Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Spirituality Tensions

Today, together with the universal Church, we commemorate the young woman of Lisieux whose life was a model of humility, determination and trust. Known for her holiness, Theresa of Lisieux is a model of trust in God regardless of the circumstances. She with other saints is a teacher of a "saintly reality" we believe is only for us regular mortals, namely that God even seems absent at times to those we believe are always in God's presence. Even Job came to experience the dryness God's seeming absence brings.
The lives of Theresa and Job are classic examples of the fact that we, all who seek to believe , live a faith life that brings tension into our daily lives at times. Isn't there a genuine irony in our struggle to believe?
Most of us are ready to acknowledge that God is beyond our understanding as Creator and Redeemer. Nevertheless, we take time to find experiences of intimacy with God. Through our prayers and our service to others we hope to draw ourselves ever closer to that distant God.
A reading of the lives of different saints affords the opportunity to come to recognize that sanctity is a gift to all of us. A part of that sanctity, however, is the time when God just does not seem to hear our prayers.
I believe those moments are like the picture above. We are in a desert at those moments. However, I also believe that if we take the time to discern what is happening in our lives when that dryness occurs, we might more easily see where God is trying to lead us. Again, one of the ironies of the spiritual life is before us. And the wonderful reality about walking through these moments of dryness is that we won't get wet!!!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Can You Recommend Me?

Monday's readings for the feast day honor Michael, Gabriel and Raphael -- angels also called Saints!!!--remind me of the many times I have been asked to write a letter of recommendation or make a telephone call on behalf of someone seeking college admission or a position in a firm. No doubt many of you here for this liturgy this morning have found yourself making such request or being asked to make similar intercessions where you can.

We learn from our earliest years on this earth in most instances of life there is a simple sentence that sums up so much of human experience and achieving goals. The sentence: "It’s just a matter of who you know!"

We become so caught up in the storms and challenges of life that we often fail to look beyond the friend, the boss, the Pastor, the counselor, and, perhaps, the government representative from Mayor to President. Who can best help me achieve the desire that I have, the need the is so important, or the goal that would make my life so different?

Today’s feast honor the three angels named in sacred scripture is a reminder, at least to me and my giving little more attention to angels than their place on Christmas cards or suspended mid-air over a Bethlehem manger, that I may have been letting special aides go unused in my life. A good hour on the Internet last night chasing down these invisible yet present creations was truly rewarding and a good refresher course. I did read one attempt at understanding angels that was interesting. One writer holds the position that "the spirit world is more real than the material and visible world." He wrote that our experience of that world might be likened to our experience of electricity: most of us do not understand what electricity it but we know its there.

Angels, we learn from several places in scripture, are God’s messengers. In the Bible there are some 300 references to angels. Artists render them more in the feminine whereas scripture writers name them in the masculine.
Angels we learn from the Book of Job were worshiping God as he was creating the world. We know that one of the evil angels, Lucifer, was in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve were there.

So, if we stop to think about it, perhaps the spirits we might indulge in when we feel the need for support and care would best be the angels God has created for us. Remember the following words?
Angel of God,my guardian dear,
to whom God's love commits me here,
ever this day,be at my side
to light and guard,
to rule and guide. Amen.

The Name of Jesus

A name is a powerful reality. A name so often embodies who a person is. At the same time a name is used by others to define who a person is. From the moment a child is conceived the naming process begins ... the future Mom and Dad begin considering what name shall be given to their child. Twice we know that God intervened in the naming of a yet to be born child: John the Baptist and Jesus.

In today second reading, St Paul reflects on the power of the name of Jesus: "... and bestowed on him the name which is above every name." It is a name that was given to the young preacher because he would sacrifice his life in obedience to the Father’s will.

"Jesus." This is the name that has been used to cast out demons. "Jesus." This is the name invoked to bring about miracles. The name "Jesus" possessed such power that Paul would write "that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on the earth and under the earth.

Two questions arise: First, how often do we recognize the power in Jesus’ name? Second, how often do we afford Jesus’ name the respect such a powerful name should receive? These two questions might express whether or not we bend the knee of our hearts and minds in respect, admiration and gratitude.

Let me share with you a reflective moment from a young lady who is currently studying theology at a mid-western Jesuit university:

When we hold something sacred and close to our heart, we do not want it belittled or tarnished by everyday use or by using it in offensiveness. If we truly hold what our Savior did for us as something valued and divine, then we should do everything in our power to honor that gift. We should not be afraid to change our ways or to even ask others around us to change theirs. If we undeniably believe in our Jesus and His life, then every moment of our lives should be a testimony to that, especially in the words we use and the way in which we react to the words around us.

This junior in college challenges all to consider whether or not we afford due respect to the name of Jesus in our own lives. Hers is a call for respect for a name that has championed a love and care. "Jesus" is a name that has touched the lives of men and women through the centuries. "Jesus" is a name for which crusading men went to battle. When truly understood for all the mystery it contains, it is a name to which humankind not only bends a knee but willingly bows in adoration because this name is the name given to the Son of God, the savior of humankind.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Not-Forever Bubble

Buried within the Responsorial Psalm for today's Eucharistic liturgy is a petition that may have taken up residence in the hearts of many Americans in recent weeks.
Teach us to number our days aright,
that we might gain wisdom of heart.
(Psalm 90:12)
The Psalmist is reminding us that, regardless of our wealth or our successes, we exist within limits. Our days on this earth are limited. As well, I know there are many who are suddenly experiencing the limits placed upon them by econnomic trials. Two years ago the word "sacrifice" was far from the top ten most spoken words in America.
When we live in the bubble of "limitless," often times we provide for very little time or space for the God who created our world. When I feel limitless, I take on a role of superiority, a mindset of betterness than many others. When I am living in the limitless bubble, I tend to feel that I am completely self-sufficient. When I profess that creed, why would I need think about God?
However, do not give up. We have in Jesus a model of a man who greatly sacrificed in accepting the limits of his humanity. Yet, as a man, Jesus brought about so much good for humanity. He brought the people who listened to him to experience a genuine change: his change that has transformed the world for the last two centuries.
He worked within the human limitations he accepted. He worked within the obedience of a son to his Father. And, before he died, he entrusted to us the way of life to us even in our limited state of existence as a human being. He passed on to us a spirit that we should entrust to the next generation.
One generation passes and another comes,
but the world forever stays.
(Ecclesiastes 1:4)
The challenge for us today is to know our faith and to pass it forward --- because, as we learn from the gospels and St. Paul, in Jesus Christ there is not death.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

More from the Book of Proverbs

Give me neither poverty nor riches;
provide me only with the food I need.

Perhaps the words of other spiritual writers might come to mind after reading these Proverb words: moderation in all things. Whatever, the author of Proverbs is clear: don't give me too little nor too much. He does not want to be full. Having too much, he believes, might easily bring the very real human experience of forgetting about God. At the same time he does not want to be living in poverty and want lest he feel driven to cheat, to steal, and "to profane the name" of his God.

Today's gospel reading offers another well-used spiritual gem: "In medias res stat virtus." All you Latin scholars know that this sentence translates literally as "In the middle stands virtue." You will not find these words in the gospel reading but it is the message from Jesus to his disciples.

He sends them out on their mission, just as he sends each of us each day: go without a lot of extra "things." He tells his representatives that they don't need food, money or even extra clothing. But they are to understand that he is not sending them without something. He provides all that they might need: power and authority over all demons and the sickness.

Imagine for a moment what Jesus would say to most of us when we travel whether on "mission" or "vacation" were he to scan our baggage at the airport or train station or what we carry in the trunks of our autos.

Jesus sends us, like the disciples, each day in the spirit of our baptism and the creed we profess at the beginning of each week. Surely we do need food and clothing and tools for our work and most likely a means of transportation. Likewise, we do NOT need the excess that can bring us to construct our own idols that separate us from our God.

Ah, discernment!

Photo: Amanda Dennis

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Trifling with the Truth

In today's reading from Proverbs there are appropriate words for so many in our world today: "Whoever makes a fortune by a lying tongue is chasing a bubble over deadly snares."

We live in such a challenging society, many are overwhelmed. So burdensome is the need to prove oneself in almost ever conversation that we easily and quickly provide protection by "trifling with the truth," as my grandmother was want to say when she did not believe us.

It is interesting that the word "bubble" is used in the proverb. Haven't we heard that frequently: "the high tech bubble," "the real estate bubble." And we know that these phrases and their context today refer to financial troubles and most recently in people and institutions "trifling with the truth."

What we have experienced is seeing firsthand in many instances the results of greed: lying for our own benefit. It is easy for us to point fingers and parts of the federal government, government representatives, financial institutions and on and on. However, it is important to stop and ask ourselves a very simple question: "Have I allowed myself to "trifle with the truth?"

Today's gospel reading reminds us what it means to be a good person, a brother (or sister) of Jesus: to be a person who hears the word of God and acts on it. And Luke presents Mary as a good person in his gospel because she was open to God, open to hearing the word of God, willing to change her life to follow what God was asking of her.

To deal with the truth is to deal with the Ten Commandments. To lie is to deceive one's neighbor. To live in the truth is a challenge not just for those in government or banking or the real estate market: living in the truth is a challenge for all of us whether it be dealing with members of our family, our colleagues in an office, our circle of friends. Eventually lying will bring us, like water pictured above, over the falls.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Every Grateful

Homily of Deacon Gary Bockweg
Deacon at St. Joseph's on Capitol Hill

I wish I’d made the right moves in the stock market last week.
Some people made a fortune.
I wish I’d bought a new house back when prices were really low.
My neighbor did.
I wish I’d gotten recognition for that work I did last year.
My partner got most the credit.
I wish I’d gotten two of those choice seats at the concert.
I paid just as much, but somebody else got the best seats.

Those wishes are all signs of envy.
One of the Seven Deadly Sins.
If I harbor ill-will toward those others who received more than I,
Who were no more worthy but just luckier than I,
If I’d like to see them get their just deserts,
Then that’s envy for sure.

If I don’t harbor ill will toward those others,
But just really wish I’d been the lucky one,
Then I probably don’t have to call it envy.
What a relief!
I’ve avoided that deadly sin.

But if I dwell on that wish, let it really occupy my time and thoughts,
Then I’m just dodging one deadly sin to fall into another.
Then I’m suffering from greed.
I should be thankful I have money to invest.
Thankful I have a place to live.
Thankful I have a job.
Thankful I have the health and time and companionship for a concert.

If I can’t be happy and thankful for what I have
Because I’m too busy longing for more, something’s wrong.
Whether it’s envy or greed it’s wrong.
In today’s super-materialistic world,
Envy and greed may be two of our greatest dangers.
Envy directly violates the 10th Commandment –
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods.
Greed directly violates the 1st Commandment –
Thou shalt not have strange God’s before me.
With greed, material things edge out God as the center of our attention and focus.

Jesus was once asked "What is the greatest commandment?"
And he answered with not just one, but two.
Love God with all your mind, heart and strength –
And love your neighbor as yourself.
Envy and greed also violate those two greatest commandments.

It’s important to realize that God’s Commandments aren’t for God’s benefit,
They’re for ours.
And they’re not only for getting us through those pearly gates.
They’re for giving us a happier, more satisfying life right here and now.
It’s very accurate to say we suffer from envy or we suffer from greed.
They prevent us from experiencing the joy we should feel.
They bring us unhappiness and dissatisfaction right now.

Of course, they’re also obstacles to our eternal happiness.
To our enjoyment of the Kingdom of Heaven.
In our Gospel today, Jesus gives an example of what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.
It’s free from that envy and greed.
The last are first and the first are last.
All are treated equally.

This story of the vineyard is one of those clear Good News gospel passages.
It’s good news for every one of us.
Even if we think we’ve done our share.
Even if we think we’ve worked harder than others.
How can we really be sure we’ve done enough?

So it’s reassuring to see how extravagantly generous the Master is.
If we actually have done a lot, then maybe we have a nice cushion.
Some of us began early and have worked steadily.
Some of us began early, slacked off, and got back on track.
Some of us have come late.
Some other folks haven’t even started yet.

But should we care who comes when?
Our own reward is not diminished in the least by the reward of others.
Let’s rejoice if they come at all.
Like the finding of the lost sheep,
Like the return of the prodigal son,
Let’s rejoice that all can be united with the fold,
Even to the very end.
An old Jesuit once told me that some theologians believe that
At the instant of death, Jesus meets us and gives us one last chance to follow him.
I’ve always hoped that’s true.

If we came early, we have the added joy of the satisfaction of our labors.
Let’s rejoice at our own good fortune.
And let’s be always ready to rejoice
At the good fortune of those who maybe didn’t work as hard.
Or who maybe didn’t work as long.
When the Master lines us up to receive our rewards,
We may see that we’re in the group that doesn’t quite measure up.
The group that really needs the Master’s great generosity.
Actually, we can be pretty sure that will be the case.
None of us can really earn our way into heaven.
All of us have to rely on God’s generosity.
For every one of us, the reward is all gift.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Eternal Rest Be Hers, O Lord

Sister Gerald Hartney, CSC

One of the "great ladies" of religious life died two weeks ago. Sister Gerald surely was one of the leaders in health care, financial management, university administration and, most of all, absolute and complete dedication and fidelity to the Roman Catholic Church. She finished her mission where she initiated it: Sisters of the Holy Cross motherhouse, St. Mary's, Indiana.
There will be many stories about Sister Gerald (Maura Josephine back on the old sod). Limerick was her place of birth and the first few years of her life. As a young woman, Maura learned how to work the columns of a ledger sheet with extraordinary acumen. That skilled took her around the world. Finishing her financial prep, she set sail from the port at Cobh for her "new home." She often shared with me how emotional that moment was as she looked back at the magnificent cathedral in the port town. She was leaving home. "Father, I was frightened. I don't tell many that but I 'twas."
Gerald was known in priests' circles for her Irish wit, her non-stop talking, her fears that Vatican II had made too many changes in the Church, especially impacting womens' religious life. She was also known for her love of travel. "You know, Father, I cannot violate the vow of poverty ... so I have to ask those who need my help to take the ticket! The lady saw the world, my friends!!!
On occasion she would share some of the Gerald "R&R" (Research & Rescue) operations that she undertook. There are many church-related operations that owe their existence today to her dedicated service to any organization in financial trouble and the farther away the better!!!. Whenever I would tell her of an idea that was over the top, she would reply, "Father, most would not believe you but I will." I knew with that remark it was time to put the idea in the trash.
In her later years, she became a missionary to Zimbabwe where her beloved nephew lived. On that "vow of poverty" she was able to visit her nephew because he was trying to set up a farm that would give work to the poor, unemployed! Oh, she knew how to work her way around the roadblocks. Once there, she fell in love with the country and the work that her nephew provided her missionary spirit. For the next several years she returned there for the summer to catechize the young and the older Zimbabwians (say that three times, real fast!!!). At one time she recounted that she had prepared more than 8000 people for the Sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist.
Her humor was rarely missing. Returning to America from Zimbabwe, Sister Gerald collapsed in Heathrow Airport. Very quickly a doctor came to her. It was her heart. After several light "slaps" on the face, Gerald came around. "Oh, thank God, we saved you" were the words of the physician. Her words of thanks? "I guess I should thank you, Doctor, but now you have kept me from my heavenly home a little longer. I saw the bright light. I knew that Jesus was coming. I guess I have to do some more work." Often have I wondered, when Sister told that story, what the doctor must have thought!
One last story. Sister Gerald asked me to drive her to Ocean City. The CFO was there on his vacation but she had to have his signature on an important document. She had made arrangements for us to stay with the CFO overnight!!! My colleagues teased me about the ride and how my ears would hurt by the time we returned. I was wearing a running watch at the time. On the way to OC from DC I would push the start botton the the time watch each time I spoke (or, literally could get a word in edge-wise). When I arrived at OC, I had amassed 16 seconds!!!! But she was so lovable, really she was.
In many ways the Church has been blessed by women who have dedicated their lives in service to Christians and non-Christians alike just like the women mentioned in today's gospel reading. Many have given up so much of themselves to bring others to know the love and care of their God. Each Sister, I suspect, stands out in her own way. But for me, Gerald was truly unique. Our offices were across from each other. Each day there and the days I drove her to work (she lived in the convent of the parish where I was a resident priest) I knew that I would be learning more about finances, better management, how wonderful it was to be working with Archbishop Hickey, and how important prayer was.
Now she is home and enjoys that light that she glimpsed on the Heathrow Airport floor. Thank you, God, for giving us another powerful woman in our Church who never tired of service to anyone in need.
Eternal rest grant to her, Lord.
May perpetual Light be upon her
and we are praying for you, Lord,
as you hear the stories and stories and stories! Amen

Jesus Christ's Business Card

Were Jesus to need a business card, perhaps it might look like this:
Jesus Christ
I Have Risen
Jesus would be no different, some might say, than the two criminals who hung from a cross on Good Friday with Jesus were it not for the event of Easter Sunday morning. Certainly today's gospel reminds us that Jesus was a man of greatest simplicity. There were no significant people accompanying him. He had nothing. Others provided what he needed. Clearly what he had was sufficient: he had his relationship to the Father.
Surely we are different. We have needs, serious needs. Like Jesus, we need the time to build our relationship with the Father, as he did in those hidden away moments of prayer and reflection. Yes, we need prayer every day of our lives. In A Taste of Silence, p21, Fr. Carl Arico offers a description of prayer written by a Fr. Armand Nigro which might stir your heart a little this Friday morning.
Prayer is principally God's work, God's gift. He is present as our Father, loving life into us, sustaining and working in us. He is in every heartbeat, every breath, every expanse of physical, sexual and psychic energy, every thought, hope and desire, every decision. When we are conscious of God's presence, of God being and around us, we are in prayer. When we are aware that we move and love in God's loving gaze, we are in prayer. When God makes us conscious of God's nearness and touch, we are in prayer. In prayer, we are not called to support or enrich God but to be fed and strengthened by God.
This is the classroom of prayer.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Stirring Up the Liturgical Pot

A Vatican official publicly spoke out against the strict traditionalist who now are demanding that the Holy Father require a Latin Mass of the old form be celebrated in every Church every day. Maybe a case of "too much candy for a penny."

Learning from the Past

Today's first reading is a reminder to us that we are very much like the man we call, "Paul, the Apostle." He is a powerhouse in the early days of the Church's growth. He has been a powerhouse throughout the history of the Church. The story of Paul's life is indeed remarkable but what is truly noteworthy is the fact that Paul was not one of the Twelve, the Apostles, and that he had never met Jesus in the flesh. Yet Paul had come to know the Son of God like very few.
How did this come about? He teaches us that his knowledge of Jesus came to his heart and his own firebrand spirit from the testimony of those who preceded him. Some of those who came before him had been in Jesus' presence. It was their their shared experience and recollection of what Jesus was that captured Paul's heart and his determination.
Paul also learned from actually hearing Jesus speak to him. His conversion was primary among the times that Jesus seems to have spoken to him in the post Resurrection years.
Paul heard the voice and witnessed as well God's saving power in the lives of other people. What he learned first and foremost from those who came before him was the truth that Jesus Christ came, died for our sins, was raised from the dead and was then seen by the Apostles and then others, presumably even by Paul, himself.
This is the same truth entrusted to us, to our Church. It is the truth of the mission that each of us is to pass on to those who come after us. Our lives, like Paul, founded on this one truth, can become the pathway to a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ for others.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Coming Around Circle -- Pius XII

The following article was published in The Catholic Spirit, a newspaper of the Archdiocese of Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Jewish leader says Pope Pius XII has been demonized falsely

By Carol Glatz - Catholic News Service
Monday, 15 September 2008

Pope Pius XII has been demonized and his legacy of helping Jews during World War II has been poisoned by inaccurate and incomplete historical accounts, said the Jewish founder and president of Pave the Way Foundation.

Pope Pius XII, who led the Catholic Church from 1939 to 1958, is seen in an undated formal portrait - CNS photo "We have to change history" and tell the world the truth about this wartime pope "who saved so many lives," Gary Krupp, foundation president, told Catholic News Service, He spoke at the start of a Sept. 15-17 symposium that studied the papacy of Pope Pius and unveiled new evidence of the pope's hidden acts and orders aimed at saving Jews from the Nazis. The symposium, sponsored by the U.S.-based foundation, featured Catholic and Jewish speakers and video footage of interviews with people who were saved from the Holocaust through the church's intervention. "The scholars, the historians have failed, they've simply failed over the last 45 years" to retrieve and present firsthand accounts from eyewitnesses, Holocaust survivors, diplomats and archival material, Krupp said. Some authors also have based their accounts not on facts, but opinions and "nonsense" which "are poisoning the memory of this man," Krupp said. He told CNS Sept. 15 he grew up hating Pope Pius, thinking the pontiff did nothing to stop the slaughter of 6 million Jews. But years later, he was shocked to discover through his own amateur research that the pope had been far more active in directing a clandestine network of safe houses for people escaping Nazi persecution through the church's religious orders, communities, convents and seminaries in Europe. Krupp said of the 60-70 guests he invited to attend the symposium, all of them had been suspicious of or negative toward Pope Pius' actions during the war. Audience members included rabbis or their representatives from Europe and Israel. He said experience showed that if a European leader was outspoken against Nazi persecution, it did nothing to reverse the injustices. On the contrary, it resulted in accelerated or widened persecution of the Jews and those speaking out on their behalf, he said. Therefore, keeping the pope and the church's good works hidden was crucial, he said. Krupp said the time has come for the world "to forgive Pius XII for not talking the talk but truly commend him for walking the walk."

Paul's "cymbal--ic" Message

Paul’s message is far from romantic love. Paul encourages his readers to meet, to know and then to make a sign of their personal lives on virtues not specifically mentioned: the virtues of stability and constancy, genuine treasures for the community and each person’s life.

The stability Paul encourages is formed by a single-minded devotion to God. Where this relationship with God is lacking, disruption usually results. More often than not, the absence of God in a person’s life results in emptiness or deception.
Here is a thought: how often do we hear that marriages or families are falling apart, that our nation is on a track most dislike and that so many men and women are overwhelmed by the realities confronting them? Here’s the question: could these experiences be the result of the absence of God in our lives, our homes, our society? I believe St. Paul would nod in the affirmative.

For the stability that true love, the virtue of love, demands to be real constancy. And what is constancy, you might ask? It is nothing more than a determined dedication and commitment to what is good for each other, for our families and for our nation. We were created by God, our families come to be through God’s creative love, and our nation and all nations were brought into being by God-created people.

What Paul is preaching is simple: with true commitment to a relationship with God, we bring about stability and constancy in what we do. In this we provide a solid basis for the love that brings genuine peace and happiness to our lives, our families and our nation.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The People are Changing. Where are the Bishops?
In a somewhat lengthy but interesting article, we can learn about the the response of the people to the Holy Father's visit to France and, perhaps, the reason for his rather strong challenge to the French bishops. Where only 5% of the French Catholics attend Mass regularly, the Holy Father was greeted by unexpectedly large crowds of French people during the recent visit to Paris and Lourdes. Interesting reading.

Paul's description: Body of Christ

St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians should be somewhat familiar. He uses an antomical imagery to help us see the complexity and the power of our being a part of the Body of Christ.

With a few words Paul teaches that those whoare baptized are baptized into one Body regardless whether we "are Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons." Ll of us, regardless of our talents , our successes, our failures, all make up the Body of Christ in our world.

Through a study of human anatomy, we can learn how the body is composed of many varied and different parts, all working together for the good of the body. Being a part of the Body of Christ by our baptism, we can consider how blessed we are. God has created each of us with close, personal intention. Sometimes, however, as it seemed to be among the Corinthians, God’s distribution of goodness can become a source of frustration, jealousy or even spite. In any social unit — a family, an office, a classroom, a parish, a sports team –in any group– we encounter different levels of God’s creating graces. Unable to accept or live with other’s skills or lack of particular skills, we can easily bring disruption to our heats, even to a group’s purpose and successes.

Through the many gifts of the Holy Spirit to us, we can discover, or perhaps for some, rediscover our being a totality in ourselves but at the same time being a part of the Body of Christ. The challenge for us I not to use other’s talents, blessings and so forth to create dividing walls.

Paul is trying to teach that in the Body of Christ, in the Church, we, all of us, receive the universal call to holiness. We are called to consider this: "The dignity of persons is intensified in the theater of faith" (Rev. William M. Joensen, Magnificat). Through act of justice and charity, no matter who or what we are, we all shine in the light of Jesus Christ.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Listen Up My Brothers!

In April, discussing the Holy Father's talk to the American Bishops, several wiser than myself, noted that the key presentation of Pope Benedict's national visits is the presentation (pastoral lecture!) to his colleagues in the local College of Bishops. The just completed visit to France, was not different. Again, I direct you to the Holy Father's remarks to the French bishops. Check out the Pontiff's words to the French Bishops: Whispers .
Many thanks, again, to the Whispers blogger, Rocco Palmo, for his work covering the visit in France from his location which seems to be typical for many bloggers: in a small basement room in mom and dad's house!!!

Our Lady of Sorrows

Today's feast and the reading options that exist offer us a link with yesterday's recollection of the crucifixion of Jesus and how the Exultation of the Holy Cross is a reminder of the Father's love for us and the Son's willingness to suffer for all sinners to regain for them, for us, our freedom.
This feast, honoring Mary, places her with one of the realities of our faith experience. Mary is placed with Jesus in his suffering and death on the cross. What can we take to our prayer and hearts from this scene, pictured here?
Here is her son. In this mystery of the crucifixion and death, Jesus empties himself for sinners; here we see Jesus who became a slave for us in his becoming obedient to his death on a cross. And who is there with him? Mary, his mother. She continued to be more than his mother. She was clearly the symbol of caring mother for all of us, helping us to understand as best we can Jesus' gift to humankind.
Perhaps we can stand with Mary today, recalling the words of Simeon, "... you yourself a sword will pierce." Today, we are invited to be with Mary, to "proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes again" (1 Cor 11: 26b).
Those who might like some prayerful assistance in reflecting the feast can read the Stabat Mater prayer.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Pope Benedict in France

Our Pope Visits Paris and Lourdes
To keep up with the talks and presentation
of Pope Benedict XVI
on his France visit,
check the link for
where you will find all the talks to date
thanks to the laborious efforts
of its renowned blogger!!!

Exultation of the Holy Cross September 14th

Let me share some history that might give us a deeper appreciation of our Church’s history. The Church always celebrates the Feast of the Exultation of the Holy Cross on September 14th. Its significance is such that it replaces the 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time. You might wonder about the significance of the feast and its power to bump the Ordinary Time schedule.

Here’s the story. St. Helen, mother of Constantine the Great, made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in the year 326. Her pious son wanted to build a church in the city of Jerusalem. When mother Helen arrived in Jerusalem, she inquired about the site of Christ’s death. Seemingly there was no site or tradition surrounding the site. She was informed that, if she could find the site of Jesus’ burial, the Holy Sepulchre, she would have to dig nearby. It was a Jewish custom to bury whatever instruments were a part of a criminal’s execution.

Following Jesus’ death, the Roman pagans wanted no one to discover the site of the tomb because of their dislike of Christianity. Much stone and garage was piled on the site of the burial, which served as a base for a pagan temple, dedicated to Venus.

Driven by her own personal piety, St. Helen ordered the temple destroyed and the land cleared. In the process the holy sepulchre was discovered. Nearby in the dirt were three crosses and the nails used to crucify Jesus. Also, reportedly, the sign with Jesus’ title, the INRI, was found. But which cross was the cross of Jesus Christ? Happenstance, some would say, resolved the question. Others might say it was God.

There was a pious Bishop leading the Church of Jerusalem at the time, Macarius by name. When Helen was seeking to learn which cross was the true cross, there was a prominent Jerusalem woman who was critically ill and certain to die. The good bishop suggested that the three crosses be brought to the woman’s bedside. He truly believed God would answer their question and that true cross would save the woman. Praying to God to look to them and their faith in him, they held each cross, one at a time, over the woman’s body. According to the legend, the tradition, the woman was "immediately and perfectly cured" when one of the crosses was put near her.

Helen had a church built at the site. Almost tourist-like, she took a part of the cross home to her son in Constantinople and another part of it to Rome where she had built the Church of the Holy Cross of Jerusalem. Yes, it is in Rome today.

As you gaze at the Crucifix before you in the sanctuary, recall the first reading, the wandering Jewish people were complaining to God and Moses. God punished them, according to the Book of Numbers, for their complaints. Poisonous snakes began to appear around the people and those bitten died. Moses began to pray for the people. We know the rest of the story. God told him to make an image of the serpent, placing it atop a pole. Those who were bitten and looked at the snake were cured. Then in the gospel today, we hear what Jesus said to Nicodemus, " ... so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life."

So, when we look to the crucified image of Jesus Christ, we are reminded that his death on the cross, his being lifted up was God’s gesture of love and goodness toward us. He changes the question of the complainers from "why haven’t you help us?" to "why did you have to do this for me?"
We exult this holy cross today because our humanity, enslaved by original sin and our own sin, is given a new design in Jesus Christ. We exult this cross because in this crucified Jesus and his obedience to the Father’s will, we can "live our humanity in freedom."

[Much of the history here was taken from various Internet sites, Magnificat resources, and Praying with St Paul.]

Saint of the Day John Chrysostom

I am offering this new link for those who wish to know something of the life of the saint that the Church celebrates on a given day. See the Saint of the Day among the link listed on the left side of this blog site.
Also, I am including another link for women who wish to know more about the Church and its position on Church, social and moral issues. The site describes its mission as an assistance to orthodox Catholic thinking women. So, it is in the traditional, conservative style. It does provide copies of many important Church documents and letters and writings from the Holy Father, Cardinals, Bishops and other Catholic writers especially women. See the link Catholic Women for the Family.

Friday, September 12, 2008

St Paul the teacher: September 12, 2008

Let’s consider Paul’s words, in particular verses 22 and 23 in the first reading for today’s liturgy:

To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all that I might by all means save some.

Throughout the world the teaching corps has returned to the classroom. Education continues. One of the greatest teachers in history is St. Paul, author of one great history in his letters.

In proclaiming he has become all things to all people, Paul sets himself up to be a failure. Being all things to all could raise a question about his sincerity. Changing to meet the circumstances has become a concern in the current political campaign — some call it flip-flopping! Many back away from someone who lacks definitive positions, especially those who teach us through leadership. So, what is with our tent maker, Paul. Is he for real? Is he genuine?
Another sentence in a different letter helps us understand this teacher who says he is all things to all for the sake of the gospel. In Galatians 2:20, Paul wrote "I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me." Here we discover the power that drives Paul, a genuine apostle although not one of the Twelve. Paul’s conversion and coming to know Jesus through what He taught became the impetus for his apostolic strength.

What makes a good teacher? First, being on fire with a subject matter. Also a memorable teacher strives to help students share wisdom, to catch the same fire. Paul was all of this not because he was Paul the teacher but because he was Paul afire with all that Jesus was. Paul did all that he could to bring all to know and understand his Savior. Throughout his life he became more like Jesus Christ, his Teacher.

Many attribute their being on fire to a teacher. Paul was no different. His fire was Jesus Christ. And this is the challenge Paul, our teacher, puts before us: be Christie. Be Christie and you attract others not to yourself but to the Jesus Christ who energizes you and all you do.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Anniversary Seven for Nine Eleven 2008

Today we think backwards to remember a second "day of infamy" for our nation. We offer prayers for those who died at the Pentagon, at the World Trade Center and in a Shenksville, PA field. Likewise we pray for Moms and Dads and children who lost loved ones in these points of death and sacrifice.
We continue to live in a nation that has undergone profound change, especially in this city, on this particular Hill. Only on another early morning at Pearl Harbor has our land of the free experienced such paralysis of emotion. As we think backwards, we realize, perhaps with even more intense emotion, how the sophistication of hatred can bring the world’s most powerful nation to a momentary experience of debilitation.

Each of us, I am sure, can remember precisely where we were on this morning seven years ago. And probably we can remember the shock and the fear that took up residence in our being for more than a few hours.

As a priest who served in the New York Fire Department as a Chaplain for one of its internal organization and as an officer in the Department’s Community Relations Bureau, I was working in Philadelphia at the time. When the second tower collapsed, I could not watch the TV any longer. I left the high rise to walk my pain on the street. What a blessing for me because I passed a nursing center where I had visited patients before. There I could talk with those elderly people who could not believe such an attack upon the people of our nation. There was fear there in all their hearts because they were so debilitated themselves. None had ever experience such diabolical events.
So, we need to look forward. We need to spend more energy on bringing peace to a world where hatred is no stranger. All those we remember today died on the altar of hatred. Where do we want the future to lead us? What do we want to do to bring about peace? One candle can bring some light to darkness. Imagine if millions lighted a candle for peace through their efforts in their homes and communities.
Sorry this was late making it to the posting.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

God's love for us: September 10, 2008

Following up yesterday's reflection that we are made in the image of God, spoken forth by God, that we might be holy and blameless, let's turn to the reality of what tarnishes that image and how we can overcome what, seemingly, we cannot conquer on our own.
St. Bernard, an insightful Cistercian abbot, taught that the whole of the spiritual life consists of two parts: "when we think of ourselves, we are perturbed and filled with salutary sadness. And when we think of the Lord, we are revived to find consolation in the joy of the Holy Spirit. From the first we derive fear and humility, from the second hope and love."
While we believe God made us to be holy and blameless, we know from our personal experience sanctity and freedom from guilt are not easily achieved. There is within us, as some spiritual writers note, a "false self," a deep-seated power within that separates us from a loving Creator-God and brings us to be a "self-referenced being," focusing so much upon ourselves and in so doing, distancing ourselves from the love of God. It is this false self that brings into our lives the radical nature of lostness!
When the false self takes over, when our ego becomes the CEO of our lives, we alienate ourselves from divine love. When this occurs, we find ourselves incapable of getting back to our true center, back to our relationship with God. That false self blocks our turning back to God's loving embrace.
So, we might then ask this question: "Is there no way of returning to God after our alienation, our separation from him?"
In asking this question, we have come to realize that we cannot overcome the cause of our separation from God totally and completely on our own. It is in this realization that we have begun to understand the truly AWESOME intensity of God's love for us. His love, his mercy, his grace brings us back to his love and care. And these are marked by the sign of the cross that his Son endured for us. While we were living in our little world of alienation from God, Jesus was dying on the cross for us. To the Romans Paul wrote: While we still were sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8).
And why was this? Because Jesus so loved his Father and us that he desired to offer us over and over again the opportunity to accept "God's self ... to be our true life" (Mulholland, The Deeper Journey, p 74.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

What was I created to be? September 9, 2008

From the Book of Genesis we learn a basic of our faith: it is in the image of God that you and I were created. What does this mean ... perhaps beyond arms, legs, eyes and that great white beard?

In the letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul proposed a paradigm to help us answer this question: God has blessed us "in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places." What Paul is encouraging the Ephesians as well as each of us to consider is that our lives are "immersed in blessings." In a way we might say that as fish are immersed in water, we are immersed in God's graces, his blessings.

Many today my question whether Paul really "gets it." Each time he was challenged he responded with the following phrases: "Rejoice always." How does the wife feel whose husband has terminal cancer? Paul would respond "In nothing be anxious." Yet, he had a tent making business and friends who made sure he had what he needed. And because of this he would say, "In everything give thanks." And a contemporary might ask which planet Paul lived on. Again, he would respond, "In everything God works for good." Paul, convert that he was, would not yield what he had discovered what he was created to be.

Paul, even during the days of his imprisonment, came to these responses because of a particular belief that we find in the Book of Genesis: "Just as God chose us before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before God in love." The Greek word that eventually became "choose" is composed of two parts: "forth from" and "speak." So, we were spoken forth by God before the foundation of the world.

Paul could such positive spins on his various situations because he honestly believed each of us was "spoken forth" out of the heart of God's love before the creation of our world. This is where you can find the basis for knowing who you are! We are children of God, spoken forth out of the heart of God's love.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Birth of the Blessed Mother: Septermber 8, 2008

To celebrate a person's birthday is usually a time of recognizing the gift that person has been in our own lives. The card, calls and celebrating reflect the value a person has become in others' lives.

The marvel of a birthday for me is this: even before God took on the work of creating the world, the birthday person was chosen by God, chosen to "be holy and blameless before God in love" (Genesis). We realize Adam and Eve did their disobedience thing and consequently standing "blameless" before God is not so easy for all of us ... except for one of two people whose birthday we celebrate today.

Mary, like us, was chosen by God before the creation of the world. Imagine all the emails and cards that would be sent her way by so many different people because of their personal appreciation of Mary's life and relationship with her.

Mary's birthday should be a special day, perhaps even with greater awareness. A St. Andrew of Crete (everyone, I am sure, knows this saint!!!) wrote that we celebrate a mystery that provides a double grace. He believes one of the graces of Mary's birthday gift to us is the exchange of legalism for freedom. With the birth of Mary, the "old is replaced by the new." Her birth raised our world "to the dignity of a holy place for him who made all things." A divine dwelling place is prepared for the Creator! Is this not the reason that Mary's birthday should be special?

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Hearing His Voice: Sunday, September 7, 2008

If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

The Responsorial Psalm from today’s liturgy may easily be passed over. For a few moments I want to share my own reflection on with this simple sentence. My hope is that the way in which the Holy Spirit touched my mind and heart might be an avenue for each of you to realize that God is present in almost everything we do each day ... if we truly want to have our own God-present experience at least once each day.
A Jesuit priest-friend described how a recently ordained Jesuit priest shared with him what we would call a spiritual moment at an organ recital. The performance was a genuine experience of God’s love touching his heart and soul through the marvelous architecture, art work and the majesty of the music in the local cathedral. During those couple of hours the young priest heard the Lord’s voice. His heart and soul were open and the Lord came to him.
Last Sunday evening, alone but with several hundred people, I sat on the Capitol lawn listening to the National Symphony Orchestra concert. In the majesty of the Capitol building painted in the brilliant and then settling colors of a sun promising its return the next day, I felt God was there for me. "If today you hear his voice ..." There are times when I come into this church very early in the morning or very late at night. Alone in the silence, God speaks to me. I know he is here. "If today you hear his voice ..." When living in Florida, completing my doctoral studies, almost daily I went to a nearby part of the ocean’s shoreline where the dunes were fifteen to twenty feet tall. I planted myself deep within the dunes’ walls where I could see only sand and sea. And God was there for me. "If today you hear his voice ..." Recently several friends gathered to say farewell to a wonderful lady who was about to move from the city to Maine. We were sad but the joy our friend possessed made all of us realize God was there with us. I suspect the waitress would have thought us tipsy had we told her we knew that God was there with us. Several years ago, I invited two elderly gentlemen who did not know each other to join me on my vacation. One of them, who died just three months later, told me how he came to know God was with us during those days. "If today you hear his voice ..." Just a few weeks ago, I was with a Gonzaga classmate and his sister, standing around their 101-year-old mother who was about to die. God was surely there. "If today you hear his voice ..."
I share these moments of my life with you because each evening as my day draws to an end, I try to realize how blessed each of us can be if we live the second part of the responsorial psalm: "... harden not your hearts." Many of our human experiences are rewarding moments of joy and happiness. These human moments are divine signals to us that God can get into our hearts and minds bringing much peace ... if we harden not our hearts!
Our challenge is to train our inner selves to see in the moments of our day that God is present. A mind trained to look for God’s presence in all that happens each day will offer us countless moments, days and years of joy ... because we come to know that we are blessed by God and his presence in our lives. If we can bring such awareness to our hearts and minds each day, St. Paul’s words to the Romans in the second reading today — "Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another ...." — will be fulfilled time and time again and loving one another will never be a challenge. So,
"If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts."

Vatican Discipline: Medjugorje Spiritual Director

Unfortunate news from the Holy See concerning a principal figure at Megjugorje

Vatican disciplines ex-spiritual director to Medjugorje visionariesLONDON (CNS) --

The Vatican has authorized "severe cautionary and disciplinary measures" against a priest who served as spiritual director to the visionaries in Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has written to Bishop Ratko Peric of Mostar-Duvno, whose diocese covers Medjugorje, to inform him that they are investigating the case of Franciscan Father Tomislav Vlasic. The congregation has asked the bishop, for the good of the faithful, to inform the community of the canonical status of the Bosnian priest, whose actions automatically provoked Vatican sanctions. In a statement posted on the Web site of the Diocese of Mostar-Duvno, Bishop Peric explained that Father Vlasic has been reported to the congregation "for the diffusion of dubious doctrine, manipulation of consciences, suspicious mysticism, disobedience toward legitimately issued orders" and charges that he violated the Sixth Commandment. The doctrinal congregation said in the letter, also posted on the Web site, that the priest had been disciplined after he stubbornly refused to cooperate with the inquiry.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Servant and Steward: Friday, September 5, 2008

The first sentence in today's readings makes clear precisely how Paul sees the vocation of a follower of Jesus Christ. Indeed Paul's thought is the basis for a strong, personal spirituality.
Thus should one regard us: as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.
1 Corinthians 4:1-5
If we are to be servants or stewards of God's mysteries for Jesus Christ, we must take ourselves to the Lord. Why? For two reasons that help us make the journey: We need to know who Jesus is in a personal way and then what expectations result from that awareness.
The avenue to Jesus is the highway of prayer. Prayer is the only place where I can meet Jesus personally. Down deep in their hearts most tourists on Capitol Hill and many newly hired workers on either the Senate or House side of this famous hill would cherish a chance personal meeting with any one of the national leaders. I ask myself these questions as I reflect upon Paul's observation: "Do I have the same desire when it comes to my own spiritual life?" "Do I realize how important personal prayer is to personally meeting God?" "Do is I honestly believe that prayer is the principal avenue for me to meet Jesus personally?"
As with an athlete who trains the body through many exercises, it is "by fasting, by making hard choices, and by making the discovery of finding my way to silence, to poverty itself and humility" that I make myself free to the molding graces of the Holy Spirit." Through this route of spiritual formation, I meet God and become the instrument of his work.
In reality this is nothing less than conforming myself to Jesus Christ. This is how each of us can live the very mystery of our salvation. This is much more than simply possessing the mystery.
The core of this journey is taking charge of God's life within my everyday life. In this journey I come to recognize, perhaps discover for the first time, my authentic self: "the self that God knew and saw and formed for a purpose that existed before the foundations of the earth" (Ruth Haley Barton, Invitation to Solitude and Silence, p. 117).
When I can come to recognize the difference between my authentic self and the human striving that possess me at times, then I am beginning to be a servant of Christ and a steward of the mysteries of God!
In prayer with Jesus with think of his name. What is the picture that comes to mind? Do I have a picture of Jesus that helps me draw closer to him, to go beneath the veneer relationship that comes simply with a word?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Fishing: Reflection for September 4, 2008

Once again we are given an opportunity to stand in awe with the apostles. Peter, in his usual way of speaking out, may well have said "Oh, my God!" when he saw the large catch of fish. Peter and his team had already cleaned their nets from a fishing trip that had no yield. Once Jesus finished preaching from Peter's boat, he asked the fisherman to put the boats farther out into the water and drop the net once again. We "know the rest of the story."
Peter was coming to the awareness that Jesus was much more than an itinerant preacher. He was so focused on his own weakness as a man that he asked Jesus to leave his presence because he was beginning to realize that this Jesus was much more than an itinerant preacher.
Perhaps we might incorporate Paul's words from the first reading into understanding this moment. "If anyone among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool, so as to become wise."
A genuine part of what wisdom literature calls "fear of the Lord," is realizing that God is God and I am not. For this insight we might be thankful because what it says to us is that God has been fishing with us and has caught us. With us, as with Peter, Jesus will not leave. We are particularly blessed because we, too, belong "to Christ and Christ to God." So, that phrase, "fear of the Lord" may be something that turns us off but when we look at it more reflectively, we should see that we are so terribly loved for Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Gregory the Great: Reflection for September 2, 2008

Gregory the Great — a sixth century Roman --- became a monk who was on this day elevated to the papacy. The first reading today well describes how Gregory knew the duties of being Pope and caring for God’s people. Gregory was from a family of some wealth. However, after his father’s death, he made the family home in Rome into a monastery which he later joined. His name, Gregorius, comes from the Greek and seems to mean someone who is watchful. Gregory may be noted for his last assignment, Vicar of Christ. However, in his monastic experience he learned what spiritual guides named lectio divina — divine reading. It is a meditative way of reading sacred scripture. Throughout his years of praying with the words of scripture, he would often write down insights that would come to his heart and mind.

Lectio divina is recommended even to this day by spiritual guides as a fruitful way of making prayer meaningful. Lectio divina is reading over a scripture text (not a lengthy text) at least four times, stopping on words or sentences that flash an insight or the mind or heart of the praying person.

Paul’s words today easily remind me of the challenges that I encounter each day. What Paul write reminds me how challenging it is to be a spiritual person. Our lives are spiritual journeys, daily travels on the way to becoming what God wants each of us to be. Sermons, homilies, spiritual reading, conversations with friends are signposts along the way — but it is God who actually brings us our spiritual growth.

Gregory, in one of his letters, must be reflecting his insights into the reading today. Reading scripture in a lectio divina style and allowing the thoughts and insights to sink into our hearts and minds Gregory likened to a rive that provides waters to the shorelines it passes ... water that always returns to the river.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Religion and Education

Now instead of the spirit of the world, we have received the Spirit that comes from God, to teach us to understand the gifts that he has given us.
1 Corinthians 12
From these words of the 1st reading we witness Paul's use of his opponents own notions and terminology against them. Some of the Corinth Christians felt they possessed a wisdom that put them above others whom they looked down upon as children.
Paul's words reflect his view that those who thought themselves better than others were "soul people," a group that placed greater stress upon the body and its needs. These people contrasted in Paul's mind with those called "spiritual people" who maintained Jesus was "the Lord of Glory." These were the people that Paul considered to be perfect.
What is there in this part of St. Paul's letter for us today? The Catholic population in our Church today has dramatically changed in the last 50 years. Only after the end of the second World War, only then were pastors and high school teachers beating the drums for Catholics to move on to college -- primarily to produce a Church body of educated Catholics. By the turn of the century so many Catholics had achieved a goal that produced a every-growing, ever-graduating group of thinkers. It wasn't long before the same pastors, bishops and popes realized they now had a tiger by the tail. An educated person asks questions, like an Augustine, a Thomas Aquinas. An educated person doesn't easily march in lock-step at another's commands without first carefully studying them. Consequently, birth control, then abortion, followed by society's gradual awareness of a gay American population in the Catholic community, and this followed by an ever increasing number of couples living together before marriage became issues not easily accepted nor swallowed.
The educational pushers now encountered a tide of people who found issues of faith and morals to be challenges by newly-opened minds.
What Paul is teaching pertains to the current status in our Church: issues of faith and morals are being challenged, indeed rejected by some Catholics. And so, we have to ask "How do we confront these challenges today?" This is the new challenge in every Bishop's life because the Bishop, in union with the Vicar of Christ, is the official teacher of faith and morals and doctrine.
So, striving to be faithful Catholics we might consider how is a Bishop, an Ordinary, along with his faithful flock, how are they to revive not so much a blind faith but the growth of an informed spirituality and the willingness to accept what Jesus has taught and what our Church puts before us as the basic tenets of our Church? How do we see more clearly the Word of God in Jesus' teaching and the authority entrusted to Peter and his successors?
Our serious consideration might be this: are we, the followers of Jesus in the Catholic Church, willing to sacrifice an aspect of a treasured American freedom to live a life in conformity with the Gospels, the Commandments, and the teachings of our Church? A married couple sacrifice much to be faithful. A consecrated religious offers up a very personal part of his/her life to be a faithful follower of the charism of their religious group. A faithful priest sacrifices family life to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, the great High Priest. For without doubt, living the will of God for us demands a genuine martyrdom in contemporary culture.
... let your faithful ones bless you.
Let them discourse of the glory of your Kingdom....
Psalm 145:12-13ab

Monday, September 1, 2008

Labor Day, September 1, 2008

The responsorial psalm today should add more purpose to all celebrations today: "Lord, give success to the work of our hands."

Since Adam and Eve were placed in charge of their famous, or infamous, garden, work has been a part of human life. Think for a moment on the words about work that are found in the Book of Proverbs (12:13): From the fruit of his words a man has his fill of good things and the work of his hands comes back to reward him. And we can give thought to another verse (11): He who tills his own land has food in plenty, but he who follows idle pursuits is a fool.

Unfortuantely most Americans have somehow, probably without knowing the second of the Proverbs verses cited above, have become a people who are identified almost solely with their work. A friend was telling me early this morning, in his homily, that retirement frightens many people. Why? Because they have identified their very existence in terms of their work, their job.

While studying at the University of Florida, I had to review a study that found that the retirement community had this general experience: those who came south without any idea about how they would live in retirement, how they would enjoy being a person not identified by their occupation or the need to have that occupation tended to die more quickly than others who came south with the intention of living a new life, a more relaxed life, a life with more time for friends and community organizations.

An interesting reality: on the seventh day, after six days of production, God rested! Yes, God worked and God rested! The Book of Exodus: "Six days you may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord" (ch 20:9-10)

Have you ever noticed those people who work 24/7 seem to lack the fulness of humanity. Something has become missing in their lives. God certainly meant the labor is a sacred duty all of us have whether it is the labor of the mind or muscle labor. But God also wants us to partake of the goodness of his creation through relaxation.

When Pope John Paul II was able to continue his work, even in his older years, many times he and his secretary would "disappear" for a part of the Holy Father's "day off." They would go off to one of the nearby hills where the Pope would read, pray and just take in the beauty of God's creation ... allowing his body, his heart and his soul to take off the labor jacket so that the creation gift could also become a part of his life.

As we celebrate this Labor Day, let us pray that those who have lost jobs may find new employment. Let us give thanks to God for the priests and lay colleagues who have over the years struggled to make sure that all workers are treated justly especially in our country. We might tend to forget these men and women. Let us also offer a prayer of thanksgiving for all those who have worked for us when we may have needed the help of others. Let us pray as well that in the very near future there will be equal pay for both men and women who have similar positions of work.

Labor Day is a day that provides us with reason for serious thinking and prayer and relaxation. Beneath the celebrations and all the oratory on this day there is once again a message to all: human beings possess a very real and definite dignity and man or woman or child and that dignity is closely related to work and the ability to step away from that work to be a child of God, free to partake of God's creation.