Saint Therese of Liseux

One of our more popular saints.  A google search turns up a half million hits on her name.  It’s really quite remarkable considering she only lived to be 24 years old.  She lived from 1873 to 1897, recently enough that there are photographs of her and she was quite beautiful.  She was canonized in 1925, just 28 years after her death.

In 1997, Pope John Paul II declared her a doctor of the church.  She was the youngest person ever to be declared a doctor and only the third woman.  Her memoirs, The Story of a Soul, were published after her death and became a world-wide best seller and devotions to her spread all over the world.

Therese was a sickly child. In fact, they didn’t expect her to survive, partly because her mother wasn’t able to nurse her.  Her parents sent her away for fifteen months to live with a friend who nursed her and took care of her.  When she returned home her parents found that she was very intelligent and very stuborn.  She learned to read by the time she was three.  Her mother died when she was just four.

At about the age of eight, Therese began to suffer from illness, an illness that the doctors couldn’t cure.  But, after staring at a statue of the Blessed Mother, whe was cured.  At fifteen, she wanted to follow her two older sisters into the convent, but was told she was too young.

In 1887, her father took her and her sister to Rome.  At an audience with with Pope Leo XIII.  She begged him to approve her entry into the Carmelite convent.  The Pope told her to do as the superiors said.  She refused to leave until her request was granted and she had to be removed by the Swiss Guards.  Remember, I said she was stuborn.  Shortly after that, the local Bishop instructed the prioress to admit Therese.

Therese was remarkable in that she suffered ill health most of her life and that in just twenty-four short years, she was recognised as the saint that she was.  She was a hard worker in the convent in spite of her illness.  Her life in the convent made it difficult for her to perform great things.
She once wrote, “”Love proves itself by deeds, so how am I to show my love? Great deeds are forbidden me. The only way I can prove my love is by scattering flowers and these flowers are every little sacrifice, every glance and word, and the doing of the least actions for love.”

A lot has been said and written about the Little Flower.  As I said, there are hundreds of thousands of places on the Internet where you can read about her.  I think her greatest lesson for us is that it’s possible to live a saintly life just by doing little things, and that it doesn’t really matter how long you live.

Saint Therese of Liseux, pray for us.

Feast of Saint Michael, Saint Gabriel, and Saint Raphael–Archangels

Today we celebrate the Archangels, Michael, Garbriel, and Raphael.  It’s a little hard to come up with something to say about these three saints who are angels, not human beings.  Yesterday we remembered Saint Wenceslaus.  He was an actual person with a birth date, a death date, and a life story.  We know from the song that he was a “good king”.  He looked out his window, saw a poor man, and helped him out.

We know these three archangels more from what they did, than who they are.  We know from the book of Revelations, that Michael and his angels ran the devil and his angels out of heaven.  It’s interesting that Michael is the warrior and his name means “who is like God?”  We like to think our God is a loving, forgiving God, but if Michael is like God, then maybe we’d better not mess with God too much.

Of course, we know Gabriel as a messenger.  Gabriel appeared to Daniel more than once.  He appeared to Zechariah to foretell him of the birth of John the Baptist, and in his most important trip to earth, he spoke to the Virgin Mary and told her that she would bear a son.

We don’t know much about Raphael.  We know that he was sent by God to cure Tobias’ blindness and to save Tobias’ daughter-in-law from the devil.  Some Bible scholars believe that Raphael appeared a few other times, referred to as “an angel of the Lord.”

According to the books of Tobit and Revelations, there are seven “angels who stand before the Lord”, or archangels.  But, the three we remember today are the only ones who are ever named.

Angels are a mysterious lot.  Since they’re pure spirit, it’s hard for us to picture them.  I suppose a lot of people picture Clarence in “It’s a Wonderful Life” and think that’s what angels are like.  Others see them as cherubs who sit on clouds and play the harp.  At mass we join “all the choirs of angels in heaven” when we pray the Holy, Holy, Holy,

Sometimes we describe other humans as “angels”, especially pretty women and babies.  “She has the face of an angel.”  or “she looks like an angel.”  “That baby is such a little angel.”  We may call someone who helps us when we’re in need as “an angel of mercy.”  One thing we know for sure, anytime someone calls us an angel, it’s not a bad thing.

We all have guardian angels, whether we pay much attention to them or not.  I don’t know exactly how that works, but we can always fall back on Clarence as a good example.  He was definitely there when George Bailey needed him.  One thing, the idea that a bell has to ring for an angel to get his or her wings probably isn’t true.

So, as we reflect on Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, it wouldn’t heart to say a little prayer of thanks for all the angels, seen and unseen, who have helped us, and will help us make our lives wonderful lives.

If Christ isn’t Risen, Your Faith is Vain

Paul kind of goes on and on today.  He’s writing to the Church at Corinth.  Apparently some members of the Corinthian Church are saying that Jesus didn’t really rise from the dead.  Of course, Paul has firsthand experience with the resurrected Christ so he takes the dissent pretty seriously.

Even in the first century, when there were still people alive who had seen Jesus and witnessed His death and resurrection, it wasn’t always easy to convince people of what they’d seen.  You have to admit, to a non-believer it’s a pretty hard story to get your mind around.

So today, Paul is telling the Corinthians that they can’t have it both ways.  If Jesus isn’t risen from the dead then you’re not going to be raised either.  If there is no resurrection from the dead, then Jesus isn’t raised from the dead.

If Christ isn’t raised from the dead then Paul’s teaching is empty and so is the Corinthian’s faith.  He repeats the whole thing a second time and tells them that if his teaching and the Corinthian’s faith are empty then the dead are just dead.  That’s all.

But Paul’s not just speaking about Christ’s death and resurrection here.  There are certain basic truths, articles of faith, that we must believe if we are to follow Christ.  The first is that He’s the Son of God.  That goes without saying.

The second is that He died and on the third day was risen.  That’s what Paul’s talking about today.  If you don’t believe it, you’re not a Christian.  You may believe whole-hartedly in an all-powerful God and Creator, but to be a Christian, you have to believe in Christ’s death and resurrection.  It’s non-negotiable.

There are other things that are also part of the deal.  Some you have to believe.  Others, not so much.  Mary is Jesus’ mother.  Joseph is His step-father.  We must live by the Ten Commandments and the beatitudes and the Golden Rule.  Those are all facts.

Other things, like the three kings who came bearing gifts for the infant Jesus, are a little different.  We don’t know how many kings there were.  There were three gifts, so most people believe that there were three kings.  But, you don’t have to believe that if you don’t want to.  All we know for sure is that there were more than one.

But, I’m getting off the track.  The point that Paul’s making for us today is that Christ has risen from the dead.  Obviously Paul couldn’t prove it and neither can I.  No one can.  We believe it because God has given us the gift of faith.  We believe things that can’t be proven.

Sometimes it’s a challenge, especially when others are denying the things that we believe in.  That’s when we need to pray that God gives us an even stronger faith.

Today is Friday and I have to say that for the first time since I retired I can actually say TGIF, than God it’s Friday.  Thank you for your patience this week.  Father will be back this weekend, hopefully rested and refreshed from the priests’ gathering at Lake of the Ozarks.

Next week, I’ll be gone on retreat.  If you want to know the difference between a priest and a deacon, the priests go to Tan Tar A, I’m going to spend four days in the woods in Kentucky.  On the other hand, the only person I’ll have to listen to next week is the Holy Spirit.

Seriously, I’m looking forward to a few days of peace and quiet.  I’ll be praying for all of you while I’m gone and I hope you’ll pray for me.  Have a great week!

Saint Cornelius and Saint Cyprian

Today we remember two saints, Cornelius, Pope and martyr, and Cyprian, bishop and martyr. Since we don’t want to be here all day, I thought I’d tell you a little about Saint Cyprian. I found an interesting account of his death in the Office of Readings for today.

“On the morning of the fourteenth of September a great crowd gathered at the Villa Sexti, as ordered by the governor, Galerius Maximus.” Notice that the governor didn’t just want to condemn Cyprian, he wanted to do it in front of a large crowd. These so-called Christians were becoming a problem for the gov and he wanted to make an example of their bishop.

The governor asked Cyprian, “Have you posed as the pontiff of a sacrilegious group?” Cyprian answered that that was him. “Our most venerable emperors have commanded you to perform the religious rites.” He wasn’t taking about Christian rites, he was talking about ceremonies directed to the Roman gods. Cyprian had refused before and he refused again, even though he was being threatened with death.

The governor condemned Cyprian saying, “It is decided that Thascius Cyprian should die by the sword.” Cyprian responded, “Thanks be to God.”

Cyprian’s people followed him to the him to the killing ground. When he saw the executioner coming he told his friends to give the man twenty five pieces of gold. He wanted to make sure that the man who was going to cut off his head got paid.

His friends spread cloths and napkins on the ground in front of him to keep his head from falling in the dirt. Then Cyprian covered his eyes with his own hands and the rest is history. His body was laid out at a place where everyone could see it so it would serve as a warning to others, but during the night, the Christians took the body away and buried it at a nearby cemetery.

Saint Cyprian isn’t the only Christian who died bravely in service to the Lord. The other Saint for today, Saint Cornelius also died a martyr’s death. But when we read these stories, hopefully

we’re inspired to make whatever sacrifices we need to make. I doubt that anyone is ever going to demand that any of us deny Christ under the threat of death. But we are assaulted on a daily basis by a society that would like to see us either give up our faith, or just go away.

We make decisions daily about our faith, hard decisions. Sin usually feels pretty good when we do it. Live, drink, and be merry. Let tomorrow take care of itself. But we know better. Let’s pray that we make the right decisions knowing that what we do sets an example for others just as surely as Cyprian and Cornelius set an example for us.

Our Lady of Sorrows

Today’s Gospel is one of my favorites; Simian meeting Mary and Joseph and their baby Jesus.  We know that Simeon was an elderly man and He had been waiting to see the Messiah as the Holy Spirit had promised him.

“He took (the Child) into his arms and blessed God saying, “Now, Master, let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation”.

Then he says what we read in today’s Gospel,

“Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted.  And, you yourself a sword will pierce so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

I honestly don’t think that we men can appreciate what Simeon said, or what actually happened.  Mary was His mother.  We may see Christ as the Messiah, the Savior, the Son of God, but to Mary, He was her son; her baby; her little boy.  The pain that Mary must have had to endure is almost unimaginable.

There’s a great line in a song called, “My Son” by the Oak Ridge Boys.  “They took my son away from me and the angel said that I’d been blessed.” It may be the greatest irony of all times.  The angel said, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.”  But it was a blessing that would tear Mary’s world apart.

She would have to stand at the foot of the Cross and watch her Son die a horrible, painful death.  Mary was really Our Lady of Sorrows.   When my son Patrick was just twelve years old, he underwent brain surgery.  We were told the surgery would take two hours.  It actually took four.  We got no word from the operating room about what was going on for those extra hours.  But I can tell you they were the longest, most painful 120 minutes of my life.

I yelled at God.  I pleaded with God.  I bargained with God.  I have an idea of what Mary must have gone through.  But I’m not a mother.  As much as I love my kids, and I love them more than life itself, I can never have the feelings for them that their mother does.

We Catholics make a big deal out of Mary.  When Jesus died, he left her to be our mother.  We celebrate all the important events in her life.  We ask her to pray for us, now and at the hour of our death.  But when all is said and done, she was a mom.  Her Son may have been the Son of God, but He was still her little boy.

We call her full of grace.  We call her blessed.  The angel called her blessed. But as she watched her son suffer and die, how blessed do you think she really felt?

They took her son away from her.  She became our Lady of Sorrows.

The Exultation of the Holy Cross Part 2

As I was sitting in church this morning, contemplating the cross, the Spirit came to me with an inspiration.  This often happens after I think I’ve written the perfect homily.  I used part of what I had planned but I added this.

Though the centuries we’ve found new and creative ways to kill one another, especially in the name of “justice”.  We’ve invented the guillotine, the gallows, the electric chair, and lethal injection.  We’ve executed people via the firing squad and even by walking the plank.  One feature of all these things, including the Cross, is that the guest of honor must be restrained.  He may have his hands tied behind his back.  He may have his hands bound to the arms of a chair.  Or he may be totally restrained on a table or gurney.

Only the cross held the condemned in a position with hands outstretched.  As Jesus predicted in today’s Gospel, “The Son of Man must be lifted up”.  Again, crucifixion was/is the only instrument of death that could fulfill that prophesy.  He was indeed raised up, on the cross, with His arms extended, inviting us to join Him.

The Exultation of the Holy Cross

Yesterday we remembered a saint from the 4th Century, Saint John Chrystostom.  Today  we remember a celebration that began around that same time, the Exultation of the Holy Cross.  Saint Helen, Constantine’s mother, discovered what is believed to be the actual cross used for the Crucification of Christ on September 14, 326.  That’s why we have this celebration on this date.

Constantine built the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on the site where mom found the cross in Jerusalem.  Helen had her son build two other churches, one in Bethlehem and another one in Jerusalem.

The Persians, who would today be the Iranians, actually stole the cross in the seventh century.  Problems with that particular country are nothing new.  When the Byzantine emperor defeated the Persians, he returned the cross to Jerasulem.

Of course, the Holy Cross symbolizes Christ’s death and resurrection, the means of our salvation.  All Christians employ the symbol of the cross.  Our Church uses the Crucifix, the figure of Jesus on the cross as a reminder of His suffering, death, and glorious resurrection.  Our protestant brothers and sisters generally display the empty cross.

We see the crucifix so often, in our church, in our homes, and maybe hanging around our necks or off the rearview mirror of our car, that we may take it for granted.  We make the sign of the cross when we enter church and when we pray.  We make the “small sign of the cross” with our thumb before the reading of the Gospel.  We also use the small sign at baptism with the parents and godparents tracing the cross on the child’s forehead.

Ask most non-Catholics how we pray and they’re most likely to say we pray the Rosary.  The main feature of the Rosary itself is the Crucifix.  We begin the prayer by making the sign of the cross with that Crucifix as we begin.

We have the stations of the cross, especially during Lent, and on Good Friday we venerate the cross as we mark the day of Jesus’ crucification.  It’s good that the cross was the instrument of execution in Jesus’ time.  If he had lived in more recent times, we might all be wearing little gallows around our necks, or maybe little electric chairs.

Seriously, we display the crucifix here in church for one reason.  It’s a reminder of what the Lord suffered so that you and I might be saved.  I can remember, not so long ago, when no one spoke out loud once they entered the church out of respect for the cross, and for Christ’s presence in the tabernacle  I’m not sure when this practice went away, but it would be good for all of us to remember that before and after mass, some of our brothers and sisters might be venerating the cross and to respect their desire for quiet.

I think that this week, as our diocesan priests gather for their convocation, that the cross will be prominently displayed in their gathering places.  Next week I’ll be on retreat and I can assure you that the cross will rarely be out of our sight, or out of our minds.

As we continue with our prayers this morning, I’d like to offer you the most traditional of Catholic blessings.  May almighty God bless you, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Saint John Chrysostom

Today we remember Saint John Christostom.  Saint John lived in the late 300s and early 400s, around the time of Saint Patrick.  You may not be familiar with him, but he and I have a running conversation.  He’s the patron Saint of preachers, and I speak to him often, especially when I’m getting ready to speak to you.

Saint Joh was quite the speaker.  In fact, the word Christostom means Golden Mouth.  Today I thought today I’d let him speak directly to you.  This is from one of his homilies.  His words are just as appropriate today as they were in the 4th Century.

The waters have risen and severe storms are upon us, but we do not fear drowning, for we stand firmly on a rock.  Let the sea rage, it cannot break the rock.  Let the waves rise they cannot sink the boat of Jesus.  What are we to fear?  Death?  Life to me means Christ, and death is gain.  Exile?  The earth and its fullness belong to the Lord.  Confiscation of our goods?  We brought nothing into this world, and we shall surely take nothing from it.  I have only contempt for the world’s threats.  I find its blessings laughable.  I have no fear of poverty, no desire for wealth.  I am not afraid of death nor do I long to live, except for your good.  I concentrate therefore on the present situation, and I urge you, my friends, to have confidence.

Do you not hear the Lord saying, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in their midst”?  Will he be absent, then, when so many people united in love are gathered together?  I have his promise:  I am surely not going to rely on my own strength!  I have what he  has written; that is my staff, my security, my peaceful harbor.  Let the world be in upheaval.  I hold to his promise and read his message; that is my protecting wall and garrison.  What message?  “Know that I am with you always, until the end of the world!”

24th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Beloved: I am grateful to him who has strengthened me, Christ Jesus our Lord, because He considered me trustworthy in appointing me to the ministry. I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and arrogant, but I have been mercifully treated because I acted out of ignorance in my unbelief.

I could have written these words myself, but Saint Paul beat me to it. To put it in context, the second reading today is from Paul’s first letter to Timothy. It’s believed that the letters to Timothy were written later in Paul’s life and were instructions to the younger man on carrying on Paul’s ministry.

We know from the Acts of the Apostles, that Saul, who became Paul, was no friend to the Christians. He persecuted them, even torturing them and killing them. It was Saul who was responsible for the stoning death of Saint Stephen, the first deacon. But God, in His mercy, chose Saul to not only preach the Gospel, but to put his thoughts in writing. Paul’s letters contain the sum and substance of our faith, even today.

He goes on:

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these I am the foremost. But for that reason I was mercifully treated, so that in me, as the foremost, Christ Jesus might display all his patience as an example for those who would come to believe in Him for everlasting life.

In other words, if Christ had chosen the best and the brightest, that wouldn’t have proved anything. Even in His time on earth, Jesus chose tax collectors and fishermen to be His Apostles. He chose shepherds to announce His arrival on earth. He hung out with sinners. This Church of ours isn’t a museum for saints. It’s a hospital for sinners.

Jesus made Paul an example. By choosing the new Church’s worst enemy to be it’s number one evangelist and teacher, He shows all of us that no one is beyond redemption. By choosing me to be a deacon He shows us that His mercy is still at work in the world. Like Paul, I can honestly say that Jesus is displaying all His patience by letting me represent Him and His Church.

But wasn’t that His way from the beginning? On the very night that He instituted the Eucharist, the night before His passion and death, one of His closest companions sold Him out for a few silver coins. When He went into the garden to pray, He asked His Apostles to pray with Him. What happened? They fell asleep.

When the Roman centurions came for Him, Peter, “the rock”, the man He had chosen to lead His new Church, denied that he even knew Him. Three times. The rest of His Apostles ran away and hid.

But it was these eleven men who would lead the Church and spread the Gospel after Jesus’ death and resurrection. The actions of the twelve Apostles was just the first of many scandals that would plague the Church, right up to the present time. If the Church could survive the twelve, it can survive anything–even you and me.

By giving us free will, God the Father gave us the opportunity to sin. He doesn’t want us to sin, but He knows we will. By sending us His Son to die on the cross, He gave us the opportunity to be saved. Down through the ages, He’s given us encouragement by choosing taking sinners and making them saints. If the first Pope denied even knowing Jesus, then there’s definitely hope for us.

If Saul the persecutor could become Saint Paul the evangelist, there’s hope for us. If Mike Buckley the sinner, the non-church-goer, can become Deacon Mike, anything’s possible.

Jesus makes the point in today’s Gospel. Luke begins, “Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus.” Of course, the Pharisees and scribes aren’t happy. “C’mon, this guy eats with sinners. What’s up with THAT?”

Jesus answers with the parable of the lost sheep. We’ve heard the story many times. It ends with the shepherd shouting to his friends and neighbors, “Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep!” Then He tells them, and us, that there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.

It doesn’t seem fair, does it? What about those ninety-nine who did it right? Why are they being left out? I’ll tell you why. Because in the entire history of Christianity, over 2,000 years, there haven’t been ninety-nine righteous people who didn’t need repentance. There was only one. Her name was Mary.

Then He tells them the story of the woman who lost and then found one of her 100 coins. Same thing. She rejoices over finding that one coin.

This morning I read the short version of the Gospel….. You’re welcome…… If I’d read the longer one you would have heard the familiar story of the prodigal son. Again, we celebrate the return of the lost son while the one who stayed at home fumes over the unfairness of it all. Which son committed the greater sin? It’s a toss-up. __________________________________________________________________________

You’ve probably heard the story of the dash. But in case you haven’t, here it is. When you die, not IF you die, but WHEN you die, they’re going to bury your body. Then they’re going to put up a tombstone. They’ll put your name on the stone. Below your name they’ll put the date you were born into this life, then a dash, then the date when you left this world.

The dates are just marks on the calendar. The real story is in the dash. That little mark represents everything you did here on earth and where you’re going next. How did you fill up all those years represented by that little rectangular gouge in the stone? How did you spend your dash?

We’re in the part of the year when the Church emphasises stewardship. Time, Talent, and Treasure. That’s what the dash represents. How did you spend your time? How did you use your talents? What did you do with your treasure? Maybe it would be better to replace the word “your” with the word “His”. See, we don’t own time, or talent, or treasure. They belong to God. He lends them to us then watches very closely to see what we do with them.

If we want, we can squander all of them. Or, we can use at least part of them helping others. Notice I said “at least part”. God doesn’t begrudge us the time to go to a movie or watch TV. He expects us to use our talents to earn a living for ourselves and our families. He doesn’t mind if we spend some treasure to buy a new car or to go out for dinner once in a while.

But He does expect us to use these gifts wisely and to give some of them back by helping others. This afternoon some of us will be volunteering to help with a kickball tournament to raise money for Captain Todd Nicely, a United States Marine who is a quadruple amputee. He was injured in Afghanistan, serving his, and our, country. It’s just a few hours on a Sunday afternoon, but it will mean a lot to the Nicely family.

Every month we donate food and other items to the poor through the Meal-a-Month program. It’s not a huge thing for any one of us, but when you add it all up, it’s a lot of help for the poor people in our community.

Each month we collect hundreds of empty pill bottles which are a big help in distributing medications in third-world countries. It’s something that doesn’t cost us anything in treasure, but it does take time to remove the labels and bring the bottles to church. It would be much simpler to just throw them away when we’re done with them. But this simple act of generosity helps literally thousands of our brothers and sisters who have less than we do.

Practicing good stewardship doesn’t mean we all have to be Mother Teresa. It just means that we should be aware of God’s generosity to us and to do what we can to give something back.

We can’t buy our way into heaven. That’s not how it works. But at the end of the day, or at the end of our lives here on earth, we’ll all be judged. We hope and pray that God is more merciful than just. If He’s just, most of us don’t have much hope. But, if He’s merciful, He’ll take a good look at our dash. He’ll weigh the good and the bad, and he’ll say to each of us “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Woe to Me if I Don’t Preach the Gospel

If I preach the Gospel, this is no reason for me to boast,
for an obligation has been imposed on me,
and woe to me if I do not preach it!

That sounds pretty serious, doesn’t it?  Woe to me.  According to the dictionary, woe means : grievous distress, affliction, or trouble.  When I was ordained, the Archbishop had me put my hand on the book and proclaimed that I was now a herald of the Gospel, but he didn’t say anything about grievous distress, affliction, or trouble if I didn’t preach.  But here it is, in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.  It must be true.

I know some of you probably think “whoa”, as in stop, when I start to talk up here.  But I have no choice.  It says right here that I have to preach.  But we also have the famous quote from Saint Francis, a deacon by the way, speaking to his monks.  He told them to always preach the Gospel and if necessary to use words.  Saint Francis doesn’t trump Saint Paul, but he has a point.

Here’s the thing.  Saint Paul wasn’t just speaking to deacons and priests.  His letter was to everyone in the church at Corinth.  He’s calling on all of us to preach the Gospel, not just those of us who’ve been called to Holy Orders.  When you look at it that way, Francis’ words make perfect sense.

We preach the Gospel every time we we interact with another human being.  At least we’re supposed to.  Our actions speak louder than words when we help someone who’s in trouble; when we give to charity; in all the little things we do every day.

Remember what Paul said, woe to us if we don’t preach the Gospel.