Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Life Saver

For me, Holy Week is really more of a goal, rather than a name. As a priest, I think it is sometimes more difficult to really get into the spirit of the week, since we have so many different liturgies to plan and celebrate. And the hectic schedule means that there is even less time than normal for reflection. But despite this, I think it is important that I make the time to contemplate the truths behind what we are celebrating during this week. I need to let go of my need to have everything just so, and embrace the "chaos" of what the week represents. Certainly nothing went according to anyone's plan during that last week of the Lord's life, so why should I expect that mine will? It is probably more the norm that when a person makes a great sacrifice, it is not something planned out ahead of time but rather a response to the situation of the moment. The Lord certainly could have said "Wait a minute, let's take our time here". After all, He always had those "legions of angels" that could come at any moment. But He chose not to call them, not to use His divinity in order to save his human life. Putting aside His own comfort and control, He allowed Himself to become a pawn of others. And He did it for us. That is the thing I must never forget. He died for me. Wow. Think about that statement - one which we all can make. Jesus died for me. Imagine if I said that about, for example, a firefighter. How would I feel if a firefighter died in order to save me from a burning building? Sit with that for a minute. A man rushes into a burning building, saves you and then dies as a result. Well, that is exactly what Jesus did. And it was not just a burning building, but "the fires of hell" from which I was rescued. And, just as any emergency responder would say when asked "why?", the Lord also says "because that is what I do." Wow, indeed! This meditation is what I need to make this a Holy Week. And I pray it will be that for you also.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

In today's Gospel (John 8:31-42), the Lord points out that sometimes people use words to identify themselves but those words do not correspond with reality. In this case, he was speaking to people who identified themselves as children of Abraham - children of God. But their actions betray them, since they do not accept Jesus and live the way they should. It is a good meditation for me and for everyone who calls themselves a follower of Christ. We are quick to identify ourselves as a Christian, Catholic, or with other words that imply we follow the example of Christ. But often our words betray us, since our actions show a very different identity. I know that I am guilty of this, and it challenges me. When I look at others who do or say things that bother me, or fail to live up to my expectations, I do not treat them as Jesus would but rather with impatience and annoyance. My face, I am told, reflects this and I am ashamed to say that it has hurt people. If I am to be authentic, I need to work on this, and try harder to continue to treat people with love, even when I am upset. It certainly is not something that comes easily to me, but as a true follower of Christ I have to respond as He would. I have to work on allowing the love I really feel in my heart for people to shine through, especially when they do not live up to my expectations. And in doing so, I will then be reflecting by my actions more clearly that which I give voice to with my words. Jesus loves us all immensely, and I need to be that presence of love for those whom the Lord sends into my life. Certainly a big challenge for me in these final days of Lent, and, I am sure, a work that will take a lifetime to perfect. But together, with the help of God and those He sends into my life, I am convinced that I can make improvements each day so that my actions will speak louder than my words.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Help Wanted

Today's Gospel (John 5:1-16) is in some ways very sad. It tells of a man who has been sick for 38 years, and is desperate to be healed. He sits by the one pool that is said to have miraculous powers to heal people, but only when the waters are stirred up by an angel. Unfortunately, he has no one to help him get into the pool in time, so he never makes the small window of opportunity. Then Jesus comes along and cures him. It is so sad that he had no friends, no family members who were there to help him. And then I reflected on the fact that the normal way God performs miracles is by using other people. Miracles of healing are accomplished every day by those whom God uses in the medical profession by giving them the skill and knowledge needed to help people. Miracles of feeding the hungry require those who offer not just from their surplus, but from their own need. Miracles of shelter come about when those with comfortable homes support shelters for the homeless. Miracles of peace take place when someone takes time to listen to the hurts and sorrows of a friend or a stranger. You and I are the ones that God uses to perform miracles, just as he uses people in our lives to perform miracles for us. The tricky part is that we have a choice. We can decide whether or not to do what Jesus did - to love the people who come into our lives, whether for a moment or for a lifetime. Had just one person helped that man at Bethesda, things in his life might have turned out quite differently. Now you may think "Yeah, but he did have Jesus Himself heal him, which is pretty wonderful". But I think he would have traded that experience if he had been able to live the previous 38 years as a healthy, productive man. The point of this Gospel for us, I think, is that you and I will be given opportunities today (and every day) to help God perform miracles. And without our cooperation, they may never happen. Someone's pain and suffering may never go away if we do not take the time and love them enough to nurse, feed, shelter or listen to them. We may be the only person that God asks to assist Him in making sure the miracle happens. Our help is wanted by God, my friends. The question is: Will I take the time today to respond to His request?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Attention Please

Today's celebration of the annunciation of the Lord highlights the wonderful event during which the angel proclaimed a special announcement from God to Mary. This announcement, that she was chosen to be the mother of His Son, was not a command. It was really more of a request, a revelation of His will for Mary, and she had to pay attention. In all of human history, this was undoubtedly the most important announcement made to any single individual, and we are all blessed through her "yes". But is is certainly not the only "annunciation". In fact, every day God tries to announce to us His intentions, His will for us. The problem is when we think that, unless there is an angel who appears to us, this revelation does not happen. Not true! Angels as messengers were the means that God chose to deliver His messages (make announcements) to people prior to the coming of Christ. Shortly after the life, death and resurrection of the Lord, angels were no longer necessary. The Lord's own words and the words and example of His followers became the means by which God would communicate with us. And that is still the case. This is the reason why we need to become more and more familiar with the teachings and example of Christ. Sacred Scripture, then, is crucial to hearing and understanding the daily "annunciations" that are meant for us. And we need to surround ourselves with others who are trying to follow Christ. In every situation, every encounter, every decision we have to make, God tries to reveal His will for us. In order to attune ourselves to this voice of God, we need to examine the words and actin of the Lord and listen to the wisdom of our sisters and brothers in Christ to see if we can more clearly understand God's will. Just asking the question "What does God want me to do?" can help us become more aware of and open to doing what is right, what is best, what God wants. As we continue to celebrate the Annunciation of God's will to Mary, let's also try and see what announcement God is trying to make to us. Please God, help us pay attention!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Rich Man, Poor Man

Today's gospel (Luke 16, 19-31) is the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, who sat outside his door begging. Since it was a made-up story, Jesus deliberately selected every detail, and I think they can be helpful for meditation. To start, we only know the name of one of the men - the poor one. Now, this in itself is unusual, since the name of a rich, powerful man is usually more likely to be known than that of a poor one. But the name "Lazarus" is given to the poor man. Maybe since the rich man found his identity in his wealth, maybe the Lord decided that it was the only designation he should have. In any case, Lazarus lived a very hard life, hoping for the scraps that were left after the rich man ate. Once they both die, Lazarus is in heaven and the rich man in hell (they did not use those terms in the parable, but it helps for our understanding). The rich man asks "Father Abraham" to send Lazarus to bring him some relief - water. Two things strike me. First, the rich man knows Lazarus' name. So he cannot even use the excuse that he did nothing to help him when he was alive because he did not see him. Second, the rich man still thinks he is better than Lazarus, even though he is the one in hell. He speaks as if Lazarus was a servant or slave who should be sent to help him. He does not even address Lazarus directly! When Abraham explains that it is not possible, the rich man shows a surprising side - he is concerned for someone else. Granted it is concern for other members of his own family, but it at least shows that he was not completely evil and uncaring. Abraham says no, stating that his brothers have "Moses and the prophets - let them listen to them." The rich man knows that his brothers are no more likely than he was to pay attention to Moses and the prophets, but reasons that they will if someone comes back from the dead. In a wonderful prediction, Abraham says that those who do not listen to Moses or the prophets will not be persuaded, even if some should rise from the dead. So the question is - where am I in the story? I know that I am not completely bad, but neither was the rich man. But how many times have I seen people around me but really seen what they needed? How well have I listened to Moses and the prophets? How well have I listened to One who rose from the dead? It was too late for the rich man in the story, but it is not too late for me. I can still take care of Lazarus, and still change my life to do God's will rather than my own. In fact, I want to work so that God's will becomes my will. And by doing this, I just may end up being the one in heaven with the name given me by Jesus.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Happy Fathers Day - Auguri!

Today is the Feast of St. Joseph. Now, for many people in the USA who are of Italian descent, this means one thing - St Joseph Cakes or Zeppole! The delicious filled doughnut-like pastries are traditionally available here in the states only around St. Joseph Day. But, even more important than these delicacies, today also has another important significance in Italy. Today is celebrated as Fathers Day in Italy, in honor of the man who raised Jesus as his own son. We really do not know much about St. Joseph, only that he was "betrothed" to Mary, found out she was pregnant and decided to "divorce her quietly" when God revealed to him that Mary had not cheated on him but rather was carrying God's own Son. Joseph unbelievably accepted this and, from that point, could not have been a more loving or caring father. We know that, according to Scripture, he took Mary to Bethlehem for the census and, after the birth of Jesus, brought his wife and child to Egypt for safety. After presenting the child in the temple, the only other time we hear Joseph mentioned in the bible is when the family went to Jerusalem and when they left, Jesus remained in the temple teaching and amazing the much older and "wiser" adults. After they returned home, there is no other word of Joseph. Families today are so complicated, and often children are not given the experience of growing up in what we sometimes refer to as a "traditional" family with father, mother and child(ren) all living together. Funny thing, though - this has never really been the norm, even at the time of the Holy Family. You see, life is never neat and orderly. Life is messy and jumbled and full of joy and sorrow. Men and women role models are both important in the life of every child, and so families sometimes have to get creative in order to make this happen. It seems to me, then, that this is a very appropriate day to celebrate fathers. And maybe even more importantly, to celebrate those men who have taken upon themselves the role of a father for those who are not their biological children. I have seen incredible love poured out on children by men who have all sorts of relationships to them. And today I think it would be a good idea for all of us to celebrate them and, if possible, tell them how much we appreciate them. It does not matter what their age, race, creed, orientation, profession, status or how the relationship came to be, the men who are looked upon as a father and do what a father does are vitally important for us and for our world. And we need more of them. I know that, as I get older, there are fewer and fewer of these men left in my life. But I also know that I need to tell them how important they are to me. And I also have to tell those men I know who are fathers (in any and every sense of that word) to others that I appreciate them too. They make me want to be a better man, and, perhaps, to be a better father to anyone I encounter. So, to Uncle Art, Enzo, Charlie, Giancarlo, and the other men in my life who "father" me, thanks and Happy Fathers Day. And to you, dad, I know that you are celebrating in heaven today with mom, which is better than any Zeppole!

Monday, March 17, 2014

God's Loan

As I was contemplating this (hopefully) last snowfall of the season, I got to thinking about the word "Lent". Last week I mentioned in a homily that the time we have is really only "lent" to us by God - it really belongs to him. This became a very powerful meditation for me, and I began contemplating what I was doing with the time He has lent me. You see, since it is only lent, I will have to return it someday. And I think He will want to know what I did with it while I had it. If I was God, I am not sure I would be very happy with me. When I lend someone something, I kind of expect it to be given back in the same condition, without any damage and with all of its parts. The time God has lent me has not always remained in such great shape. I have wasted a lot of it, letting it spill out uselessly. Sometimes I have used it for things that were far from the intended use, kind of like using a professional knife as a screwdriver. I have spent time on things that were far from what God gave it to me to use on, and on reflection I am ashamed. One of the nice things is that, so far, God had continued to lend me some additional time, so that I can use it better. Each day I run out and, up until now, He has lent me another day. How long this will go on, though, I am not sure. I know that someday God will stop lending me any more time, and I will have to let Him know what I did with the days , months and years He lent me. I guess what I am trying to say is: This Lent I want to make a better effort to use the time lent to me in a better way. I want to take care of it just as God does, since it belongs to Him. I know this is difficult, because I easily fall back into the old habit of thinking that it is mine. But maybe for these remaining days of Lent, I will be able to keep it in mind that the time I have on this earth is only lent to me, and, since God cannot use it Himself in the same way I can, I better make sure I use it the right way so I will be able to return it to Him in good condition! And, by the way - Happy St. Patrick's Day. May the road rise... well, you know.