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)
Moral theologians on voting:
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.