Tuesday, November 30, 2010

He Ain't Heavy...

Whenever we listen to the names of the first followers of the Lord, these disciples (and the 12 who would be called apostles) can seem to be just a group of people that were drawn together by the Lord. We sometimes forget that some of them not only were friends, but also related. Andrew, whose feast we celebrate today, is a good example. He was the brother of Simon, called "Peter" (the rock) by Jesus. In fact, in John's gospel it is Andrew who tells his brother Simon about the Lord and recruits him.
This is really quite natural, since we all would want to share a wonderful discovery (good news) with family members and loved ones. In fact, it is most often our family, especially parents, who bring us to the Lord and present us for Baptism. Even among those who come to faith as adults, it is normally because of the example of loved ones that they were drawn to a relationship with the Lord through His Body, the Church.
Perhaps as we end the month of November today it would be good for us to offer a special prayer to those who long ago invited us to "Come and see" and have since died. Whether parent, spouse or friend, we owe them a debt of gratitude. And if they are still living, perhaps a quick note to tell them how much you appreciate the gift of faith that they shared with you would be appropriate.
Naturally, the best thing we can do is to "pay it forward". Next time someone asks you how you handle the difficulties in life, or how you maintain such a positive outlook, or why you go to church, invite them to "come and see"!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Lord, I Am Not Worthy

The Gospel from today's Mass contains a really amazing story - the Centurion who asks Christ to cure his sick servant. It is really a story filled with surprises, beginning with the fact that this elite soldier approaches a Jew to ask for help. And, while it might be more understandable if he was asking help for his wife or child, he asks Jesus to cure his servant. A Roman soldier asking a Jewish rabbi to cure his servant who was probably also a Jew! And he does not command that Jesus help, but rather treats him with an amazing respect, acknowledging the power that belongs to Jesus.
Even when Jesus volunteers to go to his house, the Centurion does not want to bother the Lord, but calls himself "unworthy" of such a visit. I wonder what his fellow officers would have thought had they heard this!
It got me to thinking of how we sometimes approach the Lord. Most of us fall into that original sin from time to time - wanting to have God's power. Honestly, have you ever thought "If I could be God just for five minutes, I could really straighten things out". As if!!!
True faith is always tempered by humility, which is the acknowledgment of who we are. Only when we see ourselves - our needs, our desires, our position in the scheme of things - in proper relationship to God can we hope to begin to understand the immense love He has for us... and the immense patience.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Let Us Pray

Happy New Year, Church!
As we begin a new liturgical year, it struck me that this is the last time we will be using these particular prayers at Masses in English. This time next year we will begin using the new translation of the Roman Missal, and so we have begun a year-long "goodbye" to the missal we have been using for several decades.
I must confess, I am approaching the change with mixed feelings. After 30+ years of priesthood, I have gotten to the point where I am better able to pray the words at Mass because they are right in the front of my memory. Because I do not have to read each word, I am more conscious of each phrase and try to give meaning as I pray on behalf of the gathered community. It will, I am sure, take some time to reach this level of comfort with the new translation. I intend to really make the most, therefore, of this last year using the Paul VI Missal translation.
I am also excited about the prospect of finding new meaning in the texts of Mass with the new Missal. It will take a lot more preparation, and that is a good thing. We all need reminders every once in a while to stop and consider the words we use in prayer, and priests are no exception.
My prayer for all of us is that we will listen carefully to the words we use during this year of grace, and allow God to speak to us through them. After all, we will not be hearing them in this same way again!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Prepare the Way

With Advent beginning this evening, I thought I would share an idea I had that might help me and others keep true to the season of preparation. Several years ago, overwhelmed by the amount of Christmas cards I was sending, I decided to opt out of that particular tradition, donating the money I was spending on cards and postage to a charity instead. While it made me feel good to help others, it certainly did nothing to help me express prayers and blessings at Christmas time.
This year I thought of a new approach. I am going to try and write one short letter (not just send a Christmas card) each day to one person who has touched my life and express my gratitude to them. Even though it is not the traditional Christmas card, I think it will mean more to them and better help me keep focused on what is really important. And I really cannot think of a better way to celebrate Advent, when we are supposed to be preparing for the coming of the Lord, than to affirm the people who help me stay true to who I am called to be. The discipline of writing one letter each day will, I hope, help me remain in the right mindset and not become overwhelmed with the busyness that can overtake you in December. I am not sure how it will turn out, but I think it is worth a try.
Anybody else up for the challenge?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Reading the Signs of the Times

Financial experts are always looking at data to try and determine our financial health and see where we are heading as a nation. As we come to the end of a liturgical year, it might be a good idea to take a look at the data regarding our spiritual health and see how we are doing, both as individuals and as a community of faith.
Take a walk in the mall and listen to the language that is so much a part of public conversations today. It does not exactly reflect a faith dimension to people's lives. The recent campaigns and elections showed more division than ever politically. A lot of people seem to act as if the only time something is wrong is if you get caught. It would be easy to become very depressed very quickly when reading the newspaper or online news blogs, especially the comments!
However, there is another, more rosy side to consider. One thing that has really impressed me during the past few years is the amazing response to those in need. Certainly there are more people than ever who find themselves needing assistance in this difficult economy. While you might think that this would lead people to be less generous, I do not see it in practice. Even though more people are going to food pantries, people in our parish have brought more food than ever to help restock the shelves. A recent drive to provide coats during the cold weather resulted in a mound of coats to help people keep warm this winter. These point to a sense of empathy with those in need, perhaps because more and more realize that it could so easily be they themselves who are on the receiving end of such assistance.
Quite a mixed bag, isn't it. So, what can we conclude about our spiritual health? I think the main message is that we are at our best when we see ourselves connected to others. We are not made to live solitary lives, and when we think only of ourselves we become less who we should be. It really goes back to the "Golden Rule", and we are still a people who are inconsistent in living it. So I guess you can say that, while we are in a spiritual recession, it is not a depression and shows some signs of recovery.
Well, that is my take on us as a society. Now I have to take a look at my own life and see how I am doing as an individual. I hope you will take this opportunity to do the same. Maybe, if enough of us do this, we can together become who we are meant to be - members of the Body of Christ united in His love.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

To God Be The Glory

Our nation pauses today and celebrates what is, in reality, our only National Holy Day. While other days which people of faith consider to be holy have been transformed into secular "holidays" by much of society, by its very name Thanksgiving defines itself as a day devoted to giving thanks to God.
We are usually good about asking for God's help, whether in large matters (help my sick child get better or I need a job) or small (help me pass tomorrow's test or please get this traffic moving). Unfortunately, when we receive the answer to these prayers we offered, we either go on as if nothing happened or deflect the thanks that is owed to God (Wow, I was really lucky). God does all the work, and luck gets all the credit!
One of my favorite sayings at this time of year is "For what shall we give thanks?" It really makes me pause and ponder, because I don't take enough time to consider all the things, great and small, that God does for me everyday. Perhaps we can all take a little more time than usual today and recognize the great debt we owe to God. And rather than giving luck the credit, maybe we will remember the One to whom all glory and thanks really belongs. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone, and enjoy!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Martyrs and Turkeys

Our Church celebrates the feast of the Vietnamese Martyrs today. These were 117 lay people, religious men and women, priests and bishops who were killed between 1820 and 1883. They represent the more than 130,000 who were killed for the faith during the 17th and 19th centuries in Vietnam. When living in a country such as ours, it is easy to forget that people still are killed throughout the world because of their faith. No one will stop us as we make our way to churches this evening and tomorrow morning to give thanks to God for the many gifts we have received. And that is a great blessing.
However, there are so many more subtle ways in which we have to chose to either profess faith or "die" in some way. Our society seems to think that the only proper place for faith is in a church, synagogue or mosque. Discussions about, displays of or interaction with faith in God is deemed somehow "inappropriate" anywhere else. What we fail to remember is that our faith, if it is really a part of us, is supposed to impact everything we say or do. Too often we are afraid of either ridicule or rejection and we buy into the notion that God is not to be discussed in public unless we are worshiping. Rather than allow our pride or feeling of being accepted die, we let our faith die a little. And these small deaths build up until we too relegate faith to something we embrace only within the confines of a place of worship.
As we prepare to give thanks tomorrow, maybe we should reflect on whether we are truly grateful for the "Freedom of Religion" we are so proud of and whether or not we really exercise that right. And if we do not, perhaps we are the real "turkeys" this Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

And in the end...

We celebrated the funeral of a parishioner this week, and it got me to thinking about the important things in life. It is always amazing that people waste so much time worrying about, arguing about and complaining about things that, when you are honest, are not really that important. I guess it is part of what we call "human nature", but I think it is one of the darker parts. Perhaps it is what are referred to as the effects of "original sin" that I learned about as a child. A lot of times we approach people, situations etc. expecting the worst instead of the best. When we do, we focus on what is wrong and not what is right. This leads us to give them more importance than they deserve.
You see it all the time. Employees and employers think that they are on opposite sides. Politicians think that "no compromise" is a good thing. Athletes have to be the star, with the rest of the team as supporting players. Actors will only appear if they have top billing in a film. A neighbor becomes the "attack dog" instead of a watchdog to insure nothing damages the all-holy property values. Teachers and parents see each other as adversaries instead of partners in the educational process.
What it all points to is selfishness, an overwhelming focus on self. This is, I believe, one of the most destructive and evil ways of acting for human beings. And it is certainly not what leads us to being a productive member of society, much less a child of God. How different the world would be if we focused on what we have in common instead of our differences. If we spent more time loving instead of hating. If we expected the best of ourselves and everyone else.
At the funeral this week, everyone spoke of all the good this man had done, the ways he had shown love for family, friends, community and country. Like all people, he was not perfect, but he was remembered for what he did right, not what he did wrong. When we die, the only thing that people will want to remember is the good we accomplished for others. Why then, should we spend time and energy being negative and selfish? My favorite prayer each morning is "Lord, help me do some good today. Help me see you in the people I will meet. And help me not make a fool out of myself in front of you when I meet you in them. Amen."

"And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make."

These Simple Gifts?

Welcome to my blog! After watching the "blogosphere" for a while, I decided to give it a go.
As a Catholic priest, I know that it is important to try and reach out to people in many different ways. I hope that this will be a way that may have a small impact on someone. Because I really do not have anything very profound of my own to share, I decided to do here what I attempt to do in my homilies each day - to share the love of God with people. I certainly do not have the answers to profound questions, but I do believe with all my heart that, together, we can discover that Jesus meant it when he said "Where two or more gather in my name, I am there in the midst".
So, let's begin by declaring that we gather at this blog in the name of Jesus.
In the presence of Jesus, then, we can begin to share our insights with one another (Feel free to e-mail me). As Peter said to the man who was crippled from birth in Acts 3, "I have neither silver nor gold, but I will give you what I have." I hope that "These Simple Gifts" I offer may be of some use, and that we will be united in the Lord through this effort.