4th Sunday of Easter—Mothers

This weekend’s homily:

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 devices.” 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 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.

In matters of faith, there are a lot of people who claim to be speaking for Jesus.  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.

 

I have to close by mentioning another voice that we all recognize and that we celebrate today (tomorrow) and that’s our mother.  Jesus set the example for us in the relationship he had from the time He chose her to bear Him in her womb until He hung on the cross and gave her to Saint John and to us.  “Son, behold your mother.”

 

On this Mothers Day we honor our mothers, living and dead and thank God for the gift of them in our lives.  Let us also honor Jesus’ mother by praying, “Hail, Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women and blessed is the Fruit of thy Womb, Jesus.  Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death, Amen.”

 

 

Happy Mothers Day!

 

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Thanksgiving

As I sat on the altar this morning I couldn’t help but be impressed by the number of people attending Mass on a Thursday morning that’s not a Holy Day of Obligation, especially with everything else that’s going on in most people’s lives.  For most of us it’s a busy day.

But, obviously, for many of us it’s a special day to give thanks to God for all He’s done for us.  After all, without God we are nothing; We have nothing.  It’s good for us to take a few moments to acknowledge our many gifts.

As Father pointed out in his homily, the word “Eucharist” is from the Greek for “Thanksgiving”.  We give thanks every time we go to mass.

I don’t want to make this long, because, like I said, I know you’re busy.  But I would like to thank you for taking time to read this blog.  I also want to thank my family who put up with me without complaint.  I especially want to thank my wife, Jan, as we begin our 50th year of married life.  We broke all the rules back then.  We were too young.  We hadn’t known each other long enough.  She was Catholic.  I wasn’t.  But somehow we managed to stay together for one year short of half a century.

 

God is good!

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.

 

 

Catholic Couple–non-Catholic Wedding

From a reader… QUAERITUR: My son and fiancee are Catholics and considering having a non-priest perform the ceremony in the Outer Banks, NC. We have two family members saying that as Catholics, they can’t attend the wedding because it is outside of the church. Is there some rule that is keeping them from attending the wedding? Once again we…

via ASK FATHER: Wedding of Catholics with a non-priest out in Mother Nature — Fr. Z’s Blog

Here’s a post from Father Z’s blog that should  be read by every Catholic contemplating marriage.  It covers a particular scenario, but the principals apply to all marriages.  For some reason, otherwise reasonable Catholics seem to want to throw their faith out the window when it comes to marriage.

It’s a short post.  Check it out.

What makes for a practicing Catholic

I came across this post from Father Ron Holheiser O.F.M. and I thought it would be a good way to start Lent.  This is one of the best explanations on this topic I’ve ever seen.   Enjoy!

There’s a national phone-in show on radio in Canada that I try to catch whenever I can. Recently its topic for discussion was: Why do so few people go to church today? The question triggered a spirited response. Some called in and said that the churches were emptying because they were too progressive, too sold-out to the culture, too devoid of old, timeless truth. These calls would invariably be followed by others that suggested exactly the opposite, namely, that the churches are emptying because they are too slow to change, too caught up in old traditions that no longer make sense.

And so it went on, caller after caller, until one man phoned in and suggested that the real issue was not whether the church was too progressive or regressive. Rather, in his view, less and less people were going to church because “basically people treat their churches exactly the way they treat their own families; they want them around, but they don’t go home to visit them all that much!” The comment reminded me of Reginald Bibby, the Canadian sociologist of religion, who likes to quip: “People aren’t leaving their churches, they just aren’t going to them – and that is a difference that needs to be understood.”

Indeed it does. There is a difference between leaving a family and just not showing up regularly for its celebrations. This distinction in fact needs to shape the way we answer a number of important questions: Who belongs to the church? What makes for a practising Christian? When is someone’s relationship to the church mortally terminated? What does it mean to be outside the church? As well, this distinction impacts on the question as to who is entitled to receive the rites of baptism, eucharist, confirmation, marriage, and Christian burial.

People are treating their churches just like they treat their families. Isn’t that as it should be? Theologically the church is family – it’s not like family, it is family. A good ecclesiology then has to look to family life to properly understand itself (the reverse of course is also true). Now if we place the questions we just posed within the context of family life, we have there, I believe, the best perspective within which to answer them. Thus, inside of our families: Who is in and who is out? When does someone cease being a “practicing” member of a family? Does someone cease to be a member of a family because he or she doesn’t come home much any more? Do we refuse to give a wedding for a son or daughter just because he or she, caught up in youth and self-interest, hasn’t come home the last couple of years for Easter and Christmas? Not exactly abstract questions!

Many of us have children and siblings who for various reasons, at this stage of their lives, largely use the family for their own needs and convenience. They want the family around, but on their terms. They want the family for valued contact at key moments (weddings, births of children, funerals, anniversaries, birthdays, and so on) but they don’t want a relationship to it that is really committed and regular. A lot of families are like that. They understand this, accept it, swallow hard sometimes, and remain a family despite it. In any extended family, it’s natural that, while everyone is a member of the family, there will be different levels of participation. Some will give more, others will take more. Some, by virtue of maturity, will carry most of the burden – they will arrange the dinners, pay for them, keep inviting the others, do most of the work, and take on the task of trying to preserve the family bond and ethos. Others, because of youthful restlessness, immaturity, self-interest, confusion, peer-pressure, laziness, anger, whatever, will carry less, take the family for granted, and buy in largely on their own terms. That describes most families and is also a pretty accurate description of most churches. There are different levels of participation and maturity, but there is only one church and that church, like any family, survives precisely because some members are willing to carry more of the burden than others. Those others, however, except for more exceptional circumstances, do not cease being members of the family. They ride on the grace of the others, literally. It’s how family works; how grace works; how church works.

Church must be understood as family: Certain things can put you out of the family, true. However, in most families, simple immaturity, hurt, confusion, distraction, laziness, youthful sexual restlessness, and self-preoccupation – the reasons why most people who do not go to church stay away – do not mortally sever your connection. You remain a family member. You don’t cease being “a practicing member” of the family because for a time you aren’t home very much. Families understand this. Ecclesial family, church, I believe, needs to be just as understanding.

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.

 

 

20th Sunday of Ordinary Time—The Bread of Life

EucharistToday is the third week in a row that we’ve read from the 6th chapter of John’s Gospel. All three Gospels have one thing in common. In each reading John speaks to us about the Bread of Life. Two weeks ago, Jesus tells us, “Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” He goes on to say, “My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

Last week we heard, “Amen, amen, I say to you whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. I am the living bread which comes down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

This last statement, which ended last week’s Gospel is repeated today. I guess it must be important. As Catholics, we have the privilege of receiving Jesus’ Flesh and Blood at every mass in the form of the Eucharist. In just a few minutes, we’ll all be allowed to participate in this heavenly meal.

Today we see that the Jews quarreled among themselves about this. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” That’s where they got it wrong. While Jesus is a man, He’s also the Son of God. He goes on to explain how this can be, but they still don’t get it. In fact, they don’t get it even today. They’re not alone. Many of our protestant brothers and sisters don’t get it either. Sadly, there are even Catholics who don’t understand how Jesus could give us his Body and Blood to eat and drink. Polls tell us the fastest growing “religious” group in America is “former Catholics”. I think that’s very sad and very confusing. How can anyone who understands what we’re receiving in the Eucharist ever just walk away? It’s the greatest gift in the history of the world.

Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, allows us to take His very Body and Blood into our sinful bodies. No God was ever so generous! Yet so many of us take this gift for granted and are even willing to leave the Church either to spend our time on earthly things like sleeping in, or golf, or whatever we think is more important.

Or worse, many leave the Catholic Church in favor of some other church where they offer a more entertaining service. High tech audio video, up-tempo music, or a watered-down message can never take the place of Jesus’ real presence.

It’s not always easy to be Catholic. We have rules. We stand for the truth, even when it’s not popular. We take Jesus’ command to take up our crosses seriously. But the reward is so great. Those of us who receive the Eucharist today, both here at Saint John’s and at thousands of Catholic churches around the world, will leave with Jesus’ life within us. Nothing can be better than that!

Some say that Jesus wasn’t speaking literally when He said we have to eat His Flesh and drink His Blood. The Jews argue about it in today’s Gospel. In next week’s Gospel we’ll see that many of His followers left Him because of this teaching.

Let’s look at that for a second. Jesus came to earth because His Father sent Him to build a Church. He would even die a horrible, painful death to achieve His goal. Don’t you think that if He had been speaking figuratively, when He saw followers leaving He would have stopped them? Wouldn’t He have said, “Wait! Don’t go! I didn’t mean you REALLY have to eat my flesh and drink my blood. I was only speaking figuratively. You only have to eat bread and drink wine and pretend that they’re my Body and Blood.”

But He didn’t do that. He let them go and He lets them go still today. The Eucharist is the core teaching of our faith; always has been and always will be. Everything else we do is directed to this one simple truth. We have seven sacraments. Most of them we’ll only receive once in our lives. But the Eucharist, and the sacrament of reconciliation, which goes along with it, are available to us whenever we want them. Every minute of every day there is a mass going on somewhere and if you’re not in a state of mortal sin, you’re welcome to receive Christ’s Body and Blood at any of them.

In the last month, I’ve received the Eucharist in Canada, in Alaska, in Alabama, and on a cruise ship. And, you know what? Every one of those masses was almost exactly the same. Jesus has given us this great gift and made it readily available.

Over the centuries, loyal Catholics have fought and died for the Eucharist. Yet, today, people who call themselves “Catholic” can’t even be bothered to show up once a week. Like I said, many of them even leave the Church, giving up this great gift. But, you know what? If they decide to come back, Jesus welcomes them back with open arms. Go to confession, and it’s like you never left.

Frankly, I don’t understand it. We use the phrase “Sunday obligation”, which I personally hate, to describe our need to attend mass weekly. How can we refer to receiving our Saviour’s Body and Blood as an obligation? If we reflect and pray on these Gospels, wild horses shouldn’t be able to keep us away.

Like He said, “Whoever eats this bread will live forever.” I think that’s worth the effort, don’t you?