All Saints

Today is the Feast of All Saints.  It’s a day when we remember the hundreds of saints who don’t have their own feast day.  But our non-Catholic friends might ask us, “Why do Catholics pray to the saints. Only God can answer prayers.”

True enough.  Only God can answer our prayers.  The fact is that we don’t pray to the saints.  We ask the saints to pray for us. The “litany of the saints” that we say on special occasions concludes with the words “pray for us.”  No Catholic, at least no Catholic who understand his or her faith, ever prays to a saint.

 

So, what’s the deal?  First of all, we believe that the saints are in heaven.  They are in God’s presence. Second, we believe that saints have a special connection to us either through our location, through our occupation, through our station in life, or in some other way.  When Catholics are confirmed, we take the name of a saint. In my case, it’s Saint Patrick.  When I pray, I ask Patrick to pray for me.  Since I’ve adopted him as my personal patron, I believe that he will intercede for me.  I think of him as a friend who lives in heaven.

 

Periodically the Church will canonize a new saint.  It’s important to remember that the Church isn’t making that person a saint.  She’s just recognizing the person’s holiness. Bernadette didn’t become a saint because Pope Pius said so.  All he did was recognize Bernadette’s holy life and add her to the list.

 

I live in the Archdiocese of Saint Louis.  Saint Louis IX is the patron of the Archdiocese.  I believe that he takes a special interest in those of us who live in his namesake city.  Saint Rose Phillipine Du Chesne and Saint Vincent De Paul are also patrons of our Archdiocese.

The Church has designated certain saints as patrons of vocations and occupations.  Saint Stephen, the first deacon, is the patron of deacons, along with Saint Lawrence, and Saint Francis of Assissi.  All three were deacons.  According to saints.sqpn.com, there are 23 saints who were deacons, and that doesn’t include the three that I’ve listed.

Maybe you, or someone you love has cancer.  Saints.sqpn.com lists six patrons saints for you to choose from.  On his feast day, February 3, we pray to Saint Blaise, patron of diseases of the throat.  Here’s a good example of praying through a saint.  When the congregation present themselves for the blessing, the deacon or priest lays crossed candles around the neck and prays,”Through the intercession of Saint Blaise, bishop and martyr, may you be free from all diseases of the throat and every other illness.” The key word here is “intercession”.  We’re not praying to Saint Blaise. We’re asking him to pray for us.

 

Maybe you’re a nurse.  You have eight patrons.  Soldiers, you have sixteen.  Even lawyers have eleven patron saints.  The list goes on and on.  The bottom line is that none of these folks can answer your prayers, but they can put in a good word for you.

Many of our protestant brothers and sisters think it’s scandalous that we try to sneak up on God through this spiritual back door.  But the same people will ask you or me to pray for them.

 

When I had my brain surgery in March, the members of my son’s Baptist church in Alabama prayed for me.  It’s the same thing. Remember the parable of the persistent widow? She kept coming back over and over again until the judge relented.  Likewise, I can ask God to bless my ministry. Or, I can flood heaven with prayers from my patron saints, my friends, and my family. This takes nothing from God.  It just moves the process along. I can ask for something 100 times, or I can ask ten people (living and dead) to pray for me ten times. The result is the same.

 

Of course, only God answers prayers.  To think otherwise is not Christian. But if you have friends who have His ear, it doesn’t hurt if they put in a good word for you.

Saints of God, pray for us.

 

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4th Sunday of Easter

PEACE BE WITH YOU!

Peter just isn’t going to let up on the elders and leaders of the people. Remember these guys would just as soon kill Peter as look at him. And eventually they do. But in our reading today from the “Acts of the Apostles he reminds them again that they crucified Jesus the Nazorean and that He has been raised from the dead. Peter is going to pay for his sharp tongue eventually, but not just yet.

 

He reminds them that the stone they rejected has become the Cornerstone. There is no salvation through anyone else.

 

Jesus begins today’s Gospel by saying, “I am the Good Shepherd”. Often in the Old Testament Israel had been referred to as sheep. One day God would send them a shepherd. Well, here he is and we celebrate Him on Good Shepherd Sunday. Interestingly, today is also the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. We are desperately in need of modern-day shepherds.

 

Jesus says that He’s the Good Shepherd. What makes Him better than the average shepherd? Well, He tells us. “A good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.” Are you kidding me?  We would expect a “good” shepherd to do everything in his power to protect his flock. But, when push comes to shove, when the wolf is threatening the shepherd himself, would we be surprised to see the shepherd run for his life. Isn’t a human life more valuable than a sheep’s life?   But we know that Jesus isn’t talking about four-legged sheep. He’s talking about two-legged sheep; you and me.

 

But, again, Jesus is God. Whoever heard of a God giving up his life for his creatures. That’s just outrageous! But, it’s what He did. He gave up His life for you and me. He was the “good” shepherd.

 

What else makes Jesus the Good Shepherd. He tells us again. “I know mine and mine know me.” Sheep, the four-legged variety, recognize their shepherd’s voice. When it’s time for them to follow him home he calls out to them and they know which shepherd to follow. Likewise, if a sheep is in trouble, his shepherd will recognize his cry, which is distinctive from other sheep. Sheep’s voices actually sound very human.

 

Our God, even though He created the entire universe, isn’t some far-off diety. He’s close enough that He can hear and recognize our voices. That’s how He hears us pray. He knows our voice and we know His.

 

In a few minutes, we’ll all pray, both as a community and as individuals. At the same time Christians all over the world will be praying. And, He’ll hear all of us. Jesus isn’t A Good Shepherd, He’s THE Good Shepherd. He hears us and we hear Him.

Thy Will Be Done

Lord's prayerIf you’re like me, you say the Lord’s Prayer often, possibly many times per day.  After all, it’s the prayer that Jesus himself taught us.  The Apostles asked Him how they should pray and He gave him this prayer, so we call it the Lord’s Prayer.  But do we say it so often that we don’t consider what it means?  I’m afraid maybe we do.

For example, I’m going to have surgery tomorrow.  It’s called “insertion shunt ventricular peritoneal“.  Pretty scary, huh?  What it means is that they’re going to drill a hole in my head and insert a plastic tube in my brain.  The tube will then run down the side of my head, through my neck, and eventually end up in my abdomen.

inside outIt will relieve pressure that has been building up inside my brain and messing with the wiring.  Once all that extra liquid is gone, the things in my brain should have more room to move around and control my thinking, my balance, and who knows what else.  It’s a fairly common surgery.  They do it all the time.  But they’ve never done it to me!  To be honest, I’m a little scared.  No, that’s wrong.  I’m a lot scared!

Which brings me back to the Lord’s Prayer.  We begin by praising God, “hallowed be thy name.”  The very next line we say “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.”  We say it, but do we mean it?  If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times about this surgery.  “It’s in God’s hands.  It’s all about God’s will.”  And I believe it.  I really do.  But I don’t know what God’s will is.  Maybe His will is for me to jump out of bed and be totally cured.  But maybe His will is for me to be the same, or worse.

The good news is that by this time tomorrow we should have some idea.  It may be good news.  It may be bad knows.  But either way it’s God’s will and I have to accept it.  I want to accept it because I have faith in Him and I know that everything always turns out for the best.

So, keep me in your prayers and I’ll let you know how everything turns out.

Ash Wedndesday

Remember you are dust.  And to dust you shall return

So once again we begin the penitential season by being reminded how insignificant we really are.  Not only are we nothing more than dust, but in the end that’s all we’ll be again.  You may have grand plans.  You may think very highly of yourself.  But, guess what?  You’re dust.  Your plans are dust.  You’re much like the alcoholic who attempts to join a twelve step program.  He (or she) has to get past the first step,

We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and our lives had become unmanageable.

Let’s begin Lent with this prayer from Catholic  Household Blessings and Prayers:

Merciful God,

you called us forth from the dust of the earth;

you claimed us for Christ in the waters of Baptism.

Look upon us as we enter these forty days bearing the mark of ashes,

and bless our journey through the desert of Lent to the font of rebirth.

May our fasting be hunger for justice;

our alms a maker of peace;

our prayer, the chant of humble and grateful hearts.

All that we do and pray is in the name of Jesus,

for in His cross you proclaim your love,

forever and ever, Amen.

Pope Francis: Think ‘being good’ is enough? It’s not. Go to Mass

I’m pretty sure that the followers of this blof don’t NEED this post, but it couldn’t hurt.  Possibly you have adult family and friends who spout the old argument, “I’m good.  I don’t need to go to mass.”  Maybe you can subtly share this with them.

Well, last week our Holy Father attacked that argument head-on and gave all of us something to say to those people in reply.  No, being good isn’t enough.  Yes God is everywhere, but there’s a reason why we all go to a specific building to worship him.

I can’t add anything to the Pope’s words, but I am going to tell you a short story because it’s real and because it just happened a few hours ago.

I conduct a communion service on Thursday and Friday mornings.  Today I woke up with laryngitis.  I couldn’t talk at all.  I prayed to Saint John Chrystosom, patron saint of preachers, when I got to church,  asking him to pray that I could deliver some kind of  short homily.

When it came time for the homily, I started with a very weak voice, but as I continued to speak, my voice got stronger and stronger, and the brief comments I had planned turned into a full-blown homily.  God had restored my voice!  There’s power in all prayer, but the power of prayer said in church is special.

Here are the Holy Father’s remarks, not in English, but with subtitles.  Enjoy!

30th Sunday of Ordinary Time

This was the second to last homily at my current assignment.  I will preach one more time before I move on to my new post.  There were a few references to my move, but the main point of the homily was a reflection on the Gospel.  I hope you enjoy it.

We’ve heard this Gospel many times.  “Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”  We’re also to love our neighbors as ourselves.

 

Loving God sounds like a good idea.  After all, God gives us everything.  He created a perfect world for us in the Garden of Eden.  But then He created Adam, and everything got messed up.  Imagine being in Adam’s place.  Everything around him was perfect.  God said to him, “I’ve created all of this just for you.  You have perfect surroundings and perfect knowledge of all of it.  I love you and want you to be happy.  Oh, there’s just one thing.  See that tree over there; the one with the red fruit?  You can’t have that.  Stay away from it.  You don’t need it because you have everything else.”

 

Well, guess what?  Adam, being human like the rest of us, couldn’t resist.  He had to taste the red fruit.  So he did.  And here we are.  See, Adam didn’t trust God, and love and trust are the same thing.  We can’t love someone we don’t trust.  Just like you and me, Adam had free will and he chose to not trust God.  “The creator must be holding back something from me if He says I have to leave that one tree alone.”

adam-and-eve

 

In the twelve step programs, Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon, Narcotics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, and others, Step 3 says “We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God.” That’s a statement of trust and millions of people have been healed of their addictions by taking this step. But we’re independent creatures. The idea of completely turning our will and our lives over to someone else, even God, is hard for us to take. We like to think we can do anything we put our minds to. Down through history, our greatest heroes have been men and women who took the bull by the horns; who made something happen. “The meek shall inherit the earth sounds good, but do we really believe it?

 

Yesterday (Friday) Jan and I were taking care of our grandson, Finnegan. I had just fed him and he fell asleep in my arms. I was watching him sleep and I couldn’t help thinking how small and helpless he is. He has to rely on someone else to do everything for him. How can you not love someone so small and innocent?

 

It occurred to me that God must look at us the same way. Compared to His Majesty, we must seem as small and helpless as Finn does to me. Our problem is that we don’t recognize how helpless we are. We’re not babies anymore (at least most of us aren’t). In our own minds, we’re invincible. We can do anything on our own. But can we really? I don’t think so. We have to depend on God for the things we really need. And we have to depend on one another.

 

I’ve always been one of those people who thinks he can do anything. I’ve always prided myself (and remember what the Bible says about pride) on being self-sufficient. Then a year ago I was in the hospital twice in two months. All of a sudden there were a lot of things I couldn’t do for myself anymore. Having to ask someone to help you go to the bathroom, or just to turn over in bed, is a real wake up call. I HAD to ask for help. Poor Jan has been a saint when it comes to taking care of me. I still can’t put on my own socks and shoes. I’ve gotten so weak and have so little energy that I’ve had to retire from my job at Saint John Nepomuk.

 

In the process, I’ve learned a valuable lesson. People want to help! They love to help! It validates them and makes them feel good about themselves. When someone says to you, “can I help you with that” and you say, “no thanks. I’ve got it.” or something like that, you’re denying that person the satisfaction of being helpful. Your ego is denying them the opportunity to be Jesus for you.

 

One of my two trips to the hospital last year was the first week of November. I wasn’t here for the Goulash Festival. What would happen if I wasn’t here? Well, what happened was everyone worked together and it was the most successful Goulash Festival ever. It turns out I’m not indispensable at all. It’s a community event and the community made it happen. My job is really about staying out of your way. That’s when I seriously started thinking about retirement. I prayed long and hard and I believe my work here is done. God needs me somewhere else now.

 

“Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” That also means to trust Him with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. Turn your life and your will over to Him. When you pray ask for knowledge of His will for you and the power to make it happen. He will take care of you if you just give Him a chance and don’t let your ego get in the way.

 

 

 

 

 

What’s Up with People?

Today is Sunday.  I didn’t preach this weekend so I don’t have a homily to share, but there are some things on my mind that I’d like to get off my chest.  (How do things get from your mind to your chest??) Anyway, I’m home alone today (more on that later) which is never a good thing because I tend to ruminate over things I can’t control.  So, here’s what’s on my mind today.

There’s a blog called Beauty Beyond Bones that I highly recommend.  It’s written by a young lady who is recovering from anorexia.  Believe me, it’s not easy to go public with a disease which many people consider to be a defect of character.  But Caralyn doesn’t hold anything back and I know her words have helped many people.  She is a devout Catholic and doesn’t mind if anyone knows it.

On Monday she wrote a post about the massacre in Las Vegas.  It was a very thoughtful.  Among other things she wrote:

Instead of calls for prayer and compassion for the victims of the shooting, there is outcry for gun control reform.

Instead of numbers and addresses for blood banks to donate the vital lifeline so desperately needed in Vegas right now, there are email addresses and phone numbers to “flood” our congressmen and women about gun control.

Instead of comforting bible verses or religious images, there are political cartoons, using the pain and tragedy of others to parody and promote their stance on gun violence.

Instead of sorrow, and compassion, and empathy, there’s rage and outcry and defiance.

And it is disgusting.

lynchmob

All in all it was a great post but the response wasn’t what she expected.  Here’s a part of what she wrote on Thursday:

The response, and rather – the backlash – from the post, brought out, some not-so-nicewords, to put it lightly. My faith was questioned. I was told I was cursed by God – and that my singleness, infertility and history with anorexia were all signs of said curse. I was called names that would make a sailor blush. (All of said comments have been removed.)

What is wrong with people?  Obviously, these people are followers of Caralyn’s blog.  They know who she is and what she believes.  Why would they attack her?  That’s not to say that I’ve not been attacked both for this blog and for things I’ve said from the pulpit.  But I’m kind of a curmudgeon.  I expect to make people mad once in a while.  In fact, my Archbishop once told us that if we didn’t get any complaints, we weren’t doing our job.  But this young lady, who’s bared her soul to help others doesn’t deserve that kind of abuse.  I hope she doesn’t take it to heart.  The noisy few don’t outweigh the thousands of people who follow her blog regularly.

Speaking of what’s wrong with people, what’s the deal with these overpaid football players refusing to stand during the National Anthem?  Are they trying to make some kind of point?  What is it?  What do they want?  I just don’t get it.  This country that they seem to dislike so much has given many of them the opportunity to escape poverty, get a free education, and make millions of dollars per year for working(?) just a few months per year.  Maybe this country isn’t so bad after all.

If I could I would boycott their games but the NFL stole our team two years ago and moved them to Los Angeles.  I would boycott their games on TV, but I haven’t watched one minute of pro football since the Rams left.  I guess the only thing I can do is refuse to patronize the companies who sponsor the NFL.  Here’s a list for your consideration.

Finally, I mentioned that my wife isn’t home today.  She’s working.  Apparently her employer hasn’t heard about the Ten Commandments, especially number 4, “remember the sabbath day and keep it holy.”  Maybe they should take a hint from Chick-fil-a, Hobby Lobby, or locally Goedeker’s Appliances.

All three of these things just emphasize that our country is drifting away from God and that scares me.  God made America great and God can take us down again.

Please pray for our nation.