15th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Jesus, the prophets, and all the writers of the Scriptures spoke to the people in language they could understand.  Today’s Old Testament reading and Gospel are perfect examples.  They both speak in terms that an agricultural society could relate to.  Both talk about seeds and what it takes to either make them grow, or not grow.

 

Of course, we understand the symbolism today, but we may not be quite as concerned, or as educated in the process of turning seed into a useful crop.  We know that seeds need water and fertile soil to grow, but we don’t live with those things on a daily basis.  We understand that there are farmers somewhere who grow our food supply, but a drought in Kansas is much more of a concern to those farmers than it is to us, at least day to day.

 

For example, our neighbors to the north, particularly Iowa, have been experiencing terrible floods.  We see the images on the nightly news.  We may even be thinking that eventually all that water will have to make it’s way to Saint Louis.  But we may not think about the farmers whose crops, and therefore, their livelihoods, are being threatened.

 

In Biblical times seed was expensive.  And the soil wasn’t the best.  A failed crop meant possible starvation.  Turning seed into food was a life and death proposition.  It was serious stuff.  For you and me, a failed “crop” may mean that our lawn isn’t as green as our neighbor’s.  When Isaiah speaks about rain making the earth fertile and fruitful, the people understood exactly what he was talking about.  Speaking for God he says, “So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.”

 

In His famous parable of the sewer and the seed, Jesus is using this same analogy of seeds to represent His Word.  Unlike a lot of His parables, He gives us the advantage with this one of explaining what He means.  When the disciples ask Him why He speaks in parables He tells them that knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom has been granted to them, but not to everyone.  “They look but do not see and hear but do not listen but do not understand.”

 

“The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the word of the kingdom without understanding it and the evil one comes and steals away what was sewn in his heart.”  If you’ve ever tried to grow grass, you know that sometimes some of the seed will fall on the sidewalk or the driveway.  You plant seed, fertilize it, and water it.  Then you wait for it to grow.  Meanwhile the seed that lodges in the cracks of the sidewalk, without the benefit of fertilizer or water seems to sprout up overnight.  It’s frustrating, but you also know that the grass that’s growing in the wrong place won’t last.  It dies very quickly.

 

The same is true of the word of God.  You may hear the word.  It may hit you at just the right time in your life.  You’re excited.  “Yes, I see now.  God is speaking to ME.”  But if you don’t really understand it, if you don’t have the spiritual capacity to use what you’ve heard, your enthusiasm wanes and by Monday you may have forgotten all about it.

 

“The seed sown on rocky ground is the one who hearts the word and receives it at once with joy.  But he has no root and lasts only for a time.  When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, he immediately falls away.”

 

I heard a statistic recently that’s really scary.  Of the people who go through the RCIA program and receive the sacraments on Holy Saturday, just 35% of them are back at mass the weekend after Easter.  Think about that!  We’re not a church where you can just walk in off the street and be baptized.  We make you jump through hoops.  You have to go through a formation program that takes months to complete.  But in spite of all that, in spite of the studying and praying that it takes to prepare for baptism and confirmation, one out of three of those people don’t stick with it.  Talk about rocky soil!

 

“The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit.”  I think that describes most of at least some of the time.  There are so many distractions in the world that it’s easy to forget about God in our daily lives.  We can blame television, the internet, or just the pressures of modern society for distracting us.  But remember that Jesus was speaking in the first century.  Even without all our modern distractions, the people of His time fell into the same trap.

 

Here’s a question for you: How often do you think about the Word of God?  All day every day?  Or just for an hour on the weekend?  By the time next weekend rolls around will you even remember what today’s readings were?  Will you have looked up next weekend’s readings to better prepare yourself for coming to mass?  If you want God’s word to fall on fertile soil, you have to do the fertilizing.

 

Finally, He says, “But the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred, or sixty, or thirtyfold.”   That’s the goal.  We want to be that rich soil.  Not only do we want to prepare ourselves to receive His Word, we also have to be prepared to share it.  We need to read the Scriptures, we need to pray on them, and we need to reinforce their teaching by sharing it with others.  Academics will tell you that the best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else.  We’re called to be disciples.

 

In this chapel we’re surrounded by statues of the saints.  These holy men and women are here to motivate us and to remind us what’ needed to become saints ourselves.  They all have one thing in common.  None of them kept their faith to themselves.  Some were teachers, some were preachers, some did wonderful things for the poor.  But they all put their faith on display for others to see.  They made it their life’s work to spread the Good News, either by their words or by their actions.

 

Notice that in the Gospel Jesus makes no judgment on what’s the best way to sow the seed.  In fact, if we only sow seed on fertile ground, aren’t we preaching to the choir?  It’s easy to preach to a community of believers.  It’s getting something to grow on rocky soil that takes a lot of work.  But it can be done.  Church history is full of examples of hard-hearted people who were converted by hearing the Gospel.  Even some of our most revered saints were serious sinners before they ran into a disciple who was willing to make the effort to turn them around.

 

Saint Monica prayed for years that her son would return to the faith.  When he did come back, Saint Augustine did ok.  Quite an example that even rocky soil can produce a good crop.

 

As we leave here today, let’s all make an effort to spend more time in prayer and spiritual reading.  Let’s provide the best soil for the Word to grow.  Let’s all be faithful disciples, not just one-hour-a-week Christians.

Vigil of Pentecost

Today is the Vigil of the Feast of Pentecost, the end of the Easter Season.  Tomorrow the Holy Spirit will descend on the Apostles.  Without the Spirit, the Apostles would have just been twelve guys who might not have had the courage to carry out God’s plan.  Believe me, standing up in front of people, preaching the good news of the Gospel isn’t an easy task, especially in the first century, when there was a very real threat of death for preaching this radical new faith.

 

Today is also the day when Archbishop Carlson ordained twenty men to be permanent deacons.  One of several questions he asked the prospective deacons was, “Are you resolved to discharge the office of deacon with humility and love in order to assist the bishop and the priests and to serve the people of Christ?”  The key words here are “humility” and “serve”.  These words remind the deacon, just as tomorrow’s celebration reminds all of us that we must be humble, and that we must serve one another.

 

As followers of Christ it’s easy to fall into the trap of pride.  After all, we’re all chosen people.  We must be pretty special.  But none of us is more special than anyone else.  The only thing that makes any of us different from anyone else is our particular talents, and those talents are given to us by God.  If we ever forget that, then we fall into the sin of pride.

 

Part of my calling is to preach.  Most people are more afraid of public speaking than they are of death.  But my call doesn’t make me special.  It just means that God has put me in a position to expand on the day’s readings.  Trust me, that’s all the Holy Spirit.  I’m just His spokesman, repeating what He wants you to hear.  I’m not afraid to speak because the Spirit is with me.

 

Here’s what the Archbishop said today in his prayer of consecration over the new deacons, “Lord, look with favor on this servant of yours, whom we now dedicate to the office of deacon, to minister at your holy altar.  Deacons have an office, just as priests, religious men and women, and all of you have an office.

 

“Lord, send forth upon him the Holy Spirit, that he may be strengthened by the gift of your sevenfold grace, to carry out faithfully the work of the ministry.”  Before I was ordained, I did some public speaking.  I guess I was ok at it. I got paid for it.  But I wasn’t inspired.  I guess I had some talent, but I didn’t have the gift of the Spirit.

 

The Archbishop uses the words “unassuming authority” and “May he in this life imitate your Son, who came, not to be served, but to serve, and one day reign with Him in heaven.”  All of us, deacons, priests, and lay people, are called to serve, just like Jesus came to serve.

 

We all received the Holy Spirit when we were confirmed.  For most of us that happened a long time ago.  We may not remember what was said.  The bishop’s prayer for us was very similar to the prayer of Ordination, “My dear friends, in baptism God our Father gave the new birth of eternal life to his chosen sons and daughters.”  There’s that word, chosen.

 

Let us pray to our Father that He will pour out the Holy Spirit to strengthen his sons and daughters with his gifts and anoint them to be more like Christ, the Son of God.”

 

“Send your Holy Spirit upon them to be their Helper and Guide.  Give them the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence.  Fill them with the spirit of wonder and awe in your presence.”

 

Judgment, courage, knowledge, reverence wonder and awe.  These are the gifts we receive; the same gifts the Apostles received on that Pentecost so many years ago.  Today we acknowledge those gifts and pray that we never lose them.  Jesus promised that he would never leave us alone; that the Spirit would be with us as our advocate.

 

After mass tomorrow, we’ll take down the Easter decorations.  We’ll put away the white vestments and return to wearing the green of ordinary time.  With a few exceptions we’ll wear the green until November 30, when we’ll put on the purple of Advent.  But in the modern use of the word, there’s no such thing as an ordinary Sunday.  Every Sunday is extraordinary because we have the Eucharist.  It’s another gift that Jesus left us.  With the gifts of the spirit, judgment, courage, knowledge, reverence wonder and awe, we’re called to share our faith.  We’re called to be disciples, and to make disciples.  We’re called to do it with humility, remembering that all we have and all we are are gifts from God.

 

The fact that sometimes we don’t have a priest to celebrate with us is another sign of God’s will for all of us.  Only the priest can consecrate the Eucharist, but we’re all empowered to share it with one another, even when a priest isn’t present.  We can still approach the altar with wonder and awe, knowing that we all have a part in Jesus’ ministry, and that we’re in His Presence.  Any of us can assist in the distribution of Holy Communion.  Any of us can take Communion to the sick.  Any of us can share God’s Good News.  Any of us can be the disciples we’re called to be.

 

Before the Apostles received the Spirit on Pentecost, they were scared; scared to death.  But the Spirit gave them the courage to do what needed to be done.  On this vigil of the Pentecost, our prayer is that the same Spirit will empower all of us to share the Good News of the Gospel.

 

Please stand and renew your baptismal promises.

 

Phil stands his ground

Last night Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame was on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show.  You may recall that Phil got in hot water last January for comments he made in an interview with GQ Magazine.  I’m still trying to figure out how a guy who dresses in camouflage and has a waist-length beard got into GQ, but I digress.  (See Why Phil Robertson is the Most Dangerous Man in America.)

It’s no surprise that Phil hasn’t changed his views, especially after winning his war with A & E Network and Cracker Barrel.   It’s great to see a TV star stand on his Christian values and not be intimidated by big money.

Here’s an excerpt  of his Hannity appearance.

Ascension

This is my homily for the Feast of the Ascension.

Today we celebrate Ascension Thursday. I know it’s Saturday (Sunday). But a few years ago the Church decided that it was OK to move Ascension Thursday to Sunday, giving us one less Holy Day of Obligation. I’m not sure I understand it, but then there are a lot of things I don’t understand, so I’m happy to defer that decision to people who are much smarter than I am. Anyway……

 

Today we celebrate Jesus’ return to heaven. He ascended into heaven so we call it the Feast of the Ascension. We confirm our belief every weekend in the Creed. “He ascended into heaven.” Luke tells us in the Acts of the Apostles that Jesus appeared to the disciples many times during the time after His resurrection, proving that He was still alive. Then “He enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak.” In other words He wanted them to stick around until Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit would descend on them.

 

But, once the Spirit did descend on them, Jesus told them, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Then He ascended into heaven. He was gone! But not before He gave them their final instructions, according to Matthew’s Gospel, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

So, what exactly is a disciple?   According to the dictionary, a disciple is a follower or a student of a teacher. When Jesus commissions the Apostles to make disciples of all nations, He tells them to baptize and to teach. Then each new disciple is called to make more disciples. That’s how we got from twelve men to over a billion Catholics in the world today. But, are all those people disciples? No, they’re not.

 

In order to be a disciple you have to have a personal relationship with God through His Son and His Holy Spirit. Who is Jesus to you? What has He done in your life? Do you have a personal relationship with Him? He said He “would be with us always until the end of the age.” What does that mean to you?

 

I went to a three-day Catholic conference last week. Some of the things we heard were encouraging but some weren’t. We learned some statistics that are very startling. While you and I may be focused on our own problems and issues here in Soulard, the state of the Church in the United States isn’t all that great. I’m not going to bore you with a bunch of statistics, but here are some of the more scary ones.

 

Talking about mass attendance among people who say they’re Catholics, 45% age 65 and above go to mass. Of the next group, the Baby Boomers, age 47-64, only 20% go to mass. But like they say on the infomercials, “wait. There’s more.” Of the Generation X Catholics, age 26-46, only 13% attend mass. And of the youngest group, age 18-25, just 10% go to mass. Once they’re out of the house, nine out of ten Catholic young people stop going to church.

Think about that for a minute. How many of us are 65 or older? [hands] We’re the group most likely to go to mass, and even then, less than half of us do. What’s going to happen in the next ten years? The next twenty? I hate to be so blunt, but in twenty years most of us who raised our hands are going to be dead. If things stay the same, the age group behind us isn’t going to pick up the slack. One out of five of them are going to mass today. This beautiful church which as been around for more than a century will be just another vacant building in the City of Saint Louis.

 

I could give you a lot more of these statistics, but I just wanted you to have an idea of what we’re up against. But there IS good news. Whenever you hear statistics about Catholics, they probably are from a study done by the Pew Research Center in 2008. But something very dramatic has happened to the Catholic Church since 2008…….. and his name is Francis. For the last two years, since Francis’ installation as Pope, there has been a surge in positive feelings toward the Church, especially among young people. We have a tremendous opportunity to both be disciples and to make new disciples. Francis is the public face of the Catholic Church and people are liking what they see.

 

Remember that Jesus promised to protect His Church. His spirit guided the Papal Conclave to select this South American Cardinal to lead our Church at the time when we need him most. This holy man is opening doors that have been closed for a long time. Just this week he arranged a meeting between the leaders of Israel and Palestine at the Vatican. Jesus is alive and well and working through his new Vicar.

 

But, what about you and me? I said earlier that we must have a personal relationship with Christ if we want to be His disciples. I asked four questions: (1) Who is Jesus to you? (2) What has He done in your life? (3) Do you have a personal relationship with Him? (4) What does His statement ‘I will be with you until the end of the age” mean to you? I can’t answer for you, I can only answer for myself. Each of us has a different experience. But, if we’re going to be true disciples, we have to know our answers. If you and I are going to invite our fallen brothers and sisters back to the Church, they’re going to want to know your answers.

 

God answers our prayers. As you can imagine I pray a lot for things that will help keep this chapel going. This week I got a phone call from the Archdiocese. Jesus answered another of my prayers. He’s sending His Mother to visit us on June 21 and 22 in the form of the icon of the Black Madonna. This is a huge deal. The icon has traveled all over the world promoting Pro Life. It’s going to be in Saint Louis for two days. It will visit two churches.   It will spend Saturday morning at the Cathedral Basilica then will come to Saint John’s Saturday afternoon and Sunday. This is very exciting. June 22 is the day of our barbecue and picnic. Expect to see a lot of people here that day. You can’t tell me that God doesn’t look after us. Our prayers to the Infant of Prague have been answered again.

 

God isn’t some cosmic force who doesn’t care about us. He may have created our huge universe but he takes a personal interest in every one of us. That includes you and it includes me. We have a relationship with Him whether we know it or not; whether we want it or not. He loves us with a love that’s beyond our human understanding. All He asks is that we love Him back. If we do, then we’ll be genuine disciples.

 

 

 

 

 

 

5th Sunday of Easter

“So the Twelve called together the community of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table. Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task, whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word.’

“The proposal was acceptable to the whole community, so they chose Stephan, a man filled with faith and the Holy Spirit, also Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas of Antioch, a convert to Judaism.”

 

These were the first seven deacons. They were ordained.   The Apostles prayed and laid hands on them, just like the Bishops do today, and the word of God continued to spread.

 

Anyone who has received Holy Orders, priest or deacon, will tell you that your life is never the same again. You are blessed in so many ways that it’s hard to describe them all. For example, last Saturday, I had the privilege of giving my granddaughter her first communion. It was one of the best days of my life. I can’t even begin to explain the feeling of sharing the Precious Blood of Jesus with my own granddaughter. It was awesome!

 

In the twelve years since I was ordained I’ve had the opportunity to share in so many joyful events. Marriages, baptisms, first communions, confirmations. Even funerals, which don’t seem so joyful, have a certain peace and even joy in knowing that the person who has left this life has gone on the next. Also in knowing that just maybe, I’ve done or said something that helps ease the mourners’ pain.

 

Of course, it’s not all bunny rabbits and cotton candy. If you read on in the Acts of the Apostles, you’ll see that Stephen wasn’t just the first deacon, he was also the first martyr. He was stoned to death. They told us in formation that Steve was doing fine until he opened his mouth. Then they killed him. But the good far outweighs the bad.

 

Getting back to Bella’s first communion, in his homily Father told us that while first communion is important SECOND COMMUNION is even more important. Face it, for a lot of our young people, first communion is driven by their school. Whether they’re in full-time Catholic school or in PSR, there’s peer pressure to do what everyone else is doing. Throw in a fancy dress, a party, and presents and what kid wouldn’t want to join in the fun.

 

But, for some kids, the thrill is gone after the first time. And that’s just wrong! Receiving the Body and Blood of our Savior should be just as exciting when you’re seventy years old as it was when you were seven. Sadly, that’s often not the case. The kids in Bella’s class were encouraged to wear their first communion outfits to mass the following day. According to my daughter-in-law, about a third of the kids showed up. But it’s not their fault. I know very few second-graders who can drive. If they want to go to mass, their parents have to take them. What kind of message are they giving their kids when they blow off church the very next day? Then we wonder why our young people don’t go to mass.

 

Another thing I noticed, the first communicants sat in the front half of the pews and their parents sat in the back half. The kids were singing, and praying, and participating with joy and enthusiasm. Their parents, not so much. A lot of them were sitting with their arms folded, looking bored to death. As I was watching them, I wondered what would happen the next time they went to mass together. Would the kids’ enthusiasm rub off on mom and dad or would the parents’ apathy rub off on the kids? I’m afraid I wouldn’t like the answer to that question.

 

Jesus loved kids and He told us we should be child-like in our faith. But are we? I’ll admit that sometimes it’s easy to get distracted. If you made your first communion at age seven, and if you go to mass every weekend, and you’re now sixty-five, you’ve been to mass more than 3,000 times. And that doesn’t include Christmas and other Holy Days. That’s a lot of communion. But how many miracles is too many? And make no mistake, the Eucharist is a miracle. Father turns ordinary bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Even though the bunnies and colored eggs are long gone, we’re still in the Easter Season. The last thing Jesus did before he suffered and died for us was to establish the Eucharist. Even though He hasn’t walked among us as a human being for more then 2,000 years, He wanted to remain a physical presence in our lives. He does that through the sacrament of the Eucharist.

 

Many non-Catholic Christians, who insist that every word of Scripture must be taken literally, say that He didn’t really mean it when He said “This is my Body” and “This is my Blood”. They say it was just a symbol; that He’s not really present in the Eucharist. But we know better.

 

In John 6:53 and 54, “Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats* my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.” What happened next? Many of the people walked away. They said, “This is a hard saying. Who can accept it?”

 

Since Jesus was sent by His Father to bring people to Him, don’t you think He would have said, “Wait. Don’t go. I was only speaking figuratively”? If He wasn’t speaking literally, then this was a major setback. But no. He let them go. Because He meant what He said and if someone wouldn’t believe Him, then He had to watch them walk away because He was God and He couldn’t lie. If you don’t believe everything He said, then you can’t believe anything He said. You’re a doubter, just like Thomas.

 

In the Gospel today Jesus promises the disciples that He’s going to prepare a place for them (and for us). But good old Thomas questioned Him. “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way.” What did Jesus say? “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Thomas answered by asking Jesus to show him the Father. Poor Tom, he just didn’t get it.

 

But we get it. At least I hope we do. Jesus gave everything for us. He didn’t have to. He could have stayed in heaven. He could have abandoned us. He could have said, “No thanks, Dad. I’m not going to go down there to be tortured and killed. I’m happy right here.” But He didn’t. He loved us too much.

 

In a few minutes we’re going to have the opportunity to eat His Body (and drink His Blood); to take His physical Presence into our own bodies. It’s a miracle and it’s a great gift. Whether it’s your first communion or your three thousandth communion, it’s still the same gift. It’s still the same miracle.

Jesus loved kids. He told us we must have a child-like faith. FAITH. It’s the biggest five letter word in the English language. It’s easy to say but sometimes it’s hard to do. As intellectual human beings it’s hard for us to believe some of the things He asks us to believe. He walked on water. He cured the sick and raised the dead with just His Word. He left us the sacrament of the Eucharist where the priest, again using just words, changes ordinary bread and wine into the Body and Blood of the Son of God. Without child-like faith, how are we supposed to believe this stuff?

 

We believe it because we do have faith. Maybe, for some of us or even most of us, our faith isn’t so child-like anymore. Maybe we approach the altar out of habit, or because we think it’s something we’re supposed to do. That kind of thinking is the reason so many Catholics don’t go to mass anymore. How do we get them back? That’s a question that people a lot of people much smarter than I am can’t figure out. But I think the answer is simple. We have to be on fire with the love of Jesus. We have to make them want what we’ve got. But to do that, we have to be full of joy for the gifts we’ve been given. Our friends and family have to see how much in love we really are.

 

We have to burn with the same excitement that my granddaughter felt last Saturday when she received this great gift for the first time.

 

God never changes. Jesus never changes. We change. But we have the God-given ability to change for the better. Remember, he promised us free will. He never makes us do anything. But, like any parent, He wants us to want to be near Him. He wants us to love Him as much as He loves us.

 

Has our fire burned out? If so, now’s the time to get it going again; for our own sake, and for the sake of those around us. We can do that. He said we could.

 

“Safe” abortions?

This is an actual quote from an editorial in today’s Saint Louis Post Dispatch:

“Later-term abortions are more dangerous to mothers and babies.”

Seriously?  I must be confused.  If the objective of the abortion is to kill the baby, then whether the procedure is done in the first trimester or in the final week of pregnancy, the baby is still dead.  The idea that one abortion is “more dangerous” to the baby than another is absurd!  I’m no doctor, but as I understand it, dead is dead.

All this nonsense about women’s “reproductive health” is a dangerous euphemism for murder.  The impetus for this editorial nonsense, headlined “Playing Politics with women’s reproductive health”, is Missouri’s effort to increase the waiting period for an abortion to 72 hours.  Somehow the PD translates this to mean that we’ll suddenly have a flood of late-term abortions.  It’s just another example of liberals twisting words to make their agenda more palatable.  If a woman (I won’t call her a mother) has to wait another 48 hours (the current waiting period is 24 hours) she’s not going to suddenly decide that she’ll go ahead and be pregnant for a few months, then kill the child.

“Pro Choice” means “pro-abortion”.  Apparently, that twist of language isn’t sufficient.  Now we’ve switched to “reproductive health”.  The fact is that women seldom die in childbirth.  Reproductive health should be understood as proper medical treatment during pregnancy to insure that the mother and the baby are truly safe.

Let’s call a spade a spade.  Abortion is murder.  “Safe abortion” is an oxymoron.  There are thousands of potential parents who would love to adopt these babies.  Let them live.

Divine Mercy Sunday

[Today my church, Saint John Nepomuk Chapel in Saint Louis, MO celebrates the 160th anniversary of the first mass celebrated here.  This is my homily for today.  It's intended for our community, but you may find some of it interesting.  Enjoy!]

Let’s pretend for a minute that we’re Bohemian immigrants. The year is 1850. After a very long trip across the Atlantic Ocean we arrive in New Orleans. After another long trip up the Mississippi we arrive in Saint Louis. Remember, we don’t speak English and Saint Louis is a French, Spanish, and English speaking city.

 

Lucky for us, we’ve found our way to a Bohemian settlement south of the city called Bohemian Hill. We weren’t allowed to settle in Saint Louis proper because the city was having a cholera epidemic and a lot of the locals thought that the immigrants were bringing the disease with them.

 

But, it could have worse. In 1854, the year our parish was founded, Saint Louis was the site of anti-Irish riots. We may have been immigrants, but at least we weren’t Irish.

 

Saint Louis was in the midst of an economic boom after the invention of the steamboat. Hundreds of ships docked at our port. A lot of our fellow immigrants found work loading and unloading the ships. Others, including women and children found work in the factories in the area.

 

In 1850, Blessed Pius IX was pope. Peter Richard Kenrick was Archbishop of Saint Louis, and Millard Fillmore was president of the United States. To put the time frame in a little better perspective, it would be just 15 years before Civil War broke out in the United States, 23 years before Eads Bridge was built.   It was 33 years before the first horseless carriage arrived in Saint Louis, and 34 years before the opening of Union Station.

 

Every Bohemian who settled in Saint Louis was not Catholic. But the ones who were soon got tired of going to mass in a Church where they didn’t speak the language. So, in 1854 they petitioned Archbishop Kenrick, an Irishman by the way, for their own church. The Archbishop agreed and the new parish of Saint John Nepomuk was established.

 

A year later, in 1855, the new parish built it’s first church and school, a wooden structure that stood on this very spot. It’s worth mentioning that in 19th century Europe, there was no such thing as “separation of church and state.” Churches were not self-funded. They were supported by the government or by rich land owners. There were no collections. When the local parish needed something, all they had to do was ask. The 1st pastor, Father Lipovsky, was born of European aristocracy and the idea of begging for money for his new parish was not to his liking. He resigned in 1856.

 

The second pastor, Father Francis Trojan lasted a little longer, until 1864. When he left the parishioners of Saint John’s requested a native Bohemian to be their pastor and Father (later Monsignor) Joseph Hessoun was appointed. Unfortunately, he had to travel from the Old Country to Saint Louis and the blockade of the Mississippi River during the Civil War made travel up the river impossible. Father Hessoun didn’t arrive in Saint Louis until 1870. No masses were celebrated here during that time.

 

A history of Saint John Nepomuk during Monsignor Hessoun’s pastorship would take much more time than I have today. I’ll just say that he built a new brick church in 1870 that was destroyed just 26 years later by the tornado of 1896. He led the parishioners in rebuilding the church bigger and better than it was before in 1897.

 

Monsignor Hessoun played a huge part in the spread of Bohemian Catholicism throughout the Midwest. He traveled to Czech communities and helped them establish their own churches. He is widely considered the “apostle to American Czechs”. In his spare time he also established and edited the first Czech/American newspaper in the United States. It was called “Hlas” which means “voice” and was published at the corner of 11th and Carroll.

 

This church has seen 12 popes, 8 bishops, and 31 presidents,     pastors, 23 associate pastors, and two deacon directors. We’ve survived the Civil War, two world wars, the Korean War, the Vietnam war, the cold war, two gulf wars and the conflict in Afghanistan. We’ve survived a tornado, two interstate highways, urban flight and a massive closing or parishes in the last decades.

 

What is it about this place that makes it so durable? Why is it still open? Maybe we should look at today’s readings for the answer. Luke writes in the Acts of the Apostles, “they devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.” This is an excellent description of those early founders of our church. They built this place because they wanted to worship together, in their own language, according to their own customs. They let nothing stand in their way.

 

Or maybe we should look at what Saint Peter said in the second reading. “In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable, even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, honor, and the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Tested by fire. Imagine how the parishioners of Saint John Nepomuk must have felt when they came down here the morning after that terrible tornado and saw what had happened to the beautiful church that they had built with their own hands, at a such a great sacrifice of time, talent, and treasure, just 26 years before. They must have been devastated. But there were plenty of Catholic churches nearby, they could have just moved on. But, they didn’t. Their response was to rebuild their beautiful church, bigger and better than ever.

 

Finally, look at the Gospel, the story of “doubting Thomas”. He refused to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead until he put his finger in the nail marks of His hands and put his hand into His side. Thomas, the doubter. What did Jesus say? “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” For 160 years, in spite of so many challenges, the members of this community have believed.

 

Today is Divine Mercy Sunday. That’s what it’s all about. God’s Divine Mercy. Just imagine if God was strictly fair. What if He was just with no mercy. You and I would be out of luck. None of us deserves to go to heaven. There’s nothing that you and I could do that would get us into paradise. We’re sinners! That’s what we are. There would be no hope for us without God’s Divine Mercy. He loves us. He wants us to be with Him. But we constantly disappoint Him. We just can’t measure up. But our God is a merciful God. That’s our faith. That’s our hope. That’s our salvation. Thanks be to God! He has shown His Divine Mercy to the members of Saint John’s in spite of all the challenges we’ve faced.

 

One reason I believe we’ve been so blessed and have been on the receiving end of God’s mercy is our devotion to the Infant of Prague. After every single mass we pray to the Infant, promising Him the fruits of our labors. We pray, “OH DEIGN IN THY MERCY THIS FAVOR IMPART!”   That’s what we pray for. His mercy. Especially on this Divine Mercy Sunday.

 

I can’t sit down without mentioning that today is a very special day in the life of the Universal Church. Today Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II will be canonized in Rome. What a blessing it is to have witnessed the lives of these two great saints firsthand. John XXIII called the Second Vatican Council which changed the Church forever and John Paul II was such a good and holy man that he’s set a modern record for the time it took him to be recognized as a saint.

 

Many of us had the chance to see John Paul in person when he was in Saint Louis. It was a life changing experience. We’re known as a church that venerates our saints. Now we have two more.

 

So, as we continue with mass today, let us give thanks to the thousands of people who have gone before us from this holy place. Let us emulate them in our faith and perseverance as we move into our second 160 years. And, let us continue to ask God for His Divine Mercy, especially in our devotion to the Holy Infant.

Finally, Saints John XXIII and John Paul II, pray for us. Amen.

Saint John’s web site

beautiful collection of photos of Saint John Nepomuk Chapel`

 

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