26th Sunday of Ordinary Time

“I came into the world. Free by nature, in the image of God, I was nevertheless the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the world into which I was born. That world was the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God, and yet hating him; born to love him, living instead in fear of hopeless self-contradictory hungers”.

These words, from Father Thomas Merton’s autobiography, “The Seven Story Mountain” were quoted by the Holy Father in his address to Congress on Friday. If you’ve been paying attention for the last few years, you know that I’m a great fan of Father Merton. In fact, I’ll be going on retreat to Gesthemane Abbey, Merton’s home, in a couple of weeks. Naturally, I was pleased to hear Francis choose him as one of four Americans, along with Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, and Dorothy Day, to cite in his talk.

I know you’ve been following the Pope’s visit to the United States, along with millions of other Americans, Catholic and non-Catholic alike. Wherever the Pope goes, especially this Pope, there’s a tremendous interest in what he has to say.

Thursday night I was talking to my brother-in-law and we were discussing what a huge impact this man has on everyone, regardless of their faith. I suppose it’s because he’s not just OUR Pope, he’s THE Pope. No other faith tradition has a single leader like we do. Even non-Catholics recognize the man’s holiness and his authority to speak on matters of faith and morals.

In his talk to Congress, he hit on just about all the hot-button issues of our day. Naturally liberals disagree with him on many issues and think he’s too conservative. On the other hand, conservatives find him too liberal. But, both sides of the aisle applauded his comments, sometimes reluctantly. But, they all recognize his authority and his spirituality.

We live in a divided nation and a divided world. Yet no one can dispute this man’s leadership. Like most of his predecessors he’s not afraid to tackle the tough issues, and that’s what he does and has been doing in his visit to our country.

Obviously many people in Jesus’ day violently opposed things that the Lord said. Some were so opposed that they had Him tortured and killed. Many of His teachings went against the leaders of the day, and they still rub many of our current leaders the wrong way as well. But they all listened!

One reason that so many opposed Jesus is that His teachings threatened their power and authority. But that didn’t stop Him from speaking the truth.

Merton said that he was born into a world that was “the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God, and yet hating him; born to love him, living instead in fear of hopeless self-contradictory hungers”. Today’s world is no different from Merton’s; in fact it’s worse. Those “self-contradictory hungers” are running rampant. We’re still born to love God, but our hunger for self-gratification often blinds us to the truth.

Great Americans, like Lincoln, King, Day, and Merton suffered for their beliefs. Lincoln and King were assassinated. Day was scorned by many. And Merton, who deserves to be declared a saint, hasn’t been and possibly never will be because his views were often unpopular.

So, what’s all this mean to us? It means that we must all stand up for the truth, even if it makes us unpopular and uncomfortable. It’s ironic that our Catholic faith disturbs people on both sides of the political spectrum. I think most people agree that we should respect life. But we often disagree when it comes to particular lives. The same people who argue that abortion is wrong have no problem with capital punishment. Jesus taught murder is always wrong. “Thou shalt not kill” is one of the Ten Commandments. It doesn’t say “except when the new life is inconvenient” or “except when someone has committed a terrible crime.” We don’t get to make that choice. Yet people of faith will argue forcefully on both sides of this argument. How ironic is it that our local daily newspaper is so accepting of the killing of an innocent child but is diametrically opposed to capital punishment?

Even as the Holy Father was speaking to Congress, they were in the process of killing legislation that would have taken our tax dollars away from Planned Parenthood. Their desire to gain political points is more important to them than doing what is right. It’s one of those “hopeless self-contradictory hungers” Merton spoke of.

The Pope spoke about the importance of the family, yet same-sex marriage is now the law of the land. But even he must wrestle with contradiction. His past words show that he’s no fan of capitalism, yet he recognizes that the great wealth of the United States is important in so many ways.

He ended his message by saying, “In these remarks I have sought to present some of the richness of your cultural heritage, of the spirit of the American people. It is my desire that this spirit continue to develop and grow, so that as many young people as possible can inherit and dwell in a land which has inspired so many people to dream.

God bless America!

 

And God bless Pope Francis for telling it like it is.

I do want to take just a minute to mention that next weekend there will be a second collection for the formation of Permanent Deacons.

It’s no secret that the Church is suffering from a vocation crisis. We desperately need more priests to serve the people of God. Here at Saint John Nepomuk we are more aware than most that the Church is looking to ease the shortage by using deacons and lay people to do the things that priests have always done in the past.

Right now the Archdiocese is taking a hard look at every parish to find better ways to use our limited resources, both physical and human. We’re going to see more cases where parishes are administered by non-priests, freeing priests up to do the things that only they can do. But we need more deacons almost as desperately as we need more priests. The formation of deacons is a long and expensive process and the men in training for the diaconate pay many of their own expenses.

Your generosity to this collection will make it possible for more men to answer the call to serve. Let me be clear. This collection does not benefit those of us currently ordained. The administration of the office of the Permanent Diaconate is funded through the Annual Catholic Appeal. This collection is for the educational expenses of our upcoming deacons. It would be a shame if future deacons had to be turned away because of the lack of funds. It would be an even greater shame if small communities like this one had to be closed because of the lack of deacons.

Please be as generous as possible to this important collection.

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6th Sunday of Easter Happy Mothers Day!

All Jesus’ talks, all His miracles, all His parables, come down to what He tells us today.“As the Father loves me, so I also love you.”

Think about that.  We know, through the doctrine of the trinity, that God and Jesus are one and the same; Father and Son.  They share an intimate and infinite love.  Here’s Jesus telling us that His love for us is the same.  God the Father and God the Son love us as much as they love one another, and themselves.

But, and this is important, If we want to remain in His love, we must keep His commandments.  In other words, we can lose His love if we don’t do what He tells us.  Then, rather than give us a laundry list of things we have to do, He says, “THIS is my commandment:  love one another as I love you.  No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

That’s it!  All we have to do is love one another.  But you and I both know that some people are more lovable than others.  Sometimes loving one another can be a HUGE challenge.  But this love that Jesus asks us to have for each other means a very specific thing.  In spite of what the 70’s movie said, love DOES NOT mean never having to say you’re sorry.

According to Father Robert Barron, love means willing good for the other person as another person.  In other words, love doesn’t mean hoping that you win the lottery so you can share your winnings with me.  Love means hoping you win the lottery only because I want you to be happy.  Love also means that I’m not jealous of your good fortune.

Today being Mother’s Day, it’s natural to compare God’s love to a mother’s love.  The mother’s love is unconditional, just like God’s love.  But there’s one thing missing.  On a purely physical level, a baby knows that she has an attachment to her mom.  But a baby doesn’t have the intellectual capacity to understand what that means.  Dogs and cats relate to their mothers just like we do.  Love between a mother and her offspring is a natural thing.

The difference between us and the animals is that as that human baby grows physically and emotionally, she begins to appreciate what this special connection means.  But, it’s a slow process.  It has it’s ups and downs.  I have five grandchildren; three of them from one set of parents.  Love means something very different to each one.  As they grow and mature, their ability to love will grow and mature.  (Until they get to be teenagers, then they’ll likely to hate their parents, but that’s just a phase.  They usually grow out of it.)  Unfortunately, for many of us, we don’t really appreciate our mom’s love entirely until they’re gone.

I think we approach God’s love in the same way.  When we’re little we know that God loves us.  How?  Because grownups tell us so.  I went to Grandparents’ Day this week at my five-year-old grandson’s school.  One of the songs they sang was

“I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart

Down in my heart to stay
And I’m so happy

So very happy

I’ve got the love of Jesus in my heart

Down in my heart”

Five, six, and seven-year-olds know they love Jesus and that He loves them in a very basic, simple way.  As we grow older, we understand more of what that means.  Unfortunately, we also make it more complicated.  Remember, Jesus calls us to have a child-like faith.

Let’s get back to moms for a minute.  Jesus said that no one has greater love than to lay down their lives for their friends.  We see that in Jesus as He died on the cross to save us from our sins.  But mothers lay down their lives for their children every day.  All of you moms can testify that once you gave birth, your life was never the same again.  Some changes were small.  Some were huge.  But nothing is ever the same.

There’s a reason why men don’t have babies.  We couldn’t handle it.  A mother’s love lets her do the impossible on a daily basis.

Today as we celebrate our moms, and all those women in our lives who fill the role of mothers, it’s good to reflect on what Jesus tells us today.  A mother’s love is the closest we humans can come to perfect love.  Our mothers’ love teaches us how to love as Jesus loves.

We are our mothers’ flesh and blood the same way we’re Jesus’ flesh and blood.  We’re about to celebrate Jesus’ love for us by receiving His actual Body and Blood in the Eucharist.  In a real way we celebrate His love and our mothers’ love with every breath we take.  When He said “love one another as I have loved you” He was telling us all we need to know.  “Honor you father AND your mother” is one of the Ten Comandments.

Jesus spoke these words just before He gave up His life for us.  They were some of His last words before the crucifixion.  The Gospel ends with Him saying, “This I command you: love one another.”  It’s not a suggestion.  It’s not something that would be nice for us to do.  It’s His commandment.  “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete.”

This monologue is the sum total of everything that Jesus taught in His earthly ministry.  This is the message that He wants us to remember.  Never forget that the whole point of His becoming a man was to teach us this one thing.  And, as we celebrate a day dedicated to our mothers, if we want an example of what that love looks like, all we have to do is think about our mothers’ example.  Remember, Jesus’ last act before He gave up His life on the cross was to give us His Mother, the most perfect example of a mother’s love in all human history.

 

Happy Mothers’ Day!

Good Friday

Yesterday morning, I was at the Cathedral Basilica for the annual Chrism mass. It’s the mass where the Archbishop blesses the holy oils for the coming year and it’s the mass where the priests renew their priestly vows. As you can imagine, there are a lot of priests and deacons at the Chrism mass.

Seating at the Cathedral is priests in front, deacons in the back, which is as it should be.  The only problem with the setup is that during the Consecration of the Eucharist, the priests stand while the deacons kneel. All the deacons can see is the backs of chasubles and a lot of bald heads.

As I knelt there yesterday morning, I wondered, as I often do, just what I was doing there. I know a lot of priests and deacons and most of them are good, holy men. The deacon who was sitting next to me is one of the holiest people I know. Then there was me, a sinner of the first order. Why would God choose me to be in this group?

But, you know what? I do belong in that group and here’s why. I don’t and can’t know what’s in someone else’s heart. I believe most of the men sitting around me at the Cathedral yesterday are more holy than I am, but I can’t know for sure. We’ve learned in the past few years that a lot of men we all believed were saints are actually pretty serious sinners. We don’t know. Only God knows.

Could it be that they have the same doubts and fears that I do?

Scripture tells us not to judge others. Is judging someone else to be good just as dangerous as judging them to be bad? Maybe so.

Think about what failures the Apostles were?  Judas sold Jesus out for thirty pieces of silver.  Peter denied he knew Him three times.  The other ten ran off and left Him when He needed them the most.  The only ones who stood by Him were the women.  You don’t have to be perfect to serve Jesus.

If Jesus only called perfect men to be clergy, think how frustrating that would be for everyone else.  They’d think they didn’t have a prayer (prayer, get it?  Jesus does have a sense of humor.) Plus, there wouldn’t be very many priests and deacons. Maybe none.

I think Jesus wants His clergy to let people see that they’re sinners, just like they are.  Judas didn’t have to turn Jesus over to the Jews, but somebody had to fulfill the words of the prophets.  Jesus knew He’d do it, even before he chose him to be an apostle.

Peter didn’t have to deny him three times, but He did, just as He knew he would. He even told him he would do it.  He knew the others would run away.  But he chose them anyway, just like He chose you and me, sinners that we are.

So, today we mark the day when He died a painful death on the cross for you and for me.  If we were sinless He wouldn’t have had to do that.  But we aren’t and He did.  In effect He told us that He’d like us to live a sinless life, but He knew that we couldn’t.  So, He let Himself be crucified so that we might be forgiven.

As painful as that was for Him, He knew it would be even more painful to sit back and watch us destroy ourselves.

Without Good Friday, that’s exactly what we’d do.

Saint Stephen

Today, December 26, is the feast of Saint Stephen.  Stephen was one of the first deacons (Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 6).  He is the patron saint of Catholic deacons.  He was also the first martyr.

You’re probably familiar with the song, “Good King Wenceslas“.  “Good King Wenceslas  looked down, on the feast of Stephen.”  The song continues on to tell us that the King went out to help a poor man who was gathering firewood on the King’s property.  Instead of running him off, the King went out and helped the man.  That’s one of the reasons he was called “Good King Wenceslas”.  There was another Czech King Wenceslas, but he was anything but good.

It’s good to recall that the writer of the song thought it was important to mention that this happened on Stephen’s feast day.  It’s also important to remember that the story took place on the day after Christmas.

Happy feast of Stephen!

Tuesday of the First Week of Advent

Merry ChristmasAlright, it’s time for my annual rant.  When are Christians, who happen to be a majority in the United States, going to stand up and defend the faith.  Here we are, getting ready for the birth of Christ, you know, the guy who let Himself be crucified to save us from our sins.  There has never been a greater sacrifice, yet we’re allowing non-Christians deny us our celebration of this greatest day.

First, many  of the largest retailers refuse to recognize Christmas, even though they have no problem selling us tons of stuff.  Signs and ads proclaim “Happy Holidays”, “Seasons Greetings” and other politically correct nonsense while refusing to wish us a Merry Christmas.  Next we have the relatively new phenomenon of “Black Friday” creeping into Thanksgiving.

Of course, the government has joined in the fun by refusing to allow Christmas displays on public property, though that’s been kind of hit-and-miss.  Some places allow it.  Some don’t.  But the attack are getting more serious and at the same time more ridiculous.  Here are just two examples posted by Tod Starnes of Fox News.

Georgia School Confiscates Christmas Cards.  For years the teachers at Brooklet Elementary School have posted Christmas cards outside their classrooms…..until this year.  School administrators have removed the cards calling them “offensive”.  After all some of them contained the word “Christmas” and some featured Nativity scenes

Next, homeowners in Orange County, CA have been ordered to remove their outdoor Christmas lights.  One community is known for their light displays and draw visitors from great distances, similar to “Candy Cane Lane“, here in Saint Louis.  The county claims the lights are “an obstruction” and violate local ordinances.  Give me a break!

Abraham Lincoln once said that America wouldn’t be destroyed by outside forces, but from within.  Complacency is our greatest enemy.  Every little attack on our faith that goes unchallenged adds to the total religious persecution that we’re experiencing right here in the once God-fearing United States.  We need to wake up!  Don’t just accept anti-Christian persecution.  Don’t say, “Oh, it’s just one school.”  or “Hey, it’s just one neighborhood.”  Speak up.

When a store clerk says “happy holidays” smile and say, “Merry Christmas.”  Maybe you don’t like to make a fuss.  Maybe you don’t want to embarrass someone else (or yourself).

Tell it to the Guy hanging on the cross.

Monday of the First Week of Advent

Rosary...

Rosary… (Photo credit: miqul)

Here we are at the beginning of the 1st week of Advent.  Once again, the secular media and the retail industry are trying to get us into the “holiday” spirit, which means we should spend, spend, spend.  Don’t get me wrong.  I spent most of my adult life in the retail and/or wholesale business.  I understand the need for a company to make a profit.  Millions of jobs depend on companies staying in business and it’s no secret that the month of December is make it or break it time for most companies in the consumer products businesses.

In fact, the term “black Friday” (which I never did like) stems from the fact that most retailers (if they’re lucky) run at a break-even pace for the first eleven months of the year and only begin to make a profit (get “in the black”) on the day after Thanksgiving.  It’s a bit of an oversimplification, but it’s often true.  I have no problem with that.  In fact, my annual bonus in my previous life depended on lots of people buying lots of stuff in the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

But, here’s the thing.  You and I, as faithful Catholics, are called to spend the four weeks of Advent preparing ourselves for the coming of the Savior of the world.  It’s a time to pray and reflect on the meaning of Christ’s coming.  Sometimes it’s hard to focus on this critically important day in the history of the world when we’re overwhelmed with ads, and sales, and special events.  It’s just the 2nd Day of December and I’m already tired of all the hype.  If I see one more luxury car with a big red bow on top I may throw my shoe through the TV screen.  Enough!

Father John Mayer was the celebrant at our 4:30 mass this past Saturday.  In his homily he made an excellent suggestion.  He was speaking of the evening news, but I would suggest you try this whenever you’re sitting in front of the television.  When the commercials come on hit the mute button.  There are 44 minutes of actual programming in the typical prime time hour.  That means there are 16 minutes of commercials per hour.  If you were to spend those sixteen minutes talking to or reflecting on God every hour that you’re in front of the TV, how much better a person might you be by December 25?

How long does it take to pray the Rosary?  About 15 minutes?  How often are you praying the Rosary now?  See what I mean?  I know this blog isn’t going to change the world, but imagine  how the world would change if every Catholic in America prayed the Rosary once each day instead of watching commercials, every single day.  I’m just sayin’…….

Why not give it a try.  After all, you’ve probably heard all the commercials you really need to hear.

Christ the King

Today is the solemnity of Christ the King, the final Sunday of the liturgical year.  Next week we begin a new year with the season of Advent.  The Church calendar follows a very logical progression.  We begin Advent waiting for the coming of the Christ Child.  We follow that with the Christmas season, which begins on December 24, not on the day after Thanksgiving as the retailers and advertisers would like you to believe.

 

After a short period of Ordinary Time we begin the season of Lent, a time of penance and reflection on Christ’s life, which is followed by Holy Week and Easter.  Again, our Easter season begins on Easter Sunday and is followed by a second period of Ordinary Time.  Obviously I’ve left out some things but the point is this.  Everything leads up to this celebration.  The year ends with our recognition that Christ is King! 

 

All through His life on earth people wondered who He was.  Was He a prophet?  Was He the Messiah?  Today we announce with certainty, He is all that and more.  He’s the King of the World!  Everyone, even earthly kings and presidents, answers to Him, whether they like it or not.

 

It’s interesting that the Solemnity of Christ the King is a fairly new feast.  It was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925.  He wanted to affirm the “Kingly dignity of Christ” and to correct the false ideologies of nationalism, materialism, secularism, and anti-clericalism.  Sound familiar?  Let me repeat them:

  • Nationalism
  • Materialism
  • Secularism
  • Anti-clericalism

When he first established this feast, Pius called on the people to boldly proclaim the truth of the Gospel and to promote and defend the rights of Christ and His Church against those who were ignoring basic human rights.  Things really haven’t changed much in nearly 90 years, have they?

 

Cardinal Dolan recently wrote to his fellow bishops, “We are united in our resolve to continue to defend our right to live by our faith, and our duty to serve the poor, heal the sick, keep our apostolates strong and faithful, and to insure our people.”

 

Too many people today, just like in Pius XI’s time, seem to have forgotten who Jesus is and who they are.  Remember when He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life?”  If He is the truth, then everything He said must be true.  To put it another way, if He ever said anything that wasn’t true, then nothing He said was true because He claimed to betruth.  If you believe that Jesus is the Son of God, (and if you don’t, why are you here?) then you have to believe everything He said.  And one thing He said was that He would leave us a Church that’s protected from error by the Holy Spirit.  So……….if you believe in Jesus then you MUST believe in His Church and everything it teaches.  There is no such thing as a “cafeteria Catholic”.  That’s something that the media made up.

 

In the second reading, Paul’s first letter to the Colossians, he writes “He is the image of the invisible God.”   No one has seen God the father, but if you want to know what He looks like, take a good look at Jesus.  That’s what He looks like.  He does not look like George Burns.

 

“All things were created through Him and for Him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”  Remember the creation story in Genesis?  He speaks everything into creation.  “Let there be light!”  Who was He talking to?  John tells us in the beginning of his Gospel.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  Jesus is the word!

 

“He is the head of the body, the Church.”

[pause]

In Luke’s Gospel the rulers, the soldiers, and even the thief being crucified along with Christ question Him.  “If you are who you say you are, why don’t you save yourself?”  That’s a good question.  A king should be able to save himself but Jesus didn’t.  Why?  It’s what an earthly king would do.  Because, in addition to being King, He was also an obedient Son.  He knew from the very beginning that this would be His fate.  He was born so He could die for our sins.  But He also knew that this world, as good as it is, is nothing compared to Heaven.  He was the only person who ever walked the earth who knew what heaven is like.  And, He knew that by going back to heaven, He could take us with Him.  Now, that’s a benevolent King!

 

Sadly, as Pius XI recognized in 1925 and as you and I recognize today, some people never learn.  Remember those four things:

  • Nationalism
  • Materialism
  • Secularism
  • Anti-clericalism

They’re even worse today than they were in Pius’ day.  Why?  Because too many people fail to realize that Christ is still King.  He’s King whether we know it or not; whether we believe it or not, whether we like it or not.  It doesn’t matter.

I may not believe in the law of gravity.  I may not like the law of gravity.  But if I jump off the roof of this church, I’m going to smash into the concrete sidewalk.  Truth is always truth.  It has nothing to do with my opinion.

 

Remember, Jesus is the truth.  He can’t lie.  And it’s a good thing.  He promises us some pretty good stuff and I, for one, am looking forward to meeting Him face to face.  Long live the King!