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Saturday, October 19, 2013

Persevering Prayer

Bible Readings for Mass 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time:  { Ex. 17:8-13; Ps. 121:1-8;
II Tim. 3:14-4:2; Lk. 18:1-8
Mass Readings

 Homily 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time  ~ 20 October 2013

Persevering Prayer

Power.   The struggles for power have flooded the news.  Whether we look to the politicians in Washington, striking workers and management, or even within families and relationships, these struggle are seen.   The grasping for power is seen as essential if we are to live with the intent of being in charge, being in control.  Our culture is obsessed with this struggle.  IF we stay in touch (especially through the pretense  of electronic media),  IF we keep on top of the information and knowledge we need..then we will have the power, we will be in charge of our lives.  
Sadly this  struggle for power is pursued on the shifting, sandy myths of the world.   Sadly our pursuit of power often neglects the most power-filled practice provided to humanity.
Our Bible readings speak directly to this struggle  as God calls us to …..prayer,  more specifically, 

Persevering Prayer.

Persevere in Prayer through Conflict:   Our shared story of Moses in the Old Testament today clearly illustrates this reality.  God had called the Israelites to the Promised Land.  Then, as now, Satan's intent was to deter and to rob God's faithful from that promise.  This battle is at the heart of the challenges of prayer.  WHY is it so difficult?   Why  is it so hard to to come to Mass and then to truly enter into the prayer as opposed to just warming a pew?  Why is it so hard to go to Adoration?  Pray the Rosary?  Pray the Stations of the Cross?  Or to, in the most simple sense…to pray with perseverance?  As Moses and the Israelites encountered, seeking the Kingdom of God is a battle.   St. Paul, millennia later, would remind us : "we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against spiritual; wickedness in high places".  Persevering prayer is a call to battle.  But it is only through the battle we come to victory.  As Winston Churchill once said: " if you are going  through hell, keep going".   We must not stop praying.  We must allow God to send us His help of His Spirit, His angels and saints that we may persevere.

Persevere in Prayer through the Weariness.  Our wine country is very popular for racing.  Walking, running, bicycling all are disciplines popularly pursued through the hills and valleys of our land.  The winners, those completing their race, must persevere.    Why is this concept so difficult for those seeking God in prayer?    Truth be told,  prayer is often wearisome.  It is, especially when real prayer is being done, WORK.   This is complicated by the extra stuff we bring with us in prayer.  We love ours distractions.  The cyber-electronic  obsession of many has not neglected prayer.  A quick Google of "prayer Apps"  brought….44,500,000 Apps in less than 20 seconds.  Now some are possibly helpful.  But are any of them necessary?   Going back to the racers we see on our roadways, what would we think if we saw someone in a race carrying loads of baggage?  We would think they are not to keen to finish the win.  Yet how often do we come to a time of prayer burdened with trinkets and stuff in hand and soul, that distract us from the goal of persevering in prayer.  The extra baggage only hastens the weariness that can deter us from completing the race.  Let us allow the Holy Spirit to lift from our hearts and hands anything that hinders us in our prayers.

Persevere to God.  Jesus in the Gospel spoke of the woman who was frankly pestering the unjust judge until he responded to her plea.  He closes the parable with a question.  When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?    When Christ comes in glory, or, when Christ calls us to the ultimate realization that we are not in control, and calls us home will He find faith in our hearts?   God is not seeking a scoreboard of success.  God is looking to see who prays the most rosaries or attends Mass most often.  God is not looking to see how much Bible we have read or memorized.  Those are all very good things to do.  But we must remember...God is looking for …you.  If we come to Him wounded, weary, scarred from conflict He will embrace us with His healing, cleansing grace.  If we come having foolishly followed the prodigal, He will again hear and help us return to His feast.  If only we could see it isn't about power or control.  It isn't about the conflict or our weariness.  It is about the majestic joy and love as we enter into His Presence. 

And though we realize it so late we understand that in persevering into His Presence we enter the most powerful and peaceful place in Heaven and earth.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Repentance ~ A Verb of Life

[A cyber-version of my homily for the 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time]

Repentance  ~ A Verb of Life

In our society today there is an intense obsession for placing blame.  From politics to health care, from our relationships and even the practicing of faith the desire to point fingers of blame dictate behavior, policy and life itself.  While it is important to understand the causes of issues and problems that understanding is not helped or developed when our conclusions are infected with this pervasive virus of the soul.  To embrace the fervor for blame, while popular, is not an embrace from God.  To foster blame is to foster judgment and condemnation.    To find blame is powerfully contrasted in our Bible readings this 24the Sunday of Ordinary Time.  Our readings share another verb but it is a verb of life, the choice of repentance.

It is unfortunate that when the word  repentance is shared many people will quickly sense a strong resistance and aversion to the concept.  Repentance has a conflicted and, at times, unpleasant reputation.  Straight away let us establish what repentance is not.  Repentance is not the harsh penances practiced (often with great pride) by individuals and groups throughout the church throughout the ages.  Self-inflicted beatings, cruel depravations of self and others of care, food and solace is, again not repentance.  Nor is repentance just about sin.  Say the word and many (Christians and unbelievers) will automatically focus upon a vast array of sins of which repentance may be needed.  Strangely, though the focus often stays on the sins or the sinner.  That is not repentance.  Nor is repentance the avoidance of what some may judge to be sin (food, music, people) or the practice of perceptions of holiness, (spiritual postures and practices and appearances).  Then what is repentance?

To understand real, healthy repentance we do well to go to the roots of the word.  The word repentance is from Old French and Latin.  Repentance is  a verb of life it is simply is an intensive action of regret and being sorry.  It is a realization of a wrong course of life or action and a real (intensive)  change of heart and direction.   God would call us all to be a people of  repentance, a people of life.  Our Bible readings help us understand what that means.  We are also profoundly blessed on this September 15th (our Vigil Mass for tomorrow) to be celebrating the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross; for it is at the Cross we discover the majestic truth, the joy and power,  we find the Place, the Practice and The Person of repentance.  

The Place of Repentance is discovered as we journey on our way of the Cross.   Through the course of our life we each will face times of failure, not just in doing that which is harmful but in not doing what brings us life.  It is in our places of  struggle, heartache or woundedness that we can (if we resist the temptation to just blame) chose to enter into the path of repentance.  It may be a profound realization that we are headed in a wrong direction and we must quickly get off the off ramp and turn around, or it may be a simple adjustment of attitude and vision.  It is a paradox of faith that the power of life bringing repentance is found at a place known for death, the place of the Cross.  Yet countless believers, starting with the repentant thief on the cross next to Jesus discovered that even when circumstances have us confined the place of repentance, the Cross is a place of freedom, healing and life.  For the Prodigal Son the Place of Repentance, started at the pig sty of personal poverty and worth.  But it encompassed a journey of intense, practiced steps…home.

The Place of Repentance teaches us, daily, the Practice of Repentance. There is profound power and joy that comes when one not only say but BE sorry.  Perhaps those seeds of sorrow for sin or failure may seem very small but when planted in faith and nurtured in humble love they can grow to lives of great beauty and strength.  This practice, as we have seen, isn't just about saying set prayers.  It isn't about the condemnation of self.  It is about the turning away from destructive practices, words, longings,  to those that bring life, discovery and hope.  A good measure of the strength of our repentance is the growth of peace, the realization of God's love and the sense of the joy of Heaven shared by the angels when a sinner repents. The practice of real repentance will bring a growing dawning of the Light of God's mercy as we turn our backs on whatever practices or places of darkness we may have known.  It is as we journey the places of repentance, growing in a faith-filled true practice,  that we come to discover that real repentance is about a Person.   The Prodigal in our Gospel had a long and arduous journey home, although his weak faith may have brought fears it was deep inside he longed to return home to his father. 

Real Repentance brings us to the Cross, it is there that our practices are freed from those things that cripple and deter us in our journey.  It is at the Cross we are freed to start practicing our lives for which we are created. And, it is at the Cross we discover we are destined to know the  Person, Jesus Christ and the  loving embrace of God.  Repentance is most clearly about a person discovering the forgiveness, mercy and love  God has for us.  The Prodigal son was fearful and humbly planned on living in his father's estate as a servant.  Little did he realize for how long his father had been waiting, searching the horizon for his son's return.    From the place of repentance and the faithful practices we then encounter and discover, as did the thief on the cross the embracing words of mercy of the Savior…"Today, you will be with in Paradise".  We would do well to leave our focus upon sins and sinners and focus on the scene as Jesus brought the fallen, yet repentant thief into the loving embrace of our Heavenly Father.  

God calls us to be a people of repentance.  He calls to turn away from blaming, fear, hate and judgement.  He calls us away from sin.  He calls us each to realize we are all prodigals and that our Heavenly Father longs for us.  He calls us to a life of Heavenly joy as we share in our deeds and words the practices of real repentance.  He calls us to both know and share the mercy-filled embrace of the Savior as He brings us to our Heavenly Father.  True repentance is, simply realizing God, in love is calling us.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Religion & War

Mt. 5:9  "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. "

The United States is possibly once again on the threshold of another war, this even as the longest war in our history continues on.  As a Catholic, Christian, and clergy I hear and read of many who fault all things religious and love to claim that religion is the cause of war.

YES! there have been wars and conflicts, violence and evils done in the name of any religion a person may examine, none would be exempt.  But to say religion is the cause of war expresses profound ignorance of the history of war in the world.  Even those conflicts said to be "religious", if looked at honestly, show that religion is often used as an excuse for...politics and greed.    This claim faulting religion as the cause of war ignores the role of peace, healing and mercy exercised by diverse religions in conflicts over the ages.  The actual percentage of true wars of religion is quite small.  Wars where religion is used by sides is higher.

So, what are some real causes of war?

~ Politics, power struggles among people and leaders.
~ Resources, Oil, food, water, slaves are commodities for which people have gone to war.
~ Greed.  Oil fields, watersheds, fertile lands and commercial crossroads have long been places sought, coveted and killed for, sadly sometimes in the name of religion.
~ Ignorance fueling fear.  People have long been manipulated to violence by leaders capitalizing on ignorance to fuel fear.
~ Loss of awareness of the sacredness of all life.  Hearts in conflict can lead to communities and lands in conflict.  Life no longer recognized as sacred is very easy to destroy and use for others greed.
~ Misplaced faith.  We all believe.  Some believe 'might makes right'.  Some believe that their faith equals their politics.  Some believe in themselves.  And some believe in God,  in many diverse ways.

There will be those who say that war is inevitable.   There will be those who say that waging peace is cowardly.  It takes great courage to be a peace maker.  It takes faith in something, Someone, greater than ourselves to pray for peace.   Prayer and making peace is hard work.   But it is blessed by God.
Pope Francis has asked that we Catholics, and anyone wanting peace to pray for peace in Syria and the Mid East.  May we turn to the Prince of Peace and follow in courage & love.

James 4:
1.  What causes wars, and what causes fightings among you? Is it not your passions that are at war in your members?
2. You desire and do not have; so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war. You do not have, because you do not ask. 
3. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 

3:18: And the harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Notions & Seeing Jesus

Bible Readings for the 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time:

[Cyber-version of my homily for 18 August 2013]

I grew up in the time of the old 5 & 10 stores.  These were awesome places for a kid that lived up to their being known as Variety Stores.  From paint to school supplies, fabric and patterns for  mom’s sewing and, my favorites the goldfish and little green pet turtles and usually a lunch counter if you had a notion for a bite to eat.  These stores were  known for their “notions”.  People would go and especially look for those “notions” (sewing, craft, projects) that they needed or wanted. Notions are good, provided they don’t clutter or posses our lives, our souls.

Our Bible readings this 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time reminded me of how we cherish our notions, especially those of soul and spirit.  Our readings also challenge us to face the conflicts and divisions our notions can bring and the One who can lead us free to know and discover not the stuff of this world but the One who fills our greatest longings.

Jesus loves to challenge our notions.   Those things, concepts, the stuff of life, whether it be materialism, or stuff of soul and spirit that clutters our ability to see Christ in our daily lives.  

In the Gospel reading we share one of the more intense and troubling messages of Christ.  “ I come to ignite a fire on earth!” {Powerful words for a retired Fire fighter and investigator to hear].  I come, not to bring peace but divisions.  How does this reconcile with His repeated invitations to peace?  How does this fit with His prayers before His Passion that we be one as He and the Father are one?  It doesn’t conflict.  It actually challenges us to realize that in our notions (material or spiritual) we will not find peace.  When the fire of His Holy Love threatens our false possessions we often struggle and fight. Are we going to follow Him or cling to our stuff?

Notions were in many ways the core of the problem in the Old Testament story we heard of Jeremiah being cast into the cistern by his enemies.  As a prophet of God Jeremiah had challenged the deeply rooted notions of idolatry held by many of the people of Israel.  His message and life was upsetting the politics of power in the country.  Jeremiah found, in his faith, love, his obedience to God that he was literally cast down into the pit and left to die.   But God had not left him.  As the Psalm proclaimed He heard his call in the depths of conflict and raised him up out of the pit to serve and follow the Lord again.  

As Christ expresses in our Gospel we see in the story of Jeremiah.  When we, when those in our lives, find our treasured notions challenged division and conflict will occur.
For some it may be a literal hoarding of stuff that can in the most tragic sense fill rooms, houses, and hearts that crowd out the real treasures of our life.  Often people can become so secure in their insecurities that to let go of those treasured fears and hurts can only be done with the grace of God and loving help of family and friends.

But we also hoard and hide the notions of soul and spirit.  Our country, our Church, our families as well, are struggling with divisions and strife as people cling to their notions of being Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative.  The fear some have, in their spirituality, that worship or liturgy, or their "non-religious spirituality" must be precise and performed according to their understanding (either liberal or conservative, religious or spiritual, orthodox or we love the notions of our labels!) and preferences is cause for growing conflict in places God longs to be places of true worship and faith, in our hearts.  But the love of Christ can lift us from the bondages of our divisions.

The epistle this day reminds us of two very essential aspects of our Catholic faith.  In our Communion of the Saints we remember we are being cheered on, encouraged by our Heavenly companions.  The angels and saints, those who have lived through and conquered with Christ all the notions and stuff of this world help us to know the call of His love the fire and beauty of His holiness that we are called to share.  More precisely they help us to focus, not on the stuff, the notions we think are so important but to look to Jesus.  

With our eyes of faith touched by His nail pierced hands we can grow in our vision of seeing Him.  We can start to see Him more clearly in the Eucharist, yes.  But Jesus will not be confined there.  We can start to see Christ in the poor and afflicted, as our Pope Francis calls us to do.  We can learn to see Christ, in His Body, the Living Eucharist, the People of God. We ca start to see Christ in our family, friends...ourselves. And it is as we see Him our hearts will burn with the fire of His love.
Let us let go our cluttered notions and look to Jesus, in His Eucharistic Presence, Christ's glory in Creation and His Presence in each other.  

Saturday, June 01, 2013

The Body & Blood of Christ ~ Unveiled

The Feast of the Body & Blood of Christ ~ 2 June 2013

This past Holy Thursday, we all watched as our new Pope, Francis went to celebrate the Feast of the Lord's Supper at a prison in Rome.  If that was not enough to get our attention he then, in the very special part of that liturgy went on to wash the feet of twelve people in remembrance of our Lord washing the disciples feet.  The  problem, for some, was that besides not celebrating this holy and special Mass in the normal place he was washing the feet of prisoners, women even Moslems.  What on earth was Pope Francis thinking? 
The Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ is rooted in the Mass of the Lord's Supper.  It is a time that we can renew our faith in the Real Presence of Christ, in the Blessed Sacrament.  It is a time when we can renew our faith that tells us when we receive Holy Communion  that the Sacred Host, the Sacred Cup share with us Christ's true Body & Blood as He stated so clearly in the Gospel (John 6).  
Sadly, this most Real Presence and Blessed Sacrament is veiled for many.  Pope Francis was showing us it is time to remove the veil.
The need for holy veils is important.  We all, like Moses are not yet able to fully look upon the awesome beauty, grandeur and love of God's Presence.  Our Lord , in His mercy veils us and yet reveals to us, as we allow, the promise of His Presence.  We need to grow in the mercy, redemption and holy love of God to be able to grow in our  ability to see and know God.
But we cannot allow these holy veils to be replaced by the veils of the world.  There is so much God wants to share with us.  Jesus seeks us to come to Him.  In our second reading we read:  "This is my Body, broken for YOU".  But the veils of the world seek to hide Christ.
The veils of faith-less human reason, empty tradition and worldly distraction all blind us from knowing His Presence among us.  In the Gospel, at the feeding of the multitudes the disciples initially were blinded to Emmanuel, God with them, working in their midst.  As they struggled with the impossible needs of the crowd and their insufficient resources they could not see what God was doing.  But, they persevered in faith, obeyed in love and soon  had abundant reason to know God was working and with them.
So it is with us today.  It is often much more easy and comfortable to look at the elevated Sacred Host with only our human understanding.  Or perhaps we believe He is truly present but it is so much more comfortable to keep Him, if not veiled but at least safe in the Monstrance.
But as Pope Francis led us to see on Holy Thursday it is time for Jesus to be unveiled in our Mass, in Adoration and especially in our hearts and lives.  As the Pope washed the feet of those seen as so unworthy he was showing us what the author C.S. Lewis once wrote:  "Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to our senses".
The sacred Body and Blood of Christ consecrated at Mass, the Sacred Host adored in prayerful adoration were never intended by God to be static, isolated places and times.  The longing of the spear-pierced Sacred Heart of Jesus is that we receive Him and become what He redeemed us to be living and holy tabernacles for His Presence.  It is through the Body and Blood of Christ, as we are healed through His sacred wounds we are freed to become those sons and daughters of God created in His sacred image.
It is through the Body and Blood of Christ, removed of worldly veils, that we both see, share and become the Body of Christ He redeemed us to be.

Friday, May 17, 2013

St. Paschal Baylon ~ 17 May

"Meditate well on this: Seek God above all things. It is right for you to seek God before and above everything else, because the majesty of God wishes you to receive what you ask for. This will also make you more ready to serve God and will enable you to love him more perfectly" (St. Paschal).

The 17th of May is the feast day of St. Paschal Baylon.  Some have said he is not a "real" saint because his feast day is not in the Roman Missal.  It is a valid point that helps us realize that many canonized saints feast days are not in the Missal (the reasons being the very number of saints, their relative importance (local or universally known) and also their time of canonization.  Numerous saint, recently canonized, are not included simply because of timing of revisions of this book).  These practical matters also contain an important lesson, a lesson especially taught through the life of St. Paschal Baylon.

Hidden saints:  The graces of these hidden saints are many.  St. Baylon lived a profoundly humble and blessed life.  He was a lay Franciscan in Spain.  He had limited education and served mostly in his monastery as porter, cook, gardner or beggar.  He was most known for his deep love for Christ in the Blessed Sacrament and spent as much time as possible in prayer before God.  This passionate love for Jesus opened doors of humble love and wisdom that many came to seek from God's humble servant.  His simple faith, growing from his rustic poverty as a shepherd, enabled him to know and share powerful blessings not embellished or entrapped in politics, wealth or pride.

The apostle Saint Paul reminds us that all the baptized, seeking to follow our Lord are, in Biblical fact....saints.  That we may not yet fully realize this truth in no way negates it.  That we may stumble in our journey of faith would often indicate we follow a path well trod as we seek the Crucified and His way of Crucified Love.   As we better know those who have gone on before us, such as St. Paschal Baylon, as we listen to their lives and words we are reminded of our need to live well a life of prayer, "to seek God above all serve and love him more perfectly" and to know He who longs to hear and answer our prayers.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Cross + Roads ~ Problems & Presence

                                                Cross + Roads ~ Problems & Presence

Our Bible readings (  Mass Readings second Sunday of Lent ) this Second Sunday of Lent bring us to the heart of this season of renewal.  They bring us to God's gift to us, the gift of repentance.  This grace often has negative connotations.  But if we allow the light of Scripture to show us the way we experience that repentance is a gift and grace we all need.  We grow in this grace as we grow through the realities of the journey of life as we experience PROBLEMS, we can grow in REPENTANCE that leads us to His PRESENCE.

PROBLEMS:  Our world seems flooded with problems.  Economic upheaval, violence, even in the Church the media (and some Catholics) would see the retirement of Pope Benedict XVI as a huge problem.  And in our own lives, health, budgets, family, workplace issues all offer an abundant menu of problems on which to feed.  Scriptures today, from the story of Moses and the Burning Bush through to the Gospel speak of problems to illustrate a reality of human life, a reality we all share.  We have problems.
Some are problems such as Moses encountered as he went about, minding his own business, a bush that was burning, but... not burning up...and in the bush an angel of the Lord was speaking, calling Him.  This wasn't a bad thing per se...but it was a huge problem for Moses.  He couldn't get his head around what he was experiencing.  He couldn't solve this problem with his understanding.
In the Gospel Jesus is challenged by the people with the news events of the day.  Accidents, tragedies, real problems for the victims. Those questioning Christ were doing what seems a favorite human pastime...seeking who was at fault, who was to blame.
St. Paul in his writing to the church at Corinth, a church beset with problems, reminds us of these challenges, and the solution by the example of those who had followed God before.
But Jesus responds to those challenging Him with both the solution and a greater challenge...REPENTANCE.

REPENTANCE:  In the Gospel the word "repent" is from the Greek word:  "metanoeo"  which means to literally "change ones mind".  It is as we journey through life we are given crossroads, places, times where we have opportunity to change our minds, change the direction we are headed.  The season of Lent is given us to grow in this grace, this gift.  Repentance is not meant to be confined to Lent alone.  It is a grace we are to be strong in throughout all our journey.
Repentance doesn't just mean "turning away from sin".  It means turning away from something, some activity to something better...turning to God, His plan for our lives.
Moses was not sinning by caring for his father-in-laws sheep.  He was doing a necessary and good work.   But God had something more important.  From leading sheep God was calling Moses to leads His people to the promised land.  Moses changed his direction, his mind, from caring for sheep to doing what God was leading him to do.. and to be.
Jesus in the dialogue with those challenging Him used those real problems to remind us all we are called to be a people of repentance.  We are called to turn away from whatever hinders us from following Him.  This may mean letting go of events in the past, or struggles with people in our lives.  In repentance God may not free us from those circumstances as we would want.  He may not free us from all memory or awareness of our own brokenness.  He will call us simply follow Him.  In the parable of the barren fig tree we are given an insight into repentance.  The gardener asked that he be able to break up the ground and fertilize the barren tree.  So it is with repentance.  It is as we allow God to break up the soil of our soil and to, with the problems, the failings, the sins of which we repent God will then use them, as it were, for compost by which to help us grow fruitful for Him.
This work of real  repentance will bring us to grow in God's Presence.

PRESENCE:  It is as we seek and allow the Holy Spirit, God's angels and saints, His Holy Word to leads us we are brought to turn away, to let go, of all the stuff and stumblings of our lives and to turn to grow in His Presence.
Moses grew from the burning bush experience to follow and grow in the Presence of God.  He did not do so perfectly.  He had other opportunities to repent, to turn at the crossroads of life.
Jesus calls us in the Gospel to let the Holy Spirit lead us to examine our souls, our lives and to seek to grow in what is better, the mercy and will of God.  The Psalm would remind us of the depth and scope of that mercy we are called to know.  We experience His mercy in the sacrament of reconciliation, in the acts of repentance we share with others in our life and with our God.  As Jesus did with those wanting to focus on the problems of others so He does with us.  He calls us not to focus on others but on Him and our relationship with Him
He calls us to His Presence to know and grow in Him and from which to share with others the way of the Cross to the Presence of He who conquered evil, sin and death, the greatest of all problems.

[Cyber-version of homily for the Second Sunday of Lent]