Saturday, February 27, 2010

Transfigurations: Seeing the Divine Differently - Sunday, 2.28.10

My heart has prompted me to seek your face; I seek it Lord:  do not hide from me.
(Psalm 27: 8-9)

Today’s gospel takes us on a mountain top journey.  Along with Peter, John and James, we witness a most unusual moment.  We are invited to witness through the eyes and writing of St. Luke the Transfiguration of Jesus.  In our minds and hearts we picture this singular event where we see the divinity of Jesus.  It is a divinity in the very person of Jesus, the man.  The Transfiguration event should help us understand something of the grace that few truly believe or even remember.

From the time I can recall the religion classes our parish priests and sisters would teach, there was a particular and powerful gem they presented to us.  They taught us that within each of us there is the reality of God.  Within each of us there is the life of God and, as children of God, we possessed something of God’s life.  Imagine how we understood those classes!  “Swish....right over our heads.”  Yet, now, many decades later, are we any the wiser?  Do you believe what our priests and nuns taught us?  Is it not reasonable to ask how many followers of Jesus actually believe this teaching or even know it?  Because we encounter so much evil and sin in our world, in our culture today, it would seem to be a true to state that many have never accepted this teaching or have forgotten it.

During the last two weeks we have been witnesses to several moment of personal transfiguration.  You may have read about these extraordinary moments in your local newspapers or watched them on your television. Recall the young woman figure skater ... she won a bronze medal that she might not have been expected to win.  Only three days before her extraordinary performance, her mother, present with her father and family, suddenly died.  On the night of her final attempt to medal, she skated as if she were transfigured -- she became transfigured in the artistic movements and music.  There were several other such moments when a competing athlete’s mind and body worked in extraordinary unison.  They were, we might say, in complete awareness of God-given talents.  They were making real the presence of God’s gift to them at that moment in their lives.

How and when can you experience that same transfiguring moment?  The Bible is a treasury of ordinary Marys and Joes who dialog with God:  they listen to and speak with God.  Heavenly communications does exist -- and you do not get a bill from     a local service provider.

“When?” you are, I hope, asking or thinking.  No doubt you might be saying, “When did God speak to me?  How can I know when that happens.”  First, know this:  not even Rosetta Stone has developed a program for learning to speak and understand divine conversation.  Second, God speaks to us in a very different language which is peculiar to you and your heart.  His is a language we can easily miss, however.  Did you ever feel a simple desire to be with God, a moment or two to thank him, a time to ask for help for yourself or another?  If you did, he was at that time initiating the conversation.  Was there a time when you felt a particular emotion after receiving Holy Communion?  What about the time you felt called to help someone you know or even a helpless stranger?

These are the moments -- and many others like them -- when God wants to talk with you.  These are the moments when we know that our Creator God, our Savior or the Holy Spirit is speaking to you.  It is the moment of your transfiguration if you can find the time to answer the invitation.
This is my Son, my beloved, in him is all my delight:  listen to him.
(Matthew 17:5)

The Laws of a Loving God

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul;
his commandments are the wisdom of the simple. (Ps 19:8)

Psalm 119, part of which is used in today's liturgy, is the longest psalm in the Old Testament.  It is a hymn of praise and thanksgiving for the Torah and what it contains.  The psalm also is David's prayer for wisdom to understand the laws, the Commandments.  Also in this psalm he prays for the rewards promised to those who keep God's laws.

It is Saturday.  Hopefully you will enjoy a break from the weekly routine and find some time for you and the Lord.  You might consider some of the parts of Psalm 119 presented in the liturgy today.

You might like what David says:  at time God's way is not easy!  Some readers and prayers of this psalm are people who grouse because the Commandments and the precepts of our Church impede what they believe should their freedom.  

Saints, great teachers and Jesus himself endeavored to demonstrate that God's laws are not onerous.  What the Commandments teach for the journey of one's life is the way to true freedom.  As difficult as they may seem or be, God's laws are actually the keys to a genuine independence.

Blessed are they who observe his decrees,
who seek him with all their hearts.

A reward for a serious Lent is discovery.  Those who seek the Lord will find him and if they cannot, surely God will seek to find them.  Today you might consider this:  "How is it possible for me to seek the Lord with all my heart?"  For those driven, the compulsive among us, by work, a demanding schedule, family obligations etc., the answer is not easy.  Those trapped in immorality find no sense in God's laws.  They are interferences.

Whatever reason one uses to avoid time alone with God, it is usually little more than fear -- the fear of facing who I am.  Spiritual directors, especially the saints, seek to teach that we should consistently remind ourselves that we have been in the mind of our Creator God from all eternity.  As well we should always remember that we are a cause of joy for that same Creator God if we seek to follow him.

Time, a regular amount of time with God in quiet reflection and prayer will change any heart to see that God's way is truly the Freedom Road.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Forgiveness and Reconciliation

Relieve the troubles of my hearat;
bring me out of my distress....
Take away all my sins
Psalm 25: 17-18

The readings call us to conversion and reconciliation.  Taken seriously these words are a reminder that God is a just God.  He punishes the evil but forgives the repentant.

Today's culture has fallen into yet another Satanic trap.  News on a 24/7 basis and the effort  to make public the weaknesses and sins of every man and woman --usually except those of reporters-- has become a national sport, so it seems.  (A challenge to dictionary editors:  "pundits" are described as learned individuals.  However the words seems to be made up from two Latin words:  Anyone who watches TV or listens to non-music radio is regularly smothered by efforts to reveal the failures in others, hardly a credit to anyone's great wisdom!
Yes, these readings are a reminder to us that there is a God who will judge each of us.  However, nowhere in the Bible is there an invitation from God, the prophets, the evangelists or other others who writings are contained in the sacred book, nowhere to be found is the request from God to help him judge other people.  Demanding judgment and delivering punishment belong to God and to him alone.

These writings today recall the numerous divine pledges to forgive the wicked, the evil when they seek forgiveness from Go as well as seek reconciliation with those they have injured in any way.
As I live, says the Lord, I swear
I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked man,
but rather
in the wicked man's conversion,
that he might live.
Ezechiel 33:4

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

You Light Up My Life: Thursday, 25 February 2010

There has been a knocking at the door of my heart for the last two weeks.  It is this attention seeking that has been the impetus for the focus upon prayer in most of the reflections.  Just as a candle is a "sign" of guidance in darkness, of hope in difficult times, so, too, prayer is a "sign" of our relationship with Jesus Christ.  The attention to prayer has been a "sign" to you as well as myself that God is calling us to give some of our time each day to being with him in the quiet of prayer.  Leading you to prayer is a response to the Holy Spirit's efforts to assist us in drawing closer to the Lord.

Queen Ester's petition for divine assistance to help her from a drastic deed "for I am taking my life in my hand" and the promise of Jesus to his disciples that simply asking would serve to open the heart of God to us are signs to us the we are loved beyond our understanding.  This is truly one of the gifts to us who make prayer an important part of Lent.

Each of us is driven, whether we are are aware of it or not, by a special, singular spirituality regardless of the faith we profess.  Before you became a member of the human family God had implanted a spirituality into your very unborn being.  It is the daily seeking to know oneself better during the days of repentance and new life that spirituality brings to fruition.  

Pray during theses days of Lent that your spirituality and the journey towards comprehending its power will be a light that shines out to others, a light that provides encouragement and guidance for those seeking to know God's love.

It is your spirituality that God uses to bring you to see the purpose you have in this world.  And it is through prayer that your heart and soul are opened by the light of Christ to see who you are, to know your spirituality.

Reading Signs of the Times

What Might Be Considered As The Treasury of the Signs of the Time

In the first reading of today Eucharistic Liturgy, we encounter the "Sign of Jonah." From the words of the Prophet Jonah, we learn that the particular "sign" is that of repentance and new life.  Upon hearing the prophet's words from Yahweh, warnings of doom and gloom, the king ordered prayer, fasting and other sacrifices with the hopes that Yahweh would not fulfill the destruction of their kingdom as the prophet had warned.  Indeed his wisdom and the repentance that he personally led, his nation was spared destruction.

Lenten sacrifices and prayer are no different today ... although no king or president or prime minister is calling the people to prayer, fasting and almsgiving!  But our Church and our Catholic tradition are calling us, this year as in each year during the season of Lent, to consider the signs of our times, the signs in our own lives that are either leading us away from God to our own destruction or those signs offering us the pathways to a closer relationship with God and conversion of heart.

Learning the signs of the times and what they signify is the pathway to a genuine, personal strength.  It is not the power to overcome others, to become tyrants or dictators.  It is the power that enables a closer relationship with God and a strengthened community with those we know or encounter in our daily lives.  Coming to understand these signs of the times and all of the signs we learn in our process of education mean for us is useless unless they become a power that reaches out to make life better for ourselves and for our fellow human beings.

For some it is the exercising of "tough love" when there are "signs" that there is such a need in developing our own character or the character of loved ones (one's children or one's students if a person is in a classroom or any kind of coach) or the character of anyone for whom you may have been "authority over" entrusted.

We have heard about the "power of prayer."  Consider the "power" we ascribe to the men and women who spend much of their day in monastic prayer.  So often in times of trouble or need, these noble souls are petitioned to pray for us because "they have a special connection with the Man upstairs." 

Let this Lenten season be a time for taking an updating or renewal course in deepening your understanding of what it means to learn the signs of the times in your personal life.  Through personal prayer each day, through a time of purification (the Sacrament of Confession), to delving deeply into the never-ending quest of the Man from LaManche, learning to know oneself better each day we become men and women of great power, great personal, positive power, neither tyrannical nor despotic.  It is the power that enables each person to be a teacher that can move the hearts of others to goodness, to hope, to love for one another.

Rooting your faith, your belief, in a genuine personal relationship with Jesus Christ, you will earn your own PhD in reading the signs of the times.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

An Invitation to Prayer
Today, continuing forward through the early days of Lent, we are building a strong foundation for the days and weeks ahead.  Most likely tiredness, perhaps boredom or frustration, the temptations to give up will confront most of us in a week or two from now.  The challenge to give up will happen.  Don't you agree?  The underlying stone we can put in place for the season of Lent and our entire life is prayer.  An interesting fact:  Amazon list more than 420,000 books on prayer --- almost half a million efforts to help us understand what prayer is and how to pray.

People do ask priests and others to share the "best way" to pray.  That is translated as "the easiest" way.
The first reading in the liturgy today gives us a strong clue as to where we might find support for our prayer efforts.  Isaiah's imagery is just marvelous.  Do take a moment to click on to the reading.  It is a quick read.  In short the suggestion is that in the Word of God we will find our way to good prayer.  In the Responsorial Psalm we are invited by King David to experience with him the work and the fruits of prayer.  In the words of today's gospel Jesus gives us the way to pray.  It is not new; it is not difficult; it is not a two or three year course (actually it is a lifetime's journey!!!).  Jesus offers us a simple prayer that will open up for us the beauty, the splendor, the treasure of prayer.  It is "Our Father who art in heaven ...."

Our prayer will never be as easy as reading a book.  Why?  Because our prayer will ask us to read our own hearts!  In trying to come to a time when prayer is an "enjoyment," each person's task is to have a personal relationship with God.  Were you to receive a questionnaire or be asked in a poll to list the each individual with whom you feel you have a personal relationship,  how many names would you be able to list?  More to the point:  would you have listed any of the following:  God, Jesus, Holy Spirit, Mary or a favored saint?  Again, would you have listed any one of these?
Today we have become victims of "busyness."  Distractions, obligations and a long litany of other "things" create log jams.  Where can I find time for prayer?  Let's be honest:  it is much easier to sit down and watch some of the Olympic contests.  Right?  However, here at the outset of the Lenten season, we are reminded that prayer should be an integral part of our daily lives ... not just on Sundays!  A genuine personal relationship with God, Jesus or the Holy Spirit will bring us to know this one sure fact:  God so strongly desires a personal relationship with you.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Who Do You Say That I Am?

Where is Jesus on your journey of faith?
Jesus asked Peter a  probing question:  "Who do you say that I am?"  Faced with that question, I recall my paternal grandfather's dedication to my grandmother during the last ten years of her life.  Each day --except for 8 days when he recovered from minor surgery-- Grandpa would drive to the nursing home where Nanny was for ten years to have lunch and dinner with her.  She didn't know who he was.  Likewise I recall a priest friend's loyalty to his mother who lived a few doors from my mother at a Catholic caring center in Washington.  Like Grandpa, Fr. Frank would come each day at noon and six to have lunch or dinner with his dear mother who believed the wooly lamb she always held close to her was her son, Frank.  I have asked these men and many others what it was that drove them to such loving care for a wife and for a mother.  I believe Frank once replied, "Who am I not to be with her?"

Today's gospel (Matthew 16:13-19) and the question Jesus puts to Peter should stop all of us for a few moments.  "Who do you (put your name here) say that I am?"  I believe my Grandpa and my friend, Fr. Frank, had an answer.  I believe they were answering:  "I know who you are.  I believe in you and all that you have taught us."  Interesting point:  Fr. Frank is a renowned scripture scholar at a nearby university and Grandpa taught Sunday school most of his life in his Methodist Church.  These men and many others had come to believe in Jesus and who he was because they had prayed and studied what we read in the Gospels.

Jesus' question to Peter is addressed to you and me.  It is one seeking to know if you and I know who we are.  It is a question about our belief.  In our Creed at yesterday's liturgy, we prayed "I believe in Jesus Christ, the only Son of God ...."  Have you ever questioned yourself about your faith, your belief in Jesus Christ?  It is very easy to say, "Oh, yes!  Of course I believe in God."  How do you prove that to yourself and to others who know you well?  Do you see in yourself, do others see in your life that Jesus Christ is significant in your life?
Grandpa Jordan and Fr. Frank are shining examples of men and women who have learned who Jesus is and truly believe he is the Son of God.  These believers came to know and live the message of Jesus that is in the Gospels:  love one another!  It is this learning and praying the Gospels that have brought to these believers a genuine understanding of who they are themselves.

So, when you confront the Jesus question to Peter, when you find challenges to your faith in situations difficult to  handle, remember what Grandpa Jordan and Fr. Frank would say:  "I know who I am.  Why shouldn't I do this?  I believe in Jesus Christ.  He is my strength, my Lord, my God."

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Journey in the Desert: 1 Sunday Lent 2010

(Thanks to

Recently I was reminded about a book I had read some ten years ago.  Kathleen Norris brought me to her captivating journey of personal conversion to the Catholic Church in Dakota: A Spiritual Journey.  On her discovery route, occasioned by her return to Lemmon, South Dakota, to the family homestead, she came, in the Great Plains, to a deeper awareness of herself and where her God was leading her.  Her journey calls to mind the story of Jesus in today's Gospel reading (Luke 4:1-13).  In short, she discovered who she was in the desert area of the Great Plains.  The desert is much more than a place of dryness and heat.  Where she lived with her family, she came upon a monastery.  At first it seemed strange, or as she wrote, "ironic."  Who would seek a desert within a desert?  This is what Jesus' 40 day journey into the desert was.  He withdrew from the distractions of his preaching and teaching ministry, walking into forty days of a Holy Spirit guided retreat.  Jesus on retreat?  Yes, even Jesus, the man, needed to take time with God for discernment, in seeking to understand what it would mean to be the Christ and at the same time, prayerfully learning what God expected of him.  What was the Messiah role that would lie ahead for him?  It was during these forty days of solitude and prayer that he was seeking to see clearly the will of God.

Soren Kierkegaard (SK), mentioned in recent postings on this blog,  refers to the days and years when Jesus lived among us as his living "in the state of humiliation."  But after his death he returned to his glory.  We, as followers of Jesus, believe this.  While on earth with us, however, he as a man like us, except for sin.  What he said, SK writes, the words he spoke, if we ascribe the divinity of Christ to them are untrue in themselves as God speaking to us.  What?  This was Jesus, the son of a maiden girl named Mary.  Again, he was, during these days in the desert and other times as well, seeking to know the Father's will.  We might describe the journey and forty days in the desert as Jesus trying to discover his identity.

Lent is our annual journey into our own plains, our own desert.  Each time we use these days as moments of personal retreat, we are seeking a better awareness of ourselves.  Who am I as a baptized follower of Jesus?  Who am I, as a believer, seeking to strengthen my faith?

Each time I recite the words of Creed in a liturgy or privately, I profess my faith.  As Paul writes in Romans (10:8), quoting Deuteronomy 30:14, "... the word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart."  It is our faith we speak from our mouths when we profess our faith.  These forty days of Lent are your retreat moments when we examine the belief in our hearts.  There is no difficulty in our speaking "I believe in God ...."  The challenge to you and me is this:  "Do I truly believe what I am saying or is it simply just repeating something we learned years ago, words without serious impact on our lives? What we should discover on our journey through Lent is whether I am strong enough to surrender my will to believe in my heart what I am saying?  There are, as we know, serious consequences in genuine commitment which the Creed calls us to believe.
You are in the Lenten desert now.  Recall the words of Jesus to the challenges of Satan in today's gospel.  They are a challenge to recall what your vocation is and how you live it:  "You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve."

Friday, February 19, 2010

Saturday after Ash Wednesday: Calling All Sinners

Luke's gospel reading today concludes with these words:  "I have not come to call the righteous but sinners" (verse 32). These words brought to mind other Jesus words that I read yesterday evening, Matthew 11:28: "Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, I will give you rest."

Yesterday's posting may have introduced some to the Dutch philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, (SK).  Reading his parable of "The King and the Maiden," gave me a thirst for more of his writing.  After reading Father Neuhaus' article, I purchased SK's Training in Christianity, written between 1848-1850.  To my surprise the beginning chapter or section, Invocation, is a reflection on the second quotation of Jesus' words, "Come to me ...."

Kierkegaard makes clear his belief that the presence of Jesus on earth is not a one-time, thirty-three-year-long event.  It will always be a present moment experience as long as there is at least one believer.  Your experience, your relationship with Jesus is contemporary and the philosopher mains it is just as real, just as contemporanious as it was for each person who met Jesus during his/her lifetime.

Today's gospel verse is very much a calling to us to come to the Lord Jesus.  His call, his invitation is to each person.  He his asking you to allow him to embrace you with his healing arms.  He is the doctor always waiting for you.  He is the healer who wants you to know that you are not dealing with an icon of the past.  You are asked simply to come to his embrace, to all him to heal the wounds sin has inflicted upon your life.

SK wrote, "Oh, where heart-room is, there house-room always is to be found."  No matter the number of sinners, those needing the healing words and assurances of Jesus, will always discover a heart that longs to listen, a heart that wants to take on the burden.  This is one doctor who does not tell you your sad state of soul.   This is the Son of God who says ever so simply:  "Come to me ... and I will give you rest."

What sinner is there who cannot find solace and compassion in theses words and in the heart of the one speaking them?  Where else can anyone find the "unequivocal sureness of eternity."  Regardless of the "illness," the sin(s) that may have separated a person from God, Jesus' invitation, "Come to me all ...." offers the abolition of any "barrier of difference."  You are special.  So, as we are in these early days of Lent, open your heart to the Lord Jesus.  Let him come within.  I promise you this:  whatever heartsickness you possess or possesses will be gone.   With Jesus you will find rest from your fears, your pains, your losses, your needs.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

This "Fasting" Thing!!! Friday after Ash Wednesday

Both scripture readings in today's Eucharistic liturgy focus our hearts upon the nature of fasting.  For sure, the days of fasting, so strongly encouraged some years ago, seem to have become items for the historical curio cabinet.  For most people today, fasting has become little more than an instrument of torture to bring about weight loss.  Were Isaiah writing God’s inspired words today, he might easily adapt these verses (58:1-9a) to address the perceived perception of the value of fasting.

While studying philosophy -- many years ago, to be sure -- one professor introduced us to the writings and thinking of the Dutch philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard.  In a parable-like story, a young king, lonely and wifeless, encountered “the most beautiful woman” he had ever seen.  He was smitten.  He wished she would be his queen.  He constructed ways to make this desire a reality: an official order; inundation with gifts  and power; dressed as a countryman, come into her presence.  Ultimately he realized that all of these ploys were his contriving to have his own way.  He would never know with certainty that she would truly love him and want to be his queen.  Finally, so smitten as he was, he opted for the simple life, putting aside all the trappings of power and wealth while living and working as one of the people.  He relied solely on himself and what GOd had created in him.  Soon thereafter he discovered himself and his queen!  The story is attached at the end of this posting.  It may further assist your reflection on Jesus' offering for you, for each of us.

Kierkegaard used this parable to trumpet the extraordinary gift we share in living with and benefitting from Jesus, the Son of God, the Incarnate Word.  He “surrendered” his divinity to become one like us except in sin.  He “vacated” his heavenly kingdom for you, for me.

Now, return for a moment to “fasting.”  Genuine fasting can do wonders for the soul.  The words of Yahweh to Isaiah and to us today are trumpeted to call us to recognize the purpose of and value of fasting -- purification.   It leads beyond the purification of one’s body to a genuine openness  to the graced of God available to us and others through us.  Depriving ourselves during these forty days is less about the bathroom scale and more about learning who you are, who I am, and about the needs of others.  Jesus become one of us to enrich us.  Fasting is our giving up something of ourselves to better give back to God by giving and caring for others.

(Artist Unknown)
This reflection led to the reading of an article, Kierkegaard for Grownups, by the late Fr. John Neuhaus, about Kierkegaard and Catholicism.  A challenging read but filled with interesting insights and creative of the desire to read more of his writings.

The King and the Maiden
By Søren Kierkegaard
Suppose there was a king who loved a humble maiden. The king was like no other king. Every statesman trembled before his power. No one dared breathe a word against him, for he had the strength to crush all opponents. And yet this mighty king was melted by love for a humble maiden who lived in a poor village in his kingdom. How could he declare his love for her? In an odd sort of way, his kingliness tied his hands. If he brought her to the palace and crowned her head with jewels and clothed her body in royal robes, she would surely not resist-no one dared resist him. But would she love him?
She would say she loved him, of course, but would she truly? Or would she live with him in fear, nursing a private grief for the life she had left behind? Would she be happy at his side? How could he know for sure? If he rode to her forest cottage in his royal carriage, with an armed escort waving bright banners, that too would overwhelm her. He did not want a cringing subject. He wanted a lover, an equal. He wanted her to forget that he was a king and she a humble maiden and to let shared love cross the gulf between them. For it is only in love that the unequal can be made equal.
The king, convinced he could not elevate the maiden without crushing her freedom, resolved to descend to her. Clothed as a beggar, he approached her cottage with a worn cloak fluttering loose about him. This was not just a disguise – the king took on a totally new identity – He had renounced his throne to declare his love and to win hers.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Thursday After Ash Wednesday

In Deuteronomy 30:15-20, Moses exhorts the Jewish people preparing to return to their homeland after their wandering in the desert.  His message to them is also a treasury for us today.  He is to the point: live the life of the Commandments and "you will live and grow numerous and the Lord, your God, will bless you...."  In speaking in such a way to the people, their great leader is putting before them "life and prosperity, death and doom."  This was the choice for their future; this is the choice for us each day.

Lenten practices serve to remind us that to experience the goodness, the abundance of God, we have to remain faithful to the Commandments.  There is no other way.  Loyalty to God is a genuine, sometimes almost-superhuman challenge.  It is a demanding life so often requiring a heartfelt and disciplines metanoia.  Some truly believe that following the life of the Commandments is for sissies, for the pious among us.  Little to they know!  The life of the Commandments requires self-control, patience and a determined adherence to what is fidelity.

Sinfulness.  This is surely the principal activity that we are called upon to examine in our lives during the the annual Lenten season.  The examination of our lives and the weaknesses that lead us to sin during these forty days will lead us to a healthy repentance.  We will grow closer to the Lord our God on this journey.

In Lent we must face where we need to change if we wish to be successful.  If we can overcome our weaknesses, God will shower his blessings, his prosperity upon us.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Ash Wednesday 2010

 Here we start.  The "great journey" begins today.  The adult in each of us is challenged to (1) examine the way I live my life; (2) consider what needs to be changed in my life; (3) accept the reality of the need for repentance in life; (4) make the strongest resolution ever that I will make a wholehearted effort to open my soul to the voice of the Holy Spirit, calling me to metanoia, a removal from my life of what it is that separates me from God.  Simply put we should see Lent as the gift from our Church to draw closer to Jesus by a radical change of heart.  The challenge today is to make the time to write down how I will address the four issues listed above.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Proving Perseverance

The first read today is an excellent pre-Lent text for prayerful reflection.  The apostle James wrote to the dispersed twelve tribes "in the dispersion."  The purpose is clear:  "the testing of your faith produces perseverance."

As we begin Lent in fewer than 36 hours, we should have a goal for the forty-day private retreat each of us has the opportunity to make beginning Ash Wednesday.  Trust me:  if you take a few moments to determine what you wish to gain from these days of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, you will experience the genuine joy of the Resurrection as well as a sense of "I did it!"  There is nothing wrong with that!

As James advised the wandering people, make your purpose a petition made "in faith, not doubting."  He then puts before us an excellent image to those doubting they can achieve your goal.  "For the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed about by the wind."  What a description of someone who is afloat, not sure of a purpose in life or Lent!

Surely Lent is a time demanding discipline.  We are a people, so many say, overwhelmed by work and many family activities -- all that seem to take precedence over those aspects of life that can enrich us through prayer.  We became very much like a plant that is drained of its strength and beauty by the heat of lengthy an intense sunshine.  As James also says, we "fade away in the midst of pursuits."

So, will you allow these forty days of Lent to help you prove your perseverance?  Prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  These are three blessings for anyone who wants to make his or her life so much the better.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

"Cursed" or "Blessed" Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time

With Lent not weeks but only seventy-two hours ahead, the first reading from today's liturgy offers serious thoughts for a cold, snow laden morning.  What we have before us is Jeremiah's recollection of Yahweh's message to him.  Two words stand out:  "Cursed" and "Blessed."  Yahweh warns the people that a person who all his/her stock in human beings and turns away from God will be "cursed."  Is it a surprise?  When people, power and possessions become the gods in one's life, sooner or later, the absence of the Source of one's purpose or intention in this world allows these negative distractions to take complete control over one's life.  Consequently the person's life, the person's view of "things," becomes "cursed."

We have, unfortunately, stood as shocked and disappointed witnesses of a prominent, talented and most generous individual find his "hidden life" to become public.  This man has been "cursed" by an uncontrollable power, an inordinate attachment to a secret life of sexual promiscuity.

Likewise, we have encountered people who are "blessed."  They are likened to a tree planted along side a stream.  Its roots seek out and achieve the goal -- reach the waters.  It is challenged by the heat of the day but its leaves do not fade.  In a drought, it is not fruitless.  This is the "blessed" person.  This is the person who may encounter challenges that could bring about a failure.  Yet this person does not abandon the Source, the Creator who sent them into this world.

In the gospel we read about the person who encounters poverty, hunger, sadness or insult.  But they are not overcome by these.  They clearly teach us the it is a loving, creating God who has empowered them to overcome the challenges.  God is never put out of their lives.  Joy and blessings are the rewards for this fidelity, this loyalty.

So, Lent soon begins and we might make it at least one aspect of our introspection that will take place during the forty days of Lent.  It is not easy to be "blessed."  If we keep our eyes and intention on the goal, our God, we will become "blessed."

The Abundance Feeding

In today's chosen gospel account, Mark 8:1-10, we encounter another of the biblical feeding stories.  A compassionate Jesus to to answering a need among a crowd following him through a deserted area near the Sea of Galilee.  Why are these feeding events in both Old and New Testament accounts?  A simple, basic response would be this:  God does not overlook the physical needs of those seeking to know more about himself.  Mark's account adds further goodness by recording the great abundance of God's care for "about four thousand people."  So immense was the abundance that "the fragments left over" were "seven baskets."

What can we glean from this Marcan story?   Not only is Jesus feeding some four thousand hungry people, he is likewise feeding their spirits, a much more personal part of each person's being.  It is that part of who we are where physical food or drink does not satisfy spiritual hunger and thirst.
Often in many peoples lives there arises this question:  "Why am I so driven by this or that hunger?"  What is this hunger or thirst that neither food nor drink nor things can satisfy?  While Jesus cannot be found walking along the coastlines of our oceans, bays, lakes or rivers, God does not fail to share his power to feed those who come to him.  Come to him?

Yes, in prayer and in the Eucharist.  How blessed are we in God's abundance!  We do believe Jesus walks with us and is food given to us in the Eucharist, in receiving Holy Communion.  It is in this feeding each day that God helps us strengthen our spirit.  The Eucharist is the food supreme that helps us open our eyes and hearts to see what will bring us happiness and peace.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Friday: Seeing Through the Blur

We continue the Marcan account of Jesus journey.  He stayed close to the shoreline until he moved inland to the Sea of Galilee and the area of the ten cities (Decapolis).  Clearly his reputation was growing.  Friends of a man who was aurally and audibly challenged brought him to this man who could bring healing.  It seemed so different "up north" of Jerusalem.  In the "big city" Jesus' teaching and preaching, especially in the Temple was challenged by sophistication and distortion.  Recall the "pious" Temple worshipers:  "Who is this man?  Whence comes this power to heal? He speaks with such authority!"  Yet in the small village a good number of miles away from Jerusalem those who heard him preach and learned of his miraculous cures said "He has done all things well."

What can we learn from this event, especially to the snow-bound imprisonment that is trying the patience of more than a few?  (1) Jesus deals with us one-on-one: he "took him off by himself away from the crowd."  There was no need of "center-stage" or a wonderful "photo op."  (2) Healing is a very personal experience, a moment of alone-ness with Jesus.  (3) The simplicity of the people outside the "big city" seems to be so strong that the people there "get" what Jesus is teaching.  They truly desire to hear Jesus speak ("proclaim", Mark writes, using the same verb that the evangelists use to say "proclaim the Good News").  These people had come to know the God Jesus was proclaiming.  They listened and spoke with faith.

This particular action of Jesus is an invitation to and a reminder of discernment.  It is a reminder that the Holy Spirit opens our ears and loosens our tongue in silent and personal encounters with Jesus.  So often we find ourselves back at square one in our efforts to be the person God empowered us to be.  How does this happen?  Perhaps, just perhaps, we never let God pen our ears to free us from our self-imposed deafness!

So ... these days of so-called confinement:  who could not use this gift as a time when Jesus is pulling us away from our usual days of non-rest to a grand opportunity for person discernment ... so see through the blurriness of our daily experiences to "healing-rest."

Faith-filled People

Jesus' meeting with the Syrophoenicean woman happened because word quickly spread, "Jesus, the Nazorean, is here!"  Even in the area of Tyre, situated along the Mediterranean Sea, more than 80 miles northwest of Jerusalem, word of his power was not unknown.  Clearly some time off by the seashore was interrupted by an "outsider."  He had come to care for the Jewish people not others considered "outsiders."  But like any genuine mother, the woman speaks to the point:  "My daughter is possessed by an evil spirit.  You can heal her."  She made clear to him, outside or not, that she felt he had the power to heal her if he wanted to do so.  What we see in this lady is a genuine, strong faith in the man from the south.

This is another instance in Mark's gospel where the evangelist focuses our attention on faith, an individual's strong belief in Jesus and his teachings.  Of course, as I pray, I begin to evaluate my own faith.  Do I take my faith for granted?  Is it something like the underwear that we dress in each day?  Once we put it on, it is not thought of again until we undress.  People of faith, men and women quite aware of their gift of faith are unlike people without much awareness of their faith.  Although they are confronted by the same problems or challenges, people who take their faith seriously are usually very bright and glowing, very happy men and women.  And why?  They usually do not wear their faith on their sleeves.  They wear it in the way they live their lives -- always trusting, always believing that Jesus is walking with them.  In the course of a day, how often do I give any attention to Jesus' presence in my life?  Ever more than twice?  The Alleluia verse before today's gospel might help:
"Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls."

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Digging Deeper: St. Scholastica 2-10-10

Some years ago we sang "The Age of Aquarius."  Today, when every penny, every spoken word is carefully examined, the music world could easily hit the top ten with "The Age of Transparency."  Related to this new mantra there is authenticity.  You might say, however, that achieving transparency is much easier than achieving authenticity although both present challenges to us today.

Mr. Webster and his protoges ofdfer these two descriptions of authentic:  (1)  painstaking or faithful imitation of an original and (2) true to one's personality, spirit or character.

Today our Church call us to honor an authentic woman, St. Scholastica, the twin sister of St. Benedict.  It is obvious from recollections of abbots who worked with Benedict that he and his sister had occasions to spend long hours in spiritual conversations and moments of prayer.

Today's gospel, Mark 7:14-23, is a reflection on authenticity.  In particular Mark recalls Jesus' meeting with a crowd and speaking about the impact of our personality, spirit and character.  It is about how we live our lives.  Jesus is trying to teach to the people and his disciples that it is vitally important for us to tend to the matters of the heart.  There we encounter who we are.  There, in prayer and quiet reflection, I come to know better who I am.  There is where I learn what is required of me to be the authentic person God wants me to be.  It is in my heart that I discover the power that God gave me when he brought me and my purpose to our earth.  For me and you, each day is a all to authenticity.  Each day in so many way we are challenged to be more than transparent.  The vocation of a Christian is to be an authentic -that is, a painstaking or faithful imitation of an original -- to be a true son or daughter of God our Father.  How authentic am I is a question we might ask ourselves now as we prepare for Lent.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Hidden Pain: Hypocrisy 2-9-10

In his “The Long Dark Winter’s Night,” Fr. Patrick Bergquest, an east coast priest serving as a Pastor in Fairbanks, Alaska, uses a few words from poet Robert Service to speak about the victims of “sins of the flesh, sins of presumption , or sins of just plain indifference....”  These sufferings and pains of those impacted buy our own hypocrisy are, as Service also wrote” “Eternal truths that shame our soothing lies.”

And whence comes this thought?  In Mark’s 7th chapter where the evangelist recalls how Jesus, while preaching in Genesaret, confronted the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and a few scribes.  The leaders of the community had challenged Jesus’ disciples  who had eaten with unclean hands.  SPecial washing of the hands prior to eating was a long-standing Jewish tradition especially after returning form marketplace shopping.

Jesus recalls Isaiah’s prophetic words:  “This people honors me with their lips but their hearts are far from me ....”  You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.”  How interesting is Jesus’ example of such hypocrisy.  He cites what must have been a challenging deprivation to elderly parents when a parent is not given financial assistance -- another Jewish practice -- so that money would be given to God and nothing to the parents.

Is there hypocrisy today in our own lives, around us?  You can bet on it.  Do we inflict customs on others to suit our own desires or needs yet overlook issues of justice?  Just think of these topics and you will find more than one affirmative answer:  fair wages, immigrant status, unwed mothers, aborted children, fair treatment of different sexual orientations, racism, ignoring the physically and mentally challenged, senior citizens in need, those without insure because of previous health conditions, the homeless, the hungry, the poor, the orphan, the unemployed, the unemployable, the chronically ill, those who cannot afford being sick or dying.

We an easily point to hypocrisy in local, state or federal government, to some lobbyists, even in our Church and other churches where there are benefits reaped for their own interests.  There is blindness in our eyes if we cannot look into our own houses, our hearts, to see if there are hypocritical realities.  Jesus surely rolled back a stone that unearthed many sings against mercy and justice.  In our personal lives are there “Eternal truths that shame our soothing lies”?  Maybe this might be a good topic for Lenten atonement!

May He Rest In Peace

John Holzbach
February 7, 2010

Just a year ago, I brought to your prayers a young man who was in a coma, following the disintegration of his aorta during an ordinary open heart surgery.  John was in his middle thirties.  His mother had died just four months before John was hospitalized with his heart problem.  This afternoon at 1:00 PM, John finished his very special ministry, lived out in an unconscious state of being.  He impacted the lives of so many men and women in several hospitals by drawing them closer to Jesus, the physician who heals so many.

I ask you to remember his father, Bob.  Bob was with John every day making sure he was cared for as his needs demanded.  It was so reaffirming of a father's love for a son when I was see Bob rubbing John's arm or foot to help his physical condition.
Please remember John, of course, who has no doubt been welcomed into his new home by his mom.  Remember his Dad, John, and his sister and her family as well as John's business partner who came to be with him as often as he could.  These were the troopers who stood the year long watch with and for John.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord.

The "Some" Who Get It 2-9-2010

St Josephine Bakhita

Today's gospel reading consists of only four verses.  However, in these 91 words there is for us a genuine opportunity to deepen our understanding of Jesus who says not one word.  As well, buried in these few words is an invitation to examine the reality of faith and it strength in our lives.

From a phrase, "people immediately recognized him," even in Genesaret we know the impact Jesus was having in his ministry.  Think backwards, across the Chesapeake Bay, before bridges spanned that grand body of water.   Who knew anyone living in Washington ... much less many did not know where it was.  Those four words speak to us of Jesus' reputation.  The "foreigner" from the East didn't come to Nazareth to purchase furniture from carpenter Joseph.  Word of his healing power and his preaching had spread far and wide.  Obviously this man's message had begun to impact lives.  Jesus was not the only itinerant preacher.  He was, however, the one who had given his hearers a true wisdom that opened up the hearts of many to the words of God.  People had come to a time in their lives when they could say "credimus," we believe.  What had become obvious was this:  those who listened and reflected on Jesus' words came to believe him and his Father, fully unaware of the gift of the Holy Spirit in their lives.  These same people stood apart from the ordinary Jew of the times.  They were recognized and were seen as different.  It was to these people and their faith that Jesus shared his healing love and care:  "and [the sick among them] begged him that they might touch only the tassel of his cloak."  St. Mark ratified that belief:  "and as many as touched it were healed."

In our society and in our Church today we can say "faith" is an issue neither fully understood nor accepted by all baptized Christians and Catholics. There are among us both men and women who seem to be different, walking to a "different" drummer, not walking in the accepted or imposed pace.  Their expressions of faith make many uncomfortable.  "Charismatics" and "Born Again" Christians and Catholics frighten the traditional believer.  They are experienced as "outside the box," whatever that really might mean!  Their expressions of faith are a true challenge to so many others.

In our Church many are those who "walk the talk" and depart from our parish communities for other churches where the expression of faith is, for them, so much more meaningful and alive.  They walk to to other professions of faith because they seek a stronger expression of their faith.  Faith for them is a daily encounter with the risen Jesus Christ, so powerful a meeting that they are moved to preach, to be true disciples of Jesus Christ.  They truly believe in his healing power.

Benedictine monk, Fr. Earls, wrote these words:  "Healing becomes the aftemath of faith.  Where there is no faith, Jesus can do no deeds of power." 

If you are reading this, you are at a computer.  Take the time today to google St. Josephine Bakhita.  I never knew of the marvelous woman, an African-Italian, until I attended her canonization in Rome.  She lived a life that spoke out to many of her faith  She was never afraid to speak out for her God.  She was also designated as the Patroness of her homeland, the Sudan.  There is no doubt that she should be a model to the African American woman, especially the young women, who are looked for noble women, women of stature and genuine strength in our world today.  Her body is encased in the airtight glass enclosure beneath an altar in a church near Venice, Italy.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

A Genuine Coach February 7, 2014

A few bible stories seem to go more deeply into our interior than others, especially when the words and teachings of Jesus go directly to each person's core values or personal failures. Today's gospel, Luke 5:1-11, is one such account.

In life, very few have not felt the need for another person to serve as a coach, a mentor, a guide -- someone who has an extraordinary spirit that is evident at the first encounter. In my life there have been a few priests, a few laity, a couple of religious who have said a few words, beamed an unusually understanding smile or who have shared a personal story that helped me realize an extraordinary human being.

When Peter followed Jesus' suggestion to put out into the waters after a not so successful earlier attempt to catch a netfull of fish, he returned with a net near breaking. But Peter did not make a scene about the successful venture. He went down on his knees before Jesus. And why? Because his indirect questioning of Jesus' suggestion to return to the deep, he felt, revealed his lack of trust. He sensed himself as a failure. He realized he needed a coach!

Imagine what Peter experienced when he realized even much more: "I am in the presence of a true coach, a genuine teach, a friend. Peter must have looked at Jesus and realized "I am a man helped by someone whose goodness I want in my life." Peter experienced reassurance from another man whose character captured his heart and soul. Can't you hear Peter saying, "I need to work with this man."

Stop now! Consider yourself. What is therein your life you are seeking to achieve but which you just are not quite able to grasp for yourself? Do you continue the challenge to capture what seems elusive, doing it your way? At times don't you hear your inner voice saying "If only I had ...."

Again, recall the great moment when the world changed: the moment of your conception! At that moment of divine missioning, your God was expressing his genuine trust that you could achieve the purpose he was entrusting to you. Remember this: God did not and does not create failures. Despite all of his "failures," God did not abandon Peter. Look at a crucifix and let these words sink into your very being: Jesus, no matter what failures may be "on your record," will never give up on you. Why? Well, perhaps this may be one part of the answer: "Quitters never win; winners never quit!"

A Damnable "ism" Saturday, 2--6-2010

As if you don't have such scene outside your kitchen window, I offer this photo just taken outside my host's kitchen. Sitting there with a cup of tea and thinking about today's message was, I think, just what Jesus was teaching his disciples.

The words from Mark's gospel well serve 21st century adults. Jesus invited the disciples who had been "on the road" preaching the message he had given them. He wished to share a report of their endeavors with himself and the others. He knew that the mission was not and never would be easy. The work of a genuine vocation is, when earnestly fulfilled, a drain upon both body and spirit. For all who add the challenges brought about by one's vocation to the expectations put upon the followers of Jesus to live out baptism and confirmation pledges, life is not a pleasant stroll down "easy street."

[[Maybe Tai Chan returned to China too soon!!! He would have loved the almost two feet of fresh snow!! A good reflective distraction, eh?]]

Today, for a variety of reasons, workaholism is alive and well, assured of overtime employment! Jesus understood what busy psychologists tell their steady customers who find life so challenging. Excessive work is the chain that pulls the plug on our physical and psychological energies. Did you ever remain sitting in a bath tub after releasing the plug? Did you focus on the water, especially the last gallon that spins around the drain, pulling the remaining water down the drain? The next you do that think this thought: all the excessive work (workaholism) has done to me what I see near my feet. All my drivenness has sucked out of me all my energy, the creative ability that God entrusted to me, my physical and mental resources!

For this very reason Jesus calls his disciples aside: "Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest awhile." Ask any priest, nun or brother who is seriously involved in active pastoral ministry what they would sacrifice to be given the same Jesus invitation. If anyone of them would respond, "I don't have the time!", you have encountered an unfortunate soul! That person has put the ministry before the minister! That person needs to read the 34th chapter of Ezekiel. It is a worthwhile message for any workaholic!

Each of us, whether "men or women of the cloth," whether parents of children, whether the manager or owner of a business, whether what we might call a "climber," whether in anyone of the myriad of social ministries reaching out to or teaching others have the same need as the priest, nun or brother mentioned above. We, all of us, need to find quiet time to listen to the calming voice of the Holy Spirit. It is in these moments of quiet that a voice will be heard.

"I will create a new heart in you, and breath into you a new spirit."

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A Pre-Lent Planning Thought 2-4-2010

Why is that our Church and many of the saints throughout history and even some of our Church leaders encourage what we might consider a lean lifestyle?

Soon we begin Lent. There will be calls to join our universal community in extra time for prayer, for sacrificial giving and fasting. Again, we surely might ask why. The answer is simple: a lean lifestyle is encouraged so that we remain steadfast in our intention to follow closely in Jesus' footsteps. Specifically we make sacrifices to reduce the distraction that would keep us from our purpose.

The gospel story today, the sending out of the disciples is a reminder to them and to us: discipleship is a serious business. Why is it so serious? Because it is about much more than the individual disciple. It is about those who lives are made much better by the discipline of the disciples. (Note the root for the two words!)

Just as "staying up too late" or "not exercising enough" or "not practicing enough" are distractions for those who are perfecting themselves , so too, discipleship demands that we do all we can to prevent distractions that separate us from our own purpose, our own intention in life.

In these pre-Lenten days we have the time to look at our lives to discover where we disciples need Lenten disciplines to strengthen us.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Who Is This Man? 2-3-2010

The gospel for today’s Eucharistic liturgy, (Mark 6:1-6), is a story that might be likened to an event in your life. Most can recall --some may not be able to forget-- a moment when the painful reality of rejection may have pulled your legs from beneath you

Most collegians return home from four or five years of hard work -- for the most part! Often, only after a few weeks or perhaps days, there is “that conversation” when it becomes clear that parents, siblings, relatives or friends level the rejection charge against you: “My goodness, you have really changed.”

Once anyone embarks upon a journey away from the house or surroundings where you had become “that wonderful kid up the street,” change inevitable. After some time of absence whether for learning or some significant time of travel in foreign cultures, you might say you return to begin a lonely journey. Without any warning you have encountered the same question Jesus faced on his first return to Nazareth after he had begun his preaching and teaching ministry: “Where did this man get all this?” What you prized as your personal opening to great wisdom has become a threat to others!

In our own days our faith demands of us that we not cower to those people or words that speak out of a genuine fear. Being a person of faith is never easy.

Today we recall and honor a fourth century saint, Blaise, who had a reputation for his care of those with sore throats. So, in Catholic churches around the world there is the annual blessing of throats using blessed candles.

Perhaps we can also ask for this Armenian saint to intercede for us beyond care for healthy throats. We might also petition for the grace and the strength to speak out for our faith, to speak the truth when it is challenged.

Extraordinary Hidden 2-2-10

Today's gospel story is a one-act play. Like such dramatic presentations, this one seems so ordinary. A young Jewish couple, Mary and Joseph, have come to Jerusalem. There at the temple they will fulfill the law, presenting their first-born son to Yahweh as well as offering the traditional sacrificial offering to the temple.

Like so many ordinary moments in life, there was in this event also an extraordinary treasure. Two "senior citizens," Simeon and Anna, said words that have significant meaning both for Mary and Joseph as well as for us today.

It is not easy for us to read the elders' words and not have an experience of the ordinary because we know "the rest of the story."

What this one-act teaches us is that we no doubt have many ordinary events that make up the hours of each day. So frequently they are taken as nothing but the ordinary, a repetition of an event. We walk through these moments, robot like. We have allowed ourselves to become programmed.

Perhaps in this one-act play, watching Simeon and Anna, we can see and experience of passion. Each of them was so committed to their vocation. They realized the "intention" that Yahweh had for them within their vocation. It seems to have been the driving force for them. Living with a genuine passion for what we are, for our own vocations -yes most of us have one, two or three vocations- for our families, for our work, for our communities and for our Church. It is when there is that "fire in the belly" that comes from a true passion for what we are or what we are doing, so many of the ordinary moments become revelations to the extraordinary insights and graces God intends for each of us. The well-used imperative -"Stop, look and listen!"- has genuine significance for us. It is the road map, the key to a treasure. That treasure is wisdom.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Interesting Remarks of Pope Benedict XVI

It seems that the President of the United States is not the only world leader to be speaking bluntly. The Bishops of England and Wales are in Rome for their Ad Limina (every five year requirement) to the Holy See. Mindful of pending legislation in Parliament, the Holy Father called upon the English and Wales hierarchy to be staunch defenders of the truth and not to be bullied by those who are challenging the religions and the Catholic Church.

The following are the Pope's remarks presented to the assembled bishops earlier today in Rome --except the introductory sentiments of welcome to meetings with "the boss" and other Vatican officials.

Your country is well known for its firm commitment to equality of opportunity for all members of society. Yet as you have rightly pointed out, the effect of some of the legislation designed to achieve this goal has been to impose unjust limitations on the freedom of religious communities to act in accordance with their beliefs. In some respects it actually violates the natural law upon which the equality of all human beings is grounded and by which it is guaranteed. I urge you as Pastors to ensure that the Church’s moral teaching be always presented in its entirety and convincingly defended. Fidelity to the Gospel in no way restricts the freedom of others – on the contrary, it serves their freedom by offering them the truth. Continue to insist upon your right to participate in national debate through respectful dialogue with other elements in society. In doing so, you are not only maintaining long-standing British traditions of freedom of expression and honest exchange of opinion, but you are actually giving voice to the convictions of many people who lack the means to express them: when so many of the population claim to be Christian, how could anyone dispute the Gospel’s right to be heard?

If the full saving message of Christ is to be presented effectively and convincingly to the world, the Catholic community in your country needs to speak with a united voice. This requires not only you, the Bishops, but also priests, teachers, catechists, writers – in short all who are engaged in the task of communicating the Gospel – to be attentive to the promptings of the Spirit, who guides the whole Church into the truth, gathers her into unity and inspires her with missionary zeal.

Make it your concern, then, to draw on the considerable gifts of the lay faithful in England and Wales and see that they are equipped to hand on the faith to new generations comprehensively, accurately, and with a keen awareness that in so doing they are playing their part in the Church’s mission. In a social milieu that encourages the expression of a variety of opinions on every question that arises, it is important to recognize dissent for what it is, and not to mistake it for a mature contribution to a balanced and wide-ranging debate. It is the truth revealed through Scripture and Tradition and articulated by the Church’s Magisterium that sets us free. Cardinal Newman realized this, and he left us an outstanding example of faithfulness to revealed truth by following that "kindly light" wherever it led him, even at considerable personal cost. Great writers and communicators of his stature and integrity are needed in the Church today, and it is my hope that devotion to him will inspire many to follow in his footsteps.

Much attention has rightly been given to Newman’s scholarship and to his extensive writings, but it is important to remember that he saw himself first and foremost as a priest. In this Annus Sacerdotalis, I urge you to hold up to your priests his example of dedication to prayer, pastoral sensitivity towards the needs of his flock, and passion for preaching the Gospel. You yourselves should set a similar example. Be close to your priests, and rekindle their sense of the enormous privilege and joy of standing among the people of God as alter Christus. In Newman’s words, "Christ’s priests have no priesthood but His … what they do, He does; when they baptize, He is baptizing; when they bless, He is blessing" (Parochial and Plain Sermons, VI 242). Indeed, since the priest plays an irreplaceable role in the life of the Church, spare no effort in encouraging priestly vocations and emphasizing to the faithful the true meaning and necessity of the priesthood. Encourage the lay faithful to express their appreciation of the priests who serve them, and to recognize the difficulties they sometimes face on account of their declining numbers and increasing pressures. The support and understanding of the faithful is particularly necessary when parishes have to be merged or Mass times adjusted. Help them to avoid any temptation to view the clergy as mere functionaries but rather to rejoice in the gift of priestly ministry, a gift that can never be taken for granted.

Ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue assume great importance in England and Wales, given the varied demographic profile of the population. As well as encouraging you in your important work in these areas, I would ask you to be generous in implementing the provisions of the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus, so as to assist those groups of Anglicans who wish to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church. I am convinced that, if given a warm and open-hearted welcome, such groups will be a blessing for the entire Church.

With these thoughts, I commend your apostolic ministry to the intercession of Saint David, Saint George and all the saints and martyrs of England and Wales. May Our Lady of Walsingham guide and protect you always. To all of you, and to the priests, religious and lay faithful of your country, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of peace and joy in the Lord Jesus Christ.

[00150-02.01] [Original text: English]

Getting a Grip on Thinks 2-1-10

A Creighton University professor, speaking to a large audience says that today's readings can be expressed in one word: "beset." Let's say overwhelmed. And in our world today who does not feel overwhelmed. First, I suspect, most of us consider our own lives and the effects of living in such a fast-paced society. And we might think about others especially a loved one or dear friend who is carrying a genuine ton on his or her shoulders. Naturally a picture of a pensive President Obama or a concerned Pope Benedict XVI might say as much.

And we might question ourselves about who is responsible for our being overwhelmed? Is it me? Is it circumstances? Is it our letting negative people have too strong an impact in my life? We cannot overlook the reality often mentioned in these postings: we are human beings and just living the day-to-day life of a Christian is a challenge.

There was another Atlas picture I would like to have posted but it is copyrighted. More important were the words of a photographer who has a deeply spiritual mind and heart. She sees a statue of Atlas and says the work of art reminds her of something not so burdensome.

Trust in God's love and care. Trust that the Holy Spirit will grace you in the challenges of your life. Put the globe down. Skate on it. Let the world be the place where you can live your life as God wants you to live it. We were not sent into this world to be burdened all the time. On the feast day of the Sacred Heart we reflect on these words, "my burden is light, follow me." God is with me whenever I let his love and care lift me onto the shoulders of his son, the Good Shepherd.

Surely all of us have burdens but who is control of how we live our lives? Do we let the burdens become blocks of concrete that keep us locked to one spot? Or do we see burdens simply as another challenge that lets us see the caring love of God for us ... as an avenue, a means for us to deepen a relationship with a God who can easily lift any burden's weight from our shoulders. The burden might remain but God takes up the weight for us. Do you really believe this?

And shouldn't we be grateful that some artists have such a spirituality to remind us of some wonderful realities we might forget or overlook in our self-pity?