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!


Friday, April 13, 2018

Scriptural Interpretation

I've been facilitating our parish's weekly Bible Study sessions -- one morning and one evening -- for over a dozen years. We now have close to sixty people taking part, and I sometimes forget that the participants have changed, especially as new people join us. Many years ago I devoted a session to the basics of scriptural interpretation, but of course almost all of our current participants were not in attendance. So...I decided to put together a brief (one hour) mini-course on the same subject, and conducted it for our two sessions this past Wednesday. It was well received and I have provided a link to the PowerPoint presentation that addressed the core of the material: Scriptural Interpretation.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Osprey Celebrating Good Friday

Early on Good Friday, as our dog, Maddie, and I were heading home from our morning walk, I noticed an osprey orbiting the neighborhood. Something dangled from his talons, but he was too high to see if it were a fish or something else. Maddie and I watched as he continued to fly in wide, lazy circles a few hundred feet above us, but with each circle he flew lower and ever closer to the large live oak tree behind our neighbor's house. We often see this particular osprey in this tree, especially during the spring and summer months.

Just as Maddie and I arrived at our driveway, the osprey landed gently on one of the tree's top branches. Perfect timing! I took Maddie inside, grabbed my camera, and went into the backyard. Sure enough, he was still there, high atop the tallest tree in the neighborhood. There appeared to be something on the branch with him, but he was too far away to see if it were a fish or just a bump on the branch. Fortunately my good telephoto lens solved the problem. As I moved around my neighbor's yard searching for the best position, I took a mess of photos, and have included a couple of them below. To view them up close and personal, click on the photos.
Osprey checking me out
When I downloaded the photos to the PC and looked at them via Photoshop, I was truly surprised at the size of the fish he had carried to the tree. The poor fish looked as if he had died of fright and the osprey's expression simply emphasized his status as a particularly efficient predator.
Osprey guarding his catch
As is fitting on Good Friday, the osprey was eating only fish. It is, of course, a day of abstinence, when we Catholics abstain from eating meat. But it's also a day in which we fast, and the size of that fish might be a bit problematic. 

Liturgy and Easter

Last weekend we completed the most sacred time of our liturgical year, a time when we recall God's saving act of love, the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ. The Church calls those three days the Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil.  


On Holy Thursday we came together as a parish and celebrated the Mass of the Lord's Supper; and in remembering His Last Supper, we celebrated too His institution of the Eucharist and the priesthood. Perhaps the most moving part of the liturgy is the Washing of the Feet at which our two priests, following the example of our Lord, washed the feet of twelve parishioners. It is a good reminder, not only to the clergy but to all Christians, that we are called to serve not to be served.

I haven't seen the exact figure, but I estimate that close to 1,000 parishioners attended our Holy Thursday Mass.

Then, to accommodate all those who planned to attend, we scheduled two Good Friday liturgies, one at the traditional time of 3 p.m. and a second at 6 p.m. No Mass is celebrated on Good Friday, but all present took part in a Liturgy of the Word, the adoration of the Cross, and then came together to receive our Lord in Holy Communion. At Thursday's Mass the pastor consecrated enough hosts to accommodate parishioners who took part in the Good Friday services. Probably upwards of 1,500 people attended the two services. 

On Saturday evening, just after sunset, we celebrated the Easter Vigil Mass. Always a beautiful liturgy, it began with the blessing of the Paschal Candle. Carrying the candle the deacon, followed by the other ministers, processed into the church which was illuminated only by the hand-held candles of the parishioners. The deacon then chanted the Exsultet, the song of Easter joy and praise. The extensive readings from Sacred Scripture highlighted the clear foreshadowing of Easter found throughout the Old Testament and contributed to our celebration of the fulfillment of God's loving plan for our redemption and salvation. During the Vigil Mass we also celebrated a baptism and received two people into the Church. All three were then confirmed and celebrated their first Holy Communion, making the liturgy even more special.

As the deacon in the parish with some responsibility for things liturgical, I have to be careful. Acting as Master of Ceremonies it's too easy to get so caught up fretting about the liturgy and its "mechanics" that I fail to take in its beauty and purpose. During the liturgy I must constantly remind myself of God's goodness and the wonder of the saving events we celebrate. And so we praise God for giving us this opportunity to thank Him through these Triduum celebrations. It was a very special time for our large and growing parish community.

Praise God -- praise Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

Monday, March 26, 2018

Blessed to be an American

I am always saddened when I hear Americans trash their homeland as if it were the worst country in the world. There seems to be a lot of this going around these days. And, perhaps most surprisingly, much of it comes from those who have most benefitted from that which makes the United States so different from all other nations.
Kaepernick et al. Kneeling
Hollywood celebrities, sports figures, academics, media pundits, lifelong self-serving politicians, ingrained bureaucrats, and assorted billionaires express truly remarkable hatred for the nation that made their worldly success possible. It's remarkable because, for so many, their parents and grandparents came to this country impoverished, seeking the better life which their descendants now enjoy.
Hollywood Intelligentsia
These elites, who mistakenly assume that worldly wealth and power are the product of wisdom, not only hate the nation and the founding principles that brought it into being, but also its most hard-working, productive people. Most disturbingly, the elites hate those who would sacrifice their lives to ensure the freedom of those who despise them. 

They attack our Constitution, a document specifically designed to keep us free and protect us from the tyranny of  elites of every stripe. Far more than the men who wrote and ratified it, the Constitution is responsible for our nation's greatness and continued existence.

But, of course, they must also attack our nation's founding fathers for their sins, forgetting that all men are sinners who still manage to accomplish good, and occasionally great, things. In their ignorance and their pride they consider themselves far superior not only to their fellow citizens, but also to the giants who went before them.

Is our nation perfect? Of course not. Perfection is unattainable through human means. But its perfections far outnumber its defects. And having traveled throughout much of the world, I cannot imagine living anywhere else. 

Ben Stein
Yes, indeed, I am saddened by these shameless attacks; but every so often I encounter something that offers at least a glimmer of hope.

Ben Stein, whom many would probably number among the elites since he is an economist, speech writer, media pundit, actor, etc. And yet he seems to be a man with a reasonably accurate sense of self-worth, one who accepts that success is largely the result of gifts from both God and man.

Occasionally, therefore, he can be counted on to write some wonderful things. In a recent American Spectator piece -- from Ben Stein's Diary -- he wrote the following:

"I spend a lot of time thanking God for letting me live in America, the greatest refuge that man ever created. I pray endlessly for the families and the souls of those who died in agony fighting the Nazis and the Japanese and the Communists to keep us free. I have air conditioning. Hot water. Indoor plumbing. Super abundance of food. Warm blankets. And freedom to do as I wish all day long. Yes, and I owe every bit of it to men and women who never even knew me, but who fought and lost lives and limbs so that I, a total unknown to them, could live in peace and prosperity. What thanks is possibly even remotely adequate?"
A comment worth sharing from a man, who like me, is 73 years old and has also reaped the harvest of the far greater lives that came before us. Thank God that, among our youth, we can still count many who believe their country is worth serving and saving. But too many today (like pajama boy below) think otherwise.  

Will these United States survive what may well be its greatest challenges? As one who served his country for many years, I suppose I'm hopeful, but, like the psalmist, I've also learned to
Put no trust in princes, in children of Adam powerless to save [Ps 146:3].
...and so I place my trust in God alone, thanking Him for what I am and have, but asking only that His will be done. 

Friday, March 23, 2018

Tragedy and Joy

Down Syndrome is a genetic condition typified by the presence of an extra (third) chromosome 21 in the body's cells. Its cause is still unknown. It is usually not an inherited condition and occurs among all races, nationalities, and socio-economic groups. Although the chances of having a Down Syndrome baby increase with the age of the mother, younger mothers still give birth to the majority of Down Syndrome babies.

I suspect most of you reading these words know someone with Down Syndrome. I have known many in my life, and each has been a blessing to me and many others.

Sadly, though, because these children require additional care -- a euphemism for sacrifice -- the enlightened of our increasingly self-centered society believe Down Syndrome children are too inconvenient to live. They want all parents to enjoy the "good life" to the fullest. How can they do this if they must care for a child with special needs? And, of course, we cannot ignore the additional costs that must be borne by society. Wouldn't it be better and cheaper if these children were never born?

For example, Iceland, that small island nation in the North Atlantic with a population of only about 350,000 people, is very proud of the fact that it has eliminated Down Syndrome. That's right. According to the Icelandic government, no Down Syndrome babies are now born in Iceland.

How did they accomplish this? Simple. They killed them all before they were born by aborting them. And for this Iceland celebrates.

But there's more to the story. The people of Iceland celebrate these abortions with prayer cards. Yes indeed, according to an Icelandic pro-abortion, prenatal counselor, she gives parents "a prayer card with the footprints of an aborted baby. Parents can keep these footprints and prayer cards as a memento of their aborted child." This is so repugnant it is beyond comment and speaks for the depravity, the decadence of our modern Western Civilization. How far we have fallen since the days of Christendom. (For more, see this report: Iceland Kills 100% of Babies with Down Syndrome.)

Iceland is not alone. Most of Western Europe is following the same path. In Germany the growing abortion rate for Down Syndrome babies is causing some to make parallels with the Nazi policies of the past. (Read about it here.)



Sadly, we see similar policies in the United States where far too many Down Syndrome children meet their deaths through abortion. Pro-life political solutions are increasingly difficult to implement because the courts at all levels are so infected with a pro-death bias. Just last December the Ohio state legislature, in a rare act of political courage, passed a law, which Governor John Kasich signed, prohibiting the abortion of Down Syndrome babies.
Pro-Abortion Protestors in the Ohio Senate Chamber
The ACLU -- an organization dedicated to supporting the civil liberties of everyone except the unborn and Christians -- sued, claiming the law was unconstitutional. (Read more here.) The ACLU and its fellow travelers simply couldn't stand the idea that one of these little ones might actually be born. And, then, like a true member of the pro-death hive, U. S. District Court Judge Timothy S. Black agreed with the ACLU and blocked the law, calling it an invasion of privacy. Imagine that! To save the life of the most innocent among us has become an invasion of privacy.

Fortunately -- although I suspect too few will notice -- the Holy See has spoken explicitly about the attempts to eliminate Down Syndrome children through abortion, referring to it as a "great hate crime." (Read more here.)
Pope Francis and a Down Syndrome girl

That so many in our so-called civilized world wish that these children of God cease to exist is more than troubling. It is nothing less than a return to barbarism. Actually, barbarism is probably too kind a word since most barbarians would probably choose to cherish and not dispose of these beautiful souls.

Let me write briefly about one young man. I met Michael several years ago when he became one of our parish altar servers. But Diane and I really came to know Michael well when he and his mom, Judie, joined our Thursday team at the Wildwood Soup Kitchen. Michael's dad, Glenn, also joined this ministry when we needed someone to sweep and mop the floors at the end of the day, and Glenn volunteered. It became a true family affair. Dear Glenn returned to the Father just a few months ago, and we miss him dearly. But Michael's strong faith, the same childlike faith Jesus asks of all of us, gives him the assurance that his dad is now with his God interceding for his family. 
My good friend, Michael

I cannot imagine life without Michael. He is our source of joy at the Soup Kitchen. When he arrives with his mom for our second shift, he always seeks me out with a "Hi, Deacon!" followed by a welcome hug -- the very best medicine to relieve my occasional grumpiness.

Everyone at the Soup Kitchen, volunteers and guests, love Michael. How could we do otherwise? His ever-present smile, his cheerfulness, and his willingness to do anything asked of him has turned Thursday mornings into a special time for all of us.

I have come to realize that Michael's greatest gift is his ability to teach the rest of us. One morning, shortly after he and Judie joined our Thursday team, I asked Michael if he were having a good day. Of course he replied with an enthusiastic, "Yes!" And then Judie laughed and added, "For Michael, every day is a good day. He never has a bad one." Indeed, Michael views the world as a blessing and teaches us to strive to do the same.

I have always believed that the cultural war we are waging for life will not be won through political action. We may win the occasional skirmish in legislatures and courts, but because it is a spiritual war, ultimately it will be won only through the action of the Holy Spirit, "the Lord and giver of life." We must, therefore, pray constantly that God will enter and change the hearts of those who have embraced the culture of death.

Perhaps people like Frank Stephens, a man with Down Syndrome, can help the Spirit change those hearts. Take just a few minutes to watch the following video of his testimony before Congress:



And then there's Charlotte "Charlie" Fien, a 21-year-old British woman with Down Syndrome and autism, who recently delivered an impassioned plea to a United Nations group. A U.N. "expert" had just argued for the prenatal eradication of disabled children. The following video is Charlotte's moving response:



Thank you Frank; thank you, Charlotte; and thank you, Michael for showing us the way to the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Pray for life!

Homily: Monday 5th Week of Lent

Readings: Dan 3:14-20, 91-92, 95; Dan 3:52-56; John 8:31-42

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A few years ago I received a small package from the Department of Defense. I wasn't expecting anything from them, but when I got home and opened it, I found it contained a bunch of medals. Among them were medals I didn't even know I'd been awarded. And with two exceptions they all dated back to the Vietnam conflict.

I lined them up on the dining room table and thought, if only briefly: Well, will you look at that, McCarthy. You're a genuine hero.  That thought lasted about two seconds, because it wasn't the truth. I was no hero.

Heroes do remarkable things, far beyond what anyone might expect. I did only what was expected of me, what I was ordered to do. Indeed, if I hadn't done the things for which I received those medals, I would have been court-martialed.

But I knew many men who really were true heroes, ordinary men who did extraordinary things. Today's first reading brought some of them to mind, the real heroes - the same kind of people we read about in the Book of Daniel. Three young men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, follow their consciences and profess their belief in God - their faith that God will be with them regardless of the consequences.
fire, and the fourth looks like a son of God.”
For them, the issue was clear: they had no choice but to do God's will, what was good and acceptable. The three believed themselves to be free to do nothing but what is right, what their faith obliged them to do. Believing in the one, true God, they knew their greatest freedom rests in doing God's will. And in their faith, God saves them.

Jesus, of course, understood this well. That's why He declared,
"I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me" [Jn 6:38].
Unlike the three men in the furnace, Jesus wasn't saved from the violent death of crucifixion. And it was through Jesus' obedience that He expressed his divine Sonship. This is emphasized in the Letter to the Hebrews where we read,
"Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him" [Heb 5:8-9].
Our whole existence, then, as disciples of Jesus flows from the mysterious roots of our souls where we are called and sustained in supernatural life beyond all human ability to comprehend. How did Jesus put it in today's Gospel passage?
"If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" [Jn 8:31-32].
The truth not only sets us free, but we are free only in truth. Too many today think freedom means the right to choose anything - good or evil. But that's not freedom; that's license. Jesus tells us that true freedom is only the freedom to choose what is good - for once we choose evil, we cease being free. Instead we become slaves, slaves to that evil, slaves to sin.

Brothers and sisters, our lives are marked by thousands of decisions and actions, normal everyday responses to the opportunities we confront. But at our core, as Christians, like Jesus we are being begotten by God, and receive a divine life similar to Jesus. And at those crucial moments in our lives we are called to be heroic.

Like the three young men in the furnace, if we want to be truly free, we have no other choice.

Like the true heroes I knew back in my days as a Navy pilot, like those willing to sacrifice all for the sake of others, we have no other choice.

As we respond to life's challenges with heroic obedience, the most divine part of us, the image of God within us, rises to the surface for all to see. When we act according to God's will, in the true freedom God desires for us, our true selves emerge most fully, most courageously, most divinely. God's will always leads to the good, and nothing can interfere with what is good.

Do you believe that? Really believe it?

I hope so because it's the truth. And the truth - the truth of that deep divine life we are all called to share - that truth will set us free.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Homily: Mass and Healing Service -- 10 Macrh 2018

I was once again honored to be asked to preach at this special Mass on Saturday, March 10. Several times during the year we celebrate a Mass which is followed by a healing service. Saturday's Mass drew several hundred people. Most remained afterwards to join one of the many prayer teams located throughout the church. It was a wonderful morning, a morning enlightened by the hope and deep faith of those who took part, seeking God's healing presence in their lives and the lives of others. It was a morning of physical, emotional, and spiritual healing.

My homily was supposed to be available as a video, but a technical glitch resulted in a video with no associated audio. No great loss, unless you actually wanted to hear it. But for those few who might want to read it, I have included the entire homily below:
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Saturday 3rd Week of Lent
Readings: Hos 6:1-6; PS 51; Lk 18:9-14

Good morning, everyone...and praise God - praise Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As always, it's wonderful to see so many here this morning, all of you open to God's healing presence. And we praise God too for this.

After the parish mission conducted a few weeks ago by Father Kevin, several people suggested that I might emulate that good Redemptorist priest by adding a bit of levity to my homilies. So I thought the following story just might do the trick.

Of course, most of us here today are old enough to remember the gasoline shortage back in the early 70s and the problems that resulted.

At the very peak of that shortage two nuns were driving the convent station wagon along a state highway when they ran out of gas. One turned to the other and said, "Sister, you're so much younger, would you mind walking back to that gas station we just passed and seeing if you can get some gas?" The younger sister replied, "I'll be happy to do so," and left.

When she got to the station, she posed her problem to the harried attendant who just shook his head and said, "Sister, I'd love to help you, but the problem is we've run out of gas cans. But, you know, there's a pile of junk and debris behind the station. Why don't you go back there and see if you can find a suitable container? If you do, I'll give you some gas."

She agrees and pokes her way through the pile, but all she can find is an old bedpan. She wipes the dust out of it and takes it to the attendant. He fills it with regular and she carries it back to the car.

As she's pouring the gas into the tank, two Methodist ministers drive by, and one says to the other, "By God, there's faith for you."

Coming together here this morning perhaps this little story will remind us of the angel's words to Mary: "...for nothing will be impossible for God."

And especially today, smack dab in the middle of Lent, it's fitting that we should focus on God's will and His power and His love as we turn to our Lord in need of healing, every kind of healing: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.

Remember those words of Jesus you heard on Ash Wednesday? "Repent and believe in the Gospel." This, too, is a call to healing, for repentance is the first step on the path to spiritual healing.

Our readings today certainly turn us in that direction, don't they? How wonderful, how providential that God's Word proclaimed here today touches on faith, and healing, and repentance, and prayer, and humility, and hope. Could we ask for anything more fitting today as we - and, brothers and sisters, that's all of us, for we are all in need of healing - as we turn prayerfully to our loving, merciful God?

I've long been a big fan of Pope St. John Paul II, largely because of his message of hope, a message he never ceased preaching. It was a message that inevitably began with the words of the Gospel, words Jesus expressed to so many: "Be not afraid."

If the heart of the Christian is to be filled with the hope God desires for us, it must first expel all fear.
"Be not afraid!" [Mt 14:27, et al.]

We fear so much, don't we? We fear that over which we have no control. We fear the known and the unknown in our lives. We even fear ourselves. Indeed, fear creeps into our hearts like a thief, trying to steal all hope, all faith. And yet, as St. John Paul reminded us, we should have no fear because, quite simply, we have been redeemed by God. Listen to his words:
"The power of Christ's Cross and Resurrection is greater than any evil which man could fear."

That power, you see, gives us hope, for only hope, the great theological virtue, this divine gift -- only hope drives fear from our hearts.

But hope does something else, something greater still. My mother used to say: "Hope moves us; it moves us to faith."  She was quite the theologian when it came to such practical matters. I think that stemmed from her vocation as an RN, a nurse forced to confront the practical issues of life and death. And, in truth, theology should always be practical. It should always help us navigate the path to salvation. Otherwise it's just an academic exercise.

Anyway, getting back to hope - that's what repentance is. It's a sign, an image, of hope. The very fact that we can repent of our sinfulness means that we hope for forgiveness. Indeed, it is our hope that calls us to repentance.

We see this brought to life in our first reading from Hosea, the last prophet of the Northern Kingdom, a prophet called by God to experience in his own life the same unfaithfulness that God experiences when we turn away from Him. Yes, Hosea's marriage to Gomer became a sign, a crying out against all Israel. And yet, despite his broken heart, Hosea becomes the prophet of love.
As Hosea ransomed Gomer, God will ransom us
He reminds us that the God of creation is in love with His creature, in love with those who draw their very life from Him, in love with those who have nothing to give Him. God's forgiveness, God's mercy is not the result of pity or mere compassion; it's the result of love, a love beyond all human imagining. Hosea pleads to God's people:

"Come, let us return to the Lord. It is he who has rent, but he will heal us; he has struck us, but he will bind our wounds. He will revive us after two days; on the third day he will raise us up, to live in his presence" [Hos 6:1-2].


To heal, to bind, to raise up.

It's in this prophetic prayer of repentance that Hosea calls a rebellious people to conversion, that he calls all of us today to conversion.

It's a prayer of hope...the same hope we encounter in today's Gospel passage from Luke.

Jesus offers a parable. He presents us with two men, a Pharisee and a tax collector, two men who represented polar opposites in the mind of the average 1st century Jew. But Jesus, as He does so often, turns everything upside down.

Jesus contrasts a prideful Pharisee, focused on the meticulous, external fulfillment of the Law, with a tax collector, a public sinner despised by all, and yet driven to repentance by humility, by reality. For that's what humility is. It's the grasp of reality, a true understanding of our relationship with God, an awareness of His goodness and our sinfulness.
The Pharisee and the Tax Collector
Both men approach God in the Temple, and both begin to pray. The first thing we notice is how they pray, that the content of their hearts drives their approach to prayer, and even shows up in their posture.

The Pharisee stands erect, right up front where he can be seen and heard, and not just by God.

And the tax collector? He stands "far off" bent over in humility, beating his breast in repentance.

Not surprisingly, out of those two very different hearts come very different words.

The Pharisee, brimming over with self-congratulatory praise, seems to be praying not to God but to himself. And from his words we come to understand that a heart filled only with itself must despise others. Since the Pharisee believes himself righteous, his heart sees no need for humility, for repentance, for conversion.

He's simply perfect, just the way he is. Yes, such is always the way for those who refuse to accept the fact of their dependence on God.

And then, we hear the simple, humble prayer of the tax collector - "O God, be merciful to me a sinner" [Lk 18:13] - and immediately we recognize it for what it is. It's a prayer of poverty, of spiritual poverty, a prayer that shows us what Jesus meant when He said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" [Mt 5:3].

We see in his words a foreshadowing of the ancient, Eastern Jesus Prayer - "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." - another prayer of reality.

The tax collector, you see, has that firm grasp of reality. "Oh God, be merciful..." He knows who God is, mercy personified. "...to me a sinner." And he knows who he is, simply a sinner. In his prayer he remains himself, and he lets God be Himself. And then he leaves it at that, trusting in God's mercy, trusting in God's forgiveness.

Brothers and sisters, his prayer, too, is a prayer of hope, the kind of hope that brought you here today. If you had no hope of healing, would you be here?
A Healing Community
Are we here, filled with hope, coming together in a healing community, a community dedicated to extending God's love to all in need?

Is this why we're here -- driven by hope and moved to faith, yearning for God's Presence?

Do I throw myself at the feet of our Lord Jesus Christ, and beg for the mercy I know I don't deserve?

Or do I come here, as yet unmoved, and just pleading, "Why me, Lord?" It's a question that smacks a bit of the Pharisee's attitude, isn't it? -- as if in my goodness I don't deserve this misfortune.

I suppose these are the questions we're all faced with today.

Think about your answer as you come forward today to receive our Lord's precious Body and Blood, the gift of His Presence until the end of the age. For Christ's Eucharistic Presence, is also a gift of hope, one that moves us to the faith that heals.
God's Healing Presence in the Eucharist
Be not afraid, brothers and sisters, and just open your heart to God's healing Presence.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Homily: Monday, 4th Week of Lent

Readings: Is 65:17-21; Ps 30; Jn 4:43-54
__________________

This past Saturday, immediately after morning Mass, we experienced a time of prayer and healing right here in our church.

My wife, Diane, and I made up one of the many prayer teams that were available to pray with those who entered this church that morning in need of God's healing presence in their lives and in the lives of those they love. I can't speak for the other teams, but I expect their experiences mirrored ours as we listened and prayed and shared God's overwhelming love, His forgiveness, His mercy.

Of course many of those who were here that morning were experiencing deep suffering in their lives - physically, emotionally, spiritually - and they came humbly seeking God's help. I'm always impressed by the extraordinary humility and faith of all who come to this healing service, driven by hope and willing to accept God's will. I'm impressed because their faith and humility are so much greater than my own, and it would be more fitting if the roles were reversed.

But there's something else. So many, despite their own suffering, come to us not just for themselves but for others. They come in prayer, in hope, in faith asking God to extend His healing presence to family, friends, neighbors, to those in need.

In today's Gospel passage we encounter another who comes to Jesus hoping for healing, not for himself but for his son. Probably an official of the court of Herod Antipas, he had traveled 20 miles from his home in Capernaum to find Jesus in Cana.
"You may go; your son will live."
As John tells us, the official approached Jesus and  "asked him to come down and heal his son, who was near death." Did he assume that because he was an important official Jesus would simply drop everything and do as he asked and join him on the 20-mile trip to Capernaum? And did he think that Jesus had to make that trip in order to heal his son? If so he was in for a surprise, wasn't he?

Jesus actually seems a bit exasperated by it all, doesn't He? And He gives a rather sharp reply:

"Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe."
Was this rebuke directed solely at the official, or was it also aimed at the people of Galilee in general? Probably a little of both.

But the official accepts the rebuke. Humbled by Jesus' words, he doesn't allow himself to become discouraged. Moved by love for his son, he now pleads for help: "Sir, come down before my child dies."

Humility succeeds where arrogance had failed, and Jesus replies simply:
"You may go; your son will live."
Hearing these words, John tells us, the man now understands. He believed the Word of Jesus and departed on his journey home.

But he had to be moved to faith, didn't he? His hope for his son's healing led him to Jesus, but it was the Word that brought him the gift of faith.

It's interesting, though, that on the way home, he meets his servants who tell him his son lives. He has been healed. That should have been enough for him, but perfect faith is never easy, is it? And so he asks exactly when his son recovered. The answer, of course, confirms the truth and as John tells us, with that "he himself believed, and all his household."

Yes, sometimes God has to lead us to faith, one small step at a time, so we can request good things from God.

Our faith reminds us that Jesus is present here today just as He was 2,000 years ago in Galilee. And it is through His healing Presence in the Eucharist that we too share in the divine life.

Perhaps, like the court official in the Gospel, we should measure ourselves against Jesus' rebuke.

Do you and I need signs and wonders before we're willing to believe the Word of God?

Is our prayer filled with our own demands or do we turn to God in humility..."Thy Will be done..."?

Any child will be happy to tell you that we are surrounded by signs and wonders, all pointing to God's presence...just as he will tell you that God, like a loving parent, will take care of you.

God has showered us with His blessings, but so often we just don't seem to know it.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Homily: Monday of the 3rd Week of Lent

Readings: 2 Kgs 5:1-15; Ps 42; Lk 4:24-30
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How small a God do you believe in?

It's kind of an odd question, isn't it? But it's really the question with which Jesus challenged the people of Nazareth, His hometown.

"...they were all filled with fury...."
When He showed up in the synagogue, they were already upset. They'd heard all about the wondrous things He'd done elsewhere, and wanted Him to do the same in Nazareth. They thought they were special. Jesus, after all, was from Nazareth, and so they deserved special treatment. If Jesus were this great prophet that people were already calling Him, they why hadn't He done anything here in Nazareth?

Of course, there was no thought of conversion, no desire to change their hearts. And repentance? Well, no need for that. No, their demand was all about entitlement, for they were a people wrapped up in themselves. Jesus looked at them and saw no humility, only pride.

And, remarkably, they really exhibited little curiosity about Jesus Himself. Oh, they thought they knew Him, because He had grown up among them. But they could see Jesus only as He used to be, as the child who played in their streets. And now He's a prophet?

Well, Jesus, if you're so great, how about proving it? Yes, they wanted some miracles too. But for the miraculous to engender faith, the heart must be well disposed.

You see, brothers and sisters, the people in that synagogue in Nazareth believed in a very small god, a god of Nazareth, not the God of Creation. In a very real sense they'd tried to create a god in their own image, and such a god must be very small indeed.

How does Jesus respond?
Naaman, healed by obedience not water [2 Kgs 5:1-19]
He reminds them of how God worked wondrous miracles through His prophets Elijah and Elisha... but they were miracles aimed at those beyond the borders of Israel, at Gentiles, not Jews. For God, the true God, is the God of all of His Creation. He certainly isn't a God to whom we can dictate.
Elijah and the widow [1 Kgs 17:9-24]
And so, with His examples from the books of Kings, the King of Kings reproaches His neighbors. His reproach, of course, is an attack on their pride.

And they respond. They respond with murderous intent.

Now I've occasionally said things in homilies to which people objected, but no one's ever tried to kill me...at least I don't think so.

But not Jesus. They force Him out of both synagogue and town, intending to throw Him off a cliff. But Jesus withdraws. He withdraws miraculously, mysteriously, majestically, leaving them paralyzed in their wounded pride; perhaps even questioning: "Who is this man that we thought we knew?"

How about you? How about me?

Are we sometimes like them? Do we believe in a little god, a subservient god, one at our beck and call, a god who does, or should do, our will?

Or do we believe in the Lord God, the God who created us out of love, who reveals Himself to us out of love, and calls us to do His will? 

And what about Jesus, the One the Father sent to become one of us, the One who gave His life for us, out of love? 

Do we listen to His Word? Do we realize He speaks to us constantly and from the mouths of the most unlikely people?

And that Cross He carries, that pesky Cross. Does He really expect me to carry one too? Why can't He just make my life perfect, just the way I'd like it?

Who is your God? Who is my God? Who is our Jesus? Have you and I created a little god, one our minds can comprehend, one we can control?

Or, like the deer that thirsts for the stream's running water, do we  thirst and long for the God of Creation, the God of Revelation, the God of the Incarnation, the God who loves, the God who saves, the God who calls each one of us to be His disciple?

You and I have to let go of our little gods and let the true God quench our thirst as He wills.

God love you.

Reflection: Stations of the Cross

Note: Every Friday during Lent the deacons of our parish lead the people in praying the Stations of the Cross. Before praying the Stations, we usually give a brief Lenten reflection to help us conform our minds and hearts to God's holy will. This past Friday of the Second Week of Lent it was my turn. My reflection follows:
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I sometimes think we take the Cross for granted, thus dulling the reality of Christ's passion. Or maybe we belittle His sufferings, believing it was somehow different for Him, that in His Divine Person His suffering wasn't real, like our suffering.

It's important to state this clearly: Jesus' sufferings were very real and more intense than anything you and I might endure. And they encompassed so much. 

The agonizing hours He spent in the garden, all the while ignored by His three closest friends. And later to be abandoned by these and by virtually all whom He loved, even betrayed by one of them.

He was arrested, tried and convicted for crimes He didn't commit; falsely accused and subjected to a steady stream of lies.

He was insulted, taunted, repeatedly struck and spit on, flogged almost to the point of death. Then the King of Kings was painfully and ignominiously crowned with thorns.

Condemned and executed like a common criminal, as He died, He endured more taunts, insults and mockery.

And through it all, the Father kept His silence. Can we even begin to plumb the depths of Christ's suffering?

Yet all this suffering would have been wasted, it would not have redeemed a single soul, if Jesus had not endured it with love.

Christ's suffering alone didn't redeem the world. It was His love - the love with which He bore and offered His sufferings to the Father for us. This is the same love that was present at the creation - the love that brought everything into being. A love we repay with sin.

There's an awful lot of suffering in our world today. Just read the headlines. Watch the evening news. Or perhaps you need only look at those seated near you, or at yourself. Illness, the death of a loved one, a child who has strayed and turned his back on God, financial problems, family strife, addictions... all these sufferings are very real in our lives and in the lives of those we know.

But have we learned to bear our sufferings as Jesus taught us? Even though surrounded by darkness, the light of His love burned brightly and enlightened others. With one look of compassion he brought tears of repentance to the eyes of Peter. He prayed for His executioners. He welcomed the good thief to paradise.

He died because He did the will of the Father, freely and out of love. He didn't simply endure His sufferings. He suffered because of His great love for you.

Suffering that is merely endured does little for our souls except harden them. It just turns us inward and floods us with self-pity, the first and normal reaction to suffering. But self-pity can be a cancer; it can erode our faith, our courage, and our capacity to feel compassion for others...our capacity to love.

Thomas Merton once wrote that, "The Christian must not only accept suffering: he must make it holy. For nothing so easily becomes unholy as suffering." [No Man is an Island, p. 77]

Now, I'm not suggesting that you imitate those who have an almost morbid love of suffering. From my experience, they tend to be dour, humorless people. No. Christ wants us to love. Love can cause the greatest suffering of all - heartbreak - but it also brings the greatest joy.

Rejoice!
God wants us to be joyful. That's why next Sunday is Laetare Sunday, a day to rejoice, even in the midst of repentance. After all, we repent because we are filled with hope, the hope of forgiveness. Is this not a good reason to be joyful?

And it's also why Good Friday isn't called "Bad Friday." It's good because it's the ultimate manifestation of God's overwhelming love for you -- not some generic love, but a very personal, individual love, a love in which our God lays down His life for you.

And so today, as we pray these Stations together, let's recall Jesus' prayer for those who nailed Him to that Cross: "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do" [Lk 23:34].

When we return to our homes, let's not take up where we left off, carrying the burdens of things we can't forgive.

Jesus began His ministry by telling us to do two things: "Repent and believe in the Gospel" [Mk 1:15].

We talk a lot about believing in and living the Gospel these days, and that's a very good thing. But let's not forget the other part. Let's not forget to repent of our sins.
"Do not weep for me..."
"Do not weep for me," Jesus told the women of Jerusalem, "weep instead for yourselves and for your children" [Lk 23:28].

It's okay if we don't weep for Jesus this Lent. He won't mind. Rather let's follow Peter's example -- Peter, who wept bitter tears for his own sins. Then maybe we'll be able to forgive those who sin against us.

God love you.