Sunday, December 11, 2016

After the Gatlinburg file

 John the Baptist was in prison. His blunt preaching had made him powerful enemies, especially Herod, whom he had criticized for committing adultery.  John: was the messenger who was preparing Jesus’ way with his fiery rhetoric and warnings to repent.

John was confident and bold.  Then he was thrown into prison and now he is losing hope. From what he has been hearing about Jesus, he’s beginning to have doubts about him. Jesus isn’t fiery, as John expected. So, John tells his disciples to ask Jesus, ‘Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?”’

The news funneling back to John was that Jesus was eating with the tax collectors. Jesus wasn’t condemning sinners but was sitting down to meals with them and making God’s forgiveness easily available to them. Jesus was even encouraging people to forgive their enemies. Things hadn’t worked out the way John expected and now he’s locked up in prison facing death.

When things don't work out the way we expect them to, we can become discouraged.  It can even cause us to lose faith.  We, like John the Baptist, can ask Jesus: "Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?"

About two weeks' ago, my wife and I were at our vacation home about ten miles east of Gatlinburg.  It was my birthday and I had just eaten some awesome wet coconut cake for desert.  I knew that there were fires in the national park.  But these fires were at least fifteen miles away, so I wasn't concerned. 

Then I heard a siren outside and went out to check on it.  Outside, I saw a fire in the brush just down the hill from our house.  It was being driven by high winds towards our house.  We quickly gathered up just a few things, abandoned our house and headed down the mountain to safety.

As happened to us, things can change quickly.  We can get discouraged when we lose things that are close to us.  We had owned our vacation home for over ten years.  It was a relaxing getaway for us, our children's families, and our friends.  Now, it is destroyed.  We might ask:  "Where is God in all of this. Or why do bad things happen to good people."

The day after the fire was a beautiful seventy degree day in the Gatlinburg area.  It was a good day for the firefighters to get the many fires in the area under control.  Twice during the day, we visited the command post for the firefighters.  We saw several firefighters sleeping from exhaustion after many hours on the job.  One firefighter was overcome with tears at the destruction that he had seen.  Seeing their courage and their determination, made me proud and thankful for these brave young men.

We asked the firefighter in charge if he had any word about our house.  He checked his lists of houses which were destroyed and those which were safe, and didn't find our house on either one.  So, they sent a scout up the hill to check on it.  About fifteen minutes later, he radioed in that our house was down, it was destroyed.  I think they felt worse about this than we did.

As we wondered around the area, we met people whose primary residence was destroyed and others who had no insurance.  We heard stories of some who were missing family members.  Clearly, we were blessed that we had only lost a vacation home.  We were both safe and we had our primary residence in Lebanon to return to.  Many other people weren't so fortunate.

The compassion of the people that we met in the Gatlinburg area was heartwarming.  Virtually every person told us that they would pray for us.  And after we posted on Facebook, we received support from our family and friends who mourned our loss with us.

When bad things happen, it is natural to mourn and to question, even to question God.  But, over time we begin to see the love and support of the people who are with us on our journey.  It seems to me that a disaster, like fires in the Gatlinburg area, brings out the best in many people.  We see the compassion, the caring, the love for each other that is part of our human nature.  We are made in the image and likeness of God.  Through each other, we feel His love for us when we are down and discouraged.

Today is Gaudate Sunday.  It is a time for rejoicing and just two weeks until Christmas, the birth of the Christ child.  All of us have reasons to rejoice today.  For me, I rejoice in my family and friends and for the care and compassion of the many supportive people that I have encountered over the last few weeks.  Rejoice in the Lord always in good times and in bad. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

After Tuesday's election surprise, continue to pray for our nation

Sunday's Gospel was written about 60 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection.  It describes what happened to Jesus’ followers: they were thrown out of their synagogues, imprisoned and brought before civil authorities, all because they were followers of Christ. This reading must have encouraged and comforted them, as it might comfort us. When our world collapses, or events raise our fears, these words help us see opportunities to live out of our faith and witness to others. As Jesus tells us:  the endings, difficulties and persecutions because of our faith “will lead to your giving testimony.” At the darkest times, suffering can provide opportunities for us to express our hope.  Those around us might ask us, “Where do you get your strength from?” or “What makes you so hopeful?” Just as Jesus said, this will “lead to your giving witness.”

Jesus predicted “the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.” Luke’s readers would know that what Jesus said had come true. Less than 40 years after Jesus died, the Romans destroyed the Temple, looted it and took its treasures back to Rome.  Early Christians, hearing Jesus’ prediction and knowing what had happened, could be confident when Jesus said: “I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.”

After the resurrection, Jesus did not leave his disciples on their own during difficult times. He would be with them and enable them to persevere. He told them: “By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”  When we read the story of the early church in Acts of the Apostles we see how Jesus’ words were fulfilled. His disciples were “handed over” to authorities, arrested, and gave testimony “before kings and governors,” just as Jesus had anticipated.  And, they also manifested a wisdom that confounded their persecutors, as Jesus had promised.
Christians are persecuted in our current time and in our nation.  We can be reassured that even as we suffer for our faith Jesus has not left us on our own. We have the confidence of Jesus’ words that he will give his followers wisdom to witness to him and the strength to persevere. Through all the trials Christians have had to endure, his promises have held: he has been with us and we will be safe for all eternity in him. Jesus’ words are as relevant for us now as they were for his disciples.
In our nation today, it is unlikely that a foreign power will come in and destroy our churches as occurred when the Romans destroyed the temple in the first century.  Instead, the threat to our churches comes from within.  Clearly, strong forces in our nation want to discredit and divide the Catholic Church.  That was the motive behind the attack on religious freedom in the HHS mandate several years ago.  And it is also the motive behind the support for partial birth abortion and the defense of Planned Parenthood as they continue to abort babies and to sell baby parts.  Then, last Tuesday we witnessed the surprise election of a candidate who promises change.  We don't know what sort of change to expect from our newly elected president.  We can only pray that he can unite the country over the next four years.
In last Saturday's Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan, a Catholic editorial writer who often seems to mimic my thoughts, wrote:  "God is in charge of history.  He asks us to work, to try, to pour ourselves out to make things better.  But he is an actor in history also.  He chastises and rescues, he intervenes in ways seen and unseen. Or chooses not to." 
I can only add: The answer for our nation is found in Jesus and in his kingdom.  I'd encourage all of us to pray for our nation that it become once again one nation under God.

God bless  

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Two different holy communions

The Eucharist is the source and summit of our Catholic faith.  It’s what makes us Catholic and makes us different from most other faiths.  Also, this belief affects every aspect of our worship and it should impact how we live our life. 
I'll start by giving some of my background and explaining why I am so passionate about our church and so convinced that it proclaims the truth.  I'll be talking about church teaching in two areas, which initially might not seem related, contraception and the Eucharist.  I'm not trying to condemn or to judge anyone.  As I'll describe, I've struggled with the issue of contraception.  But, I have been very blessed that I have been led to the truth and now will attempt to explain this to you as I describe my spiritual journey.
I grew up on the west side of Cincinnati in a area which was about 90% Catholic.  I went to a Catholic grade school and a Catholic high school.  Then, I attended UC in Engineering where I met my wife Kathleen.  She was, and is a very strong Catholic and this attracted me to her.
My personality is that of a rule follower and this worked well for me.  I always went to Sunday mass and followed the teaching of the Church.  This was all that I knew and I was very comfortable with it.
After college, Kathleen and I got married.  Then, I went to graduate school and spent several years in the Air Force.  Now, it was the early seventies and I had managed to get through the sixties without having a major faith crises.  I was a Sunday Catholic with a basic understanding of my faith.  But, I didn't have a personal relationship with Jesus and my faith hadn't really been tested. 
Kathleen's faith was a little stronger than mine was.  Also, she had embraced natural childbirth, breastfeeding, natural mothering, and eventually natural family planning.  Even though this might seem very normal today, it was very unusual in the early seventies.  When our oldest, Tim, was born in 1971, I can still remember Kathleen telling the hospital staff at the Army hospital in Hawaii that I had to be with her in labor because she was relying on me to help with her Lamaze breathing techniques.  Eventually, they did let me into the labor room, but absolutely refused to let me in the delivery room.
After we moved to Lebanon, we had our second, Lynn, in 1973, and our third child, Andrew, in 1976.  When Kathleen became pregnant with Michael in early 1977, we faced our first faith crises.  We were both 31 years old and now were expecting our fourth child.  We were practicing Natural family planning, based upon reading a book.  But we missed reading a critical chapter and were now faced with an unexpected pregnancy.  How many children would we have?  How can the church not allow us to use contraceptives?  Was this church teaching going to ruin our marriage?  And how could we possibly expect to send all of these children to college?
For a short time after Michael was born, we decided to use a contraceptive.  While it wasn't difficult to find a priest who said that this was OK, it didn't seem right, especially to Kathleen.  So, we decided to take a course from Couple to Couple League in Natural Family Planning.  We found out that, when properly used, it was 99% effective in postponing pregnancy.  Also, we learned that less than 5% of couples who practice NFP get divorced versus 50% of couples who contracept.   
This all lead me to learn more about this topic so that I could understand why the church recommended this and why it was so effective.  I read the encyclical Humanae Vitae (On Human Life) which was written the same month we were married.  I also read several outstanding books on this topic including one written by Janet Smith who is a staunch defender of church teaching.  A few years' later I read Pope Saint John Paul's Theology of the Body which further explains the church's teaching on human sexuality.
In short, I eventually realized that I was wrong in thinking that this teaching was bad for married couples.  I realized that the church, lead by the Holy Spirit, was right in this critical but controversial area.  I realized that the marital act, the union of husband and wife, is meant to be a holy communion, a renewal of the marriage covenant, free from any barriers to life.  So, what does contraception and this church teaching have to do with the Eucharist and this controversial teaching of our church.  Now, let me talk about the Eucharist.
Jesus tells us in chapter 6 of John’s Gospel: I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
This is a remarkable claim.  Jesus claims that he will give his own flesh as our food, so that we might enter into that divine life.  We will remain men but we will have the life of God within us.  No wonder his claims caused his listeners to argue among themselves and still cause disagreements today. 
His disciples struggled with this teaching. They quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us [his] flesh to eat?”  This was the perfect opportunity for Him to say, “Wait a minute, what I really meant was that bread and wine will just be symbols of my body and blood."
Instead, Jesus continued: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.
Jesus doesn’t water down his claim.  On the contrary, he reiterates the importance of eating his flesh and drinking his blood.  Seven times throughout his speech he repeats that his flesh is to be eaten and his blood to be drunk by those who wish to have eternal life.  His listeners understood him to mean what he said.  Many of them didn’t accept it, and abandoned him. 
After most of his disciples left him, Jesus said to His apostles:  “Do you also want to leave?”  Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”
How can this man give us his flesh to eat?  Many Catholics live their lives as if they don’t believe it.  Our faith must be strong to believe that during the consecration of the mass bread and wine actually become Christ’s body and blood.  We believe that Jesus left us when he ascended into heaven but he remains with us in the form of bread and wine until he comes again at the end of time.  He accomplishes this great mystery through his Church, through the authority passed down from Peter and the apostles to our pope and bishops.
For many years, I didn’t appreciate what I was receiving, Jesus Christ, body, blood, soul and divinity.    I could have gone to daily mass but only began to do this in the last ten years.  And I still have trouble comprehending this great mystery.  How can that host be Jesus Christ?  How is this possible?  I am an engineer by background and a very logical person.  But, I cannot prove that that consecrated host is Jesus Christ and I also cannot prove that it isn’t.  I just have to accept it by faith. 

So, tonight, I am talking about two different holy communions, two sacraments, two mysteries.  There is the holy communion of husband and wife in the marital act.  When this act is truly free, total, faithful and fruitful, it is a renewal of the promises that we made when we are married, a renewal of our marriage covenant.  Then, there is the Holy Communion with Jesus when we receive him body, blood, soul, and divinity in the Eucharist.  Jesus gives himself to his bride, the church freely, totally, faithfully, and fruitfully.  Each of these holy communions is controversial, each is counter cultural.  Most non-Catholics don't believe in either of these.  Many Catholics believe in the Eucharist but don't accept the church's teaching on contraception.  If this is what you believe, I'll ask you to ponder if our church, led by the Holy Spirit, can really be half right and half wrong.  In Matthew's Gospel, Jesus passes divine authority to his bride, the church when he says: "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it."   Our church is truly the bride of Christ and our leaders carry his authority which has been passed down for 2000 years.  It is a church led by sinners, as we all are, which consecrates the Eucharist and is guided by the Holy Spirit in matters of faith, including its teaching on contraception.

The Pharisee and the tax collector

Several weeks' ago, I was on Fountain Square in Cincinnati on a beautiful Saturday morning.  A man came up to me and asked for money for coffee.  He was African-American, middle age, thin, and had a small beard.  I reached into my pocket and pulled out my wallet to give him several dollars.  Then, I discovered that I didn't have anything less than a 20.  I quickly debated with myself what I should do.  I didn't want to turn him down at this point.  So, I gave him a twenty and told him to buy some food to go with his coffee.  I felt good about giving him the 20 and seeing his obvious surprise and happiness.  But, I suspect that he didn't use the money to buy food.

This incident came to mind when I read today's Gospel.  The Pharisee in the Gospel had his act together.  He does more than his religious obligation requires. He observes the evils of the world around him and gives thanks to God that he is not part of it, like “the rest of humanity, greedy dishonest, adulterous….”  What’s more he thanks God for his good behavior and his upright life. Why, he even exceeds the religious demands of first century Judaism!  His prayer sounds right.  But, we know there is a problem because Jesus is obviously telling this parable with a critical eye towards the Pharisee.

The Pharisee isn’t praying with his community. He is by himself praying prayers in the first person singular. He says: " I am not… I fast… I pay tithes.”  He is not praying for his community or those in need. He is detached from anyone else. He isn't crediting God for his life, since the prayer is focused on himself, not God. God really doesn’t seem to play any part in his life.

The tax collector would have been despised by his community. After all, tax collectors were Jewish men who made a very comfortable living, raising taxes from the Jews for the Romans.  He is not the subject of his prayer, God is. God is doing the work and he is a recipient of God’s mercy.  He says:  “Oh God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” He is not focusing on his actions, good or bad, he’s trusting in God’s mercy.

Jesus extols the tax collector’s humility: he knows himself and doesn't pretend to be anything other than himself. He relies on God to do for him what he can’t do for himself,   He can’t claim mercy based on his merits. But he asks for it and trusts that God will give it to him.

Jesus’ listeners would have been surprised by this parable. They would have held the Pharisee in high regard. But the parable shows us our proper relationship before God, based on God's merciful gift of forgiveness, and not the merits of our actions.
The parable is a caution for all of us, especially those who consider themselves to be religious people. We have to be awake to our own spiritual poverty.  Since Jesus kept company with sinners, he would expect us, as his disciples, to do the same.   The love of God which we profess can turn into self-love. We can look upon the gifts we have from God as rewards for our behavior. Like the Pharisee, our prayer can easily become a boast. When the Pharisee prayed in the  Temple that day, his relationship with God wasn't growing. But the tax collector left changed by God’s grace from his prayer.

Jesus addresses the parable to “those who were convinced of their own righteousness.”  We don’t like people who are “self righteous” -- like the Pharisee.   In the second reading, Paul credits his righteousness not to his work, but to his faith in Jesus. That faith is a gift from God which makes him “righteous” , not self-righteous. In the parable,  the tax collector turns out to be righteous, or just, in God’s eyes. He is in right relations with God.

Getting back to my encounter with the beggar on Fountain Square.  I really don't know him so I can't say whether he would be considered righteous or not.  But, as a beggar asking for money for coffee on a Saturday morning, I expect that he probably isn't proud or arrogant.  In fact, he might be more trusting in God that I am.  He might even have given thanks to God for this twenty that this guy on the square happened to drop on him.  I wonder when I look at a beggar, if I can truly say "there but for the grace of God, go I."  I wonder if I might be considered righteous or self-righteous in the eyes of God.   Today, I would encourage all of us to analyze our relationships with others, especially the poor, to determine whether Jesus might find us to be humble like the tax collector or self-righteous like the Pharisee.  

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Do they know we are Christians by our love

As Catholic Christians, we have the rock, we have the truth, we have power.  Jesus has told us that he is the way, the truth, and the life and that he is the way to the Father.  Jesus told us that he has already won victory over the evil one.  We cannot keep this message to ourselves.  Our broken world needs Jesus now more than ever.    
For most of us, spreading the good news of Jesus Christ isn't in our comfort zone.  We'd probably rather just keep quiet and not get involved. But, as baptized Christians, our mission is to lead everyone to Christ by our loving, joyful, and hopeful, words and actions.  We often sing:  "They'll know we are Christians by our love."  Do people we meet really know that we are Christians by our love or are we just the same as everyone else?

After the priest was killed in France, I decided that I needed to do something to show that I'm a Christian and a deacon in the Catholic Church.  Deacons in this Archdiocese cannot wear clerics, like priests can.  So that option is out.  But, I can wear a deacon cross on my collar whenever I go out.  The cross indicates that I am a Christian and the red stole over the cross indicates that I am a deacon.  Now, I realize that this is a little thing.  But, I hope that this will be a small witness to my faith and my vocation.  I would suggest that all of us wear a cross.  This would provide a great example of who we serve, Jesus Christ.  It also encourages us to act as Christians wherever we are.
As Catholic Christians and members of Jesus' church, why are so many of us afraid to bless ourselves and say grace in public?  When the person at the checkout counter greets us with “happy holidays,” why are we afraid to respond, “Merry Christmas to you”?  And why do we think that Jesus came to bring us a false peace where nobody is offended, no one is called to task?  And, why do we think we have come to hear an easy Gospel, be lulled into a false security, and belong to a religion that costs us nothing?           
The Gospel today calls all of us to a faith that is not cheap, not wimpy, not politically correct.  Which is why only fire can describe it so well!  Am I fully committed to being a disciple of Jesus?  What am I willing to sacrifice for Him?

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Don't fear, pray and trust

     Often, I have a dream where  I'm in school, it's the end of the quarter and I haven't attended any classes.  And, I am taking the final exam but I don't know anything about the subject.   I'm freaking out and don't know what to do. 
     I think that this dream relates to my fear of being unprepared and looking foolish.  I normally don't just wing it.  I like to be in control.  But, sometimes things are outside of my control. 
     Today, we see a world where things are spiraling out of control.  In Baton Rouge, Dallas, Orlando, Munich, Paris, and elsewhere, evil seems to have the upper hand.   These tragic events seem to be happening at an increasingly rapid pace.  Our governments are trying to find the bad guys before they do evil things.  And often they are successful but occasionally,  the evil happens.  It is enough to give us nightmares.  
     Several weeks' ago, I attended a conference for priests, deacons, and seminarians with Father Wood.  The first speaker, Father Dave, encouraged us not to fear but to pray.  He encouraged us not to get overwhelmed by our day to day work or by the evil in our world today, but to focus on prayer and on our primary responsibility - the salvation of souls. 
     This same message applies to all of us.  We can get so overwhelmed by our day to day needs and by things that don't really matter, like the many activities that we or our children participate in, that we forget what really matters - the salvation of souls.  For each of us, our critical job is to lead ourselves, our spouses, and our children to heaven.  Everything else is not very important.
     So, how do we do this?  Of course, prayer is a very important part.  Hopefully, our prayers aren't a negotiation with God, like we heard Abraham negotiating with God in the first reading.  We might say, I'll come to church every Sunday if you'll just get me a job.  Or, I'll put money in the collection basket if you'll just heal me of this illness.  We should trust that God will answer our prayers.  Our prayers should strengthen our relationship with our loving God.  God knows what is best for us in the long term, for our salvation, better than we do.  He might allow us to carry a cross so that we start relying on him instead of ourselves. 
     I'm not suggesting that if we just pray and turn things over to God, our lives will be perfect.  No, but when we can rid of the evil, the sin in our lives, we can be a beacon of hope and love to those that we meet.  This is something that we can control which will have an impact on our family and our friends.
     With the evil events occurring the world today, It might seem that we should be on the defensive.  We might want to protect ourselves and our families and even our church from harm.  So, we might just try to build walls to protect ourselves from those that might harm us.  We might keep to ourselves or interact only with those that we know.  But, this isn't want the Lord did and it isn't what he wants us to do.  Instead, we are to go on the offensive.  We are to get out of our churches, our homes, and our offices and show the love of the Lord to everyone we meet.
     A great example for us to follow in this area is Mother Theresa.  In the midst of turmoil in India, she went to the poorest of the poor and met their needs.  And, along with her sisters, she even found time to pray several hours each day for those they ministered to .
     Today's Gospel tells us to ask and we will receive, seek and we will find, knock and the door will be opened.  God is there for us especially in those areas we cannot control.  We just have to trust in Him.   We also should seek His guidance and should follow His will in key areas of our lives.  Before we take a new job, or buy a house, or determine our vocation in life, or decide upon our future spouse, we should pray and listen.  And, we should turn to him when things seem to be spiraling out of control either in our lives or in our nation.
     In today's Gospel, “friend” is mentioned three times and  friendship is used once. The atmosphere of this parable is a world of friendship. The one asking, is a friend. The unexpected guest who came at midnight, is a friend. The one inside, with the much-needed bread, is a friend.  Jesus’ listeners expected a favorable response from the person inside: one friend helping another friend to feed a friend who came visiting.
     If a friend would respond favorably to a request, how much more will God favor us? And we don’t have to wear God down. The parable urges us to express our constant and daily trust in God. We won’t get discouraged. We won’t give up. There is something in trustful asking and in persistence.  As we wait for a response, we come to grow in trust for Jesus, our friend, who will provide for our real needs, the ones only God can know.

    Today's Gospel is all about prayer and trust.  Jesus tells us how to pray and gives us the Our Father.  Then, he tells us that he will answer our prayers.  So, we can say with conviction: Jesus, I trust in you.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Mothers help us become saints

           Today we celebrate Jesus' Ascension into heaven and Mother's day.  Our mothers raise us.  They take care of us when we are sick.  And they correct us when we do things we shouldn't do.  Proverbs 29 tells us: "a child left to himself brings shame to his mother." Clearly, good and holy mothers are critical to the health and well being of their children.   Children don't raise themselves.  And a good child isn't raised by a village but by a family.  Mothers are the heart of the family.
            Last week at the first communion masses, I watched the mothers and fathers as they proudly came up to the altar with their children who would receive the Eucharist for the first time.  I noticed one mother who was crying as her twins received communion.  After mass, I asked her why she was crying.  She said that they were tears of joy as she watched her children and thought about how hard it has been raising them on her own.
            Mothers routinely sacrifice for their children.  They sacrifice their time, talent, and treasure to make sure that they are well fed and happy.  That's what mothers do. 
            There is a special place in heaven for all mothers.  Mothers have to endure a lot in raising their children.  When the children are young, they have to be at their beck and call most of the time.  And when they get older they still have to nurture them, direct them, and make sure that they stay on the straight and narrow. 
            Most mothers have some favorite sayings in directing their children.  I remember that whenever I did something bad by imitating one of my friends, my mother would say:  "If Chucky jumped off a bridge, would you do that also?"  She also was fond of saying: "offer it up" whenever I complained about something.  Often, a mother's sayings get passed down to their children and grandchildren.  Occasionally, I will hear my daughters say something to their children that my wife used to say.  That certainly makes me smile. 
            In the first reading, after Jesus rose into heaven, two men say to the apostles: "Why are you standing there looking at the sky?"   This sounds like something that our mothers might say to us.  Why are you just standing there wasting time, get to work! 
And so it is for us who look for Christ in the clouds when all the time he is here among us.  The early Christians spent a lot of time looking up at the heavens for Christ. Their writings reveal a general expectation that Christ would return soon, perhaps even before those who knew him firsthand had died. There is a legend that in the early Church someone was appointed, probably a deacon, to go outside during the celebration of the Eucharist to see if Christ had returned. Gradually, the Church learned that it should be concentrating on building up the Kingdom of God here on earth rather than gazing at the heavens.
 As members of Jesus' church, we are clothed with power from on high.  And, it certainly is time for us to get to work.  Let us honor our mothers by becoming saints.  I know that sounds like a difficult target, but, by definition, we cannot get to heaven unless we are a saint.  So, the goal for each of us is to become a saint.  And for many of us, our mother, by her love, her prayer, and her discipline, helps us either here on earth or from heaven as we continue along this journey. 
At a recent CRHP meeting, Several men commented that our parish is special.   They indicated that the many young, vibrant families here drew them to our parish.  In these families, we see the love and sacrifice of the mother.  Each week at mass, a family is asked to bring up the gifts.  Often, these families have young children.  And, typically the youngest end up carrying the gifts while the parents follow behind praying that the children successfully make it up the aisle without dropping anything.  Several weeks ago, a family with several young children was bringing up the gifts.  Their twin boys, who are around two, were each carrying a bowl with  money in it.  And their four year old daughter was carrying the carafe of wine with another young boy carrying the plate.  Fortunately, they made it safely up to me.  I am impressed with the courage of parents who trust their children to do this at such a young age.
Today, I salute all of the mothers present.  For those of you who brought your children, thank you for bringing them to church.  I know that this isn't easy especially when they are little and even when they are teenagers.  And I salute my wife who is the mother of five and my two daughters and two daughter in laws who are raising my nine wonderful grandchildren.

God bless and happy mother's day.  

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The shepherd and heroic leadership

A number of years' ago I read a book titled Heroic Leadership.  It is about the 500 year history of the Jesuits.  In the book, they give four key principles which enabled the Jesuits to survive during some very turbulent times.  The four principles are: self awareness - knowing who you are and what you value, ingenuity - exploring new ideas, love, and heroism.
Today I want to focus on the last principle, which is: when the opportunity presents itself, do something heroic.  There is no question that Jesus did this when he died on the cross for us.  He is the best example of  heroism the world has ever known.  He was even  willing to give up his life for us.
            In today's Gospel, we are given the image of Jesus the shepherd.   John is encouraging his community to pay attention to the shepherd, who is present to and guides his flock. They are to listen to him.  And he even pays attention and listens to us, the sheep of his flock. If we hear the voice of the Shepherd, we will remain close to him and he will strengthen us as the world closes in and opposes us- as it did to him.
            We are meant to follow Jesus, our shepherd.  Many of us are also shepherds for others in our roles as parents, grandparents, friends, bosses, and co-workers. In these situations, we are meant be like Jesus and lead them to him.  I know that this isn't always easy.  And, like Jesus, we may be ridiculed, and face resistance in our attempts. 
            So, this is the act of heroism that all of us are meant to perform during our lives.  We are meant to lead others to Jesus, even if we are ridiculed and our efforts don't seem to be bearing fruit.  We are meant to lead others to Christ by our words and our actions.  Now, this may not seem to be heroic - especially if we only talk to those who are members of our own community.  But, we all know how difficult it is to bring up Jesus and our Catholic faith to others.  It certainly isn't easy.  But, that is our role, to shepherd those who we come into contact with and to lead them to Jesus' flock. 
            Of course, it is especially important to lead our family and our friends to Christ.  When we get to heaven, we will want all of them to be there with us.  And sometimes it is more difficult to talk to them than it is to talk to someone we hardly know.  That is why this evangelization effort requires constant heroism.  When the opportunity presents itself, do something heroic.  When the opportunity presents itself to lead some lost sheep toward Jesus, the Good Shepherd, do it. 
            Now, you may say that you don't know enough about Christ and his Church to do this.  If you don't, you should.  Pick up your bible and your Catechism and learn your faith.  Turn on EWTN or Sacred Heart Radio or log onto our faith formation web site: and watch the programs, listen to the CD's, watch the religious movies, and read the books.  The Catholic telegraph called this site, Netflix for Catholics.  There simply isn't any excuse these days for not knowing your faith.  And if you struggle with some aspects of your faith, come see Father Bernie, Father Wood, or me to discuss these areas. 
Many times during our lives we are faced with a critical decision.  Often, we can decide to either take the easy way or the difficult, road less traveled.  Normally, our world tells us to take the easy way out, the path of least resistance.  In fact, we might even be ridiculed if we go against the tide.
            We are not meant to wander off  from the rest of the flock and go it alone.  While it is possible to attempt to follow Christ on our own, that isn't the model that Jesus left for us in his church.  He is the way, the truth, and the life.  If we attempt to discover truth on our own, we will be deceived by the evil one.  We are meant to follow Christ in community so that we have the love and support of each other, especially on the difficult parts of our journey.

Perform an act of heroism by telling your family and your friends  about Jesus, the Good Shepherd.  Tell them how you have experienced the love of Jesus in your life.  Share your faith.  Your reward will be heavenly.