Queen of All Saints
What’s your favorite feast? Thanksgiving? Many people say Christmas, especially if they are into “receiving” . Others are for Easter because of the wardrobe boost. Celebrating the Lord’s birth and resurrection provides us with wonderful religious experiences, but I’m holding out for the third most important feast in the life of the Church- Pentecost
. This coming Sunday, we will be wearing red to celebrate Pentecost, rejoicing that the Spirit of God flowed into the lives of the frightened followers of Jesus to give them a clear understanding of what it was that they had been called to do. Those followers were essentially confused cowards before Pentecost, and following that dramatic event they became courageous men and women prepared even to die as witnesses to Jesus.
This celebration is one day per year, but we ought to be prepared and look for opportunities to witness on a daily basis what we believe about the carpenter from Nazareth. You do not have to be in church to witness! Witness simply means to share the message of God’s love with all our very human brothers and sisters. This does not always require trips to third world countries by the way-you can do it right here in your own stomping grounds, by visiting with your lonely neighbor or reaching out to a frustrated coworker. Every day provides opportunities to be kind and thoughtful to those around us. His Spirit is challenging us!
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As you drive by practically any Catholic church in the world, you will see a cross atop the steeple or over the front door. A cross will be on the back wall of the Sanctuary. Beautiful walnut pews will have crosses carved into them. As we go into the church, we bless ourselves in the sign of the cross, reminding ourselves of our baptism- but more importantly- of the fact that Jesus suffered for us. The cross is everywhere. Sometimes, it’s deceptive. You see crosses that are elaborately designed to be works of art. There is nothing wrong with that, but we should remind ourselves that the first cross was simply two large beams attached to each other, large enough to have a body nailed to it. The verb is nailed. Sometimes we don’t like to think about that fact. We don’t want to visualize a human being hanging in agony for hours until death slowly overcomes that person. It may make us uncomfortable, but this is what Good Friday is all about. This wonderful Jewish carpenter- this rural preacher- is executed to atone for the failure of the human family. He offers His heavenly father infinite obedience and love, and He does it for you and me today. We wont dwell too long on this agonizing scene, because our faith and our hope pulls us forward to the greatest of all events in history- the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Sunday we will cry out, and sing, and laugh! But not yet…
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Painting by Leonardo da Vinci
Everyone knows that the Feasts of the Nativity and the Resurrection are the two biggest days in the liturgical year but you know I feel very strongly that Holy Thursday ranks right there with both of them.
On Holy Thursday we look back to that awesome night when Jesus gathered with his beloved apostles and celebrated the ancient Jewish rite of Passover, and at the same time instituted the new rite that would be the Holy Mass where bread and wine mystically become the Real Presence of Jesus of Nazareth. And the apostles received both the directive and the power to celebrate the Eucharist to be the vehicle through which Jesus continues to be in and with his Church.
So on this very special day we celebrate both the sacraments of the Eucharist and Holy Orders. Of course, the evening reminds us also of things that reflect the wide range of human actions. We see Judas the traitor holding the purse but looking for a way to get a way from the table. We also see the Divine carpenter from a dusty village kneeling before his friends and washing their feet. In today’s world, this awesome symbol loses some of its punch. We move around in automobiles and if we do walk a short distance, it is on sidewalks and paved streets. In Jesus’ time, people walked on dusty roads in sandals or barefooted. The washing of feet was a much needed sacred symbol of hospitality and love.
Each of us needs to find ways to symbolically provide patience, service and love to those with whom we are sharing life.
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We have finally arrived. For nearly six weeks, we have endeavored to keep our minds and our hearts focused on the reality of Jesus Christ. Sometimes, it’s not all that easy, because of the never ending pull of worldly distractions, but this week it is a little easier to do. We actually walk a little bit beside and behind Jesus as He goes through the end of His public life here on earth. Remember His exciting entry into Jerusalem? The crowds were cheering, and He was being hailed as a savior, although the croweds did not really know what they were saying. Then, Jesus retreated to the Jerusalem suburb of Bethany, and with his closest friends, entered into what today we swould call a retreat- quiet, prayer, bracing himself for what he knew was coming. On this day, you might imagine that Judas has been made an offer by the enemies of Jesus. He’s thinking about it. Will Judas betray his master?
As we look back on our own spiritual journey, we sometimes remember times when we ourselves betrayed our Lord. We remember that act of unkindnesss or dishonesty or cruelty, when we failed to follow His example. We regret that today, and THIS is the time to make up for it. We cannot undo the pain we brought into someone eles’ life last year, but we can recommit ourselves to being better, more kind. This week is Holy, and challenges us to holiness- to being, in some limited way, like our Lord himself. To be kind, generous. Regretfully it is a never-ending challenge, but this is the week to respond to that challenge.
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March 17th, Fifth Sunday of Lent
I just opened my lectionary and I can see very clearly that tomorrow is the fifth Sunday of Lent. I am also joyfully aware that March 17th is St. Patrick’s Day. This is a sad reality that surfaces every seven years because the Sundays of Lent are so important in the liturgical calendar that they block out the lesser feast days themselves. My comments come from the Mass of this Sunday rather than those of the Votive Mass of St. Patrick. I am sure that God will forgive me.
It is not a problem because the Gospel excerpt used for this Sunday is simply marvelous. It is clear, dramatic and our Lord drives a point home with tremendous power. You know it well but let’s take a quick look at it again.
It shows our Lord’s teaching in the courtyard of the temple and, as usual, there is a large crowd. Suddenly, there is excitement and people begin to jostle. We see then a number of strong men pushing and shoving a single woman through the crowd until they get in front of Jesus. They denounced her and ask for his view on whether or not she should be stoned to death because she had been caught in an adulterous act. Adultery requires two people! Where is the man? Try to visualize this dramatic scene. There is a lot of yelling going on and a crowd of men are demanding that Jesus agree to Mosaic law that a woman like this should be killed. They have already humiliated her tremendously and now they are pushing for her death.
Our Lord drops to his knees and then begins drawing in the sand. When they kept demanding a response, he really threw back one of the great stories of the Gospels. “Let the man among you who has no sin be the first to cast a stone at her.” Jesus then returned to his crouched position and waited to see what would happen. The crowd slinked away leaving no one there but Jesus and this poor abused woman. When the woman told Jesus that no one had accepted his challenge, that no one had condemned her, he merely said, “Nor do I condemn you. You may go but from here sin no more.”
From a Christian perspective, that is one of the greatest statements ever made. He knew that the woman had made mistakes but he was informing her that God instantly forgives true sorrow. She was being given another chance to live a better life.
As Lent approaches, be conscious that Jesus was speaking not only to the Jewish woman but to you and me as well. Let us remember that as we move towards Holy Week.
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March 10th, Fourth Sunday of Lent
For the first couple of weeks in Lent, the scripture readings are usually somewhat grim. We are reminded of human weakness, the urge to know ourselves better. We try to be motivated to improve ourselves. This is all a process and the Church urges us to make good use of this holy season. And this Sunday is using one of the most meaningful parables that our Lord presented to his listeners. The story of the prodigal son.
Many of us read that story and put the emphasis in the wrong place. We are glad that the kid came back. We are glad that the father is forgiving. We hope that the same thing will happen to us. But a very important part of the story is the older brother. He does not forgive. He does not celebrate his brother’s return to a good life. He does not appreciate the infinite forgiveness of the father. This parable of our Lord says a great deal about God’s infinite forgiveness but it also says in a very pointed way that you and I have to be forgiving people as well.
As Holy Week draws closer take a few minutes and run through your mind people against whom you have held some grievance of late. Do you see that person as being forgiven by Almighty God? If you answer affirmatively, shouldn’t we do the same?
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Catholics in the United States have historically been woefully lax in their study of God’s word. Things have been much improved since the Second Vatican Council but we still have a long way to go. At least most Catholics are familiar with the Parables and the message that they contain, and the more dramatic scenes from our Lord’s life as presented in the Gospel. One such a scene is the miracle of the loaves and the fishes. You know it well. A great throng to hear the words of Jesus, no food markets conveniently nearby and the apostles are aware that hunger is setting in. We know the rest but let’s take a look at a modern twist with the same basic idea of Jesus, or at least the followers of Jesus, feeding the poor.
One of the most socially involved parishes in the Diocese of Austin is St. John Neumann. In 1998, a group of parishioners were clearly conscious of the amount of hunger and the material need there was within this rather prosperous Texas city. In September of that year, a small committee of five persons made 75 sack lunches and went through the town distributing at points where they saw people who were unemployed or homeless. In 1999, seeing the great need, a truck along the lines of those used by neighborhood lunch wagons was purchased and the miracle took off.
At the present time, Mobile Loaves and Fishes have established 16 catering trucks located in five cities and four states, every one serving with magnificent compassion and love. Going out into the streets every night, Mobile Loaves and Fishes serves food, basic clothing, hygiene products, friendship, a smile and a handshake to their brothers and sisters living on or near the streets. This is yet another example of how much good can be generated when two or three people get together with faith, vision and energy. Can you join the great work of St. John Neumann? The contact information for Mobile Loaves and Fishes is 903 S. Capital of Texas, Austin, Texas 78746, (512) 328-7299.
May God continue to bless Mobile Loaves and Fishes and may their trucks continue to increase and roll.
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February 24th, Second Sunday of Lent
Jesus of Nazareth is a real human being. The apostles who worked with him during his public life were also real human beings with different temperaments, personalities, talents, etc. It is only natural then that Jesus dealt with the apostles in different ways. We can guess at those ways but we will never know exactly the motivation that caused our Lord to act in such a way in specific situations.
Those thoughts are brought to my mind because of today’s Gospel which in the life of the Church is called the Feast of the Transfiguration. The majority of the apostles are left behind in the valley. For some reason Jesus goes away with Peter, James and John. This is really a dramatic scene. The four of them ascend high up on the mountain. Suddenly Jesus looks different, awesomely different! The texts say that his clothes became dazzlingly white and he is no longer alone. There is Moses to one side and Elijah on the other. They also appeared in glory and were having a conversation with Jesus about the fact that he was about to fulfill ancient prophecies. It is an awesome scene but Luke gives it very few words. The visitors soon disappear and the three apostles are headed down the mountain again. From within a mysterious cloud they hear a voice saying, “This is my son, my chosen one. Listen to him.” The apostles were shocked into silence and did not report this scene until after the resurrection.
What is the purpose of this event? Anyone could come up with a number of explanations. Was Jesus just preparing these chosen apostles for something that would be more awesome in the future, namely his resurrection and an awareness of his divinity? Was he uniting his life and work with God’s dealings with his people in the Old Testament which is symbolized by both Moses and Elijah? Maybe it was just to remind you and me of two facts: that life is mysterious and God is near.
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February 3rd, Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Thanks be to God for the Lectionary. I have been a Catholic priest for approximately 57 years and if you allowed for a couple of weeks of vacation or times on Sundays when I was not preaching, I probably averaged Sunday sermons 40 times a year. That is roughly 2,200 times to stand in a pulpit and try to present the message of Jesus Christ to a congregation. That is a lot of preaching but it is really not difficult at all. The Church’s wonderful system of a liturgical year, rotating seasons on a three year cycle with three texts for every Mass, gives us more than ample material. On occasions over the years I have had clergy complain that they didn’t know what to preach about on a particular Sunday or at a particular place. To me that is a mystery.
Today is a perfect example. We have two marvelous concepts placed before us by the Church in its liturgy. The first is St. Paul’s magnificent letter from I Corinthians about the nature of love and that while all virtues are good, love surpasses them all.
The Gospel except is from that dramatic scene in the 4th chapter of Luke where Jesus says to the congregation in his hometown synagogue after reading an Isaiah text announcing the coming of the Messiah, “Today the scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” There you have it! The first statement by our Lord himself that he is the Messiah. Jesus’ listeners took him very seriously and so accused him of claiming to be divine and then attempted to kill him. Read those two texts together. Everything to be said about love in human relations and about the mystery of the incarnation that God so loved the human family that he came among us and assumed a human nature.
There is always plenty to think about, talk about and pray about when it comes to our faith!
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January 27th, Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Last week’s Gospel was very down to earth with Jesus performing his first miracle by enabling a wedding celebration to continue. Today, I want to comment on the second reading from I Corinthians where
St. Paul raises a profound issue that is very important for our own individual spirituality and for the Church as a whole. St. Paul is responding to conflicts that exist in the new Church that he had established in Corinth and urging its members to see beyond their immediate needs and see the mystery of Christ present within them and among them.
Paul uses the example of the human body pointing out that it is a complex entity but also a unified reality and he stresses that every aspect of the body is held together by the same unity. The hand may not be an eye and the ear may not be an arm, but they are all united by the same life and reality. He then goes on to say to the people in the Corinthian Church that they are in different places in the Church, they have different roles, different responsibilities, but they are one Church and the oneness is formed by the awesome mystery of the Body of Christ who is within them and has brought them together. From several hundred miles away on the other side of the Mediterranean, Paul writes, “You then are the Body of Christ. Every one of you is a member of it.”
If we could really grasp this reality in the lives that we live in our parishes, conflict that so often manifests itself in the parish life would be virtually eliminated but it is not easy. The Corinthians were constantly overreacting with each other. We can do better if we try and are guided by God’s grace. We are one body…Christ’s Body!
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