Pastor’s Pen Easter Sunday
Holy Week is filled with rich and profound portraits of Jesus and those who knew him. We witness his interaction with people who reveal behaviors common to our experience, i.e., various forms of caring for others or convicting them.
During Holy Week, some might be absorbed with thoughts of how our Church cares for others (as did Simon of Cyrene and Veronica—the only 2 stations of the cross that refer by name to persons other than Jesus). Some people might be absorbed by thoughts of how Jesus continues to be crucified in different ways, e.g., street crime predators and white-collar criminals. Some might relate national issues to what took place 2000 years ago, e.g., with the Roman empire executing Jesus and the early Christian leaders, should we support our national policy of executing people (especially since we are one of the few countries that still do so)?
During Holy Week, we learn to appreciate the early apostles preserving their experience of Jesus—especially their experience of him at the dinner table. He told them to “do this in memory of me”—not because remembering him would stoke his divine ego, but because our remembering him would make him present to us and motivate us to be tomb-busters on behalf of oppressed others. Our candle-lit dinner with one another at the altar would entail our remembrance of God’s word spoken to us down through history—a word of love spoken in-person through Jesus.
During Holy Week, one reading occurs each year at the Easter vigil, and it conveys a truth that our faith-tradition pleads we take to heart. Namely, in Genesis we learn that “God looked at everything he had made and found it very good.” Everyone in the world knows people who suffer from what is sometimes called a “low self-image.” Some get professional help to remedy the pain that this cross takes. Some might drug their self-worth issues via alcohol or other drug. Perhaps this “low self-image” thing is so common to the human condition that it is addressed in the bible’s first book.
How often do we need to hear that God made YOU good? God had someone very special, unique, one-of-a-kind in mind when creating YOU—and “saw that you were very good.” Maybe this Easter, one or another person in our parish might internalize this biblical revelation. We’ll all benefit when that person takes wing with this insight.
During Holy Week, other thoughts might come to mind—triggered by one or another verse—some of which are the following.
“Not my will, but Yours be done . . . Into your hands I commend my spirit.” At the garden of Gethsemane and Calvary, Jesus uttered these words. They capture a Christian spirituality that SHOULD be part of each of our lives. Namely, instead of us behaving in cut-throat corporate ways, or instead of lording it over people with an attitude of “It’s my way or the highway,” we instead are called to always ask what GOD wants of us. What is the most loving act, loving decision, or loving mode of communication to employ with someone? Throughout life, each day—right up to our last day—we are called to say in prayer “Into YOUR hands, Lord, I
commend my spirit . . . not my will but yours be done.”
“This day you will be with me in paradise”–is what Jesus spoke on the cross to Dismas, the repentant thief who asked for forgiveness. We pray to hear those words when God calls us Dismas-like people to eternity.
A reflection that should come to our minds on Good Friday is: “When Jesus was dying, he was thinking of me.” How could Jesus be thinking of you when experiencing his own death? Jesuit Anthony DeMello would say that he had a strong grasp of God beholding you and smiling. This was the seminal insight that surged through him on the cross–
His was the look of love. It is the same gaze Jesus gave to his friends at the last supper when he knew he was with them for the last time–cherishing their closeness–pausing for a moment and saying “remember me being with you this way.” And this is what Easter is about—God loving you in a manner that looks past the Dismas-like elements of your life-story—and smiling at you here at mass.
The poem below reminds us that the person we find so easy to condemn is not someone from another planet. That person is you, or someone like you who also has feelings—as the Good Friday poem reveals.
A long time ago, so I have been told, Two angels once met on streets paved with gold.
“By the stars in your crown,” said the one to the other “I see that on earth, you too, were a mother.
And by the blue-tinted halo you humbly wear “You, too, have known sorrow and deepest despair . . .
“Ah yes,” she replied, “I once had a son,
A sweet little lad, full of laughter and fun.”
“But tell of your child, and how you were blest. From the moment you held him close to your breast.”
“Well, my heart almost burst with the joy of that day.” “Ah, yes,” said the other, “I felt the same way.”
The former continued: “The first steps he took– So eager and breathless; the sweet startled look
Which came over his face – he trusted me so.” “Ah, yes,” said the other, “How well do I know.”
“But soon he had grown to a tall handsome boy, So stalwart and kind – and it gave me such joy
To have him just walk down the street by my side” “Ah yes,“ said the other, “ I felt the same pride.”
“How often I shielded and spared him from pain And when he for others was so cruelly slain.
When they crucified him – and they spat in his face How gladly would I have hung there in his place!”
A moment of silence – “Oh then you are she – The mother of Christ”; and she fell on one knee.
But the Blessed one lifted her–drawing her near, And kissed from the cheek of the woman, a tear.
“Tell me the name of the son you love so, That I may share your grief and feel for your woe.”
She lifted her eyes, looking straight at the other, “He was Judas Iscariot: I am his mother.”
Pastor’s Pen March 28, 2021
Welcome to Palm Sunday of Holy Week. Today we wear the color red—which on the one hand symbolizes the Holy Spirit. On the other, red symbolizes blood and martyrdom. Those 2 extremes of human experience are what will be addressed this week in our liturgies.
Today, for example, we are the fair-weather friends of Jesus welcoming him into Jerusalem with palm branches. The people heard about the carpenter-man-messiah from Galilee and flocked to see if he was the real thing. Will their fervor and excitement last, and is their welcome based on devotion to what he has taught?
We know the answer to these questions (that is, everyone abandoned him). But instead of keeping this historical-Jesus-event buried in the misty past, try to personalize the gospel stories we read. For instance, Palm Sunday may be a biblical variation of what’s been called the “cult of personality”—defined by Wikipedia as a group drawn together via “techniques of mass media, propaganda, lies, spectacle, patriotism, and government-organized demonstrations and rallies to create an idealized, heroic, and worshipful image of a leader, often through unquestioning flattery and praise.”
Evident as far back as the Roman empire and generally applied to political leaders, the term was coined by premier Nikita Kruschev when his administration was “de-Stalinizing” Russia. Previously, Joseph Stalin had been elevated to heroic status when in power but his murder of millions led to his downfall). Despite this origin, the cult of personality is now applied to anyone who for some reason captures widespread public attention and interest. Some recent examples are the following.
While serving a life-sentence for plotting several murders, a maniacal Charles Manson received tons of mail from “fans” and women who wanted to marry him. By contrast and parallel, Pope John Paul II drew crowds that numbered in the millions—most of whom were by no means saintly Catholics wanting to hear him speak (he was NOT a riveting public speaker or homilist). For both Manson and JP2—the cult of personality was at play.
Mafia leader John Gotti was “accorded almost folk-hero status by many because of his acquittals, his designer suits, hand-painted silk ties and defiant manner as he grandly enjoyed himself at restaurants and nightclubs.” Despite being convicted of “racketeering that included five murders, an additional murder conspiracy, extortion, illegal gambling and obstruction of justice,” hundreds of his “supporters stormed the [courthouse] and overturned and smashed cars before being forced back by police reinforcements.”
An even more recent example is that of President Trump. He won the minds and hearts of a faithful following that included evangelical (and other) Christians—despite his lifestyle (personal morality and business dealings) at odds with many of their religion’s teachings. Whether it’s a Roman emperor, Stalin/Hitler/Mussolini, Charles Manson, Pope JP2, Donald Trump, or Pope Francis, the cult of personality is part of our human condition. Why some individuals and not others are captivated by certain figures is impossible to fully understand.
As stated, the reception of Jesus into Jerusalem—which Palm Sunday commemorates—may be a gospel example of the cult of personality. The crowd’s excitement did not last long—and the heroic leader was dead within a week. Like the parable he taught, the vine-like crowd was not grounded or rooted in his teaching, had little to no faith, and so did not grow. As with all of scripture, we especially need to keep in mind this Holy Week, that the stories we hear are descriptions of OUR behavior. On this Palm Sunday, WE are the people whose roots in faith are not deep, and whose moral presence during tough times is often enough not evident.
Liturgically, we next gather to remember what has been called “table fellowship” with Jesus (sometimes referred to as the “first supper”—but which is commonly called the “last supper”—since it reportedly took place on “the night before he died”). That special event recalls why we’re here at mass today. We’re at a candlelight dinner in the presence of Jesus who we see in one another—along with the risen Christ. Holy Thursday occurs each time we go to mass.
Soon, however, the inspirational red of our vestments turns into a moribund red of martyrs—for Good Friday takes place, and we are reminded of hope being lost. The cross of Jesus reminds us of every bad day or incident we ever experienced. We are in transit, or a kind of limbo, seeking new life as the old testament’s sabbath Saturday transitions into Christianity’s Easter Sunday.
Today’s gospel and the passages read this week at mass present us with a number of persons who were part of that day in Jerusalem when the “greatest story ever told” took place. If we’re attentive this week, each of us will be able to see ourselves in those diverse characters. If one or another character stays in your consciousness, it may be that God is calling you to reflect on why you’re keeping that person in mind. On different days and at different times, we are/have been each of the persons who are part of the story we hear. To get our minds thinking along these lines, consider:
Judas Iscariot—do you have a price; what values do you betray?
Chief priests—finding it easy to pass judgment on others; do you judge a person based on 1 lame thing they did or said in their life of many experiences?
Peter—are you called to stand for something but find you have legs of straw? or are you close-minded and KNOW you won’t cave-in (or aren’t wrong)—when, in fact, you will cave-in or ARE wrong?
Jesus afraid in Gethsemane—what fears are you forced to confront–and say to God you need help?
Pontius Pilate—do you wash your hands of involvement with national, local, family issues?
Barabbas—do you benefit at other people’s expense (is your clothing made in sweatshops)?
Simon of Cyrene—do you help others carry their cross; he was conscripted to help–me often not wanting to do something for another but dragged into the mix–and benefiting from it.
Soldiers whip Jesus—do you participate in the oppression of others/animals-environment?
Mary Magdalene & women at the cross—you’re a faithful presence to others in need—like the women? Or are you like 10 of the apostles and nowhere to be found when the going gets tough or when help is needed.
Dismas, the good thief—do you admit you made a mistake and ask for forgiveness? There’s nothing you’ve done which God can’t bypass in an effort to embrace your conversion of heart.
IN EACH OF THE PERSONS CITED ABOVE, WE SEE
–HOW JESUS IS BEING CRUCIFIED TODAY
–HOW WE ARE WASHING OUR HANDS OF INVOLVEMENT
–HOW WE ARE DENYING SOMETHING IS OUR PROBLEM
–HOW WE ARE CALLED TO FACE OUR FEAR OF CROSSES.
And that each of us is being called to new life—and out of our self-imposed tombs of routine and sedated existence
Grant us, O God,
A vision of your world as your love would have it:
A world where the weak are protected,
and none go hungry or poor.
A world where the riches of creation are honored and shared
so everyone might enjoy them.
A world where different races, cultures and creeds
live in peace and harmony, with equal regard.
A world where peace is built with justice
and justice is guided by love.
Give us the inspiration and courage to go forth with willing hearts, minds, and bodies to build such a world, through Christ Jesus.
And may the God of hope fill us with every comfort and joy in believing. May the peace of Christ abound in our hearts and minds. and may the Holy Spirit gift and guide us now and forever. AMEN.
Last week I mentioned that Covid affected my olfactory sense. I’ve always been accustomed to wearing cologne, but now I spray on “Aramis” and detect no scent at all. Only by inhaling up close do I detect something. I also read that Covid could affect one’s memory—and I identified with this, too. Aging might take its toll on memory, but Covid people report being challenged more so.
It occurred to me that this topic of “memory” or remembering is related to Lent. We’re in a season when we look back at our life, and see where we’ve lived the gospel and where we’ve fallen short. The Lenten season is a time for reflecting on where we need to improve our behavior—and simply acknowledge that we are very much NOT God.
Last week I mentioned being concerned about young people completely missing the point of what we do at the Eucharistic prayer. All they see and hear is a long prayer-narrative being read which has words that they might not know or which they think have no relevance to them (e.g., words like incarnate, savior, redeemer) and that they lose interest. In an era that has produced young people with short attention spans, the Eucharistic prayer becomes a test of endurance. If they’re drawn to religion at all, young people might prefer going to a Christian service at non-Catholic churches that require little attention to any one thing (where services are not based on what we call the “Last Supper” or Passover Meal that Jesus gave as the Eucharist, or thanksgiving-meal we call “communion”).
What comes to my mind each mass is that young people lose interest with each word the priest-celebrant recites. In a way, I don’t blame them—because the language of what we call the “Eucharistic prayer” is not everyday speech. Plus, they don’t know that what we’re doing is based on what Jesus did. And what he did is based on a Jewish tradition that had families gather at table (our altar) and recount the history of God creating the world, saving them from floods and foes and famine, giving them prophet-leaders, and a promised land.
Catholic tradition is rooted in this Jewish Passover meal that Jesus celebrated and told us to continue. In the past weeks, I’ve indicated that Jesus did not come to abolish the Old Testament laws but to FULFILL them. Sure, obey the commandments, but go BEYOND them (don’t steal—sure—but go further and be generous to others). Our Thanksgiving meal, the Eucharist, puts us in “communion” with the resurrected Jesus—the Christ—and is the new “manna” God feeds us in the desert of life-experience. It nourishes us to carry on and help others find the promised land of self-discovery as God’s beloved child—on earth with a mission of presence to others. The communion host that we received is the sacred assurance of God’s presence.
When we read scripture, and hear the Eucharistic prayer recited, we’re reading about earth’s history and the loving Creator-God who brought us here. Each mass is a “remembering” of who we are and from where we came. For example, today’s first reading refers to Nebuchadnezzar destroying the Temple (the destruction of the people’s identity) and taking the people into exile in Babylon. Later, Persian King Cyrus defeated Babylon, and let them return—to rebuild the Temple (and restore Israelite identity).
See God in your own nitty-gritty history—is what the Old Testament stories tell us. That is, we are called to reflect upon how God seemed present or absent to us in our past.
As stated earlier, Lent is a time for remembering and reflecting—NOT to wallow in our guilt for wrongs we’ve perpetrated but for discerning what God is calling us to be in our present? Remember: we are products of our past—not prisoners of it.
Some of you may belong to Alcoholics Anonymous—a great program that has helped countless people get a better handle on their lives. When I think of recovering from our past and making progress in new ways, I’m reminded of AA. I say this because if ever there was a strategy for renewing one’s self (besides the gospel), it can be found in the AA program.
Its founder, Bill Wilson, had a Jesuit priest friend named Ed Dowling, S.J. When Catholics read about or practice Bill W’s 12 step recovery program, they might right away see that its spirituality is what they’ve been taught in good religious ed classes (in contrast to bad ones). The program is Jesuit spirituality without being called “Jesuit spirituality.” The 12 steps should apply to each of us, and have been (like scripture) the basis of many “self-help” programs.
If you’re not familiar with the steps, here they are. I cite them here because like any good spirituality, they do not turn one inward, but rather help one find inner-strength to become a living, breathing outreach (apostle) toward others.
- We admitted we were powerless over alcohol that our lives had become unmanageable(substitute alcohol with your “unmanageable” area),
- Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity(admit help is available—which is what we do by coming to Mass).
- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him(a secular program like AA doesn’t impose the Christian God on anyone; but we try to turn over our lives to God when we come here).
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
(Lent is a period in which we reflect on how we got to where we are. Admitting our blindness and responsibility in making decisions that hurt ourselves or others.)
- Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.(Sort of like the expression “confession is good for the soul”—which Catholics literally believe.If anyone ever asks you to be the person they tell, be that person and accept the role. They aren’t coming to you for wise counsel or advice. They’re simply asking you to listen to them courageously admit to being a sinner.)
- Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
- Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
(This step requires the person to focus on the positive aspects of his or her character – humility, kindness, compassion, and a desire for change—as well as step away from the negative defects that have been identified. God takes no joy in seeing you in a constant state of shame).
- Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.(These last steps are like “penance” one receives in the sacrament of reconciliation—penance which opens doors to growth).
- Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
- This step commits the one in recovery to continue their spiritual progress. For some, this may mean reading scripture every morning. For others, it may mean a daily meditation practice. AA doesn’t have stringent rules on what form spiritual growth takes. It simply involves a commitment to take time to reassess one’s spiritual and mental state.
- Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.(In Christian spirituality, this is the meaning of discipleship—each of us called to affect others positively through our words and deeds based on the gospels).
Go for it.
I can’t let Ephesians go by without comment. Interestingly, although we speak of it as one of Paul’s epistles, scholars tell us that it probably wasn’t written by Paul. Maybe one of his followers wrote it—because it’s the “sort” of thing Paul would write.
Today’s verses raise an issue that was big during Luther’s time, viz., “faith and works” and their relationship to Christian identity. Protestant tradition has tended to emphasize “faith” (professing “Jesus Christ is my personal savior”—as seen with people knocking on doors and “witnessing” to Jesus) whereas Catholic tradition embraces the Letter of James and asserts that any faith that produces no good works is not real faith. As insightful as Luther was on many issues, he was deficient with this one. He had the gall to claim that we should delete the Letter of James from the New Testament—since it directly contradicted what he was arguing.
Today’s gospel reading is one whose chapter and verse you know—and maybe aren’t aware of your knowing it. At most sporting events, you’ll see someone “professing their faith” with a sign that simply reads “John 3:16.” Which refers to the section that says God so loved the world that He sent His only son—that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Returning to and concluding with a line from Ephesians, I quote a line from the letter which I’ve quoted in the past and which I used on a holy card at my ordination. The line reads: “We are God’s work of art.” Think of that statement for a moment! YOU are God’s work of art—the God of all creation fashioned you!
You were created by someone with skills that far surpass those of Michelangelo, Raphael, Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Grandma Moses or Andy Warhol.
And in turn, God is always calling you and me to new insight, new understandings of who we are—and then proceed
–to speak to others like Shakespeare and Emily Dickinson wrote poetry,
–to leave an impression on others like the impressionist painter Claude Monet, or post-impressionist Vincent Van Gogh.
God calls us to learn novel ways of being present to others like novelists Ernest Hemingway and Harper Lee.
We might be up there in years like Grandma Moses—and be naïve about many things (just as she belonged to what’s called the “naïve” school of art)—but God calls us to creatively paint our interactions with people that exceed in value the 1 million dollars that Grandma’s paintings now fetch.
As Sacred Scripture says: you are God’s work of art–but are more precious than silver and gold.
Pastor’s Pen March 7, 2021
Scripture is rich—such that if you went to 20 different masses, you’d hear 20 different perspectives. I see the homilist’s role as one of a farmer throwing out seeds of reflection—some of which may bear fruit and some not. One person might find something helpful in one thought while another is touched by something else. Key thing is that God will speak to us in the sacrament as a whole–in the scripture or homily we hear, in the quiet of our reflections, the songs we sing, or the eucharistic prayer and communion we receive.
Today’s first reading is the 10 Commandments–which are found in both Exodus and Deuteronomy. A homily could be devoted to 1 commandment each week for 10 weeks (or maybe longer–since the list ranges from 10 to 14 within the different traditions). Sort of like the Big 10 Athletic Conference–there are 14 teams in the conference, but it’s still called the “Big 10” (the same goes for the commandments).
When I learned the commandments, #9 was “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife.” As a young kid, I wondered why “wife” was only mentioned, and not “husband.” Couldn’t a husband be coveted as much as a wife (I wondered)? And then I learned #10 was “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods.” But some lists blend what I learned as two commandments into just one–“Thou shalt not covet your neighbors’ property.” Similarly, I learned “I am the Lord your God” (was #1) and that “Thou shalt not have strange Gods before me” was the second commandment. Some lists blend those two.
The 10 commandments (known as the “Decalogue”) sound similar to an earlier set of Babylonian laws known as the “Code of Hammurabi.” As with other cultures, the Babylonians and Israelites blended the sacred and the secular—the holy with the profane. Not killing someone and not stealing from someone helped SOCIETY over which God (Shamash for the Babylonians and Yahweh for the Israelites) presided. So, one’s civic duty in these cultures was the same as one’s religious duty, too. Ideally, we conduct ourselves in the same fashion. That is, we carry our Gospel perspective into our everyday lives.
Last week, I mentioned that the commandments are the MINIMAL foundation of our religious identity—Jesus coming not to abolish the Old Law but to fulfill it. He thus called us to expand the Old Law (the Old Testament) into new ways (the way of the New Testament). For example, we might not be someone who steals, but when you go to your grave will people say “He/She was a really generous person. She gave of her time to anyone who needed it. He gave the shirt off his back if someone was in need.”
Remember, when Christians quote the Old Testament, that’s fine. BUT, those Hebrew scriptures were the foundation of the gospels and epistles—the Christian bible. And we’re called upon to apply all biblical passages to ourselves. For example, today’s 2nd reading has Paul saying the Jews do one thing and the Greeks do another. When looking at the parish, we could say the Hemlock people do one thing and the Merrill/Ryan people do another. AND BE REMINDED BY PAUL that “For Hemlock, Merrill, and Ryan alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God—is what we preach, and not just what’s good for your group.”
What inspires me each time I see you here, is that you share Paul’s insight. Each one of you is here because you need help. You realize that you might be a pretty intelligent and strong person, but you and I know that “the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” You and I are here because we learn God’s wisdom and tap God’s strength in scripture, the sacramental system, and within the faith community.
The gospel is the well-known story about Jesus overthrowing the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple. We wonder why on earth there would be people with money on tables in the Temple. Here’s why. In the time of Jesus, they wouldn’t allow Roman/Greek coins brought into the worship area to be given as an offering (what would be our collection for the offertory procession). The coins had images of Roman and Greek gods, so moneychangers were needed to swap coins that had those images for coins that didn’t have them. This system was around for years. The Temple was a busy place—people buying animals for sacrifice, too. So John draws upon Hebrew scripture, and portrays Jesus as a kind of second Jeremiah: “Stop making the house of my Father a house of marketing.”
This passage is found in all 4 gospels, but John portrays it as opening the door for his arrest and crucifixion. The other gospels place the event at the BEGINNING of his ministry. This again reminds us that the gospels are not biographies of Jesus but theologies of him. John also adds the association of the Temple’s destruction with the body of Jesus being destroyed but rising to new life. Historically, the Temple had, in fact, been destroyed in 70 AD—before John’s gospel was written. The theology he neatly weaves into these images is that we no longer need the great Temple where God resides—because each of us is a “Temple of the Holy Spirit.”
This gospel passage also raises the issue of “anger.” Each of us has been and can be—an angry person. Sometimes our anger is the root of horror and pain inflicted on others. However, anger is part of our human makeup and CAN be an instrument of good. For example, we SHOULD be angry at some things–such as seeing people treated unjustly. Our anger CAN lead us to action that brings about a good.
I get angry at myself for recalling times in my life where I wish I hadn’t behaved or thought a certain way. I had to have a conversion experience because my thoughts and actions were not what I eventually realized as non-Gospel. Just as the Temple moneychangers had been around a long time, and people accepted them as part of the cultural/religious scene, so we have maintained thoughts and behaviors which elicit from us “We’ve always done it this way,” or “You can’t change this.” Simply put, you and I have “positions” on topics that are NOT the “last word” on those topics.
Today I might seem to have a “progressive” position on such things as racial, environmental, & gender issues–but I wasn’t born holding these positions. I had “conversion experiences” which led me to let go of what I once thought about these things. I needn’t give examples, but I roll my eyes today when thinking of what I once thought and what I think today. This is because I was moved to think beyond the world of thought I had come to accept. The moneychangers in my Temple had been there a long time and experiences of anger led me to banish them from the premises of my thought.
A less socio-political example that can apply to many people is this. All of you have been part of weddings. Everyone wants to have a nice event. From a GOSPEL perspective, marriage is supposed to be one of those touch-of-God moments in our lives–as we gather to pray for two people committing themselves to one another. But how many ceremonies does God get a hearing amid the clatter of coins & party-fest?
Often enough, people are all caught up with gowns to be worn, menus, bachelor/ette parties, a honeymoon destination, photographer/videographer to capture the event, guest list, and rings. Almost as an afterthought, the couple/families pay attention to the sacredness of the occasion. The couple and their families are so caught up in the social aspects of the occasion that they neglect to prepare their hearts as a dwelling place for God.
Today’s Gospel is not just the report of some event that took place in the life of Jesus. It instead poses a very personal question to each of us: What needs cleansing in me so that I can fittingly house the Spirit of God? May this Lenten prayer help us reflect on this question.
Where there is fear I can allay, where there is pain I can heal,
Where there are wounds I can bind, and hunger I can fill:
Lord, grant me courage, Lord, grant me strength,
Grant me compassion That I may be your heart today.
Where there is hate I can confront,
Where there are chains I can release,
Where there are captives I can free
And anger I can appease:
Lord, grant me courage,
Lord, grant me strength,
Grant me compassion
That I may be your heart today.
When comes the day I dread
To see our broken world, protect me from myself grown cold
That your people I may behold. And when I’ve done all that I could,
Yet, there are hearts I cannot move, Lord, give me hope,
That I may be your heart today.
Additional Considerations Unrelated to the Weekend’s Scripture
Last week, I mentioned that clergy are scrambling for ideas that might best serve their people. One aspect of “ministry” is helping the flock not be seduced by cultural, philosophical, or theological “fads” that come and go. For example, when cable TV produced networks like the History and Discovery channels, it seemed the public would be well-served in learning about history and science. Unfortunately, these and other networks now cater to our baser instincts and the least common denominator of human intelligence. We are given a daily diet of space aliens visiting earth in the past and present, of monsters that stalk our forests, ghosts that haunt houses, and persons whose psychic abilities allow them to speak with the dead and report their messages to emotionally distraught family-members.
Because of the influence of these outlets (reinforced via social media like Facebook, Twitter, and several other BUSINESSES), the people in the pews have become fair game for deceptions. In light of this reality, I call your attention to entities that a Catholic should keep at arm’s length. How could someone like actor Tom Cruise entertain becoming a priest as a young man, and end up being a poster child for what its creator named the “Church of Scientology?” Like many other people in the pews, Cruise was influenced by the cultural acceptability of thinking space aliens are in our midst.
Voila—Scientology’s founder (science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard) thought he might make an easy buck by starting a tax-exempt “church” of his own—and thus was born Scientology. For reasons hard to fathom, a number of film stars (John Travolta, Anne Archer, Kirstie Alley, Gary Busey, Will Smith) were drawn to Hubbard’s fiction and are today part of its devout following (despite Hubbard’s son saying his father consciously created a big scam).
I bother to cite the above because Georgia elected a Congresswoman in a landslide vote—she being a “Qanon” follower who believes in space ships setting California forests on fire. And this past week, an event took place known as “CPAC” (Conservative Political Action Conference). You may or may not share political positions that this group endorses, but you should take notice of who CPAC included in its list of speakers. Right after Mr. Trump spoke, Hrioaki “Jay” Aeba took the stage. He is a Japanese cult leader viewed as a messiah from the planet Venus. The cult’s beliefs included the ability for its leader to serve as a go-between for various people, including gods—who reveal messages through him. He also claims to be the incarnation of multiple Gods.
It’s part of my role as a shepherd to warn you of what I see as misguided thinking that has gone mainstream. It will lead you nowhere good. I’ll elaborate on this in a video I’m preparing for our parish website.
Pastor’s Pen February 28, 2021
Today’s story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac is a really strange story for us to hear. For some reason, Abraham thinks God wants him to sacrifice his son. Huh? What kind of God would want a parent to kill their child? Surely there must be some OTHER point to this story—other than it describing God as some sort of bloodthirsty deity. Fortunately, there IS another point that this story is making—and it’s not telling us that God wants human sacrifice. In fact, it’s saying just the opposite. Genesis reveals an Israelite God who is not like other gods. THEY want humans killed and offered at their altars—but not the God of the Israelites.
Recall that Abraham and Sarah never thought they’d become parents, but then God said they will be the parents of a great nation whose people will be more numerous than the stars in the sky. Sure enough—Abraham proudly sees the birth of his son, Isaac. No greater gift could he receive than this child—and it’s this pride in his child that the doting father Abraham is asked to surrender. God is asking Abraham what is the most important thing in his life. And God asks if he’d forfeit, or sacrifice, his most important possession (i.e., his son, Isaac).
At this point of the story, it becomes OUR story. What is our number 1 priority? Is God #1, or do we cherish other things more than we cherish God?
Abraham has to make a decision: is Isaac more important to me than my doing what God asks me to do? And the story ends with Abraham being a role model for us. He’s ready to give up his most important possession—his son—because he knows that what GOD wants is most important (not what he wants). At which point God says “Okay, okay—I see you have your priorities in order. I don’t want your son sacrificed.”
Are we like Abraham—ready to sacrifice all that we have in order to stand for what’s right? Or do we make ourselves #1? Russ told us how we as a parish were doing with “Christ’s Mission Appeal.” Are you part of the 35% who’ve “sacrificed” and given alms to the Appeal—which goes to help God’s people in need in different places? Or does your generosity include only yourself?
Today’s gospel story is called the “Transfiguration” (a word we never use in everyday speech). It refers to Peter, James, and John going with Jesus up the mountain where they see him “transfigured” or changed—appearing as the chosen one of God, the Christ, in conversation with Moses and Elijah. Observing the premier virtue of hospitality, Peter suggests they build tents for the heavenly visitors—but in the blink of an eye, Jesus is alone and the 2 Israelite luminaries have disappeared. What’s THAT all about?
Simple, actually. Moses represents “the Law” of the Old Testament while Elijah represents “the Prophets.” This passage is showing that with Moses and Elijah gone, Jesus embodies both the Law and the Prophets—and is the Christ, the chosen one of God who now enlightens our lives with a NEW covenant, the fulfillment of the Old covenant.
This past week a scripture reading illustrated what this idea concretely means—the idea of Jesus fulfilling the Hebrew scriptures (remember Jesus said that he did not come to do away with the old but to fulfill it?). The reading showed Jesus saying “You’ve heard it said ‘you shall not murder!’. I say that if you’re ANGRY at someone, lay down your gift before coming to the altar and make peace with the person.” He was quoting a commandment (the old Law) but saying we should go BEYOND its minimal requirement (that is, go BEYOND “don’t murder”). THAT is what fulfilling the Law and the Prophets is about.
You and I are called to read the Hebrew scriptures and reflect on what MORE they are calling us to do. For example, we’re told not to steal. Fine. Don’t steal—but are you known as a generous person, too? We’re told not to bear false witness against our neighbor—great. But are we known as someone who always has a good word to say about another? You’re here today keeping holy the Sabbath, but do you “keep holy” any other day, in any other way, by means of some other practice (e.g., devotions at home during the week, attending mass on days other than Sunday, etc.)? You don’t worship “false gods,” but where do you spend your time, or what absorbs your time each day—any sort of work/effort that helps others (belonging to a parish or civic organization that helps others in some way)?
It’s frustrating to hear Christians quote scripture—as a congressman did this past week—and do so only to appeal to a constituency that will re-elect him because he’s a good old boy quoting the bible. The fact that his application of the bible verse was horribly misguided and erroneous—isn’t comprehended. But people’s knowledge is limited (I’m included in saying this) and often enough aren’t aware of scripture’s meaning.
For example, why do you hear politicians and regular Christians quote only the Old Testament (better referred to as the Hebrew scriptures)? Why don’t they quote the NEW Testament which, as stated above, is the FULFILLMENT and fuller definition of the Old? Or do these people think that what Jesus said simply echoes the Old Testament? If so, then why do we bother being Christians, and why don’t we just pitch the New Testament and read the Old?
If you’re Christian, the Hebrew scriptures are part of your religious heritage (after all, Jesus was Jewish). But Jesus elaborated those readings, as the gospels and epistles report. As a Lenten prayer exercise, why not read through the commandments and think of what MORE each one is calling you to embody—BEYOND the minimalist dictate NOT to do (or TO do) one of the ten topics. And conclude your reflection with the following prayer of petition:
Slow me down, Lord, and whisper a word or two – or more, in the quiet of my mind and heart . . .
When I’m cursing myself or others, whisper words of blessing…
When I’m judging another’s words and deeds, whisper words of patience…
When my voice is still and silent, whisper wise words that I might speak…
When I’m saying much too much, whisper words that quiet me
When I’ve failed and when I’ve sinned, whisper words of pardon…
When I’m facing loss and grief, whisper words of consolation…
When I’m stuck in my own foolishness, whisper words of wisdom…
When I’m confounded and confused, whisper words of counsel…
When I’m hearing lies, whisper words of truth.
When life is just too tough to take, whisper words of hope…
When my heart is broken, hurt and wounded, whisper words of healing…
When I’m at war with my neighbor or myself, whisper words of peace… Slow me down, Lord, and help me find a quiet place to hear the whisper of your word . . . and inspire me to be one who whispers your word of life to others. God be in my heart and in my thinking; God be in my death–at my departing.
Pastor’s Pen February 21, 2021
As you know, biblical scholars help us understand scripture within its cultural context. This weekend’s 1st reading about Noah reminds me of what they’ve discovered about an element of this story. Here is the answer to the question “what kind of lights did Noah use on the ark?” Answer? FLOOD lights.
Kidding aside, this reading provides what scholars refer to as an “etiological tale.” Within cultures globally, people have stories (tales) that tell of how something came into being, e.g., why the sky is blue, the grass green, etc. Peoples have forever tried to account for how the world began, how life began, how different ethnic groups came into existence, etc.
Imagine 4000 years ago, a child saying: “Mom—look at the pretty colors in the sky.” And the mom might have replied: “Yes, honey, that’s called a rainbow. Once upon a time a great flood ruined everything in creation—and God said that creation will never again be destroyed by a flood. God would be reminded of this when seeing the rainbow in the sky.”
As you also know, the stories of Genesis originally were oral tales told around campfires. Eventually, editors cobbled the stories together, and the finished product is what we know as the first book of Hebrew scripture (and our bible). How the rainbow came into being is an ETIOLOGICAL tale that got included within the longer narrative.
40 days of lent parallel the experience of Jesus reported in today’s gospel which said: “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for 40 days tempted by Satan.” The number “40” is significant to readers of scripture—such that people hearing of Jesus going into the desert immediately reminds them of the #40 appearing in the first testament/Hebrew scriptures/Old Testament. Namely, scriptural precedents include:
· Rain fell for “40 days and 40 nights” during the Flood
· Noah waited for 40 days after the tops of mountains were seen after the flood
· Spies were sent by Moses to explore the land of Canaan for 40 days
· Israelites lived in the lands outside of the promised land for “40 years”
· Eli, Saul, David, Solomon ruled for “40 years”
· Goliath challenged Israelites twice a day for 40 days before David defeated him
· Moses spent 3 periods of “40 days and 40 nights” on Mt. Sinai:
· Elijah walked 40 days/nights before arriving at Mt. Horeb
· Jonah warns Nineveh that “40 days more, and it shall be overthrown.”
Depicting Jesus in the desert for 40 days is intended to show that his experience surpasses ALL of the Old Testament precedents.
Like us, “He was among wild beasts . . .” and “tempted by Satan”—we being in the deserts of our lives coping with wild beasts that take advantage of us and temptations that seduce us into being something LESS than God made us to be. The Lenten season is a time for us to look at the desert of our life-experience wherein we encounter beasts of different kinds, and struggle like the Israelites in the desert—fashioning golden cows that we treat as gods—only to learn that our “gods” are mirages. Yes, we have the occasional oasis, but we’re always en route to the “promised land” of self-fulfillment and our
eternal destiny with God. A key thing to always keep in mind is that “Satan,” or “the demonic” in our lives never presents itself in ugly, scary, fear-producing, demonic terms. Who wants any of that? Not I! Not you! Well, then, how is it that we make bad choices, bad decisions, and bad actions that hurt ourselves or others. The fruit that looks so nice to eat—ends up making us sick to our stomach.
There’s truth to the saying: “The devil’s greatest deception is convincing us he doesn’t exist.” Lent is a time when we fast or do penance or SOME kind of spiritual discernment which helps us RECOGNIZE behaviors or seductions or temptations that make a mess of our relationships. Lent is time we try to look at ourselves objectively—as when I’ve heard my voice tape-recorded. I THINK I know what I sound like—but cringe when a recording is played back and I hear myself. I thought I sounded so much better than that recording indicates.
The same goes for seeing myself in a video. Is THAT how I appear? When speaking to a group, or playing basketball and THINKING I made a Magic Johnson move—only to see myself on tape—and roll my eyes at the person I see.
Lent is a time when we try to look at ourselves objectively and do something about those areas of our life which need improvement. Most important to remember is that God does not want this Lenten season to be a time when you beat up yourself. Not at all. It’s a time for you and me to discover where God is calling us to GROW—grow into the unique and gifted and blessed person-for-others who God created us to be.
Here are some reflections that you might ponder during Lent:
Fast from judging others; Feast on realizing Christ dwells in them.
Fast from fear of illness; Feast on the healing power of God.
Fast from words that pollute; Feast on speech that dignifies.
Fast from discontent; Feast on gratitude.
Fast from anger; Feast on patience.
Fast from pessimism; Feast on hope.
Fast from negatives; Feast on encouragement.
Fast from bitterness; Feast on forgiveness.
Fast from self-concern; Feast on compassion.
Fast from suspicion; Feast on facts
Fast from gossip; Feast on praising others.
Fast from problems that overwhelm; Feast on prayer that sustains.
Fast from anxiety; Feast on faith.
BEING A PERSON OF FAITH, PRAISING OTHERS, BEING COMPASSIONATE, ENCOURAGING PEOPLE, HAVING HOPE, BEING PATIENT AND GRATEFUL, USING LANGUAGE THAT DIGNIFIES, RELYING ON GOD’S HEALING POWER AND SEEING CHRIST IN OTHER PEOPLE—these are the qualities associated with being Christian—with us being a child of God.
May Lent bring us to rebirth as this kind of person.
Pastor’s Pen February 14, 2021
Valentine’s day took place this week. While greeting card companies are quite devoted to this legendary (perhaps mythical) figure, the Church doesn’t reserve a Sunday celebration to honor the saint. Nonetheless, when a saint’s day somehow gets national attention, I like to offer some reflection related to the event’s spirituality (in this case—balancing the focus on carnal “love” with that of something deeper).
Scripture says many things about love (such as “God is love and whoever abides in love abides in God”). For example, Ecclesiastes 4:9 offers this reflection: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?” Elsewhere, a narrator says in Proverbs 30:18-19: “There are three things that amaze me—no, four things that I don’t understand: how an eagle glides through the sky, how a snake slithers on a rock, how a ship navigates the ocean, how a man loves a woman.”
Love is NOT what is depicted in the chocolate candy commercial that shows an attractive model hypnotically gazing at a chunk of chocolate—and consuming it with kiss-like affection. In crafting the ad, Madison Avenue no doubt spent much cash to learn what it would take to make consumers buy the product. Are you won over so easily?
Valentine’s day is special for me because I was born on November 14th—9 months to the day later. I consider February 14th to be my conception day.
The readings this week address other matters this week. Mark’s gospel once again refers to lepers coming to Jesus for healing. However, you should know that in 1868, Norwegian scientist Gerhard Hansen discovered the cause of leprosy which, contrary to popular belief, is not a very infectious disease. Even though biblical lepers had to cry out “unclean, unclean” and stay away from people, we now know that spouses rarely contract it from their partner. Moreover, biblical references are NOT to “Hansen’s disease,” but to skin conditions such as psoriasis.
So why does the bible tell us that sick people should be kept apart from healthy people and that we should avoid people with deformities or some other physical condition that burdened the suffering?
Here’s why. Physical sickness of any form was some kind of sign that there was an imperfect interior condition. Since one was called to be holy as the Lord is holy, physical imperfection reflected that one is not holy. And since bodily integrity was required, one was cast out of the community so that it wouldn’t be polluted (religiously) by their presence.
If there was anything Jesus stood for, it was re-integrating one into community—the opposite of the laws in Leviticus. That’s why there exists a liturgical song titled “all are welcome in this place.” Jesus returns one to community—to be part of the community—whatever your shortcomings—because you can both give to and draw life from the community. That’s why we’re a sacramental faith community
By connecting with the sacramental system—we are the lepers being brought back into the faith-community and being healed—as last week’s readings also emphasized. But once connected, what are the sorts of behaviors are we called upon to incarnate?
An example came to mind this past week when speaking with a parishioner whose sister had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (better known as ALS or “Lou Gehrig’s disease”). During the 1995 baseball season, people were waiting for Cal Ripken to break Lou Gehrig’s record of playing 2130 consecutive games. I sent a letter to the Orioles office addressed to him. I proposed that the day of the record-breaking game, he remove himself from the lineup.
I suggested he announce that the name of Lou Gehrig had become synonymous with a disease that tortured and killed many people. By telling people that he wanted Gehrig’s name to continue its association with the record, people will be reminded of the disease—and perhaps be motivated—to contribute to its cure.
What an earth-shaking event it would be, I thought, for him to tell the world that conquering the disease was more important than his ego getting more accolades. The eyes of the sports world had been on Ripken, awaiting the record to be broken. He could use that time to solicit groundbreaking contributions to goodness (Ripken’s self-sacrificing act) and lose nothing (really) in the process (since everyone would know that all he needed to do was step onto the field to play consecutive game 2131; he’d break the record—so why hurt those afflicted with ALS when a simple act might proffer healing?).
Maybe Ripken received my letter and threw it away. Maybe he never got it. Maybe someone screened his mail—and threw it away without telling him of the suggestion. After all, the Orioles were making money on his record-breaking career. N.B. , He broke the record by playing 500 more games and is now in the Hall of Fame.
Ripken later gave donations supporting research on the disease, so maybe he DID get my letter and offer something of value to the world outside the ring of public relations. Too, the Orioles, along with private donors, created the Cal Ripken/Lou Gehrig Fund for Neuromuscular Research at Johns Hopkins University.
I tried to think of examples from my own life where I did some self-sacrifice—and I had to rack my brain for examples. I remember being Lieutenant of the Safety Patrol boys. Like all patrol boys, I earned points that could be used at the patrol boys auction at the end of the year. Thinking of how I missed some of my days, I didn’t want to unfairly deprive any of the boys of getting some auction item. So I told the faculty moderator that I was withdrawing from the auction and would not bid on anything.
While at St. John’s Student Parish in campus ministry, I befriended a couple. After mass one Saturday night, the wife told me that her husband really liked my western shirt (snap buttons down the front). Since I had a room in the building, I went and changed my shirt, and brought out the western shirt to the husband. He was excited to receive “the shirt off my back” which I gave him. From my perspective, I didn’t really need that shirt, so if giving it to him made someone happy—great. That was the thinking I directed at Cal Ripken’s moment in the sun. I proposed to him that he really didn’t need another accolade—especially if NOT receiving it would bring life (literally) to countless people around the world.
The Gospel point to these illustrations is that we, as Christians, are called upon throughout life to offer “more” to others when performing some deed. Would it have been morally okay to receive the “most consecutive games played” award? Sure! That’s okay. But might Ripken have done something a little better that day? Yes. And could I have kept my western shirt? Sure. But both of us, as people of the gospel, are forever presented with opportunities to make God’s world the place it was intended to be—by going a step further in each of our behaviors or actions.
This is sort of like what so many of you do as parents and grandparents—when dealing with a young one. The child sees that you’ve not taken your chocolate chip cookie. Did you want it? Yes. But you see a young one looking for just a little touch of joy—and your caring heart hands the cookie to the child. I’m sure you’ve done this sort of thing many times. I’m reminded of older people at some social event—and some item is “the last one”—so everyone else will have to settle for the 2nd rate item. The person next to you says something to the effect of “Darn! I looked forward to getting that __[item]___.” Instead, you have “the last one.” Keeping it for yourself is okay to do—like Ripken accepting the award, or the parent/grandparent keeping the cookie. What will you do if given “the last one” of something just as the person next to you feels bad that they missed out?
Communion reflection titled “Bouquet”—in line with the above.
If I were to seek a precious gift, I’d gather wildflowers in a wicker basket. To every blossom—a significance. The biggest, understanding, is colored baby blue. The warmest is affection—colored pink. Patience, the hardest to pick, is deep purple. The purest flower with milk-white petals is truth. The strongest flower is yellow, like the sun—faith. If I were to gather all these flowers–blossoms all different in meaning and hues–then there in the basket I would find one—you.
May we be a bouquet for one another.
Pastor’s Pen February 7, 2021
This past week the Church celebrated 2 feast days of interest. One is known as “Candlemas Day” (which included the same readings as we had on Presentation Sunday). The gospel told of Mary and Joseph taking Jesus to the Temple—as prescribed in Leviticus—33 days after his circumcision (the scarification rite of Judaism). For Christians, Candlemas Day takes place 40 days after Christmas and is the official end of the Christmas season. One is supposed to have their Christmas decorations down by this day (although in America people tend to take them down as early as December 26th). From the 1600s are verses that relate to Candlemas:
“Down with the rosemary, and so Down with the bays and mistletoe; Down with the holly, ivy, all, With which you dress’d the Christmas Hall.”
Traditionally, Candlemas Day was set as February 2nd and was the day people brought candles to church to be blest, and then used at home to remind them that Christ is the light of the world (I’ve never had anyone ask me to bless candles on this day).
The other feast day of this past week was that of St. Blaise. He was a 4th-century physician/bishop/martyr who, while in jail, saved a boy who was choking on a fishbone. He became one of the most popular saints during the Middle Ages (500-1400)—and the tradition of blessing throats on his feast day has been observed up to the present. Why this part of the body captured the popular imagination as worthy of blessing (and not the head, or foot, or hip)—one can only guess.
Also, during this past week, the idea of “political conspiracy” theories have been in the news. As you know, adversaries of the U.S. (Russia, Iran, and China at the top of the list but “homegrown” adversaries likewise) have bombarded the social media with all sorts of “lies” that are passed off as being true (“disinformation” is a term used by those who study this sort of espionage). These sources report such things as Bill and Hilary Clinton behind the death of JFK, Jr., and that Hilary is part of a child-molesting group that operates out of a Philadelphia pizza parlor.
While you or I might roll our eyes at ludicrous material like this that floats around, be assured that some of it “sticks” to our fellow Americans who are susceptible to believing different kinds of input. Those who plant these lies deluge cyberspace and are pleased in being able to “recruit” anyone to believe their lies. Some sew “conspiracy theories” because they have a political goal while some just want to sew anarchy (these people might be foreign powers or your fellow Americans who have a gripe against society). Some just like using social media to exercise power and have a good time in the process.
I’ve previously called your attention to charismatic leaders who have led their followers into hell—such as Jim Jones who led 917 men, women, and children to Guyana where they committed mass suicide. And Marshall Applewhite whose 39 followers likewise committed suicide—thinking that their bodies would be picked up, resuscitated by extra-terrestrials, and taken to another planet. Recall, too, “Branch Davidian” leader, David Koresh, who presided over the deaths of himself and 76 followers in Waco, Texas. They burned to death when confronting ATF agents who came to investigate the group’s illegal activities.
Conspiracy theories and charismatic leaders who seduce their followers are the stuff of newspaper and TV coverage. You may notice some commentators, instead of saying that a public figure is “lying” or telling a “lie,” they will use more gentle words such as “falsehood” or say a person has a “difference of opinion” (which both the commentator and person know is a lie and not just an “opinion”). Audiences can be deceived by commentators who use words/phrases that sound less harsh, i.e., “I’m not LYING—just having a DISAGREEMENT,” “He didn’t LIE but just stated a FALSEHOOD.” These examples from the political world also apply to our religious universe. “Disinformation” has arisen within our own Catholic tradition.
Dis- and mis- information, falsehoods, disagreements—or LIES—have caused many major-league problems in Church history. The Jesuits, the religious Order to which I belong, your ancestors, and you have endured prejudice (a genre of lie) disguised as truth. Along with Jews and Blacks, Catholics have been targeted by the Ku Klux Klan hate-group. During Black History Month you might hear how Blacks were lynched or murdered in the South. If you’re “White” and living in the north, this might not register as strongly as it would with a Black person whose roots were in the South. Hearing that priests, nuns, or lay people were beaten up or killed for being Catholic—brings the issue closer to home.
When I was pastor of a parish in the Soo, there was a “Christian” bookstore that sold cheese, pantry goods, and magazines. One of the latter was titled “Alberto.” It claimed to be the autobiography of a former Jesuit. I browsed through the magazine and realized I was reading hate-literature. I also noticed it was distributed by Chick Publishing (which the Southern Poverty Law Center has named a hate group). The shop’s “Christian” owner (her denomination was anti-Catholic) said they would keep the magazine on their shelves after I encouraged her to remove it. My social activism was not successful.
Readers of the magazine were told that Jesuits take a vow to kill any Protestant they could not convert, and that they were given a dagger with which to kill those unconverted Protestants. Were Alberto’s account true, I would have been obliged to stab my grandmother to death since she was not Catholic. The facts are that Alberto was a real person, but just not a Jesuit. He was a fraud who made up stories that capitalized on anti-Catholic attitudes which depicted Jesuits as immoral minyans of the anti-Christ Pope.
How many people do you suppose believed what Alberto reported? The first magazine was so popular that a 2nd one followed. Much has been written about the psychological phenomenon that occurs when a politician repeatedly cries “hoax” (or some other catchy phrase). Social scientists have shown that when a lie is repeated enough times—people begin to believe it. In the 18th century, the Jesuits had many opponents who charged them with all sorts of crimes and misdemeanors they didn’t commit. The result? The Order was “suppressed” for 40 years.
Alberto and others also “informed” (i.e., misinformed) the public that between rectories and convents there are tunnels in which priests meet with nuns. It is in these tunnels where you can find the corpses of babies born of these liaisons. Readers also learned (as did readers from the 19th century when the dis-information first appeared) that Jesuits were responsible for the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. All of this is, of course, ridiculous.
We Catholics (once belittled as “mackerel-snappers” because of the tradition of meatless Fridays) were also charged with founding Islam—a bishop falsely reported to have asked a nun
in Saudi Arabia to marry Mohammed and convince him to start the new religion. In case you didn’t know, Catholics also staged the sinking of the Titanic. Businessman John Jacob Astor was aboard the ship and his death led to Catholics running the Federal Reserve Bank of the U.S.—and so be funded by it (a “conspiracy theory” as dim-witted as the one which claims the Pope has nuclear missiles in Washington, D.C. ready to unleash against the U.S.). Most people MIGHT realize that the above “theories” are lies peddled as truth. However, there are some who accept these fictions as fact.
One could go on and on with all the lies that have been uttered in an effort to see the Jesuits and Catholicism go to the dustbin of history—and see YOU go to the dustbin of history. They think you should be locked up, or lynched—because of the faith you profess by being a member of St. John 23rd parish.
All in all, you and I need to be careful about sources of information—be it on the political or religious level. As I’ve said in the past, even with Sacred Scripture we can be misinformed. For example, at the root of our American colonial theology was a belief that there was one way you could tell someone was going to heaven–namely, if they had wealth. This was the beginning of what has been called the “Protestant work ethic.” A corollary to this “biblical thinking” was that poverty was a sign of not being within God’s “elect.” THUS, wealth equals blessing & poverty equals personal sin.
I raise this topic because one of today’s readings is from Job—a text that is used very infrequently during the liturgical year. A basic thesis of this text is that suffering is NOT a punishment for sin. Nonetheless, a misinterpretation of scripture guided or formed American thought and behavior—and this misinterpretation of scripture hurt many people.
As I’ve said on other occasions, it’s best to have a good commentary on scripture if you’re going to understand it properly—and this leads into today’s gospel.
Before the 4 gospels were canonized in the 4th century, many others were being read that portrayed Jesus as superman—a wonderworker who could change the weather, heal all diseases, turn people into stone, make birds and puppies out of clay, etc. In these non-canonical gospels, performing miracles and exorcising demons were depicted as the principal feature of his ministry. The human appetite for mythical figures is still with us.
Mark’s gospel, the first of the 4 written, corrects false Christological inferences (i.e., wrong conclusions) drawn from miracle stories. For example, in today’s passage, Jesus does great things, but also gets up early to pray, and then moves elsewhere (and doesn’t hang around like a rock star to bask in the praise of his followers). He flees the crowds—with miracles being only a subordinate feature of his ministry. Mark “tones down” the “hero” depictions of Jesus.
The gospel today says “Everyone is looking for you, Jesus”—and so it is with us here AT MASS. Other than a couple of generic conditions, the healing stories don’t reveal what diseases he healed. They just say that Jesus restored one to some kind of wholeness or health. Which can happen within our lives by gathering here. We, with varied illnesses (too numerous or embarrassing to name), encounter Him—who is our sacrament of the sick. This sacrament is a re-enactment of today’s gospel. It entails reconciliation (acknowledging you are
frail/sinful and asking for help). It sends us forth to be a sacrament of healing in a world conflicted with cancerous, metastasizing prejudices.
Mark writes contrary to the non-canonical gospels—and portrays a Jesus whose purpose was to preach good news of the coming kingdom—a kingdom whose inhabitants were touched by Jesus (like Peter’s mother-in-law) and “raised up” to wellness and serving others. Like the mother-in-law, we come to mass to be “touched” by the Lord—and healed of our self-centeredness and motivated to “wait on others” as she had done.
For Mark, to portray Jesus simply as a wonderworker would be misleading. When we read the gospel today, we’re reading about how OUR demons can be silenced through our sacramental participation—of meeting Jesus in prayer and involvement with the faith-community. Whatever “minor” miracles occur in the gospels or our lives–they foreshadow the ultimate messianic miracle—facing and overcoming the cross and finding resurrection—the greatest healing of all.
May we leave here today realizing that we are the healing hands of Jesus called to bring the resurrection-miracle to others.
I was hungry–and you formed a humanities club
and discussed my hunger. Thank-you.
I was in prison and you crept off quietly to your chapel in the cellar
and prayed for my release.
I was naked and in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance.
I was sick and you knelt and thanked God for your health.
I was homeless and you preached to me of the spiritual shelter of the love of God.
I was lonely and you left me alone to pray for me.
Listen, Christian. You seem so holy, so close to God. But I’m still very hungry and lonely and cold . . .
Our prayerful response to the above.
Dearest Lord, teach me to be generous; teach me to serve You as You deserve: to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labor and not to ask for any reward except that of knowing I do what you call
Pastor’s Pen January 31, 2021
First a word about life in first-century Galilee, the stomping ground of Jesus. Mortuary archaeologists have concluded that the average man stood 5’5” tall and weighed 140 pounds. Imagining a group of people who were all this height brought to mind an experience I had when teaching at Loyola University in Chicago.
A student told me his parents were from southern India. I asked what faith his family practiced, and he said “Catholic.” I asked what “rite” did they practice and he said: “Syro-Malabar”—a group from southern India who is in union with Rome (we are members of the “Latin” rite). I’ll save the topic of “rites” or churches within Catholicism for another time, but the different groups celebrate the liturgy in a manner different from what we do each week. I had never been to a Syro-Malabar mass, so he was quick to invite me. The people there, very friendly, all stood about the same height as Galileans of the first century—about 5’5” tall. I was a giant among them. However, their hospitality was the real giant.
Also of historical note is today’s gospel speaking of Jesus in the “synagogue.” You may already know this, but Jewish people don’t go to “church.” They will say they are “going to Temple” or “going to the synagogue” (their gathering place—so named since the 1st century when the “real” Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. by the Romans).
So today we see Jesus in the synagogue doing an exorcism. This might bring to mind the 1973 novel-turned-movie “The Exorcist” (based on a real-life exorcism). “The Exorcist” was the first R-rated movie to rule the box office (not due to sexual content but because of the subject matter being so abhorrent). It told the story of a young girl’s being possessed by “Pazuzu” (a demon). In real life, it was a young boy. While “The Exorcist” is the highest-grossing R-rated movie in history, its historical accuracy is lame, and its theology is not what a good catechism would contain.
Rid yourself of the film’s images and for today’s gospel, picture Jesus simply telling the possessed man in the synagogue to “SHUT UP.” Why did he command the “demon” to be silent? Because to name something is to have authority over it (as when God told Adam and Eve to name all the creatures). The demon had said, “I know who you are . . . Jesus of Nazareth . . . the holy-one of God.”
What is at play here is the demon speaking on behalf of the scribes and Pharisees (the religious and political leaders of the community). It is the demonic voice of these people who Jesus is commanding to be silent. They are the ones who don’t liberate, but who oppress the people—and it is Jesus who is putting a stop to their non-authoritative presence (recall the people comment how Jesus is unlike what they’ve been hearing from their religious leaders. Jesus actually “speaks with authority”).
Concretely, what do “demons” cause, or why is their presence so “evil?” In short, they are forces at play in our lives which destroy us, separate us from one another, create dissension within families, communities, and nations. But instead of thinking about Hollywood depictions of “devils,” think of real-life demons that affect us all (since none of us is immune to their seductions—seductions which offer us fruit that looks pleasing to eat but which will bring about our destruction).
Jesus sets the example for us today in the gospel passage. Like him, we have to NAME our demons—and in that way take the first step in having authority over them. I consider one of my life’s great experiences to have known Walt Halloran, S.J. He was the last living Jesuit who was part of the exorcism that became the grandfather of all horror movies. But what I learned from Walt was that the demonic is so much worse than what was portrayed in the film.
He said that he saw its many faces far more in Vietnam when he was a chaplain than what he witnessed in the exorcism. There in Vietnam, he found himself in a cesspool of death and human suffering—of killing and torture and addiction and rape and criminality that was normative. And sadly, these same demonic forces are in place all around us.
Can you name alcohol as a demon for you? It’d be a first step in exorcising it if you could name it. How about violence in your home—the untamed anger or moodiness you inflict on those close to you? Or self-centeredness? Or losing faith and thinking that there’s nothing you can do about one or another issue in your life?
Demonic forces have far-reaching social effects that make the world a battleground of wounded souls. Anthropologists more and more don’t use the term “race” because DNA has shown us that we’re ONE race—human—and that there exist cultural differences within the human community. You don’t have to look at someone who has more or less melanin (color) in their skin. People in Hemlock can say: “You know how those Merrill people are!” And Merrill people can say “You know how those Hemlock people are!” All sorts of forces are at play that pull people apart from the Christian teaching that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, and children of one God.
When I lived in Sault Ste. Marie, I was in the “Marshunk” neighborhood (where Marquette and Shunk Roads intersect). People would characterize that section of the city as “THAT part of town” (negatively). It was home to me—and I loved my neighborhood and its people. The Federal government had to issue the city the threat of no more funding unless it paved those two roads—and not make excuses about how the earth wouldn’t take pavement. Once that threat was issued—surprise-surprise—the city discovered a way to pave the roads. Today, some of our parishioners go through the Marshunk neighborhood and land at the casino which is now there.
You hear the word “homophobia” at times—fear or dislike of gays. One issue for which we can be thankful—is the gay community calling attention to the importance of marriage! Some Christians might rail against gay marriage. Meanwhile, people in their own churches live together and avoid the sacrament (or civil form). Gays have called us to appreciate more deeply the sacred bond that can exist when two people commit themselves to one another in good times and bad. Meanwhile, demonic forces move some people to stalk gays and persecute them.
Or what about political forces at play in our world that drive us apart? Recall when the U.S. declared war on Iraq based on the lie that Saddam Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction?” Despite UN inspections and nuclear experts telling the world that there WERE NO weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, President Bush’s administration sold to America the lie that we had to defend ourselves from an imminent invasion.
This isn’t me spouting off my private interpretation of what occurred. Even Colin Powell, then secretary of state, admitted years later that even he was misled with what a recent spokesperson, Kellyanne Conway, would call “alternative facts” (i.e., lies—since a fact is a fact). France wouldn’t permit our air force to use its air space—and maybe some of you even tried to popularize the phrase “freedom fries” instead of “French fries” (since the French wouldn’t support our attacking Iraq).
A Catholic friend of mine on campus said she wrote her congressman—encouraging him to vote for war against Iraq. I bemoaned her report and asked if she had not been reading any analyses of the issue, or had she not been watching any TV news that was reliable? She angrily retorted that FOX news said it was a real possibility that Iraq’s missiles might be aimed at people like her. And so, contrary to the teachings of the Prince of Peace (Christ), the demonic forces ruled the day, and lies were the foundation of a war that was declared. It continues these 30 years later with thousands dead. Again, surprise-surprise, no weapons of mass destruction existed.
Demonic forces are at play when Muslims are targeted as the enemy here in the United States, and the American public is sold a bill of goods that present Muslims and riotous blacks as “the enemy” within. It should come as no surprise that more terrorist killings have occurred via white hate groups than by anyone else. Imagine if blacks and Muslims went to the capitol on January 6th. Police and the national guard would have been there right away—and one hates to think how many would have been killed. You might not like this reflection on how evil works in our lives. I don’t like thinking about it, either.
All of this is intended to point out that “demons” or “devils” or demonic forces are not the stuff of Hollywood movies in their depiction of fiends from hell. Rather, you and I deal with demons daily, either in our personal lives or social world. They are forces at play which move us to make bad decisions—decisions that hurt ourselves or others. They are forces in the world that separate people from one another—and move people to hate others. They are forces that place us at the center of the universe and think only of our own well-being—and not that of others.
When we gather at mass, we don’t retreat into prayer so as to resign ourselves to “evil” and hope we make it through the day. Rather, we gather at mass to learn how we might identify the demonic forces at work in our lives—name them—and create strategies to defeat them. Here at the altar, we ask God to inspire the “good angels” within us—to overcome the serpents that deceive us. Unless we name the demons, they will name us—and have authority over us. With Jesus, when confronted by seductive lines that promise mirages of happiness—we need to say: “shut up.”
Odds and Ends
1) This past week I made a video for the parish’s Facebook page. In it, I suggested you send an email or call the office, Dennis, or me, and submit questions for topics that might be addressed in this mode. Maybe a theology or spirituality question, or an historical question about the Church, or any topic for which I might have some competence, e.g., any anthropology questions, questions related to the American Indian world, or Black Elk? I do not use Facebook, so do not track comments/responses to anything. Dennis manages the parish site.
Pastor’s Pen January 24, 2021
It’s “Word of God” Sunday—so here’s a brief explanation of today’s scripture.
In scripture studies, the word “type” is used to refer to someone in the Old Testament who prefigures Jesus in the NT. For example, today’s first reading refers to Jonah (whose 3 days in the big fish is a foreshadowing of the 3 days in the tomb) is depicted as preaching to Nineveh to repent. Today’s gospel shows Jesus telling his audience in Galilee to repent. Moses was a “type” of Jesus when leading people out of slavery and taking them to the Promised Land. So was King David a “type”—as his leadership foreshadowed the greatest messiah-king, Jesus.
The 2nd reading shows how Paul initially thought that the 2nd coming could be any day—but he changed his mind. His later writings show him saying the 2nd coming might be in the distant future. The 3rd reading tells of the call of the apostles (and us).
End of homily—3 minutes long. Isn’t there more to say about the word of God? Yes, there is!
On Word of God Sunday, I’m sure we WISH we could hear Paul or the first apostles give the homily. Surely, we’d be swept off our feet by their dynamic presentation.
The problem with this “golden age” kind of thinking is that it’s a fantasy. In Acts of the Apostles, we read: “As Paul spoke on and on, a young man named Eutychus, sitting on the windowsill, became very drowsy. Finally, he fell sound asleep and dropped three stories to his death below.”
It appears that Paul didn’t set the bar very high when homilizing.
I must admit to not pulling out a bible all the time. Others are just the opposite. They play what might be called “bible roulette” for decisions they have to make.
For example, parents might say: “We’re having trouble with our son—give us direction, Lord.” They then shuffle or fan through the bible pages—they stop and point a finger at some random page. Voila! Will they find an answer?
What should the parents do if they land on these verses?
If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son, who will not obey the voice of his father or mother and who will not listen to them after being chastised: Then shall his father and his mother bring him to the elders and say to them: “Our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.” All the men of his city shall stone the son to death.
What if a couple is at a pub, and someone picks a fight with the husband? Not to worry—as scripture provides the following counsel.
When men fight, and the wife of one goes to rescue her husband from the other man—if she puts out her hand and seizes him by the private parts, then you shall cut off her hand.
Does the above sound reasonable to you? I hope not.
Or what if you’re in love—and you can’t seem to win the heart of a certain person. Calm down—for the bible will come to your aid with the following:
“I am lovesick, so refresh me with apples, and sustain me with raisin cakes.”
Oh, please! I’ve been paralyzed with love—for which apples and raisin cakes served no purpose.
Some scholars say there are 613 laws in the Hebrew Scriptures. Among them are the following. Do you, as a Christian, agree with what they say?
Whoever has a blemish, let him not approach the sanctuary—nor shall a blind man, or a lame, or one with a flat nose, or a man with a broken foot, or broken hand, or crooked back, or a dwarf, or who has a blemish in his eye, or who has scabs–He shall not come near the altar, because he will profane my sanctuary. Moreover, no male whose private parts are crushed or cut off shall be admitted to the assembly of the LORD.
Some people have no faith-practice. Nor do they take the time to get a commentary on scripture—and learn what different passages mean. Some people will agree with the writer who said: “Most of the Bible is neither horrible nor inspiring. It is simply dull and irrelevant.”
How sad that one bases their decisions and opinions on such ignorance.
One way of looking at the Bible is to see it as the story of each of us—and the evolution of the human race as a whole.
Our biography begins in Genesis as each of us is born as an Adam or Eve in a universe we try to make sense of (i.e., Who made all these things in creation? Where did I come from? Why do I make bad decisions? Etc.).
Each individual (and the human race) goes thru a period of tribal identity in which our people recognize supernatural forces which they try to enlist on their behalf—by observing 613 laws (at least in the case of the Israelites—but all peoples everywhere went through a similar religious history). Individuals and ethnic groups go through desert experiences in search of survival.
The Old Testament (Hebrew scriptures) shows God speak to us—and how we hear/don’t hear God’s voice in our history. Over time, we strive as a world community to recognize our common bond, e.g., United Nations on a secular level (that we are all brothers and sisters—as the New Testament points out).
In short, the bible is the story of humanity.
The “Word of God” is also each element of creation. This partly explains why, on Word of God Sunday, the Church didn’t offer the gospel that had Jesus reading from the book in the temple. Instead, the gospel we’re given is the call of the apostles. Why THAT passage?
We read the call of the apostles—which is a call to each of us. Be we a fisherman, tax collector, small business owner, politician, thief, construction worker (these are different identities of the apostles)—WE are the apostles being called to discipleship (their diversity reflecting our own).
As I’ve mentioned in the past, each of us is a WORD OF GOD. Creation is not complete without your being in it. So how might you experience this personal call, this realization that the world would not be complete without your presence? Try this.
Founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius Loyola, suggested we use our imaginations when praying and meditating. So, imagine Jesus visiting you. Picture him as a great friend/person/presence who right away puts you at ease and with whom you have a great back-and-forth conversation. You can tell him anything, and he immediately understands what you’re expressing.
After conversing with him in the privacy of your room, and covering all sorts of personal subjects, he thanks you for a great visit and now it’s time for him to go visit someone else. You stand facing one another as he’s about to depart, and he puts his hands on your shoulders. Smiling in a warm and loving way, he looks at you eye-to-eye and says your name in the same way he spoke to Magdalene when she discovered him in the garden on Easter Sunday: “Mary” (only it’s your name he utters—Jerry, Leona, Carol, Dennis, Mike, etc.). Like Mary Magdalene, you get a powerful sense sweep over you that you are really loved and special and here on earth for a reason. He knows all there is to know about you—the good, bad, and gray areas of your experience—and all that’s important is this farewell affirmation he bestows on you before leaving.
THAT’S why we read today about the call of the apostles—the “word of God” coming to individuals (you included). Jesus knows your name—and that your name represents all that you are—whatever your shortcomings—whatever your strengths. YOU have been called.
Jesus is looking at you, saying only your name, and right away you get the sense that he is saying that all the paths you’ve walked, on which you’ve stumbled or moved with elegance, and that all the people and experiences you’ve encountered or lived—are the mysteriously gifted person he is calling from this moment on to be his apostle—his word of God.
You are different from all others, and it’s that difference he sends forth to make a difference—with the family member, neighbor, storeowner, WHOEVER you encounter.
Knowing this, whenever you come to mass from now on, when you hear the lector say, “This is the word of the Lord,” you know in your heart that YOU are that word—for which you can gratefully exclaim “Thanks be to God. “
From Russ Milan, Chair of Parish Finance Committee
As you may know, the Catholic Services Appeal (CSA) was changed by the Diocese in name and administration to Christ’s Mission Appeal (CMA). CSA used to be managed directly by each parish with the support of the Diocese. Beginning with the 2020-21 campaign, CMA is administered by the Diocese (with support from each parish). You may have noticed these changes from mailings sent by the Diocese.
The aspects that have not changed are the goal calculation formula and the requirement for each Parish to pay what remains if the targeted goal is not met. This campaign will conclude at the end of December 2021. Past campaign payments were due in June. The diocese has not officially determined the start date of the 2021-22 campaign, but we expect it to be in December 2021 or January 2022.
Our goal for the current campaign is $85,649. Based on the number of registered households of St. John XXIII, this means that each household needs to pledge and pay in the range of $124 to $200. We are 68% ($57,995) of the way toward our target (which is fantastic for only being a couple of months into the campaign). Only $27,654 to go!
Now that the holidays are past and ‘Ordinary Time’ is upon us, let’s try to meet our goal by Easter, April 4, 2021. The pandemic and surrounding economics is putting a strain on everyone–so if you cannot make a one-time payment toward CMA at the level suggested in the preceding paragraph; perhaps you could throw $5 a week into the collection box at Church. All loose currency, change, and bills, are being put toward the CMA campaign.
If you have any questions about CMA, you can inquire with Irene during business hours or any of the Finance Council members at any time. Thanks and God Bless from Father Mike, Irene Kruth, Russ Milan, Bill Fleming, Mike Manzoni, Jerry Rohde, and Norma Brown.
Pastor’s Pen January 17, 2021
In looking at this week’s scripture and thinking of the inauguration, I was taken on a stroll down memory lane. Namely, I recalled being elected Junior class president–a short-lived victory since I did not win re-election senior year (my wounds were somewhat salved by being elected Student Government president). Along with these thoughts of my election experiences as a teen, I also thought of this week’s holiday honoring Martin Luther King–a religious leader whose words and actions inspired so many.
I remembered witnessing over many years the activist-Indian leader, Russell Means, (probably better known to you through films like Last of the Mohicans, Natural Born Killers, Pocahontas, and a number of others). Newspapers first brought him national attention when he and others occupied Alcatraz Island and the Bureau of Indian Affairs building in D.C. He then became globally known for leading the American Indian Movement (AIM) takeover of Wounded Knee, South Dakota on the Pine Ridge Reservation. I later attended his trial in the Twin Cities of Minnesota where he was defended by the legendary William Kunstler.
While I shared his desire to see justice come to Indian America, I did not like his strategies for social change. He was outspoken against Christian presence in Indian country at a time when I stood just a few feet from him at the funeral mass of Black Elk’s son, Ben (when I sang in the choir wearing my clerical shirt). Before donning Indian garb, he wore a suit and tie when working in urban California. Saying he “became a professional Indian” when attracted to AIM, he cut quite a figure with flowing braids and wearing silver & turquoise, and beadwork. His ability to woo women was well known, but in his autobiography “Where White Men Fear to Tread,” he admitted to being a poor father to the 17 children who were known to be his. He became a role model for many American Indian boys.
Sadly, one of his intoxicated sons broke into a Church rectory, and in shooting one priest (who survived) caused another to have a heart attack and die. The 2 wayward souls who perpetrated the crime were not aware of Jesuit Father “Sarge” O’Connor being an outspoken social activist all his life on behalf of Indian people. Raised on hateful rhetoric, young Means ended the life of someone who was a tireless advocate for wayward youth like him.
When I was asked to do a book signing in Pittsburgh, the store manager was pleased that I could be present. She said that Russell would be there the week before me, and so the Lakota would be well covered in our respective visits. I asked her how his appearance went, and she excitedly reported that “traffic stopped for him when we crossed the street.” Her account was easy to understand since Pittsburgh drivers (and people everywhere) would no doubt stop or slow down for a 19th century-looking Indian crossing a busy downtown street. I was not surprised when she said that he called her during the week and asked if they could get together. I WAS surprised, however, to learn that he was eternally grateful to a Catholic nun who helped him get a handle on his addiction to anger. At least in this one instance, he seems to have mellowed in his attitude toward Christians in Indian country.
In thinking of Means, and King, and one president leaving while another arrives, I was reminded of the many classes I taught which described religious leaders who cast some spell over people or who were charismatic in the minds of some. I thought of Jim Jones–the Los Angeles preacher who convinced 918 people to “drink the Kool-Aid” laced with cyanide and commit mass suicide–his people thinking he was some kind of divine leader? Similarly, Marshall Applewhite’s “Heaven’s Gate” group of 39 willingly feasted at a restaurant the night before drinking poison and killing themselves. These people were taped before dying and came across as “regular” folks who are your sons, daughters, mothers, and fathers–good folk who seemed “normal” but who were convinced by Applewhite that an alien spaceship would pick them up if they all killed themselves.
In my specialization of Native American Studies, I covered what’s known as the “Ghost Dance” of 1890. At that time, all the plains tribes were doing a dance taught by a Paiute Indian named Wovoka (he died in the 1930s). He said that the dance would hurry the day of deliverance–when Jesus would return, and this time bring salvation to Indian people. The earth would swallow up the white people (and black cavalry that patrolled the west), return the buffalo, and raise their dead. The day of deliverance would be in the spring of ’91, but the 7th cavalry clashed with the Sioux (Lakota) at Wounded Knee in December of 1890, and that incident put an end to ghost dancing. Men, women, and children were slaughtered, the spring flowers bloomed, but Jesus didn’t return. The promises of a charismatic religious-political leader were empty.
Charismatic leadership will forever be the focus of anthropologists and sociologists because human communities are forever following one sort of person or the other. We are vulnerable to people who can mislead us. The American presidency of the past 4 years will forever be analyzed by scholars from around the world if for no other reason than how Mr. Trump won the hearts of half the population while the other half saw him as the embodiment of evil. On this topic, the articles cited in the bulletin address how the Catholic community was so split.
An Australian psychologist studied 11 religious leaders (like Jim & Tammy Baker, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson) and after a battery of tests found all of them to be quite ordinary in their skills but had “a way” in tapping a resonant note within their listeners. German psychiatrist Heinz Kohut found “charismatic” leaders go according to their own lights and can’t be told anything contrary to their version of reality. They also carry zero anxiety or guilt when their decisions affect people negatively. Such people emerge in societies that experience social turmoil of some kind.
Thoughts of the above were triggered by this week’s Sunday readings which told of Jesus passing by, and of John the Baptist declaring that Jesus was the “lamb of God”–prompting Andrew to follow and for Andrew to get his brother, Peter, as a disciple of Jesus. Also, the first reading was about Samuel hearing a voice–and eventually realizing that it was GOD’S voice calling him to discipleship. Key to these followers was articulated in the 1st reading which had Samuel say what we’re SUPPOSED to say, viz., “Speak, Lord, I’m listening.” How have you responded to God’s voice? Why do you respond to certain human voices?
You and I might right away say “Of course! I’ve always asked God for guidance and listened for a reply.” Oh, really? You’ve listened to God’s word to you and have acted upon it? Or have you listened to voices in your head or on TV which simply confirmed longstanding prejudices or positions you’ve always maintained? Has your “circle of inclusivity” expanded–such that you recognize the rights and beauty of people beyond your own family or neighborhood or nation? To be “Catholic” means to be “universal” in our recognition of all people being brothers and sisters in Christ–and children of God. Has the “voice” you’ve heard been the voice of self-interest–or self-giving?
One day you’ll be an “ancestor.” What’s the legacy for which you’ll be remembered? Will it be one that your descendants will say was praiseworthy? It WILL be praiseworthy if we are able to say, with Martin Luther King, the following:
When I pass away, I’d like somebody to mention that day, that Martin Luther King, Jr. tried to give his life serving others. I’d like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to be right on the war question. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.
Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major for anything, say that I was a drum major for peace, that I was a drum major for righteousness, and that all of the other shallow things that I accomplished will not matter. I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. That’s all I want to say. If I can help somebody as I pass along, if I can cure somebody with one song, if I can show somebody they’re traveling wrong, then my living will not be in vain.
Fellow parishioners of John the 23rd, I hope King’s reflection could just as well be our own.
Christ’s Mission Appeal reminder: loose change and bills in the collection box will be directed to the Appeal. I asked the diocese if any parish had accomplished their goal as yet and was told that one did. This was a disappointment because I wanted us to be “the little engine that could” and be the first to meet our responsibility–and thus be a light to the rest of the diocese. In a way, we still COULD be the first. Why? Because the diocese said that the parish which already met its goal did so because one of its parishioners gave 20% of the whole (and so is in a league of its own). We’re at 5/8ths of our goal. Onward and upward, J 23rd.
New Testament scholars refer to the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke as the “synoptic” gospels (from a Latin word which means “seen together”). These 3 gospels tell many of the same stories, often in the same words, frequently following the same order. Instead of repeating the 3 names, people will say something like “the Synoptics are filled with parables whereas John’s gospel is not.
The 3 have a similar account of the baptism of Jesus while John doesn’t report it in the same terms. John leaves it out and just records the meeting of Jesus with John the Baptist. In today’s feast of the Baptism of the Lord, we see reference to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—who we call the “Holy Trinity.”
A dogma of our faith (meaning we’re supposed to accept the truth of the doctrine), the Church says that “3 persons in one God” is a mystery we can’t fully understand. However, the early Church Fathers combed through scripture and tradition and named the Godhead. Non-Christians sometimes say we have a “polytheistic” religion (meaning we have more than one God). However, we are “monotheists” (like the Muslims and Jews)—and believe that these 3 persons are 1 God. We point to analogous examples—like a 3-leaf clover being a 3-in-1 thing, or a triangle being one thing (but 3 angles)
We “preach” this dogma when we make the sign of the cross. We might not think of ourselves as “preaching” theology, but the custom of the sign of the cross is essentially a catechism lesson.
The Orthodox have a sign of the cross that’s a bit more complicated. When they bless themselves, they put the tip of the thumb, index, and middle finger together. This represents 3 persons (joined together into one). They also join the baby finger with the finger next to it—and those 2 fingers represent the divine and human nature of Jesus. They then turn those 2 fingers toward the palm of the hand—representing Jesus coming to humanity.
The baptism of Jesus initiates his public persona—his work—his realization that he has been called to do something very special. Have you ever had that experience? Of sensing a special calling? Jesus wasn’t born as superman—but grew into his vocation (as we do).
His baptism was the moment he had an EPIPHANY—his awakening, a new awareness of what he was called to do.
We have infant baptism (as do Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists, and some others). Some Christian groups hold off baptism until later in life.
Some weeks back we had a darling 4-month old baptized. The baby has no clue as to what’s going on, but WE do. And that’s what sacraments are all about. They bring God to us in understandable terms and we get the grace, for example, of baptizing that baby and getting a sense of how God “feels” for each of us. That is, God loves you much like we love the little child being baptized.
Some parents don’t raise their child in a religious tradition. They’ll say that they want their child to make a decision about religion later in life—and not bias them toward Catholicism or some other faith.
I’ve always found this position pretty lame—because parents teach their children values all the time. Without raising their child in the faith, they’re equivalently saying “we don’t value being raised in the faith—or learning that there’s a God—or that God created the world—or that God loves you—or that you should regard Jesus as the premier role model.
Your child is raised in a secular culture that “preaches” its gospel of self-interest and self-centeredness. MTV evangelizes your children with its sterile teen trends. And young ones read from the gospel of Facebook and Twitter all the time. With no exposure to an alternative worldview, young people pursue mirages. I’m just saying I’d want my children raised according to the synoptic gospels and the sacraments.
I know it’s tough to raise children in the faith. I sometimes think God made me a priest because I’d not be able to face the challenge of raising children of my own. I rebelled against going to church as a young child. My parents were not regular church-goers (mom never, dad once in a while and on holidays). In reporting this background, I’m simply saying that I salute your efforts to make religious practice a reality in your homes. No easy job.
Baptism of the Lord Sunday shows Jesus receiving an affirmation from God and a commission. Same for us who’ve been baptized. We’ve received a call or commission to be Jesus alive today in the unique circumstances of our lives.
How do we do that?
When parents bring their baby to church, and then bring their children as they grow up, they’re telling their children that it’s in the sacramental context that God speaks to them—and helps them. You might be seeking counsel—God will give it. You might be seeking strength—God will provide it. That’s what mass attendance is all about.
God doesn’t get any godlier for you going to church, but you and I receive thoughts or inspirations from different angles—which are part of the liturgy. Scripture, songs sung, Eucharistic prayer, reflections that come to mind—are all ways that God speaks to you and me. Each of us is called to engage the world and bring our gospel perspective to the issues of our time. So maybe offertory petitions bring issues to your consciousness that you’d otherwise not think about.
When I have infant baptisms—I remind you that what we’re doing is communal—that God is speaking to us about OUR baptism. Yes, the child is being received into the church, but the sacrament reminds all present that God loves us adults—much like a proud mom and dad loves their little child.
Even though we are mature and in control of our lives—infant baptism tells us that we’re just as needy as the little person of the day.
In the gospel today, God the Father says to Jesus what we’re also supposed to hear. “You are my beloved One.”
In your own way—go, baptize all nations by this example you set. Our life work will be as God intended if only we remember:
Upon entering heaven, God won’t ask you what kind of car you drove. He’ll ask how many people you drove who didn’t have transportation. God won’t ask the square footage of your house, he’ll ask how many people you welcomed into your home. God won’t ask about the clothes you had in your closet, he’ll ask how many you helped to clothe. He won’t ask what your highest salary was, he’ll ask if you compromised your character to obtain it. He won’t ask what your job title was, he’ll ask if you performed your job to the best of your ability. He won’t ask how many people on Facebook you “friended.” He’ll ask how many people to whom you were a face-to-face friend. He won’t ask what neighborhood you lived in. He’ll ask how you treated your neighbor. He won’t ask about the color of your skin. He’ll ask about the content of your character.
We had 3 funerals this week. If you were called back to God today, what would you say to God that you think would qualify your going to what we call “heaven?”
What would you say you did with the gift of your life? If you’re not pleased with what you’d now reply, rejoice, you still have time to do better.
Odds and ends
I have told you about a spiritual exercise that you might find helpful. At the site below, you are given an example of an “examen.” Jesuit founder Ignatius Loyola encouraged us to do this exercise every day. However, this one asks you to look at the past year as a whole.
Pastor’s Pen January 3, 2021
When I was 8 years old, my parents had to sell our 2 boxer dogs. I was heartbroken that this happened but because my parents needed the money, necessity forced their hand. I was pleased several weeks later when the family who got my pup called to report how things were going.
Their little girl was born with a full arm on one side and half of an arm on the other. The mother called to say that my pup and the little 5-year-old girl were inseparable. He was by her side all the time (like being another arm for her). When I later in life read about boxer dogs, I learned that his behavior was typical of the breed. In the 1890s, Germans created the breed to be a “super dog”–clean, affectionate, protective of children, and loyal to death when defending the family. Boxer-owners think the Germans succeeded in their experiment.
I report this to you because of a video I saw this week of a boxer greeting his family’s newborn baby. It reminded me of the Christmas season and the spirituality each of us should own. In our everyday life, we can learn from the most ordinary events–such as a boxer dog meeting the new member of his household.
Typical of boxer owners, a mother came home from the hospital, and upon entering the house, knelt down with her blanketed baby, and showed the child to the family’s almost-equally beloved boxer (whose stub tail was, typical of the breed, wagging a million mph). Gently, the boxer went face-to-face with the newborn, sniffed from head to toe, and licked the baby’s face. He sat down and peered, with the mother, at their bundle of joy (mother and boxer both lovingly looking at their newest family member).
I report this not because boxers are special to me and I need to express my affection for them. Rather, what came to mind were the Magi–whose experience was probably very similar to that of the boxer’s. They saw the baby–and waves of affection washed over them–the wise-men, in turn, pouring forth their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. I wondered if anyone today really tries to imagine themselves in the stable–in the presence of a living God who tells them that He was there in the flesh–with them. Does anyone try to imagine themselves at the cradle—the God-child smiling at them as if feeling something very special for them? Do you ever feel a sense of God’s Bethlehem presence?
The feast of Epiphany that we celebrate this weekend addresses the Magi coming to Bethlehem. Again, their story ISN’T a quaint tale from generations past that tells of people long dead. No, it’s an account of our faith’s origin and our responsibility as Catholics.
In everyday conversation, one might say “I had an epiphany.” I wonder if they know that the word they used has religious roots (viz., the Magi at Bethlehem). In everyday English, the word means one has a sudden “discovery” or found new meaning in something. This is what took place with the Magi–and what’s SUPPOSED to take place with each of us. That is, in some way we come to realize why we were born, and that God loves us, and intended for us to be a great gift to all people.
On Christmas day we read Matthew’s lineage for Jesus. It showed that the great King David was his ancestor, and in keeping with that reality, he was born in the “City of David” (Bethlehem). However, this NEW “messiah” (“anointed of God”) is for ALL people (represented by the non-Israelite wise men from the East) and is not just an ethnic/Israelite God-leader.
Dispute exists regarding the story’s “slaughter of the innocents” which is what occurred when the Magi did not return to Herod. The king ordered all Israelite baby boys to be killed–Mary and Joseph learning of this in a dream and fleeing to safety in Egypt. Scholars report that there’s no record of Herod issuing such an order. However, others say that Herod did so many horrible deeds that the killing of 10 or 12 babies in Bethlehem–wasn’t as remarkable as other slaughters he oversaw toward the end of his reign. These slaughters got the press whereas the killing of babies did not.
Others will join the discussion and point to the THEOLOGY that Matthew is trying to teach his Jewish converts (regardless of the story’s historical accuracy). Namely, his readers/listeners knew the Exodus story of Egypt’s pharaoh ordering the death of all Israelite baby boys, of Moses being spared, and of Moses later leading his people out of slavery in Egypt to the “Promised Land.” The argument here is that Matthew is symbolically showing that Jesus is the new Moses–leading all people one day to the Promised Land of heaven, and showing them how to live.
There was a Mediterranean understanding that the East was a place of wisdom–and so the coming of the gentile Magi from the East reinforces the sense that all people with any intelligence should seek and find Jesus. Moreover, the star is a symbol of the Messiah (the “star of David” worn as jewelry by practicing Jews today), and a light in the darkness as it shines in the night sky. As the prophet Isaiah says: “Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance. bearing gold & frankincense . . . . . “
I like to think of Epiphany being “the feast of attending mass on Sundays.” I say this because we need to celebrate and reflect upon the big mistake being made by family members and others who say they have something more important to do than come to mass. If you know someone who says they have more important things to do than go to church, or that they think they’re doing fine without mass–then simply ask them if there’s anything more important than discovering anew why God made them who they are, or why they even exist. Is there anything more important than reflectively talking to God about their unemployment, their drug addiction, their marriage, or any issue that is part of their life’s joy or struggle?
Tell them that one hour a week (at most) is not too much time to hear “God’s word” in scripture–and more importantly–God’s word in the thoughts that come to them during this time-set-aside. The simple fact is that people tend NOT to listen for God’s word during the week when they’re at work, at the bar, playing video games, or doing whatever they do. At mass, by contrast, people are exposed to life-realities (like the people and events and issues we pray for at offertory time) that blow past them without their paying attention. At mass, people are exposed to the witness of singers, musicians, readers, and helpers of various sorts–who might be sources of inspiration for them. Or maybe the occasional homily will remind them of something profound within themselves that is crying to be born, or come alive, or simply change.
The story of the Magi is the story of us coming to mass–and going to the manger (a feeding trough) which is the altar–and there discovering God’s presence. The Magi’s story is OUR story. It plot has us searching, and finding God in dark and dank stables that are sometimes our own lives. WE are the Magi looking for the God who created us and who calls us from the manger to tell people about the new life and new beginning that we have found spoken to us in the birth of Jesus.
Last year I told you of the Sioux (Lakota) Indian story of people starving and of 2 hunters sent to find food for the village. Instead, they found a woman carrying what appeared to be her child. When she unwrapped the bundle, it was the sacred pipe–which she said should be used in prayer. Each time the pipe would be used, God would hear their prayer. Such is the origin story of the sacred pipe. Interestingly, when the story is told, no further mention is made of people starving. The pipe came, and all was well. BECAUSE THE STORY IS ADDRESSING THE PEOPLE’S DEEPEST HUNGER!
Family and friends might offer some justification for not coming to church (often casting themselves in the role of a principled person making a good judgment call). But see what takes the place of church–watching a football or basketball game? golfing? jogging? mowing the lawn? The list is endless. I wonder how many will not return once the vaccine permits freedom of movement.
Unfortunately, the story of the Magi also reminds us that we are Herod–envious of others and willing to do anything to preserve what we have in the service of self-interest. This sort of reality, too, is what mass presents to us. It confronts us with the reality that we’re NOT the saintly/great person we imagine ourselves to be. Scripture this weekend is a reminder that we do our best NOT to return to the role of Herod we too often play. King Herod asked the Magi to be complicit in his self-centered scheming, and they refused to go along with his plan. Just as the serpent proposed a plan to Eve, so Herod did the same with the wise men. Their stories are our stories. Mass helps you NOT be complicit, or part of, behaviors that bring death to ourselves or others.
Better said by Henry VanDyke than I, The Other Wise Man is a story I quote each Epiphany Sunday. Heard enough times, people might eventually come to recognize that the story’s lead character, Artaban, is each of us. In summary form–here’s The Other Wise Man.
3 wise men tell Artaban that they’ll meet him at the oasis on a certain day to continue following the star. He’s delayed and misses them. He can’t cross the desert with only a horse, so he is forced to sell one of his treasures, a sapphire, in order to buy the camels and supplies necessary for the trip. He thinks to himself that at least he still has the ruby and pearl to give the great king they hoped to find.
Arriving in Bethlehem too late to see the child, whose parents have fled to Egypt, he saves the life of a baby who Herod’s soldiers were going to kill–at the price of another of his treasures, a ruby.
Years later, still searching for the Christ-child, Artaban saw a girl being sold into slavery. He took the pearl from his pocket. It seemed so luminous, so radiant, so full of tender, living luster. He laid it in the hand of the slave. “This is your ransom, daughter! It is the last of my treasures which I have kept for the King.” In Jerusalem as Jesus was taken to Calvary, an earthquake causes a building to fall, and Artaban is mortally wounded.
As he lay dying, the slave girl heard him say: “Not so, my Lord! When did I see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty, and give you drink? When did I see you a foreigner and take you in? Or naked, and clothed you? When did I see you sick or in prison, and come to you? 33 years have I looked for you; but I have never seen your face, nor ministered to you, my King.'”
The slave girl heard a faint voice near Artaban say: “Inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these my brothers or sisters, you have done it to me.”
A calm wonder and joy lighted the pale face of Artaban like the first ray of dawn on a snowy mountain peak. A long breath of relief exhaled gently from his lips. His journey was ended. His treasures were accepted. The Other Wise Man had found the King.
The story of the Magi, and Artaban’s story, asks each of us: “What are you doing with your life’s gold, frankincense, myrrh, sapphire, ruby, and pearl?”
Odds and Ends
1) With winter upon us, ushers should keep an eye open for slippery sidewalks—and throw salt on them.
2) With a mutant Covid now prowling the land with its Covid 19 cousin, our protocols need to be observed more than ever. So be sure to keep social distance, wear masks, and leave church after communion. When the danger passes, linger all day J
3) Last weekend, I acknowledged the fine work done by people in decorating the churches for Christmas and overseeing the garden areas during the spring and summer. I think our parish presents as lovely and friendly an appearance as any. Your efforts go beyond pleasing just our John 23rd community. They’re a light on the mountain top for the area as a whole.
4) “Christ’s Mission Appeal” is the newly named appeal that is this year being run by the diocese and not the parish. As I stated some weeks back, you can boycott giving to it based on any number of reasons, but what organization is not flawed? I told you that this collection goes beyond the Saginaw diocese and supports hundreds of thousands of people elsewhere (me a recipient of funds from Saginaw when I was on the Indian missions and in Appalachia).
Organizations have barraged you over the holiday asking for a donation (and they will continue to knock at your door or mail or computer). Many are worthy, but I know that CMA is top-drawer. As Catholics, we must support our diocese’s many outreaches. Were I to see some sort of financial abuse—I would not be its outspoken advocate. In the meantime, since we didn’t take care of the pledge by January 1st (as I had hoped we would—and be a light in the darkness
to the rest of the diocese), let’s try to meet our goal SOME time J We’re halfway there as of this date. The diocese collects CMA pledges, but we can supplement them by putting change, bills, or checks in the collection box at weekend masses. Amen.
Pastor’s Pen December 27, 2020
There are 4 stages we go through in our relationship to Christmas. The 1st is: You BELIEVE in Santa Claus. The 2nd is: You DON’T believe in Santa Claus. The 3rd is: You ARE Santa Claus. And the 4th is: You LOOK like Santa Claus. 🙂
The Advent and Christmas season is rich with images associated with the birth of Jesus—aspects of which are disputed on different levels.
For example, the origin of Christmas itself is a matter of debate. Some think that scripture points to a December birth while others suggest its roots are within the Roman religion of 313 (when Christianity was legalized by Constantine).
Mithraism was a religion out of Persia (Iran) that celebrated the “God of Light”—Mithras. His feast was on the winter solstice (when daylight begins to overcome the darkness), and its members (who said they were “born again”) celebrated the Saturnalian rites at this time of year (with gift-giving, party-going, lighted houses, and greenery decorations). Some think that Christianity simply capitalized on what people did with their “pagan” (which means “non-Christian”) religion—and built their Christian theology around the earlier form.
Or perhaps the Magi were the origin of gift-giving (young people today don’t know the word “magi” but they MAY know who the “wise men” were). Scripture says they brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh as gifts to celebrate the birth of Jesus—so maybe Christmas gift-giving is rooted in that element of the story. As for the word “Christmas,” it means “Christ’s mass” and was first used in the year 354.
Although we think of there being 3 “magi,” scripture does not tell us how many there were or who they were. During the Middle Ages, the names of Balthasar, Melchior, and Casper were given to these “astronomers” and popular piety said that one was from Africa, one from Asia, and one from Europe (3 continents of the world represented at the birth). Maybe the magi are responsible for us having a tradition of gift-giving at Christmas. What would the magi give today–financial support for Christ’s Mission Appeal? The parish? Their time to help people in need? Are you being a modern-day magi?
You might say Jesus was from Bethlehem (as reported by Matthew and Luke), but Mark and John say he was from Nazareth (a town 90 miles from Bethlehem). Maybe Bethlehem was cited because it is known as the “city of David”—Israel’s great king (implying Jesus is the new, great king and descendant of David’s line). We are familiar with images of Mary riding on a donkey, but scholars say the couple would not have had one (but I still inserted a poem about the donkey in the bulletin).
Origen, an early Church commentator, said Jesus was born in a cave, and Constantine built a church at the cave in 338—visited today by tourists. Is this where the “virgin birth” took place? Why did Matthew and Luke mention the virgin birth, and John, Mark, and St. Paul NOT mention it? One would think that it is such a miraculous event that each writer would cite it.
Luke has shepherds but Matthew doesn’t. Might they be symbolic of low-class folk Jesus would later attract? Or of his being a “good shepherd” of the people or sacrificial lamb who takes away the sins of the world? Maybe scripture writers didn’t mention some topics because “others have written about those things.”
Today’s reading is called the “Annunciation” (the “announcement” of the angel Gabriel to Mary that she was to be the mother of Jesus). Instead of being an actual historical event, some scholars say that it is a literary device common to scripture. In the Old Testament and here in the New, it announces the importance of the person identified—in this case, Jesus. Scholars say this is not a historical account but rather an explanation that reality has been turned upside down with this child’s impending birth.
Because we’re supposed to internalize scripture and make it our own, the Annunciation is also speaking of OUR birth—and that OUR coming into the world was intended to be an awesome event that brought special grace to all of creation. Is that what you’ve made of your life? Put another way, the Old Testament told of the coming Messiah (Jesus). In a way, you are a “mini-messiah” for others with the mark of baptism.
This past Thursday’s mass had as a gospel reading the genealogy of Jesus which, when read to American congregations, puts people to sleep with unpronounceable names and repetition of one person “begetting” another. This is not the experience of listeners in other parts of the world. Were we like cultures elsewhere (non-1st-world cultures), or were we in touch with our tribal background, we would be like them and listen respectfully to the account of the genealogy of Jesus.
At one time, ALL peoples saw their ancestors as the foundation of society (the closest we come is referring to Washington as the father of our country and referring to our nation’s “forefathers”). An African student of mine said that here in America, all one does when first introduced to another is say something like “Hey, how’s it going?” Back home, he said an introduction would take him a half-hour to narrate (as he recounted his lineage).
Genealogies, traditionally, gave one their personal identity. It gave their family name an upstanding reputation and a list of “heroes” worthy of reverence. In this sense, the gospel’s genealogy account SHOULD present questions that each of us takes to heart—namely, am I living up to names in this legacy? Will MY name one day be spoken as a proud part of this lineage? What am I doing with my biblical DNA? Is it alive and well in me–such that people know what I stand for?
The cynic in me might negatively say “This generation of parishioners didn’t raise the funds for Christ’s Mission Appeal. How can they claim to be heirs of a biblical identity?” Instead of having that perspective, the realist in me says “Our parishioners are the ones who did their best. That’s all that God asks of us–to do our best.” When I look at our people in the pews, I think their names belong to that gospel genealogy.
And what about these visions of angels speaking to Mary and Joseph? Have you had any angels speaking to you recently? Maybe you have—via people or something that was angel-like in your life, or in the same manner as angels appeared to Joseph and Mary. I say this because when people in traditional cultures report having a vision of spirit-animals or spirit-beings, they’re referring to what they’ve seen in DREAMS—not scary apparitions of ghosts in their bedroom.
In the beginning, Matthew’s gospel has Jesus referred to as Emmanuel–which means “God with us.” Like bookends, Matthew’s gospel begins and ends with that declaration (that “God is with us”–with YOU). The last chapter concludes with Jesus saying to his apostles “I’m leaving now, and leaving everything to you. And oh, yes, remember that I’m with you until the end of time.” What a consoling thought! God is with us—in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, for richer for poorer, til death and beyond! You never face anything alone.
Now you might be musing something to the effect of: “My life was no grand event celebrated in a heavenly ‘Annunciation’-announcement—and no angels have ever appeared to me—and my genealogy is found on ancestry.com.” If you think along these lines, I think you’re mistaken—because “angels” have been in your life since you first smiled at the nurse or parent when you were born. Nature itself—direct from God–has smiled on you many times since you first arrived. And you have, in ways not known, been Emmanuel to others in some small or great way.
Scripture tries to communicate that the stories we read are stories about us. And that the God of all creation actually cares about—and loves you in a Godly way known only to God. To which you might retort—“Baloney—how can any of what you say be true?” To which I reply, in quoting today’s gospel: “Nothing is impossible with God.”
Odds and Ends
Now that Christmas is past, wouldn’t you know that I forgot to suggest a really good present to give someone? I have several copies of my book Nicholas Black Elk: Medicine Man, Missionary, Mystic. I paid $20 for it—and you can have it for the same price. Autographed, heaven only knows how much it’ll be worth some day 🙂 Kidding aside, I DO have copies of it. Plus, it MAY be of interest to friends or relatives who are interested in Amer-Indian life (since Black Elk is so well known globally).
December 25, 2020 Christmas Bulletin
Just a little donkey–but on my back, I bore–The one and only Savior–the world was waiting for. Just a little donkey–but I was strong and proud— I gladly carried Mary–through the chaos of the crowd. I brought her to a stable–where she made a tiny bed… A place for Baby Jesus–to lay His little head. I pray the world remembers–that special Christmas night When just a little donkey–brought Heaven’s Precious Light.
Are you willing . . . to forget what you have done for other people, and to remember what other people have done for you? To ignore what the world owes you, and to think what you owe the world? To put your rights in the background, your duties in the middle distance, and changes you’ll make in the foreground? To see that others are just as real as you are, and try to look behind their faces to their hearts (which hunger for acceptance)?
To own up to the fact that probably the only good reason for your existence is not what you are going to get out of life, but what you are going to give to life? To close your book of complaints against the management of the universe, and look around you for a place where you can sow a few seeds of happiness? Are you willing to do these things even for a day? Then you can keep Christmas.
Are you willing . . . to stoop down and consider the needs and desires of little children? To remember the weakness and loneliness of people growing old? To stop asking how much your friends love you, and ask yourself whether you love them enough? To bear in mind the things that other people have to bear in their hearts? To try to understand what family members really want, without waiting for them to tell you?
To trim your lamp so that it will give more light and less smoke, and to carry it in front so that your shadow will fall behind you? To make a grave for your ugly thoughts, and a garden for your kindly feelings, with the gate open? Are you willing to do those things, even for a day? Then you can keep Christmas.
Are you willing . . . to believe that love is the strongest thing in the world, stronger than hate, stronger than evil, stronger than death–and that the blessed life which began in Bethlehem two thousand years ago is the image and brightness of the Eternal Love?
Then you keep Christmas. And if you can keep it for a day, why not always?
Christmas Prayer I
We give you thanks, Holy One, for the light that has come into the darkness of our world, for the truth illuminated, for the pathway that has opened, for the rejoicing of your people.
We give you thanks for the feet of those who bring good news, friendship, comfort, food, shelter, and medicine for healing.
We give you thanks for the Church of Christ Jesus and for all people of faith whose attention to the way of peace tears down walls that keep us apart.
We give you thanks for every nation where wisdom reigns, where leaders work for the well-being of the poor so that no one is hungry or homeless, and every child is valued and nourished.
We pray for the knowledge and courage to be good stewards of all that you have given us: ourselves–our neighbors, the strangers among us, the oceans and rivers, the air and soil, creatures large and small, that we may continue to be blessed with health and life.
We pray for those whose flesh is harmed by poverty, sickness, and cruelty of any kind, that the Word-made-flesh may so fill your world with the power to heal that all people would be made strong and whole. We commend all these things to you and offer our thanksgiving, trusting that what we have left unsaid, your holy wisdom can unearth; in the name of the One who came among us.
Christmas Prayer II
Not gold, nor myrrh, nor frankincense would I have for you this season, but simple gifts, the ones that are hardest to find, the ones that are for those who have everything (if such there be). I would (if I could) have for you the gift of courage, the strength to face the gauntlets only you can name, and the firmness in your heart to know that you (yes, you!) can be a bearer of the quiet dignity that is a person glorified. I would (if by my intention I could make it happen) have for you the gift of connection, the sense of standing on the hinge of time, touching past and future standing with certainty that you (yes, you!) are the point where it all comes together.
I would (if wishing could make it so) have for you the gift of community, a nucleus of love and challenge, to convince you in your soul that you (yes, you!) are a source of light in a world too long believing in the dark. Not gold, nor myrrh, nor frankincense, would I have for you this season, but simple gifts, the ones that are hardest to find, the ones that you deserve.
“The object of a new year is not that we should have a new year, but rather that we should have a new soul.”
“It is Christmas every time you let God love others through you.”
“I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It’s not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love.”
Connecting the Dots of Our Life-as-Citizens with Our Life-as-Catholics
This past week, a priest-friend in Tennessee (who is a regular guy and not given to exaggeration) said “Stelts, there just seems to be an evil spirit over the nation. I’ve heard people say ‘the new vaccine will change our DNA and make us demonic!’ What makes people say these things?”
I went to a doctor’s appointment last week and, unprompted by me, one of the workers was inspired to say: “I can’t stand Pelosi and Biden. They’re going to prevent people from getting a check.” I replied that I thought Democrats wanted relief for the middle class and blue-collar workers while their opposition thought the economy would benefit by stimulus checks going to corporations. The person was as committed to their misunderstanding as I was to the actual facts.
As explained to me, Democrats wanted to give 40 billion dollars to the working class (giving everyone a 600-dollar check) while Republicans wanted to give 960 billion more (than that 40) to corporations (instead of the working class). They also wanted legislation to say that workers couldn’t sue their employer if harmed on the job. Nuances aside, the health-worker had simply heard that Democrats were not being cooperative (when, in reality, the matter was more complicated).
Not judging either political approach, I simply note that they represent different economic philosophies. They are, in general, what has been in the news—which made the healthcare worker irate. I cite this not because I am especially interested in this issue, but for a whole other point I want to call to your attention.
When Advent began, I dreamed of our parish hitting the goal of Christ’s Mission Appeal during this Christmas season. It seemed to me that the number of parishioners on our rolls could easily hit the target by simply choosing the CMA as a most worthwhile charity their family could support. Well, with one week to go before Christmas, we haven’t even hit the half-way mark.
I sure over-estimated our response. Naïve and Pollyanna me!! Darn. Now I have no clue as to what “the parish” will eventually do in this regard. What more can I say on the subject? Good luck?
Unfortunately, this in-house fund-raising, Catholic parish, diocesan appeal problem—reflects the human condition. I was reminded of this when I came upon an article that wasn’t about religion but which certainly challenges us to see economics through a religious lens. Here’s the gist of the article.
A study from “Americans for Tax Fairness” and “Institute for Policy Studies” reports that since the virus began in March, six hundred and fifty-one American billionaires have seen their collective wealth increase by more than a trillion dollars (some of the better-known names from this group are Elon Musk (Tesla), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Larry Ellison (Oracle), Larry Page and Sergey Brin (Alphabet), and Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer (Microsoft). Musk’s worth rose by $118.5 billion (he, Zuckerberg, and Gates joining Bezos as “centi-billionaires,” meaning that each is now worth more than a hundred billion dollars). “Never before has America seen such an accumulation of wealth in so few hands.”
The report said that the billionaire class has been the biggest winner from the pandemic, and the working class has been the biggest loser. It argued that these wealthy people could well afford to bear more of the cost of providing additional financial relief to workers, small businesses, and state and local governments. Instead, they find and are given, tax loop-holes by legislators.
Just the gain of billionaires the past 9 months could provide a stimulus check of $3,000 to every one of the roughly 330 million people in America (and the billionaires would not feel a thing if this recent profit was taken from them).
The United Kingdom (England) has been hit as hard as the U.S. and is calling for an emergency tax on wealth. Its Wealth Tax Commission modestly urged the very wealthy to pay a 1% tax for 5 years–an exceptional response to a particular crisis. A one-time hit on wealth shouldn’t affect incentives to work and invest—especially since the wealthy wouldn’t feel a thing–the idea being to ask the country’s wealthiest people to help address an unprecedented economic emergency.
Recall World War 2 photos of bombed Japanese and European cities? The report recalls how those different foreign countries introduced wealth taxes that helped reconstruction. The pandemic isn’t a ruinous military conflict, but the shutdowns it engendered delivered an unprecedented financial shock to workers, small businesses, and state and local governments.
There is Republican opposition to any kind of wealth tax. And it’s not clear what Democrats would endorse, either. But the sight of billionaires getting even richer as tens of millions of Americans face titanic financial struggles is an affront to any notion of decency. In the extraordinary circumstance of a pandemic, it seems reasonable to many ATHEISTS to ask those who have benefitted financially during this crisis to help the country get beyond it. It would seem that people of faith—all the more—would similarly support policies that feed the hungry and clothe the naked. Or would Jesus say “Forget ‘em. It’s everyone for themselves. This crisis and Christ’s Mission Appeal can bark up other trees for assistance.”
If you’re a billionaire, my sense of our faith is that you should help the country get back on its feet. If you’re a parishioner, my sense of our faith is that you should subsidize Christ’s Mission Appeal by Christmas (or New Year). I’d like to think my sense is widely shared.
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.
Pastor’s Pen December 10, 2020
I read an article this week that cited the various “disorders” we suffer while at the same time dealing with the pandemic. The article said that what we ordinarily contend with is intensified during this viral period, i.e., our depression, sleep/eating disorders, chronic illnesses, substance abuse, etc. Also affecting some at this time of year might be a condition whose acronym is “SAD”—which refers to “seasonal affective disorder.” This condition occurs in climates where there is less sunlight at certain times of the year (e.g., our winter solstice period–NOW). The symptoms of this condition include fatigue, depression, hopelessness, and social withdrawal.
Besides medication and talk therapy, treatment includes light therapy (phototherapy)—which typically involves spending 30 minutes a day—usually after waking—in front of a box that emits bright fluorescent light. What came to mind was that each of us could place ourselves in SOME category of disorder—reflecting the reality that we humans sure are in need of help.
And that’s how Advent fits into our current scene. It emphasizes, focuses on, or fosters the exact opposite of these conditions which bring us down. As I’ve mentioned during the first 2 weeks of Advent, this is the time of year when God is calling us to look at ourselves and be led to a new birth at Bethlehem. God calls us there not just to celebrate the “Incarnation,” but to awaken us to the new identity we are being called to more fully embody. Yes, we’ve conducted our lives a certain way until now—but Christian identity is always in a state of “conversion”—of God calling us to become more accurately the person we were created to be.
If you’re of a mindset that has you say: “Nice words, Mike, but I know who I am, and I know who I want to be. I know where I am now, and where I’ll be put to rest. I just want to carry on with the blessings that God has given me.” If your thoughts bear any resemblance to a statement like that—then Advent is for you! God calls each of us to a NEW awareness which you and I don’t fully detect. So, let’s give God credit for leading us to that new identity.
The 2ndweek of Advent had a focus on Marian spirituality—the “holy day of obligation” being the Immaculate Conception on December 8th. Knowing that not everyone could attend mass that day (as they were “obligated” to do), I thought I’d bring some highlights of the feast day to them at the weekend mass. Did you know that if we were living in 1910, we’d be “obligated” to attend 36 feast days (in addition to Sunday mass)? In that year, the number was reduced to 8.
Perhaps because the gospel reading reports Mary’s conception of Jesus being announced by the angel Gabriel, some have thought “immaculate conception” referred to her pregnancy. Instead, it refers to MARY’S conception. Why address this issue—especially when Mary’s conception is not even mentioned in scripture? The theological issue this topic was intended to address is the premier dogma that “Jesus was like us in all things but sin.” God the Father is sinless, but with Mary being human, it follows that Jesus would be sinful via his mother. After all, the great Church Father, St. Augustine (d. 430), was a real stickler on “original sin”—he being largely responsible for Church tradition emphasizing the effects of “original sin” which we inherit.
Over the centuries, but not often, some theologians raised the topic of Mary’s relationship to original sin—in an effort to reconcile Jesus being like us in all things BUT sin (which he presumably would have inherited through his mom). One theory held that seminal fluid carried original sin to the female—and God the Father did not use seminal fluid. There was an apocryphal text written a couple hundred years after Jesus—which said that “Anne” was the name of Mary’s mother, and that her father’s name was Joachim. No historical evidence for these people existing as named, the tradition got entrenched and today many think of Mary’s parents as these 2 souls. Were their names “Anne” and “Joachim?” Maybe. Maybe not.
Folklore or fact, it is also reported that St. Brigid of Sweden had a vision of Mary telling her that the sex act of her parents was free of original sin because there was no sexual desire involved with the act. The great St. Thomas Aquinas and others addressed the topic, but it remained on a back burner until 1854 when Pope Pius IX declared it a “dogma” of our faith (i.e., you HAVE TO believe a dogma or else you’re a heretic). Many Church leaders objected to his decision, but it became a dogma of our faith (i.e., Mary was conceived without sin). A medieval thinker might be of help to us. He said that if God wanted to do something, God did it—and leave it at that!
More important to the practice of our faith is the gospel story of Gabriel’s visit. Since the gospel is not a history book, but is intended for OUR enlightenment and inspiration (and not God’s), what can we take from the angel’s announcement?
If an angel appeared to you from out of nowhere, would your reaction be as relatively casual as Mary’s—and would you just say something like “Hey! What’s up?” (and then converse in normal fashion)? Or would you be shocked at the sudden apparition? No shock is reported, but instead Mary calmly hears the announcement of her impending motherhood and replies to Gabriel with gratitude to God. As with other visions in the bible, some scholars think the appearance of Gabriel came through a “dream” to Mary.
Since “angelos” is the Koine Greek for “messenger of God,” we needn’t think of winged creatures appearing to us in a vision. Rather, “messengers” can be persons like our spouse, our child, nature’s beauty, or even my dear boxer who died a couple of weeks ago. “Mikey” revealed to me lots about God—and so was a special angel in my life. And so it is with Mary and each of us. Angels come into our life and tell us we are “filled with grace” and that we should not be afraid because “the Lord is with” us. Each of us is Mary in this scripture story. Each of us is being invited to give birth to faith, hope, and love—the essence of Jesus.
Our Lady of Guadalupe
The 2ndweek of Advent had another important Marian feast—Our Lady of Guadalupe—a special devotion that arose in what is today Mexico City. The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe is the most visited Catholic pilgrimage site in the world. Historically, its origin story took place just after Spain conquered the Aztecs (1519) and was trying to control the Native population.
5 apparitions are said to have taken place in 1531 to a young Indian named Juan Diego. A sacred lady referred to herself as the mother of “a very true God”—and told Juan to go to the Archbishop and have a church built on the ground where they stood. She instructed Juan to pick flowers (which she bundled in his cloak) and take them to Bishop-elect Zumarraga. When the cleric opened it, a painting of the lady miraculously appeared—and she has been identified ever since as Mary. Her likeness was replicated on banners during the 19th century Mexican war of independence from Spain, and today a large Mexican flag is draped near the Basilica painting.
It is not surprising that she was later declared “Queen of Mexico.” Then she was titled “Patroness of the Americas,” and by John Paul II in 1999 “Empress of Latin America,” and “Protectress of Unborn Children.” An inscription greets visitors to the Basilica which reads “Am I not here, I who am your mother?” These are words that Juan reported her saying to him.
St. Juan Diego
This 2ndweek of Advent also included the feast of “Saint” Juan Diego—whose life was investigated by the Church in 1666—118 years after his death. Authorities thought this wise to do because the Guadalupe devotion had spread, and because the Franciscans and Dominicans were arguing about the story’s reliability. Moreover, the writings of Zumarraga made no mention of Juan Diego (whose name didn’t surface until the mid-17thcentury). That Zumarraga not refer to Don Juan seemed peculiar (given the spectacular circumstances of the heavenly vision). One would think that the Archbishop would say SOMETHING about the Juan Diego revelation. Another peculiar angle on the account is that the site of Guadalupe was the site of where an Aztec goddess (Tonanzin) was honored. Questions arose concerning a possible Aztec grounding of the devotion—not in Mary, but in Tonanzin.
In 1883, Zumarraga’s biographer confided to the Bishop that his research suggested that Juan Diego did not exist. Nonetheless, in 1987, John Paul II declared him “venerable,” and then “beatified” him in 1990. In 1996, the Abbot of the Guadalupe Basilica was interviewed for a magazine and said that Juan Diego was a “symbol” and “not a real person.” Upon hearing what the Abbot said, Church authorities fired him—and in 2002 Pope John Paul II canonized Juan Diego a saint. In the 1990s, a Jesuit produced research that asserted the existence of Juan, but the Guadalupe story associated with him is still debated by scholars.
The Guadalupe story is near and dear to me because it resembles in some ways the story I told as a homily for last Christmas. I reported the Sioux Indians (Lakota) having a sacred lady within their tradition who brought the “sacred pipe”—an instrument of prayer that assures the people that God hears them when the pipe is used. Buffalo Cow Woman brought what appeared to be her child (the “sacred calf pipe”) and, ever since, the Lakota could pray and know that God listened to them. As time passed, many Lakota thought that it was Mary who visited the people and that the pipe forecast the coming of Christ to the nation.
For me, the 2ndweek of Advent also saw the anniversary of my ordination. Like you during Advent, I’m looking at my life and asking what new birth God is leading me to experience. What came to mind in recalling my first mass was the homily I gave. It prompted a smile because its theme echoes the point of this Advent season. I told people that my task was to forever encourage others to discover their own call to priesthood—to service of God’s people.
These many years after that first mass, my Advent homily remains the same as it was back then. We begin week 3 of the journey to Bethlehem—hoping to discern, figure out, learn—whatever the word—what conversion God is calling us to experience. As stated, to be Christian means to have an ongoing conversion experience, moving us from one level of insight (or ignorance) to a new vantage point. God has faith in us! During Advent, God helps us see beyond the disorders we cope with during the pandemic. At this point of the Advent journey, we glimpse—in the distance–a stable of hope on the horizon.
Lord—each of us is Mary—asking you to be a midwife helping each of us give birth to compassion for others, understanding them as best we can, forgiving them, and moving on to discover Juan Diego’s image of Mary and Jesus tattooed on our hearts. Inspire us to be a sacred pipe—communicating to others Your acceptance and our belonging to you (that we hope to one day experience fully with you in heaven).
Odds and Ends
Weapons of mass DECEPTION: As you know, there is much of what’s called “dis-information”–the intentional spreading of untruths–by domestic anarchists and foreign adversaries trying to sew dissent. We hear a story about aliens attacking earth, or fraudulent election returns, or Hilary Clinton’s child-abuse ring operating in the basement of a Philadelphia pizza restaurant, or that the Covid vaccine will change your DNA to something demonic–all 4 of which are believed by too many people. Several months ago, a town in Oregon thought that busloads of inner-city blacks were going to shoot up their town with AK-47s. Local “white folk” armed themselves and set up barriers waiting for the “invasion.” Naturally, it was all ridiculous. There was no bus, no AK-47s, and no invasion. It was all a scam—a “tweet” that went “viral” and spread the deception. Violence can result from dis-information and we all suffer for our ignorance—which is why I pass to you a website that I’ve found helpful to consult. It is: Snopes.com It does a decent job of tracking down the truth and falsehood of whatever is being bandied about on social media.
Charitable giving is alive and well—but for what purpose? Reports now in the news are that a political action committee (PAC) is behind all the lawsuits contesting the election. Moreover, solicitations are sent from the different Trump family members asking for people to donate to the Georgia senatorial election in January. People THINK they are donating to this effort when the fine print says that 25% will go to the Georgia election and that 75% will go to Mr. Trump’s post-election interests (for whatever he wants to do with the over 500 million dollars already collected in just these few weeks).
Stay with me on this. I’m not debating one’s political affiliations. You’re free to support whoever you want to support. I’m on the topic of “charitable giving” and continue making my point with the following example.
I watched a football game at which the announcer reported that the grandmother of Buffalo’s quarterback died that week–and citizens of Buffalo raised over $70k dollars in her memory. I sighed—because earlier in the day I mentioned at mass that Christ’s Mission Appeal is the most far-reaching charity of any that approach you at this time. The Appeal goes beyond the diocese–helping people globally (it funded me on the Indian missions and in Appalachia).
Buffalo’s quarterback is yearly paid $5.3 million dollars—but then is given $70k dollars in a week from blue-collar folks in Buffalo? Huh? Their behavior is the same as the politically-inclined-PAC donors mentioned above. These large amounts that have been collected from ordinary people like you and I show that we HAVE funds to give. It’s just a question of what will we charitably support? THAT is the point I’m trying to make.
SURELY, we can contribute to a more worthwhile and inclusive charity than a wealthy quarterback’s family or a wealthy TV personality/politician. In terms of Gospel value, Christ’s “mission appeal” should trigger an even more generous and personal response than those 2 “charities.” As I stated 4 weeks ago, we could easily knock off our 80k goal—if we chose to do so.
Let’s see. Into whose hand should I donate funds—a wealthy quarterback’s? a politician’s? or the hand of God? If this logic doesn’t speak to you, then at Christmas time==just think of CMA before going out to spend 1 or 2 hundred bucks on Nike gym shoes or a similar amount for an athlete’s name-jersey. For just a moment, think of all the people you’ll be helping through the CMA. Maybe a germ of generosity will stir within your consciousness—and you can put your loose change/checks/cash in the collection box as you leave mass.
2) Christmas week masses will only be the ones on Christmas Eve day and Christmas day.
3) The January 1st holy day mass will be at noon, at Sacred Heart. No masses during that week Tues, Wed, Thurs.
December 6, 2020
I previously said that Advent is the Church’s yearly ritualizing of us making a journey to Bethlehem. We are being called to discover a new birth/identity. We’re not just celebrating God’s becoming incarnate (taking on flesh as a human)—but we’re called to discover more profoundly and more intimately the role God calls us to fulfill—with OUR incarnation.
Each of us has lived SOME identity—but it’s not the totality that God calls us to become. Thus—we have the yearly Advent ritual reminding us that we still have a new discovery to make (our new birth).
Try not to think of this as a speculative thing—the priest piously saying we’re on a journey to self-discovery. Rather, try and come to terms with this Advent season asking you and me if we want to be part of God’s design. Do we want to be on the Bethlehem side of life-issues, or do we want to continue eating apples of self-interest offered to us by the serpent.
A bishop recently commented that many of us have chosen “willful ignorance” instead of seriously evaluating the felonies that confront us on the nightly news. Too many of us say “I can’t be bothered” with unpleasant world or national events or issues when, truth be told, the gospel calls us to “being bothered”—and being Christ-like in addressing these things that we see unfold.
Each year at this time, I’m reminded of how this journey toward Bethlehem is serious business. In my heart of hearts, maybe I don’t really want to make it.
With my birthday toward the end of November, a grateful smile comes to mind and heart, but anniversaries that follow challenge my sense of comfort. 40 years ago this week, 3 Sisters and a laywoman were murdered in El Salvador. The U.S. government was criticized for its role in that country’s civil war—and was quick to respond to the criticism. The Reagan administration said that we were fighting “communists,” and that if we didn’t stop them in El Salvador—these monstrous communists would be attacking Hemlock and Merrill (that is, a scare tactic broadcast to all Americans making us think our lives were at stake).
U.N. ambassador, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, declared her “unequivocal” belief that the Salvadoran army was NOT responsible for the killings, adding that “the nuns were not just nuns. They were political activists. We ought to be a little more clear about this than we actually are.” Alexander Haig was the Secretary of State at the time, and he testified that “there might have been an exchange of gunfire between the sisters and whoever killed them.” He did not suggest why the women were raped before they were shot, execution-style.
Because the Church has people in all countries of the world, and plenty of Church-people in El Salvador, we knew at the time that Kirkpatrick and Haig and the administration as a whole, were lying to the world—and to the American people in what they were saying on the ABC, NBC, CBS nightly newscasts.
What saddened Jesuits is that Haig’s brother, Frank, is a Jesuit priest. The Reagan administration fired Ambassador Robert White because he would not lie as they instructed him to do—White testifying many times that the so-called “political activist” nuns were feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and caring for the sick. Declassified documents and what became known as the “truth commission” later revealed that the administration knew of the widespread campaign of terror and torture perpetrated by the government whose weapons were paid for by American tax dollars.
Keep in mind that the Maryknoll Sisters and laywoman Jean Donovan were “just folks–” hometown “girls” as you might find in Hemlock or Merrill coming to mass at the parish. This needs saying because their fame today might make them seem larger than life. Their reality was that they could be your sister, or daughter, or neighborhood friend.
In 1984, four national guardsmen were convicted of murdering the women and sentenced to 30 years in prison (three were released in ’98). The rapist-murderers were acting on orders from higher officers who, with American officials, tried to cover up the plan. The officer responsible for the executions was General Vides Casanova. He eventually married a wealthy coffee-baroness who was also the El Salvador ambassador to the Vatican (yes, truth IS stranger than fiction). Living on the Palm Coast district of southern Florida until 2015, he was deported back to El Salvador. His torture victims successfully sued him for 54 million-dollars.
I spoke to you last year about the killing of 6 Jesuits in 1989—one of whom was a good friend. Both the Reagan and Bush administrations certified that El Salvador was progressing well in respecting human rights—but this, as occurred with the women, was another lie being sold to the American public. When the killing of the priests hit the airwaves internationally, there was an uproar over the atrocities in El Salvador that American foreign policy sponsored. Again, the administration was quick to raise suspicions about the victim-Jesuits—suggesting they were gun-runners assisting rebels, and even suggesting that the rebel “communists” had killed them for some deal gone bad.
Americans were told that in order to keep America the great nation that it was—we had to stop communists from coming across our southern border and attacking the Merrills and Hemlocks of the country. And Americans again bought these lies hook, line, and sinker. Later “truth commissions” discovered that the CIA was aware of the plans to kill the Jesuits, and knew who did the killings (the army who was trained by U.S. advisers).
In reality, the Jesuits were university teachers who were trying their best to solve the problems of a country that had very wealthy people controlling and owning most of the country’s resources (which is the case here in the U.S., too—especially since the “middle class” has been getting smaller and smaller due to fiscal policies started in the 1980s). The Jesuit role could be summed up by Bishop Camara of Brazil who said: “When I feed the hungry, they call me a saint. When I ask WHY they have no food, they call me a Communist.” Just last year were the murderers of the Jesuits sentenced to life in prison.
The “in” word today is no longer “communist,” but “socialist.” Listen to how often the word is thrown around—as if it had a meaning we all agreed upon. Many Americans hear the word “socialist” and right away identify “the enemy.” Name-calling wins the day (because somewhere in their background, many Americans blended communism and socialism as the same thing—and both were “bad”). Polls show that to win voter support, one must say “I’m a capitalist” and make no mention of “socialist” ideas.
Pressed to define “socialism,” most angry Americans would be unable to do so. They’ll often give some angry statement about welfare being given to poor people who didn’t “earn” the handout. Blacks are often stereotyped as the welfare recipients—and so racial antagonism is also stoked in this name-calling (keep in mind that there are more “whites” on welfare than blacks). This shows how thoroughly we’ve been brainwashed.
From a Catholic perspective, what’s interesting is that the pope has spoken AGAINST the damage done to the world’s people by a free-wheeling CAPITALIST economic system. And in the new testament, if any economic system is known—it’s the “socialism” of the early Christians!!! In one encyclical, the pope warned against us having a “structurally perverse” economic system where the rich exploit the poor, turning Earth into an “immense pile of filth.” The pope says that this vision of “might is right has engendered immense inequality, injustice and acts of violence against the majority of humanity, since resources end up in the hands of the . . . most powerful: the winner takes all.” He wrote. “Completely at odds with this model are the ideals of harmony, justice, fraternity and peace as proposed by Jesus.” What approach does your vision reflect? Maybe you don’t want to continue toward Bethlehem.
The Georgia senate race sees one candidate name-calling her opponent a “socialist” (as usual, no details as to what it would mean). Making this charge was a predictable ploy guaranteed to win support (of unthinking Georgians). Her opponent gave a good reply to the woman’s ridiculous question and reminded listeners that she was a senator bought and paid for by Wall Street—her focus being the corporate wealthy and not ordinary people. With her husband being CEO of the NY Stock Exchange, she has been accused (and cleared) of insider trading which brought her millions of dollars. I guess she was just lucky with timely investments.
Capitalism is based on what’s known as the “free market” where everyone, supposedly, has an opportunity to make a good living by supplying some goods or services that are in “demand.” The problem with this, of course, is those powerful corporations “own” the market—and you have next to no chance of competing with anyone. Which leads to the point of this digression.
The raped/murdered women and Jesuits were called “communists/socialists” by the Reagan/Bush administrations. This name-calling brought about their deaths. Should YOU confront someone throwing around the terms “capitalism” and “socialism,” stop the rant by simply noting that America is not fully capitalist. It is also—be prepared for a shock—partly SOCIALIST. Our economy is a hybrid.
Although Americans applaud when a politician says capitalism is what they espouse, all Americans receive the benefits of our country also being socialist. Focusing on welfare support to people in need is NOT a significant budget line. See who is donating to politicians who, in turn, choose the economy’s winners and losers. And who do the politicians choose? They give corporations enormous tax breaks and save banks from the managerial errors they made when creating the crash of 2002. This is called “corporate welfare”—money given to the powerful via what’s known as—tada–socialism.
American socialism takes place during this pandemic. While poor folk struggle to survive, corporations have made lots of money—because the government has pumped your tax dollars into those corporations. What other socialist expenditures do we have in America? How about social security, Medicare, mass transit systems, the bailing out of airlines, maintaining fire and police departments, dairies paid to produce or not produce milk, farmers paid to grow some crops and not grow others. The list goes on and on. Why? Because America is neither fully capitalist nor fully socialist. We’re a hybrid. So don’t brand anyone “communist” or “socialist.” The terms are meaningless for most Americans.
Analyses of the Civil War south have asked how wealthy plantation owners could get poor “white” people to fight to “preserve the Southern way of life” (wealthy plantation owners) from Northern invaders? Historians/sociologists concluded that poor white people weren’t a whole lot better off than the slaves who worked the plantations. They joined the southern war effort so that they, the poor white class, wouldn’t fall even lower than the slave class just below them.
The wealthy want the not-wealthy to blame one another for economic problems. And call one another names like “socialist” or “welfare queen”—and so be distracted from the REAL welfare queens (the corporations who buy the votes of politicians who, in turn, make them winners in the “free market” that controls the lives of the poor).
Written 2000 years ago, the gospel addresses how people exploit one another. This past week a revelation occurred that reminded me of our government’s lies of the 1980s. Namely, for the past couple of years, we’ve heard people debate the Mexican border policy that saw us separate children from their parents. We have 500 to 700 children still in custody with no idea where their families might be. At least, that’s what we were told.
It turns out that the government DOES have phone numbers and addresses for these children and, as of this writing, a judge has demanded to know why this information has been withheld. As stated a few weeks ago, Christ is our king. We pledge allegiance to the Gospel and our God. Beware of non-gospel people.
This first week of Advent saw the feast of Francis Xavier—whose life is a good example of God writing straight in crooked lines. Born of royalty, he went to college where he was a high jump athlete and, eventually, a professor of philosophy at the University of Paris. Meeting Ignatius Loyola, he was asked “Is this what you think God wants you to do the rest of your life? Did you ever think God might be calling you to something more?”
Long story short is that Ignatius, Xavier, and a few college buddies started the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). Asked to send a missionary to Asia, Ignatius asked one man, but this Jesuit fell sick. Ignatius turned to his college friend—the professor of philosophy, Francis Xavier. Ready to go wherever God wanted him to go (as decided by his superior), Xavier went to Japan, China, and India where he became, for the rest of his life, a dedicated missionary to those lands—where he died alone. Today he is the patron saint of missionaries.
As he lay dying, he reviewed his life and smiled at how God had written straight in the crooked lines of his experience. God took him to Bethlehem—giving him new eyes to see, new ears to hear—who God was calling him to be. Like each of us, Xavier was not fully aware of how God wanted him to use his gifts—but his Advent prayer was to ask that God lead him to new birth.
As you know, I’ve written biographies of the famous Lakota-Sioux holy-man, Black Elk. Born in the 1800s buffalo-hunting culture of the Sioux, he grew up among a people who were dominant on the plains. Battles took place between his people and the cavalry–his people winning at Little Bighorn, but eventually losing and confined to reservations. He saw the massacre of men, women, and children at Wounded Knee in 1890, and could have become a despondent, brooding victim for his remaining years.
Instead, he saw that God wrote straight in the crooked lines of his experience, and he pledged allegiance to the “Wanikiye” (“savior Jesus”). Baptized on December 6, 1904, he led the rest of his life as a faithful Catholic catechist–trying his best to lead others to Bethlehem.
I heard Bruce Springsteen interviewed, and think his story—his journey to Bethlehem—illustrates what each of us is called to realize. The interviewer said: “It must be incredible for you to draw 50,000 people to Yankee Stadium for a concert, and there see them hang on every lyric of your songs. It must be some powerful experience to see how much you’ve inspired people for over 4 decades now. What’s it like?”
Springsteen reflectively said that yes, it IS pretty moving for him to see this adulation—the rapt attention of so many. He continued the reflection saying—“I’d like to find a Bruce Springsteen, too, and I’d be at that concert, too—because I’d like nothing more than for someone to inspire me—and lead me out of what has been my lifelong, chronic depression.”
Knowing his son was a student at Boston College, I smiled and thought that he probably heard somewhere along the way, a Jesuit (or someone) speak of our common journey to Bethlehem—where we are called to bring the gold, frankincense, and myrrh—the gift—of our life. And share it along the way with others—en route to the new birth God calls us to discover. On this journey, we sometimes take a wrong turn or carry our depression or sense of shortcomings—needful of finding God’s word of new life.
May this 2nd week of Advent—continue to show us our need for new life, and the need others have for us to be a life-giving traveling companion with them, as they, too, seek rebirth.
Odds and Ends
1) Christmas reminder: call the office and tell us which mass you hope to attend (or leave a message on the answering machine). We’ll have a 4 p.m. at St. Mary’s and 6 p.m. at Sacred Heart on Christmas Eve. Christmas day masses are 9 at Sacred Heart and 11 at St. Mary’s. Ushers will permit entry to those who have reserved a place at the different masses. Doors will be open 30 minutes before the masses. IRENE—ASK DENNIS WHEN DOORS WILL BE OPEN—I THINK HE SAID 30 MINUTES BEFOREHAND
2) Christ’s Mission Appeal is one way of “virtually” being like Xavier or the missionary women and Jesuits in El Salvador. Your support of the CMA goes to outreaches such as they did—and much more. I had hoped we’d have reached our $85k goal by now—but we still have a ways to go. Loose change in the collection box will go to the CMA with whatever envelopes you submit. Maybe think of your support of CMA being like your bringing of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the Lord—your gifts that will help his manger-presence feed the world.
3) Because the virus is increasing in severity and not receding, we will continue to follow the protocol put into place when Covid first hit. We do this with the intention of protecting our people—and we look forward to when life might return to normal.
November 29, 2020
If I were Mark, and you were my community, I’d be doing my best to convey some consolation to you because you’ve been a persecuted community. Nero martyred many of our number, and we are wondering if ever the Lord is going to return as promised. In short, Mark tells us to be prepared for the Lord’s return. We don’t know when his second coming will take place or when the eternal Kingdom will be established—but we can at least live our lives as he instructed–and be prepared.
During my absence, I was reminded of tears still shed within our faith community—when I learned of two parishioners going back to God. It was disappointing that I was neutralized and unable to do anything for their families or anyone at this time.
Then last week, a boxer pup I acquired 10 years ago died—tears of a different kind when we lose these special friends. Being an anthropologist who forever reads or writes about burials from antiquity, I thought of all the human losses (and losses of pets) that have taken place down through the millennia—all of whose losses brought tears to people.
What came to mind was that our tears—past and present—for human or animal loved ones—are symbols of gratitude to a God who has blest us so powerfully with the lives we mourn.
No sooner am I caught up with this reflection of how God has blest us with those who’ve owned our hearts—than I think of how we are bombarded at this time of year with thoughts of Black Friday, small business Saturday, and cyber Monday. The gospel of Wall Street intrudes upon my reflection on God’s gift of loved ones and lures me into contemplating what I should buy—things advertised to bring me happiness, and produce within me the wonderful smiles that actors project into the commercials.
Before continuing, please know that I am not going to lecture against your acquiring another bracelet or gem to add to your already large collection of bracelets and gems. Like you, I, too, am prey to the allure of accumulating the glitz and glamor of more “stuff” (which will one day be at a garage sale or given to Goodwill). On this point, do what you think you need to do—get more stuff, donate to CMA or some other worthwhile charity, or simply be yourself and reverently observe the sacredness of the season as best as you can.
During my convalescence, I saw a television ad that showed a beautiful, heavenly model (an angel?) slowly taking a piece of chocolate and dreamily consuming it, kiss-like—lost in the greatest pleasure life offers (so the commercial would have us buyers-of-chocolate believe).
By CONTRAST, I thought of the Church’s Advent season reminding us of another hunger—which calls us to seek a manger—a feeding trough—where there is a food that can’t be bought on Amazon at some discount price. Secular society calls us to self-indulgence while this sacred season calls us to metaphorically travel to Bethlehem. The advent season calls us to find new life. And we’re told that all we need do is seek—and that we’ll find it.
The cynic in us might muse “Yah yah–seek and you will find. I’ve heard that one before. Tell me something I don’t know.”
Okay. Maybe these recent experiences in my life might inspire you to look at your own experience—and so draw closer to the outskirts of Bethlehem this first Sunday of advent.
Christian spirituality tells us that “God writes straight in crooked lines.” I thought of this aphorism when thinking of my pup. All dog owners will right away know what I describe—which is that our dog tells us what Advent is all about. In short, we can find the new life God calls us to live–where we least expect to find it.
When one lets their dog outside in the morning, they see their little friend behave as if they’re in a whole new world—as if they’d never been in that yard before (but which, in reality, they’ve been in 365 days a year). We see our pup investigate a tree as if seeing that tree for the first time (when we, all-knowing humans that we think we are, wonder why the heck all this sniffing and inspecting is taking place). Awake you humans–our pup’s sense of smell makes the backyard a whole new world that he’s trying to make sense of—because it IS A WHOLE NEW WORLD (that we don’t see or sense).
Since last being in that yard, the person and their pup have no clue what has passed over the grass or floated down from the sky—to modify the terrain substantially. THAT is what our dog is discovering—their sense of smell so much more powerful than ours. Meanwhile, we tell our canine friend to take care of business. There’s nothing to see. There’s nothing to discover. We’re human. You’re a dog, and we know more than you. Really? We know what the terrain of life is all about. We know what the landscape of our past and present experience has produced. Oh, really?
Our pup is telling us, colloquially: “You don’t know NUTHIN! There are all sorts of things to learn about the yard this morning. All you see are the same crooked lines of a back yard, but there’s more to this yard than what you see. You think you know everything—but you don’t.”
And so it is with Advent. We are in this period leading to Christmas—called to look at our lives—and discern where we need new life, new birth, new eyes, new heart. Where we need to be reborn—and fed at the manger of our everyday lives.
We might say that we know our back yard. It’s terrain we’ve traveled many times. We know our spouse, our kids, our friends, neighbors, and what life’s all about. Advent, however, is reminding us that we might not know as much as we think we do. And what we might perceive as roots for our lives—are instead ruts that we need to move beyond. God is writing straight but we are not detecting the sense of our live’s crooked lines. Our mode might be one of just resignation “to the way things are.” [Not God’s message]
Advent tells us that—like our pup—we need to look at our world more closely—peer past the material distractions and encounter God speaking to us—seeing how God writes straight in the crooked lines of our lives.
I was reminded of a homey example of this same reality when a parishioner brought me a plate of turkey on Thanksgiving. It came on a paper plate, and I was reminded of a family Thanksgiving when I was about 9 years old. Mom set on the table in paper, Thanksgiving-motif plates our dinner—bacon, and eggs. No sooner did she do this than she started crying—my family consoling her that this was a great dinner.
The ”crooked lines” of that experience were that my dad had lost his business and we were reduced to poverty (which made for embarrassment, tears, and going without). Previously, the family was “well off” and we used to have a wonderful banquet on Thanksgiving. And God’s grace swept over us as we all agreed that bacon and eggs were great to have. We at least had something—and we had one another. I consider this experience to be one of the great graces of my life. We had so much to be thankful for.
This past week, a few parishioners sent me a recently posted Diocesan article about my work with Black Elk (the famous holy-man). As I’ve mentioned in the past, the man is globally known and admired—and two of my books placed him on the road to canonization as a saint in the Catholic Church (Episcopalians already call him one). While this is all well and good, I confess to having had zero interest in learning about the man’s practice of Catholicism. I instead sought to learn about his fighting the U.S. cavalry, his mystical experiences as a medicine man, his taking of scalps, and hunting buffalo. This Catholic piety-thing was not on my radar of interest.
But as you know, God writes straight in crooked lines. In the course of doing fieldwork in search of what I wanted to learn, God apparently used me/inspired me/led me (whatever phrase might apply to how God is active in our lives)—to uncover the man’s role as a Lakota Catholic (a role that was heretofore unknown and which now is a great contribution to Lakota historical studies). Without wanting to be, I became God’s accomplice—struggling through the crooked lines of seeking other material but getting information or data that took me to a new world.
Today’s gospel passage simply tells us to be alert—to be on guard—on the watch for how God will come to us. Advent calls us forward to Bethlehem—to hear God’s word afresh, to find not God’s birth at Bethlehem but our re-birth in 2020 as a more insightful, more grounded disciple.
Advent RITUALLY reminds us that we are en route to Bethlehem. So over these weeks, talk to God and ask that you might spot the signposts which lead you there. Ask that you might not be stopped by distractions along the way—and that if you’re floundering in some life-area, tell God to drag you back to the road that leads to the manger—where you’ll be fed.
For each of us is Mary—naïve, embarrassed by our lowly condition. Each of us is Joseph, perhaps buoyed by our love for a girl from the village, devout in our faith—but then, things fall apart. The girl is pregnant by who? Where is God? Dreams of angels call us to live our faith—but some experiences make living by faith really hard to do.
Like them, we move on—past the small weddings and well wishes of life, and we move on and look for a place to live. Often enough, we feel as if we only see signs which say no vacancy (which can also mean we feel as if others exclude us or don’t welcome us).
Where is Advent taking Mary and Joseph—and us? Faith propels us as we try and remember the promise of Bethlehem—and that new birth results from this life-journey of stops, starts, wrong turns, and getting back on course. We’re comforted in belonging to a faith-community of wise men and women who likewise head toward the city of David—like us, called to read what God has written in the crooked lines of their life-experience.
November 22, 2020
This weekend is the feast of Christ the King. The title of the feast day seems old-fashioned since the word “king” does not resonate with our experience. It’s a word we associate with European history—and with countries fighting under the banner of different royal families. The word “King” smacks of bygone times and irrelevant images of dukes, duchesses, princes, and princesses.
It was Pope Pius XI who instituted the Feast of Christ the King in 1925. During this period (and before), the Vatican had been a secular power controlling a fair amount of land in Italy. A complicated history saw the Pope reach a settlement with Italy in 1929 that made the Vatican the smallest sovereign state in the world—in both area (129 acres) and population (825).
That said, and regardless of how irrelevant the word “king” is to our everyday life, the feast definitely has an important meaning for each of us—especially in these troubled political times. Back in 1925, the pope and his advisors thought we should reflect on the kingship of Christ as an antidote to the secularism and nationalism that were on the rise (remember Mussolini and Hitler, both “fascists,” came to power at this time).
Recall “fascism” refers to an authoritarian leader who emphasizes a national identity (“real” white Americans) over all others and who challenges freedom of the press and assembly. Fascistic leaders overthrow elections claiming corruption on the part of all opponents—thus setting up a dictatorship. A contemporary politician put it this way: “Don’t believe what you see or hear, but believe what I tell you.” THAT is pure fascism—American vintage 2020.
N.B., During the election, you heard reference to “Antifa”—which was made out to be an evil organization that was going to overthrow football, gun rights, Christianity, apple pie, and motherhood. What was the reality of “Antifa?” First of all, it stands for “anti-fascist.” People who associate with the word “Antifa” are people who believe in the Bill of Rights and Constitution. I would think that everyone in our parish has “Antifa” attitudes and thoughts. After all, Antifa is simply anyone who believes in the election process, that all people are created equal, and that our country is a democracy and not a fascist state.
Antifa is NOT an organization! However, its fascistic opponents made “Antifa” out to be a non-White, national gang of armed thugs heading to overthrow Hemlock and Merrill and all other small towns USA. This is utter silliness— but “conspiracy theorists” have made this image of Antifa popular among the misinformed.
To illustrate how tragic our times are, the recently elected senator in Alabama (former football coach Tommy Tuberville) proudly stated that his father fought against socialists in WW2. No, Mr. Tuberville—the U.S. and Russia were allies in WW2—Russia being a socialist country ally. We were fighting Italy and Germany— FASCIST countries. To quote our founding fathers, “these are the times that try men’s souls”—when an elected senator doesn’t know what his dad fought against in WW2 and doesn’t know basic American history.
Mr. Tuberville defeated an intelligent opponent whose service of people was unimpeachable. And Mr. Tuberville in 2014, founded the Tommy Tuberville Foundation, which said it would help American veterans. In 2020, the Associated Press reported that tax records showed the foundation spent only about one-third of the money it raised on charitable giving. Does that sound like someone you want to see in the Senate? Someone who runs a fraud-charity and who doesn’t know what his country stands for?
The relevance of our political times to Christ the King Sunday
When the Church declared this feast day, it was trying to address a problem it saw emerging in Europe (the rise of evil leadership in the persons of Mussolini and Hitler). THAT is the point this feast day addresses. It is telling you and me that none of our leaders are Christ. There is only one risen Lord, one Messiah—one “King” who we are called to honor and reverence.
This feast day speaks directly to a human phenomenon that regularly occurs throughout history. Namely, there often arises a charismatic leader who, for one reason or another, is able to appeal to crowds. The people, in turn, pledge their undying support of the charismatic leader who, sadly, often leads people to their deaths.
Reference here is not to current politicians at all. If it helps to think of Trump, Pence, Biden, Harris, Obama, Clinton, etc., etc.—fine. But the issue is broader than them. Most of you recall Jim Jones of Guyana fame—and how he convinced his followers that he had the words to eternal life. He persuaded them to “drink the Kool-Aid” and over 900 died. We now have a phrase in English “don’t drink the Kool-Aid”—which refers to stopping yourself from getting hooked by a master con-man (someone who persuades you to act against your own self-interest).
Then there was Marshall Applewhite—who founded Heaven’s Gate. This man convinced regular people like you—that a spaceship was on the other side of the Hale-Bopp comet. In order to get on board the alien spacecraft, people needed to commit suicide—which 39 followers of Applewhite did. They were not extremist, mentally ill people, but were regular souls who had families just like yours. One follower afterward regretted missing the opportunity to go with his crewmates—so ingrained can one’s delusion be.
For some years, “Gabriel of Sedona” leads a group in Sedona, Arizona who regard him as the representative of the “Divine Master of Navidon” (the name of some entity he claims is the creator of the universe). People give their belongings to Gabriel—a one-time musician from Pittsburgh whose charismatic style has won the minds and hearts of these regular, everyday U.S. folk. And when Charles Manson died (I lived about 5 miles from his birth home and knew people who knew him from childhood), he left behind thousands of adoring followers.
The list of charismatic leaders can go on and on (e.g., look at TV preachers rake in cash—how are they able to so manipulate people?). The idea of “Christ the King” is the idea that each of us is Christian— and that we pledge allegiance to one person only—the risen Lord Jesus. You do not pledge allegiance to any country, or organization, or a person who claims special powers. No—you are a Christian who has been baptized into a faith that calls you to love others as Jesus loved us.
This weekend’s gospel is often used as a summary statement of what Christians believe. It never grows old—and should be tattooed on your heart. This week’s gospel cuts through the rhetoric of politicians and charismatic leaders who sell themselves as the Messiah. Anyone who portrays themselves in such terms—should make you flee in the opposite direction.
The king of our lives is very near to us—in diverse ways. Sometimes we recognize him and sometimes we do not. Which is why it is important to keep in mind the following: ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me.’
When you hear someone speak in these terms, you are listening to the voice of God. When someone does NOT speak in these terms, you are not hearing the voice of God.
November 15, 2020
I’m taking this opportunity to elaborate a topic I’ve previously raised in passing–understanding marriage NOT as it is understood in 1st world countries today but how it has been understood down through the ages–and among most of the earth’s inhabitants still. I do so because the gospel passage about the 5 empty and 5 full lamps is a good entré to the subject.
Recall the main character apart from the girls is the groom coming back late to his house for the big celebration. Where’s his bride? Why is he late? (N.B.: we ask those sorts of questions but listeners of the first century probably assumed the bride was there so it wasn’t necessary to mention her, or anyone else, coming back later; also, it was probably not uncommon for grooms to return late).
In America, people commonly think of marriage as being the meeting of hearts, minds, and bodies. Young people think they can live up to this understanding of the institution: “when two people are under the influence of the most violent, the most insane, the most delusionary, and most transient of passions, they are required to swear that they will remain in that excited, abnormal, and exhausting condition continuously until death do us part!”
Cultures try to deal with faulty understandings of the reality of marriage. For example, all of our ancestors accepted a fact of life that could be phrased this way: “marriage is the foundation of society—so elders must be the ones to choose who marries who.” This thinking is at the heart of what you hear referred to as “arranged marriage.” Stated another way: marriage is too important a decision for young people to make.
Contrary to definitions of marriage that poetically include notions of “love,” the global reality is the opposite. That is, marriage is an economic and political transaction uniting two groups. That might not match your romantic notion of marriage when you were young and in love—but for most of the world today, that definition still rules the day.
Think of India with 3 times as many people as the U.S.—arranged marriages. Throughout Africa, the Middle East, Asia—arranged marriages.
How this played out in the time of Jesus
Betrothal was the initial phase of the marriage process in which prospective spouses (who were first cousins) negotiated expectations (one could be betrothed at a very young age). A formal divorce was required to break the public establishment of the betrothal. Sex with a betrothed woman (“woman” in this context could be 10 years old) was considered adultery.
Israelite marriage saw the bride move to the area of her husband’s family dwellings. The couple did not just up and decide to “set up our own place by the sea.” Nor could the bride pout and plead that they remain close to her family “because I’m so close to my grandmother and aunts.” Nope. That sort of gamesmanship takes place in America, but in all cultures of the world—it doesn’t fly.
Marriages were arranged by parents to join extended families (not individuals). Neither the bride nor groom expected love, companionship, or comfort. In this rigidly gender-divided world, men and women had very little contact. Both realized that their union was arranged for the political or economic advantage of their families.
There is a ritualized removal of a woman from her family after the groom’s father offers gifts and services. The bride’s father makes the final decision. HOWEVER, women of both families negotiate so that neither family is shortchanged (they don’t want a girl who can’t cook very well, or who is lazy).
The patriarch of each family ratifies the contract publicly. When the groom takes the bride into his home, the marriage process is completed. In the gospel story, think of the groom’s late arrival occurring because of last-minute negotiations–or having some Jim Beam with his future in-laws.
In the first century, listeners knew the highpoint of the ceremony occurred when the groom went to the family house of the bride to transfer her to his home. This sort of ritual is common globally—just not here in America!
Who were the sleepy lamp bearers? Neither “bridesmaid” nor “virgin” are helpful translations. They were the groom’s siblings and cousins—all very young (they should have taken a nap during the day—so they were being taught a lesson for not using good judgment and not being prepared. There would be more feasts to attend, so don’t weep for the five sent home).
We have centuries of Marian devotions and perhaps fantasize Mary as a lovely bride—not realizing that Mary was probably 13 when she and Joseph took their honeymoon in Egypt as they escaped Herod’s wrath.
What was the role of the 10 girls awaiting the groom’s return with his bride? They were to greet and celebrate at the house until the “consummation” of the marriage (i.e., until the couple have—pick your preference—copulated, had sexual intercourse, “made love”). Keep in mind that “love” has no role in this physical act under these cultural rules. A crowning moment of this “love story” (?) is the display of the blood-stained bed sheet demonstrating that the bride possessed physical integrity (an intact hymen) as required by Deuteronomy 22: 13- 21.
Now that you’re familiar with all the cultural “baggage” involved with this parable, what can you take away from the story?
Matthew’s community included recently converted Jews, so the 5 wise ones could refer to those who were ready to receive Jesus as the messiah (and the 5 unwise ones those who stuck to the old ways). After Jesus’ death and resurrection, Christians awaiting his imminent return added verse 13 to the parable: “So keep awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” Minimally, it is good advice if one is thinking about the return of Jesus or the end of the world. The parable provides both positive and negative models.
November 8, 2020
November 1, 2020
In the early Church, all baptized Christians referred to themselves as the community of the “saints.” All Saints day was, in a sense, a celebration of their community. They celebrated their membership who was now with God. Eventually, centuries later, the community recognized all who died, and so came up with All Souls day (All Saints was reserved just for those who had been officially recognized by the Church).
The gospel reading for these two feast days is appropriate. It’s Matthew’s account of the beatitudes (Luke’s gospel having another account of the beatitudes). But what sense are we to make of Luke citing 4 (blessed are the poor, the hungry, the weeping, and those who are hated) and Matthew citing 9? Did Luke’s tape-recorder lose power when he recorded Jesus speaking? And why did Luke present the scene as taking place on the plain while Matthew had him speak the beatitudes on a mountain? Why couldn’t the gospel-writers get the story straight?
Here’s one way of looking at the discrepancy.
Both men are simply describing a cross section of the faith-community. We ALL, in some way, are “blessed” (which means “honorable” or deserving of respect).
Pope Francis did the same. He proposed the following:
- Blessed are those who remain faithful while enduring evils inflicted on them by others and forgive them from their heart
- Blessed are those who look into the eyes of the abandoned and marginalized and show them their closeness
- Blessed are those who see God in every person and strive to make others also discover Him
- Blessed are those who protect and care for our common home
- Blessed are those who renounce their own comfort in order to help others
- Blessed are those who pray and work for full communion between Christians.
In seeing the Pope’s list, I thought of a few more–and encourage you to look at your life, and list the “blessed” ones who come to mind.
Blessed are you who are lonely but who are still able to smile at others. Who feel you don’t have many friends, but still reach out to people. Who are tempted to do things you know are not right, but don’t do them. Who are depressed, but don’t spread your blues to those around you. Who feel overwhelmed by various demands, but who still try to be of help where you can. Blessed are those who do–and those who try. Blessed are the truck drivers, and bus drivers and those who organize carpools. Blessed are those who are teachers and daycare workers. Blessed are the frontline dishwashers, cooks, and those who do the grocery shopping. Blessed are those who look over homework, those who are tutors, and teacher aides. Blessed are the cleaners and those who sanitize. Blessed are those who pray for those in need. Blessed are lectors, ushers, collection counters—and all who try to serve the faith community in different ways. And yes, blessed are those who take Christ’s Mission Appeal to heart–and make it part of their Christmas giving.
These holy days are a celebration of our faith community—and the beatitudes describe each of you. You could add “Blessed is (your name).” Seriously! Theologically, that’s a fact.
That’s why the 2nd reading is appropriate for this holy-day celebration. Notice you are being referred to as God’s “beloved.” And so the faith community celebrates the memory of all those “beloved” of God who have returned to God.
Which is what we’re doing today—with our table of candles and pictures of our “beloved” who we lost this past year. Family members feel the void these people have left, and we, the faith community, share their loss.
Our tears and sense of loss that family members feel are our testimony to how cherished they were in our lives. God knows how you feel.
We look at the photos and think “This is my child, my wife, my husband, my sister, my brother, my father, mother, grandmother, friend . . .. “–but no sooner do we think of those we’ve lost, than God tries to remind us “Before you came to be, I was! Before you knew them, they were mine. They were, and remain, my beloved. I take care of my beloved.”
In losing young, middle-age and older people this past year, it’s important to keep in mind that their perspective is different from ours. They know what eye has not seen nor ear heard. Their life, like ours, has changed—not ended. We might wonder about “eternal life” or “heaven,” and wonder if our loved ones are with God. It’s important to remember that in God’s eyes, our loved one is God’s beloved first. That might suggest to you what their eternal destiny is—as God understands the human condition (and the human condition of our loved ones who’ve passed away) better than we do.
I received an email this week from a friend in Huron County which described life there. It reminded me of life here—so I share with you her reflection on her home parish:
“Rural life . . . how painful I find it to watch this community fade away as my dad’s generation slowly dies off . . . one after another . . . and no young people to replace the quaint family farms that are now practically extinct. I don’t think I will ever recover from that sense of loss . . . it cuts me to my core.
Women who led 4-H youth groups—who knew my name at church and neighbors who brought over coffee cakes at Christmas and Easter because that is what neighbors did back then. Six people gone from the square mile my dad lives on . . . just in the past few years.
Sometimes I recapture memories by escaping to my brother’s house where his children are a wonderful and joyful relief. I always make cookies or some treat of sorts and they all huddle around the KitchenAid Mixer. I am instructed to tickle them . . . “tickle me” they say . . . and so I do . . . and they laugh and laugh.”
My friend’s reflections reminded me of us. Her faith-community and ours—who will receive the torch passed from those we’ve lost? Who will fill their vacancy? We have our mission, so I share this poem apropos of the feast day.
I sing a song of the saints of God
Patient and brave and true,
Who toiled and fought and lived and died
For the Lord they loved and knew.
And one was a doctor, and one was a queen,
And one was a shepherdess on the green:
They were all of them saints of God — and I mean,
God help me be one, too
They loved their Lord so dear, so dear,
And his love made them strong.
And they followed the right, for Jesus’s sake,
The whole of their good lives long.
And one was a soldier, and one was a priest,
And one was slain by a fierce wild beast:
And there’s not any reason — no, not the least–
Why I shouldn’t be one too.
They lived not only in ages past,
There are hundreds of thousands still
The world is bright with the joyous saints
Who want to do God’s will.
You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea,
In church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea,
For the saints of God are folk just like we,
So let’s try to be one, too.
October 25, 2020
The first 5 books of Hebrew scripture—which we call the Old Testament—are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. It is said that there are 613 commandments in these 5 books (called the “Torah” by Jewish people)—248 of which are “positive” (“thou shalt DO” something) and 365 “negative” (“thou shalt NOT do” something).
People who were strong believers in “numerology” once thought that there are 248 bones in the human body (there are actually 206)—and that our bones should be “doing” all 613 commandments 365 days of the year (See the connection? 248 + 365 = 613). More importantly, it was the custom of Temple teachers to try and reduce the Torah into one or a few statements, e.g., King David summarized the Torah in 11 verses, Isaiah in 6, Micah in 3, and Amos in 1—viz., “God said to Israel: Seek me and live!”
I like what Amos said—because it points to a truth that too many people don’t realize. That is, God gave us everything and wants us to live life to the fullest. God does NOT give us everything so that we feel eternally in debt, or beholden, or unworthy of such generosity. Rather, God wants us to be happy persons who rejoice in all the wonders of creation around us—be they people, geographical features, all the plants and animals, or stars in the sky. God doesn’t need anything—certainly not our animal sacrifices or other culturally-contoured religious behaviors. Rather, all God seeks is a relationship with us—the children of a loving God. That’s why Amos reduced the Torah to: “Seek God—and live!”
Knowing this background, you now know why Jesus is asked to summarize the law and the prophets (i.e., the Torah). This is what people used to do—creatively express what the Torah said (in fewer words). Which reminds me. Some weeks back I gave you a sentence related to us living up to our Christian-Catholic identity. I said that we need to remind ourselves: “If it is to be, it is up to me.” Stated simply, we need to back up our religious thoughts and desires with action. So how about coming up with your own summary of what the gospels say to you? If you come up with something you think others should hear—email or call me or the office—and maybe it should go in the bulletin. If you do not wish to be identified—fine—but maybe others will benefit from your reflection.
N.B., I’ll reserve the right to NOT put something in the bulletin if I notice it might be heretical. For example, an early heresy said that Jesus wanted us to eat cantaloupe! Uh—the early Church told this group that he taught no such thing. I suspect they were upset with that judgment—but if feelings were hurt, they weren’t passed down to new generations. I have not heard of that heresy preached anywhere recently.
Jesus blended Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18—the vertical/horizontal understanding that to love God was to love one’s neighbor. HOWEVER, in the context of Leviticus, one’s “neighbor” was a fellow Israelite, or one’s “home boys” back in one or another Nazareth neighborhood. That is, there was a certain ethnic bias one was called to observe—whether one “felt” warm and cuddly toward a kinsman—or not. Just as we are closer to some relatives and friends, so were the Israelites—but Leviticus told them to transcend feelings and support their people. In Luke, Jesus expanded the meaning of “neighbor.” Which leads to a topic I need to address this weekend.
Parishes throughout the land—in every diocese in the U.S.—are part of the local, yearly, Church “appeal.” Bishop Gruss has named ours “Christ’s Mission Appeal”—intending to convey that Jesus himself is asking us to reach into our pockets and, in doing so, reach out to the world beyond Ryan, Merrill, and Hemlock. Like you, I have been in the pews over the years—rolling my eyes upon hearing a priest or layperson tell us that we needed to contribute to the diocesan appeal. Like everyone else, I could not wait for the speaker to conclude.
And now I find myself having to address this topic with you—on my first anniversary weekend of being here. On the one hand, I have no desire to represent the Church as a fund-raiser. On the other hand, I find the role an extremely important one—God in a way telling me: “Mike—it’s not how you FEEL about this topic. It’s that my people are in need—and you have to represent them to the parish.” Therefore, people of Hemlock, Merrill, and Ryan—I present to you my understanding of Christ’s Mission Appeal.
I think the temptation is to think the diocese will spend funds frivolously, or not spend on the important matters that you think it should address. The temptation exists for us to think to ourselves “The heck with this—I’m not giving anything to a diocese that _________________” (fill in the blank). The fact is, each of us can be critical of one thing or another—in any institution, we might claim membership. And not give anything to anyone.
When I was ordained, people asked me “why are you doing this?” And they listed their reasons for why I should not take this route. Although several reasons motivated me, I often said that my plan—as a member of the loyal opposition within the Church—was to infiltrate the institution in order to change it. Young and naïve to think I could make a difference, time has tempered my Vatican 2 optimism.
Pope John the 23rd opened the Church windows in order to let in the Holy Spirit and freshen it up from centuries of mildew and mold—but rebellion in the ranks put people in place who ended the reforms that Vatican 2 initiated. I’m at least glad that my books on Black Elk put this Sioux holy-man on the road to canonization as a saint. I never could have known that the churchman who got the Conference of bishops to approve Black Elk’s nomination—would be the bishop responsible for bringing me to Merrill, Hemlock, and Ryan—our own Bishop Gruss. It is he who now spearheads Christ’s Mission Appeal. Guess what? I am honored to represent this cause.
Why? Because through the appeal, we are “loving our neighbor” as Jesus calls us to do in today’s gospel. We are supporting Catholic Family Services—which provides counseling and assistance to young and old who are in need throughout the diocese. As a one-time teacher-chaplain at Nouvel, I was grateful that the Appeal supported Catholic education—which has seen so many schools close. I recently asked an engaged couple to take advantage of a pre-marriage seminar that the diocese conducted. Recently, I received counsel from the bishop’s faith formation program. THESE are just some of the services that Christ’s Mission Appeal PARTIALLY subsidizes (because so many more funds are needed to fully support all the different needs).
Last month an article appeared in Faith magazine that featured my presentation on Black Elk that was presented here at the parish. Last weekend I cited all the different issues that our faith calls us to address—environment, right-to-life, hunger, refugees, etc. It is the Communications Office that publishes material on these issues throughout the year—catechizing (teaching) us about them. But what I cite here is just the tip of the iceberg of what our outreach accomplishes.
You may recall that we used to see 12-collections-a-year at parishes. Now we have only 4—one of which was a couple of weeks ago–“Mission Sunday.” We collected a little over $800 dollars for that collection. I thought that sum was pretty decent. Sure, people could say we should have collected more—but I’m grateful for anything. I know that asking for donations can touch a nerve. When I see $800 dollars going to people in need, I thank God for those who feelingly responded to those who rely on our help. Which leads to my telling you what happened to the 8 other collections that used to be taken.
Christ’s Mission Appeal supports those 8. They are: 1) the Church in Latin America (so much poverty there—which our lay and religious missionaries address); 2) the Black and Indian Missions (which meant so much to me when I was on the Indian missions—truly in need of our help); 3) the Holy Land (few Christians are at the sacred places—so our Appeal helps support the Franciscans, and others, who are a minority Catholic presence); 4) Catholic Home Missions Appeal (having spent many years in Appalachia, I can only say “thank you” for the help this collection brought to us); 5) Catholic Communication Campaign (keeps the Church visible on the national level—helping the Church play an essential public role in the nation); 6) Peter’s Pence Collection (which provides the Pope with funding to have “boots on the ground” in every country of the world—why “Catholic” means “universal”); 7) The Catholic University of America (while all Catholic colleges must raise funds on their own, this school exists because of a mandate issued in the late 1800s to have a sponsored Catholic university); and 8) the Solidarity Fund for the Church in Africa (the many African Catholic priests now serving in the U.S. were ordained because such a collection exists).
I would like to think our parish embodies what Paul’s letter today says. We can be “a model for all believers.” The $86,649 that has been set as our target—really is not that much to ask 452 envelope holders to support. In considering what our contribution does—we should proudly give to what today’s Exodus reading refers—the widows, the orphans, the refugees so desperate to simply stay alive. Like the God we say we serve, we “hear their cry and are compassionate.”
You may recall the photo of the little 3-year-old boy lying dead on a Mediterranean beach—his family’s boat capsizing as they fled Turkey’s oppressive regime. There lay this little innocent—wearing shorts and gym shoes—a victim of adult sin—which our funding desperately tries to overcome.
You know of my books on the Sioux holy-man, Black Elk. One day, his daughter said: “Mike, will you mail this for me?” I saw it was addressed to Catholic Relief Services and asked her why she was writing them. She said: “My father told us to help others financially because there is always someone worse off than us—and they need our help. Each year I send them a dollar.” I was emotionally moved to hear her say this. Why?
Because Lucy lived in a log cabin with no running water—just an electric line. An outhouse was her bathroom which, 50 feet distant from her house, was a challenge to access when 2 feet of snow covered the ground in winter. She was destitute.
I’m not going to speak about this Mission Appeal again. I have confidence in our parishioners knocking off our goal in the weeks ahead. In fact, I look forward to the diocese calling me and saying that John 23rd has reached its goal (anything over it comes back to the parish—unlike my experience as a pastor in the U.P.). I say this because we have people who donate generously out of the clear blue. I do not know what motivates them to do this (anonymously or not)—but maybe they are moved by the same Spirit that prompted Lucy to donate her dollar bill.
Last Christmas I was touched that people gave me expressions of thanks. If anyone feels so moved this year, donate instead to the Mission Appeal. THAT is what I would appreciate. It just seems to me that in the weeks ahead, all the charities in the world will be asking you for donations, and the Salvation Army will be at every business as you enter. As today’s gospel states, I think our parish community will love God by loving our neighbor represented in the diverse outreaches of the Mission Appeal. We are supposed to send our donations to the diocese (eliminating our office as the middle-man), but any loose bills or change that you put in the box at the back of church—will go to CMA.
It would really be great if one of us became a lottery winner and shared our success with the parish—but experience has given me a more sober attitude about such dreams. My parish in the U.P. was 500 yards from the newly built casino, and I thought that lucky winners might thank God for their success and enhance our parish collection by dropping off part of their windfall. Guess what? Our collection went from about $350 a week to about $350 a week! No increase at all. Darnit.
Realistically, would it not be totally cool to have our light shine for the diocese as a whole? How neat it would be for the diocese to announce that Merrill, Hemlock, and Ryan responded quickly to our responsibility—and hit our goal before Christmas. The diocese as a whole will look to our country parish—and perhaps be inspired to do the same—so that Christmas for others will be more meaningful. Their lives will be better because we took to heart the 10 word sentence about Christian stewardship: “If it is to be, it is up to US.”
Let this story be an inspiration to your CMA generosity 😊
Sitting by the window of her convent, Sister Barbara opened a letter from home one evening. Inside the letter was a $100 bill her parents had sent. Sister Barbara smiled at the gesture.
As she read the letter by the window, she noticed a shabbily dressed stranger leaning against the lamp post below.
Quickly, she wrote, “Don’t despair. – Sister Barbara” on a piece of paper, wrapped the $100 bill in it, got the man’s attention, and tossed it out the window to him. The stranger picked it up, and with a puzzled expression and a tip of his hat, went off down the street.
The next day, Sister Barbara was told that a man was at her door, insisting on seeing her.
She went down and found the stranger waiting. Without a word, he handed her a huge wad of $100 bills. “What’s this?” she asked.
“That’s the $8,000 you have coming Sister,” he replied. “Don’t Despair paid 80-to-1.”
TRUNK OR TREAT AFTER THE 11 A.M. MASS NOVEMBER 2 IN ST. MARY’S PARKING LOT
Need a retreat?
Dan Schutte is a liturgical musician well known for many songs you’ve sung at masses down through the years. You may consider doing a “virtual retreat” under him. See this website: https://www.danschuttemusic.com/wordpressstore/individual-virtu OR
Dan and I taught together on the Pine Ridge Reservation—a sampling of his songs are below—good to play as background music at home—inspirational and helpful for prayer and elevating your thoughts:
Though the Mountains May Fall
You Are Near
With Merry Dancing
Sing A New Song
City of God
Here I Am, Lord (a favorite of all who appreciate sacred music—3 versions)
Faith formation needs a couple of teachers
You can do it—a great experience forming little ones (1st & 2nd graders).
Christ’s Mission Appeal Formula for Assessing Parishes
If you wish to see the assessment formula—you can. However, it is too complicated and long to include in the bulletin. As I mentioned at mass, spread out over 452 envelope users, our target is not very much—which is why I encourage you to take care of this right now—as our Christmas charity. We can complete this contribution in just a few weeks. Remember to make checks payable to the diocese. You can save a stamp and have us send it in, otherwise 5800 Weiss, Sag. 48603. OR, put your change or bills or envelope in the box at church when you come to mass.
Different churches are implementing old and new protocols. An epidemiologist friend of mine who has worked with Dr. Fauci said that now was NOT the time to relax our guard.
October 18, 2020
This weekend’s first reading (I Thessalonians) is thought to be the earliest New Testament document—written around the year 50 A.D. (or, if you prefer, “CE”—the “Common Era”).
The gospel reading offers us the well-known passage related to politics—its appearance at this election time of year purely coincidental: “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. Give to God the things that are God’s.” Generations of Christians have used this passage in different ways—sometimes to the detriment of the gospel.
For example, in having Christianity be the religion of the state, all sorts of problems resulted from the two blending together (e.g., the persecution of anyone who wasn’t Christian). At the time of the Reformation, Germany’s emperor sided with Luther against the Pope (who at the time was not just a spiritual leader but also a secular ruler in charge of the “Papal States”)—and so split the Church not just on theological grounds but also on political grounds (Germany no longer “Catholic” and becoming a “Lutheran” state).
In the time of Jesus, there was no sacred/secular distinction. The Temple was both a sacred and secular institution. It was the center of everyone’s life—within the realms of religion, politics, and economics. Jesus acknowledges that one has a duty of citizenship with taxes, but also (foremost) to God.
Missed by many readers down through the centuries was a point Matthew made within the dialogue of Jesus with the Temple authorities. When he asked them to produce a coin, they did so—and that act alone won him the argument. How so? Because his opponents tried to pass themselves off as holier-than-thou observers of all laws within Hebrew scripture. HOWEVER, by having in their possession a “graven image” of the emperor (who claimed to be a god), they were falling short of their religious identity as paragons of virtue. Instead of being a passage that spells out the role of gospel within politics, it is one that more so depicts Jesus as having a keener intellect than his Temple-critics.
If you’re looking for any kind of “political” agenda within the teachings of Jesus, you have simply to look at what he did in his short public ministry of 3 years. He observed what all observing Jews still today try to do (which we, whose roots are Jewish, are likewise called to do). The phrase Judaism uses is “Tikkun Olam” (the repair of the world). As the Hebrew scriptures said to Jesus (and us), repairing of the world arises out of our hunger and thirst for justice—and hearing the cry of the poor (which Temple authorities were ignoring).
Jesus’s 3-year ministry revealed his agenda to be the following: 1) healthcare for any who wanted it; 2) hearing and responding to the voice of the oppressed—as in the case of women—whose voices were ignored in the patriarchal culture of his time; and 3) speaking out against systems wielding power over the poor, the defenseless, and the outsider.
Note that when he took on the Temple system directly, he was killed within a week. Contrary to what many preachers have preached, and what might be consoling to you, is that Jesus did not concentrate on “personal” sins of the “flesh” nearly as much as the sins of corporate entities. His opponents who considered themselves so righteous and self-important were associated with sinful systems and empires. These are what we call sinful structures—which spawn such things as nepotism (i.e., being hired for WHO you know and not WHAT you know).
Jesus could say: “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! Woe to you, Jerusalem and Capernaum!” and “Woe to you corporate Pharisees, lawyers, and scribes!” He didn’t warn Bill of Bethsaida, Connie from Chorazin, Jerry of Jerusalem, Cathy from Capernaum, or Fred the Pharisee. Individual penitents he forgave, but he challenged unjust structures.
Although this week’s gospel is not a political declaration on the part of Jesus, it lends itself to us considering what mandate the gospel places on us as individual Catholic voters who can cast a ballot this election year.
Over the past year, I’ve reminded you that the gospel knows no geographical or ethnic boundaries and that our identity as Catholics makes us citizens of the world–brothers and sisters with different languages and different appearances (Jesus telling us that we are all children of God—despite what is said by people with prejudices). I’ve said that if we are to pledge allegiance to anything, it is first and foremost to God. Had German and American Christians made this pledge in 1941, we might have avoided World War 2. Instead, we chose as nations to kill one another—pledging allegiance to the tune of “Deutschland über alles” or the “Star-Spangled Banner.”
I make this observation as one whose brother was a U.S. Marine in the Pacific during WW2 and who returned home with what today would be called PTSD. So, my perspective is that of one whose family included someone from “the greatest generation.” Blind patriotism took Germany to war in hopes of gaining a cultural pride that had been lost in WWI. May we never confuse our identity as God’s children with being citizens of our country of birth.
Jesus reminds us of this in today’s gospel when he said: “Give to God the things that are God’s” (which is everything). That statement was translated into action by Saint Thomas More during the reign of Henry the 8 (who condemned him to death for not recognizing Henry as the head of the Catholic Church).
Just before his beheading, More told the executioner to remind everyone that he was “the King’s good servant, but God’s first.” And so it is with all citizens of all countries.
As with any election, issues are bandied about and people argue for or against different candidates. This past week, the bishops of Michigan were reminded that divisive partisan activity was violating several Vatican directives and the commitment made by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in their letter “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.” In short, a few bishops and priests are attracting attention by saying that Catholics are not Catholic if they vote a certain way (despite what Rome and the Conference have stated). You might find Cardinal Bernardin’s guideline more helpful than what these few bishops and priests are saying.
Seamless garment of life
Calling for a “Consistent Ethic of Life,” Bernardin stated that Catholics need a “seamless garment” philosophy (named after the robe Jesus wore at his death). That is, instead of being one-dimensional voters, we need to bring into our decision-making an all-inclusive ethic of life that links the diverse issues festering within society. You hear me speak of environmental issues, but I (and others) need to expand our repertoire of Catholic concerns.
We might be someone who favors capital punishment. Let’s face it, if someone we love is murdered, our instinctive reaction is to well up anger and vengeance (the “reptilian” part of our brain). We can even quote Exodus 21:24 and say the death penalty is biblically justified: “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” Our Catholic faith-community, however, reminds us that the NEW Testament (i.e., the gospels and not the Old Testament) says: “turn the other cheek.” Plus, Jesus was executed by the State. This is but one, of MANY, life-issues that we are called to pray about—and then cast our vote accordingly.
When the U.S. started the Iraq war (based on the lie that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction), jingoistic Americans shouted: “Nuke ‘em. Make a parking lot out of Iraq.” And when France didn’t allow American bombers to fly over their territory (because France knew the U.S. was being an unhinged aggressor nation), these same war-mongers pled for French fries to be renamed “freedom fries” (casting America’s aggression as patriotism).
Agree or disagree with this analysis of what is now America’s longest war, our Catholic faith DOES call us to account for allowing it to occur. With nuclear deterrence now able to destroy the earth, is it possible to have what used to be called a “just war?” Quakers have long said “no.” Where do you cast your lot on the topic of war—and what justifies it (if anything)?
Like capital punishment, this is but one of many issues that Catholics are called to discern at election time. Mercy-killing, climate change, abortion, the environment, air quality, water quality, refugees fleeing to survive, economic justice—the list is endless. Were Jesus alive today as himself (and not through us), he’d be busy challenging powerbrokers 24 hours a day. Since we Catholics belong to a faith community, we supposedly get more gospel input on issues than people who do not belong to a faith community.
I, for example, am not a business major nor an economics teacher. I do, however, get literature from fellow Catholics (bishops, Vatican, theologians, etc.) who DO work within these realms. Just as they did with war and capital punishment above, these sources provide us information that sheds light on where economic policy conflicts with the gospel. Drawing from the respected journal, Business Insider, for example, they report that since the “Reagan Revolution” (a name that suggests something positive but which, in reality, was detrimental to the poor), Americans have believed the enduring myth of “trickle-down economics.” The result of this policy is that the country’s wealth has become concentrated in the hands of a very small percentage—the middle class shrinking and producing more than ever a U.S. population of “haves and have nots.”
[Note: “Trickle-down” economics basically states that corporations and the wealthy should get large tax breaks so that they will reinvest their new fortune in producing jobs; this philosophy has gained congressional votes repeatedly—resulting in wealthy people and corporations NOT reinvesting their fortunes but instead keeping their gains—at the expense of everyone else.] One-time architect of trickle-down theory and Reagan economic adviser David Stockman admitted that “Ninety-two percent of the wealth is owned by five percent of the people.”
In discussions about the economy, the words of Bishop Camara of Brazil are worth keeping in mind: “I feed the poor and they call me a saint; I ask why they’re poor and they call me a communist.”
Even in bleak times, the people who Jesus wanted to uplift get further victimized while others flourish. During the COVID-19 pandemic so far, millionaires in the U. S. have increased their total net worth $637 billion. Moreover, their taxes have decreased 79% since 1980. Meanwhile, in 2019, the government reported that four in 10 Americans didn’t have enough cash in their bank accounts to cover a $400 unexpected expense. I’m reminded of the person who awakened to the reality of accepting economic crosses as “normal” for life until they went to college. There they observed: “I thought I was in the middle class until I went to college and learned that I was poor.”
The realms of war, capital punishment, and economics give us the dismal picture above—while dismal facts are also associated with each of the other issues. Like you, I have friends of goodwill who are going to vote for the candidates of each political party. Maybe all we can do is realize that no one candidate or political party can “repair the world” entirely. As voters, however, we can move in the direction of repair and healing by doing what Gandhi said: “Be the change you want to see.”
Odds and Ends
What used to be called the Catholic Service Appeal is now called Christ’s Mission Appeal. As you know, this subsidizes A to Z ministries within the Saginaw diocese. The goal we have been given is $85,649.00 (a figure based on zip code and envelope holders.
Parishioner Betty Blehm celebrated with husband Elmer this week their 69th wedding anniversary.
We seek applicants for teachers within the faith formation program. One is needed for the kindergarten/1st grade and one is needed for 2nd graders. I did this as a high school and college student—and found the role really helpful for ME. Call the office if you wish to apply for the role.
Here is a documentary in which I and Bishop Gruss appear. It addresses the life of Nicholas Black Elk—the man about whom I’ve written.
The parish thanks parishioners who said they’d remove the fallen trees at St. Patrick’s—quite a savings since their removal would have cost a pretty penny. Speaking of which, our weekly collection continues to be half of what it would be in non-virus times. Such is life.
A nice free film on Youtube—Eskimo behavior that it portrays reminded me of mask-wearing during this virus period.
October 11, 2020
On Saturday morning we had a funeral (Jackie Jarabeck) followed by a wedding (McFall/Bott) followed by the 4 p.m. mass. The day is a symbol of how we conduct our lives as people of the gospel. We bring our losses and gains to the altar of the Lord and ask God to help us steer a course that’s steadfast in faith, hope, and love in times of hurt and times of joy.
As Isaiah and Matthew say to us this weekend—our “steadfast course” will lead us to the “heavenly banquet,” or banquet on the mountain with God for all eternity.
This meal metaphor depicting heaven is used in Luke, too, and the apocryphal gospel of Thomas. These 3 writers point to different realities.
Matthew once again (as he did in last Sunday’s reading) reports that a “King” is having the banquet for his “Son” (the parable here is an allegory wherein one character stands for something else; in this case, the King is God the Father, and the Son is Jesus). Matthew, remember, is addressing a Jewish audience that is converting to Christianity—so he’s giving them a theological history.
The King/Father previously sent messengers inviting the Israelites to the heavenly banquet, but they rejected his messengers and Son—so he is now inviting others to the table of fellowship, the table of the Lord, the Eucharist. These non-Israelites are the Gentiles who Jewish converts now see sitting among them.
Matthew’s parable is a mini-history of Israel. In allegorical language, we see Israel’s rejection of prophets and a historical reference to the Jewish war with Rome in the year 70–during which the Temple and Jerusalem were destroyed. Matthew’s parable is interpreted as the punishment of Israel for rejecting the gospel and persecuting Christians.
Which leads to the point being made by Luke and Thomas (who don’t speak of a King and his Son but just of a person having a banquet). One needs to know that in antiquity, meals were an exclusive affair. Inclusive table fellowship in the early Christian community caused problems, as Paul noted in his letters to Corinth.
People in a status-conscious culture such as this would feel more than uneasy with a wedding banquet that has different levels of social classes. Since parables tell how God relates to us, you can see that Jesus’ parable in Luke and Thomas is directed against elites (chief priests/elders and anyone who observes a rigid exclusivity).
The gospels contrast their exclusivity with the open-hearted inclusivity expressed in the line: “Invite everyone you find” in the city square. The point is that God’s people ought to relate to each other in the same way. Do we?
Scholars suggest that Luke/Thomas and their banquet was given by a private individual and is closer to what Jesus preached (inclusivity at the table) whereas Matthew’s main focus was on his audience of former Jews converting. Were they willing to accept table inclusivity and other changes? Are we?
To be a gospel person, we’re always being called to greater conversion—but we have the human tendency to go into the more comfortable mode of “we’ve always done it this way.” To which, with the history he presents, Matthew is asking “where did THAT get you?”
Zoom ahead to the present, and we, too, have trouble expanding our circle of inclusivity. We’re okay with family and friends; and we’re patriotic when thinking of our country—but Christianity calls us out of ourselves, out of the familiar, and into missionary lands of “the other.”
This doesn’t mean that we are blind to behaviors and accept whatever comes our way. Matthew later has someone show up to the banquet not dressed properly—the ancient custom being to provide clothing for people upon arrival. But this fellow, apparently, does as he pleases—like one who doesn’t wear a mask when asked to do so during the virus.
We can be like that person, and examples abound. With church attendance declining these past decades, more and more people think they don’t need a Church. They define themselves as good people who don’t kill or steal—and so live their lives as followers of the gospel of MTV, Madison Avenue, social media bombardments of opinion unrelated to Christianity, and whatever social circuit they’ve made the pattern of their lives.
Do these people (us) read theological articles or read/watch Christian-based material? Do these people have a strong enough background on ethical topics such that they can express an intelligent opinion in meetings or at the voting booth? Or is their education on important matters emerging from barroom chatter or having coffee in the morning with the TV on?
They think they can make ethical or important decisions without anyone’s help—and do what pleases them—instead of what they OUGHT to do (which a faith community proposes to its membership).
If you’re raised a certain way—that’s how you’ll behave—so one’s standard of behavior can be pretty low (what is “normal” for your family might be nasty behavior in another family—as in politics when commentators speak of the “new normal” of behavior previously considered inappropriate or even unlawful).
Recall the gospel story of the rich young man? He said he did “everything” one could do to live a good life. What he was REALLY saying was that he’d done only what he knew and did as he pleased—and still wasn’t “right.” He needed a real faith practice—which would expand his repertoire of spiritual insight. Sadly, the passage ends with him walking away disheartened—apparently not willing to expand his consciousness.
This topic is apropos for World Mission Sunday—as Catholic means “universal”—and we’re called to expand our circle of inclusivity as missionaries (which is one model of what it means to be Christian—that is, each of us is a missionary).
Being on the Indian missions a number of years—I writhed when hearing people indict missionaries—as people I knew were great and were greatly appreciated. I recall when an investigation of Boys Town finances showed that their endowment was through the roof. This publicity hurt missions everywhere—as people thought places like mine (Red Cloud Indian School) were rolling in wealth (when the exact opposite was the case). Donations plummeted everywhere for all sorts of Catholic charities.
I found myself having to prove our operation was good and doing fine work—and that we needed to continue in bettering the lives of others. I was living the life of a minority white-guy on an Indian reservation—and under attack from non-Indians who indicted people like me for getting wealthy while doing mission work (not true). These were misconceptions and prejudices directed my way—with me having to defend my existence.
However, I was not just on the receiving end of discrimination. I could perpetrate it, too. So much so that during a retreat I asked God for help in overcoming my felt-negativity toward a certain religious group. I knew that harboring this animosity did not resonate with the gospel I supposedly embraced so profoundly. Later that summer, I was driving out west and had a conversion experience.
At 3 in the morning, I noticed the gas gauge was on empty. Eventually running out of gas, I was forced to stop—strangely enough at that time in the morning—behind 2 cars that were likewise stopped. A man came over to me—me thinking a serial killer would soon end my life—but instead, he thanked me for stopping and said that they were fine (they were just taking a break). I told him that I hadn’t planned to stop but was out of gas. “No problem. I can get you going.”
Cutting the ends of his daughter’s jump-rope, he used it as a tube to siphon gas from his tank into mine. He said an all-night station was open about 5 miles ahead and that I could fill-up there. He refused to take the 20 dollar bill I gratefully offered. “Nope. We need to help one another in times like this. No price on helping people in need.”
I drove ahead and bought 2 bags of groceries for the family as a token of gratitude. They arrived and I visited with them in the parking lot. There I learned that these people belonged to the religion I had previously found contemptible. God had given me this grace of encounter which helped me expand my circle of inclusivity.
People speak of America being a Christian nation—but elements of our past have nothing to do with the gospel. I advise you NOT to say your country is Christian anymore than any other country is Christian or Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist. Being connected to the American Indian world, I’ve seen a history that can be called anything BUT Christian. This leads me to share another formative experience.
One summer I did lobbying in D.C. In the introductory class, we were told that the U.S., and all countries, do not initiate any policy based on it being the “right thing to do” according to the gospel. In fact, an initiative might be 180 degrees the opposite of what the gospel teaches. Rather, countries make decisions based on what will bring them economic stability or growth and help strategic interests globally.
My naïve sense of America being “under God with liberty and justice for all” wasn’t necessarily being played out around the world. I learned that US policy has nothing to do with bettering the lives of other countries as its primary goal. ALL countries operate this way—not just the U.S.
I raise this because if you can’t rely on your country to improve humanity’s lot, who CAN you trust? This is why we have World Mission Sunday. Because you belong to a faith community/Church that has its representatives, its emissaries, its workers in the field globally. You DO have charities who can be of real assistance to people.
I’m reminded of my food-stamp recipient grandmother getting literature from “Reverend Ike”—a now-deceased con-man preacher who preyed upon the ignorant or poorly informed to amass a fortune for himself. My poor grandmother was duped by his mailing of literature—and she sent him a dollar. So beware even of church-people.
My point, however, is that when you see a Catholic-sponsored mission, 9 times out of 10 you can count on your donation going to a good place. But even saying that, I still caution you to investigate first. Which you needn’t do for World Mission Sunday. It is our Church at work in the world—calling us to expand our circle of inclusivity.
Director of our faith formation program, Cheryl Stevens, concluded World Mission Sunday’s homily with an account of how our parish “missionizes” our young people.
Odds and Ends
1) Put on your calendar the weekend of October 31st and November 1st when we will celebrate remembrance masses for people we’ve lost this past year.
2) After the 11 a.m. mass on the 1st, we will have Trunk & Treat in the parking lot–what should be a wonderfully pleasant experience for young people. Participate if you can–and let young ones know of this outreach. Who knows? Maybe they’ll want to hang around church more often.
3) If you know of anyone interested in the RCIA program (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults), let the office/pastoral team know. Similarly, if baptisms or weddings are anticipated, let us know well in advance. It is necessary for families to prepare their minds and hearts for the reception of these sacraments. The parish offers this essential formation in the faith.
4) The pandemic continues forcing us to adjust our ways accordingly. As you know, all are welcome back to regular attendance at mass. Those in the at-risk category are free to stay at home (and know that we miss seeing you).
Fact is that some dioceses have still not resumed masses.
Since the scientific community insists on the wearing of masks and to socially distance ourselves from one another, we are following their counsel. For some time, the concept of “herd immunity” has been bandied about as one way of addressing the virus, but with more and more people being re-infected with it–the concept is not embraced by the World Health Organization or our own Center for Disease Control. Besides, it is estimated that even if herd immunity worked, about 6 million Americans would die in the process (if not more). Some of our parishioners have Covid, so keep this matter in prayer.
The Church is adhering to what the scientific community advises–and trying to replicate the success of other countries that have significantly decreased infections via the wearing of masks and social distancing (New Zealand and Vietnam being exemplars in this regard–and having very few cases). We think their course of action beats the sacrifice of 6 million people here at home.
To repeat what was noted some weeks back, if during the London blitz (when Germany bombed the city) Londoners were told to turn out lights. ALL did so, and London did not get destroyed. If Americans were living there at the time, would they have proclaimed “I’m free to do what I want? I’m leaving my lights on!” Caring about and tending to the well-being of others is the mark of a Christian. Keeping lights out in London and wearing a face mask is not just a civic exercise but also a spiritual one.
October 4, 2020
As I’ve stated in the past, some think homilies should be limited to 6 minutes—based on people’s attention span getting shorter and shorter in the 21st century. Notice commercials change shots in the blink of an eye—50 different images in the span of 1 minute. No conversation or homily or lecture can compete with what our brains have been trained to want (fast-paced visuals that overwhelm thoughtful reflection).
One of Catholicism’s many challenges is the theological education and spiritual formation of its people (very few of whom subscribe to theology journals or Catholic newspapers or who read contemporary books that address Christian tradition). As a result, priests have their people on Sunday—to take a stab at communicating something that will help the people grow in their faith and interior life.
For those who favor no homily or one of just a few minutes, do you also want a surgeon operating on you who attended a medical school where lectures were 5 minutes long—once a week? Catholics have a long history of wanting masses that last 20 minutes. In the mind of many, all one needed was the consecrated host—the magic pill that put one on God’s good side. Go to church, get communion, and return home in as short a time as possible. That’s how I was raised.
Back then, and now, I was unaware that Orthodox Christians have 2.5-hour services on Sunday—as do the Southern Baptists. Jewish shabots are 1.5-2.5 hours in length, while Methodist, Lutheran, and Episcopalian are roughly an hour. I attended a Catholic mass in a black community of New Orleans, and enjoyed every minute of the 3-hour service.
Once I found myself in the role of priest—responsible for a mass—this topic became a professional and personal undertaking. I had to take seriously the task of spiritually “forming” the congregation in whatever time I was allotted at a given church, chapel, convent, retreat house, or other venue where mass was celebrated. During my time at John the 23rd, I try not to exceed 60 minutes.
As I’ve said many times, it’s a privilege and challenge to speak to you each week—and I feel bad that what I address will probably not be on the radar of very young people. Their life-experience, vocabulary, and overall interests are just not particularly attuned to the issues raised in scripture and which adults address more easily (which is why I’ve said that I need your help in SOMEHOW conveying to your young ones some sense of their Christian identity.
This week’s readings, for example, are over the heads of young people but quite interesting to us older folks. For example, the 2nd reading has Paul tell his audience to be truthful, honorable, just in their business dealings, high-minded, hospitable, and virtuous. These are good qualities associated with Christians, yes, but they’re also associated with lots of people—non-Christians, too. So what’s the big deal, or the message we’re supposed to get from Paul this week?
If you don’t know the context, you might just read this passage and conclude that these are nice qualities we should live by. Okay. Sure. But there’s more.
His audience was agitating for the circumcision of Gentile (non-Jewish) initiates. They argued that circumcision marked Jews as God’s chosen people, and so we must continue the tradition of this tribal scarring rite. Seeing the people get all caught up in this ritual expression of piety, this is what Paul is saying: “PLEASE! What do you think God is more interested in? –marking your body, or manifesting behavior that reveals your heart is committed to selfless action (love) and caring about others?” THAT’S why he’s focusing on–behaviors that foster community, and not on tattoos or scarring.
The gospel reading likewise has an interesting twist to it. Namely, the parable of a vineyard owner sending his servants to collect the rent is found in Matthew, Mark, Luke AND the apocryphal (non-canonical) gospel of Thomas. Scholars think the version in Thomas is perhaps the older form—which Jesus probably preached.
Its meaning relates to the “bad guy” in the story being NOT the tenants who killed the servants, but the landlord who—in the time of Jesus—was widely experienced as a SLUMlord. The poor farmers and workers were being taken advantage of—so their revolt against the vineyard owner is seen as a story that would appeal to listeners. The point isn’t to rally listeners to killing anyone, but rather to asserting their identity as Christians with a social message that liberates the oppressed.
Applying this to our day, I was reminded of a relative who was a Detroit slumlord—who owned dilapidated housing that he rented to poor people. This early exposure to people being taken advantage of—helped me appreciate the symbols of today’s gospel (rich vineyard owner taking advantage of the poor). I’d like to think that watching this in my family—contributed to my interest in being someone (committed Catholic) who asserted my gospel identity (whatever I’m able to muster).
I was also reminded of the Roman Cardinal who resigned last month when it was learned he let out contracts to family and friends—another example of the wealthy not being fair with the working class—even within the Church. This same pattern existed at the university where I taught. Fiscal mismanagement based on nepotism (rewarding friends/relatives instead of objectively getting best deals for the employer) helped bring about the school’s demise. The gospel example of a corrupt vineyard owner thus still applies.
The OTHER interpretation of this story is straightforward in Matthew. He adds to the parable that “other people will get the goods of the landowner since the original tenants didn’t appreciate his largesse.” This is clearly an allegory in which everything in the story stands for something else. In this case, the vineyard owner is God the Father who sent prophets (his servants) to the Israelites—and these Jewish tribes killed them and all the leaders sent to them over time. At last, God sent his Son, Jesus, and they killed him, too. Voila—the plan now is to open the vineyard to non-Israelites—the Gentiles—who will, at last appreciate the great gift of the owner/God.
With both interpretations applicable, the gospel shows how the community adapted parables to changing times—Thomas speaking to a sociological reality of the wealthy taking advantage of the poor and Matthew speaking to Christian-Jews saying the gospel is now going to the Gentiles. That’s your scripture lesson for the day.
I can’t let mass this week go by without saying something about feast days observed the past several days. As Catholics, you should know about these things—and this is the only time we have together in which I can tell you about them.
This week saw the feast day of the “little flower”—Theresa of Liseux. She was a peasant French girl who entered the convent and who died at age 24 in 1897. She never traveled far from her village, and as she lay on her deathbed a fellow nun said: “I wonder what our Prioress will say about Sister Theresa when she dies . . . she has certainly never done anything worth speaking about.”
Through her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, St. Theresa became globally known and admired. 100 years after her death, a full-length motion picture was made about her life. She dreamed of becoming a missionary, but never went anywhere (except Rome). Her impact on the world moved the Church to name her the patron saint of missionaries and a doctor of the Church (although having just an elementary education).
Her legacy of spirituality consists of teaching what she called “the little way.” That is, in all the minor or small activities of everyday life—as we interact with others and live with others—these are the innumerable ways we can be a missionary. To everyone we encounter, we have a missionary task to be the presence of Jesus to them. Her “little way” is something each of us is called to practice.
Similarly, the feast of guardian angels was this week. Whereas Muslims have as a dogma the belief in angels, Catholics do not. You can believe in them or not. Muslims believe each person has 2 angels—one who records good deeds and one who records our bad deeds. In Catholic tradition, we have the “archangels” Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, and in tribal cultures everywhere there is a belief in spirits. So something very innate to the human condition seems to be this sense of a spirit presence—be one Catholic, Muslim, or tribal.
Maybe we should minimally accept the fact that God is “Emmanuel” in the gospel of Matthew—which translated mean “God with us.” In that sense, we can always be assured of God being with us as a guardian spirit-presence. If others are with us, too, as protectors of some kind—well that’s also nice to know.
Cardinal Newman wrote an 1865 poem titled the Dream of Gerontius wherein a soul was met by their angel at the gates of heaven:
My work is done. My task is o’er. And so I come. Taking it home.
For the crown is won. For evermore. My Father gave. In charge to me. This child of earth. Even from its birth. To serve and save. And saved is he. This child of clay. To me was given. To rear and train. In the narrow way. By sorrow and pain. From earth to heaven.
Francis Assisi (1226) stood 5’ tall or less and had a carefree life until illness laid him low.
Church of San Damiano vision, he heard: “Francis, go out and build up my house, for it is nearly falling down . . . all that now seems sweet and lovely to you will become intolerable” [His family was well-off–and he opted for real poverty lifestyle]
He acquired the “stigmata” (wounds of Christ on one’s body) 2 years before death—there being no recorded experience of this kind in 1200 years of Christianity (400 since then, mostly Catholic—no Orthodox; 10 saints; 25 active now; 5 to 4 males to females). Only in the last century have priests been stigmatized, e.g., Padre Pio (also named a saint).
Founder of the Franciscan Order, he was named a saint 2 years after his death. There is a legend that he thanked his donkey on his death bed for helping him in life—and that the donkey wept. A line attributed to him but never uttered by him is: “Preach Jesus, and if necessary, use words.” It does, however, capture his thought of having your actions reflect the gospel. Similarly, the well-known “Prayer of St. Francis” was not written by him, but was composed in the early 20th century.
He is the patron saint of animals, of Italy, and of ecology.
Summarizing the above into a 30-second statement:
This week’s feast days remind us that we each have a missionary vocation to perform selfless action in little ways and be messengers of God’s encouragement and affirmation. Has a bee ever landed on you and instead of getting scared you feel honored, and you appreciate the possibility that you got confused for being a flower?
Communion reflection from St. Theresa of Liseux
“The great saints, in their eagle strength, have gone close to the verge of folly in doing wonderful things for you, Lord. I am too poor a creature to do anything wonderful, so the only folly I know is that you love me.”
“A donkey carried a bundle which held the relics of the greatest saints. When he passed, crowds of people would bow down in reverence–not of the donkey, but in honoring the relics he carried. We should be humble since all that we are comes from God. Otherwise, if we take credit for what we say or do, we would be like the foolish donkey who imagined that all the people were reverencing him.”
Pastor’s Pen September 27, 2020
This week I was reminded of lines from films that have stuck with me over the years. One is from the classic “Easy Rider” which has actor Peter Fonda saying to someone: “It’s not every man that can live off the land . . . . You do your own thing in your own time.” Another film has the lead-actor meet an old friend who describes life since they last met: “Yes, we’re very happy.”
I recall rolling my eyes at both scenes because yes—on the one hand—God wants us to “do our own thing” and “be happy.” BUT, as ends in themselves—those statements spell death (of spirit). This is perhaps why the “Priests Assembly” this past week spent a day addressing the topic of “happiness”—conducted by a Catholic spiritual growth institute. I thought you might want to hear a summary of what was addressed—and then apply it to our circumstances and today’s scripture.
Ancient sources, both secular and sacred, have addressed the role of “happiness” within our lives (Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, scripture, etc.). God made you and me so that we might have the happiness that life provides. The topic can be divided into 4 types—each of which applies to each of us.
1) The happiness of immediate gratification (i.e., physical pleasure via the senses that is immediate). We seek to maximize pleasure and minimize pain—having food, drink, possessions, affection, etc.). All this is part of our nature and is fine. However, if we ONLY seek pleasure (“wine, women, and song,” “eat, drink, and be merry—for tomorrow you may die,” etc.), we will find the opposite of what we seek—EMPTINESS.
2) Personal achievement (self-fulfillment or achieving something such as a vocation in which we exercise our skills and are respected for what we do—carpenter, teacher, farmer, doctor, homemaker, plumber, parent, etc.). In short, it’s all well and good that we strive for, and are known for, doing SOMETHING well. HOWEVER, if we compare ourselves to others (as last week’s gospel addressed) and seek to win status at any cost—not good! “Happiness” will not ensue. Will your gravestone say “I should have spent more time at the office?” or “He thought only of himself.”
3) Going beyond yourself—and seeking the “greater good.” Justice for all, community building, donating time/talent/treasure to the community in some way (examples of which are numerous in the parish—in obvious and hidden ways). This level of happiness and the next are what the gospel calls us to live—and are the hardest to achieve.
4) We become what spiritual literature calls a “contemplative in action”—a person whose spirituality allows them to always focus on the eternal—connecting the dots between God and humanity (that is, incarnating/enfleshing in themselves the person of Jesus). This allows one to find eternal meaning in every direction and all events. Psychologist Victor Frankl wrote Man’s Search for Meaning in which he described his experience in a Nazi concentration camp. He saw people go to the gas chamber with a prayer on their lips—able to see meaning in their impending execution (witnessing to our conscience that we, tragically, can so mercilessly and demonically martyr one another).
In short, level 4 is a tough one for any of us to attain (along with level 3). However, this week’s epistle reminds us how we CAN reach for those levels: “Do nothing out of selfishness or out of arrogance; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves–looking out not just for your own interests, but also for those of others.”
So often we think of happiness instantly acquired by the athlete who gets a multi-million dollar contract for playing a sport, or a lottery winner who hits the jackpot. An NBA coach friend said that they have seminars for new signees which address how they can be on skid row and penniless if they don’t steward their resources wisely. As you know, we hear of lottery winners and athletes going this route after once having had millions of dollars. Their quest for “happiness” took them to the poor house—because they lived at levels 1 and 2 only.
This topic also reminded me of Billy Mills—a name that I doubt immediately registers with anyone here. He was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Reservation—which yearly competes with another reservation for being the poorest county in the U.S. Born into poverty—his mother and father both dead by the time he was 12–he made it to Haskell Indian School in Kansas where he ran cross country. Meriting a scholarship to the University of Kansas, he became an All-American there. I saw him speak on 3 occasions—his presentation the same on all 3 occasions—and a little different from the “Ted Talk” that now can be seen on the Internet.
He tells of being at one national meet, and that he got ready for the post-race photo with his fellow All-Americans. He thought of his parents and how proud they’d be. “Then I heard one photographer,” Billy recalls. ” ‘You. Yeah, you — the darker-skinned one. I want you out of the photo.’ And that just went to the depths of my soul, and it just — it broke me.” It led to suicidal thoughts.
He wanted to be on the 1964 Olympic team, but he was the last man cut from the squad. He was now in the Marines (he retired a Captain) and got permission to leave for Tokyo when one team-member could not make the trip.
In Tokyo, he went to get good shoes for competition but the equipment store said he’d have to supply his own since they only gave shoes to those who’d seriously compete. Meanwhile, reporters gathered around other runners and athletes but no one came to interview him. He borrowed shoes from a friend.
The 10,000 meter race is one long race—with 30-40 runners. The Australian was the favorite, followed by a Tunisian and Ethiopian. The game-day announcer noted: “And there’s Billy Mills—who no one expects to win this particular event.” He was later fired for being TOO excited in calling the race’s concluding moments.
When I heard him speak, he said that as they came into the stretch, he thought of his mom who died of alcoholism and he thought to himself that he was running for her—and for all who were stricken with the disease. And he passed the Ethiopian. He thought of his dad, and his people who likewise died early deaths due to poverty and malnutrition—and he was running for them—as he passed the Australian. Finally, he realized he was running for his dark-skinned people who, like so many other peoples, suffered discrimination. He knew he was running for them—as he passed the Ethiopian—and the ribbon broke across his chest as he won the gold medal.
At this point in his talk, Billy would say: “You can see what happened that day.” On all 3 occasions, the lights went out, and the final moments of the race were shown on a big screen. At all three venues, the audience broke out in applause and stood as the film shows him breaking the tape.
See the event for yourself in color: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5F5iCsymMj0
I report Billy’s story in this homily because it illustrates what I addressed earlier about the 4 levels of happiness. As a world-class “star,” Billy did not bask in the glow of fame but instead committed himself to level 3 (and 4). He founded a national organization, Running Strong for American Indian Youth. He was also awarded the Presidential Citizen’s Medal (the nation’s 2nd highest civilian medal).
He says that his most cherished medal is from the Anti-defamation League for his work against the spread of hate by different groups around the world (some in the U.S. today particularly noticeable—as reported by the Southern Poverty Law Center).
With author Nicholas Sparks, he authored a book (Wakini) in which he tells how a Sioux (Lakota) mythological demon diverts people from accomplishing a destiny envisioned for them by God. This seducer/devil-figure tries to persuade one to think that happiness can be found in: 1) wealth, 2) fame, 3) a marriage partner, 4) in having more friends, 5) thinking that being more physically attractive will bring happiness, 6) not having a handicap, 7) not losing someone to death, or 8) inaction due to complaining that “if only the world were a better place—and not rigged to spoil what one tries to do.”
He concludes his book asking: HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN TELLING YOURSELF THESE LIES.
What Billy Mills reports in his talks and book—is what the gospel tells us. In order to find happiness intended by God, one has to realize you have your own special worth and that your specialness blossoms into happiness when you become part of something bigger than yourself (Level 3). A man of faith, Billy’s counsel is right out of the gospel. Each of us is called to run and win an Olympic gold medal of the Spirit.
When I look over the congregation gathered in prayer, I don’t see halos over each person but rather an Olympic gold medal. They represent the prayer that arises from each heart to God at mass—asking help in running a good race to levels 3 and 4.
You are needed in this photograph of God’s action in the world.
Recent article on Billy Mills.
A motion picture on the life of Billy Mills is on Youtube at the site below.
Catechetical Sunday September 20
You and God have a relationship that no one else has. You can compare yourself with another but that is useless to do.
God gave you your gifts and God gave another their gifts. They might have more money, more land, more children, more opportunities, be more lovely or more handsome—and you might be beating your head against the wall angrily complaining to anyone who’ll listen what YOU could have done if you had what they had.
WRONG WRONG WRONG
Your challenge and mine is to do what we can WITH THE GIFTS AND OPPORTUNITIES we’ve been given!!! God gave you a set of skills/abilities/style–that is different from everyone else’s. You have what you need to be YOU–and others have what they need to be them. BOTH of you are needed to make the world complete.
While you’re bemoaning your lack of something that another has—you’re wasting time by not creating greatness with what you DO have.
Like anyone, I can point to one or another success—like winning the best art sketch in the 6th grade—and being told I’d get a prize—which was never given. And today I remain one of the worst artists ever—unable to draw a decent stick figure.
Fact is, I did something that appealed to me—the sketch of an Indian that I knew I could do because it was easy. No one had seen the book I read which inspired me—but knowing I could draw NOTHING decently, I knew I could at least give a try to mimic what I saw on the page of an Indian book. Voila, the prize winner (again, of a prize that never came).
I little realized that one day I’d be an established presence in academia as a specialist in Indian studies. And write biographies of an Indian man who was known to the world only as an old-time medicine man, but whose life as a Catholic catechist would one day be known thru my efforts—which laid the groundwork for his being considered for sainthood. [You can read about this in the recent issue of Faith magazine.]
My 6th grade experience reflects what everyone experiences. I pursued an interest that for some reason stirred within my heart—and which competed with other drives and distractions that might have taken me away from something worthwhile. As with everyone, life moved on and for some reason I acted on my God-given interests (skill set)–and that seed of interest in Indians blossomed into a lifetime involvement.
And so it is with each of you.
Jesus is speaking to each of you today—saying you have a uniqueness that is intended to provide something to human existence that no one else can provide. I can only guess what that might be for you. At Saturday’s mass, we baptized a little darling named Colt—a new member of the faith community. In his own special way, he made a contribution by reminding all of us that each of us is a child in God’s eyes–no matter how “adult” or “cool” we might be in human terms. That little bundle from heaven had a “skill set” that affected all present as his father held him high for all to see (and applaud)–and little Colt smiled in thanksgiving. Appropriately, that little guy’s middle name is Matthew–one of the evangelists–one of the first catechists in the Church.
I look at some people—and see that they really take their faith seriously, and actually do something to make the community better, or the lives of others better.
One of the seeds of my interest in Indians was sewn during that art contest. And one of the seeds planted in little Colt’s life was done at his baptism. 2000 years of Christian tradition has us initiating a new member–God’s word passed down through the generations (by catechists, or teachers of the faith) such that this little guy becomes a member of our faith community in Michigan! From Bethlehem to here.
He might one day contribute to the good of many people—or he might not. So much depends upon his parents, family members, godparents, and us—to help him reach his potential. Remember this. Living the gospel does nothing to enhance God’s power, or joy, or happiness. Rather, it enhances US by trying to live as God intended us to live.
As I say so often, our formation of young Colt will be competing with other philosophies of life which will try to seduce him into becoming a materialist–and thinking that happiness and fulfillment can be found by acquiring possessions. Or, will pleasure be his life pursuit? Or will he do as one book-title said some years back. Will he want to get ahead by “Winning Through Intimidation?” Or will his sole criterion for decision-making be “what’s in it for me?” Hmm. All these philosophies to choose from—and which one will he pick?
If we continue with his formation within the Christian tradition—sacramental participation–he can blossom into the person God calls him to be. He can detect which “seeds” of life resonate with his core (as “Indians”–and not a career as an artist–resonated with me in the 6th grade art contest).
Colt’s family members are the most important teachers, or catechists, of their child–so this weekend we had symbols right here in our presence for “Catechetical Sunday.”
I hope you’ll see Colt at church 20 years from now. You can tell him that you were at his baptism. Many get baptized and never see the church again for many years.
Today’s gospel spoke of a laborer asking the owner of the vineyard why he didn’t get more pay than another worker. His example is one we need take to heart. Don’t compare yourself with others, but instead use the tools in your toolkit and be the blessing for others YOU have been called to be in your uniqueness.
I think of the old spiritual which translates today’s gospel into understandable terms—the call of Jesus to each of us catechists:
Be a bush if you can’t be a tree.
If you can’t be a highway, be a trail.
If you can’t be the sun, be a star.
For it isn’t by size that you win or you fail, be the best of whatever you are.
Post communion reflection:
As the bishop says in his message for catechetical Sunday—he quoted St. Theresa of Avila: “Christ has no body now but yours; no hands, no feet on earth, but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on the world; yours are the feet with which he walks to do good; yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
September 20, 2020
The Yanomami of the Amazon are taught from an earliest age to retaliate any real or perceived blow. Older children will strike a three-year-old with a stick and make sure that the little one hits back at the older child. “Turn the other cheek” is simply not in their vocabulary, or philosophy of life.
I recall speaking with a young man who was dead set on getting even with another guy who’d done him wrong. Seeing how volatile the young man was getting, I tried to allay his passion and said: “Hey man, forgive and forget, move on, get over it, lighten up” (and any other cliché I could think of). I suggested the golden rule—to treat others as you’d like to be treated. That didn’t work either. He said he’d get more satisfaction out of beating up the other fellow—a position that is the exact opposite of what today’s gospel says about forgiving someone.
Today’s gospel story is timely because just last week there was a White House breakfast with ministers, and the guest speaker spoke about forgiveness. The president spoke up and said he disagreed with the gospel’s insistence on forgiveness. Which only shows how secular philosophy-alternatives even influence the highest places in the land.
Over time I’ve come to realize that basic Christianity—just doesn’t win the day with some people. As I mentioned last week, most people do not have a Christian philosophy—such that today’s gospel which calls us to forgive one another—simply isn’t known by the young. They know next to nothing about the stories or characters or teachings of scripture.
Instead, most people live by the secular philosophies preached via MTV, Madison Avenue, Wall Street, and Facebook. The overall motif of these and other philosophies that control the young and many adults is the motto: “what’s in it for me.” But these philosophies are subtle—and insidious. They control you without you even knowing it.
For example, no one here probably wants polluted rivers or skies. But if your stocks in a company will make a profit by polluting the waters and skies, maybe you’ll start to have some wiggle room on the amount of pollution you’ll tolerate. Stated in a phrase you’ve heard before: “what’s your price?” THAT’S the nature of temptation—it appeals to something within us.
Two years ago for 9/11, I organized a release of butterflies that a university teacher raised from caterpillars through cocoons. Students could release a new Monarch that had been weaned on campus milkweed. It was a ritual of hope for us on 9/11. Note: perhaps you didn’t know (I didn’t), but Monarch butterflies are one of the million creatures now threatened with extinction. One way you and I have contributed to their demise has been to cut down the milkweed they depend upon.
The city of Omaha Nebraska had all the students in its public-school system devote a day of the school year to planting milkweed throughout the city. It was one city’s ways of teaching its young to care for the environment—and to light one candle rather than curse the darkness. Not only that—but children learned that the milkweed flower is a pretty one, and its fragrance is like perfume. Why have we been cutting it down?
I said earlier that different philosophies are stifling the Christian approach to life. I’ll tell you how butterflies helped me want what scripture teaches instead of what is taught by other “false prophets.”
An easy-to-read book (with illustrations) that has a moral to its story is Hope for the Flowers. It is the story of Stripe, a caterpillar born on a milkweed leaf. Over time, he wonders if there’s more to life than just eating leaves.
Deep within his heart-of-hearts, he feels a desire to get up to the sky—or reach for something more than just the life he’s been living. He comes to a pile of caterpillars—one on top of the other—each wanting to get higher in life, too. The pile is sketched in the book
Yellow, a girl caterpillar who interests him, comes along and wants to go high, too, but thinks this isn’t how you do it. Climbing over one another isn’t what her gut tells her is the right thing. Stripe says to be great one must trample on others to get what you want.
They part—Stripe to the pillar and Yellow off on her own where she lives her life as a nice caterpillar tending to her business. She eventually spins a cocoon. Meanwhile, Stripe has made it to the top—having stepped on many caterpillars on his way to the top. But he feels empty in his accomplishments.
Stripe looks up and sees Yellow in the sky—looking beautiful as a Monarch butterfly. She called for him to join her—saying that you don’t have to hurt others to reach the sky. All you have to do is be yourself and exercise the gifts you have. Stripe came down from the pile, spun a cocoon, and the story ends with the two of them flying off together.
With that as background, I was in a tough position—part of a group that had to decide the future of U of Detroit Jesuit High School. Should it stay in Detroit or move to the suburbs? All the Catholic schools had either closed or had moved out of the city—and there were good reasons given for moving to the suburbs (as done by Catholic Central and DeLaSalle) and for staying where it had been since 1877.
7 of us met, weighed the pros and cons, had mass together, met again for more weighing of options, prayer and quiet time by ourselves before gathering to cast our vote.
On a bench, I said to God in prayer: “Have a butterfly land on me if I should vote to keep the school in Detroit. If none lands—the suburbs.” No butterflies were with me when I set the conditions of my vote. Then, one appeared high above, and as it descended to about 10 feet away, I said to God: “Just like you! Stay just far enough away for me not to have any certainty. Why don’t you ever give me a slap in the face experience of your presence and counsel?” And with that, the butterfly came to rest on my left hand. I had to blow it off—so tight was it clinging to my hand.
I returned to the group for a vote, and we cast our ballots—all 7 of us voting to keep the school in Detroit. And today it remains one of Michigan’s top schools. MSU’s All-American basketball player, Cassius Winston, attended UD Jesuit High (I’m told he’s as good a man off the court as he is on it).
Beyond the butterfly affirmation, my rationale for wanting to keep the school in Detroit was based on seeing a greater good for Jesuit presence in Detroit. The gospel calls us to act on our best instincts, or most noble philosophy that is the opposite of “what’s in it for me.” Not easy to do very often—but if you are able to do so, you’ll have the Stripe and Yellow experience of transcending yourself, ascending, and knowing you did the right thing.
Odds and Ends
Landscaping—Parishioners have taken good care of the grounds at each church. Although I know some, I don’t think I know all who have done work on the grounds (but would like to). When I inquired in the Spring, I was told that people did the grounds at each church—some of whom I’ve seen and some not. Let me know if you’ve been a “groundskeeper.”
Cemetery Notes–Many trees in the Sacred Heart cemetery are targeted for replacement and trimming. Be patient during a process that will eventually see the grounds look very nice. Each cemetery should have all gravesite decorations removed by Oct 1st
Parish “app”—the past 4 years, parishes have had free access to the “Parish app.” Now the company will charge for the service ($450 a year). Could you let me or the office know that you use it? If you don’t use the app, you needn’t email or call to say so. Just those who use it.
Study on religious practice of teens
Bruce Springsteen’s Graduation Address at Boston College (Jesuit)
Labor Day Weekend
With Labor Day weekend upon us, I’m reminded of the Benedictine motto: “ora et labora” (“pray and work”). Of course, that should be the motto of all Christians—because prayer should inform all our actions. All that we do should be rooted in what we do here in the Eucharist or at home on our knees. I like the Benedictine motto more than what used to be a motto that somewhat sarcastically defined the hierarchical Church’s attitude toward its people—“pray, pay, and obey!”
More important, however, than either of these mottos, is what I’ve previously told you was my experience in the classroom semester after semester. College students as a whole know very little about Christianity. For them, it’s not a matter of which motto they like or dislike. Many have no clue about what the Gospels teach or why any of us are even here today.
I would hear from many students that their parents left the matter of religion up to them—so parents didn’t teach them any religion. The parental course of action might have been influenced by being in a “mixed marriage”–or a marriage in which one spouse has a modest practice and the other had no practice—or a single parent had too many stresses–or a divorce saw the parents dealing with other things to address than riding herd on kids going to faith-formation classes. Whatever the reason, students active in their faith who came to a private, Catholic university were not numerous. My task was to plant seeds in a field that had none.
That’s why questionnaires about religious practice have given rise to a new category of person. I refer to those who, when asked to check their religious preference, make a mark in the box for “none.” This is the group that sociologists pun-ingly refer to as the “nones” (as in “Sisters” in a convent—only here the word refers to people who have “no religion”).
I used to think that this was posing a real catechetical issue for the Church: how do we teach the young. I realized, over time, that this was not just an issue among young people. This past week, the results of a survey of Christian adults was released. Even among those who practiced their faith, sometimes as many as 60% answered questions incorrectly. In fact, practicing Christians actually gave the same answers that were given centuries ago by heretics (i.e., people who taught false doctrine).
The past few years, any number of people have been really outspoken against Muslims. One man saw himself as “patriotic” by going on a rampage at what he thought was a mosque–killing people in Milwaukee. Not only was he misguided in thinking such a thought, but also the people he killed were not even Muslims!
Other, less dramatic incidents have taken place because of “bad-mouthing” (speaking ill of) Muslims who are thought by some to be anti-Christian. Ironically, the survey showed that many Christians who harbor these sorts of attitudes—don’t realize that they hold beliefs that are identical to what Muslims say about Jesus! Namely, when asked if God created Jesus, Christians answered “Yes,” and that “he was a good teacher.”
In short, Christians said what Muslim say: that Jesus was “created by God” and a great prophet. Christians apparently aren’t paying attention to the Nicene Creed they say at church all the time—which tells us that there are 3 persons in one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! Christian teaching does NOT say that “God created Jesus.” Actually, some Muslims regard Jesus in such reverential terms that he comes across as some sort of ultra-human—more than us but less than God (because, as Muslims say, “there is no God but God!”).
I’m calling your attention to the reality that both young and old are in need of catechesis or learning Christian doctrine (and how to put it into practice so our world can be a better place). And since the first and third reading today basically say “if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem,” I stand indicted.
Each week I’m entrusted with what religious literature calls “the care of souls” and speak to you at homily-time. We’ve recently had first-communion masses and I’ve tried to focus on those young ones—gearing what I say to them. But is that serving the adults who came? Yet, if I geared everything to adults, the young ones are lost.
Some say that our attention span is 6 minutes for a homily. Hmm—a 6-minute attention span—to hear what might be your only religious instruction you ever hear on a given topic? Do you want to go to a heart doctor, or have a surgeon operate on you—who attended medical school and only had classes that lasted 6 minutes? I don’t think so. Darn! Scripture confronts me with a real problem. How can I instruct, or catechize, our faith community–if I lose the adults by gearing what I say to the young and lose the young if I gear what I say just to adults?
Well, I certainly can echo Paul in the 2nd reading. He says that to “love one another” is a summary of all the commandments. Keep in mind that the phrase isn’t referring to X’s and O’s, hugs and kisses. Rather, it refers to “selfless action.” I sure see that behavior among many people here in the community—so that’s a relief.
But like you, I drive down the street and I see one house has a Trump sign and one that bad-mouths the governor, and then their neighbor has a Biden sign. I think to myself that the people in those 2 houses might be parishioners. After all, studies say that Catholics are divided on all sorts of issues.
Last week, I mentioned that 3 Catholics spoke at the 2 political conventions. 2 of the 3 listed issues that both parties should address but did not say anything about the environment—an issue that many think is THE most important issue of our time. After all, Pope Francis issued an encyclical on the topic—and 2 Catholics made no mention of it? Thank God, 1 of the 3 DID cite the environment.
I’m reminded of the 1960 election when JFK was elected the first Catholic president. Many anti-Catholic prejudices were expressed everywhere, e.g., the Pope would come and rule the U.S. Now, HOWEVER, the Catholics represent such a large voting block that Biden’s Catholicism can’t be attacked UNLESS he is cast as non-Catholic. And so, the abortion issue becomes the strategy to win Catholics.
What’s sociologically interesting (theologically, too) is that you’ll find priests and bishops on both sides. One side says that abortion is the greatest evil and demands that we make it the one issue that determines how we should cast our votes. The other side says that there are many evils—so one must see how they ALL can be best overcome. https://www.ncronline.org/news/people/bishop-john-stowe-rebukes-trump-anti-life
This past week former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz was named as one who will be given the Medal of Freedom. A longtime Republican benefactor who was a benefactor of VP Dan Quayle when both lived in Indiana, Holtz spoke out against Biden—which then forced the Notre Dame president to announce that Holtz wasn’t speaking on behalf of Notre Dame. I’m reminded of Matthew 12:25: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
This full moon week was filled with other unpleasant news. Namely, researchers found evidence in the Vatican archives that Pope Pius XII refrained from intervening much with the extermination of Jews for fear of alienating the many German Catholics who filled the rallies of Adolph Hitler. So much for selfless action in the ranks of Catholicism! I guess more people than just me are guilty of being part of the problem.
So that’s the global picture. What about the local one? You and I are called to be part of the solution to many things & perform selfless action–but we’re not all on the same page. Who among us is God calling to conversion—on one or another issue or behavior in our lives?
How many on the parish rolls have young ones who don’t come to church and so don’t have this minimal exposure to Christian tradition? Heck, how many ADULTS are on the rolls and don’t have this basic religious formation of coming to mass?
People will say “I practice my religion, and the gospel, on my own—over a cup of coffee in the morning on the back porch—walking on a beach or in the woods–and don’t need to go every Sunday.” I smile—and have total respect for this person’s prayer-life. At the same time, I think of how their behavior contradicts all of our Christian teaching and tradition.
We are rooted in the Old Testament—the Israelites in slavery in Egypt—who were unable to gather and practice their religion. Losing their identity as God’s chosen people, they eventually came to enshrine a principle that they would live by—so as to retain their identity as a people. Namely, KEEP HOLY THE SABBATH.
Christians likewise kept this tradition—saying it’s essential to gather as a community—minimally once a week. If we don’t, we’re not getting the spiritual strength we need to be the good person God calls us to be. On our own, we can’t compete with the gospel of MTV, the gospel of Madison Avenue, or the gospel of Wall Street. We fall prey to those who preach the importance of those 3 gospels.
And so, we’re about to start faith formation classes. But even if we didn’t, is there some way in which you—within your family forum—can somehow bring Christian teaching to your children, grandchildren, and godchildren?
I speak as one who was not known as some sort of holy-roller kid. Not at all. My mom never went to church and dad attended irregularly, but I went to Catholic schools. But even there—religion was one of my worst classes. If I got a “C” in religion, I was lucky.
I’m not going biographical here to indulge my memory but giving you an example of how you might influence your young ones. I’m NOT suggesting you get on a soapbox and be preachy. There are other ways to influence the young.
In my case, movies were influential—me reminded of this because today’s gospel has a line in it which was the title of a film. “The Keys of the Kingdom” was a Gregory Peck film about a missionary priest in China while the film “Joan of Arc” moved me to tears as a “cool high school” guy wondering how anyone could be burned at the stake instead of denying God’s word. Ben Hur, Barabbas, The Mission, St. Francis of Assisi, and a number of other films influenced my religious mindset that led to me being here in Hemlock/Merrill/Ryan.
A few years ago, I wrote Dolores Hart (Google her name if it means nothing to you)—saying that her role as St. Clare in the Francis of Assisi film influenced me. A few years after writing her, a documentary on her life was up for an academy award—she having left the glitz life of Hollywood and entered a Benedictine convent. Once the heartthrob of movie-going males and leading lady opposite Elvis, she left those roles behind and embraced the monastic life.
What I’m suggesting is that Christian education extends beyond Dennis, Cheryl, our teachers, and me. We have farmers in our community—and many others who garden and plant seeds. Consider planting seeds within the minds of your young. It can be via movies, fishing, gardening, or ANY activity that takes a child out of themselves and into something good and inspiring. I’d like to think that your kindness and goodness toward your young prompt them to ask what makes you tick—what makes you be so loving—so good to them—and so lovable to them.
Voila—the teaching moment!
End of Mass Prayerful Reflection
September 1st saw the Catholic Church celebrate the “World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation.” We honored this theme by reading after communion the classic Christian text, Francis of Assisi’s “Canticle of the Sun.” Hearing it, you will see why he is the patron saint of the environment.
Praise be to You, O Lord and Father. Praise be to You and You alone.
We praise you, O Lord, for all Your creatures, Especially Brother Sun.
For Brother Sun, he is strong and bright, and he gives us light as we live each day.
Praise also Sister Moon. And the sparkling stars Which Your Hand made
Praise To you, O Lord, for our Brother the Wind. For weather that’s cloudy and weather that’s
clear. Praise to you, O Lord, for sweet Sister Water–Helpful to all your children here.
Praise to you, O Lord, for our Brother Fire. Praise how he warms and lights the night.
Praise you, O Lord, for the Earth our Mother. She who sustains us that we might
Be led to a love of all creatures great and small as they show your grace.
Lord, help us each to learn Everywhere we turn we can see your Face.
Be praised, my Lord, for those who forgive for love of you, and for those who bear sickness and
weakness in peace and patience. You will grant them a crown. Be praised my Lord for our
Sister Death—whom we must all face. I praise and bless you, Lord, and I give thanks to you,
and I will serve you in all humility. Praise Be to you, O Lord of all seasons. Praise be to you, O Lord, for all reasons.
August 23, 2020
With it being a Marian feast day this weekend (the Assumption), it’s appropriate for some Marian humor.
On one occasion, Jesus said: “You who are without sin cast the first stone.” And with that, a stone comes flying past him. He turns around and says: “Mom, cut it out.”
This joke is, of course, based on a theology of Mary that developed over time and produced a dogma of our faith that was declared in 1950–the Assumption. The humor of the joke relates to another holy day of obligation, the Immaculate Conception–which reverences her for being “immaculately” conceived or born “without sin.” Recall that Christians claim that Jesus was like us in all things but sin–so in order for this to occur, his parents had to be without what a long tradition refers to as “original sin.”
Since this tradition asserts that all people are born WITH “original sin,” Mary would thus be a “carrier” who’d pass it to Jesus (since the Father of Jesus was without sin). Hence it was claimed by theologians that Mary must have been conceived without sin. Voila–Jesus is born without original sin (because Mary was “immaculately conceived.”
The Assumption is somewhat related to this since the claim is made that original sin brought physical death to the human race. Thus, Mary must have been somehow “assumed” into heaven in a special way.
This notion arose in the 300’s and was in the air ever since within Christian thought. However, it was the Catholics and Orthodox who retained a devotion to the concept. Anglicans in England (Episcopalian church in America) abandoned the concept in 1539 and Protestant churches in general do not acknowledge the Assumption. For some reason (that surprised many at the time), Pope Pius the 12th declared the Assumption a “dogma” (very few dogmas, or essential beliefs, have been named in the history of Christianity).
The dogma states that Mary went to heaven, body and soul, “having completed the course of her earthly life.” The language of the declaration did not say that she avoided death, but it also doesn’t say that she died. As a result, the dogma permits some Catholics to say she was “assumed” into heaven instead of dying, or that she died or slept away into heaven upon her death. The Orthodox refer to this feast and dogma as the “dormition” of Mary (her sleeping into eternity).
This history aside, what’s important is that we need to take time to reflect on Mary from time to time. Why? Because she is a role model for all Christians—as each of us is called to give birth to Jesus in our lives. She refers to herself in scripture as “lowly” which echoes the theme in last Sunday’s reading that said God was revealed not in earthquakes or storms but in a “whisper.” Instead of looking for God in the spectacular, instead let it register somewhere within you that we are the “lowly whisper” through whom God appears to others. Like the 13-year-old Mary, we ask “how can this be?”
Scripture refers to you as “God’s work of art”—so when you think of creation, you are a brother or sister to the Grand Canyon, the oceans, rivers, land, and stars—reflecting God’s artistry. THAT’S how you are God’s lowly whisper with 13-year-old Mary—called in your giftedness to be resurrection for others.
This line of thought echoes a theme that appears throughout the bible. Namely, God chooses unlikely people to accomplish great things. YOU are God’s unlikely person (you being a lowly whisper of a farmer sowing seeds, an elder sharing wisdom, a neighbor to someone in need—called to accomplish great things (with aged Abraham and Sara who were told they’d be parents of a nation more numerous than the stars, with shepherd-boy David called to slay Goliath, and with fishermen apostles who founded the faith community). God “has looked with favor” upon Mary and you.
Sunday’s readings have Paul describe himself as the “apostle to the gentiles” (the outsiders, those to be avoided). And the gospel shows Jesus refer to the Canaanite woman as a dog—a female dog!! Huh? Is that Jesus calling this woman a slang term? Yes! Because Matthew was writing for his Jewish converts, he showed them that Jesus had the same proud attitude that they had toward non-Israelites. But Matthew’s Canaanite woman gave a witty reply to Jesus (“even dogs have to eat”)—which moved him to acknowledge her wisdom and humanity. And so he worked a miracle for her. He made outreach to a person who Israelites considered to be a dog.
Scripture is reminding us that our Christianity calls us to identify with those outcasts—those on the margins who are belittled today. WE are the gentiles who Jesus calls to be inclusive of the many contemporary “gentiles” within our country and the world at large.
Odds and Ends
1) Reflect, Refresh & Renew Virtual Evening of Prayer will be held on Wednesday, September 9, 2020 at 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. for Befrienders, Grief Facilitators, Compassionate Companions, Pastoral Visitors and all who visit the sick and homebound. Please join us individually online for this very special opportunity to reflect on your ministry during Covid-19 and to pray for refreshment and renewal as we move forward in these challenging times. We have the ability to gather, reflect, pray and support each other while following restrictions and safety precautions. If you are new to virtual meetings, we will help you connect! There is no cost to attend this event, however registration is necessary to receive the link to connect, handouts and materials prior to the event. To register to join online call/email Lori Becker at 989.797.6652 or firstname.lastname@example.org
2) As a child, I wanted to be a farmer. God had other plans. That said, if it’s not too much of a bother, I’d love to see what different farm-operations & crops look like “up close.” I don’t want to just stop on the road, and mosey up to a corn stalk, pickle patch, or bean field and check out what’s growing. I won’t understand much by just doing that. So how about letting me know if I could stop by for a few minutes and actually see what an active farm looks like in operation? I’m not looking for handouts, but just interested in seeing what I missed by taking the road I did in life. I can be reached at the parish number or at 304-312-4911.
|Ministry Schedule August 22 & 23|
|Ministry||4:00 PM||9:00 AM||11:00 AM|
|Lector||Deb Jacovitch||Laura Hoard||Elaine Zelinko|
|Eucharistic Ministers||Lisa Wood||Mary Gibson||John Ostrander|
|Eucharistic Minister||Robin Doane||Hope Seegobin||Janice Doane|
|Ushers||Justin Garno||Barry Playford||Tom Rohde|
|Bob Wise||Mike Manzoni||Gary Braley|
|Ministry Schedule August 29 & 30|
|Ministry||4:00 PM||9:00 AM||11:00 AM|
|Lector||Dave Reiber||Mary Gibson||Beth Rohde|
|Eucharistic Ministers||Virginia Pelton||Marilyn Clark||Elaine Zelinko|
|Eucharistic Minister||Carol Jurek||Valerie Watson||Joe Zelinko|
|Ushers||Justin Garno||Barry Playford||Tom Rohde|
|Bob Wise||Mike Manzoni||Gary Braley|
August 16, 2020
This past weekend’s liturgies saw 2 first-communions on Saturday and a baptism and first-communion on Sunday. The gospel has Jesus asking “Who do you say that I am?” Through baptism and first communion, we tell the world who we are.
When teaching religious studies, I often heard students say that their parents didn’t raise them in a religious practice—because they wanted their children to make that decision on their own—later in life. Although raising them to go to church, some Christian groups don’t baptize their members until they make an “adult” decision, but I initially did not realize so many parents avoided the entire topic of religion.
I’m sure these same parents taught their children table manners, hygiene, and social courtesies. I hope they taught them the importance of going to school and getting educated—and that they encouraged them to get involved with extra-curricular activities and sports. After all, dutiful parents teach their children these sorts of basic values.
If parents DON’T teach young ones that there is a god, and that it is important to know why God made us, then they are, in fact, teaching their children that this topic isn’t very important—that extra-curriculars and sports take a back-seat to knowing what it means to be a child of God. Does the child internalize the values of MTV, Wall Street, and Madison Avenue? Or is the child raised to develop a value system based on the gospel?
This weekend at John 23rd is thus special—because 4 of our members are receiving the sacraments of initiation. Hopefully, they will be in pews of a church many years from now—having benefited from the example YOU have set for them. We salute the parents of these young ones for raising them within the Catholic faith community.
With the first communion ceremony, we’re reminded of when Jesus went to heaven, he said he’d still be with us in a special way. Yes, his presence is within the words of scripture, and within the members of the faith community. But he also said he’d be present to us at the table, the altar, where we break bread just as he once did with his friends. “Where two or three are gathered in my name, so am I.” And so it is with us in the sacrament of the Eucharist.
I hope our first communicants will always realize that Jesus is Emmanuel—“God with us” in this sacrament of the eucharist. Throughout our lives, in good times and bad, we need to come to the altar and get a renewed sense of this presence—especially when we leave the confines of the church and are out in the rough and tumble world. The eucharist is like a hug and kiss from God—a reminder of the presence of the risen Lord with us now.
It was a 4th grader who brought home to me an example of how our baptism and communion help us be the sacramental presence of the Lord outside of church. Here’s that 4th grader’s story.
I baptized Adam, and his parents faithfully took him to church and the sacraments. When his mom put him to bed one night, they knelt for prayer and Adam asked God for help when he’d be on patrol the next day. His mom had no idea what he was referring to—so when prayer was finished and he was tucked in, she asked him what he was asking help for. He said that during the lunch hour, he’d patrol the playground looking for kids who were alone and not playing with anyone. He’d try and get them involved.
Yikes!! If only each of us had the same apostolic sense within us! Do YOU go out on “patrol” and seek out those who don’t seem to be included in activities or who are alone? And do you try to bring them into community? That’s what a 4th grader did!
With Jesus asking: “who do people say that I am?” we should be able to point to any one of us here and say: “THAT person is Jesus.” So don’t think of the Man in the gospel as some extra-terrestrial being. No! He is joy–to be shared, peace–to be given, and friendship extended.
But he is also still being crucified in different ways among us, and so Jesus is the hungry–to be fed, the thirsty–to be given drink. Jesus is the naked–to be clothed. He is the homeless–to be sheltered, the sick–to be healed. The lonely–to be visited. The unwanted–to be included. He is the leper—whose wounds need washing.
In our world today, we are called to see Jesus as the addict we are called to help liberate–the mentally ill—we must protect; the little one–to embrace, the blind–to be led; the voiceless—for whom we must speak; the lame—we must help to walk; the prisoner—who needs to be visited; the elderly—who need our care.
We need to remember that Jesus dealt with health care by providing it. He dealt with immigrants by becoming one. Jesus dealt with the powerful by taking the side of the weak. He dealt with entrenched privilege by stressing inclusion and not helping only his friends.
This past week saw the anniversary of my entering the Jesuit order. I rendezvoused with 2 guys who were in the novitiate with me—the finest guys you’d ever want to meet. They left the order years ago and started families of their own. Naturally, we spoke about our life-paths. Whichever one we took, their being married or mine being here alone at the rectory, each road has its blessings and challenges. We each stumble along the way at times, or take detours from inspired decision-making, but each of us was thankful for God steering us back on course whenever we found ourselves in a fog. I told the guys that one of the blessings I’ve had along the way—has been to find myself here at John 23rd parish with you.
All Jesuits know the prayer below. It is said or sung on their vow day.
“Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding and whole will. You have given me all that I am, and all that I possess, I surrender it all to you, that you may dispose of it according to your will. Give me only your love and your grace; with these I will be rich enough and will have no more to desire.”
Odds and Ends
Reminder that the 11 a.m. Sunday mass has the least attendance thus far. Tell those who are keeping social distance from large crowds that this one might be to their liking—along with the daily masses Tuesday through Friday.
Remember, too, that I’m happy to make special mention of a friend or relative at mass—so that you can bring them to that mass. Perhaps celebrate their birthday with a mass?
August 9, 2020
I started mass suggesting we are like patients who come to the divine doctor on Sunday—each of us with some issue in life that needs healing. And God gives each of us a different prescription which will address our need. Like this medical analogy and our need to come to this sacrament which heals, so we are like Elijah in the first reading. Each of us comes to the mountain to encounter God—and acquire some revelation as to how we can best live our mission as God’s child.
Recall that when scripture reports someone going to a mountain, that person is going to encounter God in some way. A revelation is going to take place.
Now here in Merrill, Hemlock and Ryan, we’re on flat land. However, the sanctuary here is elevated. Architecturally, we’ve constructed our own sacred mountain within the church—where our faith community meets—and where each of us encounters God within a sacramental context. Like Moses, Elijah, the transfiguration event, and the sermon on the mount—so we are here at our sacred sanctuary mountain seeking an encounter with the God who made us.
Elijah sought him in the wind, in the earthquake, and in the fire—but God was not there. Elijah sought God in the mighty and the powerful forces of nature—but where was God eventually to be found? In a whisper. Which is a comment about you and me. After all, who are YOU and what is YOUR power—when compared with air, earth, fire, and water. Is anyone here a Master of the Universe? Anyone here a powerful politician who legislates? NO.
Instead, each of us is a whisper of God’s presence—alive in the world with the power to affect everyone we meet and make a contribution that only we can make with the particular skill-set or “presence” to others that only we can provide.
This power we have, and our seemingly little role in the world, reminds me of the honeybee—the specialty of parishioner Dan Keene who is a bee specialist. That little creature, the honeybee, is a symbol of our special power. I say this because this small, winged creature is responsible for 70% of the world’s agriculture. Their pollination allows plants to reproduce—upon which millions of animals feed. Without the bee, the fauna (animals) would disappear (Einstein saying that once bees were gone, humans would have 4 years to live).
I’ve told you repeatedly that when I come into the sanctuary at the beginning of mass, I stop and scan the assembly—the people God has called to gather at the altar so that their lives will be better for being here. I feel a Sacred gathering of God’s children—who God is inspiring to leave and BE a sacrament of God’s presence outside these walls and off this mountain. I look at you and see in each face a little bee who can pollinate others with a vision of self-giving. You are the whisper of God’s love and encouragement to others.
My being an anthropologist, I was particularly interested in today’s gospel reading because of the 1986 discovery in the Sea of Galilee (a lake, actually) of a first-century boat that played a role in the scene described by Matthew. It was 26.5’ long, 7.5’ wide, 4.5’ deep, used a sail, and was handled by 4 oarsmen and a tillerman. It could hold this crew and 10 passengers (or cargo of fish in excess of one ton). Archaeology was thus able to show us what kind of boat the apostles probably used.
Moreover, Mediterranean people at that time believed that wind and storm spirits played havoc with our lives. The only remedy for this was to find a more powerful spirit (e.g., Jesus) who could control the storm and calm the seas. That’s why the apostles thought the appearance of Jesus walking on the water might have been a “ghost.” Was it some spirit impersonating him? Or was it truly Jesus who, after all, was depicted in the gospels as putting all sorts of bad spirits in their place.
Learning it WAS him and that Jesus was calling to him (and you and me), Peter went toward him and, like Peter, we often enough say to Jesus “Lord, save me.” The event is a metaphor of our experience of encountering troubled waters, fearful of being drowned and calling out to God for help. For Matthew, the boat symbolized the Church during persecution being called to greater faith.
I once asked a famous theologian if he ever doubted the existence of God and the divinity of Jesus, or was he so convinced of his belief system that his faith was not faith but certitude. He replied that the way of Jesus was the way he wanted to live. It was the vision of life and life-after that he found most appealing amongst all philosophies or theologies. So he would live this philosophy and theology to the best of his ability–with hope and love that his faith would one day become eternal certitude.
The boat also shows that we’re in this together—and that we must face life’s storm together. Unfortunately, we sometimes have the attitude that “it’s their problem not mine;” or “it’s none of my business.” We’re like Cain who killed Abel. When God asked him where Abel was, he replied “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The answer to that question is YES, YOU ARE!!
Admittedly, it’s not easy to know how you can be of help to someone—which is part and parcel of your Christian identity. How do you address someone’s drinking problem? Or in my line of work, how do I bring up social or political issues—knowing that maybe half the congregation is not going to like what I say? After all, polls show that Catholics split 50/50 on some issues.
If I say the sky is blue, will half the congregation never again come to church because they think the sky is green? How do I speak the gospel in a way that mobilizes people—and does not alienate them? That’s the challenge that each of us has to accept. And it’s why I come to this sacrament for help. On our behalf, I pray:
Oh God of the storms, it is you I seek. With your assurance of support, I will try to seek you in WHAT MIGHT SEEM TO BE lost or divisive causes and those dark places in human activity where I can’t imagine you present. And yet you are there. Help me to be there too, seeking, finding, proclaiming your call to be a light even when the day darkens and my spirit draws back into the false safety of my self-centered world. Fill me with the wonder of your goodness and encouragement, replacing my doubt with confidence in you and your sure and steady help—especially when I am in troubled waters.
Reflection after communion
Disturb us, Lord, when We are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true Because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely Because we sailed too close to the shore.
Disturb us, Lord, when With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst For the waters of life; Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision Of the new Heaven to dim.
Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly, To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show your mastery; Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars. We ask You to push back The horizons of our hopes; And to push us into the future In strength, courage, hope, and love.
Odds and Ends
Some people shoot elephants so that they can get the ivory tusks and sell them. While most countries abide by an agreement NOT to trade in ivory, some countries (like people) just don’t care if elephants survive or die out. African forest elephants could be extinct within 10 years unless the poaching stops. The topic is clearly a sad commentary on how sinful we can be in caring for the creation God has given us.
An angle on this topic that I found provocative—relates not to elephants, but to us humans. Namely, Damien Mander has been training anti-poaching rangers in Africa for more than a decade. He says female rangers tend to be far more successful than male rangers. They’re better at de-escalating potentially violent situations, are less likely to accept bribes from poachers, and usually invest as much as 90 percent of their income in their families, as opposed to 35 percent with men.
August 2, 2020
The first reading from Isaiah addresses why we gather here. It asks if we are thirsty? And answers that God is the water we need. You have no funds to buy food? God will feed us where we most hunger. We spend our money and time on superficial things—on every fad that comes along—and Madison Avenue seduces us into getting more and more “stuff” that we buy and store away. Our attics and garages are museums holding what defined us in years past. Did they provide something that endured? Isaiah says: “No.” And that instead we should listen and respond to God’s word.
Isaiah brings to mind a topic I sometimes address at funerals—when we lay to rest a pillar of the faith community—a grandmother or grandfather who will be sorely missed by family and friends. I look at family members and wonder if they realize their loved one drew strength from the sacrament that brings us together at the funeral. I wonder if these family members will connect the dots—and see that the legacy of their loved one’s life SHOULD entail family members taking the baton of a faith-practice, or parish membership—and continuing the family tradition of their loved one. If the loved one drew their values from the gospel, and the family members no longer do the same, from where will those family members acquire values? Wall Street? Madison Avenue? MTV? Facebook? Twitter?
This is exactly what Isaiah is addressing. He doesn’t use the term, but contemporary observers refer to “secularization” taking place in the U.S. (the exclusion of religion from everyday life and reliance upon secular, or non-Christian—value systems). Is this how family members will honor the memory of the mom, dad, grandmother, grandfather that they’re burying?
The 2nd reading has Paul cite the liberating theme I cite repeatedly: nothing will stop God from loving you, caring about you, and wanting to help you (and me). You might be the nastiest person alive. You might have committed what some refer to as “the unforgiveable sin.” NOTHING will stop God from loving you. If you ARE the nastiest person alive, or if you HAVE perpetrated some misdeed, and if you were to give God some human emotion—it would be sadness (that you are not being the precious gift for others that you were intended to be). God has no interest in calling you names and slaying you on the spot.
Matthew’s miracle of the loaves and fishes is, of course, a well-known passage that refers to what we’re doing here right now. Maybe some of you were perplexed or disappointed at the last line in the gospel: “Those who ate were about five thousand men–not counting women and children.” To our ears, the sentence suggests that including women in the account was an afterthought. Not so. Scripture scholars do not see this as a throwaway observation but rather as evidence for the incident actually taking place.
Why? Because it captures a cultural reality in this part of the world back then (and still today in Saudi Arabia). Namely, men were seated separated from women and young children. The oral tradition might have gone something like this: “You should have seen it. I’d guestimate about 5000 men were there—and that’s not even counting the women and children—because where I was standing I couldn’t get a good angle to count how many of them were there.” Voila—Matthew eventually writes down the oral tradition—cites the 5000 and then notes: “. . . not counting women and children.”
This passage is another powerful example of Matthew showing his Jewish converts that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Hebrew scriptures. Jesus is the new Moses (who, miraculously, got Israelites manna in a “deserted place”). Here Jesus feeds 5k in a deserted place. We’re told that 12 baskets were leftover and that might suggest the 12 Israelite tribes or maybe even a new 12 tribes being fed beyond the Israelite nation (the world!).
And of course people wonder how they could have fed so many when the apostles said that they only had 5 loaves and 2 fish. Some have proposed that the apostles went around asking people if they had anything with them, and that once they pooled their resources, they had enough to feed everyone. Hence the notion of Jesus eliciting a response from the community to share what they had.
Another sentence in this passage speaks directly to our lives as Christians. It is Jesus telling the apostles (us) “Bring them to me” (by the way you interact with people). You don’t have to get on a soapbox or go door to door to evangelize. How about speaking to people and treating people in such a way as they are moved to think you have something worth imitating or embracing. THAT’S how you “bring people” to Jesus.
Which is why I hope younger family members of people we’ve buried will connect the dots—and carry forth the legacy of their loved ones.
I can’t let the week pass without saying something about a feast day that was celebrated Friday. Ignatius Loyola was the founder of the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits—the religious order to which I belong (we put “S.J.” after our name just as other religious orders do, e.g., Dominicans put “O.P.”). Ignatius was a Spaniard (from the Basque region of Spain, the Basques being an ethnic group whose language is not related to any other known language). He started the order in 1540 and today there are 15k in the world with 2200 in the U.S. We’re a missionary and teaching order—there being 27 colleges in the U.S. (172 globally) and over 300 high schools here and elsewhere.
While there are Dominican, Franciscan, and Benedictine nuns, there are no Jesuit nuns. However, many women’s congregations base their spirituality and structure on the Society of Jesus. Their spirituality draws much from a classic work that Ignatius authored: The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.
Jesuits try to live today’s gospel by bringing people to Jesus through their commitment to justice issues—and training “men and women for others.” We try to help people on the margins—those who are the target of prejudice and abuse. In short, Jesuits try to bring relief to the oppressed by awakening the conscience of people in power.
The Ignatian legacy includes what spiritual directors around the world refer to as “discernment of spirits.” This refers to the process whereby we learn, figure out, or decide what God is calling us to do in a given situation or with our life as a whole. It includes finding the source of our “consolation” and “desolation”—moods or frames of mind that give us life, or which bring us low (a key insight of Ignatius being that God’s “voice” in our minds is an affirming voice—a voice that calls us to discover more about our goodness and our role in building the world into a better place. God’s voice is NOT one that calls us 4-letter words and cuts us down and tells us we’re no good).
Another thought that is associated with Jesuits is the concept of the “magis” (a Latin word meaning “the more”). Again, God is always calling us to new discovery, new horizons beyond our limited vision of self and others. To give a concrete example of how “magis” might work in our life, think of landscaping your property.
You have a nice lawn in the front and back, and you’ve planted shrubs and trees and flowers everywhere—and everyone is grateful that you care enough about the neighborhood to present your living space as something lovely to behold. This is wonderful. BUT, as Pope Francis reminded us in the encyclical Laudato Si, are we being the best steward of God’s environment that we can be?
Before acquiring a given tree or bush or plant or flower, did we check to see if it was an “invasive species” that, although pretty to look at, might actually HURT the environment that spawned life here in Michigan—over millions of years? THAT’S what doing the “magis” is about—exercising the best that we can be and do.
Now if you find yourself saying “Oh, I really can’t be bothered with this sort of thing. I’ll leave it to others.” On any issue of importance, ask yourself the following: do you want your gravestone to say “He/She didn’t care.” I don’t think any of us would want that to be our legacy-memory.
Which is why we all need to pray a prayer associated with Ignatius and Jesuits.
Lord, teach us to be generous. Teach us to serve you as you deserve. To give without counting the cost. To fight without heeding the wounds, To labor without seeking rest. To sacrifice without thought of any reward except that of knowing we do what you call us to do.
July 26, 2020
Deacon Larry’s Farewell
MIL GRACIAS! THANK YOU!
It has been my honor and privilege to have served St. John XXIII Parish this past year, especially during these extraordinary times we live in. Many changes have occurred since May of 2019. In the midst of troubling times, Bishop Walter Hurley sent me to St. John XXIII Parish. I came as a stranger without hardly knowing anyone at all. What I discovered was a community of deep faith and dedicated servants.
During my time at St. John XXIII Parish, together we endured many joys and some hardships. We celebrated the fifth anniversary of St. John XXIII Parish with hotdogs after Mass. We celebrated a wedding, anniversaries and birthdays, the baptism of an infant, walked in faith together, confirmed four RCIA faithful [oh my], mourned at funerals and vigils, rejoiced at the birth of new babies and countless other encounters. Seeing people at daily Mass and gathering for our “coffee clutch” brings some very good memories, too. In short, we journeyed together in life.
I am grateful for all of you. I was touched by the sendoff you gave me. You overwhelmed me with expressions of friendship and showered me with cards, messages and gifts. Your names are too numerous to mention but you know who you are. Of course, all the varied ministers hold a special place for me: those who volunteer to help out as long as God allows, persevering in their faith at all times. You are my MVPs, most valuable parishioners.
However, I would be remiss if I did not mention Fr. Mike and the staff I worked with, day in and day out. When Fr. Mike came in November, I did not know if he would keep me or not. It turns out, we worked very well together. In addition, Dennis Newman [my sidekick & piano man], Irene Kruth [my confidant] and John Letts [he always had my back] made up my A-team. I could not have asked for better friends.
We will always be connected by our hearts and our common faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Feel free to write me by email or snail mail at:
Deacon Librado Gayton, Director of Hispanic Ministry
Catholic Diocese of Saginaw
5800 Weiss St.
Saginaw, MI 48603-2762 ph: 989-797-6604
In this time of heightened awareness of racism across our country, we want to offer an opportunity to participate in a discussion about racism and the issues that surround it. This discussion will not focus only on the secular problems, but also how we as Catholics are impacted by racism, discrimination, and prejudice and how we can respond with the light of faith.
John Thorne, Executive Director of the Detroit Catholic Pastoral Alliance, will be leading the webinar for parish leaders and catechists in the Diocese of Saginaw titled “Understanding Racism and our Catholic Response” on Thursday, August 18 at 7 pm.
In addition to directing the work of the Detroit Catholic Pastoral Alliance, John was a consultant on the recent document from the US Bishops titled “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love,” published in 2018, which addresses racism in the United States. He was also a presenter for the USCCB’s “Intercultural Competencies” workshop and is a former Director of Black Catholic Ministries for the Archdiocese of Detroit. His joyful spirit and deep Catholic faith are gifts he brings to his ministry and this topic, so please join us for what will most certainly be a blessed opportunity to learn, reflect and look forward with hope.
Although it is not required, you may want to read the document “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love” before the webinar. You can find it at this link:
http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/racism/upload/open-wide-our-hearts.pdf. A link to the document and other resources can be found on the USCCB website here: http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/racism/index.cfm.
If you would like to register for the event, please contact Pat Preston at email@example.com, and she will send you the link for the webinar. If you have other questions or need more information, please contact Mark Graveline at firstname.lastname@example.org or 989.797.6639 or Peg McEvoy at email@example.com or 989.797.6608.
This weekend, we have a first communion mass at 11 a.m., so my homily thoughts are going to be a blend of what I’ll say there and what I say to more mature audiences at the 4 p.m. and 9 a.m. masses.
Let’s face it, whenever we come to mass, we bring to God a laundry list of needs or concerns. There might be a health issue that fixates us, or a family problem, or a discouraging frame of mind that haunts us. It’s always SOMETHING that we take to God in prayer at mass.
This weekend, 4 young people will be making their first communion, and I’m sure each of us can recall making our first communion many moons ago. And here we are—gathered many years later at the altar of the Lord. Hmm. Will the 4 young ones making their 1st communion today be here years from now—gathering at the altar, as members of a faith community? I hope so.
What will draw them? What has drawn us to keep returning to the table of the Lord? It might be related to the first reading. God gave Solomon an “understanding heart”—one that could discern right from wrong. And let’s face it, there’s lots of “wrong” in life that seduces us. And there’s lots of “wrong” that God calls us to address.
Look at the issues all around us. Be it in our family or in national issues, all sorts of people disagree about what’s right and wrong. Some say what’s right is what others say is wrong. Studies of our Catholic community even say we are split 50/50 on issues. What on earth is happening to us? Do we not know the voice of Jesus? Do we not recognize what he’d say about family, local, and national issues? Apparently we’re divided on what Jesus would say. Why is there this disconnect?
Could it be that even after going to mass and receiving communion all our lives, we STILL aren’t sure what the voice of Jesus sounds like? And we confuse it with patriotism, political party affiliations, or prejudices we carry?
Today’s gospel says the kingdom of God can be compared to a pearl of great price. This is not a reference to a place but to an experience—an experience of you (and me) relating to God. THAT is the pearl of great price—to know what God is calling you to be, to say, to do with your life each day. You’ve FOUND the pearl if you’re able to know God is with you—calling you forward—past the limited horizon you have of yourself, and the prejudices you (and I) maintain.
This past week’s daily mass had a reading from the Song of Songs. That’s a book in Hebrew scripture that is erotic poetry. A reader might wonder why this sort of literature is in the bible. The answer is simple: the writer is simply saying that God loves you passionately. Great. God loves me. And so?????
And so you (and I) can move ahead and speak the “right” to the “wrongs” we see all around us. We might take flak from family, friends, and others, but we have the kingdom of God within our hearts. And we have the consolation of being Solomon for others—Solomons who know right from wrong.
I recall one day on the banks of the Miami River in Ohio—in prayer asking if there was a God, and if God existed—could I be assured of God’s presence. Parables tell us we’re a pearl of great price and that the sower sows us seeds to grow and produce a harvest. HOWEVER, there are weeds in my life. Would God still be with me when I make weed-like decisions?
I was thinking these sorts of thoughts when all of a sudden a black dog comes walking toward me from down the river. I wondered if he’d be friendly or mean. After all, I was bit by a dog on my 7th birthday, and had to get 14 rabies shots. Well, the dog came to me, and I said “What a good dog, what a nice dog” (hoping he’d take a hint). Sure enough, he sat down next to me—and just looked out at the river with me. A friendly dog, just sitting there with me.
And then I did something without thinking. In life, we do lots of things without thinking—and we pay a price. We make mistakes. We say or do the wrong thing. On this occasion, I unthinkingly threw a stick into the river. Right away, the dog took that as a cue to go fetch the stick.
Now the river bank was maybe 40 feet high, and steep and dangerous. And so, I shouted loudly to the dog: “No. Stay. No, no, no.” But he went about 50 feet to my right and stepped down the bank—only to start a long and horrible-looking tumble head over heels. I turned away in horror—thinking he’d for sure break his neck.
Upon crashing at the edge of the river, he got up, shook himself off, and proceeded to walk the river’s edge looking out into where the current was taking the stick I had thrown. Eventually, he splashed into the river, grabbed the stick, and made a wide circuit up the bank to my left. Coming to my side again, he handed me the stick, and sat down again.
I was so relieved—so glad this fine pup was okay. And so thankful for God showing me through this pup that God would be faithful to me no matter how many unthinking mistakes I made in life, or how many weeds I planted among the good seeds of God’s creation. I had questioned God’s existence, but God is with us always—in different forms–like the black dog. Or, like the wind, God might not be visible, but we feel God just as we feel the invisible wind blow against us.
The pup’s arrival and fetching was an immediate answer to my question about God’s faithfulness to me. It was as if God said to my doubting mind: “Let me show you how much I love you, and the extent to which I want you to know of my love.” And along came the black dog—as people who come into our lives and reveal to us God’s love.
The parable of the sower reminds me of the man who took great pride in his lawn. He found himself with a large crop of dandelions. He tried every method he knew to get rid of them. Still they plagued him. Finally, he wrote the Department of Agriculture. He enumerated all the things he had tried and closed his letter with the question: “What shall I do now?” In due course of time the reply came: “We suggest you learn to love them.”
So realize that God sowed your life—and that dandelions get into it. But God stays with you, dandelions and all, calling you to be a beacon showing others the difference between right and wrong–calling you to detect the voice of Jesus within the arguments of our day.
In the words of St. Theresa of Avila: Jesus has no body now but yours; no hands, no feet on earth, but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on the world; yours are the feet with which he walks to do good; yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world. Jesus has no body now on earth but yours.
July 19, 2020
On some Sundays, we are given a long form of the gospel or a short one. This is one of those Sundays. I read the short form—the parable of the sower and the seeds. Here’s what scripture scholars tell us about this parable.
Matthew and Luke draw a fair amount of material from Mark’s gospel (the first gospel written). John’s gospel doesn’t have this parable in it. Interestingly, the apocryphal gospel of Thomas (one that wasn’t accepted by the church as “canonical”) also had the sower story. Matthew and Luke expanded it to include an interpretation—which Jesus may or may not have taught.
Scholars conclude that he probably told the parable since a number of sources have it. So what point is made in Matthew’s account? Recall it told of seed not taking root because it encountered hard ground, thorns, birds, scorching sun and other challenges. But some seed harvested 100 or 60 or 30-fold (in a land where 100-fold harvest is absurd and a 7-10% yield is normal).
Matthew has Jesus telling his followers that they will meet opposition and peril, but he encourages and exhorts them to carry on. I think of teachers who spend a lifetime planting seeds in young minds—wondering if any of those seeds will take root and provide the world with wonders untold. And so it is with us—as we allow scriptural seeds to be planted in our minds and hearts. Will they take root, and will we produce the harvest God calls us to reap?
This weekend we’re confirming four people in their faith—the 11 o’clock mass seeing 1 baptism, 2 first communions, and 4 confirmations. I was reminded of the sacrament of confirmation when I saw someone’s tattoo this week—as tattoos communicate some message about the person who has one (or more). I was then reminded of our tribal ancestors (remember we all come from tribal roots). They wore tattoos or scarred different parts of their body or wore insignia of some kind—to broadcast the message of who they were. Our Jewish ancestors had circumcision—which was understood by them as the “sign of the covenant” between Abraham and God. Every Jewish male was to have this sign. Genital cutting still exists in many cultures–women sometimes included.
When out hunting, if an ancestor of ours met someone they didn’t recognize—they’d look them over to see if their ethnic/tribal/family mark of some kind was being worn by the stranger. If they didn’t see anything that marks that person as one of their own—out would come the knives.
I wear a Tiger or Lions cap—wanting to tell of my Detroit roots and teams. Some will see my cap and think “loser!” But I don’t think that way. Go Tigers! Go Lions! Others will wear their red cap in the political realm, or have a flag hang at their house, or have a hair or clothing style that makes a statement about who they are. It just seems to be in our genes to identify ourselves in these varied ways.
I bring up this topic this weekend because of the confirmations taking place. These 4 wonderful people are saying to the world via this sacrament, that they are scarring their hearts with the gospel. The flag they’re wearing is faith, hope, and love that clothes their spirit, and their minds are tattooed with the sermon on the mount—to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable.
There is no outward sign that they’ll be wearing. Instead, it will be their behavior. At least, this is what they pledge in this sacrament. They’re publicly stating that they want to be known by a different flag, a different tattoo, a different scar—invisible to the eye except in people recognizing them as people who live the gospel.
From this day forward, they will reflect on what we who are already confirmed, supposedly, reflect upon. Namely, is my thinking and behavior any different from my atheistic or agnostic neighbor who attends no church? Are my opinions on social issues formed by my political party or the gospel? Is my #1 charity myself, or is any part of my life given to the care of others? Am I making any effort to bring about the change that Jesus preached, or does my lifestyle simply reflect me being a product of my culture and doing whatever is faddish?
Should you feel the same desire felt by our 4 confirmation people today, and not want to be a bystander in the parade of life; should you want to be someone whose invisible Christian tattoos make a difference that goes beyond divisive politics, blind patriotism, and ethnic prejudice—let this sentence of 10 words, 2 letters each–remind you of the change you are called to create:
“If it is to be, it is up to me.”
Just think of the positive impact we could have as a faith community if each one of us internalized this commitment.
Blessing for Confirmation
May God bless you with a restless discomfort about easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships, so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.
May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people.
May God bless you with the gift of tears to shed with those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.
May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you really CAN make a difference in this world, so that you are able, with God’s grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.
And may the blessing of God the Supreme Majesty and our Creator, Jesus Christ the Incarnate Word who is our brother and Saviour, and the Holy Spirit, our Advocate and Guide, be with you and remain with you, this day and forevermore. AMEN
The Prayer of St. Francis with an Addition to It
[The first part of the prayer below is known at the “Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi.” It was composed in the 20th century, so was not uttered by him. At a weekday mass I read it along with the addition that is contemporary. A parishioner asked that it be put in the bulletin. Voila.]
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light. Where there is sadness, joy.
May I be a safeguard for those who have no protection, A guide for those who journey along the way; For those who wish to go across the water, May I be a boat, a raft, a bridge.
May I be a home port for those who yearn for landfall, And a lamp for those who long for the light; For those who are tired, may I be a resting place, For all who need help, their servant.
July 4, 2020
Just a quick show of hands to start this homily. How many of you are married to your first cousin?
Sure enough, I didn’t think I’d see any hands raise. As a culture, we’d be looked down upon by others if we admit to being married to our first cousins. HOWEVER, 25 states permit it, and prior to the Civil War of 1861, most marriages were between first cousins. Only toward the end of the 19th century did the trend see people marrying outside the family.
No European country bans first cousin marriage and in many parts of the world, they are still the most common marital liaison—as it was in the time of Jesus, the Jewish custom being to marry father’s brother’s child. If you broke this rule, you were being unpatriotic and your behavior shocking—because “We’ve never done it that way! We always marry our first cousin!”
Jesus, however, taught that kin-based marriage isn’t the highest form, and Matthew reminds us of this when noting that Jesus said we’re free to marry anyone. This upset traditionalists—who appealed to emotions of Jewish converts to Christianity. “Stick to your people’s tradition. Fear new ideas and those from other cultures.” This reminds me of instinctual drives we have, and how our brains are wired—and how leaders can appeal to different instincts or parts of our brain.
You’ll hear people speak of the “reptilian” part of our brain. It involves basic instincts associated with fear, pain, and mating. There’s a higher part of our brain that is associated with analysis and reflection—a basic fact of life being that each of us is capable of behaving in a reptilian way or a the more highly developed “human” way.
Leaders can appeal to our reptilian instinct or our higher ones—call them “aspirational.” For example, I told you about the Sioux Indian story about the coming of the sacred smoking pipe. 2 warriors found a beautiful woman and one of them assaulted her (a reptilian response)—and was instantly turned into a skeleton. The other warrior respected her as a sacred person (an aspirational perspective).
Or think of someone hurting you in some way. You feel like “getting even” with the person—maybe causing them harm of some kind (reptilian). But you have a choice. Someone tells you to “move on” and “turn the other cheek” (thus suggesting an aspirational behavior—transcending the base instinct of lashing back).
Charismatic leaders can be value-based (aspirational) or self-centered (reptilian). Think of Jim Jones and the People’s Temple—he convincing 900 people to kill themselves—somehow able to mesmerize/hypnotize his followers into adopting self-destructive behavior (death based on fear). Political leaders can be either reptilian or aspirational—those who push buttons that trigger fear, anger, retaliation, etc. among their followers, or those who try and describe a hopeful future, a better world where all can live together in peace (aspirational).
I provide this background so that you know what kind of leader Jesus is. He is aspirational—calling us to receive sacraments that elevate our vision of life and our place in life. The prodigal son/daughter took their inheritance and blew it (all reptilian) while his father welcomed him back and tried to upbuild his child (aspirational).
We often enough react in reptilian ways and we don’t always respond to issues in aspirational ways. Here’s an easy way to think of these terms—react/reptilian, respond/aspirational.
God calls us to sacramental participation and it, in turn, helps us transcend innate instincts—and reach out to something more visionary than those basic passions. The Old Testament has lots of history in it—the point being for us to look at OUR history—and see where we’ve been more reptilian than human.
You or I come up with excuses as to why we can’t achieve anything more than what we’re doing. We claim that some cross is too burdensome and that it prevents us from becoming the visionary person God calls us to be.
However, today’s gospel has Jesus tell us “pick up your cross”—meaning we CAN pick it up—and move on. Each of us can point to something in our lives that we say prevents us from being something different from what we are “settling for.” The gospel calls us NOT to settle for limiting our Christian influence on others—but instead tries to clarify our vision of what God calls us to be for others.
As a teen, I had a policeman shout at me “stop or I’ll shoot.” In looking back on my behavior, I can only shake my head and ask “what were you thinking?” I was picked up by police a couple of more times during that same period—so if I stayed on that track, I wouldn’t be with you today. Fortunately, God intervened and somehow showed me that my reptilian level of behavior wasn’t as rewarding as behavior that was more aspirational. I was somehow drawn to thinking God wanted me to be more than I was settling for. Somewhere within my soul-searching it seemed God might actually be calling me to do whatever a priest does (my understanding of the role wasn’t real insightful in my formative years).
Transcending our reptilian instincts and perceiving more than primal drives of anger, fright, or reproduction is not limited to embracing some entirely new walk of life. Instead, it’s simply acquiring and acting on our God-given ability to appreciate afresh the many gifts of creation that surround us.
The following poem, on the one hand, has nothing to do with “religion.” On the other hand, it has everything to do with it—as it describes a person’s living one day with a consciousness of appreciation—for all the little things we might otherwise pass by without noticing. Titled “Aimless Love,” it is written by the US. Poet-laureate Billy Crudup.
This morning as I walked along the lakeshore,
I fell in love with a wren
and later in the day with a mouse
the cat had dropped under the dining room table.
In the shadows of an autumn evening,
I fell for a seamstress
still at her machine in the tailor’s window,
and later for a bowl of broth,
steam rising like smoke from a naval battle.
This is the best kind of love, I thought,
without recompense, without gifts,
or unkind words, without suspicion,
or silence on the telephone.
The love of the chestnut,
the jazz cap and one hand on the wheel.
No lust, no slam of the door –
the love of the miniature orange tree,
the clean white shirt, the hot evening shower,
the highway that cuts across Florida.
No waiting, no huffiness, or rancor –
just a twinge every now and then
for the wren who had built her nest
on a low branch overhanging the water
and for the dead mouse,
still dressed in its light brown suit.
But my heart is always propped up
in a field on its tripod,
ready for the next arrow.
After I carried the mouse by the tail
to a pile of leaves in the woods,
I found myself standing at the bathroom sink
gazing down affectionately at the soap,
so patient and soluble,
so at home in its pale green soap dish.
I could feel myself falling again
as I felt its turning in my wet hands
and caught the scent of lavender and stone.
Were I to conclude this poem with a directly-stated religious angle to it, I’d write:
I looked in the mirror
And my gaze was returned.
A face was contemplating a hopeful destiny
born of a God who called for its discovery.
Look in the mirror and realize you are blest.
The young man was at the end of his rope. Seeing no way out, he dropped to his knees in prayer. “Lord, I can’t go on,” he said. “I have too heavy a cross to bear.” The Lord replied, “My son, if you can’t bear its weight, just place your cross inside this room and pick out any cross you wish.” The man was filled with relief. “Thank you, Lord,” he sighed, and he did as he was told. He put down his burden, wandered around the room, and saw many crosses, some so large the tops were not visible. Then he spotted a tiny cross leaning against a far wall. “I’d like that one, Lord,” he whispered. And the Lord replied, “My son, that is the cross you just brought in.”
June 28, 2020
Odds and Ends
1) When you see a surgeon depicted on television wearing a mask, the mask is worn to prevent the surgeon from exhaling into the open wound of the patient–much like our wearing of masks is intended to prevent us from unknowingly spreading the virus to others if we are asymptomatic. When you see someone not wearing a mask, they may THINK the only reason people wear a mask is to protect themselves. Not so. It’s to protect others.
2) Unless you get around and see “how the other half lives,” it’s hard to believe that one in five kids in America goes to bed hungry.
3) In an effort to protect the more vulnerable, we can always expand our list of communion distributors so that younger folk can take the role. Call the office and volunteer (for the role of reader and usher, too).
4) Last Saturday, mass was offered for someone’s mom and dad who celebrated both a birthday and an anniversary. This coming Friday morning’s mass is for someone else on their birthday. What a nice birthday gift it would be for someone to have a weekday or weekend mass said for them—and then you take them out for breakfast or dinner (on Saturday). Nice way of integrating one’s faith-life with one’s secular life.
For those who missed mass on June 21st, here’s the homily.
Today’s scripture brings to mind an image I have of the last judgment. Namely, in the gospel Jesus says: “Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known.” I think of God assembling everyone into an amphitheater and saying: “Okay, you will now watch Michael’s life-story from beginning to end. You will watch every second of his existence and see how he lived the gift of his life.” Jesus then turns on the video of my life for everyone to view. Naturally, there are times when I ask him to fast-forward the tape.
As the video plays, I think of today’s reading from Jeremiah and recall that my life as a Christian was supposed to include a prophetic voice. Remember that a “prophet” in Hebrew scripture’s “Old Testament” was not someone who predicted the future (the way we use the word “prophet” in everyday language). Rather, a prophet is one who sees what God is calling us to do TODAY!
I, as a Christian (and priest), am supposed to look at the sins of the 6 o’clock news and CALL ATTENTION to where we are going astray. I’m supposed to exercise my “prophetic voice” as Jeremiah (and Jesus) did.
But look what happened to both of them. They were killed by people who took offense at what they said. Choose any issue, and if I, or anyone, speak a prophetic voice addressing one of those issues—I’ll be rejected. That’s no fun—so there’s a big temptation NOT to speak a prophetic voice. Ministers of all churches are tempted to avoid contentious issues and instead address only topics that play well to their audience. One of the spiritual works of mercy is to “comfort the afflicted,” but it entails “afflicting the comfortable,” too–so ministers fear retaliation of some kind if their “flock” is not open to at least listening.
Remember, too, that a prophetic voice isn’t you or I rattling off our latest opinion on any topic that’s raised. No. It’s you or I internalizing scripture, the beatitudes and works of mercy they contain—and reminding others where we, as children of God, are not living our lives as we should. So as I think of this prophetic identity I’m supposed to own, I wonder if at the end of the video, I’ll be indicted and found guilty for speaking that prophetic voice? Or will I be found innocent? Will the verdict say that I played it safe and skirted issues, and that I didn’t say what needed to be said to people?
I think of this scenario and realize I still have time before that trial date comes. I’ll here attempt to do what Jeremiah and Jesus did. They looked at society and indicated what needed people’s attention. I’ll here take a stab at analyzing (via a Christian lens) what’s been unfolding in our society these past weeks in an attempt to indicate what needs our attention.
I’m not Black Like Me author John Howard Griffin—but I do have a fair amount of experience in minority communities. Some of you may recall that Griffin was a white guy who used to discuss race relations with people and was told he just couldn’t fully appreciate what blacks felt because he didn’t have black skin. Tired of the conversation ending on that point, he underwent a treatment that colored his skin such that he passed for being black. And he had a conversion experience—encountering undeserved treatment for just being a minority man. Later on, he was brutalized by KKK kinds of people when he returned to being “white” (and speaking about his experience).
When I lived on the Pine Ridge Reservation, I was part of the minority—a white guy performing any number of roles at the school, and socially one of the few hundred white people in a population of 20,000 Oglala Sioux (Lakota). It became natural to identify with the people—such that if I saw a white guy in a social setting, I’d ask an Indian companion “who’s that white guy?” Most of the time, I was a fixture among Indians—interacting with people as just another person. But sometimes this was not my experience.
On occasion, I’d be with students in Rapid City, and they’d tell me to stay near because the white people would be looking at them and maybe not treat them very well. I tried to assure them that our trip would be fine—and not to worry. The film Billy Jack is a classic (for a variety of reasons) that depicted what I witnessed as a chaperone of Indian kids. When teaching Indian studies at the college level, I would show a scene in that film which reflected the tension I witnessed. What the Indian kids told me–was real.
At this time, in the nearby town of Gordon, Nebraska, cowboy men (presumably intoxicated) at the VFW hall brought an Indian man (Raymond Yellow Thunder) into their midst and made fun of him (details are scarce). They left him in the alley where he died of exposure on a winter night—found by my teaching colleague, John Cedarface. This was depicted in the film The Trial of Billy Jack (a sequel to the first film). This incident preceded the internationally televised coverage of the Wounded Knee occupation, and another incident that took place at the end of a school day.
I served as a bus driver and returned after my run and pulled next to Frank, my fellow Jesuit teacher and friend. Upon greeting him, I noticed something was wrong. He seemed drained—with tear tracks down his cheek. He reported the following.
With his lights flashing at one of his stops, he awaited the kids to cross the 2-lane highway when a semi-truck came barreling over the hill behind him—at twice the speed limit. As he illegally passed Frank’s bus, he sent first-grader Donnie He Crow flying a hundred feet into the air, dead upon impact.
The following summer, the truck driver’s trial occurred in Rapid City. Despite the trucker having a record with previous driving violations, the jury presented a “not guilty” verdict. Before dismissing the jury, the judge reprimanded them for bringing in the most racist verdict he’d ever witnessed and that it was unconscionable. He regretted that he could not reverse it. The defendant was free to go. Go where? To Donnie’s grave? To celebrate victory?
When these incidents occurred, I sadly fielded comments that associated me with the white townspeople, the VFW killers, and the truck driver. I didn’t identify with the bigots and killers, but my Indian student-friends were long accustomed to seeing my skin-type as their oppressor—down through the years, in towns and businesses and courts.
When the voting rights act of 1965 was passed, there was a caution levied against a number of states—saying that these states should be monitored for restricting voter access to the polls. This was in effect until a couple of years ago. At that time, the supreme court ruled these states no longer needed monitoring–whereupon voter suppression immediately began AGAIN in those very same states! Their racist mindset hadn’t changed in 55 years of being monitored!!!
An egregious example of what took place reflects doing something “legal” but which is also racist. This past week, a Kentucky judge ruled that polling places could be cut by 95%. Kentucky is near and dear to me because my dad is from there and I have relatives in the state. Who do you suppose will be most affected by this “legal” move in the year 2020 (when the U.S. is supposedly color-blind to every citizen’s right to vote)?
One polling place has 616,000 registered voters, mostly black! “Legal”—but racist in its impact. When the voting rights act of 1965 was passed, people of goodwill were glad to see the U.S. live up to its name and assure everyone the right to vote (a century after the Civil War was fought). It is tragic that 55 years after the act, the right of SOME to vote is still in jeopardy. So if you claim to be a patriot, you should be offended that the nation’s proud claim of being a democracy—is not accurate. If you’re also a Christian, you should be doubly-offended. Thankfully, many people realize that racism–in any form–runs counter to both democracy and Christianity.
This sort of unending social disease reminds me of my teaching bible school one summer at an inner-city Detroit parish when I was a Jesuit novice. My group of first-graders was on its lunch break and I, one of a handful of “white” people at the school, was standing on the playground when a little girl came toward me with her hand wiping her eye—tears on her face. As she rubbed the tears, she said: “Brother Mike, someone called me a nigga.”
I was emotionally moved that this little innocent was coming to me—a “white guy”—seeking comfort from the hurt inflicted by another. She did not know that my “whiteness” was associated with name-calling and oppression of her ancestral line. Kneeling down I gave her a warm hug and said that I’ve been called names, too, and that sometimes people say things because they’re just angry that day—and don’t really mean it. I told her that “Whenever anyone calls you a name—feel sorry for that person—because they don’t know what a wonderful little girl you are. When God made you, God made a beautiful person, and God loves you very much. Okay?” She nodded and I gave her another hug.
I could never have imagined that this incident from many decades ago—I would be reporting to you, or any parish, in a homily—-in which I’d have to say that the little girl I encountered that day—still asks us to wipe away her tears.
Footnote: State officials on both sides of the aisle released a joint statement condemning US District Judge Charles Simpson’s ruling against a case that argued having just one polling site in most of the state’s 120 counties would result in voter suppression.
Life is both a journey and a story.
As a meaningful journey, it is goal-centered–with short-range and long-range goals. Can you formulate your goals, or at least start to formulate them?
Nobody likes a story with no point to it. What is the point of yours?
You are co-writer–with God–of your story, within the limits allowed you by your concrete world and your place within it. What kind of people do you want to be part of your story? Seek them out. What do you want the end of your story to be? Create it.
But wait. Does your story and journey take into account the role of service to others? If its plot does not include this critical element, your story, sadly, will lack the luster and greatness the Author of your life intended it to have.
Reach for greatness. Reach out to others in need–be they the people you know, or be they the stranger who, behind a mask of anonymity or color, wants to be known–and needs your recognition, or even maybe your companionship. That anonymous person is God–looking at you from behind the many disguised faces you pass on any given day.
I was in a long line at 7:45 am at the grocery store that opened at 8:00 for seniors only. A young man came from the parking lot and tried to cut in at the front of the line, but an old lady beat him back with her cane. He returned and tried to cut in again but an old man punched him in the gut, then kicked him to the ground and rolled him away. As he approached the line for the 3rd time he said, “If you don’t let me unlock the door, you’ll never get in there.”
Articles of Interest
Restaurants and the pandemic
Rural communities and the pandemic
Reading our experience as God wants us to read it
What if 2020 isn’t cancelled?
What if 2020 is the year we’ve been waiting for?
A year so uncomfortable, so painful, so scary,
so raw that it finally forces us to grow.
A year that screams so loud,
finally awakening us from our ignorant slumber.
A year we finally accept the need for change.
Declare change. Work for change. Become the change.
A year we finally band together,
instead of pushing each other further apart.
2020 isn’t cancelled, but rather is
the most important year of all.
June 21st Bulletin
Odds and Ends
1) People have provided garden care and have made a real contribution. Once I get the names of who all has helped, I’ll cite them in the bulletin.
2) Is there anyone who might serve as “usher coordinator?” Not a major undertaking but something that would help the operation of weekend masses at both churches—someone to collect the names and numbers of ushers and schedule them. We would put the list in the bulletin. Call the parish number and volunteer. Thanks.
For those of you who missed Eucharist Sunday (“Corpus Christi” Sunday), here’s the homily. Sorry you couldn’t be there in person. It’s so good to see the faith-community assembled. But err on the side of caution, and steer clear of crowds (which is why I encourage you to attend a weekday mass).
At one time, the Church had between 20 and 30 sacraments. These were reduced to 7, while other Christian groups have 2 or 3. All of them have some form of “eucharist” (which means “to give thanks”). It might be called communion, the Lord’s supper, holy mysteries, synaxis (the Orthodox), mass, table fellowship, and other similar names.
Within our history, we’ve seen extremes of practice. Consecrated bread was at one time taken home, while at another time lay people were not allowed to touch it. Letters from bishops even warn people about mice getting into the consecrated bread and that it should not grow stale and unpalatable. We also have the “adoration of the blessed sacrament” services—in which a large host is placed in a “monstrance.” The monstrance often looks like a sun with rays coming out of it, and people pray at these services and reflect on the meaning of “the body of Christ”—and what that reality means today. E.g., is “the body” a tangible object there on the altar, or is it me—alive and interacting with others, or both, or is it people crucified with poverty or some other physical or social illness?
In recent years, building upon an earlier pious tradition, some have grown accustomed to referring to the “precious blood” in the chalice of wine. That adjective can, of course, refer to the wine, but one should know that the “blood” could also be called “conquering” or “loving” or “life-giving” or any number of other adjectives. “Precious” just seems to have caught on with some people—such that they ONLY make reference to the chalice as the “precious blood.” This past week, I listened to a priest on the Catholic Channel, and he referred to the “precious chalice.” Meanwhile, all I can think of is the demonic character in the film Lord of the Rings who called everyone “precious” in a creepy-sounding voice. Hence you will never hear me refer to the “precious” blood OR chalice.
When I made my first communion, and for the first weeks I received, it was a challenge. I had trouble swallowing it. Then, one Sunday, my brother elbowed me as I showed an anguished face there in the pew. He said “cut it out.” I said “body and blood—I don’t want it.” To which my brother said: “It’s bread—swallow it.”
My teacher had so drilled home the word TRANSUBSTANTIATION that I thought the bread was literally, the body and blood of the crucified Jesus. It almost made me throw up. I was reminded of this childhood experience when many moons later I started graduate school and a fellow student asked why I participated in “ritualized cannibalism.” That person’s understanding of our communion rite, our sacrament of the Eucharist, was on the level of my 2nd grade understanding. So let’s step back into the even more distant past—and learn what Jesus MEANT when he said his flesh and blood were real food and real drink.
Jesus in the Temple
When Rabbi (“teacher’) Jesus spoke in the Temple, he engaged in a type of preaching known as “midrash” (a Hebrew word meaning “interpretation” or “explanation”). His “midrashic homily” was comparable to what Catholics hear at mass—an interpretation of the scriptural tradition and its application to today. Here’s a scenario that shows how his homily would have been heard by his contemporaries (and not by me, a 2nd grader, or an ill-informed graduate student).
Jesus reads from the Torah (one of the first 5 books of Hebrew scripture):
[God] therefore let you be afflicted with hunger, and then fed you with manna … in order to show you that not by bread alone does man live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the Lord. (Deut 8:3)
At this point, Jesus associates HIMSELF with God’s manna in the desert. How else did God support the Israelites in the desert? Giving them the Torah, the 10 commandments. God gave them GOD’S WORD—because they could not survive as individuals or as a people ON BREAD ALONE.
Manna is associated with God bringing laws by which to live—or WORD of God. And do you recall how John began his Gospel? “In the beginning was the WORD, and the Word was with God, and the Word WAS God.”
At this point in his midrashic homily, Jesus could proclaim aloud: “I am the new manna from heaven—the bread, the new Torah. It’s MY flesh that you should eat and MY blood that you drink—for I have the words to eternal life.”
How was God’s word in the Torah like manna? The human spirit hungers for the wisdom of how to live according to the will of God, for knowing what to believe and how to act in ways that find peace with God. The Torah is God’s self-revelation and is therefore truly bread in the wilderness. Jesus is the new Torah—true bread from heaven.
Think of how St. Augustine defined a sacrament. He said it is something revealed through Jesus and is a visible sign of an invisible reality.
Think of the Thanksgiving holiday. We’re not celebrating the turkey—but what it represents–the felt sense of gratitude for our loved ones.
At the altar, the visible signs are bread and wine—food. The invisible reality is God’s presence, or love. Speaking of which, the renowned theologian, Karl Rahner, used the example of a kiss to illustrate the sacrament.
Someone loves you—your mom/dad/spouse/significant other. How do you know? They’ve told you (the word of God). They pledged themselves to you (Jesus, the incarnate Word of God pledged to you).
Your loved one kissed you/held you. That’s Eucharist—a kiss, a hug, a sign of God’s tangible presence.
Think of the altar as the dinner table (which it was at one time). The candlelight meal suggests intimacy—as it does when you take someone you love to dinner at a nice restaurant. The low light dilates your pupils and you are absorbed with the “other” person present. This experience in Christian tradition sees the Eucharist referenced as an “agape meal”—a meal in which the community is gathered in the name of the Lord of love.
This is the meal whereat Jesus professed his love and said to gather like this in memory of him, and that he would be present to them—nourishing them to serve one another and all people beyond the walls of the agape meal.
The Eucharist, then, is the visible sign–the sincere kiss given—assuring them of the invisible reality of God’s love present to them.
This is how he said he’d be present to you—in breaking bread and sharing the cup–like God was present to people in the desert thru manna.
When Jews celebrate Passover each year, they repeat the exodus from Egypt. When we celebrate the Eucharist, we repeat the experience of table fellowship with Jesus at the agape meal—when he was really present to the apostles.
Vatican Council 2 echoed St. Paul who said: “Now you are the body and members of Christ.” St. Augustine wrote: “If you, then, are the body and members of Christ, your mystery is laid on the Table of the Lord, your mystery you receive.”
You’d think that with all this theology articulated over the centuries, we would come to the altar and go out into the world committed to being Jesus for others. HOWEVER, even in our faith community we see divisions.
Cardinal Dolan of NY interviews Donald Trump and sounds like his best friend.
Days later, the Archbishop of DC calls Trump’s behavior reprehensible.
And then a Detroit-based group that calls itself “Church Militant” calls the Archbishop names and echoes racist thoughts widely condemned.
The Detroit archdiocese says it has no relationship with that group which thinks itself more Catholic than the pope.
Former Vatican ambassador Archbishop Vigano came out publicly with anti-semitic and racist commentary accusing the pope and bishops of undermining the true Church when he himself was found guilty in Italian courts of stealing millions of dollars from his brother.
A number of American parishes then publish Vigano’s tirade in their bulletin—thus allying themselves with anti-semitic, racist, anti-papal ideas this felon-Archbishop circulates.
Each of the above persons goes to mass regularly. How is it that they can be in such conflict? How is it that WE can be in such conflict?
A first step in recovery is to come to the altar and lay down our prejudices there. Lay down our racist attitudes, our self-centeredness, our unwillingness to reform and admit we do not have all the answers. Then prayerfully ask God to take us by the hand, and lead us to the way, the truth, and the life that we and our world so desperately need.
Each of Us Is A Tabernacle
“Our Lord does not come from Heaven every day to stay in a golden ciborium. He comes to find another Heaven, the Heaven of our mind and heart–is where he most loves to stay.”
–St. Theresa of Liseux
Do you wish to honor the Body of Christ? Do not ignore him when he is naked. Do not pay him homage in the temple clad in silk, only then to neglect him outside where he is cold and ill-clad. He who said: “This is my Body” is the same who said: “You saw me hungry and you gave me no food,” and “Whatever you did to the least of my brothers you did also for me.” What good is it if the Eucharistic table is overloaded with gold chalices when your brother is dying of hunger? Start satisfying his hunger and then with what is left you may adorn the altar as well.
–St. John Chrysostom
For your viewing pleasure
Over the past few weeks, ABC affiliates around the country have been running a documentary on the canonization process for Nicholas Black Elk, the American Indian holy-man whose life I addressed in two books. While some wonderful people awakened at 4 in the morning to watch it play on the Flint affiliate, I am providing you with its website should you have absolutely nothing else to do some day. You will learn about the man, and see me and Bishop Gruss interviewed. You can help the process by taking some issue to Black Elk in prayer and asking him to intercede for you. This may lead to a “miracle” which is required to advance his cause.
Articles of Interest
Covid 19 and Rural America
Kareen Abdul-Jabbar on the Demonstrations
June 14th Bulletin
Odds and Ends
1) As you know, the storm this week brought much business to tree trimmers in the region. Branches fell in the Hemlock cemetery, and we’re in search of someone who can clear them away. The parish grounds and other places weren’t affected. Maybe the maple-wood-burning restaurant would come and take our maple trees that fell?
2) As the finance council put together a budget for the coming year, there was concern about the parish taking a hit due to the virus (since we, like all parishes, had no weekly collection except for what people sent to the office). I found it touching that some people would send several envelopes at a time—dutifully submitting their weekly offering. Seriously, I found their commitment inspiring.
I mentioned in a previous bulletin that weekly donations were about 50% down. We had been doing decently prior to the virus, and I was hopeful that we could get the 12k still needed for the Christian Service Appeal. Then the plague and rains came. We didn’t raise the additional funds for CSA, and now have a new CSA goal (higher than last year’s—which we didn’t meet). Ouch.
With this topic in the back of my mind, I had to find a quotation from John 23rd for a totally different matter. I found the quote I was seeking and then saw a line that made me smile. I considered it a “message” about finance from the good Pope to his parishioners here in Hemlock, Merrill, and Ryan. The John 23rd quote I found was: “Whoever has a heart full of love always has something to give.” So as one who has to oversee our stewardship of finance, I took that quote to mean that I should encourage everyone to continue being a loving person.
3) Last summer, a scam-email went out which claimed it was from Deacon Larry. Now my name has gone out into the scam world—asking people for credit cards and a loan of some kind. Just know that I would not contact you in this fashion. Here’s one sample scam email: “Hi, I need a task from you. Email me back immediately you receive this Have a blessed day.” Note: [I seldom use the word “task,” don’t sign off with “Have a blessed day,” and I put periods at the end of a sentence (which this one didn’t have after “receive this”)].
Here’s another one:
“Good to hear from you, how are you? I need to get a Google play gift card to help a sick parishioner going through cancer in the hospital but i can’t do this now because I’m currently busy in a meeting. Can you get it from any store around you now? I’ll pay you back as soon as i get back. Let me know asap if you can get the cards for me. May the peace of the Lord continue to be with you. Blessing Send from mobile device”
Note: The punctuation in the above is bad. Note that it says “Send” from mobile device instead of “Sent” (plus, I never text message–so you won’t get a mobile device message from me). Plus, I don’t know what a “Google play gift card” is. And how busy can a person be “in” (not “at”?) a meeting if they’re sending a text message? Language is almost all one-syllable words (person with lame vocabulary). I don’t use the acronym “asap.” And again, signing off with “Blessing” (no period and not plural form–not my usage).
Moral of the story is: beware of scam emails/text messages asking you for something.
4) Other good news is that we had the statues in Merrill and Hemlock refinished, and they look lovely. They are what we call “sacramentals”—reminders of the Sacred. They are not “sacraments” but instead are tangible things that elevate our minds and hearts to the Source of life. We should have “sacramentals” at home, too, which remind us of our origin and destiny.
That’s a glimpse of matters that have unfolded within the parish business. As with what’s happening here, may our faith, wisdom, and abilities conquer our challenges.
Here are reflections I offered at mass on “Holy Trinity Sunday” last week. Remember that weekday masses provide plenty of “social distance” that should be safe for everyone. That’s not me guessing, but rather what medical authorities report. So please feel free to come to one of our weekday masses. Similarly, Dr. Fauci said on the 12th of June that mask-wearing will protect you—so wear them wherever you go.
For those of you staying away (which, according to authorities, is wise), please know that I (and everyone) miss seeing you. It’s such a joy to look out into the congregation at God’s people together. Something to look forward to in the future.
As for the Trinity, Christians know we’re referring to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and that they are 3 persons in one God. However, in the early Church, even bishops weren’t real sure how these “persons” related to one another independently but also as one—and some bishops were even declared “heretics” (teachers of false doctrine).
Since most people were illiterate in the past, it’s not surprising that Christian oral tradition made its way to Saudi Arabia, and influenced a man named Muhammad. He learned of Mary and Jesus, and said they were revealed to him as incredibly special, sacred people. In fact, his understanding of Jesus (as reported in the Qur’an, Islam’s holy book) was not unlike that of many Christians—a prophet great in wisdom and sacredness and able to work miracles. “A” son of God, but not God himself. And as for Mary, she is the only woman mentioned in the Qur’an, and has an entire chapter named after her. Muhammad (and Muslims today) regarded Jesus as somewhat between a human and God—but definitely not God (since “there is no God but Allah,” i.e., “God”). To Muslims, and others, the Trinity suggests polytheism.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons)—as “Christian” as its members might be—are not technically considered a Christian church. This is because its teaching on the Trinity and godhead are at such odds with all other Christian groups. Plus, unlike all other Christian groups, it considers the “Book of Mormon” the inspired word of God (along with the bible). No other Christian group considers it to be inspired (Mormons claim it was revealed to Joseph Smith in New York state. It was published it in 1830).
There was even an early heresy that elevated Mary to somewhat of a goddess. You can see how this association clung to Christian tradition down to our present day. I attended an art lecture at MSU whereat the woman said Christian art reveals a female deity (she not clear about Mary’s role within Christian theology—but always seeing her elevated to some heavenly realm).
Fortunately, the Church “Fathers” (great thinkers of the early Church who settled doctrinal matters) defined the Trinity in the 4th century, and declared it to be a mystery we can’t fully understand. We can only get a sense of, or general feeling for, or appreciation of, its meaning or how it might relate to our world of experience.
For example, one day you might speak to God in prayer and thank the Creator for such a beautiful creation (you’re praying to God the Father). The next day you might be praying along the lines of “Lord Jesus, you lived the human condition and so you know what emotions I’m having at this time. Please help me navigate the fears that stalk me and find the calm you offer.” That’s praying to the Son. Finally, another day you might pray to the Holy Spirit and say “Come to me, Holy Spirit, and give me strength to attend this meeting, and deal with the people there. I feel weak and not up to the challenge, but with your inspiration, I can say what needs saying.” That’s praying to the Holy Spirit. In each instance, you prayed to a separate “person” who was the one God.
Moreover, you might think of a 3-leaf clover—3 leaves on one clover—which is like a triangle—3 in one. Or you might even think of “3 in 1” oil—a lubricant for bicycle chains developed in 1894. Or a symphony’s composer, conductor, and musician (paralleling Creator, Holy Spirit, Son).
The readings for Holy Trinity Sunday spoke of Moses in the book of Exodus meeting God on Mt. Sinai where he received the commandments. In these Hebrew scriptures of the Old Testament, the Trinity is not explicit, but implicit. In this case, for example, we see the Father give the commandments to Moses. The commandments themselves are God’s “word” (Jesus being the “Word” of God). When Moses took the commandments to the Israelites, it was the Holy Spirit who motivated or inspired him to carry out his mission.
In the gospel of John, we see a line that is cited at all sporting events—when you see someone in the crowd holding a sign that reads: John 3:16. It refers to the line “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son—so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”
We need to personalize scripture—and this can be done by thinking of yourself as “the world.” God so loved YOU! And this line is followed by one that is really critical for you to take to heart. Namely, Jesus comes to you not to condemn you, but that you might have life through him.
Think in these terms: God does not come to call you every name in the book, beat you up, and angrily say “boy are you going to rot in hell for doing [fill in the blank].” No. God comes to you and me to HELP us become who we were created to be.
John’s gospel also tells us what kind of world we inhabit, and in which we struggle to find our best identity. John’s community saw the world as a good and rich place of God’s creation, but it also saw the world as corrupt and flee-worthy (that is, go out into the desert and leave “the world” behind). The world is a place in which our possessions, often enough, own us. And so, we have to find our identity in this good/bad, love/hate world.
A spirituality line that is supposed to apply to each of us—is that we “are IN the world, but we are not OF the world.” Praying to the Trinity helps us find our God-intended place and role in the world.
And how is it that God SO loves you? Hmm. If you can bear with an obsession of mine, maybe you’ll get a sense of how God can love you, and you, and you, and you, and me, and everyone. An illustrative example came to mind this week when I went to Dr. Massa’s office. There in the waiting room was a 10-month old boxer puppy. For those of you who are not dog people, this might be a stretch for you to make, but bear with me.
In short, I’m a bit obsessive about boxer dogs—having had them as a youth, and later in life. When I see a boxer, I have to stop, talk to him or her, and just drink in their appearance and behavior. I can look at a boxer’s face and just smile. I can go nose to nose with one, and ask it questions—hopeful of some response. Their presence absorbs me.
And that’s when it hit me. God looks at your face, looks forward to seeing you, and loves going nose-to-nose with you—just as I like being that way with a boxer. God knows you on your good dog and bad dog days, and loves you through each one. God wants you as a 24-hour companion. Because God sooooooo loves you!
Reflective verses about the times we are living
What if 2020 isn’t cancelled?
What if 2020 is the year we’ve been waiting for?
A year so uncomfortable, so painful, so scary, so raw—
That it finally forces us to grow.
A year that screams so loud, that it finally awakens us
From our ignorant slumber.
A year we finally accept the need for change.
Declare change. Work for change. Become the change.
A year we finally band together, instead of
Pushing each other further apart.
2020 isn’t cancelled, but rather
Is the most important year of them all.
Sad fact from the natural world
In thinking of my home state being the “wolverine state,” I was saddened to learn this week that there are now fewer than 300 wolverines left in the U.S. (none are known to be in Michigan). Hard to believe, but they are still hunted. Is it that we won’t be happy until we’ve killed off all the creatures with whom we share the planet?
As a Catholic whose tradition says we are called to steward the earth’s resources, I find it inconceivable that people just don’t care if they exterminate creatures that have evolved over millions of years—done in the name of adding a trophy to their “man cave.” Now you might say “Religion is what priests do—not ecology issues—so stick to giving opinions on the sacraments—and leave these things to others.”
If that sort of thinking comes to mind, beware of what traditional theology calls a “ruse of the devil” (that is, a thought that will distract you from righteous, or moral, thinking). Call it what you will—the devil or fallen human nature—there is a force in our lives that does not want us to connect our religious identity with actual living. The force wants to make us forget that God came into the world because he wanted us to have life—and have it to the fullest. And that means our religious practice IS our everyday experience—in the marketplace, on playing fields, in casting votes, in identifying the common good (and not be guided solely by “what’s in it for me”).
Our religion CALLS us to do something about preserving the few surviving wolverines that once were numerous in this garden of Eden which God gave to us. Further exterminations, if not prevented, will see us Adams and Eves once again banishing ourselves from the garden of paradise.
On a lighter note from the animal world
A turtle was walking down an alley in New York when he was mugged by a gang of snails. A police detective came to investigate and asked the turtle if he could explain what happened. The turtle looked at the detective with a confused look on his face and replied “I don’t know, it all happened so fast.”
Noah was a brave man to sail in a wooden boat with two termites.
How many words are there on one page of a typical paperback novel? If you’re curious to know, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
A) Under 500
B) 500 – 600
C) 600 – 700
D) 700 – 800
E) Over 800
June 6th Webpage below
More on Church and the Pandemic
Our first weekend back showed the Saturday mass attendance at 22, while the 9 a.m. had 40 and the 11a.m. about 30. As previously stated, to be extra safe, the CDC and bishops advise people over 65 to stay home. For this group, weekday masses might be an alternative—as the smaller group allows for significant social-distancing.
As stated in last week’s bulletin, it is important to rely on good sources during any time of challenge—especially since people with different agendas will “sell” DIS-information in an effort to promote some cause or other. So I offer you what appears to be trustworthy material, e.g., the efficacy of mask-wearing, social-distancing, and sorting through information is addressed in these quite readable articles that appeared this past week:
Since most people were not at mass last Sunday, here are some thoughts related to “Pentecost”—the birthday of the Church. Why that day is called a birthday is indicated below—but first, some background.
Originally, Pentecost was a Jewish festival that takes place 50 days after Passover and celebrates the giving of the Ten Commandments. It also marked the all-important wheat harvest in the Land of Israel. For Christians, the feast celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles. However, Luke says in his Acts of the Apostles that this event took place (as in Judaism) 50 days after Passover/Easter. John’s gospel says the Spirit came on Easter Sunday. We’re just glad that the Spirit came—as we are the beneficiaries of its arrival.
Luke is saying that the Feast of Law (commandments given at Mt. Sinai) was transformed into the Christian feast of the Spirit. In the late 20th century, the Catholic “charismatic movement” arose and this group focused its prayer and worship on the Holy Spirit. Their Protestant counterparts were called “Pentecostals.” Both groups had prayer meetings at which people said they were “slain in the Spirit” (falling to the floor in a kind of trance or ecstasy). Both groups also had members who claimed to miraculously “speak in tongues” (i.e., foreign languages).
Pentecost’s first reading from Acts reported that the apostles were able to go out into the streets and that all the peoples of the world could understand what they were saying about the risen Lord. Taken literally, this passage made some think that the apostles were suddenly multi-lingual. Theologians, on the other hand, say that the passage wasn’t about a miracle related to multi-lingual preachers, but rather about how the word of Christ was able—via the power of the Holy Spirit—to go to the ends of the earth. This Pentecost event saw the Tower of Babel story turned around.
Recall that Babel is an Old Testament story about people building a tower to heaven—so that they could go there and become like gods. Whereupon the ONE God said, in effect, “Why can’t you accept yourselves for who you are? Why do you try to be someone you’re not?” And so, God made it impossible for them to continue working on the project because he suddenly had all the people speaking a different language from one another (this is called an “etiological tale”—a kind of story found in all cultures of the world which tells of how something came into being—this Babel story an Israelite etiological tale about how languages came into existence).
Voila—the apostles suddenly can speak the one language of (or “word of”) God—about his son coming to earth and rising from the dead, and calling all people children of God who should love one another.
Scripture readings of Pentecost Sunday also tell of a Holy Spirit “wind” coming upon the apostles (as in God’s sacred wind blowing over nothingness in Genesis and bringing about life—along with God “blowing” wind into Adam at his creation). Thus, a new creation is taking place on this Pentecost day—via the same divine wind that was present at the birth of the world and of Adam. Now, however, that Holy Spirit wind is birthing a new community with new leaders who no longer need to fear persecution. They are “reborn” via the Holy Spirit coming upon them.
Paul uses the human body as an analogy for the Christian faith community—saying that we are the body of Christ. Just as each part of the body plays its role for the well-functioning whole, so do we play our apostolic role within the community.
To personalize this theologically rich feast day, think of your birthday party as a child. You may not recall any one birthday, but imagine your family gathering for birthday cake. Maybe some friends are over, and presents are on the table, candles are lit, and everyone sings “happy birthday” to you. You are the person of the day—all eyes on you—everyone saying they’re glad you’re here. They’re smiling and you feel loved and pretty special because you have some nice presents to open, friends nearby, and family who loves you.
THAT is the message God tries to communicate to each of us on Pentecost Sunday. WE are His child in whom he is well-pleased. Happy birthday—child of God—reborn on Pentecost. WE are empowered, like the once-cowardly apostles, to make our unique contribution (as part of the “body”). God is smiling at us on our “birthday”—being our proud “parent” who made us for a reason—to make a difference, to be “good news.” Rejoice. Happy belated birthday
It makes me furious, Lord, when people treat me as if I am nothing.
I burn with anger when my Asian companions, my black brother, Indian sister, or my foreign-born friends are belittled.
Members of my own household say these people have the wrong family tree. They belong to the wrong race. And so do you, Lord Jesus, You’re nobody.
Your line has black sheep like Adam, white murderers like David, liars like Jacob, and dark strangers like Ruth.
You certainly didn’t pick your ancestors. Or did you?
You came as nobody to give anyone without hope the joy of discovering that it’s a gift to be born, a privilege to be human, and an honor to be the person they are.
But more than that. You became flesh of my flesh, my family tree of sinners, fools, and oppressed. You came to give them dignity, to set them free from fear, and instill in them the power to live a new life where love means liberation. In you, I have worth. I am somebody.
Social Unrest and Demonstrations
As if it weren’t bad enough to have this pandemic, a death occurs in Minnesota which galvanizes thousands of people around the country (and world) to take action. Because news outlets won’t get viewers if they show a peaceful demonstration, we instead have shots of some people (not really demonstrators) looting stores or creating chaos. 98% of the people marching are people like yourself, but videos at these demonstrations convey the impression that all sorts of nasty marchers are nonsensically rioting (as done in Detroit when the Tigers won the pennant in ’84).
Some at these demonstrations are showing up disguised as sympathizers, while some are arriving fully armed, in camouflage and body armor, with the Hawaiian shirts signifying the far-right “Boogaloo” civil-war movement. Others are simply spreading false information on the Internet by posing as protesters and telling rural communities that hordes of ravening anarchists are about to descend on their town and break all their windows—sending those communities into fits of paranoid overreaction. In short, there are groups out there who are NOT part of the legitimate protest against police abuses.
The preponderance of evidence so far suggests that right-wing extremists are playing a powerful role in the violence at the protests. There may be worse to come, e.g., neo-Nazis could be found on one website urging their comrades to attend protests and then shoot into the crowds—their goal being to make white people think that blacks are shooting white people indiscriminately.
Because all sorts of opinions are in the air—as usual—and because it’s my job to say SOMETHING at a time like this (as the Bishop has done), I offer the following.
When I was about 8, our next door neighbor was “Greta” who, from time to time, asked me to go to the store and buy her a loaf of bread or some other item. Her little sister, Karen (age 5), would visit Greta and was shocked that I, a white boy, would be the “horse” who’d carry her around the back yard when we played. When my parents sold our house to a very nice couple named Mr. and Mrs. Horton, the neighborhood kids spit on our family car and wrote things with soap on the windows saying we were no good for selling the house to a black family. You can imagine the language used.
These experiences, and others, no doubt influenced attitudes about “race relations” I’d have later in life. The video below is of the daughter of a woman who was in the news my senior year of high school. You may recall the woman—who was from my hometown of Detroit—when you hear the daughter tell her story. She says better what I would try to say in a homily.
Bulletin from May 30th below
Brothers and sisters in Christ, Peace.
As you know, many different opinions exist that relate to when and how businesses and churches should resume activity. From a geo-political perspective, it’s both interesting and frightening to learn that social media such as Youtube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Periscope, Snapchat, Meerkat, and others–have subscribers who spread Disinformation in order to create death, confusion, anarchy, chaos or division within the U.S. Moreover, well-organized groups submit “comments” in response to newspaper stories–again, “planting” information the groups want spread.
People see material in these platforms and think a site or comment is said or operated by some “good ol boy” American. Turns out the site might be operated by people outside the U.S., or anarchists and other hate-groups within the country. That is, there are “enemies of the U.S.” who would love nothing more than to see several hundred thousand more Americans die from the virus. We thought 911 and Pearl Harbor were bad, but they pale in comparison with the virus toll. Meanwhile, the country’s political adversaries smile in planting false data everywhere.
It’s sad to think such people are doing this, but it’s just a fact of life that some seek to create chaos by planting “DIS”-information. Enemies of the gospel are also, sadly, home-grown–and consist of hate groups. Some are similar to Charles Manson–who wanted to create a “helter-skelter” race war. They seek to enlist impressionable people in their different causes.
Do anti-gospel people really exist? Yes. For decades–right up until his death, Manson received thousands of letters from people who pledged their love, and who informed him that they were ready to follow him wherever he led them (the house he grew up in was about 5 miles from me in West Virginia). My point being that while you try to be Christ-like, others try to be Manson-like. The gospel hasn’t reached everyone.
I cite the above as a caution. Be careful of where you get information (on most any topic)–but especially regarding the virus. Because commentators have called attention to this issue, I do so here. So I share with you the following.
I stay in touch with a medical doctor who taught at MSU’s medical school until three years ago–after receiving her PhD in biochemistry (afterwards going to med school). MSU’s med school gives an award in her name each year, and she worked with Dr. Fauci during the AIDS epidemic. I have known her for many moons—my pastoral role at the student parish introducing me to her and her husband (also a PhD in biochemistry). Her credential that I really value at this time, apart from those listed here, is that she is a devout Catholic. She has no social or political agenda in telling me what I should know from a medical perspective.
She wrote to me this week and said:
“The clear expert recommendation from dioceses in Oregon, Michigan, Illinois, and from the CDC is ‘anyone 65 and older . . . is at higher risk and should stay home.’ It makes eminent sense and is an easy yes/no question for people 65 or older!”
She continued: “Lansing says ‘please do not come to church if you are elderly.’
Chicago says they will proceed slowly and with careful guidance by health
authorities for the entire matter of resuming the sacramental life of the church.
Bishop Cupich is still not re-opening there (in Chicago). The CDC says that congregants who are at higher risk for severe illness should be encouraged to use the option to participate virtually. What more nudge do people need?”
“Certainly, at this point, it seems clear what to do, until we see all that comes as a potential surge from the unwise, premature, unfounded re-openings. The virus does not share man’s stupidity. We should be data-driven not data-light. two to three weeks should tell us where we make the next chess move.”
So that’s what Maria wrote to me–and I pass it on to you. If you still wrestle with going to mass, you might consider going during the week where social distancing is significant. Again, however, the bishop has dispensed everyone from the mass obligation through August. Find your comfort zone, and know I remember you at mass.
America is the Jesuit magazine published weekly, and it just ran the article below this past week. It is by Dr. Fauci, a graduate of Jesuit schools. He was asked about masses resuming, and a main point he made related to distributing communion. He did not refer to the Greek Orthodox practice, but I’m sure he is sorry to learn that they are continuing their centuries-old tradition of a priest dropping a wine-soaked piece of bread into one’s mouth (like a mother bird with chicks—only the priest uses pincers).
Think of a person on a cold day speaking—and you see their breath appear as if they were smoking. THAT is analogous to the invisible droplets that masks prevent from being dispersed in the space around us. Because of this at play, Dr. Fauci is concerned about social-distancing, mask-wearing, and the distribution of communion. I’ve not heard from my Greek Orthodox priest friend who might share his thoughts on the matter.
Here’s the America article:
The website below has Fr. Steve Gavit of St. Dominic’s (Sts. Stephen, Peter & Paul) parish indicating what, in general, Catholic parishes are doing throughout the diocese (with modest variation). If you were unable to attend our meetings, this will cover most of what we reported.
Pastor’s Pen—guest columnist
For your instruction and edification this week, I present to you Archbishop Tobin’s Pentecost homily. I don’t know him, but I DO know his 1st cousin—who I took to the junior prom when we were in high school (I doubled with her and her date for the senior prom). Her father (a pro football player) was my football coach while her brother played for MSU.
A Jesuit friend sent me the archbishop’s homily. He said that he would try to pass it off as his own this weekend .
A Reflection by Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, Archbishop of Newark
As we celebrate the great feast of Pentecost this weekend, we acknowledge the urgent need for the many gifts that the Holy Spirit shares with us during this troubled time. Now, more than ever, we need Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, and Fear of the Lord (cf. Is 11:2-3) to guide us as we continue to protect the vulnerable, slow the spread of COVID-19, and begin the gradual process of recovery in our Church and in society.
Wisdom is needed to make the right choices even when there are disagreements, strong emotions, anxious fears and widespread uncertainty among our leaders and the people we are called to serve. Come, Holy Spirit, help us to grow in wisdom and to be prudent in our decisions for the common good.
Understanding is especially necessary given the scarcity of information and the widespread uncertainty about the accuracy of experts’ opinions. Come, Holy Spirit, help us to reflect on your Word and search out the most accurate and reliable information available to us.
Counsel provides encouragement and hope, especially when things seem most desperate and beyond our control. Come, Holy Spirit, enlighten our hearts. Teach us to follow your good counsel and that of Mary, Mother of the Church, and all the saints, as we seek the light of Christ in the darkness caused by this pandemic.
Fortitude allows us to stand firm even when we feel frightened and weak in the face of physical, emotional and economic threats. Come, Holy Spirit, fill our hearts with the fire of your love. Makes us bold and uncompromising in our witness to the joy of the Gospel.
Knowledge reveals the wonder of God’s creation and the healing power of God’s love. Come, Holy Spirit, open our minds to the beauty of our common home. Teach our scientists and research professionals to discover the hidden elements that can lead to the prevention and cure of this deadly virus.
Piety reminds us to stay close to God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) and to imitate Mary and all the saints in our love of God and Neighbor. Come, Holy Spirit, fill our hearts with divine love and fervor so that we can serve our sisters and brothers unselfishly.
Fear of the Lord fills us with reverent awe at the majesty of God and the depth of God’s love for us. Come, Holy Spirit, inspire in us true reverence for all that is holy—including the divine image in “the least of these” our brothers and sisters in Christ.
These and all the gifts we receive from the Holy Spirit help to sustain us and empower us as faithful missionary disciples. Now, more than ever, they are powerful resources in our efforts to overcome the coronavirus and recover—safely and responsibly—from the devastating effects of this disease and all the collateral damage it has caused.
Pastor’s Pen footnote
For this week’s publication, I’ll just offer a brief reflection that combines 1) Pentecost with 2) our parish and 3) God’s message to each of us. More will be in the weekend’s homily.
Pentecost is called the “birthday of the Church” because the apostles were “born again” when the Holy Spirit came upon them and gave them new hope, new confidence, and a new direction in life. It was as if the Holy Spirit whispered into each apostle’s ears what Pope John 23rd once said; namely, “do not walk through time without leaving worthy evidence of your passage.” It was as if the apostles FINALLY understood that they were being called to greatness (by living as Jesus taught).
Each apostle powerfully felt that they were to be a unique embodiment of Jesus living through them, healing through them, loving through them.
Happy birthday—brothers and sisters. Try to internalize the message of Pentecost. That is, God created you to make a contribution that no one else can make. That is certainly a wonderful message to celebrate. Archbishop Tobin listed the “gifts of the Holy Spirit” and they are our spiritual “birthday gifts” which empower us.
Thank you, God, for the blessing-gift of each person’s life within our parish community.
Concluding this week’s bulletin is a chuckle or two—or at worst a smile. Humor is different things for different people, so choosing something with broad appeal isn’t easy. But here’s my try—first from the dog world.
A Terrier went to a telegram office, took out a blank form and
wrote: “Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof.”
The clerk examined the paper and politely told the dog: “There are
only nine words here. You could send another ‘Woof’ for the same
price.” “But,” the dog replied, “that would make no sense at all.”
From the medical world:
Patient: “Doctor, I’ve got a strawberry stuck up my bum.”
Doctor: “I’ve got some cream for that.