5th Sunday of Easter–Mothers’ Day

My intention today was to talk about the first reading and I’ll get to it in a minute. But today’s Gospel is so rich that I had to dive into it a little bit first. This is part of what you might call Jesus’ farewell address. This is Jesus talking to his disciples on what we now call Holy Thursday. The discourse actually takes up several chapters of John’s Gospel. Today’s reading is just about half of Chapter 14.

 

He begins by saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God, have faith also in me.” This could easily be part of our daily prayers. If we have faith in Jesus, how can our hearts be troubled? We know He’s there for us no matter what. What could possibly trouble us? But we’re human. We worry. As we read on in the New Testament we see that the very people Jesus is speaking to here were often troubled.

 

This Gospel is often part of the funeral liturgy because it’s when Jesus promises to go ahead of us and prepare a place for us. Then He makes an outrageous claim. “No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him.” This kind of talk is what got Him crucified! He’s saying that He and God are one and the same, blasphemy if it isn’t true.

 

Remember, this is new! It’s unprecedented! He’s saying that He is God. You and I know it to be true, but for the handful of people who heard Him say it, and really didn’t understand it, it must have been quite a shock. It’s going to be a while before they GET it. Remember Thomas? He doesn’t believe it and he’s one of Jesus’ closest friends.

 

But here’s the real kicker, after He claims that He is God, He tells the disciples that “whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and do greater ones than these.” Wait! What? Jesus has healed the sick, given sight to the blind, turned water into wine, walked on water, and even raised Lazurus from the dead. Now He says they (and we) will do even greater things? That’s hard to believe.

 

But it’s true. Jesus never traveled very far. The biggest crowd He ever spoke to were the 5,000 on the mountain. Look at our technology today. Look at men like Bishop Robert Barron and Cardinal Dolan. They’ve been heard and seen by millions. When Pope Francis speaks, his words are heard around the world. A crippled nun in Alabama started a world-wide media network. Even a humble deacon can post something on the Internet that’s seen by hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions of people.

 

You and I may not be able to raise the dead, but we can carry Jesus’ message to many, many people. Remember that there are billions of Christians in the world today, but it all started with that small group of people in that upper room.

 

I said I was going to talk about the first reading today. It’s from the sixth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles and it tells us about the first deacons. The Apostles were running ragged trying to do everything themselves. Even with the Holy Spirit there just weren’t enough hours in the day. In particular, the Greek Christians were complaining. They thought the Jewish Apostles weren’t paying enough attention to the Greek widows.

 

So, they called everyone together and said, “Here’s what we’re going to do. You go find seven wise, reputable men who are filled with the spirit. We’ll anoint them and have them feed the poor widows, and maybe do some other stuff.” And that’s what they did.

 

They chose Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas of Antioch to be the first deacons. Notice that they were all Greek. It’s not a coincidence that Stephen, the guy they chose first, was also the first martyr of the new Church. They told us when we were in formation that Stephen was doing fine until he started to talk. Then they stoned him to death. So, we’d better be careful. Fifteen years later, I understand what they were talking about.

 

Today deacons do things that the Apostles never dreamed of like running churches, ministering to prisoners and hospital patients and travelers at the airport. There’s even one of us in Saint Louis who has a truck stop ministry. There is much work to be done in God’s kingdom on earth and many different callings, not just clerical, but lay as well.

 

And, finally, one of the greatest callings of all is the one we celebrate this weekend. The following quote is from Hungarian Joseph Cardinal Mindszenty who died in 1975:

“The most important person on earth is a mother. She cannot claim the honor of having built Notre Dame Cathedral. She need not. She has built something more magnificent than any cathedral——a dwelling for an immortal soul, the tiny perfection of her baby’s body.

 

“The Angels have not been blessed with a such a grace. They cannot share in God’s Creative miracle to bring new Saints to Heaven. Only a human mother can. Mothers are closer to God the Creator than any other creatures. God joins forces with mothers in performing this act of creation.”

 

“What on God’s good earth is more glorious than this: to be a mother?”

Happy Mothers’ Day.

 

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3rd Sunday of Easter

Today (tomorrow) is already the third Sunday of Easter and today we read the famous story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. We’ve heard this story many times and we may think we know it, but there are some things in the story that you may not have noticed.

 

First is, apparently no one knows where Emmaus is. Luke tells us that it’s seven miles from Jerusalem but that’s all we know about it. Don’t try to find it on Google Maps because it’s not there. There is an Emmaus in Pennsylvania, near Allentown, but that’s hardly within walking distance of Jerusalem.

 

What we do know is that throughout the New Testament, everything points toward Jerusalem. But here we have two disciples walking the other way. We might say the wrong way. But as they’re walking along Jesus comes and walks with them. Luke says this is “that very day; the first day of the week.” In other words, it’s Easter Sunday. They’ve seen the Crucifiction. They’ve also heard from the women that Jesus has risen from the dead. But evidently they don’t believe it. It’s like “move along. There’s nothing to see here.” So they’re headed to Emmaus. Jesus calls them “fools”. “How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets said.”

 

So, why don’t they recognize Him? That’s easy. They’re headed the wrong way, both physically and spiritually. When the three of them got to Emmaus the two urged Jesus to stay and eat with them. As they tell us later, their hearts were burning within them while He spoke to them on the say and opened the Scriptures to them.

 

Still, it wasn’t until He broke the bread and gave it to them that their eyes were opened and the realized who He was. Then He vanished from their sight. As the last sentence says, “He was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”

 

This is a fairly long Gospel. The disciples knew the facts. They explained what had just happened in Jerusalem in great detail. But they didn’t “get it”. They didn’t understand what really happened. They called Jesus a “prophet”. “We were hoping that he would be the one who would redeem Israel.” But they didn’t stick around to see what happened. Instead of looking for Jesus, Jesus had to come looking for them.

 

 

This is a story about the mass. The mass has two parts: the Liturgy of the Word which is where we are now, and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, where we’ll be in just a few minutes and where we’ll all experience Jesus’ real presence. I could stand up here and talk all day and I might be able to make some things a little clearer. Maybe not. But the Eucharist brings it all home.

 

When Father turns that bread and wine sitting on the table in the center aisle into the Body and Blood of Christ, that’s when He enters into you. That’s when you, like the two disciples, will have your eyes opened. But you have to participate. You have to want it to happen. To put it bluntly, if you shuffle up here and Father or I say “the Body of Christ” and you mumble “amen” (or say nothing) and shove the consecrated host into your mouth and shuffle back to your seat, looking at your watch to see when this ordeal is going to be over, guess what? Your eyes won’t be opened. Nothing will happen to you. You might as well just stay in your seat. You have to do your part. You have to have the right attitude.

 

 

Father will have performed a miracle! He will have turned ordinary bread and wine, not even very good bread and wine, into the Body and Blood of Christ. If that’s not a miracle, I don’t know what is. And it happens here and in Catholic churches all over the world every single day!

 

The disciples at Emmaus were so excited that they “set out at once and returned to Jerusalem” to tell the others. They had just walked seven miles and now they were going back, at night when it wasn’t all that safe to travel. They were on fire with Jesus’ words and His Presence, the two parts of the mass. When was the last time you were that excited about coming to mass?

 

If it’s been a while, maybe we should all spend some time thinking and praying about what’s happening here and the two travelers’ reaction. Will we walk out of here today knowing we’ve seen Jesus or will we just feel like we’ve fulfilled an obligation? It’s up to us.

 

 

Tuesday of the 2nd Week of Lent

Help us this Lenten season to listen more frequently to your word, that we may celebrate the solemnity of Easter with greater love for Christ, our paschal sacrifice.

This is one of the petitions from this morning’s Liturgy of the Hours.  While it’s a short prayer, it certainly gives a lot to think (and pray) about.

Whatever our Lenten penance, we don’t do it just for the sake of doing it.  Even the traditional  “giving up chocolate for Lent” is supposed to remind us each time we crave chocolate that we are preparing ourselves for Christ’s death and resurrection.  In praying for God’s help to listen more frequently to His word, we aren’t just doing penance.  We are actually preparing ourselves to celebrate Easter with greater love.

There is no shortage of God’s word, especially during Lent.  You don’t have to devote long hours to reading scripture or to sitting in church.  In fact (and this is just my opinion) I believe frequent, short exposure to His word may be much more effective.

Thanks for coming to our blog and have a blessed Lent.

6th Sunday of Easter

As Catholics living in the twenty-first century our faith has been much affected by the Second Vatican Council. The Council, which began in 1962, clarified and codified a lot of things. Sadly, as human beings, we all read things into the Council documents that weren’t really there. Also, as human beings, a lot of us were resistant to some of the things that the Council said. Some of us still are.

 

As an adult convert, the modern Catholic Church is the only Church I’ve ever belonged to. Some of the things that the rest of you grew up with are very foreign to me. My mass has always been in English. In my experience, the priest has always faced the congregation. Joining the Church in 1968, all the big changes had already taken place before I ever set foot into a Catholic Church.

 

Because the Church works so slowly, it’s almost fifty years since Vatican II and some Catholics are still resisting some of the so-called “new” things. Ironically, my life has been more affected by one of the Vatican II reforms than most of you. That would be the restoration of the Permanent Diaconate. If not for the Council, I wouldn’t have a clerical vocation, or a job.

 

Church Councils don’t happen very often. Vatican II was the twenty-first Church Council in the 2,000 year history of the Church. Historically Church Councils have been called to deal with controversy and heresy. The very first Council took place in Jerusalem around 50 AD. It was called the Council of Jerusalem and we read about it today in the first reading.

 

The issue with the council was whether you had to be an observant Jew in order to be a Christian. More importantly, at least for the men, was whether you had to be circumcised to follow Christ. Obviously, the Jewish converts were much more agreeable to this than the Gentiles. It was a big deal and threatened the future of the new Church. So, the Apostles agreed to meet and discuss the issue.

 

As we know, the Gentiles won the argument. The only requirement to join the new Church was to abstain from certain foods and from unlawful marriage. “If you keep free of these things, you will be doing what is right. Farewell.” Notice that the Apostles said “It’s the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us…” In 50 AD, and in 2016, our leaders are guided by the Spirit.

 

Here we are, twenty centuries later, and we’re faced once again with the issue of unlawful marriage. It’s funny how things keep coming around. Just this week our Missouri legislature failed to address religious freedom. After all these centuries, marriage is still a contentious issue.

 

Here at Saint John Nepomuk we have a lot of weddings. These are “lawful marriages”, the only kind that the Church recognizes. Thanks to Vatican II, this is an issue for me, just as it is for all Catholic clergy. Don’t get me wrong. If a couple chooses to have a civil union, that’s not my concern. Whether it’s a man and a woman, two men, or two women, the Church doesn’t recognize a civil union as a sacrament. It’s just a contract. And without a sacramental marriage, a couple living together as man and wife are committing a mortal sin.

 

And no matter what the Supreme Court says, no matter what the Missouri legislature says, if you show up at Saint John Nepomuk wanting an unlawful marriage, I won’t do it. You’ll have to go somewhere else. Given the political climate in the United States today, I suppose there’s a good chance that I might be sued or even arrested. Who knows? But, regardless of the consequences, I’ll still refuse. I don’t think the Scriptures could be more plain. It’s right there in today’s first reading. “If you keep free of these, you will be doing what is right. Farewell.”

 

Now, some of you may not care what happens to me.   And that’s ok. A lot of better people than me have suffered for their faith. I’d be proud to be in their company. Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”

 

I will keep Jesus’ word; no matter what. That’s all there is to it. Because of my vocation, I’m in a position where some day I may have to put up or shut up. That’s not a surprise to me. I knew what I was getting in to when I was ordained.

 

But, what about you? Chances are you’ll never be in a position where you have to take such a serious stand. But we’re coming up on an important election. I can’t tell you who to vote for and I wouldn’t expect you to vote for a candidate just because I told you to. In fact, what you do at the polls is between you and God. But I would suggest that you think seriously about the consequences of your decision.

 

Little by little we’re losing our religious freedom. If we don’t pay attention one day we may wake up and find that our beliefs are illegal. It’s happening already. Please take this seriously. Most of our ancestors, including the Bohemians who built this church, came to the United States for religious freedom. It would be a shame if all their efforts were in vain.

4th Sunday of Easter–Good Shepherd Sunday

On this 4th Sunday of Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday, we hear one of the shortest Gospel passages of the whole reading cycle; just five sentences. But, even though it’s short, it says an awful lot. We call it “Good Shepherd Sunday” because Jesus begins by telling us, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”

 

We HEAR Him. He speaks to us. We recognize His voice, just as the sheep recognize the voice of their shepherd. That’s important. Sometimes we Catholics get a bad rap because we don’t read the Bible as much as some of our Christian brothers and sisters. The thing is, we don’t read it as much as we hear it. Every Sunday when we come to mass, we hear three readings, a Psalm, and parts of scripture that are repeated in every celebration of the Eucharist, for instance, the Lord’s Prayer. Every three years we pretty much hear the whole Bible.

 

There’s a reason why Father doesn’t just say the opening prayer and then ask us to sit down and read the readings assigned to that day to ourselves. Jesus wants us to HEAR Him. He wants us to listen to the readings, not just to read them. It’s especially true of the Gospel. The Gospel is Jesus speaking to us and He wants us to hear Him. How do we know? Because He just told us. 4-legged sheep follow their shepherd because they recognize his voice!

 

Over the years I’ve discovered that I almost always get something different from the readings when I hear them read out loud as opposed to just reading them out of the book. The spirit works through the lector, the deacon, or the priest, to give them the gift of inflection. The way the words are said convey a different meaning than the way the words are presented on the page.

 

Here’s something you may have never thought of. The Gospel readings are in the Sacramentary, along with the other readings. But we proclaim the Gospel from a separate book, the Book of the Gospels. The deacon, or some other minister, carries the Gospel into church as part of the opening procession. We give the Book of the Gospels much more respect than paper and ink alone deserve. We’re bringing Jesus’ words into the church.

 

Did you ever wonder why we don’t carry it back out? It’s because you hear His words and you carry them out of church, in your minds and hearts. Again, Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice.”

 

As far as we know, Jesus never wrote down anything. God the Father inspired all scripture, but Jesus wasn’t into writing. He was into speaking. “My sheep hear my voice.” He didn’t say anything about His sheep reading His blog, or following Him on Facebook or Twitter. And He handed His teaching authority on to His bishops at Cesarea Philippi when He said, “Whoever hears you, hears me.”

 

But, here’s our challenge. When Jesus spoke, people listened. There was no television, no radio, and no Internet. His listeners were just that; LISTENERS. Our Gospel readings usually begin, “Jesus said to His disciples….” He didn’t have to say “please turn off your cell phones and other electronic devises.” They hung on every word that He said.

 

Today, there’s just so much competition for our attention. We’re inundated with constant noise. Even the Son of God has a hard time getting through to us. That’s one reason why we need to come to mass. At least for these few minutes each week, we’re away from outside distractions and free to listen to God’s word. For the other 167 hours per week, not so much. Let’s not waste this valuable time.

 

We’re also living in a time when we’re surrounded by false prophets. We may want to listen, but maybe we’re not sure which voice is actually His. During this election season we’re constantly told conflicting things. Do we welcome everyone into our country or do we build a wall? Should we encourage hard work or should we focus on giving people free stuff? I’m sure all these people mean well, but they can’t all be right. We have to discern the truth.

 

In matters of faith, there are a lot of people who claim to be speaking for Jesus. Again, they can’t all be right. How do we decide? For me the answer is simple and I already gave it to you earlier. Jesus told Peter and the Apostles, “Whoever hears you, hears me.” He left us one Church with one teaching authority. Lucky us; it’s the Church we all belong to.

 

What else does He tell us in this short Gospel. He promises us eternal life. He promises us that we shall never perish. “No one can take them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of my Father’s hand.” That’s some serious stuff.

 

You and I can live forever if we follow Jesus. The only person who can take us out of Jesus’ hands is ourselves. We have to follow Him. We have to listen. We can’t just go off on our own. We all know what happens to a sheep when he leaves the flock. The wolf has a nice dinner. Jesus closes by telling us that He and the Father are one.

 

In five short sentences Jesus has given us everything we need to know. Listen to Him, follow Him, and we’ll go to heaven. That’s it. It’s so simple. Yet, it’s so difficult.

2nd Sunday of Easter–Divine Mercy

Mother_AngelicaMother Angelica died on Easter Sunday. I’m sure most of you know who she was, but just in case….She was the founder of the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN). Starting in a garage, she grew EWTN into a worldwide media network reaching more than 250 million people. Even though she’s been unable to do TV work since 2002, her programs are still the most popular on the network.

 

Mother was quite a character. Her down-home style and her sense of humor attracted millions of people to her, and to Jesus. She was a nun of the Franciscan order of Poor Clares and was devoted to Jesus in Eucharistic Adoration.

 

She wasn’t afraid to be outspoken when it came to her love of Jesus. She once said, “Do we love Jesus enough to defend Him?” What a great comment!

 

Mother Angelica was 92 years old and had been sick for a long time so her death wasn’t a surprise. In fact, her community in Hanceville, AL, had been planning for her passing for a long time. They had prepared a week of liturgies to mark her death. But, being the person she was, she died on Easter. We’re not allowed to pray the Office of the Dead during the Octave of Easter, so all the services that had been prepared for so long had to be scrapped and a new series of services had to be prepared on very short notice. I’m sure the cantankerous nun is smiling in heaven, seeing so many priests and religious scrambling to prepare for this week.

 

Two things Mother said, among the thousands of quotes attributed to her, will always stay with me. She once said, “When I think of all He’s done for me and how little I’ve done for Him, I could cry.” Here’s a woman who’s taken the Gospel to millions of people around the world in spite of her many physical challenges, and she doesn’t think she’s done enough! How insignificant our contributions are by comparison. “When I think of all He’s done for me and how little I’ve done for Him, I could cry.”

 

She often said, “We’re all called to be saints”. As you and I sit in this beautiful chapel surrounded by statues and images of great saints, her words should be a constant reminder to all of us of what God’s calling us to be. She said her greatest fear was not to do God’s will.

 

Today is Divine Mercy Sunday. Our readings remind us of just how merciful God can be. In the Gospel, the Apostles are gathered in a locked room “for fear of the Jews”. He stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Think about that. Think about what’s just happened. Jesus was tortured and killed and these guys ran away. They hid. They deserted Him when He need them the most. Peter, the one chosen to lead His new Church even denied that he knew Jesus, not once, but three times! And Jesus’ first words to them were “Peace be with you.” He forgave them. That’s Divine Mercy.

 

All the Apostles weren’t there. Thomas was missing. When he came back, he refused to believe. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and pub my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

 

A week later, Jesus returns and this time Thomas is with the others. Again Jesus wishes them peace and offers Thomas the proof that he said he needed. Jesus didn’t rebuke Thomas. His mercy extended even to “doubting Thomas.”

 

If Jesus could forgive them, why wouldn’t we think that He’d forgive us for our transgressions.

 

In the first reading, Peter and the others have been doing signs and wonders. Not only did Jesus forgive them, He gave them power to do wondrous things so that people might believe. They believed so strongly that they thought even Peter’s shadow falling on the sick would heal them. More proof that no matter how sinful we might be, we can do great things with the help of the Holy Spirit.

 

On this Divine Mercy Sunday, when we realize that a crippled nun could start in a garage and build up a massive communications network reaching millions of believers and nonbelievers, we should realize that we can do great things too. Maybe we’ll never reach millions of people, but we can spread the Gospel to everyone we meet. That’s our mission. That’s our calling. As Mother Angelica said, “We’re all called to be saints.” Our only fear should be not to do God’s will.

 

 

Good Friday

As a kid growing up, I could never get Good Friday.  Granted, it was a day off school so from that standpoint it was definitely a good day.  In fact, in those days even the public school kids got a four-day weekend being off for Good Friday and “Good Monday.”  Good Friday was also the day when we ate salmon patties and creamed peas.

 

Even today in our uber-politically correct society, this is a special day in the secular world. The stock market is closed. Some businesses are closed. Of course our elected employees have the day off from passing anti-Christian laws. Go figure.

 

Kids are still off school, but they don’t call it Good Friday. They call it “spring holiday” or some other PC nonsense, but amazingly, it still coincides with the day Christians know as Good Friday. Still, to my pre-adolescent, borderline Christian mind, it just didn’t make sense to me that the day of Jesus’ crucifixion was “good”.  I thought it should have been called “Bad Friday”.

 

But as I got older, especially when I joined the Catholic Church I began to realize that Jesus had to die.  His death on that fateful Friday afternoon was for me.  He died so that my sins could be forgiven.

 

Even so, if that had been the end of it, if He had just died, then I would still feel like it was a bad trade.  The death of the Son of God in exchange for my sins wouldn’t have been a very good deal.

 

Ironically, by dying Jesus defeated death.  Not because He died, but because He rose on the third day.  His glorious resurrection meant that it was ok for me to die because, with His grace and forgiveness, I can rise too.  I no longer have to fear death because the end of this life isn’t the end.  It’s actually the beginning.

 

Jesus died for my sins and for your sins.  Keep that in mind today as you fast and abstain from meat, a small price to pay for such a great gift.  Lent has ended.  We don’t celebrate mass today but we do gather to remember.  We receive the Blessed Body of Christ and we kiss the cross, recognizing that this ancient means of execution is now the means of our salvation.

 

We’ll take everything off the altar to get ready for a new beginning. When you come back tomorrow afternoon or Sunday morning, Jesus will be gone from the tomb, replaced by the resurrected Lord. We’ll have a new altar cloth and lots of candles and flowers. We’ll sing “Glory to God in the Highest!”   Jesus has saved us from ourselves. How could there ever be a greater gift than that?