13th Sunday in Ordinary Time - June 27, 2010
Readings: 1 Kgs 19-16-21; Gal 5:13-18; Lk 9:51-62
One of the key themes in today’s readings is freedom. Ideally they should have had this reading next weekend when we celebrate the 4th of July holiday. But, alas, this isn’t a perfect world and so we have the reading from Paul’s Letter to the Galatians this week. And Paul makes freedom into a main Christian belief: "For freedom Christ has set us free. .... You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters...so serve one another through love."
For those of us who can remember back to the days before the Second Vatican Council in the 1950s and 1960s, we can recall that freedom was not a big issue in the Catholic Church. There was a lot more emphasis on obedience—obeying the laws of God and obeying the laws of the Church. But the Council made a strong statement about the importance of freedom in the Christian vision: "It is only in freedom that human beings can turn toward what is good. .... That which is truly freedom is an exceptional sign of the image of God in human beings." (G & S, #17) This declaration put freedom at the very center of Catholic morality and spirituality. Freedom is a sign of the image of God in us.
But I think that we should note that there are several different meanings of freedom in our common language usage, and it’s important that we understand which of them is being referred to in both St. Paul’s letter and the Council document. First, there’s a common understanding of freedom that sees it as the "simple ability to choose between options" (without specifying any objects of choice). We go to the grocery store with the freedom to choose whatever variety of breakfast cereal we would like. This freedom is the simple ability to choose between options. But that’s not the particular meaning of freedom that St. Paul or the Council intends.
There’s a second meaning of freedom, which is "the ability and action of choosing what is right and good." Notice that Paul said, "You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters, so serve one another through love." And the Council declares: "...in freedom human beings can turn toward what is good." This meaning of freedom includes a necessary object, the good and the loving. In my homily last week I noted that Jesus wanted us to think about other people’s needs and lives. We are to think about how we can help them to make their lives a little easier or a little more enjoyable. True Christian freedom is the power to actually do that. It’s not just thinking about it; it’s doing it. That’s the freedom that St. Paul and the Vatican Council document are intending.
There’s a third meaning of freedom, but it’s much less well-known than the first two. I came across an example of it in a book entitled, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes. The book is by a Presbyterian minister, Belden Lane. One of the things he writes about in the book is the time he spent with his mother as she was dying from cancer in a nursing home over a three-year period. As he tells it, she was not an easy person to live with at any time, and she did not like being confined in a nursing home room. But gradually she came to accept it....with a struggle. I’d like to read you some lines from that book about his mother’s adjustment: "My mother’s acceptance of the room gave her, for the first time in her life, a quiet space for the healing of memories. She was able to pour a lifetime of anxieties and compulsions into that suffocatingly quiet room. As a place she could not leave, it became ironically a source of the highest freedom she ever attained. ... To freely choose what one cannot change may be the highest exercise of the will, and its deepest freedom." (p. 206) There’s a lot to think about there.
Next weekend we will celebrate the 4th of July and the achievement of freedom. But let’s not forget that there are several different kinds of freedom. We want to celebrate our Christian freedom. Again, as St. Paul writes, "You were called to freedom, so serve one another with love."
Sunday, June 27, 2010
13th Sunday in Ordinary Time - June 27, 2010
Sunday, June 20, 2010
I thank God often for the Dad He blessed me with! My dad is religious, kind, loving, gentle, stable, funny, intelligent, a golfer, a husband a father of six and grandfather of six. He and mom have been married for 53 years. They have always kept God at the center of their marriage and as the heart of our family. I'm blessed indeed and grateful for the loving example of my dad.
In today's Gospel Jesus asks His disciples two questions.
1. Who do the crowds say that I am?
2. But who do you say that I am?
Peter answers the second question, "The Christ of God."
I took time this morning to reflect on the second question. If Jesus appeared to me today and said, "Nicolette, who do you say that I am?" I would probably use the following words to describe who Jesus is to me...though I'll never quite be able to put into words just how amazing Jesus is in my life. I'm sure as the day goes on I'll think of even more words.
Feel free to leave your list on the comment section! You'll find it is very difficult to answer this question with words. It's a great way to start the day!
- First and foremost Jesus is LOVE
- My heart's desire
- King of Kings
- The Good Shepherd
- Prince of Peace
- Son of God
- Word made Flesh
- Our Salvation
- The Way
- The Truth
- Our Life
11th Sunday in Ordinary Time - June 20, 2010
Readings: Zech 12:10-11; Gal 3:26-29; Lk 9:18-24
The words of Jesus are very direct: "All those who wish to come after me, must deny themselves, take up their cross daily and follow me." How strange and how foreign Jesus’ words must seem to most American ears. After all, our culture isn’t very much disposed to deny anything to ourselves; instead, we are taught to be users, consumers, to indulge ourselves as much as possible. That’s the American way. Most of us don’t wake up in the morning and try to figure out how we can deny ourselves something today; no, we wonder what we are going to enjoy today. Similarly, I doubt that many of us get up and wonder what kind of cross we can take upon ourselves today. No, I suspect that Jesus’ words must seem quite strange to most Americans.
Yet here we are---gathered as a group of Americans who call ourselves followers of Jesus, who call ourselves Christians! After all, that should be why we are here in church. If we are honest about that name of ‘Christian,’ then we should try and seriously investigate what these words of Jesus mean for us. What does it mean to regularly "deny something to ourselves?" and how "do we take up the cross daily?" Those should be serious questions we ask ourselves, and maybe they should be something we think about in the morning as we are planning our day. I would suggest, however, that we might think about these words more fruitfully by putting them in a positive, rather than negative form.
Instead of thinking about what we can deny to ourselves, let’s think about what kind of good deed or favor we can do for someone else. Maybe for a family member, a friend, a neighbor, or a co-worker. Something we can do to make their life a little easier, more pleasant or enjoyable. In the process of doing that, it’s likely we will deny something to ourselves—energy, time or money. To think about doing some kind act or favor for someone else is the way that Jesus wants us to think regularly. That’s his teaching—think about someone else’s needs and life. That’s why, when I hear confessions at parish penance services, I like to give as a penance, "Do a kind act for some member of your family." That’s what Jesus is teaching in today’s gospel: think about someone else and the good you can do for them. That’s Christian behavior.
And instead of thinking about "taking up the cross," let’s think about "taking responsibility" and "living up to our commitments." Taking responsibility for one’s life and character, making commitments to others and keeping them—that’s all a form of taking up the cross. And again that flies in the face of much of what we learn from our culture. We are taught: keep your options open; something better may always come along. Fr. Gavin Barnes, one of my fellow monks, was for many years the director of the annual school play at St. Meinrad College. Twenty years ago he announced he was giving it up; there would be no more plays. The reason? He couldn’t get the college students, who had signed up for the play, to show up for practices. They would say, "Yes, Wednesday is a good night to practice." But when Wednesday night came, there was always someone who didn’t show up because he got a "better offer"—to go to a movie, to go to dinner, to go shopping. To make commitments and to keep them is a version of "taking up the cross."
So, if we transfer Jesus’ words into a positive form, they would be something like this: "All those who wish to come after me should start thinking about and responding to the needs of others; they should make commitments to others and honor them, and then they will follow me." That makes the words of Jesus easier to understand, but it doesn’t make it any easier to put them into practice. We still need to find the courage to put aside our own wants, desires and satisfactions for the sake of others. That requires a lot of courage and character. But here we are in church on a Sunday because we call ourselves followers of Jesus. We should consider carefully his teaching.
Sunday, June 13, 2010
Readings: 2 Sam 13:7-13; Gal 2:16-21; Lk 6:36-50
In the cycle of this liturgical year we have finished the stretch of Sundays which celebrate the great beliefs of our Christian faith—Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, Holy Trinity, Body and Blood of Christ and the Sacred Heart. The whole substance of our Christian faith can be found in these feastdays. Now we begin a long stretch of what is called Ordinary Time. Of course, it’s anything but ordinary. It’s a period in which we are to seek to apply to our lives those fundamental Christian beliefs. Instead of Ordinary Time, it should more appropriately be called Application Time.
I recently read an article which would serve as an excellent introduction to this stretch of Application Time. The article is actually a portion of an address given by the Honorable Anne Burke, a justice of the Illinois State Supreme Court, to the students and faculty of St. Xavier University in Chicago. The article was entitled, "Truth Shall Set us Free." Anne Burke was also the Chairperson of the United States’ Catholic Bishops National Review Board, set up to monitor the bishops’ compliance with the guidelines for dealing with childrens’ sex abuse cases. The quote is a little long, but worth it.
"Let me be very clear. Truthfulness would have stopped the tragedy of sexual abuse by the clergy. Truthfulness would have prevented the erosion of faith for many in the aftermath. Truthfulness would have helped victims when they reported abuse, and it would have brought a healing and dignity to those most hurt by going unheard or vilified for years. And truthfulness would have stopped the crisis brought on by the financial settlements that have already bankrupted some dioceses in our nation. Truthfulness, I believe, would have made the task before our National Review Board less painful for our own lives; it would have made some of the leaders we spoke to more believable, less threatened, and maybe less culpable. Truthfulness would have prevented some bishops from trying to deceive even those of us on the National Review Board. Although they had charged our Board with overseeing their compliance with the reforms they had pledged to institute, some of them tried to sabotage our work because they couldn’t control it." (US Catholic, June 2010, p. 33)
I would say: that’s laying it on the line. But I don’t want to talk about truthfulness in the clergy sex abuse crisis. I’d rather reflect on the place of truthfulness in our personal spiritualities. It’s one of the most neglected aspects in trying to build a good, healthy spirituality. Truthfulness encompasses two steps. The first is acknowledging and accepting in our mind and heart the reality of "what is." That’s not easy. We can ignore reality, especially about ourselves, so easily. We can have such blind spots about our intentions and actions. The second step is being able to say, to put into words, the truth we have acknowledged. That’s hard to do as well. We may very well know something to be true, but we won’t say anything about it. I remember years ago when I was spiritual director for one of the seminary students at St. Meinrad. He was having a hard time speaking about the most obvious things about himself. We tried to explore the reasons for this. Eventually it became known that his father was an alcoholic. But no one in the family would ever say anything about it, even though it was causing all sorts of family problems. He described it in a colorful way. He said it was like there was a huge pink elephant lying on the couch in their living room. But nobody would ever ask why it was there. People would walk around it, bring other chairs to sit on, but no one ever said anything about the pink elephant. The unwillingness to speak about what everybody knew to be the case was causing all kinds of related problems in other members of the family.
If we are going to grow in our spiritual lives. If we are going to use well this Application Time of the liturgical year, the virtue of truthfulness will need to accompany us every step of the way. Let’s take a moment to pray for the gift of that virtue.
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
How do priests, deacons, and religious brothers and sisters by their life and ministry, invite others, like you and me, to “come and see” Christ and discover their own vocation? Every day you see and hear what God has given you. God placed these people on this very earth and called out to them and told them to spread the Good News.
The way priests and deacons, by their life and ministry, invite others to come and see Christ and discover their own vocation is by accepting the parish that they lead as a family. When the priests and deacons accept the parish they have a big responsibility. That responsibility is to help the parish and anyone else around them to come closer to God. When the priests and deacons do that they have the parish pray, care, and love for one another.
The way religious brothers and sisters, by their life and ministry, invite others to come and see Christ and discover their own vocations is by going out to the world and teaching about vocations and Christ’s message. One of my favorite people, a religious sister, teaches about vocations. Right now she is my religion teacher and when class is over she always has the whole class tell her our vocation. Our vocation is to Know, Love, and Serve God. That is our mission, to know, love, and serve God.
Those are some ways priests, deacons, and religious brothers and sisters by their life and ministry, invite others to come and see Christ and discover their own vocations.
Sunday, June 6, 2010
Corpus Christi - June 6, 2010 (OLG + 60th Jubilee of Sr. Theresine)
Readings: Gen 14:18-20; 1 Cor 11:23-26; Luke 9:11-17
Sr. Theresine, congratulations! Sixty years of monastic life is quite an achievement. In particular, to have lived so many years through all the changes in the Church and religious life after the Second Vatican Council, the most significant Catholic event of the last four hundred years. Let’s all give her a round of applause! You will receive many words and signs of congratulations today. Receive them happily and humbly.
One can’t make it through sixty years of monastic life without a lot of support and assistance—from family, from your monastic community, from friends. And most certainly, assistance from God! That’s why it is so very appropriate that Sr. Theresine has chosen to celebrate her jubilee on the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. There is no better life-support that any of us can have than the regular, daily nourishment of spiritual food that we receive in the Eucharist. I’m sure Sr. Theresine would agree that holy communion has been a most powerful support throughout her sixty years of monastic living.
This theme of spiritual nourishment shows up again and again in the prayers we pray at the Eucharist. Last Sunday the prayer after communion said: "May the sacrament we receive bring us health of mind and body." On Tuesday the prayer after communion had this: "Hear the prayer of those you renew with spiritual food." On Thursday: " may this Eucharist keep us steadfast in faith and love." Again and again the Church’s liturgy reminds us of the spiritual strength that is given in the Eucharist. But it’s a strength that we must avail ourselves of and remind ourselves over and over that it is there.
But the Eucharist is more than spiritual strength to deal with the challenges of life. Pope John Paul II’s encyclical, The Eucharist in its Relationship to the Church (2003), brings out another aspect very clearly. He writes:
"Certainly the Christian vision leads to the expectation of new heavens and a new earth, but this increases, rather than lessens, our sense of responsibility for the world today. I wish to reaffirm this forcefully at the beginning of the new millennium, so that Christians will feel more obliged than ever not to neglect their duties as citizens in this world. Theirs is the task of contributing with the light of the Gospel to the building of a more human world, a world fully in harmony with God’s plan." (#20)
Here appears a new emphasis of Eucharistic theology introduced by the Holy Father: the Eucharist should point us to our responsibilities in the world, and not remove us from them. The Eucharist calls for a commitment to a betterment of this fragile and often brutal world. We need a better awareness of how to link our Eucharistic celebrations to the real needs of the larger world, to be more in solidarity with our brothers and sisters whose lives are sometimes so different from ours. The Eucharist itself should be the beginning of a communal act of compassion. There are surely many themes for theology and spirituality to be developed in this convergence of the Eucharistic celebration and the betterment of the world. How often the closing prayer at mass directs us to "go out and live our faith in the world." It invites us to explore: what am I taking from this celebration as nourishment for my life during this day? How is this particular Eucharist serving to shape the style of my ministry today? The old, "Ite, missa est" said it well: Go out and live your faith. Make a difference in the world.
Sr. Theresine, you have done that well in your many ministries through the years. May the Holy Eucharist continue to support and inspire you as you continue your monastic journey!
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
How Religious People Have Changed My Life...
Before I attended Holy Name religion wasn’t one my top priorities. I was a kid who had mostly attended public school and didn’t attend church much. That changed when I went to Holy Name.
Many people have taught me how to know, love, and serve God. One of those people was Father Jerry. He was the pastor of Holy Name when I first attended. He was very nice. I would listen to him read the Gospel and take in the knowledge. I remember him reading the story about the sermon on the mount. He also kept it interesting while still teaching us about God. His sermon weren’t really long yet they were still packed full of information. I loved to listen to his sermons, they taught me a lot. When he was the pastor that was the first time I had read in a mass. He also was the priest who gave my sisters and I our First Communion. He retired after my 4th grade year.
After he retired Father Stan became our pastor. He is still the pastor. He is a great priest. He was the first priest I served for. During school masses he will ask us questions about the reading, something related to the reading, if it is saint day, or if a special holiday is coming up. I think the questions were a good idea because that makes sure we learn something. His sermons are a little long though, but they still teach us. He is also very nice.
While Fr. Stan is the pastor another priest did come as another priest. It was Fr. Jenkins. He would split masses with Fr. Stan. His sermons were kind of like Fr. Jerry’s, short with a lot of information. He was a little funny. Also if you served with him you had to do it differently than with Fr. Stan. Now Fr. Jenkins is the chaplain at Fr. Thomas Scecina Memorial High School.
Lastly there is Sister Nicolette. She is the religion teacher. She is a very nice nun. She is also a very good teacher. She always tries to keep us on track and teaches us a lot. She always tells us stories about people she knows or read about, and herself to keep us interested and learning. Once she told us about a man named Howard Gray. He was a man who was picked on a lot in school. One kid was nice to him. Then he laughed when a couple of boys picked on Howard. He was a social wreck. Later, that boy and Howard became friends and started an organization that helps prevents bullying.
So many religious people have helped me become a better Christian person. Now I don’t mind going to church. I also know a lot more about the Bible and the life of Jesus Christ.
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Each month, Anne, a lay apostle, receives a message from Jesus. This is the message for June. To read more about the locutions Anne receives from Jesus and His Blessed Mother click on this link: Direction For Our Times.
Dearest apostles, are you weary? Do you wonder why My service requires such holiness? I know that you do not always understand the relationship between your suffering and the graces I am sending to others. This is not clear to you when you are carrying heavy crosses that require great trust. When you are with Me for eternity, you will understand this connection and you will rejoice that you were willing to remain in My service despite the demands made upon your will. I ask and I ask and again I ask, and you answer, and you answer, and again, you answer. My dear apostles, you are in such a habit of saying yes to Me, that you continue on, day after day. The days are passing, are they not? One after another, days are completed and you have claimed grace for the world. This is how it has been arranged for you, dearest children of the Father. You are asked to be good and holy and in return, the Father cooperates by keeping your intentions close to His heart. In this moment, where you have been placed, there is grace. Do you feel it? Do you trust Me? I am with you. I have not abandoned you. Will you resist the temptation to leave Me when I press on your commitment? If you ask Me for the grace of perseverance, I will give this to you. This is My gift. But you must ask for and then accept this gift. If you feel like you are failing and yet you are trying to serve as best you can, then you must spend time with Me and examine the concept of failure from heaven’s view. You may find that you are a success in My eyes, even while the world dismisses your contribution. All is well. Do not fear fatigue. Only fear a decision to abandon Me. Remember, I will never leave you. Never.