More on Seeing Jesus

monks

I posted yesterday about seeing Jesus not just in the helpless, but also in the helper.  Today God taught me that lesson in a big way.  My blood sugar was very low this morning and I was having some trouble getting around.  The cafeteria lady saw me struggling with my tray and asked me if I needed help.  My first inclination was to say “No thanks.  I can manage.”

Then I remembered Father’s words.  I said that would be great and she carried my tray over to “our” table (Once you claim a table in the dining room it’s yours for the week.)  I thanked her profusely for helping me and the look on her face was priceless.  Among  all the priests, monks, deacons, and even a Bishop in this place this week, I found Jesus working in the cafeteria.  It was a lesson I hope I never forget.

merton

The most famous resident of Gesthemani was Father Thomas Merton, possibly the greatest Christian thinker of the 20th century.  He was famous all over the world and people come here every day just to see where he lived.  A “famous monk” seems like an oxymoron, but that’s what he was.  He died in 1948 and the  Abby is still collecting royalties from his books.  But in the end, a monk is a monk.  Father’s grave is marked with this simple metal cross just like all the other monks.  His reward is in a much better place.

This is the last day of our retreat.  Tomorrow we go back to reality.  I’ve spent a lot of time reading this week and I’ve discovered a lot about God and about myself.  I plan to share some of that in future posts.  Stay tuned.

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4 Nights Alone in a Single Bed

retreat bedroom

This week I’m on retreat at Gesthemane Abby in Kentucky.  The Abby is where Thomas Merton lived and you can feel his presence wherever you go here.  The guests live in pretty simple accommodations and eat simple food.  In fact  at dinner (12:30 pm, more on that in a minute) they ran out of meat before I got there.  Sidebar, when I first started coming here 14 years ago they didn’t serve meat so my meal of stewed tomatoes, mashed potatoes and salad wasn ‘t all that bad.

So, what’s the deal?  Why drive 322 miles to sit in the woods and read?  The daily schedule goes like this:

3:15 am (yes, am) Vigils, the first prayer of the day.  To be perfectly honest, I used to get up for this, but as the years have gone by, not so much.  This morning I didn’t even try.

5:45 am Lauds.  This is morning prayer.  Most retreatants get up for this.  I’m ashamed to report that today my alarm went off at 5:00, I thought about getting up, and when I looked at the clock again it was 7:00.

Sixish is mass following 5:30 am vespers.  Note that I missed those too.  Breakfast is served after mass at 7:00.  I didn’t miss breakfast.

There are more hours of prayer throughout the day ending with Compline, or night prayer at 7:30 pm.  The prayer routine is broken up by supper at 6:00, following Vespers. Notice that they don’t have lunch here.  They have dinner at 12:30, which is the main meal of the day, and supper at 6:00.  There’s no room for lunch.

Face it, you don’t come here for the gourmet chow.  It’s a place of prayer and reflection and food is served out of necessity.  The rest of the time is spent either in the chapel or someplace engaged in private prayer, reading.  God is definitely present here and you can choose how you want to encounter Him.

retreat library

One thing that’s new this year is wifi in the library.  I will be able to post what’s happening all week.  I expect something significant.  It always happens when I come here.  I have a lot to pray about what with family and friends, parishioners at two churches and an upcoming job change.  I’ll keep my readers in my prayers as well.

I hope to be able to post some pictures this week but at the moment I’m having some technical difficulties so for now, I’m borrowing some pics from the monk’s website.

retreat abby

 

30th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Every weekend the Church gives us a set of readings; usually one from the Old Testament, one from the New Testament, a Responsorial Psalm and a reading from one of the four Gospels. They’re considered to be a set. They all go together and, in the bigger picture, each week’s readings build on what’s gone before. There are three sets of readings, years A, B, and C. We’re about to finish up year B.

The Church year begins with the First Sunday of Advent, this year on November 29 and the various readings take us through the life of Christ. It’s all very orderly, in fact the majority of the year is called “Ordinary Time” because the weeks follow one another in an orderly fashion and they’re numbered using ordinal numbers, in other words, first, second, and so on.

Father and I aren’t free to choose the readings we want to use. We may have certain favorites, but we can’t just throw them in willy-nilly, whenever we feel like it. The entire three-year cycle of readings, divinely inspired, works together to deliver God’s message, week-after-week, year after year……. assuming we’re paying attention.

With all the readings in the two big books, the Lectionary and the Book of the Gospels, sometimes a single word or two conveys an important message and if we miss those small messages we miss a lot.

Today’s Gospel is a good example. We’re all familiar with the story of Jesus’ healing of the blind man. The blind man calls out for help. Jesus asks him what he wants, a rhetorical question since we know Jesus already knows what the man wants, and the man says, “Master, I want to see.”

Jesus grants the man’s wish. Another miracle performed by the Son of God. But if we just focus on the miracle, we may miss something important. We have to pay close attention to the last two sentences of the story. Jesus says, “’Go your way’ your faith has saved you.’ Immediately he received his sight and followed Him on the way.” See what happened there. Jesus told the man to go his way, but the man chose to follow Jesus.

Jesus didn’t play “Let’s make a deal”. He didn’t say He’d heal the man in exchange for his everlasting gratitude. He didn’t attach any strings to the healing. He healed the man out of unconditional love. Yet the formerly-blind man was so grateful that he chose to follow Jesus instead of going his own way.

In this week’s bulletin, the Stewardship Thought for the Week talks about miracles. It says, “Many people think that miracles don’t happen anymore.  But, if you focus on the positive, not the negative, focus on your blessings instead of your hardships, miracles will seem common. I absolutely believe in miracles and I hope you do too. They happen all the time. Some are big. Some are small. But they happen.

Jesus restoring the blind man’s sight was a miracle. But the fact that the blind man happened to be in the right place at the right time is also a miracle. He could have been sitting on the other side of town and would have never had the chance to approach Jesus. There wasn’t something like the Saint Louis Review that tells us every week where Archbishop Carlson and Bishop Rice are going to be during the next seven days. Jesus just kind of “showed up” just like He does today.

The man WAS blind, so it’s not like he saw Jesus coming! Just the fact that the blind man was in Jesus’ path is a miracle in itself.

I think the lesson for us today isn’t so much about miracles as it is about how we respond to our blessings. Jesus told the man to go HIS way. But the man chose to go JESUS’ way. Every one of us is blessed in countless ways. We have our life. We have our health. We live in the greatest country in the world. Each of these things is a gift from God. We don’t deserve all these blessings but we receive them anyway. Do we respond to these gifts by following Jesus, or do we choose to go our own way?

Obviously we’re all here today, so we are following Jesus for at least one hour per week. The real question is, “What do we do with the other 167 hours per week?” Do we earnestly pray for the wisdom to understand God’s will? Do we mean it when we say, “Thy will be done”?   That IS how Jesus told the Apostles, and us, to pray.

I’m going to close with a prayer. It’s one I’ve used before. It’s by Father Thomas Merton from the book “Thoughts in Solitude”. It reminds us that we’re all blind in our own way, maybe even more blind than the man in the story. If you like the prayer, there are cards like this at the entrances to the chapel. If you think the pray is too long, then maybe the blind man’s prayer is more appropriate for you: “Master, I want to see!”

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in act please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Amen!

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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Christmas 2013

This is the homily I gave on Christmas Eve at Saint John Nepomuk Chapel.  For those not familiar, Saint John’s is an historic church in South Saint Louis.  The church was founded by Bohemian immigrants in the 19th Century.

 

veselé Vánoce!  ‘null-ig hun-a dit’!  Merry Christmas!  That’s Czech because of who you are, Irish because of who I am, and American because of who we all are.  However you say it, I want to wish all of you the very Merriest Christmas ever.

 

What a thrill it is to stand up here in front of such a large crowd.  Imagine that once-upon-a-time the church was filled like this all the time.  But, while the crowds here may not be as big as they once were, we’re still here and that’s a mighty blessing from God.  Beginning next week, we’ll be celebrating our 160th anniversary of worshipping our God at the corner of Lafayette and 11th street.

 

Frankly there are a lot of people who would have bet that we’d never make it, but here we are.  Since 1854 we’ve survived the Civil War, two world wars, a tornado, urban flight, and two interstate highways.  Generations of Bohemian immigrants built this church and today a melting pot of ethnic heritages, including an Irish deacon, are keeping it going.

 

Obviously we have a lot of visitors here this evening and we thank you for being here.  I know it’s an annual tradition for many of you to come home to Saint John Nepomuk to celebrate this greatest of all nights.  Vitame Vas!  Welcome!  Please keep us in your prayers the other fifty-one weeks of the year.  Of course, you’re welcome to come back any time.  In fact, we have a lot of exciting things planned for 2014 and we hope you can join us again for some special celebrations.

 

Christmas is a time when we all look back.  We look back to that night 2,000 years ago when Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem to give birth to a very special child; a child the angel promised Joseph who would save His people from their sins.

 

Many of us look back and remember loved ones who have gone on to the next life.  We can’t help but think about our parents and grand parents who were with us in Christmases past but who aren’t physically with us today.  But we know, because of what that special Child promised us, that they’re with us in spirit and they live on in our memories.

 

As a relative newcomer to Saint John’s, I often think about the thousands of members of our church family who have gone before us.  Sometimes, when no one else is around, I like to come here and pray, and to think about all those people who built this chapel, not once, but twice.  I think about the sacrifices they made so that they, and we, would have this beautiful place to worship.

 

As Catholics we share in a two-fold mission.  We want to get to heaven.  That’s what Jesus wants for us.  He wants us to be with Him for eternity.  But our greatest mission isn’t just to get to heaven.  Our greatest mission is to take others with us.  We’re called to share our faith with others.  Our predecessors here at Saint John’s did that by making sure we’d have a beautiful place to worship.  Many of them gave everything they had.

 

When the cyclone destroyed their church in 1896, many of them quit their jobs so they could give their time to rebuilding.  And these weren’t wealthy people.  But they had their priorities, and their first priority was to rebuild God’s house.  Of course they did it for themselves, but they also did it for us.  Let’s never forget that!

 

If you’re visiting us this afternoon, I’ve placed index cards in each pew.  Please take a moment to put your name, address, and email address on one of them and place it in the collection basket.  We’ll put you on the mailing list to keep you up-to-date on our Jubilee events.  You can help us keep the memories of those great people alive.

 

In know, that’s a bit of a long infomercial, but let’s get down to business.  We’re here tonight to celebrate the miraculous birth of our Lord and Savior.  We all know the story.  God came to earth to live as a man and to die for our sins so that we could be saved.  Just think about that!  He’s God.  He created the universe.  He had all the power and all the glory yet he chose to become one of us.  What kind of God would do that?  The answer is a God who is all about love.  He created us, but He wasn’t one of us.  He knew that the best way to reach us was to walk among us.  He would come down from heaven to take us back with Him.

 

But why did He think it was necessary to come as a tiny baby?  Why did He have to humble Himself to be born in a stable, to live among us, then to die a horrible death at the hands of His enemies?  He could have come on a golden chariot with an army of angels.  He could have come in the glory that He deserved.  After all, that’s what the Jewish people expected.  That’s what they still expect.  And they’re right!  He will come in glory when He returns.  But, as they say, God works in mysterious ways.  In His wisdom He chose to be born of a woman just like you and me.

 

We have free will.  That’s part of the deal.  He wants us to love Him because we want to, not because we have to.  To paraphrase Father Thomas Merton, one of the great Catholic writers of the twentieth century, God never gives us the whole answer.  If He did, we’d have no choice but to believe him.  That would be the end of free will.  He just gives us part of the answer, leaving us to fill in the blanks.  We fill in those blanks with something called “faith”.  Faith is when we believe in something that can’t be proven.  For centuries philosophers have tried to “prove” the existence of God and failed.  A + B = C is a human concept.  It’s just math.  But A plus something that we have to accept on faith equals C is a divine concept.

 

 

Jesus was a miracle worker.  Tonight we celebrate the miracle of His birth.  He was born of a woman without the help of a human father.  He continued to work miracles up to and including His rising from the dead.  He still works miracles today.

 

And so, we come together today, in this beautiful church to celebrate His birth.  We listen to the music, we hear His words, and we thank Him for loving us enough to become one of us.  Salvation isn’t just for the rich and famous.  It’s for everyone, including you and me.

 

Ironically, the days leading up to Christmas can be the most hectic and frustrating days of the year.  We’re bombarded with commercials for stuff that we just have to have.  We have cards to send, parties to go to, and a long to-do list of things that just have to be done.  Hurry, hurry, hurry.  Now, at least for one day, that’s all behind us.  Silent night, holy night is more than just a song lyric.  It’s what it’s all about.

 

My friend, Father Bruce Forman, leads a group called the “Young Catholic Musicians”.  Each year they put on a Christmas concert of music and narration on the birth of Christ.  It includes my favorite lines about Christmas.  Because of the census, Bethlehem was filled with people.  Some of them were very important businessmen, politicians, and Jewish leaders.  With all those VIPs in town, why did God chose to announce the birth of His Son to shepherds, the lowliest members of society?  The answer is simple and profound.  “God speaks to those who sit quietly and listen.”

 

That’s my wish for you on this Christmas Eve.  I pray that you’ll take time out to just sit quietly and listen to God.

veselé Vánoce!  ‘null-ig hun-a dit’!  Merry Christmas!

 

 

5th Sunday of Lent

Why are we here?  I don’t mean why are we here in this church, or why are we in Saint Louis, MO (or wherever you are) instead of some other place.  The question is “why are we HERE?”; why are we alive?  What is our purpose?  In the thousands of years of human existence there has never been another person exactly like you or exactly like me.  No matter how much longer life exists on this planet, there will never be another person exactly you or exactly like me.  Every person is unique.  Even identical twins are different individuals.  Every person has a reason for being.

 

Jesus knew why He was here.  He says, “I am troubled now.  Yet what should I say?  ‘Father save me from this hour’?  But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.  Father, glorify your name.”  For the rest of us, it’s not necessarily that clear cut.

 

Jesus was the Son of God.  He could do lots of cool things.  He could walk on water.  He could change water into wine.  He healed the sick and raised the dead.  Most important, He knew why He was doing these things.  He knew why He was here.

 

But, you and I go through life not knowing exactly why we’re here.  I know some of you remember the old Baltimore Catechism.

Question:  Why did God make us?  Answer: God made us to show forth His goodness and to share with us His everlasting happiness in heaven.

Question:  What must we do to gain the happiness of heaven?”  Answer: To gain the happiness of heaven we must know, love, and serve God in this world.

 

Simple enough, but what does it mean?  It means something different to each one of us and some of us spend our entire earthly lives trying to figure it out.

 

When a priest or deacon is in formation we go through a time of discernment; a time of deciding if this is really what God calls us to do.  I have friends who are deacons who swear that God spoke to them and told them they were being called.  I wasn’t so blessed. Right up to the day or ordination I had doubts.  My tenth anniversary of ordination is coming up in a few weeks and I still have doubts.  “Is this really what God wants me to do?  Does He really want me to be a deacon?  Does He really want me to be in this place?”

 

Father Thomas Merton wrote a prayer about discernment that goes like this:

O Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going,


I do not see the road ahead of me,


I cannot know for certain where it will end.



Nor do I really know myself,
And that fact that I think
I am following Your will
Does not mean that I am actually doing so.



But I believe
That the desire to please You
Does in fact please You.
And I hope I have that desire
In all that I am doing.



I hope that I will never do anything
Apart from that desire to please You.
And I know that if I do this
You will lead me by the right road,
Though I may know nothing about it.



Therefore I will trust You always
Though I may seem to be lost
And in the shadow of death.
I will not fear,
For You are ever with me,
And You will never leave me
To make my journey alone.


In John’s Gospel a voice comes down from heaven.  Some of the people present heard it as thunder.  Some said an angel had spoken to them.  John doesn’t say this but it’s very possible that some of the people didn’t hear anything at all.  God speaks to each of us in the way that we need to hear Him.  Some of us need to be smacked up side of the head.  Some of us need to be led gently.  Some of us just don’t pay enough attention and God’s message never gets through to us at all.

 

So, how do we know what it is that God wants us to do.  Simple…PRAY.  I don’t mean the kind of prayer where we spend a few minutes telling God how to do His job.  You know, “Lord, give me this.  Lord, give me that.  God, make this happen.  Lord, give me a winning lottery ticket.  Lord, give me patience.  DO IT NOW!!”

 

Believe me, God knows how to do His job.  You wouldn’t talk to your best friend that way.  Why would you talk to God that way.  When you pray it shouldn’t be a monologue.  It should be a conversation.  You have one mouth and two ears.  When you pray, you should use your ears at least twice as much as you use your mouth.

 

Some of us may not want to listen to God because we’re afraid of what we might hear.  Even Jesus says, “I am troubled now.”  He knows what His Father wants Him to do.  He knows that He’s going to be tortured and killed in just a few days.  Of course, He’s troubled.  But He also knows that’s why He was sent.  “What should I say:  ‘Father, save me from this hour?  But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.  Father, glorify your name.’”

 

Isn’t that last part what our lives are really all about.  “Father, glorify your name”?   Isn’t that what the Baltimore Catechism meant? What must we do to gain the happiness of heaven?”  To gain the happiness of heaven we must know, love, and serve God in this world, even though we may be troubled by what He asks us to do.  If even Jesus knew not to disobey His Father, who are we to question His will?

 

 

 

Why are we here?  I don’t mean why are we here in this church, or why are we in Saint Louis, MO (or wherever you are) instead of some other place.  The question is “why are we HERE?”; why are we alive?  What is our purpose?  In the thousands of years of human existence there has never been another person exactly like you or exactly like me.  No matter how much longer life exists on this planet, there will never be another person exactly you or exactly like me.  Every person is unique.  Even identical twins are different individuals.  Every person has a reason for being.

 

Jesus knew why He was here.  He says, “I am troubled now.  Yet what should I say?  ‘Father save me from this hour’?  But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.  Father, glorify your name.”  For the rest of us, it’s not necessarily that clear cut.

 

Jesus was the Son of God.  He could do lots of cool things.  He could walk on water.  He could change water into wine.  He healed the sick and raised the dead.  Most important, He knew why He was doing these things.  He knew why He was here.

 

But, you and I go through life not knowing exactly why we’re here.  I know some of you remember the old Baltimore Catechism.

Question:  Why did God make us?  Answer: God made us to show forth His goodness and to share with us His everlasting happiness in heaven.

Question:  What must we do to gain the happiness of heaven?”  Answer: To gain the happiness of heaven we must know, love, and serve God in this world.

 

Simple enough, but what does it mean?  It means something different to each one of us and some of us spend our entire earthly lives trying to figure it out.

 

When a priest or deacon is in formation we go through a time of discernment; a time of deciding if this is really what God calls us to do.  I have friends who are deacons who swear that God spoke to them and told them they were being called.  I wasn’t so blessed. Right up to the day or ordination I had doubts.  My tenth anniversary of ordination is coming up in a few weeks and I still have doubts.  “Is this really what God wants me to do?  Does He really want me to be a deacon?  Does He really want me to be in this place?”

 

Father Thomas Merton wrote a prayer about discernment that goes like this:

O Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going,


I do not see the road ahead of me,


I cannot know for certain where it will end.



Nor do I really know myself,
And that fact that I think
I am following Your will
Does not mean that I am actually doing so.



But I believe
That the desire to please You
Does in fact please You.
And I hope I have that desire
In all that I am doing.



I hope that I will never do anything
Apart from that desire to please You.
And I know that if I do this
You will lead me by the right road,
Though I may know nothing about it.



Therefore I will trust You always
Though I may seem to be lost
And in the shadow of death.
I will not fear,
For You are ever with me,
And You will never leave me
To make my journey alone.


In John’s Gospel a voice comes down from heaven.  Some of the people present heard it as thunder.  Some said an angel had spoken to them.  John doesn’t say this but it’s very possible that some of the people didn’t hear anything at all.  God speaks to each of us in the way that we need to hear Him.  Some of us need to be smacked up side of the head.  Some of us need to be led gently.  Some of us just don’t pay enough attention and God’s message never gets through to us at all.

 

So, how do we know what it is that God wants us to do.  Simple…PRAY.  I don’t mean the kind of prayer where we spend a few minutes telling God how to do His job.  You know, “Lord, give me this.  Lord, give me that.  God, make this happen.  Lord, give me a winning lottery ticket.  Lord, give me patience.  DO IT NOW!!”

 

Believe me, God knows how to do His job.  You wouldn’t talk to your best friend that way.  Why would you talk to God that way.  When you pray it shouldn’t be a monologue.  It should be a conversation.  You have one mouth and two ears.  When you pray, you should use your ears at least twice as much as you use your mouth.

 

Some of us may not want to listen to God because we’re afraid of what we might hear.  Even Jesus says, “I am troubled now.”  He knows what His Father wants Him to do.  He knows that He’s going to be tortured and killed in just a few days.  Of course, He’s troubled.  But He also knows that’s why He was sent.  “What should I say:  ‘Father, save me from this hour?  But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.  Father, glorify your name.’”

 

Isn’t that last part what our lives are really all about.  “Father, glorify your name”?   Isn’t that what the Baltimore Catechism meant? What must we do to gain the happiness of heaven?”  To gain the happiness of heaven we must know, love, and serve God in this world, even though we may be troubled by what He asks us to do.  If even Jesus knew not to disobey His Father, who are we to question His will?

 

 

 

 

saint john nepomuk interiorThis weekend was my first to preach at my new parish, Saint John Nepomuk Church.  Here’s the text of my homily.  Enjoy.

OK.  You’re sitting there in your pew and you’re wondering, “So who’s this guy now?  That’s a fair question.  My name’s Deacon Mike Buckley and the Archbishop has appointed me Director of Saint John Nepomuk Chapel.  “Oh, great!” you think.  “Another stranger.”

It’s true, I am a stranger.  In fact, a lot of people might tell you I’m stranger than anyone you know.  But the Archbishop sent me, so here I am.  In fact, here’s what the Archbishop wrote to me in my letter of appointment.

“As Director, providing guidance and direction, you are to work with and for the dedicated members of Saint John Nepomuk Chapel who have worshipped there for so many years and who hold Saint John Nepomuk Chapel dear in their thoughts and in their hearts.”

Don’t ask me why he chose an Irish deacon to serve the oldest Czech church in North America.  He had his reasons, I guess.  But as I thought about it I realized that throughout the history of the Church, men and women have been sent to serve people of other nationalities.  My own patron saint, the patron saint of Ireland is an Englishman named Patrick.  That seems to have worked out pretty well.

As an outsider, I don’t know that I can ever understand the deep feelings so many of you have for this wonderful church, but I can appreciate the history and I can definitely appreciate the beauty of this, historic house of worship.  In fact, let me tell you a little story.  [You’ll soon realize that I do like to tell stories.]

Anyway, I thought, I’d tell you a little about myself this afternoon (morning) so you get an idea of where I’m coming from.  Hopefully, over the next weeks and months, I’ll learn more about you.  But, keep in mind that you only have to learn one new person.  I have to learn about all of you.  If you greet me after mass today and introduce yourself and I forget your name by next week, please don’t be mad.  It’s one of the hazards of age.  I don’t remember what the others are.

I was ordained by then Archbishop, now Cardinal Rigali in June of 2002.  That means I’ve been a deacon for (count on fingers) almost nine years.  I’ve been married to my lovely and talented wife, Jan, for 42 years.  She’s given me four wonderful kids, who are actually adults now.  I still call them “kids” which they may or may not like.  But, if you’re a parent you know that they’re always your kids no matter how old they get.

Two of my kids have kids of their own, for a total of four grandchildren.  I may brag about all eight of them from time-to-time but usually only to make a point.  I hope you’ll bear with me.  I’m more than happy to listen to you brag about yours any time you want.  If you’re interested, I do have pictures.

I’m not a cradle Catholic.  I was raised a Baptist and converted to Catholicism when Jan and I were married in 1968.  It’s am interesting story.   I’ll tell you some day, but not today.

This might be a good time to mention that there will be a parish meeting tomorrow (this) morning after (9:30) mass.  The purpose of the meeting is to discuss plans for 2011 events.  It will also be a good time to ask me any questions you might have.  I hope you can make it.

In the second reading today, Saint Paul writes to the Corinthians that “there should be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.” Hopefully you and I are united in the same purpose.  I take Archbishop Carlson’s words very seriously, that I am to work with you and for you.  I know some of you may be disappointed that he didn’t send you a priest/pastor.  But we have to deal with the reality that their aren’t enough priests to go around.

The good news is that this Archbishop doesn’t like to close churches.  He’s appointed a committee to look at new and different models for keeping them open.  This community has a prominent place in the history of the Archdiocese of Saint Louis and you have a chance to make history again.  If you and I are successful here, we’ll give other smaller worship communities a model to follow.

In our Gospel today, Jesus calls Simon and Andrew, and James and John and promises to make them fishers of men.  He calls you and me to be fishers of men, too.  As I wrote in this week’s bulletin, there is no greater good that you and I can do than to bring others to Christ.  That’s our common purpose.  That’s what Paul asked of the people of Corinth and that’s what Christ asks of you and me.

Jan and I were members of Saint Bernadette parish in South County for thirty-five years.  I’ve been a deacon there since I was ordained.  It’s been our church home for more than half our lives.  I thought long and hard about accepting this new assignment.  I was very comfortable at Saint Bernadette.  But, you know what?  I wasn’t ordained to be comfortable.  I was ordained to serve God’s people.  And He’s called me to serve you.  He’s also called you to serve one another.

So, as we begin this new chapter in the life of this wonderful church, I’m looking forward to working for you and with you.  When the Apostles asked Jesus how to pray He taught them the prayer that we pray so often, alone and together.  “Thy kingdom come, THY will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  I don’t know exactly what God’s will is, but I’d like to close by sharing a prayer with you written by the famous Trappist monk, Father Thomas Merton:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.

I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end.

Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you and I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing.

And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road although I may know nothing about it.

Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.  I will not fear, for you are ever with me and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.