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.

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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.

 

 

Holy Trinity Sunday

This is the homily I preached on Sunday, May 31, Holy Trinity Sunday.

+ In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen!  Do you see what you did there?  I made the sign of the cross and you did it too.  You didn’t have to do it.  We don’t normally make the sign after the Gospel.  It’s not in the book.  But, as Catholics, we’ve been taught that when someone else, especially someone standing at the front of the room signs themselves, we’re supposed to follow along.  It’s a Catholic thing.

In fact, + (sign) is probably the second-most recognized hand gesture in the world.  The peace sign might be first.  I’m not sure.  But, like I said, it’s a Catholic thing.  If you see someone crossing themselves, they’re probably Catholic.

So……the sign identifies us as Catholics.  It also tells anyone who knows our faith what we believe.

That IS in the book.

I believe in one God, [not multiple gods like the Romans of the Greeks, I believe in the one and only God.  I don’t worship cats, or the sun, or the earth.] the Father almighty,maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.  My God isn’t part of nature.  He created nature out of nothingness.

If that were all there was, things would be very simple.  But, like they say on the infomercials, “But wait, there’s more!”

I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages. God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; through him all things were made.

 

This word “begotten” must be important.  We say it twice in one paragraph.  See, there was a guy running around in the 4th century saying that Jesus wasn’t really God.  He was just some “super” angel, better than us, but not as great as God.  The Church held a council and promulgated this creed, establishing once and for all that God and Jesus are one and the same.

According to the new translation of the Creed that some of us are still learning, Jesus is CONSUBSTANTIAL” with the Father.  Remember, we used to say “one in being with the Father”, which isn’t enough to describe who Jesus really is.  You and I are one in being with the Father because everything in the world is created through Him.  Consubstantial sort of means “of the same substance”.  God IS the Father and the Son.

The Creed goes on to tell us what Jesus did, how He suffered and died and rose again on the third day to save us from our sins.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.

 

When Jesus returned to heaven he left us an Advocate, His Holy Spirit.  In last week’s Gospel He said He would send the Advocate “whom I will send you from the Father.”  Notice the words.  Jesus would send the Spirit from the Father.  He proceeds from the Father AND the Son.

Just today (yesterday) nine men were ordained to the Permanent Diaconate at the Cathedral Basilica.  The Archbishop laid hands on them, just like he laid hands on me ten years ago next week, and he said, “Lord, send forth upon him the Holy Spirit, that he may be strengthened by the gift of your sevenfold grace to carry out faithfully the work of the ministry.” 

 

 

Of course we all receive the Holy Spirit at baptism and at confirmation as well.

That’s it.  That’s what we believe about God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Our problem as humans is that we want to understand things.  We want proof.  But there are just some things that are beyond our understanding.  Saint Patrick used the shamrock to illustrate the Trinity, each leaf representing one of the three persons.  Since he’s my patron saint, I’d like to say that it was the perfect analogy.  Unfortunately it wasn’t.  That’s why God has given us this thing called “faith”.  As Christians we have to believe some pretty unbelievable stuff.  Jesus turned water into wine.  Jesus turned bread and wine into His body and blood.  Jesus died and was buried, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven.  God is one but He exists as three different persons.

Don’t try to figure it out.  Just accept it.  He’s God.  He can do anything.  He’s our Father, our Brother, and our Advocate; He’s existed since the beginning of time and He made everything in the universe out of nothing.  I know you believe it because I hear you say it every week.  Don’t question it.  Just be thankful that it IS.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Third Sunday of Easter

In the Gospel today Jesus appears to the Apostles. This is one of six recorded appearances following the Crucifixion. It’s from Luke’s Gospel and Jesus appears to the Apostles as they’re hearing the two disciples’ story about meeting Jesus on the road to Ameus. He gives them the familiar greeting, “Peace be with you.” But Luke tells us they were startled and terrified. They thought they were seeing a ghost. He proceeds to ask them for something to eat, hoping to prove that He’s not a ghost, but that it’s really Him.

As you might imagine, even after hearing the two disciples’ story, they don’t know what to believe. In the end they do realize that it’s Him and opens their minds to understand the Scripture.

Now, let me ask you a question. Have you ever seen Jesus? I’m not talking about a picture or a statue, but have you really ever seen Jesus. If so, raise your hands. [Assume here that a few people may raise their hands, but not all.] I’m not talking about seeing His works or seeing Him in another person, I’m actually talking about seeing Him in the flesh.

[pause]

OK, let me ask you another question. Have you ever been to Eucharistic adoration? Doesn’t the Church teach us that Jesus is present in the bread and wine? If you’ve been to Adoration, then you’ve seen Jesus.

In a few minutes you’re going to line up for Holy Communion. Are you coming up here to receive a piece of not very tasty bread, or are you expecting to receive the Body of Christ? If you don’t believe with all your heart and all your soul that Jesus is present in the Eucharist then I have some bad news for you. By definition, you’re not a Catholic. You may be a Christian, but as Catholics we MUST believe that we’re receiving Jesus.

See, this little wafer is unleavened bread. It’s wheat and water. That’s all. I can eat it. I can throw it away. I can drop it on the floor and stomp on it and I haven’t committed a sin. We store them in an unlocked cabinet in the sacristy and we keep our extras in the freezer in the rectory so they don’t get stale. If you want, you can go to Catholic Supply and buy them by the box. 750 of them cost about five bucks.

Then we have the wine. It costs about $60.00 per case of twelve, about $5.00 a bottle, not exactly the good stuff. Again, we keep it in the sacristy. We have cases of the stuff. There is a difference here, and that’s that you can’t go to Catholic Supply and buy a case for yourself. Sacramental wine is a particular kind of wine and our state says only churches can buy it. It’s 12% alcohol, or just 24 proof. Back in the day, and maybe still today, altar servers would get a big kick out of sneaking some from the sacristy. But they didn’t get much of a buzz unless they drank a whole bottle. You wouldn’t win any points with your friends if you served sacramental wine at a dinner party.

But in a few minutes Father will say the words of consecration. This rather tasteless bread and cheap wine will become the Body and Blood of Christ. Now, that’s worth standing in line for. Instead of being stored in the freezer, the left-over Body of Christ is locked in a tabernacle. Through the centuries, Catholics have risked death to protected the consecrated Sacrament from desecration and destruction.

I’ll ask you again, have you ever seen Jesus? [Raise hands]

The Apostles were terrified when they saw Jesus. But once He opened their minds and they understood that it was really Him, their lives were never the same again. Jesus’ appearance was a miracle and the Eucharist is a miracle. Once we understand exactly what it is that we’re taking into our bodies, our lives should never be the same again either. We’re seeing Christ in the Flesh just as surely as the disciples on the road to Ameaus or the Apostles who saw Him six times before He returned to heaven.

If what I’m telling you isn’t true, then we Catholics are pretty silly. Our entire faith revolves around the mass and the reception of the Eucharist. If it’s nothing more than bread and wine, then our faith is a fraud. There’s no reason for us to come to mass. If we want to we can watch mass on television of just skip it altogether.

But as Catholics we don’t do that. You’ve heard me say it before but I hate the phrase “Sunday obligation.” We shouldn’t be coming to mass because we think we have to. We should come because we want to. Jesus makes a personal appearance in this chapel and in every other Catholic church around the world every weekend. Why would anyone want to miss the chance to not just see Him, but to actually take His physical presence into our own bodies? I don’t get it.

And, if you know someone who’s not physically able to come to mass, let us know. Call the rectory and we’ll make sure they receive the Eucharist at home, or in the hospital, or in the nursing home. If they can’t come to Jesus, we’ll take Jesus to them.

I gave this homily on Saturday and Sunday.  The response was, I’m sorry to say, very apathetic.  At both masses nobody raised their hand the first time I asked the question.  And, at both masses there were still people who didn’t raise their hands the second time I asked it.  I find this very sad.  Where have we gone wrong in our teaching on the Eucharist?

4th Sunday of Ordinary Time

In today’s Gospel we learn something very important about Jesus. It’s important to all Christians, but especially to us Catholics. He’s teaching in the Synagogue. But the people who’ve gathered to listen to Him will learn that this isn’t just some ordinary teacher, some ordinary Rabbi. Teachers in Jesus’ time, just like today, taught based on someone else’s authority. Father Paul and I don’t just make this stuff up. We rely on someone else’s teachings. We have the Scriptures, we have the words of religious scholars, we have the teaching of the Magisterium of the Church, and we have the Holy Spirit. If Father, or I, or anyone else who assumes the role of teacher stands up here and makes stuff up, you have every right to complain.

If any of us comes up with some new, radical teaching of our own invention, you should get on the phone to the Archbishop and tell him that we’re preaching heresy. Then the Archbishop will call us in and demand to know what’s going on. It won’t be pretty. We may even lose our faculties to preach or worse. We’re not allowed to preach anything that isn’t the truth, as it’s been passed down over the centuries.

In Jesus’ time, Rabbis taught from the Torah. That was the Word of God and that’s what the people wanted, and deserved to hear. But, here’s this Jesus teaching something new. His message was extremely radical for the first century. And, as Mark says, ”the people were astonished at His teaching.” They said, “What is this?”

One man even speaks up and says, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” But to get an idea of what’s going on, we have to look back at Moses’ words in the first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy. “A prophet like me will the Lord, your God, raise up for you from among your own kin; to him you shall listen.” Jesus is that prophet, but the people don’t realize it yet. God promised Moses that He would put His words into His, this new prophet’s mouth. God goes on, “Whoever will not listen to my words which He speaks in my name, I myself will make him answer for it.”

 

Jesus is that new prophet. This man who challenges Jesus is possessed by an unclean spirit. Here’s the evil one, Satan, challenging Jesus in the Synagogue, the very house of God. Jesus rebukes the man and says to the unclean spirit, “Quiet! Come out of him?” And the spirit, with a loud cry, comes out of him.

Naturally, the people are amazed. “They asked one another, “What is this? A new teaching with authority.” Satan has made a huge mistake. His attempt to discredit Jesus backfires and the people understand. Jesus is teaching with authority, not human authority, but with the authority of God the Father. For the first time in history, someone other than God the Father, has the authority to speak on His behalf. Up to this time, every teacher has taught strictly from the Torah. As Mark says, “His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.”

 

Today, Christians rely on both the Old Testament word of God, and the New Testament teachings of Jesus Christ. But, why is this more important to Catholics than it is to other Christians? To find the answer we have to turn to Luke’s Gospel where Jesus tell the disciples that whoever hears them, hears Him and whoever rejects them, rejects Him. And whoever rejects Him, rejects the One who sent Him. This is the beginning of the teaching authority of the Church.

This begs the question, “Do we always like what the Church teaches?” Not necessarily. Do we have to believe it? We do unless we want to reject God, and that’s dangerous territory. As faithful Catholics, it’s up to us to learn what the Church teaches and to know the difference between Church doctrine and discipline.

The Eucharist is a perfect example. In a few minutes, Father will take the bread and wine, which will be presented to him by members of the congregation representing all of us. The bread and wine are your gifts to God. Then he’ll turn that bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. That’s God’s gift to you. It’s scriptural and has been taught by the Church since the very beginning. If you don’t believe it, then you’re not a Catholic. It’s a core belief and it’s non-negotiable. In fact, according to Saint Paul, if you partake in communion without believing it is what it is, then you’re guilty of the Body and Blood of Christ.

On the other hand, the Church calls us to fast for an hour before we receive His Body and Blood. If you forgot and ate a donut 59 minutes before communion, are you committing a sin? No, that’s a discipline. It’s something we should do, not something we have to do. It can change and it did change after Vatican II. Remember, you used to have to fast for twelve hours. Under certain circumstances, for example, if you’re a patient in the hospital, you can receive the Eucharist at any time.

Disciplines can change, doctrine can’t. Remember when you couldn’t eat meat on Friday? It wasn’t that long ago.

Recently our former Archbishop, Cardinal Burke, has been in the news for things he’s said that aren’t in agreement with Pope Francis. You may wonder, how can this be? Who are we supposed to believe? If you study what both men have said, they don’t disagree on Church doctrine. The disagree on disciplines. Male alter servers aren’t Church doctrine. If the good Cardinal thinks servers should all be altar boys, that’s his opinion. Again, it’s something that has changed over the years. Given the power of the feminist movement, it’s not likely to change back, but it could. In fact, there are still some dioceses where they don’t allow female servers. But, remember that here in Saint Louis he did allow girl servers when he was Archbishop. Frankly, it’s not that big a deal.

To wrap this up, today’s readings remind us that Jesus has a special kind of authority and He shared that authority with His Apostles and their successors, the Pope and the Bishops. It was unique. It was radical. It was outrageous! It’s no wonder that the Jewish authorities didn’t want Him around. His authority was a challenge to their authority.

Make no mistake, there are people alive today who hate Jesus and His Church. Why? For the same reason. Jesus’ authority, and by extension the authority of His Church, is a challenge to them. If I’m in the business of selling sin, our course I’m going to hate the Church. If the Church challenges my political authority, I’m going to hate the Church. If I represent a religious denomination that doesn’t accept the Church’s teachings, I’m going to hate the Church. If I suddenly decide to divorce Jan and marry another guy, I’m probably going to hate the Church. Any time the Church challenges anyone on anything, there’s going to be a backlash. Remember that there were enough people who hated Jesus that they tortured Him and killed Him.

As Catholic Christians, we have a responsibility to know what the Church teaches, to accept those teachings, and to share those teachings with others.

If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.

33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

If Father were preaching today, he could choose any of the readings as the basis for his homily. But as a married deacon, I feel kind of obligated to talk about the first reading from the Book of Proverbs, especially if I want to avoid any painful consequences later at home. It’s not that Father can’t talk about the virtues of a good wife. It’s just that I can speak from experience.

 

“When one finds a worthy wife, her value is far beyond pearls. Her husband, entrusting his heart to her, has an unfailing prize.” You don’t have to be married to understand this statement. I know lots of men who have worthy wives. But, thanks be to God, I can include myself in that blessed group.

 

“She brings him good, and not evil, all the days of her life.”

 

The writer goes on to describe other virtues of a good wife and ends by saying, “Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting; the woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her a reward for her labors, and let her works praise her at the city gates.” All I can add to that is “AMEN!”

 

Some people in the 21st century will look at this and say, “Wait a minute! This is sexist language. Women aren’t meant to take care of men. We’re all equal!” To that I would say, “yes, we’re all equal in the eyes of the Lord but we’re not the same. Just today (yesterday) there was an article in the Post about remarriage. Don’t misunderstand what I’m about to say. We all know the Church doesn’t condone divorce and remarriage. Marriage is ‘til death do us part. But we also deal in reality and we know that spouses die and marriages end for other reasons. The point is that research has shown that newly unmarried men are almost twice as likely to get married again as newly unmarried women.

 

The conclusion of the research is that this is because men need someone to take care of them and women aren’t necessarily excited to take on that role again. Another example of researchers spending a lot of time and money to find out something the rest of us already know. Women are the nurturers. That’s why God in his infinite wisdom made women to be mothers.

 

A case in point. Last week Mrs. Buckley was out of town for a couple of days. I hated it. She makes this trip every year and God knows she deserves time for herself. But I can barely function on my own.

“When one finds a worthy wife, her value is far beyond pearls.”

Forty-six years ago this week, I moved out of my mother’s house and moved into our house. I’ve never lived alond. I’ve never had to fend for myself. I’m not much of a cook. I don’t know how to do the laundry. I’d rather sleep on the couch than have to make the bed. I totally missed an obligation I had on Friday morning because my alarm didn’t go off and there was no one there to get me up. Frankly, I’m pretty useless when it comes to taking care of myself. This may not be politically-correct, but it’s just the way it is.

 

The article in the Post pointed out that older men who remarry are much more likely to marry a younger woman. I think it’s because older women know better. Been there, done that. They’re not interested in becoming caretakers for another helpless old man. Of course, there are exceptions. Two older riends of mine were married a few years ago. Both of their spouses had died. But, they had been living alone for a while and the husband had figured out how to make it on his own. For the record, they’re very happy. They do things together and they do things separately. God bless them. I think they may be the exception to the rule.

 

This brings me to today’s Gospel. We all know the story of the talents. The servants who used the master’s money wisely were rewarded. The guy who buried his share of the money in the ground, not so much. God has given all of us talents which we’re supposed to use. Whether we use our talents to earn a living, or to take care of our families, that’s what God wants us to do.

 

A perfect example of using our talents was on display here at Saint John’s last Sunday. We’re blessed to have some very talented cooks. We have people who can organize things and get things done. We have a deacon who’s smart enough to stay out of their way. Today we have over $6,000 in the bank that wasn’t there a week ago. We also have new friends who came and saw what a group of dedicated people can do when they invest their God-given talents for a common cause. No one person was responsible for our success. It was a group effort and there’s no doubt that the Holy Spirit was present to help us and guide us to use our talents in the most productive way. It’s all about teamwork, and sadly, some people who prefer not to be part of a team chose not to participate. My prayer is that we can continue to work together, as a team, using our various talents and skills to build up the Kingdom of God in our small corner of the world.

 

Frankly, fund-raisers are a lot of work and can be a pain in the you-know-what. But I don’t look at the events we hold here as fund-raisers. The money is nice but it’s only a way to keep score. We made more money this year than we did last year, so some might say the event must have been a success. But our mission here isn’t to sell goulash and beer. Our mission is to make disciples and that’s much harder to measure. But from what I saw, we did God’s work last Sunday and I know that He will continue to bless us. And make no mistake, our devotion to the Holy Infant of Prague is a big part of everything we do that’s good.

 

window damage - 01I’m sure some of you are wondering about “the window” and some of you may not even know about it. Late Wednesday night someone threw a brick through our beautiful Nativity window. They tried to break several other windows, but the Plexiglas covering did it’s job, stopping any further damage. We have insurance which will cover most of the cost of the repairs, but it’s still discouraging that someone would deliberately damage something so beautiful   Your first reaction is probably the same as mine; anger, disappointment, confusion. As a flawed human being, when I first saw what happened I wanted to catch this person and see that they’re punished.

 

But since Thursday morning, the story was covered by Channel 2 News and the outpouring of support has been amazing. We’ve heard from current and former members of the community who want to know how they can help. We’ve found out that we have a lot of support in the community. We’re fortunate that the company who originally created the windows is still in business and they’re dedicated to restoring the window to its original glory.

 

The publicity generated from this unfortunate event has been very positive. While it’s only human nature to be angry with the person who did this, we have to understand that this person has some serious issues. A person who would attack a house of God needs help. Rather than be mad, it’s important that we pray for this individual. God creates good out of evil and it’s up to us to make that good happen. We’ve gotten support from friends and strangers in South City and from throughout the Saint Louis area. Even a friend of mine, a protestant minister who lives in Wyoming, offered his condolences.

 

Thanks be to God that the damage can be repaired and that no one was hurt.

 

Saint Louis is bracing for potential violence and property damage on a much bigger scale when the Michael Brown grand jury verdict is announced. If and when it happens, we at Saint John Nepomuk should have a greater insight into the bigger picture. Everything happens for a reason and great good can come from evil. As Catholic Christians, our task is to pray. Pray for our city and pray that the basic goodness of people will win out. We must also be vigilant. While Ferguson may seem like a long way from us, violence and property damage can happen anywhere, even right here at our own church.

 

I’m going to end with a personal story. My son and his wife live on Nottingham in South Saint Louis. Nottingham is one of those streets where Halloween is a big deal. Jan and I were there to help give out candy to nearly 800 kids. The neighborhood is almost entirely white but most of the kids who were trick-or-treating were either black, or Hispanic, or Muslim.

There were no problems. The kids were well-behaved and polite. There were times when there were thirty or more kids lined up at my son’s house to get candy. There was no pushing or shoving. Frankly, it was an awesome experience. I couldn’t help wondering, where was CNN? Where was Channel 5? Where was Mayor Slay? The media has painted Saint Louis as the epicenter of racism and violence of the entire country. Yet, something as simple as Halloween brought all these different people together just to have a good time. That’s our city. That’s who we are. A few agitators, many of them from out of town, have given us a huge black eye. But we know better.

 

Jesus said “a little child shall lead them.” Maybe when the Grand Jury makes its announcement, we should all give out candy. Wouldn’t that be nice?

 

Dear readers, You can see more pix of the window damage on Saint John’s Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/SaintJohnNepomuk

 

 

20th Sunday of Ordinary Time

The prophet Isiah lived in the 8th Century B. C., or about 800 years before Christ. Nearly 3,000 years ago he’s writing about racism. He writes that “foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, ministering to him, loving the name of the Lord, and becoming his servants” will be brought to the holy mountain. He says, speaking for the Lord, “my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”

 

Remember, the Jewish people didn’t play well with others. Foreigners were the enemy. But here’s Isiah telling the Jewish people that foreigners who join themselves to the Lord will enter the heavenly kingdom. This was pretty radical stuff and you can bet that a lot of people didn’t like it.

 

Then we have today’s Gospel, where a Canaanite woman asked Jesus to have pity on her and to heal her daughter. Jesus ignored her. Again, the Jews and the Gentiles hated each other. Jesus’ disciples came to him and said, “Send this foreigner away. She’s bothering us.”

 

What Jesus does next is surprising. He tells the woman that He’s been sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Do you think maybe He’s trying to teach the disciples a lesson? Maybe He wants them to see for themselves how wrong they are. He even calls the woman a “dog”. But this woman is no dummy. She says that even the dogs get to eat the scraps that fall from the table.

Finally, Jesus praises the woman for her faith and heals her daughter.

 

Then we have our second reading where Saint Paul is writing to the Romans who are gentiles. Keep in mind that on most Sundays, our readings aren’t in chronological order. The first reading is usually from the Old Testament. The second reading is taken from the New Testament, after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Then we have the Gospel which usually falls between the other two readings in time.

 

Because the Gospel is Jesus’ words, it deserves the place of prominence as the last of the three readings. It’s like when you go to a concert, the headline act comes on last. The opening acts get the audience ready for what’s to come. It’s not a great analogy, but I hope you get the idea.

 

Anyway, Paul’s job is to convert them to the gentile Romans to the new Christian faith. He tells them, “I glory in my ministry in order to make my race jealous and thus save some of them…..For God delivered all to disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all.” Like Isaiah, Paul is making a pretty radical statement. Again, the Jews and the gentiles hated each other. But here’s this new religion claiming that they’re all equal in God’s eyes.

 

See, racism isn’t new. Over the centuries, Jews have hated gentiles, then Muslims. There’s centuries-old animosity between the English and the Irish. And of course, today there’s the issue of black and white Americans.

 

The people who started this church were the victims of discrimination. When they came up the Mississippi River they weren’t allowed to settle in Saint Louis. Like the other immigrants, they were forced to locate outside the city limits. When word got out that the Bohemians were going to build this beautiful church, there were a lot of people who thought they couldn’t do it. Face it, a lot of people hoped they would fail. Who did these Bohunks think they were, anyway?

 

When my Irish ancestors arrived in America they were faced with help wanted signs that said, “No Irishmen need apply.” Newspaper editorial cartoons depicting Irish as monkeys were common. There’s even a term for anti-Irish, Hibernophobia. Here in Saint Louis, in 1854, the year our church was founded, there were anti-Irish riots.

 

You may not be aware of it, but there are people who hate us because we’re Catholic. Because Saint Louis is a fairly Catholic town, after all it was named after a Catholic saint, we don’t see as much of it as you might in other places, but believe me it’s there. I was shocked by some of the literature that was handed out here during Pope John Paul’s visit. It was pretty bad. Even our local media have an anti-Catholic bias that’s hard to overlook. You may not realize it, but every one of us has suffered some form of discrimination because of our faith.

 

We all have prejudices, some of us more than others, but we all have them. It’s only human nature for us to want to be around people like ourselves. But, that’s no excuse for hating someone just because they look different than we do, because they worship differently than we do, or because they have different political opinions than we do. There’s just too much hate in the world.

 

Muslims and Jews hate each other. Blacks and whites hate each other. Democrats hate Republicans and vice versa, so much so that nothing ever gets done.

 

You’ve probably figured out by now that what I’m leading up to is the situation in Ferguson. I have no idea what happened in the confrontation between Michael Brown and the police officer who shot him. Nobody knows except the people actually involved. We have to trust the investigators who are trying to figure it all out.

 

What we do know is that there’s a tremendous amount of racial tension in Saint Louis and all over America. Sadly, it seems to be getting worse. The thing is, the government isn’t going to solve the problem. Maybe it can’t be solved considering that Isaiah wrote about it 3,000 years ago. But God calls us to love one another. That doesn’t mean that we have to hang out with people who make us uncomfortable, but it does mean that we shouldn’t be so antagonistic to each other.

 

I’m sure you’ve noticed that most of the people who’ve been trying to diffuse the situation in North County are ministers; black ministers, white ministers, Catholics and protestants, including our own Archbishop Carlson. With the exception of a few misguided souls who think that they’re above the law and entitled to just take the things that they want, nobody wants to see people get hurt. Nobody wants to see violence in the streets. People in North County, and all over the country for that matter, just want to live their lives in peace.

 

Jesus used the Canaananite woman to show the disciples how wrong they were to dismiss her just because she was different from them. Isiah said that the kingdom of heaven was for all. Saint Paul risked his life to take the new faith to the gentiles, even though he was Jewish himself. God is love. He doesn’t want to see His creation destroy itself with hate.

 

So, what can we do? The biggest thing we can do is to pray. We should pray for those who are victims of discrimination, whether it’s racial, religious, or philosophical. Churches all over the area have been holding special prayer services during the last few days. And, guess what? It’s working. Things are calming down. The violence has subsided. But until every one of us, black, white, or whatever, starts looking at others as God’s creatures, there will always be an undercurrent of hate and distrust.

 

We should also pray that God opens our own hearts to those who are different from us. Of course we have to use common sense and be vigilant for our own safety, but we have to accept the fact that just because someone looks different from us, it doesn’t mean they’re a danger. We all want the same things; peace, safety, a loving family, food on the table and a roof over our heads. We all want to live in a world where violence is a thing of the past. Will it ever happen? I don’t know. But I can sure pray for it and work for it. So can you.

PRAY FOR PEACE!