Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The joy of the Church is seeking those who are far off. | Pope Francis

“The Church does not need to have 'a perfect organizational chart' if that would make her sorrowful and closed on herself, if that would make her 'not a mother.' The people have need of consolation. The very presence of the Lord consoles them. The greatest consolation is that of mercy and forgiveness. This is our God. Allow yourselves to be consoled by the Lord; He alone can console us."

"I ask myself, what is the consolation of the Church? Just as an individual is consoled when he feels the mercy and forgiveness of the Lord, the Church rejoices and is happy when she goes out of herself. In the Gospel, the pastor who goes out goes to seek the lost sheep – he could keep accounts like a good businessman. He could say: ‘Ninety-nine sheep, if I lose one, it’s no problem; the balance sheet – gains and losses. But it’s fine, we can get by.’ No, he has the heart of a shepherd, he goes out and searches for the lost sheep until he finds it, and then he rejoices, he is joyful.”

“The joy of going out to seek the brothers and sisters who are far off: This is the joy of the Church. Here the Church becomes a mother, becomes fruitful: When the Church does not do this, then the Church stops herself, is closed in on herself, even if she is well organized, has a perfect organizational chart, everything’s fine, everything’s tidy – but she lacks joy, she lacks peace, and so she becomes a disheartened Church, anxious, sad, a Church that seems more like a spinster than a mother, and this Church doesn’t work, it is a Church in a museum. The joy of the Church is to give birth; the joy of the Church is to go out of herself to give life; the joy of the Church is to go out to seek the sheep that are lost; the joy of the Church is precisely the tenderness of the shepherd, the tenderness of the mother.”

“May the Lord give us the grace of working, of being joyful Christians in the fruitfulness of Mother Church, and keep us from falling into the attitude of these sad Christians, impatient, disheartened, anxious, that have all the perfection in the Church, but do not have ‘children.’ May the Lord console us with the consolation of a Mother Church that goes out of herself and consoles us with the consolation of the tenderness of Jesus and His mercy in the forgiveness of our sins.”

- Pope Francis, daily homily, December 9, 2014

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Worth the Wait

SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT, December 7, 2014:

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. Later, another stood and said, “149,” and again everyone laughed. Another stood and said, “14,” and again, everyone laughed. Confused, the young man asked the friar beside him what was going on. He answered, “Well, you see, we’ve all lived together for a long time. 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,” but this time there was nothing but silence. The man sat down sheepishly and asked the friar what went wrong. He said, “What can I tell you? Some people can tell a joke, some can’t.”

We hear this familiar command in our Scriptures from both Isaiah and John the Baptist today, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” Advent is, of course, a season of preparation, a season of waiting, as we prepare ourselves for the celebration of Christmas, the great feast of God’s Incarnation as one of us; and we await His future return to us at the End of Time. 

In life we are certainly used to waiting. Just think of the hours spent waiting in traffic, or time spent waiting in line at stores – especially at this time of year. These forms of waiting are not exactly purposeful. More often than not, they’re not worth the wait. Just think of department stores this time of year. I know for myself, I’ll inevitably end up waiting in a long line at the check out. While waiting I’ll usually take a look at what I plan on purchasing and ask a simple question of myself – is it worth the wait? Often enough, I’ll decide it isn’t worth the wait and put down what I have a leave the store.

During Advent, we ask the same question – is it worth the wait – but with a very different answer. It is in fact worth the wait because instead of a frustrating waiting with undefined benefit, our Scripture today call us to wait in an effective and purposeful way. They give us something to do in our waiting, we are to “Prepare the way of the Lord.” The readings put before us some examples of waiting purposefully. We have of course, Isaiah and John the Baptist who both offer us a waiting that involves reform of life, they call us to prepare for the arrival of Jesus by living a life of repentance. They call us to reflect on our own lives as ask “are we ready for Jesus return?” But, there is another Advent example that I find even more helpful in understanding how we are to wait – the example of Mary.

If we look at our Scriptures as a story, at this point in the story, Mary is pregnant awaiting the birth of the baby Jesus. We can learn a lot about purposeful waiting from pregnancy. Pregnancy is all about waiting. I remember a few years ago, I was visiting with a friend and his wife who shared the news that they were expecting their third child. I responded excitedly, “Congratulations! That’s great! You must be so excited!” But to my enthusiasm, my friend’s wife looked at me, rolled her eyes a bit, sighed and said, “Don’t get me wrong. I’m really excited about having another baby. I just wish I could do it without going through pregnancy.” We tend to romanticize pregnancy don’t we? Pregnancy is so beautiful. Women look so radiant. But, for my friend’s wife, and many women like her, pregnancies are difficult. With her two prior pregnancies, they were so difficult that she had to remain bed-ridden during the final months. She experienced serious medical issues during her last pregnancy. For this third child, she was also very closely monitored. 

The simple point is that being pregnant is not easy and can even be quite difficult, but it is worth the wait. And it is I think the most helpful image for our time of Advent waiting and preparing. We, too, all of us, are in a sense pregnant and waiting – waiting to give birth once again to Jesus in our lives. And so, God calls us all to make real change in our lives; to acknowledge His Son and “make straight our paths.”

As God calls each of us to reform our lives, depending on what we need to change, this might be for us a difficult pregnancy. But, if we can wait and prepare, it will bring forth new and wonderful life – but just like any pregnancy, it takes time, it takes patience, it takes the will to be transformed into the image that God calls us to.

Let me just suggest a few things that can mark the way we wait for the Lord this Advent. First, pray. Advent is the perfect time of year to jumpstart our prayer life. So many times God is trying to give us guidance and light, but because we don't spend time in prayer, we haven't learned to recognize His voice, so we miss out. Pope Emeritus Benedict said a few years ago, “Do you leave space to hear God's whisper, calling you forth into goodness? Let His word shape your journey."

The second things we can do is make good use of the Sacraments. Sometimes in personal prayer we are unsure of God's presence, but in the sacraments hrist guarantees that He is truly present. During Advent we can spend time with Christ in the Eucharist, maybe going to daily Mass to receive Holy Communion more frequently, learning to listen and letting Him teach us to follow Him. During Advent, a trip to confession is the most direct way to clear all the debris that comes from life's storms off the roads of our souls. As I said last week, let’s not carry our sins all the way to Christmas Day.

And the third things we can do is reach out to others, to those who don't know Christ, or those who are suffering. As we reach out to them, we too come closer to Christ.

Jesus is eagerly looking forward to Christmas, because He wants to make a fresh entrance into the Jerusalem of our souls, and fill us with His comfort.

Let us pray through the intercession of Mary, Mother of God, Mother of the Church, for the patience and the courage to allow God to create new life in us – as individuals, as a parish community, as a Church. Let us use this time of Advent to “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”

May the Lord give you peace.

Monday, November 24, 2014

STATEMENT OF CARDINAL SEAN O'MALLEY ON IMMIGRATION

Immigration is not primarily a political problem, but rather a deeply human and profoundly moral challenge facing our nation. Obviously, a fair and just resolution of the immigration question will require a political solution. The Catholic Bishops of the United States support comprehensive reform of our immigration laws, a more accessible path to citizenship for the undocumented and an adequate response to the needs of our country and of the immigrant community.
Cardinal walking the path of immigrants risking their lives in Nogales, AZ with Father Peter Neeley during a visit to the border in April 2014. (Credit: George Martell/Archdiocese of Boston)
The long-term goal is clear; but the political process has not been able to move forward. We leave the constitutional and political issues to those entrusted by office; only they can provide a comprehensive resolution. Our primary focus is on the undocumented families, the men, women, and children now stranded in a legal void, living on the margins of our society, in fear of being discovered and deported – either individually or as families. The moral question is about their lives, their needs and their future.

The President’s executive action this week is not a long-term solution to the challenge of immigration reform. But it will provide much needed immediate relief to millions of families and their children. We support that relief because extending further the ambiguous and untenable status of the undocumented will be greatly harmful to these individuals and families.

The Catholic Church in this country will continue to be deeply committed to a long-term, fair and effective reform of our immigration system. There is a consensus in the nation, across party lines and political affiliation, that the system is dysfunctional – “broken” is the consensus judgment. The Catholic population in the United States has always represented an immigrant Church, and that is the case today. The origins of the immigrant population have changed since many of our forbears came to this country. But the essential reality, that a Church of immigrants has been welcome in this nation of immigrants, remains true.

The Catholic Church has a well established history of responding to the needs of immigrants by providing services through our schools, hospitals and social service agencies. We do not seek to be simply commentators on the problem; we place our institutions and our community in service to people in need. While we have addressed these issues for more than two centuries, we have been given new inspiration and leadership by Pope Francis. In word and deed, the Holy Father has consistently called the attention of the world to the plight of immigrants. He asks for respect for their dignity, assistance for their needs and a secure foundation for their future. The Church in the United States can do no less.

In the Archdiocese of Boston our primary means of responding to the immigrant community are our parishes, which welcome individuals and families who have come here from countries throughout the world, and our Catholic Charities.

In light of the executive action taken by the President, Catholic Charities of Boston is preparing to respond in the following way:
  • After instructions issued by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Catholic Charities will provide information and outreach sessions to immigrant communities. It will do this in cooperation with other local agencies and with local city and state governments.
  • Catholic Charities has established a multilingual information line (617-464-8004) which will be updated as new information about application guidelines is made available by DHS.
  • Once the application process is established, catholic Charities will provide legal consultation and application assistance throughout the Archdiocese of Boston.
In the face of this daunting and complex challenge we face as a nation, it is my hope and prayer that we will keep human dignity and the welfare of children and families at the center of our attention.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

How to get to Heaven

HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST THE KING, November 23, 2014:

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!”

Can I ask by a show of hands, how many of you want to get to Heaven? I hope that everyone would raise their hand on that one. Of course, we all want to get to Heaven. Heaven is our goal; our destination; our final reward. But how many of us have actually thought about what it takes to get there? What constitutes living a life worthy of Heaven? Does it simply mean being a baptized Roman Catholic, is that enough? Does it mean going to Mass every Sunday and on Holy Days of Obligation?  Does Heaven come when we’ve gone to Confession regularly or prayed our Rosary daily or fulfilled certain devotional practices? Are these the things that will help us to merit the reward of Heaven?

Well, on this last day of our Church year, as we celebrate this Solemnity of Jesus Christ our King, our Gospel passage puts before us the answer to this very question. In this passage from Matthew, Jesus, our King, is sitting on His Throne, judging all of creation, deciding who will be welcomed into the glory of Heaven and who will not. He gives us this image of a King separating people into two categories – sheep and goats. And guess what we want to be? We want to be sheep! The sheep are welcomed into “the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world.” The goats are sent off to eternal punishment. And Jesus is not mysterious about what makes someone a sheep as opposed to a goat.

In this passage, Jesus gives to us the answer to the question of how to get to Heaven. So, for all of us who raised our hands hoping for the glory of Heaven, here’s what we need to do to get there: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me…whatever you did for one of the least brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” The way we get to Heaven is by living a life worthy of Heaven – particularly in the ways we reach out to those most in need around us – those who are hungry or thirsty or strangers and alone or naked or sick or in prison.

The question really comes down to this: Do we have hearts that have been converted, transformed, and changed to love as Jesus loves – to love always, to see everyone with hearts moved to compassion, to reach out even and especially to those that the rest of society has deemed unimportant or worse disposable. Or do we have categories in our hearts where we have decided that some people are unworthy of our love and concern – like the undocumented immigrant, the gay or lesbian couple, or the homeless, just to name a few groups that are often the recipients of something other than our compassion.

So what about going to Mass and Confession and praying the Rosary and saying our devotions? Does this mean that these things are not important? Of course not. But what it means is that we need to understand them properly. The importance of Mass, the Sacraments and all the other things that we do is that these practices are what turn us from goats to sheep. It is here being fed by the Lord that we become more like Him, so we can love as He loves in our world.

It isn’t easy to love the way Christ loves; especially in our own world that is increasingly polarized and angry and selfish. But, the more we allow Christ to transform us, the more He changes the direction of our love – away from ourselves and always towards others.

St. Augustine famously said of the Eucharist, “We become what we receive.” And so as Jesus satisfies our spiritual hunger and thirst through the gift of His Body and Blood, He also teaches us to be like Him; to become what we receive; to become His sheep. As we are nourished by Him, He asks us to go out from this place and offer nourishment to the hungry and thirsty around us – not because we deem them worthy or unworthy of our charity, but for no other reason than they are loved by God and so by us. We come to Church as spiritually naked people, but as St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Galatians, “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” As He covers our nakedness with Himself, we are called to go out and cloth those who are naked, to cover up those who have no home.

As Jesus has offered us freedom from the sin that kept us in chains and in bondage, He invites us to visit those in prison and speak to them about the true freedom they too can find in Christ.

So, who wants to get to Heaven? It starts here. Let Jesus lift the sins that bind you. Let the Lord fill you and satisfy you with His Holy Word. Let the Lord transform you into Himself through the grace of His Body and Blood that we receive and then go and feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, cloth the naked, care for the sick, visit the imprisoned – LOVE as Jesus loves without restriction; without limit because “whatever you did for one of the least brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Let us become His sheep.

Little David was right, you be Jesus and it will bring you all the way to Heaven.

May the Lord give you peace.

Monday, November 3, 2014

10 Things I Wish Everyone Knew About Jesus | Fr. James Martin, SJ

This originally appeared at: FAITHSTREET

Father James Martin is the editor-at-large for the Jesuit magazine America and author of several books, including Jesus: A Pilgrimage, The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, and Between Heaven and Mirth. He is also, in the words of Stephen Colbert, “the chaplain of ‘The Colbert Report.'” We asked Fr. Martin what he wishes everyone knew about Jesus.

1. Jesus was poor.
Everyone knows that Jesus explicitly, specifically and repeatedly called for his disciples to care for the poor, whom he called the “least” among us. In fact, in the Gospel of Matthew, this is his litmus test for entrance into heaven.

But some may not know that Jesus himself was poor, or at least came from the “lower classes” of his time. Before his public ministry, he lived and worked in Nazareth, a tiny, backwater town of 200 to 400 people. The Gospels refer to Jesus’s occupation as a tekton,a Greek word usually translated as “carpenter.” But it can also mean “woodworker,” “craftsman” or even “day laborer.” It’s important to note that in the social and economic scheme of things, carpenters ranked below the peasantry, because they did not have the benefit of a plot of land. Jesus knew what it meant to eke out a living in a poor town.

2. Jesus saw income disparities firsthand, and he condemned them.
An hour-and-a-half walk from Nazareth was Sepphoris, a booming town of 30,000 people, then being rebuilt by King Herod. The town boasted an amphitheater that seated 3,000 people, a fortress, courts, a royal bank, and lavish houses decorated with frescoes and mosaics. It’s almost certain that a carpenter trying to earn a living would at least once or twice walk the four miles to the wealthy town under construction in order to seek work. While in Sepphoris, Jesus would have seen how the “other half” lives.

When we hear Jesus express anger over gross income disparities, particularly in the Parable of Lazarus and Dives in Luke’s Gospel (in which a rich man refuses to care for a poor one), we often think of his words as divinely inspired. And they were: Jesus was fully divine. But they also were informed by his human experience, and that experience included seeing great disparities of wealth in his own life.
3. Jesus had close friends.
We tend to think of Jesus as interacting with his apostles, disciples, and followers. But he also had friends. The Gospels describe, for example, Jesus’s relaxing at the house of his good friends Mary and Martha, who lived in Bethany, just outside of Jerusalem. The Gospel of John says, quite plainly, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister.” And when their brother Lazarus is found to be sick and dying (this is the man whom Jesus will raise from the dead), the news is relayed to Jesus with a telling phrase. The message from the sisters does not say, “Our brother Lazarus is ill,” or “Your friend Lazarus is ill,” or even “Lazarus of Bethany is ill.” Rather, in the Greek, Jesus is told that hon phileis is ill: “he whom you love.”

It’s a window into the deep relationships and intimate friendships that Jesus enjoyed. He was not simply Messiah; he was a good friend.
4. Jesus instructed his disciples not to judge.
For some reason, this is often difficult for people to accept. Whenever I mention Jesus’s injunction not to judge — “Judge not, lest you be judged” — some people bristle. Something in us feels not only inclined to, but obliged to, judge. “Well, but that means anything goes, doesn’t it?” is a common response. “Of course we have to judge other people,” say others. No, Jesus says, we do not.

We are called to live moral lives, and invite others to lead moral lives, but we do so primarily through our own example and by gentle persuasion — not by judging and condemning them. Judgment is left, as Jesus reminds us, to God.
5. Jesus didn’t say anything about gays and lesbians.
In all his many utterances about many social situations and human conditions, Jesus never said one word about homosexual persons. Admittedly, St. Paul speaks about that topic, but many contemporary scholars believe that Paul was probably speaking not about homosexuality per se (the word itself is of relatively recent vintage) but about the evils of male prostitution.

In any event, Jesus himself spoke a great deal about helping the poor, forgiving one’s enemies, and even divorce (which he condemned), but nothing about, and certainly nothing against, gay and lesbian men and women.
6. Jesus always reached out to those on the margins.
If a Gospel narrative introduces a marginalized person, it is a sure bet that Jesus will reach out to him or her. The examples are too numerous to mention. He meets a Roman centurion, and rather than forcing him to convert to Judaism, he heals the man’s servant. He meets a Samaritan woman (someone viewed as a foreigner or even an enemy for Jews of Judea and Galilee), and rather than condemning her, engages in a friendly conversation. He meets Zacchaeus, the “chief tax collector” in Jericho and therefore the “chief sinner” of the area, and even before Zacchaeus offers to repent, Jesus offers to dine with him, a sign of acceptance.

Jesus is continually reaching out to people on the margins, and he asked his disciples to do the same.
7. Jesus can’t be tamed.
It’s common for people of every theological stripe to pick and choose which of Jesus’s words to follow and which of his deeds to believe. Thomas Jefferson went so far as to construct his own “Gospel” by (literally) scissoring out the miracles and other traces of his divinity. Like many of us, Jefferson felt uncomfortable with parts of Jesus’s story. He wanted a Jesus who didn’t threaten, a Jesus he could tame.

But Jesus cannot be tamed. The people of his time could not do this, and neither can we. Scissor out the uncomfortable parts and it’s not Jesus were talking about — it is our own creation.

Incidentally, New Testament scholar E.P. Sanders once read Jefferson’s “Gospel” and concluded that Jefferson’s Jesus was a learned man, a sage. In essence, Thomas Jefferson’s Jesus was . . . Thomas Jefferson.
8. Jesus really did perform miracles.
Many people are uncomfortable with Jesus’s supernatural power and other signs of his divinity. But an immense part of the Gospels is taken up with what are called “works of power” and “signs” — that is, miracles. In fact, some of the sayings that people take for granted and quote approvingly — even by those who do not accept Jesus’s divinity — occur within the context of the miracle stories. Remove the miracles and there is no context for many of Jesus’ most familiar sayings.

Jesus’ ability to perform miracles was never in doubt in the Gospels. Even his detractorstake note of his miracles, as when they critique him for healing on the Sabbath. The question posed by people of his time is not whether Jesus can do miracles, but rather the source of his power. The statement that Jesus was seen as a miracle worker in his time has as much reliability as almost any other statement we can make about him.
9. Jesus struggled, even in prayer.
Jesus was fully divine. But he was also fully human. That’s a basic Christian belief. It’s also a mystery, that is, something not to be fully understood, but pondered. And one of the most telling windows into his humanity comes in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he is confronted with his impending crucifixion. Jesus asks God the Father to “remove this cup.” He is saying, in essence: “If it’s possible, I don’t want to die.”

Eventually, Jesus accepts that his coming death is his Father’s will — but not before struggle and prayer. Later, when hanging on the cross, he cries out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” This is not a person who does not struggle: Christians do not relate to a person who cannot understand our own human struggles.
10. Jesus rose from the dead.
Not everyone believes this about Jesus, because to believe this is to be a Christian, and not everyone reading this is Christian. But let me offer a kind of “proof,” if you will — even though the only proof was what the disciples saw on Easter Sunday.

The Gospels were written for the early church, and the Gospel writers would certainly not go out of their way to make the apostles — the leaders of the early church, after all — look bad. Nonetheless, notice that the Gospels portray the apostles as abject cowards during the crucifixion: most of them abandon Jesus; one of them, Peter, denies knowing him; and after his death they are depicted as cowering behind closed doors. That’s hardly something that the Gospel writers would make up.

But after the Resurrection, they are utterly transformed. The disciples move from being terrified victims to men and women ready to die for what they believe. Only something dramatic, something visible, something tangible, something real, could affect this kind of change.

Jesus really and truly rose to the dead. For me, that’s the most important thing to know about Jesus.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Won't you be my neighbor?

HOMILY FOR THE 30th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, October 26, 2014:

Let me start today with an image that many of you will be familiar with. A plain sweater, white canvass sneakers, a warm smile and a simple song that welcomed us every day, “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine?” (My apologies, that song will now be stuck in your head all day.) Every day Fred Rogers welcomed so many of us to his neighborhood. As a child, I watched Mr. Rogers Neighborhood nearly every day and still have such fond memories. Over the years not much changed with the show; it was the same house, the same trolley to take you to the world of make believe, and the same puppets like King Friday. But, in every single episode Mr. Rogers always asked the same question: “Won’t you be my neighbor?”

Today’s Gospel follows after last week’s passage in which we had the Sadducees trying to trap Jesus with their question about paying taxes to Ceasar. This week, the Pharisees try to trap Jesus again, this time with a question about which is the greatest commandment. The textbook answer, of course, is love of God. But, again like last week, Jesus does not stop there. He goes on to give a more practical answer, one that doesn’t merely satisfy their question, but instead challenges His listeners. Just like last week, Jesus gives the other side of the coin, which, in this case is love of neighbor.

Jesus makes the point that anyone who truly loves God must necessarily also love their neighbor; and that these are virtually one in the same thing. You cannot truly love God unless that love is made visible in our love of neighbor. As Jesus said: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” Or as we hear more succinctly in the First Letter of John, “God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in them.”

Jesus is reacting against the Pharisees one-dimensional understanding of love that somehow allowed them to express extreme devotion to God, while ignoring the problems of the real people around them every day. But, for Jesus, true love must express itself in: the love of God; the love of neighbor; and the love of oneself. The commandment to love your neighbor as yourself presumes that you first love yourself as a beautiful person created in the image and likeness of God. That you see your dignity and beauty as a unique part of what God has created – as unique and beautiful as the oceans, the stars and the sky, the mountains or any other part of the created universe.

Pope Francis touched on this today in his Angelus message at the Vatican. Reflecting on today’s Gospel, the Pope said, “In the middle of the thicket of rules and regulations, Jesus opens a gap that allows you to see two faces: the face of the Father and that of the brother or sister. He doesn't deliver us two formulas or two precepts, but two faces, indeed one face, the face of God reflected in many faces of others, because in the face of each brother and sister, especially in the smallest, the most fragile and the most helpless, the same image of God is present. In light of the word of Jesus, love is the measure of our faith, and faith is the spirit of love. No longer can we separate a religious life from service to our brothers and sisters, to those concrete brothers and sisters we meet. No longer can we divide prayer, the encounter with God in the sacraments, from listening to others, from closeness to their lives, especially to their wounds.”

This is a concern that reaches our ears and our world today. The error of the Pharisees is still with us. We don’t have to look further than the ever growing divide between rich and poor, the continuing problem of homelessness, the ongoing scourge of prejudice, violence, war, death and destruction that are so much a part of our world to wonder where is our love of neighbor?

There are many Christians who try to separate the love of fellow human beings from their love of God. There are many followers of Jesus whose commitment to faith does not include commitment to issues of human rights; to economic and legal justice; to the call for peace; to equality and the ending of prejudice and persecution. We do well to heed Jesus in today's gospel: true love of God and true love of neighbor are two sides of the same coin.

Again, we hear in the First Letter of John, “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”

Let us pray today that God will shake loose from us any indifference we may feel towards our brothers and sisters, especially those in need. Let us ask God to help us have eyes that realize when we see the face of those around us, we really see the face of God. We pray, not only for the knowledge of how to love, but the wisdom to want to love in all circumstances.

“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Won’t you be my neighbor?

May the Lord give you peace.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Pope calls for abolishment of the death penalty

NOTE: Amen! I am more impressed with the conviction and boldness of our Holy Father every day!  - FT

ROME - Pope Francis on Thursday called on all men and women of good will to fight for the abolishment of the death penalty in “all of its forms” and for the improvement of prison conditions.

The Pope was addressing a group of members of the International Association of Criminal Law whom he received in the Vatican.

In his discourse the Pope also addressed the need to combat the phenomena of human trafficking and of corruption.

And he stressed that the fact that the enforcement of legal penalties must always respect human dignity.

In a dense and impassioned discourse to the Jurists assembled in the Vatican for a private audience, Pope Francis said that the “life sentence” is really a “concealed death sentence”, and that is why – he explained – he had it annulled in the Vatican Penal Code.

Many of the off-the-cuff comments during the Pope’s speech shone the light on how politics and media all too often act as triggers enflaming “violence and private and public acts of vengeance” that are always in search of a scape-goat.

Recalling the words of Saint John Paul II who condemned the death penalty as does the Catechism, Francis decried the practice and denounced “so-called extrajudicial or extralegal executions” calling them “deliberate homicides” committed by public officials behind the screen of the Law:

“All Christians and people of goodwill are called today to fight not only for the abolition of the death penalty be it legal or illegal, in all of its forms, but also for the improvement of prison conditions in the respect of the human dignity of those who have been deprived of freedom. I link this to the death sentence. In the Penal Code of the Vatican, the sanction of life sentence is no more. A life sentence is a death sentence which is concealed”.

And Pope Francis had words of harsh criticism for all forms of criminality which undermine human dignity, there are forms of his – he said - even within the criminal law system which too often does not respect that dignity when criminal law is applied.

“In the last decades” – the Pope said – “there has been a growing conviction that through public punishment it is possible to solve different and disparate social problems, as if for different diseases one could prescribe the same medicine.”

He said this conviction has pushed the criminal law system beyond its sanctioning boundaries, and into the “realm of freedom and the rights of persons” without real effectiveness.

“There is the risk of losing sight of the proportionality of penalties that historically reflect the scale of values upheld by the State. The very conception of criminal law and the enforcement of sanctions as an ‘ultima ratio’ in the cases of serious offenses against individual and collective interests have weakened. As has the debate regarding the use of alternative penal sanctions to be used instead of imprisonment”.

Pope Francis speaks of remand or detention of a suspect as a “contemporary form of illicit hidden punishment” concealed by a “patina of legality”, as it enforces “an anticipation of punishment” upon a suspect who has not been convicted. From this – the Pope points out – derives the risk of multiplying the number of detainees still awaiting trial, who are thus convicted without benefiting from the protective rules of a trial. In some countries – he says – this happens in some 50% of all cases with the trickledown effect of terribly overcrowded detention centers:

“The deplorable conditions of detention that take place in different parts of the world are an authentic inhuman and degrading trait, often caused by deficiencies of criminal law, or by a lack of infrastructures and good planning. In many cases they are the result of an arbitrary and merciless exercise of power over persons who have been deprived of freedom.”

Pope Francis also speaks of what he calls “cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments and sanctions,” and compares detention in maximum-security prisons to a “form of torture”. The isolation imposed in these places – he says – causes “mental and physical” suffering that result in an “increased tendency towards suicide”. Torture – the Pope points out – is used not only as a means to obtain “confession or information”:

“It is an authentic ‘surplus’ of pain that is added to the woes of detention. In this way torture is used not only in illegal centers of detention or in modern concentration camps, but also in prisons, in rehabilitation centers for minors, in psychiatric hospitals, in police stations and in other institutions for detention or punishment”.

And Pope Francis said children must be spared the harshness of imprisonment – as must, at least in a limited way – older people, sick people, pregnant women, disabled people as well as parents if they are the sole guardians of minors or persons with disabilities.

The Pope also highlighted one of the criminal phenomena he has always spoken out against vehemently: human trafficking which - he says – is the result of that “cycle of dire poverty” that traps “a billion people” and forces at least 45 million to flee from conflict:

“Based on the fact that it is impossible to commit such a complex crime as is the trafficking of persons without the complicity, be it active or of omission of action of the State, it is evident that, when the efforts to prevent and combat this phenomenon are not sufficient, we find ourselves before a crime against humanity. This is even truer if those who are responsible for the protection of persons and the safeguard of their freedom become an accomplice of those who trade in human beings; in those cases the State is responsible before its citizens and before the international community”.

Pope Francis dedicates an ample part of his discourse to corruption. The corrupt person – according to the Pope – is a person who takes the “short-cuts of opportunism” that lead him to think of himself as a “winner” who insults and persecutes whoever contradicts him. “Corruption” – the Pope says “is a greater evil than sin”, and more than “be forgiven, must be cured”.

“The criminal sanction is selective. It is like a net that captures only the small fish leaving the big fish to swim free in the ocean. The forms of corruption that must be persecuted with greatest severity are those that cause grave social damage, both in economic and social questions – for example grave fraud against public administration or the dishonest use of administration”.

Concluding, Pope Francis exhorted the jurists to use the criteria of “cautiousness” in the enforcement of criminal sanctions. This – he affirmed – must be the principle that upholds criminal law:

“The respect for human dignity must operate not only to limit the arbitrariness and the excesses of State officials, but as a criteria of orientation for the persecution and the repression of those behaviors that represent grave attacks against the dignity and the integrity of the human person”.

Monday, October 6, 2014

"Be open and humble" | Pope Francis


By Elise Harris  (CNA/EWTN News).

Vatican City, Oct 6, 2014 - During the opening session for the extraordinary synod on the family, Pope Francis told participants not to be afraid of saying what they truly think, and that only by doing this can they reach real conclusions.

“You have to say all that which in the Lord you feel you have to say: without human respect, without timidity,” the Pope told synod participants in his Oct. 6 opening remarks.

“And, at the same time, you must listen with humility and accept with an open heart what your brothers say. Synodality is exercised with these two attitudes.”

Initiated yesterday with a mass presided over by the pontiff, the Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Family reflects on the theme “The pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization,” and was called for by the Pope in order to form a more concrete reflection for the Ordinary Synod to take place in 2015.

The synod will conclude with the beatification of Pope Paul VI, institutor of the synod of bishops, by Pope Francis on Oct. 19.

Speaking directly to the synod rapporteur, secretary-general and the three president delegates of different episcopal conferences present, Pope Francis explained that they bring to the meetings “the voice of the particular Church, gathered at the level of local churches by the Episcopal Conferences.”

“This voice you bring in synodality. It's a great responsibility: to bring the realities and problems of the Church, to help them walk that road that which is the Gospel of the family,” the Pope continued.

And one basic condition of synodality, he said, is to “speak clearly. No one say ‘You can't say this; think of me this way or that...’ You have to say everything that you feel with frankness.”

Pope Francis then recalled how he received an email from a cardinal after the consistory that took place in February, saying “it's a shame that some cardinals didn't have the courage to say some things out of respect of the Pope, feeling, perhaps, that the Pope was thinking something different.”

“This is not good, this is not synodality, because you have to say all that which in the Lord you feel you have to say,” the Pope explained, saying that they must also be humble and open to the opinion of others.

“I ask you, please, (to have) these attitudes of brothers in the Lord: speak with frankness and listen with humility.”
The Roman Pontiff also expressed his “deep and sincere thanks to all the people who have worked with dedication, patience and with competence for many months, reading, evaluating and developing themes, texts and works for this Exraordinaty General Assembly.”

He gave special appreciation to Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod, Msgr. Fabio Fabene, Undersecretary, as well as all of the speakers, writers, consulters, translators and staff of the Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops.

“They have worked untiringly, and continue to work, for the good outcome of this Synod: thank you very much and may the Lord reward you!”

Also recognizing the various cardinals, patriarchs, bishops, priests, religious men and women and laypersons present, the Bishop of Rome explained that their presence “enriches the work and the spirit of collegiality and synodality for the good of the Church and of the family!”

He encouraged discussion to take place “with tranquility and peace, because the synod always takes place with Peter and under Peter, and the presence of the Pope is a guarantee for all (in the) safeguarding of the faith.”

So “we collaborate with all because it affirms with clarity the dynamic of synodality.”

Monday, September 22, 2014

Are we looking at the American Pope Francis in Chicago? | John L. Allen Jr. | CRUX

In American Catholic terms, Chicago always has been a land of giants. There have been nine Catholic archbishops in the Windy City, and for better or worse, they’ve all been larger-than-life figures.
In the early 20th century, Cardinal George Mundelein was an FDR enthusiast who mobilized the resources of the Catholic Church to respond to the Great Depression, and frequently sparred with the infamous “radio priest,” that Rev. Charles Coughlin, over his anti-Semitic and quasi-fascist demagoguery. The archdiocesan seminary in Chicago today bears Mundelein’s name.
To take another example, Cardinal John Cody, who ruled Chicago with an iron first during the 1960s and ’70s, was a lightning rod described by the priest-novelist Andrew Greeley as a “madcap tyrant.” Cody’s notoriety was also flavored with scandal He is alleged to have funneled large sums of church money to support a woman believed by many to have been his mistress.
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the prelates who have ruled Chicago have been impossible to ignore.
More recently, the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin embodied the progressive reform energies unleashed by the Second Vatican Council in the mid-1960s. During the 1970s and ’80s, Bernardin played a key behind-the-scenes role from Chicago as a power-broker in the national bishops’ conference, leading it to oppose the Reagan administration over military policy and to embrace the cause of the poor.
In many ways, Bernardin was the American John XXIII, the “Good Pope” who called Vatican II.
By contrast, Cardinal Francis George is more the American Benedict XVI, a brilliant intellectual committed to a robust defense of Catholic identity and tradition. During his own run as president of the national conference, George led the bishops in their fight with the Obama administration over the contraception mandates imposed as part of health care reform, framing the issue in terms of religious freedom.
All of which brings us to 65-year-old Blase Cupich, appointed by Pope Francis on Saturday to succeed George as the ninth Archbishop of Chicago.
The question is, are we looking at the American Francis?
There’s nothing a pope does as fundamental to shaping culture in the Catholic Church as appointing bishops, and that’s especially true for major pace-setting venues around the world. Chicago is on a short list with Milan, Paris, and Westminster as spots where popes have a chance to put their stamp firmly on the church in a wide chunk of the world.
To date, Francis has made a handful of those tone-setting choices, in Cologne, Germany; Madrid, Spain, and Sydney, Australia. His pick for Chicago brings the total to four, and by now we have a fairly clear picture of what Francis wants.
  • First, he wants moderates rather than ideologues, men who will defend church teaching but whose first instinct isn’t political confrontation, and who keep lines of communication open with all camps.
  • Second, he wants bishops of the “Social Gospel,” meaning leaders with a special concern for the poor, for immigrants, and for those at what he’s called the “existential peripheries” of the world.
  • Third, he wants men who see themselves as pastors rather than bureaucrats or diplomats, shepherds who, in his memorable image, “carry the smell of their sheep” because they’re close to the ordinary people they’re called to serve.
By all accounts, that’s what Francis has got in Cupich, an Omaha native whose previous job was as the bishop of Spokane in Washington.
Cupich is identified with the moderate wing of the American bishops, which has always been uncomfortable with the perception that Catholicism had become the new leader of the religious right. He irked some pro-life activists, for instance, by asking his priests and seminarians not to pray in front of Planned Parenthood abortion clinics, seeing it as an unnecessarily provocative gesture.
The new archbishop is also a man of the church’s social mission, with a clear commitment to reaching out to the suffering. Among other things, he’s led a committee within the bishops’ conference dedicated to reform on the child sexual abuse scandals that have rocked the church, saying a few years ago that he’s come to see the encounter with victims as a “template” for everything he does as a priest and a bishop.
On a personal level, Cupich is known as gracious and accessible. Actually, one of the few reservations people had about him when his name was mentioned for Chicago was whether he has a big enough personality to play on that stage.
Of course, people had the same question about Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires prior to his election as pope, and we know how that turned out.
By virtue of Chicago’s history, and because from here on in Cupich will be known as Francis’ man — his first major appointment in America — the success or failure of the Francis revolution on these shores will rest to some extent on Cupich’s shoulders.
Seeing if he grows into the role will, therefore, be the primary Catholic drama in the Windy City for a long time to come.
BlaseCupich4C-717x450.jpg

Sunday, September 21, 2014

"You mean he gets away with it?"

My Mom & Dad
HOMILY FOR THE 25th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 21, 2014:

Six years ago, I received the most spectacular phone call of my life. My Dad, who was 68 years-old at the time, called me and said exactly two words to me: “I’m ready.” I knew just what those words meant. My Dad, who many of us had prayed would become a Catholic for many years was finally ready to accept the grace of Baptism in his life. To this day, the absolute honor of my priesthood was the opportunity to Baptize, Confirm and give First Communion to my own Dad. My Mom served as his sponsor, or godmother, and leading up to the day of his Baptism the three of us would gather and talk about issues of faith as part of his catechesis to prepare him to enter the Church. During one of these sessions, my Mom said, with some satisfaction, “You know what Scott? Now, you have to go to confession!” However, her satisfaction was quickly deflated when I explained that actually he didn’t – that baptism forgives all of his sins. I would, of course, invite my Dad to make a good examination of his conscience, to call to mind specifically all of the things that he would like God to forgive, but for him, Baptism would be his sacrament of reconciliation for everything up to that point. Mom’s response? “You mean he gets away with it?”

Of course, this made me think of today’s parable of the workers in the vineyard who all received the same reward no matter when it was that they came to work in the field. We know how the story goes, some are there all day “bearing the burden of the day and the heat”, some are there about half the day, some come at the very end – but all receive the same reward. And, those that got there early are not very happy about it. “You mean they get away with it?”

The answer – indeed, they do. Indeed, we do. Whether we came to the Lord early or late or over and over again, there really isn’t anything we can do to earn what Jesus gives us in offering us salvation. Jesus isn’t rewarding us for a job well done. Instead, Jesus gives us this parable today so that we might be more profoundly aware of the great generosity of God, who despite our unworthiness still desires to bring us to Himself anytime we come, early or late or over and over again. Jesus asks us to ponder a simple question today: Do we see ourselves as family with a common purpose or do we see ourselves as a competitive individuals, each with their own agenda? We call ourselves brothers and sisters. Why then do we often see and treat one another as rivals and competitors?

Family, I think, is the key to understanding today’s parable of the workers. For the early-bird workers who ended up being reprimanded by the landowner it was all a business affair. Their working in the vineyard was preceded by a detailed contract regarding their wages: a full day’s work for a full day’s pay. The latecomers were less legalistic in their approach. They took the job trusting in the landowner’s word of honor. “He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’” And, the ones employed in the sixth, ninth and eleventh hours were told nothing whatsoever about payment. “He said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’“ There is no employer-employee contract here. Everything is based on trust. These later workers approached the work with a family spirit.

This parable reminds us that the Kingdom is really a family much more than a society. A society is characterized by us-and-them, by rivalry, competition and the survival of the fittest. A family, on the other hand, is all “US” and no “them.” It is characterized by love and compassion, not competition. If the latecomers were family members of the early birds, the early birds would have rejoiced with them at their good fortune rather than grumbling.

Today we are invited to think about our own notions of the Kingdom of Heaven and God’s generosity and challenged to see God’s promised Kingdom truly as a family where our joy and our greatest desire is to see everyone with us in Heaven – no matter when they finally turn to the Lord; just like God does.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a family drawn together by the love of their Father, lead and guided through the example of Jesus their Brother, motivated out of their love for each other, driven by their desire to help one another, called to be holy, working towards eternal life, saved and transfigured and united as one.

May the Lord give you peace.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

God always restores hope | Pope Francis

“Closeness and compassion: this is how the Lord visits His people. And when we want to proclaim the Gospel, to bring forth the word of Jesus, this is the path. The other path is that of the teachers, the preachers of the time: the doctors of the law, the scribes, the Pharisees … who distanced themselves from the people, with their words: they spoke well. They taught the law well. But they were distant. And this was not a visit of the Lord: It was something else. The people did not feel this to be a grace, because it lacked that closeness, it lacked compassion, it lacked that essence of suffering with the people. 

When God visits His people he restores hope to them. Always. You can preach the Word of God brilliantly: there have been many excellent preachers throughout history. But if these preachers have failed to sow hope, that sermon is useless. It is mere vanity. And so we ask for the grace that our Christian witness be a witness that brings the closeness of God to His people, that closeness that sows hope."


- Pope Francis, daily homily, September 16, 2014

Monday, August 25, 2014

"Jim lived it!" | Bishop Peter Labasci

NOTE: I have been so touched, moved and saddened by the tragic death of journalist James Foley.  At the same time, I have been so inspired by what an incredible witness of faith his life was, his reliance on prayer in the midst of the most difficult moments, and his commitment to sharing the truth of the plight of those affected by war.  What keeps coming to mind for me is the reality that Jim Foley was truly a saint in the truest sense of the word. A Mass of Remembrance was held yesterday to honor him in his hometown in New Hampshire and Bishop Peter Labasci delivered a powerful and poignant homily. I didn't get through it with dry eyes and I share it with you today. Let his faith inspire each of us to embrace the commitment of our own baptism more profoudly. - FT

In the name of all in our Diocese and in union with our Holy Father Pope Francis, who, with great sensitivity and pastoral tenderness, personally conveyed his condolences, and by way of his Secretary of State, Cardinal Parolin, who sent written confirmation of those greetings, and indeed, since this moment in our lives is international in scope, crossing all boundaries, yet bound together by a deep sense of human compassion and heartfelt remorse, I wish to extend to you in the name of all people of good will our deepest sympathy, our continued prayer and our pledge to keep the witness of James’ life as a personal call to faith, courage and love.

When parents bring their child to the Church to be Baptized, they are asked: “What do you ask of God’s Church for your child?” Some will respond, “Baptism”; some: “To share God’s life”; some: “To have the gift of Faith”. The answers may differ slightly, but in each case, the parents always seem to look at the child as they make their response, as if to say – “I want God to love you as much as I do – always, always! No matter what, I want you to know how much God loves you, always, always, no matter what.”

That is the child’s introduction to the Sacrament of Baptism: the parents formally introducing their child to God who created this little life. It is a tender moment, a beautiful moment – a child’s innocence and the parents’ tender and loving pride.

Yet, as in all of life in this world, sin and evil and their effects are very real. And so, before the waters of baptism are poured, another set of questions is posed:

“Do you renounce sin, so as to live in the freedom of the children of God?” - “I do!”

“Do you renounce the lure of evil, so that sin may have no mastery over you?” - “I do!”

“Do you renounce Satan the author and prince of sin?” - “I do!”

These questions are not mere formularies, they probe the very heart, they ask us if we are willing to stand for something better, something beyond self-interest, beyond devious manipulation, beyond bitterness, beyond despair. These questions ask us if we have the courage to stand up bravely as that child of God over whom our parents looked proudly when they said, “I want this child to have the gift of Faith. I want this little life to share God’s life.”

Our Baptismal Promises call us to respond: “I do will it.” And surely, our Baptismal promises are renewed several times during the year, it is true, but as we gather here today we remember James Foley, whose adult life exemplified that passion for life as a child of God to which we are all called.

In a special way today, we are challenged to be mindful of the needs of others. We are challenged to be true to our Faith, especially when most challenged to doubt. We are challenged to see the world through a different lens and to hear the world’s voice as the voices of individuals – people – children, mothers, fathers, the elderly who were once strong and sleek but now rely on loving hearts to steady them. We are challenged to hear the cries a world away and those cries right in our own homes. We are challenged to be our best selves and, in a very personal way, we are challenged to renew our Baptismal promises daily – each day – daily renouncing sin and refusing to be mastered by evil; renewing our desire to live bravely and with passion the life of a true child of God.

To help us to remember how to do this in a practical way, we might well pray The prayer of Saint Francis:

“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;
It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

To this, I think we can say “Yes, I wish I could do that”. But it is not beyond our capability; it’s not impossible. Our Lord lived it. Our Most Blessed Mother lived it. Many Saints have lived it. Jim lived it!

Mr. & Mrs. Foley, I began my remarks by remembering the beginnings of the Baptismal rite, but now I want to remind you of what was said at its conclusion, for I think, today it is most apt. As you held your newly baptized son in your arms and were about to go forth with him into the world, Mrs. Foley, this blessing was prayed over you: “God the Son, the Virgin Mary’s child, has brought joy to all Christian mothers as they see the hope of eternal life shine on their child. May He bless the Mother of this child; she now thanks God for the gift of her son. May she be one with him in thanking God forever in Heaven in Christ Jesus Our Lord.”

And Mr. Foley, this was the blessing prayed over you on that very same occasion: “God is the Father of all life, human and divine. May he bless the father of this child. He with his wife will be the first teachers of their child in the ways of Faith. May they be the best of teachers, bearing witness to the Faith by what they say and do, in Christ Jesus Our Lord.” Rarely do we recall these words, but I bring them to mind for you and for all of us as they are most poignant, most prophetic and most precious, especially today.

The gift of family life, the depth and richness of Faith that a family is graced to hand on to its children and the gifts that each person can bring to the world, encourage us to live the new life of Grace with an eye toward the beauty of the Kingdom of God. This is what the heart seeks; this is what God wants for all His children.

As we turn now to Almighty God and offer the gift of His Son, let us receive the gift of His Grace and the promise of life everlasting. And may Almighty God grant peace to James and to all our fragile world.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Heaven on Earth

HOMILY FOR THE 17th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, July 26, 2014:

A teacher, a tax collector, and a politician wound up together at the Pearly Gates. St. Peter informed them that in order to get into Heaven, they would each have to answer one question. St. Peter addressed the teacher wanting to make it easy and asked, “What was the name of that ship that crashed into the iceberg? They made a big movie about it.” The teacher answered quickly, “That would be the Titanic.” St. Peter let her through the gate. St. Peter then looked at the tax collector, and decided to make the question a little harder: “How many people died on the ship?” As fortune would have it, he was a big fan of the History Channel and answered, “1,228.” “That's right! You may enter,” St. Peter said. And then, turning his gaze to the politician, St. Peter said, “Name them.” 



Have you ever thought about what Heaven is like? Maybe you, like me, had the chance to see the movie Heaven is For Real recently, or perhaps you read the book. It is a purportedly true story that answers just that very question and in the affirmative. Most of us, at one point or another, think about this eternal question. Is there a Heaven and what is it like? And this is the question that Jesus explores in our Gospel today. Jesus also gives us an affirmative answer about Heaven and even some insight about what it is like giving us several images to help explain the Kingdom of Heaven.

Praying with this Gospel reminded me of a very special experience a little more than 10 years ago when I had the opportunity to be at a Wednesday Audience with Saint Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square. At that audience, the Holy Father reflected on the same passage we have before us today. He said to us that the Kingdom of Heaven is not a destination always awaiting us, but an intimate relationship with God that can be experienced – at least partially – here on earth. He said, Heaven “is not an abstraction, nor a physical place amid the clouds, but a living and personal relationship with God.”

The Saint’s comments mirror those that we hear from Jesus today. Heaven is clearly one of Jesus’ favorite topics, particularly in Matthew’s Gospel. In His very first sermon recorded in Matthew, Jesus said simply, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” In the Sermon on the Mount, He declared, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” and “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Over and over again – a total of 51 times in Matthew – Jesus uses this favorite phrase of His: the Kingdom of Heaven. It should also be a favorite of ours as well.

So, what can we know about this Kingdom? Well, Saint John Paul reminded us that it is not “a physical place among the clouds.” And, don’t we all often imagine Heaven in some pretty extraordinary and supernatural ways – streets lined with gold, great and glorious mansions, all the food you can eat and not gain an ounce! We imagine some sort of celestial castle nestled in the clouds, twinkling stars and bright rainbows. Angels everywhere, zooming around God’s throne; the air alive with the sound of magnificent music.

But, Jesus simply compares the Kingdom to very down-to-earth things. No castle, no clouds, no angels, stars or rainbows or music. Rather, Jesus presents us with a farmer sowing seeds, weeds growing in a wheat field, a tiny mustard seed, a piece of yeast and today – a buried treasure, a merchant’s find of a precious pearl and a fishnet thrown into the lake. Now that’s not meant to burst our bubble or lower our expectations, but to remind us that the Kingdom is both heavenly and earthly. Jesus also makes this point when He gave us the Our Father, “Your Kingdom come…on earth as in heaven.”

So, our Gospel begs the question of us today - where is our treasure? And what might our treasure be? Is it in gold or riches, in power or fame? What is Jesus talking about, this buried treasure, this pearl of great price which we are supposed to have found? Where do we find this unique mix of heavenly and earthly reality?

And the answer is right here in this Church. The closest we can ever come to this dual dimension of heaven and earth is the Church and the Sacraments. The Church itself is the sign of our intimate union with God in heaven and with all humanity on earth. The mission of the Church is to proclaim and establish the Kingdom of God among all people. The Second Vatican Council said that the Church “becomes on earth the initial budding forth of that Kingdom of God.”

So, where is your treasure? Do we really consider the Church, and our parish community, to be our buried treasure and our pearl of great price? We are far luckier than the individuals in the Gospel today. They had to first sell all they had and buy the field where the treasure was buried and to buy the pearl. But for us, the Kingdom of Heaven is a free gift from God. Jesus is the one who found and bought the precious pearl and the buried treasure – and He paid for them with the price of His own life on the cross – all FOR US. But far from hiding and hoarding His treasures, He now and forever shares them with us freely. And, every time we gather to celebrate the Eucharist, we enjoy a taste of Heaven right here. The dividing lines between Heaven and Earth are erased; God comes downs and makes our gifts holy; we sing with angels and saints, “Holy, holy, holy.”

Our treasure, our precious pearl of membership in the Church as the chosen and beloved People of God is the gift that all the money in the world cannot even begin to buy. Our prize of the Sacraments is nothing less than God’s immense and intense love leading us to our ultimate prize - eternal life.

Saint John Paul said, “When this world has passed away, those who accepted God in their lives and were sincerely open to His love…will enjoy that fullness of communion with God which is the goal of human existence.” And it is possible to get a taste of Heaven on earth through the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist which is such a profound meeting place of Heaven on Earth, such a great foretaste of the happiness and peace and communion which we will one day know perfectly with God in Heaven.

Where is your treasure? “Seek first the Kingdom of Heaven.”

May the Lord give you peace!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Letting weeds become wheat

HOMILY FOR THE 16th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, July 20, 2014:

Growing up, as a young boy, Sunday nights always had a ritual. You quickly took your Sunday night bath so that you could be in front of the TV in time for Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, followed by The Wonderful World of Disney and Little House on the Prairie. Now, Wild Kingdom in particular was always exciting because inevitably Marlin Perkins would come face-to-face with something ferocious – a lion, a tiger, a bear (oh my?). And it would be exciting.

I was thinking of this recently because I never expected to experience such a ferocious encounter of the wild living here in the concrete jungle, but when grilling some chicken in the small alleyway between the friary and church a week and a half ago, I suddenly found myself dodging a very angry pigeon that was dive-bombing in my direction in a great flurry. Why? Well, I quickly discovered the answer. This was a mother pigeon protecting two eggs next to the air conditioner unit for the Church and I apparently was a threat. So, I gave Mama her space.

I was then away for a week and came back home on Friday and was eager to see if I had any new pigeon chicks in the alleyway. What I saw was the Mom protecting one cute little chick, and the second egg cast outside of the nest. And, that was a really sad sight – to see the Mom protecting one, but having completely cast off another of her children. But, of course, I reminded myself that that was simply the way of nature. That’s the way it sometimes goes. Some make it, some don’t.

We heard in our Gospel today, “His slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull the weeds up?’ He replied, ‘No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest.”

Now, unlike the chicks in my alley, Jesus gives us a different image from nature today – that of wheat and weeds. So, what is He trying to tell us today through this image? To put this image into context, I think our human nature can sometimes be like the pigeon or other animals in the wild – we want to create categories. Often enough the categories are things like us and them; who’s in and who’s out; good and bad; sinner and saint – here in the North End we have our own special categories like Mike’s or Modern’s. We tend towards being exclusionary; to judge who is better and who is worse.

Too often, even after we have come to know God in our hearts, when we have given ourselves totally to Him – we still want to create these categories. We cast aside our own sins, we seek forgiveness and reconciliation, we walk in the light of the Lord. But, something else happens – we now become acutely aware of everyone else’s sin. When we become wheat – to use Jesus’ imagery today – we see all the weeds around us. And that is the problem that Jesus is trying to get at today with this image of wheat and weeds – what we might call the old Holier-Than-Thou Syndrome. We transfer our natural human tendency towards being judgmental and exclusionary into the spiritual realm.

But, Jesus calls us to something different. He calls us not to something merely natural, but through Him, the Son of God, through His gift of the Sacraments – He invites us into the supernatural where we are no longer bound by the flawed constraints of our weak human nature. He tell us today, “Let the weeds and wheat grow together until the harvest.”

Jesus recognized – especially in the Pharisees (a name which means literally “the separated ones” by the way) – that even our holiness can become a temptation to judge others. We all know the type – we’ve all probably been like this at one point or another in our lives – we decide that we can judge spiritually who is in and who is out. Take any of today’s hot-button issues. We might decide it is someone who is divorced or who committed adultery; or someone who had an abortion. It could be someone who is just mean and hateful, someone who is gay or lesbian, someone who has stolen or even committed some other horrible crime. We look at them and we become a self-appointed judge and jury deciding their spiritual fate. But, where is God’s love and mercy in that? Where is God’s opportunity for encounter, relationship, reconciliation and forgiveness and healing in that?

The problem, of course, is that God never asked us to do any of this. Pope Francis said it much more succinctly last year when he said simply, “Who am I to judge?” It was a powerful statement coming from the Holy Father, but it is one that should come from each one of us too. Who are we to judge? There is only one judge; and it is not us – it is God, the true and only judge we will face.

But, who are we to love? Who are we to forgive? Who are we to show compassion? Who are we to reach out to the needy, the hungry, the sick, the imprisoned, the refugee, the immigrant? We are. Jesus is very explicit about those things. These are our commands. This is what He asks us to do – to love, to be His loving, kind, compassionate and forgiving presence in our world. How are we doing with that?

“Let them grow together,” weeds and wheat together, Jesus tells us. Why? Well, in the Kingdom of God, something amazing can happen. Weeds can become wheat. If Jesus, through His grace and mercy, can transform mere bread and wine into His Body and Blood – as He will do again in front of our very eyes on this altar today – then surely He can also turn weeds into wheat. Perhaps some of us here – maybe many of us here, maybe all of us here – were once weeds ourselves, but through God’s amazing grace, have been transformed into wheat. “Let them grow together,” He says because He is giving us all the time we need to do the same. He wants all the weeds to become the beautiful wheat of His harvest.It might be nature’s way to cast off the ones who don’t look like they are going to make it. But, that is not God’s way and it most certainly should not be our way. Pope Francis said, “Let the Church always be a place of mercy and hope, where everyone is welcomed, loved and forgiven." Let’s make his words our words too.

May the Lord give you peace.

Friday, July 4, 2014

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 238 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:

IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776
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 Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton
Massachusetts:John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry
Rhode Island:Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery
Connecticut:Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott
New York:William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris
New Jersey:Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham ClarkPennsylvania:Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross
Delaware:Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean
Maryland:Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton
Virginia:George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton
North Carolina:William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn
South Carolina:Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton
Georgia:Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton