With the extraordinary feast of Pentecost approaching, I’ve been reflecting on the Holy Spirit, and how we in our lives go about spreading the Good News. Frankly, I believe that in our country, we tend to keep our practice of religion slightly out of sight, so that we don’t offend anybody or step on anybody’s toes…and I think that is a big mistake! Everyone has his or her own faith, own values, and ultimately their own religious beliefs. Our practice of our own faith does not automatically infringe on another person’s beliefs.
I have always said that religious arguments are pointless (because I have never seen one that changed the views of the participants). Openly demonstrating our faith and values, however, speaks volumes. Our own Pope Francis had a marvelous tweet (Twitter post) yesterday- he notes,”We cannot be part-time Christians! We should seek to live our faith at every moment of every day.”
I could not agree more. Let’s get busy!
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Today the whole Christian world celebrates with joy the fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The sacred liturgy today is truly beautiful. The dreary weeks of Lent are behind us. Our churches are illuminated magnificently. The bells are ringing constantly and the throngs of people who gather before the altars across the world are filled with joy and enthusiasm. Happy Easter! Happy Easter! Have a great Easter! When we gather as families later on that joy continues because we believe with all our hearts that the great event of history is being marked today – that the second person of the Blessed Trinity, having come among us, to join us, to be one with us, to assume a true human nature, has suffered and died for us and his infinite act of obedience and generosity more than balanced the endless acts of human frailty that had been committed throughout the centuries. He has risen indeed – Hallelujah!
Oh the joy and the celebration and happiness that dominates this wonderful day. It is probably the wrong day for me to say this but I want to mention that in the midst of that joy there is a serious note, or more accurately a serious responsibility. Jesus called the twelve apostles to journey with him for nearly three years. He was not just seeking out traveling companions. He did not want to gather admirers around him. The fact is that there was a job that had to be done and these frail human beings were to be the first people on the job. That job, that role, that vocation, is being a witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That is what the apostles were. They were witnesses. They saw him alive. They saw him crucified. They saw his body. They saw him resurrected. And they were to tell the world of that awesome reality. And so they did and in the process commissioned others to join in spreading the good news.
It is 2,000 years later and the job is still there. It still needs to be done, still needs to be carried out day by day. It is wonderful that so many of us attend Mass frequently. It is good that we are happy to declare to others that we believe in Jesus Christ but we must also tell those people that we believe in the resurrection, that we believe that this awesome miraculous act had the purpose of documenting the infinite power that resided in and passed through Jesus of Nazareth.
Let’s continue to celebrate today, but remember that we have a job to do and we need to get started in the morning.
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There is an ancient pious expression that the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians. Usually when we hear that, we think of those first three hundred years when the Church was oppressed so cruelly or we may think about places such as Egypt, the Sudan, Indonesia and other modern countries that have laws that make living a Christian life difficult and frequently dangerous. Several such countries made becoming a Christian a crime subject to the death penalty. Well, here is something in-between.
Next Sunday is Mission Sunday and the Church across the world has to examine itself in terms of whether or not it is doing all that it can to fulfill the mission that Jesus has given to it to go out into the whole world and preach the Gospel to everyone. My friends, that is really a directive from our Lord and places responsibility on each one of us. Regretfully, most of us do not take it too seriously. We think that putting $10 in the collection plate, when it is passed on World Mission Sunday when a visiting missioner speaks at our parish, more or less covers our obligation for a missionary response. Many do considerably more by getting involved in special programs to help specific poor and distant missions, but most of us are somewhat indifferent to our mission responsibility. On Mission Sunday we must remember that having received the faith ourselves we share a responsibility to bring it to the whole world.
Today is the Feast of Saints John Brébeuf and Isaac Jogues, two wonderful French Jesuit missionaries who came to the New World, not to work among the European settlers but for and with the Indians of today’s New York State. They made great progress but the Hurons were overrun by the Iroquois Mohawks. Isaac Jogues was captured, tortured and nearly killed, but he survived and returned to France. However, within a few months of rest he was heading back to his mission. On October 18th, he was tomahawked in the neck. His companions were killed with him. St. John Brébeuf and other Jesuits were killed at about the same time in Canada.
Want to help the Church to grow? Imagine leaving your family, your home and going to the other side of the world to tell the world about God’s love for the human family and the risks that are involved. Maybe we should be putting a larger check into that collection plate.
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Our Lord sent the apostles out to bring the good news of salvation to the whole world in the middle of what we call the first century, A.D. (anno domini). That first Pentecost Sunday would be the birthday of the Church and would initiate the extraordinary story that has unrolled over the last 2,000 years, a story of everything both human and divine, God’s salvific grace, faith, courage, truth, and unending confidence in the second coming of the Lord. This very human story is also filled with failures in faith, sinfulness, corruption in every form. Through it all, however, the faith has remained intact. The Apostles Creed, the summary of the Church’s teachings in the first century is the same today and always will be. An interesting aspect of the Church is that as soon as it got its feet on the ground and the period of persecution ended, the Church began to manifest its appreciation for art. Its leaders understood that in the world of art the human spirit reaches its highest point in its quest for divinity and the Church has utilized that quest throughout its story as a teaching vehicle to bring profound spiritual concepts into the minds and hearts of its members. The Church has blessed the arts. The Church has been blessed by the arts! No one takes a meaningful tour through Europe today without becoming conscious of the extraordinary encouragement and support that the Church gave to the arts in the early middle ages and that support continues until today. Architecture, music, painting, poetry, sculpture, etc. – all have been developed to keep our minds tilted towards salvation. In the United States, this appreciation for art dropped off in the 19th century because the Church was a Church of poor immigrants. However, there has been a renaissance in this regard in recent years. About twenty years ago, the Diocese of Austin established the Fine Arts Council which has done an excellent job in reaching out to artists in Central Texas who are interested in religious themes, bringing them together, enabling them to display their work and encourage them to move on. From the beginning the strongest leader in this great work has been Mark Landers. Mark can be very proud of the tradition that has been built up in Central Texas and I for one am very grateful to him. After twenty years, however, Mark has decided to step back and let Craig Kaneweke take over. Mark will continue on the scene and be very supportive to Craig and the other dedicated members of the Council. The Diocese has made the corridors of the Pastoral Center a venue for the Religious Arts Gallery and the 8th exhibit will be held in the gallery on September 13th from 5:30 to 7:30 pm. Entrance is free and you might give yourself a pleasant and inexpensive evening by dropping in at the Pastoral Center at 6225 Highway 290 East in Austin. The work of the Council is yet another reflection of the great good that can come from a few generous visionaries being able to work together to build a better Church and a better world. May God bless the Fine Arts Council and those who make it happen.
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Fast breaking news sometimes separates us. Something dramatic happens and a part of our population is upset. That same event may be a source of encouragement to another segment of citizenry. In view of that, I was delighted to see an article in the paper the other day that I think is encouraging for everyone in our society. I will tell you what it is.
Research in the world of academia has just revealed that Latino young people in this country are now the largest minority group on U.S. college campuses. This research was done by the Pew Hispanic Report. It was just released.
The research shows that more than 2 million Hispanics between 18 and 24 were currently enrolled in colleges last year making up a record 16.5% share of enrollments in that age group at two year and four year universities. Terrific!
We are all conscious of the rapid growth of the Hispanic population in this country and many of us have been praying for improved high school completion rates so that these young people could go on to colleges and universities. It is happening – it is happening!
With an ever-increasing percentage in colleges and universities, it means that the earning ability, the stability and the ability to contribute to the larger society will be greatly enhanced. When more young Hispanics are seeing their older brothers, sisters, uncles, friends going on to college and they see that this is an accomplishment that they can achieve if they work hard themselves and take advantage of the programs that are out there.
Last year, 76% of Hispanics in the country between 18 and 24 years of age had a high school diploma. This represents a surge of 6% in only one year. Regretfully, that is still below the national average of 85% and still below the African American average of 81%. However, it is movement in the right direction and it is MOVING!
Everyone who wants to see our country make progress needs to be delighted about this. That includes government, educators, churches, families and the students themselves.
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The issue of communication is at the heart and the core of the Church. The Church has been sent. It has been sent into the world to tell the world of the good news of Jesus Christ, the joyful news of God’s love for the human family and of that family’s redemption by the life of Jesus Christ. Communication is at the very essence of the Church’s mission. How is it doing across the world? How is it doing in the Vatican and how is it doing in the United States?
Regretfully, we haven’t had a nationally famous episcopal speaker since the wonderful Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. He was outstanding and his television appearance captivated the entire country, not just the Catholics. Since then no one. The Vatican has several times admitted its failure in public communication and has since hired an executive from Fox News. If that is progress or not remains to be seen.
The Church is trying and I was very happy to see that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is sponsoring three media seminars during the coming year aimed specifically at bishops to help them with encountering the media and crisis communications.
Traditionally, there were two very important groups of people who will do almost anything to avoid being in front of a camera in a controversial situation and that is the leaders from the business community and from the churches. Let’s hope that these seminars will give bishops the technical skills and the confidence in the ability to articulate effectively in order that they might carry Christ’s word forward more effectively in their individual dioceses or even on the national level.
Each of these seminars, scheduled for Houston, Savannah and Buffalo, are to run for an entire day! The bishops will have to be fast learners. Before attending one or another or all three of these seminars, each bishop, or Church representative, should concentrate on the all-important underpinning of good media communication. TELL THE TRUTH!
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February 12th, 6th Sunday of the Year
For the next ten weeks, the Gospel will be from that of St. Mark. Mark’s was the first of the four Gospels to be written. It is very cryptic with less verbiage than is present in Matthew and Luke and certainly far less than you will find in St. John. Unlike Matthew and Luke, there is no mention of the birth or early life of Jesus. He appears a full grown man in the ninth verse of the first chapter. Actually, it is the first verse of chapter one that shows dramatically how cryptic Mark is in his writing. The first verse is, “This is the beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” That is the whole story in one sentence. Happily, Mark goes on to give us his sense of the Gospel and Mark will then be used as a source by both Matthew and Luke when those books are written a few years later.
Today’s readings draw on both the reality and symbolism of leprosy. In the first reading, we have Yahweh directing Moses to institute what may be the earliest documented case of quarantine. If anyone is known to have leprosy, they are to be separated, put off in isolation until one way or another either a cure or death occurs. In the Gospel, Jesus cures a leprous man. Leprosy is a terrible disease and the Church has often used the stories about lepers as a symbol for we poor sinners who are struggling to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. Like leprosy, sin is a disease and if it is not isolated, actually cut out of lives, then it can destroy us.
Let’s walk for a few weeks with St. Mark but hold on to your hat. He moves quickly!
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4th Sunday of Easter, May 15th
Pentecost is the birthday of the Church. That is the third great feast day in the Church year. We celebrate it ten days after the Feast of the Ascension and fifty days after Easter Sunday itself. Pentecost may mark the beginning of the Church- in terms of the responsibility for proclaiming the Word of God passing now not from Jesus himself, but to the apostles as his witnesses. However, I prefer the dramatic scene that we see in today’s Gospel. That is, of course, the same text that will dominate Pentecost Sunday but here we have but an excerpt of it.
Peter and the other apostles have been holed up in their secret hiding place for ten days now, when they are transformed by the presence among them of the Holy Spirit. They had kept the doors locked, the windows shuttered, but then suddenly, after receiving the Spirit, Peter tells them that it is time to go forth. Peter then leaves the room, goes out into the city and begins to proclaim the Good News of God’s love for the human family and the redemption that has been accomplished by the death and resurrection of Jesus. His speech must have had tremendous power. The initial listeners were shocked and concerned about what they should do and Peter gives them very clear directions – Repent and be baptized, baptized in the name of Jesus Christ and the result of this would be that their sins would be forgiven. The text merely states rather casually that those who accepted the message were baptized and some 3,000 were added that day! Would today’s preachers be so successful.
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