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!

Although I am an ordained deacon of the Catholic Church, the opinions expressed in this blog are my personal opinions. In offering these personal opinions I am not acting as a representative of the Church or any Church organization.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Work and Leisure

Pope Benedict, in a recent address, touched on the dignity of human work and the associated need for leisure so one can rest, spend time with one's family, and devote time to divine worship. I've included a brief video (below) of the pope's comments.

Listening to the pope I couldn't help but realize how society has changed so drastically in just a few decades. When I was a child very few businesses were open on Sunday. The Lord's Day was still considered a day of rest, a day to worship God, a day which we were commanded to "keep holy." Today, however, it's hard to tell Sunday from any other day. Just go to your local shopping mall. Okay, the stores may open a few hours later on Sunday, but they will open nonetheless.

Here in Florida some stores that sell alcoholic beverages make customers wait until noon before they can purchase them on Sunday. A few weeks ago Dear Diane sent me to Sam's Club to buy some items for the soup kitchen. It was 11:30 a.m. Sunday. (Yes, I know, I should have done it on Saturday, but I forgot. And it was for the soup kitchen, which should mitigate my guilt a little.) Anyway, I was in the checkout line and the man ahead of me had four bottles of wine among his purchases. When the checker told him he couldn't purchase them until noon, he began to rant and take it out on her. The poor girl was almost in tears. I tried to quiet him down with some nice, soothing and meaningless words, but that only caused him to turn his attention to me -- very unpleasant. Eventually he regained control and agreed he'd have to buy the wine some other time.

Thankfully, many of the smaller, mom-and-pop retailers, and most non-retail businesses, still remain closed on Sunday. But I believe it's telling that the large retailers, those whose employees are probably among the lowest paid, are the same businesses that remain open seven days a week, thus depriving their employees from keeping the Lord's Day holy.

But even some highly paid employees in certain industries are expected to be "on the job" 7x24. In many companies for whom I consulted back during my working days, engineers and others regularly put in very long work weeks of 60 or 70 hours. This left little time for family or faith, and both suffered as a consequence. But for them work had become an end in itself. Lacking faith, it became their reason for being.

Some work, by its very nature, includes unusual demands. I recall my years as a naval officer and pilot when long days and nights were more the rule than the exception. And sadly, wars and rumors of wars don't stop just because it's Sunday. Police officers, firefighters, and those who keep our nation's infrastructure up and running are also required to work when most of us are resting. It requires strong, loving relationships and even deeper faith for families to withstand the stress this can generate.

Why these changes in our society? Well, I think the reason is pretty obvious. We've become much more materialistic, more acquisitive, more attracted to the so-called good life than were the generations that preceded us. We want it all, the big-screen TV, the Lexus and the Corvette, the country club membership, the second home in the mountains or at the beach, the vacations at the fancy resorts, the au pair to relieve us of childcare -- yes, we want it all and we don't want to wait for it. We don't even want to wait a half-hour to buy our wine on Sunday morning. And we certainly don't want that unplanned pregnancy and the costly child that will no doubt have a negative impact on the family's bottom line.

And businesses aren't stupid. They saw these developing "needs" and decided to address them in every way possible. They lobbied for the repeal of the old "blue laws" that shut the doors of many businesses on Sunday. They filled the coffers of our politicians' reelection campaigns and peppered them with appeals to their patriotism: "Don't you want our economy to grow? Don't you want to create more jobs? Dump these antiquated laws and good things will happen." The politicians listened. After all, such laws obviously violated the time-honored principle of separation of church and state. And so the laws were changed, and one more of God's Commandments became lost in all the noise of our modern society.

What does the Church say about all this? Among the many excellent sources of Church teaching on the subject is the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. Published in 2004, and available online at the Vatican's website, it encompasses virtually all aspects of human life and the Church's associated teaching. I decided to see what it had to say about work and leisure. Regarding rest from work and keeping the Lord's Day holy, here are some direct quotes from the Compendium:
284. Rest from work is a right.[609] As God “rested on the seventh day from all the work which he had done” (Gen 2:2), so too men and women, created in his image, are to enjoy sufficient rest and free time that will allow them to tend to their family, cultural, social and religious life.[610] The institution of the Lord's Day contributes to this.[611] On Sundays and other Holy Days of Obligation, believers must refrain from “engaging in work or activities that hinder the worship owed to God, the joy proper to the Lord's Day, the performance of the works of mercy, and the appropriate relaxation of mind and body”.[612] Family needs and service of great importance to society constitute legitimate excuses from the obligation of Sunday rest, but these must not create habits that are prejudicial to religion, family life or health.
285. Sunday is a day that should be made holy by charitable activity, devoting time to family and relatives, as well as to the sick, the infirm and the elderly. One must not forget the “brethren who have the same needs and the same rights, yet cannot rest from work because of poverty and misery”.[613] Moreover, Sunday is an appropriate time for the reflection, silence, study and meditation that foster the growth of the interior Christian life. Believers should distinguish themselves on this day too by their moderation, avoiding the excesses and certainly the violence that mass entertainment sometimes occasions.[614] The Lord's Day should always be lived as a day of liberation that allows us to take part in “the festal gathering and the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven” (cf. Heb 12:22-23), anticipating thus the celebration of the definitive Passover in the glory of heaven.[615]
286. Public authorities have the duty to ensure that, for reasons of economic productivity, citizens are not denied time for rest and divine worship. Employers have an analogous obligation regarding their employees.[616] Christians, in respect of religious freedom and of the common good of all, should seek to have Sundays and the Church's Holy Days recognized as legal holidays. “They have to give everyone a public example of prayer, respect and joy, and defend their traditions as a precious contribution to the spiritual life of society”.[617] “Every Christian should avoid making unnecessary demands on others that would hinder them from observing the Lord's Day”.[618]
Wow! The Church pulls no punches in its treatment of the subject. Notice, too, that it places the onus not only on employers, but also on public authorities and on each individual Christian.

Perhaps as Christians we can, in some way, return to God's will for us in such matters by restraining our materialistic impulses and, as the Church instructs us, begin to once again "enjoy sufficient rest and free time" that is necessary if we are to take care of  our "family, cultural, social and religious life."

One more thought. If you haven't read it, pick up a copy of Josef Pieper's book, Leisure: The Basis of Culture. Written over fifty years ago by the famous German philosopher, it prophetically explores the current crisis facing our civilization and provides a means for each person to avoid falling prey to its dehumanizing effects.

Off to Church. Our parish is offering a ten-week program based on Fr. Robert Barron's remarkable video series, Catholicism. So many people signed up for the course that we had to offer three separated classes each Tuesday: morning, afternoon and evening. I'm facilitating the afternoon session, and enjoying it immensely.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Capital Punishment

Not long ago, someone asked me, "You seem to be pretty conservative politically. How come you're against capital punishment?" I told him there was no quick answer, but that I'd write about it soon. And so I suppose this is my response.

It's been interesting experiencing the change in my own thinking regarding capital punishment. Thirty years ago I had no problem with the death penalty. As far as I was concerned, when it was applied in our country it was applied correctly, and usually only in cases of first-degree murder and treason. I had great faith in our legal system and the appellate process, and assumed no one would be executed unless he were truly guilty of the crime for which he had been sentenced. Admittedly this faith displayed a naivete common among non-lawyers, but I think most Americans held similar beliefs.

Of course today, as a result of DNA testing, we have seen that many people have indeed been convicted unjustly and  sentenced to death for crimes they did not commit. As a result we hear of a growing number of wrongly convected people being released after years in prison, often on death row. How many have actually been executed we will never know since no court or prosecutor is going to pursue such cases after an execution has been carried out. DNA testing made one thing certain: man's justice, as meted out by our courts, was often flawed. But my views on the death penalty changed before the advent of effective DNA testing.

Quite honestly, though, I rarely thought about the death penalty at all. It was simply one of those things I accepted. After all, wasn't it in the Constitution? Actually, the United States Constitution refers to capital punishment twice, both times in the Bill of Rights, in the 5th and the 8th Amendments. In the former it states:

"No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."

Here the Constitution guarantees that no one can be held for a capital crime unless he has been indicted. It also states that you may not be executed -- "deprived of life..." -- without due process, which consists of proper indictment, trail and conviction. (Note: the 14th Amendment extended this restriction to the states.)

The 8th Amendment, although it doesn't specifically mention capital punishment, does address what it calls "cruel and unusual punishment." Here's the Amendment's entire text:

"Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted."
As you can see, the wording is pretty flexible and can easily lead to a range of interpretations and judgments. The forms of capital punishment considered usual in the 18th and 19th centuries -- hanging, firing squad, etc. -- would be considered unusual and probably cruel by most Americans today. And the forms of capital punishment common in the 20th century -- electric chair and gas chamber -- have in most instances now been replaced by some form of lethal injection which the state considers more "humane". As far as capital punishment itself being considered "cruel and unusual", today's Supreme Court has generally not intervened in death penalty cases.

And so, the state -- that is, the law of man -- seems to think capital punishment is just fine, so long as it's not too "cruel and unusual". And quite honestly this had been my opinion as well. But what about the Church? What does it say? Well, here's what we find in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

2267 Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm—without definitively taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself—the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity "are very rare, if not practically non-existent" [John Paul II, Evangelium vitae 56.]
And so the Church is telling us that today there is really no safety-related reason to execute someone, since we certainly have the means to protect society from the convicted criminal through effective incarceration. If this is the case, and I believe it is, our decision to execute the criminal is really based more on revenge than on safety. How often do we hear about the need for "closure" on the part of victims' families? What they really seek is revenge, because in the minds of many the death of the murderer will supposedly balance, if only partly, the death of the loved one. Regarding revenge, the Catechism says:

2302 By recalling the commandment, "You shall not kill" [Mt 5:21], our Lord asked for peace of heart and denounced murderous anger and hatred as immoral.

Anger is a desire for revenge. "To desire vengeance in order to do evil to someone who should be punished is illicit," but it is praiseworthy to impose restitution "to correct vices and maintain justice" [St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theoligica II-II, 158, 1-3]. If anger reaches the point of a deliberate desire to kill or seriously wound a neighbor, it is gravely against charity; it is a mortal sin. The Lord says, "Everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment" [Mt 5:22].
Pretty serious stuff. And the Catechism also reminds us that we should not take away from the offender "the possibility of redeeming himself." As anyone involved in prison ministry can tell you, personal conversion can take a long time for someone who has never known love, never received a kindness, never experienced anything in his life but hatred and sinfulness.

The Church reminds us, too, that being a Christian isn't always easy. We are called to "be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect" [Mt 5:48] and that's a tall order. We are called to conform our law, as best we can, to God's Law. And perhaps, most importantly, we are called to reflect in our lives the prayer we pray daily when we say, "...forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." To forgive does not mean we neglect to punish those who are a threat to society, but can forgiveness and capital punishment coexist? Can the Christian say, "I forgive you. Now I'm going to kill you"? I think not.

What got me thinking about this 30 years ago wasn't the Catechism, which at that time had yet to appear, but abortion. I experienced this little epiphany one January during a March for Life in Washington, D.C. as Diane and I, along with several hundred thousand others, approached the United States Supreme Court. As we stood there peaceably, under the gaze of hundreds of U.S. Capitol Police, I realized there was something terribly wrong with a nation that allowed the killing of the most innocent and helpless of its people. Ironically, the Supreme Court's fateful Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 came not long after a 1972 decision that banned capital punishment and threw out most death penalties en masse. In other words, in 1973 the court decided that killing the most innocent Americans was fine, but executing those found guilty of capital crimes was unconstitutional. This remarkable contradiction, more than anything else, led me to question my own beliefs. (Of course, a few years later, in 1976, the Court decided that executions, after all, were okay.)

The legalization of abortion led me to wonder what else the courts could ultimately decide was worthy of the death penalty. And I believe it's important to realize that an abortion is really the imposition of the death penalty on an unborn infant because she committed the unpardonable offense of being inconvenient. You see, that's one of the more practical problems with capital punishment: once you allow it for murder and treason and terrorism and piracy, what's to prevent the state from adding a few more "crimes" to the acceptable list? Just this week, I read that the compassionate Islamic government of Iran has decided to execute two bloggers who it seems "spread corruption" through their blogs. Capital punishment for bloggers -- a radical Islamic form of political correctness. Unbelievable? No, believe it. Can't happen here? If you believe that, I suggest you ask your grandparents if fifty years ago they thought unrestricted abortion would ever be legal in this country. After all, the only modern country that had allowed it was Nazi Germany. Back in the fifties and earlier abortion was universally considered a most despicable crime. But once the Supreme Court weighed in on the issue, like sheep most of our nation went along with it, assuming the courts knew what they were doing as they interpreted the Constitution. Oh, they knew what they were doing all right, but it had little to do with the Constitution. Once you allow the camel to stick his nose under the tent, it's only a matter of time before he joins you in your sleeping bag -- a most unpleasant situation.

And so, those are some of the reasons I'm against capital punishment. I'm too tired today to write any more. And I miss Dear Diane who is away on a cruise with a group of her "girlfriends" and has left me alone to fend for myself. It's all very disconcerting.

Monday, January 16, 2012

God With Us

In recent years I've encountered a surprising number of people who claim to be agnostic. But when I question them about their beliefs, I discover they are actually something else. Unlike the agnostic who claims ignorance as to the existence of God, these folks believe in God's existence but see Him as a hands-off God. Their view of God is really a kind of variant on the watchmaker analogy. Within the complexity of creation they see the hand of the designer, but believe that, after designing the universe and setting it all  in motion, He simply sat back passively and observed the results. God, in other words, is content to watch it all play out but would not lower Himself to get involved in the daily messiness of His creation. And so, to their way of thinking, the universe just chugs along, apparently doing what God designed it to do.

Because of the complexity and vastness of the universe, they also believe that we human beings, living as we do in our infinitesimally tiny corner of that same universe, are truly insignificant and can really have no effect on God's creation. Nothing we do could possibly result in any measurable change. As they see it, God is unwilling, and we humans are unable, to get involved.

The god they envision is more like a model railroad enthusiast. After putting his little world all together, he enjoys watching everything run smoothly, just as he intended. We are like the tiny model people standing on the platform of the model train station, simply the byproducts of some grander process. Their god is not a loving god, and we are not loved into being. We are simply there.

This kind of thinking, at least from my own observation, eventually results in the same kind of despair I often encounter among atheists. Perhaps the only thing worse than believing in no God, is believing in a god who doesn't love, a god who considers us no more than cosmic flotsam.

I don't know why I seem to encounter these beliefs more frequently, but I suspect it's at least partly the result of what people are taught in school these days. Perhaps too all those books by prominent atheists like Richard Dawkins have had an impact, as had all that talk about intelligent design. I believe most people find it easy enough to reject doctrinaire atheism, but not so easy to accept an omnipotent God who loves us so much that He not only became one of us but also died for us. Belief in the latter puts a lot of pressure on us as individuals and as a people. After all, how does one respond to such love? Perhaps that's why so many choose not to believe it and create instead a god who demands little if anything of them.

Of course we Christians do not and can not hold such beliefs. Indeed, central to our faith is our belief in the Incarnation. As Christians we believe that God not only got involved, but got very personally involved, in His creation when He became one of us in the Divine Person of Jesus Christ. We also believe He prepared the world for this Incarnational event through His active involvement with many others who preceded Jesus' coming into the world. The story of God's relationships with these predecessors is for us the story of salvation history. It's a story of sacred covenants, one after another, with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and David. It's a story of God's relationship with a People, a People He chose, and from whom would come the Savior of the World, His only Son, Jesus Christ. And it's also a story of God's Church -- One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic -- as His lasting gift to all of humanity. For it is through the New Covenant Jesus made with His Church that God continually makes Himself present to us.

This is why, for Catholics, the Eucharist is "the source and summit of the Christian life." This is why the Eucharist is at the very center of our Catholic Christian worship. It is through the Eucharist that God makes Himself really present to us. It is through the Eucharist that we can share intimately in the Divine life of Jesus Christ, becoming one with Him and, through that same Communion, becoming one with each other. Yes, we are a Eucharistic people and a Eucharistic Church, a Church formed through the installation of the Apostolic priesthood at the first Eucharist in the upper room in Jerusalem, and continued daily throughout the world by the successors of those same Apostles.

It's no accident that Jesus introduced the New Covenant at the Last Supper, the First Eucharist, with the words:
“Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.' And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you'" [Lk 22:19-20]
St. Paul, of course, is explicit when he describes the Eucharist:
"Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself" [1 Cor 11:27-29]
And we find near unanimity of belief in the early Church when it comes to the Real Presence of Jesus' Body and Blood in the Eucharist. St. Augustine (354-430 A.D.), for example, preached the Real Presence again and again:
"That Bread which you see on the altar, having been sanctified by the word of God is the Body of Christ. That chalice, or rather, what is in that chalice, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the Blood of Christ. Through that bread and wine the Lord Christ willed to commend His Body and Blood, which he poured our for us unto the forgiveness of sins" [Sermons 227].
"What you see is the bread and the chalice; that is what your own eyes report to you. But what your faith obliges you to accept is that the bread is the Body of Christ and the chalice [wine] the Blood of Christ" [Sermons 272].
"...I turn to Christ, because it is He whom I seek here; and I discover how the earth is adored without impiety, how without impiety the footstool of His feet is adored. For He received earth from earth; because flesh is from the earth, and He took flesh from the flesh of Mary. He walked here in the same flesh, and gave us the same flesh to be eaten unto salvation. But no one eats that flesh unless he first adores it; and thus it is discovered how such a footstool of the Lord's feet is adored; and not only do we not sin by adoring, we do sin by not adoring [Commentary of the Psalms 98:9].
Sadly, some of our Christian brothers and sisters reject this belief in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, a belief held by virtually all Christians, all members of the universal Church, for its first 1,500 years. The Reformation really did very little in the way of reforming the universal Church -- such needed reforms came soon thereafter but from within the Church itself. Instead, the reformers ended up creating a whole slew of splinter churches, each with its own set of beliefs and modes of worship. The result is today's countless denominations, each claiming to possess the truth. How did St. Paul put it?
"But if I should be delayed, you should know how to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth" [2 Tim 3:15]
A thousand different churches cannot all be the "pillar and foundation of the truth." No, Jesus desired unity among His disciples, but we have shattered the unity of Christendom. No Christian can believe this is what Jesus wanted when, on that night of the first Eucharist, he prayed:
“I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me" [Jn 17:20-23].
Even on that night, however, there was already disunity, a disunity that would lead to Jesus' arrest only hours later. And Judas wasn't the last. Even Peter, who would go on to lead the Church in its infancy, failed on that same night and denied that very Creative Word of God who had loved him into existence. The early Church was plagued by heresies, and most of these related to the very person of Jesus Christ. But the Church prevailed, just as it has prevailed through all the disruptions and calamities since. It has survived countless attacks from within and without and through it all kept the deposit of faith intact. 

Since Jesus' prayer is always efficacious, we can only believe that this unity for which He prayed will one day come to pass. This is why the Catholic Church has been so active in pursuing unity through a real ecumenism that, at its heart, protects the truth. How blessed is the world that Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have devoted so much of their papacies to the unity for which Jesus prayed. 

I really believe that the ever increasing persecution experienced by Christians throughout the world today will drive us toward each other and lead us ever closer to that desired unity. The Roman world watched Christians respond to persecution with joy, saw God's love shining through their lives, and wanted to taste whatever it was that brought joy from suffering. They ended up tasting it in the Eucharist, through which He remains with us. After all, he promised not to leave us -- "I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you" [Jn 14:18] -- and through the Eucharist He comes to us daily.

And so it will happen again as in the midst of it all, God continues to give us signs through the work of His Holy Spirit. And the Spirit blows where it wills...

All of this reminded me of Joan Carroll Cruz' book, Eucharistic Miracles, a wonderfully fascinating description of some of the Eucharistic miracles through which God has blessed the world and led so many people to come to know Him and believe.

Pray for unity.
God's peace...

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Homily: Wednesday, 1st Week of Ordinary Time

Readings: 1 Sm 3:1-10, 19-20; Ps 40; Mk 1:29-39

Our reading today from Mark’s Gospel is one of those passages that attacks and challenges us from every direction. That’s the way Mark introduces us to Jesus: rapid-fire and with no embellishment, he just presents us with the astonishing facts, one after another. And this passage is so full of the Good News of Jesus Christ that we run the risk of ignoring it all.

It was the Sabbath. Jesus had just come from the synagogue in Capernaum where He had amazed the people with His teaching. And then, right there in the synagogue, He had cast out a demon from a man possessed. As Mark tells us, “His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.” [Mk 1:28]

Leaving the synagogue Jesus and a few of His disciples enter the home of Peter and Andrew, where Peter’s mother-in-law lay sick. Without any fanfare, Jesus grasps her by the hand, heals her, and helps her to her feet. And what does she do? Restored to health, she serves. Jesus always heals more than the body. When He heals, He restores it all, body, mind and soul. For then we who have been healed can begin to serve, to serve life.

What happens next? Evening comes, and with the darkness come the marginalized: the sick, those plagued by demons – they are brought to Jesus and placed at His feet. Where else could they go? Shunned by the community fearful of their afflictions, they were dependent on their families and the charity of others. Rejected by their fellow man, they felt rejected too by God…until Jesus appears and calls each, touches each, showering them with God’s healing love.

Those who have been healed by Jesus, those who have been touched by the God-man in their midst, they see and experience the Good News first-hand. They see what God intends for those who are excluded and for those who do the excluding. It’s funny, isn’t it? So many of the healed recognize Jesus for Who He is. Later in Mark’s Gospel the blind man shouts, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” And the demons, too, recognize Jesus. That demon in the synagogue cried out, “I know who you are – the Holy One of God.” [Mk 1:24]

Yes, Jesus is known by the rejected and by His enemies. But what about the rest? What about His disciples? What about us?

The disciples loved the publicity Jesus was getting, and hoped to capitalize on it.  Their idea of Jesus’ mission was so very different, so very different from God’s plan. Jesus rises early and goes off to pray alone, in silence, to solidify His mission, to join His will to that of the Father. But the disciples want to drag Him away to the adulation of the people…for “Everyone is looking for you.” [Mk 1:37]

Knowing His Father’s will, Jesus ignores them and continues to spread the Good News throughout Galilee. “For this purpose have I come,” [Mk 1:38] He tells the disciples. Like so many of us, the disciples wanted a different Jesus, one who would revel in His successes, one who would accept the adulation and praise of the people. This failure in discipleship, this failure to understand the mission of Jesus Christ, crops up time and again throughout His public ministry.

We too must accept Jesus for who He is, for only then can we imitate Him, doing what He calls us to do. Only then can we rise from our brokenness and begin to serve. Otherwise we’re really no better than the demons, who recognize Jesus but refuse to serve.

What’s your mission? Like Jesus, do you go to the Father in prayer for understanding, to join your will with His? Let today be the beginning of a new awareness by us all that Jesus is with us in our ills and troubles, in our hopes and happiness, so that we, too, can pray, “Here am I, Lord, I come to do your will.” [Ps 40:8-9]

Monday, January 9, 2012

Homily: January 4 - St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

Readings: 1 Jn 3:11-21; Ps 100; Jn 1:43-51

“Come, follow me.” Now that’s a command Jesus directs not just to the apostles, but to each of us.

One can’t but help think of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, whose feast we celebrate today, and how she went from a life of comfort and privilege to one of sheer poverty in conformance to God’s Will.

Born on the eve of the American Revolution she followed Christ’s call into the Church and founded the Sisters of Charity. She also became the first American-born canonized saint.

Of course, unlike St. Elizabeth Seton, most of us aren’t mature enough spiritually simply to respond in faith. We need our questions answered: Where are you leading me? What exactly do you want of me?

Well, first of all, He wants us – that’s you and me – simply to listen and to respond. Just as the apostles listened to John the Baptist as he pointed the way: “Behold, the Lamb of God.” The disciples listened and followed.

This is Jesus’ call, the same call God issued at the very dawn of salvation history when He told Abraham to  walk in my presence and be blameless. And fortunately for us, God takes the initiative. It’s He who calls Samuel in the night. It’s He who seeks out Abraham, our father in faith, and Moses, the lawgiver, and Paul, the persecutor of Christians. It’s He who turns to the disciples and speaks to them.

"Behold, the Lamb of God!"
Later on in John’s Gospel Jesus states this clearly: “It is not you who chose me. I chose you” [Jn 15:16]. But does Jesus tell them what’s in store for them? No, not yet. And like the apostles, responding as we do in our spiritual infancy, the true cost of our discipleship would probably be too much for us to bear.

Only Jesus knows the cost, the demands. But He keeps it all from the least for now. That’ll come later, much later. For now He just asks them what they’re looking for. Why have they turned to the Lamb of God?

It’s here the disciples say something remarkable. Instead of answering Jesus’ question, they ask one of their own: “Rabbi, where are you staying?” His answer is brief, “Come and you will see.”

Jesus isn’t speaking of a house. He’s speaking of discipleship, for Jesus stays wherever His disciples are. He abides with them and within them. And so, to be a disciple of Jesus, to be a Christian, we must first respond to God’s call, as the apostles did, and we must do so in faith.

But that’s not all. We must live in Jesus Christ and He in us. In other words, we must follow Him wherever He leads us. And of one thing we can be sure. Following Christ always leads to the Cross. Now I don’t mean that, like Peter and Andrew, every Christian must suffer martyrdom, but there’s no discipleship, no following of Jesus, that doesn’t include His cross. To be a Christian, to be His disciple…How did He put it? You must lose your life to find it. Christianity preaches not only a crucified God, but crucified men and women, crucified followers.

“What are you looking for?” Jesus asks the disciples. And He asks each of us the same question. The answer, your answer, lies within the personal call He has issued to you.

See how He called Peter – weak-willed Peter, Peter, full of bluster and empty promises – He called Peter to be the head of His Church. What has He called you to do? "What are you looking for?" You’ll never know until you respond in faith.

“Come and you will see,” Jesus says. You will see only if you say yes to Him: yes to joy; yes to sorrow; yes to all His brothers and sisters – the weak, the hungry, the poor, the homeless, the imprisoned.

"Come and you will see"…only if you say yes to God’s call to live the life of Christ.

“What are you looking for?” Jesus asks. What kind of disciple are you? Why don‘t we all take some time today answering that question.

Homily: January 1, Mary, Mother of God

Readings: Num 6:22-27; Ps 67; Gal 4:4-7; Lk 2:16-21

There’s no need to exaggerate the role that Mary played in the story of our salvation. It’s a role and a story we’re all familiar with. 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.

The gospels describe her role, especially 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 the Archangel Gabriel at Mary’s home in Nazareth; the Visitation – Mary and Elizabeth greeting each other at the door to Elizabeth’s house; the birth of our Lord in the stable at Bethlehem; Jesus’ Presentation in the Temple; and then, years later, Mary and Joseph finding the young boy, Jesus, once again, in the Temple. Luke paints these scenes in rapid succession in the opening pages of his gospel…and then nothing, or almost nothing.

And while the gospels include a few other scenes, most are brief and fleeting. In Mark, for instance, we encounter Mary on the road, seeking Jesus in the midst of the crowds gathered around him. In John we see Mary at the wedding in the village of Cana, and we find her again at the foot of the cross. And then, 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.

These are all wonderful scenes! Marvelous events! But they give us just 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. 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.

Let’s take a moment tonight 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.

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 this evening 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, remember, 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 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.

And how fortunate for us that Mary was “full of grace” – so full of God’s amazing grace that there was room for nothing else. There was 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. Only Mary, only the grace-filled one, could have the depth of faith and the courage to say “Yes” to God’s plan to deliver the world from the power of darkness, and from the evil that we do to one another.

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. And 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…

Tonight, then, as we worship here together on the vigil of this feast of Mary, the Mother of God, we pray for peace: peace in the world; peace in our country; peace in our cities and communities. We pray for peace in our homes; but most importantly, we pray for peace in our hearts.

1,600 years ago, at the Council of Ephesus, the Church gave Mary the title, Theotokos, which means God-bearer, and 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.
Icon of Mary, Theotokos, "God-bearer"

Brothers and sisters, let’s learn from her, and follow her example. When we receive the Eucharist this evening, when we receive the Real Presence, the Body and Blood of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, we too will become God-bearers. Just like Mary, we are called to carry Jesus to the world, to all the others in our lives.

And so, as we prepare to become God-bearers, let us join our prayers to the prayers of Mary. 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.

Needed a Rest

My apologies to those who actually read this blog and have wondered why I haven't posted anything for a couple of weeks. The answer is simple: I needed a break. I've had a lot going on in my life recently and just had to pull away from all the busyness, sit back and take some time off. Since our children and grandchildren all remained up north in their own homes this year, the two weeks after Christmas seemed the perfect time to recharge my aging batteries.

Diane and I have also been doing a little early spring cleaning in an effort to clear away some of the "stuff" stored in boxes in the garage and attic, boxes we have never opened, filled with things we will likely never use. Several local thrift shops have reaped the benefits. It has been just the sort of mindless but productive manual labor that I needed.

Now that I'm back to normal -- more or less -- I hope to turn to the blog more regularly.

God's peace...