Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Surprise: Let's Understand!

The first reading today is something of an eye-opener for those who seriously consider the events in the lives of the apostles and others very close to the Risen Lord.  Of course the readings of the Resurrection Season are often expressions of wonder and awe as we consider the appearances of Jesus to his friends.    

Perhaps we might liken these days to those days after Christmas in the lives of children.  After a certain amount of time with Christmas trees, lights, gifts, special meals, visits of friends and so on, there comes the day when our youngsters are taught that "everyday is Christmas" does not mean gifts continue to come their way.  Life is different.  We return to the daily way of life in which we confront the challenges of life that are not always Christmas.

Adults also experience the return to "de more" which is a Latin phrase that means in the accustomed way of doing things.  We return to our daily facing of challenges brought on by the Good News of the Gospel.  But, if asked, I wonder, what would individuals answer to the question "What is the meaning of the phrase "the Good News"?  Is it something like "de more"?  It is as a matter of fact something that we live every day.  

In the daily life we live what is this Good News?  Some are told that the Good News is God's giving us great abundances if we just do what God wants.  I believe that is true.  But abundance does not necessarily mean grand and glorious mansions, the latest and most expensive automobiles, fabulous vacations often interspersed throughout the year.  The Good News is the gift of God's presence in our lives and the gifts he gives us:  his peace despite the difficulties that confront us.  Just look at the lives of the early followers of Jesus.  Martyrdom came to each of the apostles!  Hardly what we would call abundance.  Their only gifts of abundance were stones, beatings, jailings, torturing moments.  In those moments, however, they learned that in trials and tribulations Jesus was always with them.  His abundance love and presence guaranteed them eternal life.  He promised much more than the challenges of everyday life.

The events of the apostles in the Acts of the Apostles should be signal to us that God is aware of all that takes place in our lives.  He does not abandon us.  "My peace I give you."  Do we remember this when the going is tough?  Do we remember this when sadness and tears marks certain days?  Listen carefully to what St. Paul writes in so many of his letter about the presence of God in each person's life.  Yes, there is struggle.  Yes, there are times of opposition.  But, but, but:  God is always present to support us with his love and peace.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Those Little Gods

In the first reading we read about the reaction of some people to the work of two apostles.  In this writing, St. Luke, reminds us of an important reality:  so easily can human beings let what is new, different or attractive become little gods in our lives.

We should consider this: those "little gods" are not always things, physical possessions.  In a world where criticism and argument abound, it is so easy to build little temples or altars in our minds where we enshrine negative thoughts about people who may have hurt our feelings.  How often does this happen within families or within the office community where one works?  It is so easy to return to those painful moments when we relish the sense of hurt, when we replay the scene of the confrontation.  It is there that we emotionally pick up stone and toss them at a relative or colleague.  

In the gospel Jesus reminds us not to forget a particular reality:  our "success" in living out our lives as the Father expects of us is to bring those in our families as well as in our work-a-day world into our minds and hearts with a genuine sense of love.  Our challenge when one of those people who hurt us comes to mind is to toss stones not at them but at the shrines of dislike and hatred we have built in our minds and hearts.

For a moment stop this reading and write down the names of those individuals who have a "dislike altar or shrine in your mind or heart."  These are the people God calls us to love as he loves them.  These are the people who become for us the avenues to a successful spiritual life.

If you google today's patron saint, Catherine of Siena, you will learn how she endeavored to smash those kinds of altars and shrines within her heart and mind!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

27th Day of the Resurrection Season

On this celebration of the feast of the youngest of the evangelists and of the disciples, there are two lessons we can glean from the life of this man.  It is surprising because his writings are minimal and his life is somewhat hidden when compared to the likes of Peter, Paul, John, Matthew and Luke -- leading figures in the earliest days of the Church.

1.)  In the first reading there is a call for simplicity and humility.  These may well be two words that both frighten and challenge contemporary humanity.  Perhaps the reason for these feelings is that the true meaning of the two words is misunderstood.  Contemporary people can live a decent life, an enjoyable life at the same time living simply and humbly.  Our culture calls for excess most of the time. This is the real challenge to us today.  Just for a moment consider all that each of us has.  Look around your home, for example.  How much excess to we store there?  Why is the self-storage business booming.  Homes I have visited, including my own rooms where I live, have closets and boxes filled with "things" or "stuff" I should really give away or trash.  A friend of mine says to me time and again: "I have so much here in the house.  When I die perhaps someone might ask for one or two "mementos."  The rest ... well, I should get rid of them!"  My response.  "Yes!  And I know that I should do the same!"  What we know about St. Mark is that he was not a man shackled by possessions.   

What we should consider is this:  What we truly need, we need.  What we "treasure" but do not need is little more than a weight thrust upon us.  It is belongings that demand time and effort but give little results in our daily lives.

2.)  Mark also taught us what all of us proclaim every year in the Easter season.  What is that?  That I will proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.  What does this mean for us today?  We should live what we promise when we recite the Creed every Sunday.  We are, all of us, in one way or another, called to profess our faith in Jesus Christ and to live our lives in conformity with the Commandments and the laws of our Church.

Am I comfortable in saying, "Yes, I believe.  Yes, I do live a life that gives others signals that I endeavor each day to follow the calling of Jesus to me.  Do I offer to others the example of what a good Christian is called to be?  Do I realize that sometimes "humility" does mean speaking out about my faith or what my Church teaches?  Humility does not mean that I play humble bee and hide in the corner when the "going gets tough."  Humility does mean that, when challenged, I am not afraid to speak what I promise to speak.

Each of us can easily be an evangelist today.  Opportunities abound.  Simply ask "Where can I bring the message of my friend, Jesus, to other friends who are seeking peace in their lives?"

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

25th Day of the Resurrection Season

Marching onwards to the conclusion of the Resurrection season as well as the Church's great day of Pentecost, we can find today's readings as an invitation to pause.  Pause for what reason?  Rather than focus primarily on the activities described in the readings, we have the opportunity to look at ourselves in a mirror.  And what or who is it that you encounter?  Oh, yes,it's me!

Remember what the final,words of the first reading were?  We are told at a specific event those who followed Jesus were designated "Christians."  Is that what comes to mind at any of the several times you may look at yourself in a mirror?  I recall a time when I would visit an office in NYC.  I needed the elevator to get almost into the clouds!  The elevators were unique because passengers were given the opportunity see themselves as others saw them.  I would check to make sure that my hair was combed, my jacket buttoned, my fly up, and a smile on my face.  When I visited my friend in his heavenly nest,  I often appeared in full clergy dress.  Of course my co-passengers realized I was a priest of one kind or another as signaled by my roman collar.  However, on the days when I travelled incognito (regular civilian dress-down Friday informal dress) some "colleagues in the rocket ship rushing to the 62nd floor either paid no attention or offered that questioning look:  isn't that a familiar face?

My question now is this:  did these people ever wonder if I was a Christian?  I did think of that often because my extrovertish personality so disliked the monastic silence of those rides!  I loved breaking the silence as we were breaking some kind of barrier as my ears were want to "pop" as our space ship docked at that 62nd floor landing deck.  "We'll, I hope your day is filled with successes!  What could show better concern for those working the financial district!!!

So, obvious ask:  and what do you do to make the work of Jesus touch the lives of those you meet each day?  Will they feel they have met a Christian?  I trust they do!     

Monday, April 22, 2013

23rd Day of the Resurrection Season: Seek and You Will Find

Recall the theme of Sunday's gospel:  the Good Shepherd.  Today's gospel reading provides an event when Jesus likens himself to "the gate" which controlled entrance and exit to and from the sheepfold.  The sheepfold was the area in which a shepherd protected his flock.  It was through the gate that the shepherd would lead his charges out to find pastures for grazing and water for refreshment.  Likewise in the evening, if the shepherd and his sheep were not staying out in a field, the sheep would be guided back to and through the gate into the sheepfold.  There they would be protected in the night from any dangers.

In the first reading today, St. Luke recounts an event which can be likened to the life of a shepherd.  The chief shepherd for the newly formed church in the days after the death and resurrection of Jesus is in a situation where he learned that Gentiles had accepted the apostles' teachings.  This brought Peter to Jerusalem.  During days of travel to the holy city, Peter had dreams basically about inclusion.  Apparently he had had dinner with uncircumcised people which I good Jew would find offensive.  Peter responded with accounts of several dreams that he interpreted as signs from God that these people should not be excluded or Jews forbidden to each with them.

Peter said that as he himself felt the Holy Spirit directing him to accept these Gentiles.  Likewise he described an event which he describes as significant concerning his speaking with them.

"As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them
as it had upon us at the beginning,
and I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said,
‘John baptized with water
but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit

A question:  were you ever aware of this particular moment when "the Holy Spirit fell upon them as it had upon us at the beginning"?  I believe this account from Peter is not only important in his times, it is most important in a world like ours which is so divided over so many different issues.

How many are those who good Christians fail, in their hearts, to accept into our community of believers, those who may be different or whom we have failed to invite to the Sacrament of Baptism!  And who are these "Gentiles" today in our world who might easily come to our faith if the goodness and wonder of our creed became known to them.  This is the challenge to us in today's readings.  Would not the Holy Spirit be overworked if we, members of the Catholic Church, seriously looked at those who are usually pushed to the edges of society, those who seem to be lost and seeking answers to the problems of life, those whom God has made to look a little differently from us, those who seem to want what our Church cannot give but who may come to "see the light" if the Holy Spirit could be brought into their lives?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Good Shepherd Sunday 2013

(artist Simon Downy)

Let me begin this reflection with this request:  study the picture presented, especially the eyes of Jesus as presented by the artist's truly heartfelt sharing of his vision of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.  When you feel you are able to speak with this Jesus as your friend, move forward to the reflection.

In the middle of the Resurrection season, as we move toward Pentecost Sunday, I feel we are particularly gifted by the Holy Spirit to have present for us the image and the sacred scripture readings of the Good Shepherd..  Indeed, these are sources of genuine hope.  Let the Holy Spirit stir up in your heart the awareness that Jesus is indeed the source of much hope, the love of God calling us to know this extraordinary gift of the Trinity.  This is the divine threesome whose one mission is to do what is possible to fulfill their individual intention that we should come to know fully the reality that Father, Son and Spirit deeply love.  Each of them daily pours out moments of grace bringing us closer to the Godhead, our Creator God.

Just consider three sest of words to be mentioned a little later in this reflection. Discover the one set that is the key opening your heart to God's never-ending outreach to you.  But before presenting these keys to you, let me suggest words that describe a good shepherd.  Verses 1-6 of Psalm 23:

The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.  
In green pastures he makes me lie down;
to still waters he leads me;
he restores my soul.
He guides me along right paths for the sake of his name.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no eveil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff comfort me.
You set a table before me in front of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;  my cup overflows.
Indeed, goodness and mercy will pursue me
all the days of my life;
I will dwell in the house of the Lord for endless days.
(NAB text)

Then, in today's readings, read twice today's gospel, John 10:27-30.  In these words you will have noticed, hopefully, that several sets of words, very short sentences, are of significance.  They are good to know, better to  remember and best to be guideposts in your daily living.  These sentiments from Jesus will continue your effort to converse with Jesus as your friend.

"My sheep hear my voice."  In a world of so much communication and mis-communications, our friend Jesus assures us that when we accept his invitation to "Follow me!" we will be able to hear what brings us closer to our God.  We will hear the voice of the Good Shepherd above all the those distracting voices in our world.  To hear the voice of this one true friend, we must ourselves tune our souls to open ears, heart and mind to his voice, just as the sheep recognizes the one who cares for and leads them.

"I know them."  Understanding the meaning of the verb "to know" as used in holy scripture is important.  It is the word that assures intimate knowledge of another person -- like you, like me!  It is for us the assurance that Jesus is our true friend, one who loves us to death.  Again, just as a shepherd would give his life to protect his sheep.  This should bring comfort and assurance to us in the sometimes crazy world we share.  These three words tell us that he knows when we have run headlong into a stone wall.  He knows when we have sinned.  He is not unaware of deep hurts we carry in our hearts.  He knows we harbor shallowness at times.  Even though we are of the earth, his "I know them." should reaffirm for you, once and for all times, how powerful, all-encompassing is his love for you, his friend.  Let your mind bring your picture of his face and let him say to you "I know you!"

"They follow me."  Another three meaningful words that call to mind for us that we would be foolish not to follow him.  He knows the greener pastures we week in our lives.  He always leads us away from trouble.  Someone once said "Our world is always a better place when Christians follow the teachings of Jesus."  Amen!  Amen. Amen.

Yes, this Good Shepherd Sunday is a unique moment on the journey from Resurrection to Ascension and then to Pentecost.  Let you mind and heart take time to partake of this amazing grace given by our God.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Where are the Prophets?

First, apologies for failing to get posting up for you for the last several days.  Much business taking place in my life at this time.  Now to the first reading of the day.  In particular these lines:

Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who will tell of his posterity?
For his life is taken from the earth.

These words, clearly used to refer to Jesus the Christ, have a significance today.  Let these words speak for children, women and men who have fallen as victims to gun violence in our  country.  These words were of interest to a eunuch who was reading scripture verses following a prayer service in Jerusalem he made his way home.  Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Philip caught up with the man.  The eunuch asked Philip if he explain these words from the prophet Isaiah.  The apostle told the man about Jesus, his life, his death and his resurrection.  So moved by this information, the eunuch asked Philip to baptize him in nearby waters.

How does God speak to us today?  How does God speak to us whenever anyone is the victim of gun violence?  I awoke early, wondering what has happened to our United States Senate.  I know that the gutless wonders who would not support an effort to put some control on weapons of mass destruction -- and the deaths of some 30,000 people each year by gun violence is mass destruction.  Are not 30,000 cases of murder by guns many more deaths reprehensible than the sum of American armed forces deaths over the period of the recent two wars that elected representative call out as horrific events in our national history?

Where is our Catholic leadership in this debate which has now turned to temporary defeat?  What is God saying to us in this moment of time?  Are we not taking time to listen for his voice?  And just who are the Philips, the Isaiahs and other profits.  Where are the likes of the late Bishop Walter Sullivan of Richmond, VA, who died recently; the likes of Bishop Thomas Gumbleton who will, I hope, speak strongly about this failure of the United States Senate to recognized the expressed will of more than 90% of the American people?  I look forward to hearing words from Cardinal Timothy Dolan, President of the American Bishops Conference who, usually, does not shy away from speaking out in sensitive issues.  These are some of my hopes this morning.

Folks, what are we who profess so loudly the treasure of human life, what are we going to do to work for the renewal of the spirit that those who struggled to bring about gun control reform had in this effort.

Read Isaiah's words again and imagine those words as if they were written about a battered wife who irate husband takes her life, or about one of the adults whose live was taken not by violence in a movie but by poor gun control in a movie theatre, or by a child who sought to learn only to be slaughtered like an animal.  Maybe the Wild West of years past has been reborn in our times.  God help us in the future.

Monday, April 15, 2013

3rd Week, 16 Day of Resurrection Season

"Believe in the one He has sent!"  Could there be any directive simpler than what you have just read? Are there not moments when we seek  what God wants for me in my life?  If we are honest with ourselves in moments of questioning, is it not because we confront a task that seems difficult, one that we would like to avoid?

Look at how Stephen was confronted by people who did not want to accept what he was preaching.  Stephen was simply teaching what Jesus had put forth as the will of God.  So often when God's will  is a challenge, the temptation is to see it as something that does conform to the way I want to live.

Make me understand the way of your precepts,
and I will meditate on your wondrous deeds.

These are words from the 119th psalm used in today's liturgy.  David is praying for greater wisdom in understanding God's will for him.  The sentiment in these words is a reminder to us when the journey we are following, when God's plan for me is something I might not want.  The world and all its glitter might seem better than God's plan.  These are moments when God asks of me what He asked of Peter at the shoreline breakfast we recalled in yesterday's gospel reading: "Follow me !"

Saturday, April 13, 2013

3rd Sunday in Resurrection Time

Do You Love Me?

Today’s gospel has stirred up many deeper thoughts than usual.  Why?  Because there comes to me a way of considering what Jesus might be saying to me and you at this time in our lives.

We have heard this story several times in the recent Lenten season as well as in the Resurrection days.  This event in the lives of the apostles as well as the Risen Christ is his final appearance to the apostles and disciples as his “visits” are recorded in the four evangelists’ accounts of Jesus’ life.

The supporting actor in this event is St. Peter.  It is the conversation that Jesus has with him after breakfast is finished.  Obviously there must have been some conversation occurring when Jesus turned his attention to Peter.  Now it is important to consider one particular aspect of Peter’s life that is not mentioned.  It is how this man, this vociferous voice among the apostles, has dealt with what must have been a tremendous cross that he had to carry.  The cross must have weighed heavily upon Peter’s mind, heart and soul.  Recall that on the evening before Jesus died, Peter denied knowing Jesus, the man who was being questioned by the Roman authorities.  “I do not know the man.” These words that must have been engraved in his heart.  Each time the Lord appeared to the apostles, Peter must have feared Jesus’ might ask him “Why?  Why did you deny that you knew me?”

Well, on the beach, after a good meal, Jesus began the rehabilitation of the man he wanted to be the head of his Church.  Jesus asked one question three times.  Each time  Peter heard the words a burning sensation must have seared his heart and mind.  Peter, “Do you love me ...”  Three times Jesus questions him.  What was Jesus seeking to achieve?

It has been suggested that Jesus was asking Peter, without directly recalling his denial, to confront the memories that troubled his soul, that confused the thinking of his mind.  What might be at the heart of Jesus’ question put before Peter and his guilt that he harbored in his heart and soul is this:  do you love me more than your memories of failed love, failed devotion, failed loyalty and a denial that brought about shredded skin, nailed hands and feet, a thorn-pierced head ... all causing the death of his friend?

What Jesus was asking Peter and is asking us today is this: are you strong enough to overcome any parts or moments of our past lives that have damaged our inner peace, sins that have prevented us from sharing in the amazing and almost unbelievable love that our God wants us to have in Jesus Christ?  What Jesus conveys is that until we can love Jesus more than all the past failures, past sins, until that happens, we cannot be the person that God wants us to be.  It is Jesus asking us three times each day:  Do you love me?  Do you love me?  Do you love me?

Doing this, Jesus is being the spiritual psychologist, asking if we love him more than any of these past moments that have prevented us from enjoying the full measure, the complete happiness, the peace the Risen Lord wishes to share with us not once but each and every day of our lives.  Can you, can I be as open to these questions as was Peter and mean it as he obviously did in the years that remained of his lifetime on this earth?  It is the challenge, it is our spiritual rehabilitation that Jesus, our friend, is putting before each of us.

I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.

Friday, April 12, 2013

2nd Week, 13th Day of the Resurrection Season

Troubled Times

"For if this endeavor or this activity is of human origin,
it will destroy itself.
But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them;
you may even find yourselves fighting against God.”

These words from the Acts of the Apostles seem fitting and applicable for us who profess our faith in the Roman Catholic Religion. What is "this activity" for us today?  Surely for anyone who strives to live the message of Jesus Christ that is found in the gospels every day has to be a challenge.

Immigration Reform is a signal to us of another long, hot, political summer.  For the first time decades our political leaders are addressing this issue as well as the issue of Same Sex Marriage.  Likewise there is another political issue, the mandate from Human Health Services related to abortion and birth control.  It is a time of mixed emotions for and signals to Catholics in this country.  Likewise Roman Catholics around the world are carefully watching with political and religious binoculars to see what happens in the USA regarding these issues.  

Of course each of these issues is a hot button for the President (Cardinal Timothy Dolan) of the American Bishops Conference as well as the locals who are in the trenches every day - the local bishops, the priests, the deacons as well as the experts the local authorities have employed to assist them in their efforts to make certain that they follow the directives of the current and recent Bishops of Rome.  Likewise the laity are caught in this conundrum for indeed the faithful are earnest in trying to understand all these issues which seem to be like a puzzle.  How do I work with the various pieces of this modern-day puzzle?  Who truly understands what is happening and who has the correct answer.

Two days ago many caring and loving people came to Washington, DC to make their presence speak to government leaders as well as our Catholic leadership, all the American Cardinals, Archbishops, and Bishops.  Huge crowds filled DC's famous Mall.  They were present to speak to the nation.  Their presence was their voice and the voices of many who were unable to leave their jobs.

A young priest friend sent me a text at the end of a very long day.  From a Latin American country himself, this man worked many hours trying to bring as many "immigrants" to the Mall for the event. Had I been in Washington that day, I would have joined those marchers.  I do not recall the pastor of the parish where I am currently assisting as a retired priest telling me and others that the Cardinal-Archbishop of Washington, DC or the chief staff person in charge of social issues, encouraging as many as possible to be present on the Mall.

I suspect that there was no directive encouraging participation because the American Bishops have found difficulties with one of the Immigration issues, namely the effort many have demanded to incorporate gay couples (partners, I suppose) into the struggle for equal justice as their program states.  The Bishops are caught on those proverbial "horns of a dilemma."  Will they feel an obligation not to support the Immigration reform bill that would give citizenship to millions of the faithful who populate our churches as the new immigration wave?  Will our Church (continue to) lose more and more of the Hispanic-Latino population that is struggling with so many aspects of human life to the Evangelical churches?  Makes one wonder why anyone would want to be a Bishop today!

Our challenge is these times is to listen, to reflect and to pray that we may understand, that our Bishops may give serious prayer time to these issues so that they can give the Church the leadership that we so desperately need in this country.  These are the issues that bring many of the laity to see little leadership in our country from our Bishops.  So, it is truly "troubled times" in which we life.  Prayer is desperately needed from everyone.  But thankfully there are priests like this one mentioned above who spend so many hours every week helping the homeless, the poor and the immigrants who truly want this to be their home.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Wednesday, 2nd Week, 11th Day of Resurrection Season

St. Luke's words for us today recall what all of us have heard time and again since the days of our Confirmation.  It is the reminder that, like the Apostles and other disciples of Jesus Christ, we are challenged to proclaim the gospels.  While our world knows well of Christianity and Roman Catholicism, ours is a challenge to make what we believe a reality in the eyes of our sisters and brothers as well as in those who may not profess the same religious practices.  Indeed these same people may have a genuine faith in their hearts and lives.  However, they look to us to know have real the Catholic Church is in our time.

Pope Francis has become a unique point of interest in in the lives of Catholics, ex-Catholics and our brethren of other religions.  What is it that draws so much interest?  Some will point to his simplicity?  Others are captivated by his desire to do away with papal pomp and circumstance.  But this is the question in this blogger's mind?  Isn't there more to him?  My 26 years as a Jesuit will never leave me.  Formed in the ways of Ignatian spirituality, a Jesuit or ex-Jesuit will never forget how we were formed by the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.  As I watch Pope Francis as his adjusts to such a dramatic change to his life in these later years of his time on this earth, I think I know what is beneath all that he is doing and seeks to do.  The Jesuit is trained to know the fullest meaning of these four words:  Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam (AMDG).  Yes, good old Jesuit Latin!!!  It's meaning?  We do all things For the Greater Glory of God.  The greater glory of God:  isn't this the key to Pope Francis' treasure house?  His prayer, his simplicity, his ability to reach out to EVERYONE regardless of status or stature.  Especially he reaches out to the poor.  Why? Because Jesus taught time and time again that is the challenge for all of his followers.

Imagine what our world would be like if this Ignatian charge AMDG was the modus operandi (way of acting) characterized the lives of all those who profess to be followers of Jesus Christ.  Today's reading from the Acts of the Apostles is a reminder to us to examine our own lives.  It is a call to ask ourselves do I do all that I do or at least half of what I do AMDG?  With the example of Pope Francis let us try today, just for one half of this day to do all things for the greater glory of God.  Try it!  This is my challenge to you and myself today.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Tuesday, Second Week, 10th Day of the Resurrection Season

If there is a thoughtful reading of today's words from the Acts of the Apostles, we might consider the example of the lifestyle of the early Church and how we might look at our own lifestyles in this land of plenty.  Some might think the plenty has been lost but when compared to many people around the world beginning within our own cities and communities we in the USA do live in a land where abundance is surely a part of many lives.  Being a priest who lives alone, I try each day to share lunch or dinner with someone or a couple.  This is one big difference between my former Jesuit days and the life I live as a member of a diocesan clergy.  I mention this because what I have come to see over the years is the tremendous waste that occurs at least twice a day:  mounds of garbage.  We who live in a land of abundance dispose of millions of tons of food at the end of each meal.   And yes, there are those who struggle just to get a bowl of soup.

Just as an exercise of mind and heart, try imagining what  life would be like for all of us if we lived as St. Luke describes the early Christian communities.  Surely most would conclude the same:  we can't live that way today.

The gospel also offers us another way of looking at the way we live our lives in this modern society.  St. John's gospel speaks about a mind set that was made more widespread by our brothers and sisters who live their spiritual life in an Evangelical religious practice.  "Born again!"  Remember when that phrase first came about.  It was in our own lifetimes.  For many Catholics it became a slogan symbolizing something to do with the Charismatic lifestyle or that of other Protestant religions.

We Catholics seems to have forgotten or never read the part of St John's gospel where Jesus himself speaks to the people about being "born again."  Again John's gospel is the site of those words, perhaps a little differently expressed but having the same meaning:“You must be born from above."  Yes, we must be born again.  Our first, natural birth is very different from our spiritual birth that we must make our own at some point in our lives.  Usually in the Roman Catholic religion that moment takes place when we receive the Sacrament of Confirmation. But, because of the time we are invited by the Church to receive that Sacrament, we are surely far from being able to fully comprehend what it is that our faith is all about.  But there does come the moment when we realize that we have not understood our religion as Jesus taught us to understand what the Father's will is for us.  This is a reason why it is so important for us to rely upon the gifts of the Holy Spirit we have received in Confirmation  to understand what God wants of us today, in this world of ours.  Would any of us who received the Sacrament of Confirmation in grammar school or the early teen years believe they were fully aware of the meaning of being a Catholic Christian, aware of the meaning of Jesus' teachings for us?  I know I want not aware of all that my personal faith in God and belief in the teachings of our Church were meant to be for me when I knelt before the Bishop for my Confirmation.  Much food for thought, isn't it?

Monday, April 8, 2013

Monday, 9th Day of the Resurrection Season

There is rarely an event or gathering of God's people that this blogger is not ask a question about Pope Francis.  Yesterday, a calendar filled day, at five different events, questions about Pope Francis were asked.  Indeed, in Catholic and non-Catholic circles the man chosen  "from the ends of the earth" as he says, continue to be mentioned in many of the world-wide press.  What is it about him that so attracts people?  What is there that he is teaching that so captivates the world?

In a homily for several groups of Vatican employees he spoke about Jesus, his friend.  He spoke in a manner and with content that might befuddle the world's and the Church's intelligentsia!  What he did was to present to the workers and the world his belief, ever so simple, that the answer to so many of our personal needs is Jesus.  It is that simple for him.  There were no deep theological mysteries.  There were not intricate philosophical underpinnings to his message.  Again it was ever so simple but perhaps a message with such power because of its simplicity.  And with all respect to the spiritualities of his immediate predecessors, he spoke about Jesus, his friend, in ways that we have not heard before from the recent Bishops of Rome.

In the name of Jesus, the Pope repeated, adding: “He is the Saviour, this name, Jesus. When someone says Jesus, it is he himself, that is, the One who works miracles. And this name accompanies us in our heart”.

The Holy Father also spoke of a personal experience he had while working as the Archbishop of Buenos Aires.  There a long-time employee, a father of eight children, would always call upon the name of Jesus whenever he began a new task.  The Pope said that he once asked the man why he would whisper Jesus' name in this way.  When I say 'Jesus', this humble man answered me, ‘I feel strong’, I feel able to work because I know he is beside me, that he is keeping me'”. “And yet”, the Pope said, this man “had not studied theology: he had only the grace of Baptism and the power of the Spirit”. And “his witnessing”, Pope Francis then admitted, “did me so much good. The name of Jesus. There is no other name. Perhaps it will to do good to all of us”, who live in a “world that offers us such a multitude of 'saviours'”.

Pope Francis then mentioned how often people of century turn to so many different "saviours" to find answers to problems, without turning the our friend, Jesus.  Perhaps this seems to simple, almost child-like, so different from elaborately designed prayers of petition.  Some might find it so simple that they might only laugh.

And Mary?  This new Bishop of Rome, very much like his predecessors, turned to the Mother of God as he concluded his remarks.    He noted that he believes strongly that Mary will always take us to our friend Jesus.  Never forget to bring worries and troubles to Mary, asking her to bring these needs to Jesus ... just as she did at the wedding feast of Cana when the young couple's "catering service" ran out of wine.  Mary told the young groom to go to her Son and "Do whatever he tells you."

The Pope concluded with these words:  "I would like us to think of this: I entrust myself to the name of Jesus; I pray, 'Jesus, Jesus!'”.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Divine Mercy Sunday - 2013

As you know, Blessed John Paul II proclaimed the Second Sunday of the Resurrection season  as Divine Mercy Sunday.  It was his purpose that all of us would be reminded in a special manner of the intensity of God’s mercy made manifest for us in the person of his beloved Son, Jesus.  He is our God, our brother and our friend.  Also let me ask you to picture in your mind how you see the face of Jesus, not necessarily the Jesus of Holy Thursday evening or Good Friday.  Rather call to mind the face of Jesus, risen from the dead and appearing to the apostles, the favored women who, by the way were the first to proclaim “He is risen.”  If you want to consider Jesus as your friend, I do believe that it is really impossible to have a faceless friend.  Am I not correct?  So, if you do not have a face that you talk with when your want to talk with Jesus, it is time that you get one picture in your mind that you can always call up when you dial up Jesus for a needed or wanted conversation.  Now back to Divine Mercy Sunday.

To understand the extraordinary and abundant treasure of God’s mercy, we must begin with the example Jesus entrusted to us.  His life’s fulfillment was anchored on a cross after several brutal hours of torture.  It is these events which earned for us the forgiveness, the pardon of our sins.With every lash of a soldier’s whip and every smashing of the nails driven into the sacred body that we should hear what Jesus must have been whispering to the Father: “Forgive them.”  Yes without any doubt every heartbeat Jesus experienced was his never-ending pledge of divine mercy.  The picture of the risen Christ with two shafts of light shining from his sacred heart represents our friend’s sending to the world the great wave of his mercy.  While at times it is challenging for human nature to understand fully the divinity of Jesus’ mercy, we can capture a sense of it in human actions.

Recall, if you will, the day when John Paul II journeyed to a Rome prison not to meet with the prisoners but to have a conversation with one particular prisoner.  He was a young man at the time.  He had tried unsuccessfully to kill the Pope as he rode through St. Peter’s Square.  Their meeting was not an encounter between enemies.  The room where they met was filled with love and pardon, not with anger or hostility.  “I spoke to him as a brother whom I have pardoned...”

Another human example that may help anyone who is having difficulty understanding God’s mercy and pardon comes from a tragic event in 2006.  In a small Amish village in Pennsylvania a crazed man killed five school girls and wounded seven others before turning the gun on himself to end his life.  The distraught parents returned the lifeless bodies of their children where they cleansed them of their dried blood.  The sad task completed, all of the parents went to the home of the widow whose husband had ended their children’s lives.  The grieving parents came to the grieving wife and assured her of their forgiveness and pardon for her husband.  These wounded parents buried any anger or hatred prior to the burial of their offsprings.

The message of this Sunday is simple and two-fold:  assure yourself that God’s mercy and forgive where your pardon is needed.  Forgiveness is the central theme of this event.  Seek Jesus’ forgiving mercy and extend your forgiveness where needed.  This is the reason for Divine Mercy Sunday.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Friday, the 6th Day of Resurrection Season

A third visit with his disciples after the days of torture and death and the day of his Resurrection yet the disciples did not recognize him.  Him?  Yes, their friend, your friend, my friend.  Even when he suggested throwing their fishing net to the opposite side of their boat, they did not recognize him.  But when they quickly found themselves burden with a filled net that had 153 large fish, their minds began to recall.  Peter, again the leader, realized who it was standing on the shoreline.  "It is the Lord!"

We can understand Peter's not recognizing Jesus.  His face and body must not have had the appearance the disciples last remembered of Jesus.  No longer was his face, his body shredded humanity.  This was the risen Lord.  How perfect his countenance and his body must have been:  this was the risen Lord. So moved was Peter that he tucked in his outer garment and jumped into the water to get to his friend.  His heart beating faster than when he helped pull in the catch of fish.  His eyes must have been as wide as possible.  Imagine his arms outstretched.  He could hardly wait to stand in the presence of the risen Jesus, his friend ... the same friend he had denied knowing when Jesus was beginning his passion.  That failing moment did not hinder his desire to be with Jesus again.

We may not feel as fortunate as Peter and the others were on this occasion.  How many are the times that Jesus offers us the graces to come to him, to talk with him and yet we fail to recognize Jesus on the shoreline in our lives.  Our friend Jesus may not appear before us in his risen state of divinity.  However, we are gifted so often with God's presence, God's graces but do not recognize Jesus in the moment.  He does come to us in so many instances because he has promised to walk with us when we need him.  All of us have our Emmaus moments, don't we?  In our resurrection moments, those times when we are able to rise up from moments of failing to live up to our baptismal promises, we are challenged to recognize the presence of God.

Tomorrow we celebrate a gift of God given to us by one of his emissaries, Blessed John Paul II:  Divine Mercy Sunday.  Let us pray today for the gift of wisdom, already given to us in abundance when we were confirmed with the powers of the Holy Spirit for the good of our lives, especially the spiritual goodness of who we are as children of God.

"Lord, today as I recall my seaside moments similar to the event in your disciples lives, let us be gifted again with the awareness the you are present to us in so many ways we fail to see.  Send your Holy Spirit upon me again and again so that I may know Jesus in those who come to me for help as well as those who try to help me be a better person.  Give to me and those who are special to me an abundance of wisdom to know when you are using others and different events to teach me to recognize that "It is I, your friend, Jesus." 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Thursday, the 5th Day of Resurrection Season

We are blessed in many ways!  If you read the Luke selections before these words, did you stop to consider what a blessing we have been given in these words. We have the gift of an Evangelist who was so close in time to the life and death of Jesus Christ.  Listen to what Luke has written.  A man of the first century is speaking to you and me.

What is Luke teaching/preaching in the two readings this morning?  We are in the Resurrection season and Luke is teaching us about the recent sufferings of Jesus celebrated in the closing days of his life, the closing days of our recent Lenten season.

This morning, as soon as I surrendered my bed after a good sleep, I felt the Spirit calling me do kneel beside the bed in prayer.  What are you teaching me today, I ask my friend, Jesus.  I thought of many things that would be happening today those moments I have planned and those I will discover.  But what I found in the readings is for me an opportunity to ask myself did the Lenten season have any lasting impact on my life.

You may remember that back in September, 2012, I was host to Shingles.  Well, yesterday was a day when I forgot to bring my pills with me to the funeral mention earlier this week.  Since my body has not yet completely repaired itself from the Shingles visitation and because I had overlooked bringing the pills needed to block the pain of the repairing process, I was in misery all day.  So much was the pain that I left my brother's home where I had stayed much sooner than expected to be closer to the church for my friend's funeral.  As I stood over the opened earth and looked at the coffin, I thought this suffering was nothing compared to what my friend had endured for many years.  This morning I thought about what Luke was teaching:  all that we suffer is an invitation to participate in the sufferings of Jesus.

Maybe I did accomplish a lasting learning during the days of this Lenten season.  Of course as I grow older, there are the pains and sufferings that accompany "seniorits"!  What Luke as well as the struggle I face in the complete healing from Shingles is the opportunity to delve more deeply into the meaning of Jesus' sufferings and resurrection and what is the meaning of our own sufferings ... and hopefully resurrection moments.  Because we are a baptize people, our sufferings and resurrection moments are very much a share in the sufferings and resurrection of our friend, Jesus.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Tuesday and Wednesday the 3rd & 4th days of Resurrection Season

All of us know well that one of the first appearances of the Risen Christ was at his tomb.  He appears to a woman who is weeping because she had found the stone rolled back from the entrance to the place where Jesus' body had been placed.  Mary Magdalene is a very special woman in the life of Jesus and in the immediate days after his death.  She is a model of what resurrection life is meant to be.  She, so often associated with sinfulness, she is the torch of hope God uses to assure all of us that "he is risen" is a reality.

In her moments of distress, emptiness, disappointment and loss, Mary hears the one word that only one person could say "Mary."  She knew it was the Jesus who had been so good to her, so helpful to her in her struggles with the challenges of life.  Of course her immediate human reaction was to grab him, to hug him.  A touching moment; the repair of so much damaged hope.  But then words that seem at first to be so strange, so strong, so hurtful in the situation:  "Stop holding me ...."  What?  Jesus you confuse me.  This is not like you.  Surely these were some of the thoughts that must have raced through Mary's mind and heart with the computer speed.  Then Jesus continues:  "... for I have not yet ascended to the Father."  Oh, my Lord, you are the Messiah.  You are the fulfillment of the David's heritage.  You are the Son of God the Father!

But those few words were not enough.  Mary was to become that shining torch, carrying THE message:  "But go to my brothers and tell them 'I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God."  Imagine Mary's heart and mind.  How many powerful emotions filled those few moments at the tomb site!  How could a human heart endure so many experiences of hyper-reality?  She leaves the burial site to return to her friends, the brothers of Jesus, to tell them the Resurrection news!  Could her legs and feet endure the stress she must have demanded of them as she returned with the news of Salvation?  Never before had two feet and two legs be charged with such a command:   "Go ... and tell them."

Today is a surely an opportunity for each of us who can spend just a few moments with Mary in this one act play to experience for ourselves what genuine Resurrection joy and excitement is all about.  And this is precisely what Jesus offers to each of us:  "Go and tell my brothers and sisters [the Resurrection news]."  Ours is to share our personal excitement, our meaningfully felt conviction that Jesus Christ is risen, that Jesus is truly our Lord and Savior ... all of this because we have been entrusted with the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  That is why this Resurrection season is a time leading us to the culmination of Christ's giving to the world, to all who are blessed with the gift of baptism.  It is the season of preparation for renewing in our hearts and lives the presence of the Holy Spirit.

3rd Day of Resurrection Season

Please note:  Let the following be your time of reflection tomorrow, Wednesday, the 4th day of the the Resurrection Season.  This afternoon and tomorrow I will be traveling to celebrate the funeral services for a long-time friend, the brother of a closest friend, who died after some years of suffering.  For Jack Roache, those years were truly a passion that he endured with the Lord.  In those years Jack came to know Jesus as his friend.  When placed into an ambulance for the last time it was in the darkness of the night.  As Jack and his sister were being driven to the hospital the interior of the emergency vehicle was  so dark.  Jack at first started asking "Where are you?  Jesus, where are you.  Didn't you call me?"  His sister so gently reminded him that he was still with her in an ambulance that Jesus wasn't quite ready to bring him to his heavenly home.  What an example of a man who knew Jesus was God but more importantly to him, Jesus was the God who was and always would be his friend."  Please remember Jack's daughters, his siblings and their loved ones because they have given back to God a gift they held as so sacred as they have come to know that Jesus is truly the God who wants to be a special friends to each of us.  Let us continue our journey of discovering what Jack learned in his years of illness.  Let us make this Resurrection season a time when we deepen the love we have for our friend, Jesus the Christ, the Son of God and our God.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Monday of Easter Week

As we begin the post-Resurrection days, remember that we have a goal:  it is not simply the Ascension of the Lord Jesus, our focus should be on the Holy Spirit.  More on this in the afternoon.