Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Good "Old" Armor

Scripture scholars believe that Matthew 21:42, actually taken from Psalm 118:22, was meant to speak of the death and resurrection of Jesus himself.  However, as I have noted throughout the postings of this blog for the last few weeks, look at the examples or models that Jesus uses.  Prayerfully consider if the words strike home for you.  If particular words stop you, listen to the words again:  what is the Holy Spirit trying to teach you?

"The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone" (Mt. 41:42).  For me the Holy Spirit put something of a different consideration in my heart and mind ... actually one that I like better than what the scripture scholars suggested.

When we are faced with struggles or battles in our lives, and we do know they come along more often than once, what does it mean to us?  Consider the armor or equipment one going into battle has to wear.  There are two choices that come to my mind: (1) spanking new armor or equipment or (2) used armor and equipment.  For me it would be the used armor or equipment that I would choose.  Why?  Chinked armour or scarred equipment present themselves are protection that has weathered a battle.  The bright, shiny armor or similar equipment does not show me that it has been a source of protection.  I might believe that I would be using it for a first time if I used it to confront a challenge.  I would much rather bring the tried and true to my struggles.

At times in our lives we fail, we don't succeed as we would like.  Some might feel that there is little use for who and what we are because we have not succeeded.  We may have sinned and others know about it.  We may not be chosen for something because it is known that there were times we we did not succeed.  You remember what Jesus quoted from the Psalms:  "The stone that the builders have rejected as become the cornerstone."  Jesus is telling you and me that our armor or equipment for the challenges may be dented or scarred but he wants us to be a part of his army.  Despite our sinfulness, our past failures, there are times when God will call upon us to the the "cornerstone" of project.  Despite our chinked armor, God wants you or me when he wants us.  He sees that goodness in you, in me.  He knows what we can become for him.  

Every Cardinal who will soon enter the Conclave and who knows that he has made mistakes in his lifetime, if he is truly humble, will realize that despite those failures God wants, God needs that person for a special mission.  Perhaps we cannot fail to realize that God chooses the armor with chinks because He knows it has survived battles!  We, too, have to be ready for those moments when the Spirit calls us to a challenge we feel we cannot tackle.  Remember what Jesus was teaching:  Perfectionists may reject you or me because of some failures.  Jesus, on the other hand, can deal with imperfections because with them comes humility!

Mille Grazie!

Today, an historic day in the modern Church, our Pope says "Basta!"  Rather than attempt to lead you in prayer and reflection, I defer to the words of Pope Benedict XVI.  However, I do encourage prayers for the Pope, for the Cardinals and for the People of God, you, me and all our brothers and sisters throughout the world.

On Sunday, Pope Benedict closed his greetings to the people in St. Peter's Square with these simple but powerful words.  Let them be a daily reminder of what prayer can be for each of us.

"In prayer, we are always close to each other."

Monday, February 25, 2013

Avoiding the Spurious!

As mentioned since several Sunday before Lent took off for us, my goal during this season is to bring us to recognize how Jesus tried throughout his active ministry to teach us what is truly best for us.  Of course that would mean we need to listen to what he is saying in the various gospels we will read before Holy Week.  Furthermore, I believe that if we truly can deal with Jesus as someone who is not just my God and judge but who is also my friend, we will find ourselves living in abundance of peace of heart and soul.

So what is the "message" in today's gospel event which we have heard many times in our own lifetimes?  What is it he is attempting to teach us that is, once learned, truly the gift of a real friend?  Don't get hung up on those old "phylacteries" or the different titles Jesus tells them to avoid.  What Jesus is saying to those who are able to speak to him as friend is simple:  don't get caught being perceived as spurious.  This is a polite or at least and less obvious word for "phony."  He is saying to those who listen to him:  don't get hung up with trying to be someone you are not!  Don't try to impress:  just live with what you have and have been given by the Father.

I am not afraid of saying that most of us probably can recall times when, for one reason or another, we felt embarrassed to admit who or what we are.  We would rather try to present a false image of ourselves.  Again Jesus is saying to those who dare to listen intently and to allow his words to sink into their hearts that life would be so much more enjoyable and peace-filled if we were not afraid of being what God made us to be.  And, how much truer to ourselves we would be if we made sure we removed the shackles of a sinful lifestyle if such is the case.  It is rare when people do not see through us if we are being spurious, trying to be something we think is so much better than ourselves.

Let Jesus talk with you today.  First, however, examine your life, asking this question:  "Do I project who I really am or do I try to make others believe that the person I try to make myself to be is far from the person Jesus knows I am?"  If that question is honestly faced, conversation with Jesus will be one shared with a true friend who only wants to make us a remarkable product of God's love.

Prophets, Oh Prophets: Speak to Us!

Both readings for today's liturgy are messages to us in our times.  Jesus is preaching as we would hope he would.  He offers us a way to having a happy and peace-filled life.  In the first reading there is for us  yet another message that reminds us of God's care for his people centuries ago.  In the days of the Old Testament histories, Yahweh gave to the people voices that were bringing to the people how God wanted them to find peace-filled days in their lives and in their governments.  These voices were the prophets.  They were speaking more than "take it or leave it" messages.  Would I be wrong or out of place by stating that the prophets have little if any impact on the lives of most Catholics today?  Do we look upon these voices simply as events that occurred well before our times?

The host of a TV political talk show commenting on the Academy Awards presentation last evening (which I did not watch -- electronic Monopoly with friends was much more entertaining) noted that the movies that were the most popular among the people are voices that speak to our times.  The commentator did not call the movies prophets but he did express his feelings that these leading movies are commentaries about us today.  So there are some people who do look around to find the voices that speak about us and our way of being, our needs, our wants, our joys, our sorrows.  Strange that it takes movies to bring about the realization that we need to step out of ourselves to learn about ourselves.

Again, I go back to the prophets.  These were voices that God sent to the world of their day to lead the people and the governments of the time to lives that would make for peace, for respect for one another and for the life that God made for us if we but listen and attempt to live it.

Speaking to his disciples, Jesus gave them the treasures of a lifetime:  mercy, forgiving, caring.  And who are the prophets in our time?  Mother Theresa?  John Paul II?  Benedict XVI?  Those unnamed men and women who strive to bring peace to the world?  Do we take the time to find them? To listen to them?  Search them out in the quiet corners of our world.  

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Second Sunday of Lent

In previous postings, the suggestions has been made "Get it over with.  Do it now."  It is the suggestion to make the Easter Duty incumbent upon Catholics early in Lent rather than let it hang over us until the days of the Sacred Triduum or even later until we are in the days of the Easter Season.  Why?  So that our focus can be on Jesus and what he seeks to do for us is why.  Focus on Jesus and what he did for us in those latter days of his life among the people of God on this earth.  Focus on Jesus, my friend.

In today's Gospel we recount the experience of the Transfiguration.  Often our mind is drawn to the mystery and wonder of such an event.  However, there are related events in the days of this mysterious event which allow us to better understand what our friend is teaching his disciples and all who come along the journey of time.  

Let's insert an experience many of us encounter in our own lives.  We ourselves or our friends or even someone we do not personally know but whose life is known to us realize within the soul there is a spirit calling them and/or us to a higher challenge.  It is often an invitation to greatness albeit not understood as such in its early stages.  I have come to know remarkable priests and bishops along with other men and women encountered on my journey of faith.  It is in looking at their lives that one can eventually see that these extraordinary human beings have their minds and hearts set on something far beyond the earthly realities of comfort, ambition and competition.  These men and women keep their mind on the end result.  This is what our friend, Jesus, is trying to teach the disciples as he makes his way to his final days in Jerusalem.  Is it not similar to the lives of so many younger men and women who take up the uniform of one of our USA armed forces?  They stand up for what they feel in their hearts.  They focus their lives on an intangible reality ... pride in their country and its treasured freedoms no matter what the cost. 

On this second Sunday of Lent, the gospel presented to us calls us to see that our friend, your friend and mine, Jesus, is determined to accomplish his mission in life, fulfilling his Father's will for him.  Many would take the bright, shining moment of the Transfiguration as the end of the mission.  And that might have been correct except that Jesus knew it was not.  He had more to do than to let this extraordinary moment prevent him from the moment when he would be "taken up."  He would not fall short of his Father's will for him even though it 
meant that being "taken up" would involve torture and crucifixion.

What an extraordinary friend this Jesus is!  How powerful is his determination to go forward to his ultimate goal!  Look at that reality as St. Luke expresses it for us in his gospel account.  I am looking at a man who knew his goal, giving his very life as an act of obedience and service to his Father's will.  There is no one who can teach us what it means to say "I am living my life in response to a higher call."  It is a power buried deep within our souls.  It is something that we know we have to do.  His was a constant mindset to his "mission."  Moments  when adulation came his way and the misguided hopes of some followers for a temporal kingship would have been much easier. Rather he accepted whatever was required to live the life God asked of him, his own Son.

So, my friends, do you see better today the gift Jesus is to all of us on our journey of faith?  How blessed we are that we can see powerful example he is giving to us throughout his life.  Seek!  Seek!  Seek the ability to live every day, every hour of your life in conformity with the will of God for you, your ultimate accomplishment.

To return to the first sentence:  "Get it over with.  Do it now."  When hearts are wrestling with sinfulness, it is impossible to see the goodness of Jesus.  Freed from those worries and concerns, our minds and hearts open to all the wonder and power that is in our friend, my friend, your friend, Jesus.  Don't cheat yourself of knowing his goodness. 


Saturday, February 23, 2013

Good morning.  Praised by Jesus Christ!  Why have I not thought of this kind of introduction to the postings on this blog?  Could there be a better greeting from me to you?  Please say a prayer for a friend who has followed this blog (me!) since it was first started almost ten years ago.  She is currently in her late 80s.  At the moment she is in Georgetown Hospital (DC) following brain surgery.   She will be most grateful.  Get well soon.

Today's readings are familiar and thus should be given a slow reading to garner what the writer is giving us.  The first reading is from Deuteronomy, what might be called the OT "book of rules" for the Jewish people.  For us today it might be considered a follow-up to the feast of the Chair of St. Peter.  In a way it is Moses speaking to all generations seeking to follow God's will.  Moses shares with his flock and us today God's will for us especially as regards the 10 Commandments.  

This day the LORD, your God,
commands you to observe these statutes and decrees.
Be careful, then,
to observe them with all your heart and with all your soul.

In the second reading, Jesus said to those around him:

But I say to you, love your enemies,
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,
for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.

Wouldn't you consider this command from the Son of God who has entrusted to St. Peter and to us the challenge to always carry out the will of God and to be a cross that many in our society, and perhaps ourselves,  have to carry?  Why these particular words and this challenge?  Can you listen to news broadcasts, talk shows, the actions of leaders in many positions of authority -- from these sources comes so much hatred and bitterness in our society today and be at peace?

As I have preached recently, "Get it done!  Get it over with!"  What is this "it"?  "It" is the Easter duty of confession, reconciliation with God for our sins.  Get that done with in the first two weeks of Lent and "enjoy" the remainder of Lent spending time with Jesus.  Don't dig up old sins that have been confessed even though at times the thought of some earlier actions may always hurt or embarrass.  Make a good confession about where you are at THIS time in your life.  Then, then get to know the Jesus you will meet again in the gospels and other readings leading up to the great day of the Resurrection.  Focus on Jesus and what a friend he wants to be for you.  Look at yourself in one of the mirrors in your home.  Stare at yourself for a moment.  This is what Jesus sees each day when he looks at you ... and he does!  Imagine your feelings if you heard his voice say to you, "John/Mary, do you know how much I love you?  You are so loved by my Father, the Holy Spirit and me?  Look at yourself:  you are God's marvelous creation.  You may have been scarred somewhat by sin, but now, look, it is my love that has healed your errors, your sins.  You are Our chosen one!"  Yes, that is what you can expect to hear in your heart and soul from the one you can come to know so well in the journey of Lent.  The man who will walk to Calvary is not just Jesus.  It is Jesus, my friend, who loves me so much.  Wow!  How can I not love him in return?  Every day of our lives God makes the sun rise on all of us; the rain to fall on all of us.  Get to know your Jesus and drive from your heart any hatred and bitterness, crosses that are more weighty than you can truly imagine.  

Friday, February 22, 2013

Chair of St Peter

Friday, February 22, 2013

First, my apologies for the missing postings. My ardent reader did not call me to question why there were no postings for the last few days.   Little did I know that Wednesday's posting had not gone through the internet world.  Yesterday, I was called out and did not return until much too late to post my reflections.  Todays the scenario was no different.  So, oops and sincere apologies ... will do all that I can to make sure postings are not lost in space and my schedule will be better.  Now to St. Peter.

The particular reason for this feast is quite significant. In short, it is an occasion when we can test our loyalty to God and the Church. On this day we are called to remember an extraordinary facet of our Church: the man chosen to be a successor of St. Peter joins in carrying out the mission of Jesus Christ as given to him by his Father. We should not forget that in saying to Peter "You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church is significant business. Imagine the scene: the son of God turns over the keys to the kingdom to a human being. In doing so he is entrusting to him to carry out the work of the Father, the mission that Jesus was given. His was a mission of compassion. If we were to look through the historical accounts of the times when the CHurch as have its own challenges, more likely than not we would find events that portray moments when humanity stood in opposition to the will of God. Those times were occasions when the people of God and in some instances the clerical members of the Church were no in line with the teachings of Jesus Christ.

So, our challenge is to ask ourselves how do I stand in relation to what the Church teaches today?  The slippery slope that we can easily place in our lives is to believe we have a conscience that can always make our decisions for ourselves without any concern to teachings of the Church which we don't appreciate.  Laity and clergy alike have to confront the feelings or "beliefs" we have made dogma or doctrine in our own personal "church."

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Our Father

In these early days of Lent we should continue to study Jesus and what he does so that we can come to know more about him.  Today we get a picture of his way of praying.   In essence it is short and simple.  Despite its simplicity it contains a wealth of learn his prayer for  himself to his Father and how we should pray.  Surely each of us at different times runs into aridity during our time of prayer.

The admonition to withdraw into one's room is nothing more than advice to get out of the activity around us and to open the door of the heart to converse with Jesus as well as to listen to our hearts delivering wisdom from the Holy Spirit.  Just five to ten minutes in genuine peace and quiet can open up chests of divine treasure not experienced in the daily marathon that captivates our hearts.

What underlies Jesus' way of praying to his Father?  For the Jewish people there is something of a challenge because the emperor was considered the Father of the Nation.  To begin calling upon God as Father is a bit of change.

Whatever, let Jesus' teaching impact your life today.  Let this be another early facet to understanding who Jesus really is as we journey to the Resurrection.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

First Sunday of Advent

Today, in the early days of Lent, let's together look at the second reading for today liturgy, Paul's letter to the Romans, chapter 8, verses 3-13, which deal with God's Spirit in one who believes.  As Karis in the New Collegeville Commentary, p460, notes, the 8th chapter of this letter focuses on a single question:  "If the law is unable to give life, then whence come life?"  To answer this question, St. Paul shares with us the experience of the Spirit in the hearts and minds of the Gentile believers.  To strengthen our experience of the Spirit in our lives, what are we to take from Paul's teaching?

Paul, former Jewish zealot, in Romans 8:10  tells the Gentiles this:  "But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the spirit is alive because of righteousness."  What he is telling them is that it is the Spirit rather than the law that truly is the "instrument" that helps sinners overcome the sins of the "flesh."  Note this:  sins of the flesh encompass much more than sexual sins.  Did you ever get beyond thinking these sins were only sexual mistakes?  For Paul, in his letter to the Galatians 5:19-21, we have to consider "idolatry, sorcery, ... envy, acts of selfishness."   So, for Paul the "flesh" encompasses much more of what and who we are.  And for the writer, this notion of "flesh" represents all that we are, our goodness as well as our sinfulness, that has acted so as to place ourselves apart from God.  As in all sinfulness, we prefer ourselves rather than God.

Our challenge during Lent is to reflect often on our lives, on all that we are:  all that we should be and all that has pulled from God.  We should strengthen our resolve by listen again to Paul and his understanding of the opposite of "flesh," that is the Spirit.  For him "Spirit" is an expression of how God the love of God embraces all the world.  In our preparation for the Sacrament of Confirmation, I am certain we learned how the love of God for each of us in the world is expressed concretely in the various "gifts" of the Holy Spirit.  Consider Paul's words to the Galatians again, chapter 5, verses 22-23:
In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is 
love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.

Perhaps understanding St. Paul's teaching in the Letter to the Romans, each of us can find for ourselves what can help us seek forgiveness of our sins at the outset of the Lenten season.  With that burden removed from our lives, we can progress through Lent discovering the wonder of God's mercy and his love for each of us.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Catch Up ... Going Back

Loyola Retreat House, Faulkner, MD
Recent Priests' Retreat --  Milt Jordan

Friday after Ash Wednesday -2013

Pretend that the sun is rising over the Potomac River if you are praying in the early morning.  Actually it is setting around 5:30 PM on February 3, 2013.

Please read carefully the voice of God to the Prophet Isaiah in the first reading.  If you read it once or twice, you may begin to wonder why those of us who are were adults before the changes introduced by Vatican II.  Doesn't it seem strange if we consider the fasting and other practices that God tells Isaiah to preach to the leaders of the time?  Likewise you might have begun to see what the Pope and all the others were seeking to achieve for our Church.  God told Isaiah this: "Is not this the fast I chose?...?((58:6).  God was making clear that his desires were deeply rooted not in things but in the lives and needs of our fellow human beings.  He favored a "fast" that would benefit prisoners, the poor and needy.

For those who are my age and older and perhaps some a few years younger, the movement of the Church to what some call "social concerns" is what the world's bishops discerned as the will of the Holy Spirit.  It is bringing us back to the earliest days in the Old Testament.  Perhaps there was the reality that most Catholics were forbidden to read the Old Testament even though most could not because the OT books could only be printed in Latin, Greek and Hebrews.  Most who were not scholars could read none of those languages.  Consequently the Old Testament was far from the experience of most Catholics until more modern times.  Perhaps had Catholics read the Old Testament books, like Isaiah, they would have know what God's will was for the fasts of Lent.

For us we share in the blessing that biblical studies have brought us to understanding God better than ever before.  From those early books we can discover more true history about  God.  We have to know that the composers of such books were simply fulfilling the will of God.  If we, true "ambassadors" of Christ, as mentioned in the Ash Wednesday posting, build our Lenten practices around these wishes of God, we become "Repairer(s) of the breach."  Also "Restorer(s) of ruined dwellings (Is 58:12).  What God and the Lenten thrust of Vatican II are teaching us is this:  "A true social morality will ensure prosperity" (NAB, footnote for IS 58:6-12.

Are you surprised by these.  Can you open your heart to God to help his willing to become alive for the people of century?

There is a St Valentine, Virginia!

Today's gospel, Thursday after Ash Wednesday, calls us to a fork in the road.  Choice!  Real choice!
Consequences of choices!  Don't that last few expressions depict what true love is all about?  In the gospel we read about the human Jesus, the son of Mary, Son of God and very specific choices he made as a human being.  "Father, yes, I will live out your will and offer my life to you for the forgiveness of the sins of humanity."  Isn't this a genuine choice?  Isn't this true love for others?

The life of Jesus was and continues to be a model for so many Christians.  We are reminded that we have the options for choice in our lives.  We stand every day at crossroads everyday and more often than once.  Life is making choices.  And think about this:  choices form who you are and what you become!  The choice not to exercise may have very definite consequences.  The choice to sin has its impact on our lives and usually others.

St. Valentine, and there seem to have been a number of St Valentines in the 3rd and 4th centuries.  I have found a website you might find interesting for so many reasons ...  many choices to read and study on this particular site,  Catholic On Line.  You can read about St Valentine and enjoy the picture of several beautiful roses,  a small gift to you courtesy of the designers of the website.  Read about this man's choice...his love for his faith so sincere that he was martyred because the chose God rather than a local emperor.

Today, when we are give cards and flowers, taking grandmoms, moms, wives or girlfriends to dinner, thin of a few moments about the many choices they have made in their lifetimes and what choices there must have been to make them the wonderful persons you are honoring.  Thank God for them and their obvious love for you.  Recall the choices, the sacrifices, required of them to become the singular person that each of them is.  In so many instances their choices were driven by their faith, by their love of God who inspired them when they stood at a moment of choice at a particular crossroad in their lives.  Genuine love is not easy nor is it cheap.  Recall Jesus and St. Valentine today when you muse about this particular day.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

My Ambassadorial Self

Ash Wednesday

I invite you to read the first half of the second reading for the Ash Wednesday liturgy.  We read a part of St. Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians.  I call you attention to the first verse.  It is important for all of us who wish from the beginning day of Lent to the celebration of the Lord Jesus' Resurrection to be able to say "I had a good Lent!"

Let me draw your attention to these words: "We are ambassadors for Christ ...."  When the President of the United States wishes to appoint someone to serve as the President's personal representative, usually to a foreign nation, after all the necessary vetting is completed and the choice is made, the President calls the person.  His conversation may well begin with words such as these:  "(first name), I am calling to ask you to be my personal representative in the role of Ambassador."

Well,  on this Ash Wednesday, stop to think about the vocation of Ambassador -- not for the President but for God.  Yes, today God is asking you to be his personal representative for this season of Lent.  For forty day you are being asked to accomplish three duties: (1) a little more time in prayer; (2) make a sacrificial giving to someone in genuine need; and (3) to attempt at least one day a week of fasting.  And the pay is more than you would ever expect on this first day of Lent.

As God's Ambassador, you will a source of grace for others.  Your prayer and willingness to sacrifice support for some in need and trying your best to fast one day each week will change you.  As momentous as this challenge may seem as you look to the top of "Mt. Lent," when you have finished these forty days, you will recognize in yourself a major accomplishment that brings with it much interior satisfaction.

Through your prayer you may well be a model to someone you don't even know.  You may change the life of another person by your charity.  You might find that you really don't need to eat as much as you do on a regular basis and your waistline may be somewhat slimmer!

Restore to me the gladness of your salvation;
uphold me with a willing spirit.
(Ps 51:14)

Monday, February 11, 2013

Et Tu, Brute?

Some may question the values of today's gospel reading.  Others may react with a deep-seated hope that restrictions are missing from our lives and the practice of religion.  The words of Jesus are  the response to both of the sentiments just mentioned.  Here are his words as quoted in St. Mark taken from Isaiah 29:3:

This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts."
Mark 7:6-7
[Emphasis made by this blogger.]

On this day before Ash Wednesday, in prayer I encourage each reader to reflect on your own religious practices and your personal practices each day of your life.  Just consider a "neighbor" (i.e. a relative, a next door neighbor, a fellow parishioners, a office or other job colleague) who is always at Sunday Mass and quick to point out the faults of others...sometimes even before leaving the church's parking lot!  How often do husbands and wives  make denigrating remarks about their spouses at a party or at the beauty salon?

What Jesus is teaching in selecting these words from Isaiah deals with hypocrisy.  It exists everywhere and usually is not in short supply.  For sure personal religious practices( i.e Mass attendance, reciting the rosary etc) easily fall victim to the sword of stabbing the neighbor's name or reputation.

And how about this scenario:  a penitent comes to confess and begins with "Father, you know, I just could not remember the penance the last priest gave me at the end of my confession.  I have not gone to communion since then."  Here is the question, folks:  Which is more important:  failure to recite those few Hail Marys or Our Fathers or the failure to make an effort to avoid sinning?  Too often penitents fail to see the forest because they are lost in the trees.  Yes, in our faith (our personal relationship with God) and our religion (particular religious practices attached to a particular church) we focus on particular practices rather than our unconditional love for God and our neighbor.

Perhaps during  the days of Lent this year, when you have the opportunity like Peter had in having Jesus suggests he toss out his fishing nets again, let's not take the invitation of Jesus to us "Put our into deep waters ..."  Let us toss our nets out with the hope of catching the many God-given gifts that we have lost through carelessness or hypocrisy.  Likewise attempt to pull in those times or those habits that make our actions little more than lip service rather than moments of genuine Christian loving.

Pope Benedict Stuns the World
In these historic hours of our Church let us pray to the Holy Spirit for the grace of wisdom and prudence for the Cardinal electors of the next Pope in their hours of discussion and consideration of the momentous burden placed on their shoulders this morning when they first heard the most unfamiliar words about a modern pope:  "The Pope has resigned."  None of their days for the next several weeks  will be filled with peace as the electors must weigh the needs of our Church and the leadership that must confront the neo-secularized world of our times.  

While prudently opting to withdraw from the daily fray, Pope Benedict XVI may quickly learn that dying might have been more pleasant than living through the critical evaluation of one's efforts, perhaps one's efforts at Legacy building, at the helm of Peter's Bark in an age when the world-wide availability of one's entire lifetime with its successes and failures is not secret.   And perhaps it may be the fate of leaving Peter's chair to another person during one's lifetime that the martyrdom each man accepting membership into the College of Cardinals pledges to accept will become a reality.  Let us pray for this Holy Father that he will be given the strength to endure the cross he will be forced to carry brought about by accusations -- already published the world-wide press -- of his failures in the matter of the sexual abuse scandal that has so drained our Church in many ways.  

Come, Holy Spirit, come.  Pour an abundance of your graces upon our Church in these days!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

A Hardened Heart?

Today's gospel is a switch from St. Luke' Sunday reading to St. Mark's Monday reading!  Both Evangelist are presenting their remembrance or interpretation of what did happen on the other side of Lake Gennesaret.  For Luke, as you may recall, it was the call of Peter after the miraculous catch of fish.  For Mark, as you learned from today's (Monday's) gospel reading, there had been two miracles when Jesus was on the other side of the lake.  There had been the 5000 for a feeding and then the calming of the waves and Jesus calling Peter to walk out to him on the water (and Peter's moment of doubt when he got wet!).

Mark commented that the disciples did not recognize Jesus at first when he came to them on the water because as Mark commented the disciples didn't get it about Jesus after they had witnessed the feeding. Mark said that the disciples had hardened hearts, a phrase used to speak about those who were not favorably disposed toward Jesus.  The disciples had not yet comprehended Jesus' "self-revelation through the signs"he had been giving to people.

Let's consider our soon to begin Lenten Journey with Jesus.  Can we not ask ourselves if we have come to a genuine understanding of the person of Jesus?  What impact have the Eucharist and other blessings in our lives (signs from Jesus to us) had upon us?  There are day, for sure, when our hearts are hardened if you listen to some conversations.  During the days of Lent perhaps there may be more graces for us if we minimize our focusing on past sins.  I think Jesus knows what they are already!  Perhaps we will gain more if we take these days to engage in serious conversation with Jesus about who each of us is and what it is that God wants from us.  

It is interesting that the disciples had not understood who Jesus was at this point in his and their lives.  However, Mark is clear that the ordinary people recognized him immediately.  As soon as they saw him or heard he was in a particular place, they brought their sick for healing.  They knew he was someone quite special because, as Mark wrote, "... and as many as touched it [the tassel of his cloak] were healed."

And you?  And me?  Do we have the simple faith of the ordinary people?  Consider all the "signs" Jesus has given us and our world:  how real and strong is our faith?  What you/me do during this Lenten Season to bring forward our faith and how our belief touches our lives?  What can we do to assist the Holy Spirit and Jesus in their efforts to make the faith come alive in the hearts of those who seem to have forgotten about Jesus?  These are Lenten Practices that may more impact on our lives that trudging through the litany of past sins!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Are You Calling, Jesus?

Today we stand on the threshold of Ash Wednesday.  Just another Lent or Lent unlike any other?  Rather than wait until the official first day of lent, I put before you this weekend what has been more than just another set of liturgical readings from the Old and New Testament.

My retreat “prompter” mentioned that the American Convert-Catholic author from North Carolina was once asked how she went about starting her various writings.  Her answer is surprising.  Perhaps she understood better than most the significance of “a picture is worth a thousand words.”  Her reply to the was was a single word, a simple word:  “stare.”  Yes, stare.  She said that she had to stare at the subject of her writings.  So, I invite you to imagine the scene below and stare at it with your mind's eyes.

As we are about to step from the days of Ordinary Time into the Season of Lent, nothing could be more helpful than the image above.  It is the scene from St. Luke’s gospel when Jesus meets Peter for the first time.  Peter’s brother, his partner in the fishing business had been following after John the Baptist.  John had encouraged his followers to catch up with the young preacher from Nazareth, Jesus, son of Mary, whose sandals John felt unworthy to touch.  Andrew became very interested in the words and style of Jesus.  When Jesus was starting to preach to a crowd at the seashore, Peter was there with his brother.  Seeing the crowd, Jesus knew Peter was there and could use one of his fishing boats as a stage to pull away from the shore and become visible to the large crowd.  It was in  Peter’s boat that you might say that our Roman Catholic Church was planted.  Jesus preached and when he finished, he must have spoke with Peter about the size of the catch for the day.  There were no fish.  It had been a fruitless venture.

Jesus then tells Peter to put out into the deep once again and in a particular area.  Peter seemed willing to trust this preacher’s advice, probably because Andrew was so taken by Jesus’ preaching. We know the rest of this part of the story.  Shortly after nets were thrown out, the fishermen realized they had one of the biggest hauls of fish they had ever captured.

It was then that the Jesus-Peter relationship was established.  Peter knelt down before Jesus he was so astonished by the sizable catch.  Clearly this preacher was no ordinary dispenser of Yahweh’s messages.  Peter told Jesus to leave him because he, Peter, was “a sinful man.”  It was then that Peter heard words that I would imagine he never forgot:

Do not be afraid; 
from now on you will be catching men.

“When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him.”

Today, at this moment, as you read these words, you are very much like Peter and the other fishermen in the boat.  With me you are being extended and invitation.  Jesus is saying to us “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” as he said to Peter.  Today Jesus is inviting us to toss our nets out into the Season of Lent.  There is waiting for you and me something extraordinary if we but leave “everything” and follow Jesus.  He is inviting us to enter into a season when we look at ourselves in light of the gift of Jesus‘ passion and death for our salvation.

In the days ahead any sacrifice we may determine to make seemingly will have very little impact if  we do not accept Jesus‘ invitation like Peter:  he went to his knees in humble recognition of Jesus‘ extraordinary gift.  Peter was given a memorable catch of fish and later an untold number of followers for Jesus.  Jesus now is offering the extraordinary gift of his love and his suffering so that the Father would forgive us whatever sins we have stored in the closets of our lives.  If there is any gift I ask of Jesus for you and me it is this:  that we can say of ourselves, “I know that Jesus loves me with a love beyond description.  I want this season of Lent to be the time when I am able to open my heart to Jesus as never before."

You may want to use the responsorial psalm from today's liturgy as a closing prayer to your prayer.

Psalm 138
In the sight of the angels I will sing your praises, Lord.

I will give thanks to you, O LORD, with all my heart,
for you have heard the words of my mouth;
in the presence of the angels I will sing your praise;
I will worship at your holy temple
and give thanks to your name.
Because of your kindness and your truth;
for you have made great above all things
your name and your promise.
When I called, you answered me;
you built up strength within me.
All the kings of the earth shall give thanks to you, O LORD,
when they hear the words of your mouth;
and they shall sing of the ways of the LORD:
“Great is the glory of the LORD.”
Your right hand saves me.
The LORD will complete what he has done for me;
your kindness, O LORD, endures forever;
forsake not the work of your hands.

Friday, February 8, 2013

A Modern John the Baptist

For each of us today in this world of ours there is an abundance of message in the two readings offered for use in today's liturgy.  In particular I offer to you the person of John the Baptist as presented in the gospel.  We witness his death, his decapitation.  We are reminded that John played a significant role in the life of Jesus Christ:  John announced his coming and John was sacrificed because of what he believed and doing all he could to bring the message that had been entrusted to him by Yahweh, by God.

Each of us today is reminded that through the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation we are called to put on the mantle of the Baptist.  You and I, each of us, is called upon by God the Father to prepare the way of Jesus Christ in our communities, our families.  The lives we live and the willingness to stand tall for Jesus Christ is our mission.

Yesterday I concelebrated the funeral Mass for a friend.  The church was filled with more than five hundred people, mostly from Capitol Hill.  They came to honor the memory of one man who, as the Chaplain of the United States Senate said in the eulogy, gave him so much courage and strength through the commitment to Jesus Christ.  Mike Schwartz was a man for whom his baptism and confirmation meant something.  All who knew Mike recognized a contemporary John the Baptist.  I cannot image that there was a day when Mike did not prepare the way for Jesus in his work in the halls of the Senate office building where Mike served one of the US Senators.  There were young people and older people who came because Mike made the message of Jesus a part of his life, day after day.  There is no doubt that Mike was a modern John the Baptist.  Mike went forward proclaiming the message of Jesus Christ because he loved him.

We might ask ourselves "Do I like Jesus?"  And again ask ourselves "What is Jesus like for me?"  John made his pilgrimage for Jesus paramount in his life.  Is there a pilgrimage for Jesus in my life, in your life today?  Are we strong, like John, when we are challenged by invitations to turn our back on Jesus? Mike could say without any hesitation "I love Jesus and I know Jesus loves me."

And you?  And me?  Can we be as strong in our affirmation of our love of Jesus?  It was Mike's answer so strongly in the affirmative that brought so many hundreds of people to honor his life and mission.  It was Lou Gehrig's Disease that ended Mike's life but it was the same disease that has brought to so many people a recognition of one man's faith, one man's love of his friend, Jesus the Christ.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Standing Up

Later today I will begin my retreat.  On Thursday evening, I will return to Lanham.  I do not know whether there will be any Internet access available to retreatants.  If such is the case, there will be no postings until Friday, February 8th.  As suggested in the past, there is always Creighton University Daily Reflections that may serve your needs.  The reflections offered by the University Jesuits as well as the Lay Colleagues who collaborated with the Daily Reflections always have a thought or two worthy of consideration.  Likewise, I do not hesitate to look at the student reflections.  There is, more often than not, a good youthful insight into the readings or the feast day.  The link is Creighton Daily Reflections.

On the last two Sundays I suggested the advantages for all of us to begin serious remote preparations for the Lenten Season.  Only ten days from now we will be at the doorway to Lent 2013.  As mentioned earlier, the Sunday gospels since Epiphany have presented a picture of Jesus at work in his ministry.  We have had the opportunity to deepen our understanding of him in his work for the Father.  These readings and next Sunday, the last non-Lenten readings show us the Jesus we should have as our friend.  If we take the time to strengthen our friendship with Jesus, it may happen that when you walk with him in his passion and death, the natural reaction might be a strong desire to walk with him, to understand why he is enduring such suffering -- because he is my friend as well as my Savior.

Today's gospel is situated as it was last Sunday:  Jesus reading from the Torah in the temple and preaching.  Today's "message" from this young preacher is one that greatly offends the worshippers.  These are, most likely, the people he knew as he was growing up in Nazareth.  These are the people who have heard about his miracle workings in other places.  But Jesus knows the people and obviously he is aware of their prejudices against "outsiders."  Notice what he does.  He uses a woman and a man were where foreigners.  He is reminding them that these people are to be accepted.  They are children of God as well.  Maybe this story offers serious thought for the American people who are having a difficult time with the immigration issues that is coming to life at this time in our nation.  Jesus was not afraid to stand up tall in front of the temple congregation with a message that he knew would offend them.  If you have to stand tall before family and or friends about an issue like this, also pray that there is not a cliff nearby!