Monday, September 24, 2018

The abuse scandal - the view from the foot of the cross


In today's Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples about his upcoming death and resurrection.  But, they didn't understand him.  Instead, they argued among themselves about who was the greatest.  It is amazing that they didn't focus on Jesus but on themselves.  But, it's also so human.  Instead of reflecting on this incredible event which Jesus described to them, they just argued.  Isn't this a typical human response sometimes when we are facing challenging times?   We focus on ourselves and our needs.  Maybe we even run away from the problem.

In the book, Heroic Leadership, the author describes four principles which guided the Jesuits during their many difficult times. The last principle, which is the most important one is: "When the opportunity presents itself, do something heroic."  As we heard in the Gospel, the disciples weren't able to do something heroic.  They didn't understand.   And when Jesus was crucified, eleven out of twelve weren't there for him.  Fortunately, after they received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, all of them, except for Judas answered the call and performed many heroic acts.  All of them, except for John, who was there for Jesus at the foot of the cross, eventually died as martyrs. 
What message is there in this Gospel for us today as we see our Church dealing with scandal?
We are all angered and frustrated by the abuse scandal and the reported actions of some of our bishops.  But, now is not the time to abandon Christ and his Church.  This is the coward's way out.  It is what the devil wants us to do.  Now is the time to be at the foot of the cross.  This is the heroic action for each of us.  We are meant to pray, to persevere, and to stand strong.  We are meant to accept any ridicule that we may experience and to turn the other cheek. 

These scandals are clearly the work of the devil.  As we hear in the second reading: "Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice."  This describes the situation that we witness in the scandals.  Selfish ambition leading to disorder and foul practice.  Then, James gives us the response to this evil saying: " But the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gently compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity.  And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace."

Are we at peace with our Church in light of the abuse scandal?  Have we turned to the Lord for his wisdom?  Are we righteous in our own words and actions?

We should be spending more time praying for our church than we spend reading articles or watching videos about the scandal.  We should put this scandal into the perspective of the long history of the church.  The church has faced scandal many times before.   The devil continues to  attack Jesus' Church, just like he tempted Jesus in the desert. Like those previous scandals in the church, this one will be painful and difficult, but Jesus' church will be purified and will emerge stronger as a result of it.  Jesus promised us that when he said: "You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it."

The first reading tells us: "The wicked say: Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us, he sets himself against our doings, reproaches us for transgressions of the law."  Many people are using this scandal to attack the church.  Some are suggesting that we fire all the bishops and others that we allow  priests to marry.  They are doing the work of the evil one as they attempt to bring down the church, which is the source of truth and a counterbalance to the many sins of our current culture. 

Hopefully, all of us, and especially our bishops, realize that our role, as baptized Christians, is not to protect the status quo.  Our church is not some club or political organization which just needs a housecleaning and few new rules.  Our church must be by its nature missionary.  And the mission of everyone who belongs to the church, including all of us, is to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ thru our words and actions.  We are meant to be missionary disciples and to bring others to Christ as we are trying to do at our Welcome weekends.  If we do this, we will continue to be hated by many in our culture.  And that's OK, Jesus and his apostles were hated also. 
The first reading tells us that God will take care of a just man.  Do we trust in God?  When we struggle in our lives or when we witness the scandals in our Church, do we trust that God has our back?   

 The second reading tells us that Wisdom from above is peaceable.   Today, let us trust God in all things and so that we can find eternal peace. 
God bless. 

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Three questions


Today, I will test your faith with three questions.  The answers to each of these questions is either yes or no, not maybe.  If you cannot confidently say yes, then your answer is no.  And you don't have to raise your hand or speak your answer. 

The first question is:  Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God?

The second question is:  Do you believe that Jesus is present, body, blood, soul, and divinity, in the bread and wine on the altar after the consecration?

And the last question is:  Do you believe that Jesus formed a Church, the Catholic Church, and that this church has the fullness of truth in matters of faith and morals?

Now, let's discuss what your answers to each of these questions mean.

On the first question, if you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, you are a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ.  Most people today aren't Christians and don't believe this.  Some believe that he is a liar; some a prophet; and some just don't believe.  Members of non-Christian faiths, including Jewish, Hindu, Muslem and others along with agnostics and atheists don't believe this.  I would expect that most everyone here believes this.

On the second question, if you believe that Jesus Christ is present in the Eucharist, you are likely a Catholic Christian.  Most non- Catholic Christians don't believe this. 

In today's Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples that he is living bread which came down from heaven and that he will give his flesh for the life of the world.   This is too much for most of his disciples to believe.  They ask:  "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" and many of them walked away from him.  This is too much for most people in our world today to believe.  In fact, even some Catholics don't believe it.  In 2008, a study of 1007 adult Catholics done by CARA research center at Georgetown found that just 57% of them believed that Jesus Christ is really present in the bread and wine of the Eucharist.  Like the followers of Christ in today's Gospel, this mystery is just too much for many to believe.  What about you, are you able to respond yes to this question? 

The last question I asked "do you believe that the Catholic church has the fullness of truth in matters of faith and morals" is probably the most difficult one for Catholics to answer yes to.  In fact, in 2016, a PEW research study of 4,528 Catholics found that just 50% of them thought that abortion was morally wrong and only 8% of them agreed with the Church's position that using artificial contraception was morally wrong. 

Did Jesus found a church which lies to us on these important matters?  When Paul encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus, Jesus said to him: "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"  Jesus didn't say why are you persecuting my followers, or the church.  Instead, he said me.  So, Jesus and his church are one.  And when his church speaks, Jesus is speaking.  If his church were to lie to us on critical matters, Jesus would be lying to us. 

Most of us continue to build our faith.   Jesus understands that this is difficult for us when we see the human frailties of the leaders of our church.  We see that they are sinners, some even more than we are.  It takes a deep faith to believe that the Catholic Church has the fullness of truth in matters of faith and morals and to see that the Holy Spirit is guiding Jesus' church despite the sins of some of its leaders such as those reported in the recent Pennsylvania grand jury report.  The abuse outlined in this report angers and shames all of us, as Catholics.  And it shames our many good priests and bishops.  However, we must not lose faith.  These incidents are clearly the work of the devil who is constantly attacking Jesus' church.  Now is a time for prayer and reflection.  Now is not the time to abandon Jesus or His Church.  As Catholics, we are once again on the cross with Jesus and His church. 

We all are sinners.  We all struggle at times.   We all need a relationship with Christ and we need a community of believers to help us build our faith.  We cannot do it alone. 

I know that the three questions that I asked today can be challenging.  It isn't easy in today's confused world to be a faithful Catholic Christian.  It isn't easy to defend your faith when many think you are foolish and misguided.  But, like Jesus, we are meant to proclaim his truth and to be a light in the darkness.  And, when we follow Jesus, our life becomes more fulfilling and more joyful.  He brings us peace.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

True or false shepherds


In the first reading, the prophet Jeremiah tells us about shepherds who mislead and scatter the people and have driven them away.  Jeremiah prophesied during the sixth century BC to the people of Judah.  who were following false prophets and would soon be exiled to Babylon.  Also, the temple in Jerusalem would soon be destroyed.  Jeremiah was called the weeping prophet because he prophesied this exile and the destruction of the temple.

But, Jeremiah also prophesied the coming of a new king by saying: "The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up a righteous shoot to David; as king he shall reign and govern wisely, he shall do what is just and right in the land."

The false shepherds which Jeremiah refers to simply told the people what they wanted to hear.    We have many false shepherds today including most talk show hosts and newspaper columnists who write articles on family or marriage.  Virtually every movie or TV show proposes a view of marriage and family life which is completely different than that taught by Jesus' church.  In fact, this warped view of marriage and family life has become the new normal.  We expect to see single parent families or two parents of the same sex.  And, when we see a traditional family with mother, father and children, we know that the father will be cast as the idiot.  

The true model for our marriages is Christ and his church and that for families is the Holy Family.  These models provide us with examples of self-giving, self- sacrifice, and self-mastery which brings true happiness.   

Fortunately, through the Holy Spirit, we have true shepherds and prophetic teaching in his Church, the body of Christ.  And, during the last fifty years, we have heard from some great prophets including Pope Saint John Paul II and Saint Theresa of Calcutta.  These shepherds have provided great guidance to us on critical issues including abortion, divorce, marriage, and family.

In his 1981 encyclical Pope John Paul II said: "The family in the modern world, as much as and perhaps more than any other institution, has been beset by the many profound and rapid changes that have affected society and culture. Many families are living this situation in fidelity to those values that constitute the foundation of the institution of the family. Others have become uncertain and bewildered over their role or even doubtful and almost unaware of the ultimate meaning and truth of conjugal and family life."

In her 1985 speech to the United Nations, Mother Teresa said: "Today I feel that abortion has become the greatest destroyer of peace. We are not afraid, the mother is not afraid to commit that terrible murder. If we are sincere in our hearts that we really want peace, today, let us make that strong resolution that in our countries, in our cities, we will not allow a single child to feel unwanted, to feel unloved, to a throw-away society."

Our country is divided and the major cause of this division is abortion.  This division will only be ended when the shepherds leading our families become models of sacrifice instead of selfishness.  As long as our families are selfish and its members focus on themselves rather than their neighbor, our nation will continue to enact laws which promote selfishness over sacrifice.

Which shepherds are we listening to?  Unfortunately, the teaching of the false shepherds can drown out the truth as proclaimed by Christ's church.  Many of us, maybe even most of us, at times listen to these false shepherds.  It is difficult not to listen.  They are all around us.  There is a continual barrage of false teachings on TV, radio, movies, and the internet.  And yet, when we hear these voices often something will stir deep inside us which tells us that this is a lie and it won't lead us toward the peace that Jesus wants for each of us. 

In the Gospel, the king Jeremiah refers to, Jesus, the shoot of David, is moved with pity for the people because they are like sheep without a shepherd.  Then, Jesus, the true shepherd, teaches them.  He is moved with pity for us today. He teaches us today through His church.  He understands how difficult it is to turn away from  the attractive lies of the evil one.  He understands the pressure on us to follow the crowd.   He knows how confusing at times life can be for us.  He knows that some of our friends and our family members have turned away from his Church, his shepherds.  Jesus looks at us with mercy and love, always ready to receive us back and forgive us.  Follow him, the true shepherd.  Hear the shepherds of His church proclaim the fullness of the truth.  These true shepherds will bring you everlasting peace and joy.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Father's day


Today is father's day.  Our heavenly Father uses fathers to pass the faith to their children.  The primary job of a father is to lead his wife and his children to heaven.  How, are we, as fathers, doing?  I suspect that many of us are more worried about our children's progress in academics or athletics than their growth in holiness.  We can all be assured that when we meet Jesus on judgment day he will not ask us about how we helped them in school or in sports. 

In today's Gospel, Jesus talks about the Kingdom of God.   He explains that building the kingdom of God on earth is a divine work, not a human achievement. God brings about its growth, which at times is imperceptible. We cooperate, but we cannot control or guarantee success by our efforts any more than the farmer can harvest his grain in January. Every member of the kingdom is being made ready for the harvest by inner growth in holiness and virtue, which God brings about through our cooperation with his grace. The parable serves as an encouragement for those who think their efforts for the kingdom are fruitless and a warning for those who think they can bring about the kingdom by their own projects and programs.

In the parable of the mustard seed, this small seed becomes the largest of plants.  This seed represents our spiritual growth.  At our baptism, we have the potential for growth.  But, we need time to allow the mercy of God to exalt us, to make us grow.  Then, though the other sacraments and their associated graces, we eventually can become holy men and women and disciples of Christ.
This spiritual growth occurs as  a result of the love and example of strong fathers.  I know that you may be thinking that the mother provides a strong example of faith to the children.  But, statistics have shown that the faith of children tends to be as strong as that of their father.  If a father doesn't go to church, it's likely that the children will abandon their faith even if their mother has a strong faith.     
In the second reading, St. Paul tells us that it takes courage to walk by faith.  Today, when we see division all around us, fathers need faith and courage to trust God and his Church and to save their family from the ways of the world.  When fathers see confusion, they must have faith to be joyful and confident.  We are living in a time of moral and ethical confusion and of division and despair.  Fortunately, our Catholic church has answers to the questions that arise from this confusion and despair.

The confusion of our times means that fathers have more questions about their faith than ever before.  Some of these questions get articulated, but most remain unspoken.  The reason why so many remain unspoken is that some are too embarrassed to ask and others don't know who to ask.  Fathers need and deserve answers to their questions.  Fortunately, our Catholic faith has answers to these deep moral and ethical questions that lie at the heart of our confusion.   These answers come from serious consideration of these difficult issues by holy men and women who understand God's laws and Church teachings throughout the years.  They aren't just spur of the moment answers that someone came up with on a whim like we might expect from Dr Phil or Oprah.   

When it comes to Catholicism, there is a lot to know.  Ideally, we could all just accept on faith everything the Church teaches.  But, most of us want to know not just what the church teaches, but why.  And with some effort, you can find all of these answers.  You will discover that church teaching in these critical moral and ethical areas has been remarkably consistent over the years and that these teachings have been and continue to be a blessing to our society, not a burden.  

St Paul also tells us that we walk by faith not by sight.  At times, I have walked by faith in my life especially in my big decisions like getting married, having five children, and becoming a deacon.  All of these decisions have brought me peace and joy.  As a father and a grandfather, I often still tend to walk by sight and not by faith in the small, day-to-day decisions of life.  In these areas, I tend to want God to follow my will instead of trusting, in faith, that his plan is best for my family.  I'm working on this.

May fathers have a faith which is steadfast and sure even when they experience division and confusion.  May fathers see past the confusion of our times to the joy of the kingdom of God.  And may fathers walk by faith and not by sight as they strive to bring their family to the Kingdom of God in heaven. 
Blessings to all fathers

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit


We hear today from the end of Matthew's Gospel, when Jesus tells his apostles to "make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."  This is the only place in the Gospels that we hear this expression.  And yet, we still use this today for baptism and when we make the sign of the cross.  It is at the very core of our Catholic faith and we celebrate this today at the solemn feast of the Holy Trinity.
Matthew tells us that when the eleven disciples saw the resurrected Jesus, they worshiped but they doubted.  I'll bet that Jesus would say the same thing about many of us today, we worship but we doubt.  We are here for Sunday mass because we were drawn by the Holy Spirit and maybe came out of habit.  But, we may be confused about some things that the Church teaches.   
It's OK to doubt.  All of us are searching; all of us are on the journey; and no one, including yours truly, has it all figured out.  And some things, like the trinity, we  just have to accept on faith.
Jesus gives us direction and reassurance in today's short Gospel.  These were some of His last words to the apostles before he ascended into heaven.  So, they are very important.
He said:  "All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me."  If there were any doubt that Jesus was God before rising from the dead, there couldn't be any more.  He is all powerful.  We cannot even imagine how powerful he is.  Our human minds cannot grasp his power. 
Then, Jesus gave them their mission.  He says: "Go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."  This is the same mission that he gives to all of us.  And the tells them and us to "Teach them to observe all that I have commanded you."  So we aren't meant to do our own thing, but are to follow Jesus and to keep his commandments. And we are to teach others his commandments by our words and our actions.
Finally, Jesus gives them the promise that "I will be with you always, until the end of the age."  Shortly after Jesus makes this promise, he ascends into heaven.  I would expect that they were very confused by this.  How could Jesus tell them that he would be with them until the end of time and then leave them?   It is no wonder that they were fearful when the Holy Spirit came on Pentecost.  At Pentecost, after the Holy Spirit came on them as tongues of fire, it all became clear.  Jesus was with them through the Holy Spirit who will give them courage and wisdom.  He was with them through the Eucharist.  He was with them through His Church.  That day they would baptize 3000 and would teach the mystery of Christ's life, death, and resurrection to everyone. 
Thru baptism, we inherit Christ's promise to be with us until the end of time.  He is with us through the other sacraments which strengthen and sustain us during our earthly journey. 
The apostles understood the trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as well as their minds could understand it.  The apostles were committed to the mission that he gave them to make disciples of all nations.  They were unafraid and they were even willing to die in their missionary efforts. 
What about us?  Have we embraced this mission?  Have we talked about Jesus to our family and friends?  Do we even make the sign of the cross when we eat in public places?  If not, why not? 
If we find that we're still worshiping but doubting, we need to address our doubts.  Talk to a priest or a deacon about your doubts.  I'm sure that they will have heard them before. 
Our Church teaching is a blessing to us, not a burden.  After all, it comes from Jesus through the Holy Spirit.  Through it, we are meant to build his kingdom on earth and to follow him to his heavenly kingdom.  To better understand this teaching, refer to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  Go to a good Catholic web site to learn more.  Formed.org has lots of good programs, videos, and audio tracks to help us learn our faith.  Come to a parish faith formation program.  You will find others on the same journey, maybe a few steps ahead or behind you.  We are all seeking the truth.  Fortunately, in our Catholic Church, we have the fullness of truth.  When you begin this journey to truth, you will find, as I have, that the more you learn about Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the more you will realize that you don't know, and you will yearn to learn more.
God bless

Friday, April 13, 2018

The Easter effect


In 1975, the president of Intel, Gordon Moore, estimated that the number of transistors in Integrated Circuit would double every two years.  This came to be known as Moore’s law which was proven to be correct for 37 years.  So, between 1975 and 2012, the number of transistors in an integrated circuit doubled eighteen times to about 250,000 times what was possible in 1975.  So, our electronic devices became smaller and smaller and had more and more capability.  This eventually led to cell phones and laptop computers which weren’t even conceived in 1975.  It has amazed even those very familiar with the industry.  It has impacted our day to day lives in many ways.  Today, many cannot even conceive what life would be like without a cell phone.

After Jesus rose from the dead, the news of the Resurrection drove the growth of the church for almost three hundred years.  During this time, Christianity grew from a thousand or so in 33 AD to about ten million by the year 312 when Constantine made it the official church of the Roman empire.  Much like Moore’s law regarding semiconductors, this phenomenal growth meant that the number of Christians doubled about every twenty years for almost 300 years, going from 1000 to 10 million.  And this growth occurred during times when its leaders were being martyred and Christians couldn’t even meet in public.
On Holy Saturday, the Wall Street Journal ran a two-page article titled: “The Easter Effect.”   It said: “The first Christians were baffled by what they called “the Resurrection”.  Their struggle to understand it brought about a revolution in their way of life and astonishing success for their faith.”  That article asks: “How did this happen?  How did a ragtag band of nobodies from the far edges of the Mediterranean world become such a dominant force?”  The article attributes it to their belief in the Resurrection and to their witnesses.
In today’s Gospel, when Jesus appeared to his disciples, we see a fragmented group of believers with no plan, no promise, no program, no youth ministry, no social justice committee, and no buildings.  Frightened and disturbed, they were locked up in the upper room.
This terrified little band huddled in the corner of a room had only one thing going for it: the risen Christ.  In the final analysis, this is a story about how the risen Christ pushed open the bolted door of a church with nothing.  The risen Christ enters the fearful chambers and fills the place with his own life and simply asks his disciples:  Got anything to eat?
The gospel is convincing and reassuring. It is convincing because it shows ordinary people behaving just the way we do. We too know of the promises God has made down through the centuries. We know how those promises were kept. But owing to our human frailty and lack of faith, we still do not put our full trust in God’s promises. Like the disciples, we still approach the promise of eternal life with questions and troubled hearts, perhaps even terrified at times. 
What would we have done if we had been there in the first century and heard this news directly from one of his disciples?  Would we have believed?  Would we have been one of the Jews and Gentiles who became Christian?   Is Jesus resurrection old news to us?  Are we no longer shocked and baffled by it?   
As a Christian community of believers that have experienced the risen Lord, we are not to sit around locked in our churches feeling warm and cozy.  In today’s readings and at Eucharist, we can experience our own personal “Easter effect” when we meet the risen Lord. Like the disciples, we have him here with us through the scriptures and in the breaking of the bread. 
Like the early Christians, we can convincingly tell everyone that we believe in the resurrection of Jesus.  It should be easier for us to spread the faith today than it was for them.  Our world is hungry for the truth, just as it was in the time of Jesus. 
Many of us are very blessed to have had our faith passed down to us through many generations.  But, though this process, we might have lost the wonder and the amazement of our faith.  Today, as you receive the risen Jesus in the Eucharist, I would encourage you to meditate on what you are receiving.  Be amazed when you receive the risen Christ.  Ask him to help you on your journey towards eternal life.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

I didn't say it was going to be easy


John chapter 3 verse 16: " For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not parish but might have eternal life."   We see John 3:16 on signs at sporting events.  This is probably the most quoted verse in the bible.  It is the gospel summarized in one verse.

Our God is a loving God.  He loves each of us so much that he gave his only son to suffer and die for us.  As Christians, we rejoice in the knowledge that our God yearns for us to be with him in heaven eternally.  

As we look around our church, we see examples of how much our God loves us.  We see fourteen stations which show Christ's journey to the cross for us.  We see in the stained glass windows different events, mostly from Christ's life, which show his love for us.  We see in the statues examples of holy men and women who were filled with Christ's love.  And, first and foremost, we see the tabernacle containing  Jesus body, blood, soul, and divinity in the Eucharist. 
He loves us.  No matter what we have done to hurt him or others, he still loves us.  It is the very foundation of our faith.  John 3:16.  Shout that verse from the rooftop or take a sign to a sporting event to proclaim your faith to others. 

The history of salvation, from the fall of Adam and Eve until the final judgment, revolves around the coming of Jesus Christ, the Savior, the Son of God.  He came because he loved the world so much.  He simply couldn't bear to see us perish in our sins; he longed to share with us his everlasting life. 
God cares.  And Jesus Christ is the definitive proof that he cares.  He cares so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life.  No hidden agenda, no selfish undertones- pure love.  This is the heart of God.

Many in our world today don't view God as a loving God.  Some aren't even sure that there is a God.  Others think that God isn't involved and just watches the messes that we get ourselves into for his amusement.  Still others believe that God is not loving but purely a judge. 

What is your view of God and how does that affect your life?   Do you fear God?  Do you believe that Jesus suffered and died out of love for us?  Do you wonder why a loving God permits suffering? 
Jesus didn't have to suffer and die on the cross for us.  He chose the cross out of love for us.  We also have choices in our lives regarding our crosses.  We can embrace them or abandon them.  We can carry our crosses on our journey towards eternal life or can try to take the easy way out.

Our crosses come in different shapes and sizes.  We may have a difficult relationship that we are struggling with.  We can work on that relationship and choose to love that person or abandon him or her.   We may be considering having another child.  We can choose the sacrifice that this child will  involve or can decide to buy the new car that we have always wanted.  We can offer up the day-to-day suffering that we have because of some illness or can constantly complain about it. 

Many years ago at a Cursillo retreat, the Holy Spirit gave me the words: "I didn't say it was going to be easy."  These weren't the words that I wanted to hear.  I would have preferred to hear: "Your life will be a bed of roses."  But, these were the words that I needed to hear then and that all of us need to hear occasionally.  The crosses that we carry are a gift from God to help us on our journey to heaven.  Embrace them.  Rejoice in them.  For they are our key to eternal happiness.
 
Our crosses, our suffering, reflects the love that Christ has for us.  That concept is difficult for many to understand today.  Our society wants to eliminate all suffering.  And the more that it tries to eliminate suffering, the more suffering is inflicted upon us.  When we run away from our problems rather than face them, we often create more problems for ourselves and for others around us.

Today is Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Lent.  It is a day of celebration, a day of rejoicing as we take a break from the penitential season.  Today, let us rejoice, let us celebrate even in our crosses.  For our God is a loving God who loves each one of us more than we can even imagine.