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!

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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.

Retreat Postscript

arch

Yesterday was a travel day as we returned from Gesthemani, KY.  It’s always a transition to come back from retreat life to “real” life.  First of all there’s the time difference.  Gesthemani is in the Eastern time zone, Saint Louis is in the Central time zone.  It will take a while for my body clock to reset.  Second, there’s the “normal” events of life that don’t seem so hectic normally, but after a few days of life at the monastery,  it all seems kind of overwhelming.

I always come back from retreat determined to spend more time in prayer and contemplation.  I did that today, at least so far, but I don’t know what tomorrow will bring with morning mass, a breakfast at Saint John’s to introduce the new deacon, a 7:00 pm meeting, and a party afterwards.  That sounds like a hard day to find time for contemplation and reading.  We’ll see.  At least in my reading this week I learned some short prayers that can be said on the fly, keeping God at the front of my mind all day.

As usual, I came back with an arm-load of books.  All I have to do is find time to read them.  I’m looking forward to my retirement in December.  Maybe then I’ll have more time.

I was asked “what did you learn on retreat?”  Well, as I posted the other day, I learned to be willing to accept other people’s help, allowing them to be Jesus.  I think that’s big.  I also learned some things about contemplation and meditation.  That’s something the Monks are known for and something we should all cultivate.  With so much junk coming at us from all directions, it’s not easy to empty your mind and be open to God.  But it’s something we all have to learn to do.  There’s tremendous freedom in pushing all the stuff away and making room for God.

I believe that our souls have a finite amount of space in them.  The bad stuff can’t get in if we fill ourselves with the Holy Spirit.  But it takes work.  It doesn’t just happen.  Frequent repetition of the simple prayer “God come to my assistance.  Lord make haste to help me.” is one way to push out the negative thoughts.  For those who practice the Liturgy of the Hours, each hour begins with this prayer.  There’s no reason why we can’t repeat this request of God all throughout the day.  Try it.

I have more retreat news, so stay tuned.

I’m going to leave you with an audio clip of the Monks chanting Compline, or Night Prayer.  It’s fairly short and doesn’t vary much from day to day.  You might want to listen to this tonight (and every night) before you go to bed.  It’s very peaceful.

4 Nights Alone in a Single Bed

retreat bedroom

This week I’m on retreat at Gesthemane Abby in Kentucky.  The Abby is where Thomas Merton lived and you can feel his presence wherever you go here.  The guests live in pretty simple accommodations and eat simple food.  In fact  at dinner (12:30 pm, more on that in a minute) they ran out of meat before I got there.  Sidebar, when I first started coming here 14 years ago they didn’t serve meat so my meal of stewed tomatoes, mashed potatoes and salad wasn ‘t all that bad.

So, what’s the deal?  Why drive 322 miles to sit in the woods and read?  The daily schedule goes like this:

3:15 am (yes, am) Vigils, the first prayer of the day.  To be perfectly honest, I used to get up for this, but as the years have gone by, not so much.  This morning I didn’t even try.

5:45 am Lauds.  This is morning prayer.  Most retreatants get up for this.  I’m ashamed to report that today my alarm went off at 5:00, I thought about getting up, and when I looked at the clock again it was 7:00.

Sixish is mass following 5:30 am vespers.  Note that I missed those too.  Breakfast is served after mass at 7:00.  I didn’t miss breakfast.

There are more hours of prayer throughout the day ending with Compline, or night prayer at 7:30 pm.  The prayer routine is broken up by supper at 6:00, following Vespers. Notice that they don’t have lunch here.  They have dinner at 12:30, which is the main meal of the day, and supper at 6:00.  There’s no room for lunch.

Face it, you don’t come here for the gourmet chow.  It’s a place of prayer and reflection and food is served out of necessity.  The rest of the time is spent either in the chapel or someplace engaged in private prayer, reading.  God is definitely present here and you can choose how you want to encounter Him.

retreat library

One thing that’s new this year is wifi in the library.  I will be able to post what’s happening all week.  I expect something significant.  It always happens when I come here.  I have a lot to pray about what with family and friends, parishioners at two churches and an upcoming job change.  I’ll keep my readers in my prayers as well.

I hope to be able to post some pictures this week but at the moment I’m having some technical difficulties so for now, I’m borrowing some pics from the monk’s website.

retreat abby

 

22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

I have recently been advised of a change in my assignment.  I wasn’t really prepared to announce it so soon, but the information has leaked out so I felt like it was prudent to talk about it today.  Have a happy and safe holiday weekend and please pray for the people of Texas and Louisiana….also the folks in the Pacific Northwest who could use some of that water to put out the wildfires.

In spite of what you may have heard from Three Dog Night, Jeremiah was not a bullfrog.  Jeremiah was a prophet who lived around 650 BC and this isn’t one of his best days.  He’s ticked off at the Lord and he tells Him so.  “You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped.”  Strong words, especially when they’re directed at the Almighty.  But things aren’t going well for him.

 

He’s accepted the position of prophet, but when he speaks, people make fun of him.  Believe me, that’s no fun. Jeremiah is fed up and says he’ll never speak of the Lord again.  But “it becomes like a fire burning in (his) heart….(He) grows weary holding it in.  (He) cannot endure it. So he continues to speak and he’s persecuted, sent into exile in Egypt, and eventually killed by his own countrymen.

 

700 years later, we find Paul writing a letter to the Romans.  He’s giving them a warning.  “Do not conform yourselves to this age.”  He tells them that if they do conform to the age they won’t be able to discern the will of God.  Sounds kind of familiar, doesn’t it?  The world of the Romans in the years after Jesus death and resurrection isn’t really Christian-friendly.  Paul’s telling them that they must be in the world, but not of the world. The situation that you and I face today as Catholic Christians isn’t all that different from Paul’s world over 2,000 years ago.

 

We Christians have always been kind of a counter-cultural bunch.  Living the words of Christ has never been easy, which is exactly as He told us it would be.

 

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”  There’s really nothing ambiguous about that.  It’s all right there.  There are no loopholes, no exceptions.  So why doesn’t everyone do what He says.  Remember, in John’s Gospel Jesus tells us that we’re His friends if we do what He tells us.

 

Here’s what we know:

  1. Jesus is the Son of God.
  2. He gave us some very simple rules to live by; basically love one another, keep the 10 Commandments, do unto others as we would have them do unto us, take up our cross and follow Him.
  3. If we do what He says, we’ll go to heaven and, inversely, if we don’t do what He says, we’ll go to hell.
  4. He created a Church and gave the Apostles and their successors the power to speak for Him.  Remember, “whoever hears you hears me”.  He put Peter and his successors in charge of His Church and promised that “the gates of hell” wouldn’t prevail against it.

 

That’s it!  That’s all we really need to know.  Frankly I don’t understand why so many people don’t get it.  Sometimes I feel like Jeremiah.  Preaching the Gospel isn’t always popular.  Some people just don’t want to face facts.  But I can’t not do this!  Like the man said, “I grow weary holding it in.”  I hope you feel the same way.  As we leave here today, let’s remember what Jeremiah, Saint Paul, and Jesus are saying to us.

 

Don’t hold in the fire.  Let it out. Share the good news in spite of the personal consequences.  There are a lot of people who don’t want to hear about Jesus, and they sure don’t want to hear that they might be going to hell. They want to maintain this fantasy that they can do whatever they want and there won’t be any consequences.  But are we doing them a favor by not correcting them?  If you saw someone about to step off the edge of a cliff, wouldn’t you yell “stop”?

 

Don’t conform yourself to this age.  There are powerful forces surrounding us every day that want to push us down the wrong path.  Don’t let them win.  Like they used to say in the ‘60s, “keep the faith, baby”.  Truth doesn’t change.  What was true 2,000 years ago is true today.

 

And, finally, think as God thinks, not as humans think.  Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Him.  He will come back.  There will be a judgment.  He will repay each of us according to our conduct.  That’s a promise from the Son of God Himself.

[pause]

 

Twenty years ago, in 1997, God called me to become a deacon in His Church. I didn’t understand it (still don’t) and I fought it for a while. But God put me in a position where I was able to spend a couple of hours with a deacon who I knew and trusted. He told me to go for it. So, I enrolled in deaconate formation.

 

After five years of study I was ordained in 2002, fifteen years ago, still not completely sure I was doing the right thing. But like Jeramaih, I couldn’t not do this. The path was very clear, I was assigned to Saint Bernadette parish, my home parish since 1975. It was a very natural progression but the Gospel is very true when it says “the prophet is not without honor except in his own town.”

 

 

Fortunately I was blessed to have a great pastor who helped me make the transition from lay parishioner to ordained minister. I was very blessed. During that time I was also a pastoral care volunteer at first Saint Joseph Hospital then at Saint Clare. I was also working a full-time secular job until I retired in 2009

 

Then in 2010 things got a little more complicated. The Archbishop called me to a new assignment, Director of Saint John Nepomuk Chapel. I would be the first deacon in Saint Louis to take over a church without a pastor. My retirement didn’t last long.

 

I’d be lying if I said that this wasn’t a boost to my ego. Something new. I’d be a pioneer. No one had ever had this job before. I said I’d give it a try for three years. That was seven years ago.

 

I kept my ties with Saint Bernadette doing weekly communion services and assisting with funerals.

 

Now the pastor at Bernadette is having some serious health issues. He’s very limited in what he can do. It’s especially hard for him to say mass. He needs help. So, I’ve decided to give up this assignment and go back to Saint Bernadette. My health isn’t that great either and frankly I’m ready to go back to just being a regular deacon with no administrative responsibilities.

 

Fortunately there’s another deacon in the Archdiocese who is looking for more to do. Deacon Joe Iovanna will be joining us here at Saint John’s on September 18. He will serve as Assistant Director, learning the job. When his training is complete he will take over as Director, some time before the end of the year.

 

I will gradually transition back to Saint Bernadette during that time. I hope you will welcome Deacon Joe into the community and be patient with both of us as we make this change. I’ve known Joe for a long time and I’m sure you will like him.

 

19th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Two readings today, one from the book of Kings and one from Matthew’s Gospel speak about wind. In the first the Lord tells Elijah to go outside and stand on the mountain. “The Lord will be passing by.” Elijah was taking shelter in a cave from a heavy wind. From the description this wasn’t just a little breeze. This wind was rending mountains and crushing rocks. But Elijah knew that the Lord wasn’t in the wind.

 

There was also an earthquake and then a fire but the Lord wasn’t there either. But then Elijah heard a tiny whispering sound and hid his face in his cloak because he knew that that was the Lord.

 

We’ve heard this story a hundred times. We could almost repeat it from memory. But what does it mean to us today? The wind and the earthquake and the fire represent all the things the secular world throws at us. Television, movies, the Internet—these are all things represented by the wind, the earthquake, and the fire. They’re loud. They’re intrusive. If we let them they drown out the voice of God.

 

If we’re going to be disciples, and remember disciple means student, then we have to find a way to drown out all the distractions. We have to take time to listen to that tiny, whispering voice.

One way to do that is what most of us are doing right now. We come into God’s house to listen to his word. I say most of us because some of us have our minds a hundred miles away. We’re distracted by a lot of different things and we need to learn to focus on what’s right here in front of us. This hour is God’s time. “This is my beloved Son! Listen to Him!”

 

The chapel is usually open at 4:00. If you need some quiet time in the presence of God come early. Sit and pray on whatever’s bothering you or just reflect on the lives of the saints depicted in our statues. There are more than forty of them so you’ll have material for a lot of Saturdays. The rest of promise to be as quiet as we can.

 

Then we have to make quiet time the other six days to listen to His Voice. Set aside time each day to pray. And when you pray, don’t treat God like some supernatural Santa Clause. “Give me this! Give me that! Give me patience and do it NOW!” Sometimes we have to shut up and listen. Remember that Jesus taught us to ask God to “give us this day our daily bread and deliver us from evil.” The rest of Jesus’ prayer focuses on God, not on stuff.

 

In Matthew’s Gospel we find the wind analogy used in another way. The Apostles are in a boat and the wind is tossing it one way and then another. The men were afraid just like you and would be in the same situation. Picture yourself in that boat and imagine how afraid you would be.

 

But, then, here comes Jesus strolling across the water. That scared the Apostles even more. They thought He was a ghost. Remember that every time Jesus did something amazing it was something that had never been done before. So again, put yourself in that boat. There’s a raging storm and some guy is walking across the water toward you. Who wouldn’t think it was a ghost? But Jesus calls out to them, “Hey, guys! It’s Me Jesus, not a ghost.”

 

So then Peter, good old goofy Peter says, “Lord, if it’s really you, command me to walk on the water, too.” Jesus tells him to come on, and he actually does walk on the water for a little while. But then he gets scared and starts to sink. He calls out to Jesus to save him. “Jesus stretched out His hand and caught Peter and said to him, “O you of little faith why did you doubt”

 

He’s talking to you and me. With Jesus’ help we can do anything. But aren’t we like Peter sometimes? We know we can do something with God’s help but we get scared and wimp out. Faith is belief in something when we have no proof. We have faith in God. At least we say we do. But when we’re faced with a challenge, do we have faith that He’ll see us through or do our doubts and get the better of us, like poor Peter.

 

Alcoholics Anonymous has cured millions of hopeless drunks with their twelve step program based on faith. Face it, when most people show up at AA’s door they’re not carrying a Bible and quoting scripture. They’ve hit bottom and may think God has abandoned them. But AA has shown over the years that the person most likely to help an alcoholic is another alcoholic. And no matter how little faith the new person may have in God, the evidence of his or her sponsor will eventually lead them to faith. For many AAs, the road to a cure is like walking on water. With faith it can be done.

 

Some of us have more faith in the local baseball team than we do in God. Weren’t we all sure when the Cardinals were struggling that they’d find a way to come back? Now they’re just a game out of first place. Was it Rally Cat? Maybe. A few years ago it was a squirrel. Don’t we sometimes put our faith in the strangest things?

 

Put your faith in God and you can do anything, even walk on water.