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This is the homily I preached today for All Saints Day, 2012.  I hope you enjoy reading it again.  Our church has more statues of saints than any church I’m aware of.  That’s the background for this message.  Have a blessed day!

All Saints’ Day.  Simple enough.  Today we remember all the saints.  If anybody should be able to honor the saints, it should be us.  Just look around.  There are more saints depicted in our church than you can shake a stick at.  There are at least five martyrs, including Ludmilla and Wenceslas, grandmother-grandson martyrs.  We have Cyril and Methodious, brothers who were Apostles to the Slav nations.

We have an American saint, Saint John Neumann who was the Bishop of Philadelphia and a champion of Catholic schools.  We have two kings, Wenceslas and Louis IX, the patron of our Archdiocese.  We also have religious like Agnes of Bohemia who was one of the early Poor Clares.  By the way, she was Elizabeth of Hungary’s cousin.

Saint Ludmilla was a rich lady who built the first Christian church in Bohemia.

One of my favorites, and one you don’t usually see unless you’re in the choir is Blessed John Sarkander.  Like our patron, John of Nepomuk, John Sarkander was martyred for refusing to break the seal of the confessional.  Plus, he shares his feast day with Saint Patrick, March 17.

The Poles were invading John’s village and he went out with his parisioners to meet them, carrying the Blessed Sacrament.  The Catholic Poles fell to their knees, asked for John’s blessing and went back where they came from.  John’s enemies accused him of being in cahoots with the Poles and demanded to know what they had confessed to him when he had been in Poland.  He refused and was tortured and killed.

Besides all the statues, we also have thirty-eight relics on our altar.  There are some “biggies” like Saint Monica, Saint Wenceslas, and Saint John Bosco.  We also have a relic from the Cur of Ars, Saint John Vianni, John Neuman, Angela Merici, Pope Pius X, and Saint Alphonsus Liguori.  We even have a relic  of a local saint, co-Patroness of the Archdiocese, Saint Rose Phillipine DuShen.

You may have noticed that I’ve put a picture of Emil Kapaun on the communion rail.  If you were here this past weekend you heard Father talk about Father Kapaun, a chaplain in the United States Army.  Father Kapaun died a heroes death in a North Korean prison camp.  His generosity to his fellow soldiers led to his death.

But, All Saints day is about all saints, not just the ones who have canonized by the Catholic Church.  Today is about men like my late father-in-law.  He was the best man and the best Catholic I’ve ever known.  He’ll never be recognized by the Church.  In fact, in a couple of generations he’ll be completely forgotten but make no mistake, he is a saint.  I’m guessing you have people like that in your lives.  They’re saints just as surely as John Nepomuk is a saint; just as surely as the people represented by these statues and relics are saints.

Where are new saints coming from?  Look around you.  The person in front of you or in back of you or sitting next to you may soon be a saint.  After all, that’s what God wants for all of us.  He wants each one of us to become a saint.  He wants us to be the best we can be.

In the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium, the Church issued a universal call to holiness.  All Catholics are to live holy lives and holy lives lead to sainthood.  That’s our challenge during this Year of Faith and every day of our lives.

29th Sunday of Ordinary Time

moses aaron hurPersistence.  All three readings today speak to us about persistence.  In the first reading, Moses held up the “staff of God” while his men battled Amelek and his men.  As long as Moses held his hands in the air, the Jews were winning the battle.  With the help of Aaron and Hur, Moses persisted and his army was victorious.

 

In the second reading, Paul urges Timothy to be persistent in his preaching whether it’s convenient or inconvenient.

 

And, in the Gospel, Luke tells us the story of the persistent widow.  Even the disrespectful judge will finally give in to the widow who continually “bothers” him.  Her persistence will eventually pay off.  Obviously, if asking over and over sways this human judge, our persistent prayers will be heard and answered by God.

 

But, even though all three readings have a similar topic, each one is different in its application.  In the Old Testament reading, Moses isn’t able to persevere without Aaron and Hur’s help.  God could have given Moses the strength to hold up his arms all day, but He didn’t.  Instead Moses had to ask for human help to get the job done.  That’s a good example for you and me.  We can pray and pray for something but God expects us to do our part.  Rather than rely on divine providence to give us what we need, sometimes we have to do something for ourselves.  A good example would be someone who’s out of a job.  He might get down on his knees and ask God to provide him with a job.  But a more prudent solution might be to ask God to give him the tools he needs to find work followed up by sending out a hundred resumes.  And, asking friends and family for help, just like Moses asked Hur and Aaron for help can’t hurt either.  Persistence in prayer combined with persistence in action will solve a lot of our problems.

 

When Paul tells Timothy to persevere, his slant is a little different.  He urges Timothy to rely on his knowledge of the Scriptures.  “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”

 

So, we have three different people, Moses, Timothy, and the widow, with three different problems and three different solutions.  Ask for help.  Turn to the scriptures.  Be persistent in prayer.  That’s good advice for all of us.  No matter what problems we may have, we should be able to find a solution by using one, or even better, all three.  And, be persistent in our actions.

 

Infant of Prague

Statue of the Infant Jesus of Prague

At the end of each mass we pray Father Cyril’s prayer to the Infant of Prague.  As some of you may know, the original statue of the Infant is in the Church of Our Lady of Victory in Prague.  In 1628 the statue was presented to the Carmelite friars by princess Polyxena who told them, “Venerable Fathers, I bring you my dearest possession.  Honour this image and you shall never want”.    It was placed in the monastery where devotions were offered twice each day.  In 1630 the friars left Prague and the devotions ended.  In 1631, during the Thirty Years War, the Swedish army overran Prague.  The statue was thrown into a pile of rubbish behind the altar where it remained with its hands broken off for seven years.

 

Father Cyril found the statue in 1637 and claimed to have heard a voice say, “Have pity on me, and I will have pity on you. Give me my hands, and I will give you peace. The more you honor me, the more I will bless you.”  Father restored the statues hands, returned it to place of honor and wrote the prayer which we pray to this day.  Did the end of the Carmelites twice-daily devotions lead to the fall of Prague?  An awful lot of people believe princess Polyxena prophesy was proven true.

 

Our prayer includes the words, “Mighty King, perseverance bestow on thy child; Do shield me and keep me Thine own—undefiled.” At every single mass at Saint John’s, we ask the Infant to give us the gift of perseverance or persistence.  We’ve been persistently saying this prayer for sixty-five years!  We ask Him to shield us and keep us His own.  We promise to share, not just with our friends, but also with our foes, all that is ours.  We firmly believe in His powerful aid.  We promise to live according to today’s readings.

 

This church has survived urban flight, a deteriorating neighborhood, and two interstate highways.  It was on the list of churches to be closed in 2007.  But, we’re still here!  We’ve hung together and we’re still going forward.  Next year will mark our 160th anniversary.  I believe the Infant watches over this church and, as He told Father Cyril, the more we honor Him, the more He will bless us.

 

I might mention here, just in passing, that even though I’m not of Bohemian extraction, the Irish have a great devotion to the Infant too.  A replica of the statue is often given as a gift at Irish weddings.  The Irish particularly believe that the statue has an effect on the weather and it’s often buried in gardens to insure favorable weather for the crops.  It’s worth noting that we received our statue here at Saint John’s in 1948.  He WASN’T HERE for the tornado of 1896.  Coincidence?  I don’t think so.

 

So, we continue to pray to the Infant, and we rely on His help, the help He promised Father Cyril.  We know in our hearts, that He will be here for us, just as He promised.  Remember, Jesus never lies!  But we do have to do our part.  We make some serious promises in our prayer.  We promise to confess our sins and to deplore each and every one of them.  We promise to never offend.  We promise to suffer for Him.  We promise to share what we have with friends and foes alike.

 

In this week’s bulletin I wrote about stewardship; sharing what we have.  Whether it’s time, talent, or treasure, as Christians we’re all called to give back some of the gifts that God has given us.  We’re called to share with those who are less fortunate and with our fellow Christians through our contributions to the Church.

As we make our prayer to the Infant, we should all consider whether we’re doing all we can to hold up our end of the bargain.  Sharing doesn’t mean giving back from our excess, it means putting God first.  I hate asking for money.  I even hate asking for your time.  But as a minister of the Church, it is my job to remind you of your obligations.  That’s all I’m doing….reminding you of the promise you make to God at every mass.  We all have to do our part.

 

Another way you can share is through the various second collections we have throughout the year. 
Right now we’re being asked to help our neighbors at the Old Cathedral.  They’re in the process of a major renovation.  We have a lot in common with our friends downtown.  We both have historical churches.  Besides being houses of God, both buildings are historical landmarks.  People come to Saint Louis specifically to visit our historic church landmarks, especially in South Saint Louis.  The appearance of these buildings reflects on our devotion to God.

The big difference between us and them is that millions of people pass the Old Cathedral every old cathedralyear.  The church is surrounded by a national park.  Sitting between the Arch and the Old Courthouse, the appearance of the Basilica makes an impression on Catholics and non-Catholics alike.  The more than 3 million people who attend Cardinal games each year see it on the way to the game along with Rams fans and Blues fans.  When any sporting event in Saint Louis is on national television, they’re a good chance that it will appear on screens all over the United States, and even the world.  Every Catholic in the Archdiocese of Saint Louis has an interest in the church looking its best.  Please be generous to this special collection.

 

“With my friends and my foes I share all that is mine.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Obama Administration Steps up its War Against the Catholic Church

The latest salvo in the war between the current administration and the Church has been fired.  Priests are being threatened with arrest if they celebrate mass on military bases.  Catholic chaplains have been furloughed due to the current government shut-down.  OK, that’s not OK but it’s understandable.  What is outrageous is the government’s threat to jail Catholic priests who VOLUNTEER to celebrate mass for Catholic troops.

In a story from Fox News, Todd Starnes outlines the current state of affairs.  “At least one chaplain was told that if he engaged in any ministry activity, he would be subjected to disciplinary action.”    Catholic baptisms and weddings have also been banned.

This is a blatant effort on the part of the administration to discriminate against Catholics who have volunteered to serve their country.  I wonder if the same ban is in effect for Muslim clergy?  What do you think?

Please read this op-ed piece by John Schlageter, General Council for the Archdiocese of the Military Services of the United States.

 

27th Week of Ordinary Time

FAITH!  All of our readings today speak of faith.  But what exactly is “faith”?  The dictionary definition is the belief in something that can’t be proven.  We can’t prove that Jesus rose from the dead, so if we believe it that means we have faith.  But, there are other kinds of faith.  Even atheists have faith in something, even if it’s misplaced faith that there is no God.

 

I have faith that the sun will rise tomorrow in the eastern sky.  I can’t prove it.  But my experience of almost 65 years is that it rises every day so it must surely rise tomorrow.  But there are a lot of crazy people in this world who have the capability of blowing up the planet if they decide to, so there’s at least a small possibility that there won’t be a tomorrow, let alone a sun rise, at least here on earth.

 

It could also be cloudy and overcast tomorrow so we can’t see the sun.  But even under the heaviest clouds, some light gets through so we know the sun’s up there somewhere.

 

Closer to home, I have faith that when I leave here today and head down Highway 55 toward home that someone won’t be coming the wrong way and hit me head on.  That faith is a little weaker, because I know it does happen.  I’m having faith in my fellow motorists which isn’t quite as strong as my faith in God or the cycles of the universe.

 

Even animals have some faith.  If you feed your dog everyday at 8 in the morning, you know he’s going to be waiting for you at 7:59 tomorrow.  As far as your pet is concerned, you’re god in his world and he has faith in you.

 

So, what’s Jesus telling us today.  If we have faith the size of a mustard seed we can move trees with just our voices.  A mustard seed is pretty small.  If I were to hold one up even you people in the front row probably couldn’t see it.  But this teeny-small seed can produce a fairly large tree; one tall enough for you to sit under it and enjoy the shade.

 

I’d like to think my faith is bigger than that little seed, but frankly I don’t believe that I can tell a tree to move and that it will obey.  Of course we live in modern times.  I guess if I had a friend with a bulldozer and I told him to move a tree, technically I’d be moving the tree with my voice, but I don’t think that’s what Jesus meant.  After all, He did like to speak in parables and use examples.

 

I believe what he’s telling us is that He can move trees with just a command.  And, if we have enough faith in Him, He will hear our prayers and move the big things in our lives.  Maybe not trees, but there are a lot of other obstacles that seem just as stubborn that He can move for us if we ask.  But, if we don’t believe that He answers our prayers, there’s a pretty good chance that He won’t.

Look at our own church as an example.  In 1870 I think most people around here gave the Bohemian founders of Saint John’s zero chance of building a magnificent house of worship.  Frankly the locals weren’t crazy about the new immigrants.  Some of them probably secretly hoped that the Czechs would fail.  The odds were against them.  What did they know about building a church?  They didn’t have a lot of money.  But they did build it.  And their neighbors were amazed!  The day it was dedicated was a HUGE celebration.  They had done something that seemed to be impossible.  They had moved the sycamore tree.

 

Then just 26 years later a tornado destroyed their beautiful church.  They could have given up, but they didn’t.  They rebuilt it bigger and better than ever. And I’m as sure as I’m standing here that their faith, and their prayers, were just as important, if not more important than the skill of the builders who did the actual labor.

 

That’s what’s lacking today.  It’s no secret that our country is in a mess.  Unemployment is high.  Prices are high.  The government is shut down.  Politicians on both sides of the aisle find it impossible to sit down and come up with workable solutions to these problems.  What went wrong?  I believe it’s a lack of faith.  If every Christian in America, whether they’re Catholics, or main-stream protestants, or fundamentalists, would forget our differences and get down on our knees to pray for our country, there would be a miracle.  And let’s not leave out the Jews and the Muslims and everybody else who believes in the Almighty.  Right now our churches, regardless of faith tradition, should be standing-room-only.

 

But so many people have lost their faith in God that they don’t have faith in anything else either.  Who really believes that our present government, and I’m talking about both parties, can solve our problems?    If we don’t have faith in God, how can we have faith in men?

 

Our politicians are so busy trying to blame the other guys, that nothing gets done.  The Republicans don’t want to see the Democrats succeed and the Democrats don’t want to see the Republicans succeed.  Look at the current government shutdown.  Neither side wants to admit that they’re part of the problem.  It’s all about blaming somebody else.

 

And, isn’t that true of our whole society.  Nobody wants to take responsibility for their actions.  Alex Rodriguez, who used to be a hero to millions of kids, but threw it away using banned drugs is now suing Major League Baseball for ruining his reputation.  What reputation?  He’s a cheat and a drug abuser.  But it’s not his fault.  Isn’t it always somebody else’s fault?  I guess maybe now he’ll sue me too.  Good luck with that!

 

We all have to take a look in the mirror on this one.  How often have we said, “it’s not my fault.” ….when it really is?

 

I read something interesting this week while I was on retreat and I’d like to close with it.  We all know about Adam and Eve.  They sinned.  You ask somebody what they did and they’ll say they sinned.  How did they sin?  They ate the apple.  Everybody knows that.  God told them not to eat the apple but they ate it anyway.  But that wasn’t the real sin.

 

What did Adam say to God when He caught him red-handed with the apple core in his hand?  He said, “It’s not my fault.  That woman you gave me made me do it.”  Then God confronted Eve, standing there with apple juice running down her chin.  What did she say?  “It’s not my fault.  That serpent that you made, tricked me.”

 

Eating the apple, disobeying God, may have been sinful.  But what do we know about God?  He forgives sins.  If Adam had said, “Lord, I’m sorry I disobeyed you.  I shouldn’t have eaten that fruit.”, he might still living in the garden.  If Eve had admitted her sin and that she had talked Adam into eating the apple with her, and then asked for forgiveness, she might still be in the garden with him.

 

No the worst sin was refusing to take responsibility for their own actions.  That’s what got them thrown out of paradise.  And yet, so many people today think they’re going to get INTO paradise after committing the same sin, not just once, but over and over again.