Journal Archive 2021 CYCLE B

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First Sunday of Advent
MK 13:33-37
November 29, 2020

I am longing for the day when I can spend some time with God talking about something other than the pandemic.

And I really thought that day might be today…the first Sunday of Advent. After all, this is the first season of a new liturgical year.

And it’s a season of hope!

Advent is the season of “hope fulfilled” by the birth of Jesus Christ…as well as hope for the future as we wait patiently….and prepare joyfully…for the Lord’s return in glory.

But, as soon as I opened the readings for this first Sunday of this brilliant season of excitement and preparation…you guessed it…I started thinking about Covid.

It happened this way.

In reading the Old Testament passage from Isaiah that describes a distracted people wandering away from God…preoccupied by their own thoughts and desires…doing their own thing. Maybe they were just tired of waiting for God to act.

Whatever.

The fact is, the first reading is about people leaving their safety zone, putting distance between them and God, oblivious as to how reckless and dangerous their behavior is.

Well, as I pondered that profile of the disappointing side of human nature, I began to think about the repeated warnings …not from Old Testament prophets, but from modern day medical experts, cautioning Americans to be responsible….and limit travel…and the size of gatherings…as we celebrate Thanksgiving.

Several times, I heard the public service address: A Zoom Thanksgiving is a lot better than an ICU Christmas!

But it seems that many people disregarded the warnings…preoccupied by the very understandable desire to celebrate with loved ones…tired of waiting for a vaccine…anxious to do as they want, not as they were being “cautioned.” Many left their safety zones and traveled to holiday gatherings in spite of the risks, disregarding the potential danger to themselves and to others.

As a result, hospitals are talking about the wave of sick folks they expect between now and Christmas. Instead of getting ready for the holidays, medical personnel are getting ready for a tsunami of critically ill patients blasting through the doors of emergency rooms all around the United States.

The preparations they are making include something hospital administrators call “Crisis standard of care.” That means those patients who have the greatest possibility of recovery will be cared for first and given the most attention. Patients who appear to be “hopeless” will receive less of the precious and increasingly scarce resources.

Now, if you happen to be someone who was a little less cautious in your Thanksgiving celebration, these thoughts I’m sharing aren’t intended to criticize you, to make you feel guilty, or to frighten you. I share them only as a reminder to everyone of how relevant sacred scripture is to every day and age…especially in challenging, even dangerous times like we are living through right now.

Isaiah paints a picture of folks living thousands of years ago. But, if you look closely, we can see ourselves in that picture, which is a profile of disappointing human characteristics.

But don’t linger with the first reading. Move on to the Epistle and the Gospel.

The New Testament message is as timely and relevant to us in this challenging year as it was to the early Christians.
Think of it this way: God is totally aware of the fact that part of our human nature often “disappoints.”

Our Creator knows full well that we are…and have always been…easily distracted…preoccupied by our own thoughts and desires that cause us to distance ourselves from God’s will and God’s ways…doing our own thing.

From the very beginning of time, God has watched as we recklessly wander out of the safety zone and into darkness and danger.

So, God sent Jesus into this world to initiate a “crisis standard of care” in order to heal us from all the self-inflicted wounds we suffer by allowing that “disappointing part” of human nature to take control over our lives.

The grace and peace which Jesus offers heals us and helps to protect us from further injury. Best of all, it is available to everyone without limit, especially those who are at highest risk. Those who appear to have the worst chance of survival are not overlooked.

And therein lies our reason for hope!

The grace and peace of Jesus Christ that came into this world at Christmas protects us from harm…and heals us when we do fall victim to that “disappointing part” of human nature.

So, it would appear that while there are many things to speak to God about, in fact, it is a very good thing to bring our grave concerns about the pandemic to reflection and prayer, because the Living Word of God brings grace and peace, healing and protection.

Second Sunday of Advent
MK 1:1-8
December 6, 2020

In order to enjoy a little bit of relief from the overwhelming stress of the past several months, this year, many folks put up their Christmas trees even before Thanksgiving. Retailers report that holiday decorations have been selling almost as quickly as paper products! That tells us something! People are yearning for joy, and, apparently, are finding it in colored lights. They have rushed the season, eager to push back against the anxiety from which many suffer.

There is no shortage of advice as to how we can find relief through massive doses of “Christmas spirit” without the customary parties and other social activities. Lots of psychologists, counselors, and social workers have weighed in on TV, in magazines, and through social media with a variety of suggestions intended to “make the season bright.”

In a sense, they are heeding the message of the true Advent specialist…John the Baptist. They are proposing various ways to PREPARE. However, what they offer is not a straight path but an expressway that carries those who enter it on a fast track through time. The downside is that, upon exiting, those who take this route will find themselves back in a dark neighborhood of anxiety, stress, and boredom. Even worse, the expressway through Advent bypasses the extraordinary spiritual scenery of this season of joy and hope.

That being said, rather than simply dismissing these various secular suggestions, I wonder if we can convert them, ”baptize” them, so to speak. For example, the recommendation common among all experts is to shop and ship early. This is certainly compatible with our Second Reading which counsels against “delay.” Although the passage stresses God’s patience with human frailty, still, we are reminded that our time in this world is fleeting. Procrastination often leads to frantic, last-minute rushing around that can result in disappointment. If we take full advantage of the four weeks of the Advent Season, then we will feel much more PREPARED to welcome Christ at Christmas.

A suggestion that will serve folks in places like Florida and California better than northerners is to make an extra effort to decorate the outside of our homes, so that we can gather and celebrate safely and festively out of doors. This might be a suggestion that is a little more difficult to “convert.”

Rather than directing our attention to what is outside, our Advent expert…John the Baptist…sends us to our interior selves. Christians do their most satisfying rejoicing quietly and calmly and privately. We first prepare our hearts through repentance and then decorate with faithful hope and joyful expectation. It is within us that we welcome and celebrate Christ in the most meaningful and satisfying way.

This year, public health and safety makes it necessary to forego many traditions that have become “sacred.” The proposed solution is to prioritize, and to make the most of ways we can mark the holiday season without fear of becoming infected with the virus.

By way of example, Advent calendars are being touted as a way of building and maintaining the holiday spirit as the big day approaches. The concept involves concealing a daily treat, suggestion for a safe family activity, or a recipe, behind each little door. Some stores are even featuring wine Advent calendars with a different sampling for each day of Advent.

This suggestion is very much the opposite of what was previously suggested. Rather than “baptizing” what is secular, what we see here is an effort to make the sacred profane.

Christians use Advent calendars as a means of moving deeper into the sacred mystery of the Incarnation. Each day, a passage from Scripture is revealed, inspiring us to look inward and prepare to celebrate in the most meaningful way God’s Self-revelation through the birth of Jesus Christ.

So then, as we enter this second week of the Advent Season, consider that while colored lights might well bring a bit of fleeting holiday spirit, the Light of Christ brings ETERNAL salvation. Follow the path illuminated by Christ. It will lead you to eternal joy. Resist the secular temptation to bypass the extraordinary Advent Season. Savor the brilliant, spiritual scenery of this season of joy and hope.

Third Sunday of Advent
JN 1:6-8, 19-28
December 13, 2020

I got a new car last week. It was a bit of a surprise…although it really shouldn’t have been. The three-year lease on the vehicle I had been driving was coming to an end. Still…there was just a little more than a month left on it…so I wasn’t planning on making a change last week.

But…I am blessed to have good friends in the business…who are always keeping an eye out for me. I was alerted to a “year-end deal.” I had just enough time to shovel out all of the junk that had been accumulating in my old car over the past three years…and…within 24 hours…I was driving around in a brand new automobile.

Each and every time in the past that I’ve driven off the lot for the first time in a new car, I experienced a feeling of excitement that made me almost forget the car payment to which I’d just committed.

The smell of a new car…you can’t really describe it…but it’s hard to beat. It’s close to intoxicating. Exploring the beefed up options…getting used to the feel of the vehicle as you break it in…is empowering.

And then there are all the plans and possibilities…Who am I going to show first? Where am I going to travel to?

There is an inexplicable feeling of newfound freedom when you merge onto the expressway and put the vehicle through its paces for the first time.

What a rush!

But this time…not so much…not so much. This time…all of those “new car” feelings seemed to be missing.

So what changed?

I gave that a good deal of thought and realized that I was shocked by how quickly three years had passed.

After only three years…I felt like I was still driving a “new car.” I wasn’t ready to make a change. It was jarring for me to think about how rapidly the months had passed. That realization was coupled with a sense of lost opportunity.

For a good portion of this past year, because of the pandemic, my “old” car just sat in the garage…not moving…not going anywhere. And finally, there was the sobering thought that I have come to the age when this “new car” could well be my last…or next to last.

At this point, I would imagine that you are thinking: That boy needs an antidepressant!

Well, the fact is…these feelings and thoughts I am sharing are a way of coming to appreciate the dose of reality that the season of Advent is intended to inject into this time of spiritual preparation.

Our readings throughout Advent remind us about how fleeting time is…and…how quickly it passes…almost without notice.

Underlying this rather sobering message that we really can’t control the passage of time, is the reminder that our earthly bodies are only “on loan” to us. We don’t own them. We simply travel through our earthly lives within them. And since our use of these earthly bodies is limited…we should take full advantage of them. We should jump at every opportunity to do good, and steer clear of evil.

Throughout the Advent season, in one way or another, the scripture passages we’re given prepare us to properly celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ…to remind us of the sense of total freedom we enjoy when we travel the path we are placed on at baptism…always using the Gospel as our compass.

The Advent message is simple and clear when we take the time to really listen. If we live as children of the light, we live without fear of being surprised by “the end of our lease.”

And here’s the phenomenally good news: Arriving at our final destination, we are surprised! For those faithful to the Gospel, an eternally joyful surprise is waiting.

There are two weeks of advent left. Travel safe…travel with Christ…travel in peace! Amen.

Fourth Sunday of Advent
LK 1:26-38
December 20, 2020

Stargazers have been looking forward to the evening of December 21, 2020, for quite some time. Astronomers have determined that we can expect a stunning celestial event on what happens to be the longest night of the year. Our solar system’s two largest planets, Jupiter and Saturn, will align so closely to one another that their light will blend. From planet Earth, these two separate heavenly bodies will appear as one very brilliant star. Scientists call this “THE GREAT CONJUNCTION.”

They apparently display a “lesser” conjunction, every 20 years, as their orbits lessen the distance between them. But what will happen this coming Monday evening is extremely rare and will not occur again until March 15, 2080. The last time stargazers enjoyed a GREAT CONJUNCTION of Jupiter and Saturn was March 4, 1226. So, those of us alive today, regardless of where we happen to be on planet Earth this Monday night, will be privileged to witness an exceptional event…provided that our view is not obstructed by clouds.

It’s interesting to note that some astronomers speculate that the “Christmas Star” that inspired the shepherds and guided the Maji was actually a ”TRIPLE CONJUNCTION” resulting from the alignment of Jupiter, Saturn, and Venus.

What is beyond speculation, but will never be repeated, is the GREATEST CONJUNCTION…THE INFINITE CONJUNCTION described in today’s Gospel. The Holy Spirit aligned so perfectly with a young and faith-filled woman, that she was impregnated by The Divine. Nine months later, the brilliant Light of this INFINITE CONJUNCTION broke into our earthly reality when Mary gave birth to The Son of God…The Christ Child. And so, once and for all, The Light of Christ dispelled the darkness of sin that obstructed creation’s view of The Creator.

While this perfect alignment of The Divine and human happened in time, occurring only once in history, there is a timelessness about it. The Light of Christ is infinite. Regardless of when someone might be alive here, on planet earth, or where they might be, the Light of Christ illuminates and the way of all wise enough to follow. St. Paul expresses it this way in our Second Reading:

…made known to all nations to bring about the obedience of faith

In fact, it was the perfect “obedience of faith” of The Blessed Mother that made THE INFINITE CONJUNCTION possible. Her unconditional and unwavering trust in God’s love enabled her to utter the word that brought The Divine and the human into perfect alignment. Mary said YES! to the invitation brought by the angel Gabriel. And with that simple word…YES!…The Word became flesh to dwell among us.

There will never be another INFINITE CONJUNCTION. There is no need. God accomplished the Divine purpose…the salvation of the world…through Mary’s YES! But, it is critical to know that every time we echo that simple word of faith-filled acceptance of God’s will and God’s ways, there is a “lesser conjunction.” When we follow the path illuminated by The Christ Light…our orbit lessens the distance between us and God.

When we do our best to live the Gospel, we align ourselves with Christ, and our flicker of earthly light blends with THE ETERNAL LIGHT, and two separate bodies, our flesh and blood and The Holy Spirit, appear as one.

During this final week of Advent, let’s commit to “making the season bright” with The Light of Christ.

Dear Friends of the Sunday Journal,
Our Sister Laurene is in the process of dying. She is 92 and ready to be welcomed into the arms of her beloved Creator. She knows God is waiting and wanting her. We ask you to pray with us as she aligns her transition to God with the Eternal Light of Christ.
Your Sisters of St. Clare

The Holy Family
LK 2:22-40
December 27, 2020

Our Christmas liturgies carry our minds and hearts through time and space. The Readings we hear transport Christians around the world out of our parish churches to a dark field on the outskirts of an impoverished little village, where, in spite of the late hour, we are almost blinded by the light of a brilliant star that we’ve never seen before. Oblivious to the sounds and smells of the herd of sheep pressing against our legs, we become spellbound by angelic voices, singing so beautifully that we are overwhelmed with joy.

Following the directions of these visitors from heaven, we find ourselves moving, drawn with a sense of urgency toward something in the distance. We arrive at a stable filled with livestock, standing calmly around a manger that appears to be glowing. We look down and see a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and nestled in fresh straw. The child’s parents stand guard on either side of Him. The look on their faces is a mixture of fatigue and pure love.

We feel a touch on our shoulders, pushing us gently to our knees. Somehow, we know that we are on Holy ground, privileged to be invited to witness something miraculous…something sacred. And we do the only thing that seems right. We pray.

We pray with an intensity that we aren’t accustomed to. We pray without asking for anything. Our prayers spring up from deep inside of us. And, no matter what else is happening in our lives, we feel at peace. We are filled with joy, so much so that we wish we could stay in the moment. If only we could always feel this way. We ask ourselves: “Why can’t every day be like this? Why can’t everyday be Christmas?”

Then we hear those words that break the spell: “Our Mass has ended…Go in PEACE!” And that gentle touch returns, only this time to lift us up, turning us towards the doors of our parish church. We carry all of those wonderful feelings we have just experienced to our cars, and we head home.

For some, this special Christmas Peace lingers for hours…days…maybe even for weeks. For others, it disappears the moment we turn the key in the lock and open the door to our home and family.

And so, fast on the heels of our celebration of the Birth of Jesus Christ, the Church gives us The Feast of The Holy Family. Just like Christmas…The Liturgy of The Word that unfolds during the Mass celebrating The Holy Family also serves to transport us out of our parish churches. But, today, our journey through space and time is very brief…just a matter of a few miles and a few minutes.

As we hear God’s Word proclaimed…our minds travel from our church to our homes and our families. During this liturgy, we are given a shocking dose of reality. We can’t help but compare our relationship with spouses, parents, children, and siblings with what we hear proclaimed from The Table of The Word. We size up our family life and compare what we see to how we imagine that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph…The Holy Family…lived, once they returned to normal, day-to-day life. They set the bar so high that we inevitably feel that we have fallen short. It occurs to us that for them…Jesus, Mary, and Joseph…

EVERY DAY WAS LIKE CHRISTMAS!

In fact, we know precious little about the day-to-day life of The Holy Family. Their home life is shrouded in sacred mystery. The few details that the Gospels do offer fuel our imaginations. But, when we do imagine life within this earthly home that GOD prepared specially for His only Son, we tend to do what we do at Christmas; we romanticize and dramatize. We risk forgetting what Simeon, inspired by The Holy Spirit, said to The Blessed Mother:

This child will be a sign that will be contradicted-and you, yourself, a sword will pierce!

We don’t know many details about how this family lived, but we can be certain of this much: For them…just like for us…not every day was Christmas. They faced and struggled with the very same challenges that many families deal with today.

They were forced to flee threats of violence. They were a refugee family. That meant that they dealt with things like food scarcity and the tragedy of being homeless. They even had to pay taxes.

Life for them was not always “Christmas!”

We can only imagine how they coped. Today’s Gospel, however, reveals this important detail to help us to “keep it real.” The Holy Family was always faithful to God’s Law and was always inspired and guided by God’s messages delivered by the Prophets. With this as their foundation, they met every adversity with hope in God’s infinite mercy and unconditional love.

They that hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar on eagles’ wings; they will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint. (Isaiah 40:31)

Our hearts might well wish it, but our heads know that every day cannot be like Christmas. Our family lives, often the source of our greatest joy, for any number of reasons, can very quickly become the cause of our greatest pain. But, inspired by the Holy Family, we can be certain of this: If we place our hope in the Lord, our strength will be renewed…and we can run and not grow weary…until the day when we do soar like eagles.

With all the ups and downs of family life, it’s important for us to remember that our family homes are holy ground…because God has specially prepared them for us.

The Epiphany of the Lord
Mt 2:1-12
January 3, 2021

Most people…whether or not they are “believers”…Christian and non-Christian alike…are at least familiar with the search of the Three Magi.

The search began in their homes…as they read ancient prophesies and studied the night skies. Then, having seen the sign they were waiting for, they left the comfort of what was familiar to them and embarked on a dangerous journey to parts unknown.

Over the centuries, as we hear, reflect on and pray with this beautiful last chapter of the Christmas story, we have come to understand that it describes a cosmic confrontation between good and evil.

The contrast between the three seekers and Herod is a reminder to us that, eventually, darkness is overpowered by light. Still, we must always remain vigilant because sin is stealthy and deceitful, always looking for opportunities to misguide and misdirect us.

Once these three mysterious figures encounter what they have been longing to find, they humble themselves. Kneeling before an infant in a manger, they are humbling themselves before an all-powerful God, who has humbled the Divine Self to the point of taking on an earthly body. Through this feast of the Epiphany, we are also reminded of the Christmas announcement of the angel…

I proclaim to you news of great joy that will be for…all…people!

Through these final events unfolding in the manger, the universal gift of the Christ child is reaffirmed. Jesus was sent for the salvation of the whole world.

There was an exchange of gifts. God gifted humankind with the Christ child. In return, humanity, through our three wise and courageous representatives, presented Jesus with gifts of gold, incense, and myrrh. We have grown to understand these gifts are symbolic of the Child’s royalty, divinity, and inevitable suffering and death.

So then, most are familiar with the story. Many understand the messages. The question that remains is whether we accept the challenges.

Are we willing to pay the tribute of our time, talent, and treasure to Christ our King? These are the gifts needed to ensure that the good news first announced in a shepherd’s field will continue to be broadcast to all people.

Will we accept the obligation to stand humbly before our good and loving God, offering our thanks and praise?

Can we accept our sufferings and even the reality of death, appreciating that Jesus willingly accepted suffering and death so that we might live in eternal light?

God has gifted us with salvation. It is only right and just that we gift God with our offerings of gold, incense, and myrrh.

The Baptism of the Lord
Mk 1:7-11
January 10, 2021

Wednesday, January 6, 2021, I re-experienced a wave of emotions that I had prayed never to suffer through again.

As I watched in real-time, mob violence unleashed on the Capitol of the United States of America, I felt the very same ache, deep in my heart, that hit me on September 11, 2001. Now, as back then, I am acutely aware of the cause of my distress. Hatred!

I think possibly the worst pain hit early in the siege. To the right/center of my television screen, in the middle of the mob storming the front doors of the Capitol, on view for the entire world to see, someone was holding up a large yellow placard with black lettering. The message was simple:

“Jesus saves!”

Throughout the day-long ordeal, other Christian symbols were visible. But, it was that big, yellow sign that someone had made on their kitchen table, or in their garage at home, that pierced my heart.

“Jesus saves!”

When our nation’s elected leaders were finally able to resume their duties, speeches were made. From both sides of the aisle, elected officials denounced what was repeatedly referred to as a desecration. I believe that a very egregious desecration (that might otherwise go unmentioned) was the use of the Holy Name on that yellow sign.

While the motive of the person carrying that sign is unclear, this much is certain: At his baptism in the Jordan, a voice from heaven introduced Jesus as God’s beloved Son…in whom God is well pleased. For that reason alone,

At the name of Jesus, every knee should bend. (Phil. 1:10)

No knees bent as the lawless mob moved forward, carrying that yellow sign with it.

We mark the conclusion of this Christmas season with the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord. It would behoove all Christians to consider that, among the many things that God the Father found pleasing about God the Son is the peace that Jesus has brought into the world. Peace is the Lord’s great gift to the world. “Peace” is exactly how…

“Jesus saves!”

This is also a good time for us to renew our own baptismal vows, recommitting to sharing the peace of Christ. This is a good time to reflect on what God expects of us, who have been privileged to share in the Lord’s Baptism.

We are called to overpower hate with love.

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jn 1:35-42
January 17, 2021

I remember being confused about the difference between “Apostles” and “disciples.” What I can’t recall is who I consulted for clarification. It was either my mother, grandmother, or teacher in the Catholic elementary school I attended. Even back then, I tended to check my sources, so I suspect that all three weighed in.

In any event, early on and based on what I was taught, I formed the impression that Apostles were the VIPs — which, of course, they were! But, by contrast, I somehow came to see disciples as little more than groupies. In my mind, disciples were merely the spectators viewing the life and ministry of Jesus from the bleacher seats. In fact, I carried that image well into my adult years.

This might seem a naive or childish view, but, before Vatican II explored the role of the laity in the work of salvation, the job description for “discipleship” tended to be limited to PRAY…PAY…AND OBEY! Certainly, all three elements are important parts of Christian discipleship. But we have grown into an appreciation for the rights and privileges, as well as the duties and obligations, of disciples.

Obviously, the Apostles were in a league of their own; nevertheless, the original disciples were far more than spectators. Those who remained faithful to the Lord enjoyed an intimate relationship with Him. They patterned their life after His example. They also shared what they learned and experienced, calling forward subsequent generations of disciples of Jesus Christ.

The fact is all Baptized are disciples. By virtue of Baptism, all disciples should see themselves as VIPs. We are not merely spectators, but we are each actively involved in passing on what has been given to us. Through Scripture, our Sacraments, and our traditions, we can get up close and personal with Jesus Christ.

But this great privilege brings with it a great responsibility. Discipleship involves the obligation of passing on our faith. We are, indeed, VIPs…very important people to the work of salvation.

Returning to Ordinary Time this Sunday, we look forward to a long season of listening to Jesus teach and preach and observing His miracle-making. Appreciating that we, as students, must, in turn, become teachers, should inspire us to be more attentive to the experience of Ordinary Time.

We begin this great adventure with a cautionary lesson. Our First Reading reminds us of the importance of “checking our sources.” Almost daily, we are invited to become disciples of someone or something. The “dark web” for example, is full of opportunities to apprentice ourselves to a teacher. But the lessons and experiences offered there are the antithesis of salvific. It is important to question just exactly who it is that is calling to us. Not every voice is of The Spirit.

Our Second Reading reminds us of our frail and vulnerable nature. At the same time, however, there is a note of encouragement. When we fully commit to the work of discipleship, God places within us the power to make a true and lasting contribution to our world. St. Paul stresses our importance. When we appreciate our importance, we tend to behave like VIPs.

Finally, it is important to notice the seamless transfer of power between John and Jesus. John does not try to hold onto his disciples; quite the contrary. John directs their attention to their next step on the path to total enlightenment. He actively passes them over to Christ.

While still “in the body,” we should look for, and take full advantage of, every opportunity to sit with, listen to, learn from, and experience Jesus. These powerful experiences enable us to do the most important work of discipleship…passing on what we have been given.

So, we begin our great adventure through Ordinary Time…keeping in mind we are VIPs with some very important work to do.

Update:
Our Sr. Laurene began her wedding with eternity yesterday, January 16, 2021. Please keep her in your prayers and us as well.
Srs. Dianne and Laura

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mk 1:14-20
January 24, 2021

One person dominates my thoughts as I reflect on today’s Gospel. It isn’t Jesus, Who is obviously the central character in every Gospel story. The importance of His very significant walk along a sea shore; beach combing for Apostles, is certainly of huge importance. Especially so, during these first weeks of Ordinary Time, when there is much to be learned about discipleship. But, it seems Jesus has stepped to the side, directing my attention elsewhere.

Nor am I focused on Peter, Andrew, James or John, who were drawn from their work by a magnetic force way too powerful to resist. Who could possibly say “no” to an invitation delivered by “The Voice” so filled with peace and joy and love?

Whenever, I am working with this particular passage, I often find myself imagining the reaction of the abandoned father and hired hand, left with so much unfinished work. Not so this time.

The same, peaceful, joy filled and loving voice that drew four fishermen from their work, has invited Sr. Laurene Burns, O S.C. “to follow!” Early Saturday morning, January 16, the powerful force of infinite love, drew her spirit from her earthly body, carrying her into the presence of our God, to Whom she had committed, the entirety of her 92 years. And so, all of the other characters in this story of “call” and “acceptance” somehow have faded into the shadows. For me, the spotlight is on Laurene.

Over the years, Laurene honored me by sharing many of the details of her life …a life of service and discipleship. So by reflecting on the story of a disciple I personally knew, I seem to have a better understanding of, and appreciation for, the drama that unfolded on the shore of the Sea of Galilee…many generations of discipleship ago.

Laurene was what we commonly refer to as a “cradle Catholic.” She was born into a devout family. In that sense, I wonder if the very first “call”…the initial invitation “to follow” was spoken even before her birth? Clearly, from the earliest age, she was formed into a “Christian” through the efforts of her parents, family and teachers. But, she quickly learned to listen for herself.

A childhood illness left her bedridden. Possibly those months of solitude helped develop her spiritual listening skills. However it came about, God gifted her with a particularly discerning spirit. She had exceptional hearing, and her ear was always directed toward “The Voice” inviting her “to follow.” She always did.

As I think back on what she shared with me about her journey, it seems that like Peter, Andrew, James and John; she was impulsive in responding to “The Voice.” There must have been times when her family and friends felt like Zebedee, as she simply dropped what she was doing, and moved on. Where is she going? What is she doing now?

But, I think that what might seem impulsive to those left behind, is actually the response to that magnetic force too powerful to resist. Even as those 4 fishermen dropped their nets…and even as Laurene put aside whatever she was about; when discerning spirits hear “The Voice” they enjoy an inner logic. They understand that there is a reason for “the call.” They make a conscious and free decision “to follow.”

There were stops along the way, when Laurene felt that she had finally arrived. She knew the Mt. Tabor kind of experience that Peter naively enjoyed when he said to The Lord…It’s good we’re here…I’ll set up camp so we can stay. There were times and places in her life when Laurene felt settled in.

However, the wisdom of Sirach 24:8 comes to mind: My Creator chose the spot for my tent. In the end, she always understood that her dwelling place was just that…a tent. When she heard “The Voice” whisper: follow me, she broke camp and moved on.

For Peter, Andrew, James and John the journey led to Jerusalem for the ultimate experience of Resurrection. The experience that at last gave meaning to their great adventure with Jesus. Laurene and her 3 traveling companions followed “The Voice” to their monastery on Shattuck Rd. in Saginaw, Michigan. Here, for many years, they have lived the life that “The Voice” first inspired in St. Clare. And now, Christ, Who invited her into a life of discipleship and service, has called her to Himself…into the Eternal life of peace and love.

Reflecting on the story of a disciple who we personally knew, often inspires a deeper understanding of what we, ourselves, are called to. From Laurene Burns, a Sister of St. Clare, I am reminded to keep my ear turned towards “The Voice” and to be willing to move. I am reminded that a life of discipleship, even when lived out in the solitude of a sick room, or within the walls of a monastery, can be the greatest of adventures. And from this Gospel, I am reminded that when we are courageous enough ”to follow” the journey ends in Easter joy.

Update:

Dear Friends,
Some of you may know this and others of you may be hearing this difficult news for the first time. Our Sister Laurene died January 16, 2021 at home with us. We had a private funeral Mass at the funeral home followed by the committal where she was laid to rest in the St. Francis of Assisi section of Mr. Olivet Cemetery in Saginaw, Michigan.

Because of age, high risks and social distancing, we missed hearing your memories of Laurene. Your memories will help ease our sorrow and also give us a chance to comfort one another. Perhaps there will be a time in the future when we can come together and celebrate the gift of Laurene’s life. Until then we hold these memories in safe keeping.
Sisters Dianne and Laura

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mk 1:21-28
January 31, 2021

St. Paul’s opening words in our Second Reading are pleasant enough.

I would like you to be free of anxieties.

I would like that as well. Who wouldn’t? But these days, who can be?

Among the numerous things that cause us anxiety are the tragic events of 1/6/2021. That day is like a bad dream from which we can’t seem to wake up. The image of the domestic attack on our nation’s capital is an inescapable memory, constantly reinforced by the news…wherever or however or from whomever you get your news. Moreover, the core issue is causing anxiety in countries all around the world. At the heart of all this civil unrest is the question of “who will lead us?”

This political crisis is certainly not new, nor is it restricted to civil governance. The dilemma of placing power and authority into the “right hands” is at issue in businesses, social organizations, families…even within our Church. The Readings for this 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time offer the perfect model for the resolution of any power struggle.

In the passage from Deuteronomy, we find the Israelites dealing with a roaring case of national anxiety rooted in the need for leadership. Anticipating the day when Moses would turn over authority to a successor, Israel recognized that, to wield power properly, a leader’s skillset must include the ability to make God’s will and God’s ways known. The people prayed for someone to govern them who would have the strength and wisdom to direct the nation on a course pleasing to God.

In fact, God was quite pleased with the wisdom and spiritual maturity the people demonstrated. And so, God promised a powerful leader who would govern the people in truth. This promise was kept. Moses watched from a distance as the new leader led the Chosen People into the Promised Land.

But God’s promise reached well beyond Israel’s immediate need…responding to the needs of all humankind…every people in every nation throughout history. Which brings us to our Gospel.

Mark describes how, what was foretold generations before, came to pass in a synagogue on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. What we have in this brief exchange between Jesus and a man caught up in darkness is a power struggle. Darkness challenges The Light of Christ and The Light prevails. It is a power struggle that will continue until Christ returns in glory, leading creation into the Reign of God. Then, evil will totally surrender.

However, while we wait, darkness will continue to challenge The Light. Hate will challenge Love. Selfishness will challenge Mercy. Violence will challenge Peace. Revenge will challenge Forgiveness. Lies will challenge The Truth. Death will challenge Life.

The tragic reality of sin, however, should not be a cause for anxiety. By facing off against and driving out darkness on that Sabbath so long ago, Jesus established Himself as the Supreme Authority. The Lord is God’s promise fulfilled.

We aren’t going to be able to escape power struggles. They are part of our earthly reality. While we exist in time, waiting for Christ’s time will be challenges to the Gospel. But our faith assures us that the Holy Spirit will lead us out of darkness. For that reason, when anxiety challenges peace…we know that in the end…peace will prevail…because Christ is Peace! And Christ never loses.

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mk 1:29-39
February 7, 2021

There was a game show that was quite popular between 1952 and 1967 called “I’ve Got a Secret.” Some unknown person would “sign in” on a chalkboard and then whisper their secret into the ear of the host, while a panel of four looked on. The “secret” would then be revealed to the audience at home.

The panelists were given 30 seconds each to ask the person questions in an effort to guess the secret. There was a sense of urgency to the game. The clock was ticking. The guest would respond either “yes” or “no,” earning a mere $20.00 for each “no.” If the secret was intact by the end of the “cross- examination,” the contestant would win the staggering sum of $80.00.

There is a twist unique to Mark’s Gospel that brings that little game show to mind. JESUS HAD A SECRET! Scripture scholars refer to it as the MESSIANIC SECRET. Repeatedly, after each great miracle, Jesus would caution the witnesses to “not tell anyone!”

In this Sunday’s passage, The Lord does not permit the demons He exorcised to speak (because they knew His secret). But there is not the customary gag order on the witnesses. Instead, He protected His Secret after doing miraculous deeds from Peter’s front porch by quietly slipping away.

Biblical scholars propose a number of reasons why Jesus tried to keep His identity as The Messiah concealed. Each is thought provoking. As you listen to Mark’s account of The Lord’s mission and ministry unfold over the coming liturgical year, try to make a guess yourself. But, as we approach the First Sunday in Lent, it might be worthwhile to play the game.

Sign in, please!

Are you loving and forgiving?

Do you put the needs of others before your own?
Are you welcoming to strangers?

Are you truthful?

Do you love the Lord your God with your whole heart…your whole mind…and your whole soul?

Do you love your neighbor as yourself?

After Peter’s mother was healed, she began to serve. Through Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist, we are healed. And, as disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called to serve. Our service is in living the Gospel. There is an urgency to our work. The clock is indeed ticking.

When time is up…at the end your life…will your secret still be safe? Will you win the $80.00? Will people have guessed by the way you have lived your life that you are a disciple of Jesus Christ? In that case, even though your secret has been revealed, you will have won Eternal Life.

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mk 1:40-45
February 14, 2021

It’s going on two years since my mother died. Certainly, like myself, my family, and her close friends…especially those who showed her so much love and care during her last years here on earth…miss her. Even at my age…it’s possible to feel orphaned.

Nevertheless, over the past several months, everyone who knew and cared about her have, on more than one occasion, expressed their gratitude and relief that Mom escaped the reality of being confined in a nursing home during a pandemic.

For me, those feelings of relief were strongly affirmed as I listened to an interview of a young priest from the Archdiocese of Chicago. Fr. Michael Trail was only three years ordained when it became clear that Covid-19 was serious to the point that drastic measures would be necessary to try to slow the spread of the virus…actually, extreme measures…very much like the kind of dramatic precautions described in our First Reading, intended to stop the spread of leprosy.

So, Fr. Trail volunteered to serve on what is referred to as the Covid Sacramental Task Force. This is an elite group of priests…trained, equipped, and authorized to go into hospitals and other residential care facilities to anoint the sick, many of whom are actively dying.

As he shared his experience of bringing the Sacraments to people in isolation, he offered an image of what our elderly sisters and brothers, those quarantined in care facilities, and especially those infected and hospitalized are experiencing.

The sense of loneliness…the feelings of abandonment…the overwhelming loss of freedom…and total dependance on the charity of strangers.

The loss of dignity.

For many, the realization that they are facing death without the comfort of family at their beside; and, for most, the completely debilitating spiritual ailment of fear and hopelessness.

Here in Saginaw, two of our younger priests made the same commitment…and continue to take the same risks and tell the same kinds of stories. These men have given life…and meaning…to St. Paul’s words that conclude our Second Reading today.

They are imitators of Christ.

It is an easy jump from this week’s readings to the pandemic the world has been struggling with for over a year. And hopefully, hearing our readings proclaimed, and listening to stories about the heroic ministry of those priests…not to mention the stories of doctors, nurses, First Responders, and health care providers, we are inspired to somehow imitate Christ by reaching out to those who…for whatever reason….are lonely or feeling abandoned.

You see, a person doesn’t have to be infected with leprosy…or Covid…in order to find themselves dependent on others. There are any number of things that can cause a human being to experience the loss of dignity, leaving them full of fear and hopelessness.

People need help and healing for all kinds of reasons. Tragically, they are often overlooked, or, shamefully, very often, they are pushed to the side…marginalized…shunned…or quarantined.

That’s exactly where discipleship comes into play. Followers of Jesus Christ are expected to be imitators of Jesus Christ. And you don’t need special training or protective clothing and equipment to imitate Christ. All you need are the graces that inspire the compassion and courage Jesus showed in healing the leper.

With the help of God’s grace, we are empowered to break down whatever barrier has folks isolated when they are in greatest need.

Lent is almost here. This is the time when we are called to make an extra effort to be faithful disciples through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving by reflecting on these readings and listening to the countless stories of selfless courage of men and women who are imitating Christ by extending healing hands to those afflicted.

I am left to wonder if the lesson to be learned from yet another “Covid Lent” is that, besides “giving something up” (which is certainly a worthy Lenten practice) we are called to “give.” Our readings certainly inspire us to “give healing” to those who might otherwise be left behind.

We are literally surrounded by human suffering. If you desire, you can reach out and touch them, and offer them relief. If you desire, you can somehow, some way, be imitators of Christ.

So here is the challenge: The coming 40 days of Lent are a little like…or at least they should be…a desert place. Desert because during Lent, we should try to step away from all the things of our ordinary lives that distract us from discipleship.

So, let’s follow Jesus’s example and escape to a desert state of mind….and wait. People in need of healing will come to us. And because we are leaving everyday distractions behind, we’ll notice them…and be moved in compassion.

If we desire, we can bring them relief.

First Sunday of Lent
MK 1:12-15
February 21, 2021

Anticipating Ash Wednesday and Lent 2021, a friend commented that she “always cries during the Good Friday Services.” There is no doubt that The Passion of The Lord is the most tragic episode in human history. The reality of what happened that first Good Friday should move us all to tears. But then, the whole of the Lenten season is quite somber. At its core, it is very much a death watch. We know that Lent ends on Calvary. Why wouldn’t we cry every day for 40 days?

But then, we enter this second “Covid Lent” with hearts already made heavy by living with the daily fears and frustrations brought on by the pandemic. There has already been a deluge of tears. We really do need a break in the clouds. We need some relief from all the sadness that has filled the past months…and we need it now! Odd as it might seem, just possibly, this season of penance and reconciliation might offer us that much needed relief.

We all know that Lent is the season of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. On its face, there is nothing cheery about that. But Pope Francis suggests approaching these acts with a positive attitude might bring a lighter tone to Lent without losing the solemnity of the Season.   

In a homily he once delivered on the First Sunday of Lent, the Holy Father counsels: Lent is a time of repentance, yes, but it is not a time of sorrow! He goes on to say: It is a joyous and serious commitment to strip ourselves of our selfishness…and to renew ourselves according to the grace of our Baptism. 

As I understand Pope Francis, he is suggesting that we might look at the Lenten Season not so much as a “death watch” but rather as a LIFE WATCH. This is not to suggest that we abandon “The Way of The Cross.” Still, we should not be so overwhelmed by sadness that we fail to notice great victories The Lord won all along “The Way.” Each victory points towards the ultimate victory of The Resurrection and enables us to keep moving towards Easter…with hope. Each victory invites our participation. As we begin to celebrate our own “little wins,” we begin to FIND JOY IN LENT!

The first challenge is in the desert. As spectators, we watch The Lord resist and reject Satan…and all his works…and all his empty promises. As combatants, we face off against our own temptations. With the help of God’s grace, we can get control over our appetites, push back against destructive ambitions and overpower unhealthy pride. With the help of God’s grace, we can win. Our “little victories” increase our hope and enable us to FIND JOY IN LENT!

Pope Francis explains it: Only God gives us true happiness. It is useless to waste our time seeking it elsewhere, in wealth, in pleasure, in powers, in a career.  

This second “Covid Lent” finds many short on hope. More than ever, this is definitely a time when we need to chalk up some victories…and the joy that comes with winning.  

A final thought of Pope Francis: In these times of trouble, when everything seems fragile and uncertain, it may appear challenging to speak of hope. Yet, Lent is precisely the season of hope, when we turn back to God who patiently continues to care for us!

A final thought from me: Beat Satan and FIND JOY IN LENT! CELEBRATE THIS LENT AS A “LIFE WATCH

Second Sunday of Lent
Mk 9:2-10
February 28, 2021

I am by no means a fan. However, when insomnia hits, I’ve been known to watch one of the late-night talk shows.

Well, insomnia hit last week, and I ended up watching Stephen Colbert virtually interview Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, and George Clooney. It was the same with each of the three guests, who were sitting in front of a computer screen in their own homes. After a little small talk, Colbert explained that he had put together a series of questions that he was going to ask each “movie star” so that the audience could get to know them better.

Not exactly a high priority for me…getting to know these people better…but as I said…I had insomnia.

Hanks was first up. He worked his way through several pretty silly questions. In case you’re interested (I was not), he prefers oranges over apples. His favorite sandwich is ham on rye. His favorite smell is a fresh baked apple pie. And, it went on like that.

As I was reaching for the remote to check out Jimmy Fallon, Colbert said: Last question! What happens when we die?

I froze. And it sure looked to me like Tom Hanks did as well. He appeared to be totally blindsided by such a serious issue at the end of a list of pretty silly questions. He tried to laugh it off. But, when he realized that Colbert wasn’t joking and was waiting for a response, Hanks began to look uncomfortable, maybe even embarrassed. He hemmed and hawed…and finally gave a very shallow…very disappointing answer. I was embarrassed for him.

But now I was hooked. I wanted to hear how Meryl Streep would answer that last BIG question.

When Colbert finally got to it and said: Last question! What happens when we die? She didn’t miss a beat. She seemed almost excited to share her beliefs. There was joy in her voice when she replied: Oh! We are reunited with all the people we love who have already died. And then, together, we do what we can to help our loved ones who we’ve left behind.

I was so impressed. Whether she knew it or not, her answer described what we Catholics refer to as “The Communion of Saints.”

George Clooney was the final guest of the evening. When Colbert asked him: What happens when we die? Clooney got a very thoughtful look on his face. He stared right into the camera, and in a very serious tone of voice he said: You know Stephen, like yourself, I was raised Catholic. Over the years, I somehow got away from all of that.

On national TV, he basically confessed to having lost his faith. But then he went on to say: Now that I’m getting older, I’m renegotiating things. It’s under negotiation.

I think what he was trying to say is this: I don’t know what happens when we die…but now that my own death is getting closer… I’m reaching back to what I was taught, what I believed to be true, trying to figure it all out.

Now, if you happen to be thinking, “Who cares?” Who cares what three Hollywood celebrities think about the spiritual life? What do they know? They aren’t theologians. Well, then, you’re probably thinking the same sort of thoughts that many of the people of Jerusalem felt after Easter Sunday.

When Peter, James, and John…poor, uneducated fishermen from the backwoods area of Galilee, began to proclaim The Resurrection, many folks probably just shook their heads and walked away, muttering…What do you know? Who cares what you think?

I can tell you this much: The Late Show did not help with my insomnia. When I turned off the television and went to bed, I tossed and turned for a couple more hours, doing exactly what the three Apostles did, as they walked down from the mountaintop. I laid awake, questioning what “rising from the dead” means.

And while I was tossing and turning, it occurred to me that those three celebrities had given me some very interesting insights into this Sunday’s Gospel. I really didn’t have any interest in getting to know them better. But, through their answers to that last BIG QUESTION, I feel like I got to know Peter, James, and John just a little bit better.

Tom Hanks helped me to better appreciate Peter’s reaction to The Transfiguration of the Lord. Peter was taken totally off guard by the preview of the “afterlife,” which he was privileged to witness. Like the movie star, the Apostle “hardly knew what to say.” They were both made giddy by the reality they were confronted with LIFE AFTER DEATH…THE ULTIMATE REALITY. Their responses were equally embarrassing and inappropriate.

George Clooney reminded me of the somber, quiet walk down the mountain. James and John were terrified as they watched Jesus break through to the “other side.” They didn’t know what to make of it. And, as they came back down the mountain, they began to struggle with the last BIG QUESTION: What happens when we die? WHAT DOES RISING FROM THE DEAD MEAN?

Much like Clooney, they probably reached back in time, remembering all they had been taught, all they believed to be true, all that they had learned from Jesus, in hopes of sorting it all out. The Lord’s Transfiguration became a very important part of their “negotiations.”

When the Easter morning news filled them with wonder and awe, they quite likely looked back and remembered that day on the mountaintop when The Lord shone like the sun. And it helped them “negotiate” this great mystery of Resurrection.

I don’t think that Meryl Streep was acting. Her response to the BIG QUESTION was too spontaneous to have been just another of her academy award-winning performances. It occurs to me that, somehow, some way, at some point in her life, she heard the echo of that mind-blowing Voice from the cloud…THIS IS MY BELOVED SON! LISTEN TO HIM. Her very profound description of The Communion of Saints demonstrates an understanding that, in the end, it is all about love.

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.
As we begin the second week of Lent, it might be helpful to consider that whether you are a fisherman or a talk show host…an Apostle or a movie star…a believer or a searcher…a saint or a sinner…no one, while in these earthly bodies, can know just exactly what it means to be “raised from the dead.”

And so, on those occasions when we consider the stark reality of our own death, we can easily succumb to feelings of uncertainty, confusion, doubt, and maybe even fear. It is then, when we are struggling to “negotiate” this great mystery of Resurrection, that it’s so important to remember what God has taught us through Jesus Christ…IT IS ALL ABOUT LOVE! And by these weeks of special prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, we are telling God: I love you, too!

Third Sunday of Lent
Jn 2:13-25
March 7, 2021

Housekeeping can seem like thankless and oftentimes futile work. How many times do Moms say (or possibly yell): I just washed that floor! Take those muddy shoes off right this minute. Why did I even bother?

Just the other day, I took the time and spent the money to have my car washed. I hadn’t driven an entire block when a truck went flying by and hit a big puddle of dirty slush. The entire side of my vehicle was drenched. Why did I even bother?

We are constantly putting out the effort to clean up some kind of mess, only to have someone, or something, undo all that we have just accomplished. When this happens, we often find ourselves asking: Why did I even bother?

This experience of futility carries over into our spiritual lives. How often do we sit and ponder the Commandments, examining our conscience, before walking into the Reconciliation room to confess to the very same sins we acknowledged the last time…and the time before that…and the time before that? Why do we even bother?

No doubt, as soon as Jesus left the Temple complex, the tables were righted and the animals herded back, and it was “business as usual.” One can’t help but wonder: Why did He even bother?

John’s Gospel is written in a way that demands prayerful and thoughtful reading and reflection. It is filled with layers of meaning. Today’s passage, often referred to as “the cleansing of The Temple” is a classic example of the need to dig deep in order to grasp the “core” message.

Possibly the best place to begin a prayerful and thoughtful reading and reflection of the Scripture passages the Church offers on this 3rd Sunday of Lent is the very last line of the Gospel. Jesus…did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.

What the Lord understands is that we MUST keep making the effort…we MUST keep cleaning up the messes…we MUST keep striving for holiness…otherwise, everything collapses in ruin.

He also understands that because life is so very messy, we can easily become overwhelmed…discouraged…fatigued…frustrated…disheartened, and maybe even angry. The Lord understands that too often we find ourselves asking the question: WHY DO I EVEN BOTHER?

And so, Jesus Christ has given us the promise of sharing in Resurrected glory. That is the perfect reason to keep on…keeping on.

One last point worthy of prayer and reflection might well be: WHY DOES GOD CONTINUE TO BOTHER?

Knowing our nature, and our propensity to continue to make a mess of our lives and our world…WHY DOES GOD CONTINUE TO BOTHER WITH US? The answer is simple. Love! Pure, Selfless, and unconditional love.

As we approach the midpoint of Lent, it might be time to do some “cleaning up” and then recommitting to PRAYER, FASTING, AND ALMSGIVING. It is well worth the bother because PRAYER, FASTING, AND ALMSGIVING are all ways of telling God “I love You, too!”

Fourth Sunday of Lent
Jn 3:14-21
March 14, 2021

Prayer being one of the three pillars of Lent, along with fasting and almsgiving…it might be helpful to approach this Sunday’s Readings from the perspective of The Eucharist…the most excellent of prayers…The Source and Summit of our faith.

Consider the exchange between the celebrant and the community prior to the Consecration.

The Lord be with you.
And with your spirit.

Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up to the Lord.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right and just.

The enormous importance of this little “litany” might be lost to folks who speak these highly significant words in the casual, almost unthinking way we sometimes exchange greetings. Morning! not even taking the time to say “GOOD,” or Hi! as if one syllable less than the full “HELLO” is a real time saver.

We can be economical with our words and still be understood. The same is true with prayer. We don’t always need lengthy and structured prayers to satisfy “our need” to speak to God, Who is fully aware of our every thought, word, and action.

Still, for our own benefit, we should not allow prayer to become rote, automatic, or unthinking. It is very important for us to be fully conscious of the meaning and significance of what we are praying/saying…no matter how long or brief our prayer might be. We should make our communications with God purposeful and intentional. For example, it is our loss to simply “rattle off” those words: “WE LIFT THEM UP TO THE LORD.”

When we answer the call to “lift up your hearts,” it should be with the intention of doing just that. To “lift up our hearts” to the Lord is to consciously and purposefully raise up to God all that we are and all that we hope to become.

At its core, this brief prayer is an offering to our Creator made in trust and with confidence that God will take what is good and holy to the Divine Self, and at the very same time, accept with love and forgiveness what is not, returning our hearts healed and sanctified.

Moreover, when we reply without thought or feeling, we forego the opportunity to participate in the cosmic “lifting up” of Good Friday predicted in today’s passage from John’s Gospel. Jesus, LIFTED UP on the Cross, was the perfect prayer. It was The Son’s way of expressing total confidence and trust in the Father’s infinite power, mercy, and love.

Jesus consciously and purposefully entered into His Passion and accepted His death, and in doing so, extended to the Father a perfect expression of unconditional love. In reply, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Father “lifted up” the Son through His Resurrection…the perfect and unconditional:

I LOVE YOU, TOO!

During these final days of Lent, we might begin our special prayer time by consciously and intentionally LIFTING UP OUR HEARTS TO THE LORD…along with our words.

IT IS RIGHT AND JUST!

This gesture of “lifting up” is an excellent way to express our love and gratitude to The Almighty…especially during The Eucharist, when our hearts are joined to that of the Crucified Christ. When we “lift up our hearts” in union with The Lord’s suffering and death, we are expressing our trust that one day, we, too, will be “lifted up” to share in Christ’s resurrected glory!

Fifth Sunday of Lent
Jn 12:20-33
March 21,2021

The second of the three pillars of Lent…together with prayer and almsgiving…is, of course, fasting.

Think back a few weeks to the approach of Lent 2021. Most folks, even those who are more “relaxed” about the practice of our faith, at least toyed with the notion of “giving up” something. It’s just what we do. The notion of “fasting” during Lent is engrained in us. It’s part of our Catholic culture. We’re known for it.

Of course, there are some who opt for a “fast” that will self-benefit. They look forward to Lent with the same spirit and enthusiasm that comes with New Year’s resolutions. And there is certainly nothing wrong with losing a few pounds by “fasting” from ice cream during Lent…good for you! Still, the motivation for the Lenten fast should not be to look better. At the heart of this penitential season and the recommended Lenten practices should be the desire for improved spiritual health.

Fasting, prayer, and almsgiving work together to unburden us of the things that make us less than God created us to be. Make no mistake about it, there are very few of us who are totally and completely free of something which, or someone who, has intruded on our free will, threatening our spiritual well-being.

Today’s Gospel inspires us to focus on, and to see the true benefit of “fasting.”

Whoever loves their life loses it,
and whoever hates their lives in this world
will preserve it for eternal life.

Those appetites and addictions that we have “grown to love” often take control over us. They start to define “our lives in this world.” Some passions we think that we just can’t live without actually threaten our physical well-being. There are other desires that jeopardize our spiritual health. The most lethal and deadliest of habits are very greedy; these things want our minds, our hearts, and our souls.
Lenten fasting is a kind of flexing of our spiritual and emotional muscles. It is an opportunity to use God’s empowering grace to look these things in the eye and to say with conviction:GET BEHIND ME, SATAN!

Tragically, however, even those who have kept a “perfect Lent” often slip and fall as soon as the Easter Season begins. It is not uncommon to regain control, only to lose it again once we enjoy that first taste of Easter candy. And so, the passage from Jeremiah is worth some extra reflection time.

Our First Reading opens with mention of a “new covenant.” The prophet is speaking to the new and intensely intimate relationship that humanity will come to enjoy with God through Jesus Christ. But it might be helpful to zoom in on this concept of a “new deal” and make it personal.

Through Baptism, we become part of this “new covenant.”Lent is a time of restoration of those Baptismal graces we may have lost over the years through poor choices and bad decisions. Although fasting, prayer, and almsgiving enable us to recover our Baptismal dignity, how can we make “the reboot” permanent?

On Easter Sunday, when we profess our faith through the renewal of our Baptismal promises, permit yourself to consciously REJECT all those things that you fasted from (or should have fasted from) during Lent. If you managed to enjoy freedom for 40 days…why not make the freedom Christ has won for us a permanent way of life…until you are part of “everlasting life!”

When the presider asks: DO YOU REJECT SATAN? Let your “I DO” mean “I WILL!” And with the help of God’s grace…YOU WILL!

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
Mk 14:1—15:47
March 28, 2021

If you have ever had the opportunity to stand on the rim of the Grand Canyon and look out over this vast and spectacular work of nature, you can better appreciate the challenge the Liturgy of The Word presents on Passion Sunday.

A tourist’s view of the Grand Canyon offers a totally overwhelming experience. It’s impossible to take it all in. You don’t want to miss anything, but at the same time, it’s hard to know where to look.

There’s just so much to see that even if you happen to have a qualified guide pointing out the highlights, you walk away knowing that you have missed far more than you have seen.

Just so with today’s Readings, and in particular, the two Gospels that are proclaimed as we enter into Holy Week. Even the most skilled preacher, the most learned Scripture scholar, the most saintly of persons is unable to point out more than a few significant highlights of these final days of the earthly life of Jesus of Nazareth.

There is just so much here to see…and reflect on and pray about…that when our Mass is ended today…we might well “Go in Peace.” But, if we have truly opened ourselves up to the infinite mystery of The Lord’s Passion and death, we walk away feeling that we have missed far more than we have taken in.

On one occasion, I had the opportunity to leave the rim of the Grand Canyon and undertake the arduous hike down into its depths. It took time and a great deal of effort. But, at the end of a long day, when I finally took that first step back onto “the rim” and looked back over my shoulder to where I had gone…I felt a bond with this spectacular wonder of nature.

I would have missed so many details in the life of the Canyon (yes! The Grand Canyon is more than rock …it is alive!) had I simply scanned the horizon. How unsatisfying to focus only on the highlights pointed out by a guide. How unfulfilling it would have been to scan the vista, only to get back on the tour bus.

The hike left me more than a tourist. As I made my way back to the top, I carried something of the mystery of the Canyon back up with me.

If you are eager for a deeper bond with the suffering Jesus, which, in turn, will open you up to a more intimate relationship with the Risen Christ, it is well worth the time and effort it takes to “leave the rim” and move down into the depths of “The Passion of Jesus Christ according to Mark.”

Don’t allow yourself to rely on what the preacher highlights. Dare to be more than a tourist.

Plunge into The Passion…
Enter into it…
Become part of it…

And when you come up from the depths of Easter morning…and look back over your shoulder to where you have come from…you will carry something of the mystery of salvation with you.

Your own personal experience of today’s Readings will help you appreciate more fully the inseparable connection between love and suffering. Putting yourself into the story will enable you to better understand how fear fuels hatred, and how hatred ignites violence.

Standing at the foot of the Cross…shoulder to shoulder with the Blessed Mother, John, and Mary will give you a deeper appreciation for the power of forgiveness.

Should you set aside some time during the coming week to slowly and prayerfully read and reflect on this amazing story of salvation, you will begin to see wonderful things that, very possibly, you would miss if you settle for simply being present for the annual Palm Sunday proclamation of this greatest drama of human history.

Why be a tourist when you can be a disciple? Don’t walk away feeling that you have missed far more than you have seen.

Easter Sunday
Jn 20:1-9
April 4, 2021

Some researchers, who supposedly have expertise in the area, claim that the human brain is wired to “hang on” to negative experiences for a much longer period of time than the positive events we enjoy in life. In other words, when something bad happens to us, it impacts our mood, behavior, security, and overall sense of well-being much more forcefully than the good things. Carrying this over into our relationships with other people, it has been suggested that when we have a “bad exchange” with another person, it takes at least five subsequent “good encounters” to get back on track (normal/loving terms) with the party with whom we had a falling out.

Now, think for a minute about how Jesus’s Passion and death affected those closest to Him. How could the Blessed Mother, the Apostles, and disciples…all who followed Him and knew and loved Him best…ever let go of the horror of Good Friday? If it is true that we are wired to hang onto the negative experiences we encounter in life, how was it possible for them to get past the extreme trauma of witnessing The Crucifixion?

Well, starting with Easter morning, we know of five glorious experiences that enabled Jesus’s loved ones to not only move beyond the horrific brutality they witnessed, but to literally rejoice in the knowledge that Good Friday made Easter Sunday a reality.

Mary Magdalene, in the throes of grief, went to The Tomb to care for the lifeless Body of Jesus of Nazareth. There, in the garden where His lifeless earthly Body had been entombed just over a day before, this grieving woman encountered The Risen Christ.

Devastated by the events of Good Friday, a totally despondent couple made their way back to their home in the little village of Emmaus. Along the way, they encountered a stranger Who pierced through their shock and grief by citing the Old Testament passages that explained the unthinkable. Then, in their own home, at their humble table, as He broke bread with them, they recognized The Resurrected One.

On Easter night, and again a week later, in spite of the security measures they had taken to protect themselves; The Lord simply appeared in the Upper Room and gifted them with His Peace!

Finally, as He promised, He met them in Galilee. Sitting on the shore, while they fished, Christ prepared breakfast. He fed their bodies, and in so doing, He nourished their spirits.

There were other encounters with Jesus Christ after He was resurrected…but these five were reported. And these five experiences of Jesus’s glorified Self totally changed the mood of His followers…from shock, grief, and fear…to perfect joy.

The behavior of the Apostles and disciples totally changed after encountering The Risen One, as is reported first in the Acts of the Apostles. Their sense of security and well-being not only returned, but these encounters with Christ fortified them to the point that they traveled throughout the ancient world giving convincing witness to Jesus’s final victory over death.

Possibly the most convincing witness to the authenticity of these post-Resurrection encounters is that many of those who watched The Lord brutalized accepted their own martyrdom without flinching.

This Easter morning, we all would do well to open ourselves up to our own personal experience of the Risen Christ Jesus. We might not recognize Him at first. He could very well come at an unexpected time. We very well may encounter The Glorified Jesus in a most unusual place, or under the most ordinary circumstances. The only thing that is absolutely certain is that we will be changed by the meeting. We will be filled with Peace!

Sunday of Divine Mercy
Jn 20:19-31
April 11, 2021

Big ideas require time to absorb.

For example, my Mother’s 2nd anniversary of death was this past Monday…and I still reach for the phone to call her to share some news…or for advice…or for a sympathetic ear when something’s going wrong.

It takes a while to wrap our minds around the new…or the unexpected.

Speaking of phones…every time I get a notice that my cell phone will update during the night…I think GREAT! What fresh hell is this? I just know that it will take at least a week to re-learn how to answer a call with this new, unexpected, and unwanted update.

It takes even longer to understand…accept as real…and appreciate things that are totally revolutionary, stretching our imaginations almost to the breaking point. That’s what Resurrection is all about. Easter is all about the unimaginable…the almost “too good to be true,” stretching our imaginations almost to the breaking point.

Even after the events of Easter morning, it still took a while for the Apostles and disciples to realize that they had made an enormous mistake on Good Friday. It took time, and several visits from The Risen Christ, before they came to see that they had drastically underestimated the power of Jesus.

It took time, discussion, prayer, and reflection as a COMMUNITY. That word “community” is very important because they needed one another’s support before they regained the sense of joy and the peace that drew them to Jesus as they walked with Him during His earthly mission and ministry.

Even the Easter witnesses needed time to believe what they were seeing. But, because of their witness to Christ’s resurrection…here we are today. And through those days, weeks, months, and years, this fledgling Christian community came to understand and accept a radically new way of living. While it might well stretch the imagination almost to breaking point, what we are celebrating is The Creator’s great desire that all creation share in eternal glory.

But Easter is not just about celebration. It is also about recommitment to our baptismal promises.

Even as the Lord promised that all who believe that He is The Resurrection and the life will know eternal joy, he also stressed the need to prepare for that day when we are called to leave time behind and present ourselves for eternal existence. This revolutionary way of embracing life in this world has been passed down through the centuries and is exactly what Christians continue to celebrate and ponder throughout the Easter Season.

So, as we move further into this great mystery of Resurrection, it is important to remind ourselves how best to use our time on earth in hopes of someday becoming timeless in Heaven.

People intent on sharing Christ’s Resurrection accept suffering as Jesus did…confident that there is redemptive value in it. For a Christian, there is no such thing as meaningless suffering. All suffering somehow brings us into a deeper and more intimate relationship with The Lord.

Selfless service is a hallmark of Christian living. Authentic discipleship calls for a generous response to those in need. When we reach out to others, we are caring for The Body of Christ. Generosity of spirit somehow draws us into a deeper and more intimate relationship with The Holy Spirit.

Gospel living is challenging. It is revolutionary. The Gospel has always been contra-cultural. In many ways, the teachings of Jesus Christ contradict the ways of the world.

Consider how the demand for reparations and even the desire for revenge are the typical response to an injury in the world in which we live today. But, at the very center of the Paschal Mystery is the call for mercy and forgiveness.

The Church highlights God’s eagerness to forgive a repentant sinner on this Divine Mercy Sunday. Still, even as we enjoy God’s forgiveness, we are called to forgive one another.

When we strive to be…slow to anger and quick to forgive…we not only imitate these Divine qualities, but we move into a deeper and more intimate relationship with The Father.

It takes time to absorb big ideas. And for many, it takes a lifetime to master discipleship. And the one thing that might…or should stretch us almost to the breaking point is the idea that we are worthy to dwell in the Presence of The Almighty for all eternity.

But do not underestimate the power of Baptism that fills us with the graces we need to live as a Resurrection people, and do not take for granted the importance of sharing our faith…in community. We need the support of one another to learn how to be good disciples.

Most importantly, do not make the mistake of underestimating the unconditional love and mercy of our Creator.

During this Easter Season, let’s use our time well. Remember…it takes time to become timeless.

Third Sunday of Easter
Lk 24:35-48
April 18, 2021

Jesus was often called: “Rabbi” which means “teacher.”

In the rabbinic tradition, little stories are frequently used as a method of teaching deep spiritual truths. We find Jesus using this style of teaching in His many parables. As a child, He very possibly heard, and later used in His own ministry, a little story that has several variations, all communicating the same message.

One version has it that King Solomon was gifted with a large gold nugget. Desiring to use the precious metal to make something special, he invited all the craftsmen and artists in Jerusalem to submit a design that would produce an item both beautiful, and, at the same time, useful. A prize would be awarded to the winner.

On the day set to select the winning design, a great many proposals were presented, each quite spectacular. Bejeweled goblets, gold necklaces inset with diamonds, exotic bracelets, and so forth. Each piece was both beautiful, and, at the same time, functional. It seemed next to impossible to make a choice.

The final contestant was a very unlikely candidate. He was not a great artist or a renowned jeweler. In fact, this elderly peasant was almost denied access to the King. But just as he was about to be ejected from the palace, Solomon took notice of the old man and called him forward.

His presentation brought laughter to all present. He proposed a simple gold band with the inscription: THIS TOO SHALL PASS.

In his great wisdom, Solomon immediately proclaimed the elderly peasant the winner. He pointed out that the simple design allowed the beauty of the gold to shine. It was not overpowered by jewels or ornaments.

The wise king realized that the gold ring would be of great use during “troubled times,” as a reminder that, with patience, all problems are somehow resolved. During “good times,” the message of the ring would serve to remind him not to be overly confident, and to remain humble and vigilant.

To this very day, many Jewish people wear a ring of this design to remind them not to take blessings for granted, and to persevere during challenging times. It really is a beautiful tradition.

However, for those who truly believe that Jesus Christ is raised from the dead, reminders of this kind are unnecessary. The very core of the Easter message is:

THIS TOO SHALL PASS.

This world, with its countless blessings and daily challenges, is temporary…fleeting. “Resurrection” means that there will be a conclusion of our earthly lives, and then we will pass into an existence that will never end.

People who have tried their best to live a life of faith will be called to a new, glorified and eternal existence. When we put aside our earthly bodies…temporary tents…fragile earthen vessels, if worthy, we will pass through death into eternal perfection.

While we wait, and in order to allow us to persevere during hard times, remaining humble and vigilant in good times, the Risen Christ has gifted us with something far more valuable and infinitely more beautiful than a gold nugget. The Easter Jesus has gifted us with His Peace!

There is nothing more useful to a happy life in this world…as we wait for it to pass…than the “Peace of The Lord.” This “Peace” is not something we wear; it is something that we hold within us.

It is awakened in our hearts at Baptism and is nourished through the Sacraments of our Church.

The simple beauty of Christ’s Peace enables people of faith to face every passing adversity without fear and with confidence in God’s goodness. When Peace fills our hearts, we very easily live humbly before the Lord.

Christ’s Peace is eternal. It will never pass away. That is a deep spiritual truth of which we should never lose sight.

So, let this Peace that is within you shine!

The Peace of The Lord be with you always!

Fourth Sunday of Easter
Jn 10:11-18
April 25, 2021

In some parishes, during the Sunday Masses of the Easter Season, the gathered “profess the faith” after the homily, through the renewal of The Baptismal Promises.

This is entirely fitting for two reasons. First, there is an unbreakable link between Christ’s Resurrection and Christian Baptism. By the power of this first Sacrament of Initiation, we experience a symbolic dying to our “birth life,” and an authentic rising to “Life in the Spirit.” (There is nothing symbolic about “the rising” we experience in Baptism. It is pure reality.)

Secondly, the commitment made at Baptism is the foundation for The Creed…except for this one very significant difference: The formula for Baptism begins by placing the spotlight on evil…and the rejection of it in every form it takes. There is no specific mention of Satan in The Creed. But, by the same token, the details of Jesus’s earthly life are limited to the bare essentials.

He was
born of the Virgin Mary…
COMMA
…suffered under Pontus Pilate, died and was buried.

Some spiritual writers refer to the punctuation mark between The Incarnation and The Passion as “THE GREAT COMMA.”

That little mark on the page is a very poor substitute for all that Jesus said and did as He walked the earth in the flesh.

And so, as we move deeper into the Easter season, the Church takes the spotlight off the Risen Christ and His post-Resurrection presence. Today’s Gospel pushes aside the GREAT COMMA and gives us a glimpse of what happened in between Bethlehem and Calvary.

On this 4th Sunday of Easter, we look back to the “job description” Jesus gave Himself during His life in this world. GOOD SHEPHERD!

And so, when Christians “profess the faith” this Sunday, whether by one of the Creeds or restating the Promises made at our Baptisms…we should, in our minds and our hearts…replace that great COMMA with this beautiful image of Jesus. Think of it this way:

Born of the Virgin Mary…
Sent into time by our timeless God…
To live with and among us as one like us but without flaw or blemish…
To guide us into safe places…
To protect us from attack by dark forces…
To unify us as one family held together by one faith…
To encourage us toward our final destination…
To nourish us with Word and Sacrament during the dangerous journey…
To seek us out and return us to safety when we wander and place ourselves in harm’s way…
To suffer under Pontius Pilate, die, and be buried…and to rise again on the third day.

“THE GREAT COMMA” is the proper punctuation mark in that sentence in the Creed. Still, we should never lose sight of the saving work that filled the gap between Mary’s “Great Yes” and Pilate’s death sentence. And we should be ever conscious of how we fill that gap, which is our own earthly lives.

In a way, this image of “Good Shepherd” Jesus claimed for Himself affirms the message that The Risen Christ continually stressed when making His glorified Self present to His followers:

BE NOT AFRAID…I AM ALWAYS WITH YOU…EVEN WHEN YOU STRAY!

Fifth Sunday of Easter
John 15:4a, 5b
May 2, 2021

Try to put yourself in St. Paul’s sandals for a minute.

Imagine how he must have felt, fresh from one of the most dramatic conversion experiences in human history — knocked off his horse, struck blind, taken in by a believer who patiently cared for him and catechized him. The ordeal concluded with his sight restored, but there was much more. He was gifted with a profound change of mind and heart. What a high!

Planning his return to Jerusalem, he was probably bursting at the seams, eager to share his story with the Apostles and disciples. In route, he risked his life proclaiming the truth that Christ was risen. He gladly put aside all else, committing himself entirely to the service of the early Church.

But, on his return to Jerusalem, rather than a warm reception and a loving embrace, he got the coldest of shoulders from…of all folks…those with whom he shared the privilege of being a first-hand witness to the power of Resurrection.

The initial reaction of the disciples is hard to understand, unless, of course, you consider the all too human tendencies towards suspicion, fear, arrogance, and envy, all leading to marginalizing those who look, act, or think differently.

But then again, it might simply have been a matter of ignorance. Maybe the Jerusalem crowd simply didn’t grasp the core of Jesus’s teaching. Maybe they didn’t understand that The Lord introduced The Reign of God…summoning ALL creation to co-exist in solidarity with our Creator…as well as with one another…even those who look, act, or think differently.
Maybe, intimidated by Paul’s conversion story and enthusiasm, they lost sight of the Easter Message…the gift that Christ brought to them after breaking free of the tomb:

BE NOT AFRAID…PEACE BE WITH YOU!

I wonder what kind of reception Paul would be given if he were to drop in on our parish.
Fortunately for humanity, St. Paul’s determination was unaffected by the wall of resistance that threatened his extraordinary contribution to Salvation history. He was not silenced. He forged ahead in his service to God and to the Christian community. Through his preaching and writings, he gently unpacked for us the meaning of Resurrection…elaborating on The Lord’s own proclamation of Divine Mercy and Love.

By reporting the challenges St. Paul faced, and pairing that bit of Church history with the Second Reading that offers encouragement to put faith into action, we are well placed to tackle the parable found in today’s Gospel.

The image of branches sprouting and growing out in every direction from one root reminds us of our human connectedness. Despite the fact that we might look, act, and think differently, we draw on One Life Source…God.

Suspicion, fear, arrogance, and envy are like a disease that can infect and rapidly spread throughout the entire vine. But the Good News is that God’s grace is constantly flowing up from The Eternal Root, nourishing true and lasting conversion. With the help of God’s grace, we can prune away all destructive feelings and come to a profound change of mind and heart.

Then, and only then, can we live with one another without fear…and in The Peace of Christ!

Sixth Sunday of Easter
Jn 15:9-17
May 9, 2021

As a Catholic priest, I have not been blessed with an “immediate family” no wife or kids. However, through my ministry, I have been a privileged witness to familial love at its purest…the extraordinarily powerful love of mothers.

I have stood by and watched heroic young moms vigorously advocate for their unborn children who were diagnosed in-vitro with potentially debilitating diseases, rejecting the advice of physicians urging them to terminate the pregnancies.

I have received numerous SOS calls from moms begging for prayers that their newborn survive premature births, serious heart surgeries, and other life-threatening conditions. Then, following up, I have listened to these young women describe the days, weeks, and sometimes even months they’ve spent literally living in pediatric ICUs.

I have consoled young moms as they shed tears watching their child walk away on the first day of school.

I have done my best to help moms plan out some type of intervention in hopes of freeing their teenager from some destructive addiction. And I have obliged concerned moms by visiting their kids in jail on those occasions when the interventions failed.

Without a doubt, the most challenging thing I have done has been to “keep it together” while presiding at the funeral Mass for a mother’s child. The loss of a young life is especially heartbreaking. But the grief-covered face of a 90-year-old mother standing at the graveside of a 70-year-old son or daughter reflects the same intense pain.

On a lighter note, I have watched moms pivot and dodge the accusation of being “too controlling” while still trying to protect their kids…eager to be liberated from their mother’s protective eye…but agreeably “retying” the apron strings when some poor choice makes it necessary or convenient.

Car keys…spring break…prom dresses…and don’t get me started about wedding plans; these are just a few of the flash points that have sent many a mother into my confessional…accusing themselves of “losing patience.” As I hear these stories, it makes the sense of loss at not having kids of my own seem almost like a blessing in disguise.

How appropriate that our Church gives us for reflection on this “Mother’s Day” the Second Reading, reminding us that

God IS Love.

The Gospel choice is the perfect follow-up, commanding us to be images of our Creator, by LOVING ONE ANOTHER.

However, neither passage speaks to something that we see quite clearly when we consider what a “mother’s love” often brings with it. That would be suffering.

Great love carries with it the vulnerability to great suffering. The pain of giving birth is only the beginning. The “heart burn” that, in many cases, is chronic and is a very real symptom of this purest and extraordinarily powerful force we call “motherly love.”

Acknowledging the truth that GREAT LOVE BRINGS GREAT SUFFERING…makes this “Hallmark” occasion much more real. And the reality is simply this: When we are witnesses to familial love at its purest…the extraordinarily powerful love of mothers…what we are privileged to see is a pure and extraordinarily powerful image of Jesus Christ. A good and loving mother is a living icon of our good and loving God revealed through Jesus Christ.

So, on this Mother’s Day, we give thanks for all the many ways mothers live out their life-giving vocation. But, most of all, we give thanks for the way they reflect the face of God to us by their love…and by their suffering.

Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord
Mk 16:15-20
May 16, 2021

There is a song that comes in the middle of Act One, and then reappears in Act Two, of the musical Godspel. I love the entire play. What’s not to love? After all ….it’s based on Matthew’s Gospel. But for me, this particular song..that’s sung twice… is very special.

Day by day
Day by day
Oh Dear Lord
Three things I pray
To see thee more clearly
Love thee more dearly
Follow thee more nearly
Day by day…
.

Over the years…I’ve seen the play a number of times…and I’ve got to tell you…after each performance, I find myself singing that song in the shower…where no one can hear me.

For weeks after seeing the show, I walk around unconsciously humming or whistling the tune.

Once…I bought the CD…and I would play, and then repeat that one song, over and over. These days, I simply say:
Alexa, play “Day by Day” from Godspel.
And she does…over and over and over.

At some point it dawned on me, that it was the lyrics, more than the tune that I was so taken by.

Those words:
see more clearly,
love more dearly,
follow more nearly…

are another way of saying that I want to be a better Christian. Don’t we all? Isn’t that why you’re reading this reflection?

Surprisingly, it was only just recently, that I learned that those words were not the original work of the composer. The lyrics are actually a prayer credited to St. Richard of Chichester, England; who first prayed these beautiful words during the 13th century.

“O Lord, three things I pray: to see you more clearly, to love you more dearly, to follow you more nearly, day by day.”

It seems to me that this little prayer is especially fitting to the celebration of the Ascension of The Lord.

The Acts of the Apostles reports that:
He presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he had suffered, appearing to them during 40 days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

Human nature being what it is, “day by day” the Apostles and disciples, very likely became more and more accustomed to seeing and listening to The Risen Jesus.

They probably began to feel like things had returned to normal, just as they were before Good Friday. Jesus teaching…preaching …and doing miracles, as they simply watched and listened…little more than an audience to salvation.

But then, The Resurrected Jesus did what He had done before. He lead them up a high mountain…alone…by themselves.
Where:
He was lifted up and a cloud took Him from their sight.

Much like Easter morning, when they found the empty tomb, an angel was needed to explain that something unimaginable had happened.

The Ascension message was similar to that of Easter morning:
If you are looking for Jesus…you are looking in the wrong place.

This time however, they were told that
He has returned to where He came from.

And so,“day by day”, as we hear in our Second Reading,
the eyes of their hearts were enlightened.

“Day by day” they began to see more clearly, and they came to understand that Jesus was infinitely more than the carpenter from Galilee, Who had died, but rose.

Slowly, “day by day” they came to believe that they had encountered The Eternal Christ. With that realization, their already great love for the man from Nazareth, deepened…because they now understood that through Jesus, they had encountered God, Who we are called to love with all our heart, and all are soul, and all our mind. We owe it to our Creator to love God deeply…more deeply than anyone or anything else.

NOW….here’s the important thing, having ascended into heaven, Christ kept the promise He made. On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended upon them…and they felt the power increase within and among them…“day by day.”Day by day…They began to “follow more nearly” because the Holy Spirit was within each of them…speaking to and guiding their hearts, souls and minds. No longer observers, but now partners in the work of proclaiming the Kingdom; they set about the work that The Christ commissioned them to do.

They went out into the world proclaiming the Gospel to every creature.

Because of them…the Apostles and disciples…the first Christians, we are here today. But, they passed on more than our faith. They also handed on the great commission Christ entrusted to them.

YOU are called to do what they did: Go out into the world proclaiming the Gospel to every creature.

YOU are as important and necessary as they were. And if YOU fully commit to this privileged work of evangelization…as they did…then…“Day by Day” the rest of the world will begin to SEE MORE CLEARLY, LOVE MORE DEARLY, FOLLOW MORE NEARLY!

Pentecost Sunday
Jn 20:19-23
May 23, 2021

Franciscan theologian and author of numerous books and articles on spirituality, Fr. Richard Rohr, OSF, celebrated his 65th year of life by composing a special Litany to The Holy Spirit. His prayer consists of 65 names for, or images of, The Third Person of the Blessed Trinity. It is worth the effort to locate his podcast online and hear this amazing “word portrait” (that’s what it is…a vivid picture of what we cannot see but can definitely experience) from his own lips. (https://cac.org/litany-holy-spirit/)

He begins with images well-engrained within those of us who have made an effort to know and enjoy a relationship with The Holy Spirit.

Pure Gift of God
In-dwelling Presence
Promise of the Father
Eternal Praise

Interspersed with the Names/Images/Job descriptions that we would expect are surprisingly inventive titles that do not immediately connect with The Eternal Spirit.

Homing Device
God Compass
Divine DNA
Implanted Peacemaker
Sacred Pacemaker

The first time that I heard Fr. Rohr pray this Litany, I was shocked to hear the words:

DEFENSE ATTORNEY

Quite honestly, I stopped listening as he prayed on. Having been a practicing “defense attorney” for a good part of my adult life, I was totally thrown by the suggestion that on the first Pentecost, a DEFENSE ATTORNEY descended upon the Apostles and disciples. After all, lawyers are usually the target of rude jokes…or worse. It was almost shocking to hear the legal profession referred to as a “Godly activity,” elevated to an image of The Holy Spirit.

But as I reflected on the 7 Gifts that come to us with “Life in the Spirit,” the pieces began to fall into place. I came to appreciate why Fr. Rohr would envision the Spirit of God as a “defense attorney.”

A WISE lawyer has well-developed listening skills. To properly serve the interest of a client, a wise attorney listens attentively not only to the person they represent, but to the opposition, as well as to everyone else who might have information bearing on the matter in controversy. And, of course, it follows that it is the wise client who listens to the advice of their counsel.

UNDERSTANDING is key to successfully representing someone accused of an offense. The advocate must be able to sift out false allegations and exaggerations to find truth.

RIGHT JUDGMENT then enables a good defense attorney to plan a strategy which will ensure that truth prevails.

FORTITUDE is, basically, the courage to keep moving the case forward with determination, even when setbacks are encountered. It is dangerous to be overly confident or presumptuous. There is no such thing as a slam dunk case.

KNOWLEDGE of both the relevant facts, as well as the applicable law, are essential to compiling a winning defense.

A lawyer cannot officially begin to practice law until “sworn in.” The oath embodies a spirit of REVERENCE for justice and the judicial system. Admittedly, there are some who push the envelope and others who totally disregard the Canons of Ethics. But it has been my experience that the vast majority of attorneys appreciate the trust placed in them and adhere to a high standard of professional conduct.

Which brings us to the final “Pentecost Gift” …WONDER AND AWE. This is the overwhelming experience that comes from knowing that truth has prevailed.

But you don’t need to win a case in court to know that incredible feeling of WONDER AND AWE. It is an experience readily available to anyone who is wise enough to accept and put to good use the 7 amazing Gifts of The Holy Spirit. Regardless of our occupation or vocation, these gifts are intended to help us…each of us…to be all that we were created to be…images of Christ. These 7 gifts empower us to convince others about the justice of our case…The Gospel.

No matter who we are or what we do…when we take full advantage of these gifts, we help to change the face of the earth.

Try to put the pieces together in your own life.

Do you have the WISDOM to listen closely to where the Holy Spirit is guiding you?

Do you have the UNDERSTANDING that Truth is Christ and Christ is the Way to eternal life?

Are you easily distracted by the things of this world, or do you use RIGHT JUDGMENT when making important decisions?

Do you have the FORTITUDE to carry whatever cross is placed on your shoulder, confident that every Good Friday ends in Easter Sunday?

Do you seek KNOWLEDGE of God’s will and God’s ways?

Do you fully appreciate how important and powerful you are as a Baptized disciple and accept the responsibility with REVERENCE?

If the pieces fall together for you…then you have already experienced the WONDER AND AWE that comes from life in the Spirit. But if you haven’t quite made it there yet, ask yourself which gift you haven’t opened yet.

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
Mt 28:16-20
May 30, 2021

We are Baptized

In the Name of The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit.

That is our Tradition…inspired by today’s Gospel. And it is beyond discussion or debate. But, how many of us have stopped to think about just exactly what that means? Candidly, it’s not an “easy think.” Still, this Trinity Sunday is the perfect time to make the effort.

Although the “Three-ness” of God is woven tightly into our Tradition, expressed in prayer, liturgy, and art, it remains shrouded in mystery. We struggle to pierce the cloud of unknowing by reducing the Three Divine Persons into one symbol or image, but our efforts always fall short. Things such as triangles and shamrocks are used to catechize our children. That can be helpful.

Artists have painted masterpieces depicting a powerful, white-bearded ancient standing over a figure recognizable as the historic Jesus, a dove hovering nearby. Art is often a window that offers a view…although limited…of what exists on the other side.

In recent years, an author wrote a best-seller that became a popular movie. Like other attempts to capture the reality of “The Threeness” of God, “The Shack” was inspiring.

But all efforts, no matter how brilliant or inspiring, are totally inadequate. Much like we hear in The Book of Exodus…no one sees “The Three Faces of God and lives.” However, there is a “scenic lookout” that often provides a breathtaking view when there are no spiritual clouds (doubts) or fog (sin) obstructing it.

If we meditate on the mystery of the Trinity and look out over the Divine landscape with the “eyes of our heart,” we just might catch a glimpse of what symbols and paintings and books merely suggest. Prayerful reflection and meditation just might enable us to travel through the stained-glass window or into the painting.

From the perspective of prayerful reflection and meditation, what we might just enjoy is a brief encounter with the infinite and all-powerful relationship we call The Trinity. What our eyes cannot see our hearts could well feel…and what we “feel” might be something totally surprising and overwhelming…

pure, unconditional, unselfish love.

The communication between the Three Divine Persons is perfect. Single-minded in Their love of one another as well as for Creation, there is discussion but no debate or disagreement…only perfect and unending harmony.

Each assumes a role or function that promotes a cosmic plan that blossomed from the pool of Wisdom, Goodness, Mercy, and Peace, which they share together. The concept of personal ambition is totally absent. There is no competitive spirit, only HOLY SPIRIT.

We live in times when a prayerful reflection on The Trinity is particularly critical. Consider how little harmony there is in our country…in our world…in our Church…even within many of our families.

Think about how greed, pride, and ambition have threatened world peace and devalued our sense of solidarity with and sense of responsibility for the people with whom we co-exist on this planet Earth. Civil conversations and fruitful discussions easily give way to heated debate and disagreement that all too frequently end in violence.

Plans are ego-driven and give little, if any, consideration for the common good.

The very foundation of the Christian Tradition into which we were baptized has been rocked by the cultural earthquake that seems is becoming more and more intense with each news cycle.

But all is not lost.

Our hope rests in our all-powerful Creator, God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit…In Whose Name we have been Baptized…and Whose harmonious and loving relationship we are called to imitate…as best we can.
On this Trinity Sunday, we celebrate the truth that the Triune God is alive within each of us. Reflective prayer and meditation is a way to do that. But where to begin.

St. Francis de Sales offers a prayer that is a fine starting point:

“I vow and consecrate to God all that is in me:
my memory and my actions to God the Father;
my understanding and my words to God the Son;
my will and my thoughts to God the Holy Spirit.”

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ
Mk 14:12-16, 22-26
June 6, 2021

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has responded to a notice sent to the Vatican by the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Rome urges caution concerning a statement under consideration by certain of the American Bishops, which would impact the access to Holy Communion by U.S. politicians whose public stand on issues relating to the sanctity of human life appear in conflict with Church teaching. This has made the headline news…and will likely continue to be newsworthy…on all networks…regardless of the final outcome.

Thankfully, no one will ask me to weigh in on the matter.

However, should Pope Francis give me a call and say: So, Kelly…what do you think about all this?

I would reply: Your Holiness, at the moment, I am much more concerned about the countless numbers of people who have already been “denied” Holy Communion…by the pandemic.

For months now, access to all the Sacraments has been severely restricted, or completely barred because of Covid-19. Particularly tragic is the fact that the elderly, the chronically ill, and even the actively dying have been deprived of these spiritual comforts. At the moment, things appear to have “normalized” in this country, but in other parts of the world, concerns over health and safety continue to affect the Sacramental life of the Church.

I suspect that Pope Francis would reply by reminding me that it would be wrong to consider those in greatest need of spiritual comfort as having been completely abandoned. Quite possibly, he would refer me to last Sunday’s Gospel (Matt. 28:16-20). When sending the disciples out to baptize “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” The Risen Christ assured them: I am with you always until the end of the age.

Christ has kept that promise. While the hunger for Eucharist persists, and the company and companionship of the Christian community is definitely missed when circumstances make “in-person Holy Communion” impossible, those in greatest need are never left uncared for. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the healing and forgiving and nourishing Christ is with them. How can I be so certain?

First of all, God has proven over and over again to be a most faithful Promise keeper. The Lord promised to be with us ALWAYS…why would we doubt Him?

But, Christ’s continued presence among the faithful is also made known by the persistence in faith within the minds and hearts of those Christians who, for whatever reason, have been denied Holy Communion. For example, Eucharist, as well as the other Sacraments, is barred by atheist regimes around the world.

Likewise, Catholics in countries where governments are run by anti-Christian religious leaders find it necessary to revert to the practice of the early Church, celebrating the Sacraments underground at great risk…and then only occasionally. There are remote areas on every continent where sacramental ministry by ordained clergy is infrequent because of geography and demographics. Such under served and threatened Christian communities persist in our faith because Christ remains present to them…forgiving, healing, and nourishing them.

While it is a very serious situation when Catholics who hunger for Eucharist are denied The Bread of Life and The Cup of our Salvation…for whatever reason…the real tragedy is when people deny themselves this “healing remedy.” Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith. And yet, many make a conscious choice to decline the invitation to The Communion Table.

Ignoring the Lord’s command: Do this in memory of Me, they foolishly seek nourishment in worldly comforts. But they are never fully satisfied. Hunger persists because the Risen Christ remains present to them, whispering His encouragement so that they might undergo a change of heart.

Regardless of what prevents the faithful from enjoying the Real Presence of Jesus Christ through Holy Communion, Christians are not denied communion with The Lord. He promised: I am with you always until the end of the age…and He keeps that promise through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

We conclude the last of the three special Sundays that cap the Easter Season by focusing on The Most Holy Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Certainly, The Real Presence comes to us in the most excellent way, through The Eucharist. But, on this great Feast, we should also remember and celebrate the truth that The Risen Christ is “omnipresent” to all creation. People, circumstances, and even poor choices might serve to deny others Holy Communion…but Christ will not be denied communion with us.

Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mk 4:26-34
June 13, 2021

I attended the graduation ceremony for the Nouvel Catholic Central High School Class of 2021. I made a point of being there because I had taught one semester of theology to these young women and men during their freshman year. I hadn’t seen most of them since our final day in the classroom. I was hoping that my presence, should they even notice me, would signal my ongoing concern for them…especially for their continued spiritual growth and development. I was also curious about what changes each has undergone during the “in between times.”

I was shocked that many of my former students were unrecognizable to me. Only three years ago, I was able to identify their voices as they came ambling down the hall towards the classroom. I could tell whose paper I was reading by the handwriting without even looking at the name. And, although it took a week or so, I definitely recognized every face. Eventually, I could even make a pretty good guess at what kind of mood they were in on any given day…and how that would affect our scant 55 minutes of “God Talk.”

Like most teachers, I came to know these kids better and better as the semester unfolded. And now, just three short years later, if I passed most of them on the sidewalk, I wouldn’t be certain who they were. The time “in between” the last day of 9th grade and graduation had changed them from adolescents to adults. The most disconcerting thing was the realization that there was absolutely no way of telling whether or not my very short time with them would make any difference whatsoever in their faith life.

As I watched the members of the NCCHS Class of 2021 march off the football field and into the rest of their lives, I couldn’t help but wonder how they would use the years “in between” graduation and their last day on earth. Had the thoughts and ideas about the Reign of God that I tried to plant into their minds and hearts taken hold?

Parents…good, loving, concerned, attentive, and involved parents must appreciate what I am talking about. As children become more and more independent, aren’t those responsible for their development haunted with questions? Have I done enough? What more could I have done? What else can I do?

This weekend’s Scripture passages work together to counsel patience in these circumstances. For example, once parents, grand and God parents, teachers, catechists, and youth ministers have done all that can reasonably be done to pass on our faith, we simply have to wait patiently. But even as we wait, we must also trust.

We trust in the ultimate power of our good, loving, concerned, and totally attentive God. We trust that God knows more than our names, faces, voices, and handwriting. We trust that our Creator knows every breath we take and every thought we have. We trust that God will never fail to recognize and somehow respond, gently and lovingly, to our every need. We trust that God will call into life, at the proper time, the seeds of faith that have been planted within our hearts during the time “in between” our first and last breath. For some, that might well be immediately before graduating from time into eternity. But we trust that Divine Mercy and power is such that every single seed has the opportunity to spring into life and blossom.

In the meantime, during the “in between times” of our own lives, we must continue to patiently care for and nourish those seeds that are already growing within us. And we must trust that, through the Holy Spirit, Christ is always present to us, signaling God’s ongoing concern for our continued spiritual growth and development.

Take a moment this coming week to truly notice!

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mk 4:35-41
June 20, 2021

“You don’t even care about me…DO YOU?”

How many times has an angry teenager thrown that accusation at a parent who has laid down the law precisely because they do care?

Think about the person who is excited about a new relationship they are exploring. Whether or not they come right out and ask the question, they walk around mulling it over and over in their mind.

Does he care about me?

Does she even care…or am I wasting my time?

A far more serious situation is when that question infects a wife or husband. Whether out of immaturity or uncertainty, or justified insecurities…the test is the same:

ANSWER YES OR NO: DO YOU CARE?

That simple little question is the ultimate test of any important relationship. I would suggest that it is most frequently asked, sometimes out loud, even shouted in a rage of frustration…or quietly within the privacy of a troubled heart…as a test of the most important relationship any human being can have. When our lives get stormy, we often test our relationship with our Creator, challenging God with the BIG TEST QUESTION:

Do You even care?

Once and for all, and in the most loving and convincing way possible, our Creator responded: OF COURSE I CARE!

Through the incredible act of reassurance…taking human flesh and living among us…God has responded…

OF COURSE I CARE!

Jesus “jumped into the boat” with us to prove that God does care and is in control. In today’s Gospel, The Lord demonstrates His complete trust in God’s loving care by sleeping through a life-threatening storm. The other passengers most likely weathered the experience in different ways. When they put the “test question” to Jesus, some may have displayed the immature attitude of a teenager challenging a protective parent. Others might have simply felt the uncertainty so common in the early stages of a developing relationship.

The boat, in imminent danger of sinking, certainly justified feelings of terror. There most likely were passengers aboard, questioning whether they had misjudged their relationship with Jesus of Nazareth. Had they put too much confidence and trust in Him? Doesn’t He care about us? Or, doesn’t He have the power we thought He did? Whatever the emotions running through their minds, as the waves crashed over the side of the vessel, they asked the BIG TEST QUESTION:

Do You even care?

Jesus responded immediately, dramatically and most convincingly. But, with time and further storms, even Peter need reassurance. Although the terrified disciples asked the BIG TEST QUESTION, it might just be that it was their relationship with the Lord that was being tested. It was their faith and trust that was not yet mature, still uncertain, insecure. In the midst of a storm, it was them who were tested…and they failed. They doubted.

It certainly makes one wonder how we would have reacted had we been on that boat trip. When dark and menacing clouds threaten our sunny days…when waves start to wash over our lives…do we ask God the BIG TEST QUESTION? Or are we secure enough in our relationship with our Creator to follow Jesus’s example and simply close our eyes and calmly ride out the storm?

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mk 5:21-43 or 5:21-24, 35b-43
June 27, 2021

The raising of Jairus’s daughter is certainly worthy of some quality reflection time. As miracles go, it seems restoring the dead to life takes first prize.

Although the healing of the anonymous woman, by “miracle standards,” might seem the lesser of the two events described in today’s Gospel, it could well have overshadowed Jesus’s compassion and unimaginable powers in the minds of many of the actual eye witnesses.

In fact, because of His bold gesture in acknowledging the desperate woman, many of the onlookers might well have walked away scandalized and in disgust before even learning of the Lord’s victory over death itself. It is important to appreciate the religious mindset of the time, to understand how this healing might well have greater significance than raising the dead.

At the time, there were religious laws that were practiced strictly by observant Jews. Any physical contact between a man and a woman who were not married to each other was a serious and severely punishable offense. But, to have contact with a woman suffering from hemorrhages was completely unthinkable.

The easiest way for those unfamiliar with these religious beliefs to grasp the high drama of this episode is to understand that she was regarded as “impure” or “unclean” or “unworthy.” She certainly was not contagious, but, because of her condition, she was no better off than a leper.

She took a great risk being out in public, mingling with people. Merely touching the hem of the Lord’s garment, in the eyes of those who were supposedly committed to a literal and strict interpretation of the law, was extremely reckless on her part.

For His part, reacting to this offensive “touch” in the manner He did would also have been highly offensive to the sensitivities of many of the “religious” onlookers.

Jesus knew this!

Still, rather than handle her miraculous healing in the manner most healing miracles are described in Mark’s Gospel…by imposing a gag order…Jesus brought the matter to the attention of the entire crowd. He elevated and condoned her action. He complimented her faith.

This little encounter, on the way to the mind-blowing event of restoring life to a lifeless child, ranks among the most important lessons Jesus has given us. It is a clear demonstration of the primacy of faith. Her faith saved her…even as she violated the law.

No one but God knows the strength and depth of a person’s faith. In fact, sometimes we don’t know how strong our own faith is until it is put to the test, just as the poor, bleeding woman was tested.

Furthermore, it is most unwise to pass judgment as to someone else’s purity…cleanliness…worthiness…regardless of our motivation, because by focusing on who is pure…clean…or worthy, we might just miss an even greater miracle.

The law has an important purpose and must be honored…BUT FAITH HEALS!

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mk 6:1-6
July 4, 2021

There is no shortage of modern-day voices working to promote a cause, or a doctrine, or recruit a following to advance an ideology intended to somehow change the world.

The future is continually being “predicted,” whether in terms of dire doomsday warnings, or bright optimism, by a variety of “prophets.”

Modern-day prophets broadcast to the entire planet, in real-time, and they need to. Their prophesies are usually time sensitive. Occasionally, there is more than a kernel of truth to be had. But how often do we see predictions prove false when they fail to materialize? Ideologies come and go. Causes fade into memory. Organizations lose speed and disband.

We really need to have a healthy suspicion of any effort to influence our thinking and our actions, or risk losing the freedom we celebrate this weekend. More than ever before in human history, The Lord’s warning about false prophets, set out at Matt. 24:11, needs to be taken seriously.

Many false prophets will arise and deceive you; and because of the increase of evil-doing, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who perseveres to the end will be saved.

In his homily last week, during the Mass celebrating the Feasts of SS. Peter and Paul, Pope Francis shared some thoughts that might prove helpful in discerning the true spirit in which a message is broadcast.

Like Peter, we are called to be set free from a sense of failure before our occasionally disastrous fishing (trips), to be set free from the fear that paralyzes us, makes us seek refuge in our insecurities, and robs us of the courage of prophecy.

Like Paul, we are called to be set free from hypocritical outward show, free from the temptation to present ourselves with worldly power rather than with the weakness that makes space for God, free from a religiosity that makes us rigid and inflexible, free from dubious associations with power and from the fear of being misunderstood and attacked.

It seems that the Holy Father, much like the Lord, is warning us not to be deceived by anything, or anyone, that threatens our freedom to embrace, to think, to love, and to live the Gospel. That is the only way to live free.

The words of any “wanna-be” prophet, whether written on subway walls, streaming into our homes and minds through the internet, broadcast over cable news, delivered from the grandstand at an Independence Day celebration…or preached from a pulpit…that serve to limit us in our efforts to live out the fullness of the Gospel as best we can…are FALSE.

Messages contrary to the Gospel…which in no way is time sensitive…but, instead, eternal truth…are threats to our right to live in the freedom God desires for every human being. Viewpoints that make our love for one another “grow cold” are from false prophets.

It takes courage to live The Law of Love…but it took great courage to win our nation’s independence. We risk everything when we let love “grow cold.” So, it would serve us well as a nation, as a Church, as families, neighbors, and…co-workers to do our best to “persevere to the end” in The Gospel. And, in that way, we will be saved.

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mk 6:7-13
July 11, 2021

The 12 that were “specially chosen” by The Lord were given some pretty specific instructions on what to take, how to act, and what to do. Mark does not report, however, what they were supposed to say!

The fact is, they were directed to travel extremely light in terms of material goods and concerns because the message entrusted to their care could not possibly have been “weightier”…The Kingdom of God is at hand!

In our Second Reading, St. Paul offers a glimpse of what this looks like, The Reign of God…in other words, “God’s plan for the fullness of times.” The passage is poetic and powerful, requiring a slow, prayerful, and reflective reading if one is to get any sense of the “mystery of God’s will.”

This plan, which is totally Christ-centered, is that all creation should be redeemed. The plan involves a methodical process through which the harmony and peace God intended at the beginning of time is to be fully restored.

While creation waits for that to happen, God has chosen people in every generation who are entrusted with this Divine Wisdom. Like the 12 in today’s Gospel, the chosen are sent out into the world to “sell the plan.”

We live in times when the work of discipleship is especially “weighty.” We need only compare the headline news…worldwide…with the passage from Ephesians to appreciate how far humanity has taken creation off course. People are simply not investing in God’s Plan. So, those who accept the work must travel light and with a sense of urgency, covering as much territory as possible.

Disciples lean on the Gospel for support. The Good News keeps them steady and centered. It is the most dependable walking stick.

The Eucharist is The Food needed to sustain the work. The Bread of Life is essential to spiritual health and energy. Christ’s Body and Blood are The Source of strength necessary to power the challenging work of proclaiming The Kingdom of God.

Hard labor deserves a good wage, but payment for the work of discipleship, for the most part, is deferred. In the meantime, disciples find great satisfaction and reward in watching how their efforts can bring change in people’s lives and move God’s plan for redemption forward.

There are some very tough customers out there. It is imperative that their resistance not dampen or affect the enthusiasm and commitment of “the chosen.”
The instructions are clear: Shake off any negative experience and move on; don’t carry so much as a speck of negativity with you.

So then, as one of the very privileged “chosen,” you have clear instructions on what to take, how to act, and what to do as you set off on this urgent mission.

So then, just exactly what is it you are supposed to say? Simply this:

Love one another!
Care for one another!
Forgive one another!
Live in peace!

Why is that so hard to sell?

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mk 6:30-34
July 18,2021

Even though information about Covid, the threat of variants, the vaccines, the restrictions, the precautions, and all the rest of it is extremely important, (knowledge is power after all) I, for one, am finding it more and more difficult to listen to.

I’ve grown weary of the “fear and trembling” that the pandemic brought about. Those are the words that conclude today’s passage from Jeremiah: “fear and trembling.” There has certainly been plenty of that over these past months.

I think most of us have tried to convince ourselves that “it’s over.” We are doing our best to return to normal. That’s what we have been hoping and praying for…NORMALCY! No more fear when going out for groceries. No more trembling when someone hugs us.

The people blessed to live in the wealthy countries of the world are getting back to normal. We Americans, for example, are able to relax a bit more. The impoverished nations, on the other hand, are still in the midst of “fear and trembling.” But then, “fear and trembling” is NORMALCY for much of humanity.

As “abnormal” as this whole experience has seemed, the extreme suffering and hardships it brought truly are a way of life for so much of the world’s population. For impoverished countries, the virus has been just one more thing with which they must contend.

Consider how the pandemic has highlighted another dimension of NORMALCY. The response to the virus has been perfectly normal in the sense that it has caused humankind, for the most part, to “self-protect.”

The epidemic has spotlighted the great divide between the rich and the poor…the privileged and the underprivileged…the powerful and influential…and the powerless and downtrodden. Rather than uniting the world in the fight against a common enemy, what we have seen is, tragically, the all too NORMAL reaction: survival of the fittest.

The virus motivated us to build walls of every sort. Walls divide us. Walls separate us. Walls make us even more self-defensive and self-centered than we already are.

In God’s plan, “normal” means quite the opposite. It is the will of our Creator that humanity strives to live together in unity and peace, regardless of our differences.

In God’s plan, the human family comes together, especially in times of crisis.

God’s view of “normal” is that we care for one another…the privileged responding quickly and generously to those in need.

Knowledge means power. And if people are to learn anything from what we are experiencing, it is that we are totally interdependent. We have a responsibility to care for one another. Those things that separate and divide us only serve to weaken us, especially in times of crisis.

If knowledge is, indeed, power, we have an opportunity to become especially powerful from the lesson to be learned from the pandemic…God calls all humanity together in Christ. It is God’s will that we reach out to those who, for whatever reason, are experiencing fear and are trembling.

God’s NORMAL is that we bring healing and peace to those in need.

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary
John 6:1-15
July 25, 2021

There is a large billboard on the side of a highway in Minnesota with a picture of a loaf of ordinary white bread. The plastic tag sealing the bread bag has printed on it the simple words we look for in the supermarket, or when we open the refrigerator, or when we pull a can of soup from the back of the pantry:

“BEST IF USED BY…”

The public service announcement is sponsored by SAVETHEFOOD.COM. The message on the sign reads: “Every American wastes 290 pounds of food a year…cook it, store it, share it.”

I believe it!

Living alone, with an unpredictable schedule that frequently needs adjusting because of the “surprises” that are part of ministry (even in retirement), I find myself carting a number of science experiments from the fridge to the curb every week. And, as I am bagging up the wasted food, I hear my mother’s voice from years past, telling me to clean my plate because there are lots of hungry children who would love to have what I was grumbling about.

I believe that as well!

Famine is a worldwide problem. Hunger and undernourishment is a social issue even in this “land of plenty.” So, good old “Catholic guilt” is alive and well when it comes to tossing out spoiled food.

Our Readings remind us that there is enough for everyone, so long as we do not waste…and so long as we are conscious of the need to share.

A less practical and more spiritual interpretation of this week’s Scripture passages serves to reassure us that God ALWAYS does what Jesus did that day when faced with a hungry crowd. Somehow, God responds to humanity’s needs in a manner far beyond our wildest dreams.

The relationship between the miraculous multiplication of loaves and fishes and the Eucharist is fairly evident. But what requires a closer look is the mention of “leftovers.”

When we approach the Communion Table with a pure heart, hungry for The Bread of Life…we are given our fill. Nourished with God’s gift of Grace, we are strengthened in such a way that we are able to face the coming week, and the challenges it might bring, without fear and with hope. And there is “Grace to spare”…leftovers, if you will.

It’s as if this extra Grace, which is beyond our immediate need, is wrapped up within us and entrusted to us to be taken out into the world to share with those who are spiritually malnourished.

There is no expiration date for Grace. Nevertheless, it doesn’t seem that we should simply store it someplace safe for later use. What is “extra” is meant to be shared.

If Catholic guilt has a proper purpose, I should think it would be to sting the conscience of those who let Grace go unused. And, if asked to design a public service billboard to raise awareness, it would read:

GRACE
CELEBRATE IT…LIVE IT…SHARE IT!

Because that’s what I believe!

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jn 6:24-35
August 1, 2021

During a recent visit, a friend shared memories of his Italian grandmother. He recalled how, although her English was limited, she was always able to make herself understood.

He spoke about her skills in the kitchen (of course he would…she was an Italian gramma) and her ability to make a feast out of a few simple ingredients.

The subject of food triggered another recollection.

He could not remember the Italian, but he recalled the English translation of an expression she often used. When speaking about someone she admired, she would say:

He’s as good as a piece of bread!

After he left, I googled it. It took only seconds to find a posting authored by another grandchild with a heart filled with memories of a much-loved grandmother. “Words of Nona” portrays 10 Italian pearls of wisdom. Each uses “bread” to communicate something highly significant in the simplest but most meaningful of ways. At the very top of the list was:

“Essere buono come il pane!”

The literal translation is: To be as good as bread.

In the article, the author talks about the absolute delight in eating a piece of fresh baked bread, still warm from the oven. In her opinion, “if a person is as good as that, it’s really the best you can get.” So, when my friend’s grandmother declared that a person was “as good as a piece of bread,” she was offering high praise.

But I wonder if this folk wisdom was inspired at the kitchen table…or at the Communion table?

Consider this:

When God the Father was eager to communicate unlimited and unconditional love for humankind…he sent God the Son into our world.

When Jesus was preparing to return to the Father, he made certain that the Divine message of forgiveness, healing, peace, and love would continue to be heard.

With the simplest of ingredients, he prepared the most lavish of feasts. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, ordinary bread and wine are transformed into the Bread of Life…and the cup of our salvation…the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

When we come to the Communion table, pure of heart and with an appetite for holiness, we are completely satisfied. We will not go away hungry, and we become what we eat.

Then, we are sent out into the world to continue to proclaim the Creator’s message of forgiveness, healing, peace, and love.

Through the Eucharist, we are entrusted with the message that Jesus was sent to deliver.

Through the Eucharist, we become “Christ bearers.”

Through the Eucharist, we are empowered to be God’s instrument of communication.

In my opinion, it is then that a person is truly as good as a piece of bread, because it is then that we are what we have consumed…the Bread of Life…the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

That is really the best you can get!

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jn 6:41-51
August 8, 2021

At a meeting this past June, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops voted to begin work on a “teaching” document dealing with the Eucharist. The press sensationalized and even politicized this decision.

Pundits suggested that a vocal faction was attempting to “weaponize” the Sacrament by denying Communion to politicians who publicly expressed opinions that appear to be contrary to Church teachings.

Rome weighed in with a cautionary note.

The USCCB countered with a clarification. It is worth reading in its entirety.
Since the conclusion of the Spring Plenary Assembly of the U.S. Bishops last week, there has been much attention on the vote taken to draft a document on the Eucharist. The question of whether to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot. The vote by the bishops last week tasked the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine to begin the drafting of a teaching document on the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life. The importance of nurturing an ever deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the Bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including Bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness, and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.

Over 2000 years have passed since that Passover meal when The Lord spoke those all-important…creation-changing…words:

DO THIS IN MEMORY OF ME!

So, we might well ask ourselves whether such a “teaching” document is really necessary. After all these centuries, what more is there to be taught…or learned…or remembered?

Looking back a few years to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, only 31 percent of U.S. Catholics expressed an appreciation for and understanding of the sacred mystery we call TRANSUBSTANTIATION. Since then, a wave of spiritual lethargy seems to have swept away many Catholics. Then the pandemic limited access to the Communion Table by those who have continued to obey the Lord’s command:

DO THIS IN MEMORY OF ME!

Tragically, then, it seems that this incredible Gift from The Lord, for many today is as misunderstood and dramatically under-valued as it was by the people described in today’s Gospel.

So, is a “teaching document” by the American Bishops really needed? It certainly seems so.

And what can we expect to see in this forthcoming document?

Hopefully, our Bishops will stress the importance of those words spoken by a Roman Centurion (Luke 7:6) and echoed by the faithful at every Eucharist:

Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof…but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.

Indeed, we are in desperate need of healing in every aspect of our existence. Our abused and victimized planet is in need of healing.

SAY THE WORD, LORD, THAT OUR EARTH MAY BE HEALED.

Much of humanity is suffering from the effects of war, drought, famine, and disease.

SAY THE WORD, LORD, THAT OUR SISTERS AND BROTHERS MAY BE HEALED.

Our Church is suffering from divisions aggravated by ego-driven misunderstandings and resistance to dialogue.

SAY THE WORD, LORD, THAT YOUR BODY…OUR CHURCH…MAY BE HEALED.

Our beloved country is suffering because our leaders seem incapable of coming together to promote the common good.

SAY THE WORD, LORD, THAT ALL ENTRUSTED WITH POWER MAY BE HEALED.

Many families are suffering from the effects of a culture that undermines the importance of the “dining room table.”

SAY THE WORD, LORD, THAT OUR FAMILIES MAY BE HEALED.

As individuals, we are the walking wounded, each suffering with some malady of body, mind, or spirit.

SAY THE WORD, LORD, THAT WE MAY BE HEALED.

While we wait for this document to issue, let us pray that our Bishops are inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that they might enliven within all the faithful a hunger for The Bread of Life…through which we are healed.

Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Lk 1:39-56
August 15, 2021

In the middle of the 20th century, Pius XII wove together strands of belief and tradition handed down by the earliest Christians into the Dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We celebrate that great mystery of our faith today. Simply put, we believe that, at the conclusion of her earthly life, Mary’s body was spared corruption and was taken up into heaven.

Shortly thereafter, Catholic motorists began to “enshrine” little blue plastic statues of the Blessed Mother on the dashboard of their vehicles. I’m uncertain as to whether there was a connection between the newly defined cornerstone of our faith and this very public display of devotion to the Blessed Mother. I do recall, however, that secured in place by a magnet under its base, whether looking ahead, through the windshield, or checking the rear-view mirror, it was hard not to catch a glimpse of Mary.

Critics saw her in plain view as well. We were accused of using the little statue as a “good luck charm.” In fact, some Catholics might well have fallen into that sort of “mindless superstition.” For the informed faithful, however, that tiny blue statue served as a reminder that we are under the constant protection of the Mother of God.

Moreover, this image of a young woman, who was to become a living tabernacle, was or should have been a source of inspiration for us. That momentary glimpse as we drove along had the power to encourage us to try harder to follow the example of The Blessed Mother. Filled with grace, her every thought, word, and deed a brilliant “YES!” to God’s will and God’s ways.

Looking back through the “rear-view mirror” of Scripture, we are reminded of Mary’s silent and committed acceptance of all that God asked of her. Seen as “the new Eve” Mary’s cooperation with God’s plan for salvation initiated a fresh start for our fallen world.

Looking ahead, as creation moves slowly through the centuries of this “fresh start,” The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary offers a view of what is to come. At the completion of God’s plan for us, as individuals, and ultimately as humanity, we will find a mother’s perfect and unconditional love waiting to greet us.

There is great comfort and peace in the knowledge that The Almighty so values our “earthliness” that God has “enthroned” this perfect creature as Queen of Heaven.

And, as we pray…we should also believe that…never was it known that ANYONE who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession WAS LEFT UNAIDED.

Those little blue statues, sadly, have disappeared from our dashboards and even from our memories. Fewer and fewer Catholic families distinguish themselves by “enshrining” an image of Mary in a prominent place in their yard or even within the privacy of their homes. But we should never “assume” that she has disappeared. She is attached to the created world with the most powerful of magnetic forces…LOVE. And her love for us is continually drawing us toward a perfect union with our God.

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jn 6:60-69
August 22, 2021

It’s a scene we’ve witnessed before: frantic people clinging hopelessly to a departing jet as it taxied down a Kabul runway, about to take flight. In terms of human drama, it was much like the events of April 30, 1975, when U.S. troops departed from Saigon.

The terror, the feelings of hopelessness, the heartbreak of knowing the dreams of living in a free and open society without violence and constant fear are now completely dashed…it’s all there…the tragedies run parallel. Just try to imagine the challenges that awaited those “left behind.”

The exodus from Afghanistan and the exodus from Viet Nam have this much in common with The Exodus of Israel from slavery in Egypt. Those eager to be liberated…yearning to live in freedom and peace…were terrified of being “left behind.”

The overwhelming desire to “take flight” in search of a better life is common to every exodus story. Regardless of the time, or the place, or the tyrant, freedom-loving people do not want to be “left behind.”

But, once they’ve made the mad dash across the Red Sea, or the Pacific Ocean, or the Rio Grande, many refugees find that the Promised Land is not all that they had hoped for. Refugee camps, for example, are not exactly places of milk and honey.

Becoming disillusioned, disenchanted, refugees begin to grumble. And eventually, they must make a choice:

Do we return to face the wrath of Pharaoh…the Taliban…the Viet Kong…the drug cartel?

Or:

Trusting in God’s goodness and mercy, do we continue our pilgrim journey?

Today’s Gospel brings to a close what is commonly referred to as “The Bread of Life Discourse.” First delivered to His followers in the synagogue in Capernaum, John 6 is The Lord’s great teaching about Eucharist. But, at the same time, it is a reminder to us of all that God has done for us through Jesus Christ.

Fortified and invigorated with this reminder, we are able to continue our pilgrim journey towards the ultimate “Promised Land,” the new and Eternal Jerusalem.

Finally, this passage asks us to make a choice. The critical decision that people have made throughout the ages: Do I dare risk going back to that place from which I fled?

Or: With trust in a brighter future…do I continue the search for the Promised Land?

Do I turn back to face the wrath and ravages of sin? Or do I continue to follow Jesus…The New Moses…with the renewed strength that comes from The Bread of Life?

What is so hard about making that choice? Do you really want to be “left behind” as disciples continue to make their way to that place of perfect peace and lasting joy…THE KINGDOM OF GOD?

Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary
Mk 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
August 29, 2021

I recall sitting in the back seat of our bright green 1954 Chevrolet, making our way home after Sunday Mass, where a big dinner awaited us.(Tradition)

My sister and myself would be going on about the man in front of us with a crazy tie. Or we might be having a giggle over the “bowl of false fruit” on a neighbor lady’s new hat. Back then, coat and tie were the proper church attire, and women seemed to be in a competition to find the most outlandish hat. It was unheard of for a woman to enter a church without a head covering. (Tradition)

The organist/cantor, a good and tireless disciple, perched in the choir loft in the rear of the church, was fair game for what we thought to be witty criticism. Of course, back then, we Catholics were accustomed to being sung to, rather than raising our own voices in praise. (Tradition) So we had the time to critique the cantor.

We would continue in that vein until Dad would interrupt us with words to this effect:

If you two had been praying like you’re supposed to at Mass, you wouldn’t even notice those things.

That would quiet us down, at least until the drive home on the next Sunday morning.

That remark by my Dad had an impact on me that has survived and surfaced many times over my life. It comes to mind especially when I am reflecting on Gospel passages where the self-righteous scribes and Pharisees are challenging Jesus.

“THE LAW” and the customs and traditions that are dictated by, or spring up around “THE LAW” certainly are important in every religion. They are one of the things that bind us together and identify us.

In Jesus’s time, ritual purity was strictly defined and expected to be strictly observed. But, as we see in this passage, it is quite possible to have perfectly clean hands but an unclean heart.

Moreover, when our heart isn’t pure, very often our thoughts are likewise unclean. When we come to worship with clean hearts, our minds and our eyes…are “LIFTED UP TO THE LORD.” When we direct our entire being towards Christ, there is no time or desire to notice the ties, or hats, or sour notes, or unclean hands of our sisters and brothers. Our focus is on our God and we resist all distractions.

So…LIFT UP YOUR HEARTS…and minds, and eyes…to give thanks to the Lord our God…because it is RIGHT AND JUST!

It is “right and just,” and it is proper prayer. And when you pray properly, you have neither the time nor the inclination to notice and pass judgment on those around you.

Go in the Peace of Christ!

Thanks be to God.

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mk 7:31-37
September 5, 2021

The three tenses are there…PAST…PRESENT…and FUTURE. But the order is scrambled.

The Old Testament Reading, rather than describing how things WERE, spins an image of how things WILL BE when the reign of God is in full bloom.

The Second Reading speaks to how things WERE in the early days of The Church. But, upon deeper reflection, aren’t we given a brief description of how things remain in THE PRESENT? Don’t the privileged still muscle their way to the front of the crowd? And, for that matter, doesn’t the crowd oblige them? Envy them? Hope to be part of them?

Our Gospel reports a “double-healing miracle.” This was a single moment in the PAST. But it also offers us a glimpse of the FUTURE…a future that will never end.
When Christ returns in glory, all creation will look on “astonished” as the universe is healed. This miraculous transformation will cause all humanity to shout out with one voice: “HE HAS DONE ALL THINGS WELL!”

But within the “double miracle,” there is also an undeniable “double challenge.” To those of us living in the PRESENT, this miracle should be appreciated for more than enabling an individual to enter into a normal life. There is a timeless lesson and a challenge underlying the Lord’s compassionate response to the man’s double disability. The challenge begins at Baptism.

Honoring this particular healing miracle, the Church provides the option of a special prayer during the Baptism of an infant. Towards the conclusion of the ritual, the minister of the Sacrament touches the ears and mouth of the child and intones the prayer referred to as Ephphetha.

The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the dumb speak. May he soon touch your ears to receive his word and your mouth to proclaim his faith, to the praise and glory of God the Father.

With that gesture, and those words, Christians are graced with the ability to hear that to which God is calling them. Moreover, disciples are challenged to speak out and give witness to the Gospel.

The precious few courageous enough to fully embrace this challenge, in a spiritual sense, shrug off the three tenses…PAST…PRESENT…FUTURE…and exist in the timelessness of the Infinite Christ.

Those who look on “astonished” by the strength and courage of committed discipleship are given a glimpse of how things should be, and will be, when humanity is finally freed from the prison of time.

Through God’s infinite compassion and mercy, the crippling disability of sin will at last be healed. All creation will hear the Voice of Love…and will respond by giving God glory and praise. Then we will truly live a “normal life,” the life our Creator intended for us at the very beginning.

Turn down the volume of your day-to-day lives. Sit for a minute in prayerful silence…isolated from the noise of the world. Overcome your deafness by listening with an eager ear. You might well be blessed to hear “Christ sounds” approaching in the distance.

That far off sound of redemption and healing encourages us who wait…to “do all things well” so that we can enjoy Eternal Life and Love.

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mk 8:27-35
September 12, 2021

We concluded last Sunday’s Liturgy of The Word with a resounding endorsement of Jesus:

He does all things well!

The double-healing miracle of restoring a person’s hearing and speech…earned The Lord the kind of “approval ratings” that politicians yearn for. So the exchange between Jesus and His leading advisor reported by Mark in this week’s Gospel is especially jarring.

Wow!

GET BEHIND ME SATAN!!

Pretty harsh.

What we have here is much more than a clash in strategies between Jesus and His inner circle. At the risk of embarrassing, or even alienating, Peter, the Lord is making a definitive statement.

Salvation is not political

The Messiah is not a title or office won through the popular vote.

Rather, it is a “once, and for all time” promise fulfilled by our Creator. AS PROMISED, Jesus, The Son of God…The Christ…The Messiah…was sent to heal creation from the ravages of sin.

The Lord’s mission was to voice the cosmic challenge to all persons and all things…all beliefs and practices…all thoughts and attitudes that are contrary to the will and ways of The Father. And, in order to empower people of good will to meet the challenge and to “think like God” when The Messiah’s time on earth came to an end, He sent the Holy Spirit to dwell among us.

In accomplishing His mission, it can truly be said that:

He (did) all things well!

But as theologian Monika Hellwig points out:

Every challenge carries some pain and demands some renunciations.

For the Messiah, Who challenged the world to “turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel,” the pain was unparalleled. He was to suffer greatly…endure rejection…and be brutally murdered.

The renunciation for Jesus…was worldly ambition.

Ephphatha!

With that one powerful word, Jesus OPENED the ears and the mouth of a disabled man…and the cure was immediate. The miracle we witness this week was to OPEN THE MINDS of His disciples. But the response was not “immediate.”

Even after this “definitive statement,” the confusion, fear, doubt, denial, and even betrayal continued. It wasn’t until Easter morning that The Lord’s followers began to, ever so slowly, open their minds and their hearts to the meaning of Christian discipleship.

So then…

Ephphatha!

Be open to what God is asking of you. Pray for the graces to meet the challenge in spite of the inevitable “pain, demands, and renunciations” that come with living the Gospel. And don’t become discouraged if you are not immediately successful. Salvation is a slow-moving process.

On the other hand, should you reach a point where you think:

I HAVE done all things well!

It’s time to ask yourself:

Now, how can I do things even better?

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mk 9:30-37
September 19, 2021

Spiritual author Fr. Richard Rohr talks about “see(ing) the text with your available eyes” and hearing the Gospel “from your own level of development and consciousness.” That’s a mouthful. But, upon reflection, it compliments Bishop Ken Untener’s suggestion that preachers prepare their homilies with the newspaper in one hand and the Scriptures in the other.

The goings-on in our world affect the vision with which we read God’s Word.

Faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

Doesn’t this mean that The Good News should inspire good works? And if that is the case, isn’t the daily news the place to look for ways to give life to our faith? Isn’t it helpful to use current events as a tool to dig deeper into Sacred Scripture?

As I sit with this week’s Gospel, I have an image of Jesus wrapping His loving arms around a little kid. “Available to my eyes” as I ponder this passage is a press release from Bishop Gruss.

As I heard Jesus say:

Whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me…

my own “level of development and consciousness” was elevated by the knowing that our Bishop is “encouraging people of faith and good will to put aside political differences and focus on the needs of the children.”

The press release begins:

“Calling for the compassionate treatment of young children who have migrated to the United States from Central America and Mexico, and, most recently, Afghanistan, Bishop Robert Gruss is encouraging people of faith and good will to put aside political differences and focus on the needs of the children.”

He continues:

“For so many of us, our hearts are torn as we learn of unaccompanied children who are fleeing all kinds of trauma, only to find themselves caught in the middle of strong emotions, hostile attitudes, and opposing political positions.”

These statements are very much in keeping with recent, urgent teachings by Pope Francis, as well as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

And so it was gratifying to learn from the press release that:

In the Diocese of Saginaw, there are conversations underway regarding a youth refugee center in Alma, which would shelter children who are between 12 and 17 years old and who crossed the border alone. The shelter would operate with federal funding and the children would remain there for an average of 40 days as staff work to reunite them with their families.

Unfortunately…

A request to rezone a vacant nursing home to be converted into the shelter was denied in early August. The issue will now go before Alma’s city commission for a final decision.

I am unaware of all the issues and concerns that will be placed before this commission. But, hopefully, the decision-makers will have “available to their eyes” this week’s Gospel. And, as they evaluate the arguments for and against offering a safe haven to these children in dire need, they will approach the issue with a “level of development and consciousness” that includes these words:

Whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me!

Who would want to zone out Christ?

Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mk 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
September 26, 2021

During the first year of my theology studies, preparing for ordained ministry, at the conclusion of a lecture, a fellow student turned to me and said: “That passage reminds me of you!”

The focus of the class happened to be the parable about the generous vineyard owner who went out at different times of day to hire more day laborers. Having moved those who had worked only a few hours to the front of the pay line, he gave them the same wage that was given to those who labored all day in the hot sun. I was stunned. But, for whatever reason, I didn’t ask what he meant by his remark.

Clearly, as a “late vocation,” I was coming into “the vineyard” of Church ministry during the second half of my life. Did he think I was undeserving of the same “pay”? Was he suggesting that I would be contributing less to the work of ministering to God’s people? Was he accusing me of being of less value?

I did not ask for clarification, nor did he offer any. Still, after 30 years, the remark has stayed with me. And, for all that time, I took it as criticism, even though a negative remark would have been out of character for this young man.

My reflection on this week’s Readings, together with the experiences that accumulated as a parish priest over these past decades, has left me with some profound insights.

Certainly, my life leading up to Ordination was not without value…or service to the Body of Christ. Not only were the various experiences and challenges that I encountered useful preparation for ministry, but, hopefully, there were at least SOME THINGS that I said, or did, that helped others encounter Christ…even though I wasn’t then working in the Church.

In fact, when a “graced moment” comes from an unexpected source, very often, it has a special impact. Think about it.

We expect “Church folk” to send us off with a “blessing.” But, on those occasions when the cashier at the grocery store…or the letter carrier…or the bank teller…ends the transaction by saying:

Have a blessed day.

Don’t you feel it? Don’t unexpected blessings ignite something especially rich and exciting within you? Isn’t there something “super-graced” about an unexpected blessing from an unexpected source?

Of course, this is not to suggest that ordination, credentials, training, ritual, community worship, and all the rest that makes us “Church” are not important; they definitely are. But so are you!

Through Baptism, all Christians are called to new life in The Holy Spirit. In fact, together, the three Sacraments of Initiation are a motherload of grace. To hoard that grace places one in the crosshairs of today’s Second Reading.

We can’t put a leash on the Holy Spirit and place it in the hands of professional ministers.

While it is true that The Holy Spirit dwells within the institutional Church, by nature, The Spirit defies all efforts to be contained or controlled. The Spirit roams freely throughout creation, choosing how and through whom to bestow “unexpected blessings” and “surprising graced moments.”

What I took as a criticism so many years ago might well have merely been the astute observation that, in the eyes of God, length of service isn’t the measure of value. Whenever or however we respond to the invitation of The Holy Spirit to bestow an “unexpected blessing” or make the effort to extend a “graced moment” to another, our work has great value and earns a great reward.

Consider today’s Readings as an invitation to you extended by The Holy Spirit. You have been invited to get to work. Surprising as it might be to you…or to those who will benefit from your good efforts…you have been given all you need to convey blessings and graced moments.

If you listen carefully, you will hear a loving voice whisper to your heart:

You too go into my vineyard…there is lots to be done and you are needed. You are important!

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