I Have To Wonder Why

Today’s Gospel left me wondering.

In today’s Gospel Jesus is relating to them that God desires a relationship. The parable has a very important line; a hermeneutic of sorts, a key. He relates to them the parable of the master of the house. In it that master tells those on the other side of the locked door: ‘I do not know where you are from.[1] He repeats it a little later: ‘I do not know where you are from’[2] In this there is the hermeneutic, the operative phrase, so to speak, which is: ‘I do not know you’. Christ needs to know us.

A relationship, by definition must be a two way offering, otherwise it is just an introduction; over and over again, but still just an introduction.

The master of the house, God the Father, is constantly introducing Himself to us, offering Himself in fellowship to us. He always desires a personal relationship with each of us. The Bible in one sense is the history of His actions of friendship, familial relationship; and our failure to respond.  He offers all He is to us; and do we offer the same back to Him? This is important because our faith is not an academic faith towards a philosophy, it is brotherly relationship with Jesus Christ and a son-ship with God the Father.

All we need to do is look around Holy Mother Church, Christ is right there, at the most intimate moments of our familial lives. Baptism, weddings, moments of regret for our actions in Reconciliation, Death.  His presence at these moments brings us tremendous grace, some even sacramental grace. But for many these moments, events, are just boxes on a check list, things to do; things that can up to a ticket to heaven. God, though coming to us is still not being welcomed into the lives of the participants. Once the event is over the people move on to another aspect of their lives where God isn’t a part.

Brothers and sisters, let’s not fall into the trap of thinking our faith is about doing; doing certain things that pleases God. It is not. Today’s Gospel highlights this when in response to Christ first saying ‘I do not know where you are from’ the people reply ‘We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.[3] A stranger can do as much. No, Christ wants more, He wants us. Let’s redouble our efforts in building this relationship; and the way to a relationship is to talk, it is that simple – prayer. Saint Teresa of Avila wrote: ‘For prayer is nothing else than being on terms of friendship with God.

Pray, it is that simple, it is that important; which leads me back to my first sentence. I have to wonder why, for many us, including myself, it is such a hard decision to do it.

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[1] LK 13:25b
[2] LK 13:27
[3] LK 13:26

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Martha And Mary

Homily given at a Mass at St. John The Baptist Parish, Winfield IL. They are celebrating their 150 year jubilee year.

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Last week while serving at your Sunday morning Masses I learned that you were going to have a concert in the park on Thursday – and it would be big band swing music.  Since I have always liked this type of music I attended, and it was marvelous.  The music, your campus and the energy of the attendees made it a beautiful evening.  It was a marvelous way to help celebrate St. John the Baptist Parish’s 150 year jubilee.

This community can be proud of your journey and it is always good to look back at what you have accomplished, where you are today, and look towards tomorrow to where and what you will be in the future. A jubilee year celebration is always a special time to reflect on the journey of your parish.

A parish journey is one of community and as such it is made up of a multitude of journeys; as many as there are and have been parishioners. Each of us is on a journey; we are pilgrims, we are journeying through this existence to a goal. Each of our journeys are different but with the same future goal, the only real goal – eternity with our Heavenly Father.

Jesus Christ walks with each of us on our journey, and gives us helps through His bride, Holy Mother Church. We have the helps of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist to strengthen us and heal us.  We have each other, fellow Christians to walk with us and support us; and this extends to the Church victorious, the angels and saints in heaven. We have the revealed word of God to lead us; and on and on.

But one of these helps is little understood by most Catholics – the Liturgical Year.  Other than clergy and liturgists and few others, most don’t really understand the gift of the liturgical year.  Except for when decorations and music change, vestments turn a different color there is no notice. But there should be. The liturgical year is a great spiritual and catechetical tool; if we live with the liturgical year affecting us we can grow in our faith and our witnessing to the beauty of that faith.

Holy Mother Church gives us great seasons and feast days to teach us the many facets of our God and His people. Advent, Christmas, Lent, the Sacred Triduum and Easter celebrate the great acts of our God for His people; but the one season that seems to be mostly ignored is the ‘green season’, Ordinary Time.

Ordinary Time is a poor title because it is a horrible translation of the Latin; there is nothing ordinary about it.  A closer translation would be Ordered Time (thus the titles like today, 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, next week will be the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time and on and on). I like to call Ordinary Time the ‘School of Discipleship’ because the readings in it teach us what it means to be followers of Christ, it trains us to be better witnesses for God.  Through honest reflection of the readings we can take stock of how we are doing.

Today’s reading is a great lesson in our journey as disciples.  We see Martha and Mary. Martha – she is busy doing; and Martha has the right of it. Jesus calls us to do things – calls to activity. In the gospel of St. John (known as the most Eucharistic gospel) the description of the Last Supper doesn’t mention the institution narrative as other gospels do. No, instead it relates to us the washing of the feet – action, service – this is what the Eucharist calls us to do. The final words of the Mass, the dismal, in the official Vatican text is Ite Misa Est – ‘Go you are sent’ a call to action. His final words to His apostles before His ascension calls us to action: ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…[1]  So Martha is following the teachings and commands of Christ to do things.

Mary – on the other hand seems to be just sitting and doing nothing, letting her sister do all the work.  This is true, she is not doing, she is listening, and Mary has the right of it as well. But Mary has correct priority of things.  She is listening to our Lord. Another Mary, the Blessed Mother, tells the servants and us at the wedding feast of Cana to ‘Do whatever He tells you.[2] She calls us to action but first to listen.

Being a disciple means we have an apostolate – we have things to do for our Lord, but we need to listen to what it is that He has to tell us. We have to come to understand His directions first then do them; otherwise we are just doing our own thing, spinning our wheels in our journey to be more like Christ.

To listen to the Lord we need to participate in His dialog, the Mass of course is the summit of His dialog but we also need to dialog with Him in our prayer.  Mass is at best daily, usually weekly, but prayer is constant.

I would suggest to you that this gospel reading about Martha and Mary can be viewed not as two different people but what goes on with our journey. We are at times more Martha than Mary, then more Mary than Martha.  We need to prioritize our lives with Martha and Mary in mind. Martha and Mary teach us a very important lesson in priority; we need to use our ears first, mind and heart second, and last our hands and feet. Or as St. Josemaría Escrivá puts it: ‘First, prayer; then atonement; in the third place – very much “in the third place” – action.[3]

May the lesson of Martha and Mary help us be more fruitful in our apostolates.

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[1] Mt 28:19-20a
[2] Jn 2:5
[3] Josemaría Escrivá The Way #82

Poor

While finishing up a boat tour on the island of St. Lucia I heard one of the tourists, a man from the U.S., ask the tour guide if there were any poor areas on the island like the ones he saw on the other islands he had visited. It seems that he was surprised, relieved, he didn’t see any. I am not sure of his intent, I can’t read his mind but his delivery was brash, clueless and culturally insensitive. It was also idiotic since he had never gone onto the island – it was a boat tour that started behind the cruise ship – which is what the tour guide politely pointed out. She went on to say that the island was very rural in some parts – an interesting observation and one that confused the man – who then connected rural with poor.

Another time I heard a lady behind me talking to another about the low wages the crew made – it seems that these ‘poor overseas people didn’t know how much they should really be making’ – sigh! Americans, the gracious tourists!

I kept reflecting on these two tourists as the vacation went on and their attitudes. It seemed to me that there was a common thread: poverty is something that they shouldn’t have to see – it is evil and should be eradicated – and those who were poor didn’t know enough to elevate themselves.

They seem to think that being poor was something that should never happen, that it should be eliminated from the world. As honorable an intention as that might seem, it is both impossible and maybe, deep down, a selfish wish.

Impossible
Are we to contradict our Lord? It was He who said: ‘The poor you will always have with you,’[1] Christ is making us aware that being poor, in and of itself, isn’t something evil. Those who are poor aren’t failures because they are poor, in fact they could be successful in what is truly important – faith.

The issue here lies between two words poor and destitute.  The people of these islands that this tourist saw, and had a type of pity for, might very well not need his pity. Yes, they hardly had much at all, at least according to our standards (which is a very consumerist, vulgar viewpoint) but they were not lacking in the necessities, and they had family, faith – love.  They made due with what they had, and were happy.  Now to be sure some probably had fallen into destitution but not all.

Selfish
What strikes me about these types of tourists, and by extension many Christians of the first world is that their desire to rid the planet of the poor by elevating them is a cover for their fearful distaste of having to help them in a personal way.  Sure, these types of Christians will most certainly throw dollars at the issue, but that is not what Christ calls us to do – he calls for more.  He calls us to a solidarity with the poor. Pope Francis speaks constantly about looking into the eyes of the poor, talking with them, showing concern and care as we help them financially.  Christ calls us to love and love isn’t paying for them to go away by raising their standard of living. Love is compassion – compassion is made of two latin words: com (meaning with) and passion (meaning to suffer).  We are called to be one with them, solidarity among family.

Hard lesson but important
This is a hard lesson to teach even to the Christian world, especially we who live in the first world.  We are called to live with those who need our help. Some try to separate almsgiving from the social works of charity and I have to ask – is this how we witness to love? We proclaim to be members of the mystical body of Christ, the Church, so how can we be satisfied with this logic? Pope Benedict XVI, in his first encyclical speaks of the specific attributes that separates the church (and every member) from well-meaning but bureaucratic charitable organizations ‘The Church is one of those living forces: she is alive with the love enkindled by the Spirit of Christ. This love does not simply offer people material help, but refreshment and care for their souls, something which often is even more necessary than material support.[2]

Brothers and sisters, let’s take to heart Jesus’ words in our actions towards those we meet ‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.[3]

Judgement no – compassion yes.

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[1] MK 14:7
[2] Pope Benedict XVI Deus Caritas Est section 28b
[3] MATT 22:37-39 (RSV)

Media Morsels

Friday, the United States woke up to the first wave of editorial headlines about the Holy Father’s Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laeticia. For those who haven’t take the time (a lot of time) to read the exhortation what they know about it is what they have heard and read in the media.

  • USA Today editorial website: ‘Pope has good news for divorced, but not for gays
  • LA Times editorial website: ‘Pope Francis eases the way for divorced Catholics, but reiterates opposition to gay unions
  • Wash Post editorial website: ‘Pope Francis offers hope to divorced Catholics, says no to gay marriage
  • Boston Globe editorial website: ‘Pope offers ray of hope to divorced Catholics
  • NYT editorial website: ‘Rather Than Rules, Pope’s Document Gives License to Adapt
  • Chicago Tribune editorial website: well… they just used the Washington Post’s headline and article.

It is getting old to say, but once again media is driving the discussion. These headlines focused in on about ten out of 325 paragraphs (I did mention a lot of time).  Ostensibly the media is watching out/caring for society but it isn’t really their main goal; and in this case their desire to pass judgement on the church takes them to the opposite ends of the continuum. The usual scenario is that one day they are blasting the Church for various wrongs (actual, perceived or just made up) and the next day they are blasting them for perceived long-overdue changes – in most of these headlines they are doing both!

First, let me say that some parts of the Exhortation have some ‘edge’ to them; I am still in need of a reread of the eighth chapter. There are legitimate questions to some of what the Pope wrote. There are in any Apostolic Exhortation, after all, they are reflections on discussions that happened; in this case in the past two synods (extraordinary and ordinary). But what is striking is that the worldwide media if focusing on only these ten or so paragraphs. But the greatest parts (both in size and importance) of Amoris Laeticia are ignored. The majority of the exhortation, is a wonderful and inspiring proclamation on marriage, family and their issues.  It is a well written and insightful reflection on what our families, in all parts of the world, have to deal with, and it offers choices to help them, as well as, reassure them that Holy Mother Church walks with them. However, these parts don’t fit with the media’s idea of how the world should work; and besides, the media is all about ratings and the bottom line. They have no time for participating in addressing the ills that challenge families; it takes too much time, is boring, and it doesn’t bring them those ratings and dollars.  They are concerned with tantalizing the viewers/readers with exciting morsels of controversy – making a name for themselves.

For us, however, there is exciting value in this document, and one of the most exciting aspects of Amoris Laeticia is that it is a clarion call for Catholics to proclaim these good ideas about the good news. And can we do this:

  • By our words, as we talk about the whole document. Which means we need to read it.
  • By our lives, as we try living as the family that God intended us to be. Which means we should to read it.
  • By our embracing our extended families, which include the marginalized. Which means we should to read it.

In other words, we owe it to our faith journey and to the world to understand just what the synod fathers and the Pope distilled from the two synods. We need to be familiar with the document’s ideas so that we can both live the faith more fully and defend the teachings of church more knowledgeably. But first we need to start with prayer. We need to pray for our Pope and his bishops and clergy, especially our priests; because like it or not, thanks to this exhortation they will be on the front line. And we need to pray for ourselves, as we read this document and try to implement those ideas it contains that strikes our heart. Finally, we need to pray for the ability to help undo the damage done by appetizer-like headlines and editorials that do no more than tease us with partial truths and colored opinions.

The media will tantalize the world with tasty headlines, but it is the Lord and His followers that will feed them with sustenance.

 

Four ‘Yesses’; Four Faces

(Divine Mercy Sunday – 2016)

This year, because of the liturgical calendar, we have a special alignment that speaks even more fully of God’s gift of mercy.  This year our celebration of Divine Mercy is wedged between two great acts of God’s Mercy, indeed it is situated between the beginning and the culmination of His gift of Mercy, albeit in chronologically reversed order – but still between them. The celebration of Divine Mercy, this year, rests between Easter Sunday and the Solemnity of the Annunciation (which we celebrate tomorrow). Normally, when Easter Sunday isn’t so early in the year, the Solemnity of the Annunciation falls within Lent.

Why is the Solemnity of the Annunciation tied so closely to Divine Mercy?  After all many would say, and rightly, that all celebrations are tied to Divine Mercy. But the Solemnity of the Annunciation is especially integral to this gift; Easter couldn’t have happened without the Annunciation.

Of course it is easy to understand why Easter is so connected to today’s celebration of Divine Mercy. The great Pascal Mystery; when through no merit of our own, due only to the love of the Lord mercy was shown to us, mercy opened the gates of hell; mercy healed the universe.  Easter is when the light of mercy explodes to those who seek it.  It is the culmination of this great gift from the Father. It is the reason for our joy.

But, again, why is the Annunciation closely connected to Divine Mercy?

The Solemnity of the Annunciation is usually almost forgotten among the celebration of Lent. If we look closely, this ‘hiddenness’ seems almost appropriate. Pope Benedict XVI commented on this at his March 25th 2007 general audience: ‘The Annunciation, recounted at the beginning of Saint Luke’s Gospel, is a humble, hidden event – no one saw it, no one except Mary knew of it – but at the same time it was crucial to the history of humanity.[1]  What is almost always overlooked is that at this small ‘backwater’ encounter there were two fiats, not one. Two acts of mercy happened at that meeting between the Archangel Gabriel and Mary, and both were needed to bring Divine Mercy among us. Mary’s yes to the will of God the Father; and first, the Son’s yes to His Father in doing Their merciful work by entering into the world. It was at the Annunciation that Mercy took a face.[2]

But there is another ‘yes’, another face.

Holy Mother Church, the Bride of Christ, takes our Blessed Mother’s yes and adds hers to it.  The Church stands in front of the face of God and the faces of all the angels, and the heavenly hosts and proclaims her fiat. Her yes, to continuing to bring the face to mercy to mankind. Two millennia have seen this ever different yet never changing face of Divine Mercy. It is the face of each and every faithful who has and is doing Christ’s work. Holy Mother Church continues to give physicality to God’s mercy – through her we can see and hear and touch Divine Mercy.

And, there is a fourth ‘yes’ – ours.

As have those who preceded us in the mystical body, we need to allow our own face to project Christ’s face and shine as the face of mercy.  Our ‘yes’ needs to be added to the Church’s nearly 2,000 years of ‘yesses’.  It is our ‘yes’, our face of mercy that ‘completes what is lacking[3]. Our suffering for those around us, the action of mercy, that brings them to Christ through His bride.

My brothers and sisters, do we take up this mission and move forward? Do we add our individual fiat to that of the Church, and of Mary, and of Christ? Are we adding our face to Christ’s and radiating mercy to the world?

This week we have seen the passing of a great witness to the mercy of God. Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation went home to the Father after 92 years of pilgrimage and over 70 years of continual public fiat in doing His will.  By her faith in our merciful God she built the largest Catholic, indeed Christian, media network and spread God’s face throughout the world.  It was her EWTN television station that daily prayed the Chaplet of Divine Mercy so the world could become aware and appreciate its power and participate in it.  She has been called home – let’s take this milestone to recommit to our Merciful God and say yes to the mandate of Divine Mercy. Let’s embrace His mercy with our own fiat and in doing so let those who haven’t felt His mercy see His face in ours and by doing so instill in them the wisdom of the prodigal son when he finally realized who he truly was and where he should be.

Finally, friends, this Fiat of ours isn’t an annual celebration – it is a commitment to action, continual action. So as we add our ‘yes’ to the millennia of faithful let’s ask our Father to give us the strength to offer the mercy we received from Him to all we encounter.

Let your face shine through us Oh Lord, so that Your Mercy may bring light to our darkened world.

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[1] Pope Benedict XVI – 3/25/2007 General Audience.
[2] Inspired by: Pope Benedict XVI – 3/25/2007 General Audience.
[3] Col 1:24 (RSV)

Withdrawal Symptoms

Three days into this Lenten journey and, I must admit, that I have already felt a certain uneasiness come over me. A feeling of being sort of lost; of anxiety about my Lenten choices; a low-grade hopelessness at my ability to follow through with my Lenten exercises. It feels almost as if I have withdrawal symptoms from my normal life. And that is exactly what these feelings are, withdrawal symptoms.  I am being hit with the realization that I am trying to change my ‘comfortable’ faith life to an honest faith life, one that has a deeper relationship with God.

Every year I know going into Lent that it would entail struggles – but what I expect and what I encounter is never the same. Though not pleasant; these struggles are necessary.  Our Lenten exercises are a cleansing, a purgation of the barriers that keep us from being in a true relationship with God; it is our participation in what St. Paul wrote to the  Galatians ‘I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me[1]

My brothers and sisters, this angst, which we can feel during Lent, about our choices and our ability to fulfill them is part of the cleansing.  It is necessary; if we don’t have these moments of doubt and despair than it probably is a good sign that our Lenten exercises aren’t at the level needed to help us. These exercises and our feelings are, in a small way, our participation with Christ with what He went through in the Garden of Gethsemane – ‘the disciple is not above the master[2]. Again, these Lenten exercises that we have started should be hard exercises; aside from our own reluctance to remove these obstacles; we can be sure that the evil one is pressing us hard to not succeed.  The words of St. John the Baptist though inspirational are tough to follow:  ‘He must increase, but I must decrease.[3] These are not words of pleasure but of tough work and constant struggle.

Friends, let’s not give in to our weaknesses when we start to feel the angst of withdrawal from our comfortable lives.  Let’s place in front us the goal, God.  Let’s drop to our knees when these feelings flow over us and ask our Lord for the healing salve that the Holy Spirit can give us; so that when the wave passes we are still on the path of purgation and healing that leads to eternal joy.

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[1] Galatians 2:20
[2] St. Josemaría Escrivá – The Way #699
[3] John 3:30 (RSV)

The Child Jesus

As we start to look down the road to the Lenten Season (which will be here in just 10 short days) the teachings and reflections of the Christmas season start to recede in our minds. But this coming Tuesday Holy Mother Church seems to take a step back in time to our Lord’s presentation at the temple; He is back to being a babe.

It gives us a good moment to go back again and reflect on the beginning of His earthly life right before we start to dive deep into His last years and His greatest gifts. I have always been interested in the devotion many have for the Child Jesus – it is a prominent devotion and one that I have a great fondness for. Yesterday, while catching up on some reading I came across the December 30th General Audience of Pope Francis[1] – it is a short and unique reflection on what the Child Jesus can mean for us – and I would like to share it with you.

Devotion to the Child Jesus is widespread. Many saints cultivated this devotion in their daily prayers, and wished to model their lives after that of the Child Jesus. I think in particular of St Thérèse of Lisieux, who as a Carmelite nun took the name Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face. She is also a Doctor of the Church who knew how to live and witness to the “spiritual childhood” which is assimilated through meditation, as the Virgin Mary taught, on the humility of God who became small for us. This is a great mystery. God is humble! We, who are proud and full of vanity, believe we are something big: we are nothing! He, the Great One, is humble and becomes a child. This is a true mystery. God is humble. This is beautiful!

There was a time in which, in the divine-human Person of Christ, God was a child, and this must hold a particular significance for our faith. It is true that his death on the cross and his Resurrection are the highest expressions of his redeeming love, however let us not forget that the whole of his earthly life is revelation and teaching. In the Christmas season we remember his childhood. In order to grow in faith we will need to contemplate the Child Jesus more often. Certainly, we know nothing of this period of his life. The rare indications that we possess refer to the imposition of his name eight days after his birth and his presentation at the Temple (cf. Lk 2:21-28); in addition to this, the visit of the Magi and the ensuing escape to Egypt (cf. Mt 2:1-23). Then, there is a great leap to 12 years of age, when with Mary and Joseph he goes in pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover, and instead of returning with his parents, he remains in the Temple to speak with the doctors of the law.

As we see, we know little of the Child Jesus, but we can learn much about him if we look to the lives of children. It is a beautiful habit that parents and grandparents have, that of watching what the children do.

We discover, first of all, that children want our attention. They have to be at the centre — why? Because they are proud? No! Because they need to feel protected. It is important that we too place Jesus at the centre of our life and know, even if it may seem paradoxical, that it is our responsibility to protect him. He wants to be in our embrace, he wants to be tended to and to be able to fix his gaze on ours. Additionally, we must make the Child Jesus smile in order to show him our love and our joy that he is in our midst. His smile is a sign of the love that gives us the assurance of being loved. Children, lastly, love to play. Playing with children, however, means abandoning our logic in order to enter theirs. If we want to have fun it is necessary to understand what they like, and not to be selfish and make them do the things that we like. It is a lesson for us. Before Jesus we are called to abandon our pretense of autonomy — and this is the crux of the matter: our pretense of autonomy — in order to instead accept the true form of liberty, which consists in knowing and serving whom we have before us. He, the Child, is the Son of God who comes to save us. He has come among us to show us the face of the Father abounding in love and mercy. Therefore, let us hold the Child Jesus tightly in our arms; let us place ourselves at his service. He is the font of love and serenity. It will be beautiful today, when we get home, to go to the nativity scene and kiss the Baby Jesus and say: “Jesus, I want to be humble like you, humble like God”, and to ask him for this grace.

As I reflected on our Holy Father’s talk I came away with two powerful insights:

  • The first, is that this Lenten season, in this year of Mercy, I want to focus on the actions of Christ and the meaning of Calvary and the empty tomb through the eyes of a parent looking at his child.
  • The second, is to give thanks to the Father for the children around me who show me what is missing in the Bible about the Child Jesus.

Brothers and sisters may each of us never release from our embrace the Child Jesus. Let us always, in our hearts, gaze down at the babe who is love incarnate and allow the emotions this brings to sink deep and remain always within us.

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[1] L’Osservatore Romano English edition 1/8/16