Sunday, November 28, 2010

First Sunday of Advent Church Year 2011

As we celebrate the beginning of a new liturgical calendar, we might ask ourselves this question:  before preparing to come to church this morning, did you give any thought to this topic:  "the coming of the kingdom of God?"  I dare comment most of us are not terribly worried about this issue.  Why?  A simple answer:L  we usually do not worry about anything that will not happen any time soon.  During the days of Advent, on the other hand, God steps in and gives an answer to the same question.  His response might be like this:  "Because a wise person would not do otherwise." Also he might respond "Concern for the coming of the kingdom is the better way to live."

Despite what God might think or say, most of us find ti a challenge to worry about the coming of God's kingdom.  There is something in you and me -- we the people of incredible technology.  For us, waiting is a genuine torture.  If we cannot multi-task, if we cannot have immediate pain relief, we are not happy nor terribly worried about significant matters that require waiting.  It seems reasonable to suggest that be have become a people who have lost any sense of the values that can be discovered by waiting.

There was some 800 years between the days of Isaiah and St. Paul.  Imagine what loss we would have endured if St. Paul had not realized that Isaiah's prophecy was not yet fulfilled.   Surely he would not have taken on such a missionary vocation and we might not have had the wonderful insights that were given to him by Jesus in more than a few private revelations.

After the death of Jesus, when the apostles were out and about preaching and teaching the message of the Son of God and later the words of the gospels, Paul began to study what Jesus had taught and what he had spoken to Paul in his private revelations.  It did not take the firebrand a long time to catch on.  In all of his messages to the peoples he taught, Paul was saying in many different ways:  "My friends, the time is ticking away."   He was so committed to sharing his convictions about the coming of the kingdom of God that he wrote to all of us:  "Put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provisions for the desires of the flesh."  He was serious about the reality that there would be a day when we would be called to account for the life we have lived.

In the season of Advent there is a particularly challenging reality:  to prevent the pre-Christmas days from becoming anything but interest in the preparations for the day of Christmas itself ... which is usually forgotten within two weeks after the holiday if not sooner.

This is the challenge that Advent brings to each of us: do what you can to make yourself keep your focus on the message of Jesus Christ.  This thought came to me while preaching  last evening.  In the mornings, when you first get ready to leave the comfort of your sheets and blankets and you have put your feet to the floor, look down to those toes.  Wiggle them a little.  Then think:  God gave me so much so that I can prepare myself for the kingdom of God.  If I recall this each morning, there is no doubt in my mind that soon you will notice a change in your life.  Thinking about the kingdom of God will be a daily prayer occasioned by wiggling toes!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Exercise in Faith

The reading from the Book of Revelation for today's liturgy surely is meant to remind its readers that there is an end for human beings on this earth and a day of judgment.  No doubt the imagery can be frightening and a reason to consider the day of judgment each of us must confront and endure.  However, the final verses are again a reminder of the unending mercy of a loving, forgiving and caring God, likewise a choice of words and vision that could be attributed to St. John the Evangelist.

Today's gospel account present what has confused many since the second century.  Christians have experienced the annual change of seasons since the death of Jesus almost two thousand times!  Yet the great end has not happened ... as the first and second century folks expected.  So what is the meaning of the gospel for us today?  Scripture scholars indicated that most likely Luke was writing within the context of his contemporaries' perception or understanding of Jesus' words.  They truly believe he was coming again and it would be in the very near future for them.

All of this truly is an exercise in faith which is an exercise to prevent rationalism from grabbing the heart.  In the writings of the recently canonized English saint, John Cardinal Newman, there are a number of times he presents his thoughts on the rationalizing manners of human beings.  At its root, he sees rationalism as the effort of the human mind and heart to bring "revealed truths into conformity with the idea to which we have subjected them."

But for me today these words are a reminder that my life, like yours, has an unknown end point.  It is a reminding gift of God to be prepared for the end time and an accounting of how I lived my life.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Day 2010

Loving God,
daily we come to you
we bring our needs, our hopes.
Today, Great Abundance that you are,
we pause to step aside from our usual asking
to offer our prayers of thanksgiving.
Today is a day of remembering.
For all that we have received
our lives, the body you have given each of us,
the talents, the skills, the energies.

When you created me, Creator God,
you gave me a mission, a purpose in life.
 What a blessing.
And you never fail to be with me
each day of my journey.

I thank you for my parents and my siblings
if I am so blessed.
I thank you for my spouse
what a blessing in my life.
And for our children
and the privilege of helping them
become the men and women
they are or will be.

I thank you for my faith.
I am making this prayer
because I have learned
the significance of my faith.
So Loving Father
I/We thank you
for the countless blessings
you have bestowed on me/us.
We, Americans, know we
have abundance even in
these difficult days.

Because where monies and things
may not be in abundance
you have not failed us
with loving family and friends.

We cannot close, Father,
without a prayer for your 
continued blessings.
Help us in our needs.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Wednesday: The Never Ending Promise

Again, in today's gospel account of St. Luke, Jesus speaks with words that forecast the possibility of persecution because to follow him and to live his message are a challenge to others.  It is the same forecast that Jesus is giving to contemporary followers, Roman Catholics as well as other Christians.  Consider what will happen:  they are warned that those who endeavor to follow in his footsteps will be 'handed over" and/or "led before" authorities.  Association with the name of Jesus would lead to seizure and persecution.

No doubt each of us can recall a particular moment  or two when living up to the expectations of baptismal vows was difficult and painful.  There were days when stand true to the faith has brought ridicule or disbelief from colleagues, friends or, sadly, even from family members.

But as with other instances in his life, Jesus reminded his followers that he would always stand by us --- he would always be those footprints in the sand. Never worry about what you should say if your are challenged to defend your faith or your relationship with God.  Fidelity to our faith, to our God will provide the words, the thoughts, that will enable you.  In short, that moment might be expressed as "Stand with me, I will always be prepared to you the inspiration you may need."  Jesus speaks clearly:  "You will not be destroyed."

Friday, November 19, 2010

Saturday: Follow Up to Friday's Cleansing

Just after posting today's reflection, a received the following from a friend whose wife is going through the struggle of trying to win the battle against cancer.  How appropriate for the theme of today's readings.  My friend did not mention the source of the writing.  So you have a reflection for tomorrow, Saturday.  Please add a "Pat" to your prayer list as well as for her husband, "Tom" and their family who are standing so strongly at her side during this painful journey.

For Saturday:
Malachi 3:3 says: 'He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.'      
 This verse puzzled some women in a Bible study and they wondered what this statement meant about the character and nature of God ...    
One of the women offered to find out the process of refining silver and get back to the group at their next Bible Study. 
That week, the woman called a silversmith and made an appointment to watch him at work. She didn't mention anything about the reason for her interest beyond her curiosity about the process of refining Silver.      
As she watched the silversmith, he held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up. He explained that in refining silver, one needed to hold the silver in the middle of the fire where the flames were hottest as to burn away all the impurities.   
The woman thought about God holding us in such a hot spot; then she thought again about the verse that says:  ' He sits as a refiner and purifier of silver.' 
She asked the silversmith if it was true that he had to sit there in front of the fire the whole time.  
The man answered that yes, he not only had to sit there holding the silver, but he had to keep his eyes on the silver the entire time it was in the fire. If the silver was left a moment too long in the flames, it would be destroyed. 
The woman was silent for a moment. Then she asked the silversmith, 'How do you know  when the silver is fully refined?' 
He smiled at her and answered, ' Oh, that's easy -- when I see my image in it.'  
If today you are feeling the heat of the fire, remember that God has his eye on you and will keep watching you until He sees His image in you.  
Pass this on right now. This very moment, someone needs to know that God is watching over them. 
And, whatever they're going through, they'll be a better person in the end. 
' Life is a coin. You can spend it anyway you wish, but you can only spend it once.' 

Thank you God, for teaching me to laugh again...... 
but please Lord, don't ever let me forget that I crie

Friday: Necessary Clearing and Cleaning

The two reading today serve to remind God's people that all eventual goodness usually comes about because it has had to endure challenges.  There are times of necessary cleansing.  The first reading should be a reminder to the Jewish people and to us of their history.  The glory of the nation came about only through several major times of purification and suffering.

In the gospel verses before us St Luke leaves out the obvious:  the important role animals played in their religious practice and the business that need created.  The practice of the Jewish religion at the time required the sacrifice of animals.  Apparently the sale of animals at the Temple had become a big business.  It was too big because it had become too distracting, not so much in noise but in the corruption it fostered.  Thus Jesus is cleaning house!

Our Church today and through its history has had to pass through various trials, various unpleasantries.  We have had to endure necessary house cleaning at certain times because of scandals and heresies.  The Church has been a divinely founded reality but it is a human organization as well.  At times our humanity has challenged the Holy Spirit!  There have been times when self-examination has had to come to the Church to guarantee fidelity to God and how his Church should be.

In a similar manner, all of us experience the same need to look at ourselves and how we are living up to the mission, the reason God brought us into this world.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

THursday: Jesus Wept

Today's gospel is a serious statement about loss ... loss because of sin.  In the words of St. Luke, Jesus wept as he made his final journey into Jerusalem.  Because of his own painful future?  Not so much that but because he could see the future and he knew the past history of the city and the Jewish people.

He wept because he could see the loss of life, surely some of his friends and acquaintances he made during his lifetime, that would occur with the destruction, yet again, of the temple in Jerusalem.  The Temple and the city would be leveled by the Roman Emperor Titus in the year 70 AD.  Likewise Jesus could recall the 587 BC destruction of the Temple and the loss of life and the loss of the glory that was the Jewish people.  Jesus wept because he also could see the final dispersal of the Jewish people ... and sure what has become of the Temple area ... where a mosque is built upon the site of the leveled Temple.  He also wept because he knew that the people, his people, the Jewish people, had sinned.  How ironic:  Jerusalem, the last half of the word is a part of the Jewish word for "peace."  And there has not been peace for them there.   Jesus also wept because his people did not see in his coming God's coming to them.  The Wailing Wall ... the only part of the Temple that remains ... the place where the Jewish people lament their lost glory.

Where is the Temple today for the Jewish people and for all Christians?  Each person is a temple of the Holy Spirit.  "Where two or three are gather in my name, I am there with them."  For us today there is the challenge:  do I see in all other God created people the very presence of the Holy Spirit, the very presence of Jesus Christ?  Jesus wept for the Jewish people.  We might consider this:  would he weep today if he were to visit our cities, our homes?  Interesting!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Wednesday: My Purpose?

We come to realize, at some point in our lives, that God is all complete in himself.  He did not need anything or anyone, you or me.  But, but, but:  he willed otherwise.  He decided in his infinite wisdom to fulfill his own will through the human beings he would create.

So it was and is that every man or woman and all of creation was made to be a part of the divine plan.  Each creation came about to do his will.  Because of the reality of Adam and Eve’s sin, however, there are times when we forget how we are given a specific purpose in the divine plan.  It is this reality of our part in the will of God that makes each person a singular purpose for God.  No two of us have the same purpose.  We are, each human being, a divine creation with a unique purpose in God’s creation.  Whether I am a genius or not, whether I am a person of wealth or not, I have a special place in God’s will.  The fact is simple, so simple that we can easily forget that God knows me.  Hod has called each of us by name, a name he never forgets.

Each person has a special mission in this life, unlike any other person’s mission.  Our journey in this divine creation is to learn, to come to know that mission as best as we can while living in this God-created world.  When I die and meet my Creator, I shall know exactly what that mission was.  But I need to realize that I am an important part of his purpose.  I am as important to the divine plane as “an archangel is” for God.  The reality is, also, that if I should fail in the God-given mission, if I should turn away from God, he can find another to fulfill the purpose he wanted from me.  If I follow his commandments, if I earnestly seek to know his will for me, I will be like an angel, his messenger, even if I do not realize it.

Genuine trust in God is this, I believe:  I honestly believe I shall never be tossed away as rubbish by my God.  Whatever comes to me along the roads of my life-time journey, this is how God uses me to fulfill his purpose.  My successes, my failures; my illness, my health; my poverty, my abundance -- these and so many other realities serve God’s purpose which I many not even see!

Whatever circumstances become a part of my life, I must trust that this is a part of his plan for me.  I must trust my God.  It is his created world.  He knows what he is doing.

So, like those entrusted with the master’s wealth in today’s gospel story (Luke 19:11-28) my mission is to be used to carry out God’s will.  My daily prayer should always be that I ask simply “Lord, my God, let me do your will.”

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Tuesday: Called by Grace

Reading the gospel story of Zacchaeus is always an experience in the unknown.  What will this moment serve up to you and me, the readers or hearers of the story.  This time what caught my attention is this:  "Shortie," that surely could be his nickname, wanted to see the renowned young preacher.  So he had to get up into a tree.  A reminder of some parades in DC before security became the operative concern.

Yesterday there was a calling.  But it was from the blind man who could not see but who believed Jesus could do something for him.  Today there is a calling.  This time it is from the lips of Jesus.  "Heh, Z-man, I want to come to your house for dinner."  Wow!  Imagine the reaction from the Z-man!  But, for me, it was a strange reaction.  When some of the locals started to criticize Jesus for dining at the home of a known sinner, the Z-man becomes defensive.  No thanks for coming to the dinner were offered to Jesus.  Rather, Z-man displays some deep-seated guilt.  "Jesus, I want to make up for what I may have done wrong.  I want to be in your graces.  I'll be making a substantial donation and help to the people in need."  

There seems to be no doubt that Z-man was a troubled man.  Interior discomfort seemed to rule his heart.  The sense of guilt seemed to have a good grasp on his heart.  It is this sense of discomfort the reveals a felt need to overcome what has been the cause of the guilt feelings.

So, the call of Jesus to Z-man is the call that is given to each sinner every day.  Free yourself from whatever it is that holds you back from God.  Let yourself be what God wanted you to be.  Do what you can to overcome the various albatrosses that might be hanging around your neck.

Strange, isn't it, how a calling can also be a gift of freedom when it is answered in honesty.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

33rd Sunday: From A Russian Labor Camp to a NYC Jesuit Community

Spending almost three years together with a man, a priest, a Jesuit, freed from a Siberian Gulag, a Russian labor camp prison at Perm was indeed a unique experience.  Convicted as a Vatican spy during the days of WWII, Fr. Walter Ciszek, SJ was confined for 23 years.  He died in 1984.  Living with him, sharing stories, praying with him, sitting "at table" with him, all of these and more were truly unique experiences.  In listening to him talk, I could not but question my own spirituality, my fidelity to prayer, my efforts to construct a genuine Ignatian heart.

The gospel reading for this penultimate Sunday of the current calendar year is a reminder to us that our lives as followers of Jesus Christ will bring us face to face with suffering, humiliation and ridicule.  This was the life that Fr. Ciszek was forced to live.  During a "social gathering before dinner" (called a cocktail hour outside the Jesuit Communities), I asked the quiet, demure man, how did he survive for so many countless hours in a room that had a bed, a chair, one light bulb and no window for many years.  Without hesitation he said, "I will always be thankful that God gave me a good memory and that we were required to recite the prayers of the breviary each day for several years before our ordination.  During the hours, days and weeks of solitary confinement, I was able to remember the psalms especially."  Then he quipped, "And remember, they were in Latin in those days!!!"
Fr. Ciszek led the young Jesuit philosophers through a three-day renewal of vows triduum.  I ask his permission to attend the sessions so that I could learn from him.  He replied, "Yes, you are most certainly welcome to attend.  You will learn nothing from me, however.  Hopefully your heart and ears will be open to the great teacher, the Holy Spirit."

And when asked about his feelings toward those who imprisoned him, those who were in charge of the prison, he was again the quiet one.  As often, he said "I prayed:  Father, forgive them."  So, while reflecting on the Magnificat quote from Father's book, I asked myself and I ask you, dear reader, "What are the realities in your experience that persecute you?"

Take the time to consider your life today.  Are there people or situations that truly persecute you?  List them for yourself.  The first thought might be, "well, it cannot be all that bad.  I am able to write the situation down on a piece of paper."  A second thought might be, "Well, maybe prayers have made it survivable."  We have heard it said many times:  God will never, never, ask what is impossible of any of his children.  Fr. Ciszek always saw in similar moments the opportunity to be another Christ.  We don't have to be ordained priest to fulfill that role.  Recall the many missionaries who have traveled to foreign lands to bring the Good News but who have found that the Good News resulted in the sacrificing of their lives to God the Father.

The sacrifices we are asked to make today more often than not are little more than forgetting about myself, to end the feeling sorry for myself when all does not go the way I want it to go.

This native Pennsylvanian, a deeply religious man from the coal mine area of Shannandoah is a reminder to all that genuine happiness and peace of heart and soul will come to any individual who has complete trust and confidence in God's "will, his wisdom and his grace."  And for sure, if we do take the time to pray, to open our hearts to the intimate moments of conversation with God, we will true happiness in this life and will be so ready to move on to the next life, the life of grace with God and the community of saints ... like Fr. Ciszek.  "Walter, intercede for all of us who come to you."

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Saturday: Reflections from a Trappist Cemetery

During a recent visit to Massachusetts St. Joseph's Abbey, located in Spencer, provided me a hour to reconnect with a holy man, Dom Basil Pennington.  Several years ago, Fr. Basil died as a result of injuries suffered in an automobile accident.  After some time in the community chapel, I walked to his grave.  There I became involved in a rather lengthy conversation ... renewing my own spiritual journey with him as I had done during several private meetings with this renowned Trappist priest, abbot and author.  Standing at his grave site, I noticed that the occupant of the adjoining grave was also a former Trappist priest and abbot,  Dom. M. Raphael Simon.  I wondered about Fr. Simon a while.  It was again the dash between the years of his birth and death.  Surely he must have been a man of intense prayer.  Most superiors tell you that it is prayer that makes the office bearable.  Preparing for this reflection, I was reading the reflection for today's gospel in Magnificat.  What a surprise:  the writing was penned by none other than Dom Simon.  What he wrote is a magnificent confirmation that prayer can become a part of anyone's life.

Fr. Simon wrote about intimacy, a topic often discussed by many priests and religious.  Maybe that sounds strange.  However, these men and women know the human need for intimacy, perhaps more than most.  Needless to write, but it is important, Fr Simon relates the topic to another frequent topic for spiritual writers ... PRAYER!  For this Trappist as well as Fr. Basil, prayer is often a topic of their writings.

In today's world there is such a challenge to many by the reality of intimacy.  Why?  So often true intimacy, healthy intimacy, is not so present.  Intimacy is frightening to many people.  Why?  Because honesty is the basic foundation on which intimacy is built.  Likewise intimacy is a reality that is threatening to many because it opens a person to vulnerability.  As regards a person's relationship with God, not matter how rarely or distractedly (??) we bring ourselves to God, there will always be the deep down, sometimes hidden, voice of divine intimacy.  As his children, God will always see in us his creation, wanting to lavish love and care upon us.

Fr. Simon points out that prayer comes about because I want to share my own intimacy with God.  Failure to have a prayer life seems to be a reflection that we have not made "the leap of faith" that brings us to God.  Speaking with many people over many years, my observation is that prayer is a difficulty, especially fidelity to regular prayer, because intimacy with God opens wide the door to our hearts.  Open that door and you experience vulnerability.  In the intimacy of prayer with God, one's entire life is present, the good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly.

Why would a person pray?  Fr. Simon writes that acts of reason (intellect) and will look to prayer in the light of faith to answer a need.  A person considers prayer, usually, to arouse acts of the heart.  It is prayer that will bring a person to prayer, to intimacy with God and even him/herself.  In prayer itself, in those moments of intimacy with God, the person praying experiences the challenge to conform the will to the will of God.  When the conformity becomes real, then there is true intimacy, true union with God.  From this encounter in prayer, we learn what it is that God wants of us; we know what God had in mind for us when he created us.

Fruitful visit to a friend's grave. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Friday: The Losing/Saving Mystery

"Sacrifice" is the word that envelopes a mystery, how the sacrifice of Jesus Christ has become for humanity its highway to redemption. 

And what is the "sacrifice"?  St. Luke's gospel points out the answer:  whoever seeks to preserve his/her life, loses it; yet whoever loses (sacrifices) it will save it.

The mystery is how the sacrifice of the Son of God from the moment of conception to the moment of death becomes so pivotal for all humankind.

Jesus Christ made the singular sacrifice to guarantee that each person who enters the world at the Father's will would never be deprived of redemption.  Truly death brought death to never ending condemnation.

The mystery of the redemptive sacrifice invites humanity to mount the Calvary cross with the dying Jesus through the various sacrifices that individuals make in their lives to prevent and to atone for sins.

Our lives are a "mixtum gatherum" of events and moments of confusion and complexity.  Ever present in our world is the need to sacrifice what can separate us from Jesus Christ.

Thursday: Happiness Forfeited

Contemporary Americans and  perhaps individuals from many other countries display a genuine unhappiness.  It surely might be considered to exist in abundance among us today.  The recently canonized English scholar and Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, John Henry Newman addressed the issue of unhappiness in one of his writings.   The English saint reminded he readers that when a person, from the time of Adam, was created by God,  he breathed into each person "the supernatural life of the Holy Spirit.  This gift was given to us to instill in our hearts, our lives, a genuine happiness.

Then, once a person separated from God through sin, there was likewise a forfeiting of an individual's happiness.  What replaced happiness was and continues to be is emptiness.  It is the emptiness that brings and individual into feelings that are so unpleasant.  Newman wrote that the sinner becomes "languid, dull or apathetic."  And why such feelings?  Because the God-created, God-gifted individual has violated his/her nature.  He/she feels a genuine thirst or hunger for that gift of supernatural life.  As well, separation from God so often results in genuine restlessness.  Like a caged canary, the person hops from perch to perch, always searching, never content to remain in one place.  The natural reaction is to believe for a time that certain activities are a fulfillment of the need created by the separation from one's divine creator.

As Newman and countless other saints and spiritual writers have pointed out, the God who made us continues his care for us despite our giving into sin.  It is the redemption story again.  Jesus Christ is the cooling waters for the sinner's thirst.  He is indeed the bread of life for the hungering soul.  Jesus is the divine gift of forgiveness from the Father.  Saint John Henry Newman sums up this redemptive mystery quite well:  It is "the secret triumph of the unearthly kingdom of God among the self-willed, self-wise children of Adam."  And how so?  Because this is the kingdom of God always within my very being!  Deo Gratias.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Wednesday; St. Leo the Great's Insight

From one of St. Leo's presentations we do find support and insight into ourselves and into the power of evil that surrounds each of us in the course of a day.  Despite the presence of God around us, there will always be those moments of challenge to us and our souls.  It is through our prayers and other acts of devotion that "the sharp point of terror has been made dull," he wrote, yet "the cause of the struggle remains."  Perhaps a major challenge to us today, in our busy world with so many different pressures and obligations that consume both our energies and our time, is that there is a natural tendency to overlook such deviousness because we might too easily, too lackadaisically, accept the reality of evil in our world that challenges our human nature and its weaknesses.

St. Leo wrote that once the evil one's attacks are recognized, the more obvious battles cease, then begins "quiet treachery."  Leo writes that then Satan will begin to wear us down with "an easy life, he will snare with willfulness, inflame with ambition and corrupt with luxury."  These words from his 5th century mind.

One point of consideration is this:  the spirit of poverty ... surely a reality we might not like to consider in our modern times.  Leo and so many other saints have tried to teach us that the spirit of poverty is so critically important in building a strong spirituality.  He writes that "Restraint has subdued luxury; humility has cast out arrogance, and those who were soiled in shame now shine in purity."  Is this particular part of Leo's letter not related to the reality in the story of the one leper who was cleansed and returned to give thanks to Jesus as we read in today's gospel.  For us there is never a day when we should not consider what possessions there are in our lives that pose problems for us and our relationship with God and how we live our lives.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Tuesday: Beneath the Surface

Imagine in your mind that you are standing in the Piazza San Pietro in Rome looking at the main attraction in the square:  the Basilica of St. Peter's.  Ask yourself and then others around you, what they see there.  A church?  St. Peter's? A symbol of a church government?  A symbol that reminds some of a Pope, others of recent years of shame and embarrassment?

Today the Church celebrates the commemoration of the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome.

Like St Peter's, this Basilica represents to many the same ideas or thoughts.  Yet the answer that best answers the question is this.  This particular edifice represents, on the surface, the Cathedral or Basilica of the Bishop of Rome, the Holy Father.  This is the Pope's church, as we might say.  So it represents something of a universal idea or belief in the Catholic Church.  This church building and every church throughout the world, whether built with the craft of ancient builders or more modern urban creations, represent more that the Catholic Church. It represents more that the Holy Father, the Pope.  

This building and every church regardless of its design or age is a sign of the presence of Jesus Christ in our world today.  No doubt there are very few who would respond this edifice or St. Peter's or even my parish church is a representation, a reminder, to me that Jesus Christ is present to me everyday in my life.

Many wonder why we celebrate a commemoration of a building.  Well, it is for this one reason:  it is the principal church, the principal parish church of the universal Roman Catholic Church and it is a sign to all but especially Catholics that Jesus Christ is present to Catholics and other around the world.

The challenge to us is to look at buildings such as these and to recognize there is before us a unique way of connecting our minds and hearts with Jesus Christ.  Most believers, however, see these remarkable creations and think of structure, government, power, and so forth.  Again, very few look to this buildings and think "Jesus Christ is present for me in this life, in this world."

As we celebrate this building in Rome, let us refresh or rebuild in our own hearts a genuine attention to these churches as symbols of a divine presence in our lives here and now.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Monday: The Pain of Forgiving

There are times when we hear others or even ourselves proclaim that forgiveness of another human being for a serious offense will never be offered.  It is painful to witness such a moment or to hear another person feel such bitterness toward another.  Yet, isn't it also a genuine human emotion to support the unforgiving person?
Perhaps this is what we read in the gospel today, Luke 17:1-6.  Jesus is teaching the disciples that we must forgive others who have offended us.  So serious is the need to be forgiving that Jesus teaches that even if the offending party acts seven times in one day against someone, forgiveness is to be proffered.
When the Apostles heard these words of Jesus, they, too, must have understood how difficult it is to forgive under certain circumstances.  Why else would they say to Jesus, "Increase our faith"?  Granting forgiveness demands a strong faith, there is no doubt about that.  The more serious the offense, the more difficult offering forgiveness.

And isn't the response of so many to someone who does forgive a serious offense, "That surely is a person of deep faith!"  This is the challenge of Jesus teaching to his disciples as well as to each one of us.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

32nd Sunday Ordinary Time

Today’s gospel is no easy text for the hearer, reader or preacher.  However, going through a small amount of learning we can discover the underlying message Jesus is offering the Sadducees.

Let’s begin with understanding who these men, the Sadducees are and how they differ from their well-known opponents, the Pharisees and scribes. As a group, the Sadducees were recognized for their denial of a resurrection.  Now it is not the Resurrection of Jesus as he is still alive and preaching at this point in his life.  It is their rejection of life after death.

What we have in the gospel is an attempt by the Sadducees to confound Jesus because of  his teaching of a life after death.  These men us the story of the woman whose many husbands had died.  The fact that the Sadducees pose a question about the doctrine of resurrection as it is related to the widow betrays their intention.  Who will be her husband in your notion of resurrection?  Clearly they are attempting to trip Jesus in his response.

Also know that from early Old Testament times there was the levirate marriage law.  By that law a brother was obligated to marry his brother’s widow if there had not been an offspring from the deceased brother’s marriage.

For the Sadducees a person died and that was it.  Nothing afterward.  However, they did believe in the levirate law because this was how the deceased person lived on ... to have offspring “from the grave.”

Jesus proceeds to challenge back with a description of a paradigm shift that occurs between this age and the coming age of the Kingdom of God.  In short, Jesus attempts to demonstrate “the profound contrast between an existence focused solely on one’s current life and one that is shaped by the future life of the resurrection”(Parish Publishing, Proclaim, November 7, 2010).

What we should understand from all of this is that Jesus is raising a very simple yet profound question for the Sadducees as well as ourselves. He wants to know what it is that makes a person worthy  of life  in God’s coming future resurrection?

There are several themes that we see are repeated in Jesus’ teachings help us understand this shift.  He makes distinctions between “this generation” and those children of the light, the Kingdom of God.  He tries on many occasions to teach his disciples to lead others to know his message that there is for all the need to achieve the Kingdom of God.  Why?  Because, as we all know, his message is that the resurrection is real and we need to make ourselves ready to enter that kingdom when we complete this earthly life.

So we have to ask ourselves if we do not spend more of our time involved in the things of the world we live in.  Jesus’ message today is something of a game-changer for the Sadducees as well as for ourselves.  His coming to this earth and living and dying as he did was his way of changing the game.

Let me close with this life changing story, not my own but offered by others (Parish Publishing, Proclaim, November 7, 2010).  It offers a simple yet very clear example of what a game-changer truly is.  There is a major fishing tournament. One of the entrants arrives quite late.  Contrary to the advice of judges to withdraw, he sets his canoe in the water and sets out.  The crowd on the shoreline are in laughter.  He didn’t even bring his fishing pole.  Even worse, he paddles to a place in the large lake where not one other contestant is fishing.  Finally settled, as the time clock on the tournament was ticking down, he opens a small bag that he brought with him.  It’s content:  a small stick of dynamite.  He lights the stick and tosses it out in front of his canoe. Of course there is a large geyser that springs up from the lake.  He proceeds to row to that spot and starts netting in the many fish floating on the surface.  When the closing bell was sounded, he rowed back with many, many more fish than his competitors.  A new tournament record was set. Of course there were protests but the officials read the rules could not find anyway to proclaim this as illegal.  He simply changed the game!

So, Jesus was not different in this parable.  He came to our earth to change the game through his life, death and resurrection.  The contest we are in involves sin and grace.  Do we truly want to
realign our lives to fit the game-changing life offered to us by God if we follow Jesus Christ?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Friday: A Roller Coaster Ride

Today's gospel reading, Luke 16:1-8, is truly a ride on a roller coaster.  To better understand the content of the parable that Jesus offers, we need to know something of the Palestinian weights and measures scales for the time.  Likewise we have to understand that stewards, perhaps like the tax collectors, were understood to have the "right" to include what we would call a commission for their work!  Seems it must have been a nice life!  Also, we have to realize that we do not know what the steward had done to squander the boss' property.  It was serious enough to earn termination, however.  Let's look at the weights and measures issue first.

A "measure," also called a "bath," equaled a unit of liquid measure equivalent to 8 or 9 gallons.  So the boss' first debtor owed 100 measures of olive oil.  That would equal 800 or 900 gallons of olive oil.  But the crafty steward offers the debtor a 50% "deal,"reducing the debt to some 400 or 450 gallons of olive oil.  Not a bad deal!  The second note holder owed the steward's boss 100 kors of wheat.  A kor, a unit of a dry product like wheat or other grain was equivalent to 10 or 12 bushels of the produce.  So, another good deal:  a reduction from 100 to 80 kors.  20%:  from 1000 or 1200 to 800 or 950 bushels of wheat.  

What is important to realize is this:  the reductions were simply the removal of the steward's commission.  The steward's boss did not lose anything!  As noted in the New American Bible, New Testament section, Luke's gospel, page 127), in short the parable speaks about "the prudent yse of one's material goods in light of an immanent crisis."  Surely being fired was an immanent crisis.

What is interesting is that some commentators praise the steward for having "fudged" his master's accounts.  Interesting but questionable!  Jesus seems to be praising the steward for canceling the debts owed to himself!!!  That brings us to a realization that we truly do not know what the squander was all about.

Some commentators suggest that Jesus is encouraging his disciples and followers to consider forgiveness.  Forgive the debts of those who may have offed or hurt you.  "What?" you might be asking now and rightly so.  But what helps clarify what Jesus was teaching is to know what preceded this parable in the Lucan gospel story -- the parable of the prodigal son.  Luke's account of that parable concludes with the father's bargaining with his irate son who resented the special treatment being given to his profligate brother who had wasted his patrimony in dissolute living and now had returned home in need to their father.  Forgive your brother the father tries to persuade the angry brother.  Your brother has recognized his errors, his sins and has returned to us.

Isn't this why the master praises his steward:  honest debts to him were outstanding and the steward canceled his own commissions so that the master, the boss, would at least have what was owed to him?  And the steward, seemingly, had a turn of heart that produced a win-win-win situation:  the master, his debtors and, most of all, the steward.

This adds some understanding to Jesus' words, "For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than the children of light."

Roller coaster ride ended.  Spiritual economics eye-opener!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

THursday: Separation from God?

Today, I invite you to consider the reality of sin in our lives.  Clearly the Pharisees and the scribes, albeit in a way truly "pharisaical," express a sentiment seemingly not unknown among the people.  They were pointing to the reality of sinfulness and the impact of sin to undermine Jesus and his ministry.

Sin seems to be a state of life accepted much more easily in our contemporary times than in earlier generations.  The debilitation of one's spirit is not recognized as the product of sin, especially serious or mortal sin.  A discussion with anyone who has been taken over by what is considered serious sin by our Church and the Ten Commandments and returns to a life of grace through the Sacrament of Reconciliation will reveal the "relief" experience after the confession.  A person who commits serious sins on a regular basis finds a genuine separation from God and the Christian community growing within the heart.  It has to happen because there is a walking away from God.

Luke's words in the first verse of chapter 15 of his gospel are a reminder that the disappointment in oneself because of sin can be eased by restoring the relationship with Jesus Christ through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Even those less serious sins tarnish the Jesus relationship within the heart.  But, as Luke recalls one of Jesus' practices, "This man welcomes sinners ....", is a reminder that forgiveness does not demand "jail time."  Jesus is always present to forgive.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Wednesday: The Banner We Follow

For the last two days we have considered saints and sinners, the deceased ones.  Today's gospel offers us some serious thoughts on this post-election day.  The challenges that have confronted the saints and those who have died before us are not easy.  In the gospel we are reminded by Jesus of the realities that can create serious difficulties for us in our efforts to work our way  to the Promised Land at the end of our lives.

Martin de Porres, whose feast is celebrated today, reminds us through his life that  all of us are "Christian soldiers" who daily march into various battles.  Just think of the challenges, the battles, that the newly elected or newly re-elected politicians we confront.  Just think of the challenges we will have to face as we watch the individuals who may have received our votes.

We will be a stronger "miles Christi," a soldier of Christ, to use the ancient title ascribed to those who went forth into a daily battle to protect the Kingdom of God here on earth.  We will  earn success if we do not forget that ahead of us we want to have Christ on the Cross as our banner.  "Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim" contains a verse we might remember: "Led on their way by this triumphant sign, the hosts of God in conqu'ring ranks combine."

We do raise the Christian banner as we face the challenges of daily life because we know that it our safeguard, our grace, our support from the   Son of God himself.

Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed

What does "the commemoration of all the faithful departed" actually signify for us?  This question arises because we begin 29 days of unique commemoration today.  In most Catholic churches, today marks the annual reading or publishing of the names of the departed loved ones and friends of individual parishioners.

What is this rite except a recalling of the names of the dead and remembering either joyfully or sadly in the shared experiences of those deceased who have touched our lives?  In fact it is much more than a remembering or recounting of lives in "sickness and health, in good times and in bad."

Today we begin the month long journey of an experience that truly demonstrates what Pope Benedict XVI calls a "surplus of love" when speaking about yesterday's feast day, All Saints.  "All Souls" month calls us to understand the "treasury of the Church."  It is for us the opportunity of giving our love in prayer for those souls who stand in need of further purification that will have them ready and suitable for entering the Kingdom of God.  The prayers, alms, indulgences and other works of penance are very much like our writing letters of recommendation for an individual seeking recognition into a school, a business position, or a special honor.  Our efforts during this month of November are our making real the treasury of graces that lead to the forgiveness of any imperfections that need to be removed from the soul of a deceased person awaiting the final call of the Lord Jesus:  "this day you will be with me in paradise."

We take on this wonder-filled opportunity to help guarantee that final gift we can give another person, a prayer or act of self-sacrifice that will open the way into God's heavenly kingdom.  Likewise, we can pray that after our earthly journey there will be our friends and loved ones still on earth who will remember us and assist us if there is a need to complete the atonement for our sins before our entrance into God's kingdom.

Again Pope Benedict:  "Purgatory basically means that God can put the [broken] piece [of our lives] back together again."  And you and I, through our prayers and sacrifices, you might say, become the glue used by God.  Our November intentions as well as our daily remembrances in our prayers and Masses will bring our loved ones and friend to be together with the community of the saints "in one symphony of being" (Pope Benedict XVI).

The photo:  In the Skyline Caverns near Front Royal, Virginia.  The lower part is a reflection of the ceiling above a two inch "lake" of perfectly clear water.  It reminds this blogger of our relationship with those who await our prayers for their joining the community of saints in the heavenly kingdom.