Saturday, September 15, 2018

Who do you say that I am?


One day the famous Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson were on a camping trip. As they lay sleeping one night, Holmes woke Watson and said, “Watson, look up into the sky and tell me what you see.” Watson said, “I see millions of stars.” Holmes asked, “And what does that tell you?” Watson replied, “Astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Theologically, it tells me that God is great and that we are small in comparison. Meteorologically, it tells me that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. And what does it tell you Holmes?” To which Holmes answered, “It tells me that someone stole our tent.”

A simple question can elicit very different answers. In our Gospel today, Jesus asks a simple question, “Who do you say that I am?” Up to this point in Mark’s Gospel there have been many answers to that question. They have said, “Who is this that even wind and sea obey him?” They said, “He is possessed.” They said, “Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary?” They said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead,” or “He is Elijah.” They have had many answers.

Up until now, they haven’t quite gotten a handle on just who Jesus really is. Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” and all of heaven is silent, listening intently to how they will answer. And when Peter answers, “You are the Christ,” the angels are dancing and the heavenly choir is resounding, the saints in glory are cheering and the confetti is flying. They get it! They see Jesus as He is. “You are the Christ.”

And this question of who Jesus is reflects right back to us today. Understanding who Jesus is, tells us who we are. Jesus asks, “Who do people say that I am?” because what He really wants to get at is – once you know who I am, who are you? What are you about? His words are not academic or theological, they are relational and loving. And, today they are meant for us to think about who Jesus is and in turn, who are we and what are we about as people who follow Him?

The point is that recognizing who Jesus is – “You are the Christ” – must have consequences to who we are and how we live and how we view the rest of the world. Everything in our lives flows from that recognition of who Jesus is for us. It calls us to spread our faith; to live a life of love and joy, compassion and caring – to a degree that the world has never seen before; to not do just “enough” but to do the extraordinary – in and with and through Christ! The answer to that simple question will make all the difference in our lives and in the life of the world.

Mark told us today that Jesus asked His question in Ceasarea Philippi; a city marked by devotion to false gods. It is there that Jesus asks His most important question. He didn’t ask in the Temple; or after a reading from Isaiah pointing to the Messiah. He asks, who do you say that I am, in the midst of a place that worships everything except the One True God. It is there, that He says essentially, now is the time to make a choice. In the midst of all of these competing things; these competing gods; these competing idols that surround you – who will you say – here – that I am? And who will you choose to be because of Me?

This question of our identity as followers of Jesus, and as His church, could not be more important than it is right now. After all, scandal arises when who we say we are and what we do are at odds with each other. We find ourselves in this challenging moment precisely because people who said they follow Jesus acted in ways that couldn’t be further from Him. And in the midst of this moment surrounded by false Christians because of scandal, Jesus asks the question again – who do you say that I am?

There are many people, maybe some of us, who ask in the light of scandal what does it mean to be a Catholic? What is my identity as a member of this church? Pope Francis speaking in Sicily today said, “Life speaks louder than words. The person who witnesses to hope does not indicate what hope is, but who hope is. Christ is our hope.”

My friends, as we seek to call the church once again to holiness, let us remember that Jesus is asking us today the same old question: who do you say that I am? I pray that our response will be generous and courageous, that it will be compassionate and prophetic. Generous in showing love to everyone. Courageous in standing up for justice everywhere – especially for those who are victims. That it will be compassionate in the way we deal with those who have been wounded by our world, even wounded by members of the church. That we will be prophetic in our proclamation of the Gospel so that the world will once again know clearly who we are as followers of Jesus, and what we stand for. That this scandal does not make our faith, or our church, irrelevant – in fact, it makes it needed more than ever.

I pray that when tempted to walk away, we instead roll up our sleeves and fight for what we believe in, fight for who we are because of our faith in Jesus, fight for the church – from the Pope to us in the pews – to be true to who we say we are by what we say and do.

Lord Jesus, you are the Christ, the One who has come to save the world. In Your love, You have called us and saved us. Let us be true to Your word, true to Your Gospel, so that all who see us will see You. Renew us today in Your love. Renew us today in Your mission. Renew us today, Lord, in Your word, so that what we say and what we do reflect only You and Your love for the world. May we stand for holiness, goodness, truth, and justice, and may Jesus strengthen us so that our lives will speak louder than our words.

Who do you say that I am? You are the Christ.

May the Lord give you peace.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Be opened! Be healed!


We hear today one of the most truly amazing healing stories in all the Gospels. “People brought to [Jesus] a deaf man. He took him off by himself, put his finger into the man’s ears and said to him, ‘Ephphatha!’ -  that is, ‘Be opened!’ - And immediately the man’s ears were opened.” Whenever I hear this miracle story, I can’t help but think about an incredible miraculous moment in my own life.

From about the age of 10, I had a problem of recurrent fluid build up in my inner ear that left me nearly 100% deaf in my left ear. I had surgery to remove the fluid a few times, but it would always inevitably return. It was one of those things that over time you just learn to live with and so I spent a lot of time making sure people were on my right side – my good ear – and would say, “Could you repeat that?” an awful lot! Basically, I never thought that the situation would change, and I had simply grown comfortable with my lack of hearing.

But, then, a little more than 10 years ago, I was stationed in a parish in Connecticut, and we got word that a woman by the name of Vicka would be in the area, and wanted to come visit our Franciscan parish. Vicka is one of the visionaries who believe that the Blessed Mother appeared to them beginning in the 1980s in a place called Medjugorje in what is now Bosnia-Herzegovina. Now, please know that the Church has not yet ruled on the validity of these apparitions and I’m not claiming to do so today, but this is a place that I have visited a few times, and a place where I find the presence of God and His Blessed Mother to be very powerful.

So, Vicka, in addition to receiving these apparitions is also known to have a gift of healing. Since she was in the area of our parish visiting friends, she offered to come to our parish and pray over anyone who was sick. We assembled different people that we knew could use prayer – a young person who was very ill, the wife of our deacon who was suffering from cancer, and others, for example. When Vicka came, we thought that she would pray only over the sick, but we were all gathered in a circle and she just moved person to person, praying over everyone. As she approached me, she simply placed her hand on my head and prayed silently. She didn’t say a word, but just prayed for a bit in her simple, humble, and quiet way.

Now, I had never even thought about praying for my hearing, and so instead I prayed silently that God would heal anything that needed healing in my life. I prayed that He would strengthen me in my priestly vocation. And, I prayed, as I always did, that my Dad would one day desire to be baptized. As she prayed over me, her hand gripped my head tightly, and I felt a pop in my ear, much like the pop you feel when coming down from a high altitude, but I didn’t think much of it. I was simply caught up in what was a beautiful, prayerful evening, and before you knew it, everyone went home, and I went off to bed.

But, the next morning I nearly jumped out of my bed when my alarm went off. And it wasn’t because I was running late. You see, I was laying on my good ear, which meant I normally would only hear the alarm as from a distance, but instead it was as though the volume was on 11! Shaken, I got up and took my shower, and I’ll never forget the sensation of hearing the water as it fell from my head over my “bad” ear. It was suddenly dawning on me that something was different. I kept covering my good ear to test and could not really believe that I could hear. Once I was dressed, I ran to the kitchen where Fr. Mike was, covered my good ear, and said, “Talk.” Of course, I could hear every word he said clearly. It had been healed, and it was among the most joyful moments I can recall in my life.

“[Jesus] said to him, ‘Ephphatha!’ – that is, ‘Be opened!’ – and immediately the man’s ears were opened.” I imagine that the deaf man in our Gospel experienced something similar to my experience that morning 10 years ago. Like me, maybe he thought that this was something he just had to live with. Like me, science or medicine didn’t give him his hearing. And, for me, it wasn’t even Vicka that gave me back my hearing as she would be the first to tell you that it isn’t her power that does these things. For both of us, in fact for anyone who experiences healing, it is Jesus who does the work. It is an encounter with the living God that brings miracles into our midst. Because Jesus touched the deaf man, shared his humanity with him, the man’s ears were opened. We heard in Isaiah today, “Be strong! Fear not! Here is your God. He comes to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared.”

Here is your God. Here is our salvation, told in the story of two deaf men – one in our Gospel and one standing before you. The Gospel story was so amazing that the people who witnessed it couldn’t keep to themselves. That deaf man’s name has been lost to history – even though countless people know his story. But whether we realize it or not, his story is our story; my story is our story.

To all of us who feel isolated, cut off, or living in silence – Christ reaches out. To all of us who feel lonely or different, damaged or confused, to all of us who struggle to understand – Christ bends down and touches us. To all of us who have closed ourselves off from love, from change, from the possibility of miracles – Christ calls out: Ephphatha! Be opened. Even to those of us who feel angry with the church and wounded by her sins – Christ wants to touch us with His healing power so that we can be healed and renew our witness to the Gospel for the world.

This miracle teaches us that an encounter with Jesus brings something we all need, something that I discovered a new on that morning after Vicka’s visit – clarity. It brings understanding. What was muffled becomes clear. Things come into focus make sense. And after letting Christ into our lives, we are finally able to express something that could never quite put into words – that we are made new.

On that morning for me Christ answered two prayers – one I didn’t know I needed like the healing of my deafness; and one that I prayed for – my father did become a Catholic just a few years after that. So, with miracles on our minds, in our hearts, let us again invite Jesus to heal any deafness that hangs over us – anything physical or spiritual that keeps us from hearing His word in our hearts, and speaking His word to our world. The world needs the clarity that comes from living and knowing and proclaiming the Gospel. Even in the midst of scandal, the world needs to hear the loving, compassionate, and healing words of Jesus that only we can proclaim. Sometimes we learn to live with deafness and don’t even seek out its healing because change is hard. But Christ renews His call to each of us today, “Ephphatha! Be opened!” And let Jesus come in. Be opened to God’s presence deep in your hearts. Be opened to what God wants to do in and through and for you. Because if we do – when we do – the result will be nothing short of miracle.

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Practice what you preach


Practice what you preach. Actions speak louder than words. You have to walk the walk. Practice what you preach. Actions speak louder than words. You have to walk the walk. These are all common phrases that we know. There are many more like them, but they all have the same point – words are not enough. For our words to be true and be believed, they must be followed with action. In our second reading today from St. James, he says essentially the same thing, but he says it this way, “Be doers of the word and not hearers only. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” Or more simply, practice what you preach.

One of the greatest dangers in the life of faith, I think, is to be enamored of Scripture, to love the teachings of the Church, to hold precious the words of Jesus – but, to act no differently than the rest of the world when we’re outside of a church building. This is also what Jesus is tackling in today’s Gospel. The Pharisees and Scribes are obsessed with the external observance of the Law, but their actions say something different. They were obsessed with rituals, but neglected the change of heart and life that those rituals hope to bring about in people – their actions are completely devoid of the love, compassion, and mercy that are the hallmarks of someone who truly knows and loves the Lord.

In today’s passage, the Pharisees allow the failure to ritually wash their hands keep them from sharing God’s Good News with the people who need to hear it. Jesus points out that it is not the purification of hands that will save them, but the purification of their souls.

Now, Jesus isn’t condemning ritual or doctrine, but asking if those practices in their lives are having an effect. It begs the same question in our lives: are our external practices the goal of our faith? Is our faith nothing more than attending Mass or praying rosaries? Or do these practices – and more – help us become the people God wants us to be, as James says, those who “care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep [themselves] unstained by the world.” Have we become “Doers of the Word and not hearers only?”

If you are like me, you can’t help but hear these words today outside of the context of the scandal that we’re living through in the church today. After all, in so many ways, this scandal can be reduced to an example of failing to practice what we preach. For abusing clergy, there is certainly a disconnect between the life of holiness their vocation called them to and the horrific acts they committed. So too for those in leadership who failed address these situations with justice and with the care of the most vulnerable. Clergy abuse is so scandalous first because of the harm it has caused to victims; but secondly because these actions are the definition of failing to practice what we preach. We hold our clergy to high standard – as we should. Those who are ordained have pledged to live public lives in witness of the Gospel. These men who have failed, harm not only their victims, but they harm the church itself – they harm you and me by violating their promise to be images of Christ in our world. They create an image that is counter to what we profess as followers of Jesus. And the only way we will get through this current moment of crisis is by becoming more and more true to the call of Christ in our lives. To be doers of the word and not mere hearers. To practice what we preach in every aspect of our lives. And to call out those who fail to do so. When we practice what we preach, the innocent are protected, the guilty are prosecuted, and no one seeks to protect an abuser.

The church needs our faithful witness today more than ever. Our lives lived in harmony between what we say and what we do are the proclamation that calls the whole church to holiness. Our Scripture reminds us today that our faith should be obvious through the way we act in our world. That when people see the way we act, they will know immediately that we are follows of Christ; that our faith in Jesus has changed our lives.

St. James tells us, “Humbly welcome the word that has taken root in you. Act on it. Because if all you do is listen, you are deceiving yourselves.” In His Word and in His Holy Sacraments, Jesus gives us the strength to do what He asks. He gives us the strength to be a different kind of presence in the world – one that loves, one that shows compassion, one that reaches out, one that seeks justice – especially for those in most need. So, let us hear God’s Word again today and let that seed be planted in our hearts. Let us be strengthened again today by His Body and Blood so we can truly leave this place as “Doers of the Word of God….for that will save our souls.”

Or as St. Francis of Assisi put it, “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” It will not only change us and make us more like Christ; it will change the church; it will change the world.

May the Lord give you peace.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Lord, to whom shall we go?


There was a story in the New York Times this week that really caught my attention. It was from a parish in Atlanta, Georgia, where the local priest there preached last weekend about the priest abuse scandal that has once again taken center stage. The priest there said, of course, the scandal was terrible and that the church had to change. Just as he was moving on from that topic, a man in the congregation stood up and said loudly, “Hey, Father! How?” The priest did not have much of an answer for the distraught man except to suggest that he write to his Bishop and the Pope and share his concerns.

When I read that story, I had two reactions to it. As you know, I too preached about the crisis and, calling upon the image of St. Francis, about our need to rebuild the church together. So, my first reaction was, “Oh, thank goodness that no one stood up and shouted here!” Both because it would be shocking to have someone in the congregation do that, but also because if they did, I’m not sure that I would have had an answer that was much better than the priest in Atlanta. My second reaction, though, when I stopped thinking about myself and how I would have felt on the spot, was to think, wow, how courageous of that man. He had the courage to stand up in front of his whole parish, to take ownership of his faith and call for change.

He wrote about that moment later in the week. He said, “I wouldn’t exist without Catholicism. It was the church’s own teachings that made me stand up on Sunday. Catholics are taught that it’s imperative to help others. We are told to protect the innocent. Aside from my own family, two institutions helped form my character: the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts. Both encouraged me to stand up for what is right and to use our strength for those in need.” That story really struck me deeply and I have not been able to shake it. What would I say if someone challenged me that way? And, as I was reflecting on that question, I received an email from a parishioner. I’ll share a little bit of it with you, but not enough to give away who it came from. They wrote, “This is being sent to inform you of our decision to take a sabbatical from Saint Margaret’s and the Catholic Church. This has not been an easy decision in that both of us have been raised Catholics and have been parishioners for all our 56 years of marriage. But the on-going scandals and Rome's continued inaction has us doubting our continued attendance and financial support, so until or unless Pope Francis shows some sincere interest in response to this matter, we'll simply say goodbye for now. Our decision has nothing to do with Saint Margaret's and we wish you and all the parish the very best.”

I’ve been thinking and praying about how to respond to these members of our parish, and how I would respond if someone stood up in the middle of Mass. Here’s what I thought I might say but decided I’d like to run it by all of you first.

Dear parishioners, Since receiving your email I have been thinking and praying about how I should respond. First let me thank you and commend you for the courage to write to me this week. You could have simply vanished from the pews and we would never have known why. Please know that I hear your anger and frustration, and I share it. I, too, cannot believe that the church has not fully addressed these issues, especially in the 16 years since the scandal first came to broad attention. There simply is no excuse for that inaction. Change must happen.

You may have seen that Pope Francis issued a letter to the whole church this week, one that I hope you had the chance to read. In it he quite bluntly acknowledged the abuse of power by some members of the clergy, named our closeness to those who have been harmed, and pledged to take final and decisive action to get this right. It will be our job – all of us in the church – to make sure he and our bishops follows through on those words.

But, he also wrote, “We are never completely ourselves unless we belong to a people…The only way that we have to respond to this evil that is to experience it as a task regarding all of us as the People of God. Without the active participation of all the Church’s members, everything being done to uproot the culture of abuse in our communities will not be successful in generating the necessary dynamics for sound and realistic change.”

In other words, the Pope is saying, and I’m saying to you: We need you. The Church – even in its brokenness - needs you. We need you to stand by our side, to cry with us when we cry, to laugh with us when we laugh. We need you to pray with us and for us shoulder-to-shoulder every time we gather at Mass.

In our Gospel today, ironically, Jesus puts this very question to the disciples, “Do you also want to leave?” He places the question to us today as well. Do you want to leave? But, when we ponder leaving the church and giving up on her, hear the words of St. Peter today, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of everlasting life.” The disciples, too, were caught up in the scandal of the Eucharist. They could not understand Jesus’ teaching about His Body and Blood. But, they also knew that they could not leave their Lord.

You know, in the midst of my own reflection on this moment in the church this week, I found myself in many special places in addition to my usual duties: at the funeral of a dear friend who passed away this week who so deeply loved the Lord; later celebrating Mass in the nursing home and seeing the great joy that our Eucharistic Lord brought to the people there. I worked with music ministers excited to bring a unique vibrancy to our worship as we embark on our new Sunday evening Mass next week. I found myself gathered with a family around the bedside of a loved one in her final hours of life and the calmness that the presence of Jesus in the Anointing brought her and her family. I met with staff at our school excited for a new school year and the chance to teach our children in a faith-filled environment. I met with parishioners who want to make anonymous donations to fellow parishioners in need from the goodness of their hearts. In other words, I met Jesus over and over this week, and I met Him through good and faithful people like you.

So, my dear parishioners, I know the pain of your heart, the anger that you carry, and the desire to step away from the church, even if for a time. And, if that is your ultimate decision, I support and respect it.

But, more than that, I hope that you’ll stay. “Lord to whom shall we go? We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One from God.” If you love the church, remain within and work for her reform. Pray with us, cry with us, laugh with us, learn with us. Help us together make this the place where we find those words of everlasting life that only Jesus can offer. Stay and ask the Lord to lead us through this moment back into his glorious light.

If you’d like to talk about this more, I’m always available. Just let me know.

Lord, to whom shall we go? May the Lord give you peace.

With love and prayers, Fr. Tom.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Rebuild My Church!


More than 800 years ago, the Catholic church was caught up in the midst of perhaps the greatest scandal it had ever seen, a scandal that revolved largely around the clergy of that time. But into the midst of that scandal, one man, St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of the religious order that I belong to, received a miraculous message from Jesus speaking to him from a cross in a small chapel in the Italian countryside. From that cross, Jesus said, “Francis, rebuild my church which you can see is in ruins.” As we know, St. Francis responded to that command of the Lord and ushered in one of the greatest reforms the Church has ever seen, and one of the greatest ages of holiness in the long history of Christianity. St. Francis’ plan for reform was nothing more complicated than the simple belief that the Gospel can be lived; that the Gospel must be lived by all who profess it.

I have been thinking a lot about that story from the life of St. Francis, and that command of Jesus from the cross because as we know, this has been a rough week to be a Catholic in the United States. As the scandal of clergy abuse once again rears its ugly head – from the report out of Pennsylvania, to the story out of St. John’s Seminary in Boston, to the now-disgraced Cardinal McCarrick – this has been a week that challenges many of us as members of the Church. And it is particularly difficult because this is not the first time we have been here. Nearly 15 years ago this scourge first came to public attention and we were mortified that the very priests and bishops we hold in such high esteem could somehow be the perpetrators of such great crimes. We thought and we hoped and we prayed after that terrible moment that we had recognized our wrongs, purged our ranks, changed our ways, cared for those victimized, pledged to never let this happen again.

And yet, here we are – again. I speak today not only as a priest, not only as your pastor. I speak simply as a fellow Catholic in the pew next to you with you. I hear your and anger and I share your anger. And like you, I want to know, how do we move forward from this to be true to our call as a Church faithful to her Lord. Like you I have been on a roller coaster of emotions as these stories have played out in the media. We are angry and hurt. We are embarrassed that these stories are again in the headlines – and even more furious that after more than a decade of focus on the protection of children, the leadership of the church, despite the tremendous progress it has made, has still not yet handled this in a way that gives all of us the assurance that abuse will be rooted out no matter the cost.

These moments can be for those of us who remain faithful members of the Body of Christ disheartening and dispiriting. Among the most heartbreaking questions I have heard this week are the questions that ask, “Why should I even remain a Catholic?” There are two great tragedies that arise from this scandal. First and foremost are the innocent lives of young people that are damaged when those who are supposed to be models of faith and holiness violate their sacred trust. But, the second tragedy are those who lose their faith, lose their church because its leadership has proved unworthy of that trust.

In this moment, it is important that we do three things. First, we must support and pray for every victim of abuse. We must comfort them, help them in their pain, and seek out justice in their name. The second thing we need to do is to continue to make our voice heard to the leadership of the church – to our bishops, cardinals, and even the pope – that we as the people of God will not allow this scandal in any form, or to any degree, continue. We cannot rest until this scandal is truly in our past.

The third things we need to do is to remember why we are Catholic in the first place, and why it is so important that we remain. I don’t know about you, but I am not a Catholic because of any priest, bishop, or even pope. Let me offer a few reasons why, even in the midst of this scandal, we should not abandon our faith or our church.

The first reason is of course because of Jesus. In a profound way, that’s really the only answer. We are Catholic because of Jesus and we stay because of Jesus. We know what life is like without Him. Life without Jesus lacks meaningful purpose; it lacks true direction. We cannot imagine life without Jesus. And, yes, we can find Jesus outside of the church, but this is His church, the one He founded and the way He is present here is like no other place on earth. Jesus promised us that He would never abandon His church, he would never abandon us. God is so much bigger than this moment and ultimately it is our closeness to Jesus that will bring true healing.

When we experience Jesus True Presence in the Eucharist at Mass, or sit in front of the Blessed Sacrament, we get to experience God in a way that many people don’t. Not because of anything that we’ve done to deserve it, but because by God’s grace we know that it He is truly there in front of us. His presence is real. This is the same Jesus we encounter in the confessional who forgives our sins, every time treating us with tender mercy and compassion. It is this Jesus that welcomes the newborn in baptism, blesses couples who marry, who is by the side of the sick and dying as they breath their final breath. We stay because Jesus is present to us and good to us. Every single day, Jesus is good to us.

The second reason we are Catholic is because this is our home, our family. We were born into this family of faith and community of believers and our lives with Jesus are not solitary. It is a life that is lived with others, and it is through them – through you – that we encounter our Lord every day. We need each other. Just think of the ways that God invites us to be His presence through actions great and small. It is this home, this family, this community, that is the place we discover the presence of God in our lives, that we nurture that presence of God, and that we are invited to be the presence of God in our world.

Third, we remain Catholic because it is within this church that we find hope. Every day as our world tries to drag us into darkness, the church remains a beacon of light and hope that speaks words of life into the darkness of the world. It is here that the message is always that we are loved, that we are welcomed, that we are forgiven. It is here that the darkness comes to die as the light of Christ conquers all. Even the most hopeless situations become opportunities for goodness, holiness, and light. And it is that hope that tells us that even in the midst of scandal, love, justice, and mercy will prevail – that our church can and will heal.

We remain Catholic because we know in the depths of our hearts that even despite her failings, we can’t live without the Church. She is our home and our family; she is our beacon in the storm, and our light in the darkness. She is the place where we encounter God most profoundly and discover who we are in God’s sight. And as St. Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of everlasting life.” We need the Church and the Church needs each one of us.

A man came across three masons who were chipping granite from large blocks. He asked the first what he was doing. He responded, “I’m just hammering this stupid rock.” He approached the second with the same question. He said, “Well, I’m molding this block so it can be used to construct a wall.” He approached the third, who said proudly, “I am building a cathedral!”

My friends, in the midst of scandal, we too can feel as though we’re just hammering away for no good reason. But we must always remember that for we who believe – even in the midst of our brokenness – that resurrection is always the final chapter of our story. Let us hear the words that Jesus spoke to Francis as He speaks them now again to us and rebuild this cathedral that is the church – a cathedral made not of stone and mortar, but build of living stones – built of you and me; built of love and kindness; compassion and mercy; healing and holiness and strength. And let us rebuild it the same way Francis did, by embracing the Gospel in everything we do, and calling our brothers and sisters – all the way up to our bishops and pope – to build this cathedral with us, so we can once and for all leave this scandal behind. It is time to rebuild again – together. Will you build it with me?

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

What are you hungry for?


A priest friend of mine tells a story of a time a few years ago when he was asked to preside at a very fancy wedding in Rhinebeck, New York. The wedding was as lavish as you would imagine, with all the bells and whistles. After the ceremony, he went to the reception to lead the guests in grace before the meal. The reception was held on the grounds of a grand mansion under a beautiful tent. Laid out before the guests was the most sumptuous buffet you could imagine. There was a large table as long as the eye could see with an ice sculpture in the middle, and arrayed around it were piles of lobsters, shrimp, and shellfish of every kind. As he was about to say the prayer, the shy little flower girl stood by his side trying to see what was on the table. The girl asked what was going on and Father explained that everyone was getting ready to enjoy all the delicious food. The little girl then stepped on her tip-toes to get a better look at the table. She saw all of the lobsters, shrimp, and everything else and said, “But, when does the good food come out? When do they bring out the Fruit loops?”

We find ourselves today in the midst of a four-week cycle that invites us to reflect upon the incredible gift of the Eucharist. Last week we saw the multiplication of loaves and fishes; next week Jesus tells us that He is “the bread of life;” and the week after that He will remind us that whoever eats His flesh and drinks His blood “has eternal life.” While these weeks focus naturally on the material of the Eucharist – this bread from Heaven, this manna in the desert, this flesh and blood – today reminds us that there is more to eating than food. Jesus said, “Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” In other words, Jesus is asking a simple question, and it’s the same one really that the flower girl was asking: what do we hunger for?

Jesus offers us the most incredible food ever – a food that feeds not merely the body for a moment, but the soul for eternity; but he wants to know if this is what we want to eat. We know that we are faced with many competing hungers – things that get in the way of God like hungers for wealth, power, material goods, or popularity; and of course other hungers that come from God like the hunger for love, truth, holiness, happiness, and everlasting life. In our Gospel, Jesus addresses this issue with those who pursued Him after the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves that we heard last week. He wants to know – are they merely seeking signs and wonders? Do they just want more bread? Are they simply hungry for things which satisfy the body today or are they really hungry for what matters – the things that can satisfy the heart and soul? Jesus echoes the question posed by the prophet Isaiah: “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?”

We are reminded that only God can satisfy the spiritual hunger in our heart and soul – the hunger for truth, for holiness, for completeness, for wholeness, for happiness, and for love. So, what are we hungry for? Jesus wants us to be hungry for a life of love and service, the kind of service He modeled during His time among us. He wants us to be hungry for forgiveness that connects us to God's mercy and kindness. He wants us to be hungry for a life of holiness and purity that reflects God's own holiness. And, He wants us to be hungry for a life of obedience to God’s will and trust in God’s plan for our lives, which gives witness to the wisdom of God. In other words, we are called as St. Augustine said to “become what we receive.” This is what the Eucharist is all about – not that we merely consume the Body and Blood of Jesus today, but that we become it; that we become Christ in our world, to one another; that we become what we receive today.

It all comes down to that question we began – what are we hungry for? Are we hungry to be fed on the bread that the world offers? That is a false bread, and will only satisfy for a moment but leaves us ultimately incomplete. Or do we hunger for the bread that comes from heaven; the miraculous bread-become-Body and wine-become-Blood made present in our midst on this altar? Do we thirst for the words of everlasting life?

The crowd we see in today’s Gospel clamor for Jesus not because they want holiness and eternal life; they just want more bread. They want to make him a mere king who fills the stomach. But Jesus chastises them for missing the opportunity before them: “You are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled.” Because of this, Jesus hid away from them. He did not want to be identified primarily with feeding stomachs. He wanted to be seen as One who has come to nourish the human spirit with the food that satisfies every hunger of the human heart, the food that does not perish but that gives life eternally.

The Lord wants to know today, what do we hunger for? Do we hunger for Him and Him alone? He is ready to feed us once again today and everyday. Are we hungry for what only Jesus can give?

“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Do YOU believe in miracles?


It can be hard to pick the greatest moment in sports history. Some people might name Michael Phelps record number of gold medals making him the greatest athlete in Olympic history. Definitely, the Red Sox 2004 World Series victory ending an 86 year curse is way towards the top of the list. But, I think, for me, the greatest moment would have to be the 1980 winter Olympics when the U.S. hockey team defeated the dominant Soviet hockey team for the gold medal. This rag-tag group of American amateurs handed a major upset to the seasoned Soviet team who were expected to easily win gold. As I recall that moment you can probably still hear the voice of broadcaster Al Michaels as he shouted out, “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” The U.S. hockey team in that moment accomplished what seemed to be the impossible and we still refer to this moment as the “Miracle on Ice.” I still get choked up watching the last 30 seconds of that game.

Of all of the great moments in sports history, this is probably the only one that ever asked a theological question – do you believe in miracles? – and gave the right answer – YES! Now, of course, in the proper theological sense this was not a miracle, even though it was spectacular, but the question uttered at the end of that game speaks to us today – Do YOU believe in miracles?

We know that our secular world often makes no room for miracles or spiritual realities and is instead limited only to what can be observed and verified. We are taught to be skeptical when things seem too good to be true. Today's Gospel is a good example. Some look at today’s story of the feeding of the 5,000 with skepticism. Skeptical Bible scholars pose questions about whether or not Jesus actually fed that many people. Maybe the miracle is that everyone shared, they say. But our eyes of faith open us to the possibility that God does indeed accomplish miracles in our midst. Faith tells us that Jesus did feed a multitude, Jesus did heal countless people who were ill, Jesus did cast demons out of the possessed, He did raise the official’s daughter and His friend Lazarus from the dead, Jesus did Himself rise from the dead, and He perhaps closer to our own experience – Jesus does offer us His real Body and Blood in the Eucharist, the forgiveness of our sins, and so much more. These things are all spectacular, and beyond the ordinary, but we believe because our faith convinces us that with God anything, in fact, everything is possible.

In our passage today, John mentions two disciples by name: Philip and Andrew. In this passage, they represent these two types of faith. Philip is the skeptic, not ready to accept a miracle. To the problem of all these hungry people Philip responds, “Two hundred days' wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little,” he says.

Andrew’s faith, on the other hand, makes room for miracles and so he becomes a partner in one with Jesus. Andrew says, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish.” Now, Andrew was realistic enough to know that five loaves and two fish were nothing before a crowd of more than 5,000, yet he had enough faith to see that it was enough for a start. His faith helped him to see that possibility, to know that miracles build on nature. Perhaps Andrew remembered the marriage feast at Cana where Jesus turned water into wine. Jesus didn’t make wine out of nothing at Cana; He made it from something – the water presented to Him. Andrew understood that it’s the disciple’s job to provide the basic something which Jesus in His love would then transform, like water into wine; or that He could multiply, like bread and fish to feed a hungry crowd. Expectant faith does not make us fold our hands, do nothing, and simply look to heaven. Rather it encourages us to make our best contribution – our five loaves and two fish – knowing that without it there would be no miracle. You see, a miracle is not God working for us; it is God working with us and through us, and in turn us working with God.

A skeptic looks at the feeding of 5,000 and says, “That probably didn’t really happen.” But the person of faith looks and says, “5,000 people is that all? Jesus has been miraculously feeding millions, even billions of people through his Body and Blood at Mass for over 2,000 years.” Have you ever stopped to realize that you and I are part of the greatest miracle of multiplication each and every time we worship? Jesus spoke those words once, 2,000 years ago, “This is my body. This is my blood,” and the Eucharist continues to be multiplied in our presence since then.

Jesus continues to multiply that meager offering every time we gather for the Eucharist. At every Mass we simply offer Him some bread and wine to work with, and for more than 2,000 years He continually transforms that into His very Body and Blood; His real and abiding presence in our midst. So, we should believe in miracles, not only because we have faith, but also because we have eyes that see it at every Mass, hands that touch and hold and receive, and bodies that consume that miraculous bread become Body over and over again. The Eucharist is the most incredible miraculous feeding of the multitude in history – and it is still going on!

God needs us to do our part and whatever we do, He will multiply, He will transform – often with miraculous results. Henry Ford once said, "Whether you think you can or not, you are right." The same is true of our ability to be a force of change in the world. Believers, by believing, open their lives to miracles. Skeptics block their chances of experiencing a miracle. If we truly believe that Jesus did heal, did cast out demons, did raise people from the dead, did offer the Eucharist, did rise from the dead Himself – if we believe that, just imagine what He will do in our lives and through our lives if we’re open to Him.

Jesus is just waiting to let a miracle happen through our own faith in Him. Jesus often said, “According to your faith will it be done to you.” Let us pray today and everyday to have the expectant faith of Andrew, to be open to what God wants to do in our lives. Let us today and always bring our meager offering to the Lord with the certainty that He can change it, multiply it, transform it into a miracle. Through our faith, truly miraculous things will happen.

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Seeking the sea of our own tranquility


See if you can finish this sentence for me, “One small step for man…” Right, “one giant leap for mankind.” I have been enjoying the different programs and stories commemorating the 49th anniversary of the moon landing this week, which happened on July 20, 1969. I don’t really have a personal memory of the event, as I was 10 months old at the time, but we’ve all seen that famous footage of Neil Armstrong stepping off the ladder of his lander onto the surface of the moon.

The image of the moon landing is a helpful one as we reflected on our Gospel today. Jesus invited His apostles to “come away…to a deserted place and rest awhile.” Now, you certainly cannot find a more deserted place than the surface of the moon, in a quiet and airless place known as the Sea of Tranquility. And of course, the middle of July is a time of year when many seek out our own “Sea of Tranquility,” our own deserted place where we try to unwind. It’s summertime which means vacation time. Now, for some, vacation isn’t to such a deserted place. Some might go to Disney World, or visit a big city. I returned a few weeks ago from Hampton Beach in New Hampshire. Surely some of you here today are visiting as vacationers coming from places both far or not so far, visiting Cape Cod for your holiday.

Now Cape Cod traffic surely feels very far away from the Sea of Tranquility, but whatever you do this summer, whether vacation or staycation, Jesus invites you to “come away…and rest awhile.” Summertime and vacation time is an important time to renew our bodies, to rest from our work, to engage in different, relaxing pursuits. But, we also need to make the time to renew our souls, renew our spirits, renew our faith. When I am on vacation, my favorite times of day are sunrise and sunset at the beach. There is something so beautiful and spiritual about those moments; something that connects me deeply to God in creation. It renews me and renews my soul.

Thinking of the moon landing, one of the more surprising stories is one that is not so widely known, but it is one that speaks deeply of faith. Neil Armstrong, of course, gets all the focus of the moon landing as the first man to walk on the surface of the moon, and speak his famous first words, but the other astronaut, Buzz Aldrin, also did something that was spectacular, and perhaps even more profound, as a man of faith.

He and Armstrong had only been on the lunar surface for a few minutes when Aldrin made the following public statement to the listening world, “I’d like to take this opportunity to ask every person listening in, whoever and wherever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his or her own way.” He then ended radio communication and there, on the silent surface of the moon, 250,000 miles from home prayed. Here are his words, “In the radio blackout, I opened little plastic packages which contained bread and wine. I poured the wine into a chalice my church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon, the wine slowly curled and gracefully came up the side of the cup. Then I read the Scripture where Jesus says, ‘I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever lives in me will bring forth much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing.’ Then, I ate the tiny host and swallowed the wine. I gave thanks for the intelligence and spirit that had brought two young pilots to the Sea of Tranquility. It was interesting for me to think: the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the very first food eaten there, were the elements of holy communion.”

It is amazing to think that among the first words spoken on the moon were the words of Jesus Christ, who made the Earth and the moon — and Who, in the words of Dante, is Himself the “Love that moves the Sun and other stars.” It was nonetheless a humble and holy act of remembrance. “Do this in remembrance of me,” Jesus said. Well, Buzz Aldrin remembered. In the peacefulness of the Sea of Tranquility, he traveled to the moon and remembered The One who made it possible.

How about us? Now, none of us are headed to the moon, but what will we remember in the quiet moments of this summertime? Will we find the quiet spaces in the midst of our busy lives to remember the One who makes it all possible? Let us take our faith with us on every journey we make, whether near or far. Because God is there. Seen or unseen, God is always present. Let us acknowledge that presence, and celebrate it, and allow God’s abiding presence to renew our souls.

Every Mass, every moment of prayer, is a chance to “go away with Jesus and rest awhile.” Let us offer the God who has given us so much – our lives, our livelihoods, our families, our faith – let us offer Him our love, our time, our praise. Let us find the moments to say, quite simply, “Thank you for this.” Nothing offers us more refreshment and renewal than the time we spend with God deeply immersed in prayer.

One of the lessons of today’s Gospel is that after the apostles had done their amazing work – we heard last week about the miracles they performed – they returned to Christ, who reminded them that the job of being a faithful Christian isn’t all work. It’s also rest. It’s also prayer. It’s also renewal and refreshment. It is seeking out a deserted place to find peace we so desperately need in our lives. In the chaos of daily life, each of us needs to return to Christ, and to find a deserted place to rest, a sea of our own tranquility for prayer with our God.

As we recall what transpired on the moon nearly 50 years ago, let us remember that the deepest and most tranquil sea is one we often take for granted. It is God’s love available to us every time we pray. Let us meet God in that tranquil place, one small step at a time.

May the Lord give you peace.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

We hold these truths to be self evident...

Happy Independence Day! Sort of. You may know that the Second Continental Congress actually voted to separate from Great Britain on July 2, 1776, but it took a few days to do the paperwork. John Adams was certain that July 2nd would be commemorated as our nation's Day of Independence (since it was the actual day). So certain, he wrote to his wife Abigail on July 3, "The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more." But, the Declaration itself had that "July 4th" date so prominently displayed at the top, that ended up winning the day. Some had also suggested August 2 as our national celebration since that was the day that most of the colonial representatives actually signed the document. Interesting history, but I think we can agree 242 years later, the issue is settled - HAPPY 4th!! Personally, a tradition I follow each year is to read the Declaration of Independence out loud. It is a wonderful experience. The words are powerful and often inspiring. I hope you try it: It also seems more important now than ever to remember who we are as a nation, who we strive to be. 

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

— John Hancock
New Hampshire:Josiah BartlettWilliam WhippleMatthew Thornton
Massachusetts:John HancockSamuel AdamsJohn AdamsRobert Treat PaineElbridge Gerry
Rhode Island:Stephen HopkinsWilliam Ellery
Connecticut:Roger ShermanSamuel HuntingtonWilliam WilliamsOliver Wolcott
New York:William FloydPhilip LivingstonFrancis LewisLewis Morris
New Jersey:Richard StocktonJohn WitherspoonFrancis HopkinsonJohn HartAbraham ClarkPennsylvania:Robert MorrisBenjamin RushBenjamin FranklinJohn MortonGeorge ClymerJames SmithGeorge TaylorJames WilsonGeorge Ross
Delaware:Caesar RodneyGeorge ReadThomas McKean
Maryland:Samuel ChaseWilliam PacaThomas StoneCharles Carroll of Carrollton
Virginia:George WytheRichard Henry LeeThomas JeffersonBenjamin HarrisonThomas Nelson, Jr.Francis Lightfoot LeeCarter Braxton
North Carolina:William HooperJoseph HewesJohn Penn
South Carolina:Edward RutledgeThomas Heyward, Jr.Thomas Lynch, Jr.Arthur Middleton
Georgia:Button GwinnettLyman HallGeorge Walton

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Some people just can't tell a joke


A young man considering a vocation with the Franciscans was invited to dinner at the local friary one evening. As dinner went on, from time-to-time, one of the friars would stand up and say a number and the rest of the friars would laugh hysterically. One stood up and said, “72,” and everyone laughed. Another said, “149,” and again everyone laughed. Another said, “14,” and again, everyone laughed. Confused, the young man asked what was going on. “Well, you see, we’ve all lived together for a long time,” one friar said, “By now, we know each other jokes by heart, so we numbered them all to save time. Someone says a number and we remember the joke and laugh,” then he said, “Why don’t you give it a try. We have 300 jokes, just stand and say any number you like.” The young man stood tentatively and said, “107,” and there was nothing but silence. The man sat down and asked what went wrong. He said, “What can I tell you? Some people just can’t tell a joke.”

I was thinking of this today because I think there’s something like this going on in our Gospel. I think Jesus is telling us a bit of a joke, but I didn’t notice anyone laughing as I read it today. It was a classic case of the flop.

So, what’s the joke? Well, as we heard in the Gospel, Jesus asks the familiar question, “To what shall we compare the Kingdom of God?” Now if you think about how you might answer that question, most of us would probably choose something amazing to compare the Kingdom of God to. We might choose, for example, the image we heard in our First Reading from Ezekiel – the great and mighty cedar tree. This is an image that is used over and over again in the Old Testament and cedars are mighty trees. They were large and strong, they soar into the sky as high as 200 feet. Standing at their base it might feel you could climb them all the way to Heaven. Certainly a worthy comparison to the Kingdom of God.

But, instead of something so majestic, Jesus said, “It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth.” And, I think this is his joke. Instead of a mighty cedar, Jesus is essentially comparing God’s kingdom to something like a weed; that’s what the mustard bush was after all. We might understand better if it were told like this: the Kingdom of God is like dandelion seed, which, when sown into your lawn will drive you crazy all summer long!”

As always, though, Jesus is telling His little joke to make a much bigger point. The point is that we may want the Kingdom of God to be like the beautiful, majestic cedar tree shooting all the way to Heaven itself, but the reality is that God’s Kingdom needs to be a little closer to earth; a little closer to our reality. How many of us have seen a 200 foot cedar tree? Not many. And how about those dandelions? Just about everyone. The Kingdom of God needs to be persistent – as persistent as we must be to rid of our lawns of dandelions. The Kingdom of God will not simply arrive and remain forever. It will pop up over here, and then over there, and again over there. And, we need to be the ones continually planting those tiny little seeds of the Kingdom so it becomes present in our world. We are the dandelions of the Kingdom that God wants popping up here and there and everywhere.

We help to bring forth that Kingdom when we commit ourselves to Kingdom values – peacemaking in the face of conflict, offering forgiveness instead of vengeance and retribution, justice in the face of corruption, generosity instead of the overwhelming greed in our world. We are called to be sowers of that little seed of the Kingdom, that seed of faith; to make our own personal contribution to the presence and the growth of God’s Kingdom.

Kingdoms don’t grow by themselves. Each one of us counts. The seeds we sow in God’s name have enormous potential. They are the principles we hold dear, the loving witness that we give, the faithful promises we make and keep, the needy people we help to raise out of poverty, injustice or despair. They are the prayers we say, the children we welcome into relationship with Christ, the Holy Masses we celebrate, the hurts we forgive, the kindness we show, the family members, neighbors and even enemies we love and forgive. The seed can be all sorts of things – a listening ear, an encouraging word, a happy memory shared. And it is our job to plant those seeds here, there, and everywhere; over and over and over again.

My friends, the seeds we plant will take root and grow and the presence of the Kingdom of God will be more and more in our midst if we remain persistent in spreading them. And, that’s no joke. Bring forth the Kingdom of God!

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

First Communion, Last Communion, and all the ones in between


Earlier this week, I was called to the ICU at the hospital for an urgent call for someone who was near death. The person in question had been away from the Church, away from the Mass, away from the Eucharist for more than 50 years. They wanted nothing more on that day to be reconciled. I spent some time in conversation, and then brought the grace that comes from the Anointing of the Sick, and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Then I said, “Would you like to receive Holy Communion?” Their eyes widened incredulous, “Is that possible?” “Absolutely,” I said. “Your sins have been forgiven and God wants to be close to you.” We prayed again and then I gave communion to someone with the most beaming face I’ve ever seen. As I left that hospital room, all I could hear repeating over and over was, “Thank you Jesus. Thank you Jesus. Thank you Jesus.”

Today we the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, often called simply Corpus Christi. Too often we don’t really think about the Eucharist that much; we receive the Eucharist often out of habit more than an action of faith. For me, this feast calls to mind different powerful experiences of the Eucharist; those First Communions as we experienced a few weeks ago in the parish; the Last Communions like I experienced this week, and the many others in between.

Think of the little girl or boy, dressed in white, approaching the altar for their First Holy Communion. There have already been big events in their lives – birthdays, Christmas celebrations, the first day of school. But, this First Holy Communion is in many ways the climax of their young lives. We all witness that as the children move expectantly towards the altar; their eyes transfixed on the Host. With practiced hands they receive the Host and pass it reverently to their lips. God is with these children now, in a temple innocent and pure.

We also think of the woman or man waiting on their deathbed for the last Holy Communion. There have been big events in their lives too – wedding days, the birth of children, the first time they were called “Mom” or “Grampa.” And now with their last Holy Communion comes the climax of their final years. The priest moves near. They open their eyes as they did in their childhood, raise their white-haired head from the pillow and welcome the Savior with all of the fervor their body will allow. God is with them now, and will be with them for all eternity.

The First Holy Communion is always a fervent one. So is the Last Holy Communion. We bring to the first one the freshness of youth; we bring to the last one the clarity that age brings to life. But, how about today – we find ourselves at one of those countless Holy Communions in between. How can we renew that fervor for Jesus in the Eucharist today and come to understand its value in our lives?

In Holy Communion, Jesus nourishes us. He gives us food for our souls. In the Gospel of John Jesus says, “If you do not eat of the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.” What soil does for a plant, what milk does for a baby, Holy Communion does for our soul. By receiving regularly and with fervor, we will thrive spiritually on the body and blood of Christ.

In Holy Communion, Jesus makes us one with Himself. We know in life that people can be close to each other in many ways – as fellow workers, as friends. The most intimate human relationship we know is that of two united through marriage. But, the closest intimacy possible for us is the intimacy found in the Eucharist. Again Jesus says in John, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in them.” It isn’t a question of living with another person, like in marriage, but of living in one another, sharing the same life. In Holy Communion we share the life of Jesus. This union began in our Baptism, was strengthened in Confirmation, but reaches its peak in Holy Communion. We return to that peak of intimacy and union every time we receive Holy Communion.

In Holy Communion, Jesus makes us one with each other. This sacrament is not only an intimacy between ourselves and Jesus. It is also a love affair that embraces the whole community. It is not just my personal communion with Christ; it is our shared communion with each other in Christ. As St. Paul said, “As there is one bread, so we, although there are many of us, are one single body, for we all share in the one bread.” This is not a personal sacrament; it is not a straight line of contact between you and Jesus alone. It is a social sacrament, a circle that includes Christ, yourself and all of your brothers and sisters – the one on your left and right, in front and behind. As members of this community, we are not like stones scattered around a field; instead we are likes stones built up into a wall, keeping each other in place and being kept in place by others. When we stand before this altar, it is a sign of our love for each other, a pledge of kindness and compassion towards each other – a love that finds its source in the Eucharist; in this Eucharist.

Finally, reception of Holy Communion is an assurance of our Heavenly destiny. Jesus said, “Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I shall raise that person on the last day.” Our individual resurrection may seem remote to us now at this point in our lives, so remote that our mind can’t focus on it. But, as remote as it may seem, the Resurrection is the one event on which we base all our hope. Death never wins the day; Heaven does. Every time. We are not born for death; we are born for eternity; for Heaven. And we have it on the word of our Savior that, if we are faithful to the Eucharist, we too will rise on the Last Day. It is a mighty thought, a happy thought, a hopeful thought.

And so we pray today that through the great gift of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Jesus, that we may all be nourished, that we may be united with our Lord, united with one another and assured of our eternal home in Heaven. May God increase in us our love and devotion for the Body and Blood of His Son.

And may we leave this place repeating in the depths of our hearts, “Thank you Jesus. Thank you Jesus. Thank you Jesus.”

May the Lord give you peace.

Who do you say that I am?

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