Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christmas SEASON

I know it has been a while since I last posted, and for that I apologize. As you can imagine, the days leading up to the celebration of Christmas are rather busy for a priest. Now that the craziness has died down some, I want to reflect on the failure of our world to remember that Christmas is a season, not just a day.
So often the radio stations stop playing Christmas music at midnight, the stores move on to Valentine's decorations on the 26th, and even families just want to get everything down and put away as soon as possible. I even saw two Christmas trees at the dumpster on December 26th, with a few strands of tinsel hanging that was so sad! It used to be that we tried to drag out the celebration of Christmas. I remember as a child that the week between Christmas and New Year's was spent visiting relatives and friends. We had to get to my parent's aunts and uncles, making sure we looked and acted our best. There was always something to eat - depending on which side of the family it was either Pizzelles, struffoli and wine or butter cookies, Poor Man's Cake and tea. In any case, food was always involved! In this way, Christmas was not just a one day celebration, but was celebrated every day when we visited loved ones. The visits also reaffirmed our unity as a family, and there were usually stories told of the previous generations. It was at these times I learned more of the history of my family and was grounded in my identity as the descendant of people who sacrificed a lot to make a better life for their children.
I see the celebration of the Christmas Season in this way as more important than ever today, since so many children do not have the advantage of seeing their extended family other times during the year as I did. By celebrating the season every day, we also are able to reflect more on the importance of the coming of Christ into the world. And this is a key point, since it is not just an event in the past. You see, Christ comes into our lives each day, but often we fail to recognize Him. Reflecting on the stories of shepherds, magi, Simeon, angels, Anna and even the horror of the slaughter of the Innocents, we can become more aware of Christ as He comes to us each day.
My prayer for each of you is that you will continue to celebrate and remember the birth of Christ, so that His coming will not be something we remember, but rather experience. Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Rest in Peace, Your Eminence

Cardinal John P. Foley died in his sleep early this morning. Many will remember him as the "Voice of Christmas", serving as English commentator for the pope's Christmas Midnight Mass for 25 years.
Since he encouraged me to begin writing this blog in November of 20110, before this day ended I wanted to post my thoughts on this man who was first, last and always a priest. I first met then Father Foley in 1972 when I entered St. Charles Seminary. He was one of the priests who lived at the seminary and, in addition to serving as editor of the archdiocesan newspaper, was a professor there. Father Foley taught various courses in the philosophy department, the most memorable for me (and due to one infamous exchange between he and I which I will not repeat here, I daresay memorable to him also) was a course in Logic.
Father Foley was a very precise teacher, and this precision was seen in other aspects of his life as well. To say that he was a little tight would not be too much of an exaggeration. As I progressed through the seminary, he would become Monsignor Foley and after ordination he was a brother priest - John. When God's will took him to Rome and service to the Holy See, many years would go by before we reconnected again. But when I finally managed to get to Rome, then Archbishop Foley welcomed me, gave me a tour of his Vatican office and, like the good adopted Italian he had become, too me to dinner.
As tends to happen, Rome and the Italian culture had a definite effect on him. I could see that, while more committed than ever to his priesthood and the Church, he had begun to adjust to the slower, more deliberative pace of life there, and came to appreciate the shades of grey that are part of life. Whenever I was in Rome, admittedly not that often, we would try and connect for dinner. One memorable time we were not able to get together for diner, but did bump into one another in St. Peter's of all places. I was just leaving from having celebrated Mass and now Cardinal Foley had just left the area where confessors are available for those seeking the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He informed me and a priest friend that he had just taken care of his spiritual health and was going to see his doctor to take care of his physical health. Unfortunately the news on the physical side was not good and he was diagnosed with Leukemia, which would end his career as Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem and, this morning, his life.
Even though I did not get to see him too often in Rome, one place I was sure to see him each year was the Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus. As Archbishop and later as Cardinal, he knew and appreciated the tremendous work done by the K of C for the Church, and was particularly touched by their unfailing support of and respect for priests bishops. And he didn't just "pop in" for a Mass and dinner - he came to the meeting and always shared his thanks and appreciation for the support of the Knights. But then, that was always a part of this gentle man and priest.
I could go on for much longer, but will never be as eloquent as Father, Monsignor, Archbishop, Cardinal Foley. I can only hope that someday I will be half the dedicated servant of the Church that John Foley was. Well done, good and faithful servant. Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. Rest in peace, Your Eminence. You will be missed.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Encountering God

Today's Gospel (Luke 5:17-26) contains the beautiful story of some friends of a paralyzed man who lower him down from the roof in order to allow him to be in the presence of Jesus. Because of such faith, Jesus forgives his sins. When the Pharisees and teachers of the law accuse Him of blaspheming (since "God alone can forgive sins"), He grants a physical healing to the man, who picks up his mat and goes home. Sounds fairly straightforward, but there is a lot that bears reflection.
First of all, the length to which the friends go is amazing. They do whatever is necessary to remove an obstacle from the encounter, in this case, the crowd. Rather than giving up, they devise an ingenious plan to carry their friend up on the roof and lower him down so that he can see Jesus. This is really a way of "preparing the way of the Lord" and "making straight His path". Jesus then performs the wonderful miracle - He forgives the man's sins. Now, even the Pharisees and teachers acknowledge the immensity of this miracle, declaring "Who but God alone can forgive sins?" In order to help them realize that this was the reality, Jesus performs the secondary miracle of physical healing. Because this is visible, we then have a truly amazing thing happen. Luke tells us that they all glorified God! This is probably one of the few times that the Pharisees and teachers get it right. And they come off very well indeed, recognizing that they are in the presence of God. Unfortunately, they must have had short memories, because by the time Jesus is hauled before the Chief Priests and Sanhedrin, none of them come forward to give testimony.
Several lessons are given here for us. First, the necessity of others in our search for an encounter with God. Without the man's friends, he would not have been able to have this meeting with Jesus. And without his faith, he would not have been forgiven and then healed. And without witnessing these miracles, the others would not have realized that God was present. We, too, need others to help us realize that God is present. And others need us for the same reason. Ours in not a solitary religion, but rather a community of believers. Anyone who thinks they can connect with God all by themselves is ignoring what Jesus said (Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst).
Another lesson is the importance of the unseen. We sometimes rely too heavily on the things we can see, feel, hear. But often the things that have the most impact are hidden. Take, for example, a place where miracles routinely take place - a hospital. Now we can easily see the physical miracles taking place through the use of gifts that have been given to doctors and other medical personnel. but what about the unseen miracles that take place all the time in hospitals? I am speaking about the healing of relationships that come about when people realize that life is too short to hold grudges. Consider how many times in a hospital people finally appreciate what another has done for them. Consider the many who discover that, in their hour of greatest need, the only one they can turn to is God. How often do we think about these hidden miracles.
We are given an opportunity today to change direction - to take a new look at life around us. Even the Pharisees and teachers of the law had a change of heart, once they realized that God was present. My friends, God is present to us each and every day, but we often do not realize it. Look for the hidden miracles happening to the people that surround us, and find in them a reminder that God is with you. And try to help someone else, by removing obstacles to their encounter with Christ. Don't just pray "Come, Lord Jesus", but expect Him to do just that - today!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Lord, Lord

Today's Gospel (Matthew 7: 21, 24-27) contains an interesting statement. Jesus says "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven." Notice it does not say that no one who says "Lord, Lord", but rather "not everyone". And the example he gives is also an interesting twist on doing the will of the Father. We are presented with two men, each of whom has built a house. One built it on rock, the other on sand. Now presumably both had been told the proper way to build, or at least had watched others build houses. Certainly the man should have known that a house built on sand would not last. But, in the context of this teaching, he believed that his prayer ("Lord, Lord") would be enough to insure the stability of his house, despite what common sense and experts would have said. How wrong!
You see, when we cry out "Lord, Lord" we are asking for God's help. And God always provides help, though not always in the way we expect. For instance, both men should have asked others what was the best way to build, the sturdiest construction techniques, etc. But only one man actually accepted God help by listening to that advice. It is the same if we pray to be healed from an illness but don't go to the doctor. Or pray for financial help and refuse to look for a job.
We build our house on good, solid rock when we see God answering our prayers through the gifts He has given others. And we become the way God answers the prayers of others when we use our gifts for their benefit. Your willingness to serve at a local soup kitchen is how God responds to the "Lord, Lord" of the hungry. Your volunteer time at a nursing home is the way God answers the "Lord, Lord" of the lonely. Your listening ear is God's answering the "Lord, Lord" of one who grieves. In so many ways, God is constantly answering prayers. If only we could be more aware of these answers, perhaps we would more readily cooperate with the will of the Father when we daily cry out "Lord, Lord."