Nov 11, 2018

Pray for the Shepherds

American Bishops to meet:

It goes without saying that the annual meeting of our American Bishops, beginning tomorrow in Baltimore, is likely one of the most crucial ever.  Regardless of how we may feel about reports of past and present failures in handling the abuse crisis, and our anger and hurt is indeed justified, as a Catholic people we must remain united in compassion for victims, in a constructive search for solutions, and in solidarity with our Bishops as leaders of our faith communities.  

At the present moment the Church has done a great deal of soul searching and concrete process of investigation and preparation of seminary candidates for future ministry.  One of the things that may be lacking is to bring the information to the faithful as to just exactly how much has already been done, the success rate which has been great, and the present attitude of  those men in seminary formation who see themselves as part of the solution.  In the end, we all must work together.  We are a family and when one part of a family is in crisis, out of love and mutual respect, we all join together to seek constructive solutions for the common good of all.  Jesus prayed for unity among believers, all those who would be his disciples, and that is of course everyone of us.  

Yes, our Bishops must be responsible for their leadership.  There's no question about that.  They must be held to the same standard of conduct that is expected of all the clergy.  If resignation is the only solution, then so be it.  The Church will continue.  It is not our Church but Christ's.  But the wounded humanity must be healed but to remain angry simply for its own sake is no solution.  

I recently had one parishioner, a good and well meaning person, who's solution to the "problem" and suggestions for reform were extreme to say the least.  Their solution was essentially the complete dismanteling of the entire Catholic tradition and structure.  The upending of sacramental theology in favor of social and popular solutions:  "All Bishops resign.  Deacons and priests never speak about marriage since "they don't know what they're talking about." Ordain women as priests and bishops.  The Church has never listened to women in 2,000 years," etc etc.  Such extreme vision is not helpful at all to the solution but counter intuitive and in the end destructive.   

Nonetheless, we must work and pray as ministers in Christ's Church. We're all in the same boat on the same Ocean.  May the Holy Spirit guide us all to open minds, humble spirits, supportive and constructive solutions, and in the end may Charity be our guiding force.  Peace.   

Nov 9, 2018

32nd Sunday: "To give from our need"

"This poor widow put in more than all . . ."

Mark 12: 38-44

Christian writer C.S. Lewis begins his essay entitled “Let’s pretend” with a short example about a man who wore a mask.

He tells of an unattractive man who wore a more attractive mask for many years. He dressed up as another person in a sense.  After a long period of time, he one day took off the mask and noticed that his face had conformed to the shape of the more attractive mask and he was changed into something he only could hope to become.  Would that it was all that easy!

But the point Lewis makes is that we, as followers of Christ, are called to a new form; a new image and a significant change to be more like Christ himself, the Son of God and the perfect human being.  The beast in us must be tamed and the ugliness of sin replaced by the more beautiful. While the change is not meant to be physical, it is meant to be one of character and holiness in our Christian life.  The best way to do this, Lewis writes, is to imitate Jesus; to pretend to be like him not in an arrogant way, but through humility, love and generosity. In a sense to put on his mask and allow it to become our identity.

We can learn from Christ and through constant imitation, even if it feels like pretending to be something we are not, over time we become what we imitate.  It is somewhat like learning to overcome a bad habit.  The more I replace bad behavior with good, the more over time I will learn a new way and overcome what has been holding me back. Through God’s grace all things are possible.

There is probably no better behavior than to imitate the love and generosity of God.  The ultimate example of this we hear in our second reading today from Hebrews.  Christ came to “take away sin once for all.”  The outpouring of Jesus’ life in his death and resurrection offers us the ultimate example of generosity.  Something we should daily imitate and trust that God will change us. 

The further example of the two widows in the first reading from Kings and the Gospel of Mark, may offer us a real life example.  The first widow is visited by the prophet Elijah who asks her for food after a long journey.  The problem is, she has nearly nothing and is found gathering bare existence for herself and her son.  Still, the prophet insists, which seems a little insensitive, but he assures her that God will provide if she acts in faith.  Indeed she does and she and her son have enough food for a year’s supply. She trusted in the prophet’s word and she was rewarded for that trust. In a further sense both the prophet and the widow were blessed as both were relieved from hunger.

The second widow is the familiar story of the “widow’s mite.”  By contrast Jesus notes the very wealthy, who probably offered only what was required for the Temple treasury, leave little to impress Jesus.  Their giving is hardly sacrificial but offered in order to continue the illusion of generosity and righteousness.

So the very poor widow with barely an existence pours in the little she has: “Her whole livelihood,” as Jesus states.  Her generosity was marked by sacrifice and trust for her faith assured her, like the widow in our first reading that God would provide for those who do good.

So, there is a basic lesson here in generosity; in how and why we give.  The “law of the gift” as stated by Pope St. John Paul II reminds us that this is simply the way God has designed us and in some way maybe even nature itself.  The more that is given away, the more returns.  In order for life to continue, for example, some of life must be given away and that produces more life.

In the case of the widows, and ourselves here, we recognize our call to imitate, to become more like Christ.  To give away ourselves is not foolish.  For in doing so, we receive back so much more.  Whether it’s sharing of time, our treasure, our knowledge, our energy, our support and love towards others we find that it all comes back to us hundredfold.  The two widows acted in faith despite having so little.  

Like C.S. Lewis’ example of the man who wore the mask, when we put on the beauty of Christ, the values of the Gospel, we over time become what we first pretend to be and later are.  To imitate the kindness of God by generously offering ourselves not for public recognition but as an act of faith in God’s care for us, we become more attractive to God himself.  God favors the humble and trusting ones.  Those on the margin, the humble and trusting who have no pretense are blessed indeed - the “poor in spirit.”

It’s so fundamental to how we must live as Christians that to not be this way, we might say, is to no longer truly be a disciple of the Lord.  Self-centeredness and greed fly in the face of the Christian Gospel. Our celebration of the Eucharist is all about giving thanks and about allowing ourselves to be fed both in Word and Sacrament to become who we hear and feed upon.

Put on that mask of Christ.  Follow his word, act in trust, and God will change us to become more like who we imitate.

Almighty and merciful God,
graciously keep from us all adversity,
so that, unhindered in mind and body alike,
we may pursue in freedom of heart
the things that are yours.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever.

(Collect of Mass)

Nov 6, 2018

A Prayer for the Common Good

On this mid-term election day, let's remember that God always calls us to consider and to embrace the higher moral good of all.  As Jesus invites us to missionary discipleship, he calls us to seek the good of all we serve and not to be blinded by our prejudices, personal agendas, political opinions but to be wise to consider, in the end, what is best for all.  Humility, compromise, selflessness, and charity should always be what we pursue, even when it means that we may not get completely what we want - or think we deserve.

The prayer below should be offered not only for our Nation but also for our Church in this time of reform and healing for those who feel estranged, abused, forgotten.  The price to pay is too high and too risky to take the lower road. May the Holy Spirit and our service in the kingdom of God be a force of strength and guidance that all may seek unity above division, love above resentment, peace above violence, forgiveness in the midst of hatred, what is best for all above politics, and God ultimately above all things.

Prayer for the Common Good

 O God, you have given all people

one common origin and desire

to gather them into one family for yourself.

Fill our hearts with the fire of your love

and kindle in us a desire

to ensure the common good

for all our sisters and brothers.

By sharing with one another,

may we secure justice for all people,

an end to division and a society

built upon justice, love and peace.

Through Christ our Lord.


31st Sunday - "Hear . . ."

Mark 12: 28b - 34

A story is told of two great Jewish rabbis of the early first century who were challenged by a questioner to teach him the entire Torah while he stood on one leg. One rabbi named Hillel answered: “Do not do to your neighbor what is hateful to you; this is the whole Torah, the rest is commentary.”

In our Gospel this Sunday we hear of another questioner, not standing on one foot but an unusually friendly scribe who seemingly has no intention to trap Jesus with some convoluted example as we might expect from other encounters he had with religious leaders of the time. Rather, his question seems indeed sincere and was a favorite debate topic. The answer given by Jesus expands that offered by Rabbi Hillel even more. It is as concise as that given by the rabbi and it is deeply familiar to any Jew, even today. It was an effort to find a rule of thumb, some guiding principle that could be used to act according to God’s will rather than laboriously wade through the hundreds of rules and regulations given to the Jews.  So he asks Jesus: “Which is the first of all the commandments?”

Jesus offers the great, “Shema” as he quotes their tradition: “Hear O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your strength. The second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Any good Jew was required to recite this belief in the morning, at noon, and in the evening.  The scribe remarks with understanding of what Jesus proclaimed and Jesus affirms: “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” Nothing more to add.

Well, like any memorized answer in a catechism that would be correct.  But, in this case we are reminded that this great core proclamation reflects hundreds of years of Jewish tradition and religious experience.  Based in the first Commandment of the ten, it summarizes  the essential purpose of our human life and its guiding principle.  As we are created in God’s image, as Genesis tells us, he is indeed Lord and God who created us for himself. So that great “Shema” begins with a powerful word, “Hear.” Pay attention, listen, drop whatever you’re doing right now and attend to these words carefully. 

From the Book of Deuteronomy, our first reading, we hear the affirmation of the same and again the word, “Hear.”  If we asked Jesus how to live our lives he would answer us with a level of expectation and commitment that he fleshed out in other examples: heart, mind and soul would be an expectation.  Not halfheartedly, not with hesitation or second guessing, but “Sell what you have and give to the poor, then follow me.” Or as he called the first disciples from their fishing to “Follow me” he meant now, immediately, with no resistance.  Other examples are obvious to us that discipleship has an element of urgency and immediacy about it.  The gate to salvation is narrow Jesus implies. 

Where does leave the majority of us who find ourselves in normal hesitation and resistance.  I don’t know that I can just leave it all, drop what I’m doing and turn in a new direction.  I have too many commitments and responsibilities, friends, family, and other stuff I enjoy.  I’m not sure I want to let go of certain things in my life like my favorite sport or some part of me that is resisting conversion. 

In the end, for any of us, like those in Jesus’ time, we need reminders about many things.  The business of life creates all sorts of distractions and invitations that pull us away from the real essence of our Christian faith.  As it was for our Jewish brethren and therefore for Jesus himself, we need to be reminded that of all we care about and all we do, it all comes down to placing God first among all our priorities.  If we are serious about our Christian faith, about being authentic disciples of the Gospel, then it is a good reminder of where the mark is for us to stand.  With God first, all else takes its proper place. 

To see what we do through the lens of our faith is to see God active everywhere around us.  I don’t think any of us can realistically walk around with that thought consciously always before us.  You sit down to a delicious Italian meal with a nice glass of red wine and you’re there to enjoy not only the taste of the food but the fellowship of friends around you.  We don’t consciously see this as a religious experience.  Yet, at the end of the day for example, to give God thanks for friends, the gift of taste, the human ability to create such a pleasant atmosphere is a way to see God active in our life.  To have the time and opportunity to share in such an event is a blessing from God. 

Sitting now in the afterglow of All Saints Day we are reminded as to how the great Saints of our Church lived their lives so focused on the beautiful, the goodness of God and the charity they shared, yet lived normal lives but saw God active around them is a good reminder to us of where our main priority must always be. 

The increasingly secular culture we live in today creates a sense of indifference to the faith or simply brushes aside any serious commitment. It isn’t an easy way so we need to hear the words of Jesus taken from the ancient Jewish tradition that it is possible, through his grace, to rise above such worldly distractions to focus our attention ultimately on the God who invites us into a relationship with him.  Our celebration of the Eucharist is God’s promise of his loyalty to us and his desire for our growth in his love.