The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!


Tuesday, February 20, 2018

A Memory Almost Forgotten

Youth has the benefit of experiencing a kind of temporal slow-motion. Hoped-for events seem always so distant that when they finally arrive most of the expected enjoyment has already been savored. For a child the anticipation is nearly as wonderful as the reality. As we age, however, time seems to compress causing the future to collide with the present. We hardly have time to look forward to a future event because it has already arrived, or more likely, has joined the rest of our life in a jumble of memories. And the past is indeed a jumble.

This all came to mind yesterday as I approached a local railroad crossing. I've always enjoyed watching trains -- a delight I inherited from my father -- although these days I miss seeing the caboose, that final appendage to every freight train. The caboose, the train's exclamation point, let everyone know the train has passed. And as a child I could always count on a wave from the brakeman as the caboose roared by. But, sadly, technology has now eliminated the caboose, and today's children will suffer, if only mildly, the loss of that wave.

Anyway, as the barrier lowered, the lights flashed, and the warning alarm clanged, I obediently brought my Kia to a stop. I was the one and only car at the crossing and, looking to my left, I could see an oncoming freight train moving along at a good clip. Powered by three engines, the train consisted of 105 cars (I counted). I had even opened the car window so I could fully experience the noise, the smell, the sight of all those freight cars rumbling by as I waited more than patiently. And then it was gone. The barrier lifted and the train joined all those other experiences -- small, large, and in-between -- that make up my past. That train passing in front of me is really no different from the movement of the other events of my life as they pass from future to present to past.

It's unlikely I will actually recall this experience as a unique event that occurred early one February morning in 2018. It will probably merge with dozens of similar experiences joining all those other trains I've watched over the years. But memory is a strange thing, and some experiences, so intense or so meaningful, will always stand out as unique events, never to be forgotten or absorbed into a mass of like incidents. And as I drove through that railroad crossing, I suddenly thought of Henry Wright and said aloud, "Oh, my gosh, I forgot February 6th, the day Henry was killed."

I am ever amazed how the memory of such events is triggered. Why did I think of Henry yesterday morning? I haven't a clue. But as soon as I got home I went directly to a thick book just published by my U. S. Naval Academy class of 1967 as a remembrance of the 50th anniversary of our graduation. It contains biographical sketches of most of my classmates, living and dead. I turned to Henry's entry just to ensure I had the date right. I did. His entry is below. Click on it for a larger image.

Henry Arthur Wright was a 1967 classmate who, along with me and a couple of dozen other classmates, spent four years together in the same company. (The Brigade of Midshipman was divided into 36 companies.) 

Henry was a remarkable young man, a true over-achiever determined to prove, if only to himself, that he had what it takes to do great things. Henry didn't need to prove this to those who knew him, because we were already convinced of his capabilities. The photo below is his USNA yearbook photo.

Henry Arthur Wright
Henry chose to become an officer in the U. S. Marine Corps and at graduation was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant. Like every new Marine officer, he spent the next few months at The Basic School at Quantico, Virginia. On January 5, 1968, just six months after graduation from the Naval Academy, Henry was in Vietnam as a platoon commander. One month later, on February 6, Henry was mortally wounded leading his platoon in relief of a company of Marines near Da Nang. He was the first of our classmates to sacrifice his life in combat. And it truly was a sacrificial act, for his bravery under fire was recognized by the award of a posthumous Bronze Star and, of course, a Purple Heart. Among the youngest members of our USNA class, Henry was just 21 years old at the time of his death. He is indeed "forever young."

We lost too many classmates in the Vietnam conflict. They were all remarkable men, true heroes every one. But to me Henry was special -- not simply because he was the first to lose his life, but because I knew him so well. He was indeed a friend. (Henry's profile on the Virtual Wall: Panel 37#, Line 76)
Marines Near Da Nang
A few months ago, a TV show recalling the Tet Offensive brought Henry to mind and I could hardly believe it had been 50 years since his death. I promised myself that on February 6 of this year, I would remember February 6, 1968 by having a Mass celebrated in Henry's name for the repose of his soul. And then, of course, in the busy-ness and unceasing movement of life, I simply forgot. I will make up for that lapse this week. Fortunately, Henry is now in eternity where time and memory presumably have less meaning. But these are still meaningful to me and to all those who knew this wonderful young man.

Rest in peace, Henry. We will never forget you.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Morning of Reflection (Videos)

[Late Note: After watching the videos embedded below, a few folks have contacted me and asked what my comment about "The Godfather" was all about. During one of the talks (I think it was the 2nd talk), a cell phone in the congregation rang with the theme of "The Godfather" movie playing loudly. It wasn't picked up by the microphone I was wearing, so you can't hear it on the video. Anyway, my odd comment was in reference to the phone ringing.]

Our parish's Council of Catholic Women asked me to lead a pre-Lenten Morning of Reflection for the parish on Saturday, February 10. Designed as a kind of introduction to the Lenten season, its theme was "God's Call to the Way of the Disciple."

The CCW was joined by our parish prayer groups in preparing for this day. It was a monumental task and I extend my thanks to all who helped put it all together.

The morning began with morning Mass at 8 a.m., followed by a Scriptural Rosary in the church. We then enjoyed a wonderful breakfast in the parish hall.

After breakfast I exposed the Blessed Sacrament on the altar and delivered three talks on discipleship with each talk centered on a particular Gospel passage.

Each talk was followed by a hymn related to the talk's subject. These were sung by our three amazing and very talented music ministers -- The Grace Notes -- Dawn DiNome Wetzel, Becki Pishko, and Jillian O'Neil.  

After the third talk, I conducted Benediction and reposed the Blessed Sacrament. The prayer teams of our Emmanuel Prayer Group were  then available to pray over and with parishioners who brought healing and other needs. It was a wonderful morning and perhaps 500-600 people attended. I only hope that my talks were well-received. 

I discovered later that our A/V folks had recorded the three talks but not the brief homily I preached at morning Mass. I have included the text of the homily below since I intended it as a kind of introduction to the Morning of Reflection. Videos of the three talks follow the homily text. If you really want to watch the videos, understand that each is about 30 minutes long, so you'll have to set aside some serious time. Maybe they'd be good spiritual food for your Lenten meditation...or maybe not. I'll let you decide.

Here's the text of the homily I preached at morning Mass  -- Saturday, 5th Week in Ordinary Time:

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Readings: 1 Kgs 12:26-32;13:33-34 • Ps 106 • Mk 8:1-10

Mark's Gospel has often been described as a Passion narrative with a long introduction. And that introduction? Well, it moves right along, doesn't it?

Mark's sort of the Sergeant Joe Friday of the Gospels: "Just the facts, ma'am. Just the facts." (If you're under 60, you might have to ask a more mature friend about Joe Friday.) Anyway, Mark doesn't waste time on what he likely considered extraneous details. He gets right to the point.

He even begins that way, No genealogies for Mark. No infancy narratives. None of John's deep theological insights. No, Mark tells us what it's all about with his opening words:
"The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God" [Mk 1:1].
You can almost hear him saying, "That's it, folks, the nitty-gritty - but let me tell you more just so your faith will stay strong."

And as Mark's Gospel progresses we encounter two themes, two threads that weave their way through the Gospel and converge in the Passion narrative of chapters 14 and 15.

One is the story of Jesus, the Son of God, and the suffering Son of Man, a life and ministry that moves inexorably to His Passion, Death, and Resurrection as the very fulfillment of all Scripture [Mk 14:49].

The other thread is the story of the disciples. At first glance it seems to be a remarkable story of the remarkably clueless. Moved by the Spirit, the twelve attach themselves to Jesus with little understanding of His teachings or what His call to discipleship really entails. Some, like Peter, James, and John, have moments of bravado, moments that end up as little more than cowardly bluster. Others remain strangely silent as they struggle to come to terms with their response to this calling.

Interestingly, it seems that the closer a disciple is to Jesus, the less he understands. That, of course, all changes at Pentecost. But don't see their spiritual struggles as a sign of human failure; rather, it's a story of God's success. It's a story of spiritual growth, of gradual formation, a time when the Spirit plants seed after seed in the hearts of these friends and followers of Jesus. Like every seed planted by the Spirit, these sprout and bloom according to His schedule, not ours.

Later this morning we'll look at three events in the Gospels, and see how the Spirit moved those involved as they responded to calls to discipleship. The Spirit can move quickly indeed, or He can lead us to the truth over a lifetime. And it's our response that makes all the difference. We see signs of this in today's Gospel passage.

4,000 people, a huge crowd, have been with Jesus for three days, and have eaten nothing. But we hear no complaints from the crowd, for in their hunger for Truth they have been fed with the Word. They are satisfied.

For them it has been three days of contemplative prayer, for what is contemplative prayer but placing oneself in Jesus' presence and listening, listening to the Word so He can alter one's very being.

It's also a time of fasting. But in his compassion, Jesus knows once He leaves them, their fast will end, and they will return to the world hungry. They will need to be restored so they can carry the Word to their homes, into their everyday lives where they can live from faith.

So Jesus turns to His disciples and simply states a truth:

"They have nothing to eat" [Mk 10:2].

"How can we get bread in the desert?" [Mk 10:4] they ask. He has yet to reveal that He is the Bread of Life, that wherever Jesus is, there is Bread. Yes, Jesus is the Eucharist, a gift He will institute at the Last Supper - the bread, His Body - the wine, His Blood - the gift of His Presence until the end of the age. But as yet they don't know this. Have they so soon forgotten His earlier feeding of the 5,000? Miracle upon miracle, healing upon healing, and yet they ask: "How can we get bread in the desert?"

Does Jesus answer their question? No. Instead, He asks the disciples another. "How many loaves have you?" [Mk 10:5]This, brothers and sisters, is a moment of grace and the loaves are its image. Grace is present because Jesus is present. It flows outward from Him to all who are open to receive it. But grace can never be a private possession. It must be passed on, flow from one to another.

Yes, how many loaves do you disciples have? How much faith do you have? Do you have enough? Are you instruments of grace?

"Seven," is their one-word reply. Does it point to the Spirit's seven gifts they will receive at Pentecost when the full meaning of their discipleship is revealed? Perhaps so.

So Jesus takes the loaves, but He takes nothing without thanking the Father. He gives thanks for the disciples' bread, bread meant for them and for Him, but now destined for thousands.

He breaks the bread, as He will break Himself in the Eucharist, and hands the bread to His disciples. The disciples distribute the bread; doing the miraculous, as the Bread received from the Church carries His miraculous Presence into the world.

Here we see the Church in the process of becoming, for the Bread it is given, the Eucharist - it, too, is blessed, broken, and multiplied. Jesus, through the work of the Holy Spirit, offers Himself, but His disciples carry Him into the world.

Jesus also blesses a few small fish so the people can eat an ordinary meal, the same kind of meal the disciples would eat with the Lord. This meal, this everyday experience, becomes for the people an extraordinary, miraculous experience.

Were those few small fish a sign, a reminder that Simon Peter and the others must soon abandon their boats, their nets, their lives and become fishers of men? Did the disciples learn this day that when they give all that they have - even if it's only seven loaves and a few fish - God will multiply it a thousand fold?

And what about you and me?

Can we abandon everything in our lives that is keeping us from true discipleship?

Can we, too, hand the loaves and fish of our lives to the Lord and let Him bless, break and multiply them - so we can carry Him into the world?

Will you let God work His miracles in the everyday ordinariness of your life, so you can be an instrument of His grace?

We are all called, dear friends.

Lord, teach us to serve you as you deserve; to give and not to count the cost; to fight and not to heed the wounds; to labor and seek no reward save that of knowing we do your holy will.

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We included meditation questions for each talk, including the morning Mass homily, in our reflection booklet. I gave the participants a few moments to meditate on the questions after each talk. The questions that follow were intended for meditation after the morning homily:

Meditation Questions -- the Call to Discipleship.
  • What are some of the obstacles you have encountered, or are now encountering, as you strive to respond to Jesus' call to discipleship?
  • How can knowing you are "loved into existence" affect your life and how you consider and treat yourself and others?
  • Jesus invites us into an intimate relationship with the Blessed Trinity. What does this mean to you? How is this manifested in your life?
----------------

Videos of the three talks follow:

1. The Call to Abandonment.

"...the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life" [John 4:14].

In her desire for new life, for salvation, the Samaritan woman at the well is filled with hope, a hope she feels called to share. Driven by this hope she reaches out and shares the Good News. Like Mary, who carries the unborn Jesus, the Word, to Judea, the Samaritan woman becomes an evangelist, carrying the Word to others.



Meditation Questions -- Disciple and Evangelist: a spring of water welling up to eternal life.
  • Describe a situation when you have experienced being refreshed by the Word of God.
  • God calls everyone to discipleship. Through those who respond He extends that call to others. How can you better respond to this call to evangelize?
  • What aspect of your life must you abandon and leave behind as you follow the path to being a disciple of Jesus Christ?
  • What does it mean to be a "God-bearer" in today's world?
2. The Call to Follow.

"Go your way; your faith has saved you...he...followed Jesus on the way" [Mk 10:52].

Faith saves, but true faith is a living faith, one that always brings forth new life, one that demands a response. Bartimaeus turns from his own way, leaving his old life behind, and follows Jesus on "The Way."


Meditation Questions -- Respond in faith: Your faith has saved you.
  • Have you ever had a surprising encounter with Jesus, an encounter in which you recognized His presence in your life? Describe it. What was your response? Share this with another.
  • What fears might keep you and others you know from following the path to discipleship?
  • People are often like the disciples who want to keep others from Jesus. Have you ever encountered this? Have you ever done this? What is the root of this lack of trust on their part and ours?
3. The Call to Serve Without Compromise.

"...her many sins have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love" [Lk 7:47].

We turn to Luke's Gospel and Jesus' encounter with the sinful woman who washed His feet at the house of Simon the Pharisee. Yes, true repentance brings forgiveness, God's gift to those who turn to Him in recognition of their sins. In an act of thanksgiving, overwhelmed by this gift, ultimately the gift of salvation, she is filled with a joy that can only be expressed in her love for the Giver. She responds in love, ignoring the world and its threats, and showers her love on the divine Word.


Meditation Questions -- Response in love: she kissed and anointed His feet.
  • Can love ever be wasteful? Can we love too much?
  • What is Jesus' attitude toward the sinner? Can you offer some other Gospel examples? How can we follow Him?
  • What does the sinful woman in thus passage teach us as we respond to the call to discipleship?

Homily: Monday 5th Week in Ordinary Time

Readings: 1 Kgs 8:1-7,9-13; Ps 132; Mk 6:53-56

Solomon had fulfilled the hope of his father, David, and built a magnificent Temple that would stand for 400 years until the Babylonians destroyed it in 587 B.C. and carried God's people into exile. But then God delivered Israel from exile, and returning to Jerusalem they built a new Temple, which also stood for centuries until it was replaced by Herod's structure. It too was destroyed, but this time by the Romans.

Solomon Dedicating the Temple
But what a day that must have been in Jerusalem when that first Temple was consecrated, the culmination of long journey. The Lord God had freed His people from Egyptian slavery, and formed them into a holy nation as they wandered through the wilderness for 40 years. He led them into the land He had promised from the time of Abraham, but what a struggle it had been.

Is it any wonder that "All the people of Israel assembled before King Solomon" [1 Kgs 8:2] to celebrate and offer sacrifices of thanksgiving to the Lord God. The Ark of the Covenant was carried into the Temple and placed in the Holy of Holies where God made His Presence known. In the words of our psalm:
"Arise, O Lord, and go to your resting place, you and the ark of your might" [Ps 132:8]
 And the Presence of God filled the Temple, veiled by a dark cloud.

Yes, it was an awesome day, but a day that would have shocked us and our modern sensibilities. For few today could have stomached the noise, the sights, and the smells of the ritual slaughter and holocaust, the burning of thousands of sheep and oxen on the altar of sacrifice.

For us religion has become almost entirely spiritual; but the ancient Jew lived much closer to the messy realities of birth, life, and death, much closer to the reality of God's Creation. And on that altar, the priests sacrificed the best the people had, the fruit of their labor, the work of human hands. These sacrifices were offered for thanksgiving, for atonement of national and personal sin and sacrilege, for restitution, for the ransom of a newborn, for healing, for peace.

Like the Temple, the lives of the people were filled with God's Presence; and it is God's Presence that calls to mind their sins, their brokenness, and their need for healing. But God's presence in Solomon's Temple was a mere foreshadowing of His Presence in Jesus Christ, true God and true man. In the Person of Jesus, God's Presence is always a healing Presence, just as it was at Gennesaret as described by Mark in our Gospel passage.
Jesus Healing in Gennesaret
Like the people in Jerusalem a thousand years before, the people of Gennesaret could hardly contain themselves. How did Mark put it? They "scurried about the surrounding country" [Mk 6:55] to bring the sick to Jesus, wherever He was. Can you picture that? Dozens of people, perhaps hundreds, carrying the sick and disabled, leading the blind and the deaf, the roads and footpaths filled with those in need of healing.
They laid the sick in the marketplace
Wherever he went - every town, every little village - He found the sick laid out in the town square, just waiting for His healing Presence - a word, a touch. Indeed, Mark tells us that a mere touch of his clothing was enough to bring healing. Their faith, their trust in Jesus' healing Presence was all it took. That and the infectious faith of those who brought them to Jesus.

St. Agatha, Virgin Martyr
It is the same deep faith we encounter in the third-century virgin martyr, St. Agatha, whose memorial we celebrate today. In fact, tradition tells us that St. Peter appeared to Agatha while she was imprisoned, and healed the wounds resulting from the torture she had already suffered. How fitting, for Peter knew all about healing since he had witnessed so many during Jesus' ministry.

But how about us? How about you and me? Do we have that depth of faith?

Are our hearts filled with joy because of the Real Presence of our Lord, Jesus Christ? He gave us the gift of the Eucharist, the gift of His Presence when He promised "I am with you always, until the end of the age" [Mt 28:20]. Christ's Eucharistic Presence is a unique Presence, a Presence of Communion in which He becomes one with us, as we become one with each other.

And we must always remember that the Eucharist is a healing Presence, just like Jesus' Presence in the towns of Galilee.
Do you come here today with the assurance that God will heal you in ways you can never imagine?

Do you "scurry about" looking for others in need of healing, telling them about Jesus' Eucharistic Presence, His healing Presence?

I don't know about you, but I think it's time I did some scurrying.


Sunday, January 28, 2018

Morning of Reflection: Ministry to the Sick 3

This is the third and final talk of the Morning of Reflection for our parish's Ministers to the Sick.

Part 1 can be read here: Morning of Reflection - Part 1

and 

Part 2 can be read here: Morning of Reflection - Part 2

__________________________

In the Liturgy the Church teaches that God is present in many different ways.

First of all, He is present in us as we come together and process to His altar, joined as one in song and praise. This is what is so unique about that procession, for it is the gathering time, when all present come together for a single purpose. And as Jesus told us, "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."

God is present, too, in His Word, proclaimed from the ambo, for Jesus is the Word of God, the eternal Word, the Revealed Word.

And most importantly, God is present in the Eucharist, as the Church says, par excellence. The Eucharist is Jesus' Real Presence, His Body and Blood under the appearances of bread and wine.

I've always liked Pope Benedict's comment on this in his book, Called to Communion:
"Communion...is the event of gathering in which the Lord joins us to one another...The Eucharist, in which the Lord gives us his body and makes us one body, forever remains the place where the Church is generated, where the Lord himself never ceases to be found anew; in the Eucharist the Church is most compactly herself - in all places, yet one only, just as he is one only" [P.37].
Now, I'd like you to consider this multiple, yet one, manifestation of God's Presence in the Liturgy as it applies to your calling.

When you visit someone, and do so in Jesus' Name, you are called to share His revealed Word through Scripture, and finally to offer His Real Presence through the Eucharist. In truth, then, God's Presence follows you through that door to a home or hospital room. He is with you and those you serve in every way, for you are a "God-Bearer." You are a herald of Jesus Christ, of God's Word - His Revealed Word and His Incarnate Word. In fact those you serve can look at you as you enter and shout, "Here comes Jesus!" for you are carrying Him and you are carrying His healing Presence.

Let me tell you a story...a true story revealed to me by one of our parishioners.

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Not long ago she came to me after daily Mass to thank me for visiting her husband in the hospital a few days before he died.  Well, for me it was nothing special, something I'm often asked to do - a welcome part of what my wife, Diane, and I do as hospital chaplains .

But then she told me something about herself.

She had suffered from depression for years, an illness that had made her life extremely difficult. It often struck her suddenly, as if a heavy weight were lowered onto her shoulders followed by an almost overwhelming sadness that would bring her to tears.

As her husband's health deteriorated, her bouts of depression seemed to increase in both severity and frequency. It was all she could do to try to care for him while trying to fend off this monster attacking her.

One Sunday morning, a day when her husband was feeling a little better and had decided to join her at Mass, she said her depression was particularly severe. But they made it to Mass and as she settled into the pew next to her husband, she silently thanked God for letting her be there. The weight seemed to lift and she was able to listen to the readings and the homily.

The priest spoke about the Eucharist, the power of the Bread of Life, the power to lift up those in need. She then told me, "Approaching the ministers to receive Christ's Body and Blood, I could think only of Him. All I could do was thank Him and repeat those words from the day's Gospel, the words of John the Baptist: 'He must increase; I must decrease.'"

She went on to say that as she received her Lord she was suddenly filled with joy, and even her ailing husband recognized the change in her that morning. "It was as if God were forming me anew so I could deal with the challenges I faced. I now turn to Him in joy and prayer throughout the day, thanking Him for His Healing Presence, thanking Him for giving me the strength to go on. Even if my depression returns, with His Presence I can bear my sufferings, but in the meantime I praise God that He has offered me healing and an abundance of live-giving grace."

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Now, my question you all of you: Was this event in this one woman's life a miracle?

Maybe at this point it would be useful here to define a miracle. It's really any effect perceptible by the senses, produced by God which surpasses the powers of nature.
Most folks think only of physical miracles, like the healing miracles we encounter in the Gospel.

But there are also what the Church calls moral miracles. These are demonstrations of heroic virtue on the part of people like St. Maximilian Kolbe at Auschwitz.

And we also recognize intellectual miracles in which God seems to infuse knowledge in certain special people like St. Catherine of Siena, the illiterate Doctor of the Church whose writings, filled with worldly and spiritual wisdom, were read by popes and princes.

Yes, miracles abound, despite the fact that so many today don't even like to consider their possibility. Those who think this way tend also to deny the miracles we encounter in the Gospel. You see, they must deny the Gospel, because if Jesus Christ performed all those miracles during his earthly life, then as the Resurrected Jesus He must still be doing them.

After all, He's still with us, right here on earth, just as He promised: "I am with you always, until the end of the age." And if He's still with us, and indeed He is, then He's still doing the miraculous among us.

Going back to the Gospel, specifically John's Gospel, we find that John calls Jesus' miracles something else. He calls them "signs." And what does a sign do? It points to something else, something greater than itself.

We have a sign in front of our church that tells folks that the building on this property is St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church. The sign isn't the church, is it? No, it points to something far greater than itself. And that's exactly what the miracles in the Gospel do.

Jesus associated those miracles, those signs, with His teachings. It was those signs that made what they pointed to believable.

If this property here were just a big empty lot, that sign out front wouldn't be very believable would it? Where's the church?

By the way, this is actually an article of our faith, something that as Catholics we are called to believe: miracles are necessary to make God's revelation credible. Did you get that? Miracles aren't just God having fun. They're not capricious acts designed to shock and surprise. Miracles are necessary because they make God's revelation credible.

It's also important to realize that Jesus Christ, true God and true man, worked these miracles through His humanity. His spoken word healed the daughter of the Canaanite woman. The touch of His human hands brought the dead daughter of the synagogue official back to life [Mk 5:41]. And even a touch of His garment healed the woman who had long suffered from hemorrhage [Mk 5:27-29]. Yes Jesus acts divinely but always through His human nature.

One thing to note: Jesus sometimes didn't perform miracles in certain places. Why? Because of the people's lack of faith.

And so to understand miracles we must recognize the importance of these two elements: faith and humanity. If all this is true, how does Jesus continue His miraculous work in the world? To answer that, we must turn to the Real Presence. What is it?

The Real Presence is Jesus Christ, true God and true man. It is the same Jesus Christ who fed the five thousand with only a few loaves and fishes; the same Jesus Christ who called the long-dead Lazarus from the tomb' the same Jesus Christ who calmed the raging sea with only a word.

I can recall my elder daughter, when she was just a teen, saying to me, "Dad, isn't it amazing that Jesus is still with us today, still in His human body, still with His wounds, still the same flesh and blood, still here with us? Isn't that amazing?" Yes, it is - the same Jesus Christ who told Thomas to touch His hands and His side and believe.

While He was on earth Jesus worked the miraculous for those who believed, for those who had accepted the gift of faith. The others, even those who had witnessed the miraculous, turned away in disbelief. And the same applies today. Those who believe in Jesus Real Presence on earth recognize this Presence in the Eucharist, in the fullness of His humanity.  And they also believe that His human nature is united with the second person of the Holy Trinity.

Those who witnessed Jesus Christ on earth had only to believe that this man they saw before them was the Son of God Incarnate. Today we are called to believe that what looks like bread and tastes like wine is the Son of God who became the Son of Mary through the work of the Holy Spirit.

And because faith is the condition for the miraculous work of Jesus Christ, is it any wonder that faith in the Eucharistic Real Presence should rewarded by miracles of every kind.

I think of the parishioner whose healing I described earlier, a healing that came to her through the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. Hers was by no means unique.

All that we find recorded in the Gospels about the miraculous cures performed by Jesus have been duplicated many times over by similar signs and wonders through the Holy Eucharist. And when it comes to moral miracles of the sort typified by so many saints and their heroic virtue, perhaps we don't pay much attention to those that occur around us today.

One of the real problems today is how many Catholics don't believe in the real power of the sacraments.  Too many go through the motions, but expect little or nothing.  They don't expect their prayers to be answered and don't really expect the sacraments to have any major effect in their lives.

This all stems from a lack of faith and obedience. But God, in His goodness and mercy, occasionally gives us glimpses of what He can and will do through the power of the sacraments. And when it comes to moral miracles, I have witnessed some miraculous conversions through devotion of the faithful to the Blessed Sacrament.

Let me give you just one example. Married for 50 years this faithful Catholic woman had an agnostic husband who despised the Church. I'll just call them Shirley and Ben. Because Ben was so hostile to all things Christian and especially the Catholic Church, Shirley avoided even mentioning religion in his presence.

The parish had a perpetual adoration chapel that she visited every day after morning Mass. There she prayed before the Blessed Sacrament for Ben's conversion. But Shirley died suddenly and Ben was devastated. But because he knew the depth of her faith and because of his love for her, he arranged for a vigil, funeral Mass, and cemetery committal.

At the vigil, our pastor and I were consoling him when our pastor simply said to him, "Ben, I think it's time. Do you want to become a Catholic?"

Ben seemed shocked by the question, but then wiped the tears from his cheek and said quietly, "Yes."

Six months later Ben also died, but by then he had been baptized and confirmed, and had received the Blessed Sacrament daily.

Whenever I think of that couple I realize the value of perseverance in prayer, especially prayer that stems from the deepest humility.

Shirley never asked that she witness Ben's conversion. No, her prayer was always for God's glory, not hers. It calls to mind those words that begin Psalm 115:
"Not to us, LORD, not to us but to your name give glory" [Ps 115:1]
This too was a miracle, a moral miracle, but also a miracle of healing, for it healed a man of his brokenness, his broken heart and his broken soul. And it all happened thanks to the Eucharist, the Real Presence of Jesus Christ on earth, and the humble, prayerful intercession of a single person.

Do you see how much you and I need the power that Jesus Christ confers through His presence in the Holy Eucharist?
If we believe in the Eucharistic Presence and practice our faith as Christ demands of those who love Him, we will receive miraculous graces beyond the capacity of the human will to practice.

I look to Africa, the Middle East, East Asia and elsewhere through the world and am simply astonished by the depth of faith evidenced by the thousands who have given their lives for their faith in Jesus Christ and His Church.

We live in an age of martyrs, an age that rivals the first centuries of Christianity. As Tertullian said early in the third century: "The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church."

Today's martyrs are beacons of hope, miraculous signs pointing to something far greater than themselves, pointing to the One they follow, the One who gave His life for the salvation of all humanity.

In Chapter 6 of John's Gospel, Jesus tells a very skeptical crowd:
"I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh" [Jn 6:51].
In revealing this, Jesus proclaims His sacrificial act of redemption, His laying down of His life for us. And in doing so He offers us the gift of eternal life. In other words, He lays down His life so we can have eternal life.

The question for us, then, is do also we lay down our lives in willing sacrifice or do we lead lives of pleasure, pride, selfishness or willfulness? Paradoxically, our search for happiness in all these things leads only to grief. Our refusal to lay down our lives in sacrifice to God and others is the root of our unhappiness, anxiety, fear and despair.

This is why we need the Eucharist in our lives. When we receive Jesus Christ, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, we receive the saving sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. That one, full, final sacrifice is made real and present for our forgiveness and healing.

Do you share this with those you serve, preparing them to expect God working in their lives? In this ministry of ours we carry the Eucharistic miracle to others. Do you believe that? Do you let those you serve know of the power of the Eucharist to heal bodies and minds and hearts and souls?

The one place on earth where our confused human minds can always be enlightened by the mind of God is in the presence of God incarnate in the Blessed Sacrament. How today's overly educated world needs to know this, a world that believes it is smarter than the God it no longer needs, in which it no longer believes.

How often in the Gospel did Jesus restore sight to the blind?  This was just a prelude to phenomenal miracles our Eucharistic Savior performs for those who come to Him and say, "Lord I am blind; help me see."

I suppose my last question to you is this: Do you expect Eucharistic miracles?

Lord Jesus, present in the Blessed Sacrament, teach us the wonders you want to work for us.  Lead us to your presence in the Holy Eucharist to work miracles of body of will and especially of mind because dear Jesus the Holy Eucharist is You and You are our God. And with God nothing is impossible. Amen.

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Here are a few question to mull over in your small groups:

1. What miracles have you witnessed or experienced in your life? Did the Eucharist play a role? How?

2. How have you addressed the Eucharist and the Real Presence of Jesus with those you serve?

3. How can you help those you serve deepen their faith in Christ’s Eucharistic Presence and their expectation of miracles?

4. Have you seen changes in those you serve as a result of their deepening faith in the Eucharist?

Morning of Reflection: Ministry to the Sick 2

The following is Part 2 of the Morning of Reflection conducted for our parish's Ministers to the Sick. The third and final part will be published in another post.

Part 1 can be read here: Morning of Reflection - Part 1.

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OK, Ministers of Healing, if you really want to learn what your ministry is all about, the best place to turn is to our four Gospels - wonderful books filled with God's Healing Presence.

Because there are so many, we don't have time to examine all the healings described by the four evangelists. And so I've just chosen one, trusting that the Holy Spirit will help us recognize its relevance to our ministry.

In fact, I'll confess that when I was led to this passage, at first I couldn't see any direct connection to our ministry. But in prayer the Holy Spirit continued to tell me: this is the passage; this is the one; this is the healing I want you to share. So I said, okay. He really doesn't like it when I argue with Him.

With that, let's turn to Chapter 15 of Matthew's Gospel.  And there we find Jesus doing something that most Jews would never do. He and his disciples left Gennesaret in Israel and walked about 30 miles to the coast, toward the cities of Tyre and Sidon, two Canaanite cites. -- two Gentile cities, two pagan cities. And while He was there, Jesus actually interacted with these pagans.

Why did He go there?  Well, the Pharisees and those who were plotting against Him had become more aggressive and He knew it was not yet His time. So He probably decided to leave for a while. But, perhaps more importantly, He leaves the land of Israel and enters the land of the despised Canaanites to instruct the Apostles and give them a taste of what they will be called to do.

Listen to what happened...

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And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and cried, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely possessed by a demon."

But he did not answer her a word.

And his disciples came and begged him, saying, "Send her away, for she is crying after us." He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."

But she came and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, help me."

And he answered, "It is not fair to take the children's bread and throw it to little dogs."

She said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the little crumbs that fall from their masters' table."

Then Jesus answered her, "O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire." And her daughter was healed instantly. [Mt 15:21-28]

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Many Christians, when they hear this Gospel passage, become almost fixated on Jesus' language, astonished that He would say what He reportedly said to this poor woman. Did He actually call her a little dog? That certainly doesn't seem very charitable, does it - not very Jesus-like?

About 25 years ago, during my five years of diaconate formation, I occasionally spent some time chatting with a rabbi about spiritual things. We usually talked about the Old Testament, but he was remarkably knowledgeable about the New Testament, especially the four Gospels.

I can't recall how it came up, but one afternoon I mentioned this particular passage and I guess my feelings showed, because he just laughed and said, "Amazing! You Christians are a lot harder on Jesus than we Jews."

When I asked him to explain himself, he said, "Well, that line about it not being right 'to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs' is just a another Hebrew and Aramaic expression, an idiom, a common phrase in those days. It's really no different than you or I saying 'You can't teach an old dog new tricks.' And who today would be insulted by that? No one. Everyone knows it's just an expression. In fact most people would probably laugh at it, just as the woman did when she gave her witty response."

So...the rabbi came to the rescue. It seemed reasonable. After all, Jesus' words really didn't bother her as much as they bothered me.

It helped...sort of. But even then, that Jesus would seemingly insult a mother who came to Him for help...it continued to trouble me.

I recall one homilist saying that Jesus was simply testing the woman, seeing how she would react to the insult. In other words, was her faith stronger than her pride? Was her love for her afflicted daughter greater than her love for herself? Sort of a love-for-another vs. self-image sort of thing. I never really liked that explanation, as if Jesus were playing minds games with her.

Another commentator remarked that Jesus softened the common Jewish term for Gentiles, by calling her a "little" dog.

Okay, I suppose that's better, but I was still somewhat frustrated by it all.

So I just decided to ignore it and focus instead on the reality of the passage: the interaction between Jesus and this woman and the healing of her daughter.

First of all, she was a remarkable woman. Although a Canaanite, a pagan, she sought Jesus out...which tells us something, that the Holy Spirit already moved within her, that He had entered this pagan heart.

Approaching Jesus, she pleaded with Him, "Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David..." Like Bartimaeus, the blind beggar of Jericho, she called Him by His Messianic title, "Lord, Son of David."

And for whom did she plead? Not for herself, but for her afflicted daughter.

On the surface it seemed to be the kind of plea to which Jesus would normally respond. But then everything seemed to go wrong for her, didn't it?

Of course the disciples were upset with her, but that was nothing new. So often they seemed upset with anyone who approached Jesus, especially those they didn't approve of. And they certainly wouldn't approve of a Canaanite, and a woman, approaching Jesus. So they plead with Jesus, "Send her away."

But He didn't send her away, did He? Recognizing this, she came to Him, knelt at His feet, and once again begged for His help. And so began this brief, but strange, dialog between the two.

It's a dialog about little dogs and little crumbs, about Jews and Gentiles, about humility and faith, about mothers and daughters and healing - all packed into a couple of sentences.

At first Jesus rejected her request, using those seemingly insulting words. But after this apparent rejection and being called a "little dog" did she just go away, and withdraw in silence?

Not at all. No she did something rather extraordinary. She didn't argue with Jesus, but agreed with Him - "Yes, Lord..." I suppose I am a little dog - but she agreed in a most unique and creative way. What a comeback!
"Yes, Lord; yet even little dogs eat the little crumbs that fall from the master's table" [Mt 5:27].
Do you see what she did? In that one sentence she took this rather grim rejection, this metaphor of a dog, and offered a little parable of her own, a parable of divine mercy. "...crumbs that fall from the Master's table" - that's all she asks for.

One gets the impression that she became the teacher, that she reminded Jesus of something very basic, something that had maybe slipped His mind.

But that's only an impression, and a false one, because everything Jesus did was in obedience to the Father's will and to fulfill His plan. Here I'm reminded of St. Paul's wonderful words to the Romans:
"Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God's truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy" [Rom 15:8-9].
Yes, indeed, Jesus became a servant so the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy. And isn't this exactly what the Canaanite woman did? Note, too, that throughout this encounter she called Jesus, "Kyrie" or Lord. Indeed, she used the title four times.

By fretting so much about our Lord's language we overlook perhaps the key element of this encounter. We overlook the woman's remarkable humility, a humility displayed to us thanks to those words of Jesus. In a sense she proclaims to Him that she is happily nothing more than a stray dog in search of a master, in search of her Lord.

Like all who come to Jesus, she comes filled with hope. It is that hope, bathed in her humility that drives her faith.  Hope and humility - that's the recipe for the reception of the gift of faith.

The hopeful and the humble - these are the faithful ones.

Who are the faithless? The fearful, the proud and the despairing.

And it is her faith that tells her something wonderful: Jesus has come to save. He has come to save, not just His own people, "the lost sheep of the house of Israel," but everyone. He has come to save her, her daughter, her people.

This woman recognized a divine truth that even the Apostles had yet to understand:
Jesus wants nothing more than to be found out, to be seen as the merciful Savior. He wants us to find Him out one at a time, individually in our lives.
She understands that to be overtaken, to be comprehended, to be sheltered, she must ultimately allow herself to be defeated by Jesus.

She submits, she adores, she is accepted. You can almost hear her, can't you?
You are the loving Lord of all, of past, present and future, of the high and the low, of the accepted and rejected, of the well-fed sheep and the scrawny little dogs, of the chosen Jews and the pagans who await you...the Lord of every needy person who seeks you.
Driven by hope, filled with faith, she is moved to love. And it's a totally selfless love. In her deep humility she takes possession of her new name, her new title, for she is happily the Lord's little dog. Happy to reside in her Master's house, happy to eat the little crumbs that fall from His table.

And what are those little crumbs but a foreshadowing of the heavenly crumbs, the bread of angels that comes to us from the Lord's table? It is in the Church, at the Eucharistic table, where Christ's mercy forever rains down these crumbs of life.

Brothers and sisters, when you take the Eucharist, the Bread of Life, to someone who can't attend Mass, you become everything to that person, just as Jesus became everything to that Canaanite woman, who awaited those crumbs. For you are the Church, sent out to take Jesus Christ to those who await Him, to those begging on their knees for His healing mercy.

You hold Him in your hands and you say, "Here He is. Here is Jesus, the one who has come to save you, the one who loves you, even in your sinfulness, the one who heals..."Take and eat the Bread of Life, of eternal life, the crumbs that fall down from heaven itself."

This is what the Church does, for we are a Eucharistic Church. This is what you do.

How did the Fathers of Vatican II put it? The Eucharist is the "source and summit of the Christian life." The source and summit, the beginning the end - yes, the Eucharist is everything.

How fitting that, before the final blessing at Mass, you are called forward to receive the Lord's Eucharistic Presence at the foot of His altar. And then, after receiving that blessing, you hear the words of dismissal.

Those of you who've been around a while, do you remember the Latin words, the words of dismissal?

"Ite, missa est!"

"Ite!" It means go forth, depart. And "missa est" - It is sent. What is sent? The Church is sent. You and I are sent. We are all sent to carry Jesus Christ into the world.

As Jesus manifested His Healing Presence in the land of Canaan, so too are you called to do the same in Central Florida. Just as thousands of others like you carry Jesus throughout the word to those who seek His Presence, to those who beg for His mercy.

But we're not yet finished with our Gospel passage.

The healing itself was a little different, wasn't it? Mark, when he described this encounter, tells us that the woman returned home to find her daughter healed. Matthew simply tells us she was healed instantly.

It was one of those long-range healings, not unlike the healing of the Centurion's servant, something we are reminded of at every Mass.
"Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my servant shall be healed" [Mt 8:8].
Jesus, moved by the faith of the Canaanite woman, heals her daughter from afar, and gives us a lesson on the power of healing prayer.

You don't have to be there!

That's right, you don't have to be there because you don't do the healing. That's God's job. Our job is one of faithful and prayerful intercession.

Interestingly, this Canaanite woman, this Gentile, this pagan, apparently knew this as well. She never demanded, or even asked, that Jesus follow her home to lay hands on and pray over her daughter. No, her faith is so great she merely falls at Jesus feet and begs for healing. She tells Him her need and lets Him do the rest.

Now I want you to think about something. As I mentioned in our first session, too often we take a rather confined view of our ministries. We place personal limits on what we do and whom we serve.

But there's another psychological limit that artificially restricts our ministry - a temporal limit. In other words, I do my ministry on Wednesday morning after Mass when I go to the nursing home...then I go play golf, or mahjong, or pickelball. Now, don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with any of those activities. Not at all. I'm only suggesting that we mustn't compartmentalize our ministry, thinking of it as something we do only during a few rather restrictive hours.

Ministry is a calling, not a job. Yes, indeed, ministry is a 7 x 24 calling. To think otherwise is to miss opportunities for evangelization, which is the Church's primary activity - for that's what your calling is, a call to evangelize.

And secondly, out of this Gospel passage we're shown the importance of intercessory prayer. Are those you serve included as a regular part of your prayer life? Do you pray for them and for their families daily? This, too, is part of the ministry to which you've been called.

This Healing Ministry is a ministry of shared lives - a sharing, a mingling of your life and the lives of those you serve. Think about it. For many you are the only interaction they have with the Church. As I said earlier, you are the Church to them.

What does the Church do? It brings Jesus Christ, the Word of God, to the world - the revealed Word of God in Scripture and the Incarnate Word of God in the Eucharist. And this is exactly what you do. Just think of the responsibility to which this leads.

And maybe I'll let you do just that as you get together in your groups and consider a few more questions:

1. How can I better address the healing needs of those I serve?

2.What can I do to help those I serve better understand the Presence of God in Word and Eucharist?

3. What have I done to show those I serve that, like Jesus, I am interested in their every need?

4. What can I do to make the Church more present in the lives of those I serve?