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, December 29, 2015

Vegetative State? Not!

Here's a news story you probably won't read in the mainstream media; although, surprisingly, NPR did cover it. It tells of a young man diagnosed by his doctors to be in a vegetative state and sent home to await death. He remained in this state, cared for by his parents, for 12 years but then gradually returned to normalcy. What's most interesting is that during most of these 12 years, although he could not move, respond in any way, or even make eye contact, he was completely aware of everything that went on around him. Read the full story here: Life Site News

This young man, Martin Pistorius, has written what has become a best-selling book -- a great read: Ghost Boy

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Homily: 1st Sunday of Advent - Year C

Readings: Jer 33:14-16; 1Th 3:12-4:2; Lk 21:25-28,34-36

Some years ago – actually 14 years ago, in December 2001 – two men I knew well died very suddenly within a few days of each other. Both of these men were in what we would call the "prime of life." One was 40, the other 56. Both were family men, husbands and fathers of three children. Both were seemingly fit and healthy. Both were, by every measure, very successful businessmen. And both probably thought they had 20 or 30 years of productive life ahead of them.

And yet in a flash, or perhaps more accurately, in the single beat of a human heart, both of these men were gone from us. For their families and friends, coping with such sudden loss, dealing with the grief and emptiness, was extremely difficult. Just as difficult were the questions they asked then, and have continued to ask since – questions to which there are no easy answers.

But against this uncertainty as to how and when we will die, is the absolute certainty that all of us will die. We humans are a strange lot. We accept the fact of death in general terms, because the evidence is irrefutable. But when it comes down to specifics, to ourselves or to someone close to us, we act as if God has somehow double-crossed us.

We tend to have a similar attitude about the end of the world. And yet, for my two friends, the end of their world arrived when they experienced their own personal second coming of Jesus. Oh, yes, as Catholic Christians we believe that Jesus will come again at the end of time. We just don't want it to happen on our watch. And maybe, if we don't think or talk about it, it won't. But that's exactly what we're asked to do during this season of Advent: to think and talk about it.

Today too many of us view Advent in one-dimensional terms. We see Advent simply as a prelude to Christmas, a sort of ecclesiastical version of the Christmas shopping season. Advent then becomes a warm and fuzzy time to turn our thoughts back to that first Christmas in Bethlehem, to the manger, to the bright star in the night sky, to Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus, to shepherds and angels and wise men, to the ox, the donkey and the lamb, to the little drummer boy.

Now I suppose that’s all a part of Advent, but quite frankly, it’s really only a small part. Lost amidst all this Christmas nostalgia, is the very fact of what we are called to celebrate. For Christmas isn't just the celebration of Jesus' birth. Rather, it's our commemoration of a defining moment in history: the manifestation of the incarnate Son of God to the world. Christmas is the celebration of an almost inconceivable act of love by the Father. It’s our loving God injecting Himself into human history in the most personal and direct way possible.

I will save you from yourselves by sending you my own Son, who will take on your nature, your flesh. He will live among you, teaching you about Me and how I expect you to live, to love, and to worship. And He will sacrifice Himself for you and for your sins.

Advent, then, is a time to ask ourselves whether we are prepared for the Son of God’s arrival into our lives. This is the Advent preached by John the Baptist: “…one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals” [Lk 3:16].

As Jeremiah prophesied in today's first reading:
"In those days, in that time, I will raise up for David a just shoot; he shall do what is right and just in the land" [Jer 33:15].
This is what we celebrate during Advent as we look forward to Christmas: the beginning of the divine drama of the Incarnation, this wondrous manifestation of God's love through the gift of our Lord Jesus Christ.

But that's not all we celebrate. We also look to the end of the drama. For the Church calls us not only to turn to the past, to Jesus' first coming, but also to the future, to the end of human history, to the second coming of Jesus. Unlike His first coming, which came quietly, almost secretly, His second coming will be quite an event.

In today's Gospel reading from Luke, Jesus gives us a pretty good idea of what to expect.
"…signs in the sun, the moon and the stars."
"…nations in disarray."
"…roaring of the seas and waves."
"…the powers in the heavens will be shaken."
[Lk 21:25}
Yes, God will manifest His power as creator of the universe, and humanity will come to understand what the word "almighty" really means. So much so that Jesus tells us "people will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world" [Lk 21:26].

Now on the face of it, this doesn't sound like something to look forward to. But Jesus tells us, wait a minute…as Christians you have nothing to fear.
"…when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand" [Lk 21:28].
And it won't be easy, for "that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth" [Lk 21:35].

When will it happen? Today? Tomorrow? Next year? 100 or 1,000 years from now? We don't know; and those who throughout history, and even today, claim they do are false prophets. And because we don't know, Jesus instructs us:
"Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man" [Lk 21:36].
And so, during this season of Advent we are called to prepare ourselves, to act as if the end is near…for it might well be. And for some of us, like my two friends, it is.

"Be vigilant," Jesus says. Be watchful. That's what Advent is all about.

St. Bernard speaks of three comings of Jesus: One in flesh and weakness; one in glory and majesty; but another, a hidden coming, in which Christ comes into our lives through the working of the Holy Spirit and manifests His love through us. How better to prepare for His second coming than to be alert with God's love, to be alive with Christ's light.

What else can we do?

We can recognize Jesus when He comes to us through the others who touch our lives. We can see Jesus Christ in all others, so they will see Jesus in us. Like Mary, we can be “God-bearers” who take Jesus Christ, God’s Eternal Word, into the world. What a wonderful way to celebrate this coming of God's love into our hearts.

Listen again to the words of St. Paul in today's second reading:
"May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all…so as to strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His holy ones" [1 Th 3:12-13]
How do we celebrate God's love? By loving. That's the point of Paul's prayer.

And what a prayer!

And what a world Christ would return to if everybody loved with His love. If Christ's light, emanating from the love of the Father, was truly the light of our lives.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Homily: Monday, 33rd Week in Ordinary Time

Readings: 1 Mc 1:10-15, 41-43, 54-57, 62-63; Ps 119; Lk 18:35-43
Jesus cured thousands of people during his public ministry, but of all those He cured I’ve always had a special liking for this blind beggar of Jericho.

In today’s Gospel passage Luke just gives us the basic facts of this miraculous healing by Jesus. Luke then moves his narrative along and goes on to tell the story of Zacchaeus the tax collector. But in Mark’s Gospel this blind beggar has a name: Bartimaeus, the son of Timeous.

I don’t think you and I can imagine what Bartimaeus’ life must have been like. There was no Department of Health and Human Services, no Social Security to provide him with a monthly disability check, no charitable organizations to provide assistance or caregivers. No, Bartimaeus was pretty much on his own.  His family probably expected him to pay his way by begging at the city gates, and so there he sat, every day, wrapped up in his cloak, the symbol of his beggary, crying out to people, and begging for alms as they passed by.

But this day he hears something different, a large, animated crowd, and so in his blindness he asks what the commotion’s all about.

“It’s Jesus of Nazareth,” he’s told.

Now, he’d no doubt heard of Jesus – after all, word gets around – yes, he’d heard about this prophet and healer, and so Bartimaeus seizes the opportunity, and cries out, as loudly as he can. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Of course the disciples, who have not yet learned what discipleship is all about, try to shut him up. We can just imagine their words: “Be quiet! This is Jesus. He’s an important man, much too important for you.”

But Bartimaeus will have none of it, and continues to cry out: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

As we would expect, Jesus hears him and calls for him. In Mark’s Gospel we’re told that Bartimaeus leaps to his feet, throws off his cloak, and runs straight to Jesus. Yes, Bartimaeus is certain that something wonderful is about to happen to him, and in his excitement he can hardly control himself. “Leaping Bartimaeus” throws aside that old, dirty, moth-eaten cloak. He throws it aside because filled with faith he knows he’ll never again need it. That cloak is the symbol of his old life, a life of darkness, a life of begging, a life of slavery. And Jesus is about to offer him something new.

Moved by the Holy Spirit, in his blindness Bartimaeus runs straight to Jesus, who simply asks him, “What can I do for you?”

And Bartimaeus replies, just as simply, “Lord, please let me see.”

Did you notice how Bartimaeus addressed Jesus? First, he called him by the Messianic title, “Son of David” and then, when he’s there in Jesus’ presence, up close and personal, he called him “Lord.” Oh, yes, Bartimaeus, this man of blind faith, was filled with the Holy Spirit.

Moved by the faith of this holy beggar, Jesus proclaims the Word: “Have sight; your faith has saved you.” When the Word of God speaks, things happen, and Bartimaeus sees. He sees His Lord standing before him. Of course he can do nothing but follow Jesus giving glory to God.

Mark relates a slightly different ending. According to Mark, Jesus said, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” And then Mark adds, “Immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way.”

In other words, he became a disciple. And it’s no wonder because he received a kind of triple healing. Jesus cures him of physical and spiritual blindness and then offers him salvation.

It’s interesting to note that in the Gospel those who are healed, those who experience a most intimate presence of Jesus in their lives, come to recognize who Jesus is, almost instantaneously, while the apostles and other disciples plod along cluelessly.

There at the gates of Jericho, the disciples were decidedly un-disciplelike as they attempted to limit those who could come close to Jesus.

You and I, which are we?

Are we like Bartimaeus, aware of our brokenness, but ready to let the Lord heal us? Can we hardly wait to get close to Jesus? Are we so filled with faith, so bursting with the Holy Spirit, that we’re willing to follow Jesus wherever He leads us?

Or are we, like too many of the disciples, kind of “Jesus groupies” who jealously guard Jesus from those who simply don’t measure up? Do we forget how much Jesus loves the sinner, how He calls them to Him? Are we more focused on ourselves than on seeing Jesus in others?

These are good questions to ask ourselves today.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Homily: Saturday, 28th Week of Ordinary Time

Readings: Rom 4:13, 16-18; Ps 105; Lk 12:8-12
Were you moved and filled with hope when you heard those wonderful words of Jesus?
“…everyone who acknowledges me before others the Son of Man will acknowledge before the angels of God” [Lk 12:8].
What more could we hope for than to be acknowledged before the angels? What Good News this is – God’s promise of salvation and His call to evangelization.

And yet, sadly, I encounter so many people who, because of their sins, almost despair of achieving salvation. Among their mistakes, of course, is the idea that they, or indeed anyone, can achieve salvation. We can’t…not on our own. Salvation, like every other good thing, is a gift from God.

Yesterday, in his homily during Mass at St. Martha’s House, the Vatican guesthouse where he lives, Pope Francis said:
“One of the hardest things for all of us Christians to understand, is the gratuity of Jesus Christ’s salvation.”
In other words, because God’s love is so far beyond any human love we could ever experience, we find it hard to understand, much less accept. How can God love me in my sinfulness? I always seem to be falling instead of rising, always disappointing myself, always disappointing God.

Pope Francis blesses a prison inmate
Yes, we are called to obedience, to do as God has commanded us as a response to God’s gratuitous love. And yet, we are imperfect creatures, and in our sinfulness often fail to live out our faith. We find ourselves, then, in the midst of this battle, but in reality it’s an internal battle, one we manufacture within ourselves, and not a very productive one.

As Pope Francis suggests, how much better it would be if we would only focus on God’s great commandment:
“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” [Lk 10:27].
This is the commandment that saves. This is the love that truly reflects God’s gratuitous love for us. How did St. Peter put it?
“Above all, let your love for one another be intense, because love covers a multitude of sins” [1 Pt 4:8].
Do you and I truly believe that the Lord saves us freely, that we have done nothing to merit salvation? I hope so, because this is the truth, this is the Good News we are called to bring to others. This is the remarkable love, God’s love, that we are called to share with the world.

And it is through this sharing of God’s love that we can acknowledge Jesus Christ before others. Never forget what St. Paul wrote to Timothy:
“God our savior… wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth” [1 Tim 2:3-4].
It is only we who place limits on God’s limitless love. You and I, then, must put aside our judgment of others, and instead do God’s work in the world by helping others “come to knowledge of the truth” which is Jesus Christ...

For He, and only He, is “the Way and the Truth and the Life” [Jn 14:6].

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Homily: Monday 28th Week of Ordinary Time

Readings: Rom 1:1-7; Ps 98; Lk 11:29-32

The Letter to the Romans is the longest of St. Paul’s letters. In many respects it’s also his most important of his letters in that it touches on all the major themes of the Gospel. Recognizing this, the Church includes daily readings from Romans for the next four weeks.

Today we heard the opening words of the letter in which Paul describes himself as “a slave of Christ Jesus” [Rom 1:1]. Some folks find this a bit odd. After all, as baptized Christians, as adopted children of the Father, doesn’t the Church teach that we’re sisters and brothers of Christ? And doesn’t Jesus also call His disciples, and that’s you and me – doesn’t He call us His friends?

Which are we then? Brother, sister, friend or slave? Well, the only correct answer is “all of the above.”

This is one of the wonderful paradoxes of our Christian faith. Yes, Paul is right: in a sense, we are slaves – servants called to do the will of God. But because we are also God’s children, and because Jesus calls us to be His friends, God doesn’t demand a slavish obedience, an obedience of submission. No, indeed. He allows us to choose. We do as God commands out of freedom. It’s a freedom that comes from our close relationship with Jesus.

As Jesus’ friends, as His brothers and sisters, we want to do as He asks. We respond obediently just as a slave would, but we do so because we recognize God’s great love for us. In faith we know we are loved by the Father who brought us into being. We are loved by the Son who gave His life for our redemption. We are loved by the Spirit who guides us, inspires us, and leads us on our journey of faith. And in faith we return that love by trusting that God will call us to do only that which is good. In faith we accept that God knows best what’s good for us.

When I was a little guy, my parents bought me my first bicycle as a birthday gift. I could hardly wait to ride it, and so I got up early that next morning, climbed on that little bike and tried to ride it. A valiant attempt, but I immediately fell over onto the driveway with a skinned knee and elbow. I was horrified that I had failed, that I couldn’t ride this wonderful thing for which I had wanted so long.

My dad, who had witnessed this from the kitchen window, came outside and said: “Look, if you want to learn to ride your new bike, you’ll have to let me teach you. Will you do that?”

I had to think about it. I hated to admit that I couldn’t do it on my own, but I really wanted to ride that bike. I wanted the freedom it would give me, the ability to go wherever I wanted in our little town. And so I buried my pride and turned myself over to my father’s instruction.

An hour later I was pedaling up and down our street, about as happy as a five-year-old could possibly be. My father, too, was smiling, happy that I had placed my trust in him and learned an important lesson.

I learned that day that I couldn’t do everything myself, that first I had to learn and grow, to accept that I needed help. Paul teaches the Romans much the same thing by focusing on God’s call to each of us.

Paul was, he wrote, “called to be an Apostle” [Rom 1:1]. And he was writing, in his words, to those “called to belong to Jesus Christ” [Rom 1:6]…those “called to be holy. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” [Rom 1:7]

What exactly is this calling of ours? No less than the actual meaning of our very lives; for we are called to be holy. Indeed, Paul’s Letter to the Romans is really an explanation of this call.

Jesus calls us to follow Him, to deny ourselves, to take up our own cross, for only by doing so can we be His disciples. But that’s just the beginning, for we’re also called to “make disciples of all nations” [Mt 28:19]. And how do we do this?

Not by relying on our human strengths, not by thinking we can do it all ourselves, not by trying to fix things, or to solve problems, or to convince others to be just like you or just like me. Too often we try to force others, to argue them into discipleship.

You see, the making of disciples is God’s work. Let God work through you, especially through your weaknesses. Most often it means simply being there when another is in need. It means seeing Jesus Christ in your spouse, in your children and grandchildren, in everyone you meet…and letting them see Jesus Christ in you.

Yes, Jesus calls us to love the unloved, to feed those who hunger and thirst for God’s presence in their lives. And He calls us to be that presence, to be God’s quiet, loving presence.

We are the called, brothers and sisters. This is our identity as Christians. This is the meaning of our lives. Let’s all try to live a life worthy of our calling.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Homily: Monday, 27th Week of Ordinary Time

Readings: Jon 1:1-2:1-2, 11; Jon 2:3-8; Lk 10:25-37

Jesus was always teaching, wasn’t He? And like any good teacher, He was always being questioned.

Even as a child, as a twelve-year-old in the Temple, Jesus answers the questions of the wise. Luke tells us that “all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers” [Lk 2:47].

And the questions continued right up to that final barrage of questions Jesus received from Pilate, as He stood before him facing death.

Yes, even Pilate, the upper-class Roman who no doubt considered the Jews little more than rabble – even Pilate sought answers from this Jesus, this teacher whom he would soon judge under man's law.

“Are you the King of the Jews?” [Jn 18:33]

“Where are you from?” [Jn 19:9]

“Do you not you know that I have…power to crucify you?” [Jn 19:10]

And of course that sneering question from Pilate: “What is truth?” [Jn 18:38]

Pilate should have asked, “Who is truth?”, because he was in the presence of the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Yes, almost everyone Jesus met asked Him questions. It’s as if, somehow, they all knew, if only subconsciously, who He really was. Those He encountered seemed to sense He was more than just a teacher.

What did the centurion say as he stood at the foot of the Cross?
“Truly this was the Son of God” [Mt 27:54].
In today’s passage from Luke, Jesus is again asked a question: "Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" [Lk 10:25]

Jesus didn’t need to invent an answer, for the answer was already there in the Word of God. And so He answered with a question of His own: “What is written in the Law? [Lk 10:26]

The scholar responded correctly, didn’t he? He simply went to Scripture:
“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” [Lk 10:27].
You see, it’s not necessary to be a scholar to know God and what He expects of us. Indeed, just moments before Jesus had prayed to the Father:
“I give you praise, 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.” [Lk 10:21]
But not being very childlike, the scholar, hoping not so much to learn as to justify himself, asks Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” With that Jesus offers us a gift, the Parable of the Good Samaritan, a parable both scholar and childlike can understand:
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho...” [Lk 10:30]
But what exactly did the Samaritan do? After all, he was a Samaritan, despised by the Jews and thought to be outside the Law. And yet, did he not listen to God’s Word? Did he not obey the Law? Well, at the very least, it seems he listened to his conscience and acted righteously. And this set him on the path to eternal life.

Remember that original question: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” [Lk 10:25] This is what Jesus' answer is all about.

Yes, there were three who encountered the wounded man on the road, weren’t there? But only one of the three did anything to help. How did Jesus put it? “Many are called but few are chosen” [Mt 22:14]

And so today, let’s reflect on our own lives. Who are the wounded you and I encounter? Those who are physically wounded? Or mentally wounded? Or spiritually wounded? Do we even recognize them in the busyness of our lives? Or perhaps we do see them, but turn away, preferring not to be bothered. Anyway, someone else will take care of them.

Is that how we hope to inherit eternal life? As Christians we should know better. To inherit eternal life, we must come to know God, to know Him as the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

But this knowing of God is knowledge of love. As John reminds us: to know the Truth that is God is to know God, who "is Love" [1 Jn. 4:16]. It always comes back to Love, doesn’t it? To love the Lord your God with all your being, and to love your neighbor as yourself. How did Mother Teresa put it? "If you judge people, you have no time to love them."

Yes, indeed, we spend so much time judging others, and so little time loving them. St. James reminded us all of this when he wrote that "mercy triumphs over judgment" [Jas 2:13].

As we look forward to the Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis, let's make an effort as individuals and as a parish to replace self-absorption with a love for others, to replace judgment with mercy.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Papal Mass in Philadelphia

I'm sitting at home in the comfort of my living room watching Pope Francis celebrate Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia. The pope delivered a wonderful homily, referring to Philadelphia native, Saint Katherine Drexel, and reminding us that we are all, especially the laity, called to do God's work in the world. 

At the moment a large group of my brother deacons are receiving the Blessed Sacrament in that beautiful church. How good to see so many of them gathered together.

One thing becomes evident at these papal Masses, though: music ministers hate silence. But I suppose that's to be expected. How often does the music ministry of a church get to exercise that ministry in the presence of a pope, and before a worldwide audience? And I must admit, the choir and musicians at the Cathedral were exceptional. Afterwards the congregation even gave them a standing ovation marked by exuberant cheers. That's not something often encountered in a Catholic church. 

I suppose this is good as it reflects the enthusiasm of Pope Francis who joyfully invites all of humanity to accept Jesus Christ. He invites all to come and be welcomed by the Church. He does not demand that all accept the Church's moral and theological teachings before they can enter its doors. Instead he says, "Come. Meet Jesus along with me and countless others. Get to know Jesus Christ as a person. Only then will you come to understand and accept His teachings." The Church has one overriding mission: evangelization. "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing team in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you..." [Mt 28:19-20] Pope Francis accepts this mission and carries out the command of Christ just as it was proclaimed on the mountaintop: make disciples, baptize, and teach. Too many don't realize that Pope Francis remains in perfect unity with his predecessors when it comes to the Church's moral teachings. It is his approach that differs.

But now I must get ready for our parish's 4 p.m. vigil Mass at which I will assist our pastor. The music at our Mass, while not quite as spectacular as that in Philadelphia, will still make a joyful and beautiful noise unto the Lord as we celebrate the Holy Sacrifice, just as thousands of Catholic churches throughout the world will do tonight and tomorrow. We belong to a universal Church, and for that I am truly thankful. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Pope Francis Calls

I've been enjoying the Holy Father's visit more than I could ever describe, but after the first day decided to ignore the coverage by the secular media. Listening to coverage by MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, and some of the other networks has been painful. The anchors and commentators, whether liberals or conservatives, have all demonstrated an abominable level of ignorance when it comes to the purpose of the Pope's visit, his pilgrimage, to our country and to Cuba. They all view it through their own grossly distorted political and economic lenses and don't have a clue as to the Pope's real reasons for being here and saying what he says. The liberals hope he's a progressive socialist, which of course he isn't, and the conservatives want him to castigate the left and extol unbridled capitalism, which of course he won't. 

Pope Francis is a pilgrim pontiff striving to save souls, to teach us how to live the Sermon on the Mount, to lead us to the forgiving, merciful love of Jesus Christ. He hopes for a transformation of hearts, for a transformation of the entire world. He is probably the least politically motivated man in our country today. Our politicians and the policy wonks who hide in their shadows clearly don't understand that his aim is spiritual not political. I'm reminded of something Pope Francis said back in 2002 when he was an archbishop and cardinal in Buenos Aires:

“To those who are now promising to fix all your problems, I say, ‘Go and fix yourself.’ . . . Have a change of heart. Get to confession, before you need it even more! The current crisis will not be improved by magicians from outside the country and nor will [improvement] come from the golden mouth of our politicians, so accustomed to making incredible promises.”

Now don't these words apply perfectly to our own nation today? The solution will not come from our politicians. It will come only from ourselves, from God's people, doing God's Work in humility and with love. Yes, we must first "fix" ourselves and open our hearts to the movement of the Holy Spirit within us and within our nation as a whole. We must then accept the Cross of Christ, the sign of humiliating powerlessness that points upward to God's glory and left and right to the world we are called to change. 

I have decided to watch EWTN for the remainder of the Holy Father's visit.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Reflection for Liturgical Readers

Among my parish responsibilities -- all assigned to me by my pastor to make and keep me humble -- is the oversight of things liturgical. This has proven to be a challenge because I am not a liturgist and have had much to learn. Over the years much of the learning has come to me subtly through a kind of osmosis...and it continues. Thankfully I can always call on our parish's wonderful team of priests and deacons who keep me from making too many mistakes. I am blessed.

Occasionally I am called on to address or assist in the training of one or another of our liturgical ministries. This past Saturday, for example, I was asked to offer a spiritual reflection during a brief morning of reflection for our readers. (For those in my audience who are not Catholic, the readers are those who proclaim the Word of God, the Sacred Scripture, at Mass.) My reflection follows:

We could spend the next hour going over a whole litany of dos and don’ts for readers. But I thought that might put more than a few of you to sleep. I also don’t think you need that right now. Later on this morning, if we have a few minutes, I’ll open up the discussion for questions and comments, so you can air your concerns. I might actually have some answers.
Quite honestly, though, you are the best group of readers I’ve ever had the privilege to work with. And so I thank you for your ministry, for your proclamation of God’s Word. You are a blessing to our parish. Anyway, I thought it better for us to take a little break from the mechanics of our ministry and focus instead on the spirituality of being a reader…or at least one small piece of that spirituality.
We’ve all heard the mistakes, haven’t we? And perhaps made a few ourselves. Like the young high school student who announced “A reading from the Letter of Paul to the Philippines.” Paul got around,but who knew? Or the reader who while describing the Lord’s covenant with Abraham Genesis 15, proclaimed the presence of a “smoking brassiere” instead of brazier. Fortunately, there’s been a change to the translation, and the lectionary no longer reads brazier, but “fire-pot” instead. One can only assume the bishops got tired of hearing it mispronounced. No longer, then, do you need to worry about proclaiming the first reading on the Second Sunday of Lent. We’ve all stumbled over a word or two, or an Old Testament name, but just be thankful you’re not a deacon called to proclaim the genealogies in Luke and Matthew.
These and other mistakes certainly generate a chuckle or two in the pews, and a few red faces at the ambo, but they also show us that God calls the fallible to serve Him. Yes, God calls us, despite our failings. And He calls us to be in His Presence.
That’s what I’d like to talk about today: the Presence of God in the liturgy, and what this means for us as ministers, especially as ministers of the Word.
I think that, too often, we get so wrapped up in the specifics, the details, the mechanics of our ministries that we sometimes lose sight of what it’s all about. And what it’s all about is pretty simple: as ministers we’re called to serve God and His people. That’s it!
This, then, is our first truth: we are servants.
Each one of us, called to ministry, is a servant – bishop, priest, deacon, altar server, reader, extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, cantor and choir member, usher – we’re all servants
Jesus spent a lot of time trying to convince the Apostles of this same truth. He really wasn’t very successful, and it took the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to fully convince them.
You know, it’s interesting. In the Gospels we encounter two paths, two journeys that thread their way from beginning to end. The first is the obvious one: Our Lord’s journey from His Incarnation, through His public ministry, and ultimately to His passion, death and resurrection.  This is the journey of our Redemption, the journey that reveals God’s deep and enduring love for us.
But there’s another journey that makes its way through the Gospels: the journey taken by the disciples, especially the twelve. It’s a journey sparked by revelation and God’s overwhelming love: a journey of gradual understanding and acceptance; a journey that brought the Church into being; a journey that continues today for all of us. It’s the journey that leads the disciples and us to the recognition of that truth we’ve already encountered: we are servants.
But as baptized, confirmed Catholics, filled with the Spirit, I would hope that we are more accepting of this truth than were the first disciples. And so I’ll assume you all accept that we are servants, called to serve God and His people.
Obviously, it’s important that, despite our limitations and our failings, we accomplish this service, our ministry, as well as possible. For only then can we more fully realize that call to serve God and His people.
I’ve always believed that if our call to liturgical ministry is to bear fruit, we must maintain our focus on God’s Presence in the liturgy…and do so constantly.
Now the Church has always taught that, in the Mass, God is present in multiple ways:
  • First of all, He’s present in us, in His People who have come together in His Name. He’s present in us quite simply because He promised this, and God always fulfills His promises.
“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” [Mt 18:20].
  • God is also present in His Word, the Word proclaimed and preached at the ambo by reader, cantor, deacon and priest. Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of God, is present in the Revealed Word of Sacred Scripture.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” [Jn 1:1].
  • He is present in the person of the priest, the celebrant who acts in persona Christi, in the person of Christ, as he performs the sacred mysteries.
The priest doesn’t say: “…this is Jesus’ Body” or “…this is the chalice of Jesus’ Blood.” No, he says, “…this is my Body” and “…this is the chalice of my Blood.”
But it’s not the priest’s body and blood that we receive, is it? No, it’s that of Jesus.
“…do this on remembrance of me” [Lk 22:19].
  • …which leads us to Christ’s most special and important presence at Mass – His presence par excellence, as the Church calls it.
He is present in the Eucharist. In the consecrated host and the consecrated wine we have the real presence of the Body and Blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes…For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself” [1 Cor 11:26,29].
God’s Presence in the liturgy, then, is another truth, a Scripture-based truth, an awe-inspiring truth, one that I hope motivates us as we strive to carry out every element of our ministry. Did you notice the response to the Psalm at this morning’s Mass? 
“Come with joy into the presence of the Lord” [Ps 100:2]. 
This we are called to do: to enter God’s presence joyfully.

Right now I’d like to take a closer look at how God manifests Himself to us in the liturgy, and how this has special meaning for us as proclaimers of the Word.
Perhaps God’s less appreciated presence in the liturgy is how He comes to us in nature, in the things of this world, in the fruit of the earth and vine. He comes to us in bread and wine, in the simple works of human hands, as food for our bodies. And so with this presence He honors our bodies, our material existence, that which separates us from the angels.
It’s an existence in which God Himself was willing to share when He sent His Son to become one of us. How the Incarnation, that act of divine humility, must have awed the angels; for through that act we are truly formed in God’s image and likeness as no other creature is. In coming to us in nature, then, God reminds us that He is our Creator, the Creator of all that exists.
As Creator He reminds us of His holy name, the name He first shared with Moses – “I am Who am” – the name that describes His very being. “I am existence itself,” He tells us. “All of creation depends on me.” And from this He reminds us too that, like Moses, we are in His presence; we are on holy ground.
Remember this as you make your way from your place among the People of God to the ambo in God’s sanctuary; for in doing so you move from holy ground to holy ground.
Do you ever think of that as you rise from your seat?
God is present among His people when they come together in His name. He comes to each of us in each other. And so, as you walk to the ambo you are not moving to holy ground; you are moving within holy ground.
Where God’s people are present, so too is God. You’re called from the Christian community, from your place among God’s people, from saints and sinners, and yet you remain within that community.
You see, God manifests His holiness, His Otherness, in His people – and in particular, in the least of His people. That’s why in Matthew 25, in the only description of the last judgment in Scripture,we find Jesus telling us to serve His people: to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to visit the sick and imprisoned, to welcome the stranger. And why? Because what we do to the least of His brothers and sisters, we do to Him.
When you stand before God’s people, you're not standing before a crowd, or even a congregation; you’re standing before Jesus Christ. Again, you are a servant who ministers to God and His people, and God makes us and them one with Himself.
Do you think of that as you make your way to the ambo?
As readers, as ministers of the Word, you are called to feed those who hunger for God’s holy Word, who thirst for a taste of His love, of His mercy and forgiveness.
You are called to be a beacon of welcome to the stranger who may have come to Mass for the first time in years…or simply for the first time.
You are called to bring God’s healing Word to those who are spiritually ill, to those imprisoned by their own sinfulness.
Do you think of that as you make your way to the ambo?
And what about your own spiritual life, the state of your own soul? When we are right with God, when you and I have accepted God’s mercy, His forgiveness, we can better proclaim His Word.
As you all know, a poor reader can be a distraction, especially to other readers who are seated there in the pews. Instead of listening to God’s Word, they end up critiquing the proclamation. When someone else is proclaiming God’s Word at Mass, where is your attention? On the reader, or on the Word?
It’s really interesting, but I seem to fall victim to a wonderful paradox as I listen to you proclaim from the ambo. If you proclaim God’s Word well, I simply don’t notice it. That’s true. I don’t notice it because all my attention is drawn not to you but to the Word of God…and that's as  it should be.
But when a normally good reader falters, when he or she proclaims poorly, I get the sense that some internal conflict is the cause, that some relationship has gone wrong.
You and I exist in a web of relationships – links to nature, to people, to God. Do we trace out these links, examine the strong ones and the weak ones? Do we give thanks for the life and love that flow through them?
Some of these links are weak, aren’t they? Bent and twisted, while others are broken. And because of them we experience deep feelings of regret or disappointment, even anger. But do we, can we, accept our weakness and turn to God and allow Him to straighten and repair  these links? Do we pray for the gift of acceptance and forgiveness? Do we ask for forgiveness ourselves?
Perhaps St. James said it best: 
Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone in good spirits? He should sing praise.Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint [him] with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful. [Jas 5:13-16]
You see, everything we do is for the other, not for ourselves. God wants us to see our relationships with others as relationships with Him. How can we be effective ministers if we have allowed our relationships with God and each other to be broken? 

Do you consider that as you witness the Eucharistic miracle take place right in front of you? For it is here that God becomes present to us in a way like no other. It is here that we come together as one, as a community of faith, and go forward to receive Our Lord in a community of faith. And then we return to our place, our place in that community, overcome by the wonder of our God, our Creator, Who has become one with us.
God is with you; He is with me. But more than this, God is within us, truly present within us. Just dwell for a moment on God's life-giving presence…His presence in your body, in your mind, in your heart.
As you kneel before His altar, you are really kneeling to His presence within you. That’s right. You need look no further than your own flesh and blood joined to the Body and Blood of Him Who brought you into being. Look into yourself in wonder and thanksgiving.
We are all in need of God’s presence, of returning to the Lord, as the psalmist says, to “bow down before His holy mountain.” Only when we recognize God’s presence can we truly worship; only in God’s presence are we truly free: free to shed all that distracts us; free to accept our calling as servants of our God; free to join our own brokenness with the wounds of Jesus, the wounds He took on for our sake.
The fathers of the Second Vatican Council called the Eucharist “the source and summit of the Christian life.” They did so because in the Eucharist we are made whole. In God’s Eucharistic presence sins are forgiven, wounds are healed, and lives are transformed.
Brothers and sisters, I’ve only scratched the surface of our spirituality as God’s ministers, but I hope you might find some little piece of it to be helpful as you respond to God’s call to ministry as proclaimers of the Word.
Jesus began His ministry with the words: “Repent and believe in the Gospel” [Mk1:14].
With that in mind, I'll finish with the words of one of my heroes, Blessed Charles de Foucauld: 
"Our entire existence, our whole being must shout the Gospel from the rooftops. Our entire person must breathe Jesus, all our actions. Our whole life must cry out that we belong to Jesus, must reflect a Gospel way of living. Our whole being must be a living proclamation, a reflection of Jesus Christ."