Friday, December 14, 2007

Quote of the Day

They come to talks by speakers like myself. They hear about the new liturgy, about the new understanding of the layman’s role, about collegiality, about the Church and the world, about a thousand and one new and exciting ideas. They are duly impressed. But who will speak to them quite simply about God, as of a person he intimately knows, and make the reality and presence of God come alive for them once more?

Before such need, how superficial, pathetically superficial, is much of the busyness of renewal. We reformers know so much about religion and about the church and about theology, but we stand empty-handed and uncomfortable when confronted with sheer hunger for God. Holiness is less easily acquired than fluency in contemporary thinking. But people who, after listening to our enthusiastic discourses, quietly ask us to lead them to God are, thought they do not know it, demanding holiness in us. I fear they may find everything else but that.

- Charles Davis, “A Hidden God”
America, January 29, 1966

Friday, October 5, 2007

“This is my path.”

Although I moved from New Jersey to Virginia almost ten years ago, I still take time to read the local newspapers online. I came across this story in one of them, and felt moved to spread the word.

Read on:

Young Mendham woman building orphanage in Nepal

By BELISA SILVA, Staff Writer

MENDHAM – Maggie Doyne, 20, has taken the road less traveled and it has made all the difference for her, for poverty-stricken children in India and Nepal and, most importantly, for the world in which she lives.

Doyne, a tiny blonde, cherubic girl who formerly lived in the borough, seems an unlikely person to have started her own orphanage in one of the most impoverished war-torn countries of the world.

She has also just registered her own non-government organization (NGO) called “Blink Now,” which is a grassroots nonprofit dedicated to providing destitute children with a self-sustainable, living environment, complete with food, water, medical care and education.

“The children are so beautiful and funny,” said Doyne, the daughter of Nancy and Steve Doyne of North Linden Lane. “You can’t help but fall in love with them.”

The 2005 West Morris Mendham High School graduate said that instead of choosing to attend a university, like her sisters, Kate, 23, and Libby, 19, and friends, she was inspired to take an uncommon path.

“When applying for college something didn’t feel right,” she said. “I decided I wanted to learn through traveling.”

Doyne then traveled with an organization called LEAPNOW to the South Pacific. LEAPNOW is a private organization that offers alternative travel and internships to college-age youths.While serving for a year with LEAPNOW, she said she got a first taste of her undeniable desire to see the world and help others along the way.

Relocates To India
After making contacts through LEAPNOW, Doyne began working at a small children’s home in Rishikesh, India, known as “Ramana’s Garden, in December 2005.”

While there, Doyne said she became frighteningly aware of the poverty plaguing parts of the world.

“Children who belong to a low caste would just be on the streets, begging or working,” Doyne said. “It was heartbreaking.”

Doyne said that during her two-years working at the orphanage, she found herself in some intense situations.

“Sometimes in India you see a midwife abandon a woman giving birth because she thinks the baby or the mother might not make it,” Doyne said. “They don’t want the bad karma.”

Doyne said she actually had to step in and deliver a breeched baby after the woman’s mid wife fled.

“I got there and the mom was alone on the floor, covered in blood and flies,” Doyne said. “It was scary, but the baby and the mother were OK.”

While at the orphanage, Doyne said a teenager who had been living there, asked Doyne to accompany her on a trip to her home village, located near Surkhet, Nepal.

Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world and has been racked by a bloody civil war since 1997. About 50,000 children, including orphans, ex-child soldiers and victims of brutal sex trafficking, were left to fend for themselves. Doyne said about 27 percent of Nepalese children are sold into child labor.

The journey from India to Nepal took the two girls two full days.

“Once we got there, I was getting stared at and babies were crying in terror because they had never seen a white face before,” Doyne said. “But, I was never scared and I never felt unsafe.”

Doyne said the displaced, impoverished children were scattered along the streets.

“It was devastating,” Doyne said. “There were so many small children in need of medical care, food, water, shelter and schooling.”

Rather than returning home to the comforts of her Mendham home, Doyne decided to do something that would forever change her life and the lives of others.

“I bought a piece of land near the village and decided I would build an orphanage,” Doyne said.

Taking the few thousand dollars she had saved from summer jobs, babysitting and pet-sitting, Doyne purchased bricks and cement and hired Nepalese workers to begin construction on the design she had created.

“I am naming the center ‘Kopila Valley,’ “ Doyne said. “Kopila is a Nepalese word for bud, and I think it is perfect because I will be working with children, who are still developing into what they will become.”

Doyne said she wants the center to serve as a comfortable, brightly colored safe home for children who have no place to lay their heads at night.

Eventually, Doyne would like the building to become an outreach center, which would provide schooling, medical care, food and shelter to children in the surrounding villages. She is also purchasing solar panels for eco-friendly lighting and a biodigesting toilet.

“I am hiring a Nepalese staff so that the center can be self-sustaining,” Doyne said. “There will be a playground and a garden and we will have our own cow for milk and fertilizer.”

Doyne said she wants Kopila Valley to be run mostly by Nepalese women, many of whom are widows, rejected from society.

“I want it to be a beautiful place full of nature and flowers,” she said. “It will be a loving environment.”
Take a look for yourself to read the rest of the story. I am in awe of what this young woman has done so far! Keep her in your prayers.

Photo: Observer Tribune

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Called to Serve

It was a typical Sunday in August, 1983. The congregation filed out of the parochial school auditorium that doubled as a sanctuary. The parish had outgrown the original church years ago, but work never began on a new structure. As the newly installed pastor shook hands and was introduced to his new flock that sunny afternoon, the construction of a new church was probably one of the many ideas that were going through his mind on that sunny day.

“Hi, my name is Joey Marotta. How old do I have to be to be an altar boy?” Father Kenneth Lasch looked down to see a young boy, no older than nine or ten years old, standing in front of him, hand outstretched.

“It’s nice to meet you, Joey” replied the pastor, shaking the boy’s hand. Gee, I am really not sure. I am new here, but I will find out for you.” I am sure the last thing on his mind as he took the helm of this parish was the creation of an altar boy formation program. After all, everything he owned was still packed in boxes and suitcases in the rectory! Did he really need to deal with this right away? However, he smiled, shook the hands of Joey’s slightly embarrassed parents and the line shuffled along.

The following week, Father Lasch stood in the parking lot of St. Joseph’s Church yet again.

“Did you find out how old I have to be to be an altar boy?” Joey asked again. Certainly a persistent young lad!

“No, not yet.” came the reply. “But Father Mike will be starting here in a few weeks. He is going to be in charge of that. It will be up to him.”

Every Sunday for the next month, Joey persistently made a point of saying “hi” to Father Lasch, touching base in case a decision had been made. Then, one Sunday, Father Lasch told him,

“I did speak to Father Mike, and he has decided that the minimum age for Altar Boys will be the fifth grade.” (Joey was about to start fourth grade.) “But, we are going to make an exception for you!”

As I reflect back on the early days of my church ministry, I cannot help but think of the story of Samuel and Eli in the temple. Samuel’s persistence, coupled with Eli’s keen perception permitted God to accomplish great things! Both individuals had a part to play. Samuel was open to hear God’s call. Whether or not his openness was intentional, his heart and mind were disposed to hear the call and respond. Samuel’s determination to answer God’s repeated call was also remarkable. How many of us would have simply ignored the subsequent calls, for fear of looking foolish? Eli initially was as much ‘in the dark’ as Samuel. It took time for him to appreciate the significance of what Samuel was describing to him. But his disposition allowed him to eventually understand. Again, how many of us would be as patient with a young child repeatedly interrupting our sleep? As the father of four young children, Eli’s calm demeanor takes on a unique significance!

In a similar manner, Father Lasch took the time to listen to a young man who had something to say. He treated his request with the dignity and respect that all such queries deserve, regardless of the age or status of the person making it. Young Joey’s repeated questions did border on annoying. And perhaps one would pardon Father Lasch if he had told Joey (within earshot of his parents) to stop asking. But the pastor saw it for what it was: the initial stirrings of a desire to minister to others. He knew that it was his obligation not only as a priest, but as a Christian to nurture and develop the seedling of faith that was blooming in front of him.

By making an ‘exception,’ by permitting Joey to begin serving on the altar a year sooner that would normally be allowed, the priest did something else. He told the young man that he was special. He was important. He was unique. He had something to contribute that was so important, that it could not wait one more year. By doing so, he did far more than light a fire inside that boy’s heart. In fact, the fire had been lit years before when another priest gave Joey’s parents a lit candle and told them to “receive the light of Christ.” No, Father Lasch did not light the fire. He poured gasoline upon it!

In the years that followed, that same fire would propel Joe as he learned about his faith and grew in his love of ministry. Service – whether on the altar or in the community – became a way of life. With the help and support of his chauffer-parents, he juggled multiple activities, all of them volunteer. Many of his friends assumed he did them to pad his college applications, or to earn scholarship money. But if truly pressed, he had to be honest. He did them because he enjoyed it. He loved to serve in a way that a young man can never fully understand. He loved to serve because that is what he was called to do.

Nearly six years after that initial introduction in the parking lot, Father Lasch stood next to Bishop Rodimer during the dedication liturgy for the new church sanctuary. No longer would the parish need to worship God from a sea of folding chairs beneath basketball hoops and scoreboards. He looked to his left, and saw a young man leading the altar servers, helping to walk them through the elaborate mass. It was a bit nerve wracking for the young servers to remember what to do in this new environment. But standing there, patiently directing them was Joe Marotta. He had retired as an altar server in order to assume the ministry of altar server coordinator. Neither he nor Father Lasch knew exactly what God had planned for this devout young man. But they both knew that whatever it was, it must certainly be special. And as long as they kept their ears and eyes open, they were sure to find out!

It is so easy to get caught up in the demands and obligations of our jobs, families, and even our ministry. We can be so sure that we have a good bead on things; that we know exactly what God is calling us – and others – to do. When we do so, instead of being an instrument of grace, we can become an obstacle to the fulfillment of God’s plan. His ways are not our ways, and we must always remember that.

I must keep my eyes and ears open for God’s call not only in my own life, but also the lives of those around me. The outside perspective is critical to effective discernment. As open as Samuel was to hearing God’s call, he needed Eli to identify its significance. As much as Joey desired to be up on the altar, he needed Father Lasch to identify that calling as valid and valuable. Discernment can never be performed in solitude. I need the help of others to identify and respond to God’s call.

As I embark upon a new chapter in my ministerial life, there is a lot I can learn from my initial call to ministry. It is comforting to know that the hand of God is at work in my life. Although I did not realize it at the time, I can see how the Holy Spirit was at play in that parking lot! With a more mature faith, I can clearly sense Her presence in my life. Although I am now able to recognize the Spirit in my life, trusting and following are far more difficult. It is amazing how many inhibitions and fears creep into one’s life over the years. The carefree days of childhood are replaced with professional demands, family commitments and financial obligations. It becomes increasingly more difficult to say, “Speak, Lord, your servant in listening.” Perhaps that is because we are just a tad bit afraid of what He is going to say! But as I think back on my childhood experience, an expression comes to mind: let go and let God!

Joey did not worry about much of anything other than answering the call to serve. His parents and pastor helped support and channel that energy. I must continue to allow my family and the church as a whole to support and guide me as I discern where God is calling me to serve. The path will not be easy, and will certainly require sacrifice. But on the deepest of levels, I know that I am called. I am loved. I have something special, critical and unique to contribute. Does anyone else smell gasoline?

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle C



Readings


In the 1970’s, two Princeton University psychologists performed a study to determine what factors would impact an individual’s impulse to help someone in need. They met with a group of students from the Princeton Theological Seminary, and asked each to prepare a brief talk on a given topic and then walk across campus to present it to a group of students.

On the way to present the talk, the psychologists had arranged for each subject to come across a man who was lying down in an alley, coughing and groaning. Obviously, they were interested in observing how many of the students would stop to help.

As with any good study, the psychologists introduced some variables into the scenario. Before the experiment started, each student was asked why they chose to study theology. Were they seeking personal and spiritual fulfillment, or were they looking for a tool that would help them find meaning in life? The psychologists also varied the topic that the students were to talk about. Some were asked to talk about how the relevance of the clergy to religious vocation. Others were asked to speak about the parable of the Good Samaritan. Finally, as each student was sent across campus to give their talk, some were told they were running late, and others were ahead of schedule.

The results were stunning. It did not matter why the students were studying theology. It did not even matter if they student had just finished preparing a talk on the Prodigal Son! The only thing that had an impact on whether a given student would stop to render aid was whether or not they thought they were late! Of the group that was told they were running ahead of schedule, 63% stopped to help. Only 10% of those who thought they were late stopped!

I am pretty sure that the priest and the Levite were not bad people. Like most of use, they most likely were caring and compassionate. However, they were focused on something else when the time came to put their faith into action. They most certainly saw the need, but were able to rationalize reasons not to act.

It is easy to take away the message of this week’s Gospel. We should view everyone as our neighbor. Just as God loves all of creation, we should show love, mercy and compassion to all those we meet. Acting on that message is the tricky part. We have all heard the phrase “What would Jesus Do?” In most cases, we can come up with the answer pretty easily. It is not so easy to take the next step.

It isn’t safe. Someone else is expecting me. Someone else will help. How often have you found yourself in the position of those seminary students? The priest? The Levite? I know I have more often than I care to admit.

Those who need our help may not exhibit the need in the same dramatic ways depicted in today’s Gospel or the Princeton experiment. They may be family members, close friends, co-workers, mere acquaintances or even perfect strangers. However, in each and every one of them, we sense that something is not right. We are faced with an opportunity to reach out and help. It may be as simple as providing a sympathetic ear or a shoulder to lean on. A smile or kind word will do just as much for someone who is having a bad day as the Good Samaritan’s generous care for the injured traveler.

Living the Gospel can be a challenge for many reasons. However, we often make it harder than it has to be. We often identify the Christian life with dramatic, grand gestures. It does not have to be that way. We do not need to change water into wine, or cure blindness, or raise someone from the dead in order to be Christ’s presence on earth.

Growing up, I had a pastor who always used to refer to the ‘salami approach’. He advised that we should take on a challenge “one thin slice at a time” Living the Gospel is a challenge that is best lived using the salami approach. We don’t all have to start out acting like the Good Samaritan. However, if we don’t start somewhere, we will find ourselves stepping over opportunities to be Christ for one and other.

We will always be running late to something. But so often, in that rush, opportunities to be on time for God abound! We just need to keep the eyes of our heart open.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle C


Readings

Last Easter, the A&E Channel aired a series called “God or the Girl”. It was a reality mini-series that followed four young men as they discerned whether or not they were called to pursue a vocation to the priesthood. One of the young men, named Joe, had been discerning for over ten years. He was having an exceedingly difficult time determining whether or not God was calling him to the celibate life of a priest.

So, in order to clear his mind, Joe set off on a pilgrimage. With no money, no vehicle, and only the clothes on his back, he started walking on a 200 mile trek to a retreat center near Niagara Falls. He had no idea what the journey would entail, but he was confidant that God would be with him every step of the way.

The seventy-two commissioned by Christ in today’s Gospel were sent on the same kind of journey. They were told to rely on the hospitality of those along the way to survive. It was a frightening then as it is now, but there is part of me that thinks that it might be a bit liberating as well. After all, consider all of the ‘stuff’ that we surround ourselves with in today’s world. Do we really need it? If we believe that God will provide, shouldn’t we be able to set it all aside?

Isn’t it true that the stuff can get in the way in so many ways? Whether it is acquiring it, safeguarding it, or using it, material possessions can distract us from what is important in life. Young Joe discovered that as he went on his journey. By having nothing, he made himself vulnerable. But he also opened his life up to the charity of others. He was able to allow others to give of themselves in order to help him. And give they did. They provided him with meals, money, food, companionship, and prayers.

When Jesus sent the seventy-two out to spread the good news of his message, he understood that it was not simply enough to teach with words. By making sure that his messengers would require the support of the communities they visited, he set up a situation where those who received the news would have an immediate opportunity to put that lesson into action!

Those who were sent were not the apostles. They were part of the larger community of followers, and the way of life that he was teaching obviously made an impact on how they lived their lives. They became the leaven in the communities they visited.

We are called to do the same. Whether as a messenger of the gospel with nothing but the clothes on our backs, or as part of a community that receives and provides for such a messenger, today’s Gospel calls us to act. We are called to act charitably, but also to receive the charity of others.

In the end, Joe made it to his destination. His pilgrimage gave him the time and space to decide what God was calling him to do with his life. Although he had nothing, those along the way gave him what he needed. The message was clear: God will always provide what we need.

Joe did not decide to enter the seminary. However, the title of this program was a misnomer. It presupposes that the only way to love and serve God is as a member of the ordained clergy. We all know that that is far from true. Although several of the young men did not enter the priesthood, all four are still actively living out their baptismal call to serve. For example, Joe accepted a position as a lay campus minister, using his gifts and talents to help other young men and women discern God’s call in their lives. He is at peace with his decision, and can see that every step of the way, God continues to be with him.

We do not all have to take the dramatic steps that Joe took. However, Jesus is calling us to step out of our comfort zone in order to spread the Good News of the Gospel. Try a little experiment this week. Find an opportunity to go out on a limb without any support to do something kind for another person. It does not have to be costly, or dangerous for that matter. But it should be something that makes you a bit nervous or uncomfortable in some way.

I bet you will find that your fears will disappear before you know it. I bet that is what those disciples discovered. Sure, at first they were scared about traveling with no means of support. They could very well die! But after the first couple of villages, I am sure they discovered that God was with them. They were able to see His face in every man, woman and child who helped them along the way.


It makes you wonder, who was Jesus trying to teach with that mission: the folks in the villages, or those he sent?

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle C

Readings

I began my professional career as a staff accountant with a large CPA firm in New York City. While they recruited me, I was wined and dined in the finest restaurants. I was told about all of the prestigious clients in the firm portfolio. I met partners and other senior leadership. The message was clear, “If you work hard enough, all this can be yours.”

And work hard I did. Interestingly enough, one does not see much of the late nights, weekends and other sacrifices during the recruitment period. “You know you are in public accounting when you eat lunch in the finest restaurant in town and dinner out of a vending machine.” Been there, done that. Every day I caught a 5:20 a.m. train into Manhattan, and then took the subway across town in order to be at my desk by 7:00 a.m. Twelve to thirteen hours later, I would reverse direction and head back home. After a quick bite to eat and an occasion phone chat with my fiancĂ©e, Katie, it was off to bed to repeat the cycle.

Katie lived about 400 miles away in Appomattox, Virginia. Fortunately, we each had a lot of friends in the DC area, so we used to meet there for weekends about once a month. If anyone has tried to sustain a long distance relationship, you will appreciate the challenges we faced. Having a job where I did not know whether I would have to work Saturday until Friday afternoon did not help matters!

But, we stuck it out. We had it all planned out. Once we got married, she would move up to New Jersey. We would find an apartment, she would (hopefully) get a teaching job, and we would start a family together. Sure, it would be tough for a while, but I was on the ‘fast track.’ Once I made partner, we would have it made.

Or would we?

You see, as I looked down the conference room table on a lot of those late nights, the partner was right there with us! I cannot tell you how many times I overheard phone conversations that were peppered with apologies for missed recitals, swim meets and little league games. Sure, I might drive a Lexus and live in a mansion, but at what price?

It all became crystal clear for me the week before Valentine’s Day. Katie and I were planning to meet in DC. However, my manager told me that there was a good chance we would have to work that weekend. We would not know until Friday afternoon. Suffice it to say, Katie was not happy, and neither was I!

I had a lot of time to think on the train ride to and from the City every day. Is this any way to start a marriage? If Katie moves up here, she will not know anyone. My entire social life centered on the office. There was a good chance she would not find a teaching job. Regardless she would be left alone in a shoebox of an apartment, while I worked sixty to eighty hour weeks. And so, I came to a very real conclusion. If I was to commit to my marriage, I would have to leave this career, this lifestyle, behind.

Today’s scripture readings talk to us about making some pretty drastic changes. It may be tough for us to reconcile today’s Gospel message with our understanding of God’s love for the Family. How can Jesus, the mercy and compassion of God personified, talk of abandoning one’s family so abruptly?

The message of both reading is not so much that we need to run away from our parents and families. Rather, I believe the lesson is that quite often, we are faced with opportunities that cannot coexist with our current life. We must make a choice to turn away from our current life to pursue the new opportunity. If we do not turn away, if we try to incorporate the new into the old, quite often it just doesn’t work.

Now, not all of these choices are as drastic as choosing between a career and a marriage, or the life of a prophet and the life of a farmer. No. Most are far more subtle. But the more dramatic ones give us pause, and help to put the smaller ones into perspective. I would argue that the smaller choices are the harder ones. Quite often, the big opportunities almost presuppose that we will need to turn away from our old life. Who would think to accept a job in Los Angeles while still living in New York? In those kinds of cases, we know that we must make drastic changes to our lives in order to accommodate the new direction we are heading.

But as Children of God, we are called to lives our lives in a manner to draws us ever closer to Him. Paul tells us today to “live by the Spirit”. To do so, we must die to the flesh. We have moved out of the Easter Season and are well into Ordinary Time. But this time should be far from ordinary! Every day we are called to live out the promises, the commitment that was made at our baptism. We are commissioned to “love our neighbor as ourselves” Are you still willing to accept that challenge?

If so, from what do you need to turn away? Are there people, practices, things that might hold you back in accomplishing that mission? If so, today’s scripture tells you to drop them. And fast! I think the drastic nature of the departure is an acknowledgement that sometimes “cold turkey” is the only way to quite. Otherwise, those negative influences continue to hold us back.

Living a perfectly Christian life is a contradiction. When measured against the standards that we would use, it is actually impossible to do. We are imperfect beings. Story after story in scripture proves that. Throughout the Old and New Testament we find individuals who earnestly search for God and strive to enter into communion with him. None of them do so perfectly. They all have their flaws. As do we. However, they all seek Him earnestly and fervently. That, my friends, is the standard by which God measures us. We must turn away from the standards of this world, and seek to meet those of the next.

My move to Virginia was by no means a safe one. There were plenty of people who thought I was throwing my career away. Perhaps I did. You know what? I didn’t care then, and I don’t care now. I threw it away for all the right reasons. Even before I truly understood marriage, I understood that the commitment I was making would require my entire being. I had to give up the career for the girl. As you sit here today, reflect on your own lives. What do you need to give up in order to grow closer to the loving embrace of God?

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist - Cycle C

Readings

Making Sheep

This past week I had the opportunity to attend a work shop on Christian Initiation. It was a wonderful experience and the perfect balance of instruction and discussion, practical and conceptual, worship and contemplation. Although the primary topic of the seminar was the reception of previously baptized Christians into the Full Communion of the Roman Catholic Church, all aspects of Christian Initiation of Adults were addressed at some level.

You may be asking yourself, “What does this have to do with the John the Baptist?” After all, the image the Scriptures paint of him is pretty scary! But, for a moment, let’s put that image aside. Take away the locust and honey diet, the camel hair attire, and the commands to repent. Let’s just consider what it was that John did. At the core, what was his ministry?

John brought people to Christ. He called people to be born again through baptism and follow the one whose sandals he was unworthy to fasten. He certainly had a dramatic way of going about it, but it worked. It was John who led them to Christ. Not some angel, not some star. A man. A smelly, crazy looking, wild eyed man.

This past week, I heard a very profound quote. “Shepherds don’t make sheep. Sheep make sheep.” Think about it for a moment. Reflect for just a moment about what that means to you as a baptized Christian.

Jesus instructed his disciples to “Go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” This work of making disciples, of making sheep, is not just the work of the clergy. It is not even just the work of the RCIA catechists and sponsors. It is the work of ALL of us. By virtue of your baptism, it is not just your right, it is our responsibility to make sheep.

You may be sitting there asking, “How do I do that? I don’t know anything about bringing people into the church. I am not even sure I know everything I should know about being Catholic myself! I don’t have time to be attending those classes on Tuesday nights. I do enough for the church already.”

Shepherds don’t make sheep. Sheep make sheep. And although it has been a while since I have been around any sheep, I do not recall that they fret about how to make more sheep. They simply do it. How do they do it? By acting like sheep!

Christians make Christians by acting like Christians. Love you neighbor. Don’t just be with those you love. Love those you are with. Participate in the Sunday liturgy fully, consciously and actively. Sing out with joy to the Lord every day. Proclaim the Good News at home, at school, at work. Use words only when necessary.

Use the Eucharistic Liturgy to nourish your faith. Chew upon the Body of Christ from the Ambo as well as the Table. But do not simply stop there. Go. Go in Peace to Love and Serve the Lord in all People!!!! We are sent. Each and every Sunday, we are sent. We are sent not just to eat donuts and chit chat outside the Church. We are sent not just to rush home to get on with our weekend activities. We are sent to Love and Serve the Lord. The nourishment we receive at the Eucharistic table is not just for us. We are to use it to build up the Body of Christ. It is to bring about the Kingdom of God. It is to make Disciples of all Nations. It is to make sheep!

So, let us join John the Baptist in fulfilling that mission. While we may not be wearing Camel Hair and eating locusts, in today’s world, if we live a life consistent with the message of love and forgiveness proclaimed by Christ, I promise you we will look just as strange! And amazingly enough, people will follow us nevertheless!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C


Readings

Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound!
There sure is a lot going on in today’s Gospel! Simon the Pharisee invites Jesus to dine at table, but then denies him all of the respect due to a guest. Who knows what hidden agenda Simon may have had or why he invited Jesus in the first place. However, Jesus’ agenda is as clear, and consistent, as ever. He accepts the hospitality of both the Pharisee (albeit limited) as well as that of the sinful woman. To top it all off, Jesus uses the opportunity to demonstrate to all who will listen the extent of mercy and love that God has for all of us. "Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound!" (Rom 5:20)

Although this Gospel falls on the Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, it is far from ordinary. Elements of it point to several other Gospel stories. For example, this foot washing is not the only one depicted in the Gospels. At the Last Supper, John tells us that Jesus washes the feet of his disciples, commanding them to continue to do the same to each other. To the early Christians, the rite of foot washing was much more meaningful. It was a basic courtesy and sign of hospitality. After traveling a distance over hot, dry sand, with nothing but sandals to protect one’s feet, the sensation of cool water would certainly be welcomed!

The task of washing feet was reserved for the lowest of servants. As such, when Jesus washes the feet of his disciples, he reinforces his teaching about the Kingdom of God: the first shall be last and the last shall be first. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tell us that,

“I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.”

“Whatever you did for these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”

That certainly sounds a whole lot like what we just heard him tell Simon,

“When I entered your house you did not give me water for my feet, but she has bathed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair.”

What possessed that woman to approach Jesus and extend the hospitality that Simon had withheld? Although Luke does not tell us explicitly, it certainly was a force that was outside of her sinful nature. Perhaps it was the Holy Spirit. It was certainly the same sort of spirit that helps each of us when we face a choice between doing what is right or doing nothing at all.

I once went on a class trip to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. It was my senior year in high school, and as part of a class in European History, we were touring the Cathedral, as well as the Metropolitan Museum of Art. After we had finished touring the Church, I was heading back to the bus along with my classmates. Suddenly, I noticed that one of my friends was missing. I turned around to see him talking with a homeless man who was pan handling.

I have to admit that I did not notice him. All I recall was that he was black, unshaven, and that he wore an old army jacket. But I do remember what Mike told us when he eventually rejoined the group. The man was from North Carolina. He had no job, and no way to get back to his family. The rest of us probably sounded a lot like Simon when we scolded Mike for talking to someone like that gentleman. After all, we were in the big, bad ‘city’. But Mike saw past his outward appearance, and granted him a sign of hospitality and dignity.

The 'urge' to step out of our zone of comfort and reach out to another comes from the Spirit. Henri Nouwen, in his book, Bread for the Journey, notes that, "The way God's Spirit manifests itself most convincingly is through its fruits: "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Galatians 5:22). These fruits speak for themselves. It is therefore always better to raise the question "How can I grow in the Spirit?" than the question "How can I make others believe in the Spirit?""


There is another scripture story that comes to mind when I reflect upon this Gospel. At the conclusion of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, we witness the pure contrition of the younger son, the jealousy of the older son, and the unconditional love of the father. In today’s Gospel, we see similar characters. Simon the Pharisee is no different from the older son. He is unable to grasp the full potential of God’s mercy. It is an interesting question to ponder. Who is the bigger sinner? The one who strays, realizes she has done so, and returns, or the one who never strayed but does not understand the full capacity of God’s love for him?

Before we can be forgiven, we must accept that we are forgivable. That can be a very difficult leap. Simon the Pharisee and the Older Son could not make it. The Woman and the Younger Son could. They were all sinners. We are all sinners. We all have the capacity to extend mercy and hospitality to one and other, and to withhold the same. Jesus is consistent in his message. We must give without expectation of anything in return. That is the generosity that God the Father gives to each of us. Quite frequently, He gets nothing in return but a slap in the face. But he still gives, and remains ready to celebrate our return.

So keep your eyes open for those opportunities to extend hospitality to those around you. In the home, in the school, in the workplace. On the highway, at the store, on the street corner. Opportunities abound, but we must allow God to work through us to bring about the Kingdom. The quiet voice of the Spirit will be there, as long as we are listening.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ – Cycle C


Readings

What if the bread and wine change, and we don’t?”

I once came across that very question. On this feast celebrating the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, it is a fitting question to ask. The readings for today give us a lot on which to ‘chew’. They each present an aspect of what we in the Catholic Christian tradition have come to call Eucharist.

The first reading, from the very first book of the Bible, describes how the priest Melchizedek made an offering of bread and wine on behalf of Abram and his people. Today we can see the Eucharistic imagery contained in this story. The Eucharist most certainly is a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.

The second reading, from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, presents us with the image of Eucharist as a commemorative meal. The Last Supper was probably a celebration of the Passover Seder. To the Jews, remembering an event did not simply mean thinking about something in the past. It meant experiencing the event in the present. Not a reenactment of the event, but the actual event. When Jews celebrate the Passover Seder, they are with Moses and the people of Israel on the night before they were lead out of slavery. Likewise, when we celebrate the Eucharistic meal, we are with Christ and His disciples ‘on the night before he died’. Before you scoff at the notion, remember, in God’s time, there is no past, present or future. To God, all things are present.

Finally, the Gospel presents us with the image of a sacred meal. God provided for all those gathered in His name. Recently I attended a luncheon thanking those who lead the many ministries in my parish. There were fifty or sixty people in attendance. We were seated eight to a table. The image in today’s Gospel of groups of fifty sitting patiently on a hillside to be fed bread and fish comes to mind. Of course, what is particulary powerful in that example is that those that were being nourished at the luncheon did not simply eat and run. They are living out their baptismal promises. The luncheon was a time to celebrate what was done, and 'fuel up' for what was left to be done!


Remember that Jesus instructed the disciples to feed the multitudes. We are called to take an active part in nourishing our community, physically, mentally and spiritually. Even when we do not think we have it in us to do so, God will provide. The great Catholic writer Thomas Merton once noted that. “It helps me to remember that I need to trust that God will provide through me, not from me.” That is a lesson those disciples most certainly learned on the hillside that day.

And, it is one we must learn also. We often hear it said that “You are what you eat.” We must ask ourselves today if that is really true. Do we tend to those who need our care? Do we clothe and shelter those with nothing? Do we feed those who are hungry? Do we visit those who are alone? Jesus did all of these things, and commissioned us to do the same in his name. He provided us with the Eucharist as spiritual nourishment. It is truly viaticum, food for the journey. What if the bread and wine change and we do not?

Saturday, June 2, 2007

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity - Cycle C





We Plan, God Laughs!


With our first child almost two years old, my wife and I felt it was time to start trying to have a second child. We were blessed with the positive home pregnancy test in March of 2003. I have to admit that we felt like this was old hat. At least I did. A few weeks later we went to the obstetrician for the first doctor's visit.

Everything was pretty straight forward until we got to the ultrasound part of the exam. Katie and I stared at the small black and white screen while the doctor manipulated the wand. I had no idea what I was looking at. Then, the doctor said, "It looks like we have two!" She pointed to two, tiny flashing lights. They looked like blinking cursors on a computer screen. "Looks like two, healthy heartbeats." Katie always wanted to have twins, and I was excited too. The doctor half-jokingly said "Let me just make sure there isn't another one in there somewhere."

She had just finished saying that when I saw another tiny cursor blinking on the screen. I asked, "Is that what I think it is?" The doctor nodded. Triplets. The rest of the exam is a blur. Katie and I stumbled out of that office, trying to process how our lives were about to totally change.

Today's feast calls us to ponder the mystery of the Holy Trinity. Today's readings are a window into that mystery. All three of them place an emphasis on the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. It is referred to as the 'wisdom of God,' and the 'spirit of truth'. We are told that it was with God at the 'beginning of His ways.' It 'finds delight in the human race.' It pours the Love of God into our hearts. It is the Spirit that empowers us to live out our Christian mission. Jesus may have shown us the way to the Father, but we don't have a chance of getting there without the Spirit. Jesus tells us to love our enemies; the Spirit gives us the compassion to forgive those who have hurt us. Jesus tells us to care for the poor; the Spirit gives us the courage to approach that person on the street and give them something to eat. In today's readings, we hear that God is with us always and forever!

But do we recognize God in our lives? Sure, you and I recognize Him in the Eucharist, we see Him in the readings from the Scriptures. But what about outside of church? How do we recognize the Holy Spirit helping us in our daily lives? We know from last week's readings that the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles like tongues of flame. Can you see that flame in your own life?

It is there. I promise you. Christ promises you. We just heard Jesus tell us that the Spirit will 'guide us to all truth.' But we have to look for it. Just as that third baby was hiding at first glance, the Spirit of God sometimes is tough to see. If we open our hearts and minds to the presence of the Spirit, wonderful things happen. We do things we could never do on our own. We say things we could never say on our own. We love people we could never love on our own! When we see the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we allow God to work through us, with us, and in us!

Find time to pray every day. Each of us can block out fifteen minutes to sit in silence and open our hearts so that the Spirit can fill it with the love of God. Let God delight in watching the Spirit guide you. Great things will come from it. Keep your eyes, hearts and minds peeled for that third little blinking light. Believe me, three is never easy, never boring, and certainly never clean! But now that I have experienced it, I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world!

Friday, June 1, 2007

Measure Twice, Cut Once

I am a fan of wood working shows. Keep in mind that until recently, my hands-on experience with carpentry was limited to my years in middle school shop class! However, my wife, Katie, gave me a certificate for some woodworking lessons as a Christmas present a couple of years ago. In my professional life, I am expected to call upon my experience and technical knowledge to make decisions all day long. There was something very relaxing about being a student in a class about a subject that I knew nothing about! I guess some of the sawdust must have gotten into my blood, because, I have been working on putting together a small shop in our basement ever since.

It wasn't until last year that I made the connection between my hobby and my patron saint - Joseph. Furthermore, there was something that one of those woodworking classes taught me that carries over to my faith life. The instructor said that the key to fine woodworking is not making every piece perfectly the first time. It is in being able to work around the inevitable mistakes, to recover from them and make the finished piece look like it is perfect. Before I took the woodworking classes, I already knew how to use a saw, a drill, etc. What my teacher was able to show me, however, was what to do when the saw, or the drill did not do exactly what I intended them to do. How can I make that mis-cut look like I intended it to be there? How do I make it appear to disappear altogether?

An important adage in woodworking is to "measure twice, cut once." If I prayerfully reflect on my decisions in life, I am a lot less likely to make mistakes. However, when I inevitably make one, I need to draw upon my experience to fix them. Just like a piece of wood, I cannot simply 'erase' what I have done. But I can work with what I have to make it as good, or better, than I intended. I am sure these were the lessons that Saint Joseph taught a young Jesus as they worked side by side in his shop.

I have been very active in Catechetical ministry for seven years. As the coordinator of my parish's RCIA process, I have the privilege of accompanying people from all walks of life on their journeys of faith. I make it very clear at the beginning of each year that RCIA is not a class in church history or a course in theology. It is an apprenticeship in discipleship. The medieval guilds were on to something when they set up the structure for training future tradesmen. Christianity is not something we can learn from a textbook, or even a lecture. We must learn by doing. Those seeking full membership in the church are the apprentices, the catechists (and all the faithful, for that matter) are the journeymen. While we have grasped the basic skills of our craft, we still have much to learn from the Master!