Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Ioannis Paulus Magnus

I discovered today a wonderful website that is the official website for the Cause of Canonization of Pope John Paul the Great. There are a lot of interesting items on this site. (http://www.vicariatusurbis.org/Beatificazione/)

One of the most beautiful, I share with you. It is a prayer asking for graces through the Pope's intercession. Pray it as often as you need it:

PRAYER FOR ASKING GRACES
THROUGH THE INTERCESSION OF THE SERVANT OF GOD
POPE JOHN PAUL II

O Blessed Trinity
We thank You for having graced the Church
with Pope John Paul II
and for allowing the tenderness of your Fatherly care,
the glory of the cross of Christ,
and the splendor of the Holy Spirit,
to shine through him.

Trusting fully in Your infinite mercy
and in the maternal intercession of Mary,
he has given us a living image of Jesus the Good Shepherd,
and has shown us that holiness
is the necessary measure of ordinary Christian life
and is the way of achieving eternal communion with you.

Grant us, by his intercession, and according to Your will,
the graces we implore,
hoping that he will soon be numbered
among your saints.

Amen.

With ecclesiastical approval. CARDINAL CAMILLO RUINI, the Holy Father’s Vicar General for the Diocese of Rome.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

A Titanic Fraud


You may have seen in the news this past week the audacious claim by movie maker James Cameron (of Titanic fame), that he has filmed a documentary about a group of archaeologists who claim to have found a tomb in Jerusalem containing the physical remains of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and perhaps their child, Judas. Once the claim was made, of course, the media seized the opportunity to once again attack our faith and trample on the name, the memory, and the story of Our Lord and Savior. Since you have probably seen this story, and since the media seems to lack any attempt to see what the Truth is, I thought it helpful to point out a few things:

1. This is not a “new” discovery. These burial boxes, called ossuaries, were not discovered recently. They were discovered by renowned archaeologist, Amos Kloner, in 1980. Kloner has disavowed already any of the claims being made by Cameron and Co., as nothing more than hype and an attempt to make money off the name of Jesus. Kloner said, “The claim that the burial site has been found is not based on any proof, and is only an attempt to sell. I refute all claims and efforts to waken a renewed interest in the findings. With all due respect, they are not archeologists.”

2. The claim is that the changes are very unlikely to find a tomb that includes people with names like Jesus, Mary and Joseph. The reality that any Biblical or archaeological scholar would tell you is that the likelihood would be about the same of finding someone in New Milford named Michael, or Kathleen. These were perhaps the most popular names of the day.

3. It is completely unlikely that there would even be a family tomb, as we know the family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph were extremely poor – so poor you’ll recall that Jesus had to be buried in a “borrowed tomb” after His crucifixion. Not to mention, the family was from Galilee and not Jerusalem.

It seems as though this is becoming a seasonal fascination with the media: It is the holiest time of the year for Christians, so let’s attack Jesus. The reality is that this is nothing new, the only thing different is that we don’t name it clearly. There is a good, old-fashioned name for this – it is called heresy. In the early centuries of Christianity, there were many people who attacked the nature of Jesus. Some would say that Jesus was not a human being; He was only God (or an angel) in human form. Others made the claim that He was not God, that He was not Divine and was just a man. This would be the type of heresy that Cameron (and Dan Brown, the last attacker) would fall into. They essentially make a claim that, if Jesus was dead and buried, there is no resurrection. They want to make Jesus just another man, that lived just another ordinary life.

Yet, we know that Jesus is no ordinary man. He is and for ever shall be the Son of God; He is and for ever shall be the singular person in the history of humanity. When these teachings were attacked in the early Church, the Church responded by creating the Creed, reminding us that Jesus is “God from God, Light from Light; True God from True God; begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father.” We also know from the Creed and the consistently held faith of the Church for 2,000 years that “we believe in the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.”

Let us not get caught up in yet another charlatan’s smoke and mirror show once gain. Let us use this Lenten season to remind ourselves of just who our Savior is, and not be pulled into this “heresy du jour.”

My brothers and sister, “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” Praised be Jesus Christ, True God and True Man, the First Born from the Dead, now and forever!

Love, Fr. Tom

"Open your heart to God's mercy"


Message of Our Lady of Peace, February 25, 2007:

Dear children! Open your heart to God's mercy in this Lenten time. The Heavenly Father desires to deliver each of you from the slavery of sin. Therefore, little children, make good use of this time and through meeting with God in confession, leave sin and decide for holiness. Do this out of love for Jesus, who redeemed you all with His blood, that you may be happy and in peace. Do not forget, little children: your freedom is your weakness, therefore follow my messages with seriousness. Thank you for having responded to my call.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Throw Away the Stones

First Sunday of Lent, February 25, 2007:

John Smith was the only Protestant to move into a large Catholic neighborhood. On the first Friday of Lent, John was outside cooking a big juicy steak on his grill. This drove all of his Catholic neighbors crazy as they ate their cold tuna fish for supper. This went on each Friday of Lent. On the last Friday of Lent, the neighborhood men got together and decided that something had to be done about John. They simply couldn’t take his temptations anymore. So, they decided to try and convert John to become a Catholic. They went over and talked to him and were so happy when he decided to join all of his neighbors and become a Catholic. They took him to Church, and the Priest sprinkled some water over him, and said, “You were born a Baptist, you were raised a Baptist, and now you are Catholic.” Everyone was so relieved, now their biggest Lenten temptation was resolved.

A year later, Lent rolled around once again. The first Friday of Lent came, and just at supper time, when the neighborhood was setting down to their tuna fish caserole, came the wafting smell of steak cooking on a grill. The neighborhood men could not believe their noses! WHAT WAS GOING ON? They called each other up and decided to meet over in John's yard to see if he had forgotten it was the first Friday of Lent. The group arrived just in time to see John standing over his grill with a small pitcher of water. He was sprinkling some water over his steak on the grill, saying, “You were born a cow, you were raised a cow, and now you are a fish.”

The The Devil said to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” One of Aesop’s Fables is about an argument between the wind and the sun. The Wind and the Sun were disputing which was the stronger. Suddenly they saw a traveler coming down the road, and the Sun said: “I see a way to decide our dispute. Whichever of us can cause that traveler to take off his coat shall be regarded as the stronger. You begin.” So the Sun retired behind a cloud, and the Wind began to blow as hard as it could upon the traveler. But the harder he blew the more closely did the traveler wrap his coat round him, till at last the Wind had to give up in despair. Then the Sun came out and shone gently; getting warmer and warmer upon the traveler, who soon found it too warm to walk with his coat on and took it off.

I was thinking of this fable today because it reminded me in a way of what we hear today taking place with Jesus in the desert. In our passage from Luke’s Gospel, The Devil is like the wind trying to prove that he is stronger than God. He tempts Jesus in every way he can imagine – with wealth, with power, with fame. But, as in our fable, the Son (S-O-N) is stronger. It wasn’t the might of these worldly temptations that won over Jesus, but the gentle persuasion of prayer and fasting and devotion to God that won the day.

While Jesus went out to the desert to face His temptations, ours usually have a way of finding us. The Devil’s first temptation gives us a helpful image for understanding our own temptations. The Devil said to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” Look at this stone. This is what the Devil wants Jesus to turn to in order to find happiness in life. My brothers and sisters, this stone is dead. The Devil has got it all wrong. He wants Jesus to turn to a dead stone – something that is completely lifeless, completely unable to help Him, completely inadequate in making Him or anyone truly happy – in order to find satisfaction. The great insight of Jesus in this moment is that He knows only God can give Him true life; and true happiness. The Devil wants Jesus to command the dead stone to become life and happiness and glory for Him. It sounds completely ridiculous when you realize that, doesn’t it?

But isn’t this an apropos image for what we do in our own lives? We all have stones in our own lives that we stare at commanding them to give us life; commanding them to make us happy; commanding them to make us popular or successful or wealthy or powerful. But, just like this stone, these things will never give us life – they simply do not have the ability to do so. Perhaps your stone is pride, a need to be right all the time even to the harm of relationships with family and friends. Perhaps it is a stone of jealousy, failing to be thankful for the blessings that God has bestowed in our lives and instead only coveting what we don’t have. Perhaps we seek life from a stone of materialism, that shop-till-you-drop mentality that causes people to simply want and seek more things, all the while blinding ourselves to the needs of the hungry, the homeless, the poor, the sick and the neglected that are all around us. Maybe we look to a stone of food; instead of eating to survive, we instead turn to food to stuff our feelings or feed our guilt. Perhaps it is drugs or alcohol; using these stones to numb ourselves so that we don’t have to feel. Maybe it is the pervasive lust, pornography and degrading views of sexuality that our media thrusts upon us constantly. Maybe it’s television or video games or the Internet – do we spend more time staring at the box than we do spending time with our families or just as importantly in prayer with our God?

All of us have stones that we look at; we stare at; that we command to give us life and happiness. But, my brothers and sisters, these….rocks….are….dead. They will never – ever – give you life. Perhaps you’ve come to this recognition in your life – that the stones you have turned to in life are not providing what they promised? Perhaps you are seeking something truly life giving; something with real meaning; that gives true and lasting happiness?

As always, Jesus has the answer; Jesus IS the answer. My friends, as we begin our Lenten journey, right here, right now, today in this church, Jesus is inviting us to do something radical – He is inviting us to put our stones down. And, isn’t that a welcomed invitation? Haven’t these stones of sin and temptation become way too heavy in our lives? Jesus wants us to let go of those things that we falsely think will give us happiness, life and peace. All that these stones are ever good at doing is binding us, holding us down, stealing our freedom, making us slaves – slaves to sin, and so slaves to death. Jesus wants us instead to put those stones down and journey with Him to a place of true freedom; true happiness; true peace – the fullness of the life He promised us.

Let us pledge today to pray for one another during these weeks of Lent and beyond. Let us pledge today to throw away the stones. Let us pledge today to turn away from a life of sin and slavery and choose the life of freedom and holiness that Jesus offers to us. Let us pray in the words of our opening prayer, Loving Father, “bring us back to you and to the life your son won for us by his death on the cross.” My friends, let us throw away our stones.

May God give you peace.

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Stations


Well, tonight we celebrated the Stations of the Cross for the first time this Lenten Season. I can't say enough how much I love the richness of this season in our liturgical year. The songs, the symbols, the prayers and devotions are all so ancient and so textured, that it just makes my heart soar every year.

Here in my parish, we use the "Stations of the Cross" composed in 1861 by St. Alphonsus Liguori. If you're not familiar with them, you can view or pray them online at: http://www.columbia.edu/cu/augustine/arch/liguori.html

They just have such simple, yet, beautiful reflections for each station. The Reflection at the Sixth Station (Veronica offers her veil to Jesus), really stuck out for me: "R: My beloved Jesus, / Your face was beautiful before You began this journey; / but, now, it no longer appears beautiful / and is disfigured with wounds and blood. / Alas, my soul also was once beautiful / when it received Your grace in Baptism; / but I have since disfigured it with my sins. / You alone, my Redeemer, can restore it to its former beauty. / Do this by the merits of Your passion; and then do with me as You will."

Isn't that in many ways a great description of what Lent is all about? We achieved through the grace of Baptism a beauty of soul that cannot be matched, and yet through sin we disfigure that beauty. But, by the grace of Christ's Passion, by the wonder of this Season of Lent, by the power of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, that beauty - literally a God-given beauty - can be restored to its full radiance.

Let us pray for a holy Lent for all of us that we may restore the beauty that was given us by God in Baptism. Let us reach Easter as disciples who are radiant in the sight of God.

Pax et bonum!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Christian Revolution

Below is Pope Benedict's Angelus message on February 18, calling for a Christian Revolution:

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

This Sunday's Gospel has one of the most typical, yet most difficult, teachings of Jesus: Love your enemies (Luke 6:27). It is taken from the Gospel of Luke, but it is also found in Matthew's Gospel (5:44), in the context of the programmatic discourse that begins with the famous Beatitudes. Jesus delivered this address in Galilee, at the beginning of his public ministry: It was something of a "manifesto" presented to everyone, which Christ asked his disciples to accept, thus proposing to them in radical terms a model for their lives.

But what is the meaning of his teaching? Why does Jesus ask us to love our very enemies, that is, ask a love that exceeds human capacities? What is certain is that Christ's proposal is realistic, because it takes into account that in the world there is too much violence, too much injustice, and that this situation cannot be overcome without positing more love, more kindness. This "more" comes from God: It is his mercy that has become flesh in Jesus and that alone can redress the balance of the world from evil to good, beginning from that small and decisive "world" which is man's heart.

This page of the Gospel is rightly considered the "magna carta" of Christian nonviolence; it does not consist in surrendering to evil -- as claims a false interpretation of "turn the other cheek" (Luke 6:29) -- but in responding to evil with good (Romans 12:17-21), and thus breaking the chain of injustice. It is thus understood that nonviolence, for Christians, is not mere tactical behavior but a person's way of being, the attitude of one who is convinced of God's love and power, who is not afraid to confront evil with the weapons of love and truth alone. Loving the enemy is the nucleus of the "Christian revolution," a revolution not based on strategies of economic, political or media power. The revolution of love, a love that does not base itself definitively in human resources, but in the gift of God, that is obtained only and unreservedly in his merciful goodness. Herein lies the novelty of the Gospel, which changes the world without making noise. Herein lies the heroism of the "little ones," who believe in the love of God and spread it even at the cost of life.

Dear brothers and sisters: Lent, which begins this Wednesday, with the rite of the distribution of ashes, is the favorable time in which all Christians are invited to convert ever more deeply to the love of Christ.

Let us ask the Virgin Mary, the docile disciple of the Redeemer, to help us to allow ourselves to be conquered without reservations by that love, to learn to love as he loved us, to be merciful as our heavenly Father is merciful (Luke 6:36).

Ashes, Ashes

Well, we've recovered from the Ashes Frenzy that always accompanies Ash Wednesday, and the day really got me thinking (this is a dangerous thing, this thinking) about why people come to Mass on Ash Wednesday.

This is one of the highest attendance days in the Church. You know on any given Holy Day of Obligation, we have three Masses, and you could combine the attendance at all three and not equal half a church. Then Ash Wednesday comes along which of course is NOT a Holy Day of Obligation and the pews are filled for four Masses.

Hopefully, the majority of the people there are present for the right reason - to make a public witness to the call to turn away from sin, to "return to the Lord" as the Prophet Joel reminded us. The ashes are a symbol of that turning away. And we are there, of course, to build ourselves up on the Body and Blood of Jesus and the Word of God as the best things that can help us on our journey.

But, then there are the "others." Some of these are the people who call and want ashes "over the counter" at the Office, or at the door of the friary, or the ones who bolt out the Church door once they've received their ashes and do not stay for the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Some of them are the ones who call to find out what time Mass is at so they can plan to arrive at the end and just ask for some Ashes.

What amazes me is the phrase that I hear over and again on this day, "I've got to get my ashes." Because what shocks me, and saddens me, is that from some of this group of folks, I never hear, "I've got to receive Jesus." The throngs of strangers who come to Church on this day for some reason have a great desire to have some palm ash on their foreheads, but do not have a desire to seek out the Lord in the Eucharist, in His community, around His altar. In fact, too often, not only do they not "return to the Lord," but the turn right back around and exit the Church as quickly as they can contented that the got their foreheads marked.

It saddens me, of course, because in a back-handed way this is such an insult to the Eucharist as through their actions, they are saying that burnt palm branches rubbed on their foreheads is far more important than the incredible miracle that takes place on the altar every day, as St. Francis says in his Letter to the Entire Order, "Let the whole man tremble with fear, let the whole world begin to completely quake, and let heaven exult, when upon the altar in the hand of the priest is 'Christ, the Son of the living God'! O admirable height and stupendous esteem! O sublime humility! O humble sublimity, that the Lord of the universe, God and the Son of God, so humbles Himself, to hide Himself on behalf of our salvation under the limited, little form of bread!"

So, perhaps we can add to our Lenten practice a fervant prayer for those marginal Christians. Let us pray that God will lead them from ashes to Eucharist, from ashes to communion, from ashes to the full active life of faith that every Christian is called to.

"Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart."

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

What should I give up?

Every day Pat goes into the local pub and orders 3 beers. The bartender thinks this is odd, but for a long time, doesn't say anything. Week after week, it is the same story, Pat comes into the bar and orders 3 beers. Finally, after many months of this, the bartender’s curiosity gets the better of him, and so he finally asks Pat what the deal is about 3 drinks. “Well,” Pat begins to explain, “My brothers live far away and when we were younger men, we swore we'd always share a drink together every day. And, so, I come in here and have one for me, one for my brother Joe and one for my brother Francis.” The bartender thought this was a very nice custom. A few months later, though, Pat comes in one day and says to the bartender, “Give me two beers today.” The bartender is at first shocked, realizing something bad must have happened to Joe or Francis. He finally approached Pat and said very delicately. “Pat, I’m so sorry about your brother. Is there anything I can do?” Pat looks at him confused and says, “Why do you think there’s something wrong with my brother?” The bartender responds, “Well you only ordered the two beers today, so I assume something must have happened.” Pat paused for a moment and began to chuckle, “My brothers are fine. It’s just - I gave up drinking for Lent.”

As we gather here tonight on this Mardi Gras, we’re probably thinking a little bit about what we’re going to give up for Lent this year. It is always interesting to me how much this aspect of our Lenten practices gains so much attention. It’s always a number one topic on people’s minds – what are you giving up? Let’s see where you are all at – what are some of the things that you have given up in the past?

I can tell you, sometimes the way we approach this issue can hit the mark, other times it can really miss the mark. The whole key is to understand the nature of the word “sacrifice.” Most times if we were asked to define that word, sacrifice, we would define it simply as giving something up. And that is true enough, giving something up, is most definitely a part of sacrifice. But, when we explore a little more deeply, we discover so much more. The word “sacrifice” comes to us from two Latin words – sacra, meaning “holy,” and ficio, a verb which means “to make.” So a sacrifice is not just giving up – the giving up is only the means – the goal of the giving up is to make you holy. So, sacrifice isn’t meant to be all pain, no gain. It is definitely meant to hurt a little bit so that we know it is there, but there is supposed to be some great gain in our spiritual life.

So, more on hitting and missing that mark. I’ll never forget about 10 years ago or so, I made the big decision for my Lenten sacrifice, to give up caffeine for Lent. Now, you need to understand that I drink about a pot to a pot and a half of coffee every day. I love my caffeine. So, anyway, I gave up coffee that year, and about two weeks into that particular Lenten season, I was a bear. I was barking at people, I was grumpy all day, I had a headache that wouldn’t quit. I had trouble concentrating. My point? As any of the brothers I was living with would attest to – that sacrifice didn’t make me holy. Quite the opposite effect, in fact.

But, two stories on the other side. The very next year, knowing for certain I wouldn’t take the same route, I instead decided that what I would give up was some of my free time. I was living in Boston at the time, this was while I was still in the seminary. And, in Boston, there are a lot of homeless people on the streets begging. Now, I had decided long before that I would not give them money. You know the mindset, we’ve all had it at times – it says, they’ll only use that money for booze, drugs or some other bad thing. And, that might be very true. But, this particular year, I had a realization that I was using that very self-righteous position to excuse myself from doing anything. So, what I decided to do that year was to every day, make up a couple dozen sandwiches, fill a large thermos with coffee, and spend an hour or so going around the neighborhood, towards Government Center and bring to these men and women some food and something hot to drink.

What a transformative experience this was for me. Immediately – “they” as we call anyone other than us – became people, people who were living very difficult lives – sometimes because of addiction, often because of mental illness, quite frequently because of lost jobs, or otherwise bad economic situations. What I gave up was an hour a day that would have probably been spent watching yet another mindless thing on television, but what I gained was a daily encounter with Jesus Christ in the presence of these people. Remember He told us, “When you do this for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you do it for me.”

Another year that always sticks out is not as dramatic, but just as powerful in my spiritual life. Again, I decided the sacrifice would be “of time” but this particular year I decided to take an hour a day and sit before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Not in active, wordy prayers, but just in silence, sitting in the Presence of Our Lord. The first two weeks were torture – you know, sometimes we don’t think about how busy our lives our and even more, how busy our minds are – constantly working away and thinking about far too many things. But, once I broke through that barrier of the internal busyness of my life, I came to treasure that time alone, in quiet, with Jesus. And many things in my life changed – I became much more gentle, much more centered, much more peaceful. It really did have a tremendous effect on the holiness in my life.

This is what Lent is all about. Traditionally, we say that there are three central aspects to Lent. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving. We’ll hear that in the Gospel reading at Mass tomorrow: Jesus says, “When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others…When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them…When you fast,do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting.”

These are all very active things – actively engaging in a life of prayer, actively taking the time to fast – from meat on certain days, from meals on others, but hopefully also fasting from other things as well – the things that will help us to become holier people. So, the challenge for us tonight is to become holier people. We have 40 days. Tomorrow, Ash Wednesday, is February 21st. Lent ends with the beginning of Holy Week on April 1. Will you be a holier person on April 1 than you are today? Let us all pray that we will. I’ll just end with a simple reflection that I came across somewhere along the line that I think is a helpful guide to the season:

What can I give up?

Give up complaining. . . . . . . .focus on gratitude.
Give up pessimism. . . . . . . . . become an optimist.
Give up harsh judgments . . .think kindly thoughts.
Give up worry. . . . . . . . . . . . . trust in God’s plan.
Give up discouragement. . . . .be full of hope.
Give up bitterness. . . . . . . . . . turn to forgiveness.
Give up hatred. . . . . . . . . . . . . return good for evil.
Give up negativism . . . . . . . . .be positive.
Give up anger. . . . . . . . . . . . . .be more patient.
Give up pettiness. . . . . . . . . . .become mature.
Give up gloom. . . . . . . . . . . . . .enjoy the beauty that is all around you.
Give up jealousy. . . . . . . . . . . .pray for trust.
Give up gossiping. . . . . . . . . . .control your tongue.
Give up sin. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . turn to virtue.

Thank you and God bless.

(This is from a talk I gave to our local Knights of Columbus Chapter tonight.)

Return to me with your whole heart

Ash Wednesday, February 21, 2007:

“Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart.” It is with this cry from the Prophet Joel that we begin our Lenten journey. It is not necessarily the type of cry we were expecting. We usually think of Lent in harsh terms – penance, sinfulness, and overcoming weakness. But, this cry, “return to me with your whole heart” is the cry of a lover who has been separated from the loved one either by distance, or time or perhaps even betrayal. It is a heart-to-heart cry. This cry is God begging Israel to return to His gracious and merciful love. What a startling thought – given our sinful nature, we should be begging God to take us back; but instead God, who loves us so much that He would even die for us, pleads for our return. God is not content to leave us in our sinful ways. He is more like a loving parent, pleading with a difficult child: Come back in the house where it’s warm; don’t pout in your room; rejoin the family.

We have all in some way turned away from our initial commitments. We are not as open with our spouses; we are not as patient with our children. We cut corners at work; we refuse to forgive someone who has hurt or wronged us; we insist that everything be done our way. We are not sensitive to the simple promptings of God in our lives. The season of Lent is a time to step back for a moment and examine our hearts, so that we can rekindle our fervor and return.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of the three traditional Lenten practices: giving alms, prayer and fasting. But he warns us not to perform such acts for praise. Joel says: “Rend your hearts, not your garments!” In other words, our penance should not be superficial or merely for show. It must cut to the bone; it must be tailored to our own real needs. Perhaps we should be more generous with our material possessions. Or maybe it is our time or attention that we have withheld from others. Perhaps we have neglected prayer, thinking that we have little time for it when in fact we might snatch moments as we travel to and from work or while doing the dishes. Perhaps we should fast—not diet—from our favorite indulgence: food, drink, television or the like.

Lenten practices themselves are rather pointless if they do not turn our hearts around, back to God and back to the people in our lives. The need is different for each one, because human failing is so individual. Whether these failings are serious or not, they tend to eat away at our relationships with God and with others. Paul urges us to be reconciled with God, to be open to the grace that has already been gained for us. Lent is the time to do this. It is the “very acceptable time.” It is, in fact, “the day of salvation.”

By having our foreheads marked with ashes in just a few moments, we are making public our commitment to this change. We will surrender ourselves to God’s love; we will surrender ourselves to God’s will. We will allow our God to mold us, to change us, to love us once again.

The God who loves us so deeply begs us today, “Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart.” My brothers and sisters, “Behold, now is a very acceptable time…We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” Let us together today, and for the 40 days that lead us to Easter pledge our return to Him.

May God give you peace.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

"Love your enemies"

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 18, 2007:

“Just as we have borne the image of the earthly one, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly one.” As children we learn the Golden Rule as we heard today in our Gospel: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” But as we grow older, we realize that the world operates according to a slightly different version of that rule; one that is more like: Do to others before they can do to you! Our world gives us messages like: Don’t give an inch! Hit ‘em where it hurts! To the victor go the spoils. Many people become convinced that the only way to get ahead is to get there first, and the only way to survive is to assume a defensive stance. And, unfortunately, in many cases in our world, this is all too true.

St. Paul in our second reading from First Corinthians, gives us a contrast between Adam, who was formed from the earth, with Jesus Christ, who came from heaven. Adam was “a living being”; Jesus Christ is a “life-giving spirit.” As always, St. Paul’s concern is about what genuine Christian behavior looks like. He argues that, though through nature we were born in the image of the first man, Adam, by baptism we bear the image of the second man, Jesus. In other words, while we may be tempted to live according to the world’s version of the Rule – perhaps especially in the violent times we live in – we are still called to live the Gospel’s version.

Now, it is hard enough to follow this Golden Rule when we are in charge of the situation, but what are we expected to do when we are in vulnerable circumstances? In our first reading, David had been a threat to King Saul’s reign, so Saul gathered a vast army and set out to kill David. But, when David was triumphant and had the opportunity to strike the king and save himself, he instead acknowledged that Saul was God’s chosen king, and therefore he spared his life – a striking example of respect and forgiveness even in the face of danger and vulnerability. Now, I ask you, what would the rules of the world today, the rules of combat today, have dictated that David should do?

In our Gospel passage, Jesus gives even more detail of what it means for a Christian to follow the Golden Rule. Not only should we do unto others as we would have them do unto us, but even more, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you…Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Jesus reminds us that as Christians, we don’t have an option to follow the Rule of Vengeance that the world lives by. Now, as believers and followers of Jesus Christ, we must be different than the rest of the world. What our Scripture gives us today, is not a general code of conduct for all people in the world, but a standard of behavior for those who follow Jesus and listen to his teachings. If Christianity is to ever change our world; if we are ever to achieve the peace of the Kingdom that God promises us; it won’t be by spreading doctrine on paper, but it must be and can only be accomplished by the noticeably different moral behavior of Christians. In our world today, do the believers of Jesus Christ stand out in stark contrast as recognizably different than the rest of the world; or as the hymn reminds us, “They will know that we are Christians by our love.” Or, rather are we indistinguishable from the rest of the world?

The Golden Rule does not require that we allow others to take advantage of us; but rather it calls us to rise above the pettiness of the world; to never be satisfied with the sad state of the world; to be constantly striving with all that we are for all that God promises. And so, the one who was struck on the cheek should rise above the attack or insult and to show who really prevailed in the situation. The one who lost the cloak was directed to act in a like manner and to relinquish even the tunic. Both individuals refused to be victims or to retaliate. By their actions they said: I can outdo your violence toward me with my willingness to give freely much more than you sought to take from me. Thus they stand with David in his attitude toward Saul. They overcome evil with a double dose good. An evil response only creates even more evil. The insight and brilliance of Jesus is to recognize that the only real, lasting, long term antidote to the violence and evil in our world is the love and forgiveness of God – as expressed by those who believe in Him.

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

A monk was praying under a tree beside a river. As he prayed the tide was coming and the river was rising. Then he noticed a scorpion at the foot of the tree struggling for dear life as the surging waves tried to drown it. The monk stretched out his hand to pull the scorpion to safety but each time his hand came near, the scorpion tried to sting him. A passerby saw what was going on and said to the monk: “What are you doing? Don't you know that it is in the nature of a scorpion to sting?” “Yes,” replied the monk, “And it is my nature to save. Must I change my nature because the scorpion refuses to change its nature?” Jesus, today, challenges us to remain true to our nature of goodness, holiness, forgiveness and mercy; to love even when those around us remain adamant in their nature to hate.

We must be people who forgive more easily and offer love in the face of hatred. This is not optional. We must be loving and forgiving people in our family life; in our interpersonal relationships; and in our world. If there is in our lives a scorpion of hate that delights in stinging us, let us, like the monk, remain faithful to our commitment to save and to love. To those who seek power as the world seeks it, Jesus says to us, His followers, “It cannot be so with you.” Instead He offers us, who have been baptized into His image, another way, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you...Do to others as you would have them do to you”

May God give you and give the world, peace.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Faith in action

There was a wonderful line in the reading from the Letter to the Hebrews this morning at Mass: "Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen." What a powerful statement.

Typically people associate words like blind with faith - what you need to have is a blind faith, just trust in God. While trust in God is very important, there is nothing about faith that is blind. As a matter of fact, faith is all about seeing. "Faith is the realization of what is hoped for." This means that what we do through faith is reject the vision of reality that the world gives us and instead adopt the vision of reality that God gives us, a vision that is not confined or restricted by the reality that the world presents us.

So, for example, in a wolrd that perhaps often looks at the homeless person and says, at best, "poor thing," and at worse, "it's their own fault," the Christian through faith, looks at the homeless person and chooses not to be restricted by the reality the world presents and instead says, "Let me give you shelter."

Which is part of the second reality - faith is not passive. Faith is not something that is simply received and tucked away. Rather, faith is action that is rooted in Christ. Or as St. James says in his letter, "What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well," but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead."

Let us pray that our faith helps us to adopt, or to "see" with God's eyes the reality of the world as He intends it, a glorious vision of His Kingdom. And let us put that faith in action to help bring that reality about.

Pax et bonum!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Nothing but time

So, I've been thinking an awful lot about time. And, not the tic-toc type, but the sanctity of time.

Let me explain where this thought comes from. A few weeks ago, I noticed a young couple at Mass during the week one night, and I later commented to one of the two's mother, "It was so nice to see so-and-so at Mass last night." The response came back, "Well, of course, they missed Mass on Sunday and knew they had to make it up during the week." Once I started to breath again, I said, "I don't think it really works that way." I soon started to think about this whole concept of the sanctity of days and times and seasons.

You know, in ages past, I think this was understood so much better. People would be conscious that 3 p.m. on Friday held a holy place in their week as this was taken to be the day and time that Jesus died on the Cross. And so, Fridays took on a solemn, even penitential character. As you know, Catholics used to have the custom of abstaining from eating meat - not only on Fridays of Lent, but every Friday throughout the year (yeah! fish and chips!). This was part of that recognition that there was something special about Friday. There is still something special about Friday, but I think most people today associate it with TGIF more than they do with the day their Savior died.

Then you take Sunday. Even when I was a kid, Sunday was something special. Stores were not allowed to open before noontime, it was typically a family day with a nice meal or going to visit other family members, and of course, the anchor of that day was Mass in the morning. I think today if you asked your average Catholic they would say that it isn't essential that they go to Mass every Sunday. "Does God really care?" they will ask. Too often, soccer practice, visiting friends, the football game, or work - these and many other things take the place of the Lord's Day.

But, as I say, there are no asterisks in the Bible. Under the Third Commandment, "Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you." You notice there isn't an asterisk at the end of that statement that says "See below: * Unless your in the state championship, or an important job, or Aunt Bessie is in town, or you're just too tired to get up." It says, "Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy." So, do I think God cares? I think there are only 10 things God thought important enough to make Commandments, and that was one of them, so YES, I think God cares.

Believe it or not, I think the Church has to take some share of the blame for this one. I think some of the things that have happened that last few decades have added to this reality. Things like eliminating abstainance on Fridays contributed to this attitude. You know, not eating meat on Fridays was not only a great penitential practice, but it was also one that united Catholics as a community. You knew your fellow Catholic by who was having fish and chips, who was eating cheese pizza, fish sticks or whatever on a Friday night.

The other thing is the move by the bishops about a decade ago now to change the rule on Holy Days of Obligation. The rule goes like this: If a Holy Day falls on a Monday or a Saturday, the obligation to attend Mass is lifted, except for Christmas and the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. This move was made by recognizing a reality that many people would not be likely to attend Mass two days in a row - the Holy Day, and Sunday. But, this change begs the question that I hear over and over - what makes this day holy? Is it a holy day or not? Is there something inherently profane about Saturdays and Mondays that they can't bear the weight of a Holy Day of Obligation? Do you see how silly it gets?

We need to recapture this notion that there is something holy, something sacred about days and times and seasons. The Liturgy of the Hours does this well as it reminds us of different things throughout the day. Morning Prayer often has a theme of beginnings, of light, of resurrection - all re-affirmed by the natural reality around us. The daytime prayers remind us of the holiness of labor and work and keeping God in our minds and hearts throughout the day. Evening prayer often focusses on thanksgiving for the gifts of our day and accomplishments; and Night Prayer reminds us of our heavenly home. The antiphon for the Gospel Canticle at Night Prayer says it best, "Protects us Lord as we stay awake; watch over us as we sleep. That awake, we may keep watch with Christ, and asleep rest in His peace."

Sunday is a Holy Day; it is our Sabbath; it is the Lord's Day. Let's jump off the moving train that is our life and have a day of rest with the Lord.

In 1998, Pope John Paul the Great said in his Apostolic Letter on the Lord's Day (Dies Domini), "The Lord's Day — as Sunday was called from Apostolic times — has always been accorded special attention in the history of the Church because of its close connection with the very core of the Christian mystery. In fact, in the weekly reckoning of time Sunday recalls the day of Christ's Resurrection. It is Easter which returns week by week, celebrating Christ's victory over sin and death, the fulfilment in him of the first creation and the dawn of 'the new creation.' It is the day which recalls in grateful adoration the world's first day and looks forward in active hope to 'the last day,' when Christ will come in glory and all things will be made new...It is with this strong conviction of faith, and with awareness of the heritage of human values which the observance of Sunday entails, that Christians today must face the enticements of a culture which has accepted the benefits of rest and free time, but which often uses them frivolously and is at times attracted by morally questionable forms of entertainment. Certainly, Christians are no different from other people in enjoying the weekly day of rest; but at the same time they are keenly aware of the uniqueness and originality of Sunday, the day on which they are called to celebrate their salvation and the salvation of all humanity. Sunday is the day of joy and the day of rest precisely because it is 'the Lord's Day,' the day of the Risen Lord. Understood and lived in this fashion, Sunday in a way becomes the soul of the other days."

So, anyway, I've been thinking a lot about time lately.

Pax et bonum!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

My First Post

Hi! I am brand-spankin-new to blogging, so this is my first attempt! I've been on the web for a while with my own website (www.frtomofm.org), but this is my first shot at blogging, so let's see how it goes.

I thought I'd start by sharing something that plays in the weekly bulletin of the Church I'm stationed at. It is called The Friars' Corner and it is a weekly column written by myself and my pastor, Fr. Mike MacInnis. We alternate every other week. So, here is this week's:

A few things to make you laugh

I thought before we head into the penitential season of Lent, it might be good for us all to pause for a moment and just laugh. People are always sending me things via email, and below are a few great ones to give you a chuckle:

KIDS IN CHURCH:
3-year-old Reese: “Our Father, Who does art in heaven, Harold is His name. Amen.”
+ + +
A little boy was overheard praying: “Lord, if you can’t make me a better boy, don’t worry about it. I’m having a real good time like I am.”
+ + +
After the christening of his baby brother in church, Jason sobbed all the way home in the back seat of the car. His father asked him three times what was wrong. Finally, the boy replied, “That preacher said he wanted us brought up in a Christian home, and I wanted to stay with you guys.”
+ + +
One particular four-year-old prayed, “And forgive us our trash baskets as we forgive those who put trash in our baskets.”
+ + +
A Sunday school teacher asked her children as they were on the way to church service, “And why is it necessary to be quiet in church?” One bright little girl replied, “Because people are sleeping.”
+ + +
A mother was preparing pancakes for her sons, Kevin 5, and Ryan 3. The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake. Their mother saw the opportunity for a moral lesson. “If Jesus were sitting here, He would say, ‘Let my brother have the first pancake, I can wait.’” Kevin turned to his younger brother and said, “Ryan, you be Jesus!”
+ + +
A father was at the beach with his children when the four-year-old son ran up to him, grabbed his hand, and led him to the shore where a seagull lay dead in the sand. “Daddy, what happened to him?” the son asked. “He died and went to Heaven,” the Dad replied. The boy thought a moment and then said, “Did God throw him back down?”
+ + +
A wife invited some people to dinner. At the table, she turned to their six-year-old daughter and said, “Would you like to say the blessing?” “I wouldn’t know what to say,” the girl replied. “Just say what you hear Mommy say,” the wife answered. The daughter bowed her head and said, “Lord, why on earth did I invite all these people to dinner?”

I hope those made you smile!

Love, Fr. Tom