Saturday, February 27, 2010

It is good that we are here!

HOMILY FOR THE SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT, February 28, 2010:


Father Murphy walks into a pub, and says to the first man he meets, “Do you want to go to heaven?” The man said, “I do, Father.” The priest said, “Then stand over there against the wall.” Then the priest asked the second man, “Do you want to go to heaven?” “Certainly, Father,” was the man's reply. “Then stand over there against the wall,” said the priest. Then Father Murphy walked up to O'Toole and said, “Do you want to go to heaven?” O'Toole said, “No, I don't Father.” The priest said, “I don't believe this. You mean to tell me that when you die you don't want to go to heaven?” O'Toole said, “Oh, when I die, yes. But, by the look of things, I thought you were getting a group together to go right now.”

“Master, it is good that we are here.” We hear these uplifting and joyful words of Peter in the midst of this truly glorious scene of the Transfiguration of the Lord on the mountain. “It is good that we are here.” The joy contained in Peter’s statement should actually be for us a model of our own Lenten journey. This joy of the Transfiguration is a good example of the way our own Lenten journey of faith should be characterized.

In our passage from Luke, we first hear that Jesus and the disciples went up a mountain to pray. This should already tip us off to something incredible on the horizon. Mountains are extremely important Scriptural symbols for us. Think about Scripture for a moment– important things always happen on the mountain. Abraham encounters God when he goes up the mountain to offer sacrifice; Moses meets God on the mountain and receives the Ten Commandments there; Jesus, again from the mountain, gives us the Beatitudes.

So we know that on the mountain, big things happen. The same is true for us as well. We may wonder how we can ascend the mountain to encounter God as we sit here at sea level in downtown Boston – there aren’t any mountains in sight. But liturgically, this place where the Lector stands to proclaim our readings, and the priest or deacon stands to offer a homily is not called a pulpit or a lectern, as we commonly hear, it is called an Ambo – and “ambo” is the Greek word for mountain. And so, even in the midst of the city, this is our mountain. From this place, God speaks to us – through His Word proclaimed, and through His ordained minister who preaches in His name.

When we have the strength and the courage to climb the mountain, there we encounter God in unique and powerful ways; in ways that lift us up and help us and give us the strength to see who we really are in God’s sight. Mountaintops are places of God; places of Divine Revelation. And, so we’re not surprised then when we hear that Jesus and the disciples went up the mountain to pray. We’re not surprised, then, when during that mountaintop time of prayer, God reveals His glory and wonder and power in a truly spectacular way. And, we are not surprised when Peter responds to this event so joyfully exclaiming, “Master, it is good that we are here.”

And so too must our hearts be full of the same joy. Lent is our time of mountaintop. It is as though Jesus said to us, “Let us go up to the mountain for these 40 days. Let me reveal my heart to you; my love to you; my desires for your life.” We are given this special time to go away to the mountain – disciples with their Lord – to experience Him in a profound way. Even our prayers proclaim this. The Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer that I will use today says, “Each year you give us this joyful season when we prepare to celebrate the paschal mystery with mind and heart renewed.” So the question for us all today is this: have we really taken the message to heart that this is a “joyful season?” Are we experiencing a joyful Lent? For some reason, we tend to forget the purpose of our penance and see only penance and we can become a joyLESS people during Lent – as though it were joy itself that we gave up for Lent. Not so, says Jesus. Not so, says Peter. Instead, Peter says, “It is good that we are here.” You know, St. Theresa of Avila once prayed, “God, please deliver us from these sour-faced saints.” Or as I’ve also heard, “It looks like some Christians were baptized in pickle juice.”

Drawing nearer to God; growing in holiness; living up to the call of our baptism – the very things that we focus on during Lent – these are not sorrowful things. If we are naturally and authentically drawing near to God – that absolutely must fill our hearts with joy.

And so, my brothers and sisters, welcome to the mountaintop. God is here. Truly present in the proclamation of His Word, in the person of His priest, in the bread and wine that will become His Body and Blood, and in you – gathered in His name: “Where two or more are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them.” God is here, all around – just as wondrously as He was on that day of Transfiguration. Just as Abraham offered sacrifice on the mountaintop altar – we too will offer sacrifice on our altar – and God will be here in our midst – just as dazzlingly transformed as He was on the mountain.

God draws us near during this Lent so that we can become people renewed in Him; in His Word; in His Sacrament; in His Love – so that when our time comes to leave the mountain and return to the world we will truly be His people and His joyful presence to the people we encounter. There’s a saying among the Baptists, “Did you know that you have been saved? Please, inform your face.” Let us radiate the joy that comes from being the Children of God.

Lord Jesus we thank you and praise you for visiting us on this mountain today. “It is so very good that we are here.” Let us be strengthened and renewed by the joy of this Lenten season so that we can overcome our sin, turn to You, and truly be transformed and transfigured into Your people and Your presence in the world.

May the Lord give us His peace and His joy .

7 Social Sins

I'm a big fan of Mahatma Gandhi, as are many.  I recently came across what he wrote were the seven social sins.  I had not seen this before, but can't quite get them out of my mind and heart. They are proving to be a good point of reflection this Lent.  What do you think?


MAHATMA GANDHI'S SEVEN SOCIAL SINS:

  1. Wealth without Work
  2. Pleasure without Conscience
  3. Science without Humanity
  4. Knowledge without Character
  5. Politics without Principle
  6. Commerce without Morality
  7. Worship without Sacrifice

Here comes the New Roman Missal

NOTE: This is from one of my favorite blogs Whispers In The Loggia.  I thought it worth passing along as regards what will inevitably be the contentious new translation of the Roman Missal. Read on.


BESEECHING A "WELCOME"

A decade in the making, the most significant change to the English Mass in some forty years is close at hand.

Its confirmation by Rome expected as soon as April, with implementation most-often tipped for Advent 2011, the third edition of the Missale Romanum has garnered no shortage of attention in church circles over the years, with a heated divide spurred between supporters celebrating the new rendering's uptick in "sacral language" and enhanced fidelity to the Missal's original Latin, and critics contending that the rebooted text would signal a departure from the conciliar premium of the people's "full active participation" in worship.

To be sure, the split of opinion hasn't just been among liturgists; the US bishops became the lone national bench to reject a section of the new texts when they failed to pass the Proper of Seasons on a mail ballot following a high-octane debate at their 2008 summer meeting in Orlando. (After the Holy See sent a pointed signal by granting its recognitio for the Missal's most recognizable element -- the standard Order of Mass -- days after the failed vote, the Stateside bench approved the Proper at their subsequent fall assembly in Baltimore.)

The first vernacular text to be identical for English-speaking Catholics worldwide -- and one that sparked a tempest on its premature implementation in South Africa -- the Missal overhaul arguably remains unknown to the bulk of the people in the pews, so a catechetical effort planned by several of the 11 Anglophone conferences is soon to be launched. Yet in the meanwhile, taking to the same pages where the rector of Seattle's cathedral made waves in December by sounding a call for a delay (and garnering support from over 17,000 signatories), the Stateside church's chief liturgist, Bishop Arthur Serratelli of Paterson, has penned an extensive essay for America with an eye to "welcoming" the new texts and explaining how they came to be.

Tempting as it is to snip, the fulltext of Serratelli's piece is especially worth reading for all sides... so, well, have at it.

While the OM1 recognitio was granted in order for catechetical efforts to proceed and sufficient musical settings to be prepared for the text's arrival, it's bears noting that, as of this writing, the Missal's other eleven sections remain in edits, their final form only to emerge once confirmed by the Holy See.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Today, I get to be sin free!

By Fr. Tom Washburn, OFM
The Boston Pilot, Feb. 26, 2010

A number of years ago, I was preaching at the prayer service for First Reconciliation for the young people in my parish. During my homily, I brought all of the young people into the sanctuary and asked them all the usual questions -- did they understand what was taking place today? Had they prepared themselves well? What was Reconciliation all about? Among the questions, I asked if anyone was nervous about making their first confession. Hands went up. Some of the responses named things like not being sure what to say; being concerned about what the priest would say to them; or not sure what their sins were. Then, I asked the children if anyone was excited about making their first confession. One hand went up immediately and enthusiastically. I asked the young girl why she was excited and she said proudly, “I’m excited because today I get to be sin free!”

I would love to have t-shirts made up that I could hand out as people leave the confessional proclaiming the same joyful sentiment -- today, I am sin free! This young girl was able to proclaim something that I think many of us miss when it comes to this sacrament -- that it is a sacrament of joy and a sacrament of freedom. One of the challenges in our modern times is that too often we have turned Reconciliation in our own minds from this great moment of rejoicing into an experience of the Divine Courtroom. The modern construct views us as entering a courtroom (the confessional), guilty of a crime (sin), standing before the judge (the priest) and placing ourselves at the mercy of the court. Our greatest hope is to receive a light sentence.

This isn’t the image that God intends. The image we get over and over again in Scripture is an image of joy and freedom. As we hear in John’s Gospel, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3.17) It is the same with the parable of the Lost Sheep, the Woman Caught in Adultery, the Prodigal Son, and so on -- these are images of freedom from our sins and the joy that comes from unity again with our God. “Today, we get to be sin free!”

Seeking a Moral Compass: Will the recession change us?

NOTE: This is an excellent and thoughtful article on our current crisis.


By Julia Baird
Published Feb. 11, 2010 | Newsweek

Mahatma Gandhi admired the Boston Tea Party protesters, fondly referring to them during his campaign against the oppressive salt tax imposed on Indians by their British rulers. To him, such taxes belonged at the top of his sobering list of mankind's seven social sins: commerce without morality, politics without principle, wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, education without character, science without humanity, and worship without sacrifice. These sins are all still relevant, but two seem particularly prescient in a country winded by a recession: wealth without work and commerce without morality. When did we come to expect money could be made—infinitely and effortlessly—by a kind of opaque algorithmic magic? As Jon Stewart asked of Jim Cramer last year, "Any time you sell people the idea that, sit back and you'll get 10 to 20 percent on your money, don't you always know that that's going to be a lie? When are we going to realize in this country that our wealth is work?"

And when did we allow commerce to be defined primarily by debt-driven consumer spending, creating profits channeled only toward those already at the top of the heap? These are the questions evangelical author Jim Wallis asks in his new book, Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street and Your Street. Unlike the rest of us, Wallis is not asking when the recession will end. He wants to know instead how it will end. Or how it will change us, if at all.

Because, frankly, there is very little evidence that much has changed—there is a record bonus pool on Wall Street this year, even though many fewer people have houses and jobs. But Wallis believes that alongside the visceral anger of movements such as the tea parties, there is a hunger for change away from the empty and destructive maxims—like "Greed is good," "I want it all," and as the deliciously selfish advertisements told us, "Because you're worth it"—to "We're in this together."

Part of that hunger is a curious kind of nostalgia, an uneasy sense that something may have been lost, or that our children are being taught poor values. What is striking about the history of the Great Depression is how those who survived it often talk fondly about the values they learned while growing up in a climate of deprivation and uncertainty. In interviews with NEWSWEEK's Tony Dokoupil, singer Ray Price recalled "Everybody helped everybody. No doors were locked. No food was refused to anybody, ever." Writer Gay Talese was taught by his father to "take nothing for granted, to be frugal and above all to be self-sufficient." He believes that if this recession "can end the foolishness and spoiled attitudes of selfish and rich people," then it "may be exactly what we need."

In the Great Depression, the reckless profiteers were chastised and regulated, and a welfare safety net was put in place. In his inaugural address, Franklin Roosevelt slammed the practices of "unscrupulous money-changers" who "have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization." "We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths," he said. "The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit."

So what might these ancient truths be? Perhaps respect, integrity, caution, decency, fairness, hard work, loyalty, and a concern for others. For years, we did not scrutinize the values of our villains: we wanted to be like them, and continued to desire that which we could not afford. Wallis cites a study that found that in 2006, two thirds more high-school students thought "having lots of money" was "extremely important" than they did in 1976.

So here's the problem. Few would argue that the recession should not force us to rethink what we want and love—and how we behave toward those who have less than we do. It is clear that we should be self-sufficient and not rely on debt. That we should live more simply, consume more wisely, think of generations to come, and wonder what desires we want to plant in children's hearts. So how do we get beyond it sounding worthy and kumbaya? How do we actually shift values? Sarah Palin asked recently: "How's that hopey, changey stuff workin' out for ya?" Yep, still loads to do. So do we give up on hope and change? No. Those dressed in revolutionary garb aren't the only angry ones. Hope is not partisan. And taxation is not the only issue. Bringing decency back into debates, normalcy into pay rates, and ancient truths into temples is going to take a fight.

Julia Baird is the author of Media Tarts: How the Australian Press Frames Female Politicians.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Throw down your stones

HOMILY FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT, February 21, 2010:

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

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

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

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

While Jesus went out to the desert to face His temptations, ours usually have a way of finding us. The Devil’s first temptation gives us a helpful image for understanding our own temptations. The Devil said to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” Think about this for a moment. Instead of the joy and love and perfection of following God, the Devil invites Jesus to turn to a stone. A hunk of rock is where he encourages Jesus to find His fulfillment. This is what the Devil wants Jesus to turn to in order to find happiness in life - a stone.

My brothers and sisters, that stone is dead.The Devil has got it all wrong. He wants Jesus to turn to a dead stone – something that is completely lifeless, completely unable to help Him, completely inadequate in making Him or anyone truly happy – in order to find satisfaction. The great insight of Jesus in this moment is that He knows only God can give Him true life; and true happiness. The Devil wants Jesus to command the dead stone to become life and happiness and glory for Him. It sounds completely ridiculous when you realize that, doesn’t it?

But isn’t this an apropos image for what we do in our own lives? We all have stones in our own lives that we stare at commanding them to give us life; commanding them to make us happy; commanding them to make us popular or successful or wealthy or powerful. But, just like the stone in our Gospel, these things will never give us life – they simply do not have the ability to do so.

Perhaps your stone is pride, a need to be right all the time even to the harm of relationships with family and friends. Perhaps it is a stone of jealousy, failing to be thankful for the blessings that God has bestowed in our lives and instead only coveting what we don’t have. Perhaps we seek life from a stone of materialism, that shop-till-you-drop mentality that causes people to simply want and seek more things, all the while blinding ourselves to the needs of the hungry, the homeless, the poor, the sick and the neglected that are all around us. Maybe we look to a stone of food; instead of eating to survive, we turn to food to cover our feelings or feed our guilt. Perhaps it is drugs or alcohol; using these stones to numb ourselves so that we don’t have to feel. Maybe it is the pervasive lust, pornography and degrading views of sexuality that our media thrusts upon us constantly. Maybe it’s television or video games or the Internet – do we spend more time staring at the box than we do spending time with our families or just as importantly in prayer with our God?

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

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

Let us pledge today to pray for one another during these weeks of Lent and beyond. Let us pledge today to throw down our stones. Let us pledge today to turn away from a life of sin and slavery and choose the life of freedom and holiness that Jesus offers to us. Let us pledge to replace our stones with the fasting, prayer and works of mercy that our Lenten season calls us to. Let us learn, or learn again, as Jesus knew in the desert that God alone is the source of holiness, happiness, peace, joy and love. Let us pray in the words of our opening prayer, Loving Father, “bring us back to you and to the life your son won for us by his death on the cross.” My friends, let us throw down our stones.

May God give you peace.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

"Return to me with your whole heart"

HOMILY FOR ASH WEDNESDAY, February 17, 2010:


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

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

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

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

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

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

May the Lord give you peace!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Revisiting the Carbon Fast for Lent

A few years ago, I posted this Carbon Fast for Lent that was organized by the Church of England.  Today's Hartford Courant quoted me in a story about it for this Lent, so I thought it would be good to repost it for this year.


Here's the Courant story if you're interested: "Carbon Fast" An Option for Lent


The 40-day plan lists simple energy-saving actions that can lead towards a lighter carbon footprint, including snubbing plastic bags, giving the dishwasher a day off, insulating the hot-water tank and checking the house for drafts.

Here's how it works:

Day one (Ash Wednesday.): Remove one light bulb and live without it for the next 40 days.

Day two: Check your house for draughts with a ribbon or feather. If it flutters, buy a draught excluder.

Day three: Tread lightly – whether that's by foot, by bike, on to a bus or on the gas as you drive. Find a way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions when you travel today.

Day four: Are you recycling everything possible? Really – everything? Look into it today.

Day five: Can you talk about your Carbon Fast at church today? Encourage others to join in.

Day six: Turn your central heating thermostat down by one degree.

Day seven: Say au revoir to standby. Check that all electrical equipment is switched off when not in use. The TV alone will save a hefty 20kg of carbon dioxide per year.

Day eight: Unplug your mobile phone charger: it uses electricity even when it's not charging.

Day nine: Climate change isn't a distant threat – it's affecting poor communities now. Pray for those who help vulnerable communities adapt to the changing weather.

Day 10: Give your dishwasher a day off or promote it to a Grade A energy efficient appliance.

Day 11: Use local shops or farmers' markets instead of driving to out-of-town shopping parks. They will thank you; supermarkets won't notice your absence.

Day 12: Tell politicians to take action on climate change today.

Day 13: Put the heat on your electricity or gas suppliers and ask them if they have a green plan. Make the switch and feel cosy.

Day 14: Take a shower instead of a bath: you'll heat less water.

Day 15: Snub plastic bags. Get into the habit of taking your rucksack to the supermarket or go retro with a trolley. Ask your supermarket to remove unnecessary packaging.

Day 16: Switch off lights as you leave the room.

Day 17: Only fill your kettle with as much water as you need.

Day 18: Cut the air miles. Don't consume any food that you know has been imported by plane.

Day 19: Grace Maglasey and her husband Andrew struggle to grow enough food because their village in Malawi is caught in a cycle of floods and droughts. Join in with Grace's prayer today: "We pray that those of us who farm should harvest a lot of food so that this year we will not have hunger. In the name of Jesus, Amen."

Day 20: Compost. Put the nutrients from food waste back into the soil – not into a methane-emitting landfill.

Day 21: Only run your washing machine when you have a full load.

Day 22: Find one way to save paper today: re-use an old envelope or print double-sided.

Day 23: Turn the taps off. In one day a hot, dripping tap could fill a bath.

Day 24: Counsel your local council. Thank them for their recycling facilities but ask them if they could provide any more.

Day 25: Who works hardest in the house? Mum? Dad? No, the fridge. It's churning away 24/7. Treat it to a good de-icing to make sure it's running efficiently.

Day 26: "Love does no harm to its neighbour" Romans 13:10. But while our lifestyles consume more and more energy, our poorer neighbours are suffering. Reflect on ways to love our neighbours in our increasingly connected world.

Day 27: Pressure a car owner to check their tyre pressures. Low tyre pressure means high fuel consumption.

Day 28: Do a home energy check at energysavingtrust.org.uk. You could save up to £250 a year on bills.

Day 29: Run your washing machine at 30 degrees. This uses 40% less electricity than running at 40 degrees.

Day 30: Find out a new fact about the impact of climate change today. Amaze your friends.

Day 31: Fit aluminium foil behind your radiator – allowing you to turn the radiator down and save £10 a year per radiator.

Day 32: Any old iron? If they're on their last legs replace old electrical appliances with energy-efficient models. They could save a third of the energy.

Day 33: Have an embrace-the-silence Sunday. Turn off everything. No TV, no radio, no ringtones, no cars. It'll be good for the soul.

Day 34: Tell the Mailing Preference Service that you want to stop junk mail. Call 0845 7034599 or visit mpsonline.org.uk.

Day 35: Put an insulation jacket on your hot-water tank. If everyone does, we'll cut enough carbon dioxide to fill 148,000 hot-air balloons.

Day 36: Re-use an item you would have thrown away – such as a jam jar, an envelope or an ice-cream container.

Day 37: Put a lid on it. That's pans when cooking; and use a kettle to boil water.

Day 38: Draw the curtains to keep the heat in.

Day 39: Could your church be greener? Talk to your church leaders.

Day 40: Replace your missing bulb with an energy-saving lightbulb. Over its lifetime, you will save 60kg of carbon dioxide per year and up to £60. Make a personal pledge to serve others by pursuing a more sustainable way of life.

Monday, February 15, 2010

"The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right."

Here's a little treat on this President's Day. When politicians say things like, "American rights are for Americans only," I begin to fear that we as a nation have lost touch with the ideals of our founding fathers not merely for a nation where freedom reigns, but a world that is free, because these rights are not geographic, they are human.  "All men being created equal."  Our first President certainly embodied these notions.  Enjoy reading his first inaugural address:


George Washington, First Inaugural Address, In the City of New York, Thursday, April 30, 1789:

The Nation's first chief executive took his oath of office in April in New York City on the balcony of the Senate Chamber at Federal Hall on Wall Street. General Washington had been unanimously elected President by the first electoral college, and John Adams was elected Vice President because he received the second greatest number of votes. Under the rules, each elector cast two votes. The Chancellor of New York and fellow Freemason, Robert R. Livingston administered the oath of office. The Bible on which the oath was sworn belonged to New York's St. John's Masonic Lodge. The new President gave his inaugural address before a joint session of the two Houses of Congress assembled inside the Senate Chamber.

Fellow-Citizens of the Senate and of the House of Representatives:

AMONG the vicissitudes incident to life no event could have filled me with greater anxieties than that of which the notification was transmitted by your order, and received on the 14th day of the present month. On the one hand, I was summoned by my country, whose voice I can never hear but with veneration and love, from a retreat which I had chosen with the fondest predilection, and, in my flattering hopes, with an immutable decision, as the asylum of my declining years—a retreat which was rendered every day more necessary as well as more dear to me by the addition of habit to inclination, and of frequent interruptions in my health to the gradual waste committed on it by time. On the other hand, the magnitude and difficulty of the trust to which the voice of my country called me, being sufficient to awaken in the wisest and most experienced of her citizens a distrustful scrutiny into his qualifications, could not but overwhelm with despondence one who (inheriting inferior endowments from nature and unpracticed in the duties of civil administration) ought to be peculiarly conscious of his own deficiencies. In this conflict of emotions all I dare aver is that it has been my faithful study to collect my duty from a just appreciation of every circumstance by which it might be affected. All I dare hope is that if, in executing this task, I have been too much swayed by a grateful remembrance of former instances, or by an affectionate sensibility to this transcendent proof of the confidence of my fellow-citizens, and have thence too little consulted my incapacity as well as disinclination for the weighty and untried cares before me, my error will be palliated by the motives which mislead me, and its consequences be judged by my country with some share of the partiality in which they originated.

Such being the impressions under which I have, in obedience to the public summons, repaired to the present station, it would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes, and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success the functions allotted to his charge. In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good, I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own, nor those of my fellow-citizens at large less than either. No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency; and in the important revolution just accomplished in the system of their united government the tranquil deliberations and voluntary consent of so many distinct communities from which the event has resulted can not be compared with the means by which most governments have been established without some return of pious gratitude, along with an humble anticipation of the future blessings which the past seem to presage. These reflections, arising out of the present crisis, have forced themselves too strongly on my mind to be suppressed. You will join with me, I trust, in thinking that there are none under the influence of which the proceedings of a new and free government can more auspiciously commence.

By the article establishing the executive department it is made the duty of the President "to recommend to your consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient." The circumstances under which I now meet you will acquit me from entering into that subject further than to refer to the great constitutional charter under which you are assembled, and which, in defining your powers, designates the objects to which your attention is to be given. It will be more consistent with those circumstances, and far more congenial with the feelings which actuate me, to substitute, in place of a recommendation of particular measures, the tribute that is due to the talents, the rectitude, and the patriotism which adorn the characters selected to devise and adopt them. In these honorable qualifications I behold the surest pledges that as on one side no local prejudices or attachments, no separate views nor party animosities, will misdirect the comprehensive and equal eye which ought to watch over this great assemblage of communities and interests, so, on another, that the foundation of our national policy will be laid in the pure and immutable principles of private morality, and the preeminence of free government be exemplified by all the attributes which can win the affections of its citizens and command the respect of the world. I dwell on this prospect with every satisfaction which an ardent love for my country can inspire, since there is no truth more thoroughly established than that there exists in the economy and course of nature an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness; between duty and advantage; between the genuine maxims of an honest and magnanimous policy and the solid rewards of public prosperity and felicity; since we ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained; and since the preservation of the sacred fire of liberty and the destiny of the republican model of government are justly considered, perhaps, as deeply, as finally, staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.

Besides the ordinary objects submitted to your care, it will remain with your judgment to decide how far an exercise of the occasional power delegated by the fifth article of the Constitution is rendered expedient at the present juncture by the nature of objections which have been urged against the system, or by the degree of inquietude which has given birth to them. Instead of undertaking particular recommendations on this subject, in which I could be guided by no lights derived from official opportunities, I shall again give way to my entire confidence in your discernment and pursuit of the public good; for I assure myself that whilst you carefully avoid every alteration which might endanger the benefits of an united and effective government, or which ought to await the future lessons of experience, a reverence for the characteristic rights of freemen and a regard for the public harmony will sufficiently influence your deliberations on the question how far the former can be impregnably fortified or the latter be safely and advantageously promoted.

To the foregoing observations I have one to add, which will be most properly addressed to the House of Representatives. It concerns myself, and will therefore be as brief as possible. When I was first honored with a call into the service of my country, then on the eve of an arduous struggle for its liberties, the light in which I contemplated my duty required that I should renounce every pecuniary compensation. From this resolution I have in no instance departed; and being still under the impressions which produced it, I must decline as inapplicable to myself any share in the personal emoluments which may be indispensably included in a permanent provision for the executive department, and must accordingly pray that the pecuniary estimates for the station in which I am placed may during my continuance in it be limited to such actual expenditures as the public good may be thought to require.

Having thus imparted to you my sentiments as they have been awakened by the occasion which brings us together, I shall take my present leave; but not without resorting once more to the benign Parent of the Human Race in humble supplication that, since He has been pleased to favor the American people with opportunities for deliberating in perfect tranquillity, and dispositions for deciding with unparalleled unanimity on a form of government for the security of their union and the advancement of their happiness, so His divine blessing may be equally conspicuous in the enlarged views, the temperate consultations, and the wise measures on which the success of this Government must depend.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

On Eagle's Wings

HOMILY FOR THE SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, February 14, 2010:


By a show of hands, can I ask how many of you would like to be rich? How many of you would enjoy a nice, delicious meal? How many of you like to be happy and have people say nice things about you? And how about the converse – how many of you would like to be poor? Hungry? Weeping? Hated? I’m sure we’d get similar results no matter where we asked those questions. And yet, Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are now poor…who are now hungry… who are now weeping… when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.” And what are His words for those who are rich, well fed, well thought of? “Woe to you!”

So, what is going on here? The way this sounds on the surface, God’s desire for us is to be on the streets, hungry, weeping and despised. That’s what it means to be blessed by God. So, if this is true, we should be thrilled with the ongoing recession and difficult economic times. Every jobless report means more Christians for the Kingdom! A downturn in the stock market means the Kingdom of God is at hand! We know that Jesus is regularly reaching out to lift people out of their poverty, out of their sorrow, out of their illness, out of their misery, so there must be another way to understand this passage.

Let me tell you a story. There’s an old legend about a young Native American boy. One day the boy found an eagle’s egg on the ground. He brought it home and placed it in a nest of chicken eggs. Before long, the eaglet hatched along with a brood of chicks. The eagle grew up with the chickens not knowing it was different. It scratched in the dirt for seeds the way the chickens did. It cackled the way the chickens did. And it thrashed it wings and flew only a few feet off the ground the way the chickens did. Then one day the eagle looked up into the clear blue sky. There is saw the most marvelous sight. It saw a magnificent bird soaring majestically through the sky on two big golden wings. The little eagle’s breath was taken away. Excitedly, it called out to an older chicken, “What kind of bird is that?” “That’s an eagle,” the older chicken replied. “But forget about it! You could never soar like that in a million years.”

I think this story helps us to get at what Jesus is trying to tell us in the Sermon on the Mount. Sometimes in our modern world we can get the feeling that we are unimportant. We can get the feeling that we are just another consumer listed on someone’s computer. If you’ve ever felt this way; if you’ve ever felt that the world is passing you by and not even noticing you – today’s Gospel is for you. The Sermon on the Mount wants to tell us that in spite of all of the contrary messages that the world is sending us – we are in fact important. Jesus speaks perhaps the most famous words of His preaching career to remind us of this essential fact – we are important. We are made in God’s image and we are destined to live with God forever. And if that doesn’t make us important, then I don’t know what does.

We need this message more today than ever before. The world tells us that we are like a box of tissues – disposable. The world tells us that we are like an old paper cup – recyclable. The world tells us that we are like a spare part – expendable. And after a while, we can begin to believe what the world tells us.

Just like the chicken to the young eagle, we are told, “Forget about Jesus Christ and His teachings. He is the Son of God. His world is totally different from our world. You could never be like Him. You could never soar the way He did – not in a million years!” But Jesus gives us a totally different message. In John’s Gospel, He says, “Whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these.” St. Paul had these words of Jesus in mind when he wrote to the Corinthians, “God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world…to reduce to nothing those who are something.”

And this brings us right back to the Sermon on the Mount. Notice the present tense that Jesus uses – blessed are you who are poor, hungry or weeping NOW. In other words, this will not last forever, you will be blessed in my sight, your sadness will be turned to joy. And so, to the hundreds of poor people sitting on the slope of that mountain – whom the world considered disposable – Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are now poor; for the Kingdom of God is yours.” To the hundreds of hungry people sitting on the slope of that mountain – whom the world considered recyclable – Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied.” And to the hundreds of sorrowing people sitting on the slope of that mountain – whom the world considered expendable – Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh.”

And so, my friends, to those of us to whom the world says, “Too bad, you poor, you are disposable; too bad, you hungry, you are recyclable; too bad, you weeping, you are expendable; too bad, you people of faith, you will never soar,” Jesus says, “Rejoice and be glad…The Kingdom of God is yours!” The world cannot limit you, define you, reject you, ignore you. You will be blessed in me.

Jesus can take whatever our challenges are; whatever our struggles may be; what ever problems we may have – and He will turn them into Beatitude, into blessing – and we will soar in His sight to heights we never dreamed possible.

Let me end with a poem by Amado Nervo that names well the spirit of the Beatitudes:

The world told me I was only a spark,
But Jesus taught me that I am a fire.
The world told me that I was only a string,
But Jesus taught me that I am a lyre.

The world told me I was only an anthill,
But Jesus taught me that I am a mountain.
The world told me I was only a drop,
But Jesus taught me that I am a fountain.

The world told me I was only a feather,
But Jesus taught me that I am a wing.
The world told me I was only a begger,
But Jesus taught me that I am a king.

Blessed are you! “Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.”

May God give you peace.

Knowing the heart of Jesus

REFLECTION ON THE GOSPEL FOR SATURDAY, February 13, 2010:


"Jesus summoned the disciples and said, 'My heart is moved with pity for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat'...His disciples answered him, 'Where can anyone get enough bread to satisfy them here in this deserted place?' Still he asked them, 'How many loaves do you have?' They replied, 'Seven.' He ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground. Then, taking the seven loaves he gave thanks, broke them, and gave them to his disciples to distribute, and they distributed them to the crowd. They also had a few fish. He said the blessing over them and ordered them distributed also. They ate and were satisfied. They picked up the fragments left over–seven baskets.There were about four thousand people." (Mark 8.1-10)


Our Gospel readings this week have given us a chance to reflect upon some of the miraculous healing stories of Jesus. One of the central themes we typically focus upon is that the miracle stories of Jesus - curing the blind, the deaf, the mute, the lepers, and the feedings stories - are passages that confirm for us the Divinity of Jesus. Surely, He must be the Son of God for such wonders to occur.  And this is certainly an important aspect of these passages.


Today, we are given another miracle story to ponder in our hearts, the feeding of the 4,000.  We usually look upon feeding stories through a Eucharistic lens.  We see in the feeding of this large number of people as reflective of the way that God nourishes us and a prefiguring of the Eucharist - the greatest multiplication of loaves that continues to our own day.  And these are wonderful aspects of this passage to ponder.


But, I want to zero in on a few of the details of this story today that tell us something incredible about our God and about the way that He wants to relate to us.


The first is this.  Notice that before this miraculous multiplication takes place Jesus says, "My heart is moved with pity for the crowds."  Don't pass over this too quickly.  In this simple statement we have an incredible moment.  The God of the Universe, the Almighty Himself, has chosen to reveal His heart to us.  And that heart is moved with pity.  If you think about this miracle story, the reality is that Jesus doesn't need to tell us anything.  He can simply give orders.  He could have said, "Peter bring me that bread.  Thomas bring me that fish." He could have blessed it, multiplied it and the people would have been fed.  Instead, Jesus begins by revealing His heart to us.


And after that, He still doesn't simply do what must be done, but He invites His disciples to brainstorm with Him, to collaborate with Him in solving this problem.  He essentially says, "What do you guys think?  How can we feed these people?"


And the power is in the fact that this read these stories over and over, not simply to remind ourselves about Jesus' Divinity; or what God has done for us, but because they are an invitation.  


Jesus reveals His heart to us not for purposes of information, but because He wants our hearts to be in line with His heart.  Jesus was moved with pity, with compassion and with love for the people and He wants the same from us.  He wants us to likewise look upon His people with the same compassion and love.


And the feeding is not a one-time event that we simply recall.  Instead, the hungry still need to be fed; the homeless still need to be sheltered; the naked still need to be clothed.  Jesus reveals to us his love and compassion and then asks us to, "What do you think we should do about this?"  He wants us to share His love and then He wants us to collaborate with Him on finding the solution.


And, perhaps here is where we find a challenge.  We can tend to look at the Corporal Works of Mercy has obligations of our faith.  Why do I feed the hungry, house the homeless or clothe the naked?  Because Jesus said I had to.  This isn't what He wants.  Jesus wants us to conform our hearts with His heart and to collaborate with Him because our hearts have become hearts of compassion, pity, mercy and love.


In just a few days we embark once again upon our season of Lent.  Maybe this is a good question to reflect on during the weeks of our Lenten journey. Where is my heart?  Have I conformed my heart to the heart of Jesus?  Jesus reveals His heart to us continually and invites us to conform ourselves to Him.  Let us pray that we too may more and more have the heart of Christ!


May the Lord give you peace!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Becoming what we receive

HOMILY FOR THE FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, February 7, 2010:


Three men appear before us in today’s Word – Isaiah, Paul and Peter. What brings them together is that all three experience a manifestation of God’s presence. Isaiah sees the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne. God’s presence shakes the door of his house. His reaction, “Woe is me, I am doomed.” Paul recounts his own unworthiness at having been called to be an apostle, despite his own persecution of the church. Paul’s reaction? “By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective.” And then Peter, at Jesus’ command catches a miraculous amount of fish. His reaction? “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

We see in all three situations that being in the presence of God changes everything. It transforms our perception of the world, our perception of others and most importantly our perception of ourselves. God makes himself present to us in the every day events of our lives – through the very act of breathing, the miracle of birth, the wonder of creation, the depth of our loves and our relationships and so powerfully in the Eucharist that we celebrate each and every week. But, it causes us to ask – how do we react to that presence? We could respond like Isaiah, Paul and Peter who shrink away from God because of a recognition of our sinfulness. Yet it is precisely because we are sinners that God comes to us in these ways, to transform us into His creations. The power of the prayer that we say just before receiving the Eucharist – “Lord I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed” – the power of that prayer is not in our recognition of our unworthiness, but in the trust that through God’s word, we are saved and healed. Even in the moments when we feel a great distance from God, God is always present to us.

So, let’s talk a bit about this incredible presence of God in our midst – the Eucharist, and what it means for God to be present there, what it means to say that the bread and wine we offer become the body and blood of Jesus. We know that we say that the Eucharist is the True Presence of Jesus in His Body and Blood. But, could we answer the follow up question to that – what does that mean?

First, Jesus established the sacraments as a way of communicating with us. Through the sacraments, God speaks His love and His grace to His people. They are a means of real contact with God. Christ told us that he would be present in his church until the end of time, and He is pre-eminently present in the sacraments. Of the seven sacraments, the Eucharist stands out above the rest. The Second Vatican Council reminded us that the Eucharist is the source and summit of what the Church is and does. In this sacrament we get an insight into what it will be like to be in the presence of God in Heaven. There is a movement in the Eucharist. God moves towards us, and in response we move towards God.

So, what do we mean when we say that Jesus is truly and fully present in the Eucharist? Someone from the outside might look at what we are doing and say, “It still looks and tastes like bread and wine to me.” And that wouldn’t be completely wrong. Our physical senses can confirm that – it doesn’t taste like actual flesh or actual blood – and let’s all thank God for that. So how do we reconcile these two realities – that it still looks and tastes like bread and wine, and yet we know it is the Body and Blood of Jesus? What the Church has come to understand over centuries of prayer and reflection is that what God changes is what is most important – its identity. While the substance doesn’t change – the external stuff of it is still bread and wine – its identity, the core of its being changes, its identity becomes fully the Body and Blood of Christ.

 St. Francis of Assisi named it well when he said of the Eucharist, “Let the heavens exult when Christ, the Son of the living God, is present on the altar in the hands of a priest! …The Lord of the universe, God and the Son of God, so humbles Himself that for our salvation He hides Himself in an ordinary piece of bread! Hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves, that He who gives himself totally to you may receive you totally!” And there is the key.

If the bread and wine are changed most fundamentally in their identity, so what? If that’s it, we have nothing more than a neat trick. There has to be more. And, of course, there is. But, it absolutely has to be personal. We have to ask ourselves, am I just here watching this thing taking place on the altar or, am I entering into it? Am I being transformed by what I participate in? Is this a thing being changed – bread and wine – or is this a person – Jesus – entering in.

What is truly amazing and miraculous about the change that takes place in the Eucharist is that it isn’t only the bread and wine that change. It isn’t only the bread and wine that take on the identity of Christ – it is us too. We become what we receive. We receive the Eucharist because we believe that what God has done on the altar, He will do to us. As God transforms bread and wine into the Body and Blood of His Son, so too through our participation, He transforms us into the Real Presence of His Son in the world. And now, it begins to make sense. God can change our identity – He won’t change our physical bodies, those will still be the same – but we know that it is our identity that is really what is important, what is really at the core. If we fail to believe that our God can make this miraculous change in the bread and wine, how will we ever believe that He can do the same to us?

We receive the Body and Blood of Christ so that we may become the Mystical Body of Christ. When we respond "Amen" after receiving, this is both something that identifies us but also calls us, summons us to this great calling to spread the Good News, just as Jesus called Peter in our Gospel today. So, when we say that we are the Body of Christ, we are also being called to become more and more the Presence of Christ in our world. We become what we receive.

May the words of God proclaimed to us today reach into our hearts, into our sinfulness and speak to us of the presence of God. As we encounter the Real Presence of our God in the Eucharist today, may we respond like Isaiah, Paul and Peter with humility, and may we both see Christ appear on our altar and allow that same Christ to enter into our hearts that we today be transformed to become what we receive – the Body of Christ.

“Hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves, that He who gives himself totally to you may receive you totally!”

My God, “Only say the word, and we shall be healed.”

May God give you peace.