Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Sunday Homily - The Annunciation

Today’s Gospel reading describes the moment when the Angel Gabriel announces to the young virgin Mary that she has been chosen to be the mother of God.

Artists have painted this scene from Luke’s Gospel hundreds of times. We’ve all seen these images of what we call the Annunciation on the covers of Christmas cards. These images usually depict Mary and the Angel dressed in beautiful clothes.  Gabriel’s wings are flared and magnificent – Mary is dressed in a beautiful blue robe and looks lovely. Images like this have always felt a bit unreal, too pretty, too perfect.

My favorite image of this moment hangs in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  It is a painting by an American artist named Henry Tanner. In Tanner’s painting, Gabriel does not appear as an angel with wings but as a beam of light that filled Mary’s bedroom with its glow.  Mary in his painting is sitting on a bed a bit disheveled like she just woke up. The bright light of the angel is right in front of her. Tanner’s painting is like a candid snap-shot of this moment. He captures Mary’s humanity her normalness. He allows the viewer to relate to her as an average person, like us in every way. The scene appears to be right after the angel has said these words and Mary looks thoughtful and reflective, even a bit scared and bewildered. She has a look on her face that says, "How can this be?" What is so engaging about Tanner’s painting is that he allows us to think for a moment about what that real-life situation was for this humble young woman.

This story is about God suddenly breaking into the life of a peasant girl and God making an incredible request of her. It’s easy to imagine that Mary’s heart was pounding as this unexpected heavenly visitor suddenly appears in her room and tells her that God wants her to be a pregnant unwed mother.

Have you ever thought of what might have gone through Mary’s mind at that moment?  We just assume she eagerly said, “may it be done to me.” But perhaps at that moment, Mary thought of all the consequences of her decision, before she responded.

  • Did she think about what it was going to be like to tell her family that she was pregnant before being married? 
  • Did she wonder if they would believe her when she told them that she hadn't been intimate with a man? That would be pretty hard for any parent to believe.         
  • Did Mary wonder how her fiancé Joseph would react? We know from Matthew’s Gospel, that at first, Joseph didn’t believe her; that he was going to divorce her quietly.
  • Did she think about the wagging tongues spreading rumors about her and Jesus in the future? Would they talk about the impropriety of Mary’s pregnancy? 
  • And did it pop into her mind, even for a second, that the penalty according to the Mosaic Law for being unmarried and pregnant was death by stoning?

In truth, we don’t know what that moment was like for Mary. But in many ways thinking that she did consider the consequences of her decision gives her “YES” even more impact. Here this teenage girl listened to this incomprehensible request and bravely said “YES” even if it cost her her life. And this simple girl’s “Yes” changed the world forever. In that moment Mary is a model for us. All of us like Mary face moments when life takes a turn; we never expected when God’s plan for us seems a total surprise. In her amazing bravery, Mary inspires us to have faith in God’s plan.

It’s important for us to appreciate the courage of Mary in that moment. Denise Levertov wrote a poem about this moment called “Annunciation.” And the words of the poet are words that can inspire us to say “Yes” when we are called to handle something challenging when we are called to be brave in our faith. Her poem goes like this:

She did not cry, “I cannot, I am unworthy,” 
Nor, “I have not the strength.”
She did not submit
with gritted teeth, raging, coerced.
Bravest of all humans,
consent illumined her.
Consent,
courage unparalleled,
opened her utterly.

Mary consented to God’s request to a wholly unexpected and radical change in her life. She agreed because she knew God. She said “YES” because she was a good Jew and a prayerful person she knew her God was a merciful God a God who would look after her.

Mary is a great role model for each of us. Mary said yes to God and welcomed Jesus in a special way into her life and allowed God – allowed Jesus – to come into the world. And like her God asks us to welcome Him into our life.

God is asking each of us, in our own way, to accept Jesus into our lives and to bring Jesus into - our – world; to bring the saving power of Jesus to those in our world.

And God waits for our answer. Will we say – “YES” – this Year?




Sunday, December 17, 2017

Finding out Santa isn't real can be tough.

Santa Claus is a wonderful myth we all grew up loving.  The Dutch who founded New York City brought with them their love of Holand’s patron Saint - St. Nicholas. The Dutch were the first to depict him with a full white beard, who wore a magic cloak and dispensed gifts to children. Children placed their shoes and hay (to feed the horse) near the fireplace. Santa Claus would replace the hay with nuts and candy in the children’s shoes. Santa, as we know him, is very much a product of American creativity.

The image and stories we grew up loving have only been around since the 19th century. Any number of people are responsible for “inventing” the Santa Claus we know today. Clement C. Moore wrote the poem – A Visit from St. Nicholas in 1822. Political cartoonist Thomas Nast drew the first depiction of Santa Claus as we envision him in Harper’s Weekly in 1866 (shown on the left). You could even credit the marketers of Coca-Cola who popularized the image we hold so dear. But it seems most of the credit for the Santa myth we grew up with goes to author Washington Irving who wrote such classics as "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." Washington Irving published "Knickerbocker's History of New York" in 1823. In this parody of colonial America, Irving took much glee in satirizing the early Dutch settlers of New York and their traditions, including their patron saint, Nicholas, whom they referred to as Sancte Claus. But in doing so, he also created our wonderful Christmas tradition.

Another Christmas event many of us have experienced is the sadness of a child when they discover that Santa is just a story – a myth. Many of us remember the discomfort when our children found out it was all a bit of a lie. The reason for this post is to suggest what to do when this occurs.  Rather than tiptoe through that awkward moment, I suggest we immediately tell each child the story of the real Saint Nick.

The real story of Santa Claus begins with Nicholas, who was born during the third century in a village on the southern coast of Turkey. His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Nicholas was such a good boy that he desired to obey Jesus' words to "sell what you own and give the money to the poor," Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships.

The gift giving associated with St. Nick stemmed mostly from a story when he was very young.  In his town, there was a poor man with three daughters. In those days a young woman's father had to offer prospective husbands something of value—a dowry. The larger the dowry, the better the chance that a young woman would find a good husband. Without a dowry, a woman was unlikely to marry. This poor man's daughters, without dowries, were therefore destined to be sold into slavery. Mysteriously, on three different occasions, a bag of gold appeared in their home-providing the needed dowries. The bags of gold, tossed through an open window by Nicholas, are said to have landed in stockings or shoes left before the fire to dry. This led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas. Sometimes the story is told with gold balls instead of bags of gold. That is why three gold balls, sometimes represented as oranges, are one of the symbols for St. Nicholas. So our wonderful tradition of gift giving at Christmas comes from remembering the kindness of St. Nicholas the generous gift-giver.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Advent ... why it matters.

Thanksgiving is behind us, and now we prepare for another great holiday – Christmas.  Decorations go up; presents are bought; it’s a hectic time.  Advent is a time set aside by the Church, to help us prepare for Christmas. Advent reminds us to add the dimension of faith, a spiritual dimension, to our Christmas preparations. So how do we do that?

Some friends of mine, long time victims of the stress of everyday activities, recommend sneaking spiritual moments into the world of work. A nurse friend says a prayer every time she washes her hands between patients to remind her that the person she is about to treat is more than their disease. That’s how she tries to stay awake to the spiritual dimension of the people she helps each day. One friend pauses in front of the Christmas tree in the lobby of his work and stops for a moment to say a little prayer. He notices he is more patient and respectful when he remembers to do this.

Why does it matter that we keep Christ in Christmas?  Because we have a hope in our hearts brought by the true meaning of Christmas that people desperately need us to share. So many people in the world have lost hope and we can bring a beacon of light into the darkness. 

A few year back a devastating earthquake killed 30,000 people in Armenia.  Minutes after the tragedy, a father ran to his son’s school building and found it completely collapsed. Remembering that his son’s classroom was in the rear corner of the building, he ran over to it and began digging, pulling away the rubble with his hands.

Other parents, weeping nearby, tried to stop him, saying, “It’s too late! They’re all dead! It’s too late!” Even the police tried to dissuade him. But he kept on digging. He dug for 36 hours without stopping. In the 38th hour he heard a voice, the father screamed, “Armand!” The boy shouted back, “Dad!” Then began an incredible conversation; the boy shouted up from the rubble: “Dad! There are 14 of us down here. I told them not to worry. I told them that you’d come.”

That story describes perfectly what Advent is all about. It’s a call to all of us who believe in Christ to be like Armand, to have a hopeful faith and help those around us not to worry. It’s about letting everyone around know it’s going to be alright. Jesus is coming to save us.

The world is full of people like the ones in this story.  Like the people and the police. When they saw the flattened building, they lost all hope immediately. We live in a time where so many people are hopeless. They have lost their faith if they ever had faith.  There are people like the grief-stricken parents standing around the collapsed school after the earthquake. They see our world in a state of moral and spiritual collapse. They see nothing but a mountain of crime, war, drugs, immorality, corruption, and disrespect for all forms of life.  So many people have given up and only stand around, lamenting the situation.

There are also people like the children trapped inside a world that feels like moral and spiritual rubble.  They feel like theirs is a helpless situation.  They see no light. The only thing that can give them hope is people like little Armand and his father – people of faith.  Hopefully, people like us. We are called to be people who like Armand’s father who see the same mountain of moral and spiritual collapse but refuse to give up. We are called to be like little Armand and have faith that Jesus is coming to save us. We are called to people who keep working at their faith until we bring light into the darkness.

Hopefully, this story is an invitation to us to do this, to become like Armand and his father, to be voices of hope in our world. It starts by keeping hope alive in our hearts by being like my nurse friend who says a prayer every time she washes her hands between patients keeping Christ in her heart; to put on Christ as she does her job.  Or like my friend who takes a moment to say a prayer before the workplace Christmas tree as he enters the building where he works, so he can keep the light of the Lord – the spirit of Christmas – in his heart all day long.  Advent is all about keeping hope alive and sharing our Christmas hope with others.  It’s about trusting that no matter how dark and hopeless things seem, we know Jesus comes to rescue us.

That is really what Advent and Christmas are all about!   

                               

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Homily on Forgiveness - Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel reading from Matthew 18:21-35
Peter approached Jesus and asked him, "Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? As many as seven times?" Jesus answered, "I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times. That is why the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. ...

Today’s reading is one where I think just about anyone can identify with the story. Peter comes up to Jesus and says: How many times must I forgive that brother of mine?

Ever thought that yourself?

Ever thought how many times must I overlook – and forgive – my sister ... my brother ... my husband ... my father ... my kids ...?  How many times must I forgive my boss for being a total jerk; or my parent for not saying they love me?

That is a question we all can identify with ... right?

It just seems like some people know how to get under our skin. They just know how to really inflict pain on us. Maybe someone has done something we feel is just simply unforgivable; or someone is so neglectful and selfish our feelings are hurt all the time.

The answer Jesus gave Peter that day is most unsatisfactory. He basically says, you must forgive them every time. We have to forgive them – every time!

Then He tells Peter a story about forgiveness.  A servant who owes his Master a fortune – begs for forgiveness and gets it. Then turns around and is totally heartless to someone who owes him a lot less.

This story is important. Because it tells us what Jesus becoming a man is all about. You see Jesus came to give his life for us to gain God’s forgiveness for ... all our mistakes ... all our sins ... all our offenses.  Jesus’ life is one gigantic – “I forgive you for everything” – to each of us from God. So if we go out like the servant in the parable whose debt was forgiven, and not forgive those who offend us, we are just like that wicked servant. Jesus is saying to each one of us today – unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart, you aren’t worthy of my Father’s forgiveness.

Over and over, Jesus says the same thing in the bible. He once said, “The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.”  He said, “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you.” Which has been called the Golden Rule. In the only prayer Jesus ever gave us, The Our Father, he said, “Forgive us our trespasses – as – we forgive others.”  Forgiveness is the fundamental principle of being a Christian.  

How are you doing with that?                                                                                                    
Does anyone come to mind that you need to forgive?

I recently heard the story of a young man that relates to our Gospel today. He was speaking about a life altering moment in his life. He said: One day a seven-year-old boy was riding in the back seat of the family car. He was sitting between his two brothers. Their mother was driving. On this day their mother was feeling especially distraught over having been recently abandoned by their father. Suddenly, in a fit of anger, she spun around and struck the seven-year-old a blow across the face. Then she yelled at him:

And you! I never wanted you. 
The only reason I had you
was to keep your father.
But then he left anyway.

I hate you.

That scene branded itself on the boy’s memory. Over the years his mother reinforced her feelings toward him by constantly finding fault with him. Years later the young man said: I can’t tell you how many times in the last twenty-three years I relived that experience. Probably thousands.

Then he added: But recently I put myself in my mother’s shoes. Here she was, a high school graduate with no money, no job, and a family to support. I realized how lonely and depressed she must have felt. I thought of the anger and the pain that must have been there. And I thought of how much I reminded her of the failure of her young hopes. And so one day I decided to visit her and talk to her. I told her that I understood her feelings and that I loved her just the same. She broke down and we wept in each other’s arms for what seemed to be hours. It was the beginning of a new life for me, for her—for us. This story is a beautiful illustration of the healing power of forgiveness.

To use the words of Shakespeare, forgiveness is “twice blest.” 
It blesses the one who forgives and the one who is forgiven.

Let’s see how it does this. First, forgiveness blesses the one who forgives. Take the young man in the story. He says that when he forgave his mother, it was the beginning of a new life for him. Time after time, we hear other people say the same thing after they have forgiven someone. For example, a young woman who forgave her father, after they had not spoken for seven years, said of the experience: It was like being released from prison. I was free and happy for the first time in seven years. 

The young man said his forgiveness of his mother blessed her in an amazing way: It literally healed her. She was transformed from someone who was so bitter that she told her son, “I hate you and never wanted you” to someone who told him “I love you and want you with all my heart.”
Time after time we hear of people who have been transformed when someone has forgiven them.
So what do we do when we find that we can’t forgive someone?  What do we do to get rid of the emotional block that keeps us from forgiving?

The answer lies again in the story of the young man. His perception of her changed.  He no longer saw her as a terrible person who said a terrible thing to a little boy. He saw her as a women in pain.
Today’s gospel invites us to take inventory of our relationships with others, especially members of our own family. It invites us to ask ourselves if any of these relationships need to be improved upon. 

We all have someone we need to forgive ... let’s all do that this week.


Thursday, September 7, 2017

Would Jesus be a Catholic?

Jesus was a radical who challenged the religious establishment of his culture. Would he be different now?  Would he acquiesce to the pressure to comply with the traditional teachings of the Church? Or, would Jesus call her to task for not acting like Him?

Christianity has been so successful that now it’s passé. People reject it because it is now the establishment rather than the radical.  Is it any wonder why so many of us are asking, ‘What happened to Christianity?”  We feel as if our founder has been kidnapped.

Western culture is rapidly become more secular, with the “nones” — the religiously non-affiliated, including atheists as well as those who feel spiritual but don’t identify with a particular religion — accounting for almost one-fourth of Americans today. And, they are rapidly rising: among millennials, more than one-third are nones.

Maybe it’s time to let go of the over regulated practice of our beliefs and rediscover Jesus’ radically generous way of life.  A life rooted in contemplation and expressed in compassion!  Maybe it’s time to re-establish Christianity as a compassionate, loving way of life rather than a legalistic religion. Is it time to focus on the moral vision of Jesus for the world rather than rules and rubrics?

Many who are falling away from Christianity do so because they struggle with science verse the miraculous.  To attract them to the message of Jesus maybe we need to worry less about whether biblical miracles are literal and begin to teach more about their meaning.  When it is said that Jesus healed a leper, let’s put aside the question of whether this happened for now and focus on his outreach to the most stigmatized of outcasts. How would Jesus treat the LGBTQ community were he here today?

It's time to begin tackling the human needs around us and make this a better world; surely Jesus would applaud us if we did. Those who run soup kitchens and homeless shelters should be our leaders, not the ones in fancy clothes in big diocesan offices. We should be looking to the Catholic missionary doctor in Sudan treating bomb victims for leadership. Then we would have leaders like Christ.  




Sunday, August 27, 2017

Today Jesus looks at his closest disciples – after being together a couple of years – and says, “Who do people say I am?” – and then – “Who do you say I am?” 

This question is of course intended for us too. He looks at all of us who call ourselves His followers – Christians – and repeats the same question ... 

Do you know me?

What makes this gospel so important for us is that it points out what our faith is really all about.  It’s about a relationship.  It’s about knowing Jesus.  Christianity is not an institution; it’s a relationship with a person. To be a Christian is to stand before Jesus and answer his question – Do you know me?  Who do you say I am?

Do you know him?                  

When Jesus asked Peter and the other apostles those questions, they had been traveling from town to town, for many months. Peter and the others had left behind their regular lives. They made a huge commitment and effort to get to know Jesus because they recognized something remarkable in Him.
Think for a minute about the things they saw – over those months.
  • They saw him heal people of leprosy, blindness and being paralyzed.
  • They saw him raise a widow’s son from the dead and bring Jairus' daughter back to life.
  • They saw him calmed a violent storm on the Sea of Galilee with a command
  • They helped as he fed thousands of people in the middle of nowhere from a couple of loaves of bread.
They witnessed so many amazing moments.                                                              

My guess is they had more than a few late night discussions around the camp fire talking about this question of who Jesus was. But Jesus didn’t want to know what they thought about his miracles. He wanted to know if they knew Him.

When Peter answered him and said, "You the Son of the living God;" Jesus said something we all need to think about. 

What He didn’t say was: “Good for you Peter, you figured this out on you own.  No, he said, "Blessed are you, Simon. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.” It wasn’t Simon Peter’s powers of observation or Simon Peter’s brilliant mind that allowed him to know who Jesus was; it was a gift from God the Father.

Faith is a gift. 

The spiritual insight God gave Simon Peter was a gift. St. Paul once said, "no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’, except by the Holy Spirit."  We must have the help of the Holy Spirit, who opens the eyes of the mind and heart, who makes it possible for us to accept and believe the truth. That doesn’t mean Peter’s faith that Jesus was the Son of God was a blind faith.  It was grounded in reason, rooted in his experiences of that year. God put an understanding of who Jesus was on Peter's heart through what he witnessed.

We don’t have the advantage the apostles had of being first-hand witnesses of Jesus’ life.  But we do have their witness – the story of salvation history – the Bible.  Do we make an effort to get to know him in the Bible? Do we travel with him in the Bible?             

We also have the benefit of seeing living witnesses, other followers of Jesus; those canonized by the Church, and those quietly leading lives of faith, like many of our mothers and fathers. These are our witnesses, who so often lead us to faith in Jesus. Lead us to recognize who Jesus is. Ultimately each of us has the experience of Peter.  If we seek to know him, our heavenly Father reveals to our hearts the truth about Jesus.  Some Christian’s call that moment of recognition a “born again” experience; that moment of insight – that Ah Ha moment – when faith begins. That moment when we come to a place where reason can take us no further and God puts the truth on our hearts.

Jesus tells us today; faith is something we receive.  It’s a gift from our heavenly Father, through the workings of the Holy Spirit.  And like any gift, the gift of faith needs to be accepted to receive it. This faith – this gift – is often passed on to us from our parents like a family heirloom that we treasure, protect, and hopefully pass on ourselves. This gift of faith is a gift we are called to give away.

Our Catholic faith isn’t meant to be a private thing – me and God.  Being a Christian – being “Church” – is supposed to be a relationship. One of the great insights of our Church is that all of us who believe are members of the Body of Christ.  We are the physical representation of Christ in this world.  The Church is the body through which Christ manifests His life to the world today. When Jesus asks us – “Do you know me? He is asking us, do you know each other? Are you one body? Do you live in love, and help each other as I modeled in my life? 

While our relationship with Christ is personal, God never intends it to be private.

This parish – St. Brigid – is trying to become a parish of friends rather than a parish of strangers; to become the Body of Christ.  If Jesus himself disguised as a layperson visited St. Brigid if he sat somewhere in the middle, would he feel welcomed, loved, and necessary?

Jesus in the Gospel asks each of us today, “Do you know me?” And so does Jesus who sits next to you in the Body of Christ ask, “Do you know me?” Let’s become a parish that says – YES Lord.
We begin to know each other when we share our stories. 

In that spirit, I want to start by telling you a bit about me.  

I am a husband to Linda for 42 years this weekend. I am a father to four wonderful children, who have given me six beautiful grandchildren. I spent 25 years of my life building a retail business – until I got cancer – 20 years ago I almost died. Those events changed my life and led to me becoming a deacon.

My passion in life is helping children born into poverty, helping them break the cycle of poverty through education. I have been blessed to be part of helping found two fantastic schools – The Monarch School for homeless kids; and Nativity Prep Academy a free Catholic college access program in the inner-city.  Recently I’ve been asked to help to found a new Catholic high school - Cristo Rey high school. Cristo Rey Schools are Catholic schools that offer a college prep education to impoverish kids.  The unique feature of this school is that the students all work in corporate American one day a week to earn money to pay their tuition. 

I’d love to share more of my story with anyone who cares to know. I’d love to know your story.  We need to know each other’s story so that we can answer the question Jesus asks today ... Do you know me? 

Help us become the kind of parish where we know Jesus because we know his body. Let’s share our lives so that we can say ... YES, Lord ... we know you.



Saturday, August 19, 2017

Gratitude


No human being can tame the tongue. We bless the LORD and Father, 
and then we curse human beings who are made in the likeness of God.

From James 3:8-9

We need to ask (pray that) the Holy Spirit guide our speech so the words we speak are of mercy and compassion. Our speech can build others up or tear them down. We serve the Kingdom of God when we speak the truth in love; when we speak with mercy and compassion. 

I pray ... 
              Father God ... forgive me for all the times I've damaged others with my speech.
              Jesus ... open my eyes to see the likeness of You in each person I meet.
              Holy Spirit ... guide my words and make them instruments of your mercy and compassion.
Amen




Friday, August 18, 2017



John Calvin once said, "You may not think you owe your neighbor anything, but because of the image of God in your neighbor, you do. Because you see God in your neighbor, because your neighbor's made in the image of God."

"Don't look at your neighbor and say, ‘What does my neighbor deserve from me?' Say, ‘What does God deserve from me?' and then when you see the image of God in him there he is."



Monday, August 14, 2017

Discipleship

A disciple:

Loves Jesus, regardless of the cost.
Is a lifelong student of Jesus.
Imitates Jesus – is his eyes, ears, voice, hands, feet.
Allows the Lord to lead them.
Welcomes the Holy Spirit in his/her life.
Knows their charisms or gifts and uses them in service of others.
Is conscious of being sent on mission by the Lord.
Knows themselves as a beloved child of God and sees others as beloved by God.
Is open to continuous transformation – ever growing in their faith.
Reflects regularly on the Word of God.
Participates regularly in a faith community – especially Eucharist.
Wants others to share in the joy of a love relationship with Jesus - makes disciples.

Essential for being a disciple:

Personal prayer and personal morality
Social justice – concern for the poor, weak, vulnerable, marginalized
Mellowness of heart and spirit – grateful, joyful, compassionate
Being active in a community of faith




Sunday, July 9, 2017

Many Christians believe that good works are a consequence or 'fruit' of faith.  Saint James saw the relationship between belief and works of mercy linked, he said: "Faith without works is dead."

Fr. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest teaches that the separation of spirituality from action is a false one.

Fr. Rohr says we are not called to do spiritual practices—prayer, Bible study, meditation, retreat, ritual—and then make our way, now inspired, to the work of mercy and justice.

He says that in fact, it might be argued that, if anything, it’s just the reverse: Love those who struggle with poverty and suffer abandonment and the effect is that we will find ourselves on a path that leads to maturity, prayer, wisdom, and Christ-likeness. On the other hand, if we choose to avoid engagement and community with those who suffer, we will certainly live an incomplete life, including an incomplete spiritual life.

The call of the Christian is to live with compassion and faith
utterly linked, each enriching the other.




Friday, June 30, 2017

“I have lived, sir, a long time; and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this Truth, that God governs in the Affairs of Men!”  

81 year-old - Benjamin Franklin - at Constitutional Convention 1787




Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Pentecost Sunday Homily - Gospel of John 20:19-23

During the Cold War at the end of the last century, Berlin was divided in two; a wall separated East and West. East Berlin was part of East German which was controlled by the Soviet Union. In East Berlin, they erected a 1200-foot-tall broadcast tower which was intended to celebrate the superiority of the Communist system.  But the plan backfired, and this tower did just the opposite. It constantly reminded East Berliners of what they were missing. The tower was designed a few years after the Soviet Union had beaten the United States into space with a spherically-shaped satellite named “Sputnik.”

Communist officials intended this tower to be a showpiece to the West. But instead, a fluke in design turned it into a giant embarrassment. Whenever the sun hits the tower a certain way, the tower turns into an enormous shimmering cross.  West Berliners quickly dubbed this Christian symbol in a Communist country the “Pope’s Revenge,” divine retaliation for the government’s removal of all crosses from East Berlin’s churches. An embarrassed government reportedly tried painting the tiles to eliminate the cross without success.

Something similar happened in Jerusalem after the crucifixion of Jesus. Those who put Jesus to death hoped that the cross would be a symbol of how they blotted out the Christian movement.  But instead, it did just the opposite. The Christian movement began to spread like a raging forest fire. With the cross, it’s most potent image. It spread so spectacularly that by the year A.D. 64 it had become a powerful force in faraway Rome. It became so powerful that the Roman emperor Nero made it the target of an all-out persecution.

How did Christianity in 30 short years grow from a tiny spark into a raging infernal? 
That amazing story is told in the Acts of the Apostles.   And the starting point for that extraordinary story is what we heard about in today’s readings. The Holy Spirit whom Jesus had promised to send his disciples descended upon them on Pentecost and transformed them. Like the sunlight turning that tower into a Christian symbol. The Holy Spirit - lit up - the apostles - and made them into the body of Christ, alive and on fire, spreading the message of Jesus to people of all nations and languages.

The apostles that day went from being a confused body of human beings, and in a moment, they were transformed into a courageous body of Christian believers. They went from a cowardly band of disoriented people and in an instant were transformed into a single body of witnesses which became one of the most powerful organizations on earth ... the Church.

It’s easy to read these stories and to marvel at what happened that day some 2000 years ago and think – wow – that was incredible and unique. But the truth is what the Holy Spirit began on that first Pentecost was just the beginning - a start - that is traced down to us today, here in this church. What started that day is left to us to complete. Like the disciples in today’s Gospel, each one of us received the Holy Spirit in a personal way, through our baptism and our confirmation. And like the disciples of Jesus, we have received the gift of the Holy Spirit for a purpose.

You might be saying in your head right now ... Who Me?  ... No way!

But listen to how St. Paul said it to the early Christians:

           There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit;                                              
            there are different forms of service but the same Lord;                                                      
            there are different workings but the same God                                                                      
            who produces all of them ... in everyone.

To each one of us, the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.

Today is a day to ask ourselves: What gift of the Spirit have I been given?  What service am I called to do? Today our readings call each one of us to take an active role in the Church’s work of bringing the Gospel to all peoples.

This might mean being the very best Christian mother or father we can be, making sure our children hear the Gospel.  Living our faith so openly, other parents are inspired to bring the faith to their children. Perhaps we are given the gift to live our faith so attractively that those we work with wish to know the Gospel, and what it is that makes us a joy to be around. Maybe we are called to support the missionary work of the Church – with both monetary and prayer support.  We can help mission work being done by our parishioners Katie and Betty who go to Ecuador to help spread the faith or Cece and Jim who bring the faith to the high mountain regions of Peru. They bring the gift of light through solar power while also bringing the light of Gospel to people's souls. Maybe the Holy Spirit is giving you the gift to bring the light of Christ to those living in prison. The Holy Spirit might be calling you to join with our Kairos prison team – that brings the light of the Gospel into the darkness of Donavan prison.

The Holy Spirit has anointed us so that we can put into practice and live out what we profess on Sunday.  Let’s ask ourselves with deep conviction:

What gift of the Spirit have I been given?  

What service am I called to do?




Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Helping the poor ...

Pope Francis said:

People cannot sit back and be indifferent or unresponsive to growing poverty in the world as a privileged minority accumulates "ostentatious wealth," 


If you are like me you read this - you are inspired to do something - and you can't figure out what to do. Right? So let's do something!  We are in the planning stages for an event that will package thousands of nutritious meals for the poor.

My "big dream" is to have a day where we come together and package 1 million meals. 
I know that seems too big of a dream ... but God asks us to "think big".
If you'd like to help make this event a reality - 

The Deacons of San Diego Present:  One Million Meals Sunday

Let me know if you would like to help me make this dream come true.  

Deacon Mike



Saturday, May 27, 2017

Grace is something you receive not earn. We so often disbelieve this truth, because we want to earn it.  We love to think of ourselves, and have others think of us, as strong and virtuous.

When we approach “grace” with our ego engaged we lose the ability to take in unconditional love.  We like to be worthy. The problem is that God works from a different playbook. He doesn’t work in a world of scarcity, in a world of winners and losers.  God is humility and generosity and love.  He can’t help it because it is his very nature.  He can only operate in a world of unconditional grace.

Our economy of merit does not comprehend free love. Jesus said to the apostles, “I call you friends.” Friendship, not servant-hood, is the relationship God seeks. Most of us prefer being servants. Divine friendship is simply beyond our imagination.

Our culture worships winners; we prize the ones who compete and win.  Our culture is built on competing, producing, and achieving – winning and losing; which makes us blind to the unconditional gift.  We don’t understand it. We can’t imagine it.  We haven’t earned it.  Or, if we are honest, we can't imagine the one we are judging is worthy of it!  We only understand winners and losers.  Being worthy is everything.

Christianity that is based on a win/lose worldview will always be judgmental and small. It will never make real the generosity of God.  Faith and religion will remain just another thing we attain in a life lived for acquiring. The spiritual path – and life itself – will be mere duty instead of delight.  Delight for all basking in God’s unconditional love.

God loves us all - unconditionally - delight in it!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Emmaus Road

From the Gospel of Luke chapter 24 verses 13-35 - 
"... two of Jesus' disciples were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus, 
and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred."

This Gospel story is one of the most compelling narratives in all of Scripture. Two disciples are walking down the dusty road to the village of Emmaus. Their talk concerns the crucified Jesus.  I imagine them walking slowly, trudging along, depressed by the events they witnessed this week in Jerusalem. Their words come slowly like their pace, "I can hardly believe it. He's gone." ... "What do we do now?" ... "Peter should have done something."  As they amble along a stranger comes up from behind and says, "I'm sorry, but I couldn't help overhearing you. Who are you discussing?" They stop and turn. Other travelers make their way around them as the three stand in silence. Finally one of them asks, "Where have you been the last few days?  Haven't you heard about Jesus of Nazareth?"  And he continues to tell Jesus all that has happened.

What a fascinating scene two sad, confused and sincere disciples telling the story of how all is lost. And God in disguise listens patiently, his wounded hands buried deeply in his robe. They say, "We were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel.”

"We were hoping" … now there is a phrase we all can understand.

 How often have you heard a phrase like that?

We were hoping ...  that the doctor would have better news.
I was hoping ... that she would marry me.
We were hoping ... our jobs wouldn’t be eliminated.

Those are words painted gray with disappointment.  What those two disciples wanted didn’t happen. We know that feeling.  What we wanted didn’t come; what came we didn’t want.  The result is always the same: shattered hope. We’ve all been there. We know what they felt like that day as they trudged up the road to Emmaus dragging their sandals in the dust, wondering:

"What kind of God would let me down like this?" 

When we are in a state of confusion and despair like them. God could be the fellow walking next to us, and we wouldn't know it. You see the problem with our two heavy-hearted friends was not a lack of faith, but a lack of vision. Their petitions were limited to what they could imagine – an earthly kingdom.  They never dreamed God had something bigger in mind – the salvation of all mankind.

You have to wonder if sometimes God's most merciful act is his refusal to answer some of our prayers the way we expect.

Our two friends walking on the road to Emmaus that day hoped for Israel to have a great earthly kingdom. But that goal was not God’s goal. We should not be too hard on the two men on the road that day. We are like them so often, unaware of what God is trying to accomplish. We often try to limit God by our preconceived ideas and misunderstandings.

Our problem is not so much that God doesn't give us what we hope for as it is that we don't know the right thing for which to hope. 

We are so often like the those disciples that day who missed what Jesus was doing. Did you notice how Jesus reacted to these two bewildered disciples who missed what Jesus was doing by dying on the Cross?  He chastised them. "Oh, how foolish you are!  You are slow of heart to believe.”

"You are slow of heart." What does Jesus mean – slow of heart to believe?

When Jesus expresses his disappointment, he does not talk about their minds or their intelligence.  He does not call them ignorant or stupid. Instead, he talks about the state of their hearts. For Jesus, it’s all about the state of your heart. He was telling them to stop trying to figure it all out intellectually and to start seeing it with their hearts. He wants them to see the love! The love God poured out on humanity through his death on the Cross.
                                                                                                      
He is telling them you missed the point!  It’s all about LOVE, not defeat. And then the scripture passage says, Jesus showed them how the scriptures (how the Bible) reveals that God would express his love for us – this way – from the very beginning.

That day it says that after these disciples encountered the risen Christ their hearts went from slow to believe to burning – to being on fire with faith. When he vanished from their sight that day, they said to each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?"

Maybe there is a hint for us in this line about what this reading means for us.

If we want to have a heart burning with excitement for God, maybe we need to break open the scriptures. When was the last time you sat with the scriptures and allowed them to open your heart?

Jesus calls us to see life with the eyes of the heart:
A heart burning with the fire of faith.                                                                            
A heart burning within for justice.
A heart that is red-hot to share the Good News of the scriptures, to share the Good News we know and others are desperate to hear.

If you are feeling the desire to have an encounter with Jesus as those two disciples on the Emmaus Road did, then maybe you should set aside some time each day to meet Jesus in the scriptures.

If you are a young adult, we have a Bible study group here on Wednesday nights, come encounter Jesus in the scriptures. Our “Connection to Christ” small groups also use the Scriptures as a foundation for their discussions, and you are all invited to join a C2C group. There are great daily meditation books that help us know the scriptures; like Magnificat, or Living with Christ, or The Word Among Us. (www.magnificat.com) (www.livingwithchrist.us) (www.wau.org)

The message of the story of the Road to Emmaus is this.
If you are longing to meet Jesus ...                                                                                              
If want to have a personal encounter with Christ                                                                          
If your faith feels a bit slow of heart right now and you need some fire.              
If you want to get your heart burning within.

Then it’s time to open the scriptures.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Friday

Jesus is it any wonder they killed you that Friday.
You called the better people a breed of vipers,
You told them that their hearts were black sepulchers with fine exteriors,
You chose the decaying lepers,
You spoke fearlessly with unacceptable strangers,
You ate with notorious sinners,
and you said that streetwalkers would be the first in Paradise.
You got on well with the poor, the bums, the crippled.
You belittled the religious regulations.
Your interpretation of the Law reduced it to one little commandment: to love.
No wonder they avenged themselves.
No wonder they took steps against you;
No wonder they approached the authorities, and beg them to get rid of you.

Lord, I know that if I try to live a little like you,
I too shall be condemned.
I am afraid.
They are already singling me out.
Several of my friends are about to drop me.
Lord, I am afraid to let go of the world,
And yet, Jesus, I know that you are right.
Help me to fight,
Help me to speak,
Help me to live your Gospel
To the end,
To the following of the Cross.


Thursday, April 6, 2017

Fifth Sunday of Lent - The Raising of Lazarus

It’s so easy to build TOMBS for ourselves, easy to become bound up by the cares of the world. It’s so easy to be distracted by life’s problems. The Easter challenge is to hear Jesus’ call to us – come out of our self-made tombs.



The Story of Lazarus is just a great story full of powerful human emotions; emotions that you and I also experience – like ... sorrow ... fear ... love ... bravery ...  and joy.

When Jesus said to his apostles "Let us go back to Judea" the disciples remind him that the Jews were just trying to kill him.  And we hear the disciples say “let’s go die with him.” You can’t help but be impressed with their courage and understand their nervousness about facing possible death. When we see Mary collapse in tears at the feet of Jesus, we know her pain, her sense of loss.  When Jesus weeps, we know what it feels like to stand with a friend in their sorrow, to see someone we love who is hurting and weep with them.

jesus weptThinking about that scene of Jesus weeping; we need to appreciate that our God knows what we go through in life. We have a God who stood by his friends in times of trouble.  We have a God that when we suffer in our daily lives is right there next to us, weeping with us; a God who shared our humanity and knows our human experience.

But this story is not just about human emotions.
It’s about faith.
It’s about the hope Jesus brought to the world.

When Jesus says to Martha: "Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?"  He is speaking to us too.  We too have been told what Jesus came to accomplish and many of us, like Martha, believe; which makes us EASTER people.

We are people do believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. The story of Lazarus is a call to each of us to embrace our own resurrection, our own victory over death. The distinguishing mark of Christians is the fact that we have a future. When Jesus brought Lazarus out of the tomb after four days that was the final proof for us to believe in his resurrection. The raising of Lazarus was a foreshadowing of Easter morning.  It was a pivotal event that helped Christians to have confidence in Easter.

Lent is almost over.  Easter is just a few weeks away. How blessed we are to be people who have hope. Hope is such a gift, especially when we are suffering in this life.

Forgive me for telling a personal story, but I had a Lazarus moment in my life that I’d like to share with you. 1998 I was diagnosed with cancer, and it wasn’t cancer that the doctors can always get into remission. There was a high probability that I would die. But thanks to the right doctors, and the many prayers of my friends and family I survived.  My friends and family, like the disciples, said to Jesus for me - ”The one you love is ill.” God heard those prayers and restored my life as he did Lazarus.

Facing death and then recovering changes you. Things you thought were so important just don’t seem as important after looking death in the eye.  The human problems we face seem trivial in comparison with the Spiritual journey you find yourself on.

Before cancer, I was a Catholic but didn’t give my faith much of my time. I was too busy. We tend to build tombs for ourselves in this life, to surround ourselves with things that block out the light of our spirits. Like Lazarus, I was in a tomb, a tomb of my own making. I had allowed materialism to bury me alive. I was wrapped up in my humanity and not living like someone who was aware that the Spirit of God was dwelling in me. Paul said it well – when we focus on living in the flesh, it’s hard to please God.
      
Cancer reoriented my life so much for the better that I can honestly say if I could go back and choose not to have cancer or to have cancer I would choose cancer because of the changes it made in my life.

What changed?
        
I learned that God gives us a spirit of love.  I learned that we are only satisfied in life – really satisfied – when we are in touch with LOVING others.  Cancer broke me out of the selfish tomb I had created for myself, and I began to look for ways to serve others, to love others. I certainly would have never become a deacon if not for cancer.

lazarus-tombCome out … from the tomb of worry, and enter the new life of trusting God to find a way.

Come out ...  from the tomb of materialism, and become a person that lives for others.

Come out … from the tomb of busyness and enter the new life of finding time to live in touch with your Spirit.

Come out … from the tomb of self-centeredness,  and enter the new life of self-sacrifice, a life of loving and helping others.

Whatever our particular tomb might be, Jesus in his love for us, is calling us out.  Jesus stands at the door and calls to us, "Come out!" and live like people who will never die – live in your spirit.

                    “I am the resurrection and the life,
                     Whoever believes in me, even if he dies will live,
                     And everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.
                     Do you believe this?”

When we answer –“YES Lord, I believe,”
He says to us “then roll back the stone, come out of your tomb and really begin to live.



Sunday, March 19, 2017

Gospel - John 4:5-42 - The Woman at the Well.

Can you hear how radically changed that whole community of Sychar was through this encounter between Jesus and a rather imperfect woman? Most Jewish men would have looked down on this lowly Samaritan woman, but Jesus treated this woman with dignity, and it changed a whole community.

This story reminded me of an event that is seared in the minds of many in my generation;an event that not only changed a whole community but our whole country. In 1957 the federal government ordered Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas to become racially integrated.  The image of armed shoulders escorting nine very dignified, stoic black girls and boys into school is something none of us who saw it will forget.

Melba Patillo was one of the nine Black students escorted to class by U.S. marshals. Whites lined the sidewalk and jeered as she went into school. In the course of that year Melba was spit upon, tripped and called names. What pained her most, however, was being ignored by the other students. She wrote a book about her experiences entitled: Warriors Don’t Cry.  In it she writes: “All I wanted them to say was, ‘Hello, how are you? What a nice blouse.’ ” Melba recalls lying in bed at night filled with fear. But she rarely cried because her grandma kept telling her, “God’s warriors don’t cry.” One day she wrote in a diary:  I am growing up too fast.  I’m not ready to go back to Central and be a warrior. I just want to stay right here listening to the songs of Nat King Cole. The story of Melba Patillo highlights the whole problem of prejudice. And she represents the kind of change one person can make in a community.

Unfortunately prejudice is as old as the world.  And it was part of the world in which Jesus lived as well. Jews harbored a deep prejudice against the Samaritans. Jesus spoke out against it forcefully, in a variety of ways. He shocked his Jewish listeners by making a Samaritan the hero of one of his best-known parables: the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Many Jews were no doubt irritated when Jesus pointed out that ten lepers were healed one day, but the only one to return to give thanks was a Samaritan. And many Jews were no doubt shocked to learn that Jesus asked a Samaritan woman for a drink from a common cup Samaritans used. It was like a white man in the south in pre-civil-rights days asking a black woman for a drink from a common cup that blacks used.  Even the Samaritan woman was shocked, saying to Jesus:  “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” But Jesus did something even more dramatic to make a statement about the prejudice against the Samaritans of his time. He revealed to this lowly woman who he was, Jesus tells the woman that she has been married to five men and she was living with a man who wasn't her husband. He knows us through and through.  Shocked that he knew this, she responds: “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet.” “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ; when he comes, he will tell us everything.” Jesus said to her, “I am he.”

The woman left her water jar, went into the town, and exclaimed to the people there “Come meet Jesus!”  And they came, and they believed.  And – what did she tell them?  The most simple thing imaginable. He knew me.  He knew my whole messed up history, and he didn't judge me. He loved me, and offered me new life. That’s the “living water.”  It’s the unconditional love of Christ.  A love we all experience through our baptism.  New life, and a call to mission!

The Samaritan woman was the least likely person imaginable to become a missionary, to become an evangelist.  A woman, a Samaritan woman at that!  One who started out as an outcast – like Melba Patello – she became Jesus’ very first missionary to the non-Jewish world … amazing!

That Samaritan woman is all of us.

That’s the message in today’s Gospel for each one of us.  We can change our world, our community.  We are qualified.  We are good enough.  We are all sinners like that woman.  And we too can respond to our encounter with the mercy of Christ -his unconditional love of us- the way the Samaritan woman did.  We can share with others the Good News.  That our God knows us, and loves us – as we are – and offers us new life!  The living water of Divine life. Being an evangelist isn't hard.  It’s just telling others what we've found; sharing our story.  

There are 67 million Catholics in the United States.  Only 24% come to Mass once a week regularly.  That means there are 50 million Catholics that are inactive in their faith.  Statistics show that the best missionaries to inactive Catholics are … friends … neighbors … or family members. Statistics also show that nearly two-thirds of all Catholics who became active again do so because a friend or relative invited them to return.

That is our challenge.  There lies an area of missionary work that every Catholic in the church can … and should … become involved.  We all know inactive Catholics!  If you truly want to make this Lent something special, make a loving invitation to someone you know to come to Mass with you one week.  You never know, your simple invitation might be the cause for them finding their way back to the Church.  

If Jesus can change a whole community through the witness of one humble woman,  and nine courageous black kids with a sense of mission can change an entire country, we can change our world too – our community – our family.

If you think you don’t have what it takes to be an evangelist, just read this Gospel again,  no one was less likely in the time of Christ for this call then a Samaritan woman who had been married five times and was living with a sixth man.

You are worthy! You are capable! And, you are called!  


Sunday, March 12, 2017

Something to contemplate today from Anne Lamott:

“The opposite of faith is not doubt. 

The opposite of faith is certainty.” 




Monday, February 27, 2017

Don't Worry.

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear.Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.”
(From the Gospel of Matthew 6:24-34)

OK tell the truth, how many of us hear these words and say: Are you kidding Jesus - don’t worry?!                                                                                          
We look up to heaven and ask Jesus:

Have you read a newspaper lately or watch the evening news?!
Have you seen my relatives?
Do you know how hard it is to make a living right now?
My health issues make not worrying about tomorrow a big challenge.

My guess is we can all come up with our list of the things we’ve worried about within the past few weeks. God knows the world seems a mess right now.

So what is Jesus talking about  “don’t worry about tomorrow.”
The truth just might be he is sharing with us a remarkable formula for happiness.

He is saying we have a choice. He says we can’t serve two masters - worry and joy - worry and happiness. You can’t obsess over the future and your material needs, and joyfully and gratefully embrace the gifts God gives us in each moment.  You’ve got to choose.

Jesus is telling us in these simple sayings that all our anxiety is about the next day. It’s about what tomorrow will bring.  And that won’t make us happy.  Jesus is telling us we must get free of the next day, let it look after itself.  If you free yourself from worrying about whatever troubles the next day holds and address each day as it comes – calmly - in a spirit of thanksgiving;  you will become free of the troubles that belong to the next day.

Jesus in a simple way is saying something really important:
That ... worrying doesn’t take away tomorrow's troubles; it takes away today’s peace.

Jesus is telling us to give ourselves to the task of today, to live in the present moment. He is saying if you live in the moment and find the best you can in it, you’ll be less stressed. You’ll be happier.
To that, we might say well, what about the trials? What do we do when they come?

My wife Linda is one of those rare people who actually lives out this teaching. She doesn’t worry. “God will take care of it” is her favorite saying, or "pray, hope and don’t worry." Another of her favorite sayings gives you insight on this question of what you do when the trails hit. She says: "Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s learning to dance in the rain."

We have a choice. We can either spend our days worrying, making worry our God. Worrying about the future, worrying about money making that the focus of our life. Or, we can spend our days focused on God’s gift of the present moment, living in a place of thanksgiving and gratitude for the moment at hand. Jesus says to us today live in the moment. Life is a banquet.  And the tragedy is that most people are starving to death.

There's a story about some people who were drifting on a raft off the coast of Brazil perishing from thirst. They had no idea that the water they were floating on was fresh water. The river was coming out into the sea with such force that it went out for a couple of miles, so they had fresh water right there where they were. But they had no idea. That is what Jesus is talking about. In the same way, we're surrounded with joy, with happiness, with love. Yet we are so focused on tomorrow most people don’t see it.

When Jesus says to us: “Don’t worry about tomorrow, tomorrow will take care of itself.” He is calling us to live in the present moment. We seek God’s kingdom by being aware of God’s presence all around us every moment just like that fresh water surrounding the boat, unseeable but there and lifesaving!

Everything is a gift. The degree to which we are awake to this truth is a measure of our gratefulness, and gratefulness is a measure of our aliveness. Protestant theologian Karl Barth said: “Joy is the simplest form of gratitude,”

The way to let go of worry and be happy, the way to not worry about tomorrow is to be aware of the action of God - the Kingdom of God - each day in our life and live every day in gratitude.    

That is the way to be happy. It’s just that simple.

A Sacramental Church

I often get questions from my Christian brothers and sisters on how the Catholic experience is unique and different.  My response is that we are a “sacramental church.” So how is that distinctive?

All Christians believe God gave Himself to us 2000 years ago on the cross.  All Christians embrace Jesus through his Word – in Scripture.  But some believers also embrace him in a very real way through Sacrament. We believe that God gives Himself to us literally in Sacrament.

Sacraments are not human works.

Baptism is not a human work, a profession of faith and commitment to God. Baptism is a work of God, God’s declaration concerning the person baptized not the person’s declaration concerning God. You often hear Catholics say a sacrament is a sign.  But it is not “merely a sign,” it is a “reality.” God is acting through the sacrament. Baptism is not a sign of God’s cleansing; it is God cleansing. Eucharist is not a sign of an absent Christ; Eucharist is Christ present. God gives Himself to the baptized through the gift of baptism, and in the Eucharist, in reality, He gives Himself to us physically. The bread and wine are not mere symbols of his body and blood - they are indeed His body and blood.

That is why the Catholic Mass will always be the same year in and year out all around the world. Our worship service has been the same for two thousand years; as you can read from the year 155: http://unsettledchristianity.com/justin-martyr-on-the-eucharist/  While our worship may not be as entertaining and exciting as that of other Christian denominations, it is what we have always done.  And thus, Catholics will remain faithful to this history; and true to our understanding of Christ’s unparalleled real presence at our worship service.

The Catholic Church is a sacramental church and always will be.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

American Catholic or a Catholic American?

“What’s the difference?” you ask. It’s a matter of attitude.

An "American Catholic" is someone fully immersed in the American culture and attends Church when and if it makes them feel good.

Americans value freedom first and foremost; especially the freedom of choice and freedom of speech. We are independent, individualistic, and are completely at ease with being different from each other. American Catholics are becoming extremely informal in their lifestyle and their views toward practicing the faith. They attend Church when they feel like it, and it's convenient.

In our American culture, we work hard – too hard sometimes – and we believe that time is money. Our laws protect homosexuality in the United States and, for the most part, homosexuality is not looked upon as deviant.  In fact, our sense of freedom labels very little as deviant.  Personal freedom is our most prized characteristic  We are a culture obsessed with technology, sex, and success. When you are an American Catholic, you bring all of the above to your faith.  You celebrate the freedom of the culture and tap into the faith only to the point that it affirm your beliefs.  If you are challenged by the Church on your cultural views it makes you uncomfortable, and when that happens an American Catholic will often choose avoidance rather than compliance.  Many Catholics are leaving the church over the issue of same-sex marriage and treatment of gay and lesbian people. The fact that the Church was so active in promoting opposition to same-sex marriage at a time when the public — in particular, young people — were voicing strong support, certainly hurt the Church and presents a continuing challenge in trying to get millennials involved.  It may be a contributing factor in Church attendance shrinking at alarming rates.

A "Catholic American" is someone whose faith is first in their life, and that faith influences how they view everything else.

Catholic American's are those Catholics who have a strong sense of their faith forming them deeply. They are more often quite active in their faith and thus, have a slightly different slant on faith and culture.  The culture of excess is a challenge to Catholic Americans.  They tend to be charitable at their core.  They embrace the teachings of the Church that call for us to be full of love for and goodwill toward others. Their attitude tends to be less selfish and shows a deep concern for the welfare of others. They view supporting the needy, being generous to those with less, as a core cultural attribute. Working to help the poor and needy is essential to what being Catholic means to them. Catholic Americans attend Mass at least weekly.

That does not mean that Catholic Americans don't think for themselves. While they are more likely than other Catholics to have opinions that align with church policies and teachings; many of them disagree with church teaching about what constitutes a sin in some sexual and family-related areas. Many do not agree with the Church’s stand on the use of contraceptives.  Some believe living with a romantic partner outside of marriage does not constitute a sin. Still others believe we need a more welcoming attitude toward those who have remarried after a divorce without an annulment. And even quite a few Catholic Americans feel homosexual behavior is not a sin.  If they do embrace these views, they harbor them close to the vest.  Their goal is first and foremost to be a good Catholic, and they keep their personal opinions to themselves.

If you had to point to the biggest difference between an American Catholic and a Catholic American, it would seem to be their sense of mission.  A Catholic American sees it a fundamental responsibility to represent their faith in a public way.  They feel a mission to impact society in a positive way through the sharing of their faith.  They want to be a force for good in our society and the Church.

An American Catholic, on the other hand, is swimming along in the culture just trying to fit in.  They have little or no impact on society or the Chruch.

Which are you?