Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Absence for the remainder of the week
brings these reflections for each day through the First Sunday of Advent..
TUESDAY, November 25th
From the second letter of St. Peter (1:20-21):
First you must understand this: there is no prophecy contained in Scripture which is a personal interpretation. Prophecy has never been put forward by man's willing it. It is rather that men impelled by the Holy Spirit have spoken under God's influence.
From a treatise on Peter by Augustine:

He speaks of a voice that came from Surpreme Glory and said to the Lord Christ: You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.... This voice we heard coming from heaven, when we were with him on the holy mountain. Because we ourselves were not present there and did not hear that voice from heaven, Peter says to us: And we possess a more certain prophetic word to which you do well to attend ....

Wednesday, November 26th:

From a homily attributed to Saint Macarius:

When a farmer prepares to till the soil, he must put on clothing and use tools that are suitable. So, Christ, our heavenly king, cam to till the soil of mankind devastated by sin. He assumed a body and, using the cross as his plowshare, cultivated the barren soul of man. He removed the thorns and thistles which are the evil spirits and pulled up the weeds of sin.... And when he plowed the soul with the wood of the cross, he planted in it a most lovely garden of the Spirit,, that could produce for its Lord and God the sweetest and most pleasant fruit of every kind.

Thursday, November 27th, Thanksgiving Day

From: Words of Hope and Healing, Rev. Henri Nouwen, 2005

When we claim and constantly reclaim the truth of being the chosen ones, we soon discover within ourselves a deep desire to reveal to others their own chosenness. Instead of making us feel that we are better, more precious or valuable than others, our awareness of being chosen opens our eyes to the chosenness of others.

And so, my friends, while I am celebrating Thanksgiving with friends in Minnesota, know that my prayers today are words of gratitude for all who read these pages, all who are so much a gift to me in kindness, in wisdom and in fraternal support.

Friday, November 28th

From: Fr Jordan: Personal reflections after reading parts of Henri Nouwen Illuminated, by Len Sroka.

Why make so much of a spiritual life? We are so busy with the ordinary moments of the day? Fr. Nouwen stresses the spiritual life as the opportunity to live in the presence of God. Despite all the difficulties we encounter, especially the painful days that have fallen upon our nation and the world because of financial meltdowns, we are invited to find God in the world around us.

We are indeed in a time of purification. It is a time when, as we prepare for the season of Advent, to make ready our hearts and minds to receive Jesus Christ, once again despite the ups and downs of our personal lives. It is through prayer, some fasting, and other sacrifices that we are pull back the curtain that separates us from seeing God in our losses, our pains, our confusion.

We pray for those who have lost jobs, homes, resources. Theirs is truly a time of walking with Jesus as he carried his cross.

Saturday, November 29th

St. Ignatius ends his Spiritual Exercises with a meditation on Obtaining God's Love. This is what we might consider on this eve of the First Sunday of Advent. How can I obtain God's love? What does it mean for me in my very busy world? How is God's love truly present in the world we live in today with all of its difficulties and pains, all of its disappointments?

Yes, it is a time of purification that surrounds us each day. The sacrifices we are called to make at this time, are without doubt, opportunities. These moments are but doorways to the mystery of God. Consider the challenges that confronted the Jewish people in Old Testament days. So often these pain-filled days were not days of punishment for wrong-doings as much as they were resurrection days ... times when we can push aside the idols we have made for ourselves in recent days and months and see where it is that God is leading us, where God is calling us.

Sunday, November 30th.

From: A Fr. Jordan reflection prepared for the Archdiocese of Washington's Catholic Standard, for this Sunday.

Three Sundays past, a prominent TV news show panelist was walking down the center aisle toward me. A genuine woman of color, she looked exhausted: another victim of a grueling presidential campaign! Nearing each other, I saw the glitter of tears on her face. "Are you okay?" She replied, "Father, I have waited so long for this time. I was lighting a candle at Mary’s altar when a wave of emotion hit me. It is so hard to believe. In my lifetime. I have witnessed the election of an African-American as President of our country." Then we just looked at each other, smiling, and allowing the marvel of the moment speak for itself.
My friend had waited and waited for this day when she could give such a meaningful thanksgiving. How wonderful that she went to Mary who had to wait for the moment her child would be born! So, on this first of the Sundays of Advent, we begin waiting. We await again the true gift of the Christmas season.
"Tis the season," when our Church gives us, with determined purpose, a time of waiting. Despite the Christmas decorations already refashioning malls and TV commercials, our Church does not want to jump ahead so quickly. The Church knows there is genuine spiritual gold in the four weeks of waiting. It is Holy Spirit grace of letting us mull over how centuries of people waited for a Savior, a Messiah. It is the grace of letting prophetic and poetic words explode within our hearts and minds, reminding us of the wonder of our God.
How about Thanksgiving Day we celebrate this week? When I was growing up, preparations would begin in earnest on Tuesdays. Both grandparents lived but one block apart. It was just a treat to run between the houses seeking to know what these special ladies were preparing for the big dinner – at that time not realizing it was always a "set menu." The aroma of the pumpkin and spice pies my Dad’s Mom was making had me dreaming about what was to come. My Mom’s Mom would be getting the spices out for the turkey stuffing. Both houses were filled with aromas that made my expectations dominate my mind and appetite. Thinking about the pies and the turkey stuffing, my appetite was growing.
These four weeks of Advent are "expectation" days when we have the opportunity of realizing perhaps with greater wisdom as we grow older that the child about to be born will be a most unusual food for us. His will be a daily nourishment for us if we "tease" ourselves by imagining what a gift his birth will be for us when we arrive at the Eucharistic celebration of his birth on Christmas day and at every Mass.
In Advent days seek out the whispering voice of God in the noise of our all-too-busy world. Advent is a time not only of awaiting the celebration of Mary’s day of birthing a savior for the world, a unique gift from God. Advent is also a part of our joining the community of all saints and sinners who await the final coming of God.
At the end of my Thanksgiving and Christmas days this is my sentiment each time: the gifts from God, every time, are well worth the wait.

I return to Washington on Sunday evening, November 30th, trusting the abbreviated reflections are somewhat helpful and that everyone has had a wonderful Thanksgiving Day as we begin the season of waiting, waiting for our celebration of the Lord's birth. Amen.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Who is he? Feast of Christ the King

Good evening. Let me share two simple sentences that, I believe, are the keys to a deeper understanding of the kingship of Jesus Christ. They come from the most recent publication of Deepak Chopra, a contemporary Eastern philosopher whose education was begun in India’s Catholic school system. The sentences come from Jesus – A Story of Enlightenment. The words are as follows: "Silence isn’t a blank. It’s the pregnant possibility of what is about to be born" (page 10).

Chapter 25 of St. Matthew’s gospel is without doubt paramount among the gospel verses about Jesus as a king. One spiritual writer I often read, commenting on this marquee chapter of Matthew’s life of Christ, thought about Mark Twain’s writing, The Prince and the Pauper. You may recall this Twain composition is the story of a most unlikely friendship between Prince Edward, son of England’s King Henry VIII, and a down-and-out young boy named Tom Canty. Agreeing to change positions, the boys wanted to know what his friend’s life was like. They carried on this charade until Henry died. While Twain intended for the book to be humorous, what became so obvious was each of the boys inability to live with the life of the other.

The Twain production can help us understand something of the spirituality of Jesus Christ, in particular what the kingship matter is. We have been told that we are a royal priesthood, a people set apart, very much like those born to royalty. Yet, Jesus, in so many biblical instances, has identified with those who are poor, with those whose castle is a local prison, or a hospital room, or the open road. The way we open up this mystery is to quietly consider the vision which our faith offers us.

Despite his protests, Prince Edward in his rag-tag disguise was not readily accepted by many of the street people. Jesus, in his public ministry, says time and again that he can be found in the marginalized of society, those many people tend to avoid. The challenge to us in our self-centered world is to honestly believe that Jesus is in the homeless folks that hang around Union Station. Many find it so difficult to let Jesus presence in the immigrants who have come to our land. In proportion to our total number, a great number of Catholics find it very difficult to find Jesus in those imprisoned, especially those convicted of crimes like murder or rape. Likewise many devout Catholics find it hard to see that Jesus just might be present in those who struggle with a different sexual orientation.

The challenge to all of the Catholic Church today is not to put Jesus in a palace of our own making. While most of us are not of royal blood, we somehow have come to believe that we know what it is like ... or, at least that seems to be the case with the way many think of Jesus. The kingship that Jesus proclaimed throughout his ministry was a royalty that reached out to those in need. His royal power was extended to those who had become the butt of society, the recipients of disregard and disrespect.

The kingship of Jesus Christ is nothing more that extending to every person a loving and accepting respect. The kingship of Jesus Christ is an invitation to each of us to take Chopra’s words about silence to heart as we encounter all of God’s people. We can accomplish this if we understand and remember: "Silence isn’t a blank. It’s the pregnant possibility of what is about to be born."

Thursday, November 20, 2008

In Jesus' moments of looking at the city of Jerusalem tears reveal something of his inner being. As he looked from his silence, he eventually said a few words that revealed a hurting soul: "If this day you only knew what makes for peace...." 'If you only knew': these words speak much about the heart of Jesus. The tears and the words are those of a broken heart. Jerusalem! Jerusalem! Why have you chosen violence? Why could you not have done more to give peace to the land and the people?
Silently watching and listening, we experience the pained heart of our God, a God of love. I cannot imagine how Jesus reacts as he looks upon our world today and its many places of combat and struggle.
"If you only knew." These are for us today words of invitation to address divisions that exist within the human family. You and I are called to respond to God's pain and tears. How? How can each of us respond? The words of the Alleluia verse are a bold answer. "If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts."
'If you only knew.' This is the invitation to us to listen, to let silence lead us to "the pregnant possibility" of what can be born in and through our lives.
If we only knew the richness of the treasure awaiting us, we would take very opportunity to hear the voice of the Lord. Today he calls us, he calls nations to peace and justice. These are the guide posts to true life in Jesus Christ. These are the activities that are the results of silence with the Lord.

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Kind Word Does Wonders: Tuesday, Nov 18, 2008

A life changing moment occurred in Jericho. The occasion was the time when Jesus was passing through the town. There was a man there who had heard about the young preacher who was teaching some new ways of living and relating to God. Although short in stature, the man was tall in civic status and deep in ill-earned wealth. There was something about the preacher's message that grabbed hi interest.
It is always interesting to watch the movement of Holy Spirit grace in the lives of people who dealt with Jesus. Obviously the head of the IRS of the times found an itch in his mind and heart. This time it was not for more money. This new way of understanding God had tickled his interest. Little did he know how the preacher would capture his heart.
Consider how the young preacher's way of bring Zacchaeus into the new way comes about through an invitation that was perceived as a scandal. That the "man of the cloth" would invite himself to the house of a public figure whose practices, whose positions, seemed to earn him a sinner's reputation.
In just a few words Luke described Zacchaeus' metanoia: He will turn from his ways of evil by giving half of his possessions to the poor and giving back from his wealth quadruple what he had extorted from the people. As the words in the Book of Revelation state: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me."
Into each of our lives there comes the moment when Holy Spirit grace will tickle a part of who we are --- perhaps more often than we are accustomed to recognize. However, when someone or an event happens surfaces from the inner me, a felt desire to know more about what is causing the inner soul's itching, it is so often Jesus knocking at the door, inviting us to dine with him.
Recently, when a number of Bishops and Pastors were heaping accusations of murderer on one of the presidential candidates, our Holy Father took the occasion of that candidate's election to the Presidency to telephone his personal best wishes and promise of prayers for the future. In a gentle, non-combative manner, was the Pope not inviting the President-elect to consider an invitation to dine? Was he not Jesus knocking at the newly elected presidential candidate's door, seeking the opportunity to speak, to dine together?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Monday, November 17, 2008: Christ Centered Reality

Already we are getting ready for the final Sunday of the Church's liturgical year, ending our spiritual journey of 2008. Sitting with a warm cup of licorice tea very early Sunday morning, I was letting the thoughts of Trappist Fr. Basil Pennington stir my heart. He wrote that reading a book written by a friend brought about a change in his life. No doubt for Christians seeking to live as God calls them would stir up interest if they heard Fr. Basil's remark. His declaration of a metanoia, a true change of life, serves as a blinking signal light. How can one book change a person's life? How can I achieve the same for myself?
Fr. Basil presents a key that opens the door that opened for him a new experience in dealing with his God. For those who try daily prayer to the best of their ability, there is the voice inside that speaks to the heart with some genuine hope of success. That inner whisper, like the voice that guided Elijah, is the voice of the Holy Spirit that speaks to the heart.
The message is so often the same: as a follower of Jesus Christ, I am very different from so many others in the way that I understand who I am. The true Christian knows full well that from the moment of baptism my life is different. Why? How? Because as a follower of Jesus, "I have been crucified with Christ" (St. Paul, Galatians 2:19-21). So while my heart beats on its own, I am truly born again because "Christ lives in me."
Just for a moment let you imagination try to capture the fullness of that reality: because I was baptized into Christ Jesus, Jesus lives within me. That's what makes me different. It is not because I am the architect who makes the plans. It is the gift of Holy Spirit that comes with the Christ center of who I am: a true Trinity likeness. In the Trinity, three are one. For me Christ and you, Christ and me, we have become one yet we remain as two.
This might be a wonderful explosion of your imagination. The God who created out of nothing a universe that has served me and you in so many magnificent ways, that same Creator God lives within me. How unique, how wonderful, how good I am. This is the gift that truly opens my heart to know, from within my very being, that there is a voice that leads me, that guides me. You and, each of us, can stand tall because, just maybe, I am finally coming to comprehend what I am: a Christ-person. Yes, I am!

Fear Not!

Again, the 3rd Sunday of a month and you have the opportunity of reading the homily of our Permanent Deacon, Gary Bockweg, at St. Joseph's Parish.
"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Those were the famous words of Franklin Roosevelt Seventy five years ago.
In his 1933 inauguration speech. The country was gripped in fear. In the midst of a bank panic and in the midst of the Great Depression.
But "Change" was
at hand. Roosevelt was initiating a New Deal.
He had the talents to be a strong leader and a great communicator.
The country would begin aggressive positive action to get back on track
To move forward.
He looked for other talents where he could find them.
And he took risks by calling on some unlikely resources.
Like putting the newly created Securities Exchange Commission
Under the control of a man who’d been criticized for his questionable Wall Street tactics.
A man who’d built a fortune as a stock and commodity speculator using those tactics. The fox in charge of the hen house, some might say.
But that new chairman, Joseph P. Kennedy, took swift and positive action. He introduced major reforms that benefitted the industry and the country.
We don’t have to stretch too far to find some parallels with our economic situation today.
And we don’t have to stretch too far to find some spiritual parallels.
Those three main factors in that economic story are also three of
the key factors in our scripture readings today: Fear, Talent, and
Action. And our scripture adds another dimension—the deadline—the Master’s return.
Our reading from Proverbs tell of fear of the Lord.
The woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
And our Responsorial Psalm echoes that.
Blessed is the man who fears the Lord.
They say fear of the Lord is a good thing. And it is.
But it doesn’t refer to a cowering fear.
A fear that paralyzes us and holds us back from action.
It refers to respect—a recognition of the awesomeness of God.
An appreciation for the relationship he offers us to enter with him.
And a fear that we would do something to violate that relationship.
That we would try to take undue advantage of the mutual love between him and us.
It’s a fear that moves us to positive action to strengthen our relationship.
And indeed, the woman in Proverbs pursues many noble actions.
She uses her talents to help others.
Not only her family, but the poor and the needy.
And we’re told that she will be rewarded for her actions.
St Paul’s letter urges us to take action. To keep always alert and sober.
Because the master is returning, and we don’t know when he will come.
And Paul also assures us that we do have the ability to stay always ready,
Because we are children of the light.
We receive the light of Christ at Baptism.
And it’s because of that light that we know he’s coming.
And that we know the value of being ready to greet him.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells the parable of the servants and the talents.
He stresses the certainty of the Master’s return.
And he stresses the great value of the reward he’ll bestow on those
Who have taken action with the talents he’s given them.
He’ll call them to share in his joy.
He also points out the dangers of wasting or misusing our talents—
Of failure to act.
The servant who buried his talents is not rewarded.
He’s thrown out into the darkness.
According to the servant, it was fear of the master that kept him from acting. He fell victim to that paralyzing fear.
That fear of dire punishment. He could have benefitted from a good fear. A healthy sense of fear that he might disappoint his master
Could have pushed him to do his very best.
The master saw his inaction as laziness.
He hadn’t asked that much of the servant.
Only that he act according to his known ability.
He didn’t have to double the money like the other servants.
Putting it in the bank would have been sufficient.
Yet, the servant failed to do even that much.
So his punishment was just.
Whether the servant’s failure was due to fear or laziness
His fate might heighten our sense of fear.
But let it be that good fear.
A fear that is eased by the repeated assurances that Jesus has given us.
He’s dramatically demonstrated his love for us.
He’s told us of God’s great love for us.
He’s told us that we can even call God our Father.
And he’s told us that God will show us abundant mercy.
In the end—and we do know that end is coming—
That mercy is all any of us can rely upon.
In the mean time, while we alertly await our Master’s return,
We can take positive action to strengthen our relationship with him.
Action that serves him by serving others
Through use of the talents he’s given us.
We should ask ourselves –
What actions are on my spiritual to do list?
Is there something I’ve been too fearful or too lazy to tackle?
If so, Matthew’s Gospel is urging, "Do it now!"

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Kingdom of God

The Kingdom of God! So often we Catholics like to future think. Daily we pray in the Our Father "Thy Kingdom come!" For so many of us the kingdom of God is to be an experience after death. In response to a Pharisees question, Jesus describes the Kingdom of God. It is not something to be observed when it comes -- like Election Day and Inauguration Day are the unofficial and official beginning of a new government administration. Jesus knows his answer is a surprise or a challenge to the Pharisees and even to many of his followers then and now. He says "behold" -- a kind of surprise word. "look around you" might be another translation. "... the Kingdom of God is among you."
Fundamental to the preaching of Jesus is the Kingdom of God. It is Jesus' presence among human beings in his bodily presence as he goes about preaching and teaching. It is his presence today among us in the Eucharist, in the words of Scripture and in our brother and sister sojourners on this earth. It is his calling of human beings to a new way of life as individuals and as a community. So, as faithful followers of Jesus, we live in the Kingdom of God today. Our earthly lives are the beginning of the Kingdom for each of us. Ultimately and permanently the kingdom will our experience of heaven.
Through our faith in Jesus Christ and more explicitly at the time of our baptismal initiation into the Church and our living in union with all who are a part of the Church community we are members of the Kingdom of God.
Although we daily pray "thy kingdom come," we must not forget in one sense that the Kingdom of God is already present in Christ's passion, death, and resurrection as well as in and through our Church.
St. Paul's request to his friend Philemon (fih-LEE-muhn) that he welcome back his run-away slave, Onesimus (o-NEH-sih-muhs), not as a slave but as a brother is a sign of what the kingdom is like. It is a divine kingdom built upon justice and mercy: where sins are forgiven, the sick are made whole, enemies are reconciled, captives are freed and the needs of the poor are met. This is the kingdom that is so much of who we are today. So often it is, as in Paul's example, a challenge to popular beliefs and practices.
Can we live this life? Can we make this a standard way of living? Well, to borrow a phrase that has become quite popular in the last two years: "YES WE CAN."

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Continuing Leprosy

Luke's account of the encounter of ten lepers with Jesus might serve us well in a world that is so fast-paced, so multi-tasked, so laden with interruptive thoughts, words and actions. "How so?" you might ask.
We see two kinds of leprosy in this story. There is the physical leprosy, Hansans Disease, that eats away at the skin. There is so clearly evident here the invisible spiritual or psychological leprosy that brings "ingratitude and unthanfulness" (Kierkegaard).
One leper recognized that Jesus had brought about a physical healing. He turned and went back in thanksgiving.
A genuine challenge in our busy world is not to overlook that God is the source of goodness experiences. At the present time many men and women are unemployed ... not their choice. Naturally their concern is themselves and their families. Forgetting that God is the source of the goodness we receive can easily happen in the distress of the moment.
The challenge in overcoming this kind of leprosy is to find every opportunity to recognize all of the ways God blesses even during times of financial crises, illnesses and when despair sits in the heart.
There are many experiences of God-goodness that fill a day. Seeing these blessings is an opportunity to raise the head above the pulling down events.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Criticizing or Coalescing?

As a priest, with some years of pastoral experience, I have been asked by more than a few how Catholics, bishops, priests, deacons, religious and laity could in conscience vote for Sen. Obama. Pondering an answer, reading the official documents from the Holy See, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops -- not necessarily the letters or remarks of local bishops or pastors -- I was about to draft a short answer to the question. However, as my pot was simmering, I came upon an interesting point of view, a possible answer to the question.

This morning’s read of Whispers in the Loggia announced that Fr. Andrew Greeley is critical but resting and showing signs of quick improvement from a fall suffered exiting a cab following a presentation in suburban Chicago. Linked in the article is a very interesting article that the prolific writer just a few days ago, the day after the recent presidential election, entitled "Why so many pro-life Catholic back Obama."

Fr. Greeley is not writing a novel here. He is to the point. At the outset he refers to then Cardinal Ratzinger’s statement on the evil of abortion and the added footnote about cooperation in evil. Let me quote Fr. Greeley for a moment on the subjection of cooperation.

Sometimes such cooperation can be "formal and direct," as when one votes for a pro-choice candidate because one deliberately agrees with and supports that position. Other times, however, the voted does not approve of the candidate’s position on abortion but votes for him because of other "proportionate" reasons. Then the cooperation is "material and indirect."
The Chicago priest-sociologist-novelist questioned what reason or reasons there might be for the position. He is clear: A candidate may not reject abortion but he/she supports "most of the other Catholic positions on life." Greeley gives as examples: condemning unjust wars, death penalty, torture, kidnaping, and cruelty to immigrants.

Some bishops and priests, making publicly clear the division among bishops and priests over the matter, maintain that there can be no "proportionate reason." He acknowledges there opinion but states "it goes beyond Catholic ethical demands.

Continuing on, Greeley notes that a similar position might have to back away from all politics "since there are very few political leaders who support the whole list of Catholic life issues. "Opposition to abortion," he states, "does not by itself exhaust the moral obligation of the Catholic social ethic."
So, this may be one possible response to those who have questioned "How could they?"

You are a temple of the Holy Spirit.

In the early days of the fourth century Constantine I was given the Lateran Palace. A few years later the Emperor entrusted this building to Pope Miltaiades. This house of worship became the Pope’s official church and remains so today almost seventeen centuries later. Since that time it has become the symbol of the permanent presence of the Catholic Church in the world today. For us, Americans, the White House and US Capitol Building may have a relationship similar to St. John Lateran Basilica and St. Peter’s Basilica.

In the second reading St. Paul truly speaks with the mind and heart of a pastor. Using the insights of his own encounters with Christ Jesus as well as the oral tradition handed on to him and the growing Church and his discussions, sometimes arguments, with Peter and the other disciples, Paul reminds the Corinthians and those who read his letters that we, ourselves, are very much a house of prayer, a house of worship.

His focus upon the true Christian as a temple of the Holy Spirit serves us well as we celebrate the day on which the mother church of the Roman Catholic was dedicated in the fourth century. Paul wrote, "You are the temple of God ... and ... the Spirit of God dwells in you. In the Catechism, we are taught this as an essential element of our faith, namely, that at our baptism "we become sharers of divine life and temples of the Holy Spirit." As an aside, it is this indwelling of the Holy Spirit and divine life that is the reason for our Church’s strong positions that stress the value of the person. We are so much more than a scientific or biologic wonder of creation. It is the gift of our mind and heart that sets us apart form other living beings. Through God’s extraordinary care for us, endowing us with the gift of the Holy Spirit, we become "God’s building," again to quote St. Paul.

Pastor Paul is clear: as a temple of God, you and I, each of us, is holy. As such each of us is sacred and should be given the respect such a gift deserves.

Today’s words from St. John’s gospel can be united to Paul’s thought in this way: remember we are holy because God has instilled or imbued the Holy Spirit within our very being as a gift to us to make us holy. We must remember that holiness is always initiated by allowing something in not by driving something out. Holiness begins in our lives not when we achieve but when we receive, when we accept because we believe. Jesus came into this world of ours to gift us with redemption and holiness. When we are blessed, we begin to remove the sinfulness that may have taken residence in our personal temple.

From my personal experience and perhaps yours as well, it seems, when I seriously take time to consider the gift of holiness given to me at my Baptism and ratified throughout my life by so many different events or experiences, that sinfulness or lack of attention to God quietly ends. Teach a person to accept his/herself as loved, as precious in God’s eyes and heart, then that person will gradually turn from sin or distance from God.

On this day when we think about the church we might also call the numero uno church in Christendom, let it be a celebration of the blessing it is for ourselves to be the living stones that are the Church universal.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Makng Prayer More Meaningful

Like a ray of light rising in the early morning eastern sky, there came a thought during a time of prayer today. I hear more often "these days" that prayer is difficult, that prayer is so hard, that prayer seems to have little impact in one's life. If I were selling a product that I would have to advertise as difficult, hard and seemingly useless, there would be very little income. Only one who would want to suffer torture would purchase the produce.
During a private retreat some 25 years ago or more (Fr. Henry Haske, SJ was my director or at least trying to be such) we discussed some of my own challenges in daily meditations. He guided me to a practice that I practice almost everytime I am meditation: I keep a reflection book open and pen in hand. As I move through my thinking and making every effort to listen to the Lord, I find myself writing thoughts that lead to other thoughts that lead me to feel a significant presence of the Holy Spirit with me.
In our contemporary world we are bombarded with thoughts. Many of us find ourselves multi-tasking. Few find time to catch their breath or even the space in a day to change one's mind. We live in a pressurized world. This reality brought a question to my mind today: "Could the writing thoughts as I progress through a time of prayer be an answer for some who find praying so difficult?" After thinking on the matter a short time, I came to believe that it is almost necessary in today's environment to write the "pearls of wisdom" or the gems that the Holy Spirit puts into the heart in a reflection book. Writing while taking time to reflect, to pray, is for me very much like take a rose bud that is about to bloom and slowly peel back petals one at a time. For those who might be more food oriented, it might be like working with an artichoke.
As a metropolitan minister says on a short radio broadcast: "not a sermon, just a thought." My like would be similar: "If it helps, use it." Surely this is would Ignatius would say. Thanks, Fr. Haskey!!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Our Citizenship Is In Heaven

Paul’s words are a reminder not so much that we are not citizens of a our nation or state. Rather Paul speaks actually about what we heard so often during the presidential campaign: change, reform.
The great apostles uses this sentence to remind us that, as followers of Jesus Christ, our mission, our lives as citizens of our country, is to know what heavenly citizenship is and to live our lives with the principles we know are standard fare in the kingdom of heaven.
Paul’s expectation places the bar quite high for us. Yet, living the kind of life expected of us is not impossible. We can live a life that reflects the citizenship of heaven.
Prayer is important in living as the gospels, the teachings of Jesus and our Church instruct us. More often than not the way we live our lives, the way we reflect our citizenship is often is a reflection of how we pray.
In just a few weeks we American citizens will reflect the heavenly citizenship that we seek to live while we are alive in this country as we gather around a Thanksgiving table. In prayers of blessings and special liturgies that day we will strengthen our prayer for peace among nations and people. We will strengthen our resolve to make love for one another as the basis for our laws.
Today we can ask ourselves this question: Do I truly understand the depth of Paul’s sentence – "Our citizenship is in heaven."

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Understanding the Sheep

Luke's account of Jesus' stories about the lost sheep and the lost coin can make clearer the deeper significance and meaning of repentance: the actions of a shepherd who watches his flock and a woman who cares for her savings.
Most Christians see repentance as the action of changing their way of life. This perception overlooks a much richer understanding and experience of God's love and care for his people.
A shepherd who sees one of his flock has disappeared will act in one of two ways: either he will ignore the lost animal, perhaps because the flock is already large and he does not have a personal care for each of his charges or immediately he will leave the flock that is together with other shepherds or sheep dogs to search out in nearby areas, calling out for the lost one. As the shepherd calls out, hoping that the wandering one will hear his voice and then will come back to him. When he does, his genuine care for the animal is evidenced by his lifting the animal up on his shoulders and bringing it home with the flock.
Before the one lost sheep returned, the shepherd is out seeking the errant animal. Why? Because the man to whom the animal was entrusted has a particular care for it. He sees real value in the animal. But notice this: the lost sheep did not return to the flock on its own. The shepherd took the initiative to find the wanderer.
True repentance is the experience of our responding to the graces, the signals, if you will, that calling of God to the sinner who has separated him/herself from a loving God. It is the awareness of God's efforts, his love for the sinner, that leads the sinner to return -- giving up sinful ways -- a rebuilding of the life of grace with the God who sent different signals, inviting the sinner to return. True repentance is seeing that we are already in the loving arms of God ... before we decide it's time to give up what separates us from God and return to his loving care.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Challenge of Following .... Jesus Christ.

What Jesus is saying to us and what Paul writes to the Philippians are the words of a strong speech and a pointed letter calling followers to a kind of change few would ever imagine a leader would propose.

Reflecting on Jesus’ words and Paul’s letter, a favorite hymn came to mind: Lift High the Cross. Who would easily join up with a leader who says you have to hate your parents, your family and, yes, even your own life? It is no surprise to me that Paul, himself reflecting on the life of Jesus Christ and perhaps one or two of the visions that were a part of his life, might encourage those who want to be a part of Jesus’ campaign that they should "work out your salvation with fear and trembling." Lifting high the cross of Christ is no child’s play.

St. Ignatius of Loyola’s well-know prayer for generosity that he entrusted to his community of Jesuits comes to mind as well. He prays in the prayer "to give and not count the cost." This is the price anyone is asked to pay when the banner of Jesus Christ becomes one’s shield. Our faith becomes the chisel we use to shape our lives as followers, as soldiers of Christ, to use another Ignatian image.

To walk beneath the banner of Christ’s cross is to accept a call to proclaim the kingdom of God. Yet, as challenging as it might seem, entrusting our lives to Christ and his mission does not lead to death. Rather, as St. Paul writes, doing what our leader calls us to do enables us "to shine like lights in the world."

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Real Challenge --- Living in Priorities

A slow and prayerful two or three time reading of St. Luke's gospel from today's liturgy offers those who express a desire to be united with Christ the challenge to be honest. This can, at times be like climbing the rocks of Molakai, pictured above. The challenge is to be faithful, to be loyal to the call that we have heard in our hearts from Jesus Christ. So many times it is a call that can easily be left unanswered or ignored for a time.
For example, how many will bypass regular chores this evening to watch the conclusion of the presidential campaign? When there is "something better" that comes before us, how easy it is to put aside obligations or promises.
Each day, throughout our lives, we are offered opportunities to strengthen our relationship with God. The marvelous truth is that we do not have to leave our homes or offices to live in this relationship. No need to run to a shopping center. No need to walk to a classroom. Each day there is, I hope, a book available to you which will open a daily learning experience that will help give content to the pledged dedication to be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ.
In the Bible every page is an invitation from God. It is his offering to teach us about himself, about ourselves and about others. In every book or letter in the Bible there is a road map for our journey of life leading us to the Father. This is one invitation from which we should not want to seek to be excused. This is a divine invitation to walk with Jesus Christ, just as the two disciples did on their saddened way to Emmaus. Like them, we hope, our walking with the Lord in the written word of sacred scripture will lead us to an experience when our hearts will be set on fire with the desire always to be with him.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Praying With The Unifying Words of Scripture

The roadway to understanding where God calls us comes to us through the quiet of reflective prayer, through a genuine effort to build a personal spirituality. Already Catholic newspapers are reporting the "results" of the recently concluded Bishops Synod on the Bible. In Pope Benedict's homily at the conclusion of the Synodal liturgy, we are reminded that our reading and praying with verses of scripture is not successful if our lives are not impacted.
Specifically the Holy Father, supporting the Bishops' recommendations preached that a significant result of our reading and praying, using verses of scripture, is our way to understanding not only God's will for us, not only ourselves but is a way for us to come to a genuine love and understanding of others. The Pontiff and the Bishops call us to realize that using the Bible for our prayer will help us in understanding others ... not just Catholic "others."
Scripture study and prayer are avenues to our love all human beings ... from non-Catholic Christians to Orthodox Christians, to the Jewish community, to Muslims and Buddhists. If we reflect on the Word of God we encounter in the Bible -- on Jesus himself as well as the word of God written in the Bible, we open our hearts and minds to a willing openness to others. It is a call to a genuine unity, a kind described in today's first reading (Philippians 2:1-4)
"... complete my joy by being of the same mind with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing.... Humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also everyone for those of others."
Aren't most people tired of wars, the conflicts that have ravaged many places and end many lives in the last ten years? It is not surprising, then, that there is growing among many the desire to see diplomacy become more the fare of our daily efforts to achieve a new way of living among all peoples?
Praying and studying the words in the Bible will bring us to realize a genuine Christ-like outreach or service as the peace that is just outside our doors!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

All Souls Day Reflection

Though I walk in the valley of darkness,
I fear no evil, for Your are with me.
Psalm 23

Good morning. Several days ago someone asked how the Commemoration of all the faithful departed began in our Church. Was it always a part of the Church’s calendar or did a Pope, at some point in our history make up the feast day? This is a good question since November 2nd is always the beginning of a month of praying for the faithful departed.

Actually, this celebration of prayer for all those who have died was initiated in the year 910 AD in a French town. A prince, William the Pious, was the Duke of Aquitaine. He owned much territory near the French town of Cluny. He entrusted the property to a group of Benedictine monks to establish a monastery on his property, asking only that they regularly pray for his soul especially after his death. The monks did this.

So, this commemoration of the faithful departed began with one man’s trust in the prayers of others for his soul after his death. The practice spread throughout the system of abbeys that grew out of the Abbey of Cluny and was formalized by one of the early abbots who was eventually canonized by the Church. His name is St. Odilo. He died in 1049 AD and is recognized as the abbot who gave strength to the practice ... having all the monks — numbering some 10,000 — pray for the faithful departed.

A priest-friend uses an interesting example to speak of the reality of loved-ones dying and our efforts to continue remembering them and their goodness. He turns to the simple phrase: "when a lemon falls into your life, make lemonade." And don’t most of us do that when we encounter what is most likely the most painful moments of our lives?

I know that when my first nephew died of cancer at the age of five, I was devastated for weeks. I could not begin to imagine how my sister and brother-in-law handled Billy’s death. And when my Dad died and later my Mom, I was much older and realized how fortunate I had been to have them. I also encountered dealing with death in a different way ... their death was my loss. Even while I was away for my summer vacation these last two weeks, there were several times, as I stood looking at some of the moving scenes of nature, when I thought to myself, "how wonderful it would be if Mom was here to see this." I was making my lemonade, bringing to mind and actually talking to my Mom about the sight before me because she always wanted to experience seeing the wonders of God’s creation wherever she would go.

The Church offers us not just a day to remember our loved ones and dear friends who have finished their earthly lives. We have an entire month to enjoy days of recalling the wonders of loved ones not simply with recollections of events or words they shared with us but with offerings of prayers and Masses for them. November is a solemn month in our Church because we honor the dead. We recall their many good deeds. We recall, as well, that like all human beings, they we subject to weaknesses, to sin.

The second reading for today’s liturgy is the lemonade we can use to make the death of a loved one less painful. We have the virtue of hope. This is what gives us strength to accept the reality of death ... because it is our hope, our faith, based on the resurrection of Jesus who redeemed us, that is "... the realization of what is hoped for."

As we move through this month, let us daily take time to remember all the faithful departed and recall how God used them to impact our lives, how God may have used them as his instruments to teach us of his care and concern for us.

Eternal rest grant unto them, Lord.
Let your perpetual light and love shine upon them