Saturday, May 27, 2017

Live for Heaven

In the top drawer of my desk I keep a prayer card that had belonged to my Aunt Pat. Aunt Pat was my Dad’s oldest sister and she passed away a few years ago. The night before her funeral, her daughters gave me this prayer card, which they had found in her well-worn Bible. The card contained a well-known poem often read at funeral’s called “Safely Home.” But, in the margins my Aunt had handwritten two notes. One said simply, “Please read this at my funeral.” But on the other side she had written, “My last prayer is that you all get right with God, so I’ll see you all again.” Aunt Pat, especially as she was nearing her own death, had a mind and a heart that was fixed firmly on Heaven – and she wanted the same for all of the people she loved.

While I’m sure we all want to get to Heaven, I would bet that getting there isn’t something most of us think about on any given day. This is for two reasons. First, the practical demands of everyday life on earth usually grab our attention even though Jesus came to earth to lead us to Heaven, or as we’ll hear in the Eucharistic Prayer today, “Where Christ has gone, we hope to follow.” Heaven is the goal; Heaven is the destination of our lives on earth. How foolish a traveler would be to struggle forward without ever thinking about where they are going!

But there is another reason why we don’t give too much thought to Heaven: it’s simply because imagining eternal life is hard for us. Jesus gives us some insight today. He said, “Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one you sent, Jesus Christ.”

We all know that the greatest joy of our lives is the relationships of love we are blessed with. What would all of the most beautiful things in the world be – the wonders of nature, the joy of children and family, beautiful works of art, even nice homes and cool cars – what would these be without others to share them with? Loving relationships make life’s most ordinary activities enjoyable and meaningful.

Today Jesus is telling us that Heaven is nothing more or less than a perfect relationship of love, an everlasting getting-to-know-God, Christ, the saints, being reunited with our loved ones who have gone before us. These relationships will never get boring or tedious, because God is infinite, and getting to know Him is an adventure that will never end. If the best human friendships never lose their luster, how much more indescribable will our eternal friendship with God be!

C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia series has a beautiful way of explaining the reality of that Heavenly relationship with God. Narnia tells the story of English school children who find their way into another world where they have many adventures and go on special quests to defeat the forces of evil. All the children love Narnia, and they love their adventures there; and are always sorry to have to go back to England at the end of each adventure.

At the end of the last book, however, it turns out that they don’t have to go back. They are permitted to stay in “Aslan’s Country” forever, which in the books is the equivalent of Heaven. Lewis describes this reality, “For [the children], [the end of the books] was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the title and the cover page. Now at last, they were beginning Chapter One of the great story, which no one on earth has read, which goes on forever, in which every chapter is better than the one before.” Compared to life in Heaven, absolutely everything that had come before, all the amazing adventures and thrilling experiences, were nothing more than a hint, a faint idea of how wonderful the rest of the chapters were. And life in Heaven was always getting better and better, like a book with an endless amount of chapters, each one better than the last.

In his encyclical, “Saved in Hope,” Pope Emeritus Benedict gave a simple suggestion of how we can daily lead lives focused on Heaven. He suggested reviving the tradition of “offering up” the small trials of each day, those little sufferings, pains, and inconveniences, that we all go through all the time. We all experience them. No one escapes them. From traffic jams to money worries, the trials of daily life affect us all. “Offering them up” simply means turning them into a prayer. Instead of complaining, we turn our minds to Christ, and we unite our small sufferings with Christ’s redeeming sacrifice, joining them with God’s plan of redemption. By doing this, we keep our hearts set on the Lord. And if we do that, with the help of God, eternal life will surely be ours.

My friends, my Aunt Pat had it right: let us get ourselves right with God so that in the glory and complete and perfect joy that is Heaven, we will see each other again. Or as St. Bernadette Soubirous said, “Let us work for Heaven: all the rest is nothing.”

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

You are God's people now


A mother was preparing pancakes for her young sons, David and Billy. The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake. Their mother saw the opportunity to teach the boys a good moral lesson and said, “Boys, if Jesus were sitting here, He would say ‘Let my brother have the first pancake, I can wait.’” And so, David turned to his younger brother and said, “Billy, you be Jesus!”

Have you ever thought about the reality that you have been called by God? Each one of us didn’t end up here by accident today. We are Catholics today for one singular reason – because God has called us to be. Now, typically when we talk about being called, we are usually talking only about those whose vocation it is to be a priest, a deacon, or a consecrated religious brother or sister, but being called by God, God having a plan for our lives, this is something that belongs to each and every one of us. God calls each of us just personally, He calls each of us tenderly.

We heard this in our second reading today, from St. Peter’s First Letter. He said, “Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house…You are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises’ of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” And the very next verse beyond our reading, St. Peter says, “Once you were ‘no people’ but now you are God’s people.” These words of St. Peter are directed to all the baptized, all those who call themselves Christians, to all of us. And Peter reminds us today that we are chosen, we are God’s own. He has called US out of darkness. We were no people and now we are God’s people. Each and every one of us!

When we fully embrace the fact that God has called us, we gain a clarity about our identity, a clarity about who God wants us to be. It is this God-given identity that we are being called to share with the world. The world needs to know the people called by God. Our action in the world needs to be a recognizable reflection of the God who has called us.

I read a wonderful book a few years ago by Marilyn Robinson called Gilead. It is the fictional autobiography of an elderly congregational pastor writing letters to his young son for posterity. In one passage he writes, “When you encounter another person, when you have dealings with anyone at all, it is as if a question is being put to you - What is the Lord asking of me in this moment? If you confront insult or antagonism, your first impulse will be to respond in kind. But if you think, this is an emissary sent from the Lord, and some benefit is intended for me, first of all the chance to show that I do in some small degree participate in the grace that saved me, well, then you are free to act differently than the circumstances would seem to dictate. You are free to act by your own light. You are freed of the impulse to hate or resent the person. Calvin says somewhere that each of us is an actor on a stage and God is the audience. That metaphor has always interested me, because it makes us artists of our behavior. How well do we understand our role? With how much assurance do we perform it?”

I love the thought that God calls us to be present in the world as artists of our behavior, artists of our faith, artists who paint the world with the love of God, consciously responding to the challenges that our world presents in ways that transform them into something new and holy. And it is all about our identity in Christ, and identity given to us through our call. An identity that means to implant in us and bring out from us incredible joy.

If we are artists, the color we are called to paint the world with is the color of joy. Pope Francis speaks about joy constantly. It is his major theme. In one of his earliest Masses, he said, “A Christian is a man or a woman of joy. Jesus teaches us this, the Church teaches us this. Joy is a gift from God. It fills us from within. It is like an anointing of the Spirit. The Christian sings with joy, and walks with joy, and carries this joy.”

This simple message of joy is critical because we know we live in a world that so often lacks joy. We live in a world that is wracked by seemingly endless wars and disease; we live in a culture of political divisiveness; there is poverty and violence all around; there are difficulties in families, in marriages, among children, in all our relationships. To this, the Pope challenges us to live lives that are different than the divisions around us; lives that paint the world with joy. He said, “Joy…always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved” by God.

My friends, this is, what it means for us to be called. You are chosen by God. Now you are God’s people. And He is calling you to radiate joy. We should be joyful as Jesus was joyful, as joyful as Pope Francis is; radiating the joy that is a gift of God.

The Pope said, “I invite all Christians everywhere to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her. Whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms.”

My friends, as we continue our Easter journey, as we encounter Jesus who is waiting for us in this Mass today, I want to renew that invitation of Pope Francis in each of our hearts today. Renew your encounter with Jesus who has called you. Renew your encounter with the God who loves you and who has called you to be a people uniquely His own. Let God’s love be planted in you again so that you may beam with joy.

We have been called to show the world how to love. We are here to be the joyful face of God that conquers the darkness of our hearts, the darkness of our times. Let us be artists of our behavior, artists of our faith, artists who paint the world with the joy that is a gift from God. You were no people, now you are God’s people.

May the Lord give you peace.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

"A poor sinner" | What does Easter mean today?


Three people died and found themselves at the pearly gates of heaven. St. Peter greeted them and said they could only enter if they could answer one simple question, “What is Easter?” The first one replied, “That's easy, it's the holiday in November when everybody gets together, eats turkey, and is thankful.” “Sorry,” said St. Peter, and moved on to the second, “What is Easter?” They replied, “I know. Easter is the holiday in December when we put up a nice tree, exchange presents, and celebrate the birth of Jesus.” St. Peter just shook his head and looked to the third person, “What is Easter?” The third one smiled and said, “Easter is the Christian holiday that coincides with the Jewish celebration of Passover. Jesus and His disciples were eating the Last Supper and He was deceived and turned over to Roman authorities who took Him to be crucified. They made Him wear a crown of thorns, and He was hung on a cross, buried in a nearby cave which was sealed by a large stone,” the man paused before finishing, “Oh, and every year the stone is moved aside so that Jesus can come out, and if He sees his shadow there’s six more weeks of winter.” So close!

My friends, as we gather on this beautiful Easter Sunday morning, St. Peter’s question is a good one for us to ponder as well, “What is Easter?” We know the easy answer, which is good news for us in case St. Peter asks, that Easter celebrates Jesus resurrection from the dead. That’s a deeply powerful theological reality, one that we all hope to share in when our lives come to an end. We want to be raised too. We want to live with Jesus in Heaven forever too. But, what does Easter mean for us today, here, hopefully long before we’re called home?

Today isn’t just another day. We gather today because we are a people who believe in something that should be impossible. We commemorate that a man was raised from the dead. This should not be possible. People don’t rise from the dead all around us. Each and every Sunday we profess this belief, “in the resurrection of the dead.” We believe in the impossibility that death has no hold on us. So what does Easter mean for us today?

Let me tell you a story. Empress Zita of Bourbon was the last Empress of the once great Astro-Hungarian Empire. She died in 1989 and was the last royal of an age past, an age that we usually associate with many centuries ago. Her funeral in 1989 was full of pomp, circumstance and ancient rituals. The most interesting moment came following the funeral Mass when the procession led to the Franciscan church in Vienna where she would be buried in the Imperial Crypt below. Eight thousand mourners filed out of St. Stephen’s Cathedral and fell in line behind the catafalque drawn by six black Noricum stallions.

Two hours later, when the procession reached the entrance of the Church, the pallbearers and friars played out a ceremony dating centuries back. One Franciscan opened a small window in the church door and asked, “Who wishes to enter?” The pallbearers answered, “Zita, Queen of Bohemia, Dalmatia, Croatia, Slavonia, Galicia. Queen of Jerusalem. Grand Duchess of Tuscany and Cracow.” The friar responded, “We know of no one by that name,” and closed the window. A second knock and the friar again asks, “Who wishes to enter?” The response, “Zita, Empress and Royal Apostolic Majesty of Austria, and Apostolic Queen of Hungary.” Again, the friar responded, “I do not know this person.” Finally, a third knock. “Who wishes to enter here?” and the answer from the pallbearers, “Zita of Hapsburg, a poor sinner.” With this answer, the doors of the church opened to receive the queen.

What does Easter mean for us today? It means that the resurrection transforms us and raises us to something new. It completely changes our relationship with God, our relationships with each other, our relationship with the world – bringing to each of them new life and conquering even what has seemed impossible.

It means that in the end the only thing that matters is allowing ourselves to be transformed and becoming that transformation in the world. Empress Zita had all that the world could offer – fame, power, wealth. None of that granted her entry into eternity. Only faith in Jesus, recognition of the need for God, and following God’s ways could do that. The resurrection of Jesus reminds us to once again set our course on Christ, to live lives that give witness to the resurrection by what we say and more importantly by what we do. We make the resurrection present today when we love when it is difficult to love, when we reach out to those who live on the margins of our society, when we go the extra mile and show the unexpected kindness.

To a world that chooses vengeance, we are called to offer gestures of compassion and forgiveness; to a world that seeks only power, money and prestige, we are called to offer gestures of humility and kindness; to a world that selfishly cares only for itself; we are called to offer gestures of love and concern; of openness and acceptance of others. Change often feels impossible, but we are reminded today that we are the people of the impossible and so let us change the world by our gestures of peace and care and joy – especially in the situations, times and places where those gestures are least expected.

There’s a wonderful line at the end of the movie Chocolat. In the final scene on Easter Sunday, the young priest says in his homily, "We can’t go around measuring our goodness by what we don’t do, by what we deny ourselves, what we resist and who we exclude. We’ve got to measure our goodness by what we embrace, what we create and whom we include." This is what Easter means for us today.

The spiritual writer Ron Rolheiser wrote, "Ultimately, belief in the resurrection asks us to believe that, despite a strong experience to the contrary, reality is gracious, light does triumph over darkness, love over self-interest, justice over oppression, peace over chaos, fulfilment over hunger. Faith in the resurrection is the trust that, in the end, everything is good."

Happy Easter and may the Lord give you peace.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The great "patient" who suffers the pain of all humanity | Pope Francis

His Holiness Pope Francis

Today’s celebration can be said to be bittersweet. It is joyful and sorrowful at the same time. We celebrate the Lord’s entrance into Jerusalem to the cries of his disciples who acclaim him as king. Yet we also solemnly proclaim the Gospel account of his Passion. In this poignant contrast, our hearts experience in some small measure what Jesus himself must have felt in his own heart that day, as he rejoiced with his friends and wept over Jerusalem.

For thirty-two years now, the joyful aspect of this Sunday has been enriched by the enthusiasm of young people, thanks to the celebration of World Youth Day. This year, it is being celebrated at the diocesan level, but here in Saint Peter’s Square it will be marked by the deeply moving and evocative moment when the WYD cross is passed from the young people of Krak√≥w to those of Panama.

The Gospel we heard before the procession (cf. Mt 21:1-11) describes Jesus as he comes down from the Mount of Olives on the back of a colt that had never been ridden. It recounts the enthusiasm of the disciples who acclaim the Master with cries of joy, and we can picture in our minds the children and young people of the city who joined in the excitement. Jesus himself sees in this joyful welcome an inexorable force willed by God. To the scandalized Pharisees he responds: “I tell you that if these were silent, the stones would shout out” (Lk 19:40).

Yet Jesus who, in fulfillment of the Scriptures, enters the holy city in this way is no misguided purveyor of illusions, no new age prophet, no imposter. Rather, he is clearly a Messiah who comes in the guise of a servant, the servant of God and of man, and goes to his passion. He is the great “patient”, who suffers all the pain of humanity.

So as we joyfully acclaim our King, let us also think of the sufferings that he will have to endure in this week. Let us think of the slanders and insults, the snares and betrayals, the abandonment to an unjust judgment, the blows, the lashes and the crown of thorns… And lastly, the way of the cross leading to the crucifixion.

He had spoken clearly of this to his disciples: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mt 16:24). Jesus never promised honour and success. The Gospels make this clear. He had always warned his friends that this was to be his path, and that the final victory would be achieved through the passion and the cross. All this holds true for us too. Let us ask for the grace to follow Jesus faithfully, not in words but in deeds. Let us also ask for the patience to carry our own cross, not to refuse it or set it aside, but rather, in looking to him, to take it up and to carry it daily.

This Jesus, who accepts the hosannas of the crowd, knows full well that they will soon be followed by the cry: “Crucify him!” He does not ask us to contemplate him only in pictures and photographs, or in the videos that circulate on the internet. No. He is present in our many brothers and sisters who today endure sufferings like his own: they suffer from slave labour, from family tragedies, from diseases… They suffer from wars and terrorism, from interests that are armed and ready to strike. Women and men who are cheated, violated in their dignity, discarded… Jesus is in them, in each of them, and, with marred features and broken voice, he asks to be looked in the eye, to be acknowledged, to be loved.

It is not some other Jesus, but the same Jesus who entered Jerusalem amid the waving of palm branches. It is the same Jesus who was nailed to the cross and died between two criminals. We have no other Lord but him: Jesus, the humble King of justice, mercy and peace.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Surely we're not blind?

HOMILY FOR THE 4th SUNDAY OF LENT (Laetare Sunday), March 26, 2017:

Join me in song for a moment – you all know this one: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.” Thank you. Beautiful. I think we might have some new members for the Choir here.

I was blind, but now I see. You may have noticed that our Scriptures today are full of these opposing images of darkness vs. light; and blindness vs. sight. “Surely we are not also blind, are we?” is the surprising question that we hear from the Pharisees and it is a question that is meant to resonate in our hearts today as well. Surely, we are not blind also?

Today’s Gospel passage gives us an incredible story of Jesus that functions on different levels. On the surface is a spectacular story of the power of Jesus; His power to heal. How amazing it must have been to be present and see this scene. Everyone knew this man to be blind all his life. And, now through this dramatic action of mud and saliva, Jesus restores physical sight to the man. And, all are amazed, but the story quickly shifts away from that level to the deeper level that asks where true blindness exists? Is it merely in the eyes? Or is real blindness in the heart; in the soul?

The author John Howard Griffin is well known for his book Black Like Me, which describes his experience of living disguised as a black man in the South in the early 1960s during years of bitter racial turmoil. It was also later made into a movie. What is not widely known about Mr. Griffin, though, is that during World War II, he was blinded in an airplane explosion; and he lived for 12 years completely blind. He could not see anything. Then one day, walking down a street near his parent’s home in Texas, he suddenly began to see what he described as “red sand” and without warning his sight returned. A specialist later told him that he had been suffering from a blockage to an optic nerve that had suddenly cleared. Referring to that experience, Griffin told a news reporter, “You can’t imagine what it is like for a father to see his children for the first time. I had constantly pictured them in my mind and then there they were - so much more beautiful that I had ever imagined.”

Blindness, whether physical or spiritual, whether interior or exterior, is about what we are failing or unable to see. You know, the very first words that God speaks in the Bible are these, “Let there be light.” The very first words of God are to make it possible for our eyes to see the beauty of His creation; to literally see His presence that is all around us. When we are spiritually blind – that is really the heart of the matter – we are blind because we have failed to see God who is right in front of us; all around us; speaking to our hearts; speaking to our lives.

Surely, we’re not blind too, are we? This question meant to echo in our hearts today challenges our own blindness that keeps us from seeing God around us. Can we see God here, in this Church? Do we see Him present in His Word and Sacrament; in each other? More importantly, what happens when we walk out of those doors? Do we see God there? In our husbands and wives; in our sons and daughters; in our friends and family and co-workers? How about in the homeless person, the drug addict, the lost and the forsaken? How about in the immigrant, the refugee, the prisoner, even in our enemies?

Our blindness has not fully been healed until no matter where we look, we see only God; we see only a brother or a sister; we see only the Kingdom. There was a curious throw-away line at the beginning of our Gospel. It said, “Go wash in the Pool of Siloam — which means Sent.” We gather in this Church so that God may clear away our blindness, and then we are sent into the world to be His light. So, let there be light. Let us see the light. Let us be the light.

Surely, we are not blind too? Invite God to shine His light on any blindness in our lives; to heal any blindness in our hearts; to illumine any places where we can’t see Him. And let us hear the words of St. Paul meant for us, “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.”

“Lord that we may see.”

Join me again, won’t you? “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.”

May the Lord give you peace!

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Do you believe in a God who loves you?


“Do you believe in a God who loves you? Do you believe in a God who forgives? Are you able to offer forgiveness to those who have hurt you? Are you able to ask forgiveness from them?” These questions came from a pastoral letter issued last year on Ash Wednesday by Bishop Mitchell Rozanski, the bishop of Springfield, and they are words that get at the heart of what Lent is all about.

Bishop Rozanski used this letter as an opportunity to do something rare for a church official – apologizing to and seeking reconciliation with those who have ever felt unwelcome in Church because of their gender, their race, or their sexual orientation.

“Do you believe in a God who loves you? Do you believe in a God who forgives? Are you able to offer forgiveness to those who have hurt you? Are you able to ask forgiveness from them?” I was moved by the bishop’s words because they are words that I know many Catholics have been longing to hear, but also because they struck me at the start of this Lent as the kind of words that should define the very attitude of every Christian; perhaps a sort of mission statement for us all. Pope Francis said early in his papacy, “Let the Church always be a place of mercy and hope, where everyone is welcomed, loved and forgiven.”

Our Gospel today presents us with the temptation of Jesus in the desert. In this moment, the Devil tempts Jesus with very worldly things – he tempts Him with all the power and glory, wealth and fame, that the world can muster. Jesus doesn’t take the bait. He knows that the things being offered to Him are weak and pitiful in the light of what is real and true in God’s sight. He knows that all of the money or power in the world can’t bring about the change that mercy, love, reconciliation, compassion, healing, forgiveness, and joy can. He knows this with certainty in the depths of His heart and so these temptations, in the end, are no temptation at all.

My friends, as we stand at the start of this Lenten journey once again I ask you: “Do you believe in a God who loves you? Do you believe in a God who forgives? Are you able to offer forgiveness to those who have hurt you? Are you able to ask forgiveness from them?” Because these are the things that matter. These are the things that have the power – true power – to change your life and the lives of those around you. I also believe this is where too many of us struggle. We are perhaps uncertain of God’s love for us, or perhaps have never truly felt it. Maybe we have not sought out God’s forgiveness in far too long, or no longer believe we need it; or worse, no longer believe we are deserving of it. We, too often, fear to break the ice with the person from whom we need to simply say, “Please forgive me. I was wrong.” But, these are the words that change lives. These are the words that heal hearts. These are the words that change the world. Perhaps this Lent you will speak them yourself. God never tires of forgiving us. God’s mercy has no limits. God is love itself and invites us to dwell in that love. Do you believe?

So, what do you want your Lent to be about this year? Let the Church always be a place of mercy and hope, where everyone is welcomed, loved and forgiven. But, YOU are the Church – not this stone and mortar, stained-glass and marble – you are the church.

May this Lent help each of us become more and more a place of mercy, may we become people of mercy and hope, where everyone is welcomed loved and forgiven. This is what our Lent should truly be about. This is what really matters.

“Do you believe in a God who loves you? Do you believe in a God who forgives? Are you able to offer forgiveness to those who have hurt you? Are you able to ask forgiveness from them?”

May the Lord give you peace.

With hearts that have grown by three | #FriarFriday

By Tom Washburn, OFM

ave you ever stopped to think that the word “Lent” is a bit of a strange word?  It is one of those words that we simply know, but perhaps we’ve never thought about where it comes from or what it means. We simply know that it is the name that we give to this liturgical season, but have you ever thought about what the word means?
[Lent]When we invoke the word “Lent” we usually think about things that are very austere. We think about the things that we give up during this season.  For example, the British newspaper The Independent conducted a survey and these were the top things that people give up during Lent: chocolates and other sweets; social networking like facebook and twitter; alcohol, meat, coffee and carbonated drinks.  These are the sacrifices that we make and are usually the way we define this season – as a time of fasting and prayer, a time of penance and sacrifice.     
But this brings us back to this curious word, “Lent.” The word “Lent” does not mean sacrifice or penance or any of the austere terms we associate with the season. It means literally “springtime.”  The word “Lent” comes to us from the Old English word “lencten” which is the root of words we know today like “lengthen.”  It is a reference to springtime because it was used to describe the time of year when the days begin to get longer and brighter as the sunlight lengthens. So, Lent is about springtime and springtime is all about renewal, new beginnings and new life.
In his message for Lent this year, Pope Francis said, “Lent is a new beginning, a path leading to the certain goal of Easter, Christ’s victory over death. This season urgently calls us to conversion. Christians are asked to return to God “with all their hearts,” to refuse to settle for mediocrity and to grow in friendship with the Lord.”
This image of springtime, of newness, of lengthening, is the appropriate one for us to embrace during Lent. We engage in our penitential practices, our sacrifices, not to punish ourselves for being far from God the rest of the year. We do these things so that they will renew us as the springtime renews our world. As the warmth of spring embraces our land, we welcome the warmth of the Holy Spirit to warm our hearts and rekindle in us the fire of God’s love. We do these things so that they might lengthen and increase the capacity of our hearts to love more, to be more kind to others, especially those we sometimes struggle with, to offer compassion, especially to the immigrant and refugee, the hungry and the homeless, to all those who are in need, to seek forgiveness from those we have wronged, and to offer forgiveness to those who have hurt us. Just like springtime, the season of Lent invites us to let light conquer our darkness, to let that light shine a bit more brightly as each day of our Lenten journey passes.  
[How the Grinch Stole Christmas]There’s a wonderful line towards the end of Dr. Suess’s The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. It says, “The Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day. And then – the true meaning of Christmas came through, and the Grinch found the strength of ten Grinches, plus two!” My friends, as we embark on our annual Lenten pilgrimage, let us begin again. Let embrace the newness, the renewal, the lengthening and strengthening and increasing the capacity of our hearts that Lent offers each of us. Let us reach the joy of Easter with hearts that have grown by three so that the true meaning of our faith might be evident to all who see us.
Pope Francis concluded his Lenten mission by saying, “Lent is the favorable season for renewing our encounter with Christ, living in his word, in the sacraments and in our neighbor. The Lord shows us the path we must take. May the Holy Spirit lead us on a true journey of conversion so that we can rediscover the gift of God’s word, be purified of the sin that blinds us, and serve Christ present in our brothers and sisters in need. Let us pray for one another so that, by sharing in the victory of Christ, we may open our doors to the weak and poor. Then we will be able to experience and share to the full the joy of Easter.”
The Holy Father also offered this advice for our Lenten fast. And so I’ll end by sharing it with you:
Fast from hurting words and say more kind words.
Fast from sadness and be filled with greater gratitude.
Fast from anger and be filled with peaceful patience.
Fast from pessimism and be filled with profound hope.
Fast from worries and trust in God’s plan.
Fast from complaints and contemplate holy simplicity.
Fast from pressures and be more prayerfully present.
Fast from bitterness and fill your heart with overwhelming joy.
Fast from selfishness and be compassionate to others.
Fast from grudges and be reconciled to one another.
Fast from words and be silent so you can hear the simple voice of God.
May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Don't worry, be happy!


Some of you might remember the Bobby McFerrin song from the late 1980s: “Here’s a little song I wrote. You might want to sing it note for note. Don’t worry, be happy.” My apologies in advance – that song is now going to be stuck in your head for the rest of the day. But, Bobby was onto something in this song. Many of us worry about many things. We worry about a roof over our heads. We worry about how to pay the rent. We worry about our spouses, our children, our friends, about the many troubles and challenges of life. And the song’s prescription for these worries is of course very simple – don’t worry, instead be happy.

This song came to mind because we hear the Word of God calling us into much the same reality today. We hear today a chorus of voices encouraging us to leave our worries behind. Isaiah told us to leave them behind because the Lord “will never forget you.” The Psalm told us that we need not worry because God is “our rock and our salvation.” And Jesus says it boldly and directly, “Do not worry about your lives.” In fact, He says it not once, but four times in this brief passage today.

Today’s Gospel is part of the Sermon on the Mount that we have been hearing from for the last month or so and once again we cannot help but be challenged by Jesus’ words. On one hand we hear Him saying ‘don’t worry’ and we’re tempted to respond that it is easier said and done. That we may try over and over again not to worry but the concerns of family and work and more keep creeping into our thoughts. But, I hope that when we hear these words of Jesus, “Do not worry,” that we also hear an invitation that is incredibly attractive to us. Jesus is offering us an invitation into a life that is not filled with unnecessary anxiety and fruitless worry; a freedom from the tension that can overtake our thoughts and paralyze our lives. Anyone interested in that?

We worry about so many things. War and terrorism; money and the state of the economy; health and healthcare; paying our bills; global warming; whether or not our job is safe; getting into or out of debt. And if we’re not worrying about big things, we’re probably worrying about small things: which shirt should I wear today? Am I going to be late for church – again? Should I have that difficult conversation that I have been avoiding? Did I lock the door on the way out? Did I leave the iron plugged in? If we’re not worrying about ourselves we’re worrying about our children; or our parents; or our friends and neighbors; or our world. It seems that it is in our nature to worry. Some people even worry about how much they worry.

The real problem with our worries are that more often than not our worry is misdirected and a waste of time. We spend 40% of our worry on things that will never happen; 30% on things in the past that can’t be changed; 12% on mostly untrue criticism by others; 10% on health; and only 8% on real problems that can be faced and changed.

Today’s invitation is incredibly attractive: do not worry about your life. So, if we’re not worrying, what are we doing? The answer is: when we clear up some space from worrying, it gives us the room to trust instead. We’re called to trust that God has a plan for our lives and that our job is to put Him front and center in our lives so that we can see that plan more clearly. Why worry when you can trust instead?

The way we embrace that trust is by doing what God calls us to do. Instead of worry, we find space to be kinder to one another; to be a presence of love to one another; offering a smile when one is needed; being a God-like presence to all those around us – instead of being tied up in the knots of worry and anxiety. Why worry when you can trust God and do something good instead?

When we put aside worry, it also opens up space for us to be a people of hope. We are called to live marked by hope in God’s goodness; that even when tempted to worry about the challenging moment in our lives – bills, family, struggles, whatever – that we are a people of hope; who live in the firm hope that all things will work for the good; that God will triumph; that we can overcome the challenges we face or at least learn to face them with God and turn them into opportunities for God’s love, joy, compassion and mercy to shine in us and through us. Why worry when you can offer hope instead?

And how can we be so confident in the midst of our own anxieties to instead act and trust and hope? We heard the answer in our first reading from Isaiah, “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.” Our tender and loving God never – ever – forgets us. He is always right here, by our side, in our hearts, surrounding us with His love, filling each moment – even our difficult moments – with His presence. He will never forget us. That’s His promise to each and every one of us. And it is a promise that we can never lose.

So, my brothers and sisters, accept the invitation to freedom that Jesus places before us today, “Don’t worry. Be happy.” Let go of the anxiety that can bring us down, tie us up in knots, keep us from being the people God calls us to be. Let it go. Don’t worry. Why worry when you can act; when you can trust; when you can hope?

“Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.”

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Love your enemies


A priest was preaching one Sunday on the theme of “Love your enemies.” After a long sermon, he asked how many parishioners were willing to forgive their enemies. About half held up their hands. Not satisfied he preached for another 20 minutes and repeated his question. This time he received a response of about 80%. Still unsatisfied, he went on for another 15 minutes and repeated his question. With all thoughts now on Sunday dinner, everyone raised their hand except one elderly lady in the front row. “Mrs. Jones, are you not willing to forgive your enemies?” the priest asked. “I don't have any,” she said. Surprised, the priest said, “Ma’am, that is very unusual. How old are you?” “Ninety three,” she responded. “Mrs. Jones, please tell me, how can you have lived to be 93 years old, and not have an enemy in the world.” The sweet little lady, smiled, and said simply. “Oh, Father, I’ve had plenty of enemies. It’s just that, at 93, I’ve outlived them all!”

Jesus said, “ Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Today’s Gospel message to love our enemies is perhaps one of the most difficult parts of the Gospel for us to accept. It offers us a message that is contrary to our human nature, contrary to what the world tells us. So, what do we make of this command today? We probably hear it with some doubts – are we really meant to love our enemies, turn the other cheek, give without expecting repayment, refuse to pass judgment on people, pray for those who are unkind to us? It would be difficult to find another passage in the Gospel that is more at odds with our normal way of behaving. If we turn the other check, after all, won’t we just get hit on that one too? It is certainly a risky proposition.

What is really going on here is that Jesus is trying to get us to move – in heart and mind and soul – away from the way of the world and into the Way of the Kingdom. Leviticus said it best today, “Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy. You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart…Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus is calling us to see that we waste so much energy holding on to past hurts, trying to settle old scores, even handing down grudges from one generation to the next. How many of us are angry with someone because of the way they treated us, something they said to us, or something they said about us – a day ago, a week ago, a month ago, hw about years ago? As Christians, this is not what we are called to. We aren’t called to anger, judgment and resentment. We are called to love – always, everywhere, everyone, with no conditions or exceptions. And not a superficial kind of love; not a huggy-feely love, not an all-accepting generic love that fails to ask anything of us or the other. Jesus inaugurates a new kind of love – one that is so profound, so deep that it leads Him all the way to the Cross for us; a love so powerful that it is transformative of not only us as individuals, but even of the whole world. The flowers and chocolates that we may have received on Valentine’s Day are not the greatest sign of love. Jesus hanging on that cross – specifically for you, for me – is the greatest symbol of love that has ever existed. He didn’t do that merely for some unknown person eons ago. He did that for you because he loves you.

This love has its own rules, its own logic, its own way of dealing with people – and it is a way that is counter to what the world prescribes. The most important part is that everyone is to be within our circle of love – even our enemies. No one is excluded; no one is shut out. And not just in theory; but in practice. Once we embrace this way of love, the world changes. If Christianity is to ever change our world it will only be accomplished by the noticeably different behavior of Christians. In our world today, a world that is so full of hate, anger, and division, do we stand out in contrast as recognizably different; as the hymn reminds us, “They will know that we are Christians by our love”?

Jesus calls us to rise above the pettiness of the world; to never be satisfied with the sad state of the world; to be constantly striving with all that we are, for all that God promises. The one who was struck on the cheek should rise above the attack or insult and not respond in kind. The one who lost the tunic relinquished even the cloak, not outdone in generosity. It is a way of saying: I will outdo your violence toward me with generosity, goodness, kindness, mercy and compassion. I will erase your evil with my constant acts of goodness. The insight and brilliance of Jesus is to recognize that the only real antidote to the violence and evil in our world is the love, forgiveness and mercy of God – as shown to the world by you and by me.

Is it possible to forgive our enemies in a world torn by war, discrimination, economic disparity and exploitation of the vulnerable? We are not expected to overlook these evils, but to always to forgive and not retaliate. We are called to be merciful, and not vengeful. I like to say that there are no asterisks in the Bible. After Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” There isn’t an asterisk that says, “See below: Unless your enemy is really, really mean; or really, really, deserves it.” Our Lord and Savior says simply, “Love, and bless and pray.” This is a type of Christian heroism that does not merely respond to evil in the world, but transforms it – through Christ – into goodness and holiness. But it takes real courage to practice it. This is the only way that the Kingdom of God will ever reach its fulfillment; if it begins in the converted hearts of believers.

Today, Jesus is urging you and me to join Him again on a journey. We’ve all come a certain distance and now He wants us to move just a little more. Can we give a little more to those in need, forgive a little more those who hurt us, love a little more? He says today, “You have followed me this far; and now join me for the extra mile.”

Love, give, pray, forgive – even just a little more; and you will transform the world. And so, I ask you today, how many of you will love your enemies?

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Make America KIND again


Everyone has heard of Jesse Owens, famous for winning four gold medals in the Berlin Olympics in 1936. Not so many of us, though, have heard of Lutz Long. Lutz was one of Germany’s top athletes in the 1936 games and one of Adolph Hitler’s favorites. In the long jump trials, Lutz broke the Olympic record. There was only one man who could possibly beat him – Jesse Owens.

Just before Jesse’s turn to qualify, Hitler infamously left his box and walked out of the games. This was viewed as a snub of the black athlete who didn’t fit into Hitler’s white supremist ideal. Jesse spoke of how that moment made him feel. “It made me mad. As man as anyone can be. Then, I fouled on my first try and didn’t jump far enough to qualify on my second. With only one try left, I began to panic.”

But, then, Jesse felt a hand on his shoulder and he looked over only to see that it belonged to Lutz Long. Lutz suggested that Jesse draw a line a few inches short of the takeoff board and jump from there. And it worked. Jesse qualified by a foot.

That moment of unexpected kindness sparked the beginning

of a brief but close friendship between the two. Over the next couple of nights they sat up together talking late into the night about the world situation and their own young lives.

In the days ahead, Jesse won three gold medals – the 100 meter and 200 meter dashes and the relay – with Lutz cheering him on at every event. Then came the long jump finals pitting Jesse against Lutz. Again, Jesse won. He later recalled what happened next, “While Hitler glared, Lutz held up my hand and shouted to the gigantic crowd, ‘Jes-se Ow-ens! Jes-se Ow-ens!’ Then the stadium picked up the chant ‘Jes-se Ow-ens! Jes-se Ow-ens!’ My hair stood on end.”

Ordinarily athletes don’t help their opponents, but Lutz Long was no ordinary athlete. He showed Jesse an heroic kindness that was truly miraculous giving the situation they were both in. Ordinarily athletes don’t celebrate an opponent’s victory. But Lutz Long was no ordinary athlete. He rejoiced in Jesse’s achievement.

All of this speaks to us about the passage from the Sermon on the Mount that we heard proclaimed from Matthew’s Gospel today. Jesus today is reminding us that we too are called to offer acts of heroic kindness each and every day. He reminds us of the incredible power that showing kindness can have in our lives and in our world. Jesus urged His followers to show kindness to one another, even to the point of “turning the other cheek” when someone treated them unkindly. He warns those who treat others with anger, “You have heard that it was said…’Whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.” Jesus lived this message Himself showing kindness to sinners, compassion to the sick, mercy to His enemies. And so should we.

Kindness blesses the person to whom we are kind and it also blesses us when we extend that kindness. The actor Michael Landon, who starred in shows like Bonanza, Little House on the Prairie, and Highway to Heaven, told a story about his first paying job as an actor. He was just 19 years-old and just been paid $260 for his work. He said, “I felt so rich and famous that I decided to go to Beverly Hills and look at the fancy store windows.” At a toy store he saw two young boys with their noses pressed against the glass looking at the toys inside. Landon asked the boys which toys they liked best. One pointed to a wagon, the other to a model airplane. He took them inside the store and bought the toys for them. The boys were beside themselves with joy. What surprised Landon most was the thrill that he got from this simple act of kindness. “It was deeper and more satisfying than anything I had experienced before, and it has stayed with me my whole life,” he said.

My friends, today’s readings invite us to take a look at our own lives and our love and to ask ourselves how they compare to the life and love that Jesus calls us to in the Sermon on the Mount. The invite us to ask ourselves what would happen in our world and in our lives if the energy we expend on anger, or even apathy, were instead expended on kindness? How would our lives and those around us change if we embraced kindness as our mission and our daily focus? What would our nation look like if we each spent every day striving to make America kind again?

In the final analysis, kindness is a power greater than any other on earth. And it is not the resource of a single person or a single nation. It is a resource that is at the disposal of every person in every nation; at the disposal of each and every one of us here today. What’s more, it has no limit. In fact, the more kindness that we give, the more there is to receive.

When we feel the desire to respond to the challenges of our world with anger or even hatred, let’s remember Lutz Long and face that anger with heroic kindness. Let us remember Michael Landon and how much a very small act can change lives. Let us live the lives of extraordinary kindness that Jesus Himself lived and that He calls forth from each one of us, His followers. Let us engage in random acts of kindness as though it were the only thing we were called to do.

Let me end with the Prayer of St. Francis, which exemplifies the lives of kindness that we are called to live:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy. 

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive, 
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, 
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.


May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Be the Light!


I am continually in awe of the way that our weekly Scriptures seem to speak directly to things going on in our world. As I reflected on our first reading from Isaiah, the words had a sense of being ripped from the headlines. We heard, “Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own.” We know that the news – and probably our own conversations at work, with friends, at home – have been dominated by talk about President Trump’s new directives affecting the ability of refugees and immigrants to come to our shores.

Several Church leaders have spoken out against these directives. A good example would be the response of Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, NJ. He said, “I understand the desire for every American to be assured of safe borders and freedom from terrorism. The federal government should continue a prudent policy aimed at protecting citizens. But, I also understand and heed the call of God, who through Moses told the people of Israel: ‘You shall not oppress an alien; you well know how it feels to be an alien, since you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.’ Jesus asks His disciples to go further, calling on us to recognize Him in the stranger: ‘Whatsoever you did to the least of my brothers, you did to me.’”

All of the division and contention we’ve experienced can leave us wondering what should we do? How do we as people of faith respond to all of this negativity swirling all around us? Is our own response nothing more than the same partisan responses that we see played out in the media over and over and over again?

Well, Jesus gives us the answer to that question this week. He said, “You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world… Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” Now, this may seem like a simplistic answer, but what Jesus is reminding us in the midst of the challenges in our world, is that we must respond to the world around us in a different way, in the way that we have been called to, in the way that is the signature of those who are followers of Jesus – we are called to be not like the rest, but instead to be salt and light. This is our identity and our response must be rooted here.

Recalling our identity grounds us and keep us rooted in something bigger. Our identity as Americans calls us to be welcoming, generous, desiring for all people the same kind of opportunities and freedoms that we enjoy. The great wonder of the American dream is that it is limitless. It doesn’t have a maximum number of participants. It doesn’t have a limit on who can succeed. We believe that nothing can hold you back once you have arrived on these shores and read the words emblazoned on Lady Liberty:

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

We add to this, our identity as people of faith and followers of Christ, the identity of salt and light. It is an identity that calls us to have a preference, as Isaiah reminds us today, for the homeless, the hungry, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned, the refugee and the immigrant – because we too were once the immigrant and because it is among these groups that we are invited into a real encounter with Jesus. What we have done for the least of these, we have done for Him.

Our identity as salt and light does not blind us to the challenges and dangers in our world, but instead reminds us that as we assess the challenges, our response must be moral, not fearful. Our faith calls us always to encounter our challenges in a moral, fair, caring and compassionate way. This is our way; this is who we are. We know, that as salt and light, we can balance our safety with our beliefs. These are not contradictory realities.

When Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world,” He was reminding us of our call to live and spread His Gospel, to spread His light into the darkness of our times. It can’t wait for someone else. It can’t wait for another time.

We are all, here today, the light of the world. We shine that light through the devotion of those who come to daily Mass; through those who have reared their families and taught them to share a love of God and His church. We shine that light through the innocent faces of the beautiful young people joyfully coming to church with a smile on their face. We shine that light as we care for the needy of our community, in prisons and nursing homes and homeless shelters; we see that light shine in the face of the sick and the dying facing the final moments of their lives with tremendous faith. We are the salt and light that our world needs now. Our light shines through the bowl of hot soup offered on a cold day or the help offered shoveling out from another snow storm. It shines on the face of the person who tells us not to worry or that they understand what we’re going through or that they will offer a prayer for us and our needs.

So, what are we to do in our world today? Nothing more complicated than continuing to let our light shine through our idealism, our commitment to faith and family and Church, through our devotion to prayer, our acceptance of the values of the Gospel, our prayerful celebration of the Holy Mass, our continual outreach to the homeless, the hungry, the sick, the refugee, immigrant and the imprisoned.

And as we heard from Isaiah, “If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech; if you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday.”

My friends, “Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” Let us be the light.

May the Lord give you peace.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Restorationism brings traditionalist approaches to parish life | National Catholic Reporter

By Peter Feuerherd | Feb. 2, 2017

Within church circles, restorationism, a movement to "renew the renewal" of Vatican II by bringing traditionalist approaches to liturgy and governance of parish life, is often denied and frequently argued about.
It might be akin to how a Supreme Court Justice famously viewed pornography: hard to define, but you know it when you see it.
In parishes across the country, young pastors, raised in a post-Vatican II world, are incorporating costumes, vestments, music and other elements that have their roots in practices preceding 1965.
For some, including Pope Francis, one of its most acerbic critics, the movement is rife with clericalism, asserting priestly powers in parishes where laypeople had grown accustomed to participation in ministries and governance. The pope has railed against a resurgent clericalism, in one case telling a group of religious formation directors about "little monsters" who use ordination to lord it over others.
Benedictine Fr. Anthony Ruff, associate professor of theology at St. John's University in Collegeville, Minn., told NCR that restorationism is a reaction to growing secularization and rapid social change, such as the widespread acceptance of same-sex marriage and declines in Mass attendance.
"There is fear of a rapidly changing world. I think it is driving people to bad solutions," he said.
The idea that the changes of Vatican II needed "a reform of the reform" rooted in traditional practices developed during the papacy of St. John Paul II via Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then the head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.
"These ideas developed into a school of thought," said Ruff, noting they took on more power when Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI.
In 1984, permission was given to allow for the Latin Tridentine Rite Mass with the permission of the local bishop, a right extended four years later. The changes were noticed in seminaries.
Ruff noted that younger seminarians have been raised in a time when practicing the faith was more of an intentional, and less of a cultural, act. Part of a generation that is less inclined towards formal religious practice, a cohort of seminarians have latched on to distinctive features of Catholicism.
Some seminary rectors have encouraged these developments, with their seminaries viewed as restorationist pipelines. Sometimes restorationist groups among seminarians are more informal. Some go to internet sites, such as one run by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf of Madison, Wis., for inspiration. Zuhlsdorf's site is heavy with photos of colorful vestments, liturgical regalia, and scathing criticism of Pope Francis.
Ruff regularly hears reports that, while Francis is extraordinarily popular among practicing Catholics, restorationist adherents remain energetic.
"They are more motivated," he said.
[Peter Feuerherd is a correspondent for NCR's Field Hospital series on parish life and a professor of journalism at St. John's University, New York.]