Monthly Archives: September 2015

Our Common Home

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The pope went home to Rome yesterday evening. But I think he stretched the meaning of that word “home,” on his visit with us here in the United States. He spoke of “our common home.”

His final homily in Philadelphia at the World Meeting of Families was based the “word of God which surprises us with powerful and thought-provoking images. Images which challenge us, but also stir our enthusiasm.

“In the first reading, Joshua tells Moses that two members of the people are prophesying, speaking God’s word, without a mandate. In the Gospel, John tells Jesus that the disciples had stopped someone from casting out evil spirits in the name of Jesus. Here is the surprise: Moses and Jesus both rebuke those closest to them for being so narrow! Would that all could be prophets of God’s word! Would that everyone could work miracles in the Lord’s name!

“Jesus encountered hostility from people who did not accept what he said and did. For them, his openness to the honest and sincere faith of many men and women who were not part of God’s chosen people seemed intolerable. The disciples, for their part, acted in good faith. But the temptation to be scandalized by the freedom of God, who sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous alike (Mt 5:45), bypassing bureaucracy, officialdom and inner circles, threatens the authenticity of faith. Hence it must be vigorously rejected.

“Once we realize this, we can understand why Jesus’ words about causing “scandal” are so harsh. For Jesus, the truly “intolerable” scandal consists in everything that breaks down and destroys our trust in the working of the Spirit!

“Our Father will not be outdone in generosity and he continues to scatter seeds. He scatters the seeds of his presence in our world, for “love consists in this, not that we have loved God but that he loved us” first (1 Jn 4:10). That love gives us a profound certainty: we are sought by God; he waits for us. It is this confidence which makes disciples encourage, support and nurture the good things happening all around them. God wants all his children to take part in the feast of the Gospel. Jesus says, “Do not hold back anything that is good, instead help it to grow!” To raise doubts about the working of the Spirit, to give the impression that it cannot take place in those who are not “part of our group”, who are not “like us”, is a dangerous temptation. Not only does it block conversion to the faith; it is a perversion of faith! “

We live in a bigger world than the home we live in, the church we live in, the country we live in. Thank you, Pope Francis.

Looking Ahead

Looking ahead realistically is always hard, but maybe it’s harder today, especially for a religious congregation like mine, whose membership is old and whose financial resources are stretched.

We mirror the church in this country, in fact, which is losing members and running short on finances. So, we have to plan for diminishment’

But God’s plan is not to fade away, but to grow; to live and not to die. The wonderful first reading from Zechariah for today’s Mass talks about growth, not decline. Keep a “measuring line” in your hand for what is new, it says. Don’t be afraid to think big.

Here’s the reading from Zechariah in full:

“I, Zechariah, raised my eyes and looked: 
there was a man with a measuring line in his hand.
I asked, “Where are you going?”
He answered, “To measure Jerusalem,
 to see how great is its width and how great its length.”

Then the angel who spoke with me advanced,
and another angel came out to meet him and said to him,
“Run, tell this to that young man:
People will live in Jerusalem as though in open country,
because of the multitude of men and beasts in her midst.
But I will be for her an encircling wall of fire, says the LORD,
and I will be the glory in her midst.”

Sing and rejoice, O daughter Zion!
See, I am coming to dwell among you, says the LORD.
Many nations shall join themselves to the LORD on that day,
and they shall be his people and he will dwell among you.”

We need God’s “measuring line” when we look ahead.

26th Sunday: A Pope Visits Us

Audio homily here:

I’m always surprised at the way our current Mass readings throw light on what’s happening now. Pope Francis is ending his visit to our country. He’s hard to miss, a genuine celebrity, tying up traffic in three major cities and drawing immense crowds and media coverage. If he were running in our presidential elections, he might get elected.

He’s a leader, no doubt. But look at the way leadership is described in today’s readings: a kind of leadership Francis exemplifies. Our reading from the Book of Numbers (Nm 11,25-29) says the Lord blesses Moses with power, but also takes “ some of the spirit that was on Moses and bestows it on the seventy elders.” Then, when two others, not of the seventy, seem to have that same spirit, some tell Moses to stop them. They don’t belong to our group.

But Moses wont stop them. Are you jealous? he asks. “Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets! Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!”

The gospel from Mark (Mk 9, 38-48) offers a similar situation. Some are exercising a power like Jesus and his followers try to stop them. Let them be, Jesus says, “Whoever is not against us is for us.” Whoever is working for the same good cause is working with us.

The lesson, of course, is that a real leader doesn’t want power for himself or herself. Power is meant to serve all. “Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets! Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!” Moses says. In his strong address to our Congress the other day, Francis called them to be real leaders and work for the common good. Work together, not in a spirit of partisanship, or for your own gain, but for the good of all and for the good of the world, he said. Don’t be afraid to face the big challenges before us.

Of course, we might stop there and say we need better leaders, better politicians; let’s pray for a good president and a good congress that can work together for the good of us all.

But our readings seem to suggest that power is not just in great leaders like Moses and Jesus. We all have power which we’re called to use for the common good. The same partisanship and selfishness, the same lack of vision we complain about in our leaders can also be present in us.

The pope addressed our bishops before he met with congress and he told them too to be good shepherds of the gifts of God. “It’s wrong,” he said to look the other way or to remain silent.” They need to face the many challenges before them.

That challenge is addressed to us too.

Addressing congress, the pope pointed to four Americans who worked for the common good: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. Only one of those was a politician, an elected leader. The rest were people who served society using their unique gifts.

So it was not just politicians in Congress or bishops or representatives of the nations at the UN the pope challenged these last few days. He was challenging all of us to face the world today, to confront the issues before us, to work together, to follow the Golden Rule. “Do onto others what you would have them do to you.” That’s what God wants us all to do.

Pope Francis and the US Bishops

In an extensive speech today to the bishops of the United States at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, Pope Francis asked them as good shepherds to face the challenging issues confronting us today.

“I encourage you, then, to confront the challenging issues of our time. Ever present within each of them is life as gift and responsibility. The future freedom and dignity of our societies depends on how we face these challenges.

The innocent victim of abortion, children who die of hunger or from bombings, immigrants who drown in the search for a better tomorrow, the elderly or the sick who are considered a burden, the victims of terrorism, wars, violence and drug trafficking, the environment devastated by man’s predatory relationship with nature – at stake in all of this is the gift of God, of which we are noble stewards but not masters. It is wrong, then, to look the other way or to remain silent. No less important is the Gospel of the Family, which in the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia I will emphatically proclaim together with you and the entire Church.”

We will probably hear these issues brought up in his talks to Congress, the United Nations, and the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.

Pope Francis and the “Mission Houses” of Cuba

Does Pope Francis’ homily on St. Matthew which he gave in Cuba on his recent visit (cf. previous blog) offer an insight to a pastoral approach that our north American church might learn from?

“I know the efforts and the sacrifices being made by the Church in Cuba to bring Christ’s word and presence to all, even in the most remote areas. Here I would mention especially the “mission houses” which, given the shortage of churches and priests, provide for many people a place for prayer, for listening to the word of God, for catechesis and community life. They are small signs of God’s presence in our neighborhoods and a daily aid in our effort to respond to the plea of the apostle Paul: ‘I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’” (cf. Eph 4:1-3).

What are “mission houses” where “many people find a place of prayer, for listening to the word of God, for catechesis and community life?” Obviously, they’re not established parishes or churches. We usually measure the vitality of the church by the number of people who go to parish churches for Mass and the sacraments. But Francis is describing a missionary approach that’s been taken by the church in South America, where people have been encouraged to meet in homes for prayer, reflection on the scriptures, catechesis and community life. The approach is described in this article from Crux.

Pope Benedict in his pontificate encouraged established parishes and centers to create a “Court of the Gentiles” where Christians could dialogue with people outside the traditional church structures, including non-believers. But Francis’ approach goes further than that.
It seems to me, our North American approach to evangelizaton is centered almost exclusively on making the parish the means to evangelize. The pope’s approach seems broader than that, and it’s worth asking whether we should try it.

The Pope in Cuba

If you want to know what Pope Francis is doing in Cuba, read this homily he gave there yesterday:

We are celebrating the feast of the apostle and evangelist Saint Matthew. We are celebrating the story of a conversion. Matthew himself, in his Gospel, tell us what it was like, this encounter which changed his life. He shows us an “exchange of glances” capable of changing history.

On a day like any other, as Matthew, the tax collector, was seated at his table, Jesus passed by, saw him, came up to him and said: “Follow me”. Matthew got up and followed him.

Jesus looked at him. How strong was the love in that look of Jesus, which moved Matthew to do what he did! What power must have been in his eyes to make Matthew get up from his table! We know that Matthew was a publican: he collected taxes from the Jews to give to the Romans. Publicans were looked down upon and considered sinners; as such, they lived apart and were despised by others. One could hardly eat, speak or pray with the likes of these. For the people, they were traitors: they extorted from their own to give to others. Publicans belonged to this social class.

Jesus, on the other hand, stopped; he did not quickly take his distance. He looked at Matthew calmly, peacefully. He looked at him with eyes of mercy; he looked at him as no one had ever looked at him before. And this look unlocked Matthew’s heart; it set him free, it healed him, it gave him hope, a new life, as it did to Zacchaeus, to Bartimaeus, to Mary Magdalen, to Peter, and to each of us. Even if we do not dare raise our eyes to the Lord, he looks at us first. This is our story, and it is like that of so many others. Each of us can say: “I, too, am a sinner, whom Jesus has looked upon”. I ask you, in your homes or in the Church, to be still for a moment and to recall with gratitude and happiness those situations, that moment, when the merciful gaze of God was felt in our lives.

Jesus’ love goes before us, his look anticipates our needs. He can see beyond appearances, beyond sin, beyond failures and unworthiness. He sees beyond our rank in society. He sees beyond this, to our dignity as sons and daughters, a dignity at times sullied by sin, but one which endures in the depth of our soul. He came precisely to seek out all those who feel unworthy of God, unworthy of others. Let us allow Jesus to look at us. Let us allow his gaze to run over our streets. Let us allow that look to become our joy, our hope.

After the Lord looked upon him with mercy, he said to Matthew: “Follow me.” Matthew got up and followed him. After the look, a word. After love, the mission. Matthew is no longer the same; he is changed inside. The encounter with Jesus and his loving mercy has transformed him. He leaves behind his table, his money, his exclusion. Before, he had sat waiting to collect his taxes, to take from others; now, with Jesus he must get up and give, give himself to others. Jesus looks at him and Matthew encounters the joy of service. For Matthew and for all who have felt the gaze of Jesus, other people are no longer to be “lived off”, used and abused. The gaze of Jesus gives rise to missionary activity, service, self-giving. Jesus’ love heals our short-sightedness and pushes us to look beyond, not to be satisfied with appearances or with what is politically correct.

Jesus goes before us, he precedes us; he opens the way and invites us to follow him. He invites us slowly to overcome our preconceptions and our reluctance to think that others, much less ourselves, can change. He challenges us daily with the question: “Do you believe? Do you believe it is possible that a tax collector can become a servant? Do you believe it is possible that a traitor can become a friend? Do you believe is possible that the son of a carpenter can be the Son of God?” His gaze transforms our way of seeing things, his heart transforms our hearts. God is a Father who seeks the salvation of each of his sons and daughters.

Let us gaze upon the Lord in prayer, in the Eucharist, in Confession, in our brothers and sisters, especially those who feel excluded or abandoned. May we learn to see them as Jesus sees us. Let us share his tenderness and mercy with the sick, prisoners, the elderly and families in difficulty. Again and again we are called to learn from Jesus, who always sees what is most authentic in every person, which is the image of his Father.

I know the efforts and the sacrifices being made by the Church in Cuba to bring Christ’s word and presence to all, even in the most remote areas. Here I would mention especially the “mission houses” which, given the shortage of churches and priests, provide for many people a place for prayer, for listening to the word of God, for catechesis and community life. They are small signs of God’s presence in our neighborhoods and a daily aid in our effort to respond to the plea of the apostle Paul: “I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (cf. Eph 4:1-3).

I now turn my eyes to the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, whom Cuba embraced and to whom it opened its doors forever. I ask Our Lady to look with maternal love on all her children in this noble country. May her “eyes of mercy” ever keep watch over each of you, your homes, your families, and all those who feel that they have no place. In her love, may she protect us all as she once cared for Jesus.

25th Sunday B: We’re Life Long Learners

 
audio here:

We call this Sunday “Catechetical Sunday,” because most parishes are beginning programs of religious education this month. We’re asking God’s blessing on young people and teachers and all who are involved in these programs. Passing on our faith to the next generation is important.

Remember, though, children and young people aren’t the only ones who grow in faith. We all do and it’s a life long task. I can still recite answers to questions from the catechism years ago. “Who is God?” “Why did God make you?” But is that enough? Jesus told his disciples long ago, “You’re learners,” and he tells us that today. We’re life long learners.

Unfortunately, many of us forget that we grow in faith. The Catholic writer Frank Sheed once said the problem with adult Catholics is that they don’t keep engaged in the faith they learned as children. He used the example of our eyes. We have two eyes. Let’s say one of them is the eye of faith; the other is the eye of experience.

As children we may see the world with two eyes; but as adults we may see the world only with the eye of experience, losing the focus that faith gives. Then our world and our understanding of our world becomes imbalanced. Faith helps us to see rightly.

This Sunday let’s commit ourselves to growing in our faith, to knowing what it means, to questioning what it would have us do. We might begin by committing ourselves to take part in the school of our liturgy, to listening to the prayers we say, to hearing the readings that are read, to watching the things that are done. It doesn’t mean we have to take courses or read books– although courses and books can be good things. It means, above all, to be people who learn prayerfully with eyes of faith.

We have to keep asking those simple catechism questions and the questions we hear in the bible. Who is God? “Who is my neighbor?” We can’t reduce loving our neighbor to a few things like lying, or cheating or killing one another. I was looking recently at the US Bishops’ site on the internet–a wonderful resource site about our faith, by the way– and noticed the many “neighbor” questions there. Questions like income inequality, immigration, housing, restorative justice. They’re social questions, “neighbor” questions. They deal with how we live our faith in the complex world of today.

Living our faith today is a challenging, life-long task. We need to stay in school.

Heads of States at the United Nations

On the Van Wyck Expressway from Kennedy Airport warnings are flashing that leaders from all over the world are coming to the United Nations. The Letter to Timothy we’re reading this week tells us to pray for them:

“First of all, I ask that supplications, prayers,
petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone,
for kings and for all in authority,
that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life
in all devotion and dignity.”

The reading from the Book of Esra (Esra 1,1-6) reminds us how important authorities are in fulfilling God’s plan. Cyrus, the King of Persia (Modern Iran), moved by God, issues a decree letting the Jews return to Jerusalem after about 70 years so they can rebuild their city and its temple. It’s not about a human homecoming; their return furthered on the plan of God.

Our reading makes the point that God moves the heart of King Cyrus. God is not only the creator of the world but its real ruler. He’s king, the one with power to change directions as he wills, and he can even change powerful kings like Cyrus.

Reading the Old Testament helps us remember that God acts in the real world of human affairs and creation itself. God’s action is mysterious, beyond our thoughts and ways. God’s kingdom will come, but not according to the calculations of pundits or prognosticators, or “the wise and clever.” We may believe mistakingly that it’s all politics and human motives and natural causes, but “God is king,” the Old Testament proclaims.

To know God’s activity we have to look into “the signs of the times.” Cyrus told the Jews they could return to their homeland and rebuild, but they had to take him up on his offer. Some did, who saw it as a sign from God – “everyone, that is, whom God had inspired to do so.” Some didn’t, for a number of reason: they liked where they were, they feared being deceived, they lost faith. But faithful Jews took the journey back.

The Vatican II document on the Church in the Modern World offers a powerful invitation to respond hopefully and generously today to “the signs of the times.” Our times are not without them. A new Eucharistic prayer prays for the grace to accept that invitation:

“Grant that all the faithful of the church, looking into the signs of the times by the light of the faith, may constantly devote themselves to the service of the gospel.”

“Keep us attentive to the needs of all that, sharing their grief and pain, their joy and hope, we may faithfully bring them the good news of salvation and go forward with them along the way of your kingdom.”

Let’s pray for  peace in Syria,  Certainly “signs of the times” are out there. May we be inspired by God to look for them.

24th Sunday B: Taking Up Our Cross

To listen to this week’s homily, select the audio file below:


It’s good to pay attention to the places Jesus goes to in Mark’s Gospel, because places throw light on what Jesus says and does. In today’s reading from Mark’s Gospel, (Mark 8, 27-38) Jesus and his disciples leave the region around the Sea of Galilee– where most of his ministry took place – and travel to the villages of Caesarea Philippi about 25 miles to the north. They’re on their way to Jerusalem.

Caesarea Philippi and its surroundings were at the foot of Mount Hermon where the water sources for the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee were located. Water was a key resource in Palestine then as now. Controlling the water meant controlling everything. At that time the Romans were in control. Names tell us that: Caesarea-Caesar, the Roman Emperor. Philippi-Philip, son of Herod the Great, who was Caesar’s ally in that part of Palestine.

This was Roman territory; rich shrines to Roman and Greek gods were everywhere reminding everybody.

As he does often in Mark’s gospel, Jesus uses what’s at hand to teach. Here in this place of Roman power he asks, “Who do people say that I am?”

John the Baptist, who stood up to King Herod: Elijah, the fearless prophet who stood up to King Ahab and his notorius wife, Jezebel, the disciples say
.
Peter, speaking for them all says: ““You are the Christ.” You are more powerful than the prophets, more powerful than those honored here at Caesarea Philippi. You are the Messiah come to lead Israel to its high place above the nations.

But then Jesus tells Peter he is a Messiah who will suffer, who will be rejected by the leaders of his own people, who will suffer death and rise again. He’s a Messiah who seems, not powerful, but powerless.

Peter doesn’t like that. “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “ Turning around, and looking at his disciples, Jesus rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan, you are someone who thinks like human beings and not like God.

Thinking like human beings, not like God. What does that mean? Jesus goes on to say says it’s thinking we’re powerful and we’re not, aiming for power that we can never hold on to. It means denying the cross in one’s life. It’s not only Peter Jesus accuses of thinking like human beings and not like God, it’s his disciples and all of us.
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me,” Jesus says.

The cross, so difficult to understand and accept! Each of us has to take up our cross, if we wish to follow Jesus. Each of us has a cross to take up. We may not like it, but it’s the cross that’s personally mine. It could be sickness, disappointment, rejection, maybe it’s simply day after day getting nowhere. It could be the cross that comes from the times and circumstances we live in. We may not like that either. We would like to go back to another time, or go forward to a better time. But the cross is where we are.

When we take up our cross and follow Jesus, it becomes his cross too. He promises that. He helps us carry it. He bears the burden of it. With him at our side, we don’t die; he raises us up.

The journey that Jesus took with his disciples to Caesarea Philippi in Mark’s Gospel was a journey to prepare them for what awaited them further, in Jerusalem. Peter and the others didn’t understand him; neither do we. The journey we make with Jesus ends, not with a hold on human power, but holding on to the power of God, which is given to us through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

The World Trade Center

world trade

Today is the 14th anniversary of the terrorist attach on the World Trade Center in New York City, September 11, 2001. Like many others I remember where I was then. I watched the towers fall from a rooftop in Union City, New Jersey, just across the river. Many from that area died that day and as the days went on their bodies were recovered and they were buried in nearby churches. A frightful time.

About a year later, I went to an exhibit about the attack called “Recovery,” at the New York Historical Society. The exhibition rooms were filled with debris from the tragedy: parts of smashed police cars and fire engines–I remember a little child’s doll, parts of one of the planes that crashed into the buildings. A black and white film of the disaster played silently in one section of the exhibit. Grim reminders of that awful day.

It was the exhibit’s opening day and media people were there. One of them came up to me with a notebook in hand. “What do you think of this?” he said. I had my clerical collar on so he knew who I was.

I told him I really couldn’t put into words what I thought. It was an overwhelming picture of evil.

He wrote what I had to say in his notebook and then put it in his pocket and said, “You know I don’t believe in evil.” That began a conversation that lasted for a hour or so.

I asked him first of all why he didn’t believe in evil, so evident here.

“Yes, this is bad,” he said, “ but we can change the way people behave. We can rinse out the evil in them by giving them a better world.” How? “Science and technology can change the world,” he said, “we can give people what they want and give them all they need.”  Later I found out that he was a writer specializing in science and technology

“Do you believe in God?” “No, I don’t,” he said. “In fact, it would be better to get rid of God altogether. And that goes for religion too. Get rid of it. The fanaticism of religion was responsible for this.”

At the end of our conversation, it seemed to me his hope about creating a better world through science and technology seemed naïve and unreal. Even if everyone in the world were given a new iPhone, his kind of thinking doesn’t seem to be the answer. Evil is hard to rinse out of our world.

In a post-modern world, optimism about science and the rationalism that came with the Enlightenment seems on the decline and nothing is taking its place. Post modernism is against everything from the past, including religion and religious truth.

Today, in the New York Times, there was a story about St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, destroyed in the World Trade disaster and now being rebuilt in the World Trade complex. An icon of Christ within the church will be visible even in the dark. A good sign.