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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2nd Sunday of Advent–Pope Francis on the Joy of the Gospel

Recently our Holy Father, Pope Francis, issued a document called Evangelii Gaudium, or the Joy of the Gospel.  It’s fairly long, almost 70 pages, and frankly, I’ve only read about 2/3 of it, but I’m getting there.  As usual, the media is trying to spin it as something that it isn’t.  In the past week our president has quoted from it and several conservative commentators, including Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly have attacked it; an interesting turn of events to be sure.  Our local paper, the Saint Louis Post Dispatch even joined in the fun.

 

But, of the 70 pages the Pope has written, the critics have focused on just a few paragraphs on the subject of economics.  As Catholics, you and I are called to follow the Pope’s guidance in matters of faith and morals.  Francis is a brilliant theologian, but he’s not an economist and I don’t think he’s trying to be one.  I don’t believe, as some would suggest, that he’s condemning capitalism in favor or socialism.  What he’s written reflects the current problems of the poor.  The idea that we should help the poor, to share what we’ve been given with those in need, isn’t a new idea.  It’s what Jesus told us 2,000 years ago.

 

The problem with our society today isn’t one of economic systems, it’s a problem of greed and corruption in governments and in business.  He writes, Business is a vocation, and a noble vocation, provided that those engaged in it see themselves challenged by a greater meaning in life; this will enable them truly to serve the common good by striving to increase the goods of this world and to make them more accessible to all.”

I think most business leaders are basically good people.  Sadly, there are some who aren’t.  The real issue isn’t that making a profit is bad.  The issue is what do we do with that profit?  Do we buy bigger houses and better cars, or do we share it with those in need?  Is it really a problem with our capitalist system, or is it a problem of minds and hearts?

 

He also writes, “Politics, though often denigrated, remains a lofty vocation and one of the highest forms of charity, inasmuch as it seeks the common good.”  Again, we have the greatest political system in the world, but I’m afraid that too many of our politicians don’t see their jobs as a vocation, but as a way to line their own pockets.  As Francis says, “no government can act without regard for shared responsibility.”

 

What I believe the Holy Father is saying in this lengthy document is that we must help the poor.  Other than a few paragraphs, his focus is on the Gospel, not on politics or economics.

 

In the second reading today, Paul writes to the Romans, “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you for the glory of God”  Our call is to work together for the Glory of God.

 

In Matthew’s Gospel John the Baptist tells the Pharisees and Sadducees to “produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.”  And he warns them that “every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

So, what does all this mean for you and me.  We’re not business tycoons.  We’re not politicians.  We’re just average people doing our best to get through this life and to make our ways to heaven.  But are we really just average?  John says that Jesus will baptize “with the Holy Spirit and fire.”  That’s pretty strong.  For most of us it’s been a long time since our baptism.  But the great thing about baptism is that it’s forever.  We have just as much Holy Spirit and fire in us today as we did on our baptism day.  It never leave us, but maybe our fire isn’t burning as brightly as it once was.  It may just be embers but it’s still there, waiting for us to fan the flames.

 

The title of Francis’ document is “The Joy of the Gospel.”  In the third paragraph he gives us a very profound prayer, “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you.  I need you.  Save me once again.  Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace.”  Think about that.  Why are we here at mass. We’re here to renew our covenant with Him.  We do need Him, much more than He need us.  If the fire of our baptism needs to be rekindled, the mass is the place to find the fuel.  Maybe we take the Eucharist for granted.  Maybe it’s just something we do because we’ve always done it.  Let’s make this season of Advent a time of renewal.  In a few minutes we’ll receive Christ into our own bodies through the sacrament of the Eucharist.  What a great gift!  That’s what keeps our fire going.  If it’s not burning as brightly as it once was, it’s not the Father’s fault.  It’s not Jesus’ fault.  It’s not the Holy Spirit’s fault.  God gives us the fuel, it’s up to us to use it properly.

 

The joy of the Gospel!  There is no greater gift!  Praise God!

Let’s say the Holy Father’s prayer together:

 

“Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you.  I need you.  Save me once again.  Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace.”  Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium (3)