29th Sunday of Ordinary Time

moses aaron hurPersistence.  All three readings today speak to us about persistence.  In the first reading, Moses held up the “staff of God” while his men battled Amelek and his men.  As long as Moses held his hands in the air, the Jews were winning the battle.  With the help of Aaron and Hur, Moses persisted and his army was victorious.


In the second reading, Paul urges Timothy to be persistent in his preaching whether it’s convenient or inconvenient.


And, in the Gospel, Luke tells us the story of the persistent widow.  Even the disrespectful judge will finally give in to the widow who continually “bothers” him.  Her persistence will eventually pay off.  Obviously, if asking over and over sways this human judge, our persistent prayers will be heard and answered by God.


But, even though all three readings have a similar topic, each one is different in its application.  In the Old Testament reading, Moses isn’t able to persevere without Aaron and Hur’s help.  God could have given Moses the strength to hold up his arms all day, but He didn’t.  Instead Moses had to ask for human help to get the job done.  That’s a good example for you and me.  We can pray and pray for something but God expects us to do our part.  Rather than rely on divine providence to give us what we need, sometimes we have to do something for ourselves.  A good example would be someone who’s out of a job.  He might get down on his knees and ask God to provide him with a job.  But a more prudent solution might be to ask God to give him the tools he needs to find work followed up by sending out a hundred resumes.  And, asking friends and family for help, just like Moses asked Hur and Aaron for help can’t hurt either.  Persistence in prayer combined with persistence in action will solve a lot of our problems.


When Paul tells Timothy to persevere, his slant is a little different.  He urges Timothy to rely on his knowledge of the Scriptures.  “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”


So, we have three different people, Moses, Timothy, and the widow, with three different problems and three different solutions.  Ask for help.  Turn to the scriptures.  Be persistent in prayer.  That’s good advice for all of us.  No matter what problems we may have, we should be able to find a solution by using one, or even better, all three.  And, be persistent in our actions.


Infant of Prague

Statue of the Infant Jesus of Prague

At the end of each mass we pray Father Cyril’s prayer to the Infant of Prague.  As some of you may know, the original statue of the Infant is in the Church of Our Lady of Victory in Prague.  In 1628 the statue was presented to the Carmelite friars by princess Polyxena who told them, “Venerable Fathers, I bring you my dearest possession.  Honour this image and you shall never want”.    It was placed in the monastery where devotions were offered twice each day.  In 1630 the friars left Prague and the devotions ended.  In 1631, during the Thirty Years War, the Swedish army overran Prague.  The statue was thrown into a pile of rubbish behind the altar where it remained with its hands broken off for seven years.


Father Cyril found the statue in 1637 and claimed to have heard a voice say, “Have pity on me, and I will have pity on you. Give me my hands, and I will give you peace. The more you honor me, the more I will bless you.”  Father restored the statues hands, returned it to place of honor and wrote the prayer which we pray to this day.  Did the end of the Carmelites twice-daily devotions lead to the fall of Prague?  An awful lot of people believe princess Polyxena prophesy was proven true.


Our prayer includes the words, “Mighty King, perseverance bestow on thy child; Do shield me and keep me Thine own—undefiled.” At every single mass at Saint John’s, we ask the Infant to give us the gift of perseverance or persistence.  We’ve been persistently saying this prayer for sixty-five years!  We ask Him to shield us and keep us His own.  We promise to share, not just with our friends, but also with our foes, all that is ours.  We firmly believe in His powerful aid.  We promise to live according to today’s readings.


This church has survived urban flight, a deteriorating neighborhood, and two interstate highways.  It was on the list of churches to be closed in 2007.  But, we’re still here!  We’ve hung together and we’re still going forward.  Next year will mark our 160th anniversary.  I believe the Infant watches over this church and, as He told Father Cyril, the more we honor Him, the more He will bless us.


I might mention here, just in passing, that even though I’m not of Bohemian extraction, the Irish have a great devotion to the Infant too.  A replica of the statue is often given as a gift at Irish weddings.  The Irish particularly believe that the statue has an effect on the weather and it’s often buried in gardens to insure favorable weather for the crops.  It’s worth noting that we received our statue here at Saint John’s in 1948.  He WASN’T HERE for the tornado of 1896.  Coincidence?  I don’t think so.


So, we continue to pray to the Infant, and we rely on His help, the help He promised Father Cyril.  We know in our hearts, that He will be here for us, just as He promised.  Remember, Jesus never lies!  But we do have to do our part.  We make some serious promises in our prayer.  We promise to confess our sins and to deplore each and every one of them.  We promise to never offend.  We promise to suffer for Him.  We promise to share what we have with friends and foes alike.


In this week’s bulletin I wrote about stewardship; sharing what we have.  Whether it’s time, talent, or treasure, as Christians we’re all called to give back some of the gifts that God has given us.  We’re called to share with those who are less fortunate and with our fellow Christians through our contributions to the Church.

As we make our prayer to the Infant, we should all consider whether we’re doing all we can to hold up our end of the bargain.  Sharing doesn’t mean giving back from our excess, it means putting God first.  I hate asking for money.  I even hate asking for your time.  But as a minister of the Church, it is my job to remind you of your obligations.  That’s all I’m doing….reminding you of the promise you make to God at every mass.  We all have to do our part.


Another way you can share is through the various second collections we have throughout the year. 
Right now we’re being asked to help our neighbors at the Old Cathedral.  They’re in the process of a major renovation.  We have a lot in common with our friends downtown.  We both have historical churches.  Besides being houses of God, both buildings are historical landmarks.  People come to Saint Louis specifically to visit our historic church landmarks, especially in South Saint Louis.  The appearance of these buildings reflects on our devotion to God.

The big difference between us and them is that millions of people pass the Old Cathedral every old cathedralyear.  The church is surrounded by a national park.  Sitting between the Arch and the Old Courthouse, the appearance of the Basilica makes an impression on Catholics and non-Catholics alike.  The more than 3 million people who attend Cardinal games each year see it on the way to the game along with Rams fans and Blues fans.  When any sporting event in Saint Louis is on national television, they’re a good chance that it will appear on screens all over the United States, and even the world.  Every Catholic in the Archdiocese of Saint Louis has an interest in the church looking its best.  Please be generous to this special collection.


“With my friends and my foes I share all that is mine.”








Transfiguration of the Lord

“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; Listen to Him!”

Today we celebrate the Transfiguration of the Lord.  Jesus goes to the top of the mountain with Peter, John, and James.  They, and we, get a small glimpse of what God has in store for His Son, and for us.  His garments become white as the sun and Moses and Elijah appear with Him.

The three Apostles have fallen asleep.  I guess the climb was too much for them.  These guys do have a bad habit of dozing off at crucial times.  Remember the Garden of Gesthemani?  Fortunately, they wake up in time to see what’s going on.

Of course Peter, in his enthusiasm wants to build tents so the people can come and see Jesus and the other two.  But the sky suddenly gets dark and God’s voice booms out from the clouds:  “This is my beloved Son.  Listen to Him.” The Apostles fell silent and didn’t tell anyone at the time what they had seen.

Of course, what they had seen was very important.  It was a rare look into the future.  Jesus was transfigured, just as He was and you and I will be when we enter into God’s kingdom.

What they hear was even more important.  It’s the second time God has spoken directly to human beings about His Son.  The first time was at the River Jordan as He was baptized by John.  He IS my Son.  Listen to Him.

The message is no less important today than it was way back then.  That’s why we have an annual feast to remind us.  When He says “Listen to Him” He doesn’t mean sometimes.  He doesn’t mean when it’s convenient or when it won’t separate us from our friends.  He means always.  Every day.  In every circumstance.  His words are truth.  Anyone who speaks against His words is a liar.  That’s it.  End of story.

I don’t think they do so much anymore, but for a while it was a fad for kids to wear bracelets and T-shirts that said WWJD?, What would Jesus do?   But that’s not really the point.  Jesus walked on the water to get to his friends in the boat.  We can’t do that.

A better slogan might be WDJS?  What did Jesus say?  There’s no situation we can run into where the answer doesn’t lie in Jesus’ words.

“This is my beloved Son.  Listen to Him.”

2nd Sunday of Lent

Listen to Him!

If you’ve been watching television for the last two weeks the scene in today’s Gospel seems a little familiar, doesn’t it?  Three men standing side-by-side on top of a mountain.  But, in this case, they haven’t come there to receive gold, silver, and bronze medals.  Moses and Elijah have come to meet Jesus, as Peter, John, and James look on; the famous story of the transfiguration.

Actually, the Winter Olympics analogy is pretty weak, even for me.  Jesus lived in the desert.  I don’t think He was into winter sports.  He could have lived anywhere He wanted to and you notice He didn’t choose Minneapolis of Toronto.  Good for Him!

As usual, Peter, my favorite saint, gets it all wrong.  He wants to build tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah.  Maybe he wants to sell tickets so people can come and see them.  Of course, the point isn’t for anyone else to see the three together.  It’s specifically for the three Apostles.  A cloud passes over them and the voice of God booms out, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.” Kind of like the day that Jesus was baptized.

Of course, when the cloud passes, Moses, representing the law, and Elijah, representing the prophets, are gone.  The symbolism here is profound.  God is telling the Apostles, along with you and me, that we no longer need the Mosiac law or the words of the prophets.  All we need is the Son of God.  God the Father says, “Listen to Him.” Interesting.

His Father says “Listen to Him.”  At the site of His first miracle, his mother said, “Do whatever He tells you.” In John’s Gospel He even tells us Himself, “You are my friends if you do what I tell you.” I guess, maybe, we should listen.  What do you think?  But this listening thing can get a little complicated.  It’s pretty easy to read the Scriptures and see what He’s trying to tell us…….sometimes.  But not all the time.  Even after all the classes I took and all the reading I’ve done, sometimes I’ll read a passage and go “huh???”  What the heck is He talking about?  I really hate it when that happens on a weekend I have to preach.  If I only talk about the two readings, or the responsorial psalm, or last week’s Gospel, chances are I don’t get what Jesus is telling us that day.

I once went to a two day workshop put on by a priest, Eugene LaVerdier.  Amazing.  I can’t remember where I left my car keys ten minutes ago but I remember Eugene LaVerdier.  Anyway, Fr. LaVerdier has spent his entire life studying Luke’s Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles.  Two books!  His whole life.  And he wasn’t a young guy.  He spent the entire first morning talking about just the first chapter of Luke.  This guy knew his Luke.  But on the second day a young lady, a PSR teacher, asked him a question.  He looked at her and said, “I never thought of it that way.”  I thought he was going to cry.  Listening to Jesus isn’t always as easy as it sounds.

Then there are the other times He talks to us.  You know, when you’re feeling sorry for yourself because your feet hurt and you meet someone who has no feet.  It makes you feel pretty silly.  Or maybe you’re meal didn’t turn out exactly the way you hoped it would, and you walk outside and there’s some pour soul begging for money to buy food.  I think these things happen to us more times than we even realize because we may not be paying attention.

Someone taught me a very simple, but very effective prayer that I try to say every morning.  “Lord, what do you want me to learn today?” Why is it a good prayer?  I’ll tell you.  Think about the last time you were shopping for a new car.  After you’ve narrowed your choice down to a pickup truck, but you haven’t decided on the brand, do you notice that about every third car on the road is a pickup?  They’re everywhere.  This is the same principle.  The prayer gives you a focus and you start to notice answers coming at you from every which way.  If you ask the right questions, answers will come at you from the places you’d least expect them.

Every once in a while, someone will come up to me after mass and say, you were speaking right to me today when you said….whatever.  And, I’m thinking to myself “what?”  Did I say that?  And I look at my notes and, sure enough, I did say it.  It wasn’t the main point.  It may have been just a phrase or a sentence, but for that person, at that time, it was exactly what they need to hear.  That’s why you can’t fall asleep when Father and I are up here talking.  Jesus may be talking to you and ou might miss it  I’m just sayin’………….

Finally, which is what I usually say before I make three or four more points, but this time I really mean it.  Finally, something happened to me this week that was pretty serious.  In the last few days, between the mass readings, the daily Liturgy of the Hours, the little Lent book that Father sent us, even in the stations of the cross, answers have been coming at me like questions at a presidential news conference.  “Deacon Mike!  Deacon Mike!  Have you thought about this?  How about this idea?  Think about how I suffered!”  It seems like either Jesus really wants to help me through this so badly that He can’t stop talking to me, or I’m just so much in need of help that I’m really paying attention.  I even had a message in a dream the other night.

God would never have told us to listen to His Son if His Son wasn’t going to have something to say.  So, as we make our way through this season of Lent, we can all recognize that there’s more to this than just eating fish on Fridays and giving up whatever we’ve decided to give up.  A very good practice would be to take God the Father’s simple two sentence instruction from today’s Gospel to heart.  “This is my chosen Son.  Listen to Him.”