Sunday, November 25, 2018

God is not done with us yet!

At the closing Masses for Holy Rosary and Holy Cross churches, Fall River, MA:

As we gather in this beautiful church today, we have to acknowledge that there is a sadness hanging over our city, and over this place. We gather today for the final Mass in this beautiful church and we know that we are not alone – this weekend also marks the final Masses at three of our Catholic Churches here in Fall River – Holy Rosary, Holy Cross, and St. Anne’s. There is a sadness that hangs over us and it is heavy. It has to be acknowledged and honored – but I believe it also needs to be infused with a note of hope.

Our hope is based on the great legacy of this church and its people, and the effect this legacy has had in so many lives. This legacy began with the founders of this church - women and men of deep Catholic faith. They came to this spot in the city and they built a church that reflected the needs of the community. They were people for whom God was the center of their lives. And they, and the generations that came after them – right up until you and me here today – kept the doors of this church open to respond to the faith needs of not just this community, but really of the world.

And, they did incredible things in the name of faith. So many of you have shared the wonderful stories of faith with me over these last many weeks – stories that have spanned generations. This Church welcomed those came through her doors. Here countless many were baptized and confirmed so that they would know Christ, and bring Christ to all those around them. They were married here, buried from here, lived their lives with this Church as its center. Every moment from the day the doors of this church opened until today has honored the legacy of the good people of faith who have called themselves members of Holy Rosary and Holy Cross Church. And for this legacy, and the difference it has made, we are profoundly, deeply grateful. It is a legacy that has shaped and molded so many into the people they are today.

In the midst of the sadness of this day, as I have prayed about my words today, God has consistently been putting something else on my heart – a note of hope that has been with me so strongly that I have to share it with you today. My friends, what I keep hearing in my heart in prayer is simply this – God is not done with us yet. 

I keep thinking of the story of Abraham in the book of Genesis. In chapter 12, we hear, “The Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.’”

Today may be the sad day that the doors of this church building close, but it is also a day in which God is renewing His call in each of our hearts – He still needs us to be His hands to the poor around us, He still needs us to be His voice to those who have not yet heard His word; He still needs us to be His presence to those in sorrow, His love that is the only antidote to the darkness of our world. He still needs us to go from this place and bring its legacy of faith to other parts of our city that need our holy presence.

In the story of Abraham, God gave him difficult news that was a challenge for him to hear – God told him to leave the place he knew, the place he’d always lived, the surroundings that were familiar, the faces that he knew and knew him. But, God didn’t just tell Abraham to leave. He told him that there was something new waiting for him – something full of blessings that Abraham could not imagine. Surely at this message, Abraham was scared. Surely, he was unsure. Perhaps he was angry, and just maybe he didn’t even really believe it. I’m sure that, like us, today, some part of him wanted to hold on to all he knew and stay there in that place forever.

But I also know something else – he went. And God accomplished in Abraham everything that He promised. God promised him a legacy of descendants who were greater in number than the stars of the sky, or grains of sand in the sea. You and I are those grains of sand, we are those shining bright stars. And although today we are being called to go from this place, God is not done with us yet. And what God did for Abraham and Sarah, God will do for those of us who are his legacy.

You and those who have come before you for more than a century in this church have done everything possible to honor the legacy of faith here. You’ve done it by loving your neighbor. You’ve done it by being good stewards of this place. You’ve done it by being men and women of forgiveness and compassion, kindness and joy. You’ve done it by trusting that God never forgets His children, and always leads them where they should go.

As we leave here today, one last time, may we renew our commitment to carry our legacy with us – wherever God is leading us. Carry that legacy as people who serve God and our neighbors. Carry that legacy as we join another community of faith. My deepest prayer is that you will continue to be a part of the Cathedral parish, one of the parishes of our new collaborative, or one of the many other beautiful churches in our city. We need you. God needs you. God is not done with us yet.

Next week as we celebrate the First Sunday of Advent, we will all begin anew. We will engage this journey as we do each year with the Holy Family – another family who were called by God to leave the home they knew to embark on a new adventure. I know that it is not easy to leave this place, but if we do it with God at our side, He will journey with us, and lead us to blessings we could have never before imagined.

God's words to Abram, I think, are also His words to us today, “I will make of you a great people, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” to all who encounter you. My friends, God is not done with us yet. Let us step into this new chapter together.

May God bless the people of Holy Rosary and Holy Cross churches. And, may the Lord give you peace.


Saturday, November 17, 2018

The end is near!!


Two priests were fishing on the side of the road one day. They thoughtfully made a sign saying, “The End is Near! Turn around now before it’s too late!” and showed it to each passing car. One driver didn’t appreciate the sign and shouted, “Leave us alone!” The car sped by and then all of a sudden the priests heard a big splash. They looked at each other and the one holding the sign said, “Maybe we should just write ‘Bridge Out Ahead’?”

We find ourselves today in the final weeks of our Church year, and our readings echo the same theme to us, “The end is near!” Next Sunday, we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King, and a week later, the First Sunday of Advent. We will begin again the great cycle that recalls the history of our salvation beginning with the prophets, leading on to the birth of our Savior, recalling His death, His resurrection, His words and His saving deeds. But, before we get there, we’ll spend these days reminding ourselves about endings. The end is near!

The Church gives us this annual cycle not just as a reminder; but in the hopes that we will find ourselves in it. We don’t simply, once again, tell the story of Jesus. Instead, we’re meant to hear that story and realize that it is our story too. We’re meant to live it. We don’t only recall Jesus birth, but Jesus becomes born in us again. We not only recall Jesus suffering and death on the cross, but we see ourselves on that cross with Jesus, we find Him present in the midst of our own suffering, helping us make meaning of it and uniting it to His sanctifying grace. We not only recall that Jesus rose from the dead and returned to the Father in Heaven, but we become resurrected people. We feel that resurrection Jesus offers us in the midst of the struggles of our own lives, we praise God for the gift of the ultimate resurrection when we too will join Him and all who have gone before us in the glory of Heaven. 

Hopefully, we have had some powerful moments of connection with that great story over course of the last year. Today, our Scriptures call us to reflect on that. Just like any journey when we reach our destination, we look back at where we’ve been and evaluate what kind of journey it has been. Today and over the next two weeks we should be asking ourselves: How has this year been? Have our spiritual lives grown in ways we could have never imagined? Or, upon reflection, do we realize that just maybe we haven’t gone anywhere, still stuck in the same spot we were last year? Have we become better people, holier people, more Christ-like people? How has God’s Word, and the Body and Blood of Jesus changed and transformed?

In our First Reading, Daniel recalls some hard times for God’s people. Daniel writes about 500 years before Christ. Wars and distress are all around. In the midst of this turmoil what do we hear from Daniel? Words of doubt, words of fear, words of anger? No, we hear that God will take care of His people. “The wise shall shine brightly…and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever,” he writes. In the midst of challenge and distress, Daniel calls the people to trust their faith in God and live accordingly. Though wars and disasters whirl around them, God will send them Michael, the Prince and guardian to defend them.

In our Gospel, Jesus, too, speaks about the end times. He also speaks of wars and distress. In the midst of this, the Son of God, will come with power and glory to offer salvation to God’s people. He uses that image of the fig tree pointing out that if we can pay attention to natural signs and adjust our lives accordingly; we should do the same when we see the signs of our salvation. We are called to be alert and active – to be ready – so that when the end comes, our names will be worthy of the Book of Life, and we too will make our way to Heaven.

My friends, today we are called once again to renew our trust in the Lord. As we look back on the past year, we probably have experienced some joys and triumphs, as well as some storms and distress. Our trust tells us that ultimately – whatever the tribulation or the triumph, God is always present with us, God is always leading us and guiding us, and God will always in the end save us.

Today, especially as we receive the Blessed Sacrament, let us again invite Jesus to be born in our hearts and made new. Let us unite all of our struggles, challenges, trials and tribulations with Him on the cross. Let us welcome the newness of life that He offers us through the resurrection both today and at the end of our days. My friends, “Learn a lesson from the fig tree.” Read the signs of our own spiritual lives. And let us pray in trust the words of our Psalm, “I set the LORD ever before me; with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed.”

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Giving it all away


A man died suddenly and found himself in front of St. Peter. “Welcome. I just have to take a look in the Book of Life to see if you can enter heaven.” St. Peter shook his head discouragingly. “It doesn’t look too good, my friend. It appears you’ve never done anything for anyone but yourself. You’ve been greedy, selfish, and power hungry. I’m not sure we can let you in.” The man, now worried, said, “How about the time that I came across the woman who was being harassed by a group of bikers? I grabbed a baseball bat, went right up to them and said, ‘Leave the woman alone or you’ll have to deal with me.’” St. Peter looked at the book again and said, “Well that is impressive. But, I don’t see it in my Book. When did that happen?” The man said, “About three minutes ago.”

My friends, it is never too late to give all that we have. We heard in our Gospel passage, “She, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.” Today’s Gospel sets two completely different images side-by-side for us. First we see the scribes with their long robes, the many honors they receive, and their great skill at praying, and behind them, rich people making large offerings. The second image is of this woman, a widow, who makes an offering of two small coins worth mere pennies. And because it is easy to overlook a penny lying in the street, it could be easy for the people to overlook this widow and her contribution.

But Jesus focuses our attention on her and her coins because Jesus sees something of His own life in this woman. Jesus says, “She, from her poverty, has contributed all that she had, her whole livelihood.” Or as other translations put it more plainly, “She has given her whole life.” The woman’s gift is a reflection of Jesus own life. She gave everything she had; even those meager coins; and in turn she was blessed by the Lord. Just as Jesus will Himself give His very life for us. It reminds me of a quote of St. Francis of Assisi who said, “Hold back nothing of yourself for yourself, so that He who gave Himself completely to you, may receive you completely.”

In Mark’s Gospel, this story comes just before the events of Holy Week; days before Jesus will give His whole life on the cross. Jesus turns our attention to the woman because in her, as in Jesus, we discover that the Kingdom of God is found not in holding on to what we have, but in letting it all go. As Jesus says repeatedly, “Those who want to save their life will lose it. And those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

This is a lesson we all need to hear. We may suffer terrible losses that rob us of those we love, like the widow. We may grieve, and we may mourn, we may face every kind of struggle, challenge and strife in life and we may ask ourselves “Why?” But there is only one way through loss – the way of love. The way through our challenges is by opening our hearts; giving ourselves; holding nothing back; surrendering everything to the Lord.

What are we holding on to that is keeping us from completely embracing the Lord and His all in our lives? We can be held bound by past hurts and grudges; by the things we fail to forgive in others, or the forgiveness we fail to seek. We can be held captive by bad relationships, bad habits – the things we know we need to walk away from if we are to be close with Jesus. The answer for us will be simple – open our hands, open our hearts, open our lives – and then just let it all go. It is then that we create a new space in our hearts that can only be filled by the incredible love that God has for each one of us.

The widow today gives us a glimpse of our life in Christ – hands open, giving all that we have, all that we are, so we can gain the glory that only comes from God. We too are called today to find what she found, that all we have comes from God and should be returned to God. Only then will we have life to the full. We too are called to open our hands and release whatever we are grasping; whatever we are holding; to give all that we are and all that we have to Christ. Only then can we gain the Kingdom He has promised.

“Hold back nothing of yourself for yourself, so that He who gave Himself completely to you, may receive you completely.”

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Won't you be my neighbor?


Our Scriptures today brought to mind a childhood memory. Sing with me if you can: “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine? Could you be mine?” My apologies, that song will now be stuck in your head the rest of the day. If you’re like me, you’ll remember that Fred Rogers welcomed so many of us to his neighborhood every day with that song. As a child, like most, I watched Mr. Rogers Neighborhood every day. Over the years not much changed with the show; it was the same house, the same trolley to take you to the world of make believe, all the same cast of characters. And, always the same, simple question: “Won’t you be my neighbor?”

Today, Jesus is posing the same question to us from our Gospel. In today’s passage a scribe asks Jesus one of the most fundamental questions of faith, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” The textbook answer, of course, is to love the Lord our God with all that we are. But, Jesus does’nt stop there. He goes on to give a more practical answer, one that doesn’t merely satisfy the question, but challenges His listeners to expand their vision of that love to understand that loving God means loving your neighbor.

Jesus makes the point that anyone who loves God must also love their neighbor; and that these are virtually one in the same thing. You cannot truly love God unless that love is made visible in our love of our neighbor. Jesus said: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. [And], you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus challenges a one-dimensional understanding of love that allows religious people to express devotion to God, while ignoring the problems of the real people around them every day. For Jesus, true love has three essential components: the love of God; the love of neighbor; and the love of oneself. The commandment to love your neighbor as yourself presumes that you first love yourself as a beautiful person created in the image and likeness of God. That you see your dignity and beauty as a unique part of what God has created – as unique and beautiful as the oceans, the stars and the sky, the mountains or any other part of the created universe.

Pope Francis, speaking on this same topic, said, “In the middle of the thicket of rules and regulations, Jesus opens a gap that allows you to see two faces: the face of the Father and the face of our brothers and sisters. He doesn't deliver us two formulas or two precepts, but two faces, indeed one face, the face of God reflected in many faces of others, because in the face of each brother and sister, especially in the smallest, the most fragile and the most helpless, the same image of God is present.”

Our world needs this neighborly reminder more today than ever. We don’t have to look further than the ever growing divide between rich and poor, the continuing problem of homelessness, the unjust treatment of immigrants and refugees, the ongoing scourge of racism, prejudice, violence, and war that are so much a part of our world. Not to mention the murder of 11 people praying in a Pittsburgh synagogue last week – all killed simply because of their faith. Ironically, did you know that synagogue is located literally in Mr. Roger’s neighborhood? Fred Rogers lived just a block away from that spot.

Jesus must be wondering what has happened to our neighborhood? To these challenges, the First Letter of John speaks to us, “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”

My friends, let us pray today that God will shake loose from us any indifference we may feel towards our any of our brothers and sisters; any of our neighbors – especially those who are different from us; especially those whom the world rejects; especially those who are most in need; especially those who are persecuted for any reason. Let us ask God to open our eyes to realize when we see the faces of those around us – all those around us – we really see the face of God. Fred Rogers once said, “We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.” My friends, let us all be heroes. Let us all be neighbors. Because when we reach out to each other, we have the chance to touch the very face of God.

“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Won’t you be my neighbor?

May the Lord give you peace.

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