Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Ropes and Persistence

Me on the High Rope Challenge
Readings for Sunday, July 28/ 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time:
Genesis 18:20-32
Psalm 133:1-3, 6-8
Colossians 2:12-14
Luke 11:1-13

For the past few days I have been with eight families from our parish on a trip to north Georgia. In the span of just a couple of days we went whitewater rafting on the Ocoee River, went to an Atlanta Braves baseball game and did a ropes challenge course at the state park where we were staying. Everyone loved the trip because it was time spent together as families doing some exciting activities. The one that in my opinion was most fruitful was the ropes challenge course. It began by splitting us into two groups of eleven. The group I was in took a little walk and arrived at the first challenge: a fifteen foot ladder set up on a tree which led to fifteen feet of large staples in the tree, at the top of which was a pole – like utility pole – connecting that tree to another tree about twenty feet away. I have to be honest when I was in the middle of the pole my legs were shaking so bad the whole pole was shaking with me. I passed, but barely. We had other challenges – lining up on a log and getting in birthday order without speaking or falling off the log, having our whole team walk a cable connected to several trees without falling off, and using a rope swing to move our team and a bucket of water from one bucket to another as a team. The most important, to me, was the spider web. It was a section about seven feet tall and twelve feet wide with ropes all interconnected. The guide then said that we had to get our whole team from one side to the other without touching the ropes and we could use each of the holes in the ‘web’ only once. This required us to pick people up over our heads to be able to complete the course. The challenges were a lot of fun but what impressed me most as that at the end of each one we were asked ‘what did you learn?’ As a group we learned many things – reliance upon one another, recognition of our gifts and not being concerned about being the weak link, following directions, flexibility in planning, communication, being accountable for our own faults, and persistence.

As I reflected on those things they seemed to me not only great attributes in team building but attributes of what we are called to be and recognize in the Church community. We all have to rely upon one another to be able to accomplish anything. When we strove to be individuals we failed in our goals, but when we each exercised our own gifts we were able to accomplish the tasks before us. Sometimes we were the strong link, other times not so much. And it didn’t matter whether we were short or tall, younger or older, male or female. All were able to put their gift to work in some aspect for the good of the whole group. We communicated with one another and built our trust. We had to listen to our guide and follow directions. But the most important things were the accountability. When we were passing through the web and passing others through it, the guide would ask after they went through whether we had touched the rope or not. She wasn’t going to hold us accountable, it had to be us. We had to own up to things. And when we did that, the joy was that much greater. But most important above all was our persistence. If we had just given up on a particular goal then we wouldn’t have learned the other things along the way. We wouldn’t have had the opportunity to grow as individuals and as a group and to rejoice together in the victories that we had attained. And that is what Our Lord Jesus challenges us to today – persistence.

In the Gospel passage we hear Luke’s translation of the Our Father given to the disciples and the call afterward to persist in prayer to the Father. He challenges us to be almost  annoying in our persistence, – if the friend doesn’t give us bread because of friendship he will surely give it from our persistence. Ask, seek, knock. We must be persistent. Not because God doesn’t want to bless us. Indeed He does! After all, Jesus also speaks of the reality of the Father in Heaven wanting to give good things to His children, and even the best thing in the Holy Spirit. God wants to bless us, but He also knows that if we instantly got everything we wanted when we prayed for it that we would quickly become spoiled and that we wouldn’t really have a relationship with a Father so much as a connection with a gift-giver. The persistence that we are called to exhibit in our prayer is not for Him but for us. We need it to strengthen us, to help us value the gifts that we receive and to draw us into relationship with the Father wherein He can bless us even in the ways which we cannot yet conceive.

What’s more is that this persistence is not just in our prayer but in the whole of our lives. The Christian life is not easy. If we think being a Christian is easy, then we’ve failed to truly live the Christian faith. The call to holiness which all of us have received requires us to endure trials, to detach ourselves from the things of this world, and to strive for virtuous living. These are not easy things and yet we are called to them. St. Peter reminds us though that these activities are not in vain but recalls that for those who endure, who persist in this path, we will be saved. We will claim the victory and glory in the gift of eternal life with all of the angels and saints. But we must persist. We must be intentional or all will be lost, including our souls and that would be a great loss indeed.

I want to conclude this homily by quoting a bit from our Holy Father who is currently with over three million youth in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the World Youth Day celebrations. Think about that for a second – three million youth, three million whose faith is being kindled anew to take back to their homes and share with others. I beg you to pray for them and for all youth throughout the world that they may truly be able to come alive in the faith of Jesus Christ and share it with all whom they meet. So, I share these words spoken to them and to all the world. They have encouraged me in my own persistence in my vocation and my faith, and I pray that they might be of some encouragement to you as well.

Just 3.2 Million people at World Youth Day... no big deal...
These are the words of Pope Francis and to each of us he says this: "Today, I would like each of us to ask sincerely: in whom do we place our trust? In ourselves, in material things, or in Jesus? We are all tempted to put ourselves at the centre, to think that we alone build our lives or that our life can only be happy if built on possessions, money, or power. But it is not so. Certainly, possessions, money and power can give a momentary thrill, the illusion of being happy, but they end up possessing us and making us always want to have more, never satisfied. “Put on Christ” in your life, place your trust in him and you will never be disappointed!"

And in another place: "Dear friends, I wish to say to each of you, but especially to all those others who have not had the courage to embark on our journey: You have to want to stand up; this is the indispensible condition! You will find an outstretched hand ready to help you, but no one is able to stand up in your place. But you are never alone! The Church and so many people are close to you. Look ahead with confidence."

And again: "To you and to all, I repeat: never yield to discouragement, do not lose trust, do not allow your hope to be extinguished. Situations can change, people can change. Be the first to seek to bring good, do not grow accustomed to evil, but defeat it. The Church is with you, bringing you the precious good of faith, bringing Jesus Christ, who “came that they may have life and have it abundantly”.”

And lastly: "Dear friends, we have come to knock at the door of Mary’s house. She has opened it for us, she has let us in and she shows us her Son. Now she asks us to “do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5). Yes, dear Mother, we are committed to doing whatever Jesus tells us! And we will do it with hope, trusting in God’s surprises and full of joy. Amen."

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

HWP: St. Bridget

Yesterday was the feast of St. Bridget of Sweden, a wife, mother, mystic, founder of a religious community, and witness for all the faithful to look to. One of the notable things in her story is the revelations she received from Our Lord, when He would speak to her about His Passion. Powerful are her reflections on that great mystery! Below is a little (yet lengthy) clip written by St. Bridget herself as found in the Office of Readings of the Liturgy of the Hours for her feast. Enjoy!

A Prayer to Christ our Savior

Blessed are you, my Lord Jesus Christ. You foretold your death and at the Last Supper you marvelously consecrated bread which became your precious body. And then you gave it to your apostles out of love as a memorial of your most holy passion. By washing their feet with your holy hands, you gave them a supreme example of your deep humility.

Honor be to you, my Lord Jesus Christ. Fearing your passion and death, you poured forth blood from your innocent body like sweat, and still you accomplished our redemption as you desired and gave us the clearest proof of your love for all men.

Blessed may you be, my Lord Jesus Christ. After you had been led to Caiaphas, you, the judge of all men, humbly allowed yourself to be handed over to the judgment of Pilate.

Glory be to you, my Lord Jesus Christ, for the mockery you endured when you stood clothed in purple and wearing a crown of sharp thorns. With utmost endurance you allowed vicious men to spit upon your glorious face, blindfold you and beat your cheek and neck with cruelest blows.
Praise be to you, my Lord Jesus Christ. For with the greatest patience you allowed yourself like an innocent lamb to be bound to a pillar and mercilessly scourged, and then to be brought, covered with blood, before the judgment seat of Pilate to be gazed upon by all.

Honor be to you, my Lord Jesus Christ. For after your glorious body was covered with blood, you were condemned to death on the cross, you endured the pain of carrying the cross on your sacred shoulders, and you were led with curses to the place where you were to suffer. Then stripped of your garments, you allowed yourself to be nailed to the wood of the cross.

Everlasting honor be to you, Lord Jesus Christ. You allowed your most holy mother to suffer so much, even though she had never sinned nor ever even consented to the smallest sin. Humbly you looked down upon her with your gentle loving eyes, and to comfort her you entrusted her to the faithful care of your disciple.

Eternal blessing be yours, my Lord Jesus Christ, because in your last agony you held out to all sinners the hope of pardon, when in your mercy you promised the glory of paradise to the penitent thief.

Eternal praise be to you, my Lord Jesus Christ, for the time you endured on the cross the greatest torments and sufferings for us sinners. The sharp pain of your wounds fiercely penetrated even to your blessed soul and cruelly pierced your most sacred heart till finally you sent forth your spirit in peace, bowed your head, and humbly commended yourself into the hands of God your Father, and your whole body remained cold in death.

Blessed may you be, my Lord Jesus Christ. You redeemed our souls with your precious blood and most holy death, and in your mercy you led them form exile back to eternal life.

Blessed may you be, my Lord Jesus Christ. For our salvation you allowed your side and heart to be pierced with a lance; and from that side water and your precious blood flowed out abundantly for our redemption.

Glory be to you, my Lord Jesus Christ. You allowed your blessed body to be taken down from the cross by your friends and laid in the arms of your most sorrowing mother, and you let her wrap your body in a shroud and bury it in a tomb to be guarded by soldiers.
Unending honor be to you, my Lord Jesus Christ. On the third day you rose from the dead and appeared to those you had chosen. And after forty days you ascended into heaven before the eyes of man witnesses, and there in heaven you gathered together in glory those you love, whom you had freed from hell.

Rejoicing and eternal praise be to you, my Lord Jesus Christ, who sent the Holy Spirit into the hearts of your disciples and increased the boundless love of God in their spirits.

Blessed are you and praiseworthy and glorious for ever, my Lord Jesus. You sit upon your throne in your kingdom of heaven, in the glory of your divinity, living in the most holy body you took from a virgin’s flesh. So will you appear on that last day to judge the souls of all the living and the dead; you who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Increase My Faith

Readings for Sunday, July 21/ 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time:
Genesis 18:1-10
Psalm 15:2-5
Colossians 1:24-28
Luke 10:38-42

As Catholic Christians we are often reminded that because of the gifts and graces we’ve received we are called to go out and change the world, to do acts of charity large and small, and to ‘go make a difference.’ This is absolutely true, but as our Gospel reminds us today, that external action must not be our starting place.

This past week I came across an article on Facebook (HERE) about Sr. Margery Therese Harkin, PVMI. What struck me about Sr. Margery’s story was the simplicity of it. Often times when we think about doing things to evangelize or change the world we imagine big programs and complicated structures. She did just the opposite. Over the course of the past few years, Sr. Margery has simply been going to each home in her parish’s boundaries, accompanied by a fellow parishioner, and asking if there are any baptized Catholics living there. At that point she can begin the conversation of faith and rather than come with any great evangelizing tools, she just invites them to come to Mass or some parish activity. Simple, yet powerful. In the wake of this ministry she has seen many come back to the Church and others come into the Church from other faiths. Too, she has worked as a missionary throughout Africa and helped form other communities to continue that good work. So how did she get there? How did she come to be such a great instrument of Our Lord in bringing people back to Himself? She happily shares that it was all because of an experience she had when she was 15 years old. She just went to confession and really felt the mercy of Christ. Then, praying before the Blessed Sacrament, she began to experience Jesus in a way unlike any other time. She walked out of Church that day knowing Jesus personally and it was that personal relationship with the Lord that led her to and sustains her in the ministry she has been given.

In the Gospel we heard poor Martha, busy and anxious about many things, frustrated with her sister for her apparent lack of concern. Jesus points out the reality though, that Mary has indeed chosen the better part. He didn’t say that Martha shouldn’t do any work, but rather seems to show that the most important, and foundational, piece is to sit before Him. Then, and only then, can one really do anything with much profit. It was by sitting at the feet of Jesus that she came to know Him and from there to receive her mission to share Him with others. And the same is true for each one of us.

This past week I had the joy of going to visit my dad and family in Cincinnati, Ohio and on the flights there and back I decided to read Pope Francis’ encyclical letter Lumen Fidei, Light of Faith (HERE). This letter, which every one of you should read, has some incredible gems to glean from it for personal prayer. I wanted to share just a few of his points with you in light of this weekend’s Gospel.

Pope Francis speaks of faith as being “born out of an encounter with God.” God always acts first, He makes the first move toward us and we have the option to respond or not. When we do respond to that invitation to draw nearer to the Lord, we call it faith. St. Augustine poetically says that to have faith, to believe in Jesus, is “to touch Him with our hearts.” Believing in Jesus, then, is nothing other than responding to His touch with our own, to give ourselves to Him out of love. Believing Jesus – accepting as true what Jesus taught - while a necessary first step, is not enough. We must believe in Jesus, give ourselves over to Him, trusting not just in the truths He taught but in the God-man Himself. Faith and belief is born from that personal exchange that changes something in us. Before we can be Christian witnesses, we must first be true Christians. We must spend time at the feet of Jesus listening to His words and drawing closer to His Heart with our own. We must know Him, know our story of faith, know the teachings of the Church. Then we will be filled with the Spirit’s active presence to go out and effect the change needed around us.

My dear friends, in our cluster parish we have three churches, our daily Mass chapel, and our Perpetual Adoration chapel where Jesus dwells waiting for us to come be with Him. At the Adoration chapel specifically, He is there available for us to visit Him, to go and sit quietly at His feet and listen like Mary in the Gospel. We have that ability at anytime, but we also have that opportunity here in this Mass. Here is the place where most of all we can listen because He comes to us to be received into our very bodies; we are joined to Him and He to us. Let us not pass by this opportunity to receive His grace today. Let us pray today in the silence after community this simple prayer: Lord, increase my faith. 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Healing Humanity

Parable of the Good Samaritan by Jan Wijnants
Readings for Sunday, July 14/ 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time:
Deuteronomy 30:10-14
Psalm 69:14, 17, 30-31, 33-34, 36-37
Colossians 1:15-20
Luke 10:25-37

The familiar parable of the Good Samaritan, which the Church calls to our minds this weekend, is one of the many places where Our Lord stirs things up a bit for the Jewish community. If one were to ask a good and faithful First-Century Jew “Who is your neighbor?” they would likely have responded that any other Jewish person was their neighbor, regardless of any familial connection. But when the scholar of the Law asks this of Jesus, He gives a much more inclusive answer and expands the requirements of love of neighbor to include all of humanity, not just one’s own self-defined group. The radical call to love was revolutionary and many took offense at what Jesus suggested to them. It was too difficult, too much to ask. And the reality is that we still struggle with it today. Even for us Christians, it is still a difficult task to love without boundaries. And yet the challenge remains.

When we hear this parable, because of the radical call to love that we all still struggle with, we naturally tend to look at the scene and try to discern which of the three people we are. Are we the priest who was so caught up in rules and expectations that he failed to help the dying man? Or are we the busy Levite who could have helped, but didn’t want to take the risk? After all, this game of playing sick or dead was a common trick to lure people in only to rob them and leave them sick or dying. Or maybe we are the Samaritan who takes the risk to stop, showing love to one in need and caring for them? Maybe we’ve been all three at different times in our lives. But today I want to suggest to you that we are none of them. Instead, each and every one of us is the man who has been beaten, stripped, and left for dead. And that’s a scary place to be.

While we can and should spend time reflecting on how well we live the call to love of neighbor, this story also speaks to us of something much bigger – the story of salvation. We all know the basic story – Adam and Eve were created but fell into sin and merited death for all of humanity. In need of a savior to save us from that death, the world anxiously awaited the Christ, Jesus. After taking up our flesh, offering Himself on the Cross, and rising in Glory, He won for us eternal life. It’s us to us to receive that life and strive for Heaven.

If you look closely, the story of the Samaritan is much the same.

The anonymous man who has been beaten, stripped, and left for dead is humanity as a whole, as well as each of us as individuals. We are bound in sin and are unable to help ourselves up; we cannot save ourselves from eternal death. As Psalm 49 bluntly puts it: no man can ransom himself, or give to God the price of his life. And so all of humanity and we as individual must await a savior, someone to rescue us. The world offers so many alternatives that say they can help us become better people or can bring us true joy, but they fail to satisfy. These are like the priest and Levite who pass by; they cannot and will not help.  But there is one that can help – the Good Samaritan, the Savior, Jesus. To broken and sinful humanity Our Lord comes to bring healing, strength and life. And how does He do it? With oil and wine. The oil is symbolic of baptism and confirmation, when we are sealed with the Sacred Chrism, marked for Christ, and given strengthened to fight against sin. The wine is symbolic of the Eucharist and Confession, where the ‘wine of salvation', the Precious Blood of Jesus, is poured over our wounded souls and we and we are healed. Furthermore, the Samaritan, when He goes away leaves two pence with the innkeeper to continue the care for the injured man, for us. St. Augustine suggested that he innkeeper is the Church, who cares for our souls while the Lord has gone to prepare our places in Heaven and the two pence given to the innkeeper, the Church, are the Scriptures, the Old and New Testaments wherein the Inspired Word of God continues to strengthen us and provide us nourishment until the Lord comes again in His Glory.

My dear friends, fellow sinners left for dead in our sins, if we want life we must come to the sacraments and allow Christ to save us. In our humanity we like to think that we can fix ourselves, that we can work out our own problems. But the fact is that we are unable even to stand on our own two feet without the help of Jesus, much less heal our wounds. The regular and worthy reception of the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Confession are absolutely necessary if we want to live, as is our immersion in the Divine Word in Sacred Scripture. To fail to make use of them is to reject the charity of the Good Samaritan and willingly remain broken and dying in the road that is this world. We were created for much more than that. We were created for eternal life.

The call to radical love of others in imitation of Jesus, manifested in this parable, is something each of us must hear and heed. But, too, we must also recognize that before we can really help to heal others, we ourselves must first become like that man left for dead – aware of his brokenness and need, he let himself be cared for by the Samaritan. To this also Jesus speaks to us and challenges us: “Go and do likewise.”

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

HWP: St. Benedict

St. Benedict, taken at St. Meinrad Archabbey
Tomorrow (July 11) is the feast of St. Benedict of Nursia (or Norcia), the founder of western monasticism and essentially the father of western civilization as we know it today since our culture was held together and pushed forward by monks and people formed in such communities. Benedictines and other communities who live by the Rule of St. Benedict will be celebrating with great joy his feast tomorrow, many of them welcoming new postulants and novices, and others witnessing the profession of vows of their brothers and sisters. What joy! To celebrate this great saint, whose impact on my own vocation cannot be understated, why not offer a pray for his intercession. The prayer below includes a space for your own intention. If you don't have a particular intention, you could simply offer it for Benedictines around the world. I'm sure they would appreciate your prayers and they continue to offer prayers for all of us throughout their days. 

Prayer to St. Benedict

Glorious St. Benedict, sublime model of virtue, pure vessel of God's grace! Behold me humbly kneeling at your feet. I implore you in your loving kindness to pray for me before the throne of God. To you I have recourse in the dangers that daily surround me. Shield me against my selfishness and my indifference to God and to my neighbor. Inspire me to imitate you in all things. May your blessing be with me always, so that I may see and serve Christ in others and work for His kingdom.

Graciously obtain for me from God those favors and graces which I need so much in the trials, miseries, and afflictions of life. Your heart was always full of love, compassion, and mercy toward those who were afflicted or troubled in any way. You never dismissed without consolation and assistance anyone who had recourse to you. I therefore invoke your powerful intercession, confident in the hope that you will hear my prayers and obtain for me the special grace and favor I earnestly implore (mention your favor).

Help me, great St. Benedict, to live and die as a faithful child of God, to run in the sweetness of His loving will, and to attain the eternal happiness of heaven. Amen.

Monday, July 8, 2013


Readings for Sunday, July 7/ 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time:
Isaiah 66:10-14
Psalm 66:1-7, 16, 20
Galatians 6:14-18
Luke 10:1-12, 17-20

“Do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in Heaven.”

 Friday evening I went to a gathering with some brother priests at Sacred Heart parish in Baton Rouge. We began the evening with a Eucharistic Holy Hour and about midway through it I began to look at and pray with the stained glass and paintings all around me. Then something caught my eye – a small pane of glass by the side door about 3 feet tall and a foot wide. At the top it read clearly “Hell” and below were flames and a serpent. After the Holy Hour we toured the church and I found that in addition to that window there were three others containing the phrases “Heaven”, “Judgment” and “Death,” each with appropriate pictures. As I showed a few of the other priests I joked that if I were a parishioner there I would have to find some other doors to exit the building each week. But as I reflected on it through the evening I was struck by the fact that the last thing we saw before we walked out the door was a reminder of what is traditionally known as the Four Last Things and noticed a change in the way I thought, spoke, and acted for the rest of the evening.

Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell are not exactly the most popular conversation pieces, nor are they the most exciting thoughts to take to prayer and reflection. The uncertainty of the afterlife and the understandable fear of death, judgment, and hell is one reason to avoid the topic, as is our the difficulty at grasping the reality of spiritual things and concepts like ‘eternity’. But in my reflections I came to see that, at least for myself, the main reason why I fail to reflect enough on these Last Things is because of a sin called presumption. ‘Surely that won’t happen to me!’ we can think. It’s not always a conscious thought, but there is something in me – and maybe in you as well - that presumes because I am a good person my name is already written in Heaven and I expect to get in.

Expecting to get to heaven, though, isn’t a bad thing. In fact that Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that hope is “the theological virtue by which we desire and expect from God both eternal life and the grace we need to attain it” (Glossary, referencing #1817). So what is the difference between expecting heaven as a virtue (hope) and expecting heaven as a sin (presumption)? It all comes down to our willingness to work with the Lord. The definition of hope includes the recognition of our need for grace to work with the Lord to attain salvation. Presumption is when we simply expect to get to heaven but fail to put forth the effort to make that expectation a reality. It’s a subtle difference, but that’s how the devil works. He takes something of the truth and tweaks it to be also a lie. We usually don’t accept things that are blatantly false. But, as the devil knows well, we will often take in that little truth that we see and fail to see the negative effects that are included alongside it.

For instance: Is God merciful? Absolutely! God is mercy itself, manifested most clearly through the sign of the Cross. We’ve heard week after week how merciful God is, that there is nothing that we can do that will make Him quit loving us. And every bit of that is true. But I guarantee that everyone in this church has experienced this scenario: you’re in a little gathering with friends and it’s a lighthearted conversation. You get to a point when someone is talking about doing something that is a sin, and then the little joke comes – ‘oh, it’s not a big deal. That’s what confession is for! God will forgive you!’ Presumption upon God’s mercy. We know the Lord is merciful and we use it to our advantage to do as we please because ‘we can always go to confession.’

Or this one: God understands! Does God understand us? Absolutely! He created us and knows us more than we know ourselves. And when we’re in the midst of a struggle – or maybe not much of a struggle – with a thought of doing something that we know is wrong the easy out is always ‘God understands’. ‘God knows my heart. God understands that I’m weak. God understands.’ And then we give ourselves permission to do as we please, presuming on God’s love and awareness of our brokenness.

And the most grievous is presumption that we’re going to heaven. I’m pretty sure most of us would think of ourselves as good people. We do things for the Church here and there, we make our Sunday obligation, we try to live good most of the time and we content ourselves with that. We become comfortable being good. But the problem is that the devil wants us to be good people. Think about that. The devil wants us to be good people. Why? Because the Father calls us to be perfect. If we content ourselves with being good, then we cease striving for perfection. One day we were talking about striving for perfection in class at the seminary and our professor wisely said, “Men, I don’t want to live a good life hoping to flop over the line into purgatory because if I fall short I wind up in hell. I want to live a life striving to be perfect and get straight to heaven because then if I fall a little short, I still wind up in purgatory.” We don’t like to think that we could go to hell. It’s not a thought any of us enjoys hearing, but the truth is that if we don’t actually try to get to heaven, with God’s grace, then we might well miss the boat.

God doesn’t want us to miss out on the joys of heaven; it was for eternal LIFE that we created us in the first place, but we must choose that life and show my our actions here on earth that we long to be with him forever in heaven. So let us today as the Lord for the grace in this Eucharist to root out any sins of presumption that may rest in our hearts and fill us with zeal to strive for holiness here on earth that we can rejoice at beholding His face for eternity in Heaven.
Stained Glass of Four Last Things at Sacred Heart Church, Baton Rouge, LA

Friday, July 5, 2013

Pope-tastic Friday!

It's a great day to be Catholic! Well, isn't every day a great day to be Catholic?! Regardless! His Holiness, Pope Francis released his first Encyclical Letter this morning. It bears the title 'Lumen Fidei' or 'Light of Faith' and can be found on the Vatican website HERE. It is short by papal standards, coming in at only 88 total pages on PDF including large print and lots of white space on the pages.
ALSO - a miracle has been confirmed for Blessed John Paul II, clearing the way for his canonization as a saint of the Church. Too, Blessed John XXIII, who opened the Second Vatican Council, will be voted on soon by the Cardinals of the Church for canonization without the necessary miracle attributed yet. You can read more about it HERE on Catholic News Service's website.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

HWP: St. Thomas the Apostle

Today is the feast of the Glorious Apostle and Martyr of the faith, St. Thomas. Though he is often called 'Doubting Thomas' for his lack of belief in the words of his fellow Apostles, his faith led him to preach the Gospel in India, where he ultimately laid down his life for Christ. From his need to see the wounds of Jesus we too are permitted to express faith in the truth that the Crucified Lord was raised for our salvation. 

Prayer to St. Thomas the Apostle

O Glorious Saint Thomas, your grief for Jesus was such that it would not let you believe he had risen unless you actually saw him and touched his wounds. But your love for Jesus was equally great and it led you to give up your life for him. Pray for us that we may grieve for our sins which were the cause of Christ's sufferings. Help us to spend ourselves in his service and so earn the title of "blessed" which Jesus applied to those who would believe in him without seeing him. Amen.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Follow Me

Bloemaert's Elijah and Elisha
Readings for Sunday, June 30/ 13th Sunday of Ordinary Time:
1 Kings 19:16, 19-21
Psalm 16:1-2, 5
Galatians 5:1, 13-18
Luke 9:51-62

Paragraph 30 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that “[God] never ceases to call every man to seek Him, so as to find happiness and life.” He never ceases to call us to seek Him. The Scriptures we just heard proclaimed remind us of that ceaseless calling of the Lord and invite us to reflect on a question of great importance: How are we responding to the God who constantly reaches out to us?

Our Gospel scene today opens us with one of the pivotal points of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus beginning His solemn journey to Jerusalem. He is said to be ‘resolutely determined’ to get to Jerusalem. He had a purpose. He had made a firm choice and was moving forward to attain His goal, knowing full well what it entailed .If you recall last weekend, in the passage a few verses before this one, Jesus spoke to His disciples of the reality of His impending passion, death, and resurrection. He knew well what He was getting into and He knew there would be countless reasons and temptations not to move forward. Still He went, but not because He wanted to - remember how in His agony He begs “Let this cup pass from me, but not My will but Thine be done.” He endured everything because He wanted to do the will of the Father perfectly. And He did, winning for us the possibility of eternal life. A great example to reflect on in following God’s will.

To the example of Christ we can easily add those of Elijah and Elisha, two of the great Old Testament prophets. Though we cannot get the full context of Elijah’s life and ministry in a single reading – talk about a long Mass! – it is notable that every time Elijah did something it was at the Lord’s command, and every time the Lord commanded something it was done. This is a literary tool to show that Elijah was a man who followed the Lord perfectly, always seeking to carry out God’s will rather than his own.

As we heard a few minutes ago, Elijah was called by the Lord to go to his successor, Elisha. Elisha is found plowing the fields with twelve yoke of oxen. We miss this because most of us aren’t plowing fields with oxen these days, but to say that he had twelve yoke of oxen was to imply he was quite wealthy; he had everything he needed and more. You could say he was driving the Ferrari of plows out in the field. And yet when Elijah places the mantle on him, a sign of authority and responsibility, he immediately recognizes what is taking place. And as Elijah quietly walks away Elisha runs to him. He runs! Running is a sign of intentionality and in the Scriptures it implies an awareness of a mission and the willingness to carry it out. To prove it, he slaughters the oxen and cooks them on the burnt plow. Symbolically Elisha said, “I will give up anything if the Lord wants it of me” as the flames consumed the animals. What powerful witness of fidelity to God’s will and a holy boldness in carrying it out!

In stark contrast, as often happens in the readings, we have the three would-be disciples who struggle to respond to the invitation of the Lord. I don’t know about you, but as much as the witness of Jesus, Elijah, and Elisha inspire me, it’s easier for me to relate with the three men in the Gospel. They each have their own reasons for not doing as the Lord desires, and I think we in our own lives can often relate to them on certain levels.

The first man comes and proudly says, “I will follow you wherever you go.” To this Jesus responds that birds have nests and foxes have dens but He has nowhere. With this Jesus is saying to the man that if he wants to be a follower of Jesus, he needs to give up his control. All of us like control. Our nature, from the very first parents, Adam and Eve, tries to grasp and take for itself. We want to set up our own plans, map our own way, and do everything to rely upon ourselves to remain happy and comfortable. We want to follow the Lord, but there is something within us that still wants backup plans just in case things don’t work out like I want with the Lord. If we keep a little nest for our self, when things get rough we can always go back to it. And that’s the problem – the only person trusted in that scenario is one’s self. Instead the Lord is inviting the man, and each of us, to a sort of trust-fall of epic proportions. Rather than just falling back into someone’s arms we know and see, He invites us to fall back and trust that though we can’t see anyone there at all we’ll still be caught. For the man in the gospel, he can’t make that commitment and he walks away.

The other two would-be disciples each have their own reasons for not following the Lord immediately. The first makes what seems a reasonable request to bury his father. But as scholars point out, if the man’s father were already dead he wouldn’t be meeting with Jesus, he’d be doing funeral preparations. It seems instead that the man is implicitly saying, ‘Jesus I will follow you, but let me first go take care of my dad for a bit and enjoy my life for a while longer, and then when he’s gone and the inheritance is used up and everything, THEN I’ll come follow you.’ In other words, when I’M ready, I’ll follow the Lord. We always like our plans better.

The third man’s request also seems reasonable. ‘Jesus, I’ll follow you, just let me take care of one little thing.’ Isn’t that so often the case? We always have just one little thing to take care of. When we commit to doing some act of kindness, or spending time in prayer – just one little thing. And when that one little thing is completed – OH, just one more little thing. And then another and another… There are always reasons to put off responding to the Lord for a few more minutes. We aren’t so bad as to completely shrug Jesus off like the Samaritans do, but at the same time we still like to keep Him at arms length. Jesus, I want you in my life, but don’t come too close. Don’t mess up my plans. Don’t ask me to change anything too drastically. We don’t say it so bluntly, but we imply it in so many ways. We’re hesitant, and for no good reason.

[God] never ceases to call every man to seek him, so as to find happiness and life.” Happiness and life. My brothers and sisters, if I put my will and God’s will side by side I cannot think of one single time in my whole life that my will would have been the better choice. Not one. Even with the crosses that may come. St. Paul reminds us that ‘for freedom we were set free’. God could have made us robots that follow His will without question. But He didn’t. He gave us free will so that we could choose to follow out of love. He created us out of love, created to be loved. But we have to open ourselves to that. We have to be willing to risk everything and do what God wants instead of what we want. It is there and only there that we can find true happiness and life.

To each one of us today He comes once more and speaks to our heart: Follow me. Follow me. How will we respond?