Monday, December 27, 2010

May every family be a holy family

“Wives, be subordinate to your husbands, as is proper in the Lord.” How many wives poked and prodded their husbands as that was read? How many husbands twisted uncomfortably in their seats? This is perhaps the most dangerous passage in all of Scripture to preach on. But, I feel a little dangerous today, so let’s give it a try.

I don’t know how many of you saw the movie, My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding? But, it is a really wonderful and funny movie about a large ethnic family focusing on their awkward daughter who pursues her dreams, falls in love and marries. But, there is a scene early on that puts our reading from Colossians in perspective. After years of working in the family restaurant, the daughter decides she wants to go to college. She musters up the courage and asks permission of her father, who immediately turns her down. Crying on her mother’s shoulder the mother responds, “Don’t worry, I will talk to your father.” Feeling the hopelessness of the situation the daughter responds, “He won’t change his mind. He is stubborn. ‘The man is the head of the household.’” The mother strokes her daughter’s hair and smiles, “Yes, the man is the head of the household, but the woman? She is the neck. And I can turn that head any way I want.”

The problem with this phrase from Colossians, “Wives be submissive to your husbands,” is that we tend to isolate that passage out and not look at the rest of the reading. Alone, this passage is troubling, but seen in the bigger picture, we find not a chauvinistic household, but one that is balanced; not one where husbands lord authority over wives, but one where everyone is subject to the other. So, if it is fair to say wives be subject to your husbands, it is also fair to say husbands be subject to your wives and children be subject to your parents; parents be subject to your children.  St. Paul is envisioning a Christian community, a Christian family where every member is in service to the other.

On this Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Paul is giving us the key to holiness in our own families. The key to this letter of Paul is not the point he makes about wives, but the lesson he gives to us all a few lines earlier, “Put on, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.”

This is a tough time for the family in our world. Families are struggling. Family life in many places is falling apart. Just look at the images that we get of families from the media today. Families are not portrayed as places of love, respect and safety; rather they are battle grounds. Television families often feature children who regularly outsmart their parents, or parents who are preoccupied with their own interests and neglect their children. These are not holy families.

Our opening prayer today said, “Father, help us to live as the holy family, united in respect and love.” That seems like a tall order for us today, but it is one that we can achieve if we have the desire to live in holy families. And that is the challenge – throw out what the world tells you a family should be; and put on Christ and what God wants a family to be; one where love, respect, compassion, and humility prevail. Be subject to one another.

Yes, the Holy Family is a tough act to follow. The dad was a saint, the mom was the Mother of God; and the son was God Himself. But, that is not what made Jesus, Mary and Joseph a holy family. What made them holy was the way they loved. They were subject to one another. Joseph was faithful to Mary even though the child she carried was not his own. Mary was faithful to Jesus even to the foot of the cross. And one of the things that most concerned Jesus as he hung on the cross was to make sure that John would be there to care for his mother after he was gone. God brought the Holy Family together, but love and concern for one another kept them together and made them holy. They became holy as a family in the way that they loved each other.

The challenge of holiness for families today is to put the family first – before career, before wealth, before everything. Families need the support, understanding and love of every person in them. There is a great freedom that comes from family life. But, never let the freedom you enjoy in your own home become an excuse for failing to extend to the members of your family all of the love, respect, attention and compassion they deserve. Reserve your deepest kindness and love for your own family. Honor all of the members of your household; compete in holiness so that you may grow in your love of each other and the love of God.
Make St. Paul’s words your family’s mission statement: “Put on…heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.”

May God make your family a holy family; and may God give you peace.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Say YES to the cookie!

A man asked his wife what she wanted for Christmas. She said, “I’ll give you a hint. What I want goes from 0-200 in less than 5 seconds, and I want to see it in the driveway Christmas morning.” Christmas came and the woman ran out to see her gift. And there it was right in the driveway - a brand new, shiny bathroom scale!

Now, I don’t know about you, but although this is supposed to be the season of sugar plums dancing in our heads, and Joy to the World, for me it often feels like wartime. On one side of this war are you and me – good, upstanding citizens and faithful Christians. And our opponent? That plate of chocolate chip cookies that are so fresh from the oven that the chips are still melting. And that piece of pumpkin pie with the dollop of fresh whipped cream on top. And Grandma’s cobbler. And chocolate cake. This my friends is not mere spiritual warfare; no, this is caloric warfare.

This battle of the bulge takes place every year at this time. The double whammy of Thanksgiving and Christmas explodes our waistlines like a hand grenade. Our cholesterol and blood sugar say no, but our eyes and stomachs say yes, yes, yes. We always end up losing this battle, which means we have to make bold New Year’s predictions about eating tofu and drinking soy milk, which lasts until we open the fridge on New Year’s Day and see there’s one more piece of pecan pie left. We have met the enemy, and the enemy is oh, so sweet!

My friends, as we gather in this holy place, of course, our minds are on the relevance of Christmas, on the reality that God came to us as a little baby boy in a manger, and the fact that this day reminds us that in the birth of Christ we find our opportunity to know God on a more intimate level. That is the reason for Christmas; and the purpose of our gathering. But, I want to pose a very different question today, not about the reason for the season, but about its outcome. What is the result of Christmas in our lives? How should our lives be different because of this event – both the birth we remember 2,000 years ago and the celebration we gather for in this church today? One way is that our lives are supposed to be joyful and peaceful. We sing about just these things in all of our beautiful Christmas hymns. But, for many of us, the last few weeks and days before Christmas are anything but joyful and peaceful. One trip to the mall or post office in the last five days is all anyone needs to be reminded of how easily this season of anticipation turns into one of frustration. The problem is we add to that stress ourselves, and often fret over the things that we should be welcoming as joys. And in this season, that stress can distract us from what Christmas is all about.

Of all the times of the year, this is not supposed to be the season of stress. It’s not “God Fret You Worried Gentlemen” or “O Come All Ye Frazzled.” The archangel didn’t tell the shepherd, “Be afraid! I bring warnings of great anxiety!” He told them to NOT be afraid, his tidings were of great joy. The point is that in the midst of our stress, we sometimes refuse that joy, that happy, healthy, holy, life-giving joy that is the intended result of welcoming anew the birth of Christ.

This time of year, people love to bake and give all kinds of goodies. Our kitchen counters can lack any free space for all the sweets covering them. As I was reflecting on this notion of Christmas joy, I remembered one particular plate of M&M cookies that I received last year. It was a wonderful gift, and the kind person who gave them told us that a lot of love went into every one of those cookies. As I stood agonizing over whether to eat one or not, those red and green M&Ms were staring at me symbolizing the inner battle: stop, go, stop, go. I thought, “Should I? It’s only a few hours until dinner, and I certainly haven’t exercised; but I did have a salad for lunch. But, I probably shouldn’t.” And then I realized something. These cookies were a gift, made with love, and I was rationalizing why I shouldn’t accept this gift. It’s not the right time, it’s the not the right place, I haven’t earned such a gift. Joy and love were given to me, and was looking for reasons to refuse that joy.

Now, think about this: what if the Blessed Mother had been so stressed out that she had refused the joy offered her by the angel? She had every right to. She was in no position to take on the responsibility the angel was putting before her. She was engaged to Joseph. How would she explain this pregnancy? She could tell the truth, but who would believe her? She had every good reason to say no. But the angel told Mary that she would have a baby, and that baby would be named Jesus, and that He would be the very Son of God. And Mary finds herself with this gift of joy, stressing out over the news. “How can this be?” she questions. If she accepts, she will be the vessel for a Divine gift; she will be the Mother of God. But it also means that very soon it will be obvious that there’s more than a cookie in her belly, which could lead to the destruction of her marriage and her reputation. She could even be put to death.

And yet, Mary says yes, “I am the handmaid of the Lord.” She takes the risk and she accepts the gift of God’s joy; of God’s love; of God’s peace. There are a lot of reasons she could say no: not the right time, not the right place, not the right man, not the right plan. And yet, instead of weighing the pros and cons, instead of counting the costs, instead of listing the reasons to refuse the gift, Mary simply says “yes.” “Let it be done to me according to your word.”

So, my friends, today, I want you to say “yes” to Christmas. Say “yes” to the cookie! Eat and enjoy! Sing and be merry! January’s coming soon enough. There will be plenty of time to eat right, drink bottled water, take vitamins, and get plenty of sleep. So this Christmas, I want you to eat the cookie. I want you to open your heart; open your life and accept the joy that is the birth of Christ, our Savior.

True Christmas is, of course, about more than the joys of a cookie. In fact, the reality is that the joys we refuse are more often spiritual and eternal; the joys we refuse are far more meaningful and transformative. The joy that we are guilty of leaving behind is the joy of accepting God’s loving gift, of letting Christ bless us, and giving ourselves to follow Jesus. Christmas is more than a chance to eat and open presents. It’s also a chance to open ourselves to Jesus, and to be filled, to be satisfied, to be nourished, to be strengthened, as only the presence of Jesus can do. It’s a time to recommit ourselves to God and to recommit our lives to worshiping and serving Him. It’s a chance to let the remembrance of the birth of Christ so long ago, lead to a new birth of Christ within us, right here, right now. Christ’s birth was not only life-changing 2,000 years ago; the result of His birth is meant to be life-changing for each of us gathered in this holy place today.

And yet, we don’t have to accept God’s joy any more than Mary had to. We can say “no”, and continue to let stress rule our lives, to be more concerned about holding back than serving others, more concerned about counting costs than reaping true rewards, more concerned about what we can’t have in our lives; about what someone else has that’s better than ours; than what we’re truly missing in our lives. We too can say, “It’s not the right time, it’s not the right place, I haven’t earned such a gift.” Well, none of us have, but we’ve been given it just the same. And there’s never a wrong time or a wrong place to recommit ourselves to following Jesus. This is the season of joy; of love and of peace. Have we felt that joy yet? Have we embraced the joy of this season? Or in our stress have we refused the joy God offers us as a free gift?

Now, I know what’s going to happen. You’re going to come to me next month with a frown on your face. Your belt will be a notch looser, and you may even be waddling a bit. And you’ll say, “Father, I did what you said, I ate that cookie, and now I weigh five pounds more than before Christmas!” And I’ll say, “Me too. But, how did that cookie taste?” And your eyes will glaze over, and you’ll look up, and with a big smile on your face, you’ll say, “It was wonderful.”

My friends, in this very moment, the gift of Christ; the gift of joy, love and peace; is once again being offered to each one of us. What will you do? It’s all up to you. But if you ask me, I’d eat the cookie, I’d get on my knees tonight and thank God for the gift of His Son and welcome that joy; that truest of joys, in to the depths of my heart. And only then can we all say, “Thank you Lord. It was truly wonderful!”

On behalf of Fr. Giles, Deacon Ernie and myself, may you all have a very Merry Christmas and may God give you His joy.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Do you see what I see?

A kindergarten teacher told her class the story of Christmas complete with the angels glorious announcement of the birth of Jesus to the shepherds and the Three Wise Men recognizing the star in the sky and travelling to see the new born King. At the end of the story she asked, “Now tell me, who was the first to know about the birth of Jesus?” A little girl raised her hand and answered simply, “Mary.” How many of us missed that? Sometimes we, as adults, miss the obvious because we’re expecting more complicated answers, all the while the real answer is simple and obvious.

We do this with God too. We have a tendency to associate God with the phenomenal and the spectacular, like the host of angels or the guiding star, so much so that we can fail to notice God’s presence and action in the ordinary and normal things of life, such as pregnancy and birth. The child’s simple answer reminds us to take a moment to look at the ordinary things that we take for granted every day and see God’s hand in them, and this is a good message for us as we are less than a week away from celebrating Christmas. Especially at this time of year, we can get so caught up in the complexities of gifts and travel and dinners (and new pastors!), that we just might miss the simple and profound reality of the day – that God loves us and that God is with us.

Our gospel today begins with a seemingly casual statement: “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about…” But for the average person of Jesus’ time this statement would be a shock because popular belief in those days did not expect the Messiah to be born of a woman, in a normal way, as an average baby. Though the scribes and scholars were aware of the prophecy that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem, the average person held to the popular belief that the Messiah would arrive unexpectedly and in an extraordinary way. The Messiah was expected to drop suddenly from the skies, full-grown in all His divine power. He would arrive, of course, on the Temple mount – at the very heart of Jewish worship – in thunder, in glory, in majesty and in awe!

People found it hard to reconcile these expectations with the reality of Jesus who they knew was born normally and raised in their midst. As we hear in John’s Gospel, “We know where this man is from; but when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from.” They found the ordinary way of God’s arrival, the ordinary experience of God’s presence and God’s every day action among His people to be too simple, to obvious, to underwhelming to possibly be true.

And much like the people of Jesus time, we are also waiting for the coming of God among us, for our Emmanuel. Maybe we should take a moment and ask ourselves, how do we expect God to come among us? How does God work among us? This is important because sometimes when we feel that God is not with us, the reality is that He is standing right by our side, but we don’t recognize His presence and action among us because we’re looking for something else. Can we accept God the way He is, the way He desires to be present among us, the way He hopes to speak His word; or do we wait insisting that He conform His presence to our desires?

Just think of how often we treat the Mass as commonplace, as ordinary, as nothing special, even as something boring. And yet, God is with us – right here, right now. God is with us as we gather in His holy name today – “Wherever two or more are gathered in my name, I am there in the midst of them.” God is here as His word, not ours, is proclaimed in the readings from Sacred Scripture. And, so profoundly, God is here among us as simple bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus – not a symbol, not a reminder, but the Real Jesus, right here on this altar and right here in our hearts as we receive Him. St. Francis said of the Eucharist, “O sublime humility! That the Lord of the universe, God and the Son of God, so humbles Himself that for our salvation He hides Himself under the simple form of bread! Look at the humility of God and pour out your hearts before him.”

The coming of the long awaited Messiah, the light of the world, the King of kings and the desire of nations, not through clouds and lightning but through the nine-month pregnancy of a simple young woman, through 30 years of the normal human process of infancy, adolescence and adulthood, reminds us that God comes in the ordinary, normal, daily circumstances of life. God comes to us in the people we see around us being born, growing up, growing old and dying – and in His Real Presence in the form of bread and wine become Body and Blood.

It is often hardest to see God in the people, places and situations that are familiar to us, not to mention how hard it is sometimes to see God in ourselves. But if we see the birth of Jesus, the Son of God, as a bridge between heaven and earth, between the divine and the human, between the order of grace and the order of nature, between the sacred and the ordinary, maybe we will begin to see the presence and action of God more and more in our daily lives. Remember, when God did the most spectacular thing ever in the history of the world – becoming one of us – He did it in the most ordinary way. So, why should we expect Him to act any differently with us?

There is a proverb that says, “Listen closely, and you can hear even the footsteps of ants.” Today, in these final days of Advent, as we prepare for the great event of Emmanuel, God-is-with-us, we are challenged to listen closely and hear even the footsteps of God who comes into our lives in ordinary ways, through the person on our left and on our right and at the everyday, normal, ordinary moments of our lives.

My brothers and sisters, God is with us. Do you see what I see?

May God give you peace.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

"Are you the one?" | An Advent Identity Crisis

HOMILY FOR THE THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT - Gaudete Sunday - December 12, 2010:
Almost everyone has heard of the popular psychological term “identity crisis.” An identity crisis is defined as “a period of psychological distress when a person seeks a clearer sense of self and an acceptable role in society.” Now, although this term didn’t become part of our vocabulary until the 1950s, it’s apparent that today’s Gospel focuses precisely on an this issue.

“Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” John the Baptist is having an identity crisis, but not about himself, instead it is about Jesus. John wants to know just who this Jesus is. John has heard about the works of Jesus and he wants to find out the true identity of Jesus. We have to remember a bit of last Sunday’s Gospel in which John identified Jesus in rather severe, strict and strident terms. John painted a picture of Jesus with a “winnowing fan in his hand,” cleaning up the threshing floor after the harvest, gathering the good wheat into his barn but burning the useless chaff with unquenchable fire. John’s preconceived idea of Jesus was that of a threatening judge and a fiery prophet whose aim is to clean house, shelter the good and get rid of the bad and useless.

But then John starts to hear about Jesus’ actions, what Jesus was doing, what His mission and His message were. And suddenly John had a genuine identity crisis. So he asks the identity question, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”

Jesus promptly sets the record and the picture straight. Jesus had come into the world not to destroy but to save, not to burn but to bless, not to condemn but to commend, not to hurt but to heal – to heal the blind, the lame, the lepers , the deaf and the dead. And best of all, Jesus came to give good news to the poor, the very people who only knew the bad, the worse and the worst news.

My friends, with the Advent Season more than half over, with Christmas just over 10 days away, it is time for us to deal with our identity crisis. And like John the Baptist, our identity crisis is focused not on ourselves, not on who we are but rather on Jesus and who He is. Who is this Jesus whose birth we will all too soon celebrate? What do we expect Jesus to be? How do we identify Him? Is He a mysterious, unapproachable, judgmental and fearsome figure who still carries a winnowing fan and is ready to clean up and clear out the useless, powerless, helpless chaff that we think we are?

Or is this Jesus the loving, forgiving, compassionate, gentle one who still is willing and able to heal the blind, the lame, the lepers, the deaf and raise the dead, all those whom society considers as so much chaff? Most of all, do we see ourselves as poor enough to have Jesus proclaim the good news to us that says we are good because God loves us and not that God loves us only when we are good?

During these final days of Advent, I encourage you to consider seriously how you identify Jesus. Who exactly is Jesus to you and for you? Is He angry, judge, mystery man, a model impossible to imitate, a faint figure far away and long ago? Or is He your best friend, sharer of all your ups and downs, inspirer to better and greater deeds, healer of heart-wounds, immensely compassionate, intensely lovable and loving?

As we clearly and sincerely identify Jesus we are also solving any personal identity crisis we may have. For when we know who Jesus is, then we begin to know who we are. For we become what we receive! We are His body; His is our head. We are His presence in the world today. If the blind are to see, the lame walk, lepers cleansed, the deaf to hear, and the dead raised, it will be because we continue to participate in doing His work in the world with Him! If the poor are to hear and experience the good news then we must be part of bringing it to them. After all, if we don’t bring them the good news, who will?

Let our prayers these last days of Advent convince us that indeed Jesus is the one who is to come, there is no other. Jesus is the one we earnestly desire to come and be closer to us, dwell with us and within us, feed us with His own body and blood, lead us to the glory he has prepared and reserved just for us!

Because Jesus is coming and is in fact already here in our midst at this Eucharistic table, we know for sure that we don’t have to look for another Savior or Lord. Jesus is enough for us. Jesus is all we need. Jesus is the good news that we who are poor need to hear and then in turn proclaim over and over again – Come, Lord Jesus, Come!

May God give you peace!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Born free!


You may be familiar with the book or movie, The Song of Bernadette. It is the true story of 14 year old Bernadette Soubirous, who in 1858 reported having an apparition of the Blessed Virgin on a hillside outside of the village of Lourdes in France. At first, the authorities scoffed at her claims and even threatened to punish her if she did not stop speaking of the story.

Then one day, the apparition told Bernadette to dig into the ground. She obeyed and a spring of water bubbled up. Soon miracles began to occur at this spring. A blind man washed in the waters and regained his sight. A mother washed her paralyzed baby in the waters and it became well within 24 hours. Years after Bernadette’s death, the same child, now an old man of 77, was an honored guest at her canonization in Rome. Today, literally thousands of cures are on file at the Medical Bureau in Lourdes.

One of the things that Mary said to Bernadette during an apparition was, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” The 14 year old girl wasn’t too sure what these words meant, but every adult knew their meaning. Just four years earlier, on December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX, defined as Catholic doctrine the traditional teaching of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. This teaching goes back to the early days of Christianity. It says simply that Mary was untouched by original sin from the very moment of her conception in the womb of her mother Ann, and she remained that way the rest of her life.

The teaching of the Immaculate Conception finds its support in Sacred Scripture. For example, in today’s second reading we heard , “he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him.” And in today’s Gospel, the angels says to Mary, “Peace be with you! The Lord is with you and has greatly blessed you!” It is not surprising that God preserved Mary from sin. After all, she was to be the mother of His Son. What is more fitting than for the Son of God to be born of a sinless mother.
There is a story that may help us appreciate better how Mary could be born without sin while everyone else is born a slave to sin. At one point in history, many Christians were captured in battle and sold as slaves to non-Christian countries. These enslaved Christians had children and because they were slaves, their children were also doomed to live as slaves. In time it became a practice among Christians to purchase the freedom of these children born of slave parents. And sometimes that purchase was arranged before the child was born – or even conceived. In other words, even though the child was conceived and born of slave parents, it was free. Its freedom had been purchased in advance.

We may look upon Mary’s birth in a similar way. Even though Mary was born of parents enslaved by original sin, she was born free. God’s grace, of which Mary was full of, had purchased her freedom in advance – even before her conception.

We American Catholics have always had a special devotion to Mary under this title of the Immaculate Conception. It was to Mary, under this title, that we dedicated our country in the early days of our nation’s history. And so today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception with special joy and gratitude as it is in a special way “our” feast.

And so let us conclude with a special prayer to Mary today. It is the prayer that was prayed daily by the sailors on board the ships of Christopher Colombus during the voyage that resulted in the discovery of our great country. Each night at sunset the crew would gather on deck for evening prayers. These prayers would always end in the singing, in Latin, of the Salve Regina. Many of us are familiar with the English translation of this prayer. Please say it along with me if you know it:

Hail, Holy Queen, mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness, our hope. To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn the, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy towards us, and after this, our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus. O Clement, O Loving, O Sweet Virgin Mary. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

May God give you peace.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Transformed by Grace

One of the famous Aesop’s Fables tells of a Wolf who was drinking at a spring on a hillside. Looking up, what should he see but a Lamb just beginning to drink a little lower down. “There's my supper,” thought he, “if only I can find some excuse to seize it.” Then he called out to the Lamb, “How dare you muddy the water from which I am drinking?” “No sir,” said Lamb, “if the water be muddy up there, I cannot be the cause of it, for it runs down from you to me.” “Well, then,” said the Wolf, “why did you call me bad names this time last year?” “That cannot be,” said the Lamb; “I am only six months old.” “I don't care,” snarled the Wolf; “if it was not you it was your father;” and with that he rushed upon the poor little Lamb and ate her all up. But before she died she gasped out: “Any excuse will serve a tyrant.”

The philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, saw human relationships much like the wolf and the lamb. He said about the human condition that “Man is wolf to man.” Or perhaps closer to our own vernacular, we know it can be a dog-eat-dog world. Looking at our world, we can sometimes get the impression that there are two kinds of people, wolves and lambs or as we might say, oppressors and the oppressed. The dividing line between these groups runs through gender, ethnicity and race, social class, wealth, power or even religious affiliation. Invariably one group appears to be the wolf and the other the lamb.

Isaiah, in our first reading, is keenly aware of this state of affairs. He gives us an image of the that is precisely in terms of wolves and lambs, leopards and goats, lions and calves, bears and cows, noting that the way of things seems to be that the wolf eats the lamb, the leopard the goat, the lion eats the calf and the bear the cow. This image shouldn’t surprise anyone – it is the way of the world; it is natural. Anyone who’s ever watched “Shark Week” on Discovery Channel knows there are predators and there are prey. That’s how nature works. If that’s all Isaiah had to say, it wouldn’t be terribly interesting. What is interesting is that Isaiah is not concerned merely in the way things are or have always been but instead he is interested in the way things can be. Isaiah is a man of vision. And here he recounts his vision of the day of the Lord when God will manifest his glory through all the world. In that world, quite contrary to the natural order, the wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.

“Impossible,” you might say. “Isaiah is dreaming. This can’t happen because it is in the nature of the wolf to eat the lamb.” But that is exactly Isaiah’s point. Just as it is impossible, in nature alone, for the wolf to live in peace with the lamb, so it is impossible for us, according to our base nature alone, to live the life of harmonious coexistence in the world as envisioned by Isaiah. To find that peace, a radical transformation is required. We must be transformed! If we are to put behind us the base dog-eat-dog instincts of our world, we must be transformed by God. And all this is only possible if we open our hearts to God’s grace. God’s Grace alone transforms our weak nature.

Think of the Eucharist for a moment. In this miraculous moment, God’s Grace transforms simple bread and wine into the very Body and Blood of Jesus. In a technical sense, that is unnatural too. Bread and wine do not ordinarily or naturally transform into flesh and blood. For this to happen, it requires a transformation, or transubstantiation, that God’s Grace alone can bring. And if He transforms that simple bread and wine, how much more He desires to transform us as well – if we let Him. God’s grace transforms human nature so radically that even what seemed impossible before becomes possible now – “understanding puts an end to strife, hatred is quenched by mercy, vengeance gives way to forgiveness, enemies begin to speak to one another, those who were estranged join hands in friendship, and nations seek the way of peace together.” This is the glorious reality that Isaiah describes.

Isaiah doesn’t hope we merely “tolerate” or put up with” the other. God’s peace is not merely an absence of war or violence or hatred or friction. No. It is a true peace of harmonious living based on justice and the mutual recognition that everyone equal in God’s sight and so should be equal in our sight. This only happens when we open our hearts to let God’s Grace transform the natural into the godly. As long as we continue to claim to be “more equal” than others because of our status, wealth or power; there will be no true justice and no lasting peace.

We are called today to ask: do we operate on the principle that for us to win someone else has to lose? The survival of the fittest, strongest, wealthiest, famous or powerful? The vision of the Kingdom of God to which Isaiah invites us today is founded on the principle that we can all be winners if we are all transformed. Let us be the “voice that cried out in the desert.” Let us surrender to God’s Grace so that we can be transformed and thus transform the world into the very Kingdom of God.

May God give you peace!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A prayer for World AIDS Day

Eternal Source of All Life, on the occasion of World AIDS Day we pause to remember those who were taken from us too soon by a virus that has taken far too many.

We pause to honor those who have been living with HIV for decades and we give thanks that they are still with us; we also wish them many more years of good health and abundant happiness.

We pause to think of those who have been living with HIV for only a few years, months, weeks, or days. We pray for them to have access to the best possible health care, and we pray that they respond well to the treatments that are available.

We pause to consider those who are not HIV positive and to wish them well; may they take special care to keep themselves always safe.

We pause to bless those who have lost loved ones to HIV/AIDS or who have been in any way impacted by HIV; we give thanks for the ways that they may be comforted.

We pause to give thanks for those who continue to care for people with HIV, who work to find better treatments, vaccines, and even a cure, who work to make good health care more affordable and more accessible, and who work to educate the public about the issue.

We pause to recall that AIDS is still with us, and while it is with us we all have AIDS, if not in our bodies, in our compassionate hearts; and so we pray for healing and we commit to pray always for healing until the miraculous day that HIV/AIDS is only a memory.


If you keep the Word of God, it will keep you

NOTE: Wonderful Advent reflection from today's Office of Readings. This is from a sermon of St. Bernard.  Enjoy!

We know that there are three comings of the Lord. The third lies between the other two. It is invisible, while the other two are visible. In the first coming he was seen on earth, dwelling among men; he himself testifies that they saw him and hated him. In the final coming all flesh will see the salvation of our God, and they will look on him whom they pierced. The intermediate coming is a hidden one; in it only the elect see the Lord within their own selves, and they are saved. In his first coming our Lord came in our flesh and in our weakness; in this middle coming he comes in spirit and in power; in the final coming he will be seen in glory and majesty.

In case someone should think that what we say about this middle coming is sheer invention, listen to what our Lord himself ways: If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him. There is another passage of Scripture which reads: He who fears God will do good, but something further has been said about the one who loves, that is, that he will keep God’s word. Where is God’s word to be kept? Obviously in the heart, as the prophet says: I have hidden your words in my heart, so that I may not sin against you.

Keep God’s word in this way. Let it enter into your very being, let it take possession of your desires and your whole way of life. Feed on goodness, and your soul will delight in its richness. Remember to eat your bread, or your heart will wither away. Fill your soul with richness and strength.

Because this coming lies between the other two, it is like a road on which we travel from the first coming to the last. In the first, Christ was our redemption; in the last, he will appear as our life; in this middle coming, he is our rest and consolation.

If you keep the word of God in this way, it will also keep you. The Son with the Father will come to you. The great Prophet who will build the new Jerusalem will come, the one who makes all things new. This coming will fulfill what is written: As we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, we shall also bear the likeness of the heavenly man. Just as Adam’s sin spread through all mankind and took hold of all, so Christ, who created and redeemed all, will glorify all, once he takes possession of all.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Word became flesh!

Fr. John was known for his homilies. They were known to be very long and very boring. The parishioners would struggle just to keep their eyes open during one. But then, one Sunday, at the end of a particularly long homily, Fr. John announced that he had been transferred to another parish and that, in prayer, Jesus’ Himself told him that he should be move that very week. After he sat down, the cantor announced to the congregation, “And now let us all sing, ‘What a Friend we have in Jesus.’”

My friends, “Stay awake!” This isn’t a warning that anyone wants to hear at the beginning of a homily, and yet, we hear this theme repeated in our Scripture today. Our second reading told us that “it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep.” Jesus was more direct in the Gospel passage saying simply, “Stay awake!” They say that a good homily should have a good beginning, a good ending, and they should be as close together as possible! I’ll do my best today to keep you from dozing.

Today, of course, we begin a new Church year with the first Sunday of Advent. The word “advent” of course, means literally “coming.” Ask the average person “What’s coming during Advent?” and you’ll get the response, “Christmas is coming!” And of course, that is true enough, Christmas is coming and Advent is the run-up to the celebration of Christmas.

But, there is so much more to Advent than that. Advent is a very deep season and a very strange season. Deep because there are many layers to it; and strange because it is a celebration that can’t make up its mind; Advent is constantly facing two ways. Imagine a head with two faces. It looks both backwards and forwards. It contains the past and the future. Advent looks backwards to Christ’s first coming on earth 2,000 years ago; and it looks forward to His return; His second coming at the end of time. And that is the side that is emphasized in today’s Gospel, “Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.”

As our Scriptures look forward commanding us to be awake and vigilant so that the Day of the Lord doesn’t pass right by us, I want to take a moment on the other side of that coin and look back at the first Christmas. Theologically, we refer to Christmas as the Incarnation – a word that means literally “to be made flesh.” In the first Christmas, God is made incarnate; God becomes man; the Word becomes flesh. Or as John puts it in his Gospel, “The word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

What does this mean for us? Overwhelmingly, I think that the Incarnation is an incredible comfort to us. Just a few months ago, I was visiting my last assignment back in Connecticut and had an opportunity to visit and anoint a dear friend who was dying in the hospital. Fran was coming to the end of a long and difficult struggle with cancer and she had, literally, hours to live before returning to the glory of her Heavenly home. She was an incredible example to anyone who met her of both how to live; and more importantly, how to die. She was a woman who surrounded herself with the love of family and friends; and most importantly, the love of Jesus in and through prayer. As we went to the hospital that night, her room was full beyond capacity. She was, as she had been, surrounded by her family and her friends, and continually surrounded by prayer. There was, of course, sadness in that room; but there was also joy and love and fellowship and thanksgiving for the life of this beautiful woman. As we anointed her and prayed over her, there was a sense of comfort that came over the room. We weren’t filled with the anxiety that often comes at the loss of a loved one; but rather, somehow, we all knew that Fran would be alright – and we would too. Jesus was there – in His priest, in His sacrament; in His people – right there in that room the Word was made flesh to comfort us and love us and to let us know that everything would be alright.

My friends, here we are, all of us, often living in apprehension and anxiety; trying to make sense of our world, coping with our struggles as best we can – sickness, death, disappointment, loneliness and fear. And in the eternal now that is our God, our Lord comes in from outside to join us too. Perhaps not in a hospital room but from eternity, to comfort us as only God can comfort us and make us feel loved. “The word became flesh and dwelt among us.” For, my friends, this is how God loved the world: he gave His only Son. And, that is the point of Advent – Christ’s coming; the Word made flesh; is and continues to be a great comfort and hope to us. So, let Jesus wrap you – your struggles, your anxieties, your fears and disappointments – in His loving and cradling arms. He wants to be made flesh for you; to comfort you and share His profound love.

Ironically, or perhaps on purpose, Advent comes to us during what is for many, the busiest time of the year. Jesus wants to penetrate the busyness of our lives and be made flesh for us once again; to be made flesh on this altar as the bread and the wine become His very Body and Blood for us; to be made flesh in our hearts and in our lives, so that we can become the comfort and love that He wants to extend to everyone we meet.

In our Opening Prayer today we said, “Father in Heaven, our hearts desire the warmth of your love and our minds are searching for the light of your Word.” My friends, let us stay awake so that we may see the Word made flesh in our world, in our hearts, in our lives and let that presence of God comfort us, love us, and prepare us to welcome Him with renewed joy at Christmas.

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Jesus, remember me

Anyone who subscribes to the Catholic Digest knows that every issue usually contains a story or two describing how someone became a Catholic or returned to the practice of the faith. There was one story not too long ago about a young man who grew up in a strong Catholic family and had been very active in his church during his young years. So strong in faith was he, that he eventually entered the seminary to study for the priesthood. But, then came the turmoil of the Vietnam years, college protests, race riots, the resignation of the president. Suddenly, everything seemed unglued. The young man left the seminary, joined the antiwar movement, left the Church and began to ridicule the faith he once so proudly proclaimed. His family was shocked by his change, and when his behavior became more and more hostile towards religion and the Church, they all but gave up hope.

Then came Holy Week and Good Friday in 1974. The young man, now 22 years old, was driving past a Catholic Church. He recognized the name of the priest on the sign in front of the Church. It was a priest he had once respected very much. Something prompted him to stop his car and go inside the Church. As he walked through the door, the Good Friday adoration of the Cross was beginning. He sat down in the very last pew and watched the people file up to the front of the Church to reverence the Cross while the choir sang, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”

Then something remarkable happened. The young man wrote, “Something inside me snapped and I began to cry. Overcome with emotion, I remembered the peace I had felt years ago in Church. The simple faith I was witnessing now seemed more meaningful to me than what I had been professing. I got out of my seat and went down to kiss the Cross. The priest recognized me, came over, and hugged me. On that day, I became a born-again Catholic.”

I like that story because it fits so perfectly with the readings for today’s Solemnity of Christ the King. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Our Gospel passage today from Luke describes another angry, irreligious young man whose life was completely turned around on the very first Good Friday more than 2,000 years ago.

And what turned that young man’s life around was the same thing that turned the life of the young seminarian around. It was the crucifixion of Jesus; the crucifixion of Christ our King. And what the crucified Christ said to the young man on the cross next to Him, he also said to the young seminarian: “Amen, I say to you. You will be with me in Paradise.”

There could hardly be a more appropriate reading to bring our Church year to a close today. It summarizes why Jesus came into the world. It was to forgive sinners, like the young criminal next to Him, like the young seminarian 30 years ago. And, what Jesus did for those two young men, he also wants to do for each of us. He wants to forgive our sins, no matter how great they are or how long-standing they may be. He wants to say to us what he said to the good thief, “You will be with me in Paradise.”

This is the good news contained so simply in today’s Scripture: Jesus wants to enter our lives and do for us what he did for them. St. Paul expresses that good news in this way in the second reading today, God “delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

This is the heart of what we have celebrated for the past 52 Sundays of our Church year – that we say continually to Jesus, “Remember me,” and He responds to us, “You will be with me in Paradise.” These words sum up and celebrate this past year of grace and growth, this year of joys and sorrows, this year of pain and gain. Let us make these words our daily prayer as we head into the new Church year ahead. Let us begin each day saying, “Jesus, remember me,” and “Today, you will be with me.”

May God give you peace.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Pope calls healthcare an "inalienable" human right (Yay!)

By Sarah Delaney | Catholic News Service

(CNS/Paul Haring)
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI and other church leaders said it was the moral responsibility of nations to guarantee access to health care for all of their citizens, regardless of social and economic status or their ability to pay.

Access to adequate medical attention, the pope said in a written message Nov. 18, was one of the "inalienable rights" of man.

The pope's message was read by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state, to participants at the 25th International Conference of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry at the Vatican Nov. 18-19.

The theme of this year's meeting was "Caritas in Veritate - toward an equitable and human health care."

The pope lamented the great inequalities in health care around the globe. While people in many parts of the world aren't able to receive essential medications or even the most basic care, in industrialized countries there is a risk of "pharmacological, medical and surgical consumerism" that leads to "a cult of the body," the pope said.

"The care of man, his transcendent dignity and his inalienable rights" are issues that should concern Christians, the pope said.

Because an individual's health is a "precious asset" to society as well as to himself, governments and other agencies should seek to protect it by "dedicating the equipment, resources and energy so that the greatest number of people can have access."

"Justice in health care should be a priority of governments and international institutions," he said, cautioning that protecting human health does not include euthanasia or promoting artificial reproductive techniques that include the destruction of embryos.

Care for human life from conception to its natural end must be a guiding light in determining health care policy, the pope said.

In his own written statement, Cardinal Bertone had strong words in support of the need for governments to take care of all citizens, especially children, the elderly, the poor and immigrants.

"Justice requires guaranteed universal access to health care," he said, adding that the provision of minimal levels of medical attention to all is "commonly accepted as a fundamental human right."

Governments are obligated, therefore, to adopt the proper legislative, administrative and financial measures to provide such care along with other basic conditions that promote good health, such as food security, water and housing, the cardinal said.

Private health insurance companies, he said, should conform to human rights legislation and see to it that "privatization not become a threat to the accessibility, availability and quality of health care goods and services."

Cardinal Bertone recommended that government leaders in poor countries use their limited resources wisely and for the good of their citizens.

The governments of richer nations with good health care available should practice more solidarity with their own disadvantaged citizens and help developing countries promote health care while trying to avoid a "paternalistic or humiliating" way of assisting, the cardinal said.

Cardinal Bertone warned of the "war of interests" between pharmaceutical companies and developing nations who have little access to medicines because they can't pay for them. He said that those manufacturers should not be driven by "profit as the only objective" in the creation and distribution of medicines.

Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry, said in opening remarks that to have good health "is a natural right" recognized by international institutions.

Despite such recognition, he said, great imbalances persist and developing nations find themselves with inadequate structures and without the ability to provide basic medicines to their people. Wealthier countries, on the other hand, have a "technical" approach to the sick, which ignores "the sick person in his entirety and dignity," Archbishop Zimowski said. 

The council, created by Pope John Paul II 25 years ago, will continue the church's mission to serve the sick and promote health for all, the archbishop said.


Copyright (c) 2010 Catholic News Service/USCCB. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Memo to the Bishops | America Magazine

A call to preach the fullness of Catholic doctrine
Vincent Miller | NOVEMBER 22, 2010

As the bishops meet in Baltimore this week, the political climate and economic crisis demand they consider the effectiveness of their teaching the full range of Catholic social doctrine.

Every Catholic and every American citizen knows the church’s teaching on abortion and marriage. The same cannot be said for the rest of Catholic social teaching. This has consequences for both American public life and for the church.

Few Americans citizens or politicians, including Catholics, are aware of the church’s teaching that government is necessary to serve the common good; the importance of solidarity with all of the vulnerable, not just the ones we consider innocent or worthy; and, most importantly at this hour, the fact that subsidiarity cuts both ways, limiting government intervention and demanding it when necessary.

These Catholic teachings are under fire: Glen Beck warns millions of faithful listeners to run from any church that preaches social justice. Anti-immigrant extremists like Sherriff Joseph Arpaio are folk heroes (a textbook case of the Catholic definition of causing “scandal”). Tea Party denunciations of socialism and tyranny form public opinion on the legitimacy and scope of government. A new Republican majority in the house, led by a Catholic Speaker, plans to respond to the economic crisis by extending tax cuts for the rich and defunding health care reform—which means those portions that subsidize insurance for the working poor. These profound rejections of Catholic teaching and corrosion of the common good demand an effective episcopal response, yet too often, no response at all is given.

Two recent church statements are striking by their juxtaposition. On Nov. 3, Pope Benedict called for a committed mobilization of the laity “to study, spread and carry out the social doctrine of the Church” so that they may dedicate “themselves to the common good, especially in the more complex realms such as the world of politics.” On Nov. 8, panelists from the U.S.C.C.B. announced that that the Bishops policy agenda was “unchanged” by the election results.

The panel comments display the U.S.C.C.B.’s inability or unwillingness to deal with the partisan complexity of the American political context. The comments of John Carr, executive director of the U.S. bishops' Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, are exemplary. “Nobody talked about [the poor and vulnerable]—Democrat or Republican.” Carr’s perennial “pox on both of your houses” rings a bit false after the massive conservative media machine and Tea Party serving Republican candidates have been howling “socialism” against any government attempt to serve the common good for the past 18 months. It is not the Democratic Party that is demonizing those who support programs for the poor. Taking an “even-handed” tone is possible only if the U.S.C.C.B. washes its hands of what has actually happened.

And it has happened with their cooperation. Many bishops have cultivated a “prophetic” style of engagement on life issues and marriage. On these matters, they do not hesitate to confront policies and politicians at odds with the teaching of the Church. Politicians are named. Communion is denied. U.S.C.C.B. bulletin inserts and postcard campaigns are distributed.

Yet precious few bishops are willing to be as forceful on the rest of the church’s social doctrine. Callous lack of concern for the poor and unemployed; dismissals of the positive role of government in serving the common good; inflammatory scapegoating of immigrants, Muslims, or the poor—none of these elicit a high-profile ecclesial challenge. Yes, of course the U.S.C.C.B. secretariats issue press releases and testify before congress on a broad range of issues. Bishops and staff repeat the mantra that the church’s teaching does not conform to either party. But, absent a serious media strategy to have them be heard, these have almost no effect on public life or the faith of Catholics. The bishops are unwilling to directly confront policies and Catholic partisans who dissent on other points of social teaching.

The reality is that these aspects of Catholic teaching have been systematically sidelined by neoconservatives seeking to subordinate the church to their own program and by a mainstream media all too willing to accept conservative framing of religion. To break through this frame, to teach the Catholic fullness of the faith with effect, the bishops must be willing to be forthright and specific in their defense of all Catholic social doctrines. Names and policies should be named here as well.

Problematically, the bishops have been painted into a corner through a reductionist use of the category of “intrinsic evil,” which is applied not to the full range of intrinsic evils, but only to abortion, embryonic cell research and same sex marriage—issues of profoundly different levels of moral gravity. On these matters they do not hesitate to wade fully into the weeds of policy language, no matter how hypothetical the connection. Other epochal moral concerns—rising poverty and wealth inequality, the shifting of the tax burden to the middle class, the details of providing universal health care coverage, forthright advocacy of dismantling government domestic policy and social safety networks—are passed over as matters of prudential concern left to politicians. They are effectively ignored.

The bishops need not reduce abortion to one issue among many in order to subject other policies to scrutiny. Putting Catholic social teaching into practice is enormously complex. It demands both teaching and exhortation from the bishops and the hard work of lay experts and politicians. This is precisely the sort of grand “service to the truth which sets us free” that Benedict outlined as the church’s social mission in Caritas in Veritate. Truth demands attention to the dignity of the human person. It also demands honest and careful constructive policies to serve the common good in a time of crisis. The latter has withered under episcopal neglect.

Much more than politics is at stake. The bishops are failing to teach the fullness of the Catholic faith to the church as well. Both the 2007 Barna study and Robert Putnam and David Campbell's recently released American Grace find that young people who have come of age in the past two decades identify Christianity with the conservative side of the culture war and nothing more. A minority finds this appealing. The rest do not. This is one of the reasons that they are walking away from the church in numbers that exceed the declines of the sixties and seventies.

Our failure to communicate the fullness of the Catholic faith to this generation deprives many of the church heritage that resonates with their deepest moral and political convictions. It also deprives them of the reasons to stay that could help them cross the bridge to other teachings they find more difficult. It deprives those who do stay of full demands of the Catholic faith.

The U.S. bishops are failing in their duty to teach the fullness of Catholic doctrine. Some attribute this to their ideological commitments, others to the difficulty of speaking effectively in the current media climate. Whatever the motivation, in a year when Sister Carol Keenan is singled out for censure and the torrent of toxic anti-government rhetoric receives no response, the perceived message is all too clear. The American public and the next generation of the church desperately needs to hear the fullness of the church’s social doctrine.

Vincent Miller is Gudorf Chair in Catholic Theology and Culture at the University of Dayton.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The end is near....or not!

With global warming out of control, meteorologists were predicting a new flood, on the scale that has not been seen since the time of Noah. Their message was simple: The End is Near! They were certain that nothing could be done to prevent it and in six days the waters would wipe out the world. The religious leaders of the world took to the airwaves to give the people their best advice. The Dalai Lama went on television and pleaded with the world to become Buddhist – this way, they could at least find peace in Nirvana. Pope Benedict got his time on the airwaves offering a similar message, “It’s not too late to accept Jesus Christ and live forever in Heaven.” But, it was the Chief Rabbi of Israel, of a sect that doesn’t believe in the resurrection, who took a different approach. Given his moment to address the world, he said, confidently, “We have six days to learn how to live under water.”

My brothers and sisters, the end is near! Actually, there are a lot of endings that are near. As we embrace the Fall, we know that the warm weather is more-or-less over and cold of winter is around the corner. Thanksgiving in a week and a half reminds us that November is almost over. The Christmas decorations that are, believe it or not, out in the stores already, tell us that Christmas will soon be here and that another year is almost over. As I said, the end is near!

And, of course, today, we enter into the final two weeks of our Church year. Two Sundays from now, we embrace Advent once again, a new Church year, and so today and during these next two weeks our Scriptures also turn to the same theme that the end is near. The first reading from the prophet Malachi proclaims, “Lo, the day is coming!” In our Gospel, Jesus gives a prediction about the end of the Temple, “All that you see here--the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.” And He is asked, “When will this happen? And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen?”

I think He is asked these questions because we all have a natural anxiety about “the end.” We ask, will we be ready? Will we be among the chosen? Will we make it to Heaven? I’ve been working with the members of our parish preparing for Confirmation in a few weeks, and last week they had the opportunity to write down any question they’d like me to answer. Not surprisingly, there were a lot of questions about this very topic – they wanted to know about Heaven, Hell and Purgatory. We see this in our culture periodically. Ten years ago at the turn of the new millennium there were lots of articles about the end of time; and even now there are those focused on the so-called Mayan prediction that the world will end in 2012. If we choose to look at the negative in our world – the financial crisis, the many wars – we can read those as signs of the end.

This is nothing new. Historically, just about every age has thought it would be the last. And to all of this, Jesus said, “See that you not be deceived, for many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and ‘The time has come.’ Do not follow them! When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for such things must happen first, but it will not immediately be the end.”

I don’t know about you, but I find these to be very comforting words. I think Jesus wants to convey basically two things to us today. The first is this: Do not interpret the crises of the world or even the crises of your life as if they were the end-of-the-world. We tend to do this far too often, and when we entertain this train of thought, we are not following the word of God. We are instead simply giving in to our fears and anxieties. We are letting fear win the day and rule our lives, instead of letting God rule our lives. Our God is not a God of fear and anxiety – He is a God of love.

The second lesson is that there will be many people who will come claiming to be true prophets, saying that they speak in Jesus’ name. I think of some of the televangelists that you see on TV who tell you exactly when the end is coming. But, the truth of the matter is that Jesus tells that even He doesn’t know the day or the hour when the end will come. Those who say otherwise are nothing other than false prophets. Jesus says clearly today, “Do not follow them.” The greatest sign of a false prophet is that they attempt to sow fear in the hearts of people. Even the political dialogue in our country, which thankfully has quieted down a little bit since the election, seems to be one that seeks to tread upon our fears and anxieties about the future. Our world is too full of fear-mongering, fear-sowing voices. Again, Jesus says, “Do not follow them.”

So, what are we to do? Well, a true prophetic voice is always one that spreads the hope and confidence, the encouragement and peace that comes from the One True God. A true prophetic voice reminds us that we can live through all of the crises of our lives, all the challenges we may ever face with peace in our hearts and with a sense of hope and trust that our God has not – and will not – ever abandon us. To a world that proclaims, “The end is near,” our God counters, “Be not afraid.”

And this is what Jesus says today; that in the face of challenge and trial, it is the peace in our hearts, it is our hope and trust in God that become the seeds of new life. These seeds of faith help to carry us through all of the difficulties and the joys of life. Jesus tells us that what truly gets us through life is worship and fidelity to our God; working through challenges with forgiveness; changing the things that can and must be changed; and developing a patient endurance that will consecrate and transform all of our suffering into glory. Jesus’ message dares us to trust that, even in difficulty, God still reaches out to us with love and with hope and new and abundant life bursts forth. “Be not afraid, I go before you always.”

My friends, the end is near….or not. But, nothing will ever happen that we cannot handle as long as we have the help of God.

May God give you peace.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

50th Anniversary of JFK's election

NOTE: Last week saw the 50th anniversary of our first Catholic President, John F. Kennedy.  To mark this occassion, I thought it would be worthwhile to present here a speech that he delivered on September 12, 1960 to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association.  One of the claims lobbed against Kennedy as a candidate was that, as a Catholic, he would merely be a puppet of the Pope in the White House.  His was one of those landmark speeches that are worth revisiting.  Perhaps it contains some wisdom we could learn from today.  Here is the text:
Reverend Meza, Reverend Reck, I'm grateful for your generous invitation to state my views.
While the so-called religious issue is necessarily and properly the chief topic here tonight, I want to emphasize from the outset that I believe that we have far more critical issues in the 1960 campaign; the spread of Communist influence, until it now festers only 90 miles from the coast of Florida -- the humiliating treatment of our President and Vice President by those who no longer respect our power -- the hungry children I saw in West Virginia, the old people who cannot pay their doctors bills, the families forced to give up their farms -- an America with too many slums, with too few schools, and too late to the moon and outer space. These are the real issues which should decide this campaign. And they are not religious issues -- for war and hunger and ignorance and despair know no religious barrier.

But because I am a Catholic, and no Catholic has ever been elected President, the real issues in this campaign have been obscured -- perhaps deliberately, in some quarters less responsible than this. So it is apparently necessary for me to state once again -- not what kind of church I believe in, for that should be important only to me -- but what kind of America I believe in.

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute; where no Catholic prelate would tell the President -- should he be Catholic -- how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference, and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him, or the people who might elect him.

I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accept instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials, and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.

For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been -- and may someday be again -- a Jew, or a Quaker, or a Unitarian, or a Baptist. It was Virginia's harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that led to Jefferson's statute of religious freedom. Today, I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you -- until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped apart at a time of great national peril.

Finally, I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end, where all men and all churches are treated as equals, where every man has the same right to attend or not to attend the church of his choice, where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind, and where Catholics, Protestants, and Jews, at both the lay and the pastoral levels, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.

That is the kind of America in which I believe. And it represents the kind of Presidency in which I believe, a great office that must be neither humbled by making it the instrument of any religious group nor tarnished by arbitrarily withholding it -- its occupancy from the members of any one religious group. I believe in a President whose views on religion are his own private affair, neither imposed upon him by the nation, nor imposed by the nation upon him¹ as a condition to holding that office.

I would not look with favor upon a President working to subvert the first amendment's guarantees of religious liberty; nor would our system of checks and balances permit him to do so. And neither do I look with favor upon those who would work to subvert Article VI of the Constitution by requiring a religious test, even by indirection. For if they disagree with that safeguard, they should be openly working to repeal it.

I want a Chief Executive whose public acts are responsible to all and obligated to none, who can attend any ceremony, service, or dinner his office may appropriately require of him to fulfill; and whose fulfillment of his Presidential office is not limited or conditioned by any religious oath, ritual, or obligation.

This is the kind of America I believe in -- and this is the kind of America I fought for in the South Pacific, and the kind my brother died for in Europe. No one suggested then that we might have a divided loyalty, that we did not believe in liberty, or that we belonged to a disloyal group that threatened -- I quote -- "the freedoms for which our forefathers died."

And in fact this is the kind of America for which our forefathers did die when they fled here to escape religious test oaths that denied office to members of less favored churches -- when they fought for the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom -- and when they fought at the shrine I visited today, the Alamo. For side by side with Bowie and Crockett died Fuentes, and McCafferty, and Bailey, and Badillo, and Carey -- but no one knows whether they were Catholics or not. For there was no religious test there.

I ask you tonight to follow in that tradition -- to judge me on the basis of 14 years in the Congress, on my declared stands against an Ambassador to the Vatican, against unconstitutional aid to parochial schools, and against any boycott of the public schools -- which I attended myself. And instead of doing this, do not judge me on the basis of these pamphlets and publications we all have seen that carefully select quotations out of context from the statements of Catholic church leaders, usually in other countries, frequently in other centuries, and rarely relevant to any situation here. And always omitting, of course, the statement of the American Bishops in 1948 which strongly endorsed Church-State separation, and which more nearly reflects the views of almost every American Catholic.

I do not consider these other quotations binding upon my public acts. Why should you?

But let me say, with respect to other countries, that I am wholly opposed to the State being used by any religious group, Catholic or Protestant, to compel, prohibit, or prosecute the free exercise of any other religion. And that goes for any persecution, at any time, by anyone, in any country. And I hope that you and I condemn with equal fervor those nations which deny their Presidency to Protestants, and those which deny it to Catholics. And rather than cite the misdeeds of those who differ, I would also cite the record of the Catholic Church in such nations as France and Ireland, and the independence of such statesmen as De Gaulle and Adenauer.

But let me stress again that these are my views.

For contrary to common newspaper usage, I am not the Catholic candidate for President.

I am the Democratic Party's candidate for President who happens also to be a Catholic.

I do not speak for my church on public matters; and the church does not speak for me. Whatever issue may come before me as President, if I should be elected, on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject, I will make my decision in accordance with these views -- in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be in the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressure or dictates. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.

But if the time should ever come -- and I do not concede any conflict to be remotely possible -- when my office would require me to either violate my conscience or violate the national interest, then I would resign the office; and I hope any conscientious public servant would do likewise.

But I do not intend to apologize for these views to my critics of either Catholic or Protestant faith; nor do I intend to disavow either my views or my church in order to win this election.

If I should lose on the real issues, I shall return to my seat in the Senate, satisfied that I'd tried my best and was fairly judged.

But if this election is decided on the basis that 40 million Americans lost their chance of being President on the day they were baptized, then it is the whole nation that will be the loser, in the eyes of Catholics and non-Catholics around the world, in the eyes of history, and in the eyes of our own people.

But if, on the other hand, I should win this election, then I shall devote every effort of mind and spirit to fulfilling the oath of the Presidency -- practically identical, I might add, with the oath I have taken for 14 years in the Congress. For without reservation, I can, "solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution -- so help me God.

Here is the video of the same talk:

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Are you ready for the resurrection?

One day, a zealous young preacher came upon a farmer working in his field. Concerned for the farmer’s soul the preacher asked, “Are you laboring in the vineyard of the Lord my good man?” Not even looking up at the preacher the farmer replied, “No sir, these are soybeans.” “You don’t understand,” said the preacher. “Are you a Christian?” With the same amount of interest, the farmer said, “Nope my name is Jones. You must be lookin’ for Jim Christian. He lives a mile south of here.” The determined preacher tried again asking the farmer, “Are you lost?” “No sir! I’ve lived here all my life,” answered the farmer. Frustrated the preacher asked, “Are you prepared for the resurrection?” Finally, this caught the farmer’s attention and he asked, “When’s it gonna be?” Thinking he had accomplished something the preacher replied, “It could be today, tomorrow, or the next day.” Wiping his brow, the farmer remarked, “Well, don’t mention it to my wife. She don’t get out much and she’ll wanna go all three days.”

Are you prepared for the resurrection or, another way, what happens to us when we die? Is there any more profound question? Is death simply the end, like a candle that has burned down to its last? Or if there is life after death, what is it like? I’m sure there isn’t one among us who hasn’t asked these questions at some point in our lives. It’s timely to think about these issues on this November Sunday as the leaves have fallen, our vibrant blue skies have turned gray and the vegetation around us comes to its end. It is a good time to hear today’s Gospel and Jesus’ own words about what lies beyond earthly death.

The resurrection from the dead is the most central part of what Jesus came to bring us. “I have come to give life and give it to the full.” Many people today think that being a modern Christian includes jettisoning the belief in things that cannot be scientifically proven – like resurrection. After all, when was the last time some one you know rose from the dead and came back to talk about it? But what people like this don’t realize is that this questioning of the resurrection is not modern at all. Even at the time of Jesus there were people who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead – namely Jesus second favorite target after the Pharisees, the Sadducees.

In today’s gospel, some Sadducees came to Jesus and wanted to prove to him how absurd it is for any reasonable person to believe in the resurrection. They came up with the story of seven brothers who were all in turn married to the same woman and asked Jesus, “In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be?” Jesus replied that it was impossible to understand life in Heaven in the same way that we understand life on earth.

Notice that the problem of the Sadducees has to do with how things are in the resurrected life whereas Jesus’ response has to do with the why of the resurrection. There is a resurrection quite simply because our God is God of the living. God has created us from the moment of our conception for life and not for ultimate extinction. God does not breathe life into life like bubbles, here now, gone in a moment. No, God gifts us with life even after our time on earth is complete.

Jesus fundamental point is that our hope of life beyond death is not based on wishful thinking or a fearful understanding of death. Our belief is based on the very nature of God. The God who Jesus reveals is not an unknown, unseen, architect of the universe. Our God is the God of the living, not of the dead, and this God of the living is a loving God who wants only one thing from us – our love and our eternal dwelling with Him.
If there is one belief that the men and women of our world need today it is the belief in the resurrection. Why? Because it is the effective antidote to the infectious disease of materialism. Materialism focuses all our energy on the here and now, on the grabbing of things, the accumulating of money, the competition of ownership. The resurrection looks at that and says, “so what?” Our God loves us individually. He has counted even the hairs on your head He knows you so well, and He wants you to be with Him forever. The story is told of an American tourist who visited an old Italian priest. Astonished to see that his home was only a simple room filled with books, a table and a bench, the tourist asked, “Father, where is your furniture?” “Where is yours?” came the reply. “Mine?” asked the puzzled tourist. “But I’m only a visitor here. I’m only passing through.” The priest smiled and said, “So am I.”

What will heaven look like? We simply don’t know. We have to wait and get there to find out, and that should be our goal, not our fear. The day we were baptized reaches its fulfillment in the day we return to Heaven, a full circle – you have come from God and will return to God. All we can say is that in heaven we will be as happy as is possible for us to imagine, because we will be in the direct presence of that God who is Love itself. Heaven is God’s best kept secret, God’s special surprise for us.

Let us thank God today for revealing to us the mystery, the wonder, the joy of the resurrection. Let us reaffirm our belief in the life of the world to come, since this is the most effective means to escape the stranglehold of materialism in our lives here on earth. Do we understand exactly how things will be in the life of the resurrection? Certainly, not. For we are talking about “what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love Him.”

Jesus does not give us the final answers about heaven, but He does give us the way to prepare for our homecoming – through Him, with Him and in Him. The Eucharist we celebrate today and every day is our best means for preparation. Here today we receive a foretaste of the happiness we hope to share forever with the God of the living.

“The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to Him all are alive.”

May God give you peace!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Open Letter to Future Members of the 112th Congress

NOTE: Very well done blog on the next Congress by fellow friar Dan Horan, OFM.  Wanted to share this with everyone and say, take a moment to check out his blog: Dating God: Franciscan Spirituality for the 21st Century 

Dear Honorable Senators and Representatives of the 112th Congress of the United States,

I write this letter on election day 2010, the results of which will significantly shape the composition of your legislative body. As of this writing the polls are still open and the elections undecided. It is with that uncertainty about the partisan construction of the next Congress that I write unswayed by party agendas and respective majorities/minorities in the House and Senate. I am interested in expressing my concern to whomever is selected by the voters today. My outlook remains the same and my advice unchanged in the face of the possible electoral results.

I am a Franciscan friar, which is a Roman Catholic religious who professes the three evangelical vows (poverty, chastity and obedience), lives in community and serves the Church as a public minister. It is from my location in society as a Franciscan and as a Catholic Christian that I write.  While I have deep respect and reverence for the faith traditions (or lack thereof) of others who confess another creed (or not), what I have to say comes directly from my commitment to “follow the Gospel [i.e., "Good News"] of Jesus Christ, according to the Rule of St. Francis of Assisi” (the summary of our religious rule of life).
The Gospel has particular content and is not simply an amorphous resource for people to ground their personal interests — as is often the case.  Instead, the Gospel presents us with the message and illustration of Jesus of Nazareth’s (who Christians hold to be the Incarnate Word of God) proclamation of the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God.

The meaning of the Kingdom of God, which is indeed good news, is found in the actions or deeds and the preaching of Jesus. It is the expression of Isaiah’s summary of God’s mission on Earth: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).  It is an upside-down presentation of the values of popular culture, Roman (at the time, U.S. today) society and Hellenistic (at the time, perhaps ‘secular’ today) philosophical worldviews.

God’s way, it is made clear, is not our way.  But it can become our way.  At least, that’s the point of the Christian good news.

It becomes our way when we live as God has intended us to live, following the example God set forth in the Incarnation and the subsequent mission of Jesus.  I believe that it takes shape in several ways, each of which provides insight into how you might approach your legislative duty beginning on January 3, 2011.
  1. God is humble.  The Greek word Kenosis, or “self-emptying,” is what is used to describe the God of all Creation entering our world in a new way, as a human being.  You too should strive to live as humbly as possible.  Empty yourself of the delusions of grandeur, importance and perpetual re-election to enter into a world in need of your service.
  2. Maintain a preferential option for the poor. For those of you who are avowed Christians, this is imperative.  For those of you who are not, I appeal to you as a person of good will. Perhaps the most poignant illustration of God’s desire that we serve the poor first is the parable of the sheep and goats in Matt 25. It is those who care for the least among us — clothing the naked, visiting the prisoner, feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty — that God raises up.
  3. The Gospel shows us that God is a God there for the outcast, misunderstood, marginalized, sinner, criminal and abused. We too need to be people there for those least among us. It will be tempting to be a legislator who is there for the wealthy and powerful — they can repay you. But it is just and right to be there for those who have no or little means to repay you. Sometimes this is a monetary issue, and sometimes it’s simply political capital. Do the right thing to advance the rights of all people, even if it means you risk losing the next election.
  4. Jesus spoke of providing for the stranger and alien. Perhaps because he too felt like a stranger and alien at times with nowhere to rest his head and no honor in his own land. WWJD when it comes to the immigrant, stranger and alien?  Welcome them. Be attentive to the need for comprehensive immigration reform. Unless you are a Native American or a descendent of a slave or indentured servant, you came from one who was once an immigrant to this land – don’t lose sight of our collective history as a nation, nor of our individual responsibility to take care of all people.
  5. In line with everything that has been said above about the Gospel imperative to look out for the least among us, know that access to healthcare is not simply a privilege that should be limited and available only to the wealthy. Is that what God would have us do? Prohibit our fellow women and men from the care they need to live flourishing human lives? The Gospel suggests no. Jesus does not heal only the wealthy and powerful, but often times the person on the outskirts — the sick, disabled, forgotten and unloved. These are the ones in need of healing, these are the ones you should work to protect.
  6. Jesus dined, conversed and worked with all sorts of people.  You should too.  Don’t let partisan loyalties and superficial issues get in the way of doing what is right.
To those who have read this little letter, I am grateful. Know that I join you in a spirit of prayer in our joint efforts — you in your legislative way, and me in my own way — to make this world a better place.  Do what’s right. Live in the pattern of the Kingdom of God.

Peace and Good,
Br. Daniel P. Horan, OFM

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