Monthly Archives: July 2014

The Lord’s Prayer

 

“Teach us how to pray,” the disciples asked Jesus. (Luke 11, 1) His answer was the prayer we call the Our Father or The Lord’s Prayer.

Because Jesus taught it, the Lord’s Prayer is the most important of our prayers. We learn it by heart; it appears everywhere in our Christian life, in public and private prayer, in worship and sacraments. It ‘s a treasured  prayer.

Though we memorize it as a set formula, the Lord’s Prayer shouldn’t become words we say mechanically without thought. It’s meant to lead us into the presence of God, who is the Father of Jesus and our Father too.

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.

When Moses approached God on Mount Sinai, a voice said, “Do not come near; put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” An infinite chasm separates us from the transcendent God.

In the Lord’s Prayer, however, Jesus tells us to come close to God who is beyond human understanding, who dwells in mystery, who is all holy. Go to God as your loving father.

To call God “Father” does not mean that God is masculine. No description of God is ever adequate, because God is beyond human categories like gender. We call him our “heavenly Father” because he is beyond male or female.

Calling God “Father” more rightly describes our own relationship to God rather than who God is. Jesus says we are God’s children; we have a filial relationship to God, who sees us as his daughters and sons. We should approach God like children going to a loving parent. Jesus himself, God’s only Son, invites us to a relate to God like this.

Thy Kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.

Jesus often said that God’s power would appear and renew all creation. Using human terms again, he spoke of God as a mighty king who rules over the world according to a plan that unfolds from the world’s beginning. When God’s kingdom comes, good will triumph and evil will be defeated. God’s kingdom will bring peace and justice, it will end sorrow and suffering. No eye can see it now or imagine what it will be like, but it will be a glorious kingdom. Jesus taught it’s not far off, but is already present and growing in our midst and soon to be revealed.

In the Lord’s prayer we pray that God’s kingdom come, that God’s will, which is for our good, be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

As God’s children, what’s more childlike than to ask for daily bread, a term that means more than physical food?  When we ask for our daily bread we ask for everything we need. With the confidence of children, Jesus taught,  say: “Give us today what we need.”

Forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.

This petition of the Lord’s Prayer is a demanding one. Not only do we ask God’s forgiveness for our daily offenses, but we link God’s forgiveness of us with our forgiveness of others. That’s not easy to do. We need God’s help to do it, but we must do it to receive God’s mercy for ourselves, and so we say it everyday.

And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil. Amen.

Life’s not easy, it can be a daily battle. Trials like sickness, old age, failure, or disappointment can crush our spirits. False values and promises can fool and entice us. The times in which we live can seem hopeless. And so we ask God to help us not to fail these tests, but to lead us on the right path and deliver us from evil,  to help us go on as his children.

The Lord’s Prayer sums up the teaching of Jesus. It was his prayer before it was ours. He approached God his Father with childlike confidence, he looked for God’s guidance and relied on him to face whatever life held, even death. “Your will be done,” he said as he faced his own death. He forgave his enemies.

The Lord’s Prayer is the norm for every other prayer we say, whether we use words of our own or forms we find that lift up our hearts to God. An early saint once said: “God wants us to pray in our own voice.”  Like children in a family, we each have our own voice, yet a mother or father recognizes the voice of each one.  In one sense, The Lord’s Prayer is a common language we speak. Whatever prayers we say will be heard if they share its language.

The Lord’s Prayer is the prayer of Jesus and our prayer. It leads us to our Father in heaven; it also leads us become like his only Son, who taught us this prayer while on earth.

 

 

The Gift of Prayer

 

Do you pray? Often or just occasionally? Is prayer important to you?

These are essential questions for our life of faith. Like breath in the human body, prayer makes our spirits live. Without it, they die. Prayer helps us live and grow spiritually.

Why pray?

     Prayer is God’s Gift

Prayer is a gift of God. “Gift” is a good word to describe prayer, because praying is not something we can do ourselves. ” We do not know how to pray as we ought,” scripture says. (Romans 8,26) God gives this gift to us.

Why? Because God loves us and wants to draw near to us as a friend. How strange that sounds! God all-sufficient, all-powerful, all-knowing, wants to draw close to be our friend. God calls us his friends and looks for our company and hears our prayer. What seems unbelievable is true.

At the same time, prayer fulfills a desire we have as human beings to know God. We’re made in God’s image, and something in our being thirsts for the One who made us. It’s a thirst described in the psalms:

“O God, you are my God, for you I long. For you my soul is thirsting. Like a dry weary land without water… so my soul longs for you, my God.”

We can’t be satisfied unless we are draw near to God. “Our hearts are restless,” St. Augustine says, “until they rest in you.” When we pray, we rest in God.

God gives that gift generously, without considering our worthiness or unworthiness. Sinners as well as saints can pray. People of every religious tradition, or no religious tradition at all, receive the gift. It’s given to every human being. We’re all called to pray.

(cf. The Catholic Catechism: The Universal Call to Prayer. 2566-2567)

All are called to pray

“All” are called to pray. Surprisingly, some who think they are unworthy or ungifted may pray best and be graciously heard. That’s what Jesus taught in his parable about the Pharisee and the Publican who together went up to the temple to pray. The Publican, an outsider who thought himself unworthy of approaching God in prayer, was found more pleasing by God than the Pharisee, a professionally religious person, who seemed to pray so effortlessly. (Luke 18,9-14)

Prayer is God’s gift to the strong and the weak, to the smallest child and frailest of the old. It’s given to those who say, ” I’m not really religious; prayer is beyond me.” It’s given to you, no matter who you are.

That’s not to say we can’t refuse to pray or neglect it. Like any gift, prayer has to be received and, as we know, we can throw gifts away. “If you knew the gift of God,” Jesus said to the Samaritan woman at the well. A Gift was there before her eyes. At first she was blind to it, then she enthusiastically received it.

Don’t go through life leaving the gift of prayer unused. Thankfully, it’s always there to be taken up!

In the prayers of the church, you often find an acknowledgment that prayer is God’s gift and a request that God give and strengthen that gift in us. At the beginning of her daily prayers, the liturgy of the hours, the church prays two verses of the psalms.

O Lord, open my lips
and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.

O God, come to my assistance.
O Lord, make haste to help me.

Simple, truthful words. I cannot open my lips in prayer unless God give me the gift. O God, come and assist me; help me approach you.

God graciously gives us this beautiful gift, hastening to help us open our lips and our hearts. Delighting to give us the gift of prayer, God welcomes us into his presence to share his life with ours, his love with our love.

Prayer’s God’s precious gift; cherish it always.

 

The Sign of the Cross

The parable of the mustard seed tells us to watch for small things. Small gestures, small acts of kindness, small prayers. Life comes from small things.

I was thinking of the Sign of the Cross, a small prayer.

We pray as Jesus did. How did he pray? He prayed from the heart, yet Jesus used words and signs– sometimes even cries– to pray. Like him, we also use words and signs in prayer.

One prayer we pray frequently is the Sign of the Cross.

The Sign of the Cross goes back to the earliest days of Christianity. It’s made on us at baptism, when we become members of the church and it’s the last sign made over us as we pass to our future life. The Sign of the Cross is used in liturgical prayer and celebrating the sacraments. We begin and end our prayers with it.

When we “bless ourselves” we trace with our hand the figure of the cross on our forehead, our heart, our shoulders, and say:

In the name of the Father,
and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. 
Amen.

The Sign of the Cross is a prayer of blessing because it symbolizes God embracing us and blessing us. For the Jews God is always One who blesses.  God blessed Noah and saved the world from the flood. God blessed Abraham and Sara with blessings more than the stars in the sky. God blessed the Jewish people, redeeming them from the slavery of Egypt. Life itself and all creation are blessings from God. And God’s blessings, beyond measure, continue, always and everywhere.

Since God blesses us continuously, we bless God in return. “I will bless the Lord at all times,” the psalmist says.

As Christians we bless God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  As Father, God offers us the blessings of creation and also gives us his Son. “Blessed be God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has bestowed on us in Christ every spiritual blessing.” ( Ephesians1,3 )  Jesus Christ is our God, our Friend, our Brother, our Savior. With the Father he sends the Holy Spirit  “to complete his work on earth and bring us the fullness of grace.”

When we bless ourselves, we remember God “from whom all blessings flow,” Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Blessed by the Cross

As Christians we believe the Cross of Jesus Christ is the greatest blessing given to us. Why is it our greatest blessing? Because God expresses his love for us above all in Jesus Christ who died on the Cross for us and rose again.  The Sign of the Cross is a reminder that Jesus’ love never ends. His blessings are ours forever.

We express our daily relationship to God in this simple prayer. We have God’s blessings each day, in good times and bad, in danger and sorrow.  God’s blessings and love are always there. Before we take one step, we receive blessings from his hands.

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Treasure (17th Sunday A)

You can find an audio of the homily here:

There are treasures in life, but you don’t get ahold of them easily. You need to discover them and then give all you have to get  them. That’s what Jesus teaches in the parables we’re reading today.

The treasures are hidden in the ground and in the deep waters of the sea, so you can’t expect to see them right away. You have to dig for them and cast your net out for them.

The times you live in may not make finding treasure easy either. The times in which Jesus lived were hardly ideal, as we see in Chapters 10 and 11 from the Gospel of Matthew, which immediately precede the parables. 

 Yet, instead of closing your eyes and ears and hanging on tight, Jesus tells his disciples to open their eyes and their ears, because treasures are there. “Blessed are your eyes, because they see and your ears because they hear. Many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it and hear what you hear and did not hear it.”  (Matthew 13,16-17)

Bad times can be the best times to find treasure. Some of the best things we discover in life, some of the best things we have, some of our most creative moments come in bad times.

God doesn’t stop sowing seed in bad times. Even then, treasures, pearls of great price are there to be discovered. That’s the message found in the parables.. It’s the message found in the mystery of his Cross..

Weeds and Wheat (16th Sunday)

Here’s the audio for my homily:

In his parables Jesus often presents God as a human being doing things human beings do. He’s a sower sowing seed, an owner of a vineyard with people working for him, a father dealing with a wayward son, a shepherd caring for his sheep, a king whose son has been killed.

The stories bring God into everyday life, where he interacts with people and shares their cares and concerns. Like Jesus, his Son, God enters into the joys and problems of human life in this world.

In the parable we read today, God is a farmer who has sown seed in his field, but afterwards an enemy comes and sows bad seed among the good. Weeds grow up with the wheat. God, as the farmer, faces one of the great problems we all face–the problem of evil.

Why would anyone want to destroy a good field someone else has planted: revenge, jealousy, envy, or just reckless disregard for what’s good? A further question is: what do you do about this?

The farmer’s servants react with fear when they discover weeds growing up with the wheat.. “Do you want us to go out and pull the weeds up? “ The farmer tells them to let the wheat and the weeds grow till the harvest. Then they can be separated; the wheat gathered in barns and the weeds burned and destroyed.  

A lesson to draw from this parable is “Don’t be afraid of evil.” It’s an important lesson. Certainly we have to recognize evil and fear it, but not get overly frightened by it. God doesn’t according to our parable. Like the farmer who has confidence in his wheat, God has confidence in the good he has put into this world.

His patience allows evil, because he is confident in the power of what’s good. God is not afraid of an imperfect world, and neither should we be afraid of it.  God has confidence in the power of the good, and so should we believe in the good that’s there in life.

In parables like the one we read today, God works in our imperfect world. He’s a farmer who has to deal with a enemy;  He’s a father who doesn’t have perfect children, a shepherd who has to manage wandering sheep, a king whose subjects are bad enough to kill his only Son. 

Jesus is the fulfillment of the parables. He is God present in our world, to care for it, to give it life, to bring it to harvest. He is God’s Wheat, whom we receive to strengthen the wheat God has sown. He is stronger than any evil.  

Visiting Elizabeth Seton’s New York

Twelve of us from St. Mary’s Parish, Colts Neck, NJ, visited Elizabeth Seton’s New York yesterday. We took the 10 AM boat from Atlantic Highlands for pier 11 in downtown New York City and walked to St. Elizabeth Seton’s shrine and home on State Street nearby.

One of New York City’s distinguished citizens, she was born in 1774, a couple years before the American Revolution.  She’s also the first American saint to be honored by the Catholic Church.

Our first stop was a colonial house and a shrine near the ferry terminal at the end of Manhattan Island where Elizabeth Seton and her family lived for a short time. Most of her New York years were lived in this old section of the city.

Approaching Manhattan through New York harbor let’s you see the city as the earliest European explorers saw it. The island is the gem at the harbor’s center; on its left the Hudson River flows to the north, on its right the East River flows out to the coast.

In 1524 Giovanni Verranzano came upon New York harbor–he thought it was a lake– searching for a passage to the Pacific. The Verranzano Bridge stands at the entrance to the harbor today.

In 1609 Henry Hudson, exploring for the Dutch, sailed into the harbor and then up as far as Albany on the river that now bears his name.  The Dutch realized how valuable this place was and made a small settlement on the island. They called their trading post New Amsterdam and traded with the many Indian tribes here and along the Hudson River. Before any Europeans came, numerous Indian tribes fished, hunted and traded here.

The English had their eyes on the place too and in 1642 took it over. New Amsterdam became New York, and it was under English control till the American Revolution in 1776.

Millions of immigrants have come through New York harbor since then. This was their gateway to the new world.  Through the harbor, this country also traded the new world’s resources with the rest of the world.

We began our tour of Elizabeth Seton’s New York here because she and her family were closely connected to the harbor. Her husband, William Seton, invested in the ships that made New York one of the richest ports in the world.  But ships were a risky investment; they brought handsome profits but they could also bring bankruptcy if they didn’t come in. The Setons experienced both.

William Seton was one of Wall Street’s first venture capitalists. In 1801 the Seton’s went bankrupt after the loss of a ship at sea and the family moved to the rented house on State Street, our first stop on our tour.

Elizabeth Seton’s father, Doctor Richard Bayley, was the first Health Officer for the port of New York; (1796) he dealt with many of the first immigrants and travellers passing through here.

His job was to keep New York City safe from disease, and one of his tasks was to keep travellers who were dangerous health threats isolated. So, quarantine stations were set up for immigrants with yellow fever, cholera and small pox.

On our way through the harbor we saw some of the harbor’s early quarantine stations at Bedloe’s Island (1758-1796), Governor’s Island (1796-1799), Thomkinsville in Staten Island (1799-1858), just south of the St. George ferry station.

In the summer of 1801, Elizabeth was staying with her father at the Thomkinsville quarantine station when a boatload of sick Irish immigrants were brought in. She describes the dreadful conditions in a letter:

“I cannot sleep–the dying and the dead possess my mind. Babies perishing at the empty breast of the expiring mother…Father says such was never known before: twelve children  must die for want of sustenance…parents deprived of it as they have lain for many days ill in a ship without food or air or changing…There are tents pitched over the yard of the convalescent house and a large one at the death house.” (Letter July 28, 1801)

That same year, Richard Bayley died from yellow fever contacted while caring for a boatload of Irish immigrants off Thomkinsville. He’s buried in the family plot next to the Episcopal Church of St. Andrew in Richmond, Staten Island.

From Mother Seton’s shrine and house on State Street we walked to Trinity Church and then St. Paul’s Chapel, the Anglican parish she belonged to until her conversion to Catholicism in 1805. She lived her early years as a happily married woman with five children on Wall Street and Stone Street, close by these colonial churches.

As a devout Anglican, Elizabeth devoted herself to her family and to the poor. In 1797 she and other public-spirited church women began an aid society for destitute women and their children. “The poor increase fast: immigrants from all quarters come to us. And when they come to us they must not be allowed to die.” (Description of the Society for the Relief of Poor Widows and Small Children.)

Looking eastward down Wall Street from Trinity Church on Broadway , you can see many of the founding institutions of America: the docks and slave market (no longer visible) on the East River  the New York Stock Exchange and the Federal building, a short walk from Broadway, and finally Trinity Church and King’s College on the western side of Manhattan. King’s College built on lands belonging to Trinity Church became Columbia University after the Revolutionary War, and later relocated in northern Manhattan.

Our final stop on our visit to Elizabeth Seton’s New York was St. Peter’s Catholic Church on Barclay Street, near to World Trade Center. Here she was received into the Catholic Church.

In June 1808, she left New York City with her family for Baltimore, where she founded a school on Paca Street, the beginning of the Catholic parochial schools system in the United States. Shortly after, Mother Seton moved to Emmitsburg, Maryland, where other women gathered around her and took vows as the Sisters of Charity. Her religious followers continued her work through schools, orphanages and hospitals found throughout the United States.

Mother Seton died at the age of 46 in 1821. She was canonized on September 14,1975

Yesterday, from St. Peter’s Church we walked to Broadway and then down Wall Street to catch the 3 PM ferry for the Atlantic Highlands.

The Seed and the Sower (15th Sunday A)

In today’s gospel from Matthew 13, 1-23, Jesus offers a parable that interprets the mounting opposition he faces from many sides early in his ministry.  For one thing, people in Chorazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum–cites and towns along the Sea of Galilee that received him warmly for his miracles and his teaching– begin to turn away from him. (Matthew 11,16-24)) The Pharisees and scribes, the Jewish religious leaders, accuse him of breaking Jewish laws and being possessed by the devil. (Matthew 12,22-34) Some of his own family from Nazareth come to take him home because they think he’d out of his mind. (Matthew 12, 46-50) Finally, his own disciples don’t seem to understand him.

What explains the desertion, opposition, lack of understanding towards him and his  ministry that began with great acclaim?

The parable of the seed and the sower is Jesus‘ answer to what he faced, but also what the Word of God faces continually from humanity.  God’s Word is received by the human heart like seed received in the ground.

The seed is life-giving,  but if it falls on rocky ground it’s eaten right away by the birds of the air. If it falls on thin soil it fails after awhile because it has no roots; if it falls among thorns and weeds they choke it. But if it falls on good ground the seed produces fruit beyond anything you expect.

The parable first applies to the world Jesus faced, but it’s also a picture of how  humanity in every age receives the Word of God.  Our hearts can be hard, fickle, vain, proud, unheeding, but we can also accomplish great deeds. The seed’s not at fault, it’s the ground it falls on.

Still, the sower never stops sowing seed. life-giving seed. That’s also important to remember. God never withholds his grace.

In a poem called “Putting in the Seed”  Robert Frost describes a farmer’s love affair with the earth. It’s spring and getting dark, yet the farmer keeps working his field. Someone from the house goes to fetch him home. Supper’s on the table, yet he’s a

  “ Slave to a springtime passion for the earth.

   How Love burns through the Putting in the Seed

   On through the watching for that early birth

   When, just as the soil tarnishes with weed,

 The sturdy seedling with arched body comes

 Shouldering its way and shedding the earth crumbs.”

Is Frost’s farmer zestfully casting seed on the waiting earth an image of God, the Sower, casting saving grace onto the world, in season and out, because he loves it so ?

Jesus’ parable of the seed and the sower seems to suggest it. The land surrounding the Sea of Galilee where Jesus ministered is still a fruitful land where crops grow in abundance, as they did in his time. It’s a blessed place. In a place like that, the sower scatters his seed confidently, not afraid where it goes: on rocky ground, or amid thorns, or on the soil that gives a good return. Because of his love and trust of the land,  the sower keeps sowing.

Can we say that God the Sower sows blessed seed, no matter how badly our human world appears, or how badly it receives? Like the seasons that bring snow and rain, grace is never withheld.  God, who loves it so, blesses the earth and all of us.

The sower still sows; the snow and rain still fall. That brings us hope.