Third Sunday of Easter

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

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

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

[pause]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Eulogies

After assisting at my third funeral in a week and suffering through my FIFTH dreadful eulogy (Yes, some funerals have more than one) I was wondering why the funeral liturgy is the only mass where lay people are allowed to speak.  If family members have something to say at a wedding, that’s what the reception is for.  If someone has something to say at a baptism, they save it for the after party.  Imagine how long first communion, first penance, or confirmation would take if every parent got up to talk.  Only at the funeral liturgy, when family members are in a poor emotional state, do we allow them to speak.

Here’s what Catholic Answers says about eulogies:

According to the Order of Christian Funerals, there is never to be a eulogy at a funeral Mass (OCF 27), although the celebrant may express a few words of gratitude about the person’s life in his homily, or he may allow a relative or a friend to say a few words about the deceased during the concluding rite (GIRM 89). The remarks must be brief and under no circumstances can the deceased person be referred to as being in heaven.  (emphasis mine) Only the Church has the authority to canonize.

Contrary to common assumption, the purpose of the funeral Mass is not to celebrate the life of the deceased but to offer worship to God for Christ’s victory over death, to comfort the mourners with prayers, and to pray for the soul of the deceased. Relatives or friends who wish to speak of the deceased’s character and accomplishments can do so at a prayer service to be held in a home or funeral home or at the graveside following the rite of committal.

Here’s what typically happens.  The priest or deacon homilist has done exactly what the rite calls for us to do, that is to offer comfort to the mourners, to celebrate Jesus’ victory over death, and to pray for the soul of the deceased.  Having done that and offering Holy Communion to the Catholic’s in attendance, the rite calls for silent reflection followed by the final prayers.

Sadly, at many funerals, family members think it’s a good thing to stand up before those assembled and to try to speak.  Often they end up making fools of themselves, becoming a teary mess.  Who ever thought this was a good idea?  Besides making themselves look foolish, they destroy the moment.  Whatever peace Father or Deacon has brought to the family is replaced with sadness and sympathy for the eulogist.  We humans are a sympathetic bunch.  When the speaker breaks down, chances are we’re going to do the same.

If a person has been a faithful Catholic all of his (or her) life, shouldn’t their last interaction with the Church on earth be the best it can be.  We have professional clergy who have been trained to do the job.  Let’s save amateur night for some other occasion.

One last thought, notice the sentence in the Catholic Answers quote that I put in bold type.  Without getting into too deep a theological rant here, the Church teaches that when we die in a state of grace we will go to heaven after a period of cleansing which we call purgatory.  We have no idea how long this period is, it could be minutes or it could be years. We just don’t know.  That’s why we pray for the dead.  If we thought that our loved one went directly to heaven, what’s the point of praying for them?

While we don’t want to talk about grandma being on the outside looking in, it’s not accurate to just assume she’s in heaven.  Father Benedict Groschel once said, “The worst day in purgatory is better than the best day on earth.”  Plus, once we’re in purgatory, we know we’re going to heaven.  That’s what the Church teaches.  That’s what we believe.

Our HOPE is that we will get to heaven one day.  There are no sure things.  In fact, (gasp!) some of us aren’t going to heaven.  Sorry, but it’s true.  It’s just another reason why it’s best to leave these things up to the pros.

Don’t our loved ones deserve the best sendoff we can possibly give them?  I think they do.

Vigil of Pentecost

Today is the Vigil of the Feast of Pentecost, the end of the Easter Season.  Tomorrow the Holy Spirit will descend on the Apostles.  Without the Spirit, the Apostles would have just been twelve guys who might not have had the courage to carry out God’s plan.  Believe me, standing up in front of people, preaching the good news of the Gospel isn’t an easy task, especially in the first century, when there was a very real threat of death for preaching this radical new faith.

 

Today is also the day when Archbishop Carlson ordained twenty men to be permanent deacons.  One of several questions he asked the prospective deacons was, “Are you resolved to discharge the office of deacon with humility and love in order to assist the bishop and the priests and to serve the people of Christ?”  The key words here are “humility” and “serve”.  These words remind the deacon, just as tomorrow’s celebration reminds all of us that we must be humble, and that we must serve one another.

 

As followers of Christ it’s easy to fall into the trap of pride.  After all, we’re all chosen people.  We must be pretty special.  But none of us is more special than anyone else.  The only thing that makes any of us different from anyone else is our particular talents, and those talents are given to us by God.  If we ever forget that, then we fall into the sin of pride.

 

Part of my calling is to preach.  Most people are more afraid of public speaking than they are of death.  But my call doesn’t make me special.  It just means that God has put me in a position to expand on the day’s readings.  Trust me, that’s all the Holy Spirit.  I’m just His spokesman, repeating what He wants you to hear.  I’m not afraid to speak because the Spirit is with me.

 

Here’s what the Archbishop said today in his prayer of consecration over the new deacons, “Lord, look with favor on this servant of yours, whom we now dedicate to the office of deacon, to minister at your holy altar.  Deacons have an office, just as priests, religious men and women, and all of you have an office.

 

“Lord, send forth upon him the Holy Spirit, that he may be strengthened by the gift of your sevenfold grace, to carry out faithfully the work of the ministry.”  Before I was ordained, I did some public speaking.  I guess I was ok at it. I got paid for it.  But I wasn’t inspired.  I guess I had some talent, but I didn’t have the gift of the Spirit.

 

The Archbishop uses the words “unassuming authority” and “May he in this life imitate your Son, who came, not to be served, but to serve, and one day reign with Him in heaven.”  All of us, deacons, priests, and lay people, are called to serve, just like Jesus came to serve.

 

We all received the Holy Spirit when we were confirmed.  For most of us that happened a long time ago.  We may not remember what was said.  The bishop’s prayer for us was very similar to the prayer of Ordination, “My dear friends, in baptism God our Father gave the new birth of eternal life to his chosen sons and daughters.”  There’s that word, chosen.

 

Let us pray to our Father that He will pour out the Holy Spirit to strengthen his sons and daughters with his gifts and anoint them to be more like Christ, the Son of God.”

 

“Send your Holy Spirit upon them to be their Helper and Guide.  Give them the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence.  Fill them with the spirit of wonder and awe in your presence.”

 

Judgment, courage, knowledge, reverence wonder and awe.  These are the gifts we receive; the same gifts the Apostles received on that Pentecost so many years ago.  Today we acknowledge those gifts and pray that we never lose them.  Jesus promised that he would never leave us alone; that the Spirit would be with us as our advocate.

 

After mass tomorrow, we’ll take down the Easter decorations.  We’ll put away the white vestments and return to wearing the green of ordinary time.  With a few exceptions we’ll wear the green until November 30, when we’ll put on the purple of Advent.  But in the modern use of the word, there’s no such thing as an ordinary Sunday.  Every Sunday is extraordinary because we have the Eucharist.  It’s another gift that Jesus left us.  With the gifts of the spirit, judgment, courage, knowledge, reverence wonder and awe, we’re called to share our faith.  We’re called to be disciples, and to make disciples.  We’re called to do it with humility, remembering that all we have and all we are are gifts from God.

 

The fact that sometimes we don’t have a priest to celebrate with us is another sign of God’s will for all of us.  Only the priest can consecrate the Eucharist, but we’re all empowered to share it with one another, even when a priest isn’t present.  We can still approach the altar with wonder and awe, knowing that we all have a part in Jesus’ ministry, and that we’re in His Presence.  Any of us can assist in the distribution of Holy Communion.  Any of us can take Communion to the sick.  Any of us can share God’s Good News.  Any of us can be the disciples we’re called to be.

 

Before the Apostles received the Spirit on Pentecost, they were scared; scared to death.  But the Spirit gave them the courage to do what needed to be done.  On this vigil of the Pentecost, our prayer is that the same Spirit will empower all of us to share the Good News of the Gospel.

 

Please stand and renew your baptismal promises.

 

Ascension

This is my homily for the Feast of the Ascension.

Today we celebrate Ascension Thursday. I know it’s Saturday (Sunday). But a few years ago the Church decided that it was OK to move Ascension Thursday to Sunday, giving us one less Holy Day of Obligation. I’m not sure I understand it, but then there are a lot of things I don’t understand, so I’m happy to defer that decision to people who are much smarter than I am. Anyway……

 

Today we celebrate Jesus’ return to heaven. He ascended into heaven so we call it the Feast of the Ascension. We confirm our belief every weekend in the Creed. “He ascended into heaven.” Luke tells us in the Acts of the Apostles that Jesus appeared to the disciples many times during the time after His resurrection, proving that He was still alive. Then “He enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak.” In other words He wanted them to stick around until Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit would descend on them.

 

But, once the Spirit did descend on them, Jesus told them, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Then He ascended into heaven. He was gone! But not before He gave them their final instructions, according to Matthew’s Gospel, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

So, what exactly is a disciple?   According to the dictionary, a disciple is a follower or a student of a teacher. When Jesus commissions the Apostles to make disciples of all nations, He tells them to baptize and to teach. Then each new disciple is called to make more disciples. That’s how we got from twelve men to over a billion Catholics in the world today. But, are all those people disciples? No, they’re not.

 

In order to be a disciple you have to have a personal relationship with God through His Son and His Holy Spirit. Who is Jesus to you? What has He done in your life? Do you have a personal relationship with Him? He said He “would be with us always until the end of the age.” What does that mean to you?

 

I went to a three-day Catholic conference last week. Some of the things we heard were encouraging but some weren’t. We learned some statistics that are very startling. While you and I may be focused on our own problems and issues here in Soulard, the state of the Church in the United States isn’t all that great. I’m not going to bore you with a bunch of statistics, but here are some of the more scary ones.

 

Talking about mass attendance among people who say they’re Catholics, 45% age 65 and above go to mass. Of the next group, the Baby Boomers, age 47-64, only 20% go to mass. But like they say on the infomercials, “wait. There’s more.” Of the Generation X Catholics, age 26-46, only 13% attend mass. And of the youngest group, age 18-25, just 10% go to mass. Once they’re out of the house, nine out of ten Catholic young people stop going to church.

Think about that for a minute. How many of us are 65 or older? [hands] We’re the group most likely to go to mass, and even then, less than half of us do. What’s going to happen in the next ten years? The next twenty? I hate to be so blunt, but in twenty years most of us who raised our hands are going to be dead. If things stay the same, the age group behind us isn’t going to pick up the slack. One out of five of them are going to mass today. This beautiful church which as been around for more than a century will be just another vacant building in the City of Saint Louis.

 

I could give you a lot more of these statistics, but I just wanted you to have an idea of what we’re up against. But there IS good news. Whenever you hear statistics about Catholics, they probably are from a study done by the Pew Research Center in 2008. But something very dramatic has happened to the Catholic Church since 2008…….. and his name is Francis. For the last two years, since Francis’ installation as Pope, there has been a surge in positive feelings toward the Church, especially among young people. We have a tremendous opportunity to both be disciples and to make new disciples. Francis is the public face of the Catholic Church and people are liking what they see.

 

Remember that Jesus promised to protect His Church. His spirit guided the Papal Conclave to select this South American Cardinal to lead our Church at the time when we need him most. This holy man is opening doors that have been closed for a long time. Just this week he arranged a meeting between the leaders of Israel and Palestine at the Vatican. Jesus is alive and well and working through his new Vicar.

 

But, what about you and me? I said earlier that we must have a personal relationship with Christ if we want to be His disciples. I asked four questions: (1) Who is Jesus to you? (2) What has He done in your life? (3) Do you have a personal relationship with Him? (4) What does His statement ‘I will be with you until the end of the age” mean to you? I can’t answer for you, I can only answer for myself. Each of us has a different experience. But, if we’re going to be true disciples, we have to know our answers. If you and I are going to invite our fallen brothers and sisters back to the Church, they’re going to want to know your answers.

 

God answers our prayers. As you can imagine I pray a lot for things that will help keep this chapel going. This week I got a phone call from the Archdiocese. Jesus answered another of my prayers. He’s sending His Mother to visit us on June 21 and 22 in the form of the icon of the Black Madonna. This is a huge deal. The icon has traveled all over the world promoting Pro Life. It’s going to be in Saint Louis for two days. It will visit two churches.   It will spend Saturday morning at the Cathedral Basilica then will come to Saint John’s Saturday afternoon and Sunday. This is very exciting. June 22 is the day of our barbecue and picnic. Expect to see a lot of people here that day. You can’t tell me that God doesn’t look after us. Our prayers to the Infant of Prague have been answered again.

 

God isn’t some cosmic force who doesn’t care about us. He may have created our huge universe but he takes a personal interest in every one of us. That includes you and it includes me. We have a relationship with Him whether we know it or not; whether we want it or not. He loves us with a love that’s beyond our human understanding. All He asks is that we love Him back. If we do, then we’ll be genuine disciples.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Divine Mercy Sunday

[Today my church, Saint John Nepomuk Chapel in Saint Louis, MO celebrates the 160th anniversary of the first mass celebrated here.  This is my homily for today.  It’s intended for our community, but you may find some of it interesting.  Enjoy!]

Let’s pretend for a minute that we’re Bohemian immigrants. The year is 1850. After a very long trip across the Atlantic Ocean we arrive in New Orleans. After another long trip up the Mississippi we arrive in Saint Louis. Remember, we don’t speak English and Saint Louis is a French, Spanish, and English speaking city.

 

Lucky for us, we’ve found our way to a Bohemian settlement south of the city called Bohemian Hill. We weren’t allowed to settle in Saint Louis proper because the city was having a cholera epidemic and a lot of the locals thought that the immigrants were bringing the disease with them.

 

But, it could have worse. In 1854, the year our parish was founded, Saint Louis was the site of anti-Irish riots. We may have been immigrants, but at least we weren’t Irish.

 

Saint Louis was in the midst of an economic boom after the invention of the steamboat. Hundreds of ships docked at our port. A lot of our fellow immigrants found work loading and unloading the ships. Others, including women and children found work in the factories in the area.

 

In 1850, Blessed Pius IX was pope. Peter Richard Kenrick was Archbishop of Saint Louis, and Millard Fillmore was president of the United States. To put the time frame in a little better perspective, it would be just 15 years before Civil War broke out in the United States, 23 years before Eads Bridge was built.   It was 33 years before the first horseless carriage arrived in Saint Louis, and 34 years before the opening of Union Station.

 

Every Bohemian who settled in Saint Louis was not Catholic. But the ones who were soon got tired of going to mass in a Church where they didn’t speak the language. So, in 1854 they petitioned Archbishop Kenrick, an Irishman by the way, for their own church. The Archbishop agreed and the new parish of Saint John Nepomuk was established.

 

A year later, in 1855, the new parish built it’s first church and school, a wooden structure that stood on this very spot. It’s worth mentioning that in 19th century Europe, there was no such thing as “separation of church and state.” Churches were not self-funded. They were supported by the government or by rich land owners. There were no collections. When the local parish needed something, all they had to do was ask. The 1st pastor, Father Lipovsky, was born of European aristocracy and the idea of begging for money for his new parish was not to his liking. He resigned in 1856.

 

The second pastor, Father Francis Trojan lasted a little longer, until 1864. When he left the parishioners of Saint John’s requested a native Bohemian to be their pastor and Father (later Monsignor) Joseph Hessoun was appointed. Unfortunately, he had to travel from the Old Country to Saint Louis and the blockade of the Mississippi River during the Civil War made travel up the river impossible. Father Hessoun didn’t arrive in Saint Louis until 1870. No masses were celebrated here during that time.

 

A history of Saint John Nepomuk during Monsignor Hessoun’s pastorship would take much more time than I have today. I’ll just say that he built a new brick church in 1870 that was destroyed just 26 years later by the tornado of 1896. He led the parishioners in rebuilding the church bigger and better than it was before in 1897.

 

Monsignor Hessoun played a huge part in the spread of Bohemian Catholicism throughout the Midwest. He traveled to Czech communities and helped them establish their own churches. He is widely considered the “apostle to American Czechs”. In his spare time he also established and edited the first Czech/American newspaper in the United States. It was called “Hlas” which means “voice” and was published at the corner of 11th and Carroll.

 

This church has seen 12 popes, 8 bishops, and 31 presidents,     pastors, 23 associate pastors, and two deacon directors. We’ve survived the Civil War, two world wars, the Korean War, the Vietnam war, the cold war, two gulf wars and the conflict in Afghanistan. We’ve survived a tornado, two interstate highways, urban flight and a massive closing or parishes in the last decades.

 

What is it about this place that makes it so durable? Why is it still open? Maybe we should look at today’s readings for the answer. Luke writes in the Acts of the Apostles, “they devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.” This is an excellent description of those early founders of our church. They built this place because they wanted to worship together, in their own language, according to their own customs. They let nothing stand in their way.

 

Or maybe we should look at what Saint Peter said in the second reading. “In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable, even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, honor, and the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Tested by fire. Imagine how the parishioners of Saint John Nepomuk must have felt when they came down here the morning after that terrible tornado and saw what had happened to the beautiful church that they had built with their own hands, at a such a great sacrifice of time, talent, and treasure, just 26 years before. They must have been devastated. But there were plenty of Catholic churches nearby, they could have just moved on. But, they didn’t. Their response was to rebuild their beautiful church, bigger and better than ever.

 

Finally, look at the Gospel, the story of “doubting Thomas”. He refused to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead until he put his finger in the nail marks of His hands and put his hand into His side. Thomas, the doubter. What did Jesus say? “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” For 160 years, in spite of so many challenges, the members of this community have believed.

 

Today is Divine Mercy Sunday. That’s what it’s all about. God’s Divine Mercy. Just imagine if God was strictly fair. What if He was just with no mercy. You and I would be out of luck. None of us deserves to go to heaven. There’s nothing that you and I could do that would get us into paradise. We’re sinners! That’s what we are. There would be no hope for us without God’s Divine Mercy. He loves us. He wants us to be with Him. But we constantly disappoint Him. We just can’t measure up. But our God is a merciful God. That’s our faith. That’s our hope. That’s our salvation. Thanks be to God! He has shown His Divine Mercy to the members of Saint John’s in spite of all the challenges we’ve faced.

 

One reason I believe we’ve been so blessed and have been on the receiving end of God’s mercy is our devotion to the Infant of Prague. After every single mass we pray to the Infant, promising Him the fruits of our labors. We pray, “OH DEIGN IN THY MERCY THIS FAVOR IMPART!”   That’s what we pray for. His mercy. Especially on this Divine Mercy Sunday.

 

I can’t sit down without mentioning that today is a very special day in the life of the Universal Church. Today Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II will be canonized in Rome. What a blessing it is to have witnessed the lives of these two great saints firsthand. John XXIII called the Second Vatican Council which changed the Church forever and John Paul II was such a good and holy man that he’s set a modern record for the time it took him to be recognized as a saint.

 

Many of us had the chance to see John Paul in person when he was in Saint Louis. It was a life changing experience. We’re known as a church that venerates our saints. Now we have two more.

 

So, as we continue with mass today, let us give thanks to the thousands of people who have gone before us from this holy place. Let us emulate them in our faith and perseverance as we move into our second 160 years. And, let us continue to ask God for His Divine Mercy, especially in our devotion to the Holy Infant.

Finally, Saints John XXIII and John Paul II, pray for us. Amen.

Saint John’s web site

beautiful collection of photos of Saint John Nepomuk Chapel`

 

Good Friday

This was my Good Friday homily.  I hope you like it.  [mb]

Most of you know I was raised Baptist. Not much of a Baptist, but technically that’s what I was. At least, that’s what my mom was. In the Baptist church, you weren’t baptized until you were old enough to decide for yourself, usually in your teens. We went to church once in a while and I went to Vacation Bible School, every summer. But as a kid, my knowledge of religion was pretty meager.

 

What I knew about Good Friday in those days was that it was the day Jesus died….and that we got the day off from school.   That was in the days before political correctness, so even the public schools called it Good Friday. We also got the day after Easter off, which the kids called Good Monday.

 

We had a small family, just my mom and dad and me, and an aunt and uncle, Aunt Mary and Uncle Elmer. Aunt Mary’s mother lived with them. Her name was Aunt Fern. My mom worked, so I spent a lot of time at Aunt Mary and Uncle Elmer’s house.

 

The only time I remember seeing Aunt Fern in church, was at her funeral. I don’t even know for sure what church she belonged to. She was buried from the South Side Christian Church in Hannibal, MO, so maybe she belong to that one. That would explain why she never went to church. It was more than 100 miles away! Which is a long way of getting to the other thing I knew about Good Friday.

 

 

There were two things about Aunt Fern that would make you think she was a religious woman. One was a beautiful picture of Jesus that she had in her bedroom. It was the one where Jesus is standing outside the closed door with no door knob. I loved that picture even though I didn’t understand what it meant; that Jesus can’t come in unless you open the door for him. I used to lay on my Aunt’s bed and just stare at it.

 

The other thing was that Aunt Fern thought you would go straight to hell if you ate meat on Good Friday. She would have rather been tied to the railroad track in front of an oncoming train, than to eat meat on that one day of the year.

 

So, you can imagine that as a kid without much religious background, I knew that this was a very special day. What I never understood was why they called it GOOD Friday. If it was the day they killed Jesus, what could possibly be good about it. Even getting the day off school didn’t seem like enough to make it a good day. I thought it was a terrible day. It was the day of the worst crime in history; the day they murdered God.

 

That idea didn’t leave me until I was much older when I read this quote from someone names Sister Melanie:

What a paradox! We call good the day we commemorate Jesus’ passion and death. Why? Certainly Jesus’ death was anything but good. It was a terrible event–an awful evil, a loathsome crime. But we call today good because it revealed once and for all just how much Jesus really loves us–so much so that he could embrace such a horrible death for us. As we meditate on Jesus’ terrible sufferings, let us also ponder his tremendous love.

 

“Think of those who love you most. Now multiply those loves by a million, a billion, infinitely. That’s how much Jesus loves you. That’s how much God loves you.

 

“If we could really believe we are the apple of God’s eye, what a difference it would make in our attitude, our outlook our choices. How eager we would be to love someone else in the same way. Yes, there is much suffering in the Passion of Jesus–repeated beatings, the crowning of thorns, the carrying of the cross, the pounding of the nails in his flesh, the hanging on the cross. But most of all there is much love. Instead of merely feeling sorry for Jesus, let us accept the challenge to follow his way of loving–a way that inevitably includes the cross. Then we will have another reason to call today Good Friday.”

 

So, it is a good day after all. It’s the day Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for you, and for me, by shedding His blood on the cross.

 

In a moment, we’ll venerate this cross, as a sign of our love for Him. But let’s not end it there. Let’s live our lives as a sign of how much we love and appreciate the Lord for making such a sacrifice for us.

 

 

5th Sunday of Lent

For the third weekend in a row we have a fairly long Gospel. Even the short version is longer than we’re used to. But these three Gospels, according to John, are a set. In this “A” year we get to read some of John’s best work. Hopefully you remember that two weeks ago we heard the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. He said to the woman, “I am living water.”

 

Then last week Jesus healed the blind man. Jesus declared “I am the light.” Today we hear the familiar story of Jesus raising his friend Lazurus from the dead. You may wonder, as the people did, why didn’t Jesus rush back to save Lazurus while he was still alive. When He heard about His friend’s illness, he “remained for two days in the place where He was.” He also said, “This illness is not to end in death, but it is for the glory of God that the Son of Man may be glorified through it.” He could have rushed back and healed Lazurus. He could have even healed Lazurus “long distance”. He’s God. He can do that.

 

Remember that the people of Bethany, where Martha, Mary, and Lazurus lived weren’t exactly waiting to give Jesus the key to the city. They had tried to stone Him to death, so there was a certain amount of risk in going back there. But after two days, He did go back.

 

When He got there, Martha ran out to meet Him. She says to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now, I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” Imagine having that much faith! Lazurus has been in the tomb for four days. When they rolled back the stone the stench must have been overwhelming. But Jesus said, “Lazurus, come out!” And out he came. Jesus defeated death! That’s why Jesus had said “it is for the glory of God that the Son of Man may be glorified through it.”

Jesus makes His third “I am” statement. “I am the resurrection and the life.” Three Gospels—three “I ams”. I am the living water. I am the Light. I am the resurrection and the life.” Next Sunday, Palm Sunday, when we’ll all participate in the reading of His passion, Jesus will be asked twice if He’s the Messiah and both times He’ll answer, “You say that I am.” That’s a critical point. In this case it doesn’t matter what He says. It’s what we believe that’s important.

 

As Catholics, we’re supposed to look at the big picture. We don’t teach our kids individual Scripture passages. We tell them stories. On this fifth Sunday of Lent we’re near the end of a six-week experience. It’s “the greatest story ever told.” In just two weeks we’ll celebrate His glorious resurrection. Today He said that Lazurus must die “for the glory of God.” It’s a precursor to His own death which would also be for the glory of God.

 

So, what can we take home from today’s Gospel? I’d say that with God, anything is possible. We just have to have faith. There was no reason for Martha and Mary to believe that Jesus could raise their brother from the dead after he’d been in the tomb for four days. If anything, you’d think that they would be angry and disappointed that Jesus hadn’t been there to save His friend. But their faith was strong enough that they believed that Jesus could bring him back. And, so He did.

 

But what about us? When we ask Jesus for something do we really believe He’ll come through for us? Or do we have doubts? Think about the people who built this church. Nobody, and I mean nobody in Saint Louis in 1870 thought Bohemian immigrants could build such a beautiful house of God. Everybody expected them to fail. But they had faith. They didn’t think; they didn’t suspect; they didn’t hope; they knew that their prayers would be answered. And when they were finished, people came from all over to celebrate their accomplishment with them.

 

Then just 26 years later they had to do it all again when the tornado destroyed what they had built. And again, they KNEW they could do it. That’s the kind of faith that built this place and filled the pews several times each Sunday.

 

Now, if I were to look you in the eye and say to you that we can restore Saint John Nepomuk to that former glory, how would you respond? Would you think I’m crazy? Would you say it’s impossible? Or would you say, “Yes! With God anything is possible. If Jesus could raise Lazurus from the dead and then raise Himself from the dead, then He can certainly make this church come alive again.”

 

As we prepare to celebrate our 160th anniversary this year, I want you to think about what you can personally do to ensure that we have a 170th and 180th and beyond. I suggest we all start with prayer. Ask God for the faith necessary to move mountains. Because it’s faith that will attract more people. They may come the first time to see the statues, or the stained glass windows, but it’s our faith that will bring them back again.

 

That means working together and loving one another. There’s no room for negativity in God’s Church. A house divided against itself cannot stand. If we want to do more than just keep the doors open, we all have to be on board.

 

Our Church, both this chapel and the Catholic Church in general is in a crisis. That empty seat next to you used to have someone sitting in it. I believe that, like Lazurus’ death, this crisis is “is for the glory of God that the Son of Man may be glorified through it.” One thing that impresses people is when someone or some thing rises from the dead. Pope Francis seems to be the right man to lead this revival of the Church. I believe we can do our part right here in South Saint Louis.

 

Pray every day for our historic church. Tell anyone you can get to listen that we have something special here. Most important of all, love one another. That’s what Jesus asked us to do. In fact he called it the most important commandment. We’re living in a very impersonal world. Facebook and twitter have taken the place of face-to-face communications. Don’t get me wrong. I have almost 200 Facebook “friends”. We use social media to promote our chapel. But people are desparate for human contact.

 

If you and I go out of our way to make people feel welcome, to make them feel loved, we won’t be able to keep them away.

 

The shortest verse in the Bible is part of toay’s Gospel. “And Jesus wept.” Jesus, the Son of God, knew what He was going to do. He knew He would raise Lazurus from the dead. But the human Jesus, the man Jesus, had lost a good friend. He couldn’t help it. He cried. He became man so He could feel what we feel. And the loss of a friend, a human contact, filled Him with tears. He may have been constantly surrounded with His apostles, but Lazurus was His friend; His buddy. Even Jesus needed to feel the love of another human being.

 

Today’s Gospel is telling us to have faith, but it’s also telling us to have love. Love one another. Welcome visitors. Most of all, love God. He loves us and will do whatever we ask of Him as long as we have faith; faith as strong as Martha and Mary who believed in Jesus, even when He had disappointed them.