Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Ignatius Loyola

(Picture Source: Young Adult Ministry in a Box)

“The Kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field,
which a person finds and hides again,
and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
Mt 13:45

As we grow older, younger people often ask a question like this:  What is the most important event in your life?  For me it is not difficult to answer that question without hesitation: my twenty-six years in the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits).  Today I look back on those years as a treasure because during those years I came to know and admire the life of the Founder, Ignatius of Loyola.  And now, I genuinely believe his Spiritual Exercises brought me to a most difficult decision in my life:  to depart from the Society of Jesus to become a parish priest, imbued with the spirit of Ignatius.  Never to regret this decision which I truly believe was guided by Ignatius for a reason:  to bring my experience of Ignatian spirituality to so many people in so many different places and in so many different ways.  When Cardinal James Hickey, then Archbishop of Washington, spoke with me about my expressed request to become a "diocesan priest," he welcomed me to the Archdiocese of Washington, my home, with these words:  "The day I sense that you do not think and act as a Jesuit, I will not trust you.  You have been so formed by the great Jesuit tradition. If you abandon the formation that is yours, I would not be able to understand you."  Throughout my years working with His Eminence, there were times when we disagreed.  Each time I would hear these fatherly words:  "You Jesuits never change.  Once a Jesuit, always a Jesuit."

The many postings I have made for the "blogosphere" come about primarily because of my experience in Jesuit spirituality.  I have been blessed by God with the opportunity to celebrate Mass in the small room where Ignatius died.  It is in Rome, in the Jesuit residence attached to the magnificent Mother-Church of the Society of Jesus.  Usually with friends as I stood at the altar in that room, there was for me a genuine experience of Father Ignatius.  It is his spirit, his way of relating to Jesus Christ, that I always try to make a part of each reflection I prepare for those who will be with me at the altar each day that I have the privilege of preaching the Word of God and bringing Christ Jesus present upon the altar.

Always in my mind as I prepare these postings, the first question I ask myself is this:  how does this set of readings impact the lives of the women and men who will take the time to read or hear my thoughts, hopefully inspired by the Holy Spirit.  Secondly, my preparatory thought is to imagine how the scripture verses for the day's Mass plays a part in the lives we live in the world that is ours today.  Lastly, I always ask myself if I am making every effort, like Ignatius to be thinking with the Church in what I do and write for others to read or hear in my homily that day.

Yes, for you Jesuit fans, I am following the traditional Ignatian manner of prayer:  following three points or three topics within the readings.  You who have worked with Jesuits or who have made the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius recognize the "Jesuit format."

Today, I invite to join with me in thanking God for the gift of an Ignatius Loyola in the life of the Church.  Like other saints, Ignatius has brought his life and spirituality to the Church.  Today those who know Jesuits and Jesuit life stand in admiration of the work that the Jesuit's motto, AMDG-- Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam -- All for the Greater Glory of God, has brought to the Church and the many who have been touched by Ignatian Spirituality.

Thank you, Father Ignatius, and all the Jesuits who have impacted my life. 

PS:  To read Pope Francis' first encyclical click here: Lumen Fidei.  The first encyclical presented to the Church by its first Jesuit Pope!  Viva La Papa, le primo Jesuito Episcopo!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

In the House!

In the two readings for today's liturgy and substance for personal reflection, there is at first hearing or reading, I believe, a challenge to see a relationship between the two.  After some time looking at the two scenes as presented by the author of the Book of Exodus and the gospel of St. Matthew, I came upon two words in Matthew's recollections that helped me understand a bridge.  Matthew wrote that Jesus and his disciples went to "the house."  From Matthew's writings it seems that we can surmises that there was a particular house where Jesus and his apostles would gather, presumably for prayer and for private lessons.  In the first reading, the Exodus author speaks to us about "the tent" where Moses would find time with Yahweh.

What might be a thought for consideration is this:  often times here and elsewhere finding time alone with God is a frequent reminder.  It is in those moments when we separate ourselves from the day-to-day realities with the purpose of "meeting" with God that we encounter in unique ways presence of God with us, God speaking to our hearts and soul.

The Exodus portrayal of the "tent" where Moses would meet with Yahweh became a symbol of a "specially designed and constructed place".  A travel throughout Europe and in many American churches reveals the desires of architects, Bishops and Pastor as well as Parishioners to create a place of magnificence for the Presence of God.  At the same time, however, do not forget the words of scripture which tell us to go into a room of our homes to converse with God.  Scripture is teaching us that it is each individual who is the true temple of God.  It is within our minds and hearts that we encounter the divine.

A visit to a cloistered monastery's community chapel or church will reveal the unique sense the religious who live at the monastery possess about the space.  It is sacred space for them.  Simplicity is the characteristic that stands out.  For these religious prayer is between themselves and God.  There is no amassing of statuary (usually there are no statues in these chapels).  A candle burns near a tabernacle and a second candle burns near an opened bible.  For the monks and nuns who live cloistered life, in their hearts they speak with the Eucharistic Presence of Jesus Christ and the Word of God within the written words of the Bible.

Today's readings bring us to consider what we have made of the "house" we go to when we want to be with God, when we want to listen for his Word, when we seek to learn from him his never-ending care and love for us despite our sinfulness.  Always remember:  it is within "the house" that God welcomes us, especially when we know that we are sinners.

[Photo:  Prodigal Son, located in Soley Plaza, Jesus the Divine Word Parish, Huntingtown, MD]

Monday, July 29, 2013

Today: Truly A Martha Time for Our Church

Our Church now lives in a times when there is genuine need for God's mercy; a time for all of us to seek his forgiveness for the sins that have created scandals and scarred the Church that Jesus gave to the world, to those who followed him.

We live in days when we have to have the same faith as Martha who believed what Jesus taught.  Why else would the Holy Spirit have given the Church a new Bishop of Rome who has in so short a time offered an encyclical, The Light of Faith, and who has spoken eloquently (while in Brazil) on the need for us to petition the Lord for his mercy upon our Church.

Like Martha, can we say to Jesus' words (:anyone who lives and believes in me will never die"), like Martha, "Yes, Lord, I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God"?

Saturday, July 27, 2013

A Genuine Winner!

You may well have a feeling that borders on boredom:  "here we go again, dealing with this particular gospel event: "Jesus teach us how to pray."  So many time we've heard this request recounted by both Matthew and Luke.  Nevertheless, as many times as I have written or spoken about Luke 11:1-13, there has been at least one person who has asked or said, "Prayer is so difficult for me."  Translate that as 'Can you help me learn how to pray?"

Isn't it interesting that the apostles apparently never asked Jesus to teach them how to prepare effective homilies, how to work miracles, how to construct meaningful parables.  Nowhere is that kind of request recorded in the gospels.  Yet there is this one question recalled by the two writers of the life of Jesus.

Even if you are a person who prays often or regularly, there are moments when you, like myself, may question how well we pray.  But all of us, I believe, must come to the belief that prayer can be taught.  How many are the moments in personal prayer when I have uttered "teach me, you saints of God, how you have learned prayer, meditation or contemplation."  Yet, after so many years, I continue to find prayer an intriguing experience.

What we have learned from the saints is this: these holy mean, women and even young adults, most regularly set aside some time for God each day.  And, those who have shared their prayer experiences in their writings or talks hint that the "Our Father" was often times the beginning prayer.  Yet, we know, there are days when those simple words are like the springing one get from a diving board that lets us spend a few seconds in deep waters.  At other times these simple words don't help me go deeper than the shallow end of the pool.  It's then that you might realize that prayer is something that need quiet and calm as well as repetition.

There was a privileged moment for a 911 operator: a caller told her that he was on a plane destined for destruction.  Todd Beamer was on a plane destined for destruction.  Along with other passengers, were several terrorists determined to make United Flight 93 a suicide venture.  Todd, in closing his conversation with Lisa Jackson, the operator, asked her to call his family with his words of love and farewell.  Then Todd asked Lisa to pray the Our Father with him.

An operator and a man about to die without loved ones at hand, were connected by the power of prayer, simply saying the words of Jesus' prayer -- the prayer he taught his disciples; the prayer so many of us learned as one of our first "memorization exercises" in our young lives; the prayer so many Christians recall in their final hours.  These are words to live our lives by and to carry on our lips to our meeting with God in his Kingdom.

This prayer, you might say, is Prayer 101, Prayer 102, Prayer 103, and on and on.  Each time we allow the words Jesus taught us to become a part of our prayer, we learn the purpose of any prayer: to come to know ourselves and what God wants us to be.

Let me end, asking you to join with me now, saying these words one more time:

Our Father, who art in heaven
hallowed by thy name;
thy kingdom come, thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those
who trespass against us
and lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.  Amen.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Choice Seats!

Scriptures Today for the Feast of St. James

Like the other Apostles, James had little inclination that his end on this earth would end in martyrdom.  Perhaps as he and the other of The Twelve would realize, Jesus' tortured death would be a signal to them that fellowship with this Jesus has little to do with "choice seats."

In the first reading, St. Paul puts before us today as well as the Corinthians, a genuine paradox.  It is this:  the individuals who will have the "choice seats" will be those who are not the strongest, the most powerful; it will be those who are scorned, ridiculed.  St. Paul describes what martyrdom means:  "So death is at work in us, but life in you."

Paul as well as Jesus and all the martyred in our Church's recorded history are reminders to us in our circumstances today that it is these men, women and even children who are those who have been invited to sit in the "choice seats."  These are the followers of Jesus who offer us the places of the "choice seats".  Their lives are the examples presented to us should we want to be sitting next to Jesus.

Few will be asked to endured martyrdom because we want to follow Jesus.  However, we will be asked to sacrifice, to give ourselves in ways that are challenging and "costly."

So, do you want  "choice seats" when all is said and done?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Soil of My Heart

The gospel readings from yesterday, today and through the week until Saturday, are an important discussion and review of the Kingdom of God.  If we listen to what Jesus is saying, apropos of simply hearing Jesus talking, we have an opportunity to gather some concrete descriptions of what is is for us to become a part of his Kingdom and continue to live within that entity in peace and happiness.

Earlier readings this week offer Jesus' words about living in the "house" of God's Kingdom:  in essence there is no house.  Jesus never owned a house.  When Mary and the friends of Jesus came to a house, it was not his, not Mary's.  It was simply a house where Jesus had been invited to present his message.  This is the message for us today:  we do not wait for the Kingdom of God to come to us when we die, rather we are called to realize that "where two or three are gathered in my name" that is where you find yourself in the Kingdom of God.  So, gaining entrance to this Kingdom, is something we accomplish while we are here on this earth.

For three days now we will be considering a parable about the Kingdom which have been offered countless times in our lives:  the parable of the sower spreading seed over different types of soil.

This image largely describes too the field in which Jesus the preacher and teacher is working. It provides very mixed soil and much of the seed does not go very far in producing fruit. All this has been described in what we have already seen of Jesus’ mission among the people, the religious leaders, his own family – and his disciples. It is these latter who are the fertile soil, these are the ones who will enter, who are already entering the Kingdom.

The message of the parable of the sower is quite simple:  the sower goes out to spread seed, to plant the seed.  As it happens, Jesus describes the sower spreading the seed over several different types of soil.  What we see is this:  despite the failure of the seeds to grow in some areas, there will be a crop from the area of the good soil.  God's plan will succeed despite the inability of the seeds to become a crop in some areas.  Ultimately success will be had.

What we can learn today is this:  while efforts put forth by God in our hands may not succeed always at the exact time we want or expect.  Nevertheless, God's will will be accomplished.  Consider the difficulties St. Paul and others who were missioned to preach the gospel encountered along the way.  Communities of believers were established but not all succeeded.  Look at the Church today.  Our faith, our Church has endured since those founding communities began to open the Word of God among themselves in prayer and worship.  We know God's Word has fallen on many different soils.  Some of our labors have not succeeded but there has been the inspiration and graces of the Holy Spirit to lead us forward.

Within our own hearts we surely must recognize how there are different kinds of soil, different moments of receptivity to the Word of God:  sometimes easy, sometimes difficult, sometimes testing.  But, if we continue to trust and believe, if we do all we can to know our Faith and to enjoy living our Faith, we will achieve the life God wants us to live.  We just have to be patient, trusting and, especially, good "listeners".

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

St Bridget of Sweden

The National Cathedral Chapel
Washington, DC

Scripture Today

Jesus has given us the gift of faith as noted by the most recent "encyclicer", Pope Francis.  We are called in faith to know Jesus as the source of real life.  Furthermore, it is Jesus who leads us through graces to know Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

On life we encounter tests -- not just those for academic accomplishments.  What confronts us so often are the moments, the events or the people that test our faith, that tempt us to back away from the light of faith, bypass invitations to spiritual growth. And all of us have heard or said to others that "there is no gain without pain!"

Considering the vine and branches lesson Jesus uses, we should recall that we live for others as well as ourselves.  We have to be the light that makes visible the faith for others and, as well, for ourselves.

It is  the life of St. Bridget that teaches us how much of life should be closely associated with Jesus Christ through the faith that we learn and allow the Spirit to instill in our hearts.  He was the vine for Bridget.  She became the branch or the fruit that would feed others with the goodness of Jesus because she taught them to enjoy living the faith.

And you?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The first and third readings today speak in a serious way about hospitality and how often Jesus comes to us but in ways that do not seem to God-like.  The story of Martha and Mary welcoming their friend, Jesus, and the story of the good Samaritan we heard last week, both address the issue of hospitality.  It is clear that Jesus, like most people of his country looked upon hospitality as a very important part of living.

"Loving one's neighbor as oneself" is not an unknown expression of an inbred manner of living.  However, in our times, because of various social conditions that seem to mandate double locks on doors, peepholes and at times not answering knocks at our doors.  Even among those of us who profess a Christian life, openness to strangers is a true challenge.

In the first reading, from the Book of Genesis, if we try to read between the lines, we might be surprised that the three people who come to Abraham and Sarah are not other the God Himself and two angels.  And it is the same in the days of the post-Resurrection life of Jesus.  Strangers come to us but do we take the time to consider if such individuals might not be Jesus coming to us.  What these two stories teach us is a very simple lesson:  treat every stranger we meet with respect.  Perhaps if our society accepted this as a way of life, there might be less violence in society, there might be a growing awareness of how often Jesus tries to come into our lives.

It is so easy to ignore others who might be gift-bearers from God.  It is so easy to consider these losses as water over the dam!  Sarah and Abraham learned from one of the gentlemen who came out of nowhere, so it seems, that kindness and respect to a stranger does not go unrewarded.  Recall the promise made to them by this stranger and his companions:  "This time next year I will surely return ... and your wife will have a son."  And, as we know, this happened.

The message?  Simple:  When we welcome God into our lives, he will always come back but not in the same way and in way that are totally unexpected.  Hospitality toward a stranger is a genuine test of our trust in God.  Are we comfortable with "water over the dam"?

Friday, July 19, 2013

Laws! For Power/Control or Salvation!

Today's Scripture
(photo: Msgr. John Myslinski)

Moving into the 12th chapter of St. Matthew's gospel, we encounter Jesus confronting the Pharisees who criticized the disciples' activity on a Sunday, e.g. walking through the cornfield and taking a few ears of corn for their meals.  To understand something of Jesus' response to those who considered themselves superior to people and the laws, we need remember purposes of the laws the Jews lived with.  Here the specific law the Pharisees felt the disciples were violating was the Jews were not to pick up a sickle on the Sabbath ... thus not working in the fields on that special day of the week.  The sickle would provide means for someone to go through a field, taking much of the produce.  Without the sickle, however, the produce taken to provide food for a meal, would not be considered a violation of the law.  Care for the poor and needy would come supercede the law.  The Pharisees, in the instance and many others as well, were treating the law as and end in itself.  Such a position or practice was their means to imprison or condemn rather than to use the law as a means to liberation.

So, what can we learn from this for ourselves in our communities where laws can be enforced to control others irrationally or unjustifiably [the current debate over the Florida law for self-defense] or where laws meant to lead us to fulfill our obligations as Christians are completely ignored and their purpose is overlooked [excessive speeding while driving].  A Creighton University theologian asks this question: "How do we remain focused on law or command as GIFT of God's self-disclosure about his love and liberation?"  This theologian is debating in her mind when and where should we have a "reasonable respect" -- even LOVE for the "laws" of God meant to provide liberation rather than establishing what she calls a "false god" because a particular law becomes idolized.

Humanity was, is and always will be caught in the struggle to use laws for the best answer in any difficulty without using the law beyond its intention or scope.  We look at Jesus in this particular instance and his allowing his disciples to take corn from the field because it was necessary and reasonable.  We must remember laws are executed as a means to an end.   Further we must understand that when a law is "broken" there must be a necessary and reasonable cause for such action.  This applies to civil law as well as the laws we have within our Church.  God and the Church provide "laws" to help us come to our salvation safely and securely.  The challenge for all authority, then, is the obligation to protect the law from become a means to personal power and control.

Thus the picture of trees without all of the lushness of many leaves.  We see the essential of all trees.  So, Jesus in his confrontation with the Pharisees Jesus is trying to teach the essentials of laws especially when they pertain to our salvation.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

"Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

Have there been moments when you have felt that God is not with you?  That you have found yourself locked into a frame of mind that is not at all pleasant or hope-filled?  If this has been the case, the words above and the serenity of the photo might be of some help in bringing back both the hope and the peace that Jesus wants you to have.

We know what a yoke is, the yoke that keeps farm animals together to bring about more power for the farmer attempting to till his land or attempting to carry a large and burdensome load on a flatbed.

Most of us have not been accustomed to the "tools" of the farmer's trade.  When we look at a picture of a yoke or at one or two beasts harnessed in the yoke, we probably look and imagine pain, discomfort so forth.  However, the yoke will help the farmer achieve his goal which at least one of the animals is inclined to accomplish by following the "signals" delivered through ropes attached to the facial harness on the animal's head.  And what is also interesting is that the two animals know how to walk in unison and in one direction.  They know teamwork. It is no different for us if we are willing to walk with Jesus at our sides.  He will teach us how to follow where he leads or where the Spirit leads us if we but surrender some of our independence.  When we do, more often than not, isn't it the case that we do find Jesus' yoke is easy and his burden light?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Who Is My Neighbor in Church?

A very different moment in the life of Jesus when compared to his chiding the folks from three of the cities where he had done much preaching.  Today it is a reversal:  he speaks about those who have followed him faithfully with much warmth.  In truth Jesus is praising those who have been true to his teachings.

However, Jesus does make a distinction in describing those who are faithful.  The learned and clever do not fare well.  It is the "merest children" who receive his adulation.  These, his disciples, have accepted the graces offered by the Father to understand the secrets of heaven.

What we can see in these few words of Jesus is a description of the early days of growth in the new Church.  It was among the ordinary, the simple, unsophisticated that Jesus did most of his preaching.  It would only be later that what we know as Christianity began to accepted by the ruling and intellectual class.

What Jesus is teaching is that his Church, willed by his Father, is to be catholic, universal: poor folks, wealthy families, educated individuals and not so well educated people formed the Church as it grew.  A look at almost any parish today, especially at a Sunday Mass, is a similar experience.  People of every social level share the same pew in our churches.  People of every color; people of every language: this is the flavor of the Church today.

Lastly, Jesus is teaching us that he will lead us to his Father if we so desire.  It is his gift to us if we wish to accept it.  Every day Jesus comes to our heart, knocking, we might say, for us to open ourselves to his graces and gifts.  The choice is ours.  The extent to which I hope my heart to his teaching, his words, is entirely up to me.

In the first scripture reading today, God selecting Moses to lead his people, calls us to remember that God may call anyone of us to roles of leadership in our communities regardless of our past.  God looks at us as we are today and with a keener sense of our future than we ourselves might possess.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Who Do You Believe Me To Be?

Today's gospel makes clear that Jesus is not a weakling in his preaching.  Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum were towns that he visited more than a few times and were towns where he taught the people so much about the will of God.  Needless to say, had there been a scribe there to record all that he taught, we would have been able to create an early catechism.

So serious were his words to the folks of these visited towns that anyone who was serious about know what God expected of him/her in their lives, they would repent.  To be told that if the people in Sidon and Tyre had been given the teachings that he, Jesus, had given the three towns, there would have been genuine repentance.

We should recognize in the gospel today, Jesus' words for all of us in our towns, cities, states and nations.  Imagine if the people who are non-Christians of our times were to have received all the teachings that we Christians have been given by Jesus and by the teachings of our various Christian churches how different their lives might have become.

For us there are a few questions:  What meaning does the word of God have in our hearts, in our lives? How significant are other people and their goodness in our lives?  How strong is our effort to accept those who are different than we are?  How obvious is that acceptance in our lifestyles?  The most important question for us to face and to live is this:  Are we obviously men and women who accept what Jesus has taught and who make an effort to incorporate his teachings in the life we live?

Monday, July 8, 2013

My Vacation Week and Suggestions


I will be away from tomorrow morning until Monday evening.
Postings will resume on Tuesday next.

In the meantime, you might journey to Omaha, Nebraska.
This Jesuit University's Spiritual Center provides daily reflections.
Just click the bottom link line and you will be in Omaha!!!
"Happy trails to you, until we meet again!"

Walk On By?

The gospel reading will be the focus for this reflection.  However, let me share what crossed my mind as I typed the words "Scripture Today" just above.  How many times I have thought that I am so busy that I do not have time for any scripture reading?  How many time individuals have told me and themselves that there are days when "busy" is the description of the day?  How many days have there been when the computer served to provide information we might think very important?  When that walk into the wherever of the Internet occurs make sure that there is an icon on the desktop for an opportunity, such as this blog, to bring you immediately to the pages of the bible through the help of the  USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops).  The bible can be right at your desktop every day.  Now to the reflection.

No doubt, most of us have heard or read the story of the woman that Matthew mentioned in the words of his gospel.  A woman, seemingly advancing in years, had been tortured by an almost non-stop menstrual bleeding.  She was, as such, an outcast.  She wasn't allowed to touch other people.  But she had heard about Jesus and decided that He might be the healer of her malady.  So, bravely, she enters into the midst of the crowd following Jesus.  She dares not touch Jesus' body.  But her hope was so strong and not to be denied.  She goes down onto her knees and reaches out to touch not Jesus but only the hem of his garment.  That would be enough.  We know the rest of the story.  Her faith, her trust, her hope was not to be denied.  Jesus healed her.

How many times have I been on my way to somewhere for something when I have passed the indigent human being and ignored a call of help?  I know this:  God will one day remind me of those passings by.  Why is it we who have much are either "afraid" to speak with those in need or "resentful" that those in need are interfering with my day?  Am I so much better than those who seek a "helping hand," those who just need a word or two of encouragement, those caught in failure or loss?  

Being a human being can be challenging at different moments along the journey.  There may be a day or there may have been days in the past when anyone of us has a similar need.  I am sure I hope someone is there to listen to me, to help me.

A post-reflection note:  check out today's posting about our Pope on Whispers in the Loggia on  Pope Francis' First Visit Away from the Diocese of Rome.  It is the Holy Father's decision not to pass by those in need.  What a surprise for me:  as I started to compose this reflection, so many of the new Pope's remarks about concern for the poor and the needy came to mind.  After finishing the posting, I looked at "Whispers" and was so surprised.  Thank you Pope Francis, SJ!!!

[Photo: Whispers in the Loggia]

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Contentment: Where Thy Soul?

14th Sunday of Ordinary Time
"True Contentment Within Is In Christ Alone"
Luke 10:1-2, 17-20

In today's gospel selection from the thoughts of the Evangelist Luke, there is for us today genuine relevance because we continue to face the work of the Kingdom of God.  It is to our benefit to reflect on the directions that Jesus has entrusted to his apostles.  This gospel can be likened to the talks fathers and mothers offer their teen-aged children who are preparing to step out into the real world.  It can be likened to the warm, caring moments a grandparent shares with grandchildren whose future means so much to them and their families.

Parents and grandparents know that there are "wolves" waiting to devour the new "lambs" coming out into this contemporary world.  What can sheep do against wolves?  Nothing!  It is the natural weakness of sheep that necessitates a shepherd's care and guidance.  So what are we to do, facing such an opposition?

First and foremost, Jesus advises his "sheep" that they should leave solitude for the monasteries.  Lone Rangers today are not successful.  Success today, as it was in the times of the apostles, demands that we work with others.  Look at successful companies:  while the initial idea may have come from an insight of one person, it usually takes at least one other to help in building the company.  Isn't there more power in two than in one?  So, too, for us who seek to live life in the Kingdom of  God on this earth:  we need to be a part of a community of believers.  Our faith takes on stronger power for our hearts and souls when we are sharing the walk of faith together with other colleagues.

Who of us is there who has not learned that being self-sufficient and self-reliant is little more than pride:  "I can do it alone.  I don't need anyone else!"  This is why Jesus told the disciples he was sending on missions NOT to take extra items along on the mission journey.  Think of times when we pack the suitcases for a vacation:  how often are we tempted to bring along our entire wardrobe!  Are they "vacations"if we return home and find more than a items of clothing that were never used?  Just baggage to weigh ourselves down.

When we find ourselves wanting more, wanting a higher position in life, wanting more recognition in our communities, even in our extended families, we should recognize that these feelings of want are but the birthing process of discontent and envy.  In so many instances these "passions" can never be satisfied.  Genuine contentment is to be found in Jesus Christ not in "somewhere else, with someone else or doing something else."  Jesus is source of the answers for the man or woman seeking what our hands and hearts just cannot grasp.

So, hopefully, if we reflect on this message of Jesus, we can discern that it is not what we see or experience along the path we follow that will give us contentment.  Rather it is the friendship, wisdom and support of those who are with us on our journey of faith that will provide what our hearts and souls seek.  It is indeed the arms that reach out to us, welcoming us to our true home.  The greatest joy and contentment we should be seeking is to know that we have had the opportunity to share in the Kingdom of God adventure; that we recognize that we belong to Him who calls his lambs by name!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Graces Found in Doubt

Doubting Thomas.  The older I grow the more I understand Thomas, the more I feel comfortable imagining that I can have him as a friend, as a teacher, as a colleague.

I listen Thomas' doubt:
 Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands
and put my finger into the nail marks

and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

I think of those people, especially younger folks, who are not fearful in saying that the mysteries of faith are challenging to them.  This is especially true among all of us who live in the technological age where proof is always demanded, where mystery is accepted and just taken for granted and not always understood.  Then I think about Jesus' participation in this little one=act play that is occurring in today Gospel.

Put your finger here and see my hands,
and bring your hand and put it into my side,
and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”
Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed

Recall the times that friends or family have made remarks that challenge our faith today.  Would I, could I be strong enough in my own faith to welcome the journey of faith that is put before me in the lives of those speaking to me.  As a priest, it is not at all unusual to have someone initiate a conversation that is so much like what Thomas said:   "I need some proof to understand what this faith is all about."  As a priest, each time I raise a circular piece of compressed bread, a host, and a cup of wine, I often remind myself that what I am doing in the act of consecration is, probably, one of the most difficult mysteries for many to accept as a spiritual transformation of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

A very close friend of mine, a very devout man of so many years, has invited me to his home often.  Frequently I carry my Mass kit, as we call it, so that I can celebrate the Eucharist with him in his home.  Without any hesitation, when I raise the host and the chalice after saying the words of consecration, my friend, who does not have the best of hearing, whispers a prayer that he has said for years at that time:  "My Lord and my God."  This has become a prayer that I started "whispering" to myself at each consecration.  What an act of faith.  What an act of humility.

At that moment there comes a genuine sense of ultimate honor that has been entrusted to me in the priesthood of Jesus Christ.  I think of those words of Jesus to Thomas quoted above.  How blessed for me to be able to understand and accept the challenge of faith put before my friend and others like him who have heard Jesus say "Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed."

To you who are parents or grandparents or uncles and aunts, there must be those moments when younger relatives tell you they cannot believe.  Before condemning, take a few moments to stand with Jesus as he stood before Thomas.  Your moments with those doubting Thomas relatives are indeed like Thomas.  Yours is the challenge to respond in a way that Jesus responded to Thomas.  You can do this is you yourself are able to say "My Lord and my God."

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Surrender - Trust - Inner Peace

Today's gospel is one that most Bible readers can easily recall.  Each of us, no doubt, have had those moments when we have felt like the apostles trying to make their way across a stormy sea.  Fear.  Hesitation.  Questions.

We live in a world that daily puts before us troubled waters.  Most of us, I suppose, have those moments when we wonder what life would be like without the pains and fears that various situations in our lives seem to rob us of the calm we would like, the peace we would cherish.

Are not these the moments when Jesus just might be speaking to us:  "Why are you so frightened? Is your faith so weak?"  In those moments where is that faith that we have professed so many Sundays?  What does our trust in the Lord actually mean to us?

"Have you taken the time to seriously consider what it means "to place my trust in Jesus"?  It is in the powerful prayer, "Jesus, I place my trust in you" that we find ourselves invited to let Jesus take the tiller of our own little boat which seems buffeted and overwhelmed by storms.  

This photo may well express how we feel at times in our contemporary tossed seas.  Seeing such a sight, I wonder how I could ever control such a situation.  It happens so often, however, that in the hours and days after my "storms" that I realize I did not need to doubt that God was not with me.  It was God, without any doubt, that helped me survive the storms.  Perhaps, if I take the time to reflect peacefully during and after such "storms," I will realize that all the while I allow circumstances to bounce my little boat, Jesus was there with me.  

So, isn't it truly a matter of surrendering?  Isn't it the need for me and you to surrender our lives to trust in Jesus, especially when the waves tower over me/us?  And, as we look back on storms weathered, isn't it then that we do recognize who was seeking to support us with his love, his strength?

Being a true believer is never easy!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Firefighters' Tragic Death

Eternal Rest Grant Unto Them, O Lord!

Firefighters have been part of my life
Dad, uncles, cousins, myself
To hear that 19 have given their lives
trying to save the lives and properties of many
I stopped to consider a loving friend's text message of support to me
and to reflect on my own pain.

19 valiant firefighters trapped and sucked of life
no easy death they gave.

Imagine this morning
how many teared eyes are staring into the heavens
wondering, imagining, fearing, hurting
a spouse,
a Dad,
a son or daughter,
a grandson or granddaughter,
a nephew or niece,
a sibling, a cousin,
a colleague 
who thinks it could have been me
little leaguers
fellow church-goers
school classmates
civic communities
and all
first responders of whatever service
hundreds when just one of this noble army
painfully leaves this world.

imagine nineteen public servants
believing they would lick those flames
with water lines, shovels and hoes
not by
giving their lives.

Eternal Rest Grant Unto Them. O Lord.
Comfort give to thousands, those mentioned above,
their hearts seared in pain.

We know none of them most likely
but in today's solitude of our hearts and minds
we know they, too, are ours 
to lift up in
gratitude and prayer.

You Think You Can Follow ME?

Matthew reminds us that the path we follow, tracing the footsteps of the God who has invited us to be his friends may at times seem very different from what might be preferred.  The question may well be that we should be asking ourselves is this:  Do I honestly want to follow Jesus?  Do I seriously face the challenges that would lead me to another pathway, apart from where my friends wishes me to walk?  Can we not ask this question:  Have I honestly addressed the serious challenges I allow my world to put between me and Jesus?

To say in private prayer and conversation"Jesus, yes, I  do wish to follow you" but to respond with actions similar to the man in today's gospel -- telling Jesus to wait a while, I have various realities in my  life that will not make it easy for me to say that I will follow you without delay, without giving in to distraction?

The road that I choose to follow demands that I take time often to examine my life.  Why?  Simple:  so that I may fully know myself and all of my weaknesses and distractions.  Do I have an inscrutable life because I really do not want to make the choices required to be a follower of Jesus?

So, as one grows older, it is necessary to pray for the Holy Spirit to grant the wisdom to know how I should bypass destructive ways that enter my life.  However, if one can recognize these destructive way, then pray for the graces to overcome them.

Recall the Responsorial Psalm:  "The Lord is kind and merciful.... He redeems your life from destruction.