Name of The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit…I use the prescribed ritual for the Opening Prayer. Then, I share this deeply profound passage from Luke’s Gospel, which tells the story of two confused and heartbroken disciples returning to their home in a little village on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

After proclaiming the Gospel, I don’t actually preach a homily. But I do try to make a brief explanation as to why I feel this Scripture passage is so fitting to the occasion.

At the outset, we are given some very significant details. First of all, the couple seems to have personal knowledge of Jesus’s Crucifixion. Were they there when they crucified our Lord? They have also been made aware of the growing evidence of Christ’s Resurrection. Nevertheless, it certainly appears that the scandal of “The Cross” is foremost on their minds and continues to weigh heavy on their hearts. It does not seem that their mood has been lightened, even by the reports of Easter morning.

We know that they have elected to return home. Whatever their motivation, they have decided to distance themselves from the other disciples. Surprisingly, the further they travel away from the unimaginably violent and shocking experiences of Good Friday, under the guidance of their unexpected traveling companion, the closer they come to understanding The Paschal Mystery. All of this builds up to the astounding realization that “The Guest” they have invited to their table, is in fact the Risen Christ. The drama concludes with their return to the community to share all that they have experienced.

At some point, during a house blessing, before we conclude with The Lord’s Prayer and the Sign of Peace, I say a prayer of blessing specifically over the table around which we have gathered. I pray that the family always remember to reserve a place at this table for Christ; inviting The Lord to Stay with us!

I pray that even as they sit together at the table sharing a meal, they also share an “experience of Eucharist.” This is to say that their hearts burn with gratitude for all that God has done for them through Jesus Christ. Finally, I pray that their family meal stimulate within them, an appetite for Eucharist celebrated with their parish family.

I think that The Emmaus Story is especially fitting to proclaim, and to reflect on, during this particular Easter Season. Our whole world is living through something unimaginably violent and shocking. The global health crisis weighs heavy on our minds and hearts, and there is little that can truly lighten our moods.

We are distanced from each other; certainly by “shelter in place” directives. But there is also increased distancing resulting from different opinions on how to deal with the pandemic. The recent demonstrations and counter demonstrations are evidence of growing disunity which only adds to the tragedy.

For people of faith, possibly the hardest part of this Good Friday experience we are currently enduring, is the moratorium on public worship. Funerals are being deferred and marriages postponed. There were next to no opportunities for private Confession; not even to satisfy our Easter duty. Among the more observant Catholics, there is not merely a hunger, but a forced starvation for Holy Communion.

And so it’s especially important for us today, to remember what happened on that first Easter night when two distraught disciples invited “The Stranger” to Stay with us!

May God Bless your table in a special way…and may your hearts burn with gratitude for all the that God has done for us through Jesus Christ. And when at last, there is no need for us to distance ourselves …may the drama of Covid 19 conclude with us coming together again…in our parishes…to Give God Glory and Praise.

Fourth Sunday of Easter
JN 10:1-10
May 3, 2020

Our local “good shepherd” has been broadcasting liturgies so that the faithful can continue to enjoy at least “a sense” of communal prayer until public worship resumes. In addition, Bishop Gruss has also maintained a steady stream of suggestions and encouragement to the priests and pastors of the Diocese of Saginaw. Recently, he forwarded a publication from the Department of Music and Liturgy of Alverno College, Wisconsin. The material was captioned:

A New Birth to a Living Hope Praying through the COVID-19 Pandemic.

The Bishop passed on the collection of Scripture passages, prayers, and litanies hoping to support “domestic church prayer” or private prayer of families in our homes.

On this “Good Shepherd Sunday,” one of the prayers published by the Catholic College comes to mind in a special way. The “litany” presents very much like “prayers of the faithful” that we raise up after professing our faith at Sunday Mass. The intercessory prayer focuses on those suffering as a result of Covid-19, but it also raises up people, professions, and vocations that are at greatest risk as they carry on in spite of the highly contagious virus. These are the folks who are out ahead of “the flock” doing what is necessary so that the rest of us can continue to live as safely and normally as possible. As you might expect, doctors, nurses, EMS personnel, and medical researchers head up the list of people being prayed for.

But, then, the focus shifts to all those “essential workers” that, in ordinary times, are often taken for granted…next to anonymous…often ignored. The prayer affords a new awareness of and well-deserved dignity to:

Mail carriers, delivery services, package handlers, and drivers, staff who clean and sanitize buildings, retail employees who are working longer shifts and additional days, cooks, bakers, and servers who continue to provide meals, volunteers who serve in food pantries, in homeless shelters, and at blood drives.

(For all of these…we pray to The Lord!)

I thought about this Litany of “Good shepherds” on Monday morning, as I heard a big truck pull up in front of the house. I looked out and watched as a young man, who I do not ever recall seeing before, struggled to load a mountain of yard waste that my neighbor and myself had hauled out to the curb for pickup. We just assumed that “someone” would take it away.

We are all anxious for that day when we are again free to move about as we please. By nature, we tend towards self-reliance…being in control of our own destiny. But we fool ourselves. In truth, we are like a flock of sheep that need protection and guidance in countless ways every moment of our lives. Unfortunately, it takes a pandemic to make us aware and appreciative of all of those nameless, faceless people who shepherd us.

Praying through the COVID-19 Pandemic…reminds me that we should also be learning through the COVID-19 Pandemic.

One of the most important lessons to be learned is that we are totally dependent on countless good shepherds who protect, guide, and feed us every day. And in all of this, they are images of Christ The Good Shepherd…Who leads us…

Beyond our wants, beyond our fears, from death into life.

Fifth Sunday of Easter
JN 14:1-12
May 10, 2020

On Holy Saturday evening, this Sunday’s Gospel came to my mind, almost to the point of displacing the brilliant message that The Crucified Jesus had broken free of the tomb. ALMOST! Almost, because there is no greater news than JESUS CHRIST IS RISEN! As St. Paul explains:

And if Christ has not been raised, then empty [too] is our preaching; empty, too, your faith. (1 Cor 15:14)

Nothing can displace or overpower the Good News that Christ has OVERPOWERED…conquered, once and for all, sin and death. This News is the foundation of our faith and the reason for our hope…Christian hope!

So, like countless Christians, I was unnerved by the fact that, this year, I would not be part of the dramatic celebration of Jesus’s resurrection at the Easter Vigil. It would be necessary to simply view the powerful liturgy on television.

And then a friend, whose computer knowledge far outdistances mine, offered to host a ZOOM EASTER VIGIL WORD SERVICE.

(Even technically challenged people like myself know that Zoom is one of the internet services that enables a good number of people to see and communicate with one another during such things as online meetings, virtual school lessons, and social gatherings.)

Shortly before sunset on Holy Saturday evening, our host began to “usher,” one by one, the faithful into the virtual worship space. All who were participating were asked to gather in darkness, just as we would if we were in our parish churches. It was suggested that each have a candle at the ready, as well as a bowl of water.

When everyone was in place, our computer screens were divided into 12 squares, each filled with the shadowy figures of the worshippers sitting in their unlighted homes, waiting for The Light of Christ to break into our world.
We started with the blessing of the new fire. At the proper time, everyone lit the candle in front of them, and the computer screen broke into a blaze of glowing, orange light. Our little candles were images of the grand Paschal candle that was being enshrined in empty cathedrals around the world.

With that, we began the Liturgy of the Word. From all parts of our Diocese, dining room tables became ambos (Tables of The Word) as from each “square,” in turn, one of the seven Old Testament Readings, the Psalm, Epistle, and finally, The Easter Gospel was proclaimed. Although the lectors’ faces weren’t quite clear, their voices were identifiable.

Then we prayed the prayers of blessing over the 12 bowls of water in our homes, after which we renewed our Baptismal promises. All were then invited to refresh the graces we received on that day we were born again in The Spirit, by blessing ourselves with the water from our “home fonts.”

It was as we prayed The Lord’s Prayer and virtually shared Christ’s Peace that I linked John 14:1-12 with what we were about in our ZOOM EASTER VIGIL WORD SERVICE. Our computer screens, divided into 12 equal spaces that Holy Saturday night, for me anyway, was an image of God’s house in which there are many dwelling places.

While we retained our personal identities, the importance of who we were as individuals was displaced or overpowered by Who had called us together…and what we are about…professing the faith we share. Clearly, that evening, our primary identity was that of CHRISTIANS, waiting…keeping Vigil for Christ’s glorious return. Gathered around the Light of Christ, divided into 12 parts, we raised one voice in celebration of Jesus’s final victory over sin and death. Distanced from one another, there was nevertheless a powerful sense of unity and intimacy rooted in our common belief that CHRIST HAS DIED, CHRIST IS RISEN, AND CHRIST WILL COME AGAIN.

Admittedly, we all look forward to the day when we can gather SAFELY in our own churches to celebrate the fullness of Eucharist. And, hopefully, next Easter Vigil, we will stand around one grand Paschal candle, and bless ourselves from the same font of Living Water. Still, I will be ever grateful for the “Virtual Easter Vigil of 2020,” which left me a vivid image of what awaits those who have faith in God…Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

We live in a time of extreme uncertainty. However…Do not let your hearts be troubled. Because you can always be certain of this: For the faithful…there is a dwelling place prepared just for you by The Risen One…in His Father’s House.

Sixth Sunday of Easter
JN 14:15-21
May 17, 2020

Have you had this conversation lately?

Is today Tuesday or Wednesday?

Wow! You have lost track of time. It’s Friday!

During this time of “shut down,“ when most folks are only venturing out of the house in order to deal with necessities, it’s easy to get disoriented. In the same way, the Readings during the Easter Season can leave us wondering:

Wait! What? When did that happen?

As we cross this bridge between Easter and Pentecost, our First Reading is always from the Acts of the Apostles. No problem there. “Acts” is the continuation of Luke’s Gospel. Essentially, it is the story of how the early Church blossomed and grew. The passage we hear on this Sixth Sunday of Easter reminds us of the unparalleled power of The Holy Spirit.

It is helpful to put today’s passage in context. St. Stephen had already suffered martyrdom and the efforts by the authorities in Jerusalem have intensified in hopes of suppressing the fledgling Church. Persecutions have begun in earnest. Having already received the fullness of The Holy Spirit on Pentecost, the disciples recommit to proclaiming the Good News. Still, they appreciate the need to self-protect. Accordingly, the leaders encourage the community to escape the threat of arrest by seeking shelter in outlying villages. They took the Good News with them, and as people were converted and baptized, the fullness of Holy Spirit was quick to follow.

Acts concluded, but the story of our Church continues with each succeeding generation. We keep the story alive. In the future, these will be times remembered for the need to self-protect and escape danger, among other things, by refraining from public Masses. But we cannot let that define us.

With the help of the Holy Spirit, we can be remembered by the way we inspired others to follow Christ…facing the challenges of a global health crisis with ever stronger faith, unshakable hope, and intensified love…LOVE…reflected in Christian outreach to those in greatest need. If we embrace the same Spirit Who sustained and fortified the early Church, we will come through this current crisis stronger for the experience.

The same Spirit that fortified and motivated the early Christian community dwells with us and within us today. If we draw on the gifts freely given by the Holy Spirit, we will live a seamless story during this very significant chapter of salvation history.

Jumping ahead at least 30 years, our 2nd Reading carries us to Rome. Tradition tells us St. Peter himself wrote this letter of encouragement to a Gentile community, just before he was martyred for our faith.

For Christians of all ages, the message is highly relevant, particularly in times of uncertainty and danger, like we are presently experiencing. Through Baptism, we enjoy a rebirth in The Holy Spirit, Who provides an arsenal of weapons enabling us to defeat all that threatens us.

Finally, John’s Gospel jolts us back in time. Before He was taken from us…before our Church was “born,” Jesus assured us that He would not abandon us, leaving us defenseless against anyone or anything that would do us harm. The Lord promised to send The Holy Spirit…THE SPIRIT OF TRUTH…Who would be with us ALWAYS!

And the truth is this: The Spirit is with us today…in our hearts and in our homes. Whether or not we gather for the public celebration of our faith, our church is still alive.

Have you had this conversation lately?

What day is it?

Sunday!

It doesn’t seem like Sunday when we don’t go to Mass.

In challenging times, it is easy to become confused…lost…even disoriented. But in today’s Gospel, we see how Jesus orients us toward the Holy Spirit. So, in the coming week, let’s look forward to, and prepare for the celebration of Pentecost. It seems unlikely that we will gather to celebrate the birth of our Church inside our parish churches…but make no mistake about it…there is still a great outpouring of the gifts and fruits of the Spirit for those who love the Lord and keep His commandments. Keep the faith…The Holy Spirit is with us!

Seventh Sunday of Easter
JN 17:1-11A
May 24, 2020

When the STAY AT HOME is finally lifted…I don’t know where to go first…Weight Watchers or AA!

The joke has been told and retold so many times lately that it’s no longer funny. Actually, the first time I heard it, although I laughed, it “hit home” with a sobering punch. Whether out of boredom, the need for comfort, the lack of healthy choices resulting from limiting our visits to the grocery store, or the reduced activity because of the STAY AT HOME ORDER, many of us find ourselves loosening our belts. The Japanese actually have a special word to describe this needless…or mindless eating or drinking, basically uncontrolled snacking.

Kuchisabishii

translated “lonely mouth,” conveys a sense of the longing or urge to “put something into our mouth.” Although it is almost impossible for me to pronounce, it occurs to me that

Kuchisabishii

is the perfect word to describe how we Christians feel as, week after week, we are forced to go without receiving Holy Communion. We LONG to put The Eucharist into our mouths. We hunger for The Body of Christ. And rightly so! The Eucharist is the very source and summit of our faith.

Our First Reading from Acts reinforces the need for us to come together to do as Jesus told us…

Break The Bread and Share The Cup.

Having experienced Christ’s Ascension, the Apostles returned to the upper room, the very place where Jesus instituted the Eucharist. Joining with the other disciples, they prayed together.

Although technology enables us to pray together simultaneously by watching the liturgy on our televisions and computers, we miss the sense of community and the feeling of unity that comes from praying together…physically together. During these times when we have no choice but to distance ourselves from one another, our “mouths are lonely” for Holy Communion and our hearts are lonely for one another. This sense of physical and spiritual isolation has, no doubt, been the cause of much suffering.

So then, our Second Reading deserves special attention. Consider the opening line:

Rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when His glory is revealed, you may also rejoice exultantly.

Certainly, when we speak of Christ’s sufferings, the first thing that comes to mind is The Lord’s agony and death on The Cross. By its very nature, the pandemic has brought with it extreme physical suffering by those who have contracted the virus. But, at the same time, people all around the world are suffering from the emotional and spiritual consequences of the pandemic. In that way, too, humanity is sharing in the spiritual and emotional suffering of Jesus. As He entered into His Passion, The Lord suffered greatly from what He experienced as distancing from The Father.

The Church has wisely selected a passage from John’s Gospel to complete the Liturgy of The Word on this final Sunday of the Easter Season. Taken from what is referred to as “The Last Supper Discourse” or “Jesus’s Farewell Address,” the chapter we hear is known as “The Priestly Prayer of Jesus.” Anticipating His betrayal, great suffering, and death, the Lord nevertheless expresses unwavering confidence in His perfect, unbreakable, and eternal unity with The Father.

Admittedly, the concept of “shared glory” is hard to wrap our minds around, but what we hear in this prayer is His unshaken faith in The Father’s love…as well as The Lord’s response of perfect love and perfect obedience. Through His prayer, Jesus teaches us to be confident in The Almighty’s power and presence among us, especially in times of suffering or doubt. God is always with us.

The takeaway in all of this is simple:

When the STAY AT HOME is finally lifted…the first place people of faith will

(or should)

go is back to their parish Churches to join their spiritual families in celebrating Eucharist.

In the meantime, however, as we wait for that day when things return to normal, there is really no reason for our mouths to “be lonely.” And there is no reason for us to suffer from lonely hearts. God is always present to us!

Pentecost Sunday
JN 20:19-23
May 31, 2020

Last week, some friends surprised me with a wonderful gift. It was truly a morale booster that helped me to deal with the “quarantine fatigue” that many of us are feeling these days. They prepared a basket filled with many different treats, most produced in their own gourmet kitchen. The presentation was so beautiful that I hated to undo the bright red ribbon and begin to unpack. As it turned out, that was a big part of the joy I felt from the gift. Every item I removed brought fresh delight, but I think that the best part of this gift was the invitation that accompanied it.

What filled my kitchen counter was all the prepared components for a very special meal. I needed only to “heat and eat!” But I didn’t have to eat by myself for a change. My friends suggested that we have a virtual dinner party with the three of us enjoying the same sumptuous banquet at the same time, as if we were sitting at the same dining room table together. So, at the agreed time, my cell phone rang, alerting me that there was an incoming “Facetime” call. I accepted the call and was instantly transported into their home…and they into mine.

We began catching up, and, within a matter of minutes, the visit no longer felt “virtual.” Our conversation…the table fellowship…closed the distance and made the experience REAL. When we finally got around to eating, the dinner tasted as good as it looked and smelled. We spent about 2-1/2 hours together, and, as with every successful dinner party with good friends, we hated to see the evening end (at least I did). But, my cell phone battery sent the signal that it was on low power mode. We reluctantly said good-bye!

It was a very thoughtful and generous gift that I thoroughly enjoyed as we shared it together. The memory of the gesture, as well as the evening we spent together, has lingered with me. Finally, it occurred to me that there was one final surprise…a surprise that I discovered only after a few days of reflecting on this memorable evening. In addition to the remarkably good food and great company, my friends had given me a perfect image of Pentecost.

Appreciating that our “spiritual selves” are in isolation, distanced from “The Kingdom” as we dwell in this world, and concerned that we are better able to manage “quarantine fatigue,” God, through the Holy Spirit, has sent each of us the most incredible gift basket.

The presentation is extraordinarily beautiful. The Holy Spirit has packaged seven priceless gifts within each and every one of us. If we take the time to remove and examine what has been placed within us, each of these gifts brings fresh delight. The “unpacking” is a big part of the joy of Pentecost.

It is critical to see, however, that these gifts are not given for us to enjoy by ourselves…in isolation. When we put them to use, they bring delight to everyone with whom we interact. Moreover, when we lay these gifts out, resolved to share them, we quickly discover they are the means to make our relationships with one another more intimate…more fruitful…life-giving!

But these seven powerful gifts do much more than help to make our earthly lives more pleasant…more bearable. These seven gifts are the means to transport us out of this reality into the Heavenly Banquet, where we sit at a table with and enjoy the fellowship of the angels and saints. When we try our best to live our lives “In The Holy Spirit,” we really and truly…not just “virtually”… are transported into The Kingdom of God, where there is an eternal celebration of love, life, peace, justice, and the fullness of joy.

In preparation for the feast of Pentecost, the faithful throughout the diocese and throughout the world have prayed a special Novena (9 days of prayer) to The Holy Spirit. The closing prayer enables us to unpack, examine, and develop an appreciation for each of the seven gifts that were presented to our Church on that first Pentecost. These are gifts that have been continually refreshed throughout the generations. This prayer is certainly not confined to one season of the liturgical year. It can be a most useful, daily reminder of what God has packaged within each and every one of us. LET US PRAY!

PRAYER OF THE SEVEN GIFTS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

O Lord Jesus Christ, before ascending into heaven, you promised to send the Holy Spirit to finish your work in the souls of your apostles and disciples.

Grant that I may be open to the work of that same Spirit within me.

Grant me the Spirit of Wisdom that I may not be attached to the perishable things of this world but seek the things that are eternal.

Grant me the Spirit of Understanding to enlighten my mind with the light of your divine truth.

Grant me the Spirit of Counsel (Right Judgment) that I may choose the surest way of pleasing God.

Grant me the Spirit of Fortitude (Courage) that I may bear my cross with you and that I may overcome all the obstacles that oppose my salvation.

Grant me the Spirit of Knowledge that I may know God and know myself.

Grant me the Spirit of Piety (Reverence) that I may find the service of God sweet and attractive.

Grant me the Spirit of Fear of the Lord (Wonder and Awe) that I may be filled with loving reverence towards God and may avoid anything that would displease him.

Mark me, dear Lord, with the sign of your true disciples and animate me in all things with your Spirit.

Amen

Trinity Sunday
JN 3:16-18
June 7, 2020

By designating the first Sunday after Pentecost “Trinity Sunday,” the Church directs the spotlight on one of the most important mysteries of our faith. However, in doing so, the Church has placed a heavy burden on preachers. It is hard work to think of fresh images to help the faithful wrap their minds around the truth that God is three Divine Persons in one Divine Being. Quite honestly, no matter how much light is shed on this “threeness” God has Self-revealed, there is no image that properly and fully reflects how this can be…how God can be THREE IN ONE.

I must admit, however, that as I was gathering my own thoughts in preparation to preach this weekend, I ran across a reflection that was impressive. An unidentified Episcopal minister told her congregation that being pregnant with twins gave her a deeper sense of the Blessed Trinity.

It seems to me that was a fine starting point, but nevertheless, fails to capture fully the relationship between The Creator, Jesus, and The Holy Spirit. Still, it leaves us, like that minister…pregnant…with a sense of how three distinct persons can share a special union with one another. The “sense,” however, will not give birth to a real experience of the Triune God until we, ourselves, are reborn into Eternity.

Maybe “a sense of It” is all we can hope for until we are part of the Reign of God and share fully in the Divine Life. Here and now, maybe the best we can do is focus on each Personality.

Our Creator presents an image of a loving and forgiving parent…slow to anger and quick to forgive. Jesus is Divine assurance of how valued we are and how eager God is to be present to us…part of our lives, so that we might be part of The Divine life. Moreover, The Lord shows us what great things we are capable of when we do our best to imitate His example of perfect obedience to The Father.

Finally, the Holy Spirit pours out over all creation the resources needed for humanity to take full advantage of the “new beginning” that has been won for us through the perfect obedience of The Son to the will of The Father. The Holy Spirit has been sent to “renew the face of the earth.”

That being said, God has also revealed how these Three Persons relate to and interact with one another. The Triune God has eternally coexisted in a state of perfect harmony, mutual respect and cooperation, and unconditional love.
On this Trinity Sunday, it might serve us better to take the spotlight off of the “threeness” of God and shine that revealing light on ourselves. Rather than wrestle with theological concepts that truly are beyond our finite capabilities, it might be best to simply remind ourselves that the Creator called us into being in The Divine image and likeness. Rather than ask the question:

HOW CAN GOD BE THREE DIVINE PERSONS IN ONE DIVINE BEING?

I wonder if a better question might not be:

HOW CAN I COEXIST WITH THE REST OF HUMANITY IN A STATE OF PERFECT HARMONY, MUTUAL RESPECT AND COOPERATION, AND UNCONDITIONAL LOVE?

The events of the past days, beginning with an unnecessary death in Minneapolis, should remind us of why it is important to ponder the Divine Mystery of the Blessed Trinity…but also…why it is essential to put the spotlight on…us…ALL OF US!

The Body and Blood of Christ
JN 6:51-58
June 14, 2020

I came to the end of the aisle in the grocery store, and as I turned my cart to shop the next aisle, I had a head-on collision with a young woman who was “coming to where I was going.” Of course, we were both wearing masks. At the same time, we both said: “Excuse me.”

At that point, I said to her: “You can’t see it because of this mask …but I’m smiling.”

She immediately replied: “One of the worst things about these masks is that we can’t see each other‘s faces.”

How true!

Although it is great to be back celebrating Mass in our parish churches (even though only 25% of us are permitted to gather) still, there’s a feeling of sadness and regret when we look across the worship space at faces half-covered, our friends all but unrecognizable. Resuming some normal activities with face coverings is certainly better than a strict stay-at-home order. Nevertheless, there is something very unnatural and unsettling when we can’t see each other’s faces. Even though we are together, separated by a mere six feet, those few layers of cloth raise a barrier. During this pandemic, there is a definite sense of isolation, even when we are together. Things just are not natural.

Which brings us to our celebration of the Feast of Corpus Christi. That first bad choice…the original sin…resulted in a barrier between the Creator and the created. Humankind could no longer see the full face of God. It was not what God intended at the beginning. The separation caused by sin left us with feelings of sadness, regret, and isolation. It simply was an unnatural state of being.

So, God tore off the Divine facemask by sending Jesus into this world…FLESH AND BLOOD…in a human body…just like ours…like us in all things but sin. Through Jesus Christ, people were once again able to see the full face of God. Tragically, only a few (not even 25%) recognized the infinite beauty that they were privileged to gaze upon.

Determined that humanity should not persist in a state of isolation, Jesus sacrificed His FLESH AND BLOOD on the Cross. The perfect sacrifice of Corpus Christi means that the full face of God will never again be concealed behind the mask of sin. And this is where discipleship comes into play.

Having returned to the place where He came from…the place we hope to be going to…we disciples are entrusted with the enormous responsibility and privilege of keeping the full face of God in view of the world (as best we can, that is). St. Teresa of Avila spells it out so well:

Christ has no body on earth now but yours,
no hands but yours, no feet but yours;
yours are the eyes through which he looks
with compassion on the world;
yours are the feet with which he walks to do good;
ours are the hands with which he blesses all the world.”

Think of it this way: In Baptism, we have a head-on collision with Christ. Rather than simply exchanging pleasantries and going our separate ways, The Lord invites us to journey with Him, so that someday, we might arrive safely at that place where He came from…the place where He waits to greet us.

In Baptism, The Holy Spirit destroys all barriers between us and God. At the same time, we are “unmasked” so that others might see, through our faces, God smiling. Through Baptism, we become Corpus Christi…The Body and Blood of Christ.

Today is certainly about the Lord Jesus and all He has done for us. But, this Feast is also about us and about our duty and privilege of reflecting the full face of God to the world. When it comes to discipleship, there can be no stay-at-home orders.

We are called to go out into the world and put a smile on all of God’s handiwork. Even with cloth face coverings, we are commissioned and empowered to reflect the full face of God to everyone we happen to run into. PEACE!

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 10:26-33
June 21, 2020

This past week, a photograph appeared ALL TOO BRIEFLY on an Internet news service. Even without any background story, the image carried a powerful message…a message that everyone in this very troubled world would benefit from. Seeing this picture, the first thing that might come to the mind of a Christian would quite likely be Luke 10:29: The parable of the Good Samaritan.

PATRICK HUTCHINSON and his friends were participating in a BLACK LIVES MATTER protest in London, England…triggered by the social unrest in the United States, but fueled further by the systemic racism that is also prevalent in Great Britain. PATRICK HUTCHINSON, a muscular, impressively built black man, was photographed carrying an injured white man over his shoulders and through a crowd of what appears to be angry demonstrators. Other pictures enhance the story, showing PATRICK HUTCHINSON encircled by his friends, trying to protect both him and the person slung over his shoulder from the mob that was trying to cause the already injured man further harm. (Google PATRICK HUTCHINSON…see the photo and maybe even read the article…form your own opinion.)

The story supporting the images would have us believe that the injured man was part of a counter-demonstration of white supremacists. Somehow, things turned violent, and the man being carted to safety by PATRICK HUTCHINSON suffered a serious injury. The angry mob was intent on causing the man further injury, when PATRICK HUTCHINSON lifted him up, then surrounded by his friends serving as human shields, carried the man to safety behind a police barricade.

The iconic picture…without any further explanation, speaks TRUTH…the same TRUTH that Jeremiah the Prophet proclaims in the opening lines of our First Reading. We live in a world where injustice breeds distrust, fear, and hatred. These dark feelings very often trigger violence and destruction. Terror on every side. That is the background to the passage from Jeremiah. And that is also the street scene away from which PATRICK HUTCHINSON carried an injured man. Terror on every side.

But, when one studies the look on PATRICK HUTCHINSON’S face, the second half of Jeremiah’s prayer is arguably illustrated in this dramatic photograph. The intense and determined look on the Good Samaritan’s face brings life to the second part of the prophet’s prayer. When confronted with evil, good people push through hostile crowds and endure persecution in order to do “the right thing.” In the case of Jeremiah, that would be to continue to proclaim the Word of God, regardless of opposition and without concern for his personal safety. On the streets of London, England last week, “the right thing” was to protect a human life…even the life of a person committed to a message of hate.

All three Readings on this 12th Sunday of Ordinary Time are powerful reminders of the undeniable truth that humankind has introduced into this world the darkest of feelings. Greed, envy, mistrust, fear, ignorance, injustice, bigotry, and discrimination…all of which breed hatred and violence…are in the very air we breathe.

Where is the Good News here?

Having laid out the challenges we face in trying to “do the right thing,” Jeremiah goes on to remind us that God remains in control. Both New Testament Readings carry that truth forward and expand upon it.

The final chapter in this story of fear, distrust, and hatred will end in a final victory for goodness. These dark feelings that very often trigger violence and destruction will give way to The Light of Christ; in other words, ultimately, The Light of Christ will dispel all darkness.

PATRICK HUTCHINSON’S heroism did not survive a second news day. Sadly, the story was pushed off the front page by more news of distrust, fear, and hatred, which triggered further violence and destruction. His name was displaced by the names of more victims, and persecutors, and will quickly be forgotten. His 15 minutes of fame have come and gone. But, the Holy Name of Jesus Christ will survive every effort to quash it. Christ and the Good News will not be forgotten but will prevail.

Empowered by the Holy Name, Christians are called to pick up the TRUTH, shouldering it, even as Jesus carried The Cross…even as PATRICK HUTCHISON pushed through an angry mob…and carried an injured man to safety. Disciples of Jesus Christ are called to serve as human shields…surrounding and protecting TRUTH from further insult and injury.

Amen!

13 Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 10:37-42
June 28, 2020

A recent survey conducted by a research group working out of the University of Chicago “revealed” the majority of Americans are dealing with feelings of isolation and anxiety. We are pessimistic about the near future. And, in general, we are more unhappy than we have been in over 50 years.

REALLY?!?! We needed a government-funded survey to tell us this?

About the same time, Dr. William Schaffner, Professor of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University, was interviewed and asked to comment on the recent report showing that while there are very few new cases of Covid-19 in previous epicenters like Italy, the infection continues to flourish in the U.S., especially in the southern and southwestern states. Clearly, this spike…or second wave, adds to the growing unhappiness among Americans.

The opinion he shared seemed more sociological than medical. Dr. Schaffner cited “cultural differences.” Simply put, he explained that it is difficult to get control over an epidemic in a country known for its rugged individualism. Apparently, we Americans value our freedom to the point that we resist anyone telling us what to do. As a consequence, many regard the strongly recommended practices of social distancing, masks, and so forth as intrusions on their right to live as they choose.

Arguably, “rugged individualism” has made us who we are…a great nation of freedom-loving people! But, at the same time, could “rugged individualism” be our undoing?

So then, how do we recapture our happiness and sense of security? How do we overcome feelings of isolation without sacrificing our individuality? How do we live through this crisis and come out on the other side better for the experience?

Our Readings this week might hold the answers to those and other questions that are occupying our thoughts during these times of uncertainty and stress. The passage from the Old Testament underscores the importance of hospitality…relating to others with kindness and warmth.

In the Gospel, Jesus elaborates on the importance of reaching out to others with a generous heart. Both Readings offer the promise of a great reward to those who are considerate of the needs of others. Moreover, it does not seem that we sacrifice our individuality by being good hosts. Rather, we identify and even distinguish ourselves in this way as individuals, free from the bonds of pride, arrogance, greed, materialism, and the like.

In our Second Reading, St. Paul gives us a glimpse of the reward that God promises to those who forego “rugged individuality” in order to be joined with Christ to a new life in The Spirit. That is exactly the reward promised to those who give a priority to the needs of others…NEW LIFE!

This past week, Pope Francis hosted a gathering at the Vatican for frontline soldiers in this war against the virus. He shared some thoughts about “rugged individualism” as contrasted with “hospitality.”

Speaking to this group of doctors, nurses, EMS personnel, and priests, all from the hardest hit areas of northern Italy, the Holy Father said:

…to make individualism the guiding principle of society has proved to be illusory.

What he seems to be saying is that it is not realistic to think that personal freedom means that we can do whatever we want.

Looking to the future, Pope Francis said:

It is easy to quickly forget that we need others, someone who takes care of us, who gives us courage, forgetting that we all need a Father who holds out his hand.

The entire Papal address might well be reduced to the Holy Father’s suggestion as to how humanity can conquer the virus and then move forward to regain happiness in a post-pandemic world:

Not alone, but together, with the grace of God!

So then, how do we recapture our happiness and sense of security? How do we overcome feelings of isolation without sacrificing our individuality? How do we live through this crisis and come out the other side better for the experience?

Not alone, but together, with the grace of God!

Peace!

14 Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 11:25-30
July 5, 2020

Someone texted me a cartoon. “Lady Liberty” had stepped down from and was hiding behind the base on which she has stood since the late 19th century. Peeking around the corner of her pedestal, there is a frightened look on her face. The caption reads:

IS IT SAFE TO COME OUT YET?

I am embarrassed to admit that when I first looked at the cartoon, I laughed. But it didn’t take long for it to dawn on me that the silly little picture takes its meaning from something that is far from laughable. The recent social unrest in our nation, resulting in the removal of public statues and monuments that, in 2020, are regarded as offensive, politically incorrect, immoral, or even sinful, is nothing to joke about. There is nothing humorous about the turmoil and division we are presently experiencing.

Although it would be difficult to think of a reason why any American would consider toppling “Lady Liberty,” one can’t help but wonder if the bronze plaque affixed to the interior wall of the pedestal is safe. The concluding lines read:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Things have changed so dramatically and so quickly in recent years that, here in America, and, in fact, throughout the world, there is a growing sense of nationalism to the point that it is really questionable as to whether the invitation on that bronze plaque still stands. Moreover, immigration is just one of many very complicated social issues being hotly debated “by the wise and the learned” both here and abroad. It seems that there are no easy solutions…and no end in sight to this turmoil and division.

It must be said, and with great emphasis, that patriotism and love of country are very admirable qualities. No one can deny that fact. Had it not been for the generations of loyal Americans who responded to the various threats to our democracy throughout our nation’s history, “Lady Liberty” might well have been torn down and thrown into the river by enemies bent on the destruction of “The American Dream.”

Had it not been for the patriots who risked and sacrificed their lives to protect the freedoms that were envisioned by our Founders as they signed The Declaration of Independence, we very well may not be able to gather…publicly…on this 4th of July weekend, to celebrate Eucharist. That said, we must also be mindful of the danger in allowing patriotism to morph into xenophobia…the fear or hatred of things…or people…perceived to be foreign or strange or different.

How can we possibly hope to end the turmoil and division when the issues are so very complicated? Well, in our Gospel, Jesus tells us:

For although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned, you have revealed them to little ones.

That line took me back many years to when I was a first grader in Catholic school. We learned The Pledge of Allegiance even as the good sisters taught us our prayers. Among the prayers we committed to memory along with The Pledge of Allegiance were The Acts of FAITH, HOPE, and LOVE. As “little ones,” we somehow developed an understanding that we Americans were defenders of FAITH, HOPE, and LOVE.

When we said those words:

One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all…it engrained within us, even at such a young age, an understanding that in our United States, patriotism and religion were not only compatible, but that loyalty to our country was a way of being faithful to the Gospel. In other words, “The American Dream” was in complete harmony with and even a way of living out the dream of a new creation…a new way of existing in harmony and peace with liberty and justice for all!

The dream that Jesus reveals in the Gospel.

So, on this Independence Day weekend, it is good for us to remember that The Gospel cannot stand behind the American dream…frightened…peeking out…asking: IS IT SAFE TO COME OUT YET?

The Gospel, calling us to live together with FAITH, HOPE, and LOVE rests on Christ and cannot be toppled.

15 Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 13:1-23 OR 13:1-9
July 12, 2020

There were three pieces of mail waiting for me at the parish office this week. As I glanced quickly through the letters, I found one business-sized envelope. It was addressed to me personally, care of the parish. It had an individual’s name and return address…from out of state, so it didn’t appear to be an advertisement or a bill.

The second piece of mail was a larger envelope. I knew immediately that it was from the Michigan Catholic Conference…the headquarters for the Catholic Church for the whole state of Michigan. Based in Lansing, MCC frequently sends out informational bulletins to priests, pastors, and other Church leaders…and sometimes…when there’s something very important going on…to all of the faithful as well.

Finally, from the size of the envelope, I could tell that the third piece of mail was a greeting card. It was addressed by hand. I recognized the name on the return address as a parishioner.

Well, when I finally got around to opening and reading these three pieces of mail, I started with the business-sized envelope, thinking it might be a request for something or other…something that I should take care of as soon as possible. The letter was headed up to me personally: Reverend Randy J. Kelly…care of the parish.
It began: “Dear Fr. Kelly, many people in the Catholic Church are still unaware of the great harm Pope Francis has done to Christ’s Church since he began his pontificate in March of 2013.”

The letter continued for 6-1/2 pages…listing various criticisms of, and grievances against the Holy Father. Quite honestly, I didn’t read it, at least not in its entirety. The small part I skimmed over made me very sad.

So, I turned to the larger envelope from Michigan Catholic Conference. When I opened it, I was absolutely delighted to find a pamphlet celebrating the fifth anniversary of the publication of Pope Francis’s Encyclical: Laudato Si…Care For Our Common Home. Since March 2013, when the Holy Spirit inspired the Cardinals to choose Pope Francis as our shepherd, I have made every effort to read everything that he has written.

I always feel better for the effort. But Laudato Si…Care For Our Common Home…did far more than inspire me…or inform me…or teach me. When I finished reading the document…I felt renewed hope for our world. It literally filled me with joy. It made me happy! So much so, that I ordered 25 extra copies and gave them to friends so that I could share this hope…this joy…this vision of the future for humanity…a future very much embracing the Gospel.

And I have to tell you that it occurs to me, these five years later, that had world leaders read, reflected on, seen the enormous wisdom in…and made even the slightest effort to implement the principles laid out by Pope Francis in Laudato Si …Care For Our Common Home…we very well might not be suffering from a pandemic today. For that matter, had our church leaders made a greater effort to bring this beautiful message of peace and joy and hope to the faithful, there might not be all of the social unrest that’s spreading around the globe as fast as the virus.

But rather than appreciating this document as a way of breaking open the Gospel and applying Jesus’s teachings…rather than recognizing Laudato Si…Care For Our Common Home…as a blueprint for building the Kingdom of God here and now…The Holy Father was criticized for the document by many people who claimed it was too political…speaking to things that weren’t properly within The Church’s jurisdiction. Anyway, I was very happy to see that the Michigan Catholic Conference was bringing the Encyclical back to the attention of at least the Roman Catholic faithful of Michigan.

Then there was the third piece of mail…the greeting card from a parishioner. Before I even opened it, I knew that it was more than just a card. It was thick. I could feel something in it. When I opened it, three packages of flower seeds came falling out onto my desk. There was a handwritten note in the card, and I did read it…all of it…several times.

It began: Dear Fr. Randy, here are some seeds that should flower if planted now… you can even grow them in pots…they’re hardy too…that means they will survive the fall pretty well.

On the back of the envelope, as an afterthought…my friend wrote: Remember to water these.

I just sat at my desk, thinking about how these three very different pieces of mail related to one another, and more importantly, how they related to this week’s Gospel. It was like the Holy Spirit got a job at the post office. I mean, what are the chances that someone sends me packets of seeds, that, if cared for properly, will blossom into beautiful flowers…as we are called to reflect on the Jesus’s parable about seeds…and soil?

So, the takeaway for me, from opening three pieces of mail on the very day that I was reflecting on the passage from Matthew 13 is quite simply this:

Some ideas are like bad seeds…weeds that overpower us and chock out the good and beautiful flowers that God intended to grow and flourish in our minds…our hearts…our lives. Try as we may, it’s nearly impossible to prevent these ideas of darkness, anger, hopelessness, and arrogance from invading and taking root in our minds. They float in without us even noticing, oftentimes, from the most unlikely source. Once they make their way into our minds, they spread and take control. It requires a lot of hard work, often an entire lifetime, to rid ourselves of these destructive weeds. They are a hardy species.

Other ideas are like the packets of flower seeds my friend sent. With the slightest bit of effort… they burst into life. They grow and blossom into a beautiful garden that brings hope and joy and happiness. And once these beautiful ideas mature in our minds and in our hearts…they resist every effort by the weeds to invade them.

So…in these early days of our summer, examine closely the ideas that surround you. If, in your heart, they inspire hope and peace and joy, they are of the Holy Spirit. Plant them…care for them…water and feed them with the Eucharist. Watch them grow and enjoy the beauty they produce.

16 Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 13:24-43 OR 13:24-30
July 19, 2020

The panic shopping that marked the early days of the pandemic cleared out the “baked goods” aisle. Once there was not so much as a hot dog bun left on the shelves, people started to hoard bags of flour and packages of yeast. In many homes, Grandma’s bread recipe was the family cookbook. The incredible smell of fresh baked bread was once again experienced in American homes. Even now that our food supply is somewhat normalized, yeast is still hard to find. Having tasted fresh baked bread, families are no longer satisfied with “store bought.”

As a consequence, the last of the three short parables set out in today’s Gospel might be a bit more approachable than usual, at least by those who have recently experienced the satisfaction of baking bread “from scratch.” Clearly, the process requires some effort, a bit of skill, as well as a good deal of patience. But the rewards shared with and enjoyed by the entire family continue until the last slice is eaten.

Although the three little stories don’t reveal what heaven is actually like, through them, Jesus offers instructions on how to get there. So, home bakers have somewhat of an advantage as they reflect on “the process” of calling tiny granules of yeast back to life, and then mixing them with flour until the whole batch is leavened. The transformation of a few ordinary ingredients is a “wonder to behold.” Every successful loaf deserves the name “Wonder Bread.”

These challenging times have offered an opportunity to recover many memories and to relearn many forgotten skills…bread baking being only one of them…the most important being CONVERSION!

Much like baking bread, CONVERSION is a process that requires effort as well as patience, but really, not all that much skill. Our First Reading describes the limitless power, unconditional love, and unfailing mercy of our God. All of these “Divine ingredients” are packaged…in GRACE.

GRACE is never in short supply and is freely given. When we make the slightest effort to mix grace into the years of our lives, the process of CONVERSION begins. Once the “Divine ingredients” leavens our lives, The Holy Spirit comes to our assistance to provide what might very well be lacking in our skill set. In our Second Reading, St. Paul makes it quite clear that The Spirit stands by, eager to perfect the process, delivering a perfect CONVERSION…truly a “wonder to behold.”

Still, as every good home baker knows, it’s not so simple as mixing and forgetting. There are things to be done to ensure that nothing interferes with the process. The same holds true with CONVERSION. We can’t simply rely on the Holy Spirit to do all the work. We have to be vigilant that nothing interferes with the process that has begun when we introduce the “Divine ingredients”…GRACE…into our lives.

There is no denying the fact that we live in very challenging times…actually very frightening times. Our Readings work together to bolster our hope that we will survive. They also offer helpful advice on how we can not only survive, but grow and flourish. These times call us to recover the memories of all the ways in which our good, loving, and forgiving God is active in our lives. The challenges we face inspire us to re-learn a process that many have forgotten…CONVERSION.

Finally, our Scripture passages invite us to dispel the feelings of tension and stress that have become way too pervasive with the aroma of holiness that fills the hearts of those who have mixed GRACE into their lives.

And know this: Once you have experienced life in Christ…nothing else will measure up…nothing else will satisfy you.

17 Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 13:44-52 OR 13:44-46
July 26, 2020

A race has begun, quite possibly the most important competition in human history.

The competitors in this momentous event are medical researchers, scientists, and pharmaceutical companies competing to discover an effective vaccine that will prevent people from contracting COVID-19. Quite honestly, I have been praying daily for a winner…any winner. I am so eager to have this race end that I don’t care who gets the prize. A victory in this historic race will be a victory for all humankind…AT LEAST IT SHOULD BE…and the sooner, the better. Because with every day that passes, more lives are lost, so I am praying hard for someone…anyone…to cross the finish line.

But as eager as I am…as the entire world is…for a vaccine that will allow us to resume life as we knew it pre-Covid, imagine how the participants feel. They are frantic! Motivated by trillions of dollars in potential profit, the corporate competitors have most likely suspended, or at least assigned a lower priority to other research projects, concentrating all resources on THE BIG PRIZE.

Corporations probably regard Covid-19 as much an opportunity as a monumental tragedy. With money the major motivator to corporate interests, we can only hope and pray that they will be socially responsible if and when they cross the finish line. There are quite likely researchers out there who have put their entire lives on hold, working feverishly to be “the first.” Visions of the Nobel Peace Prize and a place in history as the renowned scientist who saved the world inspire them. No cost is too great to be “the one.”

But without a doubt, there are dedicated and selfless women and men whose only desire is to find a way to end the fear and the suffering. These competitors ignore their personal sacrifices. They are willing to pay the price to rid the world of this devastating disease, no matter what it might cost them personally. Even if they don’t intend to, these competitors reflect The Face of Christ.

Reread this week’s three little parables from this perspective:

Humankind is the “hidden treasure.” All the wisdom and goodness and joy with which God created us has been buried deep, under centuries of sin. And we kept piling more and more greed, envy, and hatred on top of what was intended to shine until it seemed all that wisdom and goodness could no longer to be retrieved.

Then Jesus freely limited His Divinity and embraced our stricken humanity so that He could raise us up, clean us off, and restore us to what our Creator intended us to be. Looking into our hearts with eyes of perfect mercy and compassion, The Lord sees the priceless pearl that is hidden within our flesh and bones. By His suffering, death, and resurrection, Christ has purchased us. The Lord did not count the cost, but eagerly paid it so that we might belong to Him.

And finally, as we cross the finish line of our earthly lives, leaving time to enter eternity, our all-just and all-merciful judge will be there to examine us, discarding all that has no value and embracing all the good we have done.
The Kingdom of God?

Isn’t it really all about what motivates us to do the things we do? When we act out of greed or ambition or pride…well, we are less than what God created us to be. But when we sacrifice ourselves, without counting the cost, for the good of others, then we are the image of Christ.

And when we show The Face of Christ to the world, we are not far from The Kingdom.

18 Sunday In Ordinary Time
MT 14:13-21
August 2, 2020

Our First Reading this week is taken from Isaiah 55. Often referred to as “The Prince of Prophets,” God spoke to Israel through him during a very critical and stressful period of that nation’s history. His message is arguably as relevant today as it was thousands of years ago. The Catholic Bishops offer an introduction of Isaiah’s ministry with the following:

For Isaiah, the vision of God’s majesty was so overwhelming that military and political power faded into insignificance. He constantly called his people back to a reliance on God’s promises and away from vain attempts to find security in human plans and intrigues. This vision also led him to insist on the ethical behavior that was required of human beings who wished to live in the presence of such a holy God.

Isaiah was overwhelmed by the reality of God’s holiness. Moreover, he was acutely aware of the human condition such as it is…flawed and frail…leaving us unworthy to be in the presence of The Almighty. The dramatic events leading up to God sending Isaiah out to prophesy offer a powerful declaration of his sense of unworthiness, as well as his willingness to serve. Isaiah responds to God’s invitation to be a messenger with the following:

“Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, holding an ember which he had taken with tongs from the altar. He touched my mouth with it. “See,” he said, “now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin purged.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?”

“Here I am,” I said, “send me!”(Isaiah 6:5)

The Eucharist…The Body and Blood of Christ…when received by the faithful with sincerity of heart…is not unlike a burning ember. When the host touches our lips, wickedness is removed and sin purged. Then, we are sent forth to share what has been given to us…THE GOOD NEWS!

And the message entrusted to us…THE GOSPEL…echoes the words God placed on the purified lips of Isaiah.

God’s majesty is so overwhelming that military and political power fade into insignificance. During stress-filled and frightening times, we need to rely on God’s promises and abandon our vain attempts to find security in our own plans and intrigues. We are called to lives reflecting ethical behavior if we aspire to live in the presence of our holy God.

Today, the world is as hungry for GOOD NEWS as was the starving crowd reclining on the grassy hillside in Galilee so long ago. Jesus’s instructions to His disciples back then hold true for Christians today. There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.

Purified by the Eucharist, it is our mission to nourish those hungering for truth, and the truth is simply this: >God’s majesty is so overwhelming that military and political power fade into insignificance. During stress-filled and frightening times, we need to rely on God’s promises and abandon our vain attempts to find security in our own plans and intrigues. We are called to lives reflecting ethical behavior if we aspire to live in the presence of our holy God.

19 Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 14:22-23
August 9, 2020

There is an old adage that has been reframed in many different ways. No one seems to know who was the first to put the obvious into words. It has definitely “resurfaced,” so to speak, over the past few months, appearing on every form of social media. And it seems to be a very appropriate portal through which to enter this Sunday’s Gospel.

An entire sea of water cannot sink a ship unless it gets inside a ship!

We know exactly what was going on with the other passengers in the boat. They were already unnerved by the heavy weather. The most experienced of sailors becomes a little less relaxed and a little more alert when wind and waves start to “toss the boat about.” At a minimum, the challenges of nature caused them to be more watchful…more attentive to their surroundings. And what they observed was the supernatural…Jesus walking on water. Already in a state of agitation, their eyes as well as their faith failed them. They did not recognize the Lord and they were terrified.

We know what got into the others…FEAR…but with The Lord’s calming words…

IT IS I…

they appear to have overcome their fears.

Not so with Peter, however. He literally sank. So, the question of the day seems to be: Just exactly what got into Peter?

Throughout the New Testament, Peter’s eagerness to react to a situation before thinking it through proved to be problematic. With all due respect, he seemed to be a bit of a “show off.” Although it is not clear just exactly what motivated him… pride, arrogance, excess self-confidence, the need to prove himself…or possibly just the eagerness to please Jesus, Peter’s spontaneity frequently proved his undoing. This is not the only time his impulsivity left him with that “sinking feeling.”

So just what was it that got into Peter that night that caused him to sink?

Doubt!

Although a simple fisherman from Galilee, Peter was certainly a complicated character. And he was someone that everyone can identify with. We all struggle with a mixture of feelings and emotions. Our success or failure in facing the challenges which life brings is often determined by our motivation. What causes us to act, or react, in a certain way often determines whether we sink or swim.

All three Readings work together to teach us how to stay calm and afloat, even in the wildest of storms. On this 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time, during a year that has proven to be anything but “ordinary,” the obvious has been put into Words…The Words of The Lord. The message is clear and uncomplicated. God is always with us.

During those times when we feel most vulnerable, it is especially important to recognize God’s presence. The most deafening of storms will not drown out the Lord’s gentle whisper:

IT IS I…DO NOT BE AFRAID!

So, in light of today’s Readings, it might be good for us to once again reframe that old adage.

An entire sea of water cannot sink a ship…but doubt can!

In the coming week, keep your eyes on Christ…and keep walking towards the calm waters that await those who hear and respond to Jesus’s simple invitation…

COME!

20 Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 15:21-28
August 16, 2020

I saw a cartoon…just a little black and white drawing; nothing fancy. There was a figure that was clearly Jesus, and He was standing and facing a group of people of different sizes and shapes…but each holding what appeared to be the same book.

They looked on in “silence” as Jesus spoke to them. The little bubble over Jesus’s head read:

The difference between you and me is that you use Scripture to determine what love means…and I use love…to determine what Scripture means.

Each of our three Readings for this 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time speak to the divisions that exist within humanity; specifically, the protective walls and barriers we build in the Name of God.

On the surface, we hear a cautionary message, warning against using religion to demean, marginalize, ignore, or exclude those who hold different beliefs.

That is clearly the message God is communicating to Israel through Isaiah.

“The Chosen People” used Scripture to protect what they regarded as their special and privileged relationship with God. Because of the way they interpreted The Law and The Prophets, they felt that God’s love was directed towards Israel only, and that the rest of humanity was undeserving of The Almighty’s attention. By extension, they saw it their religious obligation to demean, marginalize, ignore, or exclude those who were different.

They used The Word of God to dehumanize anyone who was different. Shockingly, we see this attitude reflected by The Lord, Himself, when a pagan woman approached Him, begging for healing on behalf of her daughter.

At first, Jesus, like any Orthodox Jew of the time, ignored her. Then He justified excluding and marginalizing her by explaining that His mission and ministry was exclusive…intended only for The Chosen People. He even goes so far as to demean and dehumanize the poor, distraught woman by comparing her to a dog.

What we hopefully find shocking is the crowd observing this reaction by Jesus of an encounter with a pagan woman found it to be totally appropriate. They quite likely nodded their approval. They read The Scriptures to determine what love means, and their interpretation justified a very selfish and self-centered belief that they…and they alone…were worthy of God’s attention and love.

But then Jesus shocked them!

He directed His attention and compassion and healing powers towards her. He acknowledged and complimented her faith. Of course, He restored the daughter’s health…but, at same time, Jesus restored the mother’s dignity. He “humanized” her.

In all of this, Jesus showed the difference between Him and observant, orthodox, and faithful Jews. He used LOVE to determine the meaning in Scripture. When we follow this example, and read, reflect, and pray The Sacred Scriptures WITH LOVE…that is to say…WITH THE EYES OF CHRIST…only then can we fully appreciate that our Creator treasures each and every human being, regardless of the differences that distinguish us from one another.

And God, in turn, expects us to look upon one another with the same acceptance and love.

21 Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matt 16:13-20
August 23, 2020

I happen to be one of those people constantly wasting precious time looking for my car keys. You would think that I would learn to put them in the same place every time I come into the house, but for some crazy reason, that simple solution has escaped me…and it isn’t an age-related issue, either.

Ever since I have learned to drive, I come into the house and just toss the keys, and wherever they land is just fine…that is, until I need them again. Once, while visiting my aunt in Arizona, without thinking, I closed the trunk of the car…and you guessed it…locked the car keys INSIDE. We were stranded in the desert, alone, after dark, for hours, waiting for a locksmith to come from the city to free us. (Yes, there were lots of nasty animals out there!)

And then there are those annoying combination locks at the gym, which, even before Covid, I was able to come up with excuses to avoid. On at least three occasions, I have had to have the lock cut off because I couldn’t remember the combination, since I had gone months without exercising.

I don’t like keys!

Now, I’m going out on a limb here to suggest that “keys” are a consequence of original sin!

Think about it.

Had it not been for the first parents’ fall from grace (the original sin), there would be no need to secure our valuables, because no one would take what doesn’t belong to them. Unfortunately, Adam and Eve, in spite of living in the Garden of Eden, where their every need was provided for, gave in to the temptation to take what belonged to God.

As a consequence, they suffered the same punishment as Shebna…the greedy and corrupt public official mentioned in our Old Testament Reading. They were LOCKED OUT!

The Good News is that we are not. Through Jesus Christ, God has given us THE KEY TO HEAVEN…The Gospel. First entrusted to Peter, this priceless KEY has been copied countless times over the centuries, giving easy access to a better way of living in this world, and immediate access to The Kingdom for those wise enough to keep it close and not lose track of it.

The Gospel is a key way too important to carelessly toss away in a place where we can’t get to it, especially at those times when we need it most…those times when we feel stranded…alone…in a spiritual desert…surrounded by darkness and terrifying thoughts.

The Gospel should be such an important part of our day-to-day living that we never have to wrack our brains to think of what it is we need to hear…or reflect on …or pray. We shouldn’t have to struggle to recall a passage like we strain to think of the combination for a lock. The Good News should always be on our minds and on our lips and in our hearts.

In recent months, we’ve been locked out of restaurants, barber shops, movie theaters, and to a certain degree, even our places of worship. We have learned through the pandemic what it means to be denied access…locked out. And we haven’t yet found the key that will free us…a vaccine.

It’s not a good feeling.

But it helps us to imagine what it would be like to be locked out of the Kingdom of God for all of eternity. Thankfully, because of God’s mercy and love, that does not have to happen. All we need to do is keep the Gospel close at hand…never losing precious time searching for it.

And when the time comes, the gates will be open to us…without us having to search for the key…because when we live the Gospel, we become the key…the key to the Kingdom.

22 Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 16:21-27
August 30, 2020

I recently watched a TV program called “WWYD?” Obviously, a reference to WWJD — WHAT WOULD JESUS DO?

In fact, the “Y” stands for YOU…the full title of the show being “What Would You Do?”

It’s a reality show. It involves a team of actors sent to a public place to stage a drama that involves a degree of suffering. The single episode that I watched featured a little boy who was extremely distressed by the animosity between his divorced parents. Hidden cameras recorded the reaction of bystanders witnessing the child’s suffering. Would they get involved? I don’t care to see a second episode, because there is enough actual suffering in the world that it offends me that suffering is staged for the purpose of entertainment.

So…WWYD?

Would you pass by, pretending not to notice? That would be an entirely understandable and all too common reaction. It’s as if the original sin embedded in humankind a “selfish gene.” As a consequence, our personal comfort, safety, even convenience often leaves us entirely oblivious to or causes us to intentionally ignore the suffering of others.

Still, it is critical to remember that our God created us in the Divine image and likeness. That means that we were called into being out of love so that we might receive and give love. And with love comes the ability to empathize…to understand and share the feelings of others. That human ability that is rooted in and nourished by love inspires us to get involved and to respond to the suffering of others.

The unrepeatable example of perfect love and empathy is Jesus Christ. Witnessing the suffering brought about by sin, Our Creator “got involved.” God’s reaction to our distress is beautifully described at John 3:16:

For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.

Some interpret the Lord’s reaction to Peter as a reminder that life is filled with suffering, and there is value and meaning to the pain we endure in this world. And although that is true, this passage is far more than a dire warning that we must accept what life brings. It is a reason for hope! The Lord’s suffering and death have given us hope that we will survive whatever trials and tribulations befall us…we will not perish but will have eternal life.

So then…WWYD?

Only you can answer that question. But, this little passage tells us what we SHOULD DO…when we see someone suffering. We should do what God did. We should do what Jesus did. We should get involved. We should do what we can to inspire hope! That’s what Jesus did.
__________

Fr. Kelly, I want to respond to your homily this week.
Daryl Domning is a paleontologist at Howard University in Washington, DC. He has an additional interest in the theological implications of evolution. He suggests original sin is our native responds – the survival of the fittest or natural selection. As we evolve into more consciousness, teachers have come like Jesus, to help us over come that instinctual impulse of the ego. Domning would say, our coming to consciousness is developing empathy and compassion for others.
Found this interesting, Sr. Laura

23 Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 18:15-20
September 6, 2020

It was upsetting to hear that there was a shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin last week. Two deaths and a serious injury were the consequence of yet another night of social unrest that has added to what has become a tragic and frightening start to a new decade. As 2020 unfolds, there is increasing evidence that many things in our country and in our world are simply not working.

When the alleged shooter was identified as a 17-year-old male, I immediately imagined what kind of a person he was…what he looked like…how he presented himself. The image was dark…angry…terrifying…evil. And then the first pictures of the accused shooter were made public and I literally got sick to my stomach.

This 17-year-old male is A KID. The only thing that distinguished him from ANY KID in a parish youth group was the assault rifle hanging over his shoulder. The sense of tragedy that overwhelmed me became even more intense when I saw footage of THIS KID, standing shoulder to shoulder with other kids; actually, they might well have been part of a church youth group. They were cleaning graffiti that had been sprayed on the walls of a high school just a short distance from the place and only a few hours before THIS KID left his youth on the street next to the bleeding bodies of three other young men.

Now, rather than preparing for a new school year, THIS KID is preparing his defense to criminal charges including first-degree homicide. One of the attorneys who is part of the defense team that has already begun to assemble is quoted as saying that THIS KID “… is an innocent boy who justifiably exercised his fundamental right of self-defense. In doing so, he likely saved his own life and possibly the lives of others.”

Without knowing any of the details surrounding this tragedy, many people have already made up their minds that THIS KID is a hero.

Then there is the other side of the tragic story. The two that lost their lives as well as the seriously injured young man are regarded by many others as martyrs. “The other side” see them as victims of white supremacy and vigilante justice.

I would suggest that all of these young people, together with their families, friends and communities…for that matter, our entire country, has been victimized. We are the victims of false prophets, spreading messages of hatred and fear.

A true prophet, whose words are inspired by Almighty God, broadcasts a warning against dark thoughts and angry feelings that inspire A KID…or any human being for that matter…to fire a lethal weapon at another human being. A true prophet warns against violence and destruction of whatever nature. A true prophet calls for peace, justice, and harmony, not division and mistrust. True prophets inspire peace. And while God’s message delivered by true prophets is not always well received, the messenger often losing their life in order to deliver the message, until humankind hears and accepts the warning, there will be no lasting peace.

Jesus said to His disciples:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. (John 14:27)

Troubled hearts are fertile soil for false prophets to sow seeds of mistrust and hatred. Fear is the climate in which division thrives.

As 2020 unfolds, there is increasing evidence that many things in our country are simply not working. That is because we are experiencing a pandemic of troubled hearts, and the first symptom of this lethal spiritual sickness is fear.

We Christians hold the cure…today’s Readings.

Love your neighbor as yourself. Resolve disputes peacefully and prayerfully; it’s that simple. And yet, it seems so hard for humankind to accept, to the point that the prophets who bring us this simple message are persecuted and killed…EVEN JESUS!

Summer 2020 is almost behind us. We are about to begin a new season. This can be a season of healing if we do all in our power to make St. Paul’s warning…the law of the land.

Love does no evil to the neighbor!

In thought…word…or deed…

Love does no evil to the neighbor!

Let’s let our KIDS be KIDS…IGNORE FALSE PROPHETS AND ACCEPT CHRIST’S PEACE! Help to make this new season a season of love.

24 Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 18:21-35
September 13, 2020

During a recent “online” conversation, a good friend of mine expressed his feelings that “no one deserves hell!”

I replied: Actually, at least at one….probably many times during our earthly lives) most of us DESERVE IT!

Unfortunately, this text exchange occurred just before bedtime, and had the same effect as if I had an entire pot of strong, black coffee before turning in.

In our First Reading, Sirach cautions:

Remember your last days.

I find that much easier to do now that I am in my 70’s, then I did when I was in my 20’s. And so I spent a few sleepless hours that night, “remembering”. But my thoughts fast forwarded past my “last days” to my very last moment….to my last breath.

In truth, I wasn’t suffering through a waking night mare. There was nothing terrifying about my thoughts. Actually, I was enjoying this particular bout of insomnia. My musings brought with them, a sense of wonder and awe….hope….even excitement about the prospect of that “inevitable LAST BREATH.“

I certainly have no desire to literally “fast forward” my time ….as St. Paul describes it...in the body.

Still, at least now, while that “inevitable LAST BREATH” lingers out there in the unforeseeable future, it doesn’t terrify me. I live toward it with a sense of hope….Christian hope.

At 1 Peter 3:15 we read:

Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.

My explanation for HOPE is inspired in no small way by our 2nd Reading which assures us:

…whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For this is why Christ died and came to life, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

As I tossed and turned, I REMEMBERED how one of my theology professors once theorized what that “inevitable LAST BREATH” will be like. Speculating what will happen as we stand before the Just Judge for personal judgement, she suggested that The Lord of the Living will ask us to make a choice: DO YOU WANT TO LIVE IN LOVE FOR ALL ETERNITY?

And then, according to this speculative theology….this spiritual theory, (it cannot be proven while we are “in the body”) The Lord of the Dead, will sneak behind us and whispers into the last bit of our free will….our God given right to choose for ourselves.…SAY YES! SAY YES! SAY YES!

Now if you think that this speculative theology…this unprovable spiritual theory, is too much to hope for, recall Jesus’s own words:

Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and I will not reject anyone who comes to me (John 6:37).

Still, even as we draw that “inevitable LAST BREATH” we have free will….the ability to answer that question for ourselves. If we carry the dark burden of anger, grudges, hatred and the desire for revenge to that “inevitable LAST BREATH”….well….and mind you….this is speculative….just theory…..those feelings might prevent us from hearing the Loving Voice urging us to SAY YES! SAY YES! SAY YES!

It seems that for some, it will boil down to a choice between forgiving…so that they might be forgiven, or holding on to the grudges accumulated while “in the body” and suffering the consequences. In other words….in theory…“no one deserves hell!” ….except possibly those who wish it on others.

Let us pray:
“Oh my Jesus, forgive ALL OF us our sins, save ALL OF us from the fires of hell; lead ALL souls to heaven, ESPECIALLY those most in need of mercy.”

And remember to SAY YES! SAY YES! SAY YES! But why wait until that “inevitable LAST BREATH”? The more often we say YES! to God’s will and God’s ways…the more likely we will be to use our last conscious breath to accept God’s gracious invitation to live in love for all eternity.

25 Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 20:1-16A
September 20, 2020

A 35-year-old “tech billionaire” named Sean Parker was recently interviewed. He used the interview as an opportunity to send out a “wake-up call” to the super wealthy. In his opinion, the ultrarich need to jump in and take a much more aggressive role in solving the earth’s mounting problems which pose a real threat to the health and well-being of all humankind…with the most immediate impact on the poor.

What he seems to be saying is that, presently, philanthropy…charitable giving…is just another “industry.” Those investing expect some kind of payback, be it their name on a building, an invitation to a costly celebration honoring their contribution, or a tax break. Parker is challenging the super wealthy to give without expecting any personal benefit, motivated only by the desire to benefit humanity.

Parker is quoted as saying: “I find it very strange when I look at entrepreneurs or successful business people who had a huge impact largely by being risk-averse, largely by taking chances. But when they make that switch to being philanthropist, they suddenly become very conservative.”

What he is suggesting is that those who control the world’s wealth identify some social issue, some serious problem we wrestle with as a society…and then, without concern for personal benefit or gain, put their experience and skill, resources, influence, knowledge, as well as their wealth to the task of finding a solution. In my opinion, no matter how successful Parker has been in business, this is going to be a hard sell. For most, the satisfaction of generosity seems to be in recognition, appreciation, and gratitude….and of course…tax breaks.

Today’s First Reading makes this young idealist’s interview worth our attention. Through Isaiah, we are told: My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says The Lord.

It would be interesting to learn how many of the ultra wealthy share Parker’s lofty thoughts. He acknowledges that his “thoughts” are disruptive to the conventional way the rich do charity. Is it possible that folks who have amassed great fortunes by taking great risks will be persuaded to be as adventurous when it comes to sharing what they have accumulated? Only time will tell.

At this point, we can say two things with certainty: First of all, the global problems are not going to miraculously disappear. And, without knowing anything about his faith background or spiritual beliefs, Sean Parker appears to be…as our Second Reading concludes…Conducting himself in a way worthy of the Gospel of Christ.

Which brings us to today’s Gospel.

Those who were present when Jesus told this parable…especially those who made their living doing hard, manual labor, most probably shook their heads in disbelief. How can this possibly be fair? Even today, after generations of study and reflection, after hearing countless homilies attempting to explain this little story, our thoughts tell us that the workers who spent the entire day laboring in the hot sun were treated unjustly.

Actually, what’s hard to understand is just why it’s so difficult to understand what Jesus is telling us in this little story. Throughout Scripture, God self-reveals, assuring us of lavish generosity and infinite compassion and love. This is just one more attempt on God’s part to give us a glimpse of The Divine Nature.

I heard another billionaire interviewed this week. Bill Gates, during an episode of the podcast “Armchair Expert,” was asked to share his feelings about his long-time rival, Steve Jobs. He spoke in glowing terms making three memorable points.

First of all, he admired Jobs’ ability to find and recruit the best people to get the work done. Although Jobs was not known as being easy to work for, Bill Gates applauds his ability to motivate the team he assembled to achieve his goals.

Finally, Gates praised Jobs’ gift as a public speaker. What’s this got to do with our Readings?

Well, The Lord has an unparalleled ability to assemble the best people…workers in the vineyard…those most capable of getting the work done…THE WORK OF BUILDING THE CITY OF GOD. By your Baptism, you are part of “the team.” The work of discipleship is hard…there is nothing harder…and the work is usually its own reward, at least during the present age.

Still, disciples are highly motivated. Grace inspires authentic disciples to be risk-averse…taking chances…aggressive in their efforts to make The Lord’s goal…that all humankind might live in dignity and peace…a reality. Disciples are adventurous and tireless in sharing the Good News, sometimes speaking out, but more often broadcasting the Gospel simply by living it.

I think the takeaway from this Sunday’s Readings is that you don’t have to be a billionaire to change the world. Faithful discipleship is all it takes to build the City of God…where ALL are valued and respected and shown compassion and love…without counting the cost.

26 Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 21:28-32
September 27, 2020

I JUST DON’T KNOW WHAT TO BELIEVE!

How many times have you heard someone say that recently?

I just don’t know what to believe!

How many times have you, yourself, said or felt it?

I just don’t know what to believe!

Do you find yourself saying it…or feeling it…or hearing those words…more and more and more these days?

I DO!

Doubt, uncertainty, and mistrust are not pleasant thoughts to have in our minds. Those feelings weigh heavy on our hearts. They are very unsettling. So, when those dark clouds of uncertainty appear on the horizon, I, for one, run for the shelter of Sacred Scripture. There, pure truth is found.

In our First Reading, Ezekiel lays it out plain and simple.

“what is right and just…”

In other words…what is TRUE ensures life. It follows, then, that lies and deceit bring death.

But, if we stop there…don’t we risk ending up where we began? Questioning. So, what is right? What is just? What is true? I just don’t know what to believe!

And so, our Church…in Her infinite wisdom, has chosen as our Second Reading a passage from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. What can we believe to be true? We can believe as pure truth the attitude of Christ Jesus. An attitude of selfless love that draws ALL people together in ONE mind and ONE spirit…THE HOLY SPIRIT. And, of course, we can believe the attitude of Christ, which is humility…and that attitude is pleasing to God.

Now, admittedly, you might well find this passage a bit elusive, hard to understand. But there is nothing challenging about the Gospel.

It is worth noticing that, here, Jesus is turning the tables on a crew that repeatedly approached Him with feigned curiosity. Slapping a phony smile on their faces in an effort to conceal their envy and contempt, they would ask in a sugary tone of voice:

Rabbi…what is your opinion about…

this or that.

They posed any number of questions on a variety of subjects, which they felt were cleverly crafted traps. Their intention was not to learn truth…to discover what they could safely believe…but, rather, to ensnare Jesus. Of course, on every single occasion, The Lord saw right through them. Each time, He foiled their efforts by humbly responding with pure truth.

Here, He asks them a question, which can only be answered with THE TRUTH…no matter how deceitful their nature. His question was of a sort with which we can all easily identify.

Who hasn’t been like the brother who said SURE, I CAN DO THAT! I’LL GET RIGHT TO IT, the whole time knowing full well that he had no intention of rolling up his sleeves and getting his hands dirty.

And who hasn’t grumbled, but grudgingly trudged away to do the job…because it needed to be done…because it was the right thing to do…because it was their responsibility?

So, let’s apply this simple lesson to ourselves, a lesson that most probably escaped these sneaky Pharisees.

Think of it this way: When The Body of Christ is placed in our hands and we nod and say AMEN! what we are actually saying is YES!

YES! Through this Eucharist, I will try my best to reflect the attitude of Jesus Christ. I will try my best to live the Gospel.

YES! By the help of the graces I receive from this Holy Communion, I will make every effort to show selfless love and compassion to all humankind.

YES! With the Body of Christ strengthening my fragile, earthly body and my weak will, I will use my talents to draw people together in unity and peace.

…as best I can.

YES! Emboldened by The Sacrament, I will insist on truth and demand what is right and just…especially for those who are voiceless and powerless.

So, the takeaway from these Readings…seems to me anyway…boils down to this: Be truthful with God and be truthful with yourself.

  • Let your YES! mean YES! Even if there are times when you can’t help but grumble.

  • 27 Sunday in Ordinary Time
    MT 21:33-43
    October 4, 2020

    I know next to nothing about grapevines. So, when Sacred Scripture sets a lesson within a vineyard, I find myself straining to conjure up an image to support “The Word.” But it doesn’t take a “Gallo Brother” to appreciate the gravity of God’s message to Israel set out in our First Reading:

    Produce good fruit or you will be leveled.

    “The chief priests and elders of the people” to whom The Lord directed yet another “vineyard” parable, whether or not they knew anything at all about growing grapes, were certainly aware that the story carried a dire warning directed at them. Sadly, what we have here is a self-fulfilling prophecy. So threatened by The Jesus, they did kill The Son, Whom The Father had sent. And, eventually, The Temple was leveled.

    But, The Word of The Lord is alive. It carries a message for every person in every day and age. Leaving the weight of this week’s Readings on the shoulders of Israel is to miss an opportunity to hear what God is saying to each of us here…and now! Maybe it helps to update the image.

    As I said, I know next to nothing about grapevines. I do, however, know something about cherry tomatoes. At least I thought I did.

    This past spring, I bought a very healthy little cherry tomato plant. I found a proper container and a trellis to support what I envisioned would become a vine loaded with fruit. I bought a bag of “pricey” potting soil, supposedly fortified with all the nutrients any plant would need. I located the pot in a sunny area near my front door so that I would remember to water the plant. And I did. I watered it faithfully, but…I did nothing else.

    The vine grew in every direction. It grabbed onto everything but the trellis. It grew up the leg of a lawn chair and invaded a flower bed. It crawled up a nearby shrub. But it produced very few little yellow flowers…and so precious few cherry tomatoes. I’m guessing all of its strength went into exploring and attempting to dominate its surroundings.

    Remarkably, this all happened without me noticing that things had gotten out of hand. Had I simply taken the time to guide it and give it proper direction by fastening it to the trellis, and had I done a bit of pruning what was sapping its energy and life, maybe I would be eating cherry tomatoes right now.

    Baptism is the gift of new life in Christ. It brings with it the promise of abundant fruit. But, we can’t expect to accept this wonderful gift and simply enjoy the harvest. As we grow in faith, we need structure, guidance, support, and proper nourishment.

    Our Church and our Sacraments provide both direction and nourishment. If we neglect our spiritual life and “grow out” on our own, in every direction but UP…our lives are in danger of becoming barren…fruitless. And Isaiah tells us the consequences of a low-yield harvest.

    In our Second Reading this week, St. Paul offers us an excellent plan to ensure a fruitful spiritual life: prayer, petition, and thanksgiving. These are certainly fine ways of nurturing our relationship with God. It is important to remember, however, that Baptism also means that we are called into relationship with fellow believers.

    Think of it this way:

    There is a limit to what a single plant, even when properly cared for, can produce. Had I done all the right things with my little cherry tomato plant, the most I could have realistically expected would be few good salads. But a garden, like a vineyard, when properly cared for, has the potential for a bountiful harvest that can feed a whole community.

    Hopefully, this “updated” image helps us hear and appreciate the message these Readings have for us today. Because of the pandemic, Bishops around the world have given dispensations to the faithful regarding Mass attendance. Many have maintained a prayer regime at home; others…not so much. Even those who have continued to communicate with God are still missing the interaction with one another. The structure and support of the Christian Community is essential to keep a faith-life growing in the right direction. Left on our own, we tend to move in the wrong direction, without even noticing it.

    There is concern by Church leaders that once the pandemic is fully controlled, folks will not return to the guidance, protection, and fellowship of our parish communities. It is worth noting that, by ourselves, our capabilities are somewhat limited. Working together as a family of faith, we have the ability to produce an abundant harvest. That is what we owe The Son when He returns to collect what we have produced…an abundant harvest.

    Let us pray, then, that those who have felt compelled to absent themselves during this health crisis, as well as those who have simply “grown in another direction,” for whatever reason…will return soon. Let us work together to give God what is right and just. And may all people experience the Peace of God…Amen!

    In the Introduction to a Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales cautions:

    “What a sad thing it is to see that most people never even bother to think about the reason for their existence, but live as if they believe themselves created only to…. pile up wealth or do frivolous things. Consider your own past life. Say, ‘Lord, what was I thinking of when I was not thinking of You? Whom did I love when I was not loving You? I should have fed upon the truth, but I glutted myself with vanity and served the world instead of serving the truth.’”

    28 Sunday in Ordinary Time
    MT 22:1-14 OR 22:1-10
    October 11, 2020

    Brides around the world must certainly appreciate the frustration and bitter disappointment that the king, featured in this Sunday’s parable, experienced. Since March of 2020, long planned (and probably paid for) wedding celebrations have been postponed, dramatically altered, or cancelled altogether. The pandemic has made wedding celebrations hotspots for contagion. So, many couples engaged since Covid hit are stalled in their planning.

    For that matter, a wedding invitation from a couple going forward with a public reception leaves many folks, especially those considered “high-risk,” scrambling to think of a credible excuse to include with their regrets.

    Arguably, this parable revolves around the final line:

    Many are invited, but few are chosen.

    Which raises the question about the poor guy, who was most likely shocked to find himself inside the reception in the first place, then totally traumatized as he was tossed out shortly after arriving. Just what was he lacking as far as his apparel that caused him to suffer this brutal treatment?

    Today, someone might well be denied entry to a wedding venue for not wearing a mask. But to be bound hand and foot and tossed into the darkness…well, that just screams “lawsuit!” But maybe that’s the key here…a mask!

    The Father has prepared a banquet of infinite delights. The cost was heavy…paid willingly by The Son…Who offered His very life so that all might be accommodated. The invitations have gone out, delivered by The Holy Spirit.

    Tragically, many ignore the invitation altogether, not even bothering to open it. Some might consider accepting, but then get caught up in other things…distracted…otherwise occupied…making any number of excuses. There are those who realize what an enormous honor it is to be invited. These make every effort to prepare so that they are worthy guests, bringing the gift of “lives well-lived.”

    Finally, there are those who unexpectedly find themselves at the doors of the banquet hall. But to gain entry, they need to REMOVE THEIR MASKS. All those things that conceal THE FACE OF CHRIST must be cast off. The dress code is LOVE. Some comply…others, it seems, hold on tenaciously to those things the hide their true identities as children of God.

    The Kingdom is a place of perfect peace. Once admitted, there is no need to defend or protect oneself. There is only joy.

    So, the question of the week is: WHY WAIT?

    There is no reason to delay your plans. Start preparing now…and the doors will be opened to you.

    29 Sunday in Ordinary Time
    MT 22:15-21
    October 18, 2020

    On October 3, the day prior to the official feast day of Francis of Assisi, Pope Francis traveled the short distance from Rome to the hometown of the saint, whose name he chose when he became our shepherd. Although the trip was prearranged, not at all spontaneous, it was done with very little fanfare. Much of the Holy Father’s visit was spent in private prayer and reflection. After celebrating Mass in a nearly empty Church, several copies of his encyclical, which had yet to be made public, were placed on the altar close to the tomb of St. Francis. After quietly signing the document, he returned to the car that brought him, and simply traveled back to the Vatican. It apparently was a somber affair.

    The Pope chose that holy place for the signing ceremony because his namesake’s life and teaching inspired the content of the 86-page document entitled:

    BROTHERS AND SISTERS ALL

    (Fratelli tutti)

    The title itself is borrowed from the writings, teachings, and brilliant example of the humble saint.

    Although most Catholics are unlikely to read the eight chapters of the text, all humankind should at least be aware of its existence. The Holy Father refers to his encyclical as a “social document.” Some commentators find it political in tone. (Certainly, he will be criticized for interjecting himself into civil concerns.) Still, approaching the text with an open mind and heart, one cannot help but see it for what it truly is…spiritual thoughts inspired by the Gospel.

    The somber tone of the signing ceremony was in keeping with the message. The opening chapter is called:

    Dark Clouds over a Closed World

    There is a very definite sense of urgency in the Holy Father’s description of the global impact of Covid-19, which has left people around the world feeling “closed off and isolated.” Relying heavily on passages from the Gospel familiar to all Christians, Francis begins to describe how the post-pandemic world can, and should, look.

    Speaking to the healing process that has yet to begin, the Pope points out that whenever Jesus cured someone of a physical condition, He “healed” their relationship with the community as well. Francis urges us to consider that the corona virus is not the only global affliction humankind is struggling with today. There are also economic, environmental, and spiritual sicknesses that are ravaging our world and crippling our ability to be in healthy and life-giving relationships with those who look, act, or think differently. If these socioeconomic illnesses are not confronted: “things will only get worse.”

    The symptoms of the socioeconomic pandemic include widening divisions within and between nations. People are having ever greater difficulty in finding common ground, even within families, neighborhoods, our Church, and most certainly among nations. If Covid affects the sense of taste…the socioeconomic pandemic has made it next to impossible for people with differing views and opinions to communicate. Rather than digging in, we need to start climbing out, meeting one another in the light…THE LIGHT OF CHRIST. On the surface, we will see each other for who we truly are:

    BROTHERS AND SISTERS ALL!

    Those who are inclined to be critical of Pope Francis, accusing him of wandering far afield from the spiritual realm, invading the political arena, where some believe he does not belong, might consider a deeper reflection on this Sunday’s First Reading. What God is telling us through Isaiah has been brilliantly explained by theologian Monika Hellwig.

    Political power is given for the sake of the people, but the authority it carries is from God, and is conferred so that the divine purpose in the world might be realized. Political power is not personal property for those who wield it, but a mandate from God for the implementing of the divine purpose for the whole people. (Gladness Their Escort, The Liturgical Press 1987)

    And the “divine purpose” is that humankind should live and communicate and cooperate as

    BROTHERS AND SISTERS ALL!

    This encyclical gives to God what belongs to God. It gives voice to “the Divine purpose;” in other words, GOD’S WILL AND GOD’S WAY!

    At the same time, it offers those who govern something beyond tax dollars. It offers guidance as to how civil authority might better rule so that “the Divine purpose” is woven into the rule of law. People of faith owe it to those who hold political office to give guidance on how they might better ensure that God’s purpose is the law of the land.

    Fratelli tutti concludes with a prayer. Let us pray.

    A Prayer to the Creator

    Lord, Father of our human family,
    you created all human beings equal in dignity:
    Pour forth into our hearts a fraternal spirit
    and inspire in us a dream of renewed encounter,
    dialogue, justice, and peace.
    Move us to create healthier societies
    and a more dignified world,
    a world without hunger, poverty, violence, and war.
    May our hearts be open
    to all the peoples and nations of the earth.
    May we recognize the goodness and beauty
    that you have sown in each of us,
    and thus, forge bonds of unity, common projects,
    and shared dreams. Amen.

    30 Sunday in Ordinary Time
    MT 22:34-40
    October 25, 2020

    A good friend sent me a text.

    It read: I can’t help wondering if we’ll ever find normal again.

    I suspect people all around the world are wondering the very same thing…if we’ll ever find normal again.

    The next day, even as I was mulling over what I personally miss about “normal,” another friend sent this email:

    It is precisely the “normal” that we are so desperate to return to which has brought us and the entire planet to this blighted point.

    She continued: YES! We want our normal hugs and kisses, our closeness, our visits, our gatherings…

    (I miss our Sign of Peace at Communion time.)

    Those are part of the solution, not the problem. The trouble is...What followed was a list of the issues about our “NORMAL WAY OF LIVING” that she believes brought our world to this “blighted point.”

    THE REAL TROUBLE IS…not everyone agrees with her.

    Although almost everyone acknowledges that these are not “normal times” we are living through, my friend’s list of concerns and causes is politically charged. Every item is hotly debated at the federal, state, and local levels of government…at corporate headquarters…at our kitchen tables…and even among our Church leaders. Politicizing the concept of “normal” has not been especially helpful.

    But, taking the conversation into the spiritual realm should definitely clarify things and eliminate the need for further discussion and debate…at least for good and faith-filled folks.

    The First Reading clearly sets out as Law God’s vision of what is “normal.”

    In God’s mind, it is “normal” to welcome and provide refuge to strangers.

    According to Divine purpose, “normal” involves social programs that ensure that the basic needs of all people are met.

    God’s Law…LAW, not SUGGESTION, mandates fair and honest business practices.

    However, fully aware of our tendency to question, argue, and debate, Jesus simplifies it for us: In the eyes of God, “normal” means unconditional love for God and for one another. All other laws shelter under the umbrella of unconditional love.

    Perfect love leaves no room for questions, arguments, exceptions to the rule, or debates. With God, “normal” is a state of perfect and unbroken love. That is The Law.

    When will we ever find “normal” again? Not until Jesus returns in glory. Only then will those who dwell in this world be able to experience what our Creator, from the beginning, intended as “normal”…A NORMAL STATE WHERE THERE IS ONLY LOVE!

    In the meantime, it is the obligation of all people of faith to work together in order to make things as NORMAL AS POSSIBLE…by welcoming strangers…caring for those in need…and demanding justice for all.

    If we want to be as “normal as possible” while we wait for Jesus to return, we MUST love one another. It is beyond discussion and debate.

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