Readings: Deut 4:1-8; James 1:17-27; Mk 7:1-23
About a week and a half ago I gave a presentation at the Benedict Inn on "Eucharistic Devotion outside the Mass." At one point I was summarizing some of the Church’s current regulations as laid out in the Vatican’s documents and some participants began to ask questions like, "Why did they change from genuflection on two knees to one knee?" and "Why did they restrict the number of candles you can use at Benediction?" Finally, one woman off to the side couldn’t take it anymore and said, "Do you really think Jesus would care about any of this?" Actually, he would. Jesus was always concerned that the Temple sacrifices be done correctly. But he was even more concerned that they be done with the right attitude. With Jesus it was always the heart and the intention that mattered most.
But in another sense our frustrated woman had a point. There’s always a temptation in organized religion of getting lost in trivialities. Whether it’s the late medieval conundrum of asking, "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?" to the modern American bishops’ declaration changing the response to the mass readings from "This is the Word of the Lord" to "The Word of the Lord," the descent into triviality always lurks as a temptation. Then it’s necessary for a jolt of reality to get back to the basics.That’s what our frustrated woman wanted.
One of the ways that the biblical writers dealt with this temptation is to give short, pithy statements that go right to the heart of the matter. Today’s reading from the Letter of James gives us just such an example: "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows and to keep oneself unstained by the world." That cuts through a great mass of religious words and actions to give a clear benchmark. It’s akin to that wonderful passage in the prophecy of Micah: "What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God." (6:8) And, perhaps the prime example is from Jesus himself: "This is the greatest commandment: that you love the Lord your God with your whole heart and whole mind and whole will; and the second is like the first: that you love your neighbor as yourself." All of these are short statements that take us back to the heart of what Christian faith is all about.
We need the same thing in monastic life. We can get too weighed down in trivial matters. I remember one lengthy and heated chapter meeting at St. Meinrad over "at what exact time does noon prayer begin." I think the sayings of the desert fathers and mothers were used in the same way as those short biblical statements: to jolt people back to the heart of monastic living. Antony the Great said: "Our life and death is with our neighbor. If we win our neighbor, we win God. If we caused our neighbor to stumble, we have sinned against Christ." Amma Syncletica said: "You can be a solitary in your mind even when you live in the middle of a crowd. You can be a solitary and still live in the middle of the crowd of your own thoughts."
When we live the faith within large, organized religions, we all need ways and times to take us back to the basics. That’s one of the reasons for the annual retreat. It’s one of the reasons for your desert days. Some of the questions we all ought to ask ourselves today are: what are my ways of getting me back to the heart of the faith and how often do I make use of them?
Monday, August 31, 2009
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
How do Priests, deacons, and religious brothers and sisters help us hear God’s call in our lives? I think it really helps God feel better when he knows that people are listening to his call. For when sisters or monks take time out of their lives to praise God. Or when priests or deacons take timeout of their lives to teach and help the church.
Thinking about the call of God really makes you think. If you are young, just keep following your vocation and you’ll hear the call. For adults just keep listening to God and do what he called you to do. Everyday I try to do random acts of kindness and remember to pray. But I also try to be watchful. Maybe God does want me to be a Marine Biologist. Everyone should know to always be watchful for their call, but that doesn’t mean God doesn’t want you to go for your dream job.
It makes me feel weird when I think of those people selling their bodies (showing their body), people getting in gun fights just because they are on the other side of the street. That tells me they’re not listening to their call and not following their vocation. They are telling God they don’t care what God tries to do for them or they don’t believe in him because they kicked him out of their life enough to not even think of Him. If they would’ve started their life better the world would be better because of all the people following God’s call.
A big call you can follow is to love and serve God’s people. By doing that, God will know you’re following him and he’ll know we still care that he sent his own son to die for us on the cross. He wants to see us all have an eternal life in heaven with him. I think a lot about heaven. It will feel so great to see Him give you a smile, a smile that you want to see for all of your eternal life in heaven, to live in the kingdom of God. All you have to do is follow your vocation and listen to God’s call.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
Readings: Josh 24:1-15; Eph 5:21-32; Jn 6:60-69
In today’s gospel passage Jesus says to his disciples, "Does this shock you?" He is referring to statements he made earlier about himself being "the living bread come down from heaven." And "whoever eats of this bread will live forever. The disciples don’t understand and struggle to understand his teaching. As a result many of his disciples no longer followed him.
It would be easy to say that just within my own lifetime many Catholics have had to face Jesus’ question: "Does this shock you?" There were all of the changes after the Second Vatican Council which introduced one of the most massive reorganizations of the Catholic Church in the last five hundred years. Many Catholics were shocked. Then there was the large exodus of priests and sisters leaving the priesthood and religious life in the 1960s and 70s. Many Catholics were shocked. In the early 1990s there was the priest sex abuse scandal and again many Catholics were shocked. It’s been a tough fifty years for many in the Catholic Church. The reasons for the distress have not always been the same, but they have all been upsetting.
But we should step back and take a closer look at this situation and ask some hard questions. Was Jesus’ question many years ago a way of alerting his followers to the reality that shocks of faith are inevitably going to happen to them? Maybe. There’s definitely a tendency that a lot of people have to think that faith and religion should always comfort and console them. If it doesn’t, then there must be something wrong with it. But neither Jesus nor the New Testament writers say that faith is always consoling. Consoling at times, yes, but also shocking at other times. That’s not easy to accept. Christian faith is indeed a challenge for people’s lives. Faith is a two-edged sword; sometimes it comforts and sometimes it confronts.
I would even say that some shock in matters of faith is absolutely necessary for an individual to grow into a mature faith. There is without doubt a shock that comes when one confronts the challenge of moving from a childhood expression of faith to an adult expression of faith. It’s all the more shocking when it happens in force-fed fashion. I used to see that all the time in the seminary. Young men came with great ideals to study for the priesthood, usually feeling very secure in their childhood expression of faith. Then they learned that the Catholic faith didn’t just drop fully formed from heaven but in fact grew, evolved, and sometimes devolved in a historical process. They learned that the bible didn’t just drop fully formed from heaven but was shaped by an ordinary human process of writing. They learned that the Church isn’t always perfect, and has in fact committed grievous mistakes in its history. These are all shocks of faith to them. Believe me, I’ve seen enough seminary students crying in my office that their faith has been shaken and they don’t know where they are going. I try to patiently explain to them the process of moving from a childhood expression of faith to an adult expression of faith. They have to be patient with themselves and their educational project. And eventually most of them pull through. But it’s still a hard challenge for them.
Shocks of faith will come for all of us. Jesus told us to expect them. Let’s pray that we use them productively to grow to a more mature faith.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
How do religious leaders such as priests, deacons, religious brothers, and sisters help us hear God’s Call in life? Some ways religious leaders help us hear God’s Call are by spreading the word of God, being role models of the church and community, being celibate, and above all showing love.
The first way religious leaders help us hear God’s Call in life is by spreading the word of God. Priests and deacons spread the word of God all the time everyday, just by saying the Gospel and Homily at mass. Another way religious leaders spread the word of God is by teaching at Catholic Schools. Nuns, such as Sister Nicolette Etienne, a teacher at Holy Name and former principal at Our Lady of Lourdes, and Sister James Michael, principal at Saint Jude.
The second way religious leaders help us hear God’s call in life is by being role models of the church and community. Being a role model can be very inspirational. When a parishioner sees a nun or priest doing a random act of kindness, they are inspired to do the same.
The third way religious leaders help us hear God’s call in Life is by being celibate. Celibacy is a promise to God to abstain yourself from sexual activity or marriage. This is important because it is showing God and the rest of the world that your body is a temple of the Lord.
The last way religious leaders help us hear God’s Call in Life is by showing love. Loving is very, very important because when someone knows you love them for who they are they will feel accepted by God and his creations. All of us should love all creatures because it will show God we love him and that we are thankful for this wonderful world he gave us.
These are the ways religious leaders help us hear God’s Call in Life…I can hear him…can you?
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Readings: Prov 9:1-6; Eph 5:15-20; Jn 6:51-58
I’m currently listening to one of the Teaching Company programs, entitled "A History of Byzantium." The program is taught by Prof. Kenneth Harl of Tulane University. I always have to chuckle whenever I hear his description of the Norman knights who traveled east on the First Crusade in 1096. He said they "were deeply devoted to Christ. Little shaky on the ten commandments, but deeply devoted to Christ." I was reminded of this when I read through the readings we have just heard. The gospel is about receiving the bread of life, the central ritual of the Catholic Church; the second reading from the Ephesians letter is a great exhortation to live a good moral life..."watch carefully how you live...don’t get drunk, etc." These two readings reflect the moral and the ritual side of a total faith and both of them are based on still another element, that of beliefs. We receive the living bread because we first believe it is the living bread. And we live a good moral life because we first believe that Jesus taught us to do so and gave us his life as an example.
Now bear with me because I’m going to do a little abstract analysis. Belief—morality—ritual, they are three separate but interlocking aspects of a complete faith. In a good, healthy faith expression all three should be present and each interacting with the other two. But all too often one or two of them gets skewed or a bit off-track. Like the Norman knights...they were strong in their belief in Jesus Christ, but pretty weak in their morality. But I think we are all like that at times. The chances are good that at some time or another in our lives we find ourselves weak and teetering in one area or another. We may struggle with understanding a particular belief, like the virginal conception. Or we find that we can’t pray and all the rituals, even the mass, seem empty. Or we struggle with some aspect of morality, maybe finding it impossible to forgive someone who has offended us. We all find ourselves in situations like these; they are human situations that simply show our mortal natures.
I did this three-way analysis for a reason. It so often happens that when we struggle in one area, the easy temptation is to see that area as our whole faith. Over my forty years as a spiritual director I’ve seen people do that many times. A person struggles with a particular belief, e.g. the Immaculate Conception, and they immediately jump to: "I’m losing my faith." I ask: "Do you still try to be an honest and loving person?" They usually answer, yes. I ask: "Do you still attend mass regularly?" They usually answer, yes. The reason they came to see me in the first place is because they are conscientious individuals. I try to help them see that they aren’t "losing their faith." They are struggling with one aspect of it, yes, but there’s a lot of a total faith they still possess. The most immediate thing is to help them strengthen those areas of faith they are still strong in. And then they can deal as best they can with the area and issue they are struggling with.
The key virtue here is being patient with oneself. We don’t live in a very patient society or culture. We want results NOW. And if we don’t get them now, we tend to throw the whole thing away. Living a faith honestly and well requires patience, patience with others and, above all, patience with ourselves over a lifetime. I think the best thing we can do at this Eucharist is to take a few moments of quiet and ask and pray for the gift of patience with ourselves when we find ourselves struggling with some area of faith.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
How do priests, deacons, and religious brothers and sisters help us hear god’s call? They do many things to help us hear God’s call or vocation. At the time of Baptism God calls each of us by name and made us to be his own. It is the original call by God that stands at the center of all vocations in the church.
The definition of vocation is defined in a religious environment is an occupation for which a person is suited, trained, or qualified. Often those who follow a religious vocation have an inclination to undertake the often called a calling. This type of vocation is either professional or voluntary and can include many different religious backgrounds.
God helps Priests lead us closer to our vocation. The priest is the one who Baptize us through God. So in this way God is working through priests today. Deacons also help in this.
Sisters help teach us about what God wants our vocation to be. They teach us about the bible which can help us deepen our relationship with God. Which God is the one who tells us what our vocation is going to be even if it is becoming a priest, deacon, sister, or anything else. Brothers do the same things as sisters. They teach us about God.
All of these people lead us in the right direction towards our vocation. God also plays a big part in this. God lead us to these people to help guide us to the right path, to find our vocation.
Our vocation can be anything as becoming a doctor, police officer, teacher, or becoming a religious person. Whatever vocation it is we should do it for God. We each play a part in society.
We also need to use our vocation to help one another. That’s the main thing God wants is for us to use our vocation in life to help others.
Sunday, August 9, 2009
Readings: 1 Kgs 19:4-8; Eph 4:30–5:2; Jn 6:41-51
In 1979 I received my first academic sabbatical. I chose to study what was a fad at that time, phenomenological theology, at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN. I traded off part-time help in Holy Rosary Parish for room and board. It didn’t take very long for me to realize that I was going to learn a lot more from serving in the parish than I would from any amount of phenomenological theology.
Over time I noticed at the 10:30am Sunday mass over in the side pews there was a group of fifteen to twenty people who came faithfully, sang mightily, and were obviously very engaged in the service of the mass. But they never received communion. Puzzled, I asked the pastor about them. "Oh," he said, "they are those who are divorced and remarried without an annulment. They aren’t permitted to receive communion." I thought to myself, "Wow! There are people who really hunger for the bread of life. Even though they can’t receive it, they just want to be close to it." I thought about those people for a long time.
I was reminded of them recently when I read a passage in Fr. Timothy Radcliffe’s book, Why Go to Church? The Drama of the Eucharist. He writes: "The Eucharist is our home, whatever we have done and been. So many people feel excluded because of their personal circumstances, surprisingly often to do with sex! People are divorced and remarried, live with partners, are gay or whatever and feel unwelcome, or second-class Christians. But these are the situations in which ordinary people find themselves in our society, and these are the people whom Jesus surely invites to come and sit and eat with him on the beach. God accepts our limited, fragile forgetful loves if that is all we have to offer him now." (p. 194) I was to discover that there were a lot more people in that group than just those sitting in the side pews.
Anyway, back to 1979! After learning the situation of those people who attended mass so fervently, yet could not receive communion, I determined to look for special occasions when I could make an exception to the rule. Sadly, one occurred about a month later. A little twelve-year old girl in the parish was accidentally electrocuted while playing on her grandparents’ farm. The parish’s CCD director filled me in on the family history. The girl’s mother was Catholic, but divorced and remarried outside the Catholic Church. The mother had no involvement with the parish, but she was insistent that the girl receive CCD lessons. The mother brought her daughter faithfully every Sunday. At the funeral mass right before communion I made the announcement that the regular practice of the Catholic Church is that only members in good standing receive communion but that special occasions like a funeral are an exception. I hadn’t even finished the sentence before the girl’s mother was climbing over five people to get out of the pew. She received the Eucharist with great reverence.
I’ve told you some stories today of people who really hungered for the bread of life come down from heaven. In a few minutes we shall receive that bread of life. How much do we, how much do I hunger for it? We celebrate the Eucharist almost daily; it is so easy to begin to take it for granted or forget the great gift of God that it is. I think it would be good to revisit some of the words of Fr. Timothy Radcliffe that I quoted before: "The Eucharist is our home, whatever we have done and been. God accepts our limited, fragile forgetful loves if that is all we have to offer him now." Let’s take a moment and let ourselves truly become those who hunger for the bread from heaven!
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Priests, deacons, and religious brothers and sisters help us hear God’s call in our lives in different ways. At first they can help us through prayer. Prayer means to talk to God. And if you don’t talk to God how can you pay attention to him? They help you comprehend the meaning of prayer and how to pray. When we meditate we are quiet and secluded from the people around us. They teach us how to contemplate, and how to listen.
Priests, deacons, and religious brothers and sisters also help us hear God’s call through experience. They have already been through what today’s youth is going through now. They know what it’s like. They teach us how to live a Christian life. If we don’t live a holy life then we lose our sense of hearing. We would be dead to the call God is trying to tell us. Holy men and women give us back our hearing just like Jesus would do. When I listen to the priests, deacons, and religious brothers and sisters in my life, it inspires me to find my holy duty as a Catholic child of God.
I have a sister teaching religion at my school. She’s a great person and role model. Just seeing people who have heard the call wants me to hear, too. Priests, deacons, and religious brothers and sisters also help us to hear God’s call by their advice they give to young Christians. It is the guidance to love God and to serve God’s people.
When you lost your way and turned toward sin go to them for help. They will not lead you astray. But they will show you the way to good. When you are on the path of righteousness. hearing God’s call is ultimately up to you to believe.
Monday, August 3, 2009
August 2, 2009
When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there,
they themselves got into boats
and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus.
And when they found him across the sea they said to him,
“Rabbi, when did you get here?”
Jesus answered them and said,
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
you are looking for me not because you saw signs
but because you ate the loaves and were filled.
Do not work for food that perishes
but for the food that endures for eternal life,
which the Son of Man will give you.
For on him the Father, God, has set his seal.”
So they said to him,
“What can we do to accomplish the works of God?”
Jesus answered and said to them,
“This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.”
So they said to him,
“What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?
What can you do?
Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written:
He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”
So Jesus said to them,
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven;
my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.
For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven
and gives life to the world.”
So they said to him,
“Sir, give us this bread always.”
Jesus said to them,
“I am the bread of life;
whoever comes to me will never hunger,
and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”
Those Israelites were a bunch of complainers, weren’t they? The first reading for this Sabbath tells of their grumbling and whining to Moses and Aaron…”We don’t have anything to eat…you should have left us alone where we could have had our fill of bread.” Then when they woke in the morning to fine flakes of hoarfrost they said, “What is this?” Now, we don’t know from the written word if they said a pleasant, “Oh, what is this?” or an irritable “What the heck is this?” What’s your guess?
Both the first and third readings for this Sunday deal with eating…with bread; the staff of life. Jesus quotes from Exodus to the crowd reminding them that their need for bread in the past and their need for bread in the present has been met by the God who loves them and is always there to take care of them.
Every year around Christmastime, the Sunshine Bakery puts billboards around town that proclaim, “We do not live by bread alone.” I’ve always admired that because although Sunshine Bakery’s livelihood depends upon people buying bread, they know the Scriptures. They understand that Jesus is the bread of life. It is Jesus who fills us, not what we put in our mouths.
So many of Jesus’ encounters with people happen around food…often bread. We pray several times a day… “Give us this day our daily bread.” The implication being we need bread for our very survival; both the bread kneaded by hand and the bread that is Jesus Christ himself. The Eucharistic bread symbolizes the willingness of Jesus to be broken for us, to be consumed by us, to be the stuff of which we are made.
In this Gospel, the people are asking for what they think is bread…a steady supply of food that will sustain them. Jesus’ response “I am the bread of life” must have been puzzling. I guess it only really makes sense when we fast forward to the Last Supper.
What we know is that we believe Jesus is the Bread of Life, that Jesus is present in the bread at Eucharist and that Jesus enters and transforms our bodies and souls when we receive the host. His promise that no one who comes to him will ever hunger is what keeps us coming back to the altar.
Saturday, August 1, 2009
I thank you for your efforts for Me. Do you see the fruit of your labors? Perhaps not. Perhaps you continue serving, living out your commitments with no understanding of how I bless the world through your service. I hear your sighs. I am with you in your uncertainty. In humanity, there is always uncertainty. In humanity, there is always doubt. There also comes fear and each human will experience heaviness in his heart some day. None of these things should persuade you that you are serving in vain. None of these things should distract you from a zealous representation of the gospel message. You see, the message is so much bigger than each of you. And yet, each of you is necessary. The gospel truth pushes itself into a world that craves truth, even while it rejects truth. You, beloved apostle, are part of that push. You will feel the strain in your body and soul. You will feel the sacrifice. If you did not feel any such strain or sacrifice, there would be cause for concern because living and spreading the gospel is work. When you feel tired, remember that I also felt tired. Never separate your sufferings from My sufferings and you will be at peace, even as you carry your share of the cross for this time. I am with you, loving and sustaining you. I am ever watchful. When you need Me in a special way, you shall have Me, with every grace required. Do not be afraid of anything. Your Jesus will never abandon you.