saint john nepomuk interiorThis weekend was my first to preach at my new parish, Saint John Nepomuk Church.  Here’s the text of my homily.  Enjoy.

OK.  You’re sitting there in your pew and you’re wondering, “So who’s this guy now?  That’s a fair question.  My name’s Deacon Mike Buckley and the Archbishop has appointed me Director of Saint John Nepomuk Chapel.  “Oh, great!” you think.  “Another stranger.”

It’s true, I am a stranger.  In fact, a lot of people might tell you I’m stranger than anyone you know.  But the Archbishop sent me, so here I am.  In fact, here’s what the Archbishop wrote to me in my letter of appointment.

“As Director, providing guidance and direction, you are to work with and for the dedicated members of Saint John Nepomuk Chapel who have worshipped there for so many years and who hold Saint John Nepomuk Chapel dear in their thoughts and in their hearts.”

Don’t ask me why he chose an Irish deacon to serve the oldest Czech church in North America.  He had his reasons, I guess.  But as I thought about it I realized that throughout the history of the Church, men and women have been sent to serve people of other nationalities.  My own patron saint, the patron saint of Ireland is an Englishman named Patrick.  That seems to have worked out pretty well.

As an outsider, I don’t know that I can ever understand the deep feelings so many of you have for this wonderful church, but I can appreciate the history and I can definitely appreciate the beauty of this, historic house of worship.  In fact, let me tell you a little story.  [You’ll soon realize that I do like to tell stories.]

Anyway, I thought, I’d tell you a little about myself this afternoon (morning) so you get an idea of where I’m coming from.  Hopefully, over the next weeks and months, I’ll learn more about you.  But, keep in mind that you only have to learn one new person.  I have to learn about all of you.  If you greet me after mass today and introduce yourself and I forget your name by next week, please don’t be mad.  It’s one of the hazards of age.  I don’t remember what the others are.

I was ordained by then Archbishop, now Cardinal Rigali in June of 2002.  That means I’ve been a deacon for (count on fingers) almost nine years.  I’ve been married to my lovely and talented wife, Jan, for 42 years.  She’s given me four wonderful kids, who are actually adults now.  I still call them “kids” which they may or may not like.  But, if you’re a parent you know that they’re always your kids no matter how old they get.

Two of my kids have kids of their own, for a total of four grandchildren.  I may brag about all eight of them from time-to-time but usually only to make a point.  I hope you’ll bear with me.  I’m more than happy to listen to you brag about yours any time you want.  If you’re interested, I do have pictures.

I’m not a cradle Catholic.  I was raised a Baptist and converted to Catholicism when Jan and I were married in 1968.  It’s am interesting story.   I’ll tell you some day, but not today.

This might be a good time to mention that there will be a parish meeting tomorrow (this) morning after (9:30) mass.  The purpose of the meeting is to discuss plans for 2011 events.  It will also be a good time to ask me any questions you might have.  I hope you can make it.

In the second reading today, Saint Paul writes to the Corinthians that “there should be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.” Hopefully you and I are united in the same purpose.  I take Archbishop Carlson’s words very seriously, that I am to work with you and for you.  I know some of you may be disappointed that he didn’t send you a priest/pastor.  But we have to deal with the reality that their aren’t enough priests to go around.

The good news is that this Archbishop doesn’t like to close churches.  He’s appointed a committee to look at new and different models for keeping them open.  This community has a prominent place in the history of the Archdiocese of Saint Louis and you have a chance to make history again.  If you and I are successful here, we’ll give other smaller worship communities a model to follow.

In our Gospel today, Jesus calls Simon and Andrew, and James and John and promises to make them fishers of men.  He calls you and me to be fishers of men, too.  As I wrote in this week’s bulletin, there is no greater good that you and I can do than to bring others to Christ.  That’s our common purpose.  That’s what Paul asked of the people of Corinth and that’s what Christ asks of you and me.

Jan and I were members of Saint Bernadette parish in South County for thirty-five years.  I’ve been a deacon there since I was ordained.  It’s been our church home for more than half our lives.  I thought long and hard about accepting this new assignment.  I was very comfortable at Saint Bernadette.  But, you know what?  I wasn’t ordained to be comfortable.  I was ordained to serve God’s people.  And He’s called me to serve you.  He’s also called you to serve one another.

So, as we begin this new chapter in the life of this wonderful church, I’m looking forward to working for you and with you.  When the Apostles asked Jesus how to pray He taught them the prayer that we pray so often, alone and together.  “Thy kingdom come, THY will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  I don’t know exactly what God’s will is, but I’d like to close by sharing a prayer with you written by the famous Trappist monk, Father Thomas Merton:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.

I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end.

Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you and I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing.

And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road although I may know nothing about it.

Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.  I will not fear, for you are ever with me and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

 

Scrutiny

They watched Jesus closely to see if he would cure him on the sabbath so that they might accuse him.  Mark 3:2

Everybody who’s in the public eye knows that there are always people watching.  Whether you’re the Son of God, the Holy Father, a bishop, priest, or deacon, you know that you’re being observed.  Most people are watching, hoping for something good.  But there are always a few, like the Pharisees, who want to see you mess up.  With the 24 hour news cycle and the Internet, the scrutiny is non-stop.  It seems there is always someone with a microphone, or a camera, or both to record your missteps.

I’m particularly aware of this as I start my new assignment this week.  Having been at Saint Bernadette for so many years, I know you pretty well and you know me.  I have a pretty good idea of what I can say and do without causing too much consternation.  I feel comfortable up here (on the altar) knowing that I’m among friends.

This weekend I’ll be meeting the members of my new parish.  I have no idea how they’ll react.  They may like me or they may not.  I’m sure some (a lot?) of them are disappointed that they don’t have a pastor anymore.  Will they see this new arrangement, having a deacon in charge, as a glass half full or half empty?  Even if they welcome the chance to keep the church open and to potentially grow their community, there’s still the question of this historically Czech church welcoming an Irish deacon.

I’m taking comfort in the fact that the great missionaries in history have usually been ministering to people different from themselves.  My own patron saint, Saint Patrick, wasn’t Irish.  He was British.  I know I’m no Saint, Patrick or otherwise.  But I’m looking forward to working with the members of Saint Nepomuk Chapel.  I definitely don’t expect them to do what the Pharisees did in today’s reading:

The Pharisees went out and immediately took counsel with the Herodians against him to put him to death. Mark 3:6


New Responsibilities

In my last post I mentioned that Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke, Archbishop Emeritus of the Archdiocese of Saint Louis celebrated mass last Sunday at our Cathedral Basilica.  I hoped that the text of his homily would be posted on line, and it has been.  You can read it here.  In case you aren’t familiar with Cardinal Burke, he was Archbishop of Saint Louis until last June when the Holy Father appointed him Prefect of the Signatura in Rome.  Then in November, he was elevated to the College of Cardinals.

He was in Saint Louis this week to celebrate a mass of thanksgiving on Sunday and to participate in the Ordination of Monsignor Edward Rice as auxiliary Bishop.

In his homily on Sunday, the Cardinal had this to say:

Receiving new and weightier responsibilities in the Church, my thoughts have turned naturally and gratefully to the gift of having served as your archbishop.  My life in the Church and whatever service I have been and am able to give to the Church has been immeasurably blessed by the faithful of the Archdiocese of Saint Louis and by the years I served you.  I do not forget you and the great blessings which have come to me in the Archdiocese of Saint Louis.  When I was appointed Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, I was particularly grateful that the Holy Father had given me the title of Archbishop Emeritus of Saint Louis.  I treasure my continued relationship with the Archdiocese.

I found the Cardinal’s words particularly relevant because I’ve been appointed by our current Archbishop to new and weightier responsibilities in the Church.  Beginning this Monday I will assume a new position, Director of Saint John Nepomuk Chapel.  Like Cardinal Burke, I am very grateful for all the blessings I have received at my previous assignment at Saint Bernadette Church.  Also like Cardinal Burke, my boss, the Archbishop of Saint Louis, has allowed me to retain my ties to my former parish as well.  I’ll continue to serve the parishioners at Saint Bernadette by celebrating a morning communion service twice each week and perform some other duties as well.

It was an extremely difficult decision to accept this new assignment.  Saint Bernadette has been my family’s home for thirty-five years.  When I was ordained in 2002, I was allowed to remain there as a deacon.  With the exception of my oldest son’s baptism, my children received all the sacraments of initiation at Saint Bernadette.  I was blessed to be able to baptize two of my grandchildren there.  All four of my kids attended grade school there before the school was forced to close in 1999.  I could easily have served there as long as the Lord gives me the physical ability to function as a deacon.  (Hopefully a long time.  But you never know.)

I have a plethora of friends at Saint Bernadette including many who have allowed me to participate in some of the pivotal moments of their lives; baptisms, weddings, and yes, even funerals of loved ones.  I’ll miss these people dearly.

But, I was ordained to serve the Archbishop and to go wherever he needs me.  Now he’s called me to a unique ministry.  Saint John Nepomuk is a church community that dates back almost until the Civil War.  Like a lot of inner city churches, many of its members have migrated to the suburbs.  Nowadays, it’s a chapel rather than a parish, meaning that it has no geographical boundaries.  People come from all over the metropolitan area to attend mass there, many because of their Czech heritage.

Attendance has dwindled and when the most recent pastor retired, the Archbishop made the decision not to assign another priest.  My role will be to run the physical plant, find priests to celebrate mass on the weekends, and to provide for the spiritual needs of the community.  Saint John is the only parish in Saint Louis to use this model.  With God’s help, the church’s members and I will make this work and possibly open the doors for others to do the same.

So, while I’m sorry to leave the comfort of Saint Bernadette, I realize that I wasn’t ordained to be comfortable.  Like Cardinal Burke, I look forward to the challenge and look forward to my continued association with Saint Bernadette parish, too.

God never calls us to do anything without giving us the tools we need to succeed.

Jesus Belongs to All of Us

Mark’s Gospel (Mk 1:29-39) tells the story the day Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law.  It begins with a visit to the synagogue.  After leaving the synagogue He goes to Simon’s house.  Simon’s mother-in-law is sick in bed.  When Jesus grasped the woman’s hand she got out of bed and was made well.  The Gospel tells us “The fever left her and she waited on them.”

This last sentence has always struck me as odd.  It seems to imply that Jesus healed the lady so she could wait on Him.  But I don’t think so.  I prefer to think that she waited on Jesus and His friends out of gratitude.  You’ll have to make up your own mind on that one.  Feel free to insert your favorite mother-in-law joke, if you like.

Aparantly the word got out about Jesus being in town because at sunset everyone who was ill or possessed by demons showed up.  He cured the sick and drove out the demons.

The next morning, Jesus rose before dawn and went off to a deserted place to pray.  Simon and friends followed Jesus and tried to convince him to return.  But Jesus said,  “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also.  For this purpose have I come.” The Gospel concludes by saying “So he went into their synagogues, preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee.”

This is a significant passage.  It tells us that Jesus’ ministry is for everyone; not just for Simon and his friends; not for a single village, but for all.  It might have been very comfortable for Jesus to have settled in for a few days, letting the sick and the possessed seek Him out.  But He didn’t come to be comfortable, just as He doesn’t call you and me to be comfortable.  Remember, He said “Take up your cross and follow me.”

Sometimes that means we have to step out of our comfort zones.  Sometimes we have to take a chance, even though it means new, unfamiliar challenges.  Jesus was called to preach to all the people, not just a few.  The same goes for you and me.

On Sunday, Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke was in Saint Louis for a mass celebrating his entry into the College of Cardinals.  He gave a very inspiring homily on the subject of taking on greater challenges within the Church.  Hopefully the text of the homily will be available on line later this week.  If it is, I’ll post a link to it here.  He pointed out that everything that has gone before in his life has prepared him for his new role in the Church.

We can all learn from what the Cardinal said.  Everything God has shown you, taught you, given you in the past is preparation for what lies ahead.

The Baptism of the Lord–Mass is Definitely NOT Boring

“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased”

Who doesn’t want to hear those words spoken about themselves.  Some of us live our entire lives without ever hearing these words.  Some of us have heard them often.  A lot of us will never hear them again.  But it must have made Jesus happy to hear the words from His Heavenly Father.

 

Of course God is a good father, both to Jesus and to you and me.  Those of us who are human parents can use God as a role model, but we may not always measure up.  As I was going over today’s readings I thought about how seldom I praise my own kids, even though no father could be prouder of his children than I am of mine.

 

If praise makes you and I feel good, I have to think it makes God happy too.  God doesn’t need our praise.  He’s surrounded with angels who sing His praises all day long.  He’s God.  He doesn’t need us at all.  But He loves us and getting props from the people we love makes everyone feel good.  If God is love, then us loving Him back must make His day.

 

So, here we are.  It’s  Sunday morning and we’re gathered in this church to give praise to God.  That is why we’re here, isn’t it?  “It is right to give Him thanks and praise.”  But let’s be honest.  Sometimes we all come up a little short in the thanks and praise department.

 

Just for fun, let’s take a look at the mass and ask ourselves, “am I really giving God the praise He deserves?”

 

We begin the mass by asking God to put us in the proper frame of mind to be in His presence.  We ask Him for His mercy….three times.  Then Father asks Him to forgive us our sins and bring us to everlasting life.  What comes next?

 

“Glory to God in the highest!”  “We praise you for your glory.” There’s that word.  “Praise.”  We finish by saying “you alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ with the Holy Spirit, in the Glory of God the Father.” One God.  Three persons.  We praise them all.  We follow that up with a prayer especially for the day and then we hear the Liturgy of the Word

When the Gospel is finished, what do we say?  Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ.”

 

After the homily, we praise God again in the Creed.  “We believe in one God!” We should say it with a lot of enthusiasm because we’re explaining why we believe.  It’s not the time to mumble, or worse, to remain silent.

 

Then we move on to the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  The word “Eucharist” means “thanksgiving” and we begin with Father blessing God and we respond “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands, for the praise and glory of His name.” Next we lift up our hearts to the Lord and say “it is right to give him thanks and praise.”  There’s that word again.  Praise.

 

But we’re not done.  Not by a long shot.  Father prays the preface of the Eucharist and then we join with all the choirs of heaven as they sing to God’s glory, Holy, holy, holy!  Then Father consecrates the Eucharist.  We normally use the second Eucharistic prayer which ends, “May we praise you in union with them and give you glory, through your Son, Jesus Christ.”

 

Following the Eucharistic prayer, we pray the prayer that Jesus taught us, the prayer that begins “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name!” The word “hallowed” means holy, sacred, or revered.

 

All this praise of God leads up to the high point of the mass, the reception of the body and blood of Christ.  Father elevates the Body of Christ, I elevate the Blood of Christ, and all of us proclaim that God is so great that we don’t deserve to receive Him, but that through His word, our souls will be healed.

 

From beginning to end, the mass is all about praising God.  He’s not just our reason for being here, He’s our reason for being.  He deserves our thanks and praise.  But do we mean what we say?  Believe me, I’m including myself when I say that we often go about the mass in a half-hearted way.  We’re here to receive the greatest miracle of all, the Body and Blood of Christ, in the form of bread and wine.  It’s not symbolic.  It’s not an empty ritual, and it’s not routine.  It’s miraculous.  It’s magical.  And I don’t mean in some cheesy card trick magic kind of way.  It’s a gift that Jesus left us when He returned to heaven.  It’s as real as you and I are.

 

Now, if I was smart, I might just shut up now and go sit down.  But, I have to tell you something.  Frankly, some of you guys don’t always look like you’re here to praise God, or to receive His Body and Blood.  No offense, but I look at this crowd and see some faces that seem bored, some that seem like they’d rather be some place else, some that even seem angry.  Some of you come to communion looking like you’re standing in line at the DMV.

 

I get it.  We all have bad days.  That’s understandable.  But what we have here, in this Church, in this parish, is the REAL PRESENCE OF JESUS CHRIST! I think sometimes we forget that.

 

Maybe the Church made a mistake when she coined the phrase “Sunday obligation”.  Paying your taxes is an obligation.  Coming to mass is a privilege.  You know, a recent study found that 70% of people who call themselves “Catholic” don’t go to mass regularly.  If you turn that around, only 3 out of 10 people who consider themselves Catholic can spare 45 minutes a week to praise God and receive His Body and Blood.  They don’t consider it a privilege or an obligation.  You know one of the top reasons they give for staying home?  “Mass is boring.”

 

So, do me a favor.  As you approach the altar today to receive Holy Communion, think about what we’re doing here.  Think about the sacrifice Christ made for us and think about the gift you’re about to receive.  Then, go back to your seat, get on your knees, and think about what’s just happened.  I know many of you already do this, so you guys just keep it up.  But if you’re one who’s gotten complacent about the mass, if you think it’s boring, I promise you that if you do this one thing, then do it again next week and the week after that, you’ll be amazed at the results.

Remember, it IS right to give Him thanks and praise.

 

 

Discernment

Just a short post today on the topic of discernment.  To paraphrase Father Thomas Merton, God never gives us the whole answer.  He reveals the truth to us in pieces, but the sum of the pieces never equals the whole because, if He told us exactly what He wants us to do, we would have no free will.  If we knew with 100% certainty that God wanted us to do a thing, we would have to do it.  After all, who can refuse God?

Lately, I’ve been trying to make a decision on a path that I believe God wants me to take.  Unfortunately, there are a number of very good reasons to decide yea or nay, one being my personal capability.  Yesterday, as I was preparing a homily on the feast of Saint John Neumann I read this on the Saint of the Day web site:

For Christ does not give a mission without supplying the means to accomplish it.

Subtle, huh?  That pretty much does away with my last concern.  I have to say that God has always provided me with enough rope to hang myself but He’s also always given me a pair of sharp scissors to cut the rope.  I’ll tell you more about my decision in a few days, but for now, I’ll just say that God speaks to all of us on a regular basis.  The problem is that we don’t always listen.