Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Oh, She'll Be Back Again

Yesterday I rode 17 miles on the road. It went pretty well. Today I am taking a rest day, even though it is beautiful. I could sleep all day, if I had the chance. But this morning I had a funeral for Julia Prater. Julia was a wonderful person. I do not know why her children wanted the funeral at the funeral home instead of the church. I will miss Julia, she was faithful and kind.

In the Acts of the Apostles, some of the Areopagites scoffed at the notion of the resurrection. Of course, they were not scoffing at the Christian belief, but at their own misunderstanding of it. In those days, many people looked at the events of life and could see nothing but decay. There is a lot of truth there- as soon as we get older, we start to fail. Getting up gets harder, our hair turns gray, sometimes it falls out, our strength leaves us. For that reason, some people of the ancient world believed the body to be a prison for the soul. And even today, many labor under that notion. So any talk of resurrection has those people scoffing. Someone even told me that the resurrection of the body was not good news, so they could not see it as part of the Christian faith.

Of course, who would want resurrection if it was to the same life we have now- the life of corruption and eventual weakness and suffering and death? But the resurrection for which we hope is not just to the same kind of life, with all its problems and sorrows. For those who experience the Resurrection of the Just to Life, it will be a new kind of life, free from suffering and death, free from corruption and weakness, free from sorrow and tears. Instead, it will be filled with joy.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Sometimes, They Move a Feast

Yesterday, I rode about 15 miles, but it was rough going. Later, I went with a friend to give advice and support as he bought a new road bike.

In the evening, it was time for church league softball. Our game was supposed to be at 8:30pm, but sometime yesterday was moved to 9:30. I stretched, I warmed up, I ran a bit. But when I was running to first at my first at-bat, I pulled muscles in both legs. The legs still hurt very much. I played the whole game, and ended up with two hits, a walk and a score. My fielding leaves something to be desired, I muffed a couple of plays, although I had one good catch. We were in the game until the end, but we still lost. I really do not like losing. But it is just a game for fellowship and exercise.

In this part of the world, the Bishops have moved the feast of the Ascension of our Lord to the 7th Sunday of Easter. The Ascension is an important part of our faith, although we probably do not focus on it too much. The Resurrection was not, and never intended to be, a return to the same kind of life we experience here on earth. Yes, Jesus ate and drank with His disciples, but now He sits at the right hand of the Father. Jesus did not leave His human body on earth when He ascended. Rather, He took it up to heave, where He intercedes for His Church and prepares a place of unimaginable riches for us. To receive these riches is part of our vocation as disciples of Jesus Christ.

But it is also part of our vocation to go out into the world and make more disciples, so that the hearts of all others would also be enlightened with the Truth of Jesus Christ and that they too would experience the surpassing greatness of His power and love. We may not feel particularly comfortable going out to evangelize others, but that is what Jesus is asking us to do. And He has promised to be with us so that we can accomplish His goal.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sunday Things

Today I do not have a homily to post, since the deacons were preaching. But that will not stop me from reflecting on the Sunday readings...

It was rainy this morning, so the early Mass did not have as many people as I would have liked. The later Mass was very crowded, however. At the later Mass, I baptized 5 babies. The water was a little cold, so 4 of them cried a bit. The one whose parents held her so that she could see the water and reach down to touch it did not cry.

This afternoon, I drove out to the local Community College in the next county for a choir and band concert. It was very nice. One of our parishioners was singing in her last concert at that school before moving on to a four year institution.

I got back home from all the activities around 7:30, but it is too cold to ride. I hope tomorrow is warmer.

Now to the readings. Since in a couple of weeks, we will be celebrating Pentecost, the readings had a common theme of the Holy Spirit. In the Gospel, Jesus was speaking to His disciples telling them that He would not leave them orphans, but would come to them. And He would send another advocate (Paracletos) to be with them- the Holy Spirit. In the first reading, Saints Peter and John go to Samaria to impose hands on the people who had come to believe in Jesus as the Messiah, so that they could receive the Holy Spirit. The reason they even went to Samaria, was that the persecution of the Church in Jerusalem drove many Christians out of the city, and as they left, they continued to preach.

The second reading had a similar theme from a couple of weeks ago- that of suffering for doing good. Saint Peter exhorted people to always be ready to give a reason for their hope. And that if they were going to suffer, it would be better to suffer for doing good, than for doing evil. His words were not just words that he preached. It would not be long until Saint Peter himself, as well as many of the apostles, would pay for their belief in Christ with their lives. Nevertheless, they continued to give a reason for their hope.

Sometimes as Catholics we have a little trouble doing that. We sometimes think that as long as we are "nice" everything is going to work out. But really, Jesus does not ask us to be "nice." He asks us to be faithful. Our actions should be our primary mode of preaching about our beliefs. But our words should not fail us. When I was in the semminary, one of our professors (a priest) used to tell us "if you do not study, you are going to Hell." His reason was that studying the faith, becoming knowledgeable and skilled at explaining was our job, our calling from God. To waste time or to fail to do the necessary work to fulfill our calling would result in a severe judgement. Another professor (also a priest) told us that if we did not learn how to answer, people would go down the street to find someone who would. And he is right.

But it is not just the priest who should be able to answer. Sometimes a person who has a question never gets to the priest. Sometimes the person who has to give a reason for their hope is their brother or sister, or their neighbor, or co-worker. Each of us should be a lifelong learner. And we should not be afraid to speak the truth, even if people do not want to hear it. We never know when the seed of faith that we plant with courage and conviction will take root in someone. Maybe they will turn to Christ because they observed someone who actually lived and actually took the time to learn.

Of course, it is not all intellectual. In all our learning, the most important aspect is prayer. If Jesus is not a real person to us, if our relationship with God is not personal and intimate, not only will we be poor evangelizers, our own faith will be too weak to do us a lot of good. Jesus promised not to leave us orphans. God wants to be intimate with us, to come to us and be with us forever. That is certainly something to hope for.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Dogs are Barking

My feet hurt today. I rode the road bike this morning. My plan was to ride 30 miles, which I have done many times. But after 15, my knees were complaining, and I felt tired. By 5pm, my feet were also complaining. I believe the source of the problem is a new set of tyres I put on the bike a week ago. The bike was running Michelin 25's and I switched to Vittoria 23's. But that small difference is a bit much. The tires are really tight and one can feel the roads around here right through them. The ride is considerably rougher. (The roads in this part of the world are not very smooth, and have lots of patches on top of patches.) So I think I am going to switch back. My next new set will be 28.

This weekend, the deacons are preaching and giving me a break. I like to preach, but I am grateful for the time off. Next week is First Friday and I will make up for all the work I did not have to do.

Friday, April 25, 2008

God did it again

Today a couple who had been away from the Church for a long time returned. It would be nice to say it was because of my hard work, my preaching, my attention, but that would not be true. It was entirely because God had been working on them interiorly. They had not spent the time away from God, they had spent the many years earnestly searching for the will of the Lord. It really is better the way it happened. No one needs to be Catholic because of me, but because they believe in Jesus with their whole heart and are convinced that He has established the Church.

Still, preaching is essential to spreading the Good News of God’s love. We must tell people (including ourselves) over and over again that God has loved the world so much that He sent His only Son to redeem us (see John 3:16). He calls us to be His children, to experience the Love of God and to spend eternity in the home of Our Father in Heaven. Every day, the priests, deacons, and vowed religious, as well as many others, pray the Liturgy of the Hours. Repeatedly, we recite the Psalms and Canticles. And eventually, the soak in like a gentle rain, getting to our roots. That is the way preaching should be- soaking the hearer with the Truth of God over and over again, so that the Truth can reach down to the roots. It is the work of God, but He calls us to be cooperators.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Ready for Some Renewal

Today I am going riding with a priest friend. We were going mountain biking, but the recent rain has turned our plans to the road instead. My coughing is a little less, but still very annoying. Yesterday I visited someone in the hospital. As soon as I walked into the room, I could hardly keep from coughing. So I had to cut my visit a bit short.

I am ready for some spiritual renewal. Maybe what I need is a retreat, maybe I need a vacation - something to clear my mind and my heart of the cobwebs that have collected. In the Gospel today, Jesus says to remain in His love so that His joy might be in us, and our joy might be complete (see John 15:9-11). In this world, it is easy to start looking for our joy in imperfect things - people, activities, objects, even feelings. Unfortunately, all of these lose their luster after awhile, and none of them can really fulfill us (even though they may seem to at first). The desire for joy will only be filled when we have the joy of Christ in us, when we live in His love.

Oh those words are so easy to write, and I believe them, but they can be difficult to live. We are corporal beings, and we need other people, material things, and human activity. Still, it is possible to focus our attentions on the One who can invest our life with true meaning and purpose. And by desiring and doing all things according to the will and for the sake of the Lord, find the peace which the world cannot give.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

We are not alone.

An aspect of grief is the anger felt over abandonment by the one whom you love who is gone. And fear of abandonment causes much sorrow as well. Because of their particular circumstances and sufferings, there are many people who are afraid that God has abandoned them, or are angry because they are sure He has done so. Jesus was well aware of this aspect of human nature and so seeks to alleviate our fears. He promised that He would not leave us orphans, but that He would come to us. The Lord does so through the gift of the Holy Spirit, as well as through the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist. So we should not be afraid.

As I mentioned yesterday, my parents today celebrate 58 years of marriage. They met on a blind date two years to the day before their wedding. They have seven children, 14 grandchildren. Mom and Dad put us all through Catholic school for 12 years each. And they paid for most of our first time through college. I am grateful for their marriage and wish them happiness now and forever. I love you Mom and Dad!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Monday Blues

Today started out terrible. The weather was gloomy. The cough that I have had for about 9 days continues to persist. After morning Mass, I ate breakfast and went back to bed. Eventually, I got going and rode the bike about 15 miles. It is really odd, I do not cough while I am riding, even at my highest effort. But within 5 minutes of finishing, I cannot even take a deep breath without coughing my lungs up.

I drove into town to the ancestral home. One of my sisters was visiting the parents. So we all went out to eat dinner. Then I drove back for a church league softball game. We lost, but I had two hits and scored twice- in that regard my best game ever. During the game, I did not cough at all, but as soon as it was over, I could hardly breathe again. Doc M said it is probably the adrenaline that I am producing that is helping me breathe during exercise.

Tomorrow, the parents celebrate 58 years of marriage. They married 2 years to the day of when they met. I plan to send flowers or a plant. (Actually a gift card to Olive Garden would probably be more appreciated.) Being married must be a great challenge. I admire their commitment through thick and thin over all these years. I do not just admire it, I am deeply grateful. Unfortunately, I observe many couples who for whatever reason, have not stayed together. The children suffer greatly as a result of the breakup. Sometimes the suffering is silent, sometimes as an outburst. Who knows how many hearts have been broken because of it?

I do not want to judge the people in this terrible situation. Making and keeping a commitment is difficult even when everyone is trying their best and the situation is good. In all this pain which results from the failure to maintain a commitment, it is important for us to focus on the faithfulness of God. God is internally faithful to Himself. That is, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are never at odds, they are the epitome of love. And God's faithfulness reaches out to us. The Lord wants nothing more than an intimate union with each of us individually, as well as all of us together. It is God's plan to come to us and dwell within each, so that we can experience love which really has no limits. The difficulty is in opening our hearts to receive this love by giving ourselves in obedience to God. But if we do, such joy will be ours as we cannot even imagine.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Be Built into the Holy Priesthood of God.

This was the homily I preached on 20 April 2008:

1. Among those who follow Jesus Christ, there are two kinds of priesthood. The more familiar kind is the ministerial priesthood. That is the priesthood of the ordained ministers such as the bishop and myself. The ministerial priesthood is a sharing in the high priesthood of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd for the purposes of teaching, sanctifying, and leading the flock of the Lord. Ministerial priests are men chosen from among the people of God and set apart for ministry, just as Saint Paul and Saint Barnabas were set apart to receive the laying on of hands.

2. A ministerial priests acts in the person of Christ in the administration of the Sacraments. It is true that we exercise great power and authority, but it is not our own power or our own authority, but that which belongs to Jesus. I first felt a call to the priesthood when I was 6 years old. But the Lord did not really get my attention until I was already 31 years old. In my case, there were many lessons to be learned before I was ready to hear His call. I have to say that I have never regretted being a priest. And I would suggest that many of our young men pray about it with an open heart. It is a great life serving God and making a real difference in the world.

3. When Saint Peter is referring to the priesthood in the second reading, however, he is not talking about the ministerial priesthood, which nevertheless is absolutely necessary for the Church. Saint Peter speaks of the common priesthood of all Christians. That is the Royal Priesthood that we have been made part of by virtue our Baptism. The Royal Priesthood and the Ministerial Priesthood are different, but not by degrees. That is, an Ordained Priest is not “more priest” a member of the Royal priesthood. It is a different kind, although related. For every baptized person is a member of the Royal Priest- you and I both.

4. The Royal Priesthood is significant. In the old Covenant, all the families were to be priestly families. That is, their sons were to be chosen as priests for offering the acceptable sacrifices. After the people had worshiped the golden calf, God took away the priesthood from all but one family. Therefore, for every person to be built up into the Royal Priesthood is a fulfillment of God’s original plan for the whole world, that each family, each person, would be precious in His sight. For that reason Saint Peter exhorts the people to let themselves be built up into the holy Priesthood.

5. The purpose of this Common Priesthood of all believers is so that we can offer a spiritual sacrifice acceptable to God. Offering sacrifice is a fundamental activity of a priestly family. By our Baptism, we are called to continually offer these spiritual sacrifices to the Lord. The spiritual sacrifices which we are called to make are : prayers praise and adoration of God (in the Holy Mass, it is crucial to participate, in particular to say the "Amen," which is a prayer reserved to the assembly of the people). Not all spiritual sacrifices are invisible or intangible, for example the paying of the tithe and sharing in the material goods is a spiritual sacrifice and a symbol of the sharing of ourselves. There is the offering of time spent with God and His people. In truth, everything that we do: at work, at play, at home, at school, whatever it is can be a sacrifice to God, if we lift it up to God and do our best.

6. Similar to the Ministerial Priesthood, the Royal Priest comes from Jesus Christ. As He offered Himself on the Cross for our sake, our most important sacrifice is the sacrifice of our total selves to God out of our Love for the good of His kingdom.

7. In order to make a sacrifice, however, one has to trust. When Abraham was ready to sacrifice Isaac, Abraham had to trust God. When the priests of the old Covenant offered up the best lambs from the flock, they had to trust God. When a family begins to tithe on their income, they must trust that God will take care of them. When a man offers himself to the Ministerial priesthood, or a woman offers herself to the consecrated life, they must trust in the Lord. Fear is the enemy of true service of the Lord.

8. In the Gospel, Jesus tells us do not let your hearts be troubled, ... have faith in me. Jesus exhorted them by proclaiming that He alone is the way, the truth and the life. No one can come to the Father except through Jesus. So we need to trust in Him and follow Him.

9. In the Old Testament, the priests did not own land, because the Lord was supposed to be their sole possession. Although Jesus continues to permit us to own things, nevertheless, as His priestly people, Jesus calls us to have Him as our most prized possession. To know Jesus and to trust in Him, to become One with Him means that He will work from within us. If we would exercise our Baptismal priesthood, let us trust in the Lord and put all things into His hands so that we can witness His power.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Resting All Week Has Made Me Tired

Today I went bicycling with a friend. The weather report indicated it would be sunny, which it was. But I forgot we were going around the lake. So it was very cold and windy. Because I really do not like being cold at any time, I brought extra clothes to wear and was therefore mostly comfortable. We did not go fast at all, but it was an enjoyable outing which improved my outlook on life. Being cooped up indoors for the whole week had begun to wear me down.

Tomorrow, I will be celebrating what I call an Explanation Mass, that is a Mass with a few talks attached to explain various aspects of the Liturgy. I am using notes previously compiled, but with a few additions. I will not be stopping to explain everything, just at a few choice times to give a mini-lecture over generalities. If there are questions, I do intend to address them. I hope it goes well.

One of the great aspects of the Catholic Liturgy is the rich amount of Holy Scripture used. On the other hand, sometimes that causes me trouble in deciding what exactly I should preach on. This Sunday’s readings, for example, contain so much that I almost do not know where to start or stop. But I have decided that I need to speak on the Royal Priesthood of the Baptized. Not many Baptized people realize that they are part of God’s priestly people, and as such should be looking to offer the Lord sacrifices of praise constantly. Most, it seems, are content to let others do the offering. Or at best, they wish to separate their religious life from the “regular life”, whereas there really is no separation in our being as Baptized persons- it is all “life.”

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Messenger is Not Greater Than the One Who Sends Him

With some other pastors, I have belonged to a priest study group for the past several years. It is valuable to me, because of the fellowship time with other priests we share each month. Also, because we bounce ideas off of each other. Even though we pastor vastly different sized parishes, a lot of the issues are the same. And so, it is a good thing to have others to call upon for the sage advice and support.

Right before lunch, we read a prayer by Archbishop Oscar Romero. It was a reminder that the proclamation of the Gospel and the service of the People of God is not something we do by ourselves, or for ourselves. We do it for Jesus, and it is His Church. We do not have to be able to do everything well, or even see the success of any of our efforts. What is necessary is that we be faithful followers of Jesus Christ the True High Priest. We must proclaim truthfully and leave the results to others.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

These Words Are Pow'rf'l

Today is a beautiful day, in terms of the weather. It would be a great day to play some golf or ride the bike a few miles. But I am here at home not doing anything, all because of an upper respiratory infection. Well, really I am doing some things. There is morning Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours. Since the Holy Father is visiting, I can keep up with that on television. And I can read.

In today’s Gospel for Mass, Jesus indicated that He did not come here to condemn us. But that those who did not adhere to His word would be condemned by the word which they did not obey. In today’s world, many people ignore the power of words. They say jokingly “I lied,” not realizing that now they are liars. Or they make promises with little intention of keeping them, but out of convenience for something we want. In the ancient world (and the world in which Jesus lived), all words were meaningful. If you said something, there it was. You would be held to it. Whether they are written or only spoken, words are powerful instruments. By words creation came into being. By words people bind themselves into marriage. Words can hurt, words can heal. We really ought to be careful with the words we speak, and those we listen to also.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

I did it my way ... clunk.

Do not let your hearts be troubled. The message of Jesus Christ is so simple, yet so difficult to accept. I read these words and I believe them, but I still worry about many things. If we put our trust in Him and follow Him with our whole hearts, then we will never have anything to fear, regardless of what storms rage around us. In my life this truth has been proved over and over again. Still, I have to keep myself in check. Most of us are like our first parents. We tend to want to control everything and maintain our safety in that manner. But it does not work. We are not God, we cannot control everything or know everything to even know how to control it. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. To know Him, to trust Him, and do His will is to obtain true joy.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Have you ever suffered for doing good?

Why do bad things happen to good people? Every time there is an accident, or a death, or someone loses their job, or children suffer, this question pops into our heads. For many, the existence of the question itself is enough to make them doubt God's goodness, or even His existence. I suppose those who doubt God in this manner are simply refusing to acknowledge that a good God would permit bad things to happen. But that is a matter of what a person wants to believe that God must be, rather than looking at the way God really is. The Bible, in the book of Genesis, addresses this question and concludes that bad things happen as the result of human sin. And human beings can sin because they have free will, given to them by a loving God. God simply will not take away our freedom, just because we misuse it.
2. But still the question remains, if they are not sinning, why do bad things happen when people are trying to be good? We may acknowledge that bad things ought to happen to people doing evil, but what about us? It really is a personal question- why do bad things happen to me when I am trying to be good? All our actions, for good or evil, affect more than just ourselves individually. Our actions affect everyone. When we lie, or are unfaithful, or use foul or blasphemous speech, or committ any sort of sin, it wounds the entire community. (Likewise our virtue and holiness, courage and generosity build up the community.)
3. Saint Peter speaks about the bad that happens to those who are trying to do good. He states that in fact, If you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God. For to this you have been called... We have been called to suffer for doing what is good. That is, to suffer for doing right is part of our baptismal committment. At first, such a statement does not appear to be good news. Why would God call us to suffer? And what if I want to say no?
4. First, God calls us to suffer for doing what is good because that is exactly what He does. Look at Jesus: innocent, without sin, holy- He went about healing people and preaching the Good News that God desires to forgive us and bring us back to Him into an intimate relationship with God as our Father. But still there were those who tried to kill Him, and who made false accusations regarding His actions. In the end, they spat on Him, beat Him, and crucified Him. Jesus had the power to stop any of the torture or beatings. With a word, He could have killed all of those who were hurting Him. In fact, if He could have put them out of His mind, and they would have ceased to even exist. But Jesus did not do that. Instead, He patiently endured suffering for our sake. Peter says: He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness.
5. Our patient endurance of suffering when we are doing good is one of the ways in which we are made like our Savior Jesus Christ. If we are truly to be His followers, we have to accept being just like Him.
6. Of course, there is the possibility of simply refusing to accept the suffering. Some people have decided that if suffering is the result of doing good in imitation of Jesus, then they will choose their own way. In response to this, Peter quote the prophet Isaiah For you had gone astray like sheep. He evokes the image of sheep without a shepherd, each trying to find its way alone. But there is no other way to eternal life with the Father. Jesus is the gate of heaven, only through Him do we find our rest. Anyone who tries to enter another way is just a thief and a marauder, interested in the death of the flock.
7. In the Gospel, Jesus said that His sheep recognize His voice. And as a result, they are able to find what they need because they follow Him. If we want to recognize the voice of the Lord, we must pray and become familiar with it. If we set ourselves on following Him, then we must be willing to go all the way- through the desert and to the cross.