5th Sunday of Easter–Mothers’ Day

My intention today was to talk about the first reading and I’ll get to it in a minute. But today’s Gospel is so rich that I had to dive into it a little bit first. This is part of what you might call Jesus’ farewell address. This is Jesus talking to his disciples on what we now call Holy Thursday. The discourse actually takes up several chapters of John’s Gospel. Today’s reading is just about half of Chapter 14.

 

He begins by saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God, have faith also in me.” This could easily be part of our daily prayers. If we have faith in Jesus, how can our hearts be troubled? We know He’s there for us no matter what. What could possibly trouble us? But we’re human. We worry. As we read on in the New Testament we see that the very people Jesus is speaking to here were often troubled.

 

This Gospel is often part of the funeral liturgy because it’s when Jesus promises to go ahead of us and prepare a place for us. Then He makes an outrageous claim. “No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him.” This kind of talk is what got Him crucified! He’s saying that He and God are one and the same, blasphemy if it isn’t true.

 

Remember, this is new! It’s unprecedented! He’s saying that He is God. You and I know it to be true, but for the handful of people who heard Him say it, and really didn’t understand it, it must have been quite a shock. It’s going to be a while before they GET it. Remember Thomas? He doesn’t believe it and he’s one of Jesus’ closest friends.

 

But here’s the real kicker, after He claims that He is God, He tells the disciples that “whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and do greater ones than these.” Wait! What? Jesus has healed the sick, given sight to the blind, turned water into wine, walked on water, and even raised Lazurus from the dead. Now He says they (and we) will do even greater things? That’s hard to believe.

 

But it’s true. Jesus never traveled very far. The biggest crowd He ever spoke to were the 5,000 on the mountain. Look at our technology today. Look at men like Bishop Robert Barron and Cardinal Dolan. They’ve been heard and seen by millions. When Pope Francis speaks, his words are heard around the world. A crippled nun in Alabama started a world-wide media network. Even a humble deacon can post something on the Internet that’s seen by hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions of people.

 

You and I may not be able to raise the dead, but we can carry Jesus’ message to many, many people. Remember that there are billions of Christians in the world today, but it all started with that small group of people in that upper room.

 

I said I was going to talk about the first reading today. It’s from the sixth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles and it tells us about the first deacons. The Apostles were running ragged trying to do everything themselves. Even with the Holy Spirit there just weren’t enough hours in the day. In particular, the Greek Christians were complaining. They thought the Jewish Apostles weren’t paying enough attention to the Greek widows.

 

So, they called everyone together and said, “Here’s what we’re going to do. You go find seven wise, reputable men who are filled with the spirit. We’ll anoint them and have them feed the poor widows, and maybe do some other stuff.” And that’s what they did.

 

They chose Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas of Antioch to be the first deacons. Notice that they were all Greek. It’s not a coincidence that Stephen, the guy they chose first, was also the first martyr of the new Church. They told us when we were in formation that Stephen was doing fine until he started to talk. Then they stoned him to death. So, we’d better be careful. Fifteen years later, I understand what they were talking about.

 

Today deacons do things that the Apostles never dreamed of like running churches, ministering to prisoners and hospital patients and travelers at the airport. There’s even one of us in Saint Louis who has a truck stop ministry. There is much work to be done in God’s kingdom on earth and many different callings, not just clerical, but lay as well.

 

And, finally, one of the greatest callings of all is the one we celebrate this weekend. The following quote is from Hungarian Joseph Cardinal Mindszenty who died in 1975:

“The most important person on earth is a mother. She cannot claim the honor of having built Notre Dame Cathedral. She need not. She has built something more magnificent than any cathedral——a dwelling for an immortal soul, the tiny perfection of her baby’s body.

 

“The Angels have not been blessed with a such a grace. They cannot share in God’s Creative miracle to bring new Saints to Heaven. Only a human mother can. Mothers are closer to God the Creator than any other creatures. God joins forces with mothers in performing this act of creation.”

 

“What on God’s good earth is more glorious than this: to be a mother?”

Happy Mothers’ Day.

 

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Clergy Assignments

priest shadow

Based on some things that have happened recently at my current assignment, Saint John Nepomuk Chapel in Saint Louis, I thought it might be a good idea to discuss the process for assigning clergy to parishes and other ministries.  Obviously, these are important decisions that can have a long-term effect on everyone involved.

First of all, the final decision on all clergy assignments in a diocese is made by the bishop.  Like any large organization, the bishop , as the  CEO, consults with a lot of people before he makes such an important call.  These consultations are very confidential.  In the course of making these choices, a lot of possible scenarios are considered.  “What if we move Father A to parish B?”  “If we do that, who gets Father A’s old position?”  “What about the current pastor of parish B?  It’s a complicated process.  Lots of possibilities are considered and rejected.  In the Archdiocese of Saint Louis we might ordain a half-dozen new priests in the spring.  Placing these men in parishes might result in twenty or more new assignments.  Frankly, I wouldn’t want to have to figure out all those moves.

Imagine, following our example, that it’s decided that Father A won’t go to parish B.  If someone unwisely had leaked this possible move to someone in the parishes involved, the rumors would fly.  “Father A is leaving!”  “Father A is coming to our parish!”  “What about Father B?  Where’s he going?”  On on, and on.  Lots of people are upset by something that’s not going to happen.

The bottom line is that until the bishop starts sending out letters to the clergy involved, nothing is set in stone.  If just one priest or deacon rejects a change in assignment, the whole process has to be redone.  Any speculation, based on early discussions, can only cause problems.

Recently a priest at a neighboring church asked me if I might be interested in moving.  I told him no.  I’m very happy where I am and I didn’t think the change he was proposing would be good for Saint John’s.  Keep in mind that this was just a priest talking to a deacon.  Archbishop Carlson wasn’t even aware of the conversation.  The next thing I knew, someone had started a rumor that I was leaving.  Like all rumors, it spread quickly, upsetting some people and making others happy.  Now it’s up to me to put out the fires.

Let’s face it; some people love their priests and deacons, some don’t.  Nothing good can come from building up people’s expectations about changes, either positive or negative.

A lot of prayer and discussion precedes any clergy moves.  What we have to remember, as faithful Catholics, is that our bishops are descended from the original twelve Apostles.  They are guided by the Holy Spirit.  Whenever they assign clergy, they are putting the men they believe to be the best fit in each position.  When priests and deacons are ordained they promise to be loyal to their bishop and his successors.  Personally, I will go where ever Archbishop Carlson wants me to go.  And until he tells me he wants me to move, I won’t speculate on what he might have in mind.