Saturday, January 2, 2021

Tell Me What You See

 

 
Sometimes it’s just a good idea to explain a photograph. 
Try it; it's often prayer-like.

On the far left of this shot, you’ll see the calendar for 2020.  The photo was taken on the very last day of the year: December 31, about 11:30 that morning.  The location is a small meeting room inside the monastery of the Missionaries of Charity on Allport St. in Chicago.  These are Mother Teresa’s sisters who live about a mile south of my house.  They have an army of priests they invite over each day to say daily Mass for them, and Thursday was my turn.  After the priest says Mass, they offer him a free brunch.  I snapped this photo as I waited for the “kitchen sister” to bring in my toast and eggs.  They insisted.

My coffee was brewing in the cup and the butter pats were thawing.  I hadn’t noticed it when I first arrived, but the sisters had created a little chalkboard greeting for me:  something to look at while I ate.  I think they must have been grade school art teachers at one time.  Two or three sisters normally sit at the table with me and watch as I eat (which is very disturbing) but not today.  Through the window you can see another door down the hall.  They are doing a special end-of-year song, which sounds beautiful.  Kinda of like eating in a monastery … oh wait … I AM eating in a monastery.

I figured since the Sacred Heart of Jesus Himself was extending sacred arms over my meal, there was no need for me to recite a grace.  Believe it or not, His power is what’s keeping those Christmas lights on.  Obviously, the string is not plugged in to that wall socket.  The sister brought in two eggs sunny side up and two pieces of toast.  It was marvelous. 

Finally, after I was finished with the brunch, the sisters must have heard me burp because the Mother Superior came out of the chapel to see me out for the afternoon.  They invited me back for morning Mass (and breakfast) on January 12th, so maybe I will snap another picture.  It isn’t very likely, but just in case the sisters are reading this blog, I want to thank you and wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy 2021.

Open up your eyes now; tell me what you see.

 

Friday, December 25, 2020

And So This is Christmas

 And what have you done?

In times past, I would spend Christmas at the “family homestead” in Hamilton.  The photo here shows me some time in the 1980s, with a shot of the front hallway and the manger scene.  When I would walk into the house, I notice two important details.  First the creche.  Our traditional manger scene was always right above the main fireplace in the front hallway.  I look inside to see if they remembered to put in the baby Jesus in the manger on Christmas morning.  Next thing I notice was the dining room.  How did they set up the table.  Who’s coming home, how many chairs, who sat where.  And most especially where will I sit this year.  And what will they be serving?

What about your home?  Maybe the manger scene is in the front yard, and the Christmas meal is take-out in in front of the TV.  Or maybe your Christmas creche is in the living room, and the family meal is in the family room.  Just take time to notice the manger scene. 

Notice this creche.  The manger scene.  Jesus is in a manger?  What is a manger?  A place to be fed.  The word manger comes from the Latin manger to eat.  A manger is a place where food is found. Hungry animals come to the manger to be fed, and once fed, go forth as better animals.  Hungry people come to Jesus to be fed, and once fed, go forth as better people.

If you go to church at Christmas, notice the altar.  A kind of dinner table, it is an altar of sacrifice.  A different kind of food.  Not the kind where we stuff ourselves and then take a nap.

Jesus is the food that changes us inside and sends us outside to feed others.  I don’t look at the altar asking, “What will they be serving?”  Instead I ask, “Who will I be serving?”  What must I do next?

At Christmas, we are led to this stable.  Then we are led to this table.  Then we are led to be better.  Because you have encountered God in a baby, then God as bread, where then are you led?

See, it is very nice to go home for Christmas, but what really matters is where you go after Christmas.  What’s next?  What will be different?  Where will you go after Christmas?

This feast is a time for transformation.  The Divine transformed into the Human for us.  Can your humanity help transform the world to be more divine?  You may ask the question:  am I any different than I was last Christmas?  Has my faith changed me in any way in 2020? 

Ask yourself if it had been a change for the worse, or a change for the better.  One or the other.  Maybe in this area I have improved.  But in this area I am slipping.  So come to the stable.  Then come to this table.  May the coming of Jesus be the start of a new life inside you?

Mary’s life was different after the stable.  And it was no picnic.  She and her husband went through really hard times.  There was no pandemic like we have, but they became homeless and moved to Egypt.  Learning to trust God, they found a new home in Nazareth.  Those days changed people for the better.  The lowly shepherds were changed.  Their fear at night was turned into a vision of angels praising God.  Glory in the highest.  From low to high.

Crowds of people were transformed by Jesus.  People who walked in darkness, once, powerless, now filled with possibility.  I can be anything I want.  As John wrote: “The word became flesh.  “And to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God.”  Certainly the power of a virus is not as great as the power of the Almighty.

Later at the feast of the Epiphany (January 3, 2021), we will hear how the wise men were changed by this baby.  The story says the magi came to Bethlehem “but they departed for their country by another way.”  You can do that too.  Let 2021 be a time to take a new road.   God in the Eucharist can change you from that way, to this way.  From your way to His way.

What change will your direction take after Christmas?  What will you let go of?   Where will you go, and where will you not go?  How will you act, and how will you not act?

 ∙ Maybe you will decide to pray more with Scripture to uncover the richness of Gospel story.
∙ You can serve the people in your own home/family by offering a simple “I’m sorry”

∙ Take time to write writing a sincere letter of thanks for a gift received
∙ Maybe you might spend more time with someone who needs you to feed them.

∙ Help someone clean the house
∙ Maybe you will quit searching and finally kneel like the wise men did.

∙ Maybe like Joseph you will finally live your dreams and accept God into your home.

 You have been led to this stable, and then to this table, Now where?  It is time, let the baby change you.  This time, let the bread make you rise.

    At the creche, we rejoice at his birth.
    At the altar, we are saved by his death.

    And tomorrow, we are changed by his life.

And so this is Christmas, and what have you done?
Where will you go next?  And whom will you serve?

 

Have a Merry Christmas and a transformative new year!

 

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Help

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The theme of today’s readings is very much one of peace and consolation and rest.  Perfect summer reading.  Perfect for the beach, or for church, wherever you go to seek rest.

The First Reading from the prophet Zechariah speaks of a king entering Jerusalem riding on a young donkey.  The scene is one of a king of humility but also of peace.  He rides on a placid donkey rather than on a prancing war horse: “and he shall proclaim peace to the nations. His dominion shall be from sea to sea.”  Sounds like an appropriate reading for 4th of July weekend, and a hopeful message for those of us who find life a little less than peaceful or restful.

Jesus, who is identified with the king in Zechariah’s passage, also brings peace.  He is the Prince of Peace.  “Come to me, all you who labor and are overburdened, and I will give you rest.”  Whatever demands Jesus may make on our following him as disciples, he wants to be at all times truly a source of comfort, of consolation and of forgiveness and reconciliation. 

Whatever demands life may be making on us, he is there too to be called on.  When we are in difficulties and pain, we can ask him to take them away.  He may not always do so when we want, but we can expect him to restore our peace.

Picture in your mind the greatest burden you carry.  Now imagine that burden in the form of a large cross which you carry on your shoulders.  Every day it seems that cross gets heavier or becomes so attached to us it seems hard to shake.   The Christian life demands that we carry that cross, but not alone.   Being a Catholic means struggling, but not alone.  As much as American culture says you can do it all, and all by yourself.  That’s a lie.

When Jesus says “Come to me.”  He says let’s do this together.   He doesn’t say set your Cross aside.  He doesn’t say, be a happy Christian and wish your burdens away.  He says Come to me and bring along your Cross.   Show it to me, describe it to me, tell me how it feels, and ask my help to carry it with you.  For we need to remember that faith is not an escape from our problems.  Sometimes Jesus gives us peace not from our pain but within our pain. 

When I speak to young people, I am quick to assure them “Do not expect Jesus or his Mother or some other saint or the Church to be there to wave a magic wand that wipes away all our problems, all difficulties, all obstacles.”   Jesus Christ is always a reminder that in order to find rest in peace in him, we must do it his way take upon ourselves his yoke.

When Jesus uses the image of a “yoke,”  he is talking about a double yoke;  one designed to harness together two oxen, in part to make the work easier.  To lighten the burden.  But also so that the larger ox could train the younger one, help him learn the pathway and grow stronger in the work.   “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.”

Your job for this week is to have that conversation with Jesus where you describe the heaviest Cross you have to carry.  He wants to join up with you, yoke himself to you, especially for a task into which you have been yet unwilling to move.   I guarantee you – the Gospel guarantees – that when you hold that vocal conversation with Christ this week, that you will indeed find rest.    Have a great summer.


Saturday, July 4, 2020

All Together Now

All Together Now

In times past, my family would all gather at a 4th of July picnic out in the middle of nowhere, Butler County Ohio.  Today we did it on Zoom.  I think we had the entire gang together, and the conversation was ... unintelligible to say the least.  But we all came with one thing:  love.  Yes, we are proud of the red white and blue, but today we are proud to be one family loving one another ... as our parents would have us do.  Happy 4th everyone.

Monday, January 27, 2020

I Will

I keep telling myself that I would like to keep up with my old blog:  this one.  I never get around to it.  Until this evening when I said to myself, "I will get to this, at least in a small way."  Just as a reminder, my blog titles are Beatle song titles.  When I hit 210 then I may switch to John Denver songs, but I don't think I'm close yet.

This is a photo of me and my 9 brothers taken in the summer of 2019 at our family reunion.  I posted it here to give you an update, but also to let you know that we 10 brothers will try to make a "guys" reunion in may of 2020.  We shall see.  They all say "I Will" try to make it, but we will see who does and doesn't.  It's a sabbatical summer for me, so it might turn out to be sort of a retreat ... or not.
I any case, if anyone of us has a great time this summer, I know I will.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Hail Holy Queen

Feast of the Queenship of Mary
Gospel: Matthew 23:13-22 
August 21st -- the Olympics ended yesterday.
The United States won more bronze medals than anyone else.

The United States won more silver medals than anyone else.
The United States won more GOLD medals than anyone else.
The United States won more medals than anyone else: 121
That’s almost twice as many as the next runner up.
So what?

I fear the implicit message by that statistic goes something like this:
- we are the greatest, the best, and the most powerful
- we are first, we rank higher than anyone else in the world
- all other countries and their peoples are beneath us
- all others must strive to be like us
- we dominate, and we will dominate again.
Sounds like the very people Jesus was so angry about in today’s Gospel: blind guides, those who swear by the gold of the temple, hypocrites.

Let’s see ...  what was the last line of yesterday’s Gospel? Oh:  

 behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

August 22 – thank goodness today we celebrate the Queenship of Mary.
Her image and her feast celebrate a different message. The message she delivers as queen is more appropriate for the Christian life:
- mother of mercy, life, sweetness, hope.
- virgin of virgins
- sorrowful mother who walks with the poor
- faithful mother who never abandoned the Cross
- the first disciple and follower of Christ 

Mary serves as a leader and high priority not because she can outdo everyone else, but because she is a model of humility, service, and compassion.

As Jesus began his ministry and delivered the sermon on the mount, the beatitudes, blessed are the poor, the peacemakers, where do you think he learned all that?
Who do you think was his model for those who are meek, those who mourn, the pure of heart.
  Mary, Queen of Heaven.
In this coming Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus will announce:  "For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted."

Blessed is the Queen of Peace, who rewards us not with gold, but with her immaculate model for leadership.  Humility, fidelity, and grace.                      
Hail Mary, full of grace, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.
Amen!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Devil In Her Heart

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C
Isaiah 66:18-21    Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13,   Luke 13:22-30
For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life.”


I am not sure if I have ever preached on hell before.  Fire and brimstone.
Do you believe in hell?  Does our culture believe in hell?  We need to keep asking that because our culture keeps denying it.  Nothing is really wrong.  It all depends.  Relativism run rampant!

Does the Church still teach about hell? Yes indeed! Would you be able to talk about intelligently?  The Catholic Catechism teaches five basics about hell:
     1.  We must choose God. (“We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him.”)
     2. Jesus described hell as fire and eternal separation from God.  Scriptural passages about hell are instructions, images, parables about separation from God.  Jesus is a no-nonsense Man who tells it like it is. This Gospel reveals that His favorite sport is not softball but hard ball.
     3. The Church agrees with Jesus.
     4. The teachings on hell are ultimately a call to responsibility / conversion.

So what is the main purpose of our believing in hell?  It’s similar to taking on the responsibilities of driving.  Traffic laws are serious (and scary) reminders that you are the one driving.  You were given keys / instructions / power / and a destination.  Same with your spiritual journey.  There is such a thing as spiritually wrecking your car (soul).

In Luke’s Gospel, this is serious matter for the disciples:
  Don’t forget that they are on the road to Jerusalem here.  Their destination is Jerusalem.  Scary but Glorious.  God’s people have always been on the road: For example, look at the imagery in the 1st reading:  I come to gather nations of every language on horses and in chariots, in carts, upon mules and dromedaries to Jerusalem, my holy mountain, says the LORD,

For us,
we are on the road to something better. A better life.  Greater freedom.  Deeper satisfaction in life.  What is that for you?  Which road signs have you been ignoring.  If you picked up your road map, can you put your finger on where it is you want to go?  If you could make a turn off the wrong road and get back on the highway, how many miles will your drive before you turn the wheel?  In many ways, the lord urges us to turn now!

Why is this Gospel given to us on this day?  Because today is the day for conversion. Right now.  And we celebrate that wonderful choice by announcing Amen when we behold what Christ did, he broke himself, took the hard way and give it up for us.  Before we receive the Eucharist, we beg God’s mercy in the words of the Eucharistic prayer.  God’s desire is to save us from something that is a real threat – hell.

Oh, and for those who like to focus more on judgement than mercy, God predestines no one to go to hell.  God’s desire is for repentance and a contrite heart.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life.”

We have no greater modern example than Mother Teresa, who is to be canonized a saint in about three weeks.  As we know from her writings, Mother had doubts about God and His presence in her life, in this world.  Despite her doubts, she still chose to work hard.  One commentator put it this way.  “The greatness of Mother Teresa is that even when she was deprived of the spiritual satisfactions of feeling God's presence in her life, she did not waver, she soldiered on. She was not deterred in her mission. And what she didn't have by way of feeling, she compensated for by way of will. In doing so she teaches us all something about love: it is not merely a sentiment, to be set aside when feelings come and go, but rather a decision of the will.”

Perhaps the coming weeks might be a good time to reflect in the spirit of Mother Teresa and ask the Lord to show you the right path.  He has trusted you with the car keys.  May we drive with the Light as our guide and Christ as our destination.