Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 5th
Joy and happiness of the Easter season continues with the Church’s liturgy and each Sunday that joy is reflected in the three scriptural excerpts that are placed before us. If we mediate on this reality, we should have a great sense of unity with our fellow Christians because these texts are being read simultaneously all over the world. Not only are we united East and West but we are dramatically united in terms of today and yesterday. I am referring to the fact that each week we get a scene from Acts of Apostles and if we look carefully at the texts, we will see something that is very important and something that is very much with us today.
And on this Sunday we view from 2,000 years later a dramatic and important new insight that the apostles gain after being guided by the Holy Spirit. Up until this point, every member of this tiny community of faith has been Jewish and comes straight out of the rich Jewish tradition. In today’s reading, we see the leaders of the Church realizing that faith in Jesus Christ is for all people. Peter is the leader in grasping this all important reality. When he meets Cornelius, a Roman military officer, he instructs him in the message of Jesus and while that was happening the Holy Spirit descended upon all those who were listening.
They were all GENTILES and Peter asks and implicitly answers an awesome question. What can stop these people who have received the Holy Spirit from being baptized with water? And so they were. A new missionary thrust of the Church was underway.
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February 10th, Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today’s readings present us with a scriptural foundation for the natural missionary thrust of the Church. The Church was brought into existence as a community of faith by the will of Jesus Christ. The Church holds tightly and courageously to that faith. From the very beginning our Lord made it known that it was not a treasure that was to be kept safely in a box. It was to be spread out into the world. “Go ye therefore into the whole world teaching them…”.
Who was to do that? Well, those who had been blessed with the faith, they have a responsibility having received that gift to attempt to share it. For this, let’s go back to today’s reading from the 6th chapter of Isaiah. Here we see Isaiah living through a dramatic vision, a scene in which he himself sees Yahweh, the Lord, and Isaiah is terrified. Isaiah admits his own unworthiness. Why should he receive such a gift? He cries out that he is unclean and he has unclean lips. Suddenly, an angel comes from Yahweh with a burning ember and touches the mouth of Isaiah and announces that this suffering has cleansed him of all guilt. Then the voice of the Lord says, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” Isaiah answers, “Here I am Lord. Send me.”
If you hold on to our holy Christian faith, have been baptized and formed in that faith, you have weaknesses that may block you from effectively transferring it to your brothers and sisters. However, don’t worry. You have been purified by the death and resurrection of the Lord. When you hear the voice of the Lord asking, “Whom shall I send?” you should consider answering with Isaiah. “Here I am Lord. Send me.”
If one of us worked for the president or for the governor, or I guess for that matter, even the mayor, one would ordinarily be very proud of that fact. How proud we should be and how enthusiastic we should be when we realize that when we are working for Jesus of Nazareth we are working for the Lord of the universe. It is not sinful pride. It is very reasonable and logical.
Let’s go to work!
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One of the things that I really love about the Catholic Church is that virtually every day is a celebration- a feast day! On these days, we look at the lives of men and women who have been exemplary models of the Christian challenge to walk in the footsteps of, to imitate, to be one with Jesus of Nazareth.
Today is a very special feast day for me. Today is the Feast Day of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus. the day is important to me personally because I think her story is extraordinary and her life an awesome reflection of the power of God’s grace. Additionally, St. Theresa has a special importance to me, personally. I was the pastor of St. Theresa’s in Houston in the 1970′s, and it was at that church that I was ordained a bishop. For the past thirty years I’ve also been an occasional “fill in” priest at St. Theresa’s in Austin. Both are wonderful parishes!
I’ve always been fascinated by the popularity of this young lady. As a very young girl, Theresa wanted to enter a cloistered convent, and she did! But behind those cloistered walls, she had an extraordinary love for the church across the world. Her life was short (1873-1897) but what an impact! The story of her holiness- the awe that she had for her Savior, Jesus of Nazareth, was so powerful that it quickly spread out of France and around the world. The heroic missionaries of that period, especially in Africa and Asia, turned to her and begged for her heavenly support for their missionary activities- and their prayers were answered to an outstanding way. The decades after her death included an explosive period of missionary activity in Africa and Asia, and to a great extent the missionaries credited their beloved St. Theresa.
The parish church I attended as a child was built in 1927. St. Theresa was canonized only in 1926, which tells you something about her worldwide popularity!
What captivates the imagination of so many of the faithful is that this young girl never went to the foreign missions, never taught in any school, never got out beyond the closed doors of the cloister and yet the Church across the world was transformed by her. Not by education, and not by power, but by holiness and humility. St. Theresa was and still IS a magnificent gift to the Church!
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Photo: Nicole Grimes
May 20, 2012- Feast of the Ascension
The 12 apostles spent more than two fairly quiet years walking after Jesus as he moved back and forth from Galilee to Judea, frequently passing through Samaria. They heard his preaching, they saw his miracles, they were committed. But then things began to get a little rough.
In that first Holy Week, which was ushered in by the triumphant entry into Jerusalem, we saw two trials, one religious and one civil, and then the crucifixion. Finally, and most astounding, the resurrection itself. Then came those forty days of strange and mysterious visits when, from time to time, Jesus would suddenly appear among the apostles conveying extremely important messages which would help the Church to understand itself and to develop according to the mission that they had received from Jesus.
Today, we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension and once again, we are dealing with startled, stunned and frightened apostles. There was Jesus standing and speaking to them, and then suddenly he begins to ascend to heaven and then disappears. What are they to do? In the next scene, they are facing heaven and two men in white were standing beside them. They said, “Why are you Galileans standing here looking into the sky? Jesus has been taken up from you into heaven and will come back again in the same way.” Would that make for shock, for wonder, for confusion? You bet. Now begins ten more days of fear and anxiety. That unpleasantness will come to an end in ten days as we celebrate the third most important feast in the life of the Church, PENTECOST and the descent of the Holy Spirit.
That question from those angels was really a challenge to us as well. Why are you standing here? You have got a job to do. Let’s get with it. We also need to know that in our heart of hearts we are being asked: Why are you standing here staring into space? You share in the missionary responsibility.
Let’s get with it.
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During its very first chapter, the Church, the community of faith, was totally and completely Jewish. Jesus, the apostles, the disciples, all of the followers and all early members were of the Jewish blood and faith. However, very early on the total Jewishness of the Church begins to be altered, and men and women beyond the confines of Judaism begin to be received into the community of believers in Jesus.
Today’s first reading describes a dramatic scene where a Roman officer has a vision that he should send for Peter and find out more about the message that Peter has been preaching, that Jesus had risen from the death and ascended into heaven. It is a beautiful excerpt. Peter receives Cornelius and his entire household into the Church, but then, guided by the Holy Spirit, makes a decision of tremendous importance for how the Church will be developed on the Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 13th
He asks rhetorically, “What can stop these people who have received the Holy Spirit even as we have from being baptized with water?” The answer, of course, is NOTHING and so this whole Pagan household was baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. From then on, the missionary Church was on its way.
Helping to build the Church was the responsibility of the apostles and their early followers, but that responsibility continues even to this day. There are so many ways that we can be missionaries in our day-to-day lives. The best, of course, is to give an example in all of our dealing with people to be Christ-like – gentle and kind, honest and generous. Throughout its history, the examples of its holiest members has always been the greatest single cause for receiving converts into the Church. The example of the Christian life has always been much more influential in helping the Church to grow than theological discussions, as important as those may be. Throughout its history, the Church has always needed saints, extraordinary men and women whose lives really mirrored the life of Jesus of Nazareth. We have always needed them and never more than we do today.
On a separate note, tomorrow is MOTHER’s DAY- may God BLESS all the MOTHERs, and those who take on a motherly role here on earth!
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Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today’s gospel is from the first chapter of Mark, and it describes a scene approximately in the year 30 (we’re guessing, of course). It describes the beginning of the public life of Jesus of Nazareth, and it will lead into the beautiful story that Mark tells so beautifully and succinctly. However, I would like to mention a few words about today’s epistle.
It’s that dramatic scene in I Corinthians where Paul describes his method of evangelization and WOW, what a program! Paul tells us that he MUST preach. He must reach out to people, and that he does it with no possibility of gain for himself. Most of us can understand that- he is, after all, a missionary. Then Paul goes on to describe an extraordinary method of adoption of his own temperament and personality in a manner that will enable him to reach evermore of his listeners.
“I make myself a slave so as to win over as many as possible. To the weak, I became a weak person with a view to winning the weak. I have made myself all things to all men.”
I think that many young seminarians and religious sisters have a frame of mind when they first begin but it is a tremendous challenge to maintain that level of commitment as we grow older. It is important that those committed to building up the church must never lose enthusiasm, energy, commitment and most of all, a burning faith. Paul succeeded to the very end, and like Jesus, challenges us to follow him.
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When I was a kid in All Saints Parish, on the north side of Houston, I would frequently get in religious discussions with my Methodist and Baptist friends. One of the things I remember always being so proud of was “my church never changes.” I was proud of that because it was true. The Church of the 1940’s was essentially the Church of the first and second centuries. It is true of its basic structure, its fundamental beliefs and its essential missionary nature. That fact is still true today.
Then, in the 1960’s, along comes a rather fulsome pope named John XXIII. He didn’t want the Church to change in any one of its essentials, but he felt that it had to change in terms of some of the crustaceans that had gradually attached themselves to it and impeded its effectiveness. One of the most graphic examples of change in the Church today is that of the role of missionaries, especially foreign missionaries, who so often in the past were priests, brothers and religious women, is gradually being assumed by lay people.
I was thrilled to see that Maryknoll, the official American foreign mission society, is preparing to send out another group of 13 lay missionaries. These are young and middle-aged American citizens who are walking away from the comforts and security of their traditional lives and taking themselves to Africa and South America and other places where they will help the Church, already established in those parts of the country, to build up and become evermore effective.
For information, contact Maryknoll Lay Missioners, P. O. Box 307, Maryknoll, NY 10545-0307, (914) 762-6364, e-mail – email@example.com.
God bless Maryknoll. God bless the laity.
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Can you visualize 5th Century Ireland? It was a land that was cold and almost constantly covered by fog. A large percentage of the territory was composed of bogs, which means the land was soft, sloppy, and difficult for walking. All in all, from 1400 years away, it seems to me to have been a very dreary place! Then…
Into the life and story of the Emerald Isle appears a man that while shrouded in mystery, nevertheless had an extraordinary impact on Ireland, future generations of Ireland, and all across the planet. St. Patrick had this influence not because of political or military leadership, but because he was a man of amazing faith, centering that faith on Jesus Christ in a manner that was so impressive that the people of Ireland were formed in that same faith and would remain steadfast in it until today.
The people of Ireland turned from the paganism that had marked their lives from time immemorial and committed themselves to the continued presence of Jesus, which vivifies the Catholic Church. Patrick may have been the most influential missionary since St. Paul. I believe that that is true, but yet we still know very little about him.
Onward through the bog!
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When I was growing up in the ‘40’s the Catholic school I attended would frequently spotlight the great work of the Christian missionaries overseas. The teachers would talk about these brave people and the difficulties that they faced. Occasionally, one or two would come by the parish and the school and give us exciting reports about going up the Amazon in a canoe or trying to bring the joyful message of Jesus to unbelieving throngs of Asians. I knew that it was tough work but we actually didn’t think that many of them lost their lives because they were missionaries.
Last month Fides, a Vatican News Agency, just released information informing us that 37 Catholic missionaries were killed in 2008. Eighteen priests, two seminarians, two lay people and one religious woman were murdered! Tragically, there is still a great deal of hatred across this planet and the irony of ironies is that these heroic missionaries sometimes become targets of hateful suspicious groups. The number of 37 may not seem too large in view of the thousands of missionaries the Church has scattered across the world. But each one of these deaths is a terrible tragedy that a person, motivated by their faith in Jesus, would go off to spread the good news and instead would die violently at the hands of people who are driven by hatred. Next time a missionary is speaking at your church about this great work see that person as a man or a woman who made not only giving their life to the service of Christ but also are risking their life at the edge of martyrdom.
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“Go out to the whole world; proclaim the good news to all creation.” Both Mark and Matthew close their Gospels with Jesus commissioning the apostles to take his message to the whole world until the end of time. Luke, while not as direct, implicitly does the same thing.
From that first Pentecost Sunday and continuing until today, the Church is essentially a missionary organization. Both its members and its leaders receive from their sacraments of baptism and confirmation the responsibility of letting the good news of Jesus of Nazareth pass through them into the lives of others. Members of the Church are so harried by daily life’s burdens and responsibilities that they do not avert to this responsibility. However, over the years every generation has seen thousands and, through the centuries, tens and tens of thousands of men and women giving their lives to advance the message of their Savior, Jesus of Nazareth.
Even if the majority of the members of the Church do not overtly act on this commission, they do so implicitly by leading good lives and leading those good lives because of their faith in Jesus. In this way, they become a witness within the family, within the neighborhood and in the larger society.
When I was growing up in the ‘30’s and ‘40’s schoolchildren, both in Catholic schools and in religious education programs, were imbued with a strong sense of missionary responsibility. We were asked to save our pennies and nickels and give to help support a missionary in China, India or Africa. We were asked frequently to pray for missionaries that God would protect them and make their work effective.
Missionary consciousness has in no way disappeared within the life of the Church but I must say that it is not nearly as strong as it was fifty years ago or throughout the 19th century. I think that part of this is due to two things: scandals in the Church today because of some clergy failing to live by their commitment and by conflicts within the Church between “conservatives and liberals.” It is not always easy to see the Church as a happy community of faith. We can all do something about this. We need to recognize the legitimate differences within the Church and between Catholics, and we need to pray that the Church will soon pass through the crisis generated by ineffective and failed leaders.
Let’s do it and let’s do it together.
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