Saturday, August 30, 2008

Take up your cross and follow me

TWENTY-SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, August 31, 2008:

Eugene Orowitz was a skinny, 100-pound sophomore at Collingswood High School in New Jersey in the 1950s. One day in gym class, the coach was teaching everyone how to throw a javelin. One by one, the students threw the six-foot-long spear. The longest throw was 30 yards. Finally, the coach looked over to Eugene and said, “You want to try, Orowitz?” Eugene nodded, and the other kids laughed. Some said, “You think you can lift it?” or “Careful, you might stab yourself.” But as he stood there, a strange feeling came over Eugene. Holding the javelin, he imagined himself as a young warrior about to enter into a battle. He raised the javelin, took six quick steps and let it fly. It soared and soared eventually crashing into the empty bleachers; twice as far as anyone else.

When Eugene retrieved the javelin, he saw that the tip had broken in the crash. The coach looked at it and said, “Well, Orowitz, you broke the thing. It’s no good to us now. You might as well take it home.” That summer Eugene spent most of his time throwing the javelin in a vacant lot. By the end of his senior year, Eugene threw the javelin 211 feet – farther than any other high schooler in the nation. He was given an academic scholarship to college and began to dream of the Olympics. Then one day, he didn’t warm up properly, and while throwing, tore the ligaments in his shoulder. That put an end to his javelin throwing, his scholarship, and his dreams. All his hard work was down the drain. It was as if God had slapped him in the face after he had performed a minor miracle. Eugene dropped out of college and took a job at a warehouse.

This tragic story of Eugene Orowitz raises a vexing question, one that is echoed in our Scriptures today: Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people? Why does He let suffering touch the lives of fine people who don’t deserve it? We heard this in our first reading from Jeremiah. Why did God let a good man, a prophet, like Jeremiah be ridiculed? Jeremiah said in his frustration, “You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped…All the day I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me.”

And, why did God let tragedy tear the prize from the hands of Eugene Orowitz after he had worked so hard to win it? Jesus gives us a hint of the answer to that question in today’s Gospel, “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” What Jesus is saying is hard to believe, even a bit crazy, to someone who doesn’t have faith. “Whoever accepts suffering and misfortune for my sake, will find a whole new life.” And Jesus suggests that it will be a far richer life than the one lost by tragedy. Another way to understand this is to realize that God doesn’t cause tragedy; He doesn’t harm us; or cause harm in the world. These horrible things aren’t God’s will; in fact they are the opposite of what God wills for us. Why do bad things happen? We can’t answer that question. But, in the midst of tragedy, God can use even those challenging situations to guide us to newer and better lives.

Take the case of Eugene Orowitz. We left him working in a warehouse. Well, one day, Eugene met a struggling actor who asked him for some help with his lines. Eugene got interested in acting himself and enrolled in acting class. His big break came when he was cast as Little Joe in the popular TV western “Bonanza” which ran for 14 years. Later, he got the leading role in other long-running TV shows, “Little House on the Prairie,” and “Highway to Heaven.” Eugene Orowitz is better known as Michael Landon and he came to realize that the most important thing that happened in his life was the day he tore those ligaments in his shoulder. What seemed like the worst tragedy of his life was in fact one that led to incredible blessings; a life that far surpassed the dreams he once held.

How do we apply this to our own lives? All we can do is follow the advice of Jesus to “take up your cross and follow me,” and leave the rest in His hands. And so, if we are a young person who dreamed of making the team, but got cut, we should pick up our cross and follow Jesus. He will lead us to a better life. If we are an older person who dreamed of being a success in business, or having the world’s greatest family, or greatest marriage, but ended up with none of these, we should pick up our cross and follow Jesus. He will mend our broken dreams and lead us to a renewed appreciation of life that we never dreamed possible.

All of this, however, still doesn’t explain the mystery of suffering and misfortune. In the end, all we may be able to do when it strikes is trust in Jesus who says, “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” We may never understand the mystery of suffering, but we can find comfort and direction, we can find the very presence of God, in its midst.
There is an old poem by an unknown author called “The Folded Page.” Let me end with it:

Up in the attic of an old house,
As raindrops pattered down on the roof,
I sat paging through my old schoolbook.

I came to a page that was folded down.
Across it was written in my old childish hand:
‘The teacher says we should leave this for now.
It’s too hard to understand.’

I unfolded the page and read it.
Then I smiled and nodded my head and said,
‘The teacher was right; now I understand.’

There are many pages in the book of life
that are hard to understand.
All we can do is fold them down and write:
‘The Master says to leave this for now.
It’s too hard to understand.’

Then, someday in heaven,
we’ll unfold the pages, reread them and say,
‘The Master was right; now I understand.’

“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

May God give you peace.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Church etiquette

FRIAR'S CORNER, August 31, 2008:

I heard a story recently about a study that showed that a majority of people seeking to enter the workforce are unaware of the proper etiquette for a job interview, and there are even classes now to teach you how to dress, act, etc. That got me thinking about a number of church etiquette issues that I have either observed myself or have received emails that say, “Father, everyone needs to know…” So, here are some good reminders for us all.

1. Yes, we still genuflect. Not too long ago, I overheard a conversation between parent and child. As they were entering a pew, the person in front of them genuflected to the Blessed Sacrament. The young person, who didn’t recognize this gesture asked, “What are they doing?” The parent responded, “That’s called genuflecting. We don’t do that anymore.” I am amazed at how many people enter the Church without genuflecting before the Blessed Sacrament. It seems as though we become so casual in our approach to God and to Church that we lose sight of the fact that the Church is unlike any other place in the world because it is God’s House and God physically dwells there in His Divine Presence in the Tabernacle. We have to think sometimes, if I were approaching the Altar of God in Heaven, what would I do? I think we might crawl there recognizing our unworthiness to be in God’s Presence. It should be the same in Church. The standard practice is for us to genuflect when entering and when leaving the Church. Some people additionally genuflect every time the get up or return – this is a wonderful pious practice. Genuflection honors God and reminds us of where we are.

2. No shoes, no shirt, no service. Especially in the summer, we are used to seeing those signs in stores, but I’m often amazed at the way people dress in Church. I came across a photo from our Church taken in the 1970s. In this photo every man is wearing a tie and jacket and every woman is in a dress, many wearing beautiful Sunday hats. Now, I know that we no longer dress that way. But, surely, there is no need for shorts, tank tops, exposed undergarments and the like in Church. If the term “Sunday best” no longer has meaning in our society, at least we could dress as well for God on Sunday as we would for an employer at an interview.

3. Cell phones. I always love the commercials you see at the movie theater before the film begins. They have found very clever ways to remind us to silence our electronic devices. The same should be true in Church. I recently heard the theme to “Bonanza” playing out loudly on someone’s phone – and you know you can never quite find your phone when that happens. I know I’d be mortified if my ringtone – the theme to “Law and Order” – were to play out in the middle of Mass.

4. Gum and candies. I can’t tell you how often I look out into the congregation and see people chomping on gum or unwrapping and sucking on candies. This is so disrespectful of God’s House and even more disrespectful of the Eucharist. I have seen people chewing gum in line for Holy Communion. We should remember that we do still have a Eucharistic Fast – we are not to consume any food or drink (including gum or candies) for one hour before Holy Communion in order to properly prepare ourselves to receive Jesus.

5. Getting to Mass on-time. Speaking of properly preparing, it is very important that we get to the Church on time. Now, the occasional, unavoidable delay is not a problem. What can you do? But, it seems that some are chronically late for Mass. This should be the most precious hour of our week. It is our time to be built up as God’s Holy People, to hear His Word, receive the Body and Blood of His Son, and how often we come in 5, 10, 15 minutes late or more. In those cases, if we have come in late, out of respect for the Eucharist, we really should not receive, as we’re not properly disposed or prepared. I think of the words of Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, “Could you not spend one hour with me?”

These are just a few examples. If you can think of more, send me an email (frtom@sfxnewmilford.org).

Love, Fr. Tom

Late have I loved you

Feast of St. Augustine. This is one of my favorite quotes of St. Augustine. I am enthralled by his passionate response to God's action in his life.

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you.

In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you.

Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all.

You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness.

You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more.

You touched me, and I burned for your peace.

from The Confessions of Saint Augustine

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Heaven is God

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy - Heaven is not an abstract idea or an imaginary place, but heaven is God, Pope Benedict XVI said.

Celebrating an early morning Mass Aug. 15, the pope said the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary "urges us to raise our gaze toward heaven, not a heaven of abstract ideas nor an imaginary heaven created in art, but the true reality of heaven which is God himself. God is heaven."

During the Mass in the small parish Church of St. Thomas, located on the main square in Castel Gandolfo, the pope said that while Mary's assumption is "totally unique and extraordinary," it also assures believers that their destiny, like hers, is to be with God forever.

God is "our goal, he is the dwelling place from which we came and toward which we are called," the pope told about 200 people who had crowded into the church, while hundreds of others watched on a large screen erected in the square."

We are all children of God the father, brothers and sisters of Jesus, children of our mother Mary," the pope said. "And all of us want happiness, and that happiness is found in God."

Pope Benedict said Mary, as the loving mother of her son's followers, "helps us, encourages us so that every moment of our existence would be a step in this journey toward God."

"Gazing at Mary, assumed into heaven, we understand better that our everyday lives -- although marked by problems and difficulties -- flow like a river toward the divine ocean, toward the fullness of joy and peace," he said.

The pope said that in a world marked by "the sad spectacle of so much false joy and, at the same time, so much agonizing pain," Christians must learn to be like Mary, "signs of hope and consolation."

At midday, Pope Benedict recited the Angelus with visitors gathered in the courtyard of the papal summer villa.

He said that while the last mention of Mary in the Bible places her with the apostles awaiting the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, the church teaches that she was taken, body and soul, "from the earth to heaven."

"This firm conviction of the church found its coronation in the dogmatic definition of the Assumption pronounced by my venerable predecessor Pius XII in the year 1950," he said."

From paradise, the Blessed Mother continues always, especially in difficult hours of trial, to watch over her children, whom Jesus himself entrusted to her before dying on the cross," the pope said.

Pope Benedict said the hundreds of Marian shrines around the world testify to the fact that millions of Christians have and continue to experience her maternal love.

The pope specifically mentioned the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes, which he will visit during a Sept. 12-15 trip to France.

"Mary assumed into heaven indicates to us the ultimate aim of our earthly pilgrimage," he said.

"She reminds us that our whole being -- spirit, soul and body -- is destined for the fullness of life, that one who lives and dies in love for God and for one's neighbor will be transfigured into the image of the glorious body of the risen Lord, that the Lord casts down the mighty and raises up the humble," the pope said.

Catholic News Service

Monday, August 25, 2008

Encore!

This kid gives me goosebumps! Here is Andrew Johnston's performance from the finals.

Message of Our Lady

Message of August 25, 2008:

“Dear children! Also today I call you to personal conversion. You be those who will convert and, with your life, will witness, love, forgive and bring the joy of the Risen One into this world, where my Son died and where people do not feel a need to seek Him and to discover Him in their lives. You adore Him, and may your hope be hope to those hearts who do not have Jesus. Thank you for having responded to my call.”

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Built of living stones

TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, August 24, 2008:

Blessed Pope John the 23rd was pope during the turbulent 1960s when it seemed in many ways that everything was falling apart. The priesthood was in crisis, religious life was in crisis, marriage was in crisis, faith was in crisis, the church itself was in crisis. The pope worked long and hard hours trying to address these problems. One evening, after an exhausting day, he went to his private chapel to pray his daily Holy Hour before bed but he was too exhausted and too stressed to focus or to pray. After a few minutes of futile effort, he got up and said, “Lord, the church belongs to you. I am going to bed.”

Difficulties might have driven the Pope to acknowledge that the church belongs to Christ. But, as we heard in today’s Gospel passage, Jesus himself said it 2,000 years ago: “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.”

This is the most explicit statement that Jesus makes in the Gospels about the institution of the church and it is crucial for a proper understanding of what the church is, and of our role in the church.

Most importantly, it reminds us that Jesus is the owner of the church. Neither Peter nor the disciples owns the church. And so, when we sometimes act and feel that we own the church, we are like farm workers who go about pretending the farm belongs to them. In reality, all God’s people have been called together as co-workers in Christ’s vineyard, each with a distinct and important role to perform. But we do not own the church. Instead, we belong to the church under the leadership of Jesus Christ.

This passage also tells us that Jesus is the one who builds his church. “Upon you I will build my church,” he says to Peter. He is the master builder who has the building plan in His hands. We cooperate with Him to help Him with the process of building. Our role is to listen and follow His instructions, doing our own small part in the grand design of the master. Workers who stick to their own ideas of what the building should be rather than follow the directives given by the Master may find themselves working at cross purposes with the Master.

So, if Jesus is the owner and builder of the church, where then do we come in? We come in precisely where Peter comes in. Together with Peter we are the building blocks of the church. Peter is the foundation rock and we are the pieces of stones with which the church is built. Peter himself wrote in his first letter. He said, “Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

Notice he doesn’t say “build yourselves into a spiritual house,” he says “let yourselves be built.” We are passive, God is active. It is God Himself who is the builder and not us. Our role is to allow God to use us. The question we could ask ourselves today is: “How is God using me to build up his church? Am I letting God use me to build up his church?” We must not forget that no matter how small a piece of stone may be, the master builder still uses it to create something beautiful.

A famous stained-glass artist was commissioned to make a huge portrait of Christ for the cathedral in Chartres, France. First he laid all of the pieces he was going to use out on the floor of the cathedral. Among these awesome pieces of glass was a small, clear piece about as big as a fingernail. As the stained-glass portrait was assembled, that little piece remained on the floor. Only the big colorful pieces were used. On the day of the window’s completion the entire city gathered to witness the unveiling of the portrait. The artist pulled down the cloth cover and the crowd gasped at the beauty of the colorful window glowing in the sunlight. After a few seconds, however, the crowd grew silent. They sensed that something was missing, that the portrait was unfinished. The great artist then walked over to where the little clear piece of glass lay, picked it up, and placed it in the portrait, right in the center of Jesus’ eye. As the sun hit that little piece, it gave off a dazzling sparkle. The work of art was now complete.

My friends, in the grand design of building the church of God, each one of us could consider ourselves to be that small but indispensable piece of glass. Blessed Pope John the 23rd said this about our role in the church, “We are not on earth to guard a museum but to cultivate a flourishing garden of life.” Let us allow God to build up His church through us and with us and for us.

“I say to you…upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.”

May God give you peace.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Our Lady of Knock

OUR LADY OF KNOCK
On the wet Thursday evening of the 21st August, 1879, at about the hour of 8 o'clock, Our Lady, St. Joseph, and St. John the Evangelist appeared in a blaze of Heavenly light at the south gable of the Church of St. John the Baptist. Behind them and a little to the left of St. John was a plain altar. On the altar was a cross and a lamb with adoring angels. The Apparition was seen by fifteen people whose ages ranged from six years to seventy-five and included men, women, teenagers and children.
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The poor humble witnesses distinctly beheld the Blessed Virgin Mary clothed in white robes with a brilliant crown on her head. Over the forehead where the crown fitted the brow, she wore a beautiful full-bloom golden rose. She was in an attitude of prayer with her eyes and hands raised towards Heaven. St. Joseph stood on Our Lady's right. He was turned towards her in an attitude of respect. His robes were also white. St. John was on Our Lady's left. He was dressed in white vestments and resembled a bishop, with a small mitre. He appeared to be preaching and he held an open book in his left hand.
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The witnesses watched the Apparition in pouring rain for two hours, reciting the Rosary. Although the witnesses standing before the gable were drenched, no rain fell in the direction of the gable. They felt the ground carefully with their hands and it was perfectly dry as was the gable itself.
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The personal pilgrimage of Pope John Paul II in 1979, commemorating the centenary of the apparition, inspired an even greater devotion to the Shrine and endorsed the indelible seal of Vatican approval. Mother Teresa of Calcutta visited the Shrine in June of 1993. One and a half million pilgrims visit the Shrine annually.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Sunday, August 17, 2008

THE NAME not to be used in worship

Catholics at worship should neither sing nor pronounce the name of God as "Yahweh," the Vatican has said, citing the authority of Jewish and Christian practice.

The instruction came in a June 29 letter to Catholic bishops conferences around the world from the Vatican's top liturgical body, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, by an explicit "directive" of Pope Benedict XVI. "In recent years, the practice has crept in of pronouncing the God of Israel's proper name," the letter noted, referring to the four-consonant Hebrew Tetragrammaton, YHWH.

That name is commonly pronounced as "Yahweh," though other versions include "Jaweh" and "Yehovah."

But such pronunciation violates long-standing Jewish tradition, the Vatican reminded bishops.

"As an expression of the infinite greatness and majesty of God, (the name) was held to be unpronounceable and hence was replaced during the reading of sacred Scripture by means of the use of an alternate name: ‘Adonai,' which means ‘Lord,'" the Congregation said.

That practice continued with Christianity, the letter explained, recalling the "church's tradition, from the beginning, that the sacred Tetragrammaton was never pronounced in the Christian context nor translated into any of the languages into which the Bible was translated."

Invoking a Vatican document from 2001, the Congregation reminded bishops that the name "Yahweh" in Catholic worship should be replaced by the Latin "Dominus" (Lord) or a word "equivalent in meaning" in the local language.

The Vatican's move will require changes in a number of hymns and prayers currently used in American churches, but not to the Mass itself, said the U.S. bishops' top liturgical official.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Dear Senator Obama

From the recent issue of "America Magazine." Well worth the read:

By John F. Kavanaugh AUGUST 18, 2008

I am writing this open letter to you, Senator, on the outside chance that one of your National Catholic Advisory Council members might read America and pass it on to you.

You have an abortion problem, especially with pro-life Catholics who would like to vote for you—something to keep in mind when you ponder the fact that there has been up to a 15 percent rise in Catholics voting Republican in the past two elections.

Catholic voters do not think monolithically. That should come as no surprise to you, since you have many Senate colleagues with a Catholic background who have supported every bill insuring a “woman’s right to choose.” But if you are interested in the respectful hearing of opposing positions, as you often note, it will be valuable for you to have serious conversations with groups like Democrats for Life of America and Feminists for Life.

There are some Catholics who will vote for you, hoping that your programs may do more for the unborn than rhetoric or a promise by Supreme Court nominees who would just return the decision to the states. They will vote for you, not because of your position on abortion, but despite it, realizing that your approach to wars of choice, capital punishment, hunger, homelessness, health care and refugees might better serve the lives of “the least” of our brothers and sisters.

There are some Catholics who will vote for you because your liberal agenda appeals to them and they refuse to vote for any Republican. There are other Catholics who will never vote for you—a few because of the abortion issue alone, but many more because they are irreversibly Republican and distrust all Democratic policies. As one prominent pro-life Republican put it, he would have voted “holding his nose” for the pro-choice Rudolph W. Giuliani because of Giuliani’s other Republican positions.

There is a third group who are truly undecided or are tending away from you because they think you not only defend partial-birth abortion but also are against lifesaving therapy for newborns surviving an abortion attempt. You are going to be hit with ads about your vote in the Illinois State Legislature against the Induced Infant Liability Act.

I know you have tried to explain this in your Relevant magazine interview, but you seemed evasive. Can you just simply affirm your conviction that any newborn, even after an abortion attempt, should be given effective life-sustaining treatment? Perhaps your seeming ambivalence is related to your position on late-term abortions and partial-birth abortions. Second- and third-trimester abortions comprise a small percentage of all abortions, but they are horrific. Anybody who thinks not, does not think. But even your gentle qualification of the mental health exception was met with a storm of protest from the National Abortion Rights Action League, and you seemed to wilt.

I know you do not want to criminalize abortion, that you think it is a profound moral issue and that you think a father’s responsibility continues after conception, as you said on Father’s Day this year. I know also that you think our young ones should be taught more about the seriousness and sacredness of sexuality. But more is required if you are to reach the group of Catholics (and other Christians) I have been talking about. Here are three suggestions:

1. Support the Rev. Jim Wallis’s “abortion-reduction agenda,” with its economic support for pregnant women and greater access to adoption as part of the Democratic platform.

2. If you are interested in diversity and mutual respect, give a place at the Democratic convention for Democrats for Life to show you are unafraid of difference and debate.

3. Engage the arguments and evidence offered in opposition to second- and third-trimester abortions. You may find that the position of most American men and women is quite different from Naral’s. The earlier stages of embryonic and fetal development are more contested. But even your Republican opponent supports embryonic stem cell research. Ask him, and all the Catholics who will vote for him, how this fits into their professed commitments.

Perhaps you owe some courageous people like Douglas Kmiec a bit of reciprocation. Kmiec, a pro-life Catholic law professor who served in the Reagan and Bush administrations, announced his support of you because of your approach to war, poverty and immigration. Because of this stand, he has been denied Communion at least once. Are you willing to risk excommunication from the church of Naral for a principled position on abortion?

Maybe they will call you that terrible name “flip-flopper.” But remember this: anyone who refuses to change a judgment in the face of irrefutable data is either a fool or a toady. And you, clearly, are neither. As I see you move more and more to the middle in matters of the economy and the war in Afghanistan, I wait. Will you move a bit to the middle on this matter of abortion?

A vociferous cadre in the Democratic Party has for too long wielded a dogmatic veto over any discussion of limiting abortions. With your commitment to reasoned, evidence-based and respectful discourse, are you able to challenge your party to welcome pro-life Catholics into its supposed big tent?

John F. Kavanaugh, S.J., is a professor of philosophy at St. Louis University in St. Louis, Mo.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The voice of an angel

I saw this on Fr. Phil's blog (link below) and it brought me to tears. This is a really beautiful clip. Enjoy!


"Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid"

(Our Deacon is preaching this weekend, so I didn't prepare a homily. But, I thought I would share with you one from the "archives." I delivered this homily on the same Sunday in 2002):

NINETEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME:

Most visitors to the Holy Land like to take a boat ride across the Sea of Galilee, the sea on which Jesus walked. One pilgrim wanted to take the ride, but soon found out it would cost $50. "Fifty dollars!" exclaimed the tourist, "No wonder Jesus walked across!" The story of Jesus walking on water is both familiar to us, and a bit confusing. What does it all mean?

This is a tremendously layered story; one that has a lot to teach us about who Jesus is, but also about the church in its journey through the world, and about the life of faith of the individual believer.

So what does it say about Jesus? The miracle story of Jesus walking on the sea, together with the one last week’s passage - the multiplication of loaves – is an epiphany, a manifestation showing us that Jesus is Lord and as Lord has authority over all forces natural and supernatural.

In the worldview of the Jews, the sea was the domain of supernatural demonic forces. A rough and stormy sea was regarded as the work of hostile spirits. By walking on the raging waves and calming the stormy sea Jesus shows himself to be one who has power and total control over these hostile forces. Today's gospel brings us the good news that these powers of darkness stand no chance at all when Jesus is present and active in our lives. Jesus says to us, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”

This passage also has a lot to say about the Church. The boat on the sea is one of the earliest Christian symbols for the church in its journey through the world. Just as the boat is tossed about by the waves so is the church pounded from all sides by forces that are hostile to the kingdom of God. In the midst of crisis, Jesus comes to restore peace and harmony in his church. But he comes in a form and manner in which he is easily mistaken. He comes in a way that makes many well-meaning Christians cry out in fear "It is a ghost!" as they try to keep him out. But if we listen carefully we shall hear through the storm his soft, gentle voice whispering in the wind, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” If we believe in his word and take him on board, the storms will always subside.

But, we must act in faith. We must stand on the promise of Christ that if we are busy going about the duty he has assigned us, just as the disciples were busy rowing their boat to the other side of the shore as Jesus had instructed them, then Jesus himself will come to us riding on the very waves that threaten to swallow us up. As the church in the modern world, like Peter's boat, sails through the stormy seas of our time, we need to keep an eye on those very seas looking for Jesus who comes to bring deliverance and peace. We must strive to recognize him even when he comes in an unexpected form.

The individual believer – you and me. From the point of view of the individual believer, the story of Jesus walking on the seas, especially the involvement of Peter in the story, is a lesson for disciples who are tempted to take their eyes off Jesus and to take more notice of the threatening circumstances around them. Peter had says to Jesus, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." Jesus gives him the word of command, "Come." It would seem like Jesus is commanding the impossible. Yet whatever Jesus commands us to do, he also gives us the power to do. And in faith, the ordinary man, Peter, begins to walk on the seas to Jesus.

“But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’” As long as Peter kept his eye fixed upon Jesus, and upon his word and power, he walked upon the water; but when he took notice of the danger he was in, and focused on the waves, then he became afraid and began to sink. “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” And so it will be for you and I in our own individual spiritual journeys. As long as we keep our eyes on Jesus, our ears attentive to his words, our will firm in following his command – we too can conquer the storms that might beset us.

Tomorrow we celebrate the feast of St. Clare, the co-founder of the Franciscan movement along with St. Francis. In the communion of saints, she remains one of the greatest examples of firm, unswerving faith in Jesus. Let us make her prayer, our prayer today: “Gaze upon Christ, consider Christ, contemplate Christ, imitate Christ.”

May God give you peace!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

"Will Franklin your father loves you"

"Will Franklin your father loves you."

Those were the words that singer Steven Curtis Chapman spoke to his teenage son moments after a devastating event: while driving the family SUV, the boy had accidentally struck and killed his little sister.

The Chapmans are now coming forward to talk about it. They appeared on Good Morning America. You can watch that report here.

It's an astonishing testimony, and a great tribute to their faith.


Friday, August 8, 2008

Our Holy Father St. Dominic

This picture shows the Meeting of St Francis and St Dominic. The artist, Benozzo, starts with the vision of St Dominic in the left half of the picture. Christ is about to hurl three spears - the symbols of pride, unchastity and greed - at the depraved world. Mary is attempting to prevent him by pointing to the meeting taking place between St Dominic and St Francis.

The depiction of the saint is derived from the description written by Thomas of Celano in 1228: "Not particularly large in form; small rather than large, he had a not particularly large, round head, a somewhat long and stretched face, a level and low forehead, not particularly large black, pure eyes, dark hair, straight eyebrows, an even, fine and straight nose, upright, small ears, flat temples (...), close, regular and white teeth, narrow and soft lips, a black, not full beard, a slender neck, straight shoulders, short arms, gentle hands, long fingers."

For the first time in this cycle St Francis bears a tonsure and is dressed in the simple brown habit of a Franciscan, with a cord as a belt. This plain habit clearly distinguishes him from St Dominic, whose habit is a white tunic with a white scapular with a dark cape over it. In contrast with the rather more lavish Dominican attire, St Francis' simple habit refers to the ideal of poverty to which he dedicated himself for the rest of his life.

The two founders of orders met in Rome, as indicated by the obelisks which appear on the left side of the church. Benozzo places the scene, which according to legend took place in 1215, in front of a church, presumably Old St Peter's.

This scene is not drawn from the legend of St Francis but from the life of St Dominic in the "Legenda Aurea" (Golden Legend). The accompanying inscription reads:

QUANDO BEATA VIRGO OSTE(N)DIT XPO BEATU(M) FRANCISCU(M) ET BEATU(M) DOMINICU(M) PRO REPARATIONE MUNDI -
"How the blessed Virgin pointed St Francis and St Dominic out to Christ, for the renewal of the world."

Pope's prayer intentions for August

Vatican City - The Vatican's Press Office released the Holy Father's prayer intentions for the month of August today.

Pope Benedict's general prayer intention for is: "That the human family may know how to respect God's design for the world and thus become ever more aware of the great gift of God which Creation represents for us."

His mission intention is: "That the answer of the entire people of God to the common vocation to sanctity and mission may be promoted and fostered, with careful discernment of the charisms and a constant commitment to spiritual and cultural formation."

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Be a part of the miracle

EIGHTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, August 3, 2008:

The Chicago Sun-times reports that 80% of store employees surveyed have stolen from their employers. A Cornell University study shows that the average child develops an accepting attitude towards cheating by the time they are 10 years old. And an international study shows that half of the world's population has no safe water supply and that 450 million people go hungry every night.

When we hear statistics like this, we can get depressed. As Christians we know that we should do something, but as human beings we often say, "I'm only one person, what can I do?" So we file these statistics away in our mind.

"'Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.' Jesus said, 'Bring them here to me.'" Today's Gospel suggests that maybe we're approaching the problem in a purely human way. Perhaps we should look at it more in a faith-filled way. Today's Gospel paints a picture similar to the statistics we heard. More than 5,000 were without anything to eat and were hungry. The only food around were five loaves and two fish.

In John's Gospel we're told this food belongs to a little boy. When Jesus learned about the food, he called the boy, "Will you give me what you have so that I can feed these hungry people?" The boy trusted Jesus and gave him the five loaves and two fish. We all know what happened next. Today's Gospel suggests that one person can make a big difference. Or rather, two people can - one person and Jesus. The boy gave what he had to Jesus, and Jesus fed a hungry crowd with it. This spectacular story of the feeding of the 5,000 reminds us of a very important principle: God has set up the world in such a way that the action of an individual is important and can have a far reaching impact.

Newspaper columnist Art Buchwald, once wrote a humorous story about his friend Oscar in New York City. One day Art and Oscar were getting out of a taxi. As they did, Oscar said to the driver, "You did a superb job of driving." The cabbie looked at him and said, "What are you? Some kind of a wise guy?" "Not at all," said Oscar. "I really mean it. I admire the way you move about in the traffic." The cabbie paused, then smiled, and drove off. "What was that all about?" asked Art. "I'm trying to bring love back to New York," Oscar replied. "How can you do that?" said Art. "It's simple. Take that cabbie," Oscar explained. "I just made his day. Let's suppose he has 20 fares today. He's going to be nice to those 20 people. They, in turn, will be kinder to other people. Eventually, the kindness could spread to a thousand people." "You're turning into a nut," Art said.

Just then they passed a construction site. It was noon, the workers were eating. Oscar walked up to them and said, "That's a great job you men are doing." The workers eyed Oscar suspiciously. "When will it be finished?" Oscar asked. "June," grunted the hard-hats. "That's great," Oscar said. "It will be a splendid addition to the city."

As they continued their walk, Art said to Oscar, "I haven't seen anyone like you since The Man of La Mancha." "That's okay," said Oscar. "You can joke. But when those men digest my words, they'll be better for it." Art said, "But even if they are better for it, you're still only one man, and one person can't change New York City." "Yes, he can," said Oscar. "The big thing is not to get discouraged. Bringing back love to New York is not easy. But if I can get other people to join me in my campaign, it will work."

This brings us back to today's Gospel. The boy gave what meager food he had to Jesus. And Jesus shared the boy's gift with thousands. And those thousands who ate bread on that day were just a foretaste of the billions or trillions - including you and me today - who would be fed by the bread of the Eucharist. The message of today's Gospel is this: One person - even you or me - can be the instrument of a miracle. One concerned person, with the help of Jesus, can be the means for helping thousands.

British TV celebrity Malcolm Muggeridge converted to Catholicism because of the simple acts of kindness he witnessed in the life of Mother Teresa. He said this about his conversion, "Words cannot express how much I owe her. She showed me Christianity in action. She showed me the power of love. She showed me how one loving person can start a tidal wave of love that can spread to the entire world."

This is our Good News today, that a single person is important; the Good News that one person counts. It is the Good News that if we share what meager gifts we have with Jesus, He can make them bear fruit beyond our wildest dreams. If we offer our talents and treasures to the Lord, He can perform miracles with them.

Let me close with a poem by the Mexican poet Amado Nervo:

I am only a spark,
Make me a fire.
I'm only a string,
Make me a lyre.

I'm only an ant-hill
Make me a mountain.
I'm only a drop,
Make me a fountain.

I'm only a feather,
Make me a wing.
I'm only a beggar,
Make me a king.

What will you give to Jesus today? Be a part of the miracle.

May God give you peace.