Saturday, April 30, 2011

"Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15).   When some of Jesus' disciples had a hard time believing the reported appearances of others of the disciples on the Easter Sunday, Jesus appeared to the whole group and "rebuked" them for this unbelieving attitude.

It has always been and perhaps will be forever that some people will have a difficult time believing the Resurrection story.  In the Acts of the Apostles the officials needed to quell the proclaiming of John and Peter because there were some who did believe in a miracle brought about in the name of Jesus.

Today, in our advanced technological world, it is not unusual to hear someone say, "I really have a hard time in believing there is a God."  We might ask how that position can come about.  If there is no reading, reflection or prayer -- no breaking open of the scriptures -- is it surprising the marvelous "miracles of technology" would replace the Divine Being who created this world and all of us in it?

There is no doubt that the lack of prayer and reflection over Jesus' words in the New Testament make it very easy to forget the God of both Old and New Testaments.   The words of King David in Psalm 118, verse 21, today's responsorial psalm need to be heard:  "I will give thanks to you, for you have answered me."  Why?  Because of one word: "answered."  That means I have asked a question!  And you?

Friends, please remember in your prayers today, a man, Jim, who has struggled so nobly over the last several months with cancer that settled in his brain.  Similar to what the late Senator Kennedy endured.  Jim has been so gifted by prayers over this period of time.  This morning, I read an email from someone who is close to him with the information that Jim had to be rushed to Georgetown because of bleeding in his brain ... that is inoperable.   That word, inoperable, is so heavy.  Remember Jim, his ever-dedicated wife, Cecilia, and their son and daughter-in-law who have suffered so much heart pain during this year.  Thanks.  Just a simple petition to the God you talk to is all I ask.  Thanks.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


When we need something beyond our own reach, we call out to someone:  "I need a letter of recommendation."  Can you help me get the job I want?"  Just two statements that reveal a genuine human need:  someone besides myself has more power than I have; someone else can make the difference I can't make.

Whenever we are down and out:  we call upon a name!  Peter and John witnessed an event that shows us the one name that is power, that is the difference maker:  And by faith in that name lives are changed, visions take on reality, hearts discover true peace.

Long before our time there was a man who knew that name and knew it well.  Listen to King David:
"O Lord, our Lord, how glorious is your name overall the earth."
Psalm 8

Monday, April 25, 2011

"Space Travel of the Heart"!!!

Surely some must have questioned at one time or another how the disciples related to Jesus after his Resurrection.  Today's gospel selection brings us to the Evangelist John's account of how Jesus first appeared to one of his disciples, Mary Magdalene.  For some time this Mary could not leave the tomb because "They have taken my Lord ...."  Through the blurry vision created by her tears she peers into the empty tomb, and hears one of the two angels ask why she is crying.  According to John, as soon as she answered that "they have taken my Lord," she turned around, perhaps distracted by a noise, and saw a man there who was Jesus.  However, she did not recognize him.  Jesus speaks to her, again presenting a question about why she was crying and who it was that she was seeking.  After asking the man, presumed by Mary to be the gardener, Jesus speaks her name.  Immediately Mary responds: "Rabbouni!"  She must have reached out to take hold of him because he tells her not to touch him "for I have not yet ascended to the Father."  Clearly how the Twelve and the close disciples had related with Jesus is no longer possible.  As St. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:16-17,  "Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer... he is a new creation.  The former ways of companionship with Jesus were, it seems, over.  She cannot touch him because he had not yet returned to his Father.  And that very expression seems to indicate that Mary and all of us can  touch this Jesus with the Father.  As Pope Benedict has written:  "If we enter fully into the essence of our Christian life, then we really do touch the risen Lord, then we really do become fully ourselves."  "Seated at the right hand of the Father (from the Creed)," the risen Jesus is not far away from us.  And, please note this: that distance whether it be far or near is not a measurable distance.  The Pope displays, I believe, his own sensitivity and genuine spirituality when he wrote "And this path is not a matter of space travel of a cosmic-geographical nature:  it is the "space travel" of the heart ...." 

And Tomorrow?

The Resurrection day has already passed us by.  Now most folks have returned to the customary routines of day-to-day living.  And what impact, what spiritual change did the recent Lenten journey make to your life?

Early this morning a TV commentator said that successful people will tell you that it was the failures in their efforts that helped them become what they are today.  Do you apply this norm solely to the non-spiritual aspects of life?  Do you ever stop to consider that spiritual failures seem to weigh down folks with a sense of guilt or a feeling  that does not help rebuild for future successes?

What was the "impact" of Jesus' Resurrection for you?  Does it mean anything in particular for the vocation you proclaim if you say "I am a Christian"?  In the gospels the Evangelists recount events or moments when the Risen Christ tells one or others to go and tell the Good News that I have risen.

You may not be called to be a professional preacher.  Yet, by your Baptism, your Confirmation and the many times you have received Holy Communion you have been called to make know the reality of a Resurrection-based faith.  And how do that?  The way your witness Jesus' Resurrection graces in your life, especially how you demonstrate the reality of hope in what you say or do.  Did the days of this past Lent invite you to a new and deeper understanding of the Risen Christ who is at the heart of your faith?
Keep me safe, O God; you are my hope.
I bless the Lord who counsels me;
even in the night my heart exhorts me.
I set the Lord ever before me;'
with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed.
(Psalm 16)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.  We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised.
(I Cor 15:14-15)
Today in liturgies throughout the world the word often heard is “resurrection.”  Today is the day the Christian world celebrates and rejoices:  It is the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.  The words of St. Paul could not be clearer.  This is the message of faith for the Christian professing the faith.  If ever anyone wished to do away with the Christian belief, it could only occur if it could be proved that Jesus did NOT rise from the dead.
If the Resurrection were removed from the Christian story, what would remain?  What we would have would be a collection of stories and events about God and humankind.  We would have another religious world view.  The reality would be this:  “The Christian faith would be dead” (Pope Benedict XVI).  Furthermore, the primary character in the story would be “a failed religious leader.”  The Jesus role would be a “purely human” event in world history.  A failed leader would not serve as a standard for Christianity.  Only then could we opt for certain aspects of his life, “his heritage,” as norms for our own lives.  We would be without a model that has nothing like it, equal to it or even better than it.
Only the Resurrection, Jesus risen from the tomb, changes world history.  Repetitious world religion history would not be changed if Jesus had not risen from his death.
It is the Resurrection that actually teaches us who this historic figure was and continues to be.  To best understand this extraordinary moment that truly changed human history, we must “listen” to the words that come to us from the New Testament.   So we have to ask ourselves what truly happened.
From all accounts that we possess in the Scriptures, Jesus did rise from the dead and appeared to some witnesses in a period of time after his rising from the grave.  What they experienced in this visitations was far beyond anything they had ever experienced.  Even though they were compelled to tell others who had joined them in their allegiance to Jesus, these appearances were far beyond anything the had ever experienced.  It was only in these experiences that the disciples could begin to understand the uniqueness of this event.
We know from the New Testament gospel accounts that “the miracle of resuscitated corpse” was very different from the “equivalent” to several events similar to this:  the raising of (1)the son of the Naim widow; (2) Jairus’ daughter; and, (3) Lazarus.  What we know about this three people is that they did return to a regular life and at another point in time their lives ended in a natural death.
With the Resurrection of Jesus, we encounter something very different.  Almost 2000 years later we know this:  Jesus did rise from the dead like the examples of other those just mentioned but we have never had a record of his continuing his life as usual nor did he ever die again.  What the Resurrection teaches us is that Jesus’s Resurrection was about his “breaking into an entirely new way of life.”  His new life was no longer constricted by the natural laws of becoming and dying.  His rising put before the world “a new dimension of of human existence.”  His  rising was what Pope Benedict XVI calls an “evolutional leap.”  His Resurrection is not considered an isolated event, limited to the past.  Rather, in Jesus’ Resurrection there is a new possibility for human experience.  Furthermore, it impacts not only Jesus but every human being created by his Father.  His Resurrection present each of us with a “new kind of future.”
St. Paul, again writing to the Corinthian community, makes clear that Christians now have an inseparable link with the Son of God in and through his Resurrection.
What we give witness to in our celebration of this unique moment is that Jesus’ Resurrection is a “universal event, or it is nothing.”  Jesus has returned to be among us but not in the “normal human life in this world like Lazarus” and others he raised from the dead.   With the Resurrection, Jesus has rejoined the life of God, the life of his Father.  It is from this new life that he has come to meet his friends.  Through this great event, his followers and all humanity has reason “to believe in Jesus as the Son of God.”
The quoted words and phrases are from Pope Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth, Part Two, published just several weeks ago.

Good Friday 2011

During this season of Lent, you were invited to read at least one of the four Passion Narratives, as the accounts of the Evangelists’ presentations of the hours that Jesus spent hanging on the cross and his death.  Perhaps you may have noticed or sensed that these accounts seem to repeat or refer to words that you have heard from the Old Testament.
What happened in this realization is what happened for the whole Church: the written and spoken word of God that came from the prophets especially are on Good Friday afternoon linked to the event that took the life of Jesus.  What had been considered words from God through the prophets which in some cases were not as clear as we would have liked them to be now in one three hour period become reality.  The meaning of all that the prophets wrote or said are unlocked with those final words, especially, “it is finished.”
We have progressed so far from the days of Jesus’ death.  Imagine if you were a part of that early Church that began its formation and building up after the death of Jesus.  At first most of the followers of Jesus just could not understand what had happened ... all the promises seem to have become subject to questioning.  Remember what happened on Easter Sunday afternoon with two of the disciples who were getting out of town on the way to Emmaeus.  Their hearts were in great darkness.  They were frightened that they might be hunted down.  Their hopes were dashed.  But and extraordinary event took place during that journey:  Jesus walked with them and explained “all the Scriptures”  -- all the Old Testament writings.  They realized that what they had considered as preposterous in what Moses and the Prophets had predicted now had happened.  Suddenly their eyes were opened.  What was seemingly so absurd, now had a meaning almost beyond belief.  They realized during their journey that it is in going from one point to another is the only way for an individual to come to understand  the power of evil.
If you have the time during the day tomorrow, I would offer a suggestion you might incorporate into the final day of your Lenten Journey.  Try to place yourself in a pre-Crucifixion mindset.  Read slowly and carefully the words of the 22nd Psalm.  That psalm is the cry of Israel as it was written ... but now, on a Good Friday evening,  it portrays for us the incredible gift that Jesus gives to the Father for you and for me.  It is his anguish.  It is his crying out.  And then it is his promise of a new meal, the Eucharist he has given to us with his very life.
Likewise you might consider reading the 53 chapter of the Book of Isaiah.  In the words of this prophet’s heart you will walk step by step along the pathway that Jesus followed.  Here the prophet speak and writes words that are so much like an Evangelist, a proclaimer of the Good News.
Let us recall when you receive the Eucharist it is indeed the fulfillment of God’s promise to the people through the Prophets to bring us to a new life.  

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday

See from his head, his hands, his feet
What grief and love flow mingling down;
Did e'er such Love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Were all the realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Wednesday: In Your Great Love!

Today's Responsorial Psalm response:  Lord, in your great love, answer me.  How many times in your journey of faith have you found yourself on the wrong road?  That unreliable map!!!  Realistically we cannot blame "the map."  The challenge is to face our own weakness. Each time we sin are we not like Judas -- somehow co-opted into taking a different turn, a change in direction.

During the next three days, as you pray or simply give time to God to hear his voice, be mindful of the specific times you have opted for what is sinful, what adds to the pain and suffering of one innocent man who freely agreed to endure the torture and agony that would reconcile you to God. 

Mindful of such a gift from God, don't the words of the 69 Psalm have so much more meaning for you?  :Lord, in your great love answer my plea for the graces to endure the shame I feel for my sins.  Lord, answer me.

Value of a Promise

"I will lay down my life for you."  These are strong and meaningful words for the leader of the group gathered with Jesus for what will be their last supper together.  Today's gospel.  Peter, surely very close to Jesus, announced his pledge of fidelity clearly.  Yet, as we know, within just a very short time -- maybe two or three hours -- the good intention was lost.  As we read this and ponder the words and the scene, we might ask ourselves this question:  has there been a time or times in my life when I have made such a pledge to Jesus Christ?  That answered, the next question follows:  have you had times, as Peter did, when you pledge was rejected for something or someone other the Jesus Christ?  Was your heart hardened?  Was your heart divided?
We know that Peter admitted his error, his guilt -- unlike his colleague, Judas who could not face up to his betrayal.
The hours of Holy Week that remain are moments when we can honestly and quietly manifest our failures and lament what sin has done to our lives.  These are the moments when we can truly speak to the Lord about our past and express our sorrows meaningfully.  Likewise it is a time when we can give God thanks for the gift of reconciliation.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Challenged Again

"What I just did was to give you an example:  as I have done, you must do." (John 13:15)  How many times have we heard the account of Jesus' washing the feet of his closest followers or witnessed the enactment of the moment during the Holy Thursday liturgy?  Perhaps more often than we can count.  If we were asked to write down what Jesus' reason was in doing such an action, how would you respond?  Imagine a young teenager hearing the story read, turning to you with this question:  "So, what's so significant about this story?  He washed their feet."  Presenting an answer to a younger person's inquiry is very productive because we must understand the answer in its simplest terms.  In short we have to have realized its meaning for us in our lives.

"It is easier to talk a good game than to play the game well" is the answer Bishop Robert Morneau suggests.  What the actions fo Jesus signify is that he focuses upon the "gap between doing and saying."

My Dad would often use the well-know and well-worn sentence:  "Do what I say, not what I do" when we challenged a command.  So, here Jesus is simply saying to his disciples and all his followers is this:  I am going for you what I have told you is the Fathers' will for us.  In the washing of others' feet, an act of great humility in the Jewish tradition, Jesus is teaching those who want to be like him to be what you profess to be.  A true follower of Jesus cannot be a "Sunday Christian" and then a "Monday to Saturday hypocrite."

Throughout his life with us Jesus spoke many times about goals and then practiced them himself.  How many times did he speak about the reason he came to our earth, to be one like us in everything except sin, to care for the poor -- the materially poor as well as the spiritually poor; to forgive those who have harmed others or ourselves; to love those who very being was ignored or injured?

During this Holy Week, especially during the Three Sacred Days (Sacred Triduum) we should consider this question:  what teaching of Jesus truly challenges me?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Palm Sunday

In the gospel for the Palm Sunday there is a marvelous presentation of the mysterious complexity that makes human beings who they are.  In Matthew’s account of the life of Christ, his gospel story, prior to the time when Judas is presented thirty pieces of silver, Matthew includes how a Bethany woman used precious oils to anoint Jesus.  This was an action that disturbed the disciples since the oil was not inexpensive.  Clearly the lady was mindful of what was happening in Jerusalem, how the Sanhedrin officials were making plots to have Jesus killed.  She knew he would be treated with great torture and pain.  So, using such valuable oil seemed to the disciples to be a careless use of the resources.  Nonetheless the woman would not let the cost challenge her generosity.

Then Matthew puts forward the picture of Judas.  He was a follower, supposedly a very close follower of Jesus.  His heart, however, was a hardened heart so very different from the kindness of the woman who anointed Jesus.  Greed and treachery had become on Holy Thursday evening the hallmarks of Judas’ heart.

What the various liturgies and the scripture readings used at the liturgies during Holy Week are presented to us to accomplish in our hearts a better understanding of the mysterious light and darkness that can take over a human being’s heart.  As we reflect on the words of the various gospels and consider what Jesus is doing for each one of us, we are opening our hearts to the process of lamenting.

Lamenting:  will you lament at all during this week?  Some might ask this question:  “Well, just was does lamenting mean to me?  In rather simple terms lamenting is meant to be the opportunity to move our heart and minds to an understanding of our own human complexity, especially as it related to our sinfulness that brought about the suffering and death of Jesus Christ that we reconsider during during the painful last week of the life of Jesus.  Why?  We need to embrace the darkness ... the darkness of our own sins that has either separated us from our God or has allowed us to do damage to our sisters and brothers but especially the pain and torture our sins have brought to the Son of God.  Beyond embracing  the darkness of sin, we have to admit that sin has had its hold on me, on you.  And we have to realize that we have been granted the graces to let go of it.  We cannot keep within our hearts the burden of  guilt that wears us down.  We have seek the grace to let go of whatever sins there might have been that keeps me apart from God.

This week we will revisit the reality that Jesus was strong enough, graced enough by his Father to embrace that same darkness ... the darkness that is yours and mine ... and reshape it into generosity.  What we can gather from St. Matthew’s gospel is Jesus’ suffering and death were for him the means to change that darkness into light.  Greed will become generosity again; death will be renewed life.

At the Threshold

This morning we are at the threshold of Holy Week.  Jesus and some of his disciples are making their way to Jerusalem, the holy city, to celebrate the Passover.  At the same time the officials of the Sanhedrin were discussing Jesus' growing power among the people and its potential for their ruination by the Roman authorities.  These power brokers would certainly do much to change the power structure in Jerusalem if Jesus continued to bring so many to himself and his mission.  So in session with the other leaders of the Jewish people, Caiaphas prophesied that Jesus would have to die for the good of the nation so that a divided and dispersed people would not be a reality.  

As we begin Holy Week later this evening and throughout the days ahead let us remember and live a few particular thoughts:  (1) Jesus was willing to suffer painfully and die; (2)   he would reconcile each of us, sinners that we are, to God the Father;  and  (3) discipleship with Jesus is a costly reality.  We are called to climb the Calvary hill with him not in this one week alone but every day of our lives; every time we find ourselves willing to fall victim to the temptations that are put before us.

How often have we had this thought:  Jesus' "dying is our death" (Bp Morneau).   We, as his disciples, are called to share in his death.  But there is more.  We are given an invitation to the new life guaranteed by his rising from the tomb of death.

We might ask ourselves "Does this terrible death have any genuine meaning in my life?"  If it does, why is this so?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Gift of Eternal Life

"...whoever keeps my word will never see death."
John 8:51

The opening verse for today's gospel, quoted above, can be confusing especially to younger people and others who might not have had the advantage of biblical teaching or studies.  Jesus is not speaking of physical death.  Thus far in human history there has not been the first human being not to have died -- except those of us currently on the face of the earth who just do not know when the final moment of life will be.  We know it is coming at some point in the future.
Most of us know that Jesus is referring to eternal life.  WE will die but for those who have embraced the life that God puts before us there is Jesus' promise of eternal life ... a new life, a different life.  It is through the Paschal mystery that has brought to us the gift of eternal life with God in his kingdom.

As we approach the beginning of Holy Week and the opportunity of walking with Jesus through his suffering and death, we are given the opportunity once again to further understand appreciate the graces of the eternal life that has been given to the entire world by one man's death.
The photo above is from a banner that hangs outside the Walters Gallery in Baltimore, MD.  At the present time there is a display of "reliquaries" and several other ancient items that were used throughout the centuries to encase a part of a person's body, a relic, or that contained an oil or water or a piece of cloth that had touched the body or a relic of a holy person, usually considered a saint.  It is a marvelous display of ancient handicraft and a reminder of a practice still held as sacred in our Church today.  Until recently a part of the process of canonization of an individual to be raised to the dignity of sainthood, when the person's coffin was opened, a bone from the leg, arm or hand was removed and used to prepare many very tiny "first class relics" that would be inserted in a reliquary.  This would then be made available to the faithful and used to seek the intercession of the saint in seeking miracles for individuals who might be sick, infirmed, etc.  If you are in the Baltimore area, the visit is worth the time to learn more about specific individuals whose relic has been encased in a reliquary and to see remarkable craftsmanship that produced these items.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Living in God's Word!

Portion of the cemetery at Holy Cross Abbey, Berryville, VA

If you live according to my teaching, your are truly my disciples;
then you will know the truth,
and the truth will set you free.

Jesus presents another human reality to the people following him that is as real today as it was when he spoke those words.  It is this: IF a certain condition exits, THEN there will be specific results.  IF you walk in today's showers without an umbrella, THEN you will get wet.  IF you eat and exercise properly, THEN your body will be in good shape.  IF you pay your taxes properly, THEN the IRS will not bother you.  Our lives are little else than IF....THENs.  We have to face the reality that IF we wish to achieve anything, THEN we have realistic criteria to follow.  IF good vision is to continue for many of us as we grow older, THEN we have to have our eyes checked and wear the prescribed eyeglasses.

Today's reading speaks about a kind of seeing, a kind of understanding.  IF we want to remain in God's word, we have to follow Jesus' teaching.  First, what is this reality God's word?  An  example will help answer:  When I was a Sophomore at Gonzaga High School in Washington, DC, my history teacher was very clear about a weekly assignment that had to be (1) turned in every Monday at the beginning of the history class; (2) the assignment was to prepare a synopsis of the next chapter in our history text book (everyone was lengthy, I assure you); (3) the paper was to be typed -- it was 1961, mind you; (4) the front page format the teacher put forward was to be followed precisely -- with the student's name in the upper right corner; and  (5) every misspellling -- again remember for spell check --- resulted in a one point deduction from the final grade for the paper.  As students, we knew the teacher was very demanding.  So, to be in his good graces when he marked our papers, we knew we had to follow the directions precisely or we were not in his "word."

To remain in God's word is an easy assignment to understand:  follow the teachings of the Father's will for us as presented by his Son, Jesus Christ!  Fortunately for us today, we have a spiritual spell check, we have computers and excellent word processing realities and we have remarkable communications that make the word of God clear for us us, understandable and available.

 It boils down to this, I believe: "IF I accept God's role in my life, THEN I will know true freedom.  So, philosophically speaking -- a phrase rare from this man's mouth -- the "word" is the dwelling place of being.  What?  In your experience there have been men and women you may have described as "She is a holy woman; or He is a holy man."  There is just something about him, about her, that clearly signals sanctity.  His/her "word" is an external presentation of his or her very being.

So, IF you want to live in God's word, THEN you need to live the teachings, the gospel of Jesus Christ.  IF we live a good life, if we do all that is in our power to live the life God has called us to live, THEN we believe a life with God in his kingdom will be a reality.  Human death will not be something we have to fear!  We know then that we will rest in peace!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Tuesday: The Pain of Solitude

There exists within the human being a tendency to belong, to be a member.  What does this say about us?  Perhaps it is loud and clear among most of us:  SOLITUDE IS SO PAINFUL.

Jesus said (in today's gospel)
"I belong to what is above.
Your belong to this world..."
(John 8:23)

Why, then, did Jesus agree to leave the Father and the Holy Spirit to become a part of our world, to join us on our journey?  Is the heavenly kingdom empty?  boring? dull?

Jesus joined us for a specific reason:  he, along with the Father and the Holy Spirit SO LOVED YOU, me and every child of God that he wanted to take us and our world into his punctured hands -- and our sin-damaged world to guve us to the Father and to give us the heavenly kingdom.
D you find this difficult to accept or believe?  If so, quite simply and straightforwardly, that is living in a world of separation from the Creator.  You and I, we were God-designed and for a singular purpose:  we are made for God.  In you annot accept this reality, do not be surprised by a life of unrest, a world of struglle.
And what then is our basic and ultimate orientation?  The answer is one word:  GOD!  Or in a simple sentence:  I belong to the Creator God.

Truth and Compassion

"The Almighty has planted His see in the earth:
He tended well the grain, he waits for [our] rebirth"

(Didier Rimaud, found in Breviary, Vol II, p 42)

The Lenten season is an annual time for the evaluation of the soul's harvest and the turning of the heart's soil to receive the seeds of God's graces.  It is the season when we should carefully look at and listen to the greatest of teachers, Jesus Christ.  Today's gospel presents Jesus as unique teacher.  We might ask ourselves what are the lessons, the graces of the Holy Spirit that are opened in my heart today and every day.

As a follower of Jesus Christ, in whatever vocation we follow, it is the teaching by example in my every day life that will break open for others those moments when they recognize in us the values of Jesus Christ.   We might ask ourselves today "What do people see in my example?"  Is it someone like themselves?  Someone better?  Someone they want to follow or whose ways they want to imbed in their own lives?  Being an example to others, modeling one's life on Jesus, what might my conversation be on a regular basis?  Is it too down to earth?  During his lifetime, Jesus often spoke to others without vulgarity, without gossip.  His words were always expressions of truth and compassion.  Even his challengers recognized power in his words:  "... he speaks with authority."

The power of a follower of Jesus is to be seen first in what he/she "does" then in what he/she "teaches."  It is my actions that will ultimately be embedded in the hearts and minds of those who know me.  Yesterday in the Washington Post there was an article by a Catholic man who wrote about the person(s) he considered his best teacher(s).  It was not their genius, although he admired how much knowledge was put before him in class.  No, it was simply this:  that teacher was the religious sister and the Jesuit seminarians who taught him what was critically important was always being available to the student(s).  What the writer came to learn is that each day needs spirituality as well as learning; each life needs the effort to help another as well as care for one's self:  like Jesus the teacher of truth and compassion!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Jesus Wept

When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping,
he became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said,
“Where have you laid him?”
They said to him, “Sir, come and see.”
And Jesus wept.
John 11:33-35

What are we invited to experience in these words of St. John's gospel?  Simply put:  the humanity of the Son of God.  Weeping so often is perceived as weakness.  When there is the death of a friend or loved one, many experience the need for a handkerchief or tissue paper.  Is there something more than loss that brings about the moist eyes?  What do we call it?  Sympathy or concern, perhaps compassion.  Perhaps we might have a deeper insight into ourselves and into Jesus if we look upon this event in Jesus' life and the various similar moments in our own lives as solidarity, sharing the pain of another person.

In today's gospel verse we look upon the pain of loss that Martha and Mary are enduring because their brother, Lazarus, had died.  We also are invited to read two words that speak volumes about Mary's son: Jesus wept.  We stand watching the man whose heart is moved by the loss of a friend and the overwhelming confusion of the dead man's sisters.  It is clear Jesus is feeling the sisters' loss and their personal concern about their future:  what lies ahead for them.  This moment in the life of Jesus is much more than our viewing him in tears.  We are watching the Son of God in one of the sadder moments human beings experience.

There is another time when "Jesus wept."  From a vantage point outside the city of Jerusalem, Jesus looked out to the city and he wept.  Why?  What did he see?  He saw the confusion and the loss of so many people.  Imagine what Jesus would do today were he in any city of our world today.  Perhaps he would weep.  More likely he would sob as he would look upon so much evil, so much hatred, so much war in distant lands as well as in families and communities.  What is the reality that brings him to this emotional state?  His mission.  Jesus knew he was sent by his Father to bring sinners from their confusion and loss to salvation.  What he saw and would see today was and is overwhelming.  Look closely!  You see the infinite compassion that rests in the heart of the Son of God.  What you see in these events is Jesus being one with humanity.  Solidarity!

This is what the Pastor of the parish where I reside is doing this weekend.  Last week he challenged parishioners to seek out a friend or relative who had fallen way from practicing his/her religion.  The parishioner was asked to invite that person to return with the parishioner to one of the weekend Masses.  We are challenged to see the confusion and loss that may be filling the heart of that friend or relative and to bring him/her to know once again that Jesus has wept for him/her at some point in their lives of distance from his Church.

Without doubt that exercise, if practiced, surely is a fellow Christian and Catholic seeking to demonstrate personal love and compassion for a friend or relative.  This exercise turns tears of sadness into tears of joy.  Hopefully the returning person will find the grace of reconciliation a genuine experience in love and peace -- the love and peace of Jesus Christ.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Your "Sent" Mission

In today's gospel we hear Jesus speaking about his own mission.  Recall yesterday's posting:  what is my mission.  In essence Jesus is saying:  I am on a mission, SENT by the Father.  From this reading we should give further consideration to our own mission.  Through the graces of your baptism, then your confirmation and through your participation in the Eucharist, you ---and every other person--- have been sent by the Father on a mission.

When you are considering what you mission is, you are entering upon the experience of discernment, that time alone with yourself and your God.  In the experience your goal is to distinguish God's will from your own will.  This is critically important and necessary.    We need to know the difference.  In the moments of discernment, moments of landing, hence the aquatic scene at the top, we seek to discover WHAT God wants; TO WHOM it is that God is sending me on my mission; the MESSAGE entrusted to me to bring to those at the receiving end of my mission.  Not easy, is it?  This is why a realist can look at Christianity and think "This is not for sissies."  This is the reason that a spiritual guide is so needed and so helpful in the journey of your mission.  Such a person, relying on the Holy Spirit, will help you "discern" the where God is holding up signs for you, giving you indications of what is truly best for you.  Again, it is difficult because so many times our hearts become involved and we forget that God's will is not always what we think it is.  We need to know when to change course.

Sometimes, as Bishop Robert Morneau suggests, read the lives of the saints.  It was during a recuperation from injuries suffered during a battle that Knight Ignatius Loyola came upon a book of the Lives of the Saints.  Here he found the inspiration the he had been seeking about his future.  There are an abundance DVDs about the lives of various saints that can help all of us.

These suggestions when taken seriously and mixed with some prayer on a regular basis will help discover the highway that God's Positioning Service (GPS) will offer you to get to your goal.
Then sings my soul, my Savior God to thee, how great thou art, how great thou art.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Thursday: Cost of Discipleship!

The gospel today continues to focus upon Jesus' relationship to God.  Jesus situates his teaching that we read today in his relationship with John the Baptizer.  Surely John the Baptist directs our attention to Jesus who, as we know, preaches about make straight the way of the Lord.  He encourages his hearers to listen to Jesus.  This was his mission.  It was not one that would lead John to be the greatest of preachers in his time on this earth.  Jesus' mission, as we know, was simple to bring salvation to humankind but secondly to explain to his hearers and ultimately all those who read or hear the Word of God how our lives are impacted by the presence of God, the Holy Spirit and so many other "mysteries" that the human mind cannot fathom.

We cannot overlook John's important role.  He is the first to speak about Jesus as the light.  And John, as we have learned, reflected that light in the various challenges that confronted him.  Preaching repentance, as most of us know or imagine, is not easy matter.  Preaching the evils of sin and the need to seek God's forgiveness cost John his life.   John's mission is likewise my mission and your mission in this brief time we call our life on earth.  Each of us has a God-given mission.

John fulfilled his mission serving the people of God as a prophet.  Jesus responded to his calling by accepting the Father's will.  Servant of God John Paul II, soon to be Blessed, accepted God's many gifts -- his skills in theater, poetry, theology, religion, teaching, meeting with millions of people, and his sufferings.  Like Mary, this Polish Pope uttered "Fiat" (let it be done) so many times in his life.

So, what's with the "First Priority" banner at the outset of this posting?  For me it is a reminder that the first priority in my should be my God-given mission.  Trying to live my mission to the fullest, I am trying to be like John, a reflection of the goodness of God -- Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  So the question before you today is this:  How do you reflect the light of Christ Jesus to others?  Shouldn't that be a first priority for those seeking to be followers of Jesus Christ?

Not Far From the Tree

"... the Son cannot do anything on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing;
for what he does, the Son will do also." (John 5:19)

After some years of working with young people in the academic world, I say that nothing can be truer than the adage "the apple does not fall far from the tree."  To understand why a student is the way he/she is, go to the source!  Look to the student's family.  There is the key to the treasure that each person is.  But who of us would think about our trying to understand more fully the person we call Jesus, the person we know as the Son of God?  Well, you might say that St. John's "magnum opus," his great work, his life of Jesus, his gospel is his evaluation of the intimate life that Jesus within the family of the Holy Trinity.  To have an inkling of the nature of our God, of Jesus himself, we have to take some time to look at what God does in our own lives as well as in the life of Jesus.  Bishop Robert Morneau, a respected retreat master for priests, says that the works of God are "creating, redeeming and sanctifying."  This holy man sees Jesus as doing what the Father and the Holy Spirit do: "give life and love to the world."

Each of us come to the world from God and we are empowered by God to continue the works that Jesus along with Father and Holy Spirit accomplish in our world.  The mission that God entrusted to us even from the day of our birth is to be a reflection to others of the life and love of God.

During Lent each year we take time to examine our lives.  We look through prayer and awareness of God's goodness to consider if we are like the apple that falls from the tree but might roll down the hill, ending up a little too far from beneath the tree of life.  What we are called to do during Lent, as we know, is not rocket science.  God asks us during these days, especially as we focus on the magnitude of Jesus' love for us, to consider if we take part in the wonders of God: creation, redemption and sanctification.  Today, we might ask ourselves this question:  And just how have I served my God doing the works of the Lord?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Tuesday: The Pain of Healing!

Today we encounter a man who has borne a debilitating health situation for many years and no doubt would have continued for many more.  Jesus came into the picture, however.  A simply question:  "Do you want to be well?"  Of course the man, like anyone who has been held back for so long, responded in the affirmative.  The healing, however, brings with it a challenge that the man may not have anticipated.  The healing will, without doubt, dramatically change the man's life.  Perhaps like winning the lottery.  Or better yet, just a new pair of shoes:  it takes some time to break them in, for the feet to become accustomed to the new footwear.  The healed man now has to adapt his life to new circumstances.  Most likely he will not be able to spend his day lying near the pool, waiting for someone to carry him to the healing waters.  A new lifestyle is good but it requires adjustment of one's prior ways.
So, too, for those who have remained apart from God for some time.  It is a wonderful experience to be asked "Do you want to be freed from you sins and what brings them about?"  Freed from sin, we are called to a new way of life.  Redemption comes with its own cost that many don't think about at first.  Once forgiven, any individual will encounter those challenges to return to the ways of sin that were so comfortable and easy.  Turning away from sinfulness, especially habitual sins, will be a challenge.  The power of the evil one will always attempt its own resurrection in the life of one who has turned away from sin to be with the Lord again.  So, the pain of healing!

The Whisper of a Sunrise!

Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe.
(John 4:48)

We are a people who have entrusted so much to the power of the computer.  So much so that we might often expect faith to have a fact-like response when we seek to know God's will for the life we should live.  Because we cannot press a specific key on the computer keyboard to know what God wants from us, do we allow our spiritual life to suffer a slow, lonely death?  Because it is a slow process of discovery that builds a spiritual life that becomes a genuine satisfaction, we can so easily fail to see the moments that are the stepping stones to that enjoyment.  Again, our computer speed and the instantaneous nature of modern communications can leave the building of a spiritual life lost in the dust!  No work of art, no one precious human being, no beautiful flower, no skilled athlete came into being in a second or a nanosecond!  The spiritual life demands time -- just like the cup of tea steeping on the small table beside me.  The spiritual life is like the sunrise of each morning.  Rays of sunshine are a renewal of God's promise that he is always present to help us see, to help us understand, to help us open our ears to his whispers in the rooms we call our hearts and souls.  In these sacred spaces we are challenged to believe because belief rarely, if ever, is an instantaneous event.  Any seed planted required nurturing.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

4th Sunday of Lent: Laetare Sunday

The Church calls today, the fourth Sunday in Lent, Laetare Sunday.  Laetare is the Latin word for our English "rejoice."  We rejoice mid-way during the season of Lent ... perhaps for us today a reminder of the serious fasting and penitential spirit of earlier Church practices.  The first three weeks have been days of intense personal examination:  how have I lived my life since my baptism or just since Lent 2010?  Now, in the second-half of Lent 2011, the Church draws our attention to God and his love for us.  In these next three weeks we will be asked to consider with an open heart how wonderful God has been to each of us.

We are invited to consider how God the Father's plan is for us of us to grow in graces despite the faults or sins that have at times distanced us from our loving God.  We are given the opportunity to recall how generous Jesus has been for all of us.  His suffering and death are reminders that each of us is a child of God, blessed by the graces of forgiveness and love.

Today's gospel shows us how Jesus acts for the Father in bringing sight to a blind man, in bringing sight to anyone who is not necessarily physically blind but emotionally or spiritually blind.  The reaction of those with Jesus and others gathered around him wherever he went reflect how human being have so many different ways of "seeing."  Let's look at several of these perceptions.

The disciples asked:  Who is responsible for this man's blindness?  It is because the man himself was a terrible sinner or because his parents were?  Some in the crowd saw only the man they were accustomed to seeing -- the town beggar.  The Pharisees could not see beyond the law:  who broke the Sabbath rule to heal this man's blindness?  But Jesus looked at the man and saw beyond the boundaries the different groups had mention.

Most of us have the ability to "see" beyond the surfaces we encounter.  The gospel invites us to see beyond the ordinary.  Just as Jesus looked at the man, so are we called to see the true value of every person.  The blind man was a child of God.  You are a child of God.  Jesus uses the healing of this man's blindness to teach us the loving goodness of God.  Do you stop and ask God a specific question when you meet a situation that seems irreversible?  Like this:  "Father, this person before me is in bad shape.  I believe in you .  Why can't I do like Jesus and some of his disciples and bring healing to the person?"  When I am visiting the sick or encountering difficult situations, I think to myself:  "God, how wonderful it would be there was a solution, a cure, to this situation."  Don't you feel that way at times?

During Mass today or at a time when you might be alone with God in prayer, don't forget to ask God for the grace never to allow the selfishness of blind spots to prevent helping others who need the assurance that God truly loves them.  Assure them that God sees beyond our sins.  Hopefully all of us can say, "Once, Father, I may have been blind but NOW I see."

Saturday, April 2, 2011

So What?

How many have been the times that you have had the occasion to stand in the temple with the Pharisee and the tax collector?  Surely not just a few!  When encountering these scriptural repetitions, does not the question arise:  "So what?  So what does it mean for me?  This time?  If someone told you that you were not different than you were last year, would you not think for a moment.  Would you not ask yourself whether that was really true.  Without any hesitation, I can say to myself "Yes, I know that I am somewhat different from 'where' I was this time last year.  Not just in a different physical space but in a different spiritual and psychological space.  So, what's the message this time?

If your read the words of St. Luke's story about the two men who went into the temple to pray, listen carefully to the words of each man's prayer.  Can you take the arrogance of the Pharisee: "O God, I think you that I am not like the rest of humanity"?  Can you not sense a fraud in those words?    He has no time for his humanity much less for the tax collector there in the back of the temple.  Consider how he sets himself apart from all of humanity.  His mentions his norms:  greed, dishonesty and adulterous!  What human being is there who does not struggle with these "capital sins" along with the others (check them out in your life:  pride, anger, lust, sloth, gluttony and envy)?  He sees himself so much better that you and me and all humanity.  He has no time for sinners!  Wow!  Can you believe his stance?  What about that first stone?

What about the other fellow, the tax collector.  He is one man in the community everyone considers to be a sinner.  His profession is really one of stealing from the ordinary people.  He acknowledges his weaknesses, his sins.  He knows he is far from perfect.  He doesn't have to make up words in his prayers like the Pharisee.  Humility is the virtue he seeks to strengthen in his life:  "O God, be merciful to me a sinner."  Here's the man who is struggling with his humanity.  Here is a man who is mindful that there is a God who will forgive his sins.

So now let's ask ourselves "So what?  So what does this story speak to me today?  Am I like the Pharisee?  Of course not."  That is the sentiment in many hearts today.  What?  Me a sinner?  If you really have any doubts about  being a sinner, just ask a close friend to be honest with you!  Then stand before a mirror, not to see how good you look, but to open up your heart, to acknowledge those "secret sins," those moments in your life when you are not proud of what you have done.  This is the moment when humility is so painful, isn't it?

Humility is that moment when an individual or a spokesperson for a larger group admits faults or prior evils and asks for forgiveness.  This was a characteristic of Pope John Paul II:  publicly apologizing to groups of people who have been harmed or offended by painful moments in the Church's history.

So what?

Friday, April 1, 2011

Midway But Still Climbing!

As the sun rises today and tomorrow we are concluding part one of  the 2011 Lenten Season.  Yes, we are half way to Easter joy.  We might use some of the sports jargon that is being heard these days as the baseball season has sounded "Play Ball."  May your team make the world series!!!  More seriously we can use one of the baseball questions we use in many circumstances:  "How are you hitting them (pitched balls, for the uninitiated in baseball)?"  How have you done with your Lenten efforts?  Have you hit them out of the park?  Hit a triple?  as double? or a single?  Hopefully you are not still standing at home plate!  How has your Lenten Intention helped your awareness of what changes might be necessary for better living as a son or daughter of God, as a brother or sister of Jesus?
While the initial weeks of Lent are akin to a true or false test - I have done this well.  True or False? -  during the second half of Lent we place our concern or focus upon God rather than ourselves.  How has God taken care of me since that wonderful day of my arrival on his earth?  Have I truly begun to experience how much God has loved me since that day of my birth?  Do I realize that it is these same God how has offered me the gift of reconciliation, the forgiveness of my sins?

During this second half of Lent our challenge comes from Jesus himself:  "You shall love the Lord your God with all that you are.  St. Paul reminds us that no matter what we think, there is no wisdom that is greater that the "first of all the commandments."  "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, with all your strength."  Tall order!!  How are you hitting them???

This is the "why" of each Lent:  to build your spiritual strength, to clear your mind, to give greater depth and scope to your soul and to purify your heart.  Let us pray for one another that we hit home runs this Lenten season!!!

On the Personal Side:

To my friends in Mt. Rainier and Brentwood, MD ... who grew up with me and my family in those small little cities (just outside DC): Yesterday death came to one of those cities' great givers ... of himself and all his talents to our parish, St. James, to the Volunteer Fire Department, to the Police Department, to the Catholic school ... he and Gen sent their 8 children there and to the former Nally's Funeral Home where he also work besides his regular job as a cabinet maker and as a member of the on grounds fire department at the National Institutes of Health:  Mr Richard A. Barnard.  91 years of giving to others, especially the various parishes where he lived ... only three years ago he stopped working at St. Mary's Parish in Annapolis and withdrew from his weekly chores at the Knights of Columbus bingo there.  And everyone from Gen to the last of his children along with so many friends loved the man.  No doubt those pearly gates opened up last evening around dinner time for Dick to join his wife and others of his and her families.  What a gift his presence was in our lives.  I will never forget how and my Dad were among the two biggest kibitzers in town and how he cared for my mother in the several years she lived across the street from him in Annapolis and her health was declining.  Like many of us, he had some faults I am sure, but unlike many of us the heavenly choral group was singing "When the Saints Come Marchin' In" last evening.