Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Tuesday after Forst Sunday of Lent

Today's blog posting come somewhat late, I realize.  Most of my day has been busy trying to clear my desk.  It is the kind of project I reserve for a day when I need to do some serious inner searching or reflecting.  Today was one such moment in my life.

Quite early this morning I was reviewing the news on the computer version of today's WASHINGTON POST.  My eyes were drawn to what I found to be a painful account of an event that lacked so much compassion and consequently so much hurt and pain. 

At a recent funeral a priest (age does not matter but sensitivity does) denied the Body of Christ to a woman whose mother lay in her coffin, just a few few from where they stood.  The priest, according to published reports told the woman she was living in sin because she had lived with another woman for twenty plus years.  The words of the priest were not missed by those kneeling close by.

I recall that the Pharisees and scribes often challenged Jesus because he ate with sinners.  I recall that Jesus offered the woman at the well a cup of water.

No doubt the priest had been taught or, if not, had come to the conclusion, that it was his right or privilege perhaps duty to publicly humiliate a person with whom he had never discussed her particular situation.  I was taught that the place for a priest to be making a judgement about another person's moral actions was within the confines of the Sacrament of Reconciliation or in private consultation.  Was this priest ever taught the reality of compassion in such a circumstance?  In my almost 40 years of priesthood, I have never been able to determine communicant's inner state of soul.  There have been times when there might have been suspicion but the priest who taught morality and canon law instilled in my heart and mind the importance of compassion.

During these days of the Lenten season, perhaps we might take a moment to examine our own consciences to understand how judgemental we may have been either on special moments or in ways that we might not have recognized the sin or rash judgement.

I encourage you to pray for the priest, of course.  Likewise I pray for the woman and her family who do not look upon this event as a time to bash Catholicism and the priesthood.  Pray, too, that the priest might have the fortune now to have either his superior or his spiritual director to have a genuine father-son conversation.  What would Jesus have done?  I suspect he would have acted no differently than when he was dining or meeting with sinners! 

Judgement and the law vs Compassion and the spirit of law!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Tuesday in the First Week of Lent 2012

A young collegian who has the weight of a parent with cancer draining his emotional reserves noted that the Lord's prayer has become a devotee of that particular prayer.  Kevin note that one part of the prayer has always captured his attention:  " ...  and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil."

What do these words speak to you?  What has it meant for me?  Well, to be honest, it is a part of the prayer that rarely has grasped my attention.  Perhaps this reveals a personal weakness.  So, Kevin, thank you for calling me to take these lines, this particular petition to heart more seriously and intently.  Perhaps your thoughts might well grab the attention of some who will read this posting.

Like almost every human being, I, too, have had different times in my life when a particular temptation has been difficult to overcome.  Indeed these "satanic" attacks have made my life at a true challenge.  Where did I turn?  Like most, again, I would find myself before a tabernacle or outside in God's sanctuaries (his outdoor cathedrals) or, for sure, speaking to my spiritual director.  It is the phrase, however, that can lead me to be present with the Lord in a particularly personal conversation.

When challenges (sin temptations) confront me, this is the precise moment to us the words of the Our Father prayer:  "lead me not into temptation but deliver me from evil."

Sunday, February 26, 2012

First Sunday of Lent 2012

Throughout the season of Lent there is the challenge not to become agitated, annoying or frustrated because a Lenten practice of two seems to become a burden.  There are the days when it seems that 40 days is much more like 365 days!

Spiritual advisers often remind us that it is important to remember the Holy Spirit during these days.  If you make a retreat on a regular basis, you know that the director or you yourself turn to the Holy Spirit for the discerning voice.  Lent is an annual retreat.  It is important not to forget the Holy Spirit in the midst of the desert of a retreat.  The mission of the Holy Spirit is to support and guide us.

We do not come upon moments in the New Testament where we find that Jesus is caught with gloom and doom.  Certainly there were many occasions when he may have been brought to the threshold of despair because of temptations and from the failure of his close associates to understand who he was.  How did he maintain a sense of balance?  Perhaps we could learn that from him.

When Jesus prayed using formal prayers, like an Jew, he would turn to the Psalms.  Especially during his 40 days in the desert the Psalms must have been his "vade mecum."  Certainly conversations with the Father would also have lightened any challenges to his spirit.  There are 150 psalms.  I have read a suggestion that one way to keep a sense of spiritual joy during Lent is to pray two or three psalms each day.  If you do not have a book with all the psalms, like the Bible, there are many websites that can afford you access to a printable copy of the psalms.

A Benedictine priest who writes various reflections notes that the founder of his order and a man he calls one of the world's best spiritual directors, St. Benedict, included in his rules for his monks that they should always seek to live the season of Lent "with the joy of the Holy Spirit."

Perhaps Benedict's challenge might make these 40 days seem like little more than a day or two!  Go for it!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Saturday after Ash Wednesday

The following is the third and final section of Pope Benedict's Lenten Message for the year 2012.  The boldened print midway through this section of the message is the work of the blogger.

3. “To stir a response in love and good works”: walking together in holiness.
These words of the Letter to the Hebrews (10:24) urge us to reflect on the universal call to holiness, the continuing journey of the spiritual life as we aspire to the greater spiritual gifts and to an ever more sublime and fruitful charity (cf. 1 Cor 12:31-13:13). Being concerned for one another should spur us to an increasingly effective love which, “like the light of dawn, its brightness growing to the fullness of day” (Prov 4:18), makes us live each day as an anticipation of the eternal day awaiting us in God. The time granted us in this life is precious for discerning and performing good works in the love of God. In this way the Church herself continuously grows towards the full maturity of Christ (cf. Eph 4:13). Our exhortation to encourage one another to attain the fullness of love and good works is situated in this dynamic prospect of growth.
Sadly, there is always the temptation to become lukewarm, to quench the Spirit, to refuse to invest the talents we have received, for our own good and for the good of others (cf. Mt 25:25ff.). All of us have received spiritual or material riches meant to be used for the fulfilment of God’s plan, for the good of the Church and for our personal salvation (cf. Lk 12:21b; 1 Tim 6:18). The spiritual masters remind us that in the life of faith those who do not advance inevitably regress. Dear brothers and sisters, let us accept the invitation, today as timely as ever, to aim for the “high standard of ordinary Christian living” (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 31). The wisdom of the Church in recognizing and proclaiming certain outstanding Christians as Blessed and as Saints is also meant to inspire others to imitate their virtues. Saint Paul exhorts us to “anticipate one another in showing honour” (Rom 12:10).
In a world which demands of Christians a renewed witness of love and fidelity to the Lord, may all of us feel the urgent need to anticipate one another in charity, service and good works (cf. Heb 6:10). This appeal is particularly pressing in this holy season of preparation for Easter. As I offer my prayerful good wishes for a blessed and fruitful Lenten period, I entrust all of you to the intercession of Mary Ever Virgin and cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Friday after Ash Wednesday

The second part of Pope Benedict's Lenten Message ... and the challenge to understand and believe in the gift of reciprocity.

2. “Being concerned for each other”: the gift of reciprocity.
This “custody” of others is in contrast to a mentality that, by reducing life exclusively to its earthly dimension, fails to see it in an eschatological perspective and accepts any moral choice in the name of personal freedom. A society like ours can become blind to physical sufferings and to the spiritual and moral demands of life. This must not be the case in the Christian community! The Apostle Paul encourages us to seek “the ways which lead to peace and the ways in which we can support one another” (Rom 14:19) for our neighbour’s good, “so that we support one another” (15:2), seeking not personal gain but rather “the advantage of everybody else, so that they may be saved” (1 Cor 10:33). This mutual correction and encouragement in a spirit of humility and charity must be part of the life of the Christian community.
The Lord’s disciples, united with him through the Eucharist, live in a fellowship that binds them one to another as members of a single body. This means that the other is part of me, and that his or her life, his or her salvation, concern my own life and salvation. Here we touch upon a profound aspect of communion: our existence is related to that of others, for better or for worse. Both our sins and our acts of love have a social dimension. This reciprocity is seen in the Church, the mystical body of Christ: the community constantly does penance and asks for the forgiveness of the sins of its members, but also unfailingly rejoices in the examples of virtue and charity present in her midst. As Saint Paul says: “Each part should be equally concerned for all the others” (1 Cor 12:25), for we all form one body. Acts of charity towards our brothers and sisters – as expressed by almsgiving, a practice which, together with prayer and fasting, is typical of Lent – is rooted in this common belonging. Christians can also express their membership in the one body which is the Church through concrete concern for the poorest of the poor. Concern for one another likewise means acknowledging the good that the Lord is doing in others and giving thanks for the wonders of grace that Almighty God in his goodness continuously accomplishes in his children. When Christians perceive the Holy Spirit at work in others, they cannot but rejoice and give glory to the heavenly Father (cf. Mt 5:16).

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Thursday after Ash Wednesday

For today, Friday and Saturday before the First Sunday of Lent, this blogger will post the Lenten Message of Pope Benedict XVI for your reading and reflection.  The message of the Holy Father is one that all of us can use as one activity during this season of personal examination.

For today the introduction and the first part of the Lenten Message is copied here from the Vatican Website.  Don't when you see the length today.  It is the longest part of the message but it is important for understanding the Pope's thinking.


“Let us be concerned for each other,
to stir a response in love and good works” (Heb 10:24)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The Lenten season offers us once again an opportunity to reflect upon the very heart of Christian life: charity. This is a favourable time to renew our journey of faith, both as individuals and as a community, with the help of the word of God and the sacraments. This journey is one marked by prayer and sharing, silence and fasting, in anticipation of the joy of Easter.
This year I would like to propose a few thoughts in the light of a brief biblical passage drawn from the Letter to the Hebrews:“ Let us be concerned for each other, to stir a response in love and good works”. These words are part of a passage in which the sacred author exhorts us to trust in Jesus Christ as the High Priest who has won us forgiveness and opened up a pathway to God. Embracing Christ bears fruit in a life structured by the three theological virtues: it means approaching the Lord “sincere in heart and filled with faith” (v. 22), keeping firm “in the hope we profess” (v. 23) and ever mindful of living a life of “love and good works” (v. 24) together with our brothers and sisters. The author states that to sustain this life shaped by the Gospel it is important to participate in the liturgy and community prayer, mindful of the eschatological goal of full communion in God (v. 25). Here I would like to reflect on verse 24, which offers a succinct, valuable and ever timely teaching on the three aspects of Christian life: concern for others, reciprocity and personal holiness.
1. “Let us be concerned for each other”: responsibility towards our brothers and sisters.
This first aspect is an invitation to be “concerned”: the Greek verb used here is katanoein, which means to scrutinize, to be attentive, to observe carefully and take stock of something. We come across this word in the Gospel when Jesus invites the disciples to “think of” the ravens that, without striving, are at the centre of the solicitous and caring Divine Providence (cf. Lk 12:24), and to “observe” the plank in our own eye before looking at the splinter in that of our brother (cf. Lk 6:41). In another verse of the Letter to the Hebrews, we find the encouragement to “turn your minds to Jesus” (3:1), the Apostle and High Priest of our faith. So the verb which introduces our exhortation tells us to look at others, first of all at Jesus, to be concerned for one another, and not to remain isolated and indifferent to the fate of our brothers and sisters. All too often, however, our attitude is just the opposite: an indifference and disinterest born of selfishness and masked as a respect for “privacy”. Today too, the Lord’s voice summons all of us to be concerned for one another. Even today God asks us to be “guardians” of our brothers and sisters (Gen 4:9), to establish relationships based on mutual consideration and attentiveness to the well-being, the integral well-being of others. The great commandment of love for one another demands that we acknowledge our responsibility towards those who, like ourselves, are creatures and children of God. Being brothers and sisters in humanity and, in many cases, also in the faith, should help us to recognize in others a true alter ego, infinitely loved by the Lord. If we cultivate this way of seeing others as our brothers and sisters, solidarity, justice, mercy and compassion will naturally well up in our hearts. The Servant of God Pope Paul VI stated that the world today is suffering above all from a lack of brotherhood: “Human society is sorely ill. The cause is not so much the depletion of natural resources, nor their monopolistic control by a privileged few; it is rather the weakening of brotherly ties between individuals and nations” (Populorum Progressio, 66).
Concern for others entails desiring what is good for them from every point of view: physical, moral and spiritual. Contemporary culture seems to have lost the sense of good and evil, yet there is a real need to reaffirm that good does exist and will prevail, because God is “generous and acts generously” (Ps 119:68). The good is whatever gives, protects and promotes life, brotherhood and communion. Responsibility towards others thus means desiring and working for the good of others, in the hope that they too will become receptive to goodness and its demands. Concern for others means being aware of their needs. Sacred Scripture warns us of the danger that our hearts can become hardened by a sort of “spiritual anesthesia” which numbs us to the suffering of others. The Evangelist Luke relates two of Jesus’ parables by way of example. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the priest and the Levite “pass by”, indifferent to the presence of the man stripped and beaten by the robbers (cf. Lk 10:30-32). In that of Dives and Lazarus, the rich man is heedless of the poverty of Lazarus, who is starving to death at his very door (cf. Lk 16:19). Both parables show examples of the opposite of “being concerned”, of looking upon others with love and compassion. What hinders this humane and loving gaze towards our brothers and sisters? Often it is the possession of material riches and a sense of sufficiency, but it can also be the tendency to put our own interests and problems above all else. We should never be incapable of “showing mercy” towards those who suffer. Our hearts should never be so wrapped up in our affairs and problems that they fail to hear the cry of the poor. Humbleness of heart and the personal experience of suffering can awaken within us a sense of compassion and empathy. “The upright understands the cause of the weak, the wicked has not the wit to understand it” (Prov 29:7). We can then understand the beatitude of “those who mourn” (Mt 5:5), those who in effect are capable of looking beyond themselves and feeling compassion for the suffering of others. Reaching out to others and opening our hearts to their needs can become an opportunity for salvation and blessedness.
“Being concerned for each other” also entails being concerned for their spiritual well-being. Here I would like to mention an aspect of the Christian life, which I believe has been quite forgotten: fraternal correction in view of eternal salvation. Today, in general, we are very sensitive to the idea of charity and caring about the physical and material well-being of others, but almost completely silent about our spiritual responsibility towards our brothers and sisters. This was not the case in the early Church or in those communities that are truly mature in faith, those which are concerned not only for the physical health of their brothers and sisters, but also for their spiritual health and ultimate destiny. The Scriptures tell us: “Rebuke the wise and he will love you for it. Be open with the wise, he grows wiser still, teach the upright, he will gain yet more” (Prov 9:8ff). Christ himself commands us to admonish a brother who is committing a sin (cf. Mt 18:15). The verb used to express fraternal correction - elenchein – is the same used to indicate the prophetic mission of Christians to speak out against a generation indulging in evil (cf. Eph 5:11). The Church’s tradition has included “admonishing sinners” among the spiritual works of mercy. It is important to recover this dimension of Christian charity. We must not remain silent before evil. I am thinking of all those Christians who, out of human regard or purely personal convenience, adapt to the prevailing mentality, rather than warning their brothers and sisters against ways of thinking and acting that are contrary to the truth and that do not follow the path of goodness. Christian admonishment, for its part, is never motivated by a spirit of accusation or recrimination. It is always moved by love and mercy, and springs from genuine concern for the good of the other. As the Apostle Paul says: “If one of you is caught doing something wrong, those of you who are spiritual should set that person right in a spirit of gentleness; and watch yourselves that you are not put to the test in the same way” (Gal 6:1). In a world pervaded by individualism, it is essential to rediscover the importance of fraternal correction, so that together we may journey towards holiness. Scripture tells us that even “the upright falls seven times” (Prov 24:16); all of us are weak and imperfect (cf. 1 Jn 1:8). It is a great service, then, to help others and allow them to help us, so that we can be open to the whole truth about ourselves, improve our lives and walk more uprightly in the Lord’s ways. There will always be a need for a gaze which loves and admonishes, which knows and understands, which discerns and forgives (cf. Lk 22:61), as God has done and continues to do with each of us. 

To read the entire message which is just a little longer than the above, you can click on to this papal link.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Lent 2012 -- Ash Wednesday

First for your consideration:  the photo above.  I have treasured moments like the open pictured above.  Alone in God's nature.  Each white capped wave, another grace from God in my prayer.  It will be the picture posted with each blog during the season of Lent.  It will be the get-away place for your prayer each days during the journey we begin today.  Enjoy!  As Ignatius Loyola would say:  before you start your prayer place yourself in a particular scene.  Listen to it.  In this case hear the wave that makes its way to shore.  Smell the air, the salt, the freshness.  Look at the artistic picture God has painted on his horizon just for you.  Imagine yourself sitting on a small bench, free of distractions, free to accept into your hearts His presence that surrounds you, that pours itself out upon you.  Do this each day.  Do this each time you pray.

As you enter the Lenten Season today and take your first steps on your journey to Easter Sunday, there is one practice that you should keep in mind throughout the days of Lent:  BE YOURSELF.  Promise yourself each day that you will do all you can to draw closer to Jesus Christ.  However, never let whatever sacrifices or gifts that make up your Lent become a reality that you use to draw attention to yourself.  Just open yourself to the Holy Spirit in these days.

Remember some of these words from today's readings:  "return to me," "rich in kindness," "stirred to concern."  These words portray Jesus' reasons for being here on this earth.  Use these phrases to set the initial tone or theme that you want for the days ahead.  

Enjoy going to this hidden beach where you can be along with your God as you seek to return to him, to understand his kindness and to bath in his concern for you.

A little spiritual reading for your first days of Lent: 

During this season of Lent
Oremus pro invicem!
(Let us pray for one another!)

Shrove Tuesday
February 21. 2012

Wasn't Christmas just a few weeks ago?  How did Ash Wednesday come upon us so quickly?  Perhaps here in our DC area and in most places of the USA we have had a Sprinter season rather than a tedious winter.  But whatever the reason for the surprise, we are standing at the threshold of LENT.  Suddenly from days of gifting and caroling we begin the days of a much deeper reflection on our own lives in conjunction with the pathway that our Savior, Jesus Christ, walked for us.

Today might be a good day to prepare for these days that lie ahead.  Some kind of serious preparation can make for a Lent that we can conclude with a tremendous sense of satisfaction.  It is like building a house ... if the plans are drawn ahead of time with time spent thinking about how we are going to use the new house, most likely once completed, the house will not be the "castle" we had really hoped for.

This thought in mind, then, let me suggest that you use a Lenten Journal for the days of Lent.  Let the Introduction be finished today.  It should not take all that long but it should be completed in conjunction with some serious thinking about what you want to gain from your journey through the days and weeks of this great annual spiritual exercise.

What is my goal for these days of Lent?  What do I hope to achieve for myself?  What facet(s) of my life do I want or need to subject to alteration or eradication?

Lent calls us to make sacrifices during the journey to Easter Sunday.  So, what specific sacrifices will I write down as activities for yourself?  What spiritual activities will you bring into your life to help you reach the goal you have set for this "personal retreat"?  Can you add attendance at a weekday Mass or two if you do not already attend Mass during the week?  Can you personally make the Stations of the Cross either on your own -- and if you do not have a booklet to help you there are more than a few on the Internet.  Just google Stations of the Cross. What about reciting the Rosary if you do not do so already?  What acts of charity can you envision as possible ways to sacrifice some of your time, talent or treasure?

Lent is known throughout history as a time of fasting and penance?  I have always admired a particular retired priest Cardinal friend who always fasts every Friday throughout the year and almost daily throughout the season of Lent ... and he is well beyond the years when he is not required to make such a sacrifice and healthy enough to pull his body into such a venture.

Again, the most important part is to have a small journal to record not only the goal and how you plan to achieve that goal but to record the various spiritual insights and reflections that are put forward through this blog or other sources of spiritual reading and prayer.

Know this, dear reader, you and all those who do visit "Prayer on the Hill" will be daily remembered in my prayers before the Blessed Sacrament each day during Lent 2012.  May the Holy Spirit help you make your journey a spiritual experience you will always remember.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

February 16, 2012

Today's gospel reading from St Mark brings us into an area of his writing that is essential to his message both about Jesus and his disciples.  We need to see well beyond  the healing account of a blind man by Jesus.  There is in this particular part of the evangelist's writings content that we should not miss.  It is rather simple but, like any matters of our faith, we can easily read over the story and facts and fail to recognize the question Jesus puts before all human kind.  Are we like the man in need of healing?  Do we have eyes but fail to see Jesus at work in others we meet, work with or share a roof with?

In Mark's gospel the disciples only gradually come to understand who Jesus is and the powers that he possesses.  Most likely your understanding of Jesus, like mind, is truly a work in process -- so gradual that most likely few of us will ever finally understand Jesus as we might like or should.

However, we must do whatever it demands of us to present the slow, gradual process of discovering Jesus from being the cause of a typical human complacency in our spiritual growth.  If we allow this to happen, we face the reality that our spiritual life could die at the worst or, at the least, be impeded.  Surely this is what most of us would not want but we have to be aware of this challenge because our society and events in our own lives sometimes prevent Jesus' being able to open our eyes all the way for us.  The reality is that there continues to be the need for healing of heart and eyes for many today.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

February 14, 2012

Let me start with apologies for missing Monday and Tuesday postings.  Computer troubles that were resolved, I hope, this evening.

We are in a lenthy number of readings from the Epistle of St. James.  It might be worth the time to check the Bishops' Conference home site and then select Bible.  Then select St. James' letter in the later part of the New Testament readings.  There is a worth reading description of the letter and its theme and salient issues.

In today's reading there are more than just one or two topics that can be used as material for reflection and prayer.  In this section of the letter we come to what James' intention was in writing this letter:  to teach us that genuine faith needs to be evident in our actions.  Linked to this is James' belief that what we learn from Jesus' teachings in the gospels is also important:  for James it was that accepting what Jesus taught is the cause of true freedom in our hearts.

I did not notice until late this evening that this posting is the 1000th reflection under the name of Prayer on the Hill.  Join me in thanking God that he invited me to bring his words to those who have followed these postings.  I have found it a tremendous blessing and inspiration.  It is truly humbling when I hear from friends and others I do not know that something that was produced by my prayer and reflection has helped another person overcome a problem, discover a sought after resolution to a decision, or simple comfort when in pain.  This is great joy for me today.  Thank you, Lord.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

6th Sunday
Ordinary Time

Greetings from St. Matthias’ Hermitage.

I pray that my words today may indeed be what the Holy Spirit wishes for you and me.  There is so much “Church stuff” swirling around these days.  The temptation to make this a pulpit for my own beliefs is fortunately one alluring topic that I can bypass for the time being.  There is a message in the readings today which supersedes all the Ecclesial-Political debating.

Both the first reading from the Book of Leviticus - the Jewish book of laws -  and Mark’s account of a serious issue and how Jesus addressed it within the context of a cure.  Buried in the Marcan gospel account a reality that has significance.  It is this:  Jesus uses his power of healing, of miraculous curing, for a disease more painful in its social consequences than in the actual physical impact upon a person’s body to teach us that miracles have a very distinct spiritual purpose.  Events that are beyond the powers of medicine are meant to teach us how we should live our lives.

Considering the miracle of curing a man’s leprosy, we should see that there are several aspects of the event not to be overlooked.  One’s faith is an important factor.  In many of his recorded miracles, Jesus acknowledges that faith of the person seeking Jesus’ assistance for him/herself or another person, usually a family member or loved one.  The leper, the woman who simply wanted to touch Jesus’ garment to obtain a cure for her all too frequent menstrual periods, the several different parents seeking relief for their sick or dying children, the widow whose only son had died too early, even the sisters of Lazarus:  they believed that all Jesus had to do was will that their requested need be granted.  Genuine faith that Jesus could bring about what they truly believed he could do is so characteristic of these needy people.

Today so many terminal illnesses exist.  How many times do we hear words such as these:  “We need to pray for a miracle to save....” As a priest, I rarely have a day when someone does not ask me to pray for someone who needs a miracle to save his/her life.  Those requests do lead me to ask myself about the depth and strength of my own faith.  Am I as grounded in Jesus Christ as those mentioned earlier in this posting?    Is my life lived within the gospels as Jesus taught?

In the quiet of our hearts, I believe, this gospel story as well as others are challenges to many of us.  We are called to examine the strength of our faith not just in Lent but every day.  Is our faith strong enough to help us accept and live the Ten Commandments and the various teachings of our Church which, as we know, are not always accepted.  Does our faith make it easier to value the Seven Sacraments?  Each of us lives in a state of life that has expectations because of that state of life.  At times, for sure, these challenges are mountains we have to climb and they are not always easy.  However, our faith teach us that God is a god of abundant graces.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

February 11, 2012
Mark 8:1-10 is a truly didactic moment for the contemporary society as well as the person seeking to know and understand the teacher and Son of God that we call Jesus.  Again Mark puts before us a major event for the Gentiles in Gentile territory.  It is Mark's second account of a multiplication of loaves moment.  Some 3000 Gentiles were brought together.  They, like the Jewish crowd in Mark's first mass feeding event, are without adequate food.  They are hungry in both a spiritual and a physical sense.  Jesus uses this particular human need to address the second but primary hunger in their lives.  It is the same for us today.

Jesus shows us his humanity:  "I feel compassion for these people.... They will collapse on the way." We meed to recognize that to follow Jesus on his way requires spiritual nourishment.  It is the food of the soul that enables us to walk  the walk with him.  And as with this experience of the Gentiles where will the folks following Jesus get the nourishment they want and need?  Even the disciples with Jesus seem to be lacking of Jesus and his powers, his desire to be God's gift to his people.  Scripture scholars believe Mark portrays the disciples as lacking in their fully knowing Jesus for one particular reason:  these men are symbolic of each of us.  

The disciples do find a minimal amount of food among the Gentiles gathered around Jesus.  But what can that do to feed so many?  Jesus takes what they have and gives thanks for that much, breaks it up and has the disciples begin to distribute the food ... again a food that never is depleted.

Imagine seven loaves and a few fish feeding even a family fourth of July celebration! It just doesn't happen.  This seems impossible for Jesus.  Yet, as we read in Mark's account, there were seven baskets left over.  Think of the money you would save on your July 4th event if you could multiply like Jesus! (Saturday morning humor!!!)  What we should understand, however, is how abundant is God's care for those seeking to know him.

Now one might imagine that the crowd would gather around this miracle worker.  But Jesus does not allow it.  "He sent them away and, immediately, getting into the boat with his disciples, went to the region of Jewish Dalmanutha."  Here is Jesus the teaching once again.  He taught the people by means of the miracle.  It was sufficient.  He left no room for his antagonists to accuse him of being a self-aggrandizing preacher.

This brings to mind a particular prayer from my early days of formation.  Leave it to Ignatius to produce a prayer that so abundantly satisfies many of our moments in the course of a day.

Lord, teach me to give and not count the cost;
to labor and not to seek reward
save that I know I have done your will.

Friday, February 10, 2012

February 10, 2012
Today's gospel recounts Jesus' visit to the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee.  He is in the area of what is known as the Decapolis or the Ten Cities or Ten Towns.  We are invited to be present once again for the healing of a man who could neither speak nor hear.  When Jesus cured these two disabilities, he instructed the onlookers not to share the story of what they witnessed.  These instructions were just too much for them.  They could not restrain their excitement and spread the news!

So what should we take to hear from this event?  Jesus is teaching all of us that what they saw and what we have heard or read again is also meant for us.  Jesus wants to heal our speaking and hearing.  These, if we stop and think about them, are the two human abilities that we are given that enable us, like the excited onlookers, to go out like the disciples and preach the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Did you have the opportunity to do that yesterday?  Did you look for the occasions offered?  Did you carry his message to others in any particular way?  Usually the experience of truly hearing Jesus talk to a person produces an excitement so great that it is preaching the Good News is something the heart wants to do.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

February 9, 2012

Let's look at today's gospel.  It is the first of several stories we will read in the next few days about Jesus leaving Jewish territory to venture into Gentile lands.    Of course some might have questioned why into the Gentile territories.  Some scholars believe this happened because there were people there that marveled at Jesus' healing powers.  They recognized that Jesus did minister to those who brought their problems to him.  His reputation had preceded his very footsteps into different territories.

The first stop is a place where he encounters a Greek woman who was by her birth a Syro-Phoenician.  Like any mother, this woman had to bring the case of her seriously ill daughter to any doctor, any healer who could bring her back to good health.  In this incident Jesus responds in a way that seems somewhat unusual.  Let the children be fed first and then the dogs!  And what does this mean to a mother whose child is sick?  Is the man crazy?  Simply it is this:  first and foremost Jesus wishes to minister to the children of his faith, the Jewish children.  After that, he says, feed the dogs.  Feed the dogs?  What about this sick child?   Well, it was the tradition among some Jewish people to refer to the Gentiles as "dogs" because these people were not like the tradition-tied Jews when it came to dining.  Jewish laws placed great demands on the people as to what and how they ate.  The Jews felt the Gentiles, the "dogs," would eat anything.  The woman's response to Jesus' words can be understood as her playful attitude toward Jesus.  "Jesus, the dogs under the table where the children eat don't have to wait to eat ... the children drop treats under the table for the dogs."  Even the dogs get a little to eat before the children finish their meal.

What a story of faith.  What a quick reply to her request.  Her faith has brought healing to her daughter.  This event is a "message" to the Gentiles that Jesus does not have parameters that would keep him from helping non-Jewish people.  His mercy and love extends to all people.

So the question we might consider today especially in a world and culture that has become so mixed with folks of so many different national backgrounds and religious affiliations, do we open our hearts to those who do not repeat with us "I believe in one God ...?"  Are we a people of good will?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Wednesday February 8, 2012
An Interesting Turn of Thoughts

Today's gospel reading in particular is one of themore easily passed over because on the surfae Jewish customs mentioned are far removed from our experiences today.  When we speak of "unclean foods" in our culture, we focus on pesticides and foods that make individuals even our pets ill or those that bring about death ... and the demise of factories.

This concern for unclean foods, a very important Jewish tradition, was challenged when non-Jews, the Gentiles, were accepted into Christian communities.  The questions then was quite simple:  did the Gentiles, as par of their convesrion, have to adopt Hebraic practices and laws?  in a short perod of time these laws that differentiated the Jews and Gentiles became history.  What Jesus was teaching was also short and sweet:  it is not food, unclean food, that damages a person's heart and soul.  It is a person's own actions that bring uncleanness into a person's very being.

Our true value as a son or daughter of God is damaged by "evil thought, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly."  These are the challenges of today's culture.

How interesting is the fallout from the recent HHS mandate regarding implementation of guidelines that call upon all service providers to initiate practices that might violate the "corporate conscience" of individual faith practices.

Various polls make clear the reaction of many Catholics to the mandate.  For example, a majority of polled Catholics oppose the government's intrusion into the Church's teachings.  At the same time, however, these same polled individuals replied that contraceptive practices bands, for example, as taught by the Catholic Church were not practiced.  So, we might ask "What's the story here?"

Perhaps the Holy Spirit has used the HHS and the government's effort to "gallop over" 1st Amendment religious freedom to point out some degrees of duplicity without our ranks.  Hmmm.    Can I not ask myself this question:  How do I live my life as a "practicing Catholic"?  Do I find myself not "walking the talk"?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

This people honors me only with lip service,
while their hearts are far from me.
The worship they offer me is worthless;
the doctrines they teach are only human regulations.

How many times are there even in just a day or a week of days that we do not ourselves make decisions or judge others in their making of decisions that seem to be more driven by something other than our personal love of God?  It is so easy to judge others by actions that are far from bringing a person closer to Jesus, the Father or the Holy Spirit.  It is so easy to determine that failing to attend Mass on a holy day of obligation (which by the way includes all Sundays throughout the year!!!) is a sound reason for judging someone as not worthy of the kingdom of God.  At times we place the same burden upon our own hearts.

How many times does an habitual sin keep us from the Eucharist and Reconciliation?  How many times do our actions such as these mentioned block our coming to know God with the love that should be most operative in our hearts and souls?  Far too many I would say ... having heard confession so many times in the last 40 years.

When was the last time given to examining the strength of one's love for God?  Consider the time or times when your heart was smitten by another person.  Consider the time when some object more captivated your ability to love than did Jesus, the God who has done so much for you throughout your lives.

St. Mark's gospel reading for today's Masses is a reminder that too easily we can forget the importance of knowing how strong our love for God is.  What would happen in your life today if you make the effort to discover how strong your love is for God?  Would you be disappointed in yourself?  Would you be embarrassed by how little time or consideration you might be affording your heart and soul to consider seriously the power of God's love for you and, in turn, what attention you might be giving to your love for God.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Monday,  February 6, 2012

"Behold I am with you, until the end of the age."  Perhaps we can agree with that in an intellectual sense.  However, Accepting the reality and trying to make is a significant part of  one's life is another story altogether.

The fact that Jesus said this should give us an invitation to do what we can to make it an operative in our own lives.  Again, it is a challenge that is not easily lived each and every day.  I suspect it is this very thought that makes martyrs on this earth.  Fr. Paul Miki and his friends gave their lives to a specific mission:  following Jesus' directions that they should not sit at home but, rather, be missionaries to all the world.  Carry the message that God promised to be with us always.  The mission continues even today.

And how important is this in your life?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Presentation of Jesus in the Temple - 1529
Artist:  Romanino Girolamo (ca 1484-ca 1559)

Just a few weeks ago I traveled to Brookline, Massachusetts to perform the Sacrament of Baptism for baby Leo.  In the church of St. Mary of the Assumption there was genuine excitement of an adult level.  In so many other instances where my priesthood has brought me to similar moments, an genuine emotion of joy pervaded the church or chapel, like incense.

Looking at Girolamo's rendition of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, I feel again some of the joy that we experienced at St. Mary's not just for baby Leo but for Justin and Beth who had brought their firstborn to be baptized.  Of course both sets of grandparents could not have been happier seeing their first grandchild celebrated with the Sacrament of Baptism.  So, what is there that brings about this particular experience of joy?

In the readings today we do encounter the reality of God's purifying people which we have read or heard read in some events of the Bible.  And what is the purification going on in the artist's representation of Jesus' being presented?  Perhaps we might consider in these baptismal moments that we adults encounter simplicity.  It is the presentation of a child who is not weighed down with all the trappings that we adults have put upon our lives.  In this moment do we not encounter the simplicity and power of God's love for each of us beginning with the one who really has not idea about what is about to happen when the words "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" are mixed with the simplest of possessions but the strongest of nature's reality, the waters of baptism?

Is the adult happiness not aroused in the hearts of those present because we encounter what we might find so difficult in our adult lives ... being free of any encumbrances?  Is it not that we are seeing what it means to be free from the shackles we place upon ourselves ... simple words, simple water is all that is needed for us to open up the treasury of God's gifts to us?

The next time you are present for the baptism of a newly born child why not call to mind the Presentation of Jesus and the invitation it offers to you and me to give of ourselves to God in our simplicity and freedom from whatever holds us back from the love and mercy he offers to us?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Wednesday, February 1, 2012
 Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua
Eternal Rest Grant Unto Him, Lord.
The former Archbishop of Philadelphia
died January 31, 2012

Today's gospel may have been written many years ago, however, the selection for today's reading at the daily liturgy is as potent in our times as when Jesus was actually speaking to the people in his hometown synagogue.

The message in the gospel is clear:  people have an innate disability to miss the voice of God when it is spoken on familiar lips from a familiar mind.
In our world today Jesus does speak to each of us every day.  The challenge for us is to recognize the moment and circumstances  in which this gift actually takes place.  Jesus speaks to us through people who would not recognize as speaking the will of God for us or from  whom we wish to learn nothing!  Just imagine for a moment your list of "favorites," those who have the ability to press any or all of your hot buttons being the instrument God has chosen to bring his message to you.

Familiarity does create difficulties for the true believer hearing the word of God.  Unfortunately we think that only those with whom we might have a special relationship and appreciation could possibly be God's messenger to us.  And, as we know, more often than not, this may not be the instrument God uses to bring his wisdom to us.

Jesus' preaching and healing was a genuine roadblock for his Jewish friends and neighbors.  This man just did not speak or preach as they expected or wanted him to speak.  In my profession as a priest there have been many different superiors who have been chosen to be "God's voice" for me.  Naturally there were those times when I found myself wondering how a particular superior could be God's voice for me ... just, I am sure, as he might have wondered how I might be God's voice speaking back to him!!!

This gospel story before us today surely opens up a challenge to see if I am deaf to God's voice as he speaks to me.  Are you open to thinking this might be a challenge for you as well?  It could be an eye-opener as well as a heart-opener!  Don't be afraid.