Divine Mercy Sunday

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

Saint John’s web site

beautiful collection of photos of Saint John Nepomuk Chapel`

 

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Good Friday

This was my Good Friday homily.  I hope you like it.  [mb]

Most of you know I was raised Baptist. Not much of a Baptist, but technically that’s what I was. At least, that’s what my mom was. In the Baptist church, you weren’t baptized until you were old enough to decide for yourself, usually in your teens. We went to church once in a while and I went to Vacation Bible School, every summer. But as a kid, my knowledge of religion was pretty meager.

 

What I knew about Good Friday in those days was that it was the day Jesus died….and that we got the day off from school.   That was in the days before political correctness, so even the public schools called it Good Friday. We also got the day after Easter off, which the kids called Good Monday.

 

We had a small family, just my mom and dad and me, and an aunt and uncle, Aunt Mary and Uncle Elmer. Aunt Mary’s mother lived with them. Her name was Aunt Fern. My mom worked, so I spent a lot of time at Aunt Mary and Uncle Elmer’s house.

 

The only time I remember seeing Aunt Fern in church, was at her funeral. I don’t even know for sure what church she belonged to. She was buried from the South Side Christian Church in Hannibal, MO, so maybe she belong to that one. That would explain why she never went to church. It was more than 100 miles away! Which is a long way of getting to the other thing I knew about Good Friday.

 

 

There were two things about Aunt Fern that would make you think she was a religious woman. One was a beautiful picture of Jesus that she had in her bedroom. It was the one where Jesus is standing outside the closed door with no door knob. I loved that picture even though I didn’t understand what it meant; that Jesus can’t come in unless you open the door for him. I used to lay on my Aunt’s bed and just stare at it.

 

The other thing was that Aunt Fern thought you would go straight to hell if you ate meat on Good Friday. She would have rather been tied to the railroad track in front of an oncoming train, than to eat meat on that one day of the year.

 

So, you can imagine that as a kid without much religious background, I knew that this was a very special day. What I never understood was why they called it GOOD Friday. If it was the day they killed Jesus, what could possibly be good about it. Even getting the day off school didn’t seem like enough to make it a good day. I thought it was a terrible day. It was the day of the worst crime in history; the day they murdered God.

 

That idea didn’t leave me until I was much older when I read this quote from someone names Sister Melanie:

What a paradox! We call good the day we commemorate Jesus’ passion and death. Why? Certainly Jesus’ death was anything but good. It was a terrible event–an awful evil, a loathsome crime. But we call today good because it revealed once and for all just how much Jesus really loves us–so much so that he could embrace such a horrible death for us. As we meditate on Jesus’ terrible sufferings, let us also ponder his tremendous love.

 

“Think of those who love you most. Now multiply those loves by a million, a billion, infinitely. That’s how much Jesus loves you. That’s how much God loves you.

 

“If we could really believe we are the apple of God’s eye, what a difference it would make in our attitude, our outlook our choices. How eager we would be to love someone else in the same way. Yes, there is much suffering in the Passion of Jesus–repeated beatings, the crowning of thorns, the carrying of the cross, the pounding of the nails in his flesh, the hanging on the cross. But most of all there is much love. Instead of merely feeling sorry for Jesus, let us accept the challenge to follow his way of loving–a way that inevitably includes the cross. Then we will have another reason to call today Good Friday.”

 

So, it is a good day after all. It’s the day Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for you, and for me, by shedding His blood on the cross.

 

In a moment, we’ll venerate this cross, as a sign of our love for Him. But let’s not end it there. Let’s live our lives as a sign of how much we love and appreciate the Lord for making such a sacrifice for us.

 

 

30 pieces of silver

I don’t do this often, but on this Good Friday I’ve decided to repost something I wrote back in 2011.  One thing has changed in three years.  Today the price of silver is about $20.00 an ounce.  That makes to price Judas was paid, in 2014 dollars about $600.00, a pathetically small amount for the life of the son of God. [mb]

30 pieces of silver; that’s what they thought Jesus was worth.  It’s the price that the Jewish leaders paid Judas to betray our Savior.  Silver is worth about $45.00 an ounce as of today, so if the pieces used to buy Jesus were about an ounce each, then Judas got a whopping $1,350.00 for turning Jesus in.  Seems like a bargain to me, especially when Judas gave the silver back when he realized what he’d done.

That raises a question.  I wonder what Judas thought they were going to do to Jesus?  Surely he didn’t think they were going to throw him a party?  Or maybe ask Him to join their little club?  Jesus had been telling the twelve that bad things were coming, did Judas not listen?  I guess we’ll never know.

But, back to the 30 pieces of silver.  It seems like small change to betray the son of God.  But, at what price do we betray Jesus today?  Will we give Him up in exchange for a night of drinking and hitting on the neighbors’ wives?  Will we give Him up for a couple of hours looking at a porn movie?  Maybe we give Him up for a few office supplies?  Or, maybe we give Him up for the pleasure of talking about our friends behind their backs?  Maybe Judas’ $1,350.00 wasn’t such a cheap price after all.

I know people who give Jesus up so they can sleep in on Sunday morning.  I also know people who give up Jesus so they can play golf on Sunday.  Maybe a good parking spot for the Cardinal’s game is enough to tempt some people to pass by church on their way downtown.

Today is Holy Thursday, the day we remember the Lord’s Last Supper and Judas’ betrayal.  Many of us will go to mass (some of us will go three times, but that’s another story) but most of us won’t.  It’s Thursday night.  Some folks are willing to trade an hour with Jesus for an hour of CSI.  That’s too bad.

Living in a very secular world, where devout Christians are looked on with scorn by many of our brothers and sisters, we need to be reminded once in a while of what Jesus did for us.  The holy trifecta of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday is just the place for us.  An annual reminder of what actually happened twenty centuries ago doesn’t hurt.  In fact it’s good for us.  Yes, I know these liturgies can get a little long some times.  So what!  Three or four hours, once a year is a small price to pay.  Trust me.  You’ll get more than thirty pieces of silver worth of peace and blessings in return.

 

5th Sunday of Lent

For the third weekend in a row we have a fairly long Gospel. Even the short version is longer than we’re used to. But these three Gospels, according to John, are a set. In this “A” year we get to read some of John’s best work. Hopefully you remember that two weeks ago we heard the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. He said to the woman, “I am living water.”

 

Then last week Jesus healed the blind man. Jesus declared “I am the light.” Today we hear the familiar story of Jesus raising his friend Lazurus from the dead. You may wonder, as the people did, why didn’t Jesus rush back to save Lazurus while he was still alive. When He heard about His friend’s illness, he “remained for two days in the place where He was.” He also said, “This illness is not to end in death, but it is for the glory of God that the Son of Man may be glorified through it.” He could have rushed back and healed Lazurus. He could have even healed Lazurus “long distance”. He’s God. He can do that.

 

Remember that the people of Bethany, where Martha, Mary, and Lazurus lived weren’t exactly waiting to give Jesus the key to the city. They had tried to stone Him to death, so there was a certain amount of risk in going back there. But after two days, He did go back.

 

When He got there, Martha ran out to meet Him. She says to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now, I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” Imagine having that much faith! Lazurus has been in the tomb for four days. When they rolled back the stone the stench must have been overwhelming. But Jesus said, “Lazurus, come out!” And out he came. Jesus defeated death! That’s why Jesus had said “it is for the glory of God that the Son of Man may be glorified through it.”

Jesus makes His third “I am” statement. “I am the resurrection and the life.” Three Gospels—three “I ams”. I am the living water. I am the Light. I am the resurrection and the life.” Next Sunday, Palm Sunday, when we’ll all participate in the reading of His passion, Jesus will be asked twice if He’s the Messiah and both times He’ll answer, “You say that I am.” That’s a critical point. In this case it doesn’t matter what He says. It’s what we believe that’s important.

 

As Catholics, we’re supposed to look at the big picture. We don’t teach our kids individual Scripture passages. We tell them stories. On this fifth Sunday of Lent we’re near the end of a six-week experience. It’s “the greatest story ever told.” In just two weeks we’ll celebrate His glorious resurrection. Today He said that Lazurus must die “for the glory of God.” It’s a precursor to His own death which would also be for the glory of God.

 

So, what can we take home from today’s Gospel? I’d say that with God, anything is possible. We just have to have faith. There was no reason for Martha and Mary to believe that Jesus could raise their brother from the dead after he’d been in the tomb for four days. If anything, you’d think that they would be angry and disappointed that Jesus hadn’t been there to save His friend. But their faith was strong enough that they believed that Jesus could bring him back. And, so He did.

 

But what about us? When we ask Jesus for something do we really believe He’ll come through for us? Or do we have doubts? Think about the people who built this church. Nobody, and I mean nobody in Saint Louis in 1870 thought Bohemian immigrants could build such a beautiful house of God. Everybody expected them to fail. But they had faith. They didn’t think; they didn’t suspect; they didn’t hope; they knew that their prayers would be answered. And when they were finished, people came from all over to celebrate their accomplishment with them.

 

Then just 26 years later they had to do it all again when the tornado destroyed what they had built. And again, they KNEW they could do it. That’s the kind of faith that built this place and filled the pews several times each Sunday.

 

Now, if I were to look you in the eye and say to you that we can restore Saint John Nepomuk to that former glory, how would you respond? Would you think I’m crazy? Would you say it’s impossible? Or would you say, “Yes! With God anything is possible. If Jesus could raise Lazurus from the dead and then raise Himself from the dead, then He can certainly make this church come alive again.”

 

As we prepare to celebrate our 160th anniversary this year, I want you to think about what you can personally do to ensure that we have a 170th and 180th and beyond. I suggest we all start with prayer. Ask God for the faith necessary to move mountains. Because it’s faith that will attract more people. They may come the first time to see the statues, or the stained glass windows, but it’s our faith that will bring them back again.

 

That means working together and loving one another. There’s no room for negativity in God’s Church. A house divided against itself cannot stand. If we want to do more than just keep the doors open, we all have to be on board.

 

Our Church, both this chapel and the Catholic Church in general is in a crisis. That empty seat next to you used to have someone sitting in it. I believe that, like Lazurus’ death, this crisis is “is for the glory of God that the Son of Man may be glorified through it.” One thing that impresses people is when someone or some thing rises from the dead. Pope Francis seems to be the right man to lead this revival of the Church. I believe we can do our part right here in South Saint Louis.

 

Pray every day for our historic church. Tell anyone you can get to listen that we have something special here. Most important of all, love one another. That’s what Jesus asked us to do. In fact he called it the most important commandment. We’re living in a very impersonal world. Facebook and twitter have taken the place of face-to-face communications. Don’t get me wrong. I have almost 200 Facebook “friends”. We use social media to promote our chapel. But people are desparate for human contact.

 

If you and I go out of our way to make people feel welcome, to make them feel loved, we won’t be able to keep them away.

 

The shortest verse in the Bible is part of toay’s Gospel. “And Jesus wept.” Jesus, the Son of God, knew what He was going to do. He knew He would raise Lazurus from the dead. But the human Jesus, the man Jesus, had lost a good friend. He couldn’t help it. He cried. He became man so He could feel what we feel. And the loss of a friend, a human contact, filled Him with tears. He may have been constantly surrounded with His apostles, but Lazurus was His friend; His buddy. Even Jesus needed to feel the love of another human being.

 

Today’s Gospel is telling us to have faith, but it’s also telling us to have love. Love one another. Welcome visitors. Most of all, love God. He loves us and will do whatever we ask of Him as long as we have faith; faith as strong as Martha and Mary who believed in Jesus, even when He had disappointed them.