Knowing who we are and knowing who God is.


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pharisee-tax-collector-blogThere are two things that the Pharisee in today’s gospel (Lk. 18:9-14) did not know – two things that kept him from entering into true relationship with God.  This man, who prided himself on his religious observance and his fulfillment of his commitments in life, neither knew himself nor did he really know God.  The tax collector, on the other hand,  knew both and he went home justified.

There are two little short stories to share that can draw this out.  The first story is about an elderly, retired priest who was absolutely venerated in his small town for his kindness and holiness.  The priest was a member of the local Rotary club and he never missed a meeting.  Well, one day he did not show for the monthly meeting and he even seemed to disappear for a while.  No one knew where he was.  The next month there he was at the meeting again.  “Father, where have you been?” people asked.  “Well,” the priest responded in an embarrassed way, “I just finished serving a thirty day prison sentence.”  “What?  You wouldn’t hurt a fly!  What happened?”  “The story is complicated but to sum it up; I had bought a train ticket into the city.  I was standing on the platform when this stunningly beautiful woman appeared on the arm of a cop.  The woman looked at me and then turned to the cop and said, “He did it!  I’m certain he is the one who did it!”  Well, to tell the truth, I was so mesmerized and flattered, I pleaded guilty.”

There is a touch of vanity in the holiest men and women and they see no reason to deny it.  When we are honest we must admit that we are indeed a bundle of paradoxes: we believe and we doubt, we hope and are discouraged, we love and we hate, we are honest and we play games.  Honesty requires that we admit the dark as well as the light within ourselves (and the saints teach us how to laugh about what we find).  The Pharisee lacked this depth of honesty.  The tax collector, on the other hand, truly knew who he was – a man who had nothing to fall back on other than God’s mercy.

The second story witnesses to God and our ability to trust.  A two-story home catches on fire.  The father, mother and several children are rushing out when the smallest child becomes separated, gets frightened and rushes back upstairs.  The small child appears in a smoke-filled window crying.  The father shouts, “Jump son!  Jump!  I will catch you!”  The boy responds, “But I cannot see you!”  To which the father answers, “I know.  I know, but I can see you!”  The Pharisee, so focused on his own righteousness could not bring himself to jump.  He returns home not justified.  The tax collector, with head bowed, beating his breast, knowing himself a sinner and trusting in the goodness of God was able to jump into the mercy of God.  The tax collector returns home justified.

Thomas Merton once remarked that a saint is not someone who is good but someone who experiences the goodness of God.  Someone who knows who he or she is and who also knows who God is.

A God and a community who seek out


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good-shepherdOne of the truths revealed in today’s gospel (Lk. 15:1-10) is that our God is not a God content to let people remain anonymous.  The shepherd goes out in search of the lost sheep because that one sheep truly matters to him.  The woman turns the house over searching for the lost coin because that coin is of real concern to her.  We are of concern to God.  We are not alone in a vast universe governed by random chance.  We do not have a God who does not care.  God is willing to seek each one of us out, willing to even enter the darkness of sin and death, to find us and then rejoice in the finding!

But this truth also applies to us who are called to be God’s people in our world.  The Christian community is not meant to be an anonymous collection of individuals made up of people without names and without love – separate and alone.  Because we have been loved by God and sought out by God we must, in turn, strive to love as God loves and seek out as God seeks out.  The community Jesus calls us to is not one of anonymous and separate persons but of brothers and sisters who know each other by name.  Friendship and care must be at the heart of the Christian community but it needs to be noted that this friendship is not of our own doing or crafting.  The friendship of the Christian community flows out of Jesus’ own call to his disciples and obedience to his Word.  The origin of friendship in the Christian community is in God himself.  This is a great mystery and it is a mystery we are called to live and it is a mystery we proclaim in front of a world that seems so intent on reducing the full dignity of the human person to just a caricature of the anonymous individual.

Every person has a name.  Every person has a worth.  Every person is valued and sought out by God.  No one is left behind.  We need to live this friendship of Christ as Church and, by so doing, witness to our world.  For a Christian community to have the most beautiful sanctuary or the most active list of ministries without this friendship that seeks out is (to paraphrase St. Paul and our Lord himself) to be just a noisy gong, a clashing cymbal and even a whitewashed tomb.  No life is ultimately produced.

The identity of the Church is not found by remaining within but is realized in mission.  It has been this way from the very beginning with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the call to proclaim the good news to the ends of the world!  We each have a name given by God and a task given by God, we only become who we are meant to be as we live the task we have been given.  The Christian community only becomes who she is meant to be when she lives the friendship she has been given by Christ.

This friendship begins within the Christian community herself and then it goes out into the world.  We must seek out one another.  We must be of concern to one another.  In order to be true to the gift that we were given (meaning being sought out by God himself), we cannot remain content in just being a collection of anonymous individuals.  When we meet one another in the friendship of Christ we learn we can even look out on the multitudes of our world and see not just anonymous individuals who threaten my space and my freedom but brothers and sisters and the multitudes of people who are alone and suffering learn that they are in fact not alone and that there is a God and a people who seek to care and who seek to know their name.

Let us invite one another to wisdom. St. Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us!


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Mother Teresa

St. Teresa of Calcutta

In the first reading (Wisdom 9:13-18b) we are told that wisdom is a gift given from on high.  It is not something we acquire by our own effort and ingenuity but it is a gift from God.  Or who ever knew your counsel, except you had given wisdom and sent your Holy Spirit from on high?  And thus were the paths of those on earth made straight.  Wisdom is the fruit of relationship with God and, as we learned in last Sunday’s gospel, it both comes and is received on our part through the actions of humility and living a generosity toward those who cannot repay us.

But we can invite one another to wisdom.  This is a truth found in today’s second reading (Philemon 9-10, 12-17).  The Letter to Philemon is a short letter written by Paul to Philemon, a member of the Christian community, on behalf of Onesimus – a runaway slave of Philemon’s whom Paul had befriended and converted while they were held together in prison.  According to the law of the day, Philemon had the right to punish Onesimus severely, even having him put to death, but Paul writes and asks Philemon not only to be lenient and receive Onesimus back but to even receive him back as now a brother in Christ.

Paul is inviting (not forcing) Philemon to a new awareness.  He is inviting him to wisdom in Christ.  Things had now changed.  Elsewhere Paul will write …in Christ there is neither slave nor free…  Paul is aware of this new reality, he does not wish to force it on Philemon for that would not be true to the gospel but he does want to invite Philemon to this new awareness.  Paul is also crafty about this invitation though.  He knows that when his letter arrives it will not be read privately by Philemon first; rather it will be read before the whole gathered community with Philemon present.  All eyes will certainly be on Philemon but also, if the members of the community are honest, all eyes will need to be on each of their own hearts as the letter invites all who listen to it to wisdom and a greater awareness even to our own day.  Can we receive the other person as brother and sister in Christ?

Christ continually invites us into the wisdom of the Kingdom of God.  It is a wisdom that asks us to be willing to continually step away from the rigid and constricting thought of “this is the way things are, this is the way things will always be” toward the ever new possibility of the Kingdom.  If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.  Christ continually invites us to calculate and set our lives by the ever new possibility of the Kingdom of God!  Just like the person building a tower calculates out resources or the king calculates out the cost of a battle we must calculate and set our lives not by our own small and often meager possessions of thought but by the sheer gratuity of God’s Kingdom!  Christ invites us set our lives by this wisdom!

Today, the Church gives us a wonderful witness of a person who set and calculated her life by the sheer gratuity of God’s Kingdom in St. Teresa of Calcutta.  Where the world saw a simple little woman, God saw a great disciple to our age.  Where the world saw lives with no value, St. Teresa saw children of God.  Where the world saw hopelessness, St. Teresa found beauty.  Where the world saw wealth, St. Teresa saw poverty.  Where the world gave up, St. Teresa persevered.

St. Teresa allowed herself to be invited into the wisdom of the Kingdom of God – even in the darkness of it all.  Now, like Paul himself, St. Teresa invites us into the ever new possibility of the wisdom of Christ and the Kingdom of God.

“If you can’t feed a hundred people then feed just one.”

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.”

“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”

St. Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us!   

Why Young Adults need the Catholic Church


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young adult praying in churchWhy do some young adults wander away from the Church?  There are no easy answers to this.  At least, I have not found one in my own experience of ministry.  I have seen some young people fully immersed in the Church in high school and college who then just stop coming one day.  I have seen other young people who had wandered off come back with a great fervor almost bordering on zealotry.  A good number of young people I have known wander in and out with some choosing to stay loosely connected on the periphery of the Church.

Certainly each person’s journey of faith is unique.  There are movements in the heart that only God can see and everything occurs in God’s time.  We all know that there are scandals within the Church that wound hearts and discredit the gospel and the community.  There are voices against the Church and Christianity in our world and caricatures of religion too easily tossed about in society.  There is a diffused mistrust of all institutions.  There are also people not willing to change their view of the Church just as they, themselves, insist the Church must change (usually to their liking).  Finally, there are some people who are just lazy spiritually.

With all this in mind, I am firmly convinced that young adults need the Church.  No one may be able to adequately answer the big concerns noted above.  Still, I want to offer a few thoughts about why young adults need the Church.  Here are the thoughts in the form of a letter.

Dear young adults,

Do you know that you need more than just your peers?  I never really became a fan of the TV show “Friends”.  I do remember watching it and being entertained although I didn’t always agree with the moral choices portrayed in the show.  I remember that the whole universe portrayed in that show was that of a group of peers.  Every now and then a person from another generation (younger or older) would pop in and out of the show but they seemed to be just a distraction.  Everything centered on that particular group of peers and their enclosed world.  I have seen this same theme continue in newer generations of shows.  I am sorry, but that is not life.  Sadly, though, I think society and, surprisingly, the Church have followed suit.  There are retreat programs and youth ministry initiatives intentionally and exclusively structured around peer-given talks and peer-led discussions.  There are youth only liturgies.  I would wager that the same trend can be seen in education, athletics and all forms of engagement with our youth.  Is there a certain value and place for this?  Yes, but there are unintended consequences.  Dear young adults, I apologize.  You have been done a disservice.  Although no one intended it, you have been taught to only value peer input and peer relationship.  The voices of other generations – the insight, knowledge and wisdom of older generations that can help guide in life and help navigate its struggles as well as the hopes and dreams of younger generations – have been blocked from your awareness.  With this block there can also be a forgetfulness of how God has been faithful and active in all generations and how God continues to be faithful and active.

In my ministry with young adults I often felt frustrated by this block.  Over time, I learned to not get upset or frustrated by this.  They were just doing what they had been taught.  I was not a peer and therefore my voice and consideration would sometimes just bounce off their perspective somewhere into the ether.  But as I shared above, a world comprised only of peers with a particular generational perspective is not real life.  One of the things truly wonderful about Sunday worship is seeing generations coming together in Church – young and old and even in-between.  Young adults, I have to say that you are noticeably absent from these gatherings.   You are missing out.  You need more than your peers and the Christian community needs you.

Another thought for you.  You need a deeper narrative than just the secular one.  There are narratives that people set their lives by but not all narratives are equal nor are all equally true.  I learned an important lesson in my seminary training.  The gospel narrative is the rule by which all other narratives should be measured and judged.  Some might see this as Christian condescension, but I am not convinced that is true.  Think about it.  Catholicism has a proven track record.  Empires, movements, theories of thought have come and gone.  Christianity has remained and has grown consistently and organically even through persecution and even despite the sinful actions of some of its adherents.  Secularization, at its best, has real value.  It has fostered religious freedom, protection from oppression, and respect due the dignity of persons.  But the secular world has its own narrative with a down side.  A closed-end secularity pushes the sacred to the periphery.  And that truly diminishes life.  Here, I would caution that certain forms of “generic Christianity” will not suffice because they are neither able to see beyond nor challenge the limits of the secular narrative.  Certain popular forms of contemporary Christian expression found often in non-denominational, evangelical and mega-church communities are, in fact, closely linked to the secular narrative and a step away from the Christian sense of the sacred.  For example, I would point to the emphasis by some on material concern and comfort as found canonized by the gospel of prosperity preached in many places.

There is a deeper and fuller reality to life, existence and creation itself than just the measure of the secular.  There is a transcendent, spiritual and sacramental dimension to life.  We can embrace the benefits of secularity, while not letting ourselves be bound by the limits of its narrative.  The Catholic Church with its tradition, theology and worship provides for this broader perspective on reality.

Dear young adults, here’s something that you won’t hear about very often, if ever.  You need an awareness of redemptive suffering.  The Catholic Church is at home with the crucifix not because we believe that the resurrection should be downplayed and that Christ is still on the cross.  No, we are convinced that by his suffering on the cross our Lord has brought a redemptive dimension to all suffering.  He has brought life out of death.  On the cross and in the tomb, God entered into the furthest edges of human suffering and death.  The crucifix reminds us of the cost of salvation that has been won through the love and obedience of Christ.  This is a great mystery.  There is suffering in life and sooner or later for all of us.  We see suffering throughout our world.  The crucifix and its bold display of redemptive suffering protects us against the temptations of choosing to ignore suffering in our world, getting lost ourselves in the darkness of suffering and giving in to victimhood in the face of suffering.  Suffering, in Christ, can be redemptive.

Let me say a word about something that many people are skittish about – commitment.  You need commitment and not just new experiences.  When I was in campus and vocation ministry my schedule and responsibilities allowed and even required of me quite a bit of travel.  Now that I am in a parish my travelling has been greatly reduced due to the commitment of being a pastor.  This is not a bad thing.  There are seasons to life and there are seasons to ministry.  My faith life and my life in general is now being nourished more by the commitment of being a pastor than by a string of new experiences offered through travel and life situation.  Commitments in life offer nourishment too!  Our world does not emphasize this but it is true.  Young adults do not get lost in the siren call of chasing new experience after new experience through life!  Sooner or later, you will wear yourself out and, frankly, not have much depth.  Commitments in life are what lead to the depth of personhood, awareness and insight.  Do not be afraid to commit in faith and in love to Christ, his Church and another person if you are so called.  Be willing to go deep!

You also need a real community that will not fit neatly into your box, one that is not perfect, that disagrees and that argues.  I have known young people to leave the Church either because it is not “perfect” or because it does not fit into their own framework.  Frankly, I think that this is not a sign of good, adult judgment.  On college campuses, people are talking about “trigger notices” and “safe zones” around discussions that students might find threatening or challenging.  Social media and our current structure of news outlets may allow us to exist and interact in a universe occupied solely by like-minded people (this is one of the dangers of our contemporary information age) but the real world does not.  It is okay to argue and it is okay to debate and it is wonderful to be in a Church that has this and the Catholic Church has it in spades!  Many social commentators have noted that argument and disagreement are turn offs to young adults who like to avoid such things at all costs (again this is an unintended consequence of how the generation was raised) but life and insight is gained through respectful disagreement, discussion and debate.  We believe that the Holy Spirit leads the Church and this is testified especially through moments of disagreement, discussion, prayer and debate.

You need holiness that sanctifies.  One of my favorite professors in seminary likened the Catholic understanding of grace to a house that is being renovated from the inside out.  Grace, in our Catholic understanding, does not just cover over our sinfulness but rather goes to the heart of who we are in order to heal the wound of sin from within on out.  We are fully healed and fully restored through a lifetime of the working of grace and our cooperation with it.  The ones who witness this most fully are the saints.  Young adults, life can be different!  We can know a holiness that heals, restores and is authentic!  We are not meant to be defined by our sins, our stumblings and our weaknesses.  We are all called to be saints!  It is not just a nice thought but an eschatological truth.  We are called to sanctification through and through and we should not settle for anything less.

Hopefully, these thoughts will prove to be helpful.  Every generation has its blessings and every generation has its struggles.

Dear young adults, you need the Church … and the Church needs you.  From a priest who has truly been blessed by his interaction with so many young adults and who cares deeply about you, may God bless you and may God guide you.


Humility and Generosity


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Jesus at TableJean Vanier is the founder of the L’Arche communities where mentally handicapped and non-mentally handicapped people live together and he is a prolific writer and speaker.  He has gained great insight and wisdom from his years of working with people who are often excluded in our society.  In his book Becoming Human reflects on the truth that “being human” is not just a matter of being born but rather is a process of becoming that extends throughout our lives.  Learning from those who are excluded is part of this process.  Vanier writes, “…the excluded live certain values that we all need to discover and live ourselves before we can become truly human … It is not just a question of performing good deeds for those who are excluded but of being open and vulnerable to them in order to receive what they can offer; it is to become their friends.”  If we do this, then “they will change things in us.”

In today’s gospel (Lk. 14:1,7-14) Jesus has been invited to a meal with some Pharisees.  He had been invited in order that they might watch him (and judge him) but in fact it is he (the Son of God) who observes them and, through them, the human condition very carefully – and he makes a judgment.  Jesus notices our tendency to want to place ourselves first and get the seat of honor.  To correct this tendency our Lord offers a parable that emphasizes humility and generosity.  Rather, when you are invited, go and take the lowest place…  Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.

Being human is not just a matter of being born, it is a process of becoming and our Lord wants his disciples to be fully human as God intends and to move beyond those tendencies that separate and divide and not to exalt them.  Life can be lived differently.  Humility and generosity toward those who cannot repay are more than good table manners; they are a mode of living that opens a person up to others, especially those who are excluded.  Jean Vanier knows this truth.  When we are open in humility and generosity, we learn truths that cannot be found anywhere else.  We become more fully human.

Despite all the superhero or hero movies that currently are filling our movie screens (which I admit, I do enjoy for the most part), our world does not need superheroes or heroes who achieve through violence just done in the name of the good.  Our world needs people who are more human, not less and, I think, this is what God wants of us.  Our Lord judged the actions of those he saw at the dinner he was invited to.  It is safe to say that he was not impressed because in their rush for the seat of honor they were losing themselves, their humanity and denying the humanity of their neighbor.

Lord, help us learn the lessons of humility and generosity toward those who cannot repay.  Lord, help us become more human.    

A lesson from St. John Paul II: Acknowledge the Good


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John-Paul-II-MarriageIt is not just what we say but it is also how we say it that is important.  This is one of the many lessons I have learned from St. John Paul II.  Like so many others I have found great insight and wisdom in the writings of Pope John Paul II.  I first began to read the writings of this holy man during my time of seminary studies and his writings continue to inspire and challenge me to this day.  John Paul II certainly pointed out and challenged the errors and falsehoods of his time but he never fell into nor immersed himself in negativity and I believe that this is an important point.  St. John Paul II was always willing to point out the good in culture and in the world.  He did this time and again in his writings just as much as he challenged falsehoods.  This ability to recognize the good gives his writings and teachings an authenticity that others are often not able to achieve. 

It also witnesses, I believe, to an enormous depth of spiritual awareness.  St. John Paul II knew the horror of evil and sin.  He witnessed it first hand in many ways throughout the twentieth century – from the brutality of Nazism and a Europe at war to the life-denying oppression of communism to the crassness of an over-arching materialism.  The Polish pontiff knew the face of evil but he knew something else even more.  He knew Jesus as Lord and Savior, risen from the dead, he knew (despite all the trials of the world) that God reigned in heaven and that God is bringing about his Kingdom and that the Holy Spirit leads us into new life.  Because of this, St. John Paul II could rejoice just as much in the good and triumph of his age as he could challenge its falsehoods and evils.  He did not allow the evil to eclipse the reality of the good that he recognized as he pondered in his heart and because of this he was a witness to hope in his time and will always remain so.

Christians of today ought to learn this great lesson that St. John Paul II has to teach us.  Yes, there is great evil, error and sin in our world.  Our Lord does not want us to be naïve to this.  We must name evil for what it is when we see it but we must not allow ourselves to fall into negativity in so doing.  We must avoid the temptation of becoming prophets of doom in our day and time.  The world is deeply wounded and scarred by sin but the world is God’s creation and Scripture tells us that God loves what he has created.  We ought to never despise which God looks upon with love. 

Yes, there is a litany of horror in history but there is also a litany of the good.  Here are some aspects of the litany of the good more recent to our day.  An end to colonialism and the subjugation of native peoples, women gaining the right to vote and the ability to speak and achieve for themselves in society, the abolishment of widespread slavery and segregation, amazing developments in technology and understanding in all areas of science and medicine and the wonder that these advancements call forth, ecumenical advancements among Christians and greater understanding and respect among the world’s religions, greater (but not complete) healthcare access for people all around the world, a deeper and growing awareness of the beauty of creation and our call to be good stewards of the world entrusted to us and how everything is so interconnected, a greater awareness and respect for the dignity of every man, woman and child regardless of race, color, gender, language, sexual orientation, economic status and religion, a growing awareness of the dignity of all human life from the womb to a natural death and the list can go on…

Are there betrayals of each aspect of the above list?  Yes, people are still brutally denied their dignity in a variety of forms, science and medicine are often un-ethically manipulated in many ways, life is denied.  There remains war and violence.  But can it not be recognized that progress has been made and continues to be made in all of these areas and is there anything wrong in this recognition?  From my reading of St. John Paul II (limited as it is), I believe that he was very comfortable in recognizing and celebrating the achievement of the good.  He never allowed himself to get mired in negativity and the temptation of being a prophet of doom even as he certainly knew the struggles ahead. 

St. John Paul II was the originator of World Youth Day – a wonderful world-wide gathering of young adults which the Church just celebrated this year in John Paul’s native Poland.  I wonder if he saw this gathering of the world’s young people as a regular inoculation (if you would) for the Church against the ever present danger and virus of negativism.  Negativism tramples down life and dreams, especially those of the young.  In some regards, saying “the world is falling apart and all is bad” while not recognizing the good which is happening is a back-handed way of saying to our young people, “you and your hopes and dreams and possibility don’t really matter.”  This is not true.  Just because the world as I may see it seems to be changing that does not mean that the “World” (capital “W”) is falling apart and frankly maybe my “world” does need to fall apart so that God can bring about more fully his vision for the World.  It is possible that my “world” was not really that great for all people.  Maybe our job is to trust in God rather than sit in judgment of history and do what we can today to love God and to love neighbor. 

There is evil and there is great sin in our world.  We must not be naïve and we must pray for discerning minds and hearts and boldness of speech and action and we must also guard against becoming immersed in negativism.  At heart, a Christian cannot be a prophet of doom – God’s amazing grace will not allow it.  The first verse and refrain of the hymn “How Can I Keep From Singing” captures this truth.  My life flows on in endless song; above earth’s lamentation.  I hear the real though far-off hymn that hails a new creation.  No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that rock I’m clinging.  Since Love is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing? 

Our God is a God of the living and not the dead.  To honor life and the good wherever it is found is to honor God.  St. John Paul II knew this. 

St. John Paul II, pray for us!  Help us to learn not just what to say but also how to say it to a world so desperately in need yet also so loved by God.               

Being the Body of Christ: Remembering Who We Are


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Jesus - way, truth, lifeIn the parish in which I currently serve there is a husband and wife who work in therapeutic massage and they share how the healing arts influence their view of theology and how faith, in turn, influences their work.  I have had some interesting discussions with them and a recent conversation has had me thinking in a new way about parish and even the Body of Christ.

After an injury, the couple notes, part of the healing process is helping the injured person to remember and reconnect with his or her body.  On the surface this sounds strange because one would think that if there is a part of the body in pain that it would be a primary focus.  Initially it is but if the pain persists then the person begins to compensate and “work around” the injured part.  A disconnect then occurs, sets in and can even become deeply ingrained.  If the healing process is to be effective, this disconnect must be addressed and overcome.  The injured person must be helped, encouraged and even challenged sometimes to reconnect and remember his or her body.  Once this occurs, then healing and full functioning can advance in earnest.

There are injuries and pains which occur through life which can lead a person to “forget” or disconnect in differing ways from his or her body.  Pains and injuries also occur within the Christian community (sometimes minor and annoying, sometimes large and scandalous).  Can these injuries lead us to disconnect maybe even subconsciously (even as we sincerely profess our love of Christ and his Church) and forget what it truly means to be the Body of Christ?  Is part of the healing process needed in our day to be found in assisting the Church community to remember and re-connect with what it really means to be the Body of Christ?

Before a parish being a series of activities, projects or meetings, before it being a collection of groups and guilds, before it being good and charitable work done in our world, before it being a collection of Masses and prayer offered in this or that liturgical style – a parish is part of the Body of Christ and a manifestation of that Body.  A parish may have a lot of things going on but does that necessarily mean it is fully connected to and remembering its core and essential reality – which is being part of the Body of Christ?

Pope Francis has spoken famously of wanting a Church that is a field hospital.  The world can certainly bang up a person.  The world can also certainly bang up the Church.  Can part of the healing offered through the field hospital be healing needed by the Church herself, assisting her in remembering and re-connecting with her own body which is, in fact, the Body of Christ?

Below are some questions (not exhaustive) that I think might help a community reflect on where it is in its own remembering of being part of the Body of Christ.  (I approach this reflection in terms of the parish because that is the context in which I am currently ministering and in which the majority of Catholics exercise their faith.  At first blush, I do think these thoughts could be applied to other forms of church community.)

Does the parish have room to breathe?  In the United States we live in an activity driven society.  There is always someplace to be and something that needs to get done!  These may be good and honest realities that need to be addressed but can a different rhythm to life be found and maintained?  Can a parish witness to this different rhythm to life or is it so chock-full of activities that a person’s breath is taken away by just looking at a calendar of events!  Activities and schedules are certainly good but a body needs room and space to breathe.  Can a parish be allowed this room and can parishioners be allowed, first and foremost, to just be and know one another as fellow disciples and friends in Christ before anything else?

Does the church have the ability to welcome?  If a person is in pain and disconnected from his or her body it is more difficult for that person to welcome and focus on the needs of another person.  Energy cannot be spared even if desired.  Welcoming the other person runs deep within our faith tradition (think of Abraham welcoming the three strangers) and welcoming another person in faith is a means to new life and new awareness but if energy cannot be spared then this wellspring is cut off.

Can a church maintain a sense of wonder and be able to abide in mystery?  We so often want black and white answers and we want everything figured out and settled but often life is not this way.  At least this side of heaven, we will never have the full picture nor full understanding.  Church ought to be the place that welcomes wonder and mystery over pat phrases and tidy answers but, once again, when there is pain energy and focus can be lacking and it is all the easier to sidestep mystery in favor of what is seen as tried, true and comfortable.

Physically, the pains and traumas of life can lead us to disconnect from our bodies and even “forget” our bodies even as we live within our own skin.  In this scenario, we might be able to get by but this is far from the full experience and joy of life.  When pain and trauma lead us to forget who we are and disconnect from the reality of being the Body of Christ, we – as Church – might also be able to “get by” in the world but this also is far from the fullness of life that God intends for his people and through his people (his Body) in witness for the world.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.  For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jew or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of the one Spirit … Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.  (1 Cor. 12:12-13, 27)

A tremendous joy is to be found in re-connecting and simply remembering our body.  Yes, we are the Body of Christ!

For where your treasure is…


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ProclamationoftheKingdomofGodHere are a few lines from the song “Awake My Soul” by Mumford and Sons.

How fickle my heart and how woozy my eyes I struggle to find any truth in your lies. And now my heart stumbles on things I don’t know. This weakness I feel I must finally show.  Lend me your hand and we’ll conquer them all But lend me your heart and I’ll just let you fall. Lend me your eyes I can change what you see. But your soul you must keep, totally free…

In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die. Where you invest your love, you invest your life …

Awake my soul, awake my soul Awake my soul!  For you were made to meet your maker. You were made to meet your maker!

In this Sunday’s gospel (Lk. 12:32-48) our Lord cautions his disciples to not have fear and to not set one’s life by the tempests of the world but rather by the expectation of God’s coming Kingdom.  “Set your heart in God’s Kingdom,” our Lord is saying.  “For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.”  Our “treasure” – the hope we have as Christians – is not ultimately in this world and its struggles (although we are certainly called to live our faith and work to build up what is good and right) but in the Kingdom of God.

I think that Mumford and Sons, in their own way, are getting at this truth in their song.  “Where you invest your love, you invest your life … Awake my soul.  For you were made to meet your maker.”  Christian existence always stands within an expectation.  We are made for a purpose.  We are made to meet our maker and this expectation ought to guide our lives right here and right now.

When we have fear, we look past them to Christ.  When we experience discouragement, we find hope in God.  When trials come our way, we persevere in the promise of the Kingdom.  Our treasure has been set in heaven and so our hearts yearn for that.  But we live this concretely.  This, I think, is another truth brought out by the song.  “In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die.  Where you invest your love, you invest your life.”  Christian existence stands within an expectation yet it also is lived in the now concretely.

As Christians, we are meant to invest our lives.  Some have said that in the incarnation, God, in essence, put skin in the game.  The Son of the Father took flesh and suffered and died that we might have life and salvation.  God invested his life for us because that is where his love is.  We, too, must invest our lives.  The wounds of the world are our wounds, therefore we do not seek to flee these wounds, rather we try to bandage and heal them.

The parable of the Good Samaritan is powerful because the Samaritan chose to invest his life – he took the time that was necessary, he paid for the man’s lodging, he gave of himself – for the good of the stranger.  He was able to invest his life because his love was already there.  He saw the neighbor as brother and friend and not as stranger.

It is a bit of a paradox.  The Christian seeks to do the right thing because we are challenged to do the right thing but on a deeper level we strive to do what is right because our love is already there.  Soon to be canonized St. Teresa of Calcutta knew she was caring for Christ himself whenever she cared for the poor, sick, despised and ill.  Christ (our love) is in our brothers and our sisters.

Where you invest your love, you invest your life.

For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.

Going to the Heart and Pope Francis at Auschwitz


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Pope Francis at auschwitz2You may be aware that World Youth Day is occurring in Krakow, Poland.  World Youth Day is a gathering of the Church’s youth and young adults for days of catechesis, worship and prayer.  The event culminates on Sunday with a Papal Mass.  Pope Francis is in Krakow with the world’s young people.  I have been viewing different images via social media from the gathering but what has struck me most is a six minute video of Pope Francis visiting the concentration camp at Auschwitz and taking some private moments of prayer in the cell which housed St. Maximillian Kolbe before his death.  St. Maximillian Kolbe was a Catholic priest who volunteered his own life in order to let another prisoner live who was a husband and father.  The video, which is all in silence, is almost surreal.  (I have posted the video on our parish Facebook page.)

pope francis at auschwitzPope Francis arrives simply at the cell as is his wont.  He first peers into the darkened cell then steps in.  A chair is brought in and the Holy Father sits and we are given this amazing image of the successor to St. Peter clad in white sitting in a darkened cell with his head bowed in prayer in this place of unimaginable horror.

In visiting this cell and the concentration camp, Pope Francis has once again gone to the wounded heart of our world.  He has visited this place before.  He went there when he first visited the small island of Lampedusa to pray for migrants who had died trying to cross the Mediterranean and he goes there whenever he visits with the poor and forgotten and those who live on the periphery of our world.  In all of his travels, Pope Francis is intent on going to the heart of our world.

He goes there because that is where our Lord went.  In today’s gospel (Lk. 12:13-21) a man approaches Jesus and asks him to arbitrate between he and his brother about an inheritance.  Our Lord brushes the request aside because he knows that is not the real heart of the matter.  The heart of the matter is the wound of greed and pride which lies within every human heart.  It is from this wound that unimaginable horrors can spring.  Our Lord will ultimately answer this wound as only he can – from the cross and the empty tomb.

“Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.”  Life is not found nor is it gained through things.  Life is found and life is gained through relationships and friendship, especially those based in humility and honest care.

The first relationship is ours with God.  The man in the parable is thinking about many things and some of those may be very good such as providing for his family and loved ones but in the parable we see that he really gives no attention to God.  God says to the man, “You fool, your life will be demanded of you and to whom will go all these things (your worries, your plans) that you have prepared?”  God has no concern for our worries or our plans.  God only has concern for us.  God only wants relationship with us – not friendship with our plans or our imaginings.  Living in that honest relationship with God is where true life is found and gained.

The second relationship is ours with all of our brothers and sisters.  Pope Francis knows this.  Whenever he visits the wounded heart of our world he is visiting his brothers and sisters and there he encounters Christ.  It seems to me that outside of the Blessed Sacrament itself, the place where we most find and encounter our Lord is within our wounded brothers and sisters.  They are the presence of God to us and we, in our own woundedness, are the very same presence to them.  Do we live this truth in the way we interact with one another or will God also call us fools for missing what was right in front of us for so long?

Christ always goes to the true heart of the matter because that is where life is found.

He invites us to do the same.

A God of small encounters and lessons from a dog


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Tissot_Abraham_and_the_Three_AngelsOne truth to today’s readings is that we have a God who does not disdain small encounters.  Three strangers appear outside the tent of Abraham. (Gen. 18:1-10a)  Abraham rushes from his tent, “Sir, if I may ask you this favor, please do not go on past your servant.  Let some water be brought, that you may bathe your feet, and then rest yourselves under the tree.”  God could have gone on, but he doesn’t.  God welcomes Abraham’s invitation and the Creator of all rests with Abraham under the cool of the tree.  God receives Abraham’s hospitality.  It is not a “big thing”.  To any casual passerby the scene would seem very ordinary and even unremarkable. 

But God is present in this small encounter and Abraham has welcomed God in his three quests and where God is present there is life.  One of the guests says that next year Abraham and Sarah, without children for so long, will have a son.  This small encounter will produce a small seed from which the nation of Israel will flourish and through that people the Savior will come who will gather all nations and peoples into God’s Kingdom.  Our God does not disdain small encounters and from such encounters comes life and history itself is transformed.

God does not disdain small encounters but we do and the value of small encounters is one of the lessons our Lord comes to teach us.  In the gospel (Lk. 10:38-42), our Lord enters into the small home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus.  He neither disdains that home nor their hospitality and friendship rather, he welcomes all of it.  Mary elects to sit with the Lord and just be with him.  Martha is running about busy and even though in the same house, she is not really with the Lord.  How often we are like Martha!  Christ is here but we are not.  We run around, we remain distracted and anxious, we act busy.  Truth be told, we often avoid. 

“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.  There is need of only one thing.  Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”  Our Lord knows the value and blessing of small encounters and how life can be found in these moments and he wants us to know this also.  Christian discipleship is made up of small encounters, choosing the better part and meeting Christ in the moment in which we find ourselves.  

Some of you may know that last Saturday I had to put to sleep one of my dogs – Bailey who was fourteen years old and had developed a tumor in his esophagus.  Last Saturday was not a good day for me.  I believe that one of the ways we can honor the departed, and I think this includes pets, is to learn from them.  There are three lessons I learned from Bailey.  I think one of the reasons people love dogs so much is that they do what we often wish we could do and not have others look at us like we are crazy.  I think we all have a part that would like to stick our heads out of the window of a moving car and just feel the rush of air!  I think there is a part of all of us that would often like to drop in the grass and roll around just for the fun of it!  Dogs teach us the value of these simple moments.  This is the first lesson.  They also teach us the value of encounter and this is the second lesson.  Dogs often just want to be best friends with everyone they meet, Bailey was this way.  I sometimes felt sorry for him because I think I often held him back.  It is pretty sad when your dog is more extroverted than you are!  Bailey was very patient with me in this but for him none of the things we think are important were important.  Dogs welcome everyone as they are and they just do not get worked up about things in the end that just really don’t matter that much.  Finally, dogs can teach us the lesson of now.  I saw a cartoon recently where a man is sitting on a bench facing a beautiful sunset with a dog sitting on the ground beside him.  There are thought bubbles all around the man’s head.  One is a flying plane.  Another is a fancy car.  The third is a large home and the fourth is a corner office.  All of these thoughts swirling around the man … all of them distracting him.  The dog has one thought bubble – it is he and the man sitting and watching the sunset. 

“…you are anxious and worried about many things.  There is need of only one thing.”  

Our God neither disdains small moments nor small encounters.  There is great wisdom and life to be found when we also learn not to disdain small moments and small encounters. 

“Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”