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!

The thoughts expressed here are my personal thoughts and sometimes reflect my political views. As a private citizen I have every right to express these views.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Catholics and Freedom - George Weigel - National Review Online

Here's a link to a fascinating and very timely essay by Catholic historian, George Weigel. It's well worth reading.

Catholics and Freedom - George Weigel

Democracy...Not!

I keep hearing people, who should know better, refer to our form of government as a democracy. Perhaps they slept through their ninth-grade civics class; you know, that boring course in which we learned all about our representative republic with its three branches of government, its separation of powers, and it's constitutional guarantees and bill of rights. One thing I learned from that class is that our government is in no way a democracy.

Indeed, I dislike the very concept of democracy, never have liked it and never will. Fortunately our founding fathers felt the same way. They believed that unrestrained democracy -- that is, rule by the people without constitutional restraints -- leads only to a mobocracy. Here are just a few thoughts on democracy by our founders and others:

"When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic." -- Benjamin Franklin

"Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide." -- John Adams

"A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where 51% of the people may take away the rights of the other 49%." -- Thomas Jefferson

"The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not." -- Thomas Jefferson

"We are a Republican Government. Real liberty is never found in despotism or in the extremes of democracy...it has been observed that a pure democracy if it were practicable would be the most perfect government. Experience has proved that no position is more false than this. The ancient democracies in which the people themselves deliberated never possessed one good feature of government. Their very character was tyranny; their figure deformity." -- Alexander Hamilton, in the Federalist Papers

"Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote." (A good reason for the 2nd Amendment.) -- attributed to Benjamin Franklin

"Between a balanced republic and a democracy, the difference is like that between order and chaos." -- John Marshall

"Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their death." -- James Madison

"Democracy means government by the uneducated, while aristocracy means government by the badly educated." -- G. K. Chesterton

"The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter." -- Winston Churchill

"Democracy is the road to socialism." -- Karl Marx

...and so, to believe we govern ourselves in a democracy is to ignore the document that defines our form of governance: the Constitution. Of course some of our political leadership would prefer we do exactly that. It's much easier to govern when those doing the governing can ignore the fact that the people are sovereign and that the Constitution protects the people's rights and restrains the government.

If you haven't already done so, read the Federalist Papers.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:On the road in Georgia

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Homily: Wednesday, 34th Week of Ordinary Time

Readings: Dn 5:1-28; Dn 3; Luke 21.12-19

If the gospel message is good news, then why do so many oppose it with hostility and even violence? Jesus warns us that we’ll be confronted with persecution, evil, false teaching, and temptation. And how does He tell us to respond to all this? With love, with truth, with forgiveness.

Only God’s love can defeat bigotry, hatred, envy, and all that would divide and tear us apart. Only God’s truth can overcome the lies and confusion in the world. And that’s what the Gospel is, God's Word of truth and salvation.

And so Jesus tells his disciples to proclaim the gospel throughout the whole world, even in the midst of opposition and persecution. If they persevere to the end they will gain their lives – they will see God's salvation. Such endurance doesn't come from human effort. It’s a supernatural gift of the Holy Spirit, a gift strengthened by the hope that we’ll see God face to face and inherit His promises.

In this, as in all things, Jesus is our model: Jesus who endured the cross for our sake and salvation; Jesus who calls us to love, to die to ourselves.

Did you know the Greek root of the word martyr means witness? And true martyrs live and die as witnesses to the Gospel. The Book of Revelation calls Jesus “the faithful witness...who freed us from our sins by his blood."

And Tertullian, a second century lawyer and Early Church Father, converted when he saw Christians singing as they went out to die at the hands of their persecutors. He compared the blood of the martyrs to seed, the seed of new Christians, the seed of the church.

St. Augustine spoke of this too: "The martyrs were bound, jailed, scourged, racked, burned, rent, butchered – and they multiplied!" Christians multiplied because the martyrs witnessed to the truth, to the joy and freedom of the Gospel; and they did so through the testimony of their lives.

And down through the centuries Christian martyrs have continued to give their lives for their faith, and for the love and truth of Jesus Christ. Indeed, today we honor a modern martyr, Blessed Miguel Pro, who was executed in Mexico on November 23, 1927 in the midst of the fierce anti-Catholic persecutions perpetrated under President Plutarco Elias Calles. Blessed Miguel, a Jesuit priest, spread his arms wide in imitation of Christ on the Cross as he stood before the firing squad. His last words just before the shots rang out were "Viva Christo Rey!" (Long live Christ the King).

Blessed Miguel Pro standing before the firing squad on Nov. 23, 1927

The martyrs witness to the truth, the great truth about our loving God: "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…”

“God so loved the world…” He doesn’t love just part of it. No, He loves it all. He loves each of us. It can’t be otherwise because He created each human being in an individual act of love.

We must remember that Jesus died on the cross for Jews and Gentiles, Christians and Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists, agnostics and atheists. By our witness as Christians others will recognize Christ’s victory on the cross, his power to overcome sin, fear and hatred, even death itself. When the world looks at us it has the right to find in us a reflection of the glory of the Trinity. The world has a right to discover in our faith, hope, and love a testimony to the Holy Spirit’s presence.

The problems that have arisen in Christ’s Church over the centuries, and exist even now, are not caused by the Holy Spirit; they’re caused by the mediocrity of Christians. As G. K. Chesterton once wrote, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”

What brings others to Jesus Christ and His Church is seeing Christians loving their enemies; seeing us joyful in suffering, patient in adversity, forgiving of injuries, and showing comfort and compassion to the hopeless and the helpless.

This, brothers and sisters, is our calling.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Ancient Cemetery and Modern Politics

A portion of the Mount of Olives cemetery
Among cemeteries still in use one of the oldest in the world is located in Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives. Its earliest graves date as far back as 1,000 B.C. and Jews are still being buried there 3,000 years later. For many believing Jews it is a very special cemetery, for tradition and prophecy in the Book of Zechariah tell of the Messiah entering Jerusalem from the mount and dividing it in two:
"On that day God’s feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is opposite Jerusalem to the east. The Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west by a very deep valley, and half of the mountain will move to the north and half of it to the south." [Zech 14:4]
Many therefore believe the estimated 150,000 people buried there will be the first to rise from the dead -- prime real estate indeed.

Although the cemetery contains only Jewish graves, the Mount of Olives is also home to several Christian churches built to commemorate events in Jesus' life. And these churches have crypts and cemeteries of their own. One can even find the graves of a few of Europe's royals on the Mount. The mother of Britain's Prince Phillip, Princess Alice of Battenberg, is buried there along with some members of the last czar's family.

The Jewish cemetery, however, has apparently been long neglected and is littered with all kinds of ancient and recent rubble in the midst of many crumbling headstones. It has also been subjected to much vandalism by Arab youths. (Click here to read a recent story on this vandalism.)

One Jewish group has taken on the task of making a digital map of the entire cemetery, a task that will include recording the name on every grave and eventually making the finished product available online. To date, the group has mapped over 40,000 of an estimated 100,000 headstones. After that, the problem becomes more complex since many of the older graves cannot be easily deciphered or lie under several layers of more recent burials. The task was made especially difficult by the Jordanians who, during the 19-year period they controlled the area (1948-1967), built a road right through the cemetery, using Jewish headstones as pavers and letting the rest of the cemetery fall into disrepair.

Not surprisingly the project has encountered both religious and political resistance. First of all, the cemetery is located in East Jerusalem, that section of the city which Palestinians claim as the future site of their capital. It is literally surrounded by Arab neighborhoods. Another issue relates to Elad, the group performing the mapping. Elad is affiliated with the settlement movement, Jews who strive to increase Jewish presence in East Jerusalem in order to prevent any future division of the city. As you might imagine, they're not very popular among the local Muslims who hope to one day claim Jerusalem as their own.

Personally, I think it's great this work is being done. To date the mappers have made many interesting and some remarkable finds. If you'd like to read more about this effort, click here: Mapping Mount of Olives Cemetery.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Homily: Solemnity of Christ the King

Readings: Ez 34:11-12,15-17; 1 Cor 15:20-26.28; Mt 25:31-
______________

During the past twelve months the liturgy has led us from Advent and the world’s expectation of a Savior, to His arrival among us as a helpless infant, through His ministry, His passion and death, to His resurrection and His return to the Father. Then, beginning with Pentecost, we experienced the Church’s pilgrimage as it awaits Christ’s final coming in glorified splendor.

And so today, on the last Sunday of the liturgical year, we celebrate the very pinnacle of salvation history, when all that is, ever was, and ever will be is subjected to Christ’s rule. As usual, St. Paul says it best in today's second reading:  
“…when He hands over the kingdom to His God and Father, when He has destroyed every sovereignty and every authority and power.” 
Christ in Majesty - National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception - Washington
You see, there can be only one eternal King, and all human authority must be subjected to Him. That’s why the Church celebrates the feast of Christ the King when it does. It not only brings the movement of salvation history to a decisive end, but also presents us with something wonderfully new.

But what about God's Kingdom? What kind of Kingdom is it? Certainly it's a Kingdom like no other. “My kingdom does not belong to this world,” Jesus told Pilate before His crucifixion.

Exactly so. For Jesus brought His kingdom into this world. Indeed, that he came to establish a Kingdom was clear from the moment He began His public ministry. And He affirmed His Kingdom openly and unequivocally.

Read the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.” Then reread the Gospel parables in which Jesus reveals its mysteries. The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed…like leaven…a treasure hidden in a field…a merchant in search of fine pearls…a net thrown into the sea. Yes, it’s a spiritual kingdom, a kingdom founded on eternal truth. But what’s the truth about this spiritual Kingdom?

Well, as Jesus told us, it’s not of this world…but it’s certainly in this world. It’s in the Church He founded. It’s in each one of us who bears witness to the truth of God’s revelation. The Kingdom, then, isn’t a place. It’s a people, God’s people of faith responding in obedience and love to the will of their King…a King who owns us body and soul, who purchased us on the cross with his blood.

What kind of King is Jesus? Well, the prophet Ezekiel gives us God's answer to this question in today’s first reading. It’s among the earliest portrayals of God as a shepherd lovingly tending His flock.
 "I will rescue them from every place where they were scattered when it was cloudy and dark."
"I will give them rest…The lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal…"
Yes, Ezekiel tells us, we have a loving God, a God who cares deeply about every aspect of our lives. But, the prophet adds, our eternal King is also a judge. Listen again…
"…the sleek and strong I will destroy…I will judge between one sheep and another, between rams and goats."
Yes, we will be judged, but we determine how we are judged by our acknowledgement of Jesus as Lord, when, in faith, we do the Father's will. For empty words mean nothing. Do you recall what Jesus said about this?
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father.”
How often do we plead with God to save us, to heal us, to help us in all sorts of earthly things and yet remain indifferent to His divine Will? Contrast this to the silence of the saints who implore God, not only with their words, but by reforming their lives. To reform our lives, though, we must freely allow God’s grace to shape our wills to His; we must allow Christ the King to rule over us. You see, God calls us to obedience, but He never forces Himself on us. He lets us decide whether to serve Him or reject Him. In effect, God places the keys to His Kingdom in each of our hands.

And what does He call us to do? Nothing less than His work, the work of the shepherd. He wants us to love, because God is Love. This means He wants us to be Godly. This is the work that Jesus spells out so clearly in today's Gospel reading from Matthew 25 depicting the last judgment. And do you know, it’s the only place in Scripture where the last judgment is described? Did you hear Jesus' words?
"For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me."
You see, Jesus is telling us that we can't separate God's two great commandments. When we love God with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength, we must also love each other. To deny one is to deny the other. Jesus suffered and died for us all, not just for a select few. Every person, no matter how sinful, no matter how separated from God, remains a child of God, a unique creation, a product of His infinite love. To ignore this truth is to run the risk of one day hearing those forbidding words:
"Depart from me…For I was hungry and you gave me no food, thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison and you did not care for me."
Michelangelo's Fresco of the Last Judgment
In a few moments as Father Peter begins the Eucharistic Prayer he will pray the Preface of Christ the King which affirms a “kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace.” This is the kingdom we are called to serve.

The question for us? Are we willing to serve, to carry the Word of God to an unbelieving world?

Are we men and women of truth, conformed to God’s Will and faithful to His commandments and to the teachings of His Church?

Does Christ our King truly live in us? Will the grace we receive today in the Eucharist transform our minds and hearts, making us into new creations?

Can we put aside the pragmatism of human justice and accept God’s perfect justice into our hearts?

Do we shelter the homeless, feed the hungry, visit the lonely, the sick, the imprisoned? Are we fathers to the fatherless? Mothers to the motherless?

Is our love for one another as outstretched as the arms of Christ on the cross?

God knows, I am not accusing you. For my own answers to these questions only show me how far I am from the kingdom. And so, brothers and sisters, until the kingdom comes in glory, we all have a fair amount of work to do. But, do you know what? We have the power to do it, for we do it with Jesus Christ, the King of kings.

Praised be Jesus Christ the King...now and foever!

Life and death, Islam and Christianity in Egypt

Burning of a Christian church in Egypt (May 2011)
Yesterday evening, with one eye on Florida State's sloppy and losing performance in their game with Virginia, I used my good eye to read an interview of an Egyptian Christian that highlights the vast differences between the world-view of most Americans and that of Egyptians, whether Muslim or Christian.

Author and journalist Michael Totten spent much of the summer in Egypt observing and reporting on the continuing unrest in the country. He tried, unsuccessfully, to interview Egypt's Coptic leaders, who likely wanted to keep a low profile in the midst of all the turmoil. But Totten was able to interview an Egyptian Protestant, Ramez Atallah, head of Egypt's Bible Society. What Atallah had to say runs counter to what most of us believe about Islam and it's relationship with Christianity, and what it means to be a Christian living in a Muslim country. He also describes the impact of different forms of Islam on the average Muslim. It's really a remarkable interview, one I suspect will challenge your opinions.

I don't agree with some of what Atallah has to say, but that's probably because I'm a Christian living here in the USA while he's apparently come to terms with a life of accommodation in a society that considers him a second-class citizen at best. It would seem he has come to accept his condition, as have many Christians who live in Muslim nations. I'm not real comfortable with that, but then I don't have to live and worship under those conditions. The interview does, however, reinforce my own opinion that, contrary to what many Americans believe, some societies are simply not ready for any form of constitutional representative democracy in which real human rights are protected; and some may never be ready. For many Muslims today, an adherence to Islam does not simply define one's religious beliefs but should permeate every aspect of human life, including the political, through the imposition of Sharia Law. Such a belief is hardly conducive to democracy and looks instead to a strongly authoritative form of government. From the interview it seems many Egyptians, both Muslim and Christian, hope for a benevolent dictator. But the trouble with benevolent dictators is they never stay benevolent.


Anyway, it's an interesting interview and you can read Part 1 here: The Christians of Egypt, Part 1

I assume Part 2 will be available soon.
__________________

Peace is hard when we try to achieve it on our own.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Homily: Wednesday, 33rd Week of Ordinary Time

Readings: 2 Mc 7:1, 20-31; Ps 17; Lk 19:11-28

____________________

The story of the Maccabees is a marvelous story. It’s the story of the Jewish uprising in the 2nd century before Christ against the remnants of Alexander’s empire. And it’s a story that’s very relevant to our own times. For it’s a story of tremendous courage -- political, moral and personal -- as well as a story of remarkable faith.

Jewish mother & her seven sons, all martyred
We encounter such courage in both Mattathias and in his son, Judas Maccabeus, the war hero of the period and the one for whom the two books are named. But we also encounter tremendous courage and faith in today’s reading about the mother and her seven sons who accepted martyrdom rather than compromise their faith.

Mattathias refused to compromise his religion for political favor. And in doing so, he didn’t hesitate to sacrifice his earthly wealth and security in order to be faithful to principle. He called on his people to do the same, and judging by today’s first reading, the faithful listened.

Leadership today demands no less! And while it’s easy and common for us to point at compromising politicians and others, comparing them unfavorably with such courageous biblical leaders, perhaps we’re pointing in the wrong direction. Perhaps we should be looking at ourselves.

It’s unlikely that you and I will ever face martyrdom in our safe little corner of the world. Although our lives and fortunes might not be at stake, it’s not that easy to be a person of real faith in today’s confused world, and it’s becoming increasingly more difficult.

We find this same thought in today’s Gospel passage in which Jesus challenges us further by demanding that we use well His special, invaluable gift, His treasure of grace and mercy; for He has given us a share in His Divine Life. This gift, more valuable than anything else in our lives, is entrusted to us through our baptism and continues to be nourished in the Eucharist and the other sacraments of the Church. How we respond to this gift makes all the difference, doesn’t it? If we’re indifferent and lukewarm, we’ll lose whatever we have, but if we’re faithful with even a little, we will be entrusted with more.

Listening to this parable, I’m reminded of those challenging words from Lumen Gentium, that central document of the 2nd Vatican Counsel:
“…every layman, in virtue of the very gifts bestowed upon him, is at the same time a witness and a living instrument of the mission of the Church itself, ‘according to the measure of Christ’s bestowal.’” [Lumen Gentium, 33]
And so, it’s you, the laity, who are called to extend the divine plan of salvation throughout the world. The clergy certainly can’t do it alone. There simply aren’t all that many of us. It’s your vocation, as faithful and faith-filled Christians, to pierce the darkness of the world and fill it with the light of Christ, to expose the folly of the world – its sin and error -- for what it really is, and to do so with courage and with love. Just like the faithful Jews of the Maccabees.

Lord, help us to use well the talents, time, and resources you have given us; but more importantly help us share your gift of faith by carrying your love to the world, all for your glory and your kingdom.

Praised be Jesus Christ....

Atheist Military Chaplains?

Here's one you might have missed. Apparently some atheists in the military want to have their own chaplains and lay leaders. It seems they're bummed out that they're deprived of whatever it is they think believing chaplains provide for their faithful.

I'm just trying to understand what exactly an atheist chaplain would do. Would he or she conduct services during which the unfaithful would gather together and do what? They obviously wouldn't pray. Would they sing hymns to the great emptiness of the universe..."A mighty fortress is our void..." Maybe they'd simply sit around and discuss the meaninglessness of their lives as biological accidents with a future devoid of any vestige of hope. Boy, that would sure be uplifting.

Would an atheist chaplain provide some form of solace to a mortally wounded soldier on the battlefield?
"Well, son, you're obviously dying and about to enter the nothingness of death. If you're in pain you might as well put a bullet in your head now. After all what's a few more minutes of life if it's a miserable few minutes?"

Or maybe the atheist chaplain would take a more pragmatic approach to the whole idea of the military and simply counsel all his faithless followers to desert. I can hear his sermon now:
"We've all been fools to join the military. After all, we're atheists. We have only this one life. We all know that there's no living source of moral or ethical behavior. Nature is completely amoral. Morality and patriotism and self-sacrifice are all a part of the sham perpetrated by these phony religions just to exert power over the people. Are you going to sacrifice your life, your one and only life, for these power-hungry charlatans? I say, 'No!' Let's go AWOL and head for Vegas."
As someone who spent many, many years in uniform, it all seems a bit odd to me. Let's hope our increasingly politically correct military rejects the idea.

Being is good, because God is.

A 17-minute Stroll Through Contemporary Art

A bit of a change of pace today...

I tend to be an overly critical and cautious observer when it comes to contemporary art. I'll admit to a partiality toward some abstract art in which the artist's use of color and shape fascinates me. But these are exceptions. I actually find too much of contemporary art to be beyond comprehension -- at least beyond my comprehension -- and some to be so transparently fraudulent that it's hard to believe so many otherwise intelligent people are taken in by the artists' little jokes on the world. And then just when I'm all jaded and yearning for a double shot of realism, I encounter an artist whose work almost knocks me off my feet. For example, this happened decades ago when I first saw a late period Picasso in a museum. As much as I wanted to dislike him and his art, I found Picasso's work remarkable. The same is true of some other early contemporaries, like Dali or Miró or Chagall. And there are certainly many of the more contemporary contemporaries that intrigue me when I stumble across their work in a gallery or museum. But I must admit, I haven't paid much attention to the current scene in contemporary art, although I do take in the occasional museum exhibition just to see the kind of art that's being produced these days. I guess what I'm saying is I'm far from being a competent judge.

And then yesterday a friend sent me a link to a remarkable video presentation by an American artist, Sean Hembrey. I won't spoil it by revealing the details of his stroll through the world of contemporary art, but it's interesting, entertaining, and really pretty funny. One quickly comes to appreciate the genius of this young man from the backwoods of Arkansas. Regardless of your opinion of contemporary art (unless you're a total Philistine), I can promise you'll enjoy the video...17 minutes well spent.



If, after viewing the video, you'd like to see more of Sean Hembrey's work -- his "international biennial" which he has entitled, "Seek" -- click here: Seek by Sean Hembrey.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Freedom of Religion Threatened...in the U.S.

I usually don't get political here -- well, not  too often and not too political -- but I'm making an exception today. Actually, what I'm going to address is political only to those who want the Church to remain on the sidelines, far outside the public square, and who believe religion should be practiced only behind closed doors. They don't like it when the Church speaks out on moral issues affecting the country and the world, believing that the Church crosses some ill-defined line between the religious and the political. But when politicians wander or stumble into the moral sphere, the Church has both a right and an obligation to speak. By denying the Church's right to do so, these folks ignore a few thousand years of human history during which political action has always been influenced by the religious values of a society, the values that define its culture. Indeed, once the "cult" is removed from a culture, the society inevitably begins its decline. Of course, it's no surprise that these same people will be profuse in their support of the Church's right to speak and act so long as the Church's position on a particular issue supports the preferred political agenda.

A few years ago, when Diane and I joined tens of thousands of others to take part in the annual March for Life in Washington, I heard a bystander shout out to us, "Just shut up and don't force your bleeping religion on us." I surprised myself by ignoring him, and just marched on holding my "Choose Life" sign a bit higher. But I found it interesting that an American would make such a comment. By demanding that a fellow citizen -- and from a political perspective the Church is certainly an assembly of citizens -- keep quiet about things religious, this man and others like him openly reject the clear language of the U. S. Constitution which guarantees freedom of religion to all Americans. Too many, including some of our federal justices, ignore that little "free exercise" phrase in the first sentence of the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech". That bystander in Washington was, therefore, doubly guilty. He not only wanted to deny me the right to exercise my religion freely, but he also wanted to limit my speech to subjects of which he approved.

How sad that the clear language of the Constitution has been so strangely interpreted. After two-hundred plus years, one thing is clear: our Constitution is too important a document to place in the hands of constitutional lawyers. After all, it was written in the name of and ratified by "We the People". I can't help but recall Jesus' words,
“I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will." [Mt 11:25-26]
I have no problem being numbered among the "childlike". This is why theologians with all their degrees and all their knowledge do not represent the Church's teaching authority, its Magisterium. That authority remains with the apostles and their successors, the pope and the bishops...something that seems to drive more than a few theologians to distraction. But I'm drifting off the subject...

Our bishops are beginning to take notice of the fact that some in positions of political power in this country take a rather narrow view of religious liberty. The Church -- and here I mean the Catholic Church -- because of its positions in support of life and against the culture of death, has been singled out by government agencies who are trying to prohibit it from taking part in any government sponsored programs from adoption services to refugee assistance. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is also mandating that all health insurance programs offer coverage of "reproductive" services to include contraception (including abortifacients) and sterilization. Such services are completely contrary to the Church's teaching for the past 2,000 years. The intent, of course, is to present the Church with a lose-lose situation. It can either cave in to these threats by agreeing to ignore the truth of its teachings for the sake of participation in government programs, or it can further isolate itself from an increasingly government-heavy society and lose the funding on which it has come to rely.

Of course, this tactic completely ignores the Constitutional guarantees that prohibit our government from denying us the right to exercise our religion freely. If a Catholic college, for example, is forced to offer its employees health insurance that contains coverage directly contrary to Church teaching, such a requirement is in obvious violation of the First Amendment. Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina is one such Catholic school that has been singled out by the federal government. The college is engaged in a legal challenge to the HHS mandate. To read more about its struggle, click here.

As I mentioned above, the U.S. bishops are responding to this threat to our religious liberty. Here, for example, is a brief video by  the Archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, in which he encourages the faithful to pray, to become informed, and to act in defense of religious liberty in the United States [Hint: this last means to vote only for those who will defend religious freedom.]


For more information see this article on the bishops' latest efforts in defense of religious liberty: US Bishops' Committee on Religious Liberty. The U.S. bishops are also in the midst of a three-day assembly in Baltimore at which they are discussing such issues as religious liberty, the sanctity of marriage, and the Church's call to be a force for good by bringing God's love to a sinful world. Here's a link: Bishops' Assembly in Baltimore.

I am truly pleased that such an effort is underway. My only suggestion is that the Church back away from government-funded programs whenever possible. Perhaps in the future, instead of trying to ensure a place at the federal funding table, the bishops should devote more time convincing the faithful to provide the funds necessary to carry out the Gospel mandate to care for those in need. I'm going to be cynical here and suggest that those in the government who create the programs to feed the hungry or care for the poor do not do so in response to the Gospel mandate. They do it to create dependency, to ensure votes, and to dampen any potential unrest. (I told you I was cynical.)

Sadly, some of our Christian charities are no better. A few years ago, during a local weather emergency, the head of one religious-based charitable organization called me to ask if our soup kitchen could use some ready-to-serve meals. When I told him we had plenty of food on hand to deal with the current emergency, and really had no place to store any more, he said, "Oh, that's too bad. If I can get rid of this stuff and document that it went for emergency use, I can get a bunch more federal funding." From this and subsequent comments it was obvious he cared less about helping those in need than in maintaining his government funding. I eventually suggested he call the Red Cross.

Our Wildwood Soup Kitchen is actually a very good example. Diane and I spend some time working there every week and truly enjoy it, as do over 200 other volunteers from almost 40 local churches. We do this because as Christians we take seriously the Gospel mandate to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, and welcome the stranger [see Mt 25]. We do it because Jesus in His overwhelming love for us commanded us to love God and neighbor. And after experiencing His love, we can do nothing else. We don't do it to achieve any political ends or to guarantee sources of funding. Our soup kitchen has maintained its independence from government by relying solely on donations from individuals, churches, businesses, and civic organizations. Such sources of funding are generally more reliable, and certainly less intrusive, than government.

Yes, I realize it's just a little soup kitchen that serves about 250 free meals each day, six days a week, but I suspect those first deacons in Jerusalem [see Acts 6] served only a few widows and orphans at the start; and look how we've progressed since then.

Pray for our country, and pray for our bishops, that they have the courage and wisdom to do what is right and just.

Pax et bonum...

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Homily: 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Note:  Once again, as an aid to our parishioners in advance of the upcoming changes to the Roman Missal, I try to demonstrate how these changes in language will help us better understand the strong connection between what we pray, what we believe, and how we live the Christian life. In doing so I have been aided by the homiletic notes provided by our diocesan Office of Liturgy.
___________

Readings: Prv 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31; Ps 128; 1 Thes 5:1-6; Mt 25:14-30
___________

As I’m sure you all know by now, in two weeks, on the 1st Sunday of Advent, we’ll begin using the new English translation of the Roman Missal. Today I’m going to focus on two things: the parable we just heard [Mt 25:14-30], and a few of the changes we’ll encounter. You see, there’s a strong connection between the two, and I trust I’ll be able to make that connection.

As for this parable of the servants and the talents, it seems to be often misunderstood, largely because of the word “talents.” Many seem to think the parable is simply about using one’s talents and gifts wisely, sharing those talents, making the most of one’s abilities. And I’ve even listened to a few homilies that said exactly that. But I really believe this represents a too narrow reading of the parable.

When Jesus spoke these words, a “talent” was a specific amount of money. Indeed, it was worth 6,000 drachmas, a considerable sum. The parable is less about using the human gifts God gave us, than it is a dramatic lesson about God’s judgment, especially His judgment of us Christians. Forgetting this, we can overlook a couple of important things.

First, the servants are entrusted with something of extraordinary value, something far greater than such gifts as musical talent, or intelligence, or athletic skill, or any other personal ability. No, this is a special gift. God has entrusted them, just as He has entrusted every Christian, with His treasure of grace and mercy. In other words, He has given us a share in His Divine Life. This gift, more valuable than anything else in our lives, is entrusted to us through our baptism and continues to be nourished in the Eucharist and the other sacraments of the Church.

Now, for reasons we don’t understand some people seem to receive a greater share of this Divine gift. Some among us are remarkable saints while others, perhaps most of us, seem to be somewhat less blessed. But, as baptized Christians, all of us have received this valuable gift. How did Jesus put it when asked about John the Baptist?
“…among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” [Lk 7:28]

And that, we hope, will be you and me…the least, and yet greater than the greatest of the prophets. We have all been given something absolutely extraordinary. It has little to do with skill or ability in any purely human activity; rather it makes itself known in how we carry the love of God Himself into the world. For we have been given God’s greatest gift, the gift of His Holy Spirit.

The second thing in this parable we often overlook stems from the first. It’s something we’ve heard Jesus say before:
“Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.” [Lk 12:48]
God invites us to understand that He expects this gift of His to bear fruit. Despite the fact that this gift is the all-powerful Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, you and I must still accept it. We must respond to it. Just as the creative Word of God, having become one of us, humbled Himself by allowing His creatures to nail him to a Cross, so too the Spirit puts Himself into our hands.

We can accept Him and let Him transform our lives, and take part in the coming of the Kingdom. Or we can reject Him out of fear or cowardice or timidity or laziness. God allows us to choose. We can bury His gift and do nothing with it. But when He comes to us, as He certainly will, and asks us how we have used His gift of the Spirit, His gift of Divine Life, what will we tell Him?

You see, my friends, when God judges us it is not our human talents and abilities that will separate us, one from another. It is our use of His greatest gift that will turn us into saints.

Talent, then, sometimes doesn’t mean talent. Words make a difference. And as I’ve looked at some of the different words we will soon be praying at Mass, I have come to realize how true this actually is. Yes, words really do make a difference. Let’s just consider a few of the changes to the responses that form some of the liturgical dialog between priest and people.

When the celebrant says, “The Lord be with you”, we will now respond, “And with your Spirit.” [2 Tim 4:22; Gal 6:18; Phil 4:23; 2 Cor 13:13]

This offers us a far deeper meaning, something well beyond the ordinary conversational “And also with you.” From our parable of the talents, what did we come to understand? That God’s greatest gift is the gift of His Spirit. And so with this response we tell the celebrant:
“Yes, praise God, for the Lord is with us today. And we pray too that you have accepted His gift of the Spirit, that His Spirit fills you with His Divine Life, that His Spirit is with your spirit.”
Later, as the priest offers the gifts of bread and wine, we will now respond with: 

“May the Lord accept this sacrifice at your hands, for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his holy Church.”

“…his holy Church.” Just that one word – holy -- has been added. Or perhaps I should say, in the past, that one word was deleted. For in the Latin Roman Missal, from which all these translations come, we find the words, “Ecclesiae suae sanctae” – His holy Church – for the Church is and always will be one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.

Why had that one word been omitted from the earlier translation? I don't know. But just this one word reminds us what God calls us to be both both individually and together in the communion of God’s Church; we are called to be holy, to be saints.

Then, just before the Preface of the Eucharistic Prayer, in a brief dialog between priest and people, we hear the words, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God” [Ps 100; 1 Chr 16:1-36], to which we now respond,“It is right and just.”

Right and just: two simple, one-syllable words that encapsulate the two great commandments; for it is right to give thanks and praise to God, and justice to our neighbor -- two words that tell us how to use the invaluable gift God has given us. We thank God for the gift. We’re not to bury it, but to unwrap it completely, to open that gift by doing what it right, what is just, by loving God and neighbor.

Because we proclaim this as we begin our liturgy of the Eucharist, our liturgy of thanksgiving, we’re reminded of the important connection between the Eucharist and Justice. To receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ and then to go out into the world and act unjustly…well, this is worse than burying the gift.

The Centurion: "Lord,. I am not worthy..."
And, finally, right before Communion we’ll now respond with: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” [Mt 8:8]

“…under my roof…my soul shall be healed.” These words, too, make a difference, highlighting the connection between Christ’s Eucharistic presence in the Church, under this roof, under His roof, and His presence under our roof, in our lives and in our homes, the domestic Churches. It reminds us too that our greatest need, the world’s greatest need, is for spiritual healing, the healing of souls.

And as with all these responses, the Scriptural roots of the Mass are brought more clearly into focus.

The words we pray do make a difference, don’t they? We’re all called to open our hearts and minds to the deeper meanings behind the words we pray at Mass, and how we live them out in our lives. These aren’t new words; rather, they’re ancient expressions of the never-changing truths of our faith. 

This faith, this gift, expressed in the Creed we profess, begins with the word, Credo, “I believe.” And when we pray it together here, it makes us the “We” of the Church, the communion of believers.

You see, it’s all of one piece: the gift, the words, Scripture, the Eucharist, our lived faith.

And so, let us pray that when we are judged, the Lord will turn to each of us with the words we long to hear…“Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Homily: Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome

Readings: Ez 47:1-2,8-9,12; Ps 46; 1 Cor 3:9-11,16-17; Jn 2:13-22

Most people think of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome as the pope’s primary church, his cathedral, but it’s not. That honor belongs to the Basilica of St. John Lateran, for it is the pope’s church, the cathedral of the Diocese of Rome where the Bishop of Rome presides. And today we celebrate its dedication.

Interior of St. John Lateran (I took this photo in 2008)

The Ancient Church of Rome was persecuted until the Edict of Milan and the conversion of the emperor Constantine in the year 313. That was when the patrician Laterani family gave the land to the emperor for the construction of a church – hence the name, Lateran. With the building of the first Lateran church the Christians of Rome could finally enter into the Lord’s house on the Lateran Hill and worship openly in peace and joy. How wonderful it must have been for them to be able to come to a holy place and worship together.

That first Lateran church and its successors suffered fire, earthquake and the ravages of war, but remained the church where popes were consecrated. All this changed in the 14th century when the popes returned after 70 years of exile in Avignon to find the church and the adjoining palace in ruins. Up until that time to say “the Lateran” was the same as saying “the Vatican” today.

Facade of St. John Lateran (2008)

Gradually the rebuilt Lateran was overseen by the cardinal vicar who governed the Pope’s diocese in his name so the Pope could devote more time to the universal Church. The Lateran Palace became the “chancery” of Rome, housing the papal vicar along with his household and offices. But because it’s the pope’s cathedral the Lateran church or basilica is the mother church of all Catholic churches.

It was actually dedicated under the title of the “Most Holy Savior” as well as that of St. John the Baptist. Although it’s known more by this second title of St. John, its full proper name is the Patriarchal Basilica of the Most Holy Savior and Saint John the Baptist at the Lateran. Quite a mouthful for any parishioner to remember.

The Lateran is a truly imposing church, though, and one cannot help but be impressed by its towering facade crowned with 15 huge statues of Christ, John the Baptist, John the Evangelist and 12 doctors of the Church. Beneath its high altar are the remains of a small wooden table which tradition tells us was the altar used by St. Peter himself to celebrate Mass.
St. John Lateran Baptistry

Another striking feature is the baptistry, a large circular building behind the Church. It’s large because when people were baptized, whether infants or adults, the entire parish gathered for the celebration. The entrance of a new Christian into the faith was a central focus of the Church. Baptism was never considered a private ceremony.  It was and should remain a community celebration. This is why here at St. Vincent de Paul we generally celebrate baptisms at Sunday Mass.

Unlike the commemorations of other Roman churches, today’s anniversary isn’t a simple memorial; rather it’s a feast – a feast reminding us of our union with the pope, the Bishop of Rome. For the papacy is a gift from the Lord who appointed Peter and his successors to continue His presence over the other apostles and bishops as his Rock, his Vicar on earth.

Peter, the Rock, receives the keys on which Christ will build His Church(facade of St. Peter's)

The Pope is often referred to as the Supreme Pontiff or bridge builder between God and man. Every Pope has particular gifts as well as particular human failings.  What really matters is not the individual but the charism given to the individual when he is consecrated Bishop of Rome.  It is, therefore, important to remember that our regard for the papacy shouldn’t be colored by the individual who happens to be pope at a particular time. We’ve been blessed with wonderful, dynamic leaders in Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. But the papacy is far greater than either man.

The union of all the Dioceses of the world with the Diocese of Rome, of all the Bishops of the Church in communion with and under the authority of the pope, the Bishop of Rome, is our assurance that we remain the Church that Jesus Christ founded on the Rock of Peter. It is only through the union of the universal Church with the Chair of Peter that the fundamentals of our faith, our liturgy, and our morality have remained the same throughout the world and through the ages.

In today’s Gospel we see Jesus cleansing the temple of defilement, showing us the importance of doing the same to His Church whenever the need arises. And so today, as we worship together in freedom to celebrate the Dedication of St. John Lateran, we thank God for our union with the Church in Rome and pray that our pope, our bishops, and all God’s people will, like Jesus, be consumed by zeal for His House.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

All the news that fits our agenda

Watching, listening to, or reading the "news" these days can be a frustrating experience. I suppose I'm most bothered by the underlying political correctness in the reporting, occasionally very obvious but more often fairly subtle. Probably the most apparent symptom of this PC reporting is manifest in the news that simply never gets reported or, at best, is under-reported, buried in the back pages of newspapers or given short shrift by news anchors. And in some stories, usually those too big to be ignored completely, certain relevant details are intentionally omitted because they conflict with the media's PC-based agendas.

Let me address a few recent events that received mixed coverage in the news. Had you heard about these events? Did you get the whole story?

Nigeria is the most populous African nation with an area somewhat larger than the state of Texas. A little more than half the population is Muslim and a little less than half is Christian. Most of the Muslims live in the northern part of the country while most Christians live in the south.

A few days ago a radical Islamist group called "Boko Haram" -- a phrase which in the local language means "Western education is a sacrilege" -- armed with guns and bombs went on a killing spree in several Nigerian cities. According to the Red Cross, over 100 people were murdered. What most news stories didn't mention is that among this terrorist group's main targets were Christian churches, several of which they destroyed during their rampage. Although Boko Haram speaks of government corruption (very real in Nigeria and most of Africa) as the reason for these attacks, when you read what the group posts on the web, it's apparent their true motives are centered on the imposition of Sharia Law in Nigeria. Here's a link to a rather confusing blog by a member of Boko Haram: ISLAMIC

Just months ago the people of Egypt, seemingly with the support of the country's military, managed to overthrow the authoritarian regime of Hosni Mubarak. Immediately the country was held up as the poster boy for an "Arab Spring" that would certainly bring democracy and tolerance and moderation to the Middle East.

Unfortunately it looks as if Egypt is moving quickly from spring all the way to winter as the military government reverts back to the Mubarak's repressive tactics. Even worse, though, the military seems to be catering to the Islamists as evidenced by the military's recent attacks on Christians outside the state TV studios. The Christians were protesting the lack of justice because the government seemed uninterested in investigating or prosecuting a recent church burning by Islamists. Since Mubarak's overthrow attacks on Christians and their churches have increased dramatically.

In this latest incident, just a month ago, 28 protesting Coptic Christians were killed and several hundred wounded when government troops ran over many of them with armored vehicles and shot others. As you might expect, the government has completely absolved the military of any responsibility in these deaths, blaming them instead on unnamed third parties. This despite many videos of military vehicles crushing Christian demonstrators. And now the military government responsible for these deaths is bringing charges against -- you guessed it -- the Christian demonstrators. 34 of them are being held in prison before their trails. Many of these defendants are underage or wounded, and all lack proper medical care and food. How much of this did you hear on the evening news?

Don't watch the below video if you have a weak stomach. It is just a one-minute clip, but it's typical of many other videos taken that same evening showing Egyptian Army vehicles running over many other Christian demonstrators.


Egypt, of course, isn't the only North African nation with a questionable future. Libya is no longer suffering under the repressive regime of Colonel Muammar el Qaddafi, but will the next government be an improvement or will it be even more repressive? Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the leader of the National Transitional Council has declared that the new Libya will have as its foundation Sharia Law. In doing so he made specific reference to eliminating interest charges by banks and any restrictions on the number of wives a Libyan man may have. The latter, of course, is no boon to the rights and dignity of women. And, confusingly, the proposed constitution promises non-Muslims freedom of religion, while at the same time fully embracing Sharia Law as the law of the land. Anyone familiar with Sharia Law recognizes the incompatibility here.

Even more problematic is the continued presence of Al Qaeda among the rebels who took part in the overthrow of Qaddafi. One thing we know for certain: any Al Qaeda-connected rebels will never relinquish their weapons. And if Al Qaeda manages to establish a presence in the new government, I would expect them to attempt to seize full power rather quickly. And then imagine this worst case: an Al Qaeda controlled Libya with billions of oil money pouring into its coffers every month.-

Of course Qaddafi would not have been overthrown without the overwhelming support of NATO weapons and air power. NATO planes carried out 26,000 sorties, including nearly 10,000 strike missions. More than 1000 tanks, vehicles and guns were destroyed, along with Qaddafi's command and control network in Tripoli, Bani Walid and Sirte. Without this enormous assistance, Qaddafi would quite likely have wiped out the rebels in a few weeks. But did you know that we also sent in Jihadists to assist the rebels? That's right, according to AsiaNews:

"Making a democratic future that more unlikely is the presence of Jihadist groups sent in by some NATO countries, most notably the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), an extremist group led by Abdelhakim Belhaj, a Libyan Berber with a past among the mujahedeen who fought the Soviets in the 1980s in Afghanistan. After his capture in 2003, he became a collaborator of the Libyan regime and now is serving the Americans."
What an intricate web we weave. Let's hope that we don't get caught up in it ourselves.By the way, the Vatican's Apostolic Vicar to Libya predicted worse things to come for the Christians of Libya if Qaddafi were overthrown. I expect we'll soon see how prescient he was.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying Colonel Qaddafi was a good guy. Far from it. From all indications he was a murderous megalomaniac who certainly deserved to be removed from power...and I'm happy he's gone.  But when we support such an effort -- and it would not have succeeded without US military and command and control assets -- we should also be certain that those we're supporting won't later present us with an even more dangerous foe.

And then there's the manner of Qaddafi's rather grisly death. The evidence is overwhelming that he was summarily shot by his captors not long after he surrendered. It would seem that the rebels and their fellow travelers have little respect for the rule of law. Given their disparate makeup one might expect this; but I did not expect to hear our Secretary of State declare with delight after hearing the news of Qaddafi's death, "We came. We saw. He died." I expected more of her as the lead representative of the United States in the international community. I suspect she and her boss were relieved that the late dictator would not be given the forum of an international courtroom in the months to come.

I realize a lot of Americans, perhaps even a majority, disagree with me on this, believing that Qaddafi got what he deserved. Well, I suppose that's true from one perspective, but as a military officer I was taught that we had a moral and ethical responsibility to take as prisoners those enemy combatants who surrendered to us. This was something not only required by the Hague and Geneva Conventions, but something we did as law-abiding and moral Americans. Fortunately, in this instance Americans seem not to have been directly involved, but that doesn't mean we should celebrate what would under most conditions be labeled a war crime. Such an act, in which an unarmed prisoner is shot and killed, also violates the most basic principles of Christian morality and can be equated with nothing less than murder.

While discussing this with a friend the other day, he said, "Well, didn't the SEALs do the same thing to Osama bin Laden?" He's right; at least one would think so if you believe what has been stated in the media. The word that was apparently leaked out from certain Washington sources is that the SEALs were given an assassination assignment and simply went in with guns blazing. But the SEALs -- and in the spirit of full disclosure, I will state that I have many SEAL friends and worked with them on a few occasions back in my Navy days -- do not want to be painted as an assassination team, or as "spray and pray" commandos who just blast away at everyone in sight. They state that they intended if at all possible to take bin Laden prisoner but when they entered his room he pulled out a pistol leaving them no choice but to shoot him. The entire remarkable story is in Chuck Pfarrer's new book, SEAL Target Geronimo: The Inside Story of the Mission to Kill Osama bin Laden. Pfarrer is a former commander of SEAL Team Six and knows all those involved in the mission. It's nice to know that the vast majority of our military still make every effort to work morally as they carry out their difficult and dangerous jobs. 

Enough! I suppose the news is always skewed in one direction or another, depending on its source. But these days the media's peddling of disinformation seems to be more blatant than ever, especially when the story involves Christianity and the Catholic Church. And so, if you want some advice about understanding the news, try this broad generalization on for size: believe nothing written about the Catholic Church in the secular media. I have never read an accurate story about the Church in the secular media. The reason? The media sees everything in political terms, while the Church views all in terms of faith. There's a huge difference.





Monday, November 7, 2011

Homily: 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Wis 6:12-16; Ps 63; 1 Thes 4:13-18; Mt 25:1-13

I know I’ve mentioned my eighth-grade teacher, Sister Francis Jane, more than a few times in the past. And as I prepared this homily she just popped up once again.

Every so often, maybe once a week, she’d read a Gospel passage to us in class and then talk about it for a few minutes. One morning, after reading today’s parable of the ten virgins, she said to the girls in our class, “It would seem by the way you girls behave that you’re much more like the five foolish ones than the five wise ones.”

Well, as you can imagine, we boys thought that was great, the girls being put down, and so we all burst into laughter. And that’s when sister turned on us and said, “Well, at least the girls were invited. Notice there’s no mention of boys being at that feast.” Yes, this good Dominican sister had a way about her. Of course, she went on to tell us that, wise or foolish, we were all invited. It was our response, our readiness, she said, that makes all the difference.


But, you know, as I read this parable again I was struck by one particular verse: “Since the bridegroom was long delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep.”

“Long delayed…” You see, today we’re in that time of delay, that time between Jesus’ first coming in weakness and humility, and His second coming in power and glory. And, yes, it’s been a long delay, 2,000 years of delay.

And then, “…they all became drowsy and fell asleep.” That’s right, all of them, both the wise and the foolish, fell asleep because it’s hard not to when the delay has been so long.

It’s evident, of course, that we live between the times, don’t we? We need only look at our world, at the wars and the crimes and the catastrophes, at the illness and aging and sorrow and grief and death. Yes, it’s evident Christ has not yet returned, for these sorrows will have no part of Christ’s eternal reign, when in fullness and triumph He will bring holiness and healing and true happiness to His Kingdom, a Kingdom which is not of this world.

And so, like the ten virgins who wait in anticipation, we too can become a little tired of the waiting and begin to doze off, wise and foolish alike. But God knows we need rest from our labors. He knows we can find the waiting a challenge, or that it too often takes a back seat to the more immediate concerns of everyday life. Even in our faith we can all doze off a little.

But what Jesus is telling us here is that as we wait, like the five wise virgins, we must remain ready in our waiting. You see, if our lives don’t reflect our faith, we’re simply not ready. We’ve run out of oil, the oil of faith, that which lights the way for the Bridegroom. It’s we who are called to bring His light to the world, and we can’t do that if our faith is so weak that we never even think about His coming.

We have to be “oily” Christians, lamps at the ready, waiting for our Lord’s arrival in our lives. And not just for His coming in power and glory, but for His quiet coming, His appearance to each one of us day after day in all those we meet. If we haven’t seen Jesus Christ in all those others, if we haven’t taken His bread to the hungry and His love to the lonely and despairing, then we’re not ready to meet Him and our lamps are dry indeed.

And let’s not forget, Jesus is also talking about His very personal arrival, that moment when He comes to each of us at the end of our lives. St. Paul, in our second reading, reminds us to “encourage one another” so that in the waiting we do not lose hope. “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring those who have died with Him…”

And so as we await His arrival, let’s give thanks that we have been invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb. What an honor and privilege for us! That invitation changes everything, doesn’t it? And it brings with it a sense of expectation manifested here as we celebrate the Eucharist; for the Eucharistic celebration is a clear anticipation of the heavenly banquet to come, when Christ comes in final victory.

Brothers and sisters, today we have all been invited to this Holy Meal in which Jesus is truly present just as He was in the upper room and at Calvary. And because we celebrate Jesus’ redemptive sacrifice and His Resurrection on Sunday, and today, its vigil, we are commanded to keep the day holy.

The reserving of this one day of the week as a time of holiness is all a part of the readiness expected of us as believing Christians who live our faith. It is the day of the Eucharistic presence of Jesus Christ.

Elizabeth greeting Mary, the Christ-Bearer (Luke 1)
What a blessing this Eucharistic presence is, this coming of Jesus into our lives! For in our reception of the Body and Blood of Christ we all become, like Mary, Christ bearers, carrying Jesus to all whom we encounter today. It’s no wonder we sing, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” Keep the day holy, brothers and sisters, give this one day to God as a sign of your readiness.

And just remember, simply to accept His invitation isn’t enough. You and I must also be expectant, joyful, and ready to greet Him when He arrives in our lives, no matter how and when His coming.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Morning of Reflection: The Healing Ministry of Mary

About a month ago I was asked to lead a morning of reflection for the Ministers to the Sick of the parishes in our little corner of the Diocese of Orlando. I decided to focus this two-hour period of prayer and reflection on "The Healing Ministry of Mary." I gave the talk this past Saturday morning and have included it here in its entirety.

_____________

The Unique Role of Mary

Good morning! It’s a blessing to be here with you today. And because I’m not a golfer, I can think of no better way to spend a Saturday morning. Let me begin with [another] prayer. After all, there’s no such thing as too much prayer.
Heavenly Father, we come to you this morning in praise and thanksgiving. We praise you and bless you and adore you, for it is through you alone that we have our very being.

We thank you for Your Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, who brought redemption to a sinful world and offers us the gift of eternal life. Because we are gathered here in His Holy Name, we know He is with us.

We thank you for the gift of Your Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Life, the Spirit of Truth, the Spirit of Wisdom. Father, send your Spirit to be with us today, to banish any trace of evil from this holy place and from our hearts, so all that we think, say, and do conforms to your Holy Will.

We thank you in a special way, today, for our Blessed Mother, Mary. For she is the perfect woman, the perfect mother, a gift to us from Your Son and her Son, Jesus Christ.

Finally, we thank you for our ministry, our ministry of healing to those who are sick in body, mind and spirit. Like Mary, may we learn the humility of always pointing, not to ourselves, but to Jesus, the source of true healing.

We ask all this is Jesus’ most precious name. Amen.
Well, now, isn’t that better, knowing that Jesus Christ is here with us this morning and that His Holy Spirit will be here as well to guide and inspire us?
____________

Before we start, let me take just a moment to introduce my companion in ministry, my wife, Diane, who for 43 years has supported me, encouraged me, taught me, prayed for me, occasionally chastised me, and through it all, loved me. She is the mirror of Mary in my life.
____________

When Donna asked me to speak to you, she also asked me to give this morning of reflection a title. Without really thinking very deeply about it, I suggested, “Why don’t I talk about the Healing Ministry of Mary?” Well, Donna seemed to think that was just fine, but later I said to myself, “What was I thinking? Why did I say that? What do I really know about Mary’s healing ministry? And how can I possibly spend a morning talking about it?” That’s when I got this funny feeling in the pit of my stomach …Oh, boy, what have I done?

But then I remembered that when I first volunteered to lead this morning of reflection, I had offered a brief prayer, just a few words, to the Holy Spirit. I hadn’t asked for anything specific. It was really just one of those little “Help me!” prayers. I’m sure you’ve all offered up a few hundred of those in your lives. Of course, I then immediately forgot about it.

Fortunately, the Holy Spirit doesn’t forget. How did St. Paul put it in Romans 8?
“…the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings” [Rom 8:26].
And as Luke tells us, Our Lord Himself promised His disciples,
“…the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say” [Lk 12:12].
So…I’d like to be able to blame any mistakes I make today on the Holy Spirit but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t work that way. I think we’ll all agree that anything good today comes from Him; and, sadly, all the not-so-goods come only from me.
____________

A morning of reflection should include some time to reflect. And so, as we make our way through these reflections this morning, I will occasionally stop talking to give us all a few minutes to reflect in silence on the movement of the Spirit in our hearts.

These little personal moments of reflection and meditation may have nothing to do with what I’ve said. You may well find yourself confronting some other, seemingly unrelated corner of your life. For, as Jesus told Nicodemus…
“The Spirit blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes” [Jn 3:8].
We are here in Jesus’ name and so God is with us. Accept His presence. Don’t resist the Spirit. Let Him move where He wills within you. Open your heart to Him today, and follow His lead. For through the Spirit, through Him alone, will you come to know God’s will for you.
____________

St. Francis of Assisi
Let me begin by saying: Peace and blessings to you!

That’s the very greeting of peace and well being with which Francis of Assisi embraced his 13th century world – really a Gospel message of healing. Francis had experienced such deep inner conversion that the peace of the Risen Christ permeated every fiber of his being. And so he was particularly sensitive to that which divided the human heart -- violence, hatred, envy, anger, lack of forgiveness, greed and materialism, illness – and pained by this division, he became an “Instrument of Peace” to so many who were deeply in need of healing.

Those who responded to his evangelical invitation discovered that life really was worth living and, and they discovered, too, a love far deeper than they ever dreamed possible. True liberation from those things that divide our hearts comes from allowing ourselves to be lifted by a God who loves beyond words. And Francis, the peace-giver, was one of those rare people who put others in touch with this source of all peace, this healing power of God…and in doing so he always turned directly to the Gospel.

Of course, we Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the source of this healing from which flows such gentle power. Jesus told us clearly, “I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly” [Jn 10:10]. And He went about that Holy Land of the Patriarchs bringing the remarkable gift of newness to people. Through a word, a touch, a smile, and sometimes a challenge, He brought physical, mental, and spiritual healing. And through these healings He brought to birth the Kingdom of God that has finally broken into a fallen world.

Now, to help Him in this ministry Jesus also gave us His Mother. I’m sure there’s no need here to exaggerate the role Mary played in the story of our salvation. It’s a role and a story with which we’re all familiar. The story of how Mary willingly and courageously accepted the remarkable mission God asked of her – how she agreed to bear the Son of God, the Savior of the world.

Her role is described well in the gospels, especially in St. Luke’s Gospel; for Luke paints the most vivid portrait of Mary…and what a portrait it is! He describes beautifully those scenes we all know so well.
The Annunciation by Gabriel at Mary’s home in Nazareth [Lk 1:26-38]…

The Visitation – Mary and Elizabeth greeting each other at the door to Elizabeth’s house [Lk 1:39-56]…

The birth of our Lord in the stable at Bethlehem [Lk 2:1-20]…

Jesus’ Presentation in the Temple [Lk 2:22-38]…

And years later, Mary and Joseph searching for and finding the young boy, Jesus, once again in the Temple [Lk 2:41-52].
Luke paints these scenes in rapid succession in the opening pages of his gospel…and then nothing…or almost nothing. Oh, the gospels include a few other scenes, but most are brief and fleeting.
In Mark, for instance, we encounter Mary on the road, seeking Jesus in the midst of the crowds that gather around him [Mk 3:31].

In John we see Mary at the wedding in the village of Cana, and we encounter her again at the foot of the cross [Jn 2:1-12; 19:25-27].

And finally, in the Acts of the Apostles, Mary joins the disciples in the Upper Room as they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit on that first Pentecost, the day the Church was born [Acts 1:14].
These are all wonderful scenes! Marvelous events! But they really give us only glimpses of the Mother of the Lord. And in the last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation, we find a fleeting reference to Mary as a woman wrapped in the brightness of the sun [Rev 12:1-6]

But, in truth, Mary is more often a woman wrapped in something else; she’s a woman wrapped in silence. Indeed, one of my favorite books about Mary is titled just that: A Woman Wrapped in Silence. A woman wrapped in the silence of God.

And so, this morning I hope we can all take some time to join with Mary, to step into that silence, the deep silence of God on that day when, as a young girl, Mary was given a choice.

Have you ever considered what that choice could have meant for her? It could have cost her reputation in her hometown of Nazareth. It could have ended her engagement to Joseph. It could even have led to her being stoned to death by an angry mob. After all it was the people of Nazareth who later tried to kill Our Lord [Lk 4:16-30].

The Annunciation
We know the choice she was given. And, oh, are we ever grateful for the decision she made. But what I want us to contemplate today isn’t the choice she was given or the decision she made. What I want us to consider…is the silence…the deep silence that preceded her “Yes.”

What did Mary see in that deep silence of God? Was it a silence so deep, a sorrow so profound, that it carried within itself the shock of every crime, every sin ever committed, every evil plot ever devised. Did that silence reveal to Mary all that her Son would bear as He carried that Cross to His death? Did she realize then that the sins of the world would be laid across His back and pounded through His hands and feet?

What was the color of that silence? Was it as black as the night? Like a night in some back alley?  Or was it silver, like the flash of a knife or a sword?  Or was it red, like the color of blood? Or blue, like a bruise on the skin?

And, never forget, in the silence of that moment, the redemption of the human race hung in the balance. Was all this revealed to Mary in that instant when she pondered her decision and what it might mean? Did Mary peer into the very heart of God, into the sorrow of God?

I’m sure she did, because God wouldn’t hide the truth from her; He would want her to know what she was agreeing to, what this would mean for her and for her Son. How fortunate for us that Mary was “full of grace” – so full of God’s amazing grace that there was room for nothing else – no room for doubt, no room for cowardice, no room for selfishness, no room for the sins that so often turn you and me from accepting Our Lord into our hearts.

For only Mary, only the grace-filled one, could possess the depth of faith and courage to say “Yes” to God’s plan to deliver the world from the power of darkness, and from the evil we do to one another.

And what a remarkable plan! It’s a plan of love, a plan arising from God’s hope that we will turn from our sinfulness and accept Him into our hearts. It’s a plan of divine forgiveness, a plan founded on God’s desperate hope that His outrageous mercy might, someday, trump the power of addiction, the anger of revenge, the death of love and the violence of hate. And it’s a plan in which Mary played such a key role.

1,600 years ago the universal Church came together at the Council of Ephesus and gave Mary a title: Theotokos, a Greek word when translated literally “the one who gives birth to God” or “God-bearer”.  In doing so the Council confirmed that, yes, because she is the Mother of Jesus Christ, true God and true man, she is truly the Mother of God.

As the God-bearer, Mary brought Our Lord into the world, and presented Him as the Father’s gift to all humanity. And so, today, let us learn from her, and follow her example.

When we receive the Eucharist, when we receive the Real Presence, the Body and Blood of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, we too become God-bearers. Just like Mary, we are called to carry Jesus to the world, to all the others in our lives. How especially true this is for you who are ministers to the sick, bearers of Christ’s Body and Blood. As we come together to reflect on our ministry as God-bearers, joining this ministry to Mary’s healing ministry, let’s also unite our prayers to hers.

Let us pray that the darkness of sin will be overcome in this world and that the light of love — the way of Mary’s Son — will take hold in our hearts and the hearts of all. Let us pray for peace: peace in the world; peace in our country; peace in our cities and communities.

But how often in our prayer do we focus only on the hearts of others – the dictators, the terrorists, the criminals, the haters, the selfish, the politicians, all those bad, bad people? Like the Pharisee who thanked God he was not like that sinful publican [Lk 18:9-14], how often do we focus on them but ignore what’s around us and within us? Oh, we are all guilty of this and so much more.

And so today we pray especially for peace in our parishes and peace in our homes; but most importantly, we pray for peace in our hearts.
____________

We’ll stop now for our first moment of quiet reflection.

Jesus, reflecting Mary’s response to the angel, tells us to pray, “Thy Will be done.” What obstacles to the Peace of Jesus Christ have you allowed the evil one to place within you? What’s keeping you from abandoning yourself totally to God as Mary did? What’s keeping you from accepting His Will?

A Personal Testimony

Now, what exactly is the healing ministry of Mary? I’ve decided to answer this question by taking a mixed approach – through Scripture and personal example and Church teaching. I hope this approach will help all of us understand that, through Mary’s intercessory prayer, we can experience the healing power of Jesus Christ.

Let’s first examine our devotion to Mary, a long-standing devotion that reaches back to the Church’s very beginnings. It’s a devotion that has its roots in the Gospel:
“From henceforth all generations will call me blessed…” [Luke 1:48]
These words of the Mother of Jesus are found in her beautiful prayer of praise, The Magnificat. Given to us by St. Luke, they are words of truth, prophecy and commission. Mary, having accepted God’s invitation to be the Mother of Our Lord, realizes that she has been truly blessed, and in all humility – for she can act in no other way – realizes too that those to come, “all generations”, will regard her in the same way.

It’s a prophecy and a statement of fact, but it’s even more than that. Being filled with the Holy Spirit, Mary also issues a commission, a command, by that same Spirit to all generations, to the Church.

It’s also important to realize that, right before Mary prayed these words, Elizabeth foreshadowed them by greeting Mary, “Most blessed are you among women…” [Luke 1:42]

“Most blessed” – in other words Mary isn’t simply blessed as you or I might consider ourselves blessed when something good happens to us. No she is “most blessed”. She is unique among all women. And as Luke tells us, when Elizabeth uttered these words, she was “filled with the Holy Spirit.”

They are, then, words we must listen to, for they are not just Elizabeth’s words, or Luke’s words, but God’s Words. And as God’s Word it sets Mary apart from the rest of humanity. As Pope Benedict has written:
“The recording of these words in the Gospel raises this veneration of Mary from historical fact to a commission laid upon the Church of all places and all times.”

And this teaching by the Church is reinforced again and again in Scripture. Once again in Luke, we hear the angel’s words as he greets Mary. Gabriel, a messenger from God Himself, an angel always in God’s presence, obeys and greets Mary with God’s Words. A literal translation of that greeting is: “Rejoice, full of grace. The Lord is with you.”

And why should Mary rejoice? Because the Lord is with her…Oh, boy, is He with her – so with her that she is full of grace. She is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies; for example, the Messianic prophecy of Zephaniah:
“Shout for joy, daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart, daughter Jerusalem!” [Zeph 3:14]
Mary, this young Jewish girl in Nazareth, preserved from sin as the perfect vessel for the Incarnation of the Son of God, is Daughter Zion. Indeed, the Greek word for “Rejoice” that Luke uses to translate the word spoken by the angel when he addresses Mary, is used only four other times in the entire Septuagint. And all four are prophetic announcements of messianic joy.

Yes, Mary is full of grace, so full that no sin can reside within her. For how could the Son of God share this living tabernacle with even the slightest presence of evil? And so, as we begin our examination of Mary’s healing ministry, which is also our ministry, I want to stress that where Mary is, so too is Jesus. Mary’s entire being, her one mission is to carry Jesus, to bring Him into and to the world, to point to Him always while exclaiming in all humility, “My soul doth magnify the Lord…”

____________

And so, once again I ask, what exactly is the healing ministry of Mary? Well, let me offer you two examples: one a very personal example and another an example from almost two centuries ago.

Some years ago, while going through a stack of family papers, I came across a letter dated March 8, 1945, and soon discovered that I was the subject of the letter. It was written to my grandmother by a Father Andrew, a Franciscan Friar of the Atonement at Graymoor, in Garrison, NY.

Now I was just a little tyke at the time, having been born in the late summer of 1944. And I was also very ill. To this day I don’t know exactly what was wrong with me. I was once told it had something to do with my pancreas. Heck, I don’t even know where my pancreas is, much less what it does. I just know I have only one of them and it’s pretty important.

Anyway, the result was that I didn’t gain weight as a healthy baby should. Indeed, in all the photos of me at this time I bear a striking resemblance to those poor, starved souls who would soon be liberated from Nazi concentration camps. It seems I grew vertically, but not horizontally. I looked really pitiful, and the doctors pretty much agreed I wouldn’t survive.

But then my Irish grandmother went to work, praying and asking – badgering? – others to pray too, including, it seems, the Franciscans at Graymoor. In his letter Father Andrew really wasn’t very encouraging – some words about God’s will and “I’m sure everything possible is being done…” But, then, in his last paragraph, he wrote: “I am enclosing a little Miraculous Medal which you might like to send to his parents for him.”

Well, Grangi…isn’t that a horrible name for a grandmother? My older brother, her first grandchild, couldn’t pronounce “Grandma” and called her “Grangi” instead. Of course it stuck.

Anyway, Grangi did as he suggested and sent the medal to my mother where we lived outside Washington, D.C. It was during the War and my father was an Army officer. Anyway, Mom immediately pinned the medal it to my clothes. A few days later a doctor at Walter Reed Army Hospital diagnosed the problem and prescribed the cure. Within months I was a relatively normal, increasingly chubby, little baby. (Sadly, the chubbiness remains.)

Now I realize that no inanimate object, not even a medal blessed by a holy Franciscan, can heal anything. It’s not the medal, but God, who heals. But God heals in faith, through the faithful prayers and actions of those who love Him. And pinning on that medal was an outward, public sign of the faith of both my mother and her mother-in-law, my grandmother.

It was also a sign of Mary’s perfect faith, her perfect maternal love. Can anyone among us love Jesus more than His Mother? Can you imagine, then, the power of her intercession? For it’s that power we call on when we wear such a medal bearing her likeness. We are simply asking Mary to intercede for us, to go directly to her Son for our sake.

Recall the wedding feast at Cana when Mary turned to her Son and simply said, “They have no wine.” I’ve always thought that something similar happened on that March day in 1945, that Mary just turned to Jesus and said, “Their little boy is ill.” In both instances she merely described the situation and let her Son do the Father’s WiIl.

Now, how do I know Mary was involved? That’s easy. After all, it was through her that the Miraculous Medal, or the Medal of the Immaculate Conception as it is more properly known, came into being.

St. Catherine's Visions
Our Blessed Mother appeared in 1830 to St. Catherine Labouré, a young sister in the community of the Daughters of Charity in Paris. In a series of visions Mary described in detail a medal she wanted made, a medal inscribed with the words, “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”

Catherine informed only her confessor about these visions, and worked through him to ensure the fulfillment of Mary’s wishes. And in her humility Catherine did not reveal that she was the visionary until shortly before her death almost fifty years later.

With the approval of the Church, the first Medals were made in 1832 and distributed in Paris. Almost immediately the blessings promised by Mary began to shower down on those who wore her Medal, and the devotion spread like wildfire. Marvels of grace, health, and peace as well as many conversions followed, and before long people were calling it the “Miraculous” Medal.

One of the more remarkable of these miracles involved a wealthy Jewish banker and lawyer named Alphonse Ratisbonne. As a result of his brother’s conversion to Catholicism and subsequent ordination as a priest, Ratisbonne had developed a deep hatred for the Catholic Church.

But despite this, he had become friends with another convert, a baron who dared him to wear the miraculous medal and recite daily the Memorare, that beautiful prayer asking Mary to intercede. It was written by St. Bernard in the 12th century.

Mocking the faith and the Church, Ratisbonne agreed to do so while quoting a line from The Tales of Hoffman: "If it does me no good, at least it will do me no harm."  And with that, the baron's little daughter placed the miraculous medal around Ratisbonne’s neck. And he promised to recite the prayer daily.

In case you’ve forgotten, listen to the words of that brief prayer:
Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help or sought your intercession, was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto you, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother. To you I come, before you I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word incarnate, despise not my petitions, but, in your mercy, hear and answer me. Amen.
Such a simple prayer.

Ratisbonne Brothers, Priests
Anyway, not long afterward, while visiting a church to help the baron arrange for the funeral of a mutual friend, Ratisbonne had a vision. Here, in his own words, is how he described what happened to him:
"I was scarcely in the church when a total confusion came over me. When I looked up, it seemed to me that the entire church had been swallowed up in shadow, except one chapel. It was as though all the light was concentrated in that single place. I looked over towards this chapel whence so much light shone, and above the altar was a living figure, tall, majestic, beautiful and full of mercy. It was the most holy Virgin Mary, resembling her figure on the Miraculous Medal. At this sight I fell on my knees right where I stood. Unable to look up because of the blinding light, I fixed my glance on her hands, and in them I could read the expression of mercy and pardon. In the presence of the Most Blessed Virgin, even though she did not speak a word to me, I understood the frightful situation I was in, my sins and the beauty of the Catholic Faith."
As you might imagine, he converted, and later became a priest just as his brother had before him. And he was just one of many similar conversions attributed to the faith of those wearing the Miraculous Medal.

[Note: you can read about Alphonse Ratisbonne and his brother here.]

Again, there is no superstition, no “magic” connected with the Miraculous Medal. It’s not some good-luck charm. Rather, it’s a testimony to faith and the power of trusting prayer. Worn by the faithful, it’s a constant reminder that God’s greatest miracles are those of patience, forgiveness, repentance, faith, and conversion. God uses this medal as an agent, an instrument to bring about certain miraculous results, to manifest His Will in the world.

Don’t let others tell you this is mere superstition, for we encounter it also in Scripture. For example, in Acts Luke tells us:
“So extraordinary were the mighty deeds God accomplished at the hands of Paul that when face cloths or aprons that touched his skin were applied to the sick, their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them.” [Acts 19:11-12]
And we see it as well in the gospel. Once again it’s a woman, another image of Mary in the world. Matthew devotes only 3 short verses to his description of this incident:
A woman suffering hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the tassel on his cloak. She said to herself, "If only I can touch his cloak, I shall be cured." Jesus turned around and saw her, and said, "Courage, daughter! Your faith has saved you." And from that hour the woman was cured. [Mt 9:20-22]
What a different healing we witness here! Following Jesus, this long-suffering woman, whose ailment makes her ritually impure in her society, dares not confront Jesus face to face. Her hope is manifested in her faith: “If only I can touch His cloak…” Such hope and faith and love are beyond words.

In faith she touches only the tassel on His cloak and is healed, physically and spiritually. Her faith in “Who He is” became so clear and certain that she leaps beyond the rules of men to attempt the one essential thing: to cling to God Himself, the one true source of the re-creation she seeks.

Jesus turns and looks at her, at her whole person and raises her out of the anonymity of the crowd. “Courage, daughter, your faith has saved you.”

The tassel of Jesus' cloak, like the face cloths and aprons that had touched St. Paul, or the Miraculous Medal I wear around my neck, have no power in themselves. It is our faith that saves us, a faith demonstrated by our use of such sacramental objects.

As He had on other occasions, Jesus provides the antidote to fear: courage. And again, too, the emphasis is not on the physical cure, but on salvation itself. Jesus is telling her, your faith has not only healed you and saved you, but it has transformed your life. Everything you do from now on will reflect the quality of that healing. You will live as one who has been healed, one who will now see your ailment as the occasion that brought me into your life.

Do you see now the different paths that lead to God’s healing power? We can be so filled with faith that, like the once-blind Bartimaeus, we leap with joy when the Lord calls us. Even before we are healed – a healing we never doubt, not even for a moment – we know that the healing and the call are all of one piece.

Like this woman who followed Jesus, are we willing to search for God and recognize Him when He comes to us? Are we humble enough to reach out to Him in faith, knowing all that we have, all that we are, all that we will ever be is a gift from God Himself? In her utter weakness, she trusts because she believes. It’s this childlike trust that God demands of us, His children.

A few years ago some dear friends made a surprise visit as the passed through central Florida on their way home. Diane and I had just had a late brunch, but we invited Nancy and Joe to join us for coffee and ice cream. And for the next few hours we just sat together in the living room telling stories about our grandchildren.

Now our friends have a grown son who suffers from Marfan’s Syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects the body’s connective tissue. One of his children, Allie, is a beautiful little eight-year-old girl who’s about as smart as they come. She also suffers from the disease, but bears her sufferings and pain with remarkable grace and humility for one so young.

Now Allie, who was only about four at the time, was sitting next to her grandmother in church when the congregation joined together before Communion in declaring their faith: “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you. Say but the word and I shall be healed.”

Allie turned to her grandmother and asked, “Grandma, what’s that mean?”

Nancy said quite simply, “It means that Jesus will always be there to take care of you.”

And Allie just smiled and said, “Good.”

Yes, it is good isn’t it? Little Allie sees what so many others don’t. It is good that only God loves with the love that can heal. It is good that our God loves so much that He’s willing to go to the cross for us. It’s good that Jesus on the Cross is God with skin on, a God up close and personal and touching, a God who actually cares for each and every one of us.

And He is God, brought into this world and given His humanity by a Mother who knows the humility of weakness, who knows the sorrow of a witness to suffering. But it is through this weakness, this humility that God manifests His power. As Mary told St. Catherine, “God has chosen the weak things of this earth to confound the strong.” She also said, “Now it must be given to the whole world and to every person.”

And over a hundred years later it was given to me, a sickly infant who would benefit from God’s healing power through the intercession of His Blessed Mother and the faith of two women in my life. And so, my personal introduction to Mary’s healing ministry occurred when I was only six months old, before I was even aware enough to appreciate it.

But Mary and her healing ministry have remained with me through all the decades that followed: encouraging me with her mother’s love; picking me up when I have fallen so many, many times; healing my broken spirit; and always…always turning me toward her Son.

You see, brothers and sisters, in her perfect humility this is Mary’s only desire: to lead us to her Son, Our Lord, Jesus Christ.
_____________

At this point I ask you to take few minutes to reflect on your own life, or perhaps on the life of someone close to you, in which Mary’s healing ministry became manifest. After a few minutes I’ll ask anyone who wishes to do so to share their reflection with all of us.

A Mother’s Love

How many mothers are here today? Well, moms, do you agree with me that when a child suffers, so too does its mother?

"Behold your Mother."
Think about it, then. Mary is our Mother as well. After all, didn’t Jesus give her to us as he hung on that Cross? Go to John’s Gospel and listen again to those words…
“Woman, behold your son…” and “Behold, your mother.” [Jn 19:26-27]
When we suffer, so too does Mary, except her love is greater than any other mother’s love. And she will do whatever she can to help us when we come to her in faith.

Fr. Dwight Longenecker, in his wonderful little book, Praying the Rosary for Inner Healing, writes…
A mother’s love for her children is simple, deep, and unconditional. She loves her children simply because they are her children. She can’t help it.
There’s a wonderful passage in scripture, from Matthew’s Gospel, where we see this kind of maternal love clearly manifested. It’s not long, so let me read it now. It’s from Matthew 15:21-28:

Then Jesus went from that place and withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.”

But he did not say a word in answer to her. His disciples came and asked him, “Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us.” He said in reply, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

But the woman came and did him homage, saying, “Lord, help me.” He said in reply, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” Then Jesus said to her in reply, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed from that hour.
How wonderful is that, and at so many levels? Jesus has left the Holy Land behind and entered the unholy land of the pagans, the place of the Gentiles. And He’s being badgered by this Canaanite woman, this pagan, who keeps shouting at Him. Who is she?

The disciples certainly didn’t think much of her, did they? "Send her away…”

And isn’t it interesting that this pagan should come to Jesus as her Lord and Savior, using His Messianic title: “Lord, Son of David”? But we sense that this encounter between her and Jesus was long scheduled by the Father; nothing will separate them.

Yes, filled with the Spirit – for who else could tell her who Jesus is? – she comes to Jesus to be saved and Jesus comes to save her. What about our encounters with Jesus? Are they like this? Jesus is seeking you and me just as he sought her. He’ll gladly leave the holy behind and enter the land of our sinfulness. But first we have to turn to Him, just as she does, screaming her need, her fervent intercessory prayer.

“Lord, help me,” she cries. It sounds so self-centered doesn’t it? “Help me.” And yet it’s exactly the opposite; it’s completely selfless. For her daughter’s distress is her distress: “Have pity on me,” she begs. “Lord, help me,” she pleads, as if she and her daughter are one. She has become her daughter’s voice, her daughter’s hands…just as Jesus became One with the Father and became His hands, His feet, His voice, His Word in the world.

Yes, Jesus recognizes in this woman an image of His own mission. Does His silence, God’s silence, stop her? Does she turn away, or change her approach? No, because she knows that God’s silence is a sign of His grace.

And yet, she worries. Her questions, her worry, are no different from what we experience when faced with God’s silence. But if we would just stop worrying and listen, we can come to hear God’s Word in the silence.

Of course, the disciples can’t stand it: “For crying out loud, Jesus. This woman’s driving us nuts. Do something, will you?” But Jesus dismisses them just as He seems to have dismissed her: "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." It shuts them up, but not her. Again she cries: Lord, help me. My daughter’s affliction, this evil within her, is my affliction. I am a loving mother just like your Mother. Help me, Lord.

And then Jesus utters that seemingly horrible insult: "It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs." How can He say such a thing? Isn’t He the Good Shepherd? Isn't He the merciful One?

Yes, He is. But He’s also the teacher and she is the student. He’s leading her and all of us to the Truth. And in her humility she doesn’t disagree, does she? Yes, we can almost hear her say, “I’m just a dog in search of its master.”

What a trump card she plays, for she knows what will result. In her deep faith, and filled with the Spirit, she knows Jesus will answer her prayer. After all, how can the Son of God turn her down? She could have asked Him, “What on earth are You doing here among the pagans? Is this Your plan, to encounter those in need and then just ignore them?” 

Oh, she understood the truth, the divine secret, that to win – to be overtaken and sheltered and saved – she must allow herself to be defeated by Jesus. She and you and I win only by submitting to God, by adoring God, and finding that adoration accepted.

Unknowingly, she is following the perfect example of Mary, the one who submits, the one who accepts the Father’s Will regardless of the consequences, the Mother who ponders these things in her heart. The whole drama is shot through with an indestructible passion of faith, with the woman’s inability to conceive of Jesus, of God, as anything but an inexhaustible fountain of mercy.

Yes, it’s all about faith. “Kyrie,” [Lord] she cries out four times in this brief encounter. “If you’re indeed the all-powerful Lord,” she seems to say, “then you must be Lord of all, the high and the low, the sheep of Israel and the dogs of the pagans. I don’t care which I am, only that I am with you. If you’re truly the One Son of the One God, then you too are my personal Lord, you too are my redeemer, and my rejoicing over it will never end.”

How different she is. So many today demand that God serve them at their table, but not her. She will gladly stay on the floor, under His table, at His feet. She has no problem with the glorious, heavenly crumbs falling from Jesus’ hands. For she knows that wherever Jesus is, there is abundance; wherever sin is, God’s compassion ensures that grace is there too, superabundantly. In the same way we know that in the Church today, at the altar, at the Eucharistic table, Christ’s mercy will forever rain down those crumbs of the bread of life.

"You’ve got great faith, woman," he says.Won't it be wonderful when he says the same thing to you and me?

But before that glorious day, we must respond to a more urgent question, a question God’s Word asks of each of us through this brief passage: How do you pray for others?

Do you see yourself as one with others, as united with those for whom you pray: “Help me, Lord.” Do you come to Him in faith, in the deep faith of one who knows that through God’s love nothing is impossible? Do you brush aside the discouragements, the obstacles, the oh-so-helpful people who tell you that God really doesn’t care about such things? He’s really not all that concerned about these little problems. And, yes, some of them are disciples.

Jesus calls us to be childlike, to come to Him with the faith and trust we see in children toward their loving parents. I can remember as a child, when I wanted to do something that needed my father’s approval, I would go first to my mother, begging her to “Talk to Dad. Get him to agree.”  She was very wise, though. If what I asked was problematic she would explain, calmly and lovingly, why it could not happen. She had a way of taking the sting out of the rejection. But if she thought it was okay, she would inevitably bring Dad around.

Yes, who is more loving than a mother? And no mother is more loving than the Mother of Our Lord. Again quoting from Fr. Longenecker’s book:
“Mary is like the mother who goes with her injured child as they enter the hospital to be healed. Mary is like the loving sister or aunt who sits by the bedside as we endure a long illness. She is like one of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity who care for the dying until...She doesn’t heal us. Jesus does. She is there as the vitally important sister, mother, nun, nurse, and friend. Her prayers are those of a mother for her children.”
By interceding for us, this is what Mary does: she brings God’s healing power and grace to a sinful people in a broken world. It is this sinful condition that leads to our broken world, for we too often choose evil over good. This is why we need Jesus. This was the purpose of the Incarnation: to provide the cure to the disease that is sin. This is why He healed, to make a frontal assault on sin and its symptoms. And in doing so He healed not only physically, but spiritually. He brought forgiveness of sin to every healing.

“Sin no more” [Jn 8:11], He told those He healed. “Repent and believe in the Gospel”[Mk 1:15].

This is why Mary is such a gift to us…for Mary, immaculately conceived, free from all sin, can be our guide to repentance, our guide to choosing good. She is the very best of mothers, concerned only for what is good for us.
_____________

Let’s again take a few minutes to reflect in silence, and ponder some things in our own hearts:

How does a mother’s love reflect God’s love for us? What does this mean to me personally, and how can I bring this to my ministry to the sick in a positive way?

We can share some of our reflections later.

Mary’s Healing Ministry: Taking Jesus to Others

The Church, entrusted with the extending Christ's mission in time and space, is given two essential tasks: evangelization and the care of the sick in body and in mind. Indeed, God wants to heal the whole of each man and woman, and in the Gospel the healing of the body is a sign of the deeper recovery that is the forgiveness of sins [see Mk 2: 1-12].

It’s not surprising, then, that Mary, Mother and model of the Church, is invoked and venerated as "Health of the Sick". As the first and perfect disciple of her Son, as she guides the Church Mary has always shown special love and care for the suffering. As witnesses to this are the thousands of people who go to Marian shrines to invoke the Mother of Christ and find in her strength and relief.

If I had to choose a favorite scene from the Gospels, it might very well be one depicted in the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel. You’ll recall the angel Gabriel told Mary that her relative, Elizabeth, had conceived a child in her old age and was now in her sixth month. And so Mary traveled from Nazareth in Galilee to visit Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah who lived in the hill country of Judea.

Luke provides a wonderful description of the arrival of Mary at the home of Elizabeth and Zechariah, an event we call the Visitation:
During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”


And Mary said: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior, for he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.

The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him. He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy, according to his promise to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.
[Lk 1:39-56]
At first glance these verses seem to tell us very little, other than providing us with a nice heartwarming and pious story. For too many, that’s probably the end of it; and they go on without giving these events a second thought.

But the Holy Spirit didn’t inspire Luke and his fellow evangelists simply to relate pleasant stories. No, He had a definite purpose, one you and I can begin to discern when we plumb the depths of meaning present in this brief passage.

Perhaps the best way to begin is to picture the scene in our mind’s eye. It’s a scene that artists, including virtually all the great masters, have tried to depict. But, you know, they all seem to miss something. Mary and Elizabeth are usually depicted very formally as if they were ladies in waiting at some Renaissance court.

Interestingly, such formality is totally absent from the scene described by Luke. To begin with, Mary and Elizabeth were Jews, women steeped in the exuberance of their Semitic culture. When they laughed, they laughed joyfully. When they cried, the tears flowed in torrents. And when they mourned, they wailed. They didn’t hide their emotions behind a facade of respectable restraint.

In fact, I have seen only one painting that depicts the scene as Luke describes it. I don’t know the artist’s name because it’s an unsigned illustration in, of all places, an old St. Joseph’s Sunday Missal. It shows the older Elizabeth, standing at her doorstep, her arms spread wide in greeting with a huge smile spread across her face. How does Luke describe it?
“Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb…’”
These words weren’t whispered. Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, shouted them out to heaven itself. Maybe the world didn’t hear her, but I’ll bet her neighbors in that tiny village did…and so did the angels worshiping at the Father’s throne.

Thanks to that same Holy Spirit, Elizabeth knows who it is that visits her…and she is overwhelmed by the revelation. Her joy tempered by humility, she asks her young cousin a question. Although it goes unanswered, the answer is there, right before us in the person of Mary.

When she embraces Mary, Elizabeth knows instantly that everything has changed, that everything her people have longed for – freedom, forgiveness, salvation – is now alive among them. In a world where women could not legally testify, Elizabeth became God’s witness, testifying to the truth.
“But who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”
Who indeed? Quite simply, Elizabeth is the mother of the prophet; but she is also someone in need. For one day, in that land of high plateaus and rugged valleys, the one who was barren became fruitful dispelling the emptiness of her life.

When the archangel reveals this to Mary, she doesn’t hesitate. For Elizabeth was old and would need support and assistance during the final months of her pregnancy. Driven by love, with no regard for her own needs or even the slightest tinge of pride in her new status as Mother of God’s only Son, Mary leaves at once to care for Elizabeth. And this was no stroll down the block. The journey from Nazareth in Galilee to the little village in the hill country of Judea was a long and perilous one, a good three or four days’ trek.

So what are we to make of Mary, this young girl, probably 15 or 16 years old, who would undertake such a selfless act of charity? Why does Luke include this incident in his Gospel? Because Mary is presented to us as a model, as the one who hears God’s Word, embraces it, and carries it out in her life. Conceived without sin and filled with God’s grace, her every act is in total accordance with God’s Will.

We see this first in her response to the good news of the archangel Gabriel, a response that God seeks from each of us. The Father didn’t command Mary to bear His Son. Rather, Mary is given a choice. And God awaits her answer. Not only God, but the whole world, the entire span of human history, the entire universe awaits Mary’s answer.

For in that decisive moment, God places the salvation of the human race, past, present and future, in the tiny hands of this simple, teenage Jewish girl. She need utter only one word to embrace the living Word of God in her womb.

Her response, a response straight from the heart, brings a sigh of joy from all creation: “Let it be done to me according to your word” [Lk 1:38]. It is a choice of total abandonment to God’s Will. As Elizabeth proclaims, “Blessed is she who trusted that the Lord’s words to her would be fulfilled.” Yes, Mary is the woman who has trusted, who has believed, who said “Yes” to God’s Word and acted on it.

On this visit to Elizabeth she carries Christ not for herself, but for a world in need. And fittingly, given the plague of abortion that has spread across our planet, the first person to greet her as Mother of God is an unborn baby, John the Baptist, who leaped for joy in his mother’s womb when Mary first arrived.

Here in the hill country of Judea, in the boondocks of this insignificant corner of the Roman Empire, two surprising babies met and danced to the beat of their mothers’ joy. In an extraordinary moment, two pregnant women — Mary, at the beginning of her life, Elizabeth, moving toward its end – greeted each other in wonder and delight. 

And so, what do Mary and Elizabeth offer us today in our ministry? In our world, where the bodies of women and children are too often abused and discarded, these two holy women remind us that our bodies, all bodies, are temples. Through their witness we are reminded that we, too, are blessed — that God is with us, no matter how barren or forsaken we might feel.

Elizabeth shows us how to stand unafraid in the barrenness of the world and wait joyfully for the coming of the Lord. Yes, and we learn how to wait for Christ. Not only for His second coming, but for His constant coming every day – His coming as He first came to us, in poverty and powerlessness.

This is not pious rhetoric, but the Word of God. Jesus comes to us in the hungry, the thirsty; in the homeless stranger; in the old and the tired, in the sick and the shackled. Mary saw that even before Her Son proclaimed it.

In her Magnificat, her song of joy, Mary rejoices that God has “looked with favor on His lowly servant.” He “has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things.”

The problem is, today God fills the hungry not with miraculous manna from heaven, but through us. And the hungers of the human family cry out to us: hunger for bread; hunger for freedom from persecution; hunger for peace; hunger for God. Their cry is more than a human cry; it is a cry from the Gospel itself, from the Word of God.

As Jesus’ disciples, to model ourselves on Mary we must listen to that Word and act on it in the circumstances in which God places us. One thing is certain: God is not telling us to do nothing.

Discipleship isn’t easy. It doesn’t come cheap. It demands that we, like Mary, become bearers of Jesus, carrying Him to those in need. And like Mary, God gives us a choice. The same choice made by the Apostles when they heard Jesus say, “Come, follow me.” For us, it’s a choice founded on the certainty of God’s promise of eternal life. It’s a choice founded on faith and on hope, a hope of expectation, the hope of Jesus’ second coming when He returns in power and glory. This is the other Advent that we will celebrate in a few weeks.

The question for us, then, is will we, like Mary, make that choice? Can we set aside our willful natures and abandon ourselves to living according to God’s loving will? The good news is in the promise of Jesus, given to the Apostles at the Last Supper:  “Whoever loves me will keep my Word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him” [Jn 14:23]

So, you see, Christ wants to dwell within each of us, to make us God-bearers, so, just like Mary, we can carry Him to others. With Christ deep within us, and seeing Christ all around us in others, our lives can become a ceaseless Advent, a visible sign to the world of His love and His final coming.

We need only join with Mary’s voice and say, “Whatever you want, Lord,” and then do what he tells us. It’s never too late, for He continues to call us to Him all the days of our lives. As Gabriel told Mary, “Nothing is impossible with God.”
____________

And so, let’s look at Mary more closely, at her ministry and ours. And let’s begin with a seemingly simple question: What exactly are we?

Too often we measure ourselves and others by what we do, not by what we are. When we’re getting to know someone for the first time, we often ask them, “What do you do?” It’s as if we define the person by his or her occupation rather than by who they really are.

I once worked for a Catholic college in New England. One afternoon, at a reception attended by faculty, staff, alumni and large donors, I was asked by an alumnus, “And what do you do?”

I don’t know what came over me, but I couldn’t resist. I simply said, “I’m a Christian struggling to do God’s will in the hope of achieving eternal salvation.” You should have seen the look I received.

But how about you? How would you answer that question? “Oh, so you’re a minister to the sick…what does that mean?”

Would you simply respond: “Oh, I just visit sick people and usually take them Communion.”

Or would you say to them: “It’s a wonderful ministry, a gift from God. And I thank Him by trying very hard to be what Christ wants me to be. I am a servant, a bearer of the love of Jesus Christ to the ill, the lonely, often the forgotten, the hurt, the angry, the grieving, the despairing, the dying, the loved, the faithful, the joyful, the prayerful. I am a conduit, through which Jesus’ takes His healing power to those in need. I am a gift-giver who offers others Our Lord’s precious Body and Blood and all the miraculous graces that flow from it. Yes, through the grace of God, I am a bringer of grace. I am an evangelist.”

Is that what you tell people when they ask, “What do you do?”

Mary, of course, was the very first evangelist; for it was Mary who left Nazareth and first carried God’s Living Word, God Incarnate to His people. And what greater act of healing can there be, than to take Jesus to others.

Does your soul, like Mary’s, proclaim the greatness of the Lord, magnifying God in the sight of His people? Do you show others how the Mighty One has done great things for you, and holy is his name?

Is your ministry the mirror of Mary’s? Do you ask her to accompany you as you minister to the sick? Think about that. For just as Mary carried Jesus Christ, her Son, to others, so too do you carry Him in the Eucharist to those in need of his healing graces.

Don’t view your ministry, this remarkable gift from God, in such narrow terms that you fail to grasp the fullness of your mission. For you, too, are evangelists, bringers of the Word of God. But is this reflected in your ministry? Do you approach God’s people with joy, just as Mary did? Do you make those you visit – the sick and the lonely – do you make them an offering in your prayer?  Is your prayer one of praise and thanksgiving, a prayer conformed to God’s Will? When you bring Jesus Christ to His people, do they realize Who you’re bringing to them? Are they filled with joy? Are they like the unborn John who leapt in his mother’s womb?

Maybe all we really have to ask is, “Do you love?”

You see, brothers and sisters, we don’t exercise our ministry to make us feel good because we’re doing good. What profit is there in that? How did Paul put it?
If I speak in human and angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. [1 Cor 13:1]
In other words, unless they are done out of love, our actions mean little. Our love reflects God’s love. I know you’ve all heard and read Jesus’ description of the last judgment found in Matthew 25. But have you thought deeply about it? Listen to God’s Word:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’

Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’

And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’

Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’

He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’

And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
[Mt 25:31-46]
Did you notice the condition, the demand that that we see Jesus in others, especially in those who are suffering? Of course you did. We’ve all heard this passage many times. We know what Jesus is telling us; we just don’t always want to hear it.

At our soup kitchen in Wildwood, we have a guiding principle that as volunteers we try to follow. It says quite simply, “We don’t serve food; we serve Jesus Christ.” This is what Jesus wants from us, to see Jesus Christ in others and to be Jesus Christ for others.

The exercise of our ministry should be a time of celebration, a time in which you share the joy the comes from knowing we are loved by God. A visit to those who are ill in body, mind or spirit is a coming together in worship. And God wants us to celebrate when we worship. He wants us to share not only in the remarkable gift of the Eucharist, but also in each other's joys and sorrows.

When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He didn't begin with, My Father. He began with Our Father. And He didn't end by saying, "…deliver me from evil," but with, "…deliver us from evil." He didn't choose one apostle, He chose twelve. And He didn’t send them out alone; He sent them out in pairs.

For God, in His infinite wisdom, knows that we need each other to accomplish His Will, that we need His Love, manifested through the love we have for each other, to achieve salvation. St. Paul recognized this. In his First Letter to the Corinthians he celebrates the many spiritual gifts that we, as Christians, receive from the Holy Spirit: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, works of mercy, prophecy, discernment, prayer in the Spirit…all wonderful gifts. But each person, each gift, by and of itself, needs the others to make a whole. [1 Cor 12:1-11]

Later in that same letter to the Corinthians, Paul states emphatically that the Body of Christ does not consist of one member but of many. He goes to say: "If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together." [1 Cor 12:26]

We see this as well in chapter two of John’s Gospel in which we find Jesus, accompanied by His Mother and His disciples, at a wedding feast at Cana. Yes, Jesus joins His people in a joyful celebration of marriage between a man and a woman. But more than that, He sanctifies this marriage by performing His first public miracle – not at a time of human sorrow, but of human happiness. John draws the picture of a Jesus who could enjoy Himself. Jesus chose to be there, to take part in this very human celebration, this party. It wasn’t beneath Him, but was something He sought. The Christian, who goes through life with a long face, spreading gloom behind him, should meditate long and hard on this Gospel reading.

Earlier we remarked that Mary, in the midst of the wedding celebration, noticed that the wine had run out, and so she turned to her Son and said, "They have no wine." Mary doesn't tell Jesus what to do, she merely states the problem: They have no wine.

Once again Mary is our model in prayer. God expects us to come to Him with our problems and worries, but how often do we insist on our solution, not realizing God might have something far better in store for us? But not Mary. She lays the problem at her Son's feet and lets Him provide the solution.

How does Jesus respond? "Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come." What is this "hour" about which Jesus speaks? None other than that hour of the Last Supper, that hour of agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, that hour as He awaits death hanging on the cross. It is this "hour" when he says: "This is my body, take it; this is my blood, drink it." It is this hour when He takes us, His people, His Church, as His spouse in an unbreakable marriage that nothing, not even sin or death, can overcome. "I will love you," Jesus assures us, "no matter what. Even if you scourge me, crucify me, and put me to death, I will come back from the grave to love you, because nothing can make me not love you." This is the hour that at Cana is yet to come.

But even when it seems Jesus has turnd her down, Mary doesn't give up. No, she simply turns to the waiters and instructs them to stand ready. Her faith and trust in God remain firm and solid. You see, the dialogue between Mother and Son wasn’t about wine. It was about setting events into motion, events which would lead to Jesus' crucifixion, death and resurrection. Mary, moved by the Spirit, wordlessly tells her Son, "No, that hour has not yet come, but it is time to begin what you are here to do."

And as the Gospel tells us, it was at Cana that Jesus "revealed His glory and His disciples began to believe in Him" [Jn 2:11] For once the people saw Jesus' glory, they would proclaim him as Messiah, making his hour, his death, inevitable.

In reality, then, Mary was more concerned about us than she was about herself or the bride and groom. For in asking Jesus to perform this miracle, she is asking him to begin His work of redemption, His work of healing the world, a mission that can end only on the Cross. And, Jesus? Again, from Fr. Longenecker: “He did something new and unexpected…at the wedding feast, and as you come to know His forgiveness, look for Him to do something new and wonderful in your life of love.”

And so Jesus changes water into wine, and the huge jars are full and overflowing with forgiveness, and act that anticipates His gift to us, changing wine into his precious blood. Jesus, then, is a gift in time from the very heart of Mary, and a gift from all eternity from the very heart of the Father. A gift, yes; but also a demand, an urgency…for the last words we hear Mary speak in Scripture are simply, "Do whatever He tells you" [Jn 2:5].

Mary instructs us. For with this gift we are challenged to believe in Him, to do what He does, to be what He is. This, brothers and sisters, is our vocation, the vocation of every Christian: to spend our lives changing the dark waters of despair into the wine of hope; to celebrate, with Mary, our joy over God's enduring love for each of us.
________________

[Note: thanks to Fr. Dwight Longenecker, author of Praying the Rosary for Inner Healing; thanks to Dr. Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, whose meditations on Matthew's Gospel -- Fire of Mercy, Heart of Word: Volume 1 and Volume 2 -- were the catalyst for many of my own meditations; and to Pope Benedict XVI whose writings always inspire me.]