Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Question: Gospel Story Relevance

From the Hermitage

Today's Gospel

Dear Friends,

This gospel story always seemed to stop me.  Do you think what happened in the story that Jesus told about the wedding feast would actually happen today, in our culture, our society?  I doubt it.  If someone of the rank that is in the story invited people to a similar wedding feast, the streets would be jammed.  People who had not received an invite would be willing to pay high prices to earn a place in the dining hall.

So what does this story mean for us today?  Perhaps the answer to this question is that people today are greatly impacted by "importance."

Do we see the difference, however, in the invitations that God sends our ways?  Usually God invites us to events or moments that are not dressed in the trappings of royal celebrations.  How many are there who would refuse and invitation to a White House dinner especially if they are not satisfied with the performance of the current President?  Perhaps a minimal number!

God invites us to celebrate with his Son in unique moments:  orchestras, black tie suits, pricey gowns are not needed.  All one has to bring with him/her is a little humility.  God's invites usually are invites to be like his Son -- to join with those in need of something be it of material need or spiritual growth.

Pope Francis, to celebrate his birthday brought four homeless men from the streets of Rome to his house for dinner, one even brought his pet dog.  I wonder about this:  how many folks with homes, cars and almost all the material needs necessary, would have come if there were room for three or four spaces left at the table?

Why Different?

From the Hermitage

Dear Friends,

The new work as Pastor has taken much time and energy.  It is not overwhelming but for a few weeks there will be many challenges to my calendar.   Like this week, the week of faculty preparations for the beginning of school next week.  I am working with the Principal, assisting her and the faculty in several matters.  As well, there is a new program to be initiated in the parish that is taking time.  Likewise bringing the wonderful staff to work a la Jordan takes time and the effort to understand fully the marvelous gifts each of the staff members has to offer the whole team that I am working to put in place.  It is so exciting.  Indeed it is fun!  Cardinal Wuerl was amazed when we met at the recent Knights of Columbus annual convention to hear a pastor say those words.

Today, I am relying on the words of a professor, a dental physician, at Creighton for an insight he had regarding the gospel reading.

God’s love and gifts are personalized just for us. We are accepted, loved and blessed individually. We are moved and called by the spirit individually. We should not compare and view as competition the position, gifts and blessings of our fellow pilgrims for we cannot fathom the insights of God, nor do we fully know the depths of the needs of our brothers and sisters. It is difficult but, in faith, we must focus on our own acceptance by God. (Dr. Mark Latta)

Sometimes I find myself wondering why it is that another person has so many talents or seems to be so often living on "Easy Street."  Dr. Latta's insight is helpful.  We must not forget that we are not God.  I don't always know why another priest has so many talents or skills.  Probably I have to realize that God has a special vocation within the priestly vocation for that brother priest.  In my own family I have one brother who was always so very intelligent ... and never used that gift.  I questioned God.
And, now, as I grow into those senior years, I am overwhelmed by the brilliance of so many of the younger men and women I encounter.  Likewise I am amazed at their insights that lead them to reach out to others in so many unique ways.

So, let's not forget what Dr. Latta wrote:  "God's love and gifts are personalized ...."

Oremus pro invicem!

Fr. Milt

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Auschwitz Saint

From the Hermitage

Maximilian Kolbe

O St. Maximilian Kolbe, faithful follower of St. Francis, inflamed by the love of God you dedicated your life to the practice of virtue and to works of the apostolate. Look down with favor upon us who devoutly confide in your intercession. Having consecrated yourself to the Immaculate Virgin Mary, you inspired countless souls to a holy life and various forms of the apostolate in order to do good to others and to spread the kingdom of God. Obtain for us the grace by our lives and labors to draw many souls to Christ.  Amen.

In your close conformity to our Divine Savior you reached such an intense degree of love that you offered your life to save a fellow prisoner. Implore God that we, inflamed by such ardent charity, may through our living faith and our apostolic works witness Christ to others, and thus merit to join you in the blessed vision of God. Amen.

Today we celebrate, truly celebrate, the wisdom and the spirituality of a man of modern times.  To read the short version of his life noted above is to encounter a unique individual.  Certainly we celebrate his charity:  to give up his life for a fellow prisoner in Auschwitz because the man had a wife and children.  But look at all this man did through out his life.  So much study to deepen his knowledge of Jesus Christ and our Church.  So much effort to spread the Good News through a variety of print materials.  Imagine how active St Maximilian would be today with all the Social Media outlets he could use to familiarize Catholics and many others with the realities of life.  An author, a public speaker, a visionary, and apparently the recipient of an appearance by the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Maximilian Kolbe is certainly a saint who life is worthy of the time to come to know him.  What a topic for conversation around the dining room table at dinner tonight, particularly if there are young adults and children there.  His is a story that would make a movie.  His life is the kind that shine with challenge, excitement and enthusiasm.   Likewise, it might be an interesting conversation topic "around the water cooler or coffee machine" at work today.

Let his story bring a special joy and thanksgiving that our Church had such a man committed to his Baptism and Confirmation.  Indeed Fr. Kolbe was a Soldier of Christ.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Why Be Childlike

From the Hermitage

Almighty ever-living God,
whom, taught by the whole Spirit,
we dare to call our Father,
bring, we pray, to perfection in our hearts
the spirit of adoption as your sons and daughters,
that we may merit to enter into the inheritance
which you have promised.

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Dear Friends,

Jesus calls us.  We know that, I am sure.  Nonetheless, he calls us to follow him, for sure.  However, he calls us in the words of Matthew's gospel that we read today to be childlike.  What does he mean?  What does he expect of us?

In our world today we read each day of the abuse of children by people of all ages and cultures and professions.  We recognize the reality of these offenses because we say that children are so very vulnerable.  So, who would want to be like a child in today's cultures?

Sometimes, it seems, packaging young children in vulnerability does prevent our failure to see that children have "a great capacity for intimacy, tenderness, trust, compassion, awe and reverence" (Fr. Andy Alexander, SJ).  However, as children, and we were once children, grow they are taught just the opposite:  Don't trust others.  Intimacy is a dangerous experience.  The awe that once captured the minds and hearts of youngsters is so often ruined by what they encounter as they grow older.  Perhaps the greatest loss that comes to a child's life at one particular moment is when he/she looses the sense of wonder and awe.  When that happens, imagination is ruined.

Fr. Alexander notes that Jesus us calling us to return to childlike simplicity, awe and wonder.  For most of us that is not easy because, as one friend said to me recently, "I have been burned once too often".

Jesus is calling us, as adults, to return to our innate innocence and vulnerability.  To do that demands of us that we turn to the love of God for us, that we embrace his mercy which is poured out for us each time we celebrate the Eucharist and/or the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Perhaps when we have embraced Jesus, as little children do - especially when they are introduced to the child Jesus in a nativity scene.  And, just as children easily open themselves to others, so too we are called by our Savior to open ourselves to others and to accept them as God has created them with their own sense of awe and vulnerability.

Oremus pro invicem,

Fr. Milt

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Trusting is So Necessary

From the Hermitage

Dear Friends,

It is my hope that the gospel reading in particular will be an opportunity for you to consider your own current boat ride.  The experience of the apostles and of Jesus himself has genuine meaning for all of us.  However, let me begin with Jesus' dilemma.  The crowd is so thrilled by his actions that they only see what is in it for themselves.  Jesus realizes that they want to make of him what he is not going to be, a king.  It is probably for this reason that Jesus decided it was best for him to get away from them and the apostles to be along with the Father.  There are times in our lives when others want something for us which they might consider as good for you.  "Oh, you should take the promotion!" or "Sure, that is a house you should buy; it is what is best for you and your family."   But there might be that silent whisper that you read about in the first reading which is also speaking to your heart.  Finding time with the Lord in quiet prayer and listening is most often going to be the opening of the door for what is best for you.

Let's look at the apostles for a moment, especially Peter.  Jesus sends them off alone on the windy waters of the lake.  There they are alone and battered by the waves.  Fear captures their very being.  Alone and without their friend, was this going to be the end?  Suddenly there comes a voice from someone on the waters, someone not in their boat.  Superstition takes over:  Is it a ghost?  Like most people caught in fear, these fishermen withdraw into silence, probably falling down into the bottom of their boat.  But they hear words, "It is I."  Then Peter calls out to Jesus, probably in hopes of rescue or at least in hopes of some comforting and care.  Peter's heart and mind bring him out of the boat -- a truly foolish thing to do.  When did Peter learn to walk on water?  Never!  But at this moment he does not think about drowning or not being able to walk to Jesus.  He needs help.  He knows he and the comrades are in a difficult situation.  Jesus will help.  Without any thoughts of sinking, Peter goes over the side of the boat and starts his walk to Jesus.  Imagine how strongly Peter felt about Jesus as friend and Jesus and miracle worker.  But then, as he came closer to Jesus, he began to let his trust falter.  "Oh, my Lord, I cannot walk on water."  And he begins to sink.  "Oh, my Lord, I am drowning."  This must have been his thought.  Then Jesus takes his hands and holds him above a watery demise.

What are we to make of this?  I recall a time shortly after my ordination back in 1972 when a priest leading me on a retreat asked me to imagine myself in a boat with rough waters.  What was Jesus saying to me with this gospel story?  First, for me, as I recall that meditation so clearly today, I felt that I had to be away from the land and all that it represented with its securities, with my friends, my superiors (at the time I was still a Jesuit priest).  I found myself alone with all the challenges that a relatively newly ordained priest confronts:  expectations, the adulation from friends because of my new status as priests and high school administrator, some difficulty in finding meaning in prayer.  I had to get away from the land to be alone with the Lord.  The retreat director knew what was best for me:  separate myself from all the world around me for a time of prayer and quiet with the Lord.  Fr. Griffith was asking me to be alone with the Lord, to walk to him even in the rough waters that were challenging me at that time.  How difficult it was to abandon the safety and security of my little boat to walk out to Jesus.  Jim knew my heart well.  What a challenge!  

Each of us goes through times in our lives when we find ourselves bouncing around in our own little boat, battered by a variety of waves.  What these waves represent for me are the challenges to my faith, to my priesthood, to my service to God's people, etc. etc. etc.  Each of us has those moments, that frightening bouncing-arounds in our little boats.  "Lord, how small is my little boat in the vast sea of my life."  Like Peter, however, we have to be strong in our trust.  Yes, in whatever storm our lives have put us in, we need to be quiet, listening for the whisper of the Holy Spirit.  It is His voice that make take us over the side of the boat to walk on water, to venture where we would never have imagined before.

A final thought for those who have struggles with their faith:  if we are willing to risk the challenge of walking on the waters put before us in whatever our storm may be because we do want to trust that Jesus will be there for us, we, too, will not sink!  How often Peter can be for us a model, a favorite saint for us because he was so daring and so trusting.  Is your faith this strong?

Oremus pro invicem.

Fr. Milt

Friday, August 1, 2014

Ignoring and Forgetting

From the Hermitage

 Lord, in your great love, answer me.

Dear Friends,

Good morning.  Later this morning I will be making what might be a last visit to a young woman parishioner.  Her oncologists have concluded what treatments were possible for her brain cancer.  Now it is a matter of time ... and some are wondering about the response of the Lord to their many hours of prayer for the young lady.  As is often the case, she is very much at peace.  Now she is praying, as she has been for several months, for the moment she has been awaiting.  Very soon she will meet her God.

The psalm describes several way life has been a challenge to the people of David's time.  Each of us, for sure, could compose a psalm like Psalm 69.  Life is rarely filled with roses most of the time.

The challenge for us is for us not to forget that God does not ignore nor does He forget.  Sometimes when we don't get the instant response, we tend to try, I repeat try, to solve the problem better or sooner than God.  We have to trust.  to be patient and live with the words in red at the top of this posting.

Perhaps you might do what one pastor said to a parishioner who was not satisfied with God's delay.  He suggested to the party this exercise:  list the answers, all of them, that you have received to your petitions, your prayers to God.  Yes, you will find some not answered YET.  However, if you are like most of us, we can list more than a few divine interventions.

I would add if there are only a few answered prayers, the following:  (a) have you seriously prayed to God; (b) have you listened to God in quiet reflection (c) do you honestly believe, yourself, that what you are seeking is the best for you and at this time in your life?

Please Note:  Tomorrow morning I will be leaving the Hermitage to attend the national meeting of the Knights of Columbus.  It is a part of my new position as Maryland State Chaplain.  I will try to prepare a posting for the days that I am away from the parish which will be until Friday evening of next week.

As I have noted in prior absences, you might consider visiting the daily reflection prepared by faculty members at Jesuit Creighton University, Omaha, Nebraska at the following website:

Oremus pro invicem,

Fr. Milt