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.

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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.

Happy Birthday, America!

This is the homily I gave this weekend.  Enjoy!  And, enjoy your holiday!

 

American Flag“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

 

This line is from the Declaration of Independence.  We all know it, but do we ever really think about it?  This weekend we celebrate the birthday of our country.  A lot of us will go on picnics, or go to ballgames, or go to the lake.  There will be barbecue, and everything that goes with it, and a lot of beer.  There will be days off work. There’s nothing wrong with that.  Except for the lake and the beer, I plan to do some of these things myself.

 

But what about the meaning of Independence Day?  We’re living in a time when so many people take our freedoms for granted.  The Declaration ends with the words, “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred honor.”

 

This small group of men was setting about an almost impossible task.  We were going to war with Great Britain, the most powerful military force on the planet.  If we had lost, and without the protection of Almighty God we almost surely would have lost, these men were pledging their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.  They would certainly all have been killed.  Their families would have been killed.  Their property would have taken away.  And, instead of being remembered as American heroes, we’d remember them as British traitors.

 

But they had faith.  Don’t let anyone tell you they didn’t.  God’s name is all over the writings of these men.  

 

Speaking about our Constitution, James Madison wrote, “It is impossible for any honest person not to be astonished (that the Constitution had been created in spite of seemingly insurmountable obstacles).  It is impossible for the religious man not to once again perceive the finger of that Almighty Hand that so frequently and notably extended relief to us during the critical stages of the Revolution.”

 

No reasonable person, religious or not, could believe that this handful of farmers and businessmen could create the greatest form of government in the history of the world on their own.  They were blessed, and we’re blessed by a God who wanted us to be an example to all the world.

 

This handful of men from all parts of the colonies, with diverse backgrounds and religions, were actually able to agree on this thing.  There were no filibusters, no demonstrations, no walkouts.  They just did it.  The Holy Spirit had to be involved.  Today’s politicians can’t even agree on when to go to lunch.

 

Sadly, we’re living in a time when so many people take our freedoms for granted.  People from all over the world are literally dying to come here.  Many of them can’t even comprehend our lifestyle.  We can go wherever we want.  Do whatever we want (within reason) and say just about anything we want.  We may not realize it but that’s not true in a lot of other countries.    Sadly, it’s those freedoms that may be our undoing.

 

In Christian charity, we have welcomed people from all over the world to join us.  Now many of those people are attacking our Christian principles.  We can’t have the Ten Commandments in our courthouses.  We can’t have Nativity scenes on public property.  People who work in retail stores aren’t even supposed to wish us a Merry Christmas.  Where’s it all going to end?

 

As Catholic Christians, we belong to one of the few minorities that can be ridiculed without fear.  People can say whatever they want about us and it’s OK.  

“Catholics are all child molesters.”  “Catholics don’t care about anything but abortion.”  “Catholics worship statues.”  “Catholics are cannibals because they eat the Body of Christ.”  The more ridiculous the anti-Catholic statement is, the more people want to chime in.  And, we let them do it.  Look at how Muslims react to anti-Muslim rhetoric.  

They won’t stand for it and we shouldn’t either.

 

The Fourth of July is called “Independence Day” for a reason and it’s not because we get the day off work.  God has made us free.  God has blessed the United States with the most abundant natural resources in the world.  This place couldn’t have happened any other way.  But now, we’re being told that “one nation under God” is discrimination against atheists.  

 

If I go any further, I’m going to really go off on a rant, so I’ll stop now.  I just want to urge you to take some time this weekend to give thanks to God for making you an American.

 

Our ancestors made a terrifying journey across the Atlantic and up the Mississippi to settle in this neighborhood so they could enjoy the freedoms that they didn’t have in their home country.  When they got here they found prejudice against them from the locals who were former immigrants themselves.  Yet this was still way better than they left behind.  Like our founding fathers, they risked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.

 

While we drink our beer, and eat our barbecue, and watch our ballgames this weekend, let’s not forget the brave men and women who made it possible.

fireworks

 

The Lord’s Prayer

Today’s Gospel introduces us to the Lord’s prayer (if we’ve been living in a cave or on another planet.)  Jesus tells His disciples not to “babble” when they pray.  Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.  This is how you pray”

‘Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy Kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.’

Since this prayer was given to us by the Lord, we call it “The Lord’s Prayer” or we may call it the “Our Father).  Whatever we call it it’s truly a universal prayer, a catholic prayer.  (catholic with a small “c” means universal.)

It’s often considered a Catholic prayer (capital c) because Catholics are known to memorize certain prayers and trot them out when the occasion calls for them.  More about that in a minute.

If you’ve ever attended a “mixed marriage” between a Catholic and a Protestant you’ve surely noticed that the bride’s family and friends are on one side and the groom’s are on the other.  Of course, if you ever find yourself in such a predicament the first thing to remember is NEVER MAKE EYE CONTACT with anyone on the other side.  But soon you may notice that we’re not all that different.  In fact, at some point in the proceedings both sides will begin saying, “Our Father who art in heaven.”  Wow!  We say that prayer too.

The trouble comes when everyone says “but deliver us from evil” and you say “amen” and start to sit down,.  But before your bottom hits the pew you go “Wait a minute!  They’re not stopping!”

So you jump back up and wait for them to finish.  The conclusion is known as a “Doxology” and is not part of the original prayer.  In fact, in the Catholic liturgy, at the conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer, the priest gives an extended Doxology which concludes with the words (accompanied by the faithful in the pews) “for the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours, now and forever.”

But, that’s not what’s important.  What is important is that all Christians pray the same essential prayer, as Jesus taught us.  The Holy Father says the Lord’s Prayer.  Kings and presidents say the Lord’s Prayer.  Ordinary people say the Lord’s Prayer.  And even down-and-out drunks hold hands and recite it at the end of every Alcoholics Annonymous meeting.  It is indeed universal.

Now, about those memorized prayers, like the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary, the meal prayer, the bedtime prayer and others.  Catholics are often criticized for our dependence on these “canned” prayers.  Now, there’s not a thing wrong with good extemporaneous prayer.  I know people who can make a meal prayer last fifteen minutes.  But Jesus just told us not to babble.  God knows what we want.  “Bless us O Lord and these gifts which we are about to receive from thy bounty, through Christ our Lord” pretty much covers it.

Here’s the thing.  We begin to memorize all these prayers as small children (at least those of you who are cradle Catholics).  They become part of us.  They’re so ingrained in our subconscious that we’re praying them even when we’re not aware of it.  We become the prayer.

When I was in hospital ministry, it wasn’t unusual to have a Catholic patient, near death, maybe even comatose who would move his or her lips when I prayed the Our Father.  Sometimes they would even try to make the sign of the cross.  Their parents had no idea when they taught them those prayers eighty years ago that those prayers would carry them into the next life.  This is pretty strong stuff.  So never be embarrassed by all those prayers you learned as a child.  Someday they will come in handy.