Jesus’ Hope


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Jesus in the desertHave you ever noticed that each of our Lord’s temptations in Luke’s Gospel is a temptation to something within the immediate and that our Lord responds to each temptation by his hope in the future? That Jesus responds by not getting stuck in the immediate but by looking beyond the immediate to the infinite?

The gospel tells us that our Lord, after fasting for forty days was hungry. That is an immediate need. We all know that when we are hungry it is hard to even think about anything else. The devil plays on this. “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” Answer this immediate and pressing need! Satisfy your hunger! Our Lord responds, “… One does not live on bread alone.” Our Lord’s hope is not in a quick fix or easy answer right now but on that which is truly enduring and lasting – relationship with the Father.

The devil again tempts the Lord, “I shall give you all this power and glory … all this will be yours, if you worship me.” Okay, Jesus has come to be savior and king – the devil concedes this – but he need not go through the pain and struggle, suggests the Father of Lies. Jesus need not go to Jerusalem and walk the way of Calvary. He can be king now, immediately! Jesus can be king without the cross! Certainly tempting, but our Lord responds, “You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.” Jesus answers by showing where his hope lies – not in the devil and his power and neither in any power that the world affords in the here and now but in the Father and his will. Jesus hopes in the Father and the Father alone will Jesus serve.

If not through need nor through power will the Lord be tempted then through love will the devil try to tempt the Lord. Make the Father show his love here and now, force his hand! “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written: “He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you…” The Son will not force the Father to prove his love. His hope in the Father’s love does not need to be proven at any point, it endures even to the cross. “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”

Jesus overcomes these temptations in the immediate not through his own strength of will but through his hope in the Father. It is the Father who summons the Son into the future – into the desert, into ministry, to Jerusalem, through the cross to the resurrection and into the fullness of the Kingdom! God summoned Jesus and Jesus put his trust in the summons of the Father. And God summons us! God calls us forward into the future – not as we might have it or envision it – but into the fullness of His Kingdom! To be a Christian – to confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord and to believe in our hearts that God raised Jesus from the dead – means to be a person never resigned to the immediate nor the status quo nor to the sad belief that it is solely up to our own effort. These are the illusions of the Father of lies. That things cannot change. That there is no hope. That we are abandoned.

Jesus is risen from the dead! Hope ever endures! The Father summons us into the Kingdom!

The hymn has it right. “My life flows on in endless song above earth’s lamentations! 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?”

We are members of the Body of Christ and Jesus’ hope is our hope! We turn our gaze to the Father…

An Incarnational Faith


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hands of Christ“What does discipleship look like?’’ This was a question we were asked again and again in theology studies. What does it look like? How do disciples act in the world? How does one show that he or she is a follower of Christ?

We can always look to the communion of saints and learn from them to some degree but not completely because we live in our own specific time and specific context and every life is different. What does discipleship look like in our world today?

I believe that one of the besetting sins of our day is a desire to escape the human condition and we see this manifested in so many ways. The recent horrific legislation passed in New York and Virginia – which basically gives a wink and nod to infanticide – is a bitter refusal of the reality of the gift of life. The abuse of drugs and opioids so prevalent in our society has at heart a desire to escape our human condition – its limits and its sufferings. The tendency to live more in the virtual reality of our iPhone than in the reality of our life seems a very common mode of escape.  The confusion regarding gender identity that contains within it a denial of the role that our physical body itself plays in our identity. It is as if the body and the material does not really matter…

This desire to escape the human condition has even entered our Christian understanding. I will confess a pet peeve that I have and it regards a comment often said at the death of a loved one. I understand that the intent of the comment is to comfort and I have even said it myself but it is incorrect. Sometimes, in order to comfort, people might say upon a person’s death, “heaven now has a new angel.” No, heaven does not have a new angel. Angels are a different class of being. Angels are pure spirit. We do not become angels upon our deaths. How do we know this? Because Christ did not come back as an angel upon his resurrection! His was a resurrected body and he specifically points this out in his resurrection appearances. “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have.” (Lk. 24: 39) Our true identity is not solely spirit. Our true identity as human creatures is body, mind and spirit. This is the fullness of who we are and it is this fullness that will be raised on the great day of resurrection! We proclaim this every Sunday when we proclaim the creed. This temptation to over spiritualize our human nature finds root in numerous spiritualities and approaches to faith that denigrate the body and the material in favor of a view of the spiritual that does not seriously take account of the incarnation – that God became flesh and himself entered into the human condition.

In a world and a time so intent on trying to escape the human condition in so many ways what does discipleship look like? How are we to live as Christians? It is incarnational. It accepts the human condition and it recognizes that it is within our very human condition with all of its limits that we find a privileged place of encounter with Christ our Lord who is the Word made flesh.

Having a faith that is incarnational is neither a turning away from the path of discipleship nor a failure to strive after that which is better, but rather the opposite. It is learning to be amazed, just as Peter was, with how Christ is able to encounter us within the very limits of our human condition. “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” But Christ does not depart. He remains and it is in that ongoing encounter with Christ within the limits of his human condition that Peter is healed and is even made a fisher of men but Peter never escapes his human condition. He does not need to because Christ – the Lord of Life – is there. The disciple must always be where the Master is.

What does discipleship look like today? It must be unabashedly incarnational – not wanting to escape the human condition but willing to encounter Christ within the very limits of our human condition.

Earlier this week a priest at our diocesan priest study days in Gatlinburg shared what I thought was a powerful image of a faith that is incarnational. If you have ever been to Notre Dame Church in Greeneville, TN you know that the church sits at the top of a rise and that to get to the church you must ascend a pretty long driveway. A member of that church community had been trying for quite some time to get pregnant. She finally was able to get pregnant and one day in her gratitude to God for her pregnancy she dropped down on her knees at the bottom of the drive and crawled all the way up the drive on her knees and into the church to the altar as a show of gratitude for the blessing God had given her. That is an incarnational faith. That is what discipleship looks like.

One piece of the puzzle is enough


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Christmas puzzle (2)I go to the YMCA to exercise and for anyone who has been there you know that once you enter the building and head down the main hall there is a lounge area on the left and on a table in this room there is always a puzzle being worked on. I have begun the practice of spending three to five minutes at this puzzle after I exercise and before I leave. My goal is to try to get at least one piece of the puzzle in place. (The last time I was there I got three pieces in … I was quite proud of myself!) I could easily spend hours at this table because I like puzzles but I am learning that there is something good about limiting myself to just one or a few pieces at a time and also seeing how the puzzle comes together as other people also work on it.

If you look at the Scripture readings over these weeks of Advent it is like God putting the pieces of the puzzle together right in front of our eyes – the hopes of Israel, the promise of the prophets, Gabriel appears to Zechariah to announce that he and Elizabeth will have a son, Zechariah doubts and is left mute till the birth of John, Gabriel appears to Mary, Mary believes and she conceives by the Holy Spirit, the angel appears to Joseph in a dream to assuage all of his fears and uncertainties, wise men from the East begin their trek towards Bethlehem. John the Baptist appears on the scene. Piece by piece the puzzle is put together.

But it is one piece at a time. If you look at the passage where Gabriel appears to Zechariah in the temple, the angel announces that Zechariah and Elizabeth will have a son in their old age and that the son will help turn Israel back to God. Gabriel sort of hints at the coming of a Messiah but he does not say it out right. The angel gives Zechariah one piece of the puzzle. That is enough. Gabriel appears to Mary and announces that she will bear a child who will be the son of the Most High and who will reign forever but he does not say how our Lord will accomplish this and how everything will play out. He gives one piece of the puzzle. That is enough. An angel appears to Joseph in a dream to tell him not to fear to take Mary as his wife, that the child is of God and will save the people from their sins. Again, nothing about how this will be accomplished, just one piece of the puzzle. It is enough.

In today’s gospel with Mary visiting Elizabeth we see Luke doing something he likes to do throughout his writings – he brings two people together who each have had an experience of God, who each have a piece of the puzzle. The two come together, they each share their story – their piece – and by so doing, they are brought to a greater understanding and awareness. And in this particular encounter there is an even deeper encounter – the infant in Elizabeth’s womb who will be the great prophet leaps in the presence of the Word made flesh in the womb of Mary and shares his prophetic spirit with his mother who then proclaims, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

So often in regards to faith and in regards to live in general we want no loose ends, we want to have it all figured out but this is like trying to grab a sip of water from a fire hose! It doesn’t work that way. One lesson of Advent, one lesson learned from the people of the Advent story – welcome the one piece of the puzzle that God has given us in this moment of our journey and be content with that. Sit with it, appreciate it, wonder over it, learn the lesson it offers, share it and the truth it offers with others and together learn to trust in our own hearts and with one another that God is at work bringing it all together in his way.

One piece of the puzzle. It is enough.

What are the animals in your stable?


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animals in the mangerYou may have noticed that Seth who oversees our parish maintenance has placed the animals in the stable scene outside in front of our church. I appreciated this as the day after he put the figures out I came across this quote from the author Evelyn Underhill,

“Human nature is like a stable inhabited by the ox of passion and the ass of prejudice; animals which take up a lot of room and which I suppose most of us feed on the quiet. And it is there between them, pushing them out, that Christ must be born and in their very manger he must be laid – and they will be the first to fall on their knees before him. Sometimes Christians seem far nearer to those animals than to Christ in his simple poverty, self-abandoned to God.”

The stable scene and the quote prompt a good examination in preparation for the coming Christmas celebration. What are the animals inhabiting the stable of my heart? Truth be told, any person who would say, “I have no animals. My stable is completely clean,” either does not know his or her own heart, is a fool or a liar or maybe a combination of all three. Honestly, what are the animals in the stable of our hearts?

We can even get quite creative in this examination. The ox of passion might be the passion of lust but it also might be the passion of anger, control or narcissism. The ass of prejudice might be prejudice against the one who is different, the stranger or the person I have already judged in my own heart. But there can be other animals. The strutting rooster of pride and arrogance, the fat, squawking hen of gossip, the goat of resentment, the pig of sloth, the farm rat of jealousy… What are the animals in our stables? A good way to prepare for Christmas is to honestly and creatively look within and not be afraid to acknowledge and name those animals that we find within our stables. A spiritual truth – when we can creatively and even mockingly name the animals that mill about in our heart’s stable, they actually begin to lose their power – for example, when we know our pride is at work we can chuckle to ourselves, “there goes that strutting rooster again!”

The quote from Underhill goes further though and brings out another deep dynamic in the Christian mystery when she writes that it is precisely within the stable, between all the animals that reside there, that Christ must be born. It is not we who first make our stables nice, neat and clean in order to then welcome the Christ child; it is the Christ child who first chooses to be born within the crowded mess of both our world’s and hearts’ stables and by his presence brings the light and healing that we yearn for. The Nativity stable continually instructs us to avoid the danger – even heresy (Pelagianism) – of believing that it is we who first cleanse our stables by our own efforts in order to then win and warrant the coming of our savior, the gift of grace. It does not work that way. God first arrives – even into the mess and pressing crowd of our little stables – and this is what brings life and the healing.

Both prophets in today’s readings proclaim this to us. The prophet Baruch proclaims the glory of Jerusalem but specifies that it is a glory that comes from God. “Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery; put on the splendor of glory from God forever: wrapped in the cloak of justice from God…” The prophet invites Israel to live and rejoice in this gift from God! Even John the Baptist – who is that voice crying out in the desert, who is that one who is sent to prepare the way of the Lord – proclaims that it is the “salvation of God” that all flesh will see. God arrives first. “And it is there between them, pushing them out, that Christ must be born and in their very manger he must be laid…”

Soon Mary and Joseph, the angels and the shepherds and eventually the three kings will also arrive at the stable but before all of that it is worthwhile to just sit and acknowledge the animals in our stables. It is worthwhile to honestly admit their presence and to know that Christ is not put off by them – that he will be born within their midst, that he will be laid in their manger and that the animals – by his presence, healing and grace – will then become the very first to kneel down in adoration.

The poor widow’s offering: Heart speaking to Heart


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the-poor-widows-offeringAs some of you know I recently went to Yellowstone National Park and led a retreat there. Before and after the retreat I had free days so I took advantage of those days and went on some hikes. The first day going in I stopped at the ranger station just to check on things and make sure there were no concerns about the trails I was considering. The ranger suggested that I download the Yellowstone Park app as it would be a help to me. I took his advice and downloaded the app. It was a great help. What they have done at Yellowstone (and I am not sure if this is at other parks or not) is that they have mapped out every trail in the park on this app. Not only that, but when you go out on the trail you take your phone with you, switch it to airplane mode so that it is not continually searching for coverage and draining your battery and with GPS the phone shows you via a little dot on the screen exactly where you are at on the trail. One phone in the vast expanse of Yellowstone communicating with some satellite in the sky telling you exactly where you are at and which way to turn when the trail splits. I just find that level of technology, connection and focus amazing!

Our Lord, in today’s gospel, has a level of focus that is also amazing. He is watching a crowd giving their contribution to the temple treasury. To his disciples he singles out one poor widow in the midst of that whole crowd. She gave not out of her surplus but, even in her poverty, she gave out of her livelihood. Her act was an act of faith and of trust. In essence it was a movement of love from her heart to the heart of God and we have a God who notices such movements – even the smallest of movements. Bl. John Henry Newman said that true evangelization, true sharing of the good news occurs when “heart speaks to heart”. There was such a communication going on here In this moment, the heart of that woman – by trusting and giving out of her livelihood – was speaking, was calling out in love to the heart of God. And the heart of God, in Christ, saw her, and heard her and blessed her for it!

Our Lord had just condemned the scribes and their need to go around in long robes, who recite lengthy prayers and who accept seats of honor in banquets in order to be noticed, but, who themselves, never notice the widows. I am sure that there were scribes in this crowd along with all the people giving out of their surplus. Just another day at the temple treasury. The people in the crowd themselves probably never noticed the poor widow. Some of them may have even viewed her as a nuisance – a nobody getting in the way of their holy and respectable duty. But, Jesus does not notice any of them because even with their long robes, their lengthy prayers and their large sums of money their hearts were not open. There is no heart speaking to heart because on their side the heart is mute and has nothing to say, despite all the show. Jesus, takes no notice of them.

Jesus sees the widow; his heart hears her. In contrast to the scribes, our Lord invites us to learn and live the simple and honest faith of the poor widow. No crowds, no distance, no outward appearances or show distract the heart of God. The heart of God is focused on the human heart that calls out to him in honesty, in love and in faith. Heart speaks to heart – this is where God will meet us. God is found and God is encountered in the sincerity of belief, the sincerity of a heart that is open, honest and trusting. In this regard our Lord confirms that the poor widow was, in fact, the richest contributor within that crowd of people that day because her heart was open. “Amen, I say to you, the poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.”

“Heart speaks to heart,” true evangelization, true sharing of the good news occurs when one heart opens to another.

In this witness of the poor widow and our Lord’s noticing of her even as she seems hidden amidst the crowd of people, we also learn that God’s heart is open and searching – searching for the human heart that is open and calling upon him in humility, faith, trust and love.

“But from the beginning…” Christ remembers.


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Christ iconA joke – an elderly couple were visiting the county fair. While wandering around they noticed that helicopter rides were being offered for fifty dollars. The wife turned to the husband and excitedly said, “Let’s go on a helicopter ride!” The old man just shook his head and replied, “Honey, that’s a lot of money. Fifty dollars is fifty dollars.” and they walked off. The next year the same couple was back at the fair and again helicopter rides were being offered for fifty dollars. The woman wanted to go for a ride but again her husband just shook his head and said, “Sorry, fifty dollars is fifty dollars.” The woman sighed and the old couple walked off. The next year, they were again back at the fair and again helicopter rides were being offered. Again the wife asked her husband to go up on a ride but again the man answered “Fifty dollars is fifty dollars.” This time though the pilot was nearby and overheard their conversation. He stopped the couple and said, “Listen, I will make you a deal. I will take you up and give you the best and most thrilling helicopter ride of your lives and if I hear not a single thing from you – no words, no laughing, no exclamations – your ride will be free!” The old man – always quick to get something for nothing – immediately said yes and up the three went in the helicopter! The pilot was true to his word – it was the best and most thrilling helicopter ride! The day was beautiful and you could see for miles! The pilot, to add a little excitement (and try to get some sound out of the two) even steeply banked the helicopter one way and then the other way throughout the ride. The pilot was amazed though because throughout the whole ride he heard not one sound from the elderly couple. Finally, after landing he turned around and realized that the old man was not in the helicopter. “Where is your husband?” he asked the woman. “Oh, he fell out about thirty minutes ago.” Shocked, the pilot asked, “Why didn’t you say something?!”. “Well,” she said, “fifty dollars is fifty dollars!”

Relationships are a mystery are they not? When we step back to think about it though, we quickly realize how so much of our lives – our time, our attention, our energy, our focus – is caught up in relationship! Whether it be the relationship of friendship, of family, of work, of church, of our relationship with God or (as today’s readings highlight) the very ancient and unique relationship of husband and wife. So much of all that we are about and are is caught up in this mystery of relationship. The readings for today cast some light on this deep, abiding and sometimes conflicted mystery.

The first truth shared is that we are made for relationship. God himself says, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him.” God – who himself is a trinity of relationships – has built within us the need for relationship. And it is a need critical for our own flourishing! We are in essence hardwired for relationship and we only become who we are meant to be through relationship. The vocation of marriage witnesses this in an utterly unique and potentially holy way. Husbands and wives are meant to help one another grow in holiness – which means comfort, support but also challenge when needed. The “two becoming one flesh” is a great mystery that God himself has written into creation that should not be passed over lightly.

The second truth is that this need and drive for relationship has – along with everything else – been wounded and warped by sin. This is a sad reality and how much pain it causes in our world and in every individual life. Angry words, sad, poor and hurtful choices, violence in all sorts of ways even over generations and whole nations wound and leave scars that last a lifetime or more. No form of relationship (including marriage) is immune from these dangers and this hurt.

I speak from my experience and what I witnessed in the lives of my parents. When I was in fourth grade my parents divorced. My father was an alcoholic who tried but was never able to overcome his disease. My senior year of high school he drank himself to death. My mother was faced with a very tough choice on how to raise her boys in the best possible way within a bad situation. They divorced. It hurts when the very real wounds of sin break a relationship. It is almost natural – a “sad natural” – that a hardness of heart sets in when there has been pain.

The third truth – and this is the saving message – is that there is one who has come and who remembers (because he was there) the truth of relationship before the hardness of heart. “Jesus told them, … ‘But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’” This one who has come is neither afraid nor scandalized by suffering. The Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that, in fact, he has been made perfect through suffering. He is neither afraid nor scandalized by suffering and he is willing to walk each one of us back to the truth and the wholeness and the authenticity found in the beginning of God’s creation.

The fourth, and final truth for today – wherever you are in life allow Christ to walk you back to that wholeness and authenticity of relationship we were made for by God before the hardness of heart. If you are in marriage – allow Christ to continually walk you and your spouse back to that wholeness of relationship which existed prior to the hardness of heart. Every day! Every day, allow Christ to walk you back. Every day do the work that is needed! Do not take anything or anyone for granted. If you are in the brokenness of divorce realize, please realize that Christ is not put off, he is not scandalized. He is the one made perfect through suffering. He meets you there in the suffering – he heals what needs to be healed, he strengthens what needs to be strengthened. Allow him to walk you back to the wholeness and authenticity that God wants for you before the hardness of heart. Allow him to walk with you.

Christ remembers, he remembers before the hardness of heart.

Christ, help us to remember.

Christ, walk each one of us back to the life that was before the hardness of heart. Walk each one of us into the fullness of your Father’s Kingdom.

The St. Michael the Archangel Prayer


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St. Michael the ArchangelThe St. Michael the Archangel Prayer was written by Pope Leo XIII around 1885. It is said that the pope had a vision of evil oppressing the Church and wrote the prayer in response. It is not a liturgical prayer but it can be prayed communally. In light of recent events in the Church; Bishop Stika has requested that every parish in our diocese offer the St. Michael prayer after the concluding prayer of the Mass for a year beginning on September 29th (the Feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael). The prayer assures us of God’s triumph over Satan and evil and God’s love and protection of the Church.

The strength of St. Michael the Archangel is found in his name which means “Who is like unto God?” It is a rhetorical question bringing with it the awareness of the transcendence, omnipotence and majesty of God. In art, St. Michael is often presented as a warrior casting Satan down to the ground. This is a symbolic presentation of the singular truth of Michael’s name overcoming and casting down the pride of Satan who (in his foolishness) thought that he was greater than God. Who is like unto God? No one – no creature, no pride, no arrogance, no sin, no power nor principality – is like unto God. All is cast down before God and St. Michael stands in witness to this. The victory belongs to God.

In the prayer we say,

Saint Michael Archangel,
defend us in battle,
be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil;
may God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host,
by the power of God, cast into hell
Satan and all the evil spirits
who prowl through the world seeking the ruin of souls.

“…may God rebuke the (devil) … and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, cast into hell Satan …” God rebukes. By the triumph of Christ, Satan has been overcome and cast into hell. The archangel and his name stand in testimony to this victory and to the truth that Christ will always protect his bride the Church.

Last Sunday our Lord told his disciples that he must suffer and be crucified. Peter took our Lord aside thinking he knew better. Our Lord’s response? “Get behind me Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” In today’s gospel our Lord again says that the Son of Man must suffer and be killed. What are the disciples doing? They are arguing among themselves about who is the greatest among them. Our Lord’s response? He brings a child into their midst and putting his arms around the child says, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.”

Salvation and the Kingdom of God is not found in the proud illusion of one’s own strength and greatness (this is the sin of Satan – which the disciples were skating dangerously close to in today’s gospel) but in the humility of welcoming Christ and the salvation and victory that he has won for us. St. Michael stands in witness to this. “Who is like unto God?”

What can we as parish do in light of the sins and evil affecting our world and our Church? We can put into effect the words of St. James in his letter, “But the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace.” We can humbly welcome Christ and one another in the name of Christ. We can strive to live the truth, peace and mercy of the Kingdom of God as church community here in our time and in our world.

What more can we do? In wonder we can stand alongside St. Michael and proclaim by both our words and our actions that singular truth that neither Satan nor all his hosts of demons can stand against:

Who is like unto God?

Pope Francis’ invitation on the flight from Dublin


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Pope_Francis_in_flight_press_conference_3_Jan_18_2015_Vatican_Catholic_News_Credit_Alan_Holdren_CNA_CNA.jpegWhen questioned about the accusations in the letter written by Archbishop Carlo Viganó on the return flight to Rome after the World Meeting of Families in Ireland, Pope Francis did something quite revolutionary I think. He did not just say, “I will not say a single word on this” as many people have been focusing on. He went on to do something else, he opened a door and he made an invitation.

Although specifically addressing the crowd of journalists on the plane, he invited anyone who is interested to read the letter for him or herself and to come to their own conclusions but then he went further and made a specific invitation to the journalists (both on the plane and world-wide I think), “And you have the journalistic capacity to draw your own conclusions. It’s an act of faith. When some time passes and you have drawn your conclusions, I may speak. But I would like your professional maturity to do the work for you. It will be good for you…”

If the pope had countered the archbishop’s claims right then, the press would have been left reporting from the sidelines about the latest scandal in the Church and the latest skirmish between opposing Church factions. The image that comes to me is that of a tennis match – people passively watching from the stands and giving commentary as the two players on the court battle it out. By making his invitation, Pope Francis is welcoming the journalists (and through them the laity) onto the court itself and, in essence, is saying “You, also, have a role to play both in this game and for the good of the Church!” This is quite revolutionary.

“But I would like your professional maturity to do the work for you. It will be good for you…”

It was a group of reporters (trained to investigate and uncover) who doggedly pursued and exposed the abuse scandal in Boston. It has been reporters who have helped to uncover abuses of power that have occurred in Ireland of which the pope just saw and heard firsthand prior to boarding that flight to Rome. Reporters are trained investigators. Inviting them onto the court and into the game carries ramifications.

It is not wise I think to try to judge the intentions of another person. Only God can see into the soul of a person and usually when we try to judge another’s intentions the only thing we do is hold up a mirror reflecting ourselves. But actions and words can be evaluated, judged and weighed. An invitation (especially at this level of power and authority) is an action. Inviting trained journalists into the game and onto the court does not strike me as the action of someone who is trying to hide something. Just my own thought.

Priests, bishops, cardinals and even popes might be wonderful Christians with amazing gifts and possibly even saints but that does not mean that they are skilled in the work of investigation and neither are Catholic bloggers and pundits despite their love for the faith and the Church. I do not know what has occurred in regards to these allegations nor who knew what at whatever level and (if true) when and as I watch all these things unfold I am extremely grateful that I am a priest in a parish. One thing I do believe though is that what appears to be needed at this time is a specific skillset. The skill to be tenacious in pursuing truth and uncovering abuse. This is the skill of the investigative journalist.

I must admit that I do not know all the details of what goes into an Apostolic Visitation (an action that is currently being requested of Rome by the U.S. Bishops). I do not know if it is set in stone that such a visitation be comprised of certain members of the church hierarchy alone but maybe an option in Rome’s response to this request would be to send a visitation team of which some members are faith-filled lay men and women who love the Church and who bring with them the skills of investigation – perhaps even some investigative reporters.

“But I would like your professional maturity to do the work for you. It will be good for you…”

… and it will be good for the Church.

I am not the victim here. A reflection.


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christ-on-the-cross-sketch-eug-ne-delacroixI have been ordained for twenty-three years now and my entire priesthood has been lived under the shadow of the clergy abuse scandal. It began when I was in seminary in Chicago. I remember spending the days in prayer, class and formation for priesthood and then watching the six o’clock evening news as the latest wave of the scandal broke. Talk about a disconnect! But seminaries (by their nature) exist in a bubble. After ordination there was the news from Boston and other parts of the country but that was “out there” – still somewhat removed. It all came crashing home when the bishop who ordained me was accused of abuse and admitted to this abuse. He spent the remainder of his days praying and working in the laundry room of a monastery. A priest from my diocese (former pastor to the parish to which I now serve) was arrested and is currently in prison for abusing a child. A priest classmate was removed from ministry for inappropriate contact with a minor. And now it is all stirred up again with the recent report from Pennsylvania. My whole priesthood and the priesthood of now at least a couple of generations of priests has been lived under the shadow of this scandal.

Yet, the people of God continue to amaze. Even through all of this they have remained committed to the Church and to their priests. Even now they are rallying in support of their priests and bishops and they recognize that not all should be tainted by the sinful actions of a few. This is heartwarming and appreciated but I do feel a need to say and clarify something.

I am not the victim here. No priest, no bishop is the victim here. I appreciate the kind words and thoughts and expressions of concern but we must commit ourselves to remembering and remaining focused on who the true victims are.

The victim is the man who has not been able to enter into authentic relationships throughout his life because he was wounded by a trusted priest as a young boy. The victim is the person who died of a drug overdose trying to numb the pain of sexual abuse. The victims are the parents who did their best to raise concerns but watched as abuser priests were moved from one assignment to another. These are the victims and we must not let our focus shift from them and we must stand with them.

I hate that we are back in this again. I hate that this ugliness steals so much attention and energy from the true work of the Church. I know that there will be consequences to this and that these consequences will be painful and that these consequences will affect and handicap the ministry of the Church. It all sickens me. Priests will be viewed with suspicion once again. There will be rude comments and jokes and possibly worse but we must be clear – no priest is the victim here and we should avoid the temptation to fall into that role.

The healing that is needed can only come if we remain focused on who the true victims are – those men and women who suffered at the hands of abusing priests and bishops within the Church who valued damage control over the pain of the people entrusted to their care. Any temptation to paint the priest, the bishop or the institutional Church as the victim in this must stop. It goes nowhere and it does nothing good. It is, in fact, a form of narcissism that only further victimizes the very men and women who have already endured so much pain.

When the news broke about the bishop that ordained me I was chaplain at one of the high schools in my diocese. I remember so much prayer and concern offered for the bishop (even over the school intercom) yet hardly anything being offered for the victim. Maybe it is human nature. The bishop was known and was loved by so many people and he did good things as our founding bishop and the victim … well, he was not known – just a name from a different state. But the victim was more than just a name. He was a person who had been hurt and who only wanted what we all want – an authentic and human life.

If there is one thing that these years of priesthood under the scandal of the clergy abuse crisis has taught me is that I am neither the victim in this situation nor the perpetrator of these heinous acts. There is a freedom found in this recognition. I am simply a priest ordained at this time and in this context of church and my duty is to strive to be the best priest that I can be.

Please, if you truly love your Church and want to support your priests, do not turn any of us into the victim in this moment of pain and do not allow us to make ourselves the victim. Shifting focus away from the true victims does no good. It is tempting but it is not right nor is it ultimately just. Sometimes the most caring thing to say to another disciple is that, yes, there are crosses to be carried in life. Is it fair? No, but this is the cross we are given at this time. Only when we let go of the temptation to view ourselves as victims or allow others to paint us at the victim can we as priests, bishops and Church honestly stand with the ones who are the real victims and together find the truth of God’s Kingdom in this whole sad, ugly and sinful affair.

I am not the victim here.

Christ, the living bread.


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face_of_jesus_610x300Mary Lou was a woman I came to know in a previous assignment. She has since passed away. May she rest in peace. Mary Lou was one of those people who had the gift and (I think) the discipline of hospitality. Whether she was receiving one guest for a simple visit or a party of fifteen for a dinner, she knew how to welcome people, put them at ease and (in a good sense, never overbearing) see that their needs were met. I think that she saw hospitality as a holy act – a way of discovering and acknowledging the good in the other person. When you left Mary Lou’s house you were nourished on a multitude of levels.

In today’s first reading we are told that Wisdom has built her house and set her table for the banquet. Wisdom invites us in that we might be nourished, that we might learn and that we might forsake foolishness and all that leads away from true life. The revelation of the Gospel is that not only has God set the banquet but that God himself, Christ our Lord, is the banquet! Jesus says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” When questioned on this our Lord does not back off but rather doubles down and says, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” God has set his banquet where he, himself, is the food that nourishes and strengthens!

Like all of us I have been greatly saddened and appalled by the clergy abuse report that was released this past week in Pennsylvania. I will not go into the details here. It can be found throughout the news in all sorts of outlets. I will say that Bishop Stika has written a good pastoral letter for our diocese responding to the report and copies of this letter have been placed in the bulletin and I encourage all of us to take his words to heart. What I have found myself reflecting upon though is how this abuse and its coverup (whether it occurred within the past ten years or decades ago) occurred at the hands of men who were within (at least on the surface of things) the banquet itself. These were men who were celebrating the sacraments and leading church communities. This is partly why I think the horror and shock is so profound.

We know that the efficacy of the sacraments is not affected by the sanctity or lack of sanctity of the minister. St. Augustine helped the Church to figure this out. God’s grace provides despite the limits of sin. But neither is the grace offered through the sacraments magic! The banquet has been set, all are invited, Christ has made himself the bread of life but our hearts, our wills must be open and willing to receive and be transformed by what is offered! The guest of the banquet has a role to play. The guest of the banquet must be willing to receive and be transformed by the hospitality that is offered in the banquet. Woe to the guest (even the guest afforded a role in the banquet) who remains closed and unwilling to be transformed by the life that is offered in the banquet.

St. Paul writes, “Watch carefully how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity because the days are evil. Therefore, do not continue in ignorance, but try to understand what is the will of the Lord.” Every sacrament is an opportunity to encounter Christ – to be healed, to be converted, to be challenged, even to be reprimanded and called to repentance if needed. Every sacrament and every instance of prayer is an opportunity to grow in a deeper understanding of the will of the Lord. It is not enough to just go through the motions or to multiply more motions. This is not the wisdom of the banquet. The wisdom of the banquet is found in one name – “Jesus”. Every sacrament, every moment and every day of the disciple, must be a moment of encounter with Jesus where we realize the new life that is found in him alone and where we honestly recognize that the only thing we truly have to offer in return is our poverty, our weakness, our sinfulness and, ultimately, our trust and love.

If the clergy involved in these scandals had learned this the Church would be in a different place today. Sadly, they did not. Sadly, many people do not. Their sin does not have to be ours.

Jesus, you are the living bread!