2nd Sunday of Lent

As you might imagine, I talk to a lot of people who have problems.  Just this week I visited a patient at Saint Clare hospital who was very despondent about her poor health and her strained relationship with her family.  She wasn’t angry at God but she couldn’t understand why he had “abandoned” her.

I also spoke with a lady this week who was out of work.  She had had a good job but now she’s basically homeless, hoping that she might be able to move in with friends.  She is mad at God.

These are a couple of extreme examples, but we all have personal problems from time to time.  Some problems are worse than others.  And we all react in different ways.  In our second reading today, Saint Paul writes to Timothy and gives him, and us, some pretty good advice on handling problems.  “Beloved:  Bear your share of hardship for the Gospel with the strength that comes from God.”

I suppose you’ve heard the old saying, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” And we all know that “God never gives us more than we can handle.”  That’s what Paul wrote to Timothy and it’s what I said to the two ladies I spoke to this week.  But, when you’re in constant pain, or your family seems to hate you, or if you’re out of work with no place to go, words don’t always give you the comfort you need.  Even Jesus asked His Father why He’d forsaken Him as He hung on the cross.

In fact, in today’s Gospel we hear God the Father speak of Jesus, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; Listen to Him.” Hopefully we do listen to Him and hopefully we also pay attention to what He didn’t say.  Here’s what He didn’t say.  He didn’t say that this life would be easy.  He didn’t say that we’d never be sick.  He didn’t say that everyone would always treat us well, even though He did tell us to treat others well.  Like the song says, “He never promised us a rose garden.” In fact, He told us that to get to heaven we’d have to take up our cross and follow Him.

And so we do.  But deep down we hope that He won’t ask too much of us.  We all do it.  I can suffer a little bit, but please God, don’t make me suffer too much.  Please God, let me win the lottery.  Please God, find me a job.  Give me patience, Lord.  Do it now!  I’ll carry my cross, Lord, but could you please make it one of those balsa wood ones.  Give the really heavy one to someone else.

But, what did Paul say?  He said “Bear your share of hardship for the Gospel with the strength that comes from God.” Aha!  There it is!  Don’t ask God to take away the hardship.  Ask Him to give you strength.  Or better yet, ask Him to help you get strong.  There is a difference.

I’m a bicyclist.  I enjoy riding but this has been a pretty rough winter.  I didn’t ride nearly as much as I would have liked to and frankly, I hate riding a stationary bike.  So, I’ve gotten a little soft.  Where I was riding thirty to forty miles at a time last fall, now I’m struggling to ride twenty.  I know I’m not going to jump from twenty miles to forty miles overnight.  I’ll go from twenty to twenty-two.  Then I’ll go from twenty-two to twenty-five.  Slowly but surely, I’ll be back to riding long distances again.

I could get down on my knees and ask God to give me the strength to ride forty miles and then sit back and wait for it to happen.  Maybe what I should do is to ride a little more each day until He gives me the strength I need.  If I ride two or three times a week, it should take Him about a month to answer my prayer.

My point is that God does give us what we need but He doesn’t always give us what we want.  Sometimes we have to do our part.  We may have to do some work.  We’re having stations of the cross here on Friday mornings at 11:00 during Lent.  I’d love to see more people come.  But I have to be honest with you.  Coming once, or even coming for the rest of the Fridays of Lent isn’t going to get you into heaven.  What it will do is strengthen your “spiritual muscles”.  Like me riding my bike an extra two or three miles each time I ride to build up my endurance, regular, faithful devotions, no matter what form they take, build up your spiritual endurance.

We Catholics are fortunate to have so many different kinds of devotions.  Whether it’s stations, or the rosary, or a daily devotion to a particular saint, each of them makes us spiritually stronger.  And it’s that strength, that originates in our faith in God, that allows us to keep on going, even when the times are tough.

Remember, God exists outside of time.  He doesn’t make things happen but He knows what’s going to happen.  He knew what His Son was about to go through, just as surely as we know it.  It was with that knowledge that He said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Jesus was glorified through His suffering just as you and I are glorified in ours.

So, as we continue with our Lenten observance, maybe it would be a good idea to spend a few minutes every day considering just what we should pray for.  Instead of praying for that balsa wood cross, maybe we should pray for the strength to carry whatever cross we have to bear.  Remember that often our cross is of our own making.  By living our lives according to the Gospel, maybe, just maybe, we can lighten our own cross;  maybe even avoid it altogether.

Friday of the 1st Week of Lent–TGIF

Thank God it’s Friday!  I wonder why we don’t say TGIS (Thank God it’s Saturday!) or TGIW (Thank God it’s Wednesday!)  Obviously if you work a normal forty hour week TGIF makes sense.  It’s the last day of the work week.  But when you get right down to it, God gives us every day, including Friday, and we should give thanks for them all.  Believe me, if you haven’t already, at some point in your life you’ll realize that each day is precious.  Our days are numbered and none of us knows how many we have left.

Friday has a special significance for Catholics.  It’s the day Jesus Christ gave up His life so that we might have a chance of getting into heaven.  It’s always been a day where we’re called upon to do some form of penance.  Once-upon-a-time, we weren’t supposed to eat meat on Fridays.  Guess what.  That rule was never lifted.  In 1966 the US Bishops modified the requirement to include other types of penance. In other words, if you do eat meat on a normal Friday, you’re supposed to do some other form of penance. Somehow that little detail has slipped a lot of people’s minds.

But this isn’t a normal Friday.  It’s a Friday during Lent and for us Catholics, that means “no meat.”  No hamburgers, no hot dogs, no barbecue.  And, that’s a good thing.  It really is.  First of all, if you like fish, it’s really no penance at all.  Even if you hate fish, there’s pasta, and vegetable stuff that tastes like meat.  What it is is a reminder.  Hopefully three times today you’ll stop and think that today’s a day of abstinence and you’ll think about why.  Why can’t I eat meat?  Because today’s the day we remember what Jesus did for us.  He died a horrible, painful death on the cross so you and I might have eternal life.

That’s what today is all about.  So enjoy your macaroni and cheese  But don’t forget to remember what Lent is all about.  TGIF!  God gave us this day.  Let’s make the most of it.

Thursday of the 1st Week of Lent–Saint Patrick’s Day

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me. From the Breastplate of Saint Patrick
So, what does the Patron Saint of Ireland, this 5th Century missionary, have to do with green beer, corned beef and cabbage, and leprechauns.  To tell you the truth, I haven’t the faintest idea.  All I know is that I’ve partaken of my share of the first two and may have seen, at least once or twice, the third, depending of course on how much I’ve had of the first two.
Saint Patrick’s day became a big deal in the US because lonely Irishmen who had left their families behind to come to America needed a way to escape from their loneliness, at least for one day.  (Here in Saint Louis, Paddy’s Day is more of a multi-day affair.  We have two parades, one on the Saturday before and one on the day itself.  But that came later.)
Here’s the thing:  I plan on being at the parade today.  Though I won’t be drinking any green beer, I will enjoy the corned beef and cabbage (a foreign food on the Emerald Isle, by the way.)  But I’ll also remember that we are in the midst of Lent, I’ll take time to remember dear ol’ Paddy for the saint that he is, and I’ll lead Stations of the Cross tomorrow evening.
If you plan on enjoying the secular festivities today, I hope you’ll take time out to do the same.

Wednesday of the 1st Week of Lent–Sackcloth and Ashes

Maybe it was the immediacy of it.  When Jonah went through Nineveh he announced, “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed.”  When the people heard Jonah’s prophesy they proclaimed a fast and everyone dressed in sackcloth.  Heck, even the king took off his robe, covered himself in sackcloth, and sat in the ashes.  He made the fast official by royal proclamation.  Even the animals were forbidden to eat or drink.  What’s more, every man (and woman?) was to turn away from evil ways and violence.

The king hoped that by these acts of penance they might get God to change His mind, and He did.

Fast forward to Jesus’ time.  Here’s the Son of God preaching repentance and the people want to see signs.  His response is that there will be no sign.  They’ve already received the sign of Jonah.  Of course we know that some of the people believed Jesus but many didn’t.  For some folks, even the appearance of the Son of God wasn’t enough.

Today, 2,000 + years later, the world is in bad shape.  The idea of a king or any other political leader proclaiming that his or her subjects should turn away from sin and violence is laughable.  If anything, most of our political types are in favor of sin.  After all, anything that can be taxed must be good, right?  Here in the United States it would be impossible for the president to declare a time of fasting because that would violate the separation of church and state which is presumed to be in the Constitution, even though the defining document of our government contains no such language.  (But that’s a topic for another day.)

Obviously the folks in Jesus’ day were right in assuming there was no hurry, even though every human being has a limited number of days on this planet.  All these centuries later, the world is still revolving around the sun, though it still refuses to revolve around the Son.

Clearly the solution for you and me is to put on our personal sack cloth, conduct our own private fast, be it from food or something else, and to follow Jesus’ greatest commandment, “Love one another.”  Whether we have 40 days or 40 years or even more time left in this life, time passes very quickly.  Wouldn’t it be a shame if we were called home today and weren’t ready.  After all, we have been warned.

Tuesday of the 1st Week of Lent–It’s the Least We Can Do

We’ve all heard the expression “It’s the least I can do.”  Sadly, we often hear it used in connection with prayer.  “I’ll pray for you.  It’s the least I can do.”  WRONG!!!  Praying is never the least we can do.  In fact, it’s the most we can do.  I’ve seen way too many instances where someone was prayed back to health.  Or some other worthwhile goal was achieved through prayer.  Prayer makes things happen.  When we pray for someone else’s intention, we’re interceding for them with Almighty God, hardly the least we can do.

Let’s just say you have a friend.  This friend works for the local major concert venue.  Your favorite band is coming to town but the concert’s sold out.  So, you ask your friend if he can get you tickets.  You’re asking him to intercede on your behalf to help you get something you can’t get yourself.  If the friend comes through for you, that would be a HUGE favor.  You didn’t ask your friend to pay for the tickets.  You asked him to use his connection, his influence, to help you.  And he did.

Now, let’s say you or a loved one is facing life-threatening surgery.  You ask a friend, or maybe all of your friends, to pray for you.  You’re not asking anyone to gown up and go into the operating room, all you’re asking them to do is to intercede on your behalf with their friend Jesus.  Remember that nothing is impossible with God.  Your friend’s prayers can be instrumental to a successful outcome.

The good news is that every single one of us has a personal connection with the Creator of the Universe.  Asking Him to help a friend is definitely not the least we can do.  Who do you know who could use your prayers today?

Monday of the 1st Week of Lent

“Amen I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 26:40.

What do you give the man who has everything?  Jesus is the Son of God.  Not only does He have everything, He’s given us everything.  All that we are, all that we have, all that we ever will be is a gift from God.  How do you repay such generosity?  The answer is that you can’t.  God can never be outdone in generosity.  But we can give it our best shot and He’s told us what to do.

“Love one another.”  “Whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.” We repay Him by taking care of each other.  How we do it is up to each of us.  We all have been given gifts, different though they may be.  We have different talents and we have different amounts of treasure.  As the story goes, the widow who gave her last penny gave the most of all.

So, as we reflect and ponder during these forty days, we should spend at least a little time considering the best way to do for the least of Jesus’ brothers (and sisters).  Whether we give our time, our talent, or our treasure, it would be well to remember that whatever we share isn’t really ours anyway.  It’s all been given freely to us by a loving God and sharing with others is the least that we can do.

 

The 1st Sunday of Lent–The Infant Jesus of Prague

Infant of Prague

Statue of the Infant Jesus of Prague

As we enter the first full week of Lent, I can’t help reflecting on all the Catholic Christians who’ve come before us.  Today, my new parish of Saint John Nepomuk celebrates the ancient rite of crowning the Infant Jesus of Prague.  This juxtaposition of the child Jesus with the trappings of Christ the King is a wonderful symbol of the richness of our faith.

This afternoon our auxiliary bishop along with several priests and deacons will be present as a young man of the parish places the crown, made of gold and jewels donated by parishioners sixty-two years ago, on the Infant’s head.  You may or may not be familiar with the ceremony, but it’s been going on for centuries.  Our statue of the Infant Jesus is a replica of the one that is housed in the church of Our Lady of Victory in the Lesser Town district of Prague.  It’s believed that the original was crafted in Spain in the early 16th century.  You can click on the link above to find out more of the history of the statue and of the veneration.

What I really want to talk about today is the tremendous wealth of experiences we have as Catholics.  Today’s devotion will be a beautiful event for everyone who attends.  But, over the last few weeks I’ve had the privilege of watching the members of my new church family as they prepare for today’s crowning and the dinner that will follow.  To say that today’s event is a big undertaking would be a gross understatement.  It’s taken a lot of work by a lot of faith-filled people to get it done.

And you know what?  They wouldn’t have it any other way.  As a newcomer and a relative outsider, I’ve watched everything come together and I’m in awe of the spirit of love and cooperation that I’ve seen.  I think this is when our Church is at its best; when a group of people come together to put on an event that reflects our Catholic heritage, sometimes our ethnic heritage, and the spirit of a group of faithful people with a common interest.

I’m excited about today’s crowning, but I’ve already been deeply touched and inspired by the efforts of the people of my new church home.  We all owe a great debt to the men and women who have come before us.  They’ve carried on our faith, often against almost impossible odds.  My “new” parish is 157 years old and I’m deeply grateful to the thousands of worshipers whose lives have revolved around their church.  I’m humbled by the responsibility I feel to them to maintain and even to grow their parish home.

First Sunday of Lent

Infant of Prague

Statue of the Infant Jesus of Prague

As we enter the first full week of Lent, I can’t help reflecting on all the Catholic Christians who’ve come before us.  Today, my new parish of Saint John Nepomuk celebrates the ancient rite of crowning the Infant Jesus of Prague.  This juxtaposition of the child Jesus with the trappings of Christ the King is a wonderful symbol of the richness of our faith.

This afternoon our auxiliary bishop along with several priests and deacons will be present as a young man of the parish places the crown, made of gold and jewels donated by parishioners sixty-two years ago, on the Infant’s head.  You may or may not be familiar with the ceremony, but it’s been going on for centuries.  Our statue of the Infant Jesus is a replica of the one that is housed in the church of Our Lady of Victory in the Lesser Town district of Prague.  It’s believed that the original was crafted in Spain in the early 16th century.  You can click on the link above to find out more of the history of the statue and of the veneration.

What I really want to talk about today is the tremendous wealth of experiences we have as Catholics.  Today’s devotion will be a beautiful event for everyone who attends.  But, over the last few weeks I’ve had the privilege of watching the members of my new church family as they prepare for today’s crowning and the dinner that will follow.  To say that today’s event is a big undertaking would be a gross understatement.  It’s taken a lot of work by a lot of faith-filled people to get it done.

And you know what?  They wouldn’t have it any other way.  As a newcomer and a relative outsider, I’ve watched everything come together and I’m in awe of the spirit of love and cooperation that I’ve seen.  I think this is when our Church is at its best; when a group of people come together to put on an event that reflects our Catholic heritage, sometimes our ethnic heritage, and the spirit of a group of faithful people with a common interest.

I’m excited about today’s crowning, but I’ve already been deeply touched and inspired by the efforts of the people of my new church home.  We all owe a great debt to the men and women who have come before us.  They’ve carried on our faith, often against almost impossible odds.  My “new” parish is 157 years old and I’m deeply grateful to the thousands of worshipers whose lives have revolved around their church.  I’m humbled by the responsibility I feel to them to maintain and even to grow their parish home.

Saturday After Ash Wednesday

As I sit here in my office with the windows open enjoying a beautiful mid-March day, I can’t help but marvel at God’s works.  Grass is turning green, birds are singing, and things couldn’t be more beautiful.  The “other Saint Patrick’s Day Parade”, the one that runs through downtown Saint Louis should be over by now and the day is glorious.  The annual Saint Pat’s Day run was this morning and my son Tim reports on facebook that he finished the five miles in 37 minutes.  Way to go, son!

I call today’s parade the “other” parade because the “real” parade, the one that runs through the Irish part of town, the one sponsored by the Hibernians, takes place on the correct day, March 17.  Weather forecasters tell us that Thursday will be an even better day.  Considering that I’ve stood in the snow to watch a few times, that’s really good news.

I mention Saint Patrick’s day because (1) it’s topical; (2) I’m part Irish; and (3) Patrick was an Irish saint.  As proud as I am of my Irish heritage, I have to admit that we’ve really made a mess of our Patron’s feast day.  Patrick was a good and holy man who gave his life to converting the Irish people.  We mark his feast day by dressing up like a bevy of green clowns, singing saloon songs, and getting falling-down drunk.  We consume tons of corned beef, a delicacy that is mostly unknown in the Emerald Isle.  In fact, historically beef was a delicacy in Ireland.  Anyone who owned a cow was considered to be quite well off.

So as I sit here pondering God’s many gifts, I pray that my Irish brethren might keep their wits about them today and this-coming Thursday.  Don’t celebrate so much today that you can’t make it to mass tomorrow.  It is still Lent, after all, and while you’ll see priests and even bishops wearin’ the green, let’s not let the party get in the way of remembering Lent is all about.

Sláinte! what

Friday After Ash Wednesday–Daily Mass is a Gift from God

Lord, may our sharing in this mystery free us from our sins and make us worthy of your healing.

We ask this in the name of Jesus the Lord.  Amen

This closing prayer from today’s mass reminds us that Jesus’ Real Presence in the Eucharist is His greatest gift to us.  No matter what we do, no matter how we’ve sinned, we can be forgiven through the sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Communion.  Never forget, especially during this special season of Lent, that He’s there for us every day, not just on Sundays.  Daily mass is a gift and a blessing that the Church makes available for us.

Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.