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.

The Lord’s Prayer

Today’s Gospel reading may well be one of the most significant passages in all of Scripture.  Jesus tells His disciples how to pray.

“In praying, do not babble like the pagans,
who think that they will be heard because of their many words.
Do not be like them.
Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

Then He teaches them the Lord’s Prayer.

When you talk to God, don’t babble.  Too often we treat God like Santa Claus.  Give me this! Give me that!  Give me patience, Lord!  DO IT NOW!

The Lord’s Prayer can be dangerous in that we ask Him to forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, but Jesus tells the Disciples this.

“If you forgive men their transgressions,
your heavenly Father will forgive you.
But if you do not forgive men,
neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.”

If you’re not ready to forgive then maybe you shouldn’t ask God to treat you the same way.  I’m just sayin…….

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.

4th Sunday of Lent

Laetare—Rejoice!

 

Today we take a break from the more solemn Sundays of Lent and say “rejoice!” For this one day we put away the the purple and bring out the rose. It’s a symbol of the joyful nature of our Catholic faith.

 

Today we hear the famous parable of the Return of the Prodigal Son. It’s a familiar story. We’ve heard it hundreds of times. What can I possibly tell you about it that you haven’t heard before? Probably nothing. But, hey, it’s my job so I’ll give it a try.

 

Starting at the beginning, before we even get into the story of the father and his two sons. Luke tells us that Jesus is hanging out with tax collectors and sinners and the Pharisees and the scribes don’t like it one bit. The tax collectors and sinners are like the Prodigal son and the Pharisees and scribes are like the son who stayed home. We may miss this first paragraph, but it’s the whole reason for the parable. He wants to teach them, and us, an important lesson. The story of the Prodigal son, and his father, and his brother is a story about prayer.

 

So, we begin the actual parable and the younger son says to his father, “Give me the share of your estate that should come to me.” “Me, me, me. It’s all about me.” Admit it. Isn’t this how we pray sometimes? “Give me this. Give me that. Me, me, me.” We’re like the seagulls in the Disney movie who keep saying, “Mine, mine, mine.” All the young son is thinking about is what he thinks he has coming.

 

To our modern ears this young man seems to be just a little greedy. But, in Jesus’ time, his attitude would be considered much worse. In that culture, what the young son is saying to his father is “You’re dead to me. You might as well go ahead and give me my share of the inheritance now.” It was about as hurtful a thing as anyone could say to a parent. But the father, being a good dad, says “yes” and the kid packs up his stuff, takes the money, and leaves home. His prayer has been answered. But, as most of us know, you’d better be careful what you pray for.

 

The kid blows all the money on wine, women, and song. He ends up broke and alone, doing about the worst job any Jew could think of, taking care of pigs. He’s so low,he wishes he could have some of the food that the pigs are getting. He’s hit rock bottom.

 

In modern-day twelve-step programs that’s considered the turning point. When an alcoholic or an addict hits that bottom, then he or she is ready to ask for help. In this young man’s case he realizes that he belongs at home. Maybe dad will treat him as well as he does the hired servants. That’s all he wants. So he heads home. In his mind he practices what he’s going to say. His prepared speech sounds an awful lot like confession, doesn’t it. “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. Please take me back.”

 

For the next point we have to shift back into first-century mode again. While the young man is still far off his father sees him coming. That means the wise older man isn’t surprised to see sonny coming back. He’s been waiting and watching for him, just like God waits and watches for you and me when we’ve strayed. He knows we’ll be back eventually. What does the father do? He ran to his son!

 

That was not the protocol in those days. Even the most compassionate father would have seen the boy coming and waited for him, maybe with open arms, but he would have made the son come to him. Not this guy! He ran to meet his son, again just like God runs to meet us when we call out to Him.

 

We know the rest of the story. Father rolls out the red carpet for younger son. Older son is jealous. “When YOUR SON returns you slaughter the fatted calf!” He can’t even bring himself to call the other son his brother. Take that Pharisees and scribes! In your face!

 

This parable has been the subject of several books, probably the best by Henri Nouwen called, surprisingly, “The Return of the Prodigal Son.” It’s a good read and sheds more light on this story than I ever possibly could. You should read it.

 

But, here’s what I take from it. The Prodigal son’s prayers are all about himself. “Give me the share of your estate that should come to me.” Sadly for him, he gets what he asks for. When he hits bottom his prayer suddenly changes. “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. Please take me back.”

 

When the young man’s prayer becomes focused on his sinfulness, rather than what HE wants, the outcome is a whole lot better. That’s how it works. God answers our prayers when we focus on Him and on others. Not my will, but thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Very simple but very difficult.

 

By now you should have all received your Beyond Sunday information. Please prayerfully consider what you can do to help educate our kids. They’re the future of the faith and they need our help. Every one of us had some kind of Catholic education, either in Catholic school or in PSR. Someone had to pay for that and chances are it wasn’t us. Our parents, our fellow parishioners, and people we didn’t even know made sacrifices so we could get that education. Now, we’re being asked to pay some of that back.

 

In today’s bulletin there’s a list of employers who will match your contribution to Beyond Sunday. Maybe the company you work for or are retired from is on that list. If so, be sure you check the matching gift box on your pledge card.

 

If not, it’s still important to realize that so many big companies, many of them not based in Saint Louis and not run by Catholics, recognize the importance of Catholic schools in our community. They know that our schools produce well-educated, moral young people who make their companies more successful. Hopefully, as Catholics, we recognize the same thing.

 

God told Saint Francis to build His Church. Being a deacon, Francis didn’t quite get the message straight and started hammering nails and cutting boards, actually building church buildings. After a while he realized that that wasn’t what God meant. Build the Church was something entirely different.

 

Over a century ago, Bohemian immigrants started building this church, this physical building so that you and I would have a place to worship in 2016. Today you and I are being asked, like Saint Francis, to build the church, not by physical labor, but by our prayers and our contributions. Let’s not be like the Prodigal son, praying only for ourselves.

3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

 

In the first reading today, from the book of Nehemiah, the Hebrew people are returning to the city of Jerusalem. The city has been devastated by invaders and it’s in ruins. Think about the people who live along the Meramec River who are trying to rebuild their lives after the devastating floods. Everything is gone and now they have to rebuild.

 

Nehemiah, who was a priest, has called the people together, men, women, and children old enough to understand. He’s reading to them from the Torah, the first books of what we now call the Old Testament. You might say it’s kind of a pep rally. Nehemiah wants to motivate the people for the huge task that lays before them. The job seems almost impossible. I imagine it was a lot like Monsignor Hessoun speaking to the parishioners here at Saint John Nepomuk after the tornado of 1896 destroyed their beautiful church. The people needed inspiration.

 

So, here’s Nehemiah, speaking to the people. He stands on a wooden platform that’s been built for the occasion, and he reads to them from the Holy scrolls. Notice that he spoke from dawn until noon, about six hours. Think about that! In our world, if mass runs much more than 45 minutes, people start looking at their watches.

 

But the Hebrew people weren’t watching the time. They weren’t in a hurry. They were listening to the words of the Torah. It’s their history; their story. How did they respond? They wept! They shouted, “Amen! Amen!” It must have been quite a moment.

 

The Jews, God’s chosen people, needed to be reminded of who they were. Are we that different? Don’t we need to be reminded of who we are? Isn’t that one of the reasons we come to mass every week? As Christians, these stories are our stories. But, I imagine that if I invited you to come and listen to six hours of scripture readings, I might be here by myself. In our modern age we’ve been conditioned to experience the world in sound bites. We may have around-the-clock news coverage on television and on the Internet, but most of us are lucky to sit through a half hour evening newscast, and that includes sports and weather and eight minutes of commercials. We always seem to be in a rush.

 

When was the last time you wept in church? Maybe at a wedding or funeral, but the typical mass usually doesn’t cause people to break out in tears unless the homily is really bad (or long). But as Bishop Robert Barron says, “If we stop hearing the stories we forget who we are; who we are as Catholics.”

 

As Catholics, we have a wonderful heritage.

But in the last fifty years the Church has tried to become more mainstream, more transparent, and I think we’ve lost something. Take a look at this church. We have a lot of visitors and they usually can’t get over how beautiful it is. They don’t build churches like this anymore. So-called “modern churches” look more like gymnasiums than places of worship. We’re very blessed to have the privilege of worshipping in a traditional, CATHOLIC church.

 

Of course God lives in the more modern places, but this chapel is our heritage. It’s our history. It’s a place our ancestors gave their time, talent, and treasure to build, not once, but twice. When we come here we’re reminded of the thousands of people who have worshipped here before us, and the statues and windows remind us of all the saintly men and women who built our Catholic faith over the centuries.

 

What does the future hold? Who knows? I do know that things have to change. Look around at all the empty seats. That’s a trend, not just at our chapel, but throughout the Catholic Church and other churches too. So many people just don’t see the need to worship the God who created them. We’re surrounded by sin. This weekend marks the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade decision. MILLIONS of innocent children have been murdered in their mother’s wombs. And, according to a recent poll, 50 PERCENT of Americans think that’s OK.

 

We’re shocked and scandalized when a child loses her life from a stray bullet in a shoot-out in our city, and we should be outraged, but when thousands of kids lose their lives in a single day at the hands of the abortionists, half of us think it’s a “women’s health” issue. It’s just a choice. And even those of us who believe in the sanctity of human life don’t do anything to make the killing stop. We shake our heads and say it’s a shame, but other than this one weekend a year, it’s not even on our radar screens. Come this November, many of us will vote to elect pro-abortion politicians, even though we know better.

 

In the second reading, Paul talks about the body having many parts and how no one part is more important than any other. When one part of the body hurts, the whole body suffers. “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jew or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.”

 

John Henry Newman said that the Church “is not an organization. It’s an organism.” That pretty much sums up the message today. Don’t ignore your history. Don’t be afraid to speak out when our faith is under attack. Don’t remain silent while our future is taken away from us in the abortion mills. Choose carefully when it’s time to vote.

 

Know your faith and live your faith. When the time comes for our final judgment, we all want to hear the words from Luke’s Gospel that we heard just two weeks ago on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord; “You are my beloved son (or daughter); with you I am well pleased.”

1st Sunday of Advent; Noah (not the ark)

1st Sunday of Advent

I’d like to start by being the first to wish you “Happy New Year!” Today we begin the season of Advent, the start of the church year. You have new missalettes in the pews. Last weekend we came to the end of the Lectionary, the Sacramentary, and the Book of the Gospels and now we start all over again. In the three-year cycle of readings, Year B is over and today we begin Year C. The green vestments and church decorations have been put away and replaced with the purple. The first Advent candle has been lit.

 

More important than that, today we begin the season of preparation for the coming of Jesus Christ into the world. While we’re bombarded with ads for the latest and greatest “stuff” that our friends and family absolutely must have to make their lives complete, we Catholics are into a season of prayer and reflection.   Is it possible for us to live in both worlds? It is, but we have to work at it.

 

Our purple is in sharp contrast to the brightly colored lights and decorations we see all around us, but there’s a reason for that. In this oasis we call the church, we find a quiet and calm that we may not find anywhere else, except in our own hearts and minds if we take this season of prayer seriously.

 

Sometimes sources of prayer can come to us in unexpected places. Last weekend Jan and I were in a gift shop in Saint James, Missouri. There’s a little bit of irony in the fact that the town is named for a saint because I found something there that was entirely unexpected. Meet Noah. As you can see, Noah is a teddy bear. I know you can’t read what it says on his T-shirt, especially from the back of church but it says, “Prayer is a path where there is none.” That’s a pretty profound thought for a stuffed bear. It’s worth repeating. “Prayer is a path where there is none.”

 

Prayer is a place where we go when we need help. It’s a place to find peace and serenity. It’s where we go to be alone with God. It’s not a physical place. Obviously this chapel is a place of prayer and that’s why we come here. But we can pray anywhere and at any time. Maybe we have a special place set aside at home for prayer. Maybe we pray throughout the day at any time or any place. During Advent we’re encouraged to pray more often, and more deeply, than during what we call “Ordinary Time”.

 

The Son of God came to save us from our sins. Without Jesus, we have no hope. That’s what Advent and Christmas are all about. My little friend here has some pretty profound things to say, so I thought I’d let him deliver his message to you today. Here’s Noah.

 

I really can’t add much to what Noah said. One key point is this: “Life is a gift. Prayer is a thank you note.” We may have a tendency to use our prayer time telling God how to do His job. “Do this. Give me that. Not thy will, but my will be done.” But, especially during this special season, shouldn’t the emphasis be on HIS WILL? When the Apostles asked Jesus how they should pray, He gave them the prayer that we say at every mass, the prayer that we learned as little children. “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

 

Hopefully, as we spend the next four weeks getting ready for the celebration of Jesus’ birth, we’ll remember Noah’s words. “I don’t pray because it makes sense. I pray because my life doesn’t make sense without prayer.”

 

Noah is the voice of Noah benShea, an author and motivational speaker. Learn more about him at http://noahbenshea.com.

 

 

24th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s Gospel is the famous story of Jesus and the disciples on the way to Cessarea Philippi according to Mark. Jesus asks the disciples “who do people say that I am?” They others give give Him a variety of answers but Peter says “You are the Christ.”

The story goes on that Jesus tells them He must be killed and rise again on the third day. There’s a line here that I love. “Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him.” Good old Peter, he’s my hero. He always manages to say and do the wrong things. Who the heck rebukes Jesus? Peter has just said that Jesus is the Christ, now he has the nerve to rebuke Him? He’s calling the Son of God a liar?

Of course Peter pays for his foolishness, just like he always does. Jesus calls him Satan. “Get behind me!” He says. I imagine that Peter knew he’d made a mistake as soon as the words left his mouth. If he was Homer Simpson he would have said “Doh!” But it was too late. I think we can all relate. How often do we say things and right away we realize we’ve made a mistake. But once the words are out there, the damage has been done.

On the other hand, Jesus tells him that he’s thinking like a man and not God. But, what did Jesus expect? Peter was a man. Jesus was God. It seems reasonable that Peter would think the way he did.

If we look at Matthew’s Gospel we find the almost identical story with one difference. In Matthew’s telling of the story Jesus also calls Peter Satan. He also tells him that he’s thinking like a human being. Everything is almost exactly the same. Almost.

In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus says to Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.”

Jesus acknowledges the fact that Peter has been blessed with knowledge that he couldn’t have gotten anywhere else. Isn’t the same thing true for us? We can read all the Scripture we want. We can listen to all the learned Christian speakers of this time and all the time before. But the idea that this man, this Jesus of Nazareth, is the Messiah, the Son of God, doesn’t make sense. It’s not logical. Nothing like this ever happened before or since. Peter’s understanding comes from faith, just like our understanding comes from faith.

Jesus has built His Church on the Rock, Peter. He built it on faith. Peter wasn’t a smart man. We see throughout the Gospels that he was always messing up, saying the wrong thing. That gives you and me hope. Because, in the end, after Peter cut off the Centurian’s ear; after he denied he even knew Jesus, not once, but three times, after the resurrection He told Jesus, not once, but three times that he loved Him. And each time Peter told Jesus he loved Him, Jesus told Peter to feed His sheep. In other words, “Lead my Church.”

Week after week you and I come to church. We hear the readings and the homily. The message doesn’t change. Jesus was the Son of God. He performed miracles. He told us to love one another. But when it’s all said and done, there is no proof that He was who He said He was. We have to have faith. Like Peter, these truths are revealed to us by Jesus’ heavenly Father.

The Holy Spirit, the Advocate that Jesus left us has to move within us or the Bible is just a nice story book written thousands of years ago. If that Spirit isn’t working within us, then we might as well be reading from the Book of Mother Goose.

Sometimes you have to wonder why Jesus didn’t surround Himself with the best and the brightest. Why did He choose tax collectors and fishermen? Why did He pick the Apostle who seemed the least likely to be a leader to be the head of His Church? It’s simple. He did it to give hope to you and me. If these twelve guys could build a church that would grow into the millions of members, they had to have help. And while we aren’t called to judge anyone, we have to feel pretty good about our own chances when we look at the men Jesus chose.

Through baptism and confirmation, we receive that same Holy Spirit. Every one of us is able to spread the Gospel just as well as Peter and the others did. That’s what we’re called to do every single day. All these saints that we venerate in this beautiful church did it, even though most of them were far from perfect Christians. They inspire us to do the same.

So, when we read the Scriptures, when we look at all these men and women whom the Church has declared to be saints, we’re inspired by the words and deeds of these holy people. But we also realize that we have the same opportunity to share the Gospel as they did. And, when we realize that they had the same faults and failings that we do, we have the hope that we can do what they did. We can use the talents and gifts that God has given us and be examples of faith to others.

When we’re tempted to remain silent, maybe afraid that we’re going to look foolish if we speak up, we need to remember that, even in the beginning of the Church, God chose flawed human beings to deliver His message to other flawed human beings. That’s His plan for humanity. You and I are just as much a part of that plan as Peter, or the other Apostles, or any of these saints.

What an awesome God we have! And what an awesome opportunity we have to tell the world about Him through our words and our actions!