Sunday, December 15, 2013

A diamond or a lump of coal

Last Sunday, one of our parishioners asked me a question that many parents are asking today.  She asked:  “What do I say to my adult children when they ask me why we didn’t just let them choose their faith when they became adults?  That is a very good question for all of us parents.  Should we, as parents, pass our faith onto our children? 

As we read in the Acts of the Apostles, in the first century they baptized entire families.  Why did they baptize children when they were young before they were able to choose faith for themselves? 

Then, as now, the prince of evil, the devil, is a strong influence in the world.  If we are not raised in the faith of Jesus Christ and educated in that faith, we will likely fall for something else.  We are exposed to secularism, materialism, and consumerism as we are encouraged to do our own thing, to look out for number one, and if it feels good do it.  In short, we are constantly exposed to the lies of the evil one.  And he has a strong grip on our society today as he seduces many with his lies. 

As parents, we want what is best for our children.  And we want the best for them not just in this life but in the next one.  So, we give them the gift of baptism, a precious gem, a diamond when they are infants.  This makes them one of God’s adopted children, a member of His Church, and opens them to sanctifying grace.  But, our world doesn’t portray this gift as a diamond.  Instead, it is presented as a lump of coal.  And it is our job as parents to continually proclaim this faith, to shine this diamond, to encourage our children, and to help them see it as a priceless gift.  We do this by educating them in the faith, and by living our faith day in and day out. 
If we don’t live our faith, our children will see faith through the eyes of the world, that is, though the lies of the evil one.  They will see our faith presented as a burden, as a blight on society, in the worst possible way, now and throughout its history.  In short, our society will portray this precious gift not as a diamond, but as a lump of coal.

Faith can be a fleeting thing as we hear in today’s Gospel.  While in prison, John the Baptist sent his disciples to Jesus to ask: “are you the one who is to come.”  In other words, “are you the Messiah, the Savior, the one who Is to establish the kingdom of God in our land, or are we still waiting for someone else?”  Jesus didn’t reply by saying that he was the Messiah.  Instead, he pointed to his miracles as evidence.
John had lept with joy within his mother’s womb when Mary came to visit.  At Jesus baptism in the Jordan, John had pointed Jesus out as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  Why is he asking: “are you the one who is to come?”

Perhaps John was feeling discouraged, locked up as he was, possibly contemplating his own execution.  John could have been asking in effect, “If you’ve come to ‘proclaim liberty to captives’, to set God’s people free, what am I doing here in prison?”  Was John discouraged, was he losing faith?  Or was he asking this question to strengthen the weak faith of his disciples.  We don’t know the answer to that question.  But as parents we can relate to John if he was trying to strengthen the faith of his disciples. 

As parents, how do we pass the faith, weak as it may be, onto our children?  Should we just let our children choose for themselves when they get older?  This clearly is a cop out.  This is avoiding our responsibility as parents.  Our primary responsibility as parents isn’t to raise great athletes, scholars, or outstanding businessmen or women.  Our primary responsibility as parents is to lead our children to heaven, to bring them to eternal life.  If we abdicate that responsibility, we have ignored our most important job.
What do we do as parents if our adult children stray from the faith?  We can follow the lead of St Monica, the mother of St Augustine.  When St Augustine turned away and ridiculed the faith of his holy mother, she didn’t attempt to argue with him.  Instead, she prayed him back into the faith by continually offering her prayers and sacrifices to bring him back.  And she also sought the help of others, especially St Ambrose. 

And we must remember the message of St James in the second reading today.  We need patience.  We cannot expect this miracle to happen in our time.  It may take months or years for the Lord to rescue our children from the grips of the evil one.  In fact, we might not even witness it during our lifetime.  But, like John the Baptist and his disciples, we must cling to our faith as we rejoice and await the upcoming birth of our Savior.


So today, on this Gaudete or Rejoice Sunday, let us rejoice.  Let us rejoice for our own precious faith, for this beautiful diamond.  Let us rejoice for the faith of those in our community, and for the gift of family.  And let us rejoice for the miracles of Jesus, especially for the miracle of the Eucharist, as we await His birthday.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Humility

Today’s first reading takes us back to 850 BC in Syria.  Naaman was an Aramean general who had leprosy.  His slave girl, an Israelite, told her master about a prophet in Israel, Elisha, who would be able to cure his disease.  It must have taken a lot of humility and faith for this proud general to go into the territory of his enemy looking for Elisha.  When Naaman located him, Elisha wouldn’t even meet him.  He just told Naaman through a messenger to go and wash seven times in the Jordan River.  Naaman was angry and insulted.  He said:  “Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel?”  But, his servants persuaded him to follow the directions of the prophet.   Naaman went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan and his flesh was restored like that of a child.     

Naaman’s pride prevented him, at first, from following the directions of the prophet Elisha.  These directions didn’t make sense to him.  Why seven times?  Why the waters of the Jordan?  Why didn’t the prophet meet him, the great general, and heal him personally?

Doesn’t Naaman sound a lot like us?  We might say: “Why do I need to go to confession, I haven’t done anything that bad?  Why do I need to confess my sins to a priest, can’t I just tell the Lord about them in the silence of my heart?  Why do I need to go to Mass every Sunday, the Lord understands?  Why do I need to go the mass on Holy Days?   The list goes on and on.  Of course, we only object to those commandments and rules that we want to break. 

A wise man once said: “I only know two things for sure:  One, there is a God.  And two, it isn’t me.”  Most of us don’t have too much trouble with the first one.  As we look around us and see the order and the beauty of the world, it is easy for us to realize that there is a God who created us and made everything around us.  But the second statement is quite a bit more difficult.  For, once we acknowledge that we aren’t God; then we have to submit to the will of God, who is far superior to us.   And, sometimes, that God will ask us to do things that we don’t want to do and will tell us not to do some things that we enjoy.  Therein, lies the rub.
We have the most difficulty with God and his commandments when we have committed some sin that we don’t want to let go of.   Then, we’re not really free to follow God and to do his will.  Instead, we are trapped by the devil under the grip of our sin.  The best way to free ourselves from the grip of the devil, to let go of our sin, is to go to confession.  Then, like Naaman, we can be made clean, like little children.  We will have escaped from the snares of the devil and will be free to follow God.

Before the Saturday evening Mass, people wait in line for confession. They range from the young to the old. Their different manner of dress is a sign of their varied social conditions and backgrounds. Nevertheless, there they stand, waiting, a visible acknowledgment that they are sinners. No one gets first place, or goes to the back of the line because of their finances, place of birth, job, or academic degrees. Like the diverse lepers they are united by their shared need. Standing together in the line for Reconciliation, they humbly admit that they have sinned and are in need of forgiveness.  We do the same thing at the beginning of Mass as together we pray aloud, “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.”

The gospel today encourages us to voice our prayer as humbly as the lepers did: “Jesus, Master, have pity on us.” No need for pretense, excuses or false pride to block or alter the request. Bluntly put: “Have pity on us.” We are like the lepers, who did not pray as individuals alone, but as a group in need, “Have pity on us.” We pray for ourselves at today’s liturgy and we pray for those around us in the pews, as well as for the church and the world. “Have pity on us.”

Pope Francis has provided many examples of humility since his election earlier this year.  He recently said: “Let us always remain meek and humble, that we might defeat the empty promises and the hatred of the world.  The way of Christians is the way of Jesus.  If we want to be followers of Jesus, there is no other way.   We must remain sheep, because sheep are meek and humble, and when we are sheep we have a shepherd.”

I will close with a prayer for humility.
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire:
That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease. 
That others may be chosen and I set aside. 
That others may be praised and I unnoticed.
And that others may be preferred to me in everything. Amen

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Lazarus and the rich man

If there ever was a parable that should keep us awake at night, it is today’s story of the rich man and Lazarus.  Most of us would prefer not to think too much about this parable because we are quite rich compared to many in the world.  So, we may try to convince ourselves that we really aren’t rich, since our cars are several years old, or we don’t have latest electronic devices.   Then, we might skip over this parable and other teachings of Jesus concerning our responsibility to those in need. We are very much like the rich man in our ability to see only those teachings of Jesus that we want to see.
All over the world, those who have much in terms of the world’s goods turn a blind eye toward those who have practically nothing.  But, as we reflect on this parable, we realize that our riches and our freedom create a special obligation for us toward those in need. 
Jesus said in his parable that Lazarus “was laid” at the rich man’s gate.  He was an invalid who had to be laid there. Lazarus was totally helpless. There were no welfare programs. He had no family to care for him. All he could do was beg, but the rich man couldn’t be bothered even to share a few coins. He refused to even acknowledge Lazarus’ existence.
But, there was one who did notice. God noticed. Luke tells us when Lazarus died, “The angels carried Lazarus to Abraham’s side.” What a beautiful image.  It wasn’t friends or concerned neighbors who carried Lazarus home at the end of a long day of begging. It was the angels. God cared about Lazarus.
This parable demonstrates how differently we see the world from the way God sees it. For, in Jesus’ story, it is Lazarus who made a name for himself and the rich man is anonymous. We know Lazarus’ name, but not the name of the man who ignored him. Lazarus knew God and was known by God. His very name, Lazarus, means God is my Help or Helper.
“By naming Lazarus and not the rich man, Jesus’ story completely contrasts with worldly understandings of who’s who.   Jesus reminds us that heaven is the opposite of this world in many respects, especially when it comes to an individual’s worth in society.
God also noticed the actions of the rich man who refused to notice the poor man at his gate. The rich man was in hell because God noticed him. But why did God deal with him so harshly? There is no record of a vicious, glaring sin. He was not cruel, as far as we know. He never ordered Lazarus from his gate or refused Lazarus the crumbs from his table. He was not a tyrant; not an oppressor of the poor, not a monstrous member of society. Rather, he may well have been an  upright citizen, respected and well liked. No earthly court would ever think of arresting or condemning him. In society’s eyes he was honored and highly esteemed. What then was his sin? His was the sin of not noticing.
          How often do you and I take time to notice the people around us--their needs and their concerns? Not just the homeless people asking for handouts on a city street, but the lonely teenager who lives down the street or the young mother trying to keep her family together after her husband has abandoned her. How often do we notice the elderly person whom no one visits; the jobless guy who is being left behind by a culture that no longer values his talents?  How often do we notice the person sitting just a short distance from us in the pew who has just received a devastating report from a doctor?  Do we even notice what other people around us are going through?
It is a sin that afflicts all of us to one degree or another, and yet we rarely talk about it. It is the sin of self-absorption. It is the sin of being so preoccupied and so busy with our own cares and concerns that we give no thought to the problems of those about us.
There are times in our lives, spiritually, when each of us is a beggar lying at the gate totally helpless, and Christ notices us and Christ loves us just as we are. As we remember that truth, that compassion, that grace, Christ calls us to look around and see someone who needs our attention, our compassion, our love. And this person might just remember our generous attention when he or she is in the position to help someone else.  

As the rich man learns in today’s parable, the distance between ourselves and God in the next life may be the distance we put between ourselves and those in need in this lifeWe may not be rich men or exploiters of the poor, but each of us should take to heart the persistent message of Jesus – that what we have and desire to have can separate us from God and our neighbor; that our possessions can come to possess us; and that true riches are to be found in sharing what we have with the poor.  Don’t be like the rich man who will forever be remembered as the person who refused to notice. Look around you today; find someone who needs your love.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Will only a few people be saved


Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. As he made his way through the various towns and villages on his route, he stopped and taught those who came out to hear him. He was becoming quite a celebrity. Sometimes thousands came out. Yet he knew that most of these folks were merely curious. They were not truly seekers after the truth. In fact, someone along the way asked him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?”

My guess is that this was a serious question. Maybe this person assumed that he or she was safely in and asked the question in a somewhat smug, self-righteous way. Or maybe this person asked because he or she was worried about being left out.

Of course, Jesus rarely answered a question directly. Instead, He turns the question back on the questioner. He says, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and not be able to.”

What does Jesus mean by the narrow gate? Does he mean that the number of people who will get into heaven is limited?  This is a frequent topic at the men’s bible studies that I lead.  As an engineer and a logical person, I would like to give a precise answer.  I’d like to say, “yes, 95% will be saved”.  So, each one of us only has to be better than that bottom 5%.  And, salvation then becomes a competition.  But, salvation doesn’t work that way.  We’re not in competition with our fellow man to get to heaven.  In fact, the more of them that we help get to heaven, the better our chances are of making it also. 

We can’t definitively say what Jesus meant when he said that the gate is narrow, but we do know that anything worth having in this world requires work. You want a strong body, you work for it. You want a strong marriage, you work at it. You want a strong company, you work at it. Why should it be any different in our spiritual life?   

A few years ago Karen Phelps, a distance runner, wrote these challenging words, “On this particular day, I didn’t feel like running at all, but I made myself because running is a sport you have to practice every day. I wanted to win races, so I had a set plan for training.  In short, I ran every day, no matter what.”

“One day,” she continues, “as I jogged along on my training run, it came to me that daily training was what my spiritual life needed. Do you know what I’ve learned? Sometimes you may not feel like praying or reading the Bible or going out of your way to help others. But if you’re in training--physical or spiritual--you’ll do it.” Karen Phelps is right on target.

            Today, many seem to have convinced themselves that the Christian life is easy, that it requires only a minimal output of effort. We can turn it over to our priest or deacon and focus on our secular affairs with little or no thought of God.

A recent Gallup Poll found that fewer than ten percent of Christians in this land could be called deeply committed. And most Christians do not know basic Christian teachings and do not act differently because of their Christian experience.

            The narrow gate suggests that Christ loves us whoever we may be and whatever we have done, but Christ expects that we will not stay where we are. Christ expects us to agonize, to strive mightily to live according to the standard he has established for us.  He wants us to discipline us so that we will be fit to share eternity with him as we hear in today’s second reading.

            About twenty years ago, Father Jim Willig came here for a mission talk.  I still remember one thing that he said during that mission.  He said: “The path to heaven is heaven and the path to hell is hell.”  When I heard that, I thought that he had said it backwards.  Everyone knows that partying and having a good time may be great now but it will land us in hell.  Then, I thought about it a little and realized that that when I had followed God’s will for my life I found peace and joy.  But when I did my own thing, in the long run, it brought me sorrow and pain.  So, truly, the path to heaven is heaven and the path to hell is hell. 

            As members of St Francis De Sales parish in Lebanon, Ohio, we have it so easy that we might not have a sense of urgency about entering through the narrow gate. We might believe that we are good enough if we just come to church on Sunday.  We might look at our friends and neighbors and think that we’re doing well spiritually because many of them don’t even go to church.  We might watch the news or reality TV shows and think that we’re are pretty good.  But Jesus tells us: strive, discipline, help others, and some are last who will be first and some are first who will be last.

“Lord,” someone asked, “will only a few people be saved?” Jesus answered, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate because many will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.”

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Be like Jeremiah and you might get thrown into a cistern


In the first reading today, the princes tell the king that Jeremiah is demoralizing the soldiers and the people.   Jeremiah was a great prophet who often reminded the Israelites of their sinful ways.  He tells them what they need to hear but not what they want to hear.  For this, he was thrown into a cistern.

Archbishop Schnurr wrote an editorial for the Cincinnati Enquirer last Thursday titled: “support marriage, don’t redefine it”.  Like Jeremiah, he is telling us what we need to hear but it isn’t what some want to hear. 

Speaking the truth on controversial issues was difficult for Jeremiah as it is for Archbishop Schnurr and for many of us.  Some would say that it is more compassionate not to bring these types of issues up.  It’s certainly safer to say nothing.  But, we must ask if this is what Jesus would have us do.

The key in addressing issues such as this is compassion.  We must always love our neighbor, even if that neighbor vehemently disagrees with us. 

In the Gospel, Jesus tells us that families will be divided.  He says: “Do you think I have come to establish peace on earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division.”

What was true in Jesus time still is true today.  Some of Jesus teachings will divide us.  There will be some who agree with Jesus and His Church and some who disagree.  Two issues which divide many in our nation today are abortion and same sex marriage.  In both cases, some have taken the position that the teachings of Jesus and His Church are wrong.  In fact, some go so far to call those who proclaim these teachings to be uncompassionate or bigoted. 

I would encourage everyone to learn why the Church teaches what it does on both of these issues.  We know that the early Church opposed both abortion and homosexual acts and that this opposition has continued for the past two thousand years.  Why does our Church oppose this when it might be easier for it to just keep silent, as some others have done?  If you have questions about this teaching and don’t believe that you can fully embrace it, I would encourage you to talk to Father Bernie or me about it.  Or you could visit a good Catholic web site, like catholicanswers.com to better understand this issue. 

And finally, I’d like to ask all of you to pray.  Pray for those women who are carrying a child that they don’t want.  Pray that they will have the courage to carry it to term even if they would, at birth, give the child up for adoption.  Pray for those with same sex attraction.  They certainly have a large cross to bear.   And pray for our families and our nation that we can heal the wounds that divide us.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The red bicycle

Michael had spotted a shiny, red bicycle in the store window.  Then, he prayed to Jesus every day that he would get that bicycle for Christmas.  So, Christmas came and Michael ran downstairs to see the gifts under the tree.  But, there was no bicycle.  So, Michael took his wagon and headed down the street to church.  He sneaked into church and picked up the statue of Mary from the nativity.  He put it into his wagon, took it home, and stashed it under his bed.  Then, he prayed:  “Jesus, I have your mother.  When I get my bicycle, you can have her back.”
Michael was certainly persistent in his prayers.  Today’s first reading and the Gospel are both about persistence in our prayers.  In the first reading, Abraham negotiates with God to save the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.  He negotiates God down from saving the cities if fifty good people are found to saving them with only ten good people. 

In the Gospel, Jesus tells the story about the man who goes at midnight to get three loaves of bread from his friend.  Jesus tells us:  “he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence.”

When our lives get difficult, whether it’s running out of bread when hospitality is called for, or running low on faith at critical moments, we are tempted to think that the Holy One is asleep behind a closed door. We feel very much on the outside, like Michael who didn’t get his bicycle. At these times it’s important to hear the keyword in the parable – the man went to the door of a “Friend.”

The parable presumes a favorable response. In need the petitioner went to a friend, not an uncaring, aloof stranger, but a friend. It was a setting where hospitality and generosity were expected.

Jesus shows us God’s hospitality. He provides the best bread for the hunger we face on our sometimes arduous journey.  We all know that it’s tiring to keep trying to do what is right and fair. It’s discouraging to love those who are less than loving. It’s overwhelming to address issues of poverty, education or racism. It’s scary to face serious illness or the physical and emotional hardships of old-age. It’s difficult to protect our children in this carefree and sometimes evil world.  The journey is hard, if not now, there will be moments.

The parable implies a question: if a friend would give us the bread we need at an inconvenient time, how much more will God give to those who turn to him in hunger?  This is not the testing, distant God some of us grew up with; but a friend, ready to give us the nourishment we need, and must have, so that we can feed the hungers of others we meet on the journey.

I always thought asking, seeking, knocking were kinds of guarantees. If I prayed the right prayer hard enough and long enough, what I asked for, I would get. When I sought, I would find. When I knocked, I would get quick and easy entry.  Today, I hear Jesus clearly say to us, “How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask?”

The Holy Spirit.  Not riches, power, fame, or health.  But the Holy Spirit.

How often do we ask Jesus for the Holy Spirit?   I suspect that we don’t often ask for the Holy Spirit.  Instead, we are probably asking for a red bicycle or maybe a red Ferrari.

Jesus gives us what we need to help us get to heaven.    Jesus told his apostles that he would send the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, when he left.  Jesus knew what they needed.  And he did send the Holy Spirit when they were gathered in the upper room at Pentecost.  This Holy Spirit changed eleven frightened men into great leaders who were willing to die to spread Christ’s message.   This was the beginning of the Church that still today is guided by the Holy Spirit. 

Jesus says God will give us the Holy Spirit. St Paul tells us the God’s love is poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness.  He breathes new life into difficult situations and gives us hope when we are ready to throw in the towel.  Anytime we feel a need for the Spirit -- ask, seek, knock.  As we pray for that gift, we are knocking at the door and inside is a Friend ready to give us the good bread we need.


The next time you pray the Our Father,ask for the only gift that you need, the Holy Spirit.  And the next time you receive the bread, the Eucharist, in Holy Communion, give thanks for the Holy Spirit and for the Friend who gives you exactly what you need.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Ten Commandments and our impact on future generations


In today’s first reading from the book of Exodus, we hear the familiar Ten Commandments. But, it surprised me that so much of the reading is about the first three commandments which relate to our relationship with God and so little of it is on the last seven commandments which relate to our relationship with each other.

Perhaps there is a message here for us that our relationship with God is extremely important and it impacts how we relate to each other.

After the first commandment, the author says: “I am a jealous God, inflicting punishment for their father’s wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation; but bestowing mercy down to the thousandth generation on the children of those who love me and keep my commandments.” 

Our sins impact not only us but our children, grandchildren, great –grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren.  This is particularly true of sins which involve life – aborting a child, or contracepting to avoid conceiving a child.  How many children of God are not here today because so many have chosen these practices?  And, of course, none of us would be here today if our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents hadn’t chosen  life.

Last Saturday, there was a funeral here for Tom Spellmeyer.  At 59, Tom was the youngest of ten children.  Mary, his mother, at 93 years young, was there for the funeral.  As I looked out at the church with over 300 people present, I couldn’t help but marvel at the many lives that Tom and the other Spellmeyer children have touched over the years.  What a loss it would have been if Mary hadn’t chosen life so many times!

My message today isn’t that everyone should have ten children.  It is a rare person who is called to give life to that many children.  Instead, my message is that everyone should listen to God’s will for them especially regarding having children.  Many families today have two or fewer children and plan their families with no regard for God’s will.  It is very easy to decide to have very few children so that we can have the things - cars, vacations, nice houses - which seem to be more important today. 

If we listen to God’s will in these matters, he opens our hearts to the gift of life.  And he gives us the grace to raise His children following His commandments. He tells us in the first commandment that we are not to have other gods before him.   He is saying that we should not choose things – cars, vacations, houses – over His will for us.  He knows what will ultimately make us happy. 

Heavenly Father, we thank you for the gift of life.  We thank you for the Ten Commandments.  And we pray that we will always choose life and will always follow your commandments so that, someday, we can spend eternal life with you in heaven.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Who do I say that Jesus is?

"Who do the crowds say that I am?" Jesus’ disciples had been with him for a while and had watched and listened as Jesus taught the crowds and responded to attacks. Their first responses to Jesus were drawn from what they had observed and heard others say.  They responded that Jesus was John the Baptist, or Elijah, or an ancient prophet.  As we know, these answers, which were the popular opinions of the time, were all wrong.

Then Jesus fine-tuned his question and asked, "But who do you say that I am?" The question required the disciples to go within, to draw upon their experiences with Jesus and come to their own conclusion. Peter responds: "The Christ of God." 
Just as Jesus asked this question of the apostles, he repeatedly asks this question of each one of us.  Initially, most of us might give a quick answer.  We would say: “You are Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”     Then, Jesus would peer deep into our heart and ask us one more time:  “Who do you say that I am?”  Then, we realize that he is asking us to answer his question not based upon our mind but upon our lives, our actions. 
Do our lives reflect the fact that we know Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God?  This is a difficult question for us as it was for the apostles.  It’s one thing to know Jesus as a great prophet.  It’s quite another to know him as the son of the creator of the universe, the son of God who became man.  We can choose to follow the direction of a prophet or we can ignore him.  But, when the son of God speaks, we had better listen. 
The last two Friday’s, Father John Patterson said mass here and I was on the altar to help him.  Father John graduated from St Francis De Sales grade school in 1984 and then attended Fenwick.  He has cerebral palsy which makes it very difficult for him to walk.  In fact, he normally has to lean on someone to get from one place to another.  But when Father John talks, it’s like listening to Jesus.  During Friday morning’s homily, he commented that leaning on someone’s shoulder when he goes from one place to another is a blessing for him because he feels like he is getting helped by Jesus.  Friday, I was Jesus for Father John as I helped him get around the altar. It was a great blessing for me.  And I know that Father John’s words were a blessing for all those present.    
Our thoughts and our actions say more about who Jesus is for us than our words do.  Hopefully, our actions in this area reflect Jesus such that others know, when they are around us, that we are his followers.  Father John Patterson is Christ-like to his very core.  He knows Christ to such a great extent that when you are in his presence, you feel like you are close to Jesus.
What about us?  Most of us are struggling on our journey to get to know Jesus.  We may know that he is the Messiah, but our lives may not reflect that knowledge.  What can we do to get to know him better?
First of all, we can avoid doing things which will distance ourselves from him.  Whenever we sin, we are separating ourselves from the love of God.  For example, if we use the name of the Lord in vain, by our very words, we are mocking the Lord.  How can we confidently say that we know Jesus as the Son of God, when we use his name in vain?
Secondly, we can get to know Jesus by receiving him in Holy Communion.  In Holy Communion, we receive Jesus body, blood, soul, and divinity.  The principal fruit of receiving Holy Communion is an intimate union with Jesus.  Of course, it is important that we be in the state of grace when we receive him.  If we believe that Jesus is the Messiah, we certainly don’t want to be in serious sin when we receive him in Holy Communion.  So, if you are in the state of serious sin, go to confession before receiving Holy Communion.
Next, we get to know Jesus through Scripture.  We have three Scripture readings each Sunday at Mass and these readings repeat every three years.  If you attend Mass every Sunday, over the course of this three year cycle, you will have heard over half of the bible.   If you also attend mass every day for the two year cycle of daily masses, between the Sunday and daily readings, you will have heard about 90% of the bible.  And after hearing these Scripture readings, we should reflect upon them and apply them to our lives.
Finally, Christ has revealed himself to us through his Church.  There is an intimate bond between Christ and his Church.  Not only is she gathered around Him, she is united with Him.  The Church is the Body of Christ in the unity of her members with each other, especially in receiving His body.  Christ is the Head of the Church.  And the Church is the bride of Christ.

Who do you say that I am?  As we reflect upon this question today, let us resolve to get to know Jesus better, through Scripture, through receiving him in Holy Communion, and through his Church.  Then, maybe someone will tell us that our lives image the love of Jesus.  

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Baseball and marriage


Baseball is a game and normally the failures of its players are not tragic.  In fact, they can be comical.  Errors, mishaps, bloopers, and bonehead plays have an enduring charm of their own. 

Marv Throneberry symbolized the futility of one of the worst teams in the history of baseball—the 1962 New York Mets—losers of a record 120 games.  In a game against the Chicago Cubs, Marvelous Marv steamed into third base with what he thought was a triple.  Ernie Banks took a relay throw and stepped on first base. The umpire declared Throneberry out because he did not touch first base.  When manager Casey Stengel came out to protest the call, the umpire pointed out that Marv had also failed to touch second base.  Throneberry might as well have stayed home.

Baseball, like life, demands order - first base–second base–then third base.  The game does not abide disorder.  A runner cannot proceed from the batter’s box directly to third base.  In committing a violation of the rules, the runner is called “out”.  Baseball cannot remain an intelligible game unless it prohibits such disordered base running.  Its rules are its lifeblood.

So, it is with marriage.  A successful marriage demands that certain rules must be followed.  Jesus tells us to love one another as he has loved us.  So, the rules of marriage are based upon the love that Jesus has for us.  Jesus’ love for us is free, total, faithful, fruitful, and forever.  The love of husband and wife is also meant to be free, total, fruitful, faithful, and forever.  I’d like to give you examples of love which fits each of these five key characteristics.

Love is free.  We see an example of that freedom in the love of Andrew and Liz this morning.  Clearly each of them freely decided to get married.  They went together for several years before they were engaged and have been engaged for about a year before getting married.  Andrew even carried the engagement ring around in his pocket for about a month before he found the perfect time and place to give it to Liz.  The first reading says: “My lover belongs to me and I to him.”  This belonging is given freely.  One spouse doesn’t possess the other one. Instead each freely gives themselves to the other.

Love is faithful.  Carlene and Gene used to live across the street from here. I didn’t get to know them until their children were grown.  But, I understand that they had some difficult times when their children were growing up.  When I began presiding at the Friday morning communion service several years’ ago, Gene would come up to communion and would ask for a host for Carlene.  Gene visited Carlene each day at the nursing home and took communion to her.  Even after she became so sick that she no longer could receive communion, Gene still visited Carlene each day until her death about a year ago.  Gene’s love for Carlene was truly faithful.  It was a great example of faithful married love to all of their children, their grandchildren, and all of us.  Gene’s love was tested by Carlene’s lengthy illness.  Gene was faithful to the end.

Love is fruitful.  Each Sunday as I look at the congregation from here on the altar, I see many mothers and fathers with their young children.  As I see them patiently caring for their children, it is the perfect example of fruitful love.  Once, several years’ ago, Emily was sitting in the second pew with her young daughter.  At the beginning of Father Rob’s homily, her daughter began to make noise and she took her out.  Later in the homily, her daughter had quieted down and Emily came back in with her.  But, she had no sooner returned to the pew than her daughter began to make noise again.  So, even before Father Rob finished the homily, Emily had to go out again.  For me, Emily is an example of the fruitful and patient love of a mother.

Love is forever.  Kathleen and I have been married almost forty five years.  When we were married, Kathleen gave me a rosary on which was inscribed the word “Forever” and the date July 6, 1968.  Kathleen clearly understood that marriage is forever.   In 1982, Kathleen and I attended a marriage encounter weekend.  At the time, Kathleen was pregnant with our fifth child, Ann.  On that weekend, one couple gave a talk about their relationship with God.  They said that a strong marriage is like a tripod with three legs: the husband, the wife and God.  For a marriage to last forever, strong communication between all three, husband, wife and God, is needed.  Kathleen and I commented that we communicated pretty well with each other but had little communication with God except for mass on Sunday.  We each resolved to improve our communication with God.  Over the years, each of us has improved our prayer life and our marriage has grown stronger.  We pray that Andrew and Liz, during the difficult times, will lean on God and His grace, so that their marriage will last forever.

Love is total.  Christ’s love for us is the perfect example of total love.  He loved us so much that he willingly gave his life for us on the cross.  Jesus’ crucifixion and death is depicted in the beautiful stations that we see around this church.  It is not likely that any of us will be tested to the extent that Christ was.  But, eventually each of us will find our love tested.  Suffering and sacrifice is the true test of love.  John’s Gospel tells us:  “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. “  Sometimes love hurts.  Total love involves suffering.

As I was preparing to write this homily, I asked Andrew and Liz a few questions to give me a sense of their love for each other.  One question I asked was: What quality of your fiancĂ©e made you fall in love with him or her?  Andrew responded that Liz’s unconditional love made him fall in love with her.  Wow!   What a great quality!  We’re all looking for that unconditional love.  Andrew and Liz, we pray that you will still see that unconditional love in each other, a love which is free, total, faithful, fruitful, and forever, as you celebrate your twentieth, thirtieth, fortieth, and even fiftieth wedding anniversaries.  We pray for all married couples here today as we joyfully witness the marriage of Andrew and Liz.  We pray that all married couples can hit a home run and lead each other to the heavenly marriage feast and, to the eternal, unconditional love of the Father.  God bless.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mothers - a great example of love and sacrifice


Last year, Publix supermarkets aired a commercial that shows the role of a mother both before and after her child is born.  The ad features a young girl helping her pregnant mother in the kitchen.  The little girl asks, “Can the baby hear me?” to which the mother responds, “I think so!”  When prompted by her mother to tell the baby a secret, the little girl embraces her mother’s pregnant belly and says, “You’re really going to love mom.”

The cartoon character Dennis the Menace told his friend Joey, "I don't know what I'll do when my mom gets too old to tie my shoes." 

A wise man once said: “To become a mother is not so difficult; on the other hand, being a mother is very difficult!"   

Who was the greatest influence in your life?  Has a teacher or a professor been your greatest influence? Perhaps you would say that a friend or maybe your spouse has influenced you the most. A recent poll asked that question to more than 4,000 adults. The results were revealing.  According to the poll, the person with the greatest influence was their mother: 42% of men and 53% of woman said that their mother was the most influential person in their life.

For all its stumbling blocks and pitfalls, motherhood is a natural part of God's creative order to bring love and caring to others. Motherhood as God planned it is a wonderful thing. We should honor it and lift it up is a beautiful example of love and sacrifice.  And we should teach the highest ideals of motherhood by words and example to our children.

The second reading mentions the hope and faithfulness of Jesus as it says:  “Let us hold unwaveringly to our confession that gives us hope, for he who made the promise is trustworthy.”  Christ is always faithful. Most of our mothers were faithful and unwavering in passing the faith to us by their words and example.

Most of us here today were baptized when we were a very young.  Our parents, especially our mother, gave us the gift of our faith in baptism and then taught us our faith as we grew up.  I suspect that many of us wouldn’t be here today if not for the unwavering faith of our mother.  I probably wouldn’t be a practicing Catholic if it weren’t for the faith of my mother and I wouldn’t be a deacon if not for the faith and support of my wife. 

 Last Sunday, during mass, I saw a young mother in the back foyer watching her toddler.  During the consecration, this mother knelt right in the middle of the foyer.  This was a great example of faith to me.  I’m sure it was difficult to keep track of her toddler while she knelt.  But, in faith, she continued to kneel all during the consecration. 

In the Gospel, Jesus told his apostles that they would be clothed with power from on high.  Mothers, by their baptism and their confirmation, are clothed with power from on high when they give birth to a child.  This power gives them the strength and the courage to raise their children in the faith.  Mothers are often the glue that holds the family together.  And the family is the glue that holds our Church and our nation together.

On this Mother's Day we pause to honor mothers and to reflect on the important contribution they have made to our lives and to society.  For most of us, our lives would have been empty without them.  

Let us pray:  Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we thank You for our mothers to whom You have entrusted the care of every precious human life from its very beginning in the womb.
You have given women the capacity of participating with You in the creation of new life. Grant that every woman may come to understand the full meaning of that blessing, which gives her a capacity for selfless love for every child she may be privileged to bear, and for all Your children.
To mothers You have given the great privilege and responsibility of being a child's first teacher and spiritual guide. Grant that all mothers may foster the faith of their children. Help mothers to grow daily in the knowledge and understanding of Your Son, and grant them the wisdom to impart this knowledge faithfully to their children and to all who depend upon them.

We ask your blessing on all those to whom You have entrusted motherhood. May Your Holy Spirit constantly inspire and strengthen them. May they follow the example of Mary, mother of Our Lord, and imitate her fidelity, her humility, and her self-giving love. May all mothers receive Your Grace abundantly in this earthly life, and may they look forward to eternal joy.  We ask this through Jesus Christ your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen

Friday, April 26, 2013

Love makes it possible


In many ways, the story played out in today’s Gospel is the story of our own lives.  It is the story of recognizing Jesus on the shoreline of our lives, and following Jesus wherever he may lead us.

Peter recently had a few bad days- accusing voices in the courtyard,  three denials, a cock crowing, and the horrible death of the one whom he had promised to never deny or desert.  And, then, the empty tomb and the awful uncertainty and questioning it had brought.

If you listen carefully to the Gospel, you can almost hear a long sigh of relief just before Peter says to the other disciples, “I am going fishing”.  And fish he did - all night in the dark, his labor helping him to forget for a brief time the voices, the fears, and the doubts.  Peter was going back to the ordinary, the familiar part of his life.  And can we really blame him?  We do the same.  After all the passion of Holy Week, we too are exhausted; we want to turn back to the ordinary things of our lives; perhaps we too would like to go fishing.  But then something unexpected happens.  We see this figure on the shoreline of our lives and we are reminded of Jesus.  Jesus is present in every moment of our lives, every day, but we often do not recognize him. 

What inspired Peter to leap into the waters of the Sea of Tiberias and wade to shore?  Love!  Love yanked Peter out of the boat that morning.  Love in the heart of Jesus calling out to this impetuous man, Simon Peter. 

Our lives follow the same pattern as that of Peter in today’s Gospel.  Our Lord calls to us from the shoreline of our lives and we, standing in our unique little boats, exhausted from laboring on our own in the darkness, respond.  We take the plunge.  Love calls to us in our daily lives.  Love calls us from the workplace: Follow me in everything you do at work today; be patient with that irritating employee; reach out to someone who is alienated.  And we take the plunge.  Love calls to us in our family: call or write a letter to one of your siblings or your parents, tell your children you love them.  And we take the plunge.  Love calls out to us in our parish; try a new ministry, get to know a stranger.  And we take the plunge.

But love is not content with superficial displays of enthusiasm.  Love probes.  Love tests those who take the plunge.  And so our Lord cross-examines Peter –“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”  Do you love me more than fishing?  Do you love me more than your former way of life?

Jesus draws Peter into this uncomfortable conversation that calls to mind his triple denial. Still, Peter doesn’t drop out of the conversation, nor does Jesus wash his hands of Peter and the rest and walk away. If we stay around, remember and confess our failures, Jesus is ready to forgive and send us out again. Peter has nothing to be puffed up about.  Perhaps, in the light of our performance, neither do we.  Jesus calls Peter back to his servant role, “Feed my lambs… Tend my sheep.”

Then Jesus says: ”When you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted”; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you were you do not want to go.”

Sometimes all of us must go places where we don’t want to go.  On Easter Sunday, after the 11:00 mass, one of my children told me that my granddaughter, Julia Bissell, a seventh grader at St Francis, collapsed when she was getting ready for mass that morning and was taken by ambulance to Children’s Hospital.  Later in the day, we found out that Julia had a brain tumor the size of a golf ball.  It was bleeding and would have to be removed.

The next Thursday, Julia was in surgery for about ten hours as they removed the tumor.  She was lifted up by the prayers of many in this community and by others we don’t even know. Many helped out by bringing dinners to the house.  It was a blessing to experience the prayers and support of so many.

Julia is recovering.  She came home from the hospital last Tuesday.  Things are gradually returning to normal for her grateful parents and grandparents.  We relied on the mercy and love of God in our time of helplessness and despair.  And we felt the love of God through the love of our community.  Thank you for your prayers and for your support.

When we are young we experience a kind of freedom that we think will never end.  It seems life will never end.  But as we gradually become adults, we relinquish some of that youthful freedom.  Love compels us to do so, to go sometimes where we do not want to go.  Life forces us to stretch out our hands and be led where we may not want to go. 

Love makes it possible for us to go there.  Love enables us to make the sacrifices that our adult life demands of each one of us.

The source of that love is standing always on the shore of our lives.  In a few minutes, this altar will become that little charcoal fire by the Sea of Tiberias.  Jesus will be standing there with food prepared- his body and blood.  Take the plunge this morning.  Take the plunge into the love God offers you and find the freedom that comes from following Christ.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Our new church reveals the glory of God


In today’s Gospel, the miraculous transformation of water into wine is certainly an important part of the story.  But there is more.  We should not overlook the fact that there would have been no wine, if Mary, the mother of Jesus, had not acted.  Mary saw the problem, recognized the gift that Jesus had, and said, “Do whatever he tells you.”

By converting the water into wine, Jesus “revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him.”  The revealing of Christ’s glory would not have happened without human involvement.  This marvelous sign of Christ’s glory did not take place in a vacuum.  It was precipitated by human action.  It required Mary, of course.  But, the servers also needed to follow Jesus’ direction by filling the water jars and taking some to the head waiter.  I imagine that they felt foolish when they drew from these jars, which they had just filled with water, to give to the headwaiter to taste.  And yet they did it and the glory of Christ was revealed in the excellent wine.

In our lives, our families, our parish, and our community the glory of Christ remains hidden, dormant, unrevealed, unless we become involved.  Grapes would not become wine and wine would not become the blood of Christ without human action.  The glory of Christ revealed in our world today depends upon our actions.

Today we see a visible expression of the glory of Christ being revealed in our beautiful new church.  We have waited a long time for this church.  And, certainly, it was worth the wait.  As many of you know, there have been several false starts over the past fifteen years.  On several occasions, we started the process of building a new church, only to discover that the time was not right for it.  I was on the steering committee in 1998 through 2001 when we made the first attempt.  At that time, our pastor received many of these stained glass windows from Archbishop Pilarczyk.  We proceeded to conduct a survey, hire an architect and develop plans for a church.  But, Father Hohlmayer had to retire due to poor health and the project was shelved.

A few years’ later, a building committee was formed and an architect was hired under the direction of our pastor, Father Schmitz.  But, once again, the timing wasn’t right for building a church or any other structure here.

Father Bernie started the process again a few years’ ago and proceeded through fundraising, hiring an architect and developing plans for the church.  But, when these plans were sent out for bids, all of the bids were much higher than the funds available.   Father Bernie with the assistance of Mike Perkins and Don Hinkle, was able to revise the plans to fit within our budget so our church could finally be built. 

There are several key lessons to be learned from this effort.  First, it teaches us the importance of perseverance.  Although we were disappointed by the first two efforts, our parishioners didn’t give up on the goal to build a new church.

Secondly, it shows us that God is always in charge and that what he wants for us is better than we can imagine.  We could not have built a traditional church like this in either 2000 or 2003.  At that time, all churches were being built in the round and often the tabernacle was located outside of the worship space.  By waiting several years, we were able to build a church which is more traditional with this beautiful tabernacle at its center for all to see. 

Finally, we see the importance of our efforts, working together in revealing the glory of God.  We have been blessed with a pastor, several advisors, and a builder who worked together extremely well to build an attractive, yet economical church.  Also, as a congregation, we responded to the fundraising efforts and pledged the funds necessary to build this church.  And then, when additional funds were needed for the interior furnishings, we again responded generously so that these beautiful statues, stations, organ, piano, and stained glass windows could be purchased or restored.  It has truly been a community effort and we have every reason to be proud. 

So, now and for many years to come, God’s glory will be revealed in this beautiful church.  We will look at the tabernacle and meditate upon the glory of God and the gift of the Eucharist.   We will look at the stained glass windows and reflect upon the glory of God in those events which they represent.  And we will listen to this beautiful organ as it lifts us up in song to experience just a glimpse of the glory of God.   So, we give thanks for all who played a role in making this beautiful church a reality and for their patience, perseverance, faith, and  inspiration in making this possible.  And now it is time to use this church as it is intended to be used – for the glory of God.  It is time to celebrate one of the first of many, many liturgies in this holy place.  We can all look forward to celebrations of baptisms, confirmations, weddings, and of course, Eucharist for many years here. 

Lord, bless us in this beautiful church.  Grant that we may persevere in the teaching of the apostles, in the breaking of the bread, and in unceasing prayer, and so be built into the heavenly Jerusalem.