Monday, January 31, 2011

If you grew up in Massachusetts...


1. The Red Sox 2004 World Series win was, and will always be, one of the greatest moments in your life.
2. The guy driving in front of you is going 70 mph and you're swearing at him for going too slow.
3. When ordering a tonic, you mean a Coke.
4. You went to Canobie Lake Park or Whalom Park as a kid.
5. You actually enjoy driving around rotaries.
6. You do not recognize the letter 'R' as a part of the English language.
7. Your social security number starts with a zero.
8. You can actually find your way around the streets of Boston .
9. You know what a 'regular' coffee is.
10. You keep an ice scraper in your car year-round.
11. You can tell the difference between a Revere accent and a Dorchester accent.
12. Springfield is located 'way out west'.
13. You almost feel disappointed if someone doesn't flip you the bird when you cut them off or steal their parking space.
14. You know how to pronounce the names of towns like Billerica , Gloucester , Haverhill , Leominster , Peabody, Leicester and Worcester .
15. Anyone you don't know is a potential idiot until proven otherwise.
16. Paranoia sets in if you can't see a Dunkin Donuts or CVS Pharmacy within eyeshot at all times.
17. You have driven to New Hampshire on a Sunday just to buy alcohol.
18. You know how to pronounce Yastrzemski.
19. You know there's a trophy at the end of the Bean Pot.
20. You order iced coffee in January.
21. You know that the MBTA Purple Line will take you anywhere.
22. You love scorpion bowls.
23. You know what they sell at a Packie.
24. Sorry Manny, but number 24 means DEWEY EVANS.
25. You know what First Night is.
26. You know at least one guy named Sean, Pat, Whitey, Red, Bud or Seamus. Bonus: You know how to pronounce Seamus.
27. McLobster=McCrap
28. You know at least 2 cops in your town because they were your high school drinking buddies.
29. You know there are 6 New England states, but that Connecticut really doesn't count.
30. You give incomprehensible directions to tourists, feel bad when they drive off, but then say to yourself, 'Ah, screw 'em.'
31. You know at least one bar where you can get something to drink after last call.
32. You hate the Kennedys, but you vote for them anyway.
33. You know holding onto the railing when riding the Green Line is not optional.
34. The numbers '78 and '86 make you cringe.
35. You've been to Good Time Charlie's.
36. You think the rest of the country owes you for Thanksgiving and Independence Day. (... and they DO).
37. You have never actually been to 'Cheers.'
38. The words ' WICKED' and 'GOOD' go together.
39. You've been to Fenway Park .
40. You've gone to at least one party at U MASS [ or Simmons ].
41. You own a 'Yankees Suck' shirt or hat.
42. You know what a Frappe is.
43. You've been to Hempfest.
44. You know who Frank Averuch is.
45. ADVANCED: You know Frank Averuch was once Bozo the Clown
46. You can complete the following: 'Lynn, Lynn ......'
47. You get pissed off when a restaurant serves clam chowder, and it turns out to be Snows.
48. You actually know how to merge from six lanes of traffic down to one.
49. The TV weatherman is damn good if he's right 25% of the time.
50. You never go to Cape Cod,' you go 'down the Cape '.
51. You think that Roger Clemens and Johnny Damon are more evil than Whitey Bulger.
52. You know who Whitey Bulger is.
53. You went to the Swan Boats, House of Seven Gables, or Plimouth Plantation on a field trip in elementary school.
54. Bobby Orr is loved as much as Larry Bird, Tom Brady, and Ted Williams.
55. You remember Major Mudd.
56. You know what candlepin bowling is.
57. You can drive from the mountains to the ocean all in one day.
58. You know Scollay Square once stood where The Government Center is.
59. When you were a kid, Rex Trailer was the coolest guy around. Speaking of which... Can you still hum the song from the end of Boom Town ?
61. Calling Carrabba's an 'Italian' restaurant is sacrilege.
62. You still have your old Flexible Flyer somewhere in your attic.
63. You know that the Mass Pike is some sort of strange weather dividing line.
64. The only time you've been on the Freedom Trail is when relatives are in town.
65. The Big Dig tunnel disaster wasn't a surprise.
66. You call guys you've just met 'Chief' or 'Boss.'
67. 4:15pm and pitch black out means only 3 more shopping days until Christmas.
68. You know more than one person with the last name Murphy.
69. You refer to Savin Hill as 'Stab 'n Kill.'
70. You've never eaten at Durgin Park , but recommend it to tourists.
71. You can't look at the zip code 02134 without singing it.
72. You voted for a Republican Mormon as Governor just to screw with the rest of the country.
73. 11 pm? Drunk? It means one thing: Kowloons!
74. 2 am? Drunk? It means one thing: Kelly's Roast Beef! The one on Revere Beach not the one on Route 1.
75. 5 am? Drunk? It means one thing: You wish you had a blanket in your back seat.
76. You know that P-Town isn't the name of a new rap group.
77. People you don't like are all 'Bastids.'
78. You took off school or work for the Patriots first Super Bowl Win Parade.
79. You've called something 'wicked pissa.'
80. You'll always get razzed for Dukakis.
81. Saturday afternoons meant Creature Double Feature with Dale Dorman.
82. Sunday mornings meant the Three Stooges on Channel 38.
83. You've slammed on your brakes to deter a tailgater.
84. No, you don't trust the Gorton's Fisherman.
85. You know that Papa Gino's usually has a jukebox.
86. You think Aerosmith is the greatest rock band of all time.
87. Your town has at least 6 pizza and roast beef shops.
88. You know at least three Tony's, one Vinnie and a Frankie.
89. 20 degrees is downright balmy as long as there's no wind... then it gets wicked cold.
90. You were very sad when saying goodbye to the Boston Garden ..
91. Thanksgiving means family, turkey, High School football, and the long version of Alice 's Restaurant.
92. You know the guy who founded the Boston Pops was named Athah Feedlah.
93. You know what the Combat Zone is.
94. You actually drive 45 minutes to New Hampshire to save $5 in sales tax.
95. You've pulled out of a side street and used your car to block oncoming traffic so you can make a left turn.
96. You've bragged about the money you've saved at The Christmas Tree Shop.
97. You've been to Hampton Beach on a Saturday night. ["Do ya wanna go real Real fast?"]
98. Playing street hockey was a daily after school ritual.
99. Hearing an old lady shout 'Numbah 96 for Sioux City means it's time for steak.
100. You remember Jordan Marsh, Filene's, Grants, Bradlees, Caldor, Zayres, and Ann & Hope.
101. You actually understand this E-mail and will pass it on to other friends from Massachusetts .

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Stumbling into history...

I'm currently in New Orleans for a meeting this week.  After a beautiful Sunday Mass at St. Louis Cathedral presided over by Auxiliary Bishop Shelton Fabre, we decided to visit the New Orleans Museum of Art.  It was a wonderful afternoon and they have a decent enough collection there - in particular their impressionist rooms are pretty good.

We were literally out the door when one of the volunteers, named Grace (!), enticed us back in with a promise of free cheese and crackers and free wine.  Of course, we went back in. She also mentioned something about two new pieces of art being unveiled for the first time.  And, this is where things got interesting.

Fifty years ago, New Orleans was caught up in the turmoil of school integration, at the high point of the civil rights era.  There are many images that capture that time.

Some of them are: Rosa Parks refusing to sit at the back of the bus:

Martin Luther King Jr. marching through the south, or his famous "I Have A Dream" speech on the Washington Mall.

Another of those singular images comes from here in New Orleans.  As this city struggled with school integration, one little girl became one of these hallmark images of the change that was so hard-fought for.  Her name was Ruby Bridges.  As a six year old girl, she was to become the very first African-American child to attend an all-white elementary school in the South.

In Spring 1960, Ruby was one of several African-Americans in New Orleans to take a test to determine which children would be the first to attend integrated schools. Six students were chosen, however, two students decided to stay at their old school, and three were transfered. Ruby was the only one assigned to William Frantz. Her father initially was reluctant, but her mother felt strongly that the move was needed not only to give her own daughter a better education, but to "take this step forward ... for all African-American children."

The court-ordered first day of integrated schools in New Orleans was November 14, 1960. As Bridges describes it, "Driving up I could see the crowd, but living in New Orleans, I actually thought it was Mardi Gras. There was a large crowd of people outside of the school. They were throwing things and shouting, and that sort of goes on in New Orleans at Mardi Gras." Former United States Deputy Marshal Charles Burks later recalled, "She showed a lot of courage. She never cried. She didn't whimper. She just marched along like a little soldier, and we're all very proud of her."

As soon as Bridges got into the school, white parents went in and brought their own children out; all teachers refused to teach while a black child was enrolled. They hired Barbara Henry, from Boston, Massachusetts, to teach Bridges, and for over a year Mrs. Henry taught her alone, "as if she were teaching a whole class." That first day, Bridges and her adult companions spent the entire day in the principal's office; the chaos of the school prevented their moving to the classroom until the second day. Every morning, as Bridges walked to school, one woman would threaten to poison her, because of this, the U.S. Marshals dispatched by President Eisenhower, who were overseeing her safety, only allowed Ruby to eat food that she brought from home. Another woman at the school put a black baby doll in a wooden coffin and protested with it outside the school, a sight that Bridges has said "scared me more than the nasty things people screamed at us." At her mother's suggestion, Bridges began to pray on the way to school, which she found provided protection from the comments yelled at her on the daily walks.

The Bridges family suffered for their decision to send her to William Frantz Elementary: her father lost his job, and her grandparents, who were sharecroppers in Mississippi, were turned off their land. She has noted that many others in the community both black and white showed support in a variety of ways. Some white families continued to send their children to Frantz despite the protests, a neighbor provided her father with a new job, and local people babysat, watched the house as protectors, and walked behind the federal marshals' car on the trips to school.

This first day of school was iconically recalled by Norman Rockwell, in his famous painting, "The Problem We All Live With."  It shows this courageous little girl in her bright-white dress and pig tails marching confidently into school escorted by U.S. Marshals.
And, that brings us to today.  Armed with our free wine and cheese and crackers we walked into the auditorium of the New Orleans Museum of Art. We sat in the back so we could "leave quickly if this turns out to be boring."  On the stage was the original Rockwell (above) with two other paintings covered with sheets on either side.

A woman steps to the podium and after a few opening words says, "Without further ado, I give you, Ruby Bridges."   Somehow this casual visit to a minor museum turned out to be an encounter with history.  Ruby spoke recalling that dramatic day with palpable detail. She was here because she wanted to commemorate the 50th anniversary of this date in a special way.  She had been working with an artist and the two of them collaboratively created two new works of art to help remember that incredible moment.  We were enraptured and even had the opportunity to chat with Ruby and with the artist.  If it had been a sunny day, our plan was to visit an estuary and Lake Ponchetrain. Instead, we stumbled into history.  The new works are below and will hang in the museum here throughout Black History Month.

Artist, subject and painting:

Recalling that day 50 years ago:

True happiness is...

NOTE: I am in New Orleans for a meeting this week and not preaching anywhere.  This is the homily that I delivered on this same day three years ago.
The philosopher Aristotle long ago said, “Happiness is that which all [people] seek.” Aristotle observed that the things that people do 24 hours a day, seven days a week, are the things that they believe will bring them happiness in one form or another. The problem, of course, is that what people think will bring them happiness rarely achieves that goal of true and lasting happiness. Things haven’t changed too much since the time of Aristotle.

A while back, Time Magazine dedicated an issue to “The New Science of Happiness.” They sought to uncover the secret of happiness. What did they discover? In one article, they wrote, “What has science learned about what makes the human heart sing? …Take wealth, for instance, and all the delightful things that money can buy. Research…has shown that once your basic needs are met, additional income does little to raise your sense of satisfaction with life. A good education? Sorry, Mom and Dad, neither education nor, for that matter, a high IQ paves the road to happiness. Youth? No, again. In fact, older people are more consistently satisfied with their lives than the young. Marriage? Married people are generally happier than singles. But, on the positive side, religious faith seems to genuinely lift the spirit.”

In our world, many people spend a great deal of time pursuing wealth, power, pleasure, popularity and fame – things which may bring a momentary thrill, but lack any true happiness. Yet, look at how much time and resources are often spent in their pursuit.

True happiness can only be found in other ways, and is often found in unlikely ways. And that is the theme of our readings today. And so God shows us that this happiness we seek, is found in places we wouldn’t normally expect. Another word for true and lasting happiness is “blessedness” or “beatitude.” Jesus gives us in the Sermon on the Mount that we heard in today’s gospel, the road to blessedness or happiness. The beatitudes constitute a road map for anyone who seeks to attain true happiness.

The world has its own idea of happiness. If a committee were set up to draw up the beatitudes, we would most probably end up with a list very different from that which Jesus gives us today. Where Jesus says “Blessed are the poor in spirit” we would likely say “Blessed are the rich.” Where Jesus says “Blessed are those who mourn” we would say “Blessed are those having fun.” Where Jesus says “Blessed are the meek” we would say “Blessed are the smart.” Where Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” we would say “Blessed are those who wine and dine.” Where Jesus says, “Blessed are the merciful” we would say “Blessed are the powerful.” Where Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart” we would say “Blessed are the thin and beautiful.” Where Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers” we would say “Blessed are the ones with the biggest guns.” And where Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” we would say “Blessed are those who can afford the best lawyers.”

The values prescribed by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount are in fact counter-cultural. And so, we cannot accept these teachings of Jesus and at the same time accept all the values of the society in which we live. Jesus is calling us to put God first in our lives because only God can guarantee the true happiness and peace that our hearts long for. Nothing in the world can give this peace, and nothing in the world can take it away.

The Sermon on the Mount is in fact Jesus’ first homily, His first preaching. Jesus wants everything that will follow - the healings, the miracles, the journey towards crucifixion and resurrection – to be seen in this context. It all leads to happiness.

The question for us today, therefore, is this: Do we seek our happiness through the values of the world or do we live by the beatitudes of Jesus? If you live by the teachings of Jesus, then rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.

I will end with the words of Pope John Paul II, who spoke of the Beatitudes at World Youth Day in Toronto a few years ago. He said, “Jesus did not limit himself to proclaiming the Beatitudes, he lived them!...The Beatitudes describe what a Christian should be: they are the portrait of those who have accepted the Kingdom of God. The joy promised by the Beatitudes is the very joy of Jesus himself ….By looking at Jesus you will learn what it means to be poor in spirit, meek and merciful; what it means to seek justice, to be pure in heart, to be peacemakers. Today Jesus’ voice resounds in the midst of our gathering. His is a voice of life, of hope, of forgiveness; a voice of justice and of peace. Let us listen to this voice! The Church today looks to you with confidence and expects you to be the people of the Beatitudes. Blessed are you if, like Jesus, you are poor in spirit, good and merciful; if you really seek what it just and right; if you are pure of heart, peacemakers, lovers of the poor and their servants. Blessed are you!”

May we all pledge to live in God’s blessedness and may God give you peace.

Friday, January 28, 2011

"Skippy Dies"

On the recommendation of a friend, I am reading the book Skippy Dies.  I'm only about 60 pages in, so I can't tell you what it is really about yet, but this is an extraordinarily well-written book.  You've got to love a book that begins with, "Apart from being a genius, which he is, Ruprecht, does not have all that much going for him."  Love it!

Here's an extended excerpt to give you a sense of the fluidity of the prose:

You know, you spend your childhood watching TV, assuming that at some point in the future everything you see there will one day happen to you: that you will win a Formula One race, hop a train, foil a group of terrorists, tell someone 'Give me the gun', etc. Then you start secondary school, and suddenly everyone's asking you about your career plans and your long-term goals, and by goals they don't mean the kind you are planning to score in the PA Cup.  Gradually the awful truth dawns you: that Santa Claus was just the tip of the iceberg - that your future will not be the rollercoaster ride that you'd imagined, that the world occupied by your parents, the world of washing the dishes, going to the dentist, weekend trips to the DIY superstore to buy floor tiles, is actually largely what people mean when they speak of 'life.'  Now, with every day that passes, another door seems to close, the one marked PROFESSIONAL STUNTMAN, or FIGHT EVIL ROBOT, until as the weeks go by and the doors - GET BITTEN BY SNAKE, SAVE WORLD FROM ASTEROID, DISMANTLE BOMB WITH SECONDS TO SPARE - keep closing, you begin to hear the sound as a good thing, and start closing some yourself, even ones that didn't necessarily need to be closed...

At the onset of this process - looking down the barrel of this grim de-dreamification, which, even more than hyperactive glands and the discovery of girls, seems to be the actual stuff off growing up - to have Ruprecht telling you his crackpot theories comes to be oddly comforting.

"Imagine it," he says, gazing out the window while the rest of you huddle around the Nintendo, "everything that is, everything that has ever been - every grain of sand, every drop of water, every star, every planet, space and time themselves - all crammed into one dimensionless point where no rules or laws apply, waiting to fly out and become the future. When you think about it, the Big Bang's a bit like school, isn't it?"


"Ruprecht, what the hell are you talking about?"

"Well, I mean to say, one day we'll all leave here and become scientists and bank clerks and diving instructors and hotel managers - the fabric of society, so to speak. But in the meantime, that fabric, that is to say, us, the future, is crowded into one tiny little point where none of the laws of society applies, viz., this school."

(p. 24-26)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Ask not what Christ can do for you; ask what you can do for Christ

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
As you may have seen in the news this week, last Thursday was the 50th anniversary of the inauguration of John F. Kennedy as President. There was considerable focus given to his inaugural address, which certainly continues to stand as one of the greatest oratorical moments in American history. This is the speech, after all, that gave us the famous line, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”  My personal favorite quote of the inaugural is, “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.”

Given the ever-increasing level of angry vitriol in our country’s political life over the last decade, special attention was paid this week to another part of that speech where JFK said, “So let us begin anew—remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness.”

As we all know too well, the last few years have been tough ones as we have found ourselves in an economic crisis that at times doesn’t seem to have an end. We hope in what economists are now saying: that we are beginning to come out of it.

But, even in the midst of these challenges, there have been bright lights. Not too long ago, I came across an essay by Rev. Susan Brooks Thistlewaite in the Washington Post. She took a unique view of our recent events noting that one of the missed lessons is that, more than ever, we’re all in this together. In other words, we are connected - what happens in Tokyo affects what happens in Paris and London and New York. What happens in one part of the world can affect the day-to-day life of someone a world away.

Reverend Thistlewaite also looked back at another moment in history when we were all united by a feeling of crisis, The Great Depression. Thistlewaite decided to look back at another famous inaugural address, that of Franklin Roosevelt in 1933; one which gave us another famous quote, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” But, listen to what else FDR said, “The measure of our restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.” Roosevelt reminded us that there was something greater than money binding us together. And America came to realize that were all in it together – with a shared sense of community and common purpose.

As we gather today, we as church find ourselves praying in a particular way for a similar sense of community and common purpose. We are smack in the middle of the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity which ends on Tuesday. And our Scriptures today speak to that idea. In the second reading, Paul’s letter cries out for unity among the people of Corinth. It was another moment in time when people – the early Church – were united by a crisis, and were struggling to survive. “Is Christ divided?” he asks. “I urge you …that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.”

And when we come to Matthew’s Gospel today we are struck by the way in which Christ Himself went about building the first Christian community. He walked along the sea one day, and called first one set of brothers, and then another. He called them two by two. Brother with brother. In other words, from the very beginning, the message was clear: being church is not a solitary endeavor. Remember that the next time someone asks you why you go to church. Can’t I just pray on my own? Christ built a community; a family; living, working, praying – together.

As Matthew tells us, Christ’s Church would be comprised of people who didn’t work alone. They were fishermen, after all, casting large nets into the sea. We live here in a commercial fishing area, so we know that it takes more than one person to haul in a big catch. You need help. I think that’s one reason why Jesus chose His apostles from that particular line of work. They had stamina. They had strength. And they knew how to work together. The great work they would undertake would demand collaboration and even compromise. There is a lesson here, I think, for all Christians, as we pray for unity.

Some scripture scholars believe there may have been rivalry and tension between the followers of John the Baptist and those who would follow Jesus. You’ll notice that when Jesus begins His ministry, He uses the very same words as John the Baptist: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He isn’t trying to compete with the Baptist. Rather, He is continuing the work that John began – and enlarging and amplifying it. It’s a powerful example for all of us seeking to enlarge and amplify the Gospel and bring it into the world. And we should never forget that what unites us is greater than what divides us. As Paul put it, Christ is not divided – and we are His Body.

The last few years have reminded us that our world is smaller than ever. The global economy means all of us are inextricably linked, for better or for worse. Now, more than ever, we need to bear with one another, listen to one another, hope with one another, and uplift one another -- as residents of the world, and as Christians.

We have nothing to fear, but fear itself. Ask not what Christ can do for you; ask what you can do for Christ. And together, bound by a common purpose, we can achieve great things, no matter what our differences and difficulties. To use a metaphor the first apostles would understand: the sea may at times be rough. But we’re all in the same boat.

“I urge you, brothers and sisters…that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.”

May God give you peace.

(Based on a reflection from

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Santo Subito: Called to be saints!

After attending the Baptism of his baby brother in church, little Johnny cried all the way home in the back seat of the car. His father asked him three times what was wrong. Finally, the Johnny replied, “Well, the priest said he wanted us brought up in a Christian home, but I want to stay with you guys.”

Let me conduct an informal poll this morning. By a show of hands, how many of you would say that you are a saint? And yet, in our brief second reading today St. Paul addresses us as those “who have been sanctified in Jesus Christ, called to be holy.”

Let me tell you a story about the 11th Century King Henry III of Bavaria. He was a God-fearing king but the demands of being a ruler did not leave him much time for his spiritual life. One day he got so fed up with being a king that he went to the Abbot of the local monastery and asked to be admitted as a monk for the rest of his life. “Your Majesty,” said the Abbot, “do you understand that you must make a vow of obedience as a monk? That will be hard because you have been a king.” “I understand,” said Henry. “The rest of my life I will be obedient to you, as Christ leads you.” “Then I will tell you what to do,” said the Abbot. “Go back to your throne and serve faithfully in the place where God has put you.” King Henry returned to his throne, ruled his people in a very godly way, and thus became a saintly king.

Again, St. Paul reminds us that we are all “called to be holy.” Now “saint” is just another word for “holy.” It comes from the Latin word “sanctus” or again, holy. So if we are called to be holy; my friends, we are called to be saints! Holiness or saintliness is not a call that God places in the lives of just a few. It is not meant to be rare, but rather the norm. This was an exciting week in the realm of things saintly. You probably saw in the newspaper that one of the most widely recognized saints of our time, our former Holy Father Pope John Paul II, will be Beatified on May 1. That means that a miracle through his intercession has been verified and that he is just one step away from being named a canonized saint of the Church.

Did you know, that in addition to the holy life he personally lived, that as Pope, John Paul canonized more saints than all popes before him combined? And he very consciously canonized not just priests and religious, but he elevated to the height of sainthood men and women from every state of life; every age group; every occupation; married, widowed, single. He did this for a reason – so that we might be reminded when we look at the saints that they are like us and so we too are called to be like them.

Like King Henry we sometimes believe that we need to run away from the demands of life and escape to a monastery, a convent or the desert, if we want to become a saint. But, as the Abbot reminds us, God expects us to be saints in the concrete situations of our personal, family and business or professional lives.

This is a perfect reflection as we begin Ordinary Time in the Church calendar. As we begin this period of Ordinary Time, the Church reminds us that holiness is not meant to be extraordinary; it is not meant to be rare and only achieved by a select few. Holiness, sainthood, is meant to be very ordinary, very common – it is meant to be in the reach of every baptized Christian. Let me ask a different question: by a show of hands, who hopes to get to Heaven? And yet, that is the very same question that I asked before. Who gets to Heaven? Saints do. Heaven is full of saints! We are all meant to be saints!

Let’s look at what St. Paul says, “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy, with all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
There are two interesting points in this verse. First, Paul does not address the word of God to the Corinthians alone but also to “all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord” That includes even us gathered here today to call on the Lord’s name. Secondly, Paul refers to the people he is writing to as men and women “called to be holy” or called to be saints. Again that includes us. We may not feel like we are saints yet, but that is the purpose for which God has called us. We are all called to holiness.

A saint or someone who has been sanctified literally means someone who has been set apart. That God has called us to be saints means that God means for us to be special people in the world, not people who simply follow the crowd wherever the current wind blows.

For some of us the call of God may require a change of state in life. God may require of us what Jesus required of his disciples, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” The life of such a disciple is a life-long quest for perfection according to the mind of Jesus.

For most of us, however, God calls us to be His faithful children in the midst of the trials and challenges of normal life in society. The call of God is that we be in the world but not of the world. We participate fully in society, in politics, in business, in education, in health-care delivery, and in dispensing justice through making and implementing just laws. Our world needs holy parents, holy children, holy doctors and nurses, holy teachers, holy garbage collectors, farmers – wherever we find ourselves, whatever we do.

And for those times that we don’t find ourselves living up to the call of holiness that God places in our lives, He gives us the sacraments and pre-eminently Confession. Did you know that sinners enter the confessional and saints come out!? It is a saint factory. When our sins are forgiven, we are holy!! And yet, how few seek out that readily-available road to holiness.

Shortly after he converted to Catholicism in the late 1930s, Thomas Merton was walking the streets of New York with his friend, Robert. Robert was Jewish, and he asked Merton what he wanted to be, now that he was Catholic. “I don’t know,” Merton replied, adding simply that he wanted to be a good Catholic. Robert stopped him in his tracks. “What you should say,” he told him, “is that you want to be a saint!” Merton was dumbfounded. “How do you expect me to become a saint?” Merton asked him. His friend said: “All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one. Don’t you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if you will consent to let him do it? All you have to do is desire it.”

My brothers and sisters, one last question today – how many of us want to be saints? I hope it is all of us! Here’s the good news: to be a saint is nothing more complicated than to be ourselves – to be the person God created us to be. God has called us to be saints. All of us here today are called to be holy. Let us each desire to live saintly lives and may God consent to make each of us saints.

At his funeral Mass, the crowds cried out for John Paul, "Santo Subito!" or "Make him a saint immediately!"  Let us make that the mission statement of our own lives; let us all pledge to be on the road to holiness, on the road to sainthood today. Santo subito!

May God give you peace.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Stepping into the place of sinners

John Smith was the only unbaptized person in a large Catholic neighborhood. On the first Friday of Lent John was outside grilling a big juicy steak on the grill. Meanwhile all the neighbors were eating cold tuna fish for supper. This went on each Friday in Lent. On the last Friday of Lent the neighborhood men got together and decided that something had to be done about John, he was tempting them to eat meat each Friday of Lent, and they couldn’t take it anymore. They decided to try and convert John to Catholicism and it worked. John decided to join all his neighbors and become a Catholic, which made everyone happy. They took him to church for baptism and the priest sprinkled water over him and said, “You were born a pagan, you were raised a pagan and now you are a Catholic.” The men were relieved; their biggest Lenten temptation was removed. The next year, Lent rolled around again and on the first Friday at supper time, just as everyone had settled down to their tuna fish the men could not believe their noses – they could smell that steak on the grill again. They rushed to John’s yard hoping he had forgotten it was Lent. As they arrived, there was John standing over his grill sprinkling some water and saying, “You were born a cow, you were raised a cow but now you are a fish.”

With today’s solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord, we bring to an end our Christmas season. We have spent the last few weeks reflecting upon Jesus’ private life – from His birth through last week’s visit of the Magi. Today’s celebration marks the beginning of His public ministry, a sort of passing of the torch, to Him from John the Baptist as He seeks out baptism in the Jordan.

Even though we hear such beautiful words in today’s Gospel, the voice of God Himself from Heaven proclaiming, “You are my beloved Son,” it begs a very curious question – why is Jesus being baptized? Have you ever stopped to think about this? Baptism, as we know, is for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus didn’t need baptism. We know this. He was untouched by sin – He is “like us in all things, but sin.” You and I, born in a state of Original Sin, are born in desperate need of this sacrament of grace. We need these saving waters to wash over us and restore in us what was taken away by Adam and Eve. But, Jesus? Why would He need baptism?

This is a perplexing theological question and there are many decent answers. But, I came across the best response I have heard a few years ago when the Holy Father, Pope Benedict, released his book, Jesus of Nazareth. It is a wonderful book and one in which the Holy Father addresses this issue of the reason for Jesus’ baptism. Here’s a bit of what the Pope says about the question of Jesus baptism.

First, the problem. He writes, “The real novelty is the fact that he - Jesus - wants to be baptized, that he blends into the gray mass of sinners waiting on the banks of the Jordan. We have just heard that the confession of sins is a component of Baptism. Baptism itself was a confession of sins and the attempt to put off an old, failed life and to receive a new one. Is that something Jesus could do? How could he confess sins? How could he separate himself from his previous life in order to start a new one?”

The Pope notes that Jesus doesn’t require the newness of life that we all need because of our sin. So, if the baptism of Jesus isn’t about His own sin, since He has none, who’s sin is it about? Of course, it is about our sin. Again, the Pope writes, “The act of descending into the waters of this Baptism implies a confession of guilt and a plea for forgiveness in order to make a new beginning. In a world marked by sin, then, this Yes to the entire will of God also expresses solidarity with men [and women], who have incurred guilt but yearn for righteousness…Looking at the events in light of the Cross and Resurrection, the Christian people realized what happened: Jesus loaded the burden of all [humanity’s] guilt upon his shoulders; he bore it down into the depths of the Jordan. He inaugurated his public activity by stepping into the place of sinners. His inaugural gesture is an anticipation of the Cross…The Baptism is an acceptance of death for the sins of humanity, and the voice that calls out ‘This is my beloved Son’ over the baptismal waters is an anticipatory reference to the Resurrection.”

So, as Jesus begins His public ministry – a ministry that will take Him to the Cross, the grave and to resurrection all for us – He does so by taking on our sins. It is not on the Cross that Jesus takes on the sins of humanity – it is there that He frees us from them. It is in the waters of the Jordan that Jesus steps into the place of sinners, into our place. In the Jordan, Jesus united Himself with us; and in our own personal baptism, we are united again with Him – so that we can be forgiven, we can be healed, we can be saved. Again, the Pope writes, “To accept the invitation to be baptized now means to go to the place of Jesus' Baptism. It is to go where he identifies himself with us and to receive there our identification with him. The point where he anticipates death has now become the point where we anticipate rising again with him. The Baptism that Jesus' disciples have been administering since he spoke those words is an entrance into the Master's own Baptism… That is the way to become a Christian.”

And so baptism is a branding of sort; it is an identification, an initiation, a welcoming. In Jesus’ baptism and in our own, we have been united, one with the other; welcomed into the Family of God as a brother or sister of Christ. When we are baptized, the priest or deacon says these words, “You have become a new creation, and have clothed yourself in Christ.” In the Jordan, Jesus was clothed in us, taking our sins onto Himself so that He could redeem us on the Cross. In the baptismal fonts of our Churches, we are clothed in Him – in the hopes that we will live lives worthy of the call; worthy of the name we bear – sons and daughters of God.
In the Jordan, Jesus stepped into our place. Today, through the grace of our own baptism, He asks us to do the same. We must now be the ones to step into the place of Christ and be His presence in our world, so that the Father may say of us as He said of Him, “You are my beloved, with you I am well pleased.”

May God give you peace.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

What will you give Jesus this year? Become epiphany!

A CCD class was asked to draw a nativity scene one Sunday. In addition to the usual contingent of characters – Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds – one boy also drew three extremely tiny men wearing crowns. Asked who they were, he explained that they were the Three Wee Kings. (I apologize for that joke. It strains even my own love for corny jokes!)

You may have noticed at the beginning of our Mass today that I wished everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Some of you may have thought - wait, Christmas was over a week ago. But, the reality is that in our Church calendar, we still find ourselves deep in the heart of Christmas. The problem is that the world has got Christmas all upside down. In the secular world Christmas begins sometime in late September as the first Christmas decorations begin to appear in stores. Christmas music begins on the radio a few weeks after that. And then, it seems like at 12:01 a.m. on December 26th, it all disappears and Christmas is over and we've moved on to the next thing.

But, not so in our Church. Here, we still have another week to go. The Christmas season goes all the way to the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord which we will celebrate next weekend. We need these weeks to really reflect upon the reality that God has actually come among us, as one of us, in the person of Jesus Christ.

Now, on Christmas Day, I bet many of us were focused on presents. We all get very excited about what gifts we may receive each Christmas. In talking to some of our young people, this year there was great variety – a lot of it revolving around different video games and systems. I know a lot of little girls are very excited about American Girl dolls. I know those have been popular with one of my nieces for a number of years.

For me, I will always remember this Christmas as the year that God entrusted to me this parish as its shepherd. What a tremendous gift! I really mean that; and one that I pray each day to be worthy of. Of course, at this time of year, my thoughts also go to a few of my favorite all-time presents. I think of when I was about 10 years old. That year my brother and I really wanted Huffy dirt bikes. And, I remember the excitement of walking into the living room that Christmas morning and there they were! But, my most favorite memory of a childhood gift is one that I actually didn't receive. I was about 5 or 6 years old and that year I had asked Santa for a baby grand piano! It seemed reasonable at the time. Well, I woke up eagerly that morning and ran to the living room, but there was no piano there. But, instead there was a beautifully handwritten letter and it was addressed to me and it was signed by Santa himself! It was even written on his letterhead. Santa had written to explain to me that a baby grand piano was a wonderful gift, but it simply would not fit on his sleigh; it was just too big. Well, I was more excited about that letter than just about anything I can remember in life. Can you believe it? Santa wrote to me! He knows my name! I ran around with that letter for a very long time and treasured it.

Today's feast of the Epiphany is also a feast about presents. We commemorate the arrival of the three wise men, or kings, or magi, who came from afar, following a star to pay homage to the new born king. Tradition tells us that their names were Casper, Mehchior and Balthasar. And, of course, they brought gifts. They brought to Jesus the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Now, there is something special in each of these gifts. They are not random, but extremely meaningful. Each of these gifts show that the wise men actually recognize Jesus for who He is. The gold is a symbol of royalty, acknowledging that Jesus is in the royal line of David, destined to be the King of Kings. The frankincense is a symbol of the priesthood and acknowledges that Jesus will be the True High Priest. And myrrh is a type of oil often used in anointing when someone has died, acknowledging that Jesus will die for our salvation. Each of these gifts are gifts of recognition - they recognize the divinity of Christ. And recognizing Christ is the very heart of what Epiphany is about.

But, there is a difference between the gifts of Christmas Day and the gifts of Epiphany. Who received gifts on Christmas? You and me. Who receives the gifts today? Jesus does. And the gifts serve to reveal His true nature.

The feast of the Epiphany calls us to recognize Jesus in our midst - here in this church in each of us gathered in His Name; in His Word proclaimed; and in the greatest gift - His Real and True Presence in the Eucharist we are about to receive.

But, this feast also begs another question of each of us - what will we give to Jesus this year? One of my favorite adult Christmas experiences happened the first year I entered religious life as a Franciscan. We were each given a ministry - some of the guys worked at a local hospital making visits to the sick, some at an Asian immigrant center, others at a food pantry. I was assigned to a homeless shelter for young women and their children. These women were obviously in difficult situations, often situations of domestic violence and found themselves on the streets. I was curious if they would be receiving anything for Christmas that year, and of course, the staff assured me they would. But, all of their presents would be practical. They would receive clothing, food, blankets and the like. All of course, good and necessary presents. But, I couldn't help but think that they should really receive something fun or personal or just for them.

When I went home for Thanksgiving that year, once the meal was done, I took up a collection among my family members (they were thrilled!). With that money, I had the chance to buy each mother something just for herself and each child a toy. Nothing compares with the smiles on their faces as they opened something joyful and just for them on Christmas morning. For me, those were presents that truly revealed the face of Christ to me. It was a moment of epiphany; of the revelation of God's presence in our midst.

And so, what will we give to Jesus this year – you and me? It doesn't have to be dramatic, it can be very simple. It can be in the extra time we pledge for prayer each day. It can be in the simple ways we make an effort to be more joyful and patient to those around us. It can be by donating some of our money, or better, some of our time, to reach out to those in need in our midst. It can be simply in any way that helps us reveal Christ more profoundly in our world. And so, what will you give?

St. Augustine famously said of the Eucharist, “We become what we receive.” In others words, we receive the Body of Christ in the Eucharist so that we may become the Body of Christ – the Real Presence of Jesus in our world; an epiphany; a real manifestation of God in the world and among the people around us.
How will you become the presence of Christ to those you meet? What will you give to Jesus this year? Let us all not merely celebrate epiphany this year; let us become epiphany in our world.

Merry Christmas and may God give you peace!

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