Saturday, February 28, 2009

Statues Thought Reponse

Someone called and asked what statuary collection I had. These are just a few of them. There are 11 other statues and religious art pictures! Saints be to God ... they are all over the place here!!!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Riding the Rails: An Interesting Thought for Lent

People ask me, What is the purpose of life? And I respond: In a nutshell, life is preparation for eternity. We were not made to last forever, and God wants us to be with Him in Heaven. One day my heart is going to stop, and that will be the end of my body-- but not the end of me. I may live 60 to 100 years on earth, but I am going to spend trillions of years in eternity. This is the warm-up act - the dress rehearsal. God wants us to practice on earth what we will do forever in eternity.

We were made by God and for God, and until you figure that out, life isn't going to make sense.
Life is a series of problems: Either you are in one now, you're just coming out of one, or you're getting ready to go into another one. The reason for this is that God is more interested in your character than your comfort; God is more interested in making your life holy than He is in making your life happy.

We can be reasonably happy here on earth, but that's not the goal of life. The goal is to grow in character, in Christ likeness. This past year has been the greatest year of my life but also the toughest, with my wife, Kay, getting cancer. I used to think that life was hills and valleys - you go through a dark time, then you go to the mountaintop, back and forth.. I don't believe that anymore.

Rather than life being hills and valleys, I believe that it's kind of like two rails on a railroad track, and at all times you have something good and something bad in your life. No matter how good things are in your life, there is always something bad that needs to be worked on. And no matter how bad things are in your life, there is always something good you can thank God for.

You can focus on your purposes, or you can focus on your problems: If you focus on your problems, you're going into self-centeredness, which is 'my problem, my issues, my pain.' But one of the easiest ways to get rid of pain is to get your focus off yourself and onto God and others.

We discovered quickly that in spite of the prayers of hundreds of thousands of people, God was not going to heal Kay or make it easy for her- It has been very difficult for her, and yet God has strengthened her character, given her a ministry of helping other people, given her a testimony, drawn her closer to Him and to people....

You have to learn to deal with both the good and the bad of life. Actually, sometimes learning to deal with the good is harder. For instance, this past year, all of a sudden, when the book sold 15 million copies, it made me instantly very wealthy. It also brought a lot of notoriety that I had never had to deal with before. I don't think God gives you money or notoriety for your own ego or for you to live a life of ease.

So I began to ask God what He wanted me to do with this money, notoriety and influence. He gave me two different passages that helped me decide what to do, II Corinthians 9 and Psalm 72.

First, in spite of all the money coming in, we would not change our lifestyle one bit. We made no major purchases.

Second, about midway through last year, I stopped taking a salary from the church.

Third, we set up foundations to fund an initiative we call The Peace Plan to plant churches, equip leaders, assist the poor, care for the sick, and educate the next generation.

Fourth, I added up all that the church had paid me in the 24 years since I started the church, and I gave it all back. It was liberating to be able to serve God for free.

We need to ask ourselves: Am I going to live for possessions? Popularity?
Am I going to be driven by pressures? Guilt? Bitterness? Materialism? Or am I going to be driven by God's purposes (for my life)?

When I get up in the morning, I sit on the side of my bed and say, God, if I don't get anything else done today, I want to know You more and love You better. God didn't put me on earth just to fulfill a to-do list. He's more interested in what I am than what I do. That's why we're called human beings, not human doings.

Happy moments, PRAISE GOD.
Difficult moments, SEEK GOD.
Quiet moments, WORSHIP GOD.
Painful moments, TRUST GOD.
Every moment, THANK GOD.

A recent interview with Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life.

Thought for the Day: Friday, Feb 27, 2009


There were days when our faith practices were so very different than they are today.

Statues. Most Catholic homes had a statue of Mary or Joseph or Francis and often a crucifix -- all to remind us of the presence and assistance of the "holy ones."

These images kept us in touch with our God and the saints. The statues has disappeared from most places except churches -- and there are some Pastors who want them gone from that hallowed place as well. Nonetheless, our minds were, even for just a brief moment, lifted beyond the circumstances that most likely brought us to look at the statue and open a very quiet moment of dialog with the saint of Jesus or God or the Holy Spirit.

Is it not a surprise, then, that the challenges we face each day seem more difficult when we don't have someone helping us? We might think these replicas of people we have never met are "out of date." Strange: the pains, difficulties and challenges these wonderful people and God helped us through have not changed, have not disappeared.

Just a thought, not a sales pitch!

Friday After Ash Wednesday, Feb 27 2009

The excesses we reduce; the reaching out to those who have lost their jobs or their homes; helping those who are alone and most likely suffering loneliness; and reassuring those elderly in their worries over what little they might have; and encouraging those young people who have had to leave college because of funding: all of these and many other practices might indeed be the sacrifices we might consider during this particular Lenten season. Being a brother or sister to another person who is in dire straits might well be among the challenges that bring about a deeper awareness of who each of us truly is.

Again, Lent is a journey. Travel, the travel of any journey, can be a transformation. Going from where you are to a new place makes your somewhat different. Imagine the change if you have lost your job and have to make the trip to the unemployment line ... for a first time ... and it is not your fault! That is a change in who a person might be. The sense of failure muse be overwhelming especially if that person's family will suffer because of the circumstances.

On the brighter side, most people feel a sense of excitement on setting out and along a journey to a new place. This is what Lent can bring to us even in our down in the dumps feelings. Lent, a time of growing closer to the Lord, can bring us to a new place, to a new sense of our relationship to the Redeemer.

In our churches, at every celebration of the Eucharistic Liturgy, the celebrant initiates a series of petitions for our prayers. Are we bringing the very painful needs of our sisters and brothers to the altar each day?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Feburary 26, 2009: Thought for Today

The Lenten Journey
Journey -- from the French for one day's travel

The Lenten Journey
A season's travel inside who I am.

Like the journey to Selma
Not just a journey from one city to another
As a nation, we came to know something of a terrible sin
that still remained after Emancipation
A journey that made us open our eyes, our hearts and minds.

What is this year's Lenten Journey going to teach me?

Da Vinci wrote words similar to these
Having made a journey into the heavens,
even though you walk the soil
you will often look skyward
wanting to be there.

Once I have tasted the freedom of self-discovery
I want more.

Never turn away from the invitation.

Thurday after Ash Wednesday

Without the ashes today am I a Catholic?

Yesterday evening Cardinal McCarrick was the guest celebrant for our AshWednesday Mass at St. Joseph's on Capitol Hill. He spoke about how powerful the symbolism of ashes on our foreheads was throughout the city. On streets, on Metro cars, on busses, in our offices and our homes -- that smudge of burnt palm leaves was a clear sign to all who looked on them: there is a Catholic. Yes, there were many setting out on a journey. It is to be a journey of yet another experience of know with more depth both Jesus and myself.

Today we symbol-bearing Catholics are smudgeless! Will those who determined what our religion was yesterday be able to pick out the Catholics today ... just 24 hours later. How can others decide if we are Catholics? Living the life of the gospels: this is the primary way for others to know I am a follower of Christ.

For those who have elected a way of life apart from God, the season of Lent, the journey of encountering who or what they have become, is an journey of return. It is a prodigal's long walk. It is the opportunity to return to God> It is a journey that demands accepting a death to what is sin in our lives.
Blessed are they who hope in the Lord!

Thought for the Day

Beginning another season of Lent is very much like leaving home, like setting out on a new journey.

"Like" yet different. This journey is a "re-birthing." Because we endeavor to leave behind what separates us from a loving, forgiving God, we are re-born into Jesus.

So the season of Lent is a gift of love to yourself. Open it! Look at it! Let it capture your heart and soul.

Ash Wednesday: Open the Closet of Your Heart

2009 Lenten Logo

How do I begin resolutions that will endure for forty days? Today begins another journey both in hope as well as in faith and in faith. Today I open again the closet of my heart. Like any in closet, I will see my belongings. As with every Spring and Fall, I determine what I want to remove -- clothes no longer fitting what I have become; clothes no longer fitting my physical frame; clothes no longer suited for who I am. So today I begin my looking through what I have stored on the shelves and hangers of my heart and soul. Even what I start to look at items in my closet, I sense a new freedom. I sense that I am removing what I do not need, what I don't want to be, what is cluttering my life. So today I look at what I have accumulated in my heart. What I want to remove are those vestiges of who I am that are not good for me. This desire brings a sense of spiritual freedom. I know that these Lenten days and resolutions will become fruitful ruminations for me. I see what doesn't fit who I am: those sinful desires; my feelings against other people, specially my family, friends and co-workers or employees; my ways of concern solely for myself and no one else. But, but, but with the assurance of hope and faith, I can encounter the limitless love of my God, yes, my forgiving God. This is the freedom and joy that can be mine as I open the door to my heart. It is a true freedom because it is an encounter with my Lord, my Redeemer, Jesus Christ. It is a wonderful journey.
"If today you hear his voice, harden not your heart."

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


An interesting read: check out some of the suggestions offered on Google for Shrove Tuesday and Carnival time.

Let me present a picture of the structure offered to us in the Season of Lent and its purpose.

Part One: Ash Wednesday through Saturday of the Third Week of Lent
1. The Gospel readings are taken from the "Synoptics" Matthew, Mark and Luke
a. the message of the chosen "pericopes" is "a call to conversion" (clearly moral texts)
i. beginning anew; o fasting, prayer and alms giving; of conversion; of mutual forgiveness; of hardness of heart; of love of enemies; of absolute claims of justice and love over ritual and cult; of the call to holiness. Even the salvation stories of the call of Naaman or the workers in the vineyard are put before you as examples of calls to conversion.

Part Two: Monday of the Fourth Week of Lent forward.
1. The Gospel readings are taken from St John's gospel (not a synoptic writer)
a. The chosen pericopes are focused upon the mystery of Jesus Christ and his promise that all who believe in him will have eternal life
i. Christ is presented as the healer, the life-giver; he is seen as the one who gives life by confronting death; and he gathers into one the scattered children of God.

What do these two parts teach about the spirit of lent?
The first part of Lent bring you to compunction ( a word related tot he words "puncture." These readings suggest a deflation of inflated egos, a challenge to any self-deceit about the quality of your life as a follower, a believer, of Jesus Christ.
(2) The gospel selections have a planned purpose: to trouble your spirit, to confront your illusions about yourself, to bring home to you your radical need of salvation.
(3) The movement inf John's gospel in the second part of Lent is designed for you to realize that Jesus can only save those who know their need for salvation.

All of the above has been "borrowed" from the"Ordo" prepared for the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington. In the Ordo it is noted that the information has been taken from "The Season of Lent" by Mark Seale in Assembly, Vol 8:3, produced by The Notre Dame Center for Liturgy, Notre Dame, Indiana.


* The season of Lent runs from Ash Wednesday until the Mass of the Lord's Supper exclusive on Holy Thursday with the Sacred Triduum (3 days) begins and concludes with Evening Prayer of Easter Sunday.

** FASTING: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of fasting for all Catholics between the ages of 18 and 59. The call to fasting is for a "modified fasting," that is, one full meal on each of these days.

*** ABSTINENCE: All Catholics between the ages of 14 and older are called to abstain from eating meat on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays during the season of Lent.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time

Wash me clean, Lord.

As we stand at the threshold of another Lent, the gospel reading for this Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time --- the last Sunday of Ordinary Time until Monday, June 1st --- provides us with the opportunity to prepare our hearts for the Lenten season. The story of the paralyzed man being lowered through an opening in a roof into the presence of Jesus is like an acorn --- there is much potential within the exterior.

One might ask “What is the major event of the Marcan story?” Many will answer it is the curing of a physical disability. Some might provide another, more significant answer. Jesus gives us the answer in the first recorded words he offers the paralytic: “Child, your sins are forgiven.” The major action in this story is Jesus’ focused attention on the man’s spiritual condition, not the physical disability.

If you were lying on the stretcher in front of this recognized healer, are those words what you would want to hear? Most likely not. You would have wanted to hear something like, “Okay. Your persistence has been noted. Get up and walk from this place.” Why would Jesus say “your sins are forgiven?”

Jesus had determined that there was the weight of a heavy spiritual burden that needed to be taken out of this man’s life before physical healing could take place. After Jesus had healed the spiritual illness, the burden of the man’s sinfulness, he could bring about the desire healing of the man’s body.

God gives us a promise every day: “I am with you always.” We are presented the same promise given to the paralytic. It is a promise that are sins are forgiven. We do not have to allow the heavy burden of our sins continue to weigh heavily upon us. No matter what failures you might keep on your mental list or what mistakes you have a hard time forgetting or letting go, Jesus is ever-ready to help you lift the burden, the psychological burden from your mind and heart. He carried the cross once for all of us sinners. We do not have to continue the same task in our lives. What we do have to realize is that we have to understand what forgiveness truly is.

Fortunately most of us are not restricted in movement like the paralytic. But because we have sinned, we need the “God-given freedom from paralysis of spirit” brought upon us by our sinfulness. It is the gift of the season of Lent that enables us to consider our lives and the sinfulness that has or continues to weight upon us. It is our opportunity to share in the reality of a miracle in our lives: it is the miracle of spiritual healing.

So many times I have been told by a penitent finishing his/her confession: “Thank you so much, Father. You have made me feel so much better. You have lifted a cross from my back.” Usually, if my wits are with me, I reply “Oh no. Not I. The man who hangs upon every crucifix, Jesus of Nazareth: he is the one who has helped you shed the burden.”

Plan ahead. Decide before Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, not what you want to give up or do for Lent but rather how you want to give of yourself during the forty days of Lent to better understand how much Jesus truly loves you and only asks one thing from you: to seek forgiveness of your sins. Let him through the season of Lent bring that forgiveness to you.

What's This All About? Why the Change?

Today's gospel reading and that of yesterday relate moments that surely must have provided the disciples with genuine confusion. They must have had one of those "I just don't get it" moments. Imagine a la Ignatian meditation style: imagine standing with the three disciples atop the hill and seeing this incredible moment only after hear a few days ago that "following me is going to be painful, there will be suffering, I must be brought to death." Imagine this to make it real: your boss or your spouse informs you that the financial crisis has come to your desk or to your home: there will be no salary raise this year and there will be only four days of work (pay) each week or that there just isn't enough money in the bank now nor in the next year to allow "junior" to attend the colleges he has hoped would be his ticket to the future.


a few days later your boss or your spouse returns to speak seriously to you: there will be a "nice" raise beginning tomorrow or "yes" we can afford to send our son to the college of his choice. What is going on? This must have been how the disciples felt.

Imagine being told death lies ahead and then being present for the Transfiguration! From the hard to hear predictions of the future to the exultation of the Transfiguration! Wow!

What is Jesus doing to the disciples and to us who are watching and preparing our hearts for another season of Lent? This is a part of the "measured pace" of Mark's unfolding who Jesus is. We are today presented with another moment of coming to understand what it means to believe, what really is faith. Like the blind man whose healing was a gradual event, we are invited to live in the moments that all forth from our hearts and souls an exercise in faith.

We might consider this: through the trials we encounter the ups and downs of life God has been and will continue to present to us. We have to believe! It is those moments when there is a rewarding spiritual insight or a moment of goodness that we should repeat what Peter said to the other disciples: "It is good that we are here." Likewise we might recall what is written in the Letter to the Hebrews: "He rewarded those who seek him."

Friday, February 20, 2009

Discipleship - Sharing in his suffering.

Friday of the Sixth Week of Ordinary Time

Our Lady of Sorrows

Following yesterday's readings, today's gospel presents Jesus making quite clear being "the Christ," as Peter identified him in the previous reading, will entail great cost: suffering, torture and death. At the same time Jesus is teaching his followers that discipleship in his "army" will mean the very same. Suffering will be a predominant theme as Jesus moves toward the fulfillment of his mission. To the disciples he points out the following specifics that apply to us today in our lives, in our seeking to be true to our baptismal vocation to follow the Lord Jesus:

1) You must deny yourself: we have to bear different crosses as Jesus carried his crosses.
2) You must be willing to lose you life for the gospel: few are actually called to be martyrs in the physical sense but there are many instances even today of psychological martyrdom. Consider those who speak up for the marginalized in society; those who speak out strongly and without hesitation about the sin of abortion; consider those who have lost their homes or jobs at this time in their lives and the worries it brings to them in raising a family.
3) You must keep the value of your "life:" the meaning of "life" here is one's true self. How challenging each day is that we remain true to ourselves. Speaking truthfully is become a genuine challenge in today's culture, isn't it? How many think that the "little white lie" doesn't lay the foundation for a life of serious duplicity?

These "sayings" of Jesus are invitations that make clear that to follow Jesus will be at times nothing less than great sacrifice. Again, as we make ready our hearts and our intentions for the Lenten season, we might consider this first class of schooling for the disciples as prescriptions that God offers us to remove whatever ills may be in our hearts, those darn demons that prevent us from being lose to Jesus.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Different Lenten Experience

Very few readers will be boarding a plane to Rome for the duration of Lent. However, there is a Roman practice, centuries old, that might make this Lent more rewarding and informative especially to the historians, art historians and church historians. I have visited Wiki site for a description that may stir your interests. At the same time I have incorporated the North American College presentation of the Station Churches second on the list of LINKS found on this blog. But for those who want to reach through their own routes, here is a description of the program and the proper website:

Station church

From Churches of Rome Wiki

Jump to: navigation, search

Station churches are the churches that are appointed for special morning and evening services during Lent, Easter and some other important days.

The tradition started in order to strengthen the sense of community within the Church in Rome, as this system meant that the Holy Father would visit each part of the city and celebrate Mass with the congregation.

In addition to Mass, the station services consist of a procession, the Litany of Saints and veneration of relics. The scheduled times for each church change from one year to the next, and are posted by the entrance of the preceding day's church. Try to get there early, as these services can attract large crowds.

Because of restoration works and other practical problems, stations are sometimes changed. The list below is the standard list, and the only way to be absolutely certain if it's correct in a given year is to check the schedules when you're there; changes may occur on quite short notice. On some days, there are more than one station church. The reason is simply that the crowds would be too large to handle if only one church was used. In such cases, the most important (i.e. the original station) is listed first.

Who Do You Say Jesus Is?

Today's gospel reading takes place along the way to Caesarea Philippi. The scene is the modern day area. The area was known for the many shrines (altars) built to the god Baal. You may be able to see several niches in the hillside. Yesterday's gospel reading had Jesus in Bethsaida. Today we are a good distance walk (more than a few miles) were Jesus begins his serious instructions with the disciples who, up until this time, "just didn't get it." The miracles worked among the Gentiles near Tyre seemed to pass over the disciples heads and hearts. T0 his passage of today's reading is known as the great confession of Peter. Asked "Who do you say that I am?" he responds "You are the Christ." And what does that mean? Christ? Take the word chrism. It is a clue. Christ = the anointed on. Jesus selects this area of great pagan worship to teach the disciples who he is. It is the first class in Christology 101! The first observation for us is that Peter does not call Jesus the Messiah. It is too soon in the disciples' learning process. But Jesus silences Peter because the disciples were not yet fully aware of the meaning of "the Christ" or even "the Messiah." Much more learning.

So, if someone stopped you in a mall or shopping center today or if a young person stopped you and asked "CAN YOU TELL ME WHO YOU BELIEVE JESUS IS?" how quickly and clearly could you answer that question?

The season of Lent begins in six days. "Who do you say that I am" might be a theme that can be used in your prayer during the 40 days. The readings in Lent can be wonderful opportunities to reflect in measured pace on the life of Jesus and what he truly means to you. Perhaps the question may stop you for a time. Perhaps the question may be very difficult for you -- I suspect this is not true if you are taking time to read these daily reflections. However, for most of us today our world and the culture surrounding us, the "demons" of our times greatly challenge our taking time to fully understand our relationship with the Lord.

This gospel event at Caesarea Philippi must have challenged the disciples. Even for people who take religion seriously and make prayer a significant part of their daily lives, the question is a challenge when it confronts us head on. It is so easy to just assume we know who Jesus is in our lives.

A blunt question: If anyone says he/she knows who Jesus truly is, would that person easily stay away from the obligation to attend a Sunday (Saturday vigil) Mass? If knowing Jesus is a major part of one's life, how do immorality or unethical practices infiltrate daily living? If knowing Jesus is a significant part of my life, how important is some daily prayer?

"Who do you say that I am?" is surely a good theme for the upcoming Lenten season.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

We Continue To Learn - From Our Experiences

Wednesday, Sixth Week of Ordinary Time

Everyday is a classroom experience in the school of life!

Today's gospel is a presentation of a most unusual event in the life of Jesus. Following the days with the Gentiles northwest of Jesus' hometown, it became clear to Jesus that he needed to spend some private time with his disciples. They "boys" just did not get it: this Jesus is the Christ who has come to do the Father's will and to teach the people of God's goodness.

The three miracles that Jesus worked among the Gentiles seemed, when all was said and done, to be over the disciples heads. The curing of the Gentile woman's daughter, the healing of the man who was both deaf and afflicted with a speech impediment and the feeding of 4000 people with just a few loaves and fish. Yet when the disciples are on board their boat and with only one piece of bread, it was clear they wondered what they do with so little food. After these three miracles, wouldn't you think the disciples would understand? Unfortunately they did not!

So it was off to spirituality 101 with Jesus. The first lesson deal with another curing -- this time of a man who was blind. It took two actions by Jesus to bring compete healing to the blind man. This was a mirror to the disciples. It would take time for them to "get it."

The message for us is that our understanding of who Jesus is in our lives most likely will not happen with a "poof." It takes time for us to learn even though we have the Scriptures and the writings of many saints and the lives of holy men and women. Like the disciples, our learning is a gradual process.

The upcoming Lenten season will make available to each of us the opportunity to learn more about Jesus and his relationship to us and our closeness to him. Plan ahead. Don't wait until Shrove Tuesday or Ash Wednesday to consider what your program will be for Lent: What do I want out of Lent this year? What am I going to do to help me strengthen my faith? Lent will have a much deeper meaning for anyone who plans ahead. Recall an earlier posting: Pope Benedict XVI strongly encouraged us in his Easter message to consider fasting during this Lenten season. Fasting is, without any doubt, a good way to build a strong relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Tuesday, Sixth Week of Ordinary Time

Read carefully these words from the Book of Genesis. When was the last time you encountered God and such serious emotions?

When the Lord saw how great was man's wickedness on earth ....
no desire of .. his heart ... conceived any thing but evil.
I will wipe out from the earth the men whom I created ...
for I am sorry that I made them.

In particular, reread the very last line. How does that sink into your heart?

How can anyone reading that not begin to consider the words and actions that must weigh heavily upon the heart of God today? The wars, the killings in battle fields as well as in our modern day city streets and homes, the abuse of children in so many ways in a highly educated society, the unnecessary deaths from abortion and euthanasia, the immorality that is so prevalent on street corners, on TV, in movies and the printed media. Would these not make God sorry about some of his creation? What must a Creator God feel when he sees that those created with life and love put so little value on the lives of other human beings?

Today, as in the earliest days of the human race, there are individuals who are able to bring forth God's love and mercy for the world. Today there are many Noahs. Think about the men and woman who live good lives, living the Commandments, following the ways Jesus taught. I think of Mother Theresa, Dorothy Day, Edith Stein and many other good, faithful people who are rather well know. At the same time, I also think about the many who don't make the headlines. No doubt you know some. You, yourself, may be one of those quiet, behind the scene Noahs.

Just compare most happy people with those who are at heart an unhappy lot. Many times the reason for thei difference is simple: the one who believs and seeks to make real the practice of the faith is so much freer than others. Your faith is truly what sets you free.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


You will not find a posting until
Monday, February 16, 2009.
I will be in New York City
attending the marriage ceremony
of a former high school student.

Those Different Than Us

Mark's gospel does bring us to a reality some may find difficult to accept or so real and unsettling that it is pushed deep down in one's awareness capability. In Chapter 7:24 through 8:10 Mark Jesus ventures a significant distance from Nazareth. He goes into Gentile territory where he works a few miracles and again feeds a large crowd of the Gentiles with very little food.

Meeting a Greek, Syrophenician woman, the mother of a young daughter possessed by a demon, an unclean spirit, Jesus makes clear his mission is not simply to the Jewish people. His vocation as Son of God-Son of Man, is teach humankind that he had come among us on this earth for all kinds of people. No one would be excluded from his work, from his sharing the love of God. For any who believed the long-awaited messiah would be a gift solely for the Jewish people, his journey and care of the Gentiles was a strong signal that they were wrong.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is not exclusive! The gospel of Jesus Christ is not exclusive. And, once more, the gospel of Jesus Christ is not exclusive. This is the message of Mark's gospel account of the life of Jesus.

Here on Capitol Hill in our parish and in most offices whether of the Federal Government or other ancillary operations, the major work is service to others. And there are all kinds of others that knock at our parish doors, the offices of Senators and Congress people, the many outreach operations and so forth. And this is where the followers of Jesus Christ are called to reflect on his mission: it is a mission to "all" people. In the gospel events Mark presents today and the next two days we encounter a Jesus who is out there working with those who aren't of the right religion. He is healing people who are possessed by an evil spirit. ("He would certainly be busy on this hill," someone said to me in a recent conversation.)

Today we open our door to some who are clearly paranoid; some a psychologically broken; some who are without a penny; some smell of rare bathing; some are surely displeasing to look at, listen to or be around. This is the "unwashed mass" seeking our freedom. This is the "other" that Jesus goes out to teach, to heal, to feed.

This part of Mark's gospel is surely a challenge to modern society especially in a high technologically based culture and especially, despite the economic setbacks of the current days, financially blessed compared to many in our cities and throughout the world.

This part of Mark's gospel indeed is Jesus calling to us today to examine our hearts and minds. As followers of Jesus, if we are serious about that vocation, we cannot be too selective in our sharing the good news of the gospels. What Jesus teaches us for the remainder of this week's gospel readings is that whether a person is appealing to us doesn't really matter. If a person seems to be rejecting Jesus, are we to be the judge? These Marcan gospel passages are clear: Jesus wants everyone for himself!

These are not easy passages. These are not easy teachings. These are not easy callings for a true believer and follower of Jesus.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Ordinary Time
Our Lady of Lourdes

While we celebrate the feast day that honor Mary under the title, Our Lady of Lourdes, let us continue praying with words from St. Mark's gospel, (7:14-23). The words of Jesus contain something of the Marian message to St. Bernadette Soubirous at Lourdes.

Recently I read a reflection present by a former student. While working with native American Indians in the West, he learned much about himself from learning to work with clay. As Ray wrote, "Working with clay taught me the value of working on the inside ...." He saw much in molding clay that he used to see the process of transforming himself and, as a priest, others who sought his direction. He learned that to be successful in working with clay meant taking the time to help the clay become its very best. He learned that working the air bubbles out of the earthly mire demanding much squeezing, shaping, rolling. It was the only way to produce an object that would last.

What Jesus was teaching in this part of Mark's account can be put in a question: "Have you ever worked on yourself? To make ourselves better, to root out any demons that weaken our power as a son or daughter of God, does not happen quickly. No computer speed allowed in this process. The goal to be achieved demands much time. No athlete, not surgeon, no artist, no married couple became good quickly. If that did happen, most likely the product ended up being little more than a flash in the pan!

To work with what is within us we need the shaping hands of God. God, as you know, never hurries. Why a long time? Ask another question as well: Did your children, or children you know, learn "obedience, love, compassion, generosity and selflessness" quickly or easily? This question might suggest to adults when the very same virtues may yet be lacking in our lives. We may step back for trying to work on the inside being more concerned about the outside of who we are.
That's the message of Lourdes, even in the miracles: turn in on your very being. Come to know what God is trying to do with the graces he has given to you. Turn in on yourself.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

"Hello Heaven; Goodbye Purgatory"

Depiction of St. Paul while composing ... seemingly in deep contemplation or in the midst of a composer's nap!

This might be one way of interpreting the recent articles that have come to parish bulletins in the Diocese of Brooklyn (NY) and in related Web sites that are focused on the "Plenary Indulgences."

The local Ordinary, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzo, brought the matter to the people of his diocese in the bulletin announcements. When asked by reporters why he was doing this, his response was simple: "Because there is sin in the world." Well, you certainly cannot say this Bishop is not speaking out against the prevailing evils in our world in our times. So, let's see what the local Shepherd is suggesting to his flock.

A teaching of the Church is this: through the Sacrament of Reconciliation or Confession, penitents are forgiven sins. However, the forgiveness of sins does not remove the "time in purgatory" for our sinfulness. Confession of a serious or mortal sin, however, does free a person for banishment to the regions of Hell. A person who is freed from the consequences of mortal sin or other sins through confession removes the sin but does not free that person from the obligation of atonement, the temporal punishment of sin --- time in purgatory.

Always mindful of its pastoral obligation, the Church extends to her people Plenary Indulgences, means to obliterate the temporal punishment due to God for our sins. Plenary Indulgences are granted by the Holy See usually on the occasion of a major event or celebration. Recently, on February 11th, the Archdiocese closed the period for a Plenary Indulgence that was granted for the anniversary feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. We are at the present time in the closing months of the Plenary Indulgence granted by Pope Benedict XVI to celebrate another anniversary, the commemoration of the Saint's 2000th birthday! This continues through June 29, 2009.

So, what does a person have to do to gain the benefits of a Plenary Indulgence? First and foremost, the person is required to go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Secondly, the person much receive Holy Communion. Next the person must make a pilgrimage (a visit) to a specifically designated church (although this does not pertain to elderly who are housebound as well as others who also for one reason or another area homebound), finally the person is expected to pray for the intentions of the Holy Father as usually expressed for the special Plenary Indulgence. Also, the person is expected to do all that is possible to overcome habitual sins.

For the Plenary Indulgence granted to us for the Year of St. Paul, Archbishop Wuerl designated the following churches* in the Archdiocese to fulfill the pilgrimage obligation:
Montgomery County:
St. Paul Church: Damascus
St. Catherine Laboure: Wheaton
Prince George County:
St. Hugh Church: Greenbelt
St. Mark: Hyattsville
St. Philip the Apostle: Camp Springs
Washington, DC
Cathedral of St. Matthew: Rhode Island Ave and Connecticut Avenue
Shrine of the Immaculate Conception: 4th St and Michigan Ave
St. Augustine Church: 15th and V Sts, NW
St. Luke: East Capitol Street, SE
Shrine of the Sacred Heart: 16th St and Park Rd, NW
Calvert County
Our Lady Star of the Sea Church: Solomons Island
St. Anthony: North Beach
Charles County
St. Ignatius Church: Port Tobacco
Holy Ghost: Newburg
St. Mary's County
St. Joseph's Church: Morganza
St. Michael: Ridge
Immaculate Heart of Mary: Lexinton Park

The upcoming Lenten season will afford all Catholics the opportunity to fulfill the obligation to confess their sins at least one a year and receive Holy Communion and to gain at least one Plenary Indulgence for him-/herself each day during the period of the Indulgence granted. The faithful can receive a Plenary Indulgence for a deceased person as well, fulfilling the expectations of the Holy See.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Tuesday of Fifth Week of Ordinary Time
The people honors me with their lips but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrine human precepts.

Benedictine Monastery, Monte Cassino, Italy

Each day begins with a sunrise, clouds or no clouds. Each day God "speaks" to us in the rays of light that separate day light from night darkness. Since the world began nothing could be more important to God than taking care of us each day with a sun's breaking above every horizon.

In Mark 7: 1-13 Jesus criticizes Pharisaical concern for meeting or following a schedule or tradition when the matters of love and service are in the balance. Jesus is teaching in this gospel story: teaching that there are moments when our relationship to God, our caring for the well being of our own spirit or others are more important than a schedule or a tradition.

St. Scholastica, the Benedictine sister of St. Benedict enjoyed her brother's visit to her monastery. We celebrate her feast today. As the day of her brother's visit was ending, her brother protested her request to remain overnight at the monastery because he had a busy schedule the next day. Sister Scholastica prayed to God that he would send a message to her brother to remain. When the two were walking to the monastic gates, a terrible storm poured from the skies. The bishop remained. In his quiet conversations with his sister that evening and the next morning he realized how much more important their conversation was than his leaving the previous day. [The two saints are buried in Monte Cassino, Italy, pictured above.]

How often are we schedule-challenges by our highly technical, highly scheduled world today? How often do we allow a schedule or a tradition prevent the Holy Spirit from working in and through us? Time is one of our greatest commodities. Yet, how often do we cheat ourselves from time with God or our own inner spirit becasue we fall into the "time is money" mentality? Where is the freedom of choice we sodesire in our lives when there is the opportunity to enjoy it?

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Is God my priority?

Monday of the Fifth Week
Mark 6:53-56

Yes, it the same pathway you have seen before. A picture like this, however, speaks volumes!

These verses close Mark's sixth chapter. No doubt the chapter full of miracle bring about a sense of wonderment to the disciples who were with Jesus. Would people who read the chapter in full length today have any of sense of wonderment? What does it mean that this man healed many ill and infirmed people, that he fed 5000 plus people with just five bread loaves and two fish and that he calmed treacherous waves for his followers whom he joined in their boat. Would people today say that this was an incredible man? Do you feel that way about this same Jesus?

From the outset of his ministry, Jesus was a teacher in the lives of his followers. His message is simple: challenges, while difficult at times, nonetheless can be simple: simple if God the Father and his will have a priority in one's life. There is nothing that can stop Jesus from healing us, from driving the "demons" we possess in our hearts far, far away from us.

The question that might be before us today is this: "Is God a priority in my life?" Remember: a priority is something that is put before something else. Again, the question is this: "Is God priority in my life?" Perhaps the "demons" that drag us down, the bring about depression, anxiety, frustration, hurt and any other of the many ills in society might not be so damaging and painful if God was the priority in one's life.

Where does your path way of life lead? Is it to the Lord?

A Busy First Day and Starting Anew

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus Christ?

Let's begin today's reflection by recalling that last Sunday's gospel was the beginning of a recollection of Jesus' first day of public ministry, his inauguration day, we might say! He more than went to the Temple, he taught there -- apparently with words of authority not known to the Jewish people in the temple -- and then showed quite clearly what his ministry would be -- healing and loving -- by confronting an evil spirit in a man with an unclean spirit and driving that demon from the man's life.

What was Jesus teaching? The answer is clear: He would not back away from anything blocking his mission to preach and teach the kingdom of God, a kingdom that would be accentuated by peace and love. He was teaching all who would know his life that there are demons in abundance but that his grace, his power, can bring defeat over those powers. What are those demons? For example, Some might hold grudges. Others might allow jealousy to have a strong hold of our hearts. Others might allow immoral or unethical ways of living and/or living dictate too much control of one's heart and mind. Indeed there are genuine demons about us in our world today. If you hear someone complain about another person's habits, you can be sure a "demon" is at work in either or both of the individuals.

Today's gospel is a continuation of that first day of Jesus public ministry. He departs the synagogue and the two brothers, Simon (Peter) and Andrew bring him to their home -- to visit Peter's ailing mother-in-law [obviously Peter's wife is portrayed in the artistic rendition of the event pictured above]. He did this to show the people the importance that healing would have in his ministry as a preacher. Of course the driving out of the demon of the possessed man and now curing the mother-in-law caused word of his unusual power to spread quickly. As soon as Jesus had a supper with Peter and the others, he was being sought by many outside Peter's home -- the ailing and those who knew there was a demon or two in their lives. The gospel testifies that the "whole town" gathered outside the house and that he cured them and drove many demons from their lives.

The events of this first day might well be for all of us a better understanding of what Jesus was like, how he spent his time. A contemporary reporter might ask, "And, Jesus, what was your first day in office like? What can we gather for ourselves from your actions this first day of ministry?" First and foremost, we might easily see that Jesus is teaching us what it means to be doing the will of God, knowing the will of God and then reaching out to others. It is nothing less than "the first and greatest commandment" -- love God and then your neighbor.

So, it was a busy day for Jesus, that first day. No doubt he was tired and the psychological pressures were present dealing with so many people and knowing that he was preaching something new to many people. Some might ask how he did this. The section of the gospel describing this first day ends with the beginning of the next day: "Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed." There was the answer, the clue to his success. He went off to quiet and there spoke with his Father.

That's the message to us: if we want to follow Jesus, if we want to live like him, we need to do what he did. We might be busy, just as he was, but we have to set aside time to be with God. God is the power, God is the strength that is need to do the work of teaching, even if only by example, and healing, even if only by visiting the sick and lonely.

This is what it means to be a disciple: to live in the presence of God ... to be one who prays and who becomes an example to other by our lives and our care for others.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Challenges from the Letter to the Hebrews

All share the burden or challenge -- perhaps the honor -- of being a model both to the young people who look to their elders and to peers. In the message from the Letter to the Hebrews
(13:1-8) the author puts before us topics we might use for prayerful reflection from time to time. A consideration of this message may well lead to some time of person discernment: does anyone of these examples of how we might be an example to others speak to the sense of "hospitality" that mentioned early in this chapter?

The letter reminds us: "Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels" (vv. 1-2). Of course the immediate focus is "hospitality" and "angels". How am I a good neighbor? How do I respond to requests for help? How am I am model to others as they search for goodness?

The author offers several scenarios. "Be mindful of prisoners" (v. 3). Might we consider the various kinds of imprisonment our family and friends might be living in today? Those who are "imprisoned" by alcohol, drugs, computer pornography, immoral habits/practices: do they ever receive any loving support? They are struggling members of the Body of Christ! Next the writer reminds his audience of the noble life of marriage: if married, does my life stand as a model of fidelity, genuine commitment and happiness? The letter then suggests considering how our personal lives can become a slave to some of the goods we have: are we content with what we have? Are we at peace with ourselves? Do we truly trust that God will provide all we need? Do we reflect to others a genuine belief that God does take care of us in all we do?

So it is that Love and Hospitality demonstrated in marital fidelity, caring for others, freedom from wanting more and more and gratitude for God's care for us that provide each of us ample material for discerning who we respect others as well as ourselves. With an abundance of models in the community of saints, in good parents and relatives and noble friends we can find the values we need to make love and hospitality quite real in our own communities of family, friends, neighborhoods and offices. The values of the people are treasures we an share with our young people and our friends.

Rejoice and be glad in the Lord your God,
for he has given us a teacher to instruct us in holiness.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Lent Already??? Pope's Message for 2009

Yesterday, Wednesday, Pope Benedict stepped on the Lent pedal, giving an advance of his annual Lenten Message to the Church. He offers a practical reflection in the message bout the value of fasting. Remember those days of Lenten fasts?

I am putting this topic before you today because in just 20 days most Catholics will be in their churches ... packing the houses of God to be "ashed" at the beginning of Lent. Ash Wednesday will initiate a hiatus in Ordinary Time that does not end until Pentecost Sunday some 90 days later! (40 day of Lent and 50 days of the Easter Season). Gone are the days when fasting was a general adult obligation. Now by and large fasting is gone from the Catholic Church community. Few are the noble souls who care to make that sacrifice.

Pope Benedict places the practice of fasting before us, even three weeks early, because it is "a great help to avoid sin and all that leads to it." We fast as a way to "submit ourselves humbly to God, trusting in his goodness and mercy." It is a practice used and recommended by many saints. If anyone feels separated from God, fasting is a "therapy for healing."

Fasting "nurtures and interior disposition to listen to Christ and be fed by his saving word." Because of the sacrifice in fasting, Jesus will satisfy our deepest hunger ... the hunger and thirst for God in one's life. Also fasting "enables us to grow in the spirit of the Good Samaritan. Ultimately fasting is to help each of us make the complete gift of self to God.

Just a few timely thoughts to help us prepare our hearts and souls to gain as much as we can from a good Lenten season. The Holy Father's full text of the Lenten message can be read on the Vatican Web Site

Better Than Me???

Today's Gospel Reading

St. Mark relates an event in Jesus' early days of public ministry. It is the story of the local boy trying to do good but encounters suspicion and rejection from his neighborhood. Mark also relates how seriously the rejection impacted Jesus: he did not might works there!

Had Jesus been a "Hollywood Star," had he been the MVP of the latest Superbowl game, or had he been someone who invested wisely or had he become a recognized author or a leading person in national government, most of the crowd would have cheered at his words. But he was not. He was the "ordinary" preacher giving clear and truthful explanations of the Old Testament and the will of God the Father to "ordinary people." Yet, those "ordinary people were suspicious or not at all interested.

What does this say to you today? What does this mean for the way you live your life?

How many people do you know in your own family, your neighborhood or your office who are struggling to be better --- especially young adults and teens? If you respond to yourself that you really don't know anyone in these categories, you need to stop for a moment and examine the values that drive your life.

There are many among us who are trying to become good people; trying to succeed in their chosen profession --- people who every now and again would benefit greatly if someone just positively recognized what they are trying to do. How many even know the teens in the neighborhood or in one's extended family and what they are struggling to beat, to overcome?

The gospel today surely offers a warning to us: don't forget to give some of your attention to the "ordinary" folks who are trying to better themselves ... because in doing that they are bettering all of us.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Clouds of Witnesses

Tapestries hanging in the Los Angeles, CA Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels

In the Letter to the Hebrews we read about "so great a cloud of witnesses...." These are the saints and ordinary people blended together as a support system for all those who spend time in prayer in the Cathedral. All the depicted individuals are facing in one direction --- toward the sanctuary and its crucifix and tabernacle, toward Jesus Christ, "the leader and perfecter of faith."

Perhaps through our reading a book of the lives of saints or more contemporary biographies of noble men and women, we can achieve for ourselves a community, a "cloud," of sisters and brothers who have born the struggles of life, who have met the challenges of temptations, sometimes failing but ultimately winning. These are the men, women and young people who faced the challenges their times put before them. These are the models we want for ourselves and our young people to know and emulate.

Morality and ethics --- these are the components of a system of values. These are the backbone of personal character that are nourished by the example of saints and sinners alike. For example, the apostles, a tent maker named Paul, a monk named Benedict, another monk named Francis, a mystic like Theresa, a theologian named Dominic, a spiritual former like Ignatius, contemporaries like Florence Nightingale, Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa, St. Maximilian Kolble, St. Gertrude Stein, Clara Barton, Damian of Molokai, Mother Theresa, Juan Diego, and a Martin Luther King, Jr.

These and may more people that each of us have come to know, these are the models who struggled valiantly against evil in their lives and ran the race successfully. Today it might be a teacher who struggles, dividing his/her time between students and family; parents who carry extraordinary challenges raising children as parents ought; those enduring nobly serious or terminal illnesses; These are some of the models, that cloud of modern day witnesses, who can support each of us --- yes they can if we but take the time, but make the time to let the quality of their lives be a support and inspiration to us as we run the race.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple

Today's Scripture Reading for the Eucharistic Liturgy

We might well look at this event in Jesus' early life as another Epiphany. Mary and Joseph fulfilled their duties as good Jewish parents. Tradition and Jewish ritual required that parents bring a new-born male child to the temple to be consecrated to the God.

When Mary and Joseph arrived at the temple, they were not met by a rabbi, as most of the artistic renditions of this event depict, but by man recognized in the community as "righteous and devout," Simeon by name. He was not a temple official. Today we would call him a "devout parishioner." Somehow Luke knew or learned that Simeon had a special relationship with the Holy Spirit. He knew he would come to know "the Christ of the Lord."

What is the message for us today? Simply this: Jesus, the Son of God, chose from the outset of his life on earth to reveal himself to ordinary people. Even on the day of his birth, so it seems, the first people to arrive, to come to see what had happened that night, were men of the fields, the shepherds, truly most ordinary people.

Like Simeon and Anna, also a devout Jewish woman present when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to temple, and the shepherds, we are invited by the Holy Spirit to stop our regular business to listen to the Holy Spirit, to listen to the voice of God speaking to us in our hearts. Today this event reminds us we are in Ordinary Time. We are walking on a measured pace journey coming to better understand who Jesus is ... for each one of us! He comes to us, to ordinary people with a message of God's will and his redeeming act of love.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Jesus Healing

During the days of Ordinary Time we are introduced, at a measured pace, to Jesus, the Son of God, who had come to do the will of the Father. While most people beginning a new work are warned to move ahead slowly at the outset. In today's gospel reading we are presented with Jesus on his first day of public ministry. He was not playing the quiet beginner, new on the job.

From the very beginning Jesus spoke out. The people were "astonished at his teaching." Beyond strong words he cast an unclean spirit out of a man in front of the people. Interestingly, it is the demon who introduces Jesus to his audience: "What have you to do with us Jesus of Nazareth? ... I know who you are, the Holy One of God." That said, Jesus tells the demon what to do. The demon then precisely follows his instructions. It is not a surprise then to read the comment of the Mark the Evangelist written at the end of this particular account: "His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee."

Jesus knew his mission was to proclaim the kingdom of God. His was the role of prophet -- one who spoke not his own words but rather the words of God, his Father, wanted put before the people. Prophets were not fortune tellers. The future was not their business although much of what they said has become a message for all ages. What the prophet taught was always a challenge to the status quo. Their message more often than not earned serious criticism at the very least.

The life of a prophet is never easy. To speak in God's name is not easy. The prophetic role demands much more than speaking out. A prophet has to be a person who first has given much time to listening to God. It is from time with God in prayer that a prophet cuts teeth! Time with the Father enables a prophet to confront what it is that separates us from God's love and his mercy. Also, prophets are a part of the community in which they live even though their messages make them stand out from the community. So today we are offered an early insight into the public ministry of a member of the Nazareth community. We are presented with a clear picture of what the Jesus ministry would be.

For us who gather on Sundays in God's house the various scenes from the life of Jesus offered to us during the days of Ordinary Time serve us as excellent instructions for the work we are called to do as faithful Christians. We hear a story each Sunday and then are given the extraordinary nourishment of the Eucharist to strengthen and enable us to live up to the values we hold. Yes, by virtue of our baptism each of us is called to be a prophet.