We hope you will enjoy the following reflections from Deacon Jim Mason:


3rd Sunday of Easter

April 30, 2017


Christ is present to us under many disguises. We need eyes of faith to recognize him.

The story of the appearance of the risen Lord on the way to Emmaus is the best developed of all the Gospel appearance stories. The drama evolves around the tension as to whether or not the disciples will recognize the risen Lord in their very midst.

We can chide the couple in today’s Gospel who walked to Emmaus with Jesus without recognizing him until he broke bread with them. They are disciples of Jesus and yet they did not recognize him. We are disciples of Jesus too. How many times do we fail to recognize him?

Luke is the only one of the four Gospel writers to include this journey to Emmaus. It is a story that not only reveals to us who Jesus is, but how Jesus opens our eyes to see him for who he truly is, and how we can come to know him. The story teaches us that it is in the Eucharist that we truly come to recognize Jesus and share this same experience.

Think about it, we all know and read about religious figures who write books and tell stories of their conversion on television. They are very public Christians. But, there are millions of us whose names will never be known to the media to whom the Lord is just as close and near.

We are all on a journey. Our whole life is a journey to heaven. How do we meet Christ along the way? How many times can he appear to us? How many times can he speak to us?

The first point of the Emmaus story: the Risen Christ is near to all of us [Christians] because we are all important to him. As St. Peter says in the second reading, we were all ransomed by his very blood.

The two disciples were not in Jerusalem or at the tomb; they were on an ordinary road traveling to a small obscure village. The teaching point here is that the Risen Christ can join us wherever we are. The Risen Christ can be part of our life wherever we are and any point on the road of life as a child, as a teenager, as a young adult, parent, or senior citizen. Anytime we are personally in doubt, in grief, in joy, in consternation, in worry, in distress… Christ is there with us. The “where” of the Emmaus story is our road right now and Christ is with us every step of the way.

The two disciples evidently did not see the empty tomb or believe reports of Christ’s resurrection that were being circulated. The Gospel states that they recognized Jesus in the “breaking of the bread” [an early term for the Mass]. Reflection on Sacred Scripture [Liturgy of the Word] and the rite of the Eucharist [Mass] is how most of us come to know the Lord. We do not have visions, or hear the audible voice of Christ. We come to know the Lord every time we enter into Sacred Scripture or hear the words, “Do this in memory of me.” Here we recognize the Lord is with us.

The message of the Emmaus Gospel is that whoever you are, wherever you are in your life’s journey, the Risen Lord is near you. We come to recognize his presence in the “breaking of the bread”, in the Mass throughout our life.

At Mass, “the breaking of the bread” is a grace to be challenged through the homily. At Mass, through Word and the Sacrament, Jesus teaches us and opens our eyes to the truth that our lives are just part of the bigger picture of God’s plan. The Mass is our Emmaus where our eyes are opened to recognize the truth about the Lord and ourselves.

We have all traveled the road to Emmaus at some time in our life when we had hopes dashed. But what a difference Christ can make if we only open our eyes [and hearts] to the reality, the real presence of Christ we have each time in the Eucharist. When we recognize Christ’s real presence, Christ is not just present, but he transforms us, renews us, recreates us just as he restored the hope and joy once again to two somewhat dejected disciples on the road to Emmaus.

Reflection on Ash Wednesday and the Lenten Season

When you hear the word homecoming, what images come to mind? The word may bring to mind a school or college homecoming football game or a dance. The word may also bring to mind a loved one’s return from the military.

Does the image of ashes come to mind when you hear the word homecoming ?

Ash Wednesday marks the first day of Lent and the mark of ashes we receive on our foreheads represents the beginning of our journey of 40 days before we reach the homecoming celebration on Easter.

When we receive the mark of ashes, we hear the words “You are dust and to dust you will return.” We are invited to recommit ourselves to the gospel and come home to God.

Lent is a time that reinforces in us the truth that we are created beings, one with God and one with the earth. Jesus reversed the alienation we experienced by the sin of Adam. We are earth creatures filled with the breath of God and are able to grow in the victory of Jesus.

Lent is a time—our time—to “turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.”

8th Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 26, 2017


Just 8 weeks ago we were in the midst of the Christmas Season! Think back, how did you spend Advent getting ready? Shopping, shopping, and more shopping or did you truly make the best of spiritual readiness opportunities?

This week Lent begins. In 6 weeks we will be in the midst of the Easter Season. Will your next 6 weeks be busy with Spring activities or will you come to life spiritually and truly make the most of this penitential season?

These last several Sundays, Jesus has given us many pointers as to how we should think about approaching the impending Lenten Season. Recall the Sermon on the Mount? He gave us a list of ways to know and follow him. He summoned us to be salt of the earth and light of the world. He reminded us that he came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it stressing true love of God. Of neighbor and of self. Last week he hit us with a somewhat strange request: be perfect as God is perfect. “Perfect” can be translated as “holy”.

This weekend’s message is no coincidence…

The words of Jesus in today’s Gospel have been called the most beautiful in all of Scripture and the most impractical. Yet, they are very down to earth [so to speak].

Jesus tells us that we cannot serve both God and mammon. “Mammon” is an Aramaic word defining money with a hypnotic power that is god-like for us.

The choice: serve God or serve the material things of the world. Which will you choose?

Jesus was really smart. Perhaps a better word would be wise. He understood people. He understood the way people think. He understood the way people act and what is behind so many of the things people say or do.

Jesus was smart. He was wise and he put his wisdom to work to help us get along with each other and with God.

In his wisdom, Jesus never shied away from telling things as they really are and told the crowd today listening to him that no “slave” can serve two “masters.”

How often does today’s society pull us in different directions? We are torn between job and family, between earning a living and spending time with our kids, between having too much and too little time.

Sometimes we are torn between what we know we should do and what we really want to do.

Today when Jesus speaks of a slave serving two masters, he is using this parable to make a serious point.

Everything we have and are comes from God. God has to come first!

We can also rid ourselves of worry by trusting that God will help us make everything turn out right. When we find time for God in our lives, we learn to relax, meditate, and put division out of our lives.

We all know the power of money in today’s society. People kill for it, steal it, destroy other’s careers to get it.

We cannot live a dual allegiance. If our god is ”mammon”, everything in our life will serve its acquisition. It will diminish what we do and who we are. We will define ourselves by what we consume: food, clothing, and homes as the Lord points out in today’s Gospel. Life will be defined by what we possess. Even faith becomes a way to make money and God becomes a supernatural insurance carrier.

On the other hand, if God is at our center, everything about us is given a new dignity. Our family becomes a domestic church where we can reflect Christ’s light and truth to others who journey with us through life.

If “mammon” is our god, anxiety [worry], permeates our life. Our very sense of self-worth is made to depend on our net worth.

If God is God for us then trust in his Providence will profoundly effect and strengthen our life. Also note that God is not asking us to abandon prudence and to sit back and wait for divine intervention. We need to use the will and intelligence with which he endowed each of us to plan for our future. We are also to trust in his Providence.

Challenge yourself this Lent and

Ask yourself these questions…

To which kingdom have I pledged my allegiance? Is it the kingdom of “mammon” whose horizon in material and limited to our life here on earth? Or have we pledged allegiance to the Lord Jesus whose horizon is spiritual and is unlimited [through eternity]?

God or mammon…

Which truly sets us free?

Which releases our deepest potential?

Which gives our life dignity?

God or mammon…

Which one lifts the burden of sin?

Which one remains with us in the dark nights?

Which one can we trust from the beginning to the evening of our life?

When God is our priority, we are then forced to let go of those things that might be a source of worry, and we learn to put our trust in something much more valuable… the kingdom of God!

Whether we serve God or mammon doesn’t just happen. It is up to us. It is a choice we make every day of our life for as long as we live.

As Jesus [God’s very self] comes to us in Holy Communion, realize that the kingdom of God comes first. Then, if we truly put our trust in God’s plan for our lives, all other things will fall into their proper place. As Jesus says, “Seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.” Truly feel the peace and joy that liberates feelings of fear and worry. Make Lent 2017 count…spiritually!

Reflections on the 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time

As we continue to witness Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, recall that three weeks ago Jesus gave us the Beatitudes, a list of ways to know and follow him and his Father. Then Jesus summoned us to be salt of the earth and light of the world --- a strong example of what being a Christian is all about.

Last week Jesus reminded us that he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. Without true love of God, love of neighbor, and love of self, keeping the rules is “wasted time”.

Challenges to our comfortable way of life or demands that we do things better are rarely welcome. We find them threatening. We resist them.

This weekend’s reading from the Book of Leviticus along with Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount contain just such challenges and demands. How will we respond? How will you respond? Will you resist or will you truly attempt to listen and learn and convert. Jesus concludes his sermon with a strange request of his followers: be perfect as God is perfect. “Perfect” could be translated or interpreted to mean “holy”.

Think about life in today’s world. There are and were many good [perfect or holy] people who can serve as mentors or role models: Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Pope St. John Paul II, Pope St. John XXIII, and St. Mother Teresa. They truly put the Gospel into action in modern times. They impacted their situation and the modern world with peaceful, nonviolent resistance and charity.

Jesus takes up on the mountain and does not just command each of us to do this, he shows us. The rest is up to us… to act, to love, to give true charity, to be a temple of God’s spirit.

Reflections on the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

These last few weeks we have been witnessing Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

Two weeks ago Jesus gave us a list of ways to know and follow him and his Father. Last week Jesus summoned us to be: salt of the earth and light of the world.

This weekend Jesus affirms the Mosaic Law, rejects legalism, and challenges us [his followers] by offering an ethic that transcends the law.

Some thirty years ago, British singer and songwriter Steve Winwood released a chart topping song entitled, “Higher Love”. Perhaps you will recall the familiar opening lines:

Think about it, there must be a higher love, down in the heart or hidden in the stars above. Without it, life is wasted time. Look inside your heart, I’ll look in mine.”

This weekend’s readings suggest we need a version of this song entitled, “Higher Law” since the focus is on knowing God’s law, choosing to follow it [or not], and having the wisdom to discern what the law really entails. Think about it. The challenges and demands Jesus presents could all be met and resolved if people were honest and loving.

For Jesus, a “higher law” amounts to “higher love.” Without true love of God, love of neighbor and love of self, keeping the rules is “wasted time.”

Jesus is inviting us to look inside our hearts.

Reflections on the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Last week we climbed the mountain with Jesus and heard the beginning of his beautiful and simplistic, Sermon on the Mount. Recall that Jesus begins by giving us a “Top Eight List” of ways to know and follow him and his Father.

This weekend as Jesus continues, he summons his disciples [and us] to be what God’s people were always meant to be: salt of the earth and light of the world.

Salt is used to flavor and preserve food. It is through living the beatitudes that we disciples become the salt of the earth by preserving goodness in the world.

Jesus also calls us [his disciples] to be a light of the world by living the beatitudes in such a way that the world cannot help but see our good deeds and how we glorify our heavenly father.

We are all partners in God’s plan. God demands that we care, that we notice, and that we believe we can be an instrument of God’s goodness to others.

To test whether we are being salt and light in the world, we need to ask ourselves: If we were arrested and charged with being Christian, how many of us would get off scot-free for lack of evidence?

Reflections on the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Some of us may have climbed mountains with Fr. Jack. You know it can be an exhilarating and a spiritual adventure all at the same time.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is inviting us to do some mountain climbing as he begins his Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitudes.

Think about what Jesus is saying. We are blessed. Blessed are we because:

  1. The reign of God belongs to those Jesus calls “poor in spirit.”
  2. Those who morn or suffer will know comfort and consolation.
  3. Those who want to be most like God will acquire the holiness they seek.
  4. Those who show mercy will receive mercy from others and from God.
  5. Those who set their sights on God will see him.
  6. Peacemakers will be the sons and daughters of God. We sure do need peacemakers and to be peacemakers today.
  7. Those who are persecuted because of holiness will posses the reign of God.
  8. Those who are insulted, attacked, and persecuted because of a desire to serve God, will be rewarded.

God is calling each one of us into a closer relationship with those who live the Beatitudes outlined by Jesus in the Gospel and by Zephaniah in the first reading when he urges God’s people to become people of justice and humility.

The key to living in justice and humility is to recognize that we owe everything we have and are to God. Living by these virtues we become better persons. As better persons we inspire others and draw them closer to God.

Become a person of justice and humility. Open your heart to God’s Spirit of love, peace, and reconciliation. Become a person of God.

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Isn’t that all that really matters in the end?

Reflections on the Epiphany of the Lord

This weekend we celebrate the revelation of Christ to the whole world. Isaiah envisions the whole world coming to Jerusalem to bring tribute to the holy child. The Magi represent these nations. Ephesians tells of God’s hidden plan that is now revealed. Both Jews and gentiles are inheritors of God’s promise. This revelation continues to challenge us even today.

Immigration was an important issue in the recent presidential campaign. Our country is a nation of immigrants. Many immigrants today experience an unwelcoming attitude on their arrival. Today’s feast and holy Scripture tells us some important things about how we should treat those who are different from ourselves.

In the Old Testament, God taught the Jewish people to keep to themselves. God’s people were to avoid gentiles and pagan peoples who worshipped false gods. Early Christians were pious Jews. Soon, they began to attract gentiles. Though this caused tension and resistance, God’s plan was to include everybody. St. Paul called this plan a mystery, a secret not revealed in previous generations. Unfortunately, this plan is still a secret for many in today’s world.

As we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord on this feast day, may we move to accept God’s unity plan for the world. May we celebrate his plan in the Eucharist. May we make it a secret no longer.

Merry Little Christmas!

Reflections on the Birth of the Lord

When I was little, I did not like the darkness. I always wanted a light on somewhere. I suspect many of you were the same way. As I’ve grown older, I still welcome the confidence that a light is burning nearby should I need to see where I am going. Where are we going?

While the feast of Christmas has many distracting, commercial, and enjoyable aspects, it does invite us to regain our spiritual footing, to see, and to embrace the light. This light is so abundant that the Church cannot wait to announce it. That is why the tradition of celebrating Mass in the darkness has endured. That is why we leave home at an hour we might otherwise climb into bed and stand to sing the Gloria with special gusto.

On Christmas Eve we gather for Mass to follow the star. We gather to look and listen for the light in the Scriptures. We gather to find the light that can be rekindled in out hearts. We gather to meet the light of Christ that illuminates the world.

Isaiah reminds us that we are welcoming the King. Paul reminds us that Jesus has come, is coming, and will come again. In the Gospels from Matthew and Luke, the glory of the Lord shines on us. Keep watch. Don’t be afraid. Sing a happy song. The themes are glory, light, and peace.

As the glory of Christmas falls softly upon the world… my prayer is that you see the light and feel God’s promise, presence, and peace.

1st Sunday of Advent Year A

Sunday, November 27, 2016


Today the Church begins its four-week Advent preparation for the birth of the Messiah marking the beginning of a new liturgical year. Advent is an opportunity to bring something new to our lives.

We have all taken a trip to a new place, started a new job, or even met someone new that we have found interesting. Would you agree that life can be full of surprises?

We can plan the trip for months, prepare for a job with years of study and training, or even spend a lifetime with that special someone, and still the journey, the work, the relationship always hold the possibility of something unexpected. The same can be said of Advent.

Advent is a journey. Advent is hard work. Advent is about building relationships with God, with others, and with ourselves. Advent reminds us that even though God is with us, our recognition of the presence of God may not yet be complete. Our relationship with God may not be what we want it to be and it may not be as close as God wants it to be either.

Three points I want to leave you with this day…

  1. Advent is a journey to bring us closer to God and to each other.

The prophet Isaiah spoke of climbing the Lord’s mountain and making our way to the house of the Lord. There would be found instructions and the dawning of a time of peace.

We will all likely attend many social gatherings in the next month or so. Advent is a time for traveling. Advent is a time when we make our way to the houses of family and friends, as well as to the house of God.

All these travel opportunities contain two sources of Advent surprises: work and relationships. Getting ready for guests in your home or any gathering of people involves a lot of work. That work in of itself strengthens the bonds of important relationships.

The gatherings themselves are often journeys toward encountering change: the joy of a baby on the way; a child now grown; or the toll of the years on a loved one. Change can be expected, surprising, or even upsetting. The season can be full of tension of what we already know and what we may not yet be ready to handle.

  1. Advent is a time to do a lot of work.

Jesus stated in the gospel that you must be prepared. We may have [lots of work] lots to do to relieve the tension between the “already” [what is] and the “not yet” [what can and will be] in our everyday lives.

We may need to prepare for that something unexpected, like the serious [injury or] illness of a loved one, in the midst of all the usual Christmas [for lack of a better word] hoopla.

The real work of Advent is inside our homes and inside us. And this year, in particular, we deal with impending changes in our nation that we already know are coming, even if we do not yet know what they will all mean. Advent is a time for preparing for change.

  1. Advent is a time for renewing and building relationships.

Scriptures tell us that we are to put our faith and trust in God. Faith in God led Noah to build the ark and his trust in God led him to walk into it, even while others thought he was crazy.

Some people will question our motives if we decide that the quality of our times together this year are more important than the quantity of food at a gathering or the number of presents under our family Christmas tree.

If during Advent, we are not truly working for some kind of positive change in our lives, then truly we are working for nothing. If we are at work on renewing and building relationships with God, with others, and with ourselves by setting aside quality time in the midst of all the “Christmas” excitement, then something can happen.

We have quite a few Spiritual, Social, and Service activities planned and scheduled over the next several weeks. Consider getting involved. Yes, it will add to our workload but I guarantee it will enable us to renew and build relationships [with God, with others, and with ourselves]. Check out the Bulletin…

We may not know what will happen, as Noah did not know what would happen when he entered the ark, but God will surprise us—not only with rain, but also a rainbow.

Of all the holiday tables [in our future], gathering around the table of the Eucharist [as we will do in a few minutes] may just be the most surprising table of all. Think about it—here bread and wine become the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ himself—our food for the journey. Christ, our food to strengthen us to do the work of God. Christ, our food to make real our relationship with Love, God himself.

Do not let the potential of these next four weeks of Advent get lost in all the other preparations for Christmas. Advent is our chance… to bring something new into our lives.

Advent 2016

“Being prepared” is the theme of this weekend’s readings. As we begin a new liturgical year and enter into the Advent Season remember that each Sunday of Advent focuses on a different way Christ comes to us. Today, the focus is on the coming of Christ at the end of time when Christ will return in glory. We cannot get ready for this day as we can prepare for Christmas. We also shouldn’t just sit around like folks waiting for a plane to arrive. We are to actively wait to be prepared.

How do we prepare for meeting Christ either at the end of time or at the time of our death? The answer can be found in today’s readings: put off deeds of darkness and put on the light of Christ.

This Advent, let us dress for success [so to speak] by putting on Christ: his virtues, his grace, his strength.

Happy Advent!

Thanksgiving 2016

Community Thanksgiving Service

November 23, 2016


St. John Vianny writes: “Never pass a day without thanking [expressing gratitude to] Jesus Christ for all he has done for you during your life.”

By expressing gratitude we cement relationships with each other and with God…

By attending and participating in this Thanksgiving Eve Service, you are thanking God in one of the best possible ways!

Thoughtful parents are always asking their children, “Did you say thanks?” when they receive a treat from a neighbor or a gift at their birthday party. Today’s national custom parallels Christian faith in reminding all of us – not only the kids—to say thanks.

From our readings tonight, Sirach teaches us about living well in the world. We all should be proud of our personal talents and accomplishments. However, keep in mind that the truly wise also acknowledge the Lord who governs the earth and gives to us, humans, the gifts and talents we enjoy for the service of others.

Thankfulness is a timeless human virtue that remains nondenominational and holds no allegiance to one religious expression.

St. Paul gives us a descriptive litany for becoming truly thankful people. We are to model mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and wisdom. We are to speak, sing, and act in a spirit of gratitude. [not just today but everyday]. This is [no pun intended] “talking turkey” in the truest sense.

When you were small, you had to learn to say thanks even when the gift was socks and underwear [or even a book]. You wanted toys, but you were taught to be glad for whatever you got. That’s still the case…

I look out and see good people who have been given illness, tragedy, and danger. I see people with grown-up toys and adult troubles. But Paul says—more or less—whatever you’ve got, give thanks.

I shied away from the traditional Gospel tonight about the ten lepers [Luke 17:11-19] [read that on your own]. I ask you to take your cue from the tormented demoniac in tonight’s Gospel from Mark. He had it worse that we all do. According to Mark, he had been host to 6,000 uninvited demons. Now, after meeting Jesus, [the uninvited demons were driven away]. He was now in his right mind and he knew whom to thank. So do you…

So remember, Thanksgiving Day, today’s feast, is not about food—at least its not only about the meal you are preparing to enjoy this day. It’s about the spiritual food that gives you the courage to live a life overflowing with thanks [even if your only gift is socks and underwear].

I leave you with these thoughts/realities:

It’s easy to be thankful when everything is going your way…

I wonder how thankful I could be, if this morning I woke up in a homeless shelter with no job, no education, and no idea where my next meal was coming from?

I wonder how thankful I could be, is an earthquake, cyclone, a flood, or a fire, in the briefest of moments wiped out my livelihood, my home, and perhaps even members of my family?

Some of us may rightly think of ourselves as quite blessed on the Thanksgiving Day 2016. And yet, how many days since Thanksgiving Day 2015 did any of us upon arising from sleep utter as our first spoken words: “Thank you, God.”?

Thanksgiving Day is a beautiful holiday. Jesus shows us the importance of giving thanks. By expressing gratitude, we cement relationships with each other and with God.

This Thanksgiving, let us become more deeply aware that God can awaken within us a new perspective on the lives we lead.

And tonight in this Community Ecumenical Service we are gathered as one people—a rich diversity of heritage and belief—yet sharing a common unity in Christ, giving thanks to his (our) Father, for all that we are, and all that we have been given.

“Lord, we thank you for your unfailing love! May we never [again] cease to glorify your holy name.”

Thanksgiving Day 2016

Some of us may rightly think of ourselves as quite blessed on this Thanksgiving Day 2016. And yet, how many days since Thanksgiving Day 2015 did any of us upon arising from sleep utter as our first spoken words: “Thank you, God.”?

Today’s national custom parallels Christian faith in reminding all of us—to say thanks.

Thanksgiving Day is not about food—at least not about the meal you are preparing to enjoy this day. It’s about the spiritual food that gives you the courage to live a life overflowing with thanks [even if your only gift is socks and underwear when you really wanted a toy].

This Thanksgiving, let us become more deeply aware that God can awaken within us a new perspective on the lives we lead.

Reflection on the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Did you know that the unemployment rate in the US today is close to 5%? That means that one out of 20 able adults is without a job. Another percent of those who have jobs are underemployed without benefits. This does not even consider the poverty and homelessness worldwide.

The focus of this weekend’s readings and this reflection is about bearing burdens and carrying loads. To carry our load and help others bear their burdens makes us more Christ-like.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says, “Come to me all you who are weary and find life burdensome [11:28-29].” Jesus says that he will help us carry our load. When Jesus was overburdened by the weight of the cross, Simon of Cyrene helped him bear the burden.

When we help people bear their burdens, when their loads are too heavy to carry by themselves, we are their Simon. We are Christ to them. What we do for others, we do for Christ [Mt 25:40].

Remember too, that burdens need not only be financial. The list includes, but is not limited to, lending a listening ear to someone who is burdened by the death of a loved one; going to the grocery store for a homebound neighbor; reading to a sightless person; driving another to a doctor’s appointment; fixing a meal for a new mom or someone just released from the hospital. The list is only limited by our imagination.

Jesus is the greatest burden bearer of all time. Our challenge is to carry our own load and be ready to help others bear their burdens.

I am on retreat this weekend with many of my brother deacons. Please pray for us and more vocations to the Permanent Diaconate. We will be praying for you! Peace.

Reflection on the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Our readings this weekend are about faith, about fidelity, and about our service to God. They also fit in the world today in light of the violence about which we read every day. Faith is not faith if we keep it in reserve only for emergencies. Faith is lived daily and shapes the way we think and behave. Faith is about God’s  very presence in our daily lives.                                                                                        

In today’s Gospel, St. Luke presents a continuing dialogue between Jesus and his followers about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. The two sayings of Jesus should make us stop and wonder. When the apostles ask, “Lord, increase our faith,” are they at all satisfied with their level of faithfulness? Jesus tells then that if they really have faith they can tell a tree what to do and it will do it! The faithful servant story tells us that Jesus’ disciples should be grateful to God. They have, after all, done no more than “what we were obliged to do.”               Being a disciple of Jesus requires faith. Perhaps our faith may be smaller than the preverbal mustard seed; i.e. not big enough to move mountains. But it should be big enough to enable us to reach out to God, trusting that he will help us walk up our own mountain of problems.                                                                                                           

As for “what we are obliged to do”, the bottom line is obedience [to God’s will]. We cannot expect a reward if we only do our duty. Christ, in the Gospel, reminds us that we are “the faithful servants of God” and that our humble submission [to do his will] is necessary to grow in faith.                                                                                                                          

Let us today humbly pray to God and say, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief. Increase my faith!” Our faith truly has power—power to change the world and power to change our lives…                                                                              

I cannot pass this opportunity to once again express my sincere pride in and gratitude for the group of faith-filled parishioners that met for thirteen consecutive weeks this past summer to draft our “Mission Readiness Statement” for the Archdiocese. It was truly an arduous labor of love that created a document that will certainly serve us into the future.             

MRS Committee: Ian McAllister, Lew Miller, Susan Miller, Amanda Miller, David Mellott, Suzanne Mellott, Judy Baker, Marion Thomas, Laura Bivens, David Puthoff, Kristen Lennon, Jann Hewett, Joann Santor, Betty Hickerson, Michael Fox, Bart Elbin, Karen Elbin, Bill Webster, Angie McCusker, Fr. Jack , and Deacon Jim. 

Reflection on the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

All the readings we hear this weekend carry the theme of God’s forgiveness no matter what our situation in life may be.   As this Holy Year of Mercy is quickly passing, let’s focus on an ever challenging concept: God’s unconditional love and forgiveness. The Book of Exodus begins stormy. Visions of fire and brimstone [I’ve always wanted to preach that] cloud the horizon. The Ten Commandments are given to Moses; the people are lost and unfaithful. Moses appeals to God’s mercy; it is granted. The skies become clear blue once more...  

St. Paul recalls his sordid past and expresses his gratitude to God for the mercy shown him when he was an arrogant blasphemer and persecutor of Christ’s followers.  St. Luke’s Gospel today has Jesus relating three parables reflecting God’s unlimited love and forgiveness.  Each one of us can picture ourselves reflected in these beautiful stories. We can assume the role of any one of the characters presented. The parables have no “ending”. The inspiration of the Holy Spirit will enable each of us to create our own personalized ending. No matter that these stories are ancient. God’s Word is alive--- alive today in each and every one of us. We often run to God seeking the help we need to get through the fire and brimstone in our daily lives. We can often feel as lost as the coins, the sheep, and the two sons. God’s reply to each of us is: “Me!”

Reflection on the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Have mercy on me, God, in accord with your merciful love [Psalm 51:3]

One of the very first things we do at every Mass is celebrate the Penitential Rite. We are invited to reflect upon our sinfulness and then pray, “Lord, have mercy.”  The rite concludes as the priest expresses our trust in God’s forgiving love.

It’s easy to slide over this ritual. If we happen to arrive late, we may feel we have not missed much as long as we at least heard the Gospel. Notice how today’s Gospel redirects our focus today.

God does not proportion his mercy based on how deserving we are or how sinful we are. His mercy is as great as his unconditional love. He offers it to everyone who asks for it.

Our Father wants to pour so much grace and mercy on us. God will never scorn a contrite, humbled heart. Take advantage of each and every opportunity.

The Mission Readiness Statement Committee only has a few more weeks to conclude its most important task. We meet Monday evening after Mass. Consider joining us…

Reflections on the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

A relationship with Christ, lived in love, gains entry through the narrow gate.

Most of you likely know of a public figure, a music or TV or movie star, or a political candidate that most intrigues and fascinates you. Even if you know all about them, if you approached then in a restaurant, they would say, “Who are you?” You might be interested in the celebrity but would have no relationship with them. You would not be friends

Not so with Jesus. You know him: head knowledge. You know him in your heart. With him you have a personal relationship. He calls you “friend”. You know him as Lord and Savior. You trust that when you die, you will meet him face-to-face.

Do you deserve that relationship? Do any of us? The answer is “no” but he loves us unconditionally as we love him in return.

In John’s Gospel, Christ says, “I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved.” In this weekend’s Gospel from Luke, Jesus says to “enter through the narrow gate.” May we never stray far from that Gate—from a relationship with one celebrity who calls us “friend”—Christ.

The Mission Readiness Statement Committee continues to meet Monday evenings to formulate our written statement. Consider joining us and keep praying…

Reflections on the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Pray for the gift of faith.

God wants to grace us with faith.

“Faith is believing about something when common sense tells us not to” [Miracle on 34th Street]

In faith, we put our trust in God and carry out our responsibilities. In faith we wait for the Lord, who is our help and our shield, not really knowing how he will come to us. Faith is both the cost of living his discipleship and the reward.

What should we do when our faith seems to fail us? Pray!

As we continue to meet Mondays to prepare our Mission Readiness Statement for the Archdiocese, I asked each of you to discern this past week and prepare to share any ideas you may have that would potentially improve our parish life. Your observations and thoughts are most important to us.

The results of our in-pew survey this weekend will be reviewed at our meeting on Monday as we begin to actually draft the assigned document. This whole exercise has been a worthwhile and enlightening experience for all those involved. We continue to ask for your support and prayers as we move into this next phase.

This weekend’s Liturgy of the Word focus is on faith. In Hebrews we read: “Faith is the realization of what we hope for and evidence of things not seen.” Luke writes of faith in the end-time; it will come. Jesus tells his disciples not to live in fear. If their faith is strong enough, nothing can bother them.

Prayer is necessary for faith. Faith is a gift. Ask God for that gift always

Reflections on the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

From Deacon Jim


Today we see the elements of intimacy, surrender and trust in the way Abraham prays in today’s first reading. Our readings this weekend offer us an opportunity to relearn how to pray as Jesus did. Are we hallowing God’s name? Are we working for God’s Kingdom? Do we really want God to forgive us as we forgive others?


Everybody knows [or should know] the Lord’s Prayer. Most Christian denominations pray it during their liturgical celebrations. When I was growing up and still in the public school system [grade school] we learned and prayed it at the start of every school day.


The Lord’s Prayer is both a prayer and a school of prayer. It is a magnificent gift from Christ to each one of us. Doctrine shapes the Catholic mind. The Lord’s Prayer shapes the Catholic soul.


Many thanks to Gary Voight and the work he put into last Sunday’s Survey Results Presentation [not to mention the previews he gave us some weeks prior at Mass]. And thanks to the parishioners who took the time to attend his presentation. Those of you who missed it can see the PowerPoint slides on our parish website.


In concert with Gary’s presentation, Ian McAlister, speaking for the Mission Readiness Statement Committee, invited input from every parishioner, not just those involved in the regular Monday night meetings of the committee. As Gary pointed out, the survey clearly identifies a number of challenges we as St. Peter and St. Patrick parishes face. We welcome your ideas as we move toward our September report completion goal.

Last Monday evening the MRS Committee met for the fourth time. As the format for our meeting has evolved, we begin with a concise guided agenda and continue with open and lively discussion and idea sharing.


We began with an overview and look at our parishes from a financial perspective. Concerned about the operating deficit cited in the survey results, I performed a financial analysis of my own reviewing financial data for 2006 through 2016. Bottom line is we have never ended a fiscal year with an operating deficit. In addition to that, we have undertaken a number of capital repair and renovation projects from constructing the handicap restroom behind the rectory in 2011 to the classroom construction in 2015.


After briefly discussing the format our final narrative project will take, we continued with lively and open discussion of past, present, and future projects and how we might address some of the challenges we face as outlined in Gary’s presentation.


Again, we meet Monday evening after the 7:00pm Mass. All are welcome.

He will give up to him whatever he needs. [Luke 11:8]

Sunday, July 17th, 2016

The Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

We all can likely relate with Martha in today’s Gospel reading. After all, she was doing all the work with seemingly little or no help from her sister. Why did the Holy Spirit inspire Luke to remember and record this incident for the Church and us today? What do Martha and Mary represent for us?


Traditionally, Martha and Mary represent two dimensions of institutional life in the Church. Martha represents the active life and Mary, the contemplative life. The Church needs both. We need those who work out in the world to spread the Gospel and Christian values. We also need those who support them in prayer. The two are not rivals but should work in concert with one another.


Martha and Mary also stand for two dimensions inside each one of us. One is the desire to achieve, to work, to raise a family, to make a difference and accomplish something. That’s the Martha dimension. The other need we all have, which is unique to us a humans, is the need to pause, to look at where our life is going, to listen to the Lord. This “Mary” dimension encompasses prayer and reflection. As humans, we need both.


It is said that actions speak louder than words. We must also take into account that without words [prayer and reflection] we can be like a leaf that the wind pushes anywhere.


Bringing this all even closer to home, I will attempt to tie this with our Parish Mission Readiness Statement Committee…


As I mentioned to you last week, we are working diligently on creating the best document we can to illustrate for the Archdiocese who and what we are all about here on the edge of the Western Region and why we want and need to continue and how we will do it! Many “Marthas” have answered the call as we will continue to meet Monday evenings [after the 7:00 pm Mass] until the task is complete. Remember we need you “Marys” too! Your prayers for the future of our parish family of St. Peter and St. Patrick is also an intricate part of this process.


As an update on where our committee is in the process this week, the focus on our third meeting last Monday was first to touch on some survey results. Remember Gary Voight will have a more extensive presentation for us Sunday July 17 [today] after the 10:00 am Mass. Next we picked up where we left off from the previous week and brainstormed into the future. From a spiritual, service, and social perspective, we are a very busy and active family and have some most creative ideas for our future.


In today’s Gospel, Mary and Martha represent two states in life for the Church, active and contemplative. They represent the need we all have as individuals to work and to pray in order to follow the Gospel fully. And they represent us as parishioners [members] of the Parish Family of St. Peter and St. Patrick now engaged in reviewing opportunities and challenges to our “mission readiness” and our ability to serve God and the community. We need active participants and active prayer partners.


For a Christian, taking time to pray is the most invigorating thing we can do for our soul. When the world pulls us in a thousand different directions, our prayer draws us back to Christ to listen to him. Prayer helps us use the winds that come at us from all directions to bring us closer to Christ, closer to home, closer to where we need to be.

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sunday, October 25, 2015

The crowd in today’s Gospel wanted Bartimaeus to be quiet. They did not want him to rock the boat [so to speak], but Bartimaeus refused to play their game. He insisted upon what he felt he needed.
There are times in our lives when we must speak up and even shake things up for the sake of truth and love.

Think about it… your life, my life…our lives as Christians/Catholics is one big spiritual journey… and there are times when we need to speak up and when we need to shake things up…

I’ve told this story before but think about our Pope Francis… Less than a year into his papacy he was named Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year” for 2013. I also mentioned Timothy McGrath’s [a social media staff writer] article “21 Reasons Why Pope Francis Should be Everyone’s Person of the Year.” McGrath’s article boiled down to the pope’s “earthiness”, humility, and empathy for the common people---his willingness to “get his hands dirty.” Pope Francis speaks up and shakes thing up at times.

Think about our own Archbishop William Lori… Some three years into his role as our bishop and leader he penned a pastoral letter entitled, A Light Brightly Visible: Lighting the Path to MissionaryDiscipleship.

 I was away last weekend at the 2015 Deacon’s Convocation in Potomac, MD. Archbishop Lori was with us and discussed his pastoral letter with us in depth. Through his pastoral letter, Archbishop Lori is not only asking us to do a self assessment [as a parish] but he is also challenging us to speak up and shake things up!

Addressing the Core mission of the Church of Baltimore--- the same mission entrusted to the Apostles by Jesus, Archbishop Lori asks, “What decisions need to be made so that we can marshal the resources the Lord has given us to do the work of the Gospel?”

Are we equipped to fulfill the great commission the Lord has given us?

Do we personally have the qualities of mind, heart, and spirit to take up the task?

Are our parishes [are we as a parish] ready to respond to the challenges of the mission in our times?

Are there ways we can pull together as a Catholic Community to proclaim and bear witness to the Gospel more effectively in Little Orleans? In Hancock? And in every other parish encompassed in this Archdiocese?

How can we [or how can I] reach out more dramatically to those who have left and those who are searching?

Are we willing to get our hands dirty as Pope Francis?

The favorable impression of Pope Francis is based on his style of ministry, one that is very visible and one that people seemingly perceive as being Christ-like.

And as you have heard announced from the pulpit and seen the insert in last weekend’s Bulletin, Archbishop Lori is challenging us priests, deacons and all of us in the parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Baltimore to put our mind, heart, and spirit into a plan that will effectively help us marshal our resources “… to sustain our efforts to be disciples and to make disciples in the Archdiocese of Baltimore now and for years to come.”

There are times in our lives when we must speak up and even shake things up for the sake of truth and love.

Copies of the Archbishop’s pastoral letter have been circulating and will be made available to you. Please take a copy and read it. Be ready to speak up and shake things up!

In today’s Gospel Mark also offers us a powerful example of faith and persistence in prayer.

Jesus’ reputation as a healer precedes him and when Bartimaeus hears that Jesus of Nazareth is passing by, he calls out to him, asking for his pity. We are invited by Jesus to do the same.

And did you notice how joyful our readings are today? They are full of rejoicing and even laughter! In the psalm we sing, “The Lord has done great things for us, we are filled with joy.” Even the prophet, Jeremiah tells us to “Shout with joy and proclaim our praises.” In the Gospel, we hear the joyful story of blind Bartimaeus being healed and following Jesus as a true disciple. But, in the midst of all the joy, there is one haunting line, “Many rebuked him, telling him to be silent.”

Are we as Christian/Catholics going to encourage seeking and spreading the Good News or are we going to be silent; perhaps take things for granted; not get involved; not make waves [so to speak]?

The fact that Jesus is willing to stop and serve a blind man is good news. It’s very good news for all of us because all of us are blind. There are three types of blindness to consider here. In Jesus’ time, a blind man such as Bartimaeus would have been an outcast is society. We are so often like the crowd that fails to see in Bartimaeus a child of God with human dignity.

There is, of course, physical blindness, the absence of sight. Physical sight is vital to all of us. Apart from not being able to see trees and sunsets, the blind person cannot see a car coming, or a stranger lurking, or the expression on the face of someone speaking to him or her. So we can imagine the thrill of Bartimaeus’ cure. All whole new world has just opened up for him.

Second, there is moral blindness. Our moral sight or vision is called conscience. We are all born with it and it develops as we grow. Our conscience is shaped by values instilled in us during our formative years and is enlightened and enhanced by the Gospel. But consider the tragedy of moral blindness. For example, people who harm others and couldn’t care less, the pathological liar who tells many lies and is not bothered by it, or the person who can take another person’s property. This list goes on and on. Such people have no loyalty, no truth, no guilt, no shame, no regret.

The gift of conscience, a kind of moral eyesight, is a magnificent gift that helps us know right from wrong. Our dignity as a human being not only involves our ability to see trees and sunsets, but to see right and wrong. That is what makes us different from the rest of creation!

The third kind of blindness is the blindness of unbelief. Faith gives us vision to see beyond the senses, beyond the day to day world around us to its deeper truths that come from God and is the place of our journey back to God.

Remember I said our lives as Christians/Catholics is one big spiritual journey… a journey with spiritual sight coming from our faith.

As we recount the story of blind Bartimaeus, thank God for the gift of sight…  physical sight through our eyes, moral sight through our conscience and spiritual sight through our faith.

We all so often fail to see Jesus in our midst in the outcast, the poor, and the suffering of our world. We are blinded by many things, like the legalism and pride of the Pharisees or the wealth and comfort of the rich man. Perhaps we are thrown off a bit when we encounter a blind person. Jesus wants to help us to see by looking at us with love from the cross. It is this sight of Jesus on the cross that heals our blindness.

Today we met Bartimaeus, an outcast of his time but none the less a human being created in the image and likeness of God. Bartimaeus spoke up for himself, shook up some people of his time and got Jesus to notice him and he was healed [saved].

We in the Western part of the Archdiocese, though we may feel forgotten at times, are a vital and growing parish family. Over the course of the next year or so we will be given the opportunity to speak up for ourselves. Like Bartimaeus we can be noticed…

The Gospel of Mark is not about glory and honor and miraculous powers. It is about sacrifice, suffering, and stooping to serve. We believe that we come to know Jesus in the breaking of the bread. May today’s Eucharist open our eyes to the reality of the Messiah who saved humanity through service. May todays’ Eucharist help us to know that we must believe as Bartimaeus did.

There are times in our lives when we must speak up and even shake things up for the sake of truth and love.

We must become who God created us to be.

Twenty Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
September 30, 2012

St. Junipero Serra
Canonized September 23, 2015

In a letter to the Holy Father dated December 12, 2014, the Minister General of the Franciscans, Father Michael Perry, after briefly describing the life of Junipero Serra, in particular his missionary activity and listing the missions founded by him in California, presented the “Blessed One” as a religious man exemplary for his spirit of humility, penitence, boundless generosity toward the poor, strong during suffering, obedient to his Superiors and loyal to the Teachings of the Church, as ardent missionary, zealous preacher, courageous proponent of the Christian faith, tireless evangelizer and true apostle of “the Indios.” Hoping that his possible canonization would highlight “the beneficent work of the Church through the missionary apostolate.”

This past Wednesday I had the supreme honor of witnessing the first canonization on American soil--- the canonization of the Church’s newest declared saint, St. Junipero Serra In Washington DC along wit 13 of my brother deacons and countless others. Due to the vision and courage of our Holy Father, every Catholic around the world will be able to call Junipero Serra el santo. And for this, there is a reason for Catholics in the United States to be grateful.

Today’s readings are not about physical sight but about insight or vision or discernment. Insight, vision, or discernment likely exemplified by the life of Junipero Serra recognized now some 200 years after his death.

The Catholic Church, like the bible itself, is more than an organization of ideas, rituals, and teachings. Like the Bible, the Church utilizes signs, images, symbols and metaphors to speak to its members. Prevalent signs and/or images in the life of Christ and in the liturgy include, but are not limited to, water, oil, fire, bread, light, blindness and sight.

A blind person asked St. Anthony: “Can there be anything worse than losing eye sight?”
He replied: “Yes, losing your vision.”

The ability to see is a magnificent gift given to us that enables us to navigate our world. It is hard for those who can see to imagine the adaptations people who cannot see have to make. Today’s readings are not about physical sight but about insight or vision or discernment.

We have three insightful questions for all of us from today’s readings.

In the reading from the Book of Numbers we see Moses overwhelmed with the responsibility of caring for this often difficult people. God steps in and anoints seventy elders with his Spirit so they could help lead the people. Two of the elders, Eldad and Medad, were not present when the Spirit descended on the seventy, but they also received the Spirit while in their camp. When they began to prophesy in the camp, a young man reported this to Moses as if they were doing something wrong. Moses recognized this was a gift from God that he wished everyone had.

This story asks us: Do we recognize our allies in the work of the Gospel?

There are anti-Catholic factions in today’s world. Government mandates today are challenging the very core of some of our religious beliefs. Our Church is not the center of a hostile universe. There are a number of organizations and movements and people who support, complement and assist the work of our Church today when it comes to preserving religious freedoms. They may not carry the name “Christian” but they are moved by a Spirit they cannot name. They are our allies in the work of promoting the Gospel. As Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “Whoever is not against us is with us.”

One insight for all of us today from the story of Eldad and Medad is that we need to be aware  not only of anti-Catholic forces among us but also our allies.

Today’s reading from the Letter of St. James is an attack on the unjust practices of the rich who exploit the poor. St. James reminds us that our earthly wealth cannot endure. The Irish like to say, “There are no pockets in shrouds.” We really cannot take “it” with us. We are reminded that we have a solemn obligation to work for justice in this world and God expects us to help the poor with the blessings he has bestowed upon us.
St. James asks: What are we doing with our assets to serve the Gospel?

The insight here is calling us to look at what we are doing with the assets, material and spiritual, which we are given. St. Ignatius of Loyola asks in his Spiritual Exercises: Do we see the gifts we are given as personal possessions only, or do they benefit others? Ask not what the Lord can do for you, but what you can do for the Lord.

Over the past couple of weeks, we have heard Jesus predict his passion and we have heard the inappropriate responses of his disciples. They did not understand that Jesus’ mission was not about power. It was about service. This is seen again in the beginning of today’s Gospel.

Then we see a series of sayings. The first speaks of the blessing that one would receive for serving the disciples of Jesus.  Jesus then speaks of the horror of giving scandal to God’s little ones. We often have to make choices against things and activities that might lead us into sin.

Today’s Gospel asks us: Are we resisting both the temptations that come to us and our being a temptation to others by spreading gossip about the wrongdoing of others?

We can be insightful here today in out time by saying: If the internet is causing you to sin, get a blocking device. If a CD is causing you to sin, throw it out. If television or the media is causing you to sin, read a good book. If friendships or relationships are causing you to sin, distance yourself from those individuals. Playing with temptation is like playing with fire. Sooner or later, we get burned.

This past week we witnessed the canonization of a man, an insightful man, who truly was a courageous proponent of the Christian faith. Make time to read the biography of our Church’s newest declared saint, Junipero Serra.

I have presented three insightful questions for all of us from today’s readings.

To summarize: Do we know our allies (or just our enemies)? What are we doing for Christ with our life? Are we a temptation to others?

From the moment of our conception and until we draw our last breath, God’s hand is upon us. God’s Spirit guides us with unique gifts. Our faith options are always open ended. The choice to live life following the way of Jesus is ours to make. God’s hand is reaching out to each of us. Will you accept and grasp it?

We are all called to hear God’s word and embrace Jesus’ call for acceptance for all people. Junipero Serra heard and answered Jesus’ call.

As we approach the Lord’s table in a few minutes to celebrate his real presence and be nourished, let us also be empowered for the mission to which God calls each and every one of us!

St. Junipero Serra pray for us!

Anna E. Mason
October 8, 1923 – August 27, 2015
Mass of Christian Burial

“Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.” [Matthew 5: The Sermon on the Mount; The Beatitudes]

A positive message and attitude of hope given to us by Christ himself in his famous Sermon on the Mount. Hope that should spring eternal and influence all our lives!

Today we celebrate the life of Anna Elizabeth Mason, a child of God, who personified and lived a positive hopeful life and who has now gone home to the Lord.

In today’s first reading from Paul to the Thessalonians we take comfort in the fact that we shall stay with the Lord forever. Jesus not only humbled himself and took on our humanity but through his life, death, and resurrection guarantees each of us eternal bliss with him in heaven.

We take comfort in the fact that there will be no more death. God’s dwelling with the human race gives us a foretaste of the blissful new heaven and earth that await all who eagerly await him.

In our gospel today, Matthew tells us to rejoice and be glad for your reward will be great in heaven. Jesus never said our life of discipleship would be easy. Anna too faced many challenges throughout her lifetime. The loss of her father, James William Mason, when she was 13; the loss of her mother, Orintha Hanna Exline Mason in 1962; the loss of her four siblings, Emily, Billy, Randolph, and Francis; when she was diagnosed a diabetic in 1985 just as she was entering into her retirement years; her quintuple bypass surgery in 2003; and when she gave up her independence to move into Charlotte’s Home in 2014…just to name a few. All these challenges she learned to humbly accept. She faced life with a positive attitude and who can forget her infectious laugh? Our gospel today expresses hope; Anna’s hope for eternal life and a future more blissful existence… being in  heaven with God and seeing her parents, siblings, and friends again.

God  asks all of us to be “child-like” and embrace the innocence, faith, and trust of a child. It is this faith and trust that makes us all participants in the divine life. God’s wisdom becomes our wisdom, his knowledge our knowledge, and his Spirit our spirit. Faith is our response to the very life of Christ in us nourished by the sacraments of the Church. It is this life of Christ that animates his Church and us. Anna was involved in the Church and in church-related activities for as long as I can remember and as long as she was able. It is this life of Christ that animated our daughter, sister, sister-in-law, aunt, and friend. our Anna…

Today we stop for a moment in time to honor, to remember, to thank God for this special lady. A faith-filled lady of many facets that touched many lives while preserving a certain sense of style and grace, mixed with fortitude, compassion and a strong love for God and his Church, her family, her co-workers and her friends.

So,summing up a life of 91 years with a lesson for us all and, on behalf of Anna’s surviving nieces and nephews, and for those of you who knew, or though you knew Anna Mason, I hope my homily will stir fond memories and perhaps give you insight into the life of a lady, a very special lady indeed…

Our Anna was born in Hancock, Maryland and grew up with three older brothers and one sister who was 12 years her senior. She loved small town living in Hancock and resided in the same apartment on Pennsylvania Avenue for some 52 years. Being “small town” did not stop her from traveling. I would venture to say she has likely seen more of the United States than most of us can or will ever be able to claim. She traveled most of it on bus trips [with cousin-in-law, Mille Smith] and has set foot in all 50 states of the Union except one--- Nebraska. And, no, she did not travel to Hawaii by bus. Although she did spend Christmas 1964 there much to the chagrin of her family back home.

Anna graduated from Hancock High School in 1941 and left town for a short while to further her education at Hagerstown Business College. She became a secretary and in 1942 went to work for the M. P. Moller Organ Company in Hagerstown as Executive Secretary for the president of the company, M. P. Moller himself. And she never left her home in Hancock--- she commuted the some 30 miles each way to Hagerstown  for some 43 years retiring in 1985.

Everyone at M. P. Moller loved “Ann”, as she was affectionately known in the office.
One co-worker in particular who joined the company in 1983 has remained in touch with “Ann” up until the present time. In fact, last May when Ann was under Hospice care, Hospice along with the Make a Wish Foundation arranged a private organ recital at a church in Frederick, MD that has a mighty Moller organ. That co-worker is Mr. John Holland. He is our organist today and a number of the hymns in today’s service were also part of that special recital that Ann remarked about up to the very end.

In speaking with Mr. Holland this past week, he mentioned there were so many stories he and Ann shared over the years about the “Moller years”. Time does not permit me to recount all he shared with me here but I will share this one…

[Knowing Ann, you can picture her telling this story.] Ann recounted the time when an organ was delivered to a church and it had to be hoisted up into the balcony [similar to our situation here]. The console was the last to be hoisted but something happened and somehow the hoisting equipment collapsed and the console came crashing down. It was totally destroyed along with several pews. Ann said there was total silence, then all hell broke loose! Ann laughed so hard telling that story! Of course the console had to be rebuilt along with several pews.

In her personal life, Anna was a talented, crafty, and creative person. She loved to cook and bake. None of us nieces and nephews will ever forget her Thanksgiving cranberry sherbet or her Christmas sand tarts. She painted and she did needle point. All of us nieces and nephews have seen or have a piece of her handiwork. Locally she won a number of blue ribbons for her needle point projects. And, like her mother, she sewed. During her working years she made her own suits. She was one well-dressed stylish lady. She once remarked that was the only way she could afford some of the things she had, she made them herself.

To say Anna was a devout Catholic might be a bit of an understatement. Anna personified a life of Christian virtue and Catholic practice.  And she was very devoted to St. Peter Church in Hancock. In the mid 1960’s when then pastor, Fr. Charles Quinn was radically remodeling the church building to conform to Vatican II dictates, he had decided to replace the old [historic] Moller organ we had with a then state-of-the-art electronic organ. Anna was so in distress over the thought of that, that she wrote Fr. Quinn a letter and begged him to reconsider and at least see what the Moller Company would do for him and the church. Fr. Quinn reconsidered and Moller came through with a deal he could not refuse. However, the cabinet color of the proposed organ was a dark mahogany color which would not match the medium oak color of the new altars and accessories just put into the church. To change the color would mean the cost would go up. Fearing that Fr. Quinn would go back to the electronic model, Anna paid the difference herself to have the organ cabinet and console finished to match the altars. That Moller organ, built in 1965, is still in our loft today.

Today St. Peter’s is proud to have a very active Ladies Group. The Ladies do the major fundraising for the church along with hosting various social activities within the parish. Today they will host a luncheon immediately following this service.

During the 1960’s a group of women from St. Peter’s bowled weekly at the local Skate R Bowl as a St Peter’s team. They consisted of Anna Jean Murray Pierce, Hazel Faith, Hazel Souders, Helen Mason, and Anna Mason. When not bowling, and before our present hall and kitchen were built, these ladies would host such events in the Rectory such as a dinner for visiting  priests here for the closing of 40 Hours or a reception for an incoming or out going pastor. When the new hall and kitchen were built, this core group [once referring to themselves as “sisters of the skillet”] along with adoptee, Mille Smith, started what today is known as the Ladies Group.

After Anna retired in 1985, Fr. George Glick asked the retiring secretary to type his weekly church bulletin. Anna would come to morning Mass on Monday to pick up the draft. She would type it and come to Mass on Tuesday morning to bring the typed bulletin back. On Wednesday she would come to morning Mass just to prove that she did not have to pick something up or bring something back to come to Mass. She worked on many other projects for Fr. Glick. Another was typing the entire church record history on index cards. And whether it was ironing altar cloths, arranging fresh flowers from the yard of her former Main Street home on the altar, or sewing new vestments for Fr. Paul Whitthaur, Anna was always here to help as long as she was able and needed.

As I mentioned, Anna retired from M P Moller in 1985. As you can see, even her retirement years were busy. In fact she even returned to Moller for a short while post retirement to assist the new secretary with filing and various office chores. Anna loved her quiet small town lifestyle, Anna loved her employer and co-workers, Anna loved her God and her home parish. Anna loved her family…

Anna was a humble lady but could be very opinionated from time to time and she never held back when it came to expressing her opinion. She loved her parents. I gleaned this from stories she used to tell me about helping her father, James William known as “Will” when he lost his vision due to the onset of diabetes. Anna loved her mother, Orintha as we nieces and nephews witnessed during the years she lived with her in her Main Street home until her mother’s death in 1962. Anna loved her siblings. She and her sister, Emily were close and her big sister looked out for her though she was an independent spirit. Emily might have thought she knew what was best for Anna, but Anna had her own ideas. Anna loved her brothers and worried about them coming home again as they all three were actively involved in the services during World War II. She and my dad, Bill were close because he too lived here in Hancock. She still found time to visit her out –of-town brothers in Baltimore [Randolph] and Philadelphia [Francis] and they too would occasionally return to Hancock.

Anna unconditionally loved her six nieces and three nephews. Forever too young to be called “Aunt Anna”, she did not always agree with or approve of life choices we made, but, like God, she never stopped loving and cherishing any time she could spend with us even if it was only to gather together to spend her birthday with her. She wanted a party on her 90th and she got it!

I am sure I have only scratched the surface today. This last week while sitting with Anna as she was preparing to move on to the next stage of her life, I could not help reminiscing and remembering the times I spent with her. I remember as a child she would always pick me up for church activities when my parents were unable to do so. I reciprocated years later when she could no longer drive after her heart surgery. In 2009 when I told her of my plan to pursue the diaconate, she supported me whole heartedly. In 2012 when  I was near the completion of the formation program and learned that I would in fact be ordained , she sent me this note:

“Dear Jim, The enclosed is a small way to say how proud of you I am and to help you buy your vestments. Your grandmother “Rinthy” would be bursting her buttons she would be so proud of you – as would your Mom and Dad. My son, the Deacon! You do a grand job and I know it will continue to be the same. So keep going1! Love, Anna”

This note, written very much in Anna’s style, I share with you and especially with my fellow cousins. It could have been written to any one of you because, as I mentioned earlier, she was proud of each one of us in our own special way.

And then there was the cat… Fr. Quinn once said that cats were God’s most useless creatures. Again I think Anna would challenge him on that statement. Her companion during her retirement years was a black and white cat named, Mittens. A gift from dear friends Tom and Jane, the kitten came with a bag of catfood on a trial basis. The kitten literally destroyed Anna’s pristine apartment but she won Anna’s heart. The “trial” continued and Mittens lived the good life some 18years passing in 2013. [Mittens will be reunited and interred with Anna today].

I could go on and on but I think you get the point… to know Anna is to love Anna. She truly was a special  lady, a blest lady, and we were blest to have her among us for over 91 years.

From today’s gospel, as I mentioned earlier, we see that we can face many challenges in life.

Undoubtedly Anna did.

Anna always had a positive attitude and a positive outlook no matter the situation. Most notably was when we were forced to move her to Charlotte’s Home. She disliked relinquishing her independence but deep down she knew it was best for her at this stage in her life and she remained positive to the very end.

Also from today’s gospel  remember there is hope and the promise from Jesus, “…your reward will be great in heaven.”

Today we celebrate a special lady, a lady that lived among us  but now will live forever in our hearts and with God in paradise… our aunt and friend, Anna.

Mother Theresa always stressed faithfulness over successfulness. I venture to say that Anna lived that kind of life and many times achieved both.

To Anna’s surviving nieces and nephews and your respective families, my fellow cousins, and the people who knew and loved Anna:  the next time you hear the mighty Moller organ play at St. Peter’s Hancock, or remember a funny story involving Anna from the past, or recall past quality time spent with Anna, remember our new  intercessor  whom God shared with us but has now called into his kind care. And let your mourning be comforted.

I close with this thought authored by a dear friend of Anna, Barbara Fry, because I feel  it sums up the sentiments of friends and family better than anything I could write:

“Anna, my dear, you are loved and respected by many
And a priceless friend you are to me,
I value the time and laughter that we shared
And in my thoughts and prayers you will always be.”

Anna, we love you!

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sunday July 12, 2015

Our life as Christians/Catholics  is one big spiritual journey…

If you attended the Summer Retreat you were refreshed and revitalized with the ABC’s of our Catholic Faith… all the basics of our faith that we need to know, that we need to pass pass on to our children, our families, our friends, our acquaintances.

In today’s Gospel, we have the missionary instruction of Jesus Christ. We have an outline for the type of evangelization that the Church must undertake today if it is to reach people “where they are” and call them to where the Lord wants them to be. We cannot effectively function in this capacity if we do not know and understand the basics of or faith. If you were unable t participate in this retreat opportunity, I hope and pray you will take advantage of a future opportunity. As you will see, it is spiritually and vitally important!

Think about our Pope Francis…

Less than a year into his papacy, Francis was named Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year” for 2013. There was much reaction to this, both pro and con. One of the more exuberant positive responses was Timothy McGrath’s [ a social media staff writer] article “21 Reasons Why Pope Francis Should Be Everyone’s Person of the Year.” On McGrath’s list [numbered in no particular order] are:

#3--- He sneaks out of the Vatican to Hang with the Homeless;
#9--- He gave Individual Hugs to 100 Wheelchair-bound Visitors;
#10--- He’s Got a Sense of Humor;
#11--- He will Embrace You No Matter What You Look Like [referring to Francis hugging a man whose whole body was covered with grotesque boils];
#12--- He Told Catholic Leaders to Stop Being So Swaggy [arrogant or pompous];
#15--- He Drives Around in a 20-year-old Renault [a car with 190,000 miles on it, given to him by an Italian priest];
#18--- He’ll Wash Your Feet [noting the pope’s Holy Thursday ritual at a juvenile detention facility].

Most of the list focuses on what people see as the Pope’s “earthiness”, humility, or empathy for common people--- his willingness to “get his hands a little dirty.”

Think about our own Archbishop William Lori…

Some three years into his role as our bishop and leader, Archbishop Lori penned a pastoral letter to us entitled, A Light Brightly Visible: Lighting the Path to Missionary Discipleship. Addressing the Core mission of the Church of Baltimore – the same mission entrusted to the Apostles by Jesus in today’s Gospel, Archbishop Lori asks, “What decisions need to be made so that we can marshal the resources the Lord has given us to do the work of the Gospel?”:

Are we equipped to fulfill the great commission the Lord has given us?

Do we personally have the qualities of mind, heart, and spirit to take up the task?

Are our parishes ready to respond to the challenges of the mission in our times?

Are there ways we can pull together as a Catholic Community to proclaim and bear witness to the Gospel more effectively in Little Orleans? In Hancock?  And in every other parish encompassed in this Archdiocese?

How can we [or ask yourself, how can I] reach out more dramatically to those who have left and those who are searching?

Are we willing to get our hands a little dirty as Pope Francis?

The favorable impression of Pope Francis is based on his style of ministry, one that is very visible and one that people seemingly perceive as being Christ-like. Our own Archbishop Lori is challenging us and all of the parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Baltimore to put our mind, heart , and spirit into a plan that will effectively help us marshal our resources “… to sustain our efforts to be disciples and to make disciples in the Archdiocese of Baltimore now and for years to come.”

In today’s Gospel, we get something like a “blueprint for ministry” in the instruction that Jesus gives. Jesus is giving us the “rules of the road” so to speak for a spiritual journey. The same spiritual journey that Pope Francis is undertaking and the same spiritual journey that Archbishop Lori is undertaking [and seeking our help].

There are three particular instructions of Jesus in today’s Gospel that we can take to heart: carry the walking stick, travel two by two, and shake the dust from unresponsive towns. Each will help us Christian Catholics on our spiritual journey to heaven…

Carry the walking stick

The Lord tells his disciples to take no food, no traveling bag, not even any money. The one thing they were to take was a walking stick. The Lord knew they would need something to lean on. Hills were steep and roads were rough. A walking stick would help them keep their balance. [Fr. Jack was that true for you in Ireland?]

On our spiritual journey we too need a walking stick. Our walking stick is a trust in God’s providence. This is critical. We need to truct in God’s will. There is God’s permissive will in the tings he lets happen. There is God’s corrective will in the things that bring us to correct the direction in which we may be going. And there is God’s affirmative will in the things the Lord sends into our life. I do not believe in coincidence! God’s will [our walking stick] is woven into everything that happens to us, even in rejection. Think about it.

In our life everything happens for a reason, for our spiritual good, if we see it through the eyes of faith.

A few months ago I told you of my uncertain employment situation. Today I am still employed but I am seeking other opportunities that will support me and my diaconal ministries. It has been a rough few months for me but I am convinced that it is all God’s will and the ultimate outcome will be in my and my ministries best interest. I trust in God’s providence in my case. At times it is not easy. No one said it would be easy. I trust in God’s will how all this will paly out. This is my “walking stick” that will help me however it ultimately ends.

Travel two by two

The second element of Jesus’ instructions is his sending out the disciples two by two. Sure, if they went alone, they could cover more territory. But the Lord sens them two by two for the obvious reason that they needed each other. They had a big job to do and they needed teamwork. In Genesis, the Creator God said, “it is not good for the man to be alone.” We take that referring to marriage. It can also refer to the life of every person. We all need friends, partners, associates, and companions. I could not have made it through deacon formation without the help and support of my brother deacons and fellow deacon candidates. That is true of the spiritual life. Think about the communion of saints. We unceasingly seek the intercession; seek the help we need from the saints.

We also need fellow Christian partners here on earth, people to whom we can talk, seek support, and on whose prayer we can rely. Again, I think of my fellow deacons and deacon candidates.

Each of us needs at least one other person to lean on. To speak the Gospel and to live the Gospel we need the community of the Church. That is why Sunday Mass, when we all gather to hear the Word proclaimed and celebrate the Eucharist, is so very important. We gather together each week with the Church to renew our faith, our commitment to the Lord,  and know that we are supported by prayer.

No man is an island… it is a great grace to have a prayer partner, someone we know is praying for us. We all need spiritual companionship within our spiritual journey… someone for whom we can pray and whom we know is praying for us.

Shake the dust from unresponsive towns

This last instruction form the Lord may sound a bit harsh and perhaps anti-Christian. The message for us and for the Church from these words in not to be paralyzed or stifled by failure. Nobody has a 100% success rate in his or her missionary work. Mother Theresa always stressed faithfulness over successfulness. Be faithful. We need to be sure we do our best and then move on. The point is to learn when to shake that dust away and move on. Shake that dust away, say the Lord, and move on to other towns. There are other towns, other opportunities, other people waiting to hear the Gospel and receive Christ’s truth.

In summary, we have three pieces of advice from the Lord to his first missionaries and to us. We should hang onto the walking stick, the trust in God’s will and providence. Everything that happens in out life happens for a reason. That is a truth that will sustain us along with a spiritual companion. Remember travel two by two. Trust your spiritual companion, that fellow Christian who can give you encouragement, support, and prayer. It is not good for any Christian to be alone. We need a community of faith.

Shake the dust from the towns that will not listen and move on. Do not be paralyzed and preoccupied by failure. Dare I say, know when to hold and know when to fold… There are other towns and other places that need to hear you and that will listen.

As Christian/Catholics we are on a journey. We are not wanderers, but pilgrims and missionaries.

Jesus commissioned his disciples only after he had modeled for them a ministry of empathy and healing. The only possessed the ABC’s of basic Christianity I would say.

Theodore Roosevelt once remarked, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Jesus didn’t launch his disciples with knowledge. He sent them to touch and heal people

Pope Francis’ humility and healin truly embody the spirit of Jesus’ mission. Pope Francis has rejected clericalism and compared the Church to a field hospital. Using that analogy and my opening statements, Church leaders and modern-day disciples would be more akin to medics than generals. They are not afraid to get their hands a little dirty.

Archbishop Lori’s message, as he sums up his pastoral letter on Missionary Discipleship states, “We should approach this process with hope and joy for its goal is to make our parishes ever more vibrant centers of evangelization, that manifest that attractiveness of the Gospel and the warmth of Jesus’ truth and love.”

We all have  a purpose and a goal. We all have access to this truth. If the Lord gives you a mission, he will also give you the resources and the grace to carry it out.

Trinity Sunday
May 31, 2015

The Most Holy Trinity is a great mystery of our Christian faith.

There is a story of how St. Augustine, a great Christian intellectual, was walking along the beach one day reflecting upon the Holy Trinity. He met a boy who was playing in the sand. The boy had dug a hole and was running back and forth from the sea, bringing buckets of water and emptying them into the hole. St. Augustine asked the boy what he was doing. The boy answered that he was emptying the ocean into the hole. St. Augustine told him that he could never empty the whole ocean into that hole, and the boy responded that he would empty the ocean long before St. Augustine figured out the Trinity.

I have another story: The bishop who was celebrating the Sacrament of Confirmation with a class of 3rd and 4th graders asked a girl in the back row to explain the Trinity. The girl stood, took a deep breath, and fearing that she may be refused the Sacrament for being unable to answer the question, said, “No bishop, I can’t. You see, it’s a mystery.”

Today we celebrate the central mystery of our faith, the distinctively Christian truth that God is a Trinity of Persons. The Jewish people believe in God. The Muslims believe in God. Many ancient faiths believe in God. It is distinctive to the Christian to believe that God is One in three Persons. This doctrine is both profound and personal.

The doctrine is profound. There is only one God. Yet, this God is three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The three are distinct. The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Father and the Holy Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son. Each is really and truly God, but still, there is only one God. Revelation teaches us that God is a person. It is not quite the same as saying that he is the same as a human being is a person, but it does mean that God is not some impersonal force. St. Thomas Aquinas and basic theology teaches, “God is like us and yet more unlike us.”

The Father gives the Son all he has and the Son is the perfect image of the Father. Jesus has said, if you see me you see the Father. Between the Father and the Son is a love so powerful that it is called the Holy Spirit. God is an eternal, powerful tornado of love and a mystery that forever escapes our full comprehension

Instead of trying to reason our way through the Trinity, we would do much better trying to appreciate how the Trinity affects us, how it helps us relate more closely to God and to one another, and how it helps us realize how personal and loving God is. The doctrine is personal. We are all made in the image and likeness of God; therefore, the more we attempt to understand God the more we understand ourselves!

Scripture speaks to us personally about the Trinity and provides us with a link between the life of God and us.

Scripture tell us of a Father who created us in his own image and likeness. He breathed into us the very breath of life. He wanted the best for us. But we rebelled and went our own way.

Despite all our rebellions and infidelities, the Father never abandoned us, his children, as we see in today’s first reading. God is a Father whose discipline was always meant to heal and make us strong. He gave us law, prophets, and a promise of lasting care if we keep his statutes and commandments.

And so, the Father not only brought us into being but also sustains every beat of our heart. Like the rest of creation, our lives are in God’s hands. To see God in the world around us is to experience God the Father.

Then we heard in our Gospel today…

The risen Jesus appears to the disciples as one having all power in heaven and on earth. The disciples are to baptize all people, a greatly expanded mandate than the original mission to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Jesus will always be with them [and us] until the end of time.

Jesus remains with us through the sacramental life of the Church. He touches, he heals, he enlightens, he gives strength, he corrects, he renews…  It is through his presence in our lives, in our world, in the Eucharist [the Real Presence], that we experience God the Son.

As Holy Spirit, God binds us to himself as Father and Son. Because the Holy Spirit has been given to us [Pentecost] we can now be drawn into the very life of God. In today’s second reading, St. Paul calls him the “Spirit of adoption” that makes us a member of the very family life of the Trinity. By Baptism, we become by adoption what Jesus was by nature, a part of God’s inner life.

Scripture also tells us of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Blessed Trinity, dwelling within each one of us. The Spirit immerses us into a spiritual fellowship called the Church and endows each of us with strengths and gifts to follow Christ. The Spirit draws each of us into communion and communication with the Risen Christ. The Spirit lives and abides in our deepest self. The Holy Spirit is Christ’s Easter gift to the Church and to each one of us with all the gifts [there are seven] and fruits [there are twelve] —that which is laying in our minds and hearts. That’s how we experience God the Holy Spirit.

Today, rather that to try to stand here and tell you what the Trinity is, I have attempted to show you how the Trinity affects us, how it helps us relate more closely to God and to one another, and how it helps us realize how personal and loving God is and how we experience the Triune God.

This drama of creation, redemption, and sanctification is not only the story of the human race described in Scripture, but it is the story of each one of us.
The doctrine of the Trinity is the powerful truth that God is close to us in hundreds of ways as the Father, as the Son, and as the Holy Spirit.

We know, God the Father [Creator] sustains our world and gave each one of us the precious gift of life with a purpose.

We know, God the Son [Redeemer] gave his life so that we may be freed of sin and have the gift of eternal life.

We know, God the Holy Spirit [Sanctifier] guides us through our conscience and helps us live as the people of God Christ called us to be.

Today we celebrate the Trinity not as an abstract dogma but as an active presence in our life.

Expect God to fill you today with his divine life and give you a deeper taste of his love.

Unlike any other person of faith, to be a Christian is to have the privilege, the grace, the power of knowing God as all three even though, as the little girl told the bishop, “It’s a mystery!” The central mystery of Christian faith and life!

Saturday of the 2nd Week of Easter
Saturday, April 18, 2015

Today’s reading from Acts 6:1-7 is especially close to my heart.

On Saturday, May 11, 2013 it was the First Reading at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore on the day I was ordained a Permanent Deacon.

The apostles recognize a need in the early Church and they ordain helpers…

The honeymoon is over. The early Church community is squabbling about the fair distribution of the food and goods they have collected. The division is between the Greek- and the Hebrew- speaking widows, each complaining they are not receiving their fair share. Creating a harmonious community was not easy in the early Church. It is not easy today. It is sometimes never easy.

Because the apostles do not want to be bothered with such a minor matter, they decide to appoint men to serve [diakonein] those in need.

The diaconate is created. The creation of new roles within the fledgling group starts the multiplicity of offices evident in the Church today. Note that guided by the Holy Spirit, the early Church leaders held together the community of the Church.

It is also important to note that from Scripture it is evident that these roles are not set in stone. When St. Stephen [one of the first deacons of the Church] gets in trouble later, it’s not from distributing food to widows but because of his preaching.

The restoration of the permanent diaconate in 1967 took some of the burden off priests who were already declining in number. This restored ministry unleashed a flood of volunteers for Church service. Deacons have been used in a variety of ways ever since. The main thing asked of them is flexibility in service. The Holy Spirit guides and holds the Church community together today.

Back in February, I had the privilege of spending a weekend on retreat with 40 of my brother deacons from the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

We were blest to have a dynamic Retreat Master who helped us stop and take a good long look at ourselves as ordained helpers…

Entitled, “Pope Francis the Deacon’s Pope”, our Retreat Master shepherded us each back through the promises that we each made on our Ordination Day. He reminded us that we as deacons are called to be Listeners [what is in the hearts and minds of people… as the deacon makes himself available he listens; listen, hear, understand…]. Then he broke open the words that we ourselves speak [and should hear from within ourselves] as we participate in all the deacon’s parts in our Sacred Liturgies.

At our next session he reminded us of our roles a deacon Servants [as the helpers in the early Church were], that naturally forms the deacon as a Living Icon. Here, using the conventional religious image venerated by the Eastern Christians, we deacons are reminded of our devotional roles and responsibilities. As deacons we all have our strengths and we all have our weaknesses. In answering God’s call we face times when we are not a leader but a follower but there are times when we do lead. We face many challenges in balancing our ministerial lives with our family roles and our professional careers.

We finished the retreat with a wonderful Spirit-filled Holy Hour of Eucharistic Adoration followed by a session for our roles as “Deacon, Men of Prayer”. As Christ prayed often, we too are called to pray often and seek needed strength and guidance.

On our ordination day, each deacon receives the Book of the Gospels. WE have become Christ’s herald…

To sum the life as a permanent deacon, we charged to, “Believe what you read, Teach what you believe, Practice what you teach”

Listeners, Servants, Living Icons, Men of Prayer… who




True of the early men in the Church we heard about in today’s readings… True in the lives of the deacons serving in the Church today…

Before I was formally accepted into the Formation Program, I was asked to verbalize my ministry goals and attitudes. Here is an excerpt from my response that I choose to share with you today:

Many years ago when I first graduated from college, I belonged to a  local Jaycee [Junior Chamber of Commerce] chapter. The last line of their creed [which by the way acknowledges that the sovereignty of God transcends the sovereignty of government] is, “.. and service to humanity is the best work of life.” I still believe this to this day.  I see the value of the Diaconate in the Church today as the “service” arm to a church facing a changing world, a shortage of priests and religious vocations, and a growing “lay” humanity [and dare I say in many cases a growing secularized world on many fronts].

Like the early Church, the Church in the 21st century needs men of service. Pray for more religious vocations… vocations to the diaconate.

St. Stephen please pray for me, for my brother deacons, and the men who will be ordained to the diaconate this May…

Fourth Sunday of Lent
March 15, 2015

God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ—by grace you have been saved-- …it is a gift from God… [Ephesians]

If you have been part of our Lenten study groups, you will recall that from our Lectio Divina exercise this past week. The rest of us likely heard it the first time this morning in the second reading.

Recall these [as I am holding it up] Living Lent with Passion booklets we have made available to you this Lenten Season? Today we are just over the halfway mark in out Lenten Journey this year… there is still time… perhaps you have read today’s meditation prayer…

In that meditation and in today’s readings we are challenged to focus and reflect on the infinite love of God [revealed in Jesus’ suffering and death] and on its implications for us and for each other [our neighbors].

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. [John 3:16]

This is one of the most well-known and beloved verses of Scripture. We often see it displayed on television at sporting events, usually on a banner or sign attached somewhere in the arena or stadium.

This is a verse that should be memorized, recited, and understood--- Today I will reflect on the three parts of this verse: God’s love, God’s Son, and our belief or response.

To set the stage, the Gospel of John presents the final judgment as something that will occur before the end of time. In actuality it already occurs today. When we make Jesus a part of our lives, God will be real and alive to us. When, however, we reject Jesus, we choose to live a life without him.

There could be no greater punishment that that. However, that is not what God wants for us. God did not send Jesus into the world so that we would be condemned. God wants us to be saved; he even called his Son to the cross out of love for us.

But, notice the language of the verse… it states, “…everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” God wants us to be saved but, the final choice is up to each one of us!

How can we make Jesus a part of our lives so we can be assured that we will not perish and we will attain eternal life?

God so loved the world that he gave…

Let’s stop right there. Sometimes these words can become so familiar that they roll by on the page without provoking any new thought.

The greatest mystery of the universe is that God gave---and he gave and he gave some more. Fact is he gave everything so that we could be with him. He restored the inheritance our first parents lost for us in the Garden of Eden. He could have given up on the human race right then and there. But he didn’t. That’s how much he loves us!

This world that God so loved is not some idealized place where people try to live in justice and peace [happily ever after].

This world is a world with crime, dishonesty, wars, and constant feuding that divides people. This world with all its greed and immorality and pettiness.

But this world is so loved by God that he wanted and wants to bring healing and new life to it.

The Old Testament Book of Chronicles gives us a summary of Israel’s rebellion against God who gave them life. It says, “the princes of Judah, the priests and the people added infidelity to infidelity, practicing all the abominations of the nations and polluting the Lord’s temple. They mocked the messengers of God, despised his warnings and scoffed at his prophets.” Israel’s story is the story of every generation… it describes the realities of life in today’s world… Christian persecution, abortion, governments mocking and suppressing religious freedoms, the list goes on and on…

Still, God so loved this world, the world of Israel and the world of today that we inhabit, that he sent his Son.

The saving plan of God was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. St. Paul teaches us that God brought us to life with Christ when we were dead in our transgressions. Paul knew that first hand. Recall that he himself had persecuted the Church by arresting and imprisoning Christians. Then out of nowhere the Risen Christ appeared to him on the road to Damascus. With that his life changed. He certainly had done nothing to deserve it but salvation was now his in Jesus Christ. As with Paul, Christ is the way to salvation, forgiveness, and new life for you, and for me, and for the whole human race! Have we done anything to deserve it? Think about it…

God so loved the world that he sent his only Son. Jesus Christ is the bridge between our unfaithfulness [our sin] and God’s forgiveness [God’s healing].

If you read further in John’s Gospel, you will see that Jesus refers to an incident in the Old Testament Book of Numbers when poisonous snakes bit the people of Israel. They would have died from the bites but God told Moses to fabricate a bronze serpent and put it on a pole. Anyone who looked at that snake would be saved from death. Obedience to that command of God would neutralize the poison and they would be restored to life.

The poison of sin infests our world and us. We cannot expel sin on our own. We need help. Jesus says, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up that whoever believes in him might have eternal life.” On the cross, Jesus would be like the bronze serpent and bring healing to us.

Again I ask, how can we make Jesus a part of our lives so we can be assured that we will not perish and we will attain eternal life? By wanting and accepting his offer of forgiveness and by a firm and sincere desire to amend our lives.

The question now is… Are we ready, willing, and able to take the step of repentance to change how we live? Are we willing to meet God where he wants us to be?

There is our belief and our response. Lent is not just a time to simply sympathize with the cross of Jesus. It’s our time to embrace it. It’s a time when we should do our own self assessment and affirm to begin to follow Jesus with our life. Be honest and truthful with yourselves. It’s the faithful following that will bring us healing and new life. The choice is up to each one of us. God did not give us a choice to be born into this world but he does give us the opportunity to choose life with him.

Left to itself, sin is toxic. It will kill us spiritually. But we have been given a cure. We have a cure in the cross of Jesus Christ. Will we put that cross on a wall or build a shrine around it or wear it as jewelry? If we only do that, it won’t do us any good. The good comes from embracing it, initiating change and following Christ’s teachings in our everyday lives.

Take time to reflect on a crucifix this Lent. Let it show you the horror of sin [your sin]. Let it also show you the gift of God’s love and the healing forgiveness that is ours if we seek it.

Today the Church invites us in the middle of the penitential season of Lent to rejoice. We rejoice because God loves each and everyone of us. God loves us unconditionally. And when we realize that, we can love God back and enter into a love relationship with him.

Brian P. Maloney writes, “ The core of Christianity is the experience of the love of God in the person of Jesus. Jesus comes to us in the Eucharist. Jesus joins us to himself in his sacrifice of love. He gives us the help we need to love and serve God and his children.”

And remember that one verse… that verse that is much more than a phrase for a bumper sticker or a sign at a ball game. It expresses the simple truth of what redemption is all about… for this troubled world and for each one of us…whom God brings into being, whom God sustains, whom God redeems, whom God makes holy, whom God so loves…

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. [John 3:16]

May we never doubt that for a minute… Have a joyful Lent!

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
January 25, 2015

Conversion always involves saying “yes” to God’s call and “no” to those things which would hinder us from answering that call. Even things that are good can get in the way if they become too important in our lives. For example, relationships, food, etc.

Here’s an “attention-getter” that really hits home…

During recent years, our country was hit by a recession that has affected almost every aspect of our society and our economy. Even though the recession has been officially over for some time, its residual effects linger for many people. At the worst of the economic downfall, unemployment was reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to be as high as 9.5%. A report released in 2014 claims that, even today, one in six Americans of working age is either unemployed or underemployed.

As a result of the continued uncertainty in employment, many people have stayed in positions they might have otherwise left, knowing it might be difficult to get new jobs. That makes it even more difficult for us to understand how men with a steady job, one that was very important in their culture, would walk away from work on a mere request from an itinerant preacher.

Some of you know but many of you do not that this story really hits home to me. Just before Christmas I learned that the job I have held for more than 16 years was coming to an end after the first of the year. Residual recession effects have hit the company I worked for and directly affected my position. The continued uncertainty in employment for me makes it even difficult for me to understand how men with a secure and steady job would walk away from it.

There was obviously something about Jesus that inspired the first disciples to drop their nets and follow him. There was something compelling about this “kingdom” that he promised that caused men who thought they knew what they were going to do with the rest of their lives to make such a major change.

There is something about this Jesus that inspired me to become a deacon [ almost two years now] and is today inspiring me to keep seeking new employment in my chosen profession [along with expanding my diaconal duties] to get [and keep] the rest of my life back on track.

The scene in today’s Gospel of Jesus calling Simon and Andrew, then James and John, is a very personal moment between themselves and the Lord. Just like my current situation. But it is a moment whose features should be a part of every Christian’s life!

The Lord calls, they leave their nets, and they follow him.  The three dimensions of every Christian’s life: the calling, the leaving, and the following…

First, the Lord’s call. As Jesus walked along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, many people were there. Out of all of them, Jesus zeroed in on Simon and Andrew, and then on James and John. The Lord called them for a purpose:”Follow me”.

Jesus calls each of us for a reason. The call of the Lord in Baptism is very personal and just as we were all created for a purpose, so each of us was called to follow Christ for a purpose.

Many years ago Cardinal Newman reflected on the truth that God calls each of us to a definite service. An illness or even a job loss as I have just experienced, with all its perplexity or sorrow, can serve his plan.

We were created for a purpose larger than ourselves, a purpose larger than our own happiness,  larger than our own prosperity, larger than our own success, and dare I say, larger than our own salvation. In Baptism we were uniquely called for a purpose that nobody else can accomplish in quite the same way.

Jesus has called each of us surely as he called Simon and Andrew and James and John. Each of us has a story of our life and each of us has a journey to make. I believe Jesus called me to become a deacon. There is no doubt in my mind. I believe also that Jesus called me out of my profession [my second job if you will] for a reason. If I fail to explore and attempt to understand that call, then I fail you as a preacher. As my radio/TV personality friend, Lou Scally would say, “Stay tuned.”

The second dimension is leaving  their nets behind. To follow Christ we have to leave behind the nets that will entangle us, burden us, and ensnare us. It is tempting to leave the world behind. But, what about all the conflicts, tensions, darkness that we see in our world today? There is no place we can go to escape because our world reflects the tensions, conflicts, and darkness of the human heart. It’s not like going to Florida to escape the cold weather. Where do we go to escape jealousy, or anger or the desire for revenge?

European explorers came to this continent seeking a new world with a fresh beginning. That did not happen because they brought a lot of the old world with them in their hearts.

To be a Christian then is not to leave the world behind but to use things of the world differently. That is St. Paul’s point in today’s second reading. If we keep our eyes fixed on Christ, then we can start to see marriage, family, and work in a different light. We can see them as places where we can be Christ to others. Before we change the world around us, we need to change the world within us.
What nets are you ready to leave behind? Are you ready to abandon the gossiping, the deception, the prejudice, the greed, the arrogance, the angers, petty jealousies, and/or the resentments that make us no different than the unbelievers?

Think about the Ninevites in today’s first reading. When they repented, they lived in the same city but it was like a different world. They changed on the inside!

The third [and final] dimension is that the Gospel today tells us they followed Jesus. What does it mean to follow Jesus?

Following Jesus means standing up for the sacredness of all human life [from conception to natural death]. Following Jesus means standing up for the sanctity of marriage as between one man and one woman. It means trying to build bridges among warring factions. It means guarding the dignity of sexuality. It means guarding the importance of spiritual life in a secular world.  It means standing up for what is true and right as opposed to hype and image.

To follow Jesus is being Jesus to other people in spite of the cultural influences that can poison us today. Unfortunately my list seems endless.

The very personal moment when Jesus calls Simon, Andrew, James, and John says a great deal to us and about us.

It tells us, Jesus has a call and a personal mission for each of us. I’m still discerning that call and I venture to say many of you are doing the same today.

It also tells us the we need to leave behind our “nets”. Leave behind the things and/or attitudes that burden, entangle, and compromise our mission.

And it tells us that like Simon, Andrew, James and John we follow Jesus by living and taking his Gospel messages to the people around us.

Christ has/is calling each one of us for a reason… a reason larger than ourselves. How will you answer?

There was/is obviously something about Jesus that inspired the first disciples and inspires us to drop nets and follow him.  As citizens of the kingdom of God, we share in a special community of believers that have responded and said “yes” to God’s call to discipleship.  Think about that today as you approach the Lord’s table in a few minutes to receive the real presence of Christ … his body, blood, soul, and divinity.

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
Sunday, December 28, 2014

Today’s celebration of Holy Family Sunday is an opportunity to reflect on our family life. Family life is something Jesus shared with us, and, like Jesus, we are profoundly influenced by our families.

The family is the most important community to which we will ever belong.

The first reading from the Old Testament Book of Sirach speaks about human life as connected across generations. We have responsibilities and relationships with the generations before as well as those after us.

Sirach writes, “My son, take care of your father [and mother] when he is old; grieve him not as long as he lives. Even if his mind fail, be considerate of him; revile him not all the days of his life; kindness to a father will not be forgotten…”

While we think about our responsibilities to next generation, we need to remember the generation that preceded us. We are instruments of Christ’s care and love to them as well.

I grew up in a small family… just my father, mother and me… but my only living grandparent, my mother’s mother was an integral part of my family. I remember spending time with her and I learned al lot about my family history. Though she was not catholic, she lived a hard, devoutly Christian life. I will always cherish the memories of times I spent with her.

Because the family is multigenerational, the wisdom of Sirach reminds us that the family is a bridge that connects generations.

In today’s second reading, St. Paul writes to the Colossians about the virtues of patience, forgiveness and joint prayer. These virtues hold a church and a family together. You have heard the expression, “The family that prays together; stays together.”  It was nice to hear this past Advent Season of family prayer times together using the Advent Wreath.

It would be great to say that with our Baptism, the whole Christian life experience sort of unfolds automatically. But it does not happen that way. We need to learn what it means to be a Christian. We need to learn how to pray, how to be patient, and how to reconcile. The family is where those basics of our formation, those life lessons, are started. The family is a factory [of sort] of love.

Getting back to my family, my mother was not catholic. However, she participated in life here at St. Peter’s and always saw to it that I learned my prayers and was always prepared for catechism classes. Occasionally I would attend her church with her and my grandmother. You could say that was my first exposure to Protestantism. Their services were very similar to ours. We all shared [and share] the same Sacred Scripture… we worship the same God.

The family is where we start to learn the virtues of patience, responsibility, cooperation, self-discipline, self-control, and dealing with authority. The family is also the first Christian community to which we belong.

Consider the family as a factory of faith where the members get rough edges smoothed, where shape and structure come into our lives, and where we start to learn what it means to follow Christ.

The family is the community where we can learn to grow in Jesus Christ. That’s the wisdom of St. Paul.

Finally, in today’s Gospel, we have Mary and Joseph bringing Jesus to the Temple for the Passover. By rituals such as this, they are joining their family to the larger family of Judaism.

Today, when people come to church as a family, they are joining their family life to the larger family life of the Church. Each family is a living cell in the huge Body of Christ. The wisdom demonstrated by the Holy Family in today’s Gospel is that the family is the living cell of the larger Church.

St Peter’s has always been the church of my immediate family. It is here that my family [as your’s] are just one living part [cell] in the huge, mystical Body of Christ. We need the many parts to make up the whole.

In summary, the focus of today’s readings is the model Holy Family and how that relates to our individual families no matter how big or small. The family is a bridge that connects several generations. It is a factory of faith [and love]. And it is a living part [cell if you will] of the larger Body of Christ.

In today’s fast-paced world, family life is not easy.

As we lift our families to the Lord in prayer this Holy Family Sunday, take this opportunity to not only reflect on family life in general, but make a commitment to strengthen our own family’s life in the coming new year.

How can we become a stronger bridge that connects generations?

How can we become a more effective [and efficient] factory of faith?

How can we truly become a vital, living cell in the Body of Christ?

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, pray for us!

November, 30th, 2014
First Sunday of Advent

Something to ponder:

Advent begins today.  What is this season of Advent—the four weeks preceding Christmas?

Advent is a time of patient, reflective waiting for the coming of the Messiah. Let’s coast patiently and reflectively into Christmas.

Wait a minute… we have to put up the Christmas tree, maybe some outdoor lights too. Then there are the Christmas cards, Christmas shopping, wrapping presents, baking cookies, the kid’s or grand kid’s Christmas pageants and choral concerts, workplace and other parties, getting the house ready for guests. The list seems almost endless…  so much for the patient, reflective waiting…


Advent is a [penitential] season of expectation [waiting and preparing for the celebration of the birth of Jesus and also for his return in glory]. It is a period to convert our hearts and also to live in hope [as we wait for that which has not yet arrived].

It is important not to anticipate our celebration of Christmas! If we begin listening to Christmas carols and we begin to put up our Christmas decorations right after Thanksgiving, then when Christmas finally arrives, we will be so tired of it that we will greet it with a sense of relief that we can finally get it over with. Am I right?

If we wait a little longer with our Christmas preparations [and possibly simplify them a bit], then we will have the energy to truly celebrate Christmas and its octave the way that it should be celebrated…

Advent may well be a challenge, but its well worth the effort.

As I mentioned earlier, Advent is a time of waiting…

What are we waiting for?

Think about it, some of life’s best lessons come while we are waiting. Anticipation and planning an event can sometimes be more exciting and rewarding than the event itself! Advent can be a good time for learning or even re-learning to wait.

Of course, we are waiting for Christmas. But did you ever think that our familiarity with the Christmas story can work against our appreciating it?

We think Christmas… there’s Bethlehem, stable, manger, Baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, shepherds, angels, Messiah, peace on earth… but lets take another fresh look…

Christmas makes no sense! Seriously think about it… a baby is born in a barn outside a politically insignificant town. A baby who is--- God! For real! God lying helpless in a manger. The baby is truly human at the same time. A baby who has come to save people--- people who repeatedly reject him over and over and who are not exactly thrilled about being saved. It was true in Jesus’ time; sadly it is true today!

Divine love did a divinely crazy thing…

Remember the feeling of excited expectation we had a young children? I remember the days leading up to Christmas as a child. I used to practically get physically sick with excitement. I was not thinking Advent. I was thinking Santa Claus is coming to town!

Today we need to recapture some of that excitement and get that feeling of expectation back--- for celebrating the coming of the Messiah, the wonder of the incarnation into our very lives!

So, we are waiting for Christmas. What else are we waiting for?

We are also waiting for the Second Coming of the Messiah. That’s a little harder to get tuned into.

Christ’s Second Coming seems terribly remote and eons and eons into the future.

Have you ever heard said, “The world is so messed up, I don’t think it can ever be fixed?”

Guess what, that is not true. That is what the Second Coming of Christ is all about. Christ’s Second Coming will signal and celebrate Christ’s ultimate victory over evil, of love over hate, of sacrifice over selfishness.

Today Jesus tells us, “Be watchful! Be alert!”

Traditionally this was interpreted as meaning we should not let death catch us unprepared. True, not one of us is guaranteed tomorrow. But the Advent terrain is much broader…

Do not let Christmas catch you unprepared.

Of course you know when it’s coming and you’ll get all the preparations completed. But will those preparations include being spiritually prepared? Being spiritually prepared for Christmas is a different matter. Take care not to let Advent slip by.

Be alert for Advent opportunities… Some may only present themselves once…

For example:

A personal note in a Christmas card to someone who has had a rough year…

Generosity to charities such as Salvation Army, American Red Cross…

Warmth and kind words to a frazzled sales clerk…

Stopping to let a car enter frenzied traffic…

To our young people, Christmas preparation can be a challenge--- look for ways you can help someone or some group and then volunteer…

Turn times of enforced waiting into Advent-oriented prayer or reflection [eg. When stuck in traffic, at the doctor’s office, or waiting in line at the bank]

Make time to attend Advent-oriented services here at church. For example, tonight I will preside at an Advent Evening Vespers Service from 7 to 7;30pm. As a family, won’t you consider spending an Advent-oriented half hour here with Jesus in prayer?

As we light the candles of the Advent wreath each week, and as their light becomes stronger and brighter, the light of Christ will become stronger and brighter in our life. Advent is not about the rebirth of Christ. That birth took place some 2000 years ago in Bethlehem. Advent is about the rebirth of our faith, the rebirth of our commitment to Christ and his Church.

Ideally I would ask you to make this Advent a time of patient, reflective waiting… start over the next four weeks by turning your “open times” in the day into Advent times. Any Advent time is better than no Advent time.

At least during these next few weeks as you prepare and participate in your Christmas activities, try to make it a more patient, reflective waiting time for the coming of the Messiah into your hearts.

Be watchful! Be alert! For the movement of God in your life!

In a few minutes we will receive sacramentally the Savior we await in many ways. Receive with gratitude for all the ways he comes to us.

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sunday, October 29, 2014

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is saying to us, “Let Caesar be Caesar, but let God be God.” We should not confuse the two. We give Caesar our taxes, our loyalty, our judgment. But our conscience, our soul, and our choices in life belong to God. In the end, we will be responsible for what we have done as individuals and as citizens, not to Caesar, but to God.

All kinds of events and experiences have shaped our lives… if it weren’t for my mother’s death, my husband’s illness, the assassinations of the 60’s, the Vietnam War, or the terrorist attacks on 9/11… Things have happened in our world, and this has had a lasting effect on who we are and the people we have become.

World events are not isolated images on a TV news program.  Our spiritual lives are not simply our own little parallel world isolated and unmoved by the events that surround us.

Pope Francis has called us to listen and hear the cries of our world because those cries fashion and shape our gospel response… our response in grace.

In Isaiah, King Cyrus thinks his worldly success comes from his wise alliances and political maneuvers. The prophet reminds him that the Lord has been at work through his maneuvering to lead his people to himself.

The lesson here is that God is supreme over all creation and his will is being accomplished even if we do not know him.

In our Gospel today, the Pharisees want to entrap Jesus in a web of their own political hot issues…

As background, the Pharisees and the Sadducees never got along. Their theologies were different. Neither of them got along with the Herodians, the supporters of King Herod and the Roman government. All three groups couldn’t stand each other but they conspired together against Jesus.

The Herodians supported both Caesar and their temple tax for their own political aspirations. The Pharisees hoped Jesus would come down against the temple tax and make the Herodians his enemies.

The Pharisees saw the tax as a crime of Jewish subjugation. If Jesus supported the tax, he would then alienate the common religious opinion that despised it.

Jesus avoids the trap by avoiding the confrontation and proposes that it is all about belonging…

“Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”

Jesus is saying that we have an obligation to Caesar and an obligation to God. Each generation is charged with the task of working out the balance between the two.

How can we apply this to our time?

We are all too familiar with issues affecting Church and State especially today when it directly impacts the sanctity of human life and the God-given right of religious freedoms.

Attempts to divide our world into the secular [bad] and the religious [good] world are at best short-sighted. God’s work cannot be divided into what looks holy and what looks secular. Life itself belongs to God. As with King Cyrus, God’s grace acts in and through the events that shape our lives. Since all belongs to God, we need to pay attention to the signs of the times and what’s happening in the real world.

The relationship between the Church to the State today is neither complete union nor complete separation. It is more like collaboration between the two that is still being developed. The Church is the voice of conscience. The Church has the numbers and the strength to question official policies where Gospel values are at stake. Keep in mind government policy has moral implications. It can build up or weaken families; it can protect or destroy life; it can enhance or weaken human dignity; it can support or burden the practice of religion.

We can apply Jesus’ words not only to the relationship of Church and State but to our [individual] religion and our [individual] politics.

Our faith should influence our politics because we Christians can bring moral vision to our nation. If we don’t, someone else will. In an election year, it is our moral obligation to familiarize ourselves with the candidates and issues and vote responsibly. This is how we can bring our priorities to what government ultimately does.

“Repay to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.

Jesus is not only speaking about the institutions of Church and State. The Lord is speaking about our religion and our politics. We have a moral obligation to not separate our religion and our politics.

I also wish to mention…

Paul VI will be beatified today in Rome. He is hailed by many who helped bring the Church into the modern world.

In implementing the Holy Spirit’s voice from the Vatican Council, Paul faced the daunting task of leading us in updating our practices so that we could actually make sense to the world and respond to its growing needs to see Christ Jesus.

There are many, like the Pharisees, who blame Paul VI for entering the dialog with the world. Keep in mind the Church did not create the modern world but the Church does have to learn how to live in it.

When presented with traps that would have us side with faith or Caesar, our Church continues its call to announce and bring the Good News.

And in a few minutes by coming to us in his Flesh and Blood, Jesus helps us realize what is really holy. God is the all-holy…

Let Caesar be Caesar but let God be God.

September 28, 2014

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 28, 2014

Picture this scene in your mind:

Numerous bishops from around the world are meeting at the Vatican. Outside in St. Peter’s Square, a young man, maybe in his early thirties, is teaching to a growing crowd about living the Catholic faith. One bishop approaches the young man and asks him, “Who authorized you to teach?’ The man calmly replies: “See those prostitutes over there? They are trying very hard to change. And see those men over there? They are corrupt businessmen and politicians, but they are becoming more honest every day. All of them are making more progress in the spiritual life than you are!”

Now please please do not misunderstand me! That was not an accurate description of bishops! It was a contemporary version of the scene we have in today’s Gospel. Let’s examine why Jesus was so upset with the chief priests and elders, and consider what the story of the two sons has to do with them and us.

Just as my story was not an accurate description of bishops, it would be wrong to lump all the chief priests, elders, Pharisees, scribes, and Sadducees together and think of them as “the bad guys”. Many were sincere.

However, many had lost sight of what their religion was all about. They substituted legalism and pious practices with the essence of religion [honest, sincere relationship with God and with treating others justly and charitably].

The crucifixion of Christ shows us that they had no problem lying about and killing the innocent in order to preserve their position. Today we would call that, “Acting for the good of the Church.”

Hence, Jesus called them hypocrites, blind guides, blind fools, snakes, and brood of vipers…

The reasons for Jesus’ anger at the hypocrisy of these “usual suspects” are familiar.  As for the two sons, many of us have been both of them, perhaps more than just once or twice.  I will apply this parable to our lives and I’ll introduce to you someone who is perhaps a person missing in the story; a good model to imitate.

The first son

The first son says, “No, I’m too busy.”  Town is a lot more interesting than the vineyard. It’s too hot out there. I’m just not the working type. But then he goes and does the work We can understand the father’s frustration as well as appreciate his love and forgiveness to the son who finally followed through.

Some of today’s versions: I can’t be bothered with religion; I’m too busy making a living or getting ahead in life. I’m too busy having fun. Religion doesn’t make sense to me and it’s boring; The Church has too many defects.

Some may even have a more sincere conclusion: I really don’t have anything against religion, but I really don’t need it to have a relationship with God. I’m “spiritual”.

Later, as I mentioned, the first son changed his mind, as do many Catholics today. Some reasons: wanting the sacraments for their children [or grandchildren]; the influence and example of another person [a devout Catholic]; increased maturity; a serious illness or injury; a close encounter with death.

We all act like the first son whenever we fail to act as we should, but later repent. When we brush off the grace that urges us to pray, but later realize we need to spend time with God. Whenever we fall, then rise.

The second son

The second son says, “I’m on the way” and never goes. We can understand the disappointment and anger of the father.

The second son perhaps wanted to keep up appearances but had little or no intention of working. He likely counted on not being found out. Perhaps he even went for awhile, but then changed his mind. “This is just not worth it.”

We all act like the second son whenever we make a commitment to God or to those whom God has entrusted to us, but then for some reason we get distracted and don’t fully follow through with it.

So, what can we do to avoid becoming the bishops in my story or the hypocrites in Jesus’ Gospel?

We can apply this parable to ourselves in these ways…

First, how we actually live our lives, shows what we truly believe. Our actions really do speak louder than our words.
A person may be able to articulate a perfectly orthodox faith and yet live as a functional atheist.

As I mentioned, the best evidence of what we truly believe is how we live. For example, spouses show love not by words but by actions. We show our patriotism not by waving a flag on the Fourth of July, but by fulfilling our citizenship responsibilities of voting, paying taxes, and community involvement. We show our loyalty to friends by standing by them in good times and bad. Our lives, more than words, show what we truly believe.

Second, there can be a gap between what we profess and how we live. We can all agree and say with St. Paul in today’s second reading that Jesus is Lord. But, is Jesus really Lord of our life? Our financial life? Our sexual life? Our social life? Our work [or professional] life? Our family life? Our Church life?  A more thorough embrace of what Christianity really means can and will truly let Jesus be our Lord.

Third, the parable of the Lord about the father and his two sons is a challenge to all of us. The first son who said “no” and then went and did the work in the vineyard as the father had asked, teaches us that a person’s “no” can become a “yes” for all kinds of reasons.

Then, like the second son, we can start by saying “yes” and find ourselves going through the motions of prayer and performing the traditions of our faith but the substance of surrender and obedience is gone. Our “yes” has become a “no”. We can make great commitments to the Lord at Christmas or at Easter, but when the follow-through time comes, we do nothing. Our “yes” becomes “no”. A haunting question we may have to ask ourselves about how we live: Is our “yes” to Christ becoming a “no”? Do we truly know or even understand [or want to try to understand] the substance of our Christian faith? Do we take advantage of learning opportunities when they are presented to us?

The first son; the second son… I’ve attempted to apply today’s parable to our lives today [as we may seemingly parallel “the not-so-good guys” of Jesus’ time]. But do you remember that I also mentioned that there is one other person not specifically mentioned today in Jesus’ parable: the daughter…

The man came to his daughter and said, “Daughter, go out and work in the vineyard today.”  She agreed to work in the vineyard and did so. In fact, she did so all her life.

The daughter is the perfect role model for each of us to imitate. She said, “yes” and her “yes” never became a “no”. Her name was Mary.

So today, as we prepare in a few minutes to receive the body and blood, soul and divinity of the Risen Christ in the Eucharist, ask for that special grace to learn from each son and imitate the daughter.

August 31, 2014

Today’s Gospel from Matthew follows the one we read last week… Do you recall? [Peter is the leader] We recounted the great moment when our patron, Peter affirmed that Jesus was the Messiah, “the Son of the living God.”

Jesus turned to Peter, declared him to be the rock and promised him the keys to the kingdom. A truly historic moment!

Today’s Gospel is something else. In terms of space and time, they lie side by side. In mood and spirit they are worlds apart.

Last week, Peter confessed his faith in Jesus as Messiah. Today, he takes the Lord aside and tries to tell him what to do.

Last week, Jesus called Peter the “rock.” Today, Jesus calls him a tempter and tells him to leave his sight.

These contrasting events took place within minutes of one another. What happened? Answer: The cross.

Focus if you will [over here] on the Fourth Station of the Cross:

Jesus meets his afflicted mother

From St. Alphonsus Liguori: Consider how the Son met his mother on his way to Calvary. Jesus and Mary gazed at each other and their looks became as so many arrows to wound those hearts which loved each other so tenderly.

A religious ed teacher was explaining the Stations of the Cross to her class. When she got to the fourth station where Jesus meets his mother, the teacher explained that, even though they could not talk to each other, mother and son simply used their eyes. “What do you think they said to each other?” she asked her students. [What do you think they said to each other?]

The students gave many different answers. One child suggested that she said, ”This is unfair.” Another suggested that she said, “Why me?”

Finally, a sickly little girl raised her hand, stood up and said, “I know what the Blessed Mother told Jesus. She said to him, ‘Keep on going, Jesus!’”

Why would a mother encourage her only son on the way to crucifixion to keep on going? Because a mother, our Blessed Mother, understands [something Peter didn’t]. She understands the Christian principle of “no cross, no crown.” You cannot have Easter Sunday without Good Friday.

Again, the cross is easily the most challenging truth about our Christian faith. I talk about the cross through which Jesus won our salvation and I talk about that something in the lives of each one of us that may be painful, big or small; something we wish to be different--- our crosses.

The cross not only shows us the seriousness of sin but it shows us that the evil of sin is as real as the wood of the cross. What the cross did to Jesus’ body, sin does to every human life it touches. Sin is deadly serious.

The cross shows us that true love is sacrificial. A married couple promises that kind of love to one another. People in the religious life promise that kind of love to God and the Church. And as Christians, we are called to love one another like that. True love is defined not by how we feel but by what we give.

Finally, by the cross, Jesus teaches us that the only way to eternal life is the cross. It’s one thing to meditate on a crucifix and Christ’s love for us. It’s another to confront the crosses in our everyday life.

Like Peter, we don’t want the cross. We want to bypass it. But we cannot.

The Gospel of Christ is a coin with two sides: the cross and the crown.

The same Jesus who said, “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” [Matthew 11:28] also said, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” [Matthew 16:24-25]

Do we then come to Jesus to be freed from our burdens, or do we come to take up our cross and seek his help?

If we try to escape the cross, we may experience anger. Think back to the confrontation of mother and son…

We ask, “Why me? This is unfair. I didn’t deserve this.” A natural reaction perhaps; the way Peter reacted when Jesus says he’s going to suffer and die in Jerusalem. In coping we may get angry with others or even with God. It’s easy to blame God but blaming God [or anyone else for that matter] who did not cause our cross is simply unjust.

Then after feeling anger toward God or others, it is possible to experience anger with ourselves because we failed to dodge our cross. Anger turned inward is called depression.

And if we move beyond the anger and depression, we can arrive at where the cross was intended to lead us all the time---grace. We can discover a grace in God’s plan for us because of our cross.

One of life’s mysteries is that a grace awaits us if we carry our cross, just as resurrection awaited Jesus.

We all have crosses to bear. Any cross is painful. Do you think our patron, Peter was right? Or do you think the little girl was right when she suggested that the Blessed Mother likely encouraged Jesus to keep on going?

What can we do? We can pray. It is through fervent prayer and the help of others, even the help of the Blessed Mother, that we can carry our crosses.

Remember after Jesus’ cross comes the Resurrection. After our cross comes the graces of new life, praise and thanksgiving. We can then truly say, “Thank God, I have come through it.” Our Blessed Mother will say, “I knew you could do it.” And Jesus will say, “Well done good and faithful servant.”

Today we focus on the cross. It teaches us the truth that sin damages us. It teaches us that true love is sacrificial. It teaches us tough principle of discipleship—that to follow Christ is to follow him not in spite of the cross we have but through it.

In a few minutes the crucified, glorified Jesus will come to each of us in the Eucharist. Here is where we can receive the grace and the strength to carry our cross. Here we can grow in faith, in hope, and in love convinced that the cross [our cross] can lead us to new life. Embrace it!

August 3, 2014

Last Sunday I asked you to consider a human life without friendship, love, purpose, or faith…
We can now understand that we are more than just a temporal body. We have a soul. Our greatest need is spiritual. There are many ups and downs in life. Christians have their crosses to bear, but God is always present with love and strength.
A woman lived in a simple apartment, caring for her frail husband day and night. He had suffered a catastrophic stroke and was helplessly bedridden. His loss of comprehension was so great that he thought his wife was his mother.
A visitor commiserated with the woman and said: “This must be very hard for you.” The woman replied: “If you love someone, you’ll do anything.”
Always remember, God is love. God promises to lavish us with care. Nothing can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
May the sentiments and words of St. Therese of Lisieux be yours: “My beloved, supreme Beauty! To me you give yourself; but in return, Jesus, I love you: Make my life a single act of love.”
Welcome home to our pilgrims!       

Feast of Corpus Christi
June 22, 2014

What are the most important words every spoken on this earth?There are many memorable words of our presidents and popes.The words of Jesus when he said, “This is my Body… This is my Blood” are the most important words ever spoken. They have shaped the life and spirituality of billions of people.We as Catholics believe that, when Jesus said, “This is my Body” and “This is my Blood”, he meant that literally. Hence, what looks and tastes like bread and wine isn’t. It is the sacramental body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus. We call this the Real Presence. We do not partake of a symbol, the Eucharist is not a metaphor, it is truly the Lord, whole and entire. Scripture attests to this in many places:John 6:51: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I give for the life of the world is my flesh.”1 Cor 11:29: “For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.”Today’s feast of Corpus Christi, the “Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ” is a  feast that is over seven centuries old and a feast that is considered very Catholic. Today we reflect on the heart of Catholic life, The Eucharist, the Mass, and the Blessed Sacrament. The source and summit of our Church. Our readings today help us foster an understanding of and appreciation for the Body of Christ in all its dimensions. Not only are we focusing on the Real Presence but also through his body on earth, the Church, we are focusing on the unity and fellowship of all who believe in him and seeing the Eucharist as nourishment for the soul.The Real Presence is the teaching of the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel. “The one who feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has life eternal”, says the Lord. One of the first things we learn as Catholics and one of the most comforting, strengthening truths that pervades our whole life from childhood into our senior years is the truth of the Real Presence

5th Sunday of Easter
May 18, 2014

Have you ever spent hours looking for something that was right in front of your nose all along: the car keys, the television remote, eyeglasses, or even the book you were just reading… It seems to occur more often to those of advanced years.

Jesus’ experience with the apostles today suggests that certain kinds of short-sightedness commonly occurs  to all of us, young and old alike.

And as  Jesus speaks today, he gives some rather unexpected answers to the apostles who questioned him…

Powerful words come from the Last Supper as Jesus speaks of his impending death as “going to the Father”. Which, by the way, is how we all should look at death in whatever form it comes. Jesus says there is a place with the Father for each one of us.

Thomas says, “How can we know the way there?” Jesus answers, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”

These are profound words. Jesus is telling Thomas that the place is already available to him, if he believes. Thomas didn’t get it.

In his life on earth, Jesus showed the apostles and us how to live in this world and be faithful to the Father. Jesus taught how to come to eternal life and find redemption. He said, “I will come back to take you with me.” In other words he is saying, “Look, just follow me.”

How can we follow Jesus?

One way is to live in, with, and by the Church. Trust the Church! You see all kinds of infomercials on TV or read authors who tell us to do certain things or buy certain products to make our lives successful. Self-help strategies are very popular today… in the secular world.

What about the life of the Church? The Church has been around some 2000 years. The Church is the ever flowing river from Christ himself that flows through every generation and leads us to the Father. The life of the Church is not static. The life of the Church is dynamic. And you might say its products can and will make our lives successful.

In the Act of the Apostles in today’s first reading [a reading especially close to my heart], we see the Apostles creating the office of deacon to make the preaching of the Gospel more effective. Stephen and Philip lead the list of seven. Their service to God will go far beyond the present issue of caring for widows. A reading that began with a real problem ends with a report of success for the faith community. The same development goes on today. We can always trust the life of the Church to lead us to the Father.

Another way we follow Jesus is with the Holy Spirit in our lives. The First Epistle of Peter, which we have been reading this Easter season, is thought by some scholars to be baptismal instruction. Today’s reading tells us what wonders Baptism has sparked in us.

The Holy Spirit each one of us received in Baptism was deepened in Confirmation and is strengthened with each of the subsequent sacraments we receive… Penance, Eucharist, and so forth.

The Holy Spirit guides us not only in religious decisions but in all kinds of choices. Those inspirations need to be verified. We do this through prayer where we learn to distinguish the voice of the Holy Spirit from our own voice. We can trust the Holy Spirit to lead us to the Father through his will for us in our everyday lives.

Finally, Jesus himself guides us [to the Father] through events in our life. Facts of life that the world avoids or suppresses include suffering, pain, rejection, disability. These all can be the very places where we grow stronger in Christ… like the rejected stone that becomes the cornerstone of a new structure of which St. Peter writes in today’s second reading. The Acts of the Apostles repeatedly show this truth in action. Paul and Barnabus were preaching to Jewish people who rejected them. Instead of dwelling on that rejection, they pushed forward in a new direction and brought their ministry to the Gentiles. The Acts of the Apostles may seem to read like a series of failures but it really is a story of the Holy Spirit leading and expanding the Church with many unexpected successes!

Getting back to the apostles, Philip, like Thomas, also misunderstands Jesus. He wants Jesus to show him the Father. He doesn’t get it either. He is totally unaware that Jesus’ entire work and ministry have been doing precisely what Philip requests—showing them the Father. Once again, Jesus explains the dynamics of divine mutuality [common sharing]. The Father is in the Son and the Son is in the Father. To see one is to see the other; to hear one is to hear the other.

Neither Thomas nor Philip understand that they are being invited into this divine mutuality. This is the sacred work from which flows the work of salvation. The disciples are being invited to carry on the very same work of revealing God to the world that Christ had done. We too are being invited to carry on this very same work.

We all have only one life to live. How tragic it would be to live it fearfully, aimlessly, or going in circles. To us Jesus says, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” We have a purpose here on earth and a destination in eternity with a leader to help us see both. In Jesus we have [a GPS] a guide, a map, and a destination.

Jesus wants us to see what we have now, and not go looking for some other time. He is in our life now.

Like Thomas and Philip, we often do not recognize what we are and what we can do right now.

Something to think about:

If Catholics realized who they are and that Baptism had given them a share in the priesthood of Christ so that they too could offer sacrifice through prayers, good works, and especially at Mass, would there be so many empty pews in the churches on the weekends?

If Catholics understood that they were called to bring Jesus to the world, would there be so much puzzlement and hesitation at the word “evangelization”, as it is being used in the Church today?

The Second Vatican Council called us missionaries. Pope Francis tells us that we are evangelizers—all of us!

We all face many challenges today--- getting our youth to church, changing the conscience of our nation regarding respect for human life, creating a just society that does not leave out groups, restoring honesty to politics and business…

Truth is we cannot wait for someone else to address these things.

First we have to recognize who we really are, believe that Jesus has called us and given us the grace we need. Then we need to act on it.

God does not ask us to go it alone. Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Jesus had to tell Thomas and Philip that the answers to their questions were right there before them. We too have opportunities of grace at hand [in front of our nose so to speak] if we will only recognize them.

In a few minutes, at the Eucharist, bread and wine will change into the Body and Blood of Christ. Through the reception of this sacrament, we too can be changed into priestly people proclaiming the Good News and changing darkness to light. Affirm to follow the Lord everyday and give God’s grace a chance, here and now, to guide us where we ought to be… where we need to be.

2nd Sunday of Easter
Divine Mercy
April 27, 2014

Today is the second Sunday of Easter. It is also known as Divine Mercy Sunday.

Today we celebrate the “judgment of mercy” that Christ brings to us in his rising from the dead.

Mercy is charity with heart. It is giving when we expect no repayment.

Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me…”

Jesus sends us to be the face of the Father’s compassion and mercy in the peace of the Holy Spirit. And God’s mercy is the cause of all the good that takes place in the life of a Christian.

Divine Mercy Sunday is an annual devotion to the Divine Mercy that was first established by Pope John Paul II on April 30, 2000. Going to Confession and receiving the Eucharist on this day grants the soul forgiveness of all sins and punishments.

Today is also a day of double blessing. Not only do we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday but we do it when two popes, Blessed John XXIII and John Paul II, are being canonized by the Holy Father, Pope Francis.

Only 80 popes have been declared or considered “saints”. 52 of the first 54 popes were. And in the ensuing 1800 years, only another 26 were able to pass the “test”.

Being seen as a model for holiness is a rare nomination. John XXIII and John Paul II certainly fit the bill because their lives reflected and personified the mercy of Christ—the Divine Mercy.

Everyone here today remembers or has heard of the Second Vatican Council. What we do today, how we pray today, and how we understand our Church today are a direct result of the Council. The two popes being canonized today are both connected to that Council.

Seen by the faithful as a reflection of the goodness of God, Pope John XXIII came to be known as “the good Pope”. He was a model caring, humble, and active man. He was seen by the world as “the authentic image of the Good Shepherd”. He visited those in hospitals as well as those in prisons. He had a vision for peace and good will among all people.

John XXIII wanted to bring the Church into the modern world. We, as a Church, did not always appear as an invitation to God’s love and mercy. We were seen more as a private club with entrance fees. He called the Second Vatican Council in order to set changes in motion. That Council changed the face of Catholicism and emphasized a new approach to worldwide ecumenism [Christian unity].

Pope John Paul II served one of the longest terms as pope. During his papacy he canonized 51 saints and inspired millions of people with the unique desire to hear the gospel.

John Paul II flew to 129 countries and saw more of the world than any other pope. He traveled the world to visibly show the Church’s concern for every culture and to bring the church’s message to his flock. 

John Paul II’s focus was always the true teachings of Christ. He worked diligently to make the devotion of Divine Mercy an official church feast day.

The purpose of the “Divine Mercy” devotion was to “obtain mercy, to trust in Christ’s mercy, and to show mercy to others.”

As I mentioned earlier, mercy is the expression of God’s charity---God’s love.

In honor of the special events of this Divine Mercy Sunday, I will now offer some excerpts from John Paul II’s first homily as pope, given on the day of his inauguration, October 22, 1978. May his words, his spirit, and his love for Jesus continue to inspire all of us today!

“On this day and in this place these same words must again be uttered and listened to: ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God’ [Matthew 16:16]

“Yes, Brothers and sons and daughters, these words first of all. Their content reveals to our eyes the mystery of the living God….He who is infinite, inscrutable [not readily understood], ineffable [incapable of being expressed in words], has come close to us in Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary in the stable at Bethlehem.

“All of you who are still seeking God, all of you who already have the inestimable [too valuable to be appreciated] good fortune to believe, and also you who are tormented by doubt: Please listen once again, today in this sacred place, to the words uttered by Simon Peter….

“Brothers and sisters, do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power….Open wide the doors for Christ…Christ knows what is in man. He alone knows it. So often today man does not know what is within him, in the depths of his mind and heart. So often he is uncertain about the meaning of his life on this earth. He is assailed by doubt, a doubt which turns into despair. We ask you therefore, we beg you with humility and trust, let Christ speak to man. He alone has words of life, yes, eternal life.”

Inspired with these words spoken by John Paul II some 36 years ago, do not be afraid to welcome Christ and his “Divine Mercy”. Not an end in itself, Christ’s mercy seeks to soften our hearts in God’s tenderness. “His love is everlasting,” and “His mercy endures forever.” 

“Divine Mercy” is meant to make our hearts grateful to a God of charity. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

Christ was merciful to Thomas in his doubt and appeared a second time to help affirm his faith. Faith, as a gift of God’s mercy, is the means by which Christians enter into new life---the new life of the Risen Christ.

So many are in need of God’s mercy in our world today…

Our children--- do we hold their adolescent stumbling against them?

Those who are married--- do you bring up every past sin as a weapon against your spouse?

We Clergy need mercy--- for not always being the best communicators.

The poor need mercy--- in order to get the help they need.

The sick need mercy--- because many times they feel like a burden to friends or family.

The Church too needs mercy--- when we reflect the face of the world in power and prestige rather than Christ’s charity and compassion. 

So today, as we celebrate God’s Divine Mercy and two special popes, John XXIII and John Paul II, let us affirm that mercy, at the center of Christ’s death and resurrection, affects the people we can become in a world hungry for the divine heart of God’s charity--- God’s Divine Mercy.

St. John XXIII pray for us!
St. John Paul II pray for us!

Jesus, I trust in you!

Lenten Mission Retreat
Turn Back to God
On Prayer
March 31, 2014

Lent is our time to take a long, hard look at ourselves [our sins] and resolve to set them aside [amend our ways]. It’s a time for the discipline of extra prayer, sacrifice, and generosity with the ultimate goal of entering into the victory and gladness of Jesus’ resurrection. Lent can be summed up in this passage from Scripture:

For the sake of the joy that lay before him he entered the cross [Hebrews 12:2]

In today’s first reading, Isaiah is reminding us that God is creating new heavens and a new earth. He is working in his people and is inviting us to rejoice with him because we too can be transformed by his grace and power [Isaiah 65:14]

Each day we have the opportunity to accept the grace of the Lord. God is asking: Do you believe in the Son of Man?  We should also ask ourselves: How strong is my faith? Do I have the grace-given courage, stamina, and conviction to respond: “Yes, Lord, I do believe.”?

Perhaps you are feeling a bit overwhelmed right now and your Lent is feeling heavy or perhaps too demanding. Perhaps it’s hard to really believe that God is at work in and around you. 

As Lent continues, we read liturgically about weeping turning into joy, a new heaven and earth, and the invitation to resurrection faith. Faith speaks to our hunger for new life. Faith demands a way in life in word and deed. Jesus’ statement that by their fruits you will know them rings true. [Mt 7:16]

Consider using this second half of the Lenten Season to deepen your gift of the Catholic Faith. One way to do that is through prayer.

St. Therese of Lisieux said, “ For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.”

There are many places in Sacred Scripture where Jesus obliges us to pray. Jesus tell us; “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you are asking anything of me in my name, I will do it.”  In Matthew 7:7 he employs the imperative mood and commands us: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” 

And while God is not a giant candy machine dispensing goodies to his children, God is our all-powerful and all-loving Father who already knows our needs and will grant us those goods [not goodies] which are conducive to our salvation.

If Pope Francis were to walk in here right now, you’d probably stop listening to me and stand up, right? Without even thinking about it, you would take a position of respect before him.

We can/should do something very similar by kneeling and bowing before the Lord as we pray. Our body language expresses what is in our hearts as we pray.

Prayer is a relationship with God. Prayer is both thoughts and feelings expressed in words such as vocal prayer, reflective prayer, and resting in God in the silence beyond thoughts.

In Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke, the word prayer, shela, means “to open oneself” and ”to listen to the Divine Presence”. Prayer in that context was not necessarily saying words, but rather is closer to what we call contemplation.

In the Christian tradition, Contemplative Prayer is considered to be pure gift of God. It is an opening of mind and heart, our whole being, to God the Ultimate Mystery beyond thoughts, words, and emotions. It is simply resting in the presence of God. At the core of discipleship is this following Jesus into divine oneness. In Matthew 6:6 Jesus invites us into an ever-deepening silence: the silence of sound, the silence of thought, the silence of self, and the Silence of God. Contemplative prayer can greatly benefit from improving our capacity of interior silence. Because it is sometimes culturally difficult for the Western man, some method conducive to contemplative prayer could put a little order into one’s efforts.

There is much to pray for. Not only one’s personal needs but for our relatives and friends, for the Church and out nation. We are living in times of great uncertainty. The very fabric of our society woven together with the thread of Christian culture is being ripped asunder. The dignity of the human person is trampled upon. The sanctity of marriage is being desecrated. Religious freedom is being challenged.

In such times we are tempted to despair and simply brace ourselves for the worst. This is a temptation that must be resisted with the powerful weapon of prayer.

As I mentioned earlier, one way to deepen our gift of the Catholic Faith this Lent is to pray. To pray as Christians is to put ourselves in the situation where we see God as father and speak to him as his children. Speaking of prayer as a father-child affair reminds us that prayer is an activity that flows out of a relationship. We do not necessarily learn to pray better, but we become better men and women of prayer when our relationship with God becomes more intimate. So if you want to improve your prayer, focus on improving your relationship with God, your Father.

Lent is not a just a time to give something up or simply sympathize with the cross of Jesus. It’s a time when we should be honest and truthful with ourselves and affirm to follow Jesus with our life. It’s the faithful following that will bring us healing [from sin] and new life. And it all starts with prayer-prayer from the heart.

If you are out of practice or do not know where to begin, take time to just quietly sit and reflect on a crucifix this Lent. Let it show you the horror of sin [your sin]. Let is also show you the gift of God’s love [through his Son’s death] and the healing forgiveness and gift of faith that is ours if we seek and ask for it.

Perhaps you might even try some off-the-wall, creative approaches into your prayer…

Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving [Psalm 95:2]  Make a list of things to be thankful for.

As St. Augudtine said, “He who sings prays twice.” Choose a hymn or a song of worship and sing it out loud.

Shout joyfully to the Lord {Psalm 100:1] Kneel down, lift your hands or even dance when you pray.

Easter is coming! Begin now to renew your life in Christ. Use the remainder of Lent to hear, respond, and turn back to God. Begin with prayer…

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Help me keep my eyes on the joy you have set before me today.

4th Sunday of Lent
March 30, 2014

Today is the 4th Sunday of Lent. Today is sometimes referred to as Laetare Sunday. Laetare is Latin for “rejoice”. We rejoice Lent is over half over and Easter is fast approaching.

About a month ago I stood before you and suggested that as the Lenten season starts, do your own self assessment as we begin. Affirm to put God first and put your trust in the Risen Christ. We all likely have issues from time to time that adversely affect us spiritually. Renew your life in Christ!  Turn back to God!

Have you done that or at least made an attempt? If you have, great; if not, seize the moment… There is still time and, as a parish, there will still be a number of opportunities to help you.

Today’s Gospel centers on the similarity and distinction between physical and spiritual blindness.

Imagine a thickly wooded campsite on a cloudy, moonless night after the fire has died and the flashlight batteries have burned out. Is there any place darker that that?  Perhaps a deep cave when lanterns are extinguished and you literally cannot see your hand in front of your face.

Try to empathize with the man born blind in today’s Gospel. Those of us who are sighted can only recall such experiences of total blackness. Need light to see.

However, we do at times have life experiences of murky confusion when we wallowed in some darkness of our own creation. Perhaps we have stood in the shadow of depression or even felt the gloom of our own sinfulness.

Christ is the light of the world. We need Christ in our lives to see spiritually.

Today’ Gospel is about two cures and a tragedy.

First there is the curing of the blind man’s eyes. Through Jesus’ touch, the man is now able to see for the first time in his life. We can only begin to imagine what that might have been like for this unnamed man.

Early Christians saw physical blindness as a metaphor for the spiritual blindness that prevents people from recognizing and accepting Jesus and his mission.

And as usual, John’s Gospel goes deeper and shows us the second cure. Slowly the man comes to recognize Jesus as a prophet and then finally as Lord. The man moves from sight, to insight, to faith.

The tragedy occurs when the opposite happens with the Pharisees. As the religious leaders of the day, these men were supposedly born with vision but here you see they refused to believe. They were spiritually blind. Jesus told them, “If you were born blind, there would be no sin in that but you can see and refuse to believe, there’s your sin.”

The cured man accepts Christ. The Pharisees reject him.  

The cured man looked at Jesus of Nazareth and saw a Savior. The Pharisees saw an opponent. That’s the two cures and the tragedy.

Jesus’ statement is not only aimed at the Pharisees, but toward each one of us as well.

Think about it. Sometimes we are as blind as the man healed in today’s Gospel. Our eyes may have 20/20 vision, but we may be spiritually blind.

Some of us are blind because of a lack of faith. For example, we see illness as a tragedy and an expression of pain and limits to our world. What about seeing it as a sharing in the Passion of Christ?

We see the Church as a social institution.  What about seeing it as the voice and presence of the Risen Christ in our world today and a guide for our life?

We see the sacraments as ancient rituals. What about seeing them as actions of the Lord himself rescuing us in so many ways from darkness [of sin]?  

We see the Mass as a ceremony. What about seeing it as the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross perpetuated among us and drawing us to him?

We see our life as a career. What about seeing it as a [faith] journey towards [or away] from our heavenly Father?

We see our care for others as philanthropy. What about seeing it as an extension of the healing work of Christ?

We see marriage as a contract. What about seeing it as the promise of two people to give themselves to each other with the same loyal, self-sacrificing love that Jesus has for the Church?

We see sexuality as an instinct. What about seeing it as a sacred power that enables us to share in the work of creation?

We see death as a biological end. What about seeing it as a passage to everlasting life?

We live in strange media driven times. We are blinded by the world around us. We know more about the lives of celebrities than we know about our next-door neighbors or even those we call “family” or “friends”. So many things distract us from what really matters.

Lent is a good time/opportunity for us to assess where we fit into this picture.

Lent is a good time for us to also look back at the healing we have received from the Lord in our life. Just as the blind man went down into the waters of Siloam and came up physically whole, so too are we believers who are immersed into the waters of Baptism. We come up whole in the new life with Christ.

Amid all the controversy surrounding his cure, the man born blind clings to the simple truth of his experience of the Lord: “All I know is, I was blind before, now I see.”

This Gospel story- like last week’s story about the Samaritan woman- is used in the preparation of catechumens for Baptism because they spell out the courage and conviction it takes to be a disciple of Jesus. Do you still have that same courage and conviction today?

As a parish community, we have the opportunity to walk with six people from among us, now called the Elect, all preparing to come into the Church on Holy Saturday.

These six have acknowledged their intellectual and spiritual blindness, and God has come to them, to bless them, and to invite them to live as children of the light.

Each day we have the opportunity to accept the grace of the Lord. God is asking: Do you believe in the Son of Man? Do you have the grace-given courage, stamina, and conviction to respond: “Yes, Lord, I do believe.”?

As we now prepare to celebrate the Liturgy of the Eucharist, let us ask Jesus to heal our blindness, particularly our failure to see those close to us. We pray, help us to really see our own children, our family members, our neighbors, our fellow parishioners—as the first reading says—not simply their outward appearances, but their hearts.

“All I know is, I was blind before, now I see.”

Ash Wednesday
March 5, 2014

Welcome to the season of Lent!

In a few minutes you will bare your forehead to be marked with ashes. This sign tells folks at the grocery store or at the gas station that you are Catholic and are willing to be seen as such.

Tomorrow the ashes will have disappeared. The public evidence of your Lenten practice will have been washed away. Now begins the “acceptable time” of which Paul spoke to the people of Corinth. Jesus too had much to tell his disciples [and us] about how to mark this 40-day marathon that now stretches before us.

Jesus is quite firm about the qualities of genuine penance. He clearly describes three practices: charitable good deeds, prayer, and fasting. And all of these are to be secret.

Secrecy seems to be key because it reveals our true motive. Do we want everyone to find ashes on our foreheads all during Lent? Do we want to impress our friends with resolve? Do we want a gold medal in the Lenten marathon? The Gospel tells us that medal then will be our only reward.

So Jesus instructs his disciples [and us] to keep a secret Lent. Stealthy kindness and sneaky generosity, silent prayer and a fast you don’t talk about.

The Nike challenge of the New Testament: Just do it!

8th Sunday in Ordinary Time
March 2, 2014

Serving two masters. The first part of today’s Gospel from Matthew is about division within oneself.

How often does today’s society pull us in different directions? We are torn between job and family, between earning a living and spending time with our kids, between having too much and too little time.

Sometimes we are torn between what we know we should do and what we really want to do.

Today when Jesus speaks of a slave serving two masters, he is using this parable to make a serious point.

Everything we have and are comes from God. God has to come first!

We can also rid ourselves of worry by trusting that God will help us make everything turn out right. When we find time for God in our lives, we learn to relax, meditate, and put division out of our lives.

Matthew tells us that we cannot serve God and mammon. “Mammon” is an Aramaic word defining money with a hypnotic power that is god-like for us.

We all know the power of money in today’s society. People kill for it, steal it, destroy other’s careers to get it.

We cannot live a dual allegiance. If our god is ”mammon”, everything in our life will serve its acquisition. It will diminish what we do and who we are. We will define ourselves by what we consume: food, clothing, and homes as the Lord points out in today’s Gospel. Life will be defined by what we possess. Even faith becomes a way to make money and God becomes a supernatural insurance carrier.

On the other hand, if God is at our center, everything about us is given a new dignity. Our family becomes a domestic church where we can reflect Christ’s light and truth to others who journey with us through life.

If “mammon” is our god, anxiety [worry], permeates our life. Our very sense of self-worth is made to depend on our net worth.

If God is God for us then trust in his Providence will profoundly effect and strengthen our life. Also note that God is not asking us to abandon prudence and to sit back and wait for divine intervention. We need to use the will and intelligence with which he endowed each of us to plan for our future. We are also to trust in his Providence.

Ask yourself these questions…

To which kingdom have I pledged my allegiance? Is it the kingdom of “mammon” whose horizon in material and limited to our life here on earth? Or have we pledged allegiance to the Lord Jesus whose horizon is spiritual and is unlimited [through eternity]?

God or mammon…

Which truly sets us free?
Which releases our deepest potential?
Which gives our life dignity?

God or mammon…

Which one lifts the burden of sin?
Which one remains with us in the dark nights?
Which one can we trust from the beginning to the evening of our life?

When God is our priority, we are then forced to let go of those things that might be a source of worry, and we learn to put our trust in something much more valuable… the kingdom of God!

Whether we serve God or mammon doesn’t just happen. It is up to us. It is a choice we make every day of our life for as long as we live.

The Lenten season will start this week. Do your own self assessment as we begin. Affirm to put God first. As a parish we will have a number of opportunities over the ensuing weeks to help you. Renew your life in Christ!  Turn back to God!

St. Padre Pio summarizes this all perfectly in saying, “Pray, hope, and don’t worry! Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear our prayer.”

In other words, at the end of the day, our worrying will change nothing, but our trust [in God] will change everything.

We are being challenged today to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, knowing that, as difficult as it may be, tomorrow will take care of itself.

Real life comes through hope in the Gospel and  not the accumulation of possessions. Jesus comes to us in Holy Communion to help us realize that the kingdom of God comes first.

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sunday, January 26, 2014

Today’s readings present two challenges…

The first is our need to put away our differences or prejudices about people so we can recognize the good that can come from each.  Consider Paul’s plea to the people of Corinth for unity in today’s second reading.  A sense of dissension had arisen within the community. Now consider it in light of our contemporary Church. As a framework for diversity, the Church faces many factions today. As Paul suggests, many times we need to distinguish between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of the Lord.

The story is told of two boys, neighborhood friends, who become priests. Differing assignments made it impossible for them to spend much time together. When retirement came, they decided to share an apartment. By this time, one had become a die-hard conservative and the other an out-spoken liberal. This arrangement might have been doomed from the start, but their faithfulness to their shared Baptismal call won out. When anyone asked how they made it work, each would laughingly point to the other and say, “In his heart, he knows I’m right.”

Prejudices and division in the sense of diverse opinions has been a staple within the Church since its earliest times.

The people of Judah considered Galilee to be corrupt and embarrassingly unsophisticated. Yet, the Prophet Isaiah, in the first reading, uses symbols of light and darkness to illustrate that God’s light shone upon it. In fact, the light actually came from Galilee to shine upon us all! Their future hope and our future hope of restoring us to be the people God wants us to be!

The Church today experiences this tug in seemingly opposite directions from many of its members and even its leaders. Handling these situations can pose a challenge to our charity, our faithfulness to our Baptismal call, and even to our common sense.

Differences of opinion are built into the fabric of our human nature. This difference enters Church life because the Church is made up of human beings. To see this we need look no further than Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 15…. The first confrontation between progressives and traditionalists [liberals and conservatives if you will]…

Acts Chapter 15 tells us of the Council of Jerusalem… recall that after Pentecost many Gentiles were converting to Christianity… Dissension arose when, “Some who had come down from Judea were instructing the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved.” Long story short, Paul and Barnabus and others when up to Jerusalem to confront the apostles and presbyters about this source of dissension. Ultimately the Council stated that we are [all] saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus.

Paul states in today’s second reading, “I urge you… that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you.” Really ? It is not that he was not allowing for any sort of disagreements but he was addressing the serious potential disintegration of Corinth community, not a minor dispute such as how many poinsettias to use in the Church at Christmas.

By nature there are always going to be differing and conflicting opinions. These can be serious challenges to our charity toward and our acceptance of others. It can include our sisters and brothers in the Body of Christ who we may deem not as smart, or not understanding of the Church’s needs, or who are arrogant, abrasive, and irritating in other ways.

There are a number of sources of conflict with in the Church.

We just celebrated the anniversary in our Year of Faith but differing interpretations of the Second Vatican Council are one broad one.

From October 11, 1962 to December 8, 1965, Catholic bishops met in Rome along with many theologians and other observers. The Council achieved many things, for example:

Liturgical renewal, putting the Mass in the language of the people and calling for full and active participation by everyone. I venture to say those of you my age and older will remember coming to Mass as a mere observer. Today we are participants!

Greater emphasis on Scripture; hence preaching is generally based on at least one of the Scripture readings. Today I will attempt to incorporate all three.

Approach to authority by seeing it as loving service as opposed to absolute and unlimited rule favoring blind submission [autocratic authoritarianism]. Today Pope Francis’ authority is firm but exhibits the example of living a loving service.

Upholding religious liberty. While evangelization is necessary and important, the right to join the religion of one’s choice must be guided by prayer and an honest conscience. RCIA participants are in a program because the Holy Spirit is guiding them to do so.

The Council also sparked many differing views and opinions:

The Council went too far in making changes vs. the Council didn’t go far enough. Many refused to accept some of the liturgical changes.

The Council just re-stated what was already on the books, hence using it to justify changes is unjustified.

The Council hasn’t been given a fair chance because it’s been gradually reined in, especially in the concept of authority. Many see the pope as too authoritarian.

In the end, diversity [and prejudice] is a two-edged sword…

Go back to the story of the two boys who were friends who became priests…

The benefits of diversity can lead to the creation of something that, individually, no one foresaw or would consider.

The dangers can lead to divisions and eventual separation.

The two retired priests evidently learned to prayerfully make [compromise] work in their faithfulness to their shared Baptismal call. The first challenge today is our need to follow that example and learn to leave our differences [and prejudices] behind when appropriate. We are not always right and we are not always wrong.

The second challenge today is found in the Gospel: the call of the first apostles.

Matthew begins with a reference to John the Baptist’s arrest and the Isaiah reference to Zebulan and Naphtali. [ Notice Jesus fulfills the prophecy we heard in the first reading]. Early Christians saw the “great light” as the messianic king to come and Jesus was that king! [Refer to Luke chapters 1 and 4 where we see Jesus reading a passage from Isaiah in the synagogue and saying, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”] The message Jesus embraced and proclaimed during his ministry is summarized as, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” This is similar to the message of John the Baptist but with a distinct difference.

John’s message referred more to Jesus’ coming and Jesus further radicalizes John’s message by declaring that the kingdom of heaven has, in fact, arrived with his own preaching and ministry.

Repentance was and is required to enter the kingdom. Jesus proclaims that message in a variety of ways and the people likewise respond… some with acceptance and some with rejection. Consider how you might respond…

The mission of Jesus included a shared ministry from the very beginning. He never worked alone. The Gospel ends with the call of the first disciples.  It is intended to capture the theology of discipleship [defined as accepting and assist in spreading the doctrines of Jesus]. Jesus issues the call and the response is immediate and positive.

Jesus too calls each of us to discipleship through our individual vocations.

Ask yourself, what is my vocation? Do I consider my single life, my marriage, my job, my relations at school or with my family or friends to be part of God’s call? Is God calling me to something else such as another form of ministry in the Church, or service to a charity, or a more fervent prayer life?

Is your response immediate and positive?

The men in today’s Gospel respond immediately. They ask no questions. There is no period of discernment. Why would they drop everything and follow a seemingly itinerant preacher that they likely had never before seen or heard?

The Gospel does not tell us so we really do not know. However, there is something about the person of Jesus that serves as a magnet and draws these people to him. It is real and indescribable. His magnetism prevails today.

Consider Jesus’ call. Jesus [or even the Church] does not ask for an immediate answer or even forbid a period of investigation and discernment. The answer to the call to discipleship as I mentioned earlier will come from the heart.

We will soon pray the great Eucharistic Prayer to God, the Father. Each time we celebrate the Liturgy of the Eucharist, we share in Jesus’ one sacrifice of Calvary and sacrifice ourselves with him.

Today, let us affirm to make God the center of our lives. Today let us first ask for the grace to leave our differences [and prejudices] behind. And for the wisdom to know when to do so.

Second, ask for the grace to discern Jesus’ call… not where we live, but how we live; not how much we have, but what we do with it; not in finding the truth, but in recognizing it and embracing it… from the heart, and not from the head.

 The Holy Family
December 29, 2013

Over a century ago, a man named Philip Brooks was in Jerusalem for Christmas. While there he spent some time on the hillside looking out toward Bethlehem, which is about five miles south of Jerusalem. Brooks realized that Christ is present not just in the grand liturgies but wherever Christians gather. He composed the familiar carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem… in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light.” Our homes and families are like Bethlehem. There is no place too small, too dark and no life too troubled where the Lord cannot come. That is one simple, but powerful, truth of Christmas. Find the Lord where you are!

It is most fitting that we celebrate Holy Family Sunday within the Christmas octave. It calls us to reflect about something that is true of Jesus and very true of each one of us. It’s about something we likely take for granted but which colors and shapes who we are. That is our families.

Does anyone here know a perfect family?

There is one perfect family in the world. Its members are the ones who live down the street. The only reason why we think they are perfect is that we do not know what is going on inside their homes. But even with all our flaws and inconsistencies, we can still work at being a better, more loving family.

The Son of God’s birth into a human family shows us that the humanity of Jesus was real. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Jesus did not pretend to be human. He humbled himself and shared our humanity. He entered into the full scope of human experience to grow [live and die] as a man.

Joseph and Mary shaped Jesus’ human nature as our parent’s shape/shaped ours. Our Gospel shows us the crisis they faced in protecting Jesus from Herod and finally bringing Jesus to settle in Nazareth. Much of Joseph and Mary passed into Jesus during his growing years. He became a man within and through a human family.

As with the Holy Family in this first crisis, our family life is about dealing with problems [opportunities] of all kinds. I do not mean to burst your bubble, but there are no perfect families. That is not only true of individual families but of parish families as well. Dealing with problem situations is merely [par for the course] the business of family life.

In our not too distant past [last century or so] the family was the place where people learned an occupation, received medical attention, were taught the faith, and received care in old age [ as we see in the first reading from Sirach].

In today’s complex digital society, those functions are taken over by schools, religious education programs, hospitals and nursing facilities for the elderly. In some cases family life is almost non-existent.

In spite of losing some features that nobody could ever replace, the family is still the place where we develop our sense of self-worth, where we see our faith lived, and where we see the virtues Paul describes in the second reading being displayed. Where we learn attitudes toward God, prayer, and Church as well as our first and foremost lessons about the virtues of responsibility, self-reliance, self-control, and getting along with others [that I have heard called sandbox skills]. Or not…

The template is shaped in the family for strategies in dealing with people and crises.

As I said earlier, there are no perfect families. And though our family may not be ideal, the love within it can still be real. Members can grow in character and faith.

The Christmas season is a good time to reflect on our family. How are we making the truth and love of Christ present so its members can grow toward healthy spiritual adulthood?

Remember today’s culture does not support family life as it did some years ago. Family time is devoured by the media, the number of activities members are involved in outside the home, and many other things that tend to pull families apart.
Sometime before Christmas I saw a picture illustrating a “typical family-oriented activity” of today: Dad, mom, two children sitting on a sofa… each buried in their iphone or ipod… the only way they could have been communicating [if they, in fact. were] would be if they were texting one another.

It’s one thing to have a family but a very demanding choice to be a family. People today have to decide to be a family and work to make that happen. That takes courage, sacrifice, and a special commitment.

We come to Mass each week as a family of families to join others in hearing God’s Word together. We also place our personal family’s prayers on the altar, receive Holy Communion together, and thank the Lord for the people we call family. It’s easy to have a family; it is much harder to be a family.

One of the essential factors in our development as a family or as an individual within a family is to commit ourselves to our own conversion and development. Each one of us has to be willing to be vulnerable and take the risk of being the first to reach out and trust.

The family, even one with problems, is our Nazareth where through all the dynamics of family life, good and bad, we [people] can grow in wisdom, age, and grace.

As we prepare to celebrate the Liturgy of the Eucharist, let us resolve to live the message of today’s readings, sing “Gloria” and resolve to do our part to bring peace to our family.

”Jesus, thank you for my family. Help us learn how to respect and love each other even more.”

Jesus, Mary, Joseph, pray for us.

The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King
November 24, 2013

History is filled with fallen monarchs whose reigns were characterized by selfishness and bloodshed. Many built luxurious palaces while their subjects struggled in poverty. They isolated themselves by building walls and hiring bodyguards. They dealt with neighboring countries with greedy brutality.

If this is our picture of a king, then it would be no surprise to find it hard to bow before Jesus. He held no public office. He led no army. He does not present himself as a dictator who tramples liberties and demands blind obedience. He uses neither force nor guilt to maintain his rule. So let’s think “kingship” anew!

At the Last Supper, Jesus revealed to his disciples his plan to take over the world. And what was his secret weapon? Love… He rules by love, not force of arms.

It could appear to be insignificant and powerless, but look at the history of the church… Christ’s Church which is all over the world… Christ’s Church is a sign of the Kingdom of God.

Empires have come and gone, Jesus Christ remains. His kingdom is eternal. The Roman Empire is gone. The Greek Empire is gone. The French Empire is gone. The Spanish Empire is gone. The British… the German… the Japanese… the Soviet Empires are all gone.

 Jesus Christ/ His Kingdom remains. Jesus is eternal in time with the same spiritual security, salvation and peace for us as King David experienced as he became the shepherd of Israel and was made God’s vicar on earth.

In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, today’s second reading, we see the early church struggling to understand who Jesus was. Here he is called an icon [image] of the Father.  No earthly king holds a candle to King Jesus. Jesus is the visible manifestation of the invisible glory of God.

We all sin. Sin is a universal phenomenon affecting all cultures [says St. Paul in RM 3]. Therefore the sins of all peoples nailed Jesus to the cross. Jesus’ redemption is universal as well. He died for all-- not just the Jews of his time nor just for the Christians. All salvation comes through Him [Acts 4:12]. Jesus bought our justification with God – our right relationship with his death and resurrection. He also provides us with a way to live in that justification through the universal Church.

Jesus’ kingship is also very personal in its power. Today’s Gospel, taken from Luke’s passion narrative, shows Jesus at what would seem to be his weakest moment, hanging on the cross.

Jesus on the cross makes atonement for the sins of the whole world. What appears to be his weakest moment actually becomes his strongest and His most generous. Jesus is by himself restoring the life of grace to human history.

 The Kingdom of Christ on earth is not about castles, knights in armor, and grand military battles. His kingship is much greater than anything found in this world. Jesus is the king or Lord of the kingdom of God. His mission has been to be in the world to reveal the truth of God’s kingdom. Pilate himself asked, “What is truth?” Truth is about the liberation of our soul from sin and about setting us free to be the sanctified person God intends us to be. Jesus gives each of us the truth--- the truth about our life [that we may be enslaved by sin in this life]…the truth about ourselves…the truth about our future.

The Jewish leaders of Jesus’ time have rejected this truth and want Jesus killed. Pilate too will ultimately reject the truth and allow Jesus to be killed. For us…those who do listen to Jesus and accept in faith that he is the revelation of the Father, belong to the truth.

The Kingdom of Jesus Christ is eternal, universal and personal. The kingdom of Jesus Christ does not enslave us but sets us free… free from sin.

The Kingdom of Jesus Christ gets its power from the cross and the grace and life of the Risen Christ.

We are part of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. We enter it through Baptism. We are made a stronger part of it through Confirmation. We grow in it through Penance and Holy Communion. We serve it through Marriage and/or Holy Orders. We draw on its resources in illness and death through the Anointing of the Sick.

In a country that has no monarchy or royal family, the notion of Christ the KING may be hard to grasp. However, it is no less than accepting the fact that Jesus is our absolute Lord and Savior.

The Kingdom of Jesus Christ is a zone of strength, spiritual safety, and moral power. We can draw on its resources in this life and live forever in the next. The power and peace of Christ the King are here for us. However, the entry and the embrace of His Kingdom is up to us.

Ask yourself, “Am I a loyal subject of Christ the King? Do I imitate him by sowing love to those around me?”

On the eve of a new liturgical season, today is a great day to start anew. No matter what you have done or where you have been, Christ will welcome you into his kingdom.

The Kingship of Jesus is shown in his taking an old wooden cross and making it a place of grace and hope for ourselves and others for all time. Today, as we celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus that make him our Lord and King in the Eucharist, may we find the personal strength in this communion to be faithful members of his eternal and universal kingdom. Let him be your King.

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 27, 2013

Two brothers were visiting their grandmother. On the first night of their visit, they knelt by their bed to pray. Shouting as loudly as he could, the younger brother prayed: “ And please God, I need a new bike and skateboard.” :Shh!” said the older brother. “God isn’t deaf.” To which the younger brother replied, “Yes, I know, but Grandma is.” Technically, the boy was praying to God, but like the Pharisee in today’s Gospel, he was doing s to benefit himself.

Today’s Gospel reading gives us a short parable from the Lord with a powerful punch. The Pharisee came to the Temple and prayed, “Thank you, Lord, that I am not like the rest of humanity especially that tax collector back there.” It’s a most unusual parable because, on hearing this parable, we all probably thought to ourselves, “Thank you, Lord, that I am not like that Pharisee in the parable.” And by saying that, we are!

For us the word “Pharisee” is almost synonymous with hypocrisy. There were, however, good Pharisees in Jesus’ time. Nicodemus was one of them. The Pharisees were laymen in charge of the synagogues. The Sadducees or priests were in charge of the Jerusalem Temple. People in Israel could not travel to the Temple for every Sabbath so they had local synagogues where they would gather for what we call today the “Liturgy of the Word”. Pharisees were popular and generally considered to be holy men.

If Pharisees were considered to be holy men, then tax collectors, who worked for Rome, the occupying power, were considered to be traitors and sinners. In Jesus’ day they were considered suspect, dishonest, thieving people, the least respected of society.

The contrast in the parable is striking to the Jewish audience. The Pharisee and the tax collector pray in the Temple. The tax collector is the one who is truly forgiven, not the Pharisee.

What was wrong with the Pharisee’s prayer? And what was so right about the tax collector’s prayer?

Raymond Brown, an eminent Scripture scholar, once said that if no change occurs as a result of prayer, then one has not really prayed.

Luke portrays two men at prayer. Both leave the Temple and probably looked the same to anyone going into the Temple. One man [the tax collector] left a changed person, in right relationship with God. The other [the Pharisee] was not. He aimed his prayer at himself and his accomplishments rather than in awe, humility, and gratitude toward God.

The Pharisee comes to the Temple to tell God about his fidelity to his religious obligations. Meanwhile the tax collector  prays, “Lord I am a sinner.”

The Torah [five books of Moses; Jewish Bible] calls all Jews to imitate the holiness of God [“Be holy because I am holy”].  What the Pharisee did in his life was good but he compared himself to the tax collector and not with the holiness of God.

Instead of striving toward living in the image of God, he compares himself to another human being.

We can fall into that trap too when we say, “Thank you, Lord’ that I am a faithful Catholic, unlike some people I know.” “Thank you, Lord, that I don’t commit adultery, unlike some people I know.” “Thank you, Lord, that I am honest, unlike some people I know.”

It is important that we strive to imitate Christ and not settle into a spiritual arrogance or a spiritual complacency that comes from comparing ourselves only to others.

How do we pray?

Stand before God realizing the need of more and more of his grace. Appreciate the fact that we are still a work in progress, no better than the person standing next to us.

In today’s first reading, Jesus ben Sira, the author of the book of Sirach, reminds us that those who allow God to change their hearts in prayer make other discoveries. Right prayer yields spiritual maturity. This spiritual growth comes when we compare ourselves not to our neighbor but to Christ.

God, who hears all prayers, has the power to change weeping into laughter, weakness into strength, oppression into freedom, complaint into contentment, and sinners into saints.

God is totally impartial in response to our prayer. He is not swayed by social status. But he is swayed by its authenticity.

Prayer produced a change of heart in Paul as his letter to Timothy shows. Paul was facing a trial that could result in his death and he could have blamed his community of believers for abandoning him. However, he saw himself as a partner in the suffering of Christ that brought salvation.

While the anecdote I began with about the child’s prayer may have evoked a smile, we should not be inclined to be sympathetic toward the Pharisee. Today’s lesson comes to us from the tax collector.

As we leave this Eucharistic celebration today, we will each look pretty much the same as we did coming in. But remember, in the autumn of our life, we will not be judged on whether we are better than others but will be judged on how much we resemble Jesus Christ. In Jesus’ parable two people entered the Temple that afternoon. The Pharisee left the Temple that day the same way he came in, unchanged. The tax collector left justified because he didn’t look around, but he looked within. How will you leave this celebration today?

Now, as we prepare to celebrate the Liturgy of the Eucharist, let us pray for the openness to change our behavior through prayer and move closer to God.

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 29, 2013

Do you ever read The Family Circus comic in the Herald Mail newspaper? Last Saturday’s showed the family leaving church. Little Billie is telling the preacher, “The sermon was good, bit I think you could’ve used a couple jokes to jazz it up a bit.”

I do not have any jokes to jazz up my homily this morning but I hope to throw you a few  attention-getters and something to think about…

Does anyone recall the 1993 movie, Schindler’s List? It recounts the story of Oskar Schindler’s gradual growth in appreciation of the plight of his Jewish factory workers during the Nazi occupation of Poland. As a result of his new found awareness, Schindler uses both his position and wealth to help many escape persecution. Schindler was one man who risked everything [including his own life] and used his wealth and power to help his Jewish workers.

How blest we truly are here in the USA. We live in the wealthiest country of the world. That reality in itself is not bad. The question we need to ask is, “How do we use our wealth and power? Today’s readings speak to that issue.

Today’s readings also call us to look at our sins of omission, the good we fail to do.

In our first reading, the prophet Amos preached in prosperous times to a society that enjoyed both wealth and stability. However, beneath that outward façade, there was a spiritual poverty.

Amos paints a rather graphic picture of the life of the wealthy. They lie on ivory beds, eat sumptuously, drink to their heart’s content…

Amos points out that they lacked a sense of gratitude and generosity. They seemed to forget that everything they had came from God. All God asked of them was – be thankful and generous [to the poor].

Is there something here that perhaps hits home? Do we sometimes fail to remember that everything we have comes directly from God?  Do we remember to be thankful? Are we generous and share our wealth with the poor? Or do we have to have that latest gadget such as the iphone of the day?

Amos is asking the society of his time to look at their sins of omission, the good they fail to do. Wealth and stability are not inherently evil. The evil or the unnoticed spiritual poverty was treating themselves to lavish pastimes and their waste of valuable resources while the poor died of starvation. The unnoticed spiritual poverty was also their sense of security while the defenseless had no one to protect them. It is not so much what they did as it was that they failed to do for those they considered less wealthy [or poor].

In the second reading taken from First Timothy, we hear again about the need to be consistent in our lives. Paul reminds us that we are called to live a life of virtue centered in the gospel of Jesus.  We are to hold fast to the truths and principles of our very faith. If we have committed ourselves to the Lord in our Baptism, then we must also reaffirm that commitment every time we participate in the Sacraments. Gratitude and generosity are just two of those principles.

Blessed Pope John XXIII was once asked why there were so many atheists in the world. His answer was that it is our fault. We often consider ourselves first and fail to be what we say we are.  We often fail to affirm and reaffirm our commitment to our faith. We often fail to do the good we could or should have done.

The Gospel presents the challenging story of Lazarus and the rich man. It speaks about death, about life, and about our spiritual life. The two issues at the heart of this passage: eternal life and caring for the poor.

Jesus makes his points in the story of the rich man and Lazarus. Notice that Jesus does not criticize or condemn the rich man’s wealth. Neither does he glorify Lazarus’ poverty. The point he tries to make is that the rich man paid no attention to the beggar at his gate. It was something good he failed to do. When the two me die, the rich man’s lack of gratitude to God and generosity to the poor become very apparent.

 We don’t know where or when the Lord will come to us. Are we prepared? In this story, it’s too late to do anything about it. It is not too late for us!

Our faith is not individualistic. As children of God, we are all members of the same family. Rich or poor, we all belong to each other. Our Father [in heaven] expects us to treat each other with equal love, compassion, and dignity. He also asks us to be thankful and generous [to our poorer members].

Note that the wealth and stability of the Israelites of which Amos speaks was not wrong. Their wanton revelry was and as Amos warns, “…shall be done away with.”

Note that in today’s Gospel, it is not that the rich man did anything wrong to the poor man. He simply did not do the good that he could have for the poor man. Sin of omission is the good that we fail to do.

At the end of the story, we hear that God would not send any messengers to warn the brothers of the rich man [as the rich man had requested]. God told him they already had the law and the prophets.

Today we should not expect miraculous appearances or utterances to wake us up. We have the Scripture.

How do we use our wealth and power?

What about the good we fail to do?

Our mission is to be Christ for each other. It is to save those who are lost – spiritually and lost in grief, anxiety, addition, bitterness. It is to feed the hungry – hungry for food and for love of God. It is to shelter the homeless – those who have no home and those who are separated from their heavenly home.

The last line in Luke’s Gospel, “neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead,” is an obvious reminder that we have the risen Jesus and that should be enough for us. Jesus came back from the dead. He has warned us. Is it enough for us?

Jesus laid down his life for us. Our mission is to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. Remember Oskar Schindler. Our mission is to become the Church Jesus designed and has called us to be.

St. Paul reminds us in the second reading that, as Christians, we are called to live a life of virtue centered in the Scripture. That means we are to firmly hold fast to the truths and principles of our faith. That means learn to recognize the good we can do. Gratitude and generosity are two of those principles. Do you hold firmly to the truths and those principles?

St. John Chrysostom had some strong words for those who ignore the poor.

“Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life. The goods we possess are not ours, but theirs.”

St. Gregory the Great adds. “When we attend to the needs of those in want, we give them what is theirs.”

The judgment against the rich man in the parable is based not on what he did but what he failed to do. He lost forever his chance for doing good. Like his brothers in the parable, we still have ours.

The next time you recite these words during the Penitential Act: “I confess… that I have greatly sinned… in what I have done and in what I have failed to do…”, think about your many blessings, and about your gratitude, and your generosity…

Eucharist means “thanks”. In a few moments we will give Eucharist to God for what we have and who we are. As God’s beloved sons and daughters, let us take this opportunity to give thanks to God and ask God to give us the grace of generosity in whatever way that is appropriate in our lives.

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 25, 2013

Lord, will only a few people be saved? [Luke 13:23]

Interestingly sobering question, isn’t it? The unidentified man in today’s gospel asks the age-old question about which many still speculate today, the exact number to be “saved”. Another way to look at it is with fear that many will not be saved and end up in
hell, a miserable, lonely place devoid of love.

Notice that Jesus doe not give a precise answer. The Lord says that the gate is wide open with completely free entry into the Kingdom. The gate, however, is narrow. Rather than our trying to determine how many will fit through, we should make sure we will fit through. It is tempting for us to be concerned and even outraged at the state of morality today, or even the lack of it. Our attention or concern should be focused on the state of our soul, our life, our marriage. Lord, will I be saved?

Today’s first reading [and Gospel] remind us that God’s plan encompasses the redemption and salvation of all mankind throughout the world. Unfortunately, even today we hear attitudes expressed that are exclusive. God-centered communities must be relentlessly inclusive.

The breadth of God’s vision expressed by Isaiah makes clear how narrow our own vision can be. Preoccupation with the petty faults of others or even ourselves is given a much needed wake up call when we realize that we are only a small part of a vast eternal plan.

The first word of the Lord to us today is that when we are critical of the scandals about which we read or see are all over the TV news shows today and how many people are failing to enter the door, we need to make sure that we are entering through the door ourselves. If we can fit through the door, the Lord says, we can come right in. But because the door is narrow, that means it takes effort on our part to get in. We all likely have baggage we must get rid of to enter. Baggage like hatred, greed, jealousy, lust, or apathy. All this can be excess personal bloating that can weigh us down.

Can we fit through? Are we in spiritual shape?

We know the remarkable difference in our life when we get into physical shape. We become more efficient, have more energy, and think more clearly.

The same thing happens when we get into spiritual shape. The energies of the soul that we call the virtues are released. Our prayer life is deeper and much easier. Good intentions become good realities. God’s will in our life becomes clearer.

So, how can we get rid of the baggage or rough edges that may keep us from entering the narrow gate?

The Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that life itself can help us ditch some of the baggage or smooth rough edges. These are the trials or the crosses we all have to bear from time to time that it calls the discipline of the Lord. For example, it is hard to be self-centered when there is someone at home who needs constant attention. It’s hard to be arrogant when a person is unemployed or loaded down with debt, or facing the consequences of a serious illness. Life itself can put us into spiritual shape. The person of faith knows these personal trials and challenges have the grace for us to build spiritual muscle and make us ready for the Kingdom.

In addition to life itself and the grace of God, we have the Catholic Church. [Here’s my plug for RCIA] The Catholic Church gives us the most effective way of preparing ourselves for the Kingdom and entering the narrow gate. Jesus came into the world to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life. “No one comes to the Father but through me”. There is on Gospel, one Christ, one cross, one door. For us Catholics, in Christ the Word of God has become explicit and concrete. We have the truth in word and sacrament. In the Church we have Spirit guided teaching authority. In the sacramental life of the Catholic Church we have seven places of Christ’s assured presence-the sacraments. We have in the Church the gift of the Eucharist-the real presence of Christ. We have in the Church the Mass where the word of God is spoken, preached, and shared day in and day out.

Whether we Catholics follow through on the opportunities within the life of the Church to strengthen us spiritually is another question. We also have God’s gift of free will. It’s up to each one of us.

The passage from Luke’s Gospel may seem to be a collection of Jesus’ sayings uttered in varying   contexts but brought together here under the general heading of “who will be saved.” Jesus’ overall meaning is clear: The salvation he offers is offered to all. The good news is offered whole and entire and must be accepted in the same way. The implication of the narrow gate is open to all, but only those who seek it are admitted. The kingdom of God is a choice we all have to make.

The Jewish people who heard today’s readings were challenged by what was being proclaimed. They thought they knew exactly what God wanted and who was living in God’s favor and who was not. Hearing that the Gentiles were also being called to be a part of God’s people would have left them disconcerted to say the least. Today we need to keep in mind the fact that not only Catholics can and will go to heaven. This realization is good. It can be good to be off balance a bit so that we can learn new things.

Who might you be hesitant to see among those who are called the chosen of God?
Are they in spiritual shape?
Are you?

Today’s Gospel reading about the door carries some soul searching challenges for each of us.

The goodness of God issues invitations to all the world. No one is excluded from this banquet except those who exclude themselves. By saying that few would be saved, Jesus was emphasizing that entering the kingdom is not a question of belonging to a certain group. It is a question of committing oneself to the kingdom. And Luke reminds us there will be surprises in the heavenly kingdom. Here he tells us that we need to re-think whatever notions we may have about who is fit for the reign of God. Those we think least likely to enter may be the first to do so, and vice versa. The final choice is ours.

Salvation is not a matter of hearing God’s word but of following and acting upon it. And it is there for everyone!

Following that word, we will fit through the narrow door--- the wide open infinite spaces of God’s life forever. And those are indeed hopeful words.

As the gifts are presented today, may we open ourselves more fully to our communion to, with, and in Christ and with other Christians. Get in spiritual shape, for that narrow door, … with spiritual exercise!

August 4, 2013

Did you read the reflection from Fr. Jack [then in Zambia] printed in last Sunday’s bulletin?  In it he says, “… In USA we consciously or unconsciously choose to surround ourselves with so much, let it accumulate and encompass and suffocate in some instances…” He ends with a challenge to each one of us to “… take some of it- the joy of simplicity and God-focused-ness back.”
Today’s readings tie with that perfectly and I say by no coincidence. To respond to Jesus’ admonition that human life “does not consist of possessions” is today’s challenge to all of us. Throughout the Gospel of Luke there are continuous warnings against the tendency to trust in one’s riches.
The man in the Gospel parable is not condemned because he had filled his barn with grain. He is condemned because he allowed his heart to be dominated by riches. He failed to share his abundance.

What is most important in your life?

An exercise I did some years ago while working on my MBA was to write my own obituary. Its purpose was not to focus on death but on life. What would we want our obituary to say?

While researching for this reflection, I ran across this story about the life of Alfred Nobel who was forced into facing this question. One morning he was surprised to read his own obituary in a French newspaper. One of his brothers had died and a careless reporter used a prepared obituary about Alfred Nobel. Nobel was disturbed to learn that he was seen only as the dynamite king who earned his fortune manufacturing and selling explosives. He had hoped his invention would have other uses than in war efforts.

As a result Nobel resolved to show the world the true purpose of his life. He revised his will so that his fortune would be given to the recognition of great achievements with the highest award going to those who had done the most to promote world peace. Today we all associate him with the Nobel Peace Prize rather than the manufacture and sale of explosives.

What do you want people to remember about your life?

Today’s Alleluia Verse contains the Beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” It reminds all of us to seek humility so that we might see things from God’s point of view. We need the strength and love of God.

As Fr. Jack and the other eleven pilgrims are seeing first hand among the poor of Africa, simplicity is golden. “Riches” are not only material possessions.
Jesus insists that “life does not consist in possessions.”

The author of the Book of Ecclesiastes laments about the “vanity” of life. Living in vain means spending time on something that in not “worth” the trouble.
It has been said the Satan abhors only one word, “enough”. Jesus is quick to point out that the man in today’s Gospel making provisions for his excess, never had the opportunity to use the things accumulated. He never seemed to have “enough”.
Living life in an endless search for “enough” is a no-winner. Dying people rarely wish they would have earned more money. They wish they had appreciated what they had.

Communion with God confirms the covenant that he is our God and we are his people. Allow that relationship to help us focus on what and whom we are really living for. If, as with the man in Jesus’ parable, an accounting were required of us tonight, what would we bring to the Lord?

May God bless you and keep you in his peace, Deacon Jim

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 28, 2013

Some of you know this but on Sunday, February 3 of this year, I was invited to preach and “bring God’s word” to the congregation at the Hancock Presbyterian Church. They knew I was a deacon candidate at the time and they knew I was stepping outside my area of familiarity. They wanted to give me a broader view on different types of services.

In my introduction I reminded them that though I grew up in the Catholic Church on the hill, we did share one thing in common. We share the Word of God, the Sacred Scriptures proclaimed and interpreted each week in our respective churches.

In preparing this homily, I realized we share one more thing in common. According to a study conducted some two years ago, there are over 40,000 Christian denominations in the world. Members of these communities of belief make up approximately one third of the world’s population. Without a discussion of the sad nature of the lack of unity among Christians, one thing can be seen as encouraging: Virtually all of these two billion or so believers are united in their use of the Lord’s Prayer.

Despite differences in theologies, church governance, and methods of worship, most Christians recognize and use the prayer that begins with, “Our Father, who art in heaven…” There is something about these words that has touched the hearts of Christ’s followers for over 2000 years. This prayer has also inspired hundreds of musical renditions including some of the world’s most beautiful music.

The purpose of our readings today is to focus on the power of prayer and to help us recognize that God invites us into an intimate relationship in which we see ourselves as his children and we should feel free to boldly ask him for what we need.

In our first reading from Genesis, while God considers how to punish the sinful people of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham negotiates with him. Abraham argues that the innocent should not be punished with the guilty. Abraham continues to pray [ haggle with God so to speak] until the agreed-upon number is reduced to 10 righteous people.

This was typical argumentation with God in the Old Testament. There is a Jewish saying that God dances when one of his creatures wins an argument with him.

Unfortunately, not even ten righteous men were found there. However, God did not destroy the innocent along with the guilty. He did save Lot and his family. God is always filled with love and mercy. All we have to do is ask [pray] for it!

In Paul’s letter to the Christians of Colossae, he assures them that Christ has provided forgiveness of sins for all believers. Again, God is always filled with love and mercy. Paul compares Christ’s action of redemption with the act of canceling a bond against a criminal. All we have to do is ask [pray] for it!

Yes, God is always filled with love and mercy toward us. All we have to do is ask [pray] for it! Like Jesus’ disciples in today’s Gospel from Luke, we likely ask, “Lord, teach us to pray…”

Today’s Gospel has a series of teachings on prayer. Notice that Jesus is praying when the disciples ask him how they should pray. Jesus is constantly praying. He does this so that he can discern the will of his Father and have the courage to fulfill it. We too need to learn to pray to discern the will of the Father in our lives and have the courage to fulfill and live it.

Jesus teaches the disciples and all future believers [recall the two billion believers I mentioned earlier in my remarks] how to pray.

A great deal can be said about the Lord’s Prayer because it is both a prayer and a school of prayer. We can reflect on the intimacy, the surrender, and the trust it displays.

In telling his followers to call God “Father”, Jesus makes it clear that they are to have and intimate relationship with the Creator.

By instructing the disciples to ask for what they need, Jesus is establishing a new way for his followers to address God.

By telling the parable of the man at the door in the middle of the night, Jesus illustrates the need for persistence in prayer.

Just as earthly parents care for their offspring, Jesus assure his disciples that God can be trusted to do what is best for those who pray.

We see the elements of intimacy, surrender, and trust in the way Abraham prays in today’s first reading.

We can take comfort in the fact that God is merciful, forgiving, and willing to provide for those who call upon him. As God shows mercy to sinners, we Christians are expected to do the same by forgiving those who harm us.

Are we hallowing God’s name?
Are we working for God’s kingdom?
Do we really want God to forgive us as we forgive others?

The Lord’s Prayer is both a prayer and a school of prayer. God is a truly loving parent who will respond to our every need. Therefore, when we need something, we should not be afraid to ask. Today as we celebrate Christ’s real presence in our midst and receive him in Holy Communion, recall how he taught us to approach the Father and pray for his love, and mercy, and what we need.

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 13, 2013

While Fr. Jack is away on Pilgrimage in Africa, I will step in with Pastoral Reflections each week.

Last weekend a parishioner asked me about a statement St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians. St. Paul writes,” From now on, let no one make troubles for me; for I bear the marks of Jesus on my body.”

The question was what did St. Paul actually mean here. In my follow-up research I discovered the following.  When St. Paul says that he bears the brand marks of Jesus, he is using the Greek word “stigmata”. This does not mean however that he bore the wounds of Christ as St. Francis did.  It likely refers to the scars of the many scourgings and beatings he endured for Christ.

I welcome anyone who reads or hears anything in the Sacred Scripture they do not quite understand to mention it to me. If I do not know the answer, I will be happy to utilize my sources and get an answer or clarification for you.      

Reflections on the readings from the
15th Sunday in Ordinary Time…

Today we see how compassion can overcome seemingly impossible differences. Jesus teaches us the great law of love of God and neighbor. He surprises and challenges us, however, with his definition of neighbor.

Some months ago, the great pianist Van Cliburn died. His greatness lay not so much in his musical talent as in the fact that his piano playing built a bridge of understanding between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The Russian people put aside prejudice and took to their heart this American who played the First Piano Concerto of the Russian composer Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky. In music the Russians found a bond with someone who should have been an enemy.

Today we live in a polarized world. Our government is paralyzed because opposite sides of issues refuse to compromise. Today all the Cold War enemies have become friends but new political and religious enemies threaten us. Pope Francis too has the challenge facing him of bridging divisions within the Church itself.

The parable of the Good Samaritan teaches us that it is possible to find common ground, even with enemies.

In Luke’s gospel, a scholar of the law is testing Jesus by attempting to force him into a compromising situation through clever questioning. Jesus does not fall for the trick and turns the table on the scholar. Luke is really addressing the problem of who can be considered a neighbor, a problem evident in Luke’s community at the time. The scholar poses the direct question to Jesus: “And who is my neighbor?” The response comes in the form of a parable that Jesus recounts.

Jews and Samaritans hated one another and would not have called each other “neighbor”. In the parable two religious Jews did not treat their fellow Jew as a neighbor. Jesus’ hearers would have expected the same from the Samaritan but the Samaritan in this parable treated his fallen enemy with compassion. He was able to ignore differences and focus on their common humanity. Jesus’ interrogator was able to see that the Samaritan was the true neighbor in this story.

Jesus said to him and us, “Go and do likewise.’

We all depend on Good Samaritans. Our society today would be very cold and hard and difficult and dangerous without them. We need Good Samaritans for our society to survive.

What happens when the challenge of today’s Gospel becomes concrete, specific, local and personal? Do we find ways of avoiding it?

It can be so easy for us to avoid the call of the Gospel when it becomes specific and local. The scholar’s question was, “Just who is my neighbor?” The Lord’s answer to him and to us is, “Do not worry about that. Just be a neighbor to the person in need who crosses your path.” That person is our neighbor in God’s sight.

One message to us today from the parable of the Good Samaritan is to be as good a Samaritan to others as Jesus was to us. The grace of Christ among us will never dissolve our differences, but it can help us reach out to one another with love and compassion.

God’s Blessings From Deacon Jim

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
June 30, 2013

Rooted in the traditions of the prophets, today, Jesus teaches us the seriousness of discipleship.

Many of you may remember a time when a man or a woman would go to work for a company at the age of eighteen or even in their early twenties and remain with that company until retirement. The person may be promoted within that company. Company loyalty was expected. It was they way things were, and everyone expected things to be that way.

Today, young persons new to the work force will likely change careers six, seven, or eight times in their lifetime. Company loyalty is not expected and companies do not expect employee loyalty either. If a person does not show a great deal of mobility on his or her resume today, he or she might be viewed as lacking in ambition. That is how things are, and everyone expects them to be that way.

Today’s readings give us more insight into discipleship of the Risen Christ. Today we see this discipleship as a way of life and not merely a job or a career. That is how discipleship is, and we should expect it to be that way.

We see Elijah the prophet ready to throw in the towel in today’s first reading. Elijah was showing signs of burnout. He was weary of his “job” and he complained to God about the unfaithfulness of the people.

God was sensitive to Elijah’s condition and tells him to anoint a successor.

Elijah, guided by God, chooses Elisha to assume the prophetic mantle. Elisha’s task is to respond in trust. Elisha’s response to God’s call was immediate and without hesitation. It points forward to our lesson today on discipleship in the gospel. It points out the distinction between a “job’ or a “career” and “discipleship”. And it is a fitting reminder to all of us that discipleship must be embraced wholeheartedly. Elisha’s call was not Elijah’s idea; it was God’s.

In the second reading, Paul’s letter to the Galatians is his lesson on Christian freedom. Freedom is not simply the absence of law but the opportunity to act uprightly, to go beyond the letter of the law and truly love oneself and others. Real freedom is not freedom from responsibility but freedom for the responsibility of Christian life. The Holy Spirit provides the Christian with the moral guidance necessary to live in a way that is truly free. Paul contrasts the Spirit with the desires of the flesh.  As a disciple of the Risen Christ, we all need to reflect on our actions or desires from time to time that feel overpowering and enslaving. Especially in this day and age when our religious freedoms are under attack by our government leaders, resolve to heed Paul’s advice to be led by the Spirit.
You might say that that is all well and good but how can we do this? How can we become the disciple Jesus is calling us to be?

In our Gospel reading, Luke tells us of the failure of three would-be followers of Jesus. We have three snapshots of individuals wanting to follow Jesus. We do not know names but that is not important because Jesus’ words are not only addressed to them but to us as well. Again, it’s all about discipleship. It’s all about what following the Lord really means. It’s all about discipleship as a new way of life. It’s about how we can do this.

The first individual says to the Lord enthusiastically, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus reminds him of the material and spiritual cost of following Christ. “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” It’s very easy for us to dream beautiful dreams, it is something else to make them come true. So often there are people who want a strong and vibrant church but do not want to take the time to get involved, who want a church with great singing but don’t want to sing, who want our church involved in the community but don’t want to give time to volunteer, who want a church to sponsor outreach programs but don’t want to support the effort. Discipleship not only requires enthusiasm but also concrete commitment. Without a decision to change on our part and become involved, we are living in a spiritual Fantasy Land.

What is the sacrifice we are willing to make for the Kingdom? That is the question of Jesus to that first individual. Is it a dream world that we expect only others to bring about? Or, is it something we pray for and try to build ourselves every day?

The second person [“let me bury my father first”] represents the temptation to follow Christ someday when family or other obligations are complete. To follow Christ tomorrow when the children leave home or when we have a better job or when our problems are resolved is living in a spiritual Tomorrow Land.

To follow Jesus sometime in the future is not to follow him at all. The world will never be perfect and tomorrow may never come. Jesus calls us to follow him now in an active life of proclaiming God’s reign. Discipleship involves ministry to the living in the here and now. That is his answer to the second person. Will you put off until tomorrow what you can do today?

The third and final would-be follower asks to say farewell to his family at home. He looks to what is left behind. “Looking back” means that we are half-hearted in our commitment. We excuse our lack of full commitment and are living a spiritual Yesterday Land.  Not one of us had a perfect childhood, perfect schooling or even perfect families. Whatever our past, the Lord calls us to follow him as we are. Jesus makes it clear that nothing is more important than following Jesus. The call to discipleship can be a demanding one. Jesus’ answer to the third individual is not to keep looking back. How seriously are we willing to follow Christ? What are we willing to give up for Christ so that our answer to that special call will be honest and thorough and not look back?

Elisha asked for a double portion of Elijah’ spirit and answered God’s call with enthusiasm and without hesitation. Paul reminds us that paradoxically, discipleship to Christ, enabled by the Spirit and resulting in love, is true freedom and true fulfillment.

Once again in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus’ words are countercultural. There is little in our cultural experiences today that prepares us for the kind of commitment Jesus requires of us. As I mentioned earlier, company loyalty is no longer expected. Our whole cultural environment speaks to us of part-time commitments. But Jesus tells us this is not discipleship.

Discipleship is a way of life requiring complete loyalty and not merely a job or career [as today requiring little or no loyalty]. The call to discipleship is serious. We can avoid the call by dreaming of following Christ in some indefinite future, a spiritual Fantasy Land. We can evade the call by waiting for the right time, a spiritual Tomorrow Land. We can avoid  answering the call by looking for reasons in the past as to why we cannot answer the call now in a spiritual Yesterday Land.

There is a special call from the Lord to each of us. Will we follow and make it our spiritual Reality Land today?

We come here today to this Eucharist as enthused Christians and as tired Christians with a call to greater fidelity to Jesus and a summons to follow him on his path to Jerusalem and death. Jesus is here in his word and people in our shared meal of his Body and Blood. We cannot turn back or away. As our patron Peter says to Jesus, “You have the words of eternal life.”

The Body and Blood of Christ [Corpus Christi]

Sunday, June 2, 2013
Homily [for St. Ann’s Church]

What are the most important words ever spoken on this earth?

There are many memorable words of our presidents and popes.

The words of Jesus when he said, “This is my Body… This is my Blood” are the most important words ever spoken. They have shaped the life and spirituality of billions of people.

We as Catholics believe that, when Jesus said, “This is my Body” and “This is my Blood”, he meant that literally. Hence, what looks and tastes like bread and wine isn’t. It is the sacramental body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus. We call this the Real Presence. We do not partake of a symbol, the Eucharist is not a metaphor, it is truly the Lord, whole and entire. Scripture attests to this in many places:

John 6:51: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

1 Cor 11:29: “For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.”

I can remember my catechism classes as a child preparing for my first Holy Communion.  The nuns impressed upon us the fact that it still looks like bread and wine but the very substance is actually the body and blood of Christ. By faith I knew it to be true then. By faith I know it is true today. It is by faith we know it to be true.

Today’s feast of Corpus Christi, the “Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ” is a  feast that is over seven centuries old and a feast that is considered very Catholic. Today we reflect on the heart of Catholic life, The Eucharist, the Mass, and the Blessed Sacrament. The “gem” of our Church. Our readings today help us foster an understanding of and appreciation for the Body of Christ in all its dimensions. Not only are we focusing on the Real Presence but also through  his body on earth, the Church, we are focusing on the fellowship of all who believe in him.

In our first reading from Genesis, the few verses presented are taken from the final scene in the account of Abraham’s victory over a foreign alliance.  Long story short, five kings of Canaan thank Abraham for delivering them from their enemies and Melchizedek, King of Salem and serving as a priest, brings out bread and wine as a thanksgiving offering to a divinity called “God Most High”. The lesson seems to be that in the land of Canaan there is only one king, the Lord God.

Jesus too was a priest and king. He was the king of Jerusalem [in Hebrew “city of” is “jeru” so Jerusalem is “city of Salem”]. Jesus too offered bread and wine at the Last Supper. He gave us the Eucharist as a place of unity to draw his disciples to him and to each other. Through the Eucharist, this Ecclesial Community is built up as a new Jerusalem, a principle of unity in Christ among different persons and people – then and now.

Our second reading contains the oldest written version of the institution of the Sacrament of the Eucharist. St. Paul was writing this account to help the Corinthians understand the gravity of their sin in their failure to be charitable to the members of their community. Remember that in the Eucharist we are in communion with God and also with our sisters and brothers. In the Eucharist Jesus is present, Body and Blood, soul and divinity. The Eucharist is a proclamation of “the death of the Lord until he comes.”  The Apostle reminds us that the “Lord’s Supper” is not only a convivial meeting but also the memorial of the redeeming sacrifice of Christ. Those who take part in it are united with the mystery of the death of the Lord and “proclaim” him.

Jesus is portrayed as being compassionate throughout Luke’s Gospels and today is no exception. The miracle of multiplying the loaves and fishes is presented as a predecessor to the institution of the Sacrament of the Eucharist. There is much symbolism and a number of terms that are Eucharistic [eg. Took, blessed, broke, gave].

“Then taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing over them, broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd.”

Luke offers us a vivid image of the close bond that exists between the Eucharist and the universal mission of the Church [as Body of Christ]. Christ, “the living bread which came down from heaven’ [Jn 6:51] is the only one who can appease the hunger of human beings of every time and in every corner of the earth.

There were five loaves and two fish making seven [the perfect number] items. The twelve baskets of fragments leftover represent the twelve tribes of Israel. No one in Israel would be hungry either physically or spiritually. This feeding continues today in the Church’s practice of the Eucharist every day at Holy Mass: through ordained ministers, Christ gives his Body and his Blood for the life of humanity. All those who participate in turn become living instruments of his presence of love, mercy , and peace.

Today is a feast celebrating the center of our Church’s life. The “gem” of our Church. We have the dual focus of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and the presence of Jesus in his body of believers on earth.

Jesus’ gift to the Church on the night before he died was the gift of himself under the forms of bread and wine. In the Eucharist, we have Jesus himself, body and blood, soul and divinity. Think about it, when we receive Holy Communion, we have a closer contact with Jesus than was possible for anyone during his life on this earth. Jesus is present to us very intimately through his Real Presence in what only appears to be bread and wine.

And Christ is present to us in other ways through his Church. A host of New Testament verses speak of us as the Body of Christ on earth:

1 Cor 12:27: “Now you are Christ’s body and individually parts of it”

Rom 12:5: “So we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another”

Within this Year of Faith, this Corpus Christi Sunday is a good opportunity to refresh: our reverence at Mass, the full significance of receiving Holy Communion, and the dignity of prayer for ourselves and others [as the Body of Christ] before the Blessed Sacrament. The Eucharist is the center of our Catholic Church’s life. Is it the center of our life?

We who are the Body of Christ will in a few minutes receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist. Prepare to receive the greatest gift God can give us. The gift of himself! Let us be aware, grateful and when the minister says to us, “The Body of Christ” or “The Blood of Christ”, answer with a strong “Amen” to say, “Yes, I truly believe that it is”.