Thursday, March 31, 2011

Divisions: Hard as Rocks

The 17th verse of St. Luke's 11th Chapter from today's gospel reading, may well be directed to our times.

Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste and house will fall against house.

A starting question:  can you recall any time in the last fifty years when we have been witnesses of so much division and dissension in our society?  There are not just a few obstructions to a smooth, flowing societal experience, to a smooth, flowing faith experience, to a smooth flowing familial experience.  It seems that the current decade is like a river whose passage is challenged by many rocks that disrupt the smooth flowing course nature has given it.

In our own American history, were it not for men like our founding fathers, who, by the way, had serious differences in political and social thoughts, the great American Experiment would have failed.  It was their ability to work for unity, despite differences, that brought peace to the land.

The human heart is witness to the demons that exist in families, in faith practices and in society at large.  Surely Jesus came to redeem us, to save us from our sinful ways.   Likewise his mission was and continues to be the reconciliation of communities and individuals.  Perhaps we can attribute it to our pre-existing condition, Original Sin, but there seems to be built into the human heart impulses that can so easily turn to alienation from one person, or one community, or one nation.

Yesterday's reading reminded us that Jesus came to fulfill the law and the prophetsThese great figures of Old Testament history knew the human heart.  They reminded their people that they evil emotions could easily bring about destruction.  Their message was "repent and and bring about peace and justice.  Through the grace of God the prophets called out the evils that were destroying the people.  At the same time, however, they spoke words that reminded the people of God's promise to be with them through all difficulties, all their challenges.

During the season of Lent we are offered the opportunity to recognize the dangers impulses that sometimes take over the human heart.  We are reminded during these days that Jesus came among us to teach unity and peace.  We might consider this today:  What have I done to bring about peace where there is not peace in my personal relationships, in my Church, in my society?  Do I harbor heartfelt emotions of division?
If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
(Ps. 95: 7b-8a)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Today consider these words of Jesus:
Do not think I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.
I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.  Mt 5:19

To give these wrods the opportunity to unfold in our minds and hearts we have to remember again that the man speaking these words is not a preacher passing through a specific period in world history.  We must recall that Jesus is the Messiah.  We know Jesus is the anointed of God.

His words speak to us of his mission.  He could not be clearer, could he?  So, as we pray our way through Lent, should we not consdier the implications for us, theose who seek to be loyal follower?  The day we were baptized and then each year during the Easter season we pledged to accept a role in his mission.  We are meant to follow in his footsteps.  Do you believe we have been called to speak as Jesus spoke?  So, all of us who raise the banner of Chrfistianity are oppting for a shore in the Jesus mission.

From the days of his Bethlehem birth, Jesus' mission has been to bring to humankind the will of the Father.  Does each person who claims Christian identity honestly accept that mission?  We cannot forget that the prophets message was and is the challenge to avoid sin and each day to be open to God's grace-filled moments.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

You Have the Winning Lottery Ticket!

There is no joking in the headline for this posting.  You have won the biggest lottery ever put before humankind.  This is what our Lenten "retreat" is meant to instill in our hearts.  During these days of reflection, almsgiving and fasting we have the opportunity to further understand the generosity of the God who created us and the world we live in.  Through the suffering and death of his Son, he gives to each of us the gift of complete, total, all-reaching forgiveness.  Most likely no human being can fully plumb the depth of what the gift is for us.  Our forgiving God does not offer conditional forgiveness.  We are not presented with a divine demand to perform redemptive actions.

Today we might bring ourselves to the Holy Spirit with the petition to open our minds and hearts to understand fully what total and complete forgiveness.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

An honest appraisal of our lives today might well be this:  I try to control as much as possible -- in my life and in the lives of others.  Perhaps we really do not realize what our world is if we want to control so much.  Perhaps the empty chairs above might be the result if everything was left in my hands.  I would be so controlling that there would be no one suitable for a place in the good seats!

At times we can be so controlling that we even dare to control what God does with his graces.  As the current and previous Ordinaries in the nation's capital city have stated about certain people receiving Eucharist despite some public opinions they have expressed, what happens in another's mind and heart is almost always beyond my understanding and judgement.  

How few are the parents who will take the stand in favor of their offspring when actions or events he/she was involved in were on the surface as wrong as wrong can be.  As a former school administrator, there were so many times when parents could not accept that their "bright light" was surely not understood.  

It is a genuine concern or it should be that we do not assume the judgment seat of God while we are hear on earth.  Jesus left this world with us in it but not to to determine who can partake of his blessings and graces. How do I measure up to this challenge ... because it is so much easier to sit back and issue decrees and judgements, isn't it?

By the way the street presented as a party of Sunday's blog was in a very expensive part of downtown Annapolis.  Looks can be deceiving, can't they?  Our judgements can be so misled, can't they?  THere is no doubt that if we had all the answers all the time, the chairs would be empty!!!

Only at the Well

Once again our scripture read brings us to a moment of invitation.  Jesus comes to a local gather spot where folks college a pail or two of water.  They come to get what all human beings need: sustenance for our daily lives that comes from water.  We've been here before, many times, I suspect.  We've encountered the Samaritan woman and her life-changing encounter with this man she did not know.

At the site she meets someone she does not know but who knows everything about her.  At first she might think that whoever this man might be he is condemning me, he is putting a burden of guilt upon my shoulders.  Why?  Quickly she learns that this man, Jesus, has but one goal:  that she, a foreigner, might come to know she was speaking with the Healer of all healers.  Without saying "I am the Savior, the longed-for Messiah," Jesus reveals his awareness of her past life and how he welcomes all sinners regardless of the seriousness of their past failures.  Jesus uncovers for her the pain of her interior life, ler soul's unrest.  No doubt she was frightened at the outset of this encounter.  Yet, how quickly and peacefully Jesus' simple petition --"Give me a drink."-- led to a genuine reconciliation and the woman's desire to share the wonderful feelings she had received from Jesus.

The words in John's gospel are also an invitation to each of us, especially during the season of Lent.  We have the healing power of Jesus available every day at the well of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Daily Jesus says to us the very words he spoke to the woman:  "Give me a drink."  In our own words today, Jesus is saying to us "I am here for you in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Le me show you how I can restore your inner peace.  I come not to condemn.  I come to heal, to forgive.  My gift in this Sacrament is freedom.  I have come to embrace your and your humanity.  There is nothing I will not forgive.  Sit with me for a short time.  Let us look at your life together so that I can give you a cup of living water.  Let me quench your inner thirst with my peace, my forgiveness through the gift of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Friday, March 25, 2011

What do I see in "them"?

Today read carefully and listen with a heart and mind open to the depicted social scene in St. Luke's gospel selection.  There you will see "them" all gathered together.  "They" always seem to have the ability to gather in numbers, don't they?  Is it really surprising?  Very few "others" would want their company.

On this occasion there is what we would call a social faux-pas, a social scandal.  The young preacher man was there with "them."  Didn't Jesus recognize them?  These were the sinners, the misfits in the religiously oriented society.  Didn't he question in his heart whether he could afford being seen in their presence.  What were the "proper" people going to think and say (gossip!!) about him with such a detested lot of humanity?  Why would he risk his "reputation" in the community?
Jesus, they failed to understand, sought one goal:  to bring every sinner to reconciliation with his Father.  And that would mean me.  How about you?  The Pharisees did not "get it."  The love and forgiveness of the Father was not and is not exclusive to certain people or groups of individuals.

Today we might ask ourselves a question that requires honesty for the answer God is seeking.  How do I feel when challenged by Jesus' calling to reach out to sinners and tho those whoa re marginalized by and in our society?

God did not create a world where sinfulness would block the sun from shining on a sinner.  The rains fall on the poor as well as the wealthy.  God's mercy and love were and continue to be available to every human being.  Easy to read that is but do I truly believe it?

The open arms of God reach out to everyone.  Imagine the happiness there must be when a sinner does not allow his/her faults to build a wall that separates God's divine love from one's life.  So, how do you think of or reach out to those who are often painted as "those people" in our society and even in our Church?  Here honesty is not easy!

The picture?  Surely not in Potomac or Chevy Chase, Maryland.  Some might immediately think of it as a street in poor section of a city.  What some would call a place where "they" live?  Tomorrow the answer to the question.

Annunciation to Mary

Today we celebrate a significant moment that impacted not only a young woman but even our world today some 2000+ years later.  We know the event.  We know an angel of the Lord appeared to the young woman.

What can we gain from this event?  I would like to suggest that we recall what Mary did soon after the reality of the angel's request had been accepted.  Mary did not hide.  Neither did she run to the gossip center of the town to tell the other ladies what she had been asked to do.  What did she do?  She decided to take a trip!!!  No cruise.  No European tour.  Mary went to see her cousin Elizabeth who was also pregnant with another extraordinary pregnancy.   Immediately Mary turned to service.

Perhaps this feast day is one when we can consider all of the services Mary offered from the time she uttered her "Fiat" (let it be done!).  There are so many different individuals who are in need of assistance not only in pregnancy or even in the initial days after the birth of a child.  There are so many people in our world suffering as the result of wars, tribal conflicts, economic downfalls.

Have you ever considered that an angel may have come to you with the same question:  will you respond to the Father's will that you help those in need?  Or are we prone to respond with the words we have heard many times:  "When did we see you hungry?  When did we see you thirsty?  When did we see you in jail?  When did we see you when you were sick?

It is critically important that we watch for the easy out:  Oh, I did not know that I could have helped ....
I did not know there was a need.  Why didn't someone speak up about it?  Why didn't you tell me?

Let us not fail to ask Mary's help.  She can lead us to the various Elizabeth's that might exist in our experience, those women and men as well who may have serious need.  But we have to ask for the light, the guidance or we simply have to look around.  Again, all the foreclosed homes are monuments to failed lives.  Are any of your family or friends in that horrible financial loss number?  Did you offer to help?  Numerous examples exist.  "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us today and every day in our lives!"

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Great Unawareness

When you have read today's gospel story, the story of poor, destitute Lazarus and a "rich man," how is your heart responding.  Does the Jesus story have any meaning for you?  This question stands because your response will tell you something about yourself, your "value system," your awareness of what lies outside your door, your daily experience of what lies outside "your door," your daily experience.
What misleads us today is one particular word: "rich."  Reading or hearing the expression, the "rich man," most likely makes a contemporary person think of what we call "the top two percent of society."  We thereby separate ourselves from the "rich man."  However, it does not put most of the "bottom ninety-eight percent" on the same level playing field!

The purpose of this particular gospel story is to make clear what having somethings can do to us.  We can so easily overlook real need that lives with us in some of our fellow human beings in our own towns, our own neighborhoods or our own blocks.  You don't think you are rich?  Imagine how much it would cost to replace the items in your home: your kitchen, your living room, your bedroom, your "home office,"  your rec room (if you have one), your garage, your attic or a backyard shed.  It is then challenging to say maybe I am a rich man or a rich woman!

And what about the many types of Lazarus are just up the street or across town?  See the lines waiting to find work.  How many empty homes and townhouses stand empty as witnesses to so many broken lives?  I write these thoughts few than 10 miles from the White House and the United States Capitol building.  How many homes and lives lie broken in such a short distance?  The painful reality is this:  neither the homeless nor us with a roof over our heads are evil.  What Jesus is teaching us is so simple: having possessions can so easily dull our awareness of others and the cards dealt them in the game of life.  Our "wealth" can so easily bring about genuine blindness.  Just "having" can knock us off our horses in Pauline blindness!  "Having" can create in us the inability to see the great needs that have broken other lives.  What a tragedy ...  not their lives but that we may have been unaware!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

(St Mary's Church, Annapolis)

St. Augustine wrote: "Prayer offered in holiness from a faithful heart rises like incense from a holy altar."  We need recall the passion that the physical body of Jesus endured for not only for one individual but for the Body of Christ, all of Christianity. all of God sons and daughters.  How many times have we, as a community of believers or individually prayed "Lord, I have prayed to you, hear me now."

Jesus was a human being and so his prayer was that of a human being.  Most of his prayer was like your prayer, my prayer:  human petitions to the Father.  We know from the gospels that on the night before he died, his prayer was so intense that he sweated blood.  Augustine again:  the blood came from his whole body and it not just his blood but the martyrdom of the whole Church.

There are times when we feel our prayer(s) have not been answered, that God has not heard or has ignored our petitions.  This is an anguish of the Body of Christ that continues since the evening of his humanly physical suffering.  When we feel abandoned or unheard,  this is the moment when we must repeat our prayer to God:  "I have prayed to you, Father, and continue my prayer, my petition.  Listen to the sound of my prayer when I call upon you.  Accept my prayer as incense rising in your sight."

Paul reminds us "Our old nature was nailed to the cross" with Jesus.  In his suffering Jesus called out from the cross the words that well may be a sentiment in our praying, our suffering:  My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"  The prayer of the faithful follower who continues in prayer despite no seeming answer for God rises like incense from HIS/HER holy altar.  Jesus is with you in your moments of need.  Your prayer is your incense rising to the Father.

Recall others words of St. Paul:  "Our old nature was nailed to the cross with him in order to destroy our sinful body, so that we may be slaves to sin no longer. "  In these moments we, all of us, are united in the Body of Christ in the experience of purification.

"I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave up his life for me."
(Galatians 2:20) 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Hypocrisy! How Alive Is it?

Let's take a serious moment to confront the reality of hypocrisy in our society as well as in our own lives.  It seems that word is not spoken or considered as often as it should be.    Some Christians don't believe there is any great preponderance of this reality in our society.  Others feel that it is alive and too well in our society.

Many Christians attended religious services of one sort or another on Saturday or Sunday.  Today is the third day of the week.  A question:  "Is there any hypocrisy in my own life?"  An acquaintance told me a couple of years ago that he no longer considers himself a Catholic.  He does not want to attend church services because there are some who attend these religious moments who are "faithful and loyal Christians."  But once the day of pray is over, the same lives are peppered with acts of cruelty, abuse, many lies, much deprivation of justice, and the taking advantage of others. to those who need our support.

So the questions:  How do we live our lives to do what we can to prevent hypocrisy from taking root in our hearts?  Because hypocrisy can be so destructive in our lives and the lives of others.  So, is there any hypocrisy that exists in your heart that you may have overlooked.

Truly Trusting God

Today's first reading is one that puts forward reasons to ask ourselves about our faith, our true religious understanding of what we think about God.  Looking at yourself in a mirror, say to yourself:  "Self, so what is your perception of the person(s) you call your Creator, your God?"  Is that perception (1) appreciation or (2) trepidation?  Does fear have a part in what your call your faith?  Is fear of God what drives many away from the practice of religion?

Daniel, not the author of the Old Testament Book of Daniel, was a leading figure who encouraged the Jewish people to stand firm with their religion.  Their God was far superior to human wisdom as proposed by their contemporary pagans. Daniel's message:  "God is the master of history" (p 409, New Jerome Biblical Commentary).

For us today:  Daniel's writings are an invitation to us to strengthen our trust in God and not to fear proclaiming his goodness.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

2nd Sunday of Lent: Peaks and Valleys

What significance can the Transfiguration description in the Sunday gospel have for us some 2000 years plus since Jesus Christ was born?  Is there a message that we may have overlooked in the past?

What can we discern from the reaction of the disciples who were with Jesus on the mountain where they experienced the "transfiguration?"  Perhaps it is a bit of a stretch but consider these thoughts.  If you look at the picture above (actually it is a mountain range in Neveda), you may notice peaks and valleys.  You might see this as a reflection of our human experiences.  We live with peak moments and and daily life in the valleys of our experiences.

Jesus invited the three apostles to be with him on the mountain for a reason.  It became a time when there was genuine contemplation and activity.  At the top of the mountain (or hill) the disciples witnesses the "power" of Jesus, the presence of God the Father speaking.  Then there is the decision to return into the valley where there was the city.  We spend most of our time in the valleys not on the mountain top.  We spend most of our lives in activity not in contemplation.

What the apostles witnessed was an event that would be a point to which they could return -- at least in there minds and memories -- in the days and weeks ahead.  And they might well need these "graces" as Jesus draws them closer with him to his ultimate sacrifice which could be a source of threat and fear for his colleagues.  This was the strengthening of the apostles for those difficult days.

Peter wanted to build three tents so that the might have a solid reminder to them of what happened.  Perhaps, they thought, if needed, they could return to the site to attempt reliving the moment.  They did not have a Sony or Kodak digital camera that could record the event.

The event on the mountain top was a moment of contemplation.  God the Father opened the minds and hearts of the apostles.  They saw more clearly who Jesus was.  Our mountain peak moments are times when we have insights.  It can be likened to the times we sit, alone,  with a cup of tea or coffee or we watch a spectacular sunset or sunrise.  In those moments our hearts and minds are opened to events that speak to us of God's presence in our lives.  We live in the valleys!  Our day-to-day lives exists in the activities that fill our days.  When problems arise in those valleys, it is the insight that we were given in our mountain moments that are designed by God to help us see what is happening and what is best for us.

Early in Lent we are encouraged to recognize the valley experiences that challenge us.  We are invited to bring to those challenges the mountain moments we have experienced.  It is the grace of God, isn't it?


St. Joseph: Model of Living Faith

Joseph, patron saint of workers,
Blending skill with charity,
Silent carpenter, we praise you!
Joining work with honesty,
You taught Christ with joy to labor
Sharing his nobility.

Joseph, close to Christ and Mary,
Lived with them in poverty,
Shared with them their home and labor,
Worked with noble dignity.
May we seek God's will as you did,
Leader of his family!

Joseph, workman's inspiration,
Man of faith and charity,
Make us honest, humble, faithful.
Strong with Christ's true liberty,
Make our labor and our leisure
Fruitful to eternity
(Bernard C. Mischke, O.S.C. 1966)

In him the Old Testament finds its fitting close.  He brought the noble line of patriarchs and prophets to its promised fulfillment.  What the divine goodness had offered as a promise to them, he held in his arms. ... Remember us, Saint Joseph, and plead for us to your foster-child.  Ask you most holy bride, the Virgin Mary, to look kindly upon us, since she is the mother of him who with the Father and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns eternally. Amen.
(Sermon by Saint Bernadine of Siena)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Personal Responsibility

Just a few simple thoughts for this Friday in the First Week of Lent.

1.  What Jesus teaches us is that we must live lives better than those of the scribes and Pharisees!

2.  God's commandments for us require that simply marching in line is not enough.  We must inculcate the teachings of God in our hearts and thereby make necessary changes in our lives.

3.  Our consciences must be in alignment with the will of God.

4.  How important is your attitude in so many of life's challenging moments?  And what did Jesus teach?

Please remember a friend, Felician Sister Mary Anita, who is dying as I write.  On Friday morning I am off to NYC to spend a few moments with her during these last hours of her life.  Sister and I worked together at St. Joseph's Hospital in Philadelphia some years ago.  She was the President of the hospital and recognized for her leadership and pastoral care.  She had one of the sisters contact me this morning to ask if I would come and make one visit before she meets God.  You know, as the Irish would say, me think she wants to tell me what I am supposed to sayin' in her funeral homily!!!  Once a President always a President!!!  She would love these lines!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Thursday: Royalty In Service

Remember youthful days.  Usually we had one or two people who moved us to want to be just like them.  Even today there may be individuals who make us think "If I were 20, 30, or 40 years younger, I think I could aspire to those  footsteps.

The Old Testament Queen Esther could easily be one of those we might like to follow.  When she learned that her husband had been asked by another king to annihilate the Jewish minority in his kingdom, Esther decided she had to do something to change his mind.  She accomplished several behind the scenes events that ultimately brought her to her husband king with the petition not to carry out the request.  

She made her request with great confidence because she was a woman who deeply believe that Yahweh's promises which she had heard read from the Book of Psalms.  God would always be available to those who followed Yahweh's command and who show their love for him.    And the Jewish community was spared because of this woman's commitment.

We were called to consider our own prayer on Tuesday.  Could our prayer be as strong as this woman's prayer?  With all that is happening in our country and world today, some are convinced that God does not listen to the people who are praying to him.  Is this really the case?  Do we truly believe that God listens to us when we pray?  Does our not "getting" what we ask for ... like a child on Christmas Day does not find the present he/she wanted ... cause us to doubt?  cause us to feel hurt?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Wednesday: 1st Week of Lent 2011 Many Voice Out There

Perhaps today's gospel could be reduced to a few words:  "LISTENING IS CRITICAL!" In the first reading the seemingly "wild" city of Nineveh was warned by Yahweh through the voice of Jonah that the city would be destroyed in forty days.  From the King to the least subject there was an immediate turn to penance.  They hoped their actions would bring about a reconciliation with Yahweh.  They listen:  the city was spared.

Society advanced.  Jesus is born and eventually becomes the herald of the Father's message:  "This is an evil generation"  He had been preach the message of God.  The prophets before him had preached what God wanted ... apparently to no lasting impact.  Jesus preaches that those seeking to know the future have Jonah's message, listen to his words.  But it had little impact.  They failed to understand or accept what Jesus taught.  They failed to realize that they were with one who is "greater than Jonah."

How much more we have moved forward since the time of Jesus.  Who is the one who will put the Father's message before us?  before our world today?  Who do we listen for?  Do we fail to realize that we have the "sign" many seek:  "I am the way, the truth and the life."  So to whom do you seriously and regularly lend your ear?  Is it Jesus?  Is it Jonah?   Each of us has to ask ourselves seriously "Do I listen to Jesus?"

Tuesday: First week of Lent - My Prayer

Matthew's rendition of the Lord's prayer we take for granted.  It's the Lord's prayer and that is that.  But what might we gain if we take a few moments to understand what this prayer might mean for each of us individually.  Call to mind an experience when something happened that has changed your life: an unexpected change of assignment; the failure of a promise to be be realized; the loss of a job; the death of a loved one.  As you find yourself in this new "reality," how do you pray?  What do you say to God about your change?  Are you happy?  Are you saddened?  Are you frustrated?  Are you angry with God?  Imagine how Mary lived her life and her prayer after and angel told her God wanted her to take on a new "assignment."  Or look at Joseph who must have wondered what what happening when he could not settle down for the first few years of his married life, moving from one place to another.  How was he going to be able to support his family?  He had no sugar-daddy who would send him a check or give him an American Express card to cover his expenses.  Imagine the frustration and uncertainty that must have filled every day of his life until he was able to settle down and take care of his family.

These were the two people who taught Jesus how to pray as a young boy.  Their experiences, no doubt, were significant parts of their teaching Jesus how to pray.  For thirty years he prayed most of the time with Mary and Joseph.  Again use your imagination:  what an experience that must have been for the young Jesus.  And so from these experiences of a child's first teachers, Jesus' own prayer was formed as he prayed to his Father.

And you?  Return to the beginning of this reflection:  what realities is my life now make up my prayer ... or have I ever thought of the "Our Father" in this light?  Consider how your life may have been dramatically or significantly changed by the economic changes of the last few years.  Most likely your prayer has changed.  What is it now?  "Thy will be done!"  "Give us this day ...."  "Lead (me) not into temptation."

Perhaps today the Lord's Prayer may be the source of new insight into how Jesus could one day, in response to his disciples' request to teach them how to pray, teach them how to pray with the richness and depth of that prayer.  Hopefully it will lead you to know more of your own prayer ... your personal prayer to God, your Father.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

1st Sunday of Lent 2011

The book of Genesis recounts a story familiar to most Christians:  Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden fall victims to the temptations of the "serpent."  We know the story:  enjoying life in Eden, the two had been told by God there was one restriction. They were not to eat the fruit of a particular tree in the garden, "the tree in the middle of the garden."  At some point a "serpent" slyly challenges our first parents.  They are told that God does not want them to eat of the fruit from that tree because it would enable them to open their eyes and they would be able to know "what is right and what is wrong."  That would make them like gods!  What a challenge put before them!  We know the temptation was too much for Adam and Eve.  They became the first humans to sin, to turn their backs on God's command.

Now all of this happened some 6000 years ago according to some biblical scholars.  So a question we might put forward in light of our contemporary realities:  what have we learned from all the writings, the studies, the inventions, the scientific teachings since that time ... all of them put together?  Well, all we need to answer the question is this: look at te world and our lives today.

Some might not like hearing or reading these words:  sins of so many different kinds abound throughout our world today:  murders, stealing, character assassinations, wars, slavery, repression, so many different forms of abuse and on and on.  The power of the "serpent" continues to infect humanity.  We human beings are no different from Adam and Eve: we fall victim to the allurements that today's "serpents" put before us.

As we stand at the beginning of another Lent, what are we supposed to do?  Give up in face of the "serpents" that tempt us each day?  Toss in the towel that signals surrender to what leads us away from our Creator God?  There is a reminder in today's gospel reading for us to consider.

Jesus, fresh from a 40 day retreat, is tempted by the "devil." These temptations are basic to each human being, the reality we call Original Sin.  Jesus, the man, the human being, resisted the powers of the evil spirit that attempted to cause him to sin.

The season of Lent calls us to strengthen our relationship with Jesus.  Just as our relationship with friends, as that friendship develops, build up a strength with that person that would help us remain loyal and faithful to that person.  So, too, with Jesus Christ.  Building a relationship with him through prayer and reflection, we help build strength to resist the temptations that come our way ... because we are aware of what Jesus endured for our salvation.

So, may your Lent be a time of strengthening your relationship with your God. 

Friday, March 11, 2011

Saturday after Ash Wednesday

Because they associated with public sinners and ne’er do wells, Jesus and the disciples were suspect.  It was for this reason that the Pharisees and the scribes questioned them.  Jesus’ answer to their concerns was to the point.  “Those who are healthy do not need a physician” (Luke 5:31).  This is another of Jesus’ reminder that he has come among us to be the healer, the comforter, the consoler.
The first thoughts that come to the modern mind when confronted by prostitutes, street people, immorality, sexual abuse etc. is that these are peoples and situations that are truly “sick.”  This is not physical sickness but a sickness of the soul, of the heart.  It is to these that Jesus and the disciples have given time and interest.
During this season of Lent we have the time to look within our own hearts for the single purpose of seeing if there are practices or habits that need Jesus’ spiritual medicines.  Lent is a time not only for having a full soul scan to determine if there are any spiritual illnesses that we have either avoided or not recognized.
If you discover any “sicknesses” in your soul, do what most people do when they find themselves hurting or with fever:  they call their physician.  Lent is a time when we have an open window to meet with the physician who can heal us, who can help remove from our hearts and souls that which is causing pains, anxieties or doubts.  Lent is the time when Jesus says to us “Do you know where you are hurting?  Do you know what you are doing that is causing you pain?”

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Friday After Ash Wednesday

In the first reading, Isaiah 58:1-9a,God speaks to the people through Moses.  His words easily suite us in our time now.  How many times have you ever had the same feeling expressed by a frustrated people:  "Why do we fast, and you do not see it"?  It is a question that directly related to the reason anyone would fast or do something that is out of the ordinary especially when the results of the actions seem so minimal.

Without a significant purpose fasting become little more than a diet, prayer little more than just reciting words and almsgiving little more than seeking public recognition.  To perform these actions without it being related to a deeper interior purpose will accomplish little more than frustration.  However, when linked to a genuine purpose, when performed to draw us out of ourselves and into the person of Jesus Christ, these activities result in forging for the individual a unique closeness to Jesus Christ.  This is true especially if we seek to strengthen our relationship with Jesus through an understanding of his sufferings.  Our Lenten practices are the key that opens the door to a significant relationship with the Savior of humankind.

So, why are you doing whatever it is that you are doing for this season of Lent?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Choice Is Yours

In the first reading, Deuteronomy 30:15-20, Moses puts before the people a critical choice: life and prosperity, death and doom.  Well, we might think, that is ancient, truly ancient history.  We are some 3000 years since Moses put this challenge before the Jewish people.  Is it any different today?  What do you think?  Is it really any different?  Isn't God asking the same of us today as he asked of the Jewish people in Moses' time?

For us today, as noted in the blog before on more than one occasion, following Jesus is not for sissies.  Opting for the life that God wants of us is truly burdensome at times, isn't it?  If you answer in the positive, please, get in touch with this blogger.  We need to start your cause for canonization!!!

Like so many realities in life, so many things like stones, or shell, or cars or houses or computers or telephones -- all of these and more wear down.  It is no different for one's faith, one's hope and one's love.  The human psyche, the human heart, the human body are worn down by the challenges of life.  But Jesus does not step backwards:  Do you want to choose life and doom?

Is my faith strong?  Am I so busy that I don't have time to pray or even to think about God?  Have the ways of life worn down my attention to Jesus Christ.  Surely I know the man by name and some history.  However, the real question:  do I truly know who Jesus is?  .... for me and for my life?

Am I strong enough to firmly affirm that Jesus is truly the Son of God regardless of the "demands" he puts before me each day of my life?  Can I stand tall behind Jesus and what he asks of his followers in the gospels?

So, what is it for you?  Can your write it in 25 words of less?  Give it a try.

Ash Wednesday

An inviting path to a sunrise:  let this be an invitation to you as you begin the journey of Lent that will lead you to the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Today's readings bring our focus upon both penance and reconciliation.  As you reflect upon what this season of Lent will or can mean for you, let me suggest that the primary purpose of whatever it is that you might elect as a special project or sacrifice for the Lenten season, remember the WHY? am I doing this question.  CHANGE OF HEART!  In three words you have the summary of whatever activities or practices you might embark upon for the forty days of Lent.

Too often you might say, "I'm giving up __________ for Lent."  But do you then ask the question:  why am I doing this?  Do you take the time to dig a little below the day-to-day surface to determine what needs to change in your life at this particular time?  Where in your life might there be a need for reconciling yourself with God or with someone in your life?
What is important is to remember the sentiment of these words from the Book of Deuteronomy:
You are a people sacred to the Lord, your God.
Understand, then, that the Lord, your God,
is God indeed, the faithful God
who keeps his merciful covenant down to the
thousandth generation 
toward those who love him
keep his commandments.
(Deuteronomy 7:6 and 9)

Monday, March 7, 2011

Shrove Tuesday

'Twas the day before Ash Wednesday and all through the Church many are asking "What are you doing for Lent?"  It is always amazing to this priest, at least, to hear the Lenten "give ups" that people believe are going to satisfy the reasons for Lent.  Some even believe that giving up beer is going to improve their spirituality.  Some believe not going to the movies is going to build a stronger relationship with Jesus.

Like the resolutions made each year on December 31st, many times the Shrove Tuesday made sacrifices are never accomplished.  Why?  That is a good question.  Well, it is that so often there is very little, if any, serious consideration of two pertinent questions.  The first, "Do I really take the actions of Lent seriously?"  The second, "Does my not using foul language draw me closer to Jesus?"  Unless we learn to take the notion of sacrifice more seriously, Lent will be just another time when priests try to encourage parishioners to Lenten practices.  Dare we ever take a survey that asks a simple question:  "Did you succeed with your Lenten resolutions?"

Let me place before you a serious challenge for the days of Lent that begins in just 24 hours!  My challenge to you will help you address the two questions above.  I challenge you to read from the New Testament each day of Lent for at least fifteen minutes.  Furthermore, I challenge you to keep a written record of you efforts.  Record the amount of time and a citation of the chapters and verses you manage to accomplish.

So today, Shrove Tuesday, get your Bible ready.  Make a "guesstimate" of the time you will begin this challenge each day of Lent.  If you feel urged to read more than 15 minutes, don't let the suggested time deter you from reading longer if you have the time.

Close attention to this effort will result in unusual happenings.  Very well it may happen that you will find yourself in a new relationship with Jesus Christ.  Lo and behold, Easter may really mean something to you.

All this said, let me share with you that you will surely be in my prayers during the days that lie ahead.  My special prayer will be that you can accept and live up to the challenge put before you.

Monday: Those Wicked Tenants!!!

Harsh realities in our world today are a clear signal that there are too many people who feel they have control of the world and its people.  What realities?  Consider these pains that have been brought upon nations, states, communities and families:  wars, genocides, corruption that has infiltrated so many institutions and people around us, murders that damage communities and families especially the horrific increase in youth murders, violence that streaks across all humanity like lightning across the skies during storms and hatred that has become so public in our culture.

Jesus uses an allegory in today's gospel to address these human failures:  the wicked tenants.  See the vineyard as representative of God's chosen people; look at the tenant farmers as the religious leaders of Jesus' time; the prophets of the Old Testament history are the servants; the beloved son is, of course, Jesus.  Read this story:

“A man planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine press, and built a tower.
Then he leased it to tenant farmers and left on a journey.  At the proper time he sent a servant to the tenants to obtain from them some of the produce of the vineyard.  But they seized him, beat him,
and sent him away empty-handed.  Again he sent them another servant.   And that one they beat over the head and treated shamefully.  He sent yet another whom they killed.  So, too, many others; some they beat, others they killed.  He had one other to send, a beloved son.  He sent him to them last of all, thinking, ‘They will respect my son.’  But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir.  Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’  So they seized him and killed him,
and threw him out of the vineyard.  What then will the owner of the vineyard do?
He will come, put the tenants to death, and give the vineyard to others.  Have you not read this Scripture passage:

The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
by the Lord has this been done,
and it is wonderful in our eyes?”

They were seeking to arrest him, but they feared the crowd, for they realized that he had addressed the parable to them.  So they left him and went away.

What is Jesus attempting to teach?  God has not abandoned the world.  He has not turned over control to those who do evil.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

9th Sunday of Ordinary Time: My Attitude?

The gospel for the 9th Sunday of Ordinary Time is what might be titled as the heart of Jesus’ intention in all the different teachings we have encountered during the last several weeks of gospel readings.  This is the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount.

Knowing that he put many thoughts before those listening to him, Jesus gives his listeners a picture of what a trues disciple should be -- man, woman, young person, older person.He wraps up the sermon with a picture, a description of the characteristics or qualities of a true disciple of Jesus.  What he taught then is no less important today.

Jesus makes clear a reality many may overlook or just take for granted.  He is very clear:  “Not everyone who says ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” Whoa!  What is he saying?  He means this:  coming to Mass every Sunday, the rosaries said, the novenas made all of this and more do not, DO NOT, make a true disciple.  Far from it!  He is saying that “church going and discipleship are not synonymous.”  He goes so far as to say even being able to work wonders, preach superb homilies, even in done in Jesus’ name do not necessarily earn the discipleship badge!

Catch this and repeat it several times:  “A true disciple is totally united to God in heart, soul, and mind.  A genuine disciple must have “the mind of Christ,” think like Christ and dedicated to HIS WAY of seeing and doing.  We can be so busy talking and doing that we just don’t get the message.  We don’t stop and LISTEN.  Imagine the Judgement Day:  coming before Jesus Christ who says “I really don’t recognize you.  Yes, you did some pious things but you did not do MINE.
An Irish Jesuit blog, Living Space, suggests four “interacting qualities” that are the  characteristic marks of a true disciple. (1)  Hear Jesus.  This is more than recalling just the catechism you learned.  It means I listen to the Word of God in the Old and the New Testament.  Is there dust on your Bible at home?  Is there a Bible in your home? (2) Understand the Word of God.  We have to work at coming to know what those words of scripture mean.  This means a little extra work, doesn’t.  If you were invited to work with a prominent figure, wouldn’t you read his/her speeches or writings?  Being a disciples is no different.  (3)  Accept what the Word of God puts before us.  It has to become part of the fabric of our being.  This Christianity business is not easy.  Neither was carrying the cross up the Calvary hill for Jesus.  (4)  Having done all possible, live my life according to what I have come to know God wants for and from me.  Some might ask just how much is it that God wants from me.  Jesus didn’t question his Father’s will for him even when in the garden and he realized what would soon be his torturous fate and death he said, “Take this cup (of suffering” away from me....but not as I will but your will be done.”  

Noted spiritual writer, Fr. Tony de Mello, SJ, was accustomed to say:  “It is all a question of attitude.”  When we become men and women who can honestly say I am trying with all that is in me to be a disciple o Jesus, to live the life God has given me to live, is is then that we will fully understand the significance of the minor elevation in the liturgy, when the priest raises the consecrated chalice and host(s) and says:  “Through him, with him and in him.”  It is then that you know that you are a disciple of Jesus.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Friday: Temple Unrest

Today's gospel:  Jesus  turned the tables in the Temple.  This action took place in the most sacred of venues.  What's with the young man who must have been the model of perfection?  Today we might consider his actions as scandal.  However, it was the custom that sacrificial offering animal be on sale for people who had traveled many miles to come to the Temple.  However, what brought the babe of Bethlehem to lose his cool, we might say, was not the sale of the animals but the way in which the Temple had become a symbol of the rich getting richer and the poor growing poorer.  The Temple had become an evil system imposing itself upon every aspect of the believer's faith.

A few questions to being home the point of Jesus' action might be helpful for us today.  Imagine if Jesus were to announce to the world:  I am coming to make a world tour.  What would be the various "systems" that would assuredly bring him to similar actions as in the Temple?  How are these examples for starters:  wars, revolutions, repression, hatred, racism, homophobia, poverty, abortion?  We might rightly assume Jesus would soon be exhausted.  Just listing these human failures, is there any wonder why the world has been turned upside down?

What is the power of one candle in the darkness?  How can one person make a difference?  What are the "people of God" doing to make the world a better place today?  And me?  What am I doing, you can ask yourself?  Do I act in ways that would have Jesus turning tables?  Is my life a model of his life or have I weakened and lost the power of prayer in my life?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Thursday: Spiritual Blindness

How realistic is it to believe most contemporary men and women live their lives and make decision that set patterns that include a spirituality component?  Anyone examining the American scene cannot find spirituality alive and well in our landscape.

Indeed a number of Americans attending church services on weekend.  However, can we say that American life is God-influenced when so many cities are experiencing senseless murders day after day?  Is God present in greed that seems to be characteristic of “Wall Street” and all those businesses that moniker represents?  Does the large number of divorces brought about by spousal infidelity not speak of spiritual blindness not being alive and well around us?

Today the Church honors Sister Katherine Drexel, elevated to the community of proclaimed saints on October 1, 2000.  This was surely a Philadelphia woman who had unique “eyesight.”  Americans of African descent and native American Indians were more than just  “them or those”.  Her family wealth and station did not take the place of a serious spirituality  in her life.

So the question each person can ask of him/herself:  “Do I suffer from any spiritual blindness in how I live my life?”