Saturday, October 31, 2015

Just like us


Let me begin today with a bit of an informal poll. How many here are saints or want to be saints? And, how many here would like to go to Heaven at the end of our lives?

“Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?” Today on this Solemnity of All Saints, this question that we heard proclaimed from the Book of Revelation echoes out to us, “Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?” Or perhaps, closer to our own language, who are these saints that we celebrate today and how did they become saints?

It’s hard to believe that Saint Pope John Paul II passed away 10 years ago already, but you might remember the amazing scene of his funeral attended by millions in Rome and televised around the world. One of the incredible parts of that Mass were the numerous signs and the vocal chants in St. Peter’s Square of, “Santo Subito!” or loosely translated, “Make him a saint immediately.” The late, great Holy Father had lived such a public life that witnessed to holiness that those gathered to lay him to rest could do nothing less than acclaim the sanctity of this holy man who lived in our day, in our time, in our midst. “Santo Subito” proclaimed the widespread popular belief that John Paul had lived the kind of life that made him a saint in God’s presence, and thus worthy of the Church’s veneration as a saint.

But, “who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?” The great message of this celebration today, is that they, my brothers and sisters, are us. All Saints Day is not a celebration of the few-and-far-between who have attained the glory of heaven. It is a celebration of our common call to follow Jesus, to be holy, to live the life of the saints. My questions about going to Heaven and becoming saints are the same question. If you want to go to Heaven you are saying that you want to be a saint. It should be the common call of each one of us.

I was in a conversation with someone a few days ago who was speaking about their devotion to St. Therese and how they felt a closeness to her. This person remarked, “But, this is ridiculous. St. Therese is close to God. With all of my sins, how could I feel close to her?” We often focus on the closeness of the saints to God and the way that they exemplified that godliness in their lives. Yes, the saints are like God.

But, there is another critical aspect of the lives of saints that we are called to remember especially today – the saints are also like us. They did not enter into the world as perfect and holy. They did not receive an extra dose of God’s grace to become the holy women and men that they were. They did not receive something that we have not. They are just like us. They were born into families. They had joys and struggles. They had sins and spiritual victories. But, in the end, they lived lives that were more and more journeys toward the Lord. They made God the priority and followed His will; His path; His call. And, so can we.

How do we become saints? Jesus has given us the best instructions for attaining the sainthood our hearts desire. “Those in white robes” we heard about in the first reading have followed that good instruction. And they are crowned as God’s heroes, God’s holy ones. What instruction did they follow? The same we heard in the Gospel: the Beatitudes. Blessed, or saintly, are we when we are poor in spirit, when we mourn, when we are meek, when we hunger and thirst for righteousness, when we are merciful, and clean of heart, when we are peacemakers, or persecuted for the sake of righteousness. These are God’s best instructions for living as followers of Jesus Christ, as saints-in-training. “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”

Few of us would expect “Santo Subito” signs at our funeral. If we are honest, we know that we often fail at fully following the Gospel teaching of Jesus. But, God has given us the same grace, the same call, the same possibility as all of those who have been memorialized in the statues in our church and the stained glass of our windows. They were just like us and we can be just like them. The only difference is our choice. It’s up to us to live as though we too will one day be saints.

Today, on this festival day in honor of all the saints, named and unnamed, the veil between our earthly world and the heavenly world parts just a little bit. With the eyes of faith, we get some glimpse of the happiness and glory to which God has called his innumerable sons and daughters throughout the ages; the glory he calls us to as well. Let us all live as though destined for that same glory. Leon Bloy wrote, “There is only one sadness in life: not to be a saint.”

“Who are these wearing white robes?” My friends, perhaps they are us.

May the Lord give you peace.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Freed by compassion | Pope Francis

NOTE: Below are some selections from the Homily of Pope Francis on Sunday marking the closing of the Synod on the Family. It was a powerful reflection for the synod fathers and I think for all of us. The emphasis added is mine as these are the parts that moved me.  Read the full homily here. - FT

Bartimaeus is freed thanks to Jesus’ compassion. Jesus has just left Jericho. Even though he has only begun his most important journey, which will take him to Jerusalem, he still stops to respond to Bartimaeus’ cry. Jesus is moved by his request and becomes involved in his situation. He is not content to offer him alms, but rather wants to personally encounter him. He does not give him any instruction or response, but asks him: “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mk 10:51). It might seem a senseless question: what could a blind man wish for if not his sight? Yet, with this question made face to face, direct but respectful, Jesus shows that he wants to hear our needs. He wants to talk with each of us about our lives, our real situations, so that nothing is kept from him. After Bartimaeus’ healing, the Lord tells him: “Your faith has made you well” (v. 52). It is beautiful to see how Christ admires Bartimaeus’ faith, how he has confidence in him. He believes in us, more than we believe in ourselves.

There is an interesting detail. Jesus asks his disciples to go and call Bartimaeus. They address the blind man with two expressions, which only Jesus uses in the rest of the Gospel. First they say to him: “Take heart!”, which literally means “have faith, strong courage!”. Indeed, only an encounter with Jesus gives a person the strength to face the most difficult situations. The second expression is “Rise!”, as Jesus said to so many of the sick, whom he took by the hand and healed. His disciples do nothing other than repeat Jesus’ encouraging and liberating words, leading him directly to Jesus, without lecturing him. 

Jesus’ disciples are called to this, even today, especially today: to bring people into contact with the compassionate Mercy that saves. When humanity’s cry, like Bartimaeus’, becomes stronger still, there is no other response than to make Jesus’ words our own and, above all, imitate his heart. Moments of suffering and conflict are for God occasions of mercy. Today is a time of mercy!

There are, however, some temptations for those who follow Jesus. Today’s Gospel shows at least two of them. 

None of the disciples stopped, as Jesus did. They continued to walk, going on as if nothing were happening. If Bartimaeus was blind, they were deaf: his problem was not their problem. This can be a danger for us: in the face of constant problems, it is better to move on, instead of letting ourselves be bothered. In this way, just like the disciples, we are with Jesus but we do not think like him. We are in his group, but our hearts are not open. We lose wonder, gratitude and enthusiasm, and risk becoming habitually unmoved by grace. We are able to speak about him and work for him, but we live far from his heart, which is reaching out to those who are wounded. 

This is the temptation: a “spirituality of illusion”: we can walk through the deserts of humanity without seeing what is really there; instead, we see what we want to see. We are capable of developing views of the world, but we do not accept what the Lord places before our eyes. A faith that does not know how to root itself in the life of people remains arid and, rather than oases, creates other deserts.

There is a second temptation, that of falling into a “scheduled faith”. We are able to walk with the People of God, but we already have our schedule for the journey, where everything is listed: we know where to go and how long it will take; everyone must respect our rhythm and every problem is a bother. 

We run the risk of becoming the “many” of the Gospel who lose patience and rebuke Bartimaeus. 

Just a short time before, they scolded the children (cf. 10:13), and now the blind beggar: whoever bothers us or is not of our stature is excluded. 

Jesus, on the other hand, wants to include, above all those kept on the fringes who are crying out to him. 

They, like Bartimaeus, have faith, because awareness of the need for salvation is the best way of encountering Jesus.

In the end, Bartimaeus follows Jesus on his path (cf. v. 52). He did not only regain his sight, but he joined the community of those who walk with Jesus. Dear Synod Fathers, we have walked together. Thank you for the path we have shared with our eyes fixed on Jesus and our brothers and sisters, in the search for the paths which the Gospel indicates for our times so that we can proclaim the mystery of family love. Let us follow the path that the Lord desires. Let us ask him to turn to us with his healing and saving gaze, which knows how to radiate light, as it recalls the splendour which illuminates it. Never allowing ourselves to be tarnished by pessimism or sin, let us seek and look upon the glory of God, which shines forth in men and women who are fully alive.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Jesus, I want to see!


A healer came to the local church for a healing service and people came out in droves to be prayed over in the hopes of being healed. A young man had been in line for a long time when finally it was his turn. The healer looked at him and asked him what he would like prayed over. “Preacher, it is my hearing,” the young man said. So with great drama, the healer grabbed the young man’s ears and said many excited prayers. Finally, he let go of the young man and asked, “How’s your hearing now?” Shaken, the young man said, “I don’t know. I don’t go to court for my hearing until Friday.”

Last week was one year that I have lived here in New York City. Prior to moving here I lived in Boston, also a wonderful city, but on a much smaller scale than the Big Apple. In Boston, I would encounter the homeless and the hungry on the streets certainly on a daily basis and would try to find some way to reach out to them. Sometimes I would have some food to give, sometimes a little bit of spare change, sometimes just a moment or two to chat or just offer a “God bless you.” What I have been struggling with since moving here to New York are the sheer multiplication of so many people in similar situations. Where previously I might encounter one or two a day, here we walk past one or two every city block or so. What is a Christian to do? What is God asking of us in the face of this massive need?

I was thinking of this as I reflected on the healing story that we are presented today from Mark’s Gospel – the healing of the blind Bartimaeus. I was thinking of this because there is something very unique about this particular healing story in the Gospels. Of all of the healing stories that we hear in the Gospels, this is the only one where we are told the name of the person that Jesus heals and so that name must hold some significance. In fact, Mark mentions the name twice – once in Aramaic and once in Greek: Bartimaeus. The fact that Mark is mentioning the name tells us that the name is a clue to understanding the point that he is trying to make in the story.

So, what’s in a name? Well, in the ancient world, a name expressed not only the identity of the person, but also the personality or destiny of a person. In Aramaic, Bartimaeus means "son of defilement." And so, Bartimaeus could be a nickname given to him because he was a blind beggar and popular theology of the time believed blindness to be a punishment from God for sin or defilement. But in Greek, Bartimaeus could also be understood as "son of honor" possibly indicating his inner nature and destiny. By giving us the name with its double meaning, Mark tells us something important. Bartimaeus is supposed to be a man of honor but is being treated as a man of defilement. What Jesus did for him, therefore, was not simply healing his physical sight but, over and above that, restoring his God-given destiny and dignity. “Take courage; get up! Jesus is calling you!” This story is far more about healing his soul, his dignity, his perceptions, than merely his eyesight.

And, I think, this is the challenge for us today too. Bartimaeus is all around us. We encounter Bartimaeus in the many homeless and hungry on the streets each day; we see him in the people that we have marginalized because of their race, their ethnicity, their gender, their orientation, their immigration status, or silly things like the color of their hair or the clothes they wear. There are any number of people that we encounter regularly who we have determined - either as a society or as individuals – are sons and daughters of defilement; not worthy of our time, our concern, our care, our compassion, our affection. But, to any of those attitudes that reside in us, Jesus says today that we should see them as sons and daughters of honor, of dignity, of goodness, of holiness, and of glory.

This is where true and lasting healing lies – in lifting up hearts that were broken, in reconciling relationships that were shattered, in seeking out forgiveness when we have wronged another, in looking into the eyes of someone that the world has forgotten and saying, “I see you. You have value and dignity. You are loved and treasured in my eyes and in the eyes of God.”

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked Bartimaeus. May our answer be the same as his, “I want to see.” Jesus, Son of David, have pity on us for the times when we have been blinded to your presence around us; especially in those who need our presence, our care, our compassion. Give us the strength to see their dignity as sons and daughters of honor; as sons and daughters of God. Master, we want to see.

May the Lord give you peace.

Monday, October 19, 2015

"Listening is more than hearing" | Pope Francis

NOTE: This will go down as among the greatest teaching moments of Pope Francis. I think we are, at last, seeing the full implementation of the Second Vatican Council come to fruition - a church that respects and listens to all her voices. "Listening is more than hearing."  - FT

Your Beatitudes, Your Eminences, Your Excellencies, Brothers and Sisters,
It is a joy for all of us, while the Ordinary General Assembly is in full swing, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the institution of the Synod of Bishops, for which we praise and thank the Lord. From the Second Vatican Council until the present Assembly, we have experienced more and more intensely the necessity and beauty of “walking together”.
On such a happy occasion I would like to offer my heartfelt greetings to His Eminence Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, the Secretary General, as well as the Under-Secretary, Mgr. Fabio Fabene, the Staff, Consultors and other people who work in the General Secretariate of the Synod of Bishops, those we never see, who work each day until late at night. As well as them, I would like to greet the Synod Fathers and other participants in the current Assembly, and everyone else who is here, and thank them all for their presence in this Hall.
At this point we should also like to remember those who, through these 50 years, have worked at the service of the Synod, beginning with the successive Secretaries General: Cardinals Władysław Rubin, Jozef Tomko, Jan Pieter Schotte and Archbishop Nikola Eterović. I take this opportunity to express my heartfelt gratitude to all those, living or dead, who have dedicated themselves generously and competently to implementing the work of the Synod.
From the beginning of my ministry as Bishop of Rome, it has been my aim to make the most of the Synod, which is one of the most precious legacies of the last Council. For Blessed Paul VI, the Synod of Bishops was meant to represent the image of the ecumenical Council and reflect its spirit and method. He himself foresaw that the structure of the Synod would “be able to be greatly improved with the passage of time”. Twenty years later, Saint John Paul II echoed his words, when he said, “perhaps this instrument can be improved further. Perhaps collegial pastoral responsibility can be expressed even more completely in the Synod”. Finally, in 2006, Benedict XVI approved some variations to the Ordo Synodi Episcoporum, taking into account the Code of Canon Law and the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, which had been promulgated in the meantime. 
We must go further along this road. The world in which we live, and which we are called to love and serve even with its contradictions, requires the Church to develop synergies in every area of her mission. The path of the synod is exactly what God wants from His Church in the third Millennium.
What the Lord wants is, in a certain way, already contained in the word “Synod”. Walking together – lay people, pastors, the Bishop of Rome – a concept which is easy to put into words, but not so easy to put into practice.
After reaffirming that the People of God consists of all the baptised, called to be “a spiritual house and a holy priesthood” , the Second Vatican Council proclaims that “the entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One (Cf. 1 John 2,20 & 27), cannot err in matters of belief. They manifest this special property by means of the whole people’s supernatural discernment in matters of faith when ‘from the Bishops down to the last of the lay faithful’ they show universal agreement in matters of faith and morals”. That famous infallible “in credendo”.
In the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium I stressed that “the People of God is holy thanks to this anointing, which makes it infallible in credendo”, adding that “all the baptised, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelisation, and it would be insufficient to envisage a plan of evangelisation carried out by professionals while the rest of the faithful would simply be passive recipients”. The sensus fidei prevents a rigid separation between Ecclesia docens and Ecclesia discens, since even the Flock has a certain “nose” for discerning the new ways the Lord makes known to the Church .
It was this conviction that led me to express my desire that the People of God should be consulted in the preparation of the two parts of the Synod on the family, as happens and has usually happened with every Lineamenta document. Such a consultation could never be sufficient to hear the sensus fidei. But how would it have been possible to speak of the family without involving families, hearing of their joys and hopes, sadnesses and fears? Through the answers to the questionnaires sent to local Churches, we have been able to listen to some of them, at least, on questions close to their hearts, about which they have much to say.
A synodal Church is a listening Church, aware that listening “is more than hearing”. It means listening to each other where both have something to learn. Faithful People, the College of Bishops, the Bishop of Rome: each one listening to the others; and all listening to the Holy Spirit, the “Spirit of Truth” (John 14,17), in order to know what He is “saying to the Churches” (Rev 2,7).
The Synod of Bishops is the point of convergence of this dynamic of listening carried out at all levels of the Church. The synodal path begins with listening to the People, which “shares also in Christ’s prophetic office”, according to a principle dear to the Church of the first Millennium: “what affects everyone must be dealt with by everyone”. 
The path of the Synod continues with listening to the Pastors. Through the Synod Fathers, Bishops act as authentic custodians, interpreters and witnesses of the faith of the whole Church, which they have to know how to distinguish carefully from the often changeable tides of public opinion. On the eve of last year’s Synod, I said, “for the Synod Fathers we ask the Holy Spirit first of all for the gift of listening: to listen to God, that with Him we may hear the cry of the people; to listen to the people until breathing in the will to which God calls us”. Finally, the path of the Synod culminates in listening to the Bishop of Rome, called to speak as “Pastor and Teacher of all Christians”: not starting from his personal convictions, but as the supreme witness of the fides totius Ecclesiae, “guarantor of the obedience and the conformity of the Church to the will of God, to the Gospel of Christ, and to the Tradition of the Church”.
The fact that the Synod always acts cum Petro et sub Petro – so not only cum Petro, but also sub Petro – is not a limitation of freedom, but a guarantee of unity. Actually the Pope is, by the Lord’s will, “the perpetual and visible principle and foundation of unity of the Bishops and the faithful”. To this is added the concept of “hierarchica communio” used by the Second Vatican Council: Bishops are joined to the Bishop of Rome by the bond of communion (cum Petro) and at the same time they are hierarchically subject to Him as Head of the College (sub Petro).
Synodality, as an integral dimension of the Church, offers us the most suitable interpretative framework for understanding hierarchical ministry itself. If we understand that, as Saint John Chrysostom says, “Church and Synod are synonyms” – because the Church is nothing other than God’s Flock “walking together” on the paths of history to meet Christ the Lord – we also understand that within her no one can be “lifted” above the others. On the contrary, in the Church someone needs to “lower himself” to place himself at the service of his brothers along the way.
Jesus set up His Church placing at its apex the College of Apostles, in which the Apostle Peter is the “rock” (cf. Matthew 16,18), the one who must “confirm” his brothers in the faith (cf. Luke 22,32). But in this Church, as in an inverted pyramid, the apex is below the base. That is why those who exercise authority are called “ministers”: because, according to the original meaning of the word, they are the least of all. It is in serving the People of God that each Bishop becomes, for the portion of the Flock entrusted to him, vicarius Christi , the vicar of that Jesus who bent down at the Last Supper to wash the feet of the Apostles (cf. John 13,1-15). In a similar perspective, the Successor of Peter is himself only the servus servorum Dei.
Let us never forget it! For the disciples of Jesus, yesterday, today and always, the only authority is the authority of service, the only power is the power of the Cross, according to the Master’s words: “You know that among the pagans their so-called rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. This is not to happen among you. No: anyone who wants to be first among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all” (Mark 42-45). This is not to happen among you: in this expression we arrive at the very heart of the mystery of the Church – “this is not to happen among you” – and we receive the light we need to understand hierarchical service.
In a synodal Church, the Synod of Bishops is only the clearest manifestation of a dynamic of communion which inspires all ecclesial decisions.
The first level of the exercise of synodality happens in particular Churches. After recalling the noble institution of diocesan Synods, in which priests and lay people are called to work with the Bishop for the good of the whole ecclesial community , the Code of Canon Law devotes a fair amount of space to what have come to be known as “organs of communion” in a particular Church: the Council of Priests, the College of Consultors, the Chapter of Canons and the Pastoral Council. It is only to the extent to which these organs stay connected to the “bottom” and start from the people, from everyday questions, that a synodal Church begins to take shape: we need to get the most out of these instruments, which sometimes lumber along, as opportunities for for listening and sharing.
The second level is that of Provinces and Ecclesiastical Regions, Particular Councils and especially Episcopal Conferences . We must reflect further in order to bring about, by means of these bodies, intermediate examples of collegiality, perhaps by integrating and bringing up to date some aspects of the old ecclesiastical order. The Council’s hope that such bodies contribute to the growth of the spirit of episcopal collegiality has still not been fully brought about. We have got half way, or part of the way. In a synodal Church, as I have already said, “it is not advisable for the Pope to take the place of local Bishops in the discernment of every issue which arises in their territory. In this sense, I am conscious of the need to promote a sound ‘decentralisation’”.
The last level is that of the universal Church. Here the Synod of Bishops, representing the Catholic episcopate, becomes an expression of episcopal collegiality within a fully synodal Church . Two different words: “episcopal collegiality” and “fully synodal Church”. It manifests collegialitas affectiva, which can in some circumstances become “effective”, linking the Bishops to each other and to the Pope in care for the People of God.
Committing ourselves to building a synodal Church – a mission to which we are all called, each one in the role the Lord gives him – is pregnant with ecumenical implications. For this reason, when I was speaking recently to a delegation from the Patriarchate of Constantinople, I reaffirmed my conviction that “the careful examination of how in the Church the principle of synodality and the service of the one who presides are articulated, will make a significant contribution to the progress of relations between our Churches”.
I am convinced that, in a synodal Church, greater light will be shed on the exercise of Petrine primacy. The Pope does not stand alone, above the Church; but inside her, as a baptised person among the baptised and inside the College of Bishops as a Bishop among the Bishops, called, at the same time – as successor of the Apostle Peter – to guide the Church of Rome which presides in love over all Churches.
While I reaffirm the necessity and urgency of thinking about “a conversion of the papacy” , I gladly repeat the words of my predecessor Pope John Paul II: “As Bishop of Rome I am fully aware … that Christ ardently desires the full and visible communion of all those communities in which, by virtue of God’s faithfulness, his Spirit dwells. I am convinced that I have a particular responsibility in this regard, above all in acknowledging the ecumenical aspirations of the majority of the Christian communities and in heeding the request made of me to find a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation”.
Our gaze extends to humanity as well. A synodal Church is like a banner raised amongst the nations (cf. Isaiah 11,12) in a world which – while it talks of participation, solidarity and transparency in public affairs – often places the destiny of entire populations in the greedy hands of small power-groups. As a Church which “walks together” towards mankind, participating in the travails of history, we cultivate the dream that the rediscovery of the inviolable dignity of peoples and of authority’s function of service will also be able to help civil society to grow in justice and brotherhood, bringing to birth a more beautiful world that is worthier of mankind for the generations who will follow us. Thank you.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Jesus' guide to success and happiness

In one of the last quotes of his papacy, Pope Emeritus Benedict said, “The world promises you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.” It is at its heart a quote about what we are called to and what constitutes success.

This is also at the heart of our Gospel today. Our passage gives us this grab-for-glory by two of the disciples – James and John – who want a privileged place in the Kingdom; one at the right and one at the left of Jesus. They are grabbing for what they believe to be success – an important position. Jesus turns their question on its head, “You do not know what you’re asking,” He tells them. “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant, whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.”

Alexander Woollcott, a famous alumni of Hamilton College, was asked to speak at the school’s centennial celebration. He gave a memorable speech which began with these words: “Some of you are successes, and some of you are failures - only God knows which are which!” His words are a reminder that in our measurement of success and failure, “God's thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are our ways God's ways.”

This is a timeless message of the Gospel – greatness is found by being the least; success is found in servanthood. Yet, how often we treat that message as quaint and fail to embrace its reality. For example, the Princeton Review reports that Business Management continues to be overwhelmingly the number one college major and the reason given for pursuing it is “to be rich and successful.” And yet, Forbes Magazine reports that the happiest professions in the United States don’t include business jobs. The happiest people are: artists, teachers, physical therapists, firefighters and the number one spot? Clergy! So, what happens when the criteria for success are not the same as the criteria for happiness?

James and John learn the hard way in today's Gospel that success isn’t determined by accomplishments, wealth or status. The measure of our success and consequently happiness is whether or not we are cooperating with God’s plan for us. If there is one thing we know for sure about success, it is this: God created everyone for success. As Pope Benedict said, we are created for greatness. God did not create anyone for failure. But, we have to make our measure, God’s measure. For most people, as for James and John, success means to be head of the pack. To succeed means to excel. Success is measured by comparing one's achievements against “competitors.” That’s why James and John go to Jesus and instead of asking that they be granted a place in His kingdom, they ask for prime position. Jesus teaches them a new meaning of success.

Success means realizing and fulfilling God's dream for you. There can be no life happier than that. Jesus is inviting us not to compete, but to cooperate with Him. He is inviting us not to plot for conquest, but to learn to listen to the plan that God speaks to our hearts.

James and John, on the other hand, represent the mentality of our world today which encourages unbridled ambition, rather than seeking to discern God's will for our lives. It encourages rivalry and unhealthy competition, rather than cooperation and the contentment of realizing that when we become servant to one another we can all succeed.

God has more than enough dreams to go round, a different dream for everyone here today, a different dream for every single person in the world – throughout all of time. Our ambition, our goal in life should be simply and only this: to discover and live God's dream for us. And that, my brothers and sisters, is the only true measure of success and happiness: what would God have me do. But to vie and struggle with one another over the same dreams; to be jealous and envious over what someone else has or is – that is failure. And so, if we don’t fulfill God’s dream for us – who will?

The actor Denzel Washington said, "Success? I don't know what that word means. I'm happy. For me, success is inner peace. That's a good day for me." May the same be true for us. “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.” May we all achieve the greatness that God has destined us for.

May the Lord give you peace!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Loving as God loves


A couple had been married for 60 years and had no secrets except one: The woman kept in her closet a shoe box that she forbade her husband from opening. On her deathbed, she allowed him to open the box and he found a crocheted doll and $95,000 in cash. “My mother told me that the secret to a happy marriage was to never argue,” she explained. “Instead, I should keep quiet and crochet a doll.” Her husband was touched. Only one doll was in the box. He figured that meant she’d only been angry with him once in 60 years. “So what about all this money?” he asked. “Oh,” she said, “that’s the money I made from selling the dolls.”

This week, coming off of the excitement of the visit of Pope Francis, our media quickly became wrapped up in a made-for-TV scandal reporting that Pope Francis apparently had a private visit with Kim Davis, the embattled town clerk from Kentucky who refuses to fulfill her duty by not issuing same-sex marriage licenses there. Was the Pope’s meeting with her an endorsement of her position and her cause as she claims? The Vatican was quick to clarify that the Pope had not asked for the meeting and it was little more than one of dozens of quick meet-and-greets that the Pope engages in while traveling. In fact, the only planned audience he had was with a gay friend of his, a former student from Argentina, and his longtime partner.

The timing of all of this is interesting as we gather today for Mass. We heard our Scriptures speak of God’s hopes and dreams for the way we are to live with one another. Also today, the Cardinals of the Church have gathered in Rome to begin the Synod on the Family which hopes to tackle issues of strengthening family life as well as the way we talk about our divorced and remarried brothers and sisters, and our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.

All of this raises a number of the problems that we face in our culture. Yes, the family as God dreams and imagines it is threatened. Yes, it has an impact on our society, and that impact is harmful. But, the problem isn’t with the laws of ours or any other nation. The problem isn’t a conspiracy by politicized groups to threaten the dignity and sanctity of marriage. The problem is the increasingly polarized and antagonizing way that we have come to relate to one another – not just in families and in loving relationships, but in virtually every aspect of our common life together.

There is something wrong with the way too many people in our world relate to one another today. The key to this problem is the profound lack of kindness, compassion, care and joy that is so often missing from our lives and from our world. The problem is that we increasingly fail to see ourselves as connected; as related; as concerned with and for one another. The problem is with the way that we impersonally interact and treat family and relationship like a commodity or in a purely material manner.

Just take a look at the reality TV shows that proclaim to be about love and relationships. There’s “Joe Millionaire” where women try and woo a man who they believe to be rich pursuing the relationship for money. There’s a show called “The Love Test” in which a couple purposely puts themselves in situations of temptation to see if there love will survive. “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” likewise turn the process of love and marriage into a competition. Then there’s the show, “Cheaters” which turns infidelity into entertainment for the masses. There’s “Who Wants to Marry My Dad” in which children judge the competition of women vying to marry their father. Fox has, “Married By America,” where you can call in and vote by phone on who should be married. There’s “Married At First Sight” which has people who have never met and are paired to see if it will last. There’s shows like “Race to the Altar,” “Meet My Folks,” “Love Stories,” “Love Shack,” “Love Cruise,” “Manhunt,” and more than you can imagine. Surely, this isn’t God’s plan for us?

To all of this God speaks some loving words to us today in Scripture. He says, “It is not good to be alone.” He says, “The two shall become one.” What He says to us is essentially this – you are connected, you are related, you must care for one another. Care for those who are closest to you; care for those you don’t know. Care for those who are on the margins because of their poverty or homelessness or hunger. Care even for those who are your enemies. Because of your common origin in Me, you are all related. See each other as brother and sister; as related and loved.

Just last night in St. Peter’s Square in a prayer service as a prelude to the Synod which begins today Pope Francis said, “A Church which is family is able to show the closeness and love of a father…A Church of children who see themselves as brothers and sisters, will never end up considering anyone simply as a burden, a problem, an expense, a concern or a risk. Other people are essentially a gift, and always remain so, even when they walk different paths. The Church is an open house, far from outward pomp, hospitable in the simplicity of her members. That is why she can appeal to the longing for peace present in every man and woman, including those who – amid life’s trials – have wounded and suffering hearts. This Church can indeed light up the darkness felt by so many men and women.”

This, my brothers and sisters, is God’s plan for each of us. Our good and loving God desires for us to be in a relationship first with Him – one that is built on faithfulness, timelessness and the gift of life. And, He calls us to mirror those same things – life, love, fidelity, commitment and sacrifice – in all of the relationships we have in life.

Pope Francis is calling us to have a bigger picture than the small partisan squabbles we usually engage in; and he is also calling us to have bigger hearts that can embrace and love as God loves; that can see and care as God cares; that can be part of transforming this world of darkness into the kingdom of light that Jesus came to inaugurate in our midst. We are being called to live relationships – within marriage, with the person we love, within families, with the stranger and even our enemies – that have Christ at the center; that Christ Himself be the lens through which we live our lives. Having the courage to do this will make all the difference in our lives; will make all the difference in the world. That is God’s plan for us.

It is not good to be alone, and thank God, we have each other, we have our God, we have our Church. What God has united, let no one divide.

May the Lord give you peace.

Changing the impossible

HOMILY FOR THE 2nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, January 20, 2019: When my parents got married more than 50 years ago, my Mom came from a pract...