Saturday, March 31, 2007

"Your Master has need of it."

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, April 1, 2007:

Today our celebration of Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion begins the great feast of Holy Week – the most sacred week of our Church year. At first glance, today can seem like an odd feast. Before the Second Vatican Council, Palm Sunday was observed one week before Passion Sunday giving people time to savor the echoes of “Hosanna!” for a week before they are confronted with the bitter cries “Crucify Him!” In the liturgy today, the two celebrations have been brought together. We began commemorating the Lord’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem, a joyful celebration in which we join the people of Jerusalem in welcoming Jesus with happy shouts of “Hosanna!” Then, as we just heard proclaimed, the story of the suffering and death - the Passion - of our Lord Jesus Christ in which our “Hosannas” are changed to cries of “Crucify Him!” The dramatic and emotional effect of bringing these two aspects of the reality of Jesus’ life together is at first strange, but I think ultimately helpful.

These two themes of “Hosanna” and “Crucify Him” serve as a prologue to the rest of Holy Week. This is sort of like a movie preview that we see before the feature presentation. We get glimpses of the glory – Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem – and a look at what is to come – His death on the cross. But, like every good movie preview, it doesn’t give away the ending. We have to stick around all week to see how this all turns out.

Today, I want to focus on the “Hosanna” of our story – the glorious entrance – and I want to look at a character in the story that perhaps we don’t usually think about. We often focus on Jesus as King, or the disciples and their part in the story, or the crowds and how they hailed Jesus. I want to talk about two characters no one ever seems to mention – the colt and its’ owner. Think about it for a minute. How different would this story be if the unnamed owner of the colt had refused to give it up? Maybe we would have no story of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, at least not in the way Jesus intended.

The point is that no matter how unknown a person is, how small a role someone plays, every part is crucial in the full unfolding of God’s plan. The Lord needs each one of us just as he needed even a small colt and its owner in His entry to Jerusalem. We are never told who this owner of the colt is, but the fact that they understood that “the Master” refers to Jesus and voluntarily gave up the colt shows that they could have been a secret disciple or admirer of Jesus. Otherwise, you would expect them to answer, “But who is this ‘Master’ who needs my colt?”

A colt was a very big thing in the time of Jesus. The colt was the equivalent of a car, a truck and a tractor all in one. It was a car because people used it to move around and do their shopping, a truck because it was used to carry a load, and a tractor because it was used in cultivating the land. Add to this the fact that the colt had never been ridden, that means it was brand new and had a very high market value. You can see that giving up the colt just because the Lord needed it was a very big sacrifice indeed. It was a generous and heroic act of faith; even though it seems very simple.

The challenge is for us to search our hearts and ask do we respond as quickly and as generously when our Master calls for our gifts, talents and treasure to be used for His Kingdom and His Glory?

A priest was really getting the congregation moving with his preaching. Near the end of his sermon he said, “This church has really got to walk,” to which someone in the back yelled, “Let her walk preacher.” The preacher then said, “If this church is going to go, it’s got to get up and run,” to which someone again yelled with gusto, “Let her run preacher.” Feeling the surge of the church, the preacher then said with even louder gusto, “If this church is going to go, it’s got to really fly,” and once again with ever greater gusto, someone yelled, “Let her fly preacher, let her fly.” The preacher then seized the moment and stated with even greater gusto, “If this church is really going to fly, it’s going to need money.” There was silence. Then someone in the back seat cried, “Let her walk preacher, let her walk.”

We are reminded today that each one of us has got a colt that our Master needs. The famous spiritual writer Max Lucado offers this reflection on using our colt for the service of the Lord: “Sometimes I get the impression that God wants me to give him something and sometimes I don’t give it because I don’t know for sure, and then I feel bad because I’ve missed my chance. Other times I know he wants something but I don’t give it because I’m too selfish. And other times, too few times, I hear him and I obey him and feel honored that a gift of mine would be used to carry Jesus to another place. And still other times I wonder if my little deeds today will make a difference in the long haul. Maybe you have those questions, too. All of us have a colt. You and I each have something in our lives, which, if given back to God, could, like the colt, move Jesus and his story further down the road. Maybe you can sing or program a computer or speak Swahili or write a check. Whichever, that’s your colt. Whichever, your colt belongs to God. It really does belong to him. Your gifts are his and the colt was his. The wording of the instructions Jesus gave to his disciples is proof: “And if anyone should ask you,‘Why are you untying it?’ you will answer, ‘The Master has need of it.’”

As we enter into yet another great and glorious Holy Week, let us ask for the grace to hold back nothing of ourselves from the Lord, our Master. Let us freely give of our time, our talent and our treasure – our colt – to bring forth the very presence of God in our world; to help transport Jesus from this place to the many places where people do not yet know Him. Let us be forever in His service.

So, what is the name of your colt? Your Master has need of it.

Have a blessed Holy Week and may God give you peace.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The First Great Theologian of the Church: St. Irenaeus

Pope Benedict XVI: On St. Irenaeus of Lyons

"The First Great Theologian of the Church"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 28: A translation of the address Benedict XVI gave at the general audience yesterday in St. Peter's Square. The reflection focused on St. Irenaeus of Lyons:

Dear Brothers and Sisters! In the catechesis on the great figures of the Church during the first centuries, today we reach the figure of an eminent personality, Irenaeus of Lyons. His biographical information comes from his own testimony, sent down to us by Eusebius in the fifth book of the "Storia Ecclesiastica."

Irenaeus was most probably born in Smyrna (today Izmir, in Turkey) between the years 135 and 140. There, while still a youth, he attended the school of Bishop Polycarp, for his part, a disciple of the apostle John. We do not know when he moved from Asia Minor to Gaul, but the move must have coincided with the first developments of the Christian community in Lyons: There, in 177, we find Irenaeus mentioned among the college of presbyters.

That year he was sent to Rome, bearer of a letter from the community of Lyons to Pope Eleutherius. The Roman mission took Irenaeus away from the persecution by Marcus Aurelius, in which at least 48 martyrs died, among them the bishop of Lyons himself, the 90-year-old Pothinus, who died of mistreatment in jail. Thus, on his return, Irenaeus was elected bishop of the city. The new pastor dedicated himself entirely to his episcopal ministry, which ended around 202-203, perhaps by martyrdom.

Irenaeus is above all a man of faith and a pastor. Like the Good Shepherd, he has prudence, a richness of doctrine, and missionary zeal. As a writer, he aims for a twofold objective: to defend true doctrine from the attacks of the heretics, and to clearly expound the truth of the faith. His two works still in existence correspond exactly to the fulfillment of these two objectives: the five books "Against Heresies," and the "Demonstration of Apostolic Preaching" (which could be called the oldest "catechism of Christian doctrine"). Without a doubt, Irenaeus is the champion in the fight against heresies.

The Church of the second century was threatened by so-called gnosticism, a doctrine which claimed that the faith taught by the Church was nothing more than symbolism for the simpleminded, those unable to grasp more difficult things. Instead, the initiated, the intellectuals -- they called themselves gnostics -- could understand what was behind the symbolism, and thus would form an elite, intellectual Christianity.

Obviously, this intellectual Christianity became more and more fragmented with different currents of thought, often strange and extravagant, yet attractive to many. A common element within these various currents was dualism, that is, a denial of faith in the only God, Father of all, creator and savior of humanity and of the world. To explain the evil in the world, they asserted the existence of a negative principle, next to the good God. This negative principle had created matter, material things.

Firmly rooted in the biblical doctrine of Creation, Irenaeus refuted dualism and the gnostic pessimism that devalued corporal realities. He decisively affirmed the original holiness of matter, of the body, of the flesh, as well as of the spirit. But his work goes far beyond the refutation of heresies: In fact, one can say that he presents himself as the first great theologian of the Church, who established systematic theology. He himself speaks about the system of theology, that is, the internal coherence of the faith.

The question of the "rule of faith" and its transmission lies at the heart of his doctrine. For Irenaeus, the "rule of faith" coincides in practice with the Apostles' Creed, and gives us the key to interpret the Gospel, to interpret the creed in light of the Gospel. The apostolic symbol, a sort of synthesis of the Gospel, helps us understand what the Gospel means, how we must read the Gospel itself.

In fact, the Gospel preached by St. Irenaeus is the one he received from Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, and the Gospel of Polycarp goes back to the apostle John, Polycarp having been John's disciple. Thus, the true teaching is not that invented by the intellectuals, rising above the simple faith of the Church. The true Gospel is preached by the bishops who have received it thanks to an uninterrupted chain from the apostles.

These men have taught nothing but the simple faith, which is also the true depth of the revelation of God. Thus, says Irenaeus, there is no secret doctrine behind the common creed of the Church. There is no superior Christianity for intellectuals. The faith publicly professed by the Church is the faith common to all. Only this faith is apostolic, coming from the apostles, that is, from Jesus and from God.

To adhere to this faith publicly taught by the apostles to their successors, Christians must observe what the bishops say. They must specifically consider the teaching of the Church of Rome, pre-eminent and ancient. This Church, because of its age, has the greatest apostolicity; in fact its origins come from the columns of the apostolic college, Peter and Paul. All the Churches must be in harmony with the Church of Rome, recognizing in it the measure of the true apostolic tradition and the only faith common to the Church.

With these arguments, very briefly summarized here, Irenaeus refutes the very foundation of the aims of the gnostics, of these intellectuals: First of all, they do not possess a truth that would be superior to the common faith, given that what they say is not of apostolic origin, but invented by them. Second, truth and salvation are not a privilege monopolized by a few, but something that everyone can reach through the preaching of the apostles' successors, and, above all, that of the Bishop of Rome.

By taking issue with the "secret" character of the gnostic tradition and by contesting its multiple intrinsic contradictions, Irenaeus concerns himself with illustrating the genuine concept of Apostolic Tradition, that we could summarize in three points.

a) The Apostolic Tradition is "public," not private or secret. For Irenaeus, there is no doubt that the content of the faith transmitted by the Church is that received from the apostles and from Jesus, the Son of God. There is no teaching aside from this. Therefore, for one who wishes to know the true doctrine, it is enough to know "the Tradition that comes from the Apostles and the faith announced to men": tradition and faith that "have reached us through the succession of bishops" ("Adv. Haer." 3,3,3-4). Thus, the succession of bishops, personal principle, Apostolic Tradition, and doctrinal principle all coincide.

b) The Apostolic Tradition is "one." While gnosticism is divided into many sects, the Church's Tradition is one in its fundamental contents, which -- as we have seen -- Irenaeus calls "regula fidei" or "veritatis." And given that it is one, it creates unity among peoples, different cultures and different communities. It has a common content like that of truth, despite different languages and cultures.

There is a beautiful expression that Irenaeus uses in the book "Against Heresies": "The Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points (of doctrine) just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth. For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the tradition is one and the same. For the Churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world."

We can already see at this time -- we are in the year 200 -- the universality of the Church, its catholicity and the unifying force of truth, which unites these so-very-different realities, from Germany, to Spain, to Italy, to Egypt, to Libya, in the common truth revealed to us by Christ.

c) Finally, the Apostolic Tradition is, as he says in Greek, the language in which he wrote his book, "pneumatic," that is, spiritual, led by the Holy Spirit. In Greek, spirit is "pneuma." It is not a transmission entrusted to the abilities of more or less educated men, but the Spirit of God who guarantees faithfulness in the transmission of the faith.

This is the "life" of the Church, that which makes the Church always young, that is, fruitful with many charisms. Church and Spirit are inseparable for Irenaeus. This faith, we read in the third book of "Against Heresies," "which, having been received from the Church, we do preserve, and which always, by the Spirit of God, renewing its youth, as if it were some precious deposit in an excellent vessel, causes the vessel itself containing it to renew its youth also. … For where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God; and where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church, and every kind of grace" (3,24,1).

As we can see, Irenaeus does not stop at defining the concept of Tradition. His tradition, uninterrupted Tradition, is not traditionalism, because this Tradition is always internally vivified by the Holy Spirit, which makes it alive again, allows it to be interpreted and understood in the vitality of the Church.

According to his teaching, the Church's faith must be preached in such a way that it appears as it must appear, that is "public," "one," "pneumatic," "spiritual." From each of these characteristics, one can glean a fruitful discernment of the authentic transmission of the faith in the Church of today.

More generally, in the doctrine of Irenaeus, human dignity, body and soul, is firmly rooted in Divine Creation, in the image of Christ and in the permanent work of sanctification of the Spirit. This doctrine is like the "main road" to clarify to all people of good will, the object and the limits of dialogue on values, and to give an ever new impulse to the missionary activities of the Church, to the strength of truth which is the source of all the true values in the world.


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Embracing Holy Week

With Sunday’s celebration of Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion we enter into the greatest and holiest week of our Church calendar, called aptly Holy Week. This is, by far, my favorite week of the year. One of the saddest things to me though is that, although the sights and sounds and experiences of Holy Week are so interesting, by and large, most members of our congregation will not participate in them. So, let me explain them a little bit, and also encourage everyone to make the effort to join in our Holy Week celebrations this year.

I think of the question asked by the youngest member of a Jewish family at Passover (which we also celebrate this weekend), “What makes this night different from all others?” This is a good question for us for this upcoming Holy Week. What makes it so very different? Well, in the most general sense, Holy Week is the celebration par excellence. There is virtually no aspect of our faith that is not explained, highlighted and elevated during this great week. The origin of Holy Week is actually tied to the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. Long before there were religious education programs, new members of the Church community learned about Christianity by engaging in a 40 day retreat (what we now call Lent), and the celebration of Easter where the deepest mysteries of faith were explained leading them to receiving the Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist) at the Easter Vigil. Holy Week is still a special time for those entering the faith, but it has become over the centuries a time also of renewal for the entire community. So, let’s take a look at each of the days of Holy Week:

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion: I often think of this day as the Prologue of the week that lies ahead. We begin our celebration today in glory recalling how Jesus was received into Jerusalem as a King. But, our celebration will end on a more somber note; as we go from His Kingship to His suffering and death on the Cross as we participate in the reading of the Passion Gospel.

Holy Tuesday, Chrism Mass: This day holds one of the greatest, hidden gems of the liturgical year. The Chrism Mass takes place only at the Cathedral of the Archdiocese and is a celebration on a few levels. First, all of the priests and deacons of the Archdiocese make their way to the Cathedral for this Mass. It is a moment to re-affirm and celebrate our unity with our Archbishop. At this Mass, all priests and deacons will renew the vows they made at their ordination. It is very moving for the clergy involved and for the people who watch the entire presbyterate make this renewal. And renewal is a good theme for this Mass as the Archbishop also blesses and consecrates the oils used throughout the year for the Sacraments. If you’ve ever wondered, the three Holy Oils – the Oil of the Infirm; the Oil of Catechumens; and the Sacred Chrism – that are used for Baptisms, Confirmation, Anointing of the Sick, etc. throughout the year all come from this Mass It is a symbol of the Church reaching out from its center in Hartford to the rest of the Archdiocese. This Mass takes place at 11 a.m. on Tuesday at St. Joseph’s in Hartford. If you can go, I strongly encourage it.

Holy Thursday of the Lord’s Supper: On Holy Thursday we begin what is called the Sacred Triduum – or the Holy Three Days. This is really one celebration that is so incredible that it takes three full days to properly celebrate it. At this Mass, we receive the oils that were blessed on Tuesday at the Cathedral, Fr. Mike and I will again renew our priestly commitment, we have the Washing of the Feet, the great symbol of service that Christ gave us, and we commemorate the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. After Mass, we engage in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament until midnight to continue to adore the gift of the Jesus Real and True Presence in the Eucharist. In some places and cultures, many people also visit seven churches. I used to do this in my home town – you would visit seven Churches and pray in each of them as a devotional practice before midnight. I don’t think we have seven Catholic churches close enough here to do this though.

Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion: Suddenly, we take a start turn. When you arrive at Church on Friday, after all the beauty and d├ęcor of Thursday, the Church is stripped bare an in morning. We commemorate the death of Jesus on this day. From the end of Holy Thursday until the Easter Vigil no sacraments are celebrated (except in case of death). The Church is in mourning. Often Christian Churches come together to commemorate this, as we will on the Town Green at noontime. At 3 p.m., we traditionally celebrate the Stations of the Cross. At 7 p.m., we gather for the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion which includes the Gospel Passion again, the Veneration of the Cross and the reception of Holy Communion (that was consecrated the night before). We depart in silence and sorrow. We fast and abstain from meat on this day; and in many cultures it is a custom to refrain from talking except at religious services.

Easter Vigil: Throughout the day on Saturday, we continue to mourn, but once the sun goes down, the celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection begins. The Easter Vigil is a feast of sight and smell and sound. We begin outdoors blessing the new fire and lighting the new Easter Candle; in the Liturgy of the Word we have extended and numerous readings that recount the story of our salvation; those in the RCIA program will receive the Sacraments of Initiation and join the Church; the overwhelming theme is rejoicing! Resurrexit, dixit! Alleluia! He is Risen as He said! Alleluia!

I invite you to clear your calendar this week if you are able and to set the celebration of this Great and Holy Week as the highest priority in your life. Let us enter into the great mystery of our salvation and reach next Sunday with true Easter joy!

Happy Holy Week!

Love, Fr. Tom

Being obedient to the Will of God

Daniel 3:14-20,91-92,95:

14 Nebuchadnez'zar said to them, "Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed'nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image which I have set up? 17 If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace; and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18 But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up." 19 Then Nebuchadnez'zar was full of fury, and the expression of his face was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed'nego. He ordered the furnace heated seven times more than it was wont to be heated.

Meditation: What saved Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed'nego from the fiery furnace? Obedience to God’s will. They were willing to suffer death rather than disobey their God. God was with them in the fiery furnace and he rewarded them for their faithfulness. Jesus came to do the will of his Father. He was not spared the cross which he willing embraced for our sake. His obedience reversed the curse of Adam’s disobedience. The Father crowned him with victory over sin, death, and Satan. Jesus shows us the way to true freedom and victory–freely submitting our heart, mind, and will to an all-merciful, all-loving, and all-wise God. What the Father offers us is a kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom.14:17).The happiest, freest people are those who delight in God. Their joy is the pleasure of doing the Father’s will. Do you know the joy of submission to God?

What is the world’s notion of freedom? “To do as I please”. This is really a mask for servitude to one’s passions and unruly desires. Jesus offers his disciples true freedom – freedom from the slavery of selfishness, freedom from fear, especially the fear of what others might think of us, and freedom from hurtful desires and the power of sin. The good news is that Christ has truly set us free from sin. How is this possible? Through the gift and power of the Holy Spirit we can choose to walk in Christ’s way of love and holiness. A disciple is a follower and a listener. If we listen to the words of Jesus, with a humble and teachable spirit, he will give us the grace and the power to follow in his way of holiness. Ask the Lord to open your ears to his word that you may be attentive to his voice.

"Lord, write your words of love and truth upon my heart and make me a diligent student and a worthy disciple of your word."


Monday, March 26, 2007

"Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you!"


The angel Gabriel was sent from God
to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,
to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph,
of the house of David,
and the virgin’s name was Mary.
And coming to her, he said,
“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”
But she was greatly troubled at what was said
and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
Then the angel said to her,“Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favor with God.
Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
and you shall name him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,
and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his Kingdom there will be no end.’
But Mary said to the angel,
“How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”
And the angel said to her in reply,
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
Therefore the child to be born
will be called holy, the Son of God.
And behold, Elizabeth, your relative,
has also conceived a son in her old age,
and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;
for nothing will be impossible for God.”
Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.”
Then the angel departed from her.
- Gospel of Luke (1.26-38)

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Fools for Christ!

Fifth Sunday of Lent, March 25, 2007:

Jesus is sitting in the Temple area teaching when a women caught in adultery is brought to him to be stoned for her sins. Looking at the crowd Jesus says, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” There is silence. Suddenly from the back of the crowd a rock comes hurling through and hits the woman on the head. Jesus looks up and says, “Mom, do you mind? I’m trying to make a point here.”

You’ve probably heard that one before. I like that joke because its humor is in that it shakes up what is a very familiar story to us about the woman caught in adultery. And, shaking things up is I think, exactly what Jesus intended by the way he acted in that encounter. It is one of those Biblical paradoxes where the Godly response is very different from the typical human response. It is reminiscent of the line in Scripture that reminds us that the “wisdom of God is foolishness to humans.” This was also a key insight of St. Francis of Assisi who realized that to follow the Gospel was to be completely different than what the world wants us to be. In fact, if God’s wisdom is what humans would view as foolish, then let’s all be fools. Francis was often called Christ’s fool. It is a very Franciscan way of following our Christian calling. So, the next time you think or say, “Fr. Tom is such a fool,” just remember, I’m only living out my vocation.

So, let’s look at this encounter that is meant to shake us up a bit. Jesus has this powerful encounter with the woman who was caught in adultery. Remember that by every objective standard of her day, this woman should have been put to death. Capital Crime? Capital Punishment, or the Death Penalty. The law on this was clear. From Leviticus, Chapter 20: “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death.” Very clear cut. Her actions were clearly in violation of the Law and anyone who was there would not have given this a second thought. Death was required and was even justified under the Law. So, why not just stone her and be done with it?

Instead, Jesus offers another option. “Let the first among you without sin cast the first stone.” And what happens? Suddenly these people see their connectedness as community – even though one in their midst had done wrong. With that simple statement, “Let the first among you without sin cast the first stone,” Jesus instantly brings a halt to a pattern of violence. Had they stoned her, these people would have just gone forward seeking out more wrong doers to bring to so-called justice. But, Jesus stops the cycle of violence that only leads to more violence and instead offers a way that leads to healing, reconciliation and peace. And isn’t that so much better than violence begetting violence – even when that violence seems justified?

And, let’s not underestimate the effects of Jesus actions. Although not named, tradition has often suggested that this woman was Mary Magdalene. Not only did she go on from this moment to be one of Jesus closest disciples, she is one of the most revered saints the world over, and was given the unbelievable honor of being the first at the tomb to proclaim that Jesus had risen. None of this would have happened if vengeance had taken over and she had been stoned to death. The realization is that the death penalty turns humans into false gods lording life and death over one another. More importantly, ”an eye for an eye” only serves to stop the healing, reconciling work that the True God wants to do in the lives of everyone.

Don’t forget either, another Mary likewise should have been killed for her actions. Mary, the mother of Jesus, said YES to God and became pregnant through the Holy Spirit. But in the eyes of her society, she was a pregnant woman out of wedlock – who likewise should have been put to death. Think of the consequences of that action. Were the Blessed Mother executed, there would have been no Jesus and no salvation.

So, what does this have to do with us? Well, this story from the Gospel presents us with a profound question – when will we begin to act as Jesus acts? When will we stop seeking vengeance, the cycle of violence, the culture of death, and begin to be people of reconciliation, healing and hope? And I say begin to act because looking around our world it is clear that as a society, whatever our words are, whatever is in our hearts – our actions are not in support of life. When teenagers in our community last week painted satanic symbols on two churches in town, how many people said, “Someone has to make these kids pay the price!” And how many said, “How can we reconcile this situation?” Luckily, Pastor Gail at St. John’s chose the path of reconciliation discovering that these young men are in very difficult home situations that contributed to this act of vandalism. Does that mean there is no consequence? No, they are being charged with their crime. They are doing restitution at the churches. But, instead of it ending there – Pastor Gail has engaged the situation; engaged these young men; forgiven them; accepted their remorse and sorrow; and is helping them to heal their lives. A much better solution for everyone involved. You know, whenever we are pointing a finger at someone else in judgment, there are three fingers pointing back at us.

Violence begets more violence. Jesus shows the people in today’s Gospel that they are interconnected. When something happens in our community – whether vandalism, or homelessness, or crime, or other types of social failures – we shouldn’t say, “They should do something about this. Why did they let themselves get that way? Why should I care about them?” The key insight into being Christian is this – there is no they; in the Christian community there is only us. A failure of one is a failure of all. When people are caught in cycles of violence and poverty, the response should be – how have we as a community failed these people? And what can we do to bring true and lasting change for their good and our common good?

Ghandi is often quoted as having said, “An eye for an eye eventually leaves everyone blind.” Jesus shows us that we can halt that cycle of violence and work for reconciliation – even in the worst cases. The woman caught in adultery turned her life around, And Jesus on the cross promised the criminal beside him, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” The challenge for every Christian is to not just hear these words and say good for Jesus, but not for me; but to make Christ’s words, our words.

I am often aware of the fact that if this were the case, it should be a statistical impossibility that things like the Death Penalty, legal abortions, poverty, homelessness, etc. even exist. If we lived and voted our faith, given our overwhelming numbers in this country, all of these things should be long gone. These are all part of what it means to be Pro-Life.

Vengeance is fueled by anger. We are an angry people. But, anger only hurts us. Anger only ties up our own hearts in knots. Anger only steals our own peace. When will we stop being angry? It is so much easier to be forgiving. It is so much better to chose another way – which is what Jesus offers us. So, too these difficult and challenging situations in life Jesus might say, “Yes, I can understand your anger at this bad situation. You have every reason in the world to hold that grudge, to make them pay. But, don’t. How long is long enough to fill your heart with anger? Follow me. Let it go. Even when justified, offer love and forgiveness and reconciliation instead. You will see that it is not only healing for the one you forgive; it is healing for you as well.”

We must be the people who identify with and exemplify in our families and our community the saving, healing, reconciling actions of Jesus. Otherwise, we are just identifying with the Pharisees who seek to be more concerned with rules and punishment than with the love of God. Being Christian is not easy – it challenges us into places we weren’t prepared to go. But, when we trust in God’s actions, when we try things His way, the results are amazing. Just look at Mary Magdalene. Just look at the Blessed Mother.

The love of God is challenging, but it is not optional. Have you ever wondered where this Kingdom of God is that Jesus talks about? Why it hasn’t arrived yet? We need look no further than ourselves. We all have to be the people who, like Jesus, break the cycle and offer a different way. If it is only the priests preaching about these things and you leave here saying “that Fr. Tom is a fool” then the message will never take hold.

I’ve got news for you – I am a fool, a fool for Christ. The wisdom of Christ seems foolish to the world. But, I can also promise you that if you leave here today and offer the same reconciliation and healing to the angry places, situations and relationships in your life – change will happen. I challenge us all to do that. Let us all be a community of fools for Christ and ultimately a sign to the world of the Kingdom of God in our midst.

“Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone.”

May God give you peace.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Lent: The Springtime of our Faith

Well, even though when we look outdoors, we don't immediately see the signs of it, yesterday was the first day of Spring. This got me thinking a bit about our Lenten journey of faith towards Easter.

Not many people know where the word Lent comes from, but it has a strong Springtime connection. When we usually define the word Lent, we think of it wholely in its contemporary context. Lent is the period of 40 days befor Easter devoted to the spiritual practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. But, the actual word has a much more specific lineage.

The word "Lent" comes to us from the Old English equivalent of "lengten." It later became "lenten" in Middle English. The modern equivalent of this word today would be "lengthen." The word was a reference to the time of year when the days would lengthen or get longer; including more and more daylight each day. This is a very long way of saying Springtime.

And so, if Lent is understood as a religious term, then it is the religious equivalent of Spring. So, Lent is a Springtime of faith for we who believe. So, what does that mean? Well, it means that God has written His Gospel on creation itself - after all isn't our annual cycle of Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter really telling the story of the Gospel? The very Seasons proclaim life (Spring), abudance and growth (Summer), death (Fall and Winter) - only to be followed by resurrection as Spring comes around again.

So, too, our faith journey often follows the same pattern. We too find ourselves being born into faith; that faith often goes through great periods of growth and abundance; and also true is that we reach those dry patches where our faith can sometimes be rocky or even feel as though it isn't there. And God always promises us resurrection. Our faith can always be reborn. And this is what Lent offers us each year - a way to tend to the garden of our faith, the nurture it, to prune it, to allow for the possibility of new life once again. This is the Easter joy our prayers so often speak of in this joyful season of Lent.

My prayer today is that God will continue to "Lengthen" your faith so that it may be renewed, reborn and produce abundant spiritual fruit in your life.

Happy Spring! Happy Lent!

Pax et bonum!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

What It Means to Be Irish

This was sent to me recently and really made me laugh. I hope you enjoy:

What It Means To Be Irish:
1) You will never play professional basketball.
2) You swear very well.
3) At least one of your cousins is a fireman, cop, bar owner, funeral home owner, priest, nun or holds political office.
4) You think you sing very well.
5) You have no idea how to make a long story short!
6) There isn't a big difference between you losing your temper or killing someone...
7) Most of your childhood meals were boiled.
8) You have never hit your head on a ceiling.
9) You spent a good portion of your childhood kneeling in prayer .
10) You're strangely poetic after a few beers.
11) You are, therefore, poetic a lot.
12) You will be punched for no good reason...a lot.
13) Some punches directed at you are from legacies of past generations.
14) Many of your sisters and/or cousins are named Mary, Catherine or Eileen... and there is at least one member of your family with the full name of Mary Catherine Eileen.
15) Someone in your family is incredibly cheap. It is more than likely you.
16) You may not know the words, but that never stops you from singing.
17) You can't wait for the other guy to stop talking before you start talking.
18) You're not nearly as funny as you think you are...but what you lack in talent, you make up for in enthusiasm.
19) There wasn't a huge difference between the last Wake you went to and the last keg party you went to.
20) You are, or know someone, named “Murph.”
21) If you don't know “Murph” then you know “Mac.” If you don't know “Murph” or “Mac” then you know “Sully.” And, you probably know someone named “Sully McMurphy.”
22) You are genetically incapable of keeping a secret.
23) You have Irish Alzheimer's... your forget everything but the grudges!
24) "Irish Stew" is a euphemism for "boiled leftovers."
25) All of your losses are alcohol related (loss of drivers license, loss of money, loss of job, loss of significant other, loss of teeth from punch...) but it never stops you from drinking.
Erin go bragh!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Eucharist: The Spring of Christian Joy

On Sunday, Laetare or Rejoice Sunday, Pope Benedict used his weekly Angelus address to remind the Church that the Eucharist is the font of Christian Joy.

“Today the liturgy invites us to cheer up, because Easter, the day of Christ’s victory over sin and death, is drawing nearer,” the Holy Father said at midday.

“Where is the spring of Christian joy but in the Eucharist, which Christ left as a spiritual food, while we are pilgrims on this earth?”

“This Eucharistic food,” he continued, “provides for the faithful of all ages a profound joy, which is at one with love and with peace, and which springs forth from one’s communion with God and with one’s brothers,” the Holy Father said before the Marian Prayer.

The Holy Father also spoke of his Apostolic Exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis, which was presented last Tuesday and which is written on the theme of “the Eucharist as the source and summit of the life and mission of the Church.”

The text, explained Benedict XVI, “is an expression of the faith of the universal Church in the Eucharistic Mystery, which continues the Second Vatican Council and the magisterium of my revered predecessors, Paul VI and John Paul II”.

Pope Benedict pointed out the connection between the post-synodal exhortation and his his first encyclical “Deus caritas est.”

“That’s why I called it ‘Sacramentum caritatis,’” he said, “taking inspiration from a fine definition of the Eucharist by St Thomas Aquinas, ‘The Sacrament of love.’”

“Yes,” he added, “in the Eucharist, Christ wanted to give us ‘His’ love, which drove Him to offer His life up for us on the Cross.”

“In His Last Supper, as he washed the Apostles’ feet, Jesus left us the Commandment of love,” he said.

But, warned the Pope, “since this is possible only if we stay bonded to Him, as shoots to a vine, He decided to stay Himself amidst us in the Eucharist, so that we could ‘stay in Him’. Therefore, as we feed on His Body and on His Blood with faith, His love enters us and enables us, in turn, to give our life for our neighbors.” This, he added, “is the spring of Christian joy, the joy of love.”

Finally, the Pope recalled that next to Mary, who he called the epitome of the “Eucharistic woman,” God placed Saint Joseph to guard the redeemer. “I particularly invoke this great Saint,” whose Feast the Church celebrates on Monday, he said, “so that by believing, celebrating, and living with faith the Eucharistic Mystery, the people of God may be infused with Christ’s love and may spread its fruits of joy and peace across the whole of mankind.”

Monday, March 19, 2007

"I desire that you may see my Son."

The annual apparition of Our Lady to Mirjana Dragicevic-Soldo, March 18, 2007. This year several thousand pilgrims gathered to pray the Rosary at the Cenacolo Community in Medjugorje. The apparition lasted from 2:07 to 2:12 and Our Lady gave the following message:

“Dear children! I come to you as a Mother with gifts. I come with love and mercy. Dear children, mine is a big heart. In it, I desire all of your hearts, purified by fasting and prayer. I desire that, through love, our hearts may triumph together. I desire that through that triumph you may see the real Truth, the real Way and the real Life. I desire that you may see my Son. Thank you. ”
Our Lady blessed all of us and all religious articles. Again She emphasized that it is only Her Motherly blessing and She asked for daily prayers for those whom She said "my Son has chosen and blessed." Mirjana clarified that she thought Our Lady was referring to priests.

Feast of St. Joseph

St. Joseph

Feastday: March 19, May 1
Patron of the Universal Church

Everything we know about the husband of Mary and the foster father of Jesus comes from Scripture and that has seemed too little for those who made up legends about him.

We know he was a carpenter, a working man, for the skeptical Nazarenes ask about Jesus, "Is this not the carpenter's son?" (Matthew 13:55). He wasn't rich for when he took Jesus to the Temple to be circumcised and Mary to be purified he offered the sacrifice of two turtledoves or a pair of pigeons, allowed only for those who could not afford a lamb (Luke 2:24).

Despite his humble work and means, Joseph came from a royal lineage. Luke and Matthew disagree some about the details of Joseph's genealogy but they both mark his descent from David, the greatest king of Israel (Matthew 1:1-16 and Luke 3:23-38). Indeed the angel who first tells Joseph about Jesus greets him as "son of David," a royal title used also for Jesus.

We know Joseph was a compassionate, caring man. When he discovered Mary was pregnant after they had been betrothed, he knew the child was not his but was as yet unaware that she was carrying the Son of God. He planned to divorce Mary according to the law but he was concerned for her suffering and safety. He knew that women accused to adultery could be stoned to death, so he decided to divorce her quietly and not expose her to shame or cruelty (Matthew 1:19-25).

We know Joseph was man of faith, obedient to whatever God asked of him without knowing the outcome. When the angel came to Joseph in a dream and told him the truth about the child Mary was carrying, Joseph immediately and without question or concern for gossip, took Mary as his wife. When the angel came again to tell him that his family was in danger, he immediately left everything he owned, all his family and friends, and fled to a strange country with his young wife and the baby. He waited in Egypt without question until the angel told him it was safe to go back (Matthew 2:13-23).

We know Joseph loved Jesus. His one concern was for the safety of this child entrusted to him. Not only did he leave his home to protect Jesus, but upon his return settled in the obscure town of Nazareth out of fear for his life. When Jesus stayed in the Temple we are told Joseph (along with Mary) searched with great anxiety for three days for him (Luke 2:48). We also know that Joseph treated Jesus as his own son for over and over the people of Nazareth say of Jesus, "Is this not the son of Joseph?" (Luke 4:22)

We know Joseph respected God. He followed God's commands in handling the situation with Mary and going to Jerusalem to have Jesus circumcised and Mary purified after Jesus' birth. We are told that he took his family to Jerusalem every year for Passover, something that could not have been easy for a working man.

Since Joseph does not appear in Jesus' public life, at his death, or resurrection, many historians believe Joseph probably had died before Jesus entered public ministry.
Joseph is the patron of the dying because, assuming he died before Jesus' public life, he died with Jesus and Mary close to him, the way we all would like to leave this earth.
Joseph is also patron of the universal Church, fathers, carpenters, and social justice.

We celebrate two feast days for Joseph: March 19 for Joseph the Husband of Mary and May 1
for Joseph the Worker.

There is much we wish we could know about Joseph -- where and when he was born, how he spent his days, when and how he died. But Scripture has left us with the most important knowledge: who he was -- "a righteous man" (Matthew 1:18).

In His Footsteps:

Joseph was foster father to Jesus. There are many children separated from families and parents who need foster parents. Please consider contacting your local Catholic Charities or Division of Family Services about becoming a foster parent.


Saint Joseph, patron of the universal Church, watch over the Church as carefully as you watched over Jesus, help protect it and guide it as you did with your adopted son. Amen

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Coming to our senses

Murphy, O’Brien and Mitchell were sitting in a bar discussing the words they would like to hear spoken over their coffins at their wakes. Mitchell says, “I would like them to say ‘He was a wonderful family man- he always supported his wife and kids, and they never wanted for anything.’“ O’Brien says, “That’s lovely Mitchell. But I would like to hear them say, ‘He was a great man in the community - he undertook a lot of projects to make his community a better place.’“ Finally, Murphy says, “That’s very nice, O’Brien. But what I would like to hear them say is, ‘Look! He’s moving!’“

A bit of St. Patrick’s humor for you this weekend. I hope everyone enjoyed some corned beef and cabbage and a good, tall Guinness yesterday!

“Father, I have signed against heaven and against you.” A few years ago, Fr. John Powell wrote a best selling book called Happiness Is An Inside Job. In it, he tells a story about a woman who came from a poor economic background. One day, she met the man of her dreams. He was not only a wonderful person, but he was also a man of considerable wealth. She could not believe her ears when he asked her to marry him. After the wedding, they moved into a beautiful suburban home. There she lived in surroundings that were more wonderful and lavish than anything she had ever known before in her life. It was more than even her wildest dreams could have ever imagined. She thought she had it all.

Then, tragedy struck. One day she began to feel ill, in a way she never had before. To make a long story short, she went to the hospital where she was diagnosed with a terminal illness. Here is Fr. Powell’s description of the impact that this news had on her. “She felt a fire of anger ignite inside of her. In her fury, she wanted to tell God off. So, in her hospital gown and robe, she struggled through the corridors on her way to the chapel. It was to be a face-to-face confrontation – her and God. She felt so weak, she had to support herself by bracing against the wall as she moved along. When she entered the chapel, it was dark. No one was there. She proceeded up the center aisle on her way to the altar.

“Through what seemed like an endless journey from her room to the chapel, she had been preparing her speech: ‘Oh God, you are a fraud, a real phony. You have been passing yourself off as ‘love’ for 2,000 years. But every time anyone finds a little happiness, you pull out the rug from under her feet. Well, I just want you to know that I have had it. I see through you.’ In the center aisle and near the front of the chapel, she fell from her weakness. She was so weak, she could hardly see. Her eyes could barely read the words woven into the carpet at the step into the sanctuary. She read and then repeated the words: ‘Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.’
“Suddenly, all the angry words, all the desire to tell God off was gone. All that was left was, ‘Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.’ Then she put her tired head down over her crossed arms and listened. Deep within herself she heard, ‘All of this is a simple invitation to ask you to turn your life over to me. You have never done that, you know. The doctors here do their best to treat you, but I alone can cure you.’
“In the silence and darkness of that night, she turned her life over to God. She signed her blank check and turned it over to God to fill in the amounts. It was the hour of God. It was the moment of her surrender. Finding her way back to her room in the hospital, she slipped off into a deep sleep.”
Her story had a happy ending. Her illness took a miraculous turn and she was healthy once gain. And, her story is sort of a modern-day version of the Parable of the Prodigal Son we heard today. It is the story of a woman who, like the Prodigal Son, enjoyed great material resources. It is the story of a woman who, like the Prodigal Son, turned against her loving Father when things didn’t work out the way she wanted them to. It is the story of a woman who, again like the Prodigal Son, turned back to her loving Father when she came to her senses. It is the story of someone we can all relate to. For, we have all been at one point or another in our lives a Prodigal Son or Daughter.
And perhaps we are at a very different point than the woman or the Prodigal Son. Maybe our story hasn’t turned out as beautifully as theirs did. Perhaps we are still in a state of anger with God over some misfortune that has befallen us, or tragedy we struggle to understand. Perhaps we are still at the stage where the woman was as she struggled through the hospital corridors on her way to the chapel, preparing our angry speech to God. Or perhaps we are like the Prodigal Son, who had wrecked his life, but had not yet mustered up the courage to return home and ask for his father’s forgiveness.
Regardless of our personal situation, the message in today’s Gospel is the same for each of us as it was for the Prodigal Son and for the woman. The Father says to us all, “Come home, come home, come home! Rejoice and be reconciled to me once again.”
The British poet Francis Thompson expresses that message beautifully in his poem, “The Hound of Heaven.” In the poem, the poet has been fleeing God because he feels that God has been treating him badly. When God finally catches him, as a hound catches a prey, God says to him: “All which I took from thee, I did but take not for thy harm, But just that thou might seek it in My arms. All which thy child’s mistake fancies as lost, I have restored for thee at home. Rise, clasp My hand, and come.”
After teaching her Sunday school kids about the Parable of the Prodigal Son, a teacher asked them: "Now tell me: Who suffered the most in the story?" A child raised her hand and answered, "the fatted cow." Absolutely! But more than that, the greatest suffering came when the Prodigal Son was separated from the unity with his Father.
Today, let us “come to our senses” and return once again to our Loving Father. Let us run into the embrace of His welcoming arms. Let us be reunited once again firmly in the family of God.
“Now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.”
May God give you peace.

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

St. Patrick's Prayer

This day I call to me:
God's strength to direct me,
God's power to sustain me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's vision to light me,
God's ear to my hearing,
God's word to my speaking,
God's hand to uphold me,
God's pathway before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's legions to save me.

—from A Retreat With St. Patrick

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Is the Catholic Church disappearing?

Last week's edition of the National Catholic Reporter, a U.S. Catholic newspaper, included a story about researchers who conducted a study of what they call "Bookend" generations of Catholics. In other words, they compared the reponses of the oldest generation of Catholics with the attidudes of today's young adult (or college-age) Catholics. The results were to say the least, troubling.

The study is interesting on many levels. What it shows, not surprisingly, is that the older you are, the more likely you are to accept and profess the beliefs of the Catholic Church. The younger you are...well, you get the picture.

I'll give you a sampling of some of the issues. The study was done by Catholic University of America. So, some of the results:

Here are the percentages agreeing by generation when asked, "You can be a good Catholic without believing in..."
Older: 25%
Younger: 26%
Older: 33%
Younger: 34%
Older: 41%
Younger: 44%
Older: 44%
Younger: 62% think it is okay to reject the Pro-Life teaching of the Church.
Older: 52%
Younger: 59%
Older: 52%
Younger: 79% think it is okay to live in sin, to remarry without annulment, etc.
Older: 58%
Younger: 64%
Older: 61%
Younger: 89%
Older: 69%
Younger: 88% (So, it is not surprising then to see that only about 15% of this younger generation, 18-24, attend Mass weekly)
Do you see the disturbing trend going on here. There is a growing rejection within American Catholicism of the Church, it's leadership, it's authority, and it's teaching. And, I think we can understand this when we look at the final question.
You won't be surprised to learn that if you attend Mass regularly and practice your faith and are informed about your faith, you are more likely to follow Church teaching.
It is possible that we could find ourselves in 20 years, as the older generations pass, and the younger generations come into their own, that we will have empty churches. Perhaps there won't be a vocation crisis in the future because there won't be Catholics in the pews to minister to.
You know, sometimes it comes down to the simplest things. You know, the best families are not necessarily the ones that have the most material goods, or the best schools, or the finest psychiatrists. The most successful families are the ones who sit around a dinner table each day and share some food and their lives with one another.
The same is true for the Church - the more you find yourself around the Table of the Lord, the more you are going to grow in the ways of Jesus, and in the ways of the Truth.
It seems that perhaps the most insidious thing that the Devil has ever accomplished is this modern attempt to convince people that they don't need God; that they don't need Sacrament; that they don't need community; that they don't need Church.
But, here's what I know. There are only 10 things that God felt were so important that He made them Commandments and literally carved them in stone. And, among them is "Keep holy the Sabbath." Check you're Bible, you will notice that there is not an asterisk after that that says, "See below: unless you have soccer practice that day; or a baseball game; or Aunt Tessie's 80th Birthday; or you have to work; or you just want to sleep in." It says, "Keep holy the Sabbath."
We have made a covenant, a contract, with God, and increasingly we are deciding that we no longer have to keep up our end of the deal. In fact, we have decided that regardless of what God says, we can consider ourselves as good and holy even if we live in sin, or in an unrecognized marriage, practice birth control for our own convenience or pleasure, obtain or condone abortions and capital punishment, ignore our less fortunate brothers and sisters, never visit the incredible Sacramental presence of God in the Eucharist or Confession, etc.
What kinds of Catholicism is that? It is Catholicism in name only. And God desires so much more of us. People often say, "God doesn't really care. After all, I'm a good person." The news is - God doesn't want "good" people. God wants holy people. Now, good will be a part of holy, but holy is not necessarily a part of good. Strive not for goodness, but for holiness and godliness.
The Good News? First, the younger generation has gotten the Gospel message of care for the poor. There is definately an attraction to Corporal Works of Mercy. That is a very good thing.
But, the other Good News? It doesn't have to be this way. The change can start in the hearts, minds and most importantly actions of Catholics - young, old and everywhere in between. Renew the covenant that God has established with you. Be faithful to what God asks of you, and stop trying to seek the loophole. You can fit an elephant through a loophole, but Jesus reminds us that when we reject His ways and still want to get into heaven that this is like trying to put a camel through the eye of a needle.
Let us pray and mean the words of our Creed, "I believe in the holy Catholic Church."
Pax et bonum!

Keep the Fire Burning

“Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?” If any of you were at the 5 p.m. Mass last Saturday, you experienced along with the rest of us there the incredible power of the Holy Spirit working in and through our young people! Last Saturday’s Mass was the closing Mass to our Walk to Emmaus Confirmation Retreat, and the effect that it had on our youth, and on all those present was truly amazing and a work of the Holy Spirit.

I created this retreat almost 10 years ago now along with the help of other youth ministers in my former parish in New Hampshire. Based on its name, you can probably guess that it takes as its motivation the post-resurrection story of the disciples walking along the road headed to a town of Emmaus. While walking they encounter the Risen Jesus, although they do not yet know it is He. Jesus meets them where they are at, and then shares Scripture with them and breaks the bread. The result? “With that, their eyes were opened and they recognized him.” And this is the same result of our retreat. And, for anyone at last Saturday’s Mass – you could feel just that. All those who were on retreat truly had their eyes opened and the recognized Jesus in their midst – perhaps some for the very first time in their lives.

But, as I continue to sit in the incredible wonder of our retreat experience, as I look upon the brightened faces of our young people who have encountered Jesus and want to follow Him, as I read the emails from many of you, our parishioners, both young and old, so touched by the Mass, my heart is overjoyed with the goodness of the Lord for all of us. It is energizing!

The beauty is that while we are lifted up sharing this experience together, it isn’t one that is only for a retreat, or only for the youth. We all have the opportunity to meet Jesus in the same way; to let Him set our hearts on fire with love; to allow our “eyes to be opened and recognize him;” to walk away from our encounter saying, “Were not our hearts burning within us?”

The story of Emmaus is also the story of our Mass. We come journeying along the road from our various places in life – some of us joyful and happy, some of us struggling and sad, many of us a little of both or somewhere in between. But, Jesus today and every day wants to meet us where we are at; to take on our struggles and challenges; and to open us up to a new possibility by being fed on both the Word of Sacred Scripture, and His Body and Blood.

Let us pray today that the fire that was lit in the hearts of our young people last weekend will be a wildfire that will spread to each and every one of us; let us pray that our eyes will be opened, our ears will hear that God is truly, fully in our midst. Let us recognize Him and continue to grow in His ways each and every day.

Let us pray, Come, Holy Spirit, and enkindle within us the fire of Your love!

Love, Fr. Tom

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

" we forgive others..."

You've heard the saying before about Irish Alzheimer's? You forget everything, except the grudges.

"So will my heavenly Father do to you,unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart."

Our reading today from Matthew's Gospel remind us about the nature of forgiveness. And, I think, it really challenges us to be people who model forgiveness at all times. Peter asks Jesus in the positive, "How often must I forgive my brother?" But, I think what Peter is asking is really, "When can I stop forgiving?" And, isn't that how we often treat the issue of forgiveness?

But, Jesus gives the parable of the servant forgiven a great debt by his master who then refuses to forgive the debt of someone else who owes him money. Jesus says in this case, "It cannot be so if you want to be my follower." I often remind people in the Sacrament of Reconciliation that we not only approach Jesus in this great sacrament of mercy to be forgiven, but to learn. Jesus models for us how we are to be. As we are unworthy of His forgiveness, and He grants it to us just the same; so too must we forgive others, even if they are unworthy of our forgiveness.

And, isn't that what it all comes down to? How often do we think in our hearts, "I won't forgive so-and-so until I feel that they are truly repentant; until they say they are sorry; until they pay me back what they owe me, etc." But, I encourage you to scan Scripture and find where God says "Forgive others - when you're good and ready."

For some reason, like the Irish Alzheimers, we like to hold on to our grudges. But, the only one that harms is ourselves. Failing to forgive binds us with anger, resentment, confusion, hatred, broken relationship and so much more. The great and liberating word of God is this: It is so much easier to forgive! Holding on to our hurts takes a whole lot of work. Enter the freedom God offers you.

You know, every time we pray the Our Father, we enter into a Forgivness Contract with God: "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." Have we ever really stopped to think what that means? It means, when it comes time for us to be forgiven by God, He is going to look to us, look at how we have forgiven, or failed to forgive others, and then judge us by the very same standard. So, if we forgive freely, easily, quickly - so too, will God forgive us the same way. Or, as Jesus said in the parable, "So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart."

And so, let us forgive one another, and enter into the incredible FREEDOM God desires for us.

Monday, March 12, 2007

B16 to Youth: See Love in the Cross

Pope Benedict XVI recently told young people from across 12 cities of Europe and Asiat that the mystery of God's love is most fully revealed in the cross.

The theme of his talk was, "Intellectual Charity, Path for New Cooperation between Europe and Asia." The event was held as part of the 5th European Day for Universities. Via satellite, the Vatican Television Center connected those gathered in Rome with young people in Bologna, Italy; Calcutta, India; Coimbra, Portugal; Krakow, Poland; Hong Kong; Manchester, England; Manila, the Philippines; Prague, the Czech Republic; Tirana, Albania; Turin, Italy; and Islamabad, Pakistan.

Benedict XVI said in the message: "Intellectual charity can unite the existential journey of young people who, despite their living at great distances from one another, are able to feel united by their interior search and testimony." Putting his papers aside, the Pope added: "I should write a new chapter of my encyclical 'Deus Caritas Est,' on intellectual charity!"

Interrupted on numerous occasions by applause, the Bishop of Rome greeted the young people in various languages. At the end, the Holy Father gave the young people this advice: "Students, and with greater reason Christian professors, interpret all reality in the light of the mystery of the love of God, which has its highest and fulfilled revelation on the cross."

"Dear young people, I again entrust to you the cross of Christ: Receive it, embrace it and follow it. It is the tree of life!"

After the meeting, the young people present in the Paul VI Hall carried a cross in pilgrimage to LUMSA University, near the Vatican.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Feel the heat!

We had an awesome retreat!!! The Walk to Emmaus was once again an incredibly Grace-filled weekend. God completely blessed us during our time together. I have to run over for Mass now, but expect more photos each day this week!

Pax et bonum!

Friday, March 9, 2007

Going for a Walk

"Were not our hearts burning within us." These wonderful words from the post-resurrection story of the Walk to Emmaus are probably among my favorite words of all of Scripture. They encapsulate what an encounter with Jesus does to a believer - it leaves you with a heart on fire for love of Him and love for one another.

In just a few hours, I will leave for Wisdom House retreat center to begin our Walk To Emmaus Retreat for our Confirmation candidates. I am so very excited about this retreat. We have great kids, we have an awesome team, and I can feel God's anointing upon this retreat. I ask that all of you who read this blog please be a prayer warrior for us today and tomorrow. The retreat starts at 7 p.m. tonight (Friday) and ends with our 5 p.m. Mass tomorrow (Saturday).

As always it is through the prayerful support of the Christian community that these retreats work well. So, if you could continually offer two prayer petitions, I would be very grateful. Please pray that God will continue to anoint our team members so that their words are God's words for these youth; and please pray that God will continue to soften and open the hearts of our young people so that God's grace and message of love can get in, that they may see that there is another way to live; a holy way to live; a God and Christ-centered way to live.

We have about 80 youth on retreat and almost 40 team members. We thank you in advance for your prayers. Let us reach tomorrow with hearts burning for the love of God!

Pax et bonum!

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth

"‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.’”

These words of Jesus telling the parable of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke's Gospel can often seem as though they are a condemnation of a generation who refused to recognize God's Word and God's message of salvation to His people. And that statement is true enough.

But, as I was reflecting on this passage, I couldn't help but think of that last part about someone rising from the dead. While we often look at this as a scolding of non-believers, it is also a wonderful word of hope for those who do believe. Because, we have heard Moses and the Prophets - and we have seen Him who rose from the dead!

Do you ever stop and think about just how much God spoils us, His children? God could have left us to fend for ourselves, but instead, His desire for us to be near to Him is so overwhelming that He is continually sending us messages, and messengers, to find the way to Him. God spoils us with Sacred Scripture, telling us all we need to know.

You may have seen this acronym for the word BIBLE before. BIBLE stands for "Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth." In the Bible, God gives all we ever needed to know about Him and about how to live the way He wants us to live. If we ever stop and wonder - what does God want me to do? The answer is no further away than Scripture.

So, we have been fed on His Word, our hearts have been nurtured and opened to His way by this gentle teacher that is Scripture, and so when Jesus rose from the dead, our hearts, minds and eyes were open to see this wonder. And that same Jesus rises out of simple bread and wine at every Mass to be once again alive in our midst in the form of His Body and Blood.

We have heard! We have seen! We have believed!

We are God's wonderfully spoiled children!

Pax et bonum!

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

"Neither can I call myself by any other name than what I am -- a Christian."

Today in the Church calendar, we celebrate the commemoration of two great early Church martyrs - Saints Felicity and Perpetua. Now you may know a great deal about them, but I suspect that most people know very little about them. At best, our familiarity comes from when we hear The Roman Canon prayed as the Eucharistic Prayer at Mass. You know, the one, it has two long lists of saints in it: "For ourselves, too, we ask some share in the fellowship of your apostles and martyrs, with John the Baptist, Stephen, Matthias, Barnabas, Ignatius, Alexander, Marcellinus, Peter, Felicity, Perpetua, Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Cecilia, Anastasia] and all the saints. Though we are sinners, we trust in your mercy and love. Do not consider what we truly deserve, but grant us your forgiveness."

But, these are two women worth knowing. I remember the first time I read of their martyrdom, it was in the Liturgy of the Hours, Office of Readings. We love to talk about these big action-adventure movies that are so common today. Well, this story is one full of action, full of intrigue, full of suspense - and most importantly full of heroic, faith-filled virtue.

Felicity and Perpetua gave up, quite literally, everything, rather than give up their faith. I think of the incredible witness of these two women martyrs, and all the martyrs, especially in the world that we live in today. Felicity, pregnant, realized that even raising her child was not more important than professing her faith - she trusted that the Christian community would raise the newborn, and her witness would be for the child as well to love God above all else.

You compare this witness to the reality today that people put virtually everything else before God - a soccer practice is more important than attending Holy Mass, a job is more important than attending Holy Mass, sleeping late, going to a football game, shopping at the Mall - these are all more important than worshipping the One, True God on Sunday. We can't even make the slightest sacrifice for our faith today, and here are these women, and so many others, making the greatest of sacrifices - easily and gladly - because they knew where the greatest treasure is.

I can only hope that, through their intercession, we may as a people begin once again to change our priorities to Godly things. It is no coincidence that the First Commandment is: "I am the Lord, Your God. You shall have no other gods before Me." This Commandment is first, because God must be first before everything else - everything else.

I was watching Oprah a few weeks ago (don't give me a hard time, I'm a bit embarrased to admit that!), and she had a woman on talking about relationships; in particular, the bad relationships she had. In describing how she turned things around, she said of her time in bad relationships, "I didn't realize then that I needed to find a man who loved God more than he loved me." I thought that was just about the most beautiful thing I'd heard in a long time - God first.

Let me share the story of Felicity and Perpetua with you. This comes from

With the lives of so many early martyrs shrouded in legend, we are fortunate to have the record of the courage of Perpetua and Felicity from the hand of Perpetua herself, her teacher Saturus, and others who knew them. This account, known as "The Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicity," was so popular in the early centuries that it was read during liturgies.

In the year 203, Vibia Perpetua made the decision to become a Christian, although she knew it could mean her death during Septimus' persecution. Her surviving brother (another brother had died when he was seven) followed her leadership and became a catechumen as well.

Her father was frantic with worry and tried to talk her out of her decision. We can easily understand his concern. At 22 years old, this well-educated, high-spirited woman had every reason to want to live -- including a baby son who was still nursing. We know she was married, but since her husband is never mentioned, many historians assume she was a widow.

Perpetua's answer was simple and clear. Pointing to a water jug, she asked her father, "See that pot lying there? Can you call it by any other name than what it is?"

Her father answered, "Of course not." Perpetua responded, "Neither can I call myself by any other name than what I am -- a Christian."

This answer so upset her father that he attacked her. Perpetua reports that after that incident she was glad to be separated from him for a few days -- even though that separation was the result of her arrest and imprisonment.
Perpetua was arrested with four other catechumens including two slaves Felicity and Revocatus, and Saturninus and Secundulus. Their catechist, Saturus, had already been imprisoned before them.

She was baptized before taken to prison. Perpetua was known for her gift of "the Lord's speech" and receiving messages from God. She tells us that at the time of her baptism she was told to pray for nothing but endurance in the face of her trials.

The prison was so crowded with people that the heat was suffocating. There was no light anywhere and Perpetua "had never known such darkness." The soldiers who arrested and guarded them pushed and shoved them without any concern. Perpetua had no trouble admitting she was very afraid, but in the midst of all this horror her most excruciating pain came from being separated from her baby.

The young slave, Felicity was even worse off for Felicity suffered the stifling heat, overcrowding, and rough handling while being eight months pregnant.

Two deacons who ministered to the prisoners paid the guards so that the martyrs would be put in a better part of the prison. There her mother and brother were able to visit Perpetua and bring her baby to her. When she received permission for her baby to stay with her "my prison suddenly became a palace for me." Once more her father came to her, begging her to give in, kissing her hands, and throwing himself at her feet. She told him, "We lie not in our own power but in the power of God."

When she and the others were taken to be examined and sentenced, her father followed, pleading with her and the judge. The judge, out of pity, also tried to get Perpetua to change her mind, but when she stood fast, she was sentenced with the others to be thrown to the wild beasts in the arena. Her father was so furious that he refused to send her baby back to Perpetua. Perpetua considered it a miracle that her breasts did not become inflamed from lack of nursing.

While praying in prison, she suddenly felt "gifted with the Lord's speech" and called out the name of her brother Dinocrates who had died at seven of gangrene of the face, a disease so disfiguring that those who should have comforted him left him alone. Now she saw a vision that he was even more alone, in a dark place, hot and thirsty -- not in the eternal joy she hoped for him. She began to pray for Dinocrates and though she was put in stocks every day, her thoughts were not on her own suffering but on her prayers to help her brother. Finally she had another vision in which she saw Dinocrates healed and clean, drinking from a golden bowl that never emptied.

Meanwhile Felicity was also in torment. It was against the law for pregnant women to be executed. To kill a child in the womb was shedding innocent and sacred blood. Felicity was afraid that she would not give birth before the day set for their martyrdom and her companions would go on their journey without her. Her friends also didn't want to leave so "good a comrade" behind.
Two days before the execution, Felicity went into a painful labor. The guards made fun of her, insulting her by saying, "If you think you suffer now, how will stand it when you face the wild beasts?" Felicity answered them calmly, "Now I'm the one who is suffering, but in the arena Another will be in me suffering for me because I will be suffering for him." She gave birth to a healthy girl who was adopted and raised by one of the Christian women of Carthage.

The officers of the prison began to recognize the power of the Christians and the strength and leadership of Perpetua. In some cases this helped the Christians: the warden let them have visitors -- and later became a believer. But in other cases it caused superstitious terror, as when one officer refused to let them get cleaned up on the day they were going to die for fear they'd try some sort of spell. Perpetua immediately spoke up, "We're supposed to die in honor of Ceasar's birthday. Wouldn't it look better for you if we looked better?" The officer blushed with shame at her reproach and started to treat them better.
There was a feast the day before the games so that the crowd could see the martyrs and make fun of them. But the martyrs turned this all around by laughing at the crowd for not being Christians and exhorting them to follow their example.

The four new Christians and their teacher went to the arena (the fifth, Secundulus, had died in prison) with joy and calm. Perpetua in usual high spirits met the eyes of everyone along the way. We are told she walked with "shining steps as the true wife of Christ, the darling of God."

When those at the arena tried to force Perpetua and the rest to dress in robes dedicated to their gods, Perpetua challenged her executioners. "We came to die out of our own free will so we wouldn't lose our freedom to worship our God. We gave you our lives so that we wouldn't have to worship your gods." She and the others were allowed to keep their clothes.

The men were attacked by bears, leopards, and wild boars. The women were stripped to face a rabid heifer. When the crowd, however, saw the two young women, one of whom had obviously just given birth, they were horrified and the women were removed and clothed again. Perpetua and Felicity were thrown back into the arena so roughly that they were bruised and hurt. Perpetua, though confused and distracted, still was thinking of others and went to help Felicity up. The two of them stood side by side as all five martyrs had their throats cut.

Perpetua's last words were to her brother: "Stand fast in the faith and love one another."

In Their Footsteps:

Perpetua said that she couldn't call herself any other name but Christian. Write down a list of names and designations that people could call you. Is Christian high on that list? How can you help make your name as Christian be more important? Live today as if that was the only name you could be called by.

Prayer: Saints Perpetua and Felicity, watch over all mothers and children who are separated from each other because of war or persecution. Show a special care to mothers who are imprisoned and guide them to follow your example of faith and courage. Amen

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Clericus Cup


Priests and seminarians from the Pontifical North America College celebrate March 3 in Rome after winning a match against the Pontifical Urbanian University in the first round of the newly formed Clericus Cup soccer tournament.

(CNS/Alessia Giuliani, CPP)

Monday, March 5, 2007

A day without the Eucharist is incomplete

Recently, Pope Benedict met with seminarians in Rome and answered some of their questions. I found some of his answers to be very inspiring. In particular, one seminarian asked him how a pirest should keep his spiritual life in balance with all of the challenges and busyness of parish life. His answer was wonderful for priests, but I think is also a great bit of advice for any Christian trying to achieve that balance. Here was the Holy Father's response:

"I would say as the first point that it is also important in the life of pastors of the Church, in the daily life of the priest, to preserve as far as possible a certain order. You should never skip Mass -- a day without the Eucharist is incomplete -- and thus already at the seminary we grow up with this daily liturgy. It seems to me very important that we feel the need to be with the Lord in the Eucharist, not as a professional obligation but truly as an interiorly-felt duty, so that the Eucharist should never be missed.

"Another important point is to make time for the Liturgy of the Hours and therefore, for this inner freedom: with all the burdens that exist, it frees us and helps us to be more open, to be deeply in touch with the Lord. Of course, we must do all that is required by pastoral life, by the life of a parochial vicar or of a parish priest or by another priestly office. However, I would say, never forget these fixed points, the Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours, so that you have a certain order in the daily routine. As I said at the outset, we learned not to have to plan the timetable ever anew; "Serva ordinem et ordo servabit te". These are true words.

"Next, it is important not to neglect communion with other priests, with one's companions on the way, and not to lose one's personal contact with the Word of God, meditation. How should this be done? I have a fairly simple recipe for it: combine the preparation of the Sunday homily with personal meditation to ensure that these words are not only spoken to others but are really words said by the Lord to me myself, and developed in a personal conversation with the Lord.

"For this to be possible, my advice is to begin early on Monday, for if one begins on Saturday it is too late, the preparation is hurried and perhaps inspiration is lacking, for one has other things on one's mind. Therefore, I would say, already on Monday, simply read the Readings for the coming Sunday which perhaps seem very difficult: a little like those rocks at Massah and Meribah, where Moses said: "But how can water come from these rocks?". Then stop thinking about these Readings and allow the heart to digest them. Words are processed in the unconscious, and return a little more every day.

"Obviously, books should also be consulted, as far as possible. And with this interior process, day by day, one sees that a response gradually develops. These words gradually unfold, they become words for me. And since I am a contemporary, they also become words for others. I can then begin to express what I perhaps see in my own theological language in the language of others; the fundamental thought, however, remains the same for others and for myself. Thus, it is possible to have a lasting and silent encounter with the Word that does not demand a lot of time, which perhaps we do not have.

"But save a little time: only in this way does a Sunday homily mature for others, but my own heart is also touched by the Lord's Word. I am also in touch with a situation when perhaps I have little time available.

"I would not dare now to offer too much advice, because life in the large city of Rome is a little different to what I experienced 55 years ago in our Bavaria. But I think these things are essential: the Eucharist, the Office of Readings, prayer and a conversation every day, even a brief one, with the Lord on his words which I must proclaim.

"And never lose either your friendship with priests, listening to the voice of the living Church, or naturally, availability to the people entrusted to me, because from these very people, with their suffering, their faith experiences, their doubts and difficulties, we too can learn, seek and find God, find our Lord Jesus Christ."

On following God's will in your life:

"Here a little story springs to my mind about St Bakhita, the beautiful African Saint who was a slave in Sudan and then discovered the faith in Italy, who became a Sister. When she was old, the Bishop who was paying a visit to her religious house had not met her. He spotted this small, bent African Sister and said to Bakhita: "But what do you do, Sister?"; and Sr Bakhita replied: "I do the same as you, Your Excellency". Astonished, the Bishop asked her: "But what?", and Bakhita answered, "But Your Excellency, we both want to do the same thing: God's will".

"This seems to me to be a most beautiful answer, the Bishop and the tiny Sister who was almost no longer capable of working, who were both doing the same thing in their different offices; they were seeking to do God's will and so were in the right place.

"I also remember something St Augustine said: All of us are always only disciples of Christ, and his throne is loftier, for his throne is the Cross and only this height is the true height, communion with the Lord, also in his Passion. It seems to me, if we begin to understand this by a life of daily prayer, by a life of dedicated service to the Lord, we can free ourselves of these very human temptations."

Pax et bonum!

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